Relena asks, “Are you…listening?”
Une gives herself a shake and says, “Sorry, yeah, I was with you until the thing about the negotiations for the P4 base.”
Relena says, “That was three minutes ago. You okay?”
Une runs a hand over her face. “Yeah, just a little tired. I should switch to coffee.”
“A little tired.” Relena sounds unconvinced.
“Listen, I have a meeting to get to. Can you send me the guy you’re worried about’s bio and I’ll look into the problem?”
“It’s almost eleven at night, who the hell are you meeting with?”
“Videoconference with the sixth sector. It’s morning where they are.” Une swallows a yawn. “I know you take meetings after ten all the time.”
“From the residence, by phone, largely in my pajamas.”
“Must be nice to be queen.”
Une can hear Relena flipping her off. All she says, though, is, “I’ll send you the bio.”
Une dredges up a laugh. “Talk later.”
Une splashes her face with cold water, carefully reapplies her makeup and goes to talk with whichever delegate they’ve thrown her way this time. This will be the fourth. None of them are very good at being told no.
Trowa comes in the next morning with coffee and asks, “Did you sleep here?”
Une doesn’t bother answering, just asks, “What time is it?”
“Six, sorry, I wanted to wait, but there’s a problem with ‘Fei’s mission that I need to read you in on.”
Motherfucker. “Aren’t you supposed to be on L4?”
Trowa says, “Drink the coffee.”
Une pulls her hair back and does as she’s told.
It’s three days before HQ is able to make contact with Wufei’s team, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during worker negotiations that were supposed to only have three factions. The fourth one—the existence of which the colony’s government had willfully neglected to mention, as they had planned to leave them out of the talks—took matters into their own hands and largely handmade weapons.
It’s against Une’s policy to shoot first and ask questions later. The Preventers stand for something more than that. She had to get someone on the inside who could actually talk her way in, in this case Dorothy.
Une’s hunch—that the group wanted to talk much more than it wanted to kill—is dead on, but it still takes a while to get the group to acknowledge that the Preventers are willing to listen.
By the time the excitement has passed, Une’s got a conference on L1 she’s supposed to fly herself to in four hours. She drinks another cup of black coffee and praises the universe that she’s recently retooled her auto-pilot.
“Hey, where are you?”
Une stares at the comm on her ship and tries to understand where the voice is coming from for a second. “Duo?”
“Why? You give all the boys your private number?”
Normally, she’s pretty sure she would have something to say to that. “Where are you?”
“Shuttling back. I have to work on this girl’s thrust. There’s serious wooing over here and she’s giving me nothing.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on L2 until the twentieth?”
There’s a pause then and Une realizes her mistake a second after she’s made it. Duo says quietly, “It is the twentieth, babe. You feeling okay?”
Une rubs at the ache in the back of her neck, the shoulder that tenses up when she’s exhausted. “Fine. Yeah, it’s just been a busy, uh—“ Une thinks back. When had Duo left?
“Month? Heero said he thought you were burning the midnight oil. Well, actually he said something completely formal and somewhat special sounding, but I translated.”
“There’s been a lot going on. Quatre hasn’t been available since he’s helping his sister with her startup, ‘Fei’s been off at negotiations, Trowa was colony bound for a while because of the whole accidental shooting mess. Dorothy’s been near running the entire outer sector by herself.”
Still quiet, Duo asked, “Where are you now?”
“On the way to P11. I have to be here for a couple of days, and then I have to be back for-- I don’t remember, but it’s in my calendar. Are you still going to be on planet?”
“Even if I have to change my plans.”
“Oh,” Une mutters, not really meaning to.
Duo laughs, “Love you, too. See you in a few.”
The P11 conference goes smoothly, all things considered, but it’s a twenty-four hour cycle event, so Une sleeps when she can catch a few hours, here and there. She needs to go back to the Preventer budget and find the money for an assistant, she knows, but there hasn’t really been time.
She’s validly seeing double on the ride home, but she downs as much coffee as she can handle without getting sick and goes straight to the office, because she hasn’t seen Wufei yet, and she needs a report from him in person. After that, there’s the trade delegation meeting that she has to at least show up at, but she figures after an hour, she can probably leave.
By the time she’s done, she knows better than to trust herself behind the wheel of a car, so she walks home. It’s not that far, less than two miles. Most of the time, she can run it, full stop. Today, she feels like a rubber band someone froze and pulled until it snapped. She reaches down into the compartment of her briefcase where she always, always keeps her keys, and her hand comes away empty. For a second she just stands there, swearing under her breath, eyes closed, trying her best not to cry. She would sneer at herself if she weren’t so damn tired—she’s gotten soft.
She takes a couple of deep breaths, just to clear her head, and kicks off her heels. She can’t pick her own locks, she’d made sure of that. Any lock that she could pick was one that a well-trained assassin or bounty hunter could pick. However, there’s a hidden compartment in the sill of her second-floor window out back. It contains a retina scanner, and once it recognizes her, it’ll let her in. She just has to scale to the necessary height.
She’s padding around to the back when she hears Duo call, “Babe? Where you going?”
At which point, she actually does choke on a sob. She gets it under control before there are any actual tears, but she isn’t exactly in a place where she can turn around and look at Duo. She pretty much completely forgot he was going to be there, despite a month and a half of wanting nothing more than for him to come back.
She’s pretty sure he’s noticed the hitch in her shoulders, but he doesn’t say anything, just curls himself around her and says, “So, I say fuck this long-distance shit, I need to hire an assistant. Either that, or quit and become your kept man.”
She knows she’s leaning on him more than she should, more than is probably comfortable for him. She can’t talk. She’s terrified that if she opens her mouth, all that will come out is exhaustion, possibly in the form of tears. He’s rubbing at her arms a little. “Hey, c’mon. Let’s go inside.”
Inside, right. So she’s not barely standing on her front lawn, where pretty much everyone can see. He tugs at her a little and she turns, follows him. No sooner has he closed the door behind them then she finds herself being picked up by him, like one of the million kids she’s seen him play with, out on L2. “Duo.”
“Do you even remember the last time you slept?”
“On the way home from P11. Put me down.”
“What if I say no?”
They are already most of the way to her room, so she just says, “You are going to get the ass-kicking of your life when you least expect it.”
“Okay,” he agrees, and sets her down on the bed. Before she can get her reflexes to start up, he’s undressing her, putting the clothes in her laundry basket. He pulls a t-shirt over her head when she’s down to nothing but panties and then herds her up the bed, and under the covers.
She looks up at him, trying to ignore the pounding headache she’s had for the better part of a week now. It really isn’t feeling up being ignored any longer. “You just got home. I can--”
“I know,” he says, and he doesn’t smile as he says it, which is probably what saves it from feeling like a laugh at her expense. “I know, Une, but just, don’t, okay? Let me—“
He looks away. She knows the end of the sentence, anyway. She knows he thinks if he says the words aloud, she’ll reject them. She probably will. She doesn’t need anyone to take care of her, not really. It just feels nice when Duo does it, that’s all. Only, he came all the way home and waited for her and she needs to feel like she deserves that. She isn’t sure how to reconcile their needs, too damn tired to think everything through. She watches, uncomprehendingly, as he toes off his shoes, shucks off his pants.
He crawls in beside her, his heat melting away some of the last of her ability to hold onto consciousness. “Let me.”
She wakes up to the smell of fresh pineapple, which she hasn’t had in weeks, not since the last time she had a chance to go to the market. She looks over at the clock and tumbles out of bed, into the kitchen where she accuses, “You turned off my alarm.”
“You needed more than eight hours,” Duo tells her, clearly not put off by her morning-grade hostility. “You probably needed more than eleven.”
“I need to get back. As it is I—“
“Nope. ‘Fei called like, an hour after you fell asleep to ask, in his own way, if you were alive, since evidently you didn’t so much look it after your last meeting with him. His exact words had something to do with him looking better after being a hostage for several days, so, I told him you needed some sleep and he called Trowa, whose first question was if you were finally sleeping, and between the two of them, they’ve got you covered. Quatre, however, would like his boyfriend back, and so has very stridently suggested that you get an assistant. A point I think might be worth considering.”
“I have considered it,” Une bites out, mostly because it’s easier to be angry than to think about the fact of the others noticing her weakness and not doing anything about it other than to help. Duo hands her some juice, at least partly pineapple, straight from the juicer, and she takes it. “I have to find the money and then I have to find someone to actually take the position, which involves me trusting that person and them dealing with me.”
“I think I might have an idea on that front.”
“If this involves one of Quatre’s sisters—“
Duo chokes on the sip of coffee he’s just taken. “Quatre tried to put one of his sisters in your chain of command?”
“I think he got steamrolled,” Une admits. At least, he’d sent her some gorgeous, very high tech, very expensive toys to install in Granny. She’d taken it as an apology.
“Yeah, poor Q.” Duo opens the oven and pulls out what looks like a pear, fig and cherry compote.
“Bribery is not going to get you out of the ass kicking I owe you,” Une tells him mildly, since, honestly, it probably will. She can’t remember the last time she ate something made out of her own oven. Probably the last time he was there.
“Okay. Anyway, one of the kids who works in my office on L2, she’s actually from L3, she stowed trying to get to earth, but only made it as far as 2 before she was caught and—“
“Yeah,” Une says tightly. She knows what happens to kids who get caught space riding.
“She’s awesome help, and all, but a little education and I think she could actually do something, so I’d like to get her off-colony.”
“And you think she can keep up? Even while she’s going to school?”
“She’s nineteen, it’s like she has a rocket in her pants, or a Gundam energy core. And yeah, she wants it, and she’s smart.”
“Yeah, I’ll have one of my transports pick her up on the way back from the L4 supply-run.”
Duo nods once and tucks into his food. Une asks, “What?”
He shrugs, looking up at her. “You’re not always willing to let me help.”
She doesn’t know when she learned to read him the way she can read other people. It hasn’t always been easy, he’s nowhere near obvious. She knows that look, though, the easy, couldn’t-care-less look. It’s his hurt look. “Duo—“
“I get it. I get-- I get it. That’s why we work. But I’m like this. You know that. You knew that when we started. Gang leader, oldest kid, the guy who looked after Heero. It’s just what I do. And sometimes you’re a little tough.”
“You knew that, too,” she says, softly.
“I did,” he agrees. “And I fell in love anyway, which only made it worse. But then, I never claimed brains were my thing.”
Bravery is his thing, she knows, because he can say shit like that to her and not die. She always expects to be suffocated, terrified by it, but mostly she just wants to hold on to it, keep it where nobody can get to it. She knows what the world does to love. It’s why she can’t talk about hers. Instead she admits, “I’m still a little tired.”
“Yeah,” he says, softly.
“You think-- They’ve got me covered until tomorrow, right?”
“Or the next day, if you want. You have something like a year in paid time built up, it’s scary.”
She nods. “I’m not always good at-- I’m not the best at taking care of myself sometimes.”
He leans over and serves her a little more compote—she hadn’t even realized she’d eaten it all. He kisses her quickly, a brush of lips against each other. “No worries, I’ve got this one.”