Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, OOC, language, Duo POV. 
Thanks to Christy for beta reading (over the holidays!) and Aya for continued encouragement. Thanks guys!
Feed-back is a dream I have. 
And I don't own anything in this series, either. 
by: Sunhawk


Well, the car-shopping trip was one of those things that turned out to fall under the category of 'seemed like a good idea at the time'. It had been an unmitigated disaster. We'd never been shopping together before. Not serious shopping. Not haggling and bargaining shopping. I'm a spacer still, down there in my bones, and the other name for spacer is frugal. In my mind I was being thrifty. I was being systematic and thinking things through. Apparently, in Heero's mind, I was just being damned picky. It had turned out to be a less than stellar idea. I was still tired, still pretty damn high-strung, and Heero was just getting on my nerves with his impatience with the entire process. I'm pretty sure he bought his own car brand new. Probably did a bunch of research on the Internet and knew exactly what he wanted before he ever left the house. I'd be willing to bet that he went down to the dealership and just told them what they were going to sell him, and what he was damn well going to pay for it. I don't think he'd ever gone shopping for a used car before. I had in my mind what I was looking for, knew my price range, and had a secondary mental list of things that fell under 'desired' but not 'necessary'. Things I could live without. I knew what I was after, but I just hadn't found it yet. I was content with knowing that this process could take days on end.

I swear to God, Heero left the house that day with the idea that we'd be home with a vehicle all bought and paid for, and still be in time for lunch.

It was on the third car lot we visited that it kind of came to a head. Let me put it into perspective... I was thinking, 'only the first day', Heero was thinking 'the third damn lot!' Understand now? He was getting impatient. I was getting a headache. And then I walked away from what he deemed the perfect car without even looking at it, he finally got irritated enough to reproach me about it.

"Duo?" he called after me, sounding a little perplexed... a little pissed. "Where are you going? What in the hell is wrong with this one?"

I stopped in my tracks and tried to dredge up some logic that would explain my aversion to the car he was standing next to, other than... 'It's red.' That just sounded nuts. I took a deep breath and tried to push down my own irritation, wanting to be able to explain myself and not at all sure how. I couldn't think of a way to put it that didn't just sound stupid. I think red just might be a jinxed color for me? Yeah... right.

I heard the scuff of Heero's foot on the pavement as he moved toward me and I was considering the idea of asking him to go the hell home and just let me handle this on my own, when somebody in the service bay fired up an air wrench. I all but dropped to the ground in a panic. If I'd had a gun... I would have drawn it. I'm not entirely sure that my fingers didn't reach for one that wasn't there anyway. Crappy days have this tendency of bleeding over for me.

Heero was suddenly at my side, a hand under my elbow to steady me. "This was a horrible idea," he told me gently. "I'm sorry... you're just too stressed for this. Let's go home and try again another day." But he couldn't quite hide the faint disappointment in his voice.

I couldn't stand that look in his eyes and sighed, shaking my head. "No... you're right, there's nothing wrong with the car you were looking at. Why don't you go get the sales guy and we'll test drive it?"

The relief was more than plain, but he made himself ask, "You're sure?"

"Yeah..." I told him, my resolve bolstered by that look on his face. And the understanding that buying that car would make this nightmare be over. "It's in the right price range."

He went off to find the salesman then, while I stood and stared at that stupid car and tried to make myself not hate it. We took it home that afternoon. I vowed to save the money to have the Goddamned thing painted at the first opportunity. For some odd reason, red cars just give me the creeps now.

We each drove 'our' cars back to the apartment. And yes, I had my license; Heero had insisted that I get one right after he got out of the hospital. I looked the thing over as I drove, trying to sell myself on it. It was an automatic, where I would have preferred a stick. It didn't have a decent stereo system at all, strictly a radio, not even a CD player. I kept finding things I didn't like and tried to stop, I knew I was just being pissy. I had a headache, I was tired... and the damn thing was red.

I wondered idly, as I parked in front of the apartment, why I was so focused on what color it was. Color had not even been on my list of 'issues'. I'm not that damned picky. But red? Did it have to be red? I already twitched whenever I saw red cars on the road and now here I was driving one.

I locked it and went into the building, trying not to look at it. Ok... suck it up, Maxwell. You don't like it; so what? It's a car. It runs. It will get you from point A to point B, and that's what this was all about, wasn't it?

I had beaten Heero back to the apartment and I was just as glad, it gave me a chance to take a couple of aspirin before he got home. I thought about throwing myself down on the sofa and just mindlessly channel surfing until he showed up, but all the news casts were still talking about the bus accident and the sniper incident and I was sick of seeing it... sick of thinking about it.

Yesterday had been one of those days that turned out to be tougher after it was over. I had gotten through it on a strange mixture of 'this can't be happening' disbelief and adrenaline. Once it had all been done, I had crashed and burned, and discovered that my day had left me with one or two mental images that wanted to live behind my eyelids for a while. Every time I closed my eyes I could see the sniper victims lying on the sidewalk, twitching convulsively. I could hear the screams of that mother as she realized that her baby girl was still on board that bus. I relived that moment when I'd had to turn Jock over to the police. Saw that lost and lonely look on his face.

So I just laid on the couch and stared at the ceiling for awhile and tried to think of something else. I had off-loaded a lot of my stress when the ship and the vacuum suits had all sold. When I had gotten the job in the Preventor's motor pool. All things that had allowed me to start a steady trickle of money going to the Maxwell home on L2 again. Not nearly the amount that I had been sending when I'd owned my own business, but enough that my guilt had eased. Davey's violin lessons had never been interrupted and Octavia had sent me a couple of messages, expressing her surprise that the boy really was getting rather good. Those letters made me feel good... and bad all at the same time. Good because I was still able to help those kids try and achieve their dreams. Bad because I realized I would probably never see any of them again.

Finally getting through with therapy had helped a lot, too. Physically, I suppose I wasn't anywhere near the shape I had been in before the accident, but I was getting there. I could jog up the steps to the apartment now without gasping for breath when I got there. Could play a little basketball with Heero and not feel dizzy after a half an hour. I seriously doubted that I would last the session if I tried to go to the gym with Heero and Wufei, but I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Was starting to feel like a day might come when I could.

So I suppose the scales were starting to balance a little. Not necessarily in the manner I would have chosen for myself... but a balance all the same. If there was any one thing that I could point to and say, 'this is making me crazy', it would probably be the completely fruitless search for Mrs. Anna Camden. Wufei had been using all the resources at his disposal in the hunt, but so far had come up empty. The woman had simply dropped out of the universe as we know it, after the war. Wufei hadn't found a trace, and that... that broken promise to a dead Captain, was probably the thing that preyed on my mind the most. Left me sometimes seeing the man's visage over my shoulder in the mirror, staring at me with accusation in his one remaining eye.

It took Heero so long to get back, I damn near dozed off on the couch, twitching almost violently awake when I heard the front door finally open. I really hoped my nerves settled soon... this was getting to be ridiculous. I sat up, blinking blearily and found him looking at me with an odd little smirk on his face.

"I half expected to find you with your head under the hood of your car," he teased lightly and beckoned me to follow him to the kitchen. He'd stopped and bought take-out for dinner. He had something else in his hands as well, and I found myself glancing at it as I helped set the table and dish up the chicken.

"What's that?" I asked, inclining my head at the papers in his hand. I was a little taken aback by the almost sheepish look on his face.

"I stopped off at the real estate office and picked up some flyers," he murmured, laying them down beside his plate. I blinked at him for a second, and then went to pour our drinks.

He was sitting down when I returned to the table and took my seat across from him. He studiously dished up his mashed potatoes, not looking at me. "I know you wanted to wait... but I thought it wouldn't hurt to get some idea of what was out there. See what kind of price range we're going to be dealing with."

"That's fine," I told him and bent to cutting up my chicken. I wondered idly if this was going to be another of those things that I should just let happen. Another of those things that wasn't worth voicing an opinion over. I wasn't quite ready to go house hunting with Heero yet. I wanted... I wanted a clean slate before I went in search of a new home. I wanted to feel like I was completely back on my feet, with all my little hamsters in a row. I wanted it to be a... happy thing, when he and I set off to find our house. But I didn't think it would be, as long as I had Captain Camden breathing down my neck. I wondered, suddenly, if searching for a house with Heero would be anything like searching for a car had been.

"I just gave the clerk some loose parameters," he ventured. "There's a pretty wide sampling here." He was waiting for me to show some interest, so I took a few of the flyers from his pile and glanced over them.

I took a couple of bites of dinner, trying very hard to get passed the melancholy and the headache to really make myself read what was in front of me. "Heero... you forgot to put 'English' in the parameters... what in the hell does all this mean?" I finally managed to quip and he flashed me a grin that bordered on relieved.

So he began to explain, and I got a little lecture on what all the little abbreviations and codes meant, about the fact that not all houses had basements and that some of them were built on things called 'slabs'. About the desirability of a thing called 'city sewer'. I understood very quickly that this might be the first time that Heero had brought home real estate listings, but it was far from a new subject for him. I wanted to shove the things back across the table at him, but he was getting really excited, explaining things to me and I just didn't have the heart to tell him that I wasn't ready for this. I felt rather bad, actually, for making him wait when he was so obviously ready to make this move. I repressed a sigh and wondered about the possibility of bribing guilt-beast with a little chicken under the table. I could hear him licking his chops down there.

After dinner, Heero wanted to curl up on the couch with me so that we could look over the fliers together. I found it all to be rather... overwhelming.

"Heero," I blurted after about a half an hour of poking at the endless pile of house listings. "There has to be a way to narrow the field. There are just too many choices here! I can't make sense of it!"

He chuckled at me, taking the scraps of paper from my fingers where I held them spread like a hand of cards. "Well, what's most important to you?" he asked gently.

"Price!" I told him instantly. "Look at this one; they'd be paying for this out of our estate thirty years after we're dead!"

His smile faltered a little bit and I suspected that wasn't what he'd been looking for. "I mean," he clarified. "What do you want in a house?"

"I don't know a thing about houses," I told him honestly. "I don't even know where to start. Brick? Frame? There must be a superior building material... but I just don't know."

He chuckled at me, laying the listings on the coffee table and reached to pull me towards him. "There isn't a right and wrong in this, love," he said, trying to bring me in against his chest, but I wasn't comfortable yet resting against his stomach, and shifted at the last minute to lean against his side. He sighed softly. "It's personal preference in a lot of it. It's... aesthetics. What to you like? What do you want?"

I wanted to not deal with this yet. I wanted to not make such a huge decision while I still felt like there was so much other stuff on my plate. "I don't know," I said, trying to keep the grumble out of my voice. "Heero... I've never lived in a house before. Unless you count the occasional safe house during the war when we went undercover."

There was an odd little silence and I could feel him looking at me, but I didn't twist my head to look up at him. "What do you mean?" he asked gently. "Surely you lived somewhere..."

I took my turn delivering the sigh, absently rubbing my knuckles over his knee. "My earliest memories are of living on the streets," I said, keeping my voice rather clinical. "We were lucky if we stayed in the same place two nights in a row. We slept in burned out buildings... in alleys. When the plague came through... I ended up in the Maxwell orphanage. We had a dorm room in the basement of the church. After that... during my training... I lived in the barracks and the labs." I shrugged, getting a little uncomfortable under that stare I could still feel. "After the war, I worked for Howard and lived off his salvage ship until I... until I bought my own. I lived aboard my ship from then on."

There was a tense little silence, then he carefully kissed the top of my head, where it rested against his chest. "All the more reason that our house should be... perfect."

"That would be fine if I knew what perfect was," I said, wincing when it came out sounding a little dejected.

"What do you see when you think about a home?" he murmured, his hand stroking gently up and down my arm.

My ship, was what popped into my head, without even any help from my thought hamsters; I knew that one all on my own. But it wasn't what I could say to Heero. When I didn't immediately answer him, he continued softly. "Come on... close your eyes and think about a home... our home. Don't you see anything?"

I dutifully closed my eyes and tried really hard to think past my Demon-ship, but only saw one thing. I smiled up at him. "You."

He snorted softly, but looked pleased, and leaned down to kiss me. "You're not helping," he murmured when he drew away.

"I'm sorry," I grinned up at him. "I just haven't thought about it too much... I thought..." I hesitated on telling him I hadn't thought I had to worry about it yet.

His _expression grew pensive and he shifted a little so that I could look up at him without twisting quite so hard. "Duo-love, I know you had your heart set on finding this Camden woman... but you realize you might have to give it up?"

I frowned. "Wufei hasn't quit, has he?" I had to ask. I knew it had been over a month since we'd actively started hunting, but I just assumed Wufei had been too busy to devote a lot of time to it. I assumed that he would tell me if he stopped looking altogether.

"No," Heero told me, but he seemed hesitant. "But... he's found no sign of her at all. You may have to face up to the fact that we aren't going to locate her."

I gnawed on that for a minute and found I wasn't all that happy about the thought. But it was a possibility I had to admit to. If Wufei could not find the woman with all the damned impressive resources of the Preventors network, she wasn't going to be found. I knew that Wufei must be reaching a point of giving up or I wouldn't be getting this little talk from Heero.

I lay my head back down and thought about that. Tried to follow the thread of that possibility through to its conclusion. I already felt guilty because Wufei was doing all the work on this project, but it didn't really make much sense for me to stumble around trying to do what he could do ten times as easily with the tools he had at hand.

Guilt beast joined us on the couch, resting his imaginary head on my thigh and leering up at me in high good humor. I sighed. This wasn't something I could talk to Heero about. I'm afraid Captain Camden will be pissed if I don't find her, just didn't fucking sound sane. I didn't want to revisit that scene where I looked into Heero's eyes and saw fear for my mental stability reflected there.

Heero didn't appreciate my free-form thinking. Wouldn't have understood a thought hamster if one crawled up and bit him on the butt. But honestly? I was a little afraid that if I called the search off and admitted that we couldn't find the woman, that my nightmares were going to come back. It had been quite a while since I had found Captain Camden's journal, but the knowledge that a search was underway had salved whatever guilt I had felt over it. I was pretty sure that guilt would come back full-force if I actually had to officially say 'I give up'. Ok... that really does sound nuts, doesn't it?

Heero's fingers were stroking lightly over my hair. "I'm sorry," he said gently.

"It's not your fault," I told him.

"I know," he murmured. "But I can still feel badly for you, can't I?"

I squirmed around until I was lying more facing him, so that I didn't have to keep twisting to see him, and smiled. "I suppose you can if you want to."

A bit of a frown flitted across his face and he tried to ease me over, more on top of him than beside him. I balked. "Heero... don't."

The frown solidified and he gave me another half-hearted tug. "Will you stop worrying about hurting me? It's been almost two months."

That made me laugh and he looked a little peeved at being made fun of. "That's a hell of a line coming from Mr. Overprotective," I teased.

The pissed off look faded a bit, to be replaced with a sheepish little almost-grin. "I'm fine," he murmured and all I could do was snicker at him.

"That's my damn line, Yuy," I mock growled and began pulling at the hem of his shirt. He slid down to aid me and I continued to tug until I found the snap on his jeans, and then I finally found those mostly-healed scars. I used lips and tongue to give them a modicum of the attention I felt they deserved, until Heero forgot about the damn house. Forgot about the damn journal. Until he was pushing at his own jeans, frantic for more than just the teasing kisses. Until his voice took on a hint of desperation.

"Touch me!" he moaned, sounding oddly... pained. "Damn it Duo... touch me!"

I took pity on him then, stopped the light nibbling, and got serious. It didn't take long before he was shouting out his release, his fingers buried in my hair, his chest heaving with the exertion.

He pulled me up then, to claim a searching kiss, and I felt him shiver. He loves that... to kiss me afterward, to taste himself on my tongue. It never fails to make him almost breathless with this strange... tenderness. He turned me in his arms and I didn't fight it, just tried not to put too much weight on his abdomen. His hands slid over my exposed belly then, pulling shirt up, pushing jeans down. Fingers questing and stroking, hunting over my bared skin, until he succeeded in making me do my own forgetting.

No journal. No car. No house. Only Heero's sure, strong, gentle, wonderful hands.

We woke there on the couch, some hours later, cold and cramped, and staggered off to bed.

The next day was Saturday and I had been rather looking forward to spending a large part of my time with my head under my pillow, avoiding the news and pretending that I didn't own a bright red Chevy. Those plans had not anticipated the rest of the guys showing up to 'see my new car' and ostensibly, to hear all about my day from Hell. I guess a day was more than Quatre could stand to wait.

The doorbell woke me, but Heero was already up, so I tried burying my head in the blankets and ignoring it, hoping it was just a package delivery or something. Mrs. Moffitt from up the hall borrowing sugar. A door-to-door traveling evangelist. Mickey Mouse. I didn't care, just so long as whoever it was left me alone. The sounds of voices in the living room not long after, told me that not only was it not Mickey Mouse... the 'whoever it was' was the guys, and they would not be leaving me alone. I sighed and got up before somebody came after me.

I'd had kind of a crappy night, not really sleeping well, not having nightmares exactly, but a series of bizarre dreams that involved fire in one form or another, and the 'pocking' sound of gunshots.

I took the time to dress and do my hair before leaving the sanctuary of my bedroom. I figured if they had the nerve to descend on us at this hour, on a weekend, they could just fucking well wait.

I pulled on a clean pair of cargos and my 'Hell-Bound Beavers' shirt, just because I was feeling pissy, and went out to meet the public.

They were already ensconced all over the living room and I did my best to grumble a 'good morning' as I made my way through to the kitchen. This was going to require a bit of caffeine.

I heard a tiny little grunt of shock from Heero through the replies of the other guys, but I ignored it. When I came back from the kitchen with my bottle of soda in hand, he was staring at me, wide-eyed. "You let Relena wear that shirt out in public?"

I flashed him a grin that probably looked rather unabashed, hesitating as I realized Trowa and Quatre were sitting in 'my' spot on the couch. Heero was at the other end and Wufei had laid claim to the armchair. I finally settled on one of the stools at the breakfast counter. "If you will recall, I had nothing to do with dressing her Ladyship that day. Besides... she was wearing one of my work shirts over it... you couldn't see the back."

He'd never seen the back of the shirt before, and was managing to look a little green thinking about sweet, innocent little Relena walking around wearing a t-shirt with a group of beavers... well; they aren't called the Hell-bound beavers for nothing. "Still," he muttered. "I wish you'd told me. I can't believe she agreed to wear that thing!"

I couldn't help snickering. "If I know Toria... she probably never let her see that picture."

He scowled darkly and I had to sigh. That had probably not been the best thing to say. Heero was not Toria Brannigan's biggest fan to start with.

"We heard you're the proud owner of a new car, Duo," Trowa interjected gently, quite obviously turning the conversation in a new direction.

[cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]