Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap,
OOC, language, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading (over the holidays!) and Aya for continued
encouragement. Thanks guys!
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
Well, the car-shopping trip was one of those things that turned
out to fall under the category of ‘seemed like a good idea at the
time’. It had been an unmitigated disaster. We’d never been
shopping together before. Not serious shopping. Not haggling and bargaining
shopping. I’m a spacer still, down there in my bones, and the other
name for spacer is frugal. In my mind I was being thrifty. I was being systematic
and thinking things through. Apparently, in Heero’s mind, I was just
being damned picky. It had turned out to be a less than stellar idea. I
was still tired, still pretty damn high-strung, and Heero was just getting
on my nerves with his impatience with the entire process. I’m pretty
sure he bought his own car brand new. Probably did a bunch of research on
the Internet and knew exactly what he wanted before he ever left the house.
I’d be willing to bet that he went down to the dealership and just
told them what they were going to sell him, and what he was damn well going
to pay for it. I don’t think he’d ever gone shopping for a used
car before. I had in my mind what I was looking for, knew my price range,
and had a secondary mental list of things that fell under ‘desired’
but not ‘necessary’. Things I could live without. I knew what
I was after, but I just hadn’t found it yet. I was content with knowing
that this process could take days on end.
I swear to God, Heero left the house that day with the idea
that we’d be home with a vehicle all bought and paid for, and still
be in time for lunch.
It was on the third car lot we visited that it kind of came
to a head. Let me put it into perspective… I was thinking, ‘only
the first day’, Heero was thinking ‘the third damn lot!’
Understand now? He was getting impatient. I was getting a headache. And
then I walked away from what he deemed the perfect car without even looking
at it, he finally got irritated enough to reproach me about it.
‘Duo?’ he called after me, sounding a little perplexed…
a little pissed. ‘Where are you going? What in the hell is wrong with
I stopped in my tracks and tried to dredge up some logic that
would explain my aversion to the car he was standing next to, other than…
‘It’s red.’ That just sounded nuts. I took a deep breath
and tried to push down my own irritation, wanting to be able to explain
myself and not at all sure how. I couldn’t think of a way to put it
that didn’t just sound stupid. I think red just might be a jinxed
color for me? Yeah… right.
I heard the scuff of Heero’s foot on the pavement as
he moved toward me and I was considering the idea of asking him to go the
hell home and just let me handle this on my own, when somebody in the service
bay fired up an air wrench. I all but dropped to the ground in a panic.
If I’d had a gun… I would have drawn it. I’m not entirely
sure that my fingers didn’t reach for one that wasn’t there
anyway. Crappy days have this tendency of bleeding over for me.
Heero was suddenly at my side, a hand under my elbow to steady
me. ‘This was a horrible idea,’ he told me gently. ‘I’m
sorry… you’re just too stressed for this. Let’s go home
and try again another day.’ But he couldn’t quite hide the faint
disappointment in his voice.
I couldn’t stand that look in his eyes and sighed, shaking
my head. ‘No… you’re right, there’s nothing wrong
with the car you were looking at. Why don’t you go get the sales guy
and we’ll test drive it?’
The relief was more than plain, but he made himself ask, ‘You’re
‘Yeah…’ I told him, my resolve bolstered
by that look on his face. And the understanding that buying that car would
make this nightmare be over. ‘It’s in the right price range.’
He went off to find the salesman then, while I stood and stared
at that stupid car and tried to make myself not hate it. We took it home
that afternoon. I vowed to save the money to have the Goddamned thing painted
at the first opportunity. For some odd reason, red cars just give me the
We each drove ‘our’ cars back to the apartment.
And yes, I had my license; Heero had insisted that I get one right after
he got out of the hospital. I looked the thing over as I drove, trying to
sell myself on it. It was an automatic, where I would have preferred a stick.
It didn’t have a decent stereo system at all, strictly a radio, not
even a CD player. I kept finding things I didn’t like and tried to
stop, I knew I was just being pissy. I had a headache, I was tired…
and the damn thing was red.
I wondered idly, as I parked in front of the apartment, why
I was so focused on what color it was. Color had not even been on my list
of ‘issues’. I’m not that damned picky. But red? Did it
have to be red? I already twitched whenever I saw red cars on the road and
now here I was driving one.
I locked it and went into the building, trying not to look
at it. Ok… suck it up, Maxwell. You don’t like it; so what?
It’s a car. It runs. It will get you from point A to point B, and
that’s what this was all about, wasn’t it?
I had beaten Heero back to the apartment and I was just as
glad, it gave me a chance to take a couple of aspirin before he got home.
I thought about throwing myself down on the sofa and just mindlessly channel
surfing until he showed up, but all the news casts were still talking about
the bus accident and the sniper incident and I was sick of seeing it…
sick of thinking about it.
Yesterday had been one of those days that turned out to be
tougher after it was over. I had gotten through it on a strange mixture
of ‘this can’t be happening’ disbelief and adrenaline.
Once it had all been done, I had crashed and burned, and discovered that
my day had left me with one or two mental images that wanted to live behind
my eyelids for a while. Every time I closed my eyes I could see the sniper
victims lying on the sidewalk, twitching convulsively. I could hear the
screams of that mother as she realized that her baby girl was still on board
that bus. I relived that moment when I’d had to turn Jock over to
the police. Saw that lost and lonely look on his face.
So I just laid on the couch and stared at the ceiling for
awhile and tried to think of something else. I had off-loaded a lot of my
stress when the ship and the vacuum suits had all sold. When I had gotten
the job in the Preventor’s motor pool. All things that had allowed
me to start a steady trickle of money going to the Maxwell home on L2 again.
Not nearly the amount that I had been sending when I’d owned my own
business, but enough that my guilt had eased. Davey’s violin lessons
had never been interrupted and Octavia had sent me a couple of messages,
expressing her surprise that the boy really was getting rather good. Those
letters made me feel good… and bad all at the same time. Good because
I was still able to help those kids try and achieve their dreams. Bad because
I realized I would probably never see any of them again.
Finally getting through with therapy had helped a lot, too.
Physically, I suppose I wasn’t anywhere near the shape I had been
in before the accident, but I was getting there. I could jog up the steps
to the apartment now without gasping for breath when I got there. Could
play a little basketball with Heero and not feel dizzy after a half an hour.
I seriously doubted that I would last the session if I tried to go to the
gym with Heero and Wufei, but I was starting to see the light at the end
of the tunnel. Was starting to feel like a day might come when I could.
So I suppose the scales were starting to balance a little.
Not necessarily in the manner I would have chosen for myself… but
a balance all the same. If there was any one thing that I could point to
and say, ‘this is making me crazy’, it would probably be the
completely fruitless search for Mrs. Anna Camden. Wufei had been using all
the resources at his disposal in the hunt, but so far had come up empty.
The woman had simply dropped out of the universe as we know it, after the
war. Wufei hadn’t found a trace, and that… that broken promise
to a dead Captain, was probably the thing that preyed on my mind the most.
Left me sometimes seeing the man’s visage over my shoulder in the
mirror, staring at me with accusation in his one remaining eye.
It took Heero so long to get back, I damn near dozed off on
the couch, twitching almost violently awake when I heard the front door
finally open. I really hoped my nerves settled soon… this was getting
to be ridiculous. I sat up, blinking blearily and found him looking at me
with an odd little smirk on his face.
‘I half expected to find you with your head under the
hood of your car,’ he teased lightly and beckoned me to follow him
to the kitchen. He’d stopped and bought take-out for dinner. He had
something else in his hands as well, and I found myself glancing at it as
I helped set the table and dish up the chicken.
‘What’s that?’ I asked, inclining my head
at the papers in his hand. I was a little taken aback by the almost sheepish
look on his face.
‘I stopped off at the real estate office and picked
up some flyers,’ he murmured, laying them down beside his plate. I
blinked at him for a second, and then went to pour our drinks.
He was sitting down when I returned to the table and took
my seat across from him. He studiously dished up his mashed potatoes, not
looking at me. ‘I know you wanted to wait… but I thought it
wouldn’t hurt to get some idea of what was out there. See what kind
of price range we’re going to be dealing with.’
‘That’s fine,’ I told him and bent to cutting
up my chicken. I wondered idly if this was going to be another of those
things that I should just let happen. Another of those things that wasn’t
worth voicing an opinion over. I wasn’t quite ready to go house hunting
with Heero yet. I wanted… I wanted a clean slate before I went in
search of a new home. I wanted to feel like I was completely back on my
feet, with all my little hamsters in a row. I wanted it to be a… happy
thing, when he and I set off to find our house. But I didn’t think
it would be, as long as I had Captain Camden breathing down my neck. I wondered,
suddenly, if searching for a house with Heero would be anything like searching
for a car had been.
‘I just gave the clerk some loose parameters,’
he ventured. ‘There’s a pretty wide sampling here.’ He
was waiting for me to show some interest, so I took a few of the flyers
from his pile and glanced over them.
I took a couple of bites of dinner, trying very hard to get
passed the melancholy and the headache to really make myself read what was
in front of me. ‘Heero… you forgot to put ‘English’
in the parameters… what in the hell does all this mean?’ I finally
managed to quip and he flashed me a grin that bordered on relieved.
So he began to explain, and I got a little lecture on what
all the little abbreviations and codes meant, about the fact that not all
houses had basements and that some of them were built on things called ‘slabs’.
About the desirability of a thing called ‘city sewer’. I understood
very quickly that this might be the first time that Heero had brought home
real estate listings, but it was far from a new subject for him. I wanted
to shove the things back across the table at him, but he was getting really
excited, explaining things to me and I just didn’t have the heart
to tell him that I wasn’t ready for this. I felt rather bad, actually,
for making him wait when he was so obviously ready to make this move. I
repressed a sigh and wondered about the possibility of bribing guilt-beast
with a little chicken under the table. I could hear him licking his chops
After dinner, Heero wanted to curl up on the couch with me
so that we could look over the fliers together. I found it all to be rather…
‘Heero,’ I blurted after about a half an hour
of poking at the endless pile of house listings. ‘There has to be
a way to narrow the field. There are just too many choices here! I can’t
make sense of it!’
He chuckled at me, taking the scraps of paper from my fingers
where I held them spread like a hand of cards. ‘Well, what’s
most important to you?’ he asked gently.
‘Price!’ I told him instantly. ‘Look at
this one; they’d be paying for this out of our estate thirty years
after we’re dead!’
His smile faltered a little bit and I suspected that wasn’t
what he’d been looking for. ‘I mean,’ he clarified. ‘What
do you want in a house?’
‘I don’t know a thing about houses,’ I told
him honestly. ‘I don’t even know where to start. Brick? Frame?
There must be a superior building material… but I just don’t
He chuckled at me, laying the listings on the coffee table
and reached to pull me towards him. ‘There isn’t a right and
wrong in this, love,’ he said, trying to bring me in against his chest,
but I wasn’t comfortable yet resting against his stomach, and shifted
at the last minute to lean against his side. He sighed softly. ‘It’s
personal preference in a lot of it. It’s… aesthetics. What to
you like? What do you want?’
I wanted to not deal with this yet. I wanted to not make such
a huge decision while I still felt like there was so much other stuff on
my plate. ‘I don’t know,’ I said, trying to keep the grumble
out of my voice. ‘Heero… I’ve never lived in a house before.
Unless you count the occasional safe house during the war when we went undercover.’
There was an odd little silence and I could feel him looking
at me, but I didn’t twist my head to look up at him. ‘What do
you mean?’ he asked gently. ‘Surely you lived somewhere…’
I took my turn delivering the sigh, absently rubbing my knuckles
over his knee. ‘My earliest memories are of living on the streets,’
I said, keeping my voice rather clinical. ‘We were lucky if we stayed
in the same place two nights in a row. We slept in burned out buildings…
in alleys. When the plague came through… I ended up in the Maxwell
orphanage. We had a dorm room in the basement of the church. After that…
during my training… I lived in the barracks and the labs.’ I
shrugged, getting a little uncomfortable under that stare I could still
feel. ‘After the war, I worked for Howard and lived off his salvage
ship until I… until I bought my own. I lived aboard my ship from then
There was a tense little silence, then he carefully kissed
the top of my head, where it rested against his chest. ‘All the more
reason that our house should be… perfect.’
‘That would be fine if I knew what perfect was,’
I said, wincing when it came out sounding a little dejected.
‘What do you see when you think about a home?’
he murmured, his hand stroking gently up and down my arm.
My ship, was what popped into my head, without even any help
from my thought hamsters; I knew that one all on my own. But it wasn’t
what I could say to Heero. When I didn’t immediately answer him, he
continued softly. ‘Come on… close your eyes and think about
a home… our home. Don’t you see anything?’
I dutifully closed my eyes and tried really hard to think
past my Demon-ship, but only saw one thing. I smiled up at him. ‘You.’
He snorted softly, but looked pleased, and leaned down to
kiss me. ‘You’re not helping,’ he murmured when he drew
‘I’m sorry,’ I grinned up at him. ‘I
just haven’t thought about it too much… I thought…’
I hesitated on telling him I hadn’t thought I had to worry about it
His expression grew pensive and he shifted a little so that
I could look up at him without twisting quite so hard. ‘Duo-love,
I know you had your heart set on finding this Camden woman… but you
realize you might have to give it up?’
I frowned. ‘Wufei hasn’t quit, has he?’
I had to ask. I knew it had been over a month since we’d actively
started hunting, but I just assumed Wufei had been too busy to devote a
lot of time to it. I assumed that he would tell me if he stopped looking
‘No,’ Heero told me, but he seemed hesitant. ‘But…
he’s found no sign of her at all. You may have to face up to the fact
that we aren’t going to locate her.’
I gnawed on that for a minute and found I wasn’t all
that happy about the thought. But it was a possibility I had to admit to.
If Wufei could not find the woman with all the damned impressive resources
of the Preventors network, she wasn’t going to be found. I knew that
Wufei must be reaching a point of giving up or I wouldn’t be getting
this little talk from Heero.
I lay my head back down and thought about that. Tried to follow
the thread of that possibility through to its conclusion. I already felt
guilty because Wufei was doing all the work on this project, but it didn’t
really make much sense for me to stumble around trying to do what he could
do ten times as easily with the tools he had at hand.
Guilt beast joined us on the couch, resting his imaginary
head on my thigh and leering up at me in high good humor. I sighed. This
wasn’t something I could talk to Heero about. I’m afraid Captain
Camden will be pissed if I don’t find her, just didn’t fucking
sound sane. I didn’t want to revisit that scene where I looked into
Heero’s eyes and saw fear for my mental stability reflected there.
Heero didn’t appreciate my free-form thinking. Wouldn’t
have understood a thought hamster if one crawled up and bit him on the butt.
But honestly? I was a little afraid that if I called the search off and
admitted that we couldn’t find the woman, that my nightmares were
going to come back. It had been quite a while since I had found Captain
Camden’s journal, but the knowledge that a search was underway had
salved whatever guilt I had felt over it. I was pretty sure that guilt would
come back full-force if I actually had to officially say ‘I give up’.
Ok… that really does sound nuts, doesn’t it?
Heero’s fingers were stroking lightly over my hair.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said gently.
‘It’s not your fault,’ I told him.
‘I know,’ he murmured. ‘But I can still
feel badly for you, can’t I?’
I squirmed around until I was lying more facing him, so that
I didn’t have to keep twisting to see him, and smiled. ‘I suppose
you can if you want to.’
A bit of a frown flitted across his face and he tried to ease
me over, more on top of him than beside him. I balked. ‘Heero…
The frown solidified and he gave me another half-hearted tug.
‘Will you stop worrying about hurting me? It’s been almost two
That made me laugh and he looked a little peeved at being
made fun of. ‘That’s a hell of a line coming from Mr. Overprotective,’
The pissed off look faded a bit, to be replaced with a sheepish
little almost-grin. ‘I’m fine,’ he murmured and all I
could do was snicker at him.
‘That’s my damn line, Yuy,’ I mock growled
and began pulling at the hem of his shirt. He slid down to aid me and I
continued to tug until I found the snap on his jeans, and then I finally
found those mostly-healed scars. I used lips and tongue to give them a modicum
of the attention I felt they deserved, until Heero forgot about the damn
house. Forgot about the damn journal. Until he was pushing at his own jeans,
frantic for more than just the teasing kisses. Until his voice took on a
hint of desperation.
‘Touch me!’ he moaned, sounding oddly… pained.
‘Damn it Duo… touch me!’
I took pity on him then, stopped the light nibbling, and got
serious. It didn’t take long before he was shouting out his release,
his fingers buried in my hair, his chest heaving with the exertion.
He pulled me up then, to claim a searching kiss, and I felt
him shiver. He loves that… to kiss me afterward, to taste himself
on my tongue. It never fails to make him almost breathless with this strange…
tenderness. He turned me in his arms and I didn’t fight it, just tried
not to put too much weight on his abdomen. His hands slid over my exposed
belly then, pulling shirt up, pushing jeans down. Fingers questing and stroking,
hunting over my bared skin, until he succeeded in making me do my own forgetting.
No journal. No car. No house. Only Heero’s sure, strong,
gentle, wonderful hands.
We woke there on the couch, some hours later, cold and cramped,
and staggered off to bed.
The next day was Saturday and I had been rather looking forward
to spending a large part of my time with my head under my pillow, avoiding
the news and pretending that I didn’t own a bright red Chevy. Those
plans had not anticipated the rest of the guys showing up to ‘see
my new car’ and ostensibly, to hear all about my day from Hell. I
guess a day was more than Quatre could stand to wait.
The doorbell woke me, but Heero was already up, so I tried
burying my head in the blankets and ignoring it, hoping it was just a package
delivery or something. Mrs. Moffitt from up the hall borrowing sugar. A
door-to-door traveling evangelist. Mickey Mouse. I didn’t care, just
so long as whoever it was left me alone. The sounds of voices in the living
room not long after, told me that not only was it not Mickey Mouse…
the ‘whoever it was’ was the guys, and they would not be leaving
me alone. I sighed and got up before somebody came after me.
I’d had kind of a crappy night, not really sleeping
well, not having nightmares exactly, but a series of bizarre dreams that
involved fire in one form or another, and the ‘pocking’ sound
I took the time to dress and do my hair before leaving the
sanctuary of my bedroom. I figured if they had the nerve to descend on us
at this hour, on a weekend, they could just fucking well wait.
I pulled on a clean pair of cargos and my ‘Hell-Bound
Beavers’ shirt, just because I was feeling pissy, and went out to
meet the public.
They were already ensconced all over the living room and I
did my best to grumble a ‘good morning’ as I made my way through
to the kitchen. This was going to require a bit of caffeine.
I heard a tiny little grunt of shock from Heero through the
replies of the other guys, but I ignored it. When I came back from the kitchen
with my bottle of soda in hand, he was staring at me, wide-eyed. ‘You
let Relena wear that shirt out in public?’
I flashed him a grin that probably looked rather unabashed,
hesitating as I realized Trowa and Quatre were sitting in ‘my’
spot on the couch. Heero was at the other end and Wufei had laid claim to
the armchair. I finally settled on one of the stools at the breakfast counter.
‘If you will recall, I had nothing to do with dressing her Ladyship
that day. Besides… she was wearing one of my work shirts over it…
you couldn’t see the back.’
He’d never seen the back of the shirt before, and was
managing to look a little green thinking about sweet, innocent little Relena
walking around wearing a t-shirt with a group of beavers… well; they
aren’t called the Hell-bound beavers for nothing. ‘Still,’
he muttered. ‘I wish you’d told me. I can’t believe she
agreed to wear that thing!’
I couldn’t help snickering. ‘If I know Toria…
she probably never let her see that picture.’
He scowled darkly and I had to sigh. That had probably not
been the best thing to say. Heero was not Toria Brannigan’s biggest
fan to start with.
‘We heard you’re the proud owner of a new car,
Duo,’ Trowa interjected gently, quite obviously turning the conversation
in a new direction.
Proud wasn’t exactly the term I would have used. Resigned
maybe. I flashed him a grin; during the war Trowa had always had the same
fascination with machinery that I’d had. We had passed more than one
afternoon permanently imbedding grease under our fingernails together. He
would expect me to be excited about this, so I told him, ‘Not new,
but…you wanna see it?’
I noticed the somewhat… pleased look that came into
Heero’s eyes and made another conscious effort not to resent the hunk
of metal that was parked out front. Trowa grinned his interest and we headed
downstairs. Quatre and Wufei begged off, neither of them all that attracted
to engines, teasing about how we would probably be gone for hours and they’d
find us later with the car in a dozen pieces, trying to rebuild it into
something that ran faster.
So I took my soda and Trowa, and we walked outside to look
at my new car.
‘What year is it?’ Trowa asked as we made our
way across the parking lot to where the thing was parked.
I blinked for a moment, but couldn’t dredge it up. ‘I
forget,’ I told him. ‘It should be on the paper on the window…
I think it’s still on there.’
‘A Chevy?’ he questioned, as we got close enough
for him to see the logo. ‘You told me once that you hated working
on Chevys… didn’t like the engine mounting.’
I shrugged noncommittally. ‘Well, I’m hoping it
runs well enough I won’t have to be working on it constantly.’
He had stopped to stand beside the car, reading the specs
sheet still taped to the window. I stood back, sipping my soda and watching
a squirrel that was digging around one of the trees next to the sidewalk.
Weird things, squirrels… everybody thinks they’re so cute, but
get rid of the tail and what do you have? A rat.
‘Well?’ I heard Trowa say, and I looked at him,
not sure what he was talking about.
‘Well, what?’ I frowned, and he snickered at me.
‘Aren’t you going to unlock it at least?’
He crossed his arms across his chest and gave me an appraising look.
I flushed darkly, realizing that I hadn’t even brought
the keys. I told him as much and he laughed lightly, leaning back against
the car. ‘Duo… if this car was any less ‘you’, it
would be a tricycle.’
I snorted and shook my head, taking another swallow of my
soda while I thought of something witty to say. ‘We’re not eighteen
year old kids anymore,’ I finally managed. ‘Practicality has
a little more to do with it than the ‘coolness’ factor.’
But you want to know what kind of stung? Trowa had looked
at that car and known in less than five minutes that it wasn’t the
sort of thing I would have picked out for myself. It kind of hurt that Heero
didn’t know me that well.
He cocked his head, glancing at the car and then at me. ‘It’s
a four cylinder,’ he said, his tone almost accusatory.
‘I’m not planning on street racing it,’
‘You hate an automatic transmission,’ he noted
blandly and I could feel my face getting hotter by the minute.
‘I got old and lazy,’ I grinned, bound and determined
that he wasn’t going to get me to admit anything. I’d learned
a long time ago that anything said to one of these guys was said to all
of them. That included Heero. Fat lot of good it was going to do me to buy
this car to put Heero’s mind at ease if Trowa just reported back to
him that I hated the thing and had only settled on it to make him happy.
‘Duo,’ Trowa said gently. ‘There isn’t
even a stereo in it.’
I figured I’d better kick the evasion dance into a higher
gear or I wasn’t going to get through this conversation that had suddenly
turned into an interrogation. ‘Ah,’ I scoffed. ‘Dealership
didn’t have anything worth bothering with. I’m planning on putting
in my own system after I save a little money.’ Actually, I wasn’t
planning on doing a damn thing to it, because I just didn’t care.
But it crossed my mind, standing there in the parking lot with Trowa’s
penetrating gaze on me, that I would probably end up doing all kinds of
work on the damn thing just to maintain the illusion for Heero. For a second
I thought I saw a hamster standing on the dash with a little banner that
Trowa just stood and looked at me for a couple of long minutes
and I was seriously afraid I saw a glimmer of some sort of understanding
in his eyes. Trowa has always unnerved me; he sees things too damn clearly
sometimes. ‘You need to stop breaking your own back trying to make
Heero happy,’ he said suddenly and it’s a wonder I didn’t
drop my bottle of soda right there in the parking lot.
I probably did my deer-in-headlights impression, but covered
it with a swig from that bottle after I had a better grip on it. ‘What
do you mean?’ I asked in all innocence.
He frowned a little, shifting against the fender and recrossing
his arms. ‘Duo… this car isn’t anything like what you
would have picked out for yourself,’ he cocked his head, looking at
me intently. ‘In fact… I can probably name a half a dozen things
about it you would hate, just off the top of my head.’
I smirked at him, hiding my shock at how quickly he’d
arrived at this conclusion. ‘It’s a car, man,’ I told
him. ‘Not a marriage.’
‘It’s your first car, Duo,’ he said gently.
‘You should be allowed to have what you wanted. You should be excited
God, but it was tempting to talk to him. It would have been
nice to be able to spill all the frustration of the previous day on somebody.
I had been excited… when we’d first started out yesterday. Before
things had gotten… stressful. But I knew that anything I said to him
would get repeated right back to Heero and I didn’t want that. That
damn car was sitting there because Heero had gotten scared. He’d never
liked my using the bus, and that accident had taken all his fears and kicked
them square in the nuts. It hadn’t been about me finding the car of
my dreams… it had been about easing Heero’s nightmares.
‘Trowa,’ I chuckled. ‘That ‘first
car’ thing is kinda… lame after you’ve owned your own
There was a hint of doubt in his eyes then, he wasn’t
sure if he was reading me right, and I pressed the advantage. I began talking
about the stereo system I planned to put in… something I could manage
to generate a little enthusiasm over, and steered us back toward the apartment.
There was a bit of teasing about how quickly we had come back,
and I admitted rather sheepishly that I had forgotten the keys to the car.
But it faded quickly and I became aware of a touch of tension in the air.
I resettled on my stool and watched it play out to see what was up. Trowa
returned to his place beside Quatre and I had to repress a sigh as I saw
them exchange a look that told me Quatre would know all about Trowa’s
suspicions the first time they had a moment alone to talk. It took a few
minutes, but Wufei finally gave out with an unhappy little cough, and glancing
toward Heero for support, said, ‘Duo, I’m afraid I have some
rather bad news about the search for Mrs. Camden.’
This time I couldn’t quite repress the sigh. ‘Heero
told me you were about at the end of your rope,’ I told him, trying
to ease the telling of it for him. He looked terribly guilty about it, not
quite able to meet my eyes. I wondered if he had his own guilt-beast and
almost grinned at the thought. Wufei kept glancing toward Heero, as though
expecting some help from that quarter. Maybe he thought I would be angry
with him for giving up.
‘It’s all right, man,’ I soothed. ‘I
guess if I’d been in her shoes, I’d have disappeared too.’
‘I’m truly sorry,’ he told me, and I suppose
when I thought about it, I knew how much Chang Wufei hated to give up on
something, this must be killing him. ‘But she seems to have just vanished.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ I assured him. ‘I’m
just really grateful for all the work you’ve done.’
He ducked his head and flushed darkly, seeming suddenly to
be rather tongue-tied. I caught him stealing another glance in Heero’s
direction and I wondered about it, not sure what to make of it. Was he expecting
me to fall apart over his decision to stop searching? Did he think I was
going to lose my temper?
Heero cleared his throat softly, and changed the subject,
taking pity on poor Wufei. ‘We were discussing going out for lunch
before you two came back in… you interested?’
So we trouped off to the pizza place up the street, walking
the three blocks, for which I was glad because I’m sure they would
have insisted on taking my ‘new’ car if we’d driven anywhere…
and I’d forgotten the keys again.
It was an oddly uncomfortable meal. Wufei seemed to be absolutely
miserable. It really was eating at him to have to give up on our search.
He’d read Captain Camden’s journal right along with me when
I’d first found it again, stuffed away in my utility pouch. I think
he felt almost as strongly as I did about delivering the Captain’s
final messages to his wife. It had been a damned emotional evening as he
and I had sat huddled over that book, taking turns reading aloud the final
months of a total stranger’s life.
My deciding to deliver that journal to Camden’s family
had gone a long way toward easing my guilt and stopping my screaming nightmares.
Toward stopping the dead crew of the Londonderry from chasing me through
the memory of phantom corridors. Stopping them from stealing the breath
from my throat and leaving me gasping for air in the cold, wee hours of
the night. I knew it was all in my head, but frankly… I know how in
the hell my head works and I was pretty sure that not finding the woman
that journal was destined for, was going to mess me up pretty good. It was
important to me. It would have put a lot of ghosts to rest, and given me
a certain… closure to the whole episode. I really, really didn’t
like the idea of having to admit defeat.
But I knew Wufei. He has to be the most tenacious man walking
the face of the planet; if he told me she couldn’t be found, then
the woman was just not out there. So his telling me that he was giving up
was the same thing as my giving up. If Wufei couldn’t find her, I
didn’t stand a milkshake’s chance in Hell.
So I guess I was pretty miserable at lunch as well. Quatre
and Trowa tried gamely to keep a conversational ball in the air, but even
Heero seemed subdued. I remember reflecting that they could use the services
of Relena’s assistant Chezarina, the woman had been a master at difficult
social situations. Guilt-beast was lolling under my chair, grinning evilly,
eyeing my ass and just waiting for me to admit to myself that the quest
There was an extremely heavy sigh on my right and I glanced
up to see Heero staring at my plate. I looked back down only to find a slice
of pizza shredded at fork point into something that resembled spaghetti.
‘Oooops,’ I murmured and tried on a sheepish little grin. Heero
only sighed again, reaching to replace the mess in front of me with a fresh
slice. ‘Don’t be wasteful,’ I admonished, tapping the
back of his hand with a knuckle. ‘It’s still edible.’
He gave me an exaggerated look of distaste as I ate a fork-full of pizza-ghetti
and I smirked at him.
I turned my gaze across the table and found Wufei looking
like his best friend had just died. I felt awful. I tried not to wince when
guilt bit me in the butt with a snicker. I sighed instead. ‘Come on,
Fei,’ I told him softly. ‘Don’t look like that…
I know you did your best. If anybody in the world could have found Mrs.
Camden, it’s you. I’m not upset with you or anything.’
Somehow, he only managed to look more uncomfortable and I floundered a little.
‘I mean… I’m disappointed, sure… but not with you.
I know you tried.’
He just… withered right in front of me, so I shut up;
I was obviously making it worse somehow. Beside me, Heero softly cleared
his throat and when I glanced his way he gave me an almost imperceptible
shake of his head that told me to drop it. I figured he knew his partner
better than I did, so I followed his lead and just bent to eating my lunch.
There was another one of those uncomfortable silences.
‘Duo,’ Quatre ventured into it, always the game
one, ‘are you going to get around to telling us about… the other
I chuckled at the look of utterly frustrated, unsated curiosity
on his face. ‘What did you want to know that hasn’t been on
the damn news fifty times, Qat?’
He gave me an exasperated little growl and glared at me. ‘Everything!’
he blurted and it got a laugh from the whole table.
I shrugged when they quieted. ‘It was just one of those
‘Murphy’s Law’ days, man. Anything that can go wrong will
That got me a scornful glare from both Heero and Quatre, and
I sighed. ‘Ask already!’ I told them, eating another bite of
‘Well for starters,’ Quatre said, his tone a little
exasperated. ‘Are you all right?’
I blinked at him, chewing slowly. That one had rather caught
me by surprise and I wasn’t sure at first what he meant. ‘Sure,’
I frowned. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Maxwell,’ Wufei grumbled, rolling his eyes heavenward
as though asking God for patience. ‘You were, however briefly, on
I grinned at him, happy that he seemed to be coming out of
his dark mood enough to at least enter the conversation. ‘Oh yeah,’
I muttered dismissively, knowing it would get a rise out of him. He didn’t
‘Only you could manage to forget something like that!’
he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.
Beside me, Heero chuckled softly. ‘Don’t let him
fool you,’ he grinned at Wufei. ‘He certainly didn’t forget
about it last night while he was trying to sleep.’
‘It stings,’ I informed him haughtily. ‘And
itches like a son-of-a-bitch.’
Trowa smiled across at me, reaching for another slice of pizza.
‘How bad is it?’ he asked gently.
‘No worse than a sunburn,’ I told him with a rueful
shake of my head. ‘Didn’t you see the footage? Clint and Sam
had me on the sidewalk and were beating it out before I even knew I’d
‘How in the seven hells did that woman get separated
from her child in the first place?’ Wufei suddenly asked, a stark,
almost angry look on his face. Judging from his expression, I imagine he’d
been thinking the mother saved herself and left her daughter.
‘She got knocked out when the bus went over,’
I placated. ‘She was unconscious when we hauled her out of there.
The kid must have been scared or something and freakin’ hid behind
the seat. Nobody saw her.’ I shivered in remembrance. ‘I thought
I was never going to find her.’ There was an uncomfortable little
bit of silence and I glanced up from my plate to find them all looking at
me with varying degrees of… something odd in their eyes. ‘What?’
I murmured, feeling weird.
Nobody spoke and after a second Heero dropped his hand down
to cover mine, squeezing tight for a second before letting go. I’d
scared them. All of them. Genuinely scared them. I felt… warmed somehow.
Wufei braved the strained moment with a gruff, ‘I can’t
believe you jumped back into a damn burning bus!’
I dropped my eyes to the table. ‘There was a kid,’
I mumbled and left it at that. I felt the weight of an intense stare and
glanced up to meet Quatre’s eyes. He smiled gently and I knew he understood
more than anybody else at the table. I nodded faintly, to acknowledge that
understanding. Under the table, Heero shifted his leg so that his knee was
pressed against mine, telling me he wished he could put an arm around me.
Though it was a more than welcome gesture of support… all the sudden
attention was making me uncomfortable. I reached for my glass of soda to
‘Just what in the hell caused the accident to begin
with?’ Trowa suddenly interjected into the rapidly lengthening quiet.
I could have blessed him.
‘Some guy in a red sports car fell asleep at the wheel
or had a damn heart attack or something,’ I told him, more than happy
to change the subject. ‘He just suddenly was all over the road. Almost
hit a couple of other cars before he veered into a truck and caused this
chain reaction… mess.’ I shook my head, remembering the twisted
pile of metal under the front end of the bus. ‘We’ll probably
never know… the guy had to have been incinerated. It was his car that
caused the bus to actually tip over.’
Their curiosity was just fucking insatiable. Every time I
thought we had it all covered, somebody thought of another question. We
ended up pushing things around on the table until I could use salt, pepper
and napkin holder to reenact the whole stupid accident. I was getting really
tired of the whole topic before they seemed to be content with their answers.
Just when I thought we might finally get off on some other subject, Wufei
suddenly asked, ‘Just what in the world were you doing over on Third
Street in the middle of the day, anyway?’
We’d gotten around to the second incident. Joy. It was
all I could do not to sigh out loud. I was going to get to exercise that
old ‘repressing urges’ thing again. ‘Griff sent me over
to the dry cleaners to pick up a batch of shirts,’ I told him and
could only hope that they’d tire of this… incident faster than
the bus thing.
Beside me, Heero stiffened slightly and turned to look at
me. ‘He makes you run errands?’ he questioned, irritation plain
as day in his voice. ‘You’re not some… damn gofer or something…’
‘Settle down there Mr. Defensive,’ I chuckled
at him. ‘We all take a turn doing it… even Griff.’
He only looked slightly mollified and for a moment I feared
he might be thinking about going over Griff’s head about it. I hated
doing the chore, but I certainly didn’t need Heero making a fuss out
of it and getting Griff pissed off at me.
‘Did you see the news report on that this morning?’
Trowa interjected and it crossed my mind that the guy might actually have
gone to the same social classes that Chezarina had. He knew a thing or two
about conversational timing.
‘I’ve been rather avoiding it,’ I told him
dryly, and won a chuckle.
‘They said the sniper finally confessed,’ he told
us and had the attention of everyone at the table. ‘Turns out he’d
gotten fired from his job at an insurance company there on Third Street.’
I thought about that street and recalled looking for a place
I could take shelter when I had first come under fire. There had been a
building right in front of me, which would have been almost directly across
the street from the sniper’s position. It had been closed for the
lunch hour, one of those stupid signs in the window with the little clock
face on it that said ‘Will return after…’. It might very
well have been an insurance agency, I couldn’t remember if I noticed
a sign. In my mind, I placed the two victims in relationship to that building.
Either one of them might have just come out of there, locking the door behind
them, and walking off down the sidewalk thinking about what they were going
to eat for lunch. I saw again the spastic twitching and the blood, and shivered.
‘He was apparently having marital problems and got fired
for drinking on the job,’ Trowa was saying, shaking his head in mild
disbelief. ‘Guess he’d worked there for over ten years.’
‘Damn,’ I muttered. Lost his wife, probably lost
his home, lost his job. I wondered suddenly if there had been kids involved.
Wondered where the guy had been staying. All of a sudden that nameless,
greasy looking guy that I had seen hauled away in cuffs… was a person.
I shivered almost violently and had to set my glass down on the table. I
thought, inexplicably, about Jock. I thought about Neo. Hell… I thought
about myself, and wondered what it was in the human mind that let some people
blame all their problems on someone else. What was it that made so many
people react so very differently to… the end of their world? Neo just
seemed like he drifted through life now, just went where the tides took
him without conscious direction, without caring. Jock… had turned
bitter. Bitter and distrusting and would probably end his own life one day
if he didn’t get off the alcohol. And then this guy. Took a gun, climbed
the proverbial water tower and started killing. Had probably gotten the
man he was after in his first two shots and then hadn’t been able
to stop. Had just kept shooting, trying to eradicate every living thing
that crossed his path. Trying to… what? Ease his own pain somehow?
Make the rest of the world as miserable as he was? How could you understand
a mind like that? Would you really even want to?
What made me any different? Had I not lost as much? Have I
not been as miserable? Did I not have days where I just wanted to drift?
Days that tasted bitter as poison on my tongue? Why wasn’t I living
my life at the bottom of a bottle? Why wasn’t I wandering from spacer
bar to spacer bar, hoping for a glimpse of the stars again? Why wasn’t
I out there somewhere, looking for retribution, trying to find someone to
blame for all my pain… someone I could make pay?
A warmth settled around my waist, carefully low enough to
avoid the burn, and squeezed tight. I looked into concerned, loving blue
eyes and had to smile, seeing my ‘why’ sitting close beside
Can you half understand why I can’t disappoint him?
‘Are you all right?’ he murmured softly and I
smiled for him, wishing we were where I could wrap my arms around him. But
I already couldn’t believe he was daring as much as he was out here
in public, out here where he ran the risk of drawing the kind of attention
we didn’t want.
I did my best to convey my gratitude for the gesture with
a look. ‘I’m fine,’ I told him warmly and was sorry when
the warmth of his arm slid away. ‘Just makes you think, doesn’t
Wufei snorted disdainfully. ‘Think about what? The man
was obviously a lunatic.’
I picked my fork up again to eat some more of my shredded
pizza. ‘A lunatic who had reached the end of his rope,’ I shrugged.
‘It just makes me wonder about his life… about what all he lost.’
There was a funny little sound from Quatre and I looked his
way. ‘Surely you’re not saying that you… sympathize with
I had to chuckle at the almost shocked look on his face. ‘Sympathize
with what he did? Hell no. Sympathize with what led him to where he ended
up… I don’t know; maybe.’
Quatre just shook his head. ‘I don’t care what
led him there, there isn’t any excuse for what he did.’
‘I’m not saying that there is,’ I replied,
a little exasperated that he couldn’t understand what I was trying
to get across. ‘I’m just saying it makes me curious about who
he was… about what happened to him.’
‘Who he was, was a murderer,’ Wufei interjected,
and there was a little hint of anger in his tone, tightly controlled, but
there. I wasn’t sure I understood where it was coming from.
I waved my fork in his direction for emphasis. ‘That’s
my point! He wasn’t a murderer three days ago! What drove him to it?
What was the straw that broke the camel’s back?’
‘I don’t care,’ Heero suddenly blurted.
‘He tried to hurt you… he can rot in Hell.’
I glanced his way and found a smoldering anger in his eyes
that explained to me the look on Wufei’s face. I flushed darkly, understanding
suddenly the source of this… defensiveness they both seemed to be
Trowa chuckled darkly and smirked in Heero’s general
direction. ‘The guy killed two people… but he goes to Hell for
taking pot-shots at Duo?’
Quatre joined him in laughter but Heero just glared back at
the both of them. ‘Damn straight,’ he growled and busied himself
with refilling his glass from the pitcher on the table.
‘He killed two people,’ Wufei stated, his voice
clipped. ‘And attempted to kill a score of others. It does not matter
what pushed him over the edge… he would have gone there sooner or
‘You don’t know that,’ I couldn’t
help exclaiming. ‘Maybe if his wife hadn’t left him… maybe
if he hadn’t lost visitation rights to his kids… maybe if his
damn dog hadn’t gotten hit by a car that day, it might have all come
There was a strange little silence that Trowa finally broke.
‘You got all that out of ‘marital problems’?’ he
I rolled my eyes. ‘It’s called conjecture. I’m
just saying that nobody will ever really understand what drove the guy to
Quatre shivered theatrically. ‘I don’t know that
I want to understand a person like that.’
I bent back to my pizza with a sigh, and was surprised to
find a full, unmutilated slice on my plate. I glanced at Heero and he gave
me a little mock glare. ‘It was gross,’ he muttered under his
breath, and I snickered at him.
‘I don’t think anyone ever can understand a person
like that,’ Wufei opined. ‘He’s insane.’
‘Not now, you can’t,’ I told him earnestly.
‘But he wasn’t nuts last week. Maybe he was understandable before…
what ever it was that broke him, happened.’
‘Duo,’ Trowa chided with a funny little look on
his face. ‘People don’t just wake up crazy… the guy had
issues before he ever picked up that gun.’
I sighed gustily, trying to get my thoughts straight in my
head. ‘No… but he was a functioning human being before. Something
triggered it… something happened.’ I realized I was probably
not going to be able to get my ideas across to them and decided to just
give the argument the hell up. ‘Never mind… I guess I just have
more of an understanding of that ‘there but for the grace of God,
go I’ feeling,’ I shrugged and went back to my lunch.
It took a bite before the dead, thundering silence told me
I’d said something wrong. I looked up again and found them all staring
at me with these varying expressions of… sadness? Disquiet? Concern?
All of the above?
Well shit. That had probably not sounded… very good.
‘Maxwell,’ Wufei said, obviously choosing his
words very carefully. ‘There was something wrong with that man. Some
underlying problem that… stress only uncovered.’
‘Duo…’ Quatre ventured. I sighed heavily,
and he hesitated.
‘Look, guys,’ I told them, looking around at the
lot of them. ‘I’m not saying I’m on the verge of taking
a rifle to the top of the Empire State building. But I have a very personal
understanding of the fact that you do not know how you are going to handle
something until it happens to you. You may think you do… but you don’t.’
Well that rather served to shut them up. It might have come
out a little more… emphatically than I had intended. Glasses were
raised and a couple of bites of pizza consumed.
‘So, Wufei,’ I ventured, very quietly, when no
one else seemed bold enough to brave the silence. ‘How’s Sally?’
Trowa laughed out right, almost spitting his drink all over
himself. ‘Well that was subtle,’ he murmured when he was able.
‘Thank you,’ I grinned at him. ‘I do try.
I can be more blunt if you’d like; we are done talking about my crappy
day now, and we are going to move the spotlight on to someone else for a
while. How’s that?’
‘Very blunt,’ Quatre chuckled. ‘And perfectly
‘Good,’ I smirked across the table at the three
of them. ‘That puts the verbal ball in your court, Wufei my good man.’
I intoned in my best English accent and finally managed to pry a tiny smile
out of Heero’s partner.
The conversation finally turned away from me as Wufei relented
and told us about all the fish in Sally’s aquarium going belly up
and how she sold the whole setup in a fit of disgust. Only to break down
and buy another cat less than a week later.
‘I take it,’ Heero snickered, ‘this cat
isn’t… any more satisfactory than the last one?’
Wufei couldn’t keep the tiny bit of smugness out of
his voice. ‘It’s only a kitten and has already done more damage
to her apartment than Beowulf ever thought of doing. The woman was just
not meant to have pets… but she won’t give it up.’ The
fondness in his voice was unmistakable and I shared a private grin with
Quatre. We had theorized once, lying in the dark in a two-man pup tent on
a lonely mountainside, that Wufei needed to be twisted around some woman’s
finger. Needed someone strong enough and confident enough to set him straight
about a few things. Sally seemed like just the sort who could handle the
job. Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d
heard the phrase ‘damn onna’ come out of Wufei’s mouth.
I flashed on a sudden memory of Sally Po with a rifle in her hands and a
snarl on her face, laying down cover fire while her troops retreated before
hideously bad odds. Yeah… just the type of woman to teach Wufei a
thing or two.
It eased the strain of the lunch, everybody falling back and
talking about those kinds of little, inconsequential things. I actually
started to relax a little bit. If my back hadn’t felt so sore, I might
well have been able to put all of it out of my mind for the second half
of that meal. Until the conversation took a turn I wouldn’t have seen
coming in a million years. I saw Wufei give Heero what I would generally
term as a ‘significant look’. I heard Heero sigh softly and
he looked away from the dark-eyed gaze that was currently boring holes through
him. Wufei wouldn’t relent and growled softly, ‘Yuy,’
in a warning tone. Heero glared at him.
‘Mind sharing the deep, dark secret here?’ I asked
after watching them battle for supremacy for a moment. They both flushed
and I almost laughed; did they think nobody else at the table was noticing
their little by-play? Long time partners can do that weird ‘couple’s
thing’ every bit as much as lovers can. They were doing it all over
the place, communicating something back and forth across the table, and
nobody within a mile was going to miss that fact.
I was rather enjoying watching them, trying to decide which
one of the two of them was the more uncomfortable, waiting for them to get
around to sharing whatever it was. So I was more than a little surprised
when Heero turned to me with a wary look on his face and said, ‘Duo…
we need to talk about something.’
I had to repress the flinch I felt somewhere in the region
of my gut, at those words. I had a hamster for that now, by the way, only
has the one banner that says Repress! in big bold letters. I see quite a
bit of him. His name’s Francis and he and George are pretty tight.
God, I wish I could teach Heero to stop opening conversations with lines
‘About what?’ I asked and was really damn proud
of how casual my tone was.
Across the table, Wufei rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed,
‘Good God, Yuy!’ I felt a little better at the evidence that
I wasn’t the only one that felt Heero could benefit from one of Chezarina’s
Heero glared across at Wufei. ‘Well… I wasn’t
planning on having this conversation right now!’ he snapped rather
‘Well, we’re all here together,’ Wufei informed
him calmly. ‘It just makes sense.’
Quatre and Trowa looked as confused as I felt, which made
me feel a little less… left out. But I was starting to get irritated.
There was obviously something going on that Heero was afraid was going to
upset me, and I wished he would just fucking spit it out.
There was suddenly a dead silence and I found all eyes on
me again. I realized with a start that that last line had actually gotten
delivered out loud. Ooops.
Heero flushed when I turned my eyes his way, and looked down
at his hands where they rested on the table. ‘Wufei and I have to
go out of town for a couple of days next week,’ he said softly and
I blinked at him, confused as hell. ‘So?’ I ventured
when it didn’t seem like he was going to say more. It didn’t
happen very often, seldom enough that it hadn’t come up since I’d
been with Heero, but I still couldn’t see what the big deal was. He
was a Preventors agent… they supposedly traveled all the time. I had
a sneaking suspicion that Heero hadn’t been recently, only because
‘I wanted to talk to you about…’ he dared
a glance up at me, out of the corner of his eye. ‘About staying with
Quatre and Trowa while I’m gone.’
Francis, little banner waving madly, saved his ass from the
first half dozen things that popped into my head.
My moment of silence allowed Quatre to leap bravely into the
breach. ‘We’d love to have you, you know that…’
he rather petered out in the middle of the offer and I glanced his way to
see Trowa with a hand on his mate’s shoulder. There was understanding
on Trowa’s face, at least, of what a seriously fucked up thing that
had been for Heero and Wufei to pull on me.
It took another minute of Francis throwing his poor little
hamster body on the grenades that were my thoughts, before I managed a very
quiet, ‘I don’t think that will be necessary.’
‘It’s only for a few days,’ Heero said,
voice gentle and concerned. ‘We just thought it would be best…’
He shut up of a sudden, seeing from my expression, I think,
just how pissed off I was getting.
Well. Three strikes? That ‘we’ rather seriously
hit all my buttons, implying, as it did that he and Wufei had sat around
and discussed this between the two of them. Discussed me. The ‘would
be best’ didn’t exactly win them any brownie points either.
Deciding, again, what would be best for me. Making my decisions for me.
I really, really hated that. And bringing it up here, in front of God and
the whole damn world; could he have found a better way to embarrass me?
Though… I suppose Wufei had to take it on the chin for that one. Heero
had obviously been going to wait until later. It didn’t soothe my
irritation much. I had to wonder how long they’d know about this trip.
Had to wonder just when Heero had planned on bringing it up? After he packed
my damned bags? Maybe not quite three strikes… but at least a full
count. I was really fucking… annoyed.
‘Maxwell…’ Wufei interjected, trying to
sound reasonable, trying to sound soothing and I turned my narrow-eyed gaze
in his direction. I did not need to be gentled like some damn wild animal.
He shut up too.
‘The two of you can take what you thought, and shove
it sideways,’ I said, as sweetly as I could manage. ‘Or I can
shove it for you. This topic of conversation is closed.’
I swear to God, Trowa snickered. Quatre elbowed him in the
‘I just don’t want…’ Heero began again,
but I cut him off.
‘Closed,’ I told him emphatically.
Wufei shifted uncomfortably and leaned forward, trying to
catch my eye. I met his gaze head on, and the look he found there made him
hesitate for a moment. But only for a moment. ‘There isn’t anything
to be embarrassed over,’ he informed me placatingly, but shut up when
‘For a couple of guys who ought to be damned used to
following orders,’ I grated in my very cold, very angry voice, ‘neither
of you can seem to understand simple commands. We are not discussing this.
The answer is no. Drop. It.’
There was something in the air that told me neither of them
was quite done yet, so I just said the hell with it. Picking up the bill
from under that weird little pile of mints they always leave in places like
this, I rose and walked away. Yep. Real original, I know, but it’s
rather effective. And I was kind of afraid of what was going to come out
of my mouth next if I hung around, because I was to that stage of damned
angry that causes the edges of my sight to blur and everything in the world
to narrow down to ‘target’ vision. I wasn’t spitting and
growling yet… but I was pretty darn close to it. I don’t deal
with utter humiliation well. Never have.
There was a flurry of verbal hissing behind me, but I just
aimed myself at the cashier’s station and tried to ignore it.
‘…Hell was the big idea…’
‘…And just when were you going to…’
‘…Both a couple of assholes…’
That last was Trowa’s voice and I had to grin. I was
already in the process of being rung up while they were still untangling
themselves from napkins and chairs.
I’m not really sure why I was so angry. Just the idea
that they had sat around and talked this all out behind my back, I think.
That they had gotten their heads together and decided that poor little damaged-goods
Duo needed a keeper for the week. Or maybe it was just the way they had
brought it up, out in public for God’s sake, with all of them staring
at me. I hadn’t had a nightmare in months. I was doing just fine…
why couldn’t they let it go? Why couldn’t they just fucking
let it the hell go?
I felt the tingle on the back of my neck that told me someone
was staring at me and I turned as the cashier was counting my change into
my hand, to find a short, stocky little man standing just off to my left,
his arms crossed over his chest and a… sickly little smirk on his
face. I met his appraising stare with a raised eyebrow.
‘Fag,’ he muttered, his smirk taking on more than
just a hint of contempt.
‘Really?’ I said in mock disbelief, looking him
up and down. ‘I never would have guessed. You hide it well.’
The guy’s smirk vanished, his face flaming and contorting
into a snarl. But I turned away before he could say more, reminded again
of why public displays were always a mistake.
The guys weren’t a dozen paces behind me when I hit
‘Duo,’ Heero called after me and it was the almost
palpable pain in his voice that made me slow my stride. ‘Wait up…
‘Only if the conversational subject matter has been
changed,’ I said without looking back. ‘Otherwise you can save
yourself the breath and the trouble.’
I let them catch up and we continued walking, headed back
toward the apartment. Heero and Wufei flanked me, Trowa and Quatre dropping
behind us, as the sidewalk wasn’t wide enough for the five of us to
walk abreast. Heero looked like he was chewing on something that was threatening
to stick in his throat.
‘Spit it out, Yuy,’ I grumbled. ‘And it
had better be good.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he answered contritely, hesitating
and then opened his mouth as if to say something more.
‘Quit while you’re ahead,’ I warned, and
was gratified to watch his mouth snap shut.
I cast a glance at Wufei; just to make sure the warning glares
were getting to him too, only to find him with that look on his face that
told me he was formulating something in his head. ‘You want a piece
of this too, Chang?’ I snapped and he just shut the hell up.
Behind us, Trowa and Quatre were falling all over themselves,
trying not to laugh out right. I cast a glance over my shoulder. ‘You
find this amusing?’
‘I find this fucking hysterical,’ Trowa informed
me and finally got a grin out of me.
‘We are, after all,’ Quatre snickered, ‘only
uninvolved, innocent bystanders.’
I snorted and turned back around, catching the strangest look
on Heero’s face before he covered it up.
They did not, thank God, come back up to the apartment with
us. As much as I liked them… I’d had about enough for one day.
There was a not altogether comfortable silence as we climbed
the stairs to the apartment. I caught Heero with that strange… almost
smug look on his face more than once as we trudged up the stairwell. But
it flitted away each time I glanced at him and I wasn’t sure just
what I was reading there.
Once we were in the apartment with the door safely shut, and
we were alone for the first time that day, I turned on him. ‘Don’t
you do shit like that to me,’ I glared at him. ‘That was humiliating.
I am not a damn little child.’
‘I know,’ he agreed, managing not to look remorseful
‘You have concerns with my behavior… you come
to me with them,’ I snapped. ‘You don’t fucking discuss
my problems with the guys like I was some… some damn soap opera!’
A tiny little smile danced across his lips before he managed
to push it away. He was looking at me with a great deal of… intensity.
‘I said I was sorry,’ he assured me. ‘And I meant it.’
I glared at him for a long quiet moment, watching something
really damn strange play around in the backs of those eyes of his, and finally
blurted, ‘What the hell are you so damned… happy about?’
The weird-ass, wicked, smug, pleased look finally came clear
and suddenly he was kissing the hell out of me. Teeth and tongue and tonsils.
Hands buried in my hair, pressed against me from kneecaps all the way up
to my damn neck. What the hell?
When he broke for air he was just fucking grinning, and I
halfway wanted to deck him to wipe that self-satisfied look off his face.
‘What?’ I exclaimed in irritation.
‘That’s the first time you’ve really gotten
mad at me,’ he fairly whispered, smug grin fading to something that
was closer to tenderness. ‘The first time you’ve stood up to
me and really told me to shut up.’
‘And this makes you happy?’ I murmured, cocking
my head to look at him, feeling my anger bleeding away despite myself.
‘Yeah,’ he informed me. ‘It makes me very
‘Yuy,’ I muttered with a rueful shake of my head.
‘You are seriously deranged.’
He grinned. ‘You’ve made me that way,’ he
informed me loftily. ‘I’m just so glad to see you… assert
I blinked at him and couldn’t help a small smirk. ‘You’re
glad to see me lose my temper?’
‘I’m relieved to hear you tell me what you want,’
he said and his voice had lost all the teasing tone, had become… almost
husky. ‘The only time you’ve stood up to me about anything was
when it involved someone else. When you were doing something for your friends.
You’ve never really gotten angry enough with me to stand up for yourself.’
It kind of… surprised me. I had to think about it for
a minute before grudgingly admitting to myself that he was probably right.
But then… I wasn’t sure what to think. How I should feel. I
was hit with a sudden overwhelming urge to back-pedal and apologize. If
I let myself think about it too hard, guilt might very well have self-destructed
in the middle of the living room. But… it had kind of felt good. And
Heero was… happy about it. Damned pleased, if I was any judge of his
mood. This was just confusing.
‘Don’t,’ he whispered, cupping my face in
his hands and staring into my eyes as though he could read something there.
‘Don’t doubt yourself. You had every right to be irritated with
me. I shouldn’t have brought it up in a public place, in front of
everybody. It was a private thing that we should have talked about alone.’
‘Well,’ I had to admit, ‘it was Wufei who
kind of pushed the point.’
He sighed. ‘Only because I kept putting it off. He was
right about that much.’
I frowned, thinking about that part again. ‘Just when
were you planning on telling me?’ I grumbled.
He let go of my face and ducked his head, looking sheepish.
‘I… I’m not sure,’ he admitted. ‘Sometime
this afternoon, I guess. I just didn’t want you distracted until we’d
found your car. I can’t tell you how much better I feel, knowing that
you’re going to have a way to get around while I’m gone.’
Ah. That certainly explained his mad rush to get something
purchased on the very first morning we went looking. He’d wanted a
car in my possession before the weekend was over, before he had to leave
on his trip.
‘Do I get the where, when and why, now?’ I growled
and managed to draw a small chuckle from him. He turned with a sigh and
led me over to the couch where we sat down.
‘We leave tomorrow night,’ he told me. ‘We’ll
be gone for two or three days. I… can’t tell you a lot about
the case, it’s classified, but it’s not really dangerous.’
I sighed, disgruntled, not for the first time with that whole
stupid Preventor secrecy crap. ‘Not really dangerous by my standards
or yours?’ I prodded, hoping for a little more information than he
wanted to give.
He chuckled wryly. ‘Well I don’t know… I’m
not sure about just how high your standards are anymore, after watching
footage of you jumping into a burning bus,’ he teased lightly, but
his eyes were…rather intense.
I recognized an evasion when I heard it, I’m something
of a master of the art myself after all, but I just let it drop.
But then the joke seemed to twist around on him and the gentle
smile he’d been wearing melted away, changing to something closer
to… fear? He reached for me and I slid into his embrace with a soft,
‘It’s all right, love.’
He drew a shuddering breath and wrapped me tight in his arms.
The last of whatever resentment I’d held just drifted away. For about
two and a half minutes.
‘Duo-love,’ he breathed against my hair. ‘I
really don’t want you staying by yourself while I’m gone. I’m
I drew away and glared at him, reminded of a comment Wufei
had made about the two of us and stubbornness. ‘Just which part of
‘drop it’ do you not understand?’ I growled, and he gave
me that damned little expression where his face goes still as stone, but
his eyes fairly bleed ‘apprehension’.
‘Please?’ he asked, very gently. ‘Please
do it for me?’
Ouch. Talk about fucking hitting below the belt! That had
been a damn cheap shot and it only served to fan the fire of my already
pretty darn impressive case of pissed-off.
‘Fuck you, Yuy!’ I snapped. ‘I hate getting
shoved around like some kind of damn transient houseguest! I am not a damn
little kid who needs babysitting just because you’re going out of
town for a few days. I don’t need a freaking keeper and I am staying
right the fuck here and if you don’t like it…’
He blinked at me with just a touch of shock on his face and
finally mumbled, ‘All right… all right… I’m not
that happy about you losing your temper.’
I let him interrupt me, before the next line about my moving
the hell out, managed to get past my lips. I was rather taken aback by what
I had almost said… what was wrong with me today?
‘Damn it, Heero,’ I sighed. ‘It’s
been over nine months… I’m fine. Please just let it go?’
He shifted, taking my hands and leaning back, trying to draw
me down with him. I pulled my legs up onto the couch to accommodate him,
but twisted to lie beside him.
‘No,’ he whispered, tugging at me. ‘I want
you here… on top of me.’
I resisted. ‘I don’t want to hurt you.’
‘You won’t,’ he promised. ‘It’s
healed… I won’t let you hurt me.’
He was rather insistent and I frowned down at him, feeling
an object lesson coming on. ‘You’re being a prick,’ I
grumbled, and tried to settle myself far enough down that most of my weight
was on the couch between his legs.
‘Here,’ he sighed huskily. ‘I want you here.’
And wouldn’t relent until he had me lying with my head tucked under
his chin, stretched out atop him.
We used to lie together like this all the time, after I first
got out of the hospital. It had seemed weird, at first, because nothing
was happening between us… physically. But it had always made me feel
very… safe. Shielded. I had needed that back then, a very great deal.
‘Relax,’ he murmured, kissing the top of my head.
It took a lot of concentration to force my muscles to loosen
up, to allow my full weight to rest against him. But I knew the line he
was waiting to deliver, if I dared object, if I dared express my concerns
about his being strong enough. I didn’t feel that it was the same
thing at all, but I could almost hear his argument, and I was damned if
I was going to give him the opening to launch into it.
His fingers began to trace lazy circles over the small of
my back as I forced myself to relax a little bit. ‘I love you,’
he whispered softly, voice sounding almost tentative.
I sighed and tried to let that familiar feeling of warmth
steal over me. During my brief stint in therapy, Dr. Webster had taught
me some exercises to help fight my anxiety attacks. One of the techniques
had involved learning to be able to envision a mental ‘place’
that embodied my greatest sense of safety, a place where I felt the most
secure. She had told me that some people saw a room or a place from memory.
Perhaps a childhood bedroom. Maybe their parent’s house. She had confessed
that her own ‘place’ was a cherished memory of a meadow on her
grandfather’s farm. I’d had nothing like that. There wasn’t
a thing from my childhood that offered me any comfort. I had thought, for
awhile, that my place was the cockpit of my Gundam, but that had turned
out to only dredge up bad memories along with it. When I had dug a little
deeper, I had found that this was my place of security.
‘I love you too, husband-mine,’ I told him. ‘But
you have to give me room enough to try. I can’t live my life like
this. If I can’t handle it… I need to know that.’ I felt,
more than heard the sigh, and understood that he was going to give in to
my wishes. Was finally going to stop pushing me on this. ‘All right,’
he said, very grudgingly, and I had a moment of exaltation, right before
this little tiny voice in my head whispered, are you sure? ‘Maybe
you are ready,’ he breathed, completely unaware of my own sudden doubts.
Well, now was sure as hell not the time to stop and think about it.
His lips brushed over my hair again and he softly told me,
‘I’ve missed holding you like this.’
So that’s what we did for the next little while. I eventually
was able to relax completely and he never did comment in any way, comparing
my protective tendencies with his.
‘You want to just take a nap?’ he asked me after
a bit, his fingers still stroking gently up and down my back.
‘Too wired still,’ I confessed. ‘The other
day has just left me… a little high strung.’
‘You want to work some of that off?’ he purred
and I raised my head to grin at him.
‘What do you have in mind?’
He grinned back at me. ‘A little one on one… at
the basketball court.’
He won the chuckle he was looking for and I readily agreed.
A little exercise was just what I needed. Something to get my mind off of…
Hell; off of everything.
‘Go get changed,’ he murmured. ‘And we’ll
go work off some of that tension.’
So I lost the cargos in favor of a pair of workout shorts,
but kept the Hell-bound Beavers shirt out of pure perversity. I rather enjoyed
the fact that Heero wasn’t… all that fond of it. So I was half
expecting the frown I got when I came out to meet him in the living room,
but I wasn’t expecting to find him looking at my legs instead of my
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me you tore your
legs up?’ he blurted, even as he was coming around the couch to look
‘I thought you saw it last night,’ I told him
with a roll of my eyes. ‘And I didn’t tear my legs up, I skinned
my knees, for cryin’ out loud!’
He spared a glare upward from his bent position. ‘You
undressed in the dark last night.’ His tone of voice told me he thought
I had deliberately hidden this.
I couldn’t help the exasperated sigh. ‘Oh for
God’s sake, Heero… get a damn grip!’
‘You’re saying you didn’t hide this from
me on purpose?’ he grumbled, straightening from where he’d been
looking at my legs.
‘I’m saying that a couple of scraped up knees
were so damn inconsequential on top of everything else that I forgot about
them!’ I snapped, and a look came over him that led me to hope he
might be coming to his senses. ‘What is wrong with you today?’
I blurted before I had a chance to think better of it.
He ducked his head and blew out his breath in a rush that
stirred his bangs. ‘I’m… just tied in knots over this
damn trip,’ he finally admitted uncomfortably. ‘I don’t
like leaving you. I… don’t want to go.’
‘But it’s your job and you have to go,’
I informed him and picked the basketball up off the couch. ‘Here…’
I pushed the thing into his hands and grinned at him. ‘Looks to me
like you have a little of your own tension to work off. Let’s go.’
The next hour was rather pleasant. We play hard enough that
we really don’t have the breath for more conversation than the occasional
taunt. This was something I had come to cherish once Heero had stopped holding
back, once he had started playing against me like he meant it. It had taken
him… a long damn time. I’m not saying we play rough, there aren’t
any elbows in ribs or otherwise knocking each other down, but we each play
to win. He makes me earn the points I make and I had come back enough that
I generally got my fair share. He has more power, you don’t want to
run into him full tilt, you’ll end up on your ass on the ground. But
I have a little speed on him when I’m at my peak, and I’m a
little more flexible. I could hold my own out there again, and it had done
my self-confidence a world of good when he had finally stopped playing against
me with the kid gloves on.
He was actually the one who started showing signs of strain
first. The jumps were pulling a little on scar tissue, I suspect, not that
he would ever admit to it. I called a halt, claiming my back was getting
sore, which was the honest truth, but I’d been enjoying myself and
probably wouldn’t have quit on my own account. He seemed relieved
behind his concern for me and we made our way back to the apartment, hot
and sweaty, but both feeling a little better, I think.
‘I’ll put some ointment on your back after you’ve
showered,’ he offered and I grinned my acceptance.
There is something… oddly arousing in competing against
each other like that. Something that stirs with the heat of the blood, and
I wasn’t at all surprised, when we got back to the apartment, to have
Heero hint that we might ‘save hot water’ by showering together.
I grinned my acceptance of that offer as well.
We were fairly well clean, surrounded by clouds of billowing
steam, our bodies slicked with soap, hands sliding everywhere, when he suddenly
whispered in my ear, ‘Let me touch you?’
I froze, my arms wrapped around his neck, and knew that my
eyes were probably as wide as saucers. No doubt what he was asking…
there was only one place he hadn’t already touched a hundred times
over. Before I could wrangle my scattered thought hamsters enough to formulate
a reply, he spoke again. ‘No penetration… I swear. Just let
I felt myself blushing furiously in embarrassment and was
glad that he couldn’t see it, in my current position. Something in
my gut shivered, knotting tight, and all I could do was nod against his
shoulder. This was something that filled me with a certain amount of trepidation,
but I wouldn’t deny him now that he had actually asked. He had never
just… asked to take our love play in this direction before. He let
out a shuddering sigh, as though he’d forgotten to breath for a moment.
Then his hands were moving over me again, slower than he had been touching,
almost languidly. Palms gliding slickly over my skin, sliding up and down
my back, ever cautious around my burned shoulders. His movements pulling
our bodies together, offering tantalizing brushes of chest against chest,
hip against hip… and more. Both hands slipped down to cup my ass and
I moaned softly. His right hand continued down my thigh and he eased my
leg up, hooking my bent knee around his hip. ‘Hold on to me,’
he told me and I didn’t need to be warned, I felt terribly precarious
standing there like that. When he seemed sure that I would keep my leg wrapped
around him, his hand quested back along my thigh, smoothing over my hip,
sliding unerringly beneath me. God, I felt… unbelievably vulnerable.
He moved slowly and gently, and even though I knew what was coming, when
his soap-slick fingers brushed over their target, I couldn’t contain
a sudden gasp. I jerked so hard I cracked my head against the tiled shower
wall. He chuckled next to my ear, low and throaty, holding me tighter and
brushed the pad of his finger over me again. My hips bucked involuntarily
and his chuckle turned to an almost feral, lusty growl. Then he was teasing
and stroking my entrance in earnest. Fingers slick with soap, swirling and
caressing, firm but gentle. It was… electric. It was fire in my groin,
lights behind my eyes, trembling all over, kind of electric. I’d never
felt anything like it before in my life. I found myself whimpering and writhing
against him, body on fire for something I couldn’t half understand.
Wanting something I couldn’t quite name. It didn’t take long
for my fear to wash away on the flood of the pleasure he was giving me.
I trusted the promise he’d made to me… trusted that he wouldn’t
take it any farther, and just let myself go. My hips were rocking of their
own accord, pushing back against his touch and I was shocked at what my
body was trying to tell me it wanted. I whimpered, unable to articulate
my wishes. What was left of my mind, was not at all sure it was in concert
with the rest of me.
‘No,’ Heero breathed, his fingers leaving off
touching me there, moving to drop my leg back to the floor of the tub. ‘I
promised. It… it would be too much like forcing you.’
But then he wrapped his hand around our erections, his fingers
slick with lather, and I forgot about the new feeling as he stroked us together,
overwhelming me with older, more familiar feelings. I was wound as tight
as a drum, legs quivering under me; Heero’s arm the only thing that
was keeping me on my feet. I had long since let my eyes fall closed, unable
to process information through the overload my senses seemed to be under.
I could only cling to him and scream out my release as it quickly overtook
me. I wasn’t even touching him in return, was only vaguely aware of
his own cries, of the convulsing of his cock next to my own as he joined
me in culmination.
If he hadn’t been holding me, I probably would have
dropped to the floor of the tub, curled up under the spray of water and
drowned when my hair clogged the drain, too spent to give a damn.
‘Duo?’ he sighed, his kisses hunting for parts
of me that weren’t covered in soap. ‘Are you all right?’
I hummed a shaky affirmative, but couldn’t find it in
me anywhere to do anything but hang there. ‘Cept the part where all
my bones are gone,’ I murmured, throat feeling tight.
He chuckled and brought me with him under the spray of the
water, his free hand sluicing the soap from our bodies. I whimpered and
shuddered as the stream hit places that were a little too sensitized to
bear the almost-sting of the shower spray.
‘Come on, love,’ he admonished tenderly. ‘You
don’t want to let the soap dry all over things.’
‘I’m dead,’ I muttered petulantly. ‘I
He laughed out right then, turning my face to meet his, and
the kiss he gave me was very… predatory.
He pretty much took things in hand while my brain was trying
hard to stop its impersonation of fried mush, getting us rinsed and out
of the shower, drying us both while I sat on the side of the tub and blinked.
It was like all the tension of the last two days had been drained from my
body, and when it was gone I found that there wasn’t a hell of a lot
When he was done with us, he pulled me to my feet and steered
me out of the bathroom, heading us toward the living room.
‘Bed,’ I grumbled, altering my direction.
‘Duo-love,’ he chuckled, ‘it isn’t
even eight o’clock yet.’
‘Don’t care,’ I yawned and staggered the
last couple of feet to the bed, where I threw myself down. Bed… lovely
bed. Hadn’t wanted to leave it this morning and I was more than happy
to be back in it now. Wasn’t planning on leaving it again until my
bladder ruptured or hell froze over, whichever came first.
There was a bit of silence behind me and then I heard Heero
move off. I was a little startled that he hadn’t at least come to
kiss me good night, and I wondered if he was angry with me. I still felt
weirdly shaky, drained and tired… but I wondered if I should make
the effort to get up anyway. Wondered if I should go find him and make sure
everything was all right.
Then the side of the bed dipped, and he was there, sitting
beside me and lifting my damp hair away from my back. I tried to push myself
up to look at him, but he chuckled softly. ‘Hold still. I promised
I’d put some ointment on your burn, remember?’
‘Forgot,’ I murmured and tried really hard to
keep my eyes open. ‘You… ok?’ I ventured as he began to
gently smooth the cool gel over my back.
‘Fine,’ he said and I could hear sated tenderness
in his voice. I let myself relax. ‘It’s awfully late for a nap,’
he chided. ‘Can’t you stay awake at least until after dinner?’
‘Not hungry,’ I mumbled and fought against another
His fingers stilled for a moment and I heard a heavy sigh.
‘You’ve had nothing but a couple of slices of pizza all day,’
he said and I could hear the frown.
‘More’n enough,’ I told him, feeling myself
drift away as the ointment took away the sting that was the last thing keeping
‘I’ll be in later,’ was the last thing I
remember hearing before sleep swept me away.
It was very cold. It was dark. The air I was breathing seemed…
stale. A deep, almost angry voice whispered, ‘Anna,’ from somewhere
very close to me. I tried to turn around to locate the speaker, but found
myself drifting. I was in zero-g and had somehow gotten myself stranded.
My heart lurched, and again I tried to turn so that I could find the owner
of that angry voice. I needn’t have bothered; the dead Captain’s
hand came and closed on my shoulder, whirling me to face the corpse that
haunted my nights. I choked on a strangled scream and tried to push away,
but the dead man had hold of my air-line and wouldn’t relinquish it.
‘Anna,’ he said again, his one, lidless eye staring into mine.
He’d never come this close before. There was a smell that couldn’t
have been there and I gagged, suddenly terrified of throwing up in a vacuum
suit. Captain Camden was very damn angry with me. I tried to pry his fingers
from my line, but my hands were completely without feeling, and I couldn’t
seem to get a grip on anything. ‘You failed,’ he growled at
me in a voice like the wind sighing through trees a thousand years dead.
I began to tremble, pushing away with all my might and only succeeded in
pulling my own air-line loose.
Oh God! Heero! Heero, help me!
I woke sucking for air.
Three things passed through my mind as coherency began to
reassert itself in my head.
First was the sickening realization that I had been right.
Wufei’s admission that the search for Anna Camden was over, that he
had quit hunting, had brought my nightmares back with a vengeance.
Second was a wash of pure, unadulterated relief that Heero
had not come to bed yet. He had not been here to witness the proof that
all his fears were totally valid.
Third was slow in coming in the face of the other two, but
after a moment of sitting there in the middle of my bed, panting like an
asthmatic, it dawned on me that I hadn’t suffocated in my sleep. I
had, indeed, woken myself up before I strangled. What a fucking relief.
Then Heero appeared in the doorway of the bedroom and I had
to put aside all further speculation, needing to devote my entire attention
to damage control. George popped up on my right waving his ‘oh shit’
banner, and Francis appeared on my left poking me with the ‘repress
urge’ stick, because all I really wanted to do was launch myself off
the bed and throw myself into Heero’s arms.
‘Duo,’ Heero called softly, already on his way
across the room. ‘What’s wrong? Are you all right?’
There was no use trying to deny that something was the matter.
I don’t usually sleep sitting up in the center of the bed with my
arms wrapped around myself, after all. ‘Oh God, Heero…’
came out of my mouth before I could stop it, and I turned it to the only
thing I could think of. ‘I… I scratched at my back in my sleep,’
George and Francis shared a somewhat disgusted look, rolling
their eyes at the lame line and popped from existence. Leaving me to deal
with this all alone.
Heero was almost to the side of the bed and I realized he
was going to take me in his arms, where it would be terribly apparent that
I was shaking like a leaf. Before he had a chance to sit down, I let myself
fall over sideways with a somewhat theatrical groan. ‘That’ll
sure as hell wake your ass up in a hurry,’ I groused, knowing my voice
would be muffled in the pillows.
Above me, he chuckled lightly and I breathed a silent sigh
of relief, wishing I could stick my tongue out at my hamsters; he’d
‘Need me to put more ointment on it?’ he asked
‘That’s ok; I doubt it would help much. What time
is it?’ I grumbled, changing the subject, trying to act as though
I were shifting to ease the sting in my back. Movement is the key in the
‘Just after midnight,’ he chuckled at me and I
could hear him moving off to get undressed. I took the opportunity to take
a couple of deep breaths and force my heart rate to slow.
‘What are you still doing up?’ I asked, hoping
my voice sounded steadier than it felt.
‘Was watching the news,’ he said, and his tone
told me there’d been some new development, or another recap on one
of the stories that revolved around my crappy day. I chose to ignore it;
I just didn’t want to know. But it might very well have been part
of what was distracting him enough that he was taking my act at face value.
Then he was sliding under the covers with me and I was having to repress
the urge to wrap myself all over him.
He hissed softly as he reached for me. ‘You’re
trembling,’ he exclaimed, sounding alarmed. ‘What is it, love?’
I was bound and determined that he not figure out what had
just happened. It had taken me all damn day to get him to agree to let me
stay home by myself while he was away. If he had a damn inkling that I’d
had another nightmare after all this time, there was no way in the seven
Hells that I wouldn’t end up at Trowa and Quatre’s for the stinking
week. And as much as I adored the two of them, I didn’t want to repeat
a stay in the Winner palace of total opulence. It wasn’t exactly street-rat
‘I’m freezing my ass off,’ I told him, letting
myself seek out his heat, seek out his presence. ‘Remind me not to
go to bed fresh out of the shower again.’
He snorted softly and pulled me in toward him, throwing an
arm and a leg over me. I sighed contentedly and willed the trembling to
go away. Captain James Lyle Camden couldn’t touch me here. Nothing
could touch me here. I pushed aside the feel of the dead man’s hand
on my shoulder. The cloying scent of death that had hung like a cloud around
him. I burrowed into what Heero was offering me and tried to convince myself
I really was trembling with chill. The cocoon we made there together, under
my star field blanket, slowly began to warm and I let myself soak it in,
let it banish the cold of total vacuum. The cold of that astral graveyard.
‘I love you, baby,’ Heero whispered, his voice
sounding drowsy and I had to wonder. He seldom called me that unless he
was worried over something I’d said or done. Did he know I was…
stretching the hell out of the truth?
‘I love you too,’ I whispered back and held very
still while he drifted off to sleep.
The next couple of days promised to be… interesting.
That’s a curse by the way. A Chinese one, if I recall correctly; ‘May
you live in interesting times’.
I lay awake for a very long time, adrenaline making sleep
an impossibility. My thoughts whirling in my head until there was just no
way I could doze back off, despite Heero’s comforting presence. I
thought about Wufei and his admission. Deep down, I had been a little surprised
to actually hear Chang Wufei admit defeat, in spite of Heero’s warning.
I thought about trying to continue the search myself, but I honestly didn’t
see how I was going to find anything when Wufei couldn’t. What could
I hope to accomplish that Wufei hadn’t been able to with all the Preventor’s
databases, contacts, networking and pure computing power? My nightmare of
Captain Camden pretty much confirmed for me that my subconscious, at least,
had admitted the quest was over. Delivering the journal to Mrs. Camden was
not going to happen and I was going to have to find another way to deal
with my guilt over that whole damn Londonderry thing.
I thought about my new car and tried to think of something
about it that I liked. I tried to club my hatred of it to death. I tried
to imagine it painted blue or silver or even chartreuse. I tried to imagine
it with a decent stereo system. Then I just tried not to think of it at
So I thought about… the shower. I thought about my childhood
lessons, drummed into me by Solo, drummed into me by watching kids bleed
to death and die. I’d seen a lot of shit in my misspent youth. A lot
of damn scary shit. I had learned at a very, very young age that there really
were worse things than starving. That there was nothing in the damn world
that was worth the price I had seen some kids try to pay. Solo had taught
me that, one of the first, most base lessons he had given us all. ‘Ya
don’t never sell yourself, kid. Never… not for nothin’
or nobody.’ I’d seen him turn kids out of the gang for doing
it. His street-rats weren’t stupid, he’d said, and selling your
body to the kind of people who would want a little kid was just plain stupid.
But I wasn’t a little kid anymore. A long damn way from
it. I wasn’t contemplating selling myself for the price of a meal.
I was contemplating… something else. Something I’d never imagined
as a child. Sex had been coin back in those days. Something that someone
did out of necessity, out of desperation. We had only seen it from our side,
had never stopped to think that it must feel good to the person on the other
side or they never would have come seeking it in the first place. I was
contemplating a thing that I hadn’t understood in those days, making
love… not having sex. God… was I thinking about it? I had known
for a long time that Heero wanted to… to take things to that level.
I had always suspected, but when he had offered himself to me all those
months ago, I’d known for sure. But he’d never asked me, had
always seemed content to go on the way we were. But now… was he working
his way up to asking me to let him… let him take me?
I shivered violently, not sure if out of fear or… out
of desire. Heero tightened his arms around me, murmuring soft, unintelligible
reassurances in his sleep. I shifted carefully until I could rest my head
against his chest, until I could hear his steady heartbeat under my ear.
I listened to it, lost myself to it, matched my breathing to his, the way
Trowa and Dr. Webster had taught me, and let Heero’s… being
shield me from the thoughts and fears, from the doubts and questions.
I managed to get a little more sleep, dozing off just before
the sun came up. Yes, it was going to be a long damn week.
Sunday was interesting. Remember that curse, please. Heero
had an… agenda. It started with grocery shopping, and you would have
thought he was laying in for a siege. He planned out meals for me for the
whole three days, carefully selected for nutritional balance and ease of
preparation. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes as I followed him
through the store. I tried three times to tell him I would probably just
be eating my military rations, was actually kind of looking forward to returning
to the familiar fare, but I don’t think he was hearing me.
We spent part of the afternoon doing laundry, like he thought
I’d forgotten how the damn machines worked. Again, I just followed
him around, eyes starting to hurt from all the rolling, and refrained from
comment. Francis got a hell of a workout that day.
After every article of clothing I owned was clean and put
away, Heero turned his attention to my car. He made sure I had a full tank
of gas and even checked the oil. He produced a set of Preventor parking
garage passes that he had somehow managed to get authorized in advance,
before we had even bought the damn car. He affixed them to the windshield
I just bit my tongue and let him go. If it made things easier
for him, what the hell difference did it make to me?
When Sunday evening finally rolled around and it was time
for him to go pick up Wufei, I thought he was going to end up making love
to me right there on the floor, half in and half out of the doorway to the
apartment. Would sure as hell have given old Mrs. Hitchcock something to
bitch to the landlord about.
‘Heero,’ I told him when he let me. ‘I’m
a big boy, I lived by myself for a lot of years… I think I can manage
for a couple of days.’
He sighed, looking only a little sheepish. ‘I know,’
he said. ‘I just can’t help but worry. I wish…’
he began, but bit it off, giving me an apologetic little smile.
‘I know what you wish,’ I chuckled at him, trying
to take this whole thing with a grain of salt and a shrug-it-off attitude.
‘But if you’re not careful, I’m gonna go find myself a
damn bed partner just to spite you!’
He gave me a mock glare and reached to pull me close. ‘You’d
better not. I’m the jealous type… haven’t I ever mentioned
I laughed, tousling my fingers through his hair. ‘Then
don’t drive me to it, Yuy,’ I teased. ‘Just kiss me goodbye
and get the hell on with it. I promise to be a good boy while you’re
gone. I won’t even throw any parties.’
He grunted, trying to look annoyed while he swept his fingers
through his hair in a vain attempt to smooth it, and then broke down and
gave me that kiss.
‘You going to call me when you get in?’ I asked,
by way of subject change.
‘It’ll be late,’ he informed me. ‘I’ll
call you in the morning from the hotel.’
‘Fair enough,’ I grinned at him, not bothering
to tell him I’d probably be up when they got in anyway, if last night
was any indication. ‘You two be damn careful, whatever the hell your
getting yourselves into,’ I told him, not having to fake the fierceness
‘Yes sir,’ he murmured, looking pleased. He kissed
me one more time and then he was gone. I just stood in the doorway for a
long while and stared at the place where he’d disappeared into the
It was a very strange mixture of It’s about damn time!
And Oh my God, he’s gone! That was romping through my head at that
I slipped hurriedly back into the apartment, closing the door,
when I heard Mrs. Pettigrew next door rattling her door knob, getting ready
to take her dog out for his evening walk. She’s a nice old lady, widowed,
but she liked to talk and I just wasn’t in the mood to stand in the
hall for the next hour listening to tales of her late husband and their
youth traveling with the circus. She’s a neat lady, fascinating as
hell, and I ordinarily loved listening to her tell her stories in that faint,
southern accent of hers, but not tonight. I just didn’t feel up to
I locked the door for the night and turned to face the empty
apartment. The place suddenly seemed… huge. Vast and… empty.
And entirely too damn quiet. I thought of my music files with longing. I
had them all backed up to my computer, but playing music on a laptop, through
those tinny little speakers, is something of a waste. I went to Heero’s
stereo and hunted through his CDs until I found some classical stuff I thought
I could live with. No poignant lyrics tonight, thank you very much. I turned
it up as much as I dared and then proceeded to try and get through the evening
on pure ritual.
Heero had made sure we ate dinner before he had to get ready
to go. I swear to God the man thinks I will completely forget to eat if
he isn’t around to tell me it’s mealtime. The dishes needed
to be done though, and I went and busied myself with that. Washing, then
drying rather than letting them sit in the drainer, just to kill a little
more time. I left the kitchen when I found myself contemplating cleaning
the oven. I snagged a bottle of soda on my way by the fridge, my pathetic
little attempt at convincing myself I could enjoy my time alone. Heero isn’t
particularly happy about my soda addiction, and really gives me a hard time
about drinking it too late in the evening. He thinks the caffeine will keep
me awake. I almost laughed at that thought; didn’t think that was
going to be the problem tonight.
I showered. I laid out my clothes for in the morning. Set
the alarm. Put my car keys in the pocket of the pants I planned on wearing
to work so that there was no way in hell I could forget them. I found myself
gravitating to the living room where the stereo was, and reflected that
when Heero and I finally did get around to moving, that I wanted to wire
our house so that there were speakers in several rooms.
I finally settled on the couch with the afghan and my laptop,
intent on finding something to do to keep my mind off the fact that going
over to Quatre and Trowa’s was actually starting to sound like a good
I checked my e-mail and only found, besides the usual spam,
a note from Octavia letting me know that she was shipping me a disk of Davey’s
first recital. The music school recorded all the student’s performances
and she’d managed to wrangle an extra copy. It would take forever
for the package to get to me from the colonies, but I had to grin in anticipation
anyway. Until I started thinking about the kids too much and then I had
to find something else to do. I glanced at the clock; great… Heero
had been gone a grand total of three hours and twenty minutes and I was
already fraying at the edges.
I decided I might as well brave the lion in his den and just
go the hell to bed. That was the thing that was weighing on my mind anyway,
might as well just get it over with. I could putter around all night avoiding
it, but me and all my hamsters knew damn well what I was afraid of. So I
shut everything down and went to my room, carefully following my bedtime
ritual to the letter, finally shutting off the light and crawling into bed
Stop laughing, I hadn’t really expected more than I
got. But a guy can hope, can’t he? Yeah… I lay there for God
only knows how long and stared at the ceiling. Then rolled over and stared
at the wall. Then rolled over again, buried my head in my pillow and stared
at nothing. Then it was back to the ceiling. I won’t even try to tell
you what all was running through my head; we’d be here for hours.
The kids. Heero. The bus accident. Clint Jones. Jock. Alcohol. The asteroid
belt. The war. The church. God… it was like a hamster induced game
of word association. So yeah, I lasted about two hours before I was clawing
my way out of the tangled blankets with a frustrated growl.
I needed… I needed something familiar. I needed my night
So midnight found me with the stereo system pulled out from
the wall, running wires from my laptop to the stereo speakers. How damn
pathetic is that?
‘Pretty damn pathetic, rat-boy,’ came the familiar
voice of my dead best friend.
‘Oh shut up, Solo,’ I told my own sub-conscious.
‘Make me,’ he snickered and blew a raspberry.
‘You know,’ I muttered as I stretched out on the
floor to run wires underneath the stereo cabinet. ‘If you weren’t
dead, you could freakin’ help me.’
‘Don’ know nothin’ about all this highfalutin
crap,’ he informed me, leaning over to watch me work.
I ignored the comment, settling my laptop on the floor next
to the nearest power outlet. ‘You know… if you were any kind
of brother at all, you’d talk to this Camden guy… kind of ghost
‘No way’n hell,’ he snapped, folding his
legs to sit lotus position in mid-air. ‘He scares the crap outta me!’
I turned to glare at him, but he only did that Cheshire cat
thing and was gone. ‘Thanks for nothing!’ I growled and made
my final connections.
So… one o’clock in the morning and I crawled back
into bed with the sound of my well loved hammered dulcimers playing in the
background. I left the bedroom light on. I thought I heard Solo snicker
I’m sure it was another hour, but I refused to let myself
toss and turn. I forced my body to lie still and I worked course calculations
in my head, not allowing my thoughts to stray one iota. It seemed like I
lay there for days, but I finally managed to get the hell to sleep.
You really want to hear about another one of those damn nightmares?
Aren’t you getting tired of them? I am. Come on… you know the
drill. Cold. Dark. Still as only space can be. That sickening smell that
was new, but becoming an integral part of my nights. The half-gone face.
The staring brown eye. That name, over and over, ‘Anna’, until
I was starting to hate a woman I had never met. The wrestling match over
my air supply. Losing that match.
I actually shouted for Heero out loud, as I bolted upright
in my cold, lonely bed. I slapped my own hands over my mouth to stop whatever
might have followed that outburst. Shit.
I just sat in the middle of the bed and shook for a little
bit. Well, hell.
When I thought I could move without falling on my face, I
staggered out of bed, dug through my dresser until I found a pair of sweats
and pulled them on, I was freezing to death. Then I walked through the apartment
and turned on every light in the place. Every last one. I returned to the
bedroom and pulled the comfort of my star-spattered blanket from the bed,
grabbed Fuzzy-butt from his place on top of my dresser and went out to the
living room, settling in my corner of the couch. I wrapped my shivering
little self in my blanket and the afghan, snaking a hand out of my nest
long enough to snag the remote control and turn on the television. Then
I clutched Fuzzy-butt to my chest, burrowed into the warmth of my cocoon,
listened to the discordant sounds of the stereo and TV fighting for supremacy
and tried very hard not to cry.
It was three in the morning, I had a long damn way to go,
and would just about have been ready to crawl into the lap of the next human
body that presented itself to me. Heero? Most definitely. Wufei? Oh yeah.
Trowa? No problem. Quatre? Yep, in a heartbeat. Sally? Pretty sure. Relena?
Not so sure, but probably. Mrs. Pettigrew? And that was the one that pointed
out to me just how screwed up I was. If Mrs. Pettigrew from down the hall
had knocked on my door to find out what the shout had been about, I would
probably have hauled her into the apartment by her thin little arm and made
her stay while I baked her cookies and made tea. Just so I didn’t
have to be alone.
I halfway listened to the cheesy, canned laughter running
in the background of the cheesy, canned sitcom on TV and tried really hard
to think about nothing in particular. If Solo hadn’t been so damn
afraid of Captain Camden and the crew of the Londonderry, he would have
drifted by and pointed out how damn feeble I was being.
‘Fuck you,’ I muttered to him anyway, just because
I knew what he would have been thinking, and hugged my bear tighter.
That level of… panic cannot be maintained forever, and
by dawn, I was feeling droopy-eyed and lethargic, and I might actually have
managed to drop back off to sleep if the phone hadn’t rung. I struggled
out of my knot of blankets and staggered over to the phone, knowing it was
Heero, desperate to hear his voice, but equally desperate to keep him from
noticing anything was wrong.
‘Hello?’ I grunted into the phone when I’d
managed to get it picked up.
‘Duo?’ his voice came, warm and welcome and salving
‘Good morning, love,’ I was able to say with a
real smile coloring my own voice.
‘Everything all right?’ he asked, ever alert for
the slightest damn thing. ‘You sound… groggy.’
I chuckled softly. ‘I didn’t have my atomic clock
bed-mate this morning… I overslept.’
He laughed at me, a touch of relief in his tone. ‘Should
I let you go?’
‘I’m not running that far behind,’ I told
him. ‘You guys make it in ok?’
‘We’re fine,’ he said, sounding a little
tired himself. ‘Took a little longer than we’d anticipated to
get here, got tangled up in traffic. Everything’s still on schedule
‘That’s good,’ I murmured, just wanting
him to keep talking. ‘You have meetings today?’ There was a
moment’s hesitation and I understood that he couldn’t talk about
it. I sighed. ‘Fine… can you at least tell me if you’ll
be calling me later?’
He chuckled lightly. ‘Actually, I was hoping to get
you to call me. We need you to do something for us.’
‘Sure thing,’ I teased him. ‘Where are the
bodies you need disposed of?’
He laughed and I could almost hear him shaking his head. ‘Nothing
that interesting, I assure you. Wufei needs a file off his system at work,
would you mind stopping by his office this morning?’
‘How boring,’ I complained with a theatrical sigh
and then took down the information he gave me. We exchanged a couple more
little teasing pleasantries and then I had to get ready for work or I was
going to be late as hell.
When I went into the bedroom to get dressed, the alarm was
sitting there buzzing merrily to itself and I switched it off. I thanked
God I’d had the foresight to do as much as I had the night before,
and managed to be ready to walk out the front door in under twenty minutes.
I had a banana and a bottle of soda for breakfast, eaten on the run. Caffeine
and potassium… that was balanced, wasn’t it? It was weird. I
had to keep reminding myself not to walk down to the bus stop.
I got a look from Griff when I walked into the mechanic’s
bay that morning that could have burned paint off a Buick.
‘Maxwell!’ he hollered at me before I even had
a chance to clock in and take my jacket off. ‘The next God damn time
you get shot at on your lunch hour, I want to know about it!’
I couldn’t help laughing at him. ‘Sure thing,
boss-man,’ I called back. ‘Absolutely the next time it happens…
you’ll be the first to know.’
He didn’t look amused. Was, in fact, striding across
the open floor of the garage like he was coming to deck me. I started to
realize that he really was pissed off at me when I noticed that none of
the other guys were watching. It had been my general experience that mechanics
never missed a chance for a little entertainment at another mechanic’s
expense. It had been true with the Sweepers, and it had held true here so
far as well. This couldn’t be good.
By the time he came abreast of me, I had managed to lose the
‘You think this is funny, asshole?’ he snapped.
‘You think it’s funny that I got called upstairs yesterday and
didn’t have answers about one of my own men for Commander Une?’
‘What?’ I sputtered. ‘What the hell does
Une care what I do on my lunch hour?’
He was starting to turn this sickly shade of red and I couldn’t
help but wonder about the poor guy’s blood pressure. ‘She saw
one of her people on the damn evening news and wanted information!’
‘Jeez, Griff,’ I grumbled. ‘When I left
yesterday I didn’t know I was going to be Channel Seven’s top
‘That don’t excuse you not telling me what happened!’
he bellowed, his proximity to me not lowering his voice any.
I was starting to get a little uncomfortable with this whole
thing. I didn’t feel like I’d done anything to warrant getting
ripped a new one like this, but Griff just seemed like he was looking to
knock somebody’s head off.
‘Will you calm the hell down, man?’ I growled
and all of a sudden he was reaching for the front of my shirt.
It was one of those slow motion things. In the space of half
a heartbeat, instincts as old as time kicked my brain in gear and identified
his move as hostile. Brain kicked reflexes in the butt who in turn notified
the proper body part and before the poor guy had even touched the front
of my shirt, I had his wrist in a bone-grinding hold. It was common sense
that stepped in at the last second, over-riding all the others, and kept
me from breaking his arm. I’m sure my expression did an interesting
little dance. From annoyed, to dead blank calm, to shocked. We finished
out the second half of that heart-beat staring at one another and you could
have heard a pin drop anywhere in the bay.
He blinked once… twice, and something in his eyes told
me he’d just realized what he’d done. His face lost that crimson
shade and he started to look a little pale.
‘Shit, Duo,’ he muttered, voice at a much more
reasonable level. ‘I’m sorry, buddy. I forget sometimes you’re
not just… one of the guys. I shouldn’t’a done that.’
I had already dropped his wrist and he took it back to rub
at it gingerly. ‘No… I’m sorry,’ I told him, my
own voice more subdued. ‘I guess I should have told you yesterday
what was going on, but I thought it was over and done with… I just
didn’t want to think about it anymore and all the guys would have
had me talking about it for the rest of the afternoon.’
He gave me a rueful little smirk. ‘That’s probably
true enough.’ He gave his arm a little shake. ‘That’s
a hell of a grip you got there, buddy.’
I grinned sheepishly and ducked my head, wishing this conversation
could be over.
He let out with a heavy sigh and rubbed absently at the back
of his neck. ‘Look,’ he began again. ‘In three years,
I been called up to Commander Une’s office a grand total of three
times. I don’t like goin’ up there and I sure as hell don’t
like going up there with my pants around my ankles. Next time somethin’
happens to you during company hours… I need to know about it.’
I nodded, resisting the urge to stick my hands in my pockets
like some little kid caught stealing. ‘Ok, man,’ I agreed. ‘I
never thought you’d get in any trouble over it. I really am sorry.’
He sighed again and reached out to thump me on the shoulder.
‘S’ok buddy,’ he told me. ‘Anyway… you all
right? You take off yesterday because you got hurt? I saw the news coverage
where you damn well caught fire.’
I felt the heat rising to my face and just wished he’d
go away. ‘I’m fine,’ I mumbled. ‘Heero just…
wanted to take off and go car shopping. He’s got this thing about
public transportation… and the other day kinda made it worse.’
He actually threw back his head and laughed out loud, making
everybody in the room turn to look at us. I don’t think anybody had
expected that to be the outcome of our… talk.
‘Listen, boss-man,’ I told him when I could make
myself heard. ‘Agent Chang called this morning, he’s…
on-site with Heero and asked me to retrieve something off his computer for
the case they’re on. I need to go upstairs before I clock in, if that’s
He brightened, hoping perhaps that if one of ‘his men’
did something to assist an active case, that his department might look good.
Might even balance the scales of yesterday’s embarrassment a little.
‘Sure thing,’ he told me. ‘Get goin’.’
I flashed him a little grin and took off for the main building.
I really wanted to get this done before a ton of people arrived for work
up there in the office areas. The fewer people I had to deal with, the better.
I’d never been to Wufei’s office, but Heero’s
directions had been precise. I had to explain myself and show my damn ID
badge three times, but each time the person who questioned me seemed to
be aware of my errand and let me pass, pointing the way to the agent’s
I had to shake my head, wondering why Wufei didn’t just
have one of the secretaries do this. I knew Heero had a woman who occasionally
did filing and such things for him, but I didn’t think she was assigned
to just him, and was probably available for Wufei as well. Just his rather
paranoid, security conscious mind? That thought rather gave me pause…
just what the hell did that say about the fact that he was trusting me with
his system passwords?
I ran into one of the afore-mentioned secretaries just as
I found the office I was looking for. ‘There you are!’ a rather
elegant woman with upswept brunette hair hailed me in a chirpy little voice
and brandished a set of keys. ‘You must be Duo, Agent Chang called
and told me you’d be in this morning. I’m Karen.’
I nodded, hoping she didn’t think I was supposed to
know who she was, and stepped aside so she could unlock Wufei’s office.
She dutifully checked my id badge and then opened the door, flicking on
the lights and waving me forward. I’m sure you know you’re way
around a computer,’ she told me brightly. ‘My desk is right
around the corner if you need anything and please lock up when you’re
‘Thanks,’ I murmured, a little overwhelmed by
the woman’s perky efficiency, and watched her walk away. I’d
have to remember to ask Heero why in the hell Wufei hadn’t just had
‘Karen’ run this little errand, since she was ‘right around
the corner’ and already had keys to his office.
I sat down behind Wufei’s desk, feeling terribly self-conscious,
and punched the power button on his PC. I glanced around while I waited
for the thing to boot, noticing the picture of Sally on the corner of the
desk. It kind of stood out, because there weren’t a lot of other personal
effects in there. I found myself dying to go look at Heero’s office,
but couldn’t think of a good excuse for needing to.
The system booted and I keyed in Wufei’s password; 191121225HNR.
I had puzzled over that sucker all the way to work before I’d finally
figured it out. I’m not sure I would have gotten it so fast if Heero
hadn’t read the numbers to me just so; 19-1-12-12-25. If he had just
read them sequentially, I wouldn’t have seen the pattern. It was a
simple alphabet numeric code, assigning a numeric value to each letter of
the alphabet, with three fairly random letters thrown in for securities
sake. Though… as I typed it, I suddenly realized it probably stood
for ‘honor’. I had to shake my head.
I found the file my mate and his partner needed fairly quickly,
also finding the blank diskettes in the top drawer right where I’d
been told they were. I was supposed to copy the file down to diskette, take
it home to my own system and e-mail it to Heero’s account. I was suddenly
taken with a perverse thought; why not e-mail it right from here? Heero
hadn’t given me Wufei’s e-mail password and I wondered briefly
about that, but was suddenly fairly sure I could hack into it, since I’d
figured out his system. It would be fun to see Wufei sputter indignantly
the next time I saw him. And it would only be poetic… justice for
his somewhat lame password system. I hit the e-mail icon and thought for
a minute about the people in Wufei’s life. The password box popped
up and I keyed 2-5-15-23-21-12-6JSTC. Got it on the first try. I would have
laughed out loud if I hadn’t figured that would just bring Karen back
into the room. I pulled up a new message box and attached the file, wondering
again why they hadn’t just given me the e-mail password to begin with.
This was going to be so much quicker than waiting until my lunch hour and
making a special trip home. I typed up a quick message about how Agents
may be hot-shit, but they sometimes overlooked the simple things, and sent
the file zinging off to Heero out there in net-land somewhere. I chuckled
softly and was moving to close the program when something caught my eye.
A word, actually… Camden. I think my heart stopped in my chest.
There was a message in Wufei’s inbox, dated almost a
week ago from a ‘email@example.com.
For a long, painful moment, I thought my delusional, nightmare
world had taken a turn into the Twilight Zone, coming to assault me in broad
daylight. Then it hit me; Brigham is a university. That had to be Jimmy
Camden, not Captain Camden. Then that hit me. Jimmy Camden. The Captain’s
son. Wufei had been in touch with the Camden family.
My heart restarted with a lurch, but I still just sat and
stared at it. The subject line simply read, ‘Re: your inquiry’.
George appeared on Wufei’s desk, looking around for
a second at the unfamiliar surroundings, before giving me a sympathetic
little look. He had a whole armload of banners, everything from the rather
simple ‘shit’, to one that read ‘that rat bastard!’,
but he couldn’t seem to make up his mind which one to pull out, and
finally just faded away.
What. The. Hell? I couldn’t process the information.
Wufei, the guy who I had come to think of as one of my best friends, had
told me an outright, blatant lie. About something that he was well aware
was very damn important to me.
I figured out I was going to read the thing when I felt my
hand moving toward the mouse. There was absolutely no other conscious thought
‘Agent Chang, I am in receipt of your note inquiring
about the current location of my mother. I apologize for the delay in replying,
but I must confess I wanted to verify your credentials first. My family
went through some very difficult times immediately following the war in
direct relation to the incident you mentioned. My mother was hounded for
a long time by both the press and the families of those who died aboard
the Londonderry. I hope you understand that my sister and I are both very
protective of our mother’s privacy.
However, I have spoken with my sister and we have decided
to cooperate with your investigation. I can’t tell you what it would
mean to my family if you truly could clear my father’s name. I have
enclosed my mother’s contact information. I would like to take a moment
to impress upon you though, what a very delicate subject you will be broaching
with my mother, if it becomes necessary for you to interview her for your
case. My mother loved my father very much and his death was very hard on
her. Doubly so, because she was never granted the space in which to truly
grieve, before our family was beset with the morbid and the curious.
My mother has finally managed to find a bit of happiness in
remarriage, hence your difficulty in locating her, and I do hope that you
can close your case without it being necessary to bring her in to it. Emery
Williams, a former comrade of my father’s, has made my mother very
happy and done a lot to make her forget the past. But he will never replace
my father and there is part of my mother that grieves to this day. Please
keep this in mind if you find that you need my mother’s testimony.
Good luck. Jim Camden’
There was very little going on between my ears but white noise.
I think it was a self defense mechanism to keep me from losing my mind from
all the cacophonous voices trying to scream different messages in my head.
There was a level of my consciousness that wanted to be very angry. Mad.
Wicked pissed. Flaming ready to rip somebody’s head off. Livid. Fuming.
Irate. My thesaurus hamster quit working about there. I wanted to find Wufei
and I wanted to deck his ass. More than that; I wanted to scream at him
for ten minutes and then deck his ass.
Hot on the heels of pissed off came… massive amounts
of enraged. Williams. That son-of-a-bitch Williams had effectively murdered
James Camden and a dozen of their shipmates, allowed Camden to take the
rap for it and then… then the motherless bastard had gone and married
Camden’s widow? I had absolutely no doubt it was the same Williams.
How many ‘former comrades’ named Williams could Captain Camden
But underneath all of that spitting, cursing anger was a great
big lump of… betrayed. I think I saw why Heero and Wufei had kept
this from me, and yes, I’m sure Heero knew, all those funny little
exchanged looks suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense. But… they
both knew how damn important this was to me. How could they have lied about
something like this? How could they have done this to me?
Damn… I’d let myself trust again, hadn’t
I suddenly had less compunction about digging through Wufei’s
e-mail. I scrolled down to the bottom of the message from little Jimmy,
who wasn’t so damn little any more, and memorized his mother’s
address. Then I closed the message and resorted the in-box by e-mail address
to verify that there were no more messages from the Camdens. There weren’t.
Then I went to the sent folder and found Wufei’s original message,
just to see what his story was. As implied, he claimed to be investigating
old war crimes. Said that he was looking for both survivors and relatives
of the casualties of the Londonderry to interview for the case. He was very
vague, leaving things open ended, hiding behind a curt kind of professionalism.
That done, I put everything back the way I had found it, though
Francis had to pop in for a minute and convince me not to wipe the hard
drive on my way out of the office. I quietly locked up, called a cheery
goodbye to Karen, marched out of the building, went straight to Griff’s
office and informed him that I wasn’t going to be able to work today
after all. Explained that my back was bothering me a lot more than I had
thought it would and I just didn’t think I could hang over an engine
all day long. He was very understanding, called me Duo instead of ‘buddy’,
gingerly helped me put my jacket back on, hissing in sympathy when I winced,
and shooed me out the door with warnings to go home and get some rest.
I was almost awed when I blinked next and found myself parked
in front of the apartment building. I swear to God no time had elapsed.
One minute I was walking out of the Preventors building and the next I was
just sitting in my car staring at the front of the apartment. Damn…
talk about autopilot.
I took myself inside, deciding that I needed to sit down and
think about things for a little bit before I made up my mind just what in
the hell I was going to do. I needed to get past the damn hurt feelings
and the anger to truly think about the situation, instead of the circumstances
I was foggily surprised to find the television and stereo
still playing, all the lights on and Fuzzy-butt sitting on the couch looking
at me with a slightly abandoned expression. I scooped him out of his nest
of blankets and sat down in the chair, absently rubbing his ear and trying
to get around ‘Heero and Wufei fucking lied to me’ to get to
the meat of the thing; Williams was married to Anna Camden.
I remember reflecting at some point on how bad my chest hurt.
I hugged Fuzzy and tried to concentrate on my music. Some time went by,
and I remember thinking that I would sell whatever piece of my soul I still
retained, for the luxury of some damn sleep. Some more time passed and the
phone rang. I let it.
Emery. What an unlikely name for a rat-bastard. Who would
have thought? Anna Camden… no; Anna Williams was married to the man
who was directly responsible for her first husband’s death. And I
was one of the small handful of people who knew it. And probably the only
one of that handful who fucking cared. Wufei and Heero had pretty well proved
that. So… just what the hell was I going to do about it?
You want to know the first solution that popped into my head?
I’m not very proud of it. I thought about taking that journal and
going out and finding a publisher. Let’s put the true story up in
glowing neon lights and see just how in the hell Rat-bastard Williams liked
that. But no; that was a damn cowardly way to handle things and I dismissed
So the next thing that occurred to me was to simply ship the
damn book off to Jimmy and let him deal with it. Was Anna as fragile as
Jimmy had led Wufei to believe? Would finding out that her current husband
was a cold-hearted asshole be more than she could take? Jimmy was in a better
position to decide what to tell his mother. But somehow, I didn’t
think that solution was going to make Captain Camden very happy with me.
I doubted it would do much to salve my guilty conscience. It was also a
rather cowardly way out.
Well. That really only left one thing I could do, now didn’t
it? James Camden had entrusted his final messages to his family to my care
and I damn well had to see that they were delivered. That’s all there
really was too it; it was my responsibility to take that jerk of a second
in command down. And what better time than the present?
I was suddenly very calm. I had a plan, and like the old days,
that somehow made all the difference in the world. Give me a goal. Give
me a plan. Feed me the parameters of the mission, wind me up and let me
go. I had the journal, I had the address, and I had a car. Time to lock
Look out Mr. Emery Williams… The God of Death is coming
to peel back the mask of your new life so that the world can get a glimpse
of your old one.
I dumped Fuzzy back into his pile of blankets and went to
my room to change clothes. Wufei’s deliberate vagueness when he had
talked to Jimmy was going to work in my favor. Chang Wufei suddenly had
a new partner; rookie, agent-in-training by the name of Duo Maxwell. Gets
stuck doing all of Agent Chang’s legwork, poor guy.
I stuck with the polo shirt because it had the Preventor’s
logo on the front, but changed the jeans for a pair of dress pants. Then
I packed my duffle for a little road trip, dropping it by the front door
before taking myself off to the bathroom for one last check. I thought I
glimpsed the good Captain over my shoulder in the mirror while I was redoing
my braid, and there was a feral gleam in his one remaining eye.
The second to last thing I did before leaving the apartment
was dig Camden’s journal out of the bottom of my dresser drawer and
tuck it carefully into my coat pocket, buttoning the flap over it for added
security. I felt like I was getting ready to leave the apartment with a
pocket full of gold. Talk about something that was irreplaceable.
The very last thing I did was pull out a piece of paper and
sit at the kitchen table staring at it. Anna lived some distance away. I
would very likely be gone longer than Heero. I needed to leave a note but
for the life of me, I couldn’t think what to say.
‘See you when I get back, asshole.’?
Didn’t seem like the best choice.
‘Eat shit and die.’?
Ok… maybe even worse.
‘Tell Wufei his password system is amateurish and lame.
Tell Wufei he can eat shit and die. Tell Wufei…’?
I seemed to have a ‘shit’ theme going here, for
some reason. That one was just going to end up going on for pages and pages.
Again… not a great choice.
‘I have an obligation to dispatch. We’ll talk
when I get back.’?
Not great, but probably the best I could manage. I went with
that one and walked out the door. I thought I heard the phone ringing as
I headed down the stairwell, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t
I climbed in my ugly red car, tossed my duffle bag into the
passenger seat and drove down the block to the nearest gas station, where
I topped off the gas tank, and bought some supplies. An atlas, a couple
of bottles of soda, a package of beef jerky, a candy bar, and in retrospect,
a box of breath mints. Would probably need them by the time I got to the
Camden’s… I mean, Williams’ place.
I sat in the car in the parking lot, plotting my course and
nibbling on my candy bar. A little caffeine and sugar after last night’s
lack of sleep wasn’t a bad idea, it was looking like it was going
to be quite the drive.
It was right at lunchtime when I pulled out and pointed my
much-hated four-cylinder ugly red car without a stereo system in the general
direction of my goal. The hamsters were pretty excited, never having been
on a road trip before, and sat about the car with stupid little grins on
their faces, pointing at things as we drove. Guilt beast rode shotgun with
his head hanging out the window, tongue lolling in the wind. I chanced to
glance in the rear-view mirror and was so convinced that James Camden was
sitting in the backseat that I almost ran off the road when I whipped my
head around to look.
I took a long swallow of my soda and snickered helplessly.
Wonder what my therapist would make of this? I resisted the urge to pass
the beef jerky back to Camden and just drove. I knew better than to let
the laughing really get started, so I just avoided looking in the mirror
as much as possible.
It was almost a twelve hour drive, not counting stops. I won’t
bore you with the whole damn thing. A lot of it went by without any real
thoughts going through my head at all. Doing that autopilot thing again,
I guess. Some of it went by with me cursing at the damn radio as I tried
to get it tuned to something I could stand to listen to. I ended up singing
a large part of the time, because nothing would fucking tune in and stay
for more than a couple of hours and it was making me nuts, constantly fiddling
with it. And a lot of it went by with my head so full of angry, hurt thoughts
that it was all I could do not to smash my fist through the dash. Or burst
into tears. I waffled back and forth between those two a whole damn lot.
Mostly the voices in my head only had the one line through
that part; I trusted them.
I probably should have spent some time thinking about just
what in the hell I was going to do when I got there, but… I just didn’t.
I don’t really know why. Too upset, too confused, too damn tired.
I don’t know.
The Williams’ lived in a fairly small town. Big enough
for a K-mart and a couple of strip malls, but not big enough for a damn
motel. I had to drive on up the road another twenty miles until I crossed
a highway big enough to find someplace to stay. It was one in the stinking
morning and I didn’t figure it would do me much good to show up on
the doorstep of a total stranger’s house with my bizarre story at
Just to add insult to injury, the motel was a crappy little
place with half the light bulbs in the room burnt out and the ugliest lime
green carpeting I’ve ever seen on the floor. It was just seedy enough
that I didn’t even feel like I could crawl in under the blankets and
ended up sleeping on top of the comforter.
I was surprised as hell when I was actually able to sleep.
Not so much that Captain Camden and his merry crew left me alone, but that
my own rabid thoughts settled down enough to let me doze off. I suppose
I could blame it on not getting any sleep the night before, and then driving
for twelve hours straight. But I think it was… emotional exhaustion
as much as anything. I’d been swinging back and forth between wounded
and pissed off for so long, that I was just beyond caring. I slept like
a damn rock, but woke in the morning so totally disoriented and confused
that I had a moment of panic, not able to remember where in the hell I was
or what I was doing there. Then it all came rushing back. Oh yeah…
that. I was on my quest to bring Rat-bastard Williams to justice and deliver
the journal of Anna Camden’s real husband into her hands.
I made myself as presentable as I could manage in the less
than spacious bathroom, without touching much of anything… the place
was just gross, gathered my gear and left the room. It was still fairly
damn early, probably too early to descend on the unsuspecting Williams’
household, so I went in search of someplace to sit down and eat some breakfast.
It had finally dawned on me that if I didn’t want to have come all
this way just to stand on the woman’s doorstep gawping like a carp,
that I’d better put some thought into my game plan.
I found one of those little breakfast diners, you know the
ones; you can find one at every major exit on any highway known to man.
Small, booths and counter space only, serves breakfast twenty-four hours
a day, but nothing else. They don’t even all have the same name, but
they’re so much alike they could be part of a chain. I didn’t
even look to see what this one was called, just parked my car and walked
into the place, finding an empty seat at the counter that was out of the
way. When the waitress came to take my order, popping her gum and looking
terribly bored, I just ordered the first thing I found on the menu and she
went away. I was dimly aware of her bantering with some of the other customers
at the far end of the counter. Probably regulars from the way she addressed
them. I really didn’t care; I just sat and stared out the window,
not really seeing anything.
God. With a good night’s sleep under my belt, this whole
thing was starting to seem like a fairly… half-assed idea. I was having
a little trouble believing that I had gotten eight hundred miles away from
home on little more than a major case of pissed off. What the hell was I
going to say to this woman? Hi, my name’s Duo Maxwell and your dead
husband asked me to come and save you from the Rat-bastard you married after
he was killed by him, sort of, because it was kind of my fault too because
you see it might have been my Gundam and… My brain kind of petered
out after that, which was probably a good thing, because I didn’t
even need Francis to tell me what a horrible idea that was. What in the
hell was I going to do now?
I blinked when a glass of orange juice suddenly appeared in
front of me, accompanied by the loud pop of that infernal gum. ‘There
you go, Honey,’ the waitress said, not unkindly. ‘Your pancakes’ll
be out in a bit.’
So that’s what I’d ordered. I nodded and mumbled
a thank you and she went away again. I sipped at the juice and went back
to staring out the window.
I needed to be formulating what I was going to say to the
woman when I got there. I needed to decide on a plan, settle on the roll
I was playing. But all I kept doing was worrying at Heero and Wufei’s
actions like it was a sore tooth. I couldn’t quite believe they had
tried to do this to me. Tried to keep this from me. Just what in the name
of God had they been afraid of? What the hell did they think I was going
to do? I kept replaying yesterday’s lunch conversation over in my
mind, seeing all of those weird looks and gestures with a new understanding.
I was actually a little appalled that I hadn’t realized then that
something wasn’t right. It was so unlike Wufei to just give up on
something. With almost no explanation. I found myself wondering if Wufei
had convinced Heero to lie to me… or if it had been the other way
around. And did it really matter?
‘Here you go, Sugar,’ the waitress said, and I
must have jumped a foot in the air. I blushed darkly and she laughed out
loud as she sat my pancakes down in front of me.
I muttered another thank you, but she didn’t immediately
go away this time. ‘Give those a try Honey, and make sure they’re
all right. Cook sometimes doesn’t get ‘em done in the middle.’
I dutifully cut into the stack and took a bite. ‘They
seem to be all right,’ I told her and I got a roll of the eyes.
‘Good Lord, Honey,’ she blurted. ‘That’s
no way to eat pancakes!’ She tapped at a glass jar sitting on the
counter. ‘Put some syrup on those or you’ll choke to death on
So I poured some maple syrup across the pancakes and took
another bite, just so she’d go away. Instead I got a heavy sigh.
‘What’s wrong, there, Sweetie?’ she was
suddenly asking in a weird, maternal kind of voice. ‘You look like
you just lost your best friend?’
I almost laughed and was a little surprised to hear myself
say, ‘I think the jury’s still out on that one.’
She folded her arms and leaned against the counter, letting
me know that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I sighed. ‘What
happened, Sugar?’ she asked, all sympathy and curiosity.
I snorted, taking another bite of breakfast. ‘He lied
to me,’ I said solemnly and was shocked when she laughed at me, shaking
her head in disbelief.
‘So?’ she chuckled, wiping at the counter. ‘Everybody
I gave her what I hoped was a disdainful glare, but it must
have fallen short because she just laughed again.
‘So,’ she grinned at me. ‘I’m talking
to the world’s only honest man? You never lie?’
Well, now; that was just a completely crappy thing to say…
because I didn’t have a ready answer. I glared harder. She laughed
harder, but finally walked away.
I probably would have stormed out of the place if it wouldn’t
have just left me with nothing to do and nowhere to go until the day progressed
enough that I felt like I could go over to the Cam…Williams’.
Ok, fine. Let’s be blunt. I’m a hypocritical little
snot. Please do not think that this whole little irony thing was lost on
me. I was pissed off because Heero had lied to me. But I lied to Heero all
the time. I am not stupid, this does not escape me. Now get ready for the
real shocker; it wasn’t the same damn thing.
Saw that line coming, did you? Well, come on… just what
had I lied to Heero about? You want to do this forward or backward? Backward?
Fine. The car. I had lied to him about not minding the car. But that lie
had done him no harm. I had lied to him about wanting the job in the Preventors
motor pool. But I had needed a job and that one had become available. What
did it matter if it wasn’t what I wanted? Again… that lie did
him no harm. Technically, I suppose, you could say that I lied to him about
being able to sleep alone, though it was more of an omission than a lie.
But look at how upset he had been after he had found out. That lie had actually
kept him from harm until I hadn’t been able to maintain it any longer.
So you see the pattern here? I may lie to Heero, but it’s only to
protect him… never to harm him. Never to keep something from him in
a malicious way.
I couldn’t understand what Heero’s lie was meant
to do. I couldn’t fathom how this was protecting me. Had they decided
to lie to me because they thought I would be upset about Williams being
married to Anna Camden? How did that balance against my being haunted for
the rest of my life by a one-eyed, pissed off ship’s Captain?
How could Heero not understand how important this quest was
when I had even stalled off our starting a home together until it was seen
through? And how could he have connived with Wufei to keep me from it, knowing
how important it was to me?
I suddenly became aware that I was just too tense to eat any
more and carefully laid my fork aside before that part of me that was hurting
so bad, threw the damn thing across the diner. I sat and stared down into
the bright, cheerful depths of my orange juice and just let time pass, trying
to quiet the roiling in my gut.
A piece of paper slid into my line of vision and that voice
with the oddly maternal twang said, ‘What’cha thinkin’
about so hard, Honey?’
I looked at the paper long enough to realize it was my bill,
looked up at the waitress and quirked a mirthless little half grin. Standing
up to pull my wallet out, I said, ‘Just the fact that a lot of people’s
lives would be a hell of a lot less complicated if I’d just fucking
died in the asteroid belt.’ Then I threw down a twenty, way more than
my meal had cost, and turned to take my ass the hell out of that place.
If she came up with another comment, she didn’t think of it before
the door closed.
Screw this. I’d just drive around for a couple of hours.
I did not need some gum-cracking, irritating busybody poking their too-damn
perceptive nose into my business.
About an hour later, I pulled into the K-mart and went in
to buy some props. A notebook and some mechanical pencils, a small soft-side
briefcase and an appointment book. Then I spent the next half hour sitting
in the parking lot, scribbling notes in my new acquisitions and trying to
make them look well used. When I was done, it was after nine o’clock,
and I decided that it was late enough.
Show time. I thought I would throw up.
I wished above and beyond everything else that I didn’t
have to face this alone, and of course, that thought just burned me right
to the core. All those promises of undying friendship, of support and help…
had turned out to be pretty damn empty promises, hadn’t they? The
guys were there to help me with all the things I didn’t need help
with… but what the hell had happened with the one and only thing I
had ever fucking actually asked of them? Where were they now? Well, kiss
my lilywhite ass; Duo Maxwell had managed fairly damn well up until that
little trip to the belt. I would just suck it up and get the hell on with
it… just like I always did.
So I took a deep breath, popped a breath mint and drove on
over to the Williams’ place. I arrived promptly at nine-thirty and
got out of my car with briefcase in hand, carefully checking the address
against the one noted in my day planner. With a vaguely bored, but pleasant,
expression plastered all over my face, I walked up to the front door and
rang the bell. I was wound so damn tight, the muffled chime made me jump
like somebody had fired a shot at me. I caught a glimpse of my reflection
in the door glass and I looked really pale. I had no fucking idea what I
was going to say.
There was a moment’s delay and then the door swung open
to reveal a tiny little slip of a woman. She probably didn’t come
up to my chin, and was so petite I most likely could have picked her up
like a child and parked her on my hip. Dressed in a pastel, embroidered
sweatshirt with butterflies all across the front, she was the last thing
I had envisioned. I had to blink and look a second time to see the faint
lines that told me this woman really was old enough to be my mother. We
just stared at each other for a minute and I began to see the ghost of apprehension
in her expression. I expect it had been a while since she’d had to
worry about who she opened her door to.
‘Can I help you?’ she asked cautiously, looking
like she might be considering slamming the door in my face.
I opened my mouth to speak and had to stop and clear my throat,
still not sure just where in the hell to start. It was the stupid butterflies,
of all things, that let me get words past my leaden tongue. The smile I
managed to dredge up was for Neo and his butterflies, but the woman in front
of me didn’t need to know that.
‘Hi,’ I grinned at her, glancing down at the little
book in my hand as though referencing something. ‘Would you be Anna
Williams, by any chance?’
She frowned and unconsciously changed her stance so that she
was partially behind the edge of the door. ‘Yes… I am,’
she admitted, albeit reluctantly.
I flashed her a dazzling grin, feeling a persona finally settling
around my shoulders like an old, well-worn cloak. ‘Great!’ I
beamed. ‘I’m Duo Maxwell; I’m with the Preventors. My
partner Chang Wufei contacted your son a couple of weeks ago?’ I juggled
my little book somewhat clumsily out of my right hand and then extended
that hand for her to shake. She took it automatically and I was relieved
that she was so busy digesting what I had said that she didn’t even
notice the scars.
I released her hand, still smiling broadly and waited for
her to acknowledge that she knew what I was talking about. Her expression
was a strange mixture of dread and hope and I felt really… odd. ‘Yes,’
she finally managed. ‘Jimmy told me about the message… but I
thought that I would be contacted before anyone came out… I…
I’m not sure…’
I sighed in exasperation and rolled my eyes, trying to look
very put out. ‘Agent Chang didn’t call you?’ I blurted,
all indignation on her behalf. ‘Well… you aren’t the first
one. I’ve done five of these interviews for him in the last two days
and you’re the third person he didn’t get in touch with.’
I waved my appointment book around like the holy bible. ‘I don’t
know what gets in to him,’ I said, lowering my voice conspiratorially.
‘Just because he’s the senior agent, he thinks he doesn’t
have to do any of the tedious work.’ She smiled faintly, but still
looked a little uncertain and I sighed heavily. ‘I am so sorry. If
this isn’t a good time, I suppose I could come back… it certainly
isn’t your fault that Agent Chang sent me on an eight hundred mile
trip without verifying first!’
I watched her eyes widen and knew I’d delivered the
proper guilt trip. She stepped back and gestured me inside. ‘Oh good
Heavens, no! You’ve come all this way… I can certainly spare
the time so you don’t have to reschedule.’
As I stepped into her immaculate, unassuming living room,
I was struck with this bastard mix of exultation and oh-my-God terror. What
now? I’d gotten myself in here… what the hell now? Did I just
give the damn journal to her and run? Didn’t seem to be the proper
choice. So, I bided my time and followed her as she led me into her home.
Then another voice, a man’s voice, called, ‘Annie?
Who is it, Hon?’
I honestly think that for the space of about thirty seconds,
I blacked out on my feet. There’s no other explanation for the fact
that between one blink and the next, a man just appeared in the doorway
from another room. I heard his voice… I remember a bit of hissing,
static noise… and then there he was. I knew in my soul I was looking
at Emery Williams. Somewhere in the back of my head, Captain Camden growled
like a mad dog.
He was… ordinary. Almost disappointingly so. I suppose
he had assumed rather larger than life, Ming the Merciless kind of proportions
in my mind. He was anything but; no taller than I was and rather…
round. Dark haired, with a receding hairline. Sure as hell didn’t
look like he’d ever been in the military. I became aware that Anna
was speaking to me.
‘Mr. Maxwell?’ she asked, and I had the impression
it wasn’t for the first time. ‘Are you all right?’
I tore my gaze back to her slightly frowning face and managed
another smile. ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ I told her. ‘I’m
afraid I’ve been on the road for days now… I think it’s
starting to catch up to me.’
She waved me forward, gesturing towards the cozy little sitting
area. ‘Please sit down,’ she told me solicitously and beckoned
her Rat-bastard husband to her side. ‘Mr. Maxwell… let me introduce
my husband, Emery Williams.’ He came, rather protectively forward,
frowning at me slightly. I managed to take his hand and shake it, only because
my own fingers didn’t really feel his, so I was able to keep from
wiping my palm on my pants leg when he let go again. I nodded to him while
Anna said, ‘Mr. Maxwell is with the Preventors, dear… remember
that e-mail Jimmy showed us?’
He made a little ‘ah’ sound and we all sat down.
I took the rather overstuffed chair closest to the door and Anna perched
on the edge of the love seat directly across the coffee table from me, nervously
smoothing her skirt over her knees. Rat-bastard balanced on the arm of the
couch next to her. I guess I was going to have to stop thinking of him like
that, or I was going to start calling him that. He dropped a hand to rest
on her shoulder and she leaned slightly toward him.
I shuffled around in my briefcase, stalling for a minute while
I desperately tried to think of what I should be asking. What was my role
here again? Oh yeah… I never came up with one. Damn.
I pulled out my notebook and a pencil and sat back, trying
to look… official. I flashed another grin at Anna and tried to pretend
that Williams wasn’t sitting there, right next to her. But then it
dawned on me that if I really were in possession of a list of survivors
and relatives, he’d be on it. I took a deep breath and just fucking
‘Well,’ I grinned, glancing down at my ‘notes’
despite the fact that it was really just a list of things I hated about
my car. ‘I’m afraid I’ve done a number of these interviews
in the last several days and I’m not sure…’ I leafed forward
a couple of pages and tried to look suddenly enlightened. ‘Ah! Here
it is!’ I scanned a few lines of song lyrics and looked up at her
sympathetically. ‘I’m so sorry… your husband was Captain
She nodded, looking a little uncomfortable and Williams rubbed
her shoulder encouragingly. It was rather disconcerting, seeing him sitting
there with James Camden’s wife. I had to remind myself that he was
‘Mr. Maxwell,’ Anna ventured into my slight hesitation.
‘Just what has prompted this investigation after all this time? I
didn’t quite understand from Agent Chang’s message…’
I gave her a conspiratorial wink and smiled. ‘He is
rather vague, isn’t he?’ She smiled with me, but waited patiently
for her answer. Well… no time like the present to stir up the anthill.
‘I don’t know if you were aware, but an expedition was mounted
several months ago to salvage the wreck of the Londonderry.’
Anna nodded vaguely, looking slightly unhappy, but I noticed
that Williams’ face took on a strange frown and I couldn’t resist
smiling straight at him. Does my name sound familiar, asshole? I wanted
to ask him. Are you sweating yet? Somebody went and saw your handiwork and
returned to tell the tale. Sweat Rat-bastard… sweat.
‘Some data was retrieved,’ I continued talking
to Anna, ‘that raised some questions that the Preventors thought should
be… looked into.’
‘Questions?’ she asked, looking slightly confused.
I suspected she just didn’t want to think too hard about the subject
at hand. ‘Jimmy told me you were trying to clear James’s name
of the charges that were filed against him… posthumously.’
I’d always wondered about that practice. Just what was
up with charging a dead person with a crime? What the hell were you going
to do? Resurrect them so you could execute them again?
‘Yes ma’am,’ I smiled gently. ‘The
accusations that were made may have been leveled with false information.
The expedition was able to retrieve a full download of the ship’s
logs and system data.’
I stopped for a second, appearing to be checking my notes,
but actually watching Williams. I was expecting the man to look nervous…
scared even. He only seemed to be wearing a very… sad expression.
I ran my eyes over a blank page, pretending to read, while
I wracked my brain, trying to think of things I could ask the woman. What
would a real agent in my position need to know? I needed to gain control
over this interview… she was asking all the damn questions here!
‘Mrs. Williams,’ I finally addressed her, wording
my question very carefully. ‘Do you recall any correspondence you
might have received from the Londonderry… around that time period?’
She sighed wistfully and somehow seemed to shrink a little
bit, looking like nothing more than a child next to Rat-bastard. ‘The…
the last real message we received from… from James was a letter he
sent to us with my son’s birthday present. It was his fourteenth birthday.’
I cringed inwardly at the wobbly sound of her voice and stalled
a second while I pretended to make a note of it in my book, before bulling
forward. The echo of Camden’s voice rumbled in my head, sounding upset.
I wanted to yell at him that he had fucking gotten us into this, hadn’t
he realized this was going to upset his widow? What the hell did he want
‘Do you recall if your husband mentioned any…
discipline problems, or people that he might have been having problems with?’
I pressed forward, one eye on Williams.
Anna shook her head. ‘James never mentioned things like
that. He kept his family and his career quite separate. He… always
talked about… personal things.’
Williams rubbed at her shoulder as her voice faltered and
she looked up at him gratefully. He smiled warmly at her, but when she looked
back at me, his expression became… pensive.
What in the hell was I doing? This was getting me nowhere.
I had no more idea what to do with this damn situation than I had when I’d
left on the trip to come here. All I was doing was upsetting the very woman
that I was supposed to be… supposed to be helping.
‘Mr. Maxwell,’ she was asking me, since I had
hesitated and lost control of the interview again. ‘Just what was
in that data that leads the Preventors to think that my husband didn’t
do what they say he did?’
I saw the tiny, infinitesimal flinch that Williams made when
Anna had called James ‘my husband’. Well. There was some feeling
there after all.
I took a deep breath. ‘The downloaded records indicate
that Captain Camden wasn’t on duty at the time the attack on the…
rebels was launched.’ I let that hang there, watching their expressions.
Did Anna know enough about the military to understand just who would have
been on duty in his stead? Did she even know that Williams had been the
second in command? Her expression didn’t lead me to think that she
got it. It was only vaguely… hopeful. Williams, however, looked like
he’d just been given a week to live.
‘Annie,’ he said and his voice was very…
odd, like he was saying goodbye. ‘We’ve been terribly remiss…
why don’t you go put some tea on for our guest?’
She looked positively shocked, turning to me with wide eyes.
‘Oh! I am so terribly sorry! Of course… I’ll be right
back!’ Then she was up and leaving the room.
I would have objected if I hadn’t understood perfectly
well what was going on. I turned my attention completely to Williams and
waited to see what his game was.
He rose from his perch on the arm of the sofa and settled
in the seat his wife had just vacated. He sighed heavily and we just sat
and stared at each other.
‘I think,’ he said after a moment. ‘That
I can save you some trouble Mr. Maxwell.’
‘Oh?’ I said coolly, raising an eyebrow in question.
We were to the part that James Camden had been waiting for, there in the
back of my head. We had his mortal enemy on the ropes, and the man knew
Williams sighed again and reached up to slick a hand over
his thinning hair, an obvious nervous gesture that I’d not seen him
make until now. ‘You have to be aware of the fact that I was the second
in command aboard the Londonderry on that mission.’
I stared at him until he squirmed and then said. ‘Is
Mrs. Camden aware of that fact?’
His eyes narrowed a bit at my choice of what to call her,
and he tried really hard to stare me down, but ended up dropping his eyes
first. ‘Yes… though I doubt she truly comprehends just what
‘And just what does it imply, Mr. Williams?’ I
asked and knew my voice had that oiled silk quality that I could manage
He looked at me long and hard, his hand making that gesture
of smoothing his hair again. ‘I think you know exactly what it means,
So… we both knew what in the hell we were talking about
here. Fine. I decided to escalate things; it wouldn’t take Anna all
that long to make a damn pot of tea. ‘You want to explain to me just
how you came to be married to the widow of the man you left on a dying ship?’
His eyes narrowed and he looked at me with a hint of anger
showing there. ‘I did not leave him anywhere,’ he bristled.
‘He had the same chance the rest of us did.’
I just sat for a second and stared at him, not sure if I could
believe the prickly denial in his voice. ‘He would have… if
two of the escape pods hadn’t been damaged in the attack.’
I watched his eyes widen in shock and couldn’t help
the gratified rush of feeling when I saw his face go pale. Take that Rat-bastard!
Have you been sleeping all right at night? I haven’t. Maybe it’s
time you shared some of my ghosts?
‘What?’ he finally managed to choke out.
‘James Camden went down with his ship in order to free
up space on an escape pod for one of your crewmates,’ I hissed at
him, knowing that my voice was laced with bitter anger. ‘You left
your crew short, sixteen berths.’ And then in a rather cold, calculated
voice, I gave him, from memory, the names of his sixteen shipmates who had
died because of what he had done. I could see the floating corpses in my
mind’s eye and I felt like I was laying each one of them to rest as
I did it.
When I shut up, there was a ringing, icy silence. He just
sat and stared at me for the longest time. Then he threw himself to his
feet and stalked across the room, turning his back to me and leaning against
the mantle. ‘Oh dear God,’ I thought I heard him mutter.
Camden was being very damn quiet inside my head. I suddenly
didn’t feel very well.
Was this real? Had he truly not known? Could I believe his
reaction, or was he just a damn good actor? I wasn’t sure what in
the hell to think. I had to stop my fingers from picking at the curl of
paper at the corner of my notebook. Wouldn’t do to leave a pile of
shredded confetti on Anna’s carpet.
Williams didn’t speak, just stood at the mantle and
toyed with a picture that was sitting there. In the kitchen, the teakettle
suddenly gave out with a long whistle. Williams and I both jumped.
It seemed to signal to Williams that our time was almost up
and without turning, he suddenly blurted, ‘I met Annie at a memorial
service… I never meant to get involved. But… she had her children
with her, and there were these reporters. I only meant to intervene, to
rescue them from that… that circus. But we started talking and the
next thing I knew…’ he trailed off, reaching to run his hand
over his hair again. He was fiddling and fiddling with that picture and
I finally rose and walked closer, where I could see it over his shoulder
and almost gasped out loud when I realized I was looking at a whole, hale
and happy James Camden, sitting with his arm around his wife, his children
clustered around them. His damn eyes really were brown. I shuddered violently
and had to rub a hand up and down my arm. Williams turned to look at me.
‘I didn’t know,’ he breathed. ‘I know
that doesn’t excuse anything… but I didn’t know.’
He truly did look… stricken.
I was… angry. I wanted to hate this man. I wanted him
to be evil incarnate so that I could just fucking hate him and he could
be responsible for all my damn problems. I wanted black and white. I wanted
right and wrong. I didn’t need this damn gray. Didn’t need this…
uncertainty. What in the hell was I going to do? Captain James Lyle Camden
was fucking dead. He had been dead for quite some damn time. His widow had
managed to move on with her life. Did I really have the right to come in
here and blow it all to hell in the name of justice? I didn’t know
what to do.
And I didn’t want to be here, all alone, trying to figure
I heard the clink of china, the only warning we had before
Anna came back into the room. Williams and I just stood staring at each
other as she came in with the tea tray. She walked in smiling, saying something
I didn’t catch about Jasmine, but then she seemed to notice the tension
in the air and hesitated. She looked from one of us to the other, her smile
fading just a little. I didn’t know what in the hell to do. God, I
had dug myself a nice little pit here and the edges were starting to crumble,
I couldn’t see any way out of this. And you want to know the really
weird thing? I was suddenly so mad at Wufei I could have punched him. We
started this together… he was supposed to be here with me. He was
supposed to be my level head. He was supposed to have my back in this nightmare,
to be here to support me. He was supposed to be my friend. I was suddenly
cold as ice, goose bumps running up my spine, and I was glad I’d not
taken my coat off or I’d probably be shivering where I stood.
‘Do you mind if I use your rest room?’ I found
myself asking Anna, and my voice, though a little tight, didn’t tremble
near as much as I had expected it to.
‘Of course not,’ she assured me, seeming happy
to have the tense silence broken, and she pointed the way. I didn’t
run, ok? Almost… but not quite.
I was shaking so bad by the time I got myself shut into that
room that the knob rattled like castanets in my hand. I just folded up and
sat my ass down on the floor of the Williams’ bathroom, trying to
remember to breathe, trying to get my heart to stop pounding so hard that
my throat hurt. I knew when I walked out of that room I had to know what
in the hell I was going to do. I had to make up my stinking mind just what
I was going to say to Anna Camden Williams and I couldn’t stay in
the bathroom for the next three hours thinking about it.
My fingers fumbled with the button on my coat pocket and I
pulled the journal out of its sanctuary. I let it fall open in my lap and
looked at the pages without really seeing them. Well… wasn’t
this a nifty little catch-22? I felt the prickly chill of Camden’s
presence in my mind and glanced into the nearest reflective surface to see
him behind my shoulder, not looking very happy.
‘You brought us here, damn it,’ I hissed at nobody.
‘What the fuck do you want me to do now?’
But he didn’t answer. He never answers. He wasn’t
one of ‘my’ ghosts… exactly. I hadn’t known him
in life, so he didn’t really speak to me in death. Not like Solo…
not like Sister Helen every now and again. Camden only haunted my dreams
and my conscience and only seemed to have the one thing to say.
I flipped through the pages of the journal some more and found
it opening to the part at the end… the part that I needed to get to
Anna… the part that the good, dead Captain wanted me to get to Anna.
‘I had planned on coming home after the war and spending
forever with you, just like we promised…’
That’s where Wufei and I had left off reading that night.
Neither of us able to read those personal, personal messages out loud. I
let my eyes drift over the page, hoping perhaps to find some answer in the
words I hadn’t yet read. A message across all these years from a man
whose ghost I knew intimately well… whom I had never met. A man I
might very well have had a hand in killing, in a roundabout way.
‘I think I am sorry the most for the children. I’m
afraid for you, the three of you, facing an uncertain future without me
there to protect you. I don’t know what more this war will bring and
I can only hope that it will be over soon. I pray that it will end before
our children are old enough that they might be pulled into it. Don’t
let Jimmy try to follow in my footsteps. Don’t let him romanticize
the war… my death. Tell him that I hated this; I hated the fighting
and the death… that I found nothing noble in it. It was circumstances
and timing that brought me to this place… just a man in the wrong
places at all the wrong times.
I am sorry I broke my promises to you, my dearest Anna. I
wanted so much to be there to see our children grow up, to grow old with
you. I can’t tell you not to mourn for me, I know how I would feel
in your place, but don’t let this damn war take your life from you.
I want you to go on, I want you to be happy again…’
I closed the book and looked into the glass shower door, into
the sad, single eye of James Camden. I thought about his forays into my
nightmares and I thought about the only message he had ever given me. And
I figured out what I had to do.
When I came out of the bathroom I heard the murmur of soft
voices coming from the living room as I made my quiet way down the hall.
‘I know… me too…’
I squared my shoulders and came through the doorway, finding
them on the sofa together. I went straight over to them and perched myself
on the edge of the coffee table right in front of Anna and ignored Williams
as though he weren’t there.
As Captain Camden had reminded me… this was about Anna.
‘Mrs. Williams,’ I murmured, turning the journal
in my hands, not able to meet her eyes. ‘I’ve lied to you. I
am not Chang Wufie’s partner… though I do work with him.’
I saw them both stiffen and Williams reached to take Anna’s hand.
I didn’t pay any attention, just bulled forward. ‘I’m
the man who went on that salvage job to the Londonderry.’
There was a gasp and a grumble of surprise, I glanced up then,
seeing confusion in Anna’s eyes and sudden recognition in Williams.
I looked away again.
‘I’m truly sorry to have deceived you,’
I told her, ‘but I wanted to be… sure of a few things before
I… before I gave you something.’
‘Mr. Maxwell,’ she murmured. ‘I don’t
think I understand…’
‘Anna,’ Williams interjected, and I wasn’t
sure what he had intended to say, but I cut him off.
‘Your husb… Captain Camden kept a journal,’
I informed her and found my fingers tightening around the damn thing. ‘I
was able to retrieve it…’ I looked up then, very pointedly at
Williams. ‘I’m afraid it was… damaged during the accident.
It’s mostly intact, but there’s a few pages that were torn.’
There was a tiny little ‘oh’ from Anna and I could
see out of the corner of my eye that her gaze had dropped to the book in
my hands, understanding suddenly what it was. I didn’t take my eyes
off of Williams. His expression was somewhere between shocked and…
hopeful. A strange mixture of guilty and grateful.
‘This is it?’ Anna breathed and reached a finger
to touch the spine, then withdrawing her hand again as though burned. I
knew then that she realized just what a… two-edged sword it was. It
made me feel better about giving it to her, knowing that she understood
what a bittersweet gift it was. I forced my fingers to open and it took
her a long, long moment to take it from me. She held it on the palms of
her hands for a moment, wearing an expression like I’d just handed
her the key to Pandora’s box. For the moment, Williams was simply
‘I’d… recommend… not reading it…
alone,’ I whispered and suddenly had a Captain’s widow wrapped
around my neck.
‘Oh God,’ she whispered in my ear. ‘You’re
that young man who almost died… Oh my God. Thank you… thank
you so much. I can’t believe this! After all these years… I
just can’t believe this…’
I let my arms close gently around her and I felt… for
a moment, as though they weren’t my arms at all. Somewhere in the
back of my head I heard the voice of James Camden whisper, ‘Anna,
my Anna…’ One of us shivered, I’m not even sure which
of us it was, but when she drew away, her eyes were shining brightly and
she had to excuse herself, muttering something about a tissue.
I turned my attention to Williams and he looked like he was
trying to speak, but couldn’t figure out just what he ought to be
saying. I didn’t give him the chance, but slipped my hand into my
pocket and pulled out the torn pages of the journal, folded into a neat
little packet of truth, and handed them to him.
‘You take damn good care of James Camden’s family,’
I told him, a little surprised that my voice held steady and a little disappointed
that I couldn’t make it any more… fierce. It had been a threat,
He grunted and I rose, gathering my things and heading for
the door. My job here was as done as I could make it, and I couldn’t
stand to be in this place any longer. I paused by the mantle to take a closer
look at the novelty of Captain Camden with a whole face and then I walked
out. I thought I heard a quiet, ‘thank you.’ But I couldn’t
have told you which of the three of them said it. Or maybe I didn’t
hear it at all.
Guilt beast was waiting for me in the car, wearing his over-worked
expression and I almost wished for a second that he were real. Ugly as he
was, I would have hugged him tight anyway.
I wanted… I wanted… I’m not sure what. I
just wanted, I guess.
I pulled away from the curb sedately and carefully, and as
fast as I could manage. I didn’t want Anna calling me back. I didn’t
want to talk to her anymore. I didn’t want to sit under Williams’
uneasy gaze anymore. I didn’t want to look around and wonder if Camden
had handled any of the things I saw sitting there. Had he ever sat in that
chair I had sat in? Had he ever napped on that sofa? Drunk tea from those
china cups? If I looked in the rearview mirror… would he still be
with me, or was he gone now that my duty was dispatched? Would he haunt
Emery Williams’ nights now, instead of mine?
I was concentrating so hard on just getting away from that
house, that I managed to get myself lost. I just drove aimlessly through
the neighborhoods for a while, looking at the neat little houses with their
neat little yards. I finally came across a neat little park, abandoned and
empty in the chill weather, and I pulled in.
Leaving the car run for the heat, I let my eyes settle on
a flock of little sparrows, looking for seeds under a tall pine tree, and
tried very hard not to think. Tried not to feel. Just watched the fluttering
things as they danced about, lifting and lighting, pecking at the ragged
I was terrified of looking up into the mirror and seeing my
half-visaged buddy staring back at me. Terrified that he was angry with
me at how that whole damn thing had ended. Angry with me over the decision
I had made to ‘edit’ his journal.
What had been the right choice? What was the important thing
here? Justice? Love? Simple closure? God… I just didn’t know.
I thought I’d done the right thing… but I just wasn’t
sure. What if I had been wrong in reading Williams, and he was sitting back
there in that house right now, laughing at me behind his wife’s back?
What if that journal only brought Anna and her children more pain? Maybe
so much time had passed that I should have just let it go. Should have just
let the past stay dead.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, I
wished to an uncaring God that I’d never taken that damn Londonderry
I couldn’t seem to get the car warm enough no matter
how high I ran the heater and I snorted ruefully, wondering which was defective;
me or the car. I wanted very damn much for somebody to come and hold me.
I was very cold… and very tired.
‘Would if’n I could, kid,’ Solo’s
voice echoed through my head, a welcome presence, despite its not really
I sighed softly. ‘I know rat-boy.’
‘Come on,’ he murmured to me in a voice more gentle
than he had ever used with me in life. ‘Ya need to get home, baby-rat.’
‘Do I have one, Solo?’ I whispered, letting my
head fall back against the headrest, and my eyes fall closed. ‘I don’t
know… I just don’t know…’
‘Sure ya do, asshole!’ he chuckled at me. ‘You’re
bein’ a putz… now let’s get goin’.’
‘I dunno…’ I said, long past worrying about
what anybody would think if they saw me sitting here talking to myself.
‘I think I’m just too tired… too tired to deal with what’s
waiting…’ And surprised myself when I choked on a sob.
Solo rolled eyes he didn’t really have, and sighed heavily.
‘Oh fer God’s sake… yer not startin’ that shit again,
‘No,’ I told him, struggling to push it down.
‘No… tell me again?’
‘Boys don’t cry,’ he told me firmly and
faded away, just in case I couldn’t contain it.
But I managed it, and then I put the car in gear and drove
until I found my way out of suburbia. Oriented again, I hunted up the highway
and turned my ugly little red car towards the only home I had left. My brain
couldn’t quite deal with the whole quandary of ‘I want Heero’
and ‘I’m mad at Heero’, so I just didn’t think about
it. I drove. I just… drove.
I made better time coming back, or perhaps it was an earlier
start, I hadn’t paid much attention. It was before eleven at night
when I pulled into the parking lot of the apartment building. I felt…
totally disoriented. I was having a hard time getting my head around the
fact that it was Tuesday night. That I had just, effectively, spent twenty-four
hours on the road. That I had just put over sixteen hundred miles on my
car. I was deep down in the bones weary, and only wanted to drag myself
upstairs and go the hell to sleep. I sat for long minutes staring at my
accumulated junk; my duffle bag and my new briefcase, and found that I couldn’t
care enough to gather it up to take with me. I’d be lucky if I could
get myself up the stairs.
I’d been gone thirty-five hours. It felt like it had
been a blink. It felt like it had been a million years.
I got out and walked stiffly across the dark lot, feeling
like my feet were made out of lead and my head was full of cotton. The stairs
seemed to spiral upward without end and I trudged up them, half dragging
myself with the rail. I wondered if I could manage a shower when I finally
finished my thousand-mile climb. I wondered if I should just go the hell
to bed on the couch with the stereo and television keeping me company again,
or if I wanted to risk the experiment of trying to sleep alone in the dark.
I’d already decided I was sleeping in my sweats… I was still
so damn cold I was almost shivering.
Then I reached the third floor, started down the hall and
stopped dead when I heard voices coming from the apartment. Upset voices.
Several upset voices.
‘…the hell down, Yuy!’
‘Fuck you, Chang! I don’t want to calm down! I
want some damn answers!’
‘Heero… Wufei… please, arguing with each
other isn’t going to help anything…’
‘I never should have listened to you about this whole
‘Damn it! I told you I was sorry… And you fucking
agreed with me about it, anyway!’
I might very well have moaned out loud. If I did, I did it
very quietly, and the snapping snarling voices coming from down the hall
never faltered. ‘Oh dear God,’ I whispered to my poor little
self. No way in hell was I going to be able to make myself go in there.
Nope. No way. That whole Daniel and the lion’s den thing? Not my style.
I took a step backward… and then another… and ran up against
something rather unyielding, but somewhat warm. I flinched, and gasped,
and whirled around to come face to… collarbone with Trowa. Busted.
I thought I would weep.
I opened my mouth to launch into some sort of explanation,
but he gave me an odd little grin and touched his finger to his lips, taking
my arm to draw me back down the stairs. I went, quite happily, thank you
He led me all the way back down to the ground floor, and for
a moment I was afraid he was going to take me back outside into the cold,
but we stopped on the landing. I looked up at him expectantly, waiting to
see what he had to say.
‘Are you all right?’ was the first thing out of
his mouth. I blinked up at him and almost told him ‘no’. But
my head nodded for me, even while my body informed me we were going to go
sit on the steps.
‘Mostly,’ I told him when he sat down beside me.
He looked at me very hard and grunted softly. ‘You don’t
look all that great. How’d it go?’
I heaved a sigh that felt like it came up all the way from
the bottom of my soul, and the best I could manage was, ‘Kinda rough.’
He just sat and looked at me, and I knew he was waiting for
some elaboration but I just didn’t know where to start. Was too tired
to think about it. There was really only one thing on my mind at that point
and it involved the two irritated men two floors over our heads.
I dropped my face into my hands and whispered, ‘Why
in the name of God is my life a damn spectator sport?’
There was the sound of a rueful chuckle and a weight settled
across my shoulders. ‘I guess because you just make everything so
damn interesting,’ he told me, with a touch of amusement in his voice.
There was that word again, interesting. May you live in interesting
times. I wondered idly what Chinese deity I’d managed to piss off
enough to curse me.
‘Do you know what they did?’ I asked him then,
and there was a feeling of movement, like a nod. I frowned, thinking about
that and dropped my hands to look up at him. ‘When did you know?’
He quirked me that sardonic little smile of his. ‘Not
until after the panic ensued.’ I looked him in the eye, long and hard,
and the amusement slipped away. ‘I swear to you, Duo… they didn’t
tell us. If I’d known… I’d have ripped them both a new
I blinked for a second, caught by surprise by an upwelling
of pain. I looked away, drawing my knees up and wrapping my arms around
them. There was cold air seeping in under the front door, I was still very
cold. ‘I’m… right? To be mad?’ I whispered, appalled
that the words had slipped out.
He gave me a surprised little grunt and then shifted to truly
put his arms around me. ‘Yes little brother,’ he murmured against
my hair. ‘You have every right to go charging up these stairs and
kick the crap out of both of them.’
I leaned into his warmth and closed my eyes. ‘I just
don’t understand why they did it. Why did they keep it from me? I
thought… I thought they understood how important it was…’
There was a bit of silence before he told me, ‘I think
that’s something you need to discuss with Heero.’
I shivered, understanding that it was information that he
didn’t want to give me himself. Well… great. Just great.
‘I don’t want to fight this out tonight, Trowa,’
I told him and my voice wasn’t very steady in my own ears. ‘I’m
just too tired… I’ll lose.’
His arms tightened and I shivered again, feeling the clash
of the cold air with his warmth.
‘Come on,’ he said gently. ‘I’ll back
‘Ok,’ I agreed meekly and let him pull me to my
So I made the climb up those impossibly steep stairs for the
second time, Trowa’s hand on my shoulder and my hand on the rail.
God, but I didn’t want to do this.
‘You know,’ I muttered, half way there, ‘I
always thought it sucked to make a condemned man climb the gallows stairs
himself. Couldn’t the executioner just freakin’ come down?’
Trowa choked on a snicker and glanced down at me. ‘Your
mind makes some strange leaps, Duo.’
‘Oh,’ I grinned for him. ‘You have no stinking
But then we were there and Trowa stepped in front of me to
open the apartment door. Inside, the voices were still at it.
‘…had just about enough out of the both of you!
You should have thought of the consequences before you lied to him!’
‘You weren’t there! You didn’t see him…’
‘How the hell were we supposed to foresee what happened…’
‘Why in the hell you suggested giving him my system
password in the first place…’
‘If you hadn’t forgotten the stupid file…’
‘I thought you had a copy of it…’
‘And why in the hell did you keep the God damn e-mail,
‘Shut the fuck up!’
Trowa’s hand hesitated on the doorknob and he and I
stared at each other, rather wide eyed. I’m not sure I’d ever
heard Quatre Winner use that word before. Behind the door… there was
a resounding silence. Trowa turned the knob and I took a deep breath, wishing
I could just disappear completely. I really didn’t want to do this.
It looked a little like this; Heero and Wufei were standing
in the middle of the living room, behind the long couch, staring at Quatre
like he’d just puked on the carpet. Quatre was standing on the other
side of the couch, hands on hips, jaw set, and face looking like he was
contemplating skinning them both alive and using their hides to re-cover
his favorite arm chair. The fierceness of his stance was spoiled only a
little by the sight of Fuzzy-butt dangling next to his thigh, bedraggled
ear clutched in his fingers.
I realized then that I had walked off that morning…
no, yesterday morning… well, whenever in the hell I had last been
here, I had walked out and left all the lights on. And my laptop playing
through the stereo speakers. And the television on. And Fuzzy-butt perched
on a pile of blankets in the middle of the couch. Oh… crap. It probably
hadn’t looked real good.
Then Trowa softly cleared his throat and all three of them
jumped and whirled, obviously strung as tight as bowstrings. I resisted
the urge to waggle my fingers at them in greeting.
There was such a wash of strange, strong emotions playing
randomly around that room that I couldn’t have catalogued the half
of them if my life had depended on it. Relief? Yeah, that one was something
of a given. Anger? Pretty sure there was still some residual traces of that
going on. Fear? Maybe. There was a lot more, especially coming from Wufei,
but somehow I was too tired to care. Too tired to even try to read them.
‘Duo…’ Heero said, his voice little more
than a whisper. I had half expected him to come rushing over and…
and… hug me? Deck me? Yell in my face? One of those things…
something, anyway. I hadn’t expected the strange, ‘don’t
scare off the skittish wild animal’ act that I got. He walked slowly
over to us and stopped just in front of Trowa, looking past him to where
I stood a pace behind. ‘Duo… are you all right?’ he said
softly and it kind of ran all over me. He had that vague disquiet thing
going on again, that one that made me think he doubted my stability.
‘I’m fine,’ I replied, sounding a little
testy even to me. ‘What the hell are you doing back from your assignment?
I thought it was supposed to last most of the week.’
He had the decency to blush, confirming my suspicions that
they had canceled their trip and come rushing home as soon as they had figured
out that I’d seen the incriminating e-mail message from JCamden. I
saw his hand twitch, as though it crossed his mind to reach out to me, but
he didn’t do it. Because the others were here or because he thought
I wouldn’t stand for it, I’m not sure. ‘Duo,’ he
said in the soothing tone again and it was all I could do not to growl at
Looking back on it later… I think if one of them had
just come and put their arms around me right then, the whole thing might
have just faded away without turning into the ugly mess that followed. But
Wufei came to stand next to Heero, giving me that same worried
look and I felt my temper escalate up to the next notch. They didn’t
seem to understand the ‘united front’ impression they were exuding
like pheromones into the air. ‘Maxwell,’ Wufei interjected in
that same gentle tone. ‘Where have you been?’
I’m not sure if it was me or Trowa who let out with
the exasperated sigh. ‘Where the hell do you think I’ve been?’
I snapped, finally starting to get truly angry.
‘Calm down, Duo,’ Heero said, still using that
tone of voice that was seriously on my last nerve. ‘You need to let
I snorted explosively. ‘I would be delighted to hear
some sort of explanation for this… it should be damn entertaining!’
They both kind of flinched, sharing a little glance and I
was taken with the urge to reach out and smack their heads together. I was
having to struggle with all my might not to let it turn into a ‘them
against me’ situation, because they were just oozing this damn…
partnership thing that was just needling at me like crazy.
Beside me, Trowa shifted a little closer, crossing his arms
over his chest and glaring down at Heero and Wufei, mimicking their stance
and I understood that he, at least, realized what my lover and his partner
were unconsciously doing.
‘We were only concerned with your welfare,’ Heero
began, his voice gently placating and I felt my hands ball into fists. I
wondered where in the hell Francis had gotten off to… I could sure
use a little bit of help with that repression problem I had.
Then Wufei shifted slightly forward, as though he would put
himself between me and Heero. ‘If you want to hit someone, Maxwell…
hit me. I was the one who made the initial judgment.’
Trowa and Quatre both made little noises of disbelief and
the tension in the air skyrocketed to a here-to-fore unknown level. ‘I
don’t fucking go around decking my friends, Chang!’ I snarled,
though I very much had the wish to do so, in that moment. He honestly thought
I had been about to hit Heero? What the fuck was wrong with these people?
I had a moment to register the somewhat chagrined look on
Wufei’s face before Trowa suddenly interjected himself. ‘I think
that’s about enough of this. Quatre, Wufei… it’s time
we got the hell out of here.’
I glanced up at him, grateful beyond measure to have at least
one damn level head in the room, and almost missed it when Quatre came around
the couch to tug on Heero’s sleeve. He mumbled something and Heero
looked… disconcerted. Then Heero headed quickly to the other side
of the room.
‘What the hell is going on now?’ I growled and
watched Quatre turn wide eyes in Trowa’s direction. I followed his
gaze, understanding that if I was going to get an answer it was going to
come from Trowa. Across the room, Heero was picking up the telephone.
Trowa sighed and his hand dropped to my shoulder to squeeze
gently. ‘I believe that Heero would be calling to cancel the missing
‘Nani!’ I blurted, whirling to face him completely,
convinced that I couldn’t have heard him right. Trowa managed to convey
with a look just how… embarrassed he was on Heero’s behalf,
and he gave me one of those little helpless shrugs, obviously not able to
explain the action.
‘I left a fucking note!’ I hissed, and Trowa kind
of ducked his head, dropping his eyes from mine. I had to remind myself
that he’d had nothing to do with this.
Distantly, I heard the mumble of Heero’s voice and I
wondered how many Preventors strings he’d had to pull to get a report
filed that fast. I was pretty sure you had to be ‘missing’ for
forty-eight hours before they counted you truly misplaced.
‘You left a note that claimed you had an ‘obligation
to dispatch’, Maxwell,’ Wufei grumbled darkly, his voice holding
a hint of something strange. ‘What the hell were we supposed to think?’
I turned on him, not at all sure what he was saying. ‘I
figured you were a bright boy,’ I snapped. ‘I assumed when you
got an e-mail from your own account that you would remember the incriminating
evidence you left there, and would figure out where I went.’
He did blush darkly, I have to give him that, but he seemed
damn upset himself, of a sudden and wasn’t backing down. ‘Oh,
we figured where you went… but your note was a little damn vague!’
‘Well the first one just read eat shit and die,’
I told him, hearing my voice rising and not really able to stop it. ‘I
thought the one I left was rather damn restrained considering what you two
did to me!’
I swear, I heard Trowa snicker, but I was beyond caring, had
actually advanced a step in Wufei’s direction. I would have sworn,
if asked in that moment, that he and I were the only ones in the room.
‘We were only trying to protect the Williams’…’
he blurted and I could see he was really damn sorry the second it was out
of his mouth. I think time must have just freaking stopped.
I felt like he had just kicked me in the stomach as hard as
he could. They… they… had thought that I had run off to…
to attack Emery Williams. Like some kind of damn vigilante. The chill I
had been fighting all damn day suddenly seemed to take hold of my spine
and I shuddered like a rat terrier had hold of me. They thought I’d
gone to… they thought I’d… Oh my God. That was all I could
think; oh my God.
I… might have said something. Yelled something. I wouldn’t
know what it was; I was too busy going dead blank. Nothing in my head but
white noise and a little tiny voice whispering that ‘oh my God’
over and over.
But time suddenly seemed to reengage and when I came back
to myself, my right hand was on my left instead of my right, my knuckles
were stinging like fire and Wufei was sitting on his ass on the floor. A
lot of voices seemed to be yelling my name. I couldn’t really hear
anything but the rush of my own blood in my ears, couldn’t see anything
except the broken, hurting look in Wufei’s eyes.
I may not make a habit of going around hitting my friends…
but I was apparently perfectly capable of it.
I very suddenly needed to be out of that damn room. Trowa
and Quatre were between me and the front door and I figured I’d never
get past them. The only thing between me and my bedroom was Wufei, who didn’t
look like he was going to be stopping anybody from doing anything for the
next couple of minutes. So that was where I went, very quickly, and slammed
the hell out of the door when I got there. I was kind of surprised I didn’t
bust the doorjamb. I wondered idly if Mrs. Hitchcock from up the hall had
her ear pressed to the damn wall. I suspected that the landlord would be
getting a full report about this, once she’d made sure she’d
heard everything she could.
It was a stupid gesture, but I sat down on the floor with
my back to the door. If they decided they were coming in after me, physically
wrestling with them was going to be real damn immature. But I couldn’t
resist the ‘gone to ground’ urge. Hey… I managed to keep
myself from shoving the dresser in front of the door, ok? I was kind of
proud of that, because I refrained without help from Francis. My little
hamster buddies had been rather pointedly absent tonight.
Well… wasn’t this an interesting little state
I thought about crying, but it was a conscious thought and
just wouldn’t pan out… no matter how much I wished I could.
That struck me as a really stupid thing to be thinking, as much as I had
wished lately that I could stop being so damn emotional, and I almost laughed.
But hysterical chortling would probably be a bad thing for the guys to hear
coming from this room right now, so I didn’t do that either.
When several minutes passed and nobody tried the door, I started
to feel a little stupid. I could hear the sound of murmuring voices but
just tried not to listen. Go away, I willed at them. Just go the hell away.
In an insane rush of pure perversity, I found myself thinking
about just how long I could hole up in here. I had access to a bathroom
and thereby had access to water. There was no food in the room at all that
I could think of, but I was more than familiar with how long a person could
go on water alone. I had a bed, though I realized suddenly that my blanket
was in the other room… along with my bear. That thought was enough
to set my face to blazing, remembering Quatre standing out there holding
the thing. Yeah, damnit, Duo Maxwell owns a fucking teddy bear; get over
it. I wanted my bear, all of a sudden; nobody else would come and hold me.
Nobody else wanted to hear what I’d been through, wanted to listen
to my doubts and my fears. Fuzzy-butt was nothing if not a good listener.
He’d proved that time and time again over the years, out there in
the dark between the stars when there’d been nobody else. When I’d
had nothing else but a bedraggled ear to rub, nothing else but a furry cold
body to hug. Nothing else… at all.
Did I have more than that now? Or had I just seen it all explode
in my hands? Could I go back to living with just my ghosts and my damn bear?
I’d known somehow all those months ago, in a fevered haze aboard my
ship, that if I dared to open the box of shattered dreams… there was
no turning back. Through the war, and afterward, I’d hidden the pain
and hurt away somewhere deep inside and somehow just carried on, had set
it aside and just… gone on. I sat now, and looked at that burden of
loneliness and misery… and honestly wasn’t sure I had the strength
to shoulder it again. I didn’t want to shoulder it again. But…
what had just happened? What in the name of God had just happened?
I almost managed those tears then, quite despite myself, but
was able to push them down again.
I looked around my self-imposed prison and wondered. Was this…
home? Did it feel like home? A little bit, I suppose. My things were here,
what there were of them, this is where I lay my head at night. I certainly
didn’t have anywhere else I could go. I suppose if it came down to
it, if I called on one of the musketeers, they’d let me crash with
them until I could find my own apartment. I’d have to find another
job too… no way in hell would I be able to work in the same building
with Heero and Wufei after… after…
God… what was I thinking? Is that what I wanted? To
leave Heero? The ache that threatened to eat me alive when I tried to think
about that, told me no. But… what if it were the other way around?
What if Heero was ready for me to leave? He certainly didn’t seem
very happy with me right now. And cold-cocking his partner probably hadn’t
helped much. I heaved a sigh and was surprised when it caught in my throat.
So I sat for a minute and just concentrated on breathing.
Suddenly I needed the lights on and I shifted, very damn slowly
away from the door, so as not to rattle it. Didn’t want the whole
stinking world to know I’d been holding the damn thing shut for the
last… however the hell long it had been. That thought gave me pause
and I listened intently for a minute, but heard nothing. Maybe… maybe
the guys had finally gone home? That would be a good thing, I decided. A
damn good thing.
On hands and knees, I crawled over to the side of the bed
where I had dumped my sweats when I’d changed out of them… whenever
it was, and I pulled them into my lap. I thought again about a shower, but
found the idea of being that vulnerable right now to be… rather repellent.
So I squirmed out of coat and clothes and slipped into the comforting warmth
of the heavy sweatshirt and pants, leaving my coat on the bed to be the
only blanket I would have tonight. I went to the dresser and found a pair
of heavy socks as well, I was still damn cold. Once full clothed and feeling
somewhat armored again, I finally let myself turn on the bedside lamp. I
found myself wishing I had my laptop along with my blanket and my bear.
I had a feeling it was going to be a long, cold, quiet night. But I wasn’t
coming out of my hidey-hole for love nor money tonight… no way in
hell. I was too… frayed. Heero was too upset. Nothing good could come
out of anything tonight. So I just crawled up and curled into a miserable
ball in the center of the bed, pulling my coat over myself as best I could.
I had few illusions about how much sleep I would be getting tonight.
I kept thinking about Anna… and Williams. Kept hearing
her speak of Camden with that little catch in her voice. I saw the stricken
look on Williams’ face when I gave him the names of the people who
had died aboard the Londonderry, and wondered for the thousandth time if
it had been fake or genuine. I heard Wufei’s voice telling me what
they had truly been afraid of, and I saw the pain on his face after I’d
hit him. I could still hear that damn condescending tone in Heero’s
voice, sounding like he was calming a feral animal.
I ached all over from the long drive and all the damn tension.
My back was sore and my head was pounding. My stomach grumbled quietly to
itself, reminding me that my half-eaten breakfast had been a long time ago.
I lay and stared at the clock, my brain happily calculating away, and telling
me how many hours of sleep I would get if I could just doze off right now.
I had to go to work in the morning; I couldn’t afford
to miss any more time. I hadn’t worked there long enough to have accumulated
any vacation time. I’d already missed two days over this and I couldn’t
let it turn into a third. Not having an income right now would fall under
the category of a ‘very bad thing’. If Heero… if I ended
up having to… make other arrangements, I had to have a damn job. So
it didn’t matter that my personal life was something of a mess, I
had to get to work.
My head gleefully informed me that I was now going to get
a half an hour less sleep than I was going to have gotten the last time
that calculations had been completed, and I really needed to go to sleep
right damn now.
I thought I heard a sound in the other room and I turned my
attention that way, it was the first thing I had heard in quite awhile.
It took a moment, but I realized of a sudden that it was the sound of my
night music. It washed over me like a caress and I shivered. Heero had queued
my night music.
Then the door to the room slowly swung open, increasing the
volume of my familiar songs and spilling light from the living room across
the floor. I heard more than I saw, with my head mostly buried in the depths
of my coat. There was a long moment of nothing and then the faintest sounds
of footfalls brushing across carpet. Another hesitation and something settled
over my legs with a familiar weight. My coat slid away as Heero tucked my
blanket around me.
His eyes met mine and he blinked, looking almost shocked.
‘You’re awake,’ he said rather pointlessly.
‘Yeah,’ I agreed and we just stared at each other
for a minute.
He seemed to fight a little internal war, struggling with
words, and must have lost, because he didn’t look very happy with
himself when, ‘Are you all right?’ popped out of his mouth.
‘No,’ I told him and watched him blink.
His fingers twitched as though he wanted to reach out, but
he didn’t. ‘Do you… do you want to talk about it?’
he asked, and I wasn’t sure just what he was offering to discuss.
After a moment’s thought, I decided that he was asking about whatever
had prompted me to say I wasn’t all right… but since I wasn’t
really sure what had made me say that, it left me floundering. ‘Yeah,’
I told him, just letting it all go without my hamsters to help me. ‘I
would have sold my soul to have had someone to talk to these last few days.’
He… flinched, but just stared down at me, waiting for
me to speak again, except I wasn’t sure what else to say. The anger
had pretty much been run off by the misery which had gotten usurped by the
fear and now I was just kind of… numb. Heero suddenly knelt on the
floor, bringing himself down a little closer to my eye level. ‘Duo,’
he whispered, and his fingers finally dared to brush across the back of
my hand where it lay fisted in the sheets. ‘I don’t know what
to do,’ he told me, his voice all twisted round itself.
‘I don’t either,’ I told him, and the sight
of him shimmered before my eyes for a second. ‘Heero… I’m
It was like something that had been holding him back, suddenly
snapped and before I had time to do more than let go of the sheet, he was
off the floor, on the bed and had me swept up into his arms.
‘Oh God, Duo,’ he breathed into my hair, ‘I’m
sorry… I’m so sorry.’
He was hurting me, his arms tight enough to bruise ribs, his
hands too high on my back, but I kind of didn’t really care, the numbness
around my heart was gone and the pain inside washed away all thought of
‘Damnit, Heero,’ I heard myself choking out. ‘I
needed you! How could you… how could you take that away from me?’
There was a moment that he went still as death, before his
arms came around me even more firmly, enveloping me, pulling me into him,
molding us together there on the bed. Then he began to… tremble. To
shake. I tried to pull away, to look up at him, but he wouldn’t let
me, his hand cupped my head and held me tight against his chest and I could
only listen to the mad pounding of his heart, to the strange struggle he
had with breath.
‘Why?’ I asked him, feeling my own voice quaver
as I spoke. ‘You both knew how much this meant to me… How could
you lie to me about it?’
He didn’t answer for the longest damn time and I was
sure then that he was crying, but he never lets me see that. Never wants
me to know. I understood that utter humiliation just a little too damn well
and waited for him, let him keep his illusion, and he finally said, ‘You
get so… caught up in it… sometimes you talk about Camden as
though you knew him. When Wufei found out that Mrs. Camden had remarried,
he talked to me about how… strongly you reacted to the journal. To
what happened between Camden and Williams. We… I just didn’t
want to see you upset.’
I digested that, feeling him shift a hand to wipe at his face.
I resisted the strange, perverse urge to explain to him that I was very
well acquainted with Captain Camden’s ghost, thank you very much.
It was that kind of thinking that made him doubt my sanity sometimes.
‘Wufei said,’ I began, speaking very softly and
very calmly. ‘That you were trying to protect… the Williams
He stiffened, holding very still. He had to know that Wufei
had let that slip. Why in the hell else had I… had I belted the man?
He didn’t answer and I thought I would outwait him, but I couldn’t
do it. I pushed against him again, harder, and he let me sit up. I looked
him solidly in the eye, not letting the remnants of his tears soften the
question any… though it tore at me in a way I hadn’t expected.
‘Tell me, Heero,’ I whispered. ‘Did you honestly think
that I was going to… to go kill the man?’
His eyes flew wide and his hands bit hard into my upper arms.
‘Nani?’ he blurted, searching my face for something I couldn’t
quite comprehend. ‘Dear God… of course not!’
‘Then what in the hell were you so afraid of, that you
conspired against me with Wufei?’ I had meant for it to come out forcefully.
Firm but calm, damnit. It came out on a wail of anguish and my eyes misted
He looked… lost.
Well, fuck. Heero couldn’t be lost too. What in the
hell would we do if we were both so screwed up we couldn’t find our
‘Oh damnit,’ he whispered, his fingers coming
to brush across my face. ‘I don’t know… I just don’t
fucking well know anymore. We didn’t know the circumstances…
we didn’t really know what happened all those years ago. But you seemed
to hate Williams so damn much… we weren’t sure you’d be…
that you would…’
‘You didn’t trust me not to go charging off and
ruin that woman’s life,’ I finished for him, voice turning bitter.
‘You thought I would rush right out and expose Williams and take revenge
There was a spark in his eyes of… righteousness? ‘Isn’t
that what you did?’ he asked very softly.
‘No, Heero,’ I told him and closed my eyes so
I didn’t have to look at his damp face any more. ‘I went and
I talked to them. I talked to Williams, and when I had my questions answered,
I gave Anna Camden the journal that her husband left her on his dying day…
and I gave Williams the pages that I tore out first.’
He made a tiny little sound of distress and whispered my name.
I felt the heat of his hand as it hovered over my cheek, but I didn’t
open my eyes.
‘I’m… too tired to do this any more tonight,’
I said and knew it was true. There was a weight on my chest that was making
it hard for me to breathe. ‘I just can’t… it hurts too
His hands were on my shoulders again and I was finally forced
to open my eyes because he wouldn’t let go.
‘Please,’ he said softly. ‘I was worried
sick… we need to talk about this. We need to work it out.’
‘I know,’ I told him. ‘But… not right
now. I’m just too tired… I’ve already said things I shouldn’t
have. I… I hit Wufei, for cryin’ out loud. No more…’
‘I want to talk this out,’ he told me, eyes pleading
and voice not altogether steady.
‘I don’t,’ I responded, refusing to meet
‘I want to know what happened…’ he began,
refusing to listen to me, refusing to drop it, and I kind of… snapped.
‘Well you should have fucking thought of that before
you made me go deal with that nightmare on my own!’ I shouted, totally
pissed and totally out of control. ‘You gave up the right to know
anything when you damn well lied to me! You gave it all up when you decided
that you didn’t trust me!’
From the look on his face, you would have thought I’d
just kicked him in the balls. ‘Duo?’ he whispered, his voice
so laced with pain, it cut me like a razor. I slumped, his hands the only
thing holding me up. The anger drained out of me as quickly as it had come.
‘Damnit, Heero,’ I moaned. ‘I told you…
no more. Just… no more.’
His hands slid away from me and I collapsed onto the bed,
curling back into my ball.
‘I am so sorry,’ he told me, staring down at me
with his heart in his eyes.
‘I know,’ I said and dared to look up at him.
‘Will you just… stay with me?’
He blinked, the shock plain on his face. ‘Stay? But…
I thought you were…’
I looked away again. ‘Mad at you? I am. I’m pissed
and confused and… and hurting. But… I’m cold and scared
and damn lonely too.’
I thought for a minute he might refuse me, but then he rose
and walked around the bed, crawling up to spoon in behind me. He didn’t
even take the time to get undressed. Or… perhaps that was a conscious
decision on his part.
In the other room, my music softly played and I just tried
to soak up some of Heero’s warmth… tried to relax. Tried to
forget, just a little bit. ‘Later Heero…’ I whispered.
‘We’ll deal with this later.’
There was a moment of quiet before he pulled me in against
his chest, wrapping me tight in his arms. ‘I… love you,’
he ventured hesitantly.
I sighed softly and laced my fingers with his where they lay
against my chest. ‘I know,’ I told him gently. ‘That isn’t
gone… I love you too. But… I think this is about more than just
love.’ Behind me, he seemed to tense and I knew he wasn’t quite
ready to let this go for the night. So I quietly but firmly said, ‘Good
It took him a couple of minutes but he finally whispered,
‘Good night.’ He couldn’t have wrapped himself any closer.
Between the exhaustion, the music and his presence, I finally
drifted off, though it was hardly the most restful of nights.
It seemed like I no more than closed my eyes before the alarm
was going off. It was a struggle to make myself care, and I growled at it,
stretching an arm out to fumble it to silence.
My hamsters were back, and in discord. George kept supplying
me with little profanities to level at the alarm clock, and Francis kept
waving banners suggesting that I just keep my mouth shut. It dissolved into
a little hamster brawl on the floor and I forgot about them.
I became aware, as I rubbed sleep from my eyes, that Heero
was still with me, still holding me tight and from the feel of his arms
around me, wide awake.
‘Good morning,’ he told me timidly when he sensed
he had my attention.
‘Morning,’ I responded and turned so I didn’t
have to look at him over my shoulder. He rather looked like shit. If I were
a betting man, I’d have put money down that he hadn’t slept
much. He made me feel like I’d been kicking kittens. I… felt
something inside me kind of shift just a hair to the right.
I stroked my knuckles over his cheek. ‘I love you, Heero
Yuy,’ I told him, without preamble. ‘You’re so far into
my soul I don’t think anything will ever change that. But… that
His arms were still around me and he gathered me in to his
chest with a sound that was somewhere off my catalog of Heero noises. ‘Just
tell me you’re not leaving me… tell me I didn’t screw
up so bad that I’m losing you.’
‘I came back, didn’t I?’ I whispered against
his collarbone and felt him shiver.
‘Duo,’ he said after a minute. ‘I am sorry.
I… should have been honest with you. I was… worried that it
would upset you. I only meant to protect you. Please… forgive me?’
I could hear the near palpable need in his voice, but I couldn’t
give him the instant, easy answer he sought. I mulled it over, poked at
it like a sore tooth and finally told him, ‘Eventually, love…
When I pushed away, the look on his face was painful to see.
I bent to kiss him gently on the forehead to ease the sting of it and then
went to get my shower.
I was a little surprised to find him getting ready to leave
when I came out, even more surprised when he didn’t question my going
in. I had half expected him to argue with me, try to get me to stay home
so that we could talk. Instead, I was greeted with an almost nervous attentiveness
as he served me breakfast. I couldn’t wolf the food down fast enough;
I was damn hungry, and Heero’s continued quiet through my second helping
of eggs made me feel… strange. It told me just how much he was holding
back, how cautious he was feeling. Normally, he would have been questioning
me six ways to Sunday, trying to find out when I’d eaten last, lecturing
me about not taking care of myself. This morning he simply put food in front
of me as long as I seemed interested in eating it and refrained from comment.
I wondered idly if Francis had left me for Heero.
But you know… maybe it was Trowa’s reassurances
the previous night, but… guilt beast was nowhere to be found.
When we left the apartment, I took the lead and walked toward
his car without asking. I hadn’t cleaned mine out yet and wasn’t
much interested in Heero picking through the debris of my little delivery
trip. He didn’t question it and drove us to work; it was not an altogether
comfortable ride. He was so on edge, being so very careful in trying not
to upset me that he wouldn’t bring up anything remotely related to
the incident. And I was still feeling just prickly enough that I let him
swing in the breeze. There was a large part of me that was still stinging
with the betrayal. A part of me that wanted to snap and snarl and hurt in
return. But I am not, despite what the guys seemed to think sometimes, a
damn wild animal. Somewhere inside I knew that Heero hadn’t done anything
to me that I hadn’t done to him a hundred times over. Perhaps on a
much larger scale. In a more… serious situation. In a way that was
Ok… ok… so it was somewhere way down deep inside.
That’s kind of my point. I needed to get over being so damn hurt before
I could sit down and talk to him about this or I was just going to end up
taking his head off. It would escalate into something seriously ugly, and
I honestly didn’t want that. I had figured out last night that despite
everything, I didn’t want to lose what we had, and the bitter, angry
words that were zipping around in my head stood a chance of damaging it
worse than it already was, if they found their way out of my mouth.
I could feel him stealing glances at me as he drove, and I
suppose I was stealing one or two of my own. I didn’t like this…
wall that was between us, but was very aware that I had erected most of
it. I felt very standoffish, very unsure of him. The anger and hurt was
still there underneath the resignation that I was trying to work with. We
were both hurting and not at all sure how to breach that wall.
I finally decided that it was up to me at least to try, and
I reached out to take his hand. ‘Let’s just get a little distance
from this, Heero,’ I told him. ‘We’ll talk about it when
we’re not both so… tense.’
He gave me a look that was somewhere between grateful and
mournful, squeezing my fingers tight in his. ‘As long as we can talk
about this… get through this.’
I flashed him a little grin, trying to lighten things just
a little bit. ‘A divorce would be too messy… who would get custody
of the potted palm?’
He returned the smile, though it was a bit wan. ‘It’s
not ours… it came with the apartment.’
I snorted softly and went back to looking out the window.
He didn’t let go of my hand though, and after another mile or so,
his fingers tightened on mine again.
‘Duo…’ he said softly, not looking at me.
‘I do love you… more than anything. I don’t always make
the right choices, but the choices I make always come out of that love…’
I know, husband-mine,’ I whispered. ‘That’s
why I’m here and not on my way to Timbuktu.’
He gave a little start and looked over at me. I met his gaze,
but we didn’t speak again.
He dropped me by the door to the mechanics bay before pulling
around to the parking garage to go on his way to the main building. ‘I’ll
see you tonight,’ he said, as he did most mornings, but there was
a hint of question in his voice. It seemed to embarrass him, because a touch
of color rose on his cheeks.
‘Of course,’ I responded with a smile and wished
I dared kiss him goodbye. Mad as I was… had been… might be…
Hell, I wasn’t even sure if I was or I wasn’t any more…
I still didn’t like to see him like this; all torn up emotionally.
‘Maybe,’ I ventured, hoping to reassure him that he was going
to get what he wanted later. ‘We should just take home carry-out?’
To leave more time for talking. More time for hashing out our differences.
More time for explanations and that whole attendant emotional turmoil thing.
‘That… might be a good idea,’ he told me,
offering up a hopeful little smile. Then he pulled away and I had to go
Joy. I’d have to remember to ask for something nice
and bland tonight, I had a feeling my stomach was going to be upset enough.
For the first time in a long time I could safely say I wasn’t looking
forward to getting off work.
Griff gave me a very strange, appraising look as I walked
across the garage, clocked in and took off my jacket. I rather hoped he
would leave me alone, and avoided making eye contact with that wish clutched
close to my chest, but it did me no good. I turned from hanging my coat
up to find him making his way across the bay toward me.
He waited until he had come abreast of me before speaking,
unlike how he usually started yelling before he was halfway there. ‘So,
Duo,’ he said in a tone of voice that was almost gentle. ‘You…
feeling better today?’
On a sudden bubble of memory, I realized that I had taken
off Monday morning and never bothered to call in on Tuesday at all. ‘Shit,
Griff!’ I blurted, ‘I’m sorry… I forgot to call
in yesterday, didn’t I?
‘S’ok, kid,’ he said and I thought I would
fall over from shock. This couldn’t be my boss… had I been invaded
by pod-people again? ‘You’re here now, that’s what counts.
Your back feeling better?’
I wondered idly if my eyes were bugged out of my head as far
as they felt like they were. ‘Uh… yeah,’ I fumbled. ‘It’s
much better, thanks.’
‘Ok then,’ he told me and reached to gently thump
me on the shoulder. ‘You need anything today, you let me know, I don’t
want you aggravating that burn.’
Then he gave me my day’s assignments and I couldn’t
help but notice they were all easy oil and lube jobs, nothing that would
have me on the floor under a car or leaning over one for endless hours.
I was halfway through the first oil change before it dawned
on me. I work at Preventors headquarters. A missing persons report had been
filed on me sometime in the last two days and I hadn’t shown up for
work yesterday. I raised my head to look around the bay and caught no less
than three other mechanics looking quickly away.
Well… fuck. I was grist for the rumor mill. Great…
just great. I wasn’t even going to try and imagine what everybody
thought was going on. I would never manage to come close to the wild stories
that were probably flying all over the place. Francis arrived right on cue
to help me repress the urge to march over to the main building and smack
the shit out of Heero. That was going to be one of the things I intended
to get some damn answers about; why in the seven Hells had he filed a stupid
missing persons report?
The day drug and sped by in degrees, some of my tasks seemed
like they were taking me three times as long as they should, but at the
same time, whenever I glanced up at the clock, it seemed I was speeding
toward the end of the day like a damn bullet. Though I did very little that
day besides work and think, I wasn’t having a lot of luck getting
myself over my irritation. Getting myself ready for what was waiting for
me when it was time to go home.
Before I knew it, it was almost lunchtime. It crossed my mind
to go up the street to the nearest bar and get drunk enough to pick a damn
fight. That was what I really felt like I needed… a good, old-fashioned
bar brawl. Hell… maybe I’d get lucky and get arrested for drunk
and disorderly. If I got my ass thrown in jail I wouldn’t have to
have this talk with Heero that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. I snorted
ruefully, shaking my head at my own foolishness and turned to get another
can of oil for the car I was working on, almost running over Sally Po.
She gave ground rather than let me plow into her and grinned
at me. ‘What’s so funny, Duo?’ she asked lightly.
I flushed and decided that I really didn’t want to share
my pseudo lunch plans with the woman. I just grinned and ignored the question.
‘Well hello, Ms. Po,’ I said instead. ‘What brings you
down to the depths of our grim, grimy garage?’
‘Give me a break,’ she snickered. ‘Old Griff
makes you guys keep this place so clean you could eat off the floor in here.’
‘And the evil overlord sometimes makes us do just that,’
I stage whispered.
We both laughed when Griff hollered, ‘I heard that,
Maxwell!’ from across the room. I wondered sometimes if he had placed
his own office according to the acoustics in the room, nobody has hearing
that damn good.
‘Well then,’ she smiled at me. ‘Let me rescue
you; I came to see if you wanted to go to lunch with me.’
I stopped wiping my hands on the rag I was holding and looked
at her. This was a first. ‘I really wasn’t planning on going
anywhere…’ I began and got a mega-watt grin.
‘Good!’ she beamed at me. ‘You don’t
have any plans then! Come on… my treat.’ She had me by the arm
before I half had a chance to do my sputtering routine.
I sighed heavily, giving into the inevitable, knowing full
well what this was all about, but not sure how in the hell to get out of
it. I am nothing if not a pushover for a pretty face.
So I tossed my rag into my toolbox, called across the garage
to tell Griff I was going to lunch, waved a jaunty goodbye to the half a
dozen guys that were staring at us, and followed where she led.
We ended up in a corner booth at the local sandwich shop,
not my favorite place, and she even managed to maneuver me so that I was
the one who ended up with their back to the door. Doesn’t pay to go
places with ex-soldiers. We all hate to be the one with the door at our
I waited through the ordering thing, carefully picking a chicken
sandwich, remembering how awful the ham and cheese had been the last time
I’d been in here, and wished that they served beer. When the waitress
went away, I looked across at Sally and grinned a little ferally. ‘I
assume I’m getting a free lunch because I cleaned your boyfriend’s
clock last night?’
She threw back her head and laughed delightedly. ‘That’s
what I love about you, Duo,’ she told me when she could. ‘Always
straight to the point.’
‘I only get an hour for lunch,’ I told her drolly
and she grinned and shook her head.
‘Ok, smart guy,’ she finally agreed. ‘Yeah…
Wufei showed up at my place last night with a black eye and an attitude
I snorted, but the waitress arrived with our drinks then and
I waited until she was gone before saying, ‘So… you want to
know the why or the how or just what?’
All the mirth faded from her face and she looked at me intently.
‘I… I’m not sure what I want,’ she told me honestly.
‘I just know that I’ve never seen Chang Wufei like I saw him
last night. And I didn’t like it.’
I sighed and toyed with my glass of soda, wishing it was in
a bottle so I had a nice little label to shred. Wasn’t going to get
a moment’s respite today, was I? ‘What did he tell you?’
I finally asked, a little surprised that she waited the minute or so it
had taken me to get that much out.
She quirked a little grin. ‘At first, not much. But
when I threatened to go take the hide off the person who decked him…
he finally told me that he only got what he deserved.’
I looked up from my glass and met her somewhat sympathetic
gaze. ‘I really didn’t mean to hit him,’ I muttered and
she smiled softly and reached out to pat my arm.
‘I know you didn’t,’ she said warmly. ‘He
did tell me a little bit about what he’s done. He’d told me
about the journal when you first found it and that he was running the search
I nodded. ‘And he told you… told you how that
came out?’ I questioned, not wanting to talk about it until I was
sure what she knew and what she didn’t. If Wufei hadn’t told
her about it, I’d be damned if I would let her trick me into telling
tales on him.
She took a sip of her tea and looked at me a little sadly.
‘Yes, Duo, he told me he lied to you and said he hadn’t found
I sighed heavily and left off turning my glass around and
around on the table, to drag my fingers through my hair. ‘So, if you
know what happened… what are we doing here?’
She gave my arm a little nudge until I looked up from the
table to meet her gaze and then she smiled lightly. ‘First, I wanted
to see how you were doing?’
I ignored that. ‘And second?’ I prompted.
Her smile grew into a cheeky kind of grin. ‘You haven’t
answered the first one yet.’
I shook my head and resisted the urge to sigh for about the
hundredth time. ‘How the hell do you think I am?’ I said and
knew it sounded… pissy. ‘The guys… were my damn ground
and center… I feel like my world’s been turned upside down.
I trusted them both implicitly and… and… well, you know.’
I petered out rather quickly and wished I hadn’t said any of it before
it was even quite all out of my mouth.
‘Oh Duo,’ she breathed, sounding genuinely pained.
‘And the second thing?’ I bulled forward, not
really comfortable with the openly affectionate look she was giving me.
Her expression went a little pensive and I saw her eyes flick
toward the front of the shop. She leaned across the table and grabbed my
hand. ‘The man I love is hurting like I’ve never seen him hurt
before and I’m a ‘meddling onna’ and I mean to put things
right. That’s the second thing.’
I blinked at her in silence for damn near a full minute and
my brain had just put it all together when I heard the startled little gasp
beside us. I looked up to find a very surprised Wufei standing next to the
table. His eyes flicked over me, but he couldn’t meet my gaze and
his attention went to Sally. ‘What is going on?’ he grumbled,
obviously caught off guard and embarrassed as hell.
‘I invited Duo to lunch with us,’ she told him
sweetly and I thought for a second that he would growl at her.
‘You’re meddling, woman,’ he informed her,
and Sally laughed right out loud.
‘Sit down, my dear,’ she told him when her mirth
had faded. ‘Or I’ll black your other eye.’
The blood rushed to Wufei’s face and I was rather surprised
when he didn’t just storm out of the diner. I had just about decided
that Sally must really have a short leash on his butt when I realized it
was me his eyes kept flicking toward. The woman knew her partner pretty
well. He was pissed at the manipulation… but somewhere inside, he
wanted to see me. Wanted to talk to me. I just wasn’t sure that I
was ready to talk to him yet.
Sally wouldn’t move over to make room for him and it
was an ironclad cinch he wasn’t going to sit next to me, so she gave
him no choice but to pull a chair over and sit at the end of the booth.
I spared Sally a grateful look; she, at least, understood the ‘them
against me’ feeling that I would have gotten if they had both sat
down opposite me. I guess women really are a little more sensitive about
things like that.
When he sat down, I got a better look at the side of his face
and winced. ‘Damn, Chang,’ I muttered, finding my hands going
back to playing with my glass. ‘I didn’t realize I hit you that
hard. I… I’m sorry.’
I had the strangest sense of deja vu, but couldn’t figure
Wufei mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear. Sally
poked him hard enough to make him jump and he cleared his throat. ‘It
wasn’t your fault,’ he told me and I’m not sure if that’s
what he’d said the first time or not.
‘I still shouldn’t have hit you,’ I said,
not able to look up at either of them. I was rather sorry I’d let
Sally talk me into lunch. I’d have balked if I’d seen this coming.
I wondered for a second why things like this kept blindsiding me. I never
seemed to be able to think things through anymore, never seemed to anticipate.
There was an uncomfortable silence and I glanced up just in
time to see Sally reach out to take Wufei’s hand, giving him an encouraging
‘Since we find ourselves here,’ Wufei said after
a moment, voice sounding oddly, almost formal. ‘I would like to apologize
for… my error in judgment.’
I opened my mouth to tell him it was ok, but I stalled on
that. It wasn’t ok. I ran through about a half a dozen responses,
ranging from ‘don’t worry about it’ to my apparent new
favorite ‘eat shit and die’. None of them seemed to fit the
situation and I finally managed, staring into the suddenly fascinating depths
of my soda, ‘Accepted.’
There was a sad little sigh from Sally, but then the waitress
arrived with our lunches and I glanced up to see that ‘the usual’
had meant both Sally and Wufei’s usual. All three of us just sat staring
at our food. I don’t think I could have eaten the damn sandwich sitting
in front of me if my life had depended on it.
After the waitress left us alone, Sally reached to pat my
arm again, maybe offering me the same encouragement she’d offered
to Wufei. I tried to think of something to say, but kept coming up blank.
Wufei and I had trouble disagreeing about things without the level of our
voices rising. This wasn’t the place for me to be asking him just
what in the hell he had thought he was doing.
‘Did you…’ he ventured in a very small voice.
‘Did you mean what you said?’
He caught me by surprise and I wasn’t at all sure what
he was talking about. ‘What?’ I asked, completely lost.
‘About… about not hitting your friends?’
There was a great deal of tension in his voice and I finally looked up at
him. His dark eyes were full of misery, and in that moment, I forgave Sally
for doing this to me. Forgave her for not being able to bear that look.
And I understood what my words, coupled with my action, had implied.
‘It’s not a usual habit,’ I ventured, not
at all sure what to say to him. That didn’t seem to be the right thing,
and it was his turn to drop his gaze to the table.
‘I feel as though I’ve damaged something that
was very precious,’ he said softly, and then stood in a sudden rush.
I was taken totally by surprise, realizing that he was getting ready to
pull my running away trick.
"Wufei!’ I blurted, before he had a chance to walk
away, wanting him to stop but still not sure what in the hell to say to
him. He hesitated, his back to us, and waited for a moment but he didn’t
turn to look at me. It made it a little easier for me to say, ‘Maybe…
maybe not beyond repair?’
He seemed to shiver, turning his head to look down at me for
a moment. Then he gave me a tight little nod and left the diner.
I watched his retreating back, giving serious consideration
to beating my head against the table. Then I turned back around and found
Sally Po with tears standing in her eyes.
‘Oh God,’ I told her. ‘Don’t…
please don’t. We’ll end up sitting here bawling like babies
It made her grin a little bit and I watched her push it aside.
‘Well,’ she managed after a minute. ‘That went well.’
I had to reward her with a bitter little laugh. It was quite
the effort, in the field of repression and I am something of an expert;
I should know.
‘I’m sorry, Sally,’ I told her. ‘I…
didn’t do a very good job of that.’
She shook her head sadly. ‘I thought I’d have
more time to talk to you before he got here. He’s always late to lunch.
He had to pick today to damn well be on time?’
I thought for a second she was going to lose her battle with
the tears and I tried willing her to fight harder. I was almost sure that
if she started crying in earnest, that I was just fucking going to fall
apart. I reached across the table and carefully took hold of her hand.
‘I am truly very sorry, M’lady,’ I smiled
for her. ‘I just didn’t have time to… do more than react
from the gut.’
She sighed and squeezed my fingers. ‘No… I’m
sorry for thinking I could make it all better by shoving the two of you
in each other’s faces.’ She looked at me very intently then.
‘I know what he did… what they did, sucked, but he is truly
and deeply sorry. I know that doesn’t erase it… doesn’t
make it better, but I can’t tell you what your friendship meant to
him. It’s killing him that he did this to himself.’
I retrieved my hand because I needed it to rub across tired
eyes. ‘I don’t… hate him, Sally,’ I told her, knowing
that any positive message I could give her would find it’s way back
to Wufei. ‘I was just very… hurt and it’s going to take
a bit of time for me to put that behind me. But I don’t hate him,
She met my gaze and gave me a little nod, understanding that
I was ok with her telling him that.
Then I grinned at her. ‘Sweetheart, you won’t
take this the wrong way if I just skip lunch and go back to work?’
She laughed then, and it didn’t even sound forced. ‘No…
not at all, I’m suddenly not very hungry myself.’
So she paid the bill and we left the place. I wondered what
the waitress would think when she went to clear the table and found three
The whole damn thing only gave me more things to think about
while I hung over fenders that afternoon. So when quitting time rolled around,
I wasn’t any closer to figuring out what I was going to say to Heero
than I’d been when I woke up that morning. Rather predictably, Heero
was a couple of minutes early getting there.
The ride home was even more tense than the ride to work had
been. I couldn’t get the vision of Wufei out of my head, his eyes
shining brightly and so full of pain. I couldn’t stop thinking about
the whole damn mess and wishing I could just erase it. Could go back in
time and not hack into Wufei’s e-mail so that I never knew that my
two dearest friends had betrayed me. Never went on that trip and maybe messed
up a woman’s life. Never had to hear those words coming out of Wufei’s
mouth that told me just what my lover and his partner thought I was capable
of. Having Captain Camden back in my head would be a more than even trade
to have this all be gone.
We were almost home before Heero ventured, very carefully,
‘Did you… did you still want to stop and get dinner?’
I glanced across at his anxious face and realized that I hadn’t
spoken two words to him since I’d gotten in the car and we’d
said our hellos. ‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured. ‘Yeah…
we should probably get something.’
He looked a little relieved and changed lanes while he asked,
‘Fish all right?’
It was our last choice before we got to the apartment without
turning around and going back the way we’d come. ‘That’s
fine,’ I told him, not really caring and just sat thinking while he
drove through and ordered. I seriously doubt if I would have objected to
his going through the drive-through at the pet store and picking up dog
food. Dinner was the last damn thing on my mind.
We finished the drive in relative silence, it was miserably
uncomfortable, but I didn’t know how to break it. Didn’t know
how to lift myself out of this quagmire of doubt and depression.
We passed Mrs. Troy, from the first floor, out on the front
walk and got a funny little disdainful sniff. I resisted the urge to stick
my tongue out at her and Heero gave her a polite ‘good evening’
despite her attitude. Looked like Mrs. Hitchcock had been out and about
on the gossip circuit.
We made the climb up the stairs and I was relieved that we
didn’t run into anyone else. It felt a little bit like reaching sanctuary
when the apartment door was finally closed behind us. I couldn’t quite
contain the heavy sigh of relief and it got me a worried little frown from
Heero. We took our dinner into the kitchen and I pulled down plates and
got the silverware while he opened the bags and distributed the food. The
familiar routine helped a little bit and by the time we took our chairs,
I was able to force down a bite of fish without grimacing.
‘Duo,’ Heero said gently after a couple of minutes
eating in silence. ‘What’s happened? You seem… more upset
than you were this morning.’
I sighed and let my fork fray at the edge of my fish, picking
the white insides out of the breading. ‘I’m sorry Heero,’
I told him for what felt like the hundredth time. ‘Sally… tried
to… she invited me to lunch. With Wufei. Without telling either of
‘Ah,’ he said and set his fork aside.
I glanced up at him. ‘Ah?’ I questioned.
He gave me a small, kind of sad smile. ‘That would explain
Wufei’s shutting himself in his office all afternoon with his phone
‘Oh,’ I said, for lack of anything better, and
just concentrated on mashing shreds of fish with the tines of my fork.
Heero watched me for a minute before reaching out to still
my hand. ‘How… did it go?’
I snorted, letting him save my fish from mutilation. ‘Awful?’
I told him. ‘Hideously bad? Miserably? You name it.’
He was almost crawling out of his skin with frustration, dying
of curiosity and struggling like hell to contain it. His nerves were just
communicating themselves to me, and escalating my own. ‘For…
him, or for… you?’ he dared, tone of voice working for nonchalant
and failing badly.
‘Both of us?’ I growled and had to struggle to
contain the, no duh!
He chewed on that, hesitant as hell, and finally said, ‘Do
you want to… talk about it?’
Yes! I wanted to yell at him. Hell yes, I wanted to talk about
it, but how the fuck could I talk to him when all the things I might say
about Wufei applied to him as well? I couldn’t say ‘I am furious
with Wufei’ without it being implied that ‘I am furious with
Heero’. I couldn’t talk about how miserable I felt for Wufei’s
sake without admitting that I felt pretty damn miserable for Heero as well.
But I wasn’t quite ready to let go of it all yet. Admitting those
thoughts was as good as saying ‘you are forgiven’ when I wasn’t
sure I was ready for that. I was still hurting, damn it, maybe hurting too
much to even deal with Heero yet… much less Wufei.
The first clue I had that I was a hair on the wrong side of
my control was the sound of something clattering on the other side of the
kitchen. It took a moment of pondering for me to figure out that I had just
hurled my fork across the room.
The second was the look on Heero’s face.
‘Do you remember when I was seeing Dr. Webster?’
I blurted, voice as steady as I could make it, staring at the table without
really seeing it.
I think he nodded, but realized I might not have seen it,
and so murmured a soft, ‘Yes.’
‘One of my exercises was to learn how to put myself
in my ‘safe place’ when I was scared or unsure of myself.’
I could feel my voice rising and I looked up at him; he looked… very
uncertain. ‘You’re my safe place Heero… in your damn arms!
Do you have any idea how screwed up it feels to have that ripped…’
I almost bit my tongue in half getting that stopped, just a little too late.
I found my plate in my hands and realized that it was about to follow the
fork and had to stare at it really hard to make sure it didn’t leave
Well damn. I’d been right to worry about having this
conversation. I’d been right that I wasn’t to a point where
I could talk rationally about it yet.
I blinked and found Heero squatting beside my chair. He gently
took the plate from my hands and wrapped my fingers in his. I just sat and
stared at him, wondering if cutting my tongue out at this point would do
‘Go on,’ he said gently. ‘Finish what you
were going to say.’
‘No,’ I whispered. ‘We shouldn’t talk
about this yet… I don’t mean to say these things…’
‘You shouldn’t hold this inside,’ he told
me intently. ‘It’s what you’re feeling… talk to
‘I need a little distance from it first,’ I said,
and couldn’t believe how… pathetic my voice sounded.
He took me by the arms and pulled us both to our feet. ‘That’s
the last thing you need… you’re just pushing it down and hiding
from it. Don’t do this again, Duo… talk to me.’
‘What is there to talk about?’ I grumbled. ‘We
both know what happened… talking doesn’t change it.’
‘Tell me what you’re feeling,’ he prodded,
his hands wrapped tight around my upper arms. ‘Trust me to listen
and separate the anger from…
‘Trust you?’ I cried, trying to pull free. ‘That’s
the damn problem! You screwed with the trust when you decided I was a cold-blooded
psychopath and lied to me! Half of me wants to kick your ass all the way
down the stairs and the other half just wants to curl up in your lap like
some damn little kid! I’m hurt and I’m confused and… and…’
And apparently, completely hamsterless.
‘Ah God, baby… come here,’ he suddenly said
and pulled me, relatively unresisting, into his arms.
‘Don’t call me that,’ I complained, wrapping
my arms tight around his neck. ‘I hate that.’
‘I know,’ he murmured and I swear I felt the asshole
smiling. ‘But you’ve said it too.’
‘Have not,’ I groused, hating myself for calming
down just from the feel of his body pressed warm against mine.
He made a sound that was almost a chuckle, but he squelched
it. ‘Have too. That day in the hospital… while I was still so
The day he’d cried. ‘Ok… so maybe I did,’
I acknowledged, though grudgingly. ‘So?’
He kissed the side of my head where it nestled on his shoulder.
‘So you know the feelings that make me say it.’
And I did. There was just something about seeing him like
that… so open and vulnerable, that kicked me in every protective tendency
I ever owned. That made me want to cradle him and comfort him and…
‘I’m not hungry,’ I blurted. ‘I just
want to lay with you. I want… I want…’
He took my hands without another word and led me out of the
kitchen to the couch, neutral ground, where he settled us together. I didn’t
even protest his stretching me out on top of him. I just snuggled…
yeah, snuggled, damnit, get the hell over it, against his chest and let
him pull the afghan over us both.
‘I’ve missed this,’ he murmured, rubbing
his cheek against the top of my head. ‘I’ve missed you.’
I closed my eyes and listened to the steady sound of his heart;
a little surprised that all the turmoil… all the anger hadn’t
changed how I felt when I lay with him. Life holds very little in the way
of security. If I had any at all, despite everything, it was here. It was
still right here.
‘I love you,’ he said simply. ‘And I’m
afraid of losing you. I feel so… helpless. I’m afraid this is
going to destroy us.’
‘I won’t let it,’ I vowed, surprised by
the vehemence in my own voice. ‘Heero… God, Heero… you’re
all I have left. I swear; I just need a little time to get reoriented. I
won’t let this…’
He cut me off, forcing my head up with a hand under my chin
to meet his gaze. His eyes searched mine intently. ‘Duo-love…
I don’t want you here with me because… because you feel you
don’t have any other choice!’
I grimaced, understanding how that had sounded. ‘I’m
sorry… that’s not what I meant. Not at all what I meant.’
He leaned down and dropped a gentle kiss against my lips,
shutting me up. ‘I never for a minute thought that you were…
were going to go hurt that man. We were just worried about how upset you
got, about Williams, when you read that journal. We didn’t know how
you would take the news that he had married Captain Camden’s widow.
You were finally starting to… settle down. You seemed to be finding
a kind of… of peace.’
He hesitated, giving me the chance to speak if I was going
to. I lay my head back on his chest and held my tongue, just listening.
‘I guess I just hoped that if you thought there was
no chance of finding her,’ he ventured carefully, after a moment.
‘That… that you would give it up and the whole damn thing would
just go away.’
‘Damn it, Heero,’ I whispered, frowning at the
wall where he couldn’t see it anyway. ‘You knew it was important
‘Too important,’ he said, his voice sounding odd,
as though he might not have meant to say that. ‘It just seemed like
you were obsessing about it. It didn’t seem… healthy.’
‘You know,’ I told him, and managed to make it
sound simply conversational. ‘I hate that. When you try to decide
what’s best for me without even consulting me.’
‘I know,’ he sighed. ‘I try not to, but
for so long… I had to. It’s a hard habit to break.’ I
raised my head to look up at him and he truly did look pained. He stroked
a finger over my cheek. ‘For so long, you just couldn’t, and
everything fell to me. Then for awhile, you just didn’t… want
to… you just seemed to need me to take care of things.’ A look
of pure tenderness came into his eyes and he smiled softly. ‘And God
help me, but I love taking care of you.’
I snorted and put my head back down, thinking about that.
‘You make it damn hard to stay mad at you,’ I complained.
‘I don’t want you mad at me anymore,’ he
whispered. ‘It… hurts too much. I’ll do whatever it takes.
You want to kick my ass down the stairs? I’ll throw myself down the
stairs if it’ll make you stop hating me.’
‘I don’t hate you,’ I chided. ‘I never
hated you. It’s just hard to get past the fact that you… don’t
trust me.’ He wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t, and was quiet
for a minute.
‘It’s not that I don’t…’ he
began, but I lifted my head to look at him and he faltered. ‘I was
just worried… I… I…’
I raised an eyebrow and tried a smile, but it wouldn’t
come clear. ‘When did we lose the ability to talk plainly with each
other?’ I asked softly.
His expression seemed to become more… intense and he
met my gaze unflinchingly. ‘When you started hiding so much from me,’
he whispered gently and all I could do was blink at him.
I put my head back down and just listened to his heart. After
a while I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and couldn’t have told
you what, exactly, for.
‘I’m sorry too,’ he replied and there was
that same feeling that he might not be entirely sure what he was sorry about.
I just wanted it to go away for a little while, and he let
me have that. We lay together, there on the couch, for hours. We didn’t
talk anymore, just held on and I felt the tension melting away. I didn’t
let myself think about the Williams’. I didn’t let myself wonder
about the journal, about the messages in it, about my decision to ‘edit’
it. I didn’t really let myself think at all. Just listened to the
solid, reassuring sound of Heero’s heartbeat and marveled that this
feeling had survived everything we’d put it through.
He let me curl there on his chest, occasionally brushing kisses
against my hair, his fingers caressing my face, until I damn near fell asleep.
‘Hey, handsome,’ he murmured then. ‘If we’re
going to sleep… let’s go to bed.’
I yawned an apology and levered off him. ‘Sorry…
I don’t know why I can’t keep my eyes open all of a sudden.’
‘It’s been a rough couple of days,’ he soothed.
‘I’m pretty tired too… I didn’t sleep much last
So we went to bed and slept as well as could be expected.
I didn’t even notice until I woke up, that he’d left the lights
on all night.
It took me a while the next morning to find the damn fork.
And cleaning up the cold fish and chips was just gross; what smells good
for supper… isn’t all that appealing at six a.m.
Things were a little better that morning. A little easier.
Enough so that I was able to give Mrs. Hitchcock a cheeky little grin and
a hearty ‘good morning’ when we passed her on the stairs. She
blushed and clutched her paper to her chest, muttering something and looking
away while we went past. I wondered later if she had blushed at me or if
Heero had glared at her behind my back.
‘We should invite her over for tea or something,’
I told Heero when we got outside, and I thought for a second he had swallowed
his tongue he choked so hard.
‘What the hell for?’ he exclaimed when he could.
I snickered at him. ‘She’s obviously bored and
lonely. Maybe if we let her in the apartment so that she could see that
we really don’t own any kinky bondage equipment or anything, she’d
get tired of complaining about us.’
He couldn’t quite seem to decide what to say to that,
looking at me as though trying to figure out whether I was kidding or not.
I decided not to let him know either way.
I made sure he drove again and vowed that I would get my car
cleaned out that night come hell or high water. Sooner or later it was going
to become an issue and I really didn’t want Heero seeing one of those
stupid notebooks I’d used for camouflage with all the random notes
scribbled in them. I’d have a lot of explaining to do if he did. I
wondered sometimes at how my mind worked; what had possessed me to scrawl
all that crap down? It would have been just as easy to write in the Gettysburg
Address or a grocery list. Sometimes I was sorry I’d given up the
therapy sessions with Dr. Webster. At least I’d had someone I could
talk to about certain things, who I’d known beyond a shadow of a doubt
wouldn’t go blabbing everything I said to Heero.
‘You eat some lunch today,’ Heero admonished when
he pulled up to let me out as he usually did.
‘Yes, dear,’ I teased and made him smile.
‘Damn, I wish this week was over,’ he sighed,
giving me a frustrated look. ‘I need some time with you.’
Down on the seat, where no one could really see, I took his
hand and carefully gave it a squeeze. ‘Couple more days,’ I
‘I’ll see you tonight,’ he smiled, squeezing
‘I’ll be here,’ I replied, falling back
on routine and got another couple seconds of his rubbing his thumb gently
across the back of my hand.
The desire to kiss me goodbye was in his eyes and I finally
had to quirk him a little grin. ‘Heero… the windows are starting
to steam up.’
He snorted, but finally let me have my hand back. ‘Love
you,’ he murmured, just as I got out of the car.
I turned and leaned down to look at him. ‘It’s
going to be all right,’ I told him firmly. ‘I love you too.’
I shut the door and he finally pulled away. I could feel eyes
on me as I walked across the garage to clock in, and wondered how long before
the rumors, whatever the hell they were, got boring and people moved on
to speculating about something else.
I got my morning’s assignments from a still subdued
Griff and had to sigh.
‘Boss-man, what’s up with the kiddie jobs?’
I had to ask.
He frowned and looked a little uncomfortable. ‘I don’t
want you straining yourself until that burn’s healed up.’
‘Griff,’ I said, turning to face him dead on and
planting my hands on my hips. ‘I scorched my back, I didn’t
break it. Give me something a little more interesting than another twenty
oil changes before I die of boredom.’
He couldn’t contain a little bark of laughter. ‘Somehow,
kid, I can’t see you ever having a problem with boredom.’
But he did relent and let me do some bodywork on a car that
had gotten nailed during a high-speed chase. It was something that I actually
needed my brain for, and helped immensely in making the day go faster.
I worked through lunch without noticing and when I came up
for air that afternoon, and I realized what time it was, all I could do
was hope that Heero wouldn’t ask.
I finished with the fender I was working on and wished, not
for the first time, that the garage was equipped to do the paint jobs. I
would have liked dabbling in that, but there just wasn’t the space
for it, and once the repairs were done the cars were sent elsewhere. I took
the work order to Griff’s office and he grinned up at me when I walked
‘You got a knack for that, Maxwell,’ he said.
‘Good job.’ Then his eyes raked me up and down in an uncomfortably
appraising way. ‘You doin’ ok? You’re standin’ funny.’
I felt myself blushing and wished I could find a way to control
that. ‘Stings a little when I get sweaty,’ I mumbled, trying
to find where my posture was off and straighten it out.
He snorted. ‘Knowing you, that means it’s damn
well on fire.’ He nodded his head toward the corner of his office.
‘There’s still some new shirts in the bundle. Go rinse off and
I flashed him a grateful grin and dug through the pile until
I found one my size, then took myself off to the restroom to do just that.
It took a bit of work with a handful of wet paper towels, and I was starting
to feel like a contortionist by the time I was done, but I eventually got
the stinging sweat rinsed away. The fresh, dry shirt was like a Godsend.
I tossed the dirty shirt into the hamper as I came out of
the restroom and started across the bay to my next assignment. It didn’t
take two steps before I felt something odd in the air and glanced around.
If there was anybody in the garage that wasn’t looking my way, I couldn’t
see them. What the hell now?
I reached my toolbox and picked up my second work order, pretending
to look it over while I actually glanced around the room. I finally saw
Giles, the guy who was working closest to where I was; break off what he
was doing to walk toward me.
‘Hey… uh, Duo?’ he said when he got closer.
‘What’s up?’ I smiled at him and couldn’t
help noticing he looked pretty uncomfortable.
He stopped on the other side of my toolbox and kind of ducked
his head, scratching at the back of his neck. ‘Your… buddy’s
partner was down looking for you,’ he muttered and I’d be willing
to bet money that Giles would have paid for that no-blushing trick too.
‘Wufei?’ I asked, frowning in puzzlement.
‘Yeah,’ he confirmed, fiddling with the torque
wrench in his hand.
I waited for a second but he didn’t seem to want to
elaborate. ‘Did he leave a message?’ I prompted.
Something oddly… defensive flickered across his face.
A look that was almost angry. ‘He didn’t want to hang around
and wait,’ he said, his eyes finally flicking up to look at me and
that look had gone a little… self-satisfied. ‘Said he’d
try to catch up with you later.’
‘Oh, ok,’ I murmured, confused as hell. Giles
gave me a sharp nod and walked away. Well wasn’t that just weird as
all hell. I wondered if I should go use the phone and call up to Wufei’s
office to see what he wanted, but then decided against it. It was more than
likely more crap about that damn journal and I didn’t much want to
do that here in the middle of the garage with a bunch of guys staring at
us. There wasn’t that much time left until the end of the day anyway;
if Wufei wanted to talk to me, he could damn well wait until I was off the
clock. So I dug through my little pile of work orders, found one I thought
I could get done in a couple of hours, and went back to work. It took a
little bit before I didn’t feel the weight of eyes on me any more.
I had pretty much managed to shut out all the crap, with my
head under the hood of a car changing out a bad starter. I had almost completely
forgotten about Wufei, had managed to forget the weird conversation with
Giles. Was just in that zone where the rest of the world kind of melts away…
until the totally alien sound of a woman’s heels on the concrete floor
brought me back to the here and now. I straightened and turned, idle curiosity
bringing me back into focus. The last thing on Earth I expected to see was
Anna Camden Williams walking into Griff’s office.
Time did that thing where it slows down for you, just so you
can enjoy the show and catch all the nuances. The first thing I noticed
was that it must be darn near quitting time, because about half the rest
of the guys were already gone. Those who were left were standing around
staring at the strange woman in the prim little suit just like I was. Of
course… she was only strange to them, not to me. The next thing I
noticed was Heero coming across the bay toward me, and his face wore this
odd little frown. I alternated looking at him with watching Anna speak with
Griff. Her back was to me, so I couldn’t read her lips, but I could
see Griff. He looked… guarded, and his eyes kept flicking my way.
I saw him shake her hand. I saw him nod.
‘Duo,’ Heero greeted as he came up next to me.
‘Did Wufei talk to you?’
I tore my eyes away from the sight of Griff saying ‘…one
of my mechanics…’ and turned toward my partner. ‘No, I
was in the restroom and missed him.’
The little frown he was wearing deepened and he moved a little
closer to me than was normal for him, out in public. ‘Listen…
I need to talk to you,’ he told me softly, very aware of how sounds
could travel in the wide-open bay. ‘Wufei got a message from the Williams’
and we think they might be coming here to contact you. I want you out of…’
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. The very picture of Heero
moving in to sweep me off and ‘protect’ me from little Anna
Williams was just too much. ‘You’re a little late,’ I
told him and inclined my head in the direction of Griff’s office.
‘That is Mrs. Williams. I’m not sure yet what she’s doing
here, but I’m pretty sure she’s not packing heat.’ I swear
to God, he moved to step between us. ‘Heero… get a grip. What
in the hell is wrong?’
He halted his movement, but his eyes were locked on the woman
now and he didn’t even look at me while he spoke. ‘We don’t
know just what she’s doing here,’ he clipped out, and I felt
like I was getting a mission report. ‘We don’t know if she’s
operating alone. I want you out of the field until I can evaluate…’
I snorted, and watched as Gruff led Anna out of his office.
‘Evaluate?’ I scoffed. ‘Operating alone? Heero…
I love you dearly, but get your head out of your ass.’
He looked at me blankly for a moment, seeming surprised by
my attitude. ‘Duo-love,’ he said very quietly. ‘These
people might be harboring some…’
I cut him off with a glare. ‘I don’t know what
in the hell you think I did to them, but we parted on good terms. I haven’t
spoken to her yet, but I’m sure she’s not here to scratch my
damn eyes out.’
With that, I swept past him, snagging a rag to wipe my hands
on as I made my way across the garage to meet Anna half way. Griff escorted
her until he managed to make eye contact with me and I gave him a nod. He
nodded in return and let her finish the walk on her own. Behind me, I heard
a frustrated little growl and the sound of Heero hurrying to catch up to
‘Mrs. Williams,’ I called to her. ‘What
in the world are you doing here?’
She gave me a small, nervous little smile, but I could see
her eyes having trouble staying focused on me. ‘Stop glaring, Heero,’
I hissed under my breath and got a surprised little grunt for my trouble.
‘Mr. Maxwell!’ she greeted me with a little bit
of relief in her voice. ‘I’m so glad I found you, I wasn’t
sure I was going to manage it in this big building!’
We came abreast of each other then and I offered her my hand.
She took it, clinging tightly for a moment and I found myself wondering
that Emery Williams had let her come all this way by herself.
I could feel Heero’s presence at my side and could see
that his looming stance was making Anna very uncomfortable. ‘Mrs.
Williams, this is Heero Yuy,’ I said politely, turning to gesture
in his direction. ‘He’s one of the Preventors agents. Heero…
He was gracious enough to take her hand when she offered it
and I was almost surprised. ‘You’ve come a very long way, Mrs.
Williams,’ he ventured, and I don’t think she picked up on the
wary tone to his voice.
She smiled in her cordial way, taking her hand back much quicker
than she had when she had shaken mine. ‘We come to the city quite
often,’ she reassured. ‘My daughter lives here.’
‘So you thought you’d make a social call on the
Preventors garage while you were in town?’ I teased her before Heero
had a chance to start some kind of cross-examination.
She blushed lightly and looked uncomfortable again. ‘Actually,
I was hoping to have a chance to speak with you,’ she said softly
and her eyes were trying hard not to stray in Heero’s direction. ‘You
left so suddenly the other day…’
She was too polite to come right out and say that she wanted
to talk to me alone, but it was in her tone, it was in her body language.
‘Of course,’ I smiled at her. ‘My shift
just ended, let me get my coat.’ I turned toward Heero, giving him
a bright smile that should very nicely have told him not to mess with me
and said, ‘I think we’ll walk down to the coffee shop, Heero.
I’ll catch a cab home… see you later.’
He was not happy; I could see the tension in his stance, could
see the message in his penetrating gaze. I ignored them both and touched
Anna on the arm, taking her with me to the coat rack. Didn’t figure
leaving her there to talk to Heero while I clocked out was a great idea.
She seemed grateful.
She stood quietly while I slipped into my coat and then we
made our way out of the garage. I could feel Heero’s eyes on us the
entire way. I was a little surprised that he didn’t insist on patting
her down before he let us go. Sometimes his soldier boy mind-set makes me
‘So,’ I ventured, once we were out on the sidewalk.
‘You’re really here to visit Leia?’
She glanced up at me and I realized that revealing I knew
her daughter’s name might have said more than I’d intended.
But she just smiled gently. ‘Well… I think you just answered
the first question I had.’
I ducked my head and felt myself flushing. ‘Did I read
the journal?’ I voiced the question for her and sighed. ‘Most
of it. Not… not the last part. We stopped once we got to the…
‘We?’ she prodded gently, and it occurred to me
that this Anna Williams was not quite so off balance as the one I’d
met the other day.
‘Agent Chang and I,’ I replied, looking down at
her upturned face. I saw only curiosity there. ‘I… had a little
trouble reading it by myself.’
She gave me a funny little grin. ‘Me too.’
We arrived in front of the diner and through the front window
we could see that the place was rather busy right here at the dinner hour.
She hesitated. ‘We… could just walk, if you’d rather,’
I suggested carefully.
‘That would be… nice, I think,’ she said,
cheeks coloring slightly, or maybe it was just the chill air. ‘I’m
a little uncomfortable around… crowds.’
‘Me too,’ I grinned and she laughed lightly. I
offered my arm and we continued on down the street. I held my tongue and
waited to see if she would get around to voicing some of what she’d
come here for.
‘I feel a little stupid,’ she said at length.
‘Coming all this way. It seemed like such a reasonable idea when I
left the house, and now I find myself not knowing what to say or where to
I laughed. ‘Sounds exactly how I felt when I jumped
in my car and drove half way across the country to bring you that book.’
We shared a knowing look and the admission seemed to ease
her mind a little.
‘Well,’ she said, looking out in front of us and
not really at me. ‘I’m glad you did. That journal… James’
journal… Well; I just wanted to say, thank you.’
I couldn’t help grinning at her. ‘That’s
a hell of a drive just to say, thanks,’ I teased and she laughed,
glancing up at me.
‘Yes it was,’ she agreed amiably and was quiet
for a minute before letting out an exasperated sigh. ‘I wish I knew
where to start!’
‘How about at the beginning?’ I suggested gently.
She glanced up at me again and seemed to reach a sudden resolve.
‘Why did you lie to us when you first came to the house?’
‘Ouch!’ I grumbled, wincing theatrically. ‘Straight
to the tough one!’ I considered that and thought about the phrasing
before I ventured, ‘I guess I just realized what a… razor sharp
gift that journal was. To be honest… when I walked through your door,
I hadn’t made up my mind whether to give it to you or not.’
She jerked her head up to look at me and I had to give her
a tiny little shrug. ‘Mr. Maxwell…’ she began and I had
‘Would you mind calling me Duo,’ I grinned down
at her. ‘I feel really silly when you call me Mr.’
She smiled warmly. ‘Only if you call me Anna.’
I laughed and patted her hand where it rested in the crook
of my elbow. ‘That would actually be something of a relief. I’ve
thought of you as ‘Mrs. Camden’ for so long that the Williams
has been difficult.’
She gave me an odd look. ‘That prompts my next question,’
she said with a raised eyebrow. ‘Just why did it take you so long?’
That made the color creep into my face and I reached to rub
at the back of my neck. ‘Would you believe me if I told you I lost
it?’ I quipped.
The eyebrow inched just a little higher and I grinned at the
slight disbelief on her face. ‘Lost it?’ she questioned skeptically.
‘Sort of,’ I confirmed. ‘You had to have
seen the… news reports of that… salvage job?’ She nodded
and I was surprised when her hand tightened on my arm in a gesture of sympathy.
I sighed and found my free hand rubbing at the back of my neck again. ‘You’re
aware then, that the job went… very, very wrong?’
‘The news said that you…’ she hesitated,
looking up at me, ‘were stranded.’
I nodded and made my hand drop away from my neck. ‘I
was… very sick for a… while,’ I explained. ‘When
I first found the journal, I stowed it in my pouch. To be very blunt, with
everything that happened… I totally forgot about it.’
She didn’t answer immediately and I took the moment
to glance around, realizing that we were blocks away from headquarters.
I turned us to cross the street, figuring to turn back the way we’d
‘Duo,’ she said after we reached the other side
of the street, her voice very soft. ‘Did you… did you find James’
I flinched slightly and hoped she didn’t feel it. Ouch.
How to answer this one? Yes, I’d seen his damn body… and had
continued to see it in my nightmares for months on end.
‘Never mind!’ she suddenly blurted before I had
a chance to speak, and I looked down to see her face looking rather pale.
‘No… I want to know… I… Oh nuts!’
I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud at the way she
managed to make that word come out sounding like a swear word, actually
blushing as if she’d used one. I thought about that one too before
telling her, ‘Yes… I did.’
She looked up at me with a gaze that threatened to turn me
wrong side out. ‘He didn’t… His journal said…’
She just didn’t know how to ask it and I took pity on
her. ‘He did not linger,’ I told her simply and that seemed
to be all she needed to know on that subject.
There was the sound of a sigh so heavy I had trouble believing
it came from such a diminutive little woman. I glanced down again when her
fingers tightened on my arm and found her with tears standing in her eyes.
We walked in silence for a bit until she got that under control.
‘I… I wish I could have finished that job properly,’
I told her then.
She stopped us with a tug on my arm, and just stood looking
at me. She reached up and patted my cheek gently. ‘It doesn’t
matter… a resting place is a resting place. You brought back his final
words, that’s what matters. I’m just so glad you didn’t…
I’m glad you made it back.’
I blinked at her, rather surprised at the maternal tone her
voice had. I was moved, of a sudden, to tell her I had been a Gundam pilot.
To tell her I might very well have been the person who had killed her husband
in the first place. I ached to confess and let her use that mothering look,
to grant me forgiveness. But I thought better of it. I didn’t think
I could take her condemnation, if she chose to level that at me instead.
There was no guarantee that she wouldn’t scream and rant at me. Wouldn’t
slap my face and storm off. I wasn’t quite ready to face that.
The moment ended and we walked on.
‘He seemed like a good man,’ I told her.
‘He was,’ she agreed, with a small smile of remembrance.
‘He was a very kind and gentle man. He felt, when he enlisted, as
though he were doing his duty… but he was never a soldier. He should
never have been a soldier.’
I put my hand over hers, there on my arm. Her fingers felt
chilled and I dared leave my hand there for the warmth, and hoped she didn’t
notice the scars.
I wanted to tell her far more than I knew I should. I’ve
never dealt well with… women who are older than me. It does weird
things to my head. I know it stems from some bizarre ass, deep-seated desire
I have for some kind of mother figure… but I can’t help the
reaction. It’s all at gut level and I have no control over it. Worked
very well for Sister Helen; I had never been able to lie to the woman. Could
never hide anything from her. All she had to do was give me that vaguely
unhappy, disappointed look and I was putty in her hands. But it is a flaw
in my psyche that I understand and make allowances for. Though sometimes
It was taking every bit of Francis’ ‘repress’
influence to keep the words from tumbling out of my mouth.
‘I’m… very sorry,’ I managed to tell
her after a bit. Sorry on more levels, about more damn shit than I could
She looked up at me with one of those tender ‘mother’
smiles and I thought I would weep. ‘Thank you,’ was all she
said, accepting the sympathy. There was some part of me though, that felt
that there was some part of her that understood. Truly understood.
Then we seemed to be back around to an uncomfortable silence.
There was something more that needed to be said. Something more that I wished
I could resolve in my own mind, my own questions that begged to be answered,
but I didn’t know how to bring it up.
‘Didn’t you say ‘at the beginning’?’
she suddenly asked with a tilt to her head.
‘What?’ I mumbled, trying to figure out if I had
spoken out loud without meaning to.
‘You’re thinking so hard I can almost hear you
mind buzzing,’ she teased lightly.
I snorted and shook my head. ‘I just… I guess
I’ve been feeling guilty ever since I brought you that damn journal.’
Her smile faded and she looked puzzled.
‘Guilty?’ she prompted. ‘Whatever for?’
My hand tried to reach up for the back of my neck again and
I stuffed it in my coat pocket instead. ‘Was it the right thing to
do?’ I blurted, looking at the sidewalk. ‘Agent Chang…
didn’t think it was a wise idea. I think he felt that so much time
had passed that it would only be stirring up old memories… that it
Her hand on my arm pulled us to a stop again and she looked
at me with a rather fierce glint in her eyes. ‘Of course it was the
right thing to do,’ she told me firmly. ‘It doesn’t matter
how long ago it was… I won’t ever forget James. I never lost
the need to know what happened. The need for closure. I don’t know
your Agent Chang… but he doesn’t understand very much about
human nature if he could possibly have thought that was a bad idea.’
I was rather surprised to find her face swimming before my
eyes. Oh God… that had hurt so… good. I tilted my head back
and looked up at the sky, waiting for the flood of emotion to ease. I guess
it just goes to show how pathetically insecure I am underneath it all, that
I had needed her to tell me that. Had needed another human being to pat
my head and tell me I’d done all right.
She gave me a second before she said softly. ‘You made
the right choice. All the way around. Not just for me… but for Emery
That hung there in the air for a second and I looked back
down at her. Williams. What had that meant? I wanted to ask, wanted to grab
her by the shoulders and tell her that I needed to know if that man was
simply another unfortunate victim of the cursed Londonderry… or if
he had fooled the hell out of me and truly did deserve to be exposed for
the coward he might have been.
She couldn’t contain a little giggle. ‘You’re
buzzing again,’ she said with the arch of one of those eyebrows. I
snorted and she drew us back into a walk.
‘I have a million questions and nowhere to start,’
I told her softly.
‘Me too,’ and we grinned at the shared joke, but
then she sobered. ‘And some of them I’m not sure I want the
‘Me too,’ I sighed and she hugged my arm for a
We had come full circle and passed the diner again. The light
and the muted sound of people laughing from within seemed very alien and
far away. I shivered, suddenly feeling the cold.
She looked at me with a funny little frown and murmured, ‘Button
your coat.’ It came out in this weird kind of automatic mommy-mode
and she instantly looked shocked, as though she’d forgotten for a
moment that I wasn’t one of her own children. It threatened my control,
coming at me in a totally unexpected direction.
‘Yes Ma’am,’ I grinned before she could
apologize and took my arm back long enough to do just that. She stood there
in front of me with a sad little smile on her face and reached to pat the
front of my coat when I was done, fingers adjusting my collar.
There was something strange in the air and I waited to see
what might come of it. When she spoke, her voice was a little distant…
sounding a little bit melancholy. I suddenly realized that there was something
compelling her to speak to me in the same manner that I was moved to tell
her things I, perhaps, shouldn’t. ‘I think your bringing me
that journal when you did might very well have saved my marriage.’
‘What?’ I blurted, looking down at her, almost
mesmerized by her fingers smoothing the edge of my coat as though checking
to make sure I’d gotten it closed right.
She sighed, chewing on something for a moment before looking
up from my coat buttons. ‘Emery gave me the pages you took out,’
she suddenly blurted and I all but gasped.
I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks and I found I couldn’t
meet her eyes. ‘I… I’m sorry,’ I whispered. ‘I…
I wasn’t sure what to do… I…’
‘Hush,’ she said gently and reached up to pat
my cheek. ‘He and I talked. Quite a bit. It was the best thing that’s
happened to us in a very long time.’
‘I… I don’t understand,’ I said, searching
her face for some enlightenment.
‘I knew that he was keeping something from me,’
she explained and suddenly moved to hook my arm again, getting us moving
again. I think it was easier for her to talk without standing there looking
right at me. We both stared at the sidewalk. ‘I think I’ve always
known. His guilt was eating him alive. My doubts and fears were eating at
me. You can’t have that kind of evasiveness in a relationship. I never
had that with James… we told each other everything. I didn’t
know what to think, with Emery… I couldn’t imagine what was
so awful that he would lie to me. It was… was poisoning our marriage.’
I swallowed, feeling another shiver wanting to creep up my
spine, and repressed it. ‘But… but what happened… what
he did…’ I didn’t half know how to ask the question whirling
around in my head.
She smiled and there was a touch of bitterness in the edges
of it. ‘What he did was… was… I don’t even know
yet. I’m still thinking about it.’ She hesitated, just walking
for a minute. ‘But… I don’t think the choices he made
were made in malice. I don’t think he ever imagined how things were
going to work out.’ She glanced up at me for the first time in a bit,
as though looking for some kind of vindication there. I didn’t know
what to say, so I held my tongue and after a moment, she sighed. ‘James
was never a soldier… but I think that Emery was, once upon a time.
I think the things he did were done out of his sense of duty.’ She
looked at me again and I couldn’t ignore the question in her eyes.
‘Everyone makes mistakes,’ I ventured. ‘Everyone
has done things they aren’t proud of… things they might not
have half understood at the time they did them.’ My hand reached to
rub across tired eyes, across weary neck muscles. ‘Everybody deserves
a second chance,’ I finished, feeling lame, but not sure how to tell
her what all was in my head.
She nodded, as though she had needed to hear that from me
as much as I had needed to hear some things from her. ‘You gave us
that second chance,’ she suddenly said and it surprised me.
‘I didn’t do anything,’ I murmured, uncomfortable
with the statement.
‘You didn’t have to hunt me up,’ she said
resolutely. ‘You didn’t have to come all that way.’
Almost, I laughed and told her that James Camden hadn’t
given me much choice… almost. Instead I simply said, ‘It was
the right thing to do.’
She gave me a funny little sniff of a laugh and looked at
me almost scornfully, but let the comment go. Then she was stopping us again.
‘Duo… I loved James more than anything and I will miss him until
the day I die. And for a long time I didn’t know how in the world
I was going to go on. I found something in Emery Williams that I could love,
but his secrets and his guilt were tearing us apart. That journal has brought
light into our marriage… my husband is talking to me about things
he never did before. It’s not always going to be easy… but a
good relationship never is. I don’t know why… but I needed to
come here and tell you that.’ She blushed then and looked away. ‘That…
that probably sounds crazy… but I just needed to tell you that.’
Then she looked up at me again and smiled a watery little smile, ‘And
to tell you thank you one more time.’
I couldn’t seem to manage to get my mouth working and
just blinked down at her for a minute. Then she hugged me and I understood
we were done. She was reaching into her coat pocket and was pulling out
a set of keys before I got my jaw unlocked. ‘T…thank you,’
I told her and she smiled at me one last time before she got in her car
and pulled away.
I just stood and watched the taillights until they were gone.
Well. That was not at all what I had expected. I shivered and reached to
touch the place on my arm where her hand had been, but the heat was already
leached away. Damn but it was cold.
I just stood for a time, looking up the street at nothing
and thinking about how I should probably go find a pay phone and call a
cab. But that seemed to take too much effort. I blinked and realized that
there was a bus stop not far up the street, so I walked there to check the
schedule and ended up sitting on the bench without really caring. Well.
That was a hell of a lot to think about. Wished she’d
waited until Friday… I really just didn’t want to go to work
in the morning. God, but I needed some downtime. I shivered again and jammed
my hands deeper into my pockets. The cold makes them ache.
I felt a presence but didn’t pay it much mind; I was
sitting at a bus stop after all, until a warm, familiar voice said, ‘Hey.’
I looked up to find Heero standing beside the bench and had
to smile at the hesitant look on his face. ‘You waited,’ I said,
‘Yeah,’ he agreed, his own hands in his pockets
and an expression on his face that spoke of uncertainty.
‘I’m… glad,’ I told him and he smiled
‘I wasn’t sure you would be,’ he said. ‘Ready
to go home?’
‘More than,’ I smiled and pushed myself wearily
up from the bench. Then we just stood and looked at each other for a minute.
It was… strangely awkward; he wanted to say something but couldn’t
quite seem to. I smiled.
‘I’m all right,’ I reassured him and watched
as a hint of a blush crept up his cheeks.
‘I’m so transparent?’ he said softly, ducking
his head, and I grinned.
‘Sometimes,’ I murmured. Then, ‘Heero?’
‘What?’ he asked gently.
‘You’ve always been… pretty careful about
public displays,’ I cocked my head and looked at him. ‘Is that…
for me or for you?’
He frowned a little, as though the question had taken him
by surprise. ‘You’ve always seemed uncomfortable with it…
for myself, I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. But I don’t
want you to feel self-conscious about it. It’s not that important.’
Then it was his turn to look searchingly. ‘Why?’
‘Cause I really need a hug,’ I told him softly
and watched his face light up like Christmas morning, right before he reached
for my hand to draw me into an unyielding embrace.
‘You never have to ask for that,’ he whispered
in my ear, his breath hot against my chilled skin. ‘Anytime…
‘I’m sorry,’ I sighed, holding on tight.
‘For what?’ he questioned, voice sounding confused.
‘I don’t mean to… to hide things,’
I told him and felt his arms tighten. ‘I don’t set out to…
He chuckled softly. ‘It’s an accident?’
he teased and drew back to look at me, his smile fading when he met my eyes,
seeing something there that made his expression turn… hopeful.
‘I was on my own for so long,’ I told him quietly.
‘Making my own decisions… getting by on my own. It’s just
hard sometimes… I don’t mean to shut you out… I…’
I thought about all the things I’d kept from him, all
the little lies I’d told. I had only meant to protect him… to
keep him from worry. I’d never meant any harm, but perhaps the damage
was in the very act? I had been so angry with him for breaking the trust
between us… but perhaps I’d been the one to do the breaking?
‘God, I love you,’ he whispered almost reverently,
fingers coming to trace across my cheek with the softest of touches. ‘Come
on… let’s get out of the cold.’
I smiled and I nodded and let him lead me back up the street
to the waiting car.
‘Heero?’ I asked, glancing at him.
‘What, love?’ he replied, his voice soft as though
not to break some spell.
‘Do you think it’s too late to stop off at the
A smile blossomed on his face, slow and gentle, that spoke
of pure happiness. ‘If it is… we’ll call and make them
open the office.’
I snickered at him. ‘I think it can wait until tomorrow
if they’re already closed.’
He gave me a look out of the corner of his eye that was unreadable.
‘Maybe I’m the one who can’t wait,’ he told me.
‘You’re so impatient,’ I chided.
‘I think I’ve been more than patient,’ he
informed me somewhat haughtily, then let the smirk slip into a gentler smile.
‘I just can’t wait any longer to start forever.’
I dared to reach out and take his hand, returning the smile.
‘Forever starts now, husband-mine.’
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