Author: Sunhawk

Directions (cont.)

I still had hold of Relena's hand and knew I was squeezing just a little too tight, but she didn't protest. I wasn't sure if she got that I was trying to tell her something and was just waiting to see what that something was... or if she just thought I couldn't tell how tight I was holding on with my scars.

Ok... Plan E then.

Before Simcoe could have a chance to maybe 'confiscate' the radio I really wasn't supposed to have, I reached up and hit the switch. 'Hey Sancho... me and the Princess are going to work on her commission while you finish up. Then we can go for that pizza you promised me, ok?'

Yeah... I know; but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.

There was a delay that seemed to drag into minutes before Heero came back with a very quiet little, 'Roger that,' and I swear my knees felt weak; he got it. Got something, anyway, and I knew Heero well enough to know he'd come and find out just what that 'something' was. I gave Relena's hand a reassuring little squeeze before I realized that she didn't know she needed to be reassured. I sure as hell hoped we had a ways to go before we got to her room.

I started looking around like a tourist in the big city for the first time, exclaiming over the furnishings and using the gawking as an excuse to drag my feet, pausing now and again to look at things. 'Wow, this place is huge!' I gushed. 'I'll bet this hallway is as wide as my whole back room!'

Relena rose to the conversational challenge, though maybe she didn't really know there was any challenge in it, and was just being polite. 'Oh, it's not that big,' she exclaimed, and I hauled her to a stop so I could theatrically stretch my arms out, making her stretch too and demonstrate that we couldn't reach the walls even together. Relena giggled, only sounding a little bit nervous, and Simcoe couldn't quite stifle a sigh. I used the turn to catch a glimpse past him down the hall, and also checked his position. He was closer than he had been, but not quite close enough for me to make a move without risking him getting his gun out. He still had his hand tucked oh so casually inside his coat.

'Please proceed, Mr. Maxwell,' he couldn't keep himself from prodding, and I flashed him a smile that I hoped appeared vacuous and unthreatening.

'Sorry man,' I told him and resumed walking, though I let go of Relena's hand, moving closer and dropping an arm around her shoulders. If she hadn't known something was wrong before, she did then, but all she did was give me a wide-eyed look.

I wondered what the hell was taking so damn long and began to doubt that Heero really had understood that I was trying to impart something was wrong. We had to be getting close, even if the Darlian house of many hallways was the size of a small country.

Damn it... I was going to have to come up with a Plan F, and E had pretty much sucked.

And then we were there and Relena was reaching out for the knob on a door that looked just like all the other doors, and all I could do was frantically try to revive hamsters to see if any of the damn things had any unused ideas on them. Plans are so damn much easier when you don't have civilians to protect.

I had just settled on the utterly half-assed idea of trying to get the door of the bedroom slammed in Simcoe's face, and just telling Relena to run for it while I tried to hold the guy off, when Relena made the tiniest of little sounds that drew my attention to the far side of the room we were preparing to enter... and there was Heero, gun in hand and game face on.

I grinned widely, pulled the Princess in closer and ushered us quickly over the threshold. 'Here we are!' I babbled loudly, making sure Relena didn't follow that little sound of surprise up with anything else, keeping my eyes on Heero.

He wasn't watching me, of course, but I was watching him like a hawk, and the second his eyes told me the target was there, I wrapped Relena up tight and took us down and hard to the left, clearing the way for Heero to do his job.

There were a chaotic couple of minutes after that. I heard Simcoe curse, and Relena gargle out a scream at the exact same moment. Heero demanded that something be dropped, and then there were what seemed like a whole lot of gunshots.

I just concentrated on doing my part, keeping Relena tucked away underneath me, and making sure we stayed the hell out of the way.

It was impossible to follow what was going on with Relena making all manner of noises that did not fall into the category of 'poised', but I drew comfort when I heard a cry of pain that was not in Heero's voice. There was shouting and running and somewhere it sounded like a door rebounded off a wall.

Then Heero called, 'Clear!' and I dared raise my head. I looked first to make sure Heero hadn't been hit, then to see the status of the bad guy. Simcoe was down, half in and half out of the room, and while the blood pooling didn't look good, he still seemed to be breathing.

Zechs and the rest of his men in black were in the hallway with guns trained and glaring fit to nuke the playing field. But then, I suppose they were looking at 'one of their own'. Had to be feeling pretty damn stupid right about then.

Heero was already on his radio calling for an ambulance and issuing orders, gun still in hand. I looked at Simcoe again and wondered if he'd last until they got somebody to him. 'Damn, that's gonna stain,' I muttered, and Relena just freaking burst into tears.

Made me stop and realize I was still sprawled all over her, so I rolled off and sat up and she came with me, clutching at my arm and somehow managed to end up sitting across my lap sobbing against my shoulder.

Well, shit.

I patted awkwardly at her back and just gave her a minute, watching as Zechs instructed one of his goons... uh, guards to make some effort at triage until the medics showed up; wouldn't do to let the guy croak until somebody got some answers out of him. Then he could croak for all I cared.

I saw Heero tear his focus away from the situation to look our way. 'Status?' he demanded and I couldn't help a lopsided kind of grin.

'We're good,' I told him and he managed a warm little smile before he turned back to his prisoner and the business at hand.

'Speak for yourself,' Relena stuttered out, breath coming in hiccups. 'I have a run in my stocking.'

I laughed for her, because it was a valiant effort considering she was still hugging my arm and we were sitting on the floor, and there was a guy trying to bleed to death on her bedroom floor. 'Things just aren't practical anyway,' I told her, having discarding all the lines about being lucky that was the only thing she had a hole in. Probably not the most comforting thing to say. Though I think her mind might have gone in the same direction, because she sat up for a second, taking a couple of gulps of air in an effort to get the tears stopped, but then looked at me kind of funny and started sobbing again.

She balled up a fist and thumped it rather ineffectively against my chest. 'I don't get it!' she suddenly wailed. 'What damn flying monkeys? It doesn't make sense!'

I just sat blinking at her while she smacked me in the chest before it finally clicked in my head and I looked down at the shirt I was wearing and couldn't help laughing right out loud. 'Good Lord, Princess... you've never seen the Wizard of Oz?'

She just shook her head, looking miserable and God help me... I felt so damn sorry for her that I just wrapped her up in a hug. 'Don't worry, I'll get you a copy. Nobody should go through life without knowing what flying monkeys are.'

'I never understand your stupid shirts,' she grumbled petulantly, like I only wore them to drive her crazy or something. I was opening my mouth to promise not to wear them around her any more when I was suddenly aware of a presence looming over us and looked up to see Zechs standing there looking distinctly uncomfortable.

'Are you all right?' he asked, and she looked up at him with an oddly hopeful little look on her face. I wondered why; because he'd shown some sign of worrying about her that didn't include throwing orders around? She gave a shaky little nod and his look went from uncomfortable to... I couldn't quite catalog it; embarrassed? He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and squatted down beside us to hand it to her. He tried on a weird little smile that I think was supposed to be supportive, but I could almost feel him wanting to call her to attention like one of his soldiers. 'Pull yourself together, dear,' was what he said, and while it wasn't entirely unkind, I still felt her flinch.

I've mentioned before that I have a problem with women in tears, right? I use that as my excuse for what came out of my mouth next, because I have no conscious memory of formulating it. 'Us poor sad civilians get an extra five minutes before we have to suck it up and 'soldier on', Sir,' I snapped, snatching the offered hankie away from him and pressing it into Relena's hands. 'We'll let you know when we're ready to fall out for inspection.'

Man, you'd have thought I slapped the guy right across the face. He went red as a beet, and guys with complexions that fair can really turn red. I suspect that things would have escalated into the world's weirdest damn fight over a girl ever, if Heero hadn't arrived at that moment. I kind of figured he inserted himself for the express purpose of heading off that weird damn fight, but I didn't ask, and he just ignored the whole thing like he didn't notice the looks on both our faces.

'Duo,' he asked, squatting down with the rest of us and resting a hand on my shoulder. 'How the hell did you know?'

I forgot about Zechs, glancing past Heero at where they were working on Simcoe. 'I recognized his voice on the radio,' I told him. 'He's the missing guy from the basement.'

Zechs seemed to notice the security headset attached to my ear for the first time and turned his bluster in a direction where he felt more in control. 'Maxwell, what the hell are you doing with...'

But Heero smacked his figurative hand in that arena too. 'Damn good thing he had it, Merquise,' he said tersely, barely turning his attention that way, and Zechs just withdrew from the field, standing up and stalking back to the scene of the crime.

'Control freak,' I muttered without thinking, but Relena only let out with a bizarre aborted giggle and looked up at us with a watery little smile.

'You ok?' Heero asked her and her smile got a little more real.

'I think so,' she told him, then got a strange, almost pensive kind of look. 'Thanks to Duo.'

'Aw, t'weren't nothin', Ma'am,' I told her and things were suddenly just very... uncomfortable. I think she felt it to, because there was this mutual movement to get our butts up off the floor. When we started in that direction, Heero offered her his hand and once she was off my lap, I joined them in the vertical. I busied myself dusting my pants, and Relena straightened her skirt.

Across the room, I saw that Simcoe had come around, and was glaring heatedly at anybody who crossed his line of sight. Zechs said something to him, and the guy kind of stilled, looking almost chagrined for a second, before settling for sullen.

In my right ear, somebody announced that an ambulance had arrived at the front gate. And in my other ear, I caught a familiar voice and turned to see Relena's assistant Chezarina coming through the back of the... what must be a suite of rooms, toward her boss. There had to be a second way into the room for Heero to have gotten into place ahead of us undetected, and I wondered about it in an idle sort of way. Who had two ways into their own bedroom? I think it would make me twitchy... bedrooms should be retreats, not thoroughfares.

'Miss Relena!' Chezarina called, as soon as she set eyes on her charge and it made me wonder about Relena's adoptive mother... wasn't the woman still alive? Because Chezarina sure as hell seemed to be filling the role.

'I'm fine,' Relena told the woman, but it didn't stop her from getting hugged and fussed over. Chezarina spared me a smile after she'd verified Relena's welfare.

'You always seem to manage to be in the thick of things, don't you Mr. Max... Duo?' she told me by way of greeting.

'Don't make me Ma'am you,' I teased, and made her smile, but she seemed to notice the whole bleeding man thing about then. She managed to look... affronted, somehow. Not horrified so much as shocked that her little Relena had been exposed to the sight. There was much bustling then, and Relena was ushered away.

It was something of a relief.

Freed from the duty of small talk and hand-patting, I followed Heero back to the circle of men in black, watching minion number one applying pressure to the hole in Simcoe's abdomen.

Simcoe, despite the bloody red ink blot he was leaving on the carpet, seemed sharply focused and was taking 'sullen' to a whole new level. Zechs was speaking at the man in a low, growly tone when we joined the circle, and I missed most of what was said, but suspected the Platinum Prince was just venting his spleen at a party who wasn't likely to piss back at him.

I saw Simcoe's gaze flick my way when I came into view, in an almost involuntary way. I resisted the urge to waggle my fingers at him. Heero had holstered his weapon, but he was standing close and I felt the touch of his hand on the small of my back. Somebody noted over the radio, that the emergency crew was on their way up.

I wondered if they'd had to wait for a guide to make sure they didn't get lost.

'... possibly hope to accomplish?' Zechs was demanding of the prisoner, and I caught that look again, just for a breath, like the guy was somehow bothered by upsetting Zechs. It didn't make sense.

But then he got a rather flat look, still staring at that point somewhere far away. It made me, just for a second, have to glance that way to make sure there really wasn't something on the ceiling to be noted.

'We're the voice of the planet,' he suddenly blurted. 'We speak for those that can't.'

It was the first thing I'd heard the guy say since he'd told me to move the hell along and I couldn't help thinking that he really... didn't sound all that passionate. Though I suppose that could be the whole bullet hole thing. Or the about to go to jail for a really long time thing. But it was communication, and Zechs jumped all over it.

'And what the hell does that have to do with my sister?' he snapped, and I wanted to smack him for the weird proprietary air. But then, I suppose we've established that I've wanted to smack Zechs for a very long time, so maybe his tone was just in my imagination.

I was kind of surprised that Simcoe responded, it didn't really seem to be the politic thing to do, but he, oddly, seemed to be finding his topic. 'You would have stopped the unspeakable acts of animal cruelty to get her back!' he said and I couldn't help staring at him. Back? And how the hell had he thought he was going to get Relena out of center stage with nobody the wiser? 'Dolphins are as intelligent as man, but are they given a choice about being relocated into the depths of space?' he wanted to know, and I found myself looking around the room to see the reactions of the others. There were mostly vague looks of confusion and disbelief, mixed in with some serious animosity from the guy's former brothers in arms. I turned to look at Heero and found a narrow-eyed glare that was both calculating and pissed off. Zechs asked something else and Simcoe launched into more, something about life-spans and zero gravity and I was struck quite suddenly by how much he sounded like he was... quoting. The guy could have been reading text off a pamphlet. He was about as emotionally invested in dolphins and ocelots as I was in brussel sprouts.

'Bull shit,' somebody said, and when all eyes turned my way, I realized it had been me.

I really hadn't meant to open my mouth, and I couldn't help the blush, turning away from all the stares to address Heero directly. 'He's colony to the core,' I explained. 'I heard him.'

It shut Simcoe up at least, and when I looked back, he was staring straight at me. There was something in his eyes that hinted at... remorse? And I suspect the guy was regretting not just putting a bullet between my eyes and being done with me when he had the chance. I remembered him admonishing Dietcoke to not underestimate a Gundam pilot, and while I sure as hell hadn't done much of anything to be all that impressed with the last couple of days, other than surviving, I hoped I'd at least surprised the jerk.

'Being colony born, does not preclude...' Zechs began, and I think it was just because he was so pissed off at me that he had to disagree with anything I said, but I just cut across his point with a derisive snort of a laugh.

'Don't tell me you can listen to that shit and think he believes it?' I demanded, and he just couldn't argue the point. Hell, Simcoe couldn't argue the point, and just went back to his staring act.

But then the medic type people were there, and the circle broke while they loaded the asshole on the gurney. Heero had to excuse himself from my side then, to go and issue orders and make sure everybody was on the same page. I just stood back and watched, trying to puzzle out the weirdness, pretty sure that I wasn't going to get my chicken sandwich anytime soon.

I found myself looking around the room while I waited, and wondering about a life that had... I don't know what you'd call it... spaces within spaces? Relena's 'room' wasn't just a bedroom in a house, it was a set of rooms within a... what? A Community? I imagined that all the people who lived within the sprawling place had their own set of rooms. The area we were in was actually a sort of sitting room, and through a doorway I could just glimpse a hint of what must be the actual bedroom. I knew there was another entrance and I wondered where it was and if there were more rooms than just those. I'm sure there was a private bath. Hell... if the girl put in a mini-fridge, she wouldn't have to come out for weeks!

But it was weird... it was obviously a place where Relena lived, but it still seemed to be about appearances. Where were the young girl trinkets and left over stuffed animals? Where were the books and the private stash of chocolates? The place might as well have been a suite of rooms in some posh hotel. It was... creepy.

There was a single picture on a side table and I found myself drawn to it. I wandered over and picked it up, finding a family type portrait of a teenaged Relena with what must have been the Darliens. The father looked like a man very used to having his picture taken; he looked confident and his smile held a well-practiced warmth. The mother somehow managed to look like she understood just what the future was going to hold, but could only wait for it to happen with as much grace as possible. Relena's smile held all the optimism of a thirteen/fourteen year old; happy in the moment and not needing more than that.

They looked like the perfect little family unless you knew the story.

'Please leave my sister's things alone,' I was told, and looked up to find Zechs standing next to me, frowning disapprovingly. I couldn't help a roll of my eyes.

'It's a picture, Blondie,' I said before I could quite stop myself. 'I'm not riffling her underwear drawer.'

The tops of his ears pinked, and his frown deepened. It was probably a good thing he and I didn't cross paths any more often than we did... the guy was entirely too damn easy to bait, and given my feelings, it might very well become a hobby. I could almost see him collecting his temper; there was a heartbeat delay while I'm sure he took a mental deep 'calming' breath. And then the son of a bitch tried to... intimidate me.

He changed his stance ever so slightly, drawing on every last inch of his superior height and managed to lean into my personal space without really appearing to move much at all. 'Do you have a problem with me, Mr. Maxwell?'

I ignored him while I took a last look at the picture in my hand, carefully placing it back on the table, making him wait while I flicked an imaginary speck of dust from the frame, and then adjusted it just so... making sure it was exactly as I had found it. Then I turned to face him, moving further into his personal space instead of retreating, which I'm sure is what he had expected, and smiled. 'Only the same problem I would have with any pompous, over-bearing control-freak trying to compensate for the holes in his own security by bullying anybody who comes within ten feet,' I told him cheerfully.

I swear to God, the tone threw him for a second, and there was a blink before he decided to be pissed. 'I find your brand of humor to be inappropriate for this situation, Mr. Maxwell,' he ground out, looking for all the world like he wanted to have me thrown out on my ear. Or thrown in the brig.

I cocked my head and leaned in just a bit more, lowering my voice as though imparting some secret. 'Funny thing... I wasn't joking,' I told him flatly.

The pinking of the ears got darker and spread down his neck. I wondered if the guy had a blood pressure problem. 'My sister was almost killed today...' he began, and it sent a twinge through my temper.

'Yeah, about that,' I said, cutting him off. 'No need to thank me or anything like that, since my actions had absolutely nothing to do with you what-so-ever, but seriously dude... you need to learn the girl's name. It's Relena. R-E-L-E-N-A. Not 'My Sister', and I know you were away for a while and all, but you missed a couple of birthdays... she's an adult now. That attitude you've got going on like she freaking belongs to you is so sixteenth century it's unreal. What's next? Arranged marriage? Convent?'

I realized somewhere in there that some part of my head was down on its knees praying he'd take a swing at me. Just... really freaking begging for him to get pissed enough to take the first shot so I could be totally justified in wiping the floor with his lily white ass.

And don't look at me like I'm crazy... the bigger they are, the harder they fall. I know his type; military trained and so damn full of his own superiority it's not even funny. Give me a good street fighter any day of the week.

I have all the respect in the world for soldiers; I've fought against enough of them... fought shoulder to shoulder with enough of them. They have an understanding of honor on a level that guys like Zechs never can. Honor isn't a high and shiny ideal; it's a thing of grit and blood. It's a thing you live with every moment of every day, and sometimes you have to compromise it and sometimes it has to compromise you, but it's not a decoration that you pull out when it's convenient.

It's not a thing you can bend to make your own wants acceptable.

You tell me where the honor is in challenging a boy to a life and death fight, one who has just come out of a month long coma. A boy still healing and still hurting and still reeling emotionally from making one of the biggest mistakes of his short life. You tell me what winning that kind of fight would have proved anyway. Where's the honor in that? Where's the nobility? Nowhere. Nowhere, because that was all about a reject of a man trying to prove something to himself.

Trying to prove something to Treize.

A gentle hand landed on my shoulder and squeezed. 'Duo,' Heero chided softly, and I'm not sure if it was his tone or the chalky white state of Zechs' face that told me I'd just dumped a whole lot of very old crap off my chest. At volume.

I felt my face flame every bit as bad as anything I'd managed to make Zechs produce, and I muttered something that my conscience intended to be 'Sorry,' but I'm not sure my anger let come out that way. I did not resist when Heero pulled me away from there and out into the hall.

Oddly, Zechs didn't have much to say.

One of the goons glared at me the whole way out of the room, one of them couldn't meet my eyes, and the third wasn't in sight... maybe he'd been triage-goon and had gone to wash his hands.

Heero didn't say anything, but he put his arm around me, something he doesn't do very much in public because he knows it makes me feel funny, and just steered.

'God,' I muttered, once we were out of there. 'You can't take me anywhere, can you? I'm so sorry. I... I don't know what happened. I don't think I meant to do that.'

Heero made a noise that I took to be... disbelieving amusement? I least, I hoped it was amusement. We came around a corner in the hall and for a moment, we were alone, so I pulled him up short where I could turn and look at him... just to make sure.

The look I found in his eyes was something I didn't know how to catalog; it made me want to gather him up in my arms at the same time it made me a little nervous. He still hadn't really spoken and I couldn't help blurting out another apology. 'I really am sorry. I don't know what came over me. He just... he just makes me so damn mad.' I glanced back down the hall, as though I could see the man through the walls and started to sense the presence of Guilt. 'Maybe... maybe I should go back and apologize,' I said, and took a step that way, trying to convince myself it would be a good idea. 'You know... better.'

Heero let out with a strangled little sound that wanted to be a snicker and grabbed my arm, pulling me back. 'I think maybe you and Zechs have... chatted enough for one day,' he finally told me and pulled me the rest of the way into his arms. It was... weird, in the middle of the Peacecraft/Darlien domain. Not that I would have denied him after the last couple of days, but it was still a little uncomfortable. He felt it too, and didn't keep us standing there long, but for that moment he made his jumbled feelings as plain as he was able.

Which wasn't very, quite frankly.

But we were still in the middle of a situation and there was work to be done and we went about doing it. Or Heero went about doing it, and I went back to being bored. It's a damn wonder that law enforcement gets anything done between all the freaking bouts of paperwork and talking.

Though things got a whole hell of a lot more serious after that; even my company of hamsters quit their mock 'n roll act. Nothing quite makes a group of people buckle down and fly straight, like gunshots, blood and screaming.

I have to admit that it was kind of cool getting to watch Heero work; the guy gets damn focused when he's on the job, but you know... the whole thing really made me stop and think about that offer Une had made me.

I've always sworn that I really wasn't that interested in strapping a gun on again and riding out with the rest of the cowboys, but I suppose I have to confess that I hadn't been able to completely dismiss the notion once the good Commander had tossed it on the table. Somewhere after the departure of the ambulance, and before our own, it kind of hit me that it had been as much... not peer pressure, because nobody had even known she'd approached me... guilt, maybe? My own guilty conscience that had kept me from just turning her down flat?

Because really... that's what my heart was telling the rest of me. I just couldn't even imagine myself doing what I was watching Heero do. Being a Preventer agent wasn't all cool toys and adrenaline highs. The paperwork and the legwork and the getting in people's faces part was really just not all that attractive.

Not that the shooting and bleeding stuff was, but you know what I mean.

I had no desire what-so-ever to become a Preventer agent, and saying yes to Commander Une because she asked nice, was just stupid.

Saying yes because somewhere inside I was afraid Heero and Wufei might look down on me was... worse than stupid.

Being a mechanic in the motor pool at the place where... let's face it... 'my boyfriend worked', was probably not going to cut it in the long term. I really couldn't see myself busting my knuckles over various and sundry bullet riddled vehicles for the rest of my life, but for the moment, it suited my needs and offered me a paycheck while I figured out just what it was I did want to do. But I think I'd just eliminated one of the options that had been on the list. Cool toys not withstanding.

It was a strange feeling making a decision I hadn't really even thought I was dwelling on. It was a hell of a relief at the same time it left me feeling like I should be apologizing to somebody.

Hours later, when we finally walked out of that place, Guilt beast was waiting for me in Heero's car, tongue lolling from his weird little canine grin. I did my best to ignore him because most of my head knew he was stretching. Like he was just bored and looking for something to do.

God, there was a thought... could guilt become a habit?

There was a stop at headquarters because there were still statements to be delivered, though Heero took pity and got me my sandwich... I just had to eat it in the car on the way. It was damn late by the time we were done with all the crap and got to head for home, and I was dragging rather pitifully. I tried not to show it, because it would just worry Heero, but I think he was just too tired himself to notice. It was well after dark by the time we hauled ourselves through our front door, and there was just no thought of anything from earlier in the day. We just locked up, stripped and hit the bed, practically racing each other to sleep.

Damned if I even know who won.

I suppose I had rested since my little excursion, while at Quatre's, but I was in my own home, in my own bed, with my own living, breathing security blanket/body pillow and I slept, as they say, like the dead. If there were dreams, I do not remember them.

Morning was painfully normal, and yet... not.

I woke with my head pillowed on an arm that was not mine and with my legs tangled with Heero's. When I opened my eyes, it was to find him awake and waiting for me, and I smiled lazily across at him. Once he saw I was awake, he dropped a kiss on my forehead and returned the smile, his fingers beginning a gentle stroke over my hair.

'Morning,' he said softly, while I stretched and yawned.

I was just starting to tell him about the truly bizarre dream I'd had, when the pull of sore muscles made me stop and reconsider. Stark white bandages stood witness, and I switched it at the last minute to a simple, 'Good morning.'

Bizarre, yes. Dream... apparently, not so much.

Heero being awake first, made a lot more sense in that light. Not that it never happened, but it's rare. Senses began to register that it was a bit later than I usually woke too, but neither of us bothered to comment on it, probably at the risk of being Captain Obvious. I shifted closer, exchanging arm for shoulder, as pillow, just in case he needed the blood circulation. He moved to accommodate me, pulling me in close and I knew we weren't going to be getting up for awhile.

'There isn't any more paperwork to be done, is there?' I asked, trying for petulant, but it was just too early and it came out with another yawn instead. Heero chuckled softly, almost like he was trying not to spoil some mood, and picked up my hand to twine our fingers together.

'You want there to be?' he teased. 'I could arrange something.'

'Funny, Agent Yuy,' I grumbled and tried to pull my hand free to poke at his ribs. He refused to let go, tugging at me until I gave up, and when he responded, his voice was oddly wistful.

'I'd really rather not be Agent Yuy right now.'

I twisted to look at him and found him staring up at the ceiling, with an expression on his face that gave me pause. It was one I'd seen not all that long ago, but I couldn't read it any more in that moment, than I had the day before. His hold on my hand had eased and I slipped free to rub my hand up and down his stomach, not finding him tense, and I puzzled at his mood.

'You ok?' I asked carefully, and it made him close his eyes and smile.

'Yeah,' he assured me, his tone kind of... wry. It made me push up on an elbow where I could really see his face. He opened his eyes to meet my gaze and his smile warmed. There was a tilt to his head then, that asked, so I bent and kissed him. He made it... slow.

When I drew away, I caught a glimpse of a need in his eyes for a moment that was almost overwhelming, but it was gone so quickly that it left me unsure if I'd seen it at all. Heero Yuy is not a coy lover; as a general sort of rule, he knows what he wants and is not exactly shy about pursuing it. If there is hesitation in his love making, it is generally reserved for dealing with my own inexperience and not pushing me toward things I'm not comfortable with. And after a year... that inexperience wasn't really much of an issue any more.

'You sure?' I had to press, his frame of mind was one I just didn't know what to make of, and it was leaving me a little off-center. 'You're awfully quiet this morning.'

He quirked a funny little smile, maybe a little sheepish... maybe a little self-conscious. 'Just thinking about... yesterday.'

There was a lot about 'yesterday' that could lead a man to think, and I just gave him the raised eyebrow look that prompted for some clarification. He huffed a little sound that indicated a bit of discomfort over the topic, whatever it was, but finally burst out with, 'I never really understood what your problem with Zechs was before.'

It left me staring at him for a moment, on the receiving end of a gear strip for a change... Zechs Anal-Retentive Merquise was not what I thought we were talking about. I realized I was studying his expression, trying to work out what he was thinking, and made myself stop.

'He just... gets under my skin,' I growled, feeling my blood pressure rise just thinking about the man again. Pompous damn ass.

'He's really not such a bad sort,' Heero ventured carefully, kind of doing his own studying, bringing his finger tips up to brush over my cheek as though he could feel whatever it was he couldn't seem to see.

It... bugged me. That Heero would defend the man. In my head, Merquise would forever equate to that moment when I'd thought I'd seen Heero die. I suppose, in all fairness, my unreasoning hatred should probably be directed toward Dr. J, but Dr. J was already long dead and gone and, well... Zechs wasn't.

I really did know that my dislike of the man was just a little bit over the top. He hadn't been the only one to blame for what had happened to Heero. It was Lady Une's threats, and Dr. J's orders, and hell... even Noin had had a hand in it, but somehow Zechs was the one I wanted to blame. It just all boiled down to that, and I guess it didn't have to have a rational explanation. Yes, we'd been in a war, but that damn 'challenge' had taken it outside those confines. Made it personal.

'The son of a bitch hurt you,' I heard myself grind out, just feeling stupid and melodramatic for not being able to get past something that Heero himself obviously had. But he didn't react the way I thought he would; didn't scold me, didn't correct me... just raised his head enough to initiate another kiss. This time, when he dropped back to the pillow, there was no denying the hunger in his eyes. It confused me... I wasn't at all sure why I hadn't already been rolled over into the blankets. The signals I was getting were all crossed up and unclear. This wasn't how things usually went; I wasn't used to Heero wanting something he couldn't seem to ask for. And I didn't think he even knew I could tell.

His arousal was obvious, his failure to take the initiative... not so much.

We don't consciously pay a lot of attention to that whole pitch and catch thing. It's never been anything we discussed, our sex life had just kind of settled into a vague pattern all on its own. It was just what we both seemed to be the most comfortable with... as odd as that sounds considering how we'd started out... so that's generally how things fell into place.

I felt a little bit like a dance partner who had suddenly been handed the lead without warning. It was puzzling... he's usually more blunt about what he wants.

Left without any verbal clues, I focused on his body language; when I bent to kiss the hollow of his throat, he threw his head back, his eyes falling closed, and I could feel the quickening of the pulse under my lips. It put me in mind of a wolf baring its belly and spoke of... submission. It flooded me with a sudden weird sense of protectiveness and when I shifted to rise over him, he just... surrendered.

It was plain as day then, what he wanted... what he needed. His body language begged not just for my dominance, something he'd had no problem asking for before, but for that elusive... something more.

It was daunting. And was doing strange things to my insides.

I followed the line of his throat and found his mouth and he met my kiss with a desperation I wasn't used to finding in him. It made me remember the look he'd given me the day before in the hall at Relena's place, and I suddenly understood it.

The realization that my rising to his defense had set this fire within him, just left me breathless. It was a perspective that was both euphoric and... melancholy.

It made me wonder if this need had been there before and I'd missed the cues. Made me feel like I'd maybe been failing him.

But he hooked a leg around me, begging me as best he could, and I forgot about the what ifs and set about trying to meet his desires the way he'd always tried to meet mine.

I hadn't really counted on what it would do to me. There is something damn overpowering about that level of submission. It woke an aggressive side to me that was almost shocking in its intensity. It was all... instinct and primeval signals, and I damn well wanted to laugh out loud feeling my body giving over to a call older than time. Testosterone and hormones and pheromones and a voice inside that cried... Mine!

Was this what Heero felt? When I wrapped around him and clung to him and begged him to just give me that feeling, even when it was a feeling I couldn't completely articulate, was he overcome with this... counterpoint?

The greater the need, the greater the need to fulfill?

But then there was no room for musing as his body accepted me and I strove to control the rhythm, keeping his desperation in check... making sure it lasted. Not forcing, but imposing my will.

Control... God, it was all about control. And trust.

That feeling was... vulnerability. And the trust to open that up to someone else.

Easy enough to share one's body... not so damn easy to share the rest.

It was a gift he was giving me, almost too intense to bear, and when his breath began to come in choked gasps, I gave in and began thrusting deep, making sure we fell together, holding him tight while his orgasm shook him like a rag doll.

And I continued to hold him, finding myself ghosting soft kisses over his face while he recovered, understanding the depth of his tenderness in these moments for the first time. I... sheltered him, and was left amazed somehow that I could.

I could already tell it wasn't something we would talk about. It wasn't something he would be comfortable giving a name to... admitting to. And I found myself savoring the moment, wondering how rare a thing it would be.

We didn't speak at all, really, I just held him and did my best to give him the peaceful place that he's always been able to give me. He drifted away again and I ended up just using a corner of the sheet to clean us up before curling up with him and we forgot the world for just a little while longer.

I roused up to the feel of him leaving the bed, but when I lifted my head, he just kissed my temple and whispered. 'Sleep. Showering.'

I grunted and burrowed back into the pillows, hearing his soft chuckle as he padded out of the room. I lay for a while, listening to him move around the bathroom, feeling terribly decadent and lazy. It had to be after ten. And hell... I wasn't even positive what day it was. I had a twinge, thinking about work, but then decided Trowa was right... getting kidnapped should really entitle you to a day or two off work.

Kidnapped? Abducted? Captured? Taken prisoner? I really needed to find a better phrasing before I did go back.

I couldn't get back to sleep, not that I really wanted to, so the water was still running in the bathroom when I climbed out of bed and set about starting my day. And if there was just a tiny part of me that was worried about things being odd if I was still there when Heero came back... I just tried not to think about it.

The bedroom was a freaking mess, with clothes all over the place and the bed needing to be stripped and changed. I dressed and dealt with it, and headed down to the kitchen deciding that I would take care of breakfast before Heero got to it, to avoid the four course meal he was likely to produce in his current state of mind. A quick pair of omelets would more than handle the job. I was dishing them up just as he came down to join me.

'Perfect timing,' he told me, fetching the drinks while I turned off the burner and set the frying pan into the sink.

'Heard the water shut off,' I confessed and took my juice from him as we sat down. He was quiet for the first few bites and it made me worry that things were going to be awkward between us. It felt like it was somehow my place to make sure that didn't happen, and I reached out with my foot to nudge him under the table.

'You're thinking awfully hard this morning,' I ventured, leaving it open for him to take how he would. But all I got was the quirk of a slightly hangdog smile.

'Afraid I was going over case points,' he admitted. 'Wondering if they got anything more out of Simcoe last night.'

'Other than a bullet?' I quipped, and he snorted at the cheap shot. I just grinned unrepentantly, relieved as hell that the morning hadn't left him feeling... I don't really know what. Any more than I know why I had thought he might feel ill at ease.

I've been given to understand that I have a penchant for borrowing trouble.

'You know,' I had to point out. 'There's no way he was intending a kidnapping there...'

'Hell no,' Heero agreed before I even had the though half articulated. 'Only a moron would have thought he could have gotten Relena out of there undetected, and a moron would not have been able to infiltrate Zechs' house security as well as he did.'

I refrained from disparaging Zechs' hiring skills and ventured instead, 'So he did mean to kill her? I didn't... over-react?'

He looked up from his omelet and gave me a look that was a virtual slap in the back of the head. 'You know he did,' he affirmed. 'He was drawing his gun before he even saw me.'

'There's something... weird going on with him and Zechs,' I said, not at all sure I wanted to bring it up, but not really able to ignore the things I'd seen. I was afraid Heero would just assume prejudice, but he only smiled.

'You noticed that too?' he asked and it surprised me.

'Like... like he was ashamed or something,' I mused, trying to put a name to it.

'I've seen the guy around Zechs before and always thought there was a bit of hero worship going on,' Heero mused, sipping at his juice and eyes unfocused, as though he were seeing something besides our kitchen.

I had to let a couple comments about taste and ego settle out of my head before I dared speak again. 'You didn't buy any of that animal rights shit... did you?'

That got me a roll of the eyes. 'Hardly. I don't think he could have fooled a ten year old with that act for more than five minutes.'

It was something of a relief to know we were on the same page even if we weren't quite sure what the book was about yet. Not that I should have been surprised, really... I think I've noted before that Heero is pretty damn good at his job. He started to say something more, but his cell phone chose that moment to ring and he put down his fork to fish the thing out of his pocket.

'The office,' he murmured and flipped it open. 'Yuy here.'

He listened to a voice I couldn't hear and after a moment, his eyes found mine and I could tell by his expression that while kidnapping might get my ass a day off... he wasn't getting the same consideration. Though, I suppose in all fairness, he hadn't been the one cuffed to a bed over a bomb. I finished my breakfast while he made arrangements and set times, snapping the phone closed when he was done, and bending back to his own omelet. Proved it wasn't urgent, at least.

'Bad news or good?' I asked and he gave me a sheepish little look.

'Both?' he said, letting it hang for a second, but I just waited. 'Goods news is Goddard... the man from the deli... might be ready to talk. The bad news is I have to go in to the office.'

'Have fun with that,' I jibed, just to make sure there was no thought in his head that I would be tagging along for the ride. I'll admit that my trotting off to Relena's with him had been as much for my benefit as for his, but... it wasn't something I planned on making a habit of.

For a second, something rose up behind his eyes that made me think we were about to have a rather big fight, but I met that look with a steady one of my own and after a moment he deflated. Reaching across the table, he took my hand and just sat holding it while he worked his way through wording.

'I worry,' was what he finally settled on, letting the admonishments and arguments go. Lifting my hand up to kiss my fingers.

I squeezed carefully and couldn't help a smile. 'I swear I'll be more careful,' I assured him. 'But I can't just stop...'

'I know,' he sighed, cutting me off. He closed his eyes for a moment then, pressing my hand against his face and just sitting. I thought he was working with his wording again, but when he opened his eyes all he managed was, again, 'I know.'

After he'd gone, I locked the front door behind him and got on with the business of dealing with the tedious day to day details of living. Laundry and dishes, grocery lists and showers, yard work and email and bills not quite overdue.

Life goes on... if you're lucky, and no matter how crappy your week is, at the end of it, the toilets still need to be scrubbed.

While washing the sheets, I'd gone ahead and tossed in the rest of the pile of dirty clothes, which is what had brought my 'Don't make me call my flying monkeys' t-shirt back to my attention. While I was putting it away in the drawer I couldn't help but think about the conversation it had prompted.

I suppose not everybody in the world could be expected to know vintage movie references and crap, but... The Wizard of Oz? Didn't everybody have at least a passing knowledge of it? It's like some... culture thing. I'd never had anybody see the shirt that didn't at least have some idea what it meant. Maybe they'd never actually seen a flying monkey, but usually at least knew what one was. Hell, even Dusty's kid had gotten it.

And why in the hell did it bug me so much that Relena had not had a clue?

I shut the dresser drawer and glanced up at Solo's portrait to find him kissing the back side of the glass in his frame. 'Suck up!' he snorted at me and I rolled my eyes.

'You're such an ass sometimes,' I told him, but he ignored the jibe, climbing through the frame to follow me as I went to drop the empty laundry basket in its spot by the door.

'Got under yer skin, did she?' he asked, drifting along behind me.

'Hardly,' I snorted and got the expected derisive laugh.

'Careful, rat boy,' he said gleefully. 'She'll end up one of 'yours' and then what? Be spendin' all yer time in that big fancy-pants place.'

'The hell,' I snapped, leaving the room like that would actually shut him up. 'She's not one of mine and never will be. That's just... weird. She has more than enough people looking out for her.'

As expected, he continued to follow me, poking at me with a finger that would never connect again and snickering loudly. 'You mean like yer Heero?'

I turned and snapped a glare his way. 'What's yer... your damn point? And will you stop that damn floating shit, and walk like you mean it?'

He laughed uproariously, delighted as always, to get under my skin. He straightened around, making walking motions that would have been more convincing if he weren't still a foot off the ground. 'Well, seems like you and yer Heero did pretty ok keepin' the little lady safe.'

I... suppose we had. With a little help from the goon squad. Not that I was admitting that to Solo. 'Doesn't make her one of mine,' I grumbled and shivered when he caught up and walked through me, stopping in front of me to meet me eye to non-existent eye.

'Then where ya goin'?' he asked innocently and I finally got fed up and waved him away like so much smoke.

'Shut up, asshole,' I growled and went on into the bedroom we'd turned into an office. And I went right ahead and found a copy of the Wizard of Oz movie for sale on-line, and paid no attention to his ethereal, distant laugh when I ordered the damn thing.

Then I forgot about him when I noticed the little scraps of paper lined up across the desk in varying stages of... salvage.

Alien vegetation. I had to snort, wondering at myself and where my brain wandered sometimes. What had I been thinking? Somehow, I could not see Jack Lee being all that thrilled with fuzzy little armor-clad caterpillars and moon lilies. I could just picture the apoplectic fit Aleyah would have thrown if I'd pitched that idea to Mr. Lee.

Heero had used a book to try to flatten one of the little sketches out where it had gotten folded, and I had to smile. I could just see him in my mind's eye fussing over the stupid things like he was trying to save newborn kittens, abandoned on his doorstep. His fascination with my art always left me with the strangest feeling of warmth warring with embarrassment. The things were just oddball bits and pieces scribbled on little sheets of notepad paper. Most of them unfinished or overlapping other ideas. It was just ridiculous the way he treated them like they were something special.

Made me think about the look on his face when he'd first studied the mural I'd done for him for Christmas. The man had just glowed, and I still found him sometimes standing and looking at it. It seemed a somewhat dubious gift to me, but I swear sometimes if the house ever caught fire, he'd just about take an ax to that section to try to save it.

Maybe... maybe I ought to do art for him more often? Though, perhaps something in a more conventional size. I just wasn't sure what in the world to paint for him? Our friends? Something from his past? Something from his job? Or maybe something he could hang in his office? A landscape? Nothing came to mind at all, but then looking down at the menacing leaf creature, I had to chuckle. It wouldn't matter. I could paint just about anything for him and he would be just as delighted; I think he'd pretty well proven that already.

Though before I put any more thought in to that, I really needed to decide what in the bloody hell I was going to paint for Mr. Lee. Or... what had the guy said? Work up some 'preliminary sketches'? Somehow I didn't think showing the guy little begonia men was going to cut it. I'd never done a preliminary sketch before in my life. Of course... I'd never done a damn commission for somebody who wouldn't give me a clue what they wanted either. The client says 'I want flowers' or 'I want my naked girl friend' or 'I want the farm house my grandma grew up in' and I just freaking painted it and money exchanged hands afterward. Done.

This was a damn pain in the ass. How could I do a preliminary sketch on a piece of paper for something that size? If I was going to paint that size, I needed to sketch that size. How the hell was I supposed to get a feel for anything trying to doodle on little bits of notepad? Maybe real artists worked that way, but my head just functioned more... real time, or something.

It actually crossed my mind to go down into my backroom and use one of the unpainted sections on the back wall to work at ideas, but that just seemed... stupid. Not like I could haul the wall to Jack Lee, and no way in hell was I having Jack Lee in to my house. Not after seeing his. Bad enough dealing with Aleyah and her weird little attitude, like our house was just the cutest thing since Polly Pocket. But at least I hadn't actually seen her place, so I could choose to imagine something more mundane, and less... palatial. And less intimidating.

The whole thing was kind of aggravating, really. If the guy were anybody else, I'd have just laughed in his face and told him to come back when he had a clue what he wanted to hire me for. I wasn't even sure I wanted the stupid job, much less the one it was leading up to. Granted, the as-yet-undiscussed money would be nice, but it's not like I'd been advertising commissions. Mr. Jack Pull-My-Finger Lee had approached me. Technically, my doing any work for him was a favor on my part, money or no money. I wasn't entirely sure if the favor was owed to him or Aleyah, but either way... I hadn't volunteered for this gig.

[back] [cont]