"You have thirty seconds to explain yourself, Highwind."

I must've jumped a mile. He comes, he sleeps on my couch for a few nights, he leaves. It's been like this for months. But I've always been able to predict his arrivals, or hear some word of him on the waves of gossip, some inkling that he's around and on his way. Not this time, though. Nothing of him for six weeks, and suddenly he's standing behind me in my kitchen as I rinse my plate from lunch, his arms folded and his eyes as hard and cold as the Glacier. He's pissed, and judging by his words it's my fault, and I haven't the faintest idea why.

"Hello to you too, Val." I reply. "Nice to see you, how you've been, you gonna want the couch, everything else I ask you when I see you, yadda yadda, now explain what? The fact that I'm washing a dish?" Sweet Shiva, I've missed him. I always do. He was my friend, my partner, my fantasy. We killed by day and partied by night, and no monster or amount of alcohol stood a chance against us. One thing I was always glad of was that I keep a rather straight head for being drunk, and I've never told him something I'd wake up to regret. But he's flat-out terrifying when he's angry, and it scares the hell out of me to know that his anger is directed solely at me.

Now his eyes narrow, my so-called wit not lightening the situation even a smudge. I can see his whole face, since he traded his cloak for a leather trench some time ago, but I may as well be looking at a granite statue. His eyes bore into me and I hate the tiny part of me that wants to swoon and get lost in them forever. "I walked into your office in the main hanger to find you." He says, his voice as cold as his eyes. "Your men said you were there. I did not find you, but I did find myself on the screen of your computer. Explain."

I mentally wince. That picture is my favorite of those I took while Avalanche was on it's mission. Vincent, exhausted after a long day and a few too many drinks at the del Sol bar, sprawled out across his bed, mostly on his side, his arms tucked under his pillow, his shirt gone, his hair going everywhere and a tiny, satisfied smile on his face, so faint it's hard to tell it's there if you don't know him well. It was one of the few times I ever saw him completely relaxed, and it was one of the VERY few times I ever saw him smile for more than a second. I'm surprised the picture came out as well as it did, since I was so drunk I could hardly see straight, but as I said, I retain a level head and some skills when I'm drunk. When he's gone, a picture of him usually graces my desktop, and when I start to hear of him in the area I change it. Dammit.

I sigh and shrug, turning to put my plate in the drainer on the sideboard, trying to remain as nonchalant as possible. "It's a pic of you." I answer. "One of the best I've ever took." I'm determined to not give him more information than necessary. But I'm not going to lie to him. If he asks the right questions, he could get the fact that I was smitten with him from my own lips, but I wasn't going to just hand him the fact.

He obviously doesn't like that answer, from the way his eyes narrow further. "One of your best." He says slowly, making sure he was hearing right. "You mean to say that you've taken more pictures. Are any of me?"

"Yes." No lies. I'm not the greatest photographer in the world, but I love taking pictures, and Vincent is definite photographic material. Maybe I'm biased, but I have over two dozen pictures of him, from the months we spent traveling together. I have some of the others, but he alone makes up over half of my Avalanche collection, well, the good ones, anyway. There's quite a few more that ended up blurry, cut off, or oddly blank, but hey, I never said I was any good.

"How many?"

"Over twenty. I'm not exactly sure."

"Just of me." It's not a question.

"Yes."

He now looks as puzzled as he does pissed, which I consider a good thing. He won't kill me with questions unanswered. He's silent for a long moment, I think he's searching for the right words, then he asks "Why?"

I mentally grimace at the question. Why, indeed. I know why, I know EXACTLY why, but how can I tell him that I've completely fallen for him and he's never known it? "Why what?" I counter.

He glares at me, irritated. "Why...why do you have all of these pictures of me?" He asks, motioning a bit with his hand, and part of me wants to reach out and take his hand, to kiss his palm and press it against my cheek and hope he doesn't shoot me. I've fallen, and hard, and I don't regret it at all.

Instead I shrug, not meeting his eyes as I move past him, trying to find something to occupy my hands so I don't do anything stupid. I swipe at the table, brushing non-existent crumbs to the floor, trying to not show how tensed and nervous I am. We're both treading on dangerous ground here, and I know that one wrong move on either side, and our friendship will be completely shot to pieces. But I don't think he knows it. "I like looking at them." I say, proud of how steady my voice sounds.

I'd wager that Vincent hasn't gaped at something since he was a kid, but the expression on his face now is pretty damn close. "You like...looking at them?" He repeats, disbelieving.

What, is he my echo now? "Yes."

"At pictures of me."

"Yes."

"You like looking at me."

Gods, he's hitting closer every time, and I realize that after this conversation, our friendship will never be the same. "Yes."

He looks away from me, dropping his eyes to the side. I can see him flexing his clawed hand, and I know he's thinking of his demons and scars, and is wondering why in the hell I'd like looking at him. To tell the truth and shame the devil, I love looking at him, and I take the opportunity to do so while he's not looking, facing him straight on for the first time since he'd arrived and studying every feature of him I can. Finally he looks back up at me, angry, confused and troubled, and comes back to that single word, "Why?"

Damn, damn it all straight to hell, but I can't hide it anymore, he deserves the truth at least. Whoever said that the great Captain Highwind was afraid of nothing needs a reality check. I'm afraid all right, afraid that what I'm about to do will cost me the one best friend I've had since I was a kid, as well as the one person I've ever really fallen in love with.

Love. First time I've ever used the word, even in my own mind.

I step up to him, and have barely a moment to note the startled, wary look in his eyes before I twine my hands behind his neck and pull him down the required few inches it takes for our mouths to meet.

It's clumsy, and strange, and rather one-sided, but I can die right now and be happy just having felt him this close and having his taste on my lips. I can feel his pulse skyrocket under my hands and I know his eyes are as big as saucers, but I keep my eyes closed and instead file away every sensation in my memory. After just a moment of this bliss I force myself to let him go and step back. His eyes are as wide as I imagined and he stares at me in complete disbelief. I manage a smirk, barely a shadow of my usual arrogant expression.

"That's why, Vince."