COMMENTS: This is the epilog to the Rejects Arc. While "Desertion" was probably a more conclusive ending than you'd typically expect from anime, there were a few (loose) ends that need tying up -- though not in the sense that Duo sometimes likes (tight) ends or Duane likes tying up. <g>

WARNINGS: yaoi, lime-ness that puts a foot across the lemon threshold at one point

BGM: "Only Time " from Enya's album "A Day Without Rain" (Even though "Friends" <ack, barf> used it too.)

Roads Taken
A Soldiers and Fools Story
July AC 204
by LoneWolf ( kodoku na okami )

Heero's eyes narrowed as he stood at the edge of the battlefield and surveyed the aftermath of the war. Piles of debris lay before him. A narrow path, not entirely continuous, ran from where he stood to his destination. He shook his head and stifled a sigh at the frightful mission before him.

It hadn't been a problem when they were living in Tokyo. He and Duo had worked together to keep the apartment reasonably neat, but once they'd started traveling, Duo's half of the room had degenerated almost overnight. After the third argument about it, Heero had decided that the emotional stress of arguing and being angry at Duo -- and vice versa -- was much worse than just living with the mess.

Gingerly, he picked his way across the room, stepping over clothes mostly, though the occasional shoe or disk containing part of Duo's music collection was half-concealed in the disarray.

It wasn't that Duo didn't try. Heero knew that with each new hotel room he tried mightily, but within an hour, the flotsam began to accumulate. Duo usually made an effort to at least get clothes in one pile and other things in another. Even so, it never took more than twelve hours before the situation was hopeless. The immaculate order that characterized Heero's side of the room just wasn't ingrained into Duo's psyche the way it was into Heero's.

And that, Heero thought, is probably part of why I find him interesting. He isn't like me. He challenges me. He isn't boring. He makes me work for it.

Whatever "it" was. Heero had been trying to figure that out for years, but he was still no closer to finding the answer. Whatever "it" was, he knew life would be far less pleasant without it. Whatever "it" was, he knew he needed Duo to have it.

"As much as you hated him," he said, looking over Duo's shoulder. "You write him often." He scanned the text closely enough to see a mixture of English, Japanese, Spanish and what he assumed was Russian, since he knew Duo and Duane both spoke it. He didn't bother trying to read it, though.

He had never understood how they could mix such disparate languages in a single email, much less a single sentence. Occasionally, he'd use an English word when he was writing in Japanese, or vice versa -- or a French word or phrase when writing English, though the latter was usually a common usage of French in English. Duo and Duane seemed to pick words from whichever language they felt best suited what they were trying to say and combine them into structures that might loosely be called sentences in any of the original languages. Duo had shown him a short note from Duane once and he had tried to read it on his own. Half an hour later he'd had a headache from trying to parse out the grammar and had asked Duo to translate it for him.

"Y'know what they say," Duo said, without looking up. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Duo paused to scan the last few lines of text, then nodded and clicked the "Send" button. "And it was less like I hated him and more like he annoyed the Hell out of me." He shrugged. "I like to make sure he isn't screwing up. You know what a baka he is." Duo looked up and froze, his mouth hanging open.

"Aa." Heero nodded. "Like his big brother." He stretched and turned, arching his back slightly, looking back over his shoulder to assess Duo's reaction. "You like it?"

"A-- Anouuu… You going out for a run?" Duo's eyes were wide as they ran up and down Heero's body, clad in the skin-tight, dark grey one-piece running suit and matching cross-trainers that Duo had given him that afternoon.

He had even put on the armbands. They were designed to help reduce wind friction. Heero didn't run competitively, so he didn't really care about wind friction. He didn't find himself particularly attractive in the mirror either, but he remembered the time they had played the mirror game. He had stood in front of a full length mirror, naked, and Duo had pointed out all the little details of his body that were exciting or pleasant to look at and why -- for two hours and seventeen minutes. So, he knew Duo liked to see his biceps moving beneath his skin and the armbands accentuated that.

He also knew that from Duo's point of view -- the rear -- the tight, clinging fabric left very little to the imagination. Not, he thought, that Duo would have to imagine much. He'd seen it bare often enough. Had even drawn it a few times. But Heero had noticed that in the mirror too and had decided that if he noticed it Duo would definitely notice it.

"Iie. I thought you'd like to see what it looked like." He decided he'd tormented Duo enough and turned to face him. "Did you tell Duane we'd be on L1 next week?"

"Aaaa…" Duo gulped, then closed his mouth and blinked. Casually he stood and slid his arms around Heero's waist. "Yeah." He paused. "Yeah. I think the Wing-logo on the back is a nice touch." Duo laid both hands on Heero's ass and squeezed.

Heero knew Duo liked doing that. Of course, he enjoyed it too. "Aa. You'll wear yours tomorrow morning when we run, ne?" He had little doubt Duo's would fit as snugly as his and would be at least as pleasant to look at. Of course, Duo had gotten his with black wings on the back instead of white.

Duo grinned. "Of course. You don't think I want to be the only one getting horny, do you?" He kissed Heero on the nose. "I told Duane we'd get together for dinner or something and to pick a place. Anou… you don't mind, do you?"

Heero shook his head. They usually had a couple of assignments a year that took them to L1, and they always spent part of their time there with Hiroshi and Duane. "Ii n'da. Speaking of dinner…"

"Yes, master planner?"

"Hn. And what about your wild nights on the town?" he asked, his left eyebrow slipping up a half centimeter. "You may keep a messy room, but you plan those almost as well as I could."

"So I'm the almost-master planner. You wanna go out or you want me to cook something?"

"We can't get into the conference center until 10:00 tomorrow, so we can sleep until 08:00 and still have time for a run and a shower--"

"Among other things," Duo interrupted.

"Aa." Heero nodded, his face bland, except for the expectation in his eyes. "Among other things before the shower. So I thought tonight we'd eat out, take a walk, see a play--"

"Play? What play?" Duo's arms tightened around him. "Tell me what I want to know," Duo said, his voice suddenly gruff. "Or I'll torture you until you beg to tell me."

Heero smirked. It usually wasn't difficult to get Duo onto the OZ Interrogation game. "That will happen after we get back from the play," he said. Being interrogated by OZ soldiers had not been at all fun, even by his pre-Duo standards. But when Duo pretended to be an OZ officer interrogating him… Well, that had a way of being very fun, even by his post-Duo standards.

"What play? I mean, I didn't even know they *had* plays in--" Duo frowned. "Uh, we're in Albuquerque this week, right?"

"Aa." Heero said, staring into Duo's eyes. It was one of his favorite things to do. "Final security check for the Minister of Trade's visit to the government purchasing agents' conference."

Duo stared at him, waiting. Waiting. Heero watched the violet deepen as Duo grew frustrated. Finally, Duo gave in. "Damn it, Heero. What play?"

"If I tell you, you won't have an excuse to interrogate me later."

"Aaaargggh!" Duo roared. "Later I'll know what we saw so I won't need… Uh…" Duo paused. "Ohhh. You want me to interrogate you now?" He grinned. "I shoulda known when I saw you looking at me over your shoulder with that come-fuck-me smirk."

"Iie. We leave for dinner in twelve minutes. Later you can pretend it's now. What come-fuck-me smirk?"

"Twelve minutes?" Duo frowned. "You made reservations somewhere. So where are we going for dinner?"

Heero stared at him, face blank.

"Okay," Duo sighed. "I get it. More to interrogate you about later."

"Aa. You will be able to pretend you don't know?"

Duo laughed. "Hee-koi, I can pretend almost as well as I can fly a shuttle, especially when it involves you, me, and no clothes. I just hope you're ready for me because I'm not gonna show you any mercy."


"So," Duo said, releasing Heero and gently pushing him away. "Are you wearing that to dinner?"

"Iie." Heero shook his head. "I'll change while you put on your shoes."

"Anou. You could wear that under your clothes." Duo's eyes widened and he smiled hopefully.

Heero realized that, for some reason, Duo was turned on by the idea. He nodded. "Aa." He had a feeling it was going to be a very lively evening.

He smirked.

"That come-fuck-me smirk," Duo said and kissed him.



No response.

"Damn it, I know you're out there."

No response.

Duane sighed. He hadn't really expected an answer. He redoubled his efforts with the hairpin. He'd never expected picking the lock on a set of handcuffs would be so damn difficult. The fact that they were strung through one of the slats in the headboard of the bed and he was laying flat on his back trying to work over his head didn't help. He couldn't have seen what he was doing even if he hadn't been blindfolded. The funny thing was, if he wasn't practicing for a test, he almost certainly would have found the situation at least mildly erotic.

Finally, he heard a faint snick and felt the pressure on his right wrist ease up. Three seconds later, he was sitting up, hands in front of him, blindfold off. The second lock opened in less than a minute.

"Twelve minutes, forty seconds."

He started and looked up to find Hiroshi standing at the foot of the bed watching him. "I know you weren't there the whole time."

"Nn. I heard you sit up and came in to check. You're still taking too long. You have to be able to escape in less than ten minutes to qualify for field work."

"I know! I know!" He sighed. "Some of us can't just snap the chain." Hiroshi's unorthodox approach had gotten a frown from their instructor, but the woman had let him get away with it. She'd said that in the real world you used any advantage you had. "It's a bitch trying to pick the damn handcuffs when they're holding your wrists together."

Hiroshi sat beside him and ran a hand through his hair. "Do you want to try again?"

Duane leaned against Hiroshi. "Only if you stay in here and we have fun while I try."

"I don't think that will improve your time."

"You never know." Duane laughed. "It might give me an incentive to get out faster."

Hiroshi snorted.

"Okay. So I'm in a 'tie me up and screw me silly' mood. It was worth a try."

After they'd helped Heero and Duo capture the Rejects he'd found he was in a "tie me up and screw me silly" mood quite often. Usually two or three times a week. On winter break that year, he'd finally worked up the nerve to ask Duo about it in an email. He still remembered the response. "Whoa! I said you were a bondage freak, little bro', but I didn't realize it was that serious. Heero and I do stuff like that maybe once every month or two, but, hey, who am I to set your schedule as long as you both enjoy it, you don't do any serious damage, and you don't get in trouble?"

He'd thought about that long and hard, and about what he really liked, but hadn't really found an answer. It wasn't humiliation, though the sense of being out of control of the situation was something of a turn-on. It wasn't pain, though a little mild discomfort -- rough play -- often made it better. He still didn't know why he liked bondage play, he just did.

When they were getting ready for class the following Monday morning, he'd taken a deep breath and asked Hiroshi to tie ropes under his clothes. It was just a simple harness that first time, over the shoulders, an X across his chest and back, then around him below his breastbone. He'd worn a loose shirt so no one would see.

By lunchtime he'd been so horny, he'd dragged Hiroshi into the janitor's closet in the chem lab building, pinned him against the wall, and... They'd explained the light abrasions on Hiroshi's left cheek by saying he'd run into a brick wall. Running, rubbing, it was close enough.

That was when he'd figured out it wasn't exactly about submission either. Duane smiled as he remembered. The best part was, it had stimulated Hiroshi's curiosity, which led to some interesting experiments. Hiroshi didn't get into being tied up as much as Duane did -- after all, he could snap the rope if he really wanted to -- but they'd found that, even pretending he couldn't escape, he enjoyed it enough that Duane wasn't always the one being tied up. And Duane had found tying up could be almost as much fun as being tied.

The memory was pleasant, but he sighed and laid his head on Hiroshi's shoulder. He was in a "keep me warm" mood too. He'd been working on the handcuffs trick for ten weeks and had only shaved two minutes off his time. At this rate it would months before he could qualify on escape skills. The sense of failure -- and that he was holding Hiroshi back -- was depressing. "How about dinner?"

"I'll make some nikujaga. Duo sent you an email."

That made him feel a little better. Duo always said things that took his mind off his problems. It would be something fun to do while Hiroshi made dinner. "What did he say?"

"Baka." Hiroshi tightened his arm around Duane's waist. "You know I don't read your mail. Even if I tried, I can't read that jumble you and Duo use."

"Okay, Shi-koi" Duane sighed a mock sigh. "If you insist. I'll come translate it for you." He squeezed Hiroshi's thigh playfully.

"And after dinner we'll finish homework and continue practicing with the handcuffs."

"Yeah, yeah." He hated taking summer classes, but he'd blown Linear Algebra last semester -- damn math requirement -- and was determined to make it up so they'd graduate together in December.

His brain replayed Hiroshi's words. He froze and looked up and caught the particular twist of Hiroshi's lips. His eyes widened. "And you'll try to distract me?"

"Nn. I have to finish my report on the Mars colony project delays for my project management class. But after, I will give you an incentive to work faster."

"Sugoi!" Duane grinned. "You're so good to me."

"Aa. I will distract you while you practice." He looked Duane in the eyes. "But I won't let you come until you can pass the test."

"But…" Duane stared at him, horrified. "But that could be months."

Hiroshi's lips quirked up again. "I told you I would give you an incentive to improve."

Duane thought about it for a moment then nodded. "Mm." He bounced up from the bed. "Ryoukai. What are we waiting for? You've got dinner to fix and I have homework to get out of the way." And how horny am I gonna be, he thought, if it does take months? Well, when I do make it, we're gonna have one Hell of a celebration.


18 rubbed his forehead.


He looked up and found 32 standing next to him, aspirin and a glass of water in hand. "Arigatou." He pushed back from the laptop and took the pills. As he did, he felt 32's hands on his shoulders, kneading the muscles.

"You always get a headache when it's your turn to translate," 32 said.

"Aa. Why do--" He paused. "Why do Duo and Duane have to write each other like that? They never write in four languages at once when they write to other people." He allowed himself a faint smile. It had taken nearly two years, but in the last month, he had finally stopped referring to them as "27's lover" and "that one". He felt 32's hands squeeze tighter and knew 32 had noticed and was proud, but knew better than to say it out loud.

"I would do all of them--"

"But I won't let you." He felt 32 lean forward to read the screen, hands still working, loosening the knots in his shoulders. He waited for 32 to speak.

"This is it?"

"Aa. This is probably our last chance. I've found a suitable location. Can you fake the replies to get them there?"

"Of course. After dinner."

18 checked and realized it was 21:44. He had taken longer than he'd thought translating Duane's reply, but it wouldn't go to Duo until he released it. They could take a few minutes to eat and relax before 32 adjusted it appropriately.

He rolled his shoulders. They felt better. His headache had faded to barely noticeable. He stood and followed 32 to the kitchen. One day, he thought, I will start to think of him as Michie instead of 32. It annoyed him that the day had not yet come. Even so, he had won the war with Duo's and Duane's names, he found himself thinking of Heero and Hiroshi more often than 27 and 38. One day.


He looked up to find 32 watching at him, eyebrows a fraction of a centimeter closer than normal. Worried. "I was thinking."

"Aa," 32 said. "After all this time it will be over soon."

It was a better path of conversation that what he'd been thinking about, so he took it. "I have always wanted to complete a mission and know what it felt like."

"Oh Hajime," 32 chuckled. "You complete missions every day, if you'd learn to look at it that way."

32 had been after him about that since they'd deserted the Rejects. If he could see writing a report or performing his job functions or even translating an email from Duane to Duo as a mission… But it wasn't that easy for him. He always focused on the overall project. Completing the individual steps brought him only a small sense of accomplishment -- not like 32, who lived for each step. He had been given only a few significant missions in his life and had succeeded at none so far.

Except to think of Duo and Duane as Duo and Duane. And not having to itemize and count each of the significant missions he had been assigned, small though the number was. And…

He caught himself and stopped listing and sat down at the table. "Dinner. And then I have a progress report to complete, which I promise to try to think of as a significant mission." It wouldn't work -- and he knew 32 knew that -- but he would try.

"And I'll take care of Duane's reply."

32 set a bowl of nikujaga before him.

18 stared at it. "This is what Duane said Hiroshi made for dinner."

"Aa. I saw it earlier. Duane wrote the whole sentence in Japanese." 32 sat across from him and they began eating. After a moment, he said, "And then there's the significant mission you always accomplish quite successfully."

18 paused long enough to ask, "Nani?"

32 smiled. "Meet me in the bedroom when you're done with your progress report and I'll show you."

"Aa." 18 knew exactly what the mission was. He doubted accomplishing any of the other missions was going to be quite as pleasant as holding 32 until they fell sleep -- or the other things they might do first.


"Are you sure this is the place?" Duo asked.

Heero studied the map on his palm computer. "If you entered the address correctly."

"It looks like nobody's here." Actually, Duo thought as he stared around the room, it doesn't just *look* like nobody's here. The restaurant was empty. Not merely empty of people, empty. No tables, no chairs, nothing. He spotted a curtained opening on the far side of the room. "What the Hell kind of restaurant is this?"

"An empty one," Heero said, closing the door behind him.

Duo spun around and glared. There was no hint of a smile on Heero's face, but he was sure he'd heard it in Heero's voice. He sighed. "So do we wait for…"

"We're seven minutes, twenty-seven seconds early."

"So do we wait for seven and a half minutes," he reached for the phone in his pocket, "or do we call them now to get the punch line?" If Duane was playing a joke on them, Duo knew he was going to lose it. A joke was one thing, but sending them to the far end of L1 to an empty restaurant at 19:00 was way beyond the boundaries of acceptability.

The door opened. "Hey 'bro!"

Duo looked past Heero and saw Duane and Hiroshi walking through the doorway.

"I don't think we need to do either," Heero said, turning to face them

"Either what?" Duane asked. "Hey, what the Hell kind of restaurant is this?" he asked almost in unison with...

"What the Hell kind of restaurant did you choose?" Duo asked, walking to stand beside Heero. This was one of those times when cutting to the chase was definitely the way to go.

"It's empty," Hiroshi said, looking around.

"What?" Duane said. "You picked it, 'bro. I suggested the teppanyaki place on Kamokawa-dori."

"I did not." Duo snapped, taking a step toward Duane. "I got the address from your email."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"Are you calling *me*--" Duo stopped as Heero laid hands on his shoulders and pulled him back. He saw Hiroshi had done the same to Duane and was whispering something to him, which seemed to suddenly stifle his anger.

"You both got messages from each other giving this address?" Heero asked, still holding onto Duo.

"Yes," Duo and Duane said. They looked at each other and frowned.

Duane added, "I mean, unless one of you two hacked the email system and--" He stopped, staring past Duo. "Oh. Shit."

Duo turned. His hand reached automatically and found nothing in the shoulder holster he wasn't wearing under his Preventers jacket. "Damn, I knew I should've brought a gun," he mumbled.

Heero was the first to say something vaguely sensible. "18 and 32?"

32 nodded. "Or Hajime," pointing to 18, "and Michie," pointing to himself.

"Hajime?" Duane asked. "Michie?"

"'Hajime' sounds a little bit like 'juu-hachi'," Duo said.

"Correct." 32 smiled. "And finding a name to sound like 'sanjuu-ni' was too difficult, so I didn't bother. Please," he waved a hand toward the curtain Duo had spotted earlier. "Dinner is waiting. We wanted to meet Heero and Duo and get to know Hiroshi and Duane again before it was too late."

"Too late?" Hiroshi asked, frowning.

18 and 32 looked at each other. 18 raised an eyebrow a millimeter. 32 shrugged. "We are going to Mars in one month, twelve days--" 18's mouth stayed open for a second, then closed.

"There's no way you're 18," Duane said. "18 never could've left off hours, minutes and seconds."

32 raised an eyebrow. "People can't change, Duane?"

"Uhhh." Duane found it a hard argument to counter. He knew he and Hiroshi had changed drastically compared to a couple of years before when they'd been working for the Rejects.

"I'm ready to eat," 32 stage-whispered to 18. "If we go to the table, they'll have no choice but to follow us to make sure we don't set off the bomb."

"Bomb?" 18 asked, frowning.

"Exactly," 32 chuckled. "But they don't know we don't have one."


They turned and walked through the curtain together.

Heero, Duo, Hiroshi and Duane stood staring at each other.

"Well, what do we do?" Duo finally asked.

Hiroshi shrugged. "If 32 wanted to kill us, he wouldn't have wasted time talking. It wouldn't be efficient. I say we go eat and hear what they have to say." Duane nodded agreement.

Duo and Heero looked at each other. "Sure," Duo said.

"Hey," Duane said as he and Hiroshi walked toward the curtain. "The worst thing that can happen is we'll have to kick their asses and arrest them."

"Or," Duo muttered. "We could walk in and find them aiming light anti-tank weapons at us. Won't matter that our jackets are bullet-proof." He grabbed Heero's arm. "Why do I feel like a duck carrying a basket of onions?"

"Hn. Are you saying I'm a basket of onions?"

Duo looked at him and laughed and slipped a hand down to Heero's crotch, squeezing gently. Heero's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Nope," Duo said. "Too big to be pearl onions and not quite big enough to be white onions."

"Hentai," Heero snapped.

"Hey, if I've only got one minute to live, the only things I'd like better than to cop a last feel is to tell you I love you and then die next to you with us holding each other." He paused. "Aishiteru, Heero Yuy."

"We're not going to die. Hiroshi said 32 wouldn't waste time talking if he planned to kill us." He wrapped an arm around Duo's waist and pulled him close.

"Thanks," Duo mumbled as he did the same and let Heero start them toward whatever waited on the other side of the curtain.


Duo's pessimism faded when they opened the curtain and found a small, private dining room. 18 and 32 were standing beside a round table set for six. A sideboard along one wall was stacked with takeout boxes and a cooler stocked with ice, bottles of beer and a large bottle of sake. A second cooler, closed, sat beside it. Duo guessed it held more of the same. 18 was unloading food from the boxes onto plates.

"Sit wherever you want," 18 said. "… Michie," he paused to smile faintly. "Michie didn't think we could cook teppanyaki and talk, so we ordered your usuals from the place on Kamokawa-dori."

"Usuals?" Hiroshi asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Steak and tuna for you, plus the chef's-choice six piece sushi." 32 said. "Duane prefers chicken and shrimp--"

"Wait a minute," Duane said. "How the Hell did you know--"

"They've been intercepting our email, little bro'." Duo said, his voice baring an angry edge. "If they've been that close, they've probably been checking our accounts too."

"Aa," 18 nodded. "But only to get transaction numbers to find your orders in the restaurant's database. I didn't look at your balances."

"Oh, that makes me feel better," Duane growled. "You've been reading my private email! There's stuff I talk to Duo about that I didn't want to share with you -- or anyone else."

"I'm sorry. It was necessary--"

"Duane," 32 interrupted 18's apology. He didn't think telling them it was necessary to accomplish the mission was going to go over very well. "We didn't always translate everything. And when we did translate something we… didn't need to see, it was very… educational." He smirked. So did 18.

"Aa," Hiroshi said. "I'm sure it was." He took Duane's arm and guided him to a chair. "It's done, koi," he whispered. "Let it go." He ran a finger along the buttoned up collar of Duane's shirt. "Sit down." Duane sat quickly, looking slightly embarrassed. Hiroshi took the chair to his left.

"Well," Duo said as Heero sat on Duane's right, "Might as well make it 'homicidal maniac - braided baka - homicidal maniac - braided baka'. … Except, uh, Michie? Yeah, you don't have a braid. And… you don't look as much like Heero as I expected you would. Duane didn't tell us you had my nose too."

32 smiled. "Actually, I'm about equal parts homicidal maniac and braided baka." He glanced at the plates 18 had passed him and quickly moved the tako nigiri that somehow ended up among Duo's California roll to Heero's plate before handing them over.

"That is everything," 18 said and sat next to Duo.

"Aa. Except the sake and beer." 32 stepped over to the sideboard. He quickly set sake cups on a tray and filled them, then added a half-dozen beers and distributed the drinks around the table. "Now," he said, standing beside his chair and holding up his sake cup. "To new missions. Kanpai."

"New missions. Kanpai," 18 said.

There was a pause, then Heero and Duo and Hiroshi raised their cups. Duane hesitated for a moment, but saw Hiroshi looking at him with hooded eyes and did likewise. "New missions. Kanpai!" they said in unison and drank.

Duane spluttered. "Damn! I thought you were chilling it because you didn't know any better, but that's *damn* good sake, 32." He fanned his face with his hand.

"Arigatou," 18 said.


"Michie--" he paused and smiled again. "Michie insisted I needed a hobby after we…"

"Changed missions," 32 supplied.


"You *made* this?" Duane shouted, eyes wide with shock.

"Iie," 18 said. "I picked it out."

"Oh, whew," Duane sighed in relief. "I was worried there for a minute." He glanced at Hiroshi and put his hands up defensively, "Hey, I can see him learning what to look for, but 18 as a sake maker?" He sniffed and shook his head. "I can only deal with so much change in one day."

Hiroshi nodded and moved a piece of sushi from his plate to Duane's. Duane looked at it nervously, then picked it up with his chopsticks and put it in his mouth as if it might bite him instead of the other way around. He chewed and paused, then shrugged and chewed some more before swallowing. Hiroshi leaned over and whispered in his ear, drawing a wince from Duane.

"So, you wanted to meet us before you went to Mars," Duo said, eyeing the suction cups on Heero's sushi and looking a bit queasy. He turned his attention back to his own plate.

"Yes," 32 said. "And have a nice dinner together and play a few games."

"Games? You mean like 'Pin the Missile on the Taurus'?"

"Mmm. Iie. I do have some Japanese Mad-Libs, but I thought we'd wait until we were a little less sober to try those. Hajime volunteered to start us on 'What's your favorite poem?' He'll tell us the poem and why he likes it. Then we'll go around the table and end with me."

"Ahh," Duane said. "I guess limericks are out?" Hiroshi tapped him on the neck. "Just checking," he said.

"Hajime," Hiroshi said. "Duane and I would like to hear your favorite poem."

"Yeah," Duane nodded. "I really am curious."

18 carefully laid his chopsticks on the chopstick rest before him. "Aa. … Michie made me read English-language fiction--"

"I did not." 32 said. "I said it would help you improve your English." He glanced at the others. "They didn't bother giving it to him in a brain dump. He had to learn it himself."

"Aa." Heero nodded. "But for 18, that would be the same as forcing him."

18 nodded. "You read Dr. J's files on me… Heero?" He smiled. "So you know I like big missions."

32 frowned. "I never realized that's why you never read anything less than a thousand pages."

"Aa, koi. But I found a poem in one of those books and it made sense to me the first time I read it. It says, 'The road goes ever on and on / Down from the door where it began / Now far ahead the road has gone / And I must follow, if I can / Pursuing it with eager feet / 'Til it shall join some larger way / Where many paths and errands meet / And whither then I cannot say.' " 18 picked up his chopsticks and began eating again.

There was quiet for a moment, then Heero asked softly, "So, why do you like it?"

"Because it's about missions, and completing them only to find they lead to another mission. I like missions."

"It's about uncertainty, too," Duo said. "When it ends you don't know where you're going."

"Aa", 18 nodded. "I know Michie and I are going to Mars, and I know we'll be there for at least three years helping build Alpha Base. I don't know what happens after that. But we'll find something." He looked at 32, frowning faintly. "I never thought about that. I don't have a plan for after Mars, but I don't care."

"You guys are depressing," Duane said. "You missed the upside. You're doing something you think is fun -- or at least worthwhile -- and you want to do it, ne?"

"Aa. It is worthwhile," 18 said. "Missions should have some value. Something that makes them worth doing. And, yes, I want to do it."

"So you're working on Alpha Base?" Hiroshi asked. "What will you be doing?"

"Actually," 32 said, "We're the project managers."

"Aa. But which part? I've been analyzing the project delays for my project management class. I'm hoping you get to Mars before midterm next semester so I can do the first phase of Alpha Base for my advanced class."

18 and 32 looked at each other and smiled faintly. "Sa-- Hiroshi," 18 said. "We'll be on Mars before next semester starts. I meant it when I said one month and twelve days."

"You see," 32 added. "We're in charge of the whole project as of about--"

"Eight months ago," Hiroshi said, tapping himself on the forehead. "When the schedule was last revised and the schedule slips stopped." He chuckled. "I should have known. You were overseeing the hydroponics section for three months before that, weren't you? And the water extraction component of hydroponics before that. Those are the only parts of the project that were consistently on schedule before."

"Arigatou," 18 said. "Would you like copies of our project logs?"

"That would be great. What--" Hiroshi stopped as Duane tapped him on the leg. "Aa."

"Anouu, sumanee, kedoooo… Uh, could you maybe handle this later or in email? I'd like to hear Duo's favorite poem." He smiled innocently as he thought, "Sometime this month," but didn't say it.

"Yes, koi." He nodded his head to the others. "Sumanee. I was hogging the conversation."

Duo shrugged. "It gave me a little more time to decide, but uh, just a sec'." He leaned over and whispered to Heero, who shook his head. "Okay. Wanted to be sure I wasn't taking Heero's. It's a close race between a sonnet Heero wrote when we were in school together and 'Stolen Child', but it's 'Stolen Child'. Y'know. 'Come away, O human child / To the water and the wild / With a fairy hand in hand / For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.' That's just the refrain, but that's the best part."

"The best part," Heero said, "is when it changes to, 'For he comes, the human child…'."

"Well, yeah." Duo nodded. "When I was a kid, well, life was a bitch. And the idea that a bunch of magic fairies would want me enough to even try to take me away was neat. It was kinda hopeful." He looked at Heero. "But it's also kinda your poem too, because I drew it for you, and I think that's when I really started to give a damn about you as a person and hope you could actually *be* a person."

"So it's what brought you and Heero together," 32 said.

"In a way," Heero said. "It… It made me think during the war. I didn't understand most of it, but the words and the pictures Duo drew about them made me start to understand that there might be more to life than the war, fighting, dying. Or at least argue with myself that there might be. I think that's part of why he likes it so much." He shrugged. "And he used it when he finally decided to tell me he loved me."

Duo grinned. "I'm glad he remembered it too. About an hour after I dropped off that little doodle of me leading you off into the twilight, I was sure you weren't going to get it."

"Baka," Heero mumbled. "You were sure enough to be where you said you'd be."

"Lucky me." Duo grinned. "So, anyway… It's a little dark, but it has a lot of happy around it for us. I guess it's a lot like life, ne? Now, I want to know what Hee-koi's favorite is if it isn't 'Stolen Child'."

"My favorite poem is a haiku," Heero said. "Aoi hyougen / kokoro sokai / hyoushaku."

18 frowned. "The breaks are wrong."

"Aa." Heero looked at Duo, whose mouth was hanging open, and smiled.

"Tha-- That's your favorite poem?" Duo sputtered, his voice rising in pitch to an almost squeak.

Heero nodded.

Duo grinned, then leaned over and kissed Heero on the cheek. "Thank you, Hee-koi."

"Okay, bro'," Duane said, frowning. "What's the secret?"

"I, uh… I wrote it," Duo said.

"That was before he told me he loved me," Heero explained. "He drew my face with the kanji, so I knew it was about me. I bought it."

"Yeah," Duo said. "I didn't realize he was keeping tabs on me like I was on him. Checking out all the stuff on my gallery's Net site."

"It was what made me realize that he felt more than just friendship for me. It made me think about a lot of things. And Hajime is right. The breaks are wrong. That's why he called it 'Imperfect Haiku'."

"And because it was about imperfection," Duo added. "I'd figured out I needed you, but I didn't think I could ever have you."

"Aa." Heero nodded. "That is why it is so perfect."

18 frowned for a moment longer, then said, "I see." He nodded. "It's wrong, but it's right." He turned to find 32 smiling at him. "You thought I wouldn't get it."

"Oh, Hajime. None of us got it until Heero explained it. I just didn't expect you to be so agreeable about it." They sat staring at each other, smiling faintly.

"Oi, uh, Michie," Duane said. "Duo and I always wondered if… Well, if there was some kind of psychic thing going on with you clones. Y'know, you Heero-types always seem to know what the others are thinking."

"Us clones?" 18 asked. His next words were forestalled when 32 slapped him gently on the leg.

"No, Duane," 32 said, smiling politely as if nothing had happened. He fingered his red-brown hair. "I'm almost as much you two as I am one of them, especially my memories and the way my mind works."

"But…" Hiroshi paused. "But I think we know each other's body language completely."

"And we tend to think alike," Heero added.

Duane looked at Duo. "Do you buy that?"

"After they just strung a sentence across all four of them?" Duo asked. "Yeah. Because if they were..."

"Yeah," Duane nodded. "We'd be. And we aren't."

18 looked at 32 and whispered loudly, "They *did* just complete a sentence between the two of them." Which brought laughs and chuckles from everyone except Duane.

"Damn creepy," he muttered. "18 with a sense of humor." Then he laughed. "Y'know, Hajime, if you'd been like this before, I wouldn't've hated you so much."

"Aa." 18 looked at 32, who quickly refilled their sake cups and passed the bottle around the table. "Humor," 18 said, holding up his cup.

"Kanpai," everyone agreed and drank.

As Duo reached to set his cup down, his hand bumped into Heero's bottle of beer, which knocked against the bottle of soy sauce sitting between Heero and Duane, splattering soy sauce on Duane's shirt. "Oh shit," Duo said. "I'm sorry, bro'." He looked across the table to 32. "Is there a sink or something where we can clean that up?"

32's eyes narrowed briefly and he nodded. "Yes." He stood. "I'll show you the way."

"Um, bro'," Duane said. "It'll be fine. I don't want to miss someone's poem."

"You're up next," Duo said. "I'm sure everyone will wait. Besides, it gives you more time to think." He stared intently at Duane, who finally glanced at Hiroshi.

"We will wait for you, koi," Hiroshi said. "Do as Duo says."

Duane looked disappointed. "Well, okay," he mumbled as he stood and followed 32 out of the room with Duo close behind.


"The restroom is this way," 32 said as he led them through the curtain and turned left. "I'm sorry we had to choose such a remote restaurant, but this was the only one we could find that had closed recently enough. We adjusted the shutoff orders in L1 Utilities Management's systems so we wouldn't have to eat in the dark." They turned a corner. "Here it is," 32 said, holding the door open for them.

Once they were inside, Duo reached for Duane. "Here," he said. "Let me help you get your shirt off so we can--"

"No! Uh, I mean, that's okay. I can clean it up later."

"Duane." They both turned to look at 32. "Can I see the collar?"

"Collar?" Duane asked, his face blandly innocent.

"Oh come on," Duo grinned. "Why else are you wearing a button up shirt with the collar button buttoned? I saw the way you looked every time Hiroshi touched it."

"Shit." Duane muttered. "Even you, huh, Sa--, uh, Michie?"

32 nodded.

"I guess this is why you were both so eager to help me clean up." Duane shrugged and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt to reveal a black leather band around his neck. "Nice huh? Hiroshi got it for me yesterday when I beat the handcuffs."

"Handcuffs?" Duo asked as 32 said, "You passed the escape qualification."

Duane nodded, grinning.

"Great, bro'." Duo slapped Duane on the back. "I thought you said it was going to take another month or two."

"Well… uh, Hiroshi gave me some… ah… incentives."

"Incentives?" Duo shook his head and looked at 32. "Only my bondage freak little brother would work so hard for a collar," he frowned. "He got you a leash too, huh? I didn't think you were that into the whole sub thing." He hooked a finger under the strap that ran down from the collar under the shirt and tugged.

Duane gasped and grabbed his hand. "Don't do that."

"But… Oh, shit. Does that go where I think it goes?"

"Oh yeah. And when we get back to the apartment tonight… But this was just a present for qualifying so fast. The incentive was not letting me--"

"Too much information." 32 said loudly, interrupting Duane and drowning out whatever he might say.

"I shouldn't have asked." Duo added.

"No," Duane chuckled. "You shouldn't have. But you never did know when to keep your mouth shut."

"Yeah," Duo smiled. "Runs in the family."

"Since your secret is out," 32 said. "You might as well give me the shirt and let me get the stain out before it sets."

"Efficient as always." Duane shrugged and unbuttoned his shirt, revealing the strap that ran from the collar down the center of his chest and belly to disappear into his jeans. He handed the shirt to 32, who set about dabbing the soy sauce off the shirt.

"So," Duo said. "When did you become Hiroshi's sub?"

"What is a 'sub'?" 32 asked.

"It means Hiroshi gets to order me around and I do whatever he says. But only one day a month, and he's mine once a month too. He picked today on purpose, I think." He saw Duo's and 32's frowns. "Oh, it isn't like that. I mean, he made me eat that uni-nigiri, but it wasn't too bad, just weird to think about eating sea urchin after he told me what it was. And he's pulled me off of 18 a couple of times, but I'm glad he did. I can be annoying sometimes, y'know." He grinned.

"But…" Duo stopped, trying to find words. "But, I mean, what if he makes you do something…" He couldn't really finish the thought, but the destination was clear.

"I can say, 'No', if I really want to, but I've never had to." Duane saw the doubt on their faces. "Really. I mean, he always makes me do things I wouldn't normally do -- step outside my comfort zone and stuff -- but he knows that when I give him control like that, I'm trusting him with more than just my body. He loves me. He may order me around one day a month, but he'll never abuse it."


"Think about it this way, big bro'. How's it really different from one of those 'I just want Heero to take charge' moods you told me about? Except for us, it isn't a mood, it's a choice."

"Here." 32 held out the shirt. It was damp, but the stain was gone.

Duo leaped on the diversion. It meant he didn't have to try to answer Duane's question. He took the shirt and walked over to the hand dryer and hit the button. The machine began to roar out hot air. "This'll have it dry in no time," he said as he moved the shirt under it. It wasn't enough to keep his brain from going on about what Duane had said about trust.

Duane and 32 looked at each other.

Duo saw the look. "Hey, try living in airports for weeks at a time when you're on the run from a Heero-clone. You learn these things." A minute later, he passed the dry shirt back to Duane.

"I have a question, Duane," 32 said as Duane began buttoning the shirt again. "Are you ashamed to be Hiroshi's… sub?"

"Of course not."

"Then why not leave the top two buttons open?"

"A-- Anouuu. I, uh…"

"One more question." He pointed at Duane's collar. "Where did Hiroshi get it?"

Duane and Duo both sagged against the wall, glad it was there to keep them from falling over.


Ten minutes later, as they neared the curtained doorway, they heard Heero, Hiroshi and 18 talking about the Mars project in terse, rapid-fire Japanese.

Duane shook his head and whispered, "Hiroshi never gets tired of the Mars Project."

"Hn," Duo snorted. "Like he's the only one? Heero has a scanning agent set up that pulls all the--"

"Mars Project news articles off the 'Net." Duane finished. "Hiroshi does too. Hey, uh, Michie, what is it with them and Mars?"

32 shrugged. "I know why Hajime is interested. He's desperate to complete a big mission. Maybe Heero and Hiroshi feel… well, not the same, but…" He shook his head. "I don't really know how to explain it. For Hajime, it's like the mission calls to him. Me too, but not as strong as it does him."

Duane cocked his head to the left thinking. "Yeah," he said. "That makes sense."

"They can't go themselves, but they want to keep tabs on it so they feel involved," Duo said, nodding in agreement.

The conversation on the other side of the curtain suddenly paused. "Duane," Hiroshi called. "Quit eavesdropping."

Duane looked at the Duo and 32 and shrugged -- and whispered "He's the boss -- today." They walked through the curtain together.

Hiroshi blinked. Heero's eyebrows shot up in surprise. 18's mouth opened slightly. Duo, Duane and 32 ignored their lovers' reactions and returned to their seats.

Hiroshi reached toward Duane's neck, then paused. "You told them?"

"They figured it out. And Michie said if I was proud of it I shouldn't hide it." Duane grinned at him.

"Aa." Hiroshi nodded, then leaned toward him and kissed him on the cheek. "Daisuki zo."

Meanwhile, 18 watched 32, whose lips were moving silently. He frowned then shook his head. "I always knew he was strange." Which comment prompted a chuckle from Duane and a faint smile from 32.

Duo cleared his throat, grinning at the three Heero clones' various displays of surprise. "Hey Michie, before Duane tells us his favorite poem, do another round of sake for us." When the jug had made it's way around the table, Duo looked at Heero and said, "Shinyou shite'ru," then turned to the others and said, "Trust."

It needed no explanation. They nodded and raised their cups. "Trust." And drank.

"Whoa," Duo said as he set his cup down and wiped his eyes. "I'm not a big fan of sake, Hajime, but this is some good shit." He giggled.

"No," Heero said, laying a firm hand on Duo's shoulder. "Not the 'Good Shit' sketch. You always try to do that when you start to get drunk."

Duo waved a finger at Duane who said, "Uh, I'll damn well see you hanged."


"Oh, he's damn well hung already," Duo replied. He and Duane laughed so hard they almost fell out of their chairs.

"That does it." Heero said, steadying Duo. "No more sake for you until *after* Michie finishes." Hiroshi, 18 and 32 were all smiling faintly. "Now, it's Duane's turn."

Duo's lips pouted mournfully, but he was fairly certain he saw a hint of the smirk on Heero's face. Not exactly the come-fuck-me smirk, but one of the smug ones that wasn't too far removed. He turned to Duane and grinned. "Thanks for the setup, little bro'. Go for it."

"Umm, well… 'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.' Except for me, the wood was a control room on an old research satellite, and I don't know if being a one guy kind of guy is the road less traveled, but I know coming clean with Hiroshi was the biggest risk I ever took, and I'm sure as Hell glad he was still willing to have me."

"Baka," Hiroshi mumbled. "Do you regret--"

"Never, Shi-koi." Duane stared him straight in the eyes. "I've told you, for me, the sigh in the poem is a happy, contented sigh."

"Roads," 18 said, his lips curled ever so slightly.

"Scary, isn't it?" Duo asked.

"Huh?" Then Duane remembered 18's poem. "Oh, shit. That is scary." He turned to Hiroshi and 32, his face desperate. "Please tell me one of you is going to do something about roads."

They returned his plea with blank stares.

"Damn," he muttered, looking at 18. "I guess we have more in common than we thought." Out of the corner of his eye, Duane saw 32 smiling thoughtfully. Oh yeah, he thought, running his fingers over his collar. And I hope you're right about that part, Michie. He turned to Hiroshi. "So, uh, is yours what I think it's going to be?"

"May I use a song?" Hiroshi asked.

Duane grinned. "I knew it."

"I wasn't going to ask for favorite songs," 32 said. "So please do if it's your favorite."

"Arigatou." Hiroshi nodded. He turned in his chair to face Duane, cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders and opened his mouth… and sang in a soft tenor voice, "Someday when I'm awfully low / When the world is cold / I will feel a glow just thinking of you / And the way you look tonight."

The others sat dumbfounded as Hiroshi continued smoothly, tenderly through the song -- except Duane, who sat grinning like a fool.

"… 'Cause I love you." Hiroshi paused and laid a hand against Duane's face. "Just… the way you look… tonight."

His voice faded and Duane took the hand and kissed it gently. "Thank you, Shi-koi."

Duo was the second to speak. "Where the *Hell* did you learn to sing?"

Duane turned, still grinning. "I forgot to tell you about that. He's in a little group called 'Not Too Hard' that does cafes and small clubs and stuff on the weekends."

"Aa." Hiroshi nodded. "Singing will make a good cover when we're given undercover assignments." He saw he hadn't told Duo what he wanted to know. "We all," he indicated Heero and 18, "can hear and classify tones perfectly, we already have the breath control, and it wasn't that difficult to learn to control the pitch and timbre of my--"

"Undercover my ass," Duo snapped. "You could get a recording contract with a voice like that."

"Not interested," Duane said. "I told him he'd be rich and could buy lots of stuff and have any girl he wanted, and probably any guy he wanted, but he wouldn't go for it."

"Nn." Hiroshi snorted. "I don't want a girl. I already have the only guy I want. I don't need more things than I can ever enjoy… And the publicity would make undercover work impossible."

Heero laughed. "Then they would make Hiroshi Sakamura action figures."

"Yeah, and someone would try to make knock-offs, and he'd be assigned to break the smuggling ring." Duo snickered. "Remind us to tell you about that later."

"Hiroshi," 18 said. "Why is that your favorite?"

32 smiled as 18 drew them back on course.

"You haven't you seen how hot Duane looks in that harness," Duo snickered.

"Wrong, bro'," Duane sneered, but playfully. "The week after you guys left was mid-term break. We spent a weekend laying in bed, watching old vids together. One of them was 'Love's Labor's Lost', and they used 'The Way You Look Tonight' in it. He's been singing it to me at least once a day ever since. When he got good enough, I made him try out for Sadako's group."

Hiroshi laid a hand on Duane's shoulder, frowning slightly. Duane looked at him and smiled innocently, which told him Duane knew he was being too uppity and was apologizing for it. He flashed a glare and grunted, "Nn," but decided to let Duane get away with it -- this time. "It was a good vid. I'd never seen Shakespeare before."

"Aa." 18 looked at Duo. "That reminds me. We found a vid of that play you went to last week. 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'. But…"

"Neither of us understood it," 32 finished.

Duo shook his head. "You two are crazy. It helps if you've seen 'Hamlet', but it's an absurdist play. It isn't really supposed to make sense." He grinned. "That's what makes it fun."

"Did you understand it?" 18 asked Heero.

Heero shrugged. "Parts of it. But the part where they're talking to each other and completing each others sentences while carrying on two different conversations…" He shrugged. "Duo likes it, though. And I like to watch Duo watching it."

"Hey," Duo said, gently punching Heero. "Just because I know all the lines--"

"And mumble them under your breath and make faces to match the characters. Of course, watching the people around us watching you is almost as much fun as watching you."

Hiroshi chuckled. "I guess that's like watching Duane standing in a corner, dancing with himself when I'm singing."

"Hey," Duane said, punching at Hiroshi but not quite making contact. There were limits to what he could get away with as the sub.

"It must run in the family," 32 said, smiling. "My turn."

18 nodded. "I've wondered what you would choose."

"Well, koi, it's the same as yours. 'The Road Goes Ever On and On'. And I like it because it reminds me that every step moves me closer to wherever I'm going."

"So it's a mission thing again," Duo said.


"But it's the difference between them too," Duane chuckled. "Hajime likes it because it talks about the destination -- the big mission and accomplishing it and how that leads to the next big mission. Michie likes it because it talks about the steps and how each leads to the next and the next mission is always just one step away."

32 nodded. "Exactly, Duane. Now, the next question. What is your favorite pastime that doesn't involve your lover?"

"Wait!" Duo shouted. "Wait. I can have more sake now." Heero cringed visibly. "Fill 'em up."

32 started the sake bottle around the table then, because the bottle was nearly empty, dug out the second bottle from beneath the ice. He also passed around fresh beers for everyone.

When the bottle finished its journey and the cups were all full, Duo raised his and said, "To Hajime, for bringing us this excellent sake." He drank quickly and the others followed suit. "Heyyyy," he said, looking at Hiroshi and Duane. "Did you say it was Sadako's band? That isn't my old intern Sadako Sasaki, is it? I heard she'd transferred to the Colonies, but not which one."

"Yes," Hiroshi said. "She's part of the team working with the Rejects. She's using them as case studies for her Ph.D. in psychology."

18 cleared his throat softly. "We haven't been able to learn anything about the others. That information is too well secured."

"We haven't heard anything about them either," Heero said. "I would like to know what happened to them."

"It's all classified, need to know." Hiroshi looked around the table and decided that, while they may not have a need to know, none of them was going to publicize the information. He shrugged. "They were put in cold sleep. They're thawed out one at a time and the psych team works with each of them until they're ready to be released."

"Yeah," Duane said. "But the team pipelines them, so they have three going at once in different stages. Sometimes I envy them, y'know. They know how to balance a checkbook and find an apartment and stuff when they're done. We kinda had to learn that on the fly."

"Nn." Hiroshi nodded. "All the forties have been released. Two of them joined the Preventers, but the other four are 'normal' citizens."

"And I think Sadako and Kawase are going to end up married," Duane said. "Uh, that's 37. Those two are worse than me and Hiroshi."

"So she finally got her Heero Yuy?" Duo asked.

"Aa." Hiroshi said. "She told us about having a crush on Heero. She says Kawase is better than Heero because he's in love with her, not Duo. And he plays the drums well."

Duane grinned at Duo. "He always keeps perfect time, of course."

"Anou," Duo frowned. "Is this band an all-Heero-clone band?"

Hiroshi chuckled. "Only Kawase and me. But he's had surgery to make him look slightly different. We tell people we're brothers."

"I had…" 18 paused and frowned. "I had always assumed you would put them in jail or kill them."

"Baka. I told you they wouldn't kill them," 32 said. "I'm glad they're being helped." He looked at 18. "We were fortunate to have each other to get through the change of mission."

"Aa." 18 nodded and smiled. "If any of them want to come to Mars, they'd be welcome."

"I'll tell Sadako we have a connection on the Mars Project and let her pass it on to her boss." Hiroshi said. "They've been having difficulty toning down the old 'ninmu' mentality on 34 and 35. Maybe Mars would give them somewhere to focus it."

32 grinned. "I think I know exactly where to put those two. We need a couple of good comm techs--"

"And that's exactly what they were best at." Duane nodded. "And they're used to reporting to you two."

"Aa," 32 nodded. "Now, what's your favorite pastime that doesn't involve your lover?"


It was almost midnight when they packed up the empty food containers and beer bottles -- and the fourth empty sake bottle -- and disposed of the evidence of their party.

"Hey, bro'," Duane said as they started down the street to the 'rail station. "If you guys are free tomorrow night, 'Not Too Hard' is doing a little club on Yoshino-dori. They start about 20:00. I'll email you the address. You could show up and surprise Sadako."

"Maybe." Duo glanced at Heero, who nodded. "Probably. We'll take turns dancing together so you won't be alone all the time."

"Won't that be conspicuous?" 32 asked.

Duo shrugged. "No more than having Heero and Hiroshi and, uh, Kawase in the same room." He giggled. "Damn that sake. I just thought about what it'd look like if Heero n' Hiroshi did a duet."

"Hn. *You* have had too much to drink," Heero said, firmly but gently taking Duo's arm. "You know I can't sing. We need to get back to Hotel P before I have to carry you."

"You'll take the Trans-Axis," Hiroshi said. "This late, it's running local not express, so you'll be at least twenty minutes. We take the Spinward Perimeter."


"And we," 32 said, slipping an arm around 18's back, "are going to walk. The shuttle port is only a few kilometers away, and the environmental engineers have made it a nice night tonight."

"So," Duo said as they paused at the stairs that led down to the 'rail station. "I guess this is 'goodbye'."

"Aa," 18 nodded. "It was good to finally meet you both."

"Hey," Duo said. "I'm glad we met you guys too so we can stop looking for you."

"And I'm glad to know you turned into a nice guy, Hajime," Duane said. "You used to be such an asshole."

"Duane." Hiroshi latched a firm hand onto Duane's arm drawing a tiny wince that was mostly exaggeration.

"Sumanee," Duane mumbled.

"Actually," 32 said, smiling. "Some of the team leaders still call us both that."

"Until they get their bonuses for delivering a milestone on schedule," 18 added. "Then they say they've never worked with better project managers."


Duo stood, holding the handhold in the 'rail car, one arm around Heero's waist while Heero held onto him. They had taken a position three rows from the front door of the car because there was a teenage couple making out at the back end of the car.

He had to admit, this was his favorite way to ride the 'rail. Holding onto Heero was his second favorite. He'd figured that out in the three weeks they'd played "Hiroshi and Duane coming out" while Hiroshi and Duane were being debriefed. He always felt odd when he thought about the fact that he actually had a preference, but it was because, for some reason he couldn't quite explain to himself, he liked to be held a tiny bit more than he liked to hold.

A soft sound behind him pulled him away from his thoughts. He focused on the mirror above him long enough to see that the boy was trying to suck the girl's tonsils out through her mouth. Not that he and Heero didn't do that kind of thing too, but they were usually more delicate about it in public.

The teens were only a brief diversion though. Thinking about Heero holding him had been a diversion of sorts too. His thoughts looped back to the thing that had been nagging him off and on since Duane's revelations in the bathroom.

"What's wrong, koi?"

His head jerked, startled. He looked down to find Heero staring at him, concern flickering just beneath the surface of Heero's cool blue eyes. "Huh?" It was his usual reply to a question that caught him off guard, and, as usual, it annoyed him to Hell and back that he couldn't come up with something more original.

"You're quiet."

"Oh. Just thinking." He watched Heero's lips press together ever so slightly and knew Heero wasn't satisfied with that answer.

"You aren't enjoying this like you usually do." Heero leaned against him and vibrated his lips in a fair imitation of a purring sound.

Oh, Duo thought. That's what he meant by "quiet". "I-- I'm sorry. I--"

Heero pulled his head back. "If you don't want me to hold you--"

He saw the concern surface. "I want you to hold me, Hee-koi." It was the truth. "I love it when you hold me." Also the truth. "It's just… Something Duane said." The truth, but not quite all of it.

Heero watched him for a moment and opened his mouth to speak.

There was another vague sound from behind them. Duo saw Heero's eyes flick to the scene behind them.

It didn't bother him that he'd suddenly slipped out of the center of Heero's attention. He understood the training that made Heero check out any possible threat. The truth was, it made him feel good. Heero was watching out for them -- for him. Of course, that didn't stop him from glancing up at the mirror just to be sure Heero didn't miss something. He saw that the girl was whispering or nibbling or something in the boy's ear, which the boy seemed to like very much. He rolled his eyes. On the down stroke, they ran into Heero's again.

He knew Heero was going to ask him what Duane had said, but didn't want to answer that question and wasn't sure how to evade it when Heero asked, so he applied the tried and true philosophy that the best defense is a good offense and asked Heero a question instead. "Do I-- Do I make you do things you don't want to do?"

Heero studied him for a moment then said, "Often."

Duo blinked. "Naaniiii?"


"I don't mean like going out to dinner or something, I mean do I make you do stuff you wouldn't do if I didn't drag you kicking and screaming."


He gaped at Heero, stunned. "Wh-- What do I make you do?"

Heero stared back at him, his face blank and unreadable. "The running suit, for example. I would never wear that if you didn't want me to wear it."

"You don't have to wear it." Duo mumbled, pouting. He'd thought the running suit was a good idea. Heero liked running. He liked running with Heero. And it wasn't like he wasn't wearing one too. But Heero didn't like it. He sighed.

"Shou ga nai." Heero said. "You like to see me in it. I want you to be happy."

"But…" Duo sighed again. "Now I don't think I can. I mean, seeing you in it, I'll think how you don't really want to wear it." And that's sad, he thought, because you look damn sexy in it.

Heero shook his head. "Duo, doing things because I want you to be happy is the only reason I'm alive. If you think threatening to kill me if I kill myself is an effective way to change my behavior, you're crazier than I thought you were. Crashing a plane into the ground might not have been enough to do it, but I would have found a way." His voice suddenly softened. "Except, I knew it would hurt you if I did, and I didn't want to hurt you. Shou ga nai. I didn't know why, I just knew I couldn't."

Duo leaned his cheek against Heero's, trying to push aside the bad memory. It was the worst memory. Even worse that his memories of Wing exploding. Even worse than Heero's memories of Wing exploding. Long minutes passed before he whispered, "If you--"

"Iie. I want you, and I want you to be happy. I'll parade around in public in tight clothes for you and enjoy knowing I'm turning you on. I'll tell anyone I'm yours and yours alone and show them the mark you put on me to prove it. I'll take you to dinners and plays and smile when you play along. I'll hold you on the 'rail and--"

"But I don't want to feel like I'm… Well…"

"Forcing me? Dominating me? Like Hiroshi and Duane were playing? "

"A-- Anouuu…" Duo stared at him, not bothering to try to hide his surprise. With an opening like that, he knew it wouldn't do any good. "How'd you know about that?"

Heero smirked. "I do read your magazines sometimes, you know. And we've played the same kind of games in private. It wasn't hard to see what was going on with those two tonight."


"Duo, I've even learned enjoy the games, whatever kind they are. And when we don't play games and just make love, and when we don't make love and just sit together and talk. Do you understand? When we play the bondage games, I don't worry about who is going to be in charge. I trust you, just like you trust me."

Duo thought about that for a few seconds, then smiled. "Thanks, Hee-koi." It came as a surprise, even though it shouldn't have. How often did they tell each other not only that they loved each other, but that they trusted each other too? How often did they see how important that was? "I think I was worried about that the most -- whether we trusted each other as much as Hiroshi and Duane trust each other. I, uh, I guess I didn't want to think…"

"They were ahead of us there?" Heero chuckled softly and leaned against Duo again. "Ore no koi-baka. Is that why you traded a piece of you California roll for a piece of my tako?"

"Omae *dake* no koi-baka. And proud of it. And I found out octopus is pretty good as long as you don't think about it too much." Duo laid his head on top of Heero's and closed his eyes. He heard another sound from the couple at the other end of the car and felt Heero's head move to check that they were still safe. He didn't look, giving himself over to trust and the soft vibration that was building inside him. Not strong, but enough he could feel it. He suspected Heero could too.

His suspicion was confirmed a minute later when Heero whispered, "Aa. You're happy now. Do you know what I want to do when we get back to Hotel P?"

Duo smiled, not opening his eyes. "Does it have anything to do with the fact that watching those two behind me going at it has made you more than a little horny?" He felt Heero's arms stiffen around him. "I've been keeping an eye on them in the mirror, and I may be gay now, but I opened a few bra catches in my day -- enough to know what someone fumbling with one sounds like." He chuckled. "Of course, standing pressed up against me like this isn't the best way to hide your condition."

"It isn't them, koi. It's you. They've been below the seat back for the last three minutes. I've been thinking about you."

Duo glanced up at the mirror and saw it was true. "But you *are* horny, ne?" He settled his head against Heero's again.

"Yes." Heero's shoulders moved in a shrug. "You are too. But after we've dealt with that, I want you to let me hold you."

Duo sighed softly. That was exactly what he wanted. "And stroke my head and run your fingers through my hair?"

"Ii n'da."

"And kiss me?" The purr in his chest suddenly throbbed louder.


"And fall asleep holding me?"

"You aren't helping my situation, you know."

"Of course I know." Duo lifted his head and looked down. Heero was staring back at him, as he'd expected. "But you wouldn't do those things if I didn't make you."

"Duo." Heero's eyes grew cold. Not the dangerous cold, the serious cold. "If I didn't have you, I wouldn't want to do them. Having you, I have no choice but to do them. To want to do them. To need to do them. Making you happy makes me happy, but I've learned…" He shook his head. "Listen. You aren't the only one who likes to stand on the 'rail like this, or lay in bed holding each other like that, or see his lover in a tight running suit that shows off his body--"

"Especially his very nice ass."

"Especially his perfect ass," Heero corrected. "And you sure as Hell aren't the only one who enjoys the sex."

"Good," Duo grinned and slid his hand around from Heero's hip to Heero's ass, which he began squeezing gently. He's right, Duo thought. It is more than very nice. It's perfect. Then he felt Heero's hand on *his* ass and wondered which of them Heero had meant was perfect. It didn't matter, though. It felt good.

"Hn. This isn't helping my situation either," Heero mumbled.

"Say the word, Hee-koi. and I'll stop."

"Yametara, omae o korosu."

Duo snickered. "If I don't stop, will you kiss me instead?"

"Shou ga nai." Heero whispered as he brought his mouth to Duo's.

Duo whimpered in soft delight at the touch and deftly pulled out Heero's shirttail and slid one hand up onto Heero's back and the other down into the back of Heero's pants, enjoying the soft, smooth skin under his fingers. As he traced along the lines of the wings, which he couldn't actually feel, but knew by heart, he realized that, while he enjoyed feeling Heero's skin beneath his fingers, he also enjoyed the fact that Heero enjoyed it. I guess, he thought… I guess Heero isn't the only one who gets part of his fun from knowing his lover likes what he's doing to him.

A few minutes later, he heard a sound behind him and felt Heero adjust to check. He glanced in the mirror and saw the teenage couple staring. We must've been too loud, he thought. Oh well, might as well show 'em how to do it properly. He closed his eyes and tried in earnest to suck Heero's tonsils out through his mouth.


Hiroshi opened the apartment door and walked through it, Duane behind him. It was late, but it *was* Friday night, so they didn't have to get up for classes in the morning. There was time for a little pre-sleep recreation. But he wanted a glass of water first. The colony environmental controls had messed up the humidity in their ward again. "I'll meet you in the bedroom in fifty seconds," he said.

Fifty seconds later, he walked into the bedroom carrying two glasses of water, one for him and one for Duane, and stopped, staring at the sight before him. Duane stood in front of the dresser mirror, his back to the door, his front reflected in the mirror, wearing nothing but the collar-harness Hiroshi had bought him. "Utsukushii," Hiroshi breathed.

"Oh, you're just saying that to get on my good side," Duane said, turning.

"I'm not sure which side is better," Hiroshi murmured, handing him one of the glasses.

Duane paused to swallow a mouthful. "Mm. Thanks, Shi-koi. But there's one little detail we need to take care of first."


"It's 01:30. Your twenty-four hours ended half an hour ago. And I'm calling dom on you now. Get naked."

Hiroshi blinked, then nodded. "Aa." Duane was right. Those were the terms of their game. He set his glass of water on the dresser and began undressing. When he finished, Duane held out a pair of handcuffs.

"Turn around."

He did, and felt the cuffs close around his wrists. He moved his hands and decided they were within Preventer regulations -- tight, but not so tight they would cut off circulation. When he felt Duane at his feet, attaching ankle irons, he frowned. Those were definitely new -- and not in the Preventers' rule book.

"Now, here's the deal." Duane said. "Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to free yourself. I'll give you the same incentive you gave me -- and I won't unlock them until I want them unlocked."

"I thought you were supposed to be giving me an incentive to escape, not stay locked up," Hiroshi said. He had been the top -- or at least the active player -- for almost two weeks and was looking forward to a more passive role.

"Do you accept the mission?"

"You're in charge."

"No," Duane smile vanished as he laid a hand on Hiroshi's cheek. "Shi-koi, I'm warning you. I'm keeping a little secret that I won't tell you unless you accept. You can refuse this and I won't be upset."

Hiroshi opened his mouth to say, "Of course," then paused. If Duane was being this serious, something unusual was about to happen. "Do you plan to hurt me?" It was the only thing he could imagine that would make Duane so cautious.

"Not much. I'm going to play rough some, but nothing one of us hasn't done to the other before, and I'll be gentle some too."

He thought for all of three seconds then nodded. "Ninmu ryoukai." He had no idea what Duane was planning, but he trusted him. "Do whatever you want, and when I escape, I'll still give you your full time."

"And I decide when I unlock the cuffs."

Hiroshi frowned. A thought tickled the back of his mind, but he put it aside. There was no way the handcuffs could hold him. He decided to make sure his plan covered the impossible anyway. "I can't wear them tomorrow night--"

"Agreed." Duane nodded. "We'll put the game on hold at… say 18:00 so we have time to get ready for the club."

"And resume when we return home." Hiroshi nodded. They had done that before. "Ryoukai zo." Duane wasn't going to need to unlock the cuffs, and he was never this… specific. Something was definitely afoot.

Duane grinned and leaned forward and kissed him deeply. "Thank you, koi. Now, escape from the handcuffs as quickly as you can."

"But--" He paused as Duane raised a finger. He wasn't the one in charge anymore. "Hai." He flexed his arms… and frowned. He tried again, harder. The chains on the handcuffs held.

"I did warn you I was keeping a secret," Duane said, grinning evilly. "You aren't the only one who knows about that little shop where you got this," he said, unbuckling the leather collar around his neck. "They carry Gundanium chains, y'know."

Hiroshi's brain worked out the implications instantly. "You aren't going to release me when the time is up," he said.

"No. Not unless you insist. Next week is the Summer A/B term break, so we have plenty of time to work on your escape skills. But wouldn't you like to know what I *am* going to do? " He put the collar around Hiroshi's neck and began strapping the bottom part of the harness onto the more delicate parts of Hiroshi's anatomy.

Hiroshi watched in the mirror, unmoving as Duane adjusted the straps so the harness was tight everywhere, but not quite uncomfortable. It felt strange. He felt strange. The whole situation felt strange.

After pulling the vertical strap tight, Duane tugged on it gently. Hiroshi drew in a quick breath. He hadn't expected it to hurt. It shouldn't have hurt. It should have been mildly uncomfortable, but not enough to startle him like that. Something was… different, but he couldn't determine what it was. He realized wasn't thinking clearly. He began to wonder if Duane had drugged him, but couldn't understand how that might have happened.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Duane continued. "Mmmm. I see why you liked seeing me in that." He met Hiroshi's gaze. "Sorry I can't wear that now, but I think it would hurt you if I was wearing it when I fuck you three ways."

He had expected something like that, except… "Only three? After nearly two weeks?" Duane tugged on the strap again and Hiroshi felt a shiver run up his spine. It hurt, only… it didn't hurt. It was hard to explain, but he knew it didn't actually hurt, though his brain was telling him it hurt. He knew Duane wasn't pulling hard enough to actually hurt.

His skin began to tingle and feel tight. He had understood the situation earlier -- intellectually -- but now, as he pulled against the handcuffs again, only to have them hold as before, he was forced to confront the reality of it.

Duane had him, and there was nothing he could do to change that quickly. He was sure Duane would stop if he asked, but he didn't want to do that. He was certain -- almost certain -- he could beat Duane in a fight, even with his hands behind his back and his ankles chained, but he might injure Duane if he tried that and it wouldn't free him. That left only one choice.

The thought made him shiver again. His brain finally oozed out the understanding that Duane hadn't drugged him. The fog blurring his senses was his body reacting to the shock of the situation. He felt warm as he finally recognized the ragged edge of adrenaline tearing through him. He hadn't noticed it, but sensed that it had been there for minutes now, confusing him, speeding up his heart, his breathing, altering his sense of time, though not the clock in his head, and--

"I said three ways, not three times."

Duane's voice jarred his attention back to what was going on in front of him just as Duane bent and nipped his left nipple. A certain part of him gauged the pressure and knew it was no harder than usual, but somehow, Duane's teeth on him seared like white-hot steel and sent molten rivulets of pleasure radiating through his body. He gasped and Duane slid fingers into his open mouth. He sucked on them, knowing what was expected, though they'd never done this before. He felt fear, and more adrenaline as his brain spent the next five year-long seconds imagining what would happen next over and over and ov--.

"Hard," Duane said.

Duane's left hand grabbed his right buttock and squeezed it, twitches radiating over his skin like ripples in a pond. The right hand moved away from his mouth. He closed his eyes, his muscles tensing, knowing what was coming. He hadn't had enough time to thoroughly wet Duane's fingers. This was going to be uncomfortable. Mildly but noticeably painful for a moment. If Duane's teeth were any indication, it would be agonizing and blissful, both at once.


He felt Duane's right arm moving against him as the right hand approached its target and realized he was standing on the tips of his toes, his body shaking from the tension in his muscles. Fingers brushed against his left buttock, pushing it aside as the left hand squeezed again. He'd never been dominated… out of control like this before. He'd always had an out before that didn't rely on Duane. Now…

"And continuously."

Part of his brain put the words together and understood what Duane was promising -- or was it threatening -- it felt like a promise to him. How could giving him what he wanted be a threat? Did he really want this? He didn't know. He wasn't sure. He was… afraid.

He started to shout, he wasn't sure what, as he felt the first finger reach its target… Then stopped when he felt something cool and slippery -- definitely more than his saliva -- and gentle pressure. His eyes flew open in surprise.

Duane's left hand moved from behind him and came up to his lips, the index finger extended. His tongue ventured out, uncertain, and tasted… "Cherry?"

Duane chuckled. "Because this is your first time as a real sub." His eyes suddenly turned gentle. "Trust me, Shi-koi. I've had everything ready for a whole month. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, what with me not having come in the last two weeks."

Hiroshi nodded. Everything was… so intense… so different… and he suddenly realized he *did* want it. He licked his lips. "I trust you. I-- I'm yours. I want what you promised." He decided to treat it like a promise. "Whatever you want. Anything you do to me." He was still had no idea what was going to happen or how he was going to react. He had no plan, no control, and that had him on edge, but the only thing he was truly afraid of now was that he would ask Duane to stop. "I trust you."

"Thank you, Shi-koi." Duane smiled softly. "I promise I won't hurt you… much."

At the last word, the pressure suddenly increased. It hurt like the first time they'd made love, though Hiroshi knew that was ridiculous. It was just the… whatever inside him was making him so aware, so sensitive. It didn't matter. He closed his eyes and groaned softly. He'd been trained to hide his pain, but now, he didn't care. He wanted to share it -- let Duane know what he was feeling.

The ache only lingered for a second before Duane's finger brought pleasure to overwhelm it. That was stronger than before too. He shouted something. He wasn't sure what. Through the fog, he heard Duane laugh and whisper to him, "Baka. I know it's good. You always wondered why I like it this way." He felt movement and the bed coming up beneath him. "But I have news for you, Shi-koi. It gets better… Much better."


"Ninmu kanryou," Hajime said as he and Michie walked along the dimly lit street. "Ninmu kanryou."

"Aa," Michie said. He glanced at the street sign a hundred meters ahead and saw they had made it as far as Onuma-dori before Hajime had finally broached the subject of missions. He smiled, grateful once again that they both had enhanced night vision. It was useful in so many dark places. "So, you feel like you've completed a mission?" He knew Hajime had wanted to talk about this since they'd left the others, but he had wanted to let Hajime start the conversation.

"Aa," Hajime stopped and looked at him. "Several."

"You called them Heero and Hiroshi." He waited to see if Hajime would fill in the more important one. They stood in silence for a moment and Hajime started walking again. Michie bit back a sigh. One of these days, his love and lover was going to learn to say what he meant and damn how weak it sounded. "So how does it feel?" Michie asked.

They passed Onuma-dori and were waiting to cross Kitayama-dori before Hajime spoke again. "Very good. I am looking forward to Mars even more now. It is a much larger mission and should be even more satisfying to accomplish."

"Does it feel better than the significant mission you always accomplish quite successfully?"

"In some ways, but no." Hajime frowned. "That sounds like something Duane would say." The light changed and they stepped into the crosswalk.

"Or Duo," Michie said, chuckling. "You may be more like them that you want to admit."


"I noticed that one too."

Hajime paused in the middle of the street. Michie stopped with him, then took his arm and pulled him along. No need to get run over just when he starts calling me by my name, he thought.

"You didn't say…" Hajime stopped, an uncertain frown pulling at his face.

"What? I didn't say, 'Congratulations, Hajime, you finally called me by name without having to think about it first?' " He grabbed Hajime's shoulders and pinned him against the brick wall of the department store beside them. "I didn't think you'd want me announcing something like that in front of them. I thought it was better to celebrate together. You and me alone." He pressed his lips against Hajime's and kissed with all his might -- rough, passionate, heartfelt. "But I noticed," he said, pulling away, panting slightly. He leaned close and whispered in Hajime's ear. "I noticed and it made me feel… almost as good as it must have made you feel." He leaned back.

Hajime was staring at him, dazed. "Does that surprise you?" Michie asked.

"I-- iie. But… I… I didn't expect you to be so…"

"Hajime-koi…" Michie held the thought and waited, watching Hajime's pale blue eyes flicker with contemplation.

"Michie… We could stay on L1 tonight. We are allowed to take weekends off. I know we usually work--"

"What would our mission be?"

Hajime looked aside for a moment. Michie recognized it as embarrassment. He didn't have a mission in mind. One day, Hajime-koi, you'll learn that you don't always need a mission. Sometimes you just do things because you want to do them and enjoy them.

Then Hajime said, "Hiroshi's group is performing at a club on Yoshino-dori tomorrow night. Do you think they would be angry if we showed up? We could meet this Sadako and talk to her about taking 34 and 35 to Mars. We should be able to find it. There can't be that many clubs on Yoshino-dori, and surely there will be a sign."

"That is the poorest excuse for a mission or a plan that I've ever heard." Michie smiled and pulled himself off of Hajime and Hajime off of the wall. He swung them around and started walking again. "I doubt they would complain much as long as we promise not to start a fight, kill anyone or blow anything up." He waited until they were halfway down the block before he asked, "Is that the only mission you had in mind?" He felt Hajime's steps stutter, but pretended he hadn't.

"Well, I was hoping you might be interested in the mission you say I always accomplish quite successfully. If--"

" 'If' nothing." Michie grinned at him. "I've been waiting for you to get off your ass and suggest it. I assume you want to do the usual prelude to that particular mission?"

Hajime nodded and gave Michie a faint smile. "I wouldn't refuse that mission either, if you offered it."

"It isn't an offer, koi, it's an order."

"Aa. Ninmu ryoukai."

"Good." Michie pulled out his palm comp. "I'll hack us a room someplace nice. We'll do a little shopping tomorrow, have an early dinner, go hear Hiroshi and talk to Sadako, stay tomorrow night and take the Sunday afternoon shuttle back to Mars Control."

"Shopping?" Hajime asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, just a little place Duane told me about." Michie kept his face aimed at his palm comp as he tapped at the screen, hoping Hajime didn't see his smile. He didn't know if he'd find anything he actually wanted to buy, but he was curious to see what might catch Hajime's eye.

[1] Heero's running suit -- Think of it as a spandex tank-top attached to pair of spandex biker shorts. See the 2002 GW calendar. Em would probably describe this particular picture as "drool-worthy". Depending on the viewing angle, the look on Heero's face ranges from "Omae o korosu," to "Yeah, but it's Duo's and you can't have it," to "Come fuck me," though we know the latter would be reserved for Duo.

[2] "Shi-koi" -- Duane, of course, has Duo's pre-war memories, so he knows about, and sometimes thinks of himself as, Shinigami. So "Shi-koi", besides being an affectionate abbreviation of Hiroshi's name, is also a pun of sorts -- "Death lover." Interestingly enough, I've found it always strikes a very tender chord in Duane's mind, even when he uses it in a joking statement. This isn't always true of Duo when he calls Heero "Hee-koi." Go figure.

[3] Nikujaga -- A Japanese meat and potato soup/stew. You can find recipes for it on the Net. You may need to experiment a bit to get the sugar vs. soy sauce balance to your taste.

[4] "-dori" -- A suffix on many Japanese street names. I think of it as equivalent to "street" or "avenue" in street names.

[5] ducks and baskets of onions -- In Japanese, kamo can mean "duck" or "sucker" as in the phrase, "Ii kamo ga negi o shotte kita" ("A fine duck has come bearing green onions"). The explanation I read says that duck is typically cooked with onions, hence the duck has not only walked into the kitchen, it has brought the other ingredients you need to cook it -- a real sucker. And you thought this was just a meaningless line so Duo could cop a feel.

[6] "homicidal maniac - braided baka" -- At a "proper" dinner party, the seating assignments alternate males and females around the table. No, there's no "role" implication in that ordering.

[7] sushi stuff and chilled sake -- Maguro is tuna. Unagi is freshwater eel. Tako is octopus -- kinda puts a whole new spin on "Taco Bell". Uni is sea urchin (or sea urchin ovaries, according to some books). I've tried the first three and they're pretty good. Nigiri-zushi is individual "finger-sized" lumps of rice plus whatever (tako in this case) as compared to rolled (maki) or scattered sushi. According to what I've read, really good sake is supposed to be served chilled, not warm because heat messes up the flavors.

[8] "The Road Goes Ever On and On" -- No, this is not because I liked the movie. I read LOTR and "The Hobbit" at least three times (and "The Silmarillion" at least twice) by the time I was in 6th grade, which was before Ronald Reagan was President. I was once quite competent with Feanorean runes and Sindarin. Yes, I'm a Tolkien fanatic. Shoot me. (My opinion on the movie -- it's a six-hour movie crammed into three and the story suffers as a result, but it's worth seeing because the visuals are basically perfect.)

[9] "Sa--Hiroshi" -- of course, 18 was about to say, "Sanjuu-hachi", but he caught himself.

[10] "Aoi hyougen / kokoro sokai / hyoushaku" -- literally, "Blue ice fields / heart('s) cherished hope / ice melting." (or so I derive from the various dictionaries I have). When Duo originally wrote "Imperfect Haiku", he had figured out he loved Heero, but wasn't sure he could ever tell him or if Heero would accept it. Yes, this is the "blue ice and hope" haiku Heero mentions in S&F Part 12, "Benedictus". (And, yes, that's the non-yaoi ending. The haiku still existed in the yaoi world, but didn't fit into the flow of "Sans Dire".) The imagery is straightforward. The blue ice fields represent Heero (or Heero's eyes) and the thing Duo desires is to see them melt (in both the "become human" and "with love for me" senses). See also S&F Part 14, "Sub Rosa" for the "ice melting" image and the haiku in "Celebrations" for the "Perfect Haiku".

[11] "Two roads diverged in a wood…" -- So, the literary scholars among you knew this was coming because you caught the reference to Robert Frost in the title, ne? Of course, as Duane makes clear, while Frost wonders about "The Road Not Taken" (the poem's title), Duane doesn't (nor do any of the others), hence the title "Roads Taken".

[12] "Shou ga nai" -- can translate a variety of ways (So I have discerned while watching "Rurouni Kenshin", that I have. ), but it generally implies that, while it may or may not seem there are choices in a particular matter, it doesn't matter because there is only one option that could actually be chosen. (This is a common practice in business when you present the thing you want to do and one or two other options that are ridiculous and would never be chosen. You hope.) Heero is essentially saying, "There is no other choice," or "I have no choice but to…".

[13] suicide and plane crashes -- see Soliders and Fools part 13, "Sans Dire".

[14] "Yametara, omae o korosu" -- If I combined things right, this means, "If (you) stop, (I'll) kill you." And Duo made a trans-lingual pun by changing "kill" to "kiss". Duo, by the way, likes trans-lingual puns -- and other lingual entertainments that have nothing to do with language.


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