"Oh, this is so it." Duo looked up from the laptop screen he'd been inspecting and grinned at the other four engaged in various activities around the table.
"Not again." Wufei didn't even bother looking away from his breakfast to inquire as to what Duo had in mind this time.
Heero got up from the table silently and attempted to casually slink out of the room, but Duo's reflexes hadn't been hindered by the four year break from war. He grabbed hold of a belt loop on Heero's jeans and tugged him back down into the seat. "Listen up. So, y'know how I kinda like cheesy pop, sometimes?"
"Yes, Maxwell." Wufei looked like he had a toothache. "We know."
Duo fixed Wufei with his most practiced shit-eating grin. "Yes. Well, two of my favorite group's bodyguards are quitting on them to get married. The rest of the guards don't want to work without the guys they've been coordinating with for almost three years, so, NSync is having to hire new guards."
Quatre was the first to stop looking at Duo like a few of his essential nuts and bolts had rolled away a few miles back on the road of sanity. "Is that the group with the song I like? Um, 'This I Promise,' or something?"
Duo nodded happily and Heero decided to get a foot in before this could go any further. "No."
Duo turned to his best friend. "C'mon, Hee. Paid vacation watching after those guys."
Heero refused to look at Duo because he knew the minute he did, they'd be on the next plane to wherever the epicenter of cheesy pop groups happened to exist. Trowa, who was keeping with his usual tendency towards loquacity that morning, smiled at the two of them and said, "You're gonna give in sooner or later, so could you please be a man and do it now?"
Heero glared at Trowa. Wufei laughed. Quatre shook his head. "Mass hysteria, here we come."
"No way." Lance rubbed at his eyes a little bit to make sure he wasn't seeing things. "Guys, you have *got* to see this."
Joey peered over his shoulder. "What's up, tricks?"
"Recognize these guys?" Lance had five pictures overlapping five applications to the position of NSync's new bodyguard corps.
"Whoa." JC pushed his way in between Joey and Lance. "Aren't those…?"
"Yeah." Lance answered. "Those are."
"Holy shit. We're gonna be under the wing of war heroes."
Justin, who hadn't heard any of the conversation preceding the last sentence -- being too intent on his video game against Chris -- gave an approving, "Word."
JC tilted his head into a position that seemed to make analysis easier. "They're big."
Chris scowled at him. "The biggest one is Justin's size. Not exactly giants, Spazz."
"No, I mean, bigger than I remember."
The blonde one turned to them and smiled. "We get that a lot. People haven't seen much of us since we were sixteen. Amazing what food, puberty and not living in a cockpit'll do, huh?" He turned back to the conversation the five ex-pilots were having with Johnny.
JC turned and whispered. "Um, Chris?"
Chris whispered back, "Yeah?"
"Isn't he standing a little far away to have heard us?"
Chris snickered. "Just wait till we tell Joey one of our guards has super hearing."
Justin thought it was weird enough having new bodyguards. He had gotten used to the solid bulk of Sexual Chocolate's members at his back. These five were average size. You couldn't hear them when they walked.
Duo and Quatre talked and even smiled. Wufei barked occasionally. Justin had started to wonder if Heero and Trowa possessed vocal chords.
He vaguely remembered seeing them in the news reports as a kid. The war had seemed removed in some sense. Something that the colonies needed to worry about. Even Relena Peacecraft's kidnapping and the terrorist threat to earth a year later had been filtered by his youth and the all-consuming birth pains of NSync.
So when he walked in on Duo carrying a plate with a Belgian waffle speared by a single birthday candle on it to Wufei and said, "Hey, happy birthday man, how old're you?" he wasn't exactly expecting the answer to be an unaffected, "Twenty-one." His expression must have given him away.
Duo softly added, "He's the old man," his smile slightly less brilliant than the moment before.
"You're-" Justin frowned at Duo, as if the other man had been purposely hiding a truth this whole time. "You're my age."
Wufei, who had made his way over to Duo, blew out the candle and smiled at his friend. Justin turned to leave, unsure of what his new knowledge meant. He would later reflect that that morning had been the first time he'd seen Wufei smile.
"I'm not intimidated by you."
Heero did not bat an eyelash at Chris's brash assertion. "Good for you."
No answer was forthcoming, so Chris plowed on ahead. "We hired you guys to protect us, not scare us. Justin doesn't need to be peeing himself over his bodyguard. Can't you put Duo or Quatre on him?"
"He's the main attraction, I'm the most qualified."
"C's second most popular and Duo handles him just fine."
"Duo's almost as good as me."
Chris sighed and tried another tactic. "Are you guys telepathic?"
Heero deigned to actually turn his head and look at Chris. "What?"
"Well, I mean, three of you never talk, you must have some way of communicating."
"I've seen the five of you talk without words. You work with people the way we do, it happens."
"Yeah, well, Justin hasn't worked with you for so long. Use your verbal skills."
"Justin will survive not having every last human on earth pander to him."
"You're twenty right?"
"The rest of the guys too?"
"Chang's a couple of months older, just turned twenty-one."
"I used to think the same way you do about Justin. Then I met you guys. I'm pandering him 'til he's fucking eighty."
Heero's eyes changed slightly from blank to threatening. Most people would not have noticed, but Chris knew all about sensing danger from likely and unlikely sources; he noticed. Heero's tone was the same as before. "What's wrong with us?"
"The only soul you guys have is tied up in each other." Chris took the risk of turning his back on Heero to walk away. He was lost in the throng of the crowd moments before Duo sidled up silently to Heero.
Heero looked at his best friend. For the first time since it had started happening, it was obvious to Heero that words weren't needed for Duo to know what was desired of him. Duo watched JC undulate naturally against countless bodies on the dance floor. "I like Chris." He shrugged. "One street rat to another, I guess."
"Do you like JC?"
"Yeah. Except that he actively follows the news and always has and sometime I catch him looking at me like I'm, I dunno, Shinigami."
"What about Justin?"
"He has good intentions. We represent things he wants to forget."
"Maybe we should be forgotten."
"Only if we can't move past being relics of war."
"Find souls outside of each other?"
"That's what I love about you, Yuy. You always know where to start."
"You make Duo nervous." Heero was nothing if not protective. It would have been a great quality in a bodyguard had it not applied more to the other guards and less to the guys they were guarding.
"You make Justin nervous. You make everyone except the ever-so-unflappable Christopher Kirkpatrick nervous. I'd say we're about even." JC looked Heero in the eye even as his fingers fluttered frantically against the pages of his notebook.
"Duo's not Shinigami. He never was, really. Except when he needed it to survive."
"Justin's not stupid. Sometimes he lets people think he is in order to survive."
"I like Duo."
Heero lost a beat.
"I'm not sure if he likes me."
"Duo likes everyone."
"No, Duo acts like he likes everyone. He's good at it too. Lance could learn a thing or two." JC eyed Heero. "I'm expecting your whole 'man of few words' thing to carry over to the statement I just made. Duo hates Bobbie."
"She's using you."
"Of course she is. The fact that I'm using her doesn't bother him?"
"We haven't discussed it."
"Read: you didn't know."
"We're not omniscient."
"I'm gay. Bobbie's a fantastic beard. Tell me now if there's a problem."
Heero nearly laughed. "None of us are exactly what you'd call straight. War is not a convenient time to have preferences."
JC's hands stopped their consistent fluttering. "Oh."
Heero stood up. "I liked Space Cowboy. Would I be giving you too much credit if I complimented your sense of irony?"
It was only after Heero's shape was a distant figure at the end of the hall that JC realized he wasn't breathing.
"Good show." Heero wasn't lying when he said it. He was mildly impressed by the effort and energy put out by the guys on an almost nightly basis.
Justin took the towel away from his face and inspected Heero for unusual coloring or some other telling characteristic out of the ordinary. "Why are you being so nice?"
"Thought I'd try something new."
Suspicious blue eyes met darker ones of roughly the same color that seemed to be stuck perpetually in bluff mode. "Is it working out for you?"
"Reciprocation could be better."
Justin considered this. "Thanks, I guess."
"You're welcome. I know."
"Coming from someone who can and does beatbox for six hours straight, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Whatever works for you, man."
Trowa sat up and turned on the light. He didn't tense up, the intruder had been too quiet to be anyone but one of the other pilots. Heero was sitting on the edge of the bed, back toward the man he had just woken.
Heero didn't turn. "Did you sleep with one of the others during the war?"
"Two. Who didn't?"
"Um. No shit? Your observational powers are shot."
"Why didn't you sleep with me? There was time, after I survived self-destructing."
"Because sex during the war was just sex."
"What is it now?"
"If you have to ask, you're not ready to be having it."
"I'm here, aren't I?"
Trowa sighed. "Yeah. You wanna stay?"
"Oh. Um. Then-"
Trowa grabbed Heero at the waist and dragged him back onto the bed. He arranged himself so that he was draped tightly over Heero. "Comfy?"
Heero's tone was perplexed. "I think so."
"I'm going to sleep."
Quatre probably noticed it first, but Wufei was the only one willing to bring it up. Duo, Quatre and he were sitting, watching the guys get makeup applied for a television appearance. Heero and Trowa were doing safety checks and well out of hearing distance. The Chinese boy watched Chris hold surprisingly still as eye makeup was applied and said, "Heero and Trowa."
Duo snorted softly. "Blind, deaf and dumb leading the blind, deaf, dumb and paralyzed."
Quatre kicked him half-heartedly. "You know Trowa's wanted it for as long as we can all remember."
Wufei raised an eyebrow. "News to me."
The other two looked at him. Wufei didn't respond immediately. When he did, his gaze was fixed on JC who was blinking rapidly and talking almost as fast. "Trowa was too skittish for me."
The voice that came from behind Wufei startled all of them. "One of the things I like best."
Duo shook his head disparagingly at his friend's undetectable approach. "Fuck, Hee."
Trowa, who came up from the opposite side that Heero was on, glared at Duo.
JC thought that Joey was probably the least likely to freak out if he said something. So, one night when Joey was trying to get auditions for himself set up while Justin, Chris and Lance were out with the guys from their opening act, JC brought over a six pack of expensive German beer, the kind they could never afford when they were actually in Germany, handed one to Joey and said, "You should probably have this before we talk."
Joey didn't argue. In fact, he didn't ask what JC needed to talk about until he was well into his second bottle. "Tell me about it, C."
"I think Trowa and Heero are sleeping together."
"I'd say it's a definite possibility."
JC toyed with the rim of his bottle. Joey watched for a moment. "Shit. C, you want- Whoa."
JC took a swig. "They're, y'know, hot. And it's been awhile, so I'm probably kinda desperate. I kinda, well, that alpha thing Heero's got going on. It's good for me."
Joey finished up his beer. "They might love each other."
JC nodded. "That's been known to happen, from time to time, in relationships."
"I just don't wanna see you get used."
"I appreciate that."
Joey puffed up his chest. "Does my alphaness call to you?"
JC scrounged up his best doleful expression. "It's just not the same."
"Is that thing high-maintenance?" Chris flicked at Duo's braid.
"Probably less so than that pineapple shit you had going."
"I was making a statement."
Duo's look conveyed his doubts without needing any embellishment.
"'Cuz, y'know." Chris's grin foretold trouble. "Pineapple tastes good."
Duo was pretty sure he shouldn't say what he wanted to. He did anyway. "Sweet and sour. So I've heard."
"Wanna find out?"
"I never refuse free food."
"Yeah," Chris commented before leaning into give Duo the proffered taste. "I think we might have a lot in common that way."
"You know this thing you've got going with Kirkpatrick is a bad idea, right?" Wufei poured two packets of sugar into the second cup of coffee he had poured and handed it to Duo.
"Heero always accuses me of being stupid about consequences."
"I'm not accusing. I'm pointing out."
"I know, Fei." Duo thought maybe his knowledge applied to everything Wufei had said so far and he sighed.
"He that good?"
"There's a good possibility that it's not about his sexual prowess."
"That probably makes it a worse idea."
"Yeah. Most likely." Duo rubbed his temples briefly. "You’d stop, huh?"
"I don't think you should emulate me."
It got to the point where Duo couldn't stand it anymore. "Heero, puh-leeeze. Fuck the pretty boy and be done with it, he's driving me up the wall."
Trowa opened his eyes from the pseudo-doze he'd been in. "I'm not pretty enough?"
"You're Miss L-3 to his Miss Earth, the only difference being that he actually wears the costume jewelry."
Heero's hand stole behind Trowa to rest in the small of the other man's back. "I'm with Miss L-3, he'll have to find his own consort."
Duo slumped down in a seat. "Could you at least tell him that?"
"I don't mind." Trowa's voice was completely without inflection. "I mean, he'd have to put up with me being there. Other than that, wouldn't be the first time."
Heero's hand stole back. "You. Just you. That's it. For me."
"If that was true, you wouldn't be curious. And you are." Trowa leaned against Heero, kissing the side of his mouth before fitting himself against his shoulder. "It's not about betrayal."
"You don't like people that aren't us touching you."
"Let me worry about the business end of things."
"I thought we were supposed to worry about each other."
Duo interrupted by way of banging his head against the chair. "Does the word 'issues' have any significance to the two of you?"
Both of them stared at him for a moment before looking back at each other. They started to speak at the same time, stopping in unison. Heero took a breath and started again. "You really think we should do this?"
"The other .2%?"
JC's toothbrush fell out of his mouth and he scrambled to catch it before it hit the floor. "Um." Toothpaste hindered his speech and he walked back to the bathroom to spit. When he came back out, Trowa and Heero were still lying on his bed, which gave him the strength to believe it wasn't an illusion.
"Did Lance get the keys mixed up?"
Trowa rolled his eyes. Heero's expression didn’t change.
"Okay. Right." JC surveyed the situation again. "I wasn't actually expecting to get my way, I'm pretty sure. That doesn't happen a lot. When it matters, I guess."
Heero placed a hand on the nearly insignificant space between him and Trowa. "Trial run, kid."
JC didn't bother pointing out that he was four years older than either of them.
Oddly enough, it was Britney who brought Wufei into the fold. Long after Quatre had settled into the comfortable position of Joey's babysitter and Lance's business advisor, JC had landed the precarious title of Heero and Trowa's third and Duo's body parts had begun to attach themselves to Chris, Wufei was still the outsider, at least among the band members.
So when Britney showed up, spent a few hours talking with Justin, JC and Chris and read the situation correctly, she determined it as her mission in life at that moment to seal the gap.
Two mornings later, Wufei wandered into the kitchen area on the bus, only to notice her sitting at the table, two cups of coffee steaming in front of her, painting her fingernails. She nodded toward the other coffee cup, not bothering to look away from her project.
He sat down and took a sip.
Justin loved attention and definitely didn’t mind the fact that people regularly petted his ego. That said, he loved Britney for her tendency to be brutally honest toward the people she cared about. This was a little-known fact, however, and Wufei was somewhat taken aback when Britney carefully stroked along the surface of her pinky fingernail and commented offhandedly, "You're incredibly anti-social."
Feeling that to respond, "Am not," would give her leverage she did not need against him, Wufei stayed silent. Britney waited out the silence a bit before adding, "Because Jayce thinks it's a shame that he can't find out what his fuckbuddies see in you, and Lance has a persistent belief that everyone has hidden good in them, it's like a twisted Baptist thing, or something. Chris respects you and wishes it was mutual; Joey can't figure out where his charm is failing him, and Justin -- Justin can’t stand to think someone doesn't like him. I keep telling him that going into professional boybandism wasn't a good choice on his part, but he can be surprisingly stubborn about these things."
"Did he ask you to talk to me?"
For the first time, Britney lifted her eyes to look at the man sitting across from her. They were filled with scorn, a less definable emotion lying underneath. "I would be Justin's errand girl if he asked. But he never does. As far as he's concerned, he's the whipped one. I think we're probably both a little whipped. It works that way."
Wufei returned her glare, his gaze calm. "I don't understand the way it works."
"I'm not asking you to become lovers with one of the guys. Really, there's enough of that going on."
Wufei snorted. "No. I don't know how any of it works. Other people. It's been so long since I tried that with anyone except the other guys-"
Britney carefully closed the nail polish bottle. "Guys are stupid."
Unsure of how exactly to field that, Wufei got defensive. "Girls get up at five in the morning to put paint on their body parts."
Britney stood up. "Or to fix things that need fixing. I just don't like wasting time. Besides, Justin keeps my patch of the bed warm for me to come back to. Makes the getting up worth it. Why do you do it?" She didn't wait for the answer, ambling back to the curtained area.
Long after she had gone back to sleep, Wufei was still wondering what he was doing awake.
"You feel guilty." JC had the feeling he shouldn't have been as surprised by this as he evidently was.
Trowa looked at his erstwhile bed partner, but didn't say anything, knowing the comment was not directed at him. Heero considered not answering. Instead, he stated the facts. "Thirteen year old girls should not be able to get past us."
"Not even when there are thousands of them?"
JC didn't believe anything was that simple.
Trowa took pity on him and filled in a few of the blanks. "Heero was programmed to be perfect. He doesn't understand being anything less."
Heero frowned. "The person I'm supposed to protect was scared out of his fucking mind tonight. I would like to think this isn't about me."
JC didn't know how to argue with that, because when they had gotten Justin backstage after "Gone" and cleaned up the scratches from the fan's attempt to hold onto him while being disengaged, it had taken a fair amount to coax him back into performing. Instead of contradicting Heero, he said quietly, "I think you're perfect. In everything that matters."
Trowa gave a slightly derisive laugh. Heero didn't bother responding.
JC stood up, "I forgot. Fucktoy's opinions don't matter," and left.
"Going somewhere?" Duo sat against the wall next to his door, legs spread wide around a game of solitaire, batting away Chris's intrusive fingers.
JC looked down, his features scrambling desperately from kid-caught-with-his-hand-in-the-cookie-jar to I'm-a-famous-popstar-who-the-fuck-are-you? "Out."
"I thought we had a deal. You wanna go anywhere, you tell me. It can be four in the morning and I won't get mad, so long as I don't have to worry. Did I miss a loophole in our negotiations?"
Chris reached up to tug JC down to the floor, but JC retracted his hand as if burned. "Fuck you," he said, unsure as to whom he was addressing.
Duo's hand stole behind Chris's neck and he looked up at JC. "We would, but you wouldn't be getting what you really want."
JC's breath was sharp coming in for the second before he slumped to the ground and crawled the extra inch it took to curl up against Chris. "Sorry. I'm an asshole."
Chris leaned against Duo so that JC could fit more comfortably against him. "What happened?"
"Oh. Y'know. Kinda the same thing as with Nikki. I'm just. Not the kinda boy you take home to your parents. Or something."
Duo frowned at that. "Can I get a play by play?"
JC mumbled, "Trowa said Heero thought he was supposed to be perfect and was all upset about Justin and I told him he was perfect to me. They laughed. They don't say stupid things, they're always knowing what the other wants. I'm fun. In bed, mostly."
Duo and Chris exchanged a look. Duo reached out and stroked JC's hair. "Can I ask some really personal questions?"
A tiny movement from JC seemed to indicate that this would be alright.
"Does Trowa let you initiate kisses or touches anywhere below the neck?"
"And here we all thought you and Chris were discovering the meaning of sex together."
"I'll take that as a yes. Does Heero ever tell you things that seem completely unrelated to anything important, like recounting a story that was on the fourth page of the newspaper that he thinks would interest you, or something?"
"He always brings me the positive reviews of our shows from the local newspapers. That count?"
Duo rose fluidly, leaving the solitaire game completely intact. He tugged at the ends of Chris's spikes. "Stay with him. If he leaves the building I'm gonna open up a can of whoop ass on your shapely behind."
"Does that mean a follow up kiss it all better session?"
"Fucking incorrigible monkey."
When Duo was too far down the hall to hear, JC raised his head and told Chris, "He's ass backwards for you."
"Yeah. Damned inconvenient, our rears keep bumping into each other."
Duo picked the lock, not willing to imply that he was asking for permission to come in by knocking. "Don't make me shoot you again, Yuy. I swear." He raised balled hands to his waist. "Say something. Preferably before I go apeshit on you."
"He's too sensitive." Heero's tone was dismissive.
"Uh huh. I bet that really bothers Trowa in bed."
Duo was on the floor before he actually saw Heero coming at him, the larger man hovering above, fist pulled back in the air. Trowa was there too, pulling Heero gently off. When he had accomplished his goal, Trowa commented simply, "Duo's not your best friend for nothing."
"What's your point?" Heero's question was somewhat ambiguously directed.
Duo raised his eyebrows at Trowa.
Trowa swept his fingers through his hair. "Duo knows probably better than you the qualifications I have for letting someone touch me like I let JC touch me."
Duo's anger was mildly abated by that statement. "There's that. There's the fact that Heero's evidently started reading the Arts section of many a hick town's newspaper. And you didn't chase after him."
Trowa's eyes shifted. "Your logic escapes me."
"No it doesn't, but I'll spell it out anyway. Chris is sexy and fun and a survivor. He makes me laugh and doesn't mind all the idiosyncrasies and cuddles like nobody's business. And he's way way too good for me. So if he left, I don't know that I'd stop him, because he probably deserves better. You were taking what you could get, driving him away before it went too far. The problem with that is that too far was about seven states and three weeks back. I could also argue that two people who continually sacrifice themselves for others whom they do and do not know probably have earned themselves some points on the karma wheel. JC…JC is some mother good karma."
"He thinks doing a bad thing is not fighting harder for Chris's song to be on the domestic release." Heero's knuckles were pale where they curved around Trowa's arm.
"He thinks that there's good in everything." Trowa shook the arm gently so as not to loose circulation.
"Maybe he's right." Duo sighed. "Maybe he's wrong. But what really gives any of us the right to decide what other people want, arguing that we know best?"
"He hurts easily." Duo understood that Heero was not referring to physical fragility.
"So do both of you."
The interview was so routine that JC wanted to pinch himself to make sure he hadn't fallen asleep. The girl from the magazine was a fan this time, so it seemed, and got slightly breathless before each question. He was tempted to offer her an inhaler.
"So, uh," quick pant, "are you guys in love?"
Chris, Joey and Justin lit up, making the answer horrifically obvious. Chris covered for himself by spouting some shit about being high on life. Joey just nodded, getting that goofy smile that corresponded to all his thoughts about Kelly. Justin wasn't really required to say anything. Lance entered in a smooth, "No, but I'm workin' on it."
JC knew the girl was looking at him expectantly. He stared back at her for a moment and responded, "Does it count if it's unrequited?"
Duo could be a bit of a mother at times. He claimed it was Quatre controlling his mind with unrevealed super powers linked to the empathy. The last time he had tried embellishing upon this to the band, though, Heero had nonchalantly dropped the question, "So, you knew Quatre back when you were running with the gangs on L-2?"
He stayed with JC that night after the interview, pouring him some vodka from the mini-bar and watching "Friends" reruns until the older man fell asleep. He tucked him in and left the room quietly, accounting for both keys and the general security of the room.
Chris was asleep when he slipped into their room, technically under one of their names, Duo couldn't remember whose it was this night. Duo threw his clothes aside and stole beneath the covers, curling around Chris. A groggy voice reached his ears, "Jayce ok?"
Chris squeezed him a bit harder than the moment before.
"I heard you're in love with life right now, Kirkpatrick."
"Mostly one particular aspect of it, Maxwell."
Three nights later, Trowa woke up from one of his recurrent nightmares about having to kill the guys, scared mindless by the memory of a face having been added to the dream.
Beside him, Heero spoke without opening his eyes. "Trowa?"
The tone of Trowa's voice convinced Heero not to argue. He followed Trowa out of their room and down the hall to where JC was sleeping. Heero picked the lock. The noise of the door opening startled JC out of sleep and he said in a frightened voice, "Who's there?"
Trowa realized their mistake at once and called into the dark, "It’s us, can I turn on the light?"
JC didn't respond directly. "What are you doing here? It's fucking 4:57 in the morning."
"I had a nightmare."
"You have someone right next to you available to help you with that, you didn’t need to drag him and yourself all the way down here."
Heero spoke for the first time since they had arrived. "He didn’t need me."
Trowa shook his head, figuring their eyes had adjusted enough for everyone to see the action. "No. I always need you. Only, not just you."
JC brought his knees up and leaned his cheek against one of them. "That's a pretty big word, need."
"I'm qualified in its use."
As if he was afraid of being left out of the action, Heero quickly added, "Me too."
"Let’s say for arguments sake that you are. A week ago, you let me walk out believing I was a sex toy. Forgive me if trusting your word on this just isn't enough for me."
Trowa and Heero looked at each other, eyes the only bright spots in the room. Agreement flashed between them. Heero took a breath. "You said before that I was perfect to you. Let me…us, prove that you weren't wrong."
JC was still for a moment. Just when Heero was about to turn tail and run, he threw back the covers on the bed and moved all the way to one side.
Trowa, not having any of it, came around the bed and pushed him to the middle, Heero already there to greet him.
Wufei had begun warming up to the guys about a month before they were at the post awards show party and Chris had introduced the man he was talking to as, "Yo, Fei, this is AJ. AJ, Wufei. We call him Fei because he seems like the type of guy a nickname would piss off."
AJ shook his hand. "You Chrissy-boy's new bodyguard? We heard they got a new team."
Wufei took the hand, but merely nodded in response.
AJ's eyes darkened.
Wufei stared out the hotel window, hyper-aware of the man sleeping naked in the bed a few feet behind him. He wandered to the phone, dragging it to the bathroom where he shut himself in without turning on the light and dialed a number guided by the phosphorescent glow of the numbers.
"Hey." The voice on the other end of the line was sleepy, but cognizant.
Wufei was long used to Quatre knowing who was calling. "You can't just be giving out my location to every rival pop star that comes along."
"Mm. I dunno, you're awfully relaxed."
"Did you. Uh. Did you get a read on him?"
"Okay. Just don't use this power for evil. What do you know about him?"
"I'm going to pretend you didn't ask that question."
"Do you know he's an ex-alcoholic? Very recently ex?"
"So that's who he is. Good thing my hospitality doesn't extend to offering someone a drink before we fuck."
"He liked that you didn't treat him like he was fragile."
"Do you think he'd wanna do this again some time?"
"Jesus. Ask *him.*"
It was at the MTV gala event, almost four months since things had begun between the two of them that Justin noticed, frowned and complained to anyone in hearing distance, "'Fei's sleeping with the enemy. Literally."
"I am going to buy you an island, name it Oblivious and give it to you for Christmas." Lance didn't even look up from his laptop. Heero forced his snicker to stay safely internal.
"The fuck?" Justin wasn't taking an insult to his powers of observation lying down.
"'Fei's been talking with McLean on a regular basis since the TCA's." Heero made this statement as if he had read it on the front page of the New York Times and was wondering what rock Justin had managed to get himself stuck under. And if he should help him extract himself.
"Does Chris know about this?"
"Seeing as how he and Duo conspired to set the two up, I hope so." Lance looked up for long enough to make eye contact with JC, Heero and Trowa and confirm that they were all thinking the same thing about Justin.
"What? No. Chris is loyal he wouldn't-"
"Try and make two people who really need it happy?" JC twisted slightly from where he was streaking midnight blue through a very-indulgent Trowa's bangs.
"Well, I mean-"
"See beyond marketing strategies and created rivalries?" Lance still wasn't looking at Justin, but his hands had left the keyboard.
"It's just. Backstreet."
JC sighed patiently, because of all of them he understood Justin's moments of being a kid the most, remembering him from when he really had been a child. "J. This morning, while you and Lance were out doing the radio thing, 'Fei got sent to wake me up. I don't know who told him that waking up is hard for me and harder when my guys aren’t there. I don't know how he found out that I won’t drink coffee but I can't make it through the day without a cup of English breakfast tea with milk. All I know is that he had one steaming on nightstand when I woke up to him rubbing the back of my neck. The four of you are the only people who know that's the best way to wake me up, not even Tyler or Heather knows that trick. Now, this would make me suspect that he's really just a burnt marshmallow, hard carbon outside, warm gooey inside. Thing is, though, he woke me up a month ago with a 'We gotta go Chasez' from the doorway of my hotel room and only stayed long enough to make sure I rolled out from underneath the covers. People's better side comes out when they're happy. Chris may not be wise in the traditional sense, but he knows people. He knows the guy who watches his ass better than most, I think. AJ makes 'Fei happy."
Justin frowned again, a different frown from the one he'd worn when he walked in. JC knew this frown as well as the other. Justin was considering things. "Britney said 'Fei was sad. I thought he was just, um. Mean, I guess."
"Yeah well, we've always known that Britney was your smarter half." Lance's fingers took up typing again.
Heero had learned in his short time with Relena, that while most written threats and prank phone calls never amounted to more than they cost to make, knowing who disliked his charges enough to wave fingers and sometimes whole hands in their direction was a sensible thing to do. He had asked the fan club people who were hired to weed out fan mail to send anything threatening, whether it came by way of snail mail or more snappy electronic means, over into his hands.
The first, "WE KNOW WHAT YOUR UP TO" letter came early in the tour. The letters were typed, and he assumed that "your" was meant to be the contractive form of you are. He filed it away as odd and didn't bother to get worked up about it.
The second one came nearly a month later, although Heero suspected that was more due to the delay caused by sifting and forwarding. The postmark was from a different place, and "you're" was spelled correctly, but other than that, it was exactly the same. Heero kept this one.
After that, each mail shipment came with three or four. They never came by email. The paper was always pristine and the postmark was always different. Even the stamps were different. The address was always typed, like the letters, and the spelling varied, but the message was always the same.
Heero mentioned it to the other guys when the delivery of the letters picked up. Duo fanned himself with one of the letters in the late July heat. He made eye contact with Heero. "Well, at least someone knows what we're up to."
They tightened security.
Duo watched Quatre's eyes for a moment as they did one last pace of the stage perimeter, checking that the barriers were well-placed and sturdy and canvassing for anything unusual. The show would start in approximately ten minutes. Duo smiled at three girls who couldn't have been more than ten. They screeched and whispered to each other. Without taking his concentration from the task at hand, he asked, "Something the matter?"
"Bad feeling that I can't pin down. Too many people."
"We must've wanded half the stadium."
"I know, believe me, I feel irrational."
Duo shook his head slightly and thumbed his walkie-talkie. "Q's on edge. I suggest the rest of us be too."
It was Wufei who noticed her in the end. She waited until they were in the rigs for "Space Cowboy" to shoot. Luckily, either she wasn't that fantastic a shot to begin with, or the screaming, half of it terror, half of it excitement from the part of the crowd that didn't see her, distracted her. Either way, he was on her before she had managed to get a second shot off, disarming her within seconds. The rest of the team was waiting for the guys to land, unhooking them swiftly and bringing them down through the trap door on the second stage.
Chris didn't make it down the hall before he was on the floor, vomiting, Joey next to him, one large hand splayed over his back, trying to say calming things in a shaking voice. Duo grabbed him, not unkindly, setting him on his feet. "Joe, c'mon, we gotta get you guys into a confined area. There probably aren't more, but, still, it'll make us feel better."
Duo exchanged looks with Heero, who nodded. He would take care of JC. Duo knelt down to where Chris had progressed into dry heaving. He was holding his stomach, mewling and apologizing. Duo took a quick look down the hall in both directions and kissed the back of his neck. "Baby, calm down just long enough for me to get you where the others are. Please."
Chris didn't say anything, clinging to Duo and attempting to pull himself up, even as his stomach continued in its convulsions. Duo stood still for a few moments, supporting Chris with one arm, using his other to stroke up and down his lover's back. "I wouldn't have let you fall, I would've found a way not to."
Chris took an unsteady breath and stepped forward, still leaning heavily on Duo. "I thought it was just some pyro going off at the wrong time. It spooked me and I was half way through thinking, 'That crew guy is so gone-' and then Justin's rig moved."
Duo noted mentally that they would need to ask for Justin's rig from the crew. They were going to want the bullet. The two of them had reached the dressing room. Trowa was standing sentry outside. Duo knocked out the Morris code for Deathscythe and Quatre answered the door. Duo deposited Chris onto the couch where Justin promptly curled himself around the smaller man and Joey, JC and Lance all found ways to latch on.
Duo crossed the room. Quatre spoke to him in a whisper. "I had Justin call Britney and Joey call Kelly and everyone call their parents. Chris should probably do that. Um-"
"My boyfriend just threw up all over the floor and will probably have to undergo drug therapy to perform 'Cowboy' for the rest of the tour, so I think I'm doubly justified in saying that it wasn't your fault. Or mine, or Wufei's. We're only human and if I have to start reminding you of this on top of Heero, I'm gonna join right in with Chris on the drug therapy."
"I felt her."
"Mm, why do you think we were so tight tonight? We're good, but getting to one girl in the midst of several thousand before she got off a second shot? Dayum. Either 'Fei's been hiding his super powers, or he took your warning to heart. What's your take?"
Quatre was busy not answering when his cell phone rang. He snapped it open, "Hello?" It took a few seconds for recognition to settle on his face, but it did with a smile, "No, hey, hi, tell her we're all fine." There was noise on the other end of the line. "Yeah, no, all ten of us." Pause. "Right. Um, how're you?" Quatre turned away from Duo, into the conversation. Duo didn't follow.
None of the ex-pilots were surprised when Relena and Dorothy showed up a few days later. They were already checked in to the hotel where the guys were registered before they showed up, waiting in the lobby. Heero spotted them first, gracing Relena with a wry smile.
Quatre's smile was for Dorothy. She had been the one to call the night of the shooting. She had holed up in her grandfather's estates for a year after the war, only to discover herself bored to tears and drawn out by Relena's kidnapping. Dorothy applied her knowledge of earth's families and several of the men involved in the coup to help Une and the Preventers as much as possible. Afterwards, Relena, who was horrible at holding grudges, offered her a job. She had steadily climbed the ladder to become Relena's right hand person. The strain of the job kept her up nights and she tended to keep news reports from all over running in the background in case something she should know about came up.
Her and the pilots had reconciled sometime after she had taken the job with Sank. Quatre was even worse than Relena at holding a grudge and he had never really been that mad at her to begin with, just sad for her. Trowa was still withdrawn in her presence and Heero and Wufei treated her with the same indifference that they held for 99% of the universe's population, but there was no hate involved. Between her and Quatre, the other pilots had always thought there was probably a considerable amount of liking. Noting the grin on Quatre's face, Trowa thought that might be too mild a word for it. That was just fine by Trowa. Dorothy may not have been one of his favorite people, but she was smart and pretty and Quatre deserved to have someone.
The guys all got checked into their rooms and headed out to soundcheck. Chris still couldn't fly for "Space Cowboy," and none of the other guys were all that thrilled by the idea, so they were constantly reworking that song, trying to give the crowds something that was thrilling but not thrilling enough to give one of the guys a heart attack.
Relena stayed with Heero while he did the first canvas of the perimeter. "I can't get anything worth believing off the network, what's going on?"
"The girl won't talk, but from what we can tell, she's militia -- American -- they seem to think the guys are some kind of government plot to brainwash kids, girls mostly, I guess. We figure it's gotta be a fringe group, because the militia cells are crazy, but this is a little beyond the norm."
"You got all of this from a girl who won't talk?"
"We have Quatre, remember?"
"He doesn't like-"
"He doesn't like watching three of his friends silently freak out because the men they're…with were threatened."
"Yeah, Dorothy said it's a tangled web."
"Probably while she was spinning hers for a certain unentangled person."
"Probably." Relena's smile was bittersweet.
"Away a lot. But, y'know, she loves it. And even if she was near, who knows how much time we'd get together, and-"
"It's okay to be upset at things that can't be changed if they hurt."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"JC and Trowa's bitch."
Heero shook his head, but Relena could see the small twist of his mouth that corresponded to amusement on him.
"Dude, the blonde totally wants you."
Quatre giggled. Joey looked offended. Lance quirked an eyebrow and refrained from asking what was so funny. Quatre straightened his face, "No, Joey, it's not- I wasn't laughing at you. Just the situation."
As far as Lance was concerned, that was an invitation. "Situation?"
Quatre hesitated and Joey cut in. "Situation or no, she's jonesing for you. I know you've got that whole mind reading thing going, but, man. I know women."
Quatre rubbed at the slight scar directly below his ribs. "Y'know how Justin was with the whole Fei/Aje thing?" He got two nods. "Um, it's like, you guys are enemies more out of habit than anything else, because if one of you sells more records, it's really not the end of anything, let alone someone's life. Dorothy…when she was our enemy it was so much more than that, not to minimize your pain, or anything, just, yeah. I don't know if I can do that to the other guys."
Lance looked over at Joey and back at Quatre. "You're kidding, right?"
"Q, babe, Trowa's practically waving 'Quatre hearts Dorothy' banners. How is it that you guys know each other so well, and yet every time something emotionally important goes down it's like you all met yesterday?"
Quatre squinted. "Banners, huh?"
"Which," Joey felt the need to point out, "technically makes you more popular than me."
The buses pulled up to the next hotel and Heero radioed the other bus. "No stopping and signing, something doesn't feel-"
"I hear you." Trowa responded.
The five ex-pilots were practically a wall between the fans and the group. Which was how when the "fan," a guy this time, made his move, Trowa was the one who only nearly missed being stabbed. The kid, he couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen, was fighting madly and had adrenaline on his side. Trowa didn't have to yell for them to get the guys inside, the other four were already running, pushing. The second "fan" caught Heero as they were going in. The remaining three managed to get the guys in the doors and barricade the hotel, surrounding them as much as possible to make sure nobody threatening had gotten inside. Luckily the hotel had taken their warning to keep the lobby and the floor they had rented out clear seriously.
JC was freaking out. It wasn't loud or dramatic, he just dug his fingernails into Duo's bicep and refused to let go, breaths coming out in small whimpers. Wufei took door duty so that they wouldn't have to pry him off. Chris attached himself to JC's back and whispered things about how strong and fast both Trowa and Heero were.
Dorothy assessed the situation. "I'm going back down there."
Quatre glanced at Duo, who was smiling at her. Quatre kissed her, quick, with the promise of things much better. "Don’t shoot anyone. Most of'em are just girls who came to salivate."
Dorothy kissed back. "I'm a fucking good shot."
"Yeah, but we need them alive."
Dorothy sighed dramatically and left.
Joey shook his head in admiration. "You've got some kind of timing, my man."
Things had pretty much wound down by the time Dorothy got there. It hadn't taken either guard long to disarm the two kids and they were busy with the police, making statements.
Heero noticed Dorothy out of the corner of his eye and motioned for her to come over. "I gotta go down and do some Q&A. Get Trowa back to Jayce and get him calmed down."
"Know your boy pretty well."
"Both of them." He stood still, staring ahead for a moment, before breaking, his head ducking just a bit. "I work at it, anyway."
"Given that, I need to ask you something."
Heero's eyes gave the barest hint of permission.
"Trowa's really important to Quatre and I need to know-"
"He's your biggest supporter."
"Kay." Dorothy turned to go back upstairs.
Dorothy's braid whipped around quicker than her head. "Yuy?"
"Thanks for the back up."
Dorothy rolled her eyes and waited for Trowa to come to her side.
"So," Justin summed up what he was hearing, "they think we've gone 'Josie and the Pussycats' on them?"
Duo nodded as the rest of the ex-pilots looked confused. "Pop culture reference, don't sweat it, guys."
"What exactly are we supposed to be trying to brainwash them to do?" JC was squished in between Trowa and Heero, not having let either one of them out of reaching distance since he had cleaned up the knife-inflicted scratch on Trowa's arm and welcomed Heero back from the police station.
"As far as we can tell, they think you've encoded subliminal messages about things that are evidently offensive to America's governmental structure -- or rather, that structure as they would like to see it. For instance, they seem to think you're brainwashing the youth of America into paying their taxes." Wufei looked about ready to bang his head against something. It didn't help that Backstreet had been reporting having similar problems. Only, at one of their concerts, a bullet had grazed Kevin. AJ had managed to relate the fact that Brian had nearly had a heart attack while trying not to sob over the phone.
"Well," Chris put a tentative hand on Wufei's shoulder, relaxing it when Wufei didn't start, "I guess to a militia group that would be pretty fucking intimidating. How are we gonna make this go away?"
The room got silent.
After a bit, Duo said as cheerfully as humanly possible at that point, "The good news is, we're really good at dealing with the crazies. Ask anyone."
The second leg of the tour finished up a couple of weeks later without another incident.
Duo, Trowa and Heero went back to Orlando with JC, Chris, Justin and Joey. Quatre told Trowa that he'd take care of Lance out in Mississippi. Heero and Duo presented Wufei with a plane ticket to where the Boys were stalled in their second leg due to Nick having been attacked by their own set of crazies while they were out at a club one night. He arrived in the middle of the afternoon and was surprised to see AJ there to greet him. He wasn't surprised by the entourage of three guards. AJ had mentioned hiring extras. Wufei had given him Une's number and told him to mention his name while asking if she knew anyone for hire. He recognized one of the guys, so he figured she must have.
AJ just barely waited until they were in the limo to climb on top of Wufei, kissing him with more violence than welcome. Wufei pushed him back against the chair with enough strength to hold him there, but not enough to hurt him. AJ panted, eyes large and blank. Wufei let go. "Nice to see you, too."
AJ sneered, but didn't say anything.
Wufei brought his palm up to side of AJ's face, following when he tried to pull away. "I'm sorry we weren't there to protect you and your boys."
AJ slammed his fist against one of the side panels. "I heard Nick screaming from across the fucking club. The people that we pay to protect us took as long as I did to get to him. Longer than Kevin. Kevin, who hasn't even healed completely, is going beserk, trying to find Nick, because he's buried under these two men just going at him. The only good thing was that it didn't take very long for them to haul them off of Nick and get him out of there."
Wufei reached for the hand AJ was rubbing, gently massaging the knuckles. "How are the new guys?"
AJ looked at their hands, caught up in each other. "Good. Your Une knows what she's talking about. She's kinda, um-"
"I was gonna say scary, but, yeah, okay."
Wufei covered AJ in the same way he had been covered moments before. His kisses weren't violent. AJ arched up into them. Wufei smiled against his mouth. "People say Une and I are a lot alike. We know what makes a good guard dog."
A week into break, when it was evident that whoever presented the threat had followed the guys home, the five of them found an hour to video conference.
"Paid vacation, huh, Du?" Heero was very rarely flippant, but when he got that way, Duo was almost always the victim.
"I don't see you fighting any galactic wars, Bionic Man." Duo was unfazed. JC had been having nightmares since a pair of the Fuckers -- as they had officially been labeled by Chris -- had gotten into Justin's neighborhood and camped out in his backyard. Heero had caught them before they could do anything, but JC hadn't been able to leave his house by himself since, so it had both his boyfriends a bit pissed off. Duo's voice softened as he spoke to Wufei, "How're things on your side?"
"The guys Une gave'em are good, not us, but better than what they had, so, okay. They're all a little skittish. Howie seems to think if he stays in physical contact with Nick at all given times that nobody can get to him again, Kevin is in negotiations with about forty separate high-end security companies for each of their houses and Brian calls his wife something like eight times a day."
"And AJ?" Quatre always asked the hard questions.
"And when you're not?"
Wufei's jaw clenched. "That's why we're doing this, to figure out a way to get rid of these guys."
"The government is being less than helpful." Quatre had spent the last week trying to use money and diplomacy to influence people into talking to them or at least providing services to search out the group.
"Yeah, well, their computers are a little bit friendlier." Trowa and Heero had been hacking into the systems, considerably more cynical about the whole situation and people's likelihood to help a bunch of "pansy ass white boy superstars," as Lance had summed things up bitterly. "Military intelligence has been attempting to keep tabs on all these groups since Oklahoma City, maybe a little bit before then. As far as we can tell, they're doing a for shit job, but they know the locations of the larger cells. We were thinking this might be an infiltration job."
"I take it then," Wufei looked less than convinced that they had come to the right conclusion, "that you know which cell we'd need to send someone into?"
"Not exactly." Trowa's was unbothered by Wufei's doubt. "But I think we all know that we're dealing with a chain of cells, the movement of the threatening agents as well as the postmarks of the original threat letters both hint at that. There are only two cells that are large enough to actually have adjuncts in other places and one of them hasn't been heard from in three years. Intelligence isn’t even sure it's still in operation. We figure we start at the other one. If we're not right, it's not like we've taken a backwards step."
Quatre nodded. "So who're we sending?"
Heero looked up at Quatre. "We were kind of hoping Dorothy might know someone, since 'Fei's already tapped into Une's resources for the Boys."
Duo ran a hand over the back of his neck. His trademark smile stole over his face, more because everyone in the room needed to see it than because it corresponded to what he was feeling at that moment. Sometimes he felt like his face was completely disconnected from his brain.
Dorothy put in a call to Hilde, who was bored out of her mind doing salvage work on some of the more decimated colonies and more than happy to get involved. Relena had her flown back to Earth, supposedly on an errand for Sank, so that nothing could be traced back to either group. She met with a representative from the Preventers who had received an encoded message earlier in the week as to what was expected from Hilde.
Her cover story was pretty simple. She had recently dropped out of a high-end college, fed up with the bureaucracy and students who were willing to do nothing else but talk about changing things. Her parents disowned her when she quit school, so she took to finding someone who would take her in and help her in setting up her ideal America. Which, oh-so-luckily, happened to match pretty closely with the group that the ex-pilots thought were persecuting NSync.
"Helen Swanson" was to have one sister that she still kept in touch with on a regular basis, who had moved out of her parents home and was living in a commune in Wisconsin. All of Hilde's letters, written in a code worked out specifically for this purpose, were to be addressed to that box. They would be picked up by a different person each week, as the box was registered under the commune's name.
If anything urgent came up, Hilde was to take the chance of making a phone call to Dorothy's assistant's personal cell from the payphone at the closest grocery store. The call was to be in code as well, and would be relayed precisely as given to one of the ex-pilots.
The first few letters they received from her indicated that there was a lot of stuff going on that she wasn't privy to, but that she would try to find a way in. After a few more weeks, it was evident that she had been successful and, more than that, she was relatively sure they were on the right track. Almost two months after she had been sent in, the five bodyguards had their first information about where and when an attack was being coordinated.
Wufei wanted to bring the people who were being sent out in, but Hilde was one of them, in a sort of initiation right, and that would have been counterproductive. Heero also felt that they needed to tear down the structure from the top to dismantle it, rather than picking at it bit by bit. The rest of the team sided with Heero on that account. They found a way to protect the guys from the threat Hilde had warned them of without making it seem like they had been tipped off, and went back to waiting.
Chris sauntered down to his kitchen at two in the morning the night after the guys had decoded Hilde's fifth letter to find Duo surrounded by at least six empty dishes, with pots covering the stove. Duo looked up as he was popping the last slice of an orange in his mouth, "I'm gonna clean up, I swear. Didn’t expect you to wake up."
"Suddenly felt the need for a ten course meal?" Chris asked the question casually, he had come to know the expression of an easily startled Duo.
Duo got up, taking five plates, two pots and a glass with him. Chris didn't flinch, he had seen Duo perform tasks much more complex evidently without noticing it. Duo turned on the sink and spoke over the running water. "Hilde was working for Oz when I met her."
Chris was old enough to remember who had done what in the war, even if he was still a bit confused as to what it all meant. He knew Oz had not been a friend to Duo. "She defect?"
"You could say that. Mostly I think she just followed me."
Chris smiled tightly. "I could see doing that."
Duo scrubbed at the dish in his hand with the sponge for long moments after it could have been used for a close-up shot in a dishwashing liquid commercial. Chris came up behind him, placing a hand gently on Duo's waist. Duo shuddered. "You shouldn't touch me, maybe."
"The plate's clean, Du."
"No, it. It touched me, too."
Chris stuck his hand under the faucet to take the plate from Duo and screeched as the water hit his skin. Duo turned the faucet off at near superhuman speed and ran across the kitchen to dig several ice cubes from the freezer. He wrapped them on the dishtowel hanging from the refrigerator door handle and was back beside Chris in seconds, holding the ice to his hand. Chris pressed the burn up into the cool compress. "Duo, your hands, they're-"
"She's sleeping with one of them. That's how she got herself into the circle of knowledge."
It took Chris a minute to remember what they were talking about. "And?"
"She wouldn't know Dorothy if it wasn't for me, wouldn't be whoring herself out for something that has no bearing on her."
Ice was leaking through the towel, splashing quietly down to the floor. "You don't know that. Dorothy's family was Oz. I know, I heard Quatre explaining it to JC. Besides, Hilde's not a child, she can make her own decisions. You can't take responsibility for everything."
Duo took the towel to the sink and dumped the severely depleted ice chards out. "More?"
Chris nodded. Duo went to go fill the towel up again, but when he pressed it against Chris's burn, Chris grabbed one of Duo's wrists and pressed the compress over one area of Duo's burns. Chris tightened his grip on Duo's wrist when he began to struggle, "Stop."
Duo listened to him.
"I don't understand. JC's your responsibility because we pay for you to consider him that way. The other gundam boys are because they're your brothers, as much as anything. But-"
"I used to have this friend, Solo. He found me when I was abandoned as a kid. Lucky for me, because I would have been dead within a week on those streets. Learned everything I know from Solo, survival, theft tactics, everything. We built up a gang, the two of us. We were the oldest. Solo died in a plague that swept L-2, as did most of the gang. There were only a few of us left, but I was in charge, like before, only alone this time. Stealing wasn't paying off enough, most of the rich, easy targets had headed for earth when the plague swept. We were gonna starve at the rate things were going, all four of us. So I tapped into a market that never goes dry."
Chris forced himself to loosen his grip on Duo's wrist, aware that he was probably hurting him.
Duo stared straight into Chris's eyes, violet irises nearly black. "I made good money. I was pretty and really fucking young. Women aren't overwhelmingly available on L-2, it's something of a frontier country. Made enough to keep everyone fed, most of the time even me. As long as I was keeping them alive, I could justify that, I could wake up each morning, I could do what I had to do without going insane or vomiting or something equally unacceptable. It was the same later when they used to have me infiltrate Oz or Romfeller using my 'particular skills,' because if I was going in, then the other guys were safe."
Duo took a breath. "She doesn't have that. She doesn't even know you."
Chris tossed the towel on the table and pulled Duo into his arms, rubbing fiercely at his back. "No sweetheart, she knows you. I’d be surprised if Dorothy left out the part about us being together."
"It's not her-"
"It's her right to choose to protect you. You deserve a little protection, I'd say. Don't take her agency away from her."
Duo stiffened. "I wouldn't. I don't want to see her hurt, is all. She shouldn't be cheapening herself."
Chris pushed Duo back to where he could his lover's face. "You did it for what, years?"
Duo gave a small nod.
"I don't think you're cheapened at all. I… Maybe I think you're a little bit braver or nobler or something than I did a moment before, but things haven't really changed. You're just the guy I'm gonna wake up in love with all over again tomorrow."
Duo leaned forward to kiss the side of Chris's mouth. He didn't move back, instead whispering against the other man's skin, "Promise?"
Chris sealed the deal with a kiss.
It was Quatre who brought their dilemma up first. "She's telling us what we need to know, we're just pretending not to listen at this point."
Wufei nodded shortly. "It's gonna have to be an inside job."
Hilde's communications had been making it abundantly clear that the cell's leader did not leave the cell. The ex-pilots weren't sure whether it had to do with some kind of schizophrenic paranoia or just really tight security, but either way, if he was going to be taken out, someone would have to go inside the compound to do it.
Chris looked up from where the band members were going through some reworked harmonies. "I got the impression that Hilde's not all that trained in the assassin arts."
Heero shook his head. "No. If we're gonna do it, it'll be by way of having her give us lay outs and schedules. One of us will go in. Maybe two."
"That's no good." Justin stood up, lengthening out to his full height, and placed his hands on his hips.
Trowa fought to keep his face blank. "Oh?"
"We just got you guys as new bodyguards, what, like ten months ago? If one of you gets killed, the other four are just gonna quit and then we'll be in the same situation all over again, unless you don't actually accomplish your goal, and then we're guardless and still have crazies after our asses."
Heero blinked slowly. "We'd accomplish what we set out to do."
"I think that Timberlake here," Joey motioned toward his standing friend, "and I know myself, would prefer a reassurance that whoever you sent would be returning to us, hale and hearty."
"Our job," Quatre stated calmly, but not without compassion, "is to be willing to do anything, including die, to protect your lives. That is what you pay us for."
"We appreciate that," Lance answered in a nearly identical tone to Quatre's. "But there is a difference between being willing to take a bullet for us, and setting foot in the lion's den knowingly as a proactive measure toward our safety."
Duo, who had stayed completely silent to this point in the conversation, set his gaze on Lance. "Nobody's talking to anyone else in this room."
Chris frowned. "Babe?"
"Quatre says that we're being paid to do this, and -- don't get me wrong -- I don't think any of us are above doing some pretty incredible things for money. But Lance is right, you're paying us to secure your persons by traditional means, being willing to step in front of a crazy with a knife, that kinda thing. So, if our tendency toward thinking about the proactive has nothing to do with the selling of our skills, then what is it about?"
JC's smile was secretive. "I see Duo's point, but it goes both ways. Justin hardly said what he said because he's actually worried about having to find new bodyguards."
"Great, we've established that we all like each other, this doesn’t really change anything." Wufei was attempting to glare at all nine other people in the room at once.
"No," Chris agreed, "but it does make everything seem a lot less pointless."
Justin's shoulders drooped. "I still don't want y'all doing this."
"Have a little faith," Heero began.
"We're surprisingly good at doing shit that can't and shouldn't be done," Trowa finished.
"Not to whine, but honestly, why you?" AJ's voice was strained over the phone.
"Duo is the best at this. He's still the smallest of us and he moves completely without sound. His knowledge of methods of assassination is probably wider than any of us can comprehend. I have perfect visual memory, directional sense and am the best in our group at hand-to-hand combat. The two of us communicate well both with and without spoken language. Quatre works better with Trowa than he does with me and he would not be as much help to Duo, as his main skills rest in information gathering and diplomacy. Trowa, Heero and Quatre can adequately defend all five members of NSync without us. The decision is the most logical."
"I don't really so much care about logic. I fucking care about you."
"I've survived worse."
"Why is it that people who have lived through deadly situations think that this protects them from any future harm?"
"You're right, I'm obviously marching to my death."
"This isn't the best time for you to pick up a sense of humor on me." AJ sounded slightly amused despite his words.
"Look, they're not just going to leave you guys alone because I want them too, right?"
"Just because you take out their leader doesn’t mean an automatic cessation of hostilities either."
"No, but thanks to Hilde and the fact that most of the other members actually leave the compound, we have fairly adequate proof of illegal explosives purchases and terrorist activities on the part of several of the other leaders. Most of the people who will be left by the time we're done will be kids who'll exist in a state of chaos and confusion for awhile before hopefully settling down and returning to the world of the sane."
"That's a nice projected happily ever after you've got going for yourself."
"I can only deal with one disaster at a time and hope that the plan works out to its best. It's not like I'm unaware of the plans faults. I just have to wait for them to actually happen in order to deal with them."
"I don't want you to go."
"I love you, you shit."
"I love you too. I'm doing a hit to keep you safe. I promised myself no more hits after the war was over."
"Love isn't always about doing what that person wants you to do. It is about doing what they need you to do."
Duo found JC, Heero and Trowa eating lunch in the small conference room off of the studio a few days before he was scheduled to leave for the compound. He sat down next to Heero and stole a fry. "You have to promise you'll take care of him."
"You should only be gone for three days. Chris isn't incompetent." JC picked at his food, uneasy.
"I'll tell you what, we'll work it like this. You promise to take care of him if I'm not back after five days." Duo turned to Heero and Trowa. "You too. No quitting. Find someone to work in our place."
Trowa munched slowly on a fry, unimpressed. "Yeah, we already talked to Quatre about screening for a new group crazy."
Duo looked around for something to throw at Trowa. There wasn't anything so he settled for flipping Trowa off.
Heero interrupted the pissing contest. "You're gonna come back. If you don't, we'll take care of things."
"That's what I love about you," Duo ruffled Heero's hair. "Always providing the warm fuzzies."
Duo looked back at JC, one hand still in Heero's hair. "Yes?"
"Heero loves you. So does Trowa. They're both very worried about you and Wufei."
Duo laughed, "Of course they are, sweetie."
JC tilted his head, "No. I mean it."
Duo got up and walked to where JC was sitting. He crouched so that he was roughly on eye-level with JC. "Chris admires the way you can be brave with your emotions."
JC nodded. "I know."
"How? I know he's never told you, Chris doesn't say stuff like that."
"No, but, c'mon, I've basically been living with him since I was nineteen." JC ducked his head slightly. "Okay, I just proved your point, huh?"
"They love you too. I should probably tell you that, because the likelihood that they're gonna say it much is pretty small." Duo bounced up onto his feet with that pronouncement. "So, you're gonna take care of Chris? Honestly, sucks to be the one whose boyfriend and bodyguard are getting sent in at once, I think he deserves it."
"You know how to pick 'em." Trowa gave a sharp nod as he said it, indicating his compliance to Duo's request.
"Yeah, because you sure as hell know all about being in uncomplicated relationships," Duo snorted.
Heero smiled slightly and raised an eyebrow. "Insinuating something about JC and me?"
"JC, no. You, yes. You and JC, that would be a triple yes."
Heero's eyes flickered with amusement. "We work. And we'll take care of him. You know that."
"Yeah, but there are some things that shouldn't go unsaid."
It took Heero less than a day after Duo and Wufei shipped out to figure out the extent to which he had misjudged Justin. Joey, JC and Lance were all helpful in keeping Chris from climbing the walls and tearing light fixtures out of the ceiling, but it was Justin who managed to actually coax Chris into getting things accomplished.
Justin insisted on staying with Chris, which meant that Heero didn't have to worry about how to keep both of them under his watch, since it had been agreed that he would be in charge of Chris in Wufei's absence. Justin hadn't been told this, though, and he still practically refused to leave Chris's side. He made sure that the oldest band member was eating on a regular basis, sleeping as much as the situation would allow and that if he needed to freak out, someone was there to handle the explosion.
Not once did Justin complain or try to draw some of everyone's attention to himself. He slept less than Chris, skipped out on his regular exercise routine to keep his friend company, and smiled through it all.
On the second night, after Justin had finally managed to get Chris in bed, he came down the stairs to clean up the house. A worried Chris was a holy terror to material objects in his way. Heero had long since finished the cleaning up. Justin gave him a grateful grin and headed to the kitchen. He dug up a mug. He looked around to find Heero in the doorway of the kitchen. "I know it's pretty warm out, but I was gonna make hot cocoa, if you want some."
"It’s seventy five degrees out there."
"I know, but if you don't look out the window and you grew up in Tennessee, you know that it's actually winter. Doesn't freeze in Memphis, but it gets colder than this. It's mostly just a comfort thing." Justin didn't look at Heero as he was talking, rummaging through Chris's cabinets for the ingredients.
"If you're making enough for me to have some, I will." Heero sat down at the kitchen table.
Justin found the last thing he was looking for and measured enough out to make two servings. He waited for everything to boil and poured an equal amount into two cups. He set one down in front of Heero. "Probably wanna wait for it to cool."
Heero took the suggestion. "It…um. You're. Really good with him."
Justin shrugged. "I know him. I've known him since forever."
"I'm not like that with Duo. They tell me he's my best friend."
Justin got up and pulled a spoon out of the silverware drawer. "You worried about him?"
"Not really. He's good."
"Let's try that again. You worried about him?"
Heero's eyes narrowed, but he stayed silent, considering the question. "There wouldn't be anyone to keep me from being stupid about things if he wasn't around."
"And… He's sweet. Like Quatre, only not. We're all like each other but different. We. Don't work without all five of us."
Justin took a sip of his cocoa. "Yeah. Pretty much sums things up, doesn't it?"
Heero followed Justin's example and brought the mug to his lips. "This is good, thanks."
Justin's smile was lost behind his mug.
Duo and Wufei returned on time, Duo sporting some new injuries that would heal over into scars soon enough. Chris glared at Wufei. "I said one piece Chang, what part did you not understand?"
Wufei widened his eyes and responded quickly in Chinese. Duo laughed, wincing as the spot on his ribs where he'd been grazed by a bullet pulled. "He's asking if you see anything missing."
Chris growled, "You had best pray there's nothing missing."
Wufei did not look intimidated. Trowa put a hand on his shoulder, "Things are taken care of then, I assume?"
Duo and Wufei nodded in concert.
Chris shoved at Justin lightly, "Go home."
Justin pushed back, "Where is that again?"
Heero was already at the door, "I'm pretty sure I can remember."
Wufei shook his head, "Go with JC, I'm gonna take Timberlake tonight."
Hero didn't take his hand off the knob. "You need to rest."
"I will, relax. I can handle it."
JC pulled Heero away from the door so that Wufei could get past. When he and Justin were gone, JC herded Trowa and Heero out the door.
Quatre looked over at Duo. "Wufei said he already called Une?"
Duo nodded. Quatre tilted his head. "She'll have everyone we can pin being charged and held by morning."
"Yeah. It's good having her on our side."
Quatre stood up, Lance and Joey following. "Get some sleep."
Duo reached out and found Chris's hand. "Plan on it, believe me. When I wake up in a week, I'm gonna talk to the others about rearranging for a bit so that you can get out to Dorothy."
Joey ruffled Duo's hair, "Ah, a partner in my designs to get Q laid." He held up a fist. Duo tiredly raised the hand not being held by Chris and bumped it against Joey's.
Quatre leaned down to kiss Duo's cheek and then walked out of the house, checking once to make sure Lance and Joey were following closely.
When the door shut after them, Chris turned to Duo. "We should get Justin a new pair of shoes."
Duo reached out to push a stray hair away from Chris's forehead. "Mm, can we do that later?"
Chris stood up, hauling Duo into a standing position as well. "Right now, all we are going to do is get you into the bath."
"Shower's probably better. We're just gonna have to redraw a bath a whole bunch of times."
"I'm going to be Mr. Pampering Boyfriend tonight, just shut up and let me."
The only protest Duo made was when Chris wanted to put lavender bath beads in the tub. Chris changed to tea tree, but that was as far as he was willing to budge.
Une met up with the group a few weeks later. They were in the middle of the final days of rehearsals for the Celebrity tour, and the most active response any of the guys was able to give her while she spoke to them about needing to give testimony was a blank stare. She finished up by questioning if they were going to be willing to do what she was asking. JC was the first to realize that she required a response. "Definitely. Testimony. Okay."
Behind them, Trowa chuckled a bit. JC summoned up the energy to give him a nasty look before making kissy faces.
Lance looked around. "Guys? The rest of us in? 'Cause, I am." Three heads nodded.
Une smiled sharply. "We'll be in contact." She spoke quietly to the ex-pilots before leaving the room.
Heero surveyed the five members, now sprawled every which way, drinking water and trying to take advantage of the unscheduled break. Since Duo and Wufei's "adventure" there had only been a few threats and one attempt at harming the guys. The attacker had been detained and the threats had easily been traced now that the web of communication had been unveiled through the information Hilde had gathered.
The Boys had drawn up new contracts with the bodyguards provided by Une and let go of the old corps. They had experienced a few small incidents as well, which had been as easily taken care of as those within NSync. Wufei had been living with AJ in his off hours since the Boys had finished up their tour.
Duo came over to hover above where Chris was making himself stretch so as not to get sore before they had to start up again. Duo sat down on the floor and placed one hand on each of Chris's knees, rubbing gently at the spots where he knew the pain was worst. Chris's eyes had a look of everlasting gratefulness in them.
After a few minutes, Duo stopped, settling on his knees in the V of Chris's legs. Chris's hand found its way under Duo's t-shirt to the scar that Chris had kissed every night since Duo had come back to him. Duo had laughed about the fixation at first, until Chris had said, "That's my mark on you. That's a commitment between us." Duo inhaled slightly, pressing the abnormally silky skin against Chris's roughened fingertips.
Duo's eyes left Chris's to look around the room. Justin was poking at Heero's leg, trying to get him to listen to something. Quatre was turning a pale pink that indicated the raciness of whatever Joey was laughing about. Lance was lying with his head in JC's lap, allowing himself to be petted, nodding with his eyes closed at something Trowa was saying to them both. When he found Wufei, watching it all calmly from the couch, their eyes met for a brief second. Wufei smiled and mouthed, "Paid vacation."