Written By: bikkothewriter
see Ch. 1 for warning, notes, disclaimer

Preventors' Case #84309: Splicers + Chapter Twenty-Four

After Colony 199

Duo was his go-to-guy for undercover work. Wherever Duo went he managed to blend, to become whoever he needed to be no matter the situation. He could go from a homeless street waif to an important dignitary without ever changing clothes. It was the way he moved, his posture, the nuisances of gestures made. It was a talent Heero lacked and envied. Duo, being his friend however, felt more than obliged to teach him what he knew and help where he could.

"You really need a haircut. I mean look at this. Your hair is down to your chin. When is the last time you had it cut?"

"Awhile."

He was fresh from a hot shower, dressed in his boxers, a towel hanging over his shoulders as Duo combed his fingers through his damp hair. He needed styling to play the part he had planned for the night. A politician's daughter had decided that it would be fun to runaway from home and into L1's underground. What should have ended with a night of partying quickly became a new way of life for the girl, as she was now the lover of a prominent drug dealer. Things needed to be kept quiet to get her out of the scene and into protective custody where hopefully she would take the stand against her lover. It was Heero's job to lure her out and he was trusting Duo to make him appealing.

"You've got to take care of your hair, Heero, else you'll be bald before you're twenty-five. "

"I doubt that."

Scattered across Heero's bed were several combs, brushes, clips and other hair products that he couldn't put a name to that Duo brought for his makeover. Duo took his time combing through the wet tangles of his hair, placing clips here and there until a single section of hair was left hanging in his face.

"What are you going to do?"

"Straighten your hair. Trust me, it'll look good."

"I do," he said quietly, though he didn't think Duo heard him as he played with the settings on the flatiron. Louder he said, "You should reconsider joining the Preventors. You could be my partner."

"No," Duo sighed, bringing the iron up to close around the lock of hair he'd left free. Heero appreciated that Duo placed a protecting finger against his forehead to keep from burning him. "I'm done saving the world. Tired of the blood, sweat and tears of it all, you know?"

"Hn." He closed his eyes against the sight of the hot iron coming towards his face, leaving Duo to take care of him. The first piece of hair, now smooth and dry felt like silk against his face and he couldn't wait to see the end result as Duo sectioned off another piece to iron.

"But you, you were born to do this kinda stuff. Me? I don't know what I was born to do."

"You'll find something. You just need to find your niche in life."

"My niche?" Duo laughed. "Have they been making you take sensitivity classes or something?"

"Yes," he grumbled.

"I'm not hurting for money. Just bored, you know. I've got too much time on my hands. Too much time to think."

"You could work for me."

"Doing what?"

"My personal hairdresser. "

Duo laughed, "Yeah right!"

"It was just a suggestion. How is Hilde doing?"

"Taking over the Preventors, I guess. She's been too busy with her new job to have time for me."

"It is a lot of work. I'm sorry I had to cancel on the movie."

"No, it's cool. I mean, I understand you guys are out saving the world. When I find my niche, I'll be busy enough to bail on you guys every now and again."

"I look forward to it."

"Jackass."

They were quiet as Duo finished, moving around his head to straighten the shorter hairs. He knew it was hard for Duo losing his yard, a business of his own making to the troubles of the economy. Scrap metal wasn't in high demand the way it was during the war and with no buyers, the business quickly went under. Hilde moved on, selling out of the business to join the Preventors while Duo moved to L1. Heero tried over a dozen times to get Duo to join the Preventors, to become his partner with no luck. For now, Duo was unemployed but surviving. Heero would rather he be happy.

"Okay, look."

Heero opened his eyes, as Duo's voice pulled him from his thoughts. A mirror before his face he stared at the soft, silky hair surrounding his face. The iron put sheen to his hair that he didn't have before, making it look lighter than the dark brown he was so used to. He ran fingers through his hair, marveling at the texture.

"See? What did I tell you? Looks good, right?"

"Yes."

"Now we just need to do something about your eyebrows."

"What's wrong with them?"

"Heero, you've got furry monsters living on your face. It's creepy." He turned his head looking meaningfully at the flat iron.

"You are not ironing my eyebrows."

"No, but I can thin them down. Close your eyes again."

A comb, scissors, what felt like a razor blade and fifteen minutes later he was asked to open his eyes and was amazed at what a difference thinner eyebrows made on him.

"You look hot. You're gonna have to beat the girls off with a stick."

"That seems unnecessary, " he said flatly, keeping his face blank. "I'm sure a simple `no' would suffice."

Duo looked at him blankly for all of a moment before throwing his head back in laughter. Clapping his hands on Heero's shoulders, Duo pressed his forehead to his with a chuckle. "Sometimes I forget just how funny you can be."

Heero reached up, touching his hands to Duo's arms, realizing he liked to see Duo smile, and the way his entire face lit up with happiness. He couldn't help but to return the smile as he stared into his friend's eyes. But Duo's smiled lessened, waned, and he began to pull away. Heero was tempted to hold on to him, to draw Duo closer and tell him that he liked his smile.

"Come on, let's get you dressed. You've got work to do."

He rose from the chair wondering what happened in that moment, what killed Duo's smile, but set it aside. Duo was right. He had work. Later, later when he wasn't so busy, when the cases weren't constantly piling up, he and Duo could slow down and spend time together.

+

After Colony 204

Heero wasn't the type of man to sit around and let the action come to him. Nellie wanted him and he knew from dealing with people like her that she wouldn't stop until she had him. He wouldn't put Kitten's life in danger by waiting for her to find them. He was going to find her first.

After a night of laying awake with the images of Long's death and Sally's attack replaying in his mind's eye he thought of a plan. With an entire underground community of Splicers, someone knew where Murai was hiding. The question was whether it was someone who worked for the man and believed in his self-proclaimed mission like Trent or some naïve Splicer like Lanie who thought him a hero to the people. If he could blend in enough to make a few confidences, he could hopefully find information on Murai and Nellie's whereabouts.

He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, critiquing his hair. Not as good as Duo had once done it but it would do. He didn't have the flat irons that Duo once owned and was forced to make due with Quatre's expensive blow dryer that left his hair straight and fluffy. It wouldn't matter much with the hood of his faded and worn sweatshirt pulled over his head. With ripped jeans and scuffed boots, the complete opposite to what he'd worn to Quatre's hotel room, it wouldn't be hard to slip past the two Preventors' agents trailing him.

He didn't need Trowa calling him the night before warning about the tail to spot the two men. They might as well have worn their uniforms with the terrible job they'd done at disguising themselves, but Heero thought that maybe that was the point. Yates wanted him to know that he was being watched.

He hung his original outfit, a pair of khakis and a white button down, on the back of the bathroom door where they would stay clean and pressed while he was away. Stepping out of the bathroom and into the sitting area, Quatre was quick to rise and approach him. It was a hard thing for him to leave Kitten in Quatre's care. Though the three year old was excited to be on what he called a play date, Heero wasn't eager to leave him behind.

"If you could wait a few hours, I could have a team here to help you," Quatre said, his voice lowered. "I have several men and women on my payroll that could be of use to you."

"It would draw too much attention. This is what I need from you. To look after Kitten."

"Of course, but I don`t think it safe for you to go alone. You need someone there to watch your back. I can spare Ken for the day."

"I'll be careful, Quatre, I promise. I'll be back late tonight. There are several places I want to check out."

"I wish you weren't so stubborn, Heero. Putting yourself in danger to keep Kitten safe, while noble, is not the best idea."

"I know but I won't risk him by waiting for her to find me."

"I can't stop you then. Is there anything else I can do to help you, Heero?"

Heero paused, thinking over his words and looking to Kitten where he showed Ken and Michael the plastic ring he'd bought Trowa as an engagement ring. "Don't do anything to him, Quatre. No doctors or geneticists. I want him returned to me the same as when I left him."

A look of irritation and offense passed over Quatre's face. "What have I done to make you trust me so little?"

He looked into Quatre`s pale blue eyes unwavering. "I've realized that most of the people around me aren't deserving of it."

Stunned, Quatre dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know it hasn't been easy for you lately." Lifting his eyes, he said, "I'll take care of Kitten for you, Heero. Don't doubt that."

He gave one last look to Kitten, nodding his head. He could trust Quatre to keep Kitten safe and for today, he could trust him to leave well enough alone. He wouldn't come back to find Kitten completely human today, but he knew it bothered Quatre. A child cloned and experimented on brought some of Quatre's worse fears to life and paraded them before his eyes. Quatre needed to remember that it wasn't him that was cloned. It wasn't him with the ears and tail. Heero didn't have time to reassure him today. He had more important things on his mind.

+

After Colony 199

"A cactus, huh," Duo said holding Heero's birthday present in hand. He sat at the kitchen table, turning the plant this way and that admiring it. "Cute."

Shaking his head, Heero came to the table, setting his and Duo's beer on the down. "I don't see how a cactus is cute."

"It's just like you."

"Explain."

"Prickly on the outside. Ninety percent water on the inside."

"Ha. Ha," he deadpanned, rolling his eyes.

"It's the perfect pet," Duo said plucking a needle from the green body of the cactus. He examined the point of the needle, pressing the finger against the tip. Then with careful precision, he pressed the tip into the table's surface, smiling as it stood unassisted. "You can abandon it for a couple days and it won't die."

"A cactus is not a pet. It's a plant."

"Tell me that after you've started talking to it. So what's its name?"

"It doesn't have a name."

"You should call it Spike." Duo turned the cactus slowly looking for another needle to pick.

"Very original."

"I try. So how long are you going to be gone this time?"

"A week. Ten days at the most. You're not going to miss me are you?" Heero teased, leaning close to Duo, taking in the scent of the other man's cologne.

"Absolutely. I'd die if you didn't come back," Duo replied sarcastically with a smile that Heero returned.

"Good. You know Wu Fei is going to be in town. You two should hang out."

Duo snorted. "Me and Wu Fei? I don't think so. And who calls L1 a town? That's like calling Texas a town. A hang out, Heero? You've been around me too long."

"What's wrong with Wu Fei?"

"We aren't friends."

"Yes, you are."

"No, we're not. Wu Fei acts like he's obligated to talk to me because we fought in a war together. Which is fine by me, it's not going to kill me that he doesn't actually like me."

Heero hated to admit that Wu Fei made him feel the same way at times. He watched Duo continue to pick the needles from the cactus, pressing them into the table. He didn't admit it to Duo, not wanting to seem as if he were trying to placate him.

"You could visit Quatre."

"You know he's offered me like thirty jobs in the past month? Bodyguard, security guard, computer analyst, safe deposit box, personal assistant, personal shopper…"

"Safe deposit box?"

"Yeah. He'd hollow out my torso," he answered leaning back in his seat, cutting out an imaginary square in his chest, "put in a metal safe and leave his money and all his valuables in me for safe keeping."

"You're not big enough to hold all of Quatre's money," he replied not mentioning the fact that Duo would die should Quatre choose to do such an unorthodox thing.

"You get the point…asshole, " he said with a chuckle.

"Still, you could visit him while I'm gone."

"I'll pass. I don't want to be treated like a charity case. Q's fun and all but I don't want to sit around while he tries to fix me."

"You're killing my cactus."

"It's fine. They'll grow back. So," Duo said turning in his seat, "Tonight's not a total bust. We can still have dinner. On you, of course."

"Of course. Pizza?"

He took Duo's smile as an affirmative and rose from his seat to order for them both. A chicken supreme for himself and a meat-lovers with green peppers, onions and mushrooms for Duo. He sat back at the table questioning the look Duo gave him.

"You remembered my order."

"It's hard to forget. You order it every chance you get."

"Still, it's…cool."

Heero tried to hide the pleased smile that threatened to take over his face and changed the subject. "So what about Trowa?"

"Trowa, your super awesome partner?"

"You could have been my super awesome partner as you put it."

"Yeah but we talk about that. As for Trowa, I don't know. He's not rude but not really friendly either. I think I embarrass him or something. He'll talk to me, joke around, but nothing serious, you know. He was a lot more fun to hang out with when he had amnesia."

"I'm sure he'll appreciate you saying that."

"I don't mean it in a bad way, just he wasn't so, hm, reserved, I guess. He talked more back then."

"He's had a hard time adjusting since he left the circus. Once he's comfortable, he'll be easier to talk to."

"To you maybe. If I didn't know that he had a thing for Quatre, I'd swear he was in love with you."

Heero shook his head, unable to picture Trowa and himself together--though thoughts of him and Duo were easy to come by. In the last few weeks, he found himself wanting to spend more time with his friend. The more he saw of Duo the more he liked him, but he wasn't sure that Duo felt the same about him.

"And me?" he asked softly.

"You," Duo said with a grin spreading across his face. "You're my friend. My best friend in fact. Even if you keep a naked cactus as a pet."

"Those needles had better grow back," he said sternly though he warmed at knowing Duo considered him his best friend. "That was a present from Dorothy."

"I can't believe that you're friends with that psycho."

"She isn't psycho."

"Have you seen her eyebrows? That woman is deranged. Though," Duo reached out lifting the Heero's bangs from his eyes, "Your eyebrows aren't much better. I can't believe you let them grow back out."

The feel of Duo's fingers in his hair, of his warm and gentle thumb running over his brow forced Heero to drop his eyes away from Duo. He wanted to take Duo's hand in his. He wanted to lean across the space between them. He wanted to kiss Duo. But he was leaving in the morning and it would be unfair to them both to start something that would be put on hold. He needed to wait. Wait until he had more time. Chase was making hints about him being promoted to lieutenant and after that he would become a commander. He would have more time then. He wouldn't need to leave on missions as he did now and he could take his time to flesh out his feelings for Duo. He just needed to be patient, to wait until the time was right.

He looked up as Duo pulled his hand away, his fingers dropping to brush against his cheek. "I bet you're going to forget to water this thing."

"I'll try not to."

+

After Colony 204

It was late, almost nine at night, and Heero was exhausted and frustrated. An entire day of walking around malls, bowling alleys, comic book stores, and college campuses and he had nothing to show for it. He'd spotted a few Splicers, but none of whom had a connection to Murai.

And walking down the street with thoughts of Duo on his mind didn't help at all.

He spent most of the day thinking about Duo. Reviewing past conversations, wondering why he hadn't seen the signs. Not only of Duo's growing depression but also of his own feelings for the man. How often had he wanted to pull Duo close to him? How often had he wanted to kiss him? How often had he chosen logic over his emotions?

Thinking back on it, he would classify his feelings as having a crush on Duo. Nothing too serious, just wanting to be near him, to be allowed to kiss his cheek and hold his hand. Somewhere, along the line however his feelings had grown. Maybe somewhere in the four years that Duo was missing and he'd sat up sleepless nights worrying over his friend.

Finding Duo felt like a giant weight was lifted off him. The happiness and the excitement he felt threatening to overwhelm him every time Duo was near. The intoxicating smell that sent his hormones into overdrive didn't help much either. Being told that he was in love with Duo and realizing that it was true made dealing with the lies and half-truths much harder to deal with.

Duo wasn't the same man he knew before and he had to wonder if he'd ever known him at all. Was the Duo he knew a disguise, a mask hiding the real man underneath? The sort of man who could stab his so-called best friend in the back and abandon his son to another man's cause?

His heart was mourning in sorrow and yet after everything Duo had put him through, after all the trouble he caused him, Heero still felt something. Not love. Waking from a two-day coma killed any thoughts he had of true love. Hope, maybe? Though small at best, he hoped that Duo would be able to explain away everything he'd done and prove his feelings to Heero. He hoped that there could still be something between them while the more logical part of him argued that he would be stupid to let Duo get that close to him again.

He sighed. He didn't understand how other people did it, how they could battle such conflicting feelings and come out relatively sane. He'd dated before, even during the years that Duo was missing and maintained fairly successful relationships but none of them were as trying as what he had with Duo. He once heard someone say that `you've never been in love unless you've thought about killing your spouse' and with the way he felt, he reasoned that he loved Duo a lot.

He shook his head with a chuckle. Duo would have thought that funny.

He continued down the street almost a block from Quatre's hotel lost in his own thoughts but not so much that he didn't know that he was being followed. Whoever it was had peeled off from the shadows of the last building and quietly followed behind him at a safe distance. He shifted feeling the familiar and comfortable weight of his gun at the small of his back. He wouldn't be taken by surprise and he wouldn't go down without a fight.

"You didn't really think," a female voice said, "We'd fall for that old bait and switch, did you?"

Stopping Heero turned to find a woman he hadn`t seen in years standing underneath a lamppost, at the edge of the large circle of light, a mischievous grin on her face.

"Hilde?"

Her hair was longer than he remembered, draping around her face in thick heavy curls. She wore a tailored pantsuit, with white collared shirt and tie. An expensive suit that a Special Investigator could easily afford. Hilde Schbeiker had joined the Preventors' not long after her scrap yard went under on L2 and quickly rose through the ranks becoming one of L2's top agents specializing in what were deemed cold cases.

"In the flesh." She gave a flourish with her arms as if making a grand entrance on stage and as she approached, stepping firmly into the light so he could see that not all of what lay atop her head was hair.

"You're spliced," he said flatly.

"An occupational hazard. I've been deep cover for the last six months busting a prostitution ring. Similar to what you guys had going on here with those auctions." She brought her hand up, combing through the thick strands, and what he had assumed was thick hair turned out to be ears. Cat ears to be precise, that pointed up and out, and raised, he could see the delicate pink insides. A matching tail unfurled from under her suit jacket, slim and navy to match her hair and ears. "Yates called me in before I had a chance to be restored. He's put me in charge of the Murai case."

"Chase was the one to catch Nellie. Why isn't he in charge?"

"Because he didn't catch Nellie. She allowed herself to be caught. You saw what she did yesterday. A low-voltage Taser taking a girl like that down?" Hilde asked. "She meant to be captured and brought to headquarters, to you. That needle all but had your name written on it."

"What makes you say that?"

"You're so cute when you play dumb." She patted his cheek with a patronizing smile. "She knew your name. She came in wanting to see you and only you. My guess is Murai put her up to it to get rid of you."

"Then why didn't she use it on me? She had more than enough opportunity. "

"I think Yates' firing you saved your life. Seeing you vulnerable and hurting did something for her. A lot for her in fact. You didn't see what she did in that chair." She grimaced with a theatrical shudder. "Gross."

"Is that why you're following me?"

"What? A girl can't stalk you for funsies?" Her tail beat playfully against his leg even as her face sobered. "You know as well as I do that Nellie isn't going to stop until she owns you. She may even give up Murai to get to you. And if I know you like I think I do that's where you've been all day. Out looking for her or someone who knows her and where she might hide."

There was a reason why Hilde was a Special Investigator.

"So, I'm going to make you a deal. You and I team up tomorrow and look for her. I know a couple places you didn't try today where we can get some answers and you turn Kitten over to Trowa for testing."

"No deal," he said abruptly turning on his heel.

"Trowa, Price and Weber will be there to make sure nothing bad happens and I've seen the tests they have planned," she said quickly. "It's nothing serious. No poking or prodding, I promise. It's nothing more than your basic physical and he'll be safe inside HQ."

"No."

"Duo was my friend too, Heero. I wouldn't let anything bad happen to his son."

He stopped at the anger he heard in her voice and gave the woman a chance to catch up to him.

"Yates won't stop pushing until he gets the tests done. If you cooperate it'll make things a lot easier and get him off your back."

"He isn't a lab rat."

"And he won't be treated like one. I personally went over the tests and like I said your team will be with him to supervise."

It was the best that he could hope for. He didn't want to risk Yates' taking Kitten away from him and at least with Trowa and the others there he would be safe. But he was afraid of the results, of what the tests might tell them both good and bad. Helpless to do anything else, he agreed.

"Good, I'll pick you up at ten."

+

Kitten was sound asleep when Heero carried him away from Quatre's room and remained that way on the short drive home. Heero was forced to carry the boy up the stairs to his apartment and suffer from drool soaking into his shirt while fumbling for his keys. He stirred as they topped the stairs, letting out a sigh as he adjusted his arms around Heero's neck.

"Fishy lady," Kitten mumbled as they approached the door and Heero stilled.

"What fishy lady, Kitten?" he asked quietly.

"The one in the house. She smells fishy."

"In my house, Kitten?"

"Mm-hm, on the sofa."

"Is she a bad lady, Kitten?"

"No, she's nice."

While he wanted to take Kitten's opinion at face value, he didn't trust the thought of someone in his apartment uninvited. Deciding that leaving the sleeping three year old in the hall was more dangerous than taking him inside with him, Heero quietly opened the door to his apartment. He set his keys down on the small table just inside the door, trading them for the gun at his back. With the safety off and a round chambered, he crept into the living room. Walking wide around the sofa, he trained his gun on the dark head of hair he saw resting on the arm of the sofa.

"She's pretty," Kitten whispered, raising his head just enough to get a good look at their guest and Heero had to agree.

Her skin was pale and glowing in the fluorescent lighting that seeped in through the shuttered blinds. Her dark red hair lay in haphazard curls around her face, setting off the splattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was dressed in a blue men's dress shirt that showed of the perfection of her arms and legs. In that moment, they were the most beautiful thing Heero had ever seen.

He holstered his weapon, carefully bending over the sleeping woman to touch his hand to hers and breathed, "Lucy."

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