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The hour was late. Or was it early? Either way, Joe knew he should be getting home. But he also knew he had had one too many beers to drive. He didn’t normally let himself drink so much, but he had downed a few in a rush of anger.
Ken had been in the Snack J as well, and as usual hadn’t paid his tab. Jun had served him everything he asked for, yet he had barely glanced her way all night, talking instead to Ryu and Jinpei. It was pretty obvious that Jun had gone out of her way to be noticed, and yet Ken seemed intent on not noticing. He purposely avoided Jun’s gaze, and her attempts at conversation, and didn’t see the tears that welled up in her eyes from time to time.
Joe just sat in the corner, pretending to desire his usual solitude. But in reality, he didn’t want to go near Ken, because he knew he would slug him. It angered him that Ken treated her like that. Jun was a wonderful girl. Joe loved her like a …. well, he knew she deserved better.
In his drunken fog, Joe made up his mind. He was going to get Ken to see Jun in a whole new light. Whether or not he wanted to.
The next morning the KNT were training in Birdstyle at their special facility at the Crescent Base. Ken had felt that their fighting techniques were getting a little too ‘loose’, and he and Nambu had ordered everyone to attend a two day ‘refresher’ session. Everyone groaned at that. No one liked to stay overnight at the Base if they could help it. Their quarters there were tiny and sparse, not to mention it took them away from their precious ‘normal’ lives. So no one (not even Ken) was in the best of moods. To top if off, Joe had to hide his nagging hangover, lest he subject himself to another lecture on ‘healthy habits’ from Ken.
Fortunately, Joe seemed to be performing within Ken’s acceptable range. Toward the end of the day, he and Jun sparred while Ken looked on, nodded, and dismissed them for a break. It had been a long day, and Joe hoped that was the end of the session. He was ready for a long rest.
Ken went off to work with Jinpei and Ryu, while Jun slumped on the floor next to Joe.
“Wow. What’s gotten into him?” asked Jun, “You’d think he was expecting the end of the world at any moment!”
“Well that is his job as Commander.” replied Joe sarcastically as he threw himself down next to her, “He has to keep us ready to fight Katse, and a horde of Galactor goons, at any moment.” He angrily ripped off his gloves and tossed them into the corner of the room.
“I know….” sighed Jun, “but I’m just exhausted. I was up late last night closing the Snack J. We did well, for a change, and it would have been nice to be open tonight too.” She took off her helmet and shook her head to clear the cobwebs out of her brain. She really needed some sleep. She leaned against the wall but felt herself sliding down it.
“Here.” said Joe. He propped her up and put his arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder.
“Mmmmmm, this is nice. Thanks.” she murmured, “Much more comfy than that torture device they call a bed around here.”
Joe laughed. It was a little louder than he had intended. He noticed Ken’s head turn quickly towards them, his blue eyes snapping with annoyance.
Suddenly Joe got an idea: an incredibly wicked, yet satisfying idea. One that would both accomplish his goal, and serve to irritate the hell out of the Eagle, at the same time. He bent his head and whispered in Jun’s ear.
“I have an idea to get Ken to notice you.” Jun was startled but Joe kept her calm by breathing into her ear. “Shhhhh, don’t show any surprise. Just let him look.” He twirled a lock of her hair with his finger.
Before Jun could process what Joe was talking about, she felt his lips on hers. It was a flutter of feeling that brushed by her mouth. And it was not entirely unpleasant. In fact…
Before she could finish the thought, Joe kissed her again. She was amazed at the finesse that kept him from knocking his bird helmet against her head, but even more so at the jolt she felt inside. This kiss was not a flutter. It was an explosion inside her chest.
Joe was just as surprised. He had just intended to kiss Jun once, to make Ken envious. But the electric current that sparked through him with that brief contact had him kissing her again, and for real this time. As the kiss ended, he pulled back and looked into her emerald eyes. He found his own surprise and excitement mirrored there.
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” raged Ken as shook his fist at their faces. ‘He must have made it across the room in about 2 seconds flat.’ thought Joe. He grinned artfully up at his Commander.
“Cool your jets, Ken! We’re on a break, remember?”
Jun giggled in his ear and her amusement spurred him on. “I didn’t realize that we were still being judged on our technique.”
“Well….” sputtered Ken, “You’re not on break anymore. We’re going through the drills again!”
“Again?” groaned Ryu, walking up. Apparently he and Jinpei had missed the entire exchange, but for the last part. “I thought you said we were done for today, Ken!”
“Yeah, Aniki! I’m beat!” complained Jinpei, as he threw himself on the floor next to Jun. “You promised that was our last one! Can’t we just start again tomorrow morning?”
Faced with the rebellion of his entire team, Ken relented and the KNT practically ran out of the room.
“What was that all about, Joe?” asked Jun, once they were on their way to their quarters. “Just what, exactly, are you trying to accomplish?” She looked at him pointedly.
Joe whistled nonchalantly. “I’m just trying to make Ken jealous.” he grinned. “He certainly hustled over to break us up, the moment he saw what we were doing, didn’t he?”
Jun frowned as she chewed on that thought.
“Meet me in the rec room after your shower,” Joe said, “and we can plot some more.”
Jun shrugged. Why not? It wasn't like she had anything to lose.
Ken was fuming. How dare Joe treat his training session as some kind of pickup game! He didn’t want to think about the anger he had felt when he realized that Joe was kissing Jun. It was hard enough to pretend he didn’t notice her as a woman, but to have Joe throw that in his face made Ken want to smash a wall. Yet he knew, as Commander, he had to keep his cool. Just as being Commander made it impossible to reach out to Jun.
He showered in cold water, yet he was still hot and bothered, as he dried off. He had to know what was going on. Likely, Joe was just playing some kind of game, and it was nothing. He had over-reacted.
Ken had to know. He sat down at the computer terminal in his quarters. He wasn’t as good at hacking into ISO systems as Jun was, but after a little while he found that he could access security camera feeds for the building. He began methodically looking at each channel, searching for any sign of the Condor or the Swan.
Jun walked into the rec room. It was empty. She sighed. She was tired and was really more interested in falling into bed, than Joe’s little schemes. She lay down on the massive couch and was preparing to nap (at least it was more comfy than the torturous bed) when Joe entered.
“There you are!” he smiled as he sauntered into the room. Expertly he jumped up and landed on the couch right next to Jun, so that they were lying next to each other. He was obviously in a good mood.
“What’s gotten you so chipper?” Jun asked sourly. She lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling, trying to ignore his infectious grin. “It’s not that stupid little stunt you pulled at practice, is it?”
Joe rolled onto his side and propped his head on his hand. “Of course it is! Ken’s face was priceless!”
“It was a dumb idea. What makes you think Ken will notice me because of that? All he did was get angry at you.” Jun responded.
“Yeah, but think about why he was angry with me.” Joe chuckled, “He couldn’t bear to see anyone looking at you that way but him.”
Ken had found what he was looking for. Jun was lying on the couch in the rec room. He saw Joe walk in and leap up next to her. Now where was that damned volume control? He couldn’t hear anything!
He let his breath out in a hiss of frustration as he located the control and began to listen in.
“But, Joe,” sighed Jun, “Ken doesn’t look at me that way. He doesn’t think any more of me, than he does of anyone else on the team. Less even. At least he hangs out with you guys. God knows I’ve tried, but he never notices me.” A silent tear slid down her cheek. “I don’t think… I don’t think I’m good enough for him.”
“What are you talking about?” Joe sputtered. “You, not good enough for him? If anything, it’s the other way around! He’s not good enough for you!”
Jun gave an unladylike snort of disbelief. But she also gave a small smile.
That was good enough for Joe. “Jun, you are everything a guy could want. You’re smart, you’re strong, you’re compassionate…” He looked into her eyes and something inside of him lit up.
“And you’re beautiful…” he said softly. He traced her face from her hairline, down to her jaw, with a gentle finger. Jun drew in her breath slowly. She didn’t know what had happened but suddenly the tone of their conversation had taken a very different turn.
Joe slowly leaned down and looked at Jun. He drank in the shape of her eyes, her nose, her mouth as he softly caressed her face with his hand. Jun trembled, uncertain of what she wanted to happen next. Almost unconsciously she touched Joe’s hand and pressed it to her cheek.
Joe touched his lips softly to Jun’s. To his surprise, she met him halfway and wound her arms around his neck. Restraint gone, Joe kissed her again. He was carried away with completely unexpected sensations.
Staring at his monitor, Ken fumed. How dare Joe move in on his territory! He wanted to beat that smile off of the Condor’s face, but he found he couldn’t move. He stared at screen; his eyes wide and his mouth dry.
Jun couldn’t believe it. What had possessed her to put her arms around Joe’s neck? But it certainly had produced results! And not unwelcome ones…
Joe finished the kiss and searched Jun’s eyes for a hint of what she was feeling. Should they be doing this? Jun broke off from his gaze and hid her face in his shoulder. Joe felt a lump form in his throat.
“Jun, I’m sorry…..” he mumbled.
“No, Joe,” said Jun, “Don’t be sorry. That was…. wonderful.” She forced herself to turn and look at him as her cheeks flamed. “I never knew it could be like this….”
“Like what?” Joe asked.
“Warm. Gentle. Wonderful….” Jun’s voice trailed off.
Joe looked confused, “You mean when Ken kissed you….” the words died on his lips as Jun put her fingers on his mouth. She looked down in shame.
“You mean he never even kissed you?” Joe exclaimed. “What kind of an idiot is he?”
Ken nearly punched through the computer screen in his anger.
Jun’s cheeks burned. “I told you. Ken doesn’t want me. He’s let me know that in a hundred different ways. I shouldn’t be fooling myself…”
Joe’s eyes darkened in anger. “Ken’s an idiot, but he wants you. He cares for you very much…” It almost choked him to say the words.
“If he cares for me so much, then why doesn’t he show it?” demanded Jun, “Because, he doesn’t care. And he won’t. I need to face that….” She covered her face with her hands, shoulders heaving with her quiet sobs.
Joe was taken aback by Jun’s feelings. He knew she had always had a thing for Ken but hadn’t realized quite how deeply Ken’s oblivious behavior had affected her.
Ken was also shocked. He hadn’t realized how much he had been hurting Jun. “This is what I was trying to prevent…” he whispered to the monitor.
As Jun continued to cry, Joe awkwardly put his arms around her. He held her as one would comfort a child, but he quickly realized that his feelings were not those of a boy. Putting his finger under Jun’s face he tipped it up to meet his gaze. Slowly he brushed away her tears and replaced them with soft kisses.
Jun’s breath came out in a quiet, sad sigh.
“Thank you, Joe…” She put a finger on his lips to prevent his response. She had seen the look of contrition that had crossed his face at her words.
“Thank you, Joe,” Jun began again, “for showing me, what it could have been like.”
“I don’t understand, Jun.”
“Then I’ll explain. You deserve to know, Joe.” Jun sighed.
“After Dr. Nambu had adopted you and Ken, he decided to adopt another boy. You know that he came home with Jinpei. And with me.” Jun paused, taking a deep breath. “But what you don’t know is why he chose us.”
“I remember hearing his voice in the hallway, talking to the administrator. Hakase was telling him how he was there to adopt a young boy and the administrator was giving him a tour of the boys’ rooms. They opened the door and saw me there.”
“But, what were you doing in the boys’ rooms?” asked Joe, confused.
Ken was wondering the same thing.
Jun’s voice trembled. “There were three of them. I was only 8, and I didn’t know how to fight. When they made me go with them, I wasn’t able to stop them. I’d seen it happen before. No one ever did anything, and I knew there was no one to help me. I’m only glad that Jinpei didn’t see them, or he might have tried to aid me, even as young as he was. They would have killed him.”
She took a deep breath. “I was raped. I remember the incredible pain, and I thought I was going to die. I think they did too, which is why they left me there on the floor. But Hakase found me. He was horrified by what they had done. I don’t know how I looked, but it couldn’t have been good. There…. there was blood all over the room Joe…”
Joe’s face was a mask of cold rage. Jun recognized it as the look he wore when they were about to battle Galactor troops.
Ken had to bite his fist to keep from screaming in anger.
“Dr. Nambu sent me to the hospital, and made sure I had the best care. He even came to see me, when I was able to talk again. He told me that of all of the kids in the orphanage, he wanted me to come home with him. To be his daughter. He told me that he would teach me how to fight, so that I’d never be vulnerable again. And he kept that promise.”
Jun gave a wan smile. “I almost turned him down, because I couldn’t leave Jinpei alone. But after I explained it to Hakase, he agreed to adopt Jinpei too. I can never repay him for that.”
“I always knew Hakase was a good man.” said Joe, “But I’m astounded. And I’m very glad he found you.” He hugged Jun tighter. “What happened to the… animals… who attacked you?”
Jun gave a wry smile. “Not unsurprisingly, they ended up in prison for various offenses. And apparently while they were there, they were all recruited by Galactor. Dr. Nambu told me about it, when he discovered their wherabouts. Do you remember the giant Mecca Rhino that Galactor had awhile ago?”
Joe nodded. “The one you insisted on setting a explosive off in, even though we barely had time to escape?” Jun nodded.
“They were on it.” Jun had a grim look in her eyes. “All of them. I had checked the personnel records in the Galactor computer to make sure.” She looked at Joe, for the first time scared of what he would think.
“I’m glad.” Joe’s look was equally grim.
It was all the response Jun needed. She snuggled into his arms again, seeking his comfort.
“Does anyone else know?” he asked.
“No, not even Jinpei.” said Jun, “He was too young at the time, and when he got older, I didn’t want to talk about it. The only ones who know are Hakase, and now you… and Ken.”
Ken sat up in his seat, astonished. Did she know he was listening?
Joe was equally surprised. “Ken? How would he know?”
Tears came to Jun’s eyes again. “Dr. Nambu must have told him. He is the Commander, and needs to know about us: our strengths and weaknesses. Don’t you see? That’s why he doesn’t want me… “
Ken muttered to the computer images. “I do want you, Jun….. but I can’t…..”
“If Ken doesn’t want you, because of something that’s not your fault, then it’s his loss! He doesn’t know what he’s giving up!” spat Joe angrily.
“Oh, he knows.” said Jun bitterly. “He knows I’m damaged goods. I’m not good enough for the Commander. He’ll smile at me, and sometimes even joke with me. But the moment I touch him, he pulls away as if I’ve burned him.”
Ken fell back in his chair. “You touch doesn’t burn me, Jun,” he whispered. “It sets me on fire. I can’t control my feelings, when you touch me…”
But even as he explained himself, to a computer that couldn’t listen, Joe was responding on his behalf. “You are not damaged, Jun! Not unless you count these feelings for a guy who isn’t worthy of you!” He kissed Jun passionately.
“I want you, Jun. God help me, but I do.” He practically growled.
Instead of being frightened, Jun’s lips curved into a beautiful smile. It was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds.
She kissed him back. “Show me, Joe… show me what love is supposed to be like. Help me forget…”
Joe groaned. It was a plea he wasn’t able to resist. He kissed Jun again, although more gently, and shifted his body to move his leg on top of hers.
Ken nearly fell out of his chair, scrambling to stand up. He roughly turned off the computer and took off at full speed for the rec room.
He barreled into the room and saw them. They were still kissing but Joe’s hand was starting to find its way under Jun’s Number 3 shirt…
They both looked up, startled to see Ken there. Breaking apart, Joe started to stand up.
“Get the hell away from her!” Ken yelled.
“What are you doing, Ken?” asked Jun.
“I should ask you the same thing.” Ken replied bitterly, “What are you doing, with him?” He cast a sneer in Joe’s direction. Joe only glared in response.
Jun’s face flushed in anger. “Why shouldn’t I? What’s wrong with me being here with Joe?”
Ken searched for words. “Because…. you’re not supposed to be in love with Joe!”
Jun’s voice rose to a fever pitch. “Oh really? Because I’m supposed to be in love with you? Is that a perk of being G-1? The female on your team must always be falling all over you? Well, Ken,” she stood up and looked him directly in the eye, “what if you don’t deserve it?”
Ken realized his error, and quickly tried to backtrack. “That’s not what I meant, Jun… We’re all on a team. Relationships like this can change the dynamics… it causes distractions, hesitations, consequences… it could be dangerous… you need to maintain a distance…”
Joe boiled, but he knew that this was Jun’s battle to fight. He was still holding her hand, and he squeezed it, to let her know he was there. He was reassured by an answering squeeze.
“No, Ken.” said Jun quietly, “Those are your rules. You made them, you chose to live by them. But I don’t.”
The three sat in stunned silence for a moment before Ken simply said, “But, Jun… Joe isn’t right for you.” It was a lame response, and Ken knew it, but it was the most he could trust himself to say.
“Joe has shown me more tenderness and caring in the last hour than you have shown me in the last decade!” Jun exploded. “Come on, Joe. Let’s get out of here!” She tossed her head at Ken.
Joe quickly followed Jun to the door. Just as they reached it, Ken shouted.
Jun stopped and turned to look at her Commander. Her face softened slightly.
“There’s only one thing you can say, to me to prevent me from leaving, Ken.” she said quietly.
Ken’s mind whirled. He wanted to say it, but his nature struggled against him. His inner turmoil was evident on his face.
“I…” Jun looked at him expectantly. “I… I’m sorry, Jun.” finished Ken.
Jun’s face turned to ice. “Goodbye, Ken.” she said in a cold voice. She walked out with her head high, next to Joe.
Ken’s head fell to his chest. “I can’t say it…. I can’t say it…” he mouthed… “I can’t give you those words, Jun…”
Suddenly his instincts took over, and he ran to the door. As he looked out he saw Jun collapse next to Joe. The couple’s backs were to him but Joe’s head turned as he caught her. By the look on his face, Ken knew that the Condor would give him no quarter.
Joe practically carried Jun back to her room. Between the day’s physically punishing training session, and the emotional beating she had just taken, she was barely functioning. When they arrived, Joe sat her down on the bed, but she fell over and buried her face in the pillow. Awkwardly, he sat down next to her.
“I’m sorry, Jun. It’s my fault that you’re in this mess.”
“Don’t be sorry.” came a muffled voice from the pillow. Jun sat up and looked at him. “I needed to face up to the fact that Ken doesn’t want me. Not now, or ever.” There was a determination building in her eyes.
Joe opened his arms and Jun gratefully put her head on his shoulder. He stroked her hair softly.
After a few moments he said quietly, “For what it’s worth, I’m here for you, Jun. For as long as you need me.”
Jun raised her face and kissed him aggressively. Joe was startled by her sudden response.
“Love me, Joe! Show me how love is supposed to be!” she demanded.
Joe groaned. “I want to… oh God, how I want to…. but I don’t think this is the right time. I wouldn’t want you to regret anything later…”
Jun’s face fell with a crushed look.
“But, I’m here with you.” he quickly continued. “I won’t leave you.”
Jun’s body relaxed and she snuggled next to him again. Gently Joe laid her down on the bed and stretched out beside her. She was right: it was as hard as a board.
Jun rested her head on Joe’s chest, and let his warm presence lull her to sleep.
She was still in his arms when she awoke the next morning. He was gazing at her intently.
“Don’t you ever sleep?” she asked.
“I slept a little.” Joe said, “But mostly I just lay here, enjoying the feel of you in my arms.” Jun blushed.
“You were right, Joe… about not… not regretting anything later. Thank you, for everything you did for me last night.”
“No, Jun, thank you.” Joe answered. “Thank you, for letting me in. I never thought I’d have that chance… I never even knew, that I wanted that chance.”
“So, what do we do now?” asked Jun.
“Last night, you revealed your secrets to me, Jun, so I owe it to you, to be honest with you.” answered Joe. “I’ve been angry for a long time with Ken, for the way he treats you. And last night, I realized why.” He looked into her eyes, his face inches from hers.
“Last night, when you asked Ken to say… when you gave him a chance… I thought for a moment he would take it. I realized that I was horrified that I would lose you, just as I had discovered…” Joe sighed in frustration. He wasn’t explaining himself well. He angrily ran his fingers through his hair and tried again.
“When Ken didn’t say what you were waiting to hear, I was devastated for you… but I was also secretly thrilled for me… please don’t hate me, Jun.”
Jun looked amazed. “I don’t hate you, Joe.” she said, as she kissed him softly on the tip of his nose.
Joe continued. “If you’d like… I’d like to see where we’re going. What could happen…”
Jun smiled. “I’d like that too.”