Expectations (cont)

‘Everybody thinks that Wufei tried to... come between us,’ Heero clarified, starting to get just a hint of color in his own cheeks.

‘And,’ Wufei growled, speaking for the first time. ‘Those damn mechanic friends of yours are rather protective of... your current relationship.’

I thought back on the looks we’d been getting with this new bit of information in mind. Saw the glares, saw the cold shoulder Wufei had been getting once the excitement had waned, and I started to chuckle. I got a twin pair of glares and I just freaking lost it.

That was the most priceless thing I’d heard all damn day. I wondered how the rumor mill explained Sally’s presence? I wondered where in the hell people came up with shit like that? I was laughing so damn hard that Wufei reached out and stopped the elevator between floors and Heero took my can of soda away from me lest I spill it.

‘Maxwell!’ Wufei all but snarled. ‘It’s damn well not funny!’

I was laughing so hard that tears were running down my face, as visions of Heero and Wufei in some kind of fist fight over my swooning form came to me all unbidden. ‘I’m sorry, Fei,’ I gasped out. ‘It’s just like something out of one of those really bad bodice-ripper pulp novels! One with a truly bizarre twist at the end!’

Something... strange happened in the air then. Something that I couldn’t understand; but somehow Wufei lost his irritation in the space of a damn heartbeat. It was just gone, and he was smiling at me with a warmth in his eyes that hadn’t been there in a long damn time.

‘You know,’ I snickered. ‘Those awful, horribly unlikely romance books?’ I threw a limp wrist up to cover my eyes in an exaggerated pose. ‘With the fainting heroines on the covers?’

His faint smile grew a little bit toward a grin. ‘You’d look ridiculous in a dress.’

‘With my bodice ripped, of course,’ I simpered and threw a look in Heero’s direction. ‘But then... he’d be dressed in one of those outlandish pairs of painted on leather pants with the gauzy poet shirt, carrying the sword that’s always from the wrong time-period.’

I actually drew a snicker out of Wufei, but Heero looked at us like we were a pair of school children, refusing to be moved by my mirth. ‘And just how many of those things have you read, that you’re so familiar with the covers?’ he dead-panned and won the full-throated laugh from Wufei that I hadn’t been able to. It was a sound I realized I hadn’t heard in too long. I decided I’d missed it.

I opened my mouth to retort, but Heero gave me a look that told me the joke was over. ‘We do have a job we should be doing,’ he informed us, so I dropped it, wiping my eyes and trying to wipe away the mental images as well.

When they seemed to feel I was composed enough, Wufei reached out and hit the elevator release and our trip resumed.

George and Francis appeared on the floor of the elevator, dressed in period costumes and proceeded to put on a floorshow, complete with swooning and bodice ripping. I think they did a pretty good job, but I didn’t dare watch them for fear of bursting into laughter again. They faded when the elevator reached its destination. Then the idea of what I was about to attempt sort of caught up to me and the last of the amusement just bled away.

‘You sure you’re all right with this?’ Heero asked me solicitously, and I gave him a nod, though I couldn’t say I was sure at all. He handed me my can of forgotten soda back and I took a long swallow, kind of wishing it was a beer.

I followed them down a hall, wandering into uncharted territory. This wasn’t the floor their offices were on, and I suspected from the layout, the area was strictly for research and the like. We passed people in the hall, but not many.

They slowed as we neared the end of the corridor, seeming to hesitate, then Wufei stepped into a side door. I glanced at Heero, he was frowning slightly, but he didn’t follow and I opted to wait with him. Wishing I dared just lean against him for a moment. Just for a minute; I was getting very damn tired.

Wufei returned with a sketchpad and a handful of pencils that he offered to me. From the way they were acting, I suspect they’d been borrowed without permission. I wondered idly who they belonged to, this Jones they had mentioned?

Then we were moving again, and I kind of wished they’d done some more explaining, but I figured it was too late for that when a door was opened and I found myself in a room with Commander Une. The look on her face was... annoyed.

‘What took so long?’ she asked, voice low, and glared at Wufei in a manner that made me want to take a step back.

‘There was an accident in the maintenance bay,’ Wufei told her, voice equally low. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but he gave her a look that promised a full explanation later. ‘Is Jones still...’ he began and then I heard voices coming from the other room and we all had the answer to that question.

‘Here you go, Miss Peters,’ a man’s voice was saying. ‘Be careful... it’s hot.’ I imagined a cup of coffee changing hands.

‘Thank you, Mr. Jones,’ a soft, subdued voice said. ‘I’m sorry to be so difficult... I’ve never done anything like this before.’

There was a slight chuckle, meant to sound friendly and warm. ‘Not many people have, I assure you. Shall we try again?’

There was a heavy sigh. ‘I just don’t know... it all happened so fast.’

‘Just try to relax and tell me what you remember.’

Wufei reached out and touched my arm and I realized he meant to insert my ass into the middle of that moment in the next room. I shook my head and he got a rather confused look on his face, somewhere between disappointment and... betrayal. I ignored him, glancing around the little anti-room and finding nothing in the way of furniture, I just sank to the floor, putting the sketchpad in my lap and laying the pencils out beside me. I thought I heard a funny little grunt from Une, but I didn’t look up.

I flipped the sketchpad open and was thankful that it appeared to be unused. It would have felt... odd working in someone else’s book. I carefully picked a pencil from the pile beside me and let my focus home-in on the flow of words coming from the next room.

I wasn’t sure just who this Jones was, but this was obviously his job. Just as obviously, he’d been working with the woman I couldn’t see, for some time, getting her to relax and talk to him. Getting her to open up. I figured stuffing me into his mix right now would probably not be a good thing. I would let him do his job, I would let him ask the questions and I would just sit here quietly on the sidelines and listen.

Over my head, Heero murmured something and Wufei gave him a terse little answer. Then they shut up.

‘...big man...’ I heard from that other room and I set pencil to paper, losing myself in the cadence of her voice.

‘...short hair...’

The lines began to flow across the expanse of white paper, building something from the bone out. Forming something I couldn’t see yet.

‘...frightening, piercing eyes...’

There was the murmur of Jones’ voice, as he pulled information from her and I could detect a hint of the man’s exasperation. He wanted measurements and exacts. Needed them to do his job, but she was giving him impressions and emotions. The lines were forming under my pencil as fast as my hand could move.

‘...cruel mouth... wide...’

Occasionally I heard Heero and Une, conversing in quiet tones off to the side. At one point I was suddenly aware of Wufei sitting close beside me, watching me intently. I spared him a sidelong smile and the look I caught on his face could only be described as... exultant.

‘...little earring...’

After a while I wasn’t really hearing the words anymore, they went straight from her mind to my hand, and my vision had narrowed to the rectangle of paper in front of me. When her voice finally stopped, when the rhythm was finally interrupted, I had a jolting moment of disconnection, feeling oddly... adrift. I might have swayed a little. Wufei’s hand on my arm suggested it. I looked down into my lap and was rather disturbed by the man I found looking back at me.

‘Is it... done?’ Wufei whispered, that reverent tone in his voice that he gets sometimes when he talks about my art.

There was nothing from the other room and I nodded at him. ‘I... think so.’

He took the pad from me and rose from the floor, taking it to show to Heero and Une. I turned to watch, seeing a calculating glint come into Une’s eyes as she looked from the sketch to me and back again.

Heero attempted to school his expression, there in the presence of his commanding officer, but when his eyes sought mine they fairly shone. I couldn’t help the blush, and turned away to gather the pencils from the floor beside me.

Une issued a command, and Wufei immediately took the sketch and strode into the other room. I heard the murmur of his voice, sounding oddly excited as he explained himself to Jones and the woman.

I started trying to get my tired, sorry ass hefted up off the floor, finding that stressed muscles were objecting rather vocally to being dumped here in the first place. A gentle hand caught hold of my arm and I let Heero help me to my feet.

‘You ok?’ he asked, voice low.

‘Tired,’ I assured him with a smile. ‘Remind me not to arm wrestle with a thousand pound hunk of steel again.’

He frowned, hand not leaving my arm, and would have said something else, but from the other room there came a sudden, shocked gasp. ‘That’s him! Oh my God! That’s him!’

A predator’s light came into Heero’s eyes then, mixed up with his concern. I could see his desire to rush off to the other room. Could see his need to stay by me and see to my well-being. Could see the conflict and frustration plain as day. His eyes were searching mine, looking for confirmation that I was ok, looking for reassurance that I would be all right with his leaving.

I was a little... disturbed at the unbelievable rush of warmth I felt inside, having his regard in that way. This may seem an odd thing to say, until you stop to realize how much of my relationship with Heero has fallen under the shadow of that damn accident. But feeling that he isn’t... ashamed of me is damn important to me. I wasn’t about to tell him that he couldn’t go do what he obviously needed to be doing because I was feeling... wobbly.

‘Go on,’ I grinned at him. ‘You’ve got a job to do.’

He gave me his feral grin, the one he gets right before he kicks the shit out of somebody who deserves it, turned on his heel and went to join Wufei. I couldn’t help the rueful shake of my head.

‘That was excellent work, Mr. Maxwell,’ Une’s voice rather took me by surprise; I’d half forgotten she was in the room.

‘Thanks,’ I mumbled and took a step toward the door. ‘But, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.’

She chuckled lightly, seeming highly amused by the comment. ‘I’ll walk you to the elevator.’

‘Uh... I think I can find it,’ I told her, not relishing the trip. Just how do you make idle conversation with a woman like her? Good call losing the hairdo? Not, perhaps, the best opening line. Medication’s been good to you? Ouch. Not that one either. In the end she took control, and I didn’t have to worry about it.

‘I’m headed that way myself,’ she smiled, giving a sweep of her hand to indicate I should proceed her. I fumbled for a moment with the handful of pencils, unsure what to do with them. She took them from me as we passed what had to be Jones’ office door and disposed of them. I caught a glimpse of a small, fairly cluttered office before the door closed on it. We started our walk. ‘I have to admit, I had my doubts when Agent Chang suggested... pulling you in on a consult.’

I blinked at her wording, wondering just how that conversation had really gone. Consult. It sounded so... professional. I didn’t have the brain cells to be witty, only wishing that she’d go away and leave me to be wobbly by myself.

‘You’re very talented,’ she told me, still with that weird little smile that was making my skin crawl. Like she was weighing and judging me.

‘Thanks,’ I mumbled, finding my hand wanting to rub across the back of my neck.

She chuckled, an odd, throaty sound. ‘Agent Yuy said you were rather... modest about your abilities.’

I couldn’t help snorting, though it was as much to cover up how uncomfortable this whole conversation was making me. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. We’d arrived at the elevator bank and I punched the button, a little dismayed that the elevator wasn’t there waiting to get me the hell out of there.

‘In fact,’ she continued, just as though she’d never expected me to answer her anyway. ‘I meant to speak with you after that sniper incident.’

‘Look,’ I sighed. ‘I’m really sorry about that. I would have reported it to Griff right away if I’d realized it was going to become an issue, but technically...’

The sudden sound of her laughter cut me off, and I turned to blink at her in confusion. I’m sure I looked like a pole-axed bush baby with my eyes as wide as saucers; I’d never heard the good commander laugh before. I was opening my mouth to attempt to clarify myself when the sound of running feet made me turn abruptly to face the new interloper.

There was a tall, lanky man running towards us and I knew immediately it had to be the afore-unseen Mr. Jones. He looked... irritated. Great. Guess I should have realized that infringing on his territory wasn’t going to go unchallenged. I was a little ticked that Heero or Wufei hadn’t followed him to back me up. They were the ones who had gotten me into this, after all.

‘You’re Maxwell?’ the guy was panting just from the short run, and I wondered if he ever got out of his cluttered little office at all.

‘Yeah,’ I confirmed and had to resist the urge to take a defensive stance.

‘You’re a God damn mechanic?’ he blurted, voice full of disbelief and irritation.

Somewhere in the back of my head, the little kid growled, Yeah; wanna make somethin’ of it? But my adult voice, more aware of how damn worn out we were, very calmly told him, ‘Yes.’

He threw his hands in the air in that universal gesture of exasperation and turned on Commander Une. ‘What a damn waste!’ he practically yelled at her. Then his finger was stabbing in my direction. ‘I want him. Stupidest thing in the world to have that kind of talent squandered in the damn motor pool!’

Then he turned abruptly back the way he’d come and stormed down the hall. Well. That had certainly not been what I was expecting. Behind me, the elevator dinged its arrival and I thought seriously of just throwing myself backward into it. I glanced at Une and would have to judge that I’d pretty much provided her with all the entertainment the woman was going to need for the rest of the damn day. She was grinning at me like a lousy Cheshire cat. I just wanted to run all the way back to my nice, safe, uncomplicated garage.

‘Since Mr. Jones has made his wishes known,’ she fairly purred. ‘I think I’ll go ahead and make my offer of an Agent’s position as well. Just so you can think both proposals over at the same time. You handled yourself during that bus accident and the sniper incident in an exemplary manner.’ She moved past me to commandeer the elevator, her Cheshire grin toned down to that amused little smile again. ‘Mr. Jones is right about your talents being wasted in your current position. Think about it, Mr. Maxwell... you have a lot of options here.’

Then the doors slid shut and she was gone. Woman knew how to make an exit.

‘Fuck me sideways,’ I murmured to thin air and then punched the call button to get my sorry little ass the hell out of there.

Do I have to tell you the first thing I did was dig the bottle of aspirin out of my toolbox when I got back to the garage? Nothing like a little stress, overwork, and near death experience to give you a bit of a headache. Or maybe that was the darn case of full body whiplash I’d given myself.

If I’d been lacking things to think about, that whole damn sequence would have supplied me with headache fodder for the rest of the freakin’ day.

It took me a minute to remember what my next work order had been, then a minute longer to convince myself that I really could lift my toolbox, before I headed for the transmission job waiting at the end of the bay. I’d no more than gotten my stuff set in place before Griff was striding out of his office toward me.

‘Maxwell, what the hell are you doing back here?’ he hollered from half way across the garage and I had to sigh. I swear to God the man doesn’t have a normal speaking voice.

‘They finished with me, boss-man,’ I told him, hoping he’d just drop it, hoping he’d just go away.

He, rather predictably, kept coming. Not stopping until he came abreast of me, looking at me across the hood of the car I would be working on as soon as he left me alone. He planted his hands firmly on his hips, and asked gruffly, ‘You get the job done?’‘Apparently,’ I sighed, remembering the voice of that woman I’d never seen, saying that’s him!

He frowned at me, looking me up and down. ‘You ok?’

I opened my mouth to tell him I was fine, but had to close it again when I couldn’t remember what I’d meant to say. I seem to recall some small part of my mind noting that he looked... washed out, like all the color had bled away from his clothes... from his face. Then I realized it wasn’t just him.

‘Maxwell?’ he grumbled at me, glaring hard but still managing to look oddly anxious.

I was suddenly just very damn tired. Tired like I hadn’t been in a long time. If Griff would just go away and leave me alone, I thought that sitting down right there on the floor might be a good idea. It sounded like a good idea, anyway. I blinked blurry eyes and thought I saw movement over Griff’s shoulder. ‘Duo?’ he asked, voice going from merely anxious to downright scared, but he sounded so... distant. I had a moment of sharp recognition, understanding suddenly what was happening. I distinctly remember saying ‘son of a bitch’, and then my knees started to buckle. I tried to call Heero, I was so sure that I was seeing him, but I don’t think I managed it, and then it all went to black.

We shall use the term ‘passed out’, because I’ve never liked the somewhat girly connotations of the term ‘fainted’, all right?

I honestly don’t think I was out for very long. Not more than a couple of minutes anyway. Long enough for every damn one of Griff’s employees to come running to stare at me. Long enough for Heero to suddenly be there and have me gathered into his arms. But not so long that an ambulance had been summoned. Not long enough for me to convince myself it was all just a bad dream.

How utterly humiliating.

I had a panicky moment when awareness first started creeping back, a moment when my mind told me I was in a damn vulnerable position. A moment of feeling trapped somehow.

‘You’re safe,’ a familiar voice told me firmly.

I felt muscles that had been tensing, trying to decide whether to attempt fight or flight, go slack again. Then that familiar voice gentled and said, ‘It’s all right... I’m here.’

It really had been Heero I’d seen.

The hardest struggle was with the kid in my head, who only wanted to burrow against the chest I found myself clutched to, and go back to sleep.

I shifted, trying to get myself up, trying to get myself out of what proved to be Heero’s lap.

‘Hold the hell still, damn it!’ Heero snapped and there was absolutely no way out of the embrace he had me wrapped up in, short of an open brawl. I’d lose one of those hands down, so I stilled like I’d been commanded.

I was opening my mouth with the sharp retort, when some part of my still awakening brain registered the completely mad pounding of his heart against the side of my face. He was scared. God... he was so scared.

‘I’m all right,’ I said, trying to sound soothing, trying to sound like I’d not just taken an impromptu nap on the garage floor.

Before Heero could open his mouth, Griff practically snarled in our faces. ‘Maxwell! Your ass is on its way to the clinic; now! And I don’t want to hear another damn peep out of you, or you’re on report! Yuy, you need help getting him up there, or not?’

‘No,’ Heero snapped back and started to rise with me in his arms. I gave serious consideration to screaming. Loudly. For a long time.

[back] [cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]