"You were supposed to enjoy your weekend."
"The same way I was supposed to enjoy my vacation?" I asked dryly, remembering his last words to me in person before he had left the apartment. Either Quatre had a strange definition of 'enjoy', or he had a strange definition of 'vacation'. "Oh, by the way, I left your laptop at the suite. I'll have to stop by and pick it up for you."
"Don't worry about it. I already got it. The place is cleaned out already."
"You move fast." I shouldn't have expected any less.
"Oh, and I have some stuff that belongs to you." He unzipped the carry case by his side and pulled an item out. "I got your wallet back."
I'd wondered what happened to it, after being reminded of its absence after paying for the coffee the day before. I took the wallet with a murmur of thanks before remembering something that would be good of me to mention. "Oh, uh.... I borrowed some money from you, Duo. I hope you don't mind."
His attention hadn't wandered from our exchange, but the comment caught him off-guard and he blinked blankly at me. "Huh?"
"Just a few bucks," I explained. We shared money all the time, but that didn't mean I wanted him to worry when his accounts didn't balance up right at the end of the month. "They took my wallet, and obviously I wasn't going to access my accounts, so... I borrowed some money."
He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it and stayed silent instead. He thought of something else to say, but swallowed that as well. In the end, he just shook his head in amused resignation.
That wasn't quite good enough for me. "I get points for telling you, right?"
He just shook his head incredulously again.
My duty done, I inspected the contents of my wallet. The members of IAB were surely above the theft of petty cash, but who could say what they might decide to keep as 'evidence'. Luckily, I didn't tote anything really important around with me. That left me room in my pockets for my badge. I studied it, absently polishing a scuff mark on the edge with my thumb. Some people took great pride in their badges as a visible symbol of what they stood for. Personally, I thought it was mostly just a piece of metal one waved around for show. But it did mean something. It represented an institution. A job? Not a duty. I bore that duty without the badge to show for it. So did I still need it?
"Thinking about shovin' it back where the sun don't shine?"
I glanced up to meet Duo's grim smile, and couldn't resist an answering smile. Mostly because his thoughts had echoed mine. "It crossed my mind."
His eyes flicked to the badge and back again. "Not gonna do it, though, huh?"
The best response I had for that was a sigh. He was probably right. I didn't have to be here, but it was the best place to be.
I tucked the wallet and badge away into my jacket pocket. Joining the others in their labor, Duo started poking around the accumulation of files spread out over the table top. We still needed to root out the main malcontents in the nationalist movement. And I was working my way up to that point. It still felt too strange to be back in the office. Which was why I was here today, a Sunday, when there weren't very many people around. Hopefully that would ease me back into the swing of things.
"Why don't you?" Duo asked suddenly, putting down a file. After a moment, he looked a little awkward and picked the file back up again, intending perhaps to use it as cover of some sort. "I mean... it can't be, like... tactically advantageous for you to hang out where your bosses are gonna screw you."
Another one of those questions I wish he didn't have to ask, but it was still much better that he ask it than not. The sooner we got it all out, the better. I let the irritation sweep through me and waited for the amusement to kick in. "It's not really tactically advantageous for me to hang out with you and let you screw me, either," I answered mildly.
A flash of anger passed over his face at the supposed accusation before he realized I had been using 'screw' in a way he hadn't been. Then his expression turned into a strange hodgepodge of humor, embarrassment, and enlightenment. "Oh. Uh, well, ahem, when you put it that way..." It wasn't long before all those things were lost and replaced by horror. "Eww! It's been watching this whole time, hasn't it?!"
"Ugh! That's...!" He shuddered dramatically. "Okay, it's gonna take me a while to get over that one."
"...Excuse me?" 'It' had to be Zero again. 'Watching'?
Duo turned to him and pointed a threatening finger at him. "Shut up! You're not the one it's been... watching."
Now seemed a good time to ask a question. "Watching?"
Quatre answered through his smirk when it became apparent that Duo wasn't going to be able to say the words. "Duo's just realized that you've had a voyeur in the bedroom all this time. Or wherever else you may have been screwing around."
It didn't click immediately. When it did, I thought surely I had to be wrong. "A voyeur?" I repeated. Once it became apparent that I had heard correctly, I laughed. I tried to stifle it when Duo glared viciously at me, but it only magnified the humor until I had to put my head down on the table in front of me, cushioned by my arms, and hide until I could get my shoulders to stop shaking.
"It's not funny," Duo hissed at Quatre. "Those were... those were personal moments."
The humor faded as I realized that it was going to be a while before Duo would be interested in engaging in any personal moments again. I certainly hadn't expected any of those moments to be popping up any time soon, nor did I really want them to, but I hadn't considered voyeurism as a possible cause for it.
::That is because it is unreasonable.::
::No, I can kind of see where he's coming from on this one. Wouldn't you feel at least a little violated if you found that someone had gained access to your private data without your permission?::
::I cannot feel violated.::
::You know what I mean.:: However he wanted to phrase it, it wasn't good finding out that someone had the details to things you had never intended for them to have. I sat up again and regarded Duo seriously. "Duo."
He turned away from sniping at the others and came back to me looking quite disgruntled. "What?"
"...Zero isn't a voyeur. If we had a pet, would you consider it a voyeur if it watched us?"
"Will you stop thinking of it as your goddamn pet, Yuy?"
I bit my tongue on my immediate response and waited until I could answer levelly. "Will you stop thinking of it as a criminal miscreant? Maybe they've been personal moments, but..." I trailed off, noticing the others not pretending this time that they weren't listening in on this. I shook my head, stood, and took Duo's hand to pull him out of his chair and out of the office.
"Boo!" Quatre taunted us as we left. I threw him a withering look and shut the door firmly behind us.
It looked like Duo wanted to stay standing, so I perched on the arm of one of the chairs to put myself in a less confrontational stance. "Duo..."
"Personal moments," he repeated emphatically, pacing back and forth a little. "Personal. As in, just between the two of us. And..." He halted and stared uneasily at me. "God, it's a personal moment right now and he's watching."
"Don't look at me like you think you can see Zero looking back at you," I snapped. "When did Zero become more important than I am?"
He looked torn. "He's not, but that doesn't mean--"
"No," I cut him off. "I worked hard to get where I am today. I worked hard to figure out who am I and get comfortable with that, and I will not let you or Zero take that away from me."
His first instinct seemed to be an embrace, but he flinched back from it and folded his arms around himself instead. After a tense moment, he rubbed at his face. "Dammit..."
I stopped watching him and stared at a point on the wall next to him. Such interesting things always came out when we talked to each other. It was interesting, though ultimately pointless, to wonder if I would have had such an 'easy' time melding with Zero if I hadn't already worked out a lot of the kinks in my psyche. I'd been 'ready' for Zero. It couldn't have happened at a better time, in a way. I'd already considered myself to be in a transitional period. The addition of Zero had just been one more thing to deal with as I moved from one mindset to the next.
I didn't know if it would be possible to get Duo to understand that. They were things I was only just coming to realize for myself. I'd never really thought about them before. "Duo... It's not like Zero's ever going to share what he sees with anyone else."
He tucked his hands back under his armpits and considered my opening gambit doubtfully, leaning against the wall and keeping a distance between us. "That's nice, but that's not really my point."
"I just wanted to get the easy stuff out of the way first. The hard stuff... I don't know what to tell you. Yes, he's... 'watching'... but not with any prurient interest. He's certainly not criticizing your performance or anything, either. He's just... there."
"Like a pet dog or something," Duo said, obviously echoing my sentiment from earlier and not believing it.
"Only a dog doesn't understand what's going on around it."
"Doesn't it? A dog can understand kindness, affection, mating. It doesn't assign the same values to those things that we do, perhaps, but it understands. Humans are animals, too."
"Which would make this entire discussion less relevant, it seems to me."
"It's creepy, Heero," he answered flatly. "It'd be just as creepy if there were a video camera following us around all the time or something. It's... It's never gonna be just you and me, Heero. There's nowhere in the world we could go to get away from that. What could we do, EMF the whole apartment? You wouldn't even be able to see straight."
I took what comfort I could from the confirmation that he still wanted us to be together. There were benefits and drawbacks to the way he often made a decision about how things should end, and then worked backwards to try to make it happen. "But it might as well be just us, Duo. There might be no getting rid of Zero in my head, but that also means he's not going anywhere. The only part of him that comes out is what I let come out. You don't want to know that Zero's there? Fine. Just stop thinking about it, and I'll never let on, same as it's been for the last five years."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "Don't remind me of that 'little thing' you just forgot to mention to me all these years, Heero. Not gonna help."
He was right. My omission, no matter that it wasn't deliberate, had nothing to do with this discussion. "Fine. You don't think it's just us? You're right. It's never been just us. There's been you, me, Zero. Our pasts. Our issues. Our baggage. Our friends. All of that's been there, too."
"I don't care about all of that. All I care about is when it's just you and me and... and... there isn't all of that crap to get in the way. 'Cuz sweet Jesus, is there a lot of crap. A hell of a lot more than I suspected. So can't you, I don't know, just turn it off or something? Turn it on when you need to, if you have to?"
If only things were that simple. Zero was far too integrated to just shut off. And even if I did manage to turn him off for the duration, he'd just review the data after the fact.
::Lie to him.::
::Give him what he wants.::
::He wouldn't believe me, anyway.:: He didn't even believe the truth. He didn't believe good things right off the bat, not before poking and prodding at it carefully and thoroughly. There had to be another way, something tangible in some sense that could convince him that Zero wouldn't -- couldn't -- come between us. I took refuge in the numbers.
::Must you?:: Zero sighed, a whiff of resignation staining his tone.
::See what I mean about giving someone access to private information? You don't like it anymore than he does.:: And I normally didn't like it either. But Duo fit inside my personal bubble. I would tell him things I would tell no other. "Sixty-five, seventy? That's the ratio when I'm being my usual annoying, reasonable self. The number goes down when I'm being less than reasonable. And if there's one more reason you drive Zero nuts, Duo, it's that you make me less than reasonable. Zero may be a strong presence when I'm up at seventy-five, but when I'm just an idiot in love, Zero's the last thing on my mind. You know what I'm talking about, right? The more emotional, the less focused, the lower the sync."
His expression darkened a little from remembering his own experience with the system, but I knew it could prove my point. "The lower the sync, the worse the visions, Heero."
"Bad hallucinations aren't productive for either of us. Zero would rather lower the interaction than generate faulty results. It's not like I need him to tell me how to love you, anyway. When I'm with you, Duo, my focus is on you, and nothing else."
Zero sent a zing of a smirk in my direction. I told him to stay out of it in return. I wasn't lying. I just wasn't bringing my argument to the logical conclusion. I was usually quite focused when I was being 'personal' with Duo. The two of them were in no way mutually exclusive. My sync could be perfectly fine when we were together. We were just fortunate that Zero would rather run self-diagnostics and keep a watchful eye on our surroundings than be subjected to the madness that was the human mating ritual.
Duo studied me with care, evaluating my sincerity. I waited patiently, confident that he would see my side, until I was finally rewarded with an answer. "So. Strong emotion drives Zero away?"
"And you assure me that Zero knows when to find somewhere else to be?"
I nodded encouragingly. "Yes. It's like they used to say in school, about how, if you have a girl over, you should hang a tie or something on the doorknob so your roommate knows not to go in. It's the same thing, in a sense. Sure, your roommate knows you're having sex. Or a romantic dinner or something. Maybe he even hears the thumping of the bed against the wall. But that's not nearly the same as him actually being there in the room with you."
He raised an eyebrow at me, but didn't comment. I was pretty sure he'd heard of the tradition before. "So... what you're saying is... The more mind-blowing sex I have with you, the more of you I'll have, yeah?"
::He's just kidding,:: I soothed my somewhat alarmed roommate. At least, I was pretty sure he was, judging from his hesitant smile. I smiled back, but corrected him all the same. "You've always had all of me, Duo. So you'll probably just get less of him."
He considered that, and unglued himself from the wall. "You think that, if I'd stuck with the school thing a little longer, I'd be more ready to accept the fact that my boyfriend has an annoying roommate that I can't stand?"
"I hope not. I never had a roommate in school, annoying or not, and I hope you weren't talking about someone else."
He stepped forward enough to standing an armslength away from me. "You're really stuck on me, huh?"
One of his hands twitched toward me, but it fell back to his side before it got anywhere. "What's your sync right now?"
I reached out and took his hand instead. "Don't think about him."
He sighed. "This would be a lot easier if it weren't a 'him', you know."
"Don't bother. I know it's just a matter of vocabulary to you. Doesn't change the fact that it's sentient enough to have a personality to you. I still find it creepy."
I knew it wouldn't help things in the slightest to tell him that I wished he could know Zero as I did. "This is about you and me, Duo. Just you and me."
He looked like he wanted to be convinced, but just couldn't help himself. "You can't turn him off."
I took his other hand and brought the two together in front of us. "I know you think you're hot, Duo," I told him solemnly. "But Zero has absolutely no interest in watching us have sex."
He stared at me blankly before laughing, eventually closing the distance between us and leaning against me. "God, Heero, I must be crazy."
"Oh?" With our hands now at his sides, I found myself rubbing my thumbs across his palms.
"I don't know... I don't know why I... how I... I can look at you, and wonder about the stuff that I fell in love in. About how much of that was you, and how much was..." He couldn't force himself to finish the sentence.
I didn't really want to hear it, anyway. "Duo... did you fall in love with me because I can calculate a square root without a calculator?"
He muffled a chuckle against my shoulder. "As sexy as that is... no." He went still. "...Oh. Crap. I just called it 'sexy', didn't I?"
"You were joking," I soothed.
"It's still creepy." He shuddered, then pulled away from me. My heart was just about to lodge itself in the vicinity of my stomach when he lifted our hands again, tightening his grip. He looked at me briefly, but after struggling with the contact, he dropped his eyes to focus on our hands. It didn't help. The words kept clogging in his throat.
"What is it, Duo?" I asked, trying to sound gentle and understanding while I was really just hoping he wasn't about to reveal some irreconcilable difference.
He tried a few more times to say it. Finally, he moved our hands and leaned against me again. "I... God, I don't even know how to say it."
Not very promising. I closed my eyes, concentrated on being calm, and when I was ready, I came back to the conversation. "Say what, Duo?"
"You... You said..." He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Zero stays out of our business, right?"
"That's right." I didn't know how many more ways I could say it.
"But our business is... everything. Not just sex, but... everything. And... and it's always there, watching or not, and... and it's this tactical machine, and... and it finds and exploits weaknesses, and it... it uses the best weapon for the job. And... and..."
I tried hard to understand what he was saying, but it eluded me. That frustrated me. I knew that I didn't have to understand everything, that even the most human of humans didn't have perfect empathy with others, but it still frustrated me. Especially since this was Duo. I felt like I fell short for him. "What is it, Duo? What's wrong?"
It took another long tense silence before he could start again. His voice fell to a rasping whisper. "Do you... What if you... God, I know you wouldn't. You wouldn't. I know it."
"I wouldn't what?" I asked, probably as desperate to hear his answer now as he seemed desperate to say it.
His voice dropped another notch. "You wouldn't... use it. Against me."
I would have been more horrified, if Zero hadn't offered his suggestions in those sorts of situations before. As it was, I was just scared. Scared that he wouldn't believe me. Scared that one day, I could give in to the temptation. Or worse, that I wouldn't even notice it if I did. I tried to release his hands so I could wrap my arms around him, but he held on tightly, so I squeezed back, as hard as I could without hurting him. "I wouldn't, Duo," I breathed, trying to make it a promise I believed in so deeply that it would make it into every last one of Zero's subroutines. "I wouldn't ever use it against you. I wouldn't."
"What if... what if you didn't know?" he asked in a very small voice, as if he didn't want Zero to hear. "It... it does that..."
"Then it'd be--" I started fiercely, but cut myself off quickly after I realized that my phrasing had been vague and misleading. The last thing I wanted was for another misunderstanding to happen. "Zero and I have ground rules. We respect those ground rules, or else it's over. No more playing nice with each other. One of my rules is that, if Zero has something to say to me, he says it to me. No sneaking in thoughts and pretending they're mine."
"And... you trust it?"
"Our partnership would be meaningless if we both thought the same way, had the same limitations. I trust it. Besides," I added, attempting to inject a mote of levity. "How often have I gotten my way with you?"
He choked off a small laugh. "That's true." The grip on my hands loosened a little. "If you could do that, we wouldn't be standing here right now." His cooldown lasted only a moment before the tension overtook it again. "No, if it were in control, it'd probably try to get rid of me, wouldn't it? It doesn't like me."
"Ground rule number two, Maxwell," I murmured into his ear. "I like you, and that's all that matters."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST