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

Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Chapter 90

The house Mitchie and Candy shared did not have a fenced front yard, but an open lawn with a few trees and a driveway to one side leading to a carport. The house itself was not of a style Heero knew well enough to name, but it seemed an older style and not surprising for an American city that also was close to water. There were rooms with bay windows either side of the front door, and probably two bedrooms facing the front of the house on its second floor. On the left of the house, opposite the drive enough white-washed picket fencing was visible to suggest they did have a fenced rear yard, and this suggested present or former presence of pets or small children, or perhaps a garden they wished to keep neighborhood pets and children away from.

Duo wheeled the grill onto the drive, with one blue SUV and one small blue van, that matched the blue siding of the house. Heero carried his box to the front door, eyes automatically tracing to the bays to see if anyone was visible within. Duo stepped up to the door behind him, the dog leashes on his right wrist, as Heero found and pressed the bell button.

A small blond child opened the inner door, leaving them separated still by a flimsy metal-framed glass door and Heero decided after another second's study that it was a young boy. What if he was not a nice former terrorist coming to enjoy the cook out. What if someone wanted to steal or harm the child? What if a not so nice mad scientist found the boy wandering alone somewhere?

Heero sighed. He knew he had some issues. In all likelihood this was a safe neighborhood and security came from the fact that the neighbors did all know each other and watched out for their collective children. If a child was taken, many people would quickly volunteer to search or report suspicious activity.

"Mommy! Mama!" The boy screamed, "There's some boys at the door!"

Maybe the boy was safe enough, Heero thought, wincing slightly at the child's scream.

Mitchie came to the door, laughing nervously and put her hands to the boy's shoulders. She pushed open the outer door and asked Heero to come in. Heero put his hand on the door to hold it open and another child peered at him from behind Mitchie's legs, a girl, Heero thought, and younger. "Duo brought his grill along."

"Yeah, not like I wanted to bring competition, but I just built it and I thought I'd test it out before putting it away for the season!" Duo explained, with his own similar laughter. "Can I move it out back or something?"

"Sure. You should be able to get it around the cars and under the port on the side of the house. Do you need help?"

"I got it."

"We'll meet you out back. Heero, can I get that for you. Please come through the house. Is it food?"

"I can carry it. I made rice balls, and I have the meat and ingredients for Duo's barbeque here as well."

The interior of the house was very colorful. The outside had a look that Heero thought was very normal and proper and very suburban, but inside, there were bright colors everywhere and a level of clutter that Heero believed some people found `warm' or `charming' and it looked like a place real people lived and not like it had been designed to be seen by drivers by.

It did not seem like Heero's house, or even a place he would like to live, but he quickly felt more at ease, even though everything was strange to him.

Mitchie led Heero through the living room they had entered and an adjacent dining room into a kitchen. He felt that although the house was not of the same floorplan as his, it might be from a similar era in which certain design elements were considered appropriate. The rooms were similar in size to his house, and if the kitchen and dining room were reversed in position, it would have been very like his house, without the walls knocked down. Heero suspected that at one time his and Duo's house had contained separate small rooms, rather than the great room with divisions created by wooden columns and built-in cabinetry.

"If you need to use the kitchen, that's fine. We will be putting the food on the tables outside as it's ready, but with people being here at different times, we're going to reserve some in here to restock the table, so things don't spoil."

That was wise, Heero thought.

The children were still hanging near Mitchie, looking at Heero. "The rice balls will keep as long as the dish stays wrapped", Heero said.

"Say Hello to Mr. Heero", Mitchie encouraged the children, and before he could protest the manner of address, she continued, "He and Mr. Duo are our new neighbors. You remember Mama and I told you that Mr. Ken was moving away and some new people were going to buy the house."

"We saw some trucks", the boy whispered.

"Yes, Mr. Heero is having some construction work done on his house", Mitchie said.

"Do they have kids?" the boy asked, looking at Heero, but not speaking to him.

Heero shook his head. "No children live at our house, but we do have two dogs that like to play and need a lot of taking care of. Do you have pets?"

"Spinoza!" the girl said.

"Oh, Mr.,that is Dr. Marcus told me about the pets he knew in the neighborhood. What kind of pet is Spinoza? Does he have deviant philosophies?"

"He's our dog", the boy laughed.

"A poodle", Mitchie laughed. "Julien, Bowie, why don't you go outside again and play. Mama is there."

The kitchen also had a pair of inner and outer doors and the inner door was already propped open. The boy opened the glass door and both children stepped down and into the yard. Heero could see some other dogs and children running in the yard.

"Those are our two children. Julien is four and Bowie is two-and-a- half."

"Why do you introduce people with titles?"

Mitchie appeared surprised, as if she had been expecting some other question. "Oh, we are just trying to teach our children to have respect for elders. Not that you are so old, but you have your own life and your own place. And, it would be better for some kids not to encourage them to think they can just have their own house at seventeen."

"I am eighteen now. More than halfway to being nineteen, actually."

"Ah, excuse me, I meant that in general. There are some boys in the neighborhood that are the same age as you and still live with their parents and follow their rules, and we would allow the children to address them more familiarly. You see, though I understand it might be different in the Colonies, here we had a shift in the age of consent. It used to be staggered, so that at eighteen some things were legal and admissible, and then at twenty-one further legal privileges were granted. Now, at seventeen, a person is considered legally adult, but in my opinion, and in the opinions of many others known to me, most eighteen-year-olds were not even truly adult. Now there are kids who talk about dropping out of school and getting apartments, and they don't even understand the responsibility that would be, because they always were taken care of. I think you are adult enough that I can have my children address you as such."

"If that is how your family is, I will certainly respect that decision, but usually, I do not allow any titles and honorifics. I make very few exceptions. I actually dislike honorifics, but I admit, it is mostly the use of Japanese honorifics by non-Japanese that I dislike."

"You are Japanese then?"

Heero hesitated to answer for a second and then said, "We are all of one nation now, but culturally, I am very much `Colonial' and ethnically, more Japanese than not."

"If I ask questions you do not like, just tell me. But, you must be used to it by now."

"Because I was a Gundam pilot, you mean?"

"Yes. I do not know if you are aware, I mean, did you monitor reports about your activity, or since the wars, did you…I am not sure what I am trying to say."

Heero nodded. "It is not really easy for me to meet new people and talk about it. For a long time after the wars were ended I did live on Earth, but I always tried to blend in and not reveal who I was. So, I think I know how many Earthlings feel about us. There is not so much anger anymore. During the time, that is, when we really were terrorists, I did sometimes monitor reports within the military, and also what information was released to or speculated on by the public, and I know Earthlings were encouraged to fear and hate us. But the Eve Wars and the Barton coup attempt changed how everyone thought of us. Now, most people are curious. They feel like they have to ask what really happened, because for most, all the new reports and the retrospectives cannot really enable them to understand why everything happened the way it did. I am not certain that if I wrote a book on what I observed and know that people would understand any better by reading it."

"I am sorry."

Heero tried to smile, but he felt like his face was not doing it right. "Maybe you could just say the things you would say to other neighbors."

For several seconds Mitchie was quiet and looked out the door, but then she turned back to Heero and spoke. "Thank you for bringing the rice balls. If you like, we can take some outside and I will show you where you can put them. Since you haven't been to out parties, I'll be sure to direct you how to find food or drinks or the bathroom, if you need it. May I introduce you to other guests?"

"Yes. If they are neighbors, I have only met Marcus so far."

"He often comes to our parties. He is not here now. I think his family will come this time."

They went into the yard and Heero saw they had a sort of outdoor kitchen. There was a gas powered grill, a sink and some countertop enclosed in brickwork, a floor of stone between the counter and the house, some tables standing in that space, and an awning high overhead. This family must enjoy their yard very much, Heero thought. He carefully lifted the plates of rice balls from the box and laid them on one of the tables.

"Hey, Heero, you got my stuff, Duo called.

"Aa." Heero brought the box to the counter, which Duo was leaning against as he drank water from a bottle. He handed Heero a beer as soon as his hands were free of the box.

"Thanks. I think Candy and me can be good neighbors. She even has a little smoker down here."

Duo turned and pointed out an appliance that looked like a small refrigerator to Heero.

"Her stuff's all gas powered", Duo said, "I told her we don't know much about cooking with gas in the Colonies, and she said she didn't think we'd have wood to burn either. I think she wasn't very impressed that all our various cooking appliances are electric and the generators are run by nuclear fusion reactors."

"Does all the more damage when we let a Colony drop to the Earth, that way", Heero joked, which was to say he said the words in complete monotone. Candy did not laugh. Heero thought quickly of something else to say. "We do not have very much wood in the Colonies, though some parks to have real trees. Junk mail and memos arrive printed on a kind of plastic foil."

"They do have paper, it's just made from other plant fibers, like from hydroponically grown flax, or hemp or the waste parts of edible stuff, like strawberry vines. They make a lot of paper in the Colony where Heero's from." Duo was starting a fire in his grill.

"Where do they get the plastic?" Candy asked. "Isn't plastic derived from various oils. They haven't discovered oil on the Moon, have they?"

"It's all derived from organic plant matter, from plants that can be grown quickly with simulated soil or in water", Heero said, "it is just that once you reach a certain threshold of a material, it becomes cheap, if it can be recycled and you no longer have to go through the process of making it as much. That is why plastic is very cheap, and also various types of composite material and some metals, because Colonials have perfected methods of recycling such that it is cheaper to make a sheet of plastic to feed the printer from old plastic than to use plant fibers to make a new sheet of paper."

"They don't recycle paper?"

"It mostly goes into decorative items, screens and lanterns and the like," Duo explained, as he moved from the grill to the counter to mix up a sauce, "and that stuff doesn't get tossed out very often. "Everything is packaged in metal and plastic, though, even stuff we get from Earth, so we have plenty of it to use."

"And you don't have barbeque?" Candy asked.

"Nope, not really, only electric grilling. Potential for gas explosion rupturing a hull is too great to use gas for residential or commercial applications. Mostly all types of gas and similar fuels are reserved for propulsion of spacecraft anyway."

"And, you just up and built a wood-burning grill last night?"

"Yep! I was going to build a two chamber smoker, but I was getting too tired and changed my plans."

"You can get the smoky flavor using a grill, even if it's gas or charcoal, if you have some damp wood chips or pellets and it has a lid to close over the grill."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking."

The conversation was beginning to not get very interesting to Heero, so he gulped some crappy American beer and then said he would go meet the other guests.

Apart from Duo, the dogs, Bowie and Julien and their mothers, there were ten other children ranging from toddler to teenager and three other adults already in attendance. There was one adult man tossing an American style football with some boys and the two women were sitting in some plastic lawn chairs drinking diet soda and children variously running around or playing with dogs, or sitting in the grass talking.

Heero was not certain he would have much in common with the women, but his real goal in being at the cook out was to become acquainted with his neighbors and establish a friendly relationship, or at least neighborly peace, so that he could continue to feel secure in his home. He approached the women first. He took another sip from his bottle, licked his lips clean and then stopped before them. "I hope I am not interrupting you ladies", he said.

They looked up and smiled at him.

"Hello", one said.

"Hi", said the other.

"I thought I should introduce myself. We just moved into the house two doors down from here, the place Ken Hopkinson used to own. Are you both from the neighborhood?"

"You're Heero", they said, almost at the same time, though it was more a question from one and a statement from the other.

Heero bowed. "Heero Yuy. You can call me Heero."

One of them, the one with darker hair who was larger than the other, held out her hand. "Babs Foster."

Heero was not really sure what to do with her hand. Because the way she extended it did not seem like an average American hand shake, but more feminine, so that the top showed, as if she was either asking that it be kissed, or showing her rings. It was her right hand, though, so even having rings, she could not mean to announce whether she was married. Heero lifted her hand and bowed toward it, as it mocking a kiss, without touching lips to her.

Babs seemed pleased enough with the gesture.

"I'm Shelly," the other woman said, and made no gesture of greeting except to sip her soda from the straw in her glass. She had light hair and was slender and small framed. "Shelly Tyler-Martin." Heero was not certain whether the hyphenated name meant her parents had passed the name to her or if she was married and had joined her name to her husband's, but she did wear a band and diamond ring on her left hand, when Heero glanced there. It could have been a hyphenated name given to her husband by his parents that she adopted as he own. Heero knew some people kept family names going back several generations, but after so many generations, you just had to drop some, or spend a very long time introducing yourself to people you hoped would care to know your heritage.

Babs had a lot of rings of various styles, so Heero was not certain if any of hers signified union or commitment, even on her left ring finger.

"Nice to meet you, Heero," Babs said.

Heero had a feeling that he had not had since…Relena had developed a sort of crush on him when they were in school. "I feel awkward standing in front of you ladies", Heero said. He wanted to say he was going to go introduce himself to others.

"Pull up a chair", Shelly said. "We live just across the street from you. Both of us."

"In different houses."

The way the houses and drives were positioned on the street, there was not any one house directly opposite Free Rocks, but halves of two houses. Heero pulled one of the plastic chairs out, to give him a little more space, and sat facing the women. "Do either of you have children. I see some kids out there sometimes. Some boys on skateboards and sometimes girls talking or clapping."

"Most of these are mine," Shelly said. "That's my husband Gary, there." She indicated the man playing football. He seemed fairly athletic, but not as if he played sports professionally, but like he might have previously, while in a school. Three of the kids were his from a previous marriage, and Caroline is ours together, plus we now have our nephew staying with us. Gary's an architect. He was sad to hear Ken was leaving, though I think he knew Ken had bought the house only to remodel it. He was over there often, looking at your house, when Ken was there."

"Oh", Heero said.

"Just the two girls with me, Jen and Barb. My husband's not with us. Away on business."

"What line of work is he in?" Heero asked, trying to be politely interested.

"Computer consultation."

"I do some of that", Heero said, smirking, "a lot of days working from home in front of computers, but then a lot of days spent away, consulting."

Babs gave just the look Heero expected, which was between suspicion and surprise. This meant of course `Computer Consulting' was code for whatever work her husband really did. She would not be able to admit this, of course."

"Yes. That is the nature of the work."

"A lot of people who were formerly in government or military intelligence have gone into the industry", Heero said casually, "I had some wartime experience with information technologies, so it was not difficult for me to get into. Duo works for Preventers, part- time. He's continuing his education. He has some other projects on the side, which may develop into something interesting and profitable in the future." Heero did not have to say this, but having a piece of information over Babs made him feel secure, and feeling secure, he was able to talk in a more relaxed, and even playful manner. "I think he was the smartest one, but most people just think of him as `the cute one'."

The women shifted their gaze toward Duo. He was leaning over the counter, not actively working, perhaps waiting for the fire to burn down or meat to marinate. He did have a sort of dangerous or sexy look, as if he might be a rocker, in his sunglasses and tight band tee, with the long hair and the silver dangling from his ears. He seemed to be laughing at something Candy said and then stopped and tilted back his head to gulp water from his bottle.

"He's like an American, but from the Colonies, right?" Shelly asked.

"Yes, in the Colonies, we would say `American-Colonial' to describe the sort of ancestry he had, while identifying that he was one of us not born on Earth."

"Do you know Quatre?" Babs asked.


"Jen has pictures of Quatre Winner on her bedroom wall now."

Shelly laughed. "Mine are in that stage now, even Cindy. Mostly pictures of one of those boy bands, except Janice, she is into some kind of game or cartoon characters now."

"Are they boys?" Babs asked.

Shelly nodded.

"I wouldn't worry."

Heero glared, but the two women were not looking at him. Shelly was still watching Duo, and Babs's eyes were not on his face.

"So, are all the children not belonging to our hosts or to Babs yours, Shelly?" Heero asked.


"Before, when you said most were yours, you mentioned three, then one, then one, and Babs claimed two, and that's seven, but there are ten children here, apart from Julien and Bowie."

"Oh, yes, three step children, and three from my own previous marriage, plus the other two I told you about."

"That is a lot of children, eight."

"Quite enough" Shelly laughed.

"I make sure she gets out of the house now and then", Babs said.

"I volunteer a lot", Shelly said. "We do have a housekeeper, so it is not that much work. Did I tell you she's getting married?"


"We are looking for a new housekeeper, but Greg says that maybe we do not need one, since some of the kids are older now and can help with chores and sitting."

"He needs to let you hire a housekeeper."

"Please excuse me, I think I will go introduce myself to Gary, or some of the children, if that is all right."

"Nice to meet you, Heero", Shelly said. She sipped soda again.

Babs laughed. "Just don't tell my girls you know Quatre, unless you want them hanging all over you."

"Will they anyway?" Shelly whispered as Heero left.

"I don't care", Babs said, "they're safe."

Shelly said something else, but the sound of younger children laughing kept Heero from overhearing.

Julien tried to throw the football to an older boy, but it only flopped to the ground. "Dad, he throws like a girl", the other boy complained.

"Now, Rob, I want you to think about that. Don't some of your sisters or girls at school actually throw much better?" Heero quirked a brow at that. He thought it was good that the man was encouraging his son not to think in sexist terms, but it sounded very insulting to Julien to say it was more accurate he could not even throw as well as a girl, when it had seemed a bad thing a second ago to throw as badly as a girl. But then, Heero heard Gary continue, "Some girls are very able at sports, and some boys are not, everyone has their own talents. Little Julien is only four now, and we can't expect him to throw very well yet, but you do not know that he will not be a very talented athlete in the future, and even if he is not…" He was using too many words, Heero realized. The boy, Rob, looked confused rather than corrected. Heero filed that information away for future use: be succinct when scolding children.

"Your criticism can be constructive if you offer suggestions for improvement", Heero said.

Rob looked up at him. Heero smiled because the boy was wearing a Gonin Team t-shirt with Akairo's Red Wolf mecha on it, which was only seen in the movie, Duo had explained to Heero the night before. During the series, there had been no animal form to any of their mecha, and some `hardcore' fans disliked the change to representational mecha.

"Julien might like if you demonstrate your throwing form to him, so he can learn how to be as good as you", Heero said.

Rob looked pleased with that. He touched Julien's shoulder to get his attention and began posing and demonstrating.

"Shelly told me your name, but I thought I would introduce myself, as we will be neighbors. I am Heero Yuy. I live across the street from your house, where Ken Hopkinson lived."

"Gary Tyler-Martin." He extended his hand. Heero thought it would be most appropriate to just shake his hand and not object, so he took the offered hand. Gary shook his hand once firmly and then drew his hand away, which seemed a most professional and masculine way to do it. "Thanks for the help there. I think the boys look up to you."

Heero nodded, because he was aware this happened, though he did not try to encourage it. "It just happens because certain parties enjoy the tactic of relaying scenes of battle to public big screens and replaying the footage in yearly retrospectives. Some things I did should never be mimicked."

Gary nodded. "I was not encouraged to serve during the wars, because I had a large family to support, but I was in the military when I was younger. Engineer Corps. It was all Alliance then. Nothing like what people your age had to deal with. I was afraid my oldest would join. We had no draft, but there was heavy recruiting. He spoke about wanting to join the Specials."

"It is in recruiters' interest to make service seem glamorous and adventurous and exciting, I would not blame him for being interested. A friend of mine was encouraged to join OZ during the time they assumed power over the Colonies, and she did have to find out what being a military mobile suit pilot is like. I know it was hard on her, but I do not think any of us who know her now blamed her for falling for their pitch, not really. Though, in her case, after she learned and left that type of work, she eventually went back to being a mobile suit pilot for Preventers, I think because she believed that since she had already begun to deal with what it meant for her, it was better she continue than make it necessary for others to be recruited. Unfortunately, it does seem a necessary job, as mobile suits are well suited for certain kinds of rescue and deterrent keeping of the peace."

"I tried to explain to my son how hard it would be, but since I never was a pilot, he did not believe me. However, he currently wants to be a rock star."

Heero laughed. "I also have a friend who has shown interest in a recording career, but I do not know yet how that will work for him."

"Well, I think I'll go see if the burgers are done."

"Nice to meet you."

"You too", Gary said and made some strangely cute gesture of pointing his finger at Heero and then drawing it back, before he headed toward the patio and food tables.

No new guests had arrived, so Heero decided he might either go see how Duo was, or try speaking to some of the older kids. Based on the conversation with Shelly, Gary's oldest son must be among them, and Babs's daughters.

Mitchie was speaking to Babs and Shelly and Duo was still near Candy, presently holding Bowie in his arms and laughing. Heero wondered if Duo was laughing because he was uncomfortable and hiding, or whether Candy was actually a very funny person.

Heero supposed Duo might even be leaving him alone on purpose so that he would be forced to socialize. Sometimes Duo could be sadistic.

Heero walked closer to the group of older children, the teenagers. There were two boys and four girls sitting on the grass in the shade of a tall evergreen at the back of the yard. There were some used food plates and plastic forks and some beverages around them. One boy was sitting on top of a skateboard. One girl had a portable game system in her hands.

"Hey," Heero said as he approached, and hoped that was the appropriate thing to say. The oldest ones looked to be very close to his age, but he knew they all lived with their parents and was not certain how any of them would think of him. "I have seen some you out on the street, since I moved to the neighborhood. May I sit here a while?"

"Sure," the oldest boy said, and as Babs only claimed two daughters, he must be Gary and Shelly's son. "I'm Gory, and this here's my brother Pete."

"Hi", Pete said, and his voice cracked. He was the one seated on his skateboard, and from the cuffs of his jeans, he used it a lot.

Two of the girls laughed. Both were blonde and about the same age and Heero wondered if they were sisters or friends, as the girls here were from two families. "I'm Heero. I met some of your parents. We recently moved in to the house across the street from you."

"Do you know Quatre?" One of the girls who was blonde and who had laughed asked.

The other one who had laughed before shoved her and said, "Shut up!"

Only one of the four girls had darker hair, like Babs, and she rolled her eyes and then smiled at Heero. "Hi. I'm Barb."

"Jen", said the one who did not want anyone to know she liked Quatre.

"Cia", said the other and tossed her hair.

That was all of them but the slightly younger girl with the game machine. "Do you have many games for that machine? I have some. I collect video game systems."

"Do you have Blood Wing: Katir's Quest?" She must be Janice, Heero thought, because that was the daughter that was into game characters.

"I might. I am trying to remember the list. I know I have the Blood Wing game for one of the large consoles. Katir's Quest was only for the handheld, right?"

"Yeah. It's an RPG where you travel Renaissance Europe looking for clues to find Nada Sin. Do you know that BW: War of the Dracul is going to be released? There's a version available now, but not in English, that won't be released until later in the fall. In time for Christmas, you know."

Heero understood how the marketing went. "I don't have it yet, but I can get the Japanese version. If you do not mind playing without translation, I can show you how you can play the discs on the systems marketed for this region. You're Janice, right? Come over sometime and I'll let you borrow or trade some games."

"Jan", she said.

Heero realized the other five were not so heavily into games, or at least not the kind Jan liked, and he had probably made them think he was a geek, or something. It might even be true, because he could get strangely obsessive about certain facts and technology. "So, do you all go to SHS?" Heero asked, knowing it was the closest high school from his research on the city.

"Gory just graduated this summer and we three are seniors now", Cia said.

"Are you in any teams or clubs?" Heero asked. "Some of my friends graduated this year, but I had already tested out."

"I wish I could test out," Barb said.

"Was it hard?" Jen asked.

"Well, you are allowed to take the test in whatever is your `native language', but in the Colonies, where I grew up, it is common to speak several languages from childhood, and I spoke three, so I opted to take the verbal in English, which was more difficult than I expected. I think I speak English very well, but since I had not stayed in one school very long, or been in school for a long period total, there were aspects of the language that my education had not covered and I guessed a lot of answers. Still, it was passing, and I scored very well in my Math and Sciences portion to make the combined score look good. Then I just earned some tech certifications online in order to keep up with things for work."

"Some kids at school speak Russian and English", Barb said.

"So, you like, just work, like you don't live with parents of go to college?" Cia asked.

"He lives with you too, right?" Barb asked, tipping her head in Duo's direction.

"Duo and I share the house. I have a job, and so does he, but he also goes to a university."

"UAS or SJC?" asked Gory. Heero recognized the abbreviations of the two places of higher education within Sitka.


"That's bullshit!" Jen said, "How do you live in Sitka and go to school in um, California."

"Well, SIT is only a few miles from here, right?"

The blank expressions said they did not understand.

"The location identifier of the airport, non international."

"Oh, you mean Rocky Guiterrez."

"Aa. Duo drives to the airport, gets in his plane, flies to SFO probably, that's San Francisco International, since AXP, or Alcatraz Extension Spaceport, is mainly for flights connecting to the Colonies, though he left his shuttle there, drives from the airport to school. He wouldn't commute every day, but arrange his class schedule to be in school certain days of the week and stay in the area, then come home for the remainder of the week."

"Does he rent a car or what?" Jen asked.

"His motorcycle would probably fit on the plane he has. I have not actually seen it yet, but I know he has both the bike and the plane. He only bought them recently."

"Did you say `his shuttle'?" Pete asked, voice cracking just slightly.

"Yes. That I have seen. It's nice! Custom restoration with a really `tricked out' interior."

"So, kids in the Colonies just have space shuttles?" Cia asked.

"I think it must be rare." Gory glanced to Heero. "It is rare?"

Heero nodded. "I have a shuttle I fly, but it is a company shuttle, not mine personally. Most people, no matter their age, do not own spacecraft, even if they live in the Colonies, but Duo is a person that actually knows how to rebuild spacecraft and mobile suits. He took classes and everything, so after the wars, there was an abundance of junked shuttles and mobile suits, so he would buy the parts cheap and put together a working craft from salvage, and then he would sell the restored craft at a profit. And he would also take on cargo as a courier, to pay fuel costs, if he was traveling. He kept the one shuttle for himself."

"Does he have mobile suits too?" Pete asked.

"No. It would be true to say he works with some people who are in the business of repairing and restoring mobile suits, but I do not think he has his own personal one. However, if he wanted one, he would have the licenses to pilot it and the connections to obtain one."

"Can someone just get a mobile suit license?" Gory asked.

"Sure. It is a particular class of pilot's license, so you go to a place on Earth or in the Colonies where they license pilots and apply and take tests. I think I am currently licensed to drive or pilot most vehicles. Well, there might be a few I do not have. For example, we do not have a lot of water in the Colonies, so there are no submersible craft, other than a few submersible mobile suits that maintain the sweater drums where fish are farmed. Do civilians pilot submersibles on Earth?"

The quiet seemed to indicate that none of the kids knew. "Well, I believe you do get a license to drive a boat over a certain size, and maybe some people own submarines, but mostly they are for government use or maybe university funded research. Some families around here have boats and keep them down at one of the harbors, or take them out on the lake…"

"No submarines", Barb said.

"Aa. What do you do? For fun, I mean."

"There's coffee places;" Gory said, "some have live music."

"There's a pretty big mall if you follow Halibut north", Cia said.

"There are two college campuses in Sitka, sometimes they have events there, concerts or parties and you can get in without being a student", Jen said.

"It must be a nice place to live if you like outdoor activities", Heero said.

"It is for that;" Barb said, "we go on camping trips sometimes, or take daytrips to the lake, or toward the mountains or to the ocean. Really, we get a lot of tourists and sometimes it can be fun to go down to the harbor when cruises come by. There are cute shops and restaurants there and you can sometimes meet interesting people."

"Like, mostly old people", Cia argued, "they kinda pass you over if you don't look somehow Native or Russian, like you can tell who is Russian around here."

"I am Russian", Heero said.

"Aren't you Japanese?" Jan asked.

"I am Japanese, but I am Russian, too." Heero laughed. "I think we moved here because I did not want to live in a big city. They are great to visit, but then when you want to be quiet or have some trees to look at or just get away from people, you do not have a choice in the matter. I think, it is probably very pleasant here, and maybe exciting, depending on the company you keep. You should come introduce yourselves to Duo. He will go crazy if he does not have lots of people to listen to him talk non-stop." Heero smirked at that. "He is friendly, so long as you are friendly to him. It was nice to meet you. I am going to go see Duo, or maybe get something to eat." Heero finished drinking the last little bit of beer in his bottle and then stood.

Heero headed toward the house and heard the girls giggling behind him. As he was approaching the barbeque area, Heero saw some guest let themselves into the yard through a gate in the fence on the opposite side of the house as the carport. The first was a fashionably dressed woman with dyed purple hair and then two teenagers with honey-toned complexions, followed by Marcus, who Heero knew to be their father. Heero had glimpsed the MacDonald children when delivering the dogs to Marcus, but not been introduced. Then, behind Marcus, Heero saw another guest he recognized.

Before Heero could reach them, Candy and Duo had seen the guests. Moira, whom Heero had never met, but knew the purple-haired woman must be, informed Candy that she had invited along a colleague from work. Duo greeted the two kids, demonstrating knowledge of their names: Ethan and Ester, and then went directly to the last guest, Johnny.

"Hello, Marcus", Heero said as he watched Duo draw Johnny into a one- armed hug from the corners of his eyes. "Is this your family?"

Marcus introduced Moira, Ethan and Ester to Heero. Ethan and Ester reminded Heero of Aishawn and kids he had met in the Colonial Capitol, not only for their features and coloring, but their manner of dress. He supposed, if Moira was an actress and had often taken her children along to various sets, they might have been exposed to different cultures and trends that other children in the neighborhood had not. They were both wearing tees that appeared bought at a vintage store and Heero thought Ethan's jeans might actually be Levis' 517s, but the shoes, belts and jewelry seemed new and likely expensive, maybe designer.

"What are you doing here?" Duo asked Johnny. He looked very excited to seem him, it almost made Heero jealous, just for a split second. This was just Duo's usual manner with people he considered friends. Even the way his hand lingered on Johnny's arm was nothing but friendly affection, or perhaps, he liked Johnny's brown leather jacket.

"What are you doing here?" Johnny asked. He looked at Heero. "Both of you? I didn't know you would be here. Claudia told me where you had moved, and I had your number, I just thought I would call after this get together. I didn't really expect you'd live in the same neighborhood."

"He did not even tell me that he knew them", Moira explained to Candy. "This is a co-worker, Johnny Vasquez. We had no shoots or rehearsals today and he had nothing better to do, so I dragged him here."

Johnny made some sweeping bow to Candy, like he thought he was playing some swashbuckler. "No, it was hardly dragged, the prospect of a small gathering, fresh air and homemade food was so enticing to me I insisted on inviting myself along. Which are my hosts, the lovely Miss Lopez and Miss O'Grady I have been told about?"

"I am Candace Lopez. Candy." She turned and saw that Mitchie was approaching, Koi also was. Babs and Shelly were standing and watching, perhaps wondering who the new guest was.

Johnny greeted Mitchie, even kissed her on the cheek and thanked the couple for allowing him to their cook out.

"You mean you didn't accept the invitation to Sitka hoping we would endanger your life out of some boredom?" Duo asked.

Johnny laughed. "I was going to call you and see if we could get together afterward. You are entertaining, even when our lives are not in danger. The guys from Maudlin Manic still talk about meeting you. They are touring in the Colonies now, but I think I will see them in October in New York. I go there sometimes."

"They have everything there, and unlike some cities, it is usually within walking distance", Heero said.

"Maybe for my birthday present? A vacation to New York City?" Duo asked Heero.

Heero smiled and nodded. "Maybe."

"Oh, I almost forgot! When does the show start? It's on Tuesdays?"

Johnny laughed.

"The first episode airs tomorrow", Moira told them, "Johnny and I both have fairly small parts so far. Scott has the most scenes. He plays the role that was originated by Tim Cruz in the movie."

"I gotta remember to watch it!" Duo said.

"You can watch it tonight if you promise not to burn a copy", Johnny said slyly as he produced a disc from his pocket.

"Please make yourself at home", Mitchie told the new guests.

"There are plenty of burgers ready now, and dogs, and I'll have some chicken done soon."

"If you stay a while I might have some ribs barbequed", Duo said, "I haven't barbequed before, so I'll have to taste test some first."

"Ethan and Ester made some food to share", Moira prompted. Heero had a feeling she had instructed the children to prepare offerings.

"I made corn muffins", Ester said.

"I made potato salad. It's from a recipe made by Tiffanie Spyder from a celebrity cookbook benefiting orphans of war."

"I made the rice balls, but I do not think anyone has tried them yet."

"No, Bowie and I each had one!" Duo insisted. "they are really good, you should all have one before I eat them all."

"I had some lovely onigiri in LA", Moira said.

"I put umeboshi in mine, but you can pick them out if you do not like them."

Duo laughed. "Bowie picked her plum out, but then ate it separately. You should have seen her face! It was so cute!"

As they were getting some food, another guest arrived. This was Trisha, whom Mitchie had mentioned, and whom Marcus had informed Heero was a local newscaster. When Heero saw her, he could not really tell if she was Japanese or Korean. He suspected she must be American with both some Japanese and Korean ancestry, because she really looked like that to him; in the Colonies Heero had known people with many mixed lines of decent. He was himself, apparently of mixed decent.

"Haru will be over soon", Trisha said, "He is trying to finish a chapter."

Trisha and Heero were informally introduced over one of the glass and metal outdoor dining tables. She reminded him a little of Gekka and also of Karen and seemed she might be the kind of person who would attract strange compliments such as, "Dude, your mom is hot!" Not that Heero himself was into older women.

Duo brought Heero another beer and said it was just wrong not to have a beer with a hamburger. Heero hoped he did not feel ill later. He had eaten at buffets before and been to just a few multi-course state dinners, but he could not recall eating buffet style at an event in which so many different people brought their food to share. Heero had an annoying feeling that if he did not try a little of something it would be insulting to at least one neighbor. He had tried to take small portions, but even so his plastic plate was very full, and they had not even gotten to dinner or dessert.

Most of the guests were eating now and they were complimenting each other on their food. Babs's macaroni salad was so good and it had such an interesting tang of garlic, but not too much of course, and Shelly's tossed green salad was very tasty, but some people did not like the raisins mixed in, no offense intended and of course Ethan's potato salad was equally good as Ester's muffins, and wasn't it a nice thing to support war orphans by selling celebrity cook books. The rice balls were also complimented, the sourness of the pickled plums was just the right compliment to the saltiness of the rice.

Duo was not at the table, but at the barbeque with Ethan and Gory. Reading the responses on Duo's lips, Heero supposed they might be asking him about the sort of music he liked. Among the neighborhood children, Ethan and Gory were the same age as Duo, and that meant as Heero, too.

The last two guests to attend the cook out that day arrived at dusk.

The time before that had been taken up with socializing, snaking and drinking. After the two beers, Heero had used the bathroom in the house and then switched to water. He and Johnny had been given a tour of the O'Grady-Lopez home. Mitchie said that many of the older houses did not have basements, only crawl spaces and speculated that the dampness of the region more than anything else was a factor in design decisions. They had five small rooms downstairs, including a bathroom, and all decorated in bright colors and eclectic style. Upstais there were three bedrooms and a bath. Mitchie did not open the doors to the children's rooms, and when she came to the bedroom she shared with Candy, only talked about the décor from the doorway and did not encourage them to walk inside.

Heero found it appropriate that Candy did not show guests everything about her house. He thought she succeeded in making visitors feel welcome without compromising the security of her family. There was likely no reason for neighborhood men to know what her children's rooms were like.

When they came downstairs, Heero saw that Duo was in the living room, sitting on one of the couches, with his braid drawn over his shoulder, holding the end of it.

"It is starting to get cool out", Mitchie said. "Please, make yourselves at home here. I think I will start on making coffee. Or do you like tea or chocolate better?"

"I drink tea more often, but coffee is fine", Heero answered quietly.

Johnny went with Mitchie from the livingroom, talking about European cafes and the kinds of drinks they served and did Mitchie know he lived in France and could send her some lovely packages of cocoa.

"OK?" Heero asked. Duo still had his sunglasses on, indoors, with nearby lamps off.

"I'm never OK."

"Yes you are. What happened. Did Babs suggest you come over to her house during the day to fix something?"

Duo laughed. Heero had seen the various neighbors make their way to the grill to meet Duo. He had hardly left his grill since they had arrived.

"Grilling going well?" Heero had seen Duo making frequent adjustments to the vents that allowed air and smoke to enter and exit the closed chamber.

"Ester said I should donate my hair."

"What did you say?"

"I told her it was my hair and I think I looked mad or something. I might have made her sad. I didn't mean to."

Heero stepped up to Duo and pulled the sunglasses from his face. He touched Duo's chin then and made him look up. "If Ester is hurt, we can talk to her and mend things. How do you feel?"

"She said there's sick children that lose their hair and need to have wigs made from donated human hair." Duo's eyes did not look directly at Heero, but off to the side.

"Yes, but why are you so upset?"

Duo pushed Heero away from him, more roughly than gently, and lifted the end of his braid to look at it. "It's my hair! I grew it! But… but I do not want to be someone who can't help sick children, Heero."

"Duo, you will be able to laugh about this later. I know you will. You could laugh now, except that Ester's comments have made you very defensive. Listen, no one can take your hair. It is yours. You grew all of it yourself."

"I know! It took me a long time, and it's mine."

"Yes, exactly. You grew it, it's yours. You have every right to be proud of that. You have every right to keep it. It is your hair, Duo. You can dye it, bleach it, crimp it, straighten it, braid it, cut it, do whatever you want with it. No one else has a right to it, sick or not. If some child is sick and looses their hair to disease or radiation treatments, that may be unfortunate, but it does not mean anyone owes them hair. If anyone wishes to have their hair cut off and donated to some bald sick children charity, that is their choice. I am sure the children will be pleased to be able to blend in again, but I am certain there are also affordable synthetic wigs made these days that are most convincing. There is no question that your hair belongs to you, so if you think about it, you will realize it is a little silly for you to be upset, because there is no real threat at all to necessitate a defensive stance."

"It is stupid! That's why I'm mad. Why can't I just cut it? It's just hair. It's a liability in close combat. You end up lying on it all the time. It takes time to care for. I shouldn't even care at all. I should just say that it's a good idea and want to donate my hair. But I'm all upset instead. Probably making the neighbors think I'm weird."

"Duo, I have met our neighbors. They all have a little weirdness of their own."


"Do you really not see why you are upset?"

"No, but you're about to psychoanalyze me."

"I do not have to. You can just keep being upset and go out there and hide it. Or, you can talk to me."

"I'm just attached to it."

"It's yours."


"There was probably a time when your life and that braid were the only things that you could claim as yours."

Duo looked up at Heero and his eyes puckered in a questioning expression. For a while he said nothing and then he asked, "You think it is just that?"

"Is it?"

"I don't know. Maybe it is. What you said is true. There were times when I had things, but there were times when I had nothing except maybe my life, this hair and the clothes I was wearing."

"Yes, but you did not make your life or your clothes."

"I'm just really attached to it."

"And that's not wrong. But, maybe getting upset and alienating neighbors is not such a good thing. I think you need to just accept that you are still attached to your hair in some strong way, apart from it simply being fixed to your head. And, knowing that, you need to be able to tell people you appreciate their suggestions, but you will decide what happens to your hair."

"It was stupid to get upset about it."

"I would not say stupid. You simply acted on your emotions, and though I do not believe that wrong, sometimes it is good to control how you act on your emotions. The how of it effects how others will understand you and treat you."

"I just feel kinda foolish now. I don't want to go back out there."

"Duo, once, I got upset over something that seemed to others nothing at a party, and you came to console me. I did go back. I went back and stood beside you the rest of the time. I will hold your hand if you need it, but do you need it?"

Duo shook his head. "I'm usually the one that's good with socializing."

"I bet you are so proud of me today!" Heero said cheerily.

Duo laughed, most likely for the uncharacteristic perkiness in Heero. He looked at Heero rather intensely and said, "I am."

"You can show me how you are grilling. It should almost be time for dinner. If you sit down next to me at dinner, I will let you lick barbeque sauce from my fingers."

Duo grinned.

on to chapter 91

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