Landing gear deployed, Heero
called and I grunted, realizing wed passed that mark and I hadnt
even noticed. Id been counting on him to remember it so much, that
Id completely put it out of my mind.
Shit, I hissed, after another minute of yoke-wrestling and
feeling like I was losing. Its like flying a damn elephant!
There was a sudden tension in the air and I decided that might not have
been the best thing to say under the circumstances.
Do you need me to take it? he asked, and I was pleased that
he hadnt let his earlier false assumption throw him.
I made myself feel the edges of my endurance and was able to tell him,
I got it... but thanks.
He grunted, and managed somehow to make it sound relieved.
We were low enough that the trajectory map was useless and I had Heero
switch it for a nose camera view of the ground coming up to meet us. We
were dead on target.
Getting hot on two, Heero told me tersely, but I couldnt
do a damn thing about it.
Synch it, I ordered. The breath of a hair, no more;
the stabilizers are touchy as hell.
It took him a second and then he called, Got it.
I got the ping from the control tower and the lights on my runway went
from yellow to green, as I hit my alignment.
Come on, Jinx old boy, I muttered around the lip I had clamped
in my teeth. Lets not embarrass ourselves.
The strip seemed to be coming at us awfully damn fast. But then... it
always does. I checked the speed and found it right where it ought to
be. Checked altitude and found it right on the mark.
Bringing a ship in is a strange thing; theres always this last minute
up-swelling of supreme doubt, when you are just positive that youre
about to end up splattered all over the tarmac, followed by a moment of
pure euphoria as you realize youve brought it all together.
I put that son of a bitch down light enough I would not have cracked eggs
on the runway.
Braking thrusters, I called and let Heero handle that while
I guided us down the center of the almost embarrassingly wide strip. He
was as gentle with those as Id been with the touch-down and I grinned.
Between us, we brought that shuttle right down to the end of the tarmac,
and even turned it at the last minute so we were facing the right direction
for the tow-truck to haul the ship back to the main port. Take that,
Brunhilde, I gloated and set about shutting down.
When the ship was nothing more than a parked car, systems inert and quiet,
I let myself slump back in the pilots seat with a weary groan. Man,
I wish that was the end of this, I told Heero, then rolled my head
to finally really look across at him. I relinquish command, partner.
Youre the residing peace keeping official... your show now.
He looked damn near as tired as I felt, and gave we a wan little grin.
Id have traded you parts.
No way in hell, I said fervently and then it was time to unbuckle
and get back to work.
We went out into the main cabin, and Heero declared a small delay, asking
people to keep their seats until the port authorities came out to meet
the ship. Bobbi had already announced that due to the unusual circumstances,
we had not come down next to the terminal and a bus would be brought out
to ferry the passengers off the field.
People seemed curious, but not really afraid or overly upset. I looked
around for Spencer, a little leery of the reception I would get from the
kid, but didnt see him. I frowned slightly, having to assume that
hed been allowed to ride out reentry in his cabin, which is slightly
against the rules, but then I had to admit thats pretty much where
wed let Captain Gray sit it out, so who was I to judge?
Then it was time to greet our adoring public, and we went to un-dog the
main hatch. The grounds crew had moved in just that fast, and an exit
ramp was being trundled up to the ship. We looked down at the array of
cars and personnel and I felt a little daunted. They looked like they
were just waiting to swarm all over the ship and I envisioned a long damn
afternoon in front of me, answering questions and getting grilled six
ways to Sunday. Joy.
Then Heero grunted in surprise and I followed his gaze to see a familiar
figure. Wufei? I asked, though I hardly had to.
I suppose it stands to reason, Heero mused. He would
have been notified when they ran my badge number.
I had to chuckle softly, stepping back with Heero as the ramp mated to
the side of the shuttle with a harsh clang of metal on metal. You
realize Sally is going to kill us for dragging him off on Christmas day?
He quirked me an amused little grin, but then we both noticed the woman
standing next to Wufei. Id gotten the height, but Heerod gotten
the heels. Wed both missed the hair.
Looks like a Sonja, instead of a Brunhilde or a Natahsa, Heero
teased. Guess the bets off.
The woman only lacked a broadsword and a shield. Well... and maybe a chain-mail
bikini, but the severe, navy-blue Armani suit was more imposing.
I glanced down at myself and had to chuckle. Were going to
look like crack-head alley-squatters next to them; you realize that, dont
Maybe it will inspire them to finish with us sooner, he suggested,
though I could tell he didnt believe it, was just making talk. Filling
I looked at him again, realizing he was probably maintaining the banter
for my sake and had to tell him, Im ok, Heero.
He gave me a critical once over and smiled softly. You sure? Because
you look like shit.
I had to cut the laugh off when I realized Ms. Kasten was half-way up
the ramp and was looking at us like she was considering which body-part
to take home for dinner. I think we affronted her by daring to crack a
grin in the middle of her situation.
Which of you is Yuy and which is Maxwell? she demanded before
shed even stopped climbing, and we did a quick round of introductions.
I got a little grin as she shook my hand and she said, Not looking
for a job are you, Mr. Maxwell?
Because I was damn near tired enough to fall asleep standing up, the woman
got about two seconds of the pure unadulterated reaction to that question
before I got it shoved behind a grin. It left her blinking at me in obvious
confusion. No thanks, Maam, I told her, and left it
We were able to turn over the tedious chores to the security crew and
fade into the background. Or, at least, I was able to. Heero was front
and center, dealing with Ms. Scary-woman, but Wufei was at his side now,
and I felt like I could relax my guard for the first time in... a long
It was decided that the passengers, who were still relatively oblivious
to a large part of what theyd just gone through, would be gotten
off the shuttle before Captain Gray was brought out of his cabin. No need
to parade the man through a crowd of on-lookers. While they were still
dealing with that, I managed to get Heeros attention long enough
to convey that I was going to get our bag out of the cabin while we waited.
The ghost of a frown crossed his face, but he nodded after a second and
let me go.
I cheated. I felt kind of bad about it, but while I was in the cabin,
I took the time to change clothes, redo my braid, brush my teeth, and
wash up. Hey; opportunity knocked... it wasnt my fault, it didnt
knock for Heero as well. I wasnt fool enough to let the chance pass,
though I would not allow myself to sit down on the bed for even a minute;
I knew it wouldnt take that long for my body to take advantage of
its own opportunity.
So I finished up, packed our things and headed back to where Id
last seen Heero, before he sent out a search party. And that was when
I finally ran into Spencer.
I hate to admit this, but I will; had I seen him before I stepped out
into the corridor, I would have stayed in the damn cabin and hidden from
him. Im not particularly proud of that, but its the Gods
honest truth. I just didnt know that I had the strength left to
deal with him. But I didnt see him, had in fact, already started
walking before I glanced up from settling our over-night bag against my
hip to find him standing there... obviously waiting for me.
If my hamsters made noise, one of them would have popped up and whistled
that stupid theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
I opted for hopeful innocence and smiled, though it was probably a little
lame. Hey Spencer, I greeted him. Feeling better?
He didnt say anything for a long moment, just standing down the
corridor and staring at me, face all twisted up; confused and hurting.
I waited... Id put the ball in his court, after all.
My father, he finally managed, voice all raspy and choked.
Wouldnt do what youre accusing him of.
He fairly quivered with tension, and I knew I was probably not going to
be able to avoid a blow up, but had to try none the less. Spencer...
your father made a serious error in judgment when he chose to ignore the
He was only trying to help me! he blurted, and the expression
on his face made me think of kicked puppies.
I know that, I soothed. But you cant ignore the
rules. Look what happened when that vane went down; thats exactly
why you dont leave an inexperienced pilot alone at the helm. Your
father knew that too.
His face got all scrunched up and he came a couple of steps closer, remembering
Avery, I imagined. I told you about that in confidence! I cant
believe youre doing this to us! he said and it was almost
Spencer, please, I tried again. This isnt about
your father letting you pilot a damn shuttle. This is about what he tried
to do to cover that fact up.
He came the rest of the way to meet me; his face flushed a blotchy red.
I automatically took a step back, turning so that my back was to the wall
and not to open corridor. Why are you doing this to me? he
exclaimed. I trusted you!
Spencer, I sighed, resisting the urge to bury my hands in
my hair and beat my own head against the wall. First off, you dont
even know me! Second, my partner is a damn Preventors agent; you think
he could ignore something like this? And third, we might very well have
taken your father aside and just given him a warning... right up until
the part where he tried to space us to cover his ass! I was a little
surprised that I was getting a bit angry myself. I knew better; he was
just a damn kid, but I was just so stinking tired.
Then Spencer grabbed hold of the front of my shirt, yelling, My
father is not a murderer! in my face. I swayed back, losing our
bag off my shoulder, but was reluctant to just shove the poor kid off.
No, I snapped. He is not. By the grace of Heeros
strength and nothing more... he is not.
Standing there like that, with my shirt fisted in his hands, the falling
bag, my apparent loss of balance... from the other end of the corridor,
these things probably looked pretty much like Spencer was attacking me.
At least that seemed to be what Heero was thinking as he came charging
down the hall, intent on turning my ex-biggest fan into guacamole dip.
I had to bodily put myself between them to even slow Heero down. Stand-down!
I barked, shoving Spencer behind me, and it was a very strange thing to
watch my partner go from almost berserk to totally confused in the space
of a heartbeat. Its all right, Heero, I told him quickly.
He wasnt attacking me.
He had to take me by the arm and pull me a couple of steps into the clear
anyway. I was kind of surprised that the glare he was giving Spencer didnt
make the kid burst into flame where he stood. Over Heeros shoulder,
I saw Wufei and Ms. Scary coming down the corridor with matching frowns.
The sound of the womans heels on the deck-plates was grating.
He didnt hurt you? Heero demanded, still holding my
arm and giving me a quick once over.
No, I soothed. Its all right. I...
Then behind me Spencer sort of went to pieces, bursting into tears and
collapsing to the deck in a heap. I contained a heavy sigh by biting my
tongue. I think somebody should go get Leslie, I told Heero
and pulled away to squat down beside the... God, I had to stop thinking
of him as the poor kid. I found myself awkwardly patting his
back. Come on, man, I said softly. Itll be all
This is all my fault! he sobbed. I never should have
told anybody that I wasnt licensed!
Look, Spencer, I told him reasonably. If you hadnt
told me, I would not have realized you were in trouble when that alarm
went off. If we hadnt gotten there when we did, the van array would
have been blown and wed all be halfway to Venus by now and no looking
He looked up at me, blinking furiously, and you would have thought there
was no one else in the corridor but me. But Dads going to
go to jail all because of me. For a second it actually crossed my
mind to wonder just how old he was; in that moment he didnt look
any older than about sixteen.
If your father goes to jail, I said firmly. Its
because of what he did, not because of what you did.
I suddenly had a lap full of sobbing Spencer and would have cheerfully
traded places with just about anybody else on that damn ship. Was this
day never going to be over?
Hes going to hate me! he wailed and I really wished
hed quit that.
I couldnt stop one of my hands from scrubbing over my face, and
I looked up to see if anybody had gotten Leslies ass in gear yet.
I really didnt know how in the hell to deal with this. Wufei was
missing, so I assume he was the one who went after her, but there was
no sign of their return. So I bulled forward. Your father loves
you, buddy, I blurted. He wouldnt have risked his damn
career if he didnt.
He lifted his head from my lap and looked up at me. But if I hadnt
screwed up when that vane went down...
Bullshit, I snapped, wishing I could just smack some sense
into his head. The array was damaged all on its own. The repairs
would still have been needed. Avery would still have made his own mistake.
Heero and I would still have had to go finish the job. Spencer... it would
all have played out just the same. He just sat and stared at me
and I couldnt repress the sigh again. Spencer, you arent
innocent in this anymore than anyone else. You knew what you were doing
was against the law, but Avery Hill is dead by his own hand, and your
father is guilty by his. If youre going to feel guilty... at least
feel guilty over the right thing.
Im just so sorry for everything... he told me, looking
at me searchingly, hunting for signs of my disgust, I think. Nothing like
having someone you look up to, view you with disdain.
I know, kid, I told him. The best I could do.
Then Leslie was there, and she came to put an arm around his shoulders,
urging him up. Spencer, she hissed. I think you should
shut up now. No one got in their way as she led him away.
I did not have the strength to get myself off the damn deck.
I looked up to find Ms. Kasten with a calculated look on her face, watching
the retreating shuttle crew members, and I suddenly realized that Spencer
had somewhat inadvertently just confessed. It wasnt anything that
could be used against him, of course, but it had put the woman on the
right scent and I had no doubt shed pursue the facts until there
was no blood left to squeeze from the turnip.
Heero came and offered me a hand up and I took it without argument, careful
of his bruises. Im done, Heero, I told him, trying to
let the apology lie in my tone. But it was the truth; Id passed
the end of my patience hours ago. Passed the end of my endurance and was
closing fast on the end of my willingness to repress and contain.
Ms. Kasten, Heero said, doing his best to sound intimidating.
I will have a full report to you by tomorrow afternoon, but were...
I want that report today, Mr. Yuy, she informed him with just
a touch of arrogance in her voice. I am the final authority on this
port and no one is leaving until...
Itll take you until tomorrow to edit out all the damn F
words if you try and take my statement right now, anyway, I snarled.
Shoot me or charge me with something, because I am going the hell
home to sleep until New Years, other wise.
Im really not sure what possessed me, but somehow Id taken
the right tact, and after a long damn minute, the woman threw back her
head and laughed out loud. Fair enough, Mr. Maxwell, she told
me with a twinkle in her eye. Consider it my Christmas present to
you, since you didnt plow my shuttle into the ground.
Thank you, Heero interjected before I could open my mouth
again, because God only knows what would have come out of it. Wufei grabbed
our bag off the floor while Heero nudged me past the woman and we were
finally headed out of there.
I do expect a full report by tomorrow afternoon, gentlemen,
she called after us, but nobody responded.
Damn, Duo, Wufei chuckled at me, when we were finally down
the ramp and on the ground. That woman has a reputation a mile high
as a gold-plated... tyrant. She must like you.
I doesnt matter one way or the other, I told him. I
was serious... theyd have to shoot my ass to keep me here any longer.
I have had all I can take and Im going the hell home.
He gave me a rather surprised glance and then quirked a little grin. Trip
He got the laugh he was looking for, but it took a great deal of effort
for me to get it wrestled to a stop again. Fucking ducky,
I told him ruthlessly when I could, and beside me Heero muttered,
Much later, I wanted to tell them. Way later. Days later, in fact. But
I suspected I was drifting toward rude and just shut up.
Wufeis car was there on the field with the rest of the security
vehicles and he led us to it. I didnt wait for anybody to try to
put me anywhere, but opened the back door and threw myself down on the
seat; I dont even remember anyone shutting the damn door.
Wufei ended up just driving us home. I think he was afraid of letting
Heero drive as tired as he looked, and not having to try prodding me out
of one car and into another was just an added bonus. If theyd had
much more trouble getting me to wake up when we got to the house, Id
probably have ended up being carried inside over someones shoulder.
As it was, Heero had to stop me from heading straight for the couch as
soon as he opened the front door. I think I snarled at him when he thwarted
my exhausted body from seeking that first flat surface, but I let him
herd me upstairs with the lure of our bed. I cant tell you when
we lost Wufei.
I was ditching clothes the minute I hit the top of the stairs, aiming
for that glorious expanse of softness like a salmon on its single-minded
trip upstream. Heero was right behind me. I barely let him pull back the
covers before I was prone, burrowing into pillows and preparing to leave
the mortal plane behind for as long as I could manage it. Never
leavin home again, Yuy. Never.
He chuckled as he crawled in next to me, pulling me into his arms. Amen
to that, was the last thing I heard before I crashed and burned.
I think Id just finally gotten to the emotional collapse part of
the weeks schedule.
I have no idea how long I slept, because I have no idea what time it was
when I got started. Through the rest of whatever remained of Christmas
and into the next day.
I woke alone and wasnt all that surprised. The clock told me it
was mid-morning. My body told me it didnt care. I might well have
rolled over and gone back to sleep if I hadnt needed to pee, bathe
and eat, in that order.
Bout time ya got yer lazy ass up, Solo chuckled, not bothering
to come out in the open.
Shut up, asshole, I muttered and rolled my lazy ass
out of bed. When I gained the hall, I heard the faint sound of Heero typing
on his computer in the bedroom we had turned into a study. I knew he was
working on Ms. Scary-womans damn report and just took myself off
to the bathroom to begin the job of turning myself into a human being
The towels were still damp and I knew that Heero had been up for awhile
and had already showered. So I didnt feel bad about allowing myself
some extra time. It felt wonderful to be clean again, though I remembered
the whirlpool tub at the hotel with a faint pang of longing.
Clean, bladder-relieved and feeling a little more civilized, I left the
bathroom intent on finding Heero. But when I opened the door, it was the
smell of food that greeted me instead of the sound of typing. I went to
get dressed, then headed down to the kitchen.
Hey, Heero greeted me as I came into the room. Youre
Barely, I grumbled and went unerringly towards him, where
he stood by the stove, until I could nudge my way into the curl of his
arm like an insistent puppy. He chuckled, but wrapped an arm around me,
keeping the other one free to stir at what he had cooking.
Youre all right? I asked, settling my head against his
Fine, he reported, sounding amused.
Im all right? I asked and it took him a second longer
but he answered with a chuckle.
Thats food and we get to eat it? I continued, taken
with the urge to kiss his collar bone, and reached up to pull his t-shirt
aside to do just that.
He hummed an affirmative and gave me a little squeeze.
Then tell me all the rest of that was just a nightmare, I
requested, and he kissed the top of my head before replying.
Just a nightmare, he agreed companionably.
Good, I sighed. That means we dont have to go
visit Amazon woman today.
He snorted and left off stirring what looked to be some sort of chowder
when I peeked, to put both arms around me. I said it was a nightmare...
I didnt say it was over.
Damn, I muttered dejectedly. Youre not working
with me here.
Sorry, he murmured, managing to mix amusement and regret in
his voice until it came out just sounding affectionate. Come on...
this is ready whenever you are.
I was ready about this time yesterday, I quipped and made
myself let go of his warmth to go pour our drinks while he dished it up.
It proved to be some sort of chicken chowder and it came with these lovely
little cheese biscuits that I had to force myself to stop eating before
I exploded. My bottle of iron tablets was sitting in the middle of the
table and I had to chuckle at the image of Heero making sure he kept those
with him at all costs through the whole week, over and above anything
else. I took one without him having to nudge the bottle and he smiled
Half way through doing the dishes, I suddenly felt a shiver run up my
spine and found myself staring down into dirty dish water, head trying
to make an adjustment that just seemed too difficult.
Duo? Heero asked gently, touching my shoulder and I looked
up at him.
This is... so fucking surreal it isnt even funny, I
had to tell him. From plotting reentry to... to thinking about putting
dish soap on the grocery list... do you think well ever reach an
age where we stop being able to switch mental gears in hyper-drive like
He snorted and shook his head. No... itll just be arthritis
medicine instead of dish soap.
That struck me as supremely funny, but when I started to laugh I had a
really hard time getting it stopped and ended up getting Heeros
shirt all wet when he had to hold on to me. Or I had to hold on to him,
Im not sure just which it was.
I heard the rush of air again, hissing as that air lock door first started
to open, and I wondered that I hadnt had screaming nightmares all
Love you, I had to tell him and it made him squeeze me tight.
Forever, he soothed and then we finished the dishes.
Cooking, dishes, unpacking; it may all have seemed surreal as hell, but
it was stuff that needed to be done, and no one else to do it.
I went to the basement to fetch a laundry basket while Heero drug the
suitcase into the kitchen to empty it. Everything that was left in it
was dirty and there was no sense in hauling it upstairs only to have to
bring the dirty clothes back down again.
When I came back up from the laundry room, I found Heero with a little
grin on his face and a roll of paper in his hand. You forgot your
Christmas present from Allison.
I broke into a grin of my own and sat the basket down to take it from
him. He began dumping the dirty clothes in said basket, watching as I
slid the ribbon off and unrolled the picture. I suppose I had been expecting
the usual fare of unicorns and flying horses. Maybe a picture of the house.
Maybe a picture of Mrs. Octavia. Elves. Rainbows. I dont really
I hadnt been expected what I got, and I felt like Id been
kicked squarely in the nuts when it was opened up and revealed. Kids have
a way of seeing things sometimes, that just sort of twists it all up into
a neat little package and dumps crap right in your face.
It was a portrait of me. Allison, recognizable because of her long blond
hair the way it had been before it had been cut, was perched on my shoulder,
safely out of reach of the humongous dog that I was vanquishing with almost
The dog was an ugly, slavering thing. Black and brown and as vicious looking
as any starving junk yard dog youd ever want to meet. But the me
in the picture didnt seem to be noticing. It lay on its back with
my foot squarely in its stomach, pinning it to the ground without even
looking. I was smiling at Allison-on-my-shoulder. Allison-on-my-shoulder,
unmarked and unchanged, was smiling back.
It wasnt a Rembrandt. It was a picture done by a child, albeit a
talented one. There were flaws; my braid was a bit too long. I couldnt
have held her up on one shoulder like that. Left and right hands were
difficult to tell apart. But the thought was as clear as a bell. The idea
behind the art was unmistakable.
I guess I lost my grin.
Duo? Heero asked gently. Whats wrong?
I gave him a wan little smile and turned the picture around where he could
see it too. It took him a moment longer to decipher it, not being familiar
with grade school art, and then he looked kind of pained. Oh,
he said and couldnt seem to come up with anything else. I saw his
hand twitch and knew hed be reaching for me in a moment, but I was
kind of afraid of where that would lead, so I turned away and put my picture
on the refrigerator, since thats what Id told her I was going
to do with it. Then I just kind of left the room, because I felt sort
of lousy and didnt really feel like making Heero feel like crap
I took myself off to my studio and threw my butt down to sit on the old
sofa there, finding Heeros afghan still draped over the back of
the thing and pulling it around me. I wondered if that room would be cool
in the summer or not. It was sure cold enough at mid-winter.
Heeros Christmas portrait on the wall took me a little bit by surprise;
Id almost forgotten the thing was there. It was still new and had
not yet become part of the background. I wondered idly why the kids werent
among the things Id tried to render out that window; Id certainly
thought about them often enough during those days. I wondered if it would
be wrong to add them now.
Such faith she had in me. Such belief. The meaning was as obvious as a
message in sky-writing. She honestly believed that, had I been there that
day, I would have kept that dog from hurting her. Mr. Duo makes everything
all better. Mr. Duo can fix anything.
Well, at least she hadnt drawn me wearing a damn red cape.
Was there nothing in my life that I could keep safe? Was there no aspect
that wasnt touched with my failure to be in the right places at
the right times? Would I always prove to be too weak? Too late? Too...
whatever in the hell it was?
How in the hell did you make something like this right? How did you give
a kid back something as precious as the face that the world judged them
I hadnt lied to her or Heero about that. I didnt feel that
the scar on Allisons face made her anything less than what she had
been before. She was still my beautiful little sprite. Was still gifted
and bright and talented.
But dont tell me that scar stopped on her skin. Scars like that
go all the way to the bone. She could not forget it. She would see it
every day when she looked in the mirror and it would make her shy. It
would make her hesitant. It would make her doubt and fear and wonder at
every glance she got. Are they looking at my scars? Do they think Im
ugly? Are they talking about it? Are they going to stare?
I knew those feelings all too well, but Id been on the threshold
of becoming a man and had come through it mostly intact. Had managed not
to let the damning things define me. At least... mostly not.
But what about Allison? She wasnt almost grown; she was only seven.
It couldnt help but change her; Id seen signs already. How
do you fix that? Without benefit of a time machine?
Heero let me sit and brood for awhile before he came to hunt me up, not
saying anything, just sitting down beside me and offering himself for
whatever I was in the mood for. Talking. Weeping. Whatever came up. I
settled on leaning against his shoulder.
You know Ive got to try and figure out a way to arrange that
surgery, dont you? I told him, half expecting him to argue
with me; we were talking about a good chunk of change, after all.
But he only snorted, reaching out to take my hand. I knew that the
minute Octavia mentioned it, he informed me in a smug little, tender
I sighed heavily, letting my hand lie limp in his, careful not to put
pressure on his bruises. Im sorry, I said.
Dont be, he said softly. That... need of yours
to protect the world is part of what makes you the man I love.
I found myself blushing hotly. You dont get sick of all the...
He chuckled and brought our hands up so that he could kiss my knuckles.
Never, he said simply, sounding amused by the very notion.
I am sorry, Heero, I suddenly felt compelled to tell him.
I dont know whats wrong with me lately. I dont
know why I keep feeling so... down.
There was a stillness in the air then, that made me look at him. Had I
not known for a fact that he hadnt been eating anything, Id
have sworn that something was caught in his throat. I waited and it took
him a few minutes to work the words out.
Duo-love, he finally began. Youve... forgotten
what the season means.
I frowned, trying to make sense of what he was saying. I dont
understand, I told him.
He sighed, and I think hed hoped Id get whatever he
was saying without him having to elaborate, but I was just baffled. I
could tell he didnt really want to say what he did next. Were
coming up on the anniversary of the day you launched... on that job,
he said gently.
Im afraid I just sat and blinked at him.
Well now. An anniversary of sorts. A year. A whole damn year. No wonder
I was so stinking depressed.
I wondered how I could not have known that.
I wondered why it was something of a relief to have it pointed out to
me. To know what it was that had been subconsciously eating at me for
the last few weeks. The mind is a seriously screwed up thing, when you
get right down to it; its all done with smoke and mirrors, I think.
And sometimes my smoke seemed to get a little thick. Or maybe my mirrors
were all the funhouse kind.
I lifted my head from his shoulder and quirked him a little grin. Happy
His smile was a lovely anniversary gift. I suppose it will be,
he agreed, seeming pleased that I could see it that way. I settled my
head back on his shoulder, having to think about it a little bit. Having
to let myself remember. Had to poke at the what ifs and the might have
Did I ever say thank you, I blurted. For coming after
He laughed and let go of my hand to slip his arm around me, tilting my
head back to kiss me. I believe you did... somewhere in there.
I snorted, just leaning against him. Feeling his warmth.
A year. Sometimes it seemed like a million years ago... and sometimes
it seemed like just yesterday.
We sat like that for a while, in companionable silence, until he finally
sighed and told me with some regret, We have to be in Ms. Kastens
office in two hours and I have got to finish my report first.
Oh joy, I grumbled and he laughed at me. I sat up so that
he could go get to work, but he had to kiss me before he went. Deep and
slow; promising more later. Promising much more later.
I sat for a long while after he left me there, and stared at the painting
on the wall. Tried to look at the picture itself with a critical eye.
Tried to see beyond the flaws. Tried to see what there was in it that
had taken Heeros breath away.
Then I got up to go get the phone.
Heero had all the guys programmed in, and I hit the 03 that would dial
Trowas private cell phone, smiling at the old joke.
Hello? he said after the second ring, and I wondered where
he was and what he was doing. Wondered if I was bothering him.
Hi, Trowa, I said, feeling suddenly awkward, losing my amusement
over the speed dial programming. You got a minute?
Of course, he told me. What do you need?
An honest opinion about something, I informed him, glad he
couldnt see me squirming.
I think I can do that, he said, his tone implying a chuckle
he didnt actually deliver.
I hesitated a minute, thinking about wording, and he waited patiently
for me. I cant ask any of the other guys, because theyre
so damn... besotted with it. But I think I can trust you to be straight
He did chuckle then. Maybe I will be... if you get around to telling
me what this is about.
My artwork, I blurted before I ended up just hanging up and
forgetting the whole thing. Theyre all so damn in awe of it,
but when I look; all I see are the things I did wrong. The things that
dont look like what I saw in my head. Trowa... am I any good, or
Yes, Duo, he told me with a sound to his voice that was both
firm and affectionate. You are very good. If there are flaws in
your work; I dont see them.
I gnawed on that for a second and then forced myself to go on to the next
question. This sister of Quatres... just what does she have
She wants to take your work into the gallery, he told me,
quite matter of factly. She wants to introduce you to the art world.
Whats she get out of it? I had to ask, because its
been my experience that people dont generally do things without
Prestige, he said, without hesitation. If she discovers
a major new talent, it elevates her standing in the circles she runs in.
What do I get out of it? I asked, feeling somewhat mercenary,
but I was quite deliberately on the kitchen phone and staring at Allisons
picture, bolstering my resolve.
It depends on what you want, Duo, he told me. Anything
from simple exposure to the certainty of some very lucrative sales.
Lucrative sales; there were the magic words. Because that was very much
what I was after; the money to buy my Allie-cats bright smile. The
money to make a thing right.
I smoothed my fingers gently over the picture on my fridge and told Trowa,
Can... can you guys tell her Im ready to talk?
It was his turn to hesitate, though he wasnt quiet near as long
as I had been. Are you sure about this, Duo?
Yeah, I said, though I wasnt at all. I am.
Ok then, he told me. Ill talk to Quatre and well
get back with you.
All right, I agreed and wondered if he heard the note of panic
in my voice.
Duo, he said then, voice oddly warm. You really are
very damn good.
Thanks, Tro, I managed, and we hung up.
Holy bleeding hell; what had I just done?
You couldnt have just asked me? Heeros
voice was gently chiding, but didnt sound all that serious, and
when I turned to find him in the kitchen doorway, he was looking at me
with that cocked-head smile.
Youre besotted, I accused.
His smile widened and he came to take me in his arms. Yes... I am.
I snorted and tried to settle my head on his shoulder, but he recognized
it as the hiding that it was, and wouldnt let me.
So did Trowa give you the confirmation you needed? he asked.
I blushed, as I had known I would, and dropped my eyes. He thinks
Im pretty good.
Heero laughed delightedly. Pretty good, he mocked. He
didnt tell you you were amazing?
Stop it, I grumbled.
He did quit teasing, but his smile refused to fade. So tell me;
what brought this on?
I felt my face heating further and looked down, studying the pattern in
the linoleum. I didnt figure youd let me take a second
job, I muttered and listened to it get quiet.
His fingers found there way under my chin and he coaxed me into looking
up at him. His expression was... wistful. So this is about... the
I cringed; it made me feel so damn mercenary. No, I told him,
sounding sullen despite myself. Its about Allison.
There was a small sound of understanding, but he left it hang there and
I finally sighed heavily. I guess... a year is just a long time
to drift around trying to figure out what I am.
His hand moved the rest of the way and cupped my face, thumb stroking
gently over my cheek. Not so long, he soothed. You take
all the time you need.
I couldnt contain a rueful little grin. Heero, I told
him firmly. Its time you took the training wheels off. I dont
need babied any more... I need...
He grinned too. Kicked in the ass?
I blinked at his wording, then impulsively, I turned and kissed the hand
that was caressing my cheek. Exactly.
His smile faded and he took me into a tight embrace. I dont
know that I can do that.
Yeah you can, I chuckled, remembering his firm voice leading
me through my mental mine-field when Id faltered. Im
not asking you to be an asshole, Im just asking...
I know, he whispered.
I guess I just need to know what I am now, I told him.
His lips came to brush against my ear. My partner?
As happy as that makes me, I sighed as he traced my earlobe
with the tip of his tongue. I need to figure out what I am...
on my own. Im not a spacer. Im not a salvage man. Just what
the hell am I? A mechanic? I think... I want more than that.
He drew back to look at me, all trace of teasing gone. You know
Ill support you in whatever you want to do.
I know, I smiled. And that means the world to me.
He kissed me then, and not in the gentle way he had been. It was deeper...
hungry. I was aching with need in a matter of moments, hands tangled in
his hair, body struggling to get closer to his. But I knew we didnt
have the time. Despite Heeros reappearance downstairs; Im
sure he wasnt done with his report. I tried to draw away, tried
to still the urges making me kiss him so hungrily in return. Making me
press myself against him. But he wouldnt let me, following my retreat
until we were backed against the refrigerator.
Stop denying yourself, he commanded, voice husky. Stop
I blinked at him, wide-eyed, suddenly consumed with guilt. I didnt
mean to... I wasnt... God Heero; not there. I couldnt...
Shhhh, he told me, tone gentling, looking at me intently.
I know. But were home now.
We dont have time, I whispered, even as I was moved
to kiss the hollow of his throat. Kiss the pulse in his neck, so strong
and so fast.
Well make time, he growled. Because I need this
every bit as badly as you do.
I couldnt have refused that if my life had depended on it. I didnt
I let him convince me. I let me convince me. All the longing and
need from the trip came home to roost and I didnt think wed
make it up the damn stairs. Clothes became an irritation, to be jerked
off and discarded as fast as possible. There was little in the way of
foreplay. I wanted him inside me. I needed to give. He needed to take.
It very quickly became desperate. Frantic. Demanding. Damn loud. And,
my God... damn wonderful.
We ended up being more than just a little late. Ms. Kasten was not a happy
woman. But you know... we just didnt care.
[back to Sunhawk's fic]