More than one pair of footsteps thumped to a halt outside of the apartment's front door, and the pair froze. Someone cleared his throat, then knocked on the door. They stared at each other, silently tense. Expecting company?, Heero mouthed.
Never, Duo answered in kind. Evaluating their options quickly, he jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. Heero nodded, and they crept slowly in that direction.
The knocking came again, an everyday sort of knock to go with the everyday sort of voice that called out. "Mr. Maxwell, are you in? It's Stanley."
Jilted lover? Heero asked, an amused tilt to his eyebrow.
Duo was too busy narrowing his eyes in irritation at their visitor to rise to the bait. Handler.
Heero's reaction quickly chilled down to the level of Duo's, and they waited out the intruder without further comment. After another ten seconds, faint voices could be heard through the cheap door.
"Is this normal?" a deep voice asked.
"It's a little early for Maxwell to be slumming in a bar somewhere." It was Stanley that answered, but his tone had gone from friendly to lazily disrespectful. "But it's not unheard of. There's likely no cause for concern."
"It doesn't matter how many years have passed without any trouble out of them. They're Gundam pilots. They are trouble."
"Oh, what do you lot know, down in your big, cushy Earth offices." The disdain in Stan's voice made Duo snort softly with an equal disdain. Stan was sort of cushy, too. "You probably haven't ever laid eyes on one. Heh, these days, you might not even know it if you did. Trust me, Maxwell's far gone. He hasn't had a care for anything but himself for years."
"And who knows what he might find in his own self-interest. Maybe he'll be convinced that there is a credible threat to the both of them."
"The threat ain't credible when there ain't nothing credible to threaten. I'm telling ya, man, he's nothing. He wouldn't believe it. Why would someone threaten him? He's got sex and he's got booze, and he certainly doesn't have any dignity. He goes pretty cheap these days. Trust me, I know. Heh. And we went through a lotta trouble putting him there."
"And you sound like you enjoyed it, you sick bastard." There was a moment of silence before the deep voice spoke again. "Track him," it ordered curtly.
Footsteps shuffled outside the door; four pairs, it sounded like. After another fifteen seconds, a new voice spoke. "Got him."
The deep voice in charge ordered everyone out, and they left with a clatter. Stanley left a few more protests in his wake as well. Heero took his attention off the door to return his gaze to his companion. His visual focus shifted down to the knife Duo seemed to have taken from the dish rack on the counter beside the sink. It was held by one tight fist around the grip. Another hand ran contemplative fingers lightly down the length of the blade.
"If me an' Stan ever meet up again, I'm going to help that fat prick shed a couple'a pounds," Duo murmured.
"For what? Being right?"
The edge of the blade flashed up against his throat. It was dull in that way low quality kitchen knives often were, but it was still a threat. "I don't think you can afford to lose any weight, Heero. You're skinny enough as it is."
He didn't flinch. "I'm sorry. I thought you were following me around just for kicks. I didn't realize you had more altruistic goals in mind."
"Oh, and you do, Heero? I don't recall you running off on this wild chase of yours for any reason other than you don't want your precious little princess to get married to some 'pansy'. Is that all you got in you these days?"
A moment of thought yielded the likely answer. "Yes. I think so."
Duo snorted derisively. "No better off than me, maybe then, eh?"
"No, at least you still have a care for yourself these days."
He stared at Heero for a few seconds before laughing shortly. "Admit it, Heero. You've never had a care for yourself."
The sad truth of it was evident without him having to agree aloud. He was, after all, currently chatting without regard for the knife at his neck.
Duo sighed grumpily. "For the record, I've never touched the sleaze. He just likes to think he's gotten me to bend over for him. And you're making me a little irritable with all your insinuations that I'm somehow collaborating with the enemy. Now, I have to admit, I'm not so into bloodplay, so do us both a favor and stop, eh?" With a final warning poke, he removed the blade from the vicinity of Heero's jugular and tossed it back onto the countertop before moving back towards the living room.
Heero followed at his own pace. "Where did you put it? The tracker."
"I attached it to the neighbor's cat. That crazy old thing wanders around everywhere, doesn't come back for days at a time, sometimes. Hope they shoot it on sight. Goddamn thing kept trying to hump my leg last month."
"Maybe you should learn to tone it down some, then."
Duo avoided answering by using the fact that his head was underneath his desk as he reached to the back side of it and pulled out a sheathed knife. He emerged, brushing the dust off the tail of his hair. "I've got a bag o'crap stashed at the port. Let's get out of here."
"Before they decide to swarm the port. Let's hope this cat friend of yours doesn't wander anywhere near there tonight."
"Why do you have a secret stash?" he asked, doing what little he could to contribute to their cover. If there was something he had noticed, it was that normal, inconspicuous people made idle conversation about frivolous things. It was something that had kept him from fully assimilating, but at least here, with this one person, he could find something to discuss that was worth discussing.
Duo combined the shrug for the answer with the shrug of the bag's strap over his shoulder. "Habit, I guess. You know me. I'm a packrat to the core."
"I haven't yet decided what I should or would be more impressed by. A successful integration? A successful resistance? Or hell, just success at anything, maybe."
"What would you have said last month?" Duo asked, shutting the door.
They headed towards the automated ticket counter. The hour was getting late for outbound flights, but there were still a few overnights to be found. The more annoying problem was the pedestrian traffic. It gave them a crowd in which to hide, but there was also a greater chance that someone would remember them. They kept their heads down, didn't look at any security cameras, and did their best to fit in. "Integration, I suppose. It's definitely the more difficult of the two, I imagine."
"I'd call you a few kinds of a fool, then."
"It's easy to give up, give in. Do what they tell you to."
"You think it's that easy, do you? Being normal? Living life? Learning about all of those little things you never thought you'd need to know?"
"How hard could it be? Billions of idiots do it every day. B'sides, don't be so innocent as to think that even half, a quarter of those idiots are actually living their lives to the fullest. You think they know how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life? If that were true, we'd never have any wars. No, it's not hard at all to be one of them."
"Is it any better being us?"
"Yup. Better being me, anyway. I do as I please."
Duo cast him a withering glance. "Aw, shut up. You don't know what the hell you're talking about anyway."
Their tickets were purchased using cash on hand. Duo was more than packrat enough to hoard money, and even Heero, back when he had still been in top form, had established a modest fund away from the government's prying eyes that he had maintained only through habit as time passed. It would supplement what he had claimed as spoils from the hitman's wallet.
They waited impatiently for the machine to beep its compliance with their demands. If there was anything sure to be watched carefully, it would be the ticket machines. The two of them weren't hot enough to make sneaking on board a shuttle worth the inconvenience of it.
"Hurry it up," Duo muttered, keeping an eye on a pair walking down the corridor towards them. It was just a shuttle pilot and a port security guard, engaged in easy conversation, but there was no reason to take chances.
"I can only move as fast as the machine will let me," Heero replied flatly, watching the screen blink placidly at him. The ellipses after the 'processing' text flashed oblivious to human ire. He forced himself not to tap his fingers impatiently as the computer took its sweet time, though perhaps it would not have been out of place. Travelers were often irritable. It made him glad that the government had never thought to try placing him in a career at the port.
Beside him, he could sense Duo's tension rising as the pair of port authorities neared them. The ticket kiosk finally beeped its compliance and began printing out their confirmations as the two men walked by them. The sound was apparently common enough that it did not attract the attention of the men, and they passed by without trouble.
"What the hell is tying up network traffic at this time?" Duo growled quietly as he lowered his state of alert.
"I often suspect the delay of being hardcoded in." Heero pulled their papers out and glanced at them to make sure all was in order. "Gate sixteen. Let's go."
"What kind of description do you think they have out on you?"
He was silent for a few seconds. It may have been a sad tribute to his former state and appearance. "I don't know. I'm sure they have pictures to distribute."
"Is this your normal look?"
"Only some of it." His hand automatically went to the stubble on his chin.
"Yeah, you scratch at that thing way too much for it to be a long-time thing. We should just get rid of it. It's sort of conspicuous because of its utter lameness. Especially if we're going to be going somewhere a little more upscale. We better be sure we don't need it anymore, though, 'cuz once it's gone, I get the feeling it ain't coming back for a while."
"You like picking on it, don't you?"
"I'm not picking on it. I just don't like it, period."
"Why is it any of your business? Don't like being seen with ruffians?"
"It doesn't agree with my tongue."
Heero shot him a sour look.
"Hey, you didn't like the smokes, so I stopped with the smokes. I don't like your pathetic attempt at a beard, so you shave. Deal?"
It wasn't as if he was actually trying to cultivate his facial hair. It was just a convenient obfuscation technique, no matter its questionable worth. And he hardly wanted to admit that he simply hadn't snatched a razor from his apartment on his way out, and circumstances had not allowed him to pick one up since. "I don't recall agreeing to be your bitch, Maxwell."
"I don't recall you saying 'no', either."
"So if I shave it off just because I don't like it, am I somehow admitting complicity? Will I have to keep it now just for spite?"
"'Spite's an ugly word, Yuy."
"And one that you're intimately familiar with, Maxwell. Then again, I guess you're intimately familiar with a lot of ugly--"
"Fuck off, Yuy. I don't have to be here, you know." Some buttons just weren't meant to be pushed.
"No, you don't. But I don't recall you leaving."
"You know, at this point, if I were a total idiot, I'd say something especially insulting to you right now, but as we're in the middle of a shuttleport, trying to lay low, it'd probably be a bad idea to start a fistfight. But just pretend I said it and consider yourself insulted."
"Pretend you're a total idiot? Alright, I can do that."
Duo whistled lowly. "Holy shit, Yuy. Deny it all you like, but you really are a bitch." He trailed off, but only because two men and a woman were about to cross their path. They appeared to be passengers recently disembarked.
When the coast was clear once more, Heero hummed contemplatively before laughing softly. "Heh, I really am, aren't I?" The thought amused him, comforted him, intrigued him. "But I'm not your bitch."
"Oh, we'll see about that."
Heero shot him a sharp glare, and in turning his head in that direction, caught sight of another concern. The bitchiness was immediately dropped. "Guard station on our ten. Two suits on their way there."
"Moving right along, then," Duo murmured. They kept their eyes straight forward and hustled calmly toward gate sixteen. Gate fourteen was just now coming up on their right. "So? What about the rest of you? Normal?"
"More or less." While it couldn't be said that he had a great care for his appearance, he had never been a sloppy individual.
"You could use a haircut," Duo observed casually.
There was an immediate and automatic retort to that. "So could--" He blinked in sudden realization and glanced reflexively toward his companion for confirmation, but it was hidden away. A quick skim through his memories served just as well. "You cut it."
The now unbraided tail still trailed some ten centimeters down the path of Duo's spine. Still distinctive, but not quite near its former glory. Currently hidden beneath his coat, its hindrance with every move of his head kept him keenly aware of its presence. He grunted irritably, then answered after a half minute of silence. "Yeah. It pissed me off a few years back."
Heero merely nodded sagely. "As good a reason as any."
last modified : 1/7/2006 20:16:21 PST