System Error + Part 1 (cont)

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Duo

I woke slowly to one of the most pleasant sensations of my life. Just a feeling of security, of warmth . . . I opened my eyes to look directly into Heero's, his dark blue eyes softening as he smiled at me. "You were watching me?"

He nodded. "Your hair came out of your braid when you were sleeping," he told me. "And some of it fell across your face. When it drifted over your nose you wrinkled your face up like this." He demonstrated.

I frowned. I'd been aware of something tickling my nose but hadn't paid it that much attention. "You should have woke me up rather than watched me making a fool out of myself."

Heero looked puzzled. "But I thought you looked beautiful."

I stared at him. "Really?"

"Was that the wrong thing to say?"

"Hell no. Did you mean it? You think I am beautiful?"

Heero smiled shyly and nodded.

"I don't think I've ever been called that before," I said. "Cute, yes, hot, yes, sexy, once or twice, but beautiful -- you really think that?"

"I do," Heero said earnestly touching my hair gently as though he might break it.

I smiled at him. I had this warm feeling within me, albeit tinged with sadness at the knowledge of what could not be. "Thank-you, Heero. That means a lot." I put my arms around him and we lay together in a loose hug, Heero absently petting my hair. It made me feel like a kitten, but I didn't tell him that.

Instead I let him. Could I be happy like this? If this was -- the closest we got?

Okay, so I'll admit sex isn't the be-all and end all of existence, and I was a little bit surprised when Heero wanted us to 'sleep' together last night. But kind of excited too . . . I mean, without wanting to sound like a teenage girl overdosed on sugar and romantic daydreams, Heero is hot and I wouldn't mind getting cozy with him. Or I would . . . if I could. Which is where we have the problem.

Can I do this? I like Heero, he obviously likes me, a lot. I don't know . . . is it right for me to make Heero stay if it turns out I can't? Should I have said he could stay?

The 8 o'clock klaxon sounds. I groan, and throw my pillow at it.

"I don't wanna get up!"

Yelling at the klaxon is as effective as it always is. With a sigh, I fall out of bed and stumble to my clothes.

"Stupid Howard. Couldn't be nice to a guy who's had to skip a whole twelve hours of sleep. Couldn't like let him sleep in for once in his entire life. No, that can't be done. Geez -- " I pull on my working singlet and trousers. "Let's see, goggles, goggles, where did I put them? Why can I never find my goggles when -- oh, there they are!"

"Duo?" Heero asked hesitantly. "What are you doing?"

"Getting ready," I said, pulling my goggles over my head. "Breakfast's served at eight fifteen and Howard doesn't keep any for latecomers -- "

"What should I do?"

"I'll take you to supply's later, and get you some rags. You can't wear what you're wearing. Too good. But if we don't get there soon all the good tickets will be gone -- "

"Tickets?"

"Jobs. You don't want to get stuck with maintenance. Especially not cleaning the showers. You will not believe what grows down there. I saw this rat once and I swear it was big enough to take down a fair sized dog -- "

"Duo?" Heero said. "Has anyone ever told you that you talk a lot?"

"You think?" I said, hurriedly unpulling my hair. "Ya want to be an absolute gem? Comb this mess out for me."

Heero took my hair without protest. "Hold still," he said. "I don't want to hurt you."

"No time," I said. "You seen my other boot?"

"By the bed," Heero said. "Now stay still."

I pulled on both boots and tied them without even concentrating on them. After a sharp tug to get me to stay more or less still, Heero had brushed out my hair. And he'd done it with such care -- by the time he'd finished I was practically purring.

"You have nice hair," Heero said, finally, handing me the brush. "Would you like me to braid it for you?"

The breakfast klaxon sounded then. "No time!" I yelped, grabbing Heero and a hair band and running for the door. I could braid my hair myself as I ran. Just one of the many talents of Duo Maxwell.

We got to breakfast about middle of the queue. I smirked. There should still be some good tickets left. Howard was standing next to Hilde who was serving. I pasted my most winning smile ™ across my face as I approached. "Good morning, Howard, how's it going? Hey Hilde, nice to see ya. I'll have a big helping of the porridge, thanks."

Howard raised his sunglasses. "Half helpings for Duo, Hilde. He's grounded."

"Aw! But -- "

"And you can wait behind after breakfast for your ticket. I've got something special for you."

"You're no fair!" I complained. "And aren't you at least going to feed Heero?"

"Your robot can eat?" Howard looked at Heero with suspicion, Hilde with interest.

"I can extract liquid energy from food sources," Heero explained, standing closer to me.

"That'd be pretty handy. See if you can copy the technique he uses to do that to adapt it to the scooters. Anything that could reduce our energy use is a bonus."

"What's the fuss? We can just syphon what want out of the upside without anyone being the wiser -- "

"We do that, we might get caught. I don't like it Duo -- security upstairs getting pretty tight."

"Jake got caught for illegally using the power source," Hilde told me, eyes wide.

"What -- Ugly Jake?" I started. "When did this happen?"

"We found out just after you left on that job of Wufei's."

"Shit."

There was a shout from down the line. "What's the hold-up?"

"Follow me, Heero," I said, leading him to a table. I sat down thinking hard. If Ugly Jake could get caught -- and he was pretty damm near an expert -- no wonder Howard was worried.

"What's the matter?" Heero asked.

"Bad news," I answered. "Hey, I wonder what ticket Howard's got for us? I don't think it'll be cooking . . . not after what happened the last time I cooked."

He ate slowly. "What is this?"

"You've never had porridge? Lucky you," I laughed. "In a week you are going to hate it. Meal. water, salt, milk if we can get it. On special occasions we might get porridge with fruit in it."

"What do you mean, if we can get it?"

"Milk isn't exactly a common commodity this side of the glass terrace, Hee-chan. Sally does her best to get us a good mix of protein and that, but its not easy. Ya eat what ya get and you like it."

"I wasn't complaining." Heero picked up his spoon again.

I'd already finished mine. I sighed, shooting wistful stares at the plates around me. I was always hungry downside.

The last men collected their food and tickets and sat down.

"What happens now?" Heero asked, noticing some of the men, having finished their meal, starting to head out.

"We go to work. We either repair the units we already have or we go out to look for old parts or wrecked machines we can scavenge. Or we repair other people's machines for food and that, or we build our own stuff. We're working on a new generator at the moment, as a back up for the one that's powering us now. Howard writes them all out on paper and puts them out and they're tickets."

I flipped the end of my braid nervously as Howard approached. I really hoped he wouldn't give us the showers. I hate those rats . . . ugh, just the thought of their furry little bodies makes me shudder. I winced at the thought of a rat gnawing at my braid. Okay so I asked Sally and she said that Nick's wrong about them eating hair but still --

"Your ticket." Howard held out the slip of paper.

I took it. My mouth dropped open.

"You're kidding. You're letting me work on Sylvia?"

Howard shrugged. "You'll do a good job, kid."

"Yeah, but aren't you trying to punish me?" I was interrupted mid- protest as Howard hugged me roughly.

"You came back safely, Duo. How can I punish you for that?"

"Aw geez -- don't get mushy on me!" I blinked rapidly, hoping I was not going to cry. A hand rested on my shoulder and a piece of material was thrust into my hand. I looked at it.

"What is this?"

"I thought you might need it. In case you start to leak fluid."

I stared at Heero then grinned, patting his cheek. "You are too darn sweet, you know that?"

"Ahem." Howard grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away. "For a robot, you treat him pretty much like a human."

"Ah . . . yeah." How to get out of this? I could just see the one year grounding in Howard's expression. "He's kind of designed to act humanly."

"Is that so?" Howard poked Heero's chest. "Just exactly what kind of robot are you?"

"A new prototype," Heero said. "I am the first of my kind."

"And what kind is that?" Howard turned to me. "Service, recreation, what?"

"Kind of an experiment in both I guess," I hedged.

"Should I be separating you two? Mack said he found the two of you in bed together when he stopped by to check on you -- "

"There's no room in my room!" I said. "You've seen it -- its little more than a cupboard."

"There is no reason to be concerned," Heero informed Howard. "I lack the necessary components for sex."

Howard blinked. "Uh -- "

"Geez Heero," I muttered. "Embarrass me, why don't you."

"What's the matter?" Heero asked. "Wasn't that what Howard meant?"

"Yeah but -- let's get out of here. Later Howie!"

I grabbed Heero and ran to Supplies. "We have to get you outfitted and get to Workroom 11 before he changes his mind," I said. "Yo! Pete!" I banged on the door. "We need some coveralls, if you got them."

Tall Pete found the right size for Heero and while he put them on, I chatted to Tall Pete. "Howard's letting me work on Sylvia."

Tall Pete whistled. "How'd you land that, kid?"

"I'm not entirely sure. But he wants me to do a systems scan and then any work I see fit."

"Sweet. Ya really lucked out this time."

"You're telling me." I gloated.

"What is Sylvia?" Heero asked.

"Howard's baby," I explained. "Wait till you see her. She's the hottest metal in this district and everyone knows it. She can do double the speed of most racers and her handling -- perfect." I sighed. "She's the sexiest vehicle I've ever seen."

Heero looked dubious. "Sexiest?"

"The kid's got a very warped libido." Tall Pete said. "Comes of being raised by mechanics. No mother figure. So instead -- " He shrugged, tapping his head in a meaningful way.

Heero looked puzzled. "Are you suggesting that Duo is dysfunctional?"

"Oi! I'm not staying here so the two of you can malign my sanity! C'mon Heero," I pulled him after me. "Wait till you see Sylvia. Then you'll see what I mean."

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