Model Gundams

He was sitting at his desk without any light, the only shadows cast by the lights leaking in from the outside. He normally kept the blinds closed, but the apartment was old, and tattered from the recent wars, and the structure wasn't quite as stable as it could have been. The stairs creaked, and front entrance was just slightly askew from the level of the sidewalk, and the blinds no longer quite covered the windows.

He told himself it didn't matter -- it wasn't as though there was anyone to hide from, any longer. Not like there was reason to hide, if someone *did* decide to hunt up an old enemy, or a potential one.

A lot of extra rationale for leaving the blinds as they were -- a lot of rationale for *blinds*, period. Silly things most people used to prevent their neighbors from seeing bared skin and private activities. He had to sit at his desk and spend a few seconds telling himself he didn't have to fix the blinds so no one could kill him.

It wasn't like he'd worried so much about being assassinated, during the wars, anyway. Why would he start now?

Duo turned his attention away from the windows, and back to the scattering of metal pieces on his desk. Trinkets, wires, a few plain sheets of various types of metals, covered his desk. Here and there was a tool, some of which were so patchwork themselves that it was hard to recognise them as utensils, and not scavenge. He didn't bother picking up any of the tools -- he wasn't going to work on the stuff, anyway. Not tonight. He just liked looking at it all, thinking about the pieces and what he was working on. It kept his mind busy, and distracted. Always a good thing, these days. Distraction no longer a luxury, but necessity.

He noticed that he still needed a few more pieces, one minor piece of circuitry that he could steal from anywhere, including the apartment building's utility room. Two other pieces would have to be purchased -- one from the toy store down the street, easy enough. The other he'd been looking for, for weeks, while he collected the other bits and strays, and scavenged the stuff that was his mainstay.

Duo raised his head and looked around the small room -- he had a few things he could sell now. Should he sell them, spend a few credits on the last things he needed? It wasn't that the trinket he was building was of much importance. Nothing he could sell, nothing more than a toy he could hand over to Yasuo, the five year old boy who lived with his mother and aunt down the hall.

But neither did he need to save the credits, this week. Everything was paid for, and there was food in the kitchen. He could spare it, now, if ever. His glance hit the cot in the corner. He *could* save up for a mattress, to replace the thing lying there now. The blanket was repaired, and it would be nice to have a softer bed.

After a moment's contemplation, he shook his head. He didn't really need it. All his life he'd slept where he could, and rarely had thick, feather mattresses been part of that lifestyle. Duo slid out of his chair and walked over to the shelves, his cot totally forgotten.

Yukio had already expressed an interest in buying two of the pieces he'd collected. Duo had intended to clean them up more, maybe even try to fix the motors. It would only increase the selling price by a small amount, though, and the work would take three days. He had other plans for his next three days, which didn't involve sitting at the work bench and cleaning gears and poking wires through spaces too small.

At least, they were mostly 'plans'. Not detailed courses of action, rather they consisted of intentions of going out, hitting a few junkyards, messing about by the BackStand, and seeing if any of the pretty faces who wandered through the market would sit with him for awhile and be company.

It was a hell of a lot better than sitting here. Late at night, he didn't mind. Parts of the city shut down completely at night, other parts became dangerous for those who didn't belong, or didn't know how to defend themselves. Duo was either, depending on his mood, but he rarely went to those streets simply because he *liked* not having to fight his way home.

Besides, it felt normal, somehow, to be home at night -- like the working families that shared this building, or the few students who were poor enough to need to live in a dump like this and still pay their way through school. Duo could close his door and close his blinds and focus on his work, or the scattered pieces of his trinkets to be, and pretend that this was all there was to want.

During the day, the sunlight tried to creep in and he could see the bare wooden walls, and the cracks in the ceiling, and hear the shuddering breath of the air filter units that almost worked, some of the time, or see the color of the water that came out of the pipes. During the day he wanted to be out on the streets, hunting through useless junk to find the one valuable piece, or checking out the stalls for new buyers, new sellers, new faces, or just enjoying himself in the sunlight, with anyone who would stop and enjoy it with him.

Granted, it meant he had little enough to spend on dallying with those pretty faces, not to mention money left over for luxuries for his apartment. Duo didn't mind -- he'd never needed much, and not having it didn't bother him. The times that scavenging got tight, he was able to scrape by, never quite needing to move out and move on to find something else. He could have worked harder, and rented a place to live in a nicer building, but then he'd have to keep working to stay there and he'd never be able to *stop* working and lean back and enjoy himself.

In four days, however, he'd have to make a trip to the South Docks, and do some serious scavenging. The boats would be in and out, by then, and would have left everything behind that the respectable sellers didn't want. The worst of the scavenging would be over by then, as well, ensuring that Duo wouldn't have to carry a weapon just to get into the yards to search. Only the gangs, and the desperate, went in the first night. Everyone else went in later, and Duo preferred to rely on his knack of sneaking through the piles, attracting no attention to the bounty he'd spied from a few yards away, than do what he could have done, and fought every man there for the right to take home his prizes.

He'd given up fighting, and wasn't going to take it back up now, just to increase his take. He hadn't starved, yet. He wasn't likely to, either, as long as the boats came. He had everything he wanted, everything he needed.

Decision made, Duo gathered up the items ready for sale, into a burlap bag, and tied it with a strand of twine. He could go down to see Yukio now, before the old man closed shop. If his business had been good today, he'd be slightly more generous in his prices. If business had been bad, Duo would be out nothing but time.

He flicked open the lock, took the habitual glance down the hallway before he got the door open even three inches, then stepped outside when he saw the way was clear. Another quick flick and the door was locked again, and Duo strode down the hallway, whistling.

The street below was brightly lit with street signs and lights for traffic, despite the last of the setting sun's light that was still trying to peek through the buildings. Duo grinned at Mrs. Yakima, and held the front door open for her and her half a dozen bags. She nodded curtly, and moved past without a word. Duo didn't mind -- the woman was always grumpy, and rarely said anything other than 'Move aside, lazy boy'.

Duo hurried down the front steps, jumping over the last step which was crumbled into gravel. Bag slung over his shoulder, he adjusted his ballcap and headed down the sidewalk. The crowds were as thick as noon-time, though their make-up was all of workers coming home, stopping for one thing or another before continuing on. Duo slipped easily through them, stopping to check the broadcast of the second evening newscast to see if anything interesting had happened.

There was the usual blah blah blah about the local politicians, and the latest financial scandal. Duo was about to walk away, when he heard the newscaster mention the Preventers. There was almost no chance they would mention anyone by *name*, but still, he stayed to listen.

Apparently the Preventers had caught some highway bandits out in L3. The fight had been fierce, lasting all day -- a standoff, between two well-armed factions. The Preventers had won in the end, and the ringleaders captured and arrested. There were a few shots of the action, and in one Duo caught a glimpse of a dark head.

Wu Fei.

The shot was fast enough that it could have been someone else, but Duo felt the moment of recognition had been a true one. Not that he'd been all that familiar with the back of Wu Fei's head -- but the shot had been of the Preventer fighting, and there was little enough to mistake about that.

He was glad, seeing his old comrade in the thick of what he'd wanted. Fighting for peace, working to keep the evil out of the lives of as many people as possible.

Duo gave the little broadcast screen a one-finger salute, and continued down the sidewalk. He felt unexpectedly cheered, at seeing the glimpse into Wu Fei's life. Like getting a postcard that said 'doing fine', the broadcast served to tell him, if nothing else, that Wu Fei was alive and well -- and kicking. He whistled again as he walked, sharing a smile with a passing stranger, tipping his hat to a pretty woman carrying a baby. She giggled and continued on.

Duo walked to the corner, and stopped with the rest of the pedestrians, waiting for the signal to cross. There was a newsstand nearby, more broadcasts and plastic flyers, all specialised for any one particular interest. A familiar smile caught Duo's eye. He stepped away from the curb and went over, to find Quatre's face smiling from the cover of a real estate magazine. Apparently the Winner family was building another bigger and better something or another. Quatre was wearing a suit which made him look nearly thirty, and behind him Rashad stood, protectively as always. They both looked happy, not like the shot Duo had seen of Quatre a few months ago, when the local government on L1 had bogged down plans for a block of new residential buildings with bickering and, from what Duo gathered reading between the lines of the articles, demands for bribes in exchange for permits.

He guessed this building foray was going well. He couldn't tell what it was, from the picture -- it was taken near a completed wall, and the name of the project told him nothing. Winner Construction specialised in both office buildings and apartment complexes. Duo picked up the magazine and began flipping to the article, when Doji slapped his hand down. "Pay or walk."

Duo gave the man a friendly grin, and set the magazine down. Didn't matter, he could find this one in the library across town. Catch up on Quatre's enterprises, as well as check the colonies' local news rips, to see where Trowa's circus was this month. Last month they'd been touring throughout L1 -- he wondered if Trowa and Quatre had been there at the same time. He'd noticed that Quatre seemed to show up a lot in the same colonies as Trowa's circus, at least it seemed that way, as best as hecould calculate from the timings of the articles, and the circus flyers.

The crowd was surging across the street, and Duo hurried to go along with them. On the sidewalk opposite, he fought for a moment to get to the side nearest the building front; most of the crowd seemed intent on going in every other direction but the one Duo wanted.

He finally made it, and waited for the rest of the crowd to pass, before heading off towards Yukio's shop. When he reached it, four doors down, he stopped outside and waited. Yukio was chatting with Lian, which meant he'd be uninterested in conducting business until she was gone. Duo sighed, but plopped down in a chair at Mushi's cafe next door. The bag went between his feet, and he dug out a single credit to buy a drink and rent the chair until Yukio was free.

He watched the crowd for awhile, walking past, stopping to shop or talk, here and there. Some faces he knew, many he didn't. The district was right on the edge of transience -- a mix of those who lived in Duo's neighborhood, and those who came down from the neighborhoods to the west, to shop more cheaply, as well as workers passing through town, stopping only long enough to get their rest and find another job before moving on.

A couple of women sat down at a table not far away, ignoring him when he tried to give them an 'invite me over' smile. Duo rolled his eyes and went back to watching, and half-listening to their conversation.

When they mentioned Relena, he began listening more intently. They were sharing gossip, talking about the latest event the Vice Foreign Minister had attended, and what had trickled down from the society ladies who probably knew people who knew people who'd been there -- rather than these women, who probably worked for those ladies, and simply overheard everything.

Relena had apparently done something well, everyone who'd been at whatever event it was, had been pleased with how it turned out. Not anything political - at least not overtly - as otherwise it would have been all over the broadcasts. But a private party, perhaps, which only the Who's Who pages would have captured.

Still, Duo listened, pleased that the girl was doing so well with her position, her power, and her life. She'd worried him greatly, for many months, and once or twice he'd realized that someone, sometime, might have expected him to kill her. It wasn;t that he'd have minded, then, but now he was glad she hadn't made it necessary. She'd gone from merely being a hindrance, to a definite asset -- and the last time he'd seen her, he'd thought of her as a friend.

He toyed with the idea of sending her a letter, though he'd had no clue what to say in it -- perhaps next Christmas, he'd wish her best for the holidays. He'd probably get a response from her, at least from her office. He didn't mind not hearing from her otherwise -- she, like the other pilots, had busy lives. There wasn't much reason to send long chatty messages when he could see very well what they were up to by following the media.

He could borrow Old Man Rafiq's communicator, and send a short message. Buy the guy a half pound of coffee, or something, to pay for the transmission. He could probably even send one to Quatre and Trowa, if he keep track of where they were. Heero -- if the boy *had* a permanent address, he'd--

"And I thought it was so sweet, when she said his name like that. 'Heero' - what a perfectly romantic way to begin a party, finding an old lover like that."

Duo didn't look at the women talking. He stared at Yukio's front window, where he was talking and smiling at Lian, and she was laughing at something he'd said.

The women kept talking, and Duo heard snatches -- parties and dancing, unexpected visitors, the delightful, delightful, romance of it all. It was only gossip, he knew. Rumours spread from one telling to the next, until the truth was stretched into sheer fantasy.

Lian was walking out of the shop, now, and Duo stood up. He went into Yukio's shop, and set the bag on the counter. "What will you give me?" he asked.

Whatever price Yukio named, he knew he would take. Lian had put him in a pleasant mood, and he would probably pass it on to Duo. A handful of credits would drop from Yukio's hand to Duo's, and Duo would turn and walk away, back to his building, where he would climb the broken steps to his apartment and wait until morning light so he could see, to begin working on his trinkets. Whether complete or not, he could build what he had, and make the toys, replicas, things that no one needed anymore except for play of children who'd already forgotten the wars that had brought them into being.