All the usual disclaimers go here.

Info: 1x2 at the moment; post-EW, AU-ish with Newtypes.

Twelve-word summary: The pilots discover the side effects of being Gundam pilots without Gundams.


Long Odds
2. Independent Variables
by Saro and Merellia


Duo juggled the sacks of groceries in his arms and shoved the key in the lock. If he didn't drop the groceries, if the key didn't catch, if he managed to catch the door before it swung back, then he would be able to hold it open when Heero arrived in thirty seconds with the chair. If, if, if. There were so many possibilities. He might even drop the groceries, step on a rolling can, and trip backwards down the stairs to crash into the chair and Heero just as he turned the corner of the landing. Fortunately, that possibility was very slim. It was always encouraging when the more humiliating events had the least likelihood of occurring.

The chance that this one might happen rapidly approached zero as the key turned smoothly in the lock; a quick twist of the doorknob had the door swinging wide, and Duo deftly planted his back against it to keep it open. Idly calculating the angles made between the rails and posts of the staircase banister, he listened to the thumps that Heero made coming up to the landing. "Hey, Heero," he called out, shifting one of the bags of groceries so the cold corner of a frozen dinner wasn't poking him in the stomach, "do you wanna get dinner out tonight? Or fix it here? First night in the apartment and all."

"We have to return the truck first," Heero said as he rounded the corner, carrying an oversized chair. For all its weight, he handled it easily. Seeing that Heero was going to arrive at the head of the stairs without mishap, Duo leaned back more comfortably against the door.

The apartment they'd finally settled on wasn't much to look at. The carpet was old and looking a bit mangy, the original color faded to drab tan -- or maybe it had started out that way. The paint on the walls was a sun-stained light yellow rather than a store bought cream, and it was cracked and chipping in some of the corners. But, it was convenient, had two almost equally sized bedrooms, and the fire escape had a good view of the stars. The view had been the deciding factor.

Duo snorted. He might almost have said he was homesick, but he'd felt the same way on L2.

The sudden realization that Heero was about to plow into him with a piece of furniture quickly snapped Duo out of the familiar train of thoughts. A nimble step saved him from getting hit, but when he tried to catch the door again with his heel, it became abundantly clear that there was a higher probability of his falling on his ass than of actually pulling off the maneuver. Shit.

He missed the door, stumbled back two steps, and hit his back against the wall, barking his funny bone in the process. The groceries slid a little in his grip, and a whole new set of possible outcomes sprang to mind. Some of the more embarrassing ones had depressingly high odds. Duo shifted the bags, managed to catch the one that was starting to rip on his knee, and without dropping the milk in the process.

The door hit Heero in the shoulder as it swung closed, but the other ex-pilot didn't even grunt an acknowledgement as he elbowed past and dropped the chair in the middle of the living room.

"That's the last of it," Heero announced without much enthusiasm.

"Yeah, that's nice, man. Now get over here and take one of these before the bag rips all the way and we spend the next twenty minutes cleaning milk out of the carpet and picking up breakfast cereal." Changing his hold on the ripping sack bought another ten seconds or so. "You think I'm kidding?" he asked tartly when Heero didn't move.

Heero blinked once, the only outward sign of surprise, then marched over to take one of the bags. Duo heaved a theatrical sigh of relief as he pushed himself away from the wall to put the groceries on the counter in the kitchenette. "That was close," he continued. "I'm telling you, I did not relish the idea of having to clean up that sort of mess without a vacuum."

Heero made a sound that Duo chose to interpret as an affirmative. Hey, if the guy was going to make someone decipher nonverbal communication, he'd just have to live with the results.

"You didn't give me an answer on dinner."

"I hadn't thought about it. Did you have something specific in mind?" Heero asked, putting away the box of Branflakes that had nearly littered their floor.

"Not really," Duo said, peeking through the sacks in search of the raspberries they'd bought. "I was just thinking that it's only a couple hours away, and we'll probably be tired if we're gonna spend them unpacking." Oh, there they are.

"There was a deli on the corner, I think. We could get takeout," the other suggested, catching Duo before he could put the fruit on the top shelf of the fridge. "Those go in the drawer on the bottom."

The Deathscythe pilot rolled his eyes, but moved the raspberries into one of the two drawers at the bottom of the refrigerator. If Heero had a preference which they went in, then he could move them himself. Snagging a couple of the berries before closing the drawer, Duo said, "Takeout works for me. Good, that's settled. Now we can finish putting this stuff away and get started on the boxes."

The light pressure of Heero's hand on his hip brought them closer, pressing Duo against the linoleum countertop.

"You looking to christen the counters already?" Duo asked, shoving his last raspberry in his mouth and wiping his hands on his jeans.

"Actually," Heero muttered, a little smirk turning up one corner of his lips, "you were in front of the cupboard I wanted to put the soup in."

"Oh." Duo tried to keep his expression from falling. He'd been pretty sure that there was a good chance he was about to get laid.

"But now that you mention it... " Heero's face took on a considering look. "Give me a sec to put the ice cream away first."

*~*~*

Duo finished his minestrone soup with a satisfied "Mmm." There were so many places he and Heero hadn't had sex yet in their new apartment: the shower, the bedrooms, the laundry closet, the kitchen floor (they'd started on the counter, which was what really counted, right?), the coffee table, the fire escape. The checklist running through his head kept growing longer. "Okay," he said, stretching as he stood. "Time to get back to work?"

Heero crushed the wax paper wrapper from his sandwich and tossed it in the takeout bag. A moment later Duo's soup cup joined it, and the whole collection went in the garbage. "Where do you want to start?"

Shrugging, Heero went to the nearest box. 'Kitchen' was printed across the side in large, neatly uniform letters, which said it was one of the ones the Wing pilot had packed as much as it told the contents' destination. Duo stretched again, enjoying the good mood that dinner and Heero had put him in. Relaxation had been a little too scant for the last few days. Weeks. Months. Whatever. In any event, if felt nice to be able to unwind.

Choosing at random, he picked a box, tearing through the brown packing tape with his house keys. This one said 'Bath' in the same big, legible letters; Heero had packed it, too. Inside, he found his shampoo, shaving cream, razor and other toiletries, along with a heavy med kit. Spare rolls of gauze, syringes, butterfly bandages and painkillers had all been tucked snuggly between the towels. Duo smiled at the evidence of his lover's organized mind, then hefted the whole box off to the bathroom.

The bathroom was nothing to brag about. The shower stall was just big enough for two people to fit comfortably -- ignoring the fact that one of them would have to stand behind the other, so the water that reached them would be colder -- and the cabinet space was unimpressive to put it generously. Still, as the basics went, they didn't have too much.

"Duo?" He heard just as he finished putting away all four of their bath towels. "Could you come here for a minute?"

"Yeah, I'm coming," Duo replied, not liking what he'd heard in Heero's voice. "What did you want?" He stepped over the half-emptied box and the bandages he'd scattered beside it while pulling out the towels and headed down the short hall towards the living room.

"Do you know where the extra ammo for the Baretta is?" Heero was bent over the box marked 'bfg,' next to which Duo had drawn a skull and crossbones. Heero hadn't appreciated the latter, but had reluctantly agreed that the former was better than trying to explain 'Weaponry' or 'Guns' were anyone to have been nosy when they took the boxes out of the apartment on L2.

Duo bit his lip, trying to remember if he had packed that, and if he had, where. "Did you check with the machete?"

"Why would it be with the machete?" Heero asked, his brows drawing together over his nose in a scowl.

"I don't know," Duo told him. "It was a guess." He pushed past his friend to a box that said 'misc.' in shortish, rounded letters. It was the print Duo typically used when he was faking his mother's writing for a school. Inside he found the music player with a broken earpiece, a flashlight, the machete, a number of smaller bladed weapons that hadn't fit in the other box, and a few rags. "Not here. Don't know what to tell you."

"Well, where did you put it?" Heero asked, still frowning as he sifted through the contents of another box.

Duo shrugged. "I don't know. Wherever there was space, I guess. Don't worry, it'll turn up."

"I'm not worried," Heero shot back. "I just don't want to have to pull the rest of the spare ammunition out so I can put it in the right spot when it turns up."

"Then put it on top.It's not that big a deal," Duo said, turning back toward the bathroom.

"Duo," Heero snapped, with a crack in his voice Duo hadn't heard since the war. Then, in a more controlled tone, "Just find it. Please."

"What do you want me to do?" Even as the words left Duo's mouth, he knew they were almost certainly going piss Heero off, but he still couldn't stop them. "I can't pull out a fucking dowsing rod and find it! It'll turn up. Cope."

Only fast reflexes saved him from being hit in the head as a bottle of blue glass cleaner flew through the air in a way cleaning products were never intended to. "Shit!"

Blue liquid sprayed outward as the bottle caved in the drywall behind it. As it impacted, Heero made a rough noise that had Duo turning away from the dripping blue ruin to face him.

The pilot's hands were curled into white-knuckled fists, the tension clear in his rigid posture and the unyielding set of his thin shoulders. His jaw was clenched so tightly, Duo could see the muscles jumping in his cheeks. Nostrils flaring slightly, forehead creased in with a dark scowl that took over his whole face, Heero didn't look angry; he looked homicidal.

For a long moment, Duo just stared in shock. Heero didn't usually loose his temper. Not like that. He couldn't even begin to think of what the hell might have caused that outburst, let alone how to defuse the situation. He was still gaping when Heero visibly forced his hands open.

"Listen, I'm " Duo paused, licking his lips " -- I apologize."

"I'm sorry, too." Heero said, his stance finally relaxing.

"Apology accepted," Duo told him quickly, letting out a sigh of relief, then glanced over his shoulder. Apparently, he wasn't the only one feeling stressed. And they now had a big fucking hole in the wall to prove it. "Well, there goes our security deposit. I'll get you some paper towels to start cleaning this up. I do remember where I packed those, and while you take care of this, I'll see if I can't 'turn up' the Baretta ammo. Cool?"

Nodding, the guy went to start picking up the broken bottle and chunks of plaster that had fallen to the floor. Duo nodded as well, then hurried to make good on his plan, silently grateful he had known Heero would respond badly to what he said. Duo Maxwell may have been called hard headed a time or two, but he wasn't in a hurry to see how his skull compared to Heero's arm.

He had a pretty good idea which one would win.

*~*~*

Field stripping a pistol came easily to Heero's hands, each step calming in its familiarity. Behind him, through the thin walls, Heero could hear his housemate showering. The regular patter of water again tile was the loudest sound in their apartment before seven in the morning.

Heero's fingers moved automatically, withdrawing the magazine.

Duo was in the shower, which meant, Duo's hair would be in the shower later, when the Wing pilot found his way there. Normally, Duo kept his hair confined to a braid, where it behaved tamely. Sometimes it seemed that his long hair required less attention than his own much shorter cut. At the very least, it never got in Duo's way. The exception to this rule seemed to be in the bathroom.

He pulled the slide back and checked the chamber out of habit -- the gun wasn't loaded.

When in the bathroom, Duo took his hair down to wash it and to brush it. He did clean out the drain after himself, but he didn't catch all the broken strands that fell on the floor, or the counter, or stuck to the walls. Wet hairs were sticky, and when the strand was more than two feet long, it seemed worse.

Having a piece of long wet hair tangled between his toes had been a new and decidedly unpleasant experience for Heero.

He closed the slide and pulled the trigger.

I can deal with hair in the bathroom, Heero told himself firmly as he pressed in the plug and turned the barrel bushing. I will talk to him later about being more thorough when he cleans up after himself.

The hair wasn't the only problem though. This morning, much to his surprise, Heero had woken up without a pillow and with a nasty kink in his neck as a result. Duo had been clutching it possessively, pressing his back tight against the Wing pilot.

He removed the plug and the recoil spring as he remembered how Duo slept, curled around the stolen pillow and wedged against Heero's chest, as though he were perpetually cold. An electric blanket might be a wise addition to the shopping list. A third pillow certainly was. His hand paused, then continued removing the barrel bushing again as another thought occurred to him.

Duo slept like he was cold, or like he was trying to present a small target. Like he was hiding.

He was also a very light sleeper; lighter even than Heero, who had caution drilled into him from his earliest memories. Heero doubted that this was G's training manifesting. It seemed more likely that its roots were found in Duo's childhood, which he spoke of only vaguely, sketching an incomplete picture of L2's worse districts.

Heero's hands fell back into their pattern as he removed the slide stop. What did he know about Duo's childhood?

Lifting out the recoil spring guide, he considered. He knew that Duo Maxwell did not exist in any official sense. He knew Duo was from an L2 colony originally. He knew some of Duo's skills came from his youth there, rather than the education G had given him.

He inferred that Duo was an orphan, and that he had grown up with limited adult guidance. He guessed that Duo had at some point had a brush with the Christian faith, because of his attire, and the cross, but he knew Duo wasn't religious. What sort of good Christian would refer to himself as Shinigami -- the God of Death? He inferred that Duo had for one reason or another, come to associate himself with death.

Heero removed the barrel from the slide, and looked down at the weapon now disassembled before him as though the scraps he knew of Duo's history were laid out with them.

He hadn't realized how little he knew about his housemate's past. It didn't particularly matter, he supposed, as he had no intention of backing out of the arrangement now. He had told Duo the truth when he said that moving in was the logical course to take if one wanted to continue to have daily contact with another person.

Among the many bargains Duo had offered him, one had been a question for a question. Heero frowned. Perhaps it would be wise to take the other's offer.

The smell of solvents and oil filled the room as Heero's hands continued the ritual of cleaning his gun, and his mind continued examine his newest mission.

*~*~*

Sleep was elusive. Duo had already stolen one pillow, wrapping his body around it protectively in his own restless sleep. Heero had yet to do more than just slip under the edge, hovering in that place where he was aware of what was around him, but not conscious of it. Not really awake, but not really asleep either, he tossed and turned, trying to find the right position or the right state of mind to actually drift off. The room wasn't more than warm, but a fine sweat broke out on his body.

Duo muttered something as Heero stirred, and his hand snaked behind him to tug away his partner's remaining pillow. Heero rolled onto his belly, though he always slept on his back, and pressed his face into the cool sheets. Relax, he commanded himself ineffectively. But he couldn't.

If it were possible, he dreamt half-awake. In his dreams, he was in Wing's cockpit again, the controls at his command... and he detonated. Again and again he detonated. Or sometimes he fought until his Gundam fell to pieces. He didn't see it, his eyes, open again, saw Duo's hair and the creases in the white sheet in the grainy, blue ambient light that flooded in though their naked window.

Curtains... Heero thought vaguely, struggling out of the dream briefly. Perhaps the light was the problem.

Then the feeling was back, like his whole body was thrumming along with Wing's engines. And Wing was disintegrating around him. His hand fisted in the sheets and he groaned, twisting back toward awareness, kicking off his blanket in the process.

"Shit," Duo slurred in a gravelly morning voice, and Heero thought for a moment that he'd woken the other pilot, but he continued, "Heero, if you don't get to that before I do, I swear to god that there will be one less telemarketer in the world tomorrow."

"Duo," he said, "there's no -- "

The vid unit in the corner beeped, interrupting him.

"Gah!" Duo shouted into one of his pillows, then flung himself out of bed to stumble toward the phone. His hand hit the receive button with a plastic crack, and a round, feminine face appeared on the screen. "No, we don't want any! There is no lady-of-the-fucking-house, and even if there was, she'd be sleeping because it's five-fifty-eight in the goddamned morning."

"But, sir, I -- "

"If you call back again, I will personally trace this call, and blow up the entire fucking building it came from!" the irate young man continued, running over her protests. "Good bye."

The vid screen blanked out before Duo could shut it off. The girl, it seemed, had some common sense. Duo returned to bed, blinking his eyes dazedly and muttering about the indecency of molesting people while they were trying to sleep.

"Duo," Heero began, unsure how to voice the question forming in his mind. Duo, how did you know that was a telemarketer? How did you know that it would ring at all?

"Sorry, man," Duo said, returning to the warm spot he'd left behind in the bed. "Get me up when it's actually a human hour, alright?"

Heero nodded dumbly. His list of things he knew about his housemate might be in need of some revisions.

on to part 3

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