Pins and Needles
“Our first failed mission and we get.. get..”
Quatre could not quite finish the sentence, his words stuck somewhere in his brain synapses and the rage in his throat. The usually articulate leader of the Trio waved his hands frantically in an effort to come up with a word suitable enough to describe the utter insult and ire he felt at the direct order from Lieutenant General Marquise, but to no avail. Words, his friends and greatest weapons, were failing him miserably.
“Shafted?” Trowa provided blandly, his smooth tone belying the anger evidenced by the tic of his left eyelid, “or perhaps, screwed? Maybe even fucked in the ass?”
“Without lube, damn straight.” Heero finished, punctuating the words with rhythmic punches to the innocent wall.
It had been hell, listening to their commanding officer berate them for failing the mission. He had called them names that they did not deserve, made light of their dedication and finished it all off with an order for them all to take some leave time. He had been generous enough to give them the option of choosing voluntary leave with pay or a forced leave in the brig without pay, just adding insult to injury. Such berating, especially through a video monitor, had never been bestowed upon any member of the Trio in their military career.
“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” Trowa spat out, truly at a loss for activities. He was a career military man, born and raised by mercenaries before he had been recruited to become one of the elite soldiers in the government’s army. He had never taken a leave day, let alone be forced to take indefinite time off.
Quatre patted his arm soothingly, clamping down on his own humiliation and anger for his comrade’s sake. Trowa had no place to go, no family to visit. His life was with the Trio, they were the family he wanted and the home he craved. To have those constants suddenly taken away for one, measly failure had to be more unsettling for him than for anyone else.
“Trowa,” Quatre said, keeping the tension out of his voice, “why don’t you come and stay with me at Victoria base? I have a house there and I used to teach new recruits about tactics there. I could use the company.”
If Trowa suspected that Quatre was only asking out of duty instead of any true human feelings of wanting someone nearby, he pretended not to notice. In fact, any of them would have been offended at such things as pity and sympathy offered them and would have preferred duty over emotions. Trowa nodded in acquiescence, noting in his mind that he really had nowhere to go if he did not follow Quatre.
“What of you, Heero?” Quatre asked, more than willing and able to extend him the same invitation he had for Trowa, “do you need somewhere to stay?”
“No,” he replied, turning away from them to walk down the corridor, “I have a place.”
In surprise, Quatre and Trowa watched Heero walk away. They had been comrades, the Trio for nearly two years now, but they had never heard of Heero having a place anywhere. It was common knowledge that Quatre had a home base and that Trowa had nothing, but they realized they knew nothing about Heero besides his name, rank, serial number and various skills that made him a soldier.
“Where would a man like Heero have a place?”
Shrugging noncommittally to Quatre’s question, Trowa watched Heero walk out the door at the end of the hallway. It was a good thing that Heero had a place away from here, someplace that he could go and forget about the military for a short time. Unlike him, Heero seemed to need a life outside of the military order.
“Quatre,” Trowa broke in softly, “we need to know where he’s going.”
Maybe it was the nagging feeling at the back of his head, or perhaps it was genuine worry that prompted Trowa to concern himself with Heero’s future whereabouts. Whatever the motivation was, Trowa did not want to be separated from the only family he had for an indefinite period of time. Knowing Heero, he would not deign to contact them except for emergencies and it would be up to him and Quatre to keep an eye on their brother.
It had taken a hell of a long time to cross reference everything, marking things down and rechecking what he had previously marked as important. It was tedious work, boring and painful as watching the sun creep by the sky, but it was well worth it.
Wufei had sent him all the available pictures and information the rebellion had on the Trio which had amounted to absolutely shit. Fuzzy surveillance pictures with grainy resolution, a couple of military exercise photos from a distance that even the technology of zooming could not clear up and a few random pictures that had ended up in newspapers and such had only shown Duo that the Trio never, ever went out anywhere without their mask and red, glaring goggles. How the hell was he supposed to know what they looked like when they were covered up from head to toe?
It had only been two weeks as a civilian, but so far, instead of enjoying the quiet normal life, Duo had been bored stiff. The initial finding of the apartment had been too easy, his fake I.D. and fictitious bank account filled with money getting him a fine, cozy place on the corner of 9th and Brandeman, a place occupied mostly by students and listless artists. Here, his long braid and violet eyes did not stand out, nor did his young age, for everyone was young, had funky hair, some styles of which that defied all laws of gravity and nature, and many had contacts that gave their eyes strange colors, everything from blood red to a ripe, scary lime. The neighborhood was perfect for him to blend, interact and possibly find fun. And yet, he had been bored.
Duo found out the hard way that he could not interact with normal people very well. Just after he had moved in, his furniture barely delivered and set in place, he had received a friendly knock on the door from his neighbor. She had brought him a small welcoming basket, which he surmised was something of a tradition for normal people, and had asked him to dinner. Hilde, that was her name, had been very nice, pretty easy on the eyes, but the way she talked, behaved around him.. had made him uncomfortable. Why was that he could get along with people who had guns strapped to their legs at all times but when a girl with no possibly dangerous motives asked him to dinner, he froze and stuttered like a fish about to be sushi-ed?
That had led to Duo contacting Wufei via the secure line he had set up with him. He had to practically beg Wufei, but in the end, his friend had relented and allowed him to go forth in search for the Trio with admonitions about being careful and not taking reckless chances. As if Duo would with the infamous Trio. However much he called himself Death, there was no desire within to meet that end anytime soon.
Duo once again looked over the pictures that did not help as he waited for his computer to finish searching through the military database. He had successfully hacked into it a couple of days ago, making sure that his signature was well hidden within the system. He was an expert at hacking, perhaps not as much as Wufei was, and it had helped him break into the secure system. He had done it many times in the past, of course, but this time, the information he searched for was rather personal. Duo wanted to get to know the Trio, the men who had nearly ended his life and scared the ever living fuck out of him.
The computer beeped, surprising Duo out of his introspection. Duo only glared at the offending machine for half a second before his eyes scanned the information the program had netted. To his utter disappointment, there were no pictures associated with any of the names before him. There were names, not even full names but just first name initial followed by a last name, serial number, rank and something in code that he did not recognize. There were fourteen names in all, screened and crossed by the computer. Fourteen names that could possibly be one of the Trio.
He quickly printed out the results and cut his connection, knowing that leaving it on would eventually lead to notice, chase and the inevitable death. There was no need to give the government a chance to find him, now that he was taking a break from the rebellion, kind of. Impatiently, Duo reached for another stack of papers, precariously balanced on yet another stack of papers, and began going through them, matching them up with his new list of names. There had to be a clue somewhere, no one hid information that perfectly if they wanted to give their soldiers some kind of pay and medical program. Right?
Three hours and nineteen minutes later, Duo shouted in triumph. Something had clicked, matched, become clear. Two names that matched in all nine of his stacks of paper, two names that had to belong to the Trio. He may not have the pictures of these men, but at least he knew what to call them. Sort of.
H. Yuy and Q.R. Winner.
Four years did a lot of things to a town, Heero realized as he walked past the Thai restaurant that now occupied the storefront that had once been his coffee shop. He had forgotten that people and places changed with the flow of time, locked within the bubble of the military for so long. The last time he had more than one day off, four years ago, he had come back to New Edwards, the place of his birth, and had bought the small co-op apartment. Back then, still at the tender age of seventeen, he had felt a need for a permanent place he could claim as home.
Was it really home, he wondered as he walked the stairs rather than take an elevator. He had spent maybe a week here before he had gotten orders to join the elite forces for tracking the rebellion. Four years ago, he had lived as a simple civilian for a week. Now, he had a long time possibly, to live normally. Or at least, as normal as he could get.
His first step into the apartment raised dirt motes that had been resting peacefully on the threshold, causing Heero to wrinkle his nose to ward off a sneeze. He should have hired a maid or a cleaning service to make his apartment more livable before he had gotten here, but he did not like strangers traipsing around his small bit of sanctuary. He would clean this place himself, clear out four years of dust and rot.
The furniture he had purchased was still covered in their original plastic, untouched by age or humidity but camouflaged in a layer of dust so thick that the colors were obscured by a steady gray. His entertainment system which he had bought as a whim all those years ago, was no longer state of the art, but practically arcane.
Yes, four years changed lots of things.
Heero closed the door behind him, locking all the deadbolts in order from highest to lowest, and dropped his duffel onto the carpet. For a while, maybe a few weeks, or even a few months, depending on Lieutenant General Marquise’s generosity, this would be his home. It felt rather nice to say that he had a home, a place where he could put up random posters without wondering if they met regulation. After spending the last two years sharing everything from food to a small, cramped room with the other members of the Trio, it was a blessing to have so much personal space and freedom.
Heero could only wish it had been under better circumstances, without the humiliation of failure or the rage of being so easily dismissed for it.
In true military fashion, Heero began prioritizing the things that needed to be done to make this place habitable again. At the top of the list was the purchase of a vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies along with some non-perishable, easily eaten groceries. There was no way in hell he’d cook in that kitchen or eat on that dining room table without eliminating every last speck of dust. After cleaning would come checking through his financials, checking which bills were paid and which were allowed to lapse during his absence. From the looks of things, it would seem that the direct payment system he had with the bank and various utility companies were still effective. His fridge was whirring, attesting to existence of electricity, his never used phone was blinking with four years worth of messages, two to be exact, proving that his phone bills were also up to date. The rest, the little things, he would deal with later.
The rest of the list composed itself as Heero stepped out of the apartment to go purchase things he needed. He wondered if that small grocery store he went to once four years back was still there or if he had to search about for a new one. Perhaps between priorities two and three, he would insert ‘get reacquainted with the town’ so that he could claim that this place, New Edwards, was his home.
The first thing that crossed Duo’s mind as he flattened himself against the shadowy part of the building was that the man was not a civilian. The stance of the body, the fluid motions of his hands as he flipped through the newspaper, they all spoke of an ingrained training. No one who lived a normal, civilian life would develop that sort of precise grace, the dangerous smoothness of reflexes. The man was a soldier, a highly trained one.
His eyes never left the soldier man as he sipped his coffee and read through the newspaper, his mind processing the threat before he realized what he was doing. Good lord, wasn’t he supposed to try to be a civilian for a while? Wufei had sent him out to taste a bit of normalcy, and here he was, hugging the brick wall and staking out a man who was just hanging out at a café. Sure, the man was a soldier, there was no doubt, but what did that matter? No one in the government had an inkling as to what he looked like. To solider man, he would be nothing but an innocuous passer-by, a boy on his way home from some random place. He had to get a grip and let go of his war-born tenseness before he had a bloody stroke.
‘Okay, real casual like. As in, blend in and don’t get edgy.’
With that calming thought, Duo peeled himself off the building and walked into the sunlit sidewalk, whistling tunelessly as he crossed the street to the café where the man was sitting. He would get a cup of coffee, make it too sweet with an overload of sugar, and sit down at one of the tables. Like any normal person would do. Not a problem.
The constant mantra of ‘be normal’ was helpful in unclenching his shoulders and added more spring to his already light steps. Duo most definitely looked like an eighteen year old with nothing better to do and attracted no undue attention. He got his coffee, smiled at the girl behind the counter only to get a blushing reaction he had not anticipated, and sat down near the soldier man. Maybe he should have kept his distance, if not for safety then definitely for his blood pressure, but his curiosity had won out. What would a soldier be doing in this entirely civilian town? There were no bases for miles upon miles, no military personnel walking the streets in uniforms. That was why he had chosen New Edwards – it was so free from military and the rebellion that it had been like paradise.
Soldier man was still flipping through the newspaper when Duo’s coffee was half consumed, as if he was reading word for word every article printed. There was a cadence to his movements, a measured time between flips and sips of the drink, that appealed to Duo’s senses and he found himself watching him with more interest than apprehension as the morning wore on. Duo wondered what the soldier man’s face looked like and began to go through possibilities in his mind. He had seen that the man had dark, brown hair from across the street, but what were his eyes like? Did he have a weak chin or a strong one that spoke of confidence and self assurance? Why the hell was he wondering anyway?
Then, as if on cue, the man put his newspaper down and revealed the full extent of his face to Duo.
That was as far as Duo’s thought processes got before the man trained his sharp, intense blue eyes on his face, a small smirk gracing his very lovely, very full lips. The smile softened the angular features of his face, made him more approachable. It definitely appealed to Duo, even if the man was screaming ‘danger! Soldier!’ in bright, bold letters.
“Do you make it a habit to stare at people you don’t know?”
Duo blinked owlishly, not quite knowing what to say. The man had sounded somewhat mocking, but amused, with a hint of annoyed. How did a man convey all three of those emotions in one tone? That had to be a talent.
“Sure,” Duo droned out as casually as possible when his brain resumed normal functions, “if they are as good looking as you.”
Whichever little demon in his head decided to make him say that, he had to find it and strangle it before it made more comments that could get him shot. Why on earth had he said that? It had been flirtatious, practically dripping with interest, something that Duo never did with anyone. He had never spoken with such.. frank interest to anyone, let alone a soldier man who probably would arrest him on sight had he known who he was.
“Ah.” Soldier man said, letting his voice drop several pitches, “I don’t suppose you’re trying to pick me up.”
If that was an invitation to try or a warning to back off, Duo had no earthly idea. Where did he go from here, or better yet, where did a normal eighteen year old without ties to the rebellion or deaths on his hands go from here? He had no clue as to how to advance, he had never trained for it or even thought of it seriously ever in his life. About now, Duo wished that he had not indulged his curiosity and had just walked right on by.
“Look, I’m sorry,I have no idea why I said.. the thing I said. I’m new here, I don’t know anyone and well.. Sorry.”
Duo followed up the lame apology with a small smile, hoping that soldier man would nod, accept the apology and get on his way never to cross paths with him again. It would be for the best, really, even if Duo felt as if the blue eyes would haunt him in his dreams later.
Heero heard the apology and for some reason, instead of making him smirk at the flushed kid, the apology set off a warm reaction that turned itself into a genuine smile.
“Don’t be sorry,” Heero found himself replying, “I was just teasing. I shouldn’t have, perhaps.”
“Oh no, it’s just that I’m not very good with.. that is, I haven’t had much practice talking to other people.. I mean, I do talk to other people. Oh hell, can I start again?”
The blush on Duo’s face got a bit deeper and the only recourse left to him was to hide behind his too small coffee cup. He hoped that his soldier man with the lovely eyes and the incredible smile would not think him a total idiot. He entirely forgot that only moments before, he had been thinking that he should not have made contact.
“So, you’re new around here, you said?” Heero asked, changing the subject quickly so that the boy could recover. He knew what it was like to talk to other people, how awkward it could get.
“Yeah,” Duo replied, taking the life line with a relieved breath, “I just moved into the complex on 9th and Brandeman. It’s nice.”
While his mouth was saying that, Duo’s brain was busily engaged in yelling at the mouth for giving away information to a soldier. Duo agreed with his brain, for he had never been so careless as to give away his location to a potential threat so easily, without even a hint of torture. Wufei would yell at him had he known, with good cause, and Duo was wondering now if he should even tell him. It wasn’t as if this man knew that he was a rebel – he did not wear a giant sign on his head that proclaimed him as ‘Death, field leader of the rebels, right hand man to the Dragon himself.’
“Ah, that area. That explains your hair, I suppose. Now I know where you live, but do you have a name?”
Duo smiled at Heero shakily, once again cursing his fair skin for blushing. How many times in a morning could he blush when he had never blushed in his entire life? But the way soldier man had asked, in that teasing tone, it had made his heart flutter. It was rather sickening, really.
“Duo.” He paused, unsure as to what else to say. Should he tell him his last name since it was a made up one anyway? Duo had never known the name his parents might have bestowed upon him, but then again, what abandoned child knew his real name?
“Nice to meet you, Duo. I’m Heero.”
That was how introductions were made in the real world, Duo realized. An exchange of names, greetings and a smile, they were all part of getting to know someone. Maybe it had not begun well, what with his curious staring at the man and his unfortunate reaction to it, but here they were, having exchanged names and none worse for wear. Duo felt rather proud of himself. Granted, Heero was a soldier and not really a normal civilian, but he was not a rebel, not a comrade at arms. He could end up being an acquaintance.
“So, Heero, you live around here? Wait, of course you do.”
Intrigued, Heero stood from his table and walked over to Duo’s, setting his almost empty cup and newspaper down next to the boy.
“Why do you think I live here?”
“Oh,” Duo began, stamping down on the feeling to edge away from Heero, “just that you looked really comfortable, sitting by yourself with a paper. And you knew the atmosphere around my neighborhood, what with the hair comment, and I think that is something only locals would know.”
Heero’s brows drew together imperceptibly at Duo’s innocent chatter. Something like that was too observant for a normal boy his age. In fact, he was under the impression that normal boys his age noticed or observed nothing unless it had to do something with large breasts or fast cars. Had teenagers changed so much since the last time he was one? That had not been that long ago, only a couple of years. But then again, how the hell did he know if normal boys thought only about mammary glands and mechanical means of transportation? Maybe that was erroneous information, gleaned too quickly from various internet articles that Quatre was prone to reading during their break times.
“You’re a student then?”
“Oh, no,” came the quick reply, “I don’t go to the university or anything.”
“Well, then, an artist.”
That brought a fresh peal of laughter from Duo, his hands clutching the edges of the table in an effort not to fall off.
“Gods, no! I can’t draw anything, even my handwriting is atrocious.”
“What do you do then?”
“Do?” Duo gaped, not having thought about explaining his situation to anyone. He should have come with a complete background story for such emergencies when people wanted to know about him. But alas, he had not, and he could not very well say that he was on break from infiltrating government facilities and fighting against men much like Heero.
“Well, I..” Duo said quickly when Heero just watched him with indulgent eyes, “I don’t do anything. I’m just here to experience life.”
That had been a good save. He had not lied, not one line. It was his personal morality, the inclination to never tell a lie which Wufei found completely frustrating and fascinating. Duo wondered if it came down to it, if he would lie to Heero, bend his moral fiber a tad in favor for survival. He wished it never would come to that, since omissions and vague words would do just as well.
“I see. So, how’s life so far?”
Duo smiled, thankful that Heero did not ask for details or pry. The feeling of danger was fading fast, replaced by a need to communicate, be friendly with someone. He had never been close to anyone except for Wufei and for some odd reason, he was connecting well with Heero. Maybe it was because underneath it all, they were the same, both experienced in danger and death, not prone to normal life by any stretch of the means.
“Well, I met a neighbor girl, Hilde. She seemed very nice, but I didn’t talk to her very well.”
“Not everyone can get along right off.”
It slipped past Duo’s lips before he could think about it. He could not believe himself; for the second time this morning, he had completely dropped his guard and let this soldier, Heero, dismantle his defensive walls. In less than half an hour.
“You’re correct,” Heero replied with a smile, noting that Duo was embarrassed by his statement. “I don’t usually get along with people so well, either. So, why don’t we take advantage of this newfound connection and I’ll show you the town?”
Now it was Heero who could not believe what was coming out of his usually reserved mouth. He, who had frustrated Quatre and Trowa for his less than verbal communication, had asked out a near stranger to be with him, perhaps for an entire day. That would mean that they would inevitably talk more, find things out about each other which meant bad things for Heero.
“That’d be great,” Duo said, immediately erasing all the chastisement Heero was currently giving himself. It was a bad idea, Duo knew this, a man like him did not hang around with a soldier man, no matter how good looking he was or how deep blue his eyes were. It was courting trouble, getting closer to this man Heero, but he could not help it. It felt right, somehow, and Duo had never felt that before for anyone, not even Wufei.
They stood together, both in one, fluid motion, to begin their new acquaintance. Just as then walked out of the terrace of the coffee shot, they simultaneously turned towards each other and their eyes met, sending an unseen signal between their bodies. It was warm and electric, quite new for both men.
That thought echoed through Duo and Heero’s minds at the same time, but neither really understood why it had flitted across their brain. All either of them knew was that here was something different, something new, that this was the beginning step in a path to something neither could define.