In the end, it didn't matter. Duo wasn't there. I forced a feeling of calm onto myself and looked around our apartment. Only his overnight bag was gone. Feeling somewhat reassured, if numb, I sat blankly on the sofa, spending long minutes staring at the wall above the television. At length, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and watched the minutes tick by as I hesitated.
I couldn't call him. He wouldn't want to talk to me, and I had no right to ask where he was, make sure he was alright. Where would he be... Wufei's, probably. Hopefully. They were good friends. Yes, I could call Wufei. No, that would be like calling Duo. If they were in the middle of something, I didn't want to interrupt. Duo would know. Duo would get angry that I was checking up on him.
I needed to know that he was okay, that he was with someone that could help him through this, someone that would listen patiently to him as he vented and raged.
I needed to give him his space.
I text-messaged Wufei. Is he with you?
Thirteen minutes, thirty-eight seconds later, I got an answer. Yes.
I couldn't last that long without air, and yet it felt like I could only take a breath now after receiving a response. Wufei was a good person to be with. He wouldn't let Duo do anything stupid or hasty. Thank you, I messaged back, knowing that it would probably be ill-received, but needing to express my gratitude -- my relief -- anyway. Duo was in good hands.
Twenty-six minutes, forty-three seconds later, the empty apartment pushed me out the door, my own overnight bag in hand.
The office wasn't a very welcoming place at this time of night, but it seemed more friendly than the place I had left. Now was as good a time as any to start running the security checks again on the ESUN computer systems. I decided to go back to my own desk back in the TRSU to do the work. The space felt more personal there.
It was a Saturday night. Someone was on call, but not at the office, so I had the place to myself. I puttered around with busywork, taking my mug to the breakroom to rinse it out, watering my bamboo, checking my e-mail. Finally I just leaned back in my chair, the one it had taken me seven months to score from the section's office manager, and closed my eyes to try to relax just a little. A bit of peace and quiet after a long and stressful day was usually the way to go, but this day hadn't been anything resembling normal. ::Hey, Zero,:: I thought, compelled to seek out company.
::Ready for input.::
::Do you think tomorrow will be any better than today?::
Milliseconds ticked by as he pondered the matter, taking his time as he mulled over the bizarre possibilities brought forth by humanity's penchant for the irrational. ::You can only tell them once,:: he offered as an early conclusion, using that fact to prune off whole branches of his search tree.
I smiled humorlessly. ::Yes, there is that.:: Cold comfort, but comfort nevertheless. ::Of course, maybe it was only the shock that kept them from really coming down on me. Maybe tomorrow will be worse.:: I shook my head when Zero started taking my grim assessment into account. ::No, that's just me being irrational. Disregard that last thought. Actually, cancel the whole operation. I think I'd rather just be surprised tomorrow.::
Zero hummed disapprovingly at me. ::How can you prepare for the future if you refuse to examine it?::
::Humans are fickle creatures, Zero. All the processing in the world won't tell me how tomorrow will turn out. I can prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but that's all I can do. Wasting any more cycles trying to predict the future would just be... an inefficient use of resources.::
It took a skeptical moment or two, but he reluctantly agreed to my point.
Resolved to distract myself, I began digging up the report I had written for Une regarding the network security of ESUN systems, remembering with a bit of dismay as I did just the volume of data compiled. ::What's my sync ratio at?::
::Sixty to sixty-five percent. Use of the neural interface is not recommended.::
Damn. Around forty-five percent or less neural synchronization with the Zero system practically guaranteed bad hallucinations. Fifty-five percent or so would be a sane experience, but no guarantee of accurate results from the interaction. Sixty was cutting it close. Normally I was up at seventy, seventy-five if I was interfacing heavily with the system, with eighty being the suggested upper limit. Eighty-five if you were feeling lucky. There wasn't a large range of acceptable values to work within, but the balance between lack of coherence and loss of self was a delicate one, and a strong emotional state could throw things off.
It looked like I would be doing this the hard way.
I put a stop to that before I could take that one dangerous step farther into the territory of enemy and non-enemy.
We didn't have an exact direction for our investigation that day, but we knew there had to be something. Our best starting place seemed to be with the lobbyists hard at work this weekend. Someone, somewhere had to connect the politicians to the terrorist arm of the movement. It seemed too improbable that the two existed in complete parallel, so we spent most of the day going over what we could get our hands on. Because we were investigating only suspicions and theories, not official charges, our access to incriminating evidence was limited. Still, thanks to the globalization of the system, and a policy developed by the early government geared toward transparency, we had more than enough information to process.
Lunch was ordered in. We had time for a break, but that wasn't our style. When I finished with mine, I stood to throw the remains away. Seeing that Duo was also about to do the same thing, I automatically held out my hand to take his trash and save him the trip, but he turned me down, brushing by me without a glance to take care of his own business.
"You just going to ignore me for the rest of the day, Duo?" I said, unable to stop myself. "Could you be any more juvenile?"
"Fuck off, Yuy," he answered pleasantly as he settled himself back into his seat.
That wasn't any better than ignoring me. "That won't change anything."
"Ooh, are we gonna be girls now and talk things out?"
If only. If that was what he wanted, I was ready to meet that challenge, even in front of all the others, who were watching us carefully, but otherwise minding their own business. "I don't have any problems with my masculinity. Do you?"
His expression twitched, and I wanted to believe it was because he would have laughed, had things between us not been the way they currently were. "I don't know what else you want to go over. Unless you got something else hiding in that silly little brain of yours that you've just forgotten to mention." He wiggled his fingers on one hand airily, mocking my little nothings.
I tried for a moment to actually come up with something completely irrelevant that I had 'forgotten to mention', but sadly, I came up with nothing in time for a comeback. "No, that was it."
"Then I think we're done." He quite pointedly shuffled some files around in an attempt to ignore me.
"No new surprises, Duo, but we're not nearly done with the last one." Staying on my feet seemed confrontational to me, so I planted myself noisily in my chair. "What the hell has gotten you so pissed off? And don't give me that 'I didn't tell you' thing. I already explained that."
He glared at me, as if annoyed that I had already gotten him to more or less agree that it was just an accepted shortcoming of mine. He wasn't the type to simply take that back. "What, you think that gets you off the hook? Like good intentions mean something? You want an A for effort?"
I'd told him I thought it'd be okay if he was angry at me for a little while, but I'd foolishly believed it would have blown over by now. "I'd like you to put some effort into this. Can you pretend you're not angry for five damn seconds and tell me what you're angry about?"
"You know," he started, jabbing a finger through the air at me. "That's one of those things I keep coming back to. Gotta keep asking myself, why didn't I ever see it? Was I just that stupid? Or are you just that good at lying? Huh? What's it gonna be, Yuy?"
He knew damn well that there wasn't a right answer to that one. "Neither!"
Before I could protest my innocence any further, he pressed on. "At least no one else knew it before I did. For a few minutes, anyway. There's that. I'm not the only one you fooled."
"I haven't been 'fooling' anyone, Duo." I needed to get off the defensive and move into offense, or he'd eat me alive. "If I'd just been 'pretending' to be me all this time, shouldn't I have become someone else now, now that you all know? It's not like I'm afraid I'll 'blow my cover' or something. There is no cover."
"And I should believe you... why?"
"I never lied about anything. If I'd wanted to lie about this, to hide this, there are a lot of things I'd be doing differently."
::Hiding in plain sight is a very effective strategy.::
It was one of those thoughts whose origin I wasn't sure of, but now was not the time to pursue the matter. I just counted myself lucky that the same thought didn't occur to Duo. Not that the alternative was much better. "How much of you is actually you, hm? All that stuff I thought made you perfect for Zero? Maybe that just -is- Zero. That true?"
Was that what he'd been thinking this whole time? "Don't be ridiculous, Duo. Zero may be sitting inside my head, but he doesn't run this show. This isn't some split personality where I go dormant and he comes out to play. Zero just... offers suggestions now and then."
I was becoming quite accustomed to his look of complete incredulity. "Okay, I finally think that, more creepy than living with Zero, is the fact that you seriously think of this whole thing like, like this stray computer system just followed you home one day and you decided to keep it as a pet!"
"Well, it's certainly more 'pet' than 'evil supercomputer that's eaten my soul'." His words, not mine.
"Oh, look, another part of you that I've never seen before. The completely out-of-your-mind part. That what you meant by 'all of you'?"
It took me a moment to recall my words to him the other night, back before all of this happened, and another moment to logically connect the two. "Of course not."
"Oh, so there -is- other stuff in you that I don't know about, eh?"
"Yes," I snapped, saying plainly to him what I'd been trying to get him to recognize for years, and now it was probably the worst possible time to say it. "But nothing you haven't had access to for years. Don't blame me if you've been too stubborn to acknowledge it."
"So now we're blaming this on me, are we? Is it all Duo's fault that he didn't know any better? Was I asking for it or something?"
"And now you're turning this into a blame game. How typical. You just completely avoided what I just said."
"Well, excuse me for being too damn pissed off about your two-faced ways to be distracted right now."
And there he just sidestepped the issue again. He was just so damn smooth about it that he fooled even himself, and even in the middle of all this, it just killed me to see it. "I'm the same asshole you've known for the last five years, Duo, and if you suddenly decide that you don't like that, then fine, but don't go thinking I've changed."
His expression darkened, and he stood, a little too calmly, a little too deliberately. "My perception of you has changed, then, since apparently, I haven't known a damn thing for the last five."
I watched him leave the room with words clogged up in my throat. I wanted to punch him in the gut for being such an idiot, and hold on to him tightly and reassure him of who I was until my voice gave out, all at the same time.
"Well," Quatre announced brightly. "I think that's a great idea. Let's take five and rest off that after-lunch food coma for a bit, hmm?"
I thumped my head against the table. It didn't help. I'd expected Wufei to go after Duo, but he had stayed where he was. Looking up, I saw him watching me, and feeling self-conscious, I straightened and tried to put some weary dignity back into my posture. "Wufei..." Something needed to be said to him, but I wasn't sure what. There were so many ways to go wrong with it. I tried to go with my gut, and ended up with something adequate, though not quite what I wanted to convey. "I... apologize for getting you caught up in the middle of this."
"You need not apologize to me." I couldn't tell if he meant that I should be apologizing to Duo, or that he was just being a good friend. During my lapse, he paused as well. It seemed to me that he weighed his words carefully, and then decided there were none to match his meaning.
We sat in awkward silence, two people with things to say, but nothing to say to each other.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST