Author: Ravengirl
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclamer

Deconstructing the Myth

Ignorant 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' cafeteria.

"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 was, either.

"Well, Maxwell, since it ain't moving, can't say I see what *your* problem is."

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 easy.

"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. Moira!"

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 turn.

"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?"

"Ms. Noin?"

"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, Ms. Noin."

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, huh?"

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 substandard."

"Oooo, good one, Noin," Duo snickered. "You gonna let her get away with that Zechsy?"

"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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