7-9-2003

Title: #7 New and Strange
Arc: Sweeper Three
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: July 9, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Friendship
Pairings: None yet
Rated: PG
Warnings: Slightly AU, OOC, Swearing
Archives: 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.

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

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

Author's Notes: See previous parts for notes on the arc as a whole. Feedback is appreciated.

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"Hey, Ro? Gonna need a hand with this one. Casing's damaged; looks like it was triggered but only the fuse fired."

Heero methodically finished disconnecting the firing mechanism on the mine he was disarming before replying, "Flag it and leave it, Duo. Not worth the risk; some of these are better just being detonated."

The com was silent for a minute before the answer came back, "It's not *that* bad, Heero... Just need to..."

Heero let his voice sharpen a bit; let the snap of command that he'd become accustomed to using in battle when directing the others slip through. "Duo. Leave it."

There was a moment of silence, then a reluctant, "Okay."

Heero relaxed a bit, relieved. He'd been uncertain whether Duo would still follow orders from him now. The others had all looked to him as defacto leader during the war, largely because he had the training to handle the job. And he'd always been quick to call on the others when their specializations were needed and had been willing to listen to their advice and opinions. Utilizing the expertise of others was part of being an effective soldier so he had kept an open ear to their advice. The only exception had been when circumstances demanded an immediate action rather than debate. Then, he'd ordered and they'd obeyed. Now that the war was over though, he hadn't been certain whether the informal, unspoken agreement would still hold. Fortunately, it seemed as if it did, at least where Duo was concerned.

He knew that Duo was anxious to do the most thorough salvage job possible on the mines and ordnance that they were dealing with. He was too; he was determined not to let Howard down after the way he'd taken them all in rather than just Duo. But he also felt responsible for looking after the safety of his teammates. And he'd had their priorities stated to him in no uncertain terms. Before they'd left the ship to work, Howard had caught his shoulder in a surprisingly strong grip and growled, "Safety first. You three's lives are worth far more than a little bit of salvageable material. I want you all back safe and sound and that's an order, got it Soldier-Boy? You're in charge of making sure that happens. I'm counting on you." Wufei and Duo had both been with him and had heard Howard; Heero had hoped that would mean Duo would take direction from him.

Howard placing him in charge in any way, shape, or form, had been a surprise. He'd expected that Duo would take command of their salvage work since he'd been with the Sweepers before. Duo *was* a Sweeper. He knew their routines and how the salvage business worked; Heero would have understood if Howard had placed Duo in charge.

'But he didn't. Howard put *me* in charge. Why?' he wondered. Had Howard assumed that Wufei and himself wouldn't take direction from Duo? If so, he was wrong. They had before, under circumstances where missions fell under Duo's areas of expertise and it had made sense to do so. Or had Howard realized that Duo might take a few more risks in his determination not to be a burden while Heero would not if he had been specifically instructed not to do so? Or...

'Baka. Just ask Duo; he understands Howard better than you do, Yuy. And he didn't argue about it so he *must* know why...'

"Duo?"

"Just a sec," came the response over the com. Heero waited patiently, guessing that Duo was in the midst of something that he needed his full concentration for. In a few moments, Duo's voice said, "Okay. Shoot. Err, I mean, go ahead, Heero."

Heero suppressed the urge to snicker. Duo was starting to be more cautious about the remarks he made now that Heero had started making deadpan responses to them on occasion. Heero had been developing a rather dry but pointed sense of humour lately. Or perhaps discovering one that he already had; it was possible that he'd had it all along but had only begun to discover it now that he was in contact with people who appreciated it. He didn't think J would have liked it very well. Of course, J hadn't liked much of anything as a rule.

"Duo, why did Howard put me in charge? Why not you? You're a Sweeper so it would have made more sense to put you in charge while we were doing salvage operations."

"Umm... Lots of reasons, probably. For one thing, command really isn't my thing and Howie knows that. You're good at it though. And no, I don't mean you're bossy, Heero, 'cause if you were then you wouldn't be good at command. You're good at looking at the big picture and seein' what has to be done and makin' sure that it *gets* done. And while you might take insane risks yourself, you're good at watchin' out for everybody else. Howie knows that; he's seen you do it before. He really didn't like seein' us pick explosives cleanup as our task so he put the most levelheaded of us in charge to make sure we stayed as safe as possible.

"And uh - Ro? Maybe you didn't quite get what Howie was sayin' before but - *you* are a Sweeper too. So's Wu. Whether you guys like it or not, all three of us are 'Sweeper brats' now."

"Aa," Heero acknowledged thoughtfully. "Arigato, Duo."

"No prob, Ro."

Heero thought about Duo's explanation as he manoeuvred towards the next mine, careful to keep the tether between himself and the shuttle snag-free. Looking up above him, he could see Duo doing the same in his section of the minefield.

So... Howard had most likely put him in charge because he felt that Heero was most qualified. 'A sign of confidence and trust. A way to make it clear that I belong?' Maybe. It would be a very logical thing for a commander to do.

Howard had been in charge of the Sweepers Group for quite a few years from what Heero had been able to gather; he had considerable command experience though it was a very different type of command than the stricter military-style that Heero had been trained in. 'Though even I didn't stick to that style of command for long; it became clear very quickly that it was impractical in what basically amounted to guerilla warfare. It was necessary to - adapt - in order to succeed.' And it was also necessary to adapt because the other pilots would not have taken well to being treated as subordinates since they *weren't*. None of them outranked the others and that was something that military-style command did not really make allowance for.

Heero directed his full attention back to his task as he neared the next mine. First he enabled the electronic jammer to keep the mine from activating as he approached. Then once he was right up next to the mine, he set to work removing the access panel and disconnecting the firing mechanism. The mines weren't really all *that* big a risk to handle. No more so than rigging explosives to blow a base at any rate. This particular model of mine wasn't sensitive enough to pick up a single person wearing a spacesuit really, the jammer was just a precaution. But the shuttle had to stay well back since it *would* be enough to trigger them into arming if not actually exploding.

The shuttle was currently in the hands of a Sweeper, one that Duo knew fairly well and trusted. Not one of those who were - less than enthused at having three ex-Gundam pilots added to the group. Howard had hoped they wouldn't hear the rumours about the transfer requests and crew juggling but when Duo had confronted him, he'd admitted that the reaction to him bringing back even one ex-Gundam pilot let alone three had been somewhat less universally positive than he'd hoped. He'd made it quite clear that he wouldn't have acted any differently if he'd known what the response would be but Heero wasn't sure whether to believe him. Their presence had caused a lot of extra headaches for Howard at a time when there was already a lot of things demanding his attention. Yet Howard *did* seem to actually like them. All three of them. Something that Heero found just as confusing as Wufei seemed to find it.

He could understand why Howard and quite a few of the Sweepers liked Duo. Duo was friendly and generally easygoing and laidback. At least as long as you didn't get on his bad side. Mess with Duo's friends or hurt someone incapable of defending themselves and you'd discover why his nickname was Shinigami.

But Wufei and himself... Well, they were a different story entirely. Neither of them was very good at making friends. Wufei had a rather hot temper at times while he tended to be a little too blunt on occasion. Wufei was very - prickly - and defensive; hiding any trace of vulnerability behind an outward appearance of anger and pride or cold formality, depending on the circumstances. 'And I - I use cold detachment for that purpose. Neither approach is likely to win friends as opposed to Duo's method of distraction via cheery goodnature.'

The idea that, by virtue of Howard taking responsibility for them, he and Wufei were automatically Sweepers was staggering. He had never really been part of a group - well, other than the group of Gundam pilots - particularly not part of an extended family like Duo seemed to consider the Sweepers to be. It was a concept that was going to take some getting used to. Though he thought that he kind of liked the idea. Sort of like the way Howard so casually tousled his hair. It was new and strange but - it felt good at the same time.

He was no longer Pilot 01 from L1. No longer the pilot of the Gundam Wing Zero. No longer a Gundam pilot at all.

According to Duo, he was now a "Sweeper brat". He wasn't too sure he liked the "brat" part of the appellation but... 'Heero Yuy, Sweeper...' A Sweeper instead of an ex-Gundam pilot. He thought maybe he could get used to that...

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