All the usual disclaimers go here.

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

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

Long Odds
3. Outlying Data
by Saro and Merellia

"Your names, sirs?" the guard asked at the check-in desk.

"Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy." Heero watched Duo follow the words up with a smile.  Duo made everything seem easy, from talking comfortably with people to piloting his Gundam to knotting a tie.  It had only taken him one try to get his looking proper this morning, while Heero had finally given up on the button-down shirt entirely and just pulled on his jacket over a short-sleeved shirt instead.

Flipping a few sheets over the top of a clipboard, the guard's eyes scanned down the page before he nodded. "You're on my pass list.  Identifications, please."

Heero had his out and had gotten a nod from the guard before he caught the glint in Duo's eye. An attempt to forestall the other with a glare failed as Duo just nonchalantly proffered his card between two fingertips.  The gate guard looked at it and frowned.  "You're Duo Maxwell?"

"Certainly am."

Duo's expression of attentiveness was a thin veneer over the amusement Heero could observe lying below the surface.  He was as reliable as a Taurus with a malfunctioning gyroscope when he got like that. "Duo," Heero said warningly.  This was not the appropriate kind of first impression to be making at the place of their future employment.

The guard cleared his throat. "This card says you're not."

Making a show of surprise after glancing at the card, Duo said, "Would you look at that!  My bad -- I must have picked the wrong one."  He returned it to his wallet and selected another card.  "Here you go. Sorry about that, man."

Grimly, the guard said, "This one is for a 'Duot Virnikov.'"

"Aw, shit. 'Scuse my language," Duo said cheerfully as he returned the second card to his wallet and pulled out a sheaf of others. He fanned them in one hand and began flicking through them with the forefinger of his other.  "Just a sec."

The guard glanced askance at the handful of false identification cards.  "And you guys are walking in here freely?  No offense to you, sir," he added to Heero.

"Must've woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," said Duo, false apology in his voice.

He ignored the sharp look Heero sent at him.  Giving up on trying to get Duo to expedite whatever game he was playing, Heero said stiffly to the guard, "None taken.  He -- "

"There!"  Duo announced his success and held out another card to the guard.

After looking at it suspiciously, the guard nodded once and said, "Thank you, sir. If you will both please step in the booth, I'll call for a confirmation."

As soon as Duo had entered after him, Heero, with one look at the camera, snapped, "What was that for?" Fighting to keep his hands from fisting, he unzipped his jacket partway and pushed his hands into its pockets. The other pilot was acting unacceptably, was jeopardizing -- Heero caught himself short.  They were not on a mission.  And Duo had always been good at acting the civilian.

"You've been tense all morning," Duo said, his smile fading into seriousness.  "I know you haven't had a decent night's sleep in days.  Hey, I didn't figure you to be this bothered by coming here. Are you sure this is what you want to do, babe? 'Cause if it isn't, we don't have to."

Heero resisted the urge to shake Duo's hand from his shoulder, unsettled by the endearment, the casual display, and the way that both together managed to defuse the irritability that had been waiting for the right moment to strike.  "It's not that," he said uncomfortably.   Things were fine. He was fine. Flashbacks were acceptable consequences of the mind's response to war.  It was normal to be kept awake by them, even if remembering Wing's final moments... sucked.  Sometimes Duo's vocabulary could be surprisingly fitting.

"Yeah?"  Duo's skepticism was apparent in the lift of his eyebrows as Heero looked back at him.

Heero nodded once, relieved that Duo didn't question further. "Yeah."

Use of Duo's casual term earned Heero a quick grin.  "Look at that," said Duo, folding his arms across his chest and leaning one shoulder against the wall opposite the video camera. "You've learned something from me."

Heero censored a comment on chicanery and applied chemistry, opting for a more neutral, "Yes."  When Duo's demeanor took on a smug air, he added, watching the other closely, "You don't like telemarketers."

Duo stared at him blankly, then blinked in recollection.  "Does anyone?" he asked.  "And the call woke me up, too.  Do you think they sell anti-spam software for vid units that would let us block them?"

Shrugging, Heero said, "I don't know. We could probably write some," even as he contemplated Duo's response.  His roommate never seemed to have registered that he had done anything out of the ordinary. Maybe --

"Tampering with a vid unit breaks several international laws," interrupted a familiar voice from the speaker below the camera.  "Perhaps I should recommend Une reconsider her offers to the two of you."

"Good morning to you too, Wufei," Duo replied flippantly.  "Is all well in the land of law and order?"

"Now that I've reassured the gate guard that your presence here is legitimate, yes.  Let me remind you that carrying false identification is also illegal.  Chang out."

Duo sighed, pushing past the curtain to leave the booth on Heero's heels. "Damn, but he's got a stick up his ass," he said in an affectionate undertone as the guard waved them past.  "And he's only been here a month longer than us!  Heero," he added, turning around to push the building door open with his back against it so he could keep talking, "if I start quoting rules and regulations thanks to this job, it will be your fault, and I'll make you kill me."

"I wouldn't kill you," Heero protested mildly as they approached a man broad enough to make two of them who sat at the reception desk.  He gave them an assessing look. It was one familiar to Heero, the quick check for the tale-tale signs of shoulder harnesses, weapons tucked in waistbands, strapped to calves -- He stopped himself before his mind could supply him with a list of further possibilities.  Civilians. They were civilians, at least for the moment.

"You save it for Relena, is that it? I get it now."  Before Heero could contradict him, Duo announced to the receptionist, "We're here for an appointment with Une."

Finishing his quick study of them, the man said, "Take a left past the security devices; any of those elevators. Eighty-third floor." He turned back to his bank of screens, their shifting images reflecting on his eyes.

Heero relaxed when they passed the metal detectors without a problem; he hadn't thought to tell Duo not to bring any weapons with him.  Oblivious to his concerns, Duo's distaste for the security measures was apparent in his tone as they waited for the elevator in the empty hallway.  "Isn't this sort of pointless?  Offhand, I can think of at least five ways to get in here, armed, without triggering those detectors."

"It's worse at the embassy."

Duo made a face. "Well, you'd know."

Heero watched the lights glow in sequence as the elevator ascended.  "It's supposed to be a new era of peace."  Peace meant trust, trust that only minimal precautions were necessary. That people shared the desire to strive for a world without war, to value and protect their peace.  He'd told Wufei that.  But Wufei had had a point, too; a soldier in a civilian's life found a life with uncomfortable deficiencies, with echoes in spaces formerly filled by a soldier's requirements.  It seemed like the Preventers might be an answer for them both.

Instead of scoffing as Heero had expected, Duo responded seriously.  "If we can make it so. I don't think it's going to be as easy as saying that."  He clasped his hands together behind his back, rolling his weight onto his toes, then rocking back onto his heels.

"No," Heero agreed, watching Duo surreptitiously finger his belt.  His earlier concerns about Duo's armed status might have had foundation after all.  Maybe the Preventers were an answer for Duo as well.  He'd agreed easily, demolishing Heero's constructed arguments with a single blow as effective as any of his explosives -- he'd probably entertained some thoughts before then similar to Heero's and Wufei's own, to have answered so quickly.  Or he was throwing caution to the winds and acting as the moment inspired him.  It was hard to figure what motivated Duo at times.

The brass and wooden paneling of the elevator door slid back at the appropriate floor to reveal more utilitarian surroundings of office cubicles and dark gray carpeting.  A middle-aged woman with close-cropped brown hair questioned them as they stepped forward.  "Sirs?"

Heero scanned the room, looking for exit signs as Duo replied to the receptionist.  A moment later, Duo tugged at his elbow and, Heero's attention caught, nodded toward some of the empty chairs lined up against the wall perpendicular to the receptionist's desk. "She said it'll be a minute. Wanna sit?"

Listening to the quiet hum of the air system, Heero nodded.  Duo stretched his legs out straight in front of him and leaned against the chair's back.  Noting the other's assessing gaze following the lines of the walls, Heero nudged Duo's near leg with his knee and gave him an inquiring glance.

Duo fidgeted, drawing his legs in and sitting up, then crossing them restlessly. "Just figuring out where the load-bearing girders are positioned," he said in a low voice. "Hard not to keep thinking like that, y'know?"

Instead of replying immediately, Heero crossed his arms and used the movement to tick off specific intervals along the walls with one finger.  When Duo raised his eyebrows, Heero answered the question quietly. "You start with the corners and the elevator shafts.  This building's about twenty years old. When it was built, EuroUnion building regulations stipulated no more than seven meters between. If you know the width of the windows -- "

"Ah," Duo said, catching on easily -- he'd probably been able to estimate the width of the windows within a few millimeters after a single glance at the building.  Heero lifted one shoulder in a small shrug, deciding further details unnecessary.

The brisk thuds of heels on carpet heralded the approaching figure of Une.  Heero stood, Duo following suit after a moment's hesitation. "Good morning," she greeted them briskly.  "This way, if you please."  Duo walked at Heero's shoulder as Une led them past a row of cubicles and around a corner into a sparsely furnished office.

Une gestured them to the chairs facing her desk; the motion, though crisp, lacked the arrogant brusqueness which had so characterized her during Heero's few interactions with her during the war.  "Have a seat." Une rested her elbows on her desk's polished surface and steepled her fingers. "I can't say how glad I am to have you join us.  We've been lucky with staff and funding so far, but even so we've been stretched thin -- or else I'd like to think this incident with Mariemaia wouldn't have occurred."

"How many operatives do you have?" Heero asked, leaning back in the seat.  It was sturdy wood, this chair; Odin had once explained that executives preferred them, but if you needed, you could break them and use one of the legs to --   That idea got caught up short, too.

Une tapped a pen on the topmost paper in a restless gesture.  Did her dreams ever wake her, feeling sick as from a blow to the gut? Heero kept his expression impassive as he impatiently directed his attention back to her reply.   "Six field agents, including your comrade Chang, and Zechs.  Ten analysts and their administrative staff.  Two sysadmins.  My aide, Martje, whom you met.  That's all."

Duo whistled.  "Poor funding?"

"In part. The ESUN Security Council just agreed to increase our budget, but the Finance Committee harbors several who view our efforts as an unnecessary drain on expenses: after all, if we prevent some violence from occurring, how are we to claim our intervention -- and our expenditures -- as vital?  It might not have occurred anyway.  I've already been audited once this year.  So," Une said with a fleeting quirk of her lips, "you see that having you, Chang, and Zechs join helps me send a message to those bureaucrats about how serious our work is, and how seriously people like yourselves take it. In addition to being able to make use of your skills for our own efforts."

Heero frowned. "You plan to announce that we were Gundam pilots."

Une turned her pen upside down, then right side up, and tapped it atop her papers again.  "Not in the sense you mean: I don't intend to make a production of this to the media. As far as the public is considered, whom I hire is my own business, and the less they know, the more flexibility you'll have as an operative.  But to some ESUN representatives, I will have to explain who you are in order to justify hiring people of your age and expected lack of experience."

"L2 law enforcement knows who I am," Duo said.  When Heero and Une fixed their glances on him, he added by way of explanation, "They stopped by a couple times this past year, while I was working for Hilde. Just to let me know they knew and were keeping an eye on me."

"You are the most recognizable of the pilots," Une agreed.

Heero muttered, "Because you got captured."

"Hey!" Duo said, his eyes narrowing.  "I'm not the only responsible party here."  He traded a sharp-edged smile with Une.  "Besides, 03 is the one who does organizational infiltration, not me. So it's not that big a deal. I just do -- did -- site infiltration. To blow things up," he continued pointedly.  "Not exactly a valuable skill anymore."

"You can defuse, too," Heero said.

"Well, yeah."

Heero could tell that it sounded to Une as though, if it didn't result in a big mess afterwards, it didn't count for much with Duo.  As far as Heero knew, however, it was more for show than practice; bathroom hair aside, Duo picked up after himself in their apartment with the habitual neatness of someone accustomed to erasing signs of his passage.  Not to mention his efficiency with his Gundam.  Maybe that was what Heero ought to ask him about first, what he'd done before working for G.  Or perhaps about the phone call instead.

"Our mission is to defuse situations, figuratively speaking," Une said, refusing to rise to Duo's bait.  "With regard to 03, do you think he or 04 would be willing to join, if you were to ask?"

Heero shook his head. "03 has a job he likes, and 04 obligations he won't set aside. Unless it were an emergency."

Une set the pen down and tucked her hair behind her ears, leaning back in her chair.  Her eyebrows arched in what might be amusement. "And you two had neither? Why now, and not a year ago when I made my first offer to you?"

"Our priorities changed," Heero said.

He felt a brief flicker of satisfaction as he saw Duo close his mouth on whatever answer he had been prepared to give.  Duo said with a shrug, "That fits.  Besides, had to give the old home thing one last chance."

"Fair enough.  A few last points, and then I'll send you to Martje for getting you entered into our records and such.  One: I assume, like Chang, that you're both still underage?" At their nods, she continued. "It will be easy to arrange for independent status for you both, but local laws -- which the ESUN does not override -- require a certain level of education. You can opt to test out of it, which is what Chang did, but I might ask you to take classes from time to time regardless, as I see them useful to your assignments with us.  That's something I may ask of any agent. Understand?"

That was said almost as if she expected a "Yes, sir!" in response, Heero thought.  He nodded again instead.

"How could we turn down a chance to improve ourselves?" Duo asked rhetorically. "I've got no problem with that."

"Second: you'll be assigned to separate agents for a shadowing period, as you get accustomed to how we work here.  Yuy, you'll partner with Noin; Maxwell, you with Durstang. He started out as a military analyst for the L3 government before joining White Fang, did some hacking for them.  You won't be partnered with each other immediately."

"I don't think we were expecting to.  I mean, I wasn't.  I can't speak for Heero.  Had you thought that, Heero?"

"No," Heero said.  He was in Duo's company enough as it was. Work required nothing less than a professional approach.  His relationship with Duo might have grown out of professional circumstances, but it wasn't professional now.  Heero wanted to keep that separation intact.

"Then we're fine," Une resumed.  "Third, and this is something I particularly ask of all the agents, please take care with the paperwork.  I know you weren't in the habit of documenting your activities during the war -- " This earned a crack of laughter from Duo and a quipped, "Deathscythe Form 3B: Reimbursements for mayhem, creation of."  Une's lips thinned in a slight smile before she continued, " -- but like I said earlier, we're answerable to the ESUN, and your reports will help me keep all our asses covered with the bureaucrats."

"Funding," Heero noted in agreement.

Une nodded, rising from her seat.  "Not only that, but right now we have fairly broad permissions in terms of crossing political boundaries and acting as we see fit under the mandate we were given by the ESUN.  Not being able to answer questions because someone forgot to fill in a situation report could endanger that, and consequently endanger our effectiveness.  I've no desire to see this organization become a castrated oubliette for ex-mil undesirables."

Duo winced, rising. "As opposed to a ballsy refuge for ex-mil undesirables?"

Une came around her desk and led them to the door.  "Soldiers do need to find a place in a world without war.  But do you see yourself as one of the undesirables?"

"Oh, I'm very desirable," Duo said with a speaking look at Heero behind Une's back.  Heero glared at him.

"I, for one, am pleased to have you with us."  As Une took them past a row of empty cubicles, Duo shrugged and smiled in the face of Heero's irritability.  Fighting a rising surge of irritation -- Duo was acting no differently than he ever did, Heero told himself, and shook his head in answer as Duo's brows drew together and his smile faded -- Heero imposed a sense of dispassion over himself as they walked into what had to be, judging from the scent of coffee and a refrigerator, a break room.

Une stopped, facing a tall man whose thin shoulders and unbalanced posture spoke a lack of martial training.  "Durstang, I thought I'd find you here."

The man started in surprised, then hissed as the sudden movement slopped steaming liquid over the rim of his cup and onto his hand.  "Director, er -- good morning," he said, setting the cup down and grabbing a napkin to mop at the spill.  "I was just... "  He trailed off as he turned around to throw the napkin away and caught sight of Heero and Duo.  "What can I do for you, Director?"

"Maxwell and Yuy are our two newest agents.  You'll be working with Maxwell.  Since Noin is out today, I'd like you to take them by Martje so she can get started on their paperwork, then show them through our facilities.  They'll probably like the simulators especially. Gentlemen," Une finished with a nod to Heero and Duo, "a good morning to you.  I'll leave you in Durstang's hands."

The man's faintly worried expression relaxed in a smile as Une left.  "She really has a way of appearing when I least expect it," he said by way of explanation, and threw the damp napkin in the trash.  He wore a shoulder harness for a left-hand draw.  "I'm Chas," he said, and held out his right hand.

Duo met the proffered hand first and shook it. "Duo, then.  Have you worked here long?"

Durstang nodded, picking up his mug after Heero forestalled a handshake with a nod.  "Lucrezia and Sally and I were the first to join.  The director told you I used to work for White Fang, right?"  While Duo confirmed that, Heero watched Durstang study the two of them before he asked, "You two are associates of Chang's?"

With a grin, Duo said, "Was it the age, the height, or badass attitudes which tipped you off?"

Apologetically, Durstang said, "The ages -- and the timing.  Lucrezia knew Chang in the wars, so with him being a Gundam pilot, and with other Gundams having helped out in the Mariemaia situation, and with new agents showing up who are his age... "

"Man, I've got to be the only person in the universe who's looking forward to getting older. No more weird looks then." Duo declared as Durstang ushered them out of the coffee room and through the rows of cubicles.  In some, people more casually dressed than Durstang studied computer screens or typed: probably the analysts or their assistants.  Other cubicles were empty, not even filled with a desk -- an expanding organization indeed.

"Age doesn't help with that," Durstang said in a doleful tone.  "My wife gives me those all the time.  -- Martje, good morning," Durstang greeted the receptionist Duo had spoken to earlier.

"These are the director's two newest agents?" the woman asked cheerfully.  "Glad to have you with us.  This should take just a moment.  One of you have a seat there," she said, indicating a chair placed to the side of her desk.  She adjusted a digital camera mounted on her monitor to face the chair squarely.  When Duo sat, she moved her hands back to her keyboard. "Name and identification number?"

"Duo Maxwell and -- " Heero saw his hand brush past his jacket in what looked like a restless gesture; but it was the pocket in which Duo typically kept his wallet.  With a break perceptible probably to Heero alone of those present, Duo said lightly, " -- I don't have one.  Not an officially real one, anyway. I have several, but all the records have all been faked."

"Neither do I." Heero watched surprise flicker over Durstang's and Martje's expressions.  He said flatly, to stall any inquiries, "We're both orphans."

Despite the questions that left unanswered, the finality in his tone was enough to close Durstang's mouth and keep Martje from saying anything but, "I see. That's something I can take care of for you, then, when I also file the independent minor's claims. I'm guessing you're about the age of Mr. Chang?"

"Yes."  Duo caught Heero's gaze and gave Heero one of his lopsided smiles; Heero felt his own mouth relaxing in response before he looked away and said, "Is that all?"

Martje pressed a button on her keyboard; the camera flashed.  She said, "Not quite. It's your turn, now, Mr. -- "

"Heero Yuy," he said, taking the seat Duo vacated.

"Really," Martje said, surprised. "Your parents -- "  She caught herself short and flushed.  "I'm sorry."

"I didn't know them," Heero replied with a shrug.  Not that they'd been responsible for his name even so, but that explanation was one he was not interested in giving.

"I'm so sorry," she repeated.  Obviously bothered by the faux pas, she dropped the pencil she was handing Duo along with a piece of paper.  Duo caught it before it could hit the surface of her desk.  "Oh, thank you," she said, flustered, then continued more calmly, "If you'll fill this out, please, Mr. Maxwell.  And -- "  A moment of typing, a flash of the camera, and Heero was handed a similar paper and pen. "If you'll fill this out, Mr. Yuy."

Durstang chatted idly with Martje as Heero filled in the questions on the paper.  Address, height, weight, hair and eye color, blood type: all were easily answered.  Birth date. . . . He hesitated, then put down "April 5" and the year; he supposed the date of his arrival to earth would serve, since that marked the first time references to him -- even if they didn't know who he was -- had appeared in other records than J's own, once he'd started attacking various targets.  And birth involved appearing in records for the first time.  Place of birth... L1, as far as he knew.  That went under the country/colony designation; he left the line for city/colony number blank, and wondered how Duo was finding these questions.  A glance at him showed Duo, his expression closed, moving his pencil methodically down the page.  Heero looked back at his own paper.

Next of kin... It would have to be Duo.  The same for his first emergency contact; Relena became the second.  He wondered whom Wufei had listed, then read through the bottom half of the page and all of the small print on back about the nondisclosure agreement, annual physical and psychological examinations, and weapons carrying permissions -- which depended upon passing a range exam first, a thought that made him snort mentally; Odin and then J had tested him more thoroughly and under more severe conditions than any shooting range could offer -- and signed.

"Done," he said laconically, handing the paper to the receptionist a moment before Duo finished reading over his responses and passed the paper along to Martje.  Heero took a breath.  The world didn't exactly feel different around him, but he wasn't a civilian any longer.  He wasn't exactly a soldier either -- at best the Preventers could be considered paramilitary -- but all the same, this put him in a position to protect the peace that had cost him Wing.  He knew he'd sleep better tonight.

"All set!  Now back to the circus?" Duo asked with a grin to Durstang.

"So I'm a Ringmaster?" Durstang said, sounding resigned. "I suppose that's better than a clown."

Martje gave each of them a card, though she had to wait until Duo stopped snickering to give him his. He said, "I wouldn't bet on it. I've known a clown who could kick twenty OZzie ass on a bad day -- pretty dangerous characters, clowns. Never know what to expect from them."

Durstang gave Duo a doubtful smile.  He wasn't quite sure, Heero suspected, whether Duo was simply exaggerating for the sake of the humor or spoke with a grain of truth.  Martje interjected before Durstang could reply, saying, "Almost but not quite.  I need to ask you two a few questions for the independent minor's claims."

"Why don't I go grab some more coffee and come back in a couple minutes, in that case?  Can I get anyone else a cup while I'm at it?" Durstang said.

"I'll have one," Duo said. "Black's fine."

Heero glanced at his Preventers ID before using its clip to fix it to his shirt.  "What do you want to know?" he asked Martje as Durstang walked away.

The receptionist seated herself at her computer again and retrieved a file with a few taps on the keyboard.  "How long have you been responsible for yourself?"

"Since April of 195," Heero said.

A glance at Duo showed him looking as if he'd bitten a lemon.  "I'll say the same thing."  He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and then added reluctantly, "Most recently, anyway."

"And your income derives from what sources?"

"Since the war, odd jobs. This job," Heero said.

Beside him, Duo nodded. "Yeah, my own efforts.  No trust fund here.  Although I guess I'd still want to work, even if I did have a trust fund.  Can you imagine lying around all day, doing nothing? That'd be the pits."

"Oh, I could," Martje said fervently enough to make Duo chuckle.  "And I'd travel, see the sights; I haven't done that much. Alright.  Did you file tax returns for the past year?"

"Yeah," Duo replied with a grimace.  "Do you need copies of those?  They're tied to one of my fake identification numbers."

Martje paused for a moment, then said, "Yes, you had better send it to me; it will make things easier, especially if you filed them under your own name?"  At Duo's nod, she asked, "How about you, Mr. Yuy?"

Heero shook his head once. "No.  I didn't... formally register my employment with any local governing agencies."

Martje looked only somewhat puzzled by his choice of words, while Duo looked at him with an all-too sharp expression.  Heero tried not to scowl as Martje responded.  Duo was probably going to want to ask questions about this. "Alright.  Mr. Maxwell, I think you'll be set without too much trouble, given the documentation your tax records will provide. Mr. Yuy, yours may be a bit more difficult.  Are there any adults who could testify to your independent status?"

The thought of trying to find J to ask him this, let alone getting him to agree to lend his name to any sort of legal proceedings, had as much chance of success as Heero suspected he had of getting a bathroom free of Duo's hair.  "N -- " he began, before Duo interrupted him with a hand to his arm.

"Hey, Heero, Howard could help if you needed him to.  He's known you just about as long as he's known me."

" -- Yes," Heero said, grudgingly.  Now he'd have to allow Duo's questions with good grace.

Duo smiled, punched him lightly on the biceps, and said to Martje, "I can give you his contact info. And get yours for the tax records."

Heero studied Duo thoughtfully as he swapped the information with Martje.  The mission he'd set for himself -- its parameters had just developed some definition, he thought.  He needed to know more than what he could fill in between the lines of what Duo had said to Martje, especially if he were going to field questions for them again. Now, however, he had some ideas as to what he might ask.


Duo rubbed his arm absently while Sally put away his blood sample.  "Shouldn't you be on a mission, though, instead of doing this?  I thought you'd joined up as an agent, not a house doc."

"Well," Sally said cheerfully, sealing the vial of blood and labeling it, "I should be.  There was a hitch, however, and the director asked me to take a look at the two of you in favor of letting the police docs at you -- "

Ignoring the twinge from his arm, Duo shrugged back into his shirt.  At least she hadn't made him keep the stupid hospital gown on once she freed him from that mistaken excuse for a soft-tissue scanner.  He hadn't worn one of those since -- since --  His mind supplied him with the memory and he choked back a laugh.  Since he and Heero had gotten it on right after Heero'd hauled him out of that OZ clink. They hadn't left much of the gown for salvage afterwards.  At least he'd had injuries on which to blame the resulting stiffness.  "What kind of hitch?" he asked to distract himself. Explaining a hard-on to Sally was not on his list of top things to do.

Shutting the refrigerator door, Sally straightened, slipping her hands into the pockets of the white coat she was wearing over her Preventers uniform.  With her braids, it made her look like a kid playing dress-up. Duo weighted the temptation to tell her that after she grinned at him as he finished buttoning up his shirt. "Would you take a bet that Une has already said something to you about filling out forms?"

Duo gave her a curious look. "No, I wouldn't.  Why?"  He slipped the tie Sally had provided him off the end of his braid and fished his own elastic from a pants pocket, twisting it around several times before letting loose of it.

Sally's eyes sparkled with a rueful amusement.  "I thought so.  That's only the tip of the iceberg, as you'll soon see.  Martje is coming up with more forms than L4's got resource satellites. She's devoted to Une, and when Une said that a well-written form would be one more weight off her mind... "

Duo leaned back, bracing his hands on the examination table.  The weird paper napkin on top of it crackled as he moved.  "Let me guess.  You used the wrong form?"

"Worse," Sally said solemnly.  "I used the wrong version of a form."

Duo couldn't keep a grin off his face even after they stopped laughing.  "No need for bad guys to hamper us in the pursuit of our duties. We can take care of that for ourselves! So you got stuck here to fill out paperwork, huh, and Heero and I are creating more for you?"

Sally waved that away with a brush of her hand as she sat on the chair behind the room's small medical terminal.  "It's not that bad.  You Gundam pilots are an interesting set.  And I agree with the director when she said she'd prefer to keep your records as close to our chests as possible.  I did Wufei's physical, too."

"Heh. I bet that was fun," Duo said.  Sally gave him a bland look before she returned to scanning the data output from the earlier tests.  He shifted restlessly.  Examination tables made him feel like a kid, the way his feet couldn't touch the floor. Too bad there was nothing interesting enough to bother stealing in compensation.  "So, we done yet?"

"Just a few questions left," Sally said absently, pressing the keyboard to access some other sort of information, Duo guessed.  When she didn't immediately continue, Duo cleared his throat pointedly.  "Yes, sorry.  You're just -- it's so interesting."  She finally looked away and smiled. "Can't blame a doctor for being fascinated with her own field.  Just a few questions more and then we can send you off to catch up with Heero."

"Fire away, doc."

Sally scooped up a pen and the clipboard that held the questionnaire he had filled out while Heero had been getting his exam.  "You.. left your parents' medical history information blank."  Her voice was neutral, and Duo hated it immediately and intensely.  "You don't have any knowledge about that?"

"No," he said, practice keeping him from cutting the word off before it got out of his mouth. "I'm afraid not," he added, knowing the words sounded careless.  That was just the effect he desired from them.  He watched her face carefully as he fielded the next few questions with an apparent lack of self-consciousness, though he considered several responses to each of her questions, searching for the ones with the least probability of leading to any comment.

There was no way he could have avoided the last question of that set, however; he saw it coming and knew he wasn't going to be able to evade it.  "... and then she said it was thanks to his being a newtype. You've heard of newtypes, I take it?"

They were both dancing around each other verbally now, Duo knew; Sally was trying to close in on him without triggering a mine, and he was in the midst of that minefield.  "Hasn't everyone?" he asked.  Thing was, if he were careful, he could avoid those and lay a few of his own making. "Tell you the truth, I feel sorta sorry for 'em."

'Them' -- that was his fuse. Sally followed after it, as he had hoped that she would. "It's pretty different on earth."  That was her message to him.  He didn't even blink, maintaining his relaxed posture as she continued.  "I've heard it can be pretty tough for them on the colonies."

He smiled, controlling his response within a hairsbreadth of the perfect register of sympathy for some hypothetical 'other' mixed with the willingness to oblige a medical professional. "You've got that right.  I knew this kid -- " he made an expression of commingled sorrow and distaste.

Sally commiserated appropriately.  "I'm very sorry.  I hope he wasn't a relative of yours."  That was a good one on her part.  Any answer he made put him within reach of another mine.

"Just another street kid, y'know?" he answered.  "We saw those things all the time.  Not too unusual."  That was it; he could see it in her eyes: the play for sympathy was almost always effective, and it wasn't like she didn't have the information already to have pieced that detail together for herself.  "Glad I'm not like that."  That was his finger triggering the fuse.  Truth and dust tossed in the eyes together.

"You must have led a charmed life."  At his snorted response, she signaled her defeat with another question.  "You said you didn't have any allergies.  Do you have any tolerances to particular medications?"

Duo relaxed his alertness, pleased with himself.  He could still amuse a mark with the best of the L2 hands.  "Standard interrogation drugs," he replied immediately; this one was an easy question.  Half the OZ officers in the Sphere already knew the answer. "Thiopental sodium, sodium amytal, the entire emphalituate class, psilobarbital, and trihyolapten. Any of those'll induce anaphylaxis." The pen scratched his answer down.

"What about sedatives?"

"The usual benzodiazephines and barbituates.  Alprazolam, diazepham, chlorazepate, ativan, librium, amobarbital, alurate, butisol," he said, rolling the names off his tongue with a little nostalgic relish. One thing Duo regretted about peace was the way it reduced the number of ways he could die.  Unless some idiot was loose on the streets and injecting people regularly with a concoction of any of his susceptibilities, peace had cost him several ways out.  When plague couldn't even give you the runs, knowing that someone else out there could knock you on your ass one final time was reassuring.  And it suited him that those means had been given to him through a man's hands -- no natural immunity on his part.  G truly fit the nickname Duo'd given him.

"On any medications?"

"No," he said, giving her a little smile.  "Do you think I should be?"

Sally chuckled appreciatively and moved on.  More questions and more scratching of the pen on paper.  Duo stopped paying much attention to them.  He responded automatically -- his mouth rarely required supervision from his brain for this sort of routine questioning.  It was perfectly capable of operating on its own most of the time without embarrassing him or giving away anything he didn't want it to.  He slipped habitually into the charming persona that had served him well more than once during the war, and before, when he'd used his grin and casual attitude to distract the plugs whose wallets he'd dived.

His mind was wandering somewhere on L2, wondering if the shopping district on the Circle was still the best place to lift purses, when Sally said something that jolted him back to the little doctor's office.

"Come again?"

"You were pretty fortunate to have survived the war so unscathed."

Duo couldn't help it. He laughed.  Hard.  "Are you kidding?" he said when he caught his breath.  "I probably got more beat up than anyone but Heero."

Sally pulled the tip of her pen out of her mouth in surprise. "Really? The pair of you are in such good shape, I would have guessed you never got injured."

"Hospitals were our playgrounds," Duo informed her, still chuckling.  When she continued to give him a dubious look, he added, "Heero blew himself up once.  He was in a coma for over a month."

Sally blinked.  "Was he?  I'll have to look at his soft tissue scans more closely, I think.  After being down that long, we'd normally expect to see more brain damage."

"Huh.  That might explain a bit about Heero," Duo said cheekily.

"What injuries have you had?"

He began to reel them off, his thoughts strolling again to the Circle.  He hadn't been back there this past year on L2; Hilde operated on a different colony in the cluster, and the one time she'd had a project there, he had been busy doing some salvage for her with Howard's group, so hadn't even been asked to go.  Maybe they'd patched up that broken sewage grate on 129th Street by now.  That'd lose someone a good hidey, if so.  But given the rate at which L2 completed noncritical infrastructure repairs. . . . Sally drew his attention back as her voice took on a recognizable "winding-down" cadence.

"Just one more question, then," Sally said, making another mark on her clipboard.  "Do you use drugs?"

"Nope.  Not my scene" he said, a little surprised she bothered with the question.  "Are you going to ask me if I'm sexually active, too?"

"I should hope so," she responded, winking.  "Mr. Yuy would be terribly disappointed if you just lie there."

Taken off guard, Duo laughed.  There was a reason he'd liked Sally.

"Alright then," she said, putting the last punctuation on what she was writing.  "I think you can leave now.  But hurry, before I think of something else to do with you to distract me from those waiting forms."  She winked as she stood and opened the door for him.

"Sorry, doc, you ain't my type."


Heero pressed the button to retrieve the target paper, passing it to the arms instructor, who Durstang had introduced as a member of the Bremen police with whom the Preventers shared the range.  "Not bad," the man mouthed before Heero removed his earmuffs and protective glasses. "Let's go back to the others."

Duo had arrived while Heero was shooting, and was chatting with Durstang.  Their conversation broke off as Heero approached; Duo's quick glance flicked from the sheet to Heero.  Reaching up to clasp his hands behind his head, Duo used the movement to cloak a thumbs-up gesture as he leaned against the wall.  Heero shifted his attention to Durstang, who was staring at the sheet in open puzzlement.  "All disabling shots?" the older agent asked.

"Yes," said the instructor. "I'm passing him; the accuracy and speed make him one of the better marksmen you guys have."

Durstang said, "But I thought you were trained as a soldier, Yuy?"

Heero shrugged.  "A Preventer isn't the same thing."  To the instructor, he said, "Thank you."

"No problem, kid," the portly man said, eyeing Duo and the agent's badge clipped to his jacket. "Durstang, what is this? You guys cradle-robbing all of a sudden?  First that other kid, now these two -- what's with?  Are we going to have to bust you for illegal employment of minors?"

Taking the sheet from the instructor and folding it, Durstang said, "Not up for public consumption, Mikeal.  It's legit, though.  But," he added with a grin, "if I told you, I'd have to kill you."

"Since when are we the public?" the policeman grumbled.  "Fine, then, I won't ask. But some of the other guys might not be so polite as me."

"Yeah, you're a pattern of etiquette," Durstang agreed.  "Duo, you ready to go next?"

"Sure," Duo said, lowering his hands and accepting the gun from the instructor.  "You want me to start by field stripping and cleaning this, right?"  When the instructor nodded, he took a seat at the table Heero had used earlier for the same purpose.

Duo, Heero decided as he watched, didn't really care for guns all that much.  He handled the Baretta a little too casually, though he was thorough in his attention to it.  But when Heero noticed that all the parts were being placed into a geometric pattern in relation to each other, he knew Duo had to be operating by some unknown set of rules probably designed for little more than keeping him engaged with a task otherwise found tedious: so many seconds allotted to remove each component, the amount of pressure applied while cleaning perhaps derived from a random calculation that made sense only to Duo.  There was method to it, that Heero could tell; but it wasn't one that involved more than nominal respect for the weapon.  No wonder Duo hadn't been bothered when the ammo had ended up being packed with the flatware.

"Good," the instructor said after a moment's hesitation when Duo had finished.  Heero couldn't tell if the pause was due to his having picked up on what Duo was doing, or some other cause.  "Let's see how you handle it on the range."  Heero flicked his glance towards the square of paper Durstang held, then back to Duo to see if the other had caught it.  Duo's mouth quirked at one corner as he nodded, then followed the instructor past the sliding doors to the range.

"What was that about?" Durstrang asked, focusing on the two on the far side of the glass wall as they pulled on earmuffs.

"What?" Heero asked, observing the way Duo kept his shoulders and feet in alignment without even seeming to think about it.  The florescent lighting gleamed dully on Duo's hair as he averted his face from watching the target paper the instructor sent out.

"That look you gave him."

"That," Heero said, jerking his eyes away as soon as he realized he'd stopped analyzing and started admiring the sight.  Looking at Durstang, he said, "He's going to try to match his shots with mine."

"He is?"  Durstang's eyebrows lifted in surprise.

Heero's gaze slid back to the range.  In front of them, the instructor touched Duo's shoulder to give him the go-ahead; Duo raised his arms and brought his head around in the same moment, reeling off five shots in quick succession.  "He's good at calculating distances," Heero said.

"You learned that while training with him?"

Heero set aside the urge to frown.  The question was strange; but then, Durstang was going to be Duo's partner for at least a while, and should know something about Duo's capabilities; who knew what Une would tell him.  "He's the best pilot of us all," he said in explanation.  On the range, the instructor pressed the recall button for the target sheet.

"He was the pilot of 01?" Durstang asked.

This time Heero did frown, irritated by the assumption that his more public actions somehow made him a more skillful pilot. "No. I'm 01, and he's better. He was 02."   Duo and the instructor conferred over the target sheet for a moment; with their backs to Heero, he couldn't read lips to figure out what was going on.  But moments later, a fresh target sheet was being sent down the line.

"Oh, the one with the cloaking device?  That makes sense," Durstang concluded. "Pair up the stealthy pilot with a hacker."

"He's a hacker, too," Heero said.  "Better at phreaking, though."  Duo turned his back on the range and waved at them through the glass, holding the gun in his left hand.  Figuring out what was going to happen, Heero paid closer attention and -- yes. Maybe it was just because of reflection on the window-glass, but a split second before the instructor touched him, Duo had tensed in readiness.  Perhaps it wasn't just reflexes and his spatial sense that had made him so good a pilot.

"And you'd have to be one yourself to evaluate the difference," Durstang said without further comment.  He hadn't noticed, in that case.  Durstang continued, "Nor is Chang a slouch, either.  The man's a good fighter, knows more than a conference of professors, independent as all hell.  They certainly weren't cutting corners, were they, when the colonies sent you five out."

Heero thought back to some of his training, and the exams, and the training.  "No."  Anything for the colonies.  That was why he didn't want to live on L1 again. L1 had demanded the perfect soldier, and they'd gotten exactly what they wanted. Going there was like seeing the parts that made him himself on display, to be turned over and picked through like old rubble.  He wanted the perfect soldier to be built over with something entirely different. Then maybe he'd stop thinking of Wing.

Looking at the second target sheet, the instructor thumped Duo enthusiastically on the back, then jerked his head in the direction of Durstang and Heero, and walked towards the doors leading off the range.

 "Off on the right shoulder," Duo announced as he and the instructor neared.


"Off? That was pretty damn accurate in my book.  Damn, Chas, your director's pulling together some crew," the instructor said to Durstang.

"Just leave the well-being of the Sphere in our hands," Durstang agreed amiably.  "You'll do the forms, Mikeal?"

"Yeah, yeah, leave the paperwork to the overworked city employee, you bastard," the instructor said without rancor.  To Heero and Duo, he added, "Nice to meet you both.  Stop back by anytime -- maybe we could get a little competition going, some friendly betting."

There was something suspicious in Duo's grin, to Heero's eyes at least, when he said, "I'd enjoy that."

Heero frowned, suspecting that he would.

on to part 4

back to fiction

back to saro and merellia fiction

back home