I blinked and reached for my
protein drink, keeping my face carefully blank while I listened to them
laugh. It crossed my mind that before Hayden and Toria, I was probably
the only spacer that Relena had ever met. Had that crack been directed
at me or had I just been an innocent bystander? And why had my gut just
flinched? How in the hell I had become the outsider here? Toria and Relena
seemed to have bonded on their little outing and I should be delighted.
I should be thrilled. I think I was... jealous. Fuck... maybe I
was the damn pod-person! I shook my head at my own stupidity and Hayden
"What's up, buddy-boy?" he asked lightly, his face still alight
I quirked him a slightly sick grin, covering with the first thing that
came to mind, "I was just thinking that I need to go hunt up our...
outfits. If we can't squeeze our fat asses back into them, we've got a
He groaned and Toria beamed at me, "Oh good! Now the show begins!"
"I don't think so," I informed her firmly. "I said we needed
to find them and try them on. I didn't say we were going to model them."
She pouted. I glared. She pouted some more. I was fine unless she said
please and I'm not even sure that would work this time. Not with
Relena and Chezarina sitting there.
"I am pout-proof Victoria Brannigan; get over it," I growled.
"Besides you'll see us tomorrow along with the rest of the damn known
Hayden and I shared a disconsolate sigh. I rose and trudged off to my
cabin, trying to remember where I'd seen the damn things last. Behind
me I heard Toria tell Hayden in a sultry voice, "Y'know... I always
thought that outfit made you look damn sexy... "
"Not on your life, Toria!" I hollered back at her from the safety
of the corridor. "Leather freaking stains like hell!"
It took me several long minutes of digging but I finally unearthed the
things in one of the bottom drawers, buried under the remnants of that
old priests costume I used to wear and a stack of Hell-bound Beavers comics.
I grinned; I thought I'd gotten rid of the comics.
I sealed the cabin door and pulled mine out, having to repress a groan.
There had been some excitement a couple of years ago over a movie, a remake
of some classic epic monstrosity; it had focused on an ancient Earth time
period. For awhile, Egyptian everything had been all the rage.
Clothing... jewelry... hairstyles... all fueled, not so much by reality
but by that film's version of reality. Popular culture creeps into everything,
even things like the costumes at the expo. There had been six separate
routines with an Egyptian flavor that year.
Ours was not one of them. We had never been ones to follow fashion. But
it had sparked a conversation about the fact that there really were other
cultures during that time period. Honest. Egypt had not owned the world.
The conversation had ended up inspiring the routine that we had created
for the following year. Yep. You guessed it; the leather comment gave
it away, didn't it? Rome. The great Roman Empire with its colorful emperors
and outlandish decadence. And it's gladiators. Stop fucking laughing at
I stripped and struggled my way into the damn thing, having to do it in
the head so I could use the mirror to get all the buckles and straps in
place. Hayden and I used to help each other with this but I decided under
the circumstances that he might be a little uncomfortable with it.
Our outfits are a little different; mine is almost all leather and metal.
Metal greaves and studded armguards, what amounted to a leather skirt
and a wide studded belt. My chest is bare except for some cris-crossing
leather straps. There are a couple of artfully placed pieces of jewelry,
mere circlets on the upper arms and what looks like a torc collar but
is actually a transmitter/receiver so we can talk to each other if need
be. I am all dark brown leather and gleaming silver.
Hayden is a mix of dark brown and honey brown leather with gold studs
and buckles. His is more of a tunic and a bit more of his chest is covered.
His bracers are a little more elaborate than mine as well. We had pretty
much made the damn things ourselves, working on them almost as hard as
we had worked on the routine itself. Studying the history and doing the
research had been fascinating; the two of us had shared a slight obsession
with the time period for awhile. Until the night we'd wandered into that
bar. Funny, when I thought back on it, I believe we had been arguing over
some piece of Roman history when we had walked into the place.
I moved about the room, bending and shifting and was pleased that the
stupid thing still fit. The arm bracers stiff enough that it should support
my fractured wrist quite nicely. I stripped out of it quickly, redressed,
put my brace back on and returned to the galley.
"Well?" Toria greeted me with a grin.
"I managed to cram myself into mine," I chuckled. "Let's
see how Hayden does. It's laying on the bed."
He took a long, dramatic pull from his soda bulb and then stood up and
squared his shoulders like a man going off to the gallows. "If I'm
not back in ten minutes... save yourselves," he intoned solemnly.
Toria snickered. "Oh... I don't think so." And she bounded after
him. "This I gotta see!"
"If you're not back in ten minutes, I'll know what the hell you're
doing!" I yelled and just caught something from Toria about the door
having a lock.
"Woman is impossible," I muttered.
"She's funny," Relena ventured quietly and I glanced down the
table at her but she was carefully nibbling a piece of pepperoni she had
picked off one of the pizzas.
"God... you haven't been laughing at her jokes, have you?" I
dared in mock horror. "Don't encourage her!"
"But she tells funny stories," she responded, a bit bolder.
"Don't let her hear you say something like that." I warned,
"this behavior is... mild."
I found myself picking at the remains of my own slice of pizza so that
we didn't have to look at each other. Hayden was always complaining that
Toria and I had a very similar sense of humor. I wondered idly why Toria
was funny but I was annoying.
"Well... she loosened up a little while we were out today,"
Relena supplied in an odd voice and I caught a look pass between her and
"She didn't really take you to the 'Grotesque Carousel' did
she?" I blurted before I had a chance to bite back on it. Toria was
as bad as I was about hiding the truth in the lie.
"No," she reassured, "we honestly only went to the museum
and out to lunch. Walked around a little bit; that's all." Then she
couldn't seem to help but ask. "What exactly is that place?"
I blew a breath out, "Only the most disreputable bar on L2. It gets
its name from the carousel built around the center bar."
Her eyes flicked in my direction but she only said, "Oh?"
I flushed, thinking about the hideous, pornographic thing. And yes, I've
seen it. "Ask Toria... I'm not describing it." Then I
blinked. "Just do it when I'm not in the room."
She giggled and looked at me again. "It must be bad to make you
blush." It was said rather softly, as if she were afraid I might
get angry about the remark.
"That damn thing would make a mobile doll turn red!" I laughed
and then dared, "you might just spontaneously combust."
She gave out with a nervous laugh and then raised an eyebrow. "Is
this first hand knowledge?"
That one caught me by surprise and I laughed out right. Relena looked
pleased. "Honest Mom," I grinned at her, "I only went in
the use the bathroom!"
Both she and Chezarina chuckled.
The ball dropped there but I was ok with that. I really didn't want to
push my luck with her Highness too much; a civil conversation with a little
honest teasing thrown in? I wouldn't have bet money on it a week ago;
I wasn't about to cross that line.
Hayden and Toria came back then and my dance partner plopped back into
the seat across from me and dropped his head down on his folded arms.
"May God have pity on us, Duo. What in the hell were we thinking?"
I patted the back of his head consolingly. "We were young."
"We were stupid," he groaned.
"Just what in the hell... " Chezarina burst out and then looked
horrified, turning red to the roots of her hair. "Oh... I am so
I thought I would fall out of my chair. Heero gave me a gentle nudge back
toward an upright position and I roared all the harder.
"We've corrupted her!" Toria proclaimed and managed to sound
extremely pleased with herself.
"Corruption aside;" Heero drawled and I swear it was the first
words he had spoken in an hour, "just what in the hell are
these costumes like?"
"Roman," Hayden said simply and tried to leave it at that.
"Roman?" Heero questioned, his brow furrowed.
"Uhmmm... gladiator," I elaborated.
"Skimpy; sexy as hell," Toria decided to elaborate further and
I found myself with the sudden desire to drop my head on the table along
with Hayden. "Leather and studs. These really short tunic things;
with straps and buckles just freakin' everywhere!"
I glanced at Heero out of the corner of my eye, just about ready to crawl
under the table and caught the strangest expression on his face for an
instant before he covered it.
Toria was looking all too pleased with herself and I cast about for a
way to change the damn topic of conversation. My eyes fell on my sketchpad
and I dragged it to me, pulling out the four pages I had just finished
and passed them across to Hayden and Toria.
"Here," I glared at her. "Despite the evil way in which
you treat me."
Their eyes fell on the top portrait and Toria fairly squealed. "My
babies!" They quickly shuffled through them, Toria laughing with
delight and Hayden grinning in a strange, paternal way. Yes, we live in
a twisted little reality. Deal with it.
I saw Hayden's eyes light up with mischief when they came to Hayden Jr.
in his little 'Daddy likes me best' shirt and as predicted, Toria
turned an outraged glare in my direction. "And just what are the
other children going to think? I won't have my babies thinking that their
parents play favorites!"
Relena and Chezarina sat forward with interest and the leftover pizza
boxes were cleared away so that Toria could spread her pictures out like
any proud mother. She solemnly named them each off and gave their ages
and there were the most priceless, confused looks on most of the faces
in the room.
"Hey, buddy-boy," Toria suddenly blurted, "since when does
Brandy wear her hair in a braid?"
"She has decided I am her favorite God-father and is going to start
emulating me." I smiled benignly.
She scowled at me. "Bad enough that you have so much influence over
Helen. I will not have both of my daughters corrupted by your evil
I shrugged. "I didn't tell her to start wearing it that way,"
I told her smugly.
"Well, I'm her mother and I will tell her not to." She smirked
at me. "Take it out."
I chuckled. "She's going to be mad at you for the rest of the week."
I warned but pulled the sketch back and quickly erased the braid. I had
anticipated its removal in the first place and had only lightly blocked
it in. Then I put the hair back in its traditional, high ponytail. "Oh...
she's pissed all right. I'm not even going to repeat what she just said."
"It better not have been a four-letter word or she knows God damn
good and well she'll get her mouth washed out!' Toria snapped, then she
and I made eye contact and broke into laughter. Hayden rolled his eyes
in that patronizing way he has but things were different this time as
he had a kindred spirit sitting at the table.
"How do you cope?" Heero said dryly and Hayden snorted.
"It isn't always easy," he responded. I remembered my thought
of the previous day. God... just yesterday? That Toria and Heero would
be the ones to hit it off; I revised that opinion as I watched Hayden
and Heero exchanging long-suffering glances.
"Duo," Chezarina suddenly interjected, "you are very talented!
You did those... just now, while we ate?"
I ducked my head and fiddled with my almost empty drink bulb. "Started
them yesterday," I murmured, oddly embarrassed.
"They're so detailed!" She exclaimed, lifting the picture of
Helen carefully by the edges.
I think Hayden noticed my growing discomfort because he sat up and stretched
hugely. "You know we have to get up at the crack of bleeding dawn
I chuckled softly, jumping all over the offered change of topic. "It
is getting late, isn't it?"
That pretty much broke things up, we made short work of the mess dinner
had left and everyone wandered off toward their respective cabins. Toria
pausing to give me a peck on the cheek and a misty-eyed, "Thank you."
With their pictures clutched to her chest.
Heero and I stalled around until everyone else was gone and then headed
down the corridor to the back cabin. He slipped an arm around me before
reaching to key the password, "Ready?"
I quirked him a somewhat self-deprecating grin and nodded, closing my
eyes to make sure I didn't glimpse anything while the light from the hall
spilled into the room. I heard him punch the keys, the door slid open
and he led me inside.
"It's all right now," he told me, unnecessarily as the door
slid shut. I still had to crack an eyelid first to assure myself it truly
was dark before I could manage to make my eyes open completely. I sighed;
I truly felt like some kind of neurotic asshole.
I made to move toward the bed but Heero caught at my arm almost hesitantly.
I turned toward him but my eyes hadn't adjusted yet and he was little
more than a shadow beside me.
"I... need to hold you a minute," he whispered, voice suddenly
tight with some unnamed emotion, "if that's Ok?"
I snorted softly and reached for him. "That's something you never
have to ask about," I told him warmly and he pulled me into his arms.
His embrace was... fierce. Sometimes, it seemed, his love flared hot enough
to burn. I shivered.
"I love you so damn much," he murmured, his arms solid and possessive
"You are my strength," I whispered, letting my head rest on
his shoulder, wondering where my own strength had suddenly fled. Wondering
where this strange almost melancholy mood had sprung from.
"Me?" he said and his voice sounded pained. "You hardly
"Just knowing you're there," I sighed tiredly, "knowing
if I fall too hard... you'll be there to pick up the pieces."
His arms clenched convulsively around me and I let myself sink into the
comfort he was offering me. Wrapped my arms around his neck and all but
hung in his arms.
"Let me care for you tonight?" he requested softly and I wasn't
sure exactly what he meant but I more than agreed. He led me toward our
bed where he stood and gently undressed me, pushing my hands away when
I moved to help. "Just let me, love."
I felt... strange. He was being very intense, very tender. I was surprised
when he slipped my sleep shorts on me but I didn't comment, just let him
lead me where he wanted to go.
He eased me down on the bed, rolling me over until I was stretched out
on my stomach. He was very careful of my arm and made sure it was lying
flat and not twisted in a way that would hurt. I turned my head and watched
him step away to undress as well, pulling on his own pair of sleep shorts.
Then he came back to the bed but instead of lying down with me, he settled
himself above me, straddling my thighs. His hands came to rest on my shoulders
and soon his fingers were kneading away at tight muscles. "You're
very tense," he murmured. "More so than earlier... what's wrong?"
I tried to relax under the steady pressure of his hands. "I'm sorry...
this room just gets to me."
He sighed. "You didn't sleep well last night, is that why?"
I nodded against the pillow. "Being in here... just makes me think
about... things. Even if I can't see it."
"I'm sorry," he sighed dejectedly. "I thought it would
I chuckled mirthlessly. "Oh it helps... you wouldn't want to see
the mess I'd be if I actually had to look at it."
He was quiet for a moment, his hands stroking over my back and across
my shoulders. I moaned softly, letting him work his magic on me. There
was something in the air, something on his mind but I knew better than
"Duo... love?" he asked after a long silence, "I... Can
I... " He was floundering around with something he wanted to ask
but was afraid to.
I grinned into the dark. "Speak plainly... remember?" I chided.
He sighed and his hands faltered. "Can I... I would like to ask about...
" The paintings. He wanted to ask about the murals but was afraid
of upsetting me.
"Which one?" I asked softly and in answer he reached out and
touched the wall beside us. I cringed. My baby picture. I might have guessed;
the thing is rather... arresting.
"Go ahead," I breathed, "ask."
His hands resumed their work. "It's not... real, is it?"
His voice was so hesitant, so full of genuine fear it gave me the strength
to talk about it a little bit, for him.
"No," I reassured him and felt a certain tension go out of him.
"Not as far as I know, anyway. I have absolutely no memory of my
parents. My earliest memories are of the streets."
His hands were moving down my back, his thumbs digging in along my spine
and he pulled a deep groan from me when he got to the tight place in the
small of my back. He concentrated his attention there. "Then why...
"I don't know," I interrupted, trying to spare him the struggle
with words. "It was just something that preyed on my imagination
a lot, growing up. It's easy for a street kid to understand the absence
of a father; hell... they were a rare breed. But mothers... if you couldn't
remember what happened that put you on the street, you couldn't help but
He shifted off to the side and began working my legs next, making me hiss
as he hit bunched up muscles that had been objecting all evening to the
work-out I had given them this afternoon.
"I dunno... I just couldn't help but imagine things. Was she dead?
Had she died giving birth to me? Would she have given me up if she were
alive? I guess that was just my darkest fears about it... that she had
willfully and coldly dumped me to die." I stopped talking, surprised
that I had spouted all of that out loud. I had not really meant to say
that much. The dark, somehow, seemed to draw things out of me. It was
easier to talk like this... almost as though I were merely musing to myself.
Heero shifted again and prodded at my hip to make me roll over. He sat
on the side of the bed and, again, carefully arranged my injured arm before
bending back to work. He started with my shoulders and ran down my chest,
kneading and massaging, leaving me feeling like a puppet whose strings
have been cut.
"You are so damn good at this," I moaned, partly to let him
know that I felt like we had pretty much covered that topic and would
just as soon drop it.
"Will you do something for me?" he asked softly.
"If I can," I told him with a smile that I knew he couldn't
"You have to get some sleep tonight if you're going to manage this...
damn thing tomorrow. Will you let me give you one of the sedatives?"
He really wanted me to and if I let myself consider it, I knew it was
probably a good idea. I wasn't going to be sleeping in this damn room
without nightmares otherwise. Especially after lying here talking about...
things. But God, I hate drugs.
I chewed on it, thinking it over and he let me; just continuing to rub
and work my sore, tired body. "All right," I finally agreed,
"but just one; I can't afford to not be able to get myself going
in the morning."
He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "Thank you," he said
solemnly and I chuckled at him.
"You make it sound like I just agreed to give you a kidney or something,"
"I just worry about you so much," he muttered, obviously embarrassed
and I'd be willing to bet he was blushing.
"I know," I told him warmly, "and I'm sorry for giving
you gray hairs."
He snorted, his hands moving down the front of my thighs, his thumbs stroking
firmly along the length of muscle. "Oh, the gray hair you're sorry
about but not the heart attacks and the ulcer?"
He was sorry he had brought up bad memories and was trying to make up
for it by lightening my mood. I chuckled for him, and he finally went
off to fetch the sedative and a glass of water. He brought back a pain
pill as well, and I took it with a resigned sigh. I guess he'd had a bad
day of his own, stuck here in the ship all by himself with nothing to
do but worry and think.
Finally, he was settling in beside me and I turned toward him, carefully
laying my wrist across his chest. I felt him stiffen. "I'm sorry...
the brace must be uncomfortable," I apologized and made to turn over.
"No!" he said. "Not at all... just don't let me hurt you."
And his arm came to curl around me protectively.
"Just for a while," I sighed. "If you don't mind... you
can shove me off in a bit. I know it must be like having a damn brick
laying in the middle of... "
"Shhh... " He cut me off with a kiss on my forehead. "It's
fine. You sleeping in my arms is still such a... dream come true... I
wouldn't care if the damn thing was a full plaster cast."
"What's making you so poetic tonight?" I grinned up at him,
wishing I could see better.
"Watching you," he whispered, his fingers coming to find the
curve of my face in the dark and he guided himself down to deliver a languid
He settled back then and let me lay with my head on his shoulder.
"What're you going to do all day tomorrow while we're gone?"
I muttered thickly and realized that the drugs were kicking in.
There was a strange, electric tingle in the air and Heero didn't say anything
for a minute. "You don't think I'd miss this, do you?" He sounded
"You jus' wanna make fun of us," I grumbled around a yawn and
"Besides... the ladies have already made it known that they intend
to be front row center."
"Oh God," I moaned.
I wondered idly if he'd figured out yet from the description of our gladiator
garb that this dance routine was nothing more than a choreographed fight.
Well, I sure as hell wasn't going to be the one to tell him.
"Go to sleep," he admonished sternly and it wasn't all that
much longer before the drugs took me under.
Morning seemed to be there before I half had a chance to close my eyes
and I could tell it was going to be another one of those surreal days
where everything goes by in a blur. I had my mental checklist and just
threw myself into it. I hit the galley before anybody half had a chance
to start breakfast and wolfed down a couple of ration bars. Say what you
want about those things; they're designed to give you the fuel and calories
that the body needs. A hell of a lot more food value than pizza. I popped
a protein drink and took it with me as I started to work, hauling a couple
more along to pack for later.
I stopped off in the cockpit and checked for messages, finding only the
canned reminder to all athletes of check-in time. I printed it out to
take with us, it had our entry numbers and assigned locker room noted
I rousted Hayden and Toria out next and went in to pack up the costumes
and props, stowing the protein drinks in the duffle with everything else.
I particularly wanted the props out of sight before Heero got out of the
Then it was back to the cockpit to download our soundtrack to CD, something
I had damn near forgotten.
Everybody seemed to know to stay the hell out of my way and I was just
as glad since the little voice in the back of my head that kept chanting,
'I don't wanna do this... I don't wanna do this... I don't wanna do
this... ' would have made conversation a little difficult.
I passed Hayden at one point in the corridor and he gave me his woebegone
face saying, "Do you feel like you could throw up?"
I smirked mercilessly. "Since this was all your wife's idea... throwing
up will not get you out of going."
"Damn," he muttered and we both went on about our business.
We ended up heading out for the stadium almost a half an hour early, but
neither of us could stand the strain of just hanging around the ship.
Toria came and gave the both of us a hard hug, drawing back to look at
me seriously. "You be... I don't want you... " she began several
times before hugging me a second time and blurting, "thank you, Duo
Maxwell... I don't know what in the hell we'd do without you... even if
you are a bad influence on the kids!"
We were all clustered near the airlock and I was flabbergasted when Heero
moved in and slid an arm around my waist to pull me close. "You watch
that damn wrist," he growled and gave me a small shake as if to emphasis
his words. I knew I was beet red but I was oddly pleased as well. I considered
given him a small kiss but I guess I wasn't quite ready for that yet because
just thinking about it made my face flame even more. I settled on merely
returning the hug.
We grabbed a cab as soon as we got to the street. I meant to conserve
every ounce of energy for the dance itself.
The cab got us as close as possible and we had to walk the rest of the
way in through the crowded, cordoned off streets. It's funny; we'd only
missed one year since we had started competing but it seemed like forever.
Performing is a strange thing, both exhilarating and frightening all at
the same time. The idea of screwing up in front of all those thousands
and thousands of people is enough to turn your bowels to water and make
you want to throw up. But the feeling you get when you really nail a performance,
when the crowd is yelling and you just know in your gut you could
not have done it better... that made your knees turn weak in a whole different
We made our way inside, having to give our entry number and names to security.
The guy recognized us and flashed us a wide smile, passing us through.
Once in the building we began to see familiar faces, other spacers that
we had competed against before and I began to hear the murmur of talk
flow around us. "Brannigan and Maxwell?", "Didn't they
take the silver two years ago?", "I heard he was in a bad way...
almost died.", "D'ya hear the Brannigan's lost their ship?",
"... asteroid belt... ", "... hull breach... ". I
glanced up at Hayden and wondered if my face looked as uncomfortable as
Not everybody stood off and just talked about us, some knew us well enough
to come up and speak. Frankly, I preferred the gossip; that I could
let wash by without having to deal with it. Much easier than handling
We finally made our locker room and I threw myself down on a bench with
a heartfelt sigh. "Ok... I hadn't taken the time to consider the
rumor mill aspect of things."
Hayden chuckled, sitting next to me. "Did you hear the guy who'd
heard we all got sucked into a black hole?"
I laughed. "No. Missed that one. I was too busy listening to the
story about me getting a screaming case of free-fall fever and being in
an asylum for the last five months."
He grinned maliciously. "Oh, that one could be helpful. We'll cultivate
that one and just tell people you're only out on a day pass."
We were slotted in the fifteenth place and wouldn't even be going on until
almost noon. We unpacked our gear but didn't bother to suit up yet.
There are monitors mounted on the walls in all the dressing rooms, tuned
of course to the expo. We sat and watched the opening ceremonies. Not
long after that, our ops-coordinator came in to pick up our music and
gravity sequencing. He whistled softly when he saw the complicated program
and really seemed to look at us for the first time. "Hey... I remember
you guys. You did that dry-ice thing a couple years ago."
I grinned at him; leave it to an ops guy to remember us based on our props.
Hayden and I have a somewhat distinctive look; he is a good head and a
half taller than I am and broad shouldered enough that it looks like he
could break me over his knee. His shoulder length hair is only slightly
dark than mine and that immaculately trimmed beard gives him a grim appearance.
Standing next to him, I look like some kind of elfin creature; all long,
lean lines next to his almost burly presence.
Hayden asked if he could check the gravity sequencing after it was programmed
and the ops guy agreed with a wry look down at the paper in his hand.
Any surprises in the middle of a routine like ours could get somebody
a broken neck. He told us he'd send a gofer down when it was done. Then
he was off to the next locker room.
We watched a couple of the races, commenting on those people we recognized,
talking almost not at all about our own fast approaching time in the spotlight.
The little voice in the back of my head was getting louder and had changed
its tune a little bit; 'I really, really don't wanna do this... I really,
really, really don't wanna do this... '
About two hours before our performance time, the promised gofer showed
up to take Hayden up to the control booth. Hayden fairly threw himself
up off the bench, obviously happy to have something to do. I chuckled
at him and he growled a 'Shut up' at me. I drank one of my protein drinks
while he was gone.
When he returned, we grudgingly agreed that we needed to suit up. I pulled
my gear out of the duffle bag and retreated to one end of the bench, working
with my back turned.
And yes, before you ask, we had found some suede cloth that matched the
leather to make shorts out of to wear under those tunics. We'd never found
out just what real Romans wore under there; probably nothing at all. But
then, Romans would not have found themselves fighting twenty feet off
There was nothing for a while but the creak of leather and muttered curses
as we struggled into costume. Finally, on an explosive breath, Hayden
said, "God damn it... get over here and buckle this damn thing for
me... I can't reach it!"
The last of the uneasy tension that had been between us seemed to just
melt away. And I'm very aware that part of it had been coming from me,
trying overly hard to be... sensitive to the issue. It was like old times
as we helped each other strap in, making sure everything was on straight
and secure as we could get it. The last thing I did was sit down to pull
my arm brace off and Hayden frowned at me.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he said sullenly.
"The bracers are almost as stiff as it is... it should be all right,"
"At least let me wrap it first," he growled and I imagined he
was thinking about Heero ripping his head off when he saw I had taken
the thing off. So I let him wrap it and help me on with the arm guard.
We still had a half an hour before we got the call-out, an hour before
we were to perform.
to Sunhawk's fic]