I slid an arm around him and
drew him down to my chest. His muscles resisted for a moment and then
he curled tight against me, his head pillowed over my heart and let me
"It's all over, love," I told him softly and brushed my knuckles
over his hair. "We're going to be Ok now... "
A shudder ran through him and he held on tight. Emotion welled up in me;
I suddenly had an overwhelming need to protect him, to keep him here safe
beside me, to ease his pain.
"I'm here now... " I murmured over his head, "everything's
all right... "
Is this what Heero felt? Is this what made him hover over me and worry
about me? This wash of need? This clenching in the gut that demanded I
do whatever in the hell it took to shelter him... shield him...
We were quiet for a time then, while we each thought our thoughts; I can
only attest to my own.
This was the first time that Heero had allowed me to offer some of the
support that he was constantly giving me and I was having a little trouble
getting my head around it. But... it was nice.
I felt him take my hand and after a moment there was pressure against
the palm. I looked down to find him gently kissing my scars and I shivered;
I don't think he knew I couldn't really feel it.
"I've hurt you so many times," he sighed and his voice seemed
"Heero... " I dropped my head back to the pillow and stared
up at the ceiling. "We've talked about this... "
"It doesn't alter the fact that you had to do this to yourself...
to cover my mistake," his voice was bitter, full of self-loathing.
"The mistake was mine... I used too much explosives," I told
him gently. "I was the one who brought the damn ceiling down on Quatre
to begin with."
"My fault... "
Where the hell was this coming from?
"Stop it!" I hissed at him, "Damnit, Heero... you can't
keep dragging this up... "
He raised his head and turned bleak eyes on me. "I have so many things
to make up for."
I pushed him up and off me, rolling us over to take the upper hand and
it was my turn to hover over him while he blinked up at me. "Get
past it; Goddamn it, I have! Just... let us be happy."
Something unreadable passed over his face and he opened his mouth to speak
but then closed it.
"I love you," I told him with all the intensity I could muster.
"I don't want all this... crap between us."
There was something more he wanted to say and I waited for it but it never
"Heero... please... " I sighed and wasn't even sure what I was
His hand came to cup my face. "I love you so much... and I'm so damn
bad at it."
I snorted and grinned down at him. "You? Don't be ridiculous;
you're the most attentive, caring partner I could ever have asked for."
I lost the grin. "The past is the past... let it die."
He pulled my head down to lie on his shoulder and that seemed to end it
because when he spoke again the subject was completely changed.
"We really should get up; we have a lot to do."
"Uhmmm?" I murmured, content where I was.
"Well, love;" he sighed, "Relena agreed to the trip last
I jerked my head up and stared down at him wide eyed. "What! Why
the hell didn't you tell me?"
He chuckled softly. "I didn't think the news would help you sleep."
I considered decking him but decided the statement was probably the truth.
You shouldn't deck people over the truth. No matter how tempting it was.
Shit. This was going to happen. This half-baked, insanely mutant plan
had come to pass. What had I fucking gone and done?
My brain kicked over into high gear and I fairly threw myself out of the
bunk. "Did you set a date yet? Shit... how long do I have? I'm going
to need you to stock the galley... I can hardly feed the Queen of the
World ration bars for God's sake. Do we know who she's bringing?"
I was scrabbling for clothes as I talked, hopping on one foot as I struggled
into my pants and turned to find him still lying there with the most damnable
smirk on his face.
"What?" I snapped.
"Calm down," he said. "I told her it would take a couple
"Days?" I gaped at him. "I only have a couple of days?"
His expression changed to mildly confused. "What do you need more
time than that for?"
I rolled my eyes and jammed my hands on my hips. "God, Heero... we're
not in the middle of a damn war anymore. You can't just go blasting off
where ever you choose! It takes twenty-four hours just to log and get
a flight plan cleared!"
That turned my thoughts back to the task at hand and I headed for the
cockpit; time to get to work.
The flight plan was top priority and I sat down and keyed that request
in first, sending it off to 'traffic control' before quickly putting a
call through to the office. Never hurt to use a little personal touch
to make sure things went smoothly.
I was vaguely aware of Heero settling into the co-pilot's seat.
My vid-screen flared and I grinned up at the bored image of the scrawny
man who blinked at me for a moment before whooping, "Maxwell!"
"Hey Smitty!" I beamed and he turned his chair away from the
"You guys! Look! Duo's back!"
There were instantly three faces clustered around the monitor.
"Hey! Welcome back asshole!" grinned Smitty's shorter co-worker,
"Watch it, Bernie!" I chuckled and waggled my fingers at the
"Good to see you, Duo," smiled Havers, the restrained one of
their little group.
"You guys didn't go out of business without me around to keep you
busy?" I had made the acquaintance of the three musketeers when I
had, on a boring run, added the line 'Two day lay-over in Never-Never
Land' at the end of my itinerary. The approved flight plan had come back
with the line removed and the note that 'Never-Never Land' was closed
for the season but I could reroute to either Eldorado or Atlantis if I
didn't mind an extra day. Most of my flight plans after that had included
some silly destination or another. It became a game that we played until
we couldn't help but meet face to face. They were a great bunch of guys
and I had to admit it helped having friends in the 'traffic control' office.
"You heading out on a job, Maxwell?" Smitty asked and I shook
"Not yet... " I told them with a slight blush that I hoped they
didn't catch. "Still a little early for that," I smirked then
and reached to pat the bulkhead beside me lovingly. "The old girl's
just getting jealous of my hospital bed! Taking her out for a ride."
There were a couple of rude snickers and Smitty muttered something that
made Bernstein smack him in the back of the head. I grinned at them.
"So... can you push it through for me?"
Bernie grinned back. "We might be able to manage." He glanced
over his shoulder, then turned back to wink at me. "Duty calls...
gotta go. Good to see you Duo."
We signed off. My hands were already moving to login and send through
the request for a complete refuel when I heard Heero sigh beside me. I
glanced up and found him smiling oddly at me.
"Well... I feel utterly useless," his smile quirked into a half-grin.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Actually," I told him, looking away and feeling awkward, "I
can deal with the ship preparations... but I don't know how to deal with
"What do you mean?" he asked softly.
"She's not a... spacer, Heero." I sighed. "She is going
to have a cow shipping out on something that is going to be very much
less than the first class she is used to."
He grunted and quirked me a tight little grin. "Isn't that part of
this... show her how the other half lives?"
I shook my head. "The point is to prove to her that children like
Becca and Eel exist." My fingers were working over the console even
as we talked and I started a download of the area weather patterns for
the next four days. "She hates me. She is going to be convinced that
anything she 'suffers with' while she's onboard is my fault. She will
expect from me what she would dish out in my place."
He watched me intently for a few minutes, digesting that. "She's
truly not a bad person."
"I... know that," I told him, sparing a glance up from my workstation.
"But if there had ever been a chance that we would learn to get along,
I think that mural killed it."
He looked vaguely guilty and I suppose he should when you got right down
to it. If he had stayed out of things, I'm pretty sure I would have eventually
told Ms. Angie Masters to bugger off and Relena would never have even
seen the damn painting.
That reminded me of the stupid interview and I pulled out the journalist's
card; considering it for a moment. Did I grant the interview or not? She
wouldn't get the pictures she wanted. Maybe she wouldn't be interested
without them? I settled for sticking the business card in the top of my
keyboard; I'd decide later.
When I focused on Heero again, he was out of the co-pilot's chair and
standing over me. I grinned up at him. "I'm putting you in charge
of the care and feeding of our passengers."
He leaned down to kiss me. "Aye, Captain," he murmured against
my lips and made me laugh.
"She's gonna have to share the accommodations with her chaperone,
too!" I hollered after him as he left the cockpit. "There's
only one guest cabin!"
He didn't respond and I'm glad I didn't have to argue the point. I queued
up my music as soon as he was gone.
It took me every bit of the three days to get the ship fueled, supplied
and ready to go. She'd been in dock for months and everything had to be
inspected and gone over. It was tedious, time-consuming work but oddly...
soothing. It was familiar. I was exhausted each night when I crawled into
my bunk but I felt good. I simply had to put out of my mind the
reason for the trip and just concentrate on the job. I felt, for the first
time, like I might actually get my life back someday.
We were scheduled for departure on Thursday morning. Tuesday evening I
e-mailed Ms. Masters and told her that she could have her damn interview
if she shut the fuck up about the pictures and could just deal with only
taking the shots that I outlined. Without argument or I would throw her
off my damn ship.
I had a reply from her within five minutes and she agreed instantly. We
squeezed the interview in on Wednesday morning because she couldn't afford
to wait until I returned from L2. I insisted that Heero hang around for
it just to make sure the wily Ms. Masters didn't try anything cute. There
would be two of them; she and her photographer, and this would assure
that there was someone to watch the both of them. I didn't want her outflanking
She was true to her word when she came onboard that morning, her pony-tailed
photographer in tow, not asking once to shoot anything I didn't authorize.
I let them take pictures of the other murals in the docking bay, the galley
and my cabin. Turns out it was the painting of the Maxwell church that
had impressed her brother's friend and that was the one she was most interested
in anyway. Go figure. She wanted pictures of me, something I hadn't anticipated
but should have, and I had to endure being posed in the middle of my star-field
cabin. Turns out Dirk, the photographer, was something of an amateur stargazer
and recognized that the midnight walls, floor and ceiling of my cabin
were an accurate configuration of the heavens as seen from the moon. From
the only vantage point and at the only time that all the colonies are
visible at the same time. I had gone so far as to put L5 back in my own
personal night sky. It took me by surprise; no one had ever noticed before.
He and I chatted about it for a few minutes and it did serve to put me
a little more at ease while he snapped his damned pictures.
I caught Heero looking at me with that Mona Lisa smile a couple of times.
I made to lead them to the galley when they were done in the cabin, the
only place we could really all sit comfortably. Angie... yes, damn it,
I had finally broken down and started calling her Angie; shut up all ready.
Angie hesitated in the corridor, looking at the odd rendering there of
the line of people.
"Not to overstep my boundaries," she smiled, "but what
about these? You haven't mentioned this one."
I had to turn and look at it while I mulled it over. My gut instinct was
"Hell no!" These were my dead; I didn't much want to have to
get into it. But for a second, I could see in my mind's eye Solo turn
toward me with a wink.
"Glory hog," he would have smirked. "Maybe we woulda liked
to get our pi'tures took too."
I was probably the last living soul to remember these people. I let my
eyes travel down the line; all the ones who had been mine to protect...
and I had failed. All the ones that I had let die. It would be a kind
of... immortality. Not that the people seeing their faces staring back
at them from some magazines pages would ever really know them...
but... well, I think Solo really would have gotten a kick out of it.
"All right," I found myself saying and Angie had Dirk move in
fast before I changed my mind.
"May I ask who they are?" she said softly.
"Were," I corrected without thinking.
"Pardon?" she questioned, confused.
"They're my dead," I told her, turning to look at her at last
and realizing that the interview had started while I wasn't paying any
attention. I sighed; oh joy.
"Your family?" she asked gently.
I shook my head. "Not... in the sense you mean," I found myself
saying. "I'm an orphan."
I pointedly turned my back until Dirk was finished and then led them to
the galley. I had learned my lesson about the camouflaging use of drinks
and offered them around. Heero and Angie declined but Dirk accepted and
I fetched squeeze bulbs of juice for the two of us.
As I had half expected, Angie questioned the use of the bulbs and I had
to explain to her the effects of zero gravity on things like liquid. That
led me around to explaining the fact that everything on a ship has to
be bolted down.
"Most of us in the space trades spend a great deal of time on our
ships if we don't actually live on them. We can't decorate the way you
ground... " I caught myself but not in time.
"Ground-bounders?" she smirked.
What could I do but smirk back? "You've done your homework."
"You spacers seem kind of elitist," she prodded.
I shrugged. "Not really. It's just a language. Slang. It grows up
in any culture that has to find words for things that never existed before."
She didn't look convinced, raising one of those carefully lined eyebrows.
I grinned at her. "Tell me there aren't a dozen words that you use
around the office that wouldn't make a bit of sense to me."
She opened her mouth and had the decency to blush. "Ok... Ok... I'll
give you the ground-bounders remark."
I saluted her with my bulb of juice.
"You do a lot of commission work,' she stated. "Tell me how
that came about."
I saw Heero shift his stance where he leaned in the doorway like some
kind of damn imperial guard.
I gusted a breath and thought back. "We can't hang pictures or...
set out mementos the way you do," I explained as I wrestled with
the words. "At first, I painted things... and people I was afraid
"Like in the corridor?" she asked very quietly and I nodded.
"Or... " I gestured with my juice at the blue sky around us,
"like in here... just something to brighten things up. We spend a
lot of time in these ships. It gets... " I hesitated, thinking about
"Lonely?" she ventured when I didn't finish the sentence right
I shrugged noncommittally. "And... quiet. And monotonous." I
grinned at her, dispelling the melancholy mood. "Damned boring is
what it gets; so we paint things like this!"
She sat and waited for me to get around to the original damned question
and I had to retrace my mental steps for a second to see where in the
hell I had been headed. "I seem to have a certain amount of... ability,"
I told her with a wry grin, "and when my friends started asking me
to paint things for them... " I shrugged again. "How could I
She looked at me, a little surprised. "You don't charge?"
I laughed. "I didn't, but it got to the point that I never
had time to do anything else, so I started charging just to cut back on
the number of requests I was getting. I have a salvage business to run
She gave me an odd smile and said, "You are very talented... you
know that don't you?"
I snorted and gave her a dismissive wave. "I can copy down the shit
I see in my head... doesn't make me a Rembrandt or a Picasso."
She snorted in return. "You're a fairly humble guy Mr. Maxwell."
I fought against a rising blush and sipped at my juice.
When she didn't get a comment, she shook her head and went on. "What
is it you paint for other people?"
"I thought you said you'd seen some of my work?"
"I have," she conceded. "I was just curious as to where
it comes from. Do you choose? Do they make requests? What?"
I sighed and thought about it, tilting my head a little to look up at
the 'sky'. "It varies. Sometimes they just give me vague ideas."
I grinned, thinking about some of the things I had been asked to paint.
"Sometimes it's very specific; there's a guy out of L3 who now has
a portrait of his ex-girlfriend in freefall over his bunk."
Dirk almost spewed juice all over himself and I couldn't help laughing
"Ex girlfriend?" Angie asked with a hint of disapproval
in her voice.
"Oh she wasn't his ex when I painted it," I grinned remorselessly.
"In fact, I have a request from him to come and redo it to look like
his new girlfriend."
There was a tiny sound from Heero's direction that might have been a chuckle;
I didn't catch it over the sound of Angie's sudden giggle.
"I paint whatever they ask... sometimes it's... " I waved my
hand at the walls around us, "something simple like this. Sometimes
it's something more... personal."
"You call this simple?" muttered Dirk and it garnered a look
"More personal how?" she asked when he had subsided.
I thought about it for a minute. "Sometimes I paint other people's
dead," I told her plainly and she just sat and blinked at me for
"Do you keep a log of what you've painted?" she asked suddenly,
"Do you take photographs?"
"Sometimes," I said guardedly, I wasn't sure I liked where this
"Could we borrow some of them for the article?" she asked then
and it was pretty much what I had expected.
"No," I said flatly.
She gnawed her lip for a second. "Why not?" she ventured at
last, maybe deciding that she had enough already to write the article
if I threw her out.
"Those are other people's homes," I told her. "I can give
you a list of people to contact but it's their decision if they want you
to see their paintings. They don't belong to me."
"But you painted them," she pointed out.
"They were gifts... they never belonged to me." This was starting
to get tedious.
"Gifts? I thought you started taking commissions?" she said
"I don't charge my friends for painting portraits of their dead...
their memories." I told her and it came out a little harshly. "I
don't paint anything that personal for anybody but my friends."
She looked a little taken aback and murmured, "From what I've seen...
you have a lot of friends."
"Do you have enough information yet?" I asked, suddenly sick
of the whole game. She was really starting to tread around things that
I didn't much want to talk about.
She got an odd, rushed look on her face as though she realized she was
almost out of time. "Well... I was curious about your relationship
with Mr. Yuy here... "
My glance flicked to Heero and I saw the irritated glint that appeared
in his eyes, "I thought you told me you wrote for 'The Rising Times',
not 'True Tattler'," I told her rather coldly. "I fail to see
what Mr. Yuy has to do with the interview you asked for."
She back-pedaled so fast I thought she was going to fall out of her seat.
"I'm sorry Mr. Maxwell... You're right; it's none of my business."
Damn straight it's none of your business, I thought angrily and had to
struggle to keep it off my face. I had no idea how Heero felt about having
our relationship out in the open. He had a rather high-profile position
with the Preventors and having it bandied about that he was in a... whatever
the hell we were in... might not be a good idea for his career.
There wasn't much after that, she asked a few more fluff questions and
then they finally left my ship. I didn't breathe freely until they were
completely out of the hanger.
"I am so sorry I did that," I muttered almost to myself
and Heero came to take me in his arms.
"You all right?" he asked softly and I let my head rest on his
"I'm fine," I told him, "just... thinking that was an incredibly
"I thought it went ok," he reassured me, his hands sliding up
and down my back soothingly.
"I'm worried about what she's going to write," I confessed.
"She threw me with that... question."
No need to tell him which question and he brought his hand around to raise
my face where he could see me. "It was none of her damn business,"
he told me, echoing my earlier thought. "But I want you to know that...
I don't mind. If you want... " he hesitated and I swear to God he
blushed. "I don't have a problem with people knowing about us,"
he said in a rush.
I cocked my head and looked at him hard. "Heero, it couldn't be a
good thing for your job... "
He cut me off. "My life is more important to me than my damn job,"
he said softly, not taking his eyes off mine, "and you are
I could only stand and gape at him. I didn't know what to say, so we just
stood and held each other. I really didn't trust my voice.
"You told me," he said softly; hesitantly and I knew we were
talking about one of those things I had said that I didn't remember. "You
felt you didn't deserve... love. Didn't deserve... me." He looked
at me intently and I felt my face flaming. "I need you to know it's
the other way around; I'm the one who is undeserving. You are... so alive...
so talented and so beautiful... I... "
I buried my face in his shoulder to hide from that burning gaze. "Heero...
" I whispered, wanting him to stop.
"You know this trip is going to be... rough," he said gently
against my neck. "I don't want you to let her get to you. You're
right; she's going to be bitchy because she resents this whole thing and
is seeing herself as a victim. I don't want you doubting yourself. I won't
have her making you feel... " he hesitated, looking for words.
"Like a filthy street rat?" I supplied with a grin, "like
a disfigured, loathsome... "
"Stop it!" he snapped and his hands tightened almost painfully
on my shoulders as he pushed me away where he could see my face.
"Chill, Heero!" I told him, shocked at his vehemence. "I
The emotions running behind his eyes were hard to read but he deflated
quickly, "I... I'm sorry... "
"Heero," I smiled softly, "when are you gonna learn to
just speak plainly to me?"
He gusted a sigh and eased his grip, ducking his head and it was his turn
to blush. "I love you. I'm proud of you. It hurts me to see you in
pain. I don't like the way she treats you. I like it even less that a
part of you listens to what she says." He tilted his head up a bit
to look at me through the veil of his bangs. "Is that plain enough
I chuckled. "Pretty damn plain... but it seems to me that she's
the one that needs the talk."
He opened his mouth and then closed it with a slight smirk. "You're
"Good," I grinned, "now kiss me, damn it, we have to get
back to work."
He smiled warmly and drew me back against him to do just that. Rather
soundly, thank you very much.
No amount of back rubbing helped me sleep Wednesday night and by the time
Thursday morning dawned, I felt like I was going to throw up.
Sometimes I truly am sorry about the messes that my mouth gets me into.
I was looking forward to this trip about as much as one would look forward
to a frontal lobotomy. Without anesthesia.
I slipped from the bed early, leaving Heero sleeping while I went and
showered to a fault. Yes, damn it; I never quite got over that whole 'you
smell bad' thing from my days at the Maxwell Church, ok? It never really
mattered what Sister Helen had said, it was just something that had gotten
under my skin and most likely would be there until I died. I always worried
about it, especially when I was going to be around someone like Relena
who would probably have that assistant of hers rush her to the hospital
if she ever broke into a sweat.
God, this was such a bad idea on just so many different levels.
I was, apparently, a masochistic, moronic little bastard. But it was too
damn late now.
I spent the time waiting for Heero to wake up doing a last walk through,
checking gages and seals, double-checking the vacuum suits. I hadn't told
Heero I'd had to shell out the cash for two more; I'd only owned two.
That had hurt; those things aren't cheap.
I ended up in the cockpit, running over the checklist and going over the
weather reports one last time.
Truth be told, it was more than just Relena that was bugging me. This
was going to be my first flight since the accident, my first time back
in the saddle. I guess that was eating at me too. Wouldn't confess it
to anybody, not even under torture but I was nervous as hell. You'd think
it was my first time in the pilot's seat. I was scared to death that I'd
lost my nerve. I could kiss my business goodbye if that happened. Heero
had tried to tell me how messed up I was on the trip back from the belt,
before I'd fallen so ill. But if I have any one, true talent it's denial.
I think I had denied it for so long that even Heero had bought into the
'I'm fine' lie.
I was sitting there staring at my view screen, watching nothing happen
in the hanger and debating if I should tell him that I maybe wasn't so
damn fine after all, when he came wandering out of the cabin.
"Duo?" he called, a hint of concern in his voice. That tone
made up my mind for me; if I even suggested that I wasn't sure I was ready
for this, he would call a halt to the whole thing.
"In here," I called and he followed the sound of my voice to
the cockpit. He leaned down to kiss me good morning.
"How long have you been up?" he asked suspiciously, eyes noting
my damp hair.
"Couple of hours," I admitted sheepishly and watched the concern
turn to a full-fledged mother-hen frown.
"Duo love," he murmured softly, "if this is going to upset
you so damn much you can't even sleep, then I'm calling this whole thing
off right now."
I grinned for him, "Heero, I always get up early on launch
day." I noted movement in the monitor in front of me as that ugly
pink car pulled up to the hanger. "Besides, it's a little late now,"
and I nodded at the image.
He turned and looked, his frown changing subtly until it contained more
irritation than concern. It surprised me, as we spent more time together
how I was slowly becoming able to read his expressions. I remembered a
time when I had thought he had no damn expressions.
"Heero," I said softly, feeling a faint frown of my own, "Relena
is your friend... please don't let the fact that she and I don't get along
affect that. How she and I feel about each other should not change how
you feel about either one of us."
He turned from the monitor to look at me with a bemused smile. "What
the hell are you doing," he said, "applying for sainthood?"
I snorted and flushed. "Shall we go greet our passengers?"
He headed out and I followed, dropping back just a little so I had a moment
to reach and touch Solo's shoulder as I passed his portrait on the wall.
It was one of my habits before any launch, to touch Solo for luck.
"Thought ya forgot me, rat-boy," he would have drawled.
"Maybe I'll give the habit up, King-rat," I whispered. "Didn't
bring me a lot of luck last time."
He would have laughed out loud.
Relena was standing next to the ugly car with another woman while her
assistant... what was his name? Paragon? I think that was it. While
Paragon unloaded their luggage from the trunk. My first thought was; Holy
Lord, did she bring everything she owned? My second thought was; why the
hell is the sixty year-old guy the one manhandling that heavy luggage
out of the car? I sighed and moved past the women with a cordial, "Good
"Here, Paragon," I told the man, "let me get that."
He gave me a surprised look but stepped back to let me do it. I'm sure
some strapping young porter had loaded the crap into the trunk back at
the Peacecraft estate but no one had thought about the poor old guy giving
himself a heart attack trying to get it out again.
"Thank you, young man," he said softly and I swear to God I
saw Relena's back stiffen.
Heero was taking her and her chaperone in hand, for which I was eternally
grateful, though he came to take a couple of the bags to save us from
having to make two trips. Heero had two bags, I had two bags and Paragon
was carrying several small cases. I shook my head with a wry grin; how
many changes of clothes did a Queen need for a five-day trip?
to Sunhawk's fic]