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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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