- 7 -

I'd seen Trowa playing other roles before, of course, but they hadn't been anything like this.  Although he'd gone undercover, it'd always been as a nobody, or a person just like Trowa, only with looser morals.  Brisbois, obviously, was nothing like Trowa, and yet my chameleon friend had the remarkable ability to play him.  I would have to talk to him sometime about that, about playing the role appropriate to the situation, and how that affected one's perception of self.

Our contact appeared promptly at twenty-one hundred, nothing more than just a blinking cursor on the console.  With the secondary computer system hooked up to the machine, I immediately began a trace of the signal, but I wasn't optimistic.  Since we had been the ones to initiate this meeting, Trowa began.  "Things are going well, I hope?"

We waited in tense silence for the response to appear.  "Of course.  We must thank you again for your part in this.  You have done the world a great service."

"I hope my service isn't over yet."  Trowa walked a fine line of having to come up with the proper words without really having a good idea of the facts.  Had they promised Brisbois something?  Did he already know what the next step in the plan was?  Had they already turned him down?

"You've done well, but you should lay low for a while."

"Trying to brush him off, eh?" Duo muttered.  "Not that he doesn't deserve it, but damned inconvenient."

"Nothing that can't be worked around," Trowa spoke even as he typed in his response.  "At least they don't know he's been compromised."

It must have been claustrophobic for Trowa to work with four people staring over his shoulder.  I read his answer.   "There's no need to.  They don't have a clue."  Neither did Brisbois.  Sad, almost, but it worked out in our favor at the moment.  Later, it would probably mean that Brisbois had nothing useful to share.

"They're in quite the dither over their loss, or so I hear," the interface revealed.  "They're sure to be looking for you."

"Someone should review department security," I murmured darkly to Wufei.  He nodded with a frown.  At least our leak hadn't been large enough for them to know that Brisbois was in our custody.

"They won't find me.  Our plan was too good."  As soon as he finished the sentence, Trowa went back to scrub out 'our' and replace it with 'the'.  Since we didn't know for sure who had come up with the plan, even if we suspected, it was safer to go the neutral route.  He sent the two sentences first, then appended another two.  "I'm surprised they even know it's missing.  There's a reason we did what we did."

"No cause to be cocky.  Pride goeth before a fall."

"Remind me to laugh when they get cocky and their pride goeths before their fall," Duo said to no one in particular.  No doubt our contact was quoting proverbs at us merely to get us off his case and giving no consideration for the possible ironies.

"The fall will be theirs," Trowa typed.  He pressed 'enter', then typed some more.  "What comes next?"

Time to get pushy.  Would the contact push back?  His tactic appeared to be stonewalling for the time being.  Our prospects for getting further information out of him seemed to be decreasing rapidly.  "We have nothing for you right now.  Once your situation is settled, we will contact you again."

"That's not what I signed on for."  A reasonable assumption.  Brisbois' arrogance was too great for him to settle for being a delivery boy.  He would naturally assume he had further use.  "I want to help.  Tell me more."

"You risk becoming a threat to our plans."

"Ooh," Duo cooed, nudging me in the ribs with his elbow.   "Sounds like you might have guessed right after all.  Are you getting anything out of this?"

I scrolled through the information on my screen and shook my head.  "Only a few packets.  I need a steadier stream of data to get a lock on his position.  All I've got is truncated header crap."

"I'm still in a position to be of assistance," Trowa answered.  "I'm the one that got the thing for you in the first place.   Tell me what's going on."

Unfortunately, Brisbois was not a particularly subtle man.  We could not go haphazardly fishing for information.  "You are a single cog in a machine."

"We don't need to meet.  You can send me more information without risk of exposure."

"From here on out, there will only be research concerns.   Your skills will not be required."

Trowa had scarcely begun to type a reply before the line was disconnected.  We all stared at the blinking cursor for a few seconds before Quatre shrugged philosophically.  "Well, it was worth a shot.  Good work, Trowa."  He patted the man on the shoulder.

Duo pushed himself away from the crowd and dropped back into the chair at his desk.  "Yeah, it's not like we thought we'd be able to get anything useful out of it anyway.  The guy was set on dumping Brisbois."

"We did get something," Quatre corrected him with a smile.  "I'd just love to have a little chat with Brisbois tomorrow.  Actually, you and Wufei would probably be the best candidates.  We'll see how he reacts to knowing his co-conspirators just cut him off."

Duo grinned, and not very pleasantly.  "Ooh, that sounds like fun."

I'm not certain why they decided I should sit in on the session, but I did.  They claimed that Brisbois had responded well to me before, but I wasn't sure how that would help us now.  Duo and Wufei would have the pleasure of rubbing Brisbois' nose in his insignificance, not I.

I leaned myself in the corner of the room, much as Trowa had previously.  My arms were crossed over my chest, and I wore the expression of complete disinterest that came so naturally to me as I watched the proceedings.

Things started normally enough.  Someone had finally seen fit to give Brisbois a new outfit: one of incarceration.  At least this one was fastened properly.  Imprisonment had done little to dampen his spirits.  Despite his protestations to the contrary, I thought he was rather enjoying his assumed martyrdom.  Inmates at his facility were provided with basic amenities.  There was absolutely no reason for him to be walking around with a scruffy chin and ruffled hair, other than that he liked the image it gave him.   He was 'roughing' it in the way that city folks would bring their luxury SUVs to a campground and spend a night or two in a richly appointed cabin.  Perhaps their skin would even touch flannel in a concession to their environment.

He fired off a few barbs at his interrogators.  Weren't we tired of this yet?  His two interrogators grinned back at him with an expectant joy.  Not at all.  We were just getting started.

It was almost too easy to break him.  They started off with the usual questions, leading him up to his typical self-righteous fervor, and at the peak of his raving, they casually tossed the transcript of Trowa's session onto the table.  He vehemently denied it, of course, called its authenticity into question, accused us of all sorts of terrible things, but they bludgeoned him into submission.  I was almost beginning to suspect that they were enjoying it just a little too much.

He stared at the print on the pages dumbly as Duo cooed sweetly to him.  "Come on.  They've already turned their backs on you.  You don't need to be loyal to them anymore."

Three seconds later, Brisbois flicked his wrist angrily and flung the sheets across the tabletop.  "They didn't give me any names," he spat on vengefully.  "Just called themselves a group of concerned citizens.  Said they would tell me after I delivered the goods."

"Concerned about what?" Wufei asked.

Brisbois eyed him cautiously, perhaps no longer interested in loyalty to the group, but in no way dissuaded from the justice of their cause.  "Genetics."

There was a smug flash across Duo's face before it slid away.  His lead had proven true.  "What about it?"

Brisbois' attention shifted to Duo, still standing beside him with attentive concern.  His faith had been shattered, but not his arrogance.  It was aptly proven in the way he looked at Duo with something that slowly grew from a neutral grimace to a sneer.   "You're colony-born, aren't you?"

There was no doubt that that was an ugly accusation.  Duo's expression immediately went hard.  He hated it when people brought his background into question.

That was answer enough for Brisbois, who smirked triumphantly.  "I can tell.  It's the eyes.  Eyes like yours don't happen in nature."

Well, that was guaranteed to piss Duo off.  Fortunately for everyone concerned, he pursed his lips tightly together and quickly removed himself from Brisbois' immediate vicinity.  I slid smoothly into his place.  "What do you mean?  Obviously, it happened."

"It shouldn't have," Brisbois responded immediately.  "The colonies are rife with genetic mutations.  It's the radiation, you know.  Especially on the L2 cluster.  They have the most inadequate shielding of them all."

"But how is that unnatural?"  I kept my tone almost conversational, as I had the first time.  As the others had observed, he had responded well to that, as disturbing as it was to me that I seemed able to speak rationally to a person like Brisbois.

"Mutations are just mistakes in the transcription process.  They're things that never should have happened."

The way he made it sound as if he were explaining that to a child put me on edge, but I refused to show it.  "Humans are a result of a transcription error.  It's called evolution."

"An error that happened millions of years ago.  Mankind has not moved beyond what it is for almost as long, and managed to conquer the earth and the stars.  It's peaked, reached its pinnacle.   There's nowhere left to go but down."

I wouldn't waste my breath contending the issue, trying to make him see that somewhere within the multitude of possibilities, there was room for improvement.  Already we saw some.  "So how does Zero fit into this?  It can't stop... genetic mutations," I said, staying away from the topic of evolution.

"We don't ask it to stop mutations altogether.  If it could do that, we could cure cancer, do all sorts of things.  But it can analyze mutations, identify them.  Mutations are insidious things.  How can we keep humanity pure of the riffraff if we can't even tell the difference?"  He smiled beatifically at me, as if that proved the loftiness of his cause.

If one couldn't tell the difference, then what was the point?  And how did Zero really aid their cause?  The analyses could have been done by anything, albeit more slowly.  Did they expect Zero to distinguish between variation and mutation more readily?   It was a very, very fine line to walk since all variations stemmed from mutations in the first place.  What threshold would they define to separate the one from the other?  I got the sinking feeling that they would use their 'group of concerned citizens' as a baseline, and alter as necessary to exclude whatever group was on their blacklist.

I couldn't follow this man's logic.  I wasn't sure there was much logic to his actions.  All that mattered was that he believed it, and that some person or persons had fooled him into it.  "What would you do with that knowledge?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he sneered.  It was probably to hide the fact that he didn't know what came next.   Something genocidal, perhaps, covered in the dark cloak of racial cleansing.  Segregation and discrimination were on the more positive end of the spectrum.  It didn't matter.  We would stop them before it became an issue.

There wasn't much more to squeeze out of him after that, to our disappointment.  As we had expected, he had been nothing more than a dupe, but at least we had found out his cause.  We left him to the officials of the detention center and started back to our office.

I had expected Duo to have something to say about the answers we had gotten, but he stayed silent, instead leaving Quatre to tell us what he had gotten out of watching Brisbois in action again.  Nothing new, unfortunately.  He already had a pretty good picture of our prisoner's character, and there wasn't much more to Brisbois to find out.

As we passed a bathroom, Duo excused himself and ducked inside, telling the rest of us to go on without him.  Since there was another water cooler not far from there, I took the opportunity to refresh my cup of water before we continued down the hall.  It wasn't long before the cup was emptied, and not by any circumstances under my control.  I was drinking from it and listening to Wufei summarize some of the points of our investigation when we turned a corner and I quite nearly collided with another agent.  I managed to duck and twist out of the way before we connected, but not without sacrificing my shirt as the depository for the contents of my raised cup.

I suppose I was glad that it was a veteran of the force and not some young, blubbering rookie.  Apologies were made without an excess of fussing and stammering, and we let the man pass.  Judging the condition of my shirt to be unacceptable, I also excused myself from the group to run back to the bathroom and do some damage control.

Duo was at the sinks, washing his hands.  He looked up when I entered, puzzled at first.  I don't suppose it got much more enlightening when he spotted the large water stain on the front of my shirt.  "Drinking problem," I explained unhelpfully before turning to snag a few paper towels.  I dabbed half-heartedly at my shirt, knowing that whatever I did, I would basically have to wait until my shirt dried.  I leaned over the sink and tried to squeeze out what I could, but while it left my shirt drier, it also left quite a few wrinkles.  Ah, well.

I'd thought that Duo was still standing by the sinks waiting for me to finish my business so we could head up together, but when I turned to toss my sodden towels into the garbage can, I found Duo staring at his reflection in the mirror.  I pitched my trash and was about to propose we leave when I decided against it.  He wasn't primping, just... thinking.  Something somewhat gloomy, unless I missed my mark.  I'd seen that expression in the mirror enough times.  I approached him slowly, saying his name in question as I came up to his side.

He didn't spare me glance, but rather spoke to me as if he spoke to himself.  "You know, it's not like I ever see them all that much.  I never really think about it.  But I guess... they are."

What was he...?  Ah.  Looking not just at his reflection, but his eyes.  "Don't, Duo," I said before I had quite figured out what I was protesting.  It almost came to me, and I bulled forward, confident that the thought would catch up in a timely manner.  "So they're not normal.  What does it matter?  I like them."

He blinked his indigo eyes towards me in surprise.  I was only slightly less surprised, so I shrugged, realizing that that last part had actually been the thought that had eluded me.  It came first?  Odd.  I elaborated since the idea seemed to need further articulation for the both of us.  "I've always thought that they're rather... you."

"Even if they are just 'mistakes'?" he asked, a flippant tone added to his voice to mask something deeper.

"You know, I had an interesting revelation a few years back: mistakes aren't always bad.  And I don't mean the kind of mistake a person learns from, I mean... flaws, I guess."

"Great, so now I'm flawed?"

I shook my head at him, wondering why he felt the need to deliberately misunderstand me.  "We're all flawed, Duo, and that's what makes us 'us'.  It makes us unique."

"Thought you were a perfectionist, Yuy."

"I am," I admitted easily.  It was a somewhat obvious character trait of mine.  "Less so than I was before, though.  See, I have this pen that has a scratch in its finish from where someone stepped on it once.  I've got this book from a class that always opens to page sixty-three when I drop it.  There's a dent in the fuzz of one of my house slippers."

He interrupted me to insert an incredulous question.   "You've got fuzzy slippers?"

"I've got fuzzy slippers."  Why did that come out almost proudly?  "And even though they fit on either foot, that dent identifies the one I always put on my left foot.  That crease in my book's spine differentiates it from the books of all the other students in that class.  In a basket full of pens, I'd be able to tell which one was mine because of that scratch.  It's these little, tiny things... quirks, if you will, that make them mine, make them special, unique.  It came to me that... I rather like being able to lay claim to something unique."

He glanced back at his reflection for a moment.  "Hm.  Comes from not having much to call our own before, eh?"

"Maybe," I conceded.  Maybe it was a rebellion against becoming one of the faceless masses, no matter how much I enjoyed my anonymity.  "If we were all perfect, we'd all be the same.   Just... cookie-cutter creations churned out on an assembly line.   Our flaws -- no, quirks -- give us personality."

He looked at me thoughtfully, was about to say something, then blinked and looked around.  "Why are we talking in the men's room?"

I shrugged, interested more in the fact that we were conversing companionably than in our location.  "You started it."

We left, but continued to talk.  "I didn't think you tolerated flaws, Yuy."

"Some flaws are better than others, of course."  I chuckled.  "Or maybe I'm just trying to rationalize away the existence of my own flaws."

He did what he'd been doing a lot of lately, stopped himself from saying something.  What was it he was holding back?  Was he just reconsidering his words, or was he censoring them?   "Flaws?" he ended up saying.  "You?"

"Nobody's perfect, though we can strive towards it."  We walked past a Preventer in the hall that stared at the large damp spot on the front of my shirt.  I ignored him.  "Belief in the concept of perfection leads to arrogance.  I wonder why anyone would believe that humanity has reached the limits of its perfection, though.  Why would you even listen to anything that jackass was saying, anyway?"

"Who?  Oh.  Him."  He tried to laugh it off.  It didn't work so well.  "I wasn't listening to him.  I mean, as in, believing what he said.  It's not like he was saying anything new, anyway."

It was an unfortunate truth of society that Brisbois' opinions were not unique.  There were a number of known and accepted problems concerning the L2 colony cluster.  Its situation was not improved by the fact that it orbited on the far side of the moon.   For anyone in a position to help, it was easier to ignore what could not be seen.  "The side effects of living in space can be seen on all of the colonies.  All things considered, I think you got a pretty good deal of it if an unusual eye color is all you have to worry about.  I bet most people don't even notice them."

"You did."

"I notice a lot of things."  And I'd been in a position to observe them from a rather close range.  "Besides, I'm hardly a good representative of 'most people'."

"No, that you aren't..."  A pair of lieutenants was just exiting the stairwell, and they held the door for us as we entered.  He spoke so soon after the door closed behind us that I nearly lost his words to the reverberations.  "You've changed."

So it had been said.  I was beginning to wonder what everyone's perception of me had been before that they all thought I was so radically different now.  It wasn't something I saw in myself.

He went on.  "I think I'd be more pissed if you hadn't."

"Changed?" I prompted, interested in hearing the rest of his thought.

For two people walking up a flight of metallic stairs in a fairly empty enclosure, we made remarkably little noise.  "You said you left to change.  I'd be pissed if that didn't happen."

"More pissed," I correctly softly.  He was still pissed that I had left, for whatever private reasons he had.  At least he didn't feel the need to point it out all the time anymore.  I knew it, and he knew I knew it.  "You know, Relena said much the same thing."

He laughed.  It echoed, giving it a hollow sound.   "Only I'm sure she didn't use the word 'pissed'."

"'Cross', she said.  Before I left, she made me promise to have a big smile on my face when next we met."

"Ah, so that was what that was about... She missed you, you know."  There was some subtle undertone that I was failing to understand again.  I consoled myself with at least being able to identify its presence.  He hit me with his next move before I could dwell on it much.  "I thought for sure you'd have contacted her at some point.  She thought you'd be in touch with me, or one of us anyway.  Then we exchanged notes one day and found out we were both wrong."

Perhaps that was the story behind Relena's brief explanation of how she and Duo had become close.  My absence had brought them together.

Duo didn't seem to need any response from me to keep going.  "What I really don't get is why you were in contact with Une of all people."

His tone went from relatively casual to flat.  Were we finally getting to the heart of the matter?  "I wasn't 'in contact' with her," I answered mildly.  "Like I said, I left her my contact information in case something like this came up."

"You could have left it with us."  We came to a halt on a landing between floors when he turned to confront me.  I somehow ended up trapped in the corner.  It was not a comfortable feeling.

I tried to analyze my answers carefully, but I didn't have enough of an understanding of what he wanted to hear to be able to judge the impact of my words.  "If something like this came up, I figured she would be in a better position to know."

"You could have left it with us anyway."

"I needed separation," I said in a low voice, working to keep my words from becoming heated.  I was keenly aware of how loudly our words sounded in the stairwell.  "Not from my friends, but from my life, my entire situation.  I couldn't have that if we were in contact."

"You could have trusted us to respect your wishes," he nearly hissed at me, leaning another few centimeters farther into my personal space.  "You didn't have to enforce it by just cutting us off.  We would have left you alone if you had asked it."

"Maybe I didn't trust myself."  The revelation was only slightly less shocking to me as it was to him.  How did he bring these things out in me?  "I couldn't go out and do what I had to in order to establish something new for myself if I knew that I could always fall back on the rest of you if things got to be too much.   It would have been too easy not to meet new people if I knew I had good friends just a phone call away.  If I knew there would always be people that understood me and all of my little 'quirks', then I wouldn't have felt the need to adjust to the rest of society.  Not so long as we were the five of us as our own little support group.  I couldn't have done it.  It would have been too easy not to.  I had to throw myself into it.  It had to be absolute, no going back, just plowing on forward."

"What about us?!" he asked angrily.  "Yeah, a support group.  Of five, not four."

"Four is just as good a number," I shot back.  "This may sound callous to you, Duo, but after it was all over, and it was time to think and make decisions... for the first time in a long time, I didn't have to give a damn about anyone else.  And you all told me the same thing.  I didn't have to think about putting others before myself.  I could do whatever the hell that I wanted to do, and I didn't have to worry about it interfering with some responsibility that I had, some moral obligation, or some bigger picture.  If I had stayed for all of you... I would have been no better off than I was before."

We faced off for several long seconds, each of us set in our ways, before a door opening several stories down broke the moment.  The echoing footsteps pushed us apart and sent Duo turning on his heel to continue our interrupted journey up the stairs.  I opened my mouth to call after him, but his name stalled in my throat, and with an unclenching of a fist I hadn't known I'd clenched, I let out a small sound of frustration and went after him.

"I like who I've become, Duo," I murmured to him once I'd gotten close enough.  "Your disapproval won't change that."

He waited until we reached the last landing before answering in an equally quiet voice.  "I like who you've become, too.  But that doesn't change things, either."  He swung the door open and walked through, not waiting to hold the door for me.  I followed, and we left our little discussion behind in the stairwell.

We made it back to the rest of the team in one piece.  An hour later, Quatre and I were called up to Une's office to report to her.  I wished we had more to tell her.

On the way up, Quatre and I had words.  "Before we go up there," he said, "Is there anything you'd like to tell me?"

I glanced over at him, but his expression was unassuming.   "What do you mean?"

"There's nothing I should know about?"

"Nothing you don't already know, I'm sure," I answered warily.  "Why do you ask?"

He gave me a look just this side of reproachful.  Quatre was too good for all-out reproach.  "The tension between you and Duo was potently obvious."

Oh, that.  "It won't impact the team," I promised.   Our discussion had ended very unresolved.  I was unable to determine if Duo just needed time to consider my words, or if I had managed to irritate him further.  Other than the small trust issue, our disagreement really only manifested itself in a few pointed barbs and a lack of comfortable small talk.  It was a relief to know that it was staying a private issue rather than coming out to polarize the team.

"That's nice to hear, but the team's not all that's important."

It would have been so easy to just ask him what was bothering Duo, if it wasn't bothering Quatre as well.  He had always been the best at understanding each of us.  That understanding would probably lead him to boot me right back at Duo, and I would have agreed.  This was a matter between us.  If I couldn't settle it myself, then it didn't deserve to be settled.

"We're... slowly coming to an understanding," I answered.   Not an agreement in any way, just... coming to understand where each of us stood.  It was sort of disappointing to find that it was taking us so much effort to get even that far.  Perhaps I needed to stop comparing it to the silent understanding we used to have.  As everyone liked to keep pointing out, we had changed.  Maybe my image of Duo just needed to change with it.

Quatre made a sound like he wasn't convinced.  I wasn't surprised.  "What's going on with you two?"

I tried to shrug it off.  "Nothing special.  Or new, I should say.  Duo's still sore that I left, and I won't apologize for it.  I think we're going to end up with an irreconcilable difference of opinions."

He sighed.  "That's too bad.  I was hoping..."

So was I.  "We're still a team."  He cast me an inquisitive look, so I elaborated.  "The five of us.  We're still... 'the five of us'.  ...Right?"

I really shouldn't have added on that last bit of uncertainty, but I did.  Momentary fears of four plus one assaulted me.  In all the world, the five of us had shared something.  I still valued that bond, no matter what Duo thought.  As much as I had wanted to know who I was outside of that, I had never wanted to sever that connection.

"Of course," he answered with a gentle smile.  The response seemed just a little too quick to me.  I couldn't tell if that was because the answer was patently obvious, or if it had just been a knee-jerk reaction to answer positively and placate me with empty promises.

My turn to sigh.  I passed.  I also ignored the urge to ask what he thought about my departure, or more accurately, as I had recently discovered, what he thought about the fact that I hadn't left them any contact information.  It seemed no one was arguing my decision to leave.  The main issue appeared to be that I left for five years and didn't talk to anyone during that period.  Asking his opinion wouldn't change anything, though.  I didn't need another's perception second guessing my own.

Our meeting with Une was depressingly uninforming.  There were a lot of directions we could go, but nowhere sure enough for us to pursue alone.  While Brisbois' latest testimony had added to our understanding of the matter, it hadn't been enough to point us at the mastermind behind the heist.  We could not even use his words as confirmations since we couldn't be entirely certain to what degree of accuracy he had been informed.

Une asked us if more manpower would assist us in our cause, but we had to reply in the negative.  Besides the little matter of opsec, no one else understood the situation as well as we did, no matter how much we would have liked someone else to bear the burden of slogging through the mounds of paperwork and research.  We knew what to look for, even if we hadn't found any clear sign of it yet.  I think we were all going a little crazy with it.  None of us was particularly well suited to life behind a desk.

Personally, I was getting antsy.  I knew intellectually that it would take time to deploy Zero, no matter what purpose it was being put to, but the fact that we had the time to investigate didn't make me feel any easier about it.  We would be able to counter Zero once its use was revealed to us, but I sorely wished we could neutralize the threat before it ever became apparent.

Back at the office, we found another old friend awaiting our return.  Apparently Sally Po had been dropping off some more intelligence reports when she had decided to stay and chat a while.  She stood from where she had been perched on the edge of the empty desk when she saw me, a warm smile on her face.  It was reassuringly earnest.  "Heero," she said, the twang in her voice a comfortably familiar mix between amusement and delight.

"Sally.  ...You cut your hair."  An odd statement to use as greeting, perhaps, but true nevertheless.  I hadn't quite recognized the woman behind the desk at first, not without her two twists to frame her face.  I sort of missed them.  I'd always wondered what strange feminine magic was used in keeping the twists from unraveling.  Now she sported a shoulder length cut.  It still managed to frame her face similarly.

She laughed, running a hand through her hair.  "Yes.   Yes, I did.  I went on, well, an interesting assignment a few years back and just got sick of it all, so I lopped it all off.  Been freer ever since.  But you?  Let's get a good look at you."

I stood obediently for her as she studied me, stretching my arms out, poking me, taking a hold of my chin to turn my face this way and that.  Far from a complete physical, of course, and yet I still felt as if her discerning eyes had caught a good number of details.

"Is that how you're greeting people these days, woman?" Wufei asked, dry humor in his tone.

"Only the special ones," she tossed snappily over her shoulder.  She stepped back when she was done and put on a good business face.  "You've been healthy?"

"Yes, ma'am," I answered with a nod.

"Taking care of yourself?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Taking it easy like I told you to?"

"Yes, ma'am.  I think if I'd gone down with another Gundam, you'd have heard.  I've been in school instead."

That broke through her professional manner.  She clapped her hands together.  "Oh, that's wonderful to hear.  Where at?"


"Nothing but the best for our Heero, eh?"  The sparkle in her eye took away any possible sting from the statement.  "What are you studying?"

"It'll say computers on my diploma, but I've really been studying... everything.  Whatever I felt like studying at the time.  What have you been up to?"

"Oh, nothing but a lot of boring Preventers work.  Do you like it out there?"

Trying to get someone to tell me about themselves instead seemed like an exercise in futility these days.  My life as a student hardly struck me as any more interesting.  Just what was it about it that everyone was finding so fascinating?  "Yes, it's nice out there.  A good balance between quiet and interesting."

"You have your own place?"

"An apartment.  I don't think I'd enjoy living on campus."  The thought of being assigned a random roommate hadn't sat well with me.  I could do what I had to in order to become a functioning member of society, but I needed my own space in which to do it.   I'd wanted total immersion, but living with someone else would have been an immersion so thick I would have choked on it.  My apartment was something of a splurging point for me.  It wasn't huge, but it wasn't the typical tiny student single.  After a tiresome day, I really needed a place where I could go and be comfortable.

There were a few more exchanges of non-essential information before she sighed.  "Well, I guess I've been here long enough.  I should get back to work.  If there's anything else I can do to help, by all means, let me know.  This takes priority over a lot of things."

After she'd gone, Duo turned to me with a raised eyebrow and a twist of his lips.  "'Ma'am'?"

Even Wufei seemed a little taken aback.  "And she didn't protest, either?"

I shrugged, dismissing it as insignificant.  I hadn't thought about it at the time, and I didn't want to make a big issue of it now.  Sally had a nurturing air to her that I respected.   Of course, if I used another term for it, say, 'matronly', she would probably do something vicious to my sensitive parts.  Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I would show her the respect she was due, even if it was served with a side of amusement.

This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at jchew at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST