I spent the trip home mulling over what I had finally gotten out of Relena after her intense questioning, information about the current political situation. The big picture coalesced slowly in my mind, hints and guesses and calculations coming together to give me a direction. I heard voices coming from the inside of the apartment before I opened the door. By habit, I stopped to identify them before entering. Duo and Wufei.
I'd gone to Relena's for dinner. Duo had responded vaguely about how he planned to spend his evening. I wondered if he'd intended to give Wufei a call, or if being left alone with his thoughts had driven him to it. Either way, I unlocked the door and went in.
Duo sat in the corner of the sofa, pillow caught loosely in the circle of his arms. Wufei was seated in the armchair, nursing a cup of tea. The silence as I entered was not particularly awkward. "Hey," I greeted them, a nod for Wufei, an almost hesitant smile for Duo.
"Hey," Duo answered back. The one word was comfortable, but not upbeat. "How'd it go?"
"Makes me glad I don't have a girlfriend."
He muffled a dry snort. "Yeah, she was pretty worried about you."
IAB had contacted her during my absence, asking that she inform them immediately if I contacted her, but they hadn't given her much in the way of details. The others told her what they could, but they'd had little time for reassurances as they continued their investigation. Relena had taken the wait patiently enough, but once I was in her clutches, she demanded the comfort she'd been denied. Women were definitely different creatures from men. The menfolk knew how to keep their worries in check... which stirred in me a moment of doubt, that they simply hadn't been worried at all. With a shake of my head, I chased the errant wisp of insecurity away, along with its companion, the faintest scent of betrayal. "I think she should be set for a while now."
Wufei stood. "I should probably be going now."
"A moment, if you would," I said, forestalling him with an upraised hand as I pulled off my shoes and took a seat on the sofa. We'd long since gotten rid of the tiny one I'd had in college. "What do you think about the colonies?"
He took his seat again slowly. "The colonies?"
"I think the next attack will come from the colonies."
It took him only a second to switch mental gears to work. "Why?"
"We've spent the last few days following up on all of the men from ZenNet. All of them have been from one of the Earth nations. And yet the colonies also support the nationalist movement."
"Yeah," Duo inserted, flexing his hands around his pillow. "But they've never really been one hundred percent on board with it, have they? As in, they sympathize with the cause, but it's not like it's really personal with them. Right?"
I nodded. "Yes. I was discussing this a little with Relena. They support the nationalist cause because the net result will be a decrease in government presence on the colonies. For them, it's never been about a 'national' culture. They don't like the new global system because of the demands and restrictions it imposes upon them. But they do like the term 'nationalist'. It sounds less objectionable than something like 'separatist'."
"Ugh." Duo flopped his head against the back of the sofa cushions in disgust. "That. I hate that party line of theirs. Yeah, they've worked soooo hard to finally rid themselves of the Federation's yoke and all they get in the end is another Earth-based government. Yeah, as if those bastards ever lifted a damn finger in that war."
Absently, I reached out and patted him soothingly on his thigh. "The more self-righteous they are, the more likely it is that they're going to do something."
Wufei hummed thoughtfully. "So you think they're going to make the next move, then?"
"I think they've already made their move. Comm lines to the colonies have been spotty lately. Anti-government media report it as another sign that ESUN is incapable of maintaining its infrastructure, but the timing seems suspect to me. I've been wanting to do more research into the MinFa attack, this time from a colonial angle, but it's been difficult to investigate very far with the data transfer being so unreliable."
"Why a colonial angle?"
"We questioned those men from ZenNet. Two of them seemed completely baffled about what we were talking about when we mentioned the simultaneous hack. Some of them seemed to be aware of it, but weren't familiar with the details. They sound like they were two separate operations. Coordinated, yes, but separate."
"Why the colonies? Why not another branch of the nationalist movement? Relena was e-mailed that warning from a techie member of their group."
I made a wry noise. "Tech geeks are everywhere, Wufei. I was thinking about ZenNet, too. About the man they had on the inside, who had the routers patched to let the attacks through. It seemed unnecessary to me. There are plenty of ways to get around the security measures in place for that situation that don't involve having an inside contact. I would have thought it to be a good part of the MinFa challenge. Unless you need to overcome the latency that comes in from the StC chain. You can do it, but it's a much harder hack to pull off from space."
Duo toyed absently with a corner of his pillow while he thought it over. "Hm, seems kind of, I dunno, unnecessary, don't you think? Bringing in a bunch of people, and then voluntarily dealing with the lag."
"But it fits their MO. The hacking part, I mean. Colonists don't set bombs, because what kind of idiot sets a bomb on a colony? There have been protests before, even violence, but when it comes to large-scale trashing of government or military property, colonists have usually resorted to higher forms of terrorism, like sabotage, theft, hacking. The nationalists on Earth were more traditional. They stuck with the tried-and-true bombing approach. It doesn't seem to fit in that they would mount a hacking attempt as well."
"Hate to break it to you, Heero, but as colony tactics go, I'd have to classify us more as 'bombs' than 'hackery'."
"We were sent to do work on Earth. And after that, in space. When we entered the colonies, it was without our Gundams."
"What would they gain from an attack here? Just a show of support for their little Earth buddies? Or were you thinking an exploratory, recon sort of thing?"
"Possibly even a distraction." I shrugged. "I don't know for sure. I just think it's a good next direction."
"So they want to be rid of the United Sphere government," Wufei mused. "'United' or not, the bulk of the ESUN government is Earth-based. The nations here would have greater pull with the Senate. The colonists may well have been content to sit back and let the nationalists do all the hard work."
"But now that they've failed," I finished. "They may be interested in taking matters into their own hands. Relena mentioned that some of the colony representatives are already starting to distance themselves from the nationalist movement. They don't seem interested in supporting that cause any more, but I doubt it's because they've decided they're happy with the way things are, all of a sudden."
We spent a few minutes more discussing the possibilities before we decided the rest could wait for the morning, when all five of us had convened.
"Let me walk you out," I offered Wufei as he got ready to leave.
I turned to get my keys, fairly certain that behind me, he and Duo were exchanging a look. When I turned back, Wufei gestured me toward the door.
"Be right back," I murmured unnecessarily to Duo. It served as proxy to kissing his cheek.
We went down the stairs in companionable, if expectant, silence. Once we had regained level ground on the way to the visitor parking, I spoke. "I can't tell you what a relief it is, knowing that Duo has someone he can turn to for wise counsel when he needs it." I tried to toss that out there casually, but I probably failed.
A meditative pause passed before he answered. "Wise counsel? Can any of us truly be wise in the ways of the heart?"
I felt he was being deliberately evasive, so I bulled forward. "I truly think that, had he not been able to turn to you, I might have lost him rather quickly."
"You might have lost him, all the same. My 'wise counsel' was not given so that he would stay with you."
"I know. Had he chosen against me... I would have grieved. But I would still be glad that he had someone to help him make that decision. That's what makes your words so wise. That you would not counsel him in one direction or another, according to your own biases, but that you would help him to understand what direction he wants to choose. ...I fear we may yet require your aid in the coming times."
"You have more bad news for him?"
"No. But we're far from done with this last batch. There's still much to be said." I sighed. "It would be nice to have reached this point some other way, but I'm still glad, in a way, that all this has happened. It'll give us a chance to really work things out, I hope."
He looked thoughtful, considering his words carefully before he spoke. "How much of that work is yours, do you think?"
I swished the question around in my head, pondering its significance. There seemed to be a specific reference to quantity that eluded my comprehension. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."
We came to a stop next to his car. He fingered his keys slowly, playing more than fidgeting with them. "Maxwell has identified the areas on which he needs to work. Have you done the same?"
I still wasn't sure what he was talking about. Logically, I knew that I was far from perfect, but no examples relating to the present discussion came to mind. As Wufei's silence grew more expectant, I tried harder, and eventually came up with something. "I've discovered a few lingering insecurities in my head that I may have to deal with."
My lengthy pause did not go unnoticed, but he was kind enough to remark upon it only obliquely. "It would no doubt be easier for the both of you if you were on equal footing."
I'd thought so for a long time now, but not as it related to this. And all the thinking in the world hadn't made it so. Yes, I would have to be careful to make sure I did not imply that Duo bore the sole duty of introspection and change. Would it be only an implication? Wasn't it one of the matters at the heart of our discontent that I had done so much of my introspection already, and he had not? "I... don't know what I can do for him," I admitted reluctantly. "The last few years have been a flop. Though maybe now that he's more receptive..."
"And you, Yuy?"
He was trying to tell me something important. Something finally clicked. Duo had more than his own fair share of insecurities. I would have to own up to mine, for more reason than simply because it would make Duo more comfortable. It wasn't just fair. It was right. It couldn't be about presuming a position of moral superiority and showing him the way. I was not without fault. Maybe I didn't misrepresent myself to him, but if nothing else, then I still had my obviously miserable comprehension of my fellow man to answer for. I was just as responsible as he was for letting us get to this state, from complacence or incompetence or foolish optimism or resignation. I didn't know what I had to change, but whatever it was, it would have to be done if I wanted us to ever have a healthy relationship.
"I'm not sure yet, Wufei," I said finally. "I hope we won't have to go through something else like this before I figure it out, though."
He seemed with satisfied the answer. "He's had a rough couple of weeks, Yuy. Don't forget that."
"I know. I wish... Well, it could have gone better, anyway. I'm... amazed, really. How far things went. And how far we've come. I think that, if I weren't busy being so damn relieved that he decided to stay, I might start feeling... really damn lucky."
"I thought you didn't believe in luck, Yuy."
"Not when it comes to things that are the result of an observable chain of events. But this whole love thing? Certainly doesn't fall under that category. There's no explanation for it, really. I'm just really damn lucky that he decided that I was worth the time and effort to be with."
"You are indeed, Yuy." He shifted his weight, not quite uncomfortable, but not quite at ease, either. "You are lucky, but it isn't luck that's gotten you this. Maxwell has done a lot of hard soul-searching to get here."
"I know. I won't let that go unappreciated." I paused for a brief smile. "I know it's not my place to feel gratitude, but... I need to say at least once to you that I th--"
He held up his hand to forestall me. "No, you needn't say it. I accept the sentiment, but you are right. It is not your place to feel gratitude, and I certainly won't think any less of you if you let that go unsaid."
"As long as you know that, if I said it, it wouldn't be because I was thinking any less of you than you deserve."
"As I said, Yuy. Things could easily have not gone in your favor. I admit... I had my doubts."
I winced. It was no surprise, and I'd certainly had my own doubts, but that didn't mean I really wanted to hear it. "Do you, still?"
"I'll stay cautiously optimistic on this one. Though by 'doubts', I meant not simply your relationship, but also... about you."
"You doubt Zero's influence over me as well?"
"It's not so simple as all that. Were you any man other than Heero Yuy, I would question your strength of character. How weak would you have to be to seek comfort in a mechanical enhancement? How would you have ruined yourself by giving yourself permanently to a crutch?" He shrugged slightly. "But we're not talking about any other man. We're talking about you. And I know you're not that weak. It makes for an interesting puzzle."
That was a welcome change. "If you need any hints, feel free to ask."
"I shall keep that in mind." He smiled. "Now go back upstairs and tell Duo what a lucky man you are."
"I will. And.... thank you," I said in the end, putting everything into those two words that I never would again, willing him to hear how much was encompassed by them, for both Duo and myself.
He nodded, then got into his car with a simple, "Good night."
I could hardly wait for him to pull out of the parking space and get underway before I went back inside to bound up the stairs and back into the apartment. Duo was in the kitchen, cleaning up some of the dinner dishes, when he turned after hearing my entrance. "Hey," he greeted me once more.
I answered back in kind, feeling a little giddy for no particular reason.
He wanted to ask what we had talked about, but he was too circumspect to do so. I gave him a clue. "You're lucky you have such a good friend, Duo."
"Eh?" He dried his hands on a towel and turned to face me fully. "He's your friend, too, you know."
"I know. And I'm really lucky I have such a good friend, too. But those two things are separate. I'm just so glad you have someone to talk to, someone to stay with when you don't want to go home."
He rolled his eyes with exasperation. "You're being weird again, Yuy."
That put a damper on my good spirits. "I am?"
"Yes! I mean, sheesh, you're glad I had someone to stay with? Come on, Yuy. Most people would be getting paranoid that I was out cheating on them or something."
I blinked. "Really?"
"Yes, really! If you'd gone to stay with Relena, or even Trix, now, I *know* that you and Relena don't have a thing going, and you've assured me a bajillion times that Trix isn't interested in you, and hell, I even know you're gay! But it would still cross my mind at least once that something fishy was going on. Even if I thought nothing fishy was going on, but that you were just trying to make me jealous or something, which is pretty fishy by itself."
"You... weren't trying to make me jealous, were you?"
"No, of course not!"
"Just checking," I said immediately. I didn't want him to think I was accusing him of anything, all of a sudden. "I have to do that, once in a while, you know? I miss these things sometimes."
He muffled a chortle. "Yeah, you could say that. Now, I'm not saying I think you'd be out cheating, either, but the collective consciousness of today would force the thought at least once." He huffed one last time, and then his amusement faded. "When we were, you know, 'on the outs'.... you didn't stay here?"
I shook my head. It probably would have been obvious, once he'd come back. Nothing much would have changed since the day we left.
"So..." He wrapped his arms comfortably around his middle, then let one fall, and eventually dropped them both back to his side. "Were you... sleeping at the office the whole time?"
I nodded just once, not feeling blasť enough about it to say it aloud.
"Aw, hell, Yuy," he muttered, sounding sorry at first, but then something about his demeanor firmed up as he decided it wasn't his fault. And then it deflated a little when he started feeling bad for thinking that.
"It's fine," I said, interrupting the progression. "It just... felt more comfortable there." Maybe that wasn't the most helpful thing to say, but it was said.
"Yeah, but... well. I just should have known, I guess. I know how you are about your work, especially when you've got other stuff you'd rather not deal with. So... that day. When IAB went after you. Last thing I said to you. Probably unfair. Last thing you said to me..." He ran his fingers through his bangs. "I found a lot of ways to finish that sentence."
"What for?" he asked, a little cautious.
"For... leaving you hanging like that."
He snorted. "You won't apologize for not friggin' telling me, and yet you'll apologize for things that were totally beyond your control?" He flapped his hand at me, telling me to save my incipient protests. "Meh, I don't really expect you to apologize for that. Not anymore. I mean, yeah, I'm still not exactly happy with that, but I can see it's not something that even computes with you, so forget it. Moving on."
"Don't want to hear it."
"Doesn't matter. Whatever you say, it's just not going to be something I want to hear, so... don't even bother."
I stared at my feet for a while. "What do you want to hear?"
He looked irritable, though more at the situation in general than at me in particular. "I don't know, Yuy. I don't think anything would really work. I'm willing to accept that old man Murphy's got some ugly stepsister that just fucked us over with that one, okay? So let's just drop it."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST