Quatre was not the boy they remembered. They could tell that much from the shouted expletive that made its violent, if muffled, way through the closed door in front of them. Auda knocked hesitantly on that frail barrier protecting them from the wrath on the other side. "Master Quatre? Your guests are here to see you."
"Yeah, yeah," was the grumbled reply, which the Maguanac took as a positive response. He opened the door, gestured them in, and then fled for safer environs.
"You're shorter than I remember," Duo observed foremost, without the least bit of remorse, regret, or apology following on the heels of the words.
Quatre stared at him long and hard before his cold expression cracked and he laughed loudly, though it still wasn't a particularly warm sound. "I suppose I am." He waved his hand in the direction of the sofa, signaling for them to make themselves comfortable. "Forgive me for not standing up and greeting you properly."
They watched silently as the blond struggled to maneuver himself free of the coffee table, where one of the wheels on his chair had gotten caught on the leg. Heero cleared his throat gently, but when Quatre shot him an evil glare, he stayed quietly where he was and looked around the room instead. "I get the feeling the majority of your Maguanacs are still bachelors."
Quatre snorted. "If they had their way, I'd be occupying their master bedroom and they'd be down here in this shithole. They're generally smart, useful guys, but it's hell trying to convince them how a proper hiding and laying low is supposed to work."
Duo muffled a snicker, but Quatre caught him at it just when he finally got his wheelchair unhooked from the table. He sighed in victory and parked himself in a clear spot. "I'm a terrible houseguest, I know. I've already apologized in advance for my shitty behavior, but I think they'll have to put up with it for quite a while. Being hit by a ton of bricks doesn't leave me in a very charitable mood."
"How much damage was done to you?" Heero asked directly.
"If I hadn't gotten what little warning I had, I'd have been killed, no doubt about that. As it is, I got my legs smashed up pretty bad. Took some nerve damage, they guess. Can't really tell how much until some of the rest of it is healed up. But hey, I can still move my big toe, so it can't be that bad." He looked down at his toe, sticking out of the thick cast encircling one of his legs, and the rest of them turned their attention in that direction, too, but nothing happened. He frowned harder at it, and finally it twitched. "See?"
"How does one get hit by a ton of bricks?"
"Oh, you know. When someone goes in the night before and weakens the braces above the place where they know the target's going to be standing the next day."
"Ah. Well, someone tried to kill me, too," Heero offered in condolence.
Quatre perked up. "Yeah?"
"Mugger in an alley with a knife."
"Damn, why did you get the good one? You get a knife fight, and I get stuck with a fucking load of bricks? How embarrassing."
Duo bit the inside of his lip.
Heero ignored him as usual. "It would have been embarrassing if I'd been killed by a mugger."
"A load of bricks, Heero. I might as well have been killed by a hand puppet, or an anvil falling from the sky. Maybe they would have liked to choke me on a chicken bone."
"Well... You appear to have actually had a life, which would have given them more opportunity to be creative. If not a mugger for me, then death by stapler, or maybe a gas leak in my apartment. I've never really gotten out much. I mean, if you think about it, it's just as insulting that they thought they could take me out with a guy with a knife. At least bricks, you know, it'd be understandable for you not to be on the lookout for a freak accident."
The twist to his lips showed he was just barely mollified. "Did you kill him? This guy that jumped you?"
"See, you got someone to kill. That completely makes up for it. What am I supposed to do? Get a sledge hammer and start smashing stuff up?"
Duo finally erupted into a soft guffaw. "Shit, Quatre, how many of those bricks hit you on the head?"
"I got hit by a fucking ton of bricks, Duo. I have the right to be disgruntled." He stuck his tongue out at him for good measure. Duo stuck his out right back. Quatre snorted. "And all the guys around here just like to pretend they didn't hear me acting grumpy. Anyway. What brings you two here to my little hidey hole? You guys on the run?"
"Well, someone did try to kill me..."
"See? And you get to stay mobile afterwards! And I get stuck in this damn chair."
"Um. I fell unconscious for a little while."
"Good for you. I got to stay fully conscious while I was half-buried and crushed underneath a goddamn ton of bricks!"
Duo split the air with another swallowed laugh. "I can't tell if you're doped up on painkillers, or painfully clear-headed without them."
"Without them, thank you. How about you, Duo? Has anyone tried to kill you lately?"
"Nope. I'm so desperate for action, I need to rely on *him* to get my jollies." He jerked his thumb in Yuy's direction, trying not to really think of being desperate and relying on Yuy to relieve that ache. It'd been a good idea at the time, but still one of those things that just left a person feeling even more empty inside afterward.
"Well, that's too bad, Duo. I guess at least someone thought that I was worth taking out. That's something, at least."
"Ouch. That's cold, Blondie." No, wait, that was what Howard called Zechs. Had to come up with another one later. "Keep that up, and I'm going to have to insist that all your faithful minions made up the story about someone weakening the supports underneath that pallet of bricks just to make you feel better. Maybe it really was just a freak accident, and God just hates you that much." God certainly hated Duo that much. Seemed only fair to share the wealth. He was so unloved.
"Are you desperate for action, too?" Heero asked Quatre. This was not what he had come here expecting to find. "How have the last few years been treating you?"
Quatre stopped to consider the answer to that question, for a moment seeming almost confused. Finally, he resorted to the all-purpose shrug. "It started out okay, I guess. I got placed on L2, away from my family, but only technically. Away from the residences, but it's not as if my family doesn't do business here. So in that respect, I suppose I was lucky. Of course, the government didn't encourage me to take a very active role in the company holdings, but that didn't bother me either. Except maybe for the fact that they presumed to order my life in such a fashion. I didn't want to, truth be told. Honestly, I think I was a little glad that they insisted. It was like an excuse, a reason not to. Something I could point at any time anyone came up to me, trying to make me fill my father's shoes. I could never do that." He laughed nervously, scratching at the back of his head with one hand. "Of course not. Did you ever see my father? His shoes were huge!"
"Well, you know what they say about a --" Duo was completely prepared to finish the statement, but Heero jabbed him in the side with his elbow, so he let it drop.
Quatre knew what the end of that sentence had been and was grateful for the interruption. He didn't want to go there. But any thought about his father inevitably made him start wondering what the towering figure of a man would have thought of him. Maybe he'd be relieved that his wayward son wasn't in charge of the business. "I guess life wasn't going so badly. At least until the brick thing. It's been, well, boring, I guess, but after saving the world, you know... it just sort of goes downhill from there. How about you?"
"Hey, what's that saying?" Duo asked. "It's something like, um, 'life's a bitch, and then you die'?"
Well. That was succinct. He waited a moment in case there was something more, but there wasn't. "Okay. So someone tried to kill Heero, and then he got out and got you to help him find these guys?"
Heero chuckled darkly to himself. Life was much less glamorous than that. "Actually, I think we're more on the run because I'm trying to break up Relena's wedding, or something along those lines."
"Ooh, might have something to do with breaking Zechs and Noin out from their little prisons, too," Duo added. "They got themselves caught up in some political thingamajigger."
"Sounds like you've gotten yourself caught up in some political thingamajigger, too." Quatre sounded almost wistful.
"Naw, that stuff just kinda happened, fell in our path, that sort of thing. You know. Well, the Zechs thing, maybe. Noin, now, she's a nice lady, yeah? And she's pregnant, did you hear?"
"Really? By Zechs? How far along is she?"
"Erm." He poked through his head for the stat. It really wasn't the sort of thing he paid much attention to.
Heero answered for him. "Five months."
"Wow, that's great. If I'm not still dead by then, I'll be sure to send them a present."
"I suppose that will depend on whether or not you find the people that tried to kill you."
"Oh, them. Get me that laptop, would you?" He waited for Heero to hand him the computer sitting on top of a stack of magazines. "Who tried to kill you?"
"Members of the Jurgensen family, I suspect, in possible combination with some political consortium with a nominally pacifistic agenda, even though they're working on creating some sort of large weapon. I've met the son before, Relena's fiancÚ. He's such a pansy. We didn't get along."
"Yeah, that sounds like the same guys that were trying to off me. The consortium part, anyway. The guys have done some digging. This consortium is behind a lot of stuff, if you dig deep enough. You can study the pattern of the bills they've backed to find out what their political agenda is. Mostly, it all seems aimed towards the control of small arms, greater regulation of various industries, mostly the materials industries, looser restrictions on government do's and don'ts. Nothing really special. It gets more interesting when you really go over things and figure out which things they've unofficially supported, and which government programs have been crumbling because of their agenda. Nothing with an obvious pattern, really. A health care program here, an employment center there. Blackouts in this area, transportation strikes in that. I don't think the pattern is in which particular programs they are, so much as it is in the distribution of those programs."
He turned the laptop around to show them the data he had collected. "These programs all show a weakening of the government's position on certain things, but basically their lack of ability to provide for the people in the ways that they promised they would. The peace was supposed to help people, but it's reached its peak and is on the decline, now."
Turning the laptop around to flip through more reports, he continued. "The people's faith in the current administration is weakening. It doesn't seem like they're doing enough, and what they're doing is ineffective. Now we have the people that have been helping to make that happen, a powerful consortium of people seeking change, and building a weapon up in space. Can we say 'Romafeller'? Actually, some of the members of the EUW really were members of old Romafeller. That's probably how they got their start. Sounds like it's time for another revolution."
Heero grunted sourly. "Five years this time, hm? Better than the one year it took the last time."
"Yeah, well they don't make 'em like they used to, that's for sure," Duo sighed, throwing himself back on the sofa. "Told ya so, Yuy."
"Told me what?"
"Told you you'd end up saving the world again."
"Who said anything about saving the world?"
"What's this? You mean you're not planning on doing anything about this?"
"No one said the world needed saving. We just said there was another revolution in the works."
"Huh. You did say that it was the government that was oppressing us, right?" He scratched his armpit idly. "Why haven't we joined this revolution yet?"
"Because the revolutionaries were also in on oppressing us, remember? You didn't like that. And they tried to have me killed. I didn't like that. I can't mind my own business if people are trying to kill me. And they're trying to force Relena into a marriage. I won't stand for that."
"Back to the one-track mind, I see. Can you talk some sense into him, Blue-eyes?"
"Huh?" Heero turned to him, confused.
"Not you," he answered impatiently, gesturing at Quatre. "Him."
"Duo. It's sort of stupid to call someone 'Blue-eyes' when everyone in the room has blue eyes."
"Oh, shut up. I was going for a TE Lawrence-- Just shut up."
Heero did, if only in Duo's direction. "Quatre. I see that the five years of enforced idleness have not dulled your analytical skills any. Why are you doing this now?"
"Me? Someone tried to kill me, Heero. I don't take that personally, but I do get kinda pissy when someone tries to profit from it."
"And that's why you've done all of this research?"
"...Maybe. I mean, geez, this is the first day I've been let out of bed. What else was I supposed to do? Count the cracks in the ceiling? I got that done in, like, five minutes, and trust me, it doesn't change nearly enough to be interesting. Do you know how boring it is being dead?"
"Yes." And there hadn't been any cracks on the ceiling of Trowa's trailer. There had, on occasion, been the roaring and trumpeting of various exotic animals. Those might have accounted for a few of the strange fever dreams he thought he had.
Quatre paused in remembrance. "Oh yeah. Never mind. Anyway. What are you trying to ask me?"
Heero exhaled carefully, keeping it from becoming a sigh as he leaned back into the sofa's cushions and considered his thoughts. Duo got bored and answered for him. "What he's wondering is, how guilty do you think he should feel for not really caring about anything you just told him?"
Unsurprisingly, Heero shot him a sour look, but afterwards he directed an expectant look at the pilot sitting across from them. Quatre looked back at him. "How much do you not care?"
He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, reminded unpleasantly of unproductive therapy sessions with that traitorous government employee. He was glad he'd never been able to tell her much. Who knew what she could have told her bosses, otherwise. "I... I'm not sure yet. I... I don't think I really want to anymore. I don't know if I can anymore. I... don't know what I have left to give anymore."
Quatre fixed with him a piercing stare before summarizing things as he saw them. "You do care inside. But you're afraid to care, to express that care. You're afraid you'll fail. You're afraid that what you have won't be enough. And you're afraid that you'll get burned again. That sound about right?"
He sank another centimeter lower in his seat, arms crossing defensively over his chest before he could stop them. He'd been told that that was a very closed pose, but to uncross his arms now would mean an admission of guilt and defeat. "I never said that."
Duo snorted, but it didn't distract Quatre from his diagnosis as a wheelchair therapist. "What you've got going for you right now is sort of the optimal path. You get to sort of 'accidentally' save the world while you figure yourself out, which appeases your sense of responsibility without compromising your sense of disfranchisement. You aren't sure where the world is going yet, or what your place is in that world, but you do know that you aren't going to stand by and watch things go to hell. You don't like it when things go all to hell. You've still got that supersuit on underneath your clothes, Heero. All you have to do is dust it off."
"I honestly didn't care two weeks ago," he protested.
"And that's why you jumped at the first chance to get back into the game," Quatre goaded wryly.
"Someone tried to kill me! I can't lead a bland, boring, meaningless life if someone is out there trying to kill me. And I left the guy bleeding out in an alley. I didn't mean to, but I did. Plain old logic dictates that you don't stick around the scene of the crime."
"He was just a trigger, a catalyst, something to jump start the heroic juices in you again. Maybe you didn't care two weeks ago. But it was like dry tinder just waiting for a spark before it flamed back into life. You are who you are, Heero. Nothing will change that."
"And that's why it..." Quatre stared at him intently, and he swallowed. "That's why it... that's why it was so hard. That's why I couldn't... why I had to..." He shook his head in frustration. "What the hell, Quatre?"
The blond shrugged, the intense gaze disappearing for a moment, along with his magical, hypnotic powers. "Hey, you asked."
"No, Duo asked. Let's talk about him for a while, and why he feels the need to fuck anything that moves. Preferably in an alley somewhere." He had his private theories, but they had been formulated while tired, sore, alone, and with his boxers still tangled around one ankle. It would be nice to have an independent party confirm them.
Duo jumped in his seat, glancing nervously at Quatre and his evil knack of looking into a man's heart. "Hey, leave me out of this."
Heero barely spared the time for a smirk. "His life is miserable, he's being smothered, he drinks, he smokes--"
"Hey, I quit! When did you become my mother, all of a sudden?"
"That makes you a whole new kind of motherfucker then, doesn't it?"
Quatre gasped in gossipy delight. "You two slept together?"
"No." The instant denial came from two sides at once. They glared at each other before Heero turned back to Quatre with a vindictive light in his eyes. "But only because he doesn't literally sleep with people. He doesn't do long-term, or even one-nighters, really."
"Oh, don't be such a bitch, Yuy," Duo groaned. "You knew what you were getting into when you let me fuck you up against that wall. Don't start complaining now that you didn't get a post-fuck cuddle."
"I'm not being a bitch. I just think our friend Quatre here would have a field day picking you apart."
"You're just trying to distract us from the real issue, which is you, and how fucking depressed you are."
"Oh, so now you're a therapist, too? I'll take this bullshit from Quatre, but I won't take it from you."
"Hey!" Quatre bounced in defensively. It was a lot of fun sitting back and just watching the show, but he had his own honor to defend. "I'll have you know I get that bullshit straight from all the daytime talk shows."
Heero was suddenly horrified that he'd almost accepted what Quatre had told him. "Daytime talk shows?"
"Hey, you know how boring it is being dead."
"I never watched daytime talk!"
"Trowa doesn't have a TV in his trailer!"
Duo pounced on the opening. "Ooh, when were you in Trowa's trailer, hmm?" When Quatre's fair skin showed some sign of coloring, Duo jumped in even further. "Ooooh, were you ever actually in Trowa's 'trailer'?"
"There you go again," Heero accused. "It's always back to the crude sex jokes and innuendo."
"Okay, that's so it, Yuy! It was a one-fuck stand, that's it. See if I'm ever stupid enough to do that again. He wasn't very good anyway," he whispered in a loudly confidential tone to Quatre. "No stamina."
"Oh, like it matters when you're so quick to get off as soon as you can. At least I'm depressed. I can get away with sexual dysfunction. What's your excuse?"
"Aha! So you *are* depressed! See, I was right."
"Oh, gimme a break, Maxwell. Even that two-bit government shrink could tell I was depressed. I wouldn't be so proud of myself if I were you."
"Aww, check it out. The first step to curing your problem is admitting that you have a problem. What's step two?"
Quatre burst out laughing. "Meeting Duo Maxwell, I bet."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He waved his hand, dismissing the words while trying to control his mirth. Heero may have not cared two weeks ago, but since then he'd run into someone that had lit quite a fire under his ass. Damn, having it live and in person right in front of him was way better than watching it on TV. "As amusing as it is to watch you two bicker like an old married couple, can we get back to the point? You can argue on your own time, yeah?"
Protests and denials were on the lips of both of them, but neither of them was quite prepared to reignite the dispute when Quatre provided them with such a neat solution to keeping it from getting out of hand. With final miffed glares, they turned away from each other and let Quatre get back to business.
It took a few seconds for Quatre to remember what their business was. "You said you were interested in breaking up Relena's wedding? Fine. Go break up Relena's wedding. And if that just happens to be a good thing for more than you and her, great. But if you're going to do that, you'd better hurry."
Heero sat up a little straighter in his seat. "Why?"
Quatre turned the laptop around and pointed to the announcement on the screen. "Because they just changed the date. It's the day after tomorrow."
"They've moved it up? Why?"
"It's a trap, of course. You are predictable in some ways, you know."
"What do you mean?"
Duo quietly rolled his eyes in the background while Quatre explained. "They haven't officially released it to the public yet, but those in the know in the government know a few things that are causing quite a stir."
"You keep an eye on the government?"
Quatre shrugged. "Like I said. I've been bored. Anyway. How long ago did you get out? A week or so? Seems the general population of the government didn't notice."
He had wondered why he hadn't had much of a problem getting around. "That really says a lot about my life."
"Or it says a lot about the bad guys. The government's got plenty of these 'support' and 're-training' programs going, but did you know that the EUW took control of the programs regulating our activities?"
Beside him, Duo twitched in annoyance. "So we've heard."
"They've been keeping everything quiet. I guess they thought they could handle it."
Heero snorted. "Or maybe they didn't want anyone to know that they'd messed up trying to bump me off."
"Maybe. Either way, they've just let it get out yesterday that you didn't show up to your scheduled appointment two days ago."
"How astute of them." He also hadn't shown up to the ones last week, but who was really counting? No one, obviously.
"I haven't checked in lately, but last time I checked, they were looking into the other pilots as well. I'm dead, but I'm sure Duo will pop up on the radar. I haven't looked into the others."
"We left Trowa on Moon Base. At least, Duo left Trowa on Moon Base. I suspect he'll have gone AWOL as well."
Naturally, Duo contested this assessment. "Why do you keep taking his side, man? The bitch deserved it."
"He helped us, Duo."
"Yeah, only after he turned us in."
"Only after he helped us."
Quatre cut in. "Trowa? You ran into him? What was he doing on Moon Base?"
Heero cut Duo off before he could answer with something less than complimentary. "He was just being Trowa."
Quatre thought about that for a while, weighing their words, and decided he could figure out exactly what Trowa had been doing. "You helped him?"
Duo snorted. "What, like, Heero's a one-man traveling shrink show or something?"
"He's a catalyst, Duo," he was corrected. "Always has been. That's why the government locked him up, you know."
"I'm no catalyst," Heero answered, almost absently as he stared off at some point on the far wall. "By definition, catalysts aren't consumed in the reaction."
His words sat heavily in the air between them for a while before Duo got antsy and broke the silence. "So, what, they afraid we're going to reach out and touch the world again?"
Tying up another piercing look into Heero's heart, Quatre turned his attention back to business. "I don't think they know yet, but they can come up with almost anything, and get the rest of the government to go along with it. They're pretty sure, though, that Yuy's going to crash Relena's party. That one's kind of a given."
Duo stifled a snicker. "No shit. And I bet we're going to go do it anyway, even knowing it's a trap."
Quatre smirked. "No shit."
last modified : 2/25/2006 00:20:18 PST