- 23 -

As a mere 'consultant', I wished I could get out of some of the reams of red tape that followed, but I was too conscientious to dump it all on my comrades.  There was still a lot to be done.   Although we had given our verbal reports to Une, there was still paperwork to be written up, especially since we had ended up with a dead man and a system damaged to a yet undetermined state.  Diagnostics would be run and autopsies performed, not to mention charges filed.  Though we were no longer the main agents on the case against Brisbois or the people at Meridian, we had started the investigations and done a lot of the legwork on them, so we would inevitably have to catch up on all of the things we had delegated to others in the pursuit of our main goal.

Une held me back a moment after the others.  "Well, Yuy.  You've had quite a week."

She wasn't one to make small talk.  There was a point in all of this.  I nodded briefly.

"What is your evaluation of how things turned out?"

There were wrong ways to answer that.  I paused to consider my words carefully.  "I'm pleased that the incident kept to a relatively small scale," I said with an internal wince.  I'm sure the Condasans would have disagreed, although compared to the possibility of full-scale war on Earth and in the colonies, the situation had stayed fairly isolated.  While Duo would probably have torn my head off for saying such a thing, I trusted Une to understand and appreciate my point.

She nodded.  "And the casualties?"

"...Regrettable."  And yet I could see no way of having avoided them.  Dimitriev had died before we had ever gotten onto the case.  Stewart had died before we suspected Meridian.  The Condasans... sort of the same way, but they were innocents, which made everything worse.  Even I, king of self-castigation, could not really see a way I could blame myself for that one.  And as for Zamora... he had brought it down upon himself.  My only wish was that he had not taken Zero down with him.

I was subjected to an intent look before she asked her next question.  "And Zero?"

"We've yet to see what sort of damage Zero has sustained."  But I had a soul-deep hope that it hadn't been so great that the entire system was a loss.  I wished I had the time to tinker around in a lab with it, but I didn't, so I would leave that to RJ and his diminished crew.  They would also have access to the interface that Zamora was wearing, just as soon as the medical team finished removing it from the body.  I would leave that little detail out when briefing RJ on his new task.

Her glasses reflected the light as she leaned back in her chair.  "So what did you think of this whole case?"  When I gave her an inquisitive look, she clarified.  "Would you be interested in doing it full-time?"

My first response was that no, I would certainly not like to regularly see entire communities laid to waste, or valuable resources destroyed, but obviously that was not of what she spoke.  She had asked me this question once before.  This, too, was an answer that required some deep thought.  "I think... that is unlikely.   While I am, perhaps, more willing to make myself available now, I do not believe I would be interested in doing this on a daily basis at this time."

She nodded.  I think she had expected as much.

When I left her office, I found Duo loitering outside waiting for me.  I was surprised to see him there, though I knew I shouldn't be.  He accompanied me wordlessly to the stairwell, waiting until we were safely inside before asking.  "So... what did she want?"

I cast him a sidelong glance.  Duo had his eyes fixed on the stairs.  "She offered me a job."


I didn't make him ask.  "I turned it down."


This time, I stopped myself from asking what he meant.   "Was there something you wanted?"

"...Yeah.  Quatre wanted to let you know that we were going to get some real grub for lunch instead of that quickie we did, so we wanted to make sure you didn't go wandering off somewhere first."

"Oh.  Well, I was going to stop by R&D for a while, but I guess that can wait."

He snorted.  "Damn right they can wait.  Not like you're really all that eager to pass it off to their hands anyway."

I made an equally wry sound.  "No... I guess not."

"You..."  He trailed off, changing his mind.   Sometimes I was glad he did, and sometimes I wanted to know what it was that he was about to say.  He let out a little puff of breath, then started looking uncomfortably at random points on the wall.   "You... you know.  Okay and all?"

As usual, it took me a little while to follow his train of thought, if indeed I could at all.  While sometimes I could find the beginning of the path, it was rare that I could trace it all the way to the end.  "About what?"

"Well... Zero and all.  Getting..."

"Crisped?  Fried?  Toasted?  Burnt?   Charbroiled?"  I was sure I could come up with a few more if I wanted to.

"Uh... yeah."  He looked even more uncomfortable now.  I was starting to worry he might trip down the stairs at this rate.

One corner of my lips lifted.  I appreciated that he was interested in looking out for me.  "You can say it for what it is... so long as you're reasonably accurate.  I would stay away from things like 'wasted', 'trashed', or 'destroyed'.  That might upset me."

His stride smoothed out as we continued to descend.  Being a top executive, Une had an office near the top of the building, and being former Gundam pilots, we generally avoided elevators.  "So you're being optimistic, eh?"

"Cautiously optimistic," I corrected.  That was the better course, to hope for the best but expect the worst.  "From my initial assessment of Zero, the system didn't look like it was completely destroyed.  And even if it was... the original memory core of Zero is still out there."

"Oh yeah...  Bet I know what you're going to be concentrating on."

I shrugged apologetically as we exited the stairwell and headed back towards our office.  "I won't skip out on the paperwork.  A lot of that will be my responsibility because of the computer work that I did.  I wouldn't force that on all of you.  I can do that and look into the missing--"

"You're going to do that by not sleeping much, aren't you?" he cut in accusingly.  At least this time, I could understand his motivation for such a tone.  "That is unacceptable, Yuy.  The case is over.  Sure, there's a lot of mop up work left to be done on it, but it's over enough that you can stop losing sleep over it.  And for every argument you can come up with, I'm likely to just tell you you're being stupid, so you can just not bother."

I smiled.  "That's one way to save me time."

"I can do whatever I have to," he retorted unrepentantly.   "How did you ever manage on your own?"

I recognized that as a friendly dig, but I answered seriously enough.  "I think I attract people that like to look out for me."

He laughed, starting out heartily, but puttering out rather quickly to a more thoughtful sound.  "What are your friends like, Heero?"

"My friends?  Hmmm.  Well, I think they're all computer people, to start with."  Mostly people I had met in the labs or in classes.  They all tended to have the same sense of humor, the same level of intelligence, and the same tolerance of social ineptitude.  "Kind of quirky... but we amuse each other."

"What about that girl you called the other day?  About nosing around your files?  I thought you'd think that was kinda annoying or something."

"Trix?  She's... Actually, I think she's kind of like you."

He turned to me as he walked, shooting me an amusedly offended look.  "Are you insulting me?"

Only if he was putting words in my mouth.  "Of course not.  If I thought she was annoying... If I thought you were annoying, you wouldn't be my friend, now would you?"

A suspicious glance was thrown my way, as if he doubted the simple logic of my statement.  I liked things simple.  Of course, I also liked Duo, and he was far from simple, so obviously that was not an exclusive opinion.  "She's just inquisitive.  And bright.  And she likes to help.  She's not trying seriously to be invasive.  It's more like... what drives hackers to hack.   The good hackers, I mean.  It's just a desire to break the system, to figure out what others didn't think of."

"And you've got so much system around you to break, it's obvious you've got some sort of secret agent past or something.  I'm sure you just scream 'challenge', don't you?"

Why don't you tell me? I thought, but I chose not to vocalize the question.  "She knows there's something I don't want to talk about.  That more than anything is probably what keeps her from trying too hard.  She respects me, and she knows that I'll be open and honest with people so long as I respect them.  Which is why you have a standing invitation to ask me whatever you need to."

We turned the final corner to our office.  "Heh, I could ask you all the questions in the world, and I bet there would still be a lot of things about you that I just wouldn't understand."

I paused before opening the door.  "Don't worry.  The feeling is mutual."  And it didn't bother me in the slightest.

My door chirped that little sound that seemed somehow common to all such portals in institutionalized housing.  I continued to speak on the phone as I got up to answer it.

"I hear that you aren't one to talk, Relena.  Word is that you work too hard, too."  I nodded to Duo as I let him in, completely unsurprised to see him here.  It was a reassuring pattern.  He was about to greet me when he noticed that I was on the phone, so instead he just slipped in silently.

"And just where did you hear that?" she asked.

"A little demon told me," I said, showing amusement when Duo lifted his brow at me.  I gestured at him to take a seat.

"Why, that little sneak.  It's unfair of him to put you on my case, too.  I can't deal with that many overprotective people."

I snorted dryly.  "Tell me about it."

Her voice took on a mischievous tone.  "Oh, you too, eh?  Has Duo been hovering over you?"

"You could call it that."  I cast another quick look at Duo, swiveling back and forth at my desk chair.  He had probably come by to make sure I was getting enough sleep again, even though it was pretty early.  When would the madness end?

"I told you everything would turn out alright."

"I didn't exactly disagree with you."  The only difference had been my definition of 'alright'.

"Well, I suppose you can be right if you must, so long as I'm right, too."

I chuckled.  "You sound like him."  He kept watching me as I talked.  I was fairly certain he knew exactly to whom I was referring.

"Hey, next time you see him, tell him to give me a ring.  He owes me."

"Better yet..."  I handed the phone to Duo.  "She wants to talk to you."

"Huh?"  He took the phone and put it to his ear.   "Hello?  Oh, hey, Lena...  No, I just dropped by.  Can't leave him alone for a second, you know...  Ugh, Lena..."

He cast me a glance as he listened to her on the other end, fielding her responses with an amused exasperation.  "No, I haven't...  Well, you know how world crises are...  Yeah, I know, but--  Hey, why don't you give it a shot and see how easy it is?  ...Now wait just a second there...  Lena-- Lena, look.  Just let it be, okay?  ...Don't worry.  Yeah, it's... it's not so bad...  It is.  Really.  Even though you know that's not the case at all.  Okay?  ...Yeah, okay.   G'night.  You want to talk to Heero again?"  He tipped the phone away from his mouth and turned to me.  "She says 'good night.'"

"Good night to her, too," I answered.

"He says-- yeah.  Okay.  Bye, Lena."  He flipped my phone closed and made a tossing gesture at me.

I declined, indicating with a tilt of my head that he could just set it down on the desk beside him.  "So she gave you a dressing down, too, huh?"

Duo stuck his tongue out in good humor.  "She made a good queen of the world," he answered obliquely.

"That she did."  Better than I had expected, actually, given the practical limitations of her position.  And she was still an excellent policymaker today.  "I called to update her on the case.  Une gave her an overview, enough for her to know that we don't have a potential emergency on our hands anymore, so much as a 'problem'."

"Yeah?  What did she say?"  He leaned back in my chair, putting his hands behind his head.

"She's glad, of course.  Une told her about Meridian before.  There's been a bit of a shuffle because of that.  I think the official spin is that they're being investigated for unauthorized research, but rumor is that it's nothing of the sinister type.  Their satellite facilities and offshoot programs are still running the same as normal.  Their stock has taken a slight hit, but all things considered, consumer confidence is still relatively high in their products.  There are, of course, some loud detractors declaiming the company, but they're for the most part being marginalized."

"So nothing about Zero, eh?"

I shook my head.  "The public doesn't even know anything about Zero.  Some people might know that it was involved in Quatre's... momentary lapse of reason, but other than that, it's just a number to them.  It may come out that Meridian may have illegally obtained some hardware from a government facility, which would explain the Preventer's inordinate interest in the case, but other than that, I think they'd like to keep it under wraps.  Of course, that sort of results in other things having to be brushed under the rug..."

Duo's expression darkened, hands coming down to be folded with deceptive laziness in his lap.  "They aren't going to say a thing about the hundreds of deaths by biological weapon, are they?"

I pursed my lips, knowing that I couldn't tell him what he wanted to hear.  "That more than anything else would effectively raze Meridian to the ground," I answered softly.

The angry set of his jaw gave away how hard he was trying to be reasonable about this.  He threw himself out of the chair and started pacing.  "Are they at least going to be prosecuted for it?"

I shrugged helplessly, following his path with my eyes.  "I don't know.  I know that even without it, the prosecution can put them away for life."

"You're talking about Hoffman.  Conzemius, maybe, if he doesn't plea out, which he probably will.  What about the researchers and the scientists that worked on the project?  There's no way they couldn't have known what they were making when they were working with deadly viruses and bacteria.  They weren't interns, for god's sake, they were people with Ph.D's.  And what about the guys that delivered the disease?  Or the guys that snuck into houses and took evidence they had against Meridian?"

"You don't have to convince me, Duo.  I know.  There's Stewart, too.  At least they've finally contacted his next of kin.  They'll know his status, even if they'll never figure out what happened to him.  And I'm sure we won't ever tell them.  We can't without letting on about Zero, about a machine that can fry people's brains during a malfunction, among many other things.  And Dimitriev.  Will there be justice for him?  Or has his death been made completely irrelevant by the preponderance of evidence elsewhere?  It was years ago, after all."

"Will the case even be tried?" he asked with rhetorical bitterness.  "Or are they just going to settle quietly out of court, with nothing ever being released to the public?  Maybe the top people will resign, and some of them'll get sentences in some nice, cushy pen.  Oh, and monetary recompensation, of course.   That'll fix everything, right?"

I had to shrug again, not knowing the answers.  I walked over to him, draping my arms over his shoulders to stop his restless motion and pull him in close.  "Duo.  I know this isn't the ideal solution, but it's the way it is."

"God, Yuy," he half-groaned, half-growled, his hands moving reluctantly around me.  "If you tell me that at least they won't be able to do it to anyone else..."

The thought had crossed my mind, but I let it continue on its merry path on out the other side.  "All those people are going to get shafted," I said with a quiet bluntness.  "Actually, they already have been.  They're gone, Duo, and we know why.   They're only getting away with it legally."

He laughed bitterly.  "Woohoo.  We know.  So what are we going to do, shoot them nasty looks the next time we run across them?  That all we can do?"

That sneer did not belong on his face.  I put my lips to his and coaxed it away with a gentle inexorability.  "We can get them punished for it, even if their real crimes aren't read aloud at their trials.  It won't be the best solution, but..."

Eyes closed, and a distraught look on his face, he nodded, then pulled me even closer to him and held on tightly.

"--it and make it all better?" Duo was saying to Quatre as I walked in.  He glanced at me as I entered, then turned back to Quatre.  "...Yeah."

Quatre looked at him and me with some sort of significance before asking, "What news?"

"They found an onboard debug storage chip on the interface that they think they can pull state information from.  That should help give them a better idea of just went wrong.  They've also made an image of the drive, so now I get this back."  I held Zamora's laptop up for them.  "Anything new here?"

He shrugged.  "Not really.  Going over some of the reports.  Duo thinks we've just about made up for the evidence that the Condasans had.  Wufei and Trowa are completing the report on Brisbois' arrest."

I nodded in recognition of the data as I sat down in front of Zamora's laptop.  While computers were my ever-faithful companions, it was getting a little tiresome having to fish through low-level histories and caches for unspecified information.  I settled down with a grim expression, girding myself for the challenge and compiling a list in my head of what I needed to find.

Hopefully, Zamora was fond of taking notes.  We had confirmed with the crew at Meridian that they had never made any copies of the Zero central memory unit, therefore it must have been Zamora that had done so.  Where had he hidden it?  What had he done with it?  With luck, his files would tell me.

I had thought that perhaps Zero was still running somewhere on the base, but after spending an arduous hour and a half with the power company in its various departments, I had finally convinced them to narrow down and specify the inconsistencies in their records regarding the Olin base.  They hadn't yet corrected the problems that were causing the misreadings, but they were able to inform me at least that there was now, honestly and truthfully, an insignificant amount of energy being diverted to the base.  While I was glad that meant that Zero hadn't been left running there somewhere, it would have been nice if we could have located it so easily.

Quatre and Duo continued their casual conversation as we each sifted through our stacks of information.  "You know, Q, you might be kinda right."

"I told you it was kind of inevitable," the blonde said smugly.

"Oh, shut up.  It was not.  I don't know if I really believe in 'inevitable'.  Well, that kind of 'inevitable', anyway."

"Well, that's the great thing about inevitability.  It doesn't matter whether you believe in it or not."

"I don't think I would even be having this conversation if I didn't--"  Duo paused.  "No, wait, I think that supports your point.  Dammit."

"You make it too easy, Duo."

"Oh... shut up," he groused.  "No, wait, I was wrong-- I mean, I was right, it doesn't support your theory.  See, I wouldn't be having this conversation if I hadn't done something.   'Inevitable' sort of implies that I wouldn't have had to do anything, right?"

Quatre gestured at him with a hand holding a sheet of paper.  "You may well have been having this conversation.  It may just have taken place at a later date in time."

Duo stuck his tongue out.  "Well, then you can't prove a thing.  If nothing ever happens to back your 'inevitable' theory, then all you have to do is say that we just haven't waited long enough."

"Therefore making it inevitable that I win this argument."

"Augh."  He stopped looking over the data to glare at Quatre.  "This officially makes it even more frustrating to argue anything with you than it is with Heero."

Upon hearing my name brought up suddenly, I blinked myself out of the unparsed lines of data and back to the present.  "Huh?"  My mind caught up a moment later and filled me in on everything it had heard, but had been too busy to process.  "Frustrating?"

He leaned towards me with a half-formed pout on his lips.   "And do you have any idea how frustrating it is sometimes when you don't even realize how frustrating you're being?"

I took a guess.  "No?"

"'No,' he says."  He looked at Quatre and received a commiserating look in return.  "'No.'  Of course not.  It makes perfect sense to him to make perfect sense."

That was... mind-boggling.  "...And it doesn't to you?"

"But perfect sense isn't always perfect!  Sometimes it makes no sense at all!"  After sparing me a moment's glance, he turned back to Quatre again.  "Which brings me right back to the whole 'inevitable' thing, you know.  It doesn't make any sense at all."

Quatre smiled with the perfect confidence of a person that knows he has an utterly defensible position.  "Which is why we slap an 'inevitable' on it.  It doesn't have to make any sense right now, but it'll make sense in the end."

Duo snorted.  "Yeah, says you."

"If I were a betting man, Duo..."

He wagged a finger at our teammate.  "Oh no, don't even go there, Q-ball.  Because I *am* a betting man, and I don't want to take that bet because I have a feeling I'd get shafted either way.  I wouldn't want to have to worry about ruining something this good just to spite you."

Quatre grinned toothily.  "'Good', you say?"

Duo snapped his mouth shut, a wary expression closing all the banter away rather immediately.  In the end he shrugged with a forced nonchalance.  "I never said it wasn't."

"You haven't said a lot of things, Duo.  Especially not to the other parties involved in your inevitability."

He turned Quatre's logic back on him.  "Well, if it's inevitable, then I don't have to say anything at all, now do I?"

"Only if you want to wait a really long time for it.  Just because things are inevitable, doesn't mean they can't happen too late.  Who knows what you may be missing out on?"

Duo looked like he was ready to shoot back a snappy reply, but he paused thoughtfully, eyes flicking to me for a moment before returning to Quatre.  "Hm.  I'll get back to you on that one."

I wasn't going to wait around for the exciting conclusion, so I went back to work.

It was getting slightly ridiculous.  With Duo's efforts to get me in bed and keep me there, he had practically moved in to my room.  He brought his knapsack with him now, holding a toothbrush, some clothes, and a hairbrush.  I wondered what Wufei thought about the situation.

I supposed I could see the logic behind his actions.  The case was, to their eyes, over.  Maybe it was time I stopped working late nights to try and catch up on things, but obviously if I didn't, then I would never catch up.  For the most part, however, the paperwork was kept thankfully to a minimum.  There were a few signed affidavits that I had to write up testifying to my part in each individual case so that they could stand in for me when trial time rolled around, but other than that, it was just an afternoon of reading that was necessary to catch up on all the developments.

The Zero core unit was being elusive.  We didn't think Zamora would have sold it off or given it to someone.  In the unlikely case that he had been seeking money, he probably would have sold a copy and not the original.  Leaving it in someone else's care was equally improbable, given the man's possessive nature when it came to his research.  In the advanced fields of science, there was a cutthroat race to be the first to discover something, anything, shiny and new.  Why would he willfully create competition for himself?

Duo made himself at home in my little room as soon as he arrived, setting himself up on my bed as he watched me finish up some work on my computer.  He commented when I set it to sleep mode.  "Not so frantic anymore?"

I sighed.  "If we want to be reasonably optimistic about this whole thing... we know as a fact what time Zamora notes in his files that he made the copy of Zero.  Given the time, and given the likelihood that he left his secured niche in favor of the outside world, I think... it's likely that it's still on base somewhere.  Where?  I don't know.  So long as it isn't running something right now... I guess I'm okay with not losing any sleep over it."

He chuckled ruefully.  "I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that with such reluctance or resignation."

"Well, I'm not happy about it," I defended myself.  "The ideal solution is that we recover the system.  But at this point... with his paranoia kicked into high gear by Zero, I wouldn't be surprised if he made a copy, put the original in a box, and then buried it in the ground somewhere.  If that's the case, then..."  I kept my exhalation from being another sigh.  "Then I guess it's okay if we can't find it, so long as no one else can find it either."

"Aw, not planning on combing the grounds with a metal detector?"

Well, I had considered the possibility, so I shrugged noncommittally.  "I do plan on making another trip out there sometime, as soon as I've got the time.  We only conducted a visual inspection under time constraints.  I'd like to make sure the place is clear before signing off on it."  There was still a chance.

We talked a bit instead.  I finally got him to tell me a little more about what he'd been up to for the last five years.  It wasn't all that bad, despite Duo's dark coloring of it.  It just wasn't very progressive, according to him.  We managed to identify some good points, things to remember in the future, like how much he enjoyed working with the kids one day at the park, or his reaction when he saw a school of dolphins in the Pacific on one of Howard's barges.

Mostly I let him talk, with only a few comments or questions here and there.  The thought process often benefited from being put into words.  Funny how I would have thought him to have realized that, rather than me.  Giving the matter some side thought, however, I realized how it worked out.  The words only helped when they were based on meaningful topics.  Chatter and banter didn't count.

The abbreviated version of his last few years ended around twenty-two hundred, when he turned things around and made me share a little more of myself with him.  As always, I didn't think there was much to share, but one man's trash is another man's treasure, as they say.  I talked a little about what kinds of classes I had taken.  I was glad to do it, too, when he showed interest in the topics.  There was a little bit of a wide-eyed wonder to it, as if he was catching a glimpse of something he had never thought was meant for him.  If nothing else, I wanted to show him that it was well within his grasp.  I also tried to convince him that my decision to go to school hadn't been delivered as a revelation from on high.   The reason I had chosen a path of higher education was that I hadn't been sure what I wanted to do with myself.  What better place to be, then, than surrounded by an institution full of other young people in a similar place in their lives?

Around twenty-three hundred, we both ended up in my bed.   It was fortunate we were as friendly as we were, otherwise it would have been quite the tight fit.  We were snug as it was, but I had no complaints.  It was warm and companionable and, well, sort of reaffirming.  It was a good feeling, knowing that I had someone with which I could get this close.

Maybe Duo felt the same way.  He turned over so he was on his stomach, and in the process of transforming a friendly kiss into something more, he managed to maneuver himself halfway on to me.   Honestly, I hardly noticed such trivialities when he threaded a hand through my hair, using some light pressure to guide me into cooperating fully with his mouth's whims.  I didn't offer up much resistance, even when I found his tongue cleverly teasing mine, which was quite an unexpected development.

He broke contact and leveled a deep, searching look across my probably hazy expression.  At length, he drew breath to speak, changed his mind with an incredulous little shake of his head, and pushed himself off me, floating a vague intention to shower over his shoulder at me.

Yeah, it was a good feeling.

And yeah, finding out about some more of his life events still didn't help me understand his thought processes at all sometimes.

I was typing up a report when Wufei and Duo rejoined the rest of us from getting an update on the situation in Africa.  They were continuing a conversation they had been carrying on along the way as they drifted towards their desks.

"I get what you're saying, Fei, but I don't think you're really seeing the full extent of my point.  I know I said it was nothing, okay?  But nothing has the perfect potential to become something."

"Nothing comes from nothing, Duo," Wufei answered with his usual implacability.  "There must have been something, even if you don't know what it is."

"...Hmmm, okay, how's this?  That nothing was really nothing.  This is just an entirely different something."

Wufei gave it some thought as he added to the notes on the whiteboard.  "The two are related.  They must be.  It is impossible to divorce the present from the past."

"I'm not trying to.  Trust me, I know.  I think that's half the problem right there."  He picked up a dry eraser and started cleaning off some of the miscellaneous that had accumulated.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, not updating.  Getting stuck at some comfortable point and never going beyond it.  Not realizing that things have changed."  So it seemed that Duo had been listening to me after all.

"Have they?" Wufei asked.

Duo made an exasperated sound as if the answer should have been obvious.  "God, yes.  Totally and completely yes.  From my point of view, anyway, which should really be anyone's point of view.  I mean, it can't just be me.  It's him.  He doesn't get it.  Just flat out doesn't get it at all."

"Have you tried asking?"

"Asking?  What good would asking do?  If you have to ask, then obviously the answer is a big, fat negative."

"How do you know if you don't try?"

He snorted.  "Some things in this world, Fei, you just know.  The stars don't actually twinkle in space, outship without a suit is Bad, and *he* obviously doesn't get it."

"Are you sure you've made your intentions clear?"

"I bloody *sleep* with the man, for chrissake, and we're twenty-one.  You don't do that sort of thing innocently, but does he get that?  No, apparently not.  I *kiss* the man, and I kiss him gooooood, and does he notice?  Not at all.  I could wake him up, humping his leg and sporting some morning wood, and he would ask me what I was doing!  And if I made some half-assed excuse, he'd probably just shrug it off.  'Oh, don't worry about it; these things happen.'  Probably not to him, no, but in a general sort of sense.  And it's weird, because normally he's sharp as can be, but sometimes, I bet we could be talking about him right in front of him and he wouldn't even notice!"

I guess I just had to finish the thought I had started in my written report before my brain was freed to process the conversation happening in the room around me.  Duo didn't sleep with anyone else, did he?  I was in a position to know, wasn't I?  I took my attention from my screen as the snippets of conversation lined up properly in my mind, and I ended up catching Trowa's eyes above my monitor.  He saw realization gradually start to creep up on me, and he snorted.

That was confirmation enough that something was going on.   I turned around slowly to face Duo, finding that the entire room was watching me expectantly.  "Am I... missing something here?"

He planted his face in the palm of his hand.  "Finally!  I was really starting to worry about you, Yuy.  Would I have to carve it on the face of the moon with a beam rifle or what?"

"Carve... what?"

He blinked at me with a look of determination, then started closing in on me.  I was dimly aware of Quatre getting out of his seat.  "Look at the time," he announced cheerfully.  "Who's up for some coffee?"

"I hear the café on Brown and Fitch is good," Trowa said, he and Wufei both heading out of the room with the blond.

That left me and Duo.  He put his hands on either side of me and leaned over my chair.  "Look, I like you.  I'm just going to be upfront with you about that because I know you're not going to go all weird on me.  Worst case scenario, you just completely miss my point and go on with your happy, oblivious life, right?  So I like you.  In a, 'I'd kinda like to date you' kind of way.   Well, maybe also in a, 'I'd kinda like to do you, but hey, you're great company, too!' kind of way.  What do you think of that?"

"Uh... Oh?"

Well, at least I amused him.  "Hey, look, I was right.  He doesn't get it.  Let me help you out.  You like me, Heero?"

"Yes?"  That was a no-brainer, even though I wasn't quite certain what the definition of 'like' was anymore.  I'm sure there were several, and one of them had to apply.

He grinned with a faintly Shinigami humor that sent a shiver down my spine.  "And do you like kissing me?"

"Yes."  I needed to stop uttering things with such an unsure, questioning tone.

He smiled a moment more before exploding.  "Then how can it not add up for you?  For a guy who can do differential calculus with two hands tied behind his back, how can simple addition be beyond your grasp?  How are you still stuck in this whole friend thing?  I mean, yeah, the kiss it and make it better thing is cute and sweet and maybe even a little sexy and all, but that is not the only thing a kiss is good for!"

The gears in my brain started chugging slowly in recognition of his words.  I wasn't a complete innocent; of course I recognized the kiss as a possible harbinger of lust or sex.  That just wasn't my goal.  "...But I like kissing you and making it better."

Duo looked torn between laughing, crying, staring, and ripping my throat out.  Now would probably be a perfect example of a time to kiss him, if the moment had been caught in some other context.   If Duo was down, I wanted to make him feel better, and a kiss seemed both a good way to express that and accomplish that, both in the past and at present.  Made sense to me.  I remained in a comfort paradigm of thought, whereas apparently Duo had moved on to something else.

He made a choking sound as if everything was trying to get out at once.  I looked at him with some concern, placing a hand on one of his arms.  "Duo?"

The laugh finally won out, though it was tempered with a tired edge.  "I thought you went to school and got all worldly."

Was that what people went to school for these days?  "It's not like I don't know what you're talking about, more or less.  I know all about the difference between 'liking' someone and 'liking' someone.  I just... well... wouldn't know from personal experience.  Not knowing how to do the math, and just not doing the math, are two very different things.  I don't know what it all adds up to.  I guess... that could very well be the answer.  Maybe I do like you."  I did like him as a person, after all, and I did like kissing him.  And now that I thought about it, I also liked just being with him even if we weren't doing anything, and I liked making him smile, and I cared about what he thought and how he felt... Yes, it could very well add up to what he was suggesting.

"'Maybe', huh?"  His shoulders slumped, but more in a release of tension than an outlet for depression.  "Not willing to take my word for it?  Well, that's good, I guess.  It's not like I was really expecting anything else anyway.  A solid 'yes' would have been... weird.  And a solid 'no' would have been... equally as weird.  Honestly, I think you like me, Heero Yuy, if it's not too arrogant of me to say.  I just think you haven't figured that out yet."

Honestly, with him standing over me with one corner of his mouth lifted up in a roguish smirk... I could think that, too.

"Tell me, Heero..."  He leaned in another few centimeters.  "Do you ever wonder where your hormones are?"

I wasn't sure if I liked that gleam in his eye.  It caused a funny feeling in my chest.  "...No, not really."

He grinned.  "Think I could give 'em a little jump start?"

That one intensified the feeling.  "I think you could do anything you set your mind to."

"That's a bullshit non-answer, Heero," he purred.

I hadn't thought he would want a detailed answer.  "Then... Yes."

"Great," he chirped, backing off abruptly.  The loss of his presence in my personal space was jarring and unpleasant.  "So, wanna see if we can catch up with the guys?"

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