see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclamer
Supposition #3: The Bottomless Pit
A pitiful moan sounded behind
me as I took a tray and joined the rush-hour lunch line in Preventers'
"Suck it up, Soldier," I said without turning. "Sometimes taking one for
the team is just part of the job."
"I hear ya, Fire, but *jeeze*... do they gotta make it look like it just
crawled outta the garbage disposal?"
I smothered my laugh at 02's tone of fascinated horror. Seeing that we'd
just passed a pile of mystery meat and sauce labeled 'meatloaf surprise',
I couldn't disagree with him. I had no desire to find out what the surprise
"Well, Maxwell, since it ain't moving, can't say I see what *your* problem
I felt the hair near the base of my skull lift at the malicious drawl.
Next to me, Duo stiffened just slightly.
We'd heard this kind of thing before, joking or otherwise (as today's
smartass seemed to be). People figured that since Duo hailed from L2,
he had the digestive tract of a goat and would eat anything that wasn't
a) nailed down or b) obviously decomposing.
Sure, it was an easy enough thing to laugh off the first several hundred
times, but when your co-workers fought on the opposite side during a war,
they tend to take 'friendly teasing' to extremes.
I learned this small-but-salient fact after I began to see Chang Wufei
as someone other than the person who'd destroyed the base at Victoria.
My former colleagues simply could not understand that atrocities had been
perpetuated by all sides... the Rebellion, the Alliance, White Fang, Romefeller
and OZ were equally at fault, and the Gundams had had as little choice
in their targets as we did in ours. Even less, in many cases.
When you're a former Specials instructor with an ex-Gundam-pilot boyfriend,
life gets more than a little complicated.
I am, however, Preventer Fire: one of Une's first two agents. I have so
much seniority, I don't even know what to do with it.
Besides... I trained half these morons and they know it. I can say, with
no little pride, that I scare the shit out of them. And if that means
I'm able to use my 'intimidation factor' to help a friend... it's my pleasure.
Duo is just too easy-going, sometimes.
No one has ever accused me of such a failing.
Nudging his arm, I smirked, tilted my head towards the lot behind us then
jerked my thumb at the space in front of me. A tiny grin toyed with the
edges of his wide mouth as we exchanged places.
Slapping my still-empty tray on the buffet's counter, I frowned at the
disgusting glop in the closest pan.
"Well, Preventer, it seems there's some disagreement as to what constitutes
edible food around here, hmn?"
Turning my head just slightly, I raised a brow at my chosen victim, who
promptly went rigid on seeing whose attention he'd attracted.
Ah, yes... Chief Petty Officer Jenkins, sometime member of OZ's Cancer
Fleet. Not one of mine, but that didn't matter. Mediocre submersible pilots
had nothing on Taurus trainees for sheer arrogance. This was just too
"No disagreement, Agent Fire. Just a little joke between friends... isn't
that right Maxwell?"
"Your brand of humor must be too sophisticated for me, Jenkins," Duo remarked
dryly. "The 'funny' part went right over my head."
Shaking my head, I looked from Jenkins to the buffet pans and back.
"I don't know, Agent... you've got me worried, now. Why don't you do us
all a favor and take a taste... just in the interest of morale, you understand.
One of the counter ladies came over, bestowing a dimpled smile on me.
"Afternoon, Ms. Noin... what can I get for ya today?"
"Thanks, Moira, I'm going to have my usual, but this gentleman has expressed
interest in the meatloaf surprise and," I checked the second pan's label,
"the spinach casserole. Why don't you let him try a bite of each, just
to see if he likes them?"
From the corner of my eye, I caught the dubious glance Moira threw me,
but kept Jenkins pilloried under my gaze. When she handed me a bread-plate
and a spork, I held them out to him, my look promising weeks of hell if
he didn't take his punishment like a man.
The usually noisy cafeteria seemed to get quiet. I think most everyone
had stopped eating to watch us. In front of me, Jenkins turned a little
green as he cringingly chewed and swallowed, while at my back, Duo vibrated
with silent laughter.
When Jenkins finished, he handed Moira the plate with a muttered thanks.
"Well, agent? Would you like a second helping?"
Crossing my arms I glared at Jenkins and each of his cadre of morons in
"No, Sir, Lieutenant Noin, Sir," they chorused and I nodded a dismissal.
Not waiting to witness their hasty retreat, I turned to find Duo collapsed
against the counter.
"My... my g-god. Warms the... cockles of my heart... to know... the memory
of OZ... is alive and well... at Preventers," he gasped out, almost choking
on his mirth. "They musta broke the mold after they made you, Noin."
Sighing, I retrieved my tray.
"Well, they don't build pilots the way they used to, at any rate," I agreed.
"Come on, we've backed up the line long enough. Moira?"
"I'd like a broiled chicken breast over caesar with a piece of your asiago/tomato
focaccia on the side, and iced tea with lemon." I glanced at Duo, who'd
perked up at the sound of real food. "Better double that order."
"Just make mine coke, instead of tea," he added.
"Sure thing," Moira said and smiled at us. "I'll bring those right out,
Duo trailed after me towards the register, then stood there, hands on
hips, regarding me with distinct displeasure.
"How come you get the good stuff while the rest of us eat sawdust sandwiches,
I smiled smugly.
"Seniority does have a few perks, Maxwell. No," I held up a hand as he
reached for his wallet, "it's on me today. My fault we're eating here
instead of that little bistro on Fourth."
Duo muttered something that sounded a lot like, "Damned lunch meetings."
I ignored it, handed him his tray, and headed for the table the other
members of our impromptu get-together had already colonized.
Yuy and Zechs looked up as we sat down. Barton and 'Fei had their heads
together over a bunch of files and Winner our unofficial (read: unpaid
civilian) tactician scooted his chair over to make room for us.
"Quite a show you two put on over there," my best friend drawled. "For
a minute it was like being back in basic, watching the drill sergeant
chop some poor schmuck into tiny, mortified pieces."
"And you would know *so* much about that sort of thing, wouldn't you,
Merquise?" I bared my teeth at him in a feral grin. "I still remember
what happened when you informed Lt. Mertz that his accommodations were
"Oooo, good one, Noin," Duo snickered. "You gonna let her get away with
"Never mess with the woman who knows where all the bodies are buried,"
I stated calmly. "I am possibly the only person alive with photographic
evidence of what happens when a certain blonde someone offends his superior
officer, and said officer decides that long hair just isn't regulation."
By the time I finished speaking, Duo was leaning against me, giggling
uncontrollably. Wufei, Trowa and Heero were cat-calling loudly and ribbing
Zechs while Quatre demanded proof.
Merquise shot me a martyred look. I shrugged. Hey, he started it.
Heero eventually peeled Duo off of me and the braided menace promptly
crawled halfway into his lap. One arm around 02's shoulders, 01 prodded
the ever-present folders toward the center of the table.
"All right, people, we're here to eat and work, not necessarily in that
order. Fire, you called this meeting... your show."
"Certainly," I replied. "But I, for one, am going to do my eating first."
That said, I stuck a defiant fork into my caesar salad.
"That actually looks appetizing," I heard Heero murmur.
"Yeah... some ex-OZzie dickhead thought today was a good day to raz the
dumb kid from L2. Noin decided to make him eat it... literally. Then she
got the lunch lady to get us something digestible."
Yuy's throaty chuckle sounded. I always found myself surprised by the
warmth of his laughter. During the war I couldn't have even imagined such
a sound coming from Wing's emotionless pilot. It took Maxwell to bring
out that side of him, I think.
I shot a quick look at them. Duo was holding a forkful of chicken and
romaine up to his partner's smiliing mouth, insisting that he try it,
while Yuy protested, saying that he'd already eaten, and besides, Duo
didn't get enough calories as it was.
The two of them make me want to smile, the way they take care of each
other. For a couple of people who'd never really had anyone to show them
the whys and hows of loving, they seemed to catch on just fine.
Dumb kid from L2? Riiiiiight...
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