A Changing Allegiance Sidefic
XL158 wasn't so much a small colony as a large trading station. Anything one wanted or needed could most likely be found here, from simple clothes, food, scrap metal and mechanical parts to rare metals, gems, blackmarket goods and illegal drugs... first rate mechanics to top dollar assasins. It boasted flashy casinos and low class gambling dens, four star hotels and 'boarding houses' that rented rooms by the hour. Intercolonial shuttles docked next to ships that hauled scrap and ore...
Howard scanned the hustle and bustle of the dockside 'fleamarket', then waved his crew together.
"Cosmo... you, Nikki and Riyad run those parts over to Sisco's. He's been waiting for them for a while. Mayo, Toi... you stock up on provisions, you know what we need. Ben, you and Slava go with them, and get what you need for sick bay. Harley, here's a list of small parts Deanna requested, take Shelly and get them. Rodney, Gio, Duo... you're with me. I have a couple of jobs to set up, and some shopping to do," he said, glancing at Duo in his torn black shirt, too-short pants and ragged shoes. "We meet back here in five hours, people. Don't be late or I'll leave you here."
"No worries, boss."
"We'll be here, Dad!"
Howard glared at his departing crew, and unable to identify who had called him 'dad', he yelled at them all. "I'm nobody's fuckin' DAD!"
Gio snickered and covered Duo's ears. "Howard," she said mock-severely, "not in front of the children..."
Rodney couldn't hold back his laughter.
Howard smacked the man in the head, then waved them forward. "Come on you idiots. Let's get these jobs, then get Duo some clothes. No Sweeper is going to be seen in shirts that are falling apart on their backs and pants three inches too short. Not while I'm boss, anyway," he grumbled, glaring around him.
Duo stopped short, eyes wide, and looked up at the tall, older man who'd been like a father to him for the last few months. "Howie... clothes? For me? But... I..."
"Don't argue, kid," Howard replied gruffly, eyes soft behind the ever-present sunglasses, as he looked down at the small boy. "You need them, so I'm buying them." He reached down and took Duo's hand in his own. "But first, we have contracts to sign. Let's go." He started walking down the main drag, Rodney and Gio following behind, hiding their smiles.
"Thanks, Master Cho. It's always a pleasure doing business with you," Howard said amiably, shaking hands with the small, old, Chinese man as they walked out of the office.
"No, the pleasure is mine. I have never had anything but good service from you in the past. My people will deliver the cargo to your ship in two hours, if that is convenient?"
"Certainly Master Cho. I'll make sure the crew is ready for it."
Duo rubbed his eyes and sat up as the two men finished the arrangements, catching the old man's attention. The little boy watched warily as the man walked over, leaning into Gio's side slightly. The woman rubbed her hand on his back calmingly.
"It's all right, Duo," she whispered, "that's Master Cho. Howard does a lot of business with him, delivering cargo to L4."
Master Cho stopped in front of Duo, measuring him with his eyes, then bowed slightly. "Good day young man. I do not believe we have met. I am Master Cho, and you are...?"
Gio poked Duo lightly with her elbow, and he stood, copying the old man's bow awkwardly. "I'm Duo... Duo Maxwell. Pleased ta meetcha, sir," he said seriously.
The old man nodded, placing a gentle hand on Duo's head, and turned back to Howard. "This is a fine young man you have, Howard. Is he..."
Howard chuckled. "Well, he is now," he said, joining them, and putting a hand on Duo's shoulder.
Master Cho patted Duo's head a final time. "Excellent. My congratulations to you both. Now, don't let this old man keep you," he said walking them to the door, "I'm sure you have many things to attend to before your departure."
"We're going shopping!" Duo piped up as he stepped out onto the street.
"Very good, young Duo," the old man said, then he bowed to Gio, Rodney and Howard as they stepped out. "Safe journey to you."
Howard could barely conceal his grin.
Rodney had surprised Duo, buying him a large bar of chocolate - something he doubted the small 9-year old had ever tasted before - and the braided child was holding it reverently, occasionally taking small nibbles from the corner. After each bite, his face would light up and a small giggle would escape him. All three adults found his expression amusing, but not one chuckle was heard from them.
"Duo, do you see those stalls up there?" Howard asked, clearing his throat and pointing up the street. At the boy's nod he continued. "Why don't you run up ahead and start picking some things out?"
"Me?" Duo asked incredulously. "I get to pick?"
"Yes, you do," the older man said, giving him a push. "Go on..."
The braided boy grinned, spun around and took off at a run. He hadn't gone far when he ran into someone, falling backwards and landing on the steel floor, the chocolate falling from his hand and skittering across the floor. He winced, then looked up, noticing first the flight suit, then the sneering face staring down at him.
You could find almost anything in a good spaceport… and every conceivable kind of person, as well, from the nice, old grandmother type, to the drug dealers, to overbearing, conceited pilots. It was Duo's misfortune that he'd caught the attention of one of the latter.
The boy stared up at the man in confusion. The guy had appeared out of nowhere, as if trying to cause trouble 'on purpose'… Sharp blue-violet eyes darted to the side as Duo groaned. Sure enough – there were two people – two other pilots, by their clothes – who were watching what was going on in undisguised amusement.
A sharp kick to his side brought his attention back to the pilot who was now leaning over him menacingly. "Why you little brat!" the man said angrily, raising his fist, and Duo flinched. "Look at my flight suit! Watch where you're -"
He never got to finish his sentence as Gio had him pinned against a steel wall, and proceeded to punch him square in the jaw.
"Stupid, fuckin' mech jockey!" she snarled, pulling back and hitting him again. "Don't you even think about hitting my kid! You need to watch it! You stepped out of nowhere. It's your own - " Her fist hit him in the stomach- "damn - " She pulled back to hit him once more, but Howard and Rodney had reached her. Rodney grabbed her by the waist and hauled her off while Howard lowered his glasses and glared.
"If you know what's good for you," Howard growled, "you'll get out of my sight... NOW!"
The battered pilot took a wobbly step sideways, glanced once more at the irate Gio, and hurried down the lane, his friends close behind.
Rodney let Gio go and she rushed over to Duo, feeling him over for any injuries.
"I'm okay, Auntie Gio," the little boy said quietly, staring at the steel plates beneath him, "but I lost my chocolate... Rodney won't be mad at me, will he? I didn't mean to..."
"No, sweetheart, Rodney won't be mad at you. It wasn't your fault, and we can get you another one on the way back," Gio said gently, picking him up and pressing a kiss to his temple. Then she glared at Howard and Rodney. "I'm taking him back to the ship," she said shortly, "to have Slava check him out. You two pick his clothes..."
Howard and Rodney just stared as she stalked off towards the ship, Duo's arms around her neck the last thing they saw.
"Well," Rodney said finally, "I think we have our orders, boss-man..."
"Yeah," Howard replied, shaking his head and heading towards some clothing stalls. "And did you see that left hook? I never knew she was that mean..."
Gundam Wing II
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