Expectations (cont)

‘It seems to be doing just fine,’ he ground out, planting the hand that wasn’t holding the hoist controls, on his hip; taking a very aggressive stance.

I took a calming breath and tried again. ‘Look... I can hear the metal stress, it’s not going to...’

He cut me off with a dismissive jerk of his head, hitting the button on the lift again, yelling over the sound of the motor, ‘Don’t you fucking have a job to do?’

I could feel several sets of eyes on us and decided that there was no way in hell that I was going to get through his thickhead. I hated to run to ‘Daddy’, but I wasn’t about to let the dumbass kid ruin an engine that probably cost more than he made in a year, just because he wanted to piss with me. I turned on my heel and stalked toward Griff’s office.

Behind me I thought I heard a tight little, ‘God-damn Gundam-fucker.’

Ah.

I could see Griff, standing in his office talking on the phone, which explained why he hadn’t gotten his ass out on the floor to see what two of his mechanics were arguing about. He usually won’t put up with shit like that. But I could see his attention was directed our way, even if he hadn’t been able to do anything about it just yet. I could see the frown on his face getting more... concerned and bothered to read his lips enough to see him say, ‘...have to go. No... something’s going on... shit!’

I turned to look behind me, to see just what had made that kind of pissed off look come into Griff’s eyes. Mickey had the engine block up high enough to clear the edge of the engine compartment and had stopped the hoist. He had hold of the chains and began to pull the whole block along the overhead rail... toward him, his body leaning heavily as he hauled on it.

I could hear the metal of the hoist telling me it couldn’t take anymore. I could look at the weight and the swing of the engine as it moved and see just how it was going to fall. Could plot the trajectory and could see that Mickey was about to die. In a very messy way with a probable twelve hundred pound engine block crushing his chest. I moved. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it.

‘Get the fuck away from it!’ I roared at him, though God knows why I bothered, he wasn’t going to listen to an ex-Gundam-fucker. I wondered just who it was in his past that had died in the war. I wondered if it had actually been at the hands of one of us, or if they had just been a casualty of timing. I guess it didn’t really matter now.

It was one of those slow motion moments. I heard the death shriek of the stressed metal and put on a burst of speed. The noise was finally at a level that no one in the fucking garage could have missed it. I saw Mickey finally damn well believe what I’d been telling him. Saw the fractured moment when he understood what was about to happen. I felt like I was running through molasses.

And then it all kicked back into real time. Mickey tried to twist away and fell. The engine fell. And I hit the damn thing as hard as I could manage with all the weight in my pathetic frame, digging in for all I was worth, and praying to God it was enough.

Never played football as a kid; we never had a ball. But I’d used some of those football field maneuvers often enough, getting clear of some messy situations on the streets. I imagined that my move on that engine block probably looked like a classic block and tackle. One should not tackle a chunk of solid steel. Fucking ouch.

I knew damn well I wasn’t going to have a hell of a lot of effect on the massive stinking thing. I was hoping to simply convince it to swing a little more in the direction it had been thinking about on its own. Was hoping that I could twist it, as much as anything. Even as my head was shrieking obscenities at me, I was plotting mass and inertia... and going over my last will and testament. I had some hope if I could hit one of the chains at just the right angle. This all sounds quite leisurely, but don’t let me fool you; there isn’t a measurement of time short enough to get across how fast this all went through my mind. I was committed before Mickey finished yelling, ‘Shit!’

Despite all my calculations, I rebounded off the thing like I’d hit a wall at top speed, and ended up sprawled on the floor of the bay, sucking air, head spinning and wanting to cuss the bastard-asshole six ways to Sunday. But I wasn’t sure if I’d managed to change the course of the stupid engine enough to save his damn life. You really shouldn’t curse the dead. Then he started to scream and I knew I’d at least altered things enough to miss his chest. So I started the cussing even as I was scrambling to my feet to assess the situation.

‘Moronic God-damn stubborn...’

I’d saved his torso completely, but the block was settled directly on his damn legs.

‘...asshole. Can’t listen to a fucking thing...’

I dropped to my hands and knees, scrabbling around him, finding that his one leg was probably not all that badly damaged, there was a concave place under the block that might have saved him.

‘...anybody says! Risk your stinking life...’

But his right leg looked severely... not good, and even as I was checking, large amounts of blood began to creep out from under the engine. Shit.

‘...just to prove a damn point!’ I staggered back up to my feet. ‘Giles! Griff!’ I looked to see who else was close, ‘Dave! Get the hell over here! We have to get this thing off him!’ Time was something of the essence here and I was kind of surprised to see them moving the wrong damn direction. I wasted almost one and a half seconds gaping at them. ‘Come on!’ I yelled again, hard-pressed to raise my voice over Mickey’s shrieks.

Then I realized that Giles and Dave were running to get the other hoist. My jaw really did hit the floor then, the kid would bleed to death long before they got the damn thing down and repositioned. I looked to Griff, but he had run back toward his office, presumably to call for an ambulance. I wanted to scream at him that it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t get their asses in gear and help me get the damn engine block moved.

‘Damnit!’ I tried again, ‘Somebody get over here and help me!’ I got several blank stares, though Giles redoubled his rather futile efforts with the hoist. I glanced down at the growing pool of blood and noted that Mikey wasn’t screaming quite so lustily. Shit.

Then I heard the sound of running feet and turned to see Heero and Wufei pounding across the garage toward me. I wanted to whoop for joy; it felt like seeing angels coming to my rescue.

I didn’t have to tell them anything. I could see their eyes taking it all in. I saw with a rush of pure, unadulterated relief that they understood exactly what had to be done. I grabbed up the slack chains and jerked the remains of the broken wench off of them, tossing it aside. Trusting the guys to get into position. Hands met mine and some of the chains left my grip. Distantly, I heard Wufei shouting to someone to come and get ready to pull Mikey out, then Heero was calling the count, and it was on three and I strained for all I was worth, hearing the grunting effort of my saviors. Mikey’s cries escalated, then Wufei was calling the all clear, and I let it all fall from hands that were trembling with the effort. Instinct took the three of us down to the floor where the kid lay. Arterial blood was spurting like a damn garden hose. People just made way for us, as our hands flew. Terse words were exchanged, a belt was produced, Mikey was sobbing brokenly. I slipped the makeshift tourniquet on with my own hands. I tried not to look too close... his leg was a mess and he’d be damn lucky if he didn’t lose it.

In a strange moment of clarity, it rose up in my mind that at least I wouldn’t have to work with him glaring at me for a while. Then it occurred to me that, if he lived, he was going to owe his life to a group of ‘Gundam-fuckers’. I shook my head to clear it, quickly wished I hadn’t, but never slowed what I was doing.

It took Heero and Wufei both to get me the hell out of the way when the ambulance finally arrived. Mickey had passed out by then and I wouldn’t have wanted to try and make a guess at his chances. There was a hell of a lot of blood on the floor.

I found myself perched on the damn engine block that had started the whole thing, Heero on one side and Wufei on the other, their hands making sure that I didn’t fall over.

I was vaguely aware that someone was talking to me, but I still had that tunnel-vision thing going on and was having trouble coming back into focus. Or, perhaps more precisely, having trouble coming out of tight focus into the wide world again. Then Wufei’s voice came, rather sharply, ‘Status, Maxwell!’

I blinked up at him, eyes tearing away from the sight of the ambulance pulling out of the garage. I couldn’t help grinning at him. ‘Really... tired?’ I quipped and he smiled back at me, seeming relieved.

‘That’s a pretty lame status report,’ he chuckled and dropped a hand on my shoulder. My wits were still too scattered, head feeling oddly light, and I flat could not hide the flinch. Wufei jerked his hand away, and Heero’s fingers came to pull gently at the collar of my polo shirt; he hissed in irritation. I couldn’t really get turned enough to see what he was seeing. ‘How did you...?’ he muttered. It was Griff who answered.

‘Idiot tried a flying tackle on a thousand pounds of steel and aluminum, that’s how,’ he chuckled, several of the guys clustered around us laughing with him, and a little of the tension seeming to leave the air.

Heero quirked an eyebrow and gave me a confused little frown. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time?’ I muttered sheepishly.

Giles snorted rather mirthlessly, shaking his head in disgust. ‘Saved the damn moron’s life.’

‘Not that the asshole was worth Duo gettin’ hurt,’ Dave muttered, and it seemed to open the comment floodgates, because everybody was suddenly talking.

‘Duo tried to warn him... I heard it!’

‘...guy’s always been a jerk.’

‘Did you see them just lift that damn thing?’

‘Wouldn’t surprise me if they can’t save that leg...’

‘...won’t be coming back anytime soon...’

There were a few more comments tossed back and forth that let me know that I wasn’t the only person in the garage who wasn’t thrilled with working with Mickey. I was actually starting to feel sorry for the guy by the time they were done. But then Griff suddenly seemed to shake himself back into boss mode.

‘That’s enough standin’ around, you’d think you never seen a guy drop an engine before,’ he growled, and began dispensing orders right and left. I felt bad for Giles and Dave... they ended up getting tasked with cleaning the blood up.

But then Griff turned on me. ‘Maxwell, get yourself cleaned up and then you’re with them for the afternoon,’ he jabbed a finger at Heero when he spoke and all I could do was stare at him. What in the hell was that supposed to mean?

Once the rest of the world began to move off and I wasn’t the center of attention anymore, my brain finally seemed to start engaging. The first thing that came into sudden, sharp focus was the fact that Heero was holding my hand. He had his right arm around my back, steadying me, but his left hand was very firmly holding mine and obviously had been for some time. I felt the heat rising to my face and tried not to think about it. Damned if I’d make an issue out of it, but it made me feel a little awkward. The fact that Heero and I were... together wasn’t exactly a huge secret, I suppose, but wasn’t something we usually liked to advertise either. I knew, from some of the things he’d said, that Griff was aware of it, but I wasn’t really sure about the other guys.

I dared a glance around, with this new perspective, but didn’t see anything outside the kind of gossipy talk you would expect after an incident like this one.

‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ Heero prodded gently, the hand on my back rubbing carefully.

I opened my mouth with the flippant answer, but damn it... they were both touching me, I knew damn well they could feel me shaking with reaction. So I just smiled up at him and avoided the whole issue. ‘How the hell did you guys get here so damn fast?’ I asked. Heero frowned slightly, but Wufei snorted, his own hand under my arm squeezing for a second.

‘I was on the phone with Griff when he suddenly started swearing a blue-streak,’ he informed me with a wry chuckle. ‘We didn’t wait for clarification.’

‘Why...?’ I began, but Heero sighed and gave my arm a tug.

‘Let’s get the hell out of the way. You need to sit down for a minute anyway.’

I let them lead me to the bench by the restroom door and managed to get my hand back from Heero in the process. Giles and Dave had gone back to moving the heavy-duty hoist, preparing to get the engine off the floor. I glanced back at the mess they were about to start dealing with and grimaced. A thought hamster was standing on top of the engine block, looking over the side at the puddle on the floor, a slightly sick expression on his furry little face. When he felt my attention, he pulled out a little thought balloon that simply said ‘yuck’.

I heard Heero speaking softly over my head to Wufei and I forced my attention away from Mikey’s... away from the spot on the floor.

‘I don’t know if this is such a great idea under the circumstances,’ Heero was saying.

Wufei hesitated, and I wanted to look up at him where they were standing next to the bench, but I didn’t really want them realizing I was paying attention. ‘I... I don’t know...’ he sighed.

‘Maybe I should take him home,’ Heero said, his voice lowering even more than it had been, his hand dropping to rest protectively on my good shoulder.

‘Yuy,’ Wufei grumbled. ‘We have a witness upstairs... we can’t just...’

‘Ok, fly-boys,’ I interjected, having heard more than enough. ‘What the hell is going on? And will you stop acting like a little adrenaline crash is going to kill me?’

They both jumped rather guiltily, exchanging one of their damn... looks. I frowned up at them, trying to puzzle out what they were up to. ‘Are you going to make me go to Griff to find out what in the hell you called him for, or are you going to just tell me what’s going on?’

Wufei was the one who folded first, and I suspected that he was the driving force behind whatever the hell was up. He was the one who had admitted to placing a call to my boss in the first place, after all. He sat down beside me, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. ‘I was asking Griff to ‘borrow’ you for the afternoon,’ he blurted, and over my head I heard Heero sigh, then he sat down with us.

‘Borrow me?’ I queried, looking from one of them to the other.

‘We’re working on a... murder case,’ Heero told me gently, mimicking Wufei’s pose so that the three of us were sitting close enough to speak without being overheard. ‘We have a witness...’

Then Wufei seemed to catch fire, his eyes showing me a touch of an enthusiasm that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. ‘Duo,’ he said earnestly. ‘She’s working with the sketch artist right now... but it isn’t going very well. The man is too... inflexible. I thought... I thought you could come and give it a try. I saw you working with that little girl at the clinic, and think you could get so much further with this woman than Jones is.’

‘You don’t have to,’ Heero interrupted gently, trying to counter some of Wufei’s fervor. ‘If you don’t want to.’

I wasn’t at all sure the idea appealed to me, but Wufei was looking at me with this weird... faith shining in his eyes and I’m not sure I could have said no to him if I’d wanted to, so I just took a deep breath and said, ‘I don’t mind trying, I guess... but I sure as hell can’t go up there looking like this.’ And I waved a hand down at my blood-spattered clothes.

Wufei couldn’t contain an exultant little sound, though he looked embarrassed when it escaped him. ‘I have clothes in my car,’ he told us, already on his feet.

Heero sighed, an almost defeated sound and nodded at him. ‘We’ll be in the restroom cleaning up.’ Wufei returned the nod and turned on his heel, walking across the bay for the open back doors that would lead him around to the parking garage. I noticed, as he went, that conversations ebbed as he passed. Eyes were turned in his direction and some of the gazes seemed... a little hostile. I wondered about it, but Heero diverted my attention with a touch on my arm.

‘Come on,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s get washed up.’

I agreed whole-heartedly, shoved myself to my feet and let him lead me to the restroom.

Once out of sight of a garage full of mechanics, Heero turned and caught me in a fierce embrace. ‘God,’ he muttered against my hair. ‘That scared the crap out of me... I thought you’d been hurt... I thought...’

I hugged him tight, leaning into his strength. ‘Everything’s ok, love.’

‘You’re sure you’re all right?’ he had to ask again.

‘A little shaky,’ I told him, better able to be honest with him away from prying eyes. ‘Just a bit of post-terror jitters,’ I teased, drawing away to smile for him.

He snorted and shook his head at me. ‘I want a better look at that shoulder,’ he told me then, tone of voice firm enough to tell me he wouldn’t argue about it. I didn’t bother; the shirt had to come off anyway, it was shot. I let him help me pull the thing over my head, my shoulder twinging at me enough that I hoped Wufei brought a button-up shirt, and not another pullover.

I endured his careful probing, getting to look at it in the mirror for the first time. We both decided it was just bruised to hell and back; while it looked rather nasty, I was sure nothing was broken. Though I wasn’t going to say no if anybody offered me a Tylenol.

We had all the blood washed off our exposed skin by the time Wufei got back with a bundle of clothes. He looked... oddly flushed and was rather subdued; I didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t volunteer anything so I let it go.

Wufei washed his hands and arms while I ended up having to strip to my underwear to get the blood off my knees where it had soaked through my pants legs. I was pretty sure my clothes were completely shot, though I thought we could salvage Heero’s shirt. Wufei had miraculously brought the appropriate articles of clothing all around, and we joked about how fortuitous it was that Monday was laundry day for him, and that he’d still had the basket in the trunk of his car.

His jeans were a little loose on me, but Heero gave me his belt, Wufei’s had gone off to the hospital with Mickey, and once I cinched that up, they didn’t look too bad. Wufei owns his own set of Preventor polo shirts and he had brought us a set of those.

Wufei finished dressing first and I glanced up at him with what I hoped was a winning smile. I had figured out that I was going to need a little something to help me get through this, and caffeine seemed just the ticket. ‘Don’t suppose you’d go out to the soda machine and get me a can while you’re waiting, would you?’

He got that... strange, uncomfortable look again, exchanging a glance with Heero. It surprised the hell out of me when Heero quietly told him, ‘I’ll go.’ And promptly did. Wufei seemed to avoid my gaze while Heero was gone.

There was nothing to be done about my work shoes, but they were a dark brown anyway, and what we couldn’t clean off, didn’t show all that badly.

Then we were as straightened up as we could get and it was time to go. I wasn’t at all sure about this. I wondered if the witness had known the murder victim, and hoped to hell she hadn’t; that would be hard to deal with. I wondered if the woman was calm and composed, or bawling her head off or something.

Despite my flustered thoughts, I couldn’t help notice the looks we were getting as we made our way across the garage toward the main building. Or, on second thought, the looks that Wufei was getting. And Heero’s partner was very aware of them, if I could read his body language at all. What the hell? I sipped at my can of soda and tried not to look like I was noticing.

I waited until we exited the garage, walked across the lobby of the main building and had gotten into an elevator. We were, thankfully, alone. I watched while Heero punched the button for our floor, leaning surreptitiously on the rail, and then said ‘What, exactly, does the entire Preventors fleet of mechanics have against you, anyway?’

I thought Wufei was going to turn purple, his color escalating in a rather quick rush. I’d never seen him blush that hard before. He muttered something, but I couldn’t even hear it. I turned to Heero, but he was doing the stone face thing. ‘What?’ I asked no one in particular.

Heero... growled. ‘Rumor mill bullshit,’ he snorted, obviously irritated about it.

‘What rumors?’ I asked, looking from one of them to the other. Wufei looked like he’d swallowed something unpleasant and Heero kind of looked like he wanted to deck somebody.

It took a second, but Heero finally said, obviously picking his words carefully, ‘The popular explanation for Wufei’s... black eye was that I hit him.’

I cringed a little at the reminder of my having decked his partner and felt my own face warming. I glanced at Wufei and found that his expression of having swallowed ‘something bitter’ had escalated almost to ‘something poisonous’.

‘But why in the hell would you have punched your own partner?’ I blurted and Heero sighed gustily.

‘For making a pass at my...’ he began, swallowed and tried again. ‘For making a move on you.’

What?’ I choked out, starting to feel like I was watching a tennis match as I tried to look from one of them to the other.

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