Title: #8 Adjusting
Arc: Sweeper Three
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: July 11, 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. Duo POV in this fic.

************ Time passing or scene change

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


Duo made a face at yet another mine that had clearly malfunctioned. White Fang had obviously bought a lot of very old, very poor quality equipment. Reluctantly, he decided that this one probably wasn't worth the risk of salvaging either and flagged it for detonation before moving on to the next. He hated wasting salvageable resources like that but Heero had made it clear that they weren't going to take any unnecessary chances in the course of the salvage operation.

He had to grin slightly at the memory of Heero asking him why Howard didn't put him in charge rather than Heero. Only Heero Yuy would come right out and ask a question like that actually expecting an answer. And without even realizing that it was perhaps a somewhat insensitive query. He hadn't really minded though, he was used to Heero asking questions that most people would realize were a bit - inappropriate? impolite? Heero just had no concept of certain things not precisely being socially acceptable. Oh, he knew the "theory" of social interaction, all the formal rules and so on, but he didn't quite have how that actually *worked* figured out yet. If he wanted to know something, he asked. Period.

Duo hadn't really minded Howard putting Heero in charge either. Yeah, there'd been an instant of resentment. A moment when he'd felt like Howard was favouring Heero over him. Then Howard had given his braid the usual affectionate tug and he'd realized that he was being silly. That Howard putting Heero in charge had nothing to do with playing favourites and everything to do with giving the responsibility to the person best suited for it. Well, and maybe just a little bit to do with making Heero feel accepted and part of the Sweepers too.

It wasn't like following Heero's orders was something new. He'd been leader of their little group more than anyone else during the war. They'd all had their own specialties and they'd all had their turn at leading when circumstances dictated that they were the best choice of leader for the moment. But one of Heero's specialties *was* command. Strategy - now, that was Quat's call, all the way. And he did his own bit of commanding where the Maganacs were concerned. Stealth of course was Duo's own specialty, though Trowa was better at actual infiltration. Wufei was no slouch at strategy but he was even better at looking at all the little bits and pieces of data that didn't seem to have any real significance and finding the pattern that added up to something that *did*. 'That scholarly background of his showin' through, I guess.'

As his hands automatically began the task of disarming another mine, Duo broke off his train of thought and focussed his mind on the task at hand. It wasn't a particularly difficult task; either he or Heero could practically have disarmed these things in their sleep. But it didn't pay to get too cocky either, especially not when he'd already seen evidence that the mines weren't exactly in the greatest of shape. 'And there's the understatement of the decade...' Shaking his head slightly at the horrific amount of corrosion inside the mine, Duo worked very, very carefully to disarm it. He didn't want to dislodge any of the built-up corrosion and accidentally cross a circuit. He gave a soft sigh of relief once he finished disconnecting the firing mechanism and completely removed it from the mine. Just disconnecting it was usually sufficient but with all the corrosion in this one, he preferred to take the damn thing right out. Better safe than sorry.

Checking the gauge on his manoeuvring jets, Duo decided that he'd better head in and swap tanks. He didn't want to end up having to be hauled in by his tether because he ran out of propellant. Heero would never let him hear the end of it. Neither would Wufei for that matter.

His brow wrinkled slightly. Wufei. The Chinese teen had been awfully anxious to track down Khushrenada's missing suit. Duo had a feeling that there was something else going on there than just the wish to make sure the manipulative bastard was dead and gone. Hopefully Wufei would get done brooding and talk to them about whatever the hell was bothering him soon. 'Give him a couple more days 'fore I start trying to coax it out of him, I guess,' Duo decided.

As the friendship between the three of them had developed, he'd gradually figured out the best ways to deal with both Wufei and Heero. Heero had required a lot of pestering at first to get him to open up and talk but most of the time now, that wasn't necessary. It was best to sit back and wait for Heero to come to him; the Japanese youth had to reach a certain point in his thoughts on his own before he would be amenable to discussing them. Pestering too much before that didn't do any good; if anything it only slowed things down. All he had to do was hang around and chatter about any old thing and eventually, when he was good and ready, Heero would decide to talk.

Wufei on the other hand - well, he brooded. And then he brooded some more. Then he either decided to talk or went on brooding. And if he just kept brooding, he had to be coaxed into opening up.

Very, very carefully coaxed. Press too hard too soon and he would get angry at the invasion of privacy. Cross the line between coaxing and nagging and he'd get angry. Either way, it only made things worse. Because most of the time, he wouldn't just blow his top, vent the anger, and be done with it the way that Duo did.

Oh no, Wufei held onto his anger and brooded. Which could get damn aggravating. Plus if that happened, Heero was the one who had to step in and smooth things over. He was usually pretty reluctant to interfere but once he did decide to, he could generally get Wufei to confess whatever the hell the problem was. Duo wasn't quite sure how he did it; frankly he wouldn't be surprised if Heero just silently hung around till Wufei decided to vent. Once Heero got Wufei to talk, Duo could apologize for being a nosy pain-in-the-ass and things would go back to normal. But it was far simpler if Duo just was patient and things didn't reach that point in the first place.

Duo had to admit that he wasn't really any better. He talked readily enough about unimportant things but when it came down to the stuff that really counted, he had a tendency to try and cover it all up and deal with it by himself the way he'd had to all his life. Which really wasn't fair considering he insisted that the others should share *their* problems but he found it extremely difficult to dump his issues in their laps when they already had so many of their own to deal with. He could usually manage to keep his problems hidden as long as only one or the other of his best friends was trying to get him to confess. But when Heero and Wufei teamed up on him, they would inevitably make him cave in and 'fess up to whatever was bothering him. Frequently by making him feel guilty for hiding it and worrying them. It was annoying sometimes just how well they knew which buttons to push to make him react a certain way. Of course, he did the same thing with them so he supposed it really was only fair.

'Just part of what bein' best friends is all about, I guess...' Duo just hoped that they could keep their friendship as close as it was now that they were actually going to be living and working together all the time. It had been rare for all three of them to be together for very long during the war; most missions involved a single pilot or perhaps two. So while each of them was close friends with each of the others, they hadn't really spent a lot of time as a *group*. The dynamics involved in keeping their friendship balanced - without either aggravating the hell out of each other or leaving anyone feeling left out - were probably going to require some adjustment.

In a way, the adjustment to being a Sweeper was probably going to be toughest for Wufei. There was way less privacy on a Sweeper ship than Wufei was used to and while Heero liked his privacy too, he was good at just shutting out the outside world and losing himself in a book or computer game. Heero could isolate himself in the middle of a crowded room. 'Same as me, that was the only way to *have* privacy in the orphanage and once I hooked up with the Sweepers, it was the same thing. So I'm used to it.' But Wufei wasn't as good at that; he seemed to actually need to be *alone*. The privacy rooms would help but... 'But I'll have to remember to give Wu his space. Or poor Ro is gonna end up playin' peacemaker between us all the time. And I know that makes him really uncomfortable. He doesn't like having his best friends on the outs with each other; having friends is still too new to him and he worries about havin' to take sides and makin' one of us mad...'

It was kind of odd that Heero was the one who had to smooth things over whenever Duo and Wufei were on the outs. The first time it had happened it had surprised the hell out of Duo. 'Couldn't figure out why Heero would even bother. Let alone why he would succeed in gettin' Wu calmed down enough to listen to my apology when I hadn't been able to get him to even talk to me. Hell, I wasn't even sure what I'd done to get him so pissed in the first place and he wouldn't tell me 'cause he wasn't speaking to me.' But after thinking about it, Duo had figured out why Heero had gotten involved. They were a team and dissension in the ranks was a Very Bad Thing. So since Heero was leader, he had to take responsibility and try to set things right. If Quatre had been there, Heero probably would have dumped the mess in his lap but he hadn't been so Heero had been forced to fix things himself. 'And he did. He got Wu to tell him what he was so damn pissed off at me about and got him settled down enough to listen to me. Then he came to me and told me why Wu was mad and I apologized.'

Boy, had he *ever* apologized. Duo winced at the memory. It was just one of those damn cultural things that he'd never heard of. He hadn't *intended* to insult Wufei's entire clan. Hadn't even intended to insult Wufei. He'd just been kidding around and said the wrong thing and they hadn't been friends long enough for Wufei to realize that it was probably just a misunderstanding. 'Once Ro explained that to Wu and I apologized, Wu calmed right down. And both of them have been good about explaining when I blunder into one of those cultural issues ever since.'

It was inevitable that he occasionally did cross the line and say or do something inappropriate. G had only had so much time to spend on educating him and cultural taboos hadn't been very high on the list of necessary knowledge; the essentials for piloting and rigging explosives and so on had been just a wee bit more important at the time. Lots of things had slipped through the cracks.

The first time that Duo had stuck his chopsticks in the rice and left them standing there, Heero'd had a conniption. That had also been the *last* time he'd done it because Heero had explained to him that it was inappropriate behaviour and considered to be bad luck. Not that *Heero* considered it "bad luck", he figured luck was what you made it, something that Duo agreed with. But that didn't change the fact that sticking chopsticks in rice like that was socially unacceptable. So now he didn't do that - or any of the *other* things that were poor etiquette when using chopsticks. Heero and Wufei had taught him the *right* way to use them.

And there'd been plenty of things that he'd taught them too. Like how to turn today's leftovers into tomorrow's dinner even if there weren't enough leftovers to seem like they were worth saving. Sister Helen had been good at turning little bits of food into soup or a potpie and as one of the oldest kids, it had been Duo's job to help. And he'd had his turn at cultural coaching when the others had had to hide out at a Catholic boarding school. Neither Heero nor Wufei had had a clue how to behave during the obligatory mass. He hadn't been with them so he'd had to explain everything through e-mail. They might have been able to figure things out on their own fast enough to avoid attracting attention but it was far simpler to have a bit of advance coaching and avoid the worst blunders.

They all just had really different backgrounds and while that meant that they complemented each other's skills and knowledge extremely well, it also meant a lot of room for misunderstandings. They'd learned to compromise pretty well by now though, so hopefully they wouldn't have too much trouble adjusting to being together constantly.

Swapping propellant tanks, Duo checked the time and his air gauge both before going back out again. 'Plenty of time to get a few more mines done before our shift's over,' he decided. 'There's a *hell* of a lot more work to do though...' Glancing around and seeing in the distance the other teams of Sweepers hard at work and the debris stretching as far as the eye could see, he repeated softly, "A *hell* of a lot of work to do..."

There might not be any work left for Gundam pilots but there was no shortage of it for Sweepers. It would probably take a while for the three of them to all adjust to their new lives but there would be no problem keeping occupied while they did so. They and all the other Sweepers would be busy for a long, long time...