It was another couple of minutes before he spoke again. "How much longer are you going to pretend you're sleeping?"
"How much longer are you going to let me?" His hand stopped and withdrew self-consciously, which I took to mean, not any longer. ::Time?::
My sleep cycle had finally righted itself, at least. I sighed, opened my eyes, and sat up. Duo had slept a healthy distance away from me, but we were in the same bed, so I wasn't going to complain. "What news?"
"Well... the public now knows that their friendly neighborhood Preventer forces have saved them from an evil terrorist bomb plot. So the media's having a lot of fun with that. So's the government spin machine. And they're still processing the guys you rounded up from ZenNet."
"How many of them are there?"
"Nineteen. Five dead. One hanging on in the hospital."
"One, bullet to the chest. Wasn't me. One, bullet to the neck?" He nodded. "Who were the others?"
"Wasn't you. Two were killed by the Preventer forces as they cleared out the building. One blew his own head off."
He paused in the telling of his story to look at me curiously, but after a few seconds he glanced away guiltily.
"What?" I asked, staying carefully patient.
"You know, just..." He shrugged, not quite nonchalant. "It's good with the whole not-killing thing?"
By 'it', I assumed he meant Zero. By 'good', I couldn't figure out with certainty if he meant 'okay with' or 'good at', but it didn't really matter. "Yes."
"Oh." He chewed on his lower lip for a bit before sweeping on. "Um, so, yeah, the guys. Wasn't all of them. Guy that killed himself was one of the higher-ups, it seems, but word is that there's the whole rest of the network still out there. Don't seem to have any other plans soon, though, not that we could tell."
"But they still need to be found. Being stopped once won't stop them for good. Any leads?"
"Some. Quatre didn't elaborate. Said you still shouldn't come in today. It's Saturday. Not much for you to do, anyway. You'd probably just end up sitting in the corner or something."
I sighed. "It'd be nice to get out of here, though."
"Yeah, I know."
I drew a meaningless pattern on the blankets with my finger. "I can take care of myself now, thank you. If you want to go in..."
There was an awkward pause before he shook his head. "Nah, Quatre made a point of telling me to stay home, so... I better do as Blondie says. No one wants to get Daddy mad."
I snorted. "So if he's Daddy, and Une's Mommy..."
"Eww." He shuddered dramatically.
I laughed. "Your words, not mine."
He whapped me on the arm, but let it drop. "He said he got Trix squared away. I think he's working to get your file spun into undercover work or something. Like you got 'tossed out' by the Preventers, which would have made you disgruntled enough to join up with the bad guys, earn their trust, and unearth their plots."
"That's funny. I don't remember ever using my name to win my way into their organization."
"I'm sure Blondie'll brief you on the official story later. In any case, our brilliant strategy worked since you found out about that hacking thing, which saved the networks of countless government organizations, plus led you to their hideout, which led to the arrest of dozens of wicked terrorists."
Not a bad story. "'Countless' because we'll never know whether or not they would have been hit."
"Just go with it, man. If we can't prove anything, neither can they. Anyway, point being, your little buddy never teamed up with a rogue agent. She just got pulled in as part of your undercover operation."
I shook my head in appreciation. "Quatre's smooth."
"He's not Daddy for nothing, you know."
With the end of the report, I got out of bed, feeling better than I had yesterday. Breakfast sounded like an excellent idea, since my appetite was back. I had to be glad that Zero had done some work on stabilizing my physical systems, or else Sally would have had my head for mistreating myself the way I had the last couple of weeks.
We didn't talk much, Duo and I, just sort of avoided each other a little and got used to being in each other's company again, trying not to break our ceasefire. It wasn't until early afternoon that I noticed my Preventers jacket was hanging over the back of the chair in the living room.
Duo slowed as he walked through the room, watching me straighten it out when it didn't really need adjusting. I looked up and met his eyes. "You brought it home."
"Well, yeah," he answered, avoiding eye contact again. "It got kind of depressing, seeing it at the office, hanging off an empty chair."
And was having it at home any better? Or had he just not been home long enough during that time for it to get to him? "I'm sorry," I told him, fingering the bump in the collar. It was lucky the Preventers made jackets built to last, otherwise I'd have had a hole in the collar, with all the rubbing it endured. It had been a promise over the years. A promise I'd broken. "I wasn't wearing it when they took me away."
"Now what the hell kind of thing is that to apologize for, Yuy?" He leaned against the back of the sofa, indicating a willingness to stay and chat.
"You couldn't find me. Though maybe you didn't want to."
"Of course we wanted to, Heero." He took a few steps closer to me, but didn't remove himself from cover. "I'm sorry we didn't, but we tried. We wanted to."
I surrendered to a moment of weakness. "Just tell me you wanted to."
"I..." He faltered a little, then found the words he wanted and recovered. "I was... kind of pissy. That I couldn't find you. Though I guess it was hard to tell, given how pissy I was in general. Just more fuel to the fire, I guess. And yeah, I know it was one of those, can't have it both ways, kinds of situations. You know, not being around you, but wanting you around. Which, okay, I'll admit it, kinda pissed me off a little bit more. 'Cuz come on, there's a huge difference between not being around and totally disappearing. And when Quatre asked around, they said you were on 'administrative' leave and strongly implied that you must have taken off somewhere, and hell yeah, that pissed me off, 'cuz... because you said you wouldn't do that anymore, and..."
"I know. I'm sorry."
He wilted a little, tried for a weak smile. "Forget it, Heero. Not like you ran off, really."
"But I did disappear. I'm sorry for that."
A breath was drawn to answer, but was then released, unused. He ran a hand through his bangs instead and just looked conflicted.
"Did I... just make things worse again?" I ventured.
He turned to me with a disturbed expression. "Earlier. Like, a couple weeks ago. Before all this crap. You said... You said something about 'all of you'. And I thought you meant this whole Zero thing, but you said I was wrong, so... what else is there about you that I don't know?"
That wasn't what I had been expecting. Apparently he'd been doing some thinking. I stepped away from the chair to lean back on the desk, leaving him the space between us if he needed it. I crossed my arms comfortably over my chest, thought maybe I looked confrontational, and fidgeted them around until my hands ended up resting on the tabletop behind me. It crossed my mind briefly to duck around the question and save it for a time of greater stability, but I recognized that for the stalling tactic it was. Duo was finally interested in hearing the answer. I couldn't chicken out now. "I wouldn't really say it's something you don't 'know'... so much as 'haven't figured out yet'."
He snorted. "I could say that I just 'never figured out' you had a... Zero in you."
"That wasn't your fault, Duo. You had nothing to-- You know, that's a different conversation, which has nothing to do with this one." He conceded with a tilt of the head and gestured at me to carry on. I marshaled my thoughts, and did. "Do you remember five years ago? Shit, let me rephrase," I corrected myself hastily, seeing him blanch. He glared at me. I tried to look contrite. "That is to say... remember when I first came back after being gone for five years? You weren't really happy with me then."
His wariness faded gradually, to be replaced with remembrance, if not fond nostalgia. "Yeah, I remember. Do I at least get points for consistency?"
"I hope not. I don't want you getting upset with me every five years."
"Stop doing shit that upsets me, then." He paused, then backed off. "Okay. Unfair, maybe. Either way, let's have it, then. Let's just get all this upsetting stuff out now so it doesn't have to happen again."
He always was a bit bullish when it came to things like this. "Okay. You weren't happy with me for... a few reasons. And some of it was just you not being happy with yourself. I don't think all that stuff has gone away yet. In fact, I think most of it's still there."
I didn't get the immediate denial that I expected, but I did get an unsurprising sidestep of the point. "So what does that have to do with you not being who I think you are?"
That somehow got twisted around to being my fault. Whatever. I'd forgive him a little bit of peevishness. "One of those things that upset you was who I was, compared to who you thought I was. You had an image of me, and I didn't match up to it. Are we having any déjà vu moments here yet?"
Apparently, he could forgive me a bit of snippiness, too. "Wait, what are you trying to say here? That..."
"And we've managed to 'pretend' some sort of happiness over the last few years. How? I hate to break it to you, but you've sort of been pretending that the parts of me that don't fit into your little Heero-mold don't really exist."
"Hey, wait a minute--"
Too bad. I was on a roll. "What were we talking about that night? How Trix doesn't like you, was it? And then there was something about the two of you not knowing the same person, and I don't know why, Duo, but there seems to be this partition or something between the person you know and... and... the rest of me," I finished, not even knowing how to define two separate parts of me when they were all the same.
"Why would I do that?" Duo demanded, back on the offensive now that I had finished my part. "How could I do that? Just ignore bits and pieces of you? It's not like I've 'forgotten' you went off to school or something."
"But it's not real to you. You thought you were joking, but you said you knew the 'real' me, compared to the me that Trix knows. That's why I went off like that, that night. You don't like Trix, yes, but that's one thing, compared to the other thing, which is that you don't really consider her to be a 'real' friend of mine. I know she's nothing compared to the five of us, but that doesn't mean she's not still a friend. I wasn't just using her for cover while I was there or something. Those five years weren't just some sham, something I played at while I got my head together. Those five years are a part of my life, Duo, and I'm sorry if it pisses you off that I got my head together during those five years and you didn't!"
Oh. Wow. I'd sort of thought that, but never in such strong terms before. No, that wasn't true. This wasn't anything new. We both knew that it was one of those things that had upset him when I'd come back, that I had succeeded at picking up a reasonably normal life, whereas he had not. All signs had pointed to it being the other way around. But we worked through it. Or so I'd thought. I shared what I had learned with him about life, and we put together a reasonably normal life for him. I'd thought. And any reason for resentment should have faded with that.
And maybe it did. Maybe it wasn't those five years that were getting to him now, but these last five years. The last five years where he'd still managed not to make peace with himself, despite being in a much better environment. And just like last time, he'd managed to convince himself that he'd been doing okay, but there was just one thing that happened, that forced him to confront it, and suddenly all of his notions started falling apart on him and nothing was okay anymore.
I saw him realizing the same thing that I was. I'd said something of the sort last night, but I guess it'd gotten lost beneath everything else. He stared at me for a good long time, looking a little shell-shocked, before he ran a shaky hand through his bangs. "Um, yeah, having a déjà vu moment here, thanks."
Screw it all, I thought, and pushed myself off the desk. I planted myself in front of him and I hugged him.
He stood blankly for a moment before his arms crept up my sides, and soon enough he was squeezing me back tightly. I stroked his hair, rubbed his back, did all of those nonsensical, instinctual little things that were supposed to soothe him. At length, he sighed explosively over my shoulder. "Fucking hell, Yuy. Five years. Don't tell me it's been five fucking years and nothing has changed."
"Plenty has changed, Duo. Plenty. Just... maybe say you aren't quite where you wanted to be yet?"
He chuckled weakly. "That's not much better, Heero. No wonder you're about ready to give up on me."
I gave him a little shake. "You know I hate giving up, Duo."
"I didn't really process what you said last night. About using you as some sort of measuring stick."
"Don't worry. I didn't really know what I was talking about." It wouldn't have come as such a surprise to me now if I had.
"But you were right," he said, a tiny laugh hitching a ride on his words. It was more of a hiccup than anything else. "God help me, it pisses me off when you're right all the time, too."
"Aw, hell, Heero. Why do I have to be so fucked up?"
"You aren't. You're... just a late bloomer."
He laughed again, a little better this time. "You're just a regular ol' spin doctor, aren't you? You could give Quatre a run for his money."
"Quatre's got a lot of money," I answered gravely.
His shoulders shook, though I didn't hear any real sound of amusement coming out of him. It ended with a loud sigh. "Goddammit. So I'm still not happy with what I've got. Hell if I know why I'm not. You got any bright ideas?"
"Sorry." I had some dim ones, but I wouldn't bring them up without a scrap of confirmation.
"I mean, I've got a job I like, a place to call home. Good friends. An idiot that I love, who loves me back. What the hell is wrong with me?"
"Don't think like that, Duo."
"And what the hell does Zero have to do with it?"
I pulled back a little to look him in the eye. "You think that's related?"
He broke the eye contact to look heavenward for patience. "I think I'd rather have one stinkin' huge problem instead of a dozen little ones. I can deal with just one problem."
When he wanted it all at once, he really wanted it all at once. I slid my hand up to cup the back of his head. "We'll figure it out."
He made a dubious sound. "If you say so."
"You want to, don't you?"
It took him more time than was comfortable for him to answer that. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Then we will. Because we're two stubborn sons of bitches, and we do what we set out to do."
He blinked at me, then tugged me closer and set his chin on my shoulder. I thought it would be harmless for me to believe he was hiding a helpless grin. After a while, he sighed again, though. "God help me, but I envy you your confidence, Heero. Another thing I can't be proud of."
"Some people might call it 'obstinance'. I won't mention names, though."
A moment of levity passed through him, but left him quickly enough. "Why have you stuck with me, Heero? I know you hate giving up, but..."
"Don't you dare think that's the only reason I'm here, Maxwell."
"Can it-- What does Zero think about that?"
I was pretty sure I knew what he'd been about to ask. I gave him a point for rephrasing it to give me the benefit of the doubt. When would there be no doubt? When would he believe me, without reservation, when I said that Zero didn't run this show? Of course Zero couldn't really 'love'. But what did that matter? I certainly could. "You know..."
::Don't do it.::
::What, scared?:: I smirked. The objection seemed to be on general principle. He didn't like to give an advantage to anyone, no matter how small. He'd just gotten lucky with his advice, last time. "Zero doesn't like you, either."
There was a significant pause before Duo pulled back to level a look of disbelief at me. "Excuse me?"
"And he didn't want me to tell you that, too. He can never figure you out, you see. Not that I'm great at it, either. But you... don't fit very well at all into his calculations. Drives him nuts. That's why... that's why you had such a bad experience with him, you know? Two completely different, uncomplementary wavelengths. Nothing but noise. So trust me. If I'm here, sticking with you like an idiot, it's got nothing to do with him."
A tenuous smile spread slowly across his face, but then it collided with a furrow on his brow. "Wait a minute. Zero doesn't like me? So does that mean you've got some heckler in the back of your head, badmouthing me all the time? Right in front of me, no less?"
I gave his braid a tug. "Zero's got better things to do." Most of the time. But then a ridiculous image struck me and I broke out in a laugh.
Duo blinked warily at me. "What?"
I shook my head, ready to brush it off, but then I figured, what the heck? Maybe it would go a long way toward smoothing things between the two of us. "Just... think of Zero as an annoying mother-in-law, and you'll have it just about right."
The chortle burst out of him before he could stop it. "Excuse me?"
"He doesn't approve of you. He doesn't think you're good enough for me. He nags me about you. Occasionally. How does the analogy not fit? The two of you don't get along. That's okay. There are people all over the world that don't get along with their in-laws, but they deal with it, right? I know you think Zero's the controlling type, but trust me, if I listened to everything he told me, I'd never have gotten into this relationship at all."
He stared at me some more before shaking his head. "You sure, Yuy? I always did think you'd make a good momma's boy."
"I have a history of rebellion. Especially when it comes to the bad boy on the block. You're the kind of boy he always warns me about, you know. A bad influence and all that."
He looked like he couldn't believe he was having this conversation, but he was still with me, so maybe the image would stick, and he'd find something he could live with. I'd be happiest of all if they could actually learn to get along instead of just tolerating each other as a necessary evil, but I'd take what I could get.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST