Duo Maxwell’s Awful, Bad Day
Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, OOC, language, and a couple of
OCs, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading and Aya for encouragement. (Oh; and apologies
Congratulations to Lev on her two-year anniversary!
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
Mechanic. Before you ask, that’s what I ended up doing.
Sounds pretty boring after owning my own ship and traveling all over the
solar system, doesn’t it? Well, it might have been a little more…
unbearable, if the job hadn’t been with the Preventors.
It was another one of those things that just kind of happened
without my making any real conscious effort to pursue it. One day I was
teetering on the edges of a nervous breakdown and the next I had a full
time job working on the fleet of vehicles used by the network of Preventor
agents. I still woke up in the morning sometimes expecting to find that
it had all been some sort of surreal dream. But no, I had the closet full
of polo shirts and coveralls with that six-sided, brown and gray emblem
over the left breast to prove it.
I was having one of those mornings. Heero had left early to
make some appointment with Wufei; an interview with a high-ranking government
official concerning the case they were currently working on. The guy apparently
had a schedule that read like the Earth-sphere Who’s Who of noteworthy
people. He had insisted that if they wanted a piece of his oh-so-important
time, they had to join him on his morning jog, which he did at five a.m.,
on the other side of town. I had little doubt that my highly irritated lover
and his equally irritated partner would run the guy’s ass into the
ground by way of payback, despite the half hour lecture I had given Heero
about not over-doing it.
He hadn’t been back on the active duty roster for all
that long, since being shot on the job, I hadn’t been happy about
him accepting this asshole’s terms. I felt like the moron could just
damn well make time for them in his busy schedule or they could haul his
ass downtown for questioning. Of course, that attitude of mine is probably
part of why I’m a mechanic and not an agent. Go figure.
Anyway, Heero’s early departure had left me without
a ride to work and needing to catch the seven o’clock bus. So, of
course, with this deadline looming over me, everything that could go wrong
seemed to be doing so. The first shirt I grabbed out of the closet was missing
a button, and I didn’t notice it until I was already dressed and in
the bathroom doing my hair. I changed shirts and went back to finish my
hair and the first hair-tie I grabbed snapped as I was wrapping it around
the end of my braid. I discovered as I was running through the kitchen,
that the last minute, on-the-run breakfast of a ration bar that I had been
planning, was a bust because I had run out. I didn’t have time to
fix anything else and dashed out the door without, having to run the whole
two blocks to the bus stop and almost missing it anyway.
I threw myself into an empty seat with a sigh and just prayed
that the rest of the day wasn’t going to be in the same vein. I’m
a mechanic now; I work on some big-ass equipment. If this morning followed
me to work, I could conceivably kill myself in a variety of messy ways.
I settled myself into my seat and turned my attention to watching
the houses go by. I really hate having to take the bus to work; it only
takes twenty minutes when Heero drives, but the bus ride is a good forty-five
minutes. The bus wasn’t even half full, for which I was grateful;
I don’t like to share my seat.
It truly does amaze me, when I let myself think about it too
hard, that I have come full circle back to this world I find myself in.
With all the people I fought in the war with - the guys, Sally, Noin, Zechs,
even Une. I had run from this as fast as I could run all those years ago;
had tucked my tail firmly between my legs and taken off for parts unknown.
It… frightened me a little bit, when I let myself dwell on it; like
some fated thing that I couldn’t escape. But I wasn’t an agent.
I wasn’t really a Preventor. I was just a damn mechanic. I reminded
myself of that every morning as I pulled on the clothes with that emblem
on them. I do not carry a gun. I will not carry a gun. I’m just a
Not a Preventor. Not an agent. Not a pilot or a salvage man.
Only a mechanic. Mechanics do not have to shoot at people; mechanics do
not have to make split-second decisions that could result in a lot of people
being dead. That was how I wanted it. I sometimes wondered how Heero and
Wufei did it. And sometimes… when I let myself really think about
it, I had to wonder why.
A mechanic. I still had a little trouble with that…
when filling out forms, not writing ‘pilot’ on the line that
said ‘employment’. It had been one hell of a major life change.
But a month and a half since the sale of my ship had gone through, and I
was a little more able to face that thought.
Did you catch that? ‘My ship’? I can say it with
out gagging now… aren’t you proud? I tried a little of that
therapy that Wufei and Heero had wanted me so desperately to go into, and
you want to know what the lady said? That I was the most grounded person
she had ever met. That I knew the inside of my own head forward and backward
and there really wasn’t much she could do for me. She had been expecting,
from the reports, to be dealing with someone in total denial, who needed
help facing his phobias and inner demons. She had actually chuckled at Heero’s
concerns and told him that some things just took time; that she couldn’t
help me face things that I had already embraced with both hands. I didn’t
even have to do the inkblot thing; I was actually kind of disappointed.
I had probably only had a dozen sessions with her and she
had been kind of helpful in giving me some insight into dealing with my
occasional anxiety attacks. I had realized as she had taught me the breathing
techniques and the methods of focusing inward on my own heartbeat…
that the whole thing seemed damned familiar. It finally came to me one afternoon,
as I was leaving her office, that it reminded me of what Trowa had done
for me that day I’d thought Captain Camden had taken up residence
in my closet. That made me think really hard about just where Trowa had
learned it. I suppose, with the guy’s ‘truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth’ vow of total honesty, that I’d find
out one of these days. If I ever got up the nerve to ask. But, as for therapy…
Dr. Webster hadn’t been able to do a hell of a lot else for me, beyond
lecturing me about hiding things and not speaking up when I’d had
I did not, of course, try to explain about thought-hamsters,
or that guilt was a thing with teeth, nor did I show her any of my more…
personal artwork; though she’d had an interesting idea when she found
out I could draw, about my making a portrait of what I thought the spirit
of my ‘Demon’ looked like. I told her I’d think about
it. But, you know? Since I kind of considered my Demon-girl to be…
dead, that just seemed kind of… morbid.
Anyway, eight and a half months since the accident and I was
finally free from physical therapy, though I still had to keep up with some
of the exercises on my own. I’d done a short stint in that…
other kind of therapy and been able to gleefully inform the guys that I
was not crazy, with the backing of a professional. I’d gotten a job,
even if it wasn’t exactly what I would have chosen for myself, but
it allowed me to send money off to L2 on a fairly regular basis, which helped
my sense of self-worth more than just about any of the rest of it. All in
all, I felt I was doing a lot better. I hadn’t had a nightmare in
weeks and weeks.
And I don’t want to hear about the fact that I measure
all passage of time from the accident. I know that. I don’t care.
It will always loom in my mind as a rather major event. In my youth, I measured
everything from the burning of the church. Now that I am older, I have a
new reference point. Get over it, it’s human nature. I have the backing
of a professional psychologist that says so.
If there was anything in my life right now that wasn’t
going so well, I suppose it was Wufei’s and my search for Captain
Camden’s wife Anna. That little self-imposed quest, to find the woman
and give her the dubious gift of her husband’s last, dying words,
was not going all that peachy keen. It was as though the woman had dropped
off the face of the planet after the war. We were far from giving up, but
the search had kind of taken a back seat to life and that nagged at me a
little bit. Sometimes I imagined the half visage of the dead Captain Camden
glaring at me unhappily in the dark of the night.
I’m not saying I was giddily happy all the time. I still
had my darker moments, still sometimes found myself thinking about my ship
and my old life with a sharp pang of loss… but it wasn’t sitting
on my shoulder twenty-four hours a day any more. I could sometimes go several
days without something slapping me in the face and reminding me of everything
I had let go of. But I was learning to just keep moving until the moment
passed. Hey, I got through the last pilot’s dinner without a single,
solitary dramatic scene and I didn’t even throw up… how’s
that for improvement?
There were just days sometimes that seemed to wear me down
until all I wanted was to go home and go back to bed. The day I’m
talking about here…? It would fall in that category.
I was rather surprised to come up out of my brooding and realize
that the bus was already coming into the heavier traffic of downtown, and
that I’d been sitting there wool gathering for over a half an hour.
I shook my head and made a conscious effort to look around; trying not to
let myself sink any further into the vague depression that I knew lurked
behind every corner on days like this. There were a few more fellow passengers
than there had been the last time I looked, and I realized that I had daydreamed
right through several stops. I grinned at myself rather ruefully, imagining
the lecture I would have gotten from Heero about inattention to my surroundings.
But, you know? I hadn’t had quite the problem that he had, adjusting
to a civilian’s thinking. I didn’t still look for enemies at
every turn. I wondered sometimes if Heero hadn’t joined the Preventors,
if he might not have quite so much of the soldier still in him.
I smiled distractedly at a guy who made eye contact almost
by accident, and he returned the tentative smile and looked away, going
back to a book in his lap. There was an older guy sitting behind him who
had dozed off and I wondered if he was one of those who could wake himself
up before his stop, or if he would end up being supremely surprised to find
himself very far from where he was supposed to be, later on. There was a
lady in front of me who looked to be balancing her checkbook and a woman
in the seat opposite me who seemed to be going over a shopping list. I sighed,
thinking that I should have brought something with me to do, but I didn’t
make this ride every day like most of these people did. I hadn’t thought
about it. It was a non-issue when I rode to work with Heero.
I looked out the window as the buildings flashed by and thought
about how odd it was that a person who used to think of travel in terms
of velocity and lift, could actually feel that this felt fast. I almost
laughed; we were probably going fifty miles an hour; what the hell was that
in comparison to breaking through the atmosphere? My, how the times do change.
Something killed that amused thought suddenly, nagging at
me that something was wrong. I looked around me with a little more attention.
My instincts were telling me that something wasn’t quite right. Some
inner sense was tingling warmly and telling me there was something here
to be concerned with. I scanned the other passengers quickly and found nothing
amiss. Nobody was even looking at me. I turned my attention back outside
and saw it fairly quickly: a car that was drifting erratically in a lane
just two over from the bus. Once I saw it, I zeroed in on it closer and
realized the guy at the wheel had some major problems. Drunk? Maybe…
though it was kind of early in the day. Heart attack? Possibly… I
couldn’t see the driver well enough to take a guess at his age. Falling
asleep at the wheel? Another possibility… though you would have thought
that would have been an ‘all of a sudden’ thing, unless the
guy was an idiot too and was going to continue trying to drive and just
fight sleep at the same time.
‘Hey,’ I said to nobody in particular, watching
that car with the narrowed vision of a man who used to pilot a fighter.
Seeing it as a threat and reflex making me want to blow it out of the sky.
Except I didn’t have the means, it wasn’t a Leo, and we were
hardly in the air or in a dogfight.
The car veered rather sharply and a van in the far outside
lane slammed on his breaks to avoid a collision. The ‘target’
vehicle lurched back into his own lane. I found my hands wanting to tighten
on control grips that weren’t there, and I suddenly knew the one naggy
little reason that made public transit a bad idea; you have no damn control.
‘Hey!’ I said a little louder and got the attention
of several of the other passengers. The little red car began to creep the
other way now, coming closer to the truck that was between it and the bus.
‘Driver! On your left!’ I yelled and had everybody’s attention,
but it was really a moot damn point and a little too late. There wasn’t
exactly anywhere for the bus driver to go and the red car wasn’t righting
itself this time.
Some calm, distanced part of my mind was calculating trajectories
and speed, and making snide little estimations about the likelihood that
this wasn’t going to end up being one of those nasty little rush hour
‘Brace for impact!’ I shouted and watched helplessly
as the car bumped the truck, then suddenly shot forward, trying to avoid
the collision. The pickup truck driver slammed on his brakes but not before
he was nudged into the side of the bus. There was the sound of metal on
metal and a couple of people behind me screamed. The whole bus wobbled.
I did my best to keep my eyes on the red car and watched it accelerate wildly,
trying to get the hell out of the mess he’d just made. But the impact
with the truck had cost him some of the little control he’d had left
and all he succeeded in doing was running right straight into the path of
the bus. Kind of sideways. Shit.
I was braced hard between my seat and the one in front of
me, arms and legs spread wide for maximum leverage. I had a split second
to register the other passengers, most of them reacting way too damn slow.
The napping man surprised me, being wide awake now and braced better than
anyone else I could see, barring myself. I tagged him for a fellow former
soldier and that was the last thought I had time for, before the bus turned
the little red sports car into something that closely resembled a dog’s
chew toy. No one would probably ever know what in the hell happened to the
driver to cause him to veer in the first place.
‘Holdonholdonholdon!’ the driver was shrieking
but he was barely making himself heard over the screaming of his passengers.
You don’t hit something the size of a car at fifty miles
an hour and recover control, not in something the size of a city bus. It
shuddered and screamed like a thing alive, the rear end impacting with something
on our right, the front of the bus rising as it tried to climb over what
was left of the sports car, and then… it started to tip up. It got
kind of confusing after that, and I was washed back to the war years with
a jolt. Memories of firefights and tumbling mobile suits flashed in my mind,
and I wished fervently for that old safety harness. I wished for my own
hands on the controls. I wished for a bottle of aspirin because I had a
feeling I was really gonna need it in a minute.
Then it was just holding on like riding in the rodeo, while
the bus bucked and kicked and tried to throw us all off. We went over and
the woman in the seat opposite me was suddenly falling toward me, because
I had become ‘down’. I was forced to let go with one arm and
catch her to keep from getting completely creamed by her flailing limbs.
She latched onto me like a lifeline and I just did my best to keep us both
in place. I had a feeling she’d forgotten all about her shopping list.
It was one of those things that happened so fast I couldn’t
really have described it… but while it was going on, seemed to last
an eternity. I thought the damn bus would never stop bucking and jerking,
thought the yelling and screaming would never stop. I was sure that the
damn thing would slide on its side for a mile. There was the distant sound
of blowing horns and screeching brakes.
And then it was over. At least that part of it, though I knew
damn well we were a long way from done. Up was left and right was up and
there was a hysterical woman clinging to my arm and sobbing brokenly. I
saw nap-guy first, because he was suspended above me in the next row up,
having managed to keep himself from falling on check-book lady.
‘Status!’ I croaked out, falling back on ages
old training, and then almost burst out laughing, remembering that there
wasn’t a war on.
‘Clear!’ nap-guy responded automatically. He and
I made sudden eye contact and I saw that same chagrined look on his face.
We were both a long way from the battlefield, but some habits just died
a hard death. He flashed me a sheepish grin and began to climb down from
his precarious perch.
‘Lady, are you all right?’ I asked the woman who
seemed to think I was her own personal teddy bear all of a sudden.
She just blinked at me for a minute before blurting out. ‘I
I looked her over and didn’t see anything wrong, so
I began trying to pry her off. ‘Here… let me up so I can check
things out.’ I convinced her to let go of my shirt and started trying
to crawl out from under her. ‘Watch the glass here lady,’ I
muttered and had to turn her so her feet were toward what had been my window
just a minute or two ago. She crouched there and I crawled up to check the
rest of the bus.
‘Anybody hurt?’ I called and got such a chorus
of wails and sobs that I just sighed and decided I’d have to deal
with that in a minute. It was all very disconcerting with what should have
been the ceiling being on my left hand, and having a narrow ‘aisle’
to walk through, in what should have been above the seats. Glass crunched
underfoot with every move I made.
‘Hey soldier-boy,’ nap-guy said and I turned to
find him by the driver who was hanging limply in his seat belt. ‘Know
much about first-aid?’
I climbed up and made my way to his side over the seats. ‘Some,’
I muttered, but when I got there it didn’t take long to determine
that the driver was pretty much beyond aid of any kind.
Nap-guy was getting his first good look at me, and obviously
not liking what he saw, but I didn’t have the time to do the whole
song and dance with the guy. He was middle-aged and had assumed when he
had realized that I was another ex-soldier that I was his age or at least
a hell of a lot closer to it.
‘They drafted us a lot younger in the colonies,’
I growled, to forestall any lengthy conversations I wasn’t in the
mood for. ‘See if you can get that door open… he’s beyond
He grunted at me in some small surprise and I noticed him
glance at the logo on my shirt. That got me a funny little appraising look
and I didn’t bother to explain to him that I worked in the motor pool.
He turned to wrestle with the door control and got nowhere. He was a hell
of a lot bigger than I was, and I had no doubt that if he couldn’t
get it, I wasn’t going to have any better luck.
Some guy in back suddenly called out, ‘There’s
a truck against the back of the bus… I can’t get the emergency
This news was greeted with a couple of unhappy cries and I
cut across it before that could get started. ‘Calm down, we’ll
just go out through the windows.’
The guy that had been reading in the seat in front of nap-guy
climbed up and tried the nearest one and quickly reported in a voice rising
with the first stirrings of panic, ‘It’s jammed… I can’t
That garnered a couple of screams.
‘Don’t panic!’ I snapped and wished I could
just smack a couple of these guys around. Let’s just yell encouraging
news all over the damn bus, why don’t we?
I climbed up beside book-boy and give it a try myself. The
window gave slightly, but the frame of the damn bus was in enough of a bind
that it wouldn’t open more than an inch. I growled at it, but it wasn’t
I glanced around and decided that my soldier buddy was probably
the tallest person in the bus. ‘Hey,’ I beckoned to him,‘can
you brace me?’
He looked the situation over and I saw him figure out what
I had in mind almost instantly. It was actually a fairly standard technique…
if you’d been in the military.
He climbed around to get below where I was wedged in the ‘up’
seats, helped the shopping-lady get out of the way, then planted himself
firmly below me. I let myself down, upside down until we were braced shoulder
to shoulder; me using his body to give myself the leverage I needed and
then I kicked upward for all I was worth.
Glass and the metal window frame showered down all around
us and there was a ragged cheer from the back of the bus.
Soldier-boy helped me get turned around and back on my feet,
and we brushed glass off each other. He grinned at me, deciding maybe I
wasn’t just playing at this after all. ‘Sam,’ he told
‘Duo,’ I replied and quirked him a grin. ‘Push
He laughed out right, looking me over. ‘Pull…
I think I probably got a little upper body strength on you.’
I snorted and moved out of his way while he climbed up and
out through the window.
I needed a little room to work, so I went ahead and passed
the shopping-lady up to him first and we got another one of those ragged
In the distance, I heard the sound of approaching sirens.
Somebody muttered something that sounded like, ‘about damn time.’
But come on; it hadn’t really been all that damn long. I decided to
just let the crack go.
I looked the ragged little group over. ‘Ok people…
where’s the wounded?’ I cringed. Injured. Where’s the
injured. I’d be asking for C4 and an evac-chopper next.
A guy with blood on his forehead stood up and called, ‘There’s
a lady back here who’s unconscious.’
I frowned. ‘Leave her for now… she might have
back injuries. We’ll wait for the professionals.’
A couple of guys helped a young girl forward then. She had
an obviously broken arm, was crying softly and didn’t look so damn
good. I met them halfway and helped her make the climb to the right seat
to reach the exit. ‘Broken arms suck,’ I murmured to her, ‘but
you can count on at least five or six weeks of not having to do the dishes.’
She gave me a watery little smile through the tears and I
turned my attention up to Sam. ‘Right arm!’ I yelled out and
saw him nod. I passed her up and he pulled her out. I glanced around and
beckoned to book-boy.
‘Come here, kid.’ He blinked at me for a minute,
caught between wanting the hell out of there and feeling funny about going
before some of the other wounded. Injured, damn it… injured. I sighed.
‘I need somebody else in one piece up topside to help Sam.’
He didn’t argue with me further and I boosted him out.
It started to go a little faster, with someone else to help
pull people up, and I was beginning to think that we’d all be out
and sitting on the sidewalk by the time the cops got there. I should have
known better… it had been one of those kinds of days.
‘Fire!’ somebody screamed and I turned to look
where they were pointing to see that the damn red sports car, permanently
mated to what was left of the front of the bus, had burst into flame.
‘Shit!’ I looked up imploringly at Sam. ‘Get
me another hole!’ I barked, and he nodded and moved to comply. ‘Watch
your heads back there!’ I bellowed over the yells and screams, then
turned my attention back to passing checkbook-lady up to book-boy…
except book-boy was gone. I cursed resoundingly for a moment, then there
was suddenly a new face above me, and a blue-clad arm was pulling checkbook-girl
out through the window like she was a rag doll.
The cops were there.
I flashed the guy a grin and turned to grab the next pair
of hands reaching for me, lifting some young kid up until he was within
reach of my new savior.
The guy was freakin’ huge, the up side to that being
that people were being jerked out of the bus like they were puppies. The
downside being that there was no way in hell he could fit through that window
to get down here and help me.
I divided my attention between watching the group at the back
of the bus climb out the second exit that Sam had made, boosting people
out myself, and the fire that was starting to creep around the front end
of the bus. It was starting to get smoky.
Then tall, dark and blue was screaming for all the civilians
to get the hell off the bus… now! And I knew I was running out of
time. I cupped my hands and boosted the last man up, feeling like my shoulders
were going to come right out of their sockets.
‘Come on, kid… get the hell out of there!’
the cop was yelling at me and I had to ignore him.
‘Got wounded!’ I barked and went hunting for the
unconscious woman that I had meant to leave for the professionals. No damn
time for that now.
I found her in the second seat from the back. It looked like
someone had tried to make her comfortable on a bundle of coats, or maybe
she’d just fallen that way. I would have cursed the idiot for moving
her if it hadn’t been a pretty damn moot point now.
My buddy up top side was still with me, thank God, and had
moved down to the second opening so I didn’t have to work my way clear
back to the front of the bus.
‘Hurry the hell up!’ he was screaming at me and
I gave up trying to be gentle with the poor woman and just shoved her limp
body upward, hoping like hell that I wasn’t doing any damage to her.
It was getting hard to see and I suddenly realized that it was getting damn
hot, too. Then the woman’s weight was suddenly gone from my arms and
I scrambled up after her, sliding off the bus and following my blue angel
to the ground. We ran like hell.
There was the sound of exultant cheering and we were quickly
surrounded by a crowd of former bus passengers. Somebody clapped me on the
back and I glanced up to grin at Sam.
‘Well,’ he drawled, ‘that’ll sure
as hell get your blood pumping first thing in the morning.’
I had to laugh, though it seemed fairly out of place in the
huddled group of sobbing accident victims.
The cop was carefully laying the unconscious woman out on
the ground and I moved to go stand by them, surprised to see the woman stir.
‘Damn,’ somebody muttered. ‘Look at the
I heard more sirens, but they seemed awfully far away. I looked
back at the bus and the whole front half was in flames. I felt a pang for
the family of the bus driver… I’d had to leave the body.
‘W…where… where’s my baby?’
I whirled around to see who in the hell had spoken and almost
threw up on the damn sidewalk. The woman was awake, eyes wide as saucers
and staring wildly around. Her voice was rising as she started to take in
the situation. ‘Missy? Where’s my daughter? Where’s my
There hadn’t been any kids leave that bus. I was sure
of that. I’d left a kid on the bus?
I whirled back around and headed for the street, but something
stopped me cold, bringing me up so sharply I almost fell. I jerked rather
ineffectively at what felt like a damn steel band and turned to find the
cop with his hand on my upper arm.
‘You can’t go back in there,’ he snapped.
‘Leave it to us!’
‘You can’t fit!’ I yelled back and saw a
certain amount of pain flash in the big man’s eyes, but he wouldn’t
let go. I started to panic. I could hear the mother starting to scream.
I saw some of the other passengers trying to comfort her. I stopped tugging
to get free. ‘Is that your partner?’ I blurted. ‘He’s
small enough… he’ll fit!’
The cop bought it, whirling to see which of his buddies had
finally gotten there to back him up and I broke free and ran like hell.
There was an outraged bellow behind me and I heard him coming hard on my
heels, but I’m nothing if not agile and I swarmed up the under carriage
of that bus like a damn monkey.
It was hot. Damn, it was hot. I could feel it even with my
half numb fingers and I just did my best not to touch metal once I had dropped
through the smashed out window. The inside of the bus was a nightmare of
heat and smoke, and I despaired that I could freakin’ find a damn
elephant in there. Then I remembered the pile of coats the woman had been
lying on top of and realized what had to be under those coats.
I scrambled like I haven’t scrambled in a long damn
Behind me I heard a string of swear words that would have
made a longshoreman proud. I tried to pull my polo shirt up over my nose
and mouth as my fingers were digging through the pile of coats. Nothing.
One of my little thought hamsters appeared long enough to
smack me up the side of the head with a banner that said ‘RUN!’
But he couldn’t take the heat and vanished with a tiny little pop.
Not leaving a kid. Not leaving a kid. Not on my damn watch.
Not gonna happen.
No way… no how… not leaving without a little kid…
Behind me, the cursing resolved itself into something that
I think was only ‘get the hell out of there!’ But was said so
fast it was coming out almost as a single word.
I might have screamed, ‘No!’ I might have told
him to run. I don’t really know, I didn’t have my little hamsters
to supply me with lines, after all.
Then I heard a tiny little cough and almost shouted out loud.
I found her by touch, because I couldn’t see a damn thing. She was
hiding in the very back corner of the bus behind the seat.
‘Come on, honey,’ I soothed as I grabbed hold
of her like I was picking up a puppy and hauled her out. ‘Your momma’s
My braid was dangling down as I pulled her up and she grabbed
hold of it with both hands like it was a lifeline. Then I moved like my
ass was on fire, because it damn near was.
‘Go!’ I shouted, getting a lung full of smoke
for my trouble. ‘I got her! Go! Go! Go!’
The kid didn’t feel like she was more than about five
or six and was clinging to me like one of those baby monkeys you see in
the documentaries. I was scrabbling around like a madman, frantic to get
back out that tiny little opening and for a second I was afraid I wasn’t
going to find it in the smoke.
‘Here!’ my angel bellowed and I followed his voice,
my fingers finally finding open air instead of glass. Something grabbed
my wrist and just damn well pulled. I thought he was going to rip my arm
out of its socket jerking us up out of there. He didn’t even set me
down, but just kept the momentum and swung me off the side of the bus and
dropped me. The impact took me down to one knee and I was barely back on
my feet before I heard him hit the ground beside me.
‘Run, you God damn son of a bitch!’ he was roaring
at me and I didn’t have to be told twice. Hell… I didn’t
really have to be told the first time.
We ran, and for a big guy, he was damn fast. Or maybe it was
me having the little girl wrapped around me like a boa constrictor, but
he actually got a couple of paces ahead of me. All three of us were coughing
fit to bring up a lung.
Then the bus blew. Or the pickup truck, or fucking something.
It got damn confusing for a couple of minutes. I went down hard and did
my best to keep from crushing the little girl. There was a moment when I
couldn’t seem to breathe. There was a lot of yelling. A lot of screaming.
Something ripped the kid out of my arms and I scrabbled after her, but hands
were pinning me down and all of a sudden I thought somebody was trying to
smother me. What the hell? I think I fought.
‘Hold the hell still soldier-boy!’ Sam was yelling
at me and things slowly started to make sense. I stopped fighting them and
let them finish putting my back out.
When things stopped seeming so frantic, I dared raise my head.
Missy was in her mother’s arms, and people were huddling around them.
Other people were staring down at me, and the rest of the police department
seemed to have arrived.
I turned my gaze to Sam, because the blue angel just seemed
to be pissed off at me no end. ‘Am I out?’ I grinned, and Sam
threw his head back and laughed out right.
‘Yeah, you cocky little asshole,’ he chortled.
‘You seem to be out.’
‘Can I get up now?’ I asked pleasantly, since
they seemed to be holding me down and I got another chuckle from Sam. The
cop still seemed to be glaring daggers at me.
‘Sure thing, kid,’ the big guy grinned and reached
to give me a hand up.
‘Good,’ I muttered, ‘because I am so late
‘You sit the hell still until the medics take a look
at you,’ the cop growled menacingly and I froze with my wrist locked
with Sam’s, deciding that maybe I should stop pushing my luck with
Sam shrugged and let go, stood to move off, hesitated for
a second and then squatted back down beside me. He stuck his hand out, shaking
mine firmly when I reached to take it. ‘I got a feeling we weren’t
on the same side in the war kid, but… well… it was nice meetin’
Then he made his way over to the crowd of people clustered
around Missy and her Mom. I grinned after him for a second before turning
my attention to the big, glaring man in blue next to me.
‘Uhmmm…’ I muttered, trying to look apologetic.
‘Sorry about that, man.’ I shrugged and stuck my hand out. ‘I
just have this thing about little kids.’
He vented an exasperated sigh and took my hand in his massive
one. I felt like a freakin’ dwarf.
‘Duo Maxwell,’ I said with a grin that I tried
to tone down just a little. I couldn’t help grinning like an asshole…
I was still alive, after all.
His irritation seemed to be bleeding away and he gave me a
rueful shake of his head. ‘Clint Jones.’
‘Thanks for sticking with me,’ I told him and
thought he might just smack me in the back of the head.
He made me sit until the medics got around to me, and I had
to admit that my back was a little sore. I had apparently been hit with
a piece of flying debris that had set my damn shirt on fire. It had been
Sam and Clint who had put it out almost before it’d had a chance to
The medic declared my back no worse than a bad sunburn, but
my shirt a total loss, and moved on to the next person.
The place was swarming with emergency personnel by then and
Clint didn’t seem to be needed, so he had stayed by me. Almost as
though he were afraid of what other trouble I might get myself into if he
left me alone. He had killed the time waiting for the medics by taking my
statement about how the accident had happened, and took my address and contact
information in case they had any questions later.
‘So,’ I grinned at him when the medic was done,
‘am I free to go, Officer?’
He snorted at me, shaking his head again; he seemed to find
me terribly amusing for some damn reason, now that he didn’t look
like he wanted to throttle me. He stood and stretched his hand down to help
me to my feet, pulling me up until I was standing there looking at his…
breastbone. Damn, but I felt short. He jerked his head toward where his
cruiser was parked and beckoned me to walk there with him. I followed, somewhat
shakily, starting to feel sore muscles and tiny aches and pains just freakin’
everywhere. But I was intrigued all the same, and was a little surprised
when he opened the trunk of his car and fished around in a sack until he
came up with a t-shirt. ‘Here,’ he said gruffly. ‘My kid
out grew it and it was on its way to Good Will. Should fit you.’
I held it up and marveled at the size, quirking an eyebrow
at him. ‘Your kid… got his size from your side of the family?’
I quipped and this oddly wicked grin came over him.
‘Nah,’ he said, totally deadpan. ‘You should
see my wife.’
I laughed, delighted, and put the thing on. It was probably
two sizes too big, but was going to beat the hell out of arriving at Preventor’s
headquarters shirtless. Even if it did have a picture on the front of a
dragon with a knight in shining armor in one hand… and a can opener
in the other. I briefly considered wearing it wrong side out, but decided
what the hell.
‘Thanks,’ I smiled up at him. ‘Beats the
heck out of wandering around downtown half naked.’
It was his turn to laugh. ‘I don’t need to have
to come and pick you up for indecent exposure three blocks from here.’
He shut the trunk and looked me up and down, as though trying
to reassure himself that I really was in one piece. ‘That took some
nerve, kid,’ he told me grudgingly.
‘Nah,’ I grinned up at him, ‘just no brains.’
He snorted that little laugh again and shook his head. ‘Well
it was one hell of a way to start the morning, wasn’t it?’
‘It has been something of a crappy day so far,’
I opined ruefully, and we said our goodbyes.
I had to walk three blocks before the traffic was untangled
enough that I could flag down a cab that actually looked like it might get
I arrived at work an hour and a half late and had to stare
at the clock. Only a damn hour and a half? I felt like I’d been on
that bus for days. Damn.
I clocked in and headed straight for the soda machine in the
back of the bay, I really, really felt the need of a little caffeine. My
back was tingling uncomfortably and starting to feel tight, my shoulders
ached like I’d been weight lifting for twenty-four hours straight
and I think Clint pulled something in my wrist when he jerked me out of
the bus that last time. I shoved my coins in the slot, and when that beautiful
green can dropped into my hand, it was so wonderfully cold that I was taken
with the urge to pour it down my back.
‘Maxwell! Where the hell have you been?’ I heard
the strident tones of my boss and had to sigh. I’d kind of been hoping
that he wasn’t in today. Griff is an ok kind of guy, but has this
major problem with punctuality.
‘Good morning to you too,’ I smirked at him and
got a little growl. I rather enjoyed baiting the guy, if the truth be told.
I’d had a little trouble when I’d taken this job because of
who I was and what I used to be. People had this whole ‘awe’
thing going on, where former Gundam pilots were concerned. A pilot as an
agent seemed to be something they could relate to, deal with. A pilot as
another grungy mechanic with grease up to his elbows and several of his
knuckles busted, seemed to throw them off. For the first couple of weeks,
I could count on having a good twenty feet of personal space without having
to ask. And while, at the time, that had not been an altogether bad thing
for a guy who was still raw edged enough to cuss out loud at tiny little
things like stubborn bolts, it had started to get a little lonely. Griff
had treated me like any other newbie grease monkey, yelling about all his
strange little rules and regulations and eventually, when the others started
noticing that I took it just like anybody else, they stopped treating me
like I had a third head. So I liked Griff just on the general principal
that he treated me like a human being and not an icon or the devil incarnate.
Griff looked irritated already and we really hadn’t
even gotten started. ‘I said;’ he repeated himself with a little
more… volume, ‘where the hell have you been? You’re over
an hour late!’
‘An hour and thirty-five minutes to be exact, boss-man,’
I grinned at him. ‘I had some transportation problems this morning.’
‘I thought you took the bus when Yuy was out on assignment,’
he grumbled and I couldn’t hide the cock-eyed grin. The man knew freakin’
everything about the whole damn building. I wondered, not for the first
time, if he had tracking devices on all ‘his’ agents. Since
they all drove vehicles that his department supplied, it was like he had
a personal stake in each and every one of them.
‘I do,’ I confirmed and made him wait while I
took another sip of my breakfast. ‘There was an accident…’
His face changed a little bit and he grimaced. ‘I heard
about that… there was a fire, wasn’t there?’
‘You could say that,’ I confirmed and all of a
sudden he was getting an eyeful of the front of my shirt and was off on
a whole other tangent. He has this dress code thing as well.
‘Where the hell is your damn shirt?!’ he bellowed
and I saw people flinch all over the room. ‘You know better than to
show up out of uniform!’
For some strange reason, that one kind of ran all over me.
I don’t know why, I guess because I’ve never really understood
his absolute obsession with those stupid polo shirts. I don’t really
mind them, it takes all the decision making out of the process of getting
dressed in the morning, but I think it’s kind of stupid to assume
that I can’t do my job if I’m not wearing an article of clothing
with the Preventor’s logo on it. ‘Look Griff,’ I barked,
and instantly had his attention because I don’t call him by name unless
I’m supremely serious. ‘Its been a pretty damn bad morning so
far… if you want me to go the hell home and change clothes, just say
so. But I’m not in the mood to stand here and listen to this shit!’
He blinked at me, looking me up and down and something in
his eyes told me he was going to back down. ‘Hey Duo… calm down
buddy,’ he soothed. ‘What’s the matter? You see that accident
‘You could say that,’ I growled and threw back
the rest of the can of soda in one long gulp and then tossed the can half
way across the room into the big trash barrel.
‘Sorry, man,’ he appeased gently, his whole demeanor
changing. ‘Listen… why don’t you go work on Anderson’s
Ford until lunchtime. Then I need somebody to run over to the dry cleaners
and pick up a shipment of new shirts anyway… you can go and change
at the same time.’
I made a conscious effort to shove my irritation away, Griff
hadn’t caused the damn accident after all, and muttered, ‘sure
He clapped me on the shoulder, didn’t notice me wince
and pointed me to the back of the bay where Anderson’s car awaited.
I sighed inwardly, girded my loins and went to get my toolbox. Anderson’s
car is a piece of shit. It should have been shot and put out of its misery
ages ago, but the agent has been with the Preventors from the beginning
and has some kind of superstitious weird crap going on with that car and
won’t let them junk it.
I’m not sure what was wrong with the damn thing this
time, but I did know that I’d seen it sitting here for the last couple
of days and knew that several of the other guys had already given it a go.
And obviously failed to fix it. Joy.
That damn Ford consumed the rest of my morning, like some
demonic, possessed… thing, intent on feeding off my blood. I don’t
like being Griff’s errand boy. I don’t like making the trip
to the damn dry cleaner’s. But by the time lunch rolled around I was
missing skin off about half my knuckles, had burned my elbow on a hot manifold,
had inadvertently taught the mail-carrier woman a couple of swear words
she apparently had never heard before, and was more than ready to make the
walk the six blocks to the damn dry cleaners.
‘Maxwell!’ Griff bellowed across the bay. ‘The
cleaner’s called… the shirts are in!’
‘About God damn time,’ I muttered to no one in
particular and threw my wrench back in my toolbox, where it rather predictably
bounced back out. I took a minute to wipe my hands on a rag, and exited
stage left. Managing by some miracle, to walk across the garage without
tripping on anything. I could not wait for this damn day to be over.
‘Take your time!’ Griff called after me and I
heard a chorus of stifled chuckles from around the bay.
‘I’m so fucking pleased to be able to entertain
you guys!’ I shouted without looking back, delivering the one-fingered
salute as I threw the front door open and stalked out onto the street. The
chuckles changed to boisterous laughter that was cut off when the door closed
behind me. I couldn’t even slam it; it has one of those automatic
For the first block, people seemed to just move the hell out
of my way and I imagined later that I must have been scowling like some
sort of insane asylum escapee. My back freakin’ hurt. Every muscle
I owned was aching like a mother. I never had gotten any damn aspirin and
just to top things off, that stupid piece of crap car still wasn’t
fixed. And didn’t look like it was going to be fixed any time soon.
In fact… I was starting to contemplate just setting fire to the damn
thing and telling Anderson it was an accident. Except… the way my
day was going, I’d end up burning down the whole stinking building.
By the second block, the foot traffic had thinned and the
walk had cleared my head a little. I stopped playing the ‘see how
many people I can get to pee their pants with just a glare’ game,
and settled down to a simple ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression.
I actually considered hailing a cab, going the hell home and just calling
Griff and telling him I was sick. As much as I’d been cussing and
kicking at things and not getting a lot of actual, productive work done,
he’d probably be just as glad to see me go.
Midway down the third block, some guy almost ran into me because
he was trying to key something into his palm computer while he walked. I
think I might have growled because he looked up at me with wide eyes, made
a funny little noise and gave ground like he’d just made eye contact
with a charging bear. I was hit all of a sudden with the horrendous urge
to be hugged. Don’t laugh at me. I just seriously, achingly, overwhelmingly
and all of a damn sudden wanted Heero’s arms around me and I might
have cursed the motherless politician who had caused him to be gone today,
right out loud because the next person I passed gave me a really weird look.
The fourth block is a turn down a side street and the pedestrian
traffic thinned out almost completely. There were, in fact, only a handful
of people within sight. It’s a narrow little street; one way, and
only ran about seven or eight blocks before it dead-ended into a park. I
unbent enough to actually nod at a woman I passed. But then… I got
pure, unadulterated proof of what I have always suspected. God really, really
is not all that fond of little ol’ Duo Maxwell.
Something in my head suddenly said danger. I slowed my steps
and couldn’t find it. Couldn’t see a thing wrong, but the inner
voice that belongs to the soldier after all these damn years, was adamant.
Something was very seriously… not right. I turned and looked behind
me and saw nothing but the woman I had nodded to, as she made the turn and
disappeared around the corner where I had just come from. I scanned the
street, my steps slowing as I looked for what my head assured me was there…
It’s like a… buzzing in your nervous system, that
sense. When you’re a soldier, you develop that knack very quickly,
or you very quickly become dead. You learn to trust it too… without
hesitation or self-doubt. I am a lot of years removed from the days when
that sense had come into being, but it was still as sharp as ever and just
as damn scary.
I couldn’t find it. I scanned the street up and down
and just couldn’t get a fix on what was bothering the soldier. Every
hamster I owned was in complete harmony for nearly the first time in memory;
run, you sucker.
But there was nothing to run from.
I realized I had stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk,
and let the soldier move me nearer to one of those little ornamental trees
at the edge of the street. Not good actual cover, but somewhat obscuring
all the same.
And then a shot rang out. War instincts homed in on the sound,
made pertinent decisions and activated evasive maneuvers before my conscious
mind had time to do more than go, what the hell?
I found myself on the ground, hugging the side of a parked
car with fingers digging to draw a weapon I didn’t have. Shit. I scanned
up the sidewalk and saw a body and further along, some woman with a dog
running like hell the other way. I turned to look back down the sidewalk
just in time to see another pedestrian go down. What in the hell had I blundered
into the middle of?
Actually seeing the second man go down told me roughly where
the shots were coming from and I dared a peek through the window of the
car I was mated with, but couldn’t see high enough up the building
to spot anything. I slid forward and used the jerk and duck method of stealing
a look upward, almost getting shot for my trouble, but was able to spot
muzzle flash from a window across the street.
I crouched back down and took another scan of the street.
There were other cars, but not many, and they were fairly widely spaced.
It would be a hard run to make the next one down the block, and there was
no other cover to be found. There was a building right in front of me, but
it appeared to be closed for the lunch hour. Movement caught my eye as a
door opened three buildings down and some older guy stepped out of the barbershop.
‘Sniper!’ I shouted at the top of my lungs. ‘Get
back in the building!’ The guy just stood there for a second, staring
at me like he’d just wandered onto a movie set. ‘Move!’
I bellowed, but it was the crack of the rifle that drove him back. At least
my little buddy across the street missed the guy.
A car pulled into the street from the direction of the main
drag. No way in hell could I warn them off, so I turned and made ready to
use them as best I could. When they came abreast of my hiding place, I darted
from cover, staying as low as possible and ran like hell in the shadow of
the moving vehicle until I could throw myself down in the gutter beside
the next car down the line.
The sniper fired off three or four halfhearted shots at the
moving car, but only succeeded in making the guy floor it and take off like
a bat out of hell.
Sure hope somebody had gotten around to calling the cops.
From my new vantage point, I could see that victim number
one was dead as a door nail, taken right through the head. I wondered who
in the hell the guy up there was after; surely he’d either gotten
his target or scared them off by now. Why in the hell didn’t he pack
it in and run for it, before the law showed up? We were only four or five
blocks from the fucking Preventor’s headquarters for God’s sake!
For the first time in a lot of years, I wished I had a gun.
Finally, I heard sirens approaching and reflected that I would
have to tell Heero that we needed to make a generous donation to the policemen’s
ball this year, just for this day alone. I shifted towards the hood of the
car I was currently hiding behind and risked a look, but a shot rang out
almost before I started to move and I dropped back to the ground.
Could this God damn day get any fucking worse?
Oh dear Lord… had I just challenged the power of worse?
The siren drew closer and there was suddenly one of those
blessed machines with the pretty blue and red lights sailing down the street
toward me. Well… toward the area anyway, not necessarily me. Right
into the middle of the damn hot zone. What the hell? Hadn’t the idiot
who called this in, told them that there was a gunman down here?
The car screeched to a stop almost right across the street
from me, and I watched in open-mouthed horror as the damn door opened and
the guy climbed out, intent on heading for the body on the sidewalk in front
I didn’t know what the hell to do. Damn it, I couldn’t
just watch this guy get shot. On a sudden inspiration, I leapt to my feet
and struck a pose that was supposed to look like I had a weapon, aimed up
at that window, hoping to distract the gunman. I was banking on the sniper’s
split second hesitation while he tried to decide whether to shoot me or
the cop, to save my damn life. I could only toss up a little prayer that
the cop didn’t shoot me.
‘Sniper! Get down! Get down! Get down!’ I was
bellowing and my point was illustrated for me rather eloquently when my
window buddy fired off a round. I dropped back to the ground and swear to
freakin’ God I felt the wind of that last bullet, and the window in
the parked car exploded all over me.
There was a grunt and a curse and I looked up to find that
the cop had taken refuge with me behind my car.
‘Maxwell?’ the guy blurted in utter amazement.
‘Clint?’ I could hardly believe my eyes and I’m
afraid a strained little chuckle burst up out of my throat. ‘Long
time no see man; so how’ya been?’
He just stared at me. Blinking in some small amount of shock.
‘What the hell is going on here!’ he finally blurted
and I gave him a maniacal grin that I think scared him a little bit.
‘I have no fucking idea,’ I was happy to impart.
‘There seems to be a guy with a sniper rifle on the third floor of
the gray brick building intent on ventilating the ass of anything that moves
down here.’ Up the street I saw another pedestrian turn the corner
and I sighed heavily. ‘Get out of here! Clear the area!’ I hollered
and watched the guy freeze. ‘Nobody wants to fucking listen to me
today,’ I muttered.
Clint backed me up with the wave of his hand and the guy jumped
‘Oh aren’t you just special,’ I grumbled
and got an amazed little stare.
The guy we had just warned off must have been out of range
anyway, or at an odd angle, because my third floor buddy hadn’t fired
on him. But he must have seen what we’d done and gotten pissed about
it, because he suddenly hit the car with a couple of rounds.
We both flinched and ducked lower almost automatically. I
felt Clint shifting around and realized he was getting ready to try to take
a peek. ‘Don’t try it; he’s had his sights set on this
car for five minutes now… just waiting for me to show myself.’
‘Is this guy after you?’ he asked suddenly and
‘Not as far as I know,’ I informed him. ‘I
think I just pissed him off because I ducked and I keep spoiling his fun.’
He got on his little handheld then and radioed in the situation.
I breathed a sigh of relief and was preparing to settle in and wait for
the cavalry when the guy shot at us again. And then again. And again. It
had a…rhythm to it. A pattern.
‘What the hell?’ Clint muttered, and I really
wished I could see what was going on across the street. A couple of blocks
down, I saw a police car move in and block the street. I assumed another
one would be doing the same behind me, but I didn’t turn and look.
What the hell, was right. What was the sucker up to?
‘Duck down a minute,’ I suddenly told my blue
angel buddy and he gave me a quizzical look before complying. I rolled over
on my back and kicked upward at the side mirror on the car. It took three
hard kicks before I got the thing loose and it came away with a crack. ‘Ha.’
I grinned and caught it before it could hit the sidewalk and shatter.
Clint eased back up after I righted myself and gave me a raised
I smirked at him and then positioned my new toy so that I
could see our playmate without sticking my head up where I would lose it.
It took me almost thirty seconds of watching the guy fire and infinitesimally
move the barrel and fire again before I got what he was doing.
‘Son of a bitch!’ I snapped and Clint looked at
me in concern.
‘What?’ he growled back at me, looking a little
‘He’s trying to hit the damn gas tank!’
‘Shit! We gotta move!’ and he grabbed my arm and
started looking up and down the street, finding the same woeful lack of
cover that I had.
‘Whoa, big guy!’ I told him, lowering the mirror
and turning to get off my ass and crouched low on my feet. ‘Gimme
‘What?’ he barked, looking at me like I’d
just asked him to kiss me goodbye. ‘I can’t turn my firearm
over to a civilian!’
‘I’m with the Preventor’s,’ I informed
him and it really wasn’t my fault I didn’t have the time for
the other pertinent details… any more than it was my fault if he chose
to interpret that as a claim to be a Preventor agent. ‘Give me your
damn gun and get ready to run… its called ‘cover fire’!’
‘No way, Maxwell! We’re not going through this
shit again,’ he snapped.
I was starting to get a little pissed off, I wasn’t
real anxious to sit there in the gutter and get my ass blown to kingdom
come. ‘We have to run that way,’ I yelled at him, ‘and
I can’t get around you without breaking cover. You have to go first.
Give me your mother fucking gun and run, damn it, before we get blown to
I could see all kinds of crap running through his eyes about
regulations and protecting civilians. About what the rulebook said to do
in this kind of situation.
‘This ain’t in the damn rule book, big guy!’
I snapped and I think it was my mind reading act that did it for him. He
pulled the gun out and passed it to me butt first. My fingers automatically
checked the load while my eyes were scanning his route out of here. All
the while, there was the steady incessant crack of that damn rifle.
‘On three,’ I told him tersely, shifting around
and getting ready to take my stance. ‘Black van. I’ll throw
you the gun.’
He said something then, which sounded suspiciously like, ‘Holy
mother of God.’
I took my breath, steadied my hand and began the count.
‘One…’ Clint scrambled around and settled
into a low runner’s crouch.
‘Two…’ the count was punctuated with gunshots.
Sweat was starting to trickle down my back.
‘Three!’ On the same heartbeat, Clint launched
himself and I threw my ass up and opened fire.
If nothing else, it served to break that God damn relentless
I didn’t have the time to seriously take aim, just threw
shots in what I knew was the right general direction. There were answering
shots and I realized I was holding my breath when my lungs began to burn.
‘Clear!’ came my signal and I dropped to the ground
like a stone. I just laid there, panting like a marathon runner for a second
until I got a frantic, ‘Maxwell! Maxwell… are you hit?’
I raised my head and gave him a feral grin.
He waved his hand for the gun at the same moment that my little
buddy began poking for the gas tank again. The shots were coming a little
closer together… he was getting seriously pissed. Making sure the
safety was on, I moved as far towards the front of the car as I could get
and then hurled the gun for all I was worth. Clint caught it unerringly
and I watched impatiently while he reloaded.
‘Ready?’ he called and I suddenly hesitated. The
guy knew for sure what we were up to now. He’d be waiting for me to
make my run the minute Clint made his move. I looked around and my eyes
snagged on the broken mirror in the gutter.
‘Maxwell!’ Clint hissed and I passed him a sign
to hold on. I stripped off my borrowed t-shirt, knotted the bottom closed
and dropped the weight of the mirror into it.
‘What the hell are you…?’ he began, but
I cut him off.
With the sound of that gun still exploring for the fluid that
would end my run right then and there, I threw the shirt in the opposite
direction and took off running.
‘Shit!’ Clint bellowed, totally unprepared, and
began lying down fire.
Behind me, I heard the angry firing of that rifle. I imagined
my little decoy getting drilled and tried not to imagine my own little self
getting drilled. I dove the last couple of feet with that spot between my
shoulders itching like a mother. I tore the knees out of my jeans but landed
unventilated, giving out with an exultant cry that was almost a moan.
In the distance, there were some serious sirens closing in
and Clint’s radio crackled to life. We both jumped a foot in the air.
A voice informed us that the SWAT team was on their way and to just hold
on. Clint informed them right back that holding on wasn’t much of
an option since our little playmate was trying to blow us into the middle
of next week. I was already scoping out the next car down the line and calculating
I suddenly realized that there was silence coming from across
the street. That there hadn’t been a shot fired in a handful of pounding
heartbeats. I dared a jerk of my head and couldn’t see the guy in
the window any more.
Reloading. Had to fucking, finally be reloading.
Something old and instinctive took hold of my ass and I was
suddenly on some sort of autopilot. I snatched the gun right out of Clint’s
hand and darted around the front of the van, running across the street.
‘Maxwell!’ he bellowed and came right after me.
I hit the other sidewalk and threw myself flush against the building; grabbing
a handful of his shirt when he caught up, and making him flatten out with
me. ‘What in the hell do you…’ he was growling at me,
seriously pissed off.
I was in that black and white world though, and only snapped,
I’m pretty sure he thought I’d lost my damn mind.
It only took another couple of seconds of our pressing there against the
warm brick wall before the firing resumed. Aimed at the black van. As I
had suspected, the mother had been reloading and hadn’t seen us move.
‘Gotcha!’ I breathed with a feral grin, and took
my own sweet time taking a firm firing stance and careful aim. There wasn’t
much I could hit from that angle, so I just zeroed in on the barrel of the
It all happened rather quickly then… I saw more emergency
vehicles flooding into the end of the street. Someone pointed at us. I heard
Clint’s voice yelling into his radio for somebody to hold their fire.
One of the shots from the third floor got lucky and the van exploded. The
gunman quit firing and leaned out just a hair further, hoping to see us
fry… and gave me a clear shot at his left hand. I took it and was
rewarded by the sight of the rifle tumbling down to the sidewalk.
I was enveloped then by a pair of unbelievably strong arms
and taken down to the sidewalk in a protective huddle as debris from the
van rained down all over the street. Clint was attempting to share with
me every curse word he’d ever heard.
We somehow managed to escape without getting skewered by flaming
hot metal and eventually, Clint allowed me to stand up again. He plucked
his gun out of my hands with this weird look that was somewhere between
awed and apoplectic, and shoved it back into his holster as if defying me
to say something about it.
SWAT guys were swarming all over the gray brick building,
and a couple of them ran our way to check on us. I pointed them to the second
victim on the other side of the street and was gratified to hear a shout
go up a few minutes later for an ambulance.
I stood leaning against the building, only because sliding
to the ground shirtless against bricks would have hurt. Clint was just staring
at me almost like he was trying to make up his mind whether to hit me or
He opened his mouth a couple of times and then shut it again,
finally blurting, ‘I can’t fucking believe you made that shot
with a van exploding in your damn ear.’
I chuckled. Or I tried to chuckle… it came out kind
of strangled and the big guy took me by the arm and sat me on the ground.
After a second, he sat down too.
‘So…’ I ventured, ‘has your day been
going as bad as mine?’
He started laughing, and for a second I didn’t think
he was going to stop. A couple of members of the SWAT team looked at him
kind of funny.
‘I’ve had better days,’ he chuckled at last,
when he seemed able to settle down enough to speak.
We just sat and watched them load up the still breathing victim
into an ambulance, and then the body into a separate one. Not long after,
a couple of SWAT guys marched the shooter out of the gray building in cuffs.
He was very… unassuming. Not young. Not all that old. Short hair,
kind of greasy looking. I didn’t know the guy from Adam, and wondered
if I would ever know what in the hell this had all been about. I sighed
and shook my head.
A SWAT member came toward us, carrying the shirt I’d
thrown to distract the sniper and grinned. ‘Hey buddy… this
I cocked my head and looked up at him. ‘Kind of.’
He’d already taken the weight out of it and took a dramatic moment
to flip the thing out and hold it up. It had three bullet holes through
‘Shit,’ Clint muttered and reached with a shaky
hand to grab it away from the guy. The man walked away with an odd little
I took the shirt from Clint and just held it, a little loathe
to put it back on.
‘You ok, kid?’ he asked in a surprisingly gentle
‘Yeah,’ I sighed. ‘Just wishing this day
was a little bit further along than just the lunch hour… I’m
not sure I’m going to live to see five o’clock at this rate.’
He snorted and stood, reaching down to pull me to my feet.
I had the strangest sense of déjà vu. We walked to his cruiser,
still sitting at the curb with the door open and the lights flashing. He
took the t-shirt out of my hands without a word and went to open the trunk
again. There was more fishing around in the Good Will sack and he finally
came up with a fresh shirt. He tossed it to me and I looked it over. This
one said ‘Where are we going, and why am I in this hand basket?’
I laughed out loud and got a pleased little smirk from the man in blue.
I pulled it on and we sat in his cruiser while he took my statement and
I tried to hide from him how bad I was shaking.
What an unbelievably screwed up day.
When we parted ways this time, he hollered after me, ‘I
don’t want to run into you again today, Maxwell!’
‘I am counting on it, big guy!’ I hollered back
and finished my walk to the dry cleaners. I made the return trip via an
alternate route, stepped in some gum and almost got hit by a cab, trying
to decide just what I’d done recently to so thoroughly piss off the
Would this day never be over? Would I freaking live to see
I was, of course, fairly late getting back to work and was
greeted with an exasperated sigh from Griff. ‘Maxwell,’ he grumbled,
‘when I told you to change shirts… I meant into one of the ones
you were picking up… not just something different!’
My blood pressure was doing odd little things to my head.
I was… rather on the brink of something kind of ugly. ‘Griff…
I am having a bad day the likes of which the human race has never seen before.
If one more thing goes wrong, I am going to…’ I had been about
to say I was going to take a rifle and climb the nearest tower and start
shooting things, but… well, you know.
I dumped the bundle of new shirts on his desk, ripped the
paper off one end, fished around inside and pulled one out in my size. I
stripped the t-shirt off and jerked the polo shirt on, right in the middle
of his damn office. I didn’t say another word and neither did he.
I crammed the t-shirt into my hip pocket and just let it hang there like
a shop rag, storming off towards the back of the bay where the Ford from
hell waited for me. I could feel his eyes on me all the way there.
Just fuck this damn day.
To be quite honest, I didn’t do a hell of a lot else
to that car. I rattled my tools around and hung over the fender with my
head in the engine compartment just staring.
I hadn’t even thought to eat lunch while I was out,
and on top of missing breakfast, I was starting to feel a little shaky.
There might have been a teeny little bit of adrenaline overload going on
there too. I tried to just not think of anything, because when I let things
replay in my head I kept seeing the bus driver and the shooting victims.
Kept hearing explosions. Heard that lady screaming for her little girl.
George the thought hamster wandered in, looking around nervously,
as if he were afraid to be near me and waved a little tiny banner that just
said, ‘damn’ in a very understated way. He was wearing one of
those little World War I pith helmets and took off the minute his message
I was sitting cross-legged on the fender, absently turning
a wrench over and over in my hands, staring at nothing in particular and
thinking about fate and the power of worse. I had more personal space than
was granted your average rabid wolverine and no one had spoken to me in
hours. In some part of my mind that wasn’t involved with wanting to
go home, draw the curtains and crawl under my bed to sleep for about a week,
I heard Griff say, ‘About time you got here, Yuy. Take his sorry ass
out of here before the whole garage falls down around my ears. He’s
got some kind of jinx today.’
There was more, a string of mutterings about broken tools
and scaring the mail lady. I looked up and saw Heero and Wufei coming toward
my corner of the garage with a matching set of smirking grins. I realized
then that everyone else besides Griff and me was gone for the day. It was
almost twenty minutes after. I considered leaping off the car and throwing
myself into Heero’s arms but was actually kind of afraid that I might
fall on my face. Or that he would refuse me in front of Wufei and Griff.
Or that I would somehow accidentally skewer him with the wrench in my hand.
‘Is that Anderson’s car?’ Wufei asked with
an odd little grin, as they got closer.
‘Is this the infamous car from hell?’ I growled.
‘Is this the oldest piece of crap on the face of the planet? Is this
the vehicle that takes more man hours to keep running than it would be worth
if it were brand new?’
He repressed a chuckle as he came to lean against the fender
next to me. ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’
‘Yes,’ I sighed, rubbing at tired eyes. ‘This
is Anderson’s fucking piece of shit car.’
Wufei stifled a sharp little laugh. ‘Apt description,’
he said rather enigmatically.
Heero stood at the front of the car and gave me a gentle,
somewhat sympathetic smile. ‘Sorry I’m late. Why don’t
you climb down from there and we’ll get out of here.’
‘Because,’ I groused, ‘my legs went to sleep
a half an hour ago.’ I poked my wrench rather viciously at the damn
alternator that I was starting to suspect was totally shot. ‘I do
not understand why the man insists on using this car. It has to be the oldest
thing in the entire fleet.’
Wufei and Heero were both grinning rather broadly and Wufei
had to stifle another one of those evil little chuckles. ‘Because
he lost his virginity to his first partner in the back seat.’
‘What!’ I yelped and didn’t see the same
amusement factor that they did. ‘You mean to tell me I bust my ass
working on this damn thing at least once a week because… because…’
I was so pissed that I hurled my wrench into my toolbox. Succeeding in knocking
the whole damn box off the stool it had been sitting on and unbalancing
myself in the process. My legs really had gone to sleep and I would have
fallen right off the damn car if Wufei hadn’t been there to catch
He was grinning before he even had me eased off the fender.
‘Laugh at me and die,’ I growled, and he did everything
but bite his lip to keep from it.
‘Get him the hell out of here while I still have a garage!’
Griff yelled across the bay. ‘He’s been like this all damn day!’
Heero came around the car and took my one arm while Wufei
held the other and they kept me on my feet until the feeling came back into
‘I gotta pick up my tools,’ I mumbled, feeling
like a total idiot.
‘Leave it!’ bellowed Griff and I had to look across
the bay at the man. How the hell did he do that?
‘You are not going to believe the day I’ve had,’
I told them as we started for the door. ‘I just want to go home and
go the hell to bed.’
There was a strange stiffening in Heero’s shoulders
and Wufei chuckled lightly. ‘Maybe after dinner… did you forget
what night it is?’
Oh for the love of God. The thrice-damned pilot’s dinner.
I think I groaned out loud. ‘That’s tonight? Please tell me
‘How could you forget?’ Wufei said with a raised
eyebrow. ‘It was your turn to pick the restaurant.’
I really did groan out loud that time.
There was a very uncomfortable feeling in the air and they
both got quiet. My legs were working again and I slipped free of them, glancing
at one and then the other. They had lost their amused smiles and looked…
disappointed. Disappointed in me.
Something twisted in my gut like a knife.
I gamely reached for… fairy dust, I guess. Fairy dust
and bull shit.
‘Please tell me I don’t have to go without a shower?’
I grinned at them. ‘I stink… see? Even my hair stinks.’
I grabbed the end of my braid and made as though I was going to shove it
in Wufei’s face. He fended me off with upraised hands.
‘I will take your word for it, Maxwell,’ he chuckled
and I danced lightly ahead of them.
‘I can’t go to McMurphy’s without my drinking
shirt,’ I quipped and even Heero seemed to be losing that expression.
That look of… sad reproach. I would sell my soul to not see that look
directed at me again.
Eventually, they laughingly agreed to allow me time to go
home, shower and change. Wufei took directions to the place and said that
he would pick up Trowa and Quatre and meet us there in an hour and a half.
Heero began to tell me about his morning ‘jog’
with the good Senator during the drive back to the apartment and I just
left off telling him about my own interesting day for the time being. He
was laughing again, and happy, and I just decided that it could wait until
I made the climb up the stairs to the apartment feeling every
ache and pain, wanting to beg him to call this damn night off. Would it
really be the end of the world if we just put this off for one day? I felt…
shell-shocked. But when I thought about speaking up, I saw that look on
his face again. That faintly unhappy, disappointed look.
Dinner out wouldn’t kill me. At least, the way this
day had been going… I hoped it wouldn’t.
When we stepped into the apartment and the door was shut,
blocking out the rest of the world, I turned to catch at him… claiming
that hug I’d been wanting all afternoon.
His arms felt like heaven around me and he chuckled softly
as he nuzzled the side of my neck. ‘What brought this on, love…’
and then the chuckle turned rueful. ‘You really do stink. What is
I drew away and laughed at him. ‘That’s what you
get for living with a mechanic.’ Would not do to get into it now,
we’d be late to dinner by the time I got it all told and reassured
him that I was all right.
So I reluctantly slipped out of his arms and went to shower
and change. I turned on the water, hot and steamy, meaning to soak out some
of the aches and pains… until the hot water hit my burned back. I
was fairly quick to turn the heat down after that. I remembered to take
a couple of aspirin before I left the bathroom though.
I don’t own a drinking shirt. Don’t know what
in the hell one would look like. But I figured that Heero or Wufei would
remember my little remark. I ended up wearing the ‘hand basket’
shirt that Clint had given me, mostly just because none of the guys would
recognize it. I could call it a drinking shirt if I wanted to.
I did feel a little more human with the smoke and grit washed
off, though my skinned knees were stinging now and my back felt as tight
as a drum. I’d lived through worse. It would only be a couple of hours.
I could do this for the guy’s sake.
When I emerged from my room, Heero was changed and ready to
go, sitting on the couch and waiting for me. He stood to meet me, taking
me in his arms with a bright smile. ‘Well… that’s much
better,’ he told me as he nuzzled and kissed his way down the side
of my face and into my shirt collar. I think I melted. He chuckled huskily
‘Oh God, Heero…’ I began, barely stopping
the pathetic pleading to stay home for the evening, managing to turn it
to, ‘I will pay you copious amounts of money for a backrub later tonight.’
His arms unwrapped from around my waist and his hands dropped
to my hips, sliding further down until he could cup them just under my ass
with a wicked little grin. ‘Copious amounts?’ he teased and
slid his hands upward until he was kneading at my lower back. I let out
with a deep throated groan that was somewhere between pain and pleasure.
He stopped and his expression became a little concerned. ‘You are
all knotted up… what’s wrong?’
I sighed and pushed away before he could accidentally touch
any higher. ‘I spent most of the afternoon bent over the stand-in
for Stephen King’s ‘Christine’,’ I grumbled and
took his hand to head him toward the door with a camouflaging shake of my
head. ‘I still can’t believe that asshole Anderson is hanging
onto that stupid car because he had his first… roll in the hay in
He laughed, letting me lead him out the front door. ‘Well…
don’t you have fond memories of your first time?’
I think my face must have turned an interesting shade of red,
because he chuckled at me with wicked glee.
Actually… thinking about my first time, which had been
a rather pathetic round of dry-humping with Heero aboard my ship on that
ill-fated trip to L2 with Relena ‘stick up the ass’ Peacecraft…
I’d have to say no. Yes. Ah hell… maybe?
Ok. It’d had its sweet aspects. The core of it would
always be this treasured little jewel in my mind. But to think about it,
I had to cup it tight in my hands and try hard not to think about all the
other aspects. It had happened aboard my ship. The ship that I’d had
to sell. It had happened with Relena and her damn chaperone right across
the hall. The next morning, I had felt like the whole world was staring
at us, knowing what we’d done. I had been suffering with a newly fractured
arm and so the memory would always be laced around with pain.
But worst of all was the realization that I had now, that
I hadn’t had then; it might have been my first time… but it
hadn’t been Heero’s. It had taken me some time to figure that
out, we’d never freakin’ talked about it, after all. But it
had become apparent over the next couple of weeks that he… knew what
the hell he was doing. I tried not to let it bother me… but it did.
That comment about fond memories was something like a slap
in the face. He obviously had not figured out that he had been my first
I suppose I should have thought up some bantering response
instead of getting all introspective, because his smile faltered a little.
‘Duo love, what’s the matter?’ he asked me gently.
Nothing much came to mind. Ok… nothing came to mind.
I could not think of a single thing to say. My face got a little redder
and I worked at words like I was chewing on something stubborn. What was
the matter, he wanted to know? How could I tell him that it made me utterly
heartsick to think about him with… someone else? That it made me feel
God awful self-conscious and awkward whenever I let myself think about it
while he and I were… together.
His look suddenly became… stricken and I watched him
jump to a here-to-fore un-thought of conclusion. ‘Duo,’ he fairly
whispered, reaching to catch my arm and stopping us in the middle of the
stairs, his eyes searching mine. ‘You haven’t been… no
one has… hurt you… I mean…’ He couldn’t even
finish it, his eyes warring between fear and anger as he let himself contemplate
I stepped back up a step to be on even ground with him and
looked him straight in the eye. ‘No, Heero,’ I hold him firmly.
‘No one has ever hurt me sexually; I swear.’
Jensen didn’t count… did he?
I saw the purest relief flood his eyes, like watching cool
water wash over hot coals and he slipped his arm around my waist to draw
me near. ‘Then… what’s put that sad look in your eyes,
love?’ he asked gently, cupping my face in his hand.
‘I don’t know, Heero,’ I sighed, leaning
into his touch. ‘I’m just so tired…’
I felt him stiffen and go all still and I realized what I’d
just said. That phrase that I had spent weeks beating out of my vocabulary;
the all-purpose ‘I’m tired’. That thing that I had taken
to using as an excuse for everything from ‘I almost cut off my arm’,
to ‘I can’t sleep alone without screaming nightmares’.
I was madly cueing a thought hamster, hoping for a little
help, when my stomach decided to let out with a thunderous growl. ‘I
uhmm… missed lunch,’ I grinned at him sheepishly.
He dropped his hand from my cheek and rubbed teasingly at
my belly, raising an eyebrow. ‘Sounds like you missed more than that,’
‘Maybe breakfast too?’ I grinned at him, taking
full advantage of the moment.
It did serve to change the subject and I launched into a rant
about Griff and his anal retentive problem with the Preventor’s logo
and polo shirts in general. Expressing my severe doubt that I would forget
how to work on engines if I were wearing a blank t-shirt. Or that I would
suddenly become an all-star first-baseman if I wore, for instance, Heero’s
ball shirt to work. By the time we got to the restaurant I had him laughing
so hard he was having trouble driving. I had just really gotten warmed up
to the topic and begun to conjecture about the possibility of being able
to perform neural surgery if I happened to put on a pair of surgical scrubs
when he pulled into McMurphy’s and parked.
The guys were there, sitting in their car watching for us.
They climbed out when we pulled in next to them and I led the way inside.
McMurphy’s is a spacer bar. A restaurant really, with
nice simple food where ration bars are actually on the menu. I hadn’t
been in the place since before the accident. I found my palms sweating a
little bit. This hadn’t entirely been my idea, but Quatre had been
on my case about taking my turn in picking where we went and when I had
tried to beg off, Wufei had remembered hearing me mention McMurphy’s.
So… ta-dah; here we were. I felt a little odd about going in the place.
It’s far, far from an exclusive atmosphere… McMurphy is not
a bigot about spacers versus ground-bounders. He sees all people in a nice,
even shade of green - the color of their money. But… I wasn’t
in the trade anymore and I couldn’t help but feel… odd about
coming back here.
It hadn’t changed one bit on the outside and I took
a deep breath, reaching for the door, wishing my stomach wasn’t knotted
like a drunken python. I suppose the whole thing just sort of topped off
We walked in and I let my eyes adjust to the dimmer interior,
doing a quick scan and finding the place moderately crowded. I saw Jessamine,
the evening hostess, grab a handful of wrapped silverware and some menus
and head toward the door when she heard the bell, not even looking. I grinned
She didn’t disappoint me when she finally did look up,
letting out a little squeal of delight and running the last couple of steps
to throw her arms around my neck and plant a big motherly kiss on my cheek.
‘Duo!’ she grinned at me, and then she drew back and whopped
me up the side of the head with the menus. ‘Where the hell have you
been, you jerk? Go off and try to get yourself killed and don’t even
come back to see your old friends. I ought to make you sit by the kitchen
door and eat plate scrapings!’ Then she was whirling away with my
wrist trapped in her hand. ‘McMurphy!’ she bellowed, ‘McMurphy…
look what the hell the dog dragged in!’
I had to dig my heels in to get her damn attention. ‘Jess,
dear-heart, light of my life, keeper of my dinner… hold up a minute;
I’m not alone.’
She stopped hauling on me, for which I was grateful because
she had me by my sore wrist, and turned back around with her ponytail swinging
and an embarrassed look on her face. Not for the first time, I wondered
where in the hell she kept all the energy she seemed to exude, in that petite
little frame of hers.
‘I need a table for five before you feed me to McMurphy,’
I grinned at her and she fell all over herself apologizing and getting us
settled at a nice big table near the front corner, not anywhere near the
kitchen doorway she had threatened me with.
‘What can I get you boys to drink?’ she inquired,
remembering she had a job to do and gave me a quizzical look after she listened
to the orders for iced tea, water and soda. ‘These guys are with you?’
she snickered at me. ‘You want your beer?’
God that sounded good; about ten of them… until I was
so pleasantly sloshed that I wouldn’t care anymore about all the people
sitting around the place staring at me. Until I could forget about the damn
morning I’d had. Something to wash that lingering taste of smoke out
of the back of my throat. I opened my mouth to tell her yes and caught Wufei
looking at me with an oddly… concerned look on his face. I remembered
confessing to him almost a month ago that I was mildly afraid of drinking
alcohol of any kind. At the time, I had been rather afraid that if I got
started, I might not be able to get stopped. I sighed. I really didn’t
think that was going to be an issue any more, but if I ordered a drink,
Wufei was going to sit there all night and worry himself sick. I really
needed to see to it that I stopped getting seated across from him. Somehow,
I always got the seat beside Heero and across from Wufei.
‘Water, Jess,’ I told her with a sigh, ‘and
shut up about it.’
She laughed out loud and headed for the bar.
I turned my attention back to my little group, only to find
them all smiling at me in varying stages of bemusement. ‘I tried to
warn you guys about this place,’ I groused.
‘I take it,’ Trowa smiled at me, ‘that you
used to eat here fairly frequently?’
‘Hey,’ I grinned at him. ‘I didn’t
live completely off ration bars!’
‘Sounds to me,’ Quatre snickered at me, ‘like
eating wasn’t what you were doing here.’
‘It’s the atmosphere,’ I informed him haughtily,
gesturing vaguely in the direction of the television over the bar that was
currently tuned to a local channel and showing reruns of some old sci-fi
show or other; I caught a glimpse of a girl in a ridiculously short skirt
carrying what looked like a bazooka. I sighed. ‘Ok… maybe not.’
‘And what kind of atmosphere is that?’ he deftly
returned. ‘Early sci-fi T and A?’
I opened my mouth to retort, and something bounced off the
top of my head, landing on the table in front of me. Beside me, Heero tensed
slightly and I had to grin at him. ‘Don’t get your knickers
in an uproar, soldier boy.’ Only Heero could react to a paper wad
like it was a hand grenade. I turned in my seat to find the three musketeers
sitting two tables over grinning at me madly. I palmed the paper wad and
smiled at the guy sitting behind me, a tech worker from the docks if I remembered
right. He grinned back, catching the flick of my eyes to the ball of paper
in my hand and subtly eased to his right, out of my way.
‘Damn Smitty,’ I laughed. ‘I even called
ahead to make sure you weren’t going to be here tonight!’
‘I think you’re stalking me, Maxwell,’ he
chortled, elbowing Bernie in the ribs. ‘What do ya think, buddy? We
keep running into him everywhere!’
‘We’ve run into him twice, asshole,’ Bernie
told him with a roll of his eyes. Smitty turned away from him to seek Havers
support and I nailed him on the end of the nose with his own paper wad.
Even the tech guy chortled at the startled little yelp.
Smitty went off on an indignant little tangent, and Havers
and Bernie just waved at me. I started to turn back around but the tech
guy suddenly stuck his fist out in a spacer’s greeting. ‘Good
to see you around again, Maxwell,’ he grinned and I flushed while
I tapped my own fist against his.
‘Thanks, Grant,’ I murmured, his name suddenly
coming to mind, and he beamed.
If at all possible, my own table full of guys was grinning
‘Floor show’s over,’ I growled and I think
I would have gotten something more out of Wufei, but Jess showed up with
the drinks and we spent some time going over the menu. I warned them away
from ordering anything that had McMurphy’s name in the title, and
we ended up just ordering steaks all around.
Quatre asked about Heero and Wufei’s ‘interview’
with the Senator and we talked about that for a little while. Jess came
back by and refilled all the drinks, teasing me about hanging out with a
bunch of ‘stick in the muds’. Smitty lobed another paper wad
at me and managed to sink it in my drink. I lobbed it back, still dripping
water, and hit him in the top of the head. Cortaine, one of the ‘tug’
drivers from the shuttle field came in then, stopping to speak before heading
over to take a seat at the bar.
‘Is there anybody in this room that you don’t
know?’ Heero asked me with a cock-eyed little grin.
‘Sure,’ I told him and did a quick scan of the
room. ‘The guy in the corner with the black jacket and…’
I finished my scan. ‘The two girls sitting together at the bar.’
Wufei laughed lightly, looking at me with a very strange light
in his eyes, but just shook his head ruefully.
I shrugged, suddenly finding myself a little embarrassed.
‘Trade’s kinda tight… I guess,’ I muttered, trailing
off when I realized that, technically, I wasn’t actually in the trade
I was saved from further discomfort when dinner arrived, McMurphy
coming out from behind his beloved bar to help Jess serve it. I grinned
up at the guy, but he made me stand up so he could give me a big bear hug.
McMurphy’s like… the Papa bear of the trade. Won’t take
any crap off anybody, but treats everybody who falls in his circle of acquaintances
like little nieces and nephews or something. And a lot of people fell into
‘Bout time you got your ass back here, Maxwell,’
he grinned down at me after he’d let me sit back down. ‘I didn’t
even get a card on my birthday!’
I laughed at him, ‘I’ve never sent you a card,
you old bear… birthday or otherwise!’ That got a smattering
of chuckles from some of the surrounding tables as people watched us banter.
‘I’m wounded, kid!’ he told me with a dramatic
hand clutched to his heart. ‘I think you owe me one.’
I groaned loudly. ‘Owe you what?’ I asked guardedly
and heard some snickers, telling me that something was up. I looked to Jess
for help and found her standing there with a pitcher of something…
oddly orange, and a pained little smile on her face. ‘Oh God, McMurphy…
not tonight!’ I wailed and the laughter spread through the room until
I realized the whole place was watching this play out.
‘Come on, Duo!’ I heard Smitty yell. ‘He’s
been waiting for you to come back for months. Had this concoction under
wraps just waiting for you!’
McMurphy was grinning at me like a loon. ‘If it isn’t
toxic, I’m gonna call it ‘Maxwell’s Hell-fire’.’
He took the pitcher from Jess, produced a glass from I couldn’t begin
to tell you where, and poured. How could I say no to a glass of Maxwell’s
I took the drink and looked up at him imploringly. ‘Mac…
with the day I’ve had so far; this is likely to kill me.’
Behind me, Smitty began a low chant of ‘Maxwell…
Maxwell… Maxwell…’ and quickly got Havers and Bernie to
join in with him. Before long, most of the room was chanting with them.
I glanced around at my table, embarrassed beyond words and found the guys
looking vaguely confused, but grinning at me all the same.
‘You won’t think its so damn funny when you have
to drag my dissolving corpse out of here when it kills me,’ I groused
and rose to my feet. If I was going to do this… I’d do it with
The chanting, at least, stopped when I stood. There was a
smattering of applause. I raised the glass to the room in general.
‘You all remember the legend of the blue concoction
that shall ever remain nameless,’ I intoned solemnly. ‘If anyone
here has a convertible… go put the top up now.’ There was more
laughter and I pretty much had the attention of the whole room.
‘Get on with it, Maxwell!’ Smitty hollered.
‘Care to join me, smart guy?’ I prompted, but
he just grinned.
‘As I was saying,’ I continued with a mock glare
in his direction. ‘All my worldly possessions I leave to…oh
wait; I don’t have any worldly possessions!’ I took a stance
and cried, ‘Ok then – I leave my body to science! Skoal!’
and tossed that sucker back. Hell-fire was an apt name. Thank God there
wasn’t more than a swallow or two in the glass or I think I would
have thrown it right back up. There was a… cloying sweetness to it,
somewhere under a flaming surface taste, and it was… thick. I would
have used some of the blue crap to wash the taste out of my mouth if I’d
had any. I turned to face McMurphy, gave him a cross-eyed look that thoroughly
conveyed my opinion, and then tossed him a wink.
‘Not too bad, Mac,’ I told the room in general
and McMurphy played my game with me, looking down into the pitcher with
a wide smile.
‘No shit?’ he asked me happily and we had to share
a grin when we heard Smitty take the bait. Goad my ass, would he?
‘Really?’ Smitty asked, incredulous. ‘Old
McMurphy came up with something worth drinking, all on his own?’
I stepped away and let it play out. McMurphy poured, Smitty
drank, and the whole place erupted in laughter when he ran for the bathroom,
somehow managing to hold both hands over his mouth and curse me resoundingly
at the same time.
‘That was the most vile thing I have ever tasted, Mac,’
I told the bartender after the teasing had died down. ‘And that includes
the time I tried to siphon raw jet fuel. What in the hell did you put in
The big guy sighed dejectedly, dipping a finger into the brew
and tasting it himself with a shrug. ‘It’s a brandy base, with
Tabasco sauce, honey, a raw egg, and…’
‘Stop!’ I choked out, holding a hand up to forestall
any more explanation. ‘I suddenly don’t want to know!’
The thing about McMurphy is he doesn’t seem to have any functioning
taste buds of his own. Just an undying desire to create a new, earth-shatteringly
good drink, and make it into some sort of bartender hall of fame. Or maybe
he just likes watching his customers gag. Though… when I thought about
it, Smitty and I were the only ones he could ever get to try the damned
things for him.
I turned back to my dinner with a rueful shake of my head,
taking a long swallow of water, trying to get that sticky, burning taste
out of my mouth. Jess brought me a soda without being prompted, I took a
couple of gulps of that too, but it didn’t help much. Napalm…
I think I’d just drunk napalm.
I suddenly felt the weight of four pairs of eyes on me and
looked up to find the oddest audience I’d had all day. They all looked…
amused. Strangely guilty. Weirdly melancholy.
‘What?’ I blurted, looking from one of them to
the other and feeling like I’d missed a whole conversation. ‘Have
I got orange Hell-fire on my chin, or something?’
Quatre smiled for me and shook his head. ‘No…
we just realized how you must have been feeling all those times out with
I felt myself flushing and bent to cutting my steak.
‘We’re sorry,’ Trowa said quietly. ‘We
should have realized what all those inside jokes felt like… from the
I mumbled something and just wished they’d drop it.
I was saved from having to think of something else to say when Smitty finally
made his way out of the bathroom and stalked with grim determination toward
my seat. Everyone else at the table was suddenly alert to some danger to
me and I had to snort at them derisively. ‘Get a grip, guys,’
I snickered. But, you know? It gave me one hell of a warm feeling in the
pit of my stomach. Or maybe that was the Hell-fire.
‘Maxwell,’ Smitty said almost formally when he
got to the table. ‘Have you thrown up yet?’
‘No, I have not,’ I informed him with just as
‘Then I bow to the better man,’ he said, doing
just that. ‘And I will mourn your passing when that shit finally eats
out your stomach lining and kills you.’
‘I’m… uh… honored?’ I snickered
at him. ‘You look kinda… green.’
He grinned at me then, informing me, ‘I will get you,
‘You will try, Smith,’ I grinned right back at
He went back to join his partners, and I turned back to my
dinner with a shake of my head.
I quickly started a conversation about the sticky properties
of honey and the guys let me. We passed most of the rest of the meal in
idle banter and pretty mindless talk. I was actually starting to relax a
little bit, finding that it hadn’t been all that hard to fit back
in here. No one had said a thing to me about my ship or my accident and
I realized after a bit that there lie the difference between Heero’s
circle of friends and mine. Mine were spacers and understood the depth of
the hurt I had taken when I had lost my ship and my livelihood. They understood
how it was like salt in the wound to keep bringing it up. So they just let
it go, accepting me back at face value.
I was just starting to think that my crappy day had finally
turned around when I saw Jess come around the bar with a fearful look on
her face. I saw her flash a signal at McMurphy and then her eyes were seeking
mine. I knew what that look and that signal meant.
‘Shit,’ I muttered.
‘What’s wrong, Duo?’ Wufei asked, sitting
across from me and noticing the look on my face.
‘I’ll be right back,’ I told them, tossed
my napkin in my plate and went to meet Jess half way.
‘Jock?’ I asked tersely when I got there.
She nodded fearfully.
‘Where?’ I asked, eyes flicking around the room
and not seeing the man I sought.
‘In the back dining room,’ she informed me, her
voice sounding nervous.
‘Is the room clear?’ I sighed, feeling myself
start to tense.
‘Yeah,’ she was able to tell me.
I took her by the shoulders and met her wide eyes, ‘Ok,
honey… here’s the deal. You see the guy that is sitting next
to my chair? The one with the eyes that are probably boring a hole in my
back right now?’
She peeked around my arm and nodded vigorously.
‘That is my incredibly over-protective… room-mate.’
I tightened my grip a little to emphasize my words. ‘He is going to
be exceedingly unhappy when he finds out what is going on here. It is your
job to impress on him just how bad an idea it would be for him to interfere,
‘Shit, Duo,’ she blurted unhappily and I grinned
at her ferally.
‘Sorry about your luck, kid,’ I told her. ‘Get
the musketeers to help you.’
I patted her shoulder, turned to share a tight nod with McMurphy
and headed for the back room. I damn near challenged the power of worse
again, but remembered at the last minute, and bit my mental ‘tongue’.
As I was nearing the door, I heard McMurphy beginning the
job of protecting his flock. ‘Ok people… we all know the drill…’
I forgot about them, Mac would see to it that everyone got down or completely
out of the building.
The trade is… a damn tough business to be in. For every
pilot that makes a go of it, there are five that cave and go under. It’s
a dangerous, merciless industry that hinges as much on luck as it does on
skill. And Lady Luck, as we well know, is a damn fickle little thing, and
not really much of a lady. There are a dozen tragic stories out there for
every successful one. Stories like Neo’s. Stories like… mine.
And stories like Jock’s.
Retired from the military with not much rank and less pension,
he’d sunk everything he’d had into his own ship and gone into
mining. He’d made a small strike, gotten a little money and gotten
himself a girl. Then he’d hit a little dry spell and lost all his
money, lost his ship to creditors, and finally lost his girl to a pilot
who still had a ship. He’d… not handled it well. He’d
sunk into a dark depression and taken to drinking. He didn’t handle
his drink much better than he’d handled his loss.
He showed up at McMurphy’s or some other spacer bar
every couple of months, desperate for the company of his own kind…
and suicidally drunk. He usually came carrying a gun. For some strange reason…
he liked me and I could usually talk him through it. And of all the damn
nights for Jock to show up at McMurphy’s in his usual drunken stupor,
waving his pistol… didn’t it figure that it would be tonight?
Could this fucking day get any damn worse?
I eased up to the door and held back out of sight until I
could assess his mood.
‘Hey Jock,’ I called with, I hoped, a light, unconcerned
tone of voice. ‘You in there?’
There was a moment before I got a reply and his voice was
that maudlin one I knew so well. I sighed. He’d been a strong, sure
man once… a long time ago.
‘That you, Maxwell?’
‘I’ve been looking all over for you, man,’
I lied. ‘Mind if we sit down and talk for a bit?’
‘Naw,’ he said after a few minutes to think about
it. ‘Come and sit with me… I’m all alone.’
I eased into the doorway until I could see him sitting against
the back wall. The gun was in his lap, so I moved cautiously toward him.
The back dining room is for larger, single groups and isn’t all that
big. There’s a long table in the middle of the room that could probably
seat twenty or so. The chairs were resting upside-down on the tabletop and
Jock was sitting against the back wall on the serving counter, leaning against
‘Come talk to me Maxwell,’ he said unhappily.
‘Nobody wants to talk to me.’
‘I want to talk to you,’ I told him with false
cheer, still trying to assess just how far gone he was. ‘I told you
I been looking all over the place for you.’
‘Liar,’ he grumbled and I froze half way across
the room. ‘Nobody ever comes lookin’ for me.’
‘Well…’ I began. ‘I was hoping you
might know…’ I froze when the gun came up. The trick with Jock
is to get close enough to him without pissing him off so that you could
get the gun away. He doesn’t really mean to hurt anybody, except himself
maybe, and when he sobers up later he always hates himself for these little
episodes. We keep taking the guns away from him… but somehow he keeps
getting hold of new ones.
‘Stop right there,’ he growled at me, and I was
more than happy to do as he said. ‘What do you want?’
I eyed the gun and eased slightly to the right. ‘You
invited me, remember? You said you wanted company.’
‘Don’t need no damn company!’ he snapped
unhappily and the gun wavered. I shifted just a hair again, to stay out
from in front of it.
‘Come on, man,’ I wheedled, ‘I need to talk
Suddenly the damn gun went off and I swear from the look on
his face, he hadn’t really meant to do it. I had a heart stopping
moment of not being positive he’d missed me, before I remembered to
breath. Damn. He’d never fired the gun before.
Heart in my throat I called out, ‘Mac! Is everybody
all right out there?’
‘Ok out here,’ came McMurphy’s voice, and
he sounded rattled. ‘You?’
I thought I heard voices in the background, raised in argument.
‘We’re all right… accident.’
Jock seemed vaguely confused and I pressed forward.
He looked kind of troubled about where the loud noise had
come from, and it distracted him long enough that I got around the room
to his side of the table.
‘This seat taken?’ I grinned at him when I got
He blinked at me for a minute before gesturing to the counter
with the barrel of the gun. ‘Go ahead…’
I hopped up beside him and settled down, crossing my ankles
and trying to look non-threatening.
‘So, what do you know about ocelots?’ I gamely
asked him, the most off-putting thing I could think of, keeping an eye on
that gun, trying to make sure he kept it pointed away from me. Somewhere
in the pit of my stomach, underneath the prickly fear of getting shot, I
understood that Jock had just changed all the rules to this game we played.
He’d pulled the damn trigger this time; we weren’t going to
be able to talk him down, sober him up and try to get him back on his feet.
This time it couldn’t be swept under the rug.
‘Ocelots?’ he repeated blankly, looking at me,
and when the gun tracked where his eyes went… I dared to reach out
and gently ease the barrel away.
‘Listen, Jock,’ I whined, shamelessly trying to
win his sympathy. ‘I’m in a lot of trouble. I had to take this
job transporting some animal called an ocelot and I just don’t know
anything about them. Ever seen one?’
‘It’s a cat isn’t it?’ he asked, interested
despite himself. ‘What kind of trouble you in, kiddo?’
I sighed heavily and hung my head, having to reach and push
the barrel away again. ‘You heard about my accident… right?’
‘Yeah, man,’ he commiserated and actually sounded
a little weepy. ‘That was a nasty, nasty piece of luck.’
‘Tell me about it,’ I complained. ‘I can’t
get any decent jobs at all… I don’t know what I’m going
‘That’s tough,’ he told me, voice wavering.
‘That’s real tough.’
‘You want a beer?’ I suddenly blurted and he gave
me a surprised little nod of his head.
‘That’d be good, Duo,’ he confirmed. ‘I
could use a beer.’
‘Great!’ I enthused. ‘I’m buying!’
That served to cheer him up a little bit and he sat contemplating
the butt of his gun while I turned and called out to the other room.
‘Hey McMurphy, how about a couple of beers in here?’
‘Coming right up, Maxwell,’ he hollered back and
I didn’t have to wait long. McMurphy brought them himself, which was
a wise choice. Jock sometimes reacted badly around women.
Mac came slowly around the table, keeping an eye on Jock,
but trusting me to keep him from getting shot. He handed me two beer bottles
and then quietly slipped out of the room again, leaving me to do what I’d
come in here to do.
I handed Jock his bottle and then made a great show of trying
to get the cap twisted off mine and grimacing in pain.
‘Y’ok, Duo?’ Jock asked me with owlish concern
on his face.
‘I screwed my wrist up today,’ I told him. ‘Can
you open this for me?’
‘Sure, kiddo,’ he soothed and laid the gun down
on the counter to take the bottle from me, since his other hand had his
own bottle in it. While he took the minute to figure out that he had to
set his own bottle down to free up a hand, I deftly slid the gun across
the counter and behind me, until it was resting on my other side where he
couldn’t reach it. He never seemed to notice.
He handed me my beer back and took a sip of his own. ‘You
in a bad way, Duo?’ he asked, all watery-eyed concern and I felt a
little bit like a heel for playing on his sympathies.
‘You could say that, Jock,’ I sighed.
‘I’m real sorry to hear that,’ he told me,
reaching to pat my knee awkwardly. ‘It sucks to be on the outside.’
‘Yeah,’ I told him and sipped my own beer. ‘I
know. I think I’ll be all right though.’
‘You’re tough,’ he agreed, nodding his head
sagely. ‘I was tough too… a long time ago.’ He got a funny
little look in his eye then and leaned close to tell me conspiratorially,
‘Don’t trust women, and don’t fall in love.’
I laughed out loud and bit down on my first retort. ‘Women
aren’t all bad,’ I said instead and got a little snort.
‘They’ll screw you over and then leave you the
first time things get a little rough,’ he grumbled.
‘Ok…’ I smirked at him. ‘I swear…
no falling in love with a woman.’
He seemed to brighten a little, as though I had accepted his
little nugget of wisdom as the God’s honest truth and the only way
to live. I felt really bad for him and had to wonder, not for the first
time, about the woman who had walked out on him for greener pastures.
I sat and talked with him for a few minutes, listened to his
story again and let him finish his beer
Movement by the door made me glance that way and I saw McMurphy
peeking around the corner. I gave him the thumbs up and saw him visibly
relax. He turned away for a second and I’m sure he passed the sign
on to the room. Then he stepped into the doorway and quietly said, ‘Uh,
Duo… Jock’s got company.’
‘Jock,’ I said gently. ‘You know we got
He nodded morosely, tilted his bottle back to be sure he had
the last drop and then set it aside to look at me. ‘Yeah… I
I got down first, flipping on the gun’s safety and slipping
it into my pocket, waiting while he climbed down with exaggerated care.
He’s not a stumbling, babbling drunk. He just gets… depressed.
I felt awful for him, knowing what was waiting for him in
the other room. Knowing where he was going to be going tonight. The trade
takes care of their own… to a point. Jock had stepped over the line
this time though. I dropped my arm across his shoulders as we walked around
the table and headed for the door.
He sighed heavily and looked at me. ‘I screwed up this
time, didn’t I Duo?’ he asked quietly and I had to nod.
‘Yeah buddy,’ I agreed sympathetically. ‘I’m
afraid you did… I’m real sorry.’
‘Not your fault I’m an old idiot,’ he grumbled
as we went through the door.
The first thing I noticed was the rather large group of people
clustered in the corner of the room, making a human wall between me and
my Heero. I could see his wild-eyed face through the bodies and flashed
him a grin that I hoped was reassuring. I could feel his eyes locked on
me like a tracking device. I felt really guilty about all those people who’d
had to throw themselves in front of his considerable… protective tendencies.
The second thing I noticed were the three police officers
by the door, talking to McMurphy and looking highly agitated. I’m
sure that most ‘shots fired’ calls don’t get a ‘just
hold on a minute’ response from the people being shot at.
‘Maxwell?!’ I heard and had to grin near to split
‘Jones?’ I almost laughed. ‘I thought we
agreed to stop meeting like this?’
He just stared down at me, shaking his head in total exasperation.
I turned the gun over to one of his cohorts while the other one took Jock
in hand. The old guy was docile as hell until they started to cuff him,
then he looked to me for support with frightened eyes.
I sighed. ‘Listen Clint… is that really necessary?’
‘Sorry kid,’ Clint told me with a little shake
of his head. ‘Its procedure.’
‘At least in front, and not behind his back?’
I cajoled and I saw the other guy hesitate, waiting for Clint to decide.
‘All right,’ Clint said with a gusty sigh and
I had to grin up at him.
‘Is that ok, Jock?’ I asked, just as if he had
a choice and he nodded, maybe understanding somewhere under all the alcohol
that it didn’t really matter what he said. But I understood what a
difference it could make in a situation like this to feel like you had some
kind of control left.
They led him away then and he glanced back once with one of
those weepy looks that could rip your heart out. ‘Sorry McMurphy,’
was the last thing we heard.
I turned my attention up to the man who had, so far, shared
most of my day. ‘Looks like your bad day sucks worse than mine…
you’re still on the job,’ I grinned at him.
He snorted and planted his hands on his hips with a mock glare.
‘I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you again today?’
I had to laugh out loud. ‘Well, I sure as hell haven’t
gotten a whole lot of what I was wishing for today, either!’
Around us, people were returning to their tables and I suddenly
had a wall of bodies behind me. Glancing back, I found the guys all but
ready to pull me into a protective huddle of ex-Gundam pilot. I could feel
Heero fairly vibrating behind me and knew that were we alone, I’d
be wrapped in his arms so tight there would be pain. I cast him a warm look
that I hoped would hold him until we got through this.
There were a couple of more cops now, one of them talking
to McMurphy by the bar and another one looking at the bullet hole in the
wall of the back dining room.
Clint was shaking his head at me, looking down from his great
height, ‘Maxwell… if I were you I’d be in a damn bunker
somewhere, wearing a flak jacket and a helmet.’
I planted my own hands on my hips, mocking his stance, and
grinned. ‘I like living on the edge I guess… I dared to go out
He laughed, moving his hands self-consciously and suddenly
turned to look around. ‘Hold on a second kid, there’s someone
you have got to meet.’ He caught sight of the guy in the back room
and called to him, ‘Harris! Hey… come here a minute, Harris.
This is that guy I told you about from this morning!’
While his attention was diverted for a second, getting his
partner’s attention, Heero moved in a little closer behind me and
I turned to face him.
‘Duo,’ he asked softly. ‘Are you all right?
What the hell is going on here?’
I could see confusion and fear in his eyes, and a burning
desire to reach out and hold me, that he was ruthlessly holding in check.
‘I’m fine,’ I soothed, and his desire to
touch communicated itself to me so strongly that it was all I could do not
to throw my arms around his neck and hold on tight. I wanted in that moment,
to get the hell out of there so badly I could have screamed. I covered it
up with a bright smile, ‘I tried to warn you guys about this place.’
‘Well,’ Trowa drawled, ‘it has been an interesting
I thought Quatre would choke to death trying not to laugh.
‘Duo,’ Wufei interjected, giving Quatre a squelching
glare, ‘what is the Officer talking about? What about this morning?’
I couldn’t help giving him a wicked little grin. ‘I
tried to tell you guys that I’d had a pretty damn crappy day…’
‘Hey Jones!’ the cop talking to McMurphy suddenly
called, waving madly. ‘You guys made the news! Come and look at this!’
There was suddenly a crowd of people jockeying to get where
they could see the television and somebody hollered for McMurphy to turn
it up. I found myself standing next to Clint and his partner with the guys
clustered around me like an honor guard, watching myself on the evening
news. Oh joy. How… oddly mortifying.
Though people kept telling other people to shut up, you still
couldn’t hear a whole lot. ‘… city bus…’ I
heard, ‘…rush hour traffic…’
The news crew had apparently gotten there sometime after Clint,
but before the rest of the cops, and the footage started with a scene of
me and Clint, practically wrestling in the street. The camera zoomed in
on our desperate faces, cutting for a moment to the woman on the sidewalk
screaming hysterically about her baby. I noticed for the first time that
she was blonde and there was blood on the side of her face. The picture
cut back to Clint and me, just as I stopped fighting and pointed over his
shoulder. Clint turned to look and I broke free.
On the other side of Clint, his partner, the guy name Harris,
burst out laughing. ‘I can’t believe you fell for that, Jonesy!’
he teased mercilessly.
‘Shut up, Harris,’ Clint growled at him.
On screen, the camera jerked and steadied, following my mad
dash across the pavement and up the side of the bus. I saw for the first
time just how close the cop had come to catching me.
I nudged him in the ribs, ‘You know… you’re
kinda fast for such a big guy.’
‘You shut up, too,’ he grinned, and went back
to watching the screen.
On the television, I folded my arms across my chest, and just
stepped through the smashed out bus window, dropping like a stone into the
thick black smoke.
Behind me, there was a funny little gasp of sound and Heero
was suddenly standing right next to me, managing in the crowd of people
to press his shoulder against mine in the closest thing he would allow himself
to an embrace here in front of all these strangers.
‘It’s all right,’ I murmured and then grimaced,
giving him a pathetic little grin, ‘It’s… gonna get worse
here in a minute…’ and leaned into his shoulder.
The camera man had to move because of the smoke and there
was a cut and when the scene came back, it was Clint jerking me and the
kid out of the bus like a couple of rag dolls, and throwing us to the ground.
I saw the wide eyes of the kid over my own arm for a minute and shivered
at the… weirdness of it all. A hand fell on my left shoulder and I
glanced back to see Wufei staring at the screen, looking a little disconcerted.
‘I swear to God,’ he whispered to me, ‘the
next time you tell us you had a bad day… we’ll listen.’
I snickered softly and turned back to the news broadcast just
in time to see the flaming piece of… bus, I guess… hit me squarely
across my shoulders. It was extremely surreal watching myself catch fire.
I saw Heero’s hands twitch as though he would reach out towards the
‘me’ on the screen. I leaned into him a little harder and saw
Quatre move up on his other side and murmur something I couldn’t hear.
The Clint and the Sam on the screen scrambled like mad, Sam
pulling the little girl from my arms, having to fight to make her let go
of my braid, at the same time that Clint was smothering the flames with
his jacket and his hands. I reflected that I probably owed my hair to that
little kid’s grip.
‘Did I remember to say thanks?’ I grinned up at
He snorted. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘You’re welcome… you damn little shit.’
The broadcast cut back to the studio and some red-head behind
an anchor’s desk said some stuff I really couldn’t hear, ‘…
Officer Clinton Jones… unknown man…’
The bar erupted in cheers. I deftly stepped away from Clint
and gestured toward him with a flourish, applauding with everybody else,
making him the center of attention and deflecting the spotlight from myself.
He glowered at me.
‘Hush up!’ Harris suddenly called out. ‘It
ain’t over yet!’
We looked up at the screen. Apparently, the bus accident had
been the top story of the night… followed closely by the sniper incident.
I think I sighed. I know Clint sighed.
‘There was a damn news crew there?’ he murmured,
managing to sound a little dejected.
The camera crew hadn’t gotten there until late in the
dealings. There was a quick warning that flashed on the screen about the
following footage not being suitable for younger children. They cut right
to a series of shots of the bodies on the sidewalk. The first one obviously
dead, the second one twitching in a very… unsettling manner.
Then the camera closed on a little red car, behind which Clint
and I were crouched.
‘It was red,’ I muttered to no one in particular
and Clint laughed at me.
‘You didn’t remember?’ he snickered.
‘It could have been a rock for all I cared,’ I
The crew had gotten there just as we had started our move
to the black van. There wasn’t any sound; the crew was too far away,
using telephoto lenses from… I couldn’t really figure out where.
You could see Clint yelling at me, and then me yelling back before he finally
relinquished his gun to me. Beside Clint, Harris snickered.
‘You’re gonna catch hell for that,’ he chuckled
‘Yeah,’ Clint sighed. ‘I was kind of hoping
they didn’t catch that on film.’ Then he glared down at me,
telling his partner, ‘And it only gets worse.’
I grinned up at him unrepentant.
A hand closed around my elbow and I glanced to find Heero
beside me again, looking a little pale. ‘I’m all right, love,’
I breathed as softly as I could, and he looked at me with eyes that were
demanding so much more than the bare touch that he was daring.
There was a collective gasp and I glanced back at the screen
in time to see Clint finish his run to the cover of the black van. I watched
myself get ready to follow him before suddenly thinking better of it. The
newscast ‘me’ suddenly stripped his shirt off and there was
a round of laughter.
‘Only you, Maxwell,’ Smitty cat-called, ‘would
stop to do beef-cake in the middle of a situation like that!’
I watched the scene play out and suddenly Clint was leaning
down and looking at me intently, as his on-screen self was taken by surprise
when I broke cover. ‘I meant to ask you… why in the hell didn’t
you warn me before you ran?’
I shrugged and gave him a cock-eyed grin. ‘We were only
going to fool him once with that trick. Figured I had to take him by surprise…
and your firing at him was only going to alert him I was getting ready to
He shook his head and glared at me. ‘You know…
there was a moment there I just about arrested your ass for… for…
I blinked up at him, but Harris burst out laughing. ‘For
what? Saving your sorry ass?’
‘Shut up, Harris.’
We looked back at the screen just in time to see me grab the
gun out of his hand and make my dash across the street. On the television,
Clint looked like he was about to have a coronary, but he thundered after
‘Oh my God,’ Harris wheezed, laughing so hard
that tears were streaming down his face. ‘You weren’t bloody
well kidding, were you? The chief is going to kill you when he sees this!’
I tried an apologetic smile, but Clint wasn’t buying
‘He’s a damn Preventor!’ Clint justified
and I cringed. I’d kind of hoped he’d forgotten that little
‘He’s a mechanic for the Preventor’s,’
Wufei supplied helpfully, appearing to take great delight in watching Clint
give birth to a litter of kittens right there in the bar.
‘A mechanic?’ Clint roared and several people
shushed him. The look of total consternation that came over his face then,
was kind of priceless… except for the part where he looked like he
was going to kill me.
The camera crew seemed to have some trouble as the SWAT team
arrived and tried to get them to back off, the scene cut for a minute while
they must have moved. We appeared back in the frame suddenly, a dead-on
shot of me standing in the middle of the sidewalk, bare chest heaving, a
feral grin on my face as I sighted carefully. Clint pressed to the wall
behind me, looking really damn pissed off. I blinked at myself… I’d
never actually gotten to see me… in soldier mode. I looked so damn…
calm, it was almost eerie. The bar had somehow fallen silent, collectively
seeming to hold their breath, and I could hear the announcer lady for a
minute, ‘…SWAT team arrived on the scene at approximately twelve
thirty, just as the local authorities brought an end to the…’
Harris started to snicker.
‘Shut up,’ Clint growled.
I could see my breathing still and I looked like a damn rock
standing there, waiting for the right moment. Then the black van exploded.
Beside me, Heero jerked in reaction and his hand on my elbow tightened until
my arm started to feel numb.
On-screen, Clint flinched and automatically threw his arms
up, ducking slightly. I never blinked, staying stock still until the shooter
gave me my opening and I took my shot. The rifle actually fell through the
frame, an out-of-focus blur.
I watched Clint gather me in toward his chest and take us
both down to the sidewalk. Debris rained down around us like flaming hail,
somehow leaving us unscathed.
After that, there was some footage of the shooter as they
brought him out in cuffs. The bar was so still you could have heard a pin
Into that almost awed silence, Trowa ventured, ‘Is that
all… or should we keep watching?’ It served to break the tension
and generated a round of almost uncomfortable laughter.
I turned around to grin up at him gratefully. ‘I…
think that should do it.’ I glanced back at Clint. ‘Unless you
did something without me today?’
That got a bigger laugh and people finally started to move
away. I felt Heero’s hand slip reluctantly away from me, but he didn’t
go far. Clint just glared at me again.
‘Jesus, Maxwell,’ Smitty said, his voice seeming
louder than usual. ‘Is this like a normal day for you? Or was it some
‘What?’ I asked, all innocence. ‘Isn’t
that what everybody does on their lunch hour?’
He snorted at me and went back to his table, shaking his head
the whole way.
Clint and his two buddies finished not long after that and
headed out. Clint turned at the door and grinned at me. ‘I’m
serious Maxwell… I never want to see you again as long as I live.’
‘The feeling is completely mutual, big guy,’ I
replied and he gave me a jaunty little salute.
I just stood and stared after them for a minute once the door
was closed, trying to gather my tired wits. I felt like someone had used
my body to scrub the floor, wrung me out and dumped me here. I hadn’t
been this damn worn out since Heero had gotten out of the hospital. I could
have gone and laid down on the stupid table and gone to sleep, without even
waiting for Jess to clear the dishes. As if the rest of my day hadn’t
been bad enough, the thing with Jock had just served to add that last little
straw, and I felt like I was trembling under the weight of it… about
to go down. I took a deep, steadying breath and turned back to the guys.
‘Did anybody want dessert?’ I asked brightly and was met with
four looks of mild reproach. I swallowed, trying to see where the chink
in my façade was and couldn’t find it. ‘What’s
the matter?’ I asked cautiously.
‘Duo,’ Quatre said quietly, ‘why didn’t
you tell us what happened to you today?’
‘Ah,’ I waved dismissively and felt myself blushing.
‘It didn’t seem like a great dinner story. I’d have gotten
around to it.’
Heero was looking at me with hurt in his eyes and I couldn’t
meet that gaze. I tried looking to one of the others, but even Wufei looked…
unhappy with me. So I just looked at the floor.
‘Let’s… take this out of here,’ Trowa
suddenly interjected softly and I couldn’t have agreed more. Well…
about the ‘out of there’ part. I wasn’t so sure about
the ‘let’s take this’ part.
I tried to settle the bill, but McMurphy wouldn’t charge
us anything. I tried to argue and he jeered me out of there. We got a laughing
sendoff from about half the bar and then we were outside in the dark, walking
toward the cars.
And frankly I was feeling like shit and wasn’t even
really sure why. I heard murmured talk about who was going to follow who
and I realized that they were all planning on coming back to the apartment
with us… presumably so we could… talk.
I sighed heavily and resisted the urge to kick the car.
‘What is it, Duo?’ Quatre asked gently, and all
eyes were on me again.
‘Look, guys,’ I mumbled, finding the end of my
braid in my fingers, a nervous habit that I thought I’d gotten over.
‘Do we have to do this tonight? I’m really kind of tir…’
I bit it off. Tired. That phrase I had taken to using; my little euphemism
for ‘total emotional shutdown’. They were looking at me with
slightly frightened expressions, every damn one of them. Wondering what
I was covering up. Wondering what I hadn’t told them. I got…
a little angry.
‘I’m not fucking allowed to be tired anymore?’
I snapped, giving in to the urge and kicking the tire. ‘That wasn’t
enough? I have to be hiding something else?’ It bled out of me rather
quickly, that anger. I just didn’t have the energy to keep it up.
It was Trowa who seemed to lose that look first, seeming to
switch to my side of an argument we weren’t really having. He gave
me a little smile and said, ‘No… that was more than enough for
you to be… tired. You’re right… this can wait until another
time.’ Then he grinned broadly. ‘But don’t think you’re
going to get away with not telling us the whole damn story sooner or later.’
I smiled at him gratefully and reflected that, sometimes,
he seemed to understand me better than any one of them. I felt a tiny nip
of guilt, thinking about some of the things that he had hinted at, things
about his own past and his struggle with ‘normal’. Hints that
I had left lie and not pursued with him. It occurred to me that I needed
to spend a little time getting to know him better. I think we had a lot
more in common besides just that whole Gundam thing. I ducked my head and
rubbed gingerly at the back of my neck.
‘It’ll make a much better tale when my brain isn’t
fried,’ I grinned up at him.
Quatre gave out with a somewhat exasperated sigh, looking
irritated that his curiosity was going to be sent begging for now, but was
quick to follow Trowa’s lead. He came and gave me a gentle hug, murmuring
softly, ‘I want to hear all about it, but for now I’m just glad
you’re all right.’
‘Thanks, Qat,’ I told him.
He drew away and the two of them headed for Wufei’s
car. ‘Just don’t wait so long to come and see us that I have
to come after you,’ Quatre called to me.
I snorted derisively and watched them walk away. Wufei took
a second before following them to cock his head and give me an appraising
stare. ‘You know, Maxwell,’ he smiled bemusedly, ‘you
got through the entire evening without throwing up or running away.’
That caught me rather flat-footed and I just blinked at him.
His smile grew a little bigger as he thought about it. ‘You
really are getting better you know. Two months ago we’d have found
you hiding under your bed or something.’
I repressed a gasp as he needled so close to my desire to
crawl under the bed the way we orphans used to do when we were scared or
upset. There really wasn’t an answer to that, so he didn’t wait
for one, going to climb in the driver’s seat of his car and taking
them all out of there.
Then it was down to Heero and me. We just stood there for
a moment, at the edge of the parking lot, neither one of us quite sure what
I could see conflicting emotions running through his eyes
as he stared at me. Irritation, that lingering fear, confusion still…
all wrapped up in that longing that he’d been denying himself for
the last hour.
‘It is dark and there is no one around and I wouldn’t
fucking give a damn even if there was,’ I suddenly heard myself growling.
‘If you don’t put your damn arms around me right now, I am going
That was all it took. He reached out with a funny little moan
and jerked me into his arms; pulling me so far off balance I couldn’t
have stood up if he hadn’t been supporting us both.
‘Damn it,’ he whispered next to my ear, ‘I
almost lost you three God damn times today… and didn’t even
‘I tried to tell you,’ I told him, trying not
to let it come out sounding defensive.
‘I know it, love,’ he murmured, dropping a kiss
on the side of my face. ‘Damn it… I know it. But I couldn’t
hear you. I’m sorry… I’m so sorry.’
‘It’s not always about that damn accident anymore,
Heero,’ I dared. ‘It’s getting darn close to a year ago
‘And you’re so much better,’ he admitted,
ghosting kisses down my cheek. ‘I know that… you just hid things
from me for so long that I… look for things that aren’t there
‘Hush,’ I growled throatily, ‘and just fucking
kiss me already.’
And he did, completely and thoroughly. Until I freakin’
forgot I was supposed to be standing up and ending up hanging in his arms,
He drew back and looked at me with the flare of that protective
gleam in his eyes. ‘We’re not going to work tomorrow,’
he informed me firmly.
‘We’re not?’ I panted huskily, grinning
at him, ‘And just what are we going to be doing?’
He smirked softly. ‘We are going car shopping.’
It was an absurdly perfect thing for him to say and I laughed
delightedly with him. Winding down to look deep into those beautiful eyes
of his, I stroked my knuckles over his lips and along his jaw line. ‘Maybe
tomorrow afternoon… I’m planning on sleeping until noon.’
He snorted and smiled warmly, turning his face to kiss at
my fingers. ‘Fair enough.’
I laid my head on his shoulder with a weary sigh. ‘Take
me home, Heero.’
His arms wound around me a little tighter, and he lifted my
head with gentle fingers, bringing my lips to meet his. ‘You’re
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