FROM BOTH SIDES NOW
Word count : 27,001
1x2x1, 1=2, drama, some lemon, alternating POV
Usual disclaimers – this is only fiction, and only my own.
I drove, because I decided we’d be safer that way. He was still tense: I could see it in the way he sat beside me, his long legs bent and his hands on his knees. He looked relaxed, but there was a nerve twitching just above his wrist, and I could see the muscles tensing in his thigh.
I knew I’d always been aware of him; always been stimulated by his presence. It was only now that I realised how much.
“What is it about this particular mission?” I asked.
“Huh?” He sounded puzzled. He didn’t turn to face me.
He knew only too well what I meant, though I didn’t choose to challenge him on that. “I’m infuriated as much as you are; disappointed that we haven’t trapped the traitor yet. But I’m not as distressed as you about it. I’m intrigued to know what the difference is.”
He went very still. “Guess we’re just different guys.”
I knew that for a fact. But it wasn’t the whole truth. “You said you wanted honesty from me. I think I deserve the same respect.”
His head went back against the headrest and he groaned up at the roof of the car. “Hell, Heero can’t we just get on with it? The Commander is going to be sending out human bloodhounds for us pretty soon and God knows what the girl’s up to while we’re here, jawing about who’s more distressed than whom, and wasting our time -”
“ – making out?” I interrupted.
His mouth snapped shut. Then he smiled, slowly. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “You thought that was wasting time?”
I also smiled, though I kept my eyes on the road ahead. “No. But neither is knowing exactly what I’m dealing with here.”
He was staring at me, now. I could feel his eyes on me. “Like I said before, you weren’t that happy the Commander paired us up in the first place, were you?”
I shook my head, irritated. “There’s no need for this. I didn’t… know you so well, then. But we both work for the Department, and we have a good complement of skills. It was a good call on her part.”
He laughed, softly. “But you were right, you said it yourself once. I asked for this placement. I know you could have handled this on your own, maybe with some agency back-up. But I wanted the chance to work with you – I wanted to work some more in the field – and I wanted this mission in particular.” He looked away again. “I was… out of circulation for several months, Heero. Several months of tedious office work and watching others run the risks that I used to, myself. And even when I returned, for a long time the Commander found me nothing but routine surveillance work and some domestic hacking. She took some persuasion to let me loose on this.”
“Why?” I knew this was likely to be a naďve question, but I thought he’d want me to ask it.
“She had her doubts, not just because of my particular blend of imaginative – and unpredictable – skills, but because of the embassy involved; because of my record…” He paused. There was a moment’s silence as I negotiated the turn-off for the commercial centre of town.
“I never questioned your skills,” I said, steadily. It was true. Duo Maxwell had always been a wild card – but his talents had never been in doubt.
He sniffed. “Sure. OK.” He sounded surprised. I’d meant it as a statement of fact, but I hoped he took it as more than that. “Take a left here,” he said, abruptly. “You can cut through behind the office blocks. My apartment’s just north of the main bank.”
We travelled the rest of the way in silence. I drew up a block beyond his place and we walked back. It was one of those tall, architecturally older buildings, converted into smaller apartments. Each set of windows had a different design of blinds: some of the buzzers had pictures or logos next to them. Inside the hallway, there were several piles of mail waiting to be picked up and a couple of bikes leaning against the walls. There was rock music playing from an upstairs apartment and the sound of a child giggling somewhere in a room at the back of the building.
“What is it?” he asked. “You’re staring.” He hadn’t picked up any mail for himself.
I shrugged. “It’s… busy here,” I said. It was a building that appeared well occupied - lived in - but I didn’t know how to phrase that.
He frowned, but seemed amused. “What’s your place like, then?”
I gathered my thoughts: I hadn’t needed to describe it before. “New. Modern. Clean.” I’d been there for almost a year, I realised. But I couldn’t remember noticing the blinds in any of the neighbours’ windows, or any scattered belongings in the hallway. I’d rarely met or talked to anyone there, and mail was always sorted into neat piles and collected promptly, thereby removing any external evidence of people’s presence. I was vaguely dissatisfied with my description. I wondered how he would view the same place, if I took him there.
But then we weren’t here to discuss interior decoration.
When I turned my attention back to him, he was grinning, like he’d heard something I hadn’t intended to say. “Sure. It figures.” He reached out and tapped at my arm. Despite the way we’d held each other only a short time ago, it startled me. “Let’s get going.”
I followed him up to the third floor and into his apartment. I don’t know what I expected but I stepped into a place that was smart and yet welcoming, too. The furniture looked old but in a traditional way, rather than worn. The colours of his decoration were bright but not garish; the air smelled warm, as if something had just been baked. There was a sense of careful but comfortable style throughout. He fit the place – there was no better phrase that I could find to describe it.
Maybe my powers of scenic illustration were improving.
I stood still for a moment, admiring the small but comfortable lounge, while he searched for something in another room. The next I heard of him, his footsteps had paused a few feet behind me. He was standing in the doorway, obviously watching me.
I turned around slowly to face him. “Now who’s staring?”
He grinned. “Man can admire the view, right?”
I glanced at the zipped sports bag he held loosely in his hand, and a couple of small, sealed boxes under his arm. “You have what we need?”
He walked over towards me and put it all down on the table beside the couch. “All we need to get into the place, look around and get out.”
“Without breaking any major laws?”
He snorted. “Like that bothers us. Leave that to me, I play with the electronics, remember? They won’t have a record of us when we leave.”
I glanced between him and the apparently innocuous-looking bag. “What about if there’s nothing there to see?”
He shrugged. “The bugs have picked up very little information, I know. But maybe I can leave her some other kind of calling card – something to identify her to us when she returns.”
“If she returns -”
“She will,” he interrupted. “It’s her mission, to supply information. If she isn’t at the source, she loses her usefulness; her purpose. These guys are all about purpose, I can tell you.”
I looked carefully at him. “And if we can’t get out again without detection?”
His eyes sparkled back at me. “Take a look inside. That’s when you can do the playing.”
I bent and unzipped the bag. My eyes ran over the cache there. I resisted the urge to whistle through my teeth.
“Good selection, eh?” He leant over from behind me. I could feel his breath on my neck. “Just how hard does that get you, Heero, all those fireworks at your disposal?”
I had been estimating just how much critically flammable and toxic stuff he had in that one bag – I’d also been computing how many times he’d have had to get lost in transit to have accumulated such a stock.
I sighed. “This is what you mean by your imaginative skills, I presume.”
He shrugged behind me: he was very close but he didn’t move away. “Just some souvenirs of previous missions. Stuff left over; things I thought might be useful here and there. Look, you used some of that batch when we first liberated the computer centre -”
I lifted his hand away from burrowing inside the bag. “Thank you, but please leave that to me. I believe I can recognise it without your help. I also have a better respect than you for its properties.”
He laughed, softly. “You want anything else?” he asked. “We have time. Actually, we have a couple of hours to kill before dusk…”
I gathered this meant he wouldn’t be keeping his scheduled appointment with the Commander. I was aware that I was still gripping his wrist. “What the hell did you mean, just how hard does that get you?”
He moved to the side so that I could see his face again. His eyes were full of the familiar mischief. “Hey, the explosion stuff gets you going, I know that. I feel the same way about the chips and bytes. It’s a buzz – it’s the way we get our kicks.”
“One of the ways,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow.
“There is something else I want,” I said. I pushed the bag carefully to one side, out of his reach. I turned so that we were face to face, and I put a hand to his face. I could feel the slight pulse under his chin; I smelled his warm breath. The feeling was like it had been back in the parking lot, but the anticipation was keener, now. There was less surprise: more hunger. More delight.
When I kissed him, his mouth opened immediately and his tongue flickered against my own.
“Maybe we’re not such different guys after all,” he whispered. Then he kissed me back and we didn’t bother with any more words for a while. I held him around the waist and his fingers tightened in my hair. His tee shirt creased under my hold; I could feel the warmth of his bare skin against my palm. My heart was beating too fast, even this soon before a mission initiative.
I pulled my mouth away from his. “This is probably a bad idea,” I gasped. I could see my saliva shining on his lips; he was panting and his throat rippled with each exhalation. “It’s… distracting.”
He laughed. “Only you, Heero Yuy, could describe it like that. Could call it a distraction. Could -”
I kissed him again to shut him up.
It meant a hell of a lot to me, running the woman down. Maybe it was because I care about my missions like that; maybe it was because she’d outwitted us after we’d run her to ground at the airport.
Maybe it was because of other reasons that only I and my confidential file shared.
But a couple of hours had passed since we’d returned to my apartment, and I was still in no immediate rush to leave.
Heero lay on the couch and I lay on top of him. Since we’d first sunk down on it, arms locked and lips seeking each other’s, we’d swapped that position many times. I’m an equal opportunities guy, after all. My shirt had been peeled up and over my head and the top button of my jeans was undone. Heero’s shirt was also unbuttoned, and I know his pants were half-unzipped because I’d done it myself.
His skin was smooth to the touch, and warm. Responsive, too. I flicked my fingertip over his right nipple and listened happily to his sharp intake of breath. He sounded excited.
I ached to touch him, like my nerves were on fire. When I licked at the base of his throat, he made the strangest sort of growl that shot to my groin like an arrow finding a frighteningly sensitive target.
“We need to check the radio. Run through the plan…” he murmured.
“Yeah,” I hissed back. My mouth was on his jaw, running damply along the line of it. “Soon. There’s a while until dusk. We don’t want to be over-prepared.”
He smiled, and the skin under my lips creased deliciously. “Sure,” he sighed. “If you don’t think this is too distracting.”
I laughed, softly. I liked the way his chest shivered under me when I did that. “You know where this might lead?” I didn’t know why I had to keep provoking him, but I did. “I’m fighting a really strong temptation to go further with you. Much further. I don’t want to rush you, Heero, but I’m sitting on my hands here.”
“So whose are those fingers playing with my nipple?”
I huffed at his teasing. “Metaphorically, I meant. In reality, I want my hands on your face and your ass and all points in between.”
He tensed slightly underneath me, though his grip on my waist didn’t falter. Occasionally he’d slipped a finger or two under the loosened waistband of my jeans, but he’d not ventured further. I’d been teasing him back, but the joke held more than a grain of truth. I wanted him. And, yes – as the saying goes - so badly it hurt.
I sighed to myself. He knew my reputation, didn’t he? That part of me wasn’t confidential – and nor was it lies, damned lies and statistics. “Yeah. I find bluntness works for me. I’m not apologising for it -”
“No,” he broke in. “Don’t. It works for me, too.”
We kissed some more. I licked at his left nipple to see if it reacted the same way as the right. My survey results were satisfactory.
“You know I want you,” I murmured against his skin. So maybe I wasn’t being cool, but I was pretty sure I’d never hidden my attraction to him. We’d just played it as a joke of sorts, all this time. Now the playing was turning into something more.
At least, it was for me. From what he’d said in the parking lot, I’d thought he might feel the same.
He stretched out under me and I sat back up, releasing my hold. I watched him move: that was a treat in itself. Strength in every limb; belly tight with muscle with just the softest round of flesh around the navel. Gentle swell of promise under the front of his pants. Well… maybe not so gentle.
He was gazing at me; following the path of my eyes. “Not today, Duo.”
I pushed the hair back off my damp forehead. My hammering heart skipped a beat and tried to find a more sedate rhythm. “Sure. I didn’t mean -”
“No problem,” he said gently. “But not now. Not when we have this hanging over us.”
I nodded. I sat back on my heels. “It’s a bad time. Just my luck…”
“Our luck,” he broke in. He reached up a hand and cupped my chin, tugging my head down to face him. “I want you, too, Duo. Don’t you believe that?”
How could I not? There was a sharpness to his voice and something very deep in his eyes that spoke of desire and excitement, and a bluntness that made me look like some kind of a novice. Some guys might find him scary, I guess. Not me. But he made me shiver with need, and harden way beyond the point of comfort.
I took a deep breath. “So I want to tell you something, now. While we have some time.”
He frowned. “To do with the mission? Or with this?”
I didn’t know whether the answer was one of those, or both, so I ignored the question, hoping he’d understand. “It was before I took the time out – when I was still in field work. They put me into a new partnership, with a guy called Sam. He was much more experienced, and they often sent him into potential terrorist situations. I wasn’t meant to get as involved as he did, just to offer general back up at headquarters, until I’d learned more from him. But we worked well, and we got on like real friends. And you know me, right? I persuaded him to take me out with him, much of the time…”
“Duo?” He looked startled, but he caught on quick. Of course. “You don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”
But I did, I knew that. “We worked together for a long time; he was a mentor to me, in many ways. He was going to suggest I joined him full time, and that we specialised in terrorist espionage. Then the report came in of terrorist activity at a government headquarters in another state, somewhere up north. Because of his experience, he was sent up there, to infiltrate a similar embassy as the one we’re watching now. His cover was as a clerical worker, just to find out if there was any connection between the embassy staff and the perps.” If I told it like the latest blockbuster thriller, I found I could manage the words pretty well. “The Commander thought these attacks might be just the start – that the terrorists may be travelling south, and spreading to the states down here, through spies in the embassy network.”
“And it seems that they are?” His voice was very quiet.
I didn’t answer that question either, my mind and narrative far away by now. “He never found out. He was discovered and killed, Heero. My partner, Sam.”
There was a small silence while I searched for breath and found it hiding far too deep in my gut.
“Did you see it?” he asked, his voice surprisingly flat. “Were you there with him?”
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t see it, because he’d told me not to follow him in, that time. I volunteered to keep the comms channel open, instead; listened in to his progress over the course of seventy two hours or more. But I heard it, on the radio. I heard the shot. Clear as a bell.” Tolling. “They killed him and he came back in a body bag, branded a common burglar or some such cover story. No-one knew the actual guy who did it, and the embassy threatened to complain of harassment if we pursued it.”
“So no official acknowledgement. No prosecutions,” he said, almost under his breath. He was watching me closely, but his eyes were glistening.
“Hell, yeah, you know it. The Commander was mad for a long time about the whole thing, and I got a hell of a rocket because I wasn’t meant to have been on comms at all, I was scheduled that day as back-up on another minor mission. I wanted the embassy searched and the personnel interrogated, to find the murderer – she told me we had to let it go. Said her hands were tied.”
“It would have been the only option,” came Heero’s voice, in the background. “The only way to maintain access in the future, to allow us to monitor further threats. She couldn’t have afforded for them to close their doors to us completely.”
“The political answer,” I snapped.
He nodded. “I doubt that satisfied you, though.”
I glanced at his expression, but he was only stating the truth. “Right. I was… disturbed for a while. They had to take me off duty, keep me out of the field. That’s when they put the comment on my file about ‘inappropriate emotional empathy’. Apparently I shouldn’t have been so attached to Sam – we should have had more professional detachment. Some shit like that. When all I wanted was to find the bastards responsible and give them a taste of it back.”
“And how would that have helped?”
I tried to listen to him but there was the familiar rushing in my ears that made it difficult. It had been a strange kind of suspension, a mixture of grief and anger and the frustration of not being able to work. It’d taken many months of persuasion before the Commander had let me back on active duty. And like I’d told Heero, even more before she’d allowed me back on terrorist watch for this particular cell.
“Duo?” Heero was sitting up too, his hand on my arm, seeking my attention. “Were you and he lovers?”
My turn to frown. “Now who’s being blunt?”
He flushed. “I’m sorry.”
I sighed. “No, I’d rather you asked, but the answer’s no. It wasn’t like that at all. Sam was straighter than I suspect your exam results are. But he was… special.” Less than a father, no kind of lover – but more than just a partner. My heart was beating too fast, I could feel the vibration in my throat but seemed powerless to stop it. My laugh sounded too loud, too false. “You’re believing the gossip, Heero. The one that says I’ll bed anything with a pulse.”
In a vivid flash of memory, I saw Sam’s face, laughing; teasing me about my lively social life; about the interest I always attracted, willingly or not. I didn’t see him so often nowadays; didn’t dream about the shooting as much. Didn’t wake up, shouting, in my – or someone else’s – bed.
Heero’s hand gripped me more tightly, startling me. “Duo? No, I don’t listen to gossip. And if I did, I wouldn’t believe it. You’d better believe that, too, else I wouldn’t be here.”
I looked across at him. His expression was solemn. His hair was a mess but somehow it looked good on him. He was breathing steadily and his skin moved gently across his torso: a darker skin than mine - I could compare, now I had enough that was bare. His mouth was closed but his lips were glimmering with our shared saliva.
This is Heero Yuy, I thought. I remembered when that mouth had smiled at me and those dark blue eyes had kohl around the rims and his skin was shiny with the sweat of the crowd and the loud, monstrous music –
I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding.
He spoke first. “Are you back with me now?”
I stared at him, my mind seeping swiftly back into the present. Heero, not Sam. Heero. “Yeah. Sorry. You saw that -?”
He nodded. “I’ve seen it happen in cases of shock. This issue still affects you deeply, Duo. I think the Commander was wise to be cautious about letting you back on duty.”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. “You think I’m unstable? You think I’ll jeopardise this mission?”
He shook his head and growled at me. “No, I don’t. There’s no time for self-pity. I’m just saying that you have to be careful. For your own sake.”
Our gazes weren’t just passionate anymore – there was confrontation there, too. “I don’t care,” I said. “This cell needs closing down, and we need to achieve that, whatever it takes.”
He looked angry with me, but his hand relaxed on my arm. “We will. But you must trust me – work with me.”
“Huh?” I grimaced. I didn’t know what he meant. “Of course. That’s what this is about. I was glad you were on this mission. Shit, I’m not looking to sabotage anything here, Yuy -”
He put up a hand, effectively quieting me. “Enough. We’ll move in at dusk, like we planned. But I’m a little concerned that no-one’s rung yet from the Department, to try calling us back in…”
I may have blushed a little. I glanced over to the wall by the door and his gaze followed mine. There was a loose end of cable just by the carpet edge. “You cut the line,” he said, slowly.
I tutted. “Sort of temporarily. And I’ve lost my pager, too.” When he looked at me, I shrugged. “It’s lost somewhere safe. I expect I’ll find it again, when we’ve done. I mean – just by chance, you know?”
“I know,” he said. I waited for his censure, but then he smiled. Slowly and gently, but it was a definite smile. “I’m glad you’re on this mission, too, Duo. Else we’d never have been here like this, now, would we? Just by chance…”
I grinned and leant back down to kiss him again. It was a fresh start and the excitement of touching him thrilled me all over again.
“After this is over…” he hissed.
“Yeah,” I replied, far too eagerly. “We’ll have some more of those dates I was trying out and you were resisting half-heartedly.”
“Those dates?” His mouth smiled under mine. “And these too?”
I shivered. “I get your drift. Suits me fine.”
He laughed. “Maybe I’m not as blunt as you,” he murmured.
“Maybe you don’t get the practice,” I chuckled back.
“But this is good,” he continued, his voice a whisper into my mouth, his tongue thrusting against my teeth.
“Copy that,” I sighed, and relaxed on top of him.