Author's Note: Over at Gatchamaina Springie has posted many beautiful pictures, but the one that inspired this story was of Ken and Jun embracing, in uniform, but without their helmets. I had to figure out how that might have happened. As always, this story is dedicated to the inspiring, amazing and incredible Swans, Eagles, Condors, Owls, Swallows and Villains at Gatchamania. It would never have seen the light of day without the patience and careful editing of GroovyKat - I will always be grateful to her for teaching me how to write dialogue! The mistakes remain my own, the characters were never mine to begin with.
The trailer was small, and Joe got to the phone just at the third ring.
"What," he answered, exasperation leaching through his words even though he had no idea who was on the line.
"Joe . . . I . . . " the soft feminine voice trailed off uncertainly. The two quiet words were enough for Joe to figure it out.
"Jun," his tone shifted to one of concern, "What's wrong?" He waited for her answer, heart beginning to hammer in his chest as his adrenaline shot up. Half a dozen ugly scenarios flitted through his mind before Jun answered.
"I'm okay, I'm just . . . I need a ride, okay? I'm at a service station off of Canyon Road just past Hessel Park. The bike has a flat and I can't leave it here. I'm sorry, but since you have the trailer for the car, I thought, . . .look, can you just come get me and the bike?"
Joe paused as he considered her words. Jun sounded tired, not hurt. He exhaled forcibly and smothered his short-lived anxiety with what sounded like an exasperated sigh. "I have to hitch up the flatbed to the car. Thirty minutes."
"Thanks, Joe," Jun breathed as relief replaced uncertainty. "I owe you one."
Joe smiled in spite of himself as he hung up the phone. Having Jun on the line for a favor was not necessarily a bad thing. Joe grabbed his jacket and keys and made his way to the car, buffeted by the winds left over from an earlier thunderstorm. He started up the car and drove over the muddy field that served as his front yard when he parked his trailer at this racetrack. He met up with a gravel road in front of the track's service bays and followed its curve around to the back of the garages. The racers stored their flatbeds and hitches back here, out of site of vandals and close to where they might be needed should a car take a bad hit on the track. It took only a few minutes to hitch up and then he was on his way, wipers beating out a steady cadence against the rain that had just begun to fall again.
Joe flipped on the radio to a classic rock station and settled in for the short drive up to Canyon Road. Hessel Park was not far from him. Just at the entrance to the park was a scenic overlook with a gorgeous view of the ocean - a great place to take a girl after a fine Italian meal. Joe smiled to himself as he remembered his last rendezvous at the overlook. The rain started falling harder and he cranked up his wipers to the next speed. Thinking about it, Joe wondered what Jun was doing out on the bike in this weather, up at Hessel Park no less. It was well over an hour from her place in the city, it was hardly good weather, and hell, it was nearly two in the morning. Joe felt his anger rising. Things were adding up to something unpleasant and Joe had a good idea who was behind it. "I'm getting really tired of this," he muttered to himself as he pulled off the highway and onto Canyon Road.
Ten minutes later, he was swinging past the park entrance and the overlook, noticing how there was really nothing to see thanks to the clouds and the storm. Up on the mountain it was windier and the rain sheeted across his windshield in violent gashes. Ahead he saw the light of the service station and slowed down to pull in. The station wasn't open, but the overhead lights at the two pumps were on. Jun leaned against the side of the garage right next to the phone, arms huddled around herself trying to stay dry beneath the overhang of the roof. The wind wasn't cooperating and she was drenched. The bike was in front of her, listing to one side on its kickstand. As Joe pulled up, Jun pushed herself from the wall and ran out to the bike. He swung the car and trailer around in front of the bike, then got out and extended the ramp. He grabbed the bike from Jun as she started to push it up the ramp.
"Get in the car. I've got this," he said over the wind. For a moment, he thought she was going to argue, but she nodded her thanks and ran to the passenger side to let herself in. Joe pushed the bike up onto the trailer bed, blocked the wheels and quickly lashed it in place. He was mostly wet himself by the time he made his way back to the car. He opened the door then slipped in and cranked up the heat. He glanced over at Jun who was shivering quietly, staring ahead out the blurry windshield. He looked at her profile, her jaw set but trembling and he realized she was fighting back tears.
Joe sighed then shrugged off his jacket. The outside was wet, but the inside was dry and he reached over the gear shift to put it across Jun's shoulders. She didn't protest as he closed the warm jacket around her then pulled her into his arms. She leaned into him and a strangled sob escaped her as the tears finally started to fall. He held her tightly, saying nothing. He waited patiently until her trembling subsided and he felt her breathing steady. He dropped his left arm from around her shoulders and slipped his hand through the curtain of her damp hair, lifting her chin up so he could look at her.
"Just tell me what to blow up," his serious tone belied the smile in his eyes.
Jun gave a little hiccup that might have been a giggle, wiping the tears from her face. "My hero," she smiled weakly, "Can we just go home?"
"Sure. But it's over an hour back to your place and it's already two thirty. Let's cart your bike back to my trailer and fix it up in the morning. You can just stay the night." Joe expected an argument but instead got a quiet nod of her head.
Jun sniffled and straightened up, turning her face away from him to look out the window again. Joe settled back behind the wheel and eased the car and trailer back onto the road.
Jun didn't talk to him or even look at him for the entire trip, but Joe just let it go. He hummed along to the radio and drove carefully back down from the canyon and onto the highway. The rain showed no sign of letting up as they pulled up to one of the garage bays at the track. Jun and Joe got out of the car, Joe climbing up to unlash the bike while Jun lowered the ramp and then hauled open the garage door. Joe wheeled the bike into the garage and motioned Jun back to the car while he pulled down the door. They would take a look at the bike first thing in the morning, but at least it wouldn't be soaking wet when they did.
Joe drove back over the field, fighting to keep the car out of the worst of the ditches and mud holes and parked next to the trailer. They raced for the door and the warm, dry interior. Joe immediately peeled off his wet t-shirt and made his way to his tiny bathroom/kitchen area. He exchanged the shirt for a dark blue hoodie hanging on the bathroom doorknob and slipped it over his head. He rummaged through the laundry basket jammed on top of his mostly unused stove and dug out a pair of sweat pants and another hoodie from the pile of clean, if unfolded, laundry. "That's for you," he said as he stretched out his arm with the handful of clothes. His words and gesture went unnoticed by Jun. She leaned with her back against the front door, her eyes distant and her body shivering.
"Jun," Joe called, a little more forcefully.
Roused from her thoughts by Joe's call, Jun walked over to take the offered clothing from Joe and then shut herself into the tiny bathroom to change. Joe pulled off his damp jeans, hung them over the curtain rod of his tiny kitchen window and slinked himself into a pair of flannel pajama bottoms he had plucked from the laundry basket. As he changed it dawned on him that he should have unhitched the trailer, if only to be ready in case there was a call. Hell, he should have gotten started on the bike too. With the weather outside verging on the Apocalyptic, Joe decided that there was no way he was going back out there unless Galactor was destroying something important. Worst case scenario, they'd throw the bike back on the trailer and have Ryu land somewhere so they could all link up. That resolved, he grabbed a pillow and blanket from his closet and dragged them out to the couch.
Jun emerged from the bathroom, looking very small in his too large sweats. She still looked cold, fragile and miserable. Joe sat in the middle of the couch and patted the cushion next to him. She walked over and sat down and he dropped the blanket in her lap. She tucked herself into the corner of the couch and snuggled under the blanket, leaning her head against the arm and closing her eyes.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Joe asked quietly.
"Do you want to at least tell me who upset you?"
"Okay," Joe said sharply, starting to lose his patience, "how about telling me why I had to go out at two-thirty in the morning to drag your sorry ass and your busted bike off the side of a mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm? What the hell were you doing out there?"
"Give me a break, Joe," Jun answered hotly, her eyes flaring briefly as she lifted her head and looked up at him, "It's not like you've never gone storming off on some long drive to nowhere when you were pissed off at someone."
"Yeah, but I don't joy ride a motorcycle and if I did I wouldn't take her on Canyon Road in a rainstorm," he snapped back. "So who 'pissed you off'?" he added, mirroring the tone of her recent little tirade.
Deflated by Joe's taunt, Jun shook her head and pursed her lips. She debated silently with herself, part of her wanting to talk about it and part of her unsure if Joe was the person to open up to. She flicked her eyes to one side and let her body release with a deep sigh, "Me. I was pissed at myself." Her face creased in a tight wince as she continued, "I'm so angry at myself, so tired of it all. I'm tired of trying so hard. Why do I keep reaching out just to get slapped down time and time again?" Her eyes slid to his as her voice dropped in octave and decibels. "What's wrong with me?"
The answer to who had upset her became instantly obvious. "Ken," Joe breathed in annoyance.
"No! It's not Ken, it's me!" Jun snapped in frustration. "He brushes me off all the time and I just keep going back for more. I'm not pissed at Ken. I'm hurt and I'm disappointed, but I'm pissed at myself because I'm the idiot who keeps trying." She hiccupped. "What is wrong with me? I think about him all the time, make up excuses to hang out with him; I say the stupidest things sometimes just to talk to him. God, I have an IQ of 165 but I'm still like 'gee Ken, what should we do about the big scary mecha?'" she paused long enough to take a deep breath and look at Joe with a pained expression as if searching for empathy inside his grey eyes. Her voice softened again. "I lived on the streets with Jinpei and can handle an entire squad of Galactor goons on my own but I turn to mush the minute Ken goes off to do something dangerous. I can bring down an entire base with one perfectly placed explosive but I can't figure out how to stop throwing myself at some guy who obviously doesn't want me. I am so so stupid!"
"Hey," Joe said with a soft reassuring smile, "you just called one of my best friends stupid. I've killed people for less," he smiled at her, but she shook her head and looked away, fighting tears again. Joe shifted closer and put his hand over hers along the back of the couch. "You are not stupid or an idiot," he said quietly, "I think you are in love."
"Then I don't want to be," Jun said, her voice cracking, "I don't want this any more." Jun pulled her legs up to her chest and tightened her arms around them, laying her forehead on her knees. She cried quietly as Joe reached out and stroked her hair.