Disclaimer: This is fanfiction based on the characters and universe of Gundam Wing.

Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Chapter 102

When Hermes brought them to the house along Ocean Walk, Heero asked to have a look around the outside first. Hermes said that since he had to check the house for damage, he would accompany them. Heero turned to Claudia then and saw an expression on her face he did not quite understand, almost sad, but not specifically sadness. It faded quickly, as she noticed he was watching her. "Ready for work?" she asked.

"Of course," Heero answered, slowly. He got out his measuring tapes. If he was working alone, he might have used a voice recorder, but this was Claudia's training mission, and though Heero was an extra pair of hands and eyes and gave constructive criticism or praise, much of the work and the way that work was accomplished, had been Claudia's to plan. Heero made measurements and called them out and Claudia wrote them into her pad.

Claudia had proven to know more about art and how it was protected than Heero did, but he knew more of construction materials and their strengths, so there was some exchange involved just in performing the walkthrough. Claudia asked if Heero knew much about the concrete that much of the south face of the house and its many terraces and balconies were either covered in or constructed of, and whether this particular architecture seemed quite sound for a beach house.

"It seems a treatment of the exterior, such as brick facing would be, but the balconies may actually be concrete over wire mesh and steel reinforcement. I would have to glance at the blueprints again. I honestly do not think there is much to recommend concerning the exterior and storm damage."

"If these storms come year after year, then anyone who has owned a house here long must know what makes a structure that will withstand."

"That is not always the case. There are flood plains where people regularly rebuild types of homes that will be destroyed in the next flood." Heero shrugged. "There is more than one school of thought on building in an area with a known reoccurring natural disaster. There is building the house so sturdy it will not fall unless the disaster is severe and hoping it will not get that severe, so that the debris does not crush inhabitants, such as building of ancient monolithic blocks interspersed with giant timbers. And there is building so that the house will fall apart easily and also be quickly reassembled, by survivors, such as buildings of notched timber and paper."

"Is that why?"

"Earthquakes and typhoons. Wood floats and paper can be recycled."

Claudia nodded understanding. "We should have a look at the foundation when we go around, check for possible leaking or flooding during storm surges."

"Good idea."

They secured Koi's leash to a rail about the uppermost terrace before going to look at the roof.

When they climbed up the ladder Hermes had propped along one side of the home, they found some roof shingles missing. Heero considered they could use something heavier, like slate, as it was the wind of the storm that moved them, but then, if the wind was strong enough, there might be a person, or a neighbor's window getting struck by flying slate tiles, which would cause a lot more damage than flying tar-covered textiles. "What do you think about the roof?" Heero asked Claudia.

"I wish it were less discreet. If there was a solid surface, the little pieces could not be ripped from it."

"It is something to investigate, or to give a general recommendation on."

They went inside, shortly, walking on the paved path around the house, and entering through the door on the North façade, which was considered the front entrance in that it faced Ocean Walk, but which Hermes said was usually the lesser used entrance. Heero saw Claudia make a note of that. He might have mentioned making the note and was pleased to see it done already. The rear ocean-facing entrance was the more frequently used and approaches had high visibility. Conversely, the front entrance was a potential vulnerability in that most people were looking at the view and not noticing who moved through the front hall.

Heero had expected to see more subdued colors, like white, sand and ocean and sky, or objects in a nautical theme, he was not sure why he expected it, but he had just thought the summer home would appear somehow less urban. The atmosphere was not so luxurious as the penthouse, but rather than appear casual, the feeling was industrial. Heero had the impression of walking into a gallery or studio set in a loft, converted from an old warehouse. Heero could view three other spaces from the lofty, nearly square hall, and the architecture was such that pipes and ducts were exposed and walls seemed placed only to have surfaces to mount art rather than to support the structure.

"There was such a glare on the glass, I did not notice from outside," Heero said.

"The contractor we had out usually does lofts," Hermes explained.

"We should do a quick walkthrough first and then go back for measurements," Claudia suggested.

Hermes walked them around the first floor, which was laid out in such a way that they could walk in a circuit, passing through every room on the floor once, and then return to the front hall at the end. Except for the kitchen, which had little decoration, and walls covered by steel and maple cabinetry, the home looked very much like a gallery. The walls were that particular shade of white. Those tables that were placed against walls seemed works of art, and seating was never against a wall, but in the center of the floor. Rather than construct conversation areas about rugs, they had places couches back to back and used a variety of upholstered benches to provide seating for intimate conversations or art viewing.

The art itself also was striking, not only in scale, or quality, or the variety of style, period and media in the collection, but in the fact that the collection was largely composed of homoerotic art. It was such that Heero was willing to bet that the pieces that were not overtly homosexual had probably been created by gay artists.

When they had reached the front hall again, they went through a central passage to the rear of the house and from there took the steel and maple staircase to the second floor. The rooms there were more traditional in that the arrangement of furniture indicated typical functions of rooms in a home, such as bedrooms, an office and a media room. The décor here seemed to display a separate collection featuring movie posters, photography and cel art. The rooms themselves felt cozy, having modest ceiling height and large scale furniture, but the industrial atmosphere was still apparent, as one had to traverse catwalks to go from room to room, beams and ducts were exposed, and many rooms had cut-outs to enable viewing of the space below.

Heero and Claudia started their evaluation on the upper floor and moved downstairs after taking measurements and notes on all of the rooms above. Marcellus arrived as they were evaluating the kitchen. He entered though the glass door on the south side of the house in a sweater, brown linen trousers and loafers without socks. He asked how the work was going.

"Upper floor evaluation complete. Lower floor evaluation approximately 60%," Heero reported.

"Very good. So, what do you think of the collection?"

"Upstairs is not your collection, is it?" Heero asked.

"Did Hermes not say? That is all his."

"It is impressive," Heero said, gesturing to the lower rooms about them. "I am not sure what to say, I received no training in art or art history, and I sometimes do not understand what makes something fine art."

"Well, what one will term fine art, another may call high-priced kitsch. I can advised clients that investing in art is a good plan and explain potential appreciation and recommend artists whose work will likely gain popularity over the next several years, but ultimately, I tell them, you should buy what you like."

"I do own some art," Heero said. "I know I like Indian Buddahs over Japanese Buddahs. I think if I like something, it is partly admiration for the execution of the piece and then partly the subject and whether the subject means something to me. I am not sure of that life-size ceramic double nude over there. Clearly it took skill to make, and I find other works with similar subject matter appealing, so I would expect to like it, but I do not think I do."

"That's because it's high-priced kitsch," Marcellus said, with a laugh. "I do expect to find a buyer for it soon, though."

Heero nodded.

"What do you have in your collection, if I may ask?"

"A poster of Waterhouse's La Belle Sans Merci. A landscape painted by a friend. A small-scale CG piece of Akairo as Red Riding Hood."

"Hermes has a cel of Akairo and Blaec from episode 25."

"I saw that upstairs."

"It was a gift," Marcellus said, meaning by his tone that it was from him, and also that he did not see it as valuable himself, but understood that Hermes did.

"I know the character designer. Her name is Shizen. I have two of her pieces, and a book. I do not know that she has shown work on Earth before. I know she will be in New York this weekend."

"It is not all anime?"

"No. She paints as well. Duo knows her a bit better, I suspect. She does very beautiful cg work, and she did a series of large scale paintings, including watercolor, all based on fairy tales, but all with boys. Duo says she has a new project now, but that is a manga, I understand."

"What do you like about her work?"

"Do I like?" Heero asked quietly. "Maybe in some way, when I see her art, I feel like she is someone who loves men. Her figures are never too feminine. I feel as if she can capture male beauty and understand its attraction fully and that if one man is beautiful, then two together are more beautiful. And, even when she draws her men blood-tinged, erect, and fucking, the piece always looks elegant."

Marcellus was silent for a moment and then laughed and Heero was very afraid he had been inappropriate and entirely too familiar. He hoped Marcellus' laughter meant he was amused, at the worst, and not about to become offended or patronizing. "As you describe her work in such beautiful language, I would like to meet this artist, if you would make the introduction."

"Of course," Heero said quickly. "That is, I will talk to Shizen to learn what time is best and contact you."

"Will she still be in town Monday? Perhaps you can bring her then?"

"I will certainly consider your suggestion."

"Well, I will let you get back to work," Marcellus said.

Heero watched him go and then hid himself behind the breakfast bar, slid all the way to the floor and put his back to the cabinets. When he dared glance up through the bits of hair hanging over his eyes, he saw that strange look on Claudia's face again. This time, Heero thought it might specifically be displeasure.

"What is it?"

Claudia shook her head and the expression was forced from her face.

"Back to work then?"

"This large abstract actually breaks line of sight between several small pieces on the wall and this side of the great room, but if we recommend moving the sculpture just a few meters toward the back of the house, then it improves the security of those pieces and also enables guests to view more art."

"But is there then a danger that the sculpture can hit the glass wall?"

"I think if we check the measurements, we will see that it will fall on one of the steel beams supporting the panes and not break the glass."

They continued working in the same manner for several hours. Marcellus and Hermes had both come downstairs by then, and Marcellus suggested they allow him to cook dinner for them, and afterward accompany them to the harbor, so they could share a car back to the city. Heero sensed Claudia did not wish to stay for dinner, but it seemed the path of least resistance to accept dinner and the car. Otherwise they would have to refuse, call one of the taxi service that shuttled between the ferry and the city, and pay the fare back into Manhattan.

Perhaps Heero took too long to answer, but he said, "Do you need any help with dinner? If not, perhaps Claudia and I could go in the room and start on our report, until you have things ready."

Heero had the feeling that Marcellus saw his answer as a compromise, but it was accepted quickly all the same.

"I will just get Koi first," Heero said. The dog had been on the terrace quite a while, but Heero had no worry. It was good for Koi to be outside some time each day. He was about to return into the house, when he saw Claudia was just outside and closing the glass door behind her.

"I told them we could work outside."

"Is everything all right?" Heero asked.

Claudia gestured further down the series of concrete and stone terraces. Heero gave a slight tug on Koi's leash and walked down to the next level. There was some discoloration on the pavement that indicated outdoor furniture had been in use, but it was put away for the season. Heero walked a few steps further and then sat on the terrace's edge. Koi pulled away and pointed his head toward a nearby gull, but Heero held the leash fast.

Claudia sat at Heero's left and tapped at her pad. She said then, "Before, I did not know if we were friends, but I liked that I was your peer. I thought that was how we were."

"Did I say something wrong?" Heero asked. He did think of Claudia as a peer; that was a good word to describe their relationship. Sometimes Heero thought it so much easier to talk to females, but now and then, it became even more difficult than talking to Duo when he was in a bad mood. "I do think of you as a peer."

"Heero," she said in that particular way she had, "It is not that I believe you have done or said something wrong, but that if we are to work together, we need to have a certain agreement or understanding."

"Of course. That is only logical. To work together."

"I thought you and I were peers, and recently, maybe friends. But, I am really not good at knowing how to treat friends. I agreed to work for you, and maybe I thought it would be different."

"What are you saying?"

"I want to continue to work for LoweSec!" Claudia said quickly, and then lowered her voice, "it is just, you are my boss, and I think I became a little unsettled. It is just the arrangement is new. Sometimes, when the client and you were talking, I felt very…third wheel."

"Was I too familiar with them? I feared I was, at least once, but this is still America, even if we call it North America East District. The way they do business here is different. Everyone is expected to act like buddies, even if they are not."

"The more I think about it, I feel that it was not that you were wrong, but that I was uncomfortable, feeling so unlike a peer. The clients do not really care that I am here, but they are so interested in you. It is just annoying to be around it. I would just like to do the work. I do not know that I care for this dealing with the clients."

"I could have done more to make you feel included or explain to them how valuable you are." Heero meant it, and at the same time, he knew it had never really occurred to him at the time. He understood now, how Duo had felt. Making a boyfriend uncomfortable and jealous was different than making a co-worker or employee uncomfortable, but there were also parallels. At the time, Heero had actually enjoyed the attention.

The way that Marcellus talked to him was not the typical way that people talked to Heero Yuy. There had been no mention of Relena. No mention of Gundams. Heero had felt that someone really wanted to talk to him.

And, having met Marcellus and Hermes, Heero was fairly certain the October issue of Homo had been a deciding factor in their hiring LoweSec. Heero was by no means offended enough to return money or quit the job. Only a very small part of him could admit that maybe Marcellus wanting to speak to him because he was gay was just as phony as those people wanting to speak to him because he was The Boy Who Saved The World. To his knowledge, Heero had never just had a casual conversation with an older gay man.

Maybe he had spoken to some males without being aware of their orientation. Certainly there had been some males that he was aware were homosexual, and some of them knew he was as well, but usually there had been some purpose or deceit or professional distance that had not felt so friendly and casual. Hermes in particular had a very disarming manner, but Heero had probably liked very much that Marcellus had invited him to a gallery and to have dinner. It was not like Heero wanted to suck his dick, he just wanted to talk with him some more.

All his father figures were gangsters, mad scientists and assassins. Heero did not have any example, like a queer older brother, to learn from. Trowa was the closest thing, and Heero had a difficult time explaining to others how important that relationship was to him.


Heero shook his head. "Please keep Koi for a bit. I need to make a call."

"Very well."

Heero stood and passed the leash to Claudia. He tried to smile. "I think I can promise future assignments will go more smoothly for us," Heero said. "There are things you and I have in common."

Heero went inside. Marcellus was stirring something on the stove and Hermes was chopping vegetables as he spoke into his headset phone about his client not being OK with a dry settlement. "I am just going upstairs to wash-up for dinner."

Marcellus gave a nod and Heero continued to the stairs. He went into the guest bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub, and dialed Duo's number. Heero heard a ringback sung in German until Duo answered almost a half minute later. "Heero! I'm just about to go into class!"

"Have you seen Robin yet?"

"No. I thought you would be mad. Kinda not a good time if you just want to make me feel like shit again. I thought we made up."

"Maybe I did not start with pleasantries and lead in, but you said you had to get to class, so I was trying to be efficient."

Duo sighed. "Baby, just tell me what's up."

"I think it's OK if you see her. If there are people who have particular things in common with you, that you feel like you can learn from, or be helped by knowing, then you should be free to see those people and talk with them."

"OK. Not really sure what you are talking about. You haven't been going to PFLAG or talking to someone from GLBTA."

"No. It is not like that, exactly. I mean, it's not about just that. I mean, sometimes there are just people that. Duo, I do not know how to explain it quickly. Like Christie."

"Christie? What has she got to do with anything?"

Heero sighed. "Honey, listen, I am just trying to say, that sometimes you meet someone who can help you learn about a part of yourself, or teach you, or just be there sharing something you have in common, and in some ways we can be that to each other, but we have to understand that we cannot be everything to each other, because we are two different people. Sometimes, we just need to have our own friends. Maybe you just wanted to talk to her about church and books and eyeliner and I fucked that up for you by suggesting it was something else. I know we already tried to make up, but I do not think I entirely understood before. So, now, I am saying, if she, or some other person, can talk to you about spooky white kid stuff, then go spend time with them. You have a right to have that in your life."

"Thanks. I think I understand. We'll talk Friday."

"I do not think I will want to talk. Sometimes, we need to talk, but I do not want it to be one of those times. I just want to get in bed with you and hold you and see where that leads."

"And I guess we're still playing at keeping the other guessing who's gonna do what to whom."

"Strange you being one to suggest we do otherwise."

"I'll just have to set my heart on what I wish and convince you to do it."

"I will plan to be prepared for anything."

"Don't stress yourself out over it, Baby. Whatever I want to do is going to get around to being good for you."

"Right now, you better get to class."

"Right. Thanks, Heero. I'll see ya!" He disconnected.

Heero stowed his phone, washed his hands, made fists in his hair so it was just so, and then left the bathroom. Claudia and Koi had come inside and Koi was lapping water from a dish on the kitchen floor. Hermes was setting the table. It looked like some clever thing that a person living in a loft would have, because it had sliding parts that brought leaves from beneath the tabletop, when you had guests. Being there were only four of them, the leaves were not in use and formed a storage tray beneath, from which Hermes was removing cloth placemats.

Dinner was pasta and vegetables in a cream sauce. The discussion turned to homes, houses and décor, and stayed there, as everyone seemed comfortable with the subject. Claudia had not yet seen Heero's house, but he told Marcellus and Hermes that since he and Claudia had been friends before they had been coworkers that he would have to invite her out there soon.

Hermes and Marcellus said they shared the beach house during the summer; they were both on title, Hermes said, but the west side penthouse was only Marcellus' home and Hermes had another apartment downtown.

Claudia described her flat in Paris for the others. It was the same Heero had visited a few years ago. He remembered it looked very European and functional, but with small touches that said someone who was feminine, worked with computer hardware and liked The Doors lived there.

Heero still did not confess to living in Sitka, but he explained the progress on the house and how the construction phase was nearing completion and when that was finished, he would have to decorate, or invite his decorator to Earth.

Yes, Heero said, when asked, he still maintained a small apartment in the Colonies. He was still involved with businesses based there. Heero did not say it, but he would have to plan a trip to the Colonies soon to check on things there.

Claudia accepted coffee after dinner. She seemed in a better mood after their talk on the terrace. On the ride via ferry and limo to Manhattan, they mainly discussed art. Claudia seemed to warm to Marcellus and spoke about Johnny and that they were dating and he was an American actor that spent a lot of time in Paris and had a particular liking for Baroque and Surrealist art.

When the car stopped in front of their hotel, Heero thanked Marcellus and repeated his promise to make arrangements to introduce Shizen.

Heero accompanied Claudia to their room, and then changed into clothing suitable for exercize and took Koi out for a run. Heero realized that he tended to fall behind in his exercise routine, particularly when traveling, when he did not have a Mad to talk to him about weapon maintenance. It was one of those things that was both good and bad.

When they returned to the hotel, Heero had Koi get in the shower with him, so he could wash the dog. Claudia was sitting in bed working at her computer, when Heero came from the adjacent bathroom. It was not very late, but they had time. Even considering that Midii had charged a rush fee, that was only because their standard turn-around time was advertised as a week, which usually included no more than six business days. It never actually took anyone working for LoweSec a week to write up their findings. "We have two more days to work on it," Heero said.

"You used to be a lot more driven."

"I used to have people trying to kill me or capture me on a daily basis, or at least I believed they were." Heero thought about that, and at what time real threats had become paranoia and then at what time had the paranoia truly lessened. He threw himself down on the bed, lay on his stomach and reached for the remote near his unpacked satchel. He wondered if it was all Duo's influence, or something he had been able to do for himself.

"It looks good on you, to be more relaxed," Claudia said, "Maybe I still have a few things to prove."

Heero powered up the room's television and scrolled through the menu. He selected a program on Ancient Minoan Civilization. "There was probably a certain attractiveness about being so intense all the time."

Claudia laughed. "Certainement," she said in French, "but there is a difference in being confident in one's abilities or doom and being confident of one's self. All these tragic and noble actions were done when you were so young, you could not possibly be expected to even know yourself at that age."

"When I was at an age where I should have been becoming myself, I was put through training to make me into someone else' person."

"Yes, exactly. And in a romantic sense, it is more beautiful that you would give up your life for a cause when it had barely reached it's first bloom. You were so intense and driven, willing to die, even when I met you and the war was past, but now you are different. Maybe now, I am driven, because you have something that I have not yet attained."

"I understand." Heero saw Claudia as a very interesting person, and she had certain types of confident, but she was saying she did not believe she had really found herself yet."

"It may be a person is always changing and growing until they die, even if they live to a very old age."

"Unless like the Buddah they truly reach a state at which there is no more learning or growing…they have achieved. The only choice then whether to remain behind to guide others to this state."

"I think you are on the correct path. You know I am going to clear you for solo missions?"

"It is not official," Claudia stated plainly.

"I know I will already. I will still review the work, but I already know what I will find."

"Oh, look, this is just what you were talking about!"

Heero thought it was an obvious change in subject and turned his attention to the television. A man was demonstrating the difference in constructing a wall of stone blocks alone, stone blocks with buttressing, and stone blocks interspersed with timbers all supported by buttressing. When the model was shaken to simulate earthquake, the wall with timbers survived intact.

"I saw something similar before, but not this exact program," Heero explained.

"But to think, that so long ago, they had some structural engineers that understood such things."

"It could have as easily been learned as children playing with building blocks without any conscious thought to or understanding of physics or engineering. Sometimes things can be known just from very basic observation or trial and it is others who need to make the matter complex…as when they insist aliens built the pyramids. They are just unable to understand the methodology of ancient man and how seeming complex feats were achieved. Duo and Quatre are very excellent aerospace pilots, and they can just know without calculation or conscious thought shifts in trajectory that will result from specific actions."

"But are they not special and rare?"

"Perhaps not. Maybe in every age there are those who just know. Call it genetic memory or evolution or do not call it anything at all but human nature."

"You can get rather philosophical. It would probably come out more if you smoked."

"I will pass," Heero said through laughter.

"I've quit myself, I was just stating opinion."

"That is good to hear." For a moment, Heero could hear Duo's laughter in his mind.

Heero fell asleep watching TV. The next day was spent mainly evaluating hotel security and typing up findings on the three properties already studied. There were still two more hotels to evaluate, and the last one Heero would be doing without Claudia.

On Thursday, they checked out of the Washington Jefferson and took a cab further downtown to the Chandler, where they would stay through Sunday morning. The décor was bolder and much brighter compared to the WJ's cool monochromatic tones. Here there were patterns everywhere, inlaid in the tile flooring, or in carpets, or in wall panels, or even on the ceilings. They had one suite and one deluxe room reserved. Johnny was going to arrive later in the day to join Claudia for the weekend, and Duo was to arrive early the Friday morning, so they would need the two rooms. The rooms were empty but housekeeping had not had time to go through them since the previous guests checked out.

Heero and Claudia checked their luggage at the desk and went to the bar off the lobby to do some work. They worked for several hours until Johnny called Claudia's number, which she had forwarded to her computer, to say he was at LaGuardia now and would be at the hotel shortly.

It seemed time the rooms should be ready, so they returned to the lobby. Claudia explained that her registered guest was to arrive shortly and a spare key should be left at the desk for him to pick up, while she went to their suite. Heero took both sets of keys to his room, thinking Duo could just scam his way in or call him to bring a key.

"Do you maybe need the afternoon off?" Heero asked when they were in the elevator, with the porter and cart of luggage.

"I told…him that you and I might have to meet about business today."

"I just thought, if it were me, I might want to go out together for late lunch or something."

Claudia smiled. "I would like the time off, but the reports are not quite finished."

"We can find time to meet; this thing we're attending is more for the others. I mean, either because they have to make an appearance there or they are much more into that sort of thing. We can fit a little work into the schedule." Sometimes it was a challenge being vague. It probably would be best to say nothing at all until the member of staff left them.

Claudia gave a nod. The elevator made a chime and the doors opened. Their rooms were on the same floor, but in different areas. Heero was going to suggest they stop at Claudia's room first, but the porter just pushed the cart and said 'this way,' as if there was already a set order. They went to Claudia's suite first, saw her luggage was put inside. Heero promised to call her, or rather text, in case she was occupied.

They went to Heero's room next. The porter went in first, as Heero was pulling Koi away from a used room service tray waiting for pick up. The luggage was unloaded. Heero gave the porter some Esdees.

Heero looked over the room then went about unpacking. He filled Koi's water and food bowls for the evening meal. The room was nice. The atmosphere was still elegant but felt trendy to Heero, with the bold use of color everywhere. Heero opened the curtains and looked outside. He could see the Empire State building from his room, though it was close enough that he had to get right against the window to see the top.

Koi seemed content and it would be a while before he got around to eating all the food and needing to go out. Heero decided to use the down time to rest.

Heero knew he dozed off and had been dreaming, because when he became conscious he had been so sure he was in an airlock about to be spaced a second ago, and realized his phone was ringing and Koi was pawing at his leg. He was disoriented still and quickly fit the headset to his ear and answered, without recognizing the number.

"Heero, I am sorry to call, I need help!"

Heero blinked several times. "Sake?"

"Yes. I am with Shizen. I did not mean to disturb you, but Midii said you would already be in New York City and we should call if we needed some directions."

"Midii was not coming with you?" Heero asked as he sat up.

"The flights were not all booked together, so she and Ursu-chan are coming through Los Angeles and Shizen and I came through Orlando." Heero had heard about plans to build a Spaceport in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but as it was, there were only two spaceports in North America receiving regular passenger flights from the Colonies and both were busy enough these days that flights filled quickly.

"I understand. Where are you? Are you safe?"

"We got a shuttle train into Penn Station all right, but were lost in all these tunnels. I think we are actually in the Subway system now."

"Did you actually use a farecard and go through a turnstile?"


"Then you are not actually inside the Subway, but you could be in a station." Sake sounded panicked, and though Heero was sure she was a sensible person ordinarily, she was clearly at her limits, and maybe Shizen was relying on Sake as well. "Listen, if you are in or around Penn Station, I am only three avenue-blocks away at the most. Just stay on the line, and I will come find you. Are you in some safe public area now?"

"We were near some underground shops, but now there are signs with letters and numbers in colored circles and there's no one around."

Heero checked that he had his own ID and the room keys in his satchel and then signaled Koi they would leave, as he spoke into the phone. "I am leaving now. I will be there soon, so do not worry. If you can backtrack, try that, but if you are really lost, just stay together in the best lit place and I will find you."

"Thank you so much!"

Heero left the hotel with Koi and quick-walked east until he came to Braodway, he followed Broadway up to 34th Street near 6th Avenue and then continued east on 34th Street. Koi needed to stop a few times, and Heero cleaned up with some discarded newspaper as fast as he could.

He kept talking to Sake, and sometimes Shizen. Shizen was actually a bit better at describing their surroundings, but she had sounded very panicked when Sake first put her on the phone and was trying to tell something about there being a hurricane in Florida.

Heero found them in the tunnels between Penn's LIRR platforms and the A's 34th Street station. First thing he noticed that he had not expected from the phone call was the amount of luggage. He recalled then that when Duo had been talking to him about the plan he had concocted with 'the girls' to all go to Bad Apple Fest, he had mentioned Sake and Shizen would be participating as vendors.

"We will get a taxi for the ride back."

The girls looked absolutely relieved and Heero let them hug him. The spoke very rapidly about all the transfers between transit systems and that a hurricane had been coming toward Florida and the shuttle was almost transferred to an alternate site, but was one of the last to land in Orlando. And of course their flight from Orlando to JFK had almost been cancelled.

"You have never even been to Earth before have you?" Heero asked. Neither had. "It is not always like that," he explained. "I am glad you made it. It is no trouble. I would not have minded if you had called for me to meet you right at your platform."

They both assumed responsibility for not calling sooner and for getting lost.

"Let's get moving. I can help you carry some of this. Which hotel did Midii book you in?"

"The Chandler."

"Very good, that is where I am." Heero go the girls and luggage up to the street quickly. Shizen had Koi's leash on her wrist, but he was being well behaved and walking ahead. Heero declined an offer from a local to help them get a cab, knowing it for a scam, and waited for a taxi to pull over for them. The luggage was not going to fit with all of them, so Heero put Sake and Koi in the first taxi and paid the driver in advance to take her to the Chandler on 31st Street. When another taxi pulled over, Heero loaded the luggage and got in with Shizen to go to the hotel. Sake was in the lobby with Koi when they arrived.

While Sake was at the desk, Heero's phone rang again. Heero had called this number before and he knew it was Cary.

"Hey, Heero! I called Johnny but he said he was busy! I'm at Newark now and the production company sent a car for us, so I'll be in the city soon."

"You'll hit rush hour at this time, coming into the city at just about any bridge or tunnel."


"Don't worry about it. What were you going to say?"

"Do you want to do something? Get drinks or anything?"

"Some other friends of mine just got into the city, if you would not mind, maybe we can all go out and get dinner together."

"Have you heard from Midori? He's going to be there. The company made all my arrangements, and they were not going to arrive in LA until after I left."

"I have not heard from Midori himself, but I did hear Maudlin Manic would be playing at the Fest. Some other friends of mine are also supposed to come in from LA sometime tonight; maybe we can all meet up. I do not think any of that circle of friends from Paris has met many of my friends from the Colonies, so it could be interesting."

"Hasn't Duo arrived? I thought he would if Johnny had."

"No. I think he is actually coming by private jet. I am sure he could have given Johnny a lift if he asked."

"Well, can I give you a call when we get into the city?"

"Sure. I will look into dinner plans."

Shizen and Sake had finished checking in and were ready to go up to their room. Heero was sure that they had not known each other before Heero introduced them, but Duo talked to them more often than Heero did and he often referred to them collectively. Heero was honestly not sure if they were girlfriends in the romantic sense or had just quickly become close friends.

Heero joined them in the elevator. "I just heard from another friend of mine who is coming in from the airport in Newark. Do you happen to know when the others are coming from LA?"

"I think, if there were no delays, they were supposed to arrive at JFK a few hours after us," Sake said.

"It did not seem worth waiting for them at the airport, at the time," Shizen added.

"They could be landing shortly. I will text Midii and tell her to call. If I can make arrangements, would you be interested in a late dinner with some other friends?"

"That sounds good," Sake said and Shizen nodded.

"I will give you a call," Heero said, then gave them his room number.

When they got off the elevator, it did not seem anyone had called for it from upper floors, so he took it back down to the lobby to ask the Concierge about seeing a map or list or recommended restaurants. He sent text to Midori then, to see if he was on the same flight as Midii and to ask if he would like to join the dinner plans.

Heero took some numbers for recommended restaurants back up to his room. From there he texted Claudia to let her and Johnny know about the dinner plans, in case they wanted to be social with others.

In the next hour, Heero received calls from Cary, Midori and Midii and one text message from Claudia. He was able to get a head count. Himself, Sake and Shizen, Midii, Ursula, Midori and Cary would attend. Claudia and Johnny had made dinner plans of their own already. Cary's cast mates were making plans of their own. The other three members of Maudlin Manic promised they were not opposed to meeting Heero again during the weekend, but were less eager to go out than Midori, and wanted to stay in and rest after their trip.

Heero called to make a reservation at Maru, which promised to be a very hip Korean place about a block from their hotel with restaurant and bar open late.

Ursula, Midii and the members of Maudlin Manic had been on the same flight, but they did not know each other, except from what Heero mentioned of them to the other. Midori's taxi arrived at the hotel first. It seemed when Duo and Shizen had been planning to attend, they had consulted Johnny on hotel options. Even if he had not been able to get the chain to approve his discount for security work, Heero would have stayed at the Chandler three nights. Many of the Bad Apple Fest Staff and invited guests, including Cary, were at another hotel on the east side, and hotels closer to the Javits center had been filling up. Johnny had tipped off Midori, through Cary who spoke to both often, as to his hotel choice.

It seemed it was going to be fun. Heero was already excited to have Duo join them, but he was happy to see these friends arriving. Midii and Ursula arrived soon after Maudlin Manic. Heero had allowed several hours for the others to deal with traffic, check-in, and get washed and changed before their dinner reservation. Sake and Shizen were a floor above, near the same stairwell as Heero's room. Midii and Ursula were in a room just across the hall from Heero. The four members of Maudlin Manic were in several suites a floor below.

Heero thought it was probably going to be best to leave Koi in the hotel room during dinner. He got a shower and changed to go out; wearing a pair of dark jeans with geta and a white tuxedo shirt. He put his choker and the cord with Duo's ring both about his neck and smeared a bit of gloss on his lips. That did not really take long. He spent a few minutes wondering over whether to put things he needed in pockets of his jeans or whether he should carry some type of bag, Eventually he decided to wear his racing jacket over his shirt and use its pockets to store all his keys, ID and cash while out.

Before he left the room, Heero made sure Koi's crate was comfortable and put a rope toy inside. He ushered Koi into the crate, because they had it and it was safest to crate him in the hotel room. "Time to sleep," he told Koi, "I will be back later. Go to sleep."

Koi was usually well behaved, but often Heero could keep him close and not crate him at night, so he really hoped the neighbors would not hear any whining. Heero closed the curtains to darken the room.

Heero met Midii and Ursula at the door of their room. Ursula looked fashionable and elegant as usual and Midii was wearing a black cocktail dress. Sake and Shizen came down shortly. Sake was wearing a haori over a lace-trimmed skirt and Shizen wore jeans and a fitted top decorated with sequins. They talked while walking down to find Midori. Shizen said that she actually had met Midori before, at an event related to Gonin Team, but they did not know each other well. She knew who Cary was, but had never met him in person. Midii had only seen Cary's previous movies.

"I think Cary's really het," Heero whispered to Midii.


Heero nodded. "He mentioned working with women, but I just think he is."

"So gay porn was just his job?"

"That is what I suspect."

"Maybe he's bi and a bit more attracted to women."

Heero shrugged. It did not really matter. "I missed you!"

Midii laughed. "Will Duo be mad if you are hungover tomorrow morning?"

"I will text him right now." Heero tapped out: 'FYI, Drinking tonite. Luv, H.' on his pad and then sent. He slipped the pad back into his jacket with his phone.

Midori looked like a rock star, with his green hair and asymmetrical clothing. "Heero, I forgot to ask, did you ever work out that matter?"

Heero was sure he meant the cumming in Japanese. "I did, not that I will demonstrate here."

"We have met, once," Midori said to Shizen.

Shizen then made the round of introductions. She used everyone's full name without honorifics. She referred to Sake as 'friend' and 'a fashion designer'. She said Ursula was a Colonial Geisha and Midii was Heero's sister.

"We are not blood relatives," Heero explained quickly.

"Just Family," Midii said, and winked at Midori.

Ursula giggled behind her hand.

"You are all from the Capitol?" Midori asked as he shut the door to his suite.

"I am from Earth, but Heero, Ursula and Sat-san all grew up in the same neighborhood in the Capitol. Though, Ursula and I have been roommates, since she was a student on Earth, so we know each other well."

"I think maybe Midori-san and I are from the same Colony," Shizen said, "Is that right?"

"I think so. From the Hub of S4?"


"Then we do not have to be very formal. I do not think I can be very much older than you. We might have gone to the same school." Heero was sure they both were using professional names. He had not been Heero in his childhood, and Ursula had not been Ursula until completing Geisha school. It was understandable Shizen and Midori would not recognize each other's present names. Still, they were not all so familiar that Shizen or Midori seemed to want to give their former name.

"Dori-san is kind," Shizen said, "we are both probably several years older than the others."

"We are going to meet-up with my friend Cary, outside. Heero has met him, too. I will tell you now: his real name is Carson Watts, and even though he looks like he could be from Nihon, he is from LA and knows almost no Japanese except what he learns for his roles, so please be considerate."

They met Cary outside. His clothing seemed rather snug, but given what Heero had seen him wear previously, it was probably just his style. Midori gave him a one-armed hug and then introduced the girls.

Cary made a bow. "Doozo yoroshiku," he said, "Watanabe Cary Desu."

"I just got done asking them to take it easy on you and here you are trying to get yourself in trouble!" Midori complained.

"Yo, Cary."

"Hey, Heero! How's it goin'?"

"Sugoi," Shizen whispered.

"It is even cuter than when Duo speaks!" Sake squealed.

"He will be jealous," Shizen hissed.

Sake put her hands together as if praying. "Duo is still my muse!"

"And me?" Heero asked.

Shizen made a wide closed smile and Sake said, "Just wait until you see what I made for you to wear Saturday! Shizen did the basic design, but I added a few touches and sewed everything!"

"Duo did not mention special outfits."

"Costumes," Midii corrected, so that meant she knew of them as well.

"We just walk up Fifth a block?" Ursula asked.

Heero began walking, and Shizen and Sake fell into step either side of him, with Midii and Ursula walking ahead talking to Cary and Midori.

"Can you act surprised later?" Shizen asked, "we do not want Duo to be mad for spoiling the surprise."

"It is probably only a surprise to keep me from having time to get mad and disagree. I do not have to cross-dress, do I? Is it a character from some show? I am going to look like a complete otaku."

"It is not really being otaku if the creator of the character requests you to make an appearance in costume," Sake said, "It is at least semi-official."

"It's not Aka-chan?" Heero whispered, "that would be weird, with these two attending." He gestured ahead of them.

"I did not make an Akairo costume for you to wear to the con," Sake said, but that only made Heero more suspicious.

"It's a wizard costume."

"Like Harry Potter?"

"Not exactly like Harry Potter," Shizen said.

"If Duo approved, and you girls made it, then it must be all right," Heero said, mainly trying to convince himself.

They reach the restaurant, Maru, quickly. It was even a little more stylish than Heero had expected. He understood that competition for customers or a certain level of clientele meant that a restaurant in New York had to have outstanding décor as well as outstanding food and drinks. The interior was just gorgeous. They walked over wood planking and something like glass-covered shadow boxes containing river stones and were seated on white upholstered benches at low glass and wood tables. At one end of the space there was a giant antique temple bell suspended, on a chain hanging through a portal in the ceiling, and there were room dividers that looked like giant abacuses and translucent white curtains for privacy between parties.

"This reminds me of home," Ursula said. "Do you know," she said, clearly addressing Cary, "We have many interiors there that combine industrial elements with traditional Asian elements. The use of white here is also sometimes used there."

"The logo looks like it says OZ," Heero said.

"What?" Midii asked.

"I know it is in Korean, but if you look at it, it looks a bit like an O and a Z."

"Or Zero Two," Sake pointed out.

"Does Duo know how much you fangirl on him? I thought it was just Vero."

Ursula put her hand to her mouth and laughed.

"He really knows," Shizen answered for her.

They ordered shortly. Heero had the lobster and scallop, which was served over black rice in a bowl made from a pineapple. Cary had the steak. Midii had the Rainbow Roll. Midori and the other three girls all tried the Yakitori sets. Heero decided he was going to rip-off their idea and make Duo dinner one night served in a pineapple bowl. It was a bit like eating sweet and sour. The further into the bowl he ate, the sweeter the food tasted.

As they were eating, they noticed the restaurant was getting crowded. When everyone had eaten, they decided to go upstairs to the bar for some drinks. They walked up the wood and glass staircase to the bar. The space was constructed with curved walls, and it made Heero think of being in a passenger shuttle or jet, though in some first class space on such a vessel where they would be serving drinks. There were more white benches here, sunken in a sort of conversation pit and the flooring again had the appearance of shadow boxes. Ursula went to talk to the bartender and then came back and said there were still some private rooms left, if they wanted to get one for a few hours.

They discussed it and decided to get one of the rooms off the main bar. Heero and Ursula went to the bar to arrange to get a room. They ordered two bottles of Grey Goose, some beers, two fruit platters, and a round of assorted other drinks including hot Fuku Nishiki sake and Back Se Joo infused with lychee. AS they were being shown into the room, Heero got a call from Johnny.

He and Claudia had finished dinner and wanted to know if Heero and the others had plans to go out or were still at dinner. Heero explained they were in a room at the bar at Maru and invited Johnny and Claudia to join them. They certainly had enough alcohol.

on to chapter 103

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