Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : Yaoi, angst, sap, OOC, alternating POVs, language and some totally unrepentant Duosufferitis. This is a direct sequel to the 'Road Trip' series.
Thanks to Christy for another great beta job, and Aya and Kracken for opinions rendered.
Feed-back is a welcome distraction from the tedium of the daily grind.
And I’m pretty sure that GW ownership isn’t really in any doubt; we don’t… they do.

[ note: + = POV change ]

Guardian Spirits

I was pretty much in a foul mood that morning, and I allowed myself to storm into my computer room, knowing that nobody else would be in yet. I come to work a half an hour before most of the rest of the building in order to have time to make sure all the servers are up and running. It gave me time to reboot things if I needed to before anybody was in to care. Just one of those little things that the Network Administrator took care of without being asked.

Heero had, on the way to work that morning, revealed the fact that he and Wufei were leaving on an extended mission that day. Probably wouldn’t be back for a week or two. Nothing really unusual for a pair of Preventers. It didn’t bother me as much that they were going to be gone, as it bothered me that he had waited so long to tell me. I hated it when he treated me like I had to freaking be protected from every damn little thing. A little warning would have been nice. I do not think I am a prick about it when he goes on-site for an assignment. No more than he’s a prick about it when I have to go out of town to training or to a technical seminar. It’s not like I would have been pissy with him from the time he told me until he left. What the hell had the point been in not telling me? Sometimes I could just smack him up the side of the head.

I went through my little morning routine, opening up for the day, checking the previous nights logs, checking my e-mail. I let the familiar habits soothe away a little of my irritation, just trying to put it out of my mind. It wasn’t the first time we’d argued, and it sure as hell probably wouldn’t be the last.

By the time eight o’clock rolled around, I had pretty well settled myself down and felt like I could deal with my staff without biting their heads off. It wasn’t their fault, after all, that my lover was an over-protective idiot with the inability to deal with emotional confrontation. It was a damned lucky thing he was good in bed.

I was mildly surprised when Misty came storming into the room at eight exuding signs of a foul mood of her own.

‘Uhhh… Morning?’ I ventured as she threw her purse into the desk drawer and viciously punched the power button on her PC.

She looked at me, a little apologetically. ‘Sorry, Boss-man,’ she grinned faintly. ‘Bad morning.’

‘Seems to be the way of things today,’ I empathized, tossing back my own half-hearted grin.

‘You too?’ She pulled out her chair and threw herself into it, slumping down and watching her PC boot up. ‘What’s the matter?’

I laughed. ‘Oh… ladies first.’

She smirked at me. ‘Goody! A bitch session! You first.’

I smiled; the banter, oddly enough, making me feel better. I turned toward her and stuck my fist out, she rolled her eyes and stuck hers out as well, and we played a round of rock, paper, scissors to see who started. Don’t ask me where these strange little things come from; I have no real memory of how this ritual got started.

She has no idea that I can tell from the way her wrist muscles tighten which move she is going to use. I make it a point not to win all the time, and she doesn’t suspect. I won this time.

‘You first,’ I declared and she stuck out her tongue.

‘Well, you know that Justin and I were supposed to be going to the Screaming Wombats concert this weekend?’

I rolled my eyes; I think I have a fairly eclectic taste in music…but the Screaming Wombats?

‘You’ve only been talking about it for the past month,’ I teased. ‘Your first trip away from home, just the two of you since Carrie was born.’ I didn’t have to point out that Carrie was now four, excuse me; four years old.

Her face waffled back and forth between, ‘I’m going to cry’ and ‘I’m going to kill somebody’ and she finally blurted, ‘Justin’s stupid sister was supposed to keep Carrie for the weekend and she called this morning and backed out.’

I made that weird groaning noise you make when you’re trying to be sympathetic. ‘Well that completely sucks.’

‘Tell me about it. The tickets are paid for and I’m going to lose the deposit on the hotel room and everything.’ She sighed heavily and then she grinned. ‘Your turn.’

‘Well,’ I murmured, ‘as it turns out, my irritation of the day may just be a solution to your irritation of the day.’

So I whined about Heero dumping his news on me at the last minute, pointed out that I now had absolutely nothing going on for the next week and a half to two weeks and would be more than happy to baby-sit my Goddaughter for the weekend.

‘Oh Gods, Duo!’ I thought she was going to cry. ‘Do you mean it?’

‘If….’ I warned, ‘you clear it with Justin first.’

She sobered. Her husband had not been all that enthralled with me since the St. Bernard incident. Come on; can’t a guy buy a puppy for his only Godchild?

Paul came in not long after that, and I found something for the two of us to go do so that Misty could have some privacy to call her hubby and do her best to convince him that I was trustworthy enough to watch his little Princess for two or three days. I didn’t really want to be around to hear how much she had to cajole. I gave it a good half an hour before Paul and I went back into the room, and the solar flares and moonbeams emanating from her face gave me my answer. I now had plans for the weekend.

She smirked at me. ‘There’s a few… rules, Boss-man.’

‘Hit me with them, Number One.’ This should be good; let’s see if good ol’ Justin left me any loopholes.

‘When we come home, we do not have anything living at our house that wasn’t there when we left.’

‘Done,’ I nodded. I had learned a thing or two from the puppy incident, ok?

‘We will write up a pre-set menu for Carrie. No caffeine. No chocolate. Limited sugar.’

I rolled my eyes, but nodded. I heard a stifled snicker from Paul’s direction and had to take a moment to glare at him.

‘No extravagant, outlandish gifts.’ She had the grace to look a little embarrassed, and I was sure this list was generated straight from Justin.

I hesitated. ‘Define extravagant.’

‘Nothing bigger than a breadbox or more expensive than a damned paycheck.’

I hid the feral grin, appearing on the outside to nod in resignation. Good try Justin my boy, but that left all kinds of loopholes.

Her eyes dropped as she muttered, ‘He doesn’t want to hear any complaints from the neighbors.’ At least she had stopped pretending these were anything but his ideas. I only raised an eyebrow on that one, not deigning to speak.

She hesitated slightly, then said in a rush, ‘No structural changes to the house.’

Paul laughed out loud. I didn’t have to glare at him; Misty did it. ‘I didn’t make this shit up, ok?’

‘Is that all?’ I queried with a raised eyebrow and she nodded sheepishly.

‘I think I can stay within the confines of the… regulations,’ I assured her. She beamed.

All for the sake of the Screaming Wombats; go figure.

Arrangements were made for me to be at her house that evening at seven, with bags packed and bells on. I found I was actually looking forward to it. I enjoyed Carrie’s company; she was a sweet kid. So unlike all the other children I had known in my lifetime. Untouched by a war that had ended before her birth. I cherished that.

My phone rang during the noon hour and I saw Heero’s extension on the display. Misty and Paul were both out to lunch, and being alone, I was suddenly overtaken with a perverse mood, and I let it ring. He was only calling to apologize and say goodbye before they left for the shuttle port. I was still stinging enough from the morning that I just didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t quite ready to be over it, but at the same time, wasn’t quite mad enough to take the argument up again. So I watched it ring, watched it stop, and stared at it until the message light came on. And yes, I scooped it up on the first flash of the damned little green light.

‘Duo…’ There was a heavy sigh. ‘Damn it…I hate these things.’ Meaning the voice mail. There was a pause, I knew he was debating hanging up. ‘Love… I’m sorry. It was wrong of me… I just… can’t stand to see that look on your face…’ I heard a voice in the background that sounded like Wufei, probably telling him to hurry up, there was another sigh. ‘I can’t do this on a stupid machine… I’ll call you tonight… Duo, I love you.’

I played the damn thing three times and then deleted it. Stop laughing; I know I’m pathetic.

It had been a really stupid argument and I knew it. I don’t really know if I was even still mad. Not even really hurt, just a little stung. A little irritated. Heero had done something stupid. I had over-reacted. We’d had some words. Not the first argument we’d had in our long history together, and I’m sure it most certainly would not be the last. As sure as the Gods made little green apples; it wouldn’t be the last.

I dialed his extension and, of course, got his voice mail. I’d missed him. He checked his voice mail while out of town like other people breathed.

‘Heero…’ I put the grin into my voice for him. ‘Heart and soul… asshole.’ And I hung up.

It didn’t take much to mend things when you’ve been together as long as we have. By the time he got home, the whole thing would be forgotten.

The rest of the day went by fairly quickly, the high-light of the afternoon coming when we got to make fun of the guy in Accounting who spent fifteen minutes trying to login to the network with his caps lock key on. He fumed and yelled about us locking his account out for a good five minutes. It was sheer bliss to watch Paul calmly reach over his shoulder and almost gently press that single key and politely ask the man to try just one more time. His face turned the most interesting shade of red I have ever seen. It was worth the trip to the second floor just to watch. It probably wouldn’t have been near as funny if it hadn’t been the third time it had happened in the last month.

I went home in a much better mood than I had been in when I arrived that morning, despite the long drive home alone. Though I did take advantage of it by rolling all the windows down and turning the stereo way up. Something Heero had never developed an appreciation for.

Whatever irritation I had left over vanished when I arrived home, walked into the bedroom to pack and found the roses lying on my side of the bed. A single red and a single white, bound together with a ribbon. The flowers themselves were enough to lighten my mood, but what really put the grin on my face was the mental picture I had of Wufei’s face as he rolled his eyes and growled in exasperation about the stupid delay. I could almost hear him telling Heero that they were going to miss the damned shuttle if he didn’t hurry the hell up! I put the roses in water and set them in the middle of the kitchen table. I chuckled the whole time I was changing clothes and packing.

Misty and I had discussed dinner for the evening, and Carrie and I had been granted permission to order pizza delivery. Heero was not a huge fan of pizza, and hated having it delivered. It creeped him out to imagine his dinner being handled by some delivery driver for however long it took to get to the apartment. I think he’d seen one too many exposes on TV. On the rare occasions that he would consent to pizza, we could order it out, but he always went to pick it up. Kind of took the fun out of it, if you asked me. The whole point to pizza, as far as I’m concerned, is that somebody else is doing all the work and then bringing it right to you. Thirty minutes or free and all that. I usually had pizza at least once whenever he was out of town.

I drove over to Misty and Justin’s, arriving promptly at seven. I didn’t have to knock, the minute I pulled up, there was the sound of furious, high-pitched puppy barks from within, mingled with high-pitched childish squeals. My Godchild is kind of fond of me, ok? So’s her dog. I honest to the Gods think that’s what really bugs Justin about me; his dog likes me better than him. I encourage this. I spoil the puppy almost as much as the kid; there were puppy treats in my jacket pocket. Carrie’s present was tucked into my duffle bag, where it would stay until her wet-blanket parents were on their way. I had not spent an entire paycheck on it. Almost, but not quite.

‘Unca Duo!’ came the shriek as the front door flew open and my Goddaughter was charging out and leaping off the porch, utterly confident that I would catch her.

She is the spitting image of her mother, from the curly, unruly hair, to the grin plastered all over her face. She has her father’s eyes, and I think she’ll have his height, but her exuberance is all Misty’s.

The barking puppy joined us, doing his best to jump up into my arms as well, or at least high enough to get at the jacket pocket that he knew held his treat. He wasn’t much of a puppy anymore; growing fast. But then, he was a St. Bernard. He could almost reach the pocket after putting his front paws up on my thigh.

‘Down, Bernie,’ I commanded; best nip this behavior in the bud before he got big enough to knock my ass over.

He sat obediently; tail wagging so hard his whole back end was wiggling, and waited until I gave him his treat. Then the three of us went in the house.

Carrie’s parents were waiting almost impatiently for us in the living room. I blinked at the sight of my assistant Network Administrator in a dress. A low cut, black sheath dress no less, with pearls.

‘Isn’t Mommy pretty, Unca Duo?’ Carrie beamed at her mother from her perch on my left hip as though it were somehow her doing.

I smirked at the two of them, standing there dressed to the nines and more than ready to be on their way, ‘Ok, who the… heck are you and what have you done with Number One?’

Misty blushed all the way down to…all the way down the front of her low cut dress. Justin slipped a somewhat possessive arm around her waist, and just for giggles, I checked him out as well; just to make him squirm and remind him that I really didn’t have any interest in his wife.

Their car was already packed, and I only had to stand and listen to the standard ‘this is where we’ll be, call if anything comes up’ speech. Dinner and dancing tonight, concert tomorrow night; here are the numbers… blah, blah, blah. Carrie and I stood in the driveway and waved until the car was out of sight.

There was a tiny little moment where I saw her lip tremble and I felt a twinge of panic. I aborted it with a cheery, ‘Ready to call the pizza delivery guy?’

‘Yeah!’ We raced back to the house, Bernie dancing around us, intent on making somebody fall down where he could reach their faces. I foiled Bernie and still managed to let Carrie win the race.

I splurged, and ordered us a pizza each because I intended to enjoy this, damnit, and I really do not like plain cheese pizza.

We put in the ‘Labyrinth’ disc and skipped through it to all the musical numbers so we could dance. I ‘heard’ the pizza delivery guy every five minutes and kept her running back and forth to the door to check. That, by the way, is the secret Duo Maxwell babysitting method; utterly foolproof. Wear the little buggers out so completely they pass out at bedtime without the energy to argue.

We danced to the door when the pizza finally arrived to ‘Magic Dance’, ignoring the drivers rolling eyes. I tipped him well enough, and he went away smiling.

I locked Bernie in the utility room so we could eat on the living room floor and we started the movie over from the beginning to watch while we ate. We cheered for the fox, and yelled for Sarah to just freaking turn around for once, and held our noses the whole time they were in the bog of eternal stench. Clapped whenever Bluto made the rocks move and booed the Goblin King. When the pizza was gone, we let Bernie out, and he ran in happy circles around the whole house before coming to flop down on the floor beside us.

Then was cleanup time and then was bedtime. I had no trouble getting her to run off and get changed for bed after she saw the package that I pulled out of my duffle bag but wouldn’t let her have until she was in her pajamas and her hair was brushed. I know a little something about kids. Especially kids you are not going to have to live with constantly. Her nice, normal, slightly strict parents were more than enough to counterbalance my occasional extravagances.

You know what a Steiff is? I didn’t the first time I saw one. I just saw this absolutely gorgeous teddy bear. I wanted it for Carrie the instant I saw it; it was the same color as her hair and had the same rich chocolate brown eyes. It had a big green ribbon around its neck, which just happens to be Carrie’s favorite color. Then I saw the price tag and I believe Heero had to reach out and push my jaw back in place. I love teddy bears, ok? Never had one. I really wanted to get Carrie a teddy bear, but I wanted it to be perfect, and this one fit the bill. I walked away from that stupid bear five times. The sixth time I stopped to look at it, two months later, Heero picked it up off the shelf and plopped it in my hands.

‘Just buy the damned thing, will you?’ he had grinned at me.

And I had. My conscience was still stinging.

I let her unwrap it just before her bedtime story. Her eyes grew wide and she squealed with that happy, childish glee that kids lose by the time they get to be six or seven and they suddenly become aware that people are watching them when they open packages. At four, you still got the unadulterated, honest reaction and big sloppy kisses if you’re lucky. I got a hug too.

She promptly named the thing ‘Dirt’ because that was what his color reminded her of. I laughed until the tears ran down my face and she giggled with me, not really understanding why we were laughing so hard.

Then I tucked her in under the quilt I had made her when she was born and settled down to tell her the story of the Princess and the five Guardian Spirits. You don’t think that Duo Maxwell would just read any old fairy tale, do you? Hell no; I made up all the stories I told my Godchild.

‘Unca Duo?’ she asked me when I got to the part where the great bear spirit completed the first quest to win his way through the first portal where he met the great hawk spirit.

‘What, munchkin?’

‘How come you’re so happy?’

I blinked at her for a minute. ‘What makes you think I’m so happy?’

‘Daddy says you are.’

I’m slow, ok? It took me almost a full thirty seconds before I processed it and figured out the slight miscommunication between father and daughter.

I laughed out loud, confirming for her that I was, indeed, very happy.

‘I guess,’ I told her with a grin. ‘I’m happy because Uncle Heero loves me so much.’

She let me go back to the story then, and I told the part where the great bear and the great hawk had to join forces to complete the second quest in order to open the second portal where they teamed up with the great wolf spirit. Then I kissed her goodnight and turned the light off. She was asleep before I got back to the living room, Bernie at my heels.

I settled on the couch and flipped on the news to check the weather. I was thinking about the zoo tomorrow, but wasn’t sure if it was going to be clear or not.

My cell phone rang promptly at ten and I pulled it out, noting Heero’s number before answering it with a soft, ‘Hey.’

‘Are you all right?’ His voice sounded strained and I realized he had probably called the apartment first.

‘Fine,’ I chuckled at him. ‘You left me high and dry so I made other arrangements.’ I left only the slightest pause. ‘I’m babysitting Carrie for the weekend.’

Relief was plain in his voice. ‘I was worried when I didn’t get an answer at home.’ There was another pause, ‘Duo…I’m sorry. I…’

‘Let’s not,’ I told him warmly. ‘I don’t want to get started again.’ I chuckled, ‘I mean; we’re happy, right?’

He could hear in my voice that there was a story here and prompted, ‘What?’

So I told him about my conversation with Carrie and we laughed lightly together.

‘You know,’ he said at length. ‘Justin really is an asshole.’

I snorted. ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ I thought about it, ‘There must be something to the guy. I mean, Misty loves him.’

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