Warnings : Implied
yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized characters, and a couple
of OCs, Duo POV.
Thanks to Yume Arashi for beta reading again... where would I be without
Feed-back is a dream I have...
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
I allow myself only fifteen
minutes in the shower. It's a steadfast rule, self-imposed back from my
days with the Sweepers. Fifteen minutes and only lukewarm water. When
you walk around with hair down to your ass, people tend to resent every
second you spend in the shower. It gets in their head that it must take
you forever to wash that much hair and suddenly every minute you spend
in the bathroom seems to multiply in their minds. And yeah; it means I
have to rush like hell. It's just one of those stereotypical things that
I've had to deal with for years.
I guess that's why it gets
under my skin so easily; nothing drives me insane faster than being able
to predict stupidity.
Maybe that's why I don't look back with any fondness on the first time
the five of us shared a safe house together. I got hit with a half a dozen
of those damned hackneyed accusations within days.
I am an orphan. I grew up on the streets and for some strange reason people
assume because of that fact that I will eat everything that isn't nailed
down. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am used to hunger in
a way you only get from living hand to mouth. Sure; I get hungry just
like anyone else, but my definition of hunger and most peoples are two
entirely different things. Food is nothing more than sustenance. My body
needs it. I don't much care after that; I'm not particularly picky about
what I eat. As a child I learned how to catch, kill, skin and cook rat.
You want to debate the difference between t-bone and porterhouse? I couldn't
My two biggest fans in the house were pretty predictable as well. Heero
and Wufei. Wufei was the one who decided to become obsessed with my use
of hot water and Heero settled on nagging me about my eating habits. Both
of them were reacting to the simple fact that they didn't care for me
personally. I knew that, and would have thought that understanding them
would have made it easier but somehow it only made it worse.
By the end of the second day I was about ready to explode. Another thing
you should know about me; I have a touch of some sort of martyr complex.
I am well aware of it, but when I am in the throes of a pissing contest
it just doesn't fucking matter to me. I am perfectly capable of cutting
off my own nose to spite my face.
The morning of the third day I woke up in full 'fuck you' mode. Sick to
death of being treated like an outsider, of being accused of shit that
just, plain was not true.
I wake early. Old street habit; you needed to be on the move before the
marks hit the street if you expected to get any breakfast. Whether begging
or stealing, the best time was in the early morning when people were heading
off to work, before their day had soured, while they were still feeling
So on the morning of the third day, I rose early, grabbed a towel from
the bathroom and walked down to the creek where I performed 'fuck you'
act number one.
I stripped and waded into the icy water, bathed and thoroughly washed
my hair with handfuls of clean, creek-bottom sand. I thought my balls
were going to crawl up inside my body and never come back down, but when
I was done I was as clean as I would have been in a nice hot shower. Fuck
you, Wufei. Never touched your precious hot water supply.
Then I went scavenging in the woods for breakfast. I found some walnuts
and spent the next half hour sitting in the sun letting my hair dry a
little bit while I cracked them with a rock and picked the meat out. Fuck
you, Heero. Never touched your precious food supply.
The other thing that people assume is that I'm lazy. Stems from my laid-back
attitude, I suppose. Again, not based on any truth; you learn to do your
share when you live in a gang or the gang doesn't keep you long. So after
I ate, I braided my still damp hair and went in the house to find some
chores that needed doing. The previous nights dinner dishes were still
stacked in the drainer, so I put them away. There was enough stuff in
the laundry basket to constitute a couple of loads, so I started one.
Now one thing that is true; I hate the cold. And that too is a
thing that stems from my youth. Being cold makes me remember those days
of having to huddle together with the other kids in whatever shelter we
could scrounge. Freezing to death is, perhaps, not the worst way in the
universe to go... but seeing someone do it leaves a lasting impression
on a young mind.
This house had a large fireplace, and we had a fire going most evenings.
Lying in front of it until I felt like a toasted marshmallow was one of
the few luxuries I had allowed myself in this place with all the guys
around. It didn't seem to annoy them; I think they enjoyed the comfort
of the fire as well; though they wouldn't admit it. But I made damn sure
that nobody else ever had to chop or carry the wood.
It was late enough that I didn't think anyone else would still be in bed,
so that's where I took myself next; out to chop more wood and fill the
As I worked, I became aware of the rest of the house stirring to life.
Trowa was in the kitchen, and on one of my trips in the house with an
armload of wood, I noticed the smell of eggs frying.
Trowa's an Ok guy, if quiet. I passed through the kitchen to put the wash
over into the dryer and start a second load and he greeted me with a quiet,
I grinned at him as I went through, "Mornin' Trowa." I glanced
at the table and noticed it wasn't set for breakfast yet, "Don't
bother setting a place for me, I already ate."
He frowned at me slightly, looking puzzled but I went on by without further
comment. Laundry switched, I went back to the chopping block.
I had to grin at myself ruefully; should have chopped the damn wood before
bathing. I was sort of negating the whole effort.
Wood chopping was something I hadn't known how to do before this safe
house, and I'm embarrassed to have to confess that I almost cut my own
foot off the first time I tried it. It's not as freaking easy as it looks.
Three days into my new skill, it still takes a certain amount of concentration
on my part to make sure the ax is splitting wood and not body parts. So
I was a little irritated when Wufei came charging out the back door bellowing
at me in mid swing.
"Maxwell!" He yelled and he said more, but it pretty much went
by me as I almost lost control of the damn ax.
"What!?" I yelled back when I had the blade stopped and was
sure that my knee was still intact.
"There is no damn hot water... again!" He stated, his
hair down and dripping what must be cold water everywhere, "That
God damned hair of yours... "
I cut him off, "I have not showered today." I gritted and turned
away to begin picking up wood, "The washing machine is running. Turn
I could feel him staring at me for a bit, but I ignored him and when I
turned around to take the wood in the house, he was gone. Fuck you, Wufei.
The firebox was full enough, so I decided to stop chopping wood while
I was still intact and went to get the clothes out of the dryer.
The others were sitting around the breakfast table and I got a smile from
Quatre and a glare from Heero as I came into the room.
"Good morning, Duo." Quatre smiled at me as I stopped to wash
my hands before dealing with the clean clothes.
"Morning, Qat." I grinned at him and he blushed. He's the only
one I feel free enough with to address with any sort of nickname. I think
he likes it but for some reason it seems to embarrass him.
I thought I might escape to the laundry room with no more than that but
the frown on Heero's face was deepening and he stopped me before I could
"The supplies are limited, we can't afford for anyone to... "
I turned away from the sink to face him. His glares are... heat personified.
Mine are the soul of ice. He stopped in mid sentence.
"I didn't touch your carefully counted and inventoried supplies."
He met my cold stare but didn't back down, "Trowa said you already
ate." He said accusingly.
It rankled me; thinking about them talking behind my back like I was not
part of their little group, "I took care of myself. I didn't go near
your precious supplies."
We stared at each other for a little longer and when he didn't have anything
else to say, I turned away and went to finish the laundry. Fuck you, Heero.
I caught the dryer before it shut off and was able to hang Quatre's dress
shirts before they wrinkled. I resisted the urge to just leave Heero and
Wufei's clothes lie in the dryer. But I managed to make myself fold the
green and black tank tops with the same detachment as Trowa and Quatre's
Anger was growling around in my gut and I decided without thinking about
it that I would not touch another bite of their God damned food; I didn't
care if I starved to death. Yep... spiting my own face all over the place.
I drew the line at putting their clothes away, and just stacked everything
in a laundry basket and set it on the kitchen table. Let them come and
get their own damned stuff.
I checked and someone else had already done the breakfast dishes, so I
went to find Quatre. It was my turn to make the supply run.
I heard them in the living room and it was the low tone of their voices
that made me hesitate instead of just going in.
"... walnuts? Why in the hell would he go out in the woods scrounging
for food when we have... "Wufei was saying but Quatre cut him off.
Someone must have noticed the pile of smashed hulls.
"Because of the way you two ride him about every little thing. What
is your problem? Duo more than carries his own weight... "
"He is unprofessional." I heard Heero growl, "He is undisciplined
and pays no attention to orders."
"He... "Quatre hesitated, "Has his own style. But that
doesn't give you the right to be rude."
"He is a thief by his own admission." Wufei said, and I could
hear the disdain in his voice.
"Oh that's so much worse than being a cold blooded killer."
I heard Trowa drawl and I had to grin. The guy was quiet, but that didn't
mean his tongue wasn't sharp when he decided to use it.
I think I'd heard enough to pretty much get the gist of what was going
on. I went on into the room; trademark grin plastered on my face and ignored
everyone but Quatre.
"There you are, Qat!" I beamed at him, "Clean laundry's
on the table. You got the car keys? I'm getting ready to make the supply
He stood and fished the keys out of his pocket and I detected frowns forming
on at least two of the other faces in the room. I was doing that anticipate
stupidity thing again and could feel myself growing angry.
"Yep. Thinking about buying sixty cartons of ice cream and some cookies.
You got any preferences in flavors?"
Wufei's mouth opened and then snapped shut again. Figured he'd be the
one to make that assumption.
I could see Heero out of the corner of my eye, on the verge of speaking
and I took a shot, "And who had the 'Hi! I'm a Gundam pilot!' t-shirt
last... I can't find it."
He growled and glared at me, "Baka." he gritted and I grinned;
two for two. I was on a roll.
I turned to leave and called airily over my shoulder, "I'll try to
be back before the end of the week!"
That should just about cover it. I stopped in the kitchen and took a quick
inventory of what we had and what we needed and took the supply money
out of the jar on the windowsill.
This was, perhaps, not such a bad idea. It would do me good to get the
hell away from here for a little while.
I was cursing the luck that had put me in this situation and starting
to fervently wish that I'd get an assignment just to get me out of it.
I do not usually have a problem getting along with people. I think I'm
a pretty easy-going guy; I normally can manage to put people at ease enough
that I can make a connection.
Somehow, no matter what I did with this group of guys I just seemed to
irritate them. Now in all fairness; Trowa and Quatre didn't seem to mind
me all that much, at least they were polite. I seemed to have earned a
little respect from Trowa and I think Quatre might have actually half
way liked my company. It was the other two; the brothers Grimm. It didn't
seem to matter what I did; I drove them to distraction. With Wufei...
at first, it had been almost fun and I have to admit I spent a little
time baiting him just because it was so easy. But Heero... that one got
to me. There was something about him... something behind those incredible
dark blue eyes. Yeah, stop your damn snickering; I fell for the son of
a bitch the first time I'd made eye contact. Get off my back; I'm well
aware of what a ridiculous thing it was to do, but where my heart chooses
to pin itself is something I've never been able to control.
So every one of those 'bakas' cut like a damned knife.
It is approximately eight miles to town by the road. If you were to walk
down the side of the mountain, I imagine it probably wasn't much more
than two. The car is an old beater, an ugly, flat, primer green but runs
Ok. I'd spent a little time on it when we'd first gotten here so at least
it didn't burn oil any more. It looked like the kind of car you would
expect any average guy our age to own.
The road down the mountain is a nasty little switchback thing, winds to
hell and back before coming out in the small town at the bottom; Foxdell,
I think it's called. There is a place about two miles from the house where
you can pull off without being in danger of getting creamed by anything
else on the road. Not that anything else had a reason to come up this
I pulled off and parked, got out of the car and sat on the hood for a
little bit. Wouldn't do to go down among the civilians as wound up as
I was. I just sat and listened to the birds for a few minutes, something
I'd never heard before coming to Earth and tried to shove it all out of
my mind. This would not last forever, I'd been a lone operative before
coming to Earth and this 'partnership' thing would end eventually and
I would go back to being a lone operative again. Somehow, it didn't make
me feel any better. I guess my problem was that, in my head, I could visualize
what this could be like. We were five of the most unique individuals
in the damn solar system. We should have more in common with each other
than with anyone else alive. It would have been nice to be able to talk
to these guys, to have a true partnership where we watched each other's
backs. I snorted softly; apparently not down this road.
"Just stop feeling, Maxwell." I muttered to myself and climbed
down. This wasn't doing me any good; I was so uptight I was feeling vaguely
nauseous. I had to stop letting them get under my skin. And I had to admit
to myself the date wasn't helping matters much. I just didn't want to
think about that right now. I got back in the car and finished the drive.
Foxdell isn't anything to write home to Mom about; there's a general store
kind of thing, a little bed and breakfast that didn't look like it had
seen a guest in months, a gas station, a little mom and pop restaurant,
and maybe a dozen houses. I suspect there was an 'in season' to this area
and we just weren't in it; too late in the year.
The car was a little low on gas, something that goes against my 'be ready
for anything' nature, so I pulled into the station first.
I had to grin; the pump was so old it didn't even have a digital display.
I watched a guy with the name 'Bill' stitched on his pocket come strolling
out of the station and I wondered if these people even knew there was
a war going on.
"Morning!" I called cheerily to Bill.
"What can I do ya for?" He grinned back and the absolute banal
chitchat was a more than welcome relief.
"Fill 'er up." I told him and popped the hood to check the oil,
though I had just done it a couple of days ago.
He moved around the car and pulled the hose down, sticking the nozzle
in the tank and latching the trigger before coming to look under the hood
with me. I noticed that he hadn't had the pump locked. I shook my head;
gotta love small towns.
"You got a rag?" I asked him companionably and he pulled the
one out of his back pocket and handed it over as he leaned down to look
at 'my' engine.
"Thanks!" I enthused and proceeded to check my oil, grinning
happily when it showed normal, "Damn! I think I finally got that
He perked up immediately, "Got oil problems?"
"I did." I told him as I put the dipstick back, "Stinking
thing was going through almost a quart a week."
"No shit?" He raised an eyebrow.
"No lie." I confirmed and handed him the rag back, "Took
me forever to find it; had a crack in the manifold."
He made that little noise you make when you're being sympathetic.
He wiped his hand on his pants leg and stuck it out, "I'm Bill."
He informed me.
"Hi!" I grinned at him and took the offered hand, "I'm
God; why couldn't it be this easy with stoic, anal-retentive Gundam pilots?
I put the hood down and we leaned against the car and talked engines for
a while. Then he asked me the standard questions; what was I doing in
these parts? Gonna be around long? The kinds of questions that people
just ask in semi-polite conversation. The kinds of questions that make
Heero start looking for someplace to hide the bodies.
So I told him about the camping trip that I was on with a few of my 'friends'
and that we'd probably be around for a couple of days unless the weather
turned bad or we got bored.
He told me where to go to do some fishing and I asked him what was good
to eat at the restaurant.
By the time I left, he would have asked me back to his house if I'd said
I had no place to stay.
Why couldn't it be this simple with Heero and Wufei?
When I got to the grocery store, it appeared deserted at first but when
I walked in and the little bell over the door rang, a girl's voice called
from the back room.
"Is that you Bill?"
I had to grin again; small towns.
"Uhmmm... no." I called back, "Sorry."
The voice of a total stranger was enough to bring the young lady out of
the back room, wiping her hands on a towel.
She was shorter than I was by a good head, wearing one of those cotton
dresses that I think of as 'granny dresses' over a turtleneck, the sleeves
of which were shoved up to her elbows. She was probably my age, but seemed
like a kid to me. She grinned with pleasure when she saw me, tilting her
head to the side to look me over and having to sweep her short-cropped,
brown hair out of her eyes.
"Nope." She confirmed for me, "You're not Bill."
I grinned back, "Not when I last checked."
She giggled and her nose wrinkled up and I was put in mind of a puppy.
God; she seemed so damn young.
"New or just passing through?" She asked, finishing with the
towel and flopping it across her shoulder.
"Just a tourist." I told her and finally turned to find one
of those carrying baskets.
"Too bad." She said and I turned to find her smirking openly
Ok; maybe not so young.
"I'm Paige." She ignored my moment of stunned reevaluation.
"Max." I told her.
She regarded me for another moment and then flicked her fingers to take
in the store in general, "Go ahead and shop." She told me, "Just
holler when you're done; I'll be in the back room."
She turned away and left me alone to wander through the aisles. I had
to shake my head; this was the strangest little place. I had to resist
the urge to ask her if she'd ever heard of a thing called a 'mobile suit'.
I picked carefully through what was offered on the shelves, trying to
imagine each item passing Heero's inspection. Nothing that would perish
quickly; dry goods, canned goods. With an eye toward food value. I'll
never understand why they don't just lay in a supply of the military issue
rations and do away with all this crap.
I got flour and corn meal, rice and oatmeal. Some eggs only because I
had figured out from watching Trowa that he used them in a lot of the
stuff he cooked. Salt because I had noticed we were almost out.
I was cautious of the price, picking over things and comparing volume,
doing the math to see where I was getting the most for the dollar. That
was another one of the Duo Maxwell myths that got on my nerves; why in
the hell would you think that someone who had grown up sometimes going
without food for days at a time, would be frivolous with their money?
Gimme a break; if there was anybody in our little group who was more likely
to overpay for supplies it was Quatre. I'd be willing to bet that until
the war, he'd never even seen the inside of a grocery store. That's what
people like the Winner's had servants for.
By the time I had my selections on the counter, I was feeling bitter again
and had to sigh at my own frame of mind. I should have known I'd be this
way today of all days.
There was a sharp clang from the back room and I flinched into a crouch
"You damn piece of junk!" I heard Paige growl and I rose and
walked toward the back room; curiosity peaked.
I got there just in the veritable nick of time.
'"Stop!" I shouted and I think I scared the crap out of her,
but she froze just a moment before she stuck the wrench she was holding
into a very bad place.
I strode across the crammed little storage room and jerked the power cord
out of the wall, "Didn't anybody ever tell you to unplug major appliances
before you dismantled them?" I drawled.
Her eyes flew wide and I was a little surprised to see that she understood
what she had almost just done, "Ohmygawd!" She breathed, "I
forgot I plugged it back in to test it!"
She sat back on the floor in a very un-lady like pose and blinked up at
"My God; you just saved my life."
I wanted to laugh; the last young lady who's life I had saved had bitten
my head off for my trouble.
"What," I asked, by way of a change of subject, "were you
trying to do?"
She stuck her lower lip out and gusted a breath up to blow her bangs out
of her eyes, "Trying to get this demonic piece of... crap running
again before we lose three hundred dollars worth of frozen food."
I turned a critical eye in the direction of the offending piece of equipment,
it didn't look that complicated, "Mind if I take a look?"
"If you know anything at all about refrigeration units,' She replied,
holding the wrench out, 'Go right ahead."
I took hold of the huge chest freezer and pulled it out from the wall
before taking the wrench from her.
She grinned up at me, "Oh well... go ahead; cheat."
I smirked back and bent to work, "Nothing like a little brute strength."
She giggled, "I like brutes."
I jerked my head up to look at her and couldn't tell if she was flirting
or just teasing or what the hell. I flushed and I thought she would collapse
on the floor laughing her ass off.
"Watch yourself." I tried to glower at her, "I could be
a wandering ax murderer."
Her face ran through a strange little series of expressions until I laughed
at her and she giggled some more.
"Got a flashlight?" I asked and she got up off the floor to
go get one.
It took me most of the next half an hour and she sat perched on a box
and prattled on while I worked. She had a sharp wit underneath the giggling
exterior and actually laughed at some of my jokes. I found that I was
kind of enjoying myself. Just having a nice, normal conversation without
anybody getting in my face about something I hadn't done anyway.
We found that we both liked some of the same music, though she didn't
have a clue what a hammered dulcimer was and I had never heard of Emerson,
Lake and Palmer. She was working here in her uncle's store until school
started again, would be going off to college in another couple of weeks.
Was going to major in the arts, though her father insisted that she carry
a double major so that she'd be able to get a 'real' job when she finished
My 'Max' persona comes with a fairly complete background and I explained
about being on the big getaway camping trip with some of my buddies before
we had to get back to the grind of school. Told her about how we were
all saving our money and next summer we were going to go to Europe and
hike across Great Britain.
She asked about my hair and I told her my rock star joke.
I asked about the granny dress and she told me her laundry joke.
Then I plugged up the freezer and fired it up and was rewarded with the
sound of the compressor kicking on.
She squealed and practically threw herself off the box and hugged me.
"Paige." I said as I untangled her, "It's not that big
She backed off at the first sign of my discomfort and I decided that she
was just one of those people who hugged at the drop of a hat.
"Are you kidding?" She yelped, "You just saved the store
over three hundred dollars in merchandise alone! Not to mention the cost
of getting a repair man out here!"
I grinned down at her, "Well I wasn't doing anything else."
Though that made me think about the time and I realized I'd better get
my ass back up to the house before the guys decided I'd been captured
and came to kill me to keep me from talking.
She seemed to suddenly realize how long it had been herself and fairly
dragged me back out to the front counter to ring me up, "I'm so sorry!"
And then she got a good look at the pile of supplies I had sitting there
and quirked an eyebrow at me, "Yuck; this is what you guys are eating?"
"I laughed, "Well... none of us is what you would call gourmet
"That's it!" She suddenly beamed and grabbed my arm to haul
me back toward the back room again, "I need to give you something
for going to all that trouble!"
I had a surreal, damn scary moment before she let go of my arm and stopped
to pull open the freezer I had just repaired.
"All of this would have spoiled if you hadn't gotten this running;
it takes two days to get the repair guy out here. Take whatever you want."
She looked up at me expectantly and I opened my mouth to protest and then
shut it again. It wasn't an awful idea; maybe bringing back something
special for tonight's dinner would help smooth things over with the guys.
I looked into the compartment and then looked at Paige.
"You sure?" I queried and got an enthusiastic nod.
I looked again. I thought about each of the guys and made a couple of
"That's all?" She asked, looking surprised and I had to laugh.
"Well... " I hesitated, "I was thinking some fresh vegetables
would go good with this."
She got them from the supply in back; the freshest thing in the store.
We made our way back out to the front counter and on the spur of the moment,
I snagged a bottle of soda out of the cooler. One tiny little indulgence,
damn it; it had been a long day.
She rang things up and when I told her to ring the soda separate, she
just grinned and winked and stuck it in the sack.
I sighed and tried to object, but she just waved a hand at me, "The
way I look at it; I still owe you something like two hundred and seventy
She helped me carry the sacks out to the car and we exchanged goodbyes
over the hood.
I headed back toward the safe house feeling a little better; I thought
I'd done Ok with the supplies and I'd managed to score the makings of
a really good meal for free. All it had taken was a little of my overly
free time and the exertion of a little mechanical ability. It wasn't even
all that late; I'd be back a good couple of hours before Trowa started
fixing dinner. Maybe the meal would serve to lighten things up a little
bit; maybe I would be able to spend the evening with a little pleasant
company. Would be able to immerse myself so much that what day it was
would stop nagging at me.