by: Sunhawk

Situations Or Duo Maxwell's Awful, Bad Day (cont) 

"Come on, kid... get the hell out of there!" the cop was yelling at me and I had to ignore him.

"Got wounded!" I barked and went hunting for the unconscious woman that I had meant to leave for the professionals. No damn time for that now.

I found her in the second seat from the back. It looked like someone had tried to make her comfortable on a bundle of coats, or maybe she'd just fallen that way. I would have cursed the idiot for moving her if it hadn't been a pretty damn moot point now.

My buddy up top side was still with me, thank God, and had moved down to the second opening so I didn't have to work my way clear back to the front of the bus.

"Hurry the hell up!" he was screaming at me and I gave up trying to be gentle with the poor woman and just shoved her limp body upward, hoping like hell that I wasn't doing any damage to her. It was getting hard to see and I suddenly realized that it was getting damn hot, too. Then the woman's weight was suddenly gone from my arms and I scrambled up after her, sliding off the bus and following my blue angel to the ground. We ran like hell.

There was the sound of exultant cheering and we were quickly surrounded by a crowd of former bus passengers. Somebody clapped me on the back and I glanced up to grin at Sam.

"Well," he drawled, "that'll sure as hell get your blood pumping first thing in the morning."

I had to laugh, though it seemed fairly out of place in the huddled group of sobbing accident victims.

The cop was carefully laying the unconscious woman out on the ground and I moved to go stand by them, surprised to see the woman stir.

"Damn," somebody muttered. "Look at the thing burn."

I heard more sirens, but they seemed awfully far away. I looked back at the bus and the whole front half was in flames. I felt a pang for the family of the bus driver... I'd had to leave the body.

"W...where... where's my baby?"

I whirled around to see who in the hell had spoken and almost threw up on the damn sidewalk. The woman was awake, eyes wide as saucers and staring wildly around. Her voice was rising as she started to take in the situation. "Missy? Where's my daughter? Where's my baby? Missy!"

There hadn't been any kids leave that bus. I was sure of that. I'd left a kid on the bus?

I whirled back around and headed for the street, but something stopped me cold, bringing me up so sharply I almost fell. I jerked rather ineffectively at what felt like a damn steel band and turned to find the cop with his hand on my upper arm.

"You can't go back in there," he snapped. "Leave it to us!"

"You can't fit!" I yelled back and saw a certain amount of pain flash in the big man's eyes, but he wouldn't let go. I started to panic. I could hear the mother starting to scream. I saw some of the other passengers trying to comfort her. I stopped tugging to get free. "Is that your partner?" I blurted. "He's small enough... he'll fit!"

The cop bought it, whirling to see which of his buddies had finally gotten there to back him up and I broke free and ran like hell. There was an outraged bellow behind me and I heard him coming hard on my heels, but I'm nothing if not agile and I swarmed up the under carriage of that bus like a damn monkey.

It was hot. Damn, it was hot. I could feel it even with my half numb fingers and I just did my best not to touch metal once I had dropped through the smashed out window. The inside of the bus was a nightmare of heat and smoke, and I despaired that I could freakin' find a damn elephant in there. Then I remembered the pile of coats the woman had been lying on top of and realized what had to be under those coats.

I scrambled like I haven't scrambled in a long damn time.

Behind me I heard a string of swear words that would have made a longshoreman proud. I tried to pull my polo shirt up over my nose and mouth as my fingers were digging through the pile of coats. Nothing. Damn it.

One of my little thought hamsters appeared long enough to smack me up the side of the head with a banner that said "RUN!" But he couldn't take the heat and vanished with a tiny little pop.

Not leaving a kid. Not leaving a kid. Not on my damn watch. Not gonna happen.

No way... no how... not leaving without a little kid...

Behind me, the cursing resolved itself into something that I think was only "get the hell out of there!" But was said so fast it was coming out almost as a single word.

I might have screamed, "No!" I might have told him to run. I don't really know, I didn't have my little hamsters to supply me with lines, after all.

Then I heard a tiny little cough and almost shouted out loud. I found her by touch, because I couldn't see a damn thing. She was hiding in the very back corner of the bus behind the seat.

"Come on, honey," I soothed as I grabbed hold of her like I was picking up a puppy and hauled her out. "Your momma's really worried."

My braid was dangling down as I pulled her up and she grabbed hold of it with both hands like it was a lifeline. Then I moved like my ass was on fire, because it damn near was.

"Go!" I shouted, getting a lung full of smoke for my trouble. "I got her! Go! Go! Go!"

The kid didn't feel like she was more than about five or six and was clinging to me like one of those baby monkeys you see in the documentaries. I was scrabbling around like a madman, frantic to get back out that tiny little opening and for a second I was afraid I wasn't going to find it in the smoke.

"Here!" my angel bellowed and I followed his voice, my fingers finally finding open air instead of glass. Something grabbed my wrist and just damn well pulled. I thought he was going to rip my arm out of its socket jerking us up out of there. He didn't even set me down, but just kept the momentum and swung me off the side of the bus and dropped me. The impact took me down to one knee and I was barely back on my feet before I heard him hit the ground beside me.

"Run, you God damn son of a bitch!" he was roaring at me and I didn't have to be told twice. Hell... I didn't really have to be told the first time.

We ran, and for a big guy, he was damn fast. Or maybe it was me having the little girl wrapped around me like a boa constrictor, but he actually got a couple of paces ahead of me. All three of us were coughing fit to bring up a lung.

Then the bus blew. Or the pickup truck, or fucking something. It got damn confusing for a couple of minutes. I went down hard and did my best to keep from crushing the little girl. There was a moment when I couldn't seem to breathe. There was a lot of yelling. A lot of screaming. Something ripped the kid out of my arms and I scrabbled after her, but hands were pinning me down and all of a sudden I thought somebody was trying to smother me. What the hell? I think I fought.

"Hold the hell still soldier-boy!" Sam was yelling at me and things slowly started to make sense. I stopped fighting them and let them finish putting my back out.

Ouch.

When things stopped seeming so frantic, I dared raise my head. Missy was in her mother's arms, and people were huddling around them. Other people were staring down at me, and the rest of the police department seemed to have arrived.

I turned my gaze to Sam, because the blue angel just seemed to be pissed off at me no end. "Am I out?" I grinned, and Sam threw his head back and laughed out right.

"Yeah, you cocky little asshole," he chortled. "You seem to be out."

"Can I get up now?" I asked pleasantly, since they seemed to be holding me down and I got another chuckle from Sam. The cop still seemed to be glaring daggers at me.

"Sure thing, kid," the big guy grinned and reached to give me a hand up.

"Good," I muttered, "because I am so late for work."

"You sit the hell still until the medics take a look at you," the cop growled menacingly and I froze with my wrist locked with Sam's, deciding that maybe I should stop pushing my luck with this guy.

Sam shrugged and let go, stood to move off, hesitated for a second and then squatted back down beside me. He stuck his hand out, shaking mine firmly when I reached to take it. "I got a feeling we weren't on the same side in the war kid, but... well... it was nice meetin' you anyway."

Then he made his way over to the crowd of people clustered around Missy and her Mom. I grinned after him for a second before turning my attention to the big, glaring man in blue next to me.

"Uhmmm..." I muttered, trying to look apologetic. "Sorry about that, man.' I shrugged and stuck my hand out. "I just have this thing about little kids."

He vented an exasperated sigh and took my hand in his massive one. I felt like a freakin' dwarf.

"Duo Maxwell," I said with a grin that I tried to tone down just a little. I couldn't help grinning like an asshole... I was still alive, after all.

His irritation seemed to be bleeding away and he gave me a rueful shake of his head. "Clint Jones."

"Thanks for sticking with me," I told him and thought he might just smack me in the back of the head.

He made me sit until the medics got around to me, and I had to admit that my back was a little sore. I had apparently been hit with a piece of flying debris that had set my damn shirt on fire. It had been Sam and Clint who had put it out almost before it'd had a chance to get started.

The medic declared my back no worse than a bad sunburn, but my shirt a total loss, and moved on to the next person.

The place was swarming with emergency personnel by then and Clint didn't seem to be needed, so he had stayed by me. Almost as though he were afraid of what other trouble I might get myself into if he left me alone. He had killed the time waiting for the medics by taking my statement about how the accident had happened, and took my address and contact information in case they had any questions later.

"So," I grinned at him when the medic was done, "am I free to go, Officer?"

He snorted at me, shaking his head again; he seemed to find me terribly amusing for some damn reason, now that he didn't look like he wanted to throttle me. He stood and stretched his hand down to help me to my feet, pulling me up until I was standing there looking at his... breastbone. Damn, but I felt short. He jerked his head toward where his cruiser was parked and beckoned me to walk there with him. I followed, somewhat shakily, starting to feel sore muscles and tiny aches and pains just freakin' everywhere. But I was intrigued all the same, and was a little surprised when he opened the trunk of his car and fished around in a sack until he came up with a t-shirt. "Here," he said gruffly. "My kid out grew it and it was on its way to Good Will. Should fit you."

I held it up and marveled at the size, quirking an eyebrow at him. "Your kid... got his size from your side of the family?" I quipped and this oddly wicked grin came over him.

"Nah," he said, totally deadpan. "You should see my wife."

I laughed, delighted, and put the thing on. It was probably two sizes too big, but was going to beat the hell out of arriving at Preventor's headquarters shirtless. Even if it did have a picture on the front of a dragon with a knight in shining armor in one hand... and a can opener in the other. I briefly considered wearing it wrong side out, but decided what the hell.

"Thanks," I smiled up at him. "Beats the heck out of wandering around downtown half naked."

It was his turn to laugh. "I don't need to have to come and pick you up for indecent exposure three blocks from here."

He shut the trunk and looked me up and down, as though trying to reassure himself that I really was in one piece. "That took some nerve, kid," he told me grudgingly.

"Nah," I grinned up at him, "just no brains."

He snorted that little laugh again and shook his head. "Well it was one hell of a way to start the morning, wasn't it?"

"It has been something of a crappy day so far," I opined ruefully, and we said our goodbyes.

I had to walk three blocks before the traffic was untangled enough that I could flag down a cab that actually looked like it might get somewhere.

I arrived at work an hour and a half late and had to stare at the clock. Only a damn hour and a half? I felt like I'd been on that bus for days. Damn.

I clocked in and headed straight for the soda machine in the back of the bay, I really, really felt the need of a little caffeine. My back was tingling uncomfortably and starting to feel tight, my shoulders ached like I'd been weight lifting for twenty-four hours straight and I think Clint pulled something in my wrist when he jerked me out of the bus that last time. I shoved my coins in the slot, and when that beautiful green can dropped into my hand, it was so wonderfully cold that I was taken with the urge to pour it down my back.

"Maxwell! Where the hell have you been?" I heard the strident tones of my boss and had to sigh. I'd kind of been hoping that he wasn't in today. Griff is an ok kind of guy, but has this major problem with punctuality.

"Good morning to you too," I smirked at him and got a little growl. I rather enjoyed baiting the guy, if the truth be told. I'd had a little trouble when I'd taken this job because of who I was and what I used to be. People had this whole 'awe' thing going on, where former Gundam pilots were concerned. A pilot as an agent seemed to be something they could relate to, deal with. A pilot as another grungy mechanic with grease up to his elbows and several of his knuckles busted, seemed to throw them off. For the first couple of weeks, I could count on having a good twenty feet of personal space without having to ask. And while, at the time, that had not been an altogether bad thing for a guy who was still raw edged enough to cuss out loud at tiny little things like stubborn bolts, it had started to get a little lonely. Griff had treated me like any other newbie grease monkey, yelling about all his strange little rules and regulations and eventually, when the others started noticing that I took it just like anybody else, they stopped treating me like I had a third head. So I liked Griff just on the general principal that he treated me like a human being and not an icon or the devil incarnate.

Griff looked irritated already and we really hadn't even gotten started. "I said;" he repeated himself with a little more... volume, "where the hell have you been? You're over an hour late!"

"An hour and thirty-five minutes to be exact, boss-man," I grinned at him. "I had some transportation problems this morning."

"I thought you took the bus when Yuy was out on assignment," he grumbled and I couldn't hide the cock-eyed grin. The man knew freakin' everything about the whole damn building. I wondered, not for the first time, if he had tracking devices on all 'his' agents. Since they all drove vehicles that his department supplied, it was like he had a personal stake in each and every one of them.

"I do," I confirmed and made him wait while I took another sip of my breakfast. "There was an accident..."

His face changed a little bit and he grimaced. "I heard about that... there was a fire, wasn't there?"

"You could say that," I confirmed and all of a sudden he was getting an eyeful of the front of my shirt and was off on a whole other tangent. He has this dress code thing as well.

"Where the hell is your damn shirt?!" he bellowed and I saw people flinch all over the room. "You know better than to show up out of uniform!"

For some strange reason, that one kind of ran all over me. I don't know why, I guess because I've never really understood his absolute obsession with those stupid polo shirts. I don't really mind them, it takes all the decision making out of the process of getting dressed in the morning, but I think it's kind of stupid to assume that I can't do my job if I'm not wearing an article of clothing with the Preventor's logo on it. "Look Griff," I barked, and instantly had his attention because I don't call him by name unless I'm supremely serious. "Its been a pretty damn bad morning so far... if you want me to go the hell home and change clothes, just say so. But I'm not in the mood to stand here and listen to this shit!"

He blinked at me, looking me up and down and something in his eyes told me he was going to back down. "Hey Duo... calm down buddy," he soothed. "What's the matter? You see that accident or somethin'?"

"You could say that," I growled and threw back the rest of the can of soda in one long gulp and then tossed the can half way across the room into the big trash barrel.

"Sorry, man," he appeased gently, his whole demeanor changing. "Listen... why don't you go work on Anderson's Ford until lunchtime. Then I need somebody to run over to the dry cleaners and pick up a shipment of new shirts anyway... you can go and change at the same time."

I made a conscious effort to shove my irritation away, Griff hadn't caused the damn accident after all, and muttered, "sure thing, boss-man."

He clapped me on the shoulder, didn't notice me wince and pointed me to the back of the bay where Anderson's car awaited. I sighed inwardly, girded my loins and went to get my toolbox. Anderson's car is a piece of shit. It should have been shot and put out of its misery ages ago, but the agent has been with the Preventors from the beginning and has some kind of superstitious weird crap going on with that car and won't let them junk it.

I'm not sure what was wrong with the damn thing this time, but I did know that I'd seen it sitting here for the last couple of days and knew that several of the other guys had already given it a go. And obviously failed to fix it. Joy.

That damn Ford consumed the rest of my morning, like some demonic, possessed... thing, intent on feeding off my blood. I don't like being Griff's errand boy. I don't like making the trip to the damn dry cleaner's. But by the time lunch rolled around I was missing skin off about half my knuckles, had burned my elbow on a hot manifold, had inadvertently taught the mail-carrier woman a couple of swear words she apparently had never heard before, and was more than ready to make the walk the six blocks to the damn dry cleaners.

"Maxwell!" Griff bellowed across the bay. "The cleaner's called... the shirts are in!"

"About God damn time," I muttered to no one in particular and threw my wrench back in my toolbox, where it rather predictably bounced back out. I took a minute to wipe my hands on a rag, and exited stage left. Managing by some miracle, to walk across the garage without tripping on anything. I could not wait for this damn day to be over.

"Take your time!" Griff called after me and I heard a chorus of stifled chuckles from around the bay.

"I'm so fucking pleased to be able to entertain you guys!" I shouted without looking back, delivering the one-fingered salute as I threw the front door open and stalked out onto the street. The chuckles changed to boisterous laughter that was cut off when the door closed behind me. I couldn't even slam it; it has one of those automatic closer things.

For the first block, people seemed to just move the hell out of my way and I imagined later that I must have been scowling like some sort of insane asylum escapee. My back freakin' hurt. Every muscle I owned was aching like a mother. I never had gotten any damn aspirin and just to top things off, that stupid piece of crap car still wasn't fixed. And didn't look like it was going to be fixed any time soon. In fact... I was starting to contemplate just setting fire to the damn thing and telling Anderson it was an accident. Except... the way my day was going, I'd end up burning down the whole stinking building.

By the second block, the foot traffic had thinned and the walk had cleared my head a little. I stopped playing the 'see how many people I can get to pee their pants with just a glare' game, and settled down to a simple 'don't fuck with me' _expression. I actually considered hailing a cab, going the hell home and just calling Griff and telling him I was sick. As much as I'd been cussing and kicking at things and not getting a lot of actual, productive work done, he'd probably be just as glad to see me go.

Midway down the third block, some guy almost ran into me because he was trying to key something into his palm computer while he walked. I think I might have growled because he looked up at me with wide eyes, made a funny little noise and gave ground like he'd just made eye contact with a charging bear. I was hit all of a sudden with the horrendous urge to be hugged. Don't laugh at me. I just seriously, achingly, overwhelmingly and all of a damn sudden wanted Heero's arms around me and I might have cursed the motherless politician who had caused him to be gone today, right out loud because the next person I passed gave me a really weird look.

The fourth block is a turn down a side street and the pedestrian traffic thinned out almost completely. There were, in fact, only a handful of people within sight. It's a narrow little street; one way, and only ran about seven or eight blocks before it dead-ended into a park. I unbent enough to actually nod at a woman I passed. But then... I got pure, unadulterated proof of what I have always suspected. God really, really is not all that fond of little ol' Duo Maxwell.

Something in my head suddenly said danger. I slowed my steps and couldn't find it. Couldn't see a thing wrong, but the inner voice that belongs to the soldier after all these damn years, was adamant. Something was very seriously... not right. I turned and looked behind me and saw nothing but the woman I had nodded to, as she made the turn and disappeared around the corner where I had just come from. I scanned the street, my steps slowing as I looked for what my head assured me was there... somewhere.

It's like a... buzzing in your nervous system, that sense. When you're a soldier, you develop that knack very quickly, or you very quickly become dead. You learn to trust it too... without hesitation or self-doubt. I am a lot of years removed from the days when that sense had come into being, but it was still as sharp as ever and just as damn scary.

I couldn't find it. I scanned the street up and down and just couldn't get a fix on what was bothering the soldier. Every hamster I owned was in complete harmony for nearly the first time in memory; run, you sucker.

But there was nothing to run from.

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