I pulled into the yard in a
much better mood, singing softly to myself and I took in the first load
of groceries. I made sure to get the perishables first. I saw Heero on
the stairs as I came through the front door; he was already glaring at
me. I bet myself on the first words out of his mouth, and as if on queue,
he said, "What took so long?"
"Ran into some old friends and went to the dance club." I drawled
and could have kicked myself. This was the vicious cycle he and I lived
in. I could predict most of the very few words he would spare me and that
drove me insane. Being able to tell what he would say before he said it
made me get defensive and my smart-ass mouth kicked into high gear. That,
apparently, drove him insane and he just got more sullen.
I sighed, good mood pretty well deflated, and went on in to the kitchen.
Quatre was there with Trowa and I just tried to forget about Heero.
Quatre took the sack from my hands and started to unload it, I turned
to head back out for the rest of the supplies. Behind me, there was a
strange noise and I found Wufei just coming through the back door.
"Maxwell!" He snapped, "You idiot! None of this stuff will
I opened my mouth to defend myself, seeing Heero come into the kitchen
doorway and I suddenly had four pairs of eyes trained on me. The last
vestiges of the good mood faded. What the hell had I been thinking; a
decent evening with this group of guys? They all fucking hated me; there
was just no point in even trying.
I didn't speak, just met their eyes, one after the other and turned to
walk back out to the car. I grabbed the rest of the sacks and hauled them
into the kitchen, dumping them on the table.
They were all still there, pulling the steaks and vegetables out of the
first sack with vaguely horrified expressions. Wufei was speaking, but
I didn't even hear him. I was so angry I was within inches of full, tunnel
vision battle mode. My voice, when I opened my mouth, sounded ice cold
even to me.
"These are the supplies. Here is the receipt. Here is the change.
Here are the car keys." I laid each item out on the table as I mentioned
it. I shoved tonight's dinner into a separate pile, snagging my bottle
of soda out of the sack at the last moment, "The clerk at the general
store gave this to me for fixing her freezer. It's for dinner tonight.
Enjoy." In my imagination, the temperature dropped so drastically
the windows frosted over.
I turned quietly on my heel and strode out of the house. I didn't even
slam the damn door. I hoped they choked on it.
You would really, really, really fucking think that a guy who killed people
for a living, who called himself the God of Death in battle, who had lost
every living soul who had ever meant a flying fuck to him... would not
be so damn easy to hurt.
I went across the yard, glancing up once at the sun to get my bearings
before I went into the trees and headed back for town. Screw it; Bill
and Paige were a hell of a lot easier to get along with. It was only two
miles as the crow flies and the hike might serve to cool my anger. I knew
better than to even think about taking the only car for personal reasons.
I scrambled down the hill in high, hot temper until I slipped and fell
and almost broke my damn leg. I stopped then and found a rock to park
myself on and sat with my head in my hands and my Goddamn heart on my
sleeve and just hurt. Why in the hell was I letting them get to me like
Because they were supposed to be my friends. Because they were supposed
to be like me. Because I had been stupid enough to get excited when I
had found out they existed; had thought that I had finally found someone
who could understand how I felt. How I ached. How tired of it all I was.
I had thought that they would be tired and lonely and hurting as much
as I was. I had envisioned something...
But I had been wrong; they may have been four of the best and the brightest...
just as advertised. But they made the same stupid assumptions about me
that everyone else did. They might be Gundam pilots with all the implied
intelligence and skill that carried, but they couldn't see through my
mask anymore than any one else ever had. Couldn't look past what I had
been to see what I might become.
Solo would have laughed at me, "Yer feelin' sorry for yerself, rat-boy."
He would have jeered. If he hadn't died...
I remembered the bottle of soda stuffed in my jacket pocket and fished
it out. Unscrewing the cap, I raised the bottle in salute to the sky and
murmured, "To the death of feelings." And took a long swallow.
That made me laugh at my own melodrama and I climbed down from my rock
with a rueful shake of my head and started back down the mountain. I was
settled down enough though, that I thought I could make it without breaking
I got to town about the same time I got to the bottom of the bottle of
soda and headed toward the gas station, seeing Bill in the bay with a
car up on the rack.
I tossed the empty bottle into the nearest trashcan and waved at him when
he looked up at the noise.
"Hey Max!" He hollered and came out to meet me, wiping his hands
on a rag.
"What'cha working on?" I asked and let him lead the way back
into the garage.
I had every intention of killing the rest of the day in town and it might
as well be doing this as wandering around aimlessly begging total strangers
to talk to me. At least Bill and I had been formally introduced.
Turned out he was trying to get the engine hauled out of the Chevy he
had pulled into the bay and was delighted when I offered to help. It's
a job that's much easier with two people.
So we passed the next couple of hours wrestling with his car and hollering
back and forth at each other over the rock music he had blaring on the
I had to grin at the ridiculousness of it all; before long at all, my
arms and hands were covered with a half a dozen cuts and skinned knuckles,
I had grease all over the place and was still having a better time than
I'd had all bloody week up at the safe house.
Though Bill would probably not ever pass advanced algebra or become a
rocket scientist, he was an Ok guy. We passed the time talking about music
and sports, school and cars. General guy things. It was pleasant. When
we finally had the engine block hanging from the hoist in the middle of
the garage bay, he slapped my back and we had to laugh at the greasy mess
we had both become.
"If you want," He told me apologetically, "There's an old
shower stall out back. The former owner used to live in the apartment
over the garage and his wife wouldn't let him come into the house until
he was clean."
I had to grin, "Oh God... real life hot water?"
He laughed, "That's right; you're 'roughing it' aren't you?"
I flushed a little, realizing that I must look like he'd just offered
me the Holy Grail and I ducked my head, "Yeah... camping in the great
outdoors and bathing in the damn creek."
He snickered at me, "Don't you just hate cold showers."
"Worse than anything this side of a frontal lobotomy." I groused
and he showed me out back without further ado.
It was nothing more than a four foot square, cinder block stall; open
to the evening air, but it looked like heaven.
Bill pointed out a battered bottle of shampoo and a stack of clean towels,
"Don't worry about the hot water; the things attached to a tank the
size of Detroit."
He went back inside and I turned on the water and quickly stripped and
stepped under the spray. God; this was bliss. I worked the temperature
up until steam was billowing around me and my skin was turning a faint
pink. For a few minutes, I just stood and let the water run over me, closing
my eyes and grinning like a damn loon into the fading evening light.
With a regretful sigh, I opened my eyes and got to work getting clean.
I unbraided my hair and quickly washed it and then scrubbed the grease
and sweat off with the bar of harsh soap I found in the soup dish. Lady
Opportunity doesn't knock very often so I took a tiny bit of advantage
and allowed myself an extra five minutes. It was getting dark by the time
I finished and standing outside bare-ass naked, even if it was within
the confines of a five foot high wall, was giving me a naggy feeling of
being watched. I dried and dressed quickly and went back inside to find
Bill leafing through a Hotrod magazine waiting for me. He tossed me the
book while he went and took his turn.
He returned not much quicker than I had, but with the added advantage
of clean clothes.
Now that is was getting dark, I found that the feeling of standing in
the well lit bay with the overhead doors standing wide open left me with
that itchy 'I'm exposed' feeling and I asked him if the general store
was still open.
He glanced down at his watch and frowned, "Paige should have been
here by now; she closed at six." He observed and a familiar giggle
came to us from outside.
"I've been here for ten minutes." Paige laughed and came wandering
into the garage.
"Then what in the hell where you doing?" Bill asked her with
a confused grin.
"Taking full advantage of watching two cute guys showering."
She replied blandly and I wasn't sure which one of the two of us was going
to choke to death first.
" Paige!" My fellow mechanic yelped, his face turning
a dark purple, "Knock it off!"
I was at a total loss as to just what kind of relationship these two had.
But I decided that Paige's flirting must be pretty harmless for her to
engage in it with both of us at the same time. Besides; she couldn't possibly
have seen anything from where she had been standing.
"Listen," I asked her, as much to change the course of the conversation
as anything, "Would you mind letting me back in the store for a minute
so I can get something to eat?"
Her expression went all serious and she frowned at me, "What happened
to the big dinner you had planned?"
I ducked my head; I had hoped she'd forgotten about that, "The guys
took off and went fishing... "
"Without you?" She was instantly indignant on my behalf.
"Oh, it's all right." I reassured her quickly, "I don't
fish. It was in the plan... I just forgot that it was tonight."
Her face got all sympathetic, "That sucks!" She blurted, "They
shouldn't have planned anything that the whole group didn't like to do!"
I had to laugh at her; she was going to make somebody a killer over-protective
Mommy someday, "It's really all right. I just completely lost track
of the date." That ironic lie almost made me flinch.
Her face cleared and she grabbed an arm on each of us, "Well then,
since you don't have any plans, you can come with us to dinner! We were
just on our way over to the Johnson's diner!"
I balked, "Uhmmm... Paige... "I flushed, doing quick calculations
on the tiny amount of personal money I had on me, "I can't afford...
She snorted at me, "Do not be ridiculous; I still owe you... let's
see... two hundred and... "
Bill interjected a question at that point about the two hundred seventy
dollars, which led Paige to relate the whole 'he saved my life!' story
and before I quite knew what was happening, I was sitting between them
at a table in the diner eating pizza.
Listening to them banter back and forth, I eventually figured out that
they were more like brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend.
They had grown up in this little town together, the only two kids in their
age group and had kind of been forced to learn to get along.
I drank in their stories of childhood and growing up with families. Paige
had an older brother who was going to graduate college this next year.
Bill had a younger sister who was still in grade school. I enjoyed their
company and we laughed together, sharing the pizza and talking until Mr.
Johnson informed us it was time to close.
We left the diner and Bill told us goodbye, thanking me for my help with
the car before heading back to the garage to lock up and head home.
My path, apparently, coincided with Paige's, because she walked with me
toward the edge of town.
"Thanks for dinner." I told her and then grinned, "Twice!"
She frowned, "Too bad you didn't get to enjoy the first one."
"Max?" She glanced up at me and I had a sudden chill feeling
in the pit of my stomach.
"Yeah?" I asked and knew I really didn't want to hear this question.
She stopped in the middle of the street and turned to face me with her
hands planted on her hips, "Well that sounded... enthusiastic."
I chuckled, "Sorry."
"Do you like me?" She blurted.
"What?" I yelped, caught by surprise with her suddenness more
than the question. It had kind of been what I was afraid it would be.
She cocked her head off to the side and looked at me again, "You
aren't going to be here long." She informed me, "I don't have
time to beat around the bush; do you like me or not?"
I threw back my head and laughed and could only answer her with the same
bluntness, "Sweetie... if you were a guy I'd be all over you in a
I waited for the uproar. Waited for the shocked gasp, but all I got was
a defeated sigh, "God damn cute ones are always gay!"
She growled under her breath and then we both chuckled together.
"I'm sorry." I told her sincerely, "I do like you... I
think you're funny and nice and honest. But, just... "
"Just... not like that." She quirked a grin up at me.
"Nope. Not like that." I confirmed.
She did that thing where she blew her bangs out of her eyes, "Well
We resumed walking and parted ways not long after. I made the curve in
the road before I waded into the underbrush and started the climb back
up the mountain.
There was a moon, thank God, or I probably would have had to stick with
the road and walk the whole damn eight miles. As it was, it wasn't going
to be fun.
I made my way; careful and automatically quiet, and almost wished I could
turn around and go back down to town. Every step I took back toward that
safe house was adding a burden to my shoulders until I felt like I should
be bowed under the weight of it.
I listened to the quiet sounds of the woods and felt the bitter depression
seeping back to fill me. About half way up the mountain I decided that
as soon as this assignment was over, I was going to refuse to work with
any of my 'partners' again. Shinigami didn't need any damn help. I'd worked
on my own all this time; I would be better off working alone again.
I stopped when I came near the place in the creek where I had bathed that
morning and sat on the rock where I'd eaten breakfast. There was another
thing I needed to deal with before going into the house.
"Finally decide to stop ignoring me?" The breath of a sigh of
wind brought the words of my ghost to me across the years.
"Yeah, Solo... should have know you wouldn't leave me alone tonight
of all nights." I sighed; if I closed my eyes I could almost see
him in front of me. Standing with that fall of blond hair blowing around
his face, that ever-present blue headband holding it out of his eyes.
"Guy needs a little respect on the day he up and died." He grinned
"Sorry." I murmured and resisted the urge to reach out; I knew
he wasn't really there.
He grunted and smirked at me, "Took you damn long enough to come
talk to me."
"Had a little trouble with it this year." I told him and turned
my face toward the moon.
"You Ok rat-boy?" In my head he turned to look at the moon with
"I'll be... all right." I sighed and grinned despite myself,
"Thanks for giving enough of a shit to ask."
He just cocked his head.
"So... " I inquired softly, "How long do we have?"
He didn't answer me for a minute and I knew he was... would have been
wrestling with telling me, "Can't we just talk?" He asked at
"Since I'm really just talking to myself... no; that seems kinda...
He snorted then, "No damn respect. I dunno... maybe another five
"You'd think you could pin down the time of your own death a little
closer than that." I smirked.
"Take it or leave it, rat-boy." He growled and I had to remind
myself to keep my eyes closed so as not to lose sight of him.
I reached down and pulled my pants leg up and unsheathed my hunting knife.
"I really miss you, King-rat." I murmured.
His eyes would have followed the knife as I laid it in my lap and rolled
my sleeve up.
He growled softly, "I really hate this part." He told me, "Can't
we just skip this, kid?"
"Nope." I told him, "It's been another year."
"It wasn't your damn fault." He said and moved to turn away,
"You saved the others... nothin' you could do fer me."
I took hold of the heavy blade like it was a pencil and brought it to
the back of my arm, "I let you die, Solo."
"An' now you gotta make that damn mark... another year... another
scar." His voice was tight.
"I won't forget." I promised him again, as I had every
year since the night he'd died. I slid the blade across my skin and made
the cut. Nothing much, nothing spectacular... just enough so that it would
leave a fine, white scar. There were nine of them now, all in a row running
down my forearm. I kept my back to him until I could close my eyes again.
"It's done." I sighed, "You can turn around now."
"You didn't forget." He told me and his voice was getting fainter
"You know... " I said on a sudden inspiration, "Duo is
really only nine years old... He wasn't born until you died."
"Guess that makes it your birthday." He smirked at me just before
It was my turn to snort. I opened my eyes to an empty clearing.
"God I miss you, old friend." I murmured to the empty air and
couldn't stop my hand from reaching out toward the place he hadn't ever
been. I closed my eyes for a second, hoping he would come back and touch
my hand. I so needed someone to touch me. But he didn't... he never did,
"See you next year."
I wiped my blade clean and put it away and just sat for a minute more,
blinking up at the moon. It was brighter than I'd thought, because it
was making my eyes water.
Then there was the sudden feeling of being watched. I froze, every one
of my senses suddenly awake. That place between my shoulder blades was
screaming for me to run, but there was something about the presence that
seemed familiar and I finally caught the scent on the breeze.
"Come out, Heero." I growled and didn't bother turning toward
him. I wasn't a hundred percent sure just where he was.
It took him a moment to decide, maybe he thought I was just fishing and
wasn't really sure he was there, but finally he stirred. I still didn't
hear him, but caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I did turn
toward him then.
"What do you want?" I asked and felt the ice coming into my
voice. I just wished I could let that ice fill my heart.
He didn't speak immediately, but came a little closer, stopping in front
of me, "What are you doing out here?" He asked and his voice
"We are not currently on a mission. What I do in my spare time is
pretty much my own damn business." I fervently wished I knew how
long he'd been watching me and just what all he had seen. I felt off balance
and every defense I owned was in full 'holy shit' mode.
He chewed on that, which further threw me; I had been expecting an instantaneous
"What do you want?" I asked again when he didn't immediately
"I... " He hesitated and for a tiny, split second I saw a touch
of confusion in his eyes. But I suddenly knew what he was doing out here.
"You followed me because you didn't trust me not to compromise the
mission." I said flatly and could tell when he flinched that I'd
hit it right on the head.
"You... " He still seemed to be struggling not to let this turn
into a yelling match, "were in an agitated state when you left the
I laughed out loud, "Agitated." I repeated and had to look away
from the sullen expression on his face, "Agitated." I said again
and chuckled a little more.
"I am not sure that you are in any condition... " he began and
I rose angrily from my rock, suddenly awash with bitter emotion.
"You caught me on a bad day, Mr. Perfect-fucking-everything Yuy."
I snarled and knew he'd finally pushed me too damn far, I tried to put
a lid on my mouth but it was a little too late for that, "It's the
anniversary of the death of the only friend I ever had. I spend a little
time alone with his ghost every year at this time. I don't remember inviting
you to the reunion. I have done nothing... fucking nothing to compromise
you or any of the others. I am sick to death of you hounding my every
move; questioning my every decision. I have given you no reason to doubt
my abilities and I want to know what your God damn problem with me is!"
I was panting. I was in his face. I was really sorry and pretty sure I
was about to die.
He just stood for a minute and stared at me. I figured he was going to
deck me any minute. I stood my ground, not because I thought I had a chance
against him, but because I just don't back down from much of anything
once I've committed myself.
"I... apologize." He said softly and I'm fairly certain my jaw
popped when my mouth fell open. I tried to say something, but nothing
came out. He took advantage of the opening.
"We... discussed the incident over the supplies and you are right;
we didn't give you a chance to explain before we jumped to conclusions."
I was the one who ended up breaking eye contact first, "Well... uhmmm."
I said intelligently, "I... uhhh... accepted." I finally managed
to choke out.
There might have been a small sound of amusement from him, but I wouldn't
swear to it. My world was off its damn axis again. Heero Yuy just apologized
to me? I wanted to ask him to repeat it... just to be sure. This must
be his un-evil twin. Next he'd be asking me if I was all right.
"We... waited to eat supper." He said very quietly and I think
I whirled around and looked at him and had to bite down on the urge to
accuse him of being an imposter.
"What?" I said stupidly.
The irritation came back to his face a little bit and he said, "It
didn't seem... right to eat what you had provided for us." He ground
out and I finally had to accept the fact that this really was Heero.
"I suppose we should head back to the house then." I said very
We turned and walked back up the path side by side and I decided that
I would not speak again, just so as not to break the spell.
It was a hell of a long way from bosom buddies, but it was a damn sight
better than what I'd had this morning.
All I could do was hope the spell held.
to Sunhawk's fic]