Long Road Home (cont)

'We need to get dinner started,' I told him after a bit. 'Wufei's going to be here in an hour or so.'

'I know,' he sighed softly, but his arms didn't let go, and I wouldn't draw away as long as he needed me there. 'Have I ever told you how glad I am you're with me?' he said then, his voice so intense that it made me shiver.

'We're partners,' I told him firmly. 'I'll always be right there with you.'

He did straighten then and gave we a wan smile. 'You'll protect me from little old ladies?' His embarrassment at not knowing how to handle the situation was plain, and painful, to see.

I grinned and kissed the end of his nose. 'Always, lover. No little old lady can get past me.'

He tried to brighten the smile a little and then we set to making dinner. I can manage a salad without too much trouble and bent to work there while Heero started the spaghetti and put the meatballs on. I tried to keep a relatively innocuous conversation going, but I could see him brooding about the encounter whenever there was a lull.

He'd have done better if the damn woman had just pulled a stupid knife on him. A clear threat, he would have dealt with as swiftly and surely as ever. It was these 'civilian', not-really-threatening incidents that threw him. He didn't know how to respond. He never knew what to say, how to get away from people like that, and I knew it bugged him. Threw him off balance. It made him so damn mad, just as mad as it made me, but you had to rein that in. Had to just take what they said, because arguing only made things worse.

We managed to have dinner just about ready to go on the table on time, despite the delay. I noticed Heero watching the clock like a hawk, and he deliberately positioned himself so that he was the logical one to get the door when Wufei's knock came. I couldn't quite decide whether to scream, or laugh, and finally just ignored it, letting him think that I hadn't noticed. He carefully checked out the window for Wufei's car before going to look through the peephole and finally letting the man in. I wondered how long he was going to suffer with the 'twitches'.

We've had Wufei over to our place a score of times, and he's invited us to his in turn. He always arrives as though we have offered him the highest of honors. He never fails to bring something, some gift or some food. Our set of four 'good' plates had come from Wufei after he had eaten off our washable plastic ones once.

'Those are supposed to be disposable,' he had said.

'But you can wash them!' I had exclaimed.

'They were cheap,' Heero had interjected.

The next time he ate with us, he had arrived with a wrapped package and insisted that it was only proper that dinner guests should bring gifts. He had no idea how we had fussed and fumed the next time we had dined at his home, trying to figure out what to bring.

This time, he brought a small basket with sliced garlic bread. I hadn't even noticed that Heero hadn't made bread with dinner until I had accepted the gift, and I realized they must have discussed it on the phone. It did explain what had taken Heero so darn long.

Heero took Wufei's coat while I took the bread to the kitchen and began pouring our drinks. I could hear the murmur of their voices in the living room and finally had to call them to the table. How the hell long does it take to hang up a coat?

'We're eating in the kitchen you guys!' I called in exasperation, and they came sheepishly to my summons.

'Sorry,' Heero murmured, and he must have still been a little off balance over that mess at the grocery, because he was blushing. He set to work taking our dinner up.

Wufei trailed him into the room and immediately latched onto the new chair as a topic of conversation, teasing us unmercifully about our 'décor'.

'You should try to get on one of those home decorating shows,' he chuckled as we sat down to eat. 'Where they come in and redo your living space?'

We both looked at him a little blankly and he rolled his eyes. 'When are you two going to break down and get a television set, so you know what's going on in the world?'

I snorted, dishing up meatballs and handing the bowl to Heero. 'When we become gainfully employed?'

Wufei raised an eyebrow in polite question and Heero chuckled. 'According to our bank account... soon.'

'Are you having any luck finding jobs?' Wufei asked as he carefully dished up a helping of spaghetti.

I snorted and shook my head. 'That implies that we've actually been looking.'

That got me another raised eyebrow and the quirk of a grin. 'Expecting to win the lottery or something?' he teased.

'Actually,' I informed him, ignoring the barb. 'That's part of why we asked you to dinner.'

Wufei indicated to Heero he wanted the bread with a flick of his fingers while he gave me a mock glare. 'Oh? It wasn't just my sparkling dinner company that you were after? I think I'm hurt.'

I delicately blew him a raspberry and accepted the bread as he handed it across. 'Of course we invited you for your witty conversational skills,' I informed him. 'But if you can employ those skills discussing the Preventers... that's simple economics.'

'Two birds with one stone and all that?' he asked archly.

I nibbled at my slice of bread and grinned appreciatively. 'Hmmm... three birds; you can cook too!'

Heero chuckled and gave Wufei a little inclination of his head, having taken a bite of the bread as well. 'It is very good, thank you.'

Wufei looked pleased. 'Just... what is it you want to discuss?' he asked, seeming to word the question slowly, as though watching his phrasing.

'Well,' I told him, elbowing my partner gently in the ribs. 'Our buddy here, has apparently developed an interest in your little organization, but has been afraid to ask.'

Wufei looked to Heero with a touch of uncertainty in his eyes. 'Afraid?' he repeated after a second, waiting for some clarification.

I had hoped that Heero would jump into the conversation once the opportunity offered itself, but he remained silent, chewing a mouthful of spaghetti and obviously waiting for me to elaborate. I sighed. 'He seems to be afraid that I will feel obligated to join if he does, or some other obscure Yuy reasoning,' I told Wufei and gained a twin set of odd looks. 'Hey!' I grumbled, giving Heero a glare. 'I wouldn't have to make this shit up it you'd just tell me what the hell you're thinking!'

Wufei couldn't quite contain a chuckle and Heero turned his odd look in that direction. Something strange seemed to pass between them, and I just hoped that Heero wasn't irritated with Wufei for laughing at him.

Wufei looked down at his plate, carefully spearing a forkful of salad and chewed it for a moment, seeming to consider his words. When he had swallowed, his fork found its why back into the salad bowl, but he just stirred things around.

'Actually,' he said, not looking up at me. 'I do have something that I thought you might be interested in, Duo.'

I took a drink of my soda and waited, watching him stir salad. I wondered why he seemed so uncomfortable, was it because he was offering a position to me specifically, and not Heero. 'What is it?' I prompted when he fell silent.

He took a breath and did look up at me then, rather searchingly. 'Commander Une has been having problems finding a Network Administrator for the Preventers computer network. The last person couldn't handle the job, didn't seem to... appreciate the level of security necessary for the organization.' He paused and smiled at me, seeming to lose a little of his discomfort. 'She was rather impressed with your... skills during the war and has... agreed with me that you would be perfect for the job.'

I blinked at him. 'Me?' I couldn't help asking.

He snorted and raised his own glass, saying, 'Well you did manage to hack into every damn system the woman ever had control over. She thinks you might be qualified,' before taking a drink.

Beside me, Heero was being awfully quiet and I glanced his way to find his attention completely focused on his plate. 'What do you think, Heero,' I asked, afraid his feelings were hurt that Wufei hadn't asked him.

He finished his mouthful and then grinned, looking at me sidelong. 'It beats the hell out of shoveling shit for a living.'

I laughed out loud at the reassurance that he wasn't angry, then glanced across at Wufei and laughed even harder at the confused look on his face.

'Shoveling... ?' he began, but then just shook his head. 'Never mind. I don't want to know.'

I bent back to my dinner, and sat that idea out in the middle of my brain to consider it. Wufei and Heero fell silent, letting me think about it. There was an odd, almost electric feeling in the air and I wondered about it.

The Network Administrator for the entire Preventers organization. That was something of a daunting thought. I'd have to do some research to catch up; I was a couple of months out of the technological loop. Things changed fast in that business and I wouldn't be able to fall behind. Not with those kinds of databases under my protection. It was kind of intriguing. It was kind of scary. It was kind of daunting. I already used that word, didn't I? I guess that's because it fits the most. Daunting. Damn, but I suddenly had a million questions. The one that bubbled to the top of my suddenly percolating brain first, was rather embarrassing; I wonder if I'll have to wear a tie? I decided not to ask that one.

'Do they have anything set up... ' I began, but Wufei raised a hand to forestall the questioning.

'I honestly don't know all that much about the position,' he informed me. 'But if you're interested, I can arrange a meeting with Commander Une as soon as tomorrow.'

I blew out a breath and didn't tell him that I'd rather talk to someone else, that the woman unnerved me. I hesitated and glanced over at Heero. His eyes were bright with approval and he smiled encouragingly, giving my shoulder a nudge. 'Go for it,' he said softly, and I felt oddly warmed.

I turned back to Wufei and found that his attention was on his dinner again. 'Ok, man,' I told him. 'Set up an appointment with the scary lady, and I'll talk to her.'

His head snapped up and he gave me a look somewhere between appalled and relieved. 'Maxwell!' he rebuked. 'You do not call Commander Une a 'scary lady'!'

I grinned rather unrepentantly. 'Well... not to her face, I won't.'

He replied with a roll of his eyes and we finished our dinner in that vein, Wufei teasing me about showing up for a job interview in jeans and a t-shirt, and me ribbing him about working for a psychopath.

Things seemed to... relax somehow, though I'm not really sure why they'd had that underlying tension to begin with. It wasn't something I could put my finger on. Maybe Heero had just needed some distraction to forget the incident at the market. Maybe Wufei had been worried that Heero would be upset that he'd offered that job to me and not him. I wasn't sure, but I was glad when the mood lifted and we began laughing and talking like normal.

Dinner was finished soon after, and Wufei insisted on helping with the dishes. Since Heero had cooked, I washed and Wufei dried while my partner sat at the table and kept us company. I had a harsh moment of missing Trowa and Quatre, but it passed, washed away in the banter. Wufei entertained us with job stories and Heero told him about our 'stalker' neighbor. We carefully didn't mention the trip to the grocery and when the dishes were done, went to sit on the couch for a little while, before Wufei had to go home.

'... couldn't believe that Noin made the shot,' Wufei was saying as we settled in the living room, finishing a story he had started about betting on the shooting range at work. 'I lost five credits on that one, and Noin wouldn't let me forget about it for weeks. That's all I heard for the next three assignments.'

I frowned, thinking about that one. 'I thought Sally Po was your partner?' I asked, and watched in some confusion as his cheeks flamed. What the hell had I said?

'I don't really have a permanent partner yet,' he mumbled, looking down at his hands and not at me. 'Right now I'm just tagging in where I'm needed.'

That made me feel like shit, talk about putting your foot in it! I leaned over and laid my hand gently on his arm. 'I'm sorry, Fei,' I told him. 'I didn't mean to make you feel bad. I'm sure you'll find somebody you can work with soon.'

The room seemed to go as dead quiet as a tomb, and Wufei stiffened under my hand. Damn; it must really be a touchy subject for him. I tried to think of something else I could say to make things better, but finally decided I should just keep my mouth shut, I obviously didn't understand the situation at all. I gave his arm a squeeze and then let go.

'Never would have taken you for a betting man,' Heero interjected quietly and the conversation turned back to safer ground. The mood lightened almost immediately, and I was glad that my slip hadn't caused permanent damage; it had been a pleasant evening and I was thankful I hadn't spoiled it.

We sat and visited for a while longer and then Wufei had to go.

'Some of us do have to get up for work in the morning,' he grinned as he slipped into his coat and prepared to leave.

'Well,' Heero chuckled, moving up behind me and giving my shoulder a squeeze. 'Maybe that will change come tomorrow.'

'Then you'll be the only unemployed one, Yuy,' I grinned, glancing over my shoulder at him and catching the strangest look on his face.

'I would call you tomorrow if you two had a damn phone,' Wufei interjected with a smirk. 'So you're going to have to haul your sorry butts out of bed in the morning and call me instead.'

Heero snorted. 'I think we'll manage,' he said, and then a little more seriously, 'maybe I'll come down to headquarters with Duo.'

They looked at one another for a minute and then Wufei smiled broadly. 'Sure thing, Yuy. I heard there was a janitorial position open too.'

I couldn't help but laugh and Heero poked me in the ribs by way of retribution.

Then Wufei was gone and the evening was over. I went to turn down the bed while Heero went through his routine of checking and double-checking all the doors and windows before coming to join me.

I had meant to talk to Heero about the impending interview. I had meant to ask if he knew why Wufei had gotten so upset when I had questioned his lack of a steady partner. But when he came into the room, there was a smile on his face that told me he was thinking of other things besides talking. He came and settled his hands on my hips, pulling me close and nuzzling gently at the side of my neck.

'You know,' he whispered in my ear, low and husky. 'Network Administrator... that's kind of sexy.'

I laughed with delight and wrapped my arms around his neck. 'You're turned on by tech geeks? Why didn't you ever tell me?'

'Never thought about how... suggestive some of the jargon was before now.' He murmured and began working at the buttons on my shirt.

'Hmmm... ' I sighed. 'Interfacing?'

'Oh yeah,' he groaned in mock passion. 'Downloading... Upgrading... '

'Talk dirty to me,' I snickered and we were suddenly laughing so hard we fell on the bed in a tangle.

Then the talk was gone and very soon, so were the clothes. The laughter faded as the passions started to rise. He forgot about jobs and markets, forgot about Wufei and dinner as he teased me with lips and hands, making me forget about questions, forget about talking, forget that I had to face scary Colonel Une in the morning.

We lost ourselves in each other and just forgot it all. Finding that place we could give, one to the other... that place where nothing else existed.

When I thought I would explode with the frustration of being held back, when I was starting to wonder if he would ever let us finish, he suddenly rolled us over until I was looking down into blue eyes so dark with passion, they didn't even look like his.

'Take me,' he growled and spread himself out beneath me like some offering to the Gods.

Later I would realize what it was about. Would know that this was brought on by his fears of hurting me, that he was still unsure of himself, still worried about being too rough. But in that moment, my mind was too far gone to care, my body had forgotten how to breathe, and I just answered his demands. Answered our body's demands.

Somehow, over the months, our roles had begun to settle in, and this was his position more often than it was mine. I had forgotten how it felt to be the aggressor, had forgotten that rush of pure, animal control that fills you. Had forgotten how looking down into his upturned face, twisted with passion, filled me with... Gods, I don't know, endorphins maybe? It just made me feel like I could do anything... be anything. Made me feel strong and assured, protective and possessive.

It was overwhelming. I think I screamed with my release. I know he did.

Sated and exhausted, I collapsed across his chest and felt only irritation when he prodded me to go clean up.

'Don' wanna,' I mumbled into the side of his neck, and he chuckled at me.

'You'll be sorry later if we don't,' he teased.

'That'll be then,' I groused. 'Don't wanna move now.'

'Come on, love,' he said, and continued to nudge until I finally moved.

'Sadist,' I mumbled and followed him to the bathroom.

I almost don't remember climbing back into bed. He's always known what to do to keep me from thinking too much about things I can't do anything about anyway. Has always known what things will prey on my mind and when I need to be kept from thinking.

'Love you,' he practically purred in my ear, sounding quite satisfied with himself, as I struggled to stay awake long enough for our goodnights.

'Heart and soul,' I managed and then I was gone.

Morning found me alone in bed and I had to grin up at the ceiling, knowing that Heero was downstairs on the payphone the minute he knew Wufei would be at work. I couldn't help wondering again why in the hell he hadn't just told me that he was interested in checking into the Preventers. I swear he was as excited about my applying for this Administrator job as I was.

It's funny, I should have been nervous about what was amounting to my first ever job interview. But underneath it all somewhere, I guess I knew I probably pretty much had this job if I decided I wanted it. That sounds kind of... conceited, but come on; we'd already been offered positions. I don't much like to go around blowing my own horn or anything, but let's face facts... I'm a Gundam pilot. Was a Gundam pilot, anyway. I probably knew more about computers, computer technology, hacking, and system security than any two administrators twice my age out there anywhere. Not that I'm like... Super-technology guy or anything, but I'd had some of the most advanced training the colonies had to offer, and field experience the likes of which most people could only dream about. I don't go around rubbing people's faces in it... but I know my shit.

I guess the only odd doubt I had, was why Command Une hadn't offered the position to Heero. I'd never admit it to him in a million years, but he's better than I am. Not necessarily smarter or a faster learner, but his training had started years before mine had. He had one hell of a head start on me. Give me enough time and I had no doubt I could catch up and maybe even pass his expertise... but why not start with the best in the first place?

I glanced at the clock and decided I'd better get up and shower or Heero might not give me the time to take one. Colonel Une made me nervous enough, the last thing I needed to do was show up in her office smelling like sex. I wasn't particularly bothered by the prospect of the job interview itself, but I will more than freely admit that I wasn't too keen on meeting with a woman who'd had a hand in scheduling my public execution.

Standing in the bathroom, unbinding my hair, I thought about that a little bit. I'd always wondered... had it been in her date book? Eight hundred hours, meeting with Engineering. Nine hundred, troop inspection. Ten hundred, execute wayward Gundam pilot on camera. Eleven hundred, have nails done.

Forgive me; I had a lot of time sitting in that cell to think about my impending broadcast debut. I had imagined her secretary calling on the intercom, 'Excuse me, Colonel... you're late for your ten o'clock.'

Let's just say the woman had unnerved me and leave it at that.

I was scrubbed as clean as I could get myself, and standing in the closet doorway trying to figure out what to wear, when Heero came back into the apartment. All I could think about was Wufei's teasing cracks about me showing up in jeans and a t-shirt. Truth be told... I didn't own a hell of a lot else.

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