I blinked up at him, shocked
by the question, "Prey with an edge," I told him before I had
a chance to think about it. "I'm not a threat but I understand the
rules of the jungle."
"Sometimes I'm not sure,"
I heard come out of my mouth before I could stop it, even as I was standing
there still staring at Heero and I saw the surprise wash across his face.
He just sat and stared at me. It wasn't necessarily a glare but it made
me feel like I was being stripped down to the bone, weighed and measured.
"Then you should be the one to go out," he said and I was left
blinking some more.
I didn't know whether to grin or frown. Half of me was floating a foot
off the ground from the mere implication that he might possibly, maybe,
trust me to know what I was talking about. While the other half was asking
me just what in the hell I had gone and done.
"Heero!" Quatre snapped, "if it's all that dangerous out
there, you can't just send him off by himself!"
"He is the... expert here," Heero said softly and I was so busy
for a second trying to decide if that was a derogatory remark, that I
missed part of what Quatre said next.
"... Damn it! You are letting your personal feelings against Duo...
" He was flaming pissed if he was cussing.
"Qat!" I cut him off sharply, afraid of what he might be about
to say. I lowered my voice when I had his attention.
"I'm sorry... " I told him, "I'm not trying to say anything
against your abilities. If we were going into some high powered political
meeting or... or dealing with a negotiations situation; you'd be the point
man. But... this is different. This is outside your realm of experience;
He mulled it over, glared at me and finally said, "I don't think
it's safe for you to go out alone."
"I will actually draw less attention by myself," I assured him.
He turned those cornflower blue eyes on Heero again and I was only relieved
to have them off me.
"I just want to state that I am totally against this," he gritted,
"and just what are you and I supposed to do? Sit here on our hands
while Duo does all the work?"
"I am intending on doing some reconnaissance work after dark when
the likelihood of running into... "
I laughed. I had not meant to and damned if I didn't have both their eyes
on me again.
"Uhmmmm... Heero," I ducked my head, "After dark is when
things start to happen in a neighborhood like this. You'll do better to
wait until three or four in the morning."
I got a slight rise out of one eyebrow and a grunt. I took it as acknowledgment
of the information.
I decided to quit while I was ahead, "I'm going to go see if I can
put an outfit together," and I went to get my duffle bag.
There was no rush; there wouldn't be any point in going out for hours
yet. Though I suppose I could find someplace to pick up some warmer clothes
for the two of them while I was waiting for the local street life to stir.
I pulled out my clothes and looked things over, trying to decide who I
was going to be; my Max persona wasn't right for this kind of situation.
I was guessing that I was going to end up playing either Dodger the hustler
or Helio the streetwalker. I was hoping for Dodger; I don't even
like Helio. I finally concluded that I didn't have the right clothes for
either one of them. I checked the clock; almost ten. I'd probably be able
to find someplace to buy some clothes and recon the neighborhood a little
before much was stirring. I dug into my stash and counted out enough money
to buy what I needed plus a little extra.
"What are you doing?" I heard Heero say behind me and turned
to find the guys watching me curiously. Well, Quatre was watching curiously.
Heero was just watching.
"We need some stuff," I told him, shoving the money into my
front pocket, "I'm going out."
"Duo," Quatre came toward me with something in his hand, "Heero
and I discussed your going out alone. I'm still not happy with it and
we decided that you should at least wear a wire."
I straightened and looked at what he was holding, "You have surveillance
"Some," Heero admitted and I had to bite back on the urge to
ask him just what the hell else he was holding out on us.
I looked the little bug over when Quatre laid it in my hand. It was a
transmitter only; they wouldn't be able to talk to me. It was actually
pretty state of the art; I recognized it and knew it had a range close
to a mile.
I quirked a grin at Heero, "I'm impressed."
Of course, I only got a grunt in return.
I mulled it over in my head, weighing the possibility of getting caught
with it against the stress this whole thing seemed to be exerting on Quatre.
"All right," I finally agreed, took off my shirt, dug out my
repair kit and proceeded to undo the seam on the collar. I tucked the
little transmitter inside and stitched it carefully back up.
"There." I raised an eyebrow at Quatre as I slipped the shirt
back on, "Happy?"
"Not really," he grumbled, "But I guess it will have to
do." Then he turned to Heero, "Test it," he said tersely.
Heero went into his room without a word and I gave him a moment before
I began intoning, "Testing...testing... testing... " Like some
He came out a minute later with a tight nod and I shut up.
On a sudden thought, I turned back to Quatre, "Now you listen...
there's a lot of talk on the street that sounds... serious, that just
isn't. People push. People test. You are not to panic unless... "
I thought about it for a minute, "Unless I start talking in Japanese.
He nodded and somehow only looked more upset. That was what would get
him eaten alive outside this little house; everything he felt was written
across his face in six foot, flaming letters.
"I gotta teach you to play poker." I muttered and grabbed my
jacket and turned to go.
Quatre's fingers came to brush my arm, "Be careful," he murmured.
"Just stay cool," I told him, "I'll be back."
Then I was out on the street and turning my jacket collar up against the
wind. Damn but I hate the cold.
The house to the east of us was boarded up but you could tell that someone
was slipping in and out of it, "Looks like we have squatters living
in the house next door," I told them as I ambled along, letting my
eyes scan everything. Might as well pass along a little information while
I was out here.
"Stop glaring, Heero," I chuckled, "A lot of street people
talk to themselves... it's no big deal."
"Stay clear of the third house down, our side of the street,"
I warned, thinking about Heero's plan to be out after dark, "Looks
like they raise pit bulls. You go in that back yard and you won't be coming
out with all your body parts." I'm sure they could hear the savage
barking in the background. I shivered; I'd seen dog fights before.
"Nasty little pieces of work," I muttered to myself, "Give
me a nice golden retriever or a German shepherd any day."
I got quiet while I worked on my walk; God it had been years. I hunched
my shoulders and crammed my hands in my pockets and stopped trying to
walk like a soldier. Blend in, Maxwell; I chided myself. Stop striding.
After a few minutes I remembered to pull my hand out every so often and
wipe at my nose. Harmless... think harmless.
"I been hangin' 'round you guys too damn long... " I muttered,
thinking about Quatre hunched over the receiver back at the house, "This
is harder than I 'member."
I dug through my memory, pulling up a mental picture of the kind of person
I was pretending to be. I remembered the guy clear as day; Ganor... his
name had been Ganor. Everybody called him Gimpy because he had this rolling
walk that was almost a limp. I could hear his voice in my head. I had
the walk down within the next half block.
"At's better," I murmured, practicing the talk, "Don' you
be callin' me Gimpy to my face... my name's Ganor. G. A. N. O. R.,"
I intoned, just the way he used to say it. I always thought it was probably
the only word he knew how to spell.
Ganor had walked and acted like he owned the fucking block but everybody
knew he was a nothing nobody and paid him little mind. Most people thought
he was a loon.
"At's odd... " I said to nobody in particular, "Ol' gray
house with the big ol' porch... she got a brand spankin' new front door."
I continued that way, doing Ganor as I made my way toward the business
district. Muttering and murmuring to myself and verbally pointing out
things that stood out to my mind as something odd, like the car that looked
a little too nice for the house it was parked in front of and the only
other person I saw stirring that early in the day.
The houses gave way to apartment buildings within a few blocks and I began
to pass businesses and bars. Some of them boarded up; few of them open.
It took me five blocks of wandering before I finally found a second hand
I went inside, snuffling and rubbing my nose, which really was a little
runny from the cold.
The clerk glanced up only long enough to give me an appraising glance,
counting me as no real interest and went back to her Playgirl magazine.
It didn't take long to find where the better stuff was and I began digging
around looking for enough to put together an 'evening' outfit. I had decided
I would probably do better as Helio, much as I would rather have not...
but I hadn't seen too many places where Dodger could ply his pool hustler
I picked up a couple more sweaters and an extra jacket because I didn't
think that Quatre had one and went slouching up to the counter.
The clerk raised her eyes and glared at me.
"This here jacket's gots a hole in it"' I whined and she only
rolled her eyes.
"That's why it's called a second hand store, honey. Get over it."
"I ain't payin' no full price for no jacket that gots a hole."
She went back to her magazine, "Then put it back, sugar."
"Come on, man." I whined a little more and reached to rub at
my nose again, I caught the flick of her eyes at the movement and I let
my hand tremble as I put it back down and shoved it back into my pocket.
"I ain't got much... and I got to save some... "
I had her full attention now and her whole attitude changed. The money
she made off the clothes went to somebody else. The money she made from
selling... other things under the counter was all hers.
"What's a'matter, sugar? You look a little wasted." The sympathy
in her voice held absolutely no reality in it.
I ducked my head down and to the side the way I remembered the real Ganor
doing it. "I needs the clothes and I ain't got much cash... "
"Well... " Her eyes never left mine and I forced a shiver, "Maybe
we can talk price if you're interested in something else."
I gave her a hungry look and we got down to the real dealing. She was
careful not to mention anything by name but a small bag appeared on the
counter next to my pile of legitimate merchandise. I got a much
better deal on the clothes.
I left the store with a couple of plastic bags full of clothes that would
all have to be washed and something else tucked inside my jacket pocket.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I got a couple of blocks behind me, "Jesus
Christ," I blurted, forgetting for a second that Heero was probably
sitting there with Quatre, "This is bringing back a whole shit wagon
full of crap I would just as soon not remember."
I deliberately worked my way back to the house using a different route
and continued my litany of observations as I went.
"There's something strange over here on fifth street. There's a building
here that looks too new. There's something not right about it... it almost
looks like somebody was trying to make it look old."
It was afternoon now and I was seeing more people. I deviated once from
the route I had intended to take because I spotted a small group of punks
hanging around a street corner. 'Punks' and 'hanging around' usually meant
bored. They weren't bored enough to come down two blocks to follow me.
I was getting antsy this close to my goal and found myself rambling to
Quatre as I wove my way between obstacles, surprised at how quickly old
instincts came back.
"Old piece of street wisdom, Qat. Never go where you don't have at
least three ways out," I was prompted to say as I briefly contemplated
and rejected going down an alley to shorten my route.
I came to the corner just two blocks up from the house and had to decide
between going down the north or south side of the street. On the north,
the owner of the pit bull service was outside in his front yard and would
have to be passed. He looked like a sullen bastard and wasn't doing a
whole lot of anything but he had one of his dogs with him. On the south
side there was a pair of youngish looking punks in colors sitting on the
hood of a car passing a joint back and forth, laughing uproariously.
"Great," I murmured, "Hell or high water. Ok... let's decide
based on the rules set before me as a child; never failed me before. Rule
number two, Qat... it's the quiet ones who'll give you the most trouble."
So I stayed on the south side and only had to endure the hoots and catcalls
of two guys too stoned to want to get up off their asses to give me any
I made the front porch of the safe house with that spot between my shoulder
blades itching like a son of a bitch and having to make myself not run.
I had been too long off the streets, had forgotten the constant tension,
I knew I'd have trouble sleeping tonight with the monsters of my childhood
hunting me through the dark.
The door flew open in front of my face before I had a chance to reach
for it and Quatre fairly pulled me inside, falling all over himself trying
to ask me questions. I laughed at him, a little of the tension easing
now that I was under cover.
"Let me get these clothes in the bathtub to soak and then we'll sit
down and talk."
He gave me a puzzled little frown, "But Duo... you just bought them...
"And they're probably full of vermin coming from a place like that,"
I told him and his eyes flew wide. I passed Heero in the hall on my way
and grinned at him, still a little bit high on adrenaline.
"If you have the map of the area, I can mark some stuff we should
"Meet us in the kitchen," he said and I grinned wider. There
hadn't even been a glare with that line!
I ran the tub full of scalding hot water and poured in a liberal amount
of the harshest cleanser I could find. By the time I got to the kitchen,
I had put Ganor completely behind me and was able to sit down with them
When Heero spread the map out, I could see that he had already marked
the place with the dogs and to tell the truth, it rather surprised me
that he had thought enough of my observations that he had noted it. I
went over what I had noticed and marked things off on the map. Heero actually
asked me a couple of questions and I hated myself for the warm feeling
his attention gave me.
Heero decided he wanted to investigate the house with the obviously new
door and the building on Fifth Street; possibly that very night.
When we were done talking tactics, Quatre jumped all over me, "What
was going on in the clothing store? Why did that clerk suddenly change
the way she was talking to you?"
I chuckled lightly, "You just heard your first drug deal go down,
"But... " He sputtered and I laughed some more and explained
about how much more difficult it was to make charges stick if the seller
never actually makes a verbal offer. I showed him the stuff and marvelled
again at how wise and naïve he could be all at the same time.
I caught a slight frost in the air and glanced at Heero to find him looking
at me in a very odd way, "What are you planning on doing with that?"
he asked in a voice I had not heard before and I had trouble deciding
what the tone was.
"Depends," I told him blandly,"'If I have to go out as
Dodger... I may try and sell it as part of my cover. If I have to be Ganor
again... God forbid... I'll probably just carry it as a prop. Otherwise
it goes down the toilet."
There was a subtle change to his features but it was beyond me to read
him most of the time.
Quatre was confused again, "Dodger? Ganor? Duo... I don't understand."
"My personas," I told him, "cover identities."
"You have them already made up?" He looked a little incredulous.
"It makes it easier to pull one out of my hat when I need to be somebody
else in a hurry," I explained and he just shook his head.
"Who are you going to be tonight?" he finally asked.
I ducked my head and rubbed at the back of my neck, a little embarrassed,
"Unfortunately; after looking around... I think I'm going to have
to be Helio."
"Helio?" Heero questioned with a frown.
"Uhmmm... yeah. Heliotrope... Helio. He's a... streetwalker."
That brought a shocked gasp from Quatre and he blushed a bright red. Heero
had that unreadable expression again and I sighed. I had a feeling I was
starting to seriously give him some shivers.
I ignored what I couldn't understand and turned my attention to Quatre,
"Don't worry, Quatre... I have no plans of taking on any... clients.
It just affords me the opportunity to converse with a lot of people while
"But... " and his color escalated to an even brighter shade
of red, "Won't it blow your cover if... I mean what if somebody...
I laughed out loud. "You just set a price that's ridiculous and send
them on their way."
He didn't look convinced and I reached to pat his hand. "Don't worry
so much... there's plenty of fish to pick from out there... no reason
to push the issue with one skinny little, nothing street rat."
He blinked up at me and his mouth popped open. "Are you kidding?
Duo, you're... " and then his mouth snapped shut. I am not at all
sure what he had started to say but he was red again and he never did
I finally decided I'd had enough of the question and answer session. "I'm
going to go rinse the clothes out." And I left the room.
I rinsed the crap out of the new clothes and I'm pretty sure I did see
some little dead somethings go swirling down the drain. I rung the water
out of them the best I could and took them outside to freeze them the
rest of the way dry.
With luck, they'd be ready by evening.
When I came back in the house, Heero was on the couch working at his laptop
and Quatre was making lunch.
I bypassed Heero and went to sit in the kitchen to talk with Quatre while
he worked. No sense pushing my luck with Mr. Mission; if I wasn't careful,
I'd forget myself and cross whatever line it was that only he could see.
Quatre was making soup and sandwiches and just generally hanging around
the stove more for warmth than anything, I think. He kept stealing glances
at me and I finally sighed in exasperation.
"Listen, Qat... if there's something you want to ask me; just go
He flushed and ducked his head. "I just don't understand... things,
I guess." He muttered.
I bit down on the urge to tell him that was exactly why I didn't want
him going out but only asked, "What things?" Wishing that he
could learn to be a little more blunt.
"How did that woman know"' he stopped, searching for words while
he slowly stirred the soup.
I closed my eyes for a second and slipped back into Ganor's head. I got
up from the chair and made my way across the room toward him, doing the
walk, doing the tremble, doing the sniffle and the whole attitude.
"Why... dat woman... she's a pro-fess-on-nal. She knows her work...
she knows the signs."
He almost knocked the pan over whirling around to face the stranger that
suddenly seemed to be in the room with him.
I chuckled in a nasty, Ganor way, closed my eyes and when I opened them
I was Dodger.
Dodger's a punk, on the ragged edge of dangerous. He's all angles and
attitude. I came out of the slouch and cocked my head and my elbows. I
seem larger when I do Dodger; you stand up straight and tall and just
imagine yourself occupying more space than you really do. I continued
"S'matter pretty bird?" I drawled and let my eyes run over him
the way he would get looked at if he dared wander out of this safe place
into the streets. I got in his space and he gave ground with his eyes
I pushed it until he croaked, "Duo?" I heard in his voice that
he wasn't sure. I'd genuinely scared him. Good.
I flashed him a pure Duo Maxwell grin and reached passed him to take down
the soup bowls from the shelf. "What, Qat?"
He just blinked at me as I turned to set the table.
Heero was standing in the doorway watching us. He had that expression
again; that one that can only be described as a total lack of expression.
Not for the first time, I wished I could read his mind.
Then Quatre surprised me with a question I wasn't prepared for, "Which...
which one of you is the real one?"
Ouch. Ok... maybe I'd taken
this game a little too far. I turned away from them both and set the table.
The subject got dropped after that and I was careful to stick with just
being Duo Maxwell the Gundam pilot.
When I brought in the clothes after lunch, I left a sweater and the jacket
on Quatre's bed. Then feeling like a damned little kid sneaking where
they didn't belong, I carefully folded and put the dark gray sweater I
had picked up for Heero on the foot of his bed. I have no idea why I keep
making these damn gestures; I'm not normally the type of person to pick
up rattlesnakes just for fun.
Then I busied myself with getting my 'outfit' ready and trying to convince
myself to pull Helio out of the box.
There's an assumption that people make about you when they figure out
that you grew up, not only on L2 but as an orphan running the streets.
It's an automatic conclusion that you had to have sold your body to have
survived. Nope. Sorry. Not always the case. Yeah, some of the kids did;
but you want to know a nasty piece of truth? Little kids trying to be
hookers do not live long. If you survived the physical damage, you weren't
likely to survive the diseases you were going to get from the type of
people who were looking for a roll with a pre-pubescent anyway. I am as
virgin as the new-driven snow. I am not innocent. I know how it
works; I know the tricks and the secrets. I've had to lie quiet as a mouse
in my packing-crate shelter for the night with girls plying their trade
not twenty feet away. But I came through those years pretty much untouched.
Solo saw to it; saw to it with all his 'rat children'. I don't know if
he ever had to go that far, I sometimes wondered because he was very vehement
about the subject. None of the kids in his gang ever even thought
about it. He made damn sure we understood how that would just get us dead.
Helio is based on a girl named Azure. She took her trade name from the
color of her eyes. She had the most beautiful blue eyes. I suspect that
I will be able to see those eyes when I have forgotten what the rest of
her looked like. She wasn't one of us kids, was older... probably fifteen
or sixteen. Seemed as old and wise as some ancient Oracle. She was...
a bitter piece of work. I avoided her as much as possible; she made me
uncomfortable. Sometimes if you caught her in the right mood, you got
a glimpse of the person she might have been. It ate at me.
I sincerely don't like Helio. I guess sometimes it just comes home to
me how close I had come to being Helio.
Quatre sat and watched me slice artful holes in denim for a while, nibbling
at his lip and refraining, thank God, from any more questions.
Heero worked at his laptop, doing searches on the building on Fifth Street
and coming up empty, which only served to peak our interest about the
Then there was no more putting it off and I went to the bathroom to change.
It was getting late and the nightlife would be starting to stir.
I started my disguise with black spandex. Shut up, ok; I don't want to
hear about it. Black leggings and a long sleeved, form fitting shirt;
a veritable body stocking. Over that went a pair of acid washed jeans
that were so slashed there wasn't a whole lot of places where slinky,
black spandex wasn't showing through. A matching denim shirt, not buttoned
but tied at the waist and equally slashed. My black combat boots and a
black leather jacket. I took my hair down, brushed it until it shone and
pulled two locks from either side of my face to tie back behind my head.
I thought of Relena with a dark chuckle.
I surveyed myself in the mirror with a bit of a shock. Shit. I wasn't
quite the scrawny little street kid I remembered. There was some muscle
on the frame I found in the looking glass.
My transmitter had been transferred to the shirt I had on and there wasn't
any getting around it; it was time to go out.
I made eye contact with Helio in the mirror and growled to myself. "Damn
I hate you."
In the mirror, Helio gave me a saucy wink and just grinned.
I came out of the bathroom trying not to blush and failing miserably when
I found the drop-jawed look on Quatre's face.
"Duo!' he gasped, "You can't go out looking like that!"
I laughed until the tears threatened to run down my face. "Qat...
it's kind of the whole point."
Heero came out of his room then and I could feel him looking at me. I
didn't have the nerve to turn and see what expression he was wearing;
I had a feeling it was going to be that frozen one again.
"Heero?" Quatre exploded, looking to our partner for support
and finding none.
"Will you still be using the same Japanese code if you experience
trouble?" he asked and the glare he got from Quatre was scathing.
"Yeah." I told him without turning and Quatre got so pissed
he stormed off to his room slamming the door when he got there.
I finally turned to where Heero was setting up the receiver and caught
him looking me up and down appraisingly. It kind of irritated me somehow.
Or embarrassed me, I'm not sure which but a tiny bit of Helio peeked out
and I raised my arms and turned around to display the goods. "Do
I pass inspection?" I purred and was gratified to see him blush and
I wrestled with things to say, I knew if I got into any serious trouble
I was pretty much on my own. There wasn't going to be a whole lot they
could do for me. I wanted some assurance that they wouldn't do something
stupid trying to bail me out. But then I remembered who I was standing
here with and I realized what an idiotic notion that was. I finally
muttered, "Take it easy on Quatre... he's just... out of his element
here and it makes him feel helpless. It's in his nature to worry."
I left before he had a chance to bite my head off.
[back to Sunhawk's fic]