It was fortunate his listlessness had spread to encompass any care for his appearance. His bangs had long since passed the point where it liked to fall into his eyes, and he made a point of letting it do so as it pleased. Some re-coloring for his hair would also have been convenient, but distastefully persistent. Once he got out of here, he didn't want to draw attention to himself by being oddly blond. Instead, he had managed to find a battered newsboy cap in a secondhand store, and he wore it now to cover the hair not hanging in his face, fitting it backwards so the brim could hopefully hide the scabbing at the back of his neck. He'd also found some jeans that hung too loosely on his thin frame and a scruffy button shirt to drape over a regular t-shirt. He was quite certain he looked like a young delinquent, but if it kept him hidden in plain sight, then he would deal. This was hardly a reputable establishment, and straying too far from his native look would probably be a failure for him.
The government was looking for him, and with the stink that they were kicking up, his unknown foes would surely be hitching a ride on the search. His financial assets had always been under surveillance, but now it was a veritable minefield of warning flags just waiting to go off. He had missed his regularly scheduled appointment with his case worker. Circulars from the neighborhood where he had resided were asking if anyone had information on him. The puddle of blood had been spotted, but not ruled out as irrelevant even though the DNA analysis proved that it wasn't his. No mention had been made yet of a corpse found in the waste lines, but even if they had found one, they likely would have kept it under wraps. They weren't fond of nameless bodies showing up dead in the colony systems, nor even random assaults in darkened alleys.
This was his third night of playing incognito in this bar. He considered himself fortunate that the lines of his face had become sharper over the years. Combined with the scowl, a sprinkling of stubble, and the probable apathy of the bartender, he was spared having to produce identification in order to get a drink. He kept it light. He needed his wits about him.
Hard-won patience wrestled down his concerns of futility. He'd had a hell of a time tracking down his target to this one colony in the L3 cluster, and then doing more casing to find a likely place for rendezvous, but he couldn't afford to waste too much more time here. Fortunately, he found whom he was looking for in tonight's initial glareover of the establishment. The former Deathscythe pilot was over by the pool tables, leaning over the felt to line up his shot beneath a flickering, yellowed light.
Heero walked to the bar and settled himself on a stool. A different seat than the one on which he had parked himself on previous occasion. His former stool was occupied tonight, and he considered it fortunate since it gave him a fine excuse to shift a few places over in the direction of the billiards. He listened to the balls cracking loudly against one another as he nursed a mug of what passed for beer in this place. Despite all the reasons in the world for it, he'd never quite acquired a taste for alcohol.
Duo must have been a regular. His bottle of imported brew was a badge of membership in a bar that didn't offer it on the menu for the walk-ins. The banter exchanged between him and his companions was too acidic for them to be unknown to each other. Insults so sharp and rowdy were only flung with time-tested familiarity.
It was not the best forum for determination of character, but it was what Heero had, so he tried. How much help would Duo be able to provide? How much would he be willing to provide? Had he slipped into a similar rut? Did he still have the same fiery, rebellious spirit? Had he started a new life here? And if none of this panned out, could he be trusted with the knowledge of Heero's whereabouts?
The impression Heero got from the table was unhelpful. Duo rarely acted the way he felt. They would need some face time before anything could be determined, and even then not for sure. When would be the best time for making contact? Tonight would be conspicuous. He didn't want to draw attention by appearing to have been waiting for this local. Perhaps he could follow Duo after he left and establish contact elsewhere?
The problem was partially solved as the game wrapped up, with Duo pocketing fifty credits of his opponents' money. After the final jabs were exchanged, Duo wandered over to the counter next to Heero's stool and signaled for another bottle. They were close enough for Heero to smell the smoke lingering on Duo's shirt, but neither of them made any move to acknowledge one another.
He remained silent as Duo spoke casually with the barkeep about his pool partners, about the progress of the Mars colony and the results of the last match in the local ring. All talk and no substance. At the bottom of the bottle, just as Heero was finishing his contemplation of contact, the issue was once again taken out of his hands.
He blinked at the rim of his mug for a few seconds before realizing that the comment had been directed at his back. Slowly, he turned around and studied the man propositioning him as if he were a stranger. Or maybe they were, in fact, strangers. The ex-pilot had always been a moody, darkly humored creature, but never quite to such a cynical, jaded level. He put the question forth as if merely asking for a light. Heero answered with an inquiry pulled from within him not as an undercover response, but as a natural gut reaction, though it served well as both. "Are you in the habit of asking to fuck random men in a bar?"
Duo's grin was lopsided and edged. "Oddly, yeah. Are you in the habit of accepting offers of being fucked by random men in a bar?" After a few seconds of blankness, he shrugged. "Whatever. Seeya, Jake," he tossed at the barkeep before turning around to leave.
Heero stirred after the door swung shut with a low creak. Scanning the crowd with a sidelong glance of his eyes, he saw no one interested in the exchange. Apparently it was nothing out of the ordinary. After half a minute of thoughtfulness, he left some bills on the counter, picked up his bag, and strode after his old partner. Despite the offer's low profile, at least one knowing leer accompanied him on his way out.
His quarry was standing at the corner, just outside a puddle of light from a streetlamp, taking a ponderous moment to light a cigarette with a few well practiced flicks of his wrist to manipulate the lighter and smoke. Duo took his first puff, then sent it in a slow exhalation as a cloud to obscure the light beside him. When Heero drew even with him, he paused as if savoring the taste in his mouth before turning to regard his new companion. Dark eyes swept over the sloppily clothed form, perhaps re-evaluating his choice for the evening before he started walking. Heero frowned at the indignity of trailing behind him, but followed his lead.
They walked a good ten blocks in silence before they reached a squat, square apartment building that seemed best described as gray in the dim lighting of the night cycle. It was probably gray in the day cycle as well. Heero wondered if he was simply special, or if Duo always treated his invitees to a stroll. Trying to weed out the physically unfit? Maybe getting them hot and panting before they even got started was a strange form of foreplay. Or maybe he typically stopped in an alley somewhere. Heero was glad they didn't. He wasn't too fond of alleys these days. Or cigarette smoke. It hadn't been long before he had stalked forth to Duo's side to avoid the puff that occasionally got him in the face.
Up two flights of stairs and they were in front of an unassuming door. A neighbor emerged while Heero waited for Duo to unlock it. He averted his face casually as the female slunk by them in a tangle of lanky hair and rumpled skirts. When he looked up again, Duo was walking into his dark lair. Heero followed.
Once he cleared the door, it shut behind him. The thick drapes over the windows were drawn shut. The light switch was never flipped. The crack beneath the door was snugly sealed. A hand materialized in the darkness, planting itself in the middle of his chest and pushing him back against a wall. The startled half-gasp, an interrupted demand, parted lips that inadvertently allowed the passage of an uninvited tongue. A rough, foreign mouth locked itself into place over his. A hard, lean body pressed against him. Another hand shuffled through the loose folds of his clothing seeking entrance.
He forgot to resist for a few too many seconds, yielding to the wave that overtook him, but when that nagging voice in the back of his head finally gained enough volume to be heard, he wrenched his head away with an audible gulping of breath. "You were actually serious?" How wonderfully, ironically appropriate it would be for Duo to not have recognized him when making the sordid invitation.
A low chuckle crawled its way over his skin. "Aren't I always?"
He snorted at the trick question. There was no right answer to that one. Now what had he come here for? The subtle rocking against his crotch was distracting him. "Are you safe?"
"Yeah, I use protection." A sharp laugh followed.
He was freed shortly thereafter, the body against his disappearing as suddenly as it came. The movement of air signified its withdrawal in one particular direction, but the only sound that solidified the impression came from the flopping of a body down upon the cushions of a sofa only briefly seen by the light spilling in the front door before it had enclosed him in this cave. He stayed where he was, refusing to stumble clumsily through the unknown. "Do you normally fuck around in the dark?"
"Hey, you know me. The dark's always been my favorite stomping grounds. So it wouldn't do to give away the game too early with some premature lighting."
It seemed his movements were watched after all, even if it was safe to talk. Or else Duo really was fucking with him. "So I've got, what, two, three minutes before they expect me to get booted out of here?"
The grunt was both a sound of amusement and a nod of respect. "For you? I'm sure I could go at least a few rounds with you. Heh, nice look, by the way. 'Specially that unshaven thing you've started. Makes you look older. How long that take you? Two, three weeks?"
"Not all of us can be as follicularly well-endowed as you."
He could feel a twisted smirk fill the air between them. "What brings you to my corner of space then?"
"Relena's been kidnapped." The words were chosen quite deliberately.
A moment of silence passed before Duo laughed again, filling it with a deeper, darker humor. "Oh, you have got to be shitting me. Last time I heard, the little princess was getting herself hitched to some rich kid with good connections. 'Course, maybe that sounds like kidnapping to you. You wanna go rushing off like a knight in shining armor to rescue her from the evil clutches of the man who would defile her? You gotta get over that whole thing, man."
"I don't like him."
"Oh yeah, that's a real good reason to crash her party."
The amused sarcasm rolled right off Heero's back. "I checked out his family. Something seemed shady about them. I haven't figured out what exactly yet, though."
"Um, yeah, it's probably just the fact that they're taking your precious little princess away."
The sneer met the same fate as the last comment and failed to faze the focused soldier that was coming out of retirement. "Either way, I need to talk to her."
The body on the couch shifted again. "Okay. Then what made me the first stop on your to-do list? The mere joy of déjà vu?"
"Relena's not that hard to find. She's here somewhere. On L3."
Aw, how sweet. It had been pure coincidence that led him here. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not her. What are you doing here?"
"I don't suppose you've been keeping track of things around here."
"Nope." A careless hand was flung over the back of the sofa, perhaps. "World doesn't care about me. I don't care about the world. It's a good arrangement."
When the deal had been for the world to never know who they were, he hadn't quite imagined it this way. "World cares about me, apparently. Enough to try and kill me, anyway."
A pause, a rustle of clothing. "My, you've been a naughty boy. Did you deserve it?"
Perhaps the psychologists and the social workers had been right. The post-war era must have been improving his mentality. He had never once dwelt upon that. "...Maybe."
"They think it work? You on the run right now?" Nothing colored his voice but idle curiosity.
"I had a few days, but they're on to me now. Between them and being AWOL, it's been annoying getting around."
"Never thought of you as the troublemaker, Yuy. You were all down with doing as you were told."
He obviously wasn't thinking hard enough. Yuy had always been a troublemaker, whether he was trying to be one or not. "I didn't go looking for trouble. My tracker was removed, courtesy of a trash can lid slicing the back of my neck open when it slammed into the back of my head. I sort of found myself free of them rather suddenly."
The disembodied voice hardened. "You let them plant a tracker in you?"
"Hardly." He took off his hat to inspect the healing wound beneath, finding as he did that his glasses had been knocked askew by their earlier actions. He took a moment to straighten them. "They had plenty of opportunity to do it while I was out."
"You gonna blow 'em up as soon as you off the princess' hubby?"
The suggestion was disturbingly attractive. "Depends on them, I guess."
"What are you going to do if the princess really wants to marry the guy?"
Now there was something else he hadn't considered. "Then I hope there really is something shady about that family, or else she'll just have to forgive me for taking down her in-laws."
The being on the sofa rustled, and then it was in front of him again, crowding into his personal space just short of touching. The heat reached him, though, off skin and through fabric and in breath. The precision of distance was a pointed reminder of just who had the upper hand here. Duo had always had better night vision. "See, that's what I always liked about you, Yuy. When you see something you want, you do what you got to do to get it."
Heero stood his ground. "Hn. You in?"
A knee nudged him between the legs. "You lettin' me in?"
The words were breathed hotly into his ear, and he reflexively tilted his head away from them. A whiff of smoke-stained breath drifted forth to complement the taste left in his mouth. "You're still good for a little B&E, aren't you?"
A hand groped around for a bit and found the fly of his pants. "I'll take that as a 'yes'."
Theorizing that there was another ex-pilot in this colony cluster, he had managed to locate his erstwhile comrade by digging around the system and looking for people buried in it the exact same way he himself had been buried. The pattern of alerts that had risen from his own escape had made it easy to determine their positioning in the colony databases. He needed someone he could trust, and he automatically turned toward his old allies for the required assistance. "Do you mind, Duo? I'm trying to conduct some business here."
Business before pleasure. They all knew that. Unless there was something else driving things forward. "You're a sad, sad man living an empty, empty life, Duo."
The tension rose, and the long line of heat felt down his body seemed to intensify. "Don't project."
"You can't like this life any better than I do, Duo."
"So, what? That mean I should just run off to kill a guy? Maybe that'll make me feel better? No one's tried to kill me yet. Why should I help you?"
Heero decided that the game was over. He reached out to the side and hit the light switch, leaving both of them squinting comically for a moment. When the spots stopped dancing in front of his eyes, he looked at Duo pointedly. "You got anything better to do?"
Duo stared at him for a good long while, his hand still hooked on the sagging waistband of Heero's jeans. Eventually, he snorted and averted his eyes. "Shit, can't argue with that."
"And you like blowing shit up, right?"
"And I doubt you mind going AWOL."
"Sure don't." They both probably would have disappeared long ago, if they'd had somewhere to go.
"Then what's stopping you? There's nothing lofty going on here, Duo. I'm asking you to come along with me on a personal mission of vengeance and justice. After a little counter-kidnapping. How much better can it get?"
No, he just knew how to market to his audience. Though perhaps there was a rather large grain of truth to Duo's statement. "So have you."
Duo's gaze went distant as he pondered the matter. "Do you remember where we left off?"
"Barely anywhere, wasn't it? They split us all up before we ever really..."
Melancholy struck for a moment, but it was swiftly erased with a lazy grin. "I woulda done you cheerfully, flyboy."
Unfazed, Heero made a disdainful sound. "Don't kid yourself, Duo. You weren't doing anybody back then."
The lazy grin went the way of the melancholy, to be replaced by a flash of irritation. "You still think you know everything, I see."
"I haven't changed entirely. And neither have you."
Duo chewed on that for a while before finally summing up his sentiments in a concise package. "Fuck you, Yuy."
"If it'll make you feel better."
He eyed Heero doubtfully until he saw something that made him laugh. "You'd really let me, wouldn't you?" When Heero shrugged carelessly, he laughed again. "You cold fuck. Literally. Glad to see I'm not the only one that doesn't give a shit anymore." Duo pushed himself back a few steps. "That being the case, though, it should be obvious that I don't give a shit about your cause, either."
Well, wasn't that something. Heero actually felt something hearing that. It slithered away quickly to hide beneath the indifference. "That means you don't give a shit enough to be perverse and get in my way, right?"
"You got it, babe." He stepped back another two steps and spread his arms out. "You walk outta here, you don't have to worry about me making trouble for you."
Heero took a step away from the wall and straightened his clothes, fit the cap back on his head. "I don't suppose you have any ammo you can spare."
"Not on me, sorry." The apology was uttered without the least bit of remorse.
"Then I guess I'll be on my way." With his hand on the doorknob, he chuckled darkly. "Your stamina sucks, Maxwell."
"You just didn't live up to expectations, Yuy."
last modified : 1/6/2006 22:39:25 PST