There was something odd about Pargan's computer. It took Heero a moment to pinpoint it as Pargan navigated his way to his indecipherable missive. At first it seemed merely too loud, an old computer with a dusty, buzzing fan, but then he realized that it was the sound of two fans cooling the inside of the case. By itself, not too unusual, but not what he might have expected out of a computer in these parts. A case only needed more than one fan when there was more than one processor, and since when did Pargan have need of such processing power?
"Ah, there it is," the former butler sighed cheerfully, getting out of his seat. "I do appreciate you taking the time to look into this for me. I am looking forward to hearing what Master Milliardo has to say."
Heero shrugged the gratitude off as he took the chair and clicked the message, hoping for some sort of useful error message. It was of no assistance. On his way towards the file itself, Pargan pointed his attention towards a folder on the computer's desktop. "If it's of any use, I already have some software that you may find useful in this endeavor."
He doubted it, but he dutifully opened the directory up and nearly swallowed his tongue. It took him a few long seconds to recover, and when he did, he turned towards Pargan without sufficient words to articulate his startled thoughts.
Pargan merely smiled beneficently. "I've found these to be useful to me in the past."
Useful indeed. He was getting an awful strong feeling about what was keeping the regular mail program from reading the message. Locating the file, he opened it with the sophisticated hacker's toolkit Pargan had directed him to. It was new enough that its version number had advanced past the point he had seen it last, but then again, he had been out of the loop for a few years. It was a little bit disturbing to think that Pargan had kept up with the advances in technology better than he.
The workspace opened, and over his shoulder, Duo spluttered into his coffee with choked laugh. "Holy shit," he breathed, turning to the placid senior. "You're like... Heero in his old age! But with, like, ten times the class!"
"You flatter me, young man." The skin around Pargan's eyes crinkled so much his eyes were barely visible. "I have simply had the honor of learning many things in my service to Sanq."
"Heh, what's the matter, Yuy?" Duo smirked, watching Heero study the work that had already been done on the encryption. It was taking an unusual while. "Can't keep up with him?"
"Shut up," Heero muttered, eyes flickering across the strings onscreen. He hated to admit to himself, let alone Duo, what effort it was taking to bend his mind back to these things it had renounced five years ago. The patterns slowly began to emerge, however, and his hands went to the keyboard to start prototyping a decoder script. "Zechs sent this, you said?"
"His signature was embedded within the message."
"No... that doesn't seem right. There's a layer of encryption here that looks like it's one of Sanq's militia's... Zechs was never involved with that operation. And I doubt he would have studied it after the fact."
"True," Pargan murmured thoughtfully. "I had recognized it, but even after applying the proper key, the message was not decrypting properly."
"That's not all that's here. The top layer is an OZ code, as you already identified. But the last layer... someone wanted to make sure this didn't fall into the wrong hands. I don't recognize it."
Without setting his mug down, Duo stole the keyboard from Heero and started tapping out more lines of script to complete the decryption algorithm. "It's one of Howie's. They used it on the Peacemillion."
"Ah, sweet Lucrezia, then," Pargan smiled. "She is an excellent match for Master Milliardo, don't you think? But now I do worry that something terrible may have happened to prompt this message. I hope Master Milliardo is alright."
Studying the signal degradation, Heero tugged the keyboard away from Duo and input the proper parameters for the attempt at reconstruction. Once everything was set, he started the script and leaned back in his chair. "This may take an hour or two to crunch, and then we'll see if we got this right."
"Thank you," Pargan said appreciatively. "Now I'm afraid I have another favor to ask of you."
"If this message is bad news, you want us to look into it for you."
He nodded gravely. "My resources are limited, but they are yours. I am sadly no longer in a position to be of much use to the Peacecrafts, but it seems that perhaps your paths might intersect theirs. I would be in your debt if you could assist them."
"I don't know where my path lies."
"And yet this place here is a stop on that path. Why did you come here to ask so many questions about the Jurgensens?"
What did he plan to do with the knowledge that he had acquired? There had been no definite plans. If he confirmed that the marriage was horrible idea... perhaps it was in his mind to put a stop to it. Why? He did not know. Why not, perhaps. "I... I don't want Relena to make the wrong decision."
Pargan gave him a wise look, hinting at things that he was not yet ready to think about. "And neither do I."
Heero felt a little uncomfortable about that. "But that has nothing to do with chasing down Zechs." Never mind that he had previously informed Duo of such an intention.
"I've little doubt that what Milliardo is involved with will have an impact on Miss Relena. The coincident timing is suspect, do you not think?" Before Heero could stammer out an answer, Pargan moved on. "If it is truly in your mind to put a stop to this wedding, then I believe that thwarting whatever plans they have for Milliardo would work well alongside that."
His part done, he stood there quietly while Heero considered his wise words. Was that truly what was in his mind? Why had he left his bland life behind? He didn't want Relena to make a mistake, yes, but he'd had some vague notions of simply telling her not to, and it magically happening. What Pargan was suggesting seemed akin to throwing himself back into the limelight. He'd spent the last five years distancing himself from that, trying to forget what he had been, what he was meant to be. Was he ready to step back into center stage and take an active role in the world again? Was he ready to care that much again? It already hurt just thinking about it.
Oh yeah. There was always that whole 'someone trying to kill him' thing, too. He kept forgetting about that.
"I think I'd like to wait and see what the message says first," he said softly, buying himself some time.
"Very well, then," Pargan responded placidly. Either it was the utter tranquility of an imperturbable butler, or it was the patient wisdom of an experienced elder. "In the meantime, please make yourselves comfortable. Would you like to wash up? Shave, perhaps?"
Duo muffled a snicker behind his coffee mug.
Heero decided in favor of a resigned sigh rather than a sour glare. "I would appreciate that. Thank you."
Heero dutifully daubed the blank spot with some shaving cream before picking up the razor. A few years ago, he'd stopped caring and bought an electric razor. A person could get almost exactly the same shave with one these days, at a fraction of the effort. It was almost with a sense of bemusement that he applied the triple blades to his skin.
Over the scent of the shaving cream, he could still smell the fragrance of Duo's coffee. It was room temperature at best by now. He'd half expected Duo to guzzle the stuff down as quickly as he could, given how eager he'd been for that first cup, but instead, he'd savored it sip by sip. Alas, Heero couldn't tell the difference, except perhaps in the way its smell didn't make him wrinkle his nose in distaste, as did the sludge brewing in the company coffee machine.
It'd only been a few days, and that was a lifetime away.
His eyes flicked back to Duo's image in the mirror, returning to their first task only when the razor rasped unevenly over his skin. He hadn't expected he would ever see the other man again. When he'd tracked Duo down to that bar, he hadn't known what to expect, or really what he was going to say. He'd only known that he was about to go forth and touch the world again, and it seemed unnatural not to have at least one of the others by his side.
"You still in?" he asked as he rinsed off the borrowed razor for another pass.
From his seat on the cover of the toilet, Duo threw him an amused look. "Trying to get rid of me again, Yuy?"
"You didn't want to run off and talk to Zechs. You wanted someone to kill me instead."
'Try' and kill him, technically. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting if someone actually managed to take the Yuy down. In fact, it would be downright... strange. "Well, I got a good breakfast and some good coffee out of this deal today, so I'm willing to let the someone killing you thing slide for another day."
"Yay." He completed two more swipes with the razor. "Hey... on the off-chance that someone does actually manage to kill me. If I don't get him, do you think you could? There's just something annoying about some two-bit hitman being able to brag that he took me out."
Duo snorted. "Hn, if you manage to get taken out by some two-bit hitman, you'll deserve having your name smeared across the stars."
"Hm. I suppose." The thought of getting killed hadn't bothered him until someone actually decided to try it. It hadn't even bothered him very much right after someone decided to try it. But as the days passed, an insulted feeling grew.
Duo picked up the prescriptionless glasses Heero had laid down beside the sink and tried them on, getting close enough to Heero to stick his head into the reflective range of the bathroom mirror. "Hmm, not half bad."
"They don't suit you."
"What, I don't seem the studious type to you?"
"They aren't quite your typical 'badass' glasses."
"I don't mind looking studious." He slithered closer to Heero, close enough to wrap arms around him from behind. "Maybe that's your thing? Do you have naughty schoolboy fantasies, Heero?"
"Naughty schoolgirl fantasies, then?" he whispered into Heero's ear.
"Also a no."
One of his hands slipped lower as his voice became deeper, darker. "Been a long time since you've had any fantasies at all?"
Yes. Fantasies. Dreams. Vision. Yes, a long time indeed. "Is there some sort of timer in your head, Maxwell? 'Oh, I haven't groped Yuy in x amount of time, I better go do that'?"
"Oh, no," Duo lamented unconvincingly. "He's caught me. Whatever shall I do? Oh, I know!" He fondled with a good deal of prejudice.
Heero finished his task with a hand that trembled once or twice -- maybe even three times -- and rinsed the razor off one last time. "Do you mind? I'm trying to shave, you know."
Duo slipped away at the sound of Pargan's approach outside the open bathroom door, but not without a final pinch of Heero's butt. "I know. But it would amuse me if Mr. Original Badass himself managed to cut himself shaving." He reached out and grasped Heero by the chin. "But no. Seems you managed a perfect shave."
Heero pulled away and bent over the sink. "I'm overwhelmed by the depth of your concern."
When he finished washing his face off, he found Pargan's image in the mirror behind him. The old man held out a small towel for him. "Ah, excellent. You're looking refreshed."
"Hm." Heero had managed to avoid really paying attention to what was in the mirror, but Pargan's words made him look reflexively after scrubbing his face dry. There were faint circles underneath his eyes, but other than that, he supposed he did seem a bit... refreshed. If he did something about his hair and clothes, he might even stop looking so scruffy. But that could wait for another time.
"Heh, if that's 'refreshed'," Duo laughed. "He's gonna keep looking 'refreshed' for another week or so."
"I don't see your cheeks bristling yet."
"'Course not. That's what razors are for."
Heero turned toward him slowly. "You've had a razor with you this entire time?"
"Well, yeah, duh."
So many things to say, so little time. He bit his tongue on all of them, though he did run a hand through his hair. It brushed over the still slightly tender bump on his head and ended up at the nape of his neck, absently inspecting the progress of the healing there.
Pargan noticed it. "My, that's a nasty looking scab."
"Yeah, someone whacked me over the head with the lid of a garbage can a few days ago." He refluffed his hair so that it covered the wound.
Heero snorted. No doubt Pargan and Zechs got along fabulously. "Hitmen don't usually do 'honorable'."
"Hm, someone tried to kill you, did they? Have you considered, sir, the timing of the attack?"
Half the time, he forgot he had been attacked at all. Though now that Pargan mentioned it... "Timing? Coincident enough to be suspect again?"
"Exactly. Someone does not want Master Milliardo interfering with Miss Relena's wedding. Perhaps the same goes for you as well."
Duo laughed. "Then someone completely jumped the gun on that one. This oblivious idiot didn't even know there was a wedding until after he got attacked."
One of Pargan's bushy white eyebrows rose in recrimination. "You haven't been keeping up with the news?"
"Not really." There was so much going on in the world that he couldn't affect. After a while, ignorance just hurt less. "Can't say it was really encouraged, either... Hey, Duo. That Stan of yours..."
Duo's grin fell abruptly off his face. "Not 'mine'."
Irrelevant. "He said something... something about them taking a long time to put you in your place. I have to wonder..."
Pargan coughed politely. "Miss Relena often thought about all of you, after you were separated. I took it upon myself to try and follow your lives. It was far easier on my end to track the government's tracking of you."
It was really no wonder that Relena had managed to locate him during the war. "What did you find?"
"Your files were, of course, highly classified. Such was the point behind your relocation. However, I did note that the coordinator of the program changed several years ago. After which, things changed. Innocently enough, I suppose. Funding was shifted, priorities were re-evaluated."
"Non-military pressure," Heero mused softly to himself. "Who took charge of the program?"
"I'm afraid I don't recall, although I could look it up for you. I do remember that the man did not appear to be connected to any questionable faction."
"That doesn't mean he couldn't have been within someone's sphere of influence."
The now-emptied coffee mug in Duo's hand was set down very carefully upon the sink's countertop. "That pisses me off, Yuy," he said softly. It was the dangerous sort of softness. "That really, really pisses me off."
The room seemed colder all of a sudden. "When he came for you, at your apartment... those others with him. They were after me. They implied clear knowledge of my escape. If they were troubled by my disappearance, then they were likely the ones trying to make me disappear permanently in the first place."
"Which would seem to imply that the government was trying to kill you, or that the people trying to kill you have connections within the government. Neither of which makes me happier in the slightest."
Heero got the feeling that Duo was no longer just 'along for the ride'.
last modified : 2/25/2006 00:20:18 PST