Story:               CLOSE PROXIMITY

Author:              FancyFigures (fancyfigures@hotmail.com)

Disclaimer:        I don’t own ‘em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about ‘em for free etc

Pairings:           1=2,3+4,5+R

Category:          Duo POV, AU, drama

Warnings:         Yaoi, lemon

Word count:      88,437

Spoilers:           None

Notes:               Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy are members of the highly specialised Project Team, dealing with those matters that are too sensitive for normal political channels.  But there was a time when they were something very much more than that – until one particular mission went horribly wrong.

Duo is in retreat from this past when a visit from his colleagues brings shocking news. They also bring him a most unwelcome visitor – Heero Yuy.  Now he’s forced to work with Heero again, in a situation that’s both claustrophobic and highly dangerous.  He will have to reconsider his perceptions, his loyalties – and his desires.

Feedback:         If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!

 

This fic includes many a homage to friends and family who’ve helped me through the writing.

 

It’s also as shiny as it is today because of some brilliant beta-ing by link_worshiper.  Thanks to you for your tireless, constructive and entertaining enthusiasm – and your tactful weeding out of my British-isms!  It was a joy to share it all with you.

 

 

 

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Day One  05:30

 

 

I watched the five of them stumbling up my path with bags and boxes, but I didn’t go help them at first.  In fact, I didn’t move from the doorway of my trailer at all.  I just leant against the open aluminium door, cultivating the nonchalant look.  The nonchalant, ‘I never asked you here in the first place’ look.

 

Didn’t work, of course.

 

It was so early in the morning that the sun had that pale white shine.  The air was sharp and a little damp; there was nothing around except a wheeling bird high above us.

 

I couldn’t mistake the twist of misery on Quatre’s face – he was genuinely distressed.  His soft, blond hair looked like he’d run his hands through it a million times this morning, and dark shadows sketched in under his blue eyes.  His whole expression said ‘I’m confused.  I’m pissed.  I’m out of my depth here.’  It hit me like I felt it myself – and I had, of course, in other circumstances.  He was a guy who’d always got under my defences, and my hostility wavered.

 

Relena was beside him.  Her expression was less easy to read – nothing new there, then.  But when she darted one of her glares at me, I stirred myself down the couple of rickety steps and sauntered along the path to take my share of the baggage.  I took a couple of boxes off of Quatre and his assistant, and I helped Relena balance her radio on the top of some packaged books.  Then I also took some suit covers off her PA, Cissy, slinging them over my shoulder.  But I refused to help the other visitor – I reckoned he was strong enough to take the whole damned lot himself.

 

We all tottered through the narrow doorway, one by one, and piled the stuff in the corner of my main room, wedging it between my shaky, tubular steel couch and a standard lamp that only works when there’s a storm brewing.  It was the only free space available.  Our huffing and heaving brought down a couple of the pictures I’d tacked up on the wall behind the couch, but I didn’t make a fuss about it.  They were only cut out of magazines, after all.

 

Instead, I stared at the baggage invasion: boxes; a couple of kit bags; a modest pile of clothing.  The flap of a cardboard lid settled down suddenly, expelling a small puff of dust.  A small enough collection of belongings, I guessed, for a single person.  The sum total of a life, of twenty odd years.  It had all been packed pretty hurriedly, I could tell.  Some of the boxes were charred slightly at the corners; there was water damage on many of the book covers. 

 

Looked pretty pathetic.  I swallowed down a comment to that effect.

 

No one was talking, apart from the panting.  Relena sank on to the couch with a tsking sound, which was probably her only concession to admitting pain.  She had a weak ankle; this removal business wouldn’t have helped it.  She fell once on a mission, when she’d hurtled down two full floors from an outside fire escape.  But as I heard it, she struggled on to the end, carrying an operative out of the building with her, and only then admitting she’d snapped a bone in her ankle.  Tough cookie.

 

Relena made some small gesture with her hand and Cissy and Greg – Quatre’s assistant – backed off outside again, to stand near the foot of the steps.  They pulled the door closed behind them, but not completely.  I breathed a little more steadily – it had been getting a tad crowded indoors.  Just the four of us left, now.  Someone cleared a dry throat.

 

Quatre spoke first – he never could stand awkward silences.  “It’s not for long, Duo, hopefully.  But there’s nowhere else we could find – no one else we dared ask.  You know that, don’t you?”

 

I caught Relena’s eye out of the corner of my own, and shrugged.  “Sure, I know that.  After all, I’m not exactly Employee of the Month, am I?” 

 

Quatre scowled.  “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.  He’s in extreme danger – we all are.  The Board wants to involve as few people as possible outside of the Department.  You’re one of the very few that has the highest clearance.”  I glanced across and caught the full force of his open emotion.  “One of the few that we can trust, dammit!”

 

I bit at my lip.  “Tea, anyone?  Beer?”  I resisted telling them there was no beer.  I gave it up a while back – I found all sorts of maudlin feelings crept in when I allowed it around me. 

 

No one answered my question, but neither did it stir them into any other action.  There were glances being thrown around that excluded me by their very existence.  It reminded me of when I’d last been part of that clique.  When I’d been a damned critical part.

 

Quatre sighed.  “There’s a hell of a lot to be done before any of us can rest again.  Oh, and a tea – yes please.  I’ll give you a hand with it.  Then we can talk everything through together.  That OK with you, Duo?”

 

“Yeah,” I answered slowly, making sure my eyes stayed on him.  “Sure it’s OK.”

 

 

*

 

 

Quatre made his way out to the kitchen area ahead of me, pushing aside the tacky bead curtain with barely a glance.  I kind of liked it, though purple and black wouldn’t have been my first colour choice.  I needed to get in there with him before he discovered just how few creature comforts I actually had.  I reckoned I could remember where there were a few tea bags left in a cracked pot; perhaps a couple of washed mugs.  It’s not like I’d wanted to entertain, I thought fiercely.  Didn’t say it to the blond guy with the tortured eyes, though.

 

“You haven’t called Trowa or me for a while,” he said.  His voice was low, and it didn’t sound like he put his whole heart into the rebuke.  Even so, I felt like a major asshole.

 

“Not a lot of news to share,” I replied, easily enough.

 

He raised a cynical eyebrow.  “Just so we know you’re OK.  Don’t need CNN for that.”

 

I nodded; shrugged.  “OK.  I’m OK.  But your comment’s fair enough, I guess.”  I flipped on the kettle, knowing we had a couple of minutes before Relena got impatient for us to return, and the noise of the bubbling water would hide our voices.  “So let’s have the truth here, Quatre.  I’ve been out of it for almost three months now.  What the hell’s going on?  Far as I know, there’s been nothing much going on in the Department since Mission Dove concluded…”

 

“Far as you know?” His eyebrow rose again. 

 

“Right,” I sighed.  “OK, so I’m not on the Project Team circulation list nowadays.  But I can find out what’s going on if I want – y’know?”

 

Quatre’s eyes sparkled with the smallest grain of amusement.  “Yes, I imagine you can.  You always did find access to all kinds of places.  But you’re right – we’ve been busy with nothing more than housekeeping tasks and general support to the Department.  The Project Team hasn’t been called up for any new missions.”

 

“So…” The kettle shrieked and rattled to a boiling halt.  The condensation dripped with familiar glee down my wall cupboard.  “So what’s this sudden crisis?”

 

His eyes were clear, but it was obvious that it took him an effort to appear calm.  “I guess it’s important to get you up to speed.  We’ve all been unwinding after Dove; maybe we’ve been too complacent.  But most of us were just looking forward to taking a break: we were all exhausted; still pretty tensed up from it.  As you know…”   He glanced at me, and I knew what he was referring to.  Not now, Quatre, I thought.  Leave it. 

 

Mission Dove had been the last major exercise I’d been involved in, before I … left the Department.   It had been the greatest, too – not that the Department could take any specific credit, working as it did behind the scenes. ‘Anonymous’ was the name of the secret game we played as its agents.  But we all knew that the most significant peace talks of the last forty years had been concluded without incident, and that our highly specialised Project Team had been a major contributor to that success.  We’d protected the political delegates and cleaned the conference sites; we’d had communication systems that’d shame the flight deck of a jet, monitoring any potential hostility across a couple of continents.  It had been a damned fine time – the best work we’d ever done.  Though I say so myself. 

 

But like Quatre said, there’d been a lot of tension and weariness in the aftermath.  And the opportunity to let it take hold.  I knew that better than all of them here today.

 

“Duo?“  He was staring at me.  “Work with me on this, will you?  You were with us on that mission – you’ve been with us all the way since the beginning of the Team.  Look, I don’t know what happened when you left – I don’t know the who or the why of it.  But it’s important to talk about that time and fully trust each other.“

 

“Sure.”  My gaze met his, steady as before, and he turned back to the matter in hand.

 

 “Well, like I said, things were calm.  Then just a month ago, the attacks started.  No warning at all – no formal threat – no obvious connection with any other current political or military event.  We were alerted of random sabotage at locations where the peace talks had been held, although the whole event had always been under top secret cover.  Also attempted assassinations of members of its Joint Committee.  The strikes have all been a little amateur – but dangerous, nonetheless.  There have been no other reprisals – and at first we assumed the sole connection was with Mission Dove.“

 

I frowned.  “How’d anyone know where to strike?  And who?  The whole damned thing – the whole Mission Dove – was the most complex piece of concealment and confidentiality I ever saw.”

 

Quatre put a hand on a mug as if he were concentrating on making the tea.  Both of us knew he wasn’t.  He didn’t seem to be able to phrase a response to that.

 

“You mean a leak from the Project Team?” I breathed.  A traitor sounded way too melodramatic – but wasn’t that what Quatre was implying?  After all, who else would have had access to all the information?

 

He grimaced.  He was rolling a teaspoon between his fingers – I reckoned he’d spooned six heaps of sugar into his mug already, and I hadn’t even poured the tea yet.  “No one knows enough about it yet to make any assessment.  Trowa…”  His voice faltered, but he went on, the words tumbling out more quickly.  “Trowa was – is following the trail right now.  He’s been monitoring every communication in or out of the Team since Mission Dove was concluded; he’s been checking recent logs and reissuing access protocols.  If there’s ever been any breach of security, he’ll find it.  But it takes time.”  I saw the flicker of something disturbed in his eyes.  “There must be another explanation, Duo.  No one wants to believe that.  We’re such a small team – we all know each other so well.”

 

Or not, as the case may be, I thought.   There was a nasty little chill, nagging at the base of my neck.  I held his gaze and saw the tendrils of panic in his expression.  “You said – ‘at first’ you thought it was to do with Dove.  There’s been something more since then, hasn’t there?”

 

“Yes, there has,” Quatre continued, rather miserably. “Over the last couple of weeks the attacks have been extended to Project operatives themselves.  The Team members – and people who worked for us, who were under our protection.”

 

“But who the hell would know –?”

 

He looked into my face, fiercely.  Like I was the one giving him this grief.  “For God’s sake, Duo, do you think we’re not trying to find out?  There’s been barely any time to investigate how the enemy could have gained such information, because we’ve been too busy trying to defend each and every one of our people!  Relena had brought most of them out of cover to investigate the attacks on Dove locations and participants – we never thought we’d be vulnerable ourselves!”

 

“Trowa…?”

 

Quatre glared at me – he often found it difficult to keep things hidden from me.  “He’s OK – I think.  I mean, he’s not been attacked personally so far.  But he’s been working 24-7 on the communication trail to and from the Department, and he’s out in the field now.”

 

I frowned again, but more gently.  Quatre wasn’t telling me everything.  It was rare for Trowa Barton to work out of the Department himself.   “So where is he?” 

 

“I don’t know,” said Quatre, and the note of desolation in his voice was shocking.  “I … need to get back and try to track him down.  He hasn’t called in for over eight hours.  He left just before the attack last night on the Westbridge apartment block –“

 

“Heero’s apartment block,” I said, softly.  “Yeah.  Relena told me the basics on the ‘phone.”

 

Quatre flinched, and suddenly I felt the wave of emotion from him as clearly as I might see a sudden jag in a sound wave pattern.  “The whole damned building could have gone, Duo!  It’s the most significant offensive so far.”  The blue of his eyes darkened to pewter with his anger, and the spoon clattered noisily back on to the counter.  “So now they’re both on the danger list – both on the run.  Wufei’s in the hospital under armed guard, with injuries so severe they won’t let anyone but Relena in there at the moment.  And Heero’s here…”

 

“So…” I was shaken, despite my pathetic attempt at not caring.  “Why me?  I’ve not been a part of it since Dove.  I don’t need protection or anything.  You know that.”

 

“Whatever Relena may have said on the phone to persuade you to do this, she meant it, Duo.  About us needing you.  You’re the only one in such a unique position; no media exposure, very little public record, and the skill and training to vanish if you want to – hell, you’ve proved it already.  It took me four days and all the resources of the Project to track you here!”  He saw my startled look – saw it deteriorating swiftly towards anger.  “Yes, Trowa and I found your location a month or so back.  I had my orders, Duo!  When the attacks first started, Relena wanted every Team member located, including you.  Just in case.”

 

It wasn’t worth getting upset about – and I was kind of disappointed it hadn’t taken longer, though I didn’t say so.  I had been tracked by the best, after all.

 

“I respect your need to get away, Duo – but we need you now.  You’re the only one who can understand what’s at stake – what’s required.  We just don’t have anywhere that we’re sure is totally secure any more.  This place – your place – has never been anywhere near the Department’s books; it just doesn’t exist as far as we’re concerned.  You’re the only one at the moment with a genuinely safe house.”

 

“Trailer,” I said, pedantically.

 

He looked confused – then smiled slightly.  “Sure.”  His eyes ranged over the lemon-painted walls; the slightly bulging window frames.  I don’t think he’d registered much of my unusual décor.  “Trailer.  It’s good, I’m sure.”  He sighed, gently.  “I know you and Heero have … issues…”

 

I carefully bit back the growl in my throat. 

 

“You won’t talk about it, either of you – that’s your right, I guess.  But I have to force this on you, regardless.  Even Relena has been targeted in the last week or so –“

 

“Relena as well?” I asked, alarmed.  “How serious?”

 

He dismissed it with an impatient hand.  “Not serious.  She won’t tell you about it, I suspect, and she’s OK.  You can see that yourself.  But we’re suddenly all in danger, with no idea as to why, whether it’s an organised campaign or random acts of revenge of some kind.  We have to consolidate what we know – support each other in the Team.  Find the weakness; seek the threat.  Deal with it.”

 

“Important stuff,” I said, just for the sake of something to say.  I poured the water onto the tea bags with exaggerated care.  “The Board is involved to the highest level, right?”

 

Quatre was pale.  “This is the single most serious threat since we created the Project Team, Duo.  But no one must know – there’s to be no official recognition of the problem.  We have to clean up our own mess – without knowing what it really is.  And we need you back on the Team, don’t you understand?  If this is a chance to bring you back on –  He looked very earnest, and I bit back that overwhelming desire to offer him whatever he needed – he had that effect on people.  I knew why Relena treasured him so much.  “Why are you hiding out here, Duo?  You should have stayed -- it could all have been sorted out, I’m sure.  I never wanted you off the Team, you know that, don’t you?”

 

I nodded, but so slightly that he might not have seen.  It hadn’t been Quatre’s choice, whatever the circumstances.  I knew exactly who to blame for my spell of exile, self-imposed or not.  “It’s a given.  Pick up that spare mug, man.  She needs some, too.”

 

He picked up his and Relena’s mug.  Looked at the matching flower garden scene on mine.  Just the three mugs.  “What about Heero?”

 

“Didn’t ask for anything,” I said, sharply.  Why did my words sound like nails over a blackboard? 

 

“You’ll want to talk to him about all this, of course –“

 

“I won’t,” I said.  My reply snapped the bolts down tightly on Quatre’s tentative suggestion.  His eyes blinked, rather too quickly.

 

“It’s not much to ask, Duo.  You’ve always been a tolerant person –“

 

“That’s where you’re wrong,” I said.  “That’s where your Team speech fails, Quatre.  Because, just now and then, I’m fucking not.  I’m doing this for reasons that stick in my throat, although I’ll stand by my word.  But I don’t have to be tolerant at all.  And don’t you forget it.”  I ignored the splash of brown liquid on the counter and the burning handle against my thumb.  I pushed through the bead curtain, and emerged back into the bubble of tension that was crowding my meagre main room.

 

Which was now uncomfortably full of people I’d thought I’d left behind me.

 

 

*

 

 

It was like one of those Mexican stand-offs.  I was balanced against the wall by the archway into the kitchen, paying about as much attention to my tea as I did to the Alaskan weather reports.  The fourth inhabitant of the trailer – Heero – stood beside the couch, alongside the boxes he’d delivered to my home in a strange, bitter little parody of protection.  His hands hung at his sides; he didn’t meet my gaze.  He looked like he was frowning but I was pretty sure that was just the way his face had settled; meanwhile, his mind would be busy on other things.  Quatre sat beside Relena on the couch – it only took two slim bodies, at the best of times – and stared at the two of us in despair.

 

“We weren’t followed here – we’re pretty sure no one knows about this place except for us.  But you must inform us at once of any strangers on the site.”

 

I snorted.  I saw most people as they came and went, but only 20% of the population stayed on the park more than three days in a row.  That was the nature of this place, didn’t he know? 

 

He continued, regardless.  “Heero will have communication with us – I’ll leave you with a cell phone for that exclusive use, and the Team members know the number.  But he mustn’t have any other external interaction.  He mustn’t be seen; mustn’t leave here until we give clearance.”

 

“You want me to sit through basic training again?”  My voice was deceptively smooth; but Quatre winced at the low tone.

 

“No, of course not.  Don’t be so damned sensitive.  I know you know your job.  Just wanted to stress some things.”  He wriggled on the couch, glancing over at the unnaturally still man standing beside him.  So did I.  Tall; a little slimmer than I remembered; dark hair looking pretty unkempt.  The shadow of a cut under his chin.  My gut shuddered a little.  I didn’t think it was because I’d missed a couple of meals this week.

 

Quatre glanced back and caught sight of my scowl.  He grimaced.  “Cut me some slack here, Duo!  We’re very disturbed by it all.  We need to work together – to support each other.”  His voice was just the right side of pleading; just the right side of appealing to my better nature.  He negotiated well, but he’d met his match in me.  My better nature was snoozing in a corner wrapped in a blanket, hibernating for the season.  I think he could see that in my eyes.  “Look, we’re not thinking as clearly as we should, perhaps.  You’ll need to discuss your own arrangements with Heero – work out your own timetable.  And you’ll need 24-7 contact between the pair of you, of course, to monitor this –“

 

That’s when Heero’s head jerked up, when his eyes met mine at last.  The frown was in the depths of his eyes, too.  I felt a dryness in my mouth that was pretty unpleasant.

 

“24-7 contact,” I echoed, wryly. “I rather think that’s the last thing I need.  And though I’m the one you might expect to be kind of paranoid, I’m guessing that your colleague feels much the same way.”

 

Quatre stood, rather abruptly.  He looked from me to Heero, and then back at me.  His eyes narrowed – guess he recognised the daggers drawn in two sets of dark pupils.  I think I saw Relena’s hand stretch out slightly, as if to hold him back.  I did notice that he hadn’t drunk a whole lot of his tea.

 

His next words were spat out in that rare, but very powerful way that demonstrates just how awesome Quatre Winner’s anger can be. “OK, so maybe I wanted this to work just a little too much.  But what the hell made me think that it would?” 

 

I turned my head very slightly, losing eye contact with all of them.  I suppose I was trying to tune him out – I suppose I’ve always tended towards that cowardice.  Always wanted to believe that my way is the only way – and the best.  But I was in no mood today for Quatre, the Project Team’s mediator and Logistics professional – the man who ‘gets things done’.  Couldn’t he see that?

 

But he didn’t let up.  “Dammit, Relena, look at them!  Glaring like gladiators at each other.  They’ll kill each other before any enemy has the time to track them down!”

 

And then Relena herself pitched in.  The slender, dark blonde woman who was currently sat on my couch and sipping at a tea that must have been more bitter than my shrivelled emotions.  A woman with the fittest body I’d seen in a long time – and a sharp skill in all arts martial that no one ever credited, until perhaps they were on the receiving end.  The keenest brain that had ever thrashed me at chess and given me orders that I’d been eager to follow. The woman I’d listened to – been directed by – for a very long and very interesting time.  The woman I’d been surprised to see here today, in person!  Guess that’s what made me realise the whole damn farce was real. 

 

Her voice was sharper – and it was aimed towards me.  Kid gloves off, OK?  “Duo Maxwell, I don’t want to have to pull rank, but I will if I have to!  This is for the good of the Team – not individuals, OK?  This directive is by order of the Board, and if you want any chance of ever working in the field again – in any capacity! – you’ll do your damnedest to cooperate and keep Heero safe!  Do you understand?”

 

There was a sudden, awkward pause.  You could’ve heard the last drop of condensation drip down in the kitchen on to the linoleum.

 

“OK,” I said, slowly.  “No problem.  I understand all too well.  I’m not aware that you – of all people – ever had any problems with plain speaking.”  The insouciance was a ploy of mine, to play for time; to retain my dignity.  We both knew that.  I was actually quite shaken by her vehemence.  Relena’s management of us had always been calm and reasonably voiced.  “But you are asking me to put my home on the line, right?  To come out of my quiet, anonymous little world – to offer it back up to your organisation, with all its devious little deceptions and its awesome dangers.  You forget, perhaps, that I also know that rather too well.”

 

“You’re still officially an employee of the Department,” she snapped.

 

“And still on suspension, right?” I fired back.  “Still on much reduced pay and benefits, right?”

 

Her eyes narrowed; her cheeks flushed.  “It was your choice, Maxwell.  We could’ve discussed the financial implications.  But as far as I remember, you told me to shove the benefits up my ass and twist them hard.  Next I knew, your address was ‘gone away’.  And yes, you’re still on suspension, though that’s open to final review in a couple of weeks time.”  She caught my angry gaze and held it fearlessly.  There was the hint of compassion in her eyes, too.  “If you’d given me a chance, I would have told you to stay and see it out, Duo.  You just weren’t listening to me at the time.  I know it was tough back then – but that’s what you have to be, too.  We can look at this is a partial return to active duty, if that’s what you want, and we’ll review the salary issue.  If you can work with us here –“

 

“You ain’t the one I’m sharing my personal space with, here,” I grunted.

 

Then Quatre was close again, hand at my arm.  It was sort of a shock, being touched like that.  He probably thought I’d missed it: the friendship; the banter.  The Team.

 

I was in no mood to debate that either way.

 

“Duo, it’s obvious this is difficult for you.  But there is no other way!  Wufei’s out of circulation in the hospital, and we can’t trust any other Departmental locations at the moment. Trowa is isolated, out in the field with no support, and we must get to him to make sure he’s safe.  Relena has the Board baying for blood, and a bunch of junior agents with a very justifiable fear of stepping outside their front doors.  We must protect the ones we have left!  The Project Team’s work must be maintained.”  I could feel the urgency in his voice; hell, I once felt it as strongly as he did.  “Duo, he has nothing left – nowhere to go!  Heero needs you, Duo.”

 

He’s gonna love that summary of his situation – of his life, I thought, a little hysterically.  The warm pressure from Quatre’s hand was very unnerving.  He’ll love it like failure, death and a wet bed all rolled into one.  You hear that, Heero?  Apparently you have nothing left!  Except this…

 

Except me.

 

And so I turned back to face my new houseguest.

 

Heero Yuy.  Man with the boxes; man with the need for my home. 

 

Heero Yuy.  Man I’d crossed state to avoid; man I felt nothing for except contempt; man I once said I didn’t want to see again until hell proverbially froze over.  Let alone offer a mug of tea to.

 

Heero…

 

 

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Day One – 06:30

 

 

The trailer park was still quiet with the early morning.  Well, quiet in that the only background noise was a mixture of barking dog, shrieking spouse and the melancholic turning over of a dead car battery.  The usual.  No one got up to work in the city from around here.

 

The guys left with the same care and secrecy that they’d arrived with.  Relena went to call her assistants and Cissy came over quickly to guide her back to the car, a dull-coloured vehicle with its plates artfully obscured which had been parked round the back of the gravel heap.  That’s where most of the vehicles from the site were left, a close jumble of vans and cars that often vanished or changed mysteriously overnight. 

 

Greg was somewhere around by a nearby trailer and came running over to help Cissy shield Relena with his body, the pair of them always looking out for any threat.  I almost laughed aloud when a large Rotweiler poked its head around the trailer after him, and snarled aggressively.  The kid lost several steps in his surprise; seemed to speed up a bit after that, too. 

 

And so off they went, rolling quietly through the back streets, returning to the Department with their Mission Nursemaid – or whatever they might call it in memos – well and truly accomplished.  Quatre had been the last to leave me, but also the most eager – the look on his face might have been described as mounting hysteria.  He was worrying about Trowa – I knew it.  We all knew it.  Trowa would feel the same, if the situation were reversed.  It had been a bit of a joke when I first joined the Team – the way that the two of ‘em seemed joined at the hip.  Not physiologically, you understand, but in the way that they understood each other without a load of hand signals, in the way that they cared for each other.  They didn’t make much of an issue of it, keeping anything they shared outside work pretty discreet – but they weren’t making excuses for it, either.

 

When I got to know what genuine guys they were – and after I had some experience of my own… well, it wasn’t such a joke then, was it?  I rather envied them, to tell you the truth.

 

Heero had nodded to Relena as she left, but when I turned back from seeing them off, I found he’d barely moved from his stance in the corner of my room.  A narrow shaft of morning light sneaked through the broken blind, dissecting the shadow of his body.  For a few long, silent moments we stared in tandem at some disturbed particles of dust that glittered within it.  When they settled at last on the cushions of the couch, I cleared my throat.  This was my place, after all.

 

“No one’s going to steal any of your stuff,” I said.  “You can sit down at least.  You make the place look untidier than it already is.”  My voice sounded very brittle in the suddenly empty room.  I’d abandoned my tea mug a long time ago, it seemed.  I couldn’t remember if I’d eaten anything since last night’s supper.  The call had come from Relena less than three hours ago – it felt like weeks.

 

His sigh sounded like it was dragged out of him.  He shifted on one foot, then the other, but he still didn’t sit down.  “I feel the same way you do,” he said at last, his voice a ripple of something rich and angry.  “If that’s any consolation to you.  I tried to find someone else – tried to convince them I’d be OK somewhere else.  You know what Relena’s like, though.”

 

I didn’t answer that one.  It was unnerving enough, listening to him.  Having to listen to him.  The voice was just as I remembered.  Just the same as the late-night dreams, the mockery, snagging at my nerve endings.

 

Fuck.  For the first time, I wished the others would come back.  I wondered why basic training had never covered this precious scenario.

 

He looked like he struggled with words, with talking to me.  Hadn’t that always been the case?  I felt the wave of frustration from him as clearly as I read the clench of his fist.  “Duo – we have to cope with this, right?  Just for the bare minimum of time.  I can’t go out yet – you have to keep a low profile too.  We’ll have to sort out some compromise.”

 

Obviously ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ wasn’t an option, I thought.  Then I despised myself for the sudden, childish aggression.  My social skills were lapsing, rather.  Perhaps I was becoming the loud-mouthed boor that many have accused me of being in the past.

 

Perhaps – just at that moment – I could care less.

 

 

*

 

 

He sat at last – even his iron-cast limbs couldn’t keep him up indefinitely.  I drew the stool out from under the kitchen counter and dragged it into the room in front of the couch.  I sat myself down on it somewhat gracelessly; he folded himself down on to the couch itself.  He moved a little gingerly.

 

I felt the familiar buzz inside me as I watched his movements.  Partly because my job was to evaluate a person’s characteristics.  Partly for other reasons.  He was nursing an injury to his left leg, probably the hamstring – he had some hearing restriction in his left ear.  That was apart from the external cuts and bruises.  My appraisal of his condition was swift and instinctive, even as I hated myself for bothering.

 

“So how bad was it?”

 

He looked up quizzically, and for a moment my breath caught in my throat.  It was the way that his chin thrust up, in a familiar, defiant move, the way that his dark eyes widened as they met my focus.  He never asked me what I was talking about – because he knew, of course.  He was damned smart.  “You want to know?”

 

“Asked, didn’t I?”  Christ, I thought, was this how it was gonna be?

 

He continued regardless, his voice quiet.  Almost a monotone.  I knew it was his way of controlling his emotions, but it could still grate on your ears.  “It was bad.  Happened last night – early evening, about 19:25.  It was pure luck that we were on our way out to get some takeout and were almost out of the building.  Otherwise we’d have been caught in the full blast of it…” He paused, swallowing a lump in his dry throat.  “As it is, the main structure of the building was completely demolished.  They took out the ground and first floor; it must have been a ring of connected detonators around a central charge, heavy duty explosives, staggered timing.  It’s a style that some terrorists and saboteurs use.”  I wondered if he were cataloguing the materials used, considering the likely suppliers.  Appraising the efficiency of the job.  It was his speciality, after all.  “The police are giving out the message it was some kind of gas explosion – they don’t want anyone thinking it’s terrorism.  But it was directed specifically at us, no doubt of that. The charges had been set over a period of days – there’d obviously been detailed surveillance of the site.  They’d have seen enough comings and goings to be able to establish who was at home and who wasn’t, and we don’t allow civilian tenants there, you know?”  It was a rhetorical question – it was as if he were giving an official statement all over again.  “The other floors just crumbled down on top.  My – the apartment was buried under the weight of the floors above; almost all the stuff has been crushed or destroyed.  It’ll be months before it’s safe to go back, let alone consider rebuilding.”

 

I had to open my mouth, didn’t I?  I felt pain; I felt aggrieved.  I let the resentment and the shock tumble out in ill-chosen words.  “Guess it won’t be such an issue now then, me forgetting to return your spare key –“

 

He shuddered.  “Cheap shot,” he said, in a very tight voice.

 

“Cheap?  That’s me all over!” I hissed.  Comeback was automatic.  “As you were so fucking keen to tell me!”

 

“It was the only fucking thing you wanted to hear, Duo!”

 

My eyes widened at his vehemence; my breath shortened.  I bit my lip, knowing I could take him on – knowing I could escalate an argument beyond belief, in short, stunning seconds.

 

I didn’t do it, though.  I dragged my control back from the brink – teased the nonchalance back into my voice.  “The Board will get you another place soon, I expect.“

 

His eyes narrowed.  With anger?  Suspicion at my sudden change of mood?  “Sure they will,” he replied, his voice also calm again – though I could hear in his tone what an effort that took.  “They say they just need to evaluate a couple of other potential properties; make the areas secure; investigate the previous tenants and surrounding industry.  Then I can move on.  They said that the apartment at Westbridge was nothing special.  That there are plenty of others.  It was only a place to live, right?”

 

I stared at him.  “Right.”

 

He made a sudden noise of impatience that startled me, his leg jerking against the small card table by the couch.  Relena’s half empty mug rattled nervously on it, the reflections from the overhead strip lighting shivering in the skin of the cold tea.  Heero righted the mug with exaggerated care, but the scrape of the china on the plastic tabletop was still too sharp for my ears.  It seemed to affect Heero just as badly.  He lifted his hands as if to bury his head in them, but then he paused, and let them fall back to his lap.   His voice hitched up a couple of notches on the volume control.  “But it wasn’t just a place to live, Duo!  Was it?  It was my home!  So maybe I’ve had to move around in the last year or so; learned to be ready to mobilise at a moments’ notice, never let my roots go very deep.  But that place –“

 

“Don’t.”  I said just the one word.  I knew he’d know what I meant.  I knew he’d ignore me, too.

 

“Not just where I lived,” he persisted.  “It was more than that.”  His voice faded, and stopped.  He looked damned pale.  I suspected he was still in some kind of shock.

 

I sighed.  This was my room, right?  But it seemed an alien place right then, an unfamiliar room, miles away, perching at the wrong end of a telescope.  There wasn’t much else except the ratty furniture to distract me – I’d never been one to collect trinkets of any kind.  Even the pictures had only been sheets of crass advertising colour that had just caught my eye.  There was nothing and no one but Heero to draw my attention.  It had been a while since I’d heard him raise his voice like that.  And for once, I agreed with everything he said.  “It was indeed, Heero.  Much more than that.  I liked it.  Good place.”

 

He looked up at me again then, the anger fading as quickly as it had come.  Maybe he recognised something in my expression.  There was too much we could both have said – but not enough to ease the moment.

 

“Were you badly hurt?”  I asked.

 

He shrugged.  His limbs looked weary.  “I doubt you need to ask.  You can assess me as well as I can myself.”

 

I winced inside.  He knew me well.  But then – we’d been trained well, too, hadn’t we?  That was my speciality – the evaluation and measurement of people: their strengths; their vulnerabilities.  The professional perception of place and opportunity.  Critical to any – and every – mission.  “Maybe.  But tell me how you think you are.”

 

“Just shock I think.  Some bruises.”

 

I nodded, knowing he was in pain, and knowing he knew I knew he was in pain, and that I knew – well, the hell any of that mattered!  “You want to sleep?”  The moment of truth had come at last.  I had submitted to the Department’s demands and was resigned to offering what sparse hospitality I could.  Hurrah for me.  I braced myself for Heero’s scorn – for the inevitable resistance and resumption of hostilities.

 

None of it came.

 

“Yes,” he replied quietly, and rare though it was, he surprised me with his tone.  Guess he was definitely in shock.  Or maybe I’d never seen him in such a position before.

 

“I just want to lie down here and crash out for a few hours,” he said, softly.  “If you’ve got a blanket, fine, but I’m not cold or anything.  If you need to work here or something, just say.  If I’m in the way, I can go somewhere else.”

 

I was listening to his words, but not hearing.  I was just watching his mouth, alert to his body language.  He was fucking unhappy, I can tell you that.  And tired beyond exhaustion.

 

“It’s been a hell of a time, Duo.  I reckon you’ll agree with me on that.”

 

We stared at each other then, for a few long, painful seconds.  His eyes were full of shock and horror and sadness and anger.  Hell, maybe that’s what mine looked like, too!  I turned away from his gaze, in the end.  It was all just that little bit too uncomfortable.

 

“I’ll get a blanket,” I said, levering myself off the stool with a smile that was more of a grimace.  “Damned couch is more like the back of a drunken camel – but I guess that’s all there is on offer in a mansion like this.  You’re welcome to it.”

 

 

Day One   21:00

 

 

In the end, he slept right through the day and on into the night.  The flatbed trucks screeched over the gravel paths, the dogs barked and the kids shrieked in some homicidal superhero game.  Life at the trailer park made no concessions to him.  I mean, I was used to it by then.  But he must either have been extraordinarily tired or medicated, because he didn’t stir.

 

I got on with my usual stuff – well, I cleared up and read the paper and pottered about with some projects that I’d been dabbling in.  The details weren’t important to anyone but me.  There hadn’t been very much else in my life for the last couple of months, not that I was complaining.  Well, OK, maybe I was.  But it wasn’t like there was anything I was prepared to do about it.  Not at the moment.

 

I walked around Heero a couple hundred times.  Sometimes I stopped to watch him sleep, his body stretched out as best he could on my miserable, second-hand couch.  Head cushioned on his arm, dark hair caught up against his cheek, legs half folded, hips shifting occasionally, seeking a more comfortable position.  But I tried my hardest to resist that entertainment – it didn’t exactly give me any peace.  I napped for an hour or so myself, though thanks to Relena and Quatre’s visit, I was a little less relaxed than I might have been.  When it grew dark outside the trailer and things quietened down a bit, I ate a cheese sandwich, drank some coffee and decided to spend my time in wondering what the hell was going on.

 

When Relena set up the Project Team we all knew the risks.  She’d gone out on a limb with the Board as it was – but she believed there was a need for a specialist team to take on the more sensitive and challenging missions of the Department.  She chose her own guys – ran it her own way.  She was a very fair boss, with an unusually compassionate care for her staff – and that was for all of them, right down to her devoted assistant Cissy and the drivers and clerical guys in the office..

 

A couple of early successes and she was cautiously settled in place.  There’d been a foiled assassination attempt of a Presidential candidate, then an expose of the taxation frauds of an evangelical TV preacher.  We brought it all to book, quietly and effectively, and without the glare of publicity.  We had a unique balance of skills, y’see. 

 

I’ll run through the major players – kind of like the cast list.

 

I was on infiltration – everything from surveillance of a target to donning the old false beard and trying to sell ‘em bibles on the doorstep.  I’d had a fairly varied life, and I had a knack of understanding what made people ‘tick’.  Pretty good at encouraging it to go the way I wanted, too.  No client ever believed that Duo Maxwell could be anything other than a loud, vulgar extrovert, but that was before I blended into their particular crowd for a couple of hours of harmless play.  They never noticed me as the guy who sold them their groceries or the kid who played baseball on the pitch at the end of their block.  Or the guy who was fixing the elevator on their floor.  Or the man who took their wife’s elbow at a cocktail party and left her with no memory of individual features except for the waft of an expensive cologne, an offering of an overly dry martini, and a smiling insolence that could bring a shocked blush to her cheeks.

 

Never noticed until I told ‘em, that was.  I’d been described as a chameleon, and I didn’t dislike the comparison.  I liked surprising people.  A personal character that’s ‘in-your-face’ can be as much a sleight of hand as a nondescript mouse of a man, right?

 

Trowa Barton came from an army background, so they said.  He was a guy who didn’t waste words, and he’d never mentioned anything more prestigious than a decorated grandparent or two, but there was definitely more to it than that.  Few months back, I was around when the Department was visited by senior military personnel.  There was a classic moment when the general in charge saw Trowa – did a double take – and then looked deeply confused, like he was seeing someone familiar but out of context.  Not just that, but I saw him snatch back an instinctive salute, hoping none of us had noticed the faux pas.  There was stuff to Trowa that went way back, and whatever it was struck a certain amount of fear and respect into the institutional heart.  He was an expert on communications of all kinds, including an unhealthily deep knowledge of the US military satellite systems.  Another thing no one ever harassed him about.

 

Quatre – well, the earnest, spectacularly efficient Quatre Winner had analysis skills to match my own, but he’d used them for slightly less legal purposes in his past life.  He came to us from a minor correctional facility where he was serving a short-term sentence for a rather sophisticated computer fraud.  They’d been sorry to let him go – not because they didn’t want him to go ‘straight’, or because they were worried about issues of national security, but because he was the only one who’d proved up to the task of redeveloping their transport facilities.  He’d also motivated the whole damned place into a new workflow pattern that had increased efficiency by 25% over the year, and his revolutionary new training plan had reduced the rate of re-offending by 40% over the same period.  Damned guy should have been running the country.  Rumour had it that there were talks with one of the political parties at one time… but maybe that was yet another urban myth.

 

Wufei Chang was the other main player – he was of Chinese extraction, built like a brick wall but with considerably better muscle definition, and with a steely self-discipline that could chill a normal guy’s blood.  He brought the most incredible knowledge of combat into the group; no fighting style had been invented that he hadn’t heard of – and probably mastered.  He was a ruthless and extremely effective teacher – hell, he’d taught me a few styles and I’d hated him passionately for every damned second of it!  So I’m not the most amenable pupil at the best of times, but Wufei was a walking block of relentlessness, and never flinched from criticising me for all the things I -- apparently just to infuriate him -- persisted in doing wrong.  I assumed his other pupils felt the same way about him, and yet they were all devoted to him at the end of training like they’d follow him over the cliff edge in battle like lemmings.  He advised Relena on matters of strategy in any conflict – as did the others.  He was the only guy who could match her in martial arts.  And that’s all I care to say about him at the moment.

 

And there was Heero Yuy, of course…

 

Hey, so he was critical too, right?  I hadn’t forgotten.  He’d appeared from some unknown background, with knowledge of both hand-to-hand weaponry and tools of mass destruction like you couldn’t imagine outside of a sci-fi film.  He knew it all – had, apparently, lived it all, read the book, worn the tee shirt, you name it.  Never talked about it much – but it permeated everything he was, like a simmering gas that sometimes seeped from within him, especially on a mission.  I sensed a predatory violence coiled inside him like a sleeping snake, only bursting out then.  And when he did release the aggression, it would be both tightly controlled and hideously effective – he rarely killed unless there was no other choice, or so it appeared to me.  Of course, I may have been a little naïve there. 

 

He, also, was an excellent trainer, and exemplary leader of his team.  Fit – strong – quiet in company, unassuming as far as general chatter went.  He just absorbed a mission and carried it out.  There was a rumour around the Department that it had been his intervention alone that had disarmed a serious assassination threat to someone fairly high up in the Pentagon, last year.  He’d discovered the plot and infiltrated the group of ringleaders: within 36 hours, all hostile weapons had been removed and the principals had been persuaded to re-group elsewhere – an ‘elsewhere’ that was under close police supervision -- and the danger had passed.

 

He was a powerful and dangerous guy, was all.  That’s all I was saying.

 

 

Day One   23:45

 

 

It was coming on for midnight.  I stretched rather awkwardly on the floor, perched on some cushions and flicking through a catalogue of various ‘might be useful if I ever got back to active duty’ goods.  God knows what the other guys on the trailer park thought I was up to when they saw me rummaging in the waste site next door, collecting up a wide selection of discarded, dog-eared publications.  Stage Makeup and Costumes for Halloween; ‘Be Seen in the Scene’  -- this season’s ladies’ fashions; How To Build Scale Models; Amateur Film-Making Techniques; Calligraphy for Beginners; ‘When Sports Stars Misbehave’ – you name it, it was likely it’d have use for me at some stage.

 

Heero expelled a breath, shifting a little uncomfortably on the couch.  I assumed he’d sleep through until morning now.  I wondered what I had to offer for breakfast, but then he never ate much in the morning, I knew.  Some memory tugged at me, a flare of anger stabbed through me.  Damned Department, still hounding me, landing this particular bombshell on my front steps…

 

I punched viciously at a cushion, and settled myself again.

 

So was this threat to the Team really to do with Mission Dove – with the intercontinental peace talks?  From what Quatre had said, there’d been attacks on enough places and people connected with it to substantiate the theory.  There were always a few people who didn’t want success – who didn’t want peace, for whatever warped reason they personally thought justifiable.  I thought we’d weeded most of those out – neutralised ‘em, one way or another.  Guess a couple may have escaped our clutches.  I’d left the tidying up at the end of the mission to Relena Peacecraft, our boss.

 

Relena had been the favoured daughter of a famous political family.  An independently rich family, too.  It had been expected that she’d marry a high profile governor, or equally disgustingly rich industrialist, or perhaps even a member of a minor royal family…

 

Instead, she’d shown the lot of them the virtual finger, and gone her own way.  Used her family’s influence to get accepted into the Department, then cut a swathe through it so that she was in a senior position after eighteen months.  I wasn’t there then, but the stories still rattled through the canteen of how she’d become the first woman on the Board; of how her innovative approach to budgeting changed the whole way of resourcing missions; of how her arbitration skills saved more than a couple of the Department’s missions from disaster.  Oh, and she kicked ass, too, had I mentioned that?  People still talked in whispers about the disgraced Director who made a crass pass at her, and how he still found it difficult, one, to get a job elsewhere, and, two, to make a proper fist of his crushed right hand.

 

So we moved in dangerous waters, as a matter of course.  But then why had the target suddenly changed to include members of the Project Team themselves?  To me, that was of more concern.  The members of the Team had never been high-profile – even some of the Board members didn’t know us individually -- and we worked damned hard to maintain that anonymity.  Otherwise we’d never have been able to do the things we did, reach the people we did, or involve ourselves in the organisations that we did.  OK, so we couldn’t all hide away in some Bat Cave somewhere, but we did all we could to distract and mislead, as a matter of course.  We all had names, we all had homes, though the names weren’t always the originals that had been on our birth certificates.  And the homes were often barely more than temporary, usually under protective surveillance – and always secured.

 

So where had the security been for Heero’s home?

 

Heero’s home…

 

I felt the return of familiar nausea.  He might have been killed.  It had been a matter of luck that he wasn’t.  I hadn’t seen him for three months, and when I did, he was stumbling free of the jaws of a crumbling, crushing death.

 

No point being coy about this, of course.  You need to understand things that maybe I’ve only hinted at so far.  You need to know the context of this whole mess.  I’m not trying to justify anything – not begging for sympathy or anything.  But Heero and I had history.  You know how it is?  Like, we weren’t born glaring at each other the way we did today.  No, we’d been excellent colleagues and fellow operatives: mature young men with a commitment to the Department and the Project Team.  We’d been bright and appropriately aggressive and everyone had rated us well.

 

At least, that was in our professional life.

 

I couldn’t stop my thoughts returning to the accident.  Relena had told me sparse details, but Heero had confirmed that his apartment was completely gone, now -- it presumably lay in a mess of brick and exploded mortar in a city that was a state boundary away from here.  I’ll tell you now -- the thought of that wreckage stung me almost as much as it had distressed him.  Even leaving aside the injury to Heero and others in the building, there’d been things in that apartment that were now destroyed for ever – things that I’d known. 

 

No, not just that.  Things that had been mine, or at the very least shared between us.  Things that were treasured for memory alone – for a sentiment that nowadays I tried fucking hard to despise.  Things from a time that I tried even harder to forget.

 

For many months, you see, I’d spent more time there than at my own apartment.  There was a time when we virtually lived there together: ate together; did laundry together; watched TV; played chess; rehearsed our parts in upcoming missions, and rested after the frenzy of completed ones.

 

Lived, washed, cooked, breathed, laughed together.

 

Went to bed together; or the couch; or whatever square metre of floor we reached first.  Yeah.  You get the picture.

 

A time when we were lovers.

 

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  00:15

 

 

Heero slept: I brooded.

 

It was late, and I was tetchy and disturbed.  No excuse, really, for allowing the memories to clutch long, strong fingers around my neck and choke the emotions back out of me.  But they did.  Humour me while I recall how I met him in the first place.  How it all sprang from there. 

 

It was almost a year ago; I’d been working in the Department for a couple of months.  Initially, I just sort of drifted there.  I’d been doing contract work for some guys -- you don’t need to know where or how I met them -- and I’d just completed a couple of creative and (it subsequently transpired) rather dangerous projects for a major financial institution.  Call me naïve, but I hadn’t realised the rather sketchy legality of some of the tasks, nor the dubious nature of the organisation behind it, until I was approached by a representative of this hitherto unknown ‘Board’, suggesting that I looked at it again from their point of view.  I soon saw things in a rather different light, and swiftly cut the ties with those guys I mentioned earlier.  I thought the least I could do in recompense was to help the Department mop up the mess, and that went rather well. 

 

So it was a pleasant surprise when they asked me to consider doing what I enjoyed so much – becoming someone else for a while, working my way into places I hadn’t previously been invited etc -- for a living.  For them.  It was damned good fun!  And I thrived there, though I say so myself.  The team was good -- I soon hooked up with Trowa and Quatre and Wufei as friends, and I had a healthy respect for Relena Peacecraft as a boss.  At the very least, there was plenty going on to keep me out of trouble.

 

I worked with most of the other staff guys on various projects, but in those first few months I never bumped heads with Heero Yuy.  I think I’d seen his name on internal briefing papers.  I knew he was on weapons and suchlike; Wufei had worked with him on and off, as it was his area, too.  Much of my work was involved in the preparation of missions: the evaluation of the principals concerned; the development of the right, most effective team; the ‘hook’ as I liked to call it.  I monitored the progress of a mission, but I was rarely there at shoot-out time, assuming there was such a thing.  I could defend myself along with the best of them, but I didn’t actively seek it.  So I’d never met him, knew nothing of him except for an exemplary reputation and a certain amount of nervous admiration on the part of his workmates.

 

He came most highly recommended -- or so Relena said, when she first introduced us.  It was a Tuesday night, about 21:00, and she’d been on her way out of the building.  I reckon everyone else had already left.  I was working late again and she came around to the office I was using, probably seeing it was one of the few lights still on.  I tended to work until I fell asleep or got tired of whatever stuff I was concentrating on -- which often wasn’t until the small hours of the morning. 

 

Heero had appeared at her shoulder, and he carried a jacket over one arm.  She introduced us, then looked between us, her eyes flickering.  “Be nice to Heero, Duo,” she said.  “He’s been with us for a while now.  The best weapons expert we’ve ever had -- and a strategic brain to match.  He’s on the same mission as you, this time -- though he’s involved in exit strategy, not infiltration.  You can take him through some of the preliminary plans tomorrow, perhaps.  He’ll need to know what operatives you’re putting in, the hierarchy of the organisation that is our target.  Keep it as simple as you can, OK?”  She’d smiled confidently.  “That strategy’s always worked for us in the past.” 

 

I’d nodded; I don’t think I was giving her my full attention and she coughed deliberately to get me to look up.  “Make sure you put the time aside for a briefing, Duo,” she’d insisted.  “I know you’re possessive of your plans, and sometimes deliberately elusive.  So I daresay he’ll get in your way as much as all of us do -- but you’ll live with it.”  She’d pursed her lips in a half-smile, and her gaze reviewed my habitual lack of office uniform.  That night I was in faded jeans and a casual short-sleeved shirt, my long hair twisted into a braid down my back.  I think I probably had a chewed pencil in my mouth and my feet up on the desk.  It was my usual pose when thinking through a mission.  Someone in the past had dared to suggest that my dress and attitude weren’t particularly good for the Department’s image – but Relena had always been willing to show a little tolerance, if the job were done properly.  Anyway, there’d been no complaints for a while. 

 

That evening, she’d been a little distracted, passing up on the chance to scold me.  Instead, she’d turned back to her companion.  “And I suggest you watch Duo in return, Heero.  He lives life on a loud, impatient and unpredictable edge -- and talks to anyone who’ll listen about it, too.  But if he doesn’t exhaust you first, you’ll find his contribution to the missions invaluable.”

 

I was just that little bit disarmed by her description of me.  Hey, I wasn’t sure it was selling my good points for all they were worth!  “And I’d always thought you such an excellent judge of character!” I quipped.  We smiled at each other, and she gathered up her bag, ready to move on out of the building.  I waved to the new guy in a casual, friendly way and settled back to the task in hand.

 

I wasn’t so bothered about this Heero Yuy on the team – to be honest, I didn’t really have time to give it any more thought.  I was in the middle of planning a major infiltration of a high-tech IT corporation and I had a pile of files in front of me detailing Department operatives who’d apparently been assigned to the mission.  I was meant to build my team from it, like the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear.  What I actually had were guys who looked more like they should be modelling CK briefs than passing themselves off as technicians; I had kids who’d struggled with programming in their basic training and had never really progressed past Gameboy, and I had agents who’d shown as much aptitude for blending into their environment as an elephant in custard.  So I was weeding out the potential from the useless and developing new identities for these people, knowing all the time that I’d probably keep them as cleaners or something and go into the Service Department myself.  Couldn’t trust ‘em to know their byte from their butt, right?

 

“There are other resources,” said Heero’s voice.  He’d appeared suddenly at the door as I cursed colourfully at the multi-coloured files scattered across my desk.  “You don’t have to accept any of these if they’re no good for this specific mission.”

 

I looked across at him, startled.  I was used to working on my own most of the time, and I’d assumed he’d left in Relena’s wake.  It gave me a chance to look him over properly, for the first time.  He was wearing well-cut linen pants and a long-sleeved dark blue shirt.  Very suitable attire for the office, I smiled to myself.  Broad shoulders, slim neck, darker skin than mine.  Thick, short dark hair that reflected a purple sheen in the dim fluorescent lights of the office and looked damned attractive against the blue shirt.  A straight nose and a generous mouth, with the hint of sharp white teeth behind the lips.  A very good-looking man, I appraised, but with a serious expression – obviously a man who wouldn’t get caught with his feet up on the desk, I thought.  Dark eyes – deep blue eyes.  I got caught looking into those very eyes, and that’s where my gaze stayed.  “So is that what you’d do, Heero Yuy?”

 

He frowned a little, put his jacket over a chair and he walked over to me.  Quite close, really – he came around to the back of the desk and stood at my side, his eyes seeking out the offending files.  He had a very pleasant smell -- must have been his soap or his shampoo.  He glanced over my shoulder at some of my notes – hell of a lot of exclamation marks, as usual – and put a hand down to steady one of the papers.  It was a strong hand – it looked well kept and graceful, but definitely strong.  I stared at it, God knows why, and at how close it was to my own long-fingered hand lying beside it, half-curled round a pencil.   I glanced up at his face and suddenly, he smiled, like he’d been pleased by something, perhaps by surprise.  It was only a slight smile, but it seemed more of a contrast on his serious face than my habitual grin. 

 

It was one of those moments that I thought only happened in fiction, but I remember -- very clearly -- the feelings that his smile provoked, because I’d never known anything like it before.  I felt a warmth all through my veins, like some kind of real-time embalming.  There was a weakness in my gut like nausea, although I knew I had an iron stomach as far as eating was concerned.  At the time, I’d laughed at myself -- I tried to blame my reactions on the air conditioning, on the need for supper, on the weather, God dammit. 

 

Ridiculous!  This guy stands peering over my shoulder and I felt like I melted into sap.

 

But it took me a while to realise – and admit -- that I fell for him, immediately, and in that very instant.  I fell heavily and hard, for Heero Yuy.

 

 

*

 

 

I covered my disturbance well, I reckoned, and he never told me any different.  “I see your problem,” he replied.  His voice was low and calm.  Very careful.  “It’s a rather mixed bunch, right?  But I admit I don’t have the same dilemmas that you do.  I get offered people with established technical qualifications.  After all, I just need guys who’ll load a weapon and be prepared to use it, according to my orders.  Who’ll set a fuse as I tell them, then stand well back.”

 

“Yeah,” I grinned.  I felt light-headed.  “Sounds a lot like my job description, too.”

 

He didn’t exactly laugh -- but his eyes flickered up to mine and they looked warmer.  They looked interested.  Shit, I nearly hopped like an Easter bunny!  “Thanks for the input, anyway,” I said.  “Guess I just like to do things my own way.  You heard Relena – I like to work on my own at this preparatory stage, that’s all.”

 

“Others can’t keep up?” he smiled.

 

“No,” I smiled back, flushing very slightly.  “Just too much of a maverick.”

 

Dammit, it was like his eyes followed the words as they spilled out of me!  They were arrogant, facile words, that I’m known for producing with alarming regularity.  But he still looked amused by them.  Or maybe he was looking at my mouth -- at my lips.  It was a very sensual action – I don’t know if he was aware of it like that.  My cock reacted shamelessly to it, right there and then; my groin felt a strange, sticky tingle.  At that moment, he could’ve looked at anything of mine if he’d wanted, and I wouldn’t have cared -- my worn socks; my ancient set of bound encyclopaedias; my kindergarten report card.  Come to think of it, that last one might have given him a good idea of what I was like -- as good as any recent appraisal on file.

 

I shifted my legs carefully, trying to get my comfortable position back.  He was nodding gently at my words, but his eyes followed my movement.  “A maverick,” he said, softly.  “Not always a bad thing.”  He glanced at his watch and looked surprised at the time.  “You want to grab some late supper and talk some more about it?”

 

Did I?  I tried out that insouciant look and probably just looked sour.  I’d checked his hand -- no ring.  Checked the way he related to Relena, because she was damned hot -- but he’d been nothing but professional.  I nodded agreement to the supper.  I nodded -- and I prayed.

 

 

*

 

 

We walked to the small Italian restaurant a few doors down because they knew the staff from the Department there and because the food was always good.  As far as they were concerned, we were just plain office workers.  I nodded to a couple of familiar waiters, but the rest of the time my eyes were glued to my companion.  The way he shrugged off his jacket; the way he folded his long legs under his seat.  The polite smile he gave to the wine waiter -- the approving nod he gave as he looked round the décor.  The menu arrived under my nose and I looked right through it like I had Superman’s X-ray vision.  God knows what I ordered!  I like my food, y’know?  But I could’ve asked for Table Napkins Carbonara and I wouldn’t have cared. 

 

But we both chose a rich red wine -- and the same thick, creamy pasta.  And when it arrived, instead of eating and drinking it gratefully, we started to talk.

 

He obviously knew I was cleared to the same security level, because he mentioned his involvement in a few of the bigger, higher profile missions.  Not boasting, y’know -- I’ll give him that.  Mind you, he didn’t need to -- his reputation was already established, from what I could gather.  In fact, one of the missions he mentioned was the very job where Relena had earned her last promotion.  Despite myself, I was impressed.

 

“She thinks a lot of you, right?  Calls you in on the strategy meetings?”

 

“Hardly!  It’s only Quatre Winner who’s included there.  But I get on very well with her.  She’s fair -- she’s a great boss.”  He was watching me with honest bemusement, as if wondering how I could think him one of her bureaucrats.  It was true -- I could imagine him with his guns and his bombs, but I couldn’t imagine him in a suit and tie, office-bound.  He would manage staff well -- he would have a crystal clear view of the overall objectives -- but he was a field man, through and through.  I guessed that Heero Yuy lived his reputation.

 

I liked that thought a lot.  I didn’t have much time for bureaucracy myself, either.

 

“You like Quatre?” I asked, a little mischievously.  I did, of course -- he was a valuable colleague and he’d become a good friend.   Nothing more, though – we didn’t find that attraction in each other, not that either of us minded.  He did get included in all the high level meetings, and sometimes I thought he must know as much as Relena about the mission plans; and probably more when it came to knowing how the hell they were going to be put into practice.  But I’d never known him to pull rank on us. 

 

Heero caught my look and raised an eyebrow.  “Sure,” he said.  “He’s a good friend.”  And then he grinned, as if he’d seen right through my clumsy prying.  “Seems to me that Trowa Barton likes him, too.  Am I right?”

 

We laughed together, then.  It was relaxed.  It was good!

 

 

*

 

 

“So did Relena talk to you about the new team?  The ‘Project Team’, as she calls it?”  It was about that time that the Team was first coming together -- she’d had sanction from the Board, and there was the ripple of excited anticipation throughout the Department.

 

He nodded.  Caught my eye.  Think we both flushed – we grinned ruefully at each other, anyway.  She’d obviously asked for us both to be in it.  I felt ridiculously excited.

 

“It sounds good, Heero – something much more challenging.  And I know most of the other guys she’s chosen for the top team – they’re the best to work with.”

 

“I’m looking forward to that,” said Heero.  “Working with you.”

 

Hell, was everything he said going to sound saturated with my growing desire?  I felt a terrible ache inside; all I could taste in the salad I was eating was the sharp flavour of need.  Had it been that long since I dated?  Since I touched anyone?  Since I had some rich, wet, sticky satisfaction?

 

It wasn’t just that, of course.  It was all about him.

 

Meanwhile, he talked some more about the new materials he was testing – the chance he now had to work with some of the finest equipment in the industry.  Some high-speed, low-weight models that had been imported from Eastern Europe; some exciting new developments in chemical research.  I listened with half an ear, the other half fascinated by the timbre of his voice, the rhythm of his careful enthusiasm. 

 

He was also intrigued to know more about my role which, let’s face it, doesn’t lend itself to a normal job title.  “I work with the people,” I explained.  “Ours – and the target’s.  I find out what we have to deal with – what we need to be able to blend in with them without drawing attention.  I suggest the best ways to approach people whom we need to manipulate – what their motivations may be, what their triggers are.  I coach our people in developing alternate personalities – how to cope with undercover work.  I arrange the documents they need, the clothes, the look, the mannerisms.  Then it’s up to them to carry out the rest of whatever the mission needs.”

 

His eyes caught mine – that had been happening a lot, all through the meal.  “Like a chameleon,” he said, and it didn’t sound sarcastic, or like he’d been listening to canteen gossip about me.  “That’s quite a talent.”

 

Fuck, I hoped I didn’t blush!  “It’s just part of the process,” I shrugged.  “Not as glamorous as blowing up strongboxes, or like guys in sunglasses providing security for international celebrities, or charging into riot situations, guns blazing --”

 

When I looked back at him, his eyes had clouded over a little.  I could have kicked myself.  I’d been facetious, just like I always was, but I’d been talking about someone else’s work, not my own.  I was out of line, and I knew it.  He might be really pissed with me, might think I was laughing at his role in the Department –

 

“Sorry,” I blurted.  “That didn’t come out like I meant.”  I reached for my glass, to cover the embarrassment with a drink.  He reached for something at the same time.  Our hands nudged knuckles.

 

My body went white hot.

 

“It’s OK,” he said, and he sounded like he meant it.  He didn’t move his hand and mine was, quite frankly, frozen to the cloth.  Our fingers brushed against each other’s.

 

“Good,” I replied.  My throat was too tight to manage anything more articulate.  There seemed to be a lack of blood flowing to my heart – and a lack of breath to my constricted chest.

 

The waiter had been hovering for some time at the edge of the room.  By then, we were the last ones in the restaurant – we’d definitely taken longer over a couple of plates of salad and pasta than anyone really had the right to.   We were still smiling at each other – mine must have looked more like a grimace – when the poor guy snatched his chance and waved the menu between us.

 

“Coffee, sirs?”

 

Heero looked at me.  It was a look of such astonishing intensity that I felt almost breathless.  His eyes were so deep that I felt momentarily dizzy; I felt as if the floor shifted under me.  I tried to put my fork down carefully and succeeded in dropping it off the table altogether.  “Coffee, Duo?” he asked, softly.  How could someone put so much communication into two such banal words?

 

I gazed back.  “Not here,” I replied.  Hoped to God my voice wasn’t shaking as much as my heartbeat.   “Got some at home.  I live just round the block.”

 

“I’ll get my jacket,” he said.

 

 

*

 

 

I mean, I’ve had more than my fair share of dating – had a couple of other guys’ shares, probably.  But it had been a while since anything regular, and nothing had ever really lasted.  No one had ever kept my attention longer than a shared summer, or finding winter warmth in bed, or just a few weeks unencumbered fun.  It had been several months since I’d even felt the lack of such company.  And I’d definitely never felt so drawn to someone that I couldn’t hold my hands at my sides – that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from that person, or stop thinking about what it would be like to kiss …

 

But that’s how it was with Heero. 

 

He was beside me as we walked around the block, just kind of normal, two guys wandering along.  He had his hands in the pockets of his light-coloured pants for a while, and he’d slipped his jacket back on as the evening was cool.  His shirt was a thin fabric, and I’d seen the line of his muscles underneath it during supper.  I do remember thinking – again -- how that shade of blue really suited his colouring.  I felt shabby with my jeans and my patterned shirt – but then when I’d stumbled into my clothes that morning, I’d not envisaged the evening ending up like this.  I felt all sorts of strange new things, to tell you the truth.  Most of all, I felt every inch of him along the shared side of my body; I was conscious of every breath he expelled into the cool night air.  It had never been such a long and charged journey back to my apartment.

 

I’d been living there since I joined the Department, though Relena was looking into something more secure for the Project Team members, so I’d probably be moving again in the near future.  I’d always moved fairly regularly -- you might call me a restless soul.  So I kept a lot of my stuff in boxes and trunks – didn’t have much time for formal furniture.  Just needed a reasonable kitchen, a comfortable bedroom and a top-notch bathroom with power shower, and I was happy enough.  Didn’t watch TV, though I listened to music quite a lot; I had my system fixed up to turn a CD on the minute I opened the front door, just to greet me with something good.  And yes you may well think, why am I rambling on about my household habits?  Guess it’s because that’s how nervous I felt that night – nervous about what he’d think of my place; nervous of inviting him back there, like I couldn’t remember if I’d washed up after breakfast, or left yesterday’s jeans out on the couch…

 

Wasn’t really an issue, though.

 

I fumbled with the key of the building to get in, and when the lock first clicked open, even before we’d taken a step through the doorway -- that was the first time he touched me properly.  Suddenly there was one of his strong, steady hands on my shoulder, turning me to face him, then the other one running slowly around the line of my jaw.  I stared into his eyes – they looked darker than ever.  Maybe wary.  My own eyelids felt heavy with seductive delight; my lips parted very slowly as if to release a silent groan.  Swear to God I nuzzled up against his palm like some needy cat.

 

His voice whispered very gently into my ear; I could feel the brush of his dark hair against my cheek as he leaned into me.  “Tell me now, Duo, if you’d rather I didn’t come in.  I don’t know you well enough -- I don’t know if this is OK -- shit, I don’t know anything, really --“

 

I didn’t answer with such mundane things as words.  Couldn’t even be bothered with a nod.  Just let my chin tilt up so that our lips were millimetres away, and I could breathe in the warmth of his tentative whisper.  Then I opened my mouth and took in his darting tongue.

 

We bumped heads that night, for sure.

 

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  01.25

 

 

A cool breeze on the street and a good meal nudging my stomach; those were some of the memories of that evening, all those months ago. 

 

But the clearest memory of that precious moment was how fantastic Heero tasted!

 

I’d been in some kind of sensual heaven.

 

He kissed like a demon – but a very sweet, very sincere demon!  His tongue was hot and fast and fucking gorgeous.  He tasted of the wine, and the mints that had come with the bill.  He was pressed very fiercely against me, like he’d been holding himself back for the last hour or so but was now released from whatever inhibitions he’d had, and his hands twisted sharply into my hair at the back of my neck.  I could feel strands of my braid working loose – I could feel his fingertips pressing on the thin skin at the nape.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were open, watching my reactions, and his hands never strayed past my shoulders.  He was waiting, I think, to double check that I was OK with it all.

 

No one has ever accused me of hiding my emotions, of being difficult to read, OK?  Nor was I then.  I slid both my arms round his waist and pulled him in even closer, tight against my body.  My lips pressed back hard against his, and I gasped my willingness into his mouth.  I felt his body relax and the muscles slide against my own, all the way from torso to knee.  The door eased open behind us and we half-fell into the hallway, laughing, groaning, still nipping at each other’s lips.

 

“Which floor?” he gasped.

 

“Fifth.”  I’d never cursed the broken elevator so soundly as that night.  We stumbled up all five flights, knocking our bones on the banister, scuffing our shoes against the wall.  We were like a single, melded body with two sets of limbs, for all we clung to each other.  I nudged him round each corner, taking every chance to run my hands inside his jacket and down along his sides, his ribs tight and tantalising underneath the thin material of his shirt.  On his part, he seemed to be the only thing holding me upright as I groped for the keys to my apartment, clutching my shoulders and gasping into my neck, his fingertips tracing the pulse in my throat, caressing my skin with the damp heat of his palms.

 

We tumbled again though a doorway, panting from our exertions and from a barely contained passion.  But this time when I kicked the door closed behind us, I knew it was just us now – just the two of us, and blessed privacy, and a mounting excitement that had consumed any shred of sense left in my brain.

 

The music playing?  It was pure soul… a low, slow beat and a voice rich with sensuous humour in every syllable and tone.  I barely registered, except to feel the comfort of it around me.  Kind of my favourite music.

 

And all those worries I had about the state of my place?  Thankfully, we never went anywhere near the kitchen to check up on my housekeeping abilities – we also bypassed the lounge where, in fact, there were several piles of my laundry on the couch, some clean and some embarrassingly crumpled.  As we bounced against the walls of my narrow hallway, he shrugged off his jacket, and I dropped my keys someplace I didn’t see and, frankly, didn’t care.  I toed off my boots and socks in a trail of laughter and hot breath along the corridor.  When I mumbled something about the coffee I’d promised him, he laughed directly into my face and kissed me so soundly that my eyes closed against his forehead and I felt his taste seep into my very veins.  I felt him kicking off his own shoes and fumbling at the collar of my shirt.  I’d wanted to take some time, to savour the suspense of peeling his clothes off of him – to tease him, perhaps, with my own unwrapping.  Then his hands came up underneath the cool fabric of my shirt and ran their fingertips across my exposed nipples, and suddenly instantaneous nakedness would have been way too slow for me!

 

The bedroom wasn’t hard to find, mainly because I pushed him bodily through the door, and we fell on to the bed, still entwined as that four-limbed beast.  By now, my shirt was hanging from my body by nothing more than a single sleeve, but in return I’d managed to open his without ripping off any buttons in my impatience, and also tug down the zip of his pants.  He was palming at my groin, moulding his hand round the swollen excitement under my jeans, but I had a hand inside the cloth of his underwear and I had a hold of flesh – damp, hot, tangled in amongst curls of hair already sticky with excitement – and I was making him groan aloud in a very satisfying way.

 

He felt exquisite.  Precious.  I couldn’t understand my reverence, but there was no mistaking it.  I’d never felt like that before – nor since, for that matter.

 

I took the advantage then.  I rolled myself round and up to kneel beside him, and I tugged at the fabric of his pants, pulling them down from his hips.  His briefs were soft black jersey against his dark, flushed skin, and they peeled off just as easily under my determined touch.  I wanted him naked, and I wanted it now!

 

He lay underneath me, with none of that coyness that some guys have when you strip them without so much as a by-your-leave.  No, he lay there with his shirt wide open and his chest heaving, his long, bare legs stretched out along the length of my bed.  He looked both confident and comfortable, like a wet dream come to reality.  His eager eyes glittered like flints -- and they were locked on me.  His arms lay by his side, and I could see his fist clenching gently; then he reached up for my hand and drew it down to his mouth.  I watched, fascinated, as his tongue slipped out and licked the valleys between my fingers.

 

“Duo,” he sighed.  It was just a breath – just a murmur.  No instruction; no demand.

 

I just gazed at him, drinking in the sight of him, laid out on my bed, the sheet creased up under his hip, shadowing the clench of muscle at his slim ass.  The front of his thighs curved sweetly, the soft hairs on his skin running up into the soft, dark curls around his groin.  He sucked softly on my fingers, and he shifted a little, getting more comfortable.  What can I say?  It made his thick, swollen cock bob gently against his belly; it made the skin of his balls crinkle and the globes inside roll against the base of it.  I had always thought unadulterated joy an unattainable urban myth, but I felt it then.  I leaned down further and pressed my mouth to his, trying to regain the taste of hot need in him – and succeeding.  He was saturated with it; his kiss in return was even greedier than mine.

 

My hands slid down his body, his hips straining up into my hands as I took his cock back into my grip and I continued to stroke him.  I rolled both hands around him, up and down, spreading the warm pre-cum around his width.  He gasped and bit at my lip so that I pulled my kiss away, laughing softly.  And still I caressed him.  He cursed a few times, like he couldn’t find the right words.  Once, his hand crawled up to his own hair, gripping it like some kind of anchor to reality.  I’d never enjoyed pumping a guy so much in all my life – he was like quicksilver in my hands; I felt his desire flooding up through my fingertips and into my own body.

 

I was grinning like a fool by this time, and wriggling out of my own loosened jeans until I was naked, too.  My hands were trying to keep the contact with his arousal, his seed leaking out on to my palms, glistening and making me slippery.  I felt the shiver of disappointment in his body every time I had to loosen my grip.  His eyes were fixed on mine; they widened with every stroke.  His face was very flushed – his chest was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and he was panting.  Seems he was trying to tell me something; ask for something, maybe.  I thought I could guess what it was.  I was pretty smug by then. 

 

I licked my lips.  “Heero,” I said, trying out the sound of his voice in the acoustics of my bedroom.  Music had never sounded so good, and I grinned from pure pleasure.  “So what now?”

 

His pupils were dangerously dilated, but he smiled back, as if he was savouring the anticipation as deeply as me.  “Whatever you want, Duo…” he groaned, huskily.  “It’s your place – your room.  Your call.  I just want you.  And with that deeply sensual sound in my ears I nearly lost it.  Any bantering reply I had in my throat turned tail and ran, and I leant down over his hips instead and took him into my mouth.  I knew what I wanted – I wanted to taste him, to possess him, to draw him into me wherever and however I could.  He cried out loudly, and his hand snatched fiercely at my hair.  I didn’t care.  I licked and sucked and his cock nudged at the back of my mouth with barely controlled passion, and it was better than any damned meal I could ever have ordered.

 

 

*

 

 

I think he was close to climax when he pushed me off.  I didn’t take it as any kind of a rejection, just that he wanted it to last longer.  He still grasped at me – I could still feel the harsh panting inside his chest, and hear the soft whimpers of need in the back of his throat.  His hands stroked at my flesh, rolling my erect nipples between his fingertips.  Then he shucked off his shirt and shifted his body so that he lay beside me, but with his head now at my hips and his groin achingly close to my chin.  I had saliva glands at full productivity and a tongue caressed by trails of his pre-cum, so I was more than happy to go back down on him.  But I didn’t complain when he returned the favour.

 

His tongue was soft at the tip, with a pleasing roughness along its length – it swiped hungrily along my shaft and I gasped with delight.  It was a shock when he took almost all of me into his mouth – I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not boasting, but I’ve been told in the past that I’m not small.  But his nose nudged at my groin, and my balls swung helplessly at his bared throat.

 

I started to slide down that slippery slope of ecstasy right about then, and -- fuck -- I was loath to resist it. 

 

I tried to hold back; I tried to keep my mind on pleasing him, and I was thrilled when I felt the familiar throb of his cock against my lips and the strangled sob from his throat that meant – in my experience – that surrender was imminent.

 

“Duo –“ He pulled his own mouth back up to the tip of my cock, gasping for breath, struggling for words.  I didn’t know why he bothered – I wanted to throw myself off that damned slope and let the tidal wave of orgasm wash over me as well.  But what did I know of him and his thoughts, back then?

 

“Is it –? I’m going to…”  Yes, yes, get on with it -- I thought, impatiently.  “Duo –” he groaned.  “In your mouth --?”

 

He wanted to know if I swallowed or spat, I realised.  If I wanted him fully – if I’d be disgusted or nervous of it.  I couldn’t remember the last guy who’d bothered to ask – not that I wouldn’t have made my own preferences clear enough if things were going the wrong way.  But I was intrigued, despite myself.  Even if I hadn’t needed any more evidence that Heero Yuy was a different kind of guy – which, had I been honest, I didn’t – his attention to me, even as he shuddered with a climax approaching in the fast lane of his nervous system, was very revealing.

 

I shook my head gently and tensed my lips around his cock to emphasise my eagerness.  He groaned then – no more words available – and I was filled with the sudden burst of warm, sticky liquid from its tip.  An eager burst – then another.  Hot, thick flesh, shooting its delicious load, shuddering on my tongue.  I licked and swallowed, gratefully.  His thighs crushed up against my chin, his muscles clenched and strained, and I smelled the sweat and passion that suffused his skin.  It was all I needed to take me there, too.  I lifted my head from his groin, and bared my neck, eyes sliding half-closed – then I grabbed at whatever part of his shoulders I could reach, and pressed his head down securely on my own arousal.  Two more thrusts of my hips and I gasped aloud with my climax, assuming he’d be OK with me staying in the warmest, tightest, softest place it had been for a hell of a long time.  Seemed he was; his mouth tightened round me, like mine had round him, and I swear I felt the vibration of a laugh run the length of my shaft.  I don’t know for sure – I was rather occupied at the time with keeping my body on the planet and my voice below mega-decibels.

 

I came like the walls of Jericho must have tumbled.

 

 

*

 

 

That was never going to be enough.

 

Like I said before, don’t get me wrong – I don’t fuck on a first ‘date’ as a matter of habit.  Credit me with some discrimination, won’t you?  But as he shifted back up on the bed to come face to face with me, my whole body still shook with desire.  I was like the string of a guitar, pulled tight and then released, but still thrumming with the note.  I turned unfocussed eyes on to his dark, laughing gaze, and my mouth just opened for his tongue, all over again.

 

“I want you,” he murmured, thickly, deep into my mouth.  I think he’d said it a few times already – or maybe I heard it echoing in my head, which was far from clear.  I was hardening again at the mere sound of his voice.  From the harsh nudging against my hip, it seemed he was as eager himself.

 

We rolled almost instinctively into a position where I was to be bottom.  Guess I didn’t care – and I can do both, of course, with almost equal enthusiasm.  His hands were very sure, parting my legs, stroking at my belly.  Looking down at me with those midnight eyes, smiling that ridiculously fascinating smile

 

There were condoms and lube in my bedside drawer, though I admit I had to search under a pile of books and receipts and various coins to find them.  It had been a while since I’d found anyone that attracted me that much.  He leant against me as I fumbled around, murmuring nonsense into my shoulder, running his tongue along the line of my muscle, deep into the armpit and down along the sinews on the inside of my arm.  It all reduced me to a mess of needy, nauseous hunger.  When his cock finally nudged up between my legs, pressing tentatively at an opening that hadn’t seen much action for a while, I stretched myself up to stroke my body against his, and pulled his head back down to nip at his lips.  My thighs tightened round his hips, and my ass lifted slightly from the bed, rubbing back at him with my own eagerness.

 

He sank into me steadily – carefully -- deeply.

 

I know I groaned; daresay I cursed.  I’m not the quietest of guys in my bedtime talk.  But before he could think he’d hurt me, or that I was reluctant in any way, I slid my hands around his body, under tight, lean buttocks, and I gripped him to me.  He thrust suddenly, greedily, as if the desperation overcame him – I heard his low groan in reply to mine.  We rocked together, skin slick with sweat, muscles young and strong and clenching on to each other like we were afraid to let go.  We both scrabbled for my cock, crushed as it was between our bodies, rubbing it mercilessly against my belly.  He pushed away my flailing hand, and it didn’t take much to tip me over the edge again – a few strokes from Heero’s broad hand, and I was moaning his name along with a lot of other stuff that didn’t make any coherent sense.  Suddenly my back arched and my head swam, and then the flesh between us was damp with my sticky seed, bursting free as we thrust together.  I felt its warmth as it pooled in my navel and then trickled down on to the sheets beneath us.

 

Guess it was my night for embarrassingly quick comings.

 

I could feel Heero’s own climax approaching – could feel the swelling inside me, and the tightening of his hand on my hip.  I wanted to savour it as much as my own – I wanted to give him that same ecstasy!  I hissed encouragement and I clutched him close to me; I tried to meld my body up against his as he leant into me and heaved out every gasping breath.  I felt as if he were an extension of me; I felt like we consumed each other.  Hell, I couldn’t have described the feeling aloud, but the satisfaction and the desire coiled deep in my groin and started to flood thickly through my limbs.  It saturated me.

 

When he came, my ears rang and my head swam – again -- as if I were suffering it myself.  I could feel the sharpness of his hips slamming against my body and the cry of shocked delight, as if he hadn’t enjoyed such a thing for a long, long time.  I didn’t know if he always sounded like that, or if it were something to treasure.  I didn’t care, really – I was just too thrilled for sensible thought.

 

Didn’t I say it earlier?  I’d never felt like that before in my life.

 

 

*

 

 

We’d amused ourselves for quite some hours after that first time -- couldn’t get enough.  I can’t remember anything we might have talked about – just the thrill of anticipation along my nerves every time he laughed, or moved his limbs in that way, or kissed me again – every time our lustful desires were reawakened.  Every touch made me catch my breath; every outrageous, tingling, thrilling climax brought amazement.  In the end we were defeated by our own stamina  -- or lack of it, and we collapsed, still laughing, from pure exhaustion and aching muscles.  The bed had creaked happily under our combined weight – the mattress dipped with relief as we relaxed.

 

We untangled our limbs and wiped off some of the more obvious mess.  Then I fetched some chilled water and the pair of us drank it slowly.  We listened to the music, without really listening – you know?  The last I remembered was the soundtrack of an anime movie… a particularly angsty one.  I have wide tastes, you see, and I don’t apologise for it.  Then, when the CD faded to nothing, we sighed into the silence – companionably -- and I turned it off.  I didn’t need any other company at that moment.  He turned to kiss me and we both felt our bodies stirring with the memory of recent, renewed lust – but then he yawned, and laughed, and I laughed along with him.  Enough, already!  He wriggled down on the bed instead, his arm still over my chest, and he’d fallen asleep soon after. 

 

I stayed awake for a longer time, watching him.

 

Jeez, I thought to myself, I was like some kind of lovesick teenager!  But he looked so good I felt I could have feasted on him for a couple of days and never felt the need for anything else.  He slept totally unselfconsciously, sheets crumpled round his ankles, his limbs spread-eagled across my mattress like he slept there every night.

 

It was all so corny!  At any other time, it would’ve made my teeth clench.  The whole romance thing was anathema to me, you see.  I liked dating – I liked company.  But it was usually a much more pragmatic approach for me.  A couple of beers; a shared sense of humour; a measured glance down a body to see if the other guy felt the same physical interest – and then it was just a matter of whose apartment was nearer.  But this had been something very different, right from the start.

 

And now he was asleep in my bed, apparently staying the night.

 

I gave him every chance, didn’t I? I thought.  To leave when we were done.  I’d waited for him to smile and say ‘thanks’ – to climb back into his clothes, and ask if I had a local cab number.  I knew where every item of his clothing was, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed when he couldn’t find anything.  I would have offered him a drink – a sandwich, maybe.  Dammit, I’d have clambered back into my own wrinkled jeans and driven him home myself.  Anything to have kept that delicious, sated, sensual feeling between us.  Anything to have stood a chance of seeing him again.  And I didn’t mean at the office.

 

I hadn’t needed any of my plans, though; he’d seemed happy enough to stay with me regardless.  I held my breath for a full minute, I reckon, in case I woke him and he got up to leave after all.

 

But he didn’t.  And finally I slept myself.

 

 

*

 

 

After the passion comes the reckoning.  Whatever.  That’s always been the way for me; that’s always been my expectation.  Maybe not straight away – but the payback is always waiting in the wings.  Isn’t it?

 

I slept deeply after that first ‘date’ with Heero – after showing him everything I’d got, and a couple more things I thought I’d mislaid someplace along the rocky romantic way.  I’d slept very deeply, but also very comfortably, and right through my insistent alarm.  When I finally woke with heavy lids and limbs full of lassitude, I stared stupidly at the clock for some time, trying to reorient myself.  08:17.  I was going to be late for work.

 

That morning after – everyone has to face it, right? 

 

The bed beside me was creased, but empty.  I tried to gather my thoughts, bemused by the remnants of sleep.  Hadn’t I --?  Hadn’t we --? Fuck!

 

The rattle of cups in the kitchen startled me.  I sat upright under the crumpled sheet and held my breath until Heero appeared in the open doorway of my room, dressed in nothing but his pants and carrying two mugs of steaming coffee.  He looked in, saw that I was awake, and just paused there.  His bare feet looked a little cold on the boards of my hallway.

 

“Coffee,” he said, a little awkwardly.  “I guessed you’d want some.  I make it rather strong, but hopefully that’s OK with you.”

 

I coughed, and found a dribble of my voice still obeying me.  “It’s fine.”

 

“I called in.  To the Department,” he said.  I was still staring at him – didn’t reply.  “To tell them we were working from home today.”  His eyes widened suddenly as he realised what he’d said.  “I mean -- I was working from my home, and you were working from -- hell --“

 

I was still staring.  If my eyes had got any wider, they’d have rolled out of my head altogether.  He stood there in my doorway and he looked spectacular: rumpled hair, flushed skin, eyes darting around with uncertainty.  Nervous, perhaps.  But spectacular!

 

“Look, I’m sorry about last night,” he started.  Perhaps he saw me wince, because he hastened to clarify.  “No – hell – not that!  I mean – I fell asleep in your bed, in your apartment, without asking if you’d mind.  I was too tired – I was exhausted, actually.  It’s been a hard week at the Department.  And last night, on top of that –  Was that a blush I saw?  Fuck, it was cute on him.  “You should have woken me, Duo – bundled me out.  I had no right to assume that was OK – “

 

“But it was,” I interrupted.  I looked at the two mugs in his hands, but I wasn’t focussing on them – I couldn’t have told you what colour they were, or what stupid logo they might have been emblazoned with.  I think I had an inane grin on my face again.  “It was fine.  I wanted you there.”

 

He stood in the doorway a little too long for comfort, as if he were trying to decide if I was serious.  I could see the hot mugs were starting to burn his thumbs.  “Put them down,” I said, slowly.  I shucked off the sheet and rolled my body round until I was kneeling on the bed facing him.  Then I wriggled a couple of feet towards him.  I was still totally naked.  My skin shivered in the early morning air, but it wasn’t just from the cold snap -- and there was a deep, heavy warmth bobbing between my legs that was most distracting.  “Put them down,” I repeated.  “And lose those pants.  Get back over here.  I’m not thirsty for coffee.  I want to fuck again.”

 

His eyes flared some bright message – something vivid and sensual.  It sparked an answering shiver across my skin.  I could see his breath hitching in his bare chest, and his mouth twisted in a slow smile.  “That’s good,” he replied, placing the mugs on the floor by the bedroom door, with exaggerated care.  “Because I wasn’t sure if you would.  It was all rather fast, wasn’t it?”

 

“That suits me fine,” I purred.  I was only half joking.  I couldn’t have held myself back from him if my limbs had been strapped to the proverbial wild horses.  Yeah, it had been damned fast – I only met the guy three hours before we ended up in bed!  I had no regrets at all – but I knew I ought to appreciate any that he had.  “You sorry, Heero?  You want to draw breath – take it slower?  I understand…”

 

“No,” he said, abruptly.  “I don’t want to.  But I don’t know if I should.  Hell…I don’t do this a lot, Duo.  That’s all I can say.  It’s just – last night, being with you -- it was almost like I couldn’t help myself – “

 

“I know,” I said, grinning.  He looked even cuter, struggling with the words.  I’d crawled to the edge of the bed by now and reached over for him; I was plucking at the half-undone belt of his pants.  “It’s the same for me.  It happened – it was magnificent.  I want some more.  End of soul baring for today, OK?”

 

He gazed at me, and that beautifully understated smile crept over his face again.

 

I felt the blood rush through me like the tide coming in.  My mouth grew dry – my morning arousal wept shamelessly for his touch.  I fell back on the bed, ignoring his protests as his falling pants snagged on his hips; as he toppled over after me; as he caught himself on shaking arms, leaning over me, releasing a hand to push the bedraggled hair back off my face to gaze at me, and laugh with me, and sink down to kiss me…

 

I knew even then that he was probably the best thing I’d ever seen.  The best thing I could ever have imagined.  The man who could quite possibly give me the best time of my life.

 

It was only the first time I’d met him properly – yet it was the first time we came together.  There was no doubt it was right – there was never any doubt at all, though I knew very little of him then.

 

 

*

 

 

The best time of my life?  Oh yeah, it was!

 

After that night, we wanted to see each other again – and then again.  We wanted each other’s company like a drug – we were hungry for each other like nothing else we’d ever known.  I don’t know when – or if – the other guys learned we were seeing each other, because at first we were fairly circumspect at work.  But outside of work matters, we drew together like moths to each other’s flame.  We drank together, ate together, watched movies, played music.  All that stuff.  And we fucked as if it were permanently on sale.

 

Glorious times.

 

Most of the time.

 

We were very different, of course.  From the very beginning.  For me, that was the excitement – that was the whole stimulation.  I didn’t think it mattered that we communicated in different ways, too.  Hell, I could manage on very little, I thought.  That, and the fantastic sex.

 

It was never really easy, being together.  We had the work business, for a start.  We weren’t always on the same jobs – the hours weren’t exactly your nine-to-five routine.  And over the course of the next six months or so, the Project Team began to establish itself.  It asked even more of us, then.  Relena drew about a dozen of us together, including the guys I’ve already described, including Heero and me.  We were still under the Department, but were a separate Project Team, answerable to her.  There was no brief, no job description – just an amazingly wide collection of skills and enthusiasms and a bunch of people who itched restlessly to use them.  The idea seemed to be that we’d take on the more sensitive missions – the more complex ones.  Anything requiring our specialised skills; anything with a high profile involvement; anything other departments had turned down as too much for them to handle: confidential celebrity security issues; assassination threats; investigation of industrial sabotage; political sleaze, either the investigation of it or the proof of its absence.  You name it!

 

Seemed the variety and the risks suited us all just fine – we bounced ideas and results off each other and developed a way of working well, whatever the combination of team members.  I never felt so good as when I was in that Team – when I was with the guys, using the talents we had, working always at top speed, at top awareness.  We had a banter going between us that was exhilarating – we were young and fit and full of confidence, and working like dogs. 

 

In some ways I thought it’d be better for me and Heero, too, in that we worked together, that we shared the tension and the excitement and the long days planning and scheming and directing.  So OK, we had little leisure time, and weren’t always on the same missions, but all the same we’d find places to be together when we needed to.  We laughed at ourselves, sneaking around like school kids, but I guess our passion was heightened by the adrenalin rush and the half-secrecy with which we shrouded our early relationship.  Yeah, I got fucked in the janitor’ closet!  Jeez, I had trouble looking seriously at the cleaners for weeks after.  I’d recall the image of my foot stuck in a metal bucket, my pants round my ankles and my head twisted so awkwardly in the confined space that a mop head got tangled in with my braid.  The mop jerked alongside me as I climaxed into Heero’s mouth, in a weird pseudo-sexual dance of its own; Heero laughed so much that my cum dribbled out of his mouth and all down his shirt. 

 

There were more anecdotes than could fit in one of the more lurid men’s magazines.  Late one evening, we christened one of the minor Board tables, my face pushed flat down on the expensive wood, the skin of my belly squeaking alarmingly against the highly polished surface, and my fingers gripping the bevelled edges for dear life.  Oh, and there was one particular stall in the executive toilets on the third floor of the Department’s head office that had Heero’s fingernail tracks as a permanent feature of the Italian tiling…

 

We even did it once on the back seat of Relena’s car.  She’d been driving us to a Team briefing out of town, then she was called in to an impromptu meeting with the Board, reporting on our latest success.  Left us to amuse ourselves for a while.  We flipped the windows up and down and played with her video telephone like naughty kids, and then Heero pushed me on to my back on the broad leather seat and wriggled his hand down the front of my pants.  Two minutes later, my pants were round my ankles, my head was twisted awkwardly against the door panel, and my legs were wrapped tightly round Heero’s bare hips as he pushed into me.  Mercifully, the windows steamed up quickly, and the expensive suspension proved more than equal to the challenge.

 

He had to press his hand over my mouth when I came, to shut me up.  It was fast and funny and poignant, like the way tears squeeze out during a laughing fit.  No one had ever made me enjoy it so much.

 

Don’t think Relena ever guessed what we got up to; we were easily decent by the time she returned, though there was rather a rich aroma inside the car.  Anyhow, we never risked it twice!  Had to find alternative, less potentially dangerous places to satisfy ourselves.

 

It was brilliant.  He was brilliant.  That’s how it all seemed to me.  But those are other tales that I’m not dwelling on here.  Not today.

 

Maybe never.

 

 

*

 

 

I suppose we never gave much time to thinking it through – to where we might go with it, what we both wanted from it all.  It was too damned heady at the time – neither of us could think straight, it seemed, except through our dicks.  He seemed happy enough with it all – happy enough with me.  Or so it seemed.  I didn’t always have a lot to go on.

 

You see, he was the brightest, smartest man I’d ever met but he didn’t much do the ‘talking’ thing.  I discovered that pretty early on.  Oh, he was damned articulate, and he could talk plenty about work and weapons and the world, and I never knew him to be rude.  But he rarely wanted to talk to me about the sex and how we were together – despite my hungry need to praise it and pimp it and just generally pet it all, every damned feeling I had from the fiercest orgasm to the strange ache that I felt across every inch of my body every time he ran a hand through his hair.  But when he did talk, it silenced me; it enchanted me.  Once, he said he was stunned from the moment he saw me, that first evening – he’d never felt like that about anyone in his life.  Even before he knew me – before he’d spoken to me.  Just looked at me and wanted to know me.  In every sense of the word.

 

Yeah, he could be damned good with the words when he chose to.

 

It wasn’t long before I was spending more time at his place than my own, and we were effectively living together.  Time was snatched and precious – so no one wanted to spend it in a game of musical beds, dashing across town to meet for an hour or so when we were both free, eating in one apartment, arranging to meet later in the other, duplicating most things we owned so that we never got caught without toothbrush or spare socks. 

 

Heero had an apartment in the Westbridge block, in a residential area north of town.  It was one of the places that Relena had cleared for security purposes – it was critical that her Team worked secretly and anonymously, and yet comfortably.  Somehow she hadn’t got round to re-housing me as well; I’d been wondering whether to take her neglect personally.  However, his place was a damned sight smarter than my downtown apartment, so I enjoyed my time there.  We went our separate ways out in the field, but then we came back together – back to washing up, reading the paper at night, yawning our way round supermarkets, playing interminable games of chess, waking up with sheets tangled round us and pillows kicked off on the floor.  All that stuff about living together.

 

We just did it because it felt good.  Well, it did to me.

 

 

*

 

 

I had visions of us being as much friends as lovers – supporting each other through the missions.  Fuck knows, we needed it.

 

Heero came home sometimes dirty and tired, ears ringing from explosions that had been too fucking close – sometimes there’d been killings that they hadn’t anticipated.  He’d sit in his room, and he’d strip and clean his personal guns as if it burned his hands to hold them any longer than necessary.  He’d tell me about some of the missions – and others he wouldn’t, even if I asked. 

 

Tighter than a clam, his control over his expressed emotions.  So different from me, who ranted and raved about the way things had gone – the successes – the setbacks.  The damned stupid way the world ran.  The arguments I had with Relena – the delays in supply, the calibre of personnel, the fucking rain when I was on outdoor surveillance in the park.  I like to talk – it’s not a crime, is it?

 

But he so rarely reacted.  Sometimes it even looked like he was bored.  That’s too painful to remember, of course.

 

I felt sure that he must feel the same stuff as me.  Once, after he’d been away on a week-long, solitary mission, I heard him cry.  Quietly, in the bathroom during his shower.  With the door closed so he thought I wouldn’t see or hear.  Maybe he forgot I could attune myself to a lot more than sight and sound.

 

But when he came out, he looked fine, and he never volunteered a single fucking word about it.  I was confused; I was angry; guess I was upset, too, that he didn’t need me for that kind of support.  Then he turned those deep, hungry eyes on me and in the middle of the tumble of towels to the lounge floor, I forgot to argue the point.

 

 

*

 

 

Was it just the sex?  Is that all we had?

 

It continued to be as hot and as fulfilling as it had ever been.  We’d be apart for a while – then we’d be back in the same apartment like newly married, yet familiar partners.  At first there’d be a thick cloak of tension, clutching round us like a straitjacket, then we’d argue over something or nothing, or so it seemed to me, like we needed to let off steam before we could touch.  And then we’d clamber over each other’s bodies to get to the soft, sensitive bits, and we’d fuck like starved bunnies.

 

After all, it had been his body I wanted, right from the first time I saw him.  It was the rush of thick, ecstatic delight that suffused me every time I saw him – that was all I needed to keep me riding the crest of a wave.  I didn’t have the appetite for investigating it any further, did I?  Or so I told myself.  Dammit, I spent my whole time at work empathising with people, and analysing their motives and behaviour – I reckoned I wasn’t keen to do a whole lot of it between the sheets as well.  And that seemed to suit Heero just fine.  He suffered the same pressure, after all – we both knew how the work was, how significant it was to us, and what it represented in our lives.  Anything else was just a diversion – just entertainment.  I ought to have known that was the way he wanted to play it.

 

But I wasn’t being particularly honest.  I knew how I felt about him.  Not just his body, fit and lean and strong and flexible and imaginative as that was.  No, how I felt about all of him: how he dressed; how he laughed; how he puzzled; how he wrote; how he smiled… yeah, all of him.  But he rarely gave me any encouragement to tell him so. 

 

And I wasn’t likely to humiliate myself voluntarily, was I?

 

 

*

 

 

It was the tension, of course.  Guess neither of us had realised that the Team work would be its own kind of trial, as well as an unbelievably exciting challenge.  There were ridiculously long hours – reams of paperwork – the need to have a portion of your brain concentrated on every other Team mate at all times --  and throughout it all, a constant exposure to people whose motivation would probably remain incomprehensible for the whole of your conscious life, and whose lack of humanity was staggering.  I gabbled about it a lot, and went clubbing, and played louder music, and – well, that was how I dealt with it.

 

Heero didn’t often come out with me.  His reaction was the opposite.

 

His quietness annoyed me!  Sometimes it felt like he ignored me – and that was a cut that went too damned deep.  So I’d push him to open up.  I’d challenge him – I’d provoke him.  That’s when I realised he was damned good with the words in other capacities, too – when I pushed him to argue.  Hell, I never thought of myself as aggressive in that way – provocative, maybe.  But it seemed like that was the only time I got some positive reaction from him -- that was when I got a decent response.  So I let the temptation have its way, probably far too often.  Once he crossed that line, he entered into the whole damned thing as enthusiastically as I -- his counter-attacks were rich and fierce, and usually left us both panting with spent energy and sore throats.

 

It was stimulating, all right.  But probably not in any of the right ways.

 

It was early days with the Project Team; the demands on us – and the expectations of the Department -- were pretty high.  I wasn’t used to being so screwed up all the time, so tired, so tense. For a while, the arguments were kept to the apartment – kept to our leisure time.  They were fierce and fast, and often finished up with grabbing hands and clothes torn off.  I reckoned I had control over it all, that there was a foundation underneath us that made it nothing more than a lively sex play.

 

It was a new, unfamiliar time for everyone, right?  For us – well, we were always either dog-tired, or screwed up with anticipation.  Or fucking.

 

Perhaps the depth of what I felt was all too soon.  Perhaps it was all too much.

 

It was what I wanted, though.  He was what I wanted.  

 

It was usually really good, OK?  But I guess, looking back, I was never sure for how long.

 

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  08:30

 

 

The trailer creaked as I turned on my bed and bumped carelessly against the outside wall. 

 

I groaned.

 

The morning light sneaked in through the blinds sheltering my small bedroom and threw zigzags across my covers.  I peeled a grudging eye open to it and let consciousness creep back in.  I lay on the top of the bed, fully dressed, spending a couple of minutes trying to re-orientate myself.  I remembered dozing off on the floor of the lounge in the small hours of the morning, before finally dragging myself in here to try to get some proper sleep.  I remembered nightmares about exploding buildings and barking dogs.  And sundry bedtime memories that had blessed me with an aching, not-so-good-morning hard-on.  I considered the specific characteristics of a cold shower with vindictive thoroughness until my body calmed down again.

 

Then I remembered who else was at home.

 

I thought if I got up swiftly, I might avoid my new houseguest for a bit longer.  Like I always rose early!  I stumbled in and out of the tepid shower as best I could without making a hell of a racket, and dragged on some soft grey-fabric sweat pants and a tee shirt that had missed this week’s ironing duties.  But by the time I got to the kettle – my particular Holy Grail -- he was there before me.  I’d obviously missed him rising from the couch.  The blanket was folded neatly on the cushion; the coffeepot was warmed already.  There was the smell of toast in the small, ill-ventilated room, to say nothing of the smell of freshly-washed, clean-clothed Heero Yuy.  Despite his whole life having been demolished within the last 48 hours, he had clean jeans and tee shirt on, and was still managing to look as fresh as a chain of daisies.

 

Unhh,” I managed.  Thought I ought at least to be civil, though I felt nothing like it.  He looked way too good for the time of day – the tee shirt was attractively tight across his muscled torso, and slightly caught up at one side; there was a sliver of dark skin showing above the low waist of his jeans.  I tugged at the sweats that hung casually round my hips, feeling less than sparkling in return.  I’d lost weight since I moved in here – nothing seemed to fit quite the way it used to. 

 

He put the mug of coffee into my hand, and I blanched at the suddenly familiar gesture.

 

“I put two sugars in,” he said.  He sounded defensive – like I’d accuse him of poisoning me otherwise.  “It’s strong.”

 

“Fine,” I growled.  I knew how he made coffee, didn’t I?  I’d had a bad night; I’d had a lot to think about – I was tetchy.  I looked at this man in my kitchen, tall and dark-eyed and too fucking close for any kind of comfort, and I felt a nausea that almost scared me.  His mouth was pursed, like he gritted his teeth.  I wondered at what hour he’d got up in order to avoid me!  Any other time, I’d have laughed at the situation we found ourselves in. 

 

“I made some breakfast -- I was hungry, I’m afraid.”  His eyes didn’t exactly reflect the apology, but never mind.  “I didn’t realise that was the end of the bread, though.”

 

I shrugged.  “You slept through a couple of meals, I guess.  Pity they didn’t bring you with a packed lunchbox.  I can’t exactly pop out to the store at the moment.”  I knew I sounded abrasive, but I didn’t seem to be able to get the right tone.

 

“Look, Duo, I don’t like this any better than you do,” he said, quickly.  He frowned.  “How many times do I need to say it?  But I don’t have a choice.  Some bastard tried to kill both me and Wufei, and I’m not keen on him taking another shot.  At least, not until I get a chance to organise some kind of counter-attack.  So let’s just grin and bear it, right?  The sooner we find the troublemakers and eliminate them, the sooner I’m out of here.”

 

“Suits me,” I said.  I went to leave the kitchen, but he’d moved around slightly while he spoke, and his body was halfway across the narrow opening.  I paused before moving forward -- only for a fraction of a second -- assuming he’d shift out of the way.  He didn’t.  I twisted sharply to avoid him, but our hips almost grazed.  And as he turned his head away from me, his breath brushed across my neck, my skin still damp from the shower.

 

Fuck. 

 

I caught my shoulder on the doorframe, biting back a curse, and then I strode back into my lounge.

 

I really didn’t know how this was gonna work out, I really didn’t.  There was just too much going on – petty stuff like the lack of bread for breakfast toast, then big stuff like the attacks; the worry about the other guys; the disturbance of my sanctuary; the tension between me and Heero; the soft, earthy smell of his body up close and personal --

 

I’d missed a hell of a lot more than the Team – than good friendships.  And it all concentrated round this man.  The memory of my morning erection threatened to become a reality again, and I hoped he hadn’t seen my shiver as I passed. 

 

I’d felt it through every damned nerve I possessed.

 

 

*

 

 

“So what’s on your agenda for today?”  I sat down heavily on the couch, nursing the coffee which was – as always – just as I liked it.  That hadn’t changed.  “I’ve got a couple of satellite channels – not many books, I’m afraid.  Radio works a bit fitfully – music system is shot to pieces from the move, and I never got time to get it fixed…”

 

He frowned at that.  “Funny to think of you without your music.”

 

I shrugged. Felt warm, like I was blushing.  “Wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying here.  Might have been moving on.  You know.”

 

He stared at me like it was the last thing he’d know.  “It’s up to you, of course.”

 

You said it.  I didn’t like him staring at me like that.  The familiar couch felt awkward underneath me, and I fought an urge to wriggle with irritation.

 

He stepped across the lounge and his gaze darted over to his boxes.  “Anyway, I’m not after that sort of entertainment -- I have to get to work.  There are some papers that Relena found for me, some transcripts of the last communications that Trowa intercepted just before the attack on the apartment.  He apparently had some idea of where the threat was coming from.”

 

“But --?” I prompted.  “Quatre said he was out in the field.”

 

“Yes,” Heero replied.  He frowned, looking disturbed.  “Ever since the first attack, Trowa’s been monitoring some unusual satellite signals – some coded messages that were underlying the Department’s routine communications.  They alerted him somehow.  You know how he has a sixth sense for that.  Then a few hours before the explosion at Westbridge –“ He was swallowing a grimace -- I could see it, though to other people he’d have seemed perfectly calm. “Just before that happened, apparently he discovered something fairly urgent.  None of us were around, so he left a secure mail for Relena and went out after the source himself.”

 

“They let him go, without backup –“

 

Heero shook his head with annoyance.  “Duo, the Department has been in a state of barely controlled panic ever since the attacks started.  A lot of the standard procedures have moved down the priority list.  Relena had most of the guys out in the field, or in deep cover – even the junior ones.  Yes, Trowa shouldn’t have gone without either seeking her sanction or taking one of us with him.  But then you weren’t around –“

 

I grunted, crossly.

 

“And Wufei and I were working on the toxin report after the attempt on Relena’s life –“ Now my brow furrowed in shock, but he continued as if he hadn’t noticed.  “And although Quatre should have been around, everything spiralled out of control within the next hour or so, and he was pretty fully occupied then, as you can imagine –“

 

Pulling you out of the wreckage.  Right.  I felt mean, but I didn’t feel up to admitting it. 

 

“I have the message records and Trowa’s notes here with me.  Relena had them couriered over from the Department – I insisted I wanted to look through them as soon as possible.  Perhaps I can find some clues there, find out how they traced us, what their plans are.  Who and where the hell they are! Quatre’s also working on it, but from within the Department with the resources he has there.”

 

“Has he been targeted too?” I asked, tightly.

 

Heero grimaced slightly, but not because of me; his mind was scanning other thoughts. I knew the look.  “No, he seems to have been safe so far; no threats against him specifically, so it seems safe enough for him to remain in place.  But any of us who’ve been hit already – well, we’re either under police guard or in hiding, as you’ve gathered.  I preferred the option of remaining on the case, so they had to find me somewhere to go.”  He looked uncomfortable again -- must have been galling, the thought of staying with me!  I bristled, but he didn’t seem to see any change in my response – didn’t take the bait.  “So where’s your table, Duo?  I need to spread out the printouts.”  His eyes flickered over the small card table beside the couch.  “Don’t tell me that’s the only work surface you have available?”

 

I sighed under my breath.  Heero was a guy who rarely relaxed like the rest of us.  Well – like me.  He did everything with intensity, and at times like this, he lived for his work.  He saw it as his responsibility to equip us all for either offence or defence – to protect us all.  We relied on his analysis of the enemy’s military strengths and his plans to neutralise the threat.  Nuke ‘em before they nuke us, I used to joke.  Went down like a lead balloon, humour like that.  I’d forgotten what it was like to be around him when he was in mission mode.

 

Tiring, I thought, sceptically.  Consuming.  Selfish. 

 

Lonely…

 

 

*

 

 

He was looking back at me.  There was an odd look in his eye, and it had been there ever since I rushed out of the kitchen.  This whole thing was damned awkward for him, and I could sympathise with that – last time we’d been together, we’d thrown a lot of flak at each other, and he’d said a few things about me being off the Christmas card list forever.  Or words to that effect.  But this was even worse, of course.  Heero Yuy had been injured in the line of duty – with no fucking idea of whom to blame.  That was eating him up, I’d imagine.

 

His eyes kept flickering over my body; he looked like he’d swallowed a couple of lemons and then bitten into the peel.  It’s not that I hadn’t seen that look before, y’know?  Just not for a while.

And it still hurt.

 

“What do you do here all day, Duo?”  His voice was calm but I knew its deception.  Heero always seemed calm and controlled – until he got pushed over the line.  I’d been a past master at that, of course. Why did you run away to a pit like this? he was really saying, I’m sure.  Why are you such a loser?  Why am I trapped here with you when I’d rather be anywhere else?

 

Hell, it wasn’t like I didn’t agree with him.  I snapped back without thinking – or else I might have kept my mouth shut.  “That’s none of your business, man.  Hasn’t been for a long time.  That’s how we both wanted it – that’s how it is.  You can spread the papers out on the couch, right?  I’ll move off and we can have a look at it.”

 

“We?”

 

“Dammit, it’s not like all the Secret Spy stuff is your specialised subject, is it?  I have more experience than you in the Nancy-Drew-invisible-ink business – hell, it’ll take you a couple of hours to decode Trowa’s handwriting, let alone the message underneath.”  And you’ve been hurt, I wanted to say, and nearly bit my tongue off to stop myself.  Someone tried to blow you up.  Your brains are gonna be like scrambled eggs for a while. The mix of emotions that thought raised in me was disturbing.

 

Then it was a clumsy scrabble by the both of us to clear a space.  Heero flipped open a couple of boxes, sending dust and the waft of damp cardboard across the room, and I started sweeping the cushions back and clearing the coffee mugs back off to the kitchen.  He scowled; I scowled.  But we got on with it.  When I came back into the room, he had the files he wanted, though he was still clutching them to him like precious family heirlooms.  I swore and tried to snatch at them – did he expect me to have X-ray vision? – and he growled and started to protest his irritation.  A file got caught in the middle, and its edge tore open with a loud complaint -- a sheaf of paper tumbled out on to the floor.

 

Neither of us moved to pick it up.  We stood paralysed, facing each other, breath panting, eyes wide with shock.  We’d both reached for the slipping file together, and both missed it.  But our hands had caught at the nearest alternative – each other’s palm.

 

 

*

 

 

I couldn’t move for a few seconds.  Every sense was elsewhere.

 

His skin was cool – rough on the pads under his fingers, smooth along the life lines.  Skin against skin – it was something I’d not had for a while.  And certainly not his.  Memories slid cruelly under my defences – my eyesight blurred; my heart raced.

 

Then I thought I saw Heero suppress a shudder.  I snatched my hand out of his death grip, if only to save him his coronary and me my pride.  We both still stood there, at a loss what to do next.

 

“Been a while, eh, Heero?”  I was baiting him, I knew.  I hadn’t had any communication with him, let alone seen him, for months now.  The others had tried to keep in touch – to support me, despite my own desire for exile.  But Heero and I hadn’t spoken since the day I left.  And for a while before that.

 

Baiting him and tormenting myself.  Ridiculous.  What made me think I could joke about it?

 

He took a tight breath, and his hand fell back to his side.  He took a step back – I’d like to think it was a little uncertain.  “Don’t be so facetious, Duo.  You made your choice.  We both got the same suspension period.  You just chose…” He paused.  Bit at his lip.  Christ, he hated it when I provoked him to speak without planning it all out first!

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You chose to take your suspension away from the Team.  You hid yourself here – you abandoned it all.” His eyes caught mine, glaring suddenly.  Of course, he was totally loyal to the Department; he had no sympathy for my defection.

 

I didn’t know why I thought I saw pain in his eyes as well as fury.

 

 

*

 

 

Heero had moved back, a decent distance away from me; he was trying to relax the tension in his body.

 

I picked up some papers and laid them on the couch.  They may have been upside down -- I still wasn’t focussing too well.  I scowled.  “If that’s how you see it, that’s fine with me.  I don’t have to explain anything to you. You stayed, of course.  Hanging around the Department, working out your after-class detention.  Committed to the cause to the bitter end.” Guess you had other things to stay for, though.  ”So you’ve been back at work for a while?”

 

He didn’t answer directly.  He leant back against the wall – there weren’t a hell of a lot of other places to rest while still keeping a safe distance from my contagion.  “It’s you who talks like a kid, Duo.  I haven’t had any special treatment, if that’s what you mean.  I’m still in the last stage of my suspension, same as you.  But I’ve been in touch with Relena all along.  Like you say, I’ve been hanging around the Department, in case I was needed.  When the attacks started, she called me in.  For a while, we thought I might have a clue as to the motive behind it all, and I could add my knowledge to the investigation.”  He sighed, as if annoyed that the words were being dragged out of him.  Justification for his behaviour.  He’d rarely seen any reason for it before.  “Everyone in the Team has a role to play, Duo.  We’re all needed, especially at this time.  That’s more important than any internal disciplinary matters.”

 

“Yeah,” I said, dryly.  Maybe his dressing down hadn’t been so humiliating; maybe his session with the Board hadn’t been so heated.  Maybe, at that particular time, his mind hadn’t been quite as white with fury as mine.  “Guess when you told Relena just what a shit I’d been, the sympathy vote was with you, anyway –“

 

“I never told her anything,” he said, sharply.  I raised an eyebrow – and the bitter words fizzled out in my throat.

 

He stared at me, challenging me.  “She just saw the fight and disciplined us accordingly.  I never told her anything about the reasons it started – nothing of what was said between us.  It wasn’t relevant to the mission – it wasn’t for her to know.”

 

It was private, I thought.  Yes, I thought so myself.  Well, well, well.  Perhaps I’d misjudged him.  Mind you, the mood I was in then, I’d have misjudged the Archangel himself.  But that didn’t stop me feeling a little ashamed now.

 

“OK,” I said.  ‘Sorry’ kind of stuck in my throat.

 

“We were – dammit! -- we behaved appallingly, you must have realised that!”  Heero’s expression was grim.  “We were unprofessional.  We jeopardised the surveillance, however routine a mission.  They couldn’t let it go unmarked.  But it’s all over, now.”

 

I saw him grimace, even as that superbly pragmatic remark slipped out from his mouth, even as he realised how his words  -- all over now -- could be taken on several levels.  His eyes flashed a shade of dark that I could have drowned in.  He was angry with himself.  Angry with me, too.

 

“Sure is,” I said, smoothly.  “All over.  Wipe the slate clean of it all, right?”

 

“Don’t be such a brat, Duo,” he snapped in reply.  “Running off like a scolded child … did you expect someone to come begging you back?”

 

“Shit!”  I growled back, though I knew it was what I deserved.  “I had to get away – you’d know that, if you had any idea about me at all!”

 

“Which I thought I did!” he said.  His face was flushed now.  “I could say the same about you, too.  Imagining how I felt.  You think I’m not ashamed of the whole thing?”

 

“Ashamed?” I fired back.

 

“Of the fight!” His eyes were cold.  “We’ve hammered anything else to death, I’d say, and I don’t need any extra helpings of death wish right now.”

 

“That’s why I left!”  I groaned.  “Like I don’t need the trouble myself – the abuse – the misery –“

 

“That’s what it all was, then?”  Heero’s eyes were like flint.  “Trouble?  Misery?  You give up that easily?”

 

“Yeah!  Maybe so.”  I was warming up now.  My heart was thudding; my flesh felt hot.  My fingers itched to grab hold of something.  “Far as I can see, I’m out on my ass, and a disappointment all around, and now I can’t even hide in my seedy little sanctuary without being hounded down –“

 

“For God’s sake, Duo, I knew where you were all the time!” he snapped.  “I tracked you down pretty quickly.”  He must have seen my wide-eyed outrage.  “Duo, I didn’t mean it like that –“

 

“Like what?”  Like he was a stalker?  Like he wanted to prove something?  Like he cared?

 

“I mean that it was a security issue.  In case – anyone needed to find you.”

 

“Security issue.  Right.  So why did Quatre and Trowa bother tracing me as well?  Could’ve just come to you –“

 

“I didn’t tell anyone,” he said, too quickly.  The anger still bubbled in his expression.  “I assumed you’d run here to be alone – it was up to you what you did then.”

 

I was trying to read any underlying feelings in his tone, in his eyes, in his body language, but he was a sharp guy.  Fuck all to go on at the best of times.  Of course, it could just have been indifference.

 

The absence of care.

 

Heero was shaking his head again, forehead creasing with irritation.  “Oh, the hell with it!”  He looked disgusted that I’d wrung the emotion out of him.  Bemused.  Pained.  “What’s the point of all this digging over the past, Duo?”

 

I stared at him, my anger leeching away like water through a sieve.  He’d been near death – his ordered life had been thrown up in the air like a handful of confetti, and he was standing amongst the drifting pieces.  He didn’t need my arguments.

 

What was my point? 

 

 

*

 

 

He’d mentioned the fight – and I guess you need to know what that was all about.  Or maybe just that it happened.  Heero and I had a falling out – like a rather major one.  In the middle of a mission.  We fought, physically – and I’ll have you know I put up a creditable defence – but the Board took a dim view of it, at work and all.  Damned bureaucrats, right?  We were both hauled over the coals and suspended for three months.

 

There you are.  My fall from grace in a nutshell.  Not only that, but the end of my affair – the end of Heero and me.  With not a whimper, but a rather impressive right hook.  His.

 

So what did it matter now whether I’d been humiliated or angered or hurt?  It was past history.  Neither of us was going back there.  What did it matter whether Heero knew where I was all along?  Had I wanted him to -- or not?  What he thought and what he knew – well, that was all his problem now, wasn’t it?  And what he knew about what I knew -- shit, here I was again, going around in that spiralling way that leads to plenty of sleepless nights.  That’s what it’s like at the end of a relationship, after all – no new revelations there.  It’s the loss of everything, including the right to know anything about your ex – to share anything with them – to have anything but a supporting role in their future life.

 

Heero obviously had it sorted out well.  It was me who was behaving badly.

 

There was silence for a while.  Oh, lots of other little questions popped into mind!  His, as well as mine.  I could see the slight shock in his eyes, that I’d drawn him out so quickly; I could see his mouth form words, then clamp shut without releasing them.

 

“Why did you get drawn back into it all, Heero?”  I was curious, despite myself.  “Couldn’t they manage the investigation without your inimitable help?”  Maybe if he’d kept withdrawn like me – kept out of the line of fire while he did his time – well, maybe he’d never have been targeted in the first place.  What sort of masochist was he?  

 

He bit at his lip again.  I watched the plump flesh ease out from under his even, white teeth.  “I don’t know why you want to know, Duo.  You’ve made it clear you want to be kept out of it all.”  He took a deep breath.  “But I guess it’s now important that you do know.  The Board should have contained the situation after the first attack – it was at one of the supposedly secret locations used for the peace talks, a minor act of sabotage.  There were plenty of personnel available to cover the problem – there was plenty of opportunity to identify the culprit.  Personally, I think they underestimated the threat – they thought it was an isolated event.  The work of an amateur.  Then when the next attack came in, and the next after that, all in such quick succession, there was too little time to regroup.  So Relena herself pitched in, suggesting she revisited some past notes and mission files to see if there were any connections – any reason for a specific vendetta against the Department.  To see if there was anyone who might have threatened the Team or its members in the past   I was only called back into active duty because I could identify someone who fit that criteria –“

 

“Shit, Yuy,” I snapped.  “I’m not bothered that you were Mr. Popular while I languished out here!  Don’t bother about trying to massage my ego, because to be honest, I don’t have a hell of a lot of time for one nowadays –“

 

“Dammit, I wasn’t!” he snarled back.

 

I swallowed back a retort, and then engaged my brain instead of my tongue.  “Wait a sec.  The guy you could identify – the threat against a Team member -- you don’t mean it was that kid who stabbed you?”

 

Heero’s eyes narrowed slightly.  “Yes.”

 

I cursed myself.  That time had been one of the most distressing … for us both, despite whatever arguments we may have had subsequently.  Hi, Duo, I mocked myself.   Meet Mr. Foot-in-Mouth.  I steadied my voice.  If he could talk about it so coolly, well, so could I.  “So – does she think it’s not political at all, but a personal attack?  On the Team – all of us?  Or just you?”

 

He shrugged.  He was looking weary again.  Despite that exhaustive sleep, he still bore the scars of his ordeal.  “I don’t know – I really don’t know.  I checked out the boy and he’s still in the youth detention centre.  It couldn’t have been him.”

 

“Other family members?  Associates?  The guy who ran the club where we found him --?”

 

“I don’t fucking know!”  I flinched back a bit from his anger.  Whoa, when Heero let loose, he let loose!  He growled with frustration, trying to rein it back in.  “No, there was nothing else on that particular exercise to give us a lead.  But Relena has other cases to examine, other people we’ve brought down or exposed or just generally pissed off – and anyway, that may not be a motive at all.  Shit, I don’t know where to go from here…”

 

I looked at the papers on the floor and the couch.  “Make some sense of this discarded rain forest and we’ll see if it gets us any further.  OK?”

 

And then the cell phone rang.  The one that Relena had left behind for us.  For him. 

 

His eyes flashed to mine, and I stared back.  Then he grabbed it from a back pocket and flipped it open.  We stood there, paralysed like some kind of living tableau, as he listened to whatever greeting it was.  His eyes came back to mine, and there was a strange kind of wildness in them.

 

“It’s Wufei,” he said, rather woodenly.  He might have been reading the weather forecast on the news for all the emotion he showed in his voice.  But I read him far better than that.  “From the hospital – they’re going to operate tomorrow.”

 

It was a shock – and I found myself wanting to snap back at him again.  What was he, some kind of cold fish?  How serious was it for God’s sake?  What hospital?  What operation?  And then it occurred to me that he might have been holding back on the concern for my benefit.  Hospitals were a difficult thing with me.  Not that I’d spent much time myself in them – I’d rarely had a broken bone or serious illness in my life.  But Heero had.

 

You see, six months ago, I’d nearly got him killed. 

 

 

*

 

 

OK, so I guess I knew it wouldn’t be enough just to skate over the story of our prize fight as some kind of lovers’ quarrel!   It was actually at the end of a time of great stress – a culmination of a strange, painful, slowly tightening spiral of misunderstanding and hurt and bitter disappointment.  It had been threatening for months.

 

Things were tangling up between us personally, unpleasant and unsettling.  Things were coming to a head, all throughout the last mission, Mission Dove.  And that’s where Heero’s stabbing was also woven into the mix, the time he’d just mentioned.

 

I’m getting ahead of myself, of course. 

 

The preliminary work for the Mission Dove peace talks started a long time before the actual event; we spent months preparing the locations and protecting those chosen to take part.  That had led to the discovery that one of the more prominent politicians was spending his Saturday nights in a downtown gentlemen’s club.  Nothing new, you might say, being as cynical as myself.  I mean, that in itself that wouldn’t have merited the attention of the Project Team, except that it turned out the pimp offered access to a special suite of rooms full of kids -- children who were way too young and way too unwilling for anyone to let it pass.  The Department was called in, and because of the sensitivity of the politician concerned, so was Relena.

 

Heero and I had been together for a few months by then, more or less living together, wrapped up in each other’s bodies and very much an item.  At first, this early work only involved him and Wufei, with Quatre on support.  It didn’t take them long to round up the politician, send him discreetly home, and close down the club.  They’d already alerted the police to mop up the remains of the staff, and to take the pimp into custody.  But then I got a call from Quatre, asking me to come and join them – he was worried that the kids would need some emotional support, to help them trust the Department.  I think he was just a little overwhelmed with it all, to tell you the truth.

 

And so I need to be honest with myself, now.  You see, I seriously misread the situation.  I had some poor, misguided idea that the kids would be grateful for their release; that they’d be innocent and weak and ready to follow our lead, that they’d be glad to leave behind the life of beatings and abuse and twisted, emotional torture in their current home.  It was just a matter of reassuring them and offering lollipops, or something like that.  I’d had plenty of experience with adults – I had a talent for judging many a sticky situation.

 

But I was frighteningly unprepared for what was there.  I’d not worked with kids before – and not in the sex industry.  There were all sorts of shocks in store for me.  I had no idea there’d be boys as well as girls; no idea of the youth of some of them.  Naïve, eh?  So sue me.  As the emergency services did their work, and Heero and Wufei were off doing whatever they did, I stood like an island in the middle of a sea of scum.  The room was still scattered with the tools of their trade: the sex toys; the bondage gear; the copious supplies of needles.  All mixed in with brightly coloured blankets and stuffed toys and boxes of jumbled, tattered old children’s puzzle books.

 

My heart went out to them – without realising that they’d not know what to do with it.  I had no idea how harsh some of them were – how broken their minds were – how hostile they were towards us. I swallowed the bile in my throat and tried to acclimatise to the distorted little faces around me – but it was an alien experience.  Some lay crying for their moms; some spat in my face, shouting that they hoped I got hideous, fatal diseases from it; and some just stared.  There was a blankness there, and little sense of reality.  I wondered who would be able to peel those children’s souls back out into a worthwhile life, because I knew I sure as hell wouldn’t be the one.

 

Well, I did my best.  I saw some of the kids out to social workers and aid helpers – I directed many more to see doctors.  I felt I was on top of it, though the room was still full of unpleasant bodily odours and sobbing kids, and I guess I was still a bit shocked.  Whatever the reason, I lost my connection with the ones still left for a few critical moments. 

 

And that was long enough for one of them – one of the older boys – to decide we were another version of the common enemy.  He started crying – he pushed at my helping hands, slapping me away, swearing at me.  He yelled at Heero and Wufei, refusing to be taken out of the building, accusing us of kidnapping him, threatening him, bullying him – all sorts of stuff.  I was conscious of Heero turning from the other side of the room and hurrying over towards me.  The boy was thin and blond and scrawny – although he was obviously a teenager, he didn’t look like he could lift his own body weight, let alone take me on.  But he was very distracting, very loud, and very aggressive. He was moaning, too, about his older brother, demanding to know where he was, shouting that he should be there with them, he wouldn’t let us take the kids away, he always looked after them all –!

 

Next minute he’d pushed past me with an astonishing strength, there was a knife in his hand and he’d sliced it upwards with all his strength into Heero’s side.

 

Heero turned to me just as he fell.  There was a look of pained shock on his face, as if he’d expected me to know it was about to happen.  As if I should have anticipated the kids were under the influence of something more pernicious than distress – that they might be armed, as well.  As if I should have been watching out for him.

 

Guess I should have been, of course.

 

Then he sank to his knees, hand clutched to his side.  He coughed; blood seeped out between his fingers.  His face went deathly pale.

 

I thought I’d lost him.

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Day Two 09:00

 

 

Heero stood there in my lounge area, clutching a cell phone like an anchor to reality.  I knew he was remembering the same things I was.  I knew it. 

 

“Duo,” he said.  The emotion in his voice was something I couldn’t read any longer.  “That was a long time ago.  It’s Wufei we’re talking about.”

 

Long time ago.  Right.

 

After the stabbing, the kid had been hauled away -- Kes, he was called.  We never found out if his brother was around, or what the fuck was going on.  Judging from the amount of drugs in that place, I had to assume he’d been hallucinating at the time.  He was too young for prison, but the authorities judged him way too mentally disturbed to face reality alone.  He ended up in a secure facility somewhere, as Heero had confirmed to me earlier, still working the damage through and out of his young, scrambled brain.  Far as I knew, he’d had no family claim him, nor any visits from a brother – or anyone.

 

It had been my fault – of course it had.  It was all due to my carelessness.  I was complacent – slapdash.  I’d done no research on the job before I blundered in; just assumed it was a social issue, that the danger was nothing more than kids’ tears and bruises.  I had an affinity with other people, sure – but I’d never come across the naked aggression of a young, addled mind turned to fear and anger.  Never thought to check for weapons, or for unbalanced psychosis.

 

And that, of course, was no kind of excuse at all.

 

They rushed Heero into surgery, with me following in a state of shock, but they stopped me at the door of the operating theatre.  I wasn’t thinking too straight then.  I had to be taken forcibly from the hospital, yelling that I had to be with him, whatever the fuck Relena said!  Didn’t help my case much.  Relena did me the courtesy of holding back on actual handcuffs, but two of her sturdier guys stood either side of me and brought me back to base – with two pairs of very firm hands -- to face the immediate internal inquiry.  So I never saw Heero when he came out of the long hours in theatre; I never saw him with the tubes and the mask and the bags of blood and plasma slowly dripping into his body.  The inquiry went on for days, and my ass got well and truly kicked while they unravelled exactly what had happened.  What protocols I’d breached.  What standards I’d compromised.  What – and who -- had gone wrong.

 

They let me in to see him in the end.  He was in a private room by then, still weak, still under the hospital care.  And when I got there, ready to sit with him, to care for him, to do all those goddamned things that lovers do for each other – Wufei Chang was already there.  And had been, every night since the debacle.

 

Well, there we have it.  Wufei Chang.  I mentioned him before, didn’t I?

 

As far as work went, he’d always been the one to spend the most time with Heero, which was kind of obvious.  They both dealt with the militaristic side of things, the battle plans.  They’d both been in the services at some stage; they actually knew a couple of mutual acquaintances, even before they’d joined the Project.  It was obvious that they’d be thrown together and find that easy enough.  Hell, we all admired Wufei – he was a great guy to have on your team, and had always impressed me.  He was kind of fierce, though, and he liked to play on that, I’m sure.  He wasn’t a guy you warmed to until you knew him better.

 

I guess, over the months, Heero had got to know him a hell of a sight better than me.

 

 

*

 

 

The inquiry dragged out its conclusion a few weeks later.  I was cleared of all blame – yeah, I’d been under-prepared, and I should have allowed Quatre to brief me more thoroughly, and I should have remembered that every situation has to be treated with the utmost caution.  Blah, blah, blah.  I was scheduled for some juvenile training and some outreach work with local youth groups, and then Relena assured me the matter was concluded.  OK, so I knew where I’d gone wrong, and no one beat me up more viciously than I did myself – she was smart enough to see that in every one of my scowls.  But I hadn’t been responsible for Heero getting a blade in his gut.  Not officially, that is.

 

Sure didn’t feel that way. 

 

And that’s also when things started to change between us.  Seemed like every time I found time to be with Heero, so was Wufei.  He arranged for Heero to be taken home; he arranged the proper post-operative care.  I discovered that everyone thought this was an excellent idea.  Relena praised him; Quatre admired his efficiency; Trowa was impressed with his knowledge of medical matters.

 

Seemed churlish to complain.

 

They must all have looked at me and thought, “What the fuck?”  I’m sure they did.  I know how they all saw me – to them, I was an easy-going guy, plenty of infiltration and interpersonal skills.  But nothing more pragmatic than that.  Damn all else in the line of battle, where it counted.  And, wait a second – hadn’t it been my fuck-up that had put Heero in the hospital in the first place?

 

OK, so no one ever said it.  But no one denied it, either.  And when Heero turned those deep, dark, weary eyes on to his Chinese colleague and ‘thanked’ him for his help…

 

It all stuck in my throat like I’d swallowed a grenade.

 

I knew things were on the slope, sliding relentlessly down and away from me without knowing what the hell to do about it.  I felt like I’d lost his attention – I’d lost his care.  His respect.  He never said anything that specific, of course; he never argued with me about it.  And hey, I never caught him and Wufei doing anything other than hugging -- and let’s face it, we were all fond of that, as support and comfort and a gesture of solidarity –

 

But it seemed to me that he withdrew his respect from me and bestowed it elsewhere.  That can be a betrayal, even without fucking – can’t it?

 

 

*

 

 

I was still living with him.  When the heavy nursing stuff faded into general daily care, it was entrusted to me; obviously they thought I could cope with the occasional change of dressing and some mild physiotherapy exercises on his shoulder.  Whoop-di-doo.  But whatever -- it was a relief to push aside the spotlight that had been glaring on us.  Heero told me how pleased he was that the inquiry had concluded in my favour; he told me he wanted to put it all behind him.  He rarely spoke of it again.

 

In fact, he was as damned quiet as always.  And maybe more so.

 

We still ate and drank and slept together -- still fucked like bunnies – though pretty gingerly at first.  We were as drawn to each other as always – but wary.  He’d lost a lot of blood, and there was still an impressive scar along his torso, angrily red and shining with fresh new skin as it started to heal.  One night, lying naked and lightly sweating in his bed, I followed the impulse to kiss along it.  He winced, and it felt like he flinched away from me.  In my heart, I knew it wasn’t from any kind of pain. 

 

Despite the illusion of returning to normal life, things felt bad.  I felt as if we couldn’t be closer, physically – but we couldn’t be further apart.  He was withdrawn; he moved around the apartment as if he were the only one there.  Damned disorientating -- and I had no idea what to do about it except get angry.  I’d thought I’d be OK once the inquiry found me innocent – I thought I had my lover and my friends behind me.  But it seemed I was a little more shaken than I thought I’d been; I felt more vulnerable than I’d ever been before.  And with no support of my own, no one to tell my troubles to.

 

The guys were sympathetic, I must give ‘em their due.  But I needed Heero.  Badly.  I needed him to have forgiven me, to have understood, to help us move on, to reaffirm the fact that I was living with him and he was damned happy about it all.  OK, so it wasn’t a conversation I expected to have without some serious prompting.  And I had no taste for that.  I lay beside him at night as he slept and felt like we were in separate rooms.  His naked body was only inches away from me – and if I touched it, he’d roll over to me with an exhalation of hot breath on my skin that sent goose bumps down to my toes.  But even the sex was shadowed with a hint of desperation – as if neither of us was sure what it was all about any more.  As if this was only a lull before the storm.  As if it were only a matter of time…

 

Before it turned sour.  Yeah, I’m good with the pithy analogies.

 

 

*

 

 

That physical break, while he was in the hospital and I was facing a panel of suited and booted Departmental executives -- it sundered far more than our domestic routine.  Heero bore the scar, and I bore the guilt.  It was like he knew it, like he found it a struggle to be with me.  He swung between being frustrated by me and being angry with me.  We couldn’t get over it.  Relena refused to put us on a mission together, though Heero was recuperating anyway. 

 

And didn’t it just seem like every time I arrived home, Wufei was there already?  Calling in with plans and briefings for future missions, bringing Heero some interesting articles on modern weaponry.  Could have been swapping GI Joe outfits for all I knew.  He even answered the phone a couple of times when it rang and neither of us could reach it immediately.  What sort of familiarity was that in a guy’s own home?

 

But that was the point – it no longer felt like my home.  It felt like Heero’s – like it was, of course.  He invited whoever he liked – I was just a guest who happened to have a key.  He never told me anything else.  I was restless; I went out a lot.  Couple times Relena couldn’t get hold of me when she wanted to, and there were mutterings about me being unreliable.  Whereas Wufei Chang gave the job the kind of single-minded commitment that I just didn’t have the time for – and damn me if I didn’t hear that comparison more than once.

 

Though not from Heero.  He never harked back to the attack; he never called me unprofessional or useless or careless.  I heard it only in his silence – in his lack of defence on my behalf.  And his preference for someone else’s company over mine.

 

He just wasn’t there for me any more.  His eyes were hot over me in the day, and at night his hands were as amazing and possessive as always.  But he didn’t smile so much; he scowled at me a hell of a lot more.  My attitude was irritating to him; my lack of paperwork suddenly seemed a crime against the state.  So I went out a lot more – sometimes I didn’t come home.  Well, not to his. 

 

It sounds pathetic now, just cataloguing those months after the attack like that.  Was it fair?  Was I fair?  Like I said, it felt to me like a betrayal – that he had no more respect for me than to think I’d put him in danger; to think that I couldn’t work as well as he did, as thoroughly as he did, as successfully as he did.  Everyone had been angry with me – and suddenly he was angry too.  And it felt a fuck of a sight worse than any Departmental inquiry.

 

But however much he blamed me, or hated me, or despised me – and fuck, I didn’t know what he might have been thinking – that was no reason to turn to someone else.

 

He’d nearly been killed.  I tried to bite my tongue.  The important thing was to get him fit again, and back on active service.  Mission Dove was progressing on its way, despite the personal tribulations of the Project Team, and we all had to be ready for whatever was required. Perhaps I thought that when he was physically OK again, things would settle back down.

 

Perhaps I was a fool.

 

Basically, we were a time bomb, fuse set and ready to blow.

 

 

*

 

 

Back in my rocky, mean little trailer, I heard the snap of the cell phone closing.  I waited for a minute or so, but Heero didn’t speak again. 

 

I focussed back on him.  He looked pale -- really ill.  He stood still as a rock, his eyes staring at me but his mind elsewhere.  I wondered if he had delayed shock, and I was startled by the ripple of distress in my own body.  Then he stirred gently and seemed to become aware of me again.  “Wufei’s still critical – it’s an emergency operation. It’s his leg -- they’re not sure about his leg.  One of the main struts of the building fell on him.”

 

“Shit.”  I felt sick.  Guy didn’t deserve that.  “And a bit of a bummer, being stuck here, eh?  You can’t go visit him.  Take grapes and flowers; hold his hand.”  Hold whatever…

 

I could feel Heero scowling, though I’d dropped my eyes like I had plenty of better places to look.  “Don’t be pathetic, Duo.  I know what road you’re driving down, and I can tell you, it’s no more fun now than it was before.  I’ll say it just once more -- we’re not together. Wufei and I are not seeing each other.”

 

I suppose I could have said I was sorry they’d broken up.  But then – I wasn’t.  And Heero would’ve known the lie for what it was.  He couldn’t have spent all that time with me without learning just a couple of my little ways, could he?

 

“Um… OK.  What was the trouble then?  Too many long nights out in the field, while you sat at home collating his notes?  My partner doesn’t understand me --?

 

“Don’t you ever fucking listen, you idiot?”  He stood, abruptly, and his voice was raised now.  Guess I’d got the response I wanted.  “We’re not together – we never were --“

 

“So how come he was at the apartment with you when it was blown up?  Kind of late to be working on Department business, eh?  Just what kind of business were the pair of you working on?”

 

“I told you!  We were investigating the attack on Relena.  The day before, someone had sent her a package impregnated with some kind of poison – a fairly unsophisticated device, but that was partly why no one thought to check it out thoroughly.  It blew up in her face, and it was only Cissy’s quick thinking that got her into the medical room in time to clean it off.”  He dismissed the shock on my face with an impatient wave of his hand.  “And everyone knew what we were working on – Relena did, Quatre did.  It was an official Departmental directive.  We had security – we were in contact with the office.  Hell, Quatre even had one of his guys with us for a couple of hours, earlier on -- that kid who dropped me off yesterday.  What category of hot date does that fit into?”

 

My anger was still simmering. “Far as I remember, you’ve never needed hearts and flowers to enjoy a good fuck –“

 

“Duo!”  He was yelling now.  Only a foot away from me, fists clenched at his side.  Just like the old days.  “You are so damned childish!”

 

Shit, and you’re so damned smug!” I yelled back, and from the shock in his eyes, I knew I’d hit home.

 

“Leave it, Duo – now!” he warned.  “You never could hold your tongue.”

 

“And maybe you couldn’t resist holding something a whole lot more intimate, right?” I breathed pure venom.  Things were escalating.  “Maybe something attached to some other guy’s groin!”

 

For just one, shocking second, I thought he might hit me.  The fists flexed – but his arms stayed by his side.

 

“So maybe I was tempted!”  His face was very flushed now.  “Maybe I found it rewarding, being with someone who wasn’t out partying all the time, someone who was there more often than not –“

 

“So maybe the welcome was a little less frosty for him!”  I was incensed now, almost beside myself.   “Maybe you opened up a hell of a lot more to him – after all, there’s so much more to share between the pair of you.  How was the pillow talk?  Full of boyish dreams of guns and bombs? Gives a whole new meaning to Wham!Bam thank you ma’am!  And so much more rewarding than my sorry little disaster stories --”

 

Heero’s voice was a hiss -- had I forgotten that he was easily a match for me when it came to a verbal fight?  “And maybe, yes, it was more rewarding than your pointless jealousy, and your ridiculous melodrama, and –“ His voice caught in his throat; it was convulsing with fury.  ”You stupid bastard!  You stupid, stupid –“

 

We were struck dumb almost at the same moment, as the same thought obviously crossed our minds.  Our stupid, selfish minds, obsessing over old ground, old wounds – self, self, self!  And I was the worst culprit of all – I and my vicious, hyperactive, destructive temper.  My fucking, fucking temper…

 

I looked at Heero, stricken.  Wufei had been my friend – friend to all of us.  Still was, dammit!  And he was lying in a hospital bed, maybe losing a limb, maybe never coming back to us as anything like his strong, single-minded, high-principled, unpretentious self.  And both he – and the man in front of me – had barely escaped with their lives.

 

“Duo –“

 

“I’m sorry,” I blurted, speaking at the same time as his strangled groan.   

 

And I was.

 

For so much, I couldn’t have listed it in a day.

 

 

*

 

 

God knows what we might have said and done then, but events overtook us anyway.  In the frozen silence following our outburst, Heero tilted his head away from me, and his eyes hardened.

 

“Did you hear that?” he murmured.

 

I bit back the ‘Hear what?’ response that I’d normally have quipped, because a comment like that from him merited my full attention.  He had the same background and training as I did, after all.  I listened, carefully.  Nothing specific, but what I did notice was the absence of noise – the trailer park seemed unusually quiet for an emerging morning, even if most of the inhabitants were normally out and about by now, on whatever nefarious occupation they chose. 

 

And now I came to think about it, I’d not heard the dogs barking since I woke.

 

I caught Heero’s calculating eyes and I nodded.  Our arguments were forgotten, kicked to the side like a used candy wrapper.  He started to move slowly around the room, working towards the outside door of the trailer, dodging round the window as he passed.  “Duo,” he whispered. “Where’s your weapon?”

 

“I’m on suspension –“ I started to shrug.

 

“Fuck that,” he hissed.  “You had a private licence anyway.”

 

I smiled, a little grimly.  Guess he knew me better than to think I’d live out here without adequate protection.  My hand dropped to a pile of magazines beside the couch and peeled out a rather useful little handgun from underneath ‘Heavy Metal Monthly -- February’.  He grimaced at my less-than-sophisticated security precautions, but I saw an equivalent weapon in his own palm.  I didn’t know which Department file that had been hidden in.

 

He stood to the hinged side of the door and put his hand flat on the thin metal sheeting.

 

“Um…” I thought I ought to try one last whispered attempt to save him from himself. “We should call the Department, Heero.  Quatre said no external interaction, remember.”

 

And then the smallest, weariest smile teased at the corner of his mouth.  My heart lurched at the memory of it, in different circumstances.  “I’m with you, Duo Maxwell.  Since when were you external interaction?”

 

So what was I to make of that?

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  09:35

 

 

I stood there, bracing myself on the other side of the door.  The stale smells of cheap fried breakfast crept across the trailer park and in through the gaps under the sill, teasing at my nostrils; the roar of the traffic on the highway five miles or so away growled in my ears.  Nothing else sounded amiss.  And yet every hair on the back of my neck stood to attention; my mind had already snapped more alert than it had been for months.  I had a sudden, very vivid memory of how we’d often been, Heero and I, facing things together, high on adrenalin and arrogance and the pure enjoyment of each other’s company.  How it once had been --

 

Not as the reluctant companions of today.

 

Heero hissed rather loudly, trying to get my attention – he scowled at me from his stance on the other side of the doorway.  Ever the stern taskmaster, ever the perfectionist.  “You with us on this planet, Maxwell?”

 

“You care if I am or not?” I hissed back.  Kind of difficult to get the full force of contempt behind a whisper, but I guess we both managed it.

 

“No dogs…” His eyebrow raised in question.

 

I nodded.  Smart guy had registered the change outside as well as I.  “I know ‘em,” I murmured back.  “They bark throughout the day and night, on and off.  They’re our early warning system, our protection.”

 

He raised an eyebrow again, maybe at my familiarity with life here.  Maybe at other stuff.  “Any other doors?”

 

I shook my head.

 

“OK.  I’ll take the high shot, you cover the low.  On five, on my count.  You good for that?”

 

I winced.  “You think now’s the time to doubt it?”

 

He grimaced.  It looked like he bit back another hiss.  “OK, right.  Guess I should know you better than that.”

 

I looked straight at him then, and God knows what emotion showed in my eyes.  Guess you should, I thought.  But you don’t, anymore.  You don’t know me at all, Yuy.

 

I startled even myself with the depth of bitterness in my heart.  I wondered just how long I’d been carrying it so deep – and for how much longer it might stay embedded there.

 

 

*

 

 

The slamming of my trailer door as Heero flung it open wrenched me back from my thoughts.  It was a shock, but I was quick enough on his heels.  I dropped to a crouch, gun held with both hands, forced out in a full stretch.  My eyes peered into the sharp morning light, a little hazy over the rooftops of the other trailers.  I took most of it in within seconds.  Zac’s trailer, which he shared with a wide range of pets, always adding to them every time he went into town.  I’d seen everything from raucous, green-plumed parakeets to somnolent snakes that I suspected had never had an official visa out of their own country.  The smaller, neater trailer owned by his neighbour, Ruthie, a grandmother of twelve, with kids who were equally divided between loving and loathing the menagerie next door.  A car’s hood was still braced open at the trailer beyond that, where I knew Phil ran his ‘rare parts’ business.  There was an empty dog bowl, rolling gently on its rim outside Junk’s pimped-up place.  The space underneath that trailer was dark and hidden; there were the old tracks of dusty footprints all over the place.

 

Business as usual – but no caretakers.  It was as if everyone had been chased away.  By what?

 

Heero was also evaluating the scene, measuring up the risk.  “Nothing,” he murmured.  “It’s gone, whatever – or whoever it was.”  He shook his head slightly, as if he were responding to voices in his head.  I once accused him of using witchcraft to tune in to potential danger, as he had such an uncanny ability to judge the peril of a situation.  He never denied it – the witchcraft thing, that is.  Maybe he never appreciated the humour.

 

My eyes still smarted as I stared around the park.  Felt a bit damn stupid with the gun out in the open, so I let it slip gently down to my side.  But I didn’t put it away.  “Maybe it’s nothing, like you say.  I’ll go check.”

 

I started down the shaky trailer steps.  He looked at me, as if startled.  “We’ll go together –“

 

“No we won’t!” I snapped.  “You’re not even here, Yuy, remember?  You’re invisible – you’re in hiding.”

 

He snorted.  “What the fuck does that matter –“

 

“No,” I said again, firmly.  Something in my tone made him stop his descent down the steps after me.  “This is my place.  I’ll do it.”

 

He stared for a while longer, and then he nodded acceptance.  He turned to go back into the trailer -- a little angry maybe – and his foot slipped slightly on a cracked rim at the top.  Whatever the reason, he fell awkwardly to one side, just for a second, and he leant back against me.  Hell, it was far from deliberate!  But his body bumped mine, and his hand reached out instinctively to right himself against my shoulder, and he held me.

 

First time for three months.

 

I heard my gasp as if it came from someone else.  A ‘someone else’ who lifted his hand and pressed it quickly over his, holding it tight as if to stop it being snatched away.  A someone else who felt his eyelids droop with desire and his fingers tingle with the need to slide their way down the smooth skin of his upper arm and slide a possessive hold around the taut, muscular waist…

 

It was so much more shocking than the earlier touch of hands -- the desperate reaction of my body was astonishing.  It must be like reliving your hidden traumas under therapy -- not that I’ve ever had the time or inclination to try that out for myself.  Doorways opening; memories flooding back; the sensory overload of things that had once been familiar and fascinating.

 

Except that these memories hit low and hard and cruel, and the flame of remembrance seared through every nerve end that connected with him.

 

Memories – they suck, don’t they?  And they don’t let you go easy.

 

 

*

 

 

We’d held it all together right until the end of Mission Dove. 

 

Damned thing had taken nearly three months, while Heero was working his way gradually out of his convalescence.  Relena let him back on duty after most of the main peace talks were being drawn to a close, and many of the delegates had already returned to their political day jobs.  He complained that he didn’t have a lot to do, but he knew he wasn’t as fit as before, though he’d healed a damned sight faster than anyone I’d ever known. 

 

I caught him doing push-ups late on a Sunday night.  I’d been out for the weekend and come back to his apartment to freshen up for my own shift at work.  He must have heard me come in, but he didn’t acknowledge me.  I stood in the shadows of the bedroom doorway and watched him work, stretched out on the wooden floor.  The muscles tensed across his bare torso, again and again, as he lifted his body.  He was dressed only in his shorts; the light of the bedside lamp glinting in the smallest trail of sweat down between his shoulder blades.  He gave the slightest grunt as he moved, maybe with the effort, maybe counting the presses. 

 

I found I was holding my breath.  I hadn’t called him for the last three days.  Hadn’t been in touch in any way.  As he straightened his body and climbed back to his feet, I looked at the graceful way he moved, and I ached all over for him.

 

Not just for the easy, vibrant sexuality of him.  Not just for the lust that had always been our constant friend.  The maelstrom of emotions was deep and uncomfortable and confusing to me.  I couldn’t remember what I’d been doing all weekend, and wondered what the hell I was trying to prove to myself.

 

He stood in front of me, regaining his breath.  He pushed sweaty locks of hair off his forehead, rather impatiently, and his dark eyes challenged me.  “Are you staying?”

 

Hell of a question.  Maybe he wanted to know if I’d make a late supper, or if I wanted the bathroom before him.  Something mildly domestic like that.  Or maybe it was something far more significant.  Scared of the latter option, I took the first.  “Sure,” I said.  I couldn’t stop my eyes from raking his body; my nostrils flared gently from the smell of his sweat.  “Need an early night; it’s a 5am start tomorrow.  A surveillance job on the warehouse near the conference centre where they’re clearing out the final equipment…”

 

“Me too,” he interrupted.  “We’re covering it together, Relena says.”

 

I was startled, I admit it.  We’d not worked directly together since the attack.  I saw a shiver in his storm-blue irises that must have been similar to my own expression.  “Good,” I said.  I took a step towards him.  I think I moistened my lips.

 

“Early night, you said.”  His voice was very brusque.  “Must have been a hard weekend for you.”  His gaze never wavered, though I could see the shadow of arousal under his loose shorts.  “I’ve set the alarm for 4 am.”  Then he walked past me as calmly as if I were nothing but part of the furniture.  When my hand reached to touch at him, he bent away from me – so slightly that I might have imagined it.  But I didn’t.  He had never refused me before, never turned so deliberately away from what we both wanted.  Never denied it.

 

When he came out of the shower half an hour later, walking into his bedroom and turning out the light, I was still standing in the hallway, shocked.  He never said another word to me.

 

 

*

 

 

Fuck it.  Whatever.  Memories – glances backwards, whatever -- almost always suck.

 

The surveillance job was a minor task, but we were both there on time the next morning.  It had been a long night and I’d been damned uncomfortable on the couch.  We growled at each other over coffee – we sat as far apart in the hired transport as possible.  We were on our own in that the other guys were on duty elsewhere on the site, but then neither of us needed our hands held.

 

We’d always worked well together in the past.  Hell, we’d enjoyed it.  A job like this might have been a bit of fun, too.  No real danger, therefore no prospect of distraction for a few hours.  I often wondered later on whether things would’ve been different if we’d chosen to spend some of the time fucking instead of fighting.  In the early days of our relationship, we wouldn’t even have needed to think about making a choice.

 

I think we initially tried to be civil.  But the long hours of boredom took their toll.  The agents we took over from were yawning after their night shift, and after a while on our own we weren’t much better.  The whole exercise was a final check by the Department, just in case some of the external contractors turned out to be less discreet than we hoped about the location of the talks, now that the work was over.  We had bugs in all the relevant places, including their own warehouses and offices, picking up their conversations.  That morning, though, it seemed that most of the heavy work had already been done, and any activity at the warehouse was nothing more than the shouts and laughs of workmen.  Occasionally we heard the creaking of old office furniture being dismantled.  We sat in a seedy upstairs room in an abandoned unit across the industrial estate with nothing to entertain us but a portable radio link between the bugs and the Department, and we nursed our resentment.  Well, that’s what I did.

 

The tension wasn’t gonna die down any time soon.  It had been a miserable night, and now we sat for hours in the early morning, waiting for something or nothing to happen.  The place was cold and damp, and the filth around us implied that it had been empty for months.  We were both tired, and I soon got cramp in my left calf.  The coffee was drunk far too soon -- Heero took the last cup – and there was no food left for a guy like me who’d skipped breakfast.  Seemed the final straw was when my numbed fingers dropped the radio for the third time; after that, the reception was so bad it sounded like Trowa was talking through cornflakes.

 

Up until then, Heero’s only conversation had been to do with the damp and the dust around us, but now he suddenly seemed to snap. 

 

“If you kept your mind on the job in hand –“ he started to complain.

 

“Not professional enough for you?” I fired back.  “See me as some kind of an amateur compared to you?”

 

He’d stared at me, dark eyes angry.  “What the hell do you care what I see?”

 

In all honesty, I think the aggression between us was mainly to do with the miserable situation we were in, but to me, at that precise moment, he was dredging up the horror of the attack all over again – and my less than glorious part in it all.

 

“That’s crap,” I bit back. “I’m not getting drawn into this, just so’s you can go another round against me, you and the Department and their fucking dog!“

 

“Feeling a touch of paranoia, Duo?  That’s nonsense, and you know it.”

 

“Nonsense?”  I bristled.  “Sums me up, eh? Careless, flippant, practically worthless –“

 

He was shaking his head, just as angry.  “I just think you let yourself down sometimes, but you won’t listen to what I think.  It’s easier for you to go for the cheap shot – you’re always speaking for me, as if you reckon you know what I really think --“

 

“Gotta do that,” I ground out.  We were both half out of our uncomfortable seats by now, the surveillance and the radio all but forgotten.  “Because you eke out so fucking little for me to go on!”

 

“I’m not like you, Duo, I don’t feel the need to validate everything with endless words.  And anyway, why the hell should I need to?  I tell you what needs to be told –“

 

“So now you’re speaking for me, eh?”  I was perilously close to a yell by this time.  “Keep Maxwell on a need to know basis, right?  He’s only another colleague, and one you think is less than fully reliable –“

 

He hissed back at me.  “You’re not around long enough nowadays for me to know one way or the other!  Look at how you just slid back in last night, not a word for days, no sign of you at all.  If you don’t see any need to keep me in the loop, that’s fine.  Life seems to be one long party to you.”

 

“Now who’s the paranoid one?” I protested. “I’m not around because I don’t enjoy seeing the look on your face when I am.”

 

“You’re not around long enough to see anything!”  He was really incensed, but I couldn’t see past my own fury and distress.  “Don’t accuse me of the very thing you’re doing yourself!  You pride yourself on your honesty and openness – but it’s pretty damned convenient that it seems to exclude your own behaviour!”

 

We glared at each other for a split second, as if we’d suddenly reached the exact same level of anger and hurt and confusion.  And then – even as I watched it happen, with horror and some amazement that I could lose control quite so spectacularly – I laid right into him.

 

I wasn’t thinking straight by then; I had a huge pile of umbrage smouldering in my heaving breast and it was itching to get out and be heard.  I’d never thought I was so wild – I’d always thought I could rein myself in, if need be.  Perhaps I didn’t see the necessity anymore; perhaps I’d just had enough.  Perhaps I was – just for that brief moment – completely insane.  I told him it was wearing me down, his lack of empathy and tolerance, and his inability to communicate in ways that were familiar to the rest of the human race -- hell, I think I suggested he’d been some kind of alien changeling since birth.  It was a pity he’d had to lose a chunk of skin before he realised it, but it was obvious that I was nothing but a raw edge in his smooth life, and if he couldn’t get over that and accept me as I was, there was fuck all point in going on together.  I said that, basically, if I didn’t see him again this side of the next millennium, it’d be too soon for me.

 

He was feeling very much the same way, he growled.

 

So OK, I said, but if he wanted other company, at least be honest about it, if honesty was so fucking important to him. 

 

He’d stared at me then, eyes wide and accusing, and – though I didn’t want to see it right then – hurt.

 

And then I really lost it and accused him of fucking Wufei on the side.

 

 

*

 

 

The argument had begun with words; it escalated swiftly to fists.  Shit, the guy could land a punch!  The crack to my jaw sent me sprawling, the first time.  Every tooth rattled in my head -- my eyes couldn’t focus.  But I was so fucking angry that he’d hit me that I got straight back up and pitched in my defending blow.  I caught him kind of unawares, too, and I was ridiculously pleased to see his head snap back from my own fist connecting! 

 

We stalked round each other, eyes blazing, breath rasping in our chests as we struggled to balance angry words with even angrier, uncontrollable actions.  And I kept bouncing back, kept ploughing in with my own efforts, despite the increasingly fierce knocks and the pain of the cracked bone in my jaw.  I was not going to go down again, of that I was sure -- and I think I was yelling it too, most of the time. 

 

Like anyone was going to let the situation continue like that.

 

It all ended with Wufei hammering down the door and racing in to break us up – he’d been called in from the conference centre itself, and I believe he ran all the way.  In the background, we had Trowa screaming at us to break radio contact because every word was being broadcast -- albeit through crackly cereal – both to the Department and to the warehouse we were meant to be watching.  But still we fought.  It took a couple of Wufei’s ninja-type minions to hold me back, while he personally pinned Heero to the opposite wall, shouting orders into his face to pull himself together.  Someone smashed the malfunctioning radio, and all the voices in the room were silenced.  Then all we could do was pant painfully and glare and spit at each other like a couple of alley cats.  

 

I don’t remember much else of that time.  There were other agents appearing in and out of the room, pale, shocked, inquisitive faces staring through the doorway, muttered sounds on another of the radios.  Eventually Relena appeared like the Wrath of God herself, bearing the divine twin gifts of her anger and disgust -- and immediate suspension from the Project Team.

 

 

*

 

 

It had felt like I left the Team as much a stranger to Heero Yuy as I’d been his companion.  Damned odd, how things go.  Close together like Siamese twins – then as distant as prince and pauper.  But I was still mad -- I was still hurting.  And after the fight, I had a whole pile of bureaucratic shit to plough through, too.

 

The last thing I wanted was to face more shit from – or because of -- him.

 

We both went through the disciplinary procedure; we were treated just the same.  Partners in crime, you might have thought.  But instead it was the final dissolution of our partnership.  We never spoke to each other during the proceedings.  We were never left alone together, saw nothing of each other at the Department except at a glaring distance.  Outside of work, we stayed each in our own apartments.  And so we never spoke again at all, even when I left the city. 

 

Facing the Board had been one of the grimmest times of my life -- dammit, my work was one of the few things in my life that I was truly proud of! -- but they made me feel like a troublesome school kid who’d disappointed his parents and put his friends in the direst danger.  Took several days, too, to grind salt into that wound.  Fuck ‘em! I’d thought.  Do I really need this?  Of course, I never answered myself.  Nor did I wonder if Heero had been subjected to the same trial.  Nor care.  When the internal investigation was over, all I did was hammer back to the apartment and pick up the minimum that I needed to exist.  I would run for cover -- it’s what I’d done in the past, though not since I’d joined the Department.  Sure, Heero had a key to my place, but I didn’t care about that -- he was welcome to it.  I had other places I could go; I always did.  Places that no one else knew.  Not even Heero.

 

It was my second investigation in six months, of course.  Odds were looking bad for me all around.  I reckoned it was the best thing I could do, to make an escape while I still could.

 

It still took me a long, lonely hour to pluck up the courage to leave.

 

I’d stood there in my cold hallway for the first half an hour, staring at a jacket he used to like, which was hanging on my wall.  But I couldn’t feel anything of him there: no ambience; no vibrations at all.  Despite a smattering of his stuff in every one of my rooms, it was as if that final fight had erased the whole of our relationship.  I was too tired and too dispirited to remember anything other than misery and anger between us.  I spent the last thirty minutes piling as many of his belongings as I could find into a couple of bags, and I left them in the hallway for collection.  Or not.  To be honest, I didn’t care what he did with it all -- or if he threw the equivalent of my belongings at his apartment right out of the window.   Perhaps he was already planning to move on -- had duplicated his toothbrush and flannel elsewhere, at some other guy’s place.  Or so I tortured myself, with a warped kind of masochism. 

 

There’d been several messages blinking on my phone, probably from the other guys.  Whether they wanted to help or to scold, I didn’t care at that time.  I decided that I’d contact them when I was good and ready -- at my choice.

 

So I escaped to my anonymous trailer and I stayed there.  Comforted only by my own self-pity and the false warmth of my arrogance.  In hiding.  Licking wounds.  Grieving.  Whatever.

 

It fucking hurt, whatever it was.

 

Thinking back on the fight, I realised that it was destined to have happened at some time or another.  It had been brewing since the attack on Heero – and maybe from before that.  It was difficult to remember when we hadn’t been at each other’s throats.  And whose fault had it all been? 

 

I hated to admit it but I had to, deep in my dreams, late at night in my solitude.  Whatever Heero might or might not have done, however much he’d betrayed me, or dismissed me, or hurt me – hey, despite all that, I’d royally fucked up. 

 

And lost the whole damned lot.

 

 

*

 

 

Everything fucked up.  Everything finished.

 

He never denied it, you know?  Never told me to go to hell, he’d never fucked Chang, I was talking out of my ass.  He never said anything like that.  But he could have done, couldn’t he?  It’s what I would have said.  So what was a guy to think?

 

Fuck it.

 

 

*

 

 

Something was calling my thoughts back to the present…something insistent.

 

Heero’s fist on my jaw.  Heero’s angry voice in my head.

 

Heero Yuy in my bed.  Curled against my body.  The rhythm of his breathing in my head.  Heero inside me.

 

Heero, on the steps of my trailer, murmuring something under his breath, something that sounded angry.  His body next to mine again, my hand on his arm, my head leant slowly in towards him…

 

I felt the sweat spring up on my forehead, and I wrenched myself away from him.  He started – his body swayed slightly as he regained his step.  I thanked God my senses had returned quickly to the present time before he’d seen the look in my eyes, or guessed the thoughts in my head.

 

“Get back inside!” I hissed, my anger far too fierce for the situation, but I wasn’t going to be justifying that to him.  “Get back!” 

 

He paused in the doorway, his head tilted just slightly to the side, his eyes temporarily distracted from glaring at me.  He looked a little flushed.  “There was a movement, Duo.  Behind the black trailer –“

 

“I know,” I said, curtly.  It was Junk’s trailer.  Big beast of a thing, with exotic graffiti scrawled across the sides, and bars across the smoked windows.  A huge thing that looked like it’d never travel, even if he’d wanted it to; a home usually filled with various relatives of all ages, from babes in arms to impossibly grizzled old ladies, and all protected by his dogs.  The fiercest, wildest dogs on the whole site.  The noisiest dogs on the site.  The ones that seemed to have gone astray this morning.  I’d seen the shiver of movement behind the trailer, too.  I’d heard the faintest echo of a human body on the morning air. 

 

“I know Junk.  This is for me to sort out.  Leave it to me, for God’s sake.”  This time, I was thinking.  This time, trust me to do it properly.

 

Heero moved back into the trailer, obviously reluctant to be left out of the action scenes, and the door closed behind him, softly.  I was reminded of the metal that was warped at the bottom of the sill and the hinges that groaned in the spring weather – but Heero managed to close it softly.

 

Right.  I sighed to myself.

 

I slowly turned back round, mentally shaking myself back to full attention.  The impact of that stupid, stupid touch had been so vivid that I still felt the trail of memory like goose bumps on my goose bumps.

 

But now he was out of sight, if not out of mind.  Now I could concentrate on the matter in hand.

 

Couldn’t I?

 

 

*

 

 

A pigeon called mournfully from one of the trees on the outskirts of the trailer park.  A discarded page from a newspaper rustled around the wheels of one of the silent homes.

 

I stepped carefully across the trailer park floor, my boots brushing up the grit and dried oil.  There were people moving in the distance, where the perimeter of the park ran into the surrounding neighbourhood, and where more regular folks drove their cars to work and bussed their kids to school.  But everywhere around my own place was deserted.  No shouts from the kitchens, no shrieking of children’s battles.  No cigarette smoke, no revving of bikes’ engines.

 

The black trailer loomed large in front of me, and I stopped a little way away so that I could see the track around both sides.  There was no further movement, but awareness still thrummed on the fringes of my mind. My gun felt strangely sticky in my sweaty palm.  I knew that something was wrong – of course I did.  This was the first time I’d called on my training in three months.  But you didn’t forget those sorts of things.

 

I just wished I could get the memories of ‘old’ Heero out of my mind.  It was all too damned distracting.  We’d parted in the most final of ways, and there wasn’t much that could be salvaged from that.  I thought I was still angry with him – I knew it still hurt to have him around.  But he was only here for a day or so, surely.  Would soon be on his way again – would soon take his scowling face out of my home and leave me to get on with my exile in peace.

 

I wished that were true.  With all of my heart.

 

 

*

 

 

The wind round the trailer park hissed in my ears and teased the loose hairs at my neck.  I peered carefully at the dark chasm under Junk’s trailer, which was the only hiding place I could imagine, though you’d have to be pretty small, and with a damned strong stomach to crawl about under there…

 

When the noise finally came, I admit that I was unprepared for it.  I was prowling round like some kind of macho hero, but in all honesty, my mind was far away, months ago, seduced by the memory of so many things.  Aromas of cooking food in Heero’s kitchen; the rustle of clean sheets in the bathroom cupboard; the muted sound of the evening traffic outside the Westbridge block.  The soothing pictures he once had on his wall, black and white sketches of a place he used to live, long before his time with the Department.  The feel of his thick, soft hair, snagging between my fingers as I ran a hand through it to pull his head towards me…

 

I remembered so much more of that apartment than just the bricks and mortar.  The same bricks and mortar that were now a pile of scalded rubble.

 

I let my attention drift for a few vital seconds, just as a dog finally started barking somewhere beyond Junk’s trailer.  I saw the sudden burst of movement from behind it, and I turned to cover it, but maybe I was just a little too slow; maybe I was just a little blinded by the angle of the early sun reflected on the polished roofing. 

 

Whatever the reason, I never saw any gun, or any sniper.  I heard a low whistle and that strange whine you sometimes get from a gun that hasn’t been oiled for a while.  There was a breath of new wind by my left ear, and a distracting flash of brightness.

 

Then the shot hit me and I went down on my knees.

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  10:56

 

 

I remember thinking what a fucking moron I was, not to have sensed the danger.  I remember wondering whether Junk was OK, and – even more stupidly – whether the dogs were.  I remember thinking that people made a hell of a fuss about gunshots, because surely it didn’t really hurt much at all -- just a scrape across my flesh and a tearing of my shirt…

 

Then the pain flared through me like a hot brand, and I didn’t think – or remember – anything else at all.

 

Stupid, fucking stupid idiot.

 

 

*

 

 

“Duo?”  The voice was sharp, and it hurt my head to listen to it.  “Dammit, Duo, open your eyes and answer me!”

 

“Fuck off,” I said, but all that came out of my mouth was a cracked hiss.  Pissed me off – I really wanted to get that message through to the person who’d dragged me from my comfortable rest.  Because consciousness was far from comfortable!  My head hammered, and my eyes burned inside the closed lids.  It felt like someone was trickling the contents of a boiling kettle down the left side of my body, and judging from the anguished complaints of my nerve endings, this was while someone performed what felt like open-heart surgery on me -- fairly clumsily, and equipped only with fire tongs.  Oh – and without anaesthetic.

 

I knew the real meaning of ‘feeling like shit’.

 

The voice faded out of my consciousness for a while.  I thanked God for that, not that I’ve ever had all that much credit with him.  I think some tears rolled down my cheeks, what with the pain and all.  Fuck.  How embarrassing.

 

Then I seemed to be waking again.  The pain was duller, though no less piercing. There were a couple of voices in the background this time, and gradually, they came further into focus in my mind.

 

“He’s conscious, but he needs to open his eyes, we need to know how badly he’s hurt!“  Heero’s voice.  Nice and strident, of course.  God forbid he should make allowances, even as my whole body felt like it had been spiked open to the elements.

 

“Fuck off,” replied someone else, who wasn’t me.  But I admired the sentiment – and the courage.  “Who the hell are you t’ tell him what t’do?  Fuckin’ suspicious that this all happened just after you turned up.”

 

“What the hell do you mean?”

 

I peeled an eye half open, because despite my pain, this sounded damned interesting.  I could see two blurry figures above me.  Guess I must have been lying down; I seemed to be indoors, too.  Where was I?  My trailer?  Someone else’s trailer?  On the banks of the Nile?  I gave up trying to work it out.  One of the figures I already knew was Heero; turned out the other one was Junk himself.  He’d lived on this park since he was a kid – in fact, his mom still lived alongside him, plus a couple hundred other relatives of assorted shapes and sizes, like I might have mentioned before.  He was the patriarch of the site – his word was wisdom and law and punishment all rolled into one.  I liked him a hell of a lot.  Think he tolerated me in return. 

 

Not as tall as Heero, but a damned sight broader, and not one for bothering with first warnings – I knew they’d be a match for each other.

 

Junk’s voice was very aggressive.  Very.  He didn’t take well to strangers.

 

“Y’ think we didn’t see y’ movin’ into Max’s trailer yesterday, tough guy?  A bunch o’ well-armed weirdos sneakin’ in at the crack o’ dawn like there’s good reason to keep outta everyone’s way.  And now several o’ my dogs are shit-ful o’ drugs and Max is shot and all we got is a snivellin’ little turd who swears he had fuck all t’ do with it.”  Even though I couldn’t focus very well, I could hear the venom in Junk’s gravely voice, and see the threatening way he leant over towards Heero. 

 

I waited for Heero to respond.  Knew he wasn’t backward in coming forward.  “And so where were you in all this?  If those dogs are so excellent at protection, don’t you think that’s suspicious too, that they’re conveniently out of the way at the first sight of danger?   Something or someone must have led the gunman here – knew his way round well enough that Duo never saw him coming –“

 

“Hey!” I gasped.  They were talking like I wasn’t there – like I’d needed saving, like some kind of newbie who’d failed his entrance exam for the Department --

 

“Duo!”  There was a strange tone to Heero’s voice that made me think he wanted to move closer to me, but Junk’s large bulk blocked the way.  “Don’t try to get up – you’ve been shot.”

 

“I know,” I enunciated very carefully.  “I guessed.  The gunshot was a real giveaway.“

 

“Fuck you, too,” he ground out, but he didn’t seem to put much heart into it.

 

“Junk?”

 

“Here, buddy,” the other man said, and now he swam further into focus.  Broad, square face, with deeply creased skin and topped with a buzz cut of iron grey hair.  Bright, fierce eyes and some interesting scars on his neck and shoulders that I’d never really had the nerve to ask about.  “You lost a mess o’ blood, and all over my fuckin’ shirt, too.  Now this guy’s got some kinda death wish, sayin’ I had somethin’ t’ do with it.  Things’re fine here if you like crap up to y’ knees, Max.”

 

Heero moved in front of Junk, and now I could see him far more clearly.  His eyes were very dark.  Max?” said his decidedly cool voice.

 

I stared at his scowl and grimaced.  Max, yeah.  That’s what they called me here on the park.  I mean, I didn’t deliberately create some new persona for myself – but that was what Junk had called me after I told him my name, and that’s what I became.  I shifted painfully; I had a few questions I knew I needed the answers to, but I wasn’t sure what I should say in front of Junk.  Amazing how the training is instinctive, even in the face of agony, eh?  But rather surprisingly, Heero seemed to pick up on my caution.  He leant a little closer to me where I lay, and his voice was low and clear, cutting right across Junk’s complaints.  “You’re in your own trailer, Duo.  I wouldn’t leave you outside, but we didn’t move you further than the couch. The bullet passed through the flesh of your upper left arm.  There’s been some heavy bleeding, but no major arteries were cut, nor is there any serious muscle damage.  It needs a few stitches, but will heal well with rest and the proper care.  You must have twisted at the last minute to avoid the bullet, or else he was a poor shot.”

 

Junk gave a loud, dry laugh behind him.  “Dylan had his teeth in the guy’s ass.  That’s kinda distractin’ for anyone’s aim!”  I could see Heero’s face screwed up with confusion, and if I hadn’t been so wracked with pain, I’d have laughed at the sight.  Nice to see it in the context of some other poor bastard’s behaviour, apart from mine.

 

“It’s his dog, Heero.  Dylan is his dog.  The best, eh, Junk?”

 

“Yeah,” growled Junk.  Put him beside the large German Shepherd and sometimes you’d be hard pressed to see the difference.  Same sharp, black eyes; same frown of suspicion towards strangers; same grim set to the mouth.  But I’d never seen Junk’s teeth in anyone’s ass.  Yet.

 

“Is he OK?”

 

Junk nodded.  “Been drugged, I reckon, and most o’ the others are still thick with it.  Dylan’s the strongest, y’ see – it’d take a fuck of a lot t’ keep ‘im down.  He’s awake now, but when I found ‘im, he was fuckin’ angry, and rarin’ for revenge on someone.

 

“Found him?  Where’s he been?”

 

Now it was Junk’s turn to scowl.  “Taken from the park, Max – fuckindognapped.  Along with all of ‘em, all them dogs.  I’ve been lookin’ for ‘em since dawn, so it musta happened damned early. The bastards who did it would’ve needed a van or somethin’ – they’d’ve needed to know about dogs because my pack don’t go with just anyone.”

 

“Maybe with drugged food – “Heero began, then caught the full blast of Junk’s look of utter contempt.  He frowned, but he wisely shut his mouth again.

 

“They take nothin’ from anyone’s hand, ‘cept mine,” Junk said, sharply.

 

“Or one of your family,” I said, quietly, and they both turned to stare at me.  “Or from me.  They respond to those they know.  I fed them last month, remember?  When you had anappointment … in town.”

 

Junk’s mouth twisted grimly.  Only he and I knew where he’d been, and it had nothing to do with today’s little drama.  It was another bond between us.  “OK.  So mebbe they was tricked.  But they’re sharp, y’ know?  Not like humans.  Don’t usually make a mistake about trustin’ folks.”

 

“Where were they?” I asked.  I was struggling to sit upright again, and Junk grabbed hold of my good arm and helped me up.  He and Heero were kneeling down on the lounge floor by now, like guardian lions at the gates of my couch.  Fuck, but every movement hurt!  The pain zigzagged across my chest like a cheese wire through cheddar, and where my knees had taken the brunt of my fall, it felt like they’d been rubbed raw, right down to the bone..

 

“In one o’ the warehouses the other side o’ the junkyard.  I’d’ve found ‘em earlier if they hadn’t been muzzled too.  They ain’t hurt – but they’ll be cranky for a while, I can fuckin tell you, when they all come round.”  Junk looked both distressed and furious; the dogs were like his kids, even when he had about twenty of the human variety, too.  Thank God no one had killed any of the animals – I wouldn’t have wanted to be this side of the state line when Junk’s fury was unleashed.  My eyes were drawn back to Heero’s face.  I didn’t remember him ever being that pale.  Made me wonder if my eyes were still focussing properly.

 

“The dogs will be fine, you say.  But Duo needs stitches,” he said, tightly.  His words were fierce, like he still accused Junk of something. “And pain relief.”

 

Junk looked from me and then to Heero.  Then back at me.  “Reckon that’s a ‘no’ to a hospital, right?” he said.

 

“No,” we both said, in unison.

 

Junk grinned.  “I’ll call Hans.  He’ll deal with it.  He’s a fuckin’ good doctor, but just one stupid mistake and they threw ‘im on the scrapheap, no respect for all that skill -- everyone reckoned the old lady had outlived her time anyway… well, whatever, he’s out with the others, been lookin’ for the dogs.  The call’s gone out that we found ‘em.  The guys’ll be back soon.”

 

“That’s where everyone is?”  Heero sounded amazed.  “Why the park was so empty?  They’re looking for the dogs?” 

 

Junk looked at him like he’d come from some other planet and not bothered to invest in a guide book.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching it.  Guess Heero never had pets, himself; I never heard him mention any.  “Yeah.  We’re a community here, tough guy.  We would’ve called on Max, too, but I ain’t sure about you.  Whether you can be fuckin’ trusted.”

 

That looked like the final straw for Heero.  “Back off!” he snapped.  He rose to his feet.  “If you’ve got any problem with me, you can bring it outside –“

 

“Shut the fuck up, both of you,” I said, wearily.  It had been enlightening, seeing Heero play the territorial game with Junk, but it was exhausting too.  “Heero, I trust Junk as a friend, I don’t see how he could have been involved in anything that disrupted the park.  Junk, Heero’s a – a colleague of mine, so lay off.  Besides, you don’t want to know about his right hook.”  I winced, the sudden burst of emotion tugging too painfully at a weakened body.  “Can someone fill me in on the bit about the snivelling little turd?  Does that mean you caught someone out there?”

 

“The dog –“ began Heero.

 

“Yeah, Dylan got ‘im,” interrupted Junk, proudly.  “Teeth like an industrial clamp.”

 

“Once he bit that ass, he never let go?” I hazarded a guess.  Junk grinned back at me.  Heero rolled his eyes.

 

They looked at each other – then they looked over to the archway to my kitchen.  I turned my aching head and stared at a man I’d not realised was there at all.  Possibly because he was trussed to the kitchen stool and gagged like a turkey for Thanksgiving, and would’ve had extreme difficulty making any kind of original sound, let alone coherent words.  The lower half of his face was bound by a large, tightly knotted scarf.  It was one of Junk’s; he always wore an amazing array of brightly coloured neck scarves, an unexpected sunburst of personal expression in amongst the habitual denim and leather.  I stared at our captive and frightened, angry eyes met mine. 

 

It was Greg – Quatre’s young assistant.

 

 

*

 

 

Hans, the disbarred doctor had arrived, worked on me, and left.  He’d been a small, quiet man, but his stitching had been exemplary.  Guess it had to be, because Heero stood over him like he was pretending to help, though he was really waiting for the first mistake, probably for an excuse to castrate and behead him.  We could all see his suspicion; it was palpable, like a blue cloud around him, but I didn’t have the energy to tell him to back off.  I just grit my teeth and thanked some God or other that I only needed four stitches or so; any more, and I’d have been biting my lip to stop my eyes watering like before.  Hans cleaned up, pumped me full of something that had the incriminating label soaked off the bottle, and left me a handful of unmarked pills for good measure.  I started to relax a little – whatever the stuff was, it did its job swiftly and well.

 

I’d already been blessed with visits from Ruthie’s grandkids, but only until Junk lost patience and threw them out bodily.  Now some of his own family had drifted back to the park and came over to my trailer for curiosity’s sake.  I knew them all – liked ‘em all, too.  The door was half open and I could hear the sounds of usual life returning to the site.  I’d have looked out as well, but the light was blocked by Junk’s heavy frame, where he’d taken up residence in the doorway as some kind of unofficial bouncer.  I lay in just my sweatpants and socks, but a couple of the girls seemed upset at the sight of my bandaged chest and arm.  I doubted they were moved by the state of my manly torso.  Not that I wanted them to be; I’d held off their romantic advances pretty well so far. 

 

One of them knelt beside the couch, holding my hand.  Must have been for half an hour or more.  She was the oldest there – she looked up at me through younger replicas of Junk’s fierce eyes, but they were set in a damned sight prettier face.  She had soft lips and a slim neck; her hair was shining and dark red, twisted into a braid like mine down her long, slender back.  Her shirt was low cut and her skirt sometimes no wider than one of her father’s scarves.  She smiled at me a lot and raged at Junk even more, and seemed to take some personal affront to my attack.   That’s Sheri all over, I thought aimlessly.  Says what she likes, bold and brave. 

 

Sheri was Junk’s eldest girl.  She’d been his most reliable companion, always there with him, even as his lovers and other family members came and went.  Or so he used to tell me when he was drunk and maudlin and determined to tell me his life stories for the umpteenth time.  I’d seen Phil watching her with some kind of lovestruck helplessness, whenever he was around at Junk’s.  A lot of the guys were like that with Sheri – like moths to her flame.  She took lovers occasionally, though I wasn’t one to check up on her or anything, but she didn’t take anyone for a more stable relationship.  Too busy with her family, maybe -- she looked after the whole damned lot of ‘em, it seemed.  A treasure… I sighed inside. 

 

A couple of the girls had lost interest in me and turned their attentions to Heero instead – guess he looked a better specimen than I did at that moment.  I watched him try to ignore them and still be civil – but it made my head hurt again, despite the drugs.  And when one of them stepped up on her toes and kissed him goodbye on the cheek, I didn’t like the feelings it inspired in me at all.  Nausea, you know.

 

Within half an hour, everyone had moved out of the trailer, the morning’s excitement over.  There was just me and Heero left, and Junk who was still reluctant to leave.  Oh, and our captive.

 

Greg seemed to have stopped snivelling by now, or so Junk had called his frightened whimpering.  Or maybe it was the effect of Dylan’s bite marks in his butt.  Heero pulled over my card table and sat on it, facing the boy.  He rolled his gun around in his hand, making it pretty damned obvious that he slept, ate, drank and possibly starred in wet dreams with it, until Greg’s fascinated eyes had started to glaze over.  Then, having made whatever point he wanted, Heero took off the gag.

 

“It wasn’t me!” were the man’s first words.  Sounded like one of the kids on the park after a baseball and cracked window incident.  He looked a bit like a kid, too, his blond hair sweaty and tangled, his eyes wide and scared.  He spat out some threads of cloth and the words tumbled out swiftly. “For God’s sake, Heero, it wasn’t me that shot him!”

 

Heero stared, his lips closed tight.  I’d seen this ‘silent torture’ strategy before – it was damned effective.

 

“Look!” cried Greg, wriggling in his chair.  “You’ve taken my gun already -- checked it – it’s not been fired, has it?  And did you find any other weapon on me?”  I turned my eyes to Junk and he shook his head slightly.  Obviously Greg’s Department-issued gun had been clean – and there’d been no other gun found on the scene.  “Duo!”  Greg was casting that pleading look over to me, now. 

 

“Not a whole lot of other suspects,” I said, softly.  “Not as if you were just passing.”

 

Greg grimaced.  “I know, I know!  You were never meant to know I was here!  Quatre sent me, as extra security, you know?  Jeez, I was just scoping out the place, wondering why the hell it was so quiet, when I saw something around the back of that trailer.  But when I went to look, suddenly there’s a dog leaping at me, attacking me –“

 

“Something around the back of the trailer,” I repeated.  Even without thinking, I knew that a firm approach would be the best way to unnerve a young type like Greg.  I stared back at him, my eyes kept as steady as the throbbing in my arm allowed.  Heero slid his fingers up and down the gun barrel.  Junk stared at the pair of us, obviously intrigued by the bizarre double-act.

 

Greg started to stutter.  “I tried to catch it – him – tried to see who it was.  But just as I got close, I heard the shot, and then he ran.   And then, like I told you, the fucking dog –“

 

Junk growled, rather like the dog himself, and Greg flushed bright red.

 

“What did you see, Greg?”  That was Heero – a low, sharp tone.  Like a fingernail down a pane.

 

Greg looked panicky.  “Not enough!  I think it was a guy – the figure was short and slim, but he ran like a man.  There was just the shot, then I turned to come back towards Duo’s, then there was snarling out of nowhere and –“He swallowed, hard.  His eyes went wide and flickered uncertainly towards Junk.  He looked frighteningly young.  He tugged helplessly at the ropes round his wrists, but they’d been tied by Junk, so there was no weakness there.

 

“You were sent to watch Heero?  To watch me?” I hissed, though gently.

 

Greg flushed.  For the very first time, there was a flash of slyness in his eyes.  “I know, I thought it was odd, too.  Quatre – well, he’s not always himself nowadays.”  He suddenly seemed to think he’d been indiscreet because the panic returned and he gabbled quickly, ”No, forget that, of course, I wouldn’t say anything out of turn.  But he said Relena agreed to it – I was to come and add support around the trailer park; check any strangers, you know.”  He shrugged, and there was the return of his usual clear, naïve look.  “You know what he’s like.  That’s Quatre!”

 

“Right,” I said, carefully keeping the pain and emotion out of my tone.  “So he dumps Heero on me with threats of eternal damnation if he’s not kept safe, then sends his own guys to spy on me.”

 

“Shut up,” said Heero.  “Seems like a good thing he did.  Maybe saved you from a visit to that eternal damnation.”

 

I glared at him, the throbbing in my wound all mixed up with the pounding of the blood round my head.  No, I thought.  I’m there already.  Was the minute you stumbled through with your boxes and your familiar scowl.

 

Junk stirred behind me, and I shot him a look.  He looked over at Heero, and they seemed to understand each other just fine now.

 

“You can untie him,” said Heero.  “Leave him to us.”

 

 

*

 

 

“What do you think?” I said, quietly.  I still sat awkwardly on the couch, though Junk had gone to find me some more blankets or cushions to make it easier on my back.  Greg was untied, but sat apart from us, over in the corner of the room, still perched on my stool.  I didn’t think he could hear us.  He was also a little distracted by another visitor.  Dylan had loped up my steps like he owned the place, and now sat a foot away from Greg on the stool, tongue hanging carelessly from the corner of his mouth, his eyes returning constantly to the guy whose ass he’d tasted once today already.

 

Dylan had a very healthy appetite.

 

Heero drew breath, and waited a few seconds before he answered me. “I think he’s scared, but I also think he’s telling the truth – it sounds like something Quatre would do.  Greg was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A pity he distracted us though – the real culprit might have been caught.” 

 

“Why would Quatre think we needed extra support?  And only one young guy?  Seems very odd.”

 

Heero frowned.  “Yes.  But it’s not good for us to discuss this now in front of others.”

 

I glanced back at Greg.  “He’s hiding something,” I said, softly.

 

Heero tutted, but I think it was just an expression of his own frustration.  “Do you think he recognised the attacker?  Maybe he was a deliberate distraction – maybe his orders are something more than just protection.  Or he’s been used without realising it.”

 

I didn’t have the energy to ask him what he meant by that.  That was Heero’s way, to analyse everything from a pragmatic viewpoint, to weigh up all the possibilities, not just the probabilities.

 

“It’s just Quatre being a mother hen,” I said, wearily.  “I’ll have something to say to him when I next see him.”

 

“Meanwhile, we have his protégé here, apparently the only witness to another attack on the Project Team.”

 

I was startled at his frankness.  “You think that’s what it was?  They’ve tracked us down to here?”

 

“Tracked me,” he murmured.  There was a twinge of harsh emotion in his tone.

 

I didn’t know what to say.  Things were moving rather like a movie – way too fast for real life.  “I often wondered what potential Quatre saw in Greg,” I murmured, almost as a distraction.  Quat’s too tolerant with his guys.  Kid was never the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.”

 

“Poor shot, too,” grimaced Heero, and I glanced at him in surprise.  There was a wry smile on his lips, though I couldn’t see if it reached his eyes.  “I can’t think it was him shooting at you – no one could rely on him hitting you, not judging from my experience.  He had me watching him last month on the range, begging tips on better stance, holding the barrel far too high, time and again.  I passed him back to the training board in the end.  He needed another few months to be anywhere near Departmental standard.”

 

My eyes stung at the inside of my lids.  “And that, after all, is the most important thing, isn’t it?  To achieve standards – to achieve the best for the Department.  Anything less than perfect performance is intolerable.”

 

Heero’s breath hissed a little.  “Not now, Duo.  You’re hurt, I know, but don’t you think this situation is more critical than our own issues?”

 

“We have issues then, do we?”

 

He leant his head down to me, obviously worried that Junk would hear our bickering.  “Fuck you, Duo Maxwell!  You chose to run – you chose to close that particular door, didn’t you?  So don’t tell me I don’t face the issues, OK?”  He saw me staring at him in amazement, and he scowled again.  “Shit, so that’s some kind of victory for you, isn’t it, making me argue?  But I don’t intend to let you under my skin again, I tell you; it’s been hard enough ...” His voice tailed off and he bit at his lip.  His eyes darted away from mine again.  “This is not important, Duo!  You’ve been attacked, which means someone else apart from the Team knew where you were.  We need to work out who – and why – and what we do next.  You know that’s what we must do.”

 

But I didn’t know.  My mind wasn’t as clear as it should have been.  Truth to tell, I was still annoyed with myself for letting my guard down in the first place; I’d missed the threat until the damned bullet hit me.  It was a horrible reminder of the other times in life I’d fucked up – the other time that had affected Heero himself.  I looked up at him, my mind full of a pile of my own annoyance, and our eyes clashed.  He glanced quickly up and down my bandaged body and frowned.

 

“I’m good,” I said, quickly.  I was still sharp enough to know what he was going to ask.  “Just sleepy from the drugs.  Dammit, just because I’ve bled all over the park doesn’t mean my brains bled out alongside it.  You don’t need to worry about me putting you at risk.”  Again, I thought, and then wished I hadn’t.  “I’ll be able to think about it more clearly soon, I’m sure.  When I’m up and about again –“

 

“You won’t be,” he said, sharply.  “Fuck, Duo, you’ve been shot and you’ve lost a lot of blood, and you need to rest.  Just let it drop, will you?”

 

“What” I asked, confused.

 

He shook his head impatiently.  “Do you think I don’t know what you’re harking back to?  But I don’t want to listen to it anymore, the damned post-mortem of that mission, the incident at the brothel, my injuries, your misery –“

 

“Whoa, resist the urge to twist that knife in my back, Heero, why don’t you?”  I gasped, the anger rising in me far too swiftly for my weakened body to cope with.  “Oh, please forgive me for living through this in the first place!  Bet you wished I’d taken the bullet just a little lower and a little deeper, and then there’d be one less erratum to correct in your project plan!”

 

He paled even more, and his eyes sank into deep black pits of hatred – or so it seemed to me.  “Right on, Maxwell.  Like I’ve said before, you seem to think you have the God-given right to put words in my mouth as well as spouting out plenty of your own.  Far be it from me to deny you that glory.”

 

I felt nauseous.  Everything was off kilter.  The last thing I wanted was more argument with Heero.

 

“What about the papers?”  I worried, suddenly – last time we’d been in the trailer, we had reams of paper all over the couch and floor, just about to go searching for clues like some warped kind of treasure hunt –

 

“I put them away,” said Heero, shortly.  Like it was my fault they’d been scattered in the first place.

 

“We should leave the park – get back to the Department –“

 

He shook his head vehemently.  “Not until you can move more easily.  If we believe Greg, there’s still someone out there trying to harm us.  Better we stay put until we can assess the real threat.”

 

“Call Quatre,” I urged.  “Call Relena.”

 

He stared at me.  Perhaps I had been just a little too fierce with my tone.  “There’s something still wrong, isn’t there, Duo?”  The door creaked slightly and he spun round at the waist, the gun already against his palm, but it was just Junk coming back in with pillows.  One looked suspiciously pink; I reckoned it had come from one of his daughters.  Heero let out a slight breath.  His murmur to me was for my ears only.  “Who knows where we are, Duo?  Who knew within hours of my arrival, that I was here?  Or was it chance?”

 

“What are you saying?  That there’s a spy somewhere at the Department?  Perhaps someone followed Greg -- might even have followed you all when you arrived here.”

 

He looked down at me and the dark pupils were fathomless.  “Maybe.  I don’t know.  We need to talk it through – without company.  Which is another reason for not leaving here at the moment: we’d waste time.”

 

“Maybe Junk scared ‘em off, like he scared Greg, the boy agent,” I said, the words rather more frivolous than my tone.  “For good.”  I was still struggling with the thought of someone out to get me.

 

He didn’t answer me.  “I’ll call Relena,” he said, and moved to the archway of the kitchen area, gaining a modicum of privacy from both me and Greg.  I saw Dylan’s eyes follow him – then the dog relaxed, and his gaze returned to its watch of the youngster.

 

 

*

 

 

Junk had dispensed his pile of cushions and crouched by the couch beside me.  He sprang a can of beer and a drop of the spray settled on my cheek.  I itched to taste it, and Junk grinned at the familiar flicker in my eyes.  “Later, Max.  You owe me more beers’n I can count, and definitely more’n y’ ever keep in that fridge o’ yours.  But for now, Hans says y’ gotta stay off the stuff.”

 

“Yes doctor,” I growled.  At the back of the room, Heero turned slightly towards me, the phone hidden under his hair, against his ear.  I could feel his gaze on me.

 

Maybe Junk could, too.  He coughed gently and turned his head so that his face was hidden from Heero’s sight.  He dropped his voice lower.  “So what the fuck’s this guy to you, Max?  This Heero guy?  I ain’t seein’ any family resemblance, so he’s no brother.  And judgin’ from that look on y’ face, he ain’t y’ favourite person right now.”

 

“A colleague…” I trotted out the familiar story with little sincerity.

 

Junk raised an eyebrow like he wasn’t even listening.  “You know it was fuckin’ bedlam out there when y’ got shot.  I was just arrivin’ back, there was this sudden crack o’ noise and a yell that I reckon was from you, then the blond kid was grovellin’ in the dust trying to hide under my trailer, and Dylan was racin’ across the park towards ‘im.  You were lyin’ on the ground like someone had snapped your knees underneath y’, and this Heero guy had thrown ‘imself down the steps, coverin’ y’ body with his.”

 

“Huh?”  I wondered what fairytale he was telling me, but then Junk never saw any worth in lying to his friends.

 

He nodded, watching my bemusement.  “He was coverin’ y’, Max – if there’d been any other shots, they’d have got ‘im for sure.  I don’t know who the fuck all these other guys are that y’ talkin’ about, or why someone’s tryin’ to shoot you.  But that’s one devoted kinda colleague, if y’ ask me.”

 

“Junk…”  I sighed.  Guess the drugs were making me a bit dopey.  Junk had obviously been mistaken about Heero’s behaviour, but he wouldn’t want to know the gory details about the pair of us, I was sure.  His family was wild and uninhibited in many ways, but it followed a traditional boy-girl-baby pattern.  He’d never shown any prejudice towards anyone, unless they’d directly threatened him or his family, but I was reluctant to give him the opportunity to start a new trend.

 

Then his short laugh surprised me.  “Sure,” he snapped.  “I see that look in y’ eyes, Max.  You think I’m some redneck retard who can’t see past ‘is own kind – that I don’t know there’re other folks with other ways.  Don’t patronise me, OK?  Believe me, I don’t wanna know what y’ do with y’ long, lonely nights in amongst the sheets, but I do know that no one’s ever refused my Sheri without a good reason, let alone remained ‘er friend.”  He treasured Sheri beyond prize; she chose her lovers with enthusiasm and her father’s blessing, and none had ever said ‘no’ and kept all limbs in working order – or so went the urban myth.  I was very fond of Sheri, and she was cute, sure – but not my type.  I’d dared to refuse her once – and I still seemed to be in one piece. 

 

Junk stared across at me with a rueful grin.  “You’re somethin’, Max, I’ll say that for y’.  Can’t say I agree with y’ habits, or I understand what the fuck’s going on, y’know?  But if you and ‘im have something goin’, it’s none o’ my fuckin’ business anyway.”

 

“We don’t,” I said, sharply.

 

Junk shrugged and drained the can.  “Whatever.  But I’d be pretty fucking glad to have a colleague who felt that way about me, believe y’ me.”

 

“You’re pretty fond of telling me all sorts of stuff,” I growled back.  “Doesn’t make it true.”

 

He grinned.  When he liked you, he was slow to take offence.  Fucking annoying, of course, when you were trying to give it.  “So I’m wonderin’ what you and he do down at the store,” he said.  I stared.  “The grocery store,” he repeated slowly, as if he were explaining things to his youngest boy.  “Where you told me you got y’ ass fired from.”  When he saw the penny start to drop in my expression, he laughed softly.  “Reckon I never thought y’ really did work in a store…”

 

I mustered up some spirit in my reply.  “Yes, you did, Junk.”

 

His smile was rueful.  “OK, y’re right, I did.  You’re fuckingood at that – letting people think things without ever really confirmin’ or denyin’ ‘em.  Good thing people like you, kid, or we’d be thinkin’ you were some kind o’ government agent or somethin’.”  He lifted himself back up to his feet and prepared to leave at last.  He seemed to fill the room, and the rickety floor rocked under him.  “We’re here for y’, Max, you remember that.  I’m leavin’ you here with Heero because you’re OK with that, although y’ pretty damned tense about it all.  But if he gives y’ any grief, call me.  Dylan’ll be outside day ‘n night – damned dog can’t stop sniffin’ ‘round the trailers recently.”  He darted another glare at Greg, though there was more calculation in his look this time.  “And I ain’t happy with leavin’ that kid in here with y’…”

 

“He’s OK; he’s not a problem now.  They’ll send instructions about him I expect.  But there’s still someone out there, the one who was to blame for the shooting.”

 

Junk raised an eyebrow.  Mebbe.  Reckon I’m better off relyin’ on Dylan’s instincts, m’self.”

 

I smiled.  “The dog?  I’m not sure he can track someone who’s long gone now.”

 

I didn’t understand Junk’s expression, but he stretched and yawned and the moment passed.  “So you got y’ professionals on their way?  You gonna be leavin’ with ‘em?”

 

It had been a mild enough comment but I looked up at him sharply.  “That’s not on my ‘to do’ list.  You after my trailer?  Because it’ll cost you –“

 

He laughed loudly.  “This piece o’ shit?  I wouldn’t let Dylan sleep in here, let alone any fuckin’ human.  You only got it ‘cause no one else would touch the repairs.  And I get the hint – no discussion about y’ strangely official-looking friends.”  He turned towards the door. “Y’ sure you’ll be OK with Mr. Charm?  Y’ can trust ‘im?”

 

The description of Heero made me smile, though it was a little weary.  “Whatever I think about Heero, there’s no one I’d trust more than him if I were in danger.  No one I’d rather have on my side.”

 

Junk raised an eyebrow.  “Can’t make you out, Max.  You’re full o’ mixed messages.  That’s OK by me – but seems like you’re not sure if y’ do, do you?  Have him on your side, that is.”  Before I could even think up a reply, he moved away, clicking his fingers for Dylan to follow.  He nodded very slightly to Heero as he passed, as if the most he’d do was acknowledge he existed, and the door clattered shut behind him. 

 

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Two  20.35 

 

 

 

The rest of the day had been a bit of a blur.  The painkillers seemed to have been mixed for something about the size of a small bush elephant, thus knocking me out of action for most of the afternoon.  I was conscious of Heero moving around the trailer, and at one point there was the smell of food.  But it only made me nauseous again, and I let myself drift back to sleep.  Any voices were only murmurs in the back of my semi-conscious mind.  Then at one stage I wakened properly.

 

The light in the room was dim, suggesting it was evening.  Heero sat across from the couch, cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by his precious papers.  He’d shucked off his shoes and socks, and had changed into a thin white undershirt.  For a second or three, I watched how the muscles ran across his shoulders, how the ends of his dark hair teased at the exposed nape of his neck.

 

“Hey?”  My throat was dry, but my voice sounded stronger than before.  He looked straight up at the sound of it, and his expression was completely unguarded.  Maybe that was the same for both of us.  I sank swiftly – surprisingly! -- into the concern I saw in his eyes.  Then he got up, slowly straightening as if he’d kept that position for some hours, and came over to see how I was.

 

“Your temperature has gone down a little,” he said, gently.  “You’ve been feverish.  The wound seems better, too.”

 

“You dressed it again?”  I looked down, a little stupidly, at my arm.  The bandages were clean and unstained, and rather better wrapped than Hans’ earlier efforts.  I was also wearing an old blue tee shirt I’d forgotten I had – Heero had presumably grabbed the first thing in my drawer, just to cover me up with some extra warmth. Maybe it was the effect of the drugs, or the shock, or God knows what, but it felt good to think of his hands on me again, on my skin, working on me -- albeit for medical reasons.

 

Get a life, Maxwell, I told myself, but not holding out any honest hope.  Get a new life.

 

“I’ll get you some water,” I heard Heero say, and I nodded, dumbly.

 

 

*

 

 

“So what have you found?” I asked.  I was propped a little more comfortably on the couch and was toying with the idea of getting up and moving around.  Didn’t know how Doctor Yuy would feel about that.  He’d already helped me hobble to the toilet, and I’d been impressed with the way I showed my recovery – like I managed not to fall down once, and I tried hard not to wince at the stiffness in my limbs.  But I needed to change my sweats, and I needed something filled with more caffeine than water, and I needed –

 

Anyway.  At least my brain felt back on the right track.

 

Heero was sat back on the floor, though he seemed to have shifted around towards me a bit.  The papers were in neat piles, but he had a transcript opened up on his lap.  “Trowa seems to have found an echo in the message system – briefings and confidential memos have been diverted to another mail address.  It bypasses the normal security prompts, though fairly clumsily.  Depending on how long this tag was in place, they would have had access to everything we planned.”  He twisted the paper as if it might make more sense the other way up.  It almost made me smile – it was so very unlike the precise Heero I worked with.  Had worked with.

 

“It’s encrypted,” he sighed.  “A numeric address, with no obvious key.”  It obviously frustrated the hell out of him, not being able to find a solution on his own.  “Maybe the address is purely random – but I hoped it might have a clue as to the perpetrator.”

 

“Human nature,” I said, matter-of-factly.  “People can’t resist setting up addresses that reflect something about them personally, even if it’s in their own personal code.  I found the best passwords were those based on whatever happened to be on my desk that day.  Think up anything more significant than that, and you start to let yourself slip.”

 

He was watching my face and I caught a nod of agreement.  It was disturbing how I felt the leap of pleasure in my chest at sharing things with him again.  “Pass it here,” I said.  “No one has more warped a mind than I do, right?  It’s the sort of puzzle that’ll help to while away my injured hours.”

 

He looked unconvinced – or maybe he was possessive of this whole thing.  “Heero,” I said, very carefully keeping the emotion from my voice.  “Neither of us wanted this to happen, did we?  Neither of us feels comfortable, thrown together like this – fuck it, neither of us wanted to see the other again before hell froze over.  But you’re here now, and we’re in danger, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that we can work well together if we put all the personal crap aside.”  I saw him start to move, but I hurried on before I lost my nerve – or my sense.  “Don’t have any other choice, do we, until we can get in touch with someone to bale us out.  Look, I know I’ve been the worse culprit, always prodding, always angry with you.”  So sue me.  Call me childish.  Guess I deserve it.  “But like you said before – this is too important to be hampered by my resentful shit.”

 

He seemed to take a deep breath whilst trying to hide it from me.  Then he nodded.  “Like a truce,” he said, softly.  I couldn’t make out the tone of his comment, but I couldn’t hear any overt sarcasm.  I could see all sorts of confusion in his eyes.  I didn’t think I saw hostility, but then let’s face it, I’ve been wrong before.  We just had to be pragmatic about this – we had to swallow our personal antipathy and knuckle down to solving this situation…

 

“A truce,” I agreed, my own voice a little too sharp.  “We need to face the crisis together.  I can be sensible about it.   

 

Why did I think that was the biggest crock of shit I’d served up since this all began?

 

 

*

 

 

“So what did Relena say?”  I hadn’t been able to ask while Junk was still around, and then I’d passed out.  I wasn’t sure I liked the answering frown on his face. 

 

“I couldn’t reach her.  Cissy said she didn’t know where she was.”

 

“Crap,” I said, with some enthusiasm.

 

“I know, Duo,” he said, sharply.  “It’s likely that Cissy does know.  But she’s not saying.”

 

“She’s very protective of Relena,” I said.  “Always has been.”  Cissy was both Relena’s friend and her assistant; you couldn’t get a more loyal young woman.  Relena inspired that in people; she treated them well and brought out the best in them.  To Relena, her people truly were the most important asset.

 

Heero hesitated, then spoke again.  “There’s been another attack at the Department itself.  A letter bomb, sent yesterday.”

 

”Shit…”

 

“Relena wasn’t harmed, apparently.  But this time it got all the way to the inner office.  There were some minor injuries to the staff – Cissy sounded rather shaken.  They’re evacuating the building and bringing in some Government security forces.”

 

“Where has she gone, then?  Where might she go?”  I realised for maybe the first time that I knew very little about Relena’s personal life.  Where she lived – who she cared about.  Who cared for her in return; who she dated.  If she dated.  “How do we know she’s OK, then?  And who the fuck is doing all this?”  I was totally perplexed.  “Just one thing after another, all aimed at the Project Team.  What the hell is this all about, Heero?”

 

His voice was wooden in its reply.  “I don’t know.  Cissy also asked where Greg was.  As if she didn’t know he’d been here.  As if –“

 

“As if Relena didn’t know he was here,” I echoed, knowing that our thoughts were both in accord.  “So it obviously wasn’t an official visit…”

 

And it was then that I realised we were all alone in the trailer.

 

 

*

 

 

Yeah, I don’t know why it took me so long to notice we no longer had our visitor with us.  Blame the drugs, blame my distraction with someone else…

 

“He’s gone, then?” There was no Greg sat in the corner of my lounge; no frightened protests; no wide young eyes pleading with me to believe him.

 

Heero nodded.  “While I was talking to Cissy, she found a message from Quatre on her email, saying to get Greg back to the Department as soon as possible.  It was very urgent, so she said.  I protested we hadn’t really finished questioning him – but Cissy insisted.”

 

When Cissy insisted, it was the equivalent of Relena’s own orders.

 

“The dog – Dylan -- was nosing round outside under your trailer.  Greg was so damned nervous about him that I had to ask one of Junk’s girls to see him safely off the site.  He said he had a car parked just outside town – he’ll be OK to get himself back.”  He saw my frown.  “He had no more information for us, Duo.  He didn’t see the attacker in detail.  I saw no reason to hold him any longer.”

 

“So did you talk to Quatre?”  I was a little alarmed at all the things that had been going on while I’d been out of it.

 

He glared at me as if he could read my thoughts.  “I tried, but no luck.  Seems Quatre is in hiding now too, the same as we are.  Or else he’s looking for Trowa.”  He snapped suddenly.  “The whole damned Department seems to have gone AWOL!  No one’s using the official security numbers; no one’s left any messages as to where they are or what their orders are.”

 

Running scared, I thought.  Not something Heero Yuy would have much tolerance for.  We handled dangerous situations on a regular basis, but these direct – and potentially murderous – attacks on us were something else.  But I was surprised that Relena wasn’t pulling things together. ”How was Cissy?”

 

“Disturbed.  Evasive.”  He looked carefully at me, but said no more.  He stretched the muscles of his shoulders, and the shirt wrinkled carelessly across his torso.  His hair looked less than neat.

 

I felt a shiver run through my body.  “Something’s really odd here, Heero.  Relena hiding away – Quatre on the run, too.  Still no word from Trowa…”

 

“Wufei in the hospital.”

 

“Yeah,” I said.  “Everyone’s been affected, yet there doesn’t seem to be any common factor.  We’re just being isolated, one by one.  It’s sort of clumsy, but whoever’s organised this, they’ve known just how to strike at us.  They’ve infiltrated Relena’s own office – her own sanctum.  Threatened her staff.  That’s exactly what would really distress and disturb her.  Then they’ve split Quatre and Trowa apart, breaking down any communications between them.  Again – the worst thing for those two to cope with.  They tried to hit you at home, as if they knew what a familiar base would mean to you, and the misery of losing it.   And it’s been a blow to Wufei’s confidence, too – one of his greatest frustrations must be immobility.”

 

“And you?”

 

I shrugged.  “Guess I’m pissed that they found me in the first place.  I was rather hoping to treasure my own space just a little longer.”

 

Heero made the smallest of noises, like he’d stubbed a toe or something. 

 

“I don’t think we should contact the Department again,” I said quite firmly, despite the sick churn of nausea that was resurrecting itself in my gut.  “I want to wait for some of the Team to contact us, you know?”  I’m not sure who to trust, I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure I should.

 

“So you do think the threat is coming from an inside source,” said Heero.  “Someone who knows us well.”

 

For a moment, all we did was stare at each other.

 

 

*

 

 

An hour later, we’d finished many more glasses of water, and eaten some soup and slices of buttered toast – Junk’s family had restocked my paltry larder with rather embarrassing riches -- but the words and numbers on the reports were now swimming before my eyes. 

 

“You should sleep again,” said Heero.  He’d have made a useless nurse – his bedside manner sounded like military command, not concern.  But I didn’t react; didn’t have the energy.  It had been a long day.

 

“Not yet.  Sleep when I die,” I said, not caring how that might sound, or how close I might actually have been to that.  I could feel the edges of something tingling in my mind as I searched the mystery emails and the scribbled notes from Trowa.  “This threat – it’d have to be someone senior – someone with access to everything.”  When I registered a fresh silence in the room, I looked up with surprise.  “What are you thinking?”

 

“You know whose name keeps cropping up here?  In all this mess – in all these unusual events.”

 

“No,” I said.  Wasn’t sure if I were entirely truthful.  That shiver was back, plucking icy fingers down my spine.

 

“Quatre is pivotal to this,” he said.  He’d dropped his eyes to some papers on his lap, but I knew it was just that he didn’t want to meet my gaze.

 

What the fuck?

 

“He knows everything about the Department,” Heero continued, like the words were being drawn out of him with a damned crochet hook.  “How it works, what the missions are… he’s the closest to Relena, sharing much of the Departmental strategy with her.  He always knows where we all are -- he brought me here, for God’s sake.”

 

“Sure, but that’s not sinister.  He’s just as upset.  He has Trowa in the field, at risk.”  I could feel a combination of fear and anger rising up in me.  “How can you even think that one of us would do this?”

 

“I don’t want to.”  He sounded wretched now, but dogged too.  “Don’t you believe that?  But then we see one of his guys creeping round the site – acting suspiciously when we try to probe him for identification of your attacker.  Not sent officially, it seems.  Then he’s called back, out of our hands, before we can find out any more.  By an email from Quatre, with no further explanation.”

 

“So…?”

 

“Quatre’s the only one who hasn’t been targeted so far.”  Heero was shaking his head, as if he were arguing with himself.  “Trowa’s notes are full of discussions he had with Quatre about where the original attacks may have been planned, none of which seem to have been reported officially.  Quatre could organise anything he wished; he’s the closest of us all to Relena; he has access to all the Department’s resources…”

 

“No!” I said again, more forcefully.  Why did my head ache so much at the thought? Why was I even listening to such crap?

 

“He could do all of this,” said Heero.  “He has the ability, the intelligence.  His previous… career… was dubious.  He’d still have that knowledge, too.”

 

“Shut the fuck up!” I gasped.  “Why the hell would he behave like this?  Put us all at risk?”

 

“I have no idea,” was Heero’s reply.  He ran a hand through his thick, dark hair.  “Just thinking aloud, I guess.”  Some of the papers slid off his lap, but he didn’t bother to pick them back up.  His whole body looked rigid with tension.  I knew the look too well to mistake it.  He was both angry and distressed.

 

“I can’t accept that, Heero.  I trust him.”

 

“So do I.”  He looked back up at me then, and his eyes were full of misery and frustration.  “But what do we know of what’s going on in people’s minds?”

 

I stared back, almost challenging him not to take that thought any further.  “Don’t talk about it again.”

 

“OK,” he said.

 

The room fell silent again, but now the air was charged with shock and confusion.

 

And more damned fear.

 

 

 

Day Two   22:20

 

 

I needed to rest.  I had ideas and worries in my head, and quite a few other disturbing gremlins.  Time was passing in a very disjointed way, and I guessed it’d soon be the end of the night altogether.

 

Heero came to take the glass from my hand.  I hadn’t realised it was slipping in the first place.  He stood above me for a moment, looking down on my tired body.  “I’m OK,” I said, sharply.  I was annoyed.  Shattered.  Defensive.  Fuck knows what else.

 

“I know,” he said, surprising me with his calm tone.  “He did a good job.  Hans, the mysterious doctor.  You’re OK, indeed.”

 

I smiled slightly.  First time he’d really acknowledged the community around me.  “They’re good people here.  A little far from convention, OK, but they’ve all welcomed me.  Junk’s a friend – a helpful guy --”

 

“He may well be,” Heero broke in, dryly.  “But I’m talking about the guy that you are.”

 

“Huh?”

 

Heero shook his head, and smiled in return.  “How do you do it, Duo?”

 

“Do what?”

 

“It never ceases to amaze me,” he said, quite gently.  Perhaps he thought he should be lowering his voice in the presence of invalids.  “The way you get on with people, the way you blend in wherever you are.  I’ve seen you with politicians and diplomats, and they accept you easily and discuss the relevant mission points with you.  Then you’re here, and just as much a part of this community as with the Department.”

 

I shifted awkwardly.  Didn’t sound like the usual abuse.  Didn’t sound like the Heero I’d invited into my home less than 48 hours ago.   Didn’t sound like the guy I’d once spat in the face of.  “People are more tolerant than they’re given credit for –“

 

“You have a gift,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken.  “I always envied it.”

 

I just stared.  His eyes were fastened on my mouth, as if he waited to see what might spill out of it.  I remembered that as a habit of his – especially when he wanted me.  It had been too long since I’d seen that look of desire without it being mixed up and corrupted by a hell of a lot of other, less comfortable feelings.  From the expression on his face when I glanced up at him, it seemed he wasn’t exactly putting out the welcome mat either.  He looked confused … uncertain.  A little shocked.  Like he had when he’d arrived with the other guys, his home just having crumbled round his ears.  But this time, I didn’t think he was thinking about his fixtures and fittings.

 

It was the first time for a long time that I’d stopped to consider how Heero Yuy might be feeling about me.

 

Then he seemed to realise than that he’d spoken rather uncharacteristically; a slight flush appeared high on his cheeks and his scowl crept back across his brow.  “Whatever.  I think I must be overtired too.  The girl called here earlier – Sheri?”  I nodded at his questioning look.  “She called several times, actually.  Brought more food in for us both, for supper, though I’m afraid your share is congealing in the kitchen.”

 

“She’s a friend, too,” I said, just for something to fill the quietness.  There were strange reactions rippling in my chest cavity like butterflies trapped in a jar. 

 

He smiled again, a little wistfully.  “She likes you, Duo.  A little more than a friend, I think.”  He was staring down at the couch, his eyes flickering uncertainly over me.  I was suddenly very conscious of a trickle of sweat just below my throat; I noticed I had a smattering of golden toast crumbs in the creases of my sweats.  What were the flickers of emotion I could see in his eyes?  What the hell was wrong with me, thinking Heero Yuy and wistfully in the same mental sentence? 

 

He cleared his throat.  “She went to help Greg off the park anyway, so she’s not been over since.  I’ll go get your bed ready.  I hope they’ll leave you in peace for a while – we must get you through this night as calmly as possible.”

 

He turned away, rather abruptly.

 

I wondered whether this ‘truce’ business was ever going to be one of my brighter ideas.

 

 

 

Day Two   23:07

 

 

It was even later in the night, and my bedroom was lit only by the lights from the other trailers, which broke haphazardly through my window.  I’d made it to my own bed, laying myself carefully on top of the sheets, keeping my undershirt and sweats on.  Heero was taking the couch.  Or at least, he had been.  I lay on the thin mattress, wide awake from the many thoughts and feelings that had fuck all to do with the knitting wound on my arm, and then his silhouette appeared at the doorway.

 

“I’m still OK,” I said a little tersely, in case he thought I needed some more of his special brand of nursing.  Hell, I could get myself to the toilet now, couldn’t I?  The painkillers were doing their work again, and even if my mind was working overtime, my limbs felt a pleasant lassitude.

 

I just couldn’t seem to sleep, though.

 

“I had to consider that, you know,” he said.  His face was in full shadow but his teeth glinted quickly in the dimness.  “About Quatre.”

 

“I know.”  I didn’t say anything else.  After all, we were in ‘truce’ mode, weren’t we?  That was a good enough reason to bite back any sharp reply I might have discovered inside my restless brain.  But I was also recognising something else seeping its way into the dealings we had with each other.  This current crisis was like a mission in itself – and both of us had emphasised the importance of finding our way through it.  The mission was taking precedence over any hostile feelings we had for each other.  And wasn’t that how it should be?

 

“We’d better stay put,” I said quietly.  I could hear a muffled laugh somewhere far over the other side of the park; I thought I could hear a sleepy snuffle from one of the dogs outside -- probably Dylan still keeping watch.  “We’ll wait for a call from Relena.  We’re probably as safe as anywhere, with people watching out for us.  Maybe the attacker will think we’ve run out – maybe it’ll be a bluff –“

 

“A double bluff, in case we actually do,” he said, and the teeth glinted again in a small smile.

 

“Yeah.  Something like that.”  I shifted on the bed and wondered why I felt vulnerable.  I was fully clothed; I was in my own place.  “There must be a motive to be found, Heero.  We need to talk to the other guys – we need to do some more thinking.”

 

“Tomorrow,” came his murmur.  He didn’t move away from the doorway, though.

 

I rolled away to face the wall, favouring my bad arm.  Wished I had some more of those elephant tablets.  I could feel his eyes on me; I could smell the soft cleanliness of soap on his skin.  I knew how his thin shirt would feel against my fingertips if I moved to peel it off over his head.  I knew how his dark hair would spring back on his head and then fall forward on to his brow again.  I knew how his deep-hued eyes would flash against the white cotton.

 

I remembered too many words in the darkness.

 

“Get some sleep,” I said, a little hoarsely.  Let me be.

 

 

 

Day Two  23:23

 

 

I rolled over on to my back and sighed.  It beat holding my breath.  Heero was at my doorway again, and had been for the last ten minutes.

 

“Can’t you sleep?”

 

“No,” he said, and this time he stepped into the room.  His breath was soft, but seemed loud in the silence.  “But then, neither can you.”

 

I didn’t turn my head to face him, but I smiled.  He was right.  Damned right.  “Fucking wound’s hurting.”

 

“It might be leaking.  I’ll dress it again.”

 

He sat carefully on the edge of my bed, so I had to roll over further for him to reach me properly.  He already held the bandages, and his movements were smooth and efficient.  I watched his hands work, long fingers wrapping the cloth around me, palms brushing against my bare skin.  “Very little leakage,” he said.  “It’s healing well.”

 

I didn’t reply; my tongue seemed to have swelled to twice its normal size.  That, or someone had cauterised my vocal chords in the last two minutes.

 

“When you were hit,” he said, and then paused.  Shit.”

 

I grimaced in the dim light, trying to see his expression.  “It was shock, obviously,” he said, as if he talked to himself.  “I don’t know why else I felt so bad.”

 

Huh?

 

“Three months, Duo.  I’ve not seen you for three months.  Now I see you for a couple of days, under protest, for God’s sake, both of us uncomfortable with it all, both of us really pissed –“ He paused again.

 

“Yeah,” I said, my tongue having returned to life.  “Ditto.”

 

“But I don’t feel like I thought I would.”  He was looking away from me now, the unused roll of white bandage forgotten on his lap.  His head fell back slightly – I saw the silhouette of his throat, swallowing.  “I never thought being here with you would be this hard …”

 

I did, I thought.  But then I’ve been shocked, in reality, by how hard it isn’t.

 

“Heero,” I asked.  The words forced their way out of my lips.  “Did you do that?  When I went down.  Did you cover me with your body?”

 

He was silent for a moment.  The bed creaked gently as he unconsciously tightened his hand on his leg.  “There could have been more than one shot.  I didn’t know how badly you’d been hit.  You were an open target there on the ground.”

 

Explanations.  But not excuses.

 

“It was a fucking stupid thing to do,” I said.  Then I bit at my lip, astounded that I’d said it aloud.

 

Astonishingly, I heard Heero laughing.  “Yes, it was.  It was the shock, like I said.  I couldn’t believe how I felt when I saw you go down – when I saw your body fold against the bullet.”  He looked at me then and even in the dark I could see his expression.  His eyes spoke for him:  I thought you were dead.

 

I shifted myself to sitting upright, liking the feeling of a clean, fresh binding and feeling some strength returning to my limbs.  He stayed where he was, so that then we were almost face to face, a couple of feet apart.  “Guess we’re quits then,” I said.  His head tilted sideways, puzzled.

 

“That’s how I felt when you got stabbed,” I explained.  I’ll never forgive myself for it.  “I’d have sat up in the night, dressing your wounds, like you’ve done for me.  I’d have done it, Heero.”  Whatever the fuck it took.  “Just so happened you wanted some other nurse’s attention.”

 

“But I didn’t.” 

 

I shrugged as if to say ’why are we dragging this up again’?

 

He seemed to shudder slightly.  “Then again, I didn’t know if I did.  I didn’t know what I wanted.  It was like everything changed then – everything distorted.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t want the mission post-mortem again…” I said, weakly.  He wasn’t listening to me.

 

“I wasn’t much support to you, was I?  I lost sight of it all.  You suffered because of me – as well as suffering yourself.”  His eyes shone in the darkness with a vivid fierceness.  “I never meant you to.”

 

I stared at him, seeing the faint glow of reflected light around the shape of his rigid body.  What the fuck was he going on about?

 

“You were the one who was injured, Heero!”

 

He dismissed it, interrupting me sharply.  “My body was.  But you were in shock, too.  I didn’t understand your distress – couldn’t see it.”

 

I leant slightly towards him, fascinated by him.  “You’ve never talked like this before.”

 

“I should have done. Wufei told me, only recently –“

 

I bristled.  My whole body tensed.  He must have felt it, but he continued on regardless.  There was a strange wildness to his tone, like he was running towards a cliff, and he knew damned well he was heading for the edge – but he didn’t slow down.  “He told me there were other things I should have accounted for, not just the physical effects of the stabbing.  He told me you would have been in shock too, from the attack, from the investigation.  I just saw your behaviour – took you at face value.  I never credited anything beyond that.”

 

I didn’t know anything about that.  I’d been in shock?  Well of course I had been – but it had been my problem, my trouble to cope with.  Daresay it’d be some syndrome that the head shrinkers had in their text books – but I didn’t have time for that, did I?  Think about it, Duo, I told myself.  I had been a little mad then.  Maybe more than a little.  Are you the last to be honest with yourself?

 

I gazed at Heero like he was the only thread holding me to the planet.  You’ve missed the point.  My carelessness nearly got you killed.

 

He was oblivious to my bemusement, it seemed.  “There was a hell of a lot I didn’t understand, Duo.  I know that’s no excuse – but I don’t know how I was meant to keep up. You were always so difficult to capture, like quicksilver – so quick in your responses, in your reactions.  I was always several steps behind.  I felt like dross beside you.”

 

“No --!” the cry was dragged from me.  “It wasn’t you, not really.  I felt a fool set against you.  Lightweight.  You said as much yourself.”

 

“But I never meant it.”  He sounded very weary.  A little awed.

 

“I made you say it – I provoked you.”  Of course, it had always been that way. 

 

He nodded so slightly I hardly saw it.  “We brought out the worst in each other.”

 

“Sometimes,” I added.  His hand lay on the sheet now, a few inches from my own arm.  I looked down at it, at the splayed fingers, at the tendons tight with tension across the back of his hand.

 

“Yes,” he said.  “Sometimes.”

 

And the best…

 

“And the best,” he said, in uncanny echo of my thoughts.  Astonishing that it should be Heero – Mr Silence-is-Golden – who now spoke so openly.  “I just… wanted you, Duo.  Desperately.  Always.  In any way possible.  Never stopped to think things through sensibly.  Never spent enough time getting to know you properly.”

 

I tried to breathe normally, but my chest felt as if it were in a vice.  He was speaking my own thoughts; he was laying open my own regrets.

 

He turned towards me again, a strong muscular shadow in the dark, and his voice had softened.  The pale flickers of light were on me, now. “You look better.  Some colour in your face.”

 

“Soon back to normal,” I said too brightly.  If some sniper doesn’t get me first.

 

“The fight,” he said.  “I regret it.  Bitterly.”

 

“Yeah.”  So do I, my heart screamed at me, but the words were still in the mire of self-pity at the back of my throat.  “But that’s all over now, isn’t it?  We’re both agreed on that.”  I stared again at the dapples of light running over the shadowed planes of his hand.  I knew my own hand ached to reach out and touch him.  What was happening here to me?  To us? My head remembered misery and anger and hurtful shit, yet my body ached from the memory of him.

 

“It was just so painful, Duo.  Such confusion.”  His voice had an unfamiliar break in it.  “To see you withdrawing from me – to see your awkwardness with me.”

 

“Better we parted,” I said, very quietly.  I didn’t want to discuss this; I didn’t want to hear this. “Guess we could have chosen a slightly less public way to do it, though.”

 

“Yes,” he said.  “Definitely would have been better without the audience.”  He laughed, but with no real humour.  He sighed.  He shifted on the bed and the bandages fell to the floor with a soft thump, rolling over to the corner of the small room.  His hand opened on top of the sheet beside me, then fisted up again.

 

“How did it get so bad, Heero?”  I was surprised to hear my words aloud.

 

“I can’t tell you.”

 

“No of course you can’t –“ I started, ready to renew my hostility.

 

“No,” he interrupted.  “Because you won’t let me.  I can’t find the words like you can.  Never could.  I may have been too quick to judge you, but then you never gave me time to find out to the contrary. You’re so abrasive sometimes.”

 

I pursed my mouth.  “You’re not exactly sweetness and light yourself.”

 

And then he laughed again, genuinely, startling me afresh.  “I don’t think I ever was, was I?  You’re right.  God knows how we ever got together in the first place.”

 

But we did.

 

His eyes came to mine and held my gaze, demanding, perhaps, that I didn’t chicken out.  There was a triangle of light in the centre of each of his dark pupils, like someone had drawn him as a wide-eyed cartoon in the night.  “It’s still not easy, is it?  There’s too much – or not enough – between us.  I’m sorry that all this is happening to you maybe because of me.  That I’m the target, not you.  That you can’t continue on your search for your own space without my hindrance.”

 

The harsh edge in his voice hurt me.  And yet his eyes were still hungry; they drank me in, as if he were heavily dehydrated.  Things were shifting in my mind like a kaleidoscope; memories took on new voices; my vision of our relationship was being redecorated with new tones.

 

“Don’t be,” I said.  “Don’t be sorry, that is.  Whatever happens with this, I know I can trust you.”

 

“But you didn’t always before,” he whispered.

 

“No,” I replied.  Couldn’t trust myself at the moment, to know what was right.

 

“I… didn’t see that I had to justify myself to you, Duo.  About Wufei – about anything.  You should have known me better…”

 

Yeah. Maybe I should.  Self-disgust crushed at me; regret twisted its knife.  “I was stupid.  End of story.”

 

He shook his head very gently, and I felt the vibration in the air as we leaned in towards each other.  I don’t know what happened next – or rather, I don’t know why we let it.  It was as if something tugged at me, against my will -- as if both of us were lassoed and drawn in for capture, like hapless, dumb animals.  The mattress creaked beneath us and I felt a gentle crick in my neck as it stretched itself.  Just a couple of feet between us, didn’t I say?  Our breath bridged it, combining in the cool night air; our words were just whispered sound, our protests melted into raw emotion.

 

His hands never touched me, nor did I reach out those last few inches to hold him.  The only things that touched were our mouths.  Hesitantly, like bashful new lovers.  Lips dry with caution, yet damp with need.  Lips that knew each other’s intimately, yet had forgotten the pure pleasure of the touch.  It was like the taste of the dark and fear and ecstasy, all combining together with a wash of heartache and lust.  The skin of his cheek smoothed mine; the slight bristles of my neglected chin scraped across his jaw.  I felt his eyelashes brush at my eyes as my lids closed beneath him.

 

My lips parted slightly, as his tongue nudged at them.  The tip of it slid in alongside mine, his breath expelling into my mouth with a sigh of desire.  We melded even closer, mouths together like a single caress, our shoulders now pressing against each other with perfect choreography, allowing the familiar twist of our bodies to draw the other in.

 

It was like coming home.

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Three  00:17

 

 

The flame of desire consumed me – I swear I could feel its heat like a real fire.  I’d been fairly lukewarm about this part of my life since my flight from the Department – not that there hadn’t been the occasional opportunities at the park for sexual adventure.  There’d been guys passing through without demands or emotional baggage to overload me, and sometimes a healthy interest in me in return.  But I’d never taken anything further, never wanted anyone that much.  Never got over the memories, perhaps – had been fighting shy of the hassle, or something like that.  Whatever.  Now I heard the thread of a moan, and at first I couldn’t have told whether it was from me or Heero. 

 

It was him; it was only a gasp.  “Duo…”

 

No.  Don’t say anything.  Some shock that I should be the one to think that, huh?  My hand slipped behind his neck and my tongue plunged back into his mouth, effectively silencing him.  There was urgency and desperation now in our caress; I could taste the slightly sharp tang of his saliva, could feel his strong fingers gripping my upper arm.  When he leant even further into me, I fell back on the bed quite willingly, pulling his body down on to mine.

 

He felt so good!  He’d lost weight I think, same as I had; at least, I felt the definition of his muscles that much more sharply under the thin fabric of his shirt.  He wriggled to avoid my bandaged arm, but I just grabbed him back into me.  His mouth snatched at my lower lip, his teeth grazing at the skin and his tongue emerging to run down my jaw and neck.  I bared my throat, dragging my head back on the thin pillow.   My erect nipples spiked through my own shirt, brushing painfully against his chest.

 

Hold me… Fuck me….

 

It was the return of that hungry, unadulterated lust -- I knew that.  There’d never been any doubt that Heero was the only one who did that to me, the one who made my head swim and my body leap with both greed and need.  But it felt different this time, as if there was some other demand inside me that I’d never heeded properly before.  When his hands ran down under my body, tracing the tight lines along my straining thighs, kneading the flesh of my ass as if to memorise the knots and valleys of the muscles there, my back arched up to meld myself against him.  My sweats were tight across my groin and I had an erection the size of a small sapling; every nerve I possessed screamed out to be touched by Heero; every whorl of my fingertips remembered the sensual feel of his dusky, hot skin.

 

But then my hands braced themselves against his shoulders and started to push him away. 

 

He paused at once.  His hands stilled on me; his tongue lifted its damp trail from my throat; he pulled his body back upright.  A small groan was wrenched from him; I was just panting loudly, unable to restrain it.

 

“No…” I gasped. 

 

“No?”  His murmur was almost a question, but his eyes met mine in the darkness and I think my expression spoke eloquently enough for me; I think it may have been a fairly shameful plea for his understanding.  This couldn’t be: this was what always got me into trouble, what had always obscured everything, distorted everything, enchanted everything.  If I opened this rich, ecstatic treasure chest again, I’d never be able to get him out of my system.

 

Never be able to hate him again.

 

He reared above me for what seemed like long moments, his chest heaving with deep breaths and the wetness still glinting on his plumped lips.  There were emotions flickering in his eyes that I couldn’t make out – thoughts and questions alike.  I thought he might ignore my protest – that he might just lean back down and strip away my pathetic opposition with his mouth and hands.  Let’s face it: I’d not have put up much of a fight.  My resistance was all intellectual; my true reactions sprang from the pure, delicious instinct of desire.

 

But he didn’t ignore me. The mattress complained again as he clumsily climbed off my legs and stood up beside the bed. 

 

“Do you want me to apologise?” he said hoarsely. 

 

I shook my head, dumbly.  Of course the fuck not… I wanted to protest that I’d been a willing partner in it – I really did! – but my mouth seemed too dry to work properly. 

 

“Good,” he said.  “Though I realise that was an appalling loss of control – it won’t happen again, I promise you.”  He pulled his crumpled shirt down over a tantalising glimpse of his tight belly, and he ran a hand back through his messed hair.  “I never felt any differently about you, Duo, even when our behaviour was so disgraceful – so destructive.  I don’t expect you to believe that, but I want to say it.  I think I should have said a lot of things, actually, and a hell of a lot earlier than now – but that’s another regret I’ll live with.” 

 

He turned and walked back to the door and he didn’t turn around again.  He took his magnificent body and his rare, astonishing new openness, and – fuck -- I let him go.  His silhouette filled the door, blocking the moonlight from the windows in the next room, and then he passed out of sight.

 

I calmed my breathing; I adjusted my sweats.  I cursed to myself in every language I’d ever picked up.

 

And then the cell phone rang again, a shrill buzz in the distant corner of the trailer.

 

 

*

 

 

I stumbled from my room but Heero already had the phone to his ear.  “It’s Trowa!” he mouthed to me, his eyes bright and wary.  I nudged my way up against him, all previous touches forgotten as I struggled to hear the call for myself.  Heero flipped on the loudspeaker on the handset so we could both listen.

 

“Where are you?” he urged into the mouthpiece.  “Are you safe?”

 

Trowa’s voice stuttered through a fair amount of static interference and uneven volume, like he was out of breath.  “Are you running?” asked Heero, and I resisted rolling my eyes. 

 

“Heero?  Where are you?”

 

Heero’s eyes flashed to my face, far too close to his for anyone’s comfort, and he snapped,” I’m with Duo.”

 

“With…”crackle xwell?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Thank God!” came Trowa’s call.  “Have you spoken to …lena?”

 

“No –“ But I don’t think he heard Heero’s answer because his voice hurried on.

 

“…tell her I’m on … way back now.  I found the address, I found where our communica… have been …iverted to …week or so, maybe.  But it was …danger… apped…”

 

“What?”  I grabbed at the phone, trying to wrest it from Heero’s steel grip.  “What’s happened?”

 

“… booby-trapped,” came Trowa’s familiar voice, mangled through the poor reception.  “The place was booby-trapped.”  I glanced at Heero – his narrowed eyes looked back at me.

 

“For God’s sake, Trowa,” he snapped into the cell.  “My home’s been blown up and Duo’s been shot!  Tell us how you are, and where you are!”

 

There was an exclamation from the other end of the line, though it may just have been the coughing of a chronic connection.  Then a pause.  Next time Trowa spoke, his words were much clearer – he’d obviously stopped in his mad flight and found a place of better reception.  With the loudspeaker on, we could both hear him well.  “Sorry guys.  That’s better.”

 

Heero shook his head with some frustration.  “You said booby-trapped.  Are you hurt?”

 

“No, I’m fine,” said Trowa, dismissively.  “Fairly amateur stuff – some loosened floorboards over a fall of three floors.  But definitely a deliberate action, so it looks like I found the right place.”  I could see Heero itching for more details, but the specifics of a trap wouldn’t have been of interest to Trowa – it would’ve just been a hurdle to overcome, not a source of professional fascination.  His voice became more excited as he described the trail he’d been following.  “I guess no one had the time to follow my notes, which is a little surprising, but anyway, I knew it’d be quicker if I went myself.  I tracked the address down through the ISP and it looked like someone hid out there quite recently.  There was some abandoned computer equipment, it was probably used to divert all our email, as well as evidence of some fairly generic hacking programs.  But there was nothing left to give us any more clues – I mean, I’d caught the communications breach fairly quickly, of course, but it also looked like it was cleared out a couple of days ago.”

 

“Where was it?”  I called across to the cell.

 

“Not so far from the city – close to the conference centre, actually.  I think it was a unit we’d considered ourselves for our surveillance during the early stages of Mission Dove.  I remember Quatre asking me to look into the local communications network.  It was near to that club where Heero was hurt, where that politician got his kicks until we outted the sick bastard.”  Trowa had a refreshing lack of respect for public figures who misused their position. 

 

“So the details would have been on file?” asked Heero.  “On Quatre’s files?”  I glared at him, but I was hanging on Trowa’s reply, just like he was. 

 

“Yes,” came his answer.  He sounded cautious.  “Hey, are you guys on to something?  Because if you are –“

 

“No,” I said swiftly, leaning further towards the mouthpiece so he could hear me more clearly.  “Nothing specific.  We’ll talk it through with you when we’re all together.  What’s important now is that we’re safe.”  I felt Heero shift awkwardly beside me, but he didn’t add anything.

 

“There was a smashed laptop there,” said Trowa.  He sounded puzzled.  “Like the ones we have for Department issue.  Guess it’s a popular enough model.”  We were quiet, and he continued.  “Anyway, I rescued some email records, some of them showing that email address I picked up on earlier transmissions – “

 

“Duo’s working on that too,” said Heero.  “So now, maybe we have a place that the attackers have been using.  Do you have any ideas as to an identity?”

 

“I want to talk to Relena…”  Trowa’s voice was fading again, losing both volume and clarity.  “Hell, I heard about the bomb at the Westbridge block, but Duo shot?  What’s been happening?”

 

“I wish I could tell you,” said Heero, tersely.  “We’re sheltering here until some things get clearer.  Duo’s fine now, anyway.  Who told you about the bomb at my place?”  I frowned at him – who the hell was he to say I was fine? -- but I guess he was justified in questioning Trowa.  When Quatre visited the trailer, he’d told me that Trowa left the Department shortly before the explosion, and implied they’d lost contact with him soon after that. 

 

Heero saw my annoyed expression, and hissed back at me, “We need to know…” I just curled my lip.

 

Trowa was already replying.  “I spoke to Quatre just after the attack.  He told me Wufei was injured, and he was planning to take Heero to a safe place.  I haven’t been able to reach him since -- his number’s unobtainable -- and then I lost touch with Relena too.  I thought it was best to get back to base; there’s stuff I must discuss with her.  Is Quatre still there with you two?”

 

I looked across at Heero.  He seemed reluctant to answer that one, and I took the cell off of him.  “No, Tro,” I said clearly.  “Quatre’s not here.  He left after dropping Heero off.  We haven’t heard from him since, either.  The last communication we had was with Cissy; there’s been trouble at the Department too, and both Relena and Quatre –“ I paused, briefly. “-- weren’t around.”

 

The words were still coming through fairly clearly, but from the shaking of his voice we could tell Trowa was on the move again.  “I didn’t realise… must find her, then.  Look, Duo, follow my notes, OK?  Have a look at… which files were hacked into, which… mails.  There was a … attern…no time to…ollow up befor…had to leave …epartment.”

 

“Tell me more, Trowa,” I urged, but without much hope.

 

“Got to go… can’t say… kind of …ifficult to explain right…now, not sure…don’t want anyone…get… wrong idea…”

 

“What?”  Heero nudged at me, trying to get the cell back off me, frowning with his concentration.  “Are we losing him?” he muttered to me.

 

“We’ll call the Department again, Tro,” I called into the mouthpiece.  Quatre had always laughingly called his office the ‘melting pot’, where all information started and finished, all plans were cooked up, and all resource ingredients combined.  Someone there must know what was going on with him.  “We’ll call Quatre’s office, to see where he is –“

 

There was no mistaking Trowa’s response to that.  His voice burst from out of the cell with a kind of explosive ferocity.  No!  Don’t call Quatre!”

 

Huh?

 

“Don’t call him!” came the cry again.  “Watch yourselves…”

 

We stared at each other with astonishment.  Heero was still looking into my wide eyes as I spoke back into the phone.  “Trowa – it’s someone who knows us, isn’t it?  Maybe these attacks aren’t in their area of expertise… but they know enough to be dangerous.”

 

There was nothing but crackle on the line.  Then suddenly it cleared, and Trowa’s voice came back on.

 

“Underpass… losing connec… where’s Wufei?”

 

Startled, I replied.  “In the hospital –“

 

Trowa gave a bark of a laugh, clear as day.  “Then that’s where Relena will be, won’t it?  Watch… rselves…”  Then the contact broke completely.

 

That’s where Relena will be?

 

I clipped the cell shut; Heero swore softly.

 

I stood there beside him, realising that we were back in the semi-darkness and silence.  It was the smallest hours of the morning; our friends and colleagues were scattered God knows where; we were plunging ever deeper into this mess and confusion.

 

And I still had a fucking erection from the mere thought of Heero’s body next to mine.

 

 

*

 

 

He turned back to me and his eyes glinted in the half-light as he blinked quickly.  “There’s nothing we can do until we can contact Relena.”

 

“Right,” I said.  “We’ll try again in the morning.”  I stepped away from him as casually as I could, but the loss of body warmth left me feeling bereft.  We seemed to be having one of those coded conversations, where the sentences appear to make sense, but no one says exactly what they mean.  I didn’t think I was going to let that rest for long.

 

“What did Trowa mean about Quatre?”  I blurted out the words without thinking.  It was a while since I’d had someone to talk things through with, and it was worrying the hell out of me.  “I still can’t believe Quatre has anything to do with it.  Trowa wouldn’t believe it, I know – he must be beside himself with worry about the guy.”

 

“No one bothered following up on Trowa’s notes,” said Heero, quietly.  “He said himself it was surprising.  If he hadn’t gone out after the hideout himself, it would’ve stayed hidden for who knows how long.”

 

“And Quatre holds all the information,” I said, miserably.  “Trowa knows that, too.  He didn’t want to tell us anything before he speaks to Relena.  There’s something on his mind.”

 

“Watch yourselves, he said.”  Heero was murmuring to himself.  He was looking at the cell nestled in his palm, but not really seeing it.  “We’d better get some sleep now.”

 

Neither of us moved.

 

I stared back at him.  “Heero.  About earlier…”  He pursed his lips.  I remembered their taste and groaned inside.  There’s things I should have said, too.”  There was control I lost, too.

 

“Fine,” he said.  I think he smiled, which jolted me a bit.

 

“Right,” I sighed.  Something nudged me painfully in the ribs, to continue.  “So I’ve said plenty in the past, I know.  I just meant that there were better things I should have said.  I talk a lot – but most of it’s shit.  Most of it’s hiding the real stuff.  And the fight… well, it wasn’t the first time we fought, was it?  I always pushed at you, way too much.  Provoked many a battle, then never gave us a proper chance to see it through.”

 

He looked at me warily, as if I might suddenly turn vicious and bite him.  As if he didn’t believe I could carry on a properly controlled personal conversation.  I didn’t like to admit he was possibly right.

 

“Duo, it seemed as if you never believed anything I had to say.  Then you’d be gone.  You never told me enough to know what the hell things were really about.”  He didn’t sound as accusing as he might have done.  Just a bit bemused.  Sad.

 

“Yeah.”  He was right, of course.  I’d known I was doing it, even at the time.  We’d argue, then if he hadn’t come back immediately with what I wanted to hear – well, I went out to nurse my own conclusions.  I’d thought him the withdrawn one, but then I rode roughshod over whatever he came up with, anyway.

 

Fucking mess it all was.

 

“Didn’t give it a chance,” I repeated, dully.  “I just wanted you, too, Heero – at any cost.  Didn’t think we needed more than that.”

 

We were silent for a moment.  I yawned, wondering if I’d be able to get back to sleep, wondering how long it’d take for my newly awakened libido to take a cold shower again.

 

He was still brooding, it seemed.  “We worked well enough together – we respected each other, admired each other.  Enjoyed each other’s company a lot.  It was always a lot more than the sex.”  I looked across, startled, and he bristled a little.  “As far as I was concerned, anyway.  I didn’t think it needed saying.”  He grimaced.  “Of course, that’s part of the problem, I guess.  I know I’m too introspective for your liking, I was never much of a match for you…”

 

“What?”

 

He shifted his feet.  I wasn’t used to seeing Heero Yuy uncomfortable.  “I’m not going to admit I bored you, Duo, but it felt like it sometimes.  I just dealt with things a different way – handled the pressure differently.  It was increasingly obvious that you hated that, though.”

 

“Stop it,” I said, quite sharply.  “That’s crap.  I was the boring one – I was the bleeding sore on the skin of your self-contained world.  I was the one demanded all the surface attention; I was the burden.”  I drew a deep breath.  “I was the one got careless and saw you nearly killed.”

 

He shook his head, impatiently.  “You’re still going on about that.”

 

“It’s been a long three months, you know?  Given me time to think things through.  Beat myself up some more.”

 

“Don’t,” he said, and he moved a step towards me.  He looked angry.  “Now that’s crap!  I couldn’t stand that self-pity, that blinkered view you had of it all.  The business at the club was never your fault – we were working together, it could have happened at any time, to any of us there.  But despite all the words you spewed out, all the fights, all the jokes – you never talked properly to me about it; we never got anything clear.  And I didn’t know how to start that conversation with you, Duo.  Then you’d go out partying and there’d never be another opportunity.”

 

I bit my lip.  “The parties were shit,” I said.

 

“I know they were,” he snapped back, and for a second we both started a rueful smile.  “I could tell when you were enjoying things – and when you weren’t.  But if you preferred to be elsewhere, I wasn’t going to beg for your time.”

 

“I was in the way…” I said, weakly.

 

“Never,” he replied, quite calmly.  “But I let you think that, I know.”

 

My mouth closed on the words I’d been forming.  I struggled to find something else. 

 

He leant his head back and sighed.  “I might not have understood how you were affected by the whole attack – but I did know you were pissed at the investigation, and the stream of people coming in and out of the apartment, and the fact that things had gone so wrong.”  He breathed deeply.  “I let it slide – I was pissed at you, pissed that I couldn’t understand you, that I couldn’t seem to be the right person for you.  But I shouldn’t have left it like that.  I knew you particularly resented Wufei being there – and I confess I let that continue.”  He turned to me again and his hand lifted slightly from his side, like he wanted to appeal to me.  “Both Wufei and I were thoughtless – but it was my fault.”

 

Shit… I sighed myself, and ran a hand round the back of my neck.  “Never heard so much from you before, Heero.  Hell of a dangerous time to be baring our souls.”

 

“Yes,” he agreed.  “But that’s how it is.  I think you’d agree we’re dangerous to each other all around.”

 

I thought vividly of his fingers on my skin and his thighs pressing against mine.  “There’s more than one kind of danger,” I whispered.

 

 

*

 

 

I’d taken the cell phone from him and now I watched him lay himself out on the couch.  “OK?  Need another blanket?”

 

“No, this is fine,” he replied.  “I’m fine.”  That coded conversation again…

 

His shoulders sank back into the lumpy cushions, trying to get comfy.  “You need your sleep, Duo.  I’m sorry I kept you awake before.  This has all been a – an unsettling time.”

 

Too fucking right.  I was ashamed of myself, really.  Heero had shown a side of himself I’d never seen – he’d shared thoughts I never knew tumbled around inside that computer-like brain of his.  Yet I was still nursing a resentment and pain that was doing me no earthly good at all.

 

“I was a prick, Heero.”

 

He sighed.  He’d turned slightly away from me so that I could only see his profile, silhouetted in the room’s dim light.  “So was I.  It was a damned difficult time…”

 

“No,” I said, firmly.  “I was a prick before the attack – before I met you, really.  I’ve never really bothered about looking into myself, about growing up.  I just liked a good time, a joke, a thrill … When I met you, I thought it’d all slot into place without any help.  Couldn’t understand why you didn’t react the same way as I did.”

 

He laughed softly.  “You’re a rollercoaster, Maxwell.  A thrill of a ride – and I don’t mean that just in a sexual sense.  But you require strong nerves – and I don’t always respond as quickly as you do; or as you’d like.”

 

I still thought he was being too damned kind.  “That’s what I mean.  Yeah, I handled it fucking badly, but I was right in thinking you and Wufei were just so much better suited.  Much more your type – a much better companion for you.  Not so much trouble – easier to get on with –“

 

“Duo,” he murmured.  Was he falling asleep?  “I didn’t choose easy when I fell for you.  But it’s what I chose, regardless.”

 

I was a couple of feet away, my body half turned to go back to my room, frozen to the spot.  I stared at him and he rolled back over slowly until he faced me in return.  It was like that first time, you know?  When I’d first met him – when my body had shaken with reaction – when my gut had churned with the feelings he ignited in me.

 

“Heero…” I said.  I was hesitant, a little scared – but I knew what I wanted to say.  “Come to bed with me.  Now.  Please.”

 

He stared some more. 

 

And then he pulled the blanket over him and sank back down into the couch.  “No,” he said, gently.  “You were right to stop me earlier.  It’s not fair to use each other when we don’t know what we want.  Neither of us would benefit from it… well, apart from the obvious…”  He made a sound of frustration – struggling for those words again.

 

Personally, I thought his mastery of language so far had been stupendous.

 

“OK,” I heard myself saying.  “Uh… sleep well.”   And I made it back to my room without either stumbling or weeping.

 

Fuck it, I felt like both.

 

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

 

Day Three   05:27

 

 

buzz

 

This time it was me who scrabbled for the cell phone when it rang.  It was on the floor of my room and I snatched it up, my tired eyes wincing against the onslaught of the morning sun.  For a second, I forgot where I was – I just cupped the cell tightly against my ear in the hopes of not waking Heero beside me.

 

Then realised he wasn’t.  Fucking false memories, right?

 

“Heero?” someone barked.

 

“No,” I grunted.  “Duo.  And good morning to you too, Wufei Chang.”

 

He made a short growling noise on the other end of the line.  “No time for your sarcasm, Maxwell.  Are you both safe?”

 

“Yeah.”  I was still trying to wake up properly and remember what the hell was going on.  “So what’s new with you?”

 

“I wanted to check something with Heero.  I’ve had a chance to finish our analysis of the toxins that were used on Relena.  I’ve also examined the debris from the Westbridge bomb to identify the explosives –“

 

“Fuck,” I groaned.  “Aren’t you meant to be post-operative, confined to a hospital bed --?”

 

He growled back.  This conversation was decidedly animalistic.  “Things are moving on around us, Maxwell, regardless of personal irritations.  Trowa tells me that you’ve been shot – and there’s been the second attack on Relena’s office.  It’s critical that we find out who’s doing this and why.”

 

“Trowa’s there with you?”

 

“Got here early this morning.  He told me he spoke to you on the way.”

 

“And Relena’s there as well?”

 

“She’s on her way, driving over with Cissy.  We’ll use this place as a base for the moment; it’s well protected.  We’ll gather all the Team members here and consolidate our knowledge.  Is Yuy there?”

 

I sat up and stretched, rolling my legs over the side of the mattress.  I’d spent the night in my clothes and my wound had stiffened up.  My mouth felt I’d been eating damp, rotting leaves all night.  I felt less than vibrant.  “He’s still asleep,” I snapped.  “Tell me what you’ve discovered.”

 

He was silent for a moment, and I could just picture the look on his face, full of disapproval and caution.  It was almost a surprise when he finally did speak to me.

 

“There are several concerns that I have.  All of the supplies were internal – the poison, the explosives, the fuses.  Even the packaging.”

 

“Internal?  You mean from the Department itself?” 

 

He grunted assent.  “That, or at the very least from the same suppliers, to the same specification.  One of the fuses only came into our catalogue at the beginning of Mission Dove – it’s very new, and I believe it’s not publicly available anywhere else yet.  Either I’m leaping to conclusions, or this has serious security implications.  I need to talk to Quatre about it – to discuss the control of access to our equipment and stores.”

 

“Yes,” I said, carefully.  “You do.  He’s not there yet?”

 

There was another pause.  For the first time I could hear the sound of medical equipment beeping in the background, and the sound of voices bouncing off plain, high hospital ceilings.  “No.  No one can reach him, it seems.  Maxwell… maybe you and Yuy have some views on all this that may help.”

 

“I’ll let you know when he’s up,” I said.  “Maybe we ought to come down to the hospital too. You trust me to pass all this on to Heero without losing things in the translation?”  I know I sounded rather petulant; the conversation had reopened all the previous day’s worries, like raw wounds.  As Wufei said, things were moving on around us, regardless.

 

“Yes,” he said, his voice confidently calm.  “Of course I trust you to handle the information correctly.  I always have trusted you, Maxwell, else I couldn’t have worked with you in the first place.”

 

I was temporarily speechless.

 

 

*

 

 

There was another beep at the hospital end of the conversation.

 

“How…”  I paused, trying to make my dry morning mouth work properly; trying to find some appropriate words, maybe.  “So how are you, Wufei?”

 

He was quiet for a heartbeat, too, then he laughed; a short, humourless sound.  “Reports of my one legged-ness have been greatly exaggerated,” he said. 

 

Fuck, was that a joke?  From Chang?  I couldn’t help it, I felt a smile of relief creep across my face.  “I’m glad to hear it.”

 

“Me too,” he growled.  “It’s bad enough being out of action for a few months without giving someone the satisfaction of crippling me for life.  How is Heero?”

 

“Not so bad,” I said.  “Cuts, bruises, a little shock –“

 

“The truth, Maxwell, not patronising trivia like the doctors feed you here.”

 

I swallowed.  Like I once said, Chang was a fierce guy.  “He’s tense.  Reactions a little slowed; wrenched hamstring.  Some hearing loss still.”

 

Wufei was silent.  I hung on to the cell, wondering what else he’d wanted to hear.  “What about you?” came his low voice.

 

Me?  “What the fuck do you care about me, Wufei?  I’m not the one got buried under the rubble –“

 

“You were shot, Trowa said.  If we’re still all under threat, it’s important to know what status we all are.”

 

Status?  “I’ll tell you what status we are,” I said, gritting my teeth.  “I need a fucking good bath and a decent meal.  I need eight hours’ sleep, minimum.  My left arm feels like it’s made of wet cereal, and my knees are skinned like a kid’s.  On top of that, I need Heero Yuy out of my hair and this homicidal lunatic caught and castrated, all before breakfast.  That too much to ask?”

 

“A certain degree of stress, then,” said Wufei’s steady voice.  I could see him there in the hospital bed, leg up in traction, snapping orders to simpering, little nurses.  But it wouldn’t work with me

 

He was continuing, regardless.  “I warned Relena not to place Yuy with you, but she seemed to think I wasn’t equipped at the time to make sensible decisions regarding strategy.  I didn’t think either of you would benefit from meeting up again under such circumstances –“

 

“And you’d fucking know about that,” I hissed.  I wanted to shout at someone – but I didn’t want to wake Heero.  I wanted Wufei to get the hell off the line so I could have a proper think about his news.  And a coffee.  Or two.  Hell, I didn’t know what I wanted.

 

“Yes, I would know,” he snapped back.  “Listen to me, Maxwell!  I have an almost pathological dislike of discussing my personal life with anyone not directly involved, but I think it’s time that I was a little more forthcoming.  Maybe my change of attitude is the result of lying under piles of smoking rubble for an hour and knowing that someone wanted it to be even more permanent.”  He cleared his throat; it seemed to have become dry.  “You were always very hostile towards the friendship between Heero and me, and for a while I couldn’t understand why.  But someone has recently explained to me that you may have developed some personal – and obviously irrational -- jealousy of us.  I thought Heero would have made everything clear to you, but then he never seemed to be very objective in his actions towards you.  If you had let me explain instead –“

 

“Now isn’t the time, Chang,” I ground out.

 

He’d ignored me, he was still talking.  “-- I mean, I can see the attraction, if I were interested in men that way, because he has a good physique and a superb intelligence.  His sense of loyalty and fine ethical standards would make him an excellent partner, personally as well as professionally –“

 

Roll that across me again, will you?

 

 

*

 

 

“Wait up, Chang.  You don’t see Heero as a lover?”

 

“Duo, aren’t you listening to me?  I’ve no time to waste on lies and confusion.  No, I am contentedly heterosexual, although I don’t have my sexual preferences tattooed on my forehead, and I may not have broadcast the fact around my friends.  One wonders why it should be necessary, to be honest –“

 

“You’ve got a girl, then?”  My face felt like it was twisted in a mixture of humiliation, amazement and a grin.  Sure glad I didn’t have a mirror to hand.

 

“Hell, Duo…” His sigh was very protracted.  “I don’t see the point of gossiping about this like schoolboys, but yes, I do have a current relationship with a woman.”

 

“So tell me who?”  Now I wasn’t asking for anything to do with my past relationship with Heero – I was just damned curious!

 

“I’m not about to tell you over the telephone, Maxwell.  It’s obviously a private matter.”

 

“Neither of you want it to interfere with your professional relationship, eh?”

 

“Well of course we both consider that the main issue, but I hardly think –“ he went silent.  “Maxwell, forget I said that.  I despise your tactics.”

 

“You won’t be the first,” I grinned.  I could guess who he was dating.  There weren’t many women could match the proud, intelligent Wufei Chang.  And it’d have to be someone who could match him in the dojo as well as the classroom.  I cleared my own throat, self-consciously.  “Guess I’ve been a prize asshole, haven’t I?”  Wufei’s silence confirmed it.  “Guess I owe you an apology.”  And doesn’t that sound feeble, I thought.

 

“None required,” he said, sharply.  “I never intended that I should be part of the problem, Duo.”

 

“I know,” I said, grudgingly.  “I think you’ll find it was a big pile of other shit too, Chang.  But I admit my jealousy was no help to the mix.”  It was both a symptom and a cause, I thought.  My head hurt from too much soul searching at this hour of the morning.  My body hurt from the battering it’d taken over the last twenty four hours.  My heart hurt from a regret that was both painful and ingrained.

 

“Maxwell… Duo?  Are you still there?”  I grunted into the phone.  Wufei continued.  “There are some things that I have less inhibition in discussing, though I know you still won’t like it.  I wanted you to seek some help after the incident – after the attack at the club, at the beginning of Mission Dove.  I thought that your behaviour had become erratic –“ He coughed gently.  “Even more erratic than usual, that is.  You were obviously distressed by it, though all the attention was directed to Heero’s physical injuries and the punishment of the perpetrator.  Neither you nor Yuy would listen to me about it, though, and we were all needed elsewhere.  I thought the best I could do was help get Yuy discharged from hospital and recovered as soon as possible; I thought the rest would settle itself.  I never thought to pursue it further, I’m no psychiatrist myself…”

 

“It’s OK,” I broke in.  “I’m good.”

 

He made a sound suspiciously like a snort.  “That day, the day of your – altercation, at the end of the mission.  I got to the pair of you as soon as I could, to break you up, but the damage was done by then.  Relena couldn’t have condoned such behaviour on duty.”

 

“Sure,” I said.  “I understand.  Own worst enemies, and all that.”

 

But he didn’t seem satisfied with my continuing self-condemnation, speaking carefully again.  “You were a good complement to each other, Duo.  I could see that each of you brought out some good traits in the other; it was a pity to have lost it all.  Heero has many regrets about it, I believe.  He doesn’t speak easily about these things – about personal things.”

 

“I know,” I said.  What fucking inadequate words they were, eh?  “But we’ve … sort of cleared the air a bit over the last day or so.”

 

“You have?”  He sounded almost admiring.  Definitely surprised.

 

“You reckon we brought out some good shit in each other?”  I asked, musingly.

 

He snorted again.  “Not quite the words I used, but yes.  I’ve neither the skills nor the appetite to analyse your relationships any further.”

 

I laughed, then.  “Never thought I’d be taking lonely hearts advice from you, eh, Chang?”

 

“Is that how it is?” came his earnest voice.  “You have a lonely heart?”

 

“Fuck’s sake,” I groaned almost to myself.  “It’s just a phrase –“

 

And then he laughed.

 

I grinned, wishing he could see it.  “OK, you got me.  Wufei – look, I appreciate all this.  All that stuff about you being concerned about me.”

 

He growled again.  “I have to go.  The consultant’s review is at 08:00.  Call me at once with any theories you have about the materials used.”

 

“Will do.  Give my regards to Relena, OK?  When she gets there, keep the welcome kisses to a minimum and tell her to call us as soon as she can.”

 

“I will.”  His angry growl crackled down the line.  “That crack about the welcome kisses – I expect you to honour the confidentiality of this conversation, Maxwell.”

 

“That’s a given,” I said, almost cheerily.  “Go concentrate on getting better, Hopalong.”

 

There was a sound of annoyance and the connection was broken at once

 

 

 

Day Three   07:50

 

 

Heero came grumbling into the kitchen.  “Why the hell didn’t you wake me?  Trowa will be at the hospital by now, and we can contact Relena –“

 

“He’s already there,” I said, rather smugly.  “No Relena yet, though.  But they’ll all be together soon, all the Team.  Just us missing.”

 

“You called them?” he asked.  He poured some coffee as he spoke, as if he was on automatic pilot.  “Is Quatre there too?”

 

“Ah … no, not yet,” I said.  “Not that I know of.”  I saw the tightening of his shoulders.  There was a slight trail of water on the side of his neck, where he’d obviously hurried through his morning wash.  He was wearing his jeans and one of my undershirts, noticeable for its lack of ironing.  The muted khaki colour suited him; it blended well with the dark flush of his skin.  We used to do that a lot, borrow each other’s clothes when we stayed over.  As I stared at him, words temporarily eluding me, he reached across me for a spoon and the fabric rode up on his torso.

 

The scar was still there, a shallow, shining red tramline across his left side, slashed across his waist.  I glanced away quickly, before he caught me looking, and moved a pile of papers from under the coffee pot with a growl of mock annoyance.  “Be careful, will you?  I didn’t want to wake you so I laid some stuff out here to work for a while.”

 

He turned then, noticing for the first time the sticky notes all over the doors of my cupboards.  “Hell.  What’s all this?”

 

“It’s the way I work,” I said, defensively.  “Bit of brainstorming – sketching – word patterns –“

 

“I know that,” he shook his head, dismissing the explanation.  He was used to the method.  He stared at the tabulated numbers and the lines of letters ranged against them.  I’d moved into several colours of highlighter – and three shades of sticky notes.  Place looked like a small nuclear device had gone off in a paper mill.  “The email address?”

 

I nodded. 

 

He moved back to the doorway, but stood there watching me.  “Tell me about it,” he said, quietly, though there was a tightness to his voice that betrayed his tension.  “Or do you want to get dressed first?”

 

I looked down at myself.  When I got up after Wufei’s call, I finally shucked off the grubby sweats I’d been wearing since I was shot, changed into some more comfortable shorts and peeled off the shirt, too.  I’d just forgotten to put another one on.  The thoughts had started to crowd my mind and I’d stumbled into the kitchen past my sleeping guest, grabbing for pen and paper to scribble down my first thoughts.  Decency was the last thing on my mind, you see.

 

I grinned ruefully.  “No,” I replied, my voice tripping over itself with eagerness.  “No, I don’t want to get fucking dressed, I want to tell you about it first!  That a problem?”

 

He smiled slightly, and his eyes lifted from my bare chest.  Six months ago, I’d have recognised the look in his eyes as one of eagerness for some other kind of communication; three months ago, I’d have taken it for distaste and disapproval.  This morning I hadn’t got the faintest idea, but I actually didn’t care to stop to analyse it.

 

“I spoke to Wufei while you were asleep,” I rushed on.  I reached to peel my first sheet of notes out from under a couple of forks.  They clattered into the sink, completely ignored.  “He told me the materials used in both the poison attack and the bombing of your apartment were possibly Department issue.  He said some of them only came into use since Mission Dove, as in relatively recently.”  I ignored Heero’s raised brows at the mention of Wufei, and hurried on.  “Also, Trowa said to check out his notes, and I found them in amongst your stuff.”  I looked across quickly, to check he was all right with me rifling through his papers while he slept.  He nodded to me, and I took that as OK.  “So I went through the whole pile.  Most of the mail that was being diverted was only since we began Dove – again, within a relatively recent time frame.  A lot of it was to do with the raid on the club, right at the beginning – our plans, the attack on you, the subsequent investigation and post-mortem – even though there was plenty of other stuff that might have been useful to an enemy.  Trowa puzzled over this apparently selective process for a while; I managed to decode his own brand of shorthand to read some of his initial thoughts.  He just never spent the time on following it through.  His interim conclusion was that the hacking concentrated on the attack at the club and its aftermath, then on the subsequent movements of the Project Team members – you, especially.”

 

He was frowning, absorbing this information.  “What do you think, then?  That it’s a personal vendetta?  Why the attacks on everyone else, then?”

 

“No, not personal against you except to the extent that you were on the team that raided the club in the first place.  There were several medical reports diverted, fairly boring except for information about your wounds and the weapon used and such.  But there were other mails selected, full of anecdotal stuff about the rest of us, what our duties were during the rest of the mission, where our current homes were, what transport we were using…”

 

He raised an eyebrow, questioningly this time.  “No,” I said, anticipating the question. “Not a lot about Quatre – just the rest of us, including Relena as controller of the mission.”

 

“But if someone wanted to know what had happened, wouldn’t they have been better served by stealing a look at the Mission file itself?  Everything was in there.”

 

I nodded.  “But it’s only since I looked through Trowa’s notes that I realised the file hasn’t been at the Department at any stage.  After the attack on you, Relena’s bosses took it aside during the investigation, and everything we did since then had to be passed through them.  I think she was on some kind of probation, even though the investigation found no one else to blame specifically.  Most of us knew what was going on throughout Dove because we were directly involved and kept in touch with each other.  But anyone else would have found it difficult to find a single comprehensive record of the mission in one place at any one time.”

 

“So we’re back with our original theories.”  Heero narrowed his eyes and folded his arms as if to protect himself.  He looked casual, leaning against the doorway, but I knew different.  “It all has something to do with Mission Dove.”

 

“But not the peace talks, I reckon,” I said.  “The pattern of the intelligence is far more specific than that.  It’s about the raid on the club – the attack on you – the Project Team who carried out that raid.  There’s no interest in the rest of the mission, except as a means of tracking our whereabouts.  No reference to the Joint Committee or the ambassadors or the needs of global peace, for God’s sake.  It’s all about a seedy club with some abused kids and the team of agents who were in there mopping up the crap at the end of it all.”

 

Heero glanced up at the sticky notes again.  “So did you crack the code?”

 

“Please,” I said, with exaggerated affront.  “You insult me.  It’s a nine-number matrix, like those number games that are so popular.  You have to fill each box with one each of the numbers 1 to 9, never repeating on a line or in a box or on a diagonal –“

 

Heero coughed, pointedly.  I sighed.  “I fitted the patterns to the alphabet, though I don’t know how long it would have taken me if I hadn’t found a couple of messages that Trowa intercepted that were also in the code.  There was only one letter repeated in the email address, but that helped me to –“

 

“What is it, Duo?”  There was a dangerous edge to his voice.  Guess he hadn’t had breakfast yet.

 

“Melting pot,” I said, simply.  “That’s what the mail address is.  Something that Wufei said to me – or I said to him – about a mixture, made me think about the pattern of the numbers, made me consider this kind of encryption.  Made me think about the phrase itself.”

 

“But…” Heero looked stricken.  “But that’s what Quatre calls his department, isn’t it?  And all your theories about no one having access to Mission Dove – isn’t Quatre the one whose records would have been the most complete?  He knew where we all were, where we were posted, what we were using, how we were resourced.  Any gaps in his knowledge were things he could have got from us directly because we worked together on the mission.  I know I was the one brought him to mind yesterday, but I really hoped I was on the wrong track.  Doesn’t all this lead straight back to him?  Shit, Duo, couldn’t you be wrong --?”

 

“Chill,” I said, and I could see I was annoying the hell out of him in my refusal to get upset.  “Yeah, Quatre could have got all the information he wanted from us, Heero, you’ve put your finger on it there.”

 

“What the hell --?”

 

And then I started to laugh.

 

 

*

 

 

“What the hell is there to laugh about, Duo?”  Heero sounded both astonished and angry.

 

“No, sorry,” I hiccupped, trying to rein it in.  “But you see, that’s the whole point!  That’s why I’m sure now that Quatre doesn’t have anything to do with it!  Why should he go through this ridiculous charade of diverting emails and hacking into medical reports when he already has access to any information he might need to turn against us, discreetly and – more importantly – secretly?  And this whole hacking thing is just so amateur that it’d offend me if I wasn’t so shit scared of one of us coming to serious harm.”  I waved a sheaf of my notes at him by way of emphasis.  “Think about it!  Which one of us would be so crass as to use a code name that referred to his own department?  To his own personal nickname for it?  Even if it’s encrypted, it’s so blindingly stupid that it’s alien to us.  It’s like leaving the network password on a scrap of paper in the drawer by the local PC.  You know?”  Heero was staring at me, his mouth half open as if he were trying to find a suitable response to my excitement.  “Heero, don’t you see?  Quatre is no fool – very far from it.  And this ridiculous numeric code that’s been used – that wouldn’t have been Quatre either.  Dammit, he hates these things, I can’t even get him to spend time on a crossword, let alone a numbers game.  Only numbers he likes are the serial numbers in procurement catalogues for special equipment, or the telephone and zip code numbers for safe hotels, or the amount of money you spent last month on ammunition alone against the current credit limit –“

 

“OK, OK, I get you.”   

 

“So he’d never use ‘melting pot’ himself – it’s been used either in ignorance, or as a deliberate ploy to make us think it’s Quatre.  I’m beginning to believe there are quite a few red herrings swimming around in the events of the past few weeks.  Place is starting to stink of them, in my opinion.  Soon as we find out where he is and sort this whole thing out the better.  It’s all getting beyond a joke…”

 

Heero’s expression cleared – I’d never seen such a look of relief.  “So we are back where we started – but we know where it was planned and what was used.  Maybe even a clue as to why we’ve been targeted.  And we seem to know who it’s not!  We can work on that, right?”  He grasped my arm and I felt his excitement at the prospect of positive action.  Its warmth coursed through me like fresh blood.  “Well done, Duo!  Smart work.”

 

Then his other hand slipped round my bare waist and he pulled me in for a kiss.

 

I don’t think he’d thought it through – it was instinctive, a result of the sudden rush of satisfaction he was feeling after a period of such frustration and inactivity.  All sorts of psychological shit like that, you know?  I could empathise with it, all too well.  But I didn’t restrain him this time.  It was a firm, rich kiss, full of enjoyment and fun and an intimacy that we used to take for granted.  Not necessarily sexual – but bringing us as close as we could get.  I opened my mouth and plunged into it with just as much enthusiasm; I tangled my hand in the hair at the nape of his neck and hugged him tightly.

 

We broke after a couple more moments, both a little breathless.  It had been exciting, yeah – but something more than that.  Something that thrilled more of me than just my treacherous groin.  His hand still lingered at my waist, his fingers warm on my flesh; his eyes were wide and shining.

 

“Wow,” he said, softly.  His lips looked rather swollen.  “That was – unexpected.”

 

“Uh-huh,” I agreed.  I wanted to grin – I wanted to cheer to the heavens, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t felt so good for months.  Oh, and by the way, I wanted more.  I leaned back into him and he looked just as keen to continue.

 

And then the trailer rocked on its very base, my papers slid spectacularly all over the kitchen floor, and we were thrown back against the doorway through no move of our own.

 

Heero’s face had whitened in a second and the rush of noise was ringing in my ears.  I knew the sound of an explosion when I heard one – and a damned big one.

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Three  09:32 

 

 

This time Heero pushed me to one side and made his way across the trailer first.  He snatched up his gun from under the couch as he went, but the minute he opened the door we saw that this was no new sniper attack.  The air outside was thick with smoke and dust; stones clattered across the ground around the trailer; people were coughing and shouting.  I peered over Heero’s shoulder to see shadows in the drifting clouds – I could hear someone cursing.  A dog was barking loudly, and it sounded like Dylan.

 

Junk’s bulk reared out of the mist, his hand wiping at his stained face.

 

“Max?  Y’ OK?  What the fuck’s going on?”

 

“What about you?”  I called back, knowing full well what was going on. 

 

He waved a hand, dismissively.  “It was under y’ trailer, man.  Dylan’s been nosin’ around there for the last day or so.  Whined all fuckin’ night, so I let him out early this morning.  He pulled this bundle out from under y’ trailer, dragged it over t’ mine.  Fuckin’ thing’s a bomb, I think.  Just went off outside my steps, couple o’ my boys hurt –“

 

Heero had already left the trailer and had plunged into the smoke himself.

 

“Let him help!” I called.  “Get everyone back; there may be more devices.”  I started coughing myself.  “Junk, tell me what the damage is.”

 

Junk moved forward out of the maelstrom, Dylan at his heels.  The dog had a spray of dirt and dust along his coat, but he seemed healthy otherwise.  I looked at him and he wagged his tail.

 

Fuckin’ animal!” Junk announced proudly.  “Saved your ass again, Max.”  Then he caught sight of the wildness in my eyes and his enthusiasm calmed a bit.  “OK, so it went off between the trailers, just smashed up the corner o’ mine and took the windows out o’ Zac’s.  If it had gone off directly under yours, Max, we’d be pickin’ the bits o’ you out o’ the crap for weeks t’ come.”   He looked at me curiously, and continued.  “Zac’s girl was under one o’ the windows, got ‘er arm injured.  Couple o’ my kids were hangin’ round having an early morning smoke behind the trailer and caught the flying metal from mine.  Just scratches on ‘em, and serves ‘em right, ‘cause they’re too fuckin’ young to be smokin’ anyway.  The old ‘uns are scared but they’re fine, so’s the baby, and if you can let Sheri know all her sisters’re OK –“

 

“Sheri?”  I stared at him, my mind racing.

 

“Ain’t ‘ in touch with ‘er?” he asked.  His expression was both puzzled and wary.  “Some message came that she was helpin’ y’ out –“

 

I stared at him.  Behind him, Heero strode back into view, his hair dusty, a single streak of dirt along his cheek.  The swirling cloud of smoke and fine debris was slowly settling.  He caught my eye and nodded.  “I’ve checked the rest of the nearby trailers – no further problems,” he said, curtly, but I understood perfectly.  This one device was meant to have done the trick.  He turned back to help with the injuries and the clearing up.  I stepped out of the trailer and drew Junk to one side.

 

“Who gave you the message about Sheri?”  I tried to keep my voice calm, but Junk’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Where is she, Max?  Is she in fuckin’ trouble?”

 

“I don’t know,” I said, honestly.  “She visited me after the shooting, you were there then.  Heero said she called in later, too, but I was out of it for a while.  Neither of us has seen her since.  Tell me what you know and it’ll all be fine.”

 

He glared at me like he didn’t believe a word.  Not sure I did myself.  The first signs of concern were glinting in his eyes, but he spoke quickly and concisely to me.  “She took that cockroach off the site early yesterday afternoon, that kid who was around at the shootin’.  He was messin’ about around here for fuckin’ ages, scared of Dylan so he said, so she said she’d take ‘im to ‘is car.  Then I get a message she was going t’ go help out with somethin’ else, somethin’ you’d asked from ‘er, she’d be back later on.”  He saw the questions in my wide eyes.  “No, she never came back last night, though that ain’t unusual – she goes ‘er own way, y’know?  And no, I can’t remember who gave me the fuckin’ message about ‘er.  Someone on the site – they’d heard it from someone, who’d heard it someplace else.  You know how it is.  Didn’t come t’ check it with y‘, because y’ were hurt, and – well, because it was a job o’ yours.  I know she has this sorta soft spot for y’; I reckoned she’d be OK.”

 

Heero came back over, hugging a grimy bundle of cloth in his arms.  We both turned to look at it.  “The dog found this under the trailer alongside the device,” he said, glancing down at Dylan who stood patiently beside Junk.  The Rottweiler’s dark eyes stared up at Heero’s – seemed like they sized each other up, and neither was found wanting.  Heero unwrapped the cloth and we all stared at the scorched remains of a rifle.

 

“Guess that’s the one that got me,” I said quietly.  Heero met my eyes and nodded.

 

“Tell me what the fuck’s goin’ on, Max!”  Junk’s voice was full of fury, but fear too.  “I’ll search for Sheri myself!  Just tell me where the hell t’ start –“

 

I turned to him and grasped his shoulder.  He looked startled at my expression, like he’d never seen me properly before.  “We’ll find her, you hear me?  And she’ll be OK.”  I know I sounded fierce.  I was damned angry myself – as angry as the girl’s father. 

 

“Y’ swear she will?” he said.  I saw Heero looking at us both, his face creased with worry.

 

“I swear!” I said.  I pushed him gently away, though it’d take a strong man to propel Junk in any direction he didn’t want to go.  “Go and see to the others and leave Heero and me to sort this out.  Heero, is that right --?”

 

He stepped up beside me.  “That’s right.”

 

 

Day Three   15:52

 

 

We were sitting back in my trailer.  The explosion hadn’t alerted any emergency services, and no one had come to the park to see what had happened.  Guess there’d been so many awkward things that had happened there in the past, it had cured the city neighbours of their natural curiosity.  A few of the residents had suggested they call the police, but after Junk and his family had talked to them, no one on the park wanted to draw any more attention to themselves. 

 

The sounds outside had quieted down and the worst of the wreckage had been cleared away.  I’d spent several hours alongside Junk’s family shifting rubbish and sweeping up the mess.  By now, the panic had subsided, and some of the kids were already playing with the last bits of twisted metal and odd knobs and handles that had been blown off doors.  I could hear parents yelling at them to leave that stuff alone, and the rumble of Phil’s flatbed truck as he continued to roll round the site picking up the debris and discussing repairs over a beer or two.

 

Occasionally I heard Dylan bark.  It was a reassuring sound, and maybe he meant it to be.

 

My bandage had come loose with the activity, and I was redressing it.  I hadn’t been able to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but the wound was healing well and my arm felt fairly strong again.  I looked across at Heero.  “How are the injured?” I asked. 

 

“Fine,” he said.  He’d just returned from another round of the nearby trailers, and he still shed a little dust with every step.  He’d spent all his time since the explosion with the people on the park, helping them all to clear up, seeing to any remaining shock or wounds.  He was good at that, if a bit abrupt, but I reckon that’s what they needed at the moment.  “The girl’s arm is good, and I swabbed a few more cuts and bruises; they’ve fetched Hans the doctor again too, so he’ll take over now.  One of Junk’s sons had a bad gash on his leg, so I checked on that, and another had a cut on his side.  He’s only about ten; he was shocked, too – wailed a lot.”

 

“I didn’t hear him –“

 

Heero grimaced; it was half a smile.  “I showed him my scar in return – he was quiet after that.  All the youngsters were pretty interested in it, actually.  It took their mind off the drama.”

 

I gazed at him, and let the smile linger for a while.  “What does everyone think happened?  I don’t want them drawn into this any further.”

 

He sighed.  “They think it’s some random act of vandalism, but a few of them know it’s connected to you – to us.  Some of the guys further around the park want you thrown off.  Junk’s spoken to them and calmed them down.  I – well, I spoke to some of them, too.  I assured them it was in hand, and all the damage would be made good.”

 

Huh?  He flushed as I stared.

 

“I’ll reimburse them.  Maybe the Department will, or maybe this’ll end up a personal debt.  Either way, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

 

“You don’t need to do that,” I stammered. 

 

He smiled.  “Can you afford to help out yourself, then?”

 

I winced.  “You know I can’t.  I’ll find some other way to help, then.  They’ve been good to me here.”

 

He nodded.  “Have you got through to the others yet?”

 

I shook my head impatiently.  “No.  The hospital is constantly engaged, which I can understand, but I can’t reach any of the others either.  There just doesn’t seem to be any good reception.”

 

“None of them?  They should all be at the hospital by now.”

 

I met his puzzled eyes with my own.  “None of them.”

 

He swore out loud.  “Duo, we have to think this through.  Who’s behind it all?  It’s not Quatre -- of course it’s not -- but a lot of our clues still remain.  He’s been the least targeted – he holds the most information.  He has access to all the systems, is involved in most of Relena’s decision making at some stage or another.  His involvement was feasible enough for me to consider it, even while I didn’t want to believe it.  He holds so many keys…”

 

“Or his department does.”

 

He stared at me.  “Not him specifically, then?”

 

“No,” I said slowly.  I’d been doing some more thinking while he’d been out and about on his Flying Doctor missions.  Hell of a lot more thinking.  “Consider someone with a similar access to equipment and services – but who doesn’t have Quatre’s security clearance or his intelligence.  Someone who’d have to dig a little deeper and a little more messily to try to find out more information about the Project Team, but could do it if he was determined.” 

 

Heero’s body stilled and his voice sharpened.  “Someone who wanted to keep tabs on us all but didn’t need to gather much information about Quatre himself –“

 

I nodded.  “Yeah -- because he was the one person they could watch from the inside.”

 

Heero’s face was darkening.  He sat next to me on the couch like a coiled spring, staring ahead of him.  I remembered this concentration of his so well; I wanted to reach over and brush the wisps of cobweb from his hair.  “Someone who made us fish for these red herrings, Duo, who led us to suspect our own colleague, set traps for us and kept us on the wrong foot for days, while trying to isolate and attack the team members.”

 

“With variable success,” I said, dryly.  “You might say someone a little naïve, not very experienced in our ways.  But with a determination that’s still fucking dangerous.”

 

Heero ran a hand over his eyes and sighed.  His expression was dark with sorry realisation.  “And I let him go.”

 

There was a short silence.

 

I grimaced.  “He was good, Heero.  I believed him too.  He looked too scared, too pathetic to be the real danger.  I knew there was something out of place, but I didn’t follow up on my instincts.  Anyway, we didn’t find the gun on him –“

 

“Because he hid it under the trailer before Dylan caught him.  Along with setting another bomb.”

 

“I reckon he had time to set the bomb before he even tried to shoot me; we never found any evidence on him of any explosive stuff.  Maybe the shooting was extra insurance for him – or just a diversion, in case we found the bomb too early.  I don’t know – little bastard was always a poor shot, you said.”  I took a deep breath, calming my anger. 

 

“No one sent him here officially,” said Heero, miserably.  “That should have alerted me from the start.  But it was his nervous behaviour that made me start to wonder about Quatre, actually –“

 

“I think that’s what you were meant to do,” I said, gently.  “He’s been clumsy, but he’s not a complete fool.  Damned good actor, at the very least.  We both fell for it.  He seemed to be a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all.”

 

“Fuck it.”  Heero groaned.  “The dog knew more than I did.” 

 

I shrugged, but I smiled a little too.  “You’re right.  Dylan didn’t like Greg from the start, even when they first brought you here.  God knows how Greg got him and the other dogs off the site yesterday morning, leaving the coast clear for him.  And then Junk brought Dylan back, nearly catching Greg in the act, but just that little bit too late for us to realise it.  But Dylan’s been dog-nosing around the trailer ever since…”

 

“Maybe he saw Greg hide the gun, or plant the bomb.  Hell, he was still keeping watch, even as we let Greg run back off home to the Department.  Remember?  Junk said the kid couldn’t get off the site without help.”  He must have felt me tense up beside him, because he turned to me at last.  “Do you think he has Sheri?”

 

“I know he does,” I said grimly.  “She’s his hostage.” 

 

“Any idea where?”

 

“I think she’s probably being held back at the hideout that Trowa found.”  He frowned, but I continued.  “Yeah, Trowa said it looked like it’d been cleared out.  But that’d be all the more reason to go back to it, thinking we’d dismissed it, thinking the trail was cold.”

 

“One of those double bluffs I joked about earlier.”  Heero sounded really pissed.

 

“Uh-huh.  At our expense, this time.”

 

He put out a hand to me, then, laid it on my arm.  It was a consoling, comradely gesture, and one I never thought I’d feel again.  I wished I had time to appreciate it, you know?  “She’s special to you, Duo, I know.  Will we go get her?”

 

“Damn straight we will!” I growled.  “I don’t know what this guy has against us, but as soon as I can get hold of Tro and find where this fucking place was –“

 

Then the cell phone rang again.

 

I glared at it.  “That phone hasn’t brought us any good news for a while, Heero.”

 

“It could be one of the Team at the hospital, calling you back.  Relena must be there now.” 

 

I reached for it and flipped it open.

 

 

*

 

 

The voice on the line was the last one I’d thought to hear.

 

“Duo?  Are you OK?  I didn’t know … who might answer this number…”

 

I flicked on the loudspeaker again so that Heero could hear as well.  “You mean, whether I’d been blown into enough pieces to sparkle in the heavens or not?  No, I survived.  Heero too – he’s making a fucking habit of rising from the ashes of various explosions.  Guess someone might be really pissed at that, don’t you think – Quatre?”

 

The voice at the other end sighed with genuine relief.  “Thank God.  He said the trailer would be destroyed by now – but I was to check whether this line was still operational.  Whether there were any loose ends to tie up.”

 

I could just about measure how mad I felt about being called a ‘loose end’.  “Who said?  You mean Greg?”

 

“Yes.”  Quatre didn’t ask any of that unnecessary nonsense, like ‘How did you find out’, ‘What final clue led you to the perp’, or anything like that.  We weren’t in any fictional detective story here.  Heero’s eyes had brightened, and he pressed up against me to listen in more carefully.

 

“Where are you, Quat?” I said, urgently.

 

“I can’t say.”  Quatre’s voice was guarded.  “Greg wants to speak to you.”  His next word was almost a whisper.  “Trowa?”

 

“He’s safe,” I quickly said back.  I heard a soft exhalation of breath on the other end.  “Does he have you covered, Quat?”

 

“Yes.”  He started to speak quickly.  “I followed some clues in Trowa’s notes to try to find him, to try to find what was going on, but I had no time to let him know what I’d found -- who I’d found.  Don’t try anything rash; you must protect yourselves!  I’ll sort it out somehow –“ His voice broke off abruptly, as if the phone had been snatched from his hand.  I could have done with knowing some clue as to where he was, what state Greg was in, what weapons he had – whatever.  Quatre Winner was another guy who didn’t spend too much time out in the field.

 

I felt chilled inside at the thought of what Greg might be doing with him.

 

“Duo Maxwell?”

 

I recognised the young voice, of course.  There was less of a whine underlying it than before.  “Let him and the girl go, Greg, and then we can talk, OK?”

 

There was some scuffling noise at the other end, and the voice sounded very angry.  “Not OK.  Not OK at all.  You should be under rubble by now.  You and your partner.  All of you.  I’m not letting anyone go until this is all finished properly.”

 

“What is it you want, Greg?”  I noticed that Heero was leaving me to do the negotiation, which was fine by me.  I’d have liked to take the kid and rip his head off, nice and slowly and with a side order of spicy relish, but fuck, that’d maybe have to wait.  “Why are you doing this?”

 

He declined to answer that, which was only to be expected.  “Shut the fuck up.  I’d have let you bleed to death in that shithole you live in; I don’t know why Yuy didn’t get out then, why he stuck around you.  But it’s all the better for me, I guess, because now I’ve got you two in one place, everyone else in another.  And now I have some bargaining chips to keep you there.”

 

“Let them go, Greg,” I repeated.  “They’re no good to you.  The girl – well, she’s expendable of course -- she’s nothing to us.”  I hoped I kept the tension out of my voice.  “And Quatre… he knows what it’s like; he’s just an agent.  He knows he’s on his own.”

 

I heard the indignation flaring in his tone.  “That’s fucking typical of you – of all of you! -- dismissing him like that.  He’s the one who keeps it all rolling, the one who keeps the rest of you morons in line!”

 

I glanced at Heero and raised an eyebrow.  Greg’s aggressive language sat oddly with our perception of the kid we’d previously thought of as respectful and timid.  And, basically, ineffectual.  I spoke back into the phone as calmly as I could.  “He thinks highly of you, Greg; we all know that.  Why don’t you let him go, then, and he can speak for you?”

 

But he wasn’t going to fall for that.  Wasn’t I the one who said he wasn’t a complete fool?

 

“I’ll speak for myself, Maxwell.  You can both stay there until I call on you.  I have things to say to you in person.”

 

I could feel Heero tensing beside me.  Would Greg come here?  It could be of advantage to us if he did.  Despite all that, I put the edge of a whine into my voice.  “Why the fuck should we stay here?  You might have all kinds of other stuff planned, and we’re not sitting here like fairground targets to get blown up again –“

 

He gave a low growl of disgust.  “There’s nothing more.  You’ll have to believe me, won’t you?  Or will you take the risk?”

 

I looked at Heero who mouthed at me, “The blast under the trailer was low quantity.  Maybe he’s used up all his explosives – or is using them somewhere else.”

 

“The hospital?”

 

“No,” he hissed back.  “Too big a target, too difficult to find them all together.  But I just don’t know.  It sounds like he’s changing his plans on an hourly basis –“

 

“Maxwell?”  The voice on the end of the phone called me back.  “I’ll be there, don’t you worry.  But if I don’t find you there I’ll have to leave another calling card.  Maybe another person will lose limbs – another person will learn what it’s like to be shit scared and desperate.  And get those fucking dogs away from the site, too.  If there’s anything that smells of a trap, or any kind of obstruction –“

 

“We’ll stay here,” I said, quickly.  “Don’t get hysterical.  You’ll bring them both with you – Quatre and Sheri?”

 

“Maybe,” he said.  He didn’t like me talking to him like a kid.  “Maybe not.”

 

“Greg,” I said.  “That’s fine.  Chill.  Aren’t you worried we’ll call in some back-up, though?  If you can’t give me any idea of when you’re coming –“

 

And he laughed.  Loudly, and with a rather pleasantly melodic tone.  “Do what you like, Maxwell.  You’ll see it’s all useless.  In the meantime, I’ll be there when I’m there.  Any trouble – well then, you’ll see just who I might have with me.  You understand?”

 

The call ceased.  I turned to Heero. 

 

“Is he insane?” said Heero, frowning.  “To come and meet us here?  Warning us he’s on his way?  He could have got clean away; he could have tried some other remote attack again. Not knowing we were on to him –“

 

I held up a hand, quieting him.  “Yes, I believe he’s nuts, but not in the way we can measure. He wants to see us for some reason – he wants us all to be here together.  He wants his day in court.”

 

Heero still looked confused.  “What did he mean – another person might lose limbs, another person might learn what it’s like to be scared and desperate?  He can’t mean us, surely…”

 

I shook my head.  “I don’t know.  He must think Wufei is still likely to lose his leg, or something like that.  He hopes he’s ruined that life, if nothing else.  I don’t know what he’s thinking about the rest of us.”

 

“How long do we have?  I mean, will he be here in the next ten minutes?”

 

I shrugged, but when he protested I held up a hand.  “OK, so obviously I don’t know, but that’s the idea, isn’t it?  To unsettle us and keep us on tenterhooks.  But I heard planes in the near background – he’s close to the airport, and that’s almost an hour across town.  And at this time of day, he really would be nuts to cross the traffic.  I reckon he’ll come early evening, when there’s darkness and less chance of witnesses.”

 

“So there could be time to get to the hospital and back…”

 

I took hold of his shoulder then and stared carefully into his face.  I could see the plans rolling around in his brain.  Here was a guy who was created for field work, right?  “Maybe there would be time, Heero.  But I’m not going to risk it.  Not for Quatre, not for Sheri.  If you want to try it, go ahead, and I’ll cover for you.  But I’m staying here until Greg comes, and I’m going to find out what the fuck this is all about.  I’m going to get Sheri and Quatre back and then – then – I’m going to beat the holy crap out of this kid.”

 

Heero looked back at me and I wondered if he’d chew me out for it, for not considering other options, for just sitting back and waiting for trouble to come to us, for – well, for not being him. 

 

But he didn’t. 

 

“Right,” he said, nodding.  “Good call.  We stay here.  But we’ll wait together.  I can rig up some early warning system here, and I can see what weapons we might be able to get around us.  We won’t be sitting ducks, if and when he turns up.”  He turned from my raise eyebrows and flipped open the phone again.  “We can still call Relena, ask for cover.  We must be able to get through by now –“

 

He shook the cell phone, peered at the screen, held it up to the window.

 

“No signal, huh?” I said.  “No coverage – no connection.  Your phone’s gone the same way as the others.  Of course!  I understand what’s happened now.”  Heero was frowning at me, puzzled.  I wanted to laugh, but I was just too fucking angry.  “You know what he’s done?  He’s cut them off!  The guy works in procurement; his department – Quatre’s department -- pays the bills.  How easy is it for him to cancel the contracts, cut off the communications – just like that?  How fucking obvious, how fucking mundane.”  I was shaking my head, half impressed.  “Until we find alternative lines or set up proper radio contact, we’re out of touch with each other.  It’s so simple that it hurts.  He’s living in a thriller of his own mind’s making – and dragging us in after him.”

 

Heero stared.  “But he’s working alone, Duo.  We can take him out, no trouble.  He’s unprepared for all this – none of us were meant to survive his remote attacks, he’s been very naïve.  He’s having to make it up as he goes along –“

 

“But that’s what makes him dangerous!” I snapped back, and saw him flinch.  “I have to think this through before he arrives.  I think he has Quatre under some duress, and God knows what he’s done with Sheri.  It’s not a matter of just jumping the kid when he turns up and handcuffing him.  You have to realise the danger of unpredictability – of irrationality.  I underestimated it once before, and I’ve regretted that ever since.”

 

Heero’s face darkened.  “You’re going on about it again.  The mission – “

 

“No,” I said, firmly.  “I’m learning from it at last.”  I stared steadily at him until I saw some acceptance flicker in his eyes.  We both glanced together at the door out of the trailer.

 

“So we need to evacuate the site,” said Heero.  “And fast.”

 

 

 

Day Three   16:25

 

 

Junk was arguing with Heero – it would have been amusing to watch if I hadn’t been so tense about the coming hours.  I stood in the doorway of my trailer and watched them standing at the foot of Junk’s front steps.  Dylan stood between them, looking from one to the other and panting softly.

 

Most of Junk’s family were filing out past them, carrying small bags of overnight things, smoking or muttering.  Or both.  Two of the younger girls looked over to me – one of them had a tear-streaked face.  I gave them a half smile and a thumbs-up.

 

“You have to go,” repeated Heero for about the fifth time. 

 

Fuckindon’t,” said Junk, bluntly.  “Don’t have t’ do a fuckin’ thing you say.  You’re some punk that Max hooked up with and y’ know squat about this place.  This is my world, she’s my daughter, and I go my own fuckin’ way.”

 

I stepped down from my trailer and went over to them.  “You have to go, Junk, like the man says.”  He glared at me, ready to protest again, but I spoke again, quickly.  “We don’t want anyone else to get hurt, you know?  You must trust us to help Sheri -- this is our world now.  Anyway, I need your help.”

 

“Huh?”  He looked back and forth between us, full of angry suspicion.  His head was a ridiculous mirror of Dylan’s, except without the long panting tongue.

 

“We need to contact our other friends, but Heero’s cell has just – died.”

 

Junk shrugged dismissively.  “How many’d y’ want?  Phil has a box of ‘em –“

 

“No,” I said.  “Our friends’ cells aren’t active either – at least for a while.”  I sighed, wondering how much to tell him.

 

“So y’ need a radio,” he said. 

 

I looked up, startled, and stared into his shrewd eyes.  I nodded.  “Well, yeah, that’d be great, just what we could use.”  I looked at Heero, who nodded too.

 

“Trowa will have radio contact,” he said.  “Wherever he is, and particularly if the cells are out of action.  I know the frequency.  We just need some equipment.”

 

Junk laughed, a short bark.  “If there’s one thing Phil has, it’s equipment.  I’ll take y’ to him and we can see what y’ need.”  He snapped his head to one side, indicating for Heero to follow him to the nearby trailer.

 

“Then you’ll both leave the site for the night,” I said.

 

Junk looked back at me, and his smile was strained.  “Sure.  It’s up to you then, Max.”

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Day Three  16:47 

 

 

Heero came into the main room with nothing but a towel round his waist, rubbing his hair dry with another small one.  The dust had crept into our clothes, into our hair, into everything -- he’d finally showered the filth off him to his satisfaction. 

 

“I’ve been around the site again,” I said, my throat suddenly a little dry.  I’d had the first swift shower and was back into clean clothes -- just a pair of loose sweat shorts that had shrunk in the last couple of washes, and a brightly logo printed tee shirt.  I’d found another set of sweat pants and shirt for Heero to use, and they were piled on the couch beside me.  Should have taken them into the bathroom for him, I thought, a little stupidly.  Poor bastard doesn’t need to be wandering around looking for some decency.  I stared at his half naked body for a moment, seeing the glistening remnants of the warm water on his ribcage.  My own clothes felt odd on my body, suddenly.  Guess he looked a sight better in my stuff than I did myself.  Especially the towels. 

 

I coughed, and stood up awkwardly.  I continued speaking, quickly.  “Most of the trailers around mine have been emptied now – though some of the guys went more grudgingly than others.  Junk went off with Phil in his truck; they rounded up some of the kids who were still playing around, and took all the dogs as well.”

 

“Good,” he nodded.  “We don’t know what to expect from Greg, so it’s best we don’t involve any more civilians.”  He twisted slightly to catch a stray trail of water running from his hair down his back, and the muscles at his side flexed briefly along the pale pink slice of his scar.

 

He’d always done that to me -- made the heat flare like a brand through my body.

 

“How long since Greg’s call?”

 

I cleared my throat again.  Damned thing still felt like sandpaper.  “Just over half an hour.  I’ve been working on the radio, though I think it’s more your kind of thing.  Just need you to tune it in.  When you’re ready.”

 

Maybe there was something edgy in the tone of my voice, but Heero stilled suddenly.  He pulled the small towel away from his hair and let his hand hang down gently against his leg.  He looked hard at me, and a slight flush appeared on his cheeks.  Then both of us glanced at the strangely shaped metal casing that sat on the card table.  It looked like a cylinder sliced in half with a few inset dials and meters.  Some electrical wires looped along the central seam of it like mustard trails on the top of a hotdog.  There was a makeshift earpiece and an amplifier attached, so we could both listen in.  Yeah, Phil’s ‘Rare Parts’ business had found us something rather unusual and inevitably of suspicious origin – but I’d been playing with it while Heero was washing, and it had the best fucking reception I’d ever heard on a radio.  I was thinking of asking Phil to build me some kind of wacky-but-awesome music system sometime.

 

I was also thinking some new body parts might be more appropriate after tonight.  Fucked if I knew what Greg might have in store for us.

 

“It’s good,” I said, referring to the radio, though I’m not sure whether that was the only thing I meant.  He was still staring at me with that look.  I bit at my lip and joked as best I knew how.  “Gonna pick up the early evening jazz channel as soon as you’ve reported back to the boss.”

 

He pursed his mouth and for a minute there was a flash of irritation in his eyes, just like the old days.  Then there was brief confusion – then there was the beginning of a smile.  “Idiot,” he said, his voice rather low, but strangely affectionate.  “You think we’ve got time for a song and a sax?”  My jaw dropped at his rare teasing, but his smile just grew broader and he stepped past me to sit on the couch and examine the radio.  

 

 

 

Day Three  17.06

 

 

It was a hell of a relief to hear Trowa’s voice on the radio.  Heero had scorned my selection of music frequencies and spent just a few moments with what sounded like a shrieking banshee and a hissing goose until some human voices came back to him from the contraption.  He knelt at the foot of the couch, holding the earpiece and amplifier between us, and he spoke clearly into the microphone until he got response.

 

Trowa’s voice barked out of the silence like a slap to the face.  “Heero?  At last!  We lost all cell phone connectivity.“

 

“Yes,” Heero said, his tone very clipped.  “We did too.  It’s all part of the campaign, Trowa.  We’re being isolated, we’re being manipulated and made vulnerable –“

 

“I know,” Trowa said, interrupting him.  Even with the diluted reception, I could hear the suppressed emotion in his voice.  “Is Quatre with you?”

 

Heero looked quickly up at me then back at the mike.  “No, he’s being held hostage.  He came after you and Greg has him –“ He never got a chance to finish the sentence, as there was some kind of angry, gargled cry from the other end of the channel and a deep scraping sound as if furniture was being thrust aside.

 

The next voice we heard was even more welcome to me.  “Heero?  Duo, too?  I need to know what’s happening your end.  Now!”

 

I dropped to my knees beside Heero and called urgently into the mike.  “Relena!  Are you OK?  Do you realise who’s behind this?  It’s –“

 

Trowa was talking behind her, his voice sharp and fast and angry, but I couldn’t make out the words.  “Duo, be quiet!” Relena said, urgency in every syllable. “Trowa says this frequency isn’t secure.”

 

“Forget it,” I snapped back.  “Greg won’t be surfing the radio waves to catch us, he’s on his way over here right now.”

 

“What --?”

 

“Did you know it was him?” I pushed on, talking over her exclamation.  “I guess he’s been trailing us all for months.  He’s got access to all sorts of places, he’s been stealing equipment and setting traps, and –“

 

“I knew,” she broke back in, and the tone of her voice was so stern that the words dried on my tongue.  “All of us here had come to that conclusion -- but not soon enough.  After the last attack on the office, my whole room was taken apart; the files were infiltrated and many damaged.  Some were removed completely -- one of those taken was my unofficial file on Project Dove and the early raid on that obnoxious club, where Heero –“

 

“ – was hurt, I know,” I gabbled on.  “What’s the connection, Relena?  I don’t think Greg has any interest in the political agenda of Dove.  It’s something far more personal than that.”  Only she would know, maybe – only she knew the whole picture…

 

“He’s only been with us for a little while,” she said, and her voice sounded like she was struggling for control.  “He took his own file from my office, of course, but I have a copy of all personnel files at an off-site location, and I’ve had them brought to me here at the hospital.  I’m searching them all now.  His background checked out fine; there was nothing suspicious, no family history to concern us – an orphan, no family noted at all, actually.  And we only took him on as a general assistant; we would have monitored his performance over the course of the next year or so.  But somehow he worked his way up more quickly than that, making himself useful to Quatre, appearing to us all as a committed and loyal employee.  He joined us about six months ago, just about the time that Heero was in hospital.”

 

Six months ago…

 

“I signed off his application,” came Relena’s voice.  It was small and sounded young.  It was the first time I’d ever heard her show any distress, any uncertainty.  “I treated him as I treated Cissy – as Quatre’s best assistant.  As a trusted companion.”

 

I felt the prickle of premonition on the back of my neck.

 

The thread of anguish in her voice was unmistakable, and when I turned to look at Heero I saw that he’d heard it, too; he was very pale again.  No one needed my specialist sociological skills to recognise overwhelming misery when they heard it.  “Relena…” I swallowed, and started again.  “What’s happened to Cissy?”

 

“She was driving me to the hospital.  We’d rescued what we could from the offices and evacuated.  We didn’t know what other devices there might have been, what sort of timers they may be on.  We left it all to the bomb squad and got out.  We assumed it would be directed at the building, like before.  Not me, specifically.  She was driving,” she repeated.  There was a shuddering gasp from her, and it was obvious that she couldn’t speak any more about it.  That was how we knew the worst had happened.

 

Heero stared at me.  “A car bomb?” I whispered.  He nodded back, his own guess confirmed.

 

We were all silent for a moment, the horror stark and hideous in our minds.  Cissy had been a friend to us all – Cissy had been an innocent in all of this.  I thought I could hear Wufei’s deep voice in the background, but I couldn’t be sure.  I had a sudden, deep compassion for Relena, who treated all of her staff fairly and firmly – and yet showed so often a personal care for them.  In that moment, I didn’t envy her responsibility, or her pain.

 

She was the first to speak again.  “I’m on my way, Duo.  Heero.  You need backup.”

 

“No!”  I tried not to snap, but I knew she’d take no notice anyway.  “We can handle it, believe me.”

 

“Don’t be stupid, Maxwell,” she said.  Like I said, she took no notice of me.  But it was good to hear the imperious Relena back on track.  “He’s dangerous.”

 

“No,” I said, firmly.  “He’s history.  Heero and I have some issues with him and we’re going to deal with them.  On our behalf – and yours, as well.”  Beside me, Heero nodded.  His eyes were on me, and they reflected my own determination.

 

“Relena?  You still there?”  When she answered, I continued.  “What you need to do is to get back to Greg’s hideout, the one that Trowa found.  Quatre said he had read up on some of Trowa’s notes and was trying to follow the route that Trowa took – he wanted to catch up with him.  He suspected Greg as well by that time, I’m sure of it.  So he obviously found the hideout himself – and found not Trowa, but Greg.  There’ll be some more clues there, some evidence, something --”

 

“Duo,” she said, her voice firm again now, the very epitome of our efficient boss.  “Leave it to us.  Trowa’s already left”

 

 

 

Day Three  17:19

 

 

 

I felt both weary and tense – a strange combination.  Heero had spent a little more time on the radio since Relena signed off, but there wasn’t much that could be improved.  He’d gone off quietly to the kitchen to make coffee; I just stood staring at the radio.  Neither of us wanted the music on; neither of quite knew what to do with our time before Greg arrived.

 

He was still dressed only – and barely – in that fucking towel.

 

When he came back out of the kitchen carrying a couple of mugs, I was rather snippy, I guess.  “Why don’t you get dressed, Heero?” I sounded rather hoarse.  “I don’t see how you can face our lunatic guest in just your birthday suit.  And this ain’t easy for me either, you know? I’m pretty reluctant to waste what time I may have left with a bunch of fucking regrets...”

 

“Regrets?”  It was almost a murmur, and it licked round me like spilt, sticky honey.  Messy – sweet – too tasty for words.  He put the mugs down on the table, slowly and carefully, and my nerves twitched with the sensual memories of many months ago.  He straightened up and stared at me.  “If you have any regrets left, Duo, shake them off now.  Don’t you think that things are moving too quickly for us to be protesting what we should have said and done in the past?”

 

I nodded, dumbly.  Fine words – and true, too.  They made me feel fucking stupid at having carried my grudges and my jealousies for all this time, eating away at my pride like ravenous sewer rats – but they also provoked a wave of amazing relief in me.

 

Things were, indeed, moving too quickly.  When did I drift from resenting Heero’s very presence to comparing him to the sweetest, richest stuff that could ever slide over my eager tongue…?

 

I was a fucking idiot.  And was – I suspected -- going to be even more so.

 

He moved, but towards me, when I’d expected him to wheel round and take the clean clothes to the bathroom to dress.  His body was warm and still carried the slightly damp aroma that skin has after a shower, and then his hand was lifting to slide around my neck and I was having trouble remembering why I was so fucking tense in the first place.  “I don’t know how to say it, Duo…” His words were still just a murmur, but now they breathed into my ear.  “I don’t know what’s going to happen.  I’m angry with Greg, and I’m upset for Relena and the others, and maybe I’m nervous too – though only because I don’t know what I’ll need to see me through this.  But what I don’t need is to dig around in all our old stuff as well, all the old misery.  I can feel you here, Duo, every time I breathe, every time I turn round.  That’s the only real thing I can think about at the moment.  I mean, where the hell have I been for the last three months, not coming to find you, not calling you, not remembering what I liked about you rather than what pissed me off…?”

 

I felt my head go back as his lips nudged at my neck.  My vision was going a little hazy.  His mouth at my ear was making me all the more of an idiot, couldn’t he see that?  Couldn’t I see that?  “I constantly provoke you to argument, Heero Yuy,” I whispered back.  “I’m jealous and volatile and demanding and judgemental –And always so fucking, fucking wrong about you… my mind growled at me.

 

“Yes,” his smile brushed at my throat.  “You have your moments, I’d say.  So it unnerves you to see me half naked.  Well, I could say the same for you.  If you don’t want this to happen, you need to stop wandering around in those pathetically brief shorts.”

 

His breath sounded a little hesitant.  His fingers were very tight on me.  He felt so good…

 

Then his mouth was on mine and neither of us was pushing off now.  No, indeed, his hand grabbed tightly at my shoulder, drawing me in to him, and in return my fingers snagged on the thin loops of the towelling fabric at his waist, tugging him in tightly so that his hip grazed at mine and my knee nudged in between his thighs. He tasted as good as he felt, but then I always knew that, didn’t I?  My mouth pressed so hard on him I was afraid I might split his lip, but I wanted to taste it all, lick at it all, smell the skin and taste the lips and feel his smooth muscles flexing under my fingers…

 

I couldn’t help but notice that the towel was slipping at its knotted fastening. 

 

 

*

 

 

Time was telescoping into just this minute, just this need.  The rest of life was a danger, it was a bereavement, it was a mystery – it was a fear.

 

And now the need roared its way through my veins and begged my arms to hold on to him, tight.

 

“What the fuck are we doing?” I gasped.  When he started to laugh softly, I stuttered on, “I mean – hell, of course I know – but now --?”

 

“You said we had a couple of hours, minimum,” he panted back.  I threaded my fingers through his damp hair and tugged his head back a little.  He groaned, and the lids drooped over his eyes like they were too hot to stand it.  His throat convulsed – I watched the throb of the pulse in his neck.  He gasped out more words.  “There’s still time to say things – to show things.  We’ve both been around to check the site – we’ve both had some time to prepare for Greg.  Now it’s just us, Duo, just us for this short time left.  I don’t know what else I want to be doing but this…”

 

“Jeez…” I might have argued, but the thrill in my nerves was too vivid to think straight.  I just wanted to laugh, and punch the air and other ridiculously childish things!  My whole body seemed to be shaking, and I felt like I was looking down on it from some other planet, wondering and marvelling at how I was so affected by him.  I kissed him again – and again -- and then took my mouth around his jaw and up to the rim of his ear and I licked playfully at his neck.  He shuddered under me, his tongue darting out to moisten his own lips.  Then I seemed to be standing in a pool of damp towelling and the skin pressed against me and writhing under my hands was stark fucking naked.  Heero was naked, and his hands were inside my tee shirt and it was the most magnificent feeling I’d had since birth.

 

Wow…”

 

It was a breathless, awed little sound, and I had to double check that it had really come from Heero.  He was peeling the shirt back up off my head and I was letting him.  He was kissing at me a little clumsily as I wriggled, and my legs banged back against the couch as he pushed possessively at me.  He was moaning a little – it was very cute, and I grinned – then I gasped aloud as his fingers brushed against one of my raised nipples.  “Wow from me, too…”

 

“Huh?” he murmured back.

 

“We sound like school kids,” I moaned.  His head bent down in front of me and his lips tightened round my nipple; his tongue flicked over the tip.  I winced and bit back a sob of pleasure.  “OK, so someone doesn’t act like one!”

 

He laughed again, a little shyly.  “Duo, I don’t want to hold back, I don’t want this to be confused – to upset – to anger us –“

 

“Never,” I groaned.  “I want you, Heero.  I want this – I want you.”   I was repeating myself; I sounded suspiciously like I was begging.  And I didn’t give a shit.  How the fuck had I ever managed without him all this time?  I’d been some kind of pale tracing of myself, some kind of shadow puppet –

 

He was pressing up against me and I could feel the tightness of the muscles in his legs.  Better than that, I could feel the heat of his groin against the thin cloth of my shorts – I could feel the swelling insistence of his erection, hot and greedy against my thigh.  I ran my hand down over his hips, tugging at skin that was too taut to grab hold of, then across his belly and down between his inner thighs.  He tensed against me, and then I rolled my fingers round his shifting balls and he groaned deeply.  I fondled one, sliding my palm around it, feeling its creases, feeling it nudge against its partner, both of them hanging heavily in the sac.  His feet shifted slightly and his legs spread apart further.  His breath was very loud.  I was conscious of his cock twitching above my knuckles, nudging its damp tip against my belly, the pubic hairs tickling between my fingers.

 

I ran my other hand down his back, tracing the knobs of his lower spine, running a single finger down between the crack of his buttocks.  His breath hitched and his head dropped forward on to my shoulder.  We stood there, naked apart from my shorts, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip.  He had one hand at my neck and one at my waist, but his fingers dug into his palms rather than into me.  His tongue darted out and licked at the sweat in the hollow of my throat.  He moaned softly.

 

I kissed at his forehead, the only part of his face I could reach, but it was enough.  I stood there as well, one hand caressing between his legs, the other down behind him, teasing at his ass.  When my front hand closed firmly round his thick, swelling cock his head snapped back up.  His eyes were very bright and for a second they didn’t focus on me.  But when they did, the fierceness was deep and dark and shocking -- and fucking brilliant.  His skin was flushed, his lips slightly parted.  I stabbed at them with my tongue – he opened up and sucked hard on me.

 

I started to pump him and his back arched, pressing his torso against me even more closely.  At the same time I slid a couple of fingers down further between his cheeks, probing for his asshole.

 

Yesss  This time it was my moans we listened to, my gasping with childlike delight.  “Want to feel you, Heero, want to touch, want to fuck you –“

 

My fingers found the soft indentation of his entrance, stroked the folds of skin round the tight pucker.  He felt very tight, very closed – he felt like a treasure that hadn’t been discovered yet, and I was no fucking Indiana Jones.  I was the slightest bit nervous – could anyone tell?  Three months apart was feeling like years… I nudged at it with the very tip of my digit, just feeling my way.  He arched more, pushing his ass out against my hand, and then my finger slid into him.  It was a shock!  It was also a thrill beyond anticipation…

 

We both cried out – so softly, so delightedly.  For a few delicious seconds we still stood there, holding each other tightly, as I gently pumped him and thrust my finger into him in the same rhythm. Then he grunted and ran his hand up my head, tangling his fingers in my hair, tugging at the base of my braid.  I felt the pressure and paused, and when he started to pull me down, I dropped carefully to my knees in front of him.

 

“Please…” he whispered.  “So good…”

 

I kept my hand on his ass, my finger still teasing in and out of him.  I could feel the muscles opening and closing round me, his conscious effort to relax, his body acclimatising to the invasion.  Had he been with anyone else since we parted?  The thought had never occurred to me, despite my ridiculous accusations of him, my jealousy of him with anyone else.  My blood ran more fiercely – my mind told me he’d been nowhere near mine for months, I’d given him up to whoever else he might want.  Hadn’t I?

 

My body ached with passion and frustration.  I couldn’t think of it – I couldn’t accept it, not right now.  I’d be sensible later, I’d be mature later, but just now I needed him as mine again.  I thrust back into him and heard his groans as I was too hurried.  I took my other hand off his cock, the thin trails of silvery pre-cum looping the space between him and my fingertips, and I anchored myself by grasping his hip.  His swollen cock jutted out at me, shining with blood-red flesh, quivering, demanding. I moistened my lips, then I leant forward and licked at it.

 

 

*

 

 

I’d always loved that – sucking him off.  It was a greedy pleasure of mine.  I loved to feel him shudder against my tongue, loved the way he swelled even further inside my mouth, loved the way he thrust instinctively against me, fucking me in mimicry of how he’d be when he was actually inside me. I started the long, lazy sweep of my tongue from the seeping tip down to the thick base of his cock, sucking the skin back up as it strained against me, flicking the point of my tongue against the thread where it swelled out to the crown.  Up and down, and then I sank my lips over him fully.  He filled me; I latched on to him, licking, smoothing saliva around him to lubricate it all, just playing with the crown for the moment.  My fingers still slipped in and out of his ass though my concentration struggled to cope with the pounding in my head.  My own cock was hot and heavy in my shorts and I was sure I had one of those embarrassing wet patches at the front. 

 

I could care less. 

 

I ached for him; I could feel the muscles of my belly complaining, clenched and tensing as I knelt there, my groin nagging for attention.  His grip tightened in my hair and his ass clenched round my fingering.  His moan was low in his throat.

 

He was close to climax; I was shocked to realise how surely I knew that.  How my body still reacted to the shivers of his, how the passage of his pleasure was still imprinted on my nerves.

 

He tugged at my hair again and I looked up at him, my lips still busy. 

 

“Don’t swallow it,” he gasped.  “We can use it… Duo – this is… fuck…I can’t –“

 

I nodded to let him know I understood.  His head was going back again and his eyes were rolling.  Coherent speech wasn’t really an option for either of us.  For the moment, I stopped the movement in and out of his ass and just concentrated on the caress of my mouth.  A shudder ran the whole length of his body and I gripped at his legs, hoping to hold him upright if they buckled.  He grunted something that sounded like my name then he tensed and became totally still.  I relaxed my lips and waited – my reward came seconds after.  Hot, sharp-tasting seed filled my mouth, spitting out of him in eager bursts, the sensitive shaft throbbing gently against my teeth.  I felt my throat tighten eagerly, ready to suck it all down, but I resisted, and let it puddle on to my tongue, thick and sticky and as tasty as anything I’d ever had.

 

The pain in my groin was becoming less of an annoyance and more of an agony.  I rocked gently back on my heels and let Heero’s softening cock slide out from between my lips.  They felt well-used and slightly numb.  I opened my mouth again, a little gingerly; then I lifted a hand and let the cum trickle out into my cupped palm.  It felt cold inside my mouth again, the warmth and fullness of him no longer there.  I put my free hand back to the couch to steady me and I got up to my feet, facing him.

 

He was swaying slightly – there was the shine of moisture in his eyes.  His skin was rather gorgeously flushed, and I could still see the pale impression of my hand’s grasp on his hip.  The tendons in his neck were raised; a trapped nerve in his thigh twitched instinctively.  Shit…” he sighed.  His gaze came back into focus and sought me out.  “Duo,” he murmured, neither question nor statement.  He gave a rueful laugh, a very gentle, awed sound.  Shit.  Your mouth…”

 

I smiled back.  I always had thought I gave good head.  I hoped he’d return the favour – I needed release, and I needed it from him.  I slipped my unencumbered arm around his waist, breathing in the delicious smell of sweaty flesh, fresh cum and Heero…

 

Unexpectedly, he pushed at me and I sat back down on the couch with a sharp whoosh of breath.  “Hey --!”

 

He stepped forward, far too quickly and gracefully for a guy who’d just shot such a luscious load into my mouth, but he moved nonetheless and straddled me.  He reached down to my lap and started to push my shorts down off my hips.  At last, at last…! I thought, the blood in my body in a delicious quandary as to whether to rush to my head or places more pragmatic.  I think I was suffering from the flushed business, too, because when he looked into my face again, he smiled at me.  It was a smile like I remembered from when we first met – it was one of those smiles that creased his usually serious face, and shone behind his eyes, and lit a flame under my body like I was tonight’s a la carte menu.

 

A smile to fall in love with.  

 

 

*

 

 

I wriggled my legs and feet about, got the fabric down to one ankle, and then I was naked underneath him.  My cock sprang up, bobbing shamelessly, and his gaze fixed on it.

 

“It’s been…”  He paused, and began again.  He was making one hell of an effort to get the words out, and I felt a tug of sympathy inside me.  I didn’t deserve any of this…did I?

 

“It’s been a long time since I did this, Duo,” he said carefully, his voice hoarse.  “I never wanted anyone after you.”

 

I stared at him.  Ridiculous really, our bodies no more than a foot apart, but all of our actions in sudden paralysis.  “Heero,” I said.  “Heero.”  Fuck, now I was having problems in the speech department.  “It’s the same for me.  It’s always been the same for me.  Look, it’s OK, we don’t have to – I don’t want…for you…”

 

He shook his head briefly, as if to clear his nerves or maybe to dismiss my ramblings.  Then he put his hands on the back of the couch, either side of my shoulders and he leaned down, bending his knees so that they brushed against my thighs.  “Do it!” he hissed.  “Please!”

 

I reached between his legs with my precious little handful of lubrication, and I slipped it around my fingers and up into him again.  I stretched him as quickly and as best as I could; my cock seemed awkward on my belly, it kept nudging at my arm, distracting me.  It had reached the state where it demanded to be the number one priority of my young life, and I was keen to agree. Heero arched above me, and maybe it was uncomfortable for him, but he was impatient too, I could tell.   “I’m fine,” he said.  “It’s good…” He didn’t exactly push my hand away, but his knees gripped at me and he started to lower himself down, so I grasped his hips instead.  I wanted to ask him if he was sure about this – but I also wanted to be deep inside him.  Then my mouth was too dry to argue the point anyway, and next thing I knew my cock was pressing against warm skin and easing its way through the initial resistance, and then the head burst hungrily into him.

 

I gasped; he groaned.

 

I’d been content with just his hands on my torso, I kept telling myself.  After all, I’d never expected to be truly happy again.  I’d thought I’d never see him again; I’d built a wall of self-disgust and untenable resentment and I’d been fucking proud of it.  Yeah, I had been a prick.  And instead of being left to wallow in a pit of my own making, I’d been given a second chance to talk to him again, and hold him, and now to fuck him –

 

I held him tightly, and I moved in and out of him as smoothly as I could, as if each stroke was as precious as molten gold.  His skin was slick with sweat, and my fingers slipped a little when they rested on the glossy surface of his scar.  I felt the pressure of his thighs on me and the warm, silky contrast of his balls against my groin.  He was panting, and at some point he started to take control of it all, moving his hips up and down according to his own rhythm.  It didn’t bother me – I was on my own private expressway and I knew I was losing myself without a map all over again.

 

I grunted softly and he dropped his head to look at me, his dark hair falling messily over his forehead.  His dark blue eyes glinted out from underneath it.  I watched him rise up on me, then sink back down.  A rivulet of sweat trickled down between his nipples.

 

“Never been anything like it,” he whispered.  “Never been anything like you…”

 

I sobbed aloud -- swear to God I did.  It had been too long for me, too, and what defences did I have against such pleasure?  “I’m sorry,” I gasped, and fuck knows what I was apologising for.  “I’m sorry.  I never meant – it’s – perfect, so --“

 

The incoherence snatched at my throat again, closing it to nothing but guttural sounds.  My legs tensed and my hands gripped him way too fiercely, but I wasn’t really in control of anything anymore.  I dragged him down on me, trying to get deeper and deeper inside him; I panted; I cried out, none too quietly.  He took a hand away from the couch and grabbed the hair at the back of my neck, wrenching my face up to look at him.  His lips were pursed – he looked grimly beautiful.  We glared at each other, and then as the climax started to roll its relentless path through my body and my limbs started to shudder, we clung closely to each other.  He dropped forward to press more of his upper body against me, his reawakened erection squeezed almost angrily between our heaving bodies. I licked at his skin, desperate for his taste; I stretched my head up, bracing my teeth against his neck.

 

I heard his growl, and then felt the warm wetness of his cum against my belly, as he climaxed again.  I don’t remember many more details, or not any that made any sense.  My climax was wild and messy and my head throbbed like when I’d been shot, when I felt nothing but sharp sensation and the falling, falling…

 

I shouted, maybe, and I was dreadfully afraid I sobbed.  But my hips lifted up from the couch and my sweaty flesh slapped fiercely against his, and I pumped for an impossibly long time up into him, again and again, never wanting to lose that feeling, never wanting to lose that touch, that intimacy.

 

Never wanting to lose him.

 

 

 

Day Three  18:10

 

 

I guess in the movies the lovers lie post-coitally in bed, heads sinking into plump pillows, arms artfully draped over each other, while maybe sharing a cigarette.  Their upper bodies shine with an attractively-lit sheen of sweat, and the bright white, well-laundered sheet crumples modestly over their legs.

 

Life ain’t like the movies – we all know that, don’t we?  But at that moment, I’d rather have had my real life any day.

 

I was slumped back on the couch and Heero was sat back on his knees on the floor beside me, his upper body leaning over on to my lap.  If he turned his head just that little bit more, he’d be staring directly into my groin and he could reach over and take a taste of my cock, his firm lips enclosing the crown, his strong tongue teasing the fragile skin that strained round the shaft…

 

I was getting hard again.  It defied medical science.  I thought I’d already died from joy.

 

The discarded hand towel laid an arm’s length away from him on the floor – he’d been using it to wipe us both down.  A stray bead of sweat ran down his upper arm, but he ignored it now.  A small sigh escaped him.

 

“You said something last night,” I murmured.  He raised himself a few inches on his elbow and looked across at me.  He licked his lips and my cock stirred gently on its bed of curls, maybe in anticipation.  What the fuck are you doing, Duo, I thought helplessly, opening up these wounds again? “You said about falling for me.”

 

He nodded, and his body shifted deliciously against my cooling torso.  “It’s true – always has been.  I just never told you properly.  I should have told you a whole lot more, but it was never my forte.  Though I admit I didn’t try hard enough.”  

 

He looked back down at my body and sighed into my lap.  I watched my pubic hairs part accommodatingly for his breath.  This was where I wanted to be, right?  Who I wanted to be with.  I should never have let myself lose it all.  “And I should have told you a whole lot less,” I said, hesitantly.  “I should have learned when to keep my mouth shut.” 

 

“But that’s not your way, Duo.  If you weren’t talking –“

 

“-- we were fucking.  Yeah, right.”

 

He grumbled a little, and lifted his head again.  “It’s not that simple.”

 

“I fucked up.”  That’s simple, right?

 

“No,” he said.  “We both made mistakes.  Get over it, Duo.  Trust me…” 

 

“I do!” I protested, but not convincingly.  It wasn’t him at fault, though, was it, after all?  “I pushed you too hard.  I accused you of things I’m so fucking ashamed of I can’t even bring myself to apologise for them.  I let you down when you needed me.”

 

Then he lifted himself up even more, kneeling up on the floor, his bare skin sticking and unsticking against mine in all kinds of places.  His eyes were dark and angry.  “This is what really pisses me off, Duo.  I never blamed you for those things, not like you seemed to think.  I was angry with you – yes, lots of times!  Especially at that stupid fight… I punched you, right?  You were talking such crap -- I was talking such crap too, but I didn’t know how to stop you… But hell, my anger didn’t come anywhere near, did it?  Nowhere near the anger you had for yourself.”

 

“I – I never did –“

 

“Yes, you fucking did!”  The couch shook underneath us with his exclamation.  “Will you trust me on this, too?”  He bit at his lip.  His hand touched briefly at my jaw, as if tracing the shape of where he’d marked me all those months ago, then he drew it back.  “You’re fine as you are – you’re good.  You’re so good!  I fell for you just as you were and I stayed with you because of what I knew you could be.  That’s what I wanted!  I never went seeking anyone else in bed, like I said – but not just there.  I never wanted anyone else, period.  I tried to make it work with us – I tried, but badly, and I blame myself for what I did wrong, but I want to make it good again.”  He shrugged, and flushed again.  “I suspect you didn’t know what to think of me half the time.”

 

I had to laugh at that.  “I thought you the greatest thing that had ever happened to my life!  I did from day one.”  Fuck, didn’t I ever tell him that?

 

He looked almost shocked.  “I thought you just said things like that for fun.  I thought it was all just a game to you.”

 

“No, “I protested, but gently now.  His vehemence had shamed me.  I’d been wallowing, all right; shit, I’d turned my humiliation and misery into a career in itself.  Everything had sunk into self, self, self, but now – well, now I had another body and another mind and another soul to be considering, didn’t I?  I shifted a little to be able to touch him better, but I was damned careful not to push him away.  I didn’t want to be disturbed from my current position, where I could feel the gentle stirrings of his cock against my leg.  “Maybe that’s how I played it at first, Heero – but I was a prick, wasn’t I?  I told you I was.”

 

“It was strong stuff – they way we felt.”  His hand came back to my face and I nuzzled up against it.