We reported the warning to Une, who in turn reported it to the world government, who naturally demanded to know why the Preventers hadn't detected the threat to their safety any earlier. I admired her restraint in not demanding to know why the Senate hadn't dealt with the civil unrest any earlier, but I suppose Treize would have been disappointed in her if she had broken so easily. Une stayed long enough to drop a formal writ of authority on our taskforce before stalking off to deal with the ruffled senators. As our glorious leader, it was her thankless task to not tell them they were morons, while defending our budget allocations and agent distribution.
Sometimes, it really was no surprise that there were rebel elements out there. If Mariemaia could somehow get a patent on her 'endless waltz' theory, she'd be one rich little girl. No, not so little anymore. It'd be ten years since her grandfather's uprising failed. I'd heard she was interested in getting into politics. She had my vote.
But until the day we had more intelligent senators, our team was left to identify persons and areas of risk, and coordinate increased security. It seemed a more efficient use of my resources to focus for a while first on defense, letting others chase the leads as I tried to safeguard some of our more important centers of control. If the radicals had one hacker on their team, they could have more. Various departments of the government were suddenly remembering that security report they had received some time ago, and typically, it was only the threat of liability that caused them to pay any attention to it now. I hardly had the time to go through all of them and redesign their entire data systems. The best I could start on was a massive bandage to slap on top of the most obvious targets.
The vague threats weren't yet imminent enough to warrant round-the-clock work on our part. When we adjourned to rest for the night, I didn't even think of going home. Instead, I went back to my desk in the TRSU to keep working on my patches. The sooner they were deployed, the sooner they could be field-tested.
But it was a Monday night, and I had forgotten that someone would be on call in the department. I was just lucky -- and unlucky -- that it was Trix. I had helped her reverse the arrangement in her cube so that she faced outward instead of in. She spied my entrance and immediately pulled off her headphones. The music continued to play, tinny and surreal. "Hey, Heero, long time no see!"
"Hey," I responded mutedly. It was difficult to deal with her energy sometimes, especially with so much else going on. "I'm just here to work."
"Yeah, I heard about that whole radical terrorist threat thing. Crazy, isn't it? But there haven't been any real threats yet, have there?" Her eyes widened dramatically. "Or is the government totally covering it up and I just fell for their lame-ass story? Man, that sucks when you can't even trust your own bosses!"
"What makes you think there's a cover story?" I asked mildly. The government didn't officially acknowledge unsubstantiated, anonymous sources, but they took action anyway, pretending that the worldwide protest had caused them to think carefully about the issue, leading them to re-evaluate their global positioning and structure -- not to mention their security. In a strange sort of way, it was true. But that was the story told to anyone who inquired about their activity. Within Preventers HQ, teams were quietly mobilized, and it was inevitable that word get around.
Trix indeed had access to inside information that had led her in the right direction. "Not only are you working late tonight, but you were here working this weekend, too, and you wouldn't be doing that if there wasn't something big and scary happening in the world right now, right? Not when you could be home with your snugglebunny."
Women. There were times I was glad I was gay. But then, I had never been provably 'gay', so much as drawn, and then attracted, to Duo... I steered my thoughts down a different path. "How did you know I was here this weekend?"
"The stuff on your desk moved," she shrugged, but she was quick to clarify when I raised my eyebrow at her. "I borrowed your stapler today. Yeah, yeah, I know, but I swear, I put it right back where I found it! God, don't glare at me like that. What, you just grumpy you haven't been getting any, lately? Sheesh. Hey, this 'weekend'? Like, this whole weekend, and not just yesterday? See? There's totally a government cover-up happening here!"
I stared at her for a while longer before sighing. "I'm just going to be at my desk working. Pretend I'm not there."
"Well, is there, or is there not?"
"If there was a government cover-up, and I was a part of it, why would I tell you about it?"
"Because you love me?" She plied me with a perky grin for a second before it turned into a pout. "Yeah, maybe you love that loser more, but come on, good friendship's gotta count for something, right?"
I couldn't help the pained expression that crossed my face. "Trix, could you just... lay off tonight? Okay? Just tonight, I don't want to deal with that."
To her credit, she knew that I was referring to her endless sniping at Duo. Unfortunately, she took in the rest of me and jumped to some other ridiculously accurate conclusions as well. "Omigod, something happened, didn't it? Are you two...? I'm so sorry!"
Argh. Yep, right around now, I was really not too pleased with a woman's intuition. It was easier working with men sometimes. They were generally oblivious to most things. But then you got Duos, who were oblivious to far too many things... I shook my head. "I'm just going to be at my desk working. Pretend I'm not there."
I got halfway back to my desk before she called my name softly. It was an unusual mode of address for her. I stopped and tilted my head over my shoulder.
"Hey... if there isn't a crazy government cover-up, and there's this whole other reason you're not going home at night... my sofa's kinda short for sleeping on, but it's great for curling up on. You know?"
I closed my eyes and concentrated on not showing how much that offer meant to me right now, even if I would never take her up on it. When I got it together again, I just dipped my head in silent acknowledgement of her words and resumed my journey to my desk. I stopped again after a few steps, though. "Hey, Trix?"
"You're on call tonight, right?" I turned around and gave her a tired smile. "I have a job for you."
The conference room was becoming the home away from home away from home. Depending on one's definition of 'home', of course. I took a quick shower in the facilities downstairs, then let myself doze off for an hour or so at the table, but it was questionable how restful the little nap was. There were too many things on my mind, plus the unpredictability of someone else deciding to get an early start on the day.
Like my teammates. Or like Zero, who thought it would be a neat idea to keep on coding as much as he could without interfering with my efforts to get a little REM in before the workday commenced. It was fortunate that he recognized a human's need for sleep, even if he did liken it to a machine overheating if it wasn't allowed to cool off and rest periodically.
When the others came in, I was busy moving all of Zero's work out of my head and onto the computer, where it could actually be of some use, all the while fielding complaints -- sorry, pointed comments -- about how handy a neural interface would be in this situation. Yes, it was my weak emotional state that put me out of sync with the system. Yes, it was my human need for relationships with others that prohibited me from just using the interface and the hell with what my friends and allies thought about it right now. But there was also a large dose of human sentimentality that had led me to following and then keeping Zero in the first place -- no matter what he thought about the irresistible improvements to my operating efficiency -- so we would all just have to live with the situation.
I did my job, listening with half an ear while the others did their job. Quatre had to say my name twice before I registered it and looked up. "Yes?"
"I asked for your status," he repeated mildly.
"Ah." I glanced reflexively down at my monitor. "I've got patches version one for colonial life support and weapons systems deployed. Waiting for feedback before I can fine-tune them properly. Working on communications now."
"Good to hear." He nodded amiably before moving on. "How much sleep have you been getting lately?"
"I beg your pardon?" I wanted the words back as soon as I had spoken them. Our devious little leader was deliberately trying to catch me off-guard.
"I'm getting the distinct impression that you're concentrating too hard again."
'Too' hard was a matter of opinion. "We have a lot to get done, Quatre."
He nodded again as if agreeing with me. "And no good reason to wear ourselves out at the very beginning."
I flashed back to the last time they'd had to lecture me about working too hard. Then, it was Duo that had taken the task, convincing me... I shook my head irritably. "This is time sensitive," I answered, gesturing at my computer. "I'll rest after I finish covering the hotspots."
"See that you do. Sometime before we end up having to drag you away from your work. We gain nothing by burning ourselves out."
"If the guy wants to work," Duo cut in with a disdainful drawl. "Let him work. Not like we have to be all worried about his health anymore, what with those nanos of his fixing him right up, good as new. Better even than the original, I bet."
I knew I shouldn't say anything, but I did, anyway. "I consider the original Heero Yuy to be the man killed by an assassin some thirty years ago. Which 'original' are you talking about?"
He probably would have passed on my point, same as he always did, but Quatre broke in before he could prove me right. "We can only succeed with the proper allocation of our resources."
I don't know what Duo was complaining about. Sometimes Quatre sounded more like Zero than I did. "This -is- the proper allocation of my resources."
A shift in Duo's expression told me that I must have said something that didn't agree with him again, and very much so. "Happy as a clam in your little tech job, aren't you? Of course. Zero would be perfect for that." He threw up his hands in a bitterly dramatic gesture. "Well, you heard the guy, Quatre. He wants to slave away twenty-four seven like a friggin' robot; don't see why you're stopping him. Seems to come naturally to him, anyway."
Even I had my limits. "I wouldn't be working like this if--!"
If our home -- the place formerly known as home? -- wasn't so damned empty.
If I had anything else to do to keep my mind off of you.
If you would just accept me for who I am for once.
I had to get out of there before something very bad happened. I was out of my chair and out of the office almost before I finished that thought, as quickly as I dignifiedly could. Maybe Zero had something to do with it, had pity on me and prodded me along. He always did have a good reaction time.
I had always had a good reaction time.
How long before I fell prey to the same thing Duo was a victim of? How long before I became unable to tell the difference between Zero and myself? How long before I stopped caring?
I heard footsteps coming around the corner in front of me. I didn't know how I looked, but it couldn't have been good. My eyes located a side corridor with a door to a supply closet and I slipped inside before someone could bear witness to my breakdown. Once I was hidden safely away, however, I didn't have any reason to hang on to my composure. I slumped against a heavy metal shelf, sank to the floor, and just tried not to do anything too embarrassing.
::I can stop those.::
Stop what? Oh. Tears, shoving their way past my defenses to ooze slowly but inexorably out of my lacrymal glands. Yes, Zero could stop those easily enough. "Don't you dare," I whispered aloud, wanting to hear the defiance spoken aloud and given substance. "Don't you dare take that away from me."
I thumped my head against the wall and let them fall. Damn, I needed some sleep. Yeah, that was it. I was just tired. That was all. Just... tired. What was it Duo had a habit of saying? Somewhere, a camel had fallen, and couldn't get back up? Something important must have snapped for me to be here now. I hadn't even bothered turning on the light. A tenuous feeling of déjà vu rose in me, stemming from my stay at Olin Base, in that small room, with only Zero to keep me company as things happened that were entirely beyond my control. I hadn't liked it then. I didn't like it now.
There was a shuffle of footsteps outside the door, and then a light knock. "Heero?" Quatre said softly. "Are you in there?"
I ignored him, hoping that he had just taken a wild guess as to my location.
Alas, Quatre Winner was not the wild-guess type. "I'm coming in." I had two seconds to wipe hastily at my face and regret not sitting with my back to the door before he opened it. Zero automatically adjusted my visual feed for the sudden change in light, and then again when Quatre slipped inside and flipped the switch for the sickly halogen bulb overhead.
Flipping through my tiny list of choices, I found nothing but more helplessness, knowing that whatever he wanted, he would get out of me. I decided I could at least make him work for it and continued ignoring him.
He chose a spot on the floor and sat down casually, one leg bent, one leg stretched out in front of him to rest in close proximity to my feet. Enough room to leave me my personal space, but close enough for confirmation of presence. How typically right he got it. "I told you you needed a break," he mentioned off-handedly, with neither humor nor sternness.
I was reminded again of how Duo had sent me packing back to my room on base for a break five years ago. The way he accepted the fact that I hadn't turned off my computer, was in fact just relocating and not resting. The way he had curled up behind me to help.
There were times I had comforted him as well, with kisses gone long obsolete and an utter ignorance of the paradigm shift. We hadn't been on the same page from the start.
"It may take a while," Quatre said. "But he'll get over it."
"Really." I wasn't so sure. I wasn't sure of it at all.
"He got over it five years ago, when you came back. He was pissy then, but he got over it."
I stayed quiet for a while, thinking that I was ignoring him again, but finally I realized that I was just scared to say anything. I knew what the response was going to be, and I didn't want to hear it aloud. But maybe it was time to face it, admit it, ask for a second opinion. It took a few more seconds, but eventually, I forced the whisper out of my throat. "No, he didn't."
"You two were happy just a few weeks ago."
"Happiness is such a fleeting, fruitless little spark." My philosophical tone almost outweighed the bitter one. Zero knew it. Happiness was so momentary, so short-lived. It came and went in brief, intense bursts, leaving a man with only memories of a better time. It was no wonder Zero didn't particularly understand the human pursuit of it.
"I don't understand why you're just letting this go, Heero. It's unlike you. I know you love him. I know you want him to stay with you. And I've never known you not to fight for what you want. I don't understand why you just sit there and watch him walk away. I don't understand why you aren't chasing after him and locking him in a supply closet to listen to what you have to say. You have so many things to say, Heero, but I see you never saying them. What's holding you back?"
"They wouldn't work."
"Pessimism doesn't get in the way of people like you and me."
No, low chances of probability rarely got in our way. I could calculate the odds in this situation even without Zero's help. The odds weren't in my favor on this one. "You know... I think I give up. I do." Damn, that hurt to say.
He was silent for a couple of seconds before venturing forth carefully. "On what?"
"No one wants to be 'that guy', right? One of 'those people'. And yet here I am. Waiting for a man to change. I'd have no respect for me, if I weren't me. I'd tell myself to stop waiting, that people don't change just because you want them to. That it's time to bow out, while I've still got some dignity on my side. No one wants to be that idiot that just keeps hanging on when it's clearly time to let go."
"It's only been a few days, Heero."
"It's been five years, Quatre. You know why it wouldn't work? Chasing after him and trying to reconcile this problem? Because this 'problem' is just a symptom. It's just one problem in a giant sea of problems, and I've been trying to help him get past those other problems for the last five years, and without much success, so I'm sorry if I seem 'pessimistic' to you, Quatre, but I'm fairly certain that telling him a hundred more times that Zero isn't out to eat my soul isn't going to change anything. The more I push him on it, the worse it gets. The more ways he can find to blame everything on Zero and ignore the real issues."
"I'm sorry, I don't know what these other issues are, Heero."
"In that conversation we just had, where we just said, what, two things to each other? He..." I had a moment of doubt, thinking maybe I just imagined these things. Maybe I read too much into such off-handed barbs. But the odds came into play again. So many barbs were no coincidence. There was a pattern here, too widespread to be ignored. With a sigh, I stared straight ahead and talked to the wall of printer toner. "You know, he's never been happy with my choice of careers. He thinks I'm wasting my potential in tech support when I should be out in the field, doing big, splashy things. He can't get that... that maybe that's just what I want to do. And now, I see him adding two and two, and coming up with three. Suddenly he thinks he's got it all figured out, that it's Zero, that there's this computer inside my head, and that must be why I decided to work with computers. There's this computer inside my head, and that's why I'm not going home at night. It's easier for him to believe that, than it is for him to think that maybe I just don't want to be there if he's not."
"He wouldn't be so angry if he didn't love you so much, Heero."
"That doesn't mean anything. Love doesn't conquer all, you know." We wouldn't be here if it did. All the same, I felt like I had failed him, that somehow, I just couldn't be what he wanted, needed. And no matter how stupid it was, it was still painful.
"Silly pilot. You're in the middle of all these supplies. You might as well take advantage of them." He reached out, popped the lid on a nearby tissue box, and held it out to me.
I stared at it, not quite knowing what it was for.
::You're leaking again.::
Ah. Dammit. I tugged a tissue out reluctantly and wiped at my cheeks, rubbed at my nose.
He set the box back down beside him. A bad sign, keeping it ready instead of putting it away. "Why is it easier for him to believe that?"
I sighed, and tried not to let it sound as heart-heavy as it was. "...He doesn't know me, Quatre. Not all of me. There are parts to me that he just... ignores, or denies, or... rewrites. Those five years I spent on my own are a big one. I just... I don't know why he thinks that I was just... undercover at a school for a few years or something. And suddenly Zero comes along and he's... I don't know. Vindicated or something. 'Hey, look, I was right, Heero's been faking it all these years.' I don't know why that makes him feel better. Don't tell me he loves me so much. I don't know what he loves, but it's not me. Maybe it's time I faced up to that."
"Maybe you need to talk to him, Heero."
"You can't just tell a guy that everything he believes is wrong, Quatre. How far do you really think I would get with that? Especially now? Especially now that he thinks he already knows that. He thinks that I've been the giant lie when really it's..." The enormity of everything got stuck in my throat and I couldn't finish the sentence. The tissue suddenly found itself useful again. It should have been so embarrassing, and yet in front of Quatre, it was not. Maybe because it was easy to blame it on him and his skill with deconstructing people using just a few words and a tissue box.
Maybe that was what got us here. The easy way out.
"I want the best for him, Quatre. I really do. This isn't just about Zero, or about me. I've seen shadows of this all over the place, and I've tried to help him get rid of them. It hasn't worked obviously, so... maybe it's time to cut my losses. Either he changes or he doesn't. Nothing I do is going to affect that, apparently, so there's no point in waiting around here, waiting for something that might never happen. That kind of person's pathetic, right? If I have any self-respect at all, I'll move on. If he figures himself out and we're both still interested, maybe then we could try something again. Maybe... maybe he can find someone else to help him. Maybe... I'm a part of the problem now. I don't want to be a part of his problems." I pitched my soggy tissue into a recycling bin and snagged a fresh one, finally conceding to the need to blow my nose. "Sometimes, I hate you, Quatre."
He smiled sadly. "You have so many things to say, Heero. You can't blame me if you pour them all out, once given the opportunity."
"I shouldn't... I probably shouldn't. Not to you. It's between him and me, right? You shouldn't have to be dragged into this mess."
"That didn't work on Wufei. It won't work on me."
"I just don't want anyone having to take sides because of this." Quatre had played the neutral third party rather well, though, saying practically nothing for or against. "I don't want everyone having to be tense because we're in the same room together. It's not right of us."
"Don't worry about things that are out of your control, Heero."
"I hate things that are out of my control."
"But they're within our control. They're controlled by people you trust. Trust us and our decisions, Heero."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST