12-7-2003

Title: Kindergarten Heero
Chapters: 1-10/?
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@f...>
Story Started: June 8, 2003
Last Updated: December 7, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Drama, Romance, Fusion
Pairing: 1x2 Rated: R(?)
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing, Death (*not* one of the guys)
Archives: Also at Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene change

Author's Notes: This is a fusion with the movie "Kindergarten Cop". Blame that pic of Heero with a ferret and the fact that the "Kindergarten Cop" DVD was on a sale rack and caught my attention. Feedback is appreciated.

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Part 1:

Slipping quickly through the crowd, Heero kept the tall redhead in sight virtually constantly. When he turned off into another section of the mall, however, Heero was suddenly left without a way to follow. The second floor promenade did not extend to that part of the mall.

"K'so!" he swore furiously. Turning, he plunged down the nearest escalator, rudely shoving through between mall shoppers. Attracting attention was bad but if he lost Khushrenada it wouldn't matter anyway. Reaching the corridor that Khushrenada had entered, he was just in time to catch a glimpse of the door to a maintenance hallway swinging shut.

***

"Otto, the info should be worth at least a hundred thou," the dark-haired girl insisted. "Don't let him talk you down."

"I know, Noin, I know. He's been searching for the broad for a long time, he should be glad for any news," Otto replied nervously. "But it ain't safe pushin' Khushrenada too hard. And all we know is which school the kid's goin' to and that the missus don't look so hot, and even that info's none too recent. It's not like we've got real concrete details to give'im."

"Just remember, stick to the story. You were there on a deal by yourself and I don't know anything about this," Noin reminded him. "We just want a little something back since Zechs dumped me and fired you after he hooked up with Khushrenada. It was pure dumb luck that I recognized Khushrenada's ex in that little hick town and you tailed her to the school. Just wish we'd got a picture of the damn brat and her to prove it; he'd pay bigger bucks if we did."

The rattle of a doorknob being turned interrupted before Otto could reply. "Get in there and don't make a sound," he ordered in a harsh whisper, shoving Noin towards a pile of boxes. "He said for me to come alone or he wouldn't pay, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah," Noin grumbled, ducking out of sight.

"You say that you have news about my family?" a cultured, smooth voice said.

Noin peeked around the edge of the crate to confirm that it was indeed Khushrenada. 'As if I could ever mistake that bastard's snooty voice,' she thought, glaring furiously. It was all his fault that Zechs dumped her. Him and his sexy voice and fancy house and big promises. 'All he wanted was Zechs in his bed. No, correction, "Milliardo" in his bed, Zechs Merquise is not a suitable name for the companion to an Eastern European "aristocrat" but "Prince Milliardo Peacecraft" of the nonexistent kingdom of Sanc *is*...' No matter that the "aristocrat" in question was a drug-dealing sleazeball with umpteen arrests and not a single conviction on his record.

"Yeah, I do," Otto answered, his voice half belligerent, half nervous. "Was makin' a delivery for Tsuberov awhile back and the car broke down in Oregon. While I was waitin' for it to get fixed, I saw your old lady - err, Leia, I mean - in town. She didn't look too hot, real pale and dark shadows under her eyes. Guess that ten million she took can't buy everything, huh?"

"My daughter?" Khushrenada demanded impatiently. "What about her?"

"Uh, yeah, well - I want a hundred thou, Nichols told you that, right?" Otto said anxiously.

"Yes, yes, don't concern yourself. I will see to it that you are well taken care of," the aristocrat snapped. "Now tell me about my daughter!"

"Yeah, well - I followed Leia to the school and she met the kid there. Your little girl's real cute, Mr. Kushrenada. Real cute."

"Good. That's good. Now - TELL ME WHERE SHE IS!" With an obvious effort, Khushrenada drew in a deep breath then spoke again, much more softly, "Please Otto. Tell me where she is so that I can bring her home to the lifestyle that is her birthright."

"Well, I don't know where they're livin' at or what name they're usin'; they went back in the school and I couldn't hang around without drawin' too much attention. But the kid's going to Astoria Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. So where's my money?" Otto demanded.

"I told you that you would be well taken care of," Khushrenada said, reaching inside his coat. "Astoria Elementary, you said?"

"Yeah, Astoria Public Elementary, in Astoria, Oregon," Otto confirmed eagerly. His voice changed from eager anticipation to fear, "What are you - no!"

Noin stuffed the heel of her hand in her mouth and bit down to silence her instinctive outcry as a gun went off. The sound was faint but Otto's body crumpling to the floor left no doubt as to what had taken place. Noin jerked back completely behind the crates and huddled, shivering in shock. She'd never expected Khushrenada to stoop that low. She'd always despised him for stealing Zechs away from her but she'd never actually thought he was *dangerous*!

"I told you that you would be well taken care of, Otto," Khushrenada said disdainfully, brushing a few microscopic specks of dust from his coat as he tucked his gun out of sight. He stepped over the body and walked calmly away, cutting through the storage area to dispose of his gun in a trash compactor before re-entering the commercial section of the mall.

***

Heero slipped into the last storage area off of the hallway. This *had* to be where Khushrenada went; he hadn't been in any of the previous ones. "Shimatta!" he swore as he rounded the corner and spotted the body on the floor. 'Too late...' A faint sound sent him hurtling through the stacks of boxes and crates. "Freeze! Police!" he barked sharply. The instant of hesitation in response to his order was all he needed to grab the arm of the woman he found and drag her back out to the body.

"It wasn't me, I didn't do it, I swear!" she babbled frantically.

"It was Khushrenada, wasn't it?" he demanded in a low growl.

"Yes..." she admitted. She yelped in startlement an instant later as Heero jerked her over to the body and handcuffed her to it. "No! You can't do this!"

"Hn." Heero took off towards the shopping part of the mall at a run. He knew exactly where he would find Khushrenada. 'Got you this time, you bastard...' he thought in grim satisfaction. His dogged persistence of the past few years was finally going to pay off. He might not have managed to nail Khushrenada on the narcotics charges but at least the slimeball wouldn't find murder quite so easy to get out of. Not when he had an actual witness.

***

Treize entered the beauty salon and calmly strode towards the back of the establishment. He bent and kissed Milliardo's cheek.

"That was quick," Milliardo observed, turning the page of the magazine he was holding. "Did you learn anything worthwhile?"

Treize stepped out of the stylist's way and seated himself in another chair, swivelling it so that he could watch the stylist at work. He so enjoyed watching an artist create a masterpiece.

"Manicure, Mr. Khushrenada?"

Treize held out one hand languidly. "I might as well, since it appears that it will be a while before Milliardo is ready to depart."

"Well? Did you learn anything worthwhile?" Milliardo repeated with a slight frown.

"Don't frown; it causes wrinkles," Treize chided. "Yes. They are in Astoria, Oregon. Mariemaia is attending school - a *public* school - there," he said distastefully.

"Astoria? I've never heard of it."

"Just a little hick town, I suppose," Treize said dismissively. "It doesn't matter. She won't be there for long."

"Will..."

Milliardo's question was abruptly cut off by a shout of "Freeze! Police! Hands over your head, Khushrenada!"

Treize sighed heavily. "Yuy, Yuy, Yuy," he began.

"Stand up and put your hands above your head!" Heero ordered.

Treize rolled his eyes and stood but left one hand in the bowl it was soaking in.

"Hands *up*!"

"Really, Detective Yuy, even someone as uncouth as yourself must realize that it is incredibly poor manners to interrupt a man in the midst of his manicure..." Treize complained.

"*UP*, Khushrenada!"

Sighing and shaking his head slightly, Treize raised his other hand. "I hope you're happy now, Detective Yuy. You've made me make a terrible mess out of this lovely young lady's wonderful manicure," he observed. "So what is it this time? Jaywalking, perhaps? Or has my chauffeur neglected to pay a parking ticket?"

"Try murder," Heero answered. "You just shot and killed a man less than ten minutes ago."

"Oh, *murder*. That *is* a new one..." A faint tinge of unease drifted through Treize's mind. How had Yuy found out so soon? 'He must be tailing me again...' He continued to smile sardonically while swearing silently in several languages. "And just how long do you think this - trumped-up - charge will stand? A few hours? A whole day perhaps?"

"Oh, it will last longer than that," Heero promised with satisfaction. "I have a *witness*."

As mall security charged into the salon, temporarily drawing Yuy's attention, Treize gave Milliardo a meaningful glance. Milliardo smiled at him sweetly and nodded very slightly. "I'll call Pargan and get him on the case immediately," the younger man assured Treize. "We'll have these trumped-up charges dismissed in no time."

And if not - well, Treize knew that Milliardo knew what to do. His companion hadn't been chosen for looks alone, after all. He *did* have a first-class brain in that beautiful head of his. And a ruthless streak strong enough to match his own.

Part 2:

Heero glared furiously at the dark-haired woman who'd just let his witness - *his* witness! - walk out without agreeing to cooperate. "Let me take care of this, Chief Jaye," he told his boss darkly. "Noin will do a lineup," Heero promised, his eyes narrowing.

"What are you going to do, handcuff her to the bumper of your car and take her for a ride?" the woman asked sarcastically.

Not even deigning to dignify that remark with a response, Heero simply snarled and stalked away.

"Difficult man," Chief Jaye told the woman with an apologetic shrug. "Tough to get to know him."

"Oh really? I'd have never guessed," she replied sardonically, following Jaye as he limped towards his office.

***

Heero climbed out of his car, jaw set in determination. Noin *would* change her mind about picking Khushrenada out of a lineup. He was *not* going to lose the bastard. Not when he was finally so close to locking the snobby slimeball up for *decades*. He'd been after the man for years now. Everyone on the force *knew* Khushrenada was the biggest drug dealer in the area; only Tsuberov came close to him in terms of sheer volume. The problem was proving it. Sending him to jail on murder charges would at least get him out of the picture. With the mastermind gone, they could work on gradually tearing apart the rest of his organization.

A few quick kicks and punches cleared his path into the building that he knew Noin was currently in. He paused for a moment and turned back towards his car, glaring coldly at the thugs daring to touch it. "*That*," he pointed casually with the shotgun in his hand, suppressing a smirk as thugs scattered, "is *my* car. I *LOVE* my car." He cocked the gun and sighted down the barrel. "I would be - displeased - should anything happen to it."

"We'll just - ah - keep an eye on it for ya, then," one of the hoodlums said hurriedly, using his gang bandanna to polish his fingerprints off the gleaming hood.

"Hn." Heero smirked as he turned and stalked up the staircase, shotgun in hand. He hoped that he wouldn't have to actually shoot anyone. The paperwork that entailed was a real bitch. He kicked the door open and dove into the room, shotgun booming a response to the shot sent his way. No one was foolish enough to try a second shot; they scattered and ran like rats deserting a sinking ship. And after the second person he flattened with a single blow, no one bothered trying to block his advance either.

Even Noin's new "boyfriend" looked somewhat less than brave, sitting on the couch beside her and trying to look like he wasn't ready to wet himself. "Who are you?" the man demanded, standing and moving to keep the coffee table between Heero and himself.

"Me?" Heero said, raising one eyebrow. He cocked the shotgun again. "I'm the party pooper." He fired, the blast tearing into the makeshift carseat sofa that the man had been in front of just as the erstwhile boyfriend clambered over it and dove over the counter behind it. He smirked as the man fled.

"Hello, Noin," he said coldly as he seated himself beside her in the now-deserted room.

"What do you want?" Noin demanded shakily.

"You know what I want Noin. You just haven't given it to me yet. But I'm very patient. I'll just keep you company until you do."

"You can't do that!" she exclaimed in horror.

Heero gave her his best ferocious smirk and draped an arm heavily around her shoulder. "Hn. I have nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. I am going to be with you days, nights, weekends, holidays. I will be with you until the end of time."

"NO!" Noin protested, shrinking away from him.

"Of course, if I was busy with something else, say, preparing a murder case against Khushrenada..." he raised one eyebrow and gave her a meaningful look.

With a defeated whimper, Noin crumpled. "Alright, alright, I'll do it."

***

Heero snarled in frustration. Noin had picked Khushrenada out of the lineup, sure. But now the problem was her *own* record. Someone with a restraining order to keep her away from Khushrenada's live-in lover and a whole string of convictions for narcotics possession was *not* going to make a particularly credible witness. The judge had denied bail but Heero couldn't bring himself to get too excited over that. Not when it was all too likely that Khushrenada would end up getting off in the end.

Jaye limped along beside Heero as he stalked through the court building. "Your best bet is Khushrenada's estranged wife, Leia Barton-Khushrenada. Noin claims she saw her in Astoria, Oregon, and Otto trailed her to meet her and Treize's kid at Astoria Public Elementary. Noin didn't see the kid, just Leia, and she says all Otto said was that the kid was 'cute'," the police chief informed him. "Schbeiker's got the files with all we've got on the two of them. Find them. We'll give the wife immunity in exchange for her testimony and the money she took from him."

Heero grunted unhappily. He didn't like *any* of this. And the fact that Jaye was forcing him to take along a "partner" only made things worse. This was *his* case! He worked alone; he didn't need a damn "partner" along to mess things up. Especially not a talkative bottomless-pit of a partner. The woman had absolutely *no* concept of focus and duty. As far as he could see, all she ever thought about was her stomach. He wrinkled his nose distastefully as Schbeiker hurried to join Jaye and himself, a chili-dog with the works from a vendor's cart in her hand. "Don't you *ever* stop eating?" he demanded in disgust.

"Hypoglycemic; have to eat or I get a little nuts," she mumbled around a mouthful of food.

'*Get* a little nuts? If this is what she considers normal, I don't think I want to know what she's like otherwise...' Heero gritted his teeth and walked faster, forcing her to half-run to keep up.

Jaye swore and gave up, unable to limp that fast. He called after them, "Just *try* to get along, you two. That's an order!"

Snarling, Heero walked even faster. He did *not* need a partner. He could handle this himself.

***

Reading through the mission briefing on the plane, Heero decided that maybe having a partner wouldn't be so bad after all. He didn't want her job. Being a kindergarten teacher wasn't exactly his line of work. He'd never had anything to do with kids; he'd been an only child. Never even had any cousins. He wasn't too thrilled about pretending to be married to her, though. Marriage was something else that he didn't have any experience at. He'd never had time to waste on that sort of thing; work took his full attention.

"If we're going to work together, I think we'd better know a little bit about each other," Hilde suggested. "So, tell me about yourself, Yuy. What made you decide to become a cop?"

Aggravated by the explosion noises coming from the kids behind them, Heero turned around and yanked the robot away from one of the kids who kept fighting play-battles along the top of his seat's back. He barely got turned around before Hilde removed the winged toy robot from his hands and returned it to the kids. He glared at her with no noticeable effect. She just raised her eyebrow and waited for him to answer her question.

"My family has always been in law enforcement. My grandfather was a police officer, my father was a police officer, my mother was a police officer... Of course I became one too. It was expected of me," Heero said abruptly. He left out the other reasons for his choice. He saw no reason to reveal anything that personal to the woman he'd been forced to partner with merely to satisfy her curiosity.

"Sounds like how I ended up being a kindergarten teacher. Whole family was in the education field. I got out after a few years, though. Figured I'd better or I'd be so sick of kids that I'd never want to have any of my own. So I went through the police academy." Half under her breath, she muttered, "Never thought that'd land me back in a kindergarten class again."

Heero's seat jerked as the kids behind him kicked his seat. He turned and glared at them, hissing "Stop it" in an icy tone before facing forward again. He flipped through the thin folder of information on Leia Barton-Khushrenada and her daughter. "These pictures are awful," he complained. The daughter was merely a few months old in her photo yet the girl would be in kindergarten now; any similarity would be faint if it existed at all. And the woman - the photo was an angle-shot that didn't even get a full head profile and it dated back to her wedding.

Hilde burped. "Excuse me," she said, rubbing her stomach. "Must have ate something that disagreed with me..." She picked the photos up and made a face at them. "I know they're pretty bad. All we've got though. She didn't even have a driver's license; limo took her everywhere."

"Family?"

The kid kicked Heero's seat again. He growled under his breath. Turning around, pencil in hand, he glared furiously. "Stop. It. Or I will do *this*," he threaded the pencil between his fingers and applied pressure, cracking it into two splintery pieces, "to *you*." The kid swallowed hard. "Understood?" Heero demanded. The kid nodded hastily and Heero faced forward again, hoping that was the last trouble he'd have from him. He did *not* like kids.

Hilde shook her head, "Nope. No family. Orphan. Raised in a church orphanage. Place closed five years ago when the last priest died of old age. The nun that helped run it died soon after. Most of the kids were in and out; either adopted or sent to other family members once they could be located. Still trying to track down the few other kids that did actually grow up there with Leia but..." She shrugged, obviously not holding out much hope. "Most of the records are gone; place kept everything on paper - apparently the clergy running it were elderly and didn't take to computers - and once they shut it down stuff just got trashed." She pulled out one blurry photo and tossed it in front of Heero. "That's all we've got from there so far. Second one from the left in the back row is Leia; she was the only girl that old. No ID on any of the others yet."

Heero stared at the picture, memorizing the shape of the faces and trying to imagine what they'd look like thirteen years later. Especially the laughing boy that Leia's arm was wrapped around. The rabbit ears sticking up behind Leia's head explained just why he was laughing so mischievously. Heero looked the rest of the photo over carefully but his eyes kept being inexplicably drawn back to that laughing face next to Leia.

"Here's your breakfast, sir," the stewardess said, interrupting Heero's perusal of the photo. He hurriedly cleared the folder and photos off of his tray so that she could set down his meal.

Hilde made an odd noise beside him. "Are you hungry?" he asked reluctantly, visions of her eating both their breakfasts passing through his mind.

She shook her head and paled at the question. "No." Hilde burped again and raised her hand to her mouth hastily. Suddenly, she was on her feet. "Out of the way, let me out," she chanted frantically. "Before I barf all over you..."

Heero hurriedly yanked his legs out of her way and lifted his breakfast tray while she scrambled through. He stared after her, unsure whether he should follow or not. The stewardess came down the aisle and asked in concern, "Is she alright?"

"Compared to what?" he answered in aggravation as the sounds of someone being violently ill drifted through the plane. 'Of all the partners in all the police departments in the whole fucking world, I *had* to get stuck with the useless weirdo.' He dropped back into his chair and poked disinterestedly at his meal. For some strange reason, he'd lost his appetite.

Part 3:

By the time they finally made the drive from the airport to the rental house in Astoria, Heero was actually becoming genuinely concerned about his partner. She'd thrown up until there was nothing left to throw up; she could barely even keep plain water down. She kept insisting that she'd be fine by morning but - well, he had his doubts. If she couldn't do it and he had to... A few changes in plan might be a good idea.

Heero tossed a jingle ball for his ferret to chase - okay, so bringing his pet along on an undercover assignment wasn't exactly in the rulebook but he didn't trust anyone else to look after Zero - and started jotting down a few notes.

Most important thing to possibly change - being married. If he was going to have to try to meet all the single mothers of girls in his class, the simplest way was to admit to being single. They'd descend like vultures; he'd seen it happen before. Practically every damn single woman in the department had made a pass at him when he first transferred there a few years ago and all the new employees inevitably tried too. And it wasn't just him, he'd watched other bachelors brace themselves before braving the cafeteria for the first time as well. Oh, there were probably a few women who didn't take part but they were definitely in the minority. He shuddered at the thought and hoped that there weren't all that many single mothers with kids in his class.

Was he really seriously considering pretending to be a substitute kindergarten teacher? Heero sat back and petted his ferret, enjoying Zero's contented chirps and chirrs. 'I don't really have a choice. We have to find Leia or Khushrenada may slip through our fingers again. And since he knows where she is too... Except that he has the advantage of actually knowing what she *looks* like...' They'd end up losing her as a potential witness. No, there was no choice. If Hilde wasn't fit to work yet in the morning, he was going to have to take her job. 'How bad can it be? They're just little kids and it's only kindergarten after all...'

***

Hilde groaned and flopped back on the bed weakly, admitting defeat. There was absolutely no way she was showing up to teach class today. "Good luck, Yuy," she muttered. "You'll need it." She looked him over carefully. "Oh, and lose the gun," she added.

"Hn," he grunted unhappily, shrugging his suit jacket off and removing the holster. He put his jacket back on, feeling practically naked without his weapon. "Why should I need luck? They're only six-year-olds." Rhetorically, he asked, "How much trouble can they be?"

"On second thought, better take the gun."

Heero gave her an exasperated look. "Just worry about getting yourself to the doctor," he ordered. "Once you're back on your feet, you can take over this teaching business."

Hilde waved her hand in dismissal, not commenting on his remark. 'Once he walks through that classroom door, he's stuck for the duration. We won't be able to switch without blowing our cover. He'll *have* to stay in the classroom and I'll stay on backup.' Funny, she felt better already...

***

Heero perched on the office bench and watched as a slender, handsome young man crouched in front of one of the children waiting to see the principal. The man had gathered an incredibly long braid across his knees when he crouched in order to keep it off of the floor. Heero knew that he was staring but he couldn't help himself. Something about him seemed almost familiar... Not to mention that he was incredibly attractive...

'Focus, Yuy, focus. You've got a job to do here and it does not include hitting on gorgeous male teachers. You're supposed to act interested in women so that all the single mothers will come after you so you can find Leia Barton-Khushrenada, remember?' Sensing the intent gaze directed at him, the young man gave Heero a friendly smile before returning his attention to the boy he was gently reprimanding.

"Mr. Yuy? Principal Une will see you now," the secretary called.

Heero rose and headed towards the doorway but he couldn't resist sneaking another quick peek at the teacher that had caught his attention. 'He really is gorgeous...'

A stern voice inquired sharply, "How may I help you?"

Heero turned his gaze towards the speaker. "I'm Heero Yuy. Your new kindergarten teacher," he told the woman.

Principal Une pushed her glasses up with one finger and glared. "I was expecting a Ms. Schbeiker," she observed, clearly unimpressed.

"There's been a change of plan," he answered firmly.

The principal scowled darkly and motioned him into her office. She shut the door as Heero seated himself in front of her desk. Crossing to her desk, she picked up a ruler and began tapping it steadily against the corner of the desk. "Partway through the school year, I received a call from the superintendent telling me that I would have to replace Ms. Bloom, a kindergarten teacher with nearly ten years of experience, with an undercover police officer. And he wouldn't even tell me why. I don't suppose that you would be willing to enlighten me?"

Heero shrugged slightly in apology. "I can't."

The ruler hit the desk harder and Heero suspected that he heard it crack. "You - can't. Ah." The rhythm of the ruler broke as she raised it to rap his shoulder sharply with each of her next words. "I'll be watching you." The ruler shifted back to tap the desk, more rapidly this time. "If I think that there is *any* danger to *my* kids, I will inform my parents that *you* are here because of something to do with the police and they will yank their kids out of here so fast that the place will have to be shut down. And don't you think I won't do it. Are we quite clear on that?"

"Crystal," Heero said. He was sure that he heard the ruler crack on its next tap. "There is no danger to the children," he added calmly.

Principal Une glared at him for a few more moments before laying the ruler down with a sharp click and seating herself behind the desk. "I assume that you have - some teaching experience?"

Heero met her gaze, smirked faintly, and asked, "Would they have sent me otherwise?"

***

Heero's eyes widened slightly as he followed the principal down the hallway. There was a shrill shrieking and it was getting louder. As if they were approaching its source. Along with the source of the shouting and piano banging and all the other noises that were becoming audible the further they went. Suddenly, Principal Une stopped and halted him with a hand against his chest. "Just - wait here," she said.

Obediently, Heero waited, straining to hear and craning his neck in an attempt to peer through the door that the principal vanished through. He could see the lights flickering as she called repeatedly, "Everyone sit down on the carpet."

An ominous foreboding settled in the pit of his stomach as the noise level decreased. All of that - racket - had been coming from this room?

He could hear the principal say, "Good morning everyone."

A chorus of young voices answered, "Good morning Principal Une."

'Well, they sound very obedient...' Heero thought in relief. The noise had been terrible but they *had* quieted down when Principal Une asked them to.

"Your teacher, Ms. Bloom, had to go away on an important trip for a few days," the principal began.

"Where'd she go?" a young voice demanded.

"That doesn't matter," Une's voice answered patiently.

"Did she die?" another voice asked.

"No, Helen, she went to visit someone."

"Did they die?"

"No, Helen."

"Everyone dies, you know," the girl's voice said. The calm acceptance of inevitability in that voice did not seem right for such a young child.

"I know, Helen," the principal said, her voice softening momentarily. Then it firmed again, "But not for a very, very long time."

Heero went through several meditation exercises, preparing himself for his introduction to what was obviously going to be his class. He hoped that he could be as patient as the principal was being. He hadn't realized children were so nosy and persistent even in a classroom setting.

"Now class, until Ms. Bloom gets back, we have someone special here to help. This is Mr. Yuy, your new kindergarten teacher."

Heero stepped through the door cautiously. For a moment, he was tempted to turn around and bolt out the door and back to his car. All of those small, curious faces were watching him very intently. He tried to force himself to smile broadly and hurriedly gave up the attempt as eyes widened and a few lips began to quiver. He shot a panicky glance towards the principal.

"Class, let's all say good morning to Mr. Yuy. Together, now."

"Good morning, Mr. Yuy," the class chorused.

"Good morning," he answered. 'You can do this, Yuy. They're just children...'

The panicky feeling grew however as Principal Une turned to leave, telling him, "They're all yours. I'll be watching you."

Standing there in front of the class, Heero realized that he had no idea whatsoever what to do next. 'The faster I find Khushrenada's kid, the faster I get out of here. Might as well start with that.' "Hello. I would like to start by getting to know you. I'll ask you a bunch of questions and I want you to answer them *immediately*." He scowled as several children started to whisper. "Quiet," he barked sharply. Silence returned. 'Well, that was easy...' he thought with satisfaction. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

'Where to begin...' "How many of you were born in Astoria?" he demanded. No response. The kids simply stared at him blankly. "Come on, raise your hands," he ordered. Every hand went up. That - was not very helpful. "Alright." All the hands lowered. "Now, everybody who was born somewhere *else*, like California, raise your hands," he instructed. Every hand went up again. Ooo-kay, obviously this line of questioning was not going to work.

Excited hand waving and jumping up and down drew Heero's attention to a young boy at the end of the front row. "Yes?" he said, turning towards him.

"I have to go to the bathroom," he said, crossing his legs and tugging at the strap of his overalls.

"Okay, you can go," Heero said, waving dismissively towards the classroom door.

Another child climbed to her feet and informed him, "Boys have a penis; girls have a vagina." The other children giggled as Heero stared disbelievingly at the precocious little brat.

"Thanks for the tip," he finally choked out, scowling. An insistent tugging at his pant leg drew his attention away from the girl. "Yes?"

The boy who'd asked to go to the bathroom said plaintively, "I need to go to the bathroom and I can't get these things off." He tugged impatiently at the fasteners on his overalls.

Heero bent over and tried to unfasten them. Tried unsuccessfully; the stupid things wouldn't let go. 'Why the hell would a parent put their child in clothing that they can't even unfasten?' he wondered in frustration. The entire class watched as he unsuccessfully struggled with the stubborn clasps. "Just a minute, I'll go get someone to help you," he promised. "I'll be right back," he warned, throwing a quick glance over the rest of the class. He hurried to the door and opened it, glancing up and down the hall. No one. Striding hastily to the nearest classroom, he glanced through the window in the door and spotted the attractive teacher from the office. He waved wildly, trying to catch the man's attention, finally tapping on the window in desperation. He sighed in relief as the man excused himself from the class and hurried to the door, leaving a student temporarily in charge.

"Can I help you?" the young man asked once he stepped out in the hall.

"Yes, I have a small problem..." he began.

"Mr. Yuy, I've gotta go real bad," the overall-clad boy whined as he stepped out into the hall. He crossed his legs and squirmed.

"First day?" the other teacher asked with a wry grin.

"Yes," Heero admitted ruefully. "The overall straps..."

The braided teacher nodded and grinned. "Ah. There's a definite knack to handling those. I'll take care of him." He took the boy's hand and led him down the hall.

Heero watched him go wistfully. After only a few steps, though, the other teacher paused and looked back over his shoulder. "You know, kindergarten is like the ocean. You really shouldn't turn your back on it," he warned, indigo eyes sparkling with merriment.

Abruptly, Heero realized that the noise level in the hallway was climbing drastically. He whirled to look in the room. 'Shimatta!' He dashed inside and looked around helplessly. He didn't even know where to *begin*. Kids scattering what looked like every toy in the room across the floor; kids climbing on furniture; kids *painting* on the chalkboard; kids spreading craft clay and baking ingredients all over; kids screaming and shouting; kids, kids, KIDS! Heero could feel his blood pressure rising.

Principal Une and her secretary peered through the door window. The principal shook her head in disgust and turned away. Her secretary followed, asking, "Aren't you going to break it up?"

"No. Two more days of *this* and he'll *quit*," Une said with grim satisfaction.

Part 4:

In the classroom, the pressure built until Heero couldn't take it anymore. The noise, the mess, the sheer *chaos*, was too much for him. He took a deep breath and bellowed at the top of his lungs, "*SHUT UP!*"

Silence. Faces turned to stare at him in shock.

Silence reigned for a heartbeat. Two. Sheer blissful silence.

Then the sniffles began. Lips quivered and eyes watered.

"*No!*" Heero ordered frantically. "Don't start!"

The orders didn't help. The sniffles grew louder and turned to sobs.

"Oh no," he breathed in horror. Crying kids. He'd made an entire classroom full of kids cry. Principal Une would kick him out for sure. He *couldn't* let that happen! He had to find Khushrenada's kid first! He couldn't fail so badly at this, he *never* failed! *NEVER!*

By the time he bolted for the door, the sobs were turning to wails. Heero raced out of the room and down the hall to the teachers' lounge. He was suddenly very grateful that his partner had flatly refused to have "that rat" loose in the house with her all day. Retrieving the gym bag-like pet carrier from where he'd hidden it behind the couch, Heero unzipped the mesh door. Zero chittered in irritation as Heero lifted him out, waking him from a nap. Heero tucked the ferret inside his suit jacket and slung the carrier strap over his shoulder as he hurried back to his classroom.

He was surprised by how quiet the classroom was when he got back. It was still an absolute disaster area but the children were playing in a quiet, subdued manner rather than wailing or destroying the place. He noticed that the boy who'd had to go to the bathroom was back again and wondered whether the nice teacher who'd helped had anything to do with the relative calm in his room. "Class!" he said sharply. "Pay attention!" Toys dropped guiltily around the room as everyone spun to face him. He winced internally at the anxiety and even fear on some of the small faces. "This is your new class mascot," he said, holding Zero out. The ferret hung trustingly in his grasp.

"What happened to your dog?" a boy demanded.

Heero smothered a snicker. Poor Zero. First his partner called him a rat, now his student was calling him a dog. "He's not a dog, he's a ferret," he corrected firmly.

"What's a ferret?" another voice piped up.

Considering and discarding several possible answers, including listing the proper Latin name and other related species, Heero settled for simply saying, "*This* is a ferret." He was pretty sure that any other response would only result in a bunch of other questions anyway.

There was a chorus of "Ohhs" from the class as they gathered curiously around. Heero knelt on the floor and held Zero carefully in front of him. He hoped that all of this attention and excitement wouldn't upset the ferret too badly; he wasn't used to so much commotion or being around so many strangers.

"If he bites you, you'll get rabies and die," an auburn-haired girl said matter-of-factly. Heero recognized her voice as the one that had so calmly remarked earlier that day that everyone died.

"No, that's not true," he said firmly. "He doesn't bite. And he doesn't have rabies."

Suddenly, there was a chorus of "Can I touch him" coming from all around. Heero smothered a smirk. "Yes, but gently," he warned. Zero chirred contentedly as he was suddenly being stroked by many small hands. Heero sighed in relief. One crisis averted. At least temporarily. "Now we're having fun," he said a bit unsteadily. Now all he needed to do was figure out what the hell to do with the kids for the rest of the day. And clean up the huge mess. He looked around the room and cringed at the thought. He could hardly wait for the day to be over...

***

The bell rang and the kids charged out of the room. Heero looked around and sighed wearily. There was still an awful lot to be cleaned up before he could leave. He sank down on the end of a table and tried to get his thoughts organized. A small pair of sneakers suddenly appeared in his sight. He raised his gaze to see the little auburn-haired girl - Helen - shaking her head at him sadly. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked reluctantly.

"Ms. Bloom is a *lot* better than you," she informed him.

Somehow, Heero wasn't surprised to hear that. She wouldn't have lasted ten years as a kindergarten teacher if she wasn't. Hell, she wouldn't have lasted ten *days*. "Is she. Is she really," he said flatly. He forced himself to his feet and started to tidy up the disaster area that was his classroom.

Helen followed him across the room. "My uncle's a teacher in this school and he's a lot better than you too," she told him.

"Great," Heero muttered under his breath. He picked up a couple of tipped-over chairs and set them back where they belonged. Before he could reach for the third, Helen had already picked it up and pushed it up to its place at the table.

"And Sensei Chang, my karate instructor, he's better than you too."

"*Terrific*," Heero said sarcastically. He knew he sucked at being a kindergarten teacher. He really didn't need all this corroborating evidence thrown in his face.

"And my doctor, Ms. Po, and Howie, my T-ball coach, they're better than you too."

"Is there anyone you know that *isn't* better than me?" Heero demanded in frustration.

Helen shrugged apologetically, "I don't know that many people."

***

Heero staggered into the house, setting Zero carefully on the closet floor and shutting the door before collapsing on the bed face-first.

"Heero? How'd it go?" Hilde demanded, stumbling down the hall. She still felt lousy but not nearly as bad as she had earlier.

The only response she received was a weary groan followed by "Go. Away."

"That good, huh?"

"You take over tomorrow," Heero mumbled grumpily.

"Can't," Hilde informed him cheerfully as she made her way into the room to perch on the edge of the bed. "It'd blow our cover. You're stuck with it."

Heero groaned in dismay. She was right. Unfortunately. "They're *horrible*," he complained.

Hilde snorted, "Tell me about it."

***

After a rousing pep talk from Hilde, Heero still didn't want to go to school the next morning. "Come on, just think of all the single women that'll be dropping by to see the new teacher," Hilde urged.

Heero groaned at the thought, now even *less* motivated to walk out the door.

"Single guys?" Hilde suggested, noting his distinct lack of interest in her first suggestion. She fought off a grin as he perked up noticeably.

'Maybe I'll actually get to meet that gorgeous teacher properly today,' he thought hopefully. It wasn't what he was there for but... Well, considering how rarely he actually came across someone he was *interested* in, he couldn't quite bring himself to completely pass up the opportunity to find out whether the interest would last past the "getting to know him" stage.

***

Heero entered the school, trying not to either smirk or cringe at the comments he'd overheard as he passed clusters of mothers on his way in. 'The best one of the bunch had to be "You're married, you're allowed to look like slobs",' he thought in amusement. Though the one that had decided that he must be gay since he was a kindergarten teacher was pretty amusing too. The irony of the fact that the woman was actually correct about his sexual orientation but that he was really an undercover police officer was distinctly entertaining.

He really wasn't looking forward to pretending at least a cursory interest in any single mothers that might turn up to meet him. Heero would much rather be spending his time getting to know the teacher with the room across the hall from his. He couldn't remember ever having this much trouble convincing himself to do whatever it took to fulfill his assignment.

The blonde that approached him as soon as he entered his classroom, eyelashes fluttering and a simpering smile on her face, made him even more unhappy about this part of the undercover mission. "Hello, I'm Relena Darlian, Samantha's mother," she said in a cloying voice.

"Heero Yuy, the new kindergarten teacher," he responded automatically, holding out his hand to shake hers. He regretted it immediately as she clung to his fingers longer than necessary. With an effort, Heero managed not to gingerly wipe his hand off on his pants when she finally did release it.

"Could we talk for a minute?" she asked.

Biting his tongue to prevent the negative answer hovering there from escaping, Heero merely nodded and turned towards his desk. He seated himself behind it, grateful to place its solid bulk between him and the woman, while Relena removed her patent leather coat, revealing a clingy blouse with an inappropriately low neckline. "You're not from around here, are you?" she purred as she seated herself gracefully and leaned forward conspiratorially.

"No, I'm not," he answered briefly. He didn't bother giving her his cover identity's details. He wanted to keep this conversation as brief as possible.

"I thought not. You're much too classy for this little hick town. I'm not from around here either," she murmured, batting her eyelashes at him.

Heero suppressed the urge to escape. If she wasn't from around here, she might be the woman he was looking for. He couldn't turn tail and run, no matter how much he might want to. He made a slight sound of acknowledgement of her statement and hoped that the woman would hurry up and spit out whatever it was that she wanted.

"I wanted to ask you something," Relena said.

"Ah?"

"You see, Samantha's father - doesn't live with us anymore. Lately I've been a little worried about Samantha. She's been doing some odd things."

'K'so. If the father isn't living with them - that makes her a possibility. Which means I have to put up with her. Shimatta.' "Like what?" Heero inquired, trying to make himself sound a little less as if he was being tortured by this conversation.

"She's been refusing to wear skirts," she said bluntly. "She insists on dressing like a little boy. I'm a little worried that she thinks her father might still be here if she'd been a boy instead..."

Despite himself, Heero snickered. He didn't blame Samantha in the least. Especially if her mother wanted her to wear clothing as - pink - as she had on. He had a sneaking suspicion that he knew who that horrid neon pink convertible out front belonged to. "Ah. Well, one of the little boys in the class likes to look up girls' skirts," he told her bluntly. "Caught him doing it yesterday. Samantha probably just doesn't want him doing that to her."

Relena's eyes widened and her jaw dropped for a moment. She stuttered, then managed to say, "Oh. Well, that's a relief."

"Does Samantha ever see her father?" Heero inquired.

"No," she replied abruptly. "He lives in California."

Heero's interest sharpened at the same time as a small part of him wailed in dismay that the job might be over with this quickly. He hadn't even had a chance to find out the other teacher's name yet, let alone ask him out on a date! "Oh?" he managed to say. "Perhaps you could give me his name and number and I could talk to him for you. Persuade him to show a little more interest in his daughter."

Relena's voice turned cold and hard. "No."

"No? It must be hard on Samantha, never seeing her father..."

Jumping to her feet, the woman said icily, "No. It's hard on Samantha knowing that her father left us for another man."

Heero winced. 'Shimatta. That just makes her an even better possibility. Merquise hooked up with Khushrenada and changed his name to Peacecraft right around the same time that Leia took off with the kid and the money...' He wasn't quite sure how to respond to Relena's flat statement. Thankfully, he was saved from having to do so.

"Mr. Yuy, are you married?" one of the girls in his class demanded loudly.

"No, I'm not," he admitted. He'd half-planned to change his cover anyway and after seeing that very handsome teacher yesterday, he'd decided that there was no way he was going to pretend to be married.

The girl ran to the hall door and shouted, "He's not married, Mom!"

With an effort, Heero managed not to cringe.

"Welcome to Astoria, single parent capital of the world," Relena murmured in a sultry tone, her previous irritation banished. She batted her eyes at Heero and he managed to force a weak smile.

One word crossed his mind. 'Shimatta.'

Part 5:

Heero straightened his shoulders and braced himself for the next task. Somehow, he'd gotten through the morning without any major disasters. Sparing a silent curse for the fact that the kid's mother had chosen a school district with all-day kindergarten classes, Heero met the afternoon with grim determination.

If only he could be at least a little bit successful with his attempt to figure out which of these little horrors was actually Khushrenada's brat, he might actually feel like he'd accomplished something. "Okay class, we're going to play a little game now. Won't that be fun?" The blank looks he was receiving from the children weren't exactly encouraging. But Hilde had sworn that couching the question session as a game would get better results than merely asking them his questions would. "This game is called 'Who's My Daddy and What Does He Do'," Heero continued, trying very hard not to scowl darkly. He *really* wanted to get through at least part of the day without reducing the class to tears.

"Is he a fireman?" "A doctor?" "I bet he's real mean..."

Bewildered, it took Heero a few moments to realize that the kids were wildly trying to guess who *his* father was. "No, no, no..." he said, shaking his head. He sighed heavily and massaged his temples. He *never* got headaches but for the second day in a row, he had a damn nasty one developing.

"What's the matter?" a little boy asked.

Heero sighed again, "I have a headache." He regretted saying that immediately, knowing that it would inevitably lead the conversation off at a tangent.

"It might be a tumour," Helen piped up knowingly.

"No, no, no, it's not a tumour. It's not a tumour at all," Heero corrected hastily. The child was disturbingly morbid at times. And incredibly helpful at others. "It's just a headache." He cleared his throat and tried again. "The way the game works is that *you* each tell *me* who your daddy is and what he does."

"Oh..." the children chorused.

Hoping that they really *did* understand this time, Heero motioned for one of the little boys to start things off.

"My daddy sells used cars. Mommy says he could sell sand in the desert," the child stated proudly.

Heero motioned for the next child to take her turn. "My dad is a dentist. He drills holes in people's teeth if they eat too much candy," the dark haired girl said knowingly.

"My dad is a couch potato. Mommy says that's all he's any good for," the next child proclaimed.

Identical twins stood and chorused, "Our mom says that our dad is a real sex machine."

Closing his gaping mouth with a snap, Heero answered the girls' inquiring look with a nod and a motion for the next child to take his turn. He wondered why the hell parents didn't watch what they said around their kids a little more closely. Some of what came out of the little imps' mouths was absolutely appalling.

"Daddy doesn't live with us anymore. He pumps gas in Boston." Heero jotted down a note by Emily's name. A father not currently with the family could easily be anyone, anywhere. Including Kushrenada in L.A.

"My dad's divorced and my mom's divorced too." Heero added another name to his "maybe" list.

Helen stood and said, "My uncle's a teacher at this school." She started to sit back down again.

Heero frowned. "That's very nice Helen, but what does your daddy do?"

The girl scowled at him and said, "I don't know my..." She hesitated and said the next word very slowly and carefully, "bi-o-lo-gi-cal," Heero raised one eyebrow, impressed, before she continued more smoothly, "father and I don't need to. Mommy said that my uncle was a better dad than him anyway." She crossed her arms and glared at Heero defiantly. He had the distinct impression that she was daring him to press the subject. He added another name to the "maybe" roster.

Continuing through the class, Heero finally reached the last kid. The girl sat with her back to the rest of the class, completely ignoring them while she played by herself. "Okay, now it's..." 'Shimatta, I don't remember her name...' "The girl at the back, with her back to us, what's her name?" he asked the class.

"Her name's Alexia Mueller," Helen volunteered. "She doesn't like to talk to anybody."

"Yeah, she's a real poo-poo face," one of the others chimed in.

Other catcalls and insults from the rest of the class followed. Heero stood and scowled at them unhappily. "Quiet!" he ordered sharply. "That's enough!" He moved to the back of the room to stand beside Alexia. She was hitting one doll with another repeatedly. "Come on, Alexia. Let's all play together. It's so much more fun that way," he coaxed, trying to make his voice as gentle as possible. He placed one hand lightly on her shoulder. She kept smacking the dolls together. "Did your daddy teach you that game?" he asked, hoping to at least find out whether or not her dad was around.

She jerked away from him sharply. "Leave me alone!"

The sudden, staccato ringing of the school bell prevented Heero from pursuing the subject any further. "What's that?" he demanded. An instant later, he realized, "It's a fire alarm!" Suddenly, the kids were running around hysterically, shrieking, pushing, jumping on furniture. "Come on!" Heero urged, grabbing a couple and dragging them towards the door. He lined them up and turned away to capture others. "Line up!" he ordered in frustration. Each time he added a couple of kids to the lineup, another would take off running and screaming again. He gritted his teeth and worked faster. He could see other classes filing past the door in an orderly manner. Why the hell couldn't the damn kid have been a few years older? He might have had better luck handling grade three or four kids...

***

Principal Une stared at the school door and tapped her ruler against her megaphone impatiently. She could hear the screaming getting louder. Only one class was missing and at last they burst through the doorway in utter disorganization. The new kindergarten teacher brought up the rear with a child tucked under each arm and a distinctly harried look on his face. She smiled grimly for a moment before replacing the smile with a dark frown. She raised the megaphone to her mouth and cleared her throat loudly. "Thank you for finally joining us," she said, "though at nearly five minutes, you should all be ashamed of yourselves." She hid a smirk at the chagrined look on the so-called teacher's face before continuing, "All the other grades, your times are better but still not good enough..."

Heero winced. Five minutes truly was terrible. He was forced to admit that he had absolutely no control over his class. It was humiliating to realize just how much of a failure he was at this teacher business. He caught a sympathetic look from the handsome teacher that he *still* hadn't been properly introduced to and managed to give him a rueful half-smile and a helpless shrug.

***

As the final school bell rang, Heero breathed a sigh of relief. One more day over with. Spotting Alexia heading slowly out of the building, he hurried after her, hoping to speak with her. Maybe this time he would have better luck in finding out something about her father. As she continued out past the busses and towards a waiting car, Heero realized that he might actually get to meet her mother. He lengthened his strides and called, "Mrs. Mueller! Mrs. Mueller!" in the hope that she would wait to see what he wanted.

Unfortunately, his hope was in vain. The car pulled away and drove off before he reached it. He watched it go thoughtfully. He was certain that he'd seen the woman driving look straight at him before she'd put the car in gear. Almost as if she didn't want to talk to him. 'If Leia Barton is trying to keep a low profile, she might try not to be seen in public...' Mentally, he added Alexia to his list of candidates. She *did* have rather thick eyebrows though they weren't pointy like Khushrenada's...

***

"So anyway, the doctor said it was probably just the stomach flu and I could eat whatever I wanted," Hilde said with a grin. She carefully *didn't* mention the fact that Dr. Po had also implied that it might have been psychosomatic, caused by some type of stress. 'Like returning to teaching kindergarten...' "So, let's find a restaurant and *eat*!"

"Fine," Heero agreed. "But could we possibly talk about business for a few minutes?" he asked a bit plaintively. Once Hilde got thinking about her stomach, it was practically impossible to get her to focus on the truly important things. Like their *job*.

"Sure, sure," she agreed carelessly, turning down a sidestreet and dragging Heero with her. "Doesn't anyone *eat* around here?" she muttered, looking around for a restaurant.

"I've got several possibles and one likely," Heero said, pulling a list and a class photo out of his pocket and unfolding it. "Alexia Mueller is the likely. Doesn't she look a lot like Khushrenada?" he demanded.

Hilde threw a glance at the photo Heero stuffed in front of her face. "Uh yeah. Sure. Whatever you say," she mumbled as she pushed it away and looked around again for a restaurant.

"*Look* at her," Heero insisted, thrusting the picture into Hilde's line of sight again. "She's practically his spitting image!"

Sighing in defeat, Hilde looked more closely at the photo. "Maybe there's a slight resemblance," she admitted. 'But not much,' she added silently. Heavy eyebrows were about the only thing she could see that the girl had in common with Khushrenada.

Ahead of them, Heero spotted a long braid just entering a doorway. He was *sure* that was the young man he'd been trying to meet properly! 'And he just went into a restaurant! Perfect!' Well, it would be more perfect if he didn't have Hilde with him but at this point he'd take what he could get. "Look, there's a restaurant right over there," he said. "Let's just try that one."

"Great! I'm *starved*!" Hilde exclaimed.

Heero bit his tongue to prevent himself from asking her if she ever *wasn't*.

Part 6:

"Uncle Duo, can I have garlic bread with my spaghetti?" Helen asked.

"Hmm, I don't know whether you *can*... but I suppose that you *may*... as long as you brush your teeth before I have to kiss you goodnight!" Duo teased, flicking Helen's nose with the tip of his braid.

She giggled and rolled her eyes. "I have to brush my teeth anyway, silly!"

Duo smiled and tousled her hair gently. It was nice to see her smiling again. Her mother's death less than two months ago had hit her pretty hard. His smile faded slightly. Leia's death had hit him hard too. They might not have been blood relations but they were siblings in every way that mattered. He had been the one she'd turned to when she'd discovered that not only was her husband having an affair with another man but that he was a drug dealer as well.

They'd just been lucky that he'd been away getting his degree when she'd met and married Khushrenada. Then Quatre Winner, one of the friends he'd made at college, had gotten him the chance to travel as personal tutor for his sister Iria's children and he hadn't had the chance to go back to L.A. and visit Leia and her new husband. Her letters to him had all been sent to a mail forwarding service since the family he'd been with had travelled so much. He'd loved that job but he hadn't hesitated to quit when Leia wrote him that last desperate letter. She'd told him everything about Khushrenada and the mess she was in. Including the fact that after running away from him, she'd been having horrific headaches and had finally gone to a doctor only to discover that she had an inoperable brain tumour. Leia had been flat broke, desperately ill, terrified, and worried sick about her daughter's future.

Leia had known enough about Khushrenada to put her in danger - but not enough to buy her safety if she'd gone to the police. She had no actual evidence to offer and with her very young daughter's future at stake she wasn't about to take the chance. So she and Duo had taken matters into their own hands.

First Duo had turned to a few rather shady contacts that he recalled from his time on the streets before he'd ended up at the orphanage with Leia. They'd been a bit tough to locate after so many years and it had been expensive - he'd been damn glad that Iria had paid him so well - but they'd fabricated a whole new identity for her, turning Leia Barton-Khushrenada and her daughter Mariemaia into Elisa Maxwell and her daughter Helen, named for the nun that had raised Leia and himself.

Once Leia and Mariemaia's new identities were established, Duo had turned to his college friends for help, telling them only that his sister and her daughter had become his responsibility. That his sister was dying and the child's father was out of the picture. Trowa's sister had gotten him a job at the school she taught at and Quatre had kindly provided him with a place for them to live, a Winner vacation home that sat empty most of the year. Aggressive and experimental medical treatment had bought Leia more time than she'd expected to have but they'd finally lost her.

And now, he had even more reason to keep Helen's true identity hidden. As long as Leia was alive, there had been a chance that they might have managed to fight Khushrenada in court and keep custody of her daughter. Now though, Khushrenada would have no problem taking her away from a man who wasn't even related to her by blood. Duo couldn't let that happen. He'd promised Leia that he would look after Helen; that he wouldn't let her criminal father get his hands on her. And he loved Helen himself; he wasn't just taking care of her for her mother's sake.

"Uncle Duo, look!" Helen hissed, tugging at his sleeve. Duo's gaze obediently followed her pointing finger. "It's my teacher, Mr. Yuy!"

Duo's heart raced. He'd been hoping that he'd get to meet the man outside of school when they might have a chance to actually *talk*. Yuy was *very* attractive - and the glances he'd given Duo gave him hope that perhaps the man thought that he was as well. 'And Helen likes him. A *lot*. Which says a lot for his character; kids are usually pretty damn good judges of that. He seems to be a little over his head with her class but the first time that I faced a full classroom I hit some pretty rough spots too. Neither college nor private tutoring really prepared me for that experience. And kindergarten is a whole different experience than teaching any other grade. He could be a perfectly competent, experienced teacher with older kids.'

"Mr. Yuy! Mr. Yuy!" Helen waved excitedly.

Duo's welcoming smile faltered slightly as a woman approached alongside of the man he'd been looking forward to meeting. 'Oh crap, he's with a date. A *female* date...' he moaned silently. 'Of all the rotten luck. I finally find a guy I'm interested in and he's *straight*.' Though the appreciative look Yuy was giving him right now sure didn't seem that way. 'Maybe he's bi?' Duo thought a bit more hopefully. Of course, that didn't change the fact that Yuy was with a date...

"Hello Helen," Heero said, his lips twitching into a faint smile at her enthusiastic greeting. He shifted his gaze to the man standing beside the girl. His smile grew slightly. So the handsome young teacher he'd been admiring must be the teacher-uncle that Helen apparently adored. He wondered where Helen's mother was tonight since the two of them appeared to be here on their own. "Hello, I don't believe we've actually been introduced. I'm Helen's teacher. Heero Yuy." He held out his hand.

"I'm Helen's uncle. Duo. Duo Maxwell."

Heero was impressed with the firm but not excessive handshake. Not a limp handshake nor a bonecrushing one intended to show off. Just a nice, firm handshake. He let his fingers linger a bit as their hands separated, hoping for some indication of whether the slightly-longer-than-appropriate contact was welcome. The hesitant smile in return wasn't a particularly *negative* response but it wasn't quite what he'd hoped for. But a moment later, he realized the probable cause of the hesitancy.

"Who's that?" Helen demanded a bit belligerently, pointing to the dark-haired woman. She had plans for her teacher and him having a girlfriend was *not* part of them. Her mom had tried and tried to match Uncle Duo up with a nice man without any luck. Before she died, she'd told Helen that it was up to *her* to find somebody to make Uncle Duo happy. Mr. Yuy wasn't perfect by a long shot but he was the best possibility she'd found so far. And Uncle Duo had asked her lots of questions about him, so she was pretty sure that he was already interested.

Hastily, Heero said, "She's my sister, Hilde."

Duo gave him a disbelieving look. "Hilde? Isn't that a German name?"

"Our mother's parents were German and our father is Japanese," Hilde adlibbed, giving Heero an odd look. Despite her kidding this morning about meeting single parents, the last she'd heard they were supposed to be married, not siblings. She didn't remember Heero mentioning that he was changing their cover... But then, she'd been so totally miserable the past couple of days that she might have missed that detail. She'd have to make sure to ask him whether there was anything *else* that she might have missed after they went back to the house tonight.

"Ah," Duo said, his smile broadening in relief. 'She's not his date, she's his sister!' Seeing the waitress approaching to seat them, he offered hopefully, "Why don't you join us for dinner?"

Helen grinned in delight. This was going even better than she'd hoped. Uncle Duo was taking matters into his own hands!

"Thank you, but..." Hilde began only to have Heero elbow her sharply in the ribs.

"We'd be delighted," Heero said firmly, drowning out Hilde's refusal. Discussing the case could wait. He wasn't going to lose this chance to get to know the man he'd been drawn to so strongly since he first saw him.

"Great," Duo beamed happily. A faint pang of regret that Leia couldn't be there with them shot through him. She would have been delighted to see him showing so much interest in someone. She'd tried to set him up repeatedly without any success. He hadn't encouraged her matchmaking but he hadn't resisted it either; he simply hadn't clicked with any of the men she'd tried to hook him up with.

Hilde wasted no time in starting to order once they were seated. Heero fought the urge to kick her under the table. The ridiculous amount of food that she was ordering was damn embarrassing considering she was supposed to be his sister. Someone so small should *not* be able to pack away so much food. He had to smirk slightly however as Helen's eyes grew wider and wider as she listened to Hilde place her order.

"Uncle Duo, she eats more than you 'n' Mommy put together!" Helen whispered in a voice that wasn't *quite* quiet enough. Heero smothered another smirk as Helen's uncle flushed in embarrassment at his niece's remark.

"Helen, it isn't polite to comment on other people's eating habits," Duo scolded gently. 'Even if I was thinking the same thing, I can't let her get away with that kind of remark! She has to learn to be a bit more tactful... More careful of other people's feelings...'

Helen was one very headstrong little girl. He and L... *He*, Duo corrected painfully, had to walk a fine line between providing enough discipline to keep her from riding roughshod over everyone else's feelings and being too strict. One of Leia's greatest fears had been that her daughter would take after her father's self-centred attitude. Duo didn't think that would happen though he had to admit that if she were in her father's custody it would be highly likely. He figured that as long as he treated Helen the way that Father and Sister Helen had treated Leia and himself, he wouldn't go too far wrong. Lots of love and firm boundaries had worked pretty well for them, after all. "Now apologize to Ms. Yuy," he ordered firmly.

Fighting off a grin, Hilde gravely accepted the girl's obedient apology. She really hadn't minded the comment; it *was* true after all. She did eat more than the average person her size. But she understood and appreciated the girl's uncle's point. Cute as those remarks might be from a kindergarten kid, they wouldn't be nearly as amusing when the kid got older and continued to make tactless comments.

Heero listened in amazement as Duo smoothly handled the awkward moment by actually dealing with the incident rather than pretending that it didn't happen. He wished the parents of some of his other students were as careful to teach their children how to behave politely. Some of them obviously expected laughter in response to their tactless or inappropriate comments and clearly made the remarks in the first place just to get that response. If Helen's uncle was this experienced at handling her, he wondered what her mother was like.

"So what do you think of Astoria?" Duo asked curiously. "Think you'll stay once Ms. Bloom comes back from her trip?" He'd been very surprised when Cathy had left unexpectedly. Trowa had been equally surprised when Duo called him to find out whether he knew when she'd be back and was in fact a bit perturbed that his sister hadn't been in touch to let him know what was going on.

"I haven't planned that far ahead yet," Heero said carefully. He didn't want to destroy any chance of getting to know Duo by saying that he'd be leaving as soon as she returned. If it turned out that there was a possibility of a relationship between them they would have to work something out when the time came for him to leave but he was afraid that the other man wouldn't even be willing to explore that possibility if he knew now that Heero would be leaving. "And I really haven't seen much of Astoria other than the school." Seeing an opportunity to fish for information, he added, "But I have noticed that some of my students' parents seem rather reluctant to meet me. I always thought that small towns were supposed to be friendly..."

"Yes and no," Duo said. "Astoria can be very friendly but some of its residents take a while to warm up to new people. They're cautious that way. Don't want to share all their secrets with strangers, I guess." He shrugged slightly and hoped that the subject would be dropped. He had his own secrets to keep; he just had different ways of keeping them. Acting withdrawn and mysterious only drew more attention and left you alone if and when trouble came looking. Better to be open and friendly and make plenty of friends to stand by you if you needed help.

"Secrets?" Heero inquired curiously.

Cautiously choosing his words, Duo explained, "I think lots of people move to small towns to get away from things. From people or experiences or - well, whatever." He forced a grin and chuckled, "Not necessarily anything dark and mysterious though. Maybe something as simple as losing out on a promotion or breaking up with a lover. A small town's just a chance to start fresh in a new environment."

Heero nodded thoughtfully. For a moment there, he'd almost thought Duo was speaking from experience... And he still wasn't entirely certain that he wasn't...

Not too happy with the direction that the conversation had been taking, Duo turned things around and put the conversational ball back in Heero's court. "So what about you? What deep dark secret drove you to a kindergarten class in Astoria, Oregon?"

"Me?" Heero said, startled. "Uh - there was an opening for a kindergarten teacher. That's all."

"So have you been a kindergarten teacher for long?" Duo asked. He was pretty sure that the answer to this one was no. Helen's class was walking all over the poor guy. He'd encouraged Helen to run a little interference on her teacher's behalf and she'd been perfectly willing to do so - she loved an excuse to be bossy - but even in full-out "dictator mode" as Leia had dubbed her bossy behaviour, Helen couldn't keep an entire class of kids her age under control. Not when they were having so much fun tormenting their teacher.

"Yes," Heero said automatically. The look of sheer disbelief on Duo's face had him hastily continuing, "The longest two days of my life." Duo's amused chuckle assured him that his hasty save had worked. Remembering that he'd implied to Principal Une that he had experience teaching, Heero added, "I taught older children prior to this; kindergarten seemed like it would make a nice change of pace." Normally he would have no problem with lying in an undercover situation but he didn't like lying to Duo; it made him feel awful. But it wasn't *entirely* a lie; he had taught a few classes at the police academy and cadets really were just kids as far as he was concerned. Not that he was all *that* much older than them really, their inexperience just made them seem very young.

Hilde watched and listened in bemused silence as the two men virtually forgot the existence of both her and the little girl. Duo did occasionally speak to Helen, drawing her into the conversation briefly, but Helen would quickly fade back out, sitting back in her chair and observing with a look that Hilde could only describe as one of smug pleasure on her face. 'The little imp's *matchmaking*!' she realized in amusement. And she had to admit, it seemed to be working. Her cool, serious, *quiet* partner was talking and laughing and showing every sign of actually enjoying himself. 'At least there's no chance of him falling for the woman we're looking for!' she thought wryly. 'Oh well, if you can't beat'em - join'em!'

"So - Helen - tell me a little bit about your uncle," Hilde said with a conspiratorial grin. "He and my - brother - really seem to be hitting it off..."

Helen gave the dark-haired woman a startled look, a bit suspicious of her sudden interest. But seeing a kindred spirit in her conspiratorial wink and grin, she grinned back. "What do you want to know?"

Part 7:

Duo was sorry to call the evening to an end but Helen had literally fallen asleep at the table. And it was almost closing time for the restaurant. He'd *never* kept Helen out this late on a school night before. He gently lifted the sleeping girl to carry her to the car, thanking Heero for helping with the door on the way out. He was pleased when Heero walked them to their car, unlocking and opening the door for him so that he could settle Helen in her seat without waking her.

"I'm glad you joined us for dinner," Duo said, keeping his voice low so that he wouldn't waken Helen.

"Me too," Heero said simply. Despite having to be careful not to give away his real identity, he'd managed to avoid outright lies for the most part during their conversation. He really had enjoyed this evening. Duo was terrific company. A good listener as well as an interesting conversationalist. Heero was starting to hope that he wouldn't find Khushrenada's wife and kid too quickly. Not that he wouldn't continue to do everything he could to complete his assignment in a timely fashion - but he wouldn't be upset if it took a while to accomplish. Might even be glad.

"Umm - do you have any plans for Saturday?" Duo asked hesitantly. Maybe he was rushing things but he really wanted to spend more time with Heero. If the other man hadn't decided yet whether he would remain in Astoria or not, he wanted to do everything he could to tip the balance in favour of staying. He liked Heero, was attracted to him, and suspected that it wouldn't take much at all to make him fall in love with him. He just hoped that Heero felt the same way.

Heero hesitated. He really needed to do a little research, try and check out some of the few possible leads on Khushrenada's family... 'But that won't take long. A couple of hours on the computer, tops. Then it's just a matter of waiting for the query results to come back from headquarters...' And he really would like to spend more time getting to know Duo... Heero gave his partner a quick glance as he said, "Unless Hilde has something in mind, I'm only busy first thing in the morning..."

Relieved that her partner wouldn't be spending the whole day pacing the house while waiting for reports that would probably not be back for a day or so, Hilde shook her head. "Nope, not a thing," she declared.

"Well, Helen gets done T-ball at 11, then I need to feed her some lunch before I drop her off for karate. She's spending the afternoon with her instructor's daughter so I don't have to pick her up again till after supper... Which leaves me with the afternoon free to give you a tour of Astoria. You really should see a little more of it than just the school," Duo grinned. "So you could either join us at T-ball or I could meet you after I drop her off for karate..."

Guessing that a number of other kids would be in T-ball with Helen, Heero realized that it might be a good chance to meet a few more parents. And besides that, he wanted to see this T-ball coach that Helen said was better than him. "If you give me directions to the ball diamond, I could meet you at T-ball," Heero said. "Will Helen's mother be there too?" he asked curiously.

Duo froze. He hadn't realized that Heero didn't know... 'But then why should he? He's only been here a few days after all...' Would finding out that Helen was *his* responsibility make a difference? Heero might not be interested in an instant family... He swallowed hard, forcing down both the ache of Leia's death and the sudden sharp pain at the thought that Heero might not want anything more to do with him once he knew that Helen was solely Duo's responsibility. "No, she won't." Careful to remember to use the correct name, he said, "Elisa - my sister - died a couple of months ago. Helen is mine now. We're a package deal."

Heero winced at the raw pain in Duo's voice. At least now he knew why Helen had such a fatalistic attitude about death. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "No one told me." 'And Principal Une *should* have,' he thought angrily. The last thing Helen needed was for her teacher to prod such a recent wound by unknowingly asking an insensitive question.

Duo nodded in acknowledgement of the apology. "Uh - I'll understand if you want to change your mind about Saturday..." he said hesitantly.

It took a moment for Heero to realize why Duo would even say such a thing. 'He's not sure whether I'm still interested now that I know Helen goes along with him...' He realized, much to his own surprise, that it didn't matter. That he really didn't mind the fact that a relationship with Duo inevitably meant taking on Helen as well. "No," he said simply, shaking his head. "Just give me the directions and I'll meet you at T-ball."

Duo smiled in relief. "Sure."

***

Hilde waited until the car pulled away before walking over to stand beside Heero. She poked him in the ribs and said, "Woo-hoo, looks like my 'brother' has a date! Still sorry that you got stuck with the teaching job?"

Heero shot her an aggravated look. He already felt a bit odd about dating while he was undercover like this; he really didn't need his partner's teasing on top of that. And his death-glares were completely ineffective on her; he'd already found *that* out. But there was just something about Duo that made it impossible for him to resist taking this chance, despite the craziness of getting involved with someone who had a life hundreds of miles away from his own.

He attempted to avoid discussing the "date" by latching on to Hilde's question. "*Yes* I still regret getting stuck with the teaching job," he growled. "I'm terrible at it! They're walking all over me! I have absolutely no control over them." He had *no* idea what he was doing wrong. He was *bigger* than them for god's sake, that alone should be enough reason for them to do what he told them to. And he was their *elder*, hadn't they ever been taught to respect their elders? He'd had that drilled into him at a very young age.

Hilde snickered at Heero's pitiful complaint. She managed to choke off her laughter as he glared at her half-heartedly. 'Poor guy has no clue what to do... Bet he's never failed at anything before...' She knew from what Chief Jaye had told her that Heero had a better arrest/conviction ratio than any other officer in the department. Khushrenada was the one thorn in his side; the one criminal that he just couldn't seem to bust. He was thorough and dedicated to his job nearly to the point of obsession. Failure was something he simply did not know how to handle. "Listen Yuy," she said, flinging her arm over his shoulders and tugging him along as she walked, "just think of this like any other police situation. You go in there showing fear or hesitation and you're dead meat. You're scared and the kids know it."

Stopping in his tracks, Heero gave Hilde a considering look. She might just have a point... "No fear?"

"No fear," she repeated firmly.

He nodded slowly. "No fear..." Heero started walking again, mind racing through various scenarios. Maybe if he shook things up a little; put the kids in unfamiliar territory and himself back on more solid footing... He smirked and started to laugh.

Hilde gave Heero a concerned look and decided to release his arm and walk a little further away from him. Maybe she'd just made a big mistake. That laugh was *scary*. What the hell did Yuy have in mind?

***

"Alright class, listen up," Heero barked sharply. He could feel a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth already. His mere tone had gotten a quicker response from them than he'd managed up till now. "Today we're going to play a new game. It's called 'Police School'." He ignored the groans and muttered complaints, continuing, "I am the police chief and you are all my trainees. The first thing the trainees need to learn is that when I blow the whistle once, like this," he gave his police whistle a single shrill blast, sending small hands up to cover ears, "you will *freeze* and be quiet. Now the next time that I blow the whistle, you will each go get *one* toy and bring it back to the carpet and sit down. How many toys?"

"One!" the kids answered.

"Good!" Heero said. "Now get ready..." A couple of kids jumped up and started towards the toys. "Ah-ah! Wait for the whistle!" Heero ordered. He pointed back towards the chairs and the kids sheepishly returned. He fought down the rising feeling of satisfaction. Just because this was working so far, that didn't mean it would keep working. "Ready..." He blew the whistle and kids scrambled to race for toys. He watched closely as they hurried back to the carpet with them. Samantha was busy waltzing her doll around instead of returning to the carpet. He stalked over to her, scowling. "Samantha! Get back to the carpet!"

"I'm not a policeman; I'm a princess! Mommy says so!" Samantha protested, pouting.

'I'll bet she does...' Heero thought, suppressing a shudder. Her mother acted as if *she* was a princess; it really was too bad that she was passing that behaviour on to her daughter. Well, Samantha wouldn't get away with it in *his* class! "Back to the carpet!" he ordered, pointing and glaring.

"But..."

"Samantha!" he snapped.

"Okay..." she conceded, shoulders drooping in defeat. She trailed back to the carpet docilely and took a seat.

Heero breathed a sigh of relief. All the kids were now back on the carpet. Noisy, but where they were supposed to be. He blew the whistle sharply and they all froze and went silent. "Good. Very good." This was going to work. Thank god, the little monsters were going to actually behave for him.

By the time they practised lining up for a fire drill and marching outside in a quick and orderly fashion at least half a dozen times, then moved on to play on the playground equipment for a while, Heero was feeling much more confident and comfortable. And the physical activity was making the kids much less hyper and more amenable to behaving. Helen gave him a grin and a thumbs-up as the children settled onto the mats for a story and their afternoon rest. Heero cleared his throat and started to read, keeping his voice as low and soothing as he could make it. By the time he got halfway through the book, most of the kids were dozing off and by the time he finished, they were all either sound asleep or at least lying quietly with their eyes shut. He wouldn't swear that all of them were actually asleep but if they weren't, they were pretty good at faking it.

As Heero moved back to his desk and started jotting down a few more observations and ideas for finding Khushrenada's family, he realized that today hadn't been bad at all. With a little luck, he might actually make it through this undercover assignment in one piece both mentally and physically.

***

Watching Helen's team play T-ball on Saturday morning, Heero realized why she'd said that her coach Howie was better than him after that first day he'd been her teacher. The good-natured man in the bold Hawaiian print shirt, Tilley hat, and mirrored sunglasses was universally adored by the kids he coached. He teased and coaxed and scolded his young charges through the game with hardly a teary eye amongst them. And when one parent became too vocal in his criticism of a child's performance, Howie dragged off his sunglasses, stomped over to the bleachers, and demanded to know just when the hell Mr. Critical had got so damn perfect. He insisted that the man come down and take a turn at bat himself. On his knees. Blindfolded. With one hand tied behind his back. After all, he *had* said that he could do a better job than the poor kid even in that state, hadn't he?

For some odd reason, no one else felt the need to be overly critical for the rest of the game. Heero liked Howie.

***

Since Hilde had dropped him off at the ball diamond, Heero rode with Duo and Helen when they left. "We're going home for lunch," Duo said. "If that's okay with you?"

"Fine," Heero nodded. He was looking forward to seeing where Duo and Helen lived. He was expecting a small, comfortable home. Something cozy and very typically middle-class, small-town America. He was wrong.

"You live *here*?" Heero asked disbelievingly. The huge electronically controlled gates swung shut behind the car as it started up the long, winding driveway towards the beautiful, sprawling house perched on top of the hill.

"Yep. Thanks to a really good friend, we do," Duo said with a smile. "We look after the place in exchange for living in it. Once in a while the owner or some of his family will come by for a week or so on vacation but the rest of the time we've got the whole house to ourselves." The gates and security cameras and alarm system had gone a long way towards making Leia feel safe, though she'd never felt completely secure. He could never have afforded this kind of security let alone a house this luxurious on a teacher's salary. Especially not when it had taken most of his pay cheque just to meet the bills for Leia's treatments. "Elisa Maxwell" didn't exactly have health insurance to fall back on and even if she had, the experimental treatments probably wouldn't have been covered anyway.

Duo owed Quatre a huge debt of gratitude for all his assistance over the past few years. Not that Quatre would ever remind him of that. Or that the son of two oil baron families - one American, one Saudi Arabian - would ever miss the monetary assistance he'd also provided on several specific occasions, including Leia's funeral. Quatre was generous to a fault where his friends were concerned. Not that his business competitors would ever believe such a thing.

'Thanks to a really good friend? Or to ten million dollars of stolen drug money?' Heero wondered uncomfortably. He was suddenly wondering whether he needed to move Helen's name further up the list of "maybes". Khushrenada *was* a redhead and Helen's hair was auburn verging on true red... 'God, I hope not...' Heero thought unhappily. If Helen *was* Khushrenada's daughter and if her mother was really dead, then his only other possible witness against Khushrenada was gone. Plus that put Duo right smack dab in the middle of the whole mess and Heero really didn't want to find out that he was involved. He didn't want to believe that Duo would ever touch drug money, stolen or not. 'I'll have to check his story out...' Heero realized miserably. He couldn't ignore the possibility; he had a job to do and his personal feelings had to come second to that. He knew that; he just didn't like it.

Part 8:

"Come on in," Duo invited, holding the front door open. "Helen can give you the nickel tour of the place while I rustle something up for lunch. Burgers and fries okay with you?"

"That will be fine," Heero nodded, gazing around the entryway with wide eyes. The place was just as gorgeous inside as out. Gleaming woodwork and sparkling glass everywhere he looked.

The beautiful surroundings obviously didn't impress Helen; she tossed her jacket in a heap on top of a chair and grabbed Heero's hand. "Come on, let me show you my room," she urged, dragging him towards the grand staircase. Upstairs, most of the doors were closed. Helen waved towards them and said, "We don't go in there; those rooms are for the people who own the house. Our rooms are down here." She tugged Heero down the hall behind her and he found himself in the room of a slightly tomboyish little girl.

The room was decorated in cool greens rather than little-girl pink and racing car bedsheets peeked out from beneath a bedspread covered in pegasi and unicorns. The posters on the wall were an equally varied mix of sports and fantasy. The entire room was completely out of tune with the rest of the house; clearly it had been decorated exactly as its occupant wished.

On the nightstand, Heero spotted a photo of Duo and Helen together with a young woman with a pale face and darkly shadowed eyes. A scarf covered her head. He picked the picture up and looked at it carefully. Considering how poor the quality of their photos of Leia was and how much the woman in the photo might have been changed by her illness, it was impossible to tell whether she was the one he was looking for or not.

"That's my mom," Helen said matter-of-factly, moving to stand beside Heero. "She was sick for a long time. She died a couple of months ago." Her voice went so soft that Heero could barely hear her as she added, "I miss her lots and Uncle Duo does too." Abruptly, she jerked the picture frame out of Heero's hands and put it face-down on the bed before grabbing Heero's hand and pulling him out of her room and across the hall. Her voice was almost too bright as she told him, "This is Uncle Duo's room!" Heero glanced down at her and saw the sheen of tears in her eyes before she swiped one arm across them impatiently. Her voice was more natural as she told him conspiratorially, "He must've cleaned it this morning 'cause it's usually messier than mine."

"I heard that, you little brat," Duo exclaimed, bounding up the stairs and down the hall. "Tattletale!" He scooped Helen off her feet and held her tucked under one arm while he tickled her face and neck with the tuft at the end of his braid. She squealed and giggled. Duo swung her up on his shoulders as he said, "Lunch will be ready in just a couple of minutes. Bathroom's down the stairs and to the right at the end of the hall if you want to wash up. Kitchen's right next to it; I thought we'd just eat in there. I'll just supervise the munchkin here in her ablutions then be back downstairs to serve."

"Okay," Heero agreed. Before leaving, he cast a quick glance around the room, noting how the dark wood furniture contrasted with the bright jewel-tone blues and greens of the carpet and furnishings. There was only minimal furniture in the room, leaving it open and uncluttered. He liked it and it suited the vivacious man that it belonged to. Halfway down the stairs, he froze as the thought crossed his mind that he wouldn't mind sharing that room. With an effort, he forced himself to continue down to wash up.

He *couldn't* be thinking in those terms already; he hadn't even *kissed* Duo yet! And he had a home - okay, "home" wasn't a good description, "crummy apartment" was considerably more accurate - back in L.A. and a job that he would have to go back to as well! When had he stopped thinking in terms of convincing *Duo* that there were plenty of teaching opportunities in L.A. and started thinking in terms of joining Duo *here*?!

'When the hell did I go and fall in love with a man who could very well turn out to be mixed up in the case that I'm here undercover on?' Heero thought with dismay.

***

"It was nice meeting you, Mr. Yuy," the young woman said graciously. "Our daughter has had some very - interesting - stories to tell us about her day since you became her teacher."

Heero winced at the thought of just what kind of stories they'd probably heard. "Hopefully they will be a bit less - interesting - in future," he said ruefully before following Duo out to the car.

"Thanks Meiran!" Duo called over his shoulder before climbing into the car. Helen looked forward to her Saturday afternoons at the Changs. She loved her karate lessons with Wufei just as much as she loved spending the rest of the afternoon playing with Wufei and Meiran's kids. The routine had been established back when he used to have to take Leia for her treatments on Saturday afternoons and they'd continued it now despite the fact that he no longer needed his Saturday afternoon free for that reason. He'd tried to change as little of Helen's day-to-day routine as possible after Leia's death; he figured that she needed the stability. She had too many changes to adjust to as it was.

Inside the car, Duo gave Heero a smile and asked, "So, how about we start your tour of Astoria with a trip to the beach? The water here's way too cold for swimming and the current is dangerous but the beach itself is pretty nice."

"Sure," Heero agreed readily. He didn't really care what they did; he was just interested in getting to know Duo better. For now, he was pushing all thought of Khushrenada and his missing family out of his mind and just concentrating on his own interest in Duo. He'd turn checking out Duo's story over to Hilde; he was too personally involved now to handle that part of things. By rights, he should be asking to be pulled off the case entirely. He just hated to pull out now; he'd been after Khushrenada for so damn long...

***

"Meiran? What's wrong? You've been very quiet ever since Duo introduced his companion..."

Meiran looked around to make sure that none of the children were close enough to overhear. Softly, she said, "I've seen him somewhere before, I'm sure of it. And Wufei - whatever it was that I saw him in connection with, it was at work. I'm positive."

Wufei swore quietly but viciously in Mandarin. Hadn't Duo been through enough already? He was still grieving over his sister's death. He'd carried the burden of his terminally ill sister and her child for years now and at times he seemed so lonely... And now that he seemed to have found someone that he was interested in, Meiran had seen the man's picture at the police station she was an officer at? "I have just one more class this afternoon. Once I'm finished with that, I'll watch the children and you can go in and check it out, okay?" he offered. He'd intended to spend the remainder of the afternoon working on research for his doctoral thesis but this was more important.

Giving Wufei a quick thankful kiss, Meiran said simply, "Okay." Whatever that man was involved in, they'd get to the bottom of it. Duo was a good friend and *nobody* messed with their friends and got away with it. *Nobody*.

***

"The Changs seemed like an interesting couple," Heero remarked casually as he and Duo strolled along the beach. He'd almost had the impression that the woman, Meiran, didn't like him. He wondered exactly what kind of stories her daughter had been telling about him.

Duo laughed. "Quite the odd combination I must admit. The top officer on Astoria's police force married to the studious scholar doing research for his doctoral thesis in Asian History - specifically focussing on the martial arts - and running a small martial arts dojo on the side. It's highly likely that Meiran will end up being Astoria's first female police chief in a few years."

Heero's heart raced. Meiran was on the police force? 'K'so. She might know why I'm really here; I know that at least the chief of police was informed and given photos of Hilde and myself so that we wouldn't have any problems with the local law enforcement. And if she tells Duo...' Everything could unravel. Not just his search for Khushrenada's wife and daughter but his tentative fledgeling relationship with Duo as well. 'If someone other than me tells him... He'll be hurt and angry and I might never get him to give me another chance...'

But Heero *couldn't* tell him. Not while he and Hilde still hadn't completed their assignment. 'But I can ask to be removed from the case. Chief Jaye will order me back to L.A. probably and I'll have to go for now. But once they find Khushrenada's family or cancel the search, I'll just take some of my unused vacation time and come back. Then I'll be able to tell him why I was originally here and hope he understands and forgives me for not telling him sooner.' It wasn't perfect and it meant giving up on being the one to finally put Khushrenada behind bars for good but it was the only option he could see that gave him even a faint chance of salvaging a relationship with Duo when this was all over with.

***

Duo leaned back against the trolley's seat, pleasantly conscious of the arm resting across the seat's top, just touching his back. "So, are you enjoying your tour of Astoria?" he asked Heero hopefully. "It's a pretty nice town, you know." He really wanted Heero to see all of the town's good points. To convince him to stay here even after Cathy came back to resume her teaching job.

"I don't know about the town, but the company has certainly been thoroughly enjoyable," Heero said honestly. He smiled at the flush his remark brought to Duo's cheeks. Really, he hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to the various historical sites and other attractions that Duo had taken him to. He'd been too busy watching Duo's expressive face.

"We're almost back to where we left the car," Duo said regretfully. He prepared to stand and signal for the trolley to stop.

Heero shifted his arm, raising his hand to curl over Duo's shoulder and hold him in place. "What's the rush?" he asked. "We can ride as long as we want, right? Why not just stay on till you need to go pick up Helen?"

"Uh - yeah, we could do that," Duo said, settling back into the seat again. He'd figured on taking Heero up to climb the Astoria Column and see the view but riding the trolley with Heero's arm behind him was fine by him. He turned his head to meet Heero's eyes and smiled. 'The view from the top of the Column is spectacular but the view here is pretty damn nice too...' His heart pounded as Heero leaned closer to him.

Hoping that he wasn't moving too fast, Heero leaned towards Duo, giving him plenty of time to turn his head or move away. Their lips were just about to touch when the trolley bell clanged loudly, making them both jump. Heero glared out the window at the kids that had just darted across the trolley's path, making the motorman ring the bell in warning. So much for the moment.

Duo smothered the urge to laugh at Heero's disgruntled expression. He was disappointed too. But maybe it was just as well that the kiss had been averted. They were both teachers and they had reputations to protect, especially in a small town like Astoria. That would be an issue even if they weren't the same sex; the fact that they were just made it even more important. He needed to be very, very sure that Heero planned on sticking around before he let himself be too obviously involved with him.

Not that his heart was paying much attention to his head. His head might know that he needed to be sure Heero was interested in sticking around, in being in a long-term, committed relationship, before he let Heero get too close. But his heart had already made its own decision. He'd fallen and fallen hard. 'I'm in love with him,' he admitted silently. 'I, Duo Maxwell, am in love with Heero Yuy...' Now he just had to figure out whether Heero felt the same way about him. And if he did...

'I'll have to decide how much to tell him about Leia and her daughter and Khushrenada...' He'd never told anyone the whole story and Leia had never told anyone other than him. But he didn't think he could very well commit to a relationship with a person that he couldn't trust enough to tell the whole story to. The question was - did he trust Heero that much?

Part 9:

Heero waved goodbye to Duo and watched as his car drove away. He waited until Duo was completely out of sight before moving towards the door of the house that he and Hilde were staying at. The extra car parked in the driveway had him very tense. They weren't expecting any visitors. The Oregon plates didn't mean a thing; the car was probably a rental anyway.

Silently unlocking and opening the front door, Heero slipped inside and retrieved the gun hidden just inside the doorway. He crept quietly through the house, following the sound of low moans and whimpers to Hilde's doorway. Kicking the door open, he barked out, "Freeze!" and trained his gun on the stranger inside.

"*NO!*" Hilde yelled as the man squawked and dived off the side of the bed. She yanked the covers up under her armpits. "Yuy, no! This is Trent, my fiance. Trent, honey, it's okay."

Heero stared in disbelief as the man slowly stood, clutching a pillow in front of his groin and another behind him. "Your fiance?" he demanded.

"Yeah, my fiance," she repeated. "Trent, this is my partner, Heero Yuy."

"Hi," the man said, shuffling around the end of the bed. He held out his hand to shake Heero's and ended up dropping the pillow he'd been holding behind him. Heero gave the man points for guts. He'd just been holding a gun on him and now the guy was offering to shake hands. Despite the fact that he was stark naked except for a pillow. And was clearly both nervous and embarrassed.

"Hello," Heero replied flatly, shifting his disbelieving gaze back and forth between his partner and her fiance. This was definitely *not* standard operating procedure for an undercover mission. He'd thought bringing his ferret along was a bit questionable; bringing one's fiance along was - well, considerably worse.

"I'll just - uh - be back in a minute," Trent sputtered, backing across the room and into the small ensuite bathroom.

"It's my birthday," Hilde explained.

"Congratulations," Heero deadpanned. He really couldn't see what the hell that had to do with anything.

"Trent took time off from the restaurant and came all the way up here to surprise me," she said happily. "And he made me my favourite. Seafood linguine." She picked up a plate from the nightstand and ate a fork full. "Mmm..."

"You're marrying a *chef*." Why was he not surprised?

"Not just *a* chef, a *great* chef," Hilde corrected smugly. She ate another mouthful of her pasta.

Heero shook his head. "Hilde, I..."

Trent emerged from the bathroom, belting a bright pink, frilly bathrobe around him. "Really, sweetie? A *great* chef?"

"Of course, baby," she answered.

"Hilde, I really..." Heero attempted.

"You didn't think it was overcooked a bit?" Trent asked anxiously.

"Of course not, honey, it was just the way I like it..."

Heero gave up. Obviously discussing *anything* with his partner was going to have to wait till her - company - left. He started to back out of the room.

"Here, take this," Hilde ordered, holding out the plate of food. Heero took it reluctantly and hurriedly stepped out of the room, pulling the door shut and hoping the broken latch would hold. He had no desire to accidentally see or hear more than necessary of the two lovebirds.

***

Checking through his e-mail messages from Headquarters, Heero was intensely relieved to discover one eliminating Relena Darlian as one of the possibilities to be Leia. Her ex and his lover had been located and were quite definitely *not* Khushrenada and Peacecraft. 'Thank god. I was afraid I might actually have to *date* the woman before the Chief would get around to replacing me on the case. Speaking of which...' Heero began to compose a new message to Chief Jaye, citing growing personal involvement and loss of professional detachment as his reason for requesting to be removed from the undercover assignment. The pointer hovered over the "Send" button for several long minutes as Heero debated his decision again. But he really couldn't see any other choice that he could live with.

His first mentor when he'd joined the force years ago, the man who'd been his father's partner right up till the day his father had been killed during a drug bust that went bad, had given him a piece of advice that he'd never really followed before. Odin Lowe had told him that he should always live according to his emotions. That otherwise he would live a very empty, lonely life. Heero had shrugged off the advice, channelling all of his energy into his cold, calculated, crusade to put an end to the narcotics trade that had killed his mother only a few years after his father. She had at least lived to see him accepted into the police academy even if she hadn't survived long enough to see him graduate.

Despite the fact that Khushrenada's organization was not directly responsible for his parents' deaths, Heero had come to see that one man that he couldn't seem to bring to justice as symbolizing the entire drug trade. Putting Khushrenada behind bars was personal. Giving up direct involvement in that was difficult.

But when he weighed that against probably losing any chance he might have with Duo... Against either breaking off that fledgeling relationship and trying to restore his professional detachment or continuing the relationship in direct violation of proper procedure despite the fact that when Duo found out he'd been lying to him the relationship would probably be destroyed anyway... Being personally responsible for taking down Khushrenada suddenly wasn't so important anymore.

Heero knew that his own parents had met, fallen in love, and married in a matter of weeks. They'd met at the police academy; his mother just a new recruit starting training and his father a visiting police officer from Japan, there to compare American and Japanese training methods. His father used to say that he'd fallen in love with America at the same time as he'd fallen in love with Jenny, Heero's mother. That that was why they hadn't gone back to Japan.

Growing up, Heero had loved to hear his parents tell the story of their whirlwind courtship. It had been like a fairy tale come to life; a story made even more magical by the fact that it was his hardworking, serious father and his quiet, slightly shy mother who played the starring roles. But he'd never, ever expected to experience that same phenomenon himself. To be prepared to turn his life upside down in order to be with someone he'd met a mere week ago. 'But I am...' Shaking his head in wondering disbelief, Heero clicked the "Send" button. Hopefully it wouldn't take long for Chief Jaye to arrange to replace him on the assignment. He didn't want to get in so deep that Duo would never be able to forgive him or trust him afterwards. He was already on pretty shaky ground and he knew it.

***

Wufei met Meiran's eyes and raised one eyebrow questioningly. She'd been gone all afternoon and the look on her face was one of frustration. She shook her head in response to his silent question.

"Nothing," Meiran said simply. She sighed heavily as she turned to hang up her jacket. "I *know* I've seen his picture at work recently. The only other place it could be is in the Chief's office. I'll try to check it out when I get a chance but..." she shrugged unhappily. It might take a few days. She'd have to have a legitimate reason to be poking around in Chief Gee's office. And about the only reason for something to be hidden away in there was if it involved an outside investigation; something out of local jurisdiction and very hush-hush.

Sighing, Wufei pulled his wife into a hug. "He was so happy when he came back to pick up Helen..." He dreaded the thought of having to tell Duo that his new love interest was not what he seemed to be. And if Meiran was right - and she almost always was where police matters were concerned - the new kindergarten teacher couldn't possibly be only what he appeared to be. Not if his photo was hanging around the police station. Heero Yuy was not merely a substitute kindergarten teacher. But who or what *was* he? 'And perhaps more importantly, what is his *real* interest in Duo?'

***

Duo pulled the covers up and tucked Helen in. He leaned over to kiss her forehead. "Night, munchkin. Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!"

Turning to leave the room, he stopped as Helen asked, "Uncle Duo, do you like Mr. Yuy?"

Returning to perch on the edge of the bed, Duo smiled softly. "Yeah, I do, Helen. That okay with you?"

She nodded vigorously in response. "Yes! He's still not as good as Ms. Bloom but he's nice anyway. He tries *real* hard 'n' he doesn't let the other kids get too silly anymore." Helen was quiet for a moment, twisting the edge of her comforter in her hands. "I think Mommy would have liked him too. 'Cause he makes you smile 'n' laugh more like you used to before..."

Duo winced. He'd been trying so hard to be his usual self for Helen since her mother died but obviously not hard enough. He couldn't help it though, Leia really had been like a sister to him and he missed her. Missed her a hell of a lot.

Dearly as he loved Helen, she was a child and Duo missed having another adult there to talk to. Somebody to talk about art and sports and politics and literature with. Someone to share the responsibility of raising a child with. Though he'd been bearing all the responsibility for quite a while before Leia's death; she simply hadn't had the strength for much of anything beyond simply existing. Occasionally sitting through part of a T-ball game or making a brief appearance at a school function was almost more than she could handle.

"Yeah, he does," he admitted simply. He tweaked the tip of Helen's nose, playfully scolding, "Now, enough stalling missy. Bedtime!" He dropped another kiss on her forehead as he rose and headed for the door, flicking the light off as he left the room. "Goodnight, sweetie. Pleasant dreams."

"Night, Uncle Duo..."

Duo headed downstairs to check the locks and alarm system before going to bed himself. It was kind of early but - well, he was hoping for some pleasant dreams of his own. Dreams of a certain blue-eyed man and the wonderful afternoon they'd spent together.

'And maybe dreams of something more than that...' he admitted to himself as he made his nightly rounds. Dreams of a type of companionship that no one had ever provided him with.

Oh, he'd done a bit of fooling around - really, really *mild* fooling around - in college but that was about it. He - and most of the other teens at the orphanage - had made a promise to Father and Sister Helen years ago. A promise to wait for true love. To abstain from sex until then. It had been tough at times. Damn tough. But he'd kept his promise. He didn't know how many of the others had, if any; didn't even know where the others were actually, Leia was the only one he'd stayed in touch with. But what they did or didn't do had nothing to do with his own actions. He'd given his word and he'd stuck to it.

'I don't lie. Not even when no one else would know about it.'

Technically, he didn't even lie about Leia; they were raised together and had been siblings in every way that mattered. Leia had chosen the new names for herself and her daughter; Duo figured she had every right to change their names if she wanted to.

And neither of them had ever lied to Helen about her father. She knew that he was alive and that her mother didn't like him anymore. That he'd broken the law and her mother didn't think he would be a very good father. That he lived somewhere else. Luckily, she'd never asked for any further information so they'd never had to decide whether to tell her more details or not. He knew that wouldn't last forever; sooner or later Helen would want to know more about her father and he would have to make some difficult decisions when that time came.

He had some difficult decisions to make *now* too. Decisions regarding how much he trusted Heero and how much he was going to tell the man about Helen and her mother and Khushrenada. A mistake in judgement would spell disaster.

Legally, he had no claim on Helen. Oh, Leia had signed and notarized documents drawn up under both her real name and as "Elisa Maxwell" giving custody of Helen to him. But she'd never actually divorced Khushrenada. They weren't even legally separated. Legally, Helen belonged with her father, regardless of the fact that her mother hadn't wanted him to have her. If he told Heero the truth and Heero didn't understand the situation, if Heero reported the whole story to the police... Duo would either have to face losing Helen to the very man her mother had made him swear would never get his hands on her or he would have to take Helen and run.

But if he *didn't* tell Heero the truth...

Could he get seriously involved with the man while keeping such a huge secret?

He didn't know. He really hadn't known Heero very long; he didn't even *really* know what Heero's intentions were. He *thought* the man was seriously interested in him. Maybe even falling in love with him the way that he had fallen in love with Heero. But he didn't actually *know* that; Heero certainly hadn't come right out and told him.

'Wait,' he decided reluctantly. All he could do for now was wait and see how the next few days went. Maybe a little more time would make things clearer. 'I hope...'

Part 10:

"Mrs. Mueller! Mrs. Mueller!" Heero called, breaking into a run to catch the woman before she could pull away from the curb. As he knocked on the driver's window insistently, Alexia scrambled into the passenger's seat and he could hear her apologizing for not noticing that he was following her. Heero frowned internally though he kept his face from showing his discontent. There was no reason that the child should be apologizing to her mother for the fact that her teacher had followed her to the car.

The window rolled down and Heero found himself facing a young blonde with a sharp, hard face and eyebrows at least as pointy as Khushrenada's. "Mrs. Mueller, I've..."

"Catalonia. *Ms.* Catalonia," she corrected sharply.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Catalonia," Heero apologized smoothly. He let his confusion show as he inquired, "Alexia is your daughter?"

"Yes, yes," the woman said impatiently. "I'm in the process of a divorce and have no desire to use my husband's name," she informed him icily.

Somewhat taken aback by the woman's attitude, Heero tried to get back on track with his prepared speech. He'd said it enough times by now that it should have been a simple matter to get it out. "I'm Heero Yuy, your daughter's new kindergarten teacher. I've been trying to meet the parents of my students. I've left several messages..."

The woman cut him off abruptly, "Is there a point to this, Mr. Yuy? I am a very busy woman." She lowered her voice to an icy hiss, "Divorcing an abusive bastard and making sure that his life is a living hell tends to keep one's life rather hectic."

"I - see," Heero said, blinking in surprise. He made a quick decision. If she was genuinely divorcing her husband, that should be easy enough to check out. She was distinctly hostile right now so there was no point in pressing her for details. He would make further inquiries on his own first. "In that case, I won't keep you. Thank you for your time." He looked across the car and smiled faintly at Alexia. "I'll see you in class, Alexia. Goodbye." As he started to move away, he impulsively turned back for a moment and told the woman quite seriously, "Congratulations. And... good luck."

The blonde looked startled for an instant, then gave him a distinctly feral smile. "Thank you." And with that, she rolled up her window and pulled away.

Heero almost felt sorry for her soon-to-be-ex-husband. *Almost*. Though if he really was abusive, he deserved everything that he had coming to him.

***

Noin hurried through the crowded street market, checking nervously over her shoulder. Her nerves were really getting to her since she'd agreed to cooperate with the cops and testify against Khushrenada. If she wasn't so sure that damn detective would come looking for her if she didn't follow through with her promise, she'd have cut and run.

Slipping through to a particular stall, she found the dealer exactly where she'd expected him to be. "You got the stuff?" she demanded urgently. He extended one hand slightly from his side in response. She slid her wad of cash into his hand and took the small plastic packet in exchange, quickly tucking it deeply into her jacket pocket. "Thanks," she said abruptly as she turned away. She really *needed* this hit to settle her nerves.

The dealer silently watched her leave. She'd never been a particularly big client but she'd been a pretty reliable one. Oh well. He turned and headed back into an alley. Inside, he was met by a tall man wearing a hooded jacket. The hood obscured the man's face, masking it in shadows. "Hey, man, I gave her your stuff. Now where's the rest of my money?" the dealer demanded.

A thick wad of bills changed hands. The dealer stifled his curiosity; asking too many questions was one hell of a good way to end up dead in this business. "Pleasure doin' business with you," he muttered before turning and heading back into the bustle of the market.

"Believe me, the pleasure was all mine," the hooded man murmured sotto voce. A gloved hand tucked a stray strand of platinum blond back inside the hood and then he vanished into the shadows.

***

Heero pulled up his messages and scowled at the laptop screen. Still no response from Jaye regarding his request to be taken off the assignment. He absently tossed Zero's ball across the room each time the ferret brought it to him as he scanned through his other messages. His frown deepened. Still no new leads on the other orphans from the orphanage that Leia had been raised in. He sighed in resignation and started to pull up online newspaper archives. He might as well start checking out Alexia's mother's story.

The front door opened and closed. Heero rested his hand lightly on the gun taped to the underside of the desk until a familiar voice shouted, "Yo, Yuy! You here?"

Heero rolled his eyes in exasperation at his partner's shouted query. "Where *else* would I be?" he demanded irritably.

"Off dating that hunky teacher?" Hilde suggested as she entered the room. She grinned at the faint flush that stained Heero's cheeks in response to her remark. "Seems to me that it's your turn to ask *him* out..."

"Don't you have anything better to do than stick your nose into my dating life?" Heero grumbled. "Like, say, your *job*?"

Hilde flipped him off good-naturedly. "What do you think I've *been* doing all day? Watching soaps?"

Heero opened his mouth to reply then thought better of it. She *was* his partner after all. It wouldn't pay to piss her off too badly, no matter how tempting the setup was. He settled for a noncommittal grunt.

Once it became clear that Heero wasn't going to respond, Hilde settled down to business. "Took me all day but I found out that Alexia Mueller and her mother aren't the ones we're looking for. Though weirdly enough, the mother *is* related to Treize - second cousins twice removed or some such nonsense. Apparently her branch of the family and his aren't on speaking terms though. The reason there's no father around is that..."

"The mother's divorcing him on grounds that he's abusive," Heero interjected. He smirked in satisfaction at the stunned look on Hilde's face. "I met Ms. Catalonia after school today. I was just starting to check out her story."

"Well, if that's what she told you, it's definitely true. She's got temporary full custody *and* a restraining order against Mueller. Had to go through the police chief to get the full details. At any rate, she's off the list of possibles."

"Did you start checking into Elisa Maxwell?" Heero asked, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

"Started but nothing back on her yet," Hilde said, shaking her head. "Started checking into Duo Maxwell as well but there's not much back on him either. Just that the story on the house is true - it's owned by the Winner family, not him. And that he's got less in the bank than *I* do and that's pretty damn pathetic."

"Winner? That name sounds familiar..."

"It should," Hilde remarked drily. "They're only one of the biggest oil families around. Then there's the fact that the only male heir is quite openly gay and in a relationship with his Executive Assistant."

"How the hell does a small town teacher know someone like *that* well enough to be given the use of a family house?" Heero exclaimed in shock. This just kept getting more and more confusing. 'Correction, Duo Maxwell keeps getting more and more confusing... None of which changes the fact that I'm in love with him and would just confront him and *ask* him to explain if I weren't still on this damn assignment...'

Hilde shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe we'll get more information tomorrow that'll answer that question." She stole a sly glance at Heero and suggested, "Or you could always ask him..."

Heero scowled darkly at her in response. She knew as well as he did that he simply couldn't do that. Not as long as he was undercover on this assignment. All he could do was hope that he would get pulled *off* of the assignment very, very soon. Then make his excuses and head back to California temporarily until the investigation wrapped up and he could come back and tell Duo the whole story. 'And hope like hell that he understands...'

***

Meiran sat in the car and glared at the innocent-looking house down the street. She'd overheard the name "Yuy" mentioned while the woman was taking her leave of Chief Gee and since she was due to go off duty anyway, she hadn't even tried to resist the temptation to tail the woman. She noted down the address and headed home. 'I think Duo mentioned dropping his date off somewhere in this subdivision. I'll have to think of a way to confirm exactly *where*...'

But she really didn't have any doubt that it would be the same address that she'd just followed the woman to. 'Or rather, that I followed the out-of-state undercover *cop* to...' she thought darkly. She knew *that* much because Chief Gee's secretary had complained about all the extra work she'd had to do on behalf of said cop. And if the undercover cop was sharing a house with the new kindergarten teacher - the odds were awfully high that said "teacher" was a cop too. What they were doing here, she had no idea. Nor did she have any idea what Duo could possibly have to do with their presence. If anything. The cop might just be using him for cover. Or - *maybe* - he could actually be interested in Duo personally.

'A cop's better than a criminal... But if he's just using Duo, he's going to end up hurting him just as surely and as badly...'

And, as a fellow police officer, she was going to have to stand back and watch it happen. Meiran swore furiously through the entire drive home. Sometimes the law and justice were not synonymous. She truly hated those occasions.

***

Duo exchanged an amused look with Heero as Relena Darlian made a flamboyant entrance into the gymnasium. The expensive - and, inevitably, pink - bicycle and the pretty white pony - wearing a pink halter, of course - that the woman had brought to donate as raffle prizes had both classes losing interest in the preparations for the funfair and attempting to run off to pet the pony. Duo grinned in appreciation as Heero brought his class back under control with a quick blast on the whistle hanging around his neck. 'He's really getting the hang of handling them,' he thought as he rounded his own class back up.

He still hadn't entirely decided what to do about Heero. Whether or not to reveal part or all of his secrets to the other man. They'd managed to spend at least a little time together every day, either during lunch hour or by helping the other tidy up his classroom at the end of the day. And Heero had invited him - and Helen - out for supper tonight. Duo had accepted but suggested that they get takeout and go back to his place. He didn't want to keep Helen out too late on a school night. 'And I want the privacy too. I'm not prepared to tell him *everything* - but maybe if I just tell him a few little things, drop some hints, I'll be better able to judge how he'd react to the whole story...'

That was what he was hoping anyway.

***

Meiran chewed her lip nervously. She really wasn't sure whether this was the right thing to do or not but she couldn't just sit back and wait when a friend was in danger of being hurt in any way, be it physical harm or emotional. She needed some answers. Taking a deep breath, she knocked firmly on Chief Gee's office door. "Chief? I need to speak to you..."

***

Heero frowned as he swept his gaze over the playground. Recess was almost over and he was coming up one student short in his headcount. Which one of his students was missing? He hadn't been on yard duty so maybe someone had simply gotten permission to go inside to go to the bathroom... But somehow, he didn't think so. For some reason, his every cop instinct was on alert, telling him that something was wrong.

Automatically, Heero's gaze found Helen first before running through the rest of the class list. A number of parents *had* showed up to help with the funfair preparations and a couple of them had taken their children home when they left; maybe someone had forgotten to let him know. 'Alexia. Where's Alexia? I would have noticed if her mother was here; she's too powerful a personality to overlook...'

But what about the girl's father? He hadn't met the man so he wouldn't recognize him...

Blowing his whistle sharply, Heero instantly had the full attention of his class. They all immediately stopped whatever they were doing and ran to line up in front of him. "Has anyone seen Alexia?" he demanded.

Samantha nodded and informed him, "She was over there..." The girl pointed towards the gate leading to the street, "...talking to her daddy."

Heero swore explosively in Japanese, only realizing after he'd done it that it was a good thing that none of his students understood the language. "Go inside and choose one toy each," he instructed the class hurriedly. "Play quietly until I come back. I want to talk to Alexia's daddy," he explained carefully. The kids nodded their understanding and he sent them inside before hopping over the low gate - noting that the school needed to change *that*, locking it didn't do much good if it was low enough for an adult to jump over or lift a child over - and hastily scanning the street for any sign of the girl.

A wail of "I want Mama!" and the sharp sound of a slap gave him the direction he needed.

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- tbc-