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
"Got wounded!" I barked and went hunting for the unconscious
woman that I had meant to leave for the professionals. No damn time for
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
"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
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
"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.
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.
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
"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
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
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.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's