Notes: G-Gundam does not equal mine. No profit is being made here, only a bit of fun. Set after "Dazzling Power of the Clown! Get Mad, Gundam Maxter", (which I find to be an amazingly stupid title), but it's the Joker Gundam episode. Much love for Reading Whiz for beta, but much love for her anyway. 7/16/08: Names fixed, thank you Sailor Twilight Assassin!
Chibodee Crocket was in a terrific mood. He had vanquished that evil clown gundam, and the sinister laughter that came in nightmares was once more banished. He had won, he had fucking beat his fears, and if felt amazing. And it was all thanks to Rain.
Somehow, he was able to open up to the Japanese woman more than he ever had been able to with his crew. There was something soft about her, delicate. She was the kind of girl he wanted to protect. It was different with his girls. His girls could take care of themselves. Prided themselves on it, too. Firey, that's what they were. He grinned over his sake, basking in the afterglow of victory. The public around him had plied him with alcohol, with booze, and probably with women, too, had his crew not been such formidable bodyguards.
Impishly, he pulled the dark-haired Cath into his lap, drunk with alcohol and success. Had he been in a more sober state, he would have noticed her stiffen. If he had been paying attention, he would have noticed the dark look the girls shot each other. Something was wrong with the crew of the Maxter.
"Come on, girls! Lighten up! I've just taken down that freak Joker Gundam; nothin's gonna stop me now!" The crowd around him cheered and toasted. In his lap, Cath tried to get free. Chibodee's grip "on her arm was relentless, despite his teasing intentions. "What, no lucky kiss from my pretty crew for the winner?" he laughed, nuzzling Cath's neck. Had Chibodee looked up, he would have seen a very panicked look thrown to Shirley, the red-headed leader of his crew. And he would have seen her nod once, severely, back at Cath. As it was, all he noticed was Cath shifting in his lap and turning to kiss him on the cheek.
"May I please get up now, Chibodee?" she asked, tugging her arm free. If things were normal, he would have noticed her voice was stiff and polite, quite unusual for one of his firey crew members. He released her with a pout.
"That's it? That's all this grand victor gets? Man, you guys are cold! Bet Rain would be a lot more appreciative!" he replied, trying to look like a kicked puppy. But Cath's attention was focused elsewhere. Bunny looked scornfully amused at his comment, as if she knew something he didn't know. Janet had begun herding people out of the way, and Shirley had glared down at him in condemnation. For the life of him, Chibodee couldn't figure out what had pissed her off. PMS or something, probably.
"Chibodee, I think it's time to go," the redhead stated firmly. It was in That Tone Of Voice, so he knew he couldn't really argue, but what the hell was wrong with them? He wanted to stay and party. This was his huge victory, after all, and it wasn't like they had to pay for any of this stuff. Winners got perks like free food and booze. So he scowled back at her.
"What? Whaddya mean? I don't wanna, Shirl! I'm havin' a good time here!" he protested. Fortunately, due to Janet's efforts to forcibly usher people away from the gundam fighter, his request was not overheard by the jubilant crowd. But Shirley, it seemed, would not be deterred.
"And if you have a match tomorrow, what good will it do you to show up hung over? They've been pulling all kinds of weird shit to Japan, Chibodee, so what makes you think they won't do something like that to us, huh?" she snapped in reply. Feeling slightly surprised by the venom in her voice, Chibodee felt the urge to resist even more.
"Forget it, Shirl! I'll be fine! I want to celebrate, and you can damn well be sure that I will!" he snarled. But the icy look on all four of his girls' faces gave him pause, and slowly realization was dawning on him through his drunken fog. "Hey, what is the matter with you guys?"
"Come on, Chibodee. Let's just go back, please," Janet begged. She always was the mediator in the group. "We've been out for hours, it's time to go back!" Chibodee frowned. He and his girls were very loose in their schedules. They spent as much time together and apart as they wanted. Normally they would just do as they pleased and leave him to his drinking. Shirley had once said that as long as he was back by the next morning, his life was his own and vise versa. But something was up tonight.
"Not until you tell me why I gotta go with you downers!" Chibodee was not letting this go. The girls were acting way too weird. After a fight like this, they should have been cheerin' for him just as loud as the civvies in the bar. This PMS-y mood of theirs was sobering him up more than he liked. This time, he didn't miss the pointed glance they all gave each other. Ever the leader, Shirley was the one who answered.
"Chibodee, if you want us to explain, we'll explain. But I can assure you that you'd prefer for us to explain in private." Her tone was steely and brooked no argument. Still rather annoyed, but now vaguely worried for his crew, Chibodee acquiesced. They didn't leave him much choice.
"Fine. You worry-warts have busted my party mood anyhow. All right, let's head out." He stood, exaggeratedly stretching to mask his instability. He had drank quite a bit, and, given the way things were spinning, more than he should have. There were cries of disappointment all around, but Chibodee, ever the good sport and actor, merely placed his arms around his two closest crew members and said, "If four beautiful ladies want to take you home, ya don't say no!" Laughter ensued, filling the bar up with the jovial sound. For the sake of the crowd, all four women played along. Now that his attention was focused on the disquiet among his crew, Chibodee could tell that their acting was wooden. The bodies of Shirley and Bunny under his arms were unyielding and stiff, as though they were uncomfortable with his very presence. That was unusual, and warning bells went off in Chibodee's head.
The five went in silence to the hotel. As soon as they had cleared away from the crowd, Bunny and Shirley had wriggled out of his grip, nearly causing him to fall. The alcohol still burned in his system, making his gait unsteady and his vision dizzy. As soon as they entered their suite, Chibodee knew he was going to pass out on the couch. And it was going to be wonderful. Especially since he wouldn't have to be in the unbearably prickly atmosphere the four girls seemed to exude right now.
Funny, though, that his way to the couch seemed to be barred once Shirley had let them all in. He was surrounded by his crew. Something told him that absolutely nothing good was going to come of this. The lock of the door clicked, echoing ominously through their silent suite. "Hey, girls, just what the hell is goin' on?" Chibodee said loudly, confused and irritated.
"All right Cath," Shirley said. With a nod, Cath pulled back and hit the gundam fighter with a powerful uppercut under the jaw that had his teeth clattering. He staggered, but was caught in Shirley's strong arms.
"Cath, wha-?" he managed to sputter before Cath stuck him again in his solar plexus. Gasping for air, Chibodee stared up at his girls in disbelief, his mind too consumed with the shock of the attack to even begin to grasp at the "why". Had Shirley's strong arms not been supporting him, Chibodee would have sank to the ground.
From his slumped position against Shirley, the faces of his teammates and crew swam and spun sickeningly. His head was fuzzy from drink and injury, both from the earlier gundam fight and the rutheless attack by his crew. His body was unable to retain consciousness. As darkness fell upon him, Chibodee could not shake the feeling of deep and utter betrayal.
It hurt. It hurt a fucking lot.
The next morning, Chibodee found himself bandaged and lying in his bed. His head ached something fierce, and he groaned in pain. What the hell had happened? His memory on the night before was fuzzy. Something very Big and Important had happened, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what. Rolling over painfully, Chibodee saw that he was alone. Well, that ruled out a night of hot, rough sex. Not that he really had those anyway, what with the way his girls tended to screen any potential dates.
Oh. The girls. The memory of the night before came flooding back.
An obnoxiously loud creak at his door alerted Chibodee to an intruder's presence. Knowing it was likely to be either the previous night's assailant or one of her enablers, the New Yorker flopped back onto the pillows and pretended to be asleep.
"Chibodee," said Shirley's voice, somewhere near his head. "I know you're not asleep, your breathing isn't regular enough. I have aspirin and fresh-baked donuts." There was almost a pleading note in her voice, or at least, as close to pleading as Shirley would ever get.
Chibodee, angered, bewildered, and betrayed, said nothing. He felt her weight settle on the foot of his bed, and heard her sigh deeply. Okay, now Chibodee was beyond bewildered, had gone straight through perplexed, passed by dumbfounded and had moved to the great state of confusion. What the bloody hell? His crew, his trusted, tried and true team of dangerous ladies, had ganged up on him after one of his most crowning victories, and now they sent Shirley the emissary with peace offerings? His blood boiled, anger getting the better of him. He sat up, glaring at the woman on his bed.
"You have one chance, Shirley, and one chance alone to tell me exactly what the hell you four were thinking last night," Chibodee said in a low growl. Apparently it had been used on the crew of the Maxter too many times, for Shirley remained unfazed.
"Very well. Do you remember, Chibodee Crockett, the day we five first met up there on the colony shuttle?" the redhead asked, her gaze focused on the doorway leading out of his room. Chibodee felt confusion slam into him once again, derailing his anger.
"What? What is that supposed to mean? Why the hell wouldn't I remember?" the boxer began, but he was cut off by Shirley's raised hand.
"I'm not entirely sure you do, Chibodee," she said, and there was something so very sad, so very resigned in her voice that he sat up to pay closer attention. At his blank stare, she continued. "There we were, four punk queens of the underground. And we were going into the colonies. Would have made it, too, if those damn guards hadn't caught up to us. But then, we wouldn't have met you, either.
"You asked us to come work for you. Of course we said yes, it meant actual, legit employment for once, and a place on the colonies. But we weren't stupid. We knew what happened to idiot girls who said yes to the first man to offer help. Janet knows firsthand." Chibodee started at that. He hadn't known that. "And so... we went with you, and we arranged a verbal contract. Do you remember how it goes, Chibodee? As your employees, we expected certain things. We expected a place to live, a decent wardrobe, three meals a day..." she trailed off, but the memory came rushing in. He had forgotten about it.
"And that I never lay a hand on you in anger, blame or if my touch isn't wanted. In return, you'd do whatever I asked, without question," he finished, the words rushing back to him. He had become so used to the way the four women around him had become after he had taken them in; four loving, if firey beautiful women who thought the earth and stars of him. He had forgotten what they were like before.
"In return we would do whatever you asked, no questions asked," Shirley echoed. She paused, staring at her hands, which were wringing themselves together. "You gave us so much, Chibodee, during those first years, even though we resisted at first. You were too good to be true, and we kept waiting for the catch. With your help, we all got to be certified as gundam mechanics, and Janet got to be a fully trained nurse to boot.
"You gotta understand, Chibodee, what that meant... what that means to us. We had nothing. You gave us everything. All of us adore you. We would and have done anything and everything for you. And that includes asking another country's doctor for help, and trying to steal the plans for another fighter's gundam just to give you any kind of edge. And you didn't want that kind of edge. You made us realize that we couldn't go back to who we were, but you made us realize that we shouldn't."
Shirley trailed off for a moment, but Chibodee sensed there was more to this than what she had just said. This was important, he could tell. He only wished his head wasn't pounding in agony. This seemed like the conversation to have when he was fully coherent. But... maybe then, he wouldn't have listened. Strongly disliking this train of thought, Chibodee waited for Shirley to continue.
"The other thing you did for us was you didn't question us. You gave us the benefit of the doubt. In our entire lives, no one had ever done anything like that. You know the streets, Chibodee. You know the kinda people that live on the streets. We were damaged goods, but you fixed us up and made us into something better. You never asked about our lives Earth-side, and we were grateful."
"It didn't seem to be that important," Chibodee mumbled, lost in thought. "You had that fightin' look in your eyes, that was all that mattered."
Shirley smiled, but it was filled with pain. The fighter couldn't bring himself to look into her eyes. He knew whatever was coming was not going to be pleasant. "Two days ago, you were terrified of clowns. Scared shitless and reduced to a heap on the floor, cryin' for your mama. We knew that there had been a tragedy in your past, but because you respected our boundaries, we respected yours. The only time we looked into that part of the file was when Cath realized it had been hacked by the Joker Gundam. That's how we knew where to find you. We called Domon because Rain is an actual doctor, not just a medic like Cath. We thought she'd know better how to help.
"And she did. She went after you and comforted you. Do you remember what happened just before you took off from that big-top tent that evening?" Shirley again paused, looking him full in the eye, her face an unreadable mask.
Chibodee thought, but he didn't remember what had happened. He remembered chasing that hallucination to the circus ring, remembered fighting his hardest to get the damn laughter out of his fucking head, remembered needing to get the hell out of there because there were too many people. But nothing that would get the girls this pissed off at him. That night had been an emotional nightmare.
"You were sitting on the ground, reeking of sweat. We were worried sick about you. You looked so lost... Cath leaned over to comfort you and wipe up your sweat."
Well, shit. Again.
The memory hit him like a freight train. Mentally, he winced at the metaphor. Yeah, he knew what had happened next. Guilt and shame flooded him, as did a strange sense of defensive indignation. He had been out of his mind with fear! Where did the girls get off blaming him for that? It wasn't as if he smacked his crew around on a regular basis! And he hadn't really meant to hit Cath. He just wasn't thinking! Surely they were understanding of the extenuating circumstances then!
But Chibodee knew, deep down, that it was wrong to hit girls, no matter what. He squirmed a bit, unable to look in Shirley's direction.
"Yeah. Cath... she had it real bad off. She told me I could tell you, but she doesn't want to see your face for a few days. She'll cool off. But it's extra hard for her, Chibodee." As Shirley talked, Chibodee noticed her speech began to change. The redhead was slipping back into the old street slang from their home. It was disturbing yet familiar, and it was almost comforting. "She was the last one to join our group. Other girls had come and gone before her, mind. But she was the last one that had really clicked with us. Cath also had a momma and a daddy. I sure as hell didn't have both. Neither did Bunny or Janet. But Cath would tell us some of the shit her daddy pulled and I got to thinking that I didn't want one. Her momma tried, but was one of those baby-machines. Couldn't keep her legs shut if her life depended on it. Y'know, Cath's not actually sure if her daddy was her real daddy. Didn't really matter, because he was the one that stayed in her life 'till she ran away."
Chibodee remained sitting silently on the bed. He, too, had lived on the poverty-stricken streets of New York after his mother had been taken from him. He had been lucky, living with a decent family and being loved. The girls were a reminder that that wasn't always the case. He could well imagine the horrors of Cath's life. It was such an old story, after all. Chibodee sighed deeply, the weight of exactly what he had done pressing heavily against his shoulders. Shirley had looked at him when he sighed.
"Yeah, I take it you know what I mean. I dunno exactly how bad it was, but Cath still has a few scars. Ever notice how her left forefinger is crooked? Her daddy did that to her when she was "misbehaving". I'm sure she's got a ton of stories that she never did tell us. And she probably never will."
"Why are you telling me this, Shirl?" Chibodee said. His throat was dry, his voice almost cracked. Had he not been punished enough for his careless act? Did they really need to go into all of this? It was more than he wanted to know, more than he could really deal with. Wasn't it enough for them to just strike him in return and move on? Why the hell did women need to explain everything?
"Why am I telling you this?" He could hear the incredulity in her voice, biting and caustic. He grit his teeth to fight yet another wince. "I am telling you this so you understand exactly why your actions were not acceptable. Not ever, not under any circumstance. Cath punched you last night for restitution. You knocked her to the ground, so it's only fair she did the same to you. Think of it as a warning, Chibodee. If anything like this happens again, if we live in fear or in unpredictability, we're gone. All four of us have done that already. We don't want to do it again."
Shirley reached over and gently clasped one of his hands. He stared at her pale hand over his, feeling her rough callouses and noticing pale pink scars for the first time. They really hadn't told him anything, had they? None of them. And he had never asked because it hadn't even occurred to him. They were good girls, his crew. He risked a glance at her solemn face, and was relieved to find that she wasn't angry.
"Listen, Chibodee. We don't want to go. I don't want to go. You're the best thing that has ever happened to me." He felt her fingers tighten across his, and he squeezed back in return. "I think there's a part of me, probably to all of us, that feels like this good luck is going to be ruined somehow, that there's no way our lives could stay this good, and with such a good person. I keep wondering when it's going to be taken away from me. And the other night, when you struck Cath that hard, all of us were terrified that that was gonna be it."
"So why didn't you do something then?" he asked. The question tumbled out before he could stop it, but he was curious. If they had to get their revenge (and damn Cath didn't pull her punches), why the hell didn't they do it that evening? If some jackass hit him, Chibodee wouldn't wait to return the favor.
Shirley looked at him hard, searching for something that she didn't seem to find in his face. "Chibodee, first of all, you stormed out. We were too stunned to do much of anything aside from watching you go. Second of all, you had your fight to win. We want Neo-America to win the Gundam Fight just as much as you. Cath knew you could get yours after you won. Women can lie in wait, Chibodee. We remember, even after we've forgiven."
He fell into a chagrined silence. That they would put their obvious hurt aside for him... for their country... Whether they were nationalistic or not, Chibodee remembered the way that they had sung "America The Beautiful". It had inspired him to pull through and win the fight, not just for himself but for everyone in Neo-America. It had choked him up a bit.
Hell, it was choking him up more than a bit right now.
"I'm sorry, Shirley. I'm so sorry," he bit out, squeezing her hand tightly. He felt awful, both from physical and emotional pain.
"I know, Chibodee. And it means a lot to hear you say that. But I'm not the one you should apologize to," she replied, freeing her hand and handing him the aspirin and the water. "Now take this; you'll feel better when you do." Obediently he swallowed the pills. Shirley reached up to gently brush his bangs back from his face. "Cath needs some time to herself. She took off on her own, but we can get in touch if we need to. She'll be back in a few days. We don't have any matches coming up, so you can get some rest." She paused and looked at him seriously. "When you apologize, do yourself a favor and don't use the words 'this will never happen again', or any variant of that. Those are the kinds of words repeaters use."
With that, she swiftly kissed his brow and walked out the door, shutting it gently behind her. Chibodee watched her go. He felt awful about what he had done, but he wasn't just going to pretend that this didn't happen, and he wasn't so much a fool to say that it would never happen again. But he knew he would try his damnedest to make sure that the four most important people in his life never felt afraid of him ever again.
Hey, cool. Shirley had left the donuts.
It had taken him two days to recover, but Chibodee was a fast healer. His conversations with Bunny and Janet, while far less intense and detailed were nonetheless just as emotional as his one with Shirley. They had each forgiven him in their own way. Chibodee had especially liked Bunny's. The short-haired woman had wrapped her arms around him and kissed him solidly before saying "Don't do it again." But Bunny always was a very "forward" kinda girl. Janet had been more subdued, but her brilliant smile had practically lit up the room when he told her how very sorry he was. He had never realized exactly how close the four women were. Hurt one and you really did hurt 'em all.
He was back on his feet in no time, and while the air between himself and the remaining girls on his crew was far less tense, all of the Neo-Americans felt the absence of the raven-haired woman. Chibodee considered his apologies to Bunny and Janet as kind of warm up to Cath, and he hadn't forgotten Shirley's words. They weighed heavily on his mind. He thought of the redhead's faintly scarred hands and wondered what her story was. What all of their stories were. He hoped that one day they'd trust him enough to tell him if he ever asked.
He really hoped that one day they'd tell him on their own, but he knew that wasn't going to happen.
By day four of Cath's absence, Chibodee was too impatient to wait for her to return. He wanted to apologize now, dammit, so they could all be a team again. He pulled Shirley aside and asked her to get in touch with their missing teammate. Shirley had smiled warmly.
"I'll do you one better," she said, pulling out her cell phone. The redhead jotted something down on a scrap of paper. "This is where she's been staying for the past few days. Go find her and bring her home."
Chibodee grinned at her in return and strode confidently out the door.
Although the streets of Neo-Hong Kong were a maze, and the majority of the people were chattering away in a language he didn't understand, Chibodee somehow managed to find the small inn Cath was purportedly staying at. Apparently, Shirley had worked some magic with the receptionist, because he was waved right in to go up to Cath's room. Chibodee was fairly certain this sort of thing was usually illegal, but what the hell.
He knocked impatiently on the door. She had to be in, she just had to! It would really suck if he wound up waiting for her to get back. Only losers and creepy stalkers loitered on the front stoop, waiting. Fortunately, he heard movement inside. The door was opened, and Chibodee caught a glimpse of surprised brown eyes before the door almost slammed shut in his face.
"Aw, c'mon Cath! Don't be like that!" he called, trying to hold the door open. He got his fingers pinched for his efforts. Wincing in pain and sucking on the bruised appendages, he knocked again on the closed door. "Cath! Please! I want to talk to you!"
"Go away, Chibodee!" she called from inside.
"No, not until ya listen to me! And if I have to say this through the door, then I will!" The commotion was drawing curious gazes from the other residents. He could hear the whispers starting. Chibodee was a fairly distinct looking man; it wasn't hard to identify him as the fighter for Neo-America. He was certain that there would be hell to pay tomorrow. The tabloids were merciless when it came to the gundam fighers. He had read numerous stories about Domon, a few about George, and even one about Argo's "illicit love afair" with his jailor Nastasha.
Despite this, Chibodee knew that reconnecting with Cath was far more important than some shitty papers. He didn't care about the gossipmongers, he just wanted his team back. "I'm sorry, Cath," he called through the door. "I'm so, so sorry."
Perhaps she could hear the sincerity in his voice, or perhaps she just wanted to avoid a scene. Whatever the reason, Cath opened the door back up. "Come in," she said quietly. He meekly followed her in, surveying the room. The ones back at their place were definitely nicer, but these had a rustic "traditional" feel to them.
He didn't waste time chattering about the room, however. "Come back home to us," he said without preamble. "I'm so sorry. I was upset and scared and fighters react with their fists first, and it was so wrong of me to lash out at you." Cath looked up at him, guarded and impassive.
"You talked to Shirley, didn't you?" she said. He made a face.
"Of course I did! Talked to Bunny an' Janet, too. And they're the ones that said 'Wait for her to come to you, Chibodee!'" He mimicked a high-pitched voice in hopes of a smile from his dark-haired teammate, but she didn't bat an eye. "But I got tired of waiting. I miss you, Cath. We all do. You're a part of this weird Maxter family. We need you back home. I was so wrong. No matter how upset I am, you don't deserve to bear the brunt of it like that. None of you do. Will you ever forgive me? I'll do whatever I can to make it up to you."
"Will you promise never to do this again?" she said quietly, looking him dead in the eye. The lack of emotions in her voice and on her face was bothering him. That fighting look had been replaced with something almost dead. He was about to answer her yes, to promise her the universe twice over, but he remembered Shirley's words. A sad frown settled onto his normally cheerful face.
"I wish I could, Cath. But none of us know what's coming ahead. And I don't want to make a promise to you that I might break someday. But I don't want to hurt you. I never want to hurt any of you. You're the only family I've got," he said solemnly. Chibodee willed, with every fiber of his being, that Cath would accept and come home. The silence between them seemed to drag on and on. Neither one budged.
Finally, Cath's face broke into a small smile. "You did talk to Shirley. For once you actually listened, too," she said.
"Hey!" he cried indignantly. "I listen loads! You don't see me contradicting the stuff you do on the Maxter, do you?" Cath smiled wider.
"Just on everything else. All right. Let's go. We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for the next match," she replied, gathering the few possessions she brought with her to the inn. Chibodee watched her for a few moments, realization slowly dawning.
"Does that mean I'm forgiven?" he asked hopefully. She paused and smoothed out a wrinkle on a folded garment in her duffle bag on the bed.
"Yes," she said simply. If Chibodee had been a wiser man, he would have noticed how unsure that "yes" was. But he took what he could get, and grinned warmly at her. "Just remember, Chibodee," she continued, "that while you may be forgiven, I'm not going to forget."
"Warning received, ma'am!" he said, snapping a quick salute. He was not going to forget this incident, either. "Now can we go home?"
She finished packing and looked up at him, nodding. He held the door open for her and noticed that she still kept a bit of a distance between them. But that was okay. It might take a while to rebuild the trust that he had carelessly broken, but when Chibodee set his mind to it, he could do anything. She checked out of the inn, and the pair walked back to the Neo-American hotel.