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

Connections (cont)

I refrained from beating my head on the counter without Francis' help, because he had vanished off to wherever the hell thought hamsters go when they aren't trying to shove their little suggestions up my nose.

I'd say that hadn't exactly gone as planned, but really... I'd had nothing planned when I'd picked up the stupid phone in the first place.

So, damn near eight o'clock on a Sunday evening and I was heading back out to meet Quatre at an ice cream and dessert parlor I wasn't even sure was still open, because I didn't want to sit around my own house with the half-finished portrait of a man I'd killed almost a half a dozen years ago. The man who had given me my first kiss.

I suspect sometimes that I could be the life's work of some psychiatrist looking for uncharted territory in the area of 'issues'.

I got to the restaurant first, surprised to find it still open and unsure if I was pleased by that fact or not. I ordered a soda just so I'd have something to do until Quatre arrived, and settled at a small table within sight of the front door.

I was rather surprised, when I finally sat down and had two seconds to actually feel it, to find just how weary I was. Wouldn't have thought it, considering no more than I'd done all day. Painted a little, done some laundry and gone out to lunch. My, how... exhausting. I would have rolled my eyes at myself if it wouldn't have looked nuts. You should never mock yourself in public.

The tinkle of the little bell over the door made me look up and I blinked to find Trowa ambling toward my table, his hair still damp, and a gentle smile on his face. Guess he hadn't answered his phone because he'd been in the shower. I looked past him, but didn't see his partner.

A picture was trying to form in my head that wasn't particularly attractive.

'Where's Quatre?' I asked as he sat down across from me.

'Well, it's good to see you too, Duo,' he said, the smile growing a little rueful.

I felt my face starting to go hot and I looked down at the table. 'That's not the point, man, and you know it.'

His smile wavered and then abandoned him altogether. 'It's all right. He just stopped and realized that it was my phone you called, and that you needed...'

That utterly made me feel like shit and I felt my shoulders hunching as I cut him off. 'Damn it, Tro... I hurt his feelings, didn't I?'

I caught him a little bit by surprise and it made me feel even worse, that they hadn't expected me to get that part.

'Quatre understands,' he soothed, and sat forward to lean his elbows on the table. 'Duo, what's wrong? And don't give me the ice cream story, because I know you don't really even like it that much.'

God, this was so screwed up. I could imagine poor Quatre sitting back at their house, waiting for Trowa to come home and tell him what was going on. Worrying and stinging from the rejection that it was his lover and not him that I had called on when I needed to talk to somebody. I had that weird-ass feeling again, like I was doing something horribly wrong by being there with Trowa in the first damn place. Why hadn't I ever seen it before?

I don't think I could have turned any darker red.

'I'm sorry,' I mumbled, eyes fixed on where my hands rested on the table between us. 'I didn't mean to... I mean, Quatre caught me by surprise and I didn't know what to say and I...'

Trowa suddenly looked concerned, reaching out and resting a hand on my arm. 'Hey, little brother... what's the matter?'

I flinched at his touch, feeling like a complete idiot, and not at all sure how this had gotten so seriously twisted around. 'Nothing,' I blurted, pushing back from the table and gaining a little space. 'I shouldn't have called... this isn't right, and I'm sorry.'

'Duo?' he asked in confusion, as I stood up to leave.

'Go home to Quatre,' I told him. 'And tell him I'm sorry. Everything's fine... I don't know what came over me.'

He took a second to do the gape-mouthed thing and I mumbled another apology as I did everything but bolt for the exit. He finally called after me, but the door was already shutting behind me, the little bell ringing cheerfully.

Shit. How could I not have seen the kind of pressure I must have been putting on the two of them? Quatre wanted so badly for us to have the relationship we'd had during the war, but I just couldn't help it, there were a million light years between the Chief Executive Officer of Winner Enterprises and an auto mechanic. I didn't know how to talk to him anymore. He was so far above me in station that it wasn't even funny. Not that he talked down to me, but there were things that he just couldn't understand, things that Trowa did understand because he'd lived through the same sort of childhood.

Quatre had the most recognizable surname in the entire Earth sphere. Probably even more well-known than the Peacecraft family. Trowa and Heero and I didn't even fucking know what our real names might have been. Hell, I couldn't even guarantee I'd ever been given one.

What must it feel like that I could freely accept from Trowa, what I didn't know how to accept from him?

It made me feel ill.

I went home because I didn't know where else to go. Had I not been so terrified somewhere down inside of getting sucked down the alcoholic drain like... like Jock, I might have gone back to McMurphy's place. But I suspected with the mood I was in, soda would not have cut it, and I didn't think I could have stopped myself from drinking whatever ended up in front of me.

God, but I wanted Heero to come home.

I had at least remembered to turn the stereo off this time, before leaving the house, so that was the first thing I did. I decided I didn't need any more reminders of Helio and Jensen and that long ago mission, and I hunted through my files, finally settling on my folder of fiddle music. All instrumental; no words... couldn't get depressed from that, could I?

Any more depressed.

Perhaps it was the presence of guilt beast who came to sit with me on the couch that kept me from going upstairs after my bear. One furry thing to hug is as good as another, right?

I had the absurd notion that I wanted to cry, but I wasn't sure if it was for Jock, for that nameless prostitute, for my memories of Jensen, for Allison, or just plain missing Heero. Or maybe Quatre and Trowa, and the feeling that I'd just lost something... precious. And why did that thought fill me with a strange sense of sorrow wrapped around a core of déja! vu?

Or maybe it was just all of it. Too much at once. The dread of what I'd set in motion with Aleyah Winner. The pain of picking the scabs off old wounds and trying to turn the fresh blood into art. The guilt of failing to be there at the right time for Jock. The fear that I had been causing tension between two of my best friends.

I wanted Heero to call... and I was afraid Heero would call. I wanted to hear his voice so damn bad... but I didn't think I could maintain any kind of composure, and he certainly didn't need to be dealing with me in the middle of the mess he was in.

So I just curled up in the corner of our couch, with the afghan and my guilt beast, listening to my fiddles and staring at the wall, waiting for sleep to come and take it all away.

I should not have been as surprised as I was when the knock came on the front door. I really shouldn't have been.

I just sat for a long moment and stared at it in open confusion, just enough off-kilter that I couldn't for the life of me imagine who in the hell was on my front porch. It skittered through my head that it was awfully late for kids to be out selling Girl Scout cookies, and then the door swung open on its own and I was left thinking about how pissed off Heero would have been at me for forgetting to lock it.

'You know what we forgot?' Trowa drawled almost lazily as he and his partner came into my house. 'Drinks. You can't have popcorn without drinks.'

'Well, you know darn well that Duo, of all people, will have soda,' Quatre replied, though he didn't carry the nonchalance off as well as Trowa did.

'Good point, my heart,' Trowa grinned at him. 'Why don't you go get us some while I get the movie started?'

I'm afraid I just kind of blinked at them, like I was watching them on television or something. Listening to them move around my house, just as though we did this all the time, was very surreal.

Trowa finally addressed me as he walked by to turn off the wail and trill of my fiddles. 'I do hope you meant 'bad movie' when you said bad movie, because we tried to find the cheesiest thing on the shelves.'

I watched him load the disk and turn on the television, picking the remote up before moving to the couch that faced the TV. 'Ok,' I said, almost inanely.

Quatre came back into the room carrying three bottles of my soda and went to sit on the same couch with Trowa. only on the other end. 'Come sit with us, Duo, you can't see very well from over there.'

They made me feel like some kind of damn invalid or something, so I tried to get up and move without making it into a big deal, taking the spot they'd left me without protest. Only later did I wonder how much I looked like I was clutching a security blanket as I dragged the afghan with me.

Once I was settled between them, Trowa took the lid off what proved to be a large bowl of popcorn and plopped it in my lap. This, of course, necessitated the both of them shifting close enough to reach it. Then Trowa hit play and started the movie. It truly was awful, some sort of horror flick that wasn't very horrifying and quite predictable besides, that had the two of them snickering and poking fun fairly quickly.

It was... uncomfortable at first, but they made it not so bad with their easy laughter and after a little bit I nibbled at some popcorn. Then a little after that, I managed a joke of my own about the zipper in the monster suit, that made Quatre snicker.

They bracketed me close so that I could feel their body heat, making me aware of just how cold I'd been.

They spoke around me so that it was as obvious as my own neurosis that there was nothing wrong with their relationship. They were as solid as ever, and nothing I might do could touch that.

And when I began to quietly weep somewhere after the monster abducted the girl, they let me, without comment, allowing me to pretend they didn't notice. Making it not quite the horrible thing it might have been. And if the next time Trowa leaned over for a handful of popcorn, he didn't quite straighten up, so that his shoulder was resting against mine, we didn't speak of that either. Any more than it was mentioned when Quatre's leg happened to end up propped against my thigh.

I couldn't have told you if they were tears of mourning, or tears of relief; sorrow or gratitude, but I was hard-pressed to get them stopped before the hysterically tragic end of the movie.

'Well, it was cheesy all right,' I managed as the credits rolled, and the gravely sound of my voice made Trowa hand me my untouched bottle of soda. I took a swallow, and then took another, while I tried to think of things to say.

'Only the best cheesy movies for my big brother,' Quatre dared, and I could feel the ache in his voice for me. Could feel him trying hard to follow Trowa's gentler lead and not just gather me into his arms the way he wanted to. I let my head fall over to rest on his shoulder, an odd reward of sorts, and could fairly feel the tension thrumming through his body.

'T-thanks, guys,' I told them around the lump in my throat.

'Not a problem,' Trowa told me. 'Though next time it would be easier if you just came to us; we have a better television set.'

It was a mild reprimand and we all knew it. I felt Quatre go very still as we headed into that area that he's never quite gotten about Trowa's relationship with me. Quatre can't catch that balance between bluntly direct, and the space I seem to have to have.

'Flaunting your entertainment system, are we?' I tried, though it fell a little flat.

'If you've got it, flaunt it,' Trowa murmured, letting me turn it aside, knowing that his message had been delivered.

I snorted softly, feeling like the face I had put on for them was a fragile thing and not quite stable yet. I took a breath, soaking in their presence and just tried to let the memories fade away. 'Wouldn't have thought you were the flaunting type,' I said, a little happier with the sound of my voice.

'Are you kidding?' Quatre interjected, though he didn't sound too sure of himself, too sure of his welcome. 'I thought you saw his circus act once?'

It was a marvelous effort, on his part, to enter into the arena of our strange dancing around topics, and I rewarded him with a bark of surprised laughter. 'I guess you have a point there, Quat.'

Trowa gave him a raised eyebrow look that was meant to seem put upon, but even I could read the quiet approval in it. I took another swallow of my soda while I concentrated on not blushing. But then Trowa turned that look my way and I could kind of tell he wasn't going to let me off scot-free after my little restaurant scene. I think I sighed. 'Quatre tells me you were painting this afternoon... got anything you can share yet?'

I'd forgotten I'd mentioned that. I guess I should have realized they would be fishing for clues to the reason behind my mood, and what better indicator than the shit I spewed out on paper and canvas? I was sure I sighed that second time.

'In the studio,' I told them with a certain amount of resignation in it.

'Do you...' Quatre asked, ever the solicitous one, 'mind if we look?'

I snorted and rubbed a hand over my face. 'Might as well, since I'm contemplating showing the damn things to the world. If I can't show them to you... I'm not going to be able to give them to your sister.'

That made them share a look that I pretended not to see. I meant to stay on the couch with my afghan, my soda and my beast, but found I couldn't. When they went off to the back room, I trailed along behind them, though I just ended up leaning in the doorway, not taking the step down into the studio.

Jensen captured Quatre's attention immediately, and though Trowa stopped to look at him, he was the one who noticed Allison's portrait leaning against the counter and went to pick it up. I realized with a bit of a start, that Trowa understood just what he was looking at. I was surprised and pleased and embarrassed to see the picture... move him. Was surprised to see his eyes go soft and sad, as he forgot for a moment that he'd come into my room looking for something other than what he'd found.

I was so absorbed with watching Trowa, that it caught me even more by surprise to suddenly find Quatre wrapped around me and realized that he somehow knew just who in the hell's portrait he'd been studying. 'If I could go back and change just one thing during the war,' he whispered to me fiercely. 'It would be that damn mission.'

It swept me back a hundred years, to those days when he and I had been each other's support system, when we had hugged and touched each other because no one else would. I wrapped him close and something took control of my tongue, making me ask him, just as though he might have an answer, 'Why can't I get that son of a bitch out of my head, Quat? After all these years... why won't he leave me alone?'

In the back of my head, a deep voice purred, 'Will you let me taste you?' and I shuddered almost violently.

'Because,' he told me gently, even as he was hugging me almost fiercely. 'However briefly, he held power over you.'

It rather took my breath away, making me remember things best forgot.

I let Quatre hold me until Trowa came and made me ease off, because I was clutching his lover tight enough to bruise.

'Sorry,' I muttered, suddenly feeling trapped with the two of them so far inside my personal space, and I retreated to the living room with them following after me. I went to fetch my bottle of half-finished soda and took a swallow, standing with the coffee table between us. It was enough to tell Trowa I needed some space, and I saw him touch Quatre's arm in a manner that spoke to me of pre-arranged signals again. It gave me that wild animal feeling, which I hate, but I suppose it was warranted. It was in Quatre's eyes to come and offer himself on the alter of my need for touch again, but I was afraid of where that would lead, and I let the unspoken offer go.

'If you... would like,' Trowa said, picking his words carefully, because he had an understanding of how much I hated to use that word, 'need'. That word was only ok with Heero... and then only sometimes. 'We could avail ourselves of your spare room?'

It was so cautiously offered, that it made me feel doubly bad, both nuts and stupid. Lovely combination. I huffed a sigh and rubbed a hand over the back of my neck so that I didn't have to look right at him. 'I'm all right, guys,' I told them, trying for some of Trowa's bluntness. 'I'm really sorry that I bothered you... it was stupid of me to let that damn painting get to me. I was just feeling a little... weird.'

'You're never a bother, Duo,' Quatre had to tell me, though I saw him glance at Trowa after he'd spoken, as if unsure if he should have. But Trowa backed him up with a reassurance that was as much for Quatre as for me.

'Of course you aren't.'

And before I could even think about what kind of reply to make to them, Quatre bulled forward, not looking at Trowa as he spoke. I had a feeling like he was deviating from the guidelines he'd been handed. 'And it was not stupid of you to get upset; what happened that night was... awful.'

I ducked my head even further, feeling my shoulders wanting to hunch and waited for Trowa to shut his partner up, but it didn't happen. 'It was no big deal, Quat. It was just part of the mission...'

'Bull,' he growled, and came on around the table to get at me. Quatre's always been a 'hands-on' kind of talker. 'Duo... why do you always belittle what happened?'

I watched in a certain strange fascination as he took my bottle from my hands and set it aside. I looked over his shoulder for Trowa, but my normal protector was strangely staying out of it. 'It was a simple undercover mission... I just did what I had to... no big deal...'

He gave me a look that made me feel kind of stupid. Like he'd just asked me to plot a course to L1 and my calculations had brought us out somewhere around Venus. 'It was a big deal. I saw you that night... I heard you in there throwing up. Don't lie to me.'

He sounded vaguely... pissed, and I found myself blushing. 'Nothing happened...' I tried, but couldn't continue in the face of the look I got.

He took hold of my upper arms and refused to let me look away. 'It doesn't matter how far it went or not? what matters is how it made you feel.'

Violated? Filthy? Heart-sick? Nauseous? Degraded? All of the above?

I tried on a rueful little grin. 'Well, I like to think it matters just a little bit that it didn't go as far as he'd intended.'

The line only got me frowned at. 'Duo, you have to understand that while you might have physically put yourself in danger... you were the one in control from the start. He might have held the power for a while, but you were the one who came out on top. You bested him. He's dead... and you're not.'

And I suppose that's all that things come down to in the end.

Jensen was dead... and I was not.

That prostitute was dead... and I was not.

James Camden was dead... and I was not.

Captain Gray's second was dead... and I was not.

Jock was dead... and I was not.

'I guess it can't all be just luck, can it?' I heard myself say and was surprised when Quatre actually laughed at me. Or maybe it was for me.

'No,' he agreed. 'I think there's something more than luck at work here.'

Somewhere in the vicinity of Trowa's direction, there was a soft little sound. Something between a cough and a throat clearing, and Quatre let go of me with a mildly frustrated sigh. Trowa has always been the hit and run type; get in, deliver the message, and get the hell out. It helped redeem him; I'd been a little peeved that he'd let Quatre go as far as he had without intervening.

Which gave me an odd twinge that I just didn't feel like pursuing right then.

But Quatre couldn't quite let it go entirely, no matter his obvious intentions to follow Trowa's lead. I suppose I can't blame him too much, I was the one who'd sat with them and bawled like a baby over a guy in a rubber monster suit, after all. 'Duo,' he asked, voice soft as though he were afraid of getting in trouble. 'Come home with us?'

I snorted and reached out to tousle his hair. 'I'm fine... really I am,' I told him, and maybe it was my ability to touch without clutching, that let him back down with nothing more than a sigh and a nod.

When he looked Trowa's way next, it was with more of a pleading look, than one seeking guidance. Maybe he thought Trowa would have better luck getting me to go get fawned on all night.

But Trowa seemed to understand that I'd gotten whatever in the hell it was I'd needed from them when I'd called, and that it was time for the graceful exit. He's very good at exits; has quite the flair for them. He gathered up his movie, his half empty popcorn bowl, and his frustrated partner and got them moving toward my front door.

At the last moment, he stopped and gave me a hard look, making me feel evaluated and weighed against some imaginary chart. 'Duo,' he said sternly, commanding my attention. I cringed, waiting for whatever was coming, and was surprised when he simply said, 'Remember to lock up this time.'

We shared a grin and then they were gone. I was rather pleased with myself that I was able to wait until they'd actually pulled away before I went back and turned on the stereo. I went ahead and queued up my night music, deciding that I might as well get my butt to bed since the next morning was a work day. Wouldn't do to get fired from my day job over attendance issues, before I even knew if the night job was going to pay off or not.

Since it was a work night, I crawled into the guest bed where I had the alarm set up, feeling vaguely bad that Heero hadn't been able to call. Not that he'd been calling every night by a long shot, but I missed it whenever he couldn't.

What? Why the guest bed, you ask? Because our bed smelled like Heero, and sleeping there only made me... want things. Things I couldn't have, or do anything about until he came home. I was tired of cold showers and morning jogs. Besides, I didn't think it was good for my karma to wake up every morning from a restless sleep, cursing Captain Gray to the appropriate circle of Hell. I think it was ok to curse him for attempted murder, or even stupidity, but I'm not sure it was appropriate to curse him just because I was horny.

Not that sleeping elsewhere solved everything, it just removed one bit of stimuli from the equation. And no, we're not going to talk about my inability to change the damn sheets.

Though, if I were honest with myself, I had enough on my mind that night that I doubt it would have been a problem. But I'd already effectively moved into the guest room, and everything was set up there. My star-field blanket was waiting for me, as was my retired co-pilot, and I did my best as I lay down with them, to keep my mind on the monster movie we'd watched and not on Quatre's words. Not on the new paintings. Not on McMurphy's news. Not on my fast approaching dead-line. Not on the possibility of an upcoming trial.

Sleep was a long time claiming me, and the dreams were many and varied. Ranging from the predictable rehashing of memories, to a strange one of Heero being thrown over the shoulder of a slightly more frightening than the Hollywood version monster, and carried off into some dark swamp.

When the alarm went off in the morning, I was rather less than happy with it, but somewhat ready to stop wrestling with the sheets.

I rose and trudged through the first bit of morning ritual on auto-pilot, washing up, doing my hair, and dressing before wandering downstairs to poke at the contents of our fridge. I was pleasantly reminded of the previous day's acquisition, when I saw the box on the counter, and was happy to open it. Rations just took all the damn work out of eating -- there was no choice to be made, no preparation to worry with, just open the package and eat. It made life so simple, and saved time besides.

It saved so much time, in fact, that I found my feet carrying me down the hall to my studio, where I stood in front of Jensen's portrait, chewing and staring.

I would still need to finish the background of city street, night sky and blowing snow... but the portrait of the man was pretty much complete. I wondered idly how Quatre had known almost instantly who he was; I had not thought that either he or Heero had gotten much of a look at any of the three soldiers before we'd all gone to ground and started trading bullets.

It was an intimidating picture of an intimidating man, striding down the street with his drover's coat swirling about him in the wind, his eyes locked unerringly on the viewer. I made myself not shiver, and did my best to stare him down until it just felt... nuts, and I stopped.

I could hear Quatre's reassurances again, echoing through my head and it made me grin, suddenly remembering a line from an old movie. 'You have no power over me,' I told the canvas and then snickered self-consciously.

'S'true, rat-boy,' Solo would have told me. 'I thought ya was a goner, but ya came out on top.'

'I suppose that's so,' I told the air, and leaned in a little to study the face in front of me. 'Maybe I didn't save that girl's life, you son of a bitch... but I stopped you.'

'Damn straight,' Solo agreed, and I took another bite of breakfast.

I had to wonder, not for the first time, just how damn many people that slime-ball had killed. I knew from the transmitter we'd planted on him not long before his untimely demise, that he'd taken a good half a dozen into that warehouse with the intent to rape and murder. Me included. I was pretty sure I was the only one to get away.

And that had only been while he'd been stationed in that place, on that assignment. It was kind of depressing that no one would ever know.

But Quatre had been right. 'You are dead, and despite your best efforts... you didn't get me.'

I decided it was time to leave for work before he started answering me. He was as much a 'ghost' as any of the rest of my voices, after all. Sure as hell didn't need to get that started.

As I stopped by the front door to fish my keys out of the dish sitting there on the little table, I caught sight of the scars I'd gained that night, and a stray thought filtered through from God only knows where...

Maybe I'd paid the price for not saving that girl...

It was an odd idea that kept me company on the drive to work.

Work. Isn't it amazing how, even when you feel like you're in the middle of some kind of damn crisis, that work and all of life's normal things have to keep right on going? You still have to go to the grocery and pay the bills. Still have to do laundry and dishes. Still have to bring in the mail and take out the trash. Even when your head is so full of hamsters with signs telling you about all the things you aren't getting done, that you don't know where to start.

What? Everybody doesn't have hamsters in their head?

Things at the garage had settled some since the holidays, the routine reestablished, or something. And as screwed up as the rest of my life was at that point, I was rather glad of that much at least. That that part of my day held a certain amount of normalcy.

You know, I really do not understand how it happened that the crew of guys I work with have become so... protective of me. I really don't. But somehow, when I wasn't paying any attention, I turned into some kind of damn garage mascot or something.

Oh, I suppose that isn't fair, though that's how it feels sometimes.

It's just very damn weird considering how much my being an ex-Gundam pilot had thrown people off at first. I suspect that Griff had taken some flack for hiring me in the first place, and I've often wondered if he'd been pressured to do it or not. He's never said and I haven't wanted to ask, because we all know where that pressure would have come from. But other than my health issues, and that one little disappearing act, I don't think I've given the guy any reason to regret hiring me. I'm more than qualified. I guess that's what got the guys past dealing with my history.

I have yet to figure out what got them past dealing with the fact that I sleep with a guy. It was not something I had ever meant to become public knowledge, but there were apparently rumors even before I'd done that swan dive in the middle of the garage and woken up to find myself in Heero's lap. I suppose if there'd been any doubts left about the state of our relationship... that had pretty much put them to rest. It had rather surprised me that nobody seemed to mind. It's another thing I don't question.

I was half way through changing out a starter on a transport vehicle when I suddenly remembered that damn appointment with the photographer. I guess all that crap about Jock, and then the guys with the movie, had run it completely out of my mind. For a brief moment I was moved to hurl the screwdriver in my hand across the room, but thought better of it; it makes people stare.

Great. Just what I wanted to be doing on my lunch hour. Or any other hour, for that matter. I had to close my eyes and concentrate to dredge up the address that had been on the card. Not all that far from the Preventor's building; doable on a lunch hour, but I had to wonder what Aleyah was going to say when I showed up in my Preventor grays, because I hadn't thought to bring any other clothes. Maybe she'd just say the hell with it and not bother with the picture at all? I can't say that would break my heart, because I wasn't altogether comfortable with it in the first place. I had not anticipated being so high profile in this whole thing. An art show should be about the art, right? What the hell did I have to do with it?

Oh shut up.

I guess I grimaced or otherwise looked 'not happy', because Giles felt compelled to ask, 'Hey Maxwell; swallow some grease, or what?'

I looked up and found him standing beside the truck I was working on, grinning at me, though there was open curiosity on his face.

It made me try harder to school my own expression, and I grinned back. 'Nah, I just remembered something I have to do at lunch.'

He gave it a heartbeat to see if I would elaborate, but when I didn't, he let it go. 'You hear from Yuy and Chang?'

It took me a second to change gears and he got the heavy sigh he probably wouldn't have heard if he hadn't taken me by surprise. 'Yeah; I've talked to them a couple of times. Not that they can frickin' tell me anything.'

He gave me a sympathetic little nod and leaned on the fender, watching me work. 'Rumor has it that it might go to trial,' he ventured.

That much wasn't any huge secret, so I nodded. 'If that asshole Gray has his way.' But I couldn't resist adding, 'Though Heero's fighting it tooth and nail.'

Giles gave me a grin that was just a bit predatory and I grinned back. He was quiet for a second before he asked, 'You doin' ok, man?'

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