The war with Galactor is almost over, so for Joe, civilian life should be a breeze, shouldn't it?
Categories: Gatchaman Characters:
Angst, Hurt/ComfortStory Warnings:
Adult Situations, Mature Content, Mild Violence, Sexual SituationsTimeframe:
Many thanks to Amethyst for Betaing.
1. Chapter 1 by KT1972
2. Chapter 2 by KT1972
3. Chapter 3 by KT1972
Kathleen was a friend of the girlfriend of one of his pit crew. She had come along to see a race, and was introduced to Joe at the after season party. He was instantly smitten, and didn’t hesitate to ask her out.
He thought he had blown his chance when Galactor attacked the following week, taking the team away for nearly a fortnight. Getting back to his trailer, he found a few messages on his mobile from her, the last few gave him the impression she was quickly losing interest. It was by sheer coincidence she came into the J, ironically to ask Jun for a job.
Joe recognised her voice the moment she spoke.
“Can I speak to the owner or manager please?” Kathleen asked when Jun went over to take her order.
“Yes, that’s me, how can I help?” Jun responded with a smile.
“I’m wondering if there are any vacancies going,” Kathleen fished out a crumpled sheet of paper from her bag. “I have had some experience....”
“I’m sorry, we’re not looking for anyone at the moment...” Jun began as Joe sidled over.
“Just look it over, eh, Jun.” He winked as he took the sheet from Kathleen’s hand and held it out. “Something might come up, sooner or later.”
“Do you know her Joe?” Jun asked, giving the resume the once over.
“Not yet, but I’d like to.” Jun saw the look Joe was giving the stranger, and understood. He wasn’t talking about employing her.
Jun sighed. “Well, I’ll keep it on file, but I’m not promising anything.”
After training the following day, Joe caught up with Jun.
“So how involved are you with this Kathleen,” she asked him, knowing that’s what he wanted to ask about.
“Not very, I’m holding back, you know.” He looked concerned. “Why? Is there something I should be worried about?”
“No, I’m just being nosy. I checked her out and nothing came up, at least not as far as Galactor is concerned.”
“How far back did you go?”
“A couple of generations. Her parents and both pairs of grandparents are or were all good honest people, the occasional traffic violation aside.”
“That’s fantastic, Jun.” To her surprise, he hugged her ecstatically. “Now I will be asking her out, thanks. So will you consider taking her on at the J, then?”
“I wish I could, but we really can’t support any other staff, it just doesn’t take in enough to pay her.”
The rest of the team were amused to discover Joe had finally met someone, then, knowing Joe’s reputation for unwittingly picking up Galactor women, surprised when they didn’t try to kill each other after the first week.
For him, she provided the motivation he needed to continue the combat against Galactor, when the final destruction of Sosai Z finally avenged the murders of his parents.
Technically that should have been the end of the war, yet factions of the terrorist group still existed, and remained determined to continue the fight.
“Are you two for keeps then?” Jinpei asked the loved up pair one afternoon in the J, after they had been dating for almost a couple of years.
“Who knows?” Joe replied, as Kathleen blushed at the youngster’s bluntness. “I’m just enjoying the here and now, not worrying what’s around the next corner.”
“Aww, so you’re not going to marry her then?” The younger teammate teased, “Onechan would be so jealous if you did.”
“That’s enough Jinpei,” Jun scowled, “Getting married is serious business, not something to do to make someone else jealous.”
“See, it’s working already.” Jinpei laughed as he made a hasty retreat.
“Oh, you never know, I might ask her one day.”
“Will you?” Kathleen asked in surprise.
“Yeah, I mean I want to be set up first, we’re gonna need somewhere to live for starters.”
“You don’t have to get married straight away though,” Jun pointed out, “you can start saving up, then when you’ve got enough, you can tie the knot.”
“Ok.” Joe considered this for a while, as Jun went back to serving the other customers, then turned to Kathleen, “so what do you think? Do you want to get married?”
“That depends,” she answered, grinning.
“Are you asking?”
All eyes suddenly turned to him as he pondered the question. “I suppose I am, yeah,” he responded at last.
“Ok then, let’s do it.”
“I am if you are.”
“Wow,” Joe grinned, “it looks like we’re getting married.”
Ken had been sat with Ryu, quietly listening to the interaction, and as the newly engaged couple kissed, and Jinpei whooped for joy, he rose from his seat and pulled Joe to one side.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, more concerned than anything.
“Absolutely, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while anyway, I just didn’t know if she’d agree or not.”
“How much does she know?”
“About the Science Ninja Team? Relax, I haven’t told her anything, on the occasions we have been on missions, I’ve just told her I was at work. She knows I work for the I.S.O. and she’s satisfied with that. I’m not lying to her I’m just not telling her the whole truth.”
“Do you think you should?”
“What? And have her put in jeopardy? No, if she lets slip to anyone that she’s planning to marry the Condor, then who knows what would happen. Look, she is the best thing to happen to me since... well, since Nambu saved me from the devilstar assassin when I was a kid. It would really mean a lot if you supported me with this”
“You really are in love with her then?”
I’m sorry, it’s just the casual way you went about the proposal, I wasn’t sure if you were winding us or her up.” Ken smiled, “of course you have my support, on one condition.”
“Oh? And what’s that then?”
“You let me be your best man.”
Joe pulled up outside the home he shared with Kathleen. Around him, he could hear the sounds of the clean-up teams as they went about their business with the calm efficiency of people who could do their jobs with their eyes closed, but to him it served as a reminder of how close to home this mission had come.
They had been fortunate though. Galactor’s target was the industrial side of the city, and as a result his neighbourhood had sustained little more than collateral damage. Shrapnel from the exploded mecha had fell in the area, but the worst it had done seemed to be little more than a few broken windows, or tiles from roofs. Inconvenient for the homeowners, perhaps, but not disastrous in the grand scheme of things. The power was still connected, and residents had been able to return to their homes.
Looking towards his home’s facade, he saw their bedroom light on, a good sign that his house has been left unscathed, he concluded. Galactor had struck in the middle of the night; he supposed she had rushed to the shelter without stopping to turn out the lights.
He could only imagine what she had been going through. Even after all these years, he still found the sudden attacks frightening, except he used his fear to fuel his determination to face those who threatened civilisation, to administer his own brand of justice to the organisation that robbed him of his family. What did regular citizens think when those first explosions detonated? How did they cope knowing they were under attack for no good reason? Well none that they could think of.
Maybe he should bring her something? He considered this for a moment, and then decided against it. Didn’t unexpected gifts suggest a guilty conscience? He had nothing to feel guilty for. He was doing his duty, what he was trained to do for as long as he could remember. He would take her somewhere nice, somewhere undamaged by Galactor’s latest devastation. He could say it was for their 6 month anniversary. Smiling to himself, he exited the vehicle and went indoors.
Inside was eerily quiet. He was beginning to wonder where she could have got to, when a sound from upstairs momentarily startled him.
Chastising himself, he took the stairs heading for their bedroom, stepping softly in case it wasn’t his wife up there. Only the fear of finding her dead surpassed his dread of her being captured, and possibly raped at the hands of his lifelong enemies. As he got closer, the sounds from the room got louder and more distinct.
Instantly, Joe’s blood ran cold. He froze with his hand on the door handle as he recognized his wife’s groans, coupled with a male voice he couldn’t identify.
Joe didn’t give a seconds thought to his next move, as he burst through the door and headed towards the naked pair on the bed, his fear turning to rage as he took in the situation.
“What the hell is going on here?” he demanded, pulling the guy off and hurling him against the far wall.
“Joe!” Kathleen hurried to cover herself as he turned to her.
“Well answer me,” Joe spat, “and I don’t want any of that ‘it’s not what it looks like’ shit, understand?”
“We hadn’t planned it,” she told him eventually. “It just happened.”
“Oh you just happened to fall out of your clothes and into our bed together?” Joe yelled at her, “What do you take me for?”
“A fucking coward, that’s what.” Kathleen’s lover spoke up. “Where the hell were you when she’s scared and alone down in that shelter?”
“Care to repeat that?” Joe turned on him, grabbing him by the throat as he spoke. His voice now much calmer, but the threatening edge unmistakable.
“What kind of man runs away when his home is under attack, without so much as a word to his wife to let her know he’s safe?”
Joe let his fists answer for him, delivering a powerful blow to the guy’s midriff, following up with an uppercut to his jaw. He pulled his arm back for another aim when Kathleen grabbed him, stopping him in his tracks.
“That’s enough, Joe.”
“Fine.” Joe shook her off. “You,” he told the man, “can get out of here, and if you value your life, then don’t let me see you anywhere near my wife again.”
He didn’t need telling twice, and bundling his clothes together, ran out of the room.
Joe waited until he heard the front door slam shut, before walking downstairs and poured himself a glass of whiskey.
He was pouring himself a second glass when Kathleen emerged.
“We need to talk.”
“I have just one question,” he told her simply. “Is this what I have to expect whenever I come home from work?”
“No, of course not.” She walked over to him, attempting to put a hand on his shoulder, only to have it shucked off. “I am sorry Joe, I don’t know how it happened, it just did. I have no excuse.”
“You got that right.” Joe downed his drink and slammed his glass on the worktop. “I’ll see you later.”
“When later? Where are you going?”
“Out where? How long will you be?”
“As long as it takes.”
Twenty minutes later, Joe pulled up outside the J. No matter where he went, he always looked upon this place as his second home. The decor might change over the years, but the staff always made him feel like one of the family.
Walking in, he took his usual seat at the bar.
“Evening, Joe, usual is it?” Jinpei grinned from the business side of the counter.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got anything stronger?”
“Point 1, you might be old enough to drink, but I’m still too young to serve you, and point 2, we are not licensed to serve alcohol, if that answers your question.”
“Fair enough.” Joe sighed, “Coffee it is then.”
“Excellent choice sir.” Jinpei grinned in his usual cocky manner.
“And enough of the wisecracks tonight eh, I’m not in the mood.”
“Sure.” The Swallow placed his cup in front of him. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, now you mention it.” Joe took a sip of the scalding liquid. “Your spare bed for the night.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
“Look squirt, if you’re not old enough to serve me a real drink, then you’re certainly not old enough to talk about my problems, ok.”
“Gotcha. I’ll call Jun.”
“Fine. I’ll be in that booth over there.”
The Swan listened patiently as Joe recounted the events of that afternoon, a grin crossing her face when she heard about the other guy calling Joe a coward, but said nothing until Joe finished his recap.
“Has it occurred to you that this guy was preying on her vulnerability?”
“What do you mean?” Joe looked confused. “We’ve been called up on missions before, but she’s never behaved like that in the past.”
“Think about it. The call goes out, and you rush off to respond. Every time she’s left alone, not knowing where you are, or what you’re doing, but each time the attacks are other parts of the world, and she isn’t in any immediate danger herself. This time, she’s bundled down in the shelter, surrounded by strangers, and she’s spotted by this guy who sees what he thinks are easy pickings and keeps her company until it’s safe to return home.”
“What are you saying, Jun?”
“That you need to hear her side of the story, before you do anything you’ll both regret later. Perhaps it was simply naivety on her part.”
“So you think she was coerced? Do you really expect me to believe that?” Joe was starting to lose his temper again, this time with a woman who was not only his lifelong friend, but comrade in arms too. All the time they had spent, fighting the enemy side by side and now she appeared to be defending his cheating wife. Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Trust me, she was no innocent little virgin when we met. She knows what’s what when it comes to men.”
“I’m not really saying anything, just throwing out some hypothetical situations. I don’t know what went on, other than what you’ve just told me, but things are never just black or white. The fact he thought you a coward should be a big clue though. He obviously doesn’t know you at all.”
“Thanks, I worked that out for myself.” Joe looked up as Jinpei approached their table, bringing two more coffees for them.
“Kathleen’s over there, shall I send her across?” he asked them as he placed the hot cups down. Joe simply shrugged, but Jun got to her feet.
“I think I’ll leave you two to it.”
Kathleen timidly took the seat that Jun had vacated. For long minutes there was an uneasy silence between them. Joe simply sat, drinking his coffee, not even bothering to look her in the eye.
“I know I’ve hurt you, Joe,” she began at last, “but if you’ll let me explain.” She took Joe’s continued silence as assent. “Each time, you go off, ‘to work’ you call it, and I hear on the news that somewhere in the world there’s been some dreadful attack on some unsuspecting country, or city or whatever, but I thought nothing of it. You have a job to do, and I’m sure it’s simply coincidence that the two events coincide. Then it’s our turn. The alarm goes up, I hear bombing and explosions so loudly, I don’t need the TV reports to know what’s going on. And I think to myself, he’ll stay this time, he can’t go when we’re in trouble, yet when I reach the shelter, you’re nowhere to be found, and I’m frantic with worry.”
Pretty much what Jun had told him, Joe thought, but kept it to himself.
She paused briefly while Jinpei brought her a drink, but Joe shooed him away before he decided to join them.
“Anyway,” Kathleen continued, “While I was down in the shelter, Phil came across. He was a volunteer, just handing out blankets and taking down names, that sort of thing, and I told him I was on my own down there, and I was looking for you, and he said he would see if you’d ‘checked in’. It felt like hours before he came back, and told me you weren’t there.”
“I started to think the worst then, you were lying dead somewhere, and he sat with me, just talking about nothing in particular, but it really helped keep my mind off whatever might have happened. He wouldn’t let me dwell on it.” She sighed, and fiddled with her cup, not wanting to continue, but knowing there was more to say.
“After the battle, and we were all allowed out again, I was worried about what I would find. I had pictures in my mind of finding our house nothing more than a pile of rubble, with you trapped somewhere underneath it, so Phil offered to take me back, just in case the worst had happened. When we found the house intact, of course I was relieved at first, but then angry because you were still missing. All the hurt and frustration came pouring out, and he was so understanding, well....”
“So you had to show your gratitude, is that it?” he got to his feet, and pulled her to hers. “Come with me.”
“Just upstairs. You’ve said your piece, what I have to say doesn’t need an audience.” He half pushed her up to Jun’s flat above, directing her to the living room. “So when did you tell him I was a coward?”
“I never did, I guess he just came to that conclusion himself,” she stated, “but I can’t blame him for thinking that though. Every time we hear of these raids and battles, you disappear, nowhere to be found for the whole time, you don’t even stop to pick up your phone. Just this once, I needed you to be with me, to stay by my side, but no, you couldn’t even do that, could you?”
“Do you want to know where I was? What I’m doing when you’re all cowering in those shelters? Oh, believe me, I know it’s no picnic down there, but compared to what I have to face, it’s the easy option.”
“Good grief Joe, you’re a chauffeur, you drive the bigwigs around in a comfortable limo, day in/day out, it’s hardly perilous. You get your thrills on the track, admit it.”
“No, you’ve noticed I rush off every time Galactor strikes, no matter where in the world they are. It’s no coincidence. I’m on the front line sweetheart, and I’m out there kicking their sorry arses, fighting for humanities right to live a peaceful and happy life.”
“That’s bullshit Joe, everyone knows the Science Ninja Team are the ones that go and stop Galactor, it’s always on the news.”
“Who are the Science Ninja Team, eh?”
“Nobody knows, their identities are a closely guarded secret.” She paused a moment while she thought about what she’d just said. “Oh fuck off Joe, you’re not telling me you’re one of them?”
“And you think I’ll just believe that? On what evidence? So you’re handy with your fists, you’ve certainly proved that, but that doesn’t make you a skilled fighter.”
“You know, right now I don’t fucking care if you believe me or not. All I can think about is coming home to find you in bed with a total fucking stranger, and it’s making me wonder if you’re really worth fighting for. Will you see these attacks, not as a threat to life as you know it, or more of an opportunity to get another notch on our bedpost? Am I taking that bullet for our future, or is it a stab in the back from the woman whom I wanted to share that future with?”
“Oh stop being so melodramatic, eh, it doesn’t suit you.” She sighed audibly and took a seat. “Joe, be honest with me please, do you want to work things out?”
“I’m just so angry with you right now, I don’t know what I want.” He chose a chair furthest away from where she was sat. “I’m going to ask Jun if I can stop here tonight. We might be able to talk a bit calmer tomorrow.”
“I see. And all that about you being on the Science Ninja team?”
“I just said so, didn’t I?”
“Well that gives me something to think about too, I suppose.” She stood up and headed to the door. She was about to leave when she stopped and turned around. “So which one are you then?”
“G2, The Condor.”
“Right. Will I see you tomorrow then?” she asked nervously, as the ramifications of who she was married to finally hit her. That the easy-going racing driver she had fallen for all that time ago, could have so easily killed her, as well as the guy she had been with, if he wanted to. Shocked and subdued, she walked out. She certainly had a lot of thinking to do too.
Joe watched her leave the building before joining Jun and Jinpei at the bar. The last of the customers had gone, and they were closing for the night. Seeing Joe emerge from the upstairs flat, Jun shooed Jinpei away.
“So, do you need that bed for the night then?” she enquired.
“Yeah, thanks. I’ll be back shortly, ok?”
“Oh? What are you planning to do?”
“Just keep my eye on her. I want to know if it is just a one off thing like she said.”
“You don’t believe her then?”
“I want to, I just don’t know.”
“So you’re giving her the rope and wait to see if she will hang herself with it?”
“When the cat’s away....”
“Do you really think that guy will be back though, after the beating you gave him?”
“Maybe not, but who’s to say there aren’t others? I mean, if she’s prepared to fuck one guy within five minutes of knowing him, what’s to say she isn’t going with anyone who fancies their chances.”
“This isn’t healthy Joe. You really need to sort things out.”
“She started it.”
“Now that’s just childish. Look, if you can’t get past this, what do you think is going to happen?”
“Divorce, I suppose.”
“Divorce? You’ve only been married five minutes. Surely that’s not what you want.”
“I don’t, but how am I expected to stay with her? Every time we go out on a mission, I’m going to be wondering what she’s up to. Hell, what if she gets pregnant? I’m going to wonder whether it’s mine or not.”
“And what if she’s not habitually unfaithful? You’ll be throwing away what has been the most stable relationship you’ve ever had.”
“Why do you keep defending her Jun?”
“I’m not defending what she did, of course it was wrong, I just don’t want to see you unhappy when this could be something you could easily put behind you.”
“I wouldn’t be able to trust her though.”
“Maybe not straight away, but you’ll learn to again. And if this is just a stupid error of judgement on her part, then she won’t make the same mistake again, will she?”
“No, she’ll take a lot more care not to get caught.”
“Oh for fuck sake Joe. I think you’ve already made your mind up, so what are you talking to me about it for?” She thought for a minute. “Tell you what, give it a week, then see how you feel. Go back to the trailer, or back to your I.S.O quarters if you prefer, and have a taste of how life would be without her... then you can decide between you what should happen.”
Joe woke to silence, like he had every day for the past week, and all he could think of was how dull his life had become. Each day was a clone of the day before, get up, go to training, then hang around to see if anyone needed driving around. These days nobody did. There was little for him to do but sit and think. Not something he was very good at doing.
Groaning to himself, he pulled himself off his bunk, and dragged himself over to the small shower room, yet all he did was stare at his reflection in the shaving mirror above the small handbasin.
“There’s got to be more to life than this,” he moaned at the image of his own face.
Nevertheless, he went through the routine and shortly joined the others for their regular training session. His lacklustre performance wasn’t lost on Ken though, and the Eagle soon pulled him to one side.
“Look, I know what’s going on, and you’ll have to pull yourself together. We don’t want the team’s performance to suffer because of your disastrous marriage!”
“What’s the point though Ken? Galactor aren’t as strong as they used to be, you could beat the crap out of them without me.”
“I don’t want to take that chance. We’re a team of five, always have been, always will be. Now it’s pretty obvious to all of us that you want to get back together, so get your fucking arse down there and talk to her.”
“Is that an order, commander?”
“Damn right. The way I see it, the only thing stopping you from sorting your marriage out is your bloody stubbornness.”
“What the hell do you know about anything?” Joe detransmuted and prepared to walk out when Jun stopped him in his tracks.
“Wait a minute,” she called out, running across to him, “if it helps, I’ve been keeping track of her this past week for you. She hasn’t been seeing, or making calls to anyone except you, I think if you check your mobile, you’ll find so many attempts by her to contact you, your memory will be full.”
“That wasn’t necessary, Jun. I’m off to the track now, I’ve got to get some practice in.” Joe paused before he left the room, “But thanks anyway, it’s good to know my friends are looking out for me.”
“So what’s stopping you? It’s obvious you’re still in love with her.”
“I can’t get over what she did though. Whenever I think about her, all I see is that image of the both of them.... it just tears me up inside.”
“I think I can understand, but tell her that. I’m sure you can get past it, if you really want to.”
“Oh, by the way Ken, I think you ought to know, I kinda let slip who I was to Kathleen.”
“Oh for fuck sake, what the hell were you thinking?”
“Sorry, it just slipped out during an argument, I had to put her straight about what I was doing while she was fucking a stranger”
“Just get out of here will you, before I do something you’ll regret.”
“Yeah, I’d like to see you try!”
Twenty laps of the deserted track later, and Joe pulled into the pit lane. When it came to his car, he was meticulous about its maintenance, and although it was running perfectly, he still had to look at the engine. Still, he pottered about, making sure nothing could go wrong with it, then walked around the vehicle, checking each tire in turn. He noticed one was looking slightly worn, and as he crouched to examine it closer, a soft voice behind him made him jump.
“Joe? I thought I’d find you here eventually.”
“What do you want Kathleen?” he didn’t bother to turn around to look at her.
“To talk, I suppose. I need to know how things are between us.” He could hear the desperation in her voice, “You won’t take my calls, or answer my messages. I don’t know what to think.”
“You’ve brought it on yourself though.”
“Yes, ok, I know, and I regret it, both what I did, and how I’ve hurt you. I’ve learnt a big lesson now. I don’t want you to hate me for this though”
“Hate you?” suddenly Jun’s parting words rang through his ears. “I don’t hate you, but I hate what you did. Every day this past week, all I’ve been able to think about is the sight of the pair of you in our bed, and I get as mad as I did when I found you there.”
“I’ll never do it again Joe, will you believe me?”
“Do what? Sleep with another man, or let me catch you at it?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Do I?” Joe finally turned to look at her. “Before that day, I’d never have believed you’d even look at anyone else, never mind take them to bed. Now I wonder how many times have you got away with it in the past, and I think about getting called out and wonder if you’ll be calling up some anonymous lover to ease you through the troubled times. So no, maybe I don’t know what you mean. I love you Kathleen but I’m not sure I’ll be able to trust you again.”
“It might take a while, but you will, I know. You won’t have any reason to doubt me, I promise.” She tentatively took his hand, this time he let her hold on. “Besides, you left me with quite a bombshell of your own, remember.”
“How could I forget?” At last he smiled, “look, about that...”
“So Condor Joe, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I shouldn’t have told you at all, but maybe that was wrong. A little piece of me always hoped that it wouldn’t be necessary.”
“Why though? Don’t you think I could be trusted with it?”
“Our identities are supposed to be kept secret, not just for our benefit, but for the safety of anyone we love. It’s not about trust, if I thought you couldn’t be trusted, I’d never have got involved with you in the first place.” Joe took her other hand gently. “I figured, if my rushing off like I do was such a big deal, then you’d have broken it off long before we got this far.”
“And I just kept thinking that you would stop disappearing once we were married.”
“I can’t though. It’s a lifelong commitment. Do you think you can live with that?”
“Well at least now I know, it might be a bit more tolerable. I’m prepared to try at least.”
“Then so am I.” To Kathleen’s delight, he dropped her hands and draped an arm casually around her shoulders, yet backed off when she moved in for a kiss. “Not so fast, eh, this isn’t going to be easy for me.”
She looked disappointed, but nodded in understanding. “Ok, one step at a time. Come on, let’s go home.”
“Home, yeah, that sounds good to me.” He stopped and thought for a moment, “How did you get here?”
“Well, actually, Ken brought me.”
“So you need a ride then.” When she nodded sheepishly, he gestured towards his car. “Get in.”
Two years later
Joe raced to Kathleen’s bedside, glad to see she was awake, but tired.
“I’m so sorry, I tried to get here as soon as I could.” He put the bouquet at the foot of the bed as he leant over to kiss her. “How are you, and how is he?”
“We’re fine, and I know you have work to do, I couldn’t expect you to abandon your duties.”
“But you know I would have been here if....”
“I know.” She smiled sleepily, “now do you want to meet your son or not?”
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