Warnings : Implied yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized
characters, and a couple of OCs, Duo POV.
Thanks to Yume Arashi for beta reading again…where would
I be without you?
Feed-back is a dream I have…
And I don’t own anything in this series, either.
I allow myself only fifteen minutes in the shower. It’s
a steadfast rule, self-imposed back from my days with the Sweepers. Fifteen
minutes and only lukewarm water. When you walk around with hair down to
your ass, people tend to resent every second you spend in the shower. It
gets in their head that it must take you forever to wash that much hair
and suddenly every minute you spend in the bathroom seems to multiply in
their minds. And yeah; it means I have to rush like hell. It’s just
one of those stereotypical things that I’ve had to deal with for years.
I guess that’s why it gets under my skin so easily;
nothing drives me insane faster than being able to predict stupidity.
Maybe that’s why I don’t look back with any fondness
on the first time the five of us shared a safe house together. I got hit
with a half a dozen of those damned hackneyed accusations within days.
I am an orphan. I grew up on the streets and for some strange
reason people assume because of that fact that I will eat everything that
isn’t nailed down. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am used
to hunger in a way you only get from living hand to mouth. Sure; I get hungry
just like anyone else, but my definition of hunger and most peoples are
two entirely different things. Food is nothing more than sustenance. My
body needs it. I don’t much care after that; I’m not particularly
picky about what I eat. As a child I learned how to catch, kill, skin and
cook rat. You want to debate the difference between t-bone and porterhouse?
I couldn’t care less.
My two biggest fans in the house were pretty predictable as
well. Heero and Wufei. Wufei was the one who decided to become obsessed
with my use of hot water and Heero settled on nagging me about my eating
habits. Both of them were reacting to the simple fact that they didn’t
care for me personally. I knew that, and would have thought that understanding
them would have made it easier but somehow it only made it worse.
By the end of the second day I was about ready to explode.
Another thing you should know about me; I have a touch of some sort of martyr
complex. I am well aware of it, but when I am in the throes of a pissing
contest it just doesn’t fucking matter to me. I am perfectly capable
of cutting off my own nose to spite my face.
The morning of the third day I woke up in full ‘fuck
you’ mode. Sick to death of being treated like an outsider, of being
accused of shit that just, plain was not true.
I wake early. Old street habit; you needed to be on the move
before the marks hit the street if you expected to get any breakfast. Whether
begging or stealing, the best time was in the early morning when people
were heading off to work, before their day had soured, while they were still
So on the morning of the third day, I rose early, grabbed
a towel from the bathroom and walked down to the creek where I performed
‘fuck you’ act number one.
I stripped and waded into the icy water, bathed and thoroughly
washed my hair with handfuls of clean, creek-bottom sand. I thought my balls
were going to crawl up inside my body and never come back down, but when
I was done I was as clean as I would have been in a nice hot shower. Fuck
you, Wufei. Never touched your precious hot water supply.
Then I went scavenging in the woods for breakfast. I found
some walnuts and spent the next half hour sitting in the sun letting my
hair dry a little bit while I cracked them with a rock and picked the meat
out. Fuck you, Heero. Never touched your precious food supply.
The other thing that people assume is that I’m lazy.
Stems from my laid-back attitude, I suppose. Again, not based on any truth;
you learn to do your share when you live in a gang or the gang doesn’t
keep you long. So after I ate, I braided my still damp hair and went in
the house to find some chores that needed doing. The previous nights dinner
dishes were still stacked in the drainer, so I put them away. There was
enough stuff in the laundry basket to constitute a couple of loads, so I
Now one thing that is true; I hate the cold. And that too
is a thing that stems from my youth. Being cold makes me remember those
days of having to huddle together with the other kids in whatever shelter
we could scrounge. Freezing to death is, perhaps, not the worst way in the
universe to go…but seeing someone do it leaves a lasting impression
on a young mind.
This house had a large fireplace, and we had a fire going
most evenings. Lying in front of it until I felt like a toasted marshmallow
was one of the few luxuries I had allowed myself in this place with all
the guys around. It didn’t seem to annoy them; I think they enjoyed
the comfort of the fire as well; though they wouldn’t admit it. But
I made damn sure that nobody else ever had to chop or carry the wood.
It was late enough that I didn’t think anyone else would
still be in bed, so that’s where I took myself next; out to chop more
wood and fill the firebox.
As I worked, I became aware of the rest of the house stirring
to life. Trowa was in the kitchen, and on one of my trips in the house with
an armload of wood, I noticed the smell of eggs frying.
Trowa’s an Ok guy, if quiet. I passed through the kitchen
to put the wash over into the dryer and start a second load and he greeted
me with a quiet,
I grinned at him as I went through, ‘Mornin’ Trowa.’
I glanced at the table and noticed it wasn’t set for breakfast yet,
‘Don’t bother setting a place for me, I already ate.’
He frowned at me slightly, looking puzzled but I went on by
without further comment. Laundry switched, I went back to the chopping block.
I had to grin at myself ruefully; should have chopped the
damn wood before bathing. I was sort of negating the whole effort.
Wood chopping was something I hadn’t known how to do
before this safe house, and I’m embarrassed to have to confess that
I almost cut my own foot off the first time I tried it. It’s not as
freaking easy as it looks. Three days into my new skill, it still takes
a certain amount of concentration on my part to make sure the ax is splitting
wood and not body parts. So I was a little irritated when Wufei came charging
out the back door bellowing at me in mid swing.
‘Maxwell!’ He yelled and he said more, but it
pretty much went by me as I almost lost control of the damn ax.
‘What!?’ I yelled back when I had the blade stopped
and was sure that my knee was still intact.
‘There is no damn hot water…again!’ He stated,
his hair down and dripping what must be cold water everywhere, ‘That
God damned hair of yours…’
I cut him off, ‘I have not showered today.’ I
gritted and turned away to begin picking up wood, ‘The washing machine
is running. Turn it off.’
I could feel him staring at me for a bit, but I ignored him
and when I turned around to take the wood in the house, he was gone. Fuck
The firebox was full enough, so I decided to stop chopping
wood while I was still intact and went to get the clothes out of the dryer.
The others were sitting around the breakfast table and I got
a smile from Quatre and a glare from Heero as I came into the room.
‘Good morning, Duo.’ Quatre smiled at me as I
stopped to wash my hands before dealing with the clean clothes.
‘Morning, Qat.’ I grinned at him and he blushed.
He’s the only one I feel free enough with to address with any sort
of nickname. I think he likes it but for some reason it seems to embarrass
I thought I might escape to the laundry room with no more
than that but the frown on Heero’s face was deepening and he stopped
me before I could get by.
‘The supplies are limited, we can’t afford for
I turned away from the sink to face him. His glares are…heat
personified. Mine are the soul of ice. He stopped in mid sentence.
‘I didn’t touch your carefully counted and inventoried
supplies.’ I growled.
He met my cold stare but didn’t back down, ‘Trowa
said you already ate.’ He said accusingly.
It rankled me; thinking about them talking behind my back
like I was not part of their little group, ‘I took care of myself.
I didn’t go near your precious supplies.’
We stared at each other for a little longer and when he didn’t
have anything else to say, I turned away and went to finish the laundry.
Fuck you, Heero.
I caught the dryer before it shut off and was able to hang
Quatre’s dress shirts before they wrinkled. I resisted the urge to
just leave Heero and Wufei’s clothes lie in the dryer. But I managed
to make myself fold the green and black tank tops with the same detachment
as Trowa and Quatre’s clothes.
Anger was growling around in my gut and I decided without
thinking about it that I would not touch another bite of their God damned
food; I didn’t care if I starved to death. Yep…spiting my own
face all over the place.
I drew the line at putting their clothes away, and just stacked
everything in a laundry basket and set it on the kitchen table. Let them
come and get their own damned stuff.
I checked and someone else had already done the breakfast
dishes, so I went to find Quatre. It was my turn to make the supply run.
I heard them in the living room and it was the low tone of
their voices that made me hesitate instead of just going in.
‘…walnuts? Why in the hell would he go out in
the woods scrounging for food when we have…’ Wufei was saying
but Quatre cut him off. Someone must have noticed the pile of smashed hulls.
‘Because of the way you two ride him about every little
thing. What is your problem? Duo more than carries his own weight…’
‘He is unprofessional.’ I heard Heero growl, ‘He
is undisciplined and pays no attention to orders.’
‘He…’ Quatre hesitated, ‘Has his own
style. But that doesn’t give you the right to be rude.’
‘He is a thief by his own admission.’ Wufei said,
and I could hear the disdain in his voice.
‘Oh that’s so much worse than being a cold blooded
killer.’ I heard Trowa drawl and I had to grin. The guy was quiet,
but that didn’t mean his tongue wasn’t sharp when he decided
to use it.
I think I’d heard enough to pretty much get the gist
of what was going on. I went on into the room; trademark grin plastered
on my face and ignored everyone but Quatre.
‘There you are, Qat!’ I beamed at him, ‘Clean
laundry’s on the table. You got the car keys? I’m getting ready
to make the supply run.’
He stood and fished the keys out of his pocket and I detected
frowns forming on at least two of the other faces in the room. I was doing
that anticipate stupidity thing again and could feel myself growing angry.
‘Yep. Thinking about buying sixty cartons of ice cream
and some cookies. You got any preferences in flavors?’
Wufei’s mouth opened and then snapped shut again. Figured
he’d be the one to make that assumption.
I could see Heero out of the corner of my eye, on the verge
of speaking and I took a shot, ‘And who had the ‘Hi! I’m
a Gundam pilot!’ t-shirt last…I can’t find it.’
He growled and glared at me, ‘Baka.’ he gritted
and I grinned; two for two. I was on a roll.
I turned to leave and called airily over my shoulder, ‘I’ll
try to be back before the end of the week!’
That should just about cover it. I stopped in the kitchen
and took a quick inventory of what we had and what we needed and took the
supply money out of the jar on the windowsill.
This was, perhaps, not such a bad idea. It would do me good
to get the hell away from here for a little while.
I was cursing the luck that had put me in this situation and
starting to fervently wish that I’d get an assignment just to get
me out of it. I do not usually have a problem getting along with people.
I think I’m a pretty easy-going guy; I normally can manage to put
people at ease enough that I can make a connection.
Somehow, no matter what I did with this group of guys I just
seemed to irritate them. Now in all fairness; Trowa and Quatre didn’t
seem to mind me all that much, at least they were polite. I seemed to have
earned a little respect from Trowa and I think Quatre might have actually
half way liked my company. It was the other two; the brothers Grimm. It
didn’t seem to matter what I did; I drove them to distraction. With
Wufei…at first, it had been almost fun and I have to admit I spent
a little time baiting him just because it was so easy. But Heero…that
one got to me. There was something about him…something behind those
incredible dark blue eyes. Yeah, stop your damn snickering; I fell for the
son of a bitch the first time I’d made eye contact. Get off my back;
I’m well aware of what a ridiculous thing it was to do, but where
my heart chooses to pin itself is something I’ve never been able to
So every one of those ‘bakas’ cut like a damned
It is approximately eight miles to town by the road. If you
were to walk down the side of the mountain, I imagine it probably wasn’t
much more than two. The car is an old beater, an ugly, flat, primer green
but runs Ok. I’d spent a little time on it when we’d first gotten
here so at least it didn’t burn oil any more. It looked like the kind
of car you would expect any average guy our age to own.
The road down the mountain is a nasty little switchback thing,
winds to hell and back before coming out in the small town at the bottom;
Foxdell, I think it’s called. There is a place about two miles from
the house where you can pull off without being in danger of getting creamed
by anything else on the road. Not that anything else had a reason to come
up this way.
I pulled off and parked, got out of the car and sat on the
hood for a little bit. Wouldn’t do to go down among the civilians
as wound up as I was. I just sat and listened to the birds for a few minutes,
something I’d never heard before coming to Earth and tried to shove
it all out of my mind. This would not last forever, I’d been a lone
operative before coming to Earth and this ‘partnership’ thing
would end eventually and I would go back to being a lone operative again.
Somehow, it didn’t make me feel any better. I guess my problem was
that, in my head, I could visualize what this could be like. We were five
of the most unique individuals in the damn solar system. We should have
more in common with each other than with anyone else alive. It would have
been nice to be able to talk to these guys, to have a true partnership where
we watched each other’s backs. I snorted softly; apparently not down
‘Just stop feeling, Maxwell.’ I muttered to myself
and climbed down. This wasn’t doing me any good; I was so uptight
I was feeling vaguely nauseous. I had to stop letting them get under my
skin. And I had to admit to myself the date wasn’t helping matters
much. I just didn’t want to think about that right now. I got back
in the car and finished the drive.
Foxdell isn’t anything to write home to Mom about; there’s
a general store kind of thing, a little bed and breakfast that didn’t
look like it had seen a guest in months, a gas station, a little mom and
pop restaurant, and maybe a dozen houses. I suspect there was an ‘in
season’ to this area and we just weren’t in it; too late in
The car was a little low on gas, something that goes against
my ‘be ready for anything’ nature, so I pulled into the station
I had to grin; the pump was so old it didn’t even have
a digital display. I watched a guy with the name ‘Bill’ stitched
on his pocket come strolling out of the station and I wondered if these
people even knew there was a war going on.
‘Morning!’ I called cheerily to Bill.
‘What can I do ya for?’ He grinned back and the
absolute banal chitchat was a more than welcome relief.
‘Fill ‘er up.’ I told him and popped the
hood to check the oil, though I had just done it a couple of days ago.
He moved around the car and pulled the hose down, sticking
the nozzle in the tank and latching the trigger before coming to look under
the hood with me. I noticed that he hadn’t had the pump locked. I
shook my head; gotta love small towns.
‘You got a rag?’ I asked him companionably and
he pulled the one out of his back pocket and handed it over as he leaned
down to look at ‘my’ engine.
‘Thanks!’ I enthused and proceeded to check my
oil, grinning happily when it showed normal, ‘Damn! I think I finally
got that leak fixed!’
He perked up immediately, ‘Got oil problems?’
‘I did.’ I told him as I put the dipstick back,
‘Stinking thing was going through almost a quart a week.’
‘No shit?’ He raised an eyebrow.
‘No lie.’ I confirmed and handed him the rag back,
‘Took me forever to find it; had a crack in the manifold.’
He made that little noise you make when you’re being
He wiped his hand on his pants leg and stuck it out, ‘I’m
Bill.’ He informed me.
‘Hi!’ I grinned at him and took the offered hand,
God; why couldn’t it be this easy with stoic, anal-retentive
I put the hood down and we leaned against the car and talked
engines for a while. Then he asked me the standard questions; what was I
doing in these parts? Gonna be around long? The kinds of questions that
people just ask in semi-polite conversation. The kinds of questions that
make Heero start looking for someplace to hide the bodies.
So I told him about the camping trip that I was on with a
few of my ‘friends’ and that we’d probably be around for
a couple of days unless the weather turned bad or we got bored.
He told me where to go to do some fishing and I asked him
what was good to eat at the restaurant.
By the time I left, he would have asked me back to his house
if I’d said I had no place to stay.
Why couldn’t it be this simple with Heero and Wufei?
When I got to the grocery store, it appeared deserted at first
but when I walked in and the little bell over the door rang, a girl’s
voice called from the back room.
‘Is that you Bill?’
I had to grin again; small towns.
‘Uhmmm…no.’ I called back, ‘Sorry.’
The voice of a total stranger was enough to bring the young
lady out of the back room, wiping her hands on a towel.
She was shorter than I was by a good head, wearing one of
those cotton dresses that I think of as ‘granny dresses’ over
a turtleneck, the sleeves of which were shoved up to her elbows. She was
probably my age, but seemed like a kid to me. She grinned with pleasure
when she saw me, tilting her head to the side to look me over and having
to sweep her short-cropped, brown hair out of her eyes.
‘Nope.’ She confirmed for me, ‘You’re
I grinned back, ‘Not when I last checked.’
She giggled and her nose wrinkled up and I was put in mind
of a puppy. God; she seemed so damn young.
‘New or just passing through?’ She asked, finishing
with the towel and flopping it across her shoulder.
‘Just a tourist.’ I told her and finally turned
to find one of those carrying baskets.
‘Too bad.’ She said and I turned to find her smirking
openly at me.
Ok; maybe not so young.
‘I’m Paige.’ She ignored my moment of stunned
‘Max.’ I told her.
She regarded me for another moment and then flicked her fingers
to take in the store in general, ‘Go ahead and shop.’ She told
me, ‘Just holler when you’re done; I’ll be in the back
She turned away and left me alone to wander through the aisles.
I had to shake my head; this was the strangest little place. I had to resist
the urge to ask her if she’d ever heard of a thing called a ‘mobile
I picked carefully through what was offered on the shelves,
trying to imagine each item passing Heero’s inspection. Nothing that
would perish quickly; dry goods, canned goods. With an eye toward food value.
I’ll never understand why they don’t just lay in a supply of
the military issue rations and do away with all this crap.
I got flour and corn meal, rice and oatmeal. Some eggs only
because I had figured out from watching Trowa that he used them in a lot
of the stuff he cooked. Salt because I had noticed we were almost out.
I was cautious of the price, picking over things and comparing
volume, doing the math to see where I was getting the most for the dollar.
That was another one of the Duo Maxwell myths that got on my nerves; why
in the hell would you think that someone who had grown up sometimes going
without food for days at a time, would be frivolous with their money? Gimme
a break; if there was anybody in our little group who was more likely to
overpay for supplies it was Quatre. I’d be willing to bet that until
the war, he’d never even seen the inside of a grocery store. That’s
what people like the Winner’s had servants for.
By the time I had my selections on the counter, I was feeling
bitter again and had to sigh at my own frame of mind. I should have known
I’d be this way today of all days.
There was a sharp clang from the back room and I flinched
into a crouch without thinking.
‘You damn piece of junk!’ I heard Paige growl
and I rose and walked toward the back room; curiosity peaked.
I got there just in the veritable nick of time.
‘Stop!’ I shouted and I think I scared the crap
out of her, but she froze just a moment before she stuck the wrench she
was holding into a very bad place.
I strode across the crammed little storage room and jerked
the power cord out of the wall, ‘Didn’t anybody ever tell you
to unplug major appliances before you dismantled them?’ I drawled.
Her eyes flew wide and I was a little surprised to see that
she understood what she had almost just done, ‘Ohmygawd!’ She
breathed, ‘I forgot I plugged it back in to test it!’
She sat back on the floor in a very un-lady like pose and
blinked up at me.
‘My God; you just saved my life.’
I wanted to laugh; the last young lady who’s life I
had saved had bitten my head off for my trouble.
‘What,’ I asked, by way of a change of subject,
‘were you trying to do?’
She stuck her lower lip out and gusted a breath up to blow
her bangs out of her eyes, ‘Trying to get this demonic piece of…crap
running again before we lose three hundred dollars worth of frozen food.’
I turned a critical eye in the direction of the offending
piece of equipment, it didn’t look that complicated, ‘Mind if
I take a look?’
‘If you know anything at all about refrigeration units,’
She replied, holding the wrench out, ‘Go right ahead.’
I took hold of the huge chest freezer and pulled it out from
the wall before taking the wrench from her.
She grinned up at me, ‘Oh well…go ahead; cheat.’
I smirked back and bent to work, ‘Nothing like a little
She giggled, ‘I like brutes.’
I jerked my head up to look at her and couldn’t tell
if she was flirting or just teasing or what the hell. I flushed and I thought
she would collapse on the floor laughing her ass off.
‘Watch yourself.’ I tried to glower at her, ‘I
could be a wandering ax murderer.’
Her face ran through a strange little series of expressions
until I laughed at her and she giggled some more.
‘Got a flashlight?’ I asked and she got up off
the floor to go get one.
It took me most of the next half an hour and she sat perched
on a box and prattled on while I worked. She had a sharp wit underneath
the giggling exterior and actually laughed at some of my jokes. I found
that I was kind of enjoying myself. Just having a nice, normal conversation
without anybody getting in my face about something I hadn’t done anyway.
We found that we both liked some of the same music, though
she didn’t have a clue what a hammered dulcimer was and I had never
heard of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. She was working here in her uncle’s
store until school started again, would be going off to college in another
couple of weeks. Was going to major in the arts, though her father insisted
that she carry a double major so that she’d be able to get a ‘real’
job when she finished school.
My ‘Max’ persona comes with a fairly complete
background and I explained about being on the big getaway camping trip with
some of my buddies before we had to get back to the grind of school. Told
her about how we were all saving our money and next summer we were going
to go to Europe and hike across Great Britain.
She asked about my hair and I told her my rock star joke.
I asked about the granny dress and she told me her laundry
Then I plugged up the freezer and fired it up and was rewarded
with the sound of the compressor kicking on.
She squealed and practically threw herself off the box and
‘Paige.’ I said as I untangled her, ‘It’s
not that big a deal.’
She backed off at the first sign of my discomfort and I decided
that she was just one of those people who hugged at the drop of a hat.
‘Are you kidding?’ She yelped, ‘You just
saved the store over three hundred dollars in merchandise alone! Not to
mention the cost of getting a repair man out here!’
I grinned down at her, ‘Well I wasn’t doing anything
Though that made me think about the time and I realized I’d
better get my ass back up to the house before the guys decided I’d
been captured and came to kill me to keep me from talking.
She seemed to suddenly realize how long it had been herself
and fairly dragged me back out to the front counter to ring me up, ‘I’m
so sorry!’ And then she got a good look at the pile of supplies I
had sitting there and quirked an eyebrow at me, ‘Yuck; this is what
you guys are eating?’
‘I laughed, ‘Well…none of us is what you
would call gourmet chefs.’
‘That’s it!’ She suddenly beamed and grabbed
my arm to haul me back toward the back room again, ‘I need to give
you something for going to all that trouble!’
I had a surreal, damn scary moment before she let go of my
arm and stopped to pull open the freezer I had just repaired.
‘All of this would have spoiled if you hadn’t
gotten this running; it takes two days to get the repair guy out here. Take
whatever you want.’
She looked up at me expectantly and I opened my mouth to protest
and then shut it again. It wasn’t an awful idea; maybe bringing back
something special for tonight’s dinner would help smooth things over
with the guys. I looked into the compartment and then looked at Paige.
‘You sure?’ I queried and got an enthusiastic
I looked again. I thought about each of the guys and made
a couple of careful selections.
‘That’s all?’ She asked, looking surprised
and I had to laugh.
‘Well…’ I hesitated, ‘I was thinking
some fresh vegetables would go good with this.’
She got them from the supply in back; the freshest thing in
We made our way back out to the front counter and on the spur
of the moment, I snagged a bottle of soda out of the cooler. One tiny little
indulgence, damn it; it had been a long day.
She rang things up and when I told her to ring the soda separate,
she just grinned and winked and stuck it in the sack.
I sighed and tried to object, but she just waved a hand at
me, ‘The way I look at it; I still owe you something like two hundred
and seventy bucks.’
She helped me carry the sacks out to the car and we exchanged
goodbyes over the hood.
I headed back toward the safe house feeling a little better;
I thought I’d done Ok with the supplies and I’d managed to score
the makings of a really good meal for free. All it had taken was a little
of my overly free time and the exertion of a little mechanical ability.
It wasn’t even all that late; I’d be back a good couple of hours
before Trowa started fixing dinner. Maybe the meal would serve to lighten
things up a little bit; maybe I would be able to spend the evening with
a little pleasant company. Would be able to immerse myself so much that
what day it was would stop nagging at me.
I pulled into the yard in a much better mood, singing softly
to myself and I took in the first load of groceries. I made sure to get
the perishables first. I saw Heero on the stairs as I came through the front
door; he was already glaring at me. I bet myself on the first words out
of his mouth, and as if on queue, he said, ‘What took so long?’
‘Ran into some old friends and went to the dance club.’
I drawled and could have kicked myself. This was the vicious cycle he and
I lived in. I could predict most of the very few words he would spare me
and that drove me insane. Being able to tell what he would say before he
said it made me get defensive and my smart-ass mouth kicked into high gear.
That, apparently, drove him insane and he just got more sullen.
I sighed, good mood pretty well deflated, and went on in to
the kitchen. Quatre was there with Trowa and I just tried to forget about
Quatre took the sack from my hands and started to unload it,
I turned to head back out for the rest of the supplies. Behind me, there
was a strange noise and I found Wufei just coming through the back door.
‘Maxwell!’ He snapped, ‘You idiot! None
of this stuff will keep!’
I opened my mouth to defend myself, seeing Heero come into
the kitchen doorway and I suddenly had four pairs of eyes trained on me.
The last vestiges of the good mood faded. What the hell had I been thinking;
a decent evening with this group of guys? They all fucking hated me; there
was just no point in even trying.
I didn’t speak, just met their eyes, one after the other
and turned to walk back out to the car. I grabbed the rest of the sacks
and hauled them into the kitchen, dumping them on the table.
They were all still there, pulling the steaks and vegetables
out of the first sack with vaguely horrified expressions. Wufei was speaking,
but I didn’t even hear him. I was so angry I was within inches of
full, tunnel vision battle mode. My voice, when I opened my mouth, sounded
ice cold even to me.
‘These are the supplies. Here is the receipt. Here is
the change. Here are the car keys.’ I laid each item out on the table
as I mentioned it. I shoved tonight’s dinner into a separate pile,
snagging my bottle of soda out of the sack at the last moment, ‘The
clerk at the general store gave this to me for fixing her freezer. It’s
for dinner tonight. Enjoy.’ In my imagination, the temperature dropped
so drastically the windows frosted over.
I turned quietly on my heel and strode out of the house. I
didn’t even slam the damn door. I hoped they choked on it.
You would really, really, really fucking think that a guy
who killed people for a living, who called himself the God of Death in battle,
who had lost every living soul who had ever meant a flying fuck to him…would
not be so damn easy to hurt.
I went across the yard, glancing up once at the sun to get
my bearings before I went into the trees and headed back for town. Screw
it; Bill and Paige were a hell of a lot easier to get along with. It was
only two miles as the crow flies and the hike might serve to cool my anger.
I knew better than to even think about taking the only car for personal
reasons. I scrambled down the hill in high, hot temper until I slipped and
fell and almost broke my damn leg. I stopped then and found a rock to park
myself on and sat with my head in my hands and my Goddamn heart on my sleeve
and just hurt. Why in the hell was I letting them get to me like this?
Because they were supposed to be my friends. Because they
were supposed to be like me. Because I had been stupid enough to get excited
when I had found out they existed; had thought that I had finally found
someone who could understand how I felt. How I ached. How tired of it all
I was. I had thought that they would be tired and lonely and hurting as
much as I was. I had envisioned something…
But I had been wrong; they may have been four of the best
and the brightest…just as advertised. But they made the same stupid
assumptions about me that everyone else did. They might be Gundam pilots
with all the implied intelligence and skill that carried, but they couldn’t
see through my mask anymore than any one else ever had. Couldn’t look
past what I had been to see what I might become.
Solo would have laughed at me, ‘Yer feelin’ sorry
for yerself, rat-boy.’ He would have jeered. If he hadn’t died…
I remembered the bottle of soda stuffed in my jacket pocket
and fished it out. Unscrewing the cap, I raised the bottle in salute to
the sky and murmured, ‘To the death of feelings.’ And took a
That made me laugh at my own melodrama and I climbed down
from my rock with a rueful shake of my head and started back down the mountain.
I was settled down enough though, that I thought I could make it without
breaking my neck.
I got to town about the same time I got to the bottom of the
bottle of soda and headed toward the gas station, seeing Bill in the bay
with a car up on the rack.
I tossed the empty bottle into the nearest trashcan and waved
at him when he looked up at the noise.
‘Hey Max!’ He hollered and came out to meet me,
wiping his hands on a rag.
‘What’cha working on?’ I asked and let him
lead the way back into the garage.
I had every intention of killing the rest of the day in town
and it might as well be doing this as wandering around aimlessly begging
total strangers to talk to me. At least Bill and I had been formally introduced.
Turned out he was trying to get the engine hauled out of the
Chevy he had pulled into the bay and was delighted when I offered to help.
It’s a job that’s much easier with two people.
So we passed the next couple of hours wrestling with his car
and hollering back and forth at each other over the rock music he had blaring
on the radio.
I had to grin at the ridiculousness of it all; before long
at all, my arms and hands were covered with a half a dozen cuts and skinned
knuckles, I had grease all over the place and was still having a better
time than I’d had all bloody week up at the safe house.
Though Bill would probably not ever pass advanced algebra
or become a rocket scientist, he was an Ok guy. We passed the time talking
about music and sports, school and cars. General guy things. It was pleasant.
When we finally had the engine block hanging from the hoist in the middle
of the garage bay, he slapped my back and we had to laugh at the greasy
mess we had both become.
‘If you want,’ He told me apologetically, ‘There’s
an old shower stall out back. The former owner used to live in the apartment
over the garage and his wife wouldn’t let him come into the house
until he was clean.’
I had to grin, ‘Oh God…real life hot water?’
He laughed, ‘That’s right; you’re ‘roughing
it’ aren’t you?’
I flushed a little, realizing that I must look like he’d
just offered me the Holy Grail and I ducked my head, ‘Yeah…camping
in the great outdoors and bathing in the damn creek.’
He snickered at me, ‘Don’t you just hate cold
‘Worse than anything this side of a frontal lobotomy.’
I groused and he showed me out back without further ado.
It was nothing more than a four foot square, cinder block
stall; open to the evening air, but it looked like heaven.
Bill pointed out a battered bottle of shampoo and a stack
of clean towels, ‘Don’t worry about the hot water; the things
attached to a tank the size of Detroit.’
He went back inside and I turned on the water and quickly
stripped and stepped under the spray. God; this was bliss. I worked the
temperature up until steam was billowing around me and my skin was turning
a faint pink. For a few minutes, I just stood and let the water run over
me, closing my eyes and grinning like a damn loon into the fading evening
With a regretful sigh, I opened my eyes and got to work getting
clean. I unbraided my hair and quickly washed it and then scrubbed the grease
and sweat off with the bar of harsh soap I found in the soup dish. Lady
Opportunity doesn’t knock very often so I took a tiny bit of advantage
and allowed myself an extra five minutes. It was getting dark by the time
I finished and standing outside bare-ass naked, even if it was within the
confines of a five foot high wall, was giving me a naggy feeling of being
watched. I dried and dressed quickly and went back inside to find Bill leafing
through a Hotrod magazine waiting for me. He tossed me the book while he
went and took his turn.
He returned not much quicker than I had, but with the added
advantage of clean clothes.
Now that is was getting dark, I found that the feeling of
standing in the well lit bay with the overhead doors standing wide open
left me with that itchy ‘I’m exposed’ feeling and I asked
him if the general store was still open.
He glanced down at his watch and frowned, ‘Paige should
have been here by now; she closed at six.’ He observed and a familiar
giggle came to us from outside.
‘I’ve been here for ten minutes.’ Paige
laughed and came wandering into the garage.
‘Then what in the hell where you doing?’ Bill
asked her with a confused grin.
‘Taking full advantage of watching two cute guys showering.’
She replied blandly and I wasn’t sure which one of the two of us was
going to choke to death first.
‘Paige!’ My fellow mechanic yelped, his face turning
a dark purple, ‘Knock it off!’
I was at a total loss as to just what kind of relationship
these two had. But I decided that Paige’s flirting must be pretty
harmless for her to engage in it with both of us at the same time. Besides;
she couldn’t possibly have seen anything from where she had been standing.
‘Listen,’ I asked her, as much to change the course
of the conversation as anything, ‘Would you mind letting me back in
the store for a minute so I can get something to eat?’
Her expression went all serious and she frowned at me, ‘What
happened to the big dinner you had planned?’
I ducked my head; I had hoped she’d forgotten about
that, ‘The guys took off and went fishing…’
‘Without you?’ She was instantly indignant on
‘Oh, it’s all right.’ I reassured her quickly,
‘I don’t fish. It was in the plan…I just forgot that it
Her face got all sympathetic, ‘That sucks!’ She
blurted, ‘They shouldn’t have planned anything that the whole
group didn’t like to do!’
I had to laugh at her; she was going to make somebody a killer
over-protective Mommy someday, ‘It’s really all right. I just
completely lost track of the date.’ That ironic lie almost made me
Her face cleared and she grabbed an arm on each of us, ‘Well
then, since you don’t have any plans, you can come with us to dinner!
We were just on our way over to the Johnson’s diner!’
I balked, ‘Uhmmm…Paige…’ I flushed,
doing quick calculations on the tiny amount of personal money I had on me,
‘I can’t afford…’
She snorted at me, ‘Do not be ridiculous; I still owe
you…let’s see…two hundred and…’
Bill interjected a question at that point about the two hundred
seventy dollars, which led Paige to relate the whole ‘he saved my
life!’ story and before I quite knew what was happening, I was sitting
between them at a table in the diner eating pizza.
Listening to them banter back and forth, I eventually figured
out that they were more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend.
They had grown up in this little town together, the only two kids in their
age group and had kind of been forced to learn to get along.
I drank in their stories of childhood and growing up with
families. Paige had an older brother who was going to graduate college this
next year. Bill had a younger sister who was still in grade school. I enjoyed
their company and we laughed together, sharing the pizza and talking until
Mr. Johnson informed us it was time to close.
We left the diner and Bill told us goodbye, thanking me for
my help with the car before heading back to the garage to lock up and head
My path, apparently, coincided with Paige’s, because
she walked with me toward the edge of town.
‘Thanks for dinner.’ I told her and then grinned,
She frowned, ‘Too bad you didn’t get to enjoy
the first one.’
‘Max?’ She glanced up at me and I had a sudden
chill feeling in the pit of my stomach.
‘Yeah?’ I asked and knew I really didn’t
want to hear this question.
She stopped in the middle of the street and turned to face
me with her hands planted on her hips, ‘Well that sounded…enthusiastic.’
I chuckled, ‘Sorry.’
‘Do you like me?’ She blurted.
‘What?’ I yelped, caught by surprise with her
suddenness more than the question. It had kind of been what I was afraid
it would be.
She cocked her head off to the side and looked at me again,
‘You aren’t going to be here long.’ She informed me, ‘I
don’t have time to beat around the bush; do you like me or not?’
I threw back my head and laughed and could only answer her
with the same bluntness, ‘Sweetie…if you were a guy I’d
be all over you in a heartbeat.’
I waited for the uproar. Waited for the shocked gasp, but
all I got was a defeated sigh, ‘God damn cute ones are always gay!’
She growled under her breath and then we both chuckled together.
‘I’m sorry.’ I told her sincerely, ‘I
do like you…I think you’re funny and nice and honest. But, just…’
‘Just…not like that.’ She quirked a grin
up at me.
‘Nope. Not like that.’ I confirmed.
She did that thing where she blew her bangs out of her eyes,
We resumed walking and parted ways not long after. I made
the curve in the road before I waded into the underbrush and started the
climb back up the mountain.
There was a moon, thank God, or I probably would have had
to stick with the road and walk the whole damn eight miles. As it was, it
wasn’t going to be fun.
I made my way; careful and automatically quiet, and almost
wished I could turn around and go back down to town. Every step I took back
toward that safe house was adding a burden to my shoulders until I felt
like I should be bowed under the weight of it.
I listened to the quiet sounds of the woods and felt the bitter
depression seeping back to fill me. About half way up the mountain I decided
that as soon as this assignment was over, I was going to refuse to work
with any of my ‘partners’ again. Shinigami didn’t need
any damn help. I’d worked on my own all this time; I would be better
off working alone again.
I stopped when I came near the place in the creek where I
had bathed that morning and sat on the rock where I’d eaten breakfast.
There was another thing I needed to deal with before going into the house.
‘Finally decide to stop ignoring me?’ The breath
of a sigh of wind brought the words of my ghost to me across the years.
‘Yeah, Solo…should have know you wouldn’t
leave me alone tonight of all nights.’ I sighed; if I closed my eyes
I could almost see him in front of me. Standing with that fall of blond
hair blowing around his face, that ever-present blue headband holding it
out of his eyes.
‘Guy needs a little respect on the day he up and died.’
He grinned at me.
‘Sorry.’ I murmured and resisted the urge to reach
out; I knew he wasn’t really there.
He grunted and smirked at me, ‘Took you damn long enough
to come talk to me.’
‘Had a little trouble with it this year.’ I told
him and turned my face toward the moon.
‘You Ok rat-boy?’ In my head he turned to look
at the moon with me.
‘I’ll be…all right.’ I sighed and
grinned despite myself, ‘Thanks for giving enough of a shit to ask.’
He just cocked his head.
‘So…’ I inquired softly, ‘How long
do we have?’
He didn’t answer me for a minute and I knew he was…would
have been wrestling with telling me, ‘Can’t we just talk?’
He asked at length.
‘Since I’m really just talking to myself…no;
that seems kinda…nuts.’
He snorted then, ‘No damn respect. I dunno…maybe
another five minutes?’
‘You’d think you could pin down the time of your
own death a little closer than that.’ I smirked.
‘Take it or leave it, rat-boy.’ He growled and
I had to remind myself to keep my eyes closed so as not to lose sight of
I reached down and pulled my pants leg up and unsheathed my
‘I really miss you, King-rat.’ I murmured.
His eyes would have followed the knife as I laid it in my
lap and rolled my sleeve up.
He growled softly, ‘I really hate this part.’
He told me, ‘Can’t we just skip this, kid?’
‘Nope.’ I told him, ‘It’s been another
‘It wasn’t your damn fault.’ He said and
moved to turn away, ‘You saved the others…nothin’ you
could do fer me.’
I took hold of the heavy blade like it was a pencil and brought
it to the back of my arm, ‘I let you die, Solo.’
‘An’ now you gotta make that damn mark…another
year…another scar.’ His voice was tight.
‘I won’t forget.’ I promised him again,
as I had every year since the night he’d died. I slid the blade across
my skin and made the cut. Nothing much, nothing spectacular…just enough
so that it would leave a fine, white scar. There were nine of them now,
all in a row running down my forearm. I kept my back to him until I could
close my eyes again.
‘It’s done.’ I sighed, ‘You can turn
‘You didn’t forget.’ He told me and his
voice was getting fainter already.
‘You know…’ I said on a sudden inspiration,
‘Duo is really only nine years old…He wasn’t born until
‘Guess that makes it your birthday.’ He smirked
at me just before he faded.
It was my turn to snort. I opened my eyes to an empty clearing.
‘God I miss you, old friend.’ I murmured to the
empty air and couldn’t stop my hand from reaching out toward the place
he hadn’t ever been. I closed my eyes for a second, hoping he would
come back and touch my hand. I so needed someone to touch me. But he didn’t…he
never did, ‘See you next year.’
I wiped my blade clean and put it away and just sat for a
minute more, blinking up at the moon. It was brighter than I’d thought,
because it was making my eyes water.
Then there was the sudden feeling of being watched. I froze,
every one of my senses suddenly awake. That place between my shoulder blades
was screaming for me to run, but there was something about the presence
that seemed familiar and I finally caught the scent on the breeze.
‘Come out, Heero.’ I growled and didn’t
bother turning toward him. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure just where
It took him a moment to decide, maybe he thought I was just
fishing and wasn’t really sure he was there, but finally he stirred.
I still didn’t hear him, but caught a movement out of the corner of
my eye. I did turn toward him then.
‘What do you want?’ I asked and felt the ice coming
into my voice. I just wished I could let that ice fill my heart.
He didn’t speak immediately, but came a little closer,
stopping in front of me, ‘What are you doing out here?’ He asked
and his voice was…strange.
‘We are not currently on a mission. What I do in my
spare time is pretty much my own damn business.’ I fervently wished
I knew how long he’d been watching me and just what all he had seen.
I felt off balance and every defense I owned was in full ‘holy shit’
He chewed on that, which further threw me; I had been expecting
an instantaneous verbal attack.
‘What do you want?’ I asked again when he didn’t
‘I…’ He hesitated and for a tiny, split
second I saw a touch of confusion in his eyes. But I suddenly knew what
he was doing out here.
‘You followed me because you didn’t trust me not
to compromise the mission.’ I said flatly and could tell when he flinched
that I’d hit it right on the head.
‘You…’ He still seemed to be struggling
not to let this turn into a yelling match, ‘were in an agitated state
when you left the house.’
I laughed out loud, ‘Agitated.’ I repeated and
had to look away from the sullen expression on his face, ‘Agitated.’
I said again and chuckled a little more.
‘I am not sure that you are in any condition…’
he began and I rose angrily from my rock, suddenly awash with bitter emotion.
‘You caught me on a bad day, Mr. Perfect-fucking-everything
Yuy.’ I snarled and knew he’d finally pushed me too damn far,
I tried to put a lid on my mouth but it was a little too late for that,
‘It’s the anniversary of the death of the only friend I ever
had. I spend a little time alone with his ghost every year at this time.
I don’t remember inviting you to the reunion. I have done nothing…fucking
nothing to compromise you or any of the others. I am sick to death of you
hounding my every move; questioning my every decision. I have given you
no reason to doubt my abilities and I want to know what your God damn problem
with me is!’
I was panting. I was in his face. I was really sorry and pretty
sure I was about to die.
He just stood for a minute and stared at me. I figured he
was going to deck me any minute. I stood my ground, not because I thought
I had a chance against him, but because I just don’t back down from
much of anything once I’ve committed myself.
‘I…apologize.’ He said softly and I’m
fairly certain my jaw popped when my mouth fell open. I tried to say something,
but nothing came out. He took advantage of the opening.
‘We…discussed the incident over the supplies and
you are right; we didn’t give you a chance to explain before we jumped
I was the one who ended up breaking eye contact first, ‘Well…uhmmm.’
I said intelligently, ‘I…uhhh…accepted.’ I finally
managed to choke out.
There might have been a small sound of amusement from him,
but I wouldn’t swear to it. My world was off its damn axis again.
Heero Yuy just apologized to me? I wanted to ask him to repeat it…just
to be sure. This must be his un-evil twin. Next he’d be asking me
if I was all right.
‘We…waited to eat supper.’ He said very
quietly and I think I choked.
I whirled around and looked at him and had to bite down on
the urge to accuse him of being an imposter.
‘What?’ I said stupidly.
The irritation came back to his face a little bit and he said,
‘It didn’t seem…right to eat what you had provided for
us.’ He ground out and I finally had to accept the fact that this
really was Heero.
‘I suppose we should head back to the house then.’
I said very quietly.
We turned and walked back up the path side by side and I decided
that I would not speak again, just so as not to break the spell.
It was a hell of a long way from bosom buddies, but it was
a damn sight better than what I’d had this morning.
All I could do was hope the spell held.
On to Chapter Two:Evasions
Fiction : GW :