Notes: This fic will have two timelines: during the war and after the war, in AC 199. Each will be clearly marked at the beginning of the chapter.
The light over their door was flickering again. Heero reached up to tap it with his key. It went dark, for a moment. Then came back, strong and yellow.
Heero let himself in, and locked the door behind him.
'Hey,' Duo said. He stood at the counter in the kitchen, peeling carrots. 'You're earlier than I thought you would be. I don't have dinner ready.'
'It's all right.' Heero dropped his keys on the desk at the door, hung his coat on the peg. Bent to strip his bootlaces, to kick them away to the mat. 'I'm tired, anyway.'
'You want a drink?' Duo left his work and opened the liquor cabinet. He poured a glass of white wine, slid it across the counter to him. Heero lifted it for a sip. Two sips. It was better than he'd expected, sweet and cold. Duo offered him a tiny smile. 'Good,' he said, and went back to the food.
Heero pulled at the tie at his throat. Dropped it to the counter. The buttons of his shirt followed, one by one, until he hit the barrier of his belt. He left it. The wine disappeared without his conscious attention; he only knew it was gone when Duo took it from him, to refill it. But he shook his head. Duo left it with a shrug, and swallowed himself the single splash he'd poured.
'Should you?' Heero asked. 'Should you even be on your feet.'
'I can lay on the couch all damn day and die of boredom,' Duo said. He dismissed Heero's grimace with a toss of his head. 'I only woke up an hour ago. Don't poke a bear, man.'
'I thought I was the bear.'
That won him a real smile, the one that made the dimple appear beside Duo's mouth, that caught the glint of teeth. Duo touched with just the soft pad of his finger, a single warm spot of contact that tracked a line down Heero's bare chest, precisely between his pecs, dipping low to hover at his navel.
'When you're in the mood,' Duo murmured.
Heero inhaled. Duo's fingers curled into his belt buckle, his thumb stroking slow over the leather flap. Heero circled his wrist. Over the bump of his wristbone, the warm skin of his forearm.
He said, 'You're not up to it.'
'Don't pretend we couldn't use it.' Duo let go. 'And I'm tired of asking for it. You're not going to break me. And anyway maybe I want for a little breaking. I'm tired of feeling like a fragile fucking doll you want to leave lying on the shelf.'
'You are fragile.' He made Duo face him. He touched the port just below Duo's clavicle. Duo knocked his hand away.
'Princess still alive another day?'
Heero inhaled. Breathe. Sometimes it was all he was sure how to do.
'Yes,' he said.
'Glad,' Duo grunted. He swept the peelings into the sink and began to chop the carrots. 'Go shower. Dinner will be done when you are.'
Heero unhooked his holster. He left it sitting on the kitchen table. From habit, he raised his eyes to the calendar, hanging there beside the clock. 19 August. He moved to take up the pen on its string, to mark off another day. Then he realised. It was 7 September. Neither of them had marked it in that long.
'I know,' Duo said, behind him. 'I noticed it last week. Kind of a kick in the pants.'
Heero wet his lips. He let the pen drop. 'Maybe...'
Air. In and out, slow, controlled. 'I'll go shower,' Heero said, and walked away.
Duo Maxwell, it was obvious, had never met anyone he couldn't charm.
At least to judge from his cocky attitude. He didn't strut, like the over-bred rich boys Heero would be pretending to be, one day shortly, and he didn't brag, but he looked the world in the eye and winked. That was rather more disarming.
Which, it was equally obvious, was the aim of it.
Like a bright-eyed squirrel Maxwell leapt around the barge, his braid following him on the swing of a shoulder. Sometimes he would skip a step, for no reason except the joy of doing it. And that grin never quite left his face. Even in serious moments it lingered, a curl on the right side of his mouth, the glint of a sharp tooth just visible. And he talked. He talked to the men as if he were one of them, not the only special one in their crowd of average talent. He talked to Howard as if Howard deserved some sort of deference, dipping his head in an almost-solemn nod when the old man spoke, accepting his decisions, not giving the orders. It didn't square. And that was why it worked. He was liked here. Even adored by the crew, who laughed at his jokes and clapped him on the shoulder and watched him sideways with secret envy. Maxwell worked hard for their awe.
Heero didn't. He was himself, and they were afraid of him.
And that, obviously, was the way Heero wanted it.
He made a point of staking out his own space in the hangar, carting a rack of tools to Wing's prone shell. He'd caused damage with his missiles, but mostly superficial. That was likely owed to the unwanted interference of the boy who continued to spy unabashedly on him. When Heero turned his back, Maxwell just moved to a new angle. Once, when Heero looked up, Maxwell waved to him.
Heero set his jaws, and concentrated on shaving down a jagged metal break.
He had peace long enough to acknowledge the ache in his broken leg. It bore his weight without complaint, and worried him less than the crusted sutures binding his gunshot wounds. He'd protected them from grease and flying shards by wrapping them in the gauze Howard had offered, the most debt he wanted to owe these strangers. But they itched, and they were hot to the touch of his palm. Maybe alcohol, soon. To ward off infection.
'Stop poking at it.'
Heero did not jump. Not exactly. He dove sideways for his gun, ripping it out of the holster. Maxwell ignored him, and sat loose-limbed across from him.
Heero released the trigger slowly. 'Don't you have anything else to do?'
'Nope. And you wouldn't either, if you'd let Howard and the guys work on your suit.' Maxwell showed him the face of his watch. 'You've been at it for hours. And before that you were jumping off cliffs after being held prisoner by classic baddies. Eat something and I'll clean your boo-boos.'
'Tain't hordly friendly-like talk, cowboy.'
Heero broke his determined glare from the kelp lodged in Wing's vulcan pod to look up.
'Don't be cranky,' Maxwell translated. 'Do you have a name yet?'
Heero went back to work. 'No.'
'Well, No-Name, you're bleeding, and Howard has strict hygiene guidelines. Let me clean you up and feed you.' Maxwell stood, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet. 'Or I can shoot your ass again. Want to see what I can hit when I'm not planning on leaving you standing?'
'No,' Heero said.
'I meant.' Heero scraped the file against the rough metal, producing a squeal. Maxwell only raised an eyebrow. 'I meant no. I'm not coming with you. And I'm not trusting you. We're not allies. We're not friends. We're not anything.'
Maxwell considered him, big hands splayed on his hips, his ragged hair moving with each blink of his eyes.
'Boring,' he decided. 'And stupid. What good does it do you to collapse on your own Gundam? Get some damn protein and relax about life, man. We're as safe out here as we're going to be, doing what we're here to do. Enjoy it while it lasts.'
That was when Heero was sure of his guess. Whoever Duo Maxwell really was, he'd never met anyone he couldn't charm, and it galled him that Heero refused to be led by the nose. Heero frustrated him. Heero had assessed him and dismissed him-- no. Not dismissed him. But there was a space between refusal to be fooled and judging a potential enemy. Whoever Duo Maxwell was, he was a sharpshooter, at the least, clever, bold. Good. Maybe very good. But the charm was a crutch. Any crutch could be knocked out, if you kicked fast enough.
Heero itched at the edge of his sutures. 'How long will it last?'
'What? Peace? Until they realise you're not dead, I guess. Until they realise that whoever saved you--'
'Saved me,' Heero said flatly.
'Is likely to have it in for them, too. Add the four, carry the six, and I give it, oh, a week.'
Heero extended the file. Maxwell looked at it for just a second, just a second of distrust, but he took it. He gave it a flip, catching it neatly.
Heero said, 'How's it feel to be you?'
Maxwell's teeth showed white as his lips parted. But he didn't laugh. He met Heero's question with due seriousness. Even thought about it, before he answered, as if he'd never had to pause and think before.
'Chaotic,' Maxwell answered finally. 'Mostly. The rest of the time, free.'
There was a wad of greasy polishing cloth in the tool kit, and Heero wiped his hands on it before buffing it over Wing's bullet-bright surface. The blurry reflection of his arm and face rocked with him as he resettled on his bum, stretching his bad leg out at a comfortable angle. Maxwell followed his movement, too, his eyes tracking all the way to Heero's trainers. Then Maxwell laughed. Heero didn't know why he did, but Maxwell laughed, and when Heero looked at him he laughed harder, tossing his head back.
'You're not normal,' Heero muttered.
'I don't want to be normal. I think it would be boring as all hell to be normal.'
'That doesn't make any sense.'
'Why?' Maxwell returned easily. 'Did you want to be normal?'
'Easier to blend in that way,' Heero said, on a clenched jaw. Obviously.
But Maxwell only shrugged away his logic. 'Why do you care about blending in? And just so you know, you really don't. You really, really don't.' Maxwell sat, taking a tailor's pose with elbows relaxing down on his knees. He balanced the file on one finger, finding the centre immediately, effortlessly.
'I'm not normal either.' Maxwell laughed again, and Heero hunched a shoulder, armour against the sound of it. 'I'm aware of it.'
'Good. Didn't want to have to break it to you.'
'You can relax now.'
'Was that an actual joke?' Maxwell raised him exaggeratedly wide eyes, fluttering his eyelashes girlishly. It would have worked on someone else. Heero would have to remember it.
'Could have been,' he answered belatedly. 'Was it funny?'
'A little rudimentary, but you show some promise,' Maxwell judged. 'Now, if only I could get you to believe that your face won't break if you smile.'
There was only one response to that. He didn't have much practise at it. His face felt stretched, even attempting it, clumsy. It wasn't as good as long eyelashes, but Maxwell stopped breathing for just a quick second. Just a quick second, even shorter than that little moment earlier of questioning him. This was better. Heero would remember that, too.
Maxwell slid closer, til his knees knocked the tool kit. He touched Heero's chin with his fingers, turning Heero's head this way and that. So close that he smelled like boy and sweat and sun-baked cotton shirts. He sat back on his heels. He said, 'When you show your teeth, try not to look like a dog baring its fangs. A little glimmer's enough.'
Heero wet his lips with his tongue. He smiled again, Maxwell's smile, turning up just the corner. Maxwell was all the mirror he needed, matching him exactly.
'Not bad,' Maxwell said, with just a little more slur, just drawing out the words that little bit more, and his eyes were frank, very bold. 'I think you have a dimple.' He prodded Heero's cheek gently with a finger. 'Or you would if you kept at it.'
Heero touched the same spot. Maybe a little fold of skin. Maybe. 'Is that what you did?'
'Smile a lot? Yeah, I guess so. A smile's an effective weapon, Mr No-Name. You have no idea how fast a smile can disarm an enemy and make a friend. I even roped you in, didn't I.'
'Or I'm roping you,' Heero said.
Maxwell didn't believe him. He laughed again. His dimple was deep, an apostrophe beside his mouth. 'No-one ropes me, Mister. No-one's ever roped me, and it'll stay that way. You may be strong, but I run faster. In every sense.'
'I stand corrected then.' His third smile felt almost easy. He didn't try the lashes, not yet, but he did attempt that head toss, so that his hair fell into his eyes. He brushed it away, and Maxwell's eyes followed his hand, too. Aware of every twitch of muscle. But appreciative, too. Heero knew it, and allowed himself to enjoy knowing it.
'It learns,' Heero said drily.
'Don't wrench your arm out of the socket patting yourself on the back. You still haven't explained the cute blonde girl. That was pretty sloppy work, you know, and you should probably try to avoid getting captured by Alliance before we manage to kill any of 'em.'
'The Darlian girl was a miscalculation,' Heero said, irritated now. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and went back to polishing his Gundam. The cloth snagged on the rough surface, but only until he daubed wax into the pockmark. 'It won't happen again.'
'Darlian. Like, Vice Foreign Minister Darlian?' Maxwell pursed his lips, and fell back on his elbows, tapping the file on his leg. 'So that's his daughter. Weird twist on an old plot. How'd you meet her? She's got the hots for you, man.'
That was a longer story. Heero had no intention of sharing it. Perhaps he shouldn't have said as much as he had, in revealing Relena Darlian's name. If Maxwell hadn't found out on his own following their confrontation at the pier, it wasn't information he needed. Unless it was... J had said once that there were others. But J had also said there were no others after all, that the programme had failed. That Heero launched to Earth alone with a single mission. It was now patently a lie, but he didn't know the purpose behind the lie, and that meant he was not, himself, fully informed. And until he was fully informed it was best to keep his own counsel. Keep the advantage. 'It was an accident,' he replied, a judicious parcelling of words that might mean anything or everything.
Maxwell accepted it with a shrug-- or at least didn't follow through. 'So what was the plan? Assassinate her, ransom her to Pops? Kind of round-about. He's only a Vice-Minister, and military types are usually willing to take a few casualties, even pretty blonde ones.'
But it nagged. If they hadn't known about each other, if there were in fact more Gundams, perhaps it also stood to reason that they knew different things. And that intelligence sharing-- gathering-- would be to Heero's benefit, if carefully done. Heero pursed his lips the way Maxwell had. It didn't particularly help him with the thinking, but it might make him look like he was considering something deeply.
'What's your clearance level?'
Maxwell grinned. 'Woulda been Nine, but since I stole my Gundam, I'm guessing it's been revoked. You know how it goes.'
Nine. The same as Heero's. But that was not as interesting as stealing the Gundam. Heero looked across the hangar at the black-painted mecha. Stolen. 'Her dossier is wrong.'
'Very wrong. Darlian isn't her father. She's a Peacecraft.'
Maxwell barely twitched an eye. 'Interesting, but tactically irrelevant.'
'Maybe, maybe not. If it's irrelevant, why's it such a big secret?'
'Probably pretty relevant inside the Alliance, but not so much for us. Fascist pigs don't draw the line at killing babies, but it's still their business.'
Heero dragged his eyes from the scythe weapon on the black Gundam. 'You take this too personally.'
'So what motivates you? It's not money, or you'd have better pants.'
Heero snapped the hemline of his pantleg, confused. 'What's wrong with them?'
'I'd say they'd look better on my floor, but the floor's never done anything to deserve that from me.'
'On your floor?' He'd never heard that idiom, in English or any other language. On the floor. Pants on the-- oh. 'Were we cleared for sex?'
The dimple made another appearance, deeper as the grin spread slowly over Maxwell's face. 'God, you're entertainment, all right.'
'It was a legitimate question!' he protested, and was annoyed with himself for reacting at all to Maxwell's ridicule. Neither of them were winning this game of roping each other, and it was a waste of time and energy to try it. He grabbed up the kit and swung around for the dip of Wing's torso, sliding neatly along the rivet to a free-fall drop to the floor, some thirty feet below. He twisted to land on his shoulder, curling around the kit, and rolled with the impact to come back to his good knee. He dusted himself with his free hand.
Maxwell landed beside him only a moment later, with the aid of a guide-line strung over the Gundam's big belly. He fell into a companionable stroll beside Heero, standing aside with a little wave to let Heero pass through the door first to the supply closet, then the common room with its tiny efficiency kitchenette. Heero stripped his sweated shirt and used a bottled water to splash himself under the arms and down the spine, rubbing a handful through his hair. He drank the rest in steady swallows, and tossed the plastic into the recycle bin to be refilled later from stores.
Through all of that Maxwell waited patiently. It wasn't until Heero brushed past him out into the hangar proper again that Maxwell spoke, to his back, in an almost polite and indifferent tone.
'Can I suggest something heretical and shocking?'
Heero grunted. He wiped himself down with his shirt and donned it again, shrugging it into place as he walked. There had to be hard electrical equipment available, in a place this size. He'd be able to repair the exposed wiring in Wing's shoulder and shield-arm. 'You can suggest whatever you want.'
'You've got this giant robot over there, at least when you haven't torpedoed it out of commission.' Maxwell followed him patiently, two steps to his back, keeping fully in his peripheral vision. Heero grudgingly respected the gesture. Not all men would have thought of it. 'I'm gathering you've been told repeatedly that the fate of the universe depends on your absolute obedience, but the fact of the matter is that your guns are quite a big bigger, now. They really don't have any call to tell you what to do.'
Heero about-faced. 'So you're telling me that sex is optional.'
Maxwell stopped when he did. 'Amongst other things, yes.'
'And you want some.'
'I'm fifteen, aren't I?'
'That part of your dossier appears not to have been manufactured.'
Maxwell didn't take the bait. He only grinned again. 'Another joke? You're on a roll.'
Doggedly Heero tried again, dropping the hint even more heavily, to see if it would take. 'They told me we'd get along better if I made an effort.'
Maxwell rolled his eyes. 'They, again.'
Not disturbed by the idea that Heero knew more about him than he knew about Heero? Or just bluffing. 'There's always a They,' Heero said. 'Even for you.'
Maxwell nodded. 'Yes, but for me it's a binary. They, suggesting there's a Me.' He spread his hands. 'Possibly an Us.'
Like hell. Accidental allies was one thing. A rescue from enemy territory that exposed them both, exposed the Gundams as more than rogue elements. And, always, Relena Darlian Peacecraft. That would have to be reckoned with. But not by an Us.
He pursed his lips, as if he were thinking about it, and lied. 'I have no problem working with you if you swear not to get me killed.'
Maxwell's grin was back. Vicious. Like a dog bearing his fangs. 'No promises.'
That, Heero decided, he believed. 'I'll keep that in mind. There's that dimple.'
'There it is,' Maxwell echoed, as it faded.
Their dinner meal in the mess was simple, but hearty and plentiful. Fresh-caught fish, from some of Howard's men, and stovetop cornmush, Earther foods. Heero ate it because it was in front of him. Maxwell ate it because he had apparently limitless enthusiasm for trivial things.
'What kind of fish is it?' he asked. 'It's not dolphin, is it? I heard they're as smart as people. Which would kind of make it cannibalism.'
Howard laughed as if that were very funny, and not, as Heero thought, completely illogical. 'Not dolphin, kid. Marlin.'
'Big fish with a spear on his nose,' Howard said. 'Hang around tomorrow and you can try it for yourself.'
'Awesome. Don't you think that sounds awesome, Mr No-Name?'
All heads turned toward Heero.
'No,' Heero said, and ate the last spoonful of his cornmush. He put his plates in the sink and left.
It took Maxwell seven seconds to appear beside him. 'You should be nicer to them. They are fixing our Gundams out of patriotism.'
'Some of them are Earthers.'
'We try not to throw rotten eggs at them.' Maxwell blocked him from turning toward the storage closets. 'So,' he said, 'now that we're on friendly terms, do I get to see the inside of your Gundam?'
That was unexpected. 'I doubt it's any different from yours.'
'We'll know for sure when I see it, won't we.'
Intelligence gathering. Maybe when you considered yourself charming, you had greater success in just outright stating your objectives. It did make it hard to marshal arguments quickly. 'Is this-- reciprocal?'
'Of course not,' Maxwell answered promptly.
Heero clenched his jaw. 'Why should I say yes then?'
'I didn't say you couldn't try to persuade me. I can be bribed.'
Bribery. That wasn't exactly surer footing. All he knew for sure about Maxwell was that he was reckless, fifteen, wanted sex, and thought marlin fishing was awesome. Sex. Oh. 'What do you want?' he asked, trying out that smile. He'd practised in the bath. It felt more natural now. 'Except the inside of my Gundam?'
'We'll start with that,' Maxwell replied blandly. 'Never open a bargain too broadly.'
Heero was nonplussed. He did not like to be nonplussed. Uncertainty did not lend itself to solid decision-making. That was, quite possibly, Maxwell's goal.
But he also didn't want to be seen being uncertain, and the longer he stood in silence the more Maxwell would know he'd inspired confusion. So Heero brushed him off with a swipe of his hand, pushing Maxwell out of his way. 'Fine. Let's go.' Maxwell rocked a step forward, and Heero turned again, to plant his hand flat against Maxwell's chest. 'You're not to touch anything.'
'How about we start with I won't touch anything that makes changes?'
Heero pushed with his hand. 'Do you want to see it or not?'
'You can always try and stop me, I suppose, but then again, you've got to catch me first.' That was all the warning Heero got. Maxwell dove left and streaked past him. Out of instinct Heero burst into motion, pounding into a dead run, but Maxwell had just a few precious seconds on him. That, and he was almost as fast as he claimed he was.
The sound of their shoes on the metal hangar floor created echoing thunder, but Heero was sure he heard laughter, too. He found himself grinning, when his greater stamina pulled him through, and the distance between he and Maxwell began to close. He was almost close enough to grab at Maxwell's shirt, right before Maxwell took a flying leap up Wing's side and caught the gripline, climbing like a monkey scaling a tree. Heero lost ground now, awkward on his broken leg, reliant on the strength of his arms to haul him up. Still, he was only just behind Maxwell as Maxwell slapped the hatch release on the cockpit and dropped in. Heero jumped from a foot away and landed hard, straddling the pilot seat, a foot on each of the armstands, and Maxwell, barely winded but grinning like a loon, on his back between Heero's legs.
'Move over,' Heero said, and dropped into the seat beside him. It was a tight fit with both their bodies, radiating heat from the exertion of the run. Maxwell had bony hips, and worse elbows.
'You shouldn't have run,' Maxwell said absently. He was gazing around with lively curiosity, every look drinking in what Heero presumed were familiar features of a cockpit. Even powered down, Wing was a grand beast, Heero thought, allowing himself just a momentary glow of pride. Was Maxwell jealous? Did he have reason to be? Or was his Gundam different after all? Would they really have made them so different? Maxwell's L2 twang hardly suggested the blessing of wealth. But if Maxwell had the same patron that Heero did, colonial origin wouldn't matter.
'I asked, how's your leg, No-Name?'
'Fine.' It ached now, after strenuous activity, but it would heal. He always healed. 'Are you done?'
'Not hardly,' Maxwell scoffed. His fingers dragged in loving trails over the dash, over buttons and gauges, digital screens, keyboards.
Over a blinking red light. The viewscreen was activated, filming them. Only one person could have activated it, or known there would be something to watch-- and on which frequency. Heero reached for the touch-screen, swiping it to closed status, and catching the microphones too. He locked access to a password. And would have to change it again when Maxwell was gone.
Maxwell said, 'He wasn't going to watch all of it.'
That paused Heero. 'You set this up with him?'
'No, but I've known Howard since I was a kid. He talks a good game, but he's pretty Victorian when you get to the good stuff. Did you modify the thrusters?'
Good stuff. No time to wonder what that tossed-off comment might be. 'They were capable of more,' Heero answered vaguely.
'I'm not trying to be critical, but your baby's built for blunt force, not finesse. I'd hate to see you make a sharp turn with all the firepower you packed in those thrusters.'
'I can handle it.'
Maxwell wrapped his fingers around the steering. Wing shivered at his touch, tender as it was; Heero watched it with an odd feeling in his gut, the way joy and wonder and almost sexual thrill communicated itself through just the curl of his fists. Never enough pressure to actually stir the Gundam from its recumbent pose, but Wing responded nonetheless, coming alive, waking from its sleep, breathing in as Maxwell did.
Heero scratched at his pants. If they were on the floor, they wouldn't fit so tightly, suddenly.
'Why the lightsabre?'
J's idea. 'Design,' he said. 'He... They... thought it was dashing.' He reached to cover Maxwell's hand. 'You weren't going to touch.'
'Technically, you're the one who said I wasn't going to touch. It's funny, isn't it? I think our artistic Theys read the wrong kind of literature. I'm not opposed to a weapon that strikes a little fear at first sight, but there's nothing wrong with a gun, either.'
Heero liked guns, too. He couldn't disagree with that. 'He's-- They're-- thinking with the wrong head.'
'You know, a beam cannon backup...' Maxwell's lips were pursed, as he tapped his fingers on the control that moved the saber. It was just a whisper of movement, the mecha responding to a touch that knew exactly how much pressure to apply. 'Howard could set you up. Deathscythe-- that beautiful beast over there-- primarily relies on thermal energy. Nothing like an alternative, just in case.'
Deathscythe. It was a blunt name for a blunt instrument of vengeance. Heero liked it, and thought perhaps he shouldn't. 'I'll ask him.' Maxwell stretched for the foot pedal, to make Wing's left leg creak. 'You really did get me up here to talk stats.'
Maxwell grinned swiftly at Heero. 'Foreplay, darling.'
He put his hand in Maxwell's lap. He was warm through the fabric of his trousers, a comfortable fit to Heero's palm, rising at his touch. 'It's not necessary.'
'Maybe for you,' Maxwell retorted, undisturbed. 'I like a little romance. Nothing quite like an exotic dream-boat to get the party started.' He caressed the controls, lifting his eyes to Heero's. 'You're not so bad, either.'
'I don't do romance,' Heero said. He squeezed soft flesh with his hand, and leaned in. Maxwell's mouth opened under his, and his tongue met Heero's willingly. That was good. Flat on their backs in the pilot's chair they were well positioned for it, except for having such little space to move about. Heero pulled one of those big hands to his crotch, fitted it to him, pressed it there until the weight of it was just right. He shivered, just like Wing, and detested his own weakness. But he could taste Maxwell's grin, found that dimple with his lips, the lift of a chin well pleased with triumph, and forgave himself the slip. Maxwell would think he'd won, that Heero was distractable and unwary, and would make a mistake in overconfidence. Heero would wait. And enjoy the waiting.
But then his plans were thwarted. Maxwell sat back with a sigh, lounging back with an arm over his head, his elbow so narrowly missing Heero's nose that Heero had to rear up. No accident. Maxwell pulled his hand away from Heero's groin, and Heero had no choice but to let it go. 'No offence meant,' Maxwell murmured, 'but we're a little lacking in preparation.'
Ah. That was easily solved. Heero kicked at the storage bag hanging from its peg, and dug for the tube of liquid silicone. He tossed it at Maxwell, and it landed on his chest. Maxwell turned it to the light. His mouth, red from kissing, screwed to the side. Not happy.
Heero dropped his head back to the headrest. 'Isn't this what you brought me up here for?'
'I was thinking about other parts.'
'Oh.' He took the silicone from Maxwell's hold. He tossed at the bag, and missed. It fell to the floor, falling under the chair somewhere. That annoyed him. He'd have to find it later, or it would be a hazard during flight.
Maxwell puffed out a breath of air. 'Look, there's stuff in the kitchen, which isn't so far. Don't suppose you'd mind a short jog?'
Yes. But there were other ways and means. He changed his tactic. 'Want to fly it?'
It was clear on Maxwell's face that he knew he was being tricked. But he couldn't resist it. 'Fuck, yes.'
He stood on the armrests again to buckle Maxwell in, securing the harness loosely over chest and between his legs. Loose enough to slide down in the chair behind him, the press of their bodies deliberately slow. He spread his thighs wide to either side of Maxwell's skinny bottom, their ankles tight. He rested his chin on Maxwell's shoulder. 'Go,' he whispered.
Maxwell didn't wait to be told twice. He activated the camera with a quick stab of his finger. 'Boys, we're headed out,' he called. 'Don't wait up.' Wing wrenched upright with a huge heave, spun sinuously sideways in a smooth manoeuvre to avoid the low ceiling of the barge's hangar, and with a single rev of the engines was in the air and bursting out into the orange-hued dusk.
'Wooo!' Maxwell hollered. Heero wrapped an arm about his middle as they righted to a sharp upward angle, rocketing for the sky. 'Yeah! Damn, that's where it is.'
'You don't need to jerk the controls.' It did throw Maxwell against him, which was not unpleasant. 'I've tuned them.'
'Tuned them to suck. I told you this thing moves like a pregnant cow.' No warning but the sentiment. Maxwell wrenched Wing around in a dashing series of hairpin turns that left them both light-headed and breathless from g-force pressure.
Heero blinked spots from his eyes. 'That's because you fly like a baboon.' He caught Maxwell's wrists.
But Maxwell only elbowed him away with those sharp points he called joints. 'You said I could play.'
'Then play nice.'
Maxwell obeyed, miraculously. Mostly. Their flight smoothed, but for the occasional twist and twirl. The sky and its ocean reflection were deepening to pinks and then to purples, and Maxwell showed no signs of stopping. But he was learning. He was, Heero grudgingly admitted, extremely good. He was testing Wing expertly, finding extremes, finding limits, exploiting them. Heero himself struggled to orient to each new swing of direction, and in Earth atmosphere, no less, but Maxwell flew as if gravity had no effect, as if the horizon line did not exist.
And then they dove.
They plunged into the water at full speed, and it was like a bomb going off, the spray around them, the gurgling water in bubbles that turned to black as they passed the reach of sunlight. Heero let go of Maxwell's wrists. He would do what he would do, the lunatic, as it pleased him. He dropped his hands to Maxwell's stomach, instead, overlapping his fingers to Maxwell's taut muscles. He felt it, that way. The way Maxwell's breathing deepened and slowed, the leak of tension, the almost meditative way his body relaxed into the dive. The port and the viewscreen both showed only darkness. Kelp wound around them and then even that disappeared. It was almost like Space. Silent, and vast, and unknown. But not empty. Heero closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Maxwell's hair.
'You're out of your mind,' he said.
'Not that I've noticed, but crazy people are the last to know, aren't they?' Maxwell turned his head. Heero brushed his lips over Maxwell's cheek, catching the edge of his lip. Maxwell smiled for it, but his eyes were on the ocean, far away.
They were entering dangerous depths. Now the creaks and moans were water pressure, building around them, until even Gundamium began to crimp. If they burst a seam here, they would die, unquestionably. And there would be new repairs to make even if they went no further. But Heero found he didn't want to protest. He didn't understand, but it was something strange and intriguing, this mysterious adventure. He would never have done it. But a boy who stole his Gundam would. Free. He understood that much. And wistfully knew he'd never know more than watching.
It seemed a very long time before Maxwell sighed, and lifted his thumb off the accelerator. Wing almost immediately coasted to a halt, stopped by the weight of the water. 'Would've liked to see the bottom,' he mumbled.
'Take your own suit to the bottom.'
'My suit doesn't have a built-in seat warmer with an erection.'
Unaccountably Heero felt his face warm. 'I don't have an erection.' Well-- maybe a little. But not intentionally.
Maxwell's sudden laugh banished the solemnity of the moment. 'I could give you one, if you like.'
His face was hotter then. 'I'm sure you could.'
'Since we're down here for a while, let's negotiate some terms.' Maxwell leaned into him, and his hands fell to Heero's thighs, stroking gently. 'Real lube, or at least something water-based. And without asking any questions, I'm going to mandate some kind of rubber between the two of us for the duration of the contact.'
'Howard's got a stash, so if he's not busy when we get back, I'll steal it off him. If he is busy, there's cling-wrap in the kitchen. That would do.'
'I have some,' Heero said.
'What, here? You keep a deli in your Gundam?'
'Why don't you have any?' Heero returned, growing cross with the teasing. That was twice Maxwell had put him off with a sharp tongue, and he didn't like it.
Sharp and tart. 'I'm not running a floating brothel in my Gundam?' Maxwell said cheerfully. 'But to each his own, I suppose. They do say it takes all kinds.'
'It's important to be prepared.'
'Well, in this case I'll applaud it, but in the future we'll have a talk.' Maxwell looked around him. He slapped Heero's thigh, and renewed his grip on the controls. 'Well, I think I've seen about all I came to see. You?'
'If you think you can pilot out of the water, yes.' He decided then that when he got his turn in Deathscythe Gundam, the gloves would be off. Maxwell could have his fun, and so would Heero. And that would be a fight he wouldn't let Maxwell win, game or no game.
Maxwell left the ocean the same way he'd entered it-- at full throttle. Wing burst out of the water like a knife, slicing waves and then air in just a split second. But the flight back to the barge was almost sedate. The rules, such as they were, seemed to be back in force. Heero noticed that Maxwell made all due checks for enemy satellites, but they were in the clear, and no rush was warranted. The moon was high, and they had light enough to run on blind instruments. They skimmed low over the water, rising only when the barge was at last in sight. Maxwell docked them neatly, alighting with such precision that Wing was laid to rest almost exactly where it had been before, nestled between the banks of lifts and welders. The only evidence of their sojourn was water, dripping off the Gundam into puddles.
Heero turned off the screen as Howard's men greeted them. 'Satisfied?' he asked.
'Sweet ride, son. Thanks for the tour.'
'You're welcome. My turn now?'
'I thought we were going to be busy for the next hour?'
Heero inhaled deeply. 'You're never going to let me get near your mobile suit, are you?'
Maxwell grinned back at him. 'I'm at least as interesting as it is.'
'That remains to be seen.'
Maxwell's palm curled warm around Heero's neck. 'Careful,' he said, 'or you won't get either.'
'You know?' Maxwell released the harness and opened the hatch. 'I'm sort of
impressed with that quality in myself, too.'
On to Chapter two