Warnings: Language, touch of angst, sap
Disclaimer: These guys have been 'disclaimed' so often, I don't think they belong to anybody...
On the Edge
It was a Wednesday, not that it matters, but that stuck in my mind later when I thought back on it. Wednesday... hump day, Duo usually called it.
I had taken to eating lunch at my desk since a small altercation between Duo and Wufei in the mess hall had left me... with no real desire to break bread in mixed company. There always seemed to be something up for discussion that upset somebody. It wasn't worth the effort; I shared an office with Duo all day... not like I needed to go out of my way to look for company. I suppose it was easy enough to understand; as Preventers, the job we do sometimes leaves us a little... high strung, but that didn't make it any easier on the digestion, listening to people argue just to let off steam.
I wondered sometimes what they did without me there as peace-keeper, but had decided they were big boys and were on their own. Perhaps Quatre or Trowa had stepped up for the job. They seemed to have worked something out, because Duo had stopped coming back to the office after lunch muttering obscenities and kicking his desk. It almost tempted me to try again, but all I had to do was remember the sound of a handful of silverware smashing down on a cafeteria table to decide to stay where I was.
Duo can sometimes be easily baited, and therefore was more often than not, Wufei's target. It made... protective tendencies stir somewhere inside me, and generally just made the whole lunch hour a somewhat pointless endeavor. Why take the time to relax and unwind, if you just ended up more uptight than when you started? So I ate in our office.
I had just set my things out on my desk and was preparing to unwrap my sandwich that day when I heard someone running in the hall. Running with a light step, obviously trying not to make a huge amount of noise. I half expected to look up and see Duo come charging into the office, fleeing from Wufei's having pushed him too far. I was surprised when it ended up being Trowa who came almost careening through the doorway. Even more surprised to see him looking wild-eyed, almost scared.
'Heero, we need you... now,' he blurted, and almost didn't wait for me, turning and heading immediately back the way he'd come. I followed, lunch completely forgotten.
I had to jog to catch up with him, but quickly figured out that while he was in a hurry, he was also striving not to attract any attention, slowing and covering his agitation if we chanced to pass someone in the hall. I waited until we were in the elevator before pushing for information.
'What in the hell is going on?' I demanded when we were finally alone, and watched him get that wild-eyed look again.
'Duo...' he began, but then took a breath and started over. 'Quatre thinks Duo has been acting... odd... he followed him today...'
'Followed?' I asked, confused about why Quatre would need to follow Duo to the cafeteria.
'Yeah,' Trowa said, punching the elevator button again, as though it would make the thing go faster. 'Quatre seemed to feel... he thought...'
I wanted to grab the man and shake the information out of him, but was held back by the sheer surrealness of listening to Trowa Barton stumble around looking for words. 'Where the fuck is Duo?' I finally ground out, not really caring what Quatre thought, deciding that Duo seemed to be the issue here.
'He's...' Trowa told me, turning to meet my glare with a look that spoke of confusion and fear. 'He's outside... on the ledge.'
Preventers' headquarters is housed in the Pynchon building, on three floors near the middle of the fifty story structure. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine and thirty.
Is it totally insane that some part of my panicking brain was hoping for twenty-nine? Like one story was going to matter from that kind of height. A totally ridiculous, errant thought that I already knew on some level was a pointless hope anyway, or the elevator ride up from twenty-eight would not have allowed for our conversation.
Then the doors opened and Quatre had me by the arm before I could do more than blink at finding him there. 'Oh thank God,' he murmured and began pulling me down the hallway, keeping his voice low. I couldn't tell if it was a conscious effort, or if he just couldn't find the breath to speak louder. His hand on my bicep bit in hard, but I could tell that was totally unconscious. 'You've got to talk to him Heero... he's just sitting out there...'
We rounded the corner and found Wufei crouched low near a window, watching what I couldn't get my head around, obviously staying out of sight. I realized they had not yet let Duo know of their presence.
Standard procedure... if a jumper is not showing signs of immediate action, don't provoke them until safety measures have been taken. It hit me then, that I was the measure being taken. This high up, there was no way to deploy an air bag or other safety device. The roof was too far above us for a repeller to get in position in time. As Duo's partner... I was apparently all we had.
I wanted to speak up and tell them I might not be the best choice for the job since my brain was all but gibbering in terror. There wasn't a lot going on inside my head besides a looping litany of 'thirty floors... thirty floors... thirty floors...'
Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I moved across the hall. The others faded back, making sure to stay out of the line of sight. I ignored them as I leaned against the window sill... leaned out... and tried to look... nonchalant. 'Duo,' I asked calmly. 'What are you doing?'
The ledge was wide, though not very long. Extending under the window and only running another ten feet or so before it butted into a corner. Duo was sitting with his back to that side wall, his long legs stretched out toward me. I thought, if I stretched, I could probably reach his ankle, if I had to.
He blinked at me in no little surprise and then flashed me a grin that just about turned me wrong-side out. 'Hey Heero,' he said, just as though we were sitting across the office from one another. I had to take another of those calming breaths.
'Hey,' I replied, relieved that he hadn't reacted negatively to my presence. Relieved that he seemed willing to talk. They say that's half the battle.
Incongruously, he raised a bottle of water to his lips and took a drink. I wondered with a sudden weird flinch what would happen when the bottle was empty.
That high up, the wind was like a thing alive, playing with the edges of his clothes... with his hair. He absently brushed a strand from his eyes and gave me a cocked-head look, obviously waiting for me to say something.
I couldn't quite keep my eyes from measuring the amount of space between where he sat and... the edge of the world. 'What... are you doing, Duo?' I asked again, and heard a faint warning hiss behind me. Someone telling me to watch my tone.
But Duo has seldom paid much mind to my tone. He never really has. He takes me in stride and I think that's what lets us work together so well, when I don't seem to be able to work with anyone else.
He just flashed me a grin. 'I don't know, buddy... sometimes I just feel like I can't breathe, you know?'
I did know. Sort of. I knew that feeling of not being able to catch my breath... but it was Duo who did that to me, and I didn't think that's what he meant. Didn't think it was what he meant at all. But I said, 'Yeah... I know,' anyway, because you're supposed to commiserate. The book says so.
His grin toned down a bit, and he gave me a look that I couldn't decipher, but it seemed a little wistful. 'I suppose you do,' he said, but I'm not sure I was meant to have heard it. It made something funny happen in my chest and I wanted to shout at him to come in off the fucking ledge right the hell now. But I was pretty sure that wasn't in the book.
I considered the distance between me and his out-stretched legs again and wasn't sure I could manage a solid grip if it came down to that. He was wearing his boots and I would not be able to get a good hold on him, and all I could imagine was lunging for him and having that boot come off in my hand. I shuddered.
'You ok, man?' he asked, and I was able not to stare at him in disbelief only by a supreme act of will.
'The wind is... cold up here,' I said instead, and he smirked out right.
'That's because you're not in the sun,' he told me, and tilted his head back, closing his eyes to soak up some of the warmth he was talking about. I blinked at him, burnished and golden in the light. Looked at him and couldn't fathom how anyone who looked like that, could be... was sitting... could be thinking...
I shook my head, and shifted a bit closer to the edge of the window, closer to him, while his eyes were closed. I knew I should be talking to him, but was at a loss. None of the things that were coming to mind seemed... appropriate.
Please don't do this to me.
Don't leave me.
I can't lose you...
'How in the hell did you get this window open?' I finally managed, and heard him chuckle.
'All portals have a key,' he smiled, face still turned toward the light of the sun. I dared reach a hand out to be sure of my distance. It would be close. Too damn close. I pulled back before he could open his eyes and catch me. 'Anything that was once closed, can be opened again.'
I knew he was only being facetious, but I knew the truth behind those words first hand. I was one of the things that Duo had opened again. His partnership... his friendship... had been the key to opening up parts of myself that I had thought, not so much closed, as dead.
'Not telling, huh?' I asked, though it didn't matter in the slightest. And I didn't really care. I just wanted to keep him talking to me.
'Trade secret,' he grinned and opened his eyes to look at me, almost catching me staring at his ankle. I shivered again. 'Hey man... you ought to come out and sit in the sun... it would do you good.'
I just stared at him, unsure what he was asking. What he was offering. The chance to get closer to him was almost irresistible, but my leaving the window behind would lose me any chance I might have of finding purchase to keep us from going over if he... if it came to that.
I must have missed a chapter in the book.
Cautiously, hearing the hissed, but panicked warnings behind me, I climbed up into the window. If there was any heat in Duo's sun... I didn't feel it.
I crouched on the ledge and tried very hard not to look down. Being out there with Duo, feeling the tug of the wind... that ledge suddenly didn't seem to be as wide as it had looked from inside. I very much needed him not to be out there. It was a struggle not to lunge toward him... not to grab for him... not to cry out and beg him to come the hell in. I realized I was shaking about the same time Duo did.
'Hey, man,' he said, sounding concerned. 'You probably shouldn't be out here if you have a problem with heights.'
I wanted to laugh, but didn't think it would be a good idea. I opened my mouth, looking for something witty to come out, but all I heard was, 'Duo... please...'
'Heero,' he commanded. 'Get back inside. You don't look so good.'
I realized that I'd closed my eyes, and forced them back open, feeling oddly disoriented for a moment. I looked across at Duo and he seemed very much not as relaxed as he had been. 'Duo,' I repeated, and stretched out a hand. 'Please...'
'Come on, man,' he said, and finally pulled his legs in to bring his feet under him. I think he was just shifting to move, but it made a ripple of panic run through me as he was suddenly completely out of my reach.
'God, Duo... please!' I heard myself yelling and he was scrabbling toward me, his eyes wide and confused looking.
'Don't move, Heero,' he told me. 'I'm coming...'
And then he was within reach and I grabbed his arm and hauled him to me, hauled him toward the window where there were suddenly other hands there helping me, and we were both dragged through the window and went down hard on the floor in a tangle of limbs and curses.
'What the fuck?' I heard him shout, but I was too busy trying to remember how to breathe.
'Maxwell, you idiot!' Wufei shouted back, and I think Quatre said something that I lost behind the sound of the blood pounding in my ears.
There was just a confusion of bodies for a long couple of minutes, while everyone seemed to be most concerned with holding Duo down and Duo seemed to just want to cuss at us.
I became aware that I still had my hand wrapped around Duo's wrist when he shouted at me, 'Heero! God damn it... you're breaking my arm!'
Our eyes met and I tried to open my hand, but it took a long minute for my fingers to obey me. Duo stopped struggling then and everything went very still. I couldn't stop staring at him and I watched him take in my shaking. Watched him take in... I don't know what, but I saw something suddenly click into place behind his eyes.
'You morons thought I was out there to... jump?' he asked, his voice suddenly much quieter. Not calm, but kind of... reined.
'What the hell else would you be doing out on a damn ledge thirty stories up?' Wufei said, and his voice wasn't quiet at all.
Duo couldn't seem to settle on an expression. There was a bizarre moment when I thought he would laugh. Then another when I thought he would scream. I'm sure my own expression did something similar when he suddenly blurted, 'Uh... eating my lunch?'
'What?!' Trowa fairly squawked, and I couldn't have said it better myself.
'I like it out there!' Duo growled, suddenly defensive.
'You... you...' Wufei tried, but couldn't seem to get words out.
'You couldn't just eat in the damn lunch room with the rest of us?' Quatre cut in, since Wufei couldn't seem to get his thoughts organized.
'In case you hadn't noticed,' Duo snapped. 'I haven't eaten lunch with you guys since Chang here called me a pussy and...'
'What?!' one of them shouted, and I wasn't even sure who it was.
'I like it up here!' Duo yelled back. 'It's quiet and peaceful and there isn't anybody getting on my case for stupid crap...'
A month. Duo had been eating his lunch on a ledge thirty stories above the ground for... a month, at least. I remembered the conversation he was talking about, and remembered the case that had inspired it. It had been almost a month ago. There had been a domestic hostage situation, and while it had all come out well in the end, Duo had been upset when the family cat had run away during the uproar. Wufei, a bit hyped up on adrenaline had said... some unflattering things. I didn't recall that 'pussy' was the exact wording he'd used, but I hadn't been paying attention until it had escalated into a yelling match and Duo had stormed out of the mess hall.
It was mind-bending to think that about the time I had retreated to our office to escape... Duo had retreated to... had decided to...
My mind was back around to that 'thirty floors... thirty floors... thirty floors...' thing.
'... you fucking idiot...' I heard Wufei yell, but I suddenly just needed to get away.
I stood up and walked off while Trowa was shouting something about 'stupid stunts'. I let the raised voices wash over me and just tried not to see Duo sitting there with the sun shining on his face and the wind playing with his hair. Tried not to think about throwing up, because there was some part of my mind giving it consideration.
In the elevator, I pushed the button for twenty-eight, then collapsed against the back wall, trying to decide if I should laugh or I should cry or I should yell with the rest of them. Trying to lose the mental images of crumbling cement, of... things... falling.
Trying to stop thinking about not having my life anchored to what it was.
I wasn't prepared for Duo to dart aboard just as the doors slid shut.
I stared at him, not ready to deal. He stared at me, looking totally confused.
'You don't freaking have a problem with heights,' he suddenly accused.
I just continued to stare, still seeing the wind in his hair, still seeing him so close to that edge that seemed such a fragile thing. I was still shaking with aborted reaction and I knew he could tell. He suddenly reached out and hit the stop button on the elevator.
'You,' he began again, his tone a little less defensive. 'Jumped out of a damn building with me, without blinking. And almost didn't open your chute. You don't have a problem with heights.'
'No,' I told him and he cocked his head, looking at me closely.
'Then...' he continued, obviously working it out in his head. 'You have a problem with...?'
It was a question. One I wasn't sure how to answer. But the look in his eyes told me he was already on the right track anyway, so I said, 'I have a problem with heights... and you.'
He blinked, really looking me over. I didn't need the faintly reflective surface of the elevator doors to tell me what I looked like. My hands were braced on the car rail in an effort to hide the shaking, but it was a moot point since the shaking had spread to most of the rest of me. Not that I was going to let go of the rail anyway, since my knees felt like they were thinking about turning to water under me. My shirt felt damp with sweat even while I knew there were goose-bumps on my arms. I wondered if I looked pale, because I sure as hell felt pale.
Pale. Wrung-out. A little sick. What you feel right after you've had the shit scared out of you.
He'd just been eating his lunch. I almost laughed at the absurdity of it all, but thought the shakiness wouldn't make that a great idea.
'I'm... sorry,' he said softly and looked suddenly tied in knots. Maybe seeing things from the other side. Looking suddenly uncomfortable as hell. He reached out and let the elevator go again. 'I'm really sorry.'
'Just... don't do it again,' I grumbled as the car lurched into motion. 'Stay in the office and eat with me. If you want some fresh air... we'll go to the damn park.'
He was leaning against the sidewall then, and gave me an odd look out of the corner of his eye. I thought he would speak more than once, but he never seemed to decide just what he wanted to say, so the ride down was silent.
Rather uncomfortably so.
When we disembarked on twenty-eight, Duo trailed along behind me to our office and went quietly to his desk to sit down. He put me in mind of a puppy with its tail tucked. He managed to exude sheepishness, discomfort, and confusion all at once.
I retreated to my own desk and sat staring at my lunch. I didn't seem to be all that hungry all of a sudden. I just couldn't stop thinking about the might haves. What if there had been a loose bit of concrete? A sudden strong wind just at the wrong time? A slip? A stumble? A dizzy spell, for God's sake? Of all the damn places he might have chosen to go for some privacy, why in the bloody hell had he chosen someplace like that?
'Why not the God damn roof?' I blurted, finding a touch of anger behind the fear.
'It's... all covered in tar,' he replied in the smallest voice I'd ever heard him use. It made me stop staring at my desktop to look up at him. I was surprised to see him looking almost scared.
'And you couldn't have just eaten at your desk?' I pressed, trying to understand his reasoning.
'You thought of it first,' he said, his shoulders hunching defensively. 'I didn't want to intrude.'
I sighed and rubbed a hand over my face, feeling my own frustration like a rash. 'It wasn't you I was avoiding,' I informed him, but he didn't have an answer to that. When I dropped my hand he was looking out our office window, seeming... miserable.
I didn't really know what else to say either, so I just shut up, sweeping my lunch into the trash and turning to my computer to watch the stars fly across the screen. I took a deep breath and found that it didn't shake at the end, and decided that I might be starting to settle. I put my head in my hands and rubbed at the beginnings of a tension headache, wondering if my damn partner would ever notice what he did to me. Ever notice how important he was to me.
Ever understand how it turned me wrong-side out when he did stupid shit like lunching on a ledge thirty stories in the air. Do I seem obsessed with that number? Maybe being a Preventer agent, I understood better than most, just what a fall from that height could do to... to the human body.
There was a feather light touch on my arm and I was startled to find Duo squatting beside me looking worried.
'Heero?' he asked hesitantly. 'Are you... ok?'
I just looked at him for a minute, noting that stubborn lock of hair that the wind had tugged free and wondered if he normally redid his hair after lunch, or if I just hadn't noticed his tousled look before today. Or maybe the wind just hadn't been so strong before. I reached out and tucked the strand back in place and told him, 'Not... really.'
I saw the color rise faintly to his cheeks and his hand unconsciously lifted to trace the path mine had taken over his hair.
He stared into my eyes so hard, it felt like he was trying to worm his way into my mind. Like he could force answers to appear in the air between us. 'Heero... what are you saying?' he finally asked, voice little more than a whisper.
I just suddenly felt too damn tired to play the game anymore. Too tired to bother with the oh so careful rules. With the evasions. The lies. 'You're not a stupid man, Duo Maxwell... you know damn well what I'm saying. What... I'm feeling.'
He really did look scared then. Almost shocked, but... something else. Maybe. I hoped so anyway.
I blame it on the fading edge of adrenaline. On nerves rubbed a bit raw by fear.
I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled us both to our feet, holding him just inches from me. He couldn't have gotten any more wide-eyed if he'd been consciously trying.
'H...Heero?' he managed to croak out, but that was all I gave him time for.
'You are... everything to me,' I growled. 'And if you don't tell me to stop right the hell now, I have every intention of kissing you until your damn brain melts.'
He blinked once. Twice. And finally murmured, 'O...ok...' in this voice that just turned me wrong-side out.
I let go of his shirt and he almost staggered, and my arm went around his waist so easily, it felt like I'd done it a million times before. When my hand settled in the small of his back, he curved into me just like I'd always dreamed he would. There was a strange little quiver trying to find its way out of him, and he tilted his face to meet mine without any prompting from me. He tasted of apples and I wondered if there had been one in his lunch. Wondered where it had ended up. Wondered if there was a sack sitting on that ledge outside. But under that, he tasted of... Duo, and I stopped wondering much of anything as hesitant hands found their way up to thread through my hair.
It was gentle because I was afraid to give in to more in the state my mind was in. It was uncertain because we were both fumbling around unknown territory. It was... electric because it had been so long denied. And it was interrupted when the office door flew open.
'Maxwell, I was not done...' Wufei was yelling before he even got through the doorway, and the words just sort of choked off in mid rant.
'Well, you're damn well done now,' I told him without looking, not about to be deterred after finally getting Duo where I wanted him.
There was a squawk that was either somebody having a heart attack, or somebody being bodily removed from the area. Didn't much matter to me.
Nor to Duo, I decided when he smiled and said, 'We've still got some lunch hour left... care to go out?'
'As long as we go downstairs before we do it,' I growled, but he was long past fearing my mood, and merely laughed.
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