Disclaimer: GW and its characters, unfortunately, do not belong to me. (The show would have contained a bajillion yaoi hints if it did XD) Neither do the lyrics to the song "Walking In My Shoes"-- they're by Depeche Mode.
Warning: This is a shounen ai fic. If you don't like yaoi/gay stuff, go away. Read something else. By another author, preferably, since 99.9% of the shit I write is yaoi o_<;
Notes: I haven't done an old-fashioned 1x2x1 in quite awhile ^.^; My current obsession is 1x5x1 *__* Blame The Water Warrior for bullying me into writing my first ichigo fic a couple years ago, and Maldoror for writing her own awesome ichigo goodness. But I saw some good 1x2 fanart online and thought it'd be nice to give the old couple a whirl. There's another 1x2 I'm working on, too, but this one has a more serious twist. I'm going about it the same way I did with "Seven AM", having this odd obsession to focus on the changes and lifestyles the pilots might experience some years after the war. Oh, and as always, "Endless Waltz" never happened =p No Preventers, etc. Enjoy ^_^ But be prepared for angst.


Chapter 1

      "Duo?" Quatre paused, pen poised over a document to be signed-- one of the many papers scattered across his desk, despite the obviously brand new computer not a foot from his elbow --and blinked over his reading glasses at the young man before him. "I haven't heard from him in.." he frowned slightly, "well, at least a couple of months."
      Heero felt a frown tug at his mouth. A couple of months. He'd known the two pilots had been somewhat close during the war, and had been aware that they'd kept in touch right afterwards, but he'd assumed they'd lost contact with each other over the years. Because while Quatre made it a point to contact each pilot at least once a year-- usually around the holidays --to see how they were doing, Duo's random letters and phone calls to numbers that were supposed to be unlisted had petered off and eventually stopped almost a year ago. Heero had wondered at the sudden silence, but not thought too much about it. Duo was an enigma unto himself, and even Heero, who had spent the most time with the cocky pilot of Deathscythe, was never sure what Duo would decide to do next. He'd assumed that since messages coming his way had stopped, Duo had also cut off communication with the other three pilots. But evidently he'd been wrong.
      Two months.
      Heero was still frowning, and Quatre hesitated, lifting his brows in inquiry. "Don't get me wrong," he said gently, reaching up to remove his glasses, "I'm happy to see you, and am delighted you came all this way to drop in. I apologize that you caught me at such a busy time in the day. But is it Duo you're really looking for?"
      "...Yes." No reason to lie. Quatre had already figured it out.
      Quatre's lips pursed a little in thought. "You haven't heard from him, either, huh?"
      "..." Heero was somewhat reluctant to admit it, but if he wanted answers, he would have to present all the facts. "Not in a year," he said shortly.
      Quatre was obviously surprised. Though over the years he had learned to control his expressions and emotions to survive the business world left to him by his father, Heero could tell by the very slight widening of his cerulean eyes that he'd just caught the young executive off guard with his answer.
      "Well..." Quatre paused, looking down at the paper under his hand as if for inspiration. "Don't think that he's angry with you, Heero. You know Duo. He's... well, I guess 'flighty' isn't the right word. But you never know what to expect from him. Most likely he's wrapped his mind around some new challenge or other and hasn't had the time. It's not like he's totally ignoring you, I mean. I don't think Wufei or Trowa have heard from him in quite some time, either. But then," he added with a small, rueful smile, "they're not the pen-pal type. I only receive word from them when I write them."
      True enough. Heero himself had contacted the other two pilots at least twice since the war, and they had responded. But they had not sent him anything other than that. It didn't bother him. That was the way they were. And he wasn't really the "pen-pal" type, either. But it did bother him-- just a little --that Duo had suddenly stopped his annoying attempts to keep track of him. Funny that Duo's unexpected letters and phone calls at all hours of the night and day had been barely tolerated on his end with thin patience and irritation, but now that all communication had stopped, he almost missed the cheerful voice on the other end of the phone, or the spidery handwriting scrawled across a paper dotted with dark oil stains... and occasionally blood.

      He caught Quatre watching him thoughtfully, blue eyes keenly skimming his face, and ducked behind his old soldier face out of habit. Quatre saw the retreat and gave a quiet sigh, lowering his eyes back to the paper. He signed it quickly and set it aside before putting down the pen and clasping his hands on the desk, giving Heero his undivided attention.
      He'd grown since the war, but he was still a little on the small side. He had inherited his father's stubbornness and business, but not his imposing figure. It could be both a drawback and a trump card at times. People tended to take the slight Arabian less seriously than they should. Quatre had learned quickly to use that to his advantage, like a pool shark waiting for the right cocky player to come his way. The chair that had been his father's looked too big for him at first glance, until one was actually seated across from him and looking him in the eye. Quatre's mind was sharp as a whip; the instinctive skills that had made him the strategist for the five pilots during the war had blossomed with age and use, making him someone Heero would not want to cross on or off the battlefield. Despite his small stature, he seemed like a giant when he was seated calm and composed behind his father's desk, nailing someone to their chair with piercing blue eyes that seemed to look right into one's soul. Not many could stand that steady gaze for long without finding some excuse to avert their eyes, but Heero looked into those eyes as if they were the barrel of a gun, and didn't flinch.
      It spoke volumes for Quatre's strength of character that he did not avert his eyes from Heero's own intense stare. Few could hold that gaze without wanting to hide in a dark corner somewhere. "You're worried about him." It wasn't quite a question.
      "Aren't you?" Heero shot back tonelessly.
      Quatre tilted his head slightly in a "perhaps" gesture. "A little," he admitted quietly. "But not much. Duo can take care of himself. And like I said, I think he's just busy with some new project. He'll probably contact us again when he's through."
      He said "project" to be polite. Unless, Heero reflected, Duo had never told Quatre what it was he did. But surely Quatre had been able to piece together little clues and come to his own conclusions. Whether he had or not, Heero didn't bother to illuminate him. Heero didn't approve of the path Duo had chosen; a soft-hearted, law-abiding man like Quatre certainly would not, and would more than likely try to talk some sense into Duo.
      ..Which would have about the same effect as beating one's head against a concrete wall. Duo was, in many ways, like a stray cat. He did not come when called. He did not move aside for anyone unless it was in his best interest. And he certainly did not do anything someone else told him to do unless he had not already thought of it and had decided it would be a "fun thing" for him to do. Heero had made this analogy with some dry amusement after having unwillingly adopted the skinny scar-ridden tabby that prowled around his block at night.
      Quatre was studying him speculatively again. After a moment he seemed to reach some sort of decision and opened a drawer in his desk. He dug out a scrap of paper and held it out to the other man. "I'm afraid I don't have Howard's number.." So perhaps he did know. "..but this is Hilde's."
      "Schreibaker?" Heero took the paper and glanced at the name and number scribbled there in Quatre's neat handwriting. Duo had mentioned her name a few times in his letters and calls-- usually in conjunction with his own, saying things like "Hil and I went to the movies.." "Hil had a fit when I.." --which had given Heero the impression that the two had maybe started a business or something together. He didn't realize until he was staring at the paper that he'd been refusing all along to accept the possibility that Duo and Hilde had been actually living together.
      When he glanced back up at Quatre, the other man was looking at him keenly, as if reading his mind. "I'm not sure how much he told you about him and her," he said carefully. "And while I'm not sure it's really my place to tell you..."
      "Tell me anyway," Heero suggested in a voice that clearly stated that it was not a polite request.
      Quatre sighed quietly, scratching absently at his jaw, eyes fixed on the paper in Heero's hand. "They hooked up after the war. She found him, I think. Anyway, from what I could tell from the little I could drag out of him, they moved in together and seemed to be doing all right for themselves. He seemed happy enough, anyway, though he wouldn't talk about their relationship, if there even was one. I didn't press it because it wasn't my business. I do know that awhile before Duo's letters stopped, any mention of her was gone completely. Everything he mentioned doing, he worded as if he did them alone. I have no idea what happened... but maybe it has something to do with his sudden silence."
      Heero looked back down at the name on the paper, frowning slightly. A bad break-up? Was that the reason Duo hadn't written or called in so long? He'd never taken Duo to be the kind of guy who would let something like that keep him down for long. Duo Maxwell was the epitome of resilience. A gang of OZ soldiers beating the shit out of him hadn't wiped the grin off his face or destroyed his determination to get himself free and wreak havoc. Surely no slip of a girl could have brought him down so low that he had cut off all ties with his old partners.
      "Call her, if you wish," Quatre advised, gesturing towards the paper. "I haven't, yet. I didn't want to poke my nose where it doesn't belong. But I know you. Once you set out to do something, nothing can stop you. She might have the answer you're looking for."
      Heero nodded curtly, tucking the paper into one of the many convenient pockets of his jacket. The gun thrust in the back of his pants shifted as he moved to rise from the chair. "Arigato."
      Quatre's voice stopped him as he was heading for the office door. He turned his head to face the blonde's concerned eyes.
      "Would it be too nosey of me to ask why you seem so determined to locate him?"
      Heero didn't answer for a moment as he debated that. "I'll tell you," he said at last, voice neutral, "when I figure that out myself."
      Quatre nodded slowly, though there was a hint of sadness to his eyes. "Goodbye, Heero. Take care."
      Heero turned away and exited the office without a backwards glance.

I would tell you about the things they put me through
The pain I've been subjected to
But the Lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But I think your pulse would start to rush

      Heero tried the number on the little scrap of paper five times in the next two days without success. Rather than wait it out, or simply drop the search, he put his hacking skills to use-- they were a little rusty, but still strong --and located the ex-OZ soldier for himself.
      She was on a mining colony, in a tiny but clean hut of a house squished between a factory and another house just like hers except that it was inhabited by a horde of young children, if the toys scattered all over the lawn were anything to go off of.
      Heero wasn't quite sure what to expect when he rapped on the aluminum paneling of the screen door and she emerged from the shadowed hall, but the heated glare that followed soon after the initial surprise put him on guard.
      "Well," she said at last after they'd stood in a stare down for almost a full minute with nothing but the screen door between them, "you're the last person I expected to see around here."
      Her tone and her eyes were hostile, and Heero shifted unconsciously into a loosened stance that would give him the opportunity to dodge or block a blow he half expected to come at him-- screen door or no. She was glaring at him as if he'd murdered her entire extended family and then shown up on her doorstep for tea.
      Heero decided to cut right to the chase. "Is Duo here?"
      That, evidently, had something to do with her ire, because her eyes only narrowed further. "No," she said a little acidly. "But don't you already know that?"
      Heero frowned at her. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be here," he pointed out in a flat voice.
      Hilde glared at him for several more tense moments before abruptly turning her back on him and disappearing down the shadowed front hall. "Shut the door behind you," she called sharply over her shoulder. "You're letting the bugs in."
      Heero hesitated before pulling open the screen door and stepping inside, pushing the solid wooden door shut behind himself. His hand met cold metal as the door swung shut, and he glanced it over quickly. The inside of the door was covered in a sheet of steel. Heero's eyes darted to the closest window as he took a few cautious steps into the hallway. Barred.
      He followed the sound of plates clinking and entered the small kitchen/dining room. Hilde had her back to him; she was standing at a shallow sink, washing dishes and practically slamming them down onto the towel laid out on the counter to dry them. Her back was stiff as a rod. Heero looked towards the small table and the two chairs and decided to stand. The window over the sink was also barred, he noted. And was that the grip of a gun he glimpsed under the table? Heero himself had done his own work to make his home secure, including guns taped under his table, his bed, and his bathroom sink, so these things did not really surprise or bother him. But they did make him wonder if they might have something to do with Duo's disappearance. Maybe Hilde wasn't the reason. Had Duo dug himself a pit he couldn't climb out of?
      He turned his scrutiny on the young woman at the sink.
      He almost hadn't recognized her when she'd first opened the door. He'd only seen her once or twice during the war, but had ingrained her features onto his memory without even thinking about it. She had worked for OZ at the time, and was a possible threat. But the girl he remembered had still had traces of baby fat, with wide clear eyes and shortly-cropped dark hair. She'd grown tall as she'd matured; she was just slightly taller than Heero. She'd let her hair grow out, as well. It had been tied up in a sloppy bun, but much of it had escaped to trail down her back, just touching the bottom of her shoulder blades. The eyes that had glared at him through the screen were not the wide eyes of youth he remembered, full of hopes and noble dreams. Something had changed her, made her harder. Her eyes were now shadowed with distrust and weariness. She'd had a hard time, after the war. Seeing her like this made Heero wonder with some worry how much Duo's own eyes, dancing in his mind's eye with mischievous goodwill, had changed.
      "Duo left," Hilde said abruptly, her short words accompanied by the clang of a pot she set a little too firmly on the countertop. "I haven't seen him since."
      It was obviously a touchy subject for her, but Heero was adamant. "When did he leave?"
      "It'll be a year next Tuesday," she said, voice a little softer. Her shoulders hunched a little with obvious pain she was unable to completely hide under her anger and resentment.
      The polite thing to say would have been 'I'm sorry'. But Heero wasn't, really. He didn't know Hilde. Her pain meant next to nothing to him. So the sympathetic apology didn't even occur to him. Instead he demanded, "Where did he go?"
      Hilde turned to glare at him once more, all traces of vulnerability gone. "What the hell do you care?" she shouted, startling him a little with her ferocity. "It's your goddamn fault he's gone, anyway--" she cut herself off suddenly and turned her back on him stiffly. She took a shuddering breath, dipping her hands into the sudsy water to regain her composure.
      Heero frowned at her back in confusion. "I don't see how Duo's leaving is my fault," he said. "I haven't heard from him in almost a year."
      "Well it is your fault," Hilde growled, still not looking at him. Her shoulders jerked as if she was clenching something hard under the water. Heero wondered if it was a knife and shifted so he was out of immediate reach. Hilde, he decided firmly, had snapped. She was making no sense whatsoever. Perhaps coming here had been a bad idea.
      "I didn't even know he was here with you," Heero admitted with a slight edge to his voice, "until two days ago."
      Hilde went still for a moment, then glanced at him over her shoulder, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you trying to tell me," she demanded softly, "that Duo didn't tell his best friend in the entire galaxy," something about the way she said that sounded mocking, "that he'd been living with me since the end of the war?"
      "He mentioned your name a few times," Heero agreed. "That was all."
      She gave a strange laugh. "Mentioned my name," she repeated, head turned away from him again. "Hilde, Hilde, you blind little idiot..."
      Heero crossed his arms over his chest. The woman was mad. Best to get what he'd come for and leave. "Where is Duo?" he repeated in a voice that called for no nonsense.
      "...Where do you think?" she sighed, sounding defeated.
      Oddly enough, that answered Heero's question.
      A brisk walk to the shuttle port and a mind-numbing ten hour flight later, he was stepping onto the streets of L2 for the first time since his childhood missions with Odin, blinking his eyes to clear away the smoke wafting from a pile of burning garbage in the alley behind a dispirited looking hut at the end of a line of similar dwellings. He remembered L2 as being a bit dispirited and run-down, but not exactly a slum. From what little he knew of Duo's past on L2-- which was actually only the fact that Duo had grown up there an orphan --he knew the colony had been ravaged by the war that had taken Duo's family from him and eventually led up to Operation Meteor years later. But most colonies had managed to find their feet after the war had ended. Some of the ones that had been hit worst were now somewhat respectable, at least.
      L2, evidently, had either not bothered to rebuild, or had never received the proper funding to do so. Heero looked around and felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. The gutters were clogged with trash, many of the streetlamps were either sputtering or out completely, and the neighborhood he now found himself in looked more like a ghetto. The houses that had survived the war were run-down, and the "houses" that had been built in between them looked more like pieces of metal and wood haphazardly welded together. There wasn't much activity on the streets, either. In fact, the busiest place on the colony seemed to be the shuttle port, where the gun at his back had felt like a heavy weight, demanding to be pulled. He'd never seen so many shifty-looking people in one place. It gave more weight to his assumptions about Duo's "job". L2 had an economy, all right. A smuggling one. And if the bars on the window back at Hilde's were anything to go off of, Duo had evidently made the mistake of conducting his business from home.
      Was it the danger to Hilde that had made him come here to carry on with his business? It would explain some of her bitterness. And maybe it could explain why he'd cut off communications; if he was in trouble, he wouldn't drag his friends into it or risk getting traced. But it didn't explain why Hilde thought Heero was to blame for Duo's sudden disappearing act.
      Heero knew in his gut that he was in the right place. Now he just had to find where on this floating chunk of scrap metal Duo actually lived. If Duo was in trouble, Heero wasn't about to risk throwing the man's name about and unintentionally making Duo the focus of someone who might be out for his blood. But a random search wasn't going to do much good, either. He didn't have much choice but to keep his eyes and ears open and hope someone let something slip. L2 was a relatively small colony. Surely there were people here who knew him, and might mention him. Or he might even catch a glimpse of the boy, though he was not that optimistic.
      He wandered the streets for a few hours-- the condition of the buildings did not improve by much --and finally obeyed his gurgling stomach and entered the first building he spotted with a crude drawing of a soup bowl and spoon painted on the dirty window.
      The lighting inside the tiny restaurant was dim, and the air was filled with smoke. It was also crowded. A quick glance at his watch showed it was just after noon by L2 time, and a lot of people had obviously had the same idea he had. The tables and benches were packed with men and women eating and talking in subdued tones; many of them were smoking cigars or hand-rolled cigarettes. Every eye flicked up to take him in suspiciously when he entered, and he had to curl his hands into fists to stop his instinctive impulse to reach for his gun.
      A thickset woman with tangled hair and a grumpy face stepped into his path, wiping her meaty hands on the front of the faded apron tied around her waist. "Just you?" she asked with a hint of impatience. She'd obviously had a long day.
      Heero considered finding another establishment; there were too many people packed into one room for his liking, and none of them looked particularly friendly. But there was also a chance he might get a clue as to Duo's whereabouts, so he nodded wordlessly.
      The waitress-- owner? cook? --jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "There's a table in the back that's not taken yet. Watch out, the chair's broken. Don't lean back in it or you'll end up on the floor. Today's menu is clam chowder and bread or hamburgers. Which will it be?"
      Heero glanced around. There were enough grease stains on the tables to cross out that second option. "Clam chowder."
      "...Coffee," he said after a moment's thought. He wasn't so sure he should trust the water here.
      She grunted in acknowledgement and shuffled off towards the kitchen. Heero made his way through the benches and found his table. A few eyes followed him. He eyed the wobbly-looking chair for a moment before pulling the table away from the wall. He picked up the chair and lifted it over the table, setting it down firmly with its back to the wall; why no one had thought to do so yet to prevent taking a backwards spill was beyond him. Someone snickered, and another person muttered something unintelligible that Heero ignored as he took a seat and laid his hands on the stained wooden tabletop, glancing around discreetly. He'd put on his soldier's mask the minute he stepped off the shuttle, and it seemed to be doing a decent job of keeping people from meeting his eyes dead on. It helped him to get a better look around the room. And with his back to the wall, his gun digging into his spine, and a window just a few feet to his left providing an emergency exit, he felt secure enough to do just that.
      The other customers had either decided he was unimportant, or didn't quite have the nerve to stare when his piercing eyes were sweeping the room. No one spared him a second glance, returning to their meals and their hushed conversations. Their voices were just low enough for Heero to have to strain his ears to catch even a few words. Mostly they seemed to be discussing mysterious shipments, shuttle times, and names. Duo's name did not come up.
      The surly waitress appeared with his food and set the bowl down with a clump that spilled a bit of the chowder onto the table. She handed over a spoon and held up a cracked mug full of steaming coffee. "Sugar?" she grunted, eyeing him. "Though you look like you take yours black."
      "No sugar," Heero said tonelessly. She snorted and set the mug down, then wandered off to check on another customer. The smell of the food reminded Heero just how hungry he was; he hadn't eaten since before he'd gone to Quatre's. He dug in, hoping the food in this place was better than the company.
      The clam chowder was watery, the bread was stale, and the coffee was strong and black as tar. It was unsuitable for human consumption in Heero's opinion, but he'd had worse. He finished it off in record time, tossed a few bills on the table, and rose to his feet. He obviously wasn't going to get any information here. He ignored the few eyes that followed him to the door, zipping up his jacket a little less than halfway, leaving enough room for him to dip his hand in and retrieve his gun from the front if his back was ever to a wall.

      He wandered around for the rest of the afternoon with no success. Duo's name was never mentioned, and he saw no one with a two-foot braid and a devil-may-care grin in the dark streets of L2. He sought out a cheap hotel, the cleanest he could find, and rented a room for the night.
      The sheets were threadbare, the mattress saggy and stained; the sink had a ring of grime around the rim, the shower was covered in mildew and rust, and the room in general was cramped and smelly. But the locks on the door were decent enough, though a quick inspection of the old wood determined that a few strong kicks could bring it crashing in.
      He slept with his gun under his pillow that night.

Now I'm not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things I do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

      He woke up with a start at a relentless pounding that sent adrenaline rushing through his bloodstream. He was out of bed, gun aimed at the door, before he was fully awake. Blinking quickly to clear his sight, he realized belatedly that the banging was actually coming from the door. Someone on the other side was pounding on it hard enough to make the chain lock rattle, though the thick deadbolt above it held firm.
      Heero frowned, staying where he was. It could be one of the innocent hotel staff, but Heero was willing to bet money it wasn't. He flicked a glance at his watch. Almost six thirty in the morning. Had one of those suspicious stares he'd earned yesterday belonged to someone who decided he was easy pickings as a newcomer?
      "Wake up in there," someone yelled from the other side. "This is your wake up call!"
      Wake up call? He hadn't asked for a...
      Slowly the familiarity of the voice sank in.
      He was across the cramped room in two strides, throwing the deadbolt aside and yanking the door open wide to stare blankly at the grinning man standing in the hallway.

      The first thing he noticed was that Duo still wore his hair in a ridiculously long braid.
      The second thing he noticed was that Duo was taller than him by almost a full head.
      Heero was not as small as Quatre, and was slightly taller than Wufei. But he was still below average height for a man of his age. He blamed his Japanese heritage for part of it, but mostly he blamed it on the drugs Dr. J had kept him pumped with. They had made him stronger and faster than an ordinary teenage boy during the war, giving him amazing reflexes. But he suspected they'd had something to do with his delayed growth spurt as well. Whether it was an unexpected side effect or a deliberate attempt on Dr. J's part to keep him the right size to wriggle his way out of tight situations and fit comfortably in the cockpit of Wing, he wasn't sure. It hadn't really bothered him too much, but now that he had to look up into a face he had once met on eye-level, he found that it made him feel almost defensive. But then, he consoled himself, Duo's own lineage was American; as an Asian, he couldn't have expected for them to stay roughly the same height forever. Duo was no longer the gangly fifteen year old boy Heero remembered. In more ways than one.
      He was definitely no child anymore. Though his body was still lean and wiry, his chest and shoulders were a little broader, and the short-sleeved tee he wore showed off the strength in his arms. He would never have the muscles Heero, Wufei, or even Trowa had developed, but he looked like he could take care of himself in a brawl. The small scar on his chin was new. So was the gold cross earring glittering in his left ear. And though the shirt was a dirty brown-- looked like old military ration --the pants were baggy and black, as were the clumping steel-toe boots. Heero steeled himself and looked Duo in the face.
      He was definitely a man now, no doubt about that. His jaw wasn't as square as Heero's, but it was no child's point, and his face looked a bit longer, too. The roguish good looks were still there; Duo had grown into a handsome young man, the kind that could steal a girl's heart with a grin and a wink. But Heero hardly noticed all this. He was staring into Duo's eyes.
      The jaded look to Hilde's eyes had made him fear the worst for his old friend. He was-- afraid? --that he would see that same haunted look, that weariness. He was afraid time had broken Duo's spirit.
      There was a shadow of weariness there, though it was evident more along the lines by his mouth and the bruises under his eyes that were silent proof of little sleep. But he still had that shit-eating grin. It was Duo.
      "Heard you were in town," he said in way of greeting. "Told a few people to keep an eye out for a guy with a stare like a laser buster and dark hair. Looks like that was all the description needed, though some of 'em seemed to think you were a cop by the way you walked around staring at everyone. I thought you might come looking for me when you didn't hear from me in awhile." He scratched the side of his nose, giving Heero a sidelong glance. "Wasn't sure you would, tho..."
      Heero could only stare at him for a moment. Then he pasted on an annoyed scowl.
      "Uh oh," Duo chuckled before Heero could speak. "I know that look. That's the 'I'm very disappointed with you, you stupid American baka, how dare you make me come all this way hunting for your lazy ass'. Did you think you were coming here to bust me out of jail, Heero? Or maybe put flowers on my grave?"
      "I didn't know what condition I'd find you in," Heero said shortly. "I expected the worst after I talked to Hilde."
      Duo flinched visibly. "Ah... Saw Hil, did you? Um... how's she doing?"
      "She blames me for you leaving her and coming here," Heero snapped. "Why would she say that?"
      "Er.." Duo laughed abruptly. "Damn, things haven't changed much, have they? Five seconds after coming face to face, and you're already giving me the third degree and the infamous Yuy Glare o' Death. Look, let's start over. How you been? You look, hm, healthy," he said, fishing for a compliment that would be taken gracefully by someone not used to receiving compliments.
      "You look like shit," Heero retorted, taking a step back. He shook his head slightly in defeat. "Come in," he ordered.
      "I thought you'd never ask," Duo said quickly, darting past Heero and into the room. "Close the door, will ya? I think I heard someone coming."
      Heero shut the door firmly and threw the lock, sending his old friend a suspicious look. "So you are in trouble."
      "Just a smidge." Duo dropped onto the bed and flopped onto his back with a loud sigh. "Geez... I really didn't expect you to come looking for me. What's wrong, Heero? Were you actually worried about me?"
      "Yes," Heero said, a little puzzled at the mocking tone in Duo's voice. Had he really come across as such an uncaring bastard during the war that Duo would doubt their friendship? Even after they'd kept in touch? He thought for a moment, then gave a small, internal wince. Yes. He'd been about as friendly as a Leo towards them all during the war. He couldn't really blame Duo for his surprise. Of course, he admitted to himself, it wasn't wholly his idea to seek out the braided pilot. She had been the one to kick his ass out the door in his direction, after all. On that note, he decided to push the blame in the direction it should be aimed. "It wasn't wholly my idea," he said shortly, padding over to the sink to splash cold water on his face. "I know you can take care of yourself."
      "Thanks," Duo drawled, tilting his head back so he could see Heero from his prone position. "So whose idea was it? Quat's?"
      Heero wiped his face off with the small hand towel on the rack and tossed it aside. "Relena's."
      The smirk evaporated from Duo's face. He sat up abruptly and clapped his palms on his knees, arching a brow at the other man. "She told you to come look for me." It wasn't quite a question, but Heero nodded anyway. "So how is her holiness?" Duo's eyes flicked in what seemed to be an almost unconscious movement towards Heero's left hand. Heero knew what he was searching for; Duo wasn't the first to assume Relena had finally become something more to her chief of security than "a good friend".
      "Fine," Heero answered, giving a slight shrug.
      "Why'd she want you to come look for me?" Duo's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Here to arrest me or something?"
      "No," Heero said shortly, unwilling to go into any detail on the reasons he was actually here. He crossed his arms over his chest and leveled his old partner with a "don't give me any shit" look. "What kind of trouble are you in?" he demanded.
      "Oh, nothing big," Duo assured him, waving a hand carelessly. He offered a cheeky grin for good measure. "Nothing I can't take care of. Don't worry about it. So!" He leaned forward, grin stretching wide. "Want a tour of this floating tin can? I can show you the best place to get some decent grub. Stuff that doesn't taste like it was scraped off the bottom of the garbage can.."
      "Sorry, but all the water here is pretty shitty, so we'll have to stop somewhere and grab bottled water if that's what you want. I'd suggest beer, but I dunno if you drink, and anyway, if you ask me, the beer they make on L2 tastes like donkey piss. And the imported stuff is kind of expensive."
      "Duo," Heero said a little more firmly.
      Duo seemed not to hear as he jumped to his feet and began pacing. "I hope those aren't the only clothes you brought-- oh, kudos to Relena for getting you out of spandex and tank tops, by the way. You got anything nicer than that ugly shirt and those ratty-ass jeans? Not that you don't look good in 'em, but you can't really walk around in the same outfit twenty-four seven like we did during the war.."
      Heero's eyebrow twitched, the first sign of his rising impatience. "Duo-"
      "You don't have to stay in this roach hotel, you can crash at my place. Get a look at what I do every day." Duo waggled his eyebrows. "Then you won't have to worry so much."
      Heero opened his mouth once more.
      "What's up?" Duo asked innocently before he could say a word.
      Heero shut his mouth long enough to scowl darkly at the taller boy. "I'm not here on vacation," he said tersely. "I came to make sure you weren't killed or behind bars." That was mostly true, anyway. And suddenly the thought of staying with Duo for a few days, seeing his world and sleeping under the same roof, seemed like too big of a risk.
      He turned his back abruptly and stalked to the sink to fetch his toothbrush. Duo watched, puzzled, while he snatched it up and walked over to his bag. When he realized Heero was packing, he darted forward and gripped his arm in a careful grip, ready to snatch his hand back at the first flicker of dangerous movement. "Whoa, whoa, you can't leave! You just got here!" Duo exclaimed, looking genuinely disappointed. "C'mon man, you came all this way. At least hang out with me for a couple of days."
      Heero was irked once again that he was forced to lift his chin to meet Duo's eyes. "I have work to do back on earth," he snapped. Which wasn't very true, but that didn't matter. Relena had said to take as much time as he needed. In fact, she would probably be pretty pissed if he showed up on her front lawn after just a few days of searching. He pushed that thought aside with an internal wince.
      But Duo must have caught the hint of hesitation in his eyes, and tightened his grip slightly, pouring on the guilt and charm. "Heero, buddy," he wheedled. "It's been ages! C'mon, let's hang out like we used to do. Except without the explosions and guns pointed at our faces. I miss being with you, man."
      "...Me, too," Heero finally muttered grudgingly. It was the real reason he was here. Even if he would never admit it.
      "Then stay," Duo repeated, voice low but firm. "Just for a few days. Relena can wait a couple days, right? C'mon."
      Heero stared up at him with a slight frown on his face. Duo's whining and cajoling had never affected him before, but a lot had changed in just a few short years.
      Duo seemed to take his silence as an agreement, and flaunted his victory with a splitting grin. "Right, grab your shit, Yuy. I'll show you to my place."
      Heero gave in with bad grace, picking up his bag with a scowl and following the other boy with dragging feet as Duo led him from the hotel, chattering cheerfully about nothing in particular.

Author's Note: When I first started this, it was supposed to be just a one-shot fic. But then I put it aside for quite awhile, and by the time I got around to working on it again, I realized it was already getting long, and besides, I wanted to develop things between them more. So it's gonna be a couple more chapters. Hopefully just one or two more >_O; (famous last words)
*beats off muses with a bat*

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