Pairing: Yuy/Maxwell
Rating: NC-17
Wordcount: 6,300 or thereabouts
Notice! What we have got here, ladies and germs, are a couple of teenage killers, a lot of bad words and some extremely weird smut. Bon appétit.

Further Notice: For Dacia, whom I've neglected shamefully. This fic is bits of eps 19 and 20 done my way, and as y'all know, my way ain't real nice.


He has a trash mouth and the gutter mind to go with it. He knows more about explosives than a hundred spec ops demolitions teams combined. His aim is slightly more accurate than mine, his reaction time almost equal to. He's a colony brat, a killer and a certifiable lunatic. In other words, he's a gundam pilot.

He's nothing to me. He is me. He was the first person to draw a response from me outside mission parameters. I was conditioned to hate the Alliance and Romefeller, but until New Edwards I didn't feel much anything towards either organization. They had threatened the colonies. They were targets to be eliminated and I acted accordingly. At the time, that was the extent of their impact on me. As for innocents, they are obstacles in a gauntlet of avoidance. Maxwell, though, is neither target nor innocent. And he's been annoying the living fuck out of me since the night he shot me.

Say you need new boots. You wait until you can feel the ground through your soles because finding a pair worth the trouble of wearing is next to impossible. But it's summer. The temperatures are all but melting your skin and you know if they don't finish the job, your gundam's hide will. So you hike to the nearest rest area, commandeer a car and go looking for civilization. You locate something resembling then waste an hour of what should have been controls calibration before you find what you came for. By then you're so ready to get the hell away from humanity in general and salespeople in specific that you put the things on and ­ as Maxwell would say ­ haul ass.

Two days later you're inside what looks like a business complex but isn't, dismantling someone's mainframe. Entry goes as planned; you could sabotage this type of installation in your sleep. Extraction, however, is a goatfuck of epic proportions. You memorized blueprints and security rotation, but you didn't account for a stray lab rat looking for the head in a restricted area. Sayonara stealth. Hello firefight. Seeing as your feet are all that's keeping your ass from getting shot off, it's a damn good thing your new boots fit so well, correct?

Correct. Except for one raw, square inch on your right heel, that is. The one that stings like a bitch and is going to be with you for a month. For all intents and purposes, Maxwell is that inch. On a 1=1000 scale.

He's the recurring blister created by not-quite-fitted trainers; the coffee stain on an otherwise flawless schematic. He's also one of the most persistent bastards I've had the misfortune to meet, which might explain why close proximity to him is, for me, an exercise in control. Sophistry? Maybe. When it comes down to it, I'll take reasoned delusion over verified idiocy. I admitted to myself, once, that watching Maxwell walk (or more often run) is pleasant. I never will again. I'm sure that refusal says something about me. Don't ask me what, because I don't know or want to know. Don't ask why I didn't pull the trigger in that prison cell, either. I went in with that intention, but instead I stood there while Maxwell struggled to his feet and I… didn't. Not couldn't. I wanted to. But I didn't.

Now that Maxwell is sitting up, eating solid food and running me down the OZ grapevine, I'm finding it hard to remember why.

"-anyway, I don't see it. I mean Kushrenada and Our Lady of Scarifying Specs? I don't fucking think so." Maxwell leans into his supporting pillows, chortling. "Shit, the guy takes baths in rose petals. Like he's gonna go for a chick who sharpens her hair pins every night before she gets her head down."

Yet another undesirable mental image ­ two of them, to be exact. The opiate-laced antibiotic I dissolved in Maxwell's so-called tea (fructose and ‘natural' flavors) should take effect soon, but until then I'm a captive audience to his speculation, the next target of which has, by my calculations, an 89.63% chance of being our mentors' collective sex lives. Unacceptable.

I turn my attention from my computer's screen to his face and wait for him to notice. He doesn't. I conclude that communication must be established by verbal means, then implement the correct procedure.


At the sound of his name, Maxwell's mouth stops moving. He eyes me with something approaching caution. A sign of intelligence, or mere self-preservation? With Maxwell it's hard to tell. "Yeah?" he says, drawing the vowels out.

"I'm working," I tell him, a blatant prevarication. I'm playing Othello. "Shut up."

In place of silence, I receive the patented Maxwell helpless-baby-animal-abused-by-evil-huma

n eyes. "This is prime blackmail material, Yuy!" he yelps. "I know people who'd pay to hear this shit."

"Then sell it," I say, "to someone who wants it. Are you finished?"

He glances at the full plate of food on his lap. His lips flatten into a frustrated line. "I guess."

"Good. Get some sleep." I remove the plate and set it on the floor before settling back in my chair. I study the on-screen rows of black and white. There is more white than black. Soon, I think, to be all white.

"Sex scares you, doesn't it?"

Maxwell's voice shatters my concentration, and I hit the wrong key. I examine the unpromising new formation. "Intercourse does not… alarm me," I inform Maxwell. "Others' preferences are not my business. Or anyone else's," I add, since he's sure to miss the implication. Maxwell isn't long on subtlety. Case in point: his next remark.

"So you're okay with doing it but not listening to me yap about it," he says, grinning at me. His voice is too clear, as are his eyes. I must not have administered enough of the opiate. It's taking longer than it should to work; longer, I should say, than it would on a normal teenage male of Maxwell's height, weight and muscle mass. I don't know what modifications J's associate might have seen fit to give Maxwell. Thanks to J's tweaking, my resistance to controlled/chemical substances is considerable, and if a pain threshold I am unable to extend exists I have yet to find it. It is possible Maxwell has similar advantages.

I resign myself to another hour or so of Maxwellian noise. I have no intention of continuing the conversation, though, so I give him my ‘do not fuck with me' look, the one that used to scatter J's minions like a pack of scared rabbits. Maxwell is made of sterner stuff than overeducated, underdeveloped scientists, but after a minute of unblinking eye contact, his gaze drops to his covered legs. His hands clench and unclench spasmodically, as though he has lost control of them.

"C'mon, man, gimme a break," he says, quietly. "I feel like an MS stepped on me then stomped me into the ground for good measure. Hurt and bored is the suckiest combination I know."

He might be right. I have been in that position myself and dealt with it worse than he seems to be doing. I don't tell him that, though. His body is vibrating restlessness; he's working himself up to a spectacular explosion, and I can't decide if I prefer to observe the detonation or defuse the bomb. On one hand, I'm as bored as he is, but on the other, he is still in poor condition. Yelling at me could further damage his cracked ribs, and he can't afford more downtime than he's already facing. Diffusion it is.

I shut down the laptop and close it. The game is a loss, anyway. Laying the computer aside, I cross my arms and, "Why do you want to know?" I ask.

His head jerks up. His eyes are wary. "Know?"

"What I like."

His pupils are behaving oddly, expanding and contracting at random intervals. If I didn't know for certain that he's sustained no severe head injury, I'd think he had a concussion. "Look," he begins, "I didn't-"

"You asked," I interrupt. "I thought you were bored?" I let statement trail into query and watch a line of red creep up his cheekbones. I'm beginning to enjoy this. It's rare for Maxwell the Mouth to trip over his tongue like a teenage kid. Then again, if you look at our bottom lines from a strictly numerical standpoint, we are teenage kids.

Maxwell lets go his breath in a rush. "Fine," he says, sounding both relieved and exasperated. "You wanna play it that way, I'll bite. Hey," he smirks, "it's all good by me. Just don't throw down on me if you can't take the heat."

Although I understand little of what he just said, I've worked with enough mercenaries to get the gist. "I won't kill you," I tell him.

"Gee thanks, Yuy. I surely do appreciate your consideration," he replies, and this time his grin is all sharp edges.

I'm aware that I come across as emotionally stunted; someone once told me I have the sensitivity of a rock. I'm sure she was right, but I can recognize sarcasm when it's pouring over my head and dripping down my face. "You started this," I tell Maxwell. "I have other things to finish."

I reach for the laptop, but, "No!" Maxwell blurts. I look back at him. His face is flushed and his hands are once again performing their duet of clench and release.

"I'm not trying to butt into your business," says Maxwell, "but I thought…" He glances at me then away. "The blond. Relena, right? She's cute and all, and she likes you, so... why not hit that? I was just, you know, wondering," he mutters.

I watch him watch his hands, and consider my response. There are a number I could make, most of them unacceptable. I reject all but two, debate the pros and cons of both, then, "I don't find her attractive," I say.

"Okaaaaaay." Maxwell darts another glance at me. "That could get tricky. She's not gonna like seeing you with another chick, that's for sure. She's nice, but she's got jealous girlfriend written all over her pretty pink ass."

"Relena Darlian-Peacecraft is a hindrance. She is also necessary." I look past Maxwell and out the wall-length window. It's after eighteen-hundred; the sun is almost down. "Gender isn't important."

There's a brief stretch of silence. Then, "Well," Maxwell drawls, "I didn't see that one coming. You're just full of surprises, Yuy."

"A body is a body." And most of those within touching distance of me are usually dead or about to be.

Maxwell has the strangest look on his face. "Uh, yeah," he says, "you could put it that way. If you're you, I mean." He swallows, the convulsion of his throat visible. "So. What kind of criteria are we talking, here?"

"Does it matter?"

He scratches his nose. His expression is shuttered, thoughtful. "This is just for the record," he states, "but I'm pretty sure that if I told you I'd like you to fuck me you'd turn me down. Yeah?"

An easy question with a simple answer. "Yes."

His mouth kicks up on one side. "No-go on the body type, huh?"

Unlike Maxwell, I have no trouble lying. In this case, though, I see no reason to. "Physically, you comply with my specifications," I tell him. Then, after he's digested that, "I don't like you."

"You don't… you don't like me?" Maxwell is gaping at me as though I just notified him of my intent to destroy the L2 and L3 clusters. "What is this, preschool? And what the hell's liking got to do with anything?" he wants to know.

We stare at each other: I in my chair, Maxwell sprawled across his bed. Then Maxwell starts laughing. He laughs until he's shaking, and then he laughs some more. He appears to be in extreme pain, which, given his ribs, he probably is, but he keeps laughing.

"Hell, Yuy," he wheezes, "only you could say something like that then leave it standing alone in all its assholish glory."

Mirth fades slowly into ragged snorts. Maxwell pushes himself up on one elbow and reaches out, fisting the front of my tank in his free hand. I let him; it's all that's keeping him upright. "You don't have to like somebody to nail ‘em, dumbass," he tells me.

"You don't," I agree. "But it's preferable."

For some reason, this observation makes Maxwell laugh again. "You trying to kill me?" he gasps, and I wonder if I have. Not killed him but facilitated further injury. Although he's moving without apparent difficulty, he's nowhere near a hundred percent. His arm is straining with his effort to hold himself steady. He shifts, trying for balance, but the arm gives and he collapses backward, his grip on my shirt pulling me with him.

He takes my weight on his damaged ribcage. His breath leaves his lungs with a muffled, "Whoof!" I'm already moving off him, but, "Wait," he manages between sucking gulps of air. "Hold on, damn it, let me -- just don't move!"

Curious, I stay as I am, propped over him on my hands. He lies quiet beneath me, not moving or speaking. Getting his breath back. Watching me. The rise and fall of his bandaged chest catches, slows. He rolls slightly to one side, his movement bringing his groin flush against my leg. I can feel his cock hardening and it occurs to me that I should have followed through on my initial reaction.

His fingers are still tangled in my shirt. His eyes are on my face as he raises his free hand to my shoulder. It settles there for a moment before brushing the curve of my neck. When I do nothing to inhibit either action he curls his hand over my nape and pulls me the rest of the way towards him. My mouth is touching his but I don't move. I'm waiting to see what he's going to do. Then his lips open under mine, and I subtract possible injury from the equation. If he can stick his tongue down my throat, the pain factor must be negligible. I wrap his braid twice around my palm, tilt his head to a more satisfactory angle, and kiss him back.

Maxwell's hands slide down to curl around my biceps. His hips squirm, grinding his erection against my thigh. He kisses sloppily, his mouth open too far -- it's as if he hasn't done this before and isn't sure how. Our teeth knock together, one of his canines cutting into my lower lip, and a thread of blood winds between us, coppery on my tongue in contrast to Maxwell's sour-sweet flavor. He tastes like yesterday's takeout and smells like the backside of a three-month deep space haul. His hair is gritty and greasy to the touch. He's so thin one his hipbones is bruising me; its point digs into my muscle, and I want to shove his knees wide and press into him, feel more of his bony edges.

I want to fuck him. He's only kissing me and already I'm hard enough that the sensation of him rubbing against me is close to pain. I'm not going to fuck him. He has fractured ribs, a fractured ankle, and torn ligaments. He's one massive contusion, inside and out. Not even I'm callous enough to engage in sexual intercourse with someone in his condition, and besides. The opiate is finally kicking in. His mouth is going slack under mine, his hands loosing their grip. He rolls his head against the pillow and frowns at me, his eyes unfocused. "The tea. Son of a bitch. Shoulda known you'd pull something like this," he slurs.

"Affirmative." He should have.

His eyes are closing. "Kill you later," he mumbles as his breathing evens.

"You can try," I tell his unconscious face. I almost hope he does. Supplementary training is always acceptable and Maxwell would make an interesting opponent.

Retrieving my laptop from the end of the bed, I walk over to the table I've been using as a desk. I wire the computer into the power interface then grab my jacket. I have op prep to finalize. I look back at the bed before I leave. Maxwell is dead to the world and will be for some time. I close the door after me.

When I open it approximately twelve hours later, Maxwell is awake and furious. "Where the hell have you been, you fucker?" he demands, his eyes narrowed to slits. "I can't believe you slipped me that shit then took off."

I place the paper bag I'm carrying on the table beside my laptop. "You were asleep. This place is secure."

"Yeah, well, you could've left me my piece," he shoots back.

"I did." I point to the automatic on the sill above his head. "Did you want it under your pillow?" I inquire.

"Gah!" Maxwell's hands tangle in his ass-length braid and yank repeatedly. His eyes are screwed shut, his teeth gritted. He's making a strange, low noise I can only identify as a growl.

"You're going to rip that out," I observe. Not that I consider the idea a bad one. There's no reason for Maxwell's hair. Half the time he doesn't even have the means to take care of it. Now, for example. It's a knotted mat of dried blood and sweat not even a rabid rat would touch, a conclusion Maxwell seems to have just reached. He's stopped pulling and is looking at the tangled mess in disgust.

"Jesus Christ on a stick that's bad," he says. "Gonna take forever to undo this crap. And-" He sniffs the air, his upper lip curling. "And I fucking reek." He looks over at me; he's still angry, but he wants to be clean more than he wants to hurt me. "We got something besides a can here?" he asks.

The head is one of the reasons I chose this flat. It opens onto both the main room and this one, making it easily accessible to both Maxwell and myself. The bath is separate, a fact of which I now apprise Maxwell. "Thank fuck," he says, struggling out from under his covers. "At least there is one. No," he snaps as I start towards him. There's a light sheen of sweat on his skin and he's breathing too fast, but his face is set in determined lines.

"I can do this," Maxwell insists, as much to himself as me. His eyes flick towards the door then back to me. "Go play with your tech, Yuy. If I end up on my ass, you'll hear it."

That's true enough, and I have a worm program to tweak. I open the laptop while behind me Maxwell pushes to his feet, swearing as bruised muscle and internal organs realign themselves. His profanity is an easy gauge to his progress. He staggers into my peripheral vision, and from the corner of my eye, I watch him drag himself a slow step at a time towards the port. When he reaches it he pauses, his hand braced against the frame. Then he's lurching forward, disappearing into the larger living/kitchen area. Ten minutes pass, and I hear water running. I give the program my full attention.

The quiet doesn't last long. The water goes off and on several times. There's thumping and a heavy thud, and Maxwell's invective renews itself. "Yuy, get in here!" he finally shouts.

Unsurprised by the summons, I leave my computer to its diagnostics and follow Maxwell's previous path through the main room. I walk to the bath's open doorway and lean against it, running a cursory glance over a layout I'm already familiar with. Like the rest of the flat this room is compact, with a tiled floor sloping towards a central drain, a shower on the right-hand wall and tub situated against the left. Maxwell is slumped on the stepstool positioned close to the shower. The showerhead's detached nozzle dangles from his hand. His braid is partially undone and his eyes are closed. The loose boxers and tee that are all he's worn for the last two days are draped over the edge of the tub.

"You gonna stand there all day or get over here and help?" he snarls without opening his eyes.

"Hair?" I ask.

A line of blue appears beneath one lid. "Yeah. I'm still too wasted. Bastard." His disdain for both me and this turn of events is obvious. I push away from the frame and walk towards him.

Maxwell's eyes open the rest of the way; he's watching my hands. He hates this, hates having to ask for help. He does not want me at his back where he can't see what I'm doing. Both his mind and his body are screaming at him to stop me. He looks boneless, slouched on his seat, but his hands are white-knuckled. He's strung tighter than a tripwire.

I stop a few feet from his left side. He wants to turn, to keep me in full view, but he doesn't; I can hear his teeth grind. I hold my hand out in front of his face, fingers spread. His eyes flicker, but he stays where he is. I move closer, my hand barely touching his shoulder. He tenses, and I ignore it. I dig my fingers into his unyielding subscapularis and supraspinatus, and knead.

Maxwell groans. The shower nozzle slips from his slack hand, clattering against the tile. "Ohshit. Fuck. Do that again."

I comply, easing behind him and stroking pressure points with my thumbs, working my way over his shoulders and up his neck to the base of his skull. I push my fingers into his hair, rubbing his scalp and loosening caked dirt and blood as I go. Maxwell arches into my hands, sounds of almost feline satisfaction pouring out of him. He's pushing into me, rubbing against my hands and chest like an overgrown cat. I look down his body, past bandages and tight abdominals. He is fully erect.

Naked, Maxwell is no prize. He's thinner than he appears clothed, his body comprised of skin, bone and the wiry muscle holding them together. His forearms are lightly tanned, but the rest of him is paper white and crisscrossed with scars of varying ages. Some are shiny slashes, some deep red indents, while others are the barest suggestion of lines. His life is written on his body, and it's not a pretty story.

This is Maxwell, though, and I'm a perverse freak with a parsec-long masochistic streak. Maxwell's personality leaves something to be desired, yes, but there is one thing about him I do like, and that's looking at him. What I told him earlier was true: gender means little to me. It's also true that I prefer my own sex. Females are hormonally and emotionally motivated, a definite negative. Sometimes I think they're irrational for the sake of it. Then also, there is nothing attractive about exaggerated attributes, and mammary glands are the ultimate exaggeration. Strange thoughts for a professional terrorist and part-time assassin? Probably. But men can be just as irrational as women, a rule I'm about to prove.

Freeing one of my hands from Maxwell's hair, I reach down and cup his jaw. He jerks in surprise, slamming the back his head into my diaphragm, but I'm stronger and he's still a half-second of reaction time behind me. I hold him in place, tilting his chin upwards until he's looking at me. I see my dismembered body reflected in his eyes. "What the fuck, Yuy?!" he yells. "God damn it, let go!"

"I won't hurt you," I say, "but if you do not stop moving you will hurt yourself."

Maxwell stills. He's panting, his muscles flexing in my grasp. I bend until my mouth is parallel to his ear. I can see his pulse pounding the base of his throat. "You're hard," I tell him. "Take care of it."

I release him in slow increments. My fingernails graze his skin. A whine escapes his throat; a stifled, desperate sound. He wants to, needs to wrap his hand around his cock, but I'm still here, an insupportable threat. He can't get away from me or his body's weakness. His training is warring with his instincts. I unravel another section of hair and watch him unravel with it. "Maxwell. Now."

I know the instant he breaks. I feel it happen. Feel his shoulders shiver under my hands. Watch his hands shake and clench. When he finally touches his cock, it's like he's touching me. His groan of relief vibrates my chest.

He strokes himself hard and fast, his free fingers cupping his tight-drawn sac. His thighs and abdomen tense and strain, every muscle standing out in sharp relief. His cock flexes in his hand; there's a thin line of pre-come leaking from the crown, dripping down the shaft. When I twist my fingers deeper into his hair he whines again, and this time the sound is all desperation and no panic. I push his hair to one side, baring the join of neck and shoulder. Leaning down, I touch my lips to the skin there, breathing in the scents of soap and male. Then I open my mouth, sinking my teeth into muscle and nerve, and Maxwell jerks as though I just shot him.

His head falls back, his mouth and throat working. His eyes are wide and sightless. I let go of him and circle the stool, dropping to my knees between his spread legs. I take his wrist, pulling his hand away from his cock. He whimpers but doesn't resist. His eyes snap back into focus; the pupils are black holes, nothing left of his irises but thin rims of blue.

This -- I think this is where I die. Where he dies. This is where his legs seize around my head and break my neck; where I cut his oxygen with my fingers and watch him suffocate. I know this. I'm seeing both scenarios played out, dual images superimposed on the arch of his body. But I'm still breathing. He's breathing. I concentrate on his face, on the shock of black dominating blue, and then I'm leaning forward, taking his cock in my mouth.

He strains against my hands where they grip his thighs. His hands are in my hair, pulling, but I hold him down, suck him in. He's cursing me, cursing someone else I don't know; his fingers knot themselves in my hair, his hips jerk, and he's coming, his semen burning the back of my throat. His mouth is a scream without sound. I can hear it in my mind, if not my ears. His come is hot and bitter on my tongue. I swallow it, swallow around his softening erection, and he chokes on a sob of sound, "God!"

I'm not anything close to god, whatever that is. I'm not certain I'm even human. I let Maxwell's cock slide from my mouth, wet with ejaculate and saliva. His muscles quiver, rippling under his skin; his head lolls heavy on his neck. His eyes are dark slits in his bloodless face -- I can't tell if he's looking at me. "Clean me up when you're done," he rasps. Then his eyes roll back in his head and I have to grab him before he falls.

I prop him up on the stool then straighten to stand over him. I did not intend this, but it's difficult to think past the blood pounding in my temples and my cock. I bend down, wiping Maxwell's sperm off my hand onto his skin, and press two fingers against his femoral artery. His pulse indicates unconsciousness. His breathing is irregular enough to be unfeigned. I unzip my jeans and grip my erection.

I've been riding the edge since Maxwell first touched himself. One, two, three twisting pulls are all that are necessary. I come hard, white streams spurting from my cock onto Maxwell. I hang over him, my hand braced on my thigh, staring at the starburst pattern of my semen on his skin and listening to my slowing breath.

In the aftermath of orgasm details are sharp and clean. I see the faint string of freckles sprinkled across the bridge of Maxwell's nose. I see the fraying end of a bandage that's worked loose from around his chest, and I think of how I will have to rewrap his ribs before I leave. There are water droplets caught in his eyelashes and a smear of ejaculate on his cheek. His abdomen is painted in drying streaks of my semen. He is drooling, his saliva gathering in the corners of his mouth, and he looks like he's going to fall off the stepstool any second.

I retrieve the shower nozzle and reach for the soap.


"What're you doing?"

Maxwell's sleep-scratchy voice momentarily distracts me from the black letters on my white screen. He's sitting up, scrubbing a hand over his face. I type a few more lines and save. J will have to wait for his report until this op is, one way or another, over. "Oi," Maxwell yawns, "quit ignoring me." He shoves his fringe out of his eyes and glares at me. "God, you're a pain in the ass."

"You're not the first to say it." I push my chair back and stand. "Here." I flip one of a stack of satellite images at him.

He catches it between thumb and fore and squints at it. He frowns, first at the picture then up at me. "Trace Massing Incorporated. They're haulers. Deep space mining, right?"

"Yes." I cross my arms and lean against the table. "The manifest includes a shipment of gundanium alloy."

Maxwell taps the photo against his palm. "This is a lunar installation. New MS, you figure?"

"Affirmative." I glance at the rest of the pictures sitting on the table. "If I'm wrong, it's still an OZ base."

"You're gonna blow the place."

It's not a question, so I don't bother answering. I close my laptop and tuck it under my arm. "You should stay here," I suggest. "The rent is covered for two months. Rest. Heal. Go to school if you want."

Maxwell grimaces. "I don't think so, Yuy."

"Why not?" I ask, amused by his disgruntled expression. "I've already registered in your name."

"Damn, you've got a brass pair." Maxwell's tone is easy, but his eyes say he'd like to gut me. "I'll work something out. Always do. Wish you'd hold off a week so I could come with."

"You'd be in my way," I tell him, and it's the truth. He's a liability and will be for some time. I don't need backup that could fail me at a crucial moment, something Maxwell is aware of.

"Guess so." He glares at a point somewhere around my right ear. "Watch your ass," he growls. "Don't get caught like I did."

There's nothing I can say to that. I don't make promises. Of any kind. I pick up my jacket and walk to the port.

"Hey Yuy," Maxwell calls.

I turn my head to look at him. He seems paler than earlier, but I think that's just the difference between clean and not. He's pulled his still-damp hair forward over his shoulder; he is separating it into three strands, grinning at me as he works. I must be getting better at interpreting his grins because I can see the sardonic humor behind this one.

"It didn't piss me off," he tells me. "What you said."

I think back over four days' worth of sporadic conversation, recalling several comments he could be referring to. Maxwell rolls his eyes, annoyed by either my lack of comprehension or response, or perhaps both. He finishes his braid and secures the end, then flips it off his shoulder. "For all your smarts, you're damned dense sometimes," he says. "I bet you drive Blondie up the freakin' wall."

He's watching me like a raptor over a scut hole, his grin turned feral. I maintain my silence. He likes pushing buttons and he obviously thinks Peacecraft the younger is one of mine. I ignore his prodding and wait for him to make his point.

An emotion I don't recognize crosses his face. Anger? No. Respect. Grudging, but there. His shoulders lose some of their rigidity. He leans back on his hands, his gaze still on me. "You are one crazy bastard, Yuy, I'll give you that. Don't know why you decided to suck me off, but," he shrugs, "I ain't complaining. I'll pay you back one of these days."

His smile is brilliant, his eyes empty, and I know if and when payback happens one of us may not walk away from it. That will come later, though, if at all. At present, the moon is a more pressing concern than Maxwell. "Are you done?" I ask him.

Maxwell blinks. "Yeah. Yeah, just about," he mutters. "Kind of got off track there." His eyes meet mine and I see that the killer has gone, leaving his brainless counterpart behind.

"I suck at goodbyes," the brainless counterpart informs me, "but I guess what I want to say is… right back atcha."

I raise an eyebrow. I am used to not fully understanding Maxwell, but-

"Out to lunch. Figures." Maxwell shakes his head in mock despair. "Leave it, Yuy," he says. "You wouldn't get it anyway."

He jerks a thumb at the port. "Beat it. Try not to get dead," he adds around another of his jaw-cracking yawns. Then he flops down on the bed and rolls over.

Idiot. I would tell him what an idiot he is, but he's already snoring. Instead, I leave the room, the flat and this pointless shard of existence behind as I've done so many others.

It's a short walk to the bus stop. The one I want is at the curb; it should reach the space terminal with enough time left for me to make my transport. I mount grungy steps and maneuver my way past a hugely pregnant woman, three screaming kids and an old man's grocery bags. The bus lurches forward. I grab a strap to keep from lurching with it. Once the ride smooths, I take the closest empty seat and open my laptop. While I'm waiting for it to boot up I stare at the codes flashing across the screen, turning Maxwell's words over in my mind. They're still gibberish, though, so I content myself with OZ encryptions. On the whole, they make a hell of a lot more sense than 99.999% of what comes out of Maxwell's mouth.

The twenty minute bus ride is uneventful and exact to the second. The terminal is crowded. I walk through the security check points without trouble. When I reach my gate boarding is all but over; the attendant barely glances at my ID. My assigned seat is a window -- not my preference, but the transport is full. I look out through thick plas, feel gravity's familiar sucking pressure, then the sky is gone and there's only space.

It's strange being a passenger when you're used to having control. I shut my eyes so I won't be disturbed, and mentally scroll through the itinerary affixed to the black behind my closed lids. Maxwell's parting shot intrudes, but I shut it out and down, and resume my internal calculations. I drag them out as long as I can, and after that I'm left with the choice of Wing's jagged pieces or Maxwell's cryptic remarks for company. I opt for the latter. By the time I've isolated the pertinent conversation, the shuttle is preparing to dock.

Smiling isn't easy for me. It's not that I try to ‘freak people out', something of which I've been accused many times and always by the same person. I just don't have a pleasant default expression. And I have no need or desire to locate one, not when Romefeller is a hairsbreadth from achieving its goals and I'm en route to an infiltration that could mean my death. I think even Maxwell would agree that the situation is nothing to smile about, especially as he's stuck in the same substandard airlock. But is Maxwell's or my understanding relevant to the main issue? Even if we survive this war, even if the colonies win free… so what? The shape of my face and personality won't change. I will still be that same emotionally stunted bastard who likes weird shoes, understands machinery better than humanity and keeps his weapon closer than his friends—not that I have or want any.

Odin Lowe told me to act on my emotions. My training aside, I don't think it's in my nature. I am always going to analyze every move made in my direction, no matter the source. I will always need a reason beyond the fact that I'm breathing to put my inner self out where anyone can see it. That's what I've believed for most of my conscious life. Now, though, I'm thinking I should reevaluate my position on one object, at least. And I am thinking this because I'm sitting in a cramped cabin two hours away from my target with Maxwell's voice echoing through my skull… and the corners of my mouth keep twitching upwards. So I'm also thinking that I might have a slight edge on the smile phenomenon. Because apparently, Duo Maxwell and I annoy the fuck out of each other in equal measure. And that is reason enough for me.


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