‘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
‘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
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
‘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.
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
‘...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.
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
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
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,
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
‘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
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
‘Maxwell?’ he grumbled at me, glaring hard but still managing to look
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.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's