by: Sunhawk

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

"As I was saying," I continued with a mock glare in his direction. "All my worldly possessions I leave to...oh wait; I don't have any worldly possessions!" I took a stance and cried, "Ok then – I leave my body to science! Skoal!" and tossed that sucker back. Hell-fire was an apt name. Thank God there wasn't more than a swallow or two in the glass or I think I would have thrown it right back up. There was a... cloying sweetness to it, somewhere under a flaming surface taste, and it was... thick. I would have used some of the blue crap to wash the taste out of my mouth if I'd had any. I turned to face McMurphy, gave him a cross-eyed look that thoroughly conveyed my opinion, and then tossed him a wink.

"Not too bad, Mac," I told the room in general and McMurphy played my game with me, looking down into the pitcher with a wide smile.

"No shit?" he asked me happily and we had to share a grin when we heard Smitty take the bait. Goad my ass, would he?

"Really?" Smitty asked, incredulous. "Old McMurphy came up with something worth drinking, all on his own?"

I stepped away and let it play out. McMurphy poured, Smitty drank, and the whole place erupted in laughter when he ran for the bathroom, somehow managing to hold both hands over his mouth and curse me resoundingly at the same time.

"That was the most vile thing I have ever tasted, Mac," I told the bartender after the teasing had died down. "And that includes the time I tried to siphon raw jet fuel. What in the hell did you put in that?"

The big guy sighed dejectedly, dipping a finger into the brew and tasting it himself with a shrug. "It's a brandy base, with Tabasco sauce, honey, a raw egg, and..."

"Stop!" I choked out, holding a hand up to forestall any more explanation. "I suddenly don't want to know!" The thing about McMurphy is he doesn't seem to have any functioning taste buds of his own. Just an undying desire to create a new, earth-shatteringly good drink, and make it into some sort of bartender hall of fame. Or maybe he just likes watching his customers gag. Though... when I thought about it, Smitty and I were the only ones he could ever get to try the damned things for him.

I turned back to my dinner with a rueful shake of my head, taking a long swallow of water, trying to get that sticky, burning taste out of my mouth. Jess brought me a soda without being prompted, I took a couple of gulps of that too, but it didn't help much. Napalm... I think I'd just drunk napalm.

I suddenly felt the weight of four pairs of eyes on me and looked up to find the oddest audience I'd had all day. They all looked... amused. Strangely guilty. Weirdly melancholy.

"What?" I blurted, looking from one of them to the other and feeling like I'd missed a whole conversation. "Have I got orange Hell-fire on my chin, or something?"

Quatre smiled for me and shook his head. "No... we just realized how you must have been feeling all those times out with us."

I felt myself flushing and bent to cutting my steak.

"We're sorry," Trowa said quietly. "We should have realized what all those inside jokes felt like... from the outside."

I mumbled something and just wished they'd drop it. I was saved from having to think of something else to say when Smitty finally made his way out of the bathroom and stalked with grim determination toward my seat. Everyone else at the table was suddenly alert to some danger to me and I had to snort at them derisively. "Get a grip, guys," I snickered. But, you know? It gave me one hell of a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. Or maybe that was the Hell-fire.

"Maxwell," Smitty said almost formally when he got to the table. "Have you thrown up yet?"

"No, I have not," I informed him with just as much seriousness.

"Then I bow to the better man," he said, doing just that. "And I will mourn your passing when that shit finally eats out your stomach lining and kills you."

"I'm... uh... honored?" I snickered at him. "You look kinda... green."

He grinned at me then, informing me, "I will get you, Maxwell."

"You will try, Smith," I grinned right back at him.

He went back to join his partners, and I turned back to my dinner with a shake of my head.

I quickly started a conversation about the sticky properties of honey and the guys let me. We passed most of the rest of the meal in idle banter and pretty mindless talk. I was actually starting to relax a little bit, finding that it hadn't been all that hard to fit back in here. No one had said a thing to me about my ship or my accident and I realized after a bit that there lie the difference between Heero's circle of friends and mine. Mine were spacers and understood the depth of the hurt I had taken when I had lost my ship and my livelihood. They understood how it was like salt in the wound to keep bringing it up. So they just let it go, accepting me back at face value.

I was just starting to think that my crappy day had finally turned around when I saw Jess come around the bar with a fearful look on her face. I saw her flash a signal at McMurphy and then her eyes were seeking mine. I knew what that look and that signal meant.

"Shit," I muttered.

"What's wrong, Duo?" Wufei asked, sitting across from me and noticing the look on my face.

"I'll be right back," I told them, tossed my napkin in my plate and went to meet Jess half way.

"Jock?" I asked tersely when I got there.

She nodded fearfully.

"Where?" I asked, eyes flicking around the room and not seeing the man I sought.

"In the back dining room," she informed me, her voice sounding nervous.

"Is the room clear?" I sighed, feeling myself start to tense.

"Yeah," she was able to tell me.

I took her by the shoulders and met her wide eyes, "Ok, honey... here's the deal. You see the guy that is sitting next to my chair? The one with the eyes that are probably boring a hole in my back right now?"

She peeked around my arm and nodded vigorously.

"That is my incredibly over-protective... room-mate." I tightened my grip a little to emphasize my words. "He is going to be exceedingly unhappy when he finds out what is going on here. It is your job to impress on him just how bad an idea it would be for him to interfere, got it?"

"Shit, Duo," she blurted unhappily and I grinned at her ferally.

"Sorry about your luck, kid," I told her. "Get the musketeers to help you."

I patted her shoulder, turned to share a tight nod with McMurphy and headed for the back room. I damn near challenged the power of worse again, but remembered at the last minute, and bit my mental 'tongue'.

As I was nearing the door, I heard McMurphy beginning the job of protecting his flock. "Ok people... we all know the drill..." I forgot about them, Mac would see to it that everyone got down or completely out of the building.

The trade is... a damn tough business to be in. For every pilot that makes a go of it, there are five that cave and go under. It's a dangerous, merciless industry that hinges as much on luck as it does on skill. And Lady Luck, as we well know, is a damn fickle little thing, and not really much of a lady. There are a dozen tragic stories out there for every successful one. Stories like Neo's. Stories like... mine. And stories like Jock's.

Retired from the military with not much rank and less pension, he'd sunk everything he'd had into his own ship and gone into mining. He'd made a small strike, gotten a little money and gotten himself a girl. Then he'd hit a little dry spell and lost all his money, lost his ship to creditors, and finally lost his girl to a pilot who still had a ship. He'd... not handled it well. He'd sunk into a dark depression and taken to drinking. He didn't handle his drink much better than he'd handled his loss.

He showed up at McMurphy's or some other spacer bar every couple of months, desperate for the company of his own kind... and suicidally drunk. He usually came carrying a gun. For some strange reason... he liked me and I could usually talk him through it. And of all the damn nights for Jock to show up at McMurphy's in his usual drunken stupor, waving his pistol... didn't it figure that it would be tonight?

Could this fucking day get any damn worse?

Oooops.

I eased up to the door and held back out of sight until I could assess his mood.

"Hey Jock," I called with, I hoped, a light, unconcerned tone of voice. "You in there?"

There was a moment before I got a reply and his voice was that maudlin one I knew so well. I sighed. He'd been a strong, sure man once... a long time ago.

"That you, Maxwell?"

"I've been looking all over for you, man," I lied. "Mind if we sit down and talk for a bit?"

"Naw," he said after a few minutes to think about it. "Come and sit with me... I'm all alone."

I eased into the doorway until I could see him sitting against the back wall. The gun was in his lap, so I moved cautiously toward him. The back dining room is for larger, single groups and isn't all that big. There's a long table in the middle of the room that could probably seat twenty or so. The chairs were resting upside-down on the tabletop and Jock was sitting against the back wall on the serving counter, leaning against the wall.

"Come talk to me Maxwell," he said unhappily. "Nobody wants to talk to me."

"I want to talk to you," I told him with false cheer, still trying to assess just how far gone he was. "I told you I been looking all over the place for you."

"Liar," he grumbled and I froze half way across the room. "Nobody ever comes lookin' for me."

"Well..." I began. "I was hoping you might know..." I froze when the gun came up. The trick with Jock is to get close enough to him without pissing him off so that you could get the gun away. He doesn't really mean to hurt anybody, except himself maybe, and when he sobers up later he always hates himself for these little episodes. We keep taking the guns away from him... but somehow he keeps getting hold of new ones.

"Stop right there," he growled at me, and I was more than happy to do as he said. "What do you want?"

I eyed the gun and eased slightly to the right. "You invited me, remember? You said you wanted company."

"Don't need no damn company!" he snapped unhappily and the gun wavered. I shifted just a hair again, to stay out from in front of it.

"Come on, man," I wheedled, "I need to talk to you..."

Suddenly the damn gun went off and I swear from the look on his face, he hadn't really meant to do it. I had a heart stopping moment of not being positive he'd missed me, before I remembered to breath. Damn. He'd never fired the gun before.

Heart in my throat I called out, "Mac! Is everybody all right out there?"

"Ok out here," came McMurphy's voice, and he sounded rattled. "You?"

I thought I heard voices in the background, raised in argument.

"We're all right... accident."

Jock seemed vaguely confused and I pressed forward.

He looked kind of troubled about where the loud noise had come from, and it distracted him long enough that I got around the room to his side of the table.

"This seat taken?" I grinned at him when I got there.

He blinked at me for a minute before gesturing to the counter with the barrel of the gun. "Go ahead..."

I hopped up beside him and settled down, crossing my ankles and trying to look non-threatening.

"So, what do you know about ocelots?" I gamely asked him, the most off-putting thing I could think of, keeping an eye on that gun, trying to make sure he kept it pointed away from me. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach, underneath the prickly fear of getting shot, I understood that Jock had just changed all the rules to this game we played. He'd pulled the damn trigger this time; we weren't going to be able to talk him down, sober him up and try to get him back on his feet. This time it couldn't be swept under the rug.

"Ocelots?" he repeated blankly, looking at me, and when the gun tracked where his eyes went... I dared to reach out and gently ease the barrel away.

"Listen, Jock," I whined, shamelessly trying to win his sympathy. "I'm in a lot of trouble. I had to take this job transporting some animal called an ocelot and I just don't know anything about them. Ever seen one?"

"It's a cat isn't it?" he asked, interested despite himself. "What kind of trouble you in, kiddo?"

I sighed heavily and hung my head, having to reach and push the barrel away again. "You heard about my accident... right?"

"Yeah, man," he commiserated and actually sounded a little weepy. "That was a nasty, nasty piece of luck."

"Tell me about it," I complained. "I can't get any decent jobs at all... I don't know what I'm going to do..."

"That's tough," he told me, voice wavering. "That's real tough."

"You want a beer?" I suddenly blurted and he gave me a surprised little nod of his head.

"That'd be good, Duo," he confirmed. "I could use a beer."

"Great!" I enthused. "I'm buying!"

That served to cheer him up a little bit and he sat contemplating the butt of his gun while I turned and called out to the other room.

"Hey McMurphy, how about a couple of beers in here?"

"Coming right up, Maxwell," he hollered back and I didn't have to wait long. McMurphy brought them himself, which was a wise choice. Jock sometimes reacted badly around women.

Mac came slowly around the table, keeping an eye on Jock, but trusting me to keep him from getting shot. He handed me two beer bottles and then quietly slipped out of the room again, leaving me to do what I'd come in here to do.

I handed Jock his bottle and then made a great show of trying to get the cap twisted off mine and grimacing in pain.

"Y'ok, Duo?" Jock asked me with owlish concern on his face.

"I screwed my wrist up today," I told him. "Can you open this for me?"

"Sure, kiddo," he soothed and laid the gun down on the counter to take the bottle from me, since his other hand had his own bottle in it. While he took the minute to figure out that he had to set his own bottle down to free up a hand, I deftly slid the gun across the counter and behind me, until it was resting on my other side where he couldn't reach it. He never seemed to notice.

He handed me my beer back and took a sip of his own. "You in a bad way, Duo?" he asked, all watery-eyed concern and I felt a little bit like a heel for playing on his sympathies.

"You could say that, Jock," I sighed.

"I'm real sorry to hear that," he told me, reaching to pat my knee awkwardly. "It sucks to be on the outside."

"Yeah," I told him and sipped my own beer. "I know. I think I'll be all right though."

"You're tough," he agreed, nodding his head sagely. "I was tough too... a long time ago." He got a funny little look in his eye then and leaned close to tell me conspiratorially, "Don't trust women, and don't fall in love."

I laughed out loud and bit down on my first retort. "Women aren't all bad," I said instead and got a little snort.

"They'll screw you over and then leave you the first time things get a little rough," he grumbled.

"Ok..." I smirked at him. "I swear... no falling in love with a woman."

He seemed to brighten a little, as though I had accepted his little nugget of wisdom as the God's honest truth and the only way to live. I felt really bad for him and had to wonder, not for the first time, about the woman who had walked out on him for greener pastures.

I sat and talked with him for a few minutes, listened to his story again and let him finish his beer

Movement by the door made me glance that way and I saw McMurphy peeking around the corner. I gave him the thumbs up and saw him visibly relax. He turned away for a second and I'm sure he passed the sign on to the room. Then he stepped into the doorway and quietly said, "Uh, Duo... Jock's got company."

"Jock," I said gently. "You know we got to go."

He nodded morosely, tilted his bottle back to be sure he had the last drop and then set it aside to look at me. "Yeah... I know."

I got down first, flipping on the gun's safety and slipping it into my pocket, waiting while he climbed down with exaggerated care. He's not a stumbling, babbling drunk. He just gets... depressed.

I felt awful for him, knowing what was waiting for him in the other room. Knowing where he was going to be going tonight. The trade takes care of their own... to a point. Jock had stepped over the line this time though. I dropped my arm across his shoulders as we walked around the table and headed for the door.

He sighed heavily and looked at me. "I screwed up this time, didn't I Duo?" he asked quietly and I had to nod.

"Yeah buddy," I agreed sympathetically. "I'm afraid you did... I'm real sorry."

"Not your fault I'm an old idiot," he grumbled as we went through the door.

The first thing I noticed was the rather large group of people clustered in the corner of the room, making a human wall between me and my Heero. I could see his wild-eyed face through the bodies and flashed him a grin that I hoped was reassuring. I could feel his eyes locked on me like a tracking device. I felt really guilty about all those people who'd had to throw themselves in front of his considerable... protective tendencies.

The second thing I noticed were the three police officers by the door, talking to McMurphy and looking highly agitated. I'm sure that most 'shots fired' calls don't get a 'just hold on a minute' response from the people being shot at.

"Maxwell?!" I heard and had to grin near to split my face.

"Jones?" I almost laughed. "I thought we agreed to stop meeting like this?"

He just stared down at me, shaking his head in total exasperation. I turned the gun over to one of his cohorts while the other one took Jock in hand. The old guy was docile as hell until they started to cuff him, then he looked to me for support with frightened eyes.

I sighed. "Listen Clint... is that really necessary?"

"Sorry kid," Clint told me with a little shake of his head. "Its procedure."

"At least in front, and not behind his back?" I cajoled and I saw the other guy hesitate, waiting for Clint to decide.

"All right," Clint said with a gusty sigh and I had to grin up at him.

"Is that ok, Jock?" I asked, just as if he had a choice and he nodded, maybe understanding somewhere under all the alcohol that it didn't really matter what he said. But I understood what a difference it could make in a situation like this to feel like you had some kind of control left.

They led him away then and he glanced back once with one of those weepy looks that could rip your heart out. "Sorry McMurphy," was the last thing we heard.

I turned my attention up to the man who had, so far, shared most of my day. "Looks like your bad day sucks worse than mine... you're still on the job," I grinned at him.

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