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

Notes:  Duo, Howard and Heero go to see Alex and get some answers.

Strays and Misfits

Part Twenty-Three

The ride to Alex's apartment was a quiet one.  Duo sat in the backseat with Heero, the human's head pillowed on Duo's lap.  The
feline looked out the window, watching the passing scenery as his fingers stroked along Heero's forehead.  He didn't like that
they had brought Heero along, but he hadn't really been given much choice.  Heero needed to be home in bed, not traipsing about
looking for errant felines.  Then again, leaving him alone when he was so vulnerable would have only done more harm than good.

Heero whimpered, his slender fingers clenching against Duo's knee.  Duo frowned, not liking the pained sound.  He leaned
down, purring softly as he breathed soft murmured words into the human's ear.  Heero settled down a moment later, his
features softening as he slipped into an easier slumber.

As Duo was leaning back in his seat again, his purring a constant rumble, Howard glanced in the rearview mirror.  "What's
wrong with him?"

Duo shook his head.  "Exhaustion.  Stress.  Pushing himself past his physical limitations."  When he heard Howard take a breath
in preparation to speak again, duo decided to nip the question in the bud.  "Any more than that I can't tell you, pal.  Heero trusts
me, and I won't betray that by telling his secrets."

"Good."  Howard nodded.  Within a few minutes, he was parking the car.  "Here we are.  He's up on the second floor.  
Apartment 205."

Duo reached out and gently shook Heero's shoulder.  "Hey.  I have to get up, okay?"  He smiled tenderly as Heero blinked his
eyes open, yawning almost immediately.  The poor guy was still tired.  Duo could see it in the sluggish way he moved.  Duo had
to help him up, and held him steady as the human swayed a little.  "How are you doing?" he asked, rubbing Heero's shoulder.

Heero yawned again.  "Sleepy."

Duo chuckled, leaning close to nuzzle Heero's cheek affectionately.  "Go back to sleep then.  I'll be right back."  He opened the
car door and was out before anyone could stop him.

Howard's voice only barely reached his ears as Duo entered the building.  "Aw, hell!"

Duo climbed the stairs quickly, taking them two and sometimes three at a time.  He just couldn't wrap his mind around the idea
that Mueller would ever want to be friends with Alex.  The blonde was a jerk.  Still, Mueller had always been the forgiving sort
and had a great deal of patience with people.  And then there was that stubborn and yet so thoroughly great warm and loving
side of him.  Maybe it wasn't so surprising.

He got to the apartment that Howard had said Alex lived in and knocked three times.  He bounced from foot to foot impatiently.  
All he wanted to do was pound on the door or bust it open, but he knew that Alex deserved more than accusations and
questions.  He'd be given a chance to talk, to explain.  Even if Duo only wanted to kick his ass.

When Alex finally opened the door, Duo had to bite back a gasp.  The blonde looked positively horrible.  There was a light sheen
of sweat coating his unnaturally pale skin.  His eyes were dazed and bloodshot.  He looked like he'd been run through a ringer,
and then stomped on for good measure.

"What do you want?" Alex asked with narrowed eyes, his tone nothing less than cold and accusatory.

Duo held up his hands in mock surrender.  His earlier urge to beat the shit out of Alex was waning.  "I'm just looking for

Alex shrugged.  "Not here right now."

Duo felt a surge of anger fill him.  Didn't Alex care that Mueller might be missing?  Weren't they friends?  With a growl, Duo
shoved his way into the blonde's apartment, pushing the young man back as he did so.  "Listen up!  I don't care what your
problem with me is, but it's got NOTHING to do with Mueller!"  His rant died, forgotten completely as Alex seemed to crumble
in on himself.  The one tough-acting youth had curled into a little ball with his arms around his head and was whimpering like a
frightened child.  To say Duo was shocked would have been a massive understatement.

Howard entered in that instant.  "Kid, I'm not as young as I used to be, and your friend isn't in the best shape.  Don't go
bounding up the stairs like that."  He paused and glanced around the apartment for the first time, his eyes settling on Alex who
was babbling away incoherently.  "What the hell did you do to him?"

Duo frowned in concern.  He reached out to Alex, only to stop and pull his hands back, unsure of what to do.  He looked over
to Howard.  "Nothing, I swear!  I just got pissed at him for not seeming to care about Mueller being missing and shoved him a

A soft voice spoke up from behind Howard.  "I'm missing?"

Howard turned and there was Mueller, standing in the hallway with a bag full of groceries.  Heero was standing right beside him,
looking as tired as he had in the car.

"Mueller!"  Duo shouted, his tail swishing.

Mueller didn't seem to notice though.  The moment he saw Alex, the feline's ears drooped and he was rushing to his side.  

Alex was sniffling and rocking himself back and forth.  He recoiled away from Mueller, shaking terribly.  "Don't hurt me!"

Mueller shoved the bag of groceries into Howard's arms, then dropped himself to the floor and pulled Alex into his arms.  "Sshh,
it's all right.  No one's going to hurt you."

Duo couldn't stop himself from gaping at the scene.  This wasn't something he had been expecting to see.  "Mueller, what's
going on here?"

"Don't say another word, please," Mueller said, shaking his head.  "Please, put the groceries away while I calm him down."

"Let me help you," Heero offered, moving closer.  "Then perhaps you could explain to us what's going on?"

Mueller nodded and accepted it when Heero helped him raise Alex to his feet.  Together the two of them took the blonde down a
hallway and into another room.  Duo was left confused and worried, standing there twitching his ears and his fingers fiddling
with the end of his tail as he waited for an explanation to all of this.  Howard was standing beside him, looking around at the
barren apartment.  There was little to nothing here, barely any personality to the room.

Howard looked at the bag he was still holding and let out a breath.  "I'm going to go put these away.   Might as well make myself
useful while waiting for the explanation.  You okay, Duo?"

Duo blinked and felt his ears droop.  "I just ... I don't know what the hell happened!  I'm so used to Alex being a cocky
overbearing prick that seeing him like that is such a shock."  He took a look around the empty room and noted some bottles
strewn around.  "I guess I'll clean up a little."  He followed Howard into the kitchen, only to root around the cabinets to find
where Alex kept the trash bags.  Then he left Howard to his task and went about tidying up.

There were a lot of empty alcohol bottles, Duo noticed.  It was a bit disconcerting and Duo had to wonder just how many of
these Alex had drunk today.  They were all over the place.  As he kept picking up liquor bottles, he guessed that Alex had been
drinking for the past couple days, maybe even longer.  Duo was working on filling a second bag when he got to the hallway.  He
only saw one bottle though, lying on its side near a door.  As he bent to pick it up, his shoulder brushed the door and nudged it
open.  He wasn't intending to snoop around the place, but a delicate scent caught his attention and made him curious.  Leaving
the bag of bottles in the hallway, Duo stood and pushed the door the rest of the way open.  He reached in and flicked on the
light, blinking at what he found inside.

It was a child's bedroom, obviously for a little girl if one judged by the color scheme.  At least the pinks weren't as garish as
others he had seen.  It was a delicate shade, so light it almost appeared white.  A pale violet decorated the edgings and molding.  
Duo stepped inside and sniffed the air.  A young girl lived here, one that hadn't yet reached puberty.  Scents changed with age
and Duo had learned to recognize the subtle differences.

His steps were soft as he moved around the room, his fingers gliding along the various surfaces.  His claws grazed a path along
the soft bedspread.  Idly, he touched the face of a stuffed bear that was propped up against the pillow.  His eyes roved over the
posters on the walls, various celebrities staring back at him.  He moved over to the desk, letting his hand hang in the air just
above the flat surface.  There were papers and pens littering the desk, old schoolwork and rather nice drawings done by
someone with obvious talent.

"The room belongs to Alex's sister," Mueller voice announced from the open doorway.

Duo jumped, startled and embarrassed by the fact that he'd been caught snooping around.  He turned to face the dark-haired
feline, seeing that Heero was there as well.  "Sorry, I didn't mean to nose around."  He quickly walked out of the room, flicking
off the light and closing the door.  "I didn't know he had a sister."

"You never got to know him," Mueller said softly, his ears drooping as his eyes stared down at the floor.  It wasn't like him to be
assertive and it was all the more obvious when he couldn't even keep eye contact with someone who had always been a friend to

Duo crossed his arms.  "What the hell are you doing here, Mueller?  Why with Alex?  And what's up with him?"

Heero reached out and wrapped his fingers around Duo's wrist, tugging it lightly while he wearily rubbed at his eyes with his
other hand.  "Let's go out to the living room to talk," he suggested.

Duo immediately nodded, his worry for Heero overshadowing everything else.  Heero was far too worn out to be standing
around in a hallway gabbing.  "Yeah, come on.  We don't want Howard left out of this little discussion.  He's been worried sick."

Mueller whimpered, bowing his head.  "I never meant to worry anyone," he whispered.

Duo gave the timid feline a gentle smile.  "You can explain it to us.  Let's just go on out and talk about it, okay?"

"All right," Mueller agreed, turning and leading the way back to the front room.

Duo followed, throwing his arm around Heero's waist and helping the human along.  Heero didn't put up any argument.  Instead,
he seemed to sink into Duo's hold, letting Duo carry the burden of his weight - not that he was all that heavy to begin with.

The four of them sat down in what few chairs Alex had in his living room.  Heero and Duo took up a small beaten old loveseat.  
Mueller rested in a patched leather armchair.  Howard had been forced to get a chair from the kitchen though, and was sitting on
that, leaving everyone pretty much in a small circle.  

Duo simply pulled Heero to him and cradled him as the human started dozing off.  Once Heero's breathing pattern indicated that
he was asleep again, Duo turned his attention to Mueller, who was watching him with an amused expression on his face.  

Mueller smiled a little and shook his head.  "I'm sorry.  But it's hard for me sometimes to reconcile this you with the you that
hated all of humanity."

Blushing a little, Duo shook his head.   "I never said I hated humans.  Just that the vast majority of them seemed to be selfish
pricks who just want more of what they already have.”  He stroked his fingers through Heero's thick hair.  "I got lucky ...
REALLY lucky ... when Heero happened upon my path one night."  He really didn't want to dwell on the 'what ifs.'

"I know," Mueller began with a sigh, "that my being friends with Alex is a bit of a shock to you.  So you're in for an even bigger

Duo blinked, confused and sort of worried now.  "What do you mean?"

Mueller flushed a little and caught his lashing tail.  He fiddled with the end, his nervousness clear as he ducked his head and
cleared his throat.  "We're ... more than just friends.  Alex and I ... we're lovers."

Duo would have shouted in anger if he hadn't been too worried about disturbing Heero’s much-needed sleep.  And also there
was the fact that Mueller didn't look afraid or nervous about his relationship.  The timid feline just looked like anyone would
when revealing something like that.  He was blushing and his face was bright with a tiny smile.

Howard snorted.  "Well, damn!  And here I thought Alex hated felines as much as Duo once thought he hated humans."

Mueller shook his head, keeping his eyes downcast.  "Not all felines.  Alex just ... has a reason to hate strays."  He bit his lip,
nervously toying with his tail.  "He was ... he was ... assaulted when he was fourteen."  His ears flattened against his head.  
"Sexually.  They dragged him into an alley and held him down and forced him ..." He shook his head, his words abruptly falling
away.  Then he started again.  "He puts on a tough act, making crude remarks, insulting strays and bullying them.  But it's just a
mask.  He's really terrified of felines.  Strays especially.  It took me weeks of trying to get him to drop it, even if it was only
when we were alone."

"How long have you and Alex been together?" Howard asked.

The shy brunette gnawed his lip more before replying.  "Before you found me, sir.  I ... I was attacked when some human boys
saw me and Alex behind the store.  They assumed I was a wh-whore.  When I said 'no', they didn't accept it and reacted

"Bastards," Duo mumbled.  "So, you and Alex, huh?  Can't say I ever would have expected that.  Does your little disappearing
act have something to do with your relationship with him?"

Mueller shook his head.  "Not really.  But, then again, maybe it does.  I suppose it does a lot."  His voice was a low murmur and
his hands were beginning to tremble.  Duo could tell there was still something his friend wasn't telling them.

"If you've got something on your mind, Mueller, just tell us.  We won't think any differently of you.  You're my friend.  You
always will be," Duo said, hoping to reassure the skittish youth.

A faint blush colored Mueller's pale cheeks.  "I ... I went to the FCPS the other day without telling you, Howard.  I'm sorry.  It
was the last time you went on an errand.  I asked permission from my supervisor and he let me go.  I ... I wasn't feeling well
and I was worried.  But I didn't want to tell you, I was worried what you'd say ... or do."

Howard rose from his seat and crossed the small space to kneel in front of Mueller's chair.  He reached up, placing his hands on
either side of the brunette's face to cup his cheeks.  "Are you ill?  Is there something wrong?"  He asked, his every word
dripping with worry.

"N-No!"  His cheeks turned scarlet in obvious embarrassment.  "I ... I'm pregnant."  He let go of his tail, settling his hands over
his own stomach.  "Alex ... Alex is the father.  I needed to tell him.  That's why I left work.  But when I got here, he was drunk
and I lost my nerve.  I had to help him.  I don't think he's stopped drinking since you fired him, sir, except for the times when
he was passed out."

Duo blinked, shocked to the core.  First to hear that Mueller was friends with Alex, then to learn they weren't friends but lovers,
only to find out that Mueller was now pregnant all in the course of a few hours was a lot of information to digest all at once.  
Beyond the worry and fear he had that Alex was only using his friend, Duo couldn't help but feel happy for Mueller.  He wanted
to jump up and congratulate Mueller properly, but couldn't risk waking Heero.  "I'm so happy for you, buddy.  But only if you're
happy.  You are happy, right?"

Mueller nodded enthusiastically.  "I love Alex.  And I know he loves me.  He ... he expressed interest in having children with me
when he learned it was possible.  That's why we tried to ..." If it was possible, he probably would have exploded with his face
as red as it was.

Howard returned to his seat, expressing his congratulations on the subject.  The three of them then began chatting again, going
through various topics.  Duo learned a lot about Alex that he'd never known before, such as the fact that the blonde had a
younger sister that he'd been supporting and sent off to some ritzy private school for the gifted.  He also had an ailing mother
who was currently residing in a hospital nearby.  Hearing of Alex's troubles, as well as Mueller's physical condition, Howard said
he'd rehire Alex as soon as the blonde woke up.  He didn't want Mueller and Alex to have to struggle.  They didn't need more
hassle, not with a baby on the way.

As the conversation continued, Duo sat back and let the news sink in.  His eyes kept straying to Mueller's stomach and his mind
repeatedly filled with images of himself carrying the weight of an infant within his belly.  He couldn’t deny his curiosity, or his
desire to have a child grow within him.  The urge to procreate was strong within the feline mind, an inborn need much the same
as the urge to help others.  Hearing that television program earlier had made him curious.  But now Duo couldn't help but want
the same someday.  Oh, he wasn't going to rush out and find someone to knock him up.  But he wouldn't mind it if someday he
found himself a mate to love, and to have a child with him.

Stroking his fingers through Heero's soft hair, Duo smiled to himself.  There was a warmth spreading through his chest, a
tingling sensation growing within his belly.  He didn't know what it was, but it wasn't unpleasant.  Heero moaned lightly, his
fingers finding Duo's knee and clenching briefly.  The feel of his touch made Duo's stomach feel like there was something
fluttering within it.  A purr began within his chest and he settled back in his seat, content in where he was right now.  He looked
forward to what life would bring him now.  For the first time in his life, he was eager to see what tomorrow would bring.

To Be Continued ...