Author: Sunhawk
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Connections (cont)

You don't appreciate the little things until you have to work around not having them.

Though pulling into McMurphy's lot, I will freely admit that I was somewhat relieved to find it not all that crowded. I'd done a lot of thinking on that trip to L2, when I'd been coherent enough for it. I'd thought about my past, about old friends, and about how I was letting a lot of things I used to cherish slip away. So while coming to McMurphy's place was something of a conscious effort... I can't say I was wildly excited about the prospect of running into a dozen people I knew who would want to 'catch up'. Baby-steps, Dr. Webster used to tell me. Just walking into the place felt like about a dozen of them.

I parked and got out of my car, walking across the lot with that 'girding of the loins' feeling. Ever wonder about that phrase? Just where in the hell does it come from? It always generates the oddest damn mental images for me... but I digress.

Walking through the door of McMurphy's always used to give me a faint feeling of being 'home', somehow. I guess it had just been a constant in the inconstant world of a pilot, but there had always been a strange sense of... sanctuary when coming back after a long trip. Maybe it was just the people; that flash of recognition, the smiles and the waves. People who shared a way of life with you, even if you didn't always know them by name.

It was odd to walk into that same place and feel... uncomfortable. Even though I got the smile and the wave from McMurphy himself.

I gave the room a quick scan as I headed for the bar, and was a little relieved I didn't see anybody I knew all that well. Though I could tell a couple of people recognized me. Whether from the old days, or the evening news? I didn't have a clue.

'Hey, McMurphy,' I grinned as I plopped myself on a stool.

He stuck his fist out, grinning back at me, and we tapped knuckles in greeting. 'Been awhile, Maxwell,' he chided from behind the grin and I ducked my head.

'Been kinda busy,' I muttered and he laughed out loud.

'So I heard,' he said, and made me sigh. Should have known that my L2 exploits were all over the grape vine. It always rather amazed me how news traveled through the trade when you consider how much time people spend out of contact. Or maybe that's what makes them so damn gossipy when they do get together.

'Yeah,' I grumbled. 'My luck has been...'

'Legendarily bad?' he supplied, giving me his Papa bear grin to take the sting out of it as he set a bottle of soda in front of me. I looked from it to him and back again; I hadn't ordered anything. And if I had anything that would have been considered a 'usual' here at McMurphy's... it was beer. He didn't lose that big grin when he met and held my gaze, but there was something there... some understanding. Though I wasn't sure if he understood... or wanted me to.

I didn't comment on it, just accepted the bottle and took a swallow. 'Apparently so,' I responded to his barb and the moment was gone.

He lifted his own bottle of water and gently tapped it against my soda. 'Well, here's to seeing the end of it.'

'Oh, I'll second that!' I readily agreed and we drank on it. It was weirdly comforting to have Papa McMurphy wishing an end to my curse.

'So you gonna tell me about it?' he prodded, leaning against his side of the bar and giving me his undivided attention.

I snorted and shook my head. 'You mean the story isn't all over the place already?'

He chuckled and took another swallow of his water. 'Well... there's gossip and then there's stories... I'd rather hear it from you.'

I raised my leg up, propping it on the next stool over. The stretch in my hamstrings felt kind of good, so I lifted my other leg up to join it. 'I dunno, McMurphy... I wasn't plannin' on being here all day.'

He grinned. 'Long story, is it?'

I let out a gust of a sigh that lost a bit of the teasing. 'Damn long,' I confirmed, and took a swallow of soda while I thought about it. I wasn't sure just how much I could tell anyway, seeing as how there was an investigation going on.

'The word is that Captain Gray and his co-pilot used to be... military,' McMurphy said, his own voice getting more serious. 'Is that what started it?'

I shook my head and took a moment to cross my legs at the ankle while I thought about it. 'No... I don't think so. Well, it wasn't personal at least. Though that stupid ass 'make do' attitude you find in ex-soldiers sometimes, might have been a factor.'

He gave me that cocked-head look that clearly said 'I'm listening' and I sighed.

'Between you and me, Mac,' I told him, and knew that he'd keep it to himself. 'The guy was letting his damn un-licensed kid sit watch unsupervised. That's what started it.'

He whistled softly and shook his head. 'There'd been talk about that guy...' he muttered and it was my turn to do the listening look. He rolled his eyes, 'Veteran pilots don't just suddenly start kissing the spars without there being something up.'

'So people knew?' I asked, caught between hopeful and aghast.

'People guessed,' McMurphy told me, and we both took a minute to take a swallow of our drinks.

I sighed quite despite myself; I suppose it had been a kind of stupid hope that I would just stumble across some bit of information that would help in the investigation.

'Trouble, kid?' he asked me gently and I could only hope the dejection wasn't as strong in my voice as I felt it was.

'The asshole is fighting the charges,' I growled and was almost surprised when my hand found its way up to rub at my eyes. I let it fall back into my lap and turned to meet McMurphy's eyes dead on. 'Keep this to yourself Papa bear... but the guy tried to space us to keep the whole damn thing quiet. He's fighting tooth and nail to turn this around and make us the bad guys.'

McMurphy's eyes narrowed and for a moment I got to see the look that had earned him that 'Papa bear' nickname. 'Surely...' he began, but I cut him off with a shake of my head.

'The whole crew was in on that damn deal with the Captain's son,' I sighed. 'They've all got exposed asses to cover, if you know what I mean.'

He nodded his understanding and absently began rubbing at his beloved oak bar top with the rag that was never far. 'Trade don't speak too highly of the man,' he informed me and I snorted.

'I don't think too highly of him either,' I agreed. 'But I'm kinda tired of the headache he gives me... so what's new around here?'

He chuckled, accepting the change of topic without argument, perhaps understanding that I'd already told him more than I should have. 'You just missed the Musketeers,' he told me, grinning at some memory. 'Smitty's been asking for you since before Christmas. He's so full of himself since that hot-shot singer bought some music off them or some such damn thing. You can't get him to shut up about it.'

I grinned, thankful for the easy course change in the conversation. It had been a long time since I'd talked to people who respected the 'I don't want to talk about that' signs. It was something of a relief. 'He sent me an e-mail about it some time back, but I don't remember much more than he was barely coherent.'

McMurphy laughed out right. 'Not coherent has to be the understatement of the year!' he chortled. 'It's even got him fired up to start that damn band back up again!'

I found it easy to laugh with him and it somehow wasn't so hard to sit with the man and talk about things that didn't really matter. I even ended up ordering lunch while I was there, suddenly finding my appetite not completely gone.

I won't say it wasn't bitter-sweet catching up on the news of people I used to keep in a lot better contact with, but there was some sweet mixed in with the bitter. It wasn't... all that bad.

He made me laugh telling me about Havers and Bernie trying to put a lid on Smitty and his dreams of super-stardom. Made me grin telling stories about Jessie, the evening hostess, finally finding a man she just might get serious about, if the guy survived meeting her three older brothers.

I ate my sirloin tips and salad, barely having to interject a comment now and again to keep him going. He occasionally had to stop to pour a drink or make change, but he always came back and finished whatever story he'd been telling right where he'd left off. It was kinda nice until I stopped to realize that in his own Papa bear way, he was treating me like the guys used to... like he was afraid I'd run off. I was only hearing the good stuff, the funny stories. Like he didn't want to tell me anything that would upset me.

I suppose my grin faltered a little, when I made the connection, and he hesitated in the tale of hiring a new cook.

'You know,' I ventured into his small pause. 'I think I just figured out where all my bad luck is coming from... I must be bearing the brunt of it for the entire trade, because it looks like nothing bad ever happens to anybody else in the solar system.'

His grin wasn't all that repentant, though he gave it the ol' college try, ducking his head and giving me a look that was probably a real killer when the guy was like... ten years old. I snorted in response and he chuckled. 'Come on, Duo... I'm just trying to make sure it's not another six months before you come out to see us again.'

My damn face flamed and it was my turn to duck my head. 'I'm sorry, Mac, it's just been... hard,' I told him, trying to make him see that it wasn't personal by a long damn shot.

All his mirth washed away and he was suddenly wiping the bar again, so he didn't have to look at me while I tucked 'miserable' back behind the mask. 'I know, kid,' he said gently, and there was a whole world of understanding in his expression. 'Guess I'm just tryin' to make it a little less... hard.'

Almost, I just let it go, but somehow with McMurphy I was able to say what I'd never been able to say to the guys. And wasn't that just a strange little notion? 'Making me feel like I'm being handled with kid-gloves doesn't exactly make it any easier, Papa bear,' I said, and since the remnants of my lunch was still in front of me, I picked up the fork and began drawing lines through the last of the salad dressing in the bottom of the bowl.

'Guess it wouldn't,' he said rather genially.

'You make a lousy Pollyanna,' I told him with my cheeky grin, just to put things back on track.

He snorted and took my dirty dishes away from me before I quite got done with the salad dressing space ship sketch. 'Well, nobody likes to hear the bad shit.'

'And nobody likes to feel like they're being shut out, either,' I responded since he'd left me with nothing to distract myself.

'Touché,' he grinned. 'Though it's kinda hard to shut a guy out when he's never around.'

It caught me by surprise and I laughed, understanding that the gloves had just come off. 'I'd hang around more if the food wasn't so damn bad.'

His grin went a notch toward wry. 'I didn't think you came in here for the food?'

'Well it sure as hell ain't your God-awful drinks!' I responded and barely evaded the corner of his rag as it snapped at me.

'Show some respect for your elders, punk!' he mock growled and caught the edge of the rag again, threatening me.

'I give!' I crowed, throwing my hands in the air. McMurphy is deadly with his bar rag, can take a fly off the lip of a beer bottle without leaving a trace of fly behind. My precariously perched ass didn't stand a chance. 'You serve the best damn drinks this side of the parking lot!'

'That's better, Maxwell,' he grinned and then frowned in thought. 'Wait a minute; I serve the only damn drinks this side of the parking lot!'

I snickered at the look on his face and he forgave me my teasing, just as he always did.

After that the stories seemed a little more... balanced. The story about the new cook had a darker underside involving the old cook drinking on the job. Turned out Jessie's older brothers were as touchy as they were over their baby sister because of a weirdo that had been stalking the poor girl after work at night. Nothing Earth-shattering, but obviously more of a slice of life, and not just the sugar-coated snap-shots I'd been getting.

I was rather surprised when I checked my watch, to find that I'd been in the place for over an hour and a half. The next time McMurphy wound a story down to its end, I grinned and asked for what I'd originally come for.

He laughed at me right out loud. 'Can't quite get rid of all those Spacer habits, can ya kid?'

'Who said I was trying to?' I quipped and he chuckled some more, but he also understood that I was ready to go, and went ahead and tallied up the lunch and the box of rations. I finished my bottle of soda while he went to fetch the case for me. I wasn't too surprised when he came out from behind his bar to open the door for me, but I was when he followed me on outside.

There was obviously something on his mind, so I just held my tongue while we walked across the parking lot together. He held the box while I unlocked the trunk and he made me wait until the rations were stowed and the trunk lid shut.

It was really kind of weird seeing McMurphy outside his bar.

'Uh, Duo,' he finally said, rubbing one of his big hands over his chin like he was checking to see if he needed a shave. 'There's something I think I ought to tell you?'

He was so hesitant that I was starting to wonder if I had a bar tab I'd forgotten about or something. Wondered if my fly was open maybe.

'I wasn't sure...' he began, but stumbled to a halt before giving it another try. 'You coming in here today?'

He was seriously creeping me out; I was pretty sure this was worse than me owing him money. 'Just spit it out, Mac... what's wrong?'

He looked at me like he was trying to see something in my eyes, and suddenly blurted, 'Duo... Jock's dead.'

The guy gets absolutely no points for his ability to deliver bad news. I was aware that I had fallen back to lean against my car only when I felt my butt getting cold. 'What?' I stammered, maybe hoping for a different answer. Maybe hoping he'd take it back.

He dropped his gaze to the pavement and sighed heavily. 'I'm sorry, Duo... he finally up and did it. His landlord found the body just yesterday.'

'Ah Jesus,' was the best I could manage, feeling vaguely ill and colder than even the winter air warranted.

McMurphy just looked sick and I had a pang of sympathy, remembering having to be the one to deliver the bad news. It sucks; there's just no good way to say that somebody who shouldn't be... is dead. 'Guess he really freaked himself out when he sobered up and realized just how close he'd come to shooting somebody,' McMurphy told me, his voice kind of distant.

Close to shooting me, I remembered thinking. 'He finally... he just... I mean, he...'

McMurphy snorted softly, understanding somehow. It was a noise that was almost a laugh but had not one iota of mirth in it. 'It wasn't even a gun,' he told me with the sound of irony in his words. 'He climbed in the damn bathtub, got drunk as a skunk... and slit his wrists.'

I made some noise that caused him to lay his hand on my shoulder.

'I'm sorry, kid,' he said. 'I wasn't sure I was even gonna tell you... but when you walked in today after so long, it seemed like some kind of sign or something.'

It was my turn to snort that mirthless little laugh. 'Yeah,' I sighed. 'My timing has always been... impeccable.'

'I'm real sorry,' he repeated, making me feel like I'd actually been related to Jock or something. Like this should be hitting me harder than other people who'd known him. 'You going to be all right?'

I shook off the shock of it and gave him a wan little smile. 'I'm fine, Mac. It's just... such a hell of a waste is all.'

He nodded, but dropped his hand away. 'Uh... the funeral is going to be Thursday.'

Another thing that took me by surprise. Funeral? Well, of course; even old alcoholic, ex-Spacer wash-outs had to have funerals when they died.

McMurphy didn't wait for me to say anything, just did that thing where he rubbed his hand over his chin again. 'Jock would appreciate it... if you could make it.'

I repressed the urge to rub my own hand over the back of my neck because the two of us would have looked pretty stupid indulging in nervous habits that damn similar at the same time, and resisted telling him that Jock was pretty much beyond appreciating much of anything. 'Can you e-mail me the details?' was what I managed, and it seemed to be the right thing to say because he took his leave and went back into his bar.

I got in my ugly car and took me and my ration bars home, because I really just didn't feel up to much of anything else after that.

I spent most of the drive back to the house trying not to resent Mac for telling me. Trying not to kick my own ass for suddenly having a yen to stock the pantry when I had. Trying not to be mad at Heero for not being home. Trying not to hate Captain Gray any more than I already did.

Guilt was a presence in the back seat, and I knew he was just waiting to take his shot.

Do not ask me how in the hell I had become associated with Jock Nottingham in the first place. There just seems to be something about me that makes me easy to talk to. Or something. Damned if I know. But somehow, from the earliest days of my association with McMurphy's bar, I had been one of the few people who could approach Jock while he was in the middle of one of his episodes, without pissing him off. There was just something about me the guy seemed to kind of like, and he trusted me when I came to talk him out of shooting holes in McMurphy's décor or McMurphy's customers.

Guilt beast got me from under the seat, somehow sneaking up on me from the back.

I could still hear Jock's voice asking me in a resigned kind of way, 'I screwed up this time, didn't I Duo?' Apparently not as bad as I had. We had.

I suppose I couldn't take the fall for this one alone, the whole damn trade had covered and band-aided. We'd all felt sorry for the old guy. Could all see ourselves where he'd ended up. All it took was a bad bit of luck, a dry spell or... an accident. There wasn't a one of us who couldn't look at Jock and say 'there but for the grace of Lady Luck go I?'

And we'd failed to stop the inevitable because not a one of us had been able to get tough with the guy. Though... how the hell do you force a person to do something like give up drinking? You really can't. A person has to want to help themselves before other people can help them. Maybe we really couldn't have done much more than we'd done. I don't know. I don't suppose anyone ever will.

But knowing that didn't do much to stop guilt from gnawing on my ass. Didn't do much for the mood I'd fallen into.

What a fucking damn waste.

I was surprised when I got home to find that I'd forgotten to turn the stereo off. I stood in the middle of the living room for a moment, holding my box of rations, and listened to Bedingfield tell me 'just one more second and I'll be all right' and decided I needed to be more selective in my music choices.

I set the box down on the couch long enough to go to the entertainment center and make some adjustments. I settled on my queue of 'Helio' music. It was a folder of straight up fluff stuff. Nothing that could possibly worsen my depression, because I sure as hell didn't need any help with that.

When I retrieved the box of rations, I decided the hell with it and just put them in the kitchen. I wasn't about to hide the damn things from Heero; if he didn't like them he could just lump them, I wasn't asking him to eat the damn things, after all.

I stood in front of the refrigerator looking at Allison's picture for a moment, listening to them build cities out of rock and roll, and reflecting that I needed to get my head back in line with the job at hand. I only had a week to come up with what my sponsor was looking for, after all. I somehow didn't see Aleyah Winner being all that understanding about me not getting the paintings done because I'd stopped to play ball with my pet beast.

I glanced down at the slavering thing at my feet that was guilt and mentally tossed him that ball. 'Go on,' I told him. 'I'll feel guilty about Jock later... I don't want to be feeling guilty about Allison in a couple of weeks. Jock's long past my helping him anyway.'

He rolled his blood-shot eyes and gave me a look that said, 'Oh please,' quite succinctly, I thought, and padded after me into the studio. He at least went to curl in the corner of the room, out of my way, but not out of sight.

The blank canvas was still there waiting for me, my Superman cape hanging from one corner. I thought I felt Solo's presence, and when I looked, he was perched on the arm of the old sofa. He gave me a silent nod of understanding before fading away like the Cheshire cat... leaving only the feel of his gaze behind.

'I lost another one,' I whispered to him anyway.

'Not one of yours,' his voice told me on a breath of air.

'I know,' I sighed, and picked up a dry brush to stroke over the canvas, as though it would give me ideas. 'But I can't help feeling...'

'Don't,' he said so firmly that I jumped, glancing around to make sure he wasn't really there with me.

I returned the tight nod he'd given me earlier and tried to put it out of my mind. Letting myself listen to the solid beat of the music, trying to let it fill my head with pictures. But somehow leaving my friends behind just because they didn't dance, only gave me visions of black spandex and slashed denim. Perhaps my choice of music hadn't been the best... Maybe there was no music that wouldn't give me thoughts I didn't want...

I let the brush in my hand ghost over the canvas until my eye began to see lines in its wake. But they were still just lines that didn't mean anything.

There was a place on the back of my neck, almost on the back of my shoulder really, that ached to feel Heero's lips brush across it.

I had a sudden flash of memory and realized that had I still been a pilot, I would have been adding Jock's portrait to that long line of dead in the corridor of my Lady Demon. He would have stood right behind that nameless girl that I'd let Jensen kill. Jock wouldn't have liked that overly much; standing for all eternity with a woman.

Though, she was truly gone now, erased with all the rest of them anyway, so I suppose it didn't really matter.

Guess there hadn't been much point in changing music; hadn't made much difference.

But the non-existent lines on the canvas were starting to look like something, so I added the paint to the mix, just to see what would come out. I somehow didn't think it was going to be good. Hopefully, it would at least be presentable.

Ever wonder about last moments like that? Like Jock's? Like that girl's? Hell... like Captain Camden of the good ship Londonderry, if you want to get technical. People shouldn't have to die alone. There should be someone there who at least gives a damn. I think that was the thing that had eaten at me the most, during all those days out there in the dark, at the edge of the universe -- knowing that despite the voices in my head, that I was going to die all alone.

Though, I suppose I'd lived my life up until then relatively alone, so maybe expecting to die any other way was a little... naive.

Made me almost angry with Jock. He'd died all alone -- about as alone as you could get -- but he hadn't had to. A three block walk to McMurphy's and he'd have found a score of people who would have helped. Would have talked with him. Sat with him. Done... what? Something. Someone would have done something.

It's not my fault I couldn't think just what, off the top of my head.

And now there was a funeral of sorts ahead of me, just to add interest to the week. As if I didn't have enough on my plate.

Somewhere in there, I realized what was forming on the canvas under my hands and my brush and my twisted psyche, and I kind of wanted to stop. But sometimes these things are like giving birth... try telling the kid in mid-push that you're rethinking this parenthood thing. The attending physician, at least, will get a laugh out of it.

At least it would be a spacer's funeral, and not one of those morose grounder things. We called it a funeral, out of some ancient habit, but it really wouldn't be. The actual funeral part of things would happen somewhere out between the planets when Jock's ashes were jettisoned out the lock of some courier ship. What Mac had been talking about would be more like a wake. Probably held right there at McMurphy's unless Jock had someplace else he would have preferred. I wondered, of a sudden, just where Jock would end up. Earth orbit? Near one of the colonies? Further out? Most spacers had a preference and it was usually in their will. I had never bothered to specify, because I'd always assumed that I would end up not leaving a corpse behind.

It came to me, all unbidden, that it would be rather appropriate if my ashes were scattered across the belt.

A noise came out of my mouth then that would have brought Heero running from anywhere in the house, had he been home. I decided to stop painting for the time being since my hands were shaking too damn hard to hold the brush anyway. I stepped away from the canvas, staring at its contents as I automatically cleaned my brush out, hands moving on autopilot.

Jensen had been a damn intimidating man, and if the memory of my first sight of him had ever stood a chance of fading from my memory, I'd just seen to it that it would never happen.

The painting was a long way from being done, but there was enough. More than enough really, especially as I found that it was dark out and I was alone with that dark. My pathetic shield of fluffy music suddenly just wasn't enough, and my feet took me into the kitchen where I picked up the phone, dialing Trowa's number without ever consciously knowing I was going to. I was under orders, after all. And if I had ever needed someone to just come and watch bad movies with me... it was then.

See? I'm learning to recognize when I've had enough a little bit before I fall flat on my face.

I listened to the phone ringing, and tried to compose what I was going to say when he answered. It was difficult; every line I came up with just sounded lame. If it hadn't been for the modern technology of caller id, I would have hung up on the second ring; I was just a little bit appalled with myself. And then the phone got picked up, but it was Quatre's voice on the other end and every prepared line I'd half been considering went right out the window.

'Hello?' he said, sounding a bit hesitant, as though he didn't usually answer Trowa's phone. 'Duo?'

'Uh?' I responded wittily. 'I... Hello, Quatre.'

I felt decidedly weird, like I was carrying on some kind of illicit affair with his lover, and had just gotten caught. I couldn't bring myself to ask for Trowa, but was left floundering trying to figure out what to say.

'Is everything all right?' he asked me with a slightly worried tone.

'Yeah!' I blurted. 'Just fine! I...'

'Duo, where are you?' he suddenly interrupted, and I realized his voice was a bit elevated. 'I can hardly hear you over that music.'

'Oh crap!' I told him. 'Hang on a minute.'

I laid the phone down and hurried into the living room to turn the music off. I felt kind of stupid, but it did give me a chance to take a deep breath and get head and mouth in concert, so that by the time I picked the phone up again, I had regained a little equilibrium.

'Sorry about that, Quat,' I told him with a chuckle. 'I had the music up so I could hear it in the back room. I really need to get around to wiring this place for sound.'

'Oh,' he said, and there was an odd quality to his voice. 'Were you... painting?'

'Yeah,' I responded, trying to sound? not frayed. 'That's why I called. I know your sister took the sketches to be framed, but do you think I should do something with the paintings?'

'Oh no,' he was quick to assure. 'Aleyah will take care of it. That's why she needs to have them by the end of this week, so she'll have time before the show. She usually makes sure that everything is matted and framed in the same style.'

'Oh,' I said, brightly, not having carried the topic any further forward in my head. I was lacking anything close to a next line. 'Ok then.'

There was a silence then that was kind of strained. With Trowa, I could have made some lame joke about bad movies and he would have gotten it. I wouldn't have had to just come out and tell him I was feeling lonely and wanted some company. I didn't know what to say to Quatre, short of asking for Trowa, and that just seemed... rude.

'So,' he ventured, after a moment. 'How's it coming? Do you think you'll have the paintings done in time?'

I snorted a mirthless little laugh. 'Oh, at the rate I'm going, I doubt I'll have any trouble at all!'

He hesitated again. 'That's good, isn't it? Why do you sound... unhappy about it?'

Almost, I asked for Trowa, but thankfully my repress hamster made an appearance, sliding valiantly across the kitchen counter to come to a stop in front of me with a huge 'Don't do it!' banner, and I bit down on the words. 'Oh, I guess I was just so nervous about getting done in time that I haven't been doing much of anything else,' I tried, hedging around the rest of the story.

'Oh,' he said helpfully, not doing much toward moving the conversation along.

There was another one of those uncomfortable silences and I suddenly felt this oppressive weight settling over me. The pressure of being alone in the house with? with that portrait of Jensen. It was too quiet. It was too... a lot of things.

'Want to go get some ice cream?' I blurted out and could have bit my own tongue off. On the counter, Francis covered his little face with his paws and just shook his head.

'What?' Quatre asked, and there was as much of hopefulness in his voice as confusion. It made me bull forward instead of retreating.

'I just... suddenly had this urge for some ice cream,' I heard myself saying. 'Want to meet me down at that little place near you guys?'

'Duo,' Quatre said, and the confusion was getting stronger in his tone. 'That's a bit out of the way for you, are you sure?'

'But they've got that caramel and chocolate thing that you can't get anywhere else,' I reasoned, struggling for a way out of what I'd gotten myself into even while I was trying to argue him into it. What in the hell was I thinking?

Oh yeah... that whole human contact thing.

'That... would be nice,' he finally replied, though I could still tell he wasn't entirely convinced that I hadn't lost my mind. But that was ok; I wasn't sure either.

'Great!' I chirped, and cringed at my own voice. 'Meet you there in say... twenty minutes?'

'All right,' he agreed and then we hung up.

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