Unexpected (cont)

4

Swallowing painfully past a throat on fire, Duo cracked sleep-encrusted eyes and pushed himself into a sitting position. He immediately regretted it. The hacking and sneezing were bad enough, but his entire body felt like it had been on the losing end of a bare-knuckle brawl and every cough jarred his aching muscles.

"You sound like shit."

Caught mid-cough, Duo blinked rapidly to clear streaming eyes and peered over the edge of the bed. Below him, sprawled full-length across the floor, was Heero Yuy. Still in his flight-suit, the other pilot had one arm flung across his eyes and a duffle for a pillow.

"You ain't lookin' so pretty yerself, Yuy," Duo croaked, then grimaced.

His throat was fucking killing him! Goddamn colds.

"At least I'm not doing my damnedest to expel my lungs." Lifting his arm, Heero examined his partner. "I told Po it was too soon."

Duo scowled.

"Whatever, man. 'S your own fault I'm sick... ya didn't tell me I was gonna be trompin' through the second comin' of the Flood just to get here!"

Surprise flickered briefly in Yuy's eyes, followed by some other, nameless emotion.

"If the data I sent was incomplete, I apologize. It was an oversight on my part."

Curling his body upwards, 01 rose agilely to tower over Duo, whose brows shot skyward. When did Yuy get so freakin' tall? They used to be the same height, dammit! He would have said something to that effect, but his nose twitched violently and the machine-gun sneezing resumed.

Grabbing his bag, Heero rifled around in it for a moment, producing a pack of tissues and thrusting them towards Duo.

"Blow. Sniffing won't rid you of whatever's attacking your immune system. I suppose Winner wants us all in one place today?"

"Thnnggs," 02 replied stuffily from behind a handful of tissue. "Nnd, yeah... grehd rrmm 'rrnd tnn-undrud."

"Good. I have time for a shower."

Slinging his bag over one shoulder, Heero turned quickly to hide a faint smile. Maxwell couldn't help how he sounded.

"Dun' teg 'll th' hod woddrr."

Heero made hastily for the door, but his smothered mirth escaped before he could, emerging as a choked snort.

"Y'y." Duo's clogged tones sounded gravely suspicious. "'R y' leffigg ed meh?"

"Absolutely not," Heero assured him, then fled, retreat being -- in this instance -- the better part of valor.

+

Yawning blearily, Wufei pushed the kitchen door to and stumbled through it... then did an abrupt about-face with intent to stumble back out.

"Don't go Wufei." Winner's voice was a bit muffled. "Trowa's just trying to work a few of the kinks out."

"I am sorry." He kept his back to the room. "It was not my intention to disturb."

"Your tea is already prepared, 05."

Barton's even tones informed Wufei that he'd better take his Oolong like a man and not embarrass Winner for being the recipient of a much-needed shoulder rub. Wufei decided that oh-eight-thirty was not the time to get into it with Heavy Arms' intimidating owner.

He shot a sidelong glance at the couple as he gave them a wide birth on his way to the stove.

Barton looked as he always did -- tall, dark and forbidding in jeans and a sweater -- but his blonde companion wore only a pair of loose exercise pants. Seated at the table, 04 had his head resting on crossed arms while his lover's strong fingers dug and kneaded the knots from his muscles.

Wufei allowed himself a brief twinge of envy. Right now, he'd kill for a comprehensive massage. Or a good acupuncturist. After spending two months as OZ's reluctant guest, his meridians sure as shit needed realigning.

His mouth quirked. At least he'd had the satisfaction of blowing that bloody base all to hell on his way out. Stealing Nataku's successor from those meddling doctors had only added to his feeling of justice served.

He wondered, momentarily, if they'd made it out. After Barton had arranged for his escape, he'd been too busy staying alive to give anyone else more than a passing thought.

Pouring tea into a thick mug, he waited as the fragrant steam cleared before adding half a crushed capsule of ginseng and a single mint leaf. Stirring slowly, he walked to the table and sat down opposite Winner, who'd assumed an upright position and acquired a shirt.

"Anyone know when Yuy's getting in? I'm leaving tonight and I'd like to hear what he has to say, first."

"Last night. Or very early this morning, I should say," Winner replied, reaching for his own mug.

"Oh-one-forty-seven, to be precise," a calm voice remarked, and they all turned to see the man in question standing just inside the doorway.

Winner's face broke into a wide smile.

"Heero! It's good to see you looking... rested."

The blonde ran a calculating eye over their Japanese compatriot. If Wufei didn't already know the depths of Winner's devotion to Barton, he'd have thought the other boy was sizing up a prospective lover.

Yuy grunted noncommittally and dropped into the single remaining chair.

"Say what you mean, Winner. You're just glad I didn't fall asleep at the controls."

Barton retreated to the coffeepot, pouring two cups and setting one in front of Yuy before reseating himself. 01 threw him an eyebrow of gratitude before burying his nose in the aromatic black liquid.

"Where's Maxwell?"

Yuy's lips quivered against the rim of his mug.

"Attempting to drown his bout of influenza in an effulgence of steam and scalding water."

Wufei did his best not to snort very expensive tea and herbal extract straight up his nose.

Didn't work.

"Oh dear... Trowa, would you be a love and fetch a towel?"

+

He had the oddest feeling he'd missed something.

The five of them had gathered in the great room a few minutes before ten-hundred, armed with lap-tops and, in Quatre's case, data-discs. But... none of the other four seemed able to meet Duo's eyes.

Not even Yuy.

This was serious. And it only got worse every time he opened his mouth. He was driving himself crazy trying to figure out why.

Sure he sounded a little funny... colds could do that to a person. Wasn't any reason for the entire room to turn red whenever he said 'the' or 'no'. He had the sneaking suspicion that 01, that traitor, had made some kind of snide remark in his absence.

Turning his head slightly, he caught the faintest of smirks on Yuy's face, confirming said suspicion. After leveling a glare at the other pilot that by rights should have singed his messy hair, Duo virtuously directed his attention back to Quatre.

"You all know why we're here. Certain information is better relayed in secure surroundings... even the cleanest frequency has the possibility of being tapped. None of us can afford that, especially now that so many of our sources have been compromised. I think it's safe to say that any communiqué received from our trainers is not, at present, to be trusted." Quatre paused, meeting four pair of intent eyes, one after another. "So... who's first?"

Barton and Chang exchanged glances and the Chinese boy made a 'go-ahead' gesture.

"Vigilantism's the norm now, on-colony," 03 said in his blunt manner. "Overall unrest, discontent, and calls for armament have provoked demonstrations and riots throughout, especially in the older settlements. They know they've been screwed and they're pissed. Much of the Lady's force was spent on 'peace-keeping' duties. Only those of us being trained for the new MS squad were exempt."

Trowa's eyes cut towards Shen-Long's pilot, silently indicating for him to continue.

"I didn't see much of that," Chang began slowly. "My ship was taken almost immediately when I landed on L1. I spent most of my time in military enclaves, waiting for the higher-ups to decide what to do with me.

I can give you the strengths and weaknesses of the bases where they kept me. Mostly intelligence and R&D installations. If any of us is going back to space, they'd be good places to hit. They're all OZ, though -- or were -- and since Kushrenada was imprisoned, Romefeller is the bigger worry."

"I'll second that," Trowa said quietly. "It's still uncertain as to whether Lady Une survived the lunar base's destruction, but part of the reason we so easily achieved that objective was the in-fighting between her men and Tsuberov's."

"Mmph." 05 gave a derogatory snort. "That bastard nearly killed me... cut the air to my cell-block. Damn good thing Barton knew how to circumvent the master controls."

They sat silent for a few moments, mulling over past events and possible outcomes, before 01's voice broke the stillness.

"And the doctors? Did OZ have them, after all?"

It was the first time any of them but one had heard Barton's laugh. It... wasn't a pleasant sound.

"Ah, yes... our revered mentors. Certainly, they were there. They designed two new MS lines for OZ, while carrying out their own research on the side. Those schematics the Sweepers used to reconstruct your Gundam, Maxwell? Sent straight to their database by G. O took the opportunity to refit 05's MS while he was on base, as well. J, though... I believe he was put directly in touch with Kushrenada. The less said about his project, the better."

"How'd they even get the old bastards to cooperate?" Duo asked.

Trowa's smile was mirthless.

"Une evacuated a small satellite in the L2 cluster. Then she had it blown to pieces. She informed the good doctors that the next one would still be occupied, and you know their modus operandi... anything for the colonies."

"Yeah... I think we got that part loud and clear," Duo snapped. "Even if 'anything' means leaving us bare-arses-to-the-wind in hostile territory."

Shooting Maxwell a quelling look, Heero turned back to Quatre.

"What are our options, Winner? How comprehensive is Romefeller's infiltration of the planetary governments?"

"They've taken over all the OZ bases," Quatre said, meeting Heero's gaze steadily, "and they are expanding Kushrenada's empire. Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, China... they control all of them.

The Americas are still holding out, along with Australia, New Zealand and Japan. But mobile dolls are now in mass-production. As their numbers increase, the free nations will fall."

The statement was bleakly undeniable and they all knew it.

Tilting his head backwards, Duo stared unseeing at the ceiling's cracks.

"It's all a fucking lie. Everything they told us we were fighting for. This is one big political game and the docs are just as bad as the rest."

"Yes," Trowa returned evenly. "But can any of us lay claim to pure motives? We are none of us without personal agenda. You call yourself 'death'... you're hardly an injured innocent."

The pointed chin jerked downwards and amethyst eyes glittered dangerously.

"Oh yeah, Barton... I came down here to blow shit up. That there's my 'personal agenda'. How about the rest of y'all hmn? Wanna compare kills? 'Cause the last time I checked, we were all pretty bloody, you self-righteous pri-,"

"That's enough, Maxwell." Heero's sharp tones cut through the swelling animosity. "Name-calling will get us nowhere."

The braided pilot scowled ominously, but threw himself back down in his seat, eyes burning a furious hole in the floor.

"For what it's worth, I think all of us have had to move beyond whatever our original motivations were," 05 stated. "Which is why I am here. I am not so arrogant that I cannot see how five may accomplish what is impossible for one."

Heero's head tilted to one side as he studied the other boy.

"I know someone who could use you. She's based in the States for now, but she's remained in contact with the rebel cels in China. Eventually, they'll retake the country... or die trying."

"Po." Wufei's mouth curved. "Still fighting."

"Aa."

The two pilots smirked at each other.

"Guess this is where I tell you guys that I'm headin' back to the black."

Heero's head whipped around, his cobalt gaze meeting and holding violet.

"What are you talking about, Maxwell?"

Duo's grin was lopsided and oddly affectionate.

"Talked to Howard, soon 's I got this baby back." He rapped his knuckles against his terminal. "He's leavin', too. Offered me a chance to make things go boom."

"Duo-,"

Duo shook his head.

"Know what you're gonna say Quat, so don't bother. You guys all got stuff goin' on down here. We gotta have at least one person up there. Can't afford not to. Might as well be me."

"Maxwell." Duo's eyes returned to Heero's. "I don't... this is not a sound plan. You are not-,"

" 'M fine, Hee-man." The laughing caress was back. "I've got a cold... so what? It'll clear before we hit the burn. The rest of me ain't gonna be any better or worse, wherever I am."

Heero opened his mouth again, but a soft beep from Quatre's wristband halted his words. The blonde's brows puckered in a puzzled frown as he studied the flashing code.

"I'm terribly sorry... this is a private transmission. If you all will excuse me?"

"He's so freakin' polite it makes my teeth hurt," Duo groused as soon as the blonde had disappeared.

"I suppose you'd prefer a heavy dose of profanity, Maxwell?" Wufei inquired.

"At least I'd know what to say back."

Duo grinned insolently as Chang rolled his eyes then caught the disc Barton flipped him.

"Contact information," the green-eyed pilot said. "The Winners' reach is long and the Maguanacs have a lot of pull in certain places. If you need to reach Quatre or myself, or have to go to ground, that will help. Destroy the disc after you download."

"No shit." Duo's tone was sarcastic, but his smile was genuine. "Thanks man. 'Preciate it."

Chang looked down at the silvery sliver he held, turning it in a gentle circle and studying the resulting sheen.

"Do we know where Merquise and Kushrenada are?" he asked, the question seemingly idle.

01 and 02 exchanged glances.

"Kushrenada is still in Spain," Heero said slowly. "I believe Romefeller has him confined to one of his estates. Merquise... the Sweepers helped him get off-world after he told them where to find Wing. That's all I know."

When Wufei raised his head, his eyes were utterly blank. Duo's skin crawled at the sheer nothing in their dark depths.

"Let us hope things remain as they are, then," 05 said softly, and rose.

Midnight sought cobalt.

"You will be visiting Europe, I believe. Give my regards to his Excellency and I will relay yours to... the Major."

Something that might have been a smile played about Heero Yuy's lips as Chang Wufei bowed to the room in general before turning on his heel. The remaining three listened to his retreating steps until a soft noise from the hall's archway claimed their attention.

Quatre stood there, one hand gripping the frame. His face, always pale, was completely bloodless, his lips retaining not a hint of color.

Trowa moved even as his lover swayed, catching Quatre before the blonde hit the floor. Lifting the slighter boy, he deposited him on one of the couches in a sitting position, holding his head between his knees.

Duo dropped down in front of his friend, worry evident in his eyes.

"C'mon, man, breathe." He rubbed a hand over 04's back, sweeping strokes meant to calm. "You gotta slow it down, Quat, you're hyperventillatin'. Look at me, 'kay?"

The golden head rose and hazy sky-blue blinked rapidly.

" 'Kay, now watch me... here." Grabbing one of Quatre's hands, he placed it on his chest, just over his heart. "Feel it? Like that, man."

The blonde's panting breaths slowed, steadied. Cloudy eyes focused.

"Duo?"

The black-clad pilot grinned widely.

"Yeah, Q. Christ, you scared the shit outta me... Tro and Hee-man too. What the fuck?"

To the horror of his companions, two crystalline drops welled in Quatre Rabera Winner's eyes. Sandrock's dauntless pilot was... crying?

No further tears followed those first, though, and Quatre raised a glistening gaze to Trowa's.

"The transmission... it was my sister, Iria. She said... she told me... he's dead. They killed my father."

5

"Never change, do ya, Yuy? Always gotta sneak off without even a 'later, losers'."

Closing the cabin's front door quietly behind him, Heero stepped forward onto the porch and turned to face the slender form posed negligently against one log wall.

"I did not wish to disturb Barton or Winner. And you were not in the room."

An exasperated sigh escaped the braided boy as he shoved away from his prop and slunk over to stand beside Wing's pilot.

"Was doin' my wash. Wouldn't a' been that hard to find me." Tilting his chin slightly, Duo studied Heero's face. "Didn't notice before but... you've put on some height. Couple inches, pro'ly. Gotta look up at ya, now."

Heero shifted uncomfortably.

"We're not even sixteen, Maxwell. You've got years before your growth ends."

The other boy shrugged dismissively.

"Mebbe so. But I also got years a' starvation and malnutrition behind me. Can't say I expect much from this here body. Was a runt from the get-go, anyway. 'S what Solo used to call me."

"Runt?"

"Yeah." Duo's grin shone white against the dusky twilight. "Either that or 'kid'. Didn't really have a name back then."

There was any number of questions Heero wanted to ask. Why didn't you have a name? What happened to your parents? Who was Solo?

But he knew from personal experience that the answers would not be pleasant for either of them. Better to leave well-enough alone.

Stepping around Duo, he dropped from the porch onto spongy soil, his boots sinking a bit into the still-sodden loam. As expected, his companion hopped down beside him, ambling along in Heero's wake, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his odd jodhpur-style pants.

When the ground beneath their feet began to tremble, both boys paused. The low rumble grew to a roar and Chang's Gundam rose suddenly from their wooded surroundings, a sleek slash of white and scarlet against the horizon's darkening backdrop.

Wind whipped their hair and the trees, and fragile greenery flattened as Nataku went airborne. They watched it's trajectory until it vanished before resuming their trek.

"Chang got some damn nice hardware upgrades, doncha think? The docs are good for somethin', I guess."

Heero snorted at 02's cheerfully dismissive words.

"As you say."

Duo slanted him a look from under thick lashes.

"You pissed at 'em, too?"

The words touched a raw place inside Heero he hadn't even known was there. He halted abruptly in his tracks, surprising a startled yelp from Duo, who nearly ran into him. He didn't even notice; his sight turned completely inward.

"I followed orders. Did as I was told. What good did that do? Noventa and the rest of the doves... dead. The best hope for peace between the colonies and earth just... gone. My fault.

In Siberia, I believed J's decision for the best. I was selfishly relieved that my part would finally be over. Barton didn't agree, though, and when I woke, there were no easy answers... no clear direction. So I did what I felt was right."

Turning, Heero found deep violet fixed intently on him, a small frown of concentration between Maxwell's winged brows.

"J sent me to kill you," he continued awkwardly. "I did what I thought was right then, too. What you said, earlier... you were correct. There is no good or bad in this war, only a huge political grey area. And until I know who I'm fighting and why, I refuse to kill, simply because I was told to."

Duo cocked his head to one side.

"What the hell you been doin' all month?"

"Reconnaissance. And... I was in Sanq for a while."

"The Peacecraft girl?"

Nodding, Heero pushed forward through a stand of firs. He could feel Duo moving in synch with him, a silent but steady presence at his shoulder. The silence was odd. The solid reliability... wasn't.

Over the last few months Heero had come to realize that he depended on the other pilot for many things and reasons, not the least of which was simply to be there. To exist. A universe without Duo Maxwell in it was inherently wrong and Heero Yuy had no intention of inhabiting such a place.

"Uh, Yuy... your stop."

Startled from his thoughts, Heero looked up to find the edges of Wing's camouflage nets confronting him. Duo was already running forward, shoving at mesh and leaves, agilely scaling one shining gundanium limb.

"C'mon, it'll go faster with both of us!"

It didn't take long for them to uncover the white Gundam. Heero had left Wing in a reclining position, submersing the distinctive coloration within the trees' protective skirts.

"Man, you really need to do something about your paint job. I don't have even half this much trouble with Scythe."

The corners of Heero's mouth canted upwards.

"I was thinking that, myself. How much do you think Howard would charge me?"

Duo squinted at the brilliantly white mecha.

"Well, you'd want something that'd blend, so that would mean at least three different shades. Add in the detailing... I dunno. I mean, you're lookin' at several thousand credits, easy."

If Duo hadn't heard Yuy's strangled choking just this morning, he'd have thought 01 was having an attack of some kind. Now he knew better. That weird noise was just his so-called friend enjoying a laugh at Duo's expense.

"Well, you asked," he snarked in a voice that tried to be haughty, but came out more stuffy than anything else. His nose was still leaking, damn it all.

"It was a joke, Maxwell. You know... like those off-color one-liners you love to throw around."

Flushing, Duo glared at Heero's backside, which was presently helping his legs propel him up Wing's chest towards the cockpit. Plopping himself down on the mecha's wide shoulder, Duo watched the other boy swing himself into the open hatch.

"Hey YUY!"

"What?!"

"Think you could answer me somethin' afore ya bug out?!"

Heero stuck his head back out of the hatch.

"Come up here if you want to talk, Maxwell. This isn't the time or place for a shouting match."

"Okee-dokey!"

Grinning like an idiot, Duo scrambled to the highest point on Wing's shoulder and leaped, launching himself forward into empty space. Before he could grab the cockpit's protruding edge, hands like titanium fastened around his wrists in a brutal grip and yanked him bodily through the hatch.

When his head stopped spinning, he found himself sitting on a tiny patch of floor beside the command chair, with a thunderously furious Heero Yuy swearing at him in Japanese. Well, he was pretty sure it was Japanese. Couldn't be positive, seeing as he didn't understand a damn word of the lingo, but since this was Heero...

"...bakayaro! Ahondara mubo!"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it... I got it, Heero! Damn. Shut up already, you're givin' me a headache."

"You... you American!"

Duo laughed. Then laughed some more. Laughed until his now nonexistent stitches felt like they'd tear open.

"Oh fuck... omigod... Heero you shoulda seen your face when you said that. It was just too goddamn perfect."

Heero's expression froze. The dark-haired pilot turned so that he faced away from the provoking death-wish sprawled across his cockpit.

Duo's laughter trailed off as he noticed the rigid set of Heero's shoulders. The other boy's fists were clenched so tightly, their knuckles had gone white.

Well, hell, Duo thought, wonder an expanding warmth within his chest. Yuy was... scared. For me. I totally scared the shit out of him.

Rising carefully, he took a step forward and cautiously extended one hand.

"Yuy? Heero. Heero, I-,"

Yuy whirled before Duo's fingers could touch him. Enraged cobalt stabbed icy fire through Duo's cringing core.

"Never mind the fact that you are barely healed. And forget that you've had no real PT for three months. That was still one of the stupidest stunts you've ever pulled, Maxwell. You know better than that!"

Duo's temper, never his most stable of components, rose to meet 01's ire.

"Oh yeah? Well, what the fuck gives you the right to pass judgment on me, Suicide Boy?! I didn't see a whole lotta good sense involved when you jumped outta a twenty-odd storey building... without opening your damn chute!!"

"Right? I've killed for you, Maxwell. You, not the war. Don't talk to me about rights. You have no right to spend what's mine."

"Oh, for chrissakes, don't point that old 'save a life, it's yours' saw my way, Yuy, I don't even get why you did that-,"

Thin, strong fingers whipped out, grabbing the shorter boy by his shirtfront and hauling him so close, their noses nearly touched.

"Because they hurt you, Duo," Heero hissed. "They. Hurt. You. I did it because I care what happens to you, you insane baka!"

"If you care so much, then what the hell was that bit with the self-destruct bullshit all about, huh?!"

"It was about honor! Something ignorant gaijin like you have no experience of!"

The Japanese pilot's voice rose to a shout on the last word and Duo, fury at the boiling point, hauled back and landed a solid right hook across one elegantly-sharp cheekbone.

Heero staggered backwards into the console as Duo slumped against a curving gundanium wall, horror growing inside him along with the blossoming contusion on the other boy's cheek.

"Heero." He licked suddenly dry lips. "Heero, I'm..."

Slim digits explored the blood-infused swelling, probed gingerly at bruised bone. Faint surprise filled the dark blue eyes that searched out Duo's pale, worried face.

"Direct hit, Maxwell."

Shock was the only thing Duo could feel as -- perhaps for the first time in his existence -- Heero Yuy smiled. Really honest-to-god smiled. And shock was what kept him from protesting when those glittering, deep-ocean eyes narrowed and he was once again seized and lifted and... kissed.

+

It was

/longsoftsilkfire/

like nothing else

/fearpaingriefdeathkillpainemptyemptyemptyPAIN/

in his life, it was

/wethotslickpressuregoodgoodsogood/

heaven and

/hismouthsowetohfuckshitdammitdontstop/

hell

/flamehotinsidehimburningburningme/

wrapped up in one

/slimsleekhardsatinmineminemine/

small, wiry form, it was

/ohfuckheeroharderhardernowgonna/

unstoppable and

/fastfuriousbrutal/

insane and

/wanttofeelyoucomeinsidemeheeropleasenow/

perfect, it was

/legswrappedtightaroundhandsgrippingpalethroatarching/

Duo.

"Heero!"

+

"I don't want you going back up there."

"Have to, babe... Tro's gotta report in for duty in two days if we wanna keep an inside eye on Romefeller, Chang's in Montana and you're headin' back to the Continent. That leaves little ol' me to make sure Q doesn't do somethin' stoooopid, y'know?"

"Your face is too well-known in the colonies. And if you won't cut your hair..."

"You know I won't."

"Then-,"

"Look, how much trouble am I gonna get into on L4, surrounded by a private army? Wait, don't answer that... okay, laughing's even worse. Ya know, I almost wish you were still missin' your sense a' hu—mmph."

Silence, then...

"I've found the correct procedure for shutting you up, it seems."

Breathless laughter.

"Works for me. I -- uh -- guess I should... let you get goin', yeah?"

"..."

"What?"

"It is not necessary that I leave right this moment. Unless you'd prefer...?"

"Hell, no, I wouldn't! Now who's bein' a dumbass?"

"Hn."

"Look, do ya think...?"

"Spit it out, Maxwell."

"Keep your shirt on, Yuy. Or don't, in this case. Just... stay. For tonight, I mean."

A pause.

"That is acceptable."

"Yeah? Cool! You can sleep in the bed, this time."

A wry glance.

"My back thanks you."

There was a snort of laughter and quiet descended briefly, only to be breached by a sleepy tone.

" 'S nice, yeah?"

"Yes. I... did not predict that aspect."

"Huh?"

"Sexual congress has not been like this before."

"Like what?"

"Raw. All encompassing. And yet... peaceful."

"Sheesh, Yuy, don't go all poetic on me."

"I am not. It is only... you are unexpectedly important, Duo Maxwell. And I find I like that."

"Glad to hear it Hee-man. Now shut up and let me go to sleep. You're seriously failing in your duties as pillow."

"Forgive my dereliction. I'm feeling... somewhat distracted, at the moment."

"Oh. Ah... I -- mmmm -- see. Well, then, soldier... carry on."

Fin... for the present.

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