Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Chapter 10 - Duo
by Dyna Dee
Moments after entering his apartment, a bag of Chinese take-out clutched in one hand and his keys in the other, Duo heard the phone ring. Setting both items down on a nearby table, he moved quickly to the vid phone and answered it. He smiled after seeing his own reflection staring back at him. "Taylor! Hey, what's up?"
"Just checking in to see if there's been any changes in the schedule," his duplicate answered with a slight grin.
Perhaps because it had been over two years since they'd begun working together, Duo could easily detect the minor differences in their appearances that set them apart, even though they'd diligently worked at perfecting the deception. Taylor's mouth was slightly different: his lips a tad thinner and his smile was perhaps just a bit less cynical than his own. Then there was the matter of his eyes. Even though Taylor had undergone several cosmetic surgeries, the other former L2 resident couldn't help the fact that his eyes were slightly smaller than his own, though the color of the irises appeared the same, thanks to the tinted contact lenses. And though Taylor did his best to mimic Duo's mannerisms, especially in public, his smile was too bright and his eyes practically radiated with unbridled happiness and excitement. Those were two emotions Duo rarely saw reflected back in his mirror each morning while he shaved. Other than those differences, the man on the vid screen acted and looked very much like his identical twin, thanks to the plastic surgeon on L3 who had been paid very well to insure the doctor/patient confidentiality agreement was never breached.
He had Hilde to thank for finding Taylor. Having been troubled by his very public life ever since his first layout in a prominent magazine, modeling Alaya Winner's clothing, he'd sought for an escape from the intrusion of the persistent paparazzi and the curiosity of the public at large about his life, which he had ever intention of keeping private.
Posing for Alaya was the last thing he'd ever imagined himself doing. Once she'd set her sights on him, she'd badgered him for several months, declaring he was the model she wanted to launch her new clothing line. He insisted that he wasn't suitable for the job. He wasn't a model. But she wouldn't be dissuaded. He should have known that she was like her brother in at least one respect, they both had a bulldog tenacity to achieve whatever they set their sights on. It was a genetic trait that was obviously inherited by more than one Winner.
After initially failing to convince him to model for her, Alaya pulled out all the stops by going to Quatre and begging him to speak with his friend, to urge him change his mind. After all Quatre had done for him, Duo could deny him nothing. So he caved in, gritted his teeth and reluctantly showed up at the clothing designer's studio to offer her his services.
Of course he needed to have some basic instructions on how to model, but the photographer hired for the job and reputed to be one of the best in the industry, more or less gushed that Duo simply ate up the camera, that he was born to be photographed.
His first photo session was an onerous ordeal to get through, but his perception of the job changed after he had his first paycheck in hand. The sum made out to him nearly brought him to his knees. He hadn't legitimately earned and banked that much money in his entire lifetime to that point. It was enough of an incentive to take him back to Alaya's studio for a few more sessions. After a couple more paychecks, ideas began to form of possibilities for the good he could do with his newfound wealth. He continued to model and contracted with a notable modeling agency in New York that successfully guided him into a spotlight usually held by female models alone. In a relatively short time he had become as popular as a movie star or pop musician, and his income was just as impressive.
His newfound fame also brought his life out into the open. The paparazzi seemed to come out of the woodwork and they plagued him day and night. He'd complained of this problem to Hilde on a vid call weeks before the UEC sanctions were placed on his ever-troubled home colony. Despite the problems he knew Hilde was having on L2, their friendship was such that he felt comfortable voicing his frustration. She listened patiently as he worried about the attempts by the press to intrude into his carefully guarded private life. He'd flippantly wished he had an identical twin to take the heat off so he could have some privacy.
After a pause, Hilde recalled that just a week before she'd done a double-take at someone hanging around at the bar near the shipping yard who could have passed for his brother. After she'd gotten a good look at him, she could see the guy's hair and facial features were different, but that he was physically built just like her best friend, lean and wiry and the shape of his face was also similar.
They didn't linger very long on the subject of his lookalike, and it didn't spark anything but mild interest in him until a couple of days later. Then out of the blue the idea came to him that this similar-looking guy might possibly be the solution to several of his current problems.
He booked a seat on a shuttle going to L-1 where he made contact with Howard, who was busy installing his latest version of his patent-pending cloaking system in one of his new and sleek smaller ships. Together the two of them went to L2 while Hilde began to search for the guy she'd described.
She found him in the same bar where she'd spotted him weeks before and learned that his name was Taylor Mann. She introduced herself and asked him if he might be interested in a lucrative business venture that would take him off of L2.
Keeping to the promise he'd made after the war not to set foot on L2 ever again, Duo met the willing-to-listen man on Howard's ship, docked in that colony's shuttle port. He wasn't surprised to learn that Taylor, a year or so younger than himself, had also been an orphan and a street brat. Yet with some of the improvements to the colony immediately after the first war, the lanky man with thick and shaggy mousy-brown hair had been one of the fortunate ones to have secured a full-time job working six days a week as a garbage technician and spent his evenings in bars and nightclubs. Taylor wasn't his mirror image, but as Hilde had described earlier, he was similar in build, slender and with a facial bone structure much like his own. The shape of their eyes was different, as was their eye color, with Taylor's being green. Their noses didn't match either, but their mouths were similar. Taylor's teeth, of course, needed a lot of work, though as Duo had learned the hard way, there wasn't anything that oral or plastic surgeons couldn't alter or repair.
Taylor treated Duo with suspicion during that first meeting. Of course he recognized the long-haired young man; almost everyone on the colony had learned who their gundam pilot had been, and his popularity among celebrities and the media was well known at that point. It took three days and the promise of a better life as well as a debit card worth 20,000 credits and the guarantee of more to come for Taylor to agree to the proposal. From there an odd working and soon to be brother/brother relationship began. Frankly, if his counterpart had known at that point how much pain was involved in the plastic and oral surgeries he was to undergo, the young man who signed on to be Duo's future double might have reconsidered.
"Glad you rang, Tay. I was going to call you after dinner. Something's come up and I need you to cover for me tomorrow for that movie premiere and the after party I told you about last week. Do you want me to get you a date or do you want to go solo?"
The grin on the other man's face widened. "Well, since you're asking, how about Alana Stevens? She and I got on pretty well the last time we hooked up."
Duo frowned. "You know what I told you about getting involved, Tay. Don't let anyone get too close. The more familiar someone becomes with you, the greater the chance is we'll be found out."
Taylor nodded, sobering slightly. "And then I'd be out of a job. I'm not stupid, Duo. I'm not about to mess up this gig. It's too important."
Duo studied his near perfect reflection a moment, then nodded, seeing that Taylor understood the seriousness of the situation. "If we're lucky we'll be free of all this in a month or two."
Retaining a serious demeanor, Taylor asked, "We'll still be friends when all this is over, won't we?"
"Of course," Duo replied with a reassuring smile. "I told you, I never forget my friends."
"Or your enemies."
Duo frowned as he tackled the next problem facing them. "There's been a new development. Someone you need to be wary of."
The young man's eyes, naturally green when the tinted contacts that induced the preferred blue-violet shade of Duo's eyes had been removed, widened in surprise. "Your ex?"
Duo nodded, well aware that his counterpart had been given a brief history of himself and Heero when they'd started working together. Anyone Duo had known that Taylor might run across had been discussed, their pictures and profiles studied and memorized.
"He and Wufei Chang, another former comrade, came here in the capacity of Preventer agents, investigating the kidnaping of Relena Peacecraft."
"They think you're involved with that?"
"Nah. They were fishing, looking for any clues. I don't think they know what to make of her disappearance."
"So you think I'll run into Yuy?"
"God, I hope not," Duo said, running his hand through the hair draped over his forehead. "He's sharp. Nothing gets past him."
Taylor chuckled. "Except us."
"Damn straight," Duo grinned back. "Honestly, though, I don't think he'll be coming around again. As long as Relena is missing, he's gonna be occupied elsewhere."
"I hope you're right, for our sakes."
Duo nodded in complete agreement with his friend. "Now, as for tomorrow, you can call Alana and see if she's available. But I'm warning you, Tay, don't let her think there's a future between you two. And for God's sake, if you have sex with her, use protection."
The other man rolled his eyes, and answered in an annoyed tone, "You've only given me that lecture a couple hundred times. I get it, all right?"
"I know, but we can't be too careful. If she were to get pregnant.." Duo left the rest of that thought unfinished. Taylor knew the consequences of any irresponsible action on his part. Looking almost exactly like him, Duo, his benefactor, would be the one to pay and take responsibility for any wrong doing.
"I'll be careful. Trust me," Taylor said with conviction, wanting Duo to believe him.
He was rewarded with a grin and a flash of perfectly straight and white teeth that was the mirror image of his own.
"All right," Duo said after a slight pause. "If you have any questions you can try texting me, but I'll pretty much be out of contact for at least 24 hours. If anything unexpected comes up, stay in my apartment and don't answer the door or phone. I'll handle whatever the problem is when I get back."
"There won't be any problems so don't worry about it," Taylor assured him. "We've been doing this long enough that I know what to say and when to cut out of a situation. I can handle anything that comes up."
"Glad to hear it," Duo replied. "I'll give you a call as soon as I return. Consider yourself on the job."
Taylor gave him a mock salute and signed off. With a sigh, Duo hit the end call button. He could only hope the other man didn't get him involved in yet another public scandal that would take him weeks to recover from in the public's eye. The blunder he'd made several months ago with the wife of a well-known and beloved actor had hit the tabloids and entertainment gossip columns almost immediately. Sure, that as well as other escapades of his and Taylor's doing had kept him pretty popular, increasing his fees for modeling and public appearances, but he detested having his name smeared and mopping up Taylor's mistakes. He could only hope the other man, who still possessed a wild streak that came from having lived on the streets of L2, behaved himself for just a little while longer. Not too much longer, he hoped. Picking up the bag he'd carried home, Duo took it into his much neglected kitchen to reheat and then eat his dinner.