Sudden Realizations

Disclaimer: Gatchaman/GForce belongs to Tatsunoko Productions/Ted Turner.

This was written a couple of years ago, around the time I first discovered the Gatch version of my childhood favorite show GForce, and I figured that it was about timeto see what other people thought of it. For old times' sake I decided to leave the names in the GForce format.

Ace hovered over the bed in the Phoenix's sick bay, studying the unconscious figure lying there. As he rechecked the bandage covering the wound on his teammate's side, he cursed himself for being the reason the injury occurred in the first place. His mind flashed back to the events of barely an hour ago and he shuddered as the images ran through his mind, a horrible slow motion replay, '...pause in the battle...focus on the captain, intending to capture him...a movement out of the corner of his eye, light flashing off a gun barrel...frozen in place for a split second...a blur running towards him, a voice shouting...a crack of gunfire...a body slamming into him, knocking him to the ground...warmth...a smear of red against a pink uniform...'

He cursed again. Aggie had pushed him out of the line of fire and gotten hit herself. Even as he'd cushioned both their falls, Dirk had taken out the gunman and at Ace's nod, given the signal for the others to retreat. Ace had scooped Aggie into his arms and reached the ship just ahead of the others. His second in command had handled the takeoff orders and the firing of the Bird Missile that leveled the base, while he had tended to their teammate's wound. She'd fallen unconscious, a combination of the shock of the injury and the jostling of being moved to the ship and the rapid takeoff. Ace had bound it up, relieved to see that it was a flesh wound and unlikely to require stitches. He'd nearly panicked when his brain momentarily blanked out while treating her, every bit of medical training he'd received taking flight, and giving him yet another reason to curse. Aggie was the team's primary medic, so on the occasions that she herself was injured, things often seemed twice as bad as they really were.

Dirk's voice rang through the bracelet link, alerting him to their imminent arrival at the base. The GForce leader acknowledged the information, his voice somewhat distracted. As he spoke, Aggie opened her eyes to look at him and tried to sit up, but he put a firm hand on her shoulder, gently making her lie back down, "Stay still Aggie. You need to see Dr. Kraft and I don't want you making that wound worse."

"Ace, I'm..."

"Just lay still for now, we're about to dock." She gave him an exasperated look but reluctantly complied until they both felt the familiar shudder indicating that the Phoenix was firmly settled into her docking cradle, then immediately tried to sit up again. When Ace tried to get her to lay back down she gave him a stubborn look and said, "It's bad enough that you had to carry me on board Ace. I'm walking out there on my own. Besides, I don't want PeeWee to worry about me." This was one of the few times that Ace mentally cursed the oft hidden stubbornness in her that he normally admired, but instead he merely sighed and offered her a hand to help her rise from the bed and followed her back to the bridge.

When they rejoined the others, PeeWee ran over to give his sister a careful, relieved hug, "You ok sis?"

Aggie placed a hand on his helmet and smiled at him, "I'm just fine kiddo. Sorry I had you worried." The younger boy glanced behind her at his 'big brother' and Ace nodded in confirmation, reassuring him. The five left the ship through the upper entrance, Ace and Dirk looping arms with Aggie in an effort to soften the landing for her.

Dr. Brighthead met them at the entrance to the ship's bay and glanced over the five young people in front of him, noting the bandage on Aggie's ribs and the tense faces of the boys. He gave the order, knowing his team well enough to expect protests otherwise, "Dirk, go with Aggie down to medical and have that looked at. The rest of you, come with me." He turned and started towards his office, not giving any of them time to protest. Scowls briefly crossed two faces before the team members separated as ordered.

Ace, PeeWee and Hooty joined Dr. Brighthead in his office and they went through the standard post op debriefing. Ace relayed the details of the operation, while Hooty reported what occurred on the bridge while Ace had been tending to Aggie, and PeeWee relayed the details that were normally Aggie's realm of expertise. Ace told him about Aggie's wound and the treatment administered.

Brighthead took the report with his usual calm, careful concealing his reaction to one of his team being injured. It was almost frightening to him how good at that he had become. He glanced over the three young faces in front of him. PeeWee showed some residual concern over his sister's injury, but had been calmed by Ace's reassurance that she was alright. Hooty's showed his normal placid calm, his faith in his Commander erasing any worry.

Ace, however, was a different story. Oh, he seemed calm enough on the outside, but the doctor could see the combination of anger and guilt swirling in his eyes. He dismissed the other two, leaving him alone with his foster son. The younger man turned to the window without a word and waited, lost in his own thoughts while his mentor chimed Dirk's wristband, "G2, report."

Dirk's baritone answered quickly, "G2 here. Everything's fine doctor. Aggie's got a flesh wound, nothing too serious. Looked worse than it is. Katcha's re-wrapping it, just to make sure." A sudden stream of muffled curses in several languages was suddenly heard in the background and Brighthead raised an eyebrow at his foster daughter's choice of words. Especially when he picked a few of Dirk's favorite Sicilian oaths out of the mix. Dirk groaned, "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I swore I didn't teach her that would you?"

"Not a snowball's chance in hell."

"Didn't think so. She's more irritated over the fussing Katcha's doing than anything else, so I know she's fine. Doc says she's just got to take it as easy as she can for a couple of days."

"Glad to hear it. Make sure you both eat something when you're done there and then get some rest. And that's an order."

"Rodger. G2 out."

Brighthead cut off his end of the link and looked over at his foster son. Ace had detransmuted from Birdstyle at some point during the conversation and now seemed to be staring out the window, his back to his mentor. His posture had relaxed incrementally, but in the glass, Brighthead could see that he still looked troubled. He sighed and got the younger man's attention, "Ace."

The young Commander glanced briefly over his shoulder at him, "Sir?"

"Sit down and relax. As you heard, she's fine."

"I heard." His voice was deceptively calm in comparison with the anger in his eyes.

"Then why are you still angry?"

"I'm not."

Brighthead mentally sighed, it was going to be one of those conversations. Ace was so much like his father, it could be like pulling teeth to get either of them to talk at times. "Ace..."

Ace spun to face him, "Fine, you want to know what's wrong? What's wrong is the fact that I was the reason one of my team was injured."

Brighthead raised an inquiring eyebrow. This hadn't been mentioned at debriefing, "Explain."

Ace slammed a fist into the wall behind him, leaving a good sized depression in the plaster surface, "She got hit because she pushed me out of the line of fire, damn it. I was going for the captain and didn't see the sniper until it was too late. I froze. She got me out of the way and got hit herself."

"Ace, it's not your fault. She's going to be fine."

He received a glare in response, "Whose fault is it then? I treated that wound, doctor. Left side, just under the rib cage. She could have been killed, all because I froze. Hell, in sickbay I was on autopilot. Dammit!" The depression in the plaster suddenly became a half an inch deeper.

Brighthead tried to calm him, "You would have done the same in her place had the roles been reversed, and we both know it. Any of you would, so stop blaming yourself."

"Sorry doctor, but that isn't helping. I don't want to see her or any of them hurt. Why the hell do you think I go on so many solo missions?"

His outburst over, Ace leaned back against the wall, head down, in a pose so similar to Dirk's trademark one that Brighthead was once again struck at how alike the two boys were. They just showed it differently. For a moment, he could only look at Ace, processing this new revelation and somehow not surprised at it. He'd suspected that this was the reason behind some of Ace's solo stunts, but to have it confirmed left him torn between the twin urges to either hug him for his devotion to his teammates or take him by the shoulders and shake him for his recklessness. In the end he did neither, only said, "Ace, you're exhausted. Go get some sleep. I'll speak to you and the others again in the morning."

The younger man nodded in acknowledgment of the order and made his way up to his quarters. Laying back on his bed, he tried to relax but his mind refused to let him rest. Images of the mission ran through his brain, morphing into far worse images than what had actually occurred. He growled softly in the back of his throat and rose, heading for the gym. Perhaps he could work himself to sleep.

Meanwhile, Dirk had his hands full with his 'little sister' down in the medical wing. She was obeying the doctor's order, but it was quite obvious that she was not happy with the fuss over what she had termed 'a little scratch.' He had been unceremoniously kicked from the room when Katcha had come to examine her and chuckled to himself, tossing her yo-yo from hand to hand as he waited; Aggie didn't get hurt on a mission with anywhere near the frequency of Ace or himself, but when she did she proved herself as stubborn as she claimed either of them could be, as well as confirmed that there was good reason that every team member was immediately disarmed upon entry to the medical wing. He had been torn between laughing and groaning when Katcha had chosen to put the antiseptic solution on Aggie's wound just as he was speaking to Dr. Brighthead. He knew from experience that the stuff stung like hell and it had caused her to start cursing, much to both his and Brighthead's surprise. He could only imagine the lecture that he was going to get for that later on over that.

When Katcha left the exam room a few minutes later she chuckled when she spotted Dirk leaning against the wall outside and commented, "You can't tell me that you didn't teach her such language. Don't try to deny it, I've known you too long, and heard your mouth too many times."

Dirk gave her a rare smile, "Well, maybe, but it's not like I expected her to actually use it."

She laughed but quickly sobered and confided in a whisper, "There's something on that child's mind. I don't know what happened while you were gone and she won't tell me. Maybe you should try talking to her." He nodded in acknowledgment, Katcha knew that he and Aggie were close. She smiled once more and left him to check on his teammate.

When he entered the room he found Aggie slipping her shoes back on as she tucked her shirt into her jeans. Lightly tossing her yo-yo back to her, he leaned lazily against the doorframe and commented, "You're going to get me in trouble with Dr. Brighthead you know. I was talking to him when you decided to curse a blue streak. And of course he's blaming me."

She made a face at him as she re-pocketed her weapon and replied, "Won't be the first time you got yelled at. Besides, it hurt. What are you still doing here anyways, got stuck on guard duty?"

"Ha-ha, very funny." He studied her for a moment, gauging her mood, then commented as they started down the hall, "You scared Ace half to death you know." She stopped and stared at his back for a second as he began walking, before turning and beckoning her to follow him. He continued the thought once she caught up with him, "He's blaming himself for you getting hurt."

This brought another curse from her, "That idiot, what the hell is he doing that for? I'm the one who knocked him down."

"That would be the reason. You gonna tell him why you did it?"

"You mean because I didn't want to see one of my friends hurt?"

"You know what I mean Ags."

"I don't want to talk about it."

Dirk sighed, "Aggie..."

She shot him a look, "I said I don't want to talk about it."

Dirk held up his hands in surrender, "Yeesh, fine. Sheath the claws kiddo. I have orders to make sure you eat something and then rest, so let's go."

"You don't have to babysit me big brother. I"m all grown up you know."

He snorted, "Still my kid sister, so live with it." At the stubborn look on her face he sighed, "Look Ags, here's the deal: either I sit and eat with you or I sit and watch you eat, then grab something with Ace later. Now, since he's bound to be even pissier than you are, I'd rather take option one."

She sighed and rolled her eyes, "Whatever," and followed him to the cafeteria. Lucky for him she missed the smirk that crossed his face.

Food gathered, the two ate in silence, Dirk giving Aggie the time she needed to get her thoughts in order. She ate slowly, bad mood fading a little at a time. She was irritated with the fuss being made over such a minor injury, and hated the hassle it caused. Not to mention she didn't want the boys treating her like glass for the next few weeks. She knew she'd do the same thing again to save Ace, but in her mind the fact that she had been hit meant she hadn't been fast enough. A split second later and he would have been shot. It scared her, that she might not have been fast enough and...

Dirk saw the look entering her eyes and quickly snapped his fingers next to her ear to jolt her out of her thoughts. Snickering, he commented, "Look sis, I know I'm good looking and all but you're going to creep me out if you start drooling over me."

She blinked, then glared at him as his comment registered, "Idiot, I'd rather drool over Galactor. I was just thinking."

"Yeah I noticed. You done eating?"

"Yes Daddy."

"Come on then, time for little Swans to go beddy-bye. It's been a long day."

As they walked out of the cafeteria, Aggie gave him a sharp cuff to the shoulder and remarked, "That is for the smart aleck comment. Don't go treating me like a little kid Dirk. I'm fine, got it?"

"Alright, alright, I'll stop. You gonna tell me what's bothering you?"

She rolled her eyes in frustration, "Diiiiirk..."

"Don't give me that Agatha Jun, I know you too well. Something's bugging you, so spill. Big brother wants to know. Something about the mission today? Your side hurting?"

"The name's Aggie. And yes, my side is fine."

"So what's bothering you?" He laid a comforting arm around her shoulders and felt them slump a bit. By now they'd reached the corridors where their quarters were situated and led her into his, "Come on little sister, you look like you could use a sounding board. Talk to me. Please?"

Aggie leaned against him, the tears she'd been holding back starting to fall. Dirk guided her to sit down, trying to comfort her, "Oh no Ags, talk to me, scream at me, but don't do that. You know I can't stand to see a girl cry. C'mon, please tell me what's wrong?" She whispered something and he leaned down in an attempt to catch the whisper, "What was that?"

She looked up at him and allowed her temper to snap, "I said, I was almost too late dammit! He could have been killed!" She buried her face in her friend's shoulder, crying silently.

Dirk tried to calm her, he wasn't kidding about not being able to stand seeing a girl cry, "Ags, he's ok. You got him out of the way in time."

Her answer was slightly muffled in the fabric of his shirt, "I keep seeing it again, except I didn't get there in time and he was hit. I didn't move fast enough. Damn it all Dirk, do you know how that makes me feel?"

"Probably about the same he does now, seeing you get hurt."

She gave him a clear 'do not BS me' look, "If he's upset, it's probably because I didn't just allow him to take the bullet himself. Same as he always does, wanting to take the hit for the rest of us."

Dirk was about to argue the point when he heard two sets of familiar footsteps approaching in the corridor outside. PeeWee and Hooty. He quickly switched what he was about to say into Sicilian, the somewhat secret language among the three senior members of the team. Aggie, you're so damn stubborn. Why not tell him the real reason you put yourself in that bullet's path for him?" She gave him a cool look that even Ace could not have matched, not that she'd have appreciated the comparison right now.

"I can't."

"Bullshit! Why the hell not?"

She sighed before replying, frustration causing her volume to escalate as she bit out, "For the same reasons as the last dozen times we had this conversation! He doesn't care about me like that, and I will not put the burden of my feelings on his shoulders. Even if he did, you know the rules, duty wouldn't let him talk. And I will not risk creating tension within the team and putting everyone at risk!" By the time she finished, she was practically shouting, and the debate continued in slightly softer tones.

Outside, Hooty cocked his head then looked down at his younger companion, "They're at it again."

PeeWee groaned, "Let's go play some video games until it blows over. I don't want to be nearby if it hits the meltdown point." Hooty nodded in agreement and the two headed for the team rec room, away from the clashing of wills.

A couple of minutes later, Ace entered the hallway and sighed to himself. The brief workout had helped calm him somewhat but he still felt wired. Entering his quarters, he flopped down onto the bed, then cocked his head to the side. The discussion that had quieted to a level inaudible from the hallway could still be heard through the thin wall separating his and Dirk's rooms. His brain automatically began translating the Sicilian, random phrases that didn't make much sense for the most part. Then he caught Aggie's voice, and his name, "Ace...feel the same..." He strained to hear now, concerned over what was upsetting her so much, " at risk...won't put him in that position..." There was a moment of quieter discussion that he couldn't make outfollowed by Dirk's voice, "...tell him...does care..."

Now she sounded frustrated, "Dirk...side...not head...doesn't that...back off! Swan is fine!" Their voices died away and he heard a door open and close. Going to the door of his own quarters, he stepped into the hall just as his second came out of his own room. Both were just in time to see Aggie's door close with a snap.

Dirk turned and caught his Commander's cool gaze, "What?"

"What did you say to upset her?"

Dirk snorted, and leaned against the door, "We were just talking. The mission took a lot out of her."

Ace sighed, "I wish she hadn't done that."

The Condor crossed his arms, "She couldn't have done anything else Ace. She cares about you too much."

Ace looked at him in disbelief, "What are you talking about?"

Dirk rolled his eyes, "I cannot believe I'm having this discussion with you...again. You're more of an idiot than I thought if you don't see is bro. She cares about you, enough that she'd put herself in that bullet's path again in a heartbeat."

Ace scowled at that remark, "Dammit!"

"Don't give me that. You'd do the same in her place, and not just because you're the Commander of this outfit."

His friend sighed, "If I had been paying attention she wouldn't have had to do that at all."

"You were paying attention, but even you can't see everything at once Eagle boy." Dirk saw his Commander's furious expression at the nickname and sighed once more, "Why not just tell her already?" Ace deliberately twisted his left wrist but his second just snorted again, "Screw that. Look what happened today. If something did happen to one of you, wouldn't you prefer to have every bit of time together that you could? And before you bring up your other favorite excuse, I'll help make sure you don't treat her any different from the rest of us."

"For once, you may be right."

"You know I'm right. She saved your ass today my friend, and it's not the first time. She does care about you. Go talk to her. Me, I'm going to catch up with the others in the den and put a dent in that new batch of DVDs that Dr. Brighthead just got us." With that final shot, Dirk left the team's quarters and headed in the direction of the rec room.

Ace stood there for a moment, thinking about the conversation they'd just had, as well as the pieces he'd heard earlier. His thoughts whirled as he leaned back against the doorframe. Dirk was right, he did care a great deal about Aggie...more than was really wise for either of their sakes right now. But as today had proved yet again, who knew how long any of them had. Aggie had saved him but he could have lost her in the process. That little fact made him admit for the first time, even in his own mind, that he loved her. Nearly losing her once before had almost killed him, but he'd stopped just short of acknowledging how deep his feelings truly ran. But to see her come close to dying in front of him, and saving his skin no less, really knocked the fact home. If she had been killed, he would never have forgiven himself. According to Dirk, she cared about him too. Was it worth taking the risk, going against the regulations? Yes dammit, it was! He pushed himself off the frame, abandoning the nagging voices of Duty and Protocol in the room behind him. He knew they'd rejoin him soon, as always, but this was one issue they would not control him over again. He made his way down the hall and knocked lightly on Aggie's door, concern making him slightly impatient as he waited for her to answer.

Around the corner Dirk grinned to himself as he heard his brother's steps move the short distance down the hall between rooms. In his opinion, it was way past time that Ace got his head out of his ass about this matter. He rose from his leaning position against the wall and continued down to join the others and keep them occupied until his sister and brother were done talking.

Meanwhile, Ace was growing concerned when Aggie failed to answer his knock. He tapped once more, then overrode the electronic lock to let himself into the room, cracking his first smile in hours at the sight in front of him. Aggie lay curled up on her right side, facing him, left arm shielding the wound on her side, fast asleep. Ace sat on the edge of the bed and brushed a lock of hair aside that had fallen across her face. In slumber she resembled a little girl more than the warrior she was. A gentle finger traced the tear trail on her cheek, he hated it when she cried. His fingers raked roughly through his hair as he cursed to himself. He hated to wake her but he was afraid that if he waited, he would lose his nerve. Gently shaking her shoulder he whispered, "Aggie, wake up, it's Ace." Receiving no response, he gently lifted her into his arms and, being careful of the wound on her side, shifted their positions so that he was leaning back against the wall, holding her against his chest. She was still dead to the world, which had him somewhat worried; normally anyone even approaching the door would have been enough to wake her, let alone coming inside and moving her. He held her a bit closer to him and rested his forehead on her hair, whispering softly, "You don't know how much you scared me today, sweetheart. Don't ever do that to me again."

Aggie stirred against him, opening her eyes to look up at him sleepily, "Ace?"

He breathed a sigh of relief, "How are you feeling?"

"I'm ok." A blush came to her face as she realized exactly where she was and she tried to move off his lap, but his arms held her firmly in place so she stopped squirming, deciding instead to enjoy it, "What are you doing in here?"

She was startled to feel him brush a soft kiss over the top of her head and tighten his hold on her more, "I wanted to make sure you were ok. You scared me half to death today. Don't ever do something crazy like that again."

She frowned a bit and looked up at him, "What was I supposed to do, let you get hurt? No way. Besides, I'm ok."

His hand brushed gently over her shirt, right above where the bandage on her ribs was, "You could have been killed."

"So could you. The doctor says I'll be fine within a week."

Ace sighed, "You passed out in my arms today Aggie. I hate seeing you hurt, especially because of me."

Aggie rested her head gingerly against his shoulder, not quite able to meet his eyes, "I didn't want to see you hurt either."

Ace curled his arms around her again, "You don't understand Aggie."

"I can try."

Hell, he hoped he didn't screw this up, "I love you Aggie. It kills me to see you hurt. Especially trying to protect me. If you had died, I'd never have forgiven myself."

Surprise flooded through her at the unexpected declaration, followed closely by euphoria. Hearing that phrase from his lips was worth any wound. Turning her head, she brushed a kiss over his shoulder, "Ace, you idiot, I love you too. I could never just stand there and watch you take a bullet."

"Exasperating woman. I was worried sick about you. You didn't wake up when I came in here. I though you might have been worse off than the doctor thought."

She finally met his eyes once more, love and trust clear in them for the first time, "That's because I didn't have to. I always know when you're around, and I know I'm safe as long as you're there."

Ace looked down at her in surprise, humbled by her faith, "You trust me that much Aggie? We risk our lives every day and I can't always guarantee we'll come out of it in one piece. Look what happened today."

"I know. But I love you. And at least I know that if we die, we die together. Remember?"

He smiled in memory of his words on their first mission, "Yes, I remember."

She yawned, covering her mouth with one hand in an attempt to hide it, "Then there's nothing to worry about."

Ace smiled down at her, "You need to rest. I'll go."

She snuggled into his shoulder, "Stay here, please? At least until I doze off again?"

He adjusted her to a more comfortable position on his lap, "Alright sweetheart, I'll stay. Now get some rest. We'll talk again later." He had to chuckle, it seemed his words had fallen on deaf ears; she was already asleep again. Settling himself back against the headboard, he felt his own eyes start to close and a smile came to his face as he dozed off. For once, Dirk had been right.

When Dirk came to check on her later before heading to his own room, a large grin spread over his usually sardonic expression before he quietly shut the door once more. It was about damned time.

The End