"I can't believe they're making us go to Cadet school," Duo grumbled as he slouched back in his chair.
"We can't be full agents until we're eighteen," Wu Fei reminded him from across the narrow hallway. "It's only a year."
"It's probably going to take them that long to train us to follow orders," Duo snorted and folded his arms over his chest. Beside him, Heero said nothing. Trowa, next to Wu Fei, just patiently kept his eyes on Director Une's office door.
When it finally opened, they were shown in by an aid and sat down in four chairs arranged in front of Une's desk. She greeted them and then got straight down to business, explaining the details of academy – housing, lessons, evaluations, stipend, and the pre-acceptance medical exam.
"Who pays for the medical exam?" Duo spoke up.
"In your cases, all of that will be covered by your health insurance."
"Yes, you will be receiving a full benefits package."
Duo's brows furrowed and he glanced around at his comrades. Only Wu Fei looked like he might know what was going on. "Benefits?" Duo asked.
"That's right," Une nodded. "The benefits will include full health insurance, disability insurance, worker's comp, and a retirement fund."
The room was silent until Duo asked, "Uhh, ma'am, could you go through that for me?"
She studied the four of them for just a moment. "Of course," she said. "I don't suppose health insurance and retirement planning have been part of any of your experiences until now. Duo, the health insurance covers any doctor visits you may need."
"Covers? Like, pays for?" he asked.
"So I go to the doctor for free?"
"I can get shots for free?"
"Any vaccinations that may not be current would of course be included, as is a yearly physical exam and any emergency situation. Any doctor visit at all, really."
"Eye and dental?" Wu Fei asked.
"Included," Une answered him.
"Eyes and teeth?" Duo parroted.
"Yes, your insurance covers vision correction and dental check-ups. We suggest yearly cleanings," she told him.
"Cleanings," Duo said. "Yearly teeth cleanings."
No one said anything. This was just too unreal for Duo. There was going to be a doctor to take care of him. And a dentist to clean his teeth. And an… eye person to take care of his eyes.
"So, if Yuy here breaks his leg, he doesn't have to go setting it himself?" Duo asked, testing the system.
"Well, if he breaks his leg playing basketball, the insurance takes care of the doctor fee and physical therapy, but if he breaks his leg on assignment for Preventers, then worker's comp kicks in," Une answered, using Duo's example.
"Wait, worker's comp?" Duo asked. Just when he thought he was getting the hang of this…
"Worker's compensation," Une clarified. "The company pays for any care you require after an injury sustained on the job."
Duo laughed out loud. He couldn't help it. He'd never heard of such a thing. Nobody in the world had been crazy enough to offer to pay for the injuries a Gundam pilot sustained on the job. They had gotten by on charity and their own know-how.
"So I'll no longer have to depend on Trowa's delicate stitching for my cuts and scrapes?" Duo joked, not knowing what else to say. Une's eyebrows twitched, but her face remained otherwise impassive. Duo swore right then and there that he would get a laugh out of her eventually.
"Ok, so what was the other thing in the benefits package?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Retirement," Une supplied. He nodded. She explained, "It's a fund that we start for you so that you will have savings to live off of when you want to stop working. When you start earning a salary, you'll be expected to contribute a certain percent, all pretax of course. The fund will be available to cash in when you reach the age of fifty-nine, and is yours to take with you should you change employers."
Duo just stared at her, still stuck on the word fifty-nine. When you reach the age of fifty-nine. Never in his life had he ever considered the fact that he might someday be fifty-nine years old. It was just beyond comprehension. He had always been realistic about the high odds that he would not survive the war, but that didn't mean there weren't times when he thought about what he wanted to do if he did survive, but for some reason that hadn't included being fifty-nine years old. He had lived through two wars and now he was starting to think seriously about his future, but fifty-nine? How was he supposed to think forty-plus years into the future? He doubted he was capable of such a thing. He left the meeting in a daze when Une dismissed them.
"Can you believe that stuff?" he asked Heero later in the small dorm-style quarters they had been assigned. He paced the room and Heero watched from his bed. "Doctors, teeth cleaning, retirement?" He went over to Heero and grinned, exposing all his teeth. "I mean, do my teeth look like they need a cleaning to you? I brush them twice a day!"
He waited but Heero apparently had nothing to say either way about teeth, so he flopped onto the bed next to him. "And this retirement business…" Duo continued. He sat up with a jolt and pulled his braid over his shoulder, clutching it tightly. "Oh my God, do you think my hair will be grey when I'm fifty-nine years old?" he gasped, perhaps overdoing the drama just a bit.
"I guess that's the difference between war and peace," Heero said suddenly. Duo looked at him, still holding his thick rope of hair.
"What, going grey?"
"Just that fact that you might live that long," Heero said. "Planning for a future instead of just trying to survive day to day."
Duo looked at him for a long while. "You can't fathom it either, huh?"
Heero shook his head. Heero was probably having an even tougher time than he was right now. This was the guy who'd deliberately tried to end his life at least once that Duo knew of.
"Hey," Duo said, flipping his hair over his shoulder, "there will be steps along the way. It's not like we have to worry about being fifty-nine and grey tomorrow. We've got a year of academy training, let's see how that goes first."
"I'm going to limit myself to just getting through the medical exam first," Heero said.
Duo laughed and Heero got that little smile that made it impossible to hide that he was pleased when Duo caught one of his oddly-delivered, deadpan jokes.
"We could be partners," Heero said more seriously.
"I don't think we have to decide that now," Duo said, relaxing back against the wall.
"But we could."
Duo cracked an eye open. Heero had been more willing lately to express that he appreciated Duo's skills, but it was still a surprise every time. "Sure, ok, if we both make it through the year, we'll be partners," he said.
Heero nodded, seemingly satisfied, and Duo suddenly felt a little better the prospects of the year ahead.