It took me a few long moments for it to click with me what he was saying. "What? Why?"
"Heero." He took my hand loosely into his, holding it in front of his body to keep the others from seeing. "You're... frankly, you're starting to freak me out."
The first two words to run through my mind were again, 'what' and 'why'. The next two were, "Excuse me?"
He looked down at me with a serious expression. "I think you're freaking the other guys out, too."
I managed to catch a glimpse over his shoulder to the rest of the office, where the others were quite studiously ignoring what was happening in this corner. So they had sicced Duo on me, had they? I must have been really out of it indeed to not have noticed. "What are you talking about?"
"You're stressed out," he said bluntly. "You're looking kinda pale, too. Don't make me tell Sally on you."
My eyes narrowed dangerously, and I pulled my hand out of his grasp. "Tell me this has nothing to do with that." I never wanted any allowances to be made on account of my health. There was a reason I didn't go around making a sob story of it to any who would listen. Even Sally knew to chastise me, but otherwise leave me alone.
He shook his head impatiently. "This would be something even without that. Do you know how many times you've just zoned out today? And when you do come back, usually it's just to start looking into something feverishly."
Didn't he understand? "I've been useless enough today. I can't retire early."
"You'd just be useless again tonight. You're barely even paying attention to any of the other ideas we've been pursuing. And actually, I don't even know why I'm telling you to get outta here since knowing you, that just means you're going to go give yourself an ulcer in the privacy of your own room."
"Duo!" Quatre's voice rang sharply across the room. "What part of 'gently' don't you understand?"
"The part where 'gently' will actually get through to this guy!" he threw over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off me. "You need to take a break, Yuy."
"You're right," I told him. "I don't know why you're telling me this because I'm not going to take a break. I can't. I can stare at the blank screen of my computer just as easily in my room as I can in here."
"Why?" he demanded. "Why won't you--?"
"Because I can't." My response was soft, but firm. "I can't stop. Now maybe I haven't really been paying attention to the other avenues of investigation that you all have been pursuing, but I think I would have noticed if something had panned out, and nothing has, has it? Well, I assure you, if I had anything useful to add to the matter, I would, but I have been sitting there all afternoon coming up with precisely nothing, and it is driving me out of my mind. That doesn't stop me from continuing to wrack my brain for something, anything that might help."
I could see the others behind him, all with that expression that said they were backing away from the crazy person, cautious of making any sudden moves, but I didn't care. That didn't stop me from continuing to vent at the stunned figure in front of me. "And you know what the most frustrating thing is? I think I know something. I think I have some vital recognition sitting inside my head, and I can't for the life of me figure out what it is. Everything's going to become completely clear in hindsight, just like every other bloody thing in this entire case, and maybe this time, it finally won't be okay that we figure it out after the fact."
My laptop beeped as if to mock me. Another hit had just been registered on my files. I'd been trying all afternoon to trace those as well, and had failed at it as much as I had failed at the rest. "And that! Someone is looking for information on me. What? Who? It's not just seeking information about an adversary now. This goes beyond what any mere human would want to know about someone. Even I wouldn't exercise this level of thoroughness. What does Zero want with me? And why can't I figure it out?"
There were so many things running across Duo's face that I couldn't even begin to interpret it. I didn't even bother trying and sidestepped him to get back to my laptop. He grabbed my arm as I passed by and pulled me around to look at him. "Heero..."
"What?" I realized I had snapped somewhere on the way from there to here, but it barely mattered at all. At least I had retained enough awareness of my actions to stop myself before I had said something about wishing I could use Zero to figure this whole damn thing out for me.
He released me as if burnt, but for some reason I couldn't take advantage of my freedom to move away. That wounded, almost scared look captured me. I squeezed my eyes shut and made quite the effort at calming down, but that cool I exercised normally was elusive tonight.
Duo eventually put a tentative hand to my arm and steered me back to my seat. I slumped down in it tiredly, only as an afterthought tapping halfhearted at my keys to note where the latest flag had been raised. It was embarrassing the way they all watched me without making eye contact.
Everyone except Duo. Maybe it was a mistake to have looked up. He met my gaze steadily, and held it. I felt guilty, seeing there an exhaustion that hadn't been present before I'd gotten started. "I'm sorry," I murmured.
He bit his lip, then shook his head with a semi-apologetic smile. "Well... at least you concede that I'm right."
The others all jumped when they heard me laugh. I ignored them. So did Duo. He sighed. "Are you sure I can't persuade you to give it a rest? Let me recap the day for you. We figured out what the guy took with him, and have been chasing our tails around trying to piece together his master plan. Even took a trip down to your little buddy RJ's. We've been chasing down people he used to work with. No luck. We've been looking into places he might be hiding out. No luck. We've of course been trying to find him. No luck."
"Sorry." The word fell from my lips before I could remember that I'd already said that. "I'm not the only one that's frustrated here, I'm sure."
He shrugged crookedly, dismissing the apology. "Most of this legwork has been done with people, most of whom have probably gone home for the night, so we couldn't talk to them even if we wanted to. So how about we turn in, recharge, maybe do a little light thinking about things while we do other things like sleep, or at least stretch our legs, and then we come back tomorrow, ready and willing to bang our heads against this again?"
I ran my fingers over my keyboard, ready to protest, but he cut me off at the pass. "Hey, I'm not proposing you stop worrying altogether... I'm not that stupid. All I can do is try and make sure you don't get so frazzled doing it."
Well, I had said I could stare blankly at my screen just as easily in my room as I could in the office, right? I nodded reluctantly and shut my laptop. Duo caught me hugging it to my chest as he and the others gathered their things, and he chuckled. "Guess you were right: you haven't changed that much, have you?"
"Different clothes for different occasions," I reminded him. We had moved into a high-stress situation. In times like these, I would naturally not be as mellow as he had seen me before.
He smiled reassuringly at me, patting me on the back as he slung his bag over his shoulder. "Well, let's get you tucked and squared away in your jammies, and everything will be all better, right?"
I summoned the strength for a dry snort. If only. Before we left the room, I stopped and turned to the others. "I'm sorry I was less than helpful today. Hopefully things will be different tomorrow."
We left amidst their murmurs of understanding. When we got back to my room, Duo shook his head but did not comment when the first thing I did was pull an adapter out and plug my laptop into the wall socket. He didn't even say anything when he found out that I hadn't done so much as turn the laptop off for the trip. He just shook his head and went to the bathroom.
With everything just as I had left it, I sat down on my bed with my laptop on the side table and finished looking into which files had most recently been accessed. Duo returned, sat down behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, settling his chin on my shoulder. It gave me pause as an unexpectedly intimate gesture.
"Heh, wrong Heero Yuy," he commented, looking at the file displayed on the screen. "I thought you'd filter out hits on the diplomat guy."
His observation returned my attention to the archived newspaper article. I *had* filtered out those references, having no interest at all in every little kid that had to do a class report on the colonial spokesman. I skimmed the article quickly, trying to figure out where it would have fit in the expanded search net I had put out. Halfway through, I started reading a little more carefully.
"Heero?" Duo asked, his attention caught by the way I had tensed. "What is it?"
I finished off the article with a troubled feeling in my gut. "Well... it could be just a coincidence that the reference got through my filters..."
He squeezed my middle comfortingly. "Please don't finish that with a, 'Or it could be a development with some ultra evil and scary implications.'"
I swallowed. That wasn't what I had been thinking, but it wasn't entirely inaccurate. The article, after all, was from a small, independent press. If someone had been doing a general search on Heero Yuy, he would surely have found much more popular sources. "I told you about Odin, right? The guy that had me before J?"
"...Yeah. Yeah, I think." It had been during one of those dark nights six years ago.
I pointed to the rather large section of the report that detailed the police investigation into the diplomat's assassination, along with theories. "Odin was the one that killed him."
His breath caught. "I think I like the coincidence theory better. Who would know that this had even the slightest thing to do with you?"
The list was so short that it could pretty much be summed up with a single letter. "J. That's about it. No, I guess Dekim Barton might possibly have known, too."
He shuddered. "I'm not gonna ask why. Okay, who living might know?"
"I have no idea. I don't exactly go around telling people these things.... I think I like the coincidence theory better, too."
His sigh translated itself through my back to me, his embrace tightening in a comfort I found reassuring. I slumped into it slightly, trying to convince myself to stand down at least a little. I had someone looking out for me, watching my back. I was just starting to believe it when he released me with a friendly rub across my shoulders. "Come on. Let's get you all jammied up, and then maybe you'll get all warm and cuddly and wise again."
No luck. After showering and 'jammying up', I was not significantly cuddlier nor wiser, though warmer was correct.
Too bad Zamora couldn't show himself with equal ease and grace. Why did he have to run off with the system? Why had I gotten greedy and pursued Zero that night on the network? We had been so close to having this over and done with.
My laptop was still sitting on the bedside table, within arms reach of my current position. I shifted slightly in experimentation. Satisfied that Duo wouldn't stir, I pushed the lid open and tapped the trackpad to wake the machine. I nearly flinched as its faint light lit the room, but luckily Duo's head was turned down enough that it didn't bother him.
I had left the machine to scan the network, putting into effect the script I had written that night in the hopes of possibly catching something before it was too late to divine any useful information out of it. To my disappointment, it did not have anything to tell me.
Duo shifted behind me, sleepily nuzzling the back of my neck. Maybe it was more correct to say that jammie-clad Duo was the warm and cuddly one. I wouldn't have minded having one around. There was a certain measure of peace attached to us being together like this, though it was difficult to quantify with the constant undercurrent of worry I had concerning Zero.
With one finger, I opened a command prompt and tapped out the address of a hidden directory. Its contents looked like temp junk with the convention I used for the naming of the files, but that was to discourage intruders. I typed out the name of the first archive that, together with the other four, would join together to form the basic schematics of the Zero system. Staring at that command before I pressed 'enter', I squashed the whim and deleted the filename, opting for another one instead. The file opened in a separate window.
I looked back on our faces from five years ago, all the same, but different. It was after the Barton incident, but before we had all scattered again. I was up and about, but still convalescing, with Relena hovering solicitously by my side. I had agreed to sit for the picture, but refused to look at the camera as Pargan framed the shot. There was something about a posed picture that had never quite sat well with me. The others were all in a state of candidness, anyway. I had my eyes on the chess game instead, where Duo and Wufei were playing on the rug not far from our feet. Behind us, Trowa and Quatre were examining the contents of one of the bookshelves in the library. I'd always found it a good picture to pull out every once in a while, just to have something tangible as I looked back and reflected.
I used to think about those times, needing to know where I had been in order to get a sense of where I was now and where I wanted to go, but now I could compare the past to the present, the memory to the reality, and see how it all matched up. It wasn't completely surprising that we had all ended up where we had, although I suppose that, if I were one of the others, I might have been surprised by my chosen path. I agree that I had never expected to leave as I did, to find myself in a civilian life, but perhaps that had been one of the things most appealing about it: that I could do something that I had never even considered as a possibility.
I hadn't been staring at the old photo long enough for the screensaver to activate yet when an icon starting flashing in my system tray. It took me a second to recognize it for what it was, but when I did, I closed the image file and brought up the window that was running my script. It had registered another hit.
Still typing with one hand, a skill I had honed during those days when an injury had forced such a handicap, I ran the backtrace on the signal, hunting down its source. The file being accessed was one on the Preventers network, and I nearly grinned at the discovery. This network I could work with.
My quarry didn't make it easy on me. I finally pulled out both hands to type my commands, and inevitably, the clacking roused Duo. He made a sleepy sound before regaining a decent amount of consciousness, but any and all sluggishness he was experiencing was quickly thrown off in favor of outrage when he saw what I was doing.
"You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me, Yuy! Do you know what fucking time it is?"
It seems I had displeased him. Quite understandably, I suppose. Using the arm he had slung around my middle, he tried to restrain me from further action, but I shrugged him off and continued the hunt. "Not now, Duo," I answered absently.
"Exactly!" he practically yelled into my ear. I think he was prepared to climb right over me to do what he had to do in order to separate me from my laptop. "Not now, Yuy!"
I should have responded more assertively and less dismissively. I tried again, this time putting more confidence in it than I had felt in the last two days. "Back off, Maxwell. I got a hit on the Preventers network. I'm tracing it now."
He stopped, squinting suspiciously at my screen before he finally relented and withdrew, not bothering to hide how he felt about the matter with a little muttering. "What the hell were you doing on the computer in the first place?" No doubt he would berate me again later when I wasn't quite so occupied.
The trail was a tricky one to follow, one I was frankly surprised I could follow given the early morning hour, my scarcity of sleep, and my gloomy, testy mood from the day before. Though it took nearly forty-five minutes to figure out, plus a few grudgingly given suggestions from Duo, I finally managed to track down its source.
Duo stared at the results. "We checked that place," he said flatly.
"Why did it turn up negative?" I probably should have been paying attention at the time it had been discussed so I could know without having to ask.
"Because we checked the power on the place. There weren't any signs of it being used. There hasn't been any significant electricity going out there for a while. Just a small weather station on the corner of the base, and what they need to keep it in lockdown. A facility of that size would have to consume a lot more power than that. Between ventilation, and Zero itself, of course..."
"But the power's still on," I interrupted. "And so long as it's on, records can be falsified, read-outs can be faked, electricity can be siphoned..."
"It's feasible," he conceded reluctantly.
I gestured at my display. "More than just feasible, given this."
He frowned, and checked the clock again. "Six-fifteen in the fucking morning, Yuy. What the hell?" After sighing explosively, he shook his head and started getting out of bed. "I'll call Wufei. You can call Quatre and Trowa. Let's round up the posse."
Mental note to self: jammie-clad Duo had to be a class by itself so I could properly derive jammie-clad disgruntled in the early morning hours Duo and jammie-clad warm and cuddly Duo from it. The two child classes had little else in common.
last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST