Gatchaman v5.1: "Beyond The Pale"
BEYOND THE PALE
Emby Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And if I'm wasting all your time this time
Boy, you never learned to take
And if I'm hanging on to your shade
I guess I'm way beyond the pale
"The Doughnut Song", Tori Amos
* * *
"Jinpei, didn't I tell you to clean up?" Jun didn't want to sound like a nag, but she didn't think it was too much to ask Jinpei to do the work expected of him.
"In a minute." The boy was perched on a stool, chin on fists, watching a replay of last night's wrestling match on the Sony.
"We have to get ready for the five-o'clock crunch, remember. You're wasting time." She heard a clatter of plates behind her and turned. Her houseguest, Ken's solemn-faced sister, was cleaning off a table recently vacated by a group of after-school patrons. "Miya, you don't have to do that."
The other girl--a woman, really, four years Jun's senior--scooped up the silverware and straightened. "I know."
"Thank you, though."
Miya seemed a bit surprised. "What for? I don't mind doing it."
"A pity others don't share your attitude." Jun's foot was tapping now. Jinpei looked around, caught the expression on his foster mother's face, and slunk guiltily off to finish the work Miya had started for him.
"I'll help you wash up if you like," Miya offered.
"I can do it," Jinpei snapped.
Jun opened her mouth to scold him for his rudeness, but Miya didn't seem to notice or care about the sharp tone of the youngster's voice. "I know. But the work might go faster with two pairs of hands. Just tell me what you want me to do."
Giving him the authority seemed to be the right approach. "I'll wash, you rinse and dry. And be careful! The china plates can get slippery when they're wet. Don't break anything."
"I'll be very careful. I promise. You can watch me."
"I'll be too busy doing my part of the job." Jinpei marched self-importantly into the kitchen carrying a tub of tableware. "You'll just have to look after yourself."
"Yes, sir." Miya hauled the rest of the dishes after him, flashing a Ken-ish grin at Jun as she disappeared through the swinging kitchen door. Jun fought back the urge to laugh out loud and sat down at the bar, switching to the local news channel.
The sound of running water from the back was drowned out momentarily by the roar of a finely-tuned engine from outside. Jun smiled a greeting at the door moments before Joe walked through it. "What's this?" he asked, showing his wry half-smile. "Jun the industrious one, sitting down and being lazy?"
"I'm taking the afternoon off." She got up. "Can I get you something?"
"Far be it from me to interrupt a well-deserved vacation." Joe leaned against the counter, folding his long arms. "Where's the small noise?"
"Washing dishes, believe it or not. Miya's helping him."
"I'm sure he's impressed."
"He's starting to warm up to her, I think. It just takes time."
"What do you think, Jun?"
"Hmm?" she asked, resting an elbow on the counter beside him.
He fixed her with an earnest gaze. "You have an instinct about people of which Ken shows a charming lack. What do you think of her?"
"Miya? Oh, Joe, you don't still think she's some kind of double agent for the Syndicate, do you?"
He waved a hand at her. "No, no, of course not. That's not what I mean. It's just--oh, hell, Ken thinks the sun rises and sets on her."
"You're not jealous, are you?"
He gave her one of those looks. "Please. Still, one would think you would be. Not in a romantic sense, of course, but..."
Jun turned and leaned back, putting both elbows on the edge of the countertop. She looked down with a small smile. "Miya's the only family Ken has now--besides us, I mean; the only blood relation he has. And she's been missing for so long, Joe. They have a lot of catching up to do." She turned to meet his eyes. "As far as Miya as a person...I like her. She's a bit butch, I'll admit, but just because she uses masculine speech and doesn't wear skirts doesn't make her a bull dyke."
Joe blinked. "Jun, really--!"
"Just because I'm a lady doesn't mean I'm ignorant," Jun said primly, tilting up her chin. "I don't think Miya's the type to bump shells, that's all."
He frowned. "You've been listening to the high school punks too much."
"I have them in here every afternoon. You pick up the terminology by osmosis." She put a hand on Joe's forearm. "Listen, not to change the subject, but I need your help tomorrow. I need a new cabinet for the kitchen--"
"--and I thought I might shop around for a proper bed for Miya, too, if she's willing to stay here for a while. At least until she gets her own place. I thought about going over to Sabanna; there's a secondhand furniture place there, and I've already made arrangements to rent a truck. Of course, I need someone to drive it."
"What about Ken? I'm sure he'd be happy to help."
"Ken's pulling a double-shift tomorrow; he'll be out in his plane all day. Besides, Ken drives like a woman--at least when I'm in the car. We wouldn't get back before Sunday morning."
Joe rolled his eyes up. "Oh, all right," he sighed laboriously. "I suppose I'll be your Mr. Useful--just this once more, mind you."
She grinned and pecked him quickly on the cheek. "I knew I could count on you."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." But Joe's growl was too good-natured to be taken seriously.
* * *
"Shopping?!" Immediately Jinpei ducked around behind the counter and well out of reach of his foster sister. "Thanks, but no thanks. I've, uh, got a lot of work to do around the bar--cleaning up and all. You go right ahead. Have a good time!"
Jun knew perfectly well that Jinpei would rather sit through a root canal without anesthesia than clean up the bar by himself. This gave her ample indication of his opinion of going to shop for furniture. "Miya, would you like to come along? You haven't been getting out much; it would probably do you good."
The redhead looked up from the morning paper and shrugged. "At least I could help with the heavy lifting," she said, setting the local news section aside and rising from the back table. "I shouldn't get into too much trouble so long as I keep my mouth shut."
"You could try sounding like a girl for a change," Jinpei suggested. "You talk like the guy from Fist of the North Star. "
Miya patted his shoulder as she passed the counter. "It could be worse," she said, smiling. "I could talk like Sailor Moon."
"At least then you'd sound like a girl."
"Jinpei..." Jun's voice took on a warning tone. "You're being very rude."
"So is she! Why doesn't she talk like a normal girl?"
"Jinpei, if she was a normal girl, she wouldn't be here." Joe appeared in the open doorway and leaned against the jamb, arms folded. "And that would be a shame, wouldn't it?"
"Huh?" Jinpei blinked at Joe, not understanding.
"It certainly would. We're going now, Jinpei. We should be back before six or so. It should be a slow day, so you can handle it yourself." As Jun and Miya reached the door, Joe stepped back outside and gestured grandly towards the rental van waiting on the street.
Jinpei watched them drive off. "A real shame...right." He leaned on the counter, pondering Joe's words. A shocking thought made him bolt upright. "Oh no! He couldn't be...he wouldn't...with a girl?!" He shuddered. "Gross."
* * *
Jun was a very progressive and modern young woman, but where shopping was concerned, the gatherer instincts came to the fore. Once in the furniture market, she was set for hours of blissful comparison shopping and hearty bargaining with the various dealers. Preferring to work unencumbered, she unceremoniously dumped her leg-man and extra pair of hands at a small table near the first concession stall. "Meet me here at three o'clock," she chirped, eyes agleam with anticipation. "I should be ready by then."
"Go easy on them, babe," Joe murmured with brotherly affection as his teammate disappeared into the mid-morning crowd. When she was out of hearing, he said aside to Miya, "Here we see the wild swan in her natural habitat, hunting for fresh kills. The wild swan is not normally dangerous to innocent bystanders, but when confronted with a choice bargain of any sort, she turns into a relentless predator."
His Marlon Perkins imitation was eliciting no response. For once in his young life, Joe was completely at a loss for conversation. He'd never been one for forming long-term bonds with anyone outside the "family" that was the team, but he was no stranger to the female of the species. His natural charm and the attraction many girls felt for his brand of enigmatic intensity had ensured him moderate success.
If nothing else, his suspicion of Miya as being part of some subversive Galactor scheme had given them a mutual topic of discussion. Now that his misgivings had been alleviated, he wanted to start a conversation with her, but he didn't know where to begin. She seemed willing to follow his lead, but he had no idea where he was going with this.
The silence between them was driving him insane. Desperate to break it, he said the first thing that popped into his head. "Are we having fun yet?"
"More fun than humans should be allowed," she replied. "We've only got four hours and fifty-six minutes to go."
"I've got an idea." Joe stood up and offered a hand to her. "Care to have a soda with me?"
She stopped and swung her legs over the bench, turning to face him. She looked at his hand, then met his eyes and smiled. "Why not?" She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet.
Had she suspected, Jun would have kicked herself for missing Joe and Miya walking off down the street, still casually holding hands.
* * *
"It's...pink." Warily Miya eyed the ice-cream soda Joe set down in front of her.
"A strawberry shake, as you requested." Joe slid into his side of the semicircular booth with the double-fudge-chocolate health-nut's nightmare he had ordered for himself. "Is there a problem?"
"Not really. I just didn't expect it to be pink. I mean, straw's yellow, right? I just thought strawberries would be, too."
Joe did an unusual thing. He blinked. "You must have led a really sheltered life on that island of yours."
Miya poked a spoon cautiously into the soft ice cream. "We had certain entertainments available to us, but everything was obviously selectively edited for our consumption. A lot of original thought wasn't encouraged. Not that that stopped some of us." She took a sip from the straw. "Mm. It's good."
"Is this your first experience with ice cream?"
"Uh-huh. I've made up my mind to try everything edible at least once and then go back and have seconds of what I like."
"Not all at once, I hope. You'll end up looking like Ryu."
Miya did an unusual thing. She smiled. "I like Ryu. He's so big, and stronger than anyone would think, but he has a good heart."
"So does your brother." Joe shifted inward a bit on the half-circle seat, leaning one arm on the back of the booth. "Your being here means a lot to him."
"I know." She took another sip. "I wish I were more like Ken."
"What?" Joe was surprised. "I think you're a lot like Ken already. Anyone looking at you can see you're from the same family, and not just because your faces are similar. You have a lot of mannerisms that are alike."
She waved a hand dismissively. "I'm not talking about appearances. Inside, Ken is very sure of who and what he is. I envy his security. I know what I am--or at least what I was meant to be--but I have no real idea of who I am. All my life I've wondered where I came from, and now that I know the physical data, I'm more confused than ever. Even now, what am I to the rest of you? Ken's long-lost sister. I've been everyone else's girl so long I'm not sure I know how to be my own."
Joe moved closer, leaning forward. "I know how tough it can be to ask for help," he said, his tone low and sincere. "But we're all here to help you if we can."
"Thanks." Miya leaned one hand on the cushion between her and Joe, bringing her face closer to his. "You don't know how much I appreciate that."
He looked into eyes the color of a summer sky. She seemed to be searching his face for something. Or maybe she was just admiring the view. Joe wasn't completely vain, but he knew a lot of women found him attractive, in a rather intense way. On occasion, he enjoyed the benefits of that happy circumstance. He found himself smiling at her. "Are you hungry?" he asked, his voice a throaty rumble.
She met his gaze dead-on. "Uh-huh," she murmured, nodding once.
His smile widened all by itself. Not the sardonic smirk he generally showed to the world, the half-smile that revealed nothing of his true nature; this was a real smile, one that hinted at the depth of feeling he kept so well hidden. A voice inside his brain was going Yes!Yes!Yes!; it might have been his reptilian cortex, but he wasn't going to stop to confirm that now.
He was leaning over to kiss those inviting coral lips when his activator beeped at him.
Joe froze. "Kuso."
* * *
For the next several weeks, one crisis seemed to follow another, each in quick succession. First Jinpei ran off to investigate some crazy story about an "abominable snowman" in the Himalayas which turned out to be a Galactor mecha--and the team first learned their nemesis, Berg Katze, the supposed boss of the Galactor Syndicate, seemed to be taking orders from a being of unimaginable power known only as X. Then there was the swarm of miniature locust mecha...then the fruitless pursuit of Katze through a remote jungle...then Jun's identity as a member of the Science Ninja Team was nearly compromised by the loss of her shoe...
And finally, when things seemed to be cooling off long enough to allow the team to pursue their private interests for a while, the weather had unexpectedly taken a sharp left-hand turn for the worse.
Joe had been in better moods in his life. He'd been in worse moods as well, but not often. Not out of battle, anyway. On this particularly dreary Friday afternoon he was struggling to get his car ready before a race in Andirmaine the next day. It was raining--pouring, in fact--but the carburetor didn't seem to care about inclimate weather conditions.
Joe grumbled something uncomplimentary in his mother's native language and gave the socket-wrench another twist. Rainwater dripped down from open hood over his head. One rivulet dribbled down inside the back of his collar, cold as icewater. He grumbled and shifted position, trying to get a better grip.
The socket-wrench slipped and he skinned his knuckles. With a bitten snarl he pounded on the carburetor once, hard. "Kuso yaro!"
"That's no way to talk to a sophisticated piece of equipment."
That anyone--anyone--could sneak up on him, even in a hard downpour, was a disconcerting embarrassment to Joe. He yanked himself out from under the hood and spun around, socket wrench still in one hand, the other reaching for his gun.
A trenchcoated figure stood near the passenger door of his car. Long hair spilled down the back of the coat, wetted down to the color of dried blood. The face, half in shadow, was partially obscured by dripping long bangs. "If I'd known I'd get such a warm reception," said Miya, "I'd've called ahead."
"Kuso." Joe let the wrench drop and straightened up. "Woman, you scared the hell out of me!"
She didn't flinch at the harsh tone of his voice. "Get real. Nothing scares you."
He shrugged and relaxed a bit. "True enough. So. If you don't mind my asking, what brings you here?"
"A taxicab whose driver charged an extra fare for having to cart me this far outside the city limits."
"That's typical. How did you find me?"
"Jun said you were racing in Andirmaine tomorrow and you generally set up your trailer in some farmer's field or other. I've been knocking on doors since four o'clock this afternoon."
"Why didn't you just call me?"
"I don't have one of those bracelet things," she answered, tapping her bare left wrist.
"I have a cellphone."
"I don't have your number."
Miya cast a glance around the woods surrounding the clearing in which Joe's trailer was parked. "Well, you know, I spend most of my spare time wandering out in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain just for the hell of it." She grinned at him. "Am I bothering you that much?"
"No, of course not." Joe ran a hand through his wet hair. "Would you like to come inside?" He waved a hand at his trailer. "It's not much, but it's home."
"I thought you'd never ask."
Miya shrugged out of her coat at the door, but as wet as her clothes were, it hadn't done much good. "Brr!" she shivered. "It's freezing in here--as bad as Dr. Nambu's office."
"Refrigeration preserves youth." He pointed. "Bathroom's that way. I think I've got a robe back there somewhere you can put on."
Joe put on a pot of coffee (he didn't know whether Miya drank coffee or not, but he did, and he was a bit chilled himself) before he went to change his own clothes.
By the time Miya emerged from the bathroom, wearing his black velour robe and toweling her hair, Joe was more or less dry and changed and pouring them each a cup of coffee. "That thing looks better on you than it does on me," he said as he motioned for her to sit at the efficiency table.
"Forgive me, but it doesn't seem quite your style, somehow."
"Jun bought it for me last Christmas." He shrugged and sat down beside her. "Sisters. Go figure."
Miya took a sip of the steaming coffee. "I'm sorry I interrupted your work on your car."
"I was pretty much finished anyway. Don't worry about it."
The minutes stretched out in silence. When Miya had finished most of the coffee in her cup, she set it down and looked at him. "Forgive me if I'm being rude. You're right, I suppose I should have called ahead, but I wanted to surprise you."
"Well, you did." Joe gave her his characteristic half-smile. "I'm not mad or anything; it's just that I have to get to bed early tonight. Pole-time's eleven in the morning."
"Oh, so it's not a good time. I understand." She slid off the stool. "I'm sorry I disturbed you. If you'll let me use that cellphone of yours, I'll call another taxi. I'll put my own clothes back on as soon as I--"
"Hey, wait a minute!" He got up and caught her hands in the act of untying the robe's belt. She froze and met his eyes. "I didn't say you had to leave," he continued, more gently. "It's just that...well, there's only one bed, and I'm not partial to sleeping on a hard, cold floor, especially in my own trailer."
Her gaze didn't waver. She didn't blink. She didn't move. "I wouldn't ask you to. But I don't like sleeping on the floor, either."
Her hands were cold in his. "Why did you come here, Miya?"
"Because we were interrupted by the alert you received that day in Sabanna." Her face was a placid, unreadable mask. "Things were just starting to get interesting when you were called away, and...well, there hasn't been another opportunity since. Until now. Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but I thought...just maybe...you might be interested in taking up where we left off. Was I mistaken?"
Her eyes looked hungry.
"No," he whispered. "No, Miya, you weren't mistaken." He tugged her to him and folded her into an embrace. Her arms went around his neck. The robe fell open. She was naked underneath. Her skin smelled of sandalwood and rainwater. When he kissed her, she held very still, as though afraid he would pull away if she moved.
Her lips were very soft. She wasn't being aggressive--not exactly--but she certainly couldn't be considered passive. She was willing to take whatever he would give her freely, without asking for anything more. He wondered how much she would be willing to give if he asked her.
He felt his face go hot, and the room began to spin. He broke the kiss with a gasp and buried his face in her shoulder. He realized that his right hand had come to rest on top of her left breast, the thumb hooking the edge of the robe. Her body was molded softly against his, and he was hard.
"It's all right." Her lips were against his ear, her words a voiceless whisper. "I want you to."
Joe suppressed a groan, clenching his teeth. So she'd come out here to seduce him, away from the critical eyes of her watchful brother. She'd planned this whole thing and he'd fallen for it. Moreover, her plan was working. More than anything in the world at that moment, he wanted to bear her down to the cold, hard floor neither of them wanted to sleep on and take her right then and there. Trembling, he ached for it.
He forced his hands up to her shoulders and pushed her gently away. He looked her in the face and forced himself to speak as calmly and gently as he could, without letting his voice shake. It was an unaccountable strain.
"Miya--" His voice cracked, and he had to swallow hard around the lump in his throat. "I want--I want you. I really do. But--I want everything to be right. Do you understand?"
She shook her head slightly. She looked more confused than hurt.
Joe didn't want her to think he was rejecting her outright. He chose his words as carefully as he could--which wasn't easy, since he could barely think straight. "If I fu--if we had sex now, right now...that's all it would be. Just sex. Satisfaction of a primal urge. There's nothing wrong with that, okay, but..."
Miya backed away, tugging the robe shut. Her cheeks were flaring. "This is because of Ken, isn't it? You're afraid he'll come after you if you touch me."
"Don't be stupid." Joe grabbed her wrists to keep her from turning away from him. "I want to get to know you, not just jump into bed with you--that's a lousy way to start a relationship, and believe me, I know from experience." His mouth was dry, and he had to swallow again. "Dammit, Miya, you're not just another woman--and you're not just my best friend's sister. If all I wanted was a good time, believe me, the thought of Ken getting mad wouldn't stop me. I can't remember anybody ever getting to me this fast before. You were wrong when you said nothing scares me. This scares me. I'm not sure exactly why, but it does. But I don't want it to go away. I don't want to ruin it by rushing into things, either." He let go of her arms and cupped his hands to either side of her face. "Now am I getting through?"
She relaxed a bit and smiled. "I think I understand. You're not saying `no'; you're saying `not yet'."
"Right." He forced a chuckle. "If it's any comfort at all, I don't think I can hold out very long. I've never had an aptitude for patience." He reached down (without looking) and carefully tied the sash around her. Then he gathered her close again. "I want everything to be perfect for you. For both of us."
"Nothing's perfect." She snuggled into his chest. "But you're the closest thing I've found to it."
He kissed the top of her head. "And you're not going out into that wet again." A smile touched his lips. "You'll catch your death of cold."
"Does this mean I have to sleep on the floor?" she asked.
"No," he said. "This means I have to go take a really cold shower, wear my jammies to bed, and think brotherly thoughts until I fall asleep."
* * *
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