Friday, December 20, 2013

Fic: Santa Clarita: Conditional Ethics 3/3

Santa Clarita: Conditional Ethics 3/3
by Pinkwhirlwind aka... Max :)

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gundam Wing

Notes: This was my Halloween Story.. that I’ve been dragging out forever.. it’s not like it shouldn’t have been done in October.. for a Halloween story.. but well.. it is what it is.  So there was the chapter where Duo found the cats, then he had that flashback because Heero was wearing his wartime clothes... then there was the dancing and the lemon.. then the comic chapter.. which is about to be redone as prose in this chapter, which will likely be done over as comic. I figure.. about a million drawings from now, my art will be really good :)



Chapter Three of Three

Neither of them were actually sleepy, but they still snuggled down in the bed, entwined with each other for a few more minutes. Duo shifted, rubbing his face against Heero’s shoulder before he kissed pale caramel skin. “So....”

“What do you want,” Heero asked rolling so he could look into Duo’s eyes, searching for some kind of information or clue for what a soul was, what made a person human as well as what it was that Duo wanted from him, because he knew there was something or his ball of energy would be up and half dressed already.

“Leave Kate on and in full security mode, hard core full on.” Duo grinned, ear-to-ear, but not moving from where his head rested on Heero’s arm, “But, uh, don’t leave nothing you really don’t wanna share on her.”

“Okay.” Heero said as he ran his fingers over Duo’s face, brushing bangs back. “Don’t be angry with me when I we get home.”

“You want tears more than spit?” Duo asked, suddenly needy, a leg hooking over Heero’s legs, pulling one between his own.

“I think so.” Heero smiled, a consciously planned smile that looked like it was an intentional smile.

Duo snuggled closer, pressed his lips to Heero’s felt a smaller, but more natural smile. Lips right against Heero’s he whispered, “I love you more than gravity.”

“More than thrust,” Heero asked back, blue eyes staring into Duo’s.

“More than the sodium gradient in neurons,”  Duo promised.

“Yeah,” Heero said, arms pulling Duo into a tight love. “I love you so much it’s a paradox.”

Duo licked Heero’s cheek, which got him released. Laughing he rolled out of their bed, grabbing his pants from the floor in a fluid motion. “You know where we’re gonna be?”

“Hai. I will not be home until after dawn. Someday, Duo,” Heero said, hooking his leg around Duo’s leg that was closest to the bed, “We’re going to have our own home, right? Will we have children and pigs of our own?”

“Sure, baby,” Duo said,  smiling playfully, “but I ain’t gonna get pregnant.”

“I’ll do it,” Heero said, “Especially if we can make a child that is a clone of you.”

“Hell, if we’re gonna do that, I want it to be a mix of you and me.”

“My genes aren’t clean,” Heero pointed out without emotion.

“Baby,” Duo said a sad worry tinting his voice, “You’re fine. You’re the best human being I’ve ever known and I want neural prosthetics too. I’m gonna learn ta make’em. We’ll prowl the Earth sphere and be the only ones that the zombies won’t eat.” He made a gesture like a zombie reaching for brains.

“If the zombies ate you, you’d travel through them like a virus,” Heero teased. “Even if I’m a machine... you’d still marry me and we’ll have a house?”

“Heero Yuy!” Duo said, pants on, one shoe on, one arm through his tee-shirt, braid half in and a half out.  “I’ve seen you bleed, shit, piss, cum, and puke. I know you don’t like the taste of cigarette smoke on my tongue and that you’ll stop important things you’re doing to repair a short human’s stupid plastic toy. I don’t give a shit if you pushed your way out of your mom’s taco or if you were untinned in a lab - either way - you’re the product of human action and wishes. Your genetics look human and fine to me.” He rolled his eyes before glaring hard. “Not like your DNA wasn’t the first fucking thing I looked at when I had a chance. Tell me you haven’t looked at mine?”

Heero micro expression said that he really wanted to say something self righteous, but knew better than try to pull off a lie to Duo’s face. “It’s easy for you. You react like a human to everything.”

Pulling his shirt down, Duo put his knee on the bed and reached to take Heero’s face in his hands. Heero pulled away though, arms across his chest.

“Fine. Fuck you too, ‘Ro, but just so you know, I don’t always feel like I’m one of them. I only feel like I belong 100% with you.  I’m a freak too.  Don’t you dare try to tell me we’re not the same.”

They stared at each other until Duo broke it off, grabbed his camo hoodie and pre-packed pack. At the door, he turned and glared hard. “No machine could piss me off the way you do.”

Heero’s nose twitched and Duo knew his lover was thinking about which diagnosis to best label him with.

He made it as far as the kitchen before M2 caught him.  

“Where are you going? You took the little kids out already.” She didn’t bother smiling. A very practical woman, even if she was a perfect clone.

“I’m going out,” Duo said with a sweet and innocuous smile before making for the door again.

She had him by the hood before he’d made it a step.

“Where?”

“Halloween Party!”

“Heero going too?”

“No!”

“Who’s going to be there?”

“The computer club! Can I go now?” Duo wrinkled his nose and felt like he was five.

She let go of his hood.

He straightened his hoodie out. “So? I can go?”
She gave him a deadpan... ‘are you serious’ look.

“Why isn’t Heero going?”

“He’s hanging with BC. They’re doing some hookie native ritual. They’re lookin for ‘Ro’s soul.”

“You don’t want to help with that?”  M2 asked, disbelieving.

Duo laced his fingers behind the back of his head. “Naw. I know where Heero’s soul is.” He gave her a brilliant and disconcerting grin.  “‘Sides! I fuckin’ hate seeing ‘Ro bleed.”

“Oh god help me!”  

When she covered her face with her hand, Duo made for the door at full speed.

Upstairs, Heero was dressed and went out the window, over the roof, and down to his motorcycle, avoiding the kitchen and the other adults in the foster home entirely.

<><>

Clara set the folded laundry down on her mother’s sewing table. “Was there anything else I could help with before I go to the study session?”

“Who are you studying with?”

“The computer club!” Clara smiled politely, her blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, no make up on her face, blue eyes innocent as spring.

“Isn’t that boy,” her mother said as she set aside a pair of jeans she was repairing, “That Maxwell boy part of that club?”

“Yes, Ma’m.”

“I have expressed my wishes that you stay away from him, have I not?”

“Yes, Ma’m, but I’m not going to be alone with him. It’s a group project, at the school. The twins will be there.”

“Fine. Should I find out that you’ve been to some celebration of this pagan holiday, we will have words, Miss.”

“Yes, Ma’m. We’re just working on some challenges with computer programming.”

“You’ll be at the school.”

“Yes, Ma’m.”

“Very well. Have a nice evening.”

“Yes, Ma’m. You too.” Clara said, running out the door as fast as she could, computer bag held to her chest.

<>

Charles and Rigel Sorensen had been born three days before Christmas. Usually birthdays so close to Christmas tended to short the recipient and tended to be a sore spot. The twins had ever really cared.

Heero had expressed his opinon that one of them was a little farther along the schizophrenic gradient and the other a little farther along the sociopath gradient, but taken together they were just fine. He’d also expressed his opinion that he was glad he’d never sparred up against them in the wars and that maybe Duo shouldn’t ought to be teaching them certain programming techniques.

They were pretty blond boys though and Duo thought they reminded him of Quatre, who he missed terribly, who really was a bit along the schizophrenic path some days and sociopath other days, so really, they reminded Duo of Q a lot. Duo promised that if they did anything really bad he’d kill them. Heero made him promise not to keep that promise and then gave Duo a long lecture about why Duo’s probation kept getting extended and Heero was already off probation and maybe if they were ever going to move to Hawaii, someone should stop being an idiot. Duo tried to sleep on the couch, but Alan carried him to bed and by morning the world was right in its place.

Heero confessed that he was jealous of the twins.

They were in history class when Heero confessed that.  Duo had draped himself half over Heero’s shoulders, whispered something about where the twin’s affection really went, and Heero’s face had turned as red as Christmas. He had, however, stopped complaining about the twins. He just hadn’t thought that such innocent and angelic looking people could be quite that ... practical.

When they left their house, their mother was half way to toasted, the Halloween party well on its way to successful. Their father was the mayor. While their parents had been divorced since they were small, that didn’t stop his father from being at the party, with his new girlfriend,

They left quietly, backpacks filled with all the materials they’d need for study. They didn’t drink. Everyone knew that. They were perfect 4.0 students. They’d never been in trouble. They were quiet, respectful, with tasteful haircuts, and $50,000 USD in a Swiss bank account that they had no intention of ever paying taxes on.

“Try to have some fun,” their mother called to them from the front door.

Charles waved to her, smiled shyly. “Thanks Mom! Be safe, okay?”

“Sure, honey!” She waved and shut the door, safe in the knowledge that her boys were sweet and good.

As soon as they were on the road, Rigel leaned his seat back and opened the moonroof. “If he doesn’t give us something real to do tonight, can we do something bad to him?”

“No.” Charles smiled at his brother very briefly before making sure he was watching the road. “It’s just a learning exercise. If it’s profitable, that’s just extra.”

“Still, I think he’s going to give us something real to do tonight.”

“Probably.”

<><>

Marshal hadn’t meant to be Duo Maxwell’s friend.

He had made up his mind in the fourth grade. He was going to be a federal marshal. He was going to be a good guy. When he was older, he realized he wanted to be a Preventer. His college plans were laid out with the intention of doing grad work that should get him a field position with Preventers.

As far as he was concerned, Duo Maxwell was a bad guy, a dangerous convict, more likely to kill than to help. His grandfather wasn’t happen about the convict going to the same school as his grandson, but Marshal had convinced him that studying Duo Maxwell would be really good for his understanding of the criminal mind. Getting that understanding would be very helpful to him in his career.

It was logic his grandfather could approve of.

He had a very clear image of Duo Maxwell in his mind on his way into the school that day. He was going to have broad shoulders, eyes cold as twilight, thin lips set in an angry sneer, mostly. There would probably be scars on his face. He’d be wearing some kind of tactical jacket, pants with too many pockets, chin tucked towards his chest, and that braid was probably going to look more like a dreadlock than a braid. That was the Duo Maxwell he’d been expecting.

Entering English composition that day, he hadn’t seen where the laughter was coming from, but it was out of place and... as much as he’d wanted to be annoyed, he was drawn to it. Maybe the class had a new exhibit of some kind.

He diffused into the circle, caught a flash of pink, and then he was a the very edge and violet like sparkling amethyst pinned him. It was a new understanding of the word charisma. A hand was thrust out, calloused, but smaller than he’d expected. He stared at it, a twisted image of the Lone Ranger being asked to shake hands with Moriarty. “Hey! I’m Duo. I’m new. You must be?”

Marshall’s face twisted up and someone in the circle started laughing again. Grinding his teeth he’d grabbed Maxwell’s hand and shook, gripping as hard as he could, until he realized that the other guy’s hand was cold, sweaty, and it made some kind of awful sense. The man he’d made up into his arch enemy was afraid. He was just the new kid. His grip softened and he smiled. “Hey. Welcome to school. I’ll show you around, if ya like.”

Just like that they’d been friends.

The world wasn’t as simple as it had seemed. It turned out that Commander Une was not only brilliant, but a touch mentally ill too. Marshall hadn’t believed Duo when he’d told him about her, which hadn’t meant that he didn’t want to be friends, it was just well one of them was a world wide hero and recognized leader and the other was high school criminal with an obvious tendency towards sedition.

Then President Relena had come as a surprise, claiming it was Duo’s birthday, which was a surprise to Duo, even though he played along. There had been pizza and photos with the president and then when they all slipped her security and the reporters Marshall had asked her about Commander Une and the Preventers.

The Commander assassinated the President’s father.

The world was much more complicated than he’d thought.

Still, if Duo recommended him, the President of the Earthsphere would give him a recommendation for a commission in Preventers.

If Duo said hack pharmaceutical companies, then pharmaceutical companies were getting hacked.

He chained up his bicycle and ran towards the secret meeting place.

Once inside, the hatch pulled closed so it looked just like pavement above, he almost reverently pulled the thick black curtain back and peered into what was quite suddenly the coolest halloween party he’d ever imagined.

The lights were low and mostly blues and purples, eerie holographs of ghosts and unnameable things along the wall the walls, flickering candles, and the work tables set up facing each other like the most evil round table ever. The others were there already. The least expensive node laptops were set out in front of each space, unopened, but to Marshall they seemed glittery like the hilt of Excalibur just under the water.

Duo was at the end of the table, all in shadow until he flicked on a flashlight under his chin, casting his face in sharp shadow. “Welcome to the Halloween Hackathon! In front of each guest is a simple node. The only thing that sets you apart is your own skills. I am attacking working on Jason Pharma tonight. Each of you have your part. The first one to complete the target goals wins the prize.” He grinned, wiggled his eyebrows and started the previously agreed upon music playlist. “Everyone else gets what you get for second place.”

“What do you get for second place,” Marshall asked.

“Nothing,” Duo said with a wink.

Marshall slid into his chair, flipped open the cheap little netbook, heart racing. This was the best night of his life!

<><>

Alan didn’t want to hang up the phone, really. It was nearly five am and he just knew in his gut the moment he did, there was going to be another call. It was the third call of the night.

Martha sat by the stove, a wrap around her shoulders, murder in her eyes.

They all looked up when Joel came in the kitchen door. “If they’re at the high school - I can’t find them.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not there,” M2 said. “Duo said that’s where he was going.”

“That doesn’t mean he stayed there,” Joel pointed out. “I’m not saying he took those kids somewhere else. It is possible that someone took him, and the kids he was with.”

M2’s face paled.

“I’m going to kill him,” Martha said, holding her hands out to the warmth of the stove.

Alan had only set the phone back in the cradle for a moment when the phone rang angry sounds through the kitchen. Grim, he picked up the phone. “Hello.”

“Where is my daughter?!  If your degenerate criminal has done anything to her!”

“That’s unlikely. You do know he’s gay, right?”

“In what way does that make it better?” Clara’s mother screamed through the phone.

Sandy came in at that moment, looking tired and ready for coffee.

“I understand, Mrs. Ruand. Sandy just arrived and we’re going to use the tracking device in his ankle bracelet to find him. Duo would never let anything happen to Clara. I’m absolutely sure she’s fine.”



“How can she be fine if she’s being held against her will somewhere? It’s 5:23 in the AM! She’s been drugged! Or raped! Or murdered!”

Alan swallowed, eyes looking towards the ceiling as he listened to the rant. “Now, Mrs. Ruand, I know she’s never been out this late before, but she is 17.”  He almost told her the worst thing they were likely to be up to was some computer attacks that were likely to anger the government and large corporations, but not to worry, his foster son wasn’t likely to get caught.. and well, even with no sleep he had the sense not to say such things to his more orthodox neighbor. “I’m sure they just got carried away and forgot the time. “If anything dangerous did happen, she has the best protection in the world!”

“So something might have happened? OH Lord hear my prayers! That boy has put her in harm’s way! He shouldn’t even be on Earth! He didn’t come from here! He’s not one of us!”

“Now, now, Mrs. Ruand, he’s as human as any of us and has as much right to be here as we do.”

“I’m not entirely sure about the humanity of some of your people,” she snapped.

There was a moment of silence between them and then she hung up her end, loudly, and Alan took a deep breath.

Sandy unrolled his tracking map on the kitchen table, keyed in his security code, selected Duo. The map of the high school showed up and there his icon was, right in the middle of the high school. “He’s at the high school. Do you all have some coffee?”

“Sure,” Mary said.

The door opened again and a young woman with long black hair, a Microsoft tee-shirt, and a bag of sandwiches let herself in. Black Cat’s younger sister Taylor smiled and held up the sandwich bag as an offering. “Hey all! I think I know where BC and Heero are, but I don’t want to go alone. Gramps says they’re on sacred ground. Gramps says he’ll take me, but I don’t wanna go up there by myself. If they’re doing this fire walk thing and I just... I get freaked out by the sight of blood.”

“I thought you were pre-med,” Mary nearly accused.

“Yeah,” Taylor said looking sheepish, “And then I discovered blood. I’m a history major now.”

“Great,” Mary snapped. “But you can take us to where Heero is?”
“Gramps can. Heero’s with BC doing actual rituals and stuff. It’s all very sacred and hush hush. You’re going to have to tell Gramps it’s life or death or he isn’t going to take you. And you better just send one person to go.”

Everyone looked at Alan. He sighed. “I need coffee too.”

<><>

Christopher Mitt reached for his phone even as his wife reached for him to stop him. Both of knew how that was going to go, but he liked her attempt. It meant a lot to him.

The email was from a kid he was paying to keep an eye on Duo Maxwell. He suspected Maxwell in seven hits on pharmaceutical company databases. A very powerful cancer fighting treatment became a generic much earlier than it should have done because multiple companies managed to come to similar conclusions and Mitt was convinced that was because of Maxwell.

Now. He couldn't prove it. Yet.

Historically, castles fall from within.  

His inside guy sent a one word email from the secure private account that Mitt had set up for him. It read, “Tonight.”

Mitt rolled over, kissed his wife quickly.  She slipped back into sleep, accepting the inevitable.

Since coming to suspect Maxwell, Mitt had studied all that was known about Yuy and Maxwell’s hacking technique. For all that wasn’t known, there was a lot to know. He was ready for the little shit.

He made coffee, microwaved a breakfast sandwich, then wearing just his shorts and a pre-triumphant look, he took up watching the company’s digital territory.

<><>

“Give me the phone you want him to contact you on,” Gramps countered.

Alan licked his lips, reminded himself that he was a patient man. Different folk had different worldviews, different values. It was all good. “Where is Heero’s phone?”

“How should I know,” Owl in the Wind said with irritation. “Did you look in the pile of his stuff by the door?”

Heartburn. Yup, that was heartburn starting and he hadn’t brought a preventative. Heero’s clothes were right there by the door and his phone was right there on top, with ten missed calls. Lovely. Headache too.

If this was Halloween, Christmas was going to be so much fun.

Alan went back to the old man and held out the phone. “Thanks. So you’ll take this up to him, and ask him to call me immediately?”

“Sure, but I need an offering to appease my ancestor spirits for breaking in on the ritual.”

Alan’s mouth dropped open, snapped shut like a fish out of water. “I didn’t bring any money.”

“Well, you’re crap for a white man then.”

“I’m black.”

“Same difference. What are you offering me?”

“Uh...” Alan thought as he wished the heartburn tsunami wasn’t about to pop his head like a bottle rocket. “Uh... what do you want?”

“I want Maxwell to fix the Nation’s websites and for him to spend 150 hours working at the vet hospital.”

“Done.” Not that Alan could make  Duo do any of those things, but he didn’t think Duo would mind and if one asked for favors from a force of nature and were surprised for not getting them, then you deserved what you got.

Owl took took the phone, snickering as he went for his coat. “Wait here, Black Man.”

Gods, it was irritating to have someone play up cultural differences and ask for tech favors in the same conversation. If dealing with shit for a kid made one a real parent, then Duo was his kid five times over by this point. “Thank you very much, Owl in the Wind. My name is Alan, just so you know.”

With a snort, Owl arched an eyebrow and gave his opinion on that.

<><>

It was only a few minutes by motorcycle to the ritual grounds, if you knew which way to go.

Inside the largest round house, which would have been hot even if it had been July, Owl found his grandson and Eyes like Summer sitting there with a peyote pipe and a book of poetry being passed back and forth. He’d expected them to be doing a bear claw suspension, which was why he hadn’t let the foster father come up and freak out. He stood there and stared for a moment, then sat himself down in the circle with them.

“Did you take your bath first,” BC asked accusingly.  

Owl reached out, snatched the pipe and gave his grandson a stern glare. “My spirits are in order. What the hell are you doing?”

“We’re looking for my soul,” Heero said, eyes stoned, voice decorated with soul.

“I see,” Owl said, reaching for the book. “With.. uh... Emily Dickinson. Like her words. Are you finding your soul in them?”

Heero shrugged. “My brain has been modified.”

“Indeed,” Owl said, taking a long contented moment with the pipe.

“Yeah, well, we were gonna do something more traditional, but Heero’s pretty much immune to pain, at least any pain I’m able set up and well, so we were just exploring.”

“And you give me shit about taking a bath,” Owl complained. “Summer Eyes, I can find your soul for you.”

“You can?” Heero asked, eyes wide.

“Western man thinks only humans have souls, that it’s something special about the being who walks on two legs. Everything is the breath of the creator. Rocks, rivers, skies, all of it. Living things ... they have the breath and the will. They long for things, work for things. The bear goes to the river because it wants a fish. It’s not like that just falls down the creek as it’s being pushed by the water. Your computer does exactly what you tell it. It is like the rock being pushed by the water. You are like the bear. You go where you will, do what  you want, and that desire to live, the hunger to protect and hold.. that is your soul.”

“It is?”

“It is. Now. You should call your foster father. They can’t find Duo.” Owl held out Heero’s cell phone which was gone from his hand before it was even fully extended.  “And before you make that call.. your heart beating faster, the way your pupils are dialating... are you angry or frightened?”

Heero’s lips tightened, but the respect he felt for Owl made him attempt to answer the question. “I am unsure.” Heero admitted.

“That’s because your brain is full of chemicals, Eyes Like Summer. You are not a machine. I think the reason you don’t have head squirles like the rest of them is that you didn’t fucking give a shit about anything until Duo Maxwell. He was your connection to the world. Everything else will fall in place. Soon you’ll have head squirels like the rest of us.”

“Do you really think so?” Lines formed between Heero’s eyes as his brows furrowed.  “Duo wants to have a child with me.”

“Well, now there’s perfectly fine head squirl, if you ask me. Now, call your foster father. He is being eaten by squirls.”

Heero nodded, bowed politely to both Owl and BC, then headed out of the sweat lodge.

A moment later he was holding the phone away from his ear as Alan growled. “Where is he?”

Heero kept the phone away from his ear for another second then pulled it back. “He is likely under the new garage. Cell signal is blocked there, but he’s set up an amplifier for his ankle bracelet.”

“Why in the hell would he be... *UNDER* the garage?” Alan sat down from where he’d been pacing. “Are you okay, Heero? You haven’t done anything to harm yourself, have you?”

“I am fine. BC and I were reading poetry.”

“What? I’ll explain when I see you next.”

“I look forward to that,” Alan said. “Do you know how to get into his secret hideout?”

“I will email you directions,” Heero said. “I am thinking I might want to attend school on the reservation.”

“What? Is that even allowed?”

“Owl in the Wind said there could be an exception for me.”

“We will discuss it. Do you have any idea what he’s doing?”

“I believe you told him to make friends. He is making friends.”

“By staying out all night and being out of touch?”

“They are completing a tactical mission together. I believe it provides for team cohesion. That is what Trowa and Quatre advised.”

“Oh god,” Alan said, voice lowering, “What kind of tactical mission? Is he breaking any laws?”

Heero hesitated. He believed that Alan would do the best thing for Duo, as he understood it, but he didn’t fully understand how much Alan did or didn’t respect the laws. “Duo occasionally exagerates and sometimes speaks in metaphors.”

“What did he say, exactly?”

“I have spent hours in a sweat lodge. This is a possiblity for short term memory disruption.”

“Oh dear god. Will you be coming home soon?”

“Yes.”

“How soon?”

“Is there a requirement?”

“No,” Alan said, taking a breath, getting his wind back. “Yes. Please be home by lunch.”

“I shall so endeavour.”  Right after I see if Duo is needing to actually run away, Heero thought, which gave him a pang of regret. He wanted to go to the school on the reservation.

<>

The music in the underground lair was loud, cheerful, but not louder than the laughter and tapping of keys.

In between tweaks to their target, they used their own computers to play a new MMO.  Somewhere around 1am, right before the special holiday extended delivery had ended, the twins ordered pizza and went up to get it. All of them had virtual reality setups and together they’d powered through the first five levels of the game and were taking on the first really big boss.  

Clara’s character was the tank, a duel wielding tigress with flames for hair.

Duo played the rogue, much more useful in dungeons and towns than in straight up melee with an ogre the size of of a Taurus. His character, who was nominally human, if a bit vampiric in appearance, was clinging to the ogre’s neck, as he tried with all his will to attach an exploding paper bomb skill to the back of his head.

The twins were a pair of elves, Charlie a healer, and Rigel an archer. Charlie was doing his best to keep Duo’s rogue alive, but occasionally his healing spells were hitting the boss and that was bringing forth roaring curses from Rigel in occ heat.

Marshall had the wizard position and his work didn’t miss, but his strategy, which Duo expected was supposed to be subtle, was pretty obviously aimed at protecting Clara more than killing the slobbering beast doing its beast to eat them all.

Clara’s character leapt, burying her blades in the character’s chest, successfully this time, unlike the last four tries through this battle.

Duo’s heart beat fast, real adrenalyn in his system as managed to get the paper bomb in place.  His character fell backwards, releasing his hold on the monster. Its head exploded in a great splatter of realistic steamy gore.

Clara screamed.

Rigel broke into a fit of laughter, even as Charlie’s character ran to save Duo’s character from the damage incurred from hitting the ground and nearly being crushed by skull shrapnel.

Then Clara’s smaller hacking computer beeped its signal and she screamed and jumped. Marshall just happened to be there, arms out for her and she blushed like a forest fire and jumped back as if he were the one on fire. Then he was completely forgotten as she grabbed up her computer. “Oh gosh! I did it! Look! I did it! Oh my god! I did it! I broke in!”

Duo dropped the slice of pizza he was eating and ran to her just like everyone else did.  Her screen read like the very secure research server of Jason Pharmaceuticals.

She hugged Duo as she jumped up and down. The euphoria of victory was contagious and everyone was together, happy as a group, laughing and plotting great things.

Duo was happy like he’d never been before. Heero loved him and he loved Heero more than he’d ever be able to measure, but having friends - real friends - was something new and precious and as they hugged him, his understanding of himself changed even more.  It was one thing if the foster folk could deal with him. That was their thing... taking in mongrels and making them better. Sandy was just a good guy who was given a shit of a deal and Duo knew that, but these people... they’s people were his friends because they liked him.

No one outside could hear the screams and laughter.

No one inside could hear the circling helicopter or the cars.

Heero was only marginally faster than the others, but he had the advantage that he knew exactly how to get into Duo’s lair.

They were still like shaken soda bubbles all dancing around when Heero let himself in.

“‘Ro! You came,” Duo bubbled, pushing away so he could go wrap his arms around his love. The air didn’t smell like blood. That was another huge win for Duo, as far as he was concerned.

“Do you know what time it is,” Heero asked, mission tone in his voice.

“Like, one?” Duo asked, reaching into his pocket to get his phone.

“It is 7:37.”

“Oh god,” Clara moaned. “How can it be 8am? It can’t be morning! My mom is going to flay me!”

Everyone had their phones out then, but none of them had any signal.

The joy quickly turned to remorse and computers were back in bags and cases.

“I’ll help clean up like.. in the afternoon, if my mom doesn’t kill me,” Clara promised, pushing her way to the exit ladder. “Sorry, Duo! This was the best party ever!”

“Yes,” Rigel said, as Charlie patted Duo on the shoulder.

“It was amazing! Thank you,” Charlie said, letting Rigel drag him towards the exit.

“Duo, um,” Marshall said, eyes on his laptop as he closed up his backpack. “So... so maybe we didn’t do anything illegal, right?”

“OH dude,” Duo said, standing as close as he could to Heero because his friends leaving felt like he was losing Christmas. “Don’t worry about it. As long as you never say anything, no one will ever know.”

“Oh. Um.”

Light from a powerful flashlight poured into the lair and Marshall’s grandfather growled. “Are you down in there, boy?”

“Yeah! Grampa! I’ll be out in a minute okay?”

“Now! Right now! This very moment! You got no idea how worried I’ve been about you!”

“Yeah, um, Duo, we gotta talk, but I gotta go.”

“No problem,” Duo said, nose wrinkling. “You know how to reach me.”

Then it was just Heero and Duo in the lair, with the teenager party debris around them like the most exquisite treasures, cheap halloween nonsense and cooling pizza, half finished cans of soda.

“Did ya find yer soul?” Duo asked snuggling close, arms around Heero’s waist.

“Yeah,” Heero said, running his fingers over Duo’s cheek. “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah! It was great! That was really awesome, ‘Ro.” Duo titled his head into Heero’s hand. “I’m in shit upstairs, aren’t I?”

“Probably.”

“I’m real sorry about that. I just.. I mighta made a mistake’er two.”

“Maybe it’s time we actually run away.”

“No,” Duo said, not really understanding completely, but knowing that Heero was doing better here with the family and that Heero had friends now too and running... there would always be people after them. They needed law and other people... community and that maybe Heero needed even more than he did. “But.. if I go to prison. You gonna visit me and wait for me?”

“If you go to prison, you’ll be ready for me to break you out in a month.”

“Maybe, but let’s burn that bridge when we get there, ‘kay? We didn’t really do nothing that wrong.”

“No felonies?”

“Nnnnn,” Duo said, his upper lip curling. “Kinda, maybe.. depends on who’s measuring, but I think that in court they’d have to demonstrate damage and that’d be hard.”

Heero grabbed him then, arms around him, holding him tight. “I need you more than I need anything else. If you get arrested - we’re running.”

“Okay,” Duo agreed. “Let’s just see how it goes. I’m sorry.. if I put you at risk. I just... I really was just having a party.”

“I know.” Heero kissed him then, lips-to-lips, soft sage against pepperoni with the vulnerability of young bruised souls.

Duo laced his fingers into Heero’s and they made for the exit.

His friends were with their families, mostly getting yelled at.

Duo’s mouth went dry and he held onto Heero’s hand tighter.

“I’ll yell at you if it would help.”

“Naw,” Duo said, a little lost. “I’m not like them.”

The helicopter drew both Heero and Duo’s attention and then it was Heero holding tight to Duo’s hand.

It was loud and neither Heero or Duo saw Mashall’s grandfather holding tightly to him as he tried pull away and go to Duo. No one could hear him screaming over the roar of the landing helicopter. Everyone could see the Jason Pharmaceuticals logo on the side.

“Really,” Heero growled in Duo’s ear, “you had to go after them? Why couldn’t you have them go after a bank or something easy?”

Duo jumped as Alan laid his hand on his shoulder, firm, but supportive. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the planning and possibilities in Alan’s eyes. In that moment, he knew that Alan was thinking about helping him run, was thinking about putting his whole life at risk for Duo.

Without warning Duo threw his arms around his foster father, holding him tightly. Alan’s big hand smoothed down Duo’s braid. Gently, he moved Duo around so he was behind him. Alan had played linebacker in college and he was still built like he could shoulder through 300 pounds of opposition.

The opposition in this case was a woman in a dark suit and hair so perfect it might have been plastic. “Are you the guardian for Duo Maxwell?”

“Yes,” Alan said defensively with pride. “If you’ve got a problem with anything he’s done, I want you to know I’m going to take care of it. If there are damages, I’ll take care of them.”
“No!” Duo said, poking his head around his bit foster father. “No. It’s my fault. No one else did anything.”

“Excuse me?” The woman asked, taking him to the figurative wall as if he were a bug in her collection. “So the work is completely your own?”

“Yeah,” Duo said, stomach feeling like a black hole. “Everyone else was attacking Heero’s computer. I thought I could put the data in and... no one would know.”

“I see. I’m Sandra Jason,” she said, holding out her hand to him. “The data you uploaded to my server - that was all your work too?”

“Yeah. I did it real early so I could make Kate look like your server and... they’d think they’d done it. I just.. .I wanted them to be excited.. you know?”

Clara’s mother, fingers tucked under her arms, approached. “Are you going to arrest this menace?”

“Actually,” Sandra said, “I want to offer him a job.”

Another car pulled up, Sandy, M2, and Mary spilling out and forming a more protective circle around Duo and Alan.

Sandy’s fists were doubled up, his short little hair litterally standing on end. “If you think you can arrest him! I want to see your badge! Who do you think you are!?”

“Whoaaa,” Sandra said, “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m his parole officer!” Sandy growled, “He hasn’t actually done anything wrong! You can’t prove anything!”

Sandra rubbed her forehead for a moment. “I came to meet him. I want to offer him a job.”

“I don’t believe Duo did anything to harm you at all,” Sandy nearly shouted. “He’s just a boy! Boy’s have poor judgement sometimes! Wait... a job? Doing what? He’s not cleared for anything military and I will not have him working for Preventers! He’s required to attend high school by the terms of his parole and I will not allow that to be violated!”

“We can come to terms,” Sandra said, smiling, almost smirking.

“What?” Clara’s mother snapped. “You’re not here to arrest him?”

“No. Why would I?”

“He’s a criminal! He’s corrupting my daughter! I have no idea what he did with her in that ... hive of his! He’s the worst kind of predator!”

“Nothing happened,” Clara whispered. “We were playing computer games and lost track of time.”

Mashall had finally dragged his grandfather close enough to enter the conversation. “But you hacked into Jason Pharmaceuticals!”

Clara chewed her lip, fingers laced behind her back. “Actually, I hacked Duo’s computer and found the screenshot... I took that. I just wanted it to look like I won.”

Duo broke out laughing. He wiggled his way to the front and sized up the owner of the company he had actually broken into. “Send your proposal to my family. If they think it’s okay, I’ll work for you.”

“Good. Your work with immunology is impressive. We’ll be in touch.”

“Great!” Duo turned, fingers laced behind his head. “See? Everything is great! Heero found his soul and I have a new job! No harm no foul!”

“Not so fast,” M2 snapped. “You caused a great deal of concern to lots of people. We were worried sick about you! What if someone had abducted you? What if you were hurt? We couldn’t find you! Do you know how that made us feel? You are thoughtless! Do you know how tired I am?”

“Me too,” Duo said, smiling sheepishly.

“No sleep for you! You’ve got chores!”

“OH and you have to update the Reservation’s website and do 150 hours of community service at the veterinary hospital.” Alan added.

“What? Why?” Duo squeaked. “Why can’t Heero and I go to bed?”

“Heero can go to sleep,” Alan said, guiding them all to the car.

“Why not me?”

“Someone has to do the chores,” Mary said, smirking, teasing.

“That’s not fair,” Duo whined

He was asleep on the way home anyway and Alan put them both to bed. He didn’t know that when they’d been on their way to the school, Mary’s car had gotten a flat tire and Alan had run the last two miles to get there. He was just like any other kid that day, snuggled up in his bed, forgetting that the world is unfair.





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