8-9-2001

Changes
A Soldiers and Fools Story
May AC201
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)
COMMENTS: This one just sprang up out of nowhere and has become a bit more than I thought it was at first. "Pax" is Latin for "Peace" (of course, it's also a nice little pun on "package") and "PaxAC" is pronounced "Packsack".

WARNINGS: yaoi, strong lime/mild lemon (your call)

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Precursors
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It had been a quiet week. The new China inland routes had finally stabilized two weeks ago. Heero had been glad. The flight load had been getting -- onerous. He'd been flying maximum legal hours, and maybe a little more, every week for three months. On top of that, he'd spent at least one day each week working with the route planning department, adjusting the flight plans to better take advantage of airport traffic patterns, peak landing and takeoff times, route demands by other scheduled flights, regular wind patterns and any of a dozen other seemingly insignficant factors that let them tune the flights to run in less time with less fuel. It was only marginally different than planning a mission during the war. He didn't have to consider ammunition and he did have to plan for other aircraft -- beyond blowing them out of the sky.

He enjoyed it, somewhat, but it had become wearing nonetheless. The hours had been long, and he wasn't fifteen anymore. And there was Duo to consider. He smiled his faint smile. Duo was always worth considering. Ever since that night he'd finally been able to tell him he loved him, things had changed for the better. They had been through some difficult times at first, feeling out what love and trust were all about, and they didn't have everything perfect yet.

Probably never would.

That realization had been difficult for him to accept. A mission that couldn't be completed successfully -- until Duo had redefined success. What mattered was, in the end, after all the problems, they were still together and were closer than they had been when they began. He had vowed to continue to accomplish that mission every day.

Staying together was important to him, not just as a mission. Even in the middle of all the Hell in their lives these past three months, whenever they were together, holding each other or brushing Duo's hair or listening to one of Duo's genre-bending music mixes or cleaning the apartment or even doing work work, he felt a certain calm, a little trickle of happiness, a touch of joy, just being in Duo's presence that had let him relax. He had learned that when they argued, that was the thing he missed most -- Duo with him.

Now that life was slowing down again, they'd decided to take a four-day weekend and go to the beach. They had started the day off with packing, but Duo had been called into the office for some minor emergency an hour earlier. His job with the Preventers seemed to produce frequent little emergencies that stole a few hours from them. Heero didn't complain, though. Not much. Just enough that Duo would know he valued their time together. He couldn't, in fairness, complain. His job at Pax Air Cargo was sometimes the same way.

He put work out of his mind and focused with that mission intensity on the fun they were going to have.

He was looking forward to laying in the sun with Duo and walking along the shore with Duo. Duo wanted to get him on a surfboard. Heero wasn't so sure about that, but he thought he could give it a try. The worst thing that could happen would be he'd decide he liked it. He also wanted to spend some quiet time on the shore, listening to the wind and the waves, writing. He hadn't written anything enjoyable recently, just flight reports and plans. Too busy. Duo always liked to draw him when he was writing too. It would be good for both of them.

He wanted to sit on the beach and watch the stars with Duo. That was one of the special things they did. And they had never made love on the beach in the moonlight, their feet lapped by the waves, the ocean adding its sighs to their own. Heero was looking forward to that too.

He had just zipped up the last duffel bag when the phone rang. The screen displayed the number, but no name. No need. He recognized it. Duo, calling from the office. "Damn," he muttered. He knew what was coming as he touched the receive button.

The screen lit up with Duo's face. "Uh, Heero--" He paused, staring at the lower half of his screen -- Heero's naked chest. "Shit."

Heero let his left eyebrow rise a full five millimeters in amusement. As well as Duo knew it, Heero's body still got to him. Heero hoped it always did. Now, though… "You can't go." He tried to keep his voice flat, hiding the anger. He knew Duo would recognize it anyway. He didn't want to lash out at Duo. He knew it wasn't his fault. They had both been looking forward to the weekend together. Duo wouldn't be canceling without a very good reason. He was angry, but not at Duo. He kept telling himself that, letting cold logic work its magic. It helped, a little.

"I'm sorry, but this is really urgent. I can't explain over an unscrambled line."

That made Heero feel a tiny bit better. Duo wasn't saying it was more important. Heero looked at him for a moment, thinking. It was too late to get on the duty roster for the weekend. He'd have to take the days off, and he was damned if he was going to spend them alone in the apartment -- or alone at the beach, for that matter. It wouldn't be the same without Duo. He decided on his course of action and began building the mission plan in his mind. "I'll help."

Duo blinked and stared at him for a moment. "You don't have the security clearance for--"

"Get it," Heero said, letting his voice run cold so Duo would know he was serious. "I'll be there in forty-seven minutes." He pressed the drop button, cutting off Duo's protest. He was damned if he was going to spend the next four days without Duo -- even if that meant spending them working on Preventer business.

The phone rang. Duo again. He pressed the send-calls button, forcing it to voice mail, then called the travel agent and cancelled their beach cabin. Another call to his usual co-pilot Ishida. He left a message on the voice mail letting him know something had come up and they wouldn't be flying his Boomerang this weekend after all. Heero reexamined his mission plan, frowning faintly as he realized how easily he'd slipped back into that old mode of thinking. But it was different now. He still had the signs of the soldier about him -- knew he always would -- but they no longer defined him as they once had.

He had no intention of dying anytime soon. Not with Duo to live for.

He grabbed his laptop and added it to the duffel bag he'd packed, pulled on a pair of socks, black jeans over black boxer-briefs, a blue tank top that Duo said matched his eyes, comfortable hiking sneakers, beat-up green denim jacket. He picked up the bag, pausing at the bedroom door for a last scan, and realized he'd forgotten to put one item on his list. Duo wouldn't have cancelled their vacation for anything minor. A short walk back to the dresser, he pulled open the bottom drawer, dug under the shirts and took out the heavy lump in an old T-shirt that was his gun.

He unwrapped it and looked at it as it lay in his hand, remembering how he'd abandoned it in Marimeia's bunker. Duo had recovered it, kept it for him until he'd moved to Japan. "To remember the time we saved the world… again," Duo had said, grinning his silly grin. "And you never know when it might come in handy to scare someone." Then, Heero hadn't tried it to see if it still recognized him.

Then, he hadn't really wanted to know.

Now, if he was going to take it… He wrapped his hand around the grip that had been shaped for him when he was fifteen. It still fit. He slid his finger over the trigger. The surge of adrenaline his body had been programmed to produce when he held a gun -- this gun -- seared into his bloodstream.

The gun chirped faintly. He felt the tingle in his hand. It still knew him. He had hoped it wouldn't. He had hoped he'd changed enough. The gun only checked his body, he reminded himself -- the lines of his palm wrapped over the butt, the chemistry of the adrenaline sweat on his hand and the print of his finger on the trigger. It couldn't look inside him. He had changed, just not where the gun looked.

Besides, he shrugged, it was safer than any other gun he could carry. No one could use it against him.

The formality of reintroduction out of the way, he checked the safety, then checked the gun. It was still well oiled. The action was smooth as he chambered a round and ejected it, dropped the clip and pushed the bullet back into it. He sighted down the open barrel and blew out a bit of lint that was obstructing the opening. Otherwise it was in perfect shape. After sliding the clip in, he checked the safety again, then pushed the gun into the back of his jeans. It was a familiar feeling not felt for a long time. It was comfortable in a way. Digging a little further in the drawer, he found the two spare clips, unzipped the duffel bag, dropped them in, zipped it closed.

That should be everything. He looked around the bedroom, then resumed his mission -- walk through kitchen and dining room, pick up keys, activate security system, step out of the apartment, turn, lock deadbolts, walk down hall to stairs. He checked off each item on his mental list as he went.

As he trotted down the twelve flights to the garage, he prayed to any god who might be listening that he wouldn't need the gun.

------------------------

The phone dropped to voice mail for the tenth time. "Damn that bastard," Duo shouted. He was only mildly angry, but it was better to let it out at the phone screen before he got really angry and took it out on some innocent bystander.

"Sir?"

Speaking of innocent bystanders…, he thought. He looked up at his intern and sighed. Heero could be as stubborn as him, only Heero "did" things instead of arguing about them. So, they were going to have a visitor. "Sadako, how quickly can you process a level, uh, fourteen security clearance should be enough?"

She answered without a moment's pause, "It usually takes about a week, sir."

I didn't ask how long it usually takes. "What if I tell you you've got half an hour to get me a level twelve badge for one very pissed off Heero 'omae o korosu' Yuy or you get to tell him why he has to wait in the lobby?"

He knew he wouldn't really do that to her, but he wanted her to understand the gravity of the situation. It worked. Duo watched her mouth move silently for a moment, then, "THE Heero Yuy? He's in Japan?" Her dark brown eyes widened. "Oh." After a moment's gawk as she rearranged part of her worldview, "Damn! Why is it that every guy I think I could like is gay?"

"So you just figured out who my Heero is?" Duo laughed. Poor Sadako. It seemed to be true. She'd hit on him quite hard until he'd explained that the Heero he was always talking about wasn't just his roommate. It had tickled his ego at first, just like all the girls gushing over him in high school had back then, but he'd decided to stop her before someone said something and got her booted on sexual harassment. Not that she'd gone that far, but people sometimes exaggerated.

She recomposed her face and said, "Yes, sir. It should be possible to get the clearance. We keep current files on all the Gundam pilots. I'll get right on it, sir."

Duo nodded. If anyone could pull it off, Sadako could. He went back to the conference room. "Sorry for the delay," he said to the rest of the team as he took his seat and eyed the sandwiches the cafeteria had sent up. One day, he was going to convince Commander Misaka to hire a food service company that served real food. "We have reinforcements coming." They looked at him with expressions ranging from curiousity to exasperation, but he just grinned at them, played with his braid and decided to pass on the sandwiches. He was always bitching to Heero about the cafeteria food. Maybe Heero would pick something up.

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Thirty-two minutes later, Sadako returned with the badge, interrupting the planning session. Duo was relieved. He was getting tired of keeping Yamaguchi and Ito away from each other's throats. He had never figured out why the two cops were always arguing. He had half a mind to stand back next time and let them kill each other. Unfortunately, that wasn't really an option -- not today, at least.

He looked at the badge and grinned. She'd lifted the photo from Heero's driver's license, looking his most homicidal. For some reason, dealing with the driver's license agency always did that to Heero. "Sadako," he said, pushing himself out of the chair and leading her out of the room. "When this is over, I'm ordering you to take a couple of days off."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, how would you like to meet THE Heero Yuy." He pressed the elevator button and waited. "Even if he is already taken."

"I-- uh-- um-- Very much, sir."

The doors opened. He glanced at his watch. "Then get your ass in the elevator. We're late."

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"... really interesting things about Heero," Duo said as they walked off the elevator, "is that you can set your watch by him. He'll be pacing the lobby when we…" His voice trailed off as he surveyed the empty lobby. "How the Hell could he have gotten past…"

The revolving door began to turn and, three seconds later, disgorged a jeans-clad, tank-top wearing, duffel-bag carrying Heero Yuy. He glared around the lobby as he walked toward them. Duo flicked the badge at him. Heero's hand snapped up and caught it and slapped it down on the reader pad, walking through the security gate without missing a step. "Your security sucks, koi," he said, pulling his gun and aiming it one-handed at Duo's forehead.

"And you, Human-Clock-san, are late. Now put that away before someone doesn't notice you've got the safety on," Duo grinned, walking past the gun to give Heero a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. "And Sadako had the foresight to give you a weapons clearance, otherwise you'd've set off the metal detectors as you walked through the gate and a battalion of very large security guards would be sitting on you right now."

"Hn." He doubted that. "Almost forgot the gun," he said, pushing it back into its place in his waistband. "Had to clean it." He let his arms rest gently around Duo and looked up into the violet eyes he loved. "You shouldn't have let me in the door with it. And this bag could have been full of C-10."

"The main door has explosive sensors and a drop floor. You'd be in a bomb-proof pit waiting for the guards. Satisfied?"

Not really. But it was good enough for now. "Aa." They could argue about it later if he thought about it. He turned his attention to Sadako. "Arigatou."

Duo slid out of his embrace, catching a finger in his back belt loop. "Forgive Sadako's seeming inability to speak. She's a bit in awe of THE Heero Yuy, who, she has just discovered, is not available."

Heero snorted. He had never figured out how people could think they loved someone they had never spoken to or even emailed.

"Oi! Sadako!"

She jumped. "Yes, sir? I'm sorry, sir." She held a hand out to Heero, "Pleased to meet you, Yuy-san."

Heero looked at her hand for a moment, then shook it. "Heero."

"Yes, sir, Heero-san."

"Hn." Heero didn't have the heart to level a full glare on her. She was too damn polite and innocent looking.

"It won't do any good," Duo said. "I've given up trying to get her to drop the 'sir' business, isn't that right, Sadako?"

"Yes, sir."

Heero sighed. "So what is so urgent?" he asked as they walked to the elevator.

"You don't have to--"

"Shut up, Duo. I am going to spend the next four days with you. Ninmu ryoukai." He saw Duo smile. That's what he'd wanted to see, but it wasn't quite the right smile. He'd work on that later. He unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a paper bag. "I brought lunch from that imitation Japanese place you like. Teriyaki chicken, sukiyaki, steamed vegetables, maki rolls." He looked at Sadako. "There's plenty if you'd like to share."

"Don't even think about saying no, Sadako," Duo said as the elevator arrived back on the fortieth floor. "We'll eat in my office, then I'll introduce you to the rest of the team." There was easily enough for the three of them, but Duo had no intentions of splitting the food with five more people.

Besides, they had the damned sandwiches.

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Heero decided he could get to like Duo's office. It wasn't a corner, but it had a nice view of the city and the bay. It wasn't huge, but it had enough room for a normal-sized desk, a couple of filing cabinets, a large, leafy plant by the window and three spare chairs around a small conference table, which was where they ate. He would have kept it neater, though. Duo had stacks of bulging files all over the room.

"It isn't always this bad, sir," Sadako said, returning from the break-room refrigerator with three bottles of water. "This situation has us reviewing a lot of old information, and Duo-san's office is the most convenient place to keep it all."

"Brief me," Heero said, smearing wasabe on his maki roll before sliding the whole roll into his mouth. He saw Duo shudder and paused in his chewing long enough to smirk. That made Duo's eyes go wide, followed by the faint, fake frown that usually accompanied the word "hentai".

"Sir?"

"You heard him," Duo said to Sadako around a mouthful of chicken and vegetables. "Brief him. He has the clearance, ne?" He grabbed a napkin to catch the sauce running down his chin.

"Yes, sir." She'd gotten it for him herself. She turned to Heero, quickly reviewing everything she'd learned about him while preparing his clearance and decided to cut to the chase. "A group of terrorists--"

Heero swallowed, his face a warm pink from the wasabe. "How many?" he asked before drinking half his bottle of water.

"Unknown. We believe there are as many as four actually in Tokyo, but our information is very poor." He nodded and she continued. "They have acquired or manufactured a nuclear device." She considered what to say next, then added, "We've checked world inventories of nuclear materials and believe it could be as much as one hundred kilotons, but it's probably closer to seventy-five."

"Shit." Heero began chopsticking sukiyaki and vegetables from his bowl to his mouth, thinking as he chewed and swallowed. It wasn't big as nuclear weapons went, but it was enough to put a large hole in the ground. "Target?"

"Most likely the World Council meeting at the Tokyo Tower Convention Center next week. The Council President's opening address to the Council on Monday morning will be broadcast live to Earth and the Colonies. We have sixty hours to find the device and disarm it."

"Shit." Heero put down his chopsticks. "You want to know who they are, what they want, and where they got it?"

"Yes, sir."

He sighed. "So you want prisoners." He looked at Duo, frowning. "It was always easier when we didn't have to worry about that."

Duo nodded. "Let's go. I need to introduce you to the team."

"Shit," Heero muttered, shaking his head as he put his bowl on the table. "Now I know why you do this. I thought the war was over years ago." He looked out the window, seeing a ruined city on the other side of the glass, imagining the peaceful world they had sacrificed so much for destroyed in a matter of seconds.

"Good briefing, Sadako," Duo said. "Join us after you finish your lunch." He laid a hand on Heero's shoulder, drawing him back to the present, and led him out of the room. Part of him was glad Heero was here. His presence significantly increased their chances of success. Part of him wanted to send Heero away somewhere safe until everything was over. Heero may have survived exploding Gundams, but nukes were in an entirely different league.

In the end he decided it was good Heero had come. It would be easier to protect him.

--------------------

Heero followed Duo down the hall to the conference room. They walked into the middle of an argument.

"Damn it, Yamaguchi, you can't just go in with guns blazing. We don't know what kind of booby-traps they--" The man speaking stopped when he saw Duo and Heero standing at the door.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Heero Yuy." He paused for a moment, watching as each of them put Duo Maxwell plus Heero Yuy together and came up with Gundam pilots. "I see you're aware of his military credentials. He's also the best mission planner I've ever worked with."

Duo pointed and named the people in the room. Heero took mental snapshots of each. Dr. Sharon Vlissides, nuclear weapons expert, early thirties, black hair, faint, Eastern European accent; Dr. Marcus Bergman, nuclear weapons, lab coat, greying blond hair, maybe mid-fifties; Yaro Yamaguchi, police liaison and urban combat, typical Japanese, late thirties. Ataru Ito, nuclear response tactics and all-around Tokyo expert, taller-than-average Japanese, a bit of Ainu in his features, early forties; and…

"Suzuko Takanawa, PhD." Heero said, interrupting Duo. A faint smile crossed his face. "Computer systems and security expert extraordinaire. Known on the Net as Blue Ice." The blue-eyed woman looked at him, appraising, wary. "Nice pun." He walked over and shook her hand. "You earned your name on the Preventers security. I had a hard time breaking it."

"Fucking shit! You're Wing?" She pushed the bleached white streak of hair out of her face and smiled at him. "Damn! I knew you had to be more than one of those snot-nosed little shits I met at all the hacker conferences."

"You two know each other?" Duo asked, surprised, frowning faintly.

"When she was building security for the Preventers' systems, she put test versions on the Net and dared everyone to break them. She called herself Blue Ice and made it look like she'd stolen a database from some zaibatsu so no one would know what was really going on."

"But you did, didn't you." Takanawa's eyes narrowed. "You were the only one who didn't give up trying to break the sixth release. And it took you a whole fucking month to do it." She grinned as she glanced around the table where the rest of the team sat watching. "Bastard even turned off most of my peepholes so I couldn't see everything he was doing."

"I thought you would appreciate a challenge." He'd guessed she wasn't just some ivory-tower university type -- that she was a real hacker underneath the degree. He'd been right. "And you closed most of the holes I found." Of course, there were a couple he hadn't let her see. That was also part of being a hacker. Always leave yourself a few back doors. You never know when you'll need them.

"If you two are done talking geek," Ito said, "We have a disaster to prevent."

Heero and Takanawa both glared at him briefly. "He's right," Takanawa said, turning to Duo, "OK, while Ito and Yamaguchi were pissing over tactics, I--" She paused as Sadako walked in and took a seat. "I pulled together a 3-D map of the target area, including structural strength profiles." She hit a key on her laptop and a birds-eye view of the area around the Tokyo Tower appeared on the projection screen. Each building was color-coded to indicate how much stress it could withstand before collapsing.

"Good," Bergman said. "Have you got a projection of how much damage the blast will do?"

"I thought the mission objective was to find the bomb." Heero said. Everyone except Duo stared at him. Duo let his lips quirk a quick smile in Heero's direction. Heero took that as approval and charged ahead. "How can you estimate damage if you don't know where the blast center is?" he asked as he pulled his laptop out of the duffel bag.

Takanawa recovered from her surprise and shoved a cable to him across the table and he plugged it into the network jack on the computer, ignoring the looks of embarrassment on the faces of the other four. He sat, staring at the screen for a moment, focusing, then his fingers started flying across the keyboard, filling the silence with a soft drum-roll tapping. "Damn," Takanawa muttered ten seconds later as the map started changing. "You *are* going to show me how you do that."

"Aa. Maybe." It was a Hell of a lot easier when he started inside the firewall. He found what he wanted and looked up from the computer, fingers still typing. "If I were trying to bomb the World Council, I wouldn't put the bomb in the conference center. Security is too tight."

"So what would you do?" Yamaguchi asked, looking at him as if he were a week-old piece of sushi. Heero ignored him. He'd pegged Yamaguchi as a cop the second he'd walked in the door. Old instincts had proved right. He was sure he still showed some of the signs of a terrorist that the cop would recognize. Of course, he'd also guessed -- correctly it semed -- that Yamaguchi was something of an asshole too, but the man might prove useful for this mission. Heero would not let him get in the way, even if that meant putting up with his shit.

Circles began flashing across the screen in rapid succession.

"I know," Vlissides said. "He'd find a place far enough away to be out of the tightest security net, but close enough to be a sure kill." After a moment observing the flashing circles, she and Bergman said together, "The model is wrong."

Heero frowned. "It's a standard Preventers model for a 90 kiloton bomb."

"This isn't a standard device," Bergman explained. "It's homebrew. They have to make allowances for certain errors, and those will affect how the device behaves."

"I'll fix the model," Takanawa said. "My masters thesis was on simulations. Sharon? Marcus? Care to provide the domain expertise?" The two scientists moved over to sit beside her and their heads went down in front of the laptop, pointing, typing, muttering in nuclearese. Heero watched through the peephole he'd set up on Takanawa's machine until she caught it fifteen seconds later and shut it down. "Bastard," she muttered, smiling.

Heero made a mental note to do more research on her work. She'd caught it faster than he'd expected. "Ito," he said, "let's identify where they could hide this thing. How big is it?"

"The propeller-heads say we should figure about a two meter cube," Ito said. Ito was a cop too. Heero decided his assininity was more from being hard-nosed than just plain obnoxious. Ito didn't have time for things he didn't understand. He just wanted answers. Heero wanted answers too. That should work in their favor.

"OK. They have to transport it without being obvious. Come help me work this map and figure out where they could hide it." As Ito walked across the room, Heero said to Sadako, "I take it you're the one who keeps Duo's weak computer skills a secret." He flashed Duo a hidden smile. He was just trying to put Sadako at ease.

"Yes, sir." She smiled faintly.

"Duo, why don't you and Yamaguchi and Sadako lay out the security on the map?" For some reason, that request stirred a dark shadow in Duo's eyes. He was angry. Heero noted it and added an item to his list -- make Duo not angry.

--------------------
Upheaval
--------------------

By 18:30, the computers had cranked out their final analysis.

"Okay," Takanawa said. "Based on the revised blast model with a ninety kiloton yield, places where they could conceal a two meter cube device, transportation issues, and security movement over the past week, this is what we have." Twenty red dots flashed on the screen. Heero downloaded the data to his laptop.

"Run it again with one-ten," Duo said.

"Sir," Sadako said, "the worst case was only one hundred kilotons."

Heero nodded. He hadn't thought of that. "Unless the inventories are wrong. During the war, OZ's weapons inventories were notoriously inaccurate."

"Yuy, I think--"

"It makes sense," Takanawa said, cutting off Yamaguchi. "It's running. It will take about… eight hours -- rough guess."

"Hn."

Yamaguchi frowned. "Meanwhile, I'll get SWAT on these locations to investigate."

"No," Duo said. "If I were doing this, I'd be watching and if I got nervous, I might detonate the bomb early. No cops. Even if they don't get the Council, blowing up part of Tokyo and concealing their identities is a win for them."

"No Preventers either," Heero said. "Except you."

"How the Hell am I supposed to cover all those sites?"

"With me helping you." He saw Duo balk at that, but ignored it, turning a full glare on Yamaguchi, who was opening his mouth to say something. "If these terrorists are good enough to build a bomb, Yamaguchi, they're good enough to spot a cop. Do you want a hole in the middle of Tokyo?" He'd deal with Duo later.

"Okay. I understand." He did, but not really. He'd never been on the prey side of the equation. Not for long enough to matter. When you are the prey for most of your life, Heero thought, you learn to sense a predator -- or a cop. "I *will* have my two best undercover teams nearby for backup, if you don't mind."

"Aa." Heero nodded. "And if Ito can have a nuclear response team, and someone who knows how to turn off a bomb?"

"That would be me," Vlissides said. "I'm the electronics package expert."

"08:00?" Duo asked.

Everyone nodded. "Then we're adjourned. Oh, Sharon, do you have some detonator plans I can review? If this runs close, I may have to turn it off myself."

"I'll pull something together from Miyaki's notes."

As the others filed out, Duo grabbed Heero and pulled him back into the room. "You can't go into the field."

"Like Hell."

"Damn it, Heero. You're not a Preventer. You don't have the training. I don't want you there. It's too dangerous."

Heero laughed softly. He may not have fought in a war for nearly four years, but he still knew how to plan and execute a mission, and Duo knew it. "Koi, if you think that I'm going to let you go out there with anyone but me as your partner you are out of your crazy gaijin mind." He waited until Duo was about to respond, then said, "Shinyou shiteru. But not to take care of yourself. I'll do that."

Duo frowned, a hint of dark anger flickering in violet eyes. "Heero." He saw the determination. Damn. Ninmu ryoukai again. Shit. He sighed. "Fine. But you're going to run the obstacle course in the gym to the instructor's satisfaction and then you're going to prove you can still handle a gun. … And I'm going to be watching your back."

"You are the only one I trust to do it." He pulled Duo against him and held him, feeling the soft rumble as Duo involuntarily purred. That was usually enough to calm him down. "You were incredibly quiet to be the leader of this team, koi."

Duo shrugged and wrapped his arms around Heero's waist. "I spent an hour trying to keep Yamaguchi and Ito from going at each other. I prefer to let them run rampant and nudge them in the right direction from time to time while the rest of the team gets the work done. And in about fifteen minutes you had them under control and doing something useful." He yanked the gun out of Heero's waistband and held it against Heero's temple. "And if you ever team me with that asshole Yamaguchi again…"

"Omae o korosu?" Heero smiled.

"You bet your ass."

"Of course, koi." Heero pushed up on his toes and kissed Duo, then, in the moment of distraction, broke away and grabbed the gun. He waved it at Duo, then slid it back into its spot. "I'm not the only one out of practice, ne? You've been pushing a desk for too damn long. Getting back out on the street for a while will do us both good."

"What can I say?" Duo chuckled. "What do you want to do for dinner, partner?"

"Your choice. I have an obstacle course to run."

----------------

Heero stared at the map on his laptop, occasionally remembering to move a bit of salad from the box before him to his mouth. While he was running the obstacle course -- twice, because the instructor had thought his time was a fluke -- and shooting a perfect score on the target range, Duo had picked up a light soup and salad dinner. The obstacle course had been harder than he'd expected, though. He needed to tune himself up a bit.

They ate dinner in their room on the fiftieth floor. It wasn't unusual for Preventers to work late hours, and there were always a few agents from out of town who needed a place to stay, so the top two floors of the building were set up as small apartments. "Hotel P," Duo had called it. Some of the agents even lived there permanently. The commute was easier.

They had decided to stay there for a couple of nights because it was convenient and it afforded Heero easy access to the Preventers private network. Takanawa's model was still running, but they already had five more sites to check. He set up an agent program on the computer to get the last points when the model finished and run a "Travelling Salesman" on them to find the fastest way to visit them all.

"This sucks," Duo muttered as Heero hit the final OK button.

"Nani?"

"We had this great weekend planned. I was looking forward to the beach, y'know. Some nice waves, the stars..." Duo's eyes went a bit dreamy as he remembered their plans.

"Sex on the beach?"

"That too." Duo grinned for a second, then frowned again. "And then some idiots with a bomb have to go ruin it for us."

Heero smiled his secret smile, the one Duo always liked to see. "I was looking forward to spending the weekend with you. And I am."

Duo shook his head, sighing, then said the thing that had been on his mind all afternoon and evening. "Hee-koi, do you know how hard I've tried to keep you out of this? The whole Preventers thing, I mean. After all the Hell you went through, I don't want you to go through it again." He wanted his Heero, not the soldier.

They looked at each other, quiet understanding passing between them. Heero remembered the item he'd added to his mission list and said, "We should call it a night. It's almost 23:00. We have to get up early in the morning." Duo looked away and Heero paused, waiting for Duo to look up at him again. When he did, Heero added. "And I want to hold you, just so I know you're here." He didn't say that he was scared, that he'd never understood how dangerous Duo's job was, had never thought about how many times he might have lost him before today.

Duo nodded. Heero closed the computer, then quickly stripped and joined Duo in the double bed and wrapped his arms around him, holding him close, feeling Duo's warm skin and soft purr against him. "There's something about this that doesn't feel right," Heero said.

"Huh? Whadda ya mean I don't feel right?"

"Not you. Terrorists with a nuclear weapon. And only four of them? Something isn't right. How did we find out about this?"

"Dead nuke scientist named Miyaki -- the one whose notes Vlissides mentioned. The cops found them but didn't understand them. They knew they were about some kind of bomb, though, so Yamaguchi brought them to us on a hunch. The notes were modifications to standard A-bomb designs Vlissides says would only be made by someone who was building one in his basement." Duo lay quiet for a minute. "Tomorrow, on this search, I'll assign our best--"

"Us," Heero interrupted. "We are the best the Preventers have for this."

"Damn it, Heero. You're not with the Preventers. You shouldn't even be here helping with the planning on this. You damn well shouldn't be going out on a field assignment." Duo turned over, looking at him, not able to see Heero's face in the dim light that filtered through the curtains, but knowing Heero could see his well enough to read it. "Please. I don't want to lose you." He felt Heero's lips press gently against his.

"I know, koi. But I don't want to lose you either. If we're together I'll have someone I trust watching your back, remember?" His finger traced a line along Duo's jaw, feeling the familiar shape his eyes knew so well. "Today... It has been a long time since I enjoyed work as much as I enjoyed it today. I think it's because it actually means something. What we do is going to make a real difference."

Duo frowned. "Don't tell me you're thinking about changing jobs."

Heero kissed him again softly, then turned over onto his side, letting Duo hold him. "I sent an email to Noin and Une while you were washing your hair. I doubt they'll turn me down." He felt Duo tense behind him. "And don't go pulling strings to keep me out, koi."

"What makes you think I'd do that?"

Heero recognized the "who me?" tone in Duo's voice. He knew if he were looking at Duo's face he would see that innocent smile that meant Duo was guilty as charged -- or was planning to be. "Because I know you." He chuckled when Duo sighed, then he flipped onto his back and slid an arm around Duo, pulling Duo against him, head on his chest and shoulder, catching a whiff of his favorite scent in the world, cinnamon. "Besides, someone has to clean up your messy plans."

"Messy plans? Hmph."

Heero felt a wet touch on his chest, followed by a gentle nip. He sighed a fake sigh. "Yes. Like the one you're executing now." Make Duo not angry. Ninmu kanryou.

"Naaniiii???"

"Yes. If you'd planned it better you would have gotten me into bed sooner so we wouldn't be so damned tired in the morning."

"Are you saying you don't want me to do what I'd planned for our first night on the beach?" Duo's hand ghosted slowly down Heero's belly, tracing the ripples of muscle there before nestling tenderly between his legs. "Minus the sand, of course."

"Nnnn… Iie. I'm saying you should have planned it better. But I like spontaneity sometimes." Duo lay beside him, unmoving. "Baka! Now, for example."

"Oh, good," Duo said. His hand began moving spontaneously, drawing spontaneous utterances from Heero. Before long, they were both behaving in a very spontaneous manner.

------------------

Duo woke. Heero wasn't in bed with him. His heart raced as he remembered the mission. What if Heero had gone out-- He heard soft whispers of movement behind him and turned over. The bed moved as someone sat on it, then there was quiet. He opened his eyes to Heero's face and smiled.

Heero kissed him, then stood and stepped back to the space he'd cleared in the middle of the room. He was naked, doing some strange exercise.

"What the Hell are you doing?" Duo muttered.

"Tai'chi," Heero said. His arms circling each other as he walked forward, the balls of his feet touching the floor before his heels. "It's very popular in China. You should try it."

Duo snorted. "Do they do it naked in China?"

"I could teach you sometime." Heero smiled at him, circling his hands and arms out from his waist, back together above his head, then pushing down on some imaginary column before him until his hands were waist high. "But right now, we need to get ready. It's 07:28," he said, breaking the stance.

"Oh shit," Duo said, springing out of bed, wobbling for a moment, then heading for the bathroom.

"Sadako left a voice mail. She's bringing bagels for everyone from your favorite place. She guessed we'd be running a bit late this morning." He smirked, following Duo and admiring the view.

Normally, sharing a shower led to "other things", but today they had a schedule to keep, and Heero hated being late, and as much as Duo would have loved to do the other things, he knew they didn't have much time. There would be plenty of time for other things later. If they were successful. He kept telling himself they would be as Heero quickly and efficiently braided his damp hair.

------------------

The morning meeting was relatively uneventful. Heero presented the results of the second run of Takanawa's model and the optimized search route. They assigned positions to Yamaguchi's undercover SWAT teams that kept them conveniently close but out of sight. Vlissides volunteered to wait at the Tokyo Tower itself since it was the center of the search area and had good phone reception. Ito agreed to wait with her so he could help her get to the bomb quickly when it was found. The whole thing took less than an hour.

"Good thing that was quick," Takanawa said to Heero as the meeting broke up. "You two will have to haul ass to cover all these in two days."

Heero shrugged. "Ninmu ryoukai," he said as Duo walked over to stand beside him.

"And that means he'll do it or die trying," Duo muttered. "C'mon Heero. Time to go to costuming."

"Nani?"

"You think I'm going to let you prance that pretty ass of yours around on the street without some protection?"

"Hentai," Heero growled as he followed Duo toward the door.

"And you like it that way, you horny bastard."

"Aa."

Takanawa smiled faintly to herself as she watched them go. It was nice to know that Heero had found a little of the childhood he'd never known as a child. Somehow, it made her feel better.

------------------

"Costuming" turned out to be exactly that. Duo selected street clothes from various carefully organized racks, tossing them to Heero as he did. "They feel wrong," Heero said as he rubbed the cloth of a pair of jeans between his fingers.

"I call it cotton-mail armor." Duo said. "Looks like regular fabric, but it stops armor-piercing rounds. It lets enough force through to break the skin so you bleed a little and the perp thinks you're hit so you can play dead if you're in a bad situation, but that's it. I told you I was going to make sure your ass was protected." He held up a deep green shirt. "Give me that blue shirt back. It doesn't go well with your eyes. You can wear this instead. Did you know Takanawa's eyes are the same color as yours?"

"I didn't think this was a fashion show. And what are you doing staring into her eyes?" Heero's lips quirked up. He wasn't really worried, but Duo liked it when he acted jealous.

"Trust me, Hee-koi. Now, on to makeup. And take off your shirt."

Makeup involved installing a throat mic and a tiny ear piece on Heero.

"Oi, Hee-koi,"

Heero jumped ever so slightly.

"Can you hear me?" Duo whispered, facing away from Heero.

Duo was coming in clearly over the earpiece. "Aa."

"Good. When this is over, I want you to fuck my ass doggy-style until you can't do it anymore."

"Ninmu ryoukai."

"Sugoi. … Hey, Midori," Duo said, guiding Heero onto a stool in front of the makeup artist. "They're working fine. Cover him up." Heero lifted his chin as Midori, who looked old enough to be Dr. J's grandmother, used drug-store variety makeup to blend the flesh-toned latex pad over the throat mic into the surrounding skin. "Sorry I surprised you. Mine are implanted," Duo explained. "Mic in the jaw and earpiece in the bone behind my ear." He pointed to them, but Heero could see no sign of them. Of course, that was the point. "And I can turn them off, so you don't have to worry about anyone hearing us." His eyebrows bounced suggestively.

Heero blinked. He hadn't thought about that.

"And I have us on a private, scrambled channel so no one will be listening in."

He had thought about that, but had rightly assumed Duo was on top of it.

"Except maybe Takanawa. She seems to have little trap doors into everything."

That didn't surprise Heero, but he doubted anything they said would embarrass Takanawa, and if it did it was her own damn fault for being nosy. "I want one," Heero said.

"All set, boys," Midori said, the spiderweb of lines on her face joining together in a smile as she studied her handiwork.

"Thanks, Midori. You're the best." Duo dragged Heero into a changing room and began pulling Heero's pants off.

"What the Hell are you doing, Duo?" Heero whispered.

"Helping you get out of those clothes and into your costume. Here." He held out the green, button up shirt. "Put this on. And these." He tossed over a pair of light blue jeans. "And these." A pair of green boxer-briefs that matched the shirt.

"I'll wear my own underwear," Heero said.

"No, you'll wear these. They're bullet proof too."

"Why do I need bullet proof--" Heero stopped, sighed. "I never realized you were so fixated on my ass."

Duo snickered. "The underwear in costuming is always new, so you'll get to keep those. Besides," Duo said as he watched Heero turn and bend over to pull on his socks. "If your ass was all I cared about, you wouldn't have the shirt or the jeans, now, would you? Oh, this too." He held out a small gun in a velcro-strapped ankle holster.

Heero glanced at it and snorted. "I used my gun on the range yesterday." He pulled up the boxer briefs. "It's enough."

"No, it isn't. Always carry a spare." He saw Heero frown. "Wear it, Heero, or so help me, I'll lock your pretty little ass in the apartment and Tokyo and the Council can go to Hell for all I care."

Heero sighed again as he bent to strap the gun around his ankle. "Demanding bastard." Spending the weekend locked in the apartment with Duo would have been fun, but they had a mission to complete.

"Demanding bastard who is already watching your ass for you."

Heero shrugged. "Aa." In more ways that one, Heero was sure. He glanced at the full-length mirror beside him as he fastened the velcro strap around his ankle and saw he was right -- and smiled faintly.

------------------

"God, my legs are sore," Duo moaned as he collapsed onto their bed at Hotel P. It was almost 21:00. It had been a long day, but they'd made it through seventeen of the thirty-one sites. Unfortunately, they hadn't found anything more than dimly lit basements, a couple of hidey-holes suitable for secret trysting places, which Duo had noted for possible future use, leaky plumbing, mounds of dust, dirt and debris, rats, roaches and other unpleasantness.

"Take off your clothes," Heero said, dimming the lights.

"Hee-koi, I'm really not feeling up to that right now."

"Baka. I was going to rub your legs for you."

"Oh." Duo grinned sheepishly and peeled off his jeans and boxers in a single shuck, kicking them onto the floor. "That would be nice." He sat up and pulled off his shirt, then lay on his belly and sighed softly as Heero started working on his right calf, loosening the muscles there. "Mmm. 'S good. … Hey, is that massage oil?"

"Aa. Cinnamon."

Duo snorted. "Baka." He relaxed and let himself drift into semi-consciousness feeling Heero's cool hands squeezing and pulling and twisting and pressing.

His eyes popped open when Heero's hands moved onto his ass. Shinyou shiteru. He repeated the words over and over in his head, forcing himself to remain calm and relaxed. Heero was just giving him a massage, not trying to get him horny -- and it did feel really good. After a minute, Heero moved up to the small of his back and Duo smiled and closed his eyes again, drifting back to the fuzzy, restful state.

Duo came out of the fog again when Heero turned him on his back and paused.

"I thought you said you weren't feeling up to that," Heero said, pointing.

"Huh?" Duo suddenly realized what Heero was pointing at and grinned. "Well, I guess I am now, thanks to you. … Did you plan that?"

Heero shook his head. "But I can fix it if you'd like."

There was a question in the voice. Duo thought for all of two seconds and said, "Aa."

"Ninmu ryoukai," Heero said, moving to straddle Duo. It was then that Duo realized Heero was naked and wondered when he'd undressed. He thought back over the massage and decided it must have been before they began, because he remembered feeling the skin of Heero's thighs against his as Heero had rubbed his lower back.

Heero moved up until he was over Duo's belly.

"Uh, this isn't--" He sighed when Heero's hands began rubbing his shoulders. Damn, he hadn't realized he was so tight. He relaxed again and let Heero work his magic, wondering when Heero had become so good at this and deciding that was a silly question. It didn't matter. He was.

Some time later, he felt Heero get to "fixing", starting with the massage oil, then moving over him. "Wait," Duo said, reaching toward him. He frowned when Heero caught his hand. "It'll hurt if you don't let me--"

"Shh. I read about this and I want to try it."

Duo had read about it too and had wanted to try it too. "You've been reading my men's health magazines again?" Doing it tight was supposed to be intense for both lovers, but it was also dangerous. He looked at Heero and saw the determination in the blue eyes. Duo sighed. "Just be careful, okay? Take it slow and stop if it starts to hurt."

"Aa."

Duo closed his eyes and forced himself to be still on the bed, waiting, feeling Heero's weight pressing down on him a tiny bit more every few breaths, visualizing what his other senses were telling him. Heero *was* moving slowly. Slower even than the magazine had suggested, Duo thought. And the authors had been very concerned about safety. Lawsuits and such, no doubt. He decided to relax and enjoy it.

Sometime later -- Duo wasn't sure just how long it had been, but it had been very pleasant -- just as Heero began to establish a slow, steady rhythm, the phone rang, interrupting him.

"Don't stop!" Duo shouted. He glanced at the clock. It had taken them nearly half an hour to get this far.

Heero stopped. "It'll wait a minute," he said, grabbing his boxer-briefs from the bed beside him and draping them over the phone's camera and screen.

"You're gonna take a phone call when we're like this?"

Heero said one word, "Noin," and touched the receive button. "Aa."

"Heero." Noin's smile was audible. "I'd recognize that 'aa' anywhere. Your camera's offline."

"Aa." Heero glared at Duo who was grinning evilly as his hand inched towards the phone -- and Heero's underwear covering it.

"I hear you're sitting on something explosive."

Heero blinked. Glared at Duo again, who shrugged and whispered, "I don't think I'm what she means." Heero flexed his buttocks, which caused Duo to grit his teeth and whimper softly with pleasure, then nodded and said, "Aa," with a faint smirk on his face. "More explosive than you can imagine," as he shoved a pillow over Duo's face to stifle the laughter.

"I think I have a pretty good idea." It was only the years of self-discipline and training that let Heero not laugh out loud. "I read your email," she said. Duo's laughter under the pillow stopped. "Heero, are you sure you want to do this? Duo has been very reluctant every time I've suggested asking you for help on an assignment."

"Aa." He pulled the pillow from Duo's face.

"Does Duo know about this?"

"We talked."

Noin's voice brightened. "Then if you're both sure, you've got a new job. Think he'll mind if we partner you two together?"

Heero looked down and saw Duo nodding assent. "I think that will make him very happy." Duo whispered, "Not half as happy as I'll be when she hangs up."

"Good. Have Duo help you contact Personnel next week and they'll work out the details. And Heero, the phones in Hotel P are very sensitive. Next time someone interrupts you two in bed together, either keep Duo quiet or don't answer." She laughed as she said, "Have fun." The line clicked off.

Heero's eyebrows were up so high that the wave of hair over his forehead concealed them completely. He looked down and saw the bemused expression on Duo's face. "You knew. You were trying--"

"I didn't know. I was just wondering, though. Now that you're officially my partner, does what you're doing to me qualify as sexual harassment?"

Heero blinked, then smirked. "Only if I quit before you're satisfied."

"Oh, good." Duo waited, waited, then said, "Well, since sexual harassment's against the law, you better get busy satisfying, ne?"

"Yes, sir."

The look of shock on Duo's face was priceless. So were the next two hours.

------------------

Heero shone his light through the window of the van in the parking garage and froze, watching the numbers counting down. 20:52:58. 20:52:57. 20:52:56. Not enough by itself, but the complex mass of tubing, wiring and what looked like carefully formed charges of C-10 around the metal ball next to the timer fit one of the profiles Vlissides and Bergman had worked up based on the dead scientist's notes. 20:52:29. They had time, but not much. The bomb wouldn't go off until tomorrow morning at… 09:10:11. Heero's lips twitched at the sequence. Someone with an interesting sense of humor. Duo might have come up with something like that. Still, it would take at least three hours to safely shut down the timer and another ten to twelve to disarm the bomb. Those things had to be completed before 06:00 tomorrow morning or the Council would have to delay their meeting. That gave them maybe a four-hour breathing space to allow for complications. 20:51:47.

"Enola Gay." He whispered. He understood the significance of the code words Duo had chosen. They both hoped that the exaggeration would be on their side.

"Confirm and where," Duo's voice came over the earpiece.

Heero had to admit he had been surprised and impressed by Duo's behavior. Even though the radio link between them was private, Duo had been all business. No suggestive comments. No hentai innuendoes. Hell, Duo had even kept his chatter to a minimum, saying little more than was necessary to keep Heero apprised of his location and status or respond to similar information from Heero. He had forgotten that Duo on a mission could be almost as narrow minded as himself on a mission.

"Enola Gay. Garage level four. Southwest quadrant. Space H29. 20 hours, 51 minutes."

"Level four, H29. I'm on level ten. I'll take the stairs and be there in about two minutes." He heard Duo breathing faster and decided he must be running. "Thank God we found it in time."

"Aa," Heero replied. Silence. Duo must have switched his comm off so Heero wouldn't have to listen to him running down the stairs. 20:50:15. 20:50:14. 20:50:13.

He could stand there and watch the counter run down another two minutes while he waited for Duo or he could check the van for booby traps. Checking for traps seemed like a much better use of the time. He stepped away from the van and several things happened so quickly they seemed almost simultaneous.

He heard a soft scuff behind him. He began to reach for his gun. He heard the sound of someone breathing. He began to spin around. A faint, acrid whiff of cordite filled his nose. He felt a hand brush against his back and another scuffing sound. His hand found the holster at his back empty. He finished turning around and prepared to jump on his attacker. He heard the gun chirp. He froze.

He heard a cold, slightly nasal voice say, "Hello, 27. I am 29."

He realized he was facing himself.

------------------

Duo's feet slowed to a stop as he stared slack-jawed at the tableau before him. Heero holding a gun on… Heero?

"Duo," they both said at once.

He felt a tightness in his belly as he pulled his gun. He had to make a decision, and quickly. They were identical -- height, weight, build, voice, eyes, clothes. Even their hair was the same color, length and tangle. The one with the gun was holding it two-handed, precisely as Heero would hold it when he intended to use it. The one without the gun had that exact, wary readiness that Heero had when he was at a disadvantage.

"Okay," Duo said. "You… put the gun down. I don't know which of you is the real Heero Yuy, but I'm gonna be the only one armed here or I'll shoot both of you and sort it out later."

"Aa." The armed Heero opened his fingers around the gun, holding it against his palm with his thumb, then laid it on the ground, bending at the knees, and kicked it precisely across the concrete to Duo. "I can't tell any difference between us, koi."

"Aa. You should shoot us both like you said."

"Once you disarm the bomb we can go to the beach. I can take two more days off."

Duo frowned, aimed and pulled the trigger. Three rounds burst from the muzzle, and one of the Heero's fell to the ground. Blood welled up under his clothes, a bright red bloom on his chest. Duo nodded, picked up the gun at his feet. "Here. Sorry to make you give up the gun like that, but I had to be sure."

"Aa," 29 smiled as he slipped the gun into his waistband. "But how did you know it was me?"

"Who else would know about our vacation plans?" Duo glanced at his watch. "We don't have much time." He pointed to the van. "Why don't you sweep for traps while I move the body out of the way? Then we can shut down the timer and call the nuke team in to disassemble the bomb."

"Aa." 29 leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, koi. You saved my life."

"Yeah." Duo grinned. "You can pay me back later."

"Hentai." 29 lay down on the ground and crawled under the van.

Duo dragged the body from the van, spending several minutes arranging it behind a pile of unused security cameras a dozen meters away. "This'll do until we disarm the booby traps and shut down the timer." He muttered, then walked back over to the van.

"How's it going?" he asked.

"I disarmed two already. Get the one on the back door while I check the engine compartment."

Duo examined the back door of the van and found the tripwire, barely visible in the narrow gap between the door and the chassis. He pulled a small case out of his pocket, opened it, pulled out a small probe and touched it to the wire. No current. Good. He pulled a pair of narrow wire cutters out of the case, cut the wire, then replaced the wire cutters, closed the case and put it back in his jacket. "You check the inside yet?" he asked.

"Iie." Muffled from the front of the van.

He shone his flashlight through the window. 20:15:10. 20:15:09. It was fascinating how he could become so absorbed watching the numbers change. 20:15:04. 20:15:03. He shone the light around the inside of van, looking for any internal traps. Nothing. That was worrisome.

"I don't see any tripwires inside," he called.

"Maybe he used motion sensors instead."

Duo looked again, carefully studying everything the light touched inside the van. Finally, "Aha. I see it. When you get back here--" He stopped as 29 appeared beside him. "Motion sensor." He pointed the light at it. "Think you can shoot it out?"

The gun appeared as if from nowhere, chirped. BLAM. The box in the circle of light was a shattered wreck -- as was the window.

"Good shot." Duo reached around the broken glass and unlocked the van's back door, then pulled it open slowly. Nothing happened. Except the numbers changed. 20:02:44. 20:02:43. "Hypnotic, isn't it?"

"Aa. Let's shut it down."

------------------

18:03:40. 18:03:39. 18:03:39. 18:03:39.

"Whooo-hoo!" Duo shouted as he hopped out of the van. "We did it, Hee-koi." He offered a hand to 29, who took it, climbed down, then pulled him into an embrace.

"Now we call in the bomb squad and head for the beach. I'm looking forward to a nice, long walk in the moonlight."

Duo chuckled. "I know what you're looking forward to." He pulled the phone out of his pocket and frowned. "Bad reception. Wait here while I go find somewhere I can call from."

He hadn't quite reached the front of the van when a loud shot exploded behind him, echoing in the garage. He ran the few steps back to the rear of the van. One Heero was lying on the ground, face down, a small hole in the back of his head, a large pool of blood forming beneath him. The other was standing over him, hold-out pistol in one hand as he reclaimed his gun from the other's waistband. "Damn it, Heero. Why the Hell did you kill him. He could have told us if there were others." Duo grabbed Heero into a hug. "God, I'm so glad I can hold you again."

"There are," Heero said, slipping the gun into its spot. It felt good to have it back. "We had a little… chat before you arrived." He rested his arms around Duo, letting the soft rumble relax them both.

"So you know how many and where they are and what they're after?"

"What they want and what they are. That's all he wanted to give." Heero fixed a cold stare on him. "Interrogating him would have been a waste of time."

"Heeeerooo--"

"Duo, didn't you hear the gun recognize him? He was the same as me. A clone. Number 29. You might as well try to interrogate me."

"Recognize?"

Heero pulled the gun out, then closed his hand around it, feeling it's response. It chirped. "It's keyed to me."

"Oh." Duo laid his head on Heero's shoulder. "So that's why I could never fire it when I was holding it for you." Heero nodded. "Well, at least I have you back and the bomb's turned off." He kissed Heero softly on the lips. "Sorry I had to shoot you."

"Aa. I wasn't sure what you were doing at first, but using him to disarm the traps was smart. How did you know it was me?"

"Well, it didn't really matter. If I shot you, I knew the cotton-mail would protect you, and if I shot him, well." He shrugged. "We'd just have to be a little more careful dealing with the bomb."

Heero looked at him for a moment. "And?"

Duo grinned. "And your throat mic is always on and he wasn't wearing one, so I turned on the comm and it told me which was you when you took turns speaking."

Heero smiled faintly, but Duo thought it was a little forced. "Call in the bomb squad so we can go home."

"Weeeelllll," Duo looked uncertain. "I'm going to call Noin first. Or Une if I can't get Noin. I think they'll want to keep this part of the operation a secret."

"Aa." Heero sat on the van's bumper, staring at the body at his feet while Duo made the call.

--------------------
Aftershocks
--------------------

It was after midnight before they got out of the garage. Duo borrowed a Preventers motorcycle from one of the agents handling the scene, but didn't take them back to the apartment or to Hotel P. Heero knew he could have asked -- he still had the mic on his throat and the earpiece in his ear -- but he decided to wait and see what Duo was planning. It had been a hard day for both of them and he suspected a little down time was on the agenda.

He remained silent through dinner at a small all-night noodle shop that looked across the bay to Haneda Spaceport, and as they walked along the shore, listening to shells breaking and grinding under their feet, the sound resonating in his mind.

Finally, Duo said, "What's wrong, koi? I've been watching you since you shot him."

Heero examined his options, how much to say, how to say it.

"Aishiteru. Shinyou shiteru."

The words seared through his thoughts of deception like a beam cannon, stopping him in his tracks. He only had one option.

"They call themselves the Rejects. Dr. J knew their attempts at genetic and biochemical manipulation might kill the pilot -- that they might need replacements. The clones were grown for war, programmed for war, trained for war. They have memories from a brain dump, but it was imperfect so there are holes in their past. They were put in cold storage when I left for Earth, in case I died or was injured and needed repair parts or needed to be replaced altogether. When Oz captured Dr. J, the weapons fire damaged the power relays. The cryonics systems were programmed to do a quick thaw in the event of a power failure. They escaped. "

He looked into Duo's eyes. "I'm number 27."

Duo looked at him for a full minute, considering all that. "But you're the Heero Yuy I've always known."

"Aa. But I'm like them."

"No," Duo said immediately, grabbing his arms. "You aren't."

Heero jerked out of Duo's hands and turned, walking back up the beach. "I'm the same," he shouted. "I'm one of dozens. The original died. The first fourteen died from all the shit Dr. J was trying on them. I have to believe 29 wasn't the highest number." He turned to find Duo right behind him. "Do you understand? Out of all of them they chose me because I was the best at it. The best shot. The best pilot. The best at following orders. The one who was most willing to complete the mission at any cost. The best soldier. … The best killer." He turned and started walking again. "I'm just one of a series of weapons made for a war, and now they want another war and--" Heero's voice cut off abruptly, a soft choking sound in his throat.

They walked in silence until they came back to the wooden ramp leading back to the noodle shop. "And when I think about another war, I feel all the responses that were programmed into me telling me to fight." He looked at Duo again. "Do you understand? I want the war as badly as they do. I'm programmed to feel good when I'm fighting."

Duo took Heero's hand and pulled him along the shore past the ramp. "There is one big difference between you and them. Two actually." He waited for Heero to ask, but after a couple of minutes decided it wasn't coming. "The first difference is, you aren't out there trying to start a war, even if part of you is programmed to want it." He waited to hear Heero agree, but again, there was no response. He stopped, swinging Heero around into his arms. "The other difference -- and the most important in my opinion -- is that I love *you*, not them. You're the only one who makes me purr like this."

"Duo--"

"Shut up and let me finish," Duo snapped. He took a deep breath through his nose. "When I was working with him in the van, I noticed it. He smelled different."

"Nani?" Heero frowned. "I smelled him when he grabbed my gun. He smelled like cordite, like you say I smell."

"But you don't ever smell it yourself." Duo smiled. "If he had smelled just like you, you wouldn't have smelled him." Heero opened his mouth, but Duo ran over his protest before he could start it. "Trust me, koi. I know what you smell like. He was different."

Heero sighed and laid his head against Duo's shoulder. "I don't know what to think, koi."

"Aa. You've just had a big part your world yanked out from under you. I'm sorry." He kissed Heero's forehead. "But I don't care if you're number 27 or number 27-thousand. You're *my* Heero Yuy and that's all that matters. This part of your world is still here if you want it," he said, pointing to himself. "And if I wasn't so tired right now, I'd go track down all the damn clones and lock them up so you didn't have to worry about them."

Heero snorted. "And if we had a clue where they are."

"Good old dry sense of humor. That's my Heero." He smiled, smoothing Heero's hair with his right hand while the left held Heero against him. "And if you really want to fight, you can always fight with the Preventers for the things you believe in." He felt Heero tense against him. "That's another difference between you and the Rejects, y'know. Loud as part of you screams for the war, you don't give in. You choose peace."

Heero relaxed again. "Aa." His face still twitched, unsettled, but Duo saw that his eyes weren't darting around looking for enemies or escape routes. Heero pushed away and looked up at Duo. "So you want me to be your partner?"

Duo smiled. "Wouldn't trust anyone else to watch my--" His phone rang. "-- ass." The phone rang again. "That sounds ominous," he muttered. "Hello. … … okay." He put his finger over the microphone. "We have to use my phone because it's scrambled. If you don't mind being close." Duo grinned.

"Aa."

Duo bent slightly and Heero put his head next to Duo's so they could share the phone.

"Go ahead, boss," Duo said.

"Heero, this is Une. I have an assignment I'd like the two of you to take. Our analysis of the body indicates that the impostor was a clone. The genetic biologists say there are markers which lead them to believe there might be others."

"Aa. I am--"

"He was just giving me his debrief," Duo interrupted, motioning Heero to be quiet. "The clone gave him some more information. It'll be in a report for you by noon Tuesday if that's soon enough?"

"That will be acceptable. You two deserve a day off, especially since this incident ruined your vacation. I called to ask you if you two would accept an assignment to track down any other clones. I have several teams I can assign to this, but I have a feeling you two are the best for this case."

Heero looked at Duo, eyebrow raised. Duo nodded, pointed to Heero and raised his eyebrow in return. "We accept," Heero said, leaning back into the phone.

"Good. We'll begin assembling an initial analysis team tomorrow. Enjoy your day off." Une hung up.

They stood, looking at each other. "Do you want to go back home?" Heero asked.

"I think I'd like to sit here with you and watch the sun rise." Duo smiled. "We won't get to see the stars like we would have, but it's what I'd planned for tonight."

"Aa." Heero smiled. This time, Duo didn't think it was forced.

"About a kilometer that way there're some rocks. We can sit there."

------------------

They ate breakfast at the noodle shop, then drove home and went to bed in each others arms. Heero woke to find Duo watching him. "You're awake early." Then he checked the time in his head. Noon. Maybe not so early.

Duo grinned. "I was just thinking."

"Aa. I know what you were thinking."

"Nope. Wrong. I'll tell you tomorrow."

"I have to leave at 04:00 tomorrow for a flight."

"Naaniii? I thought--"

"I have to give notice. PaxAC is letting me go with only two weeks -- if I spend them on a new route into China they want to open."

"China? For two weeks? Damn." Duo sighed. "Well, it'll wait until you get back then."

"You're sure it doesn't have anything to do with a certain mission we discussed?"

"I'm sure, but now that you mention it, you do have a mission to fulfill." He grinned his hentai grin. "Or, at least, something to fill full." Before he finished the last word, Heero had him face down on the bed, ass in the air. "Mmmmm." Duo sighed happily.

"Naaa, Heero," he said as Heero was reaching for the KY.

"Aa."

"Remember the night Noin called? Do me like that."

Heero frowned. "You need to be on top if we do that so you can--"

"Nah. You know what it's like. I trust you to, uh, take care of my ass." Duo chuckled.

"Aa."

------------------

18 woke as the door opened, sitting up in his bed, reaching for his gun. There were nine bullets in it. He'd counted them before going to bed.

"29 has missed another call-in."

He flicked on the safety and laid the gun on the bed. It was only 32. He forced himself to remove his hand from the gun. This was 29's third missed call-in. "Aa. He's dead." He and 32 both knew that even if he had been captured alive, 29 would have taken his own life by now -- two days since they'd last heard from him. Death was a risk 29 had knowingly accepted when he had said, "Ninmu ryoukai," eight months ago.

"Aa. Orders, 18?"

"Brief 39. Drill him on Tokyo. Send him to Earth to resume surveillance. Review the plan to determine what went wrong." Four things for 32 to set in motion.

"Is the objective the same?"

"Of course." They had one overall objective and one secondary objective that would help them achieve it. Those were the easiest to count.

18 sat silent as 32 stepped back out of the doorway and pulled the door to, but not quite closed, letting light from the hallway leak into the pitch-black room so 18 could see. Ten floor tiles were visible in the light. Someday, they were going to root out the compassion nexus that had somehow survived in 32's neural pathways. 18 thought he might regret that in a way.

"Don'tcha think you're being just a little bit compulsive? Or is it obsessive?"

18 glared at the voice from the darkness, but didn't give it the satisfaction of reaching for his gun. Yes, he had problems with obsessive-compulsive behavior. It was the reason he'd been passed over for the war. But this wasn't the same thing. The other four teens agreed with him on this objective and the twenties and thirties accepted their leadership. He resisted the urge to list and count them and felt a small sense of pride at his victory. "At times I wonder why we created you," he said. And if that one was getting good enough to sneak into his room while he was asleep, they might have a serious problem on their hands.

The figure walked through the dark room, almost invisible in its black clothes. They had been wrong to expand the rod and cone structures in its eyes to process infrared and ultraviolet. 18 was sure of that as he counted four soft steps, then it was beside him.

"Because, 18-chan, you all know that being a perfect soldier isn't enough." It waggled the end of its braid at him three times as it took one more step into the faint light from the hall. "You need a crazy thief's help if you're gonna match 27 and his lover."

It was right, though 18 hated to admit that. He stood to go find the other four teens. "You mean Duo." He said it to annoy this one. It didn't like being reminded that it wasn't the original. Luckily, they only had one on hand. He hoped they didn't have to make more. One of these plus the original was more than enough to count.

"Bastard," it snapped, then grabbed him and kissed him deeply. After twenty seconds, when he didn't respond, it gave up. "Unfeeling bastards, all of you." 18 found it interesting that it only tried for twenty seconds. It was usually more persistent.

"Aa." 18 turned and left to find the other four teens. The sooner they accomplished their mission, the sooner he could kill that one. Then there wouldn't be any braided bakas to count.