by girl starfish
J had taught me that aesthetics were of no value compared to functionality and disguise. In spite of that, I had to admit that Sylvia was rather visually appealing.
She was a deep black, with a rich shine, and rather nice lines. She would have looked better if parts of her internal workings had not been scattered around the floor, but she was appealing nonetheless. Even more so, with Duo draped across her hood like that.
"Oooh! Look! I didn't know Howard was able to get a thermal adapter." Duo wriggled, trying to get a closer look. "Oh, man--and look at this circuitry."
"It's good?" I asked, watching as Duo inspected the inner workings of Sylvia more closely, his braid swishing behind him. There was something almost hypnotic about the braid, the way it fell against Duo's back, or swung in time with his graceful movements . . .
"Good?" Duo stuck his head out of Sylvia's hood long enough to flash me a huge grin. "She's great! I can't believe the power Howard could get out of her . . . or that he will once I'm through with her."
He had a smudge of oil on the tip of his nose. I smiled, reaching his side and wiping it off gently. "Howard seems like he knows his stuff. Do you really think you can improve her?"
Duo laughed, patting my own nose playfully. "You watch me. You ain't seen nothing till you've seen me at work. Just watch. You think she's cool now--you'll be positively drooling by the time I'm through with her."
"Mmhmm," I replied absently.
"I'm thinking if I reroute the power supply here and here, and maybe replace those valves there, I'll boost the power usage, which'll help a lot. We don't have much power to spare."
"Yeah. Ya mind passing me that spanner? That is, if you can tear your eyes away from my butt long enough."
"Mm-huh?" I flushed. "Oh. Sure."
Duo grinned as I gave him the tool. "Having fun?"
"You don't mind?" I asked. "You don't think I'm a--" I accessed my memory files. What was it he had called J? "A pervy bastard?"
Duo laughed. "You have permission to look, okay Heero?"
I smiled shyly in reply. This was all still so new . . .
"Hee-chan? You can't do me a favour and give me the readings for the second power valve?"
I nodded, hefting my mechanical arm and connecting myself to the computer with Sylvia's records. "15, 18, 17, 14, 15, 16, 15, 16," I reported, seconds later.
"Hell--you found them already?" Duo was surprised enough to pull himself away from Sylvia.
"I can interface directly with a computer," I said, pleased by his regard. "That means I can process information faster than most humans."
"Try all humans, Heero. You could be a very handy guy to have around. So, give me those readings again?"
I reported the information promptly, and Duo returned to work.
I was an adequate mechanic, J had taught me the basics of repair and construction, but I found it hard to follow what alterations Duo was making. He didn't seem to follow any plan--just ideas and hunches. What was most intriguing about the process was that they seemed to work.
"Power reading now, Heero?"
"Yeah, baby--that's it."
He also talked to the machine as he repaired it. I found that somewhat amusing also.
I was so engrossed in watching Duo that I didn't notice Wufei's presence until he tapped me on the arm.
"We need to talk," he said quietly. "Follow me."
Duo was wrapped up in dismantling the carburettor and didn't seem to need any help. I followed Wufei.
"What is it you need to speak to me about?" I asked once we were in the corridor.
"You can't stay here." Wufei said bluntly. "I don't know what Duo was thinking when he persuaded you to come, but this is not the right place for you."
"But--" I protested.
"I'm sorry to have to say this, Heero, but itís true. You are the only one of your kind in existence. You belong with those that built you, that know you and that can fix you if things go wrong."
"And treat me like an experiment? I wanted to leave that, Wufei, and I have. I'm happier here with Duo than I ever was upside."
"You're being foolish. Upside is where you belong. Duo, whatever he is to you, has his faults. For all his good intentions, he is easily distracted and unreliable. He may not be enough of a reason to stay as you think he is. And you may not get another chance to return."
"Thanks for your concern," I said stiffly. "But you are mistaken. Besides, one might argue with equal validity that you should not stay. After all, don't you belong to the upside too?"
"That is a different matter entirely," Wufei replied just as coolly. "I had to leave. My family insisted I conform to their political views entirely, down to accepting the bride they chose for me. That I could not do."
"You chose freedom," I said. "That is what I did. Living under J was not really living. I had no choice in what happened to me."
"You have a point," Wufei admitted. "But you should also remember . . . you are not a normal person. 85% of you is machine."
"That does not make me a robot," I replied.
"I agree. But that does not make you human either."
I was silent. Could he be right?
"There is another reason you should leave. Heero . . . communities like the Sweepers are few and fragile. Most people downside either work in the factories or prey on each other. Groups like the Sweepers are viewed with distrust--if you are discovered, the upsider officials will have the excuse they need to at the least confiscate their machinery, their livelihood--the results will be disastrous."
"Aw, thanks, Wufei. But we're big boys, you know? We can take care of ourselves. We've been doing that for years before you decided to grace us with your presence." Duo threw his arms round my neck, leaning against my back. "You know we've never been found."
"There has never been a search in the downside on this scale before," Wufei said darkly. "I wonder if you know the seriousness of what you're up against."
"What's up with everyone? First Howard then you--" Duo shrugged. "I can take of myself, you know."
"Maxwell," Wufei said insistently. "This situation could be disastrous. If just one of the Sweepers happens to mention to an outsider that the Heero Yuy everyone is looking for is here--"
"But they don't know!" Duo said. "The only ones who know that Heero is who he is are me, you, and, well, Heero I guess."
"Thanks a lot," I said, wrapping my hand around his braid. He didn't protest it, which I was grateful for--I needed the tacit reassurance that Duo did not agree with Wufei and was not going to send me back.
Wufei gave the two of us a startled look. "They don't know?"
"Howard and the guys think Heero's a dysfunctional AI that I managed to score off Peels," Duo shrugged.
"What happened to not lying?" Wufei asked.
Duo opened his eyes wide. "I never actually lied, Wufei. They drew their own conclusions . . ."
"You don't think I'm dysfunctional then?" I asked.
"Of course not! Well . . . except in one department. Stupid moronic bastard J--" Duo went off into more colourful vocabulary.
Wufei and I watched.
"J seems to have done something to really annoy him," Wufei observed. "Do you know what it was?"
"Yes," I said. "He didn't--"
Two hands clamped themselves over my mouth. "Wufei isn't interested in hearing about that," Duo interspersed smoothly. "We better get back to work on Sylvia. Unless you want to help, Wufei?"
"As a mechanic I don't have the skills you do," Wufei said. "I think I'll pass."
"Hah!" Duo crowed, detaching himself from me to smother Wufei in a hug. "So you admit I'm good at something!"
"As a mechanic, your skills are unsurpassed," Wufei said dryly. "That is, of course, why I hired you."
"Hired?" I asked.
Wufei smiled. "You may have heard perhaps of the recent spate of burglaries across the upside--the Peacecrafts, the Kushrenadas, the Septems . . . to name but a few."
I nodded. "The master burglar you mean? Yes I read about him--oh. You mean--"
"What the police don't realize is that itís not one master burglar," Duo said happily. "It's three."
I looked sceptically at my honour-bound upside friend. "You are a burglar?"
"Not quite. I run the organization."
"Wufei picks our targets and acquires information about them." Duo explained. "He goes to upside parties and oozes power and wealth and people tell him everything we need to know. Then me and Trowa do the hard part."
"Yeah. If I wasn't grounded I'd take you to meet him tonight."
"You're grounded?" Wufei glared at him. "For how long?"
"Two weeks. But if I behave angelically for the next few days, Howard might let me off with only one week."
"And we all know the chances of that happening," Wufei muttered.
"It's not like I asked to be grounded, ya know. In fact I was grounded for getting back late on a job you sent me on!"
"I refuse to be blamed for your tardiness, Maxwell," Wufei said. "But this does alter things, quite a lot."
"Why?" Duo shrugged. "You got a job lined up?"
"The Winners," Wufei said. "In a week. This may be our only chance--you know what their security is like."
"Wait--Quatre Winner? His family?" I asked.
"How many Winners are there? Wait--don't answer that," Duo said.
"Yes, his family," Wufei asked. "Is that a problem?"
"Quatre's my best friend," I said.
I sighed at the trickle of lukewarm water. "Well, lukewarm is better than not warm at all. Heero, ya coming in? Ya better hurry--" I thumped the shower as the water flow stopped again. "It tends to run out."
Heero remained where he was, hovering beside the door to the showers. "I don't know . . ."
"You're waterproof, aren't you?" I asked, undoing my plait and letting my hair fall down my back. "You got wet when I took my bath--"
"I am uncomfortable showering like this," Heero said.
"Oh," I said. "Never had to use a communal shower? It's not as bad as you think, trust me. After all, most people are at tea now. We get the room to ourselves." After Wufei had left we got kind of engrossed in fixing Sylvia. Well I got kind of engrossed, Heero was . . . otherwise occupied. I smirked. He probably thought I hadn't noticed the way he watched me. Although, then again, looking was about the only thing we could do--
"Damn J," I muttered, before realizing that Heero was still hovering. "What's wrong?" I asked, wandering over to him.
"I--" Heero whispered, then tugged his eyes away. "I don't want--"
I placed my hand gently on his arm. "You can tell me. I promise I won't laugh or get mad or anything."
"Duo," Heero said. "You and Quatre are the only people who treat me as if I'm not a robot. Wufei too, but he still doesn't think of me as a full person, I don't think."
"Well, that's his problem," I snorted. "Forget it."
"I can't," Heero replied. "I'm afraid you might . . . think like that . . . if you saw me . . . as I am."
I blinked at him stunned. That certainly put my inhibitions about my body in perspective. "Oh, Heero," I said. "I'm sure I won't. After all, when I first met you I thought you were a robot. That didn't stop me from lo-liking you a lot, did it?"
Heero stubbornly shook his head.
"Wufei is right," he said. "And Howard--you think of me as human."
"That's what you are," I said, frustrated. "Just because your body isn't quite all yours, doesn't make you a robot. Robots aren't alive, they don't feel." I tapped Heero on the nose, startling him into blinking. "If you were a robot, silly, would you be this paranoid about a shower?"
Heero looked at me and didn't smile. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah I'm sure," I answered, wondering what had brought this sudden turnaround.
There is a big difference between knowing something and believing. Almost three quarters the way up his chest was a mark like a scar--and from there downwards the skin was clearly mechanical, except on his left arm of course. Lights were faintly visible beneath his skin, as were the dark lines of his wiring. I reached out a hand unthinkingly, tracing the lines of those wires.
"Wow . . . I can't believe how thin those wires are. Oh, wait--let me guess, gundanium?"
"Yes," Heero whispered.
"No wonder they want you back," I said. "Gundanium costs a fortune. What are these other wires?"
"They transport blood around my remaining organs." Heero said.
"Oh, yeah," I nodded. "That explains how you get oxygen to your parts and that. I was wondering. That'd be pretty hard to replicate with machinery." I watched entranced as the little wheels in his chest turned round and round. "You must recycle your own blood--"
"Awesome!" My fingers itched as I ran my hand over his chest plate. "I'd love to take you apart--"Then I blinked, remembering this was Heero I was talking about. "Uh . . . sorry. Guess I got a bit carried away, there."
Heero was staring at me, open-mouthed. "You're not . . . disgusted by my parts?"
"Disgusted?" I snorted. "Heero, you're great! It's all I can do to stop myself from taking you apart to get a better idea of how you work."
Heero smiled shyly. Before he could say anything, however a derisive snort interrupted us.
"Perhaps I was wrong," Wufei said, emerging from the shower area clad in a towel, while drying his hair with another one. "Perhaps you two are a perfect match. After all, Duo is the only person I know who gets turned on by--"
"Oops," I said as my towel suddenly seemed to wrap itself around Wufei's mouth. "Sorry Fei-kun!"
Wufei gave me a sour look as he struggled to free himself. I realized I was now towel-less. So was Heero--"I guess we better get on with our shower then."
Wufei was still around at tea time.
"How come you're here so late?" I asked, around a mouthful of 'Surprise Stew.'
"I had to talk business with Howard," Wufei said.
"Oh." I noticed Heero looking at his stew. "A problem, Hee-baby?"
"I do not understand. What is the surprise?" Heero poked the stew. "What is so important about this stew?"
"Words of wisdom," I said. "If they don't tell you, ya don't want to know."
Heero looked at me then at his stew. "I think I'll pass."
"I'll eat it," I offered immediately. "You sure though? We won't get anything else."
Heero patted his chest. "Internal battery. I don't need to eat like you do--"
"In that case," Wufei said, "I'm sure you won't mind if I have a few words with Duo. Alone."
Heero looked uncertain. I smiled encouragingly at him.
"Go back to my room. I won't be long. 'Sides, it'd be pretty boring watching me eat--"
"As well as disgusting." Wufei prodded me. "Try not talking with your mouth full."
I was about to stick my tongue out at him when Heero stopped me.
"Duo could never be boring or disgusting," he said. "I'll see you later."
I beamed smugly at Wufei.
"Hn," he said. "Something must be malfunctioning."
"You're just jealous because you're not getting any," I said loftily.
"Neither are you," Wufei pointed out.
I shut up. Of course Wufei had been in the shower too . . .
"We have a problem. Do you think Heero will inform Quatre of our plans?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "I guess it would depend on what the job is."
"Nothing serious. One of our clients has expressed an interest in a certain piece of artwork. He's willing to pay twice its retail price."
"What's its retail price?" I asked.
Wufei told me.
He thumped me on the back several times as I recovered.
"All that for a stupid piece of art?"
"The painting is a masterpiece," Wufei scolded me. "Lady with an ermine is considered by some--"
"All right, no need for a lecture! It's a nice painting," I shrugged. "Hey, who am I to judge how the upside spends their money. It's just more for the party fund."
"Speaking of which," Wufei said, "I'll stop by the church tomorrow. Want me to give everyone your regards?"
"Thanks," I said gloomily. I hated missing a visit to the kids. "Stupid Howard's stupid curfew--"
"You'll survive," Wufei said. "Tell me at once if you suspect Heero might try to interfere in our plans."
I nodded. "I don't think he will--I mean, he was all right with me being a burglar and robbing J. Then again, he didn't like J--"
"If you can, take him to see the kids. He should know what our profit goes into--besides your toys of course."
I huffed. "My toys have saved all of our skins more times than I can count!"
"Which isn't saying much," Wufei said with a sly grin.
I realised he was teasing me. "Well fine, be like that, Wu-kun. See if I care." I pouted, letting my lip tremble violently.
"Stop that. You're not really upset."
"Yes I am."
"Idiot," Wufei said, with something like affection. "I might come by tomorrow, if I have time. And Duo?"
"Yeah?" I said, looking up.
That was about all the warning I got. Next thing I knew I was flat on my back on the table, the warm weight of Wufei's body pressing against me, and his lips locked over mine. Wow--I thought dazedly, Wufei does everything well--
"Huh--" I said as he pulled away. "What was that all about--"
"When you're tired of the mechanical substitute," Wufei said with a smirk, "just remember, I have all the necessary parts."
I curled my hands into fists as he left. "Idiot!" I hissed, whether directed at him or myself I wasn't sure. I was mad at Wufei for assuming that my feelings for Heero were transitory, for kissing me the way he had--and at myself for liking the kiss.
Finally I decided that dwelling on the painful things I'd like to do to Wufei was not doing my dinner any good and set about finishing it.
Well, ya can't plot revenge on an empty stomach can you?
I returned to my room to find Heero sitting on the bed. He hadn't taken his clothes off or lain down--just sat there.
"You okay?" I asked.
"I don't know," Heero replied. "I have a lot to think about."
"Me too." I sighed. "Let's see . . . I'll find you one of my old shirts to sleep in if you like. Those coveralls aren't the best things to sleep in. I know from experience."
Heero changed obediently, and waited as I climbed into bed.
"Ya coming in?"
"You want me too?"
"Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I?"
"I heard the guys talking. They said you and Wufei used to be . . . together."
Oh, shit. Not the best time in the world for him to find out that little bit of information.
"I wondered if perhaps now that he was around, whether you wanted--"
"Heero, if I wanted Wufei the way he wants me, I would not be here with you. And Howard would be busily trying to affix Wufei's head to a stake. Come over here, okay? Come on." I coaxed him into the bed beside me, and snuggled up to him. "Ignore the guys, okay? They know hell all about my love life."
"So Wufei does want to be with you?"
Oops. "Well, yeah. But that doesn't necessarily mean I'm interested."
I lay with my head against Heero's chest and waited.
"Duo--" he said hesitantly. "Are you--have I disappointed you?"
"I thought we went over this," I said, nuzzling his chest with my nose. "I don't just not hate your body, I think itís positively drool-worthy--can I take your chest plate off, tomorrow? I won't break anything, I promise--"
"I meant about Quatre. I don't think Wufei liked that I wasn't happy with you guys planning to rob his house."
"Don't fret it, gorgeous. Wufei's gotten mad over lesser things." I sighed. "It's a painting. That's all we're going to take."
"Surely they can spare one painting, don't you think? I mean, look at this place. You could feed the entire downside for one month on what Mr Winner makes in one day--we have to survive somehow, Heero. I'm mean, I'm lucking getting a berth with the Sweepers. If I wasn't such a good mechanic, who knows where I'd be? Wufei's got a plan though. What we steal we use it for the others. Kind of a Robin Hood deal. Only without the tights."
Heero hesitated. "If itís only a painting . . . and he really can spare it . . . then I don't mind. Just . . . don't tell me about it."
I hugged him. "Thank-you, Heero. If you like, tomorrow, I'll see if we can't figure out someway for you to write Quatre, you know, and let him know that you're all right and happy. If he's anywhere near to deserving the friendship you give him, then he'll probably be worried about you."
"That's a good plan," Heero said, finally hugging me back.
"What do you expect? I thought of it," I said. "Goodnight, Hee-chan."
"Goodnight . . . Duo-chan."
It was a start.