I was bound and determined
that he not figure out what had just happened. It had taken me all damn
day to get him to agree to let me stay home by myself while he was away.
If he had a damn inkling that I'd had another nightmare after all this
time, there was no way in the seven Hells that I wouldn't end up at Trowa
and Quatre's for the stinking week. And as much as I adored the two of
them, I didn't want to repeat a stay in the Winner palace of total opulence.
It wasn't exactly street-rat friendly.
"I'm freezing my ass off," I told him, letting myself seek out
his heat, seek out his presence. "Remind me not to go to bed fresh
out of the shower again."
He snorted softly and pulled me in toward him, throwing an arm and a leg
over me. I sighed contentedly and willed the trembling to go away. Captain
James Lyle Camden couldn't touch me here. Nothing could touch me here.
I pushed aside the feel of the dead man's hand on my shoulder. The cloying
scent of death that had hung like a cloud around him. I burrowed into
what Heero was offering me and tried to convince myself I really was trembling
with chill. The cocoon we made there together, under my star field blanket,
slowly began to warm and I let myself soak it in, let it banish the cold
of total vacuum. The cold of that astral graveyard.
"I love you, baby," Heero whispered, his voice sounding drowsy
and I had to wonder. He seldom called me that unless he was worried over
something I'd said or done. Did he know I was... stretching the hell out
of the truth?
"I love you too," I whispered back and held very still while
he drifted off to sleep.
The next couple of days promised to be... interesting. That's a curse
by the way. A Chinese one, if I recall correctly; 'May you live in interesting
I lay awake for a very long time, adrenaline making sleep an impossibility.
My thoughts whirling in my head until there was just no way I could doze
back off, despite Heero's comforting presence. I thought about Wufei and
his admission. Deep down, I had been a little surprised to actually hear
Chang Wufei admit defeat, in spite of Heero's warning. I thought about
trying to continue the search myself, but I honestly didn't see how I
was going to find anything when Wufei couldn't. What could I hope to accomplish
that Wufei hadn't been able to with all the Preventor's databases, contacts,
networking and pure computing power? My nightmare of Captain Camden pretty
much confirmed for me that my subconscious, at least, had admitted the
quest was over. Delivering the journal to Mrs. Camden was not going to
happen and I was going to have to find another way to deal with my guilt
over that whole damn Londonderry thing.
I thought about my new car and tried to think of something about it that
I liked. I tried to club my hatred of it to death. I tried to imagine
it painted blue or silver or even chartreuse. I tried to imagine it with
a decent stereo system. Then I just tried not to think of it at all.
So I thought about... the shower. I thought about my childhood lessons,
drummed into me by Solo, drummed into me by watching kids bleed to death
and die. I'd seen a lot of shit in my misspent youth. A lot of damn scary
shit. I had learned at a very, very young age that there really were worse
things than starving. That there was nothing in the damn world that was
worth the price I had seen some kids try to pay. Solo had taught me that,
one of the first, most base lessons he had given us all. 'Ya don't never
sell yourself, kid. Never... not for nothin' or nobody.' I'd seen him
turn kids out of the gang for doing it. His street-rats weren't stupid,
he'd said, and selling your body to the kind of people who would want
a little kid was just plain stupid.
But I wasn't a little kid anymore. A long damn way from it. I wasn't contemplating
selling myself for the price of a meal. I was contemplating... something
else. Something I'd never imagined as a child. Sex had been coin back
in those days. Something that someone did out of necessity, out of desperation.
We had only seen it from our side, had never stopped to think that it
must feel good to the person on the other side or they never would have
come seeking it in the first place. I was contemplating a thing that I
hadn't understood in those days, making love... not having sex. God...
was I thinking about it? I had known for a long time that Heero wanted
to... to take things to that level. I had always suspected, but when he
had offered himself to me all those months ago, I'd known for sure. But
he'd never asked me, had always seemed content to go on the way we were.
But now... was he working his way up to asking me to let him... let him
I shivered violently, not sure if out of fear or... out of desire. Heero
tightened his arms around me, murmuring soft, unintelligible reassurances
in his sleep. I shifted carefully until I could rest my head against his
chest, until I could hear his steady heartbeat under my ear. I listened
to it, lost myself to it, matched my breathing to his, the way Trowa and
Dr. Webster had taught me, and let Heero's... being shield me from the
thoughts and fears, from the doubts and questions.
I managed to get a little more sleep, dozing off just before the sun came
up. Yes, it was going to be a long damn week.
Sunday was interesting. Remember that curse, please. Heero had an... agenda.
It started with grocery shopping, and you would have thought he was laying
in for a siege. He planned out meals for me for the whole three days,
carefully selected for nutritional balance and ease of preparation. It
was all I could do not to roll my eyes as I followed him through the store.
I tried three times to tell him I would probably just be eating my military
rations, was actually kind of looking forward to returning to the familiar
fare, but I don't think he was hearing me.
We spent part of the afternoon doing laundry, like he thought I'd forgotten
how the damn machines worked. Again, I just followed him around, eyes
starting to hurt from all the rolling, and refrained from comment. Francis
got a hell of a workout that day.
After every article of clothing I owned was clean and put away, Heero
turned his attention to my car. He made sure I had a full tank of gas
and even checked the oil. He produced a set of Preventor parking garage
passes that he had somehow managed to get authorized in advance, before
we had even bought the damn car. He affixed them to the windshield himself.
I just bit my tongue and let him go. If it made things easier for him,
what the hell difference did it make to me?
When Sunday evening finally rolled around and it was time for him to go
pick up Wufei, I thought he was going to end up making love to me right
there on the floor, half in and half out of the doorway to the apartment.
Would sure as hell have given old Mrs. Hitchcock something to bitch to
the landlord about.
"Heero," I told him when he let me. "I'm a big boy, I lived
by myself for a lot of years... I think I can manage for a couple of days."
He sighed, looking only a little sheepish. "I know," he said.
"I just can't help but worry. I wish..." he began, but bit it
off, giving me an apologetic little smile.
"I know what you wish," I chuckled at him, trying to take this
whole thing with a grain of salt and a shrug-it-off attitude. "But
if you're not careful, I'm gonna go find myself a damn bed partner just
to spite you!"
He gave me a mock glare and reached to pull me close. "You'd better
not. I'm the jealous type... haven't I ever mentioned that?"
I laughed, tousling my fingers through his hair. "Then don't drive
me to it, Yuy," I teased. "Just kiss me goodbye and get the
hell on with it. I promise to be a good boy while you're gone. I won't
even throw any parties."
He grunted, trying to look annoyed while he swept his fingers through
his hair in a vain attempt to smooth it, and then broke down and gave
me that kiss.
"You going to call me when you get in?" I asked, by way of subject
"It'll be late," he informed me. "I'll call you in the
morning from the hotel."
"Fair enough," I grinned at him, not bothering to tell him I'd
probably be up when they got in anyway, if last night was any indication.
"You two be damn careful, whatever the hell your getting yourselves
into," I told him, not having to fake the fierceness of it.
"Yes sir," he murmured, looking pleased. He kissed me one more
time and then he was gone. I just stood in the doorway for a long while
and stared at the place where he'd disappeared into the stairwell.
It was a very strange mixture of It's about damn time! And Oh my God,
he's gone! That was romping through my head at that point.
I slipped hurriedly back into the apartment, closing the door, when I
heard Mrs. Pettigrew next door rattling her door knob, getting ready to
take her dog out for his evening walk. She's a nice old lady, widowed,
but she liked to talk and I just wasn't in the mood to stand in the hall
for the next hour listening to tales of her late husband and their youth
traveling with the circus. She's a neat lady, fascinating as hell, and
I ordinarily loved listening to her tell her stories in that faint, southern
accent of hers, but not tonight. I just didn't feel up to it tonight.
I locked the door for the night and turned to face the empty apartment.
The place suddenly seemed... huge. Vast and... empty. And entirely too
damn quiet. I thought of my music files with longing. I had them all backed
up to my computer, but playing music on a laptop, through those tinny
little speakers, is something of a waste. I went to Heero's stereo and
hunted through his CDs until I found some classical stuff I thought I
could live with. No poignant lyrics tonight, thank you very much. I turned
it up as much as I dared and then proceeded to try and get through the
evening on pure ritual.
Heero had made sure we ate dinner before he had to get ready to go. I
swear to God the man thinks I will completely forget to eat if he isn't
around to tell me it's mealtime. The dishes needed to be done though,
and I went and busied myself with that. Washing, then drying rather than
letting them sit in the drainer, just to kill a little more time. I left
the kitchen when I found myself contemplating cleaning the oven. I snagged
a bottle of soda on my way by the fridge, my pathetic little attempt at
convincing myself I could enjoy my time alone. Heero isn't particularly
happy about my soda addiction, and really gives me a hard time about drinking
it too late in the evening. He thinks the caffeine will keep me awake.
I almost laughed at that thought; didn't think that was going to be the
I showered. I laid out my clothes for in the morning. Set the alarm. Put
my car keys in the pocket of the pants I planned on wearing to work so
that there was no way in hell I could forget them. I found myself gravitating
to the living room where the stereo was, and reflected that when Heero
and I finally did get around to moving, that I wanted to wire our house
so that there were speakers in several rooms.
I finally settled on the couch with the afghan and my laptop, intent on
finding something to do to keep my mind off the fact that going over to
Quatre and Trowa's was actually starting to sound like a good idea.
I checked my e-mail and only found, besides the usual spam, a note from
Octavia letting me know that she was shipping me a disk of Davey's first
recital. The music school recorded all the student's performances and
she'd managed to wrangle an extra copy. It would take forever for the
package to get to me from the colonies, but I had to grin in anticipation
anyway. Until I started thinking about the kids too much and then I had
to find something else to do. I glanced at the clock; great... Heero had
been gone a grand total of three hours and twenty minutes and I was already
fraying at the edges.
I decided I might as well brave the lion in his den and just go the hell
to bed. That was the thing that was weighing on my mind anyway, might
as well just get it over with. I could putter around all night avoiding
it, but me and all my hamsters knew damn well what I was afraid of. So
I shut everything down and went to my room, carefully following my bedtime
ritual to the letter, finally shutting off the light and crawling into
bed to sleep.
Stop laughing, I hadn't really expected more than I got. But a guy can
hope, can't he? Yeah... I lay there for God only knows how long and stared
at the ceiling. Then rolled over and stared at the wall. Then rolled over
again, buried my head in my pillow and stared at nothing. Then it was
back to the ceiling. I won't even try to tell you what all was running
through my head; we'd be here for hours. The kids. Heero. The bus accident.
Clint Jones. Jock. Alcohol. The asteroid belt. The war. The church. God...
it was like a hamster induced game of word association. So yeah, I lasted
about two hours before I was clawing my way out of the tangled blankets
with a frustrated growl.
I needed... I needed something familiar. I needed my night music.
So midnight found me with the stereo system pulled out from the wall,
running wires from my laptop to the stereo speakers. How damn pathetic
"Pretty damn pathetic, rat-boy," came the familiar voice of
my dead best friend.
"Oh shut up, Solo," I told my own sub-conscious.
"Make me," he snickered and blew a raspberry.
"You know," I muttered as I stretched out on the floor to run
wires underneath the stereo cabinet. "If you weren't dead, you could
freakin' help me."
"Don' know nothin' about all this highfalutin crap," he informed
me, leaning over to watch me work.
I ignored the comment, settling my laptop on the floor next to the nearest
power outlet. "You know... if you were any kind of brother at all,
you'd talk to this Camden guy... kind of ghost to ghost?"
"No way'n hell," he snapped, folding his legs to sit lotus position
in mid-air. "He scares the crap outta me!"
I turned to glare at him, but he only did that Cheshire cat thing and
was gone. "Thanks for nothing!" I growled and made my final
So... one o'clock in the morning and I crawled back into bed with the
sound of my well loved hammered dulcimers playing in the background. I
left the bedroom light on. I thought I heard Solo snicker at me.
I'm sure it was another hour, but I refused to let myself toss and turn.
I forced my body to lie still and I worked course calculations in my head,
not allowing my thoughts to stray one iota. It seemed like I lay there
for days, but I finally managed to get the hell to sleep.
You really want to hear about another one of those damn nightmares? Aren't
you getting tired of them? I am. Come on... you know the drill. Cold.
Dark. Still as only space can be. That sickening smell that was new, but
becoming an integral part of my nights. The half-gone face. The staring
brown eye. That name, over and over, 'Anna', until I was starting to hate
a woman I had never met. The wrestling match over my air supply. Losing
I actually shouted for Heero out loud, as I bolted upright in my cold,
lonely bed. I slapped my own hands over my mouth to stop whatever might
have followed that outburst. Shit.
I just sat in the middle of the bed and shook for a little bit. Well,
When I thought I could move without falling on my face, I staggered out
of bed, dug through my dresser until I found a pair of sweats and pulled
them on, I was freezing to death. Then I walked through the apartment
and turned on every light in the place. Every last one. I returned to
the bedroom and pulled the comfort of my star-spattered blanket from the
bed, grabbed Fuzzy-butt from his place on top of my dresser and went out
to the living room, settling in my corner of the couch. I wrapped my shivering
little self in my blanket and the afghan, snaking a hand out of my nest
long enough to snag the remote control and turn on the television. Then
I clutched Fuzzy-butt to my chest, burrowed into the warmth of my cocoon,
listened to the discordant sounds of the stereo and TV fighting for supremacy
and tried very hard not to cry.
It was three in the morning, I had a long damn way to go, and would just
about have been ready to crawl into the lap of the next human body that
presented itself to me. Heero? Most definitely. Wufei? Oh yeah. Trowa?
No problem. Quatre? Yep, in a heartbeat. Sally? Pretty sure. Relena? Not
so sure, but probably. Mrs. Pettigrew? And that was the one that pointed
out to me just how screwed up I was. If Mrs. Pettigrew from down the hall
had knocked on my door to find out what the shout had been about, I would
probably have hauled her into the apartment by her thin little arm and
made her stay while I baked her cookies and made tea. Just so I didn't
have to be alone.
I halfway listened to the cheesy, canned laughter running in the background
of the cheesy, canned sitcom on TV and tried really hard to think about
nothing in particular. If Solo hadn't been so damn afraid of Captain Camden
and the crew of the Londonderry, he would have drifted by and pointed
out how damn feeble I was being.
"Fuck you," I muttered to him anyway, just because I knew what
he would have been thinking, and hugged my bear tighter.
That level of... panic cannot be maintained forever, and by dawn, I was
feeling droopy-eyed and lethargic, and I might actually have managed to
drop back off to sleep if the phone hadn't rung. I struggled out of my
knot of blankets and staggered over to the phone, knowing it was Heero,
desperate to hear his voice, but equally desperate to keep him from noticing
anything was wrong.
"Hello?" I grunted into the phone when I'd managed to get it
"Duo?" his voice came, warm and welcome and salving everything
"Good morning, love," I was able to say with a real smile coloring
my own voice.
"Everything all right?" he asked, ever alert for the slightest
damn thing. "You sound... groggy."
I chuckled softly. "I didn't have my atomic clock bed-mate this morning...
He laughed at me, a touch of relief in his tone. "Should I let you
"I'm not running that far behind," I told him. "You guys
make it in ok?"
"We're fine," he said, sounding a little tired himself. "Took
a little longer than we'd anticipated to get here, got tangled up in traffic.
Everything's still on schedule though."
"That's good," I murmured, just wanting him to keep talking.
"You have meetings today?" There was a moment's hesitation and
I understood that he couldn't talk about it. I sighed. "Fine... can
you at least tell me if you'll be calling me later?"
He chuckled lightly. "Actually, I was hoping to get you to call me.
We need you to do something for us."
"Sure thing," I teased him. "Where are the bodies you need
He laughed and I could almost hear him shaking his head. "Nothing
that interesting, I assure you. Wufei needs a file off his system at work,
would you mind stopping by his office this morning?"
"How boring," I complained with a theatrical sigh and then took
down the information he gave me. We exchanged a couple more little teasing
pleasantries and then I had to get ready for work or I was going to be
late as hell.
When I went into the bedroom to get dressed, the alarm was sitting there
buzzing merrily to itself and I switched it off. I thanked God I'd had
the foresight to do as much as I had the night before, and managed to
be ready to walk out the front door in under twenty minutes. I had a banana
and a bottle of soda for breakfast, eaten on the run. Caffeine and potassium...
that was balanced, wasn't it? It was weird. I had to keep reminding myself
not to walk down to the bus stop.
I got a look from Griff when I walked into the mechanic's bay that morning
that could have burned paint off a Buick.
"Maxwell!" he hollered at me before I even had a chance to clock
in and take my jacket off. "The next God damn time you get shot at
on your lunch hour, I want to know about it!"
I couldn't help laughing at him. "Sure thing, boss-man," I called
back. "Absolutely the next time it happens... you'll be the first
He didn't look amused. Was, in fact, striding across the open floor of
the garage like he was coming to deck me. I started to realize that he
really was pissed off at me when I noticed that none of the other guys
were watching. It had been my general experience that mechanics never
missed a chance for a little entertainment at another mechanic's expense.
It had been true with the Sweepers, and it had held true here so far as
well. This couldn't be good.
By the time he came abreast of me, I had managed to lose the grin.
"You think this is funny, asshole?" he snapped. "You think
it's funny that I got called upstairs yesterday and didn't have answers
about one of my own men for Commander Une?"
"What?" I sputtered. "What the hell does Une care what
I do on my lunch hour?"
He was starting to turn this sickly shade of red and I couldn't help but
wonder about the poor guy's blood pressure. "She saw one of her people
on the damn evening news and wanted information!"
"Jeez, Griff," I grumbled. "When I left yesterday I didn't
know I was going to be Channel Seven's top story!"
"That don't excuse you not telling me what happened!" he bellowed,
his proximity to me not lowering his voice any.
I was starting to get a little uncomfortable with this whole thing. I
didn't feel like I'd done anything to warrant getting ripped a new one
like this, but Griff just seemed like he was looking to knock somebody's
"Will you calm the hell down, man?" I growled and all of a sudden
he was reaching for the front of my shirt.
It was one of those slow motion things. In the space of half a heartbeat,
instincts as old as time kicked my brain in gear and identified his move
as hostile. Brain kicked reflexes in the butt who in turn notified the
proper body part and before the poor guy had even touched the front of
my shirt, I had his wrist in a bone-grinding hold. It was common sense
that stepped in at the last second, over-riding all the others, and kept
me from breaking his arm. I'm sure my _expression did an interesting little
dance. From annoyed, to dead blank calm, to shocked. We finished out the
second half of that heart-beat staring at one another and you could have
heard a pin drop anywhere in the bay.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's