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Prompt: Meï-anything. I specifically went with Meï/Double H, one-sided affection
Title: "Green-Eyed Jealousy"
Genre: General, One-Sided Shipping, could be construed as Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: One painfully bad accidental Double H-tendre on Nino's part and a bit of Meï-angst.
Summary: Jade and Double H have just departed on a mission, but Meï's feeling somewhat apathetic about it. She claims she's just worried about Double H because he's been "ill." But Nino knows better...
"What does Carlson and Peeters say?"
Jade turned around, looking up into the face of her partner. His eyes were stern, and his lips were taut. He held himself with the impassive, strong stance of a soldier, receiving orders from their captain.
He did not meet her eyes, at first. "They said it would be suicide," he replied frankly. There was just enough of a pause for her eyes to waver. They seemed to consider going downcast.
But a wry glint crept into Double H's eyes before she had the chance. "But I say—!" He swept his helmet up from the S.A.C. at his side, swinging it onto his head and locking it into place on his collar with great aplomb. "When the going gets tough—!"
Jade grinned. She did not reply, but her smile said: "I knew you wouldn't let me down."
"We're going to check out the blocked-off district," Jade said. "Wish us luck."
Over by his computer, Nino punched at the keyboard. "It's swarming with guards. Be careful, Shauni."
"I plan on it, Nino," she replied, chuckling.
Meï ran her hands over their backs. "…You too, Hub," she added. "…As always."
"…As always, Meï—of course." He nodded to her briskly from the ramp leading up to the bar.
Meï's ears folded as she turned to watch him go. Her eyes wandered off into the wall by the door, getting lost somewhere in the shine on the back of Double H's armor.
"'As always?'" Jade pressed herself into the back of the trick door.
"Well, you see, we ha—"
The grinding of the door's gears ate up the rest of his voice. The nearly-soundproof walls muffled any bits of conversation that might have come afterwards. The room was quiet, save for the itchy electrical hum of the computer equipment.
Hahn swapped glances with the Governor and cleared his throat. "…Right. Well, I've got to help the Governor get back to her office. We'll be heading out the back way. Meï? Nino? You know what to do. Give Jade and Hub whatever backup they need. Radio me if there's any major difficulties. I'll be back in a little while."
"It was nice seeing you all in person again," the Governor said amicably. She waved one last time while Hahn fiddled with the wall. He pulled up a panel from behind a pipe, running his finger around the touch screen while he sought out the combination. He jammed in the four-character combination, and a small, cramped doorway, covered over with fake piping and metal paneling, slid open in the wall. The tall man hunched inside, and bid the equally tall Governor to follow him. She grinned at the remaining two IRIS members before slipping out of sight down the gloomy passage. She pulled the door closed behind her.
Meï's eyes stared through the tall, flickering screen in front of her usual post. Her eyes caught on the red-saturated image of Ming Tzu in his shop, and she observed him without looking at him at all.
Nino's fingers tapped over his keyboard.
"…Cut it out, Meï."
Her head whipped around violently. "I didn't say anything!" Her back arched with her injured pride. "…You're not even looking at me. You don't even know what I—"
"He's a grown man, Meï. And even if he wasn't, you certainly aren't his mother. You don't have to—to moon after him like—"
"I am not 'mooning after him!' He hasn't been well lately, Nino! You saw him! I mean, given what he's been through recently, surely I'm justified in at least a little—"
"He's held up pretty well so far," Nino shrugged. "Come on, Meï. You've known him even longer than I have. Short of an explosion, you can throw just about anything at him and he'll come out laughing. …Actually, I'm not even so sure about the 'explosion' part. Didn't he survive a mine once? And I mean the real deal, not those little firecrackers that the Alphas sprinkle around the restricted areas…"
"You ever seen him without a shirt on? His whole chest is just one big mass of scar tissue! I swear there's a bit on his left pectoral that looks like…" Her voice started off awed, but suddenly dissolved. She squeezed her own fingers awkwardly.
She hadn't managed to avoid Nino's scrutiny. "…What, you were looking that closely?"
She toyed with the sleeves on her shirt, pushing them back to her elbows. "…I mean, at the very least. Can't I at least be a little concerned for him? Given… everything… I think I have the right to be just a little worried."
"Worry, I don't mind. Heck, I'm a little concerned too. But there's a difference between 'I hope he's OK' and—shaking yourself apart because of it!"
"How am I shaking?"
"Ears at half-mast, staring off into the distance, fidgeting with everything—"
A thread in Meï's shirt gave a tiny twing as she ripped it out of her hem. "I am not fidgeting!"
Nino humphed deep in his throat. "Look, if you're that worried—he's got Shauni with 'im. She'd no more let anything happen to him than you would. She'll bring him home safe and sound. She's done it before against all the odds, hasn't she?"
Meï sighed. "…I bet she wouldn't…"
Nino's hands halted, flat, above his keyboard. His head turned slowly towards her, letting her rest in his peripheral vision.
Meï pulled her legs up with her on her small perch. She hugged them up to her body, resting curled up upon herself. She set her chin on her knees, as if the edges of her frown were too heavy for her face alone to support.
Nino came up to the edge of the strategy table.
"…Did you see the way he looked at her?" she asked her feet. "'It'd be suicide.' His eyes were practically glowing. You could put an entire army of DomZ between him and her. He'd charge headfirst through them, and get there to the other side… just in time to sweep her off her feet."
"Meï, he'd do that for you too! That's who he is! That's Hub!—Well, maybe not the sweeping-off-the-feet part, but Hub—I wouldn't be surprised if 'Loyalty' was his middle name! Plus, let's be honest here—he loves a good adrenaline rush. The smell of adventure, doing what's right—yep, sounds like the perfect recipe for getting Hub in the mood.— Meï, don't turn away yet because I swear I didn't mean for it to come out like that."
Meï sighed limply. "…I know what you mean, Nino. It's OK. It's just…" She rested her head on her folded arms. "I wish I could get his eyes to do that. For me. Even giving him missions, he never… That look, that conviction… That warmth. I don't know how she does it."
"What makes you think she's doing it?" Nino leaned back against the table. "I mean, sure he likes Shauni! We all do. Young, cool-headed, brave, noble, enthusiastic, smart… You'd be hard-pressed to dislike her! But you seem to have latched on to the idea that it somehow goes deeper than that—"
"Maybe the fact that he's with her every single waking hour of the day?" Meï spun herself around in her chair, unfolding in front of the conference table. "He's like a puppy, Nino! Against all our wishes, my explicit protests, even, he pulled himself out of that bench over in the corner there after having recovered from a DomZ spore not fifteen minutes earlier, all because he couldn't bear to be parted with her. Even for Hub, that's insane!"
"You're underestimating him," Nino sighed calmly. "One, she saved his life. Twice. You know how he is. He'd want to pay her back no matter what. Two—again, walked away. From a mine. Keeping him down is next to impossible."
"He didn't 'walk away' from the mine," Meï bit back. She rubbed her shoulders defensively. "He made it out, but it put him up for a while."
"But my first point stands."
She ran her hands through the pale teal holographic models on the tabletop. "…Doesn't it, though. Isn't it so perfectly fairytale?" Her voice was weak and private. "The helpless knight in shining armor, trapped up in the tower by the horrible dragon. Until—along comes the brave princess to rescue him, sweeping him up into her arms. That's all it takes…
"He's a knight who's finally found his princess."
Her fingers sunk into the island off the coast of Hillys, her knuckles jutting up through the base of the transparent lighthouse.
Nino huffed. "…OK, I'll give you that I can see Hub having some kind of knight-fantasy-thing going on. But I don't think there's a soul in this galaxy that's not blatantly evil that he wouldn't give his life for on first sight. Like I said—that's how he operates. He's a real kni—uh—" He suddenly bit down on his lip.
He and Meï stared at each other from perpendicular sides. His breath pulsed expectantly. She pulled her hands back to her body, folding them sadly into her lap. She hung dolorously over the lip of the table, now not-looking into the fuzzy map of the city.
Nino copied. He drew himself up to his full height, and briskly strode back to his computer desk.
There was a gentle "clack" as he put his hands back to his keys. "…You know… Regardless of how he feels about her, moping about it isn't going to change anything."
"…I know, Nino. …I know."
"If… If it makes you feel better, Meï… I… I could bring you some tissues. Sometimes, a good cry, y'know…"
"I've run out of tears for this particular situation," she replied flatly.
"Thought you might," Nino said. "You certainly haven't been very good at hiding your feelings. At least, not from me."
"I don't think it's much of a secret," she sighed. She leaned dejectedly into the table. "Not even from Hub himself."
"How much does he know?"
"Enough to have said 'no' once already."
"…Truth be told, I fell hard and fast for him on day one. He doesn't try to be a charmer, but… There's something about him. Maybe it's the way he talks, all those Carlson and Peeters-isms sprinkled through his speech like it's perfectly normal… Maybe it's his dedication. He always gives it his all, whatever 'it' is. I guess he's… kind of handsome, in his way. He's certainly strong and muscular. And I've always liked his laugh… and his smile. Something about the way he smiles, it… I dunno, it's just catchy. If he's happy, it's hard to be with him and be unhappy."
Nino leaned back against his computer, frowning at Meï sympathetically. "I… I don't know what to tell you, Meï, I really don't. I guess—I mean, you can't let a stupid crush like this rule you, but—"
"Oh, I'm not as bad as I used to be, believe me." She managed to pull a shadow of a smile. "I've given up on the whole 'peacefully growing old together surrounded by a clan of grandchildren' fantasy, so you can't get on me about that."
"…Grandchildren?" Nino said skeptically.
"Adopted!" she defended herself. She flicked at the bottom of her pant legs. It was odd—they were such a similar style to the one Jade liked. All of the cheesy relationship magazines in the supermarket checkout rack said that men had "patterns" when it came to women, but that was a very strange thing for her and Jade to have in common.
"Heh. Even Jade got pulled in," she chuckled. "When she first brought him back—you could tell by the worry in her eyes she really did care about him, even if they'd only just met. Hub certainly has a way of making you like him, wouldn't you say, Nino?"
"Sure," he agreed passively.
"I mean, I like Jade. I can't really hold it against her. …If she wins, well, I'll do my best to be happy."
Nino crossed his arms. "'Wins?'" he huffed.
"Well, you know," she said. She gripped the edge of the table. "If he chooses her, instead of… ah…"
Nino narrowed his eyes. "What, is he only allowed to choose between you and Shauni now?"
"No!" Meï's ears flared. "I mean, that's not what I'm saying!"
"Well, what are you saying?"
"I just mean—if Hub decides that he wants Jade, as opposed to—uh—I mean—"
"Doesn't Jade get a say in this? What if she's not interested, huh?"
Meï's eyes brightened. "Well, in that case, he—"
"You think he'd automatically go for you?"
Meï quietly shrunk back against the monitor.
"My point exactly! It isn't as if Hub's issued some kind of edict—'I will only romantically pursue women in the IRIS network with me, Carlson and Peeters page foo,'—and even if he had, it isn't like he's making some exclusive contract! 'Oh, now that I'm with Jade, I can never see, contact, or be friends with Meï ever again!' It's not some sort of contest that you just 'win!' Even if you say you like Jade, if you keep acting like it's some sort of you-or-her ultimatum, eventually—"
"You don't know that either!" Meï's hands slammed down on the edge of the table. She stood, quivering, over the map. She glared at Nino's entire side of the room.
"Haven't you spent the past ten minutes complaining about how much Hub likes her?"
"But that's about Hub!"
Nino bit down on his lip. Across the room, Meï slowly sunk down into her chair beside the table.
Chest puffing, Nino walked around the map table to stand behind Meï. His hand rested lightly on her shoulder. "You know, Meï, you'll probably feel a lot better if you just admit that you're jealous of all the attention Hub's been giving Shauni."
"I… I…" She swallowed, her gulp sinking into her stomach like lead shot. "OK, fine. I'm jealous of Jade. Happy?"
Nino smiled. He put his weight on the lip of the table, upper body teetering over the virtual buildings. "Now. Now that you've come to terms with that, what are you going to do about it?"
"'Do about it?' How can I help it? I love Hub, she's always with him, I—" Nino gave her a slyly stern look. She hunched up, eyes peeping up at him from a down-turned face. Straightening up, she forced her voice into a civil mold. "What do you suggest I do, then, Nino?"
"Do you like Hub?"
"More than I know how to say," she said, defeated.
"What are the chances of anything ever happening between the two of you?"
"Probably not very good."
"Can you accept that?"
Meï watched the translucent buildings on the map flicker quietly.
"I'm not asking for instant miracles," Nino said. "But can you, through sheer discipline and willpower and other personal strengths I know you to possess, keep telling yourself that and slowly, but surely, come to terms with that fact?"
Meï folded her hands tightly. "Probably," she sighed. "I just… haven't wanted to."
"Hey. I understand," Nino said easily. "But maybe you need to let Hub go. And if it so happens that he finds the love of his life, Jade or anyone else—"
"I'll try not to let it kill me," Meï grinned. "I get you, Nino."
He patted her on the hunch of her back. "Is that a promise?"
"Well, I promise to do the best I can."
"For now, I think that'll work." He let his hand slide away as he walked back to his workplace, for what was hopefully the final time this afternoon.
She sighed once more, however. Nino stopped just short of his keyboard.
"And before we get caught in a loop—Hub's just working with her and trying to help her, and you know that."
He cut Meï off halfway through a protest. "And, to bring it full circle—he will in all likelihood be just fine on this little excursion, so you don't have to worry too much."
Her smile was tight, but the way she shook her head was indulgent. Spinning around in her seat, she turned back to her computer screen. If the need arose, she had to try and be there for backup. For Hub's sake.
The first odd thing was that the roof began to rattle.
Nino looked up at the ceiling. "What in the…? Is somebody walking around up there?" Rattling footsteps went back and forth over the ceiling. The noise seemed to a hit a spot in the south-most corner of their hideout. Meï's nose was to the ceiling when it stopped.
Something hit just north of it. The sound was like a car caving in on itself as it collided with the ground. Both Meï and Nino found themselves striking remarkable positions to try and shield themselves from the noise, and—whatever its aftermath might be. The roof visibly warped. Meï outright ducked beneath the table. Nino just shielded his head. The roof withstood whatever it was, but the quiet was ominous.
Two sets of out-of-sync thuds continued on, picking up where the one had left off. They clopped together off the south end of the IRIS den, and Dopplered off over the rest of the Akuda bar.
"Did… somebody just jump on the roof?" Nino asked.
He and Meï were driven outside to see.
They clanked up the metal ramp and out into the bar's second floor just in time to meet another pair of familiar faces wandering in the entryway.
Leaning over the railway, Meï cried, "Hub!"
Jade and Double H were trading the most incredible laughter. Their legs and arms wobbled like they were coming into the bar already drunk, but their eyes were full of wily shimmer. Stumbling over their own giddiness, they fell into a pair of stools next to Mo and folded over the bar. Double H even smacked the counter, laughing boisterously.
"You two must have quite a story," the bartender said nonchalantly. He might have wiggled his eyebrows behind his sunglasses, but his face was otherwise impassive.
"Jade! Hub!" Meï tapped Nino's shoulder before taking off down the stairway.
"Meï!" Jade waved back. "You won't believe what just happened! It's the craziest story—"
"Like an action movie!" Hub cut in. "Incredible!"
"The whole bar is staring," Nino said. He squeezed himself down, as if it would somehow make him less conspicuous. "We should probably—ah—take it—?" He jerked his head in the direction of the upper floor.
"Hey!" Francis looked up from the pallet table. "We deserve to hear this too!"
"Later, Francis," Jade waved. "Right now, friends have priority. C'mon, Double H. Let's spin 'em a yarn." She wobbled as she got off the stool, but giggled steadying herself.
The story was obviously building up strongly inside Jade and Hub. They had barely tumbled through the trick locker when they started spilling the whole thing, nearly spilling themselves in the process. They stumbled themselves onto the cot, bracing against the edge while their arms wildly spun out their story of daring escape.
"Who knows how wide that gap was!" Jade raved. "Three stories tall, at least, cars spinning below, General Kehck behind—Double H on that flimsy billboard the only thing that stood between me and being a greasy stain on the road. I had no other option. I jumped—"
"—but I was ready," Double H cut in. "I suspected I'd have to help her escape, but I didn't know it would be like that. She came leaping at me across the gap. I put my hand out for her, thinking I'd grab her and pull her aboard the drone. I felt the drone drift just as she neared! Our fingers glanced for a fraction of a second, but her arc was too low—"
"I hit the billboard, with nothing around to grab a hold of," Jade said. "Friction and the slight warp of the billboard kept me from falling outright, but I had nothing—"
In unison, Jade and Double H gasped,"—I've never been so terrified!"
Double H picked up. "I panicked. And, in my desperation, a plan occurred to me. There was just the tiniest bit of purchase on the bottom of the drone. If I managed to dive down and catch it, I may have, just may have, gotten a second chance at Jade. The idea that she could die—when I could have done something, no matter how insane, to save her—spurred me to action. I would not loose her. Throwing myself off the edge, I fell below, aiming for the tiny support rod—"
"Meanwhile, I was certain of my imminent doom. This was it—what should I do? Sit back and passively let it come? I felt the edges of the billboard slip out of my fingers, and I fell—but something caught me! My entire body dangled by my arm. I'd closed my eyes so I didn't have to watch myself—well, you know. But I looked up, and there was Double H! I went from terrified to—well, I was smiling, at least, so relieved. And he said—"
In unison, the chimed, "Don't Break Up The Team!"
Rolling her arm, Jade said, "He may have very nearly dislocated my shoulder, but in that moment? The most amazing combination of 'terrified' and 'thrilled' I can imagine. I mean, it was just—wow. And we really struck a blow to the Alphas in the process. It just—again, wow."
Meï smiled placidly, folding her hands in her lap. "Y'know, Jade, you and Hub…" Nino gave her a sidelong look, but she smirked back at him. "…You make a pretty good team. I don't know what you'd do without each other any more."
"Strength in numbers, Meï!" Double H said vigorously. "We may work together excellently—if I may say so myself—but it isn't solely us! Even together, we'd be nothing without you and the rest of IRIS."
"Yeah. Especially given all the governor's done for us recently. You can't give us all the credit, Meï!"
"I just meant, you know." Meï gave them a diagonal grin. "For fieldwork. After all. It's always nice to know I've got someone looking out for this big lug out there."
"Meï…" Double H chuckled embarrassedly.
"Don't you worry, Meï. I'll protect him."
"Ha ha," Double H said warmly. "I'm in good hands, then!"
"Not to cut us short, but we've really got to be going," Jade said. "We should probably head back to the Lighthouse soon. It's getting dark… the kids'll be worried. Plus, we've probably got enough pearls by now to afford that flight stabilizer.—Unless you'd like to stay here of course, Double H. Get a celebratory drink or two, you know."
"No, no." He shook himself down from the bench. "I'm on board, as is usual. After all! If you get that ship running, you're going to need a gunman in case we encounter any hostiles!" His voice had all the characteristics of a wink without making the actual gesture.
"Ahh, run along," Meï said. She waved her hand at them. "Shoo. We're tired of you. Not even staying for a celebratory drink!"
"Well, the commotion outside's probably died down by now," Jade said. "Should be safe to head out. See you all later!"
"We'll send you an e-mail if we get the ship running," Double H said. He followed behind Jade, patiently waiting for her to make her way through the hidden entrance before stepping in himself. The door tended to get crowded. He went out of sight in the entryway, but Meï and Nino heard his armor rattling as he walked. The gears in the shelves ground themselves in a circle, and everything was quiet.
With a laugh, Nino shook his head. "What, what was that?" He gestured at Meï. "I asked you to stop pining over Hub, not swing it all the way in the other direction."
Cheekily, she replied, "But you didn't say how! I told myself I'd be happy if Hub found anyone, and I'm darn well going to be happy!"
"But, Meï! He's not…"
Pushing herself against the floor, Meï spun around in her seat to face the giant computer screen. Her back stopped him from continuing. Even though he couldn't see her face, she had the smuggest ears he'd ever seen on anyone.
"You know what? Fine. Have it your way, Meï. I give up. Keep on pretending that Hub likes Shauni, or he likes you, or whatever it is that makes you happy. Or unhappy. I'm running out of energy to be your therapist for the evening."
He tried to finally, once and for all, drown himself in the depths of his computer work. He brought up an intense, dense spreadsheet full of long, fiddly numbers, put himself in the frame of mind to process them, and sunk himself into the task of triangulating previous Alpha Section kidnappings.
At first, he thought Meï was mumbling to herself. But halfway through, he realized that he was being addressed.
"That's what I love about Hub," she said. "When he's happy, it's hard to be with him and be unhappy. So whatever makes him happy makes me happy too."
Author notes: PLUS! This fanfic comes with a SUPER SPECIAL DIRECTOR'S CUT ALTERNATE ENDING!
"You've got a point, Nino," she purred slyly. "After all, he's not the only man in the IRIS Network…"
That second idea was too cheesy to use, but at the same time too cheesy not to use, so I threw it on the end.