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 didn’t think I’d ever seen him angry like that. Loud – argumentative – emotional: all of that had become familiar. But never this cold, blinding fury.
“They lost her! Advance warning, a full description, a department full of equipment that can spot a gnat’s ass under a shovelful of shit - and still they fucking lost her!” He slammed a hand on the wall of the office, a sharp cracking sound that vibrated the pale painted surface. A chart was pinned up nearby, and it shuddered. Its purpose was to tell us what to do in the event of a fire.
There were no instructions on how to deal with an incensed Duo Maxwell.
I realised how his swearing linked with his mood, and only then – he didn’t pepper his daily language with it: his speech was rich enough not to need that. I suspected that other people might not have figured that out, seeing only the exaggeration, not the control. That was how most people saw him, of course.
“They’ll pick up the trail, now they know who she is,” I said. “I’ve been in the communications centre; they have all the diplomatic itineraries under surveillance, and also the embassy in case she returns.”
His head jerked around: he stared at me. “So how many guys have they got on that?” he hissed. “We give her to them on a plate, but now they have to go looking for scraps all around the damned city. How the hell are they going to keep watch on every point of the damned compass?”
I didn’t have an answer for that. He still looked furious; he looked somewhat disorientated, too. I thought he’d been showing signs of stress for a long while now. Not for the first time, I wondered what else might go on in his life apart from the apparent see-saw of missions and partying.
“Take it easy,” I said. From the look in his eyes, I wished I hadn’t bothered. “Sure, forget that,” I added. “The whole operation was a disgraceful shambles, I agree.”
He looked startled for a second, then anger clouded his eyes again. “Is that what the Commander said in the de-briefing?”
I let out a shallow breath. “You’d know what she said if you hadn’t stormed out.” She’d sent me out early as well, but only to come and find him. “Appears you have an appointment with her at five. Attendance isn’t optional.”
He gave a grunt of frustration. “Fuck that. I have to get out of here. They need me, they can come find me.”
I paused, but only for a second. “I’ll come with you.”
He turned his glaring away from the wall and directed it at me, instead. “Why?”
I shrugged. “I need to get out, too.”
He shook his head, vehemently. The braid jerked around; chestnut hair licked at his waist. “She ask you to keep an eye on me?”
It was my turn to frown, now. “That’s being paranoid. And you should know me better.”
His passion hadn’t abated. “Maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m struggling to understand anything about you, even after all this time.”
“Maxwell …” I shook my head, refusing to be baited. His emotion clouded things; confused so many more.
“You think I see it all as a game, don’t you?” His voice was calmer but his hand was still clenched in a fist, down by his side. Perhaps he thought I wouldn’t notice. “That’s how they all see me: they think I could care less.” He sighed: there was a wealth of expression in that soft breath. “Don’t worry, I’m not blaming you – I understand that it gets to you. That I get to you. I know what’s on my confidential file.”
“Just regular reviews, I believe …”
“I believe not!” he snapped back. “According to my last research, I’m on appendix three of warnings.” His eyes narrowed, still staring at me. What was he searching for? I had a vivid moment of fear that I may be found wanting.
“What is it, Maxwell? Say what’s on your mind.”
“Have you been tolerating me, Yuy? Nothing more than that? The Commander knows your worth – she’ll have asked you, ‘make do with Maxwell on this mission, do what you can with such poor material. He’s spent some time out of the field and only started his rehabilitation a few months ago. I regret to inform you that he doesn’t listen properly to orders and has a childish disregard for Departmental schedules. Chances are, he’ll lose his way to the rest room, let alone the target location. But I believe he shows some small promise with surveillance and electronics’…”
His vocal impression of the Commander was very good, and I began to laugh. “Not such small promise, I would have told her.”
His eyes flashed surprise and a rueful grin started to curl at the corners of his mouth. It lightened my own mood. He’d never struck me as a man to wallow in self pity, but the depth of his earlier anger had unnerved me.
“But they do reckon I’m dangerous, Yuy. ‘Subversive’ was one of the words used.” He was relaxing; the sudden fury was controlled again, and it was good to see. “Also ‘insubordinate’ and ‘unpredictable’.” He was still smiling, but there was a shadow in his eyes. “Oh, another mouthful they used was ‘inappropriate emotional empathy’.”
“Guess your file’s not so confidential after all,” I said, dryly. “But I wonder how many times I need to tell you I don’t scare easily. Perhaps your hearing is insubordinate, too.” His eyes were watching me closely, the smile reflecting in them now. I picked up my jacket from off the back of the chair. “Let’s get going. I reckon we know a couple of good places to take another look at the embassy undetected.”
“The embassy?” His eyes flickered to the door and back to me. “I haven’t been officially detailed there – neither have you, I reckon. I was just going out for some air - to cool down.”
“Right,” I said, softly. “Whatever.”
We walked down the corridor together, his body a warm, familiar presence beside me. We deliberately avoided the main lobby, letting ourselves out of the building through a side door from one of the administration offices. There were no other people around, as the de-briefing was still in progress. I was expected to return as soon as I’d found Maxwell. He was expected to face a disciplinary if he didn’t return with me, and apologise for his loss of control.
I couldn’t see either event happening in the near future.
The minute we stepped outside into the quiet parking lot, he took a long, deep breath. I watched him stretch his hands above his head and lace his fingers together. He wore a short sleeved tee shirt, fitted tightly across his torso. As he stretched up, I could see the muscles along his inner arm tighten and relax again.
He turned suddenly, catching my gaze. “Want to join me?”
I bit my lip. “In what?”
He grinned, though it seemed nervous. “Cooling down, of course.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds. A solitary bird screeched from the roof of the building above us; a slight wind tickled the back of my neck. He lowered his arms. His pose was relaxed again, but his knuckles were white. That’s what he was to me, I suddenly realised – a mixture of vibrant activity and tension. A living embodiment of conflict. A potent, fascinating one.
Something skittered across my nerves. Something tugged at both my gut and my heart, as if they were connected in some emotional way.
I felt as if both the confusion and resistance within me had been cut away, as if my limbs shook themselves free of it. A decision made itself.
I shivered, gently. “I’d rather not.”
“OK.” His face was a picture of disappointment, and resignation, too, like he knew he should be hiding his feelings but was damned tired of pretending. “Sure.”
“Not in cooling down, anyway,” I continued. I tried to keep my voice calm but it was an effort. “In fact, I’d rather warm things up a little.”
His face showed a different picture now, and one that made me want to smile, for all sorts of reasons. Surprise; suspicion; a scowl. “Don’t mock me, Yuy. That’s another club where there aren’t many members.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t try. I hope I know you better than that.”
A smile showed his renewed pleasure. His expressions changed direction as abruptly as sudden, spring breezes – and they were just as stimulating. I noticed the high flush on his cheekbones, and bright flecks of colour in the irises of his eyes.
He sounded bemused, though. “So what’s on your mind? You should get back, now – no point in us both being in trouble.”
“No,” I said, slowly. “I’ll stay here.”
He frowned. “You astonish me, Yuy, you know that? I have no idea what you’re thinking right now – or ever, really. You’re already a cool one; a cipher.”
I took a step towards him so that we were only a foot apart. “I don’t set out to be like that, Maxwell.” I knew how others saw me, and it had never bothered me before. I knew who to blame for the fact that it did, now. “I’d rather be here, with you, than back in the briefing.”
He stared back at me. I noticed that his hands were tensed up again, but maybe for different reasons. He shook his head slightly, as if to clear it. “This is a joke, right? An example of your amusingly dry wit, or something to distract me from smashing up the place. The Commander knows I’m trouble, and so should you. Who the hell’s treating this like a game now?”
“Not me,” I said, very quietly. I stretched out my hand and laid it on his upper arm. The muscles felt strong under the soft fabric. It was a good feeling. “I’m not joking.”
He coughed, clearing his throat. “So now I take lessons in provocation from you…” He laughed, and the vibration in his body ran down his arm and into my palm. Everything about him was alive and alert. I felt my body jolt in response.
“You said once you made a hobby of nurturing your bad boy reputation,” I murmured. “But I think you protest just that little bit too much. I doubt you really deserve it.”
He didn’t answer for a moment, but I could hear his breathing get shallower. His head dipped across to mine; his body seemed to lean in against me. His voice had grown husky. “So what do you think I deserve, Yuy?”
I ran my hand, very slowly, up his arm to his shoulder. My breath felt rather too tight in my throat. His hand came up and covered mine, as if guiding it. His fingers were cool and I was intrigued at the feel of another hand on mine. His hand. I wasn’t sure whether it was as I’d imagined, but it was very fine, nonetheless.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He shook his head sharply, with irritation. “No, don’t avoid me, not now. You’re not a guy who sidesteps. Tell me honestly.”
He amused me, even against my will. “OK,” I said. “I know that you do care.”
“About the work. Right.” He sounded distant, though his cheek brushed close to mine. As he exhaled, I could sense the disturbance in the fresh air around us.
“Not just about that. About your reputation, too; about your life. About others.”
His eyes seemed to darken, though it may only have been his body’s shadow, sinking over me. “And about you?”
I didn’t know how to answer that properly. “I care about you, that’s all I know. I believe that your habitual pursuit of sexual fun is just that – a habit. If I’m just another target for that, maybe a little more challenging than some others -”
“Much more challenging,” he muttered, shaking his head, his eyes not meeting mine.
“If that’s the case,” I continued. “It’s not something that…” I smiled, despite myself. “Not something that scares me.”
“You’re not.” His voice was hoarse. His head lifted back up and he looked me in the eyes. “Not just another target for my gratification. Much more. I care, too.”
I breathed deeply. I felt a strange light-headedness. I didn’t make it a habit of my own, speaking of my feelings like this, but it felt almost liberating.
I spoke slowly and carefully. I knew there were no voice-activated cameras in the parking lot. “The embassy is two blocks from the station, or even nearer by car. You’re right, the Departmental surveillance is cursory. They don’t have either the resources or the appetite for more. But we could go there tonight and carry out our own independent search.” I gazed at him, trying to read his response. “Just the two of us. Unofficially.”
He sighed; he raised an eyebrow. “You knew I’d want to go after her, didn’t you? On my own. Despite it being against procedures.”
I smiled back. “I suspect a lot of things you do are considered that.”
“Provocation again, Yuy,” he chided. “God knows why they didn’t put ‘subversive’ on your file.”
“Do you know they didn’t?” I caught the glint of challenge in his pupils, and the reflection of mine, just as I leant towards him and our lips met.
He tasted of surprise – and a deep hunger.
They matched my own.
Maybe I shouldn’t have relaxed – not in front of him. Especially not him. But I guess I wanted to. I’d be the first to admit, it’s exhausting sometimes, holding the lid on it all. The pressure; the danger; the pain that flares up more regularly than I care to recognise. He seems to keep so calm in the face of it, but the therapists would have a field day with me. Hell, I think that’s probably another comment in my file.
The breeze around us in the parking lot was warming up nicely.
He tasted of something astonishing: something that took my breath away, with a shudder that ran down my spine. Something that tugged painfully inside my chest, inspiring images of fine food and cool linen clothes and a sexy smile on soft, down pillows…
Whoa. Reality check required. Again. But for the moment, this was the only reality I wanted.
He broke first. I could have held that position indefinitely. His hand was still tangled in my hair, and the moisture on his lips dried quickly in the brisk air. I’d have enjoyed licking that off, but for once I kept my demands to myself.
“You said you wondered once…” His voice was very low. Had a hoarseness to it that I didn’t think I’d ever heard before – and that I really liked. “You wondered what I’d do – how far I’d go – for something I really wanted.”
I traced my finger along his jaw. All I wondered was how come his skin felt so different now: a tightness under my fingertips; a warmth against my palm. And his mouth … it fascinated me. I wanted the taste of it again – warm; slow; curious. That was the part of his character, perhaps, that others didn’t see.
No-one had ever gossiped to me about kissing Heero Yuy, whether I’d asked around or not. Yet, from the confident taste of him, I concluded that his abstinence was a matter of selection, rather than a lack of offers.
“You told me that was the last word. What you wanted.” My joke sounded lame, but he smiled regardless.
“Maybe. The last word of yours, anyway.” His lips ghosted extra, silent shapes, and his head dipped slightly to the side as if he were reaching for me again.
I wanted to hear that hoarseness in his throat again. I wanted to cause it with my touch; I wanted it wrapped around my name, calling for me.
The pain of such desire constricted my throat; made my voice too sharp. “What we’re doing here – this … touch. Is this your idea of a joke, Yuy?”
His eyes darted up to meet mine. “My humour is dry, Maxwell, not cruel.”
I flushed: I could feel the heat all up my neck. His fingers were cool against it, and for a second they gripped at the collar of my tee shirt with anger. I deserved it, I reckon. “OK,” I said. “I know. I was wrong.” He was still tense, though he didn’t move away – maybe he was still searching for the apology buried deep within my muttering. Served me right if he never found it.
“I told you. It’s not a game.” His voice was very low, and with a quiver of uncertainty. “You wanted honesty. You wanted …”
“Care,” I finished for him. “You understand that, don’t you?”
He nodded. He stared right into my eyes again. I felt the axis of the planet stagger, like it slid to a stop at a red light after running way too fast.
“I always saw you like this, Yuy,” I sighed. My fingers touched the lock of hair that fell in front of his ear. I stroked at it. I wondered how that hair would feel, a fistful gripped in my palm, my belly pressed against his back.
“But it was my own personal movie. Never saw you buying a ticket for this one, too.”
He shrugged, gently. His fingers curled again in my hair, but without anger this time. He smiled instead and I saw it crinkle the skin around his eyes. “Neither did I, at first. Maybe I have to move at my own pace.”
I laughed aloud. “Hey, I like things slow, too …”
“That’s not necessarily what I’ve heard.”
“You’ve been listening to common gossip?” I was watching his lips as he formed the words, wanting to taste them; wanting to savour them like candy.
“Maybe it’s on your confidential file,” he smiled back, unfazed.
I grinned. “Yeah. I carry on like it’s in the public domain, right? OK, so maybe I should have said I like things slow … on special occasions.”
“Maybe,” he nodded. “Is that what this is, then?”
I nodded. I needed to keep the smile just that right balance of carelessness and warmth, but maybe I faltered for a second. “Sure is. This is. You are.” I grimaced, then. “Don’t make me sound a fool, Heero.”
“You’re no fool,” he said, softly. “You’re right.”
“Makes a change,” I murmured. I didn’t mistake the sudden tension in his body, or the way his knee nudged between my thighs. I didn’t know how two guys could get so close when we were only touching in a couple of places. I wanted to touch in some others, too. Maybe he did, as well.
“You going to -”
“ – put that on your file?” he finished. Our eyes locked again and we laughed. His laugh was slow and rich, bubbling under my own. It startled a couple of birds pecking for scraps in the grit of the parking lot, and they flew up and away. “Maybe your charisma finally </i>is</i> getting to me.”
His smile was still there, slow and lazy, so I kissed it again. The fresh breeze nudged at the hem of my shirt and his breath tasted slightly of vanilla. My mind romped like a spring bunny amongst visions of the pair of us that belonged only in cheesy romance movies or in the hardest porn flicks I could have found in the guys’ locker room. Then it settled somewhere in between.
I forced myself to remember why we were really here. “We need to follow up the girl, don’t we? The only place we know to look for her is the embassy.”
He sighed. “Yes.”
I tilted my head back a little to look at him more carefully. “You really want to get involved in this? It’s unofficial, after all. We should be back inside, me grovelling to the Commander and you listening to the briefing. We should be waiting to get clearance and intelligence reports and plenty of those white paper memos that have to accompany any actual action. Then we should watch some other guys – not us, not now I’ve messed up - getting sent out to do it.”
He nodded. “We should.”
I frowned. “But…”
“I’m here,” he said, and his hand folded over mine. Surprised, I threaded my fingers through his. We fit well together. “You need some other clearance?”
I smiled, partly from the delight of his hands on me, partly because he was a sexily singular type of guy. “No. You’re willing to go against procedures for it. Guess you’re as bad as me after all.”
“So we can share that part of the confidential file,” he murmured. Everything he said was a murmur; every movement was slow sensuality. I examined my reactions to a simple kiss and found myself on appendix seven of the warnings.
“We must get her,” I said. “That’s what I care about. Justice. Closure. Satisfaction.”
He nodded. The fingers of his free hand curled lazily in my hair, tugging my head back slightly. I felt his breath again on my throat; my pulse hiccupped with pleasure. “But that’s what I want, too, Duo. Now you know how far I’d go… chasing what I want.”
“Chasing a suspect?”
He laughed softly. “Whatever. Maybe. I want to chase this first.”
His lips were damp and they pressed against me a little more forcefully this time. I pushed back, too, my tongue nudging at his mouth until it opened and I slipped inside to taste even more of him.
I slid a hand around his waist and waited for another disciplinary to join the novella on my file.
It didn’t come.
This time, I broke first. I reckoned we could talk later about who had the better stamina. I sure hoped we would. At the same time, my pager bleeped and I glanced down at it, startled. “Shit.”
I nodded. “We’re being called back. They’re looking for us both, now. Maybe they want you at that mandatory five p.m. meeting as well. Maybe they think I’m holding you against your will, and will cook and eat you later at my leisure.”
He frowned, but he was smiling. “I’d give you indigestion. And there’s no unwillingness here…”
He kissed me again. I was breathless, and not only because he seemed to have forgotten his previous career as a perfectionist, high-flying, law-abiding agent.
“Duo?” He was checking I was listening. I watched his mouth move as he spoke and it was very joyful entertainment. “You live on the way to the embassy, I believe, whereas my place is several miles in the wrong direction. Do you have stuff at home? Radio? Supplies?”
The word supplies tried to take on a whole new meaning for me, but I knew he meant it in a mission context. No need to speak the precise words; to identify the specific equipment. “Yeah. A private collection, plus some Department issue that got lost in transit on its way back to stores.”
He raised an eyebrow.
I shrugged. So sometimes things take a while to get logged back in. It happens.
“We’ll go now and pick up what we need,” he said, turning away from the building.
I caught at his arm: spun him to look at me fully. “You mean it, don’t you? Coming with me.”
He frowned. “Of course.”
I felt something tighten in my gut that wasn’t just mission adrenalin. “I saw you as a guy who stands alone; who works to his own rigid standards. You didn’t seem keen to be partnered with me in the beginning.” I wasn’t sure exactly what I was trying to say. “Never seemed like you needed other people around.”
There was a small pause before he answered. “I don’t. I didn’t. Not often.”
I saw his hand move slowly, out of the corner of my eye. It hovered at my shoulder, his fingers touching the thickness of my braid. They combed through the loose hair, and I felt the slight tug at the roots. I didn’t pull away.
“I don’t want to analyse it,” he said, softly. “Not now. I can’t. It’s not something I’m… familiar with.”
His grip tightened. He pulled my head back to nestle against his own and his lips brushed my neck.
“Is it a problem?” His tongue flickered out and lapped at the vein below my ear. “I just want… this. Does it make you nervous?”
I shivered. “I don’t scare easily, either,” I hissed.
He pulled away, smiling and nodding slightly, as if that part of business were now complete. But his eyes followed me, closely – they were dark and fevered, too. “We should go, then.”
I nodded. “I’m good.”
He smiled openly, then. “Oh yes, you are, Duo,” he murmured. “Oh yes, you are.”
He turned to make his way across the parking lot, expecting me to follow.
That’s when I wondered whether I’d misheard it.
It was the first time he’d ever called me Duo.