I wont look, I told him
ruthlessly, and prodded the tool cask into the ship. I unhooked my tether-line,
activated my magnetics, but refused to move into the open lock until it
was clear he would go with me.
All right, he agreed, though he didnt sound all that
happy about it. I stayed in the hatchway until hed touched down
and locked to the deck beside me.
In, I growled and settled my hand over his tether-line until
I was positive he would obey me. There are sensors that keep the exterior
doors from closing as long as a line registers attached on the outside
of a ship. Call me paranoid, but I just had this weird feeling, and I
didnt want to take any chances that hed go all macho on me.
I waited until he was passed me, and then I undogged his and Hills
lines myself. The hatch slid shut almost immediately and I damn near got
caught in it. Heeros cry of Duo! harmonized my own yelp
Shit! I blurted and was left holding the severed end of Avery
Hills tether-line in my hand and could only imagine the body drifting
off the port bow.
Son of a bitch! Heero snarled and began punching at the controls,
trying to get the hatch to reopen before the body was too far gone.
The hatch refused to budge and even as Heero was getting angry, I was
becoming very afraid, and suddenly understood what had been nagging at
me for the last ten minutes. I saw Heero turn and look in the general
direction of the cockpit, just as though he could see the Captain right
through the bulkhead. I saw him open his mouth and knew that Captain Gray
was about to get an earful. But before the words could come out of his
mouth, I drug him to me, touching our helmets together to put us into
Captain Yancy Gray had been entirely too damn quiet.
He means to space us! I blurted and saw Heero blink at me.
What? he queried, sounding unsure, but his anger was bleeding
away in the face of my certainty.
Think about it, I hissed, keeping my voice down despite the
fact that it wasnt necessary. No one else aboard this ship
really knows whats happened except for people who stand to be in
almost as much trouble as he is. If we happen to have an accident... Captain
Gray and his son are off the hook.
He hesitated a moment, not really wanting to believe it, I think. But
why would he even let us back in the ship?
He couldnt close the exterior hatch until wed unhooked,
I reasoned, suddenly just very damn positive of my theory. He couldnt
risk re-entry with an open hatch.
I saw Heero believe it between one blink and the next. What the
hell is he waiting for then? he said, but it wasnt a question
of doubt, but simple confusion.
I dont know, I told him, starting to feel frantic. My
eyes were ranging around us as best I could, and I couldnt find
a damn think to hook to. Nothing to hang on to. Maybe working up
the nerve to commit his first murder? I had little doubt it wouldnt
take him forever. We have to get the fuck out of this air lock!
And then a look came over Heeros face that damn near had me flinching
away from him. If we survived this, I would not want to be in Grays
Heero wrenched away from me and went straight to the control panel for
the interior doors, his commands did nothing to gain us entrance to the
ship though, and the panel itself was recessed and totally inaccessible.
All repairs were meant to be done from the other side of the bulkhead.
No way in hell could we pull the panel for manual override. A sound escaped
him and I shivered; it was almost the sound of a really pissed off, trapped
animal. He left the control panel and turned to the hatch itself. There
wasnt much there, but there were a couple of places where the shape
of the metal afforded some sort of place to grip. He turned to me and
gave me the old military be ready hand sign, and then settled
his hands on that door. I thought I would laugh at him out right, but
knew it for the hysterical urge it was and just let it go. This was Heero
and he couldnt just stand here and do nothing, no matter that the
effort was less than futile; he had to try.
I forgot him, left him to his straining, knowing he couldnt possibly
force a ships hatch open with nothing but his hands. I turned away,
looking at the panel for the outside doors and wondering if I could jam
the controls somehow, when I was buffeted with a rush of air. I whirled
as best I could in zero-gravity, shocked as hell, and found Heero had
the inside hatch pulled open almost a whole damn hand-span. I wasted almost
ten seconds staring at him in open disbelief, before the sounds of his
almost groaning breath shook me into motion. I kicked over to his side,
intent on helping him, but he caught my attention with a look, making
me touch his suit so he could impart something to me without Gray overhearing.
I was half afraid I wouldnt be able to hear him over the pounding
of the blood in my ears.
Cant... hold, he said tersely, and I could see him shaking
with effort. Jumper... controls.
It was all he could impart and that little bit came out in gasping pants.
I wanted to argue, I wanted to wail and demand that I couldnt leave
him in there, but we didnt have the time for the hysterics. I broke
away without a sound and gathered what I could from the cask as fast as
I could manage it. It was then I discovered that I was still holding both
Hills severed line and Heeros as well. Without a thought,
I hooked Heeros line to my suit, shoved the tools in my pouch and
went back to where the door was cracked open. Adding my own effort to
Heeros, we managed to pry the hatch open enough that I was able
to squirm through, and then he couldnt hold it any longer. I heard
him give it up with a near moan of frustration. I almost screamed when
the door slid shut behind me. I would have called out to him, but was
afraid of spurring Gray into action if he realized wed figured out
what he was up to. What he was contemplating.
It was all adrenaline overdrive then. I spared the minute it took to rip
my helmet off and jerk the suit open so that my hands were free. I hated
losing the time, but knew I would more than make it up not trying to work
with the clumsy gloves on.
I dont think I really had any conscious thought at all. There might
have been a frantic hamster with a banner that read Hurry!
in there somewhere, but I didnt have the attention to spare. Tools
came out of my pouch as fast as I could jerk them. I utterly destroyed
the panel cover getting it off, my imagination making me hear the sound
of the outside hatch opening every other second.
When Gray got up the nerve to carry through with what had obviously occurred
to him while hed listened to us saving his ship, he would open the
outside hatch, then open the inside, blasting us out into space on a plume
of explosive decompression. Then he could calmly close it all back up
and claim wed had an accident. So sad. Too bad. But they died heroes,
isnt that nice?
I wanted to pray, but was afraid to.
I wanted to cry, but couldnt afford to.
I wanted Heero, and had to do that for myself.
I let myself find my voice, because without the helmet, nobody could hear
me anyway, and I cussed until I ran out of English curses, then switched
I couldnt even begin to let myself imagine Heero standing there
in that air lock, all alone and trusting me to get him out. I would freeze
up if I let myself even start to think about failing him. If I let myself
think about losing him.
I clung to the knowledge that his tether line was still attached to me,
and that if the doors opened before I could free him, I still stood a
chance of pulling him to safety.
Dont be stupid. I know. But I couldnt let myself feel that
slack line. Couldnt let myself know that it had been cut when the
door slid shut. I couldnt know that or I would start shaking and
wouldnt be able to stop.
Bastard son of a bitch is dead... so damn dead. I will kill him
with my own hands. Then I will piss on his corpse and space whats
Because when youre so scared you cant see straight... you
have to get mad.
Then it all came together under my hands and the door was sliding open
and Heero was lunging through and grabbing me and taking us both to the
wall. He had hold of me and he had hold of the first solid thing that
came to hand and then we were being battered by hurricane winds and I
was taken back with a jolt to that near disaster with Relena aboard my
Somewhere in there, I was aware of the fact that Id almost not made
it. Aware of the fact that the good Captain Gray had finally worked up
the courage, hit the button and Id gotten the door open mere seconds
ahead of the outside doors opening. Plastered against Heero, I heard him
screaming inside his suit and for two damn seconds almost panicked completely
before I realized it was for the benefit of our audience.
I had no mike and since there was no one to really hear me, I let myself
give vent to a sobbing cry and held on to Heero as tight as I could with
one hand, scrabbling with the other to help him hold to the wall.
The bastard left the hatches open for almost a full three minutes. It
was the longest three minutes of my life.
By the time the winds stopped tearing at us, stopped trying to make us
go outside to play with poor Avery, I was starting to get lightheaded
from the thinning air.
We fell to the floor in a heap, and I dont know about Heero, but
I was panting like an asthmatic. Some distant part of my brain felt the
ship thrumming beneath us in an effort to make up for the lost air. Felt
the bite of the cold thats always left behind by sudden decompression.
Wondered idly what Gray was telling the passengers.
But then I got enough air that only one damn thing mattered, and my hands
were ripping at Heeros suit. I knew he was all right, knew hed
probably come through in better shape than I had, because he was still
sealed and protected inside his vacuum suit. But there was nothing in
my brain but the need to touch him. To strip him out of that thing that
part of my head would always think of as a coffin, and touch him. I almost
threw the helmet across the room when it finally came free in my hands,
then just bent to kissing him. Cheek, nose, chin... whatever the hell
part came within reach.
Id hit that aftershock part.
Oh God, Heero... I panted, clutching at him, pulling at his
suit. Are you all right? Oh God... talk to me!
Its all right now, he told me, and I was a little pleased
that he was panting some too. Were ok... you did it... were
His nonsense rambling thing. I didnt care; he could have been speaking
to me in some dead aborigine language, just as long as he was talking
to me. As long as he was all right.
He didnt let us lie there for long, before he was pushing up and
peeling the rest of the way out of his suit. Helping me peel out of mine.
I was shaking so damn bad I dont know that I could have done it
That fucking bastard is so going to regret this flight, I
muttered at one point, just trying to bolster my own flagging nerves.
It might have sounded more impressive if half of it hadnt been stammered
through chattering teeth.
Hell be lucky if he lives long enough to regret much of anything,
Heero hissed, and I glanced up to see that look on his face again, the
one that made my gut run cold.
I didnt reply, and he continued to prod us into action, seeming
to suddenly decide we needed out of that room. I suppose he was right;
if Gray figured out that he hadnt gotten the job done the first
time, there was nothing to keep him from trying again. We took the clothes
wed shed to get into the suits and retreated to the corridor before
stopping long enough to dress. Even having the section sealed behind us
wasnt enough to make me breathe any easier. Heero didnt seem
to settle until wed gotten completely out of the main hall and had
gained the first cross-corridor.
There, he finally stopped and pulled me into his arms, and it was a damn
surreal thing, feeling his hands on my back and remembering what hed
just done. How could someone so strong manage to be so gentle? I forget
sometimes, that unbelievable, adrenaline-bred strength of his. Though,
in that moment, I thanked God for it, because I had no doubt wed
have been drifting out in the middle of nowhere, without it.
I let myself fall into that strength, wrapping my arms around him and
hanging on tight. God damn, I croaked out, voice sounding
shaky and a little high. This is like some really, really bad movie.
He choked on a laugh that I could tell he hadnt intended to let
pass his lips, and his arms tightened convulsively, though he didnt
I swear, Heero, I told him vehemently. This is our last
vacation. Im never leaving the damn house again.
He gave in to the laugh that time, though it was strained. Ill never
be positive, but I think that moment may have saved Yancy Grays
life. You can never be real sure about these things, but there was something
in the set of Heeros shoulders after that, that was subtly different.
Some feral light that was eased from his eyes.
Not that he wasnt still seriously put-out, but up until that moment,
I think he had been perfectly ready to rip Captain Morons head off
and punt his cranium from one end of the ship to the other and back again.
I couldnt decide if I was happy I might have been the instrument
of the mans salvation, or not. At that second... not. Later... maybe.
Youre trembling, Heero pointed out to me, quite unnecessarily,
I thought. So hard... are you ok? Really ok?
Too much time on this roller coaster, I quipped. I just
want off now. But Im good through what we have coming up next.
We cant leave that... lunatic at the controls, he told
me, not that Id needed him to tell me that either.
I know, I agreed. Which means were going to have
to bring this ship down ourselves. I know.
It took a concerted effort between the two of us to get ourselves untangled.
He looked at me long and hard when he could see me again, and reached
to gently brush at my sweat-soaked bangs. Id rather have you
at my back for this, he said. But if youre not up to
it, well take you back to the...
I snorted, though my heart was doing something exceedingly strange in
my chest. Dont even go there, I growled. Unless
theres no other choice, you and I arent getting two feet away
from each other for the duration of this nightmare.
He grinned at me then, but there was an edge to it. Lets go
give Gray the surprise of his life.
I grinned back and felt the stirrings of something old. Something that
was pushing down the shakes and the desire to go find a dark corner and
crawl into it.
We heard the elevated buzz of voices from the main cabin before we ever
got there. The kind of buzz that only happens when a group of people has
something juicy to dissect verbally. I was looking forward to wading through
there even less than I was looking forward to the confrontation with Captain
Suffice it to say the room went silent as a tomb when we made our entrance.
And I dont think it was just from how scruffy and disheveled we
appeared. Heero looked around the room, as though evaluating each and
every passenger as a potential threat and then quietly said, You
may return to your cabins. The repairs to the ship have been completed.
It was testament to the scary properties he can bring into his voice,
that the hubbub didnt erupt until wed moved for the cockpit.
Heero gave Bobbi, the girl I had come to think of as the head flight attendant,
a rather imperious gesture, and she followed him into the short corridor
that linked the main cabin with the cockpit without hesitation.
I am an agent of the Preventors, he told her grimly. I
will be placing your Captain under arrest for violation of several inter-colony
laws. Captain Maxwell will be taking over the piloting of this vessel.
You may inform the crew, but do not alarm the passengers with the information.
Ill give the girl credit; she managed to school her expression enough
that I couldnt tell you if shed been taken by surprise. I
had a feeling, whether shed been a party to the original... unorthodox
pilots training sessions or not, she was probably going to come
through this mess all right. I was kind of glad; shed been nice
enough to us. I gave her a wan little smile that was meant to be somewhat
comforting, and she nodded. Then it was time to follow Heero into the
He went first, only because you couldnt get through the hatch in
anything but single file formation, but I was hot on his heels and we
split the moment we could, he going to the right and me to the left. Ready
to engage in whatever it took to take the big guy down. Not sure if we
would be facing a weapon or not; though they were illegal to carry, wed
already seen how much Captain Gray cared for the rules. We were both crouched
and ready, wound like cheap springs and itching for an excuse to pound
the man to hamburger.
We neednt have bothered. The Captain was sitting in the pilots
seat, his head in his hands, weeping quietly. Guess the asshole had a
conscience after all. Too bad it had engaged too late to have done us
any good, had we not taken care of our own rescue.
Captain Gray, Heero intoned menacingly. I am placing
you under arrest in the name of the Preventors. Please step away from
the shuttle controls.
When Gray jerked his head up to stare at Heero, I tried really hard to
gage his reaction, but I just wasnt sure. All I saw for sure was
shock, but I couldnt clearly tell if the underlying emotion was
relief or regret. It might have made things easier if I could have honestly
believed the man was truly sorry for what hed tried to do.
Oddly, in that moment, all I can really remember thinking was poor
Spencer, which was probably pretty stupid since the kid wasnt
exactly innocent in all this. If anyone should have had my sympathy, it
should have been Hill, who was no more innocent than the rest of them,
but had already paid a price that was way too high.
What a fucked up trip.
Gray was wise enough not to try for denial. Wise enough not to argue,
only nodded shortly and left the pilots seat. I had to repress a
shiver, seeing a man removing himself from the command chair for the last
time. Too many parallels. Too many memories.
It probably wasnt necessary, but we ended up binding his wrists
with electricians tape and confining him to his cabin. I pulled the inside
door control panel with my own hands and saw to it that he couldnt
open that door without several hours and repair tools he didnt have.
We would have simply duct-taped him to a seat in the main cabin if that
wouldnt have required a great deal of explaining to the passengers
that we didnt care to have to make. The man was more than subdued
and I think Heero got across without actually saying it, just what a mercy
we were showing him by not simply spacing him on the spot.
Heero returned with me to the cockpit to check the shuttle course and
status. I think it bothered him to leave Gray unguarded, but he seemed
to have that same fear of us being out of each others sight that
I had. The remaining crew didnt seem too sympathetic to their former
Captains plight, but you never knew. It was still hours till we
gained atmosphere again, and I didnt much feel like challenging
the already overworked powers of worse.
I was almost surprised to find that the shuttle had not been set
on some suicide course into the sun or something. It would just about
have been the expected capper to the whole mess.
Heero sat quietly in the co-pilots seat and watched me while I went
over course and heading, verifying that our repairs were adequate to the
job, checking all the fuel levels and energy readings. Things I needed
to familiarize myself with if I was going to be landing an unfamiliar
You know, I told him after a bit. The aliens should
be arriving any minute.
Aliens? he asked, quizzical eyebrow raised and a hint of tired
amusement in his voice.
Yeah, I grinned. Isnt that the only thing this
B movie is lacking?
I dont know, he smiled, letting his head fall back.
There hasnt been a shoot out yet... unless I missed it.
Bite your tongue, fool! I snapped, only half kidding. Do
not tempt fate; shes bitchy!
He snorted and rolled his head until he could look across at me. You
know... there hasnt been much romance in this movie of yours yet.
How about you come over here and sit with me?
I smiled warmly at the very idea of dragging my ass across the cockpit
and climbing into his lap, but had to decline. Besides the unlikelihood
of my doing that in front of a shuttle full of people... if I let myself
lie down in your arms right now, Im going to completely shut down
and youll be piloting this bucket back by yourself.
He didnt chuckle, though on running the line through my head again,
I guess I can kind of see why, but he did get up and come across to me,
since I wouldnt go to him. He leaned down and kissed me gently,
drawing back to look at me and then leaned down to do it again. Have
I told you today that I love you, he asked simply.
Since its the wee hours of the morning, I dont think
so, I smiled up at him. Not in so many words, at least. But
I think I got it somewhere in amongst all the cursing and grabbing hold
Tell me? he whispered and the teasing tone was gone.
I love you, I obliged, and thinking about those moments that
had had us with an airlock hatch between us, so much that it scares
He kissed me one more time, and then went back to the co-pilots
seat, settling in to sit watch with me.
Judging from the sounds coming from the main cabin, most of the passengers
had followed Heeros suggestion and returned to their quarters. It
didnt take long at all before things quieted. Heero and I both seemed
to have more than enough to occupy our minds and for a while, we were
quiet ourselves, just sitting together and thinking.
It was hard to get my head wrapped around it all. Hard to think back and
remember that just a couple of days ago Id been worrying about simply
making this trip. If someone had told me Id have to put on a vacuum
suit and go out-ship before it was all over, Id have crawled into
the back of my closet-cave back home and never come out. And now, here
I was getting ready to land a commercial shuttle.
But you know; it all kind of lent credence to my whole suck it up
method of coping with things. Though I wasnt about to speculate
about how well Id have done without Heero with me, I had to admit
to myself that Id managed it. Managed whatever hurdle the fates
had seen fit to throw in my path. Maybe I hadnt handled it with
what you would exactly call grace, but Id done what needed doing
when it came right down to it.
I wondered if that fact would make people stop telling me I needed therapy?
I turned toward Heero to ask him just that, and found him with his head
leaned back against the head rest, sound asleep.
I grinned at him like a loon for about thirty seconds before guilt beast
loped through the doorway, toenails rattling on the deck-plates, and set
to gnawing on my ankle. Heero would not be dozing in a situation like
this one, if he werent already completely wiped out from dealing
with my sorry ass. Heero is not prone to taking naps. So then I just sat
and watched him sleep for a bit, and felt bad for putting him through
so much turmoil. But then I thought about the fact that he felt safe enough
in my presence to doze the hell off in the first place and I was back
around to grinning at him.
His hair was as sweat-stiff as mine was, his eyes dark circled, his clothes
rumbled and looking like hed worn half of them under a vacuum suit
and thrown the rest of them on while running for his life. But, you know,
he was still a damn gorgeous man. And you know what else? Hes mine.
Isnt that a kick in the head? It is to me sometimes. Heero Yuy is
a handsome, strong, fascinating man. Sexy and compassionate, gentle and
patient, and damn it to hell... in love with me.
No, its not a surprise, but sometimes it just kind of blind-sides
Dear God but I wanted to go home. Wanted my bed and Heeros shoulder
to rest my head on.
Guess I was pretty tired too.
So I sat through the last hours of the night cycle alternating between
watching Heero and getting familiar with the ship. The quiet bothered
me a little bit, but I had only to look across to see Heero resting there,
and things were all right. Not wonderful, but something I could deal with.
He was upset with himself when he roused some hours later, and gave me
a look of reproach. Duo, why didnt you wake me up? What if
thered been trouble?
I gave him a snort of a laugh and rolled my eyes. Like you wouldnt
have been awake in a heartbeat if anyone else had come into the cockpit.
You were tired... it didnt hurt for you to sleep. I shrugged
and figured the look I gave him should pretty much get across the idea
that I didnt feel bad about letting him rest.
He looked guilty then, and gave me a sad little frown. I didnt
mean to leave you alone like that.
I wasnt alone, I told him, smiling warmly. You
were right here. Thats all I need.
He looked only a little reassured, and I think he might have said more,
perhaps another apology, but we began to hear voices out in the main cabin
and before long Bobbi stuck her head in through the hatch and smiled at
us. Do you gentlemen need anything? Coffee? Some breakfast?
I exchanged a look with Heero, both of us wondering if we could trust
the woman. But then I had to grin and shake my head; Good God, I really
was getting paranoid. Coffee would be lovely, if you wouldnt
Not a problem, she said with a perky little laugh. Anything
for you Mr. Yuy?
He hesitated a moment, but then grudgingly said, Tea would be most
appreciated. When she was gone, Heero turned a critical eye my way.
You should eat.
Probably, I chuckled. But I really dont know that
I can stomach more shuttle food right now.
In the end, we couldnt stomach the drinks either. When Bobbi brought
them to us, we thanked her politely and then sat and stared at the bulbs
in our hands. The drink bulbs prepared for us by a woman who was likely
to be facing charges with the rest of the shuttle crew based mostly on
our testimony. No matter how hard I tried to tell myself I was being stupid,
I just couldnt make myself drink the damn thing.
This is ridiculous, I snarled, but went right ahead and chucked
my coffee into the disposal chute by the door.
Heero only quirked me that sardonic little half-grin of his, handing me
his tea as I went by.
Wed be on the ground in a couple of hours anyway; I could sure as
You know, I told Heero after Id settled back in the
pilots seat. Procedure dictates that we notify ground control
of the... change in personnel.
Heero only grunted, his expression letting me know that I wasnt
telling him anything he didnt already know, and that he wasnt
all that happy about it.
So I put the call through and yielded the floor to Heero as the official
on board, to deal with the fairly pissed off sounding dispatcher that
came on the line.
Who am I talking to? the guy snapped. Where the hell
is Captain Gray?
This is Heero Yuy, agent first class with the Preventors,
Heero informed him, sounding impersonal and professional and altogether
not like himself. Captain Gray is under arrest and has been confined
to his cabin. I need to speak with your head of security.
There was a pause and then the guy barked, Where the hell is the
There was an almost imperceptible sigh from Heero, but he maintained his
almost clinical air, quite nicely, I thought. Avery Hill lost his
life attempting shuttle repairs. Now I need to speak with your head of
There was a long damn pause then, before the guy came back on, sounding
slightly more subdued. Agent Yuy... just who is flying that shuttle?
Heero glanced across at me, looking a touch apologetic, as though he wished
for my sake he could leave my name out of this. My partner, Captain
Duo Maxwell, is a licensed pilot. Now I really need to speak with your
head of security.
While the guy was stammering, trying to figure out just what he had on
his hands, I pulled up a search window so that when he told Heero that
Mr. Carpenter would be right with him, I was able to shake my head
in the negative.
I said your head of security, Heero snapped, looking
at me as I mouthed the proper name to him. You find Ms. Kasten and
tell her she has a level three emergency on shuttle flight fourteen-ten.
That got us another long pause and Heero grinned at me wolfishly while
we waited the guy out. It ended up taking them almost twenty minutes to
find her. I wondered if they pulled the woman in from home, which brought
on another thought and I snorted softly. Well, I hope this woman
loves her job, I told Heero. You realize its Christmas
Heero blinked at me for a moment and then had to grin ruefully. It
is, isnt it? I suppose its a safe bet were not going
to be her favorite people before this day is out.
I grinned and turned back to the controls, poking at the information Id
dredged up from the shuttle ports public pages, looking to see if
there was anything else there that might be useful, when I heard Heero
climb out of the co-pilots seat. I looked up as he came to stand
beside me, and he leaned down to deliver a gentle kiss. Merry Christmas,
love, he said softly, smiling with that little twist of irony in
I chuckled. Merry Christmas, I agreed. Damn good thing
we dont actually celebrate the holiday, or this whole thing might
be kind of depressing.
He laughed at my lame attempt at humor and might have replied, but the
comm. finally chirped for our attention, announcing that theyd dredged
up Ms. Kasten.
I was kind of surprised when Heero perched on the armrest of the pilots
chair, staying by me while he dealt with the woman.
Ms. Kasten? he asked, and waited while she acknowledged herself
before going on. This is Agent Heero Yuy of the Preventors...
She cut him off, though she managed to do it without sounding all that
rude about it. Forgive me Agent Yuy, but would you mind giving me
your badge number as verification that you are who you say you are?
Heero quirked a little appreciative grin at me and it was a bit of a relief
to finally be talking to someone who seemed to know how to do their damn
job. Certainly, he told her and rattled the thing off from
memory. We had to wait a few minutes while she, or more likely, someone
on her staff, made contact with Preventors headquarters. When she came
back on the line, there seemed to be a touch more respect in her voice.
All right, Agent Yuy, she told him brusquely. Your people
vouch for the badge number and the fact that you were booked on that flight.
Now... my top propriety here is the safety of that shuttle. I understand
that Captain Gray has been detained, I need to know who you have at the
Of course, Heero assured her. My partner is an experienced
and licensed pilot, and he looked to me to complete the sentence.
To give the woman the information she wanted.
Duo Maxwell, Maam, I informed her and went ahead with
my license number, knowing shed be asking for it next. There was
another bit of a wait while they ran my id.
Your status shows inactive, Captain Maxwell, she said when
she came back to the mike. You sure you can handle this?
Its like riding a bicycle, I quipped, not knowing what
in the hell else to answer to that question. You never really forget
how its done. Besides... we dont have a lot of other choices
at the moment.
She hesitated while she thought it over, I guess, and I wanted to ask
her if she was perhaps going to teleport a replacement pilot into the
cockpit. Heero settled a hand on my shoulder and the united front was
kind of nice, even if the woman couldnt see it.
All right, Agent Yuy, she said, obviously deciding that I
was the best she had at the moment and dismissing whatever doubts shed
been dwelling on in favor of a new topic. You mind telling me just
what happened up there?
I would prefer not discussing it on an open channel, Heero
told her. Suffice it to say that the lightest charge against Captain
Gray will be gross negligence of duty.
I almost snickered, but bit back on it. Heero squeezed my shoulder again
and gave me a mock glare.
There was another pause and Security Chief Kasten did not sound happy
when she spoke next. Fair enough, Agent Yuy, she said crisply,
and dismissed him this time, speaking to me again. Captain Maxwell,
we will be bringing you in under a standard level three emergency.
I opened my mouth to protest, but then snapped it shut again. That rankled,
but I suppose it was only procedure. So, Yes, Maam,
was all I said.
Id never before had to land anything on the ditch and burn
strip, as pilots affectionately called it. The runway that was so far
away from the terminal and all other traffic, that even if you were drunk
off your ass and tried to land one-handed, you couldnt screw up
bad enough to damage anything that mattered. It affronted my spacer pride
There was the murmur of voices over the radio, as Ms. Kasten conferred
with someone, then she was back. We have you on the ground at twelve
hundred hours, gentlemen. I will expect a full debriefing immediately.
Of course, Heero told her, sounding just a bit disdainful,
perhaps irritated that she had felt compelled to tell him something he
Ill see you on the field then, she said, and if she
heard his tone of voice, she ignored it. Oh, she said suddenly,
a hint of amusement suddenly coloring her voice. Merry Christmas.
Youll make mine a lot brighter if you keep that ship in one piece.
I could not contain the derisive snort that time. Ill see
what I can manage, was all I told her, because most of the rest
of the lines that popped into my head werent really appropriate.
She signed off then, and I imagined her turning around and ordering a
room full of people into action. Are you imagining a huge blond,
Valkyrie woman? I asked Heero, only half kidding.
He chuckled. Actually, I was envisioning a woman with black hair
pulled back in a severely tight bun who answers to the name of Natasha.
I couldnt help laughing in return, and found my head leaning to
rest against him since he was sitting right there anyway. Well,
Natasha or Brunhilde, I have a feeling were going to be heartily
sick of her before the day is over.
He sighed and rubbed his hand up and down my arm. Im sorry,
but yes... were probably going to be in the security office for
most of the day.
I sighed in return, but couldnt think of a thing to say in response.
Whining about feeling like I was at the end of my rope wasnt going
to make all the red tape go away. It wasnt going to make me exempt
from having to testify.
He seemed to understand how I was feeling, because he lifted a gentle
hand to trace along my cheek, but I had to catch it in my own, stilling
it where I could look at it. His fingertips and the heel of his palm were
bruised black, and I bent to carefully brush my lips over the undamaged
flesh in the center of his hand. Acknowledging the price hed paid
in winning our freedom. His body, sometimes, has trouble bearing up to
that strength of his.
Heero only smiled, but we didnt speak of it.
Duo, he said softly. We have a couple of hours... do
you think you could get some sleep? Youve been up all night after
a couple of rough days... he just let it trail off, asking the question
and not pushing. I thought about it; sleep sounded very damn heavenly.
I was so very tired. Achy down in the bone tired, and if I was going to
be taking this ship in, a little rest sure as hell wouldnt hurt.
But I had to be bluntly honest.
Not away from you, I told him. If youre asking
me to go back to the cabin; Im too edgy over that crap with Gray.
I wouldnt be able to relax without you there to watch my back. And
at least one of us has to stay here.
Im not separating us for anything, until were off this
damn ship, Heero said firmly. But, do you think you could
take a nap here in the cockpit?
I can try, I conceded. Just... dont let me sleep
too long. Give me a good half an hour to wake up before I have to do anything
All right, he agreed, and I was absolutely appalled at how
fast I was gone after I settled back in the chair and made the conscious
effort to let go.
It was very much like falling into a black hole.
I think Heero was a little distressed by how much trouble he had waking
me back up, and hed given me the whole three hours; calling me a
half an hour before our approach began, almost to the minute.
I had to get up and walk around the cabin to get the kinks out, I dont
think I so much as twitched a muscle the whole time I was asleep. I would
cheerfully have drunk any damn think Bobbi would have brought me at that
moment, and asked for seconds.
God, Duo, Heero told me, watching as I tried to stretch and
bend in the awkward confines of the cockpit. Youre exhausted;
are you sure you can do this? Ive never brought in anything this
size before, but I can...
Im fine, I told him, putting a little more effort into
waking up. But I have to use the head so bad Im going to pee
the pilots seat if I try to land this sucker without going first.
He didnt look happy about it, but finally confessed, Me too.
I was hoping to get on the ground first, but its starting to get...
I grinned at him. Ok... this is beyond ridiculous. Im going
out into the main cabin to the damn head. You can see it from the cockpit
door, if you want to stand watch. Ill guard your potty break if
youll guard mine.
I swear, I think his face tinged just a touch pink. He nodded and we executed
mission Pee or Explode.
It was almost painful to go, it had been so long. When I was done, I washed
my face and sucked water out of my hands from the faucet. It felt like
the best damn drink Id had in years.
The worst part was enduring the curious stares from the passengers that
were starting to filter into the cabin to belt down for reentry. I just
tried not to make eye contact and walked briskly.
Then it was my turn to stand in the hatchway and watch while Heero made
his own trip.
Nothing at all happened, other than Leslie giving him a polite good
morning as he made his way back. I wanted to laugh at our paranoia,
but couldnt quite forget the sound of air being sucked out an airlock.
I shivered and decided that it wasnt paranoia if they really were
out to get you.
Then it was no more playing. Time to buckle down, belt down and get the
hell to the job at hand.
Youre in charge, Heero told me as he settled himself
into the co-pilots seat. You just tell me what to do.
I snorted and glanced across at him. Of course I am... Im
the Captain, I quipped and got a grin out of him. Pull up
the second level status screens and keep an eye on my heat and energy
outputs. My Demon wasnt this large; dont let me drift into
the red. Ill keep the first level on my screens. I dont intend
to so much as scuff the paint on this baby.
Heero couldnt help an odd little smirk. Getting our pride
up, are we?
Damn straight, I grumbled. Never had to land on the
ditch and burn in my entire life and I am professionally insulted
that the woman is going to make me do it now.
Heero laughed out right at me, looking... pleased with me, if that makes
any sense at all. I just shook my head and got down to work. I buzzed
the intercom and let Bobbi know to put on her seats in the upright
position speech. Then I called the tower to take my coordinates.
Dont you break my shuttle, Captain Maxwell, Ms. Kasten
told me, and I could freakin hear the smug grin in her voice.
I was landing ships while you were still doing your graduate thesis,
I smirked right back at her, positive that her first name was Brunhilde.
Dont you worry about your shuttle.
You dont sound that old, Captain, she said, amused.
Im not, I informed her and killed the connection. Five
bucks says shes blond and no less than five foot eight, I
muttered to Heero and he chuckled.
Youre on, he said. My five says shes black-haired
and wearing stiletto heels.
Then it was time to plot my trajectory and get ready for the descent.
I did it in my head, then verified it with the computer, finally calling
to Heero, Spec it one more time.
He did, without question, but had to tell me, You knew you had that.
Not taking any chances as tired as we are, I informed him.
You see anything that so much as makes your nerves quiver, you call
me on it. Check and double check. Im not going to get pissed off
if you question me.
He was rather quiet, but as Id just killed the autopilot, I really
didnt have the attention to spare to look across at him.
Aye, Captain, he finally said, and there was a hint of...
respect in his voice that made me want to grin.
Commercial shuttles are... big. Really damn big, and not in a good way.
I have to confess to a couple of oh shit moments when I first
took that yoke in my hands. Its kind of like the difference between
driving a car with power steering and suddenly finding yourself behind
the wheel of a John Deer tractor. Salvage ships are designed for maximum
maneuverability; you have to be able to take them any damn where and keep
yourself in one piece while doing the job of salvaging. Commercial shuttles
are... bricks with wings.
Im getting uneven output on the engines, Heero told
me calmly and I called up his screens, watching the levels as I made adjustments.
There, he told me when I had it, and I turned the watching
back over to him.
Not going to have a lot of margin for error on this puppy, are we?
I muttered and he grunted his agreement.
I didnt have long to get the feel of the ship before we passed zenith
and were totally committed. The last hour, autopilot had engaged the vane
array and we had dumped the prerequisite velocity, but it still felt very
much like riding a flaming comet to Earth. But then... it always does.
I wished I could play my music.
Watch the number two, Heero said and I flicked my attention
to that engines telemetry.
Runs hot, doesnt she? I murmured back, and bumped the
stabilizer just a hair.
Its synched, Heero let me know and I forgot about it,
trusting him to keep an eye on the recalcitrant thing. I split the main
screen and put up a topography map next to a simulation of our trajectory.
I marked our path with a yellow flag and told Heero, Landing gear
down when we reach that point, ok?
Affirm, he responded, acknowledging responsibility for the
I started to feel the buck in the yoke that told me the wrestling match
was underway, and I couldnt spare much thought to anything but holding
her steady. The border of the simulation began to glow red, showing us
the outside temperature as it rose.
Instincts and habit began to kick in, and it was like I had never left
the trade. Like Id never turned my back on this. I felt a bubble
of panic, thinking that I had forgotten to slap Solos shoulder,
until I remembered the ship was not mine.
Duo, Heeros voice sounded just a bit hesitant. A
Not with a passenger class, I told him, keeping my eyes on
my boards. Handles a lot different from a transport.
Sorry, he said softly.
Dont be, I told him gruffly. I said to question.
I couldnt look to make sure the reassurance was enough.
I remember thinking that I really would have preferred to do this with
a little bit more sleep to my credit.
They dont name commercial passenger shuttles, just those stupid
numbers. I always thought that was an insult to the ship and wondered
idly if Gray had named the think in private. Fourteen-ten seemed so...
Jinx, Solo whispered in the air beside my ear and I had to
Thought you were watching my house, asshole? I murmured and
he took his limited existence away with a dark chuckle.
Duo? Heero called. Are you... all right?
I let out with a laugh, and dared a flick of my eyes his way. Oddly
enough, going down in a flaming ball of disintegrating metal is not half
as frightening as putting on a vacuum suit and going out-ship.
There was a noise like a laugh that had been bludgeoned to death. I grinned
in response, but dont think he saw it.
It was quiet for a long couple of minutes while I just held on, feeling
muscles bunch and knot. Damn, but commercial shuttles are fucking ungainly
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