Author: Gloria
See Ch. 1 for other warnings, notes, disclaimer

Summary: Une looked up then, her gaze icy. But Duo didn't care. He laughed until he had tears in his eyes. Heero leaned forward, trying to drown out the sound of Duo's incredulity, and attempted to piece together what Duo already had.

Spoiler Warning: Duo-isms pulled heavily from Episode Eight.
Alternate Warnings: Rating MA is for violence, swearing and adult sexual situations, which include, but are not limited to, homosexuality. Also contains characters dealing with serious subjects like death, war and grief, so standard angst warnings apply.

Author's Note: I just realized I've been mixing up my own terms. Silly me. I went from Floater to Shifter for the nickname for PFO in Preventers--still debating on whether or not that really matters...

Prerequisite + Chapter 8: Reclama

AC 203

There was a rustling, the pitter-patter of bare feet on hard-wood floor, the click and clack of Ash's toenails, the whisper of the bedroom door opening and closing, and then the dip of Duo's weight back on the bed. Quiet, then, as Duo lay still beside him, waiting for Heero to wake, knowing he was already, but waiting for him anyway. Heero opened his eyes, saw Duo staring at the ceiling, his bare chest all whites and greys in the dim dawn light. Heaving, just a little, but just enough tremble as it rose to the stream of muted light from the window, just enough to make Heero nervous. Not unusual, for Duo to let the dog out even before Heero started registering morning. Not unusual, either, for Duo to pounce on him first thing, a mutual correspondence of morning wood. But Heero was slowly coming to an understanding of this new Duo, this older, scarred, more embittered Duo. Duo was revving up for something. And
when Duo had to think carefully about how to put his words together, it was usually like taking the time to contemplate which wires should touch to make most use out of the bomb in his hands.

"It sucks." A lance through the silence. Nothing more than a whisper, quiet, even for Duo, but jarring enough to crack the calm, to strip away the last bits of muggy-headed sleep.

"What sucks," Heero said, his voice deep with the last bits of fatigue.

White on his knuckles, curled into the sheets that were bundled up between him and Heero. Heero shifted the pillow against his cheek, circled it between his arm and his neck so he could see Duo's face better. A flash of purplish-indigo as Duo snuck a glance down at him with the corner of his eye; all nerves, that. Heero wondered why Duo's eyes looked purple in this light. Dusk and dawn. Always so blue otherwise.

"Sucks that I'm too fucking busy being angry at everything." Duo's mouth turned down in a scowl, just briefly, and then relaxed. His expression turned comically exasperated as he stared up at the ceiling. "I have, arguably, the coolest job in the galaxy, and I get to do it with the hottest guy in the universe--and I'm pissing it away and I can't figure myself out for half a second to slow down and knock it off."

This was new. Heero adjusted again, sat upright, curled his arm under Duo's shoulders and pulled him close. Duo's cheek on his chest, now, but at least Heero didn't have to watch Duo stare at nothing. At least now Duo knew Heero got that this was important. White knuckles still white, but fingers curled in Heero's shirt instead. Heero played idly with Duo's hair as he waited for him to talk again, knowing in his gut there was more.

There had to be, because Duo would fight until his last breath. He would go down kicking and screaming and giving the finger, especially now, when every single freedom Duo had had been knocked off the totem, tumbled down and snatched away. Every single one of them. Heero didn't expect Duo to not be angry about this for a long time. But he was worth it, anyway.

Because--even if it was enough to know Duo was trying, and that he was irritated with himself, and--and that there was still at least a little part of Duo that still wanted Heero. Hard to remember when his smiles seemed a little too put on, and his jokes came a little too expected, and the sex felt just a little too mechanical. Made Heero feel less panicked, because every time he considered what he would do if Duo decided to bolt, his mind went blank. Because when he was fifteen and he thought of what it would be like to settle down and make a friend and live a life without blowing things up and killing generals and humbling nations--it was Duo's face that sprang up with a vengeance. And even if it was naive, and maybe even childish, or foolish, or dumb, it was still Duo's face. It was still Duo that meant home to him, even if the same man was in his arms, in his house, and none of it felt like home yet. It was simple to understand, too, because it was one of the few things about inter-personal relationships Heero registered right away. Duo was his wingman. It came as natural as breathing. And Heero trusted him--at least as far as Duo would let him. But Duo was his wingman. Heero didn't know how to say that, though, anymore than Heero knew how to say 'I want to make you happy' or 'I'm always going to give a shit about you' or--or even that other one that that made his brain freeze up and his breath disappear. That little phrase that would probably send Duo running anyway, so it didn't bear thinking at all...

Abruptly, Duo rolled onto him, settled upright on his hips, gripping Heero's hands as if he were afraid he would try and shake him off. His eyes were strange. Dark and wide, anticipatory but not in a way that made Heero feel good about anything. Heero remembered this face, suddenly, remembered it from the day Duo's face sprang up on his left monitor, snarled at him to move out of the way--because he was carrying Hilde in a broken mecca. And then later, when he was casually mentioning the disc she brought back and daring any one of them to try and take it from him. The way he'd looked at Heero. Just on the brink of fear, but more on the brink of pain, of desperation, of giving up the tough-guy routine because the burden was getting too heavy. Just a little too heavy.

"You know I appreciate you, right?" Duo whispered, his breath on his face, his eyes bearing down. "You know that, Heero, don't you?"

Heero didn't move his hands, not because he couldn't, of course, but because Duo didn't seem to want him to with that vice grip on his wrists. But Heero leaned in briefly, touched his forehead to Duo's, closed his eyes. He expected a kiss, even a fleeting one, and moved his head back when it didn't happen. Duo's eyes were still wide, still watching, still waiting and searching and trying to get something out without blowing them all to hell.

"Happiness isn't random, right Heero?" Duo murmured. "It doesn't just happen like the common cold, right? You have to choose in, you have to just make that effort, right?"

"I don't know," Heero hedged, honest at least. "I just--I know I can't want it more for you than you want it for you."

Duo nodded, and the stress was gone, the tension faded. Duo's fingers on his wrists relaxed, his eyes closed, his shoulders hunched forward. Heero leaned in again, loosened one hand and brought it up to cup Duo's cheek. "Doesn't have to be hard," Heero said, brushing his lips across Duo's brow, the tip of his nose. "Doesn't have to be difficult, I don't think."

Duo smiled, for that, a flash of sharp, white teeth, opened his eyes and gazed back at him, a sudden well of affection and tenderness there. "When were things ever uncomplicated and effortless with us, Heero? I shot you, and then you gutted my gundam." Duo closed his eyes again, a bitter sort of twist at the corner of his lips. "Wish I'd've known, then. Wish I'd've known what you'd do to me. I never would've let you on my ship."

Heero murmured some acquiescence, and then kissed him on the mouth. Lips and teeth and tongue saying I want to make you happy and I'll always care and You're my wingman and therefore precious and everything else. Duo let him, but barely responded.

+

Stay out of my way; you want me to shoot ya?

Heero pinched the bridge of his nose, blinked several times. His packet sniffer was only eighty-six percent complete and watching the binary was beginning to make his eyes water. Slowly, he let himself register the other conversations in the room. The office next to his was quiet and dark, per usual, Duo's laughing voice trailing over from the coffee machine where he engaged Tanner, a female Preventer that worked the phones for them. Steman and Mackle clicked away at their computers amidst the near-empty cubicle lot in the center of the large room, murmuring to each other about the latest films they saw, and Havenstein argued with someone on the phone, her hawk-like eyes narrowing fiercely, her pinched mouth making a grim slash across the bottom of her face. She glanced up at him, and then at Duo, hidden behind the large plant that attempted to veil off the little kitchenette, and then back again. Heero dropped his
eyes, idly began another vulnerability scanner, and activated a rootkit just because he felt like it.

He was bored. Heero didn't want to talk to their co-workers because they were on rotation--which meant that in four hours there would be another set of them, and then in another eight there would yet another. They were eyes and ears. Nothing more. Heero and Duo would not work with them on an assignment, they were just...glorified secretaries, he supposed. Oddly, Duo found great amusement in charming them.

Duo found great amusement, lately, in charming everyone except the few who mattered. The rest, he lashed at. And suddenly, Heero found himself back on that list. And it was irritating too, because Duo had projects to do. Mainly hacks on cracks, like himself, but if he took Duo for his word, he was already done. Heero had twice as many, thus the watering eyes and the boredom while listening in to coffee-maker conversations. Une underestimated Duo's ability to Hatter, and fuck if Duo was going to offer helping Heero catch up. Better flyer, better hack his indigo eyes said when he left his office an hour before lunch to bullshit with Tanner--but really it was just that Une thought she was giving even production. Stupid. He was going to demand an assignment at the end of the day if she didn't give them one.

Heero pushed away from his desk, stood, put on his jacket. A good work out might put him in a better mood.

"...right, and then I told him to eat a bowl of gravy covered dick. I wasn't going to fly that thing. Goddamn Satan's cigar tube with propellers my ass. Death trap was what it was--where you off to, Reclama?"

Ha ha, Duo's new nickname. Une assigned Heero codename Apollo, but Duo swore he'd never call him that. Intelligence code for 'disagreement' to an estimate was a reclama. But no amount of glaring would get Duo to stop it.

"Gym," Heero answered shortly, and brushed past him. Satan's cigar tube with propellers? No, never mind. Heero didn't want to know. He was in the hall, two feet from the elevator when the door behind him opened again, and Duo was there.

"Hold on a sec," he said, touching his elbow and then retreating. "Havenstein's got a message from Une."

Hey, kid! Don't just stand there, you'll get shot.

Heero turned back, just in time to see the expression on Duo's face--a look that said he wasn't quite curious, just watchful, calculating. Unapologetic in a way that told Heero he knew exactly why he needed to blow off steam. It would be okay if Duo was simply trying to get on with the glorified secretaries, do the work fast and pussy-foot later. It would be okay if that look on his face didn't say he was doing it just to distance himself from the guy he worked with.

After the first week, they got used to the whispers, the hushed echo of 'PFO' as they walked, shoulder to shoulder, down the hall. There were no shortage of people that recognized Duo's face, but few looked twice and almost none stared. They would wait until he turned before hissing 'did you see that?' to each other. Most assumed Heero was the bodyguard, or at least the poor jackass put in place to make sure Duo Maxwell pilot of Deathscythe got through the throng hassle-free. It was the only reason Duo didn't become hostile. In fact, there were moments when it seemed so funny to Duo he couldn't hide it, grinning until Heero gave him a look that quelled him.

Week two made Heero fidgety, because both Wufei and Une were gone. Sally Po came to see them on Tuesday, using her undeniable charm to shake a carefree joke or two from Duo's lips, and took them both to lunch. You'll get used to it, she said in an aside to Heero. Wufei wasn't dissimilar, you'll find your niche soon enough.

The pay wasn't terrible, but it got to the point they didn't know what to do with it. It went in savings, because there was only so much they could eat, or the dog could need, or the house could require for further upgrades. They didn't need Jacuzzis or Persian throw-rugs or lifetime memberships to the zoo. Without the need to finance new identities or pay for hotel rooms or purchase airfare, the cost of living didn't seem all that cumbersome.

But Duo--Duo slept in his own room now, with Ash, who loved him unconditionally, and a space heater and a blanket and every goddamn reason why Heero ever came to this place at all. They shared meals, spoke conversations that rarely went bone deep, showed a united front at work even as they grew further apart--

Don't just stand there...

"Directorate Une returned this morning from Brussels," Havenstein said matter-of-factly when they were back inside. Tanner, Mackle, and Steman were quiet, the elephant in the room as they listened in. "She has an assignment for you. She would like to meet you before you break for Mess."

"Thanks, Hav," Duo said cheerfully.

Havenstein rolled her eyes, went back to playing her all-important tournament of Solitaire.

Une made them wait. Nelly and the blonde, Krista, click-clacked away on their computers, barely sparing them a glance. Duo lounged against the far wall. Heero felt compelled to stand at attention adjacent to the door to Une's office, feeling the prickle on the back of his neck that screamed of Duo's eyes on him. The morph happened the moment they set out for Une's office. Blank-faced, his mouth set, Duo set his nerves on edge.

Four men in suits carrying briefcases exited the office, closed the door behind them. Heero caught the sight of Une bent over paperwork before it shut. Moments later, a buzz from Nelly's phone. "The Directorate will see you now," she said.

Neither sat in the chairs in front of Une's desk, even though she gestured to them. Heero anticipated Duo's absolute, steel-edged refusal and decided to not make him a target. Une didn't bother looking at them as she began to talk, rifling through her documents and signing sheets here, checking off boxes there, everything oh-so-top secret. "Mauibi Kumbaki," she said, in that same tone she used on them when they swore in two weeks ago. "Has agreed to meet with a representative of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation on Kenyan soil on the anniversary of NARC's re-establishment."

Hey, kid!

Duo burst into laughter.

Une looked up then, her gaze icy. But Duo didn't care. He laughed until he had tears in his eyes. Heero leaned forward, trying to drown out the sound of Duo's incredulity, and attempted to piece together what Duo already had. Mauibi Kumbaki, candidate for a Kenyan presidency that would be voted in if ESUN would step out of the way long enough for them to establish a Parliament. Mauibi Kumbaki, the Kikuyu that rejuvenated the Liberal Democratic Party of his nation, stolen by Alliance and then taken by OZ and then overseen by ESUN. Mauibi Kumbaki, the man that established a Kenyan National Alliance Party, not yet recognized by ESUN, but of course that was half the problem. Mauibi Kumbaki agreeing to meet with someone from ESUN on an unrecognized national Kenyan holiday. Someone--but then that's not really the clue, is it. Is it. No, they were the clue. Preventers involvement. Specifically, them, Heero
and Duo. Or just Heero--Jesus.

Relena.

"No," Heero said--demanded. "No. They have half a dozen individual sects of guerillas terrorists that do not back Kumbaki's decisions. There's no way we could control that situation. The capitol could be stormed--"

"I've already made my decision, Heero," a voice like tinkling bells came from a separate laptop on Une's desk. Une frowned at it, and then, with a very resigned sigh, turned it around. Relena smiled beatifically at him, her image lined horizontally with static but still radiant. "But that's very sweet of you."

Duo was still laughing, though it had become much less obtrusive and rude, just exasperatedly amused.

"Besides," Relena's image continued, her voice coming just half a beat later than her mouth moved, "I've weathered worse before. You should remember, Heero."

"I do," Heero said through his teeth.

And before he could continue, her smile became all fond and trusting and Heero knew he wouldn't deny her a goddamned thing. "I am confident you'll contribute a great deal to my safety. This could be just what the world needs to trust these new developments. I look forward to working with you again."

Again? Again! Every damn time Heero 'worked' with her he was either putting her in near-fatal danger or saving her from some lunatic and half that was bent on world domination. No, thank you.

"I am very sorry," she was saying, "but I must dash. And hello, Duo. It's very good to see you are well. I was worried after hearing of the fire."

Duo's smile towards her seemed genuine, at least, even as his voice was still laughing. "Back at ya, little lady. When are we flying you into Africa?"

"On the twenty-third," she answered readily. "Une will assuredly fill you in on the finer details, but I'll meet you at headquarters in the morning."

Duo's eyebrows crawled up his forehead, disappeared under his fringe, but his face otherwise gave nothing away. "Should be fun."

Une murmured a few things to her, Relena said a final goodbye, and when the laptop went black, Heero felt ready to strangle someone. "Wufei promised me, Une. He promised me."

That earned a look from Duo, because Duo had had it all backwards and Heero never bothered to right it for him, but Heero ignored it, his eyes all for the woman that sat on her throne, the sky sprawling behind her, Trieze's protégé. "He promised that she would be safe," she said.

Oh, so we didn't get them all.

"He promised her un-involvement," Heero spat.

"He was unaware of her plans to intercede on the ESUN's behalf," she countered. "And if he made that sort of promise, he probably shouldn't have. I don't know what Chang was thinking. Relena's not the sort to listen to--well, anybody, really. Did he really word it like that?"

"He implied," Heero grated.

"Christ, you're naive," Duo muttered somewhere behind him.

Don't just stand there...

"Fuck you. This doesn't have anything to do with you."

"That's precious, Heero. Really. Because now it sounds like you dragged me into this hell of cubicles and pretentious authoritarian bullshit so Relena goddamn Peacecraft wouldn't become involved in Victoria. Which the fuck is it?"

"I didn't drag you anywhere, if you recall. I am here so I could be involved in Victoria; I just didn't want Relena to know it, and you didn't have to know it either. You followed because you didn't have anywhere else to go."

Dead quiet, then; and Heero knew he went too far. Too late to take it back. Duo would hear the truth of it, because he remembered their one and only date. The Kikuyu restaurant where Heero revealed his interest in the current affairs of Kenya, tested the limits of Duo's interest too. Showed him the photos of what was important to him, now. Wouldn't be so difficult to comprehend why he would join, given the right push in a certain direction. A doorway to walk through. An opportunity to make a right out of a wrong that didn't result in any fuck up he ever made. Maybe earn redemption. But didn't want her to know because of one damn promise he shouldn't have ever made because it was impossible. Impossible to just sit still and watch everything he bled for go to shit because there weren't enough people to keep it going.

Heero's only fault here, really, was wanting too much, was wanting everything, was wanting Duo to stay with him too much to let him go when he'd said yes to Wufei. He should have turned Duo away then. Should maybe have explained that enlisting had more to do with wanting to prevent another war than corralling Duo Maxwell for Preventers. But he didn't. He invested him, and that was his crime. Heero knew he'd pay for it.

Une closed two manila folders with a heavy, silence-breaking thud on thud, pushed them towards the far edge of her desk. "Memorize the information here; you can take them with you. You'll be working with SPG on this one, but they won't be briefed until Monday. You're dismissed."

Duo was swift. Easy to forget that, when he didn't show it. It might be nice to see him deadly again, before it was bent on him. Duo grabbed his folder, tucked it under his arm, and was gone from the office before Heero could blink.

"Rein him in," Une said, a cautionary element to her voice.

Heero was in her face in the next instant, a rage building inside of him that was too dangerous to unleash. "You handled that badly, Une."

Une jerked backwards, her eyes narrowed. "No more than you have, Yuy. I continue to doubt your control over him, even if Chang was so certain."

"You people are incredible, you know that? I don't have any control over him," Heero growled. "None. He does what he wants, when he wants. The man who gave him his gundam was the only one that could ever talk him down. He'll make a good Preventer, set a standard for the rest behind him--but it's not worth it to piss him off."

Une's smile was cold. "Ah, well, that's probably be true, Yuy. But I wasn't the one that just pissed him off."

+

So, how long do you expect us to look after you?

Heero found Duo in Mess, rummaging through the Victoria file in front of God and everyone, idly pushing the baby carrots out of his mixed vegetable. Heero let him alone at first, went to purchase his own tray, sat down across from him. He used his fork to scrape Duo's unwanted carrots onto his plate, and Duo absently grabbed his dinner roll and took a bite.

"Could've mentioned that," Duo murmured. "Said somewhat about why you really joined. Wouldn't've hurt."

"I did," Heero replied gruffly, "before Preventers ever showed up on our doorstep."

Well, I'm not sticking around. Let's blow this place right now.

"You mean before Chang gave you an out," Duo said in that correctional tone Heero despised. He moved a stapled pile of papers from one side of the folder to the next. "And don't get your panties in a bunch. Here's a blind spot in Mess' camera angles. Found it this morning."

"How clever of you," Heero responded, forking a bit of pulled pork and then staring at it.

"Thanks," Duo replied sarcastically. "Three, two...and one." Duo lifted a hand, keeping his gazed focused on his file, and pointed towards the front entrance of Mess.

Heero turned in his seat, found immediately the figure of Wufei, his proud gaze skimming the crowd presumably for them.

"I could hold him for you," Duo said casually. "Left side of his face could use a refresher course."

"I misunderstood him," Heero said stiffly.

"Please. He boned you, and he knows it because he's here to make nice. Since when did he get back anyway?" Duo finished the dinner roll, packed it into his cheek. "Or you could deck him on the right side. There's a joke in there somewhere."

...how long do you expect...

Heero turned away from Duo's thoughtful expression to watch Wufei approach them, his face guarded, his body stiff and wary. "I could have elaborated," Heero admitted. "Been honest about what they promised me."

"Damn right you could've," Duo replied, a nasty edge to his voice. "Since I'm so much better at spotting the bullshit than you are." Cruel, that, reminding him of the unfair burden he put on Duo their first day here. "But you didn't want to hear anything I had to say. You wanted to get boned because you didn't know what to do with me. Fucking coward."

So, how long do you expect us to look after you?

"Not here," Heero growled. Wufei was closer now.

"Why not," Duo said, flipping the file shut and standing. "Give these tweets something to sing about later."

"Hi, Blackbird," a passing Preventer greeted.

"Hey, what's up," Duo said, nodding once before returning his attention to Heero. "Nothing like putting on a good show. That's why they wanted me here, right? Come on, Reclama, left cheek, or right?"

Let's blow this place right now.

Wufei was there, then, his black eyes shifting between a standing Duo that screamed aggressive defense, and a still seated Heero that seemed barely more than a shadow compared. Heero sighed, shoved his tray back, and got to his feet. He faced Wufei even though his black eyes were back on Duo. A stand off then, a stand off that Duo relinquished with a roll of his eyes and a lift of his hands in mock surrender. He danced out from between them, tucking the file under his arm. And was gone, as quick and smooth a disappearing act the devil himself couldn't counter.

To his credit, Wufei didn't flinch under Heero's murderous gaze. "Do you drink, Apollo?" he asked evenly.

"You told Une I could control him," Heero accused in a voice so low even he could barely hear it. "How dare you. What game are you playing, Chang."

"Do you drink," Wufei repeated, an echo of his awareness of the masses beginning to notice the unrest between the Assistant Deputy Director of CSAD and their new pair of mysterious PFO's. Heero finally registered the gooseflesh of a hundred eyes on him, the sudden quiet. If Duo wanted a show, he got one. Shame he wasn't present to see it. Though, Heero wouldn't put him past viewing the footage later on the security cameras and laughing his ass off.

Don't just stand there...

"I burn it off too quickly," Heero answered.

"I know," Wufei said, and he probably did. "Come with me." And then in an even quieter voice: "Don't let them see you sweat."

Wufei checked out a Preventer vehicle, another unremarkable black four-door, and drove them into a beach city an hour and half away. Silently. Heero had an odd moment, as they pulled into the parking lot of some seedy, beat down bar. He wished, for the first time in a long time, that he was in the cockpit of ZERO. It might be rather fulfilling, cathartic even, to beat the shit out of Wufei's Shenlong. First time in a long time he thought back and considered them the good days.

Wufei ordered two of his 'usual' and had the barkeep charge it on his company card. Wufei took the two chilled bottles of clear liquid--without absolutely any markings--and a pair of snifters, and led Heero into a shadowy back corner booth. Without pretense, Wufei poured them both a double shot and downed his, an immediate refill sloshing even before he finished swallowing. Heero lifted his snifter and peered suspiciously at it.

"What is this?"

Wufei didn't answer. He drank another double and refilled it.

It tasted as awful as it smelled, burnt and stinging the entire way down until it smoldered in the pit of Heero's belly. No frills, this liquor, or moonshine, or whatever the hell. Heero nodded when Wufei poised the bottle over his empty glass. Three down and a fourth filled, Wufei finally let the bottle rest next to the unopened one on the table. A jaded waitress brought by a platter of nuts and a plate of fries. Heero felt the room swerve, and reached for the greasy pile first. Wufei picked idly at the peanuts.

"You remember what you said to me," Wufei murmured, almost an hour later. He'd let his hair down, a fall of inky black, straight-edged across his now-open collar. Heero didn't get this Wufei at all. "About that girl and her dog."

Ash and rubble, all that was left of condominiums whose only transgression was being built too close to the OZ base. A dirty, singed teddy-bear left against a slab of destroyed granite. "I remember," Heero said.

They were on bottle two now, but slowing down. The stiffness was gone from Wufei's shoulders, slouching now against the back of the booth, his black eyes fixed on the mess of peanut shells he was making on the table. "My clan..." Wufei started, and then broke off. His hands stilled over the pile shells, clenched and then released. "I see them," he tried again. "In my sleep. They don't have faces anymore."

He fell silent again, poured them both another double. Heero drained his, but watched as Wufei tortured himself by sipping it.

Then: "You know what it's like, then, anyway. Seeing the train wreck coming, the catastrophes happen. What would you do if you could push some of them out of the way? What would you have done, Heero, if you could have evacuated that building?" Wufei looked up at him, the darkness in his face sending a tingle down Heero's spine. "You would have tried to, wouldn't you? You would have tried to save that girl and her dog."

Heero just stared at him, seeing the little stuffed bear covered in ash, the little red bow blackened by fire. He'd given Relena one just like it once. Without the ash, without the blackened bow.

"Victoria isn't the only thing happening here," Wufei whispered. "I'm trying...to push as many of you out of the way as I can." He hesitated again. "I'm tactless, yes. Sally thinks so. But you know I'm honor-bound. I'm okay about being the villain here, Heero, if it means I won't fail. I'm determined not to fail at this."

Heero shook his head, refilled his own snifter this time. "Colony L4-XX137," Heero murmured.

You're totally confident he's gonna succeed, aren't ya?

Wufei nodded, swallowed the rest of his vice.

"Why does this have you spooked, Wufei," Heero demanded quietly. "Who is your Neutralizer?"

Wufei looked back at him, a haziness to his gaze that hinted the alcohol was allowing him to consider telling him. He chewed absent-mindedly on his thumbnail, reminding Heero startlingly of Duo. "You know what it would mean, Yuy. Just as ESUN failing to secede Victoria could cause another skirmish, maybe even another war--but at the very least the failing of the world's trust in us to do the right thing, to put our money where our mouth is--the accusation on 04 could allow our enemies to accuse us of using blood money to finance ESUN, Preventers. We're too young to take that kind of heat. Everything would...fail. Everything."

"Let us on this," Heero said. "Between you, me and Duo, we would find a solution, rectify the situation."

Wufei shook his head minutely, the walls abruptly coming up, the haziness disappearing from his eyes. "We're handling it."

"Wufei."

"No." Wufei drank another double, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand after. "No."

"You're obviously not handling it well enough, if it's keeping you up at night. If it's making you drink like this."

Wufei laughed bitterly. Maybe it wasn't just the situation with Quatre that was making him drink, making him lose himself in this poison.

"Why did you bring me here, Wufei?"

"I don't know," Wufei said, and it was so painfully honest, so defeated, that Heero had a hard time not believing him. Wufei rubbed harshly at his face, groaned a little and sat up in his seat. When he looked at Heero again, it was bright-eyed and earnestly. "Give me long enough to diffuse this, and I don't care where you go, I don't care where Duo goes. In fact, I'll make it my personal mission to make sure you're both left alone. Just give me time."

"I can't speak for Duo."

You're totally confident...

"You don't have to," Wufei replied, some dark amusement creeping into his voice. "He won't go anywhere until he's figured out a decent way to wreak vengeance, to take his pride back."

"Not about pride, with him," Heero murmured. "It's about freedom."

Wufei made a small movement with his head, indicating he saw little difference in the two.

"I can't keep hurting him," Heero whispered.

Wufei looked at him for a long time. "I have no advice for that, my friend. I've never been in love."

Let's just hope we're not wasting our time.

+

The house was dark when Wufei drove him home, a journey that took no less than four hours. Heero might've feared the worse, until he saw that Chris' purple truck was missing, that Ash was playing with the girls and Nefie in the next lawn over. Wufei drove away without comment, knowing that if Duo saw him in the vicinity of their house, he might have a conniption. Chris came to greet him on the sidewalk.

"He went out," she said quietly, her hands stuffed into her jacket pockets, flinching at the expression Heero bent on her.

Heero took Ash and led him towards the house, pausing only when Chris called out to him.

"He'll be back," Chris said.

His buzz had worn off long before he heard the truck pull up to the street, and he wished it hadn't. The nerves coiled in his belly felt like barbed wire, twisting and churning. Heero braced for whatever-version-of-Duo stumbled through the door, but no amount of bracing could ever fully prepare him. Duo came in the door noisily, indulgently greeted Ash who bounded down to meet him on the stair. Duo's expression was black, though, when he lifted it to Heero, who waited for him in the hall upstairs.

Duo's ascent felt like slow-motion, each step equal parts hesitant and determined, a study in contrasts. Only half a moment, Duo faced him, reeking of whisky and someone else's cologne and a billion other things that tore Heero's chest open. Heero didn't know who reached for whom first, but their embrace was violent, ripping, slashing--Heero accidently broke the zipper of Duo's leather jacket. Duo cursed at him foully and shoved him into the wall. So much like the first time, except plaster tumbled onto them in bits and powder as they made their way viciously down the hall. Duo bit down on his lower lip and the tang of blood filled Heero's mouth. He dug both hands into Duo's braid, at the nape of his neck, and yanked, shoving his tongue into his mouth, making him share it. Cold hands snaked up his shirt, scratched down his back, loosened the fly of his pants.

Heero felt him withdraw before Duo even moved, rejected, shoved him back and struck him in the face. Pressure exploded against his cheekbone, his eye socket, the alcohol still in him making him stagger back.

"No, goddamn it," Duo spat in a voice so trembling, so uneven and hateful and hurt and betrayed it made a chasm open up in the center of Heero like the implosion of the sun. "No, I'm done. Fucking don't touch me."

"Duo."

"Don't 'Duo' me either," he said, opening his bedroom door, letting Ash inside. "We can save the world and protect your princess in the morning. I'll be the one making coffee." And closed the door behind him.

Heero took a halting step forward, drawn in by the absence of him, pressed his forehead against the door barring his way.

You two gravitate to each other, Wufei had said. Never seen anything like it. You move together. Literally move together. Adjust to accommodate the other. Never seen anything like it.

Heero slept in the den.

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