Disclaimers:  I do not own Gundam Wing or any of its characters.

Notes:  Hilde talks with Catherine and meets Quatre.  Duo watches television and finds out interesting information about his
species before Heero gets home.



Strays and Misfits



Part Twenty


Hilde sighed as she pulled into Catherine’s driveway.  Her original plans for the afternoon were to pick up the reservations and
plane tickets and then go home to pack.  But on her way to the house, she’d been thinking.  She was still somewhat lost in
thought as she got out of her car and approached the front door.  She rang the doorbell and chewed the tip of her thumbnail
while waiting.

She was somewhat surprised when Catherine’s younger brother answered the door.  “Hey there, Trowa.  How are you today?”  

She received a slight nod and a shaky smile as an answer.  

Hilde knew she wasn’t going to get another answer from him.  She smiled, brushing her hand back through her hair.  “Where’s
Catherine?”

Trowa looked a little anxious, but he stood aside to let her enter.  He was relatively used to her coming over here.  At least he
was talking to her now, which was a lot better than when she had first started visiting again after his parents’ deaths.  
“Upstairs.  Umm . . . would you like t-to sit down?  I’ll go g-get her.”

Hilde smiled and accepted Trowa’s shy invitation to enter.  He was always nervous around her, though at least he wasn’t hiding
from her any longer.  “Thank you, Trowa.”

She walked over to the sofa and had a seat, throwing her arm over the back of it while she waited and thought of what she
would be saying.  The real challenge would be to not sound like she was being insulting or ungrateful.

She had only been waiting a moment when she heard footsteps behind her.  She turned, greeting her friend with a warm smile.  
“Catherine!  Hey!”  She got up and walked over to her co-worker and good friend.  “How’s everything going?”

Catherine let out a breath as Hilde gave her a comforting hug.  “As well as can be expected.  I can’t tell you how much I
appreciate you taking this trip for me.  I just don’t have the heart to leave Quatre while he’s so ill.”

Hilde nodded.  “Yes, the feline.”  She sighed, stepping back and raking a hand through her hair.  “Listen, I was thinking while I
was driving here to get everything and . . . I think you should go on this trip after all.”

Catherine looked stunned.  “Well, I don’t think that would be wise.  After all, Quatre did only just get here, and I’d feel like I’m
abandoning him.”

Hilde smiled.  She understood what Catherine meant.  “Catherine, from what you told me on the phone, the doctor was here and
said all the little feline needs is some tender loving care.”  She let out a breath, nodding as she made up her mind.  “But, he might
think himself to be too much of a hassle if you stay home just to take care of him.  Besides, Trowa can take care of Quatre.  I’ll
make sure to leave my pager on in case Trowa needs any help.  If an emergency comes up, Trowa can page me and I’ll call the
doctor from the FCPS.  Plus I’ll pop in personally from time to time.”

Shaking her head, Catherine sighed, then smiled ruefully.  “You’re right.  You are right.  If I don’t go, then Quatre will only feel
worse.  But I just want to mother him.”

Hilde snickered at that.  Catherine did tend to be the nurturing type.  “You can mother him when you get home after your trip.  
Now, why don’t you take me up to meet the feline that you said worked wonders on Trowa.  I noticed he didn’t stutter quite so
much when he answered the door, although he did seem very nervous.”

Catherine nodded.  “Quatre seems to have quite a calming influence on Trowa.  He refused his medication earlier.”

Hilde was surprised.  “Really?  He’s never done that before.  At least, not that I know of.”  She was intrigued.  “If there’s time,
I’d like to meet Quatre before you leave.”

Catherine smiled.  “Good.  Because I have very little time to get packed again and you can talk to Quatre while I do that.  Oh,
and I really should call Heero and see if maybe he can stop by now and again.  Trowa feels more comfortable around Heero than
he does with you.  And Heero does have that feline of his own now and Quatre is friends with him.”  She shook her head, as if
realizing she was rambling on.  “Well, enough of that.  Let me take you up to meet him.  Quatre really is a sweetie, but try not to
frighten him.  He’s so timid, the poor dear.”

Hilde followed as Catherine headed upstairs.  “Well, you did tell me he is a Winner feline.  Everyone knows what went on in that
horrible place.  It’s actually surprising he’s as sweet as you say he is.  To have survived all he’s been through and still retain any
innocence . . . it’s just amazing.”  She waited as Catherine knocked gently on the door and smiled when Trowa was the one to
open it.  “Hello again, Trowa.”

Catherine’s smile was warm.  “Is Quatre awake?  Hilde would like to speak with him for a minute.  If you’d rather be out of the
room, you can help me pack.”

A timid voice spoke from inside the room.  “So you’re going after all, Miss Catherine?”

Catherine pushed the door open a little and peered around Trowa to see inside.  “Yeah.  Is that okay with you, sweetie?  I won’t
be gone for too long.  Just a few days, a week at most.”  She moved into the room and over to the bed.  Hilde followed behind
her.

Hilde fought the urge to cuddle the slender feline.  He was small and obviously undernourished.  He was pale and looked quite
ill.  She kept her mouth shut though, not wanting to embarrass him and entered the room.  She stepped over to the bed and sat
on the edge, smiling kindly as he regarded her with wide eyes.

“I told Catherine that it would be better if she went.  This is her project, and I wouldn’t feel right taking this trip in her place
after all the hard work she put in,” Hilde said, folding her hands together on her lap though she wanted to reach out and stroke
his cheek.

Quatre tilted his head, then turned his eyes to Catherine.  “Then . . . then you should go.  I . . .”  He blushed a little and looked
down at his blankets as if ashamed.  “I don’t want to be the reason you miss your trip.”

Hilde nodded.  “That’s what I thought you would say.  Which is why I told Catherine to go on her trip after all.”  She looked
over at her co-worker.  “Well?  Why are you still standing there?  Get packing.”

Catherine chuckled and gave a mock salute.  “Yes, Ma’am!”  She held out her hand for Trowa.  “Come on . . .”

Trowa shocked Hilde by shaking his head.  “I . . . I’d rather stay with Quatre.”  Usually, Trowa did whatever his sister asked
him to do.  True, he was relatively comfortable around Hilde, but he didn’t often stay in the room with her when Catherine wasn’
t there too.

“It’s good that you want to stay, Trowa,” Catherine said, her hand on his arm.  “But I think it would be better if Hilde could
speak with him alone, to let him get comfortable with her presence.  I don’t know how long I’ll be gone and Hilde will be
coming and going.”

Trowa frowned, but nodded.  “All right,” he said reluctantly.  He turned to look at Quatre, giving the blonde a shaky smile.  “I’ll
be right back.”  Then the two of them left, closing the door once they were out.

Hilde turned to regard the feline, only to frown as she looked at him.  He looked positively terrified of her.  “Maybe we should
introduce ourselves,” she offered as a way to break the ice.  “My name is Hilde Schbeiker.”  She held out her hand.

“I-I’m Quatre Raberba Winner,” he whispered meekly, timidly taking hold of her hand with a feathery touch.  Of course, his
reluctance to grip her hand probably had more to do with the bandages encasing them than it had to do with his fear of her.

Still, Hilde smiled pleasantly.  “It’s good to meet you, Quatre.  I’ve known Catherine and Trowa since we were little.  I was
about five when they moved here.  We kinda grew up together.  I guess that’s why Trowa’s able to tolerate me as much as he
does.  A real shame what happened to him.”

“How so?”  Quatre asked quietly, his ears twitching a little.

Hilde shrugged.  “I wish I knew exactly what happened.  Trowa never spoke about it, but he went out with his parents one
night.  He was missing for over a week.  When he was found wandering around in a daze, he was really badly beaten up and
would only say, ‘They’re dead . . . they’re dead . . .’ over and over.  After that, he was silent for months and wouldn’t even talk
to Catherine.  And there was no way he’d ever go near a window.  It took him another year to even come out of his room.”  
She looked away from Quatre and sighed.  Then she smiled a little.  “Maybe one day, when I come by, I’ll bring one of my Dad’
s home videos with me so you can see the way Trowa was as a child.”

To her surprise, Quatre shook his head.  “I like Trowa as he is now.  He needs me and . . . and I think I need him, too.  Maybe
we can help each other.”

Hilde smiled and felt the warmth of hope fill her.  “I’m pretty sure that if anyone can get even a fraction of the old Trowa out, it
will be you.  You’ve been here less than two days and already Trowa’s calmer than I’ve seen him since before he disappeared.”

Quatre blushed a little and ducked his head.  “I’d like to help, even though I can’t do anything right now.”

“Oh, you do enough just being who you are,” Hilde chuckled.  “You’re a sweet and timid young man who’s been hurt and needs
someone to take care of him.  It will help Trowa to take his mind off of his own pain a little.  Having you to help, to take care
of, it’s good for him.”  She reached over and scratched Quatre’s head gently.


*****


Catherine quickly dialed a number that she knew by heart and waited a few rings.  She was preparing to leave a message when
someone picked up the phone on the other end.  ‘Must be Duo.  Heero wouldn’t be off today.’

Duo’s sleepy voice spoke up from the other end of the line.  “Hello?”  he asked unsurely.

Catherine felt a bit of regret for having woken the feline.  Duo had been a stray, and was probably catching up on some needed
rest.  “Duo?  It’s Catherine.  I’m sorry to have woken you.”

Duo’s voice was alert in the next second.  “Don’t worry about that.  What’s wrong?  Is something wrong with Quatre?”

Catherine smiled warmly at the concern Duo had for the frail feline.  “Well, he did hide under a bed and is a little worse off
now.  But that isn’t why I’m calling.”

“Oh?”  There was genuine curiosity in Duo’s voice, along with a hope to be helpful.

Catherine chuckled as she resumed packing, the phone tucked against her shoulder.  “Yes, I have a business trip and I was
wondering if you and Heero would stop by from time to time to check up on Quatre and Trowa.  I know Quatre would love
seeing you.  And Trowa is the most comfortable with Heero.  I have a friend who knows how to get in contact with me, should
there be an emergency with Trowa.  She’s going to be dropping in too.  Do you think you and Heero can help?”

Duo’s voice was eager.  “Yeah!  I’m sure Heero would love to pop by.  He’s the kind of guy that will want to make sure his
friends are doing okay.”

“I know,” Catherine smiled, pausing in her packing.  “I’ll call you once I arrive at my hotel so either you or Heero can reach me
if you need to.”  She switched the phone over to her other ear and craned her neck a little.  “You go back to sleep and I’ll talk to
you soon.”

“Well, I have some things I want to get done before Heero gets back.  But I thank you for the thought.”  There was a pause.  
“Bye, Catherine.”

Catherine nodded into the phone.  “Goodbye, Duo.  I’ll be seeing you.”  With that, she hung up the phone.


*****


Duo hung up the phone and stretched while yawning.  He looked at the clock and blinked when he found that only a few hours
had passed since he had gone to sleep.  Honestly, he had thought it was considerably later than it actually was.  He shrugged as
he reached for the remote and switched on the TV.  It would be hours before Heero got home, still plenty of time for him to do
what he needed to do.  So he decided to watch a little TV while he waited.

He flipped through the channels idly, not really finding anything worth catching his attention.  Then, as he was cycling through,
the image of a young handsome feline wearing a doctor’s smock caught his eye.  He backtracked through the channels to find
the program again, blinking curiously at the man.  It was rare to find felines in the medical profession.  There weren’t exactly a
lot of felines that could afford medical school and felines weren’t eligible for most of the scholarships available.  Laws were still
in place that prevented them from being recognized by society as anything more than animals.

His ears twitched as he watched the feline on television.  He turned up the volume, wanting to hear what was being said.  His
eyes widened as he realized what this program was about.

“The reproductive systems of the male and female Feline Companion share multiple similarities and yet contain vast differences.  
For the female, their reproductive system more closely resembles that of a human.  The conception and birth process are more
or less identical, with the female carrying their offspring for a term of nine months.  Ovulation and the menstruation cycle are
also shared commonalities with human physiology.”

Duo blinked, unable to turn away for some strange reason.

“However, the male Feline Companion does not share all of these similarities.  They, too, are able to conceive and carry young.  
A male feline Companion has the sexual organs of both genders.  One could say they are hermaphroditic in nature, though the
male’s vagina is only visible when the male is in an aroused state or in the later stages of pregnancy.”  He pulled down a chart,
and pointed out the mentioned organs.  “This cavity is normally only the size of a pea and expands when the body becomes
aroused, stretching to accommodate the penis of another male.”

Duo gulped loudly, then looked down at himself.  He'd never thought himself much different from humans.  True, he had the
ears and tail, the claws on his hands and feet, his slightly elongated eyeteeth.  But he hadn’t known this.  Of course, he had
never seen a human in the nude, so it was reasonable that he was unable to judge physical differences.

As he was thinking about his own body, the young doctor was going on about the male feline bodily structure, how for the most
part it resembled that of a human just like female companions did.  Then, he continued with the sexual differences.  “However,
unlike the female of the species, they do not go through a menstrual cycle.  The ovulation process only occurs when the male is
sexually active.  Unlike in female companions and female humans, a male companion’s body from the time of puberty and on is
continuously creating sex cells in the form of sperm cells and eggs.”

“Like their female counterparts, Male Felines do ovulate.  About once a month, a maturing egg travels down one of the fallopian
tubes toward the uterus.  As with female human and feline companions, the uterus of the male begins to build up its lining with
extra blood and tissue, making the walls of the uterus thick and cushioned.  If the egg reaches the uterus and is fertilized by a
sperm cell, it attaches to the cushiony wall of the uterus, where it slowly develops into a baby.  However, if it is not, then the
uterus sheds the extra lining.  Unlike females, the male in this instance does not go through a menstrual period.  Instead, the
blood, tissue and unfertilized egg are reabsorbed into the feline’s body.  This process is known as the Heat cycle and takes from
three to seven days to complete.  Some of the symptoms include elevated temperature, increased sexual appetite and cramping.  
Mood swings are not uncommon at this time either.  These differences were written into the genetic code of each feline by the
creators of our species and are inherently passed down through the generations.”

The doctor continued talking, but Duo wasn’t really listening anymore.  He was going on about hormones and the differences
between human males and feline males, things Duo had no interest in listening to.  Curiously, he looked down at himself again,
wondering about his body.  He wondered if he was ovulating now.  Though he had no use for the information, seeing as he didn’
t have a sexual partner.  It was just a morbid curiosity.  He placed his hands over his stomach, wondering.  What would it be
like if he got pregnant?  He’d seen enough pregnant male felines in his life to know it wasn’t all swollen stomachs and soft kicks
from the forming fetus.  He’d seen one male go into labor when he had still been living in the camp.  Boy, that had not been a
pretty sight.  All the adults had rushed to help, some females pushing Duo out of the room because they considered him too
young to be seeing that sort of thing.  He remembered all the screaming and shuddered.  He really didn’t want to go through
with that.  He didn’t like pain all that much.

He stretched again and turned off the TV just as the doctor was getting ready to go on about the actual birthing process.  Duo
had no urge to see that.  

His ear twitched and he growled in annoyance, rubbing his hand over it with a wince.  He would have to put the drops in his
own ears.  He didn’t expect Heero to get back for a few more hours, and his ears were irritated enough as it was.  If he put the
drops in now, there would only be the annoying tickling sensation.  If he waited, there would be the horrible burning that he
hated.

Duo got up and retrieved the drops then slouched down in his seat on the sofa again.  He was about to put the drops in when he
heard the rattle of the keys in the lock.  Duo spun around and crouched beside the sofa, ready to attack should the person
coming in be a trespasser.  He relaxed and smiled though, when it was Heero who opened the door.

“Heero!  You’re early!”  Inexplicably, he felt a purr begin, and didn’t fight it.

Heero still looked pale and tired, but he smiled a little.  “They sent me home . . . said I didn’t look too good.”

Duo walked over to help Heero with his jacket and hung it up for him.  “Well, they didn’t lie.  You look horrible.  Why don’t you
go take a soak in a nice warm tub and I’ll put dinner in the oven to heat it.  It should be warmed up nicely by the time you’re
done.  Then after you eat you can lie down.”

Heero nodded in agreement, and his smile brightened just a little bit.  “Thank you, Duo.”

Duo chuckled as he helped Heero to his room.  “What are friends for?  Oh!  Catherine called.  She’s going out of town and
would like us to check up on Trowa and Quatre while she’s gone.”  He bit his lip lightly at the tickle in his ear, not wanting
Heero to see his discomfort.

Heero frowned when Duo’s ear twitched.  “Ears bothering you?  When was the last time you put the drops in?”

Duo fidgeted a little and blushed.  “Last night.  I’m following the directions . . . right?”

Heero smiled again.  “Come on.  I know you hate putting the drops in yourself.  I’ll put them in for you and then take my soak.  
That’ll give dinner another couple minutes to heat up.”

Duo smiled in appreciation and went into the kitchen to put dinner into the oven.  It took no time at all, and Heero was waiting
with the ear drops, some cotton balls and a towel.  “Well, let’s get this over with,” Duo said with a sigh.  He sat down and
gripped the edge of the table, his tail swishing with annoyance.  It took a moment to realize that Heero was just rubbing his
shoulders.  “Huh?”  He looked over his shoulder, feeling confused.

“Relax, Duo.  This won’t take that long.”  Heero’s voice was calm, his hands strong on Duo’s aching shoulders.

Duo hadn’t even realized that his ears had flattened in anger.  “Yeah, yeah.  You wouldn’t say that if you were on the receiving
end of those vile drops.”  He tightened his grip on the table as he felt Heero’s fingers lifting one ear.  It took all of his willpower
to fight against his instincts to swat at Heero with his trimmed claws.  With the first drop, a low growl started in his throat.

Heero paused.  “Duo?”

Duo snarled over his shoulder.  He was close to biting Heero when he remembered that Heero was just trying to help him.

Heero blinked in surprise before continuing.  “I’m sorry.”  He put a couple more drops in Duo’s ear and began to rub his fingers
over it, massaging the delicate ear.

Duo immediately felt bad.  He hadn’t meant to upset Heero.  “Nah, not your fault.”  He forced himself to relax as the drops
worked their way deeper into his ears.  Everything in him told him to shake his head and be rid of the vile fluid.

Heero moved to the second ear, repeating what he had done with the first.  “There, all done,” he said finally.  “Now, just sit still
for a few minutes and then you can shake your head.”  Heero smiled and took the towel with him, heading down the hall to the
bathroom.

Duo sat there a minute and sighed as the tingling in his ears grew.  At least it wasn’t as bad as it had been just yesterday when
Dr. Po had put them in.  Then it had been a burning with the tickling.  Now, it was just a vague itch with the tickle.

While Heero was in the bath and dinner was cooking, Duo used his free time to go over the events of the past few weeks.  Fate
had been smiling on him it seemed.  He had almost taken a different route the night Heero had rescued him.  If he had gone the
other way . . . he shuddered at the thought.  He was happy here.  He liked Heero a great deal, and he liked having a home again.

“Hey, is something burning?”  Heero asked, stepping from the hallway with his towel around his neck, one hand working at
drying his sopped hair with it.

Duo blinked and sniffed the air.  “Oh no!  Dinner!” he shouted as he scrambled to the stove.  Sure enough, smoke was starting
to wisp out of the oven.  Duo groaned in despair as he used a potholder to open the door.  He hadn’t realized that he’d gotten so
lost in thought that he had lost track of time.

His ears chose that moment to remind him of the tickling fluid in them, and he gave his head a good shake.  The ear drops flew
all over the place, some landing in the burned casserole.  “Awww, man . . .”  He spun to face Heero, who had an unreadable
expression on his face.  ‘Shit!  Not good!  Last time I ruined a dinner . . .’  Instinct took over and he scurried under the nearest
surface, the kitchen table.  “I’m sorry!  I am SO sorry!  I didn’t realize and . . .”

Heero knelt down and regarded Duo with a look of genuine worry.  “Duo?  It’s only burned food.  It’s not really a big deal.  
What’s got you so upset?”

Duo flinched when Heero reached for him, then swallowed shakily and smiled a little.  “I guess I acted without thinking.”

Heero nodded as if in understanding.  He reached out again, and this time Duo didn’t move.  He pressed his head under Heero’s
hand, letting the human pet him lightly.  “Okay, I’ll order something for dinner.  Do you like Chinese?”

Duo nodded a little.  “Well, I don’t really know.  Never had it.  But it always smelled so good whenever I came across a place
serving it.”

“Okay,” Heero nodded decisively.  “Chicken and broccoli sound good?  Maybe with an egg roll?”

Duo smiled as his shaken nerves came down from alert status.  He didn’t know what an egg roll was, but it sounded good.  
“Yeah, it does.”  He crawled out from under the table and grinned when Heero helped him to his feet.  He was about to go clean
up the burned mess when Heero pulled him into a hug.  Duo was shocked for a moment, then sank into it and returned the
warm embrace.

“You don’t have to ever be afraid of me, Duo.”  Heero’s voice was soft and speaking in a soothing tone.  “Although I will
understand if your instincts overrule your common sense from time to time.  You’ve been in several bad situations followed by
being a stray.  It awes me that you’re as calm as you are.”

Duo appreciated that Heero hadn’t used the word ‘tame’ as if Duo were some wild animal.  Most of his genetic makeup was
human.  It wasn’t his fault that some scientists had gotten their kicks out of messing around with human and feline DNA and
created his species.

Duo blinked, suddenly becoming aware that Heero was shaking like a leaf.  “Heero?”  Duo asked, feeling worried.

“I would never hurt you,” Heero whispered, the trembling increasing.  “Never.”  He pressed his face to Duo’s shoulder, a feeling
of wetness spreading through Duo’s shirt sleeve.  Heero was crying.

Duo stepped back, pressing his palms to either side of Heero’s face.  “Heero, what’s got you so upset?  I-I know you wouldn’t
hurt me.  I just reacted too fast for my brain to catch up.  Instinct, you know.”

Tears ran in a steady stream from Heero’s eyes.  He wiped his arm across his face, forcing a shaky smile to curl his lips.  
“Sorry . . . Sorry, I know.”  He turned away, unsteadily heading to the phone.

Duo didn’t like this, the way that Heero was reacting.  There was something wrong, something Heero was still hiding from him.  
Duo wanted to know who had hurt Heero so badly, why this human kept breaking down like this.  He was worried, worried that
one day Heero wouldn’t be able to pull himself back together.

He watched Heero make the call to the Chinese food place with a sense of dread.  He knew he had to do something about this.  
Maybe tonight he’d try and get Heero to talk.  He wouldn’t force the issue.  But, he had to try at least.



To Be Continued . . .