3-22-2003

Number: #2 Beginnings
Arc: Sweeper Three
Author: Calic0cat
Story Completed: Mar. 21, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Friendship
Pairings: None yet
Rated: PG
Warnings: Slightly AU, OOC, Swearing
Archives: Also at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: The arc begins right after the war ends so the guys are all 16. Howard POV in this fic.

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

Author's Notes: I'm not sure exactly where this is heading; it's totally open-ended at the moment. Pairings *will* eventually work their way in - but it'll be a while. Endless Waltz hasn't happened yet and *if* it does eventually, it won't follow the exact storyline from the movie because of the things that I've changed. Ratings will probably vary from fic to fic in the arc as will POV. Feedback is appreciated.

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Howard looked out the window at the three boys huddled under the tree, shoulders pressed tightly together, all pretending to be very intent on the books they held. But Heero was flipping pages in the wrong direction considering that the book he held was a Japanese manga Howard had brought for Duo. And Wufei hadn't turned the page in at least ten minutes. Duo had dropped his book a while ago and hadn't noticed it was upside down when he picked it back up again. Howard shook his head. Splitting them up would be cruel. They were the only family that any of them had. They deserved to stay together.

But Duo would never ask for such a huge favour. He had been speechless when Howard showed up to demand custody of him. Had flung his arms around him and clung so tightly that Howard swore he could hear his ribs creak under the pressure. Howard had very politely not mentioned the suspiciously shaking shoulders or the damp patch left on his shirt when Duo finally let go of him. 'Kid just can't get it through his head that he's lovable. That any one of the Sweepers would have been happy to take him in if I hadn't beat'em all to it. Have to keep workin' on correcting that little misconception of his. Fool kid doesn't believe he deserves to be happy; won't ask for a damn thing and I know it.' Well, he'd just have to work on that little problem too. And to do that, he guessed he'd better start with fixing one of the things making his kid unhappy.

Howard set his jaw determinedly and turned to go find Une. It might mean delaying his departure a bit, but he intended to leave with *three* kids, not just the one he originally came for. None of them deserved to spend the next couple of years being miserable.

***

"Duo?"

Duo rose slowly, Heero and Wufei standing with him. "Sorry, Howie. Guess I lost track of the time," Duo said, obviously trying to dredge up his usual cheerful grin and failing miserably. "I'm all packed, though, so it'll only take a minute to go get my stuff..." he said, eyes lowered to avoid Howard's.

'Kid's absolutely miserable and tryin' to hide it...' Howard thought. 'Well, let's see if *this* fixes that little problem...'

Hands on his hips, Howard ordered gruffly, "Well, if you're the only one packed, the three of you better haul your tails in there and get moving! Our ride's due in at the shuttleport in less than two hours and I don't want to keep'em waiting just 'cause you three sat around reading instead of gettin' your sorry asses in gear and getting packed! Geez, I always thought the Kid was the procrastinator in this bunch and here he's the only one ready... Thought the Scholar and Flyboy there would be more than ready to ditch this joint..."

Three heads snapped up, eyes wide and disbelieving. "Howard?!" Duo asked in a disbelieving tone.

"Better get moving if you wanna escape before the Pink Harpy finds out and comes lookin' for ya," Howard warned Heero. "She ain't gonna be too pleased that her 'boyfriend' slipped her leash 'fore she ever got to show him off back at school... Ooof..." Howard grunted as a braided missile slammed into him. He patted Duo's back gently. "Kid, you've gotta learn to *ask* for things once in a while. I'm terrible at guessing games, takes me too damn long to figure things out. It would have been a helluva lot less work to have done all three sets of paperwork at once, ya know, and we would've been outta here hours ago...

"Well, what're you two waitin' for, an engraved invitation?" Howard demanded, looking from one stunned boy to the other. "Unless you'd rather stick with the previous arrangements?"

"No Sir," Wufei answered immediately. He bowed very deeply. "I am very grateful for your kind offer. I shall endeavour not to inconvenience you too greatly."

Howard chuckled and ruffled the top of Duo's head where it was still buried against his chest. "Hey Kid, wanna translate for me?"

Duo's face lifted, eyes suspiciously bright. "He means thanks and he'll try not to be too big a pain in the ass," he said, a shaky grin starting to spread across his face.

"Maxwell..." Wufei hissed, face flushing.

"You're welcome and don't worry about it," Howard said, waving one hand dismissively. "There's so many of'em in the Sweepers anyway that nobody'll even notice."

Duo choked off a snort of laughter. "And the boss is the biggest one of all, huh Howie?" he joked, suddenly looking and sounding much more light-hearted.

"You bet I am," Howard grinned, delighted at Duo's returned mischievousness. "And damn proud of it!" He turned his gaze to the still-silent member of the group. "Heero - this okay with you or would you rather go with the Darlians?"

Heero shook his head sharply, "I - I would prefer to go with Duo and Wufei." He bowed stiffly. "Thank you, Howard."

"You're welcome, Heero," Howard answered. He made a show of checking his watch, then urged, "Well, what are you standin' around here for - go get your things packed! Meet me at the front entrance in half an hour and we'll blow this popstand - err, not literally, Kid, tempting though the thought might be," he teased, ruffling Duo's bangs.

"Damn, Howie, you take all the fun out of things," Duo mock-pouted. He started to pull away, then hugged Howard again. He whispered, "Thanks Howard. I promise I'll be real good; you won't be sorry. We'll all be real good; we won't make any trouble, I swear."

Howard hugged Duo back, chest tightening. "Kid, you're a Sweeper, have been since the first day you set foot on one of our ships. Your friends are our friends too. You're all welcome, no matter what happens. Understood?" He doubted the three of them *could* stay out of trouble for too long. They wouldn't go looking for it, but he had a feeling they'd attract it all the same.

Duo nodded, then pulled away to race after the others who were already on their way into the mansion, all of them moving with an eagerness that suggested they'd be glad to be gone. Howard grinned as he watched them. They made an odd trio. Two so serious all the time and one who hid his serious side behind a carefree mask. Life was certainly going to get a lot more - interesting - with the three of them around. He shook his head in disbelief. He'd never got married, never had kids, yet here he was, taking on three of them. Three *teenagers* no less. Most people would think he needed to have his head examined, taking these particular three on.

Une sure as hell had; so had Mrs. Darlian. The Darlian woman had freely admitted that she didn't really want Heero, that she'd only agreed to take him to make Relena happy, but she had continued to resist letting Howard have him because she didn't want to disappoint the girl. Howard shuddered, glad that he'd stepped in and interfered with her plans. Heero didn't deserve to be stuck somewhere that he was barely tolerated just for the sake of a love-struck teenage girl. 'All that fuss just because it was what Relena wanted. No wonder the girl's so damn headstrong and spoilt.'

Sure, he'd initially decided to take Heero and Wufei because he knew it would make Duo (a kid who'd *never* got what he wanted and who was about as far from "spoilt" as it was possible to be) happy. But once he'd found out what sort of half-baked plans were in place for them, he'd also wanted them because he figured that however bad a job he might do at caring for them, at least he *would* care. And so would the other Sweepers that the kids would be in contact with. They'd learned to respect and like all of the Gundam pilots well before the end of the war. If anything, the kids might suffer from a surfeit of caring; they'd have the entire Sweepers group trying to parent them in all likelihood. Though Howard intended to make it quite clear that when all was said and done they were *his* kids; his word was final where they were concerned. But there was no chance of any of the boys being merely tolerated with him.

Especially not after how hard he'd had to work to get them. In the end, he'd had to pull all kinds of strings to get custody of both Heero and Wufei turned over to him. He'd used up a lifetime's worth of accumulated favours in a matter of hours.

But it was worth it. Those three kids were worth it. Howard knew it wouldn't be easy. All three boys would have major issues to deal with, going from the lives they'd been leading to peacetime existence. And he wasn't exactly a candidate for father-of-the-year. But they were all good kids; he didn't think he could screw them up much more than the docs and the war already had; and - well, hell, they'd survived a war, surely they could survive his half-assed attempts at parenting. Howard donned his sunglasses and strolled nonchalantly across the yard towards the front entrance to wait for his charges. 'We'll muddle through somehow...'

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- tbc -