Heero returned to his quarters just after two o'clock from his meeting with Instructor H. The schematic drawings for a new cockpit system were very exciting. The Project team's quest for innovation was impressive considering the number of years they had been working together. No one was riding on their laurels.
"Duo, I'm back," he said, as he stepped into the dining room.
There was no reply, so he assumed that Duo was in the bathroom. He'd grab something from the refrigerator and then check on him. Maybe he was taking a lazy shower again? Heero grinned. He liked that Duo had admitted to masturbating while thinking of him in the shower, and he'd enjoy catching part of that show.
He popped a chocolate-covered strawberry into his mouth and then made a bee-line for the shower. He hesitated as he entered the bathroom, registering the silence. There was no sign of Duo. What was going on?
He turned back to the bedroom and went straight for the phone tucked away in a drawer, dialing Doctor Po. "This is Heero. Did you authorize Lucrezia to take Duo somewhere?"
"No," Sally said, concern edged in her answer. "Why do you ask?"
"I just returned from meeting with H and Duo is not here." He took the mobile phone and walked into the living room, scanning his quarters. "Unless he's figured out how to disengage the security, he can't leave my quarters on his own."
Now he was standing in front of the security panel at the entrance door. He could hear Doctor Po talking to Lucrezia in the background, checking what she knew.
"Can you check your security log?" Sally asked.
"In progress," he said, as he typed his code and watched the data scroll across the readout screen. "My quarters were accessed at 1220 hours by 83604. That's the maid, correct?"
There was a pause, and then Sally agreed. "Yes, that's Clementine's code. But is this her regular day to clean?"
It wasn't, but maybe she had been directed to clean up the mess from last night's dinner. He turned to the dining room table. All the dishes were still there.
"Damn it," he said, his fist clenching. "No one is authorized to remove Duo from these quarters. I need you to get me a list of every security zone that's been accessed by 83604." He was out the door, jogging down the corridor with his mobile to his ear. "Now, doctor!"
"I'm on it," she said.
He knew with the doctor's clearance level it would only take seconds for her to access the logs, but it felt way too long to wait. Finally, she was back on the line.
"Heero, the code was used for the elevator at the end of your corridor at 1234 hours, but hasn't been used since."
He stopped just meters in front of the elevator. Had Duo found a way to escape? He knew the elevator could take him to the main floor and then lead out onto the campus. Maybe he had talked Clementine into helping him get away?
Heero pressed the elevator's call button. In seconds it was there, the door opening. He stepped inside and opened the security panel.
"I need to access the system's log. Get me a tech on the line."
He knew that everything was monitored from the footsteps to the elevator's usage. It was all part of the grand security net that kept his quarters and the Project supposedly impenetrable. Letting Duo make friends with low level personnel had obviously been an error in judgment.
"This is Meier in Tech Services. I'm pulling up the elevator protocol now."
Did the guy have to sound like this was an everyday occurrence? Heero wanted to reach through his phone and grab him by the shirt, make him feel the weight of this emergency.
"You have full clearance, Mr. Yuy. By typing in your access code and then the numbers 1-1-1 the elevator's menu will appear on the readout panel." The tech's voice was calm and annunciated like he was reading the nightly news. "Select 'history' and then 'run log' for a list of times and stops on the elevator's route."
Heero was doing all this as the tech talked. "Got it," he said, his eyes fast on the readout.
"Is there anything else I can help you with today?" Meier asked, pleasantly unaware of the circumstances of this call.
Heero grunted, "Hn," and Sally chimed in to thank the tech for his assistance and disconnected him from the call.
"Do you have it?" Sally asked.
"Here it is. They took the elevator to sublevel one. That's the warehouse."
"What are they doing there?"
"I don't know, but I'm headed there now."
"I'll contact security."
"Negative," Heero said, the elevator already on its way.
"But you don't know what you'll encounter."
"Doctor..." He knew she was concerned, but now that concern was getting in the way of her faculties. "I'm trained for any situation."
"Of course." She sounded disappointed or maybe it was some womanly instinct to protect the program she had created.
The elevator opened onto sublevel one. "I'm here. I'll let you know what I find out." He disconnected the call before she could reply. The mobile went into his trouser pocket and he stepped into the corridor that led to the warehouse. In seconds he came upon the bustling forklift activity. Why had Duo come here?
He approached a forklift operator. "Did you see a man with a braid and a young woman pass through here about an hour and a half ago?"
The man shook his head. "My shift just started. Ask Nuella. She's the supervisor." He pointed to a woman wearing a hard hat and work clothes and talking with another employee.
Heero approached her and repeated the question.
"There were three of them," she said. "They accessed one of the storage rooms down that corridor."
"Are they still here?"
Heero was in motion. His mind pushed aside any more questions as he jogged across the unloading zone to the corridor indicated. He saw instantly which room they were in, the door was ajar. He rushed inside and pulled up short. Clementine and a lab assistant whose name he didn't recall were seated in chairs and Duo was sitting on the floor with hundreds of items spread all around him.
"What's going on?" Heero asked, his tone a mix of accusation and relief.
The threesome looked up at him simultaneously. Duo's brow immediately furrowed when he made eye contact with Heero.
"What do you suppose all this is?" Duo asked, his voice oddly bitter.
Heero looked around. Whatever it had been, it was a mess now. Every box was opened and its contents poured out.
"I've no idea," he said.
"It's my life."
The bitterness was clear now and Heero stepped further into the room, grabbing an empty box to look at its label: Maxwell, Duo. Books.
"All this belongs to you?"
"You mean you don't know? It's my fucking life and you don't know?"
"Why are you talking like that?" Heero stepped over stacks of dishes and piles of clothes to get to Duo. "Of course, I don't know. What is all this?"
"It's the contents of my apartment," Duo said, his voice cracking.
Heero crouched down next to him. "They boxed up your belongings," he said, matter-of-factly.
"I don't exist. Isn't that what you said?" Duo looked over at him. "Well, here's the proof of it! They boxed up my life and locked it in this room just like you locked me up in yours!"
Heero's eyes went wide. The force of that statement and the inherent truth of it slammed into his chest like a physical blow. This discovery had obviously overwhelmed Duo, but Heero needed more information. What the hell was going on around here?
He looked over his shoulder at Duo's companions. "Who authorized you to bring him here?"
"I don't know," the young man said. "There were instructions on my desk. I was just following orders."
Heero growled. "What's your name?"
"Do you have those instructions with you?"
Jamie nodded and reached into his pant's pocket. He got up and handed the folded paper over. Heero read it quickly. The directions were printed off a computer, but there was no signature.
"Did you ask who left this on your desk?"
"No, Mr. Yuy. I'm used to getting notes like that. The scientists leave to-do lists all the time."
Heero sensed Jamie's sincerity and that he was caught in the middle. Someone had calculated this move very carefully. But who and why?
"Thanks for looking after Duo. I'll take things from here," he said, dismissing them.
Even bewildered, Clementine and Jamie had enough sense not to question him. They said goodbye to Duo with worry in their eyes.
Duo looked up at Heero after they'd gone. "You didn't know about this?"
"No. I never gave it any thought." He wanted to take Duo into his arms, ease the pain that shown in his eyes, but instinct told him to take this slowly. "I wish I had known and been the one to bring you here."
Duo's eyes were directed down again, his hands in motion as he sorted through his cd collection. And then he smashed the stack with his fist, cracking the plastic jewel cases. "Damn it, Heero! I wish they'd burned all this. Why did they have to keep it and catalogue it like some archaeological dig?"
"I don't know." Heero took-in the room again. What he had initially assessed as a mess now made sense. Duo had systematically dumped the contents of each box and was putting his old apartment back together.
Then he saw it; a faded green photo album lying on a worn upholstered chair. He reached over and grabbed it and settled on the floor next to Duo.
"Do you mind?" he asked, dipping his head to see Duo's eyes hidden under his heavy bangs.
Duo shook his head.
They were sitting side-by-side, both cross legged on the cold, cement floor. Heero opened the cover of the album to find page after page of photos. Some faded, some mere snapshots, all a personal testament to Duo's life. There was a striking portrait of a young couple with a baby.
"Are these your parents?"
Duo nodded. "Yeah."
It suddenly became achingly clear just what they had taken away. This was what remained of any connection Duo had to his parents and the intervening years, and the Project had boxed it up as though it meant next to nothing.
"I'm sorry, Duo," Heero said, slowly closing the album. It seemed too personal an artifact for him to look at more closely. He set it on Duo's lap. "Had I known..."
Duo looked up at him sharply, his eyes shimmering with tears. "Don't say it. Don't lie to me when you can't understand."
Heero's chest tightened. "You're right."
He watched Duo's thumb rub the fraying edge of the album.
"Come with me," Duo said lifting his eyes to him. "We could leave all this behind---"
"No, listen, Heero. We can't know what we've got if we stay here." He reached out touching Heero's arm. "This isn't a life." His voice was pleading, but there was no rationale in what he was asking.
"The Project is too important," Heero said. "I thought you understood that."
"What I thought I understood was that we were starting to feel something for each other."
"Then can't you see that we gotta get away from here?"
Heero shook his head. "Let's go back to my quarters. All this has upset you."
"Hey, don't treat me like an infant. This was a shock, but it's helped me to see what I need."
Heero stared into Duo's eyes waiting for him to finish that thought. What did he need? But instead of enlightening Heero further, Duo brushed his hand across the photo album and set it back on the chair. With a sigh he got up with a long stretch. There had been such fierce emotions expressed in the last few minutes that Heero was perplexed by Duo's sudden retreat.
"You coming?" Duo asked, as he stared down at Heero.
Heero stood. He didn't like this. What it had done to Duo. What it had done to them. Someone had put Clementine and Jamie up to this. It wasn't his nature to doubt people's motives, but the repercussions of showing Duo the contents of his former life could not have been overlooked.
He put his hands on Duo's hips, turning him so that they were toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye. "I don't want to lose the gains we've made," he said, ardently.
Duo searched his eyes, seeming to weigh the sincerity in those words. He swallowed hard and nodded. "Okay. But get me out of here."
Heero took Duo's hand and lead him out of the room, closing the door and activating the lock mechanism. With the security panel light red to indicate lock engaged, Duo turned to Heero and threw his arms around him. Heero nearly stumbled back, surprised by the sudden embrace.
"It's all right," Heero said, wrapping his arms around Duo and caressing his braid.
"I shouldn't have come," Duo mumbled against Heero's neck.
Heero wondered if Duo truly believed that statement. There had to be a part of him that was relieved to have been reunited with his belongings. But it had re-opened the wound. Even as Heero held Duo, enjoying his warmth and the way he clung to him, he felt their bliss slipping away. He had never believed that happiness found was permanent, but he had also miscalculated how very fragile it was.
~ ~ ~
The elevator ride back to his floor was painfully quiet. It was as though neither one could find a thing to say. Or the right thing to say. But that didn't stop Heero's mind from hearing the echo of Duo's words: I don't exist anymore. Isn't that what you said?
Heero bowed his head as he tried to focus on the whir of the elevator in its ascent. Yes, he had said that, but until today, until just minutes ago, he had never realized how cutting those words had been. What that must have felt like for Duo to hear that he no longer existed. And if you don't exist then you don't matter, right? So, all this time Duo had felt... like nothing?
"I don't know what to say." Heero spoke in a whisper.
He wasn't sure if Duo had heard him, but before he could hope for a response the elevator dinged and the door opened. Duo stepped into the corridor like a man with a purpose. Like a man who wanted to get away.
Heero followed him down the corridor. The braid swooshed like a pendulum, tempting Heero to reach out and grab it, stop its sway and stop Duo from his retreat. Hadn't they found something together? Did the stuff in that room mean so much? But of course it did. It was the remains of Duo's life.
"Enter," he said as they reached the apartment.
For some reason, Duo waited for Heero to open the door, and when he stepped inside he turned and watched as the lock was activated. Heero caught his eye and Duo held it for several awkward seconds and then headed toward the bedroom.
Again, Heero thought he should say something, but he watched silently as Duo disappeared into the other room. Things had shifted again, and not for the better.
He waited a short time before going into the bedroom. He needed to know that Duo was okay. When he came into the room, he saw Duo sitting at the foot of the bed. His shoes discarded carelessly. He glanced over his shoulder at Heero and stood before stripping off the snug t-shirt and tossing it on the floor next to the shoes.
"I'm gonna lie down," Duo said.
"That sounds like a good idea. Mind if I join you?"
Duo stared at him from across the bed and shrugged. "Your place."
It was the truth, but it stung to hear Duo say those words now. Why did it feel like a great gaping hole had opened up?
Duo lay down on top of the covers, facing away from Heero. Maybe he needed time alone, but Heero didn't want to give it to him. They needed to keep their connection alive. So, Heero pulled his shoes off and climbed onto the bed, settling close to Duo. He resisted putting his arm around him, and was surprised when Duo reached back and did it for him, taking his arm and laying it over his hip.
"You okay?" Heero asked, pulling himself up against Duo's back.
Heero closed his eyes and buried his face in Duo's hair, breathing him in deeply. It was only now that he could admit to himself the fear that had spiked in him when he had discovered that Duo was gone. "This is where you belong," he said, mouthing the words silently into Duo's braid.
His hand glided over Duo's hip, down his thigh and behind, dipping between Duo's legs to push them apart. Duo lifted his leg and Heero's hand settled on his balls, his fingers curling upward to massage him to hardness through his jeans. He needed this physical intimacy to reclaim Duo, and bring them both back to the here and now.
It didn't take long for either of them to become fully aroused. Heero leaned over Duo's shoulder to kiss him, forcing Duo to turn awkwardly, deliciously for their lips to meet. He pressed his cock against Duo's ass and wrapped his arms around Duo's naked torso, holding them close as he rocked into him.
With the temperature rising and the need growing, Heero broke away. He quickly shed his clothes and grabbed the lube off the nightstand. When he settled on the bed again, Duo was stripped bare, this time lying on his back. He spread his legs and let Heero finger him, prepare to take him. Then Heero smoothed the gel over his cock and rolled on top of Duo, slipping into that incredible tightness.
Duo was quiet as they made love, except for an occasional grunt or soft moan. Heero supposed he understood. The willingness and the tenderness were there as they slowly built towards climax. When they finally reached that plateau Heero made sure that Duo was ready to come before he let loose. It was always satisfying to come together and this afternoon was no different. Heero thrust hard and his body tensed as the orgasm washed through him, and Duo's followed.
"Yes," he said, softly against Duo's ear and collapsed.
He didn't want to sleep, so he didn't let himself lie there for long. He leaned up and gave Duo a deep, sensual kiss. Duo's lips curved into a sated grin. It warmed Heero's heart to see that smile again, even a hint of one.
"I'll get a towel," Duo said, nudging Heero's chest.
"No, I'll get it." Heero pulled out and realized he was nowhere near ready to leave the bed, but he had something very important to do.
After retrieving a towel for Duo he headed back into the bathroom to shower. A quick, refreshing wash and he would be ready to solve the other problem of the day. Who had been behind today's fiasco? He had a very good hunch, but he would have to do some investigating first.
"That was fast," Duo said, standing naked in the bathroom's doorway as Heero emerged from the shower.
"Were you about to join me?" Heero grabbed a towel and began drying off.
"Thinking about it."
Duo's eyes ran the length of Heero's body. It always excited him when Duo showed interest. Obvioulsy, the sex had relaxed Duo, taken the tension away.
"I need to do something," Heero said. He slung the towel over his shoulders and stepped up to Duo. "It shouldn't take long."
Duo grabbed each end of the towel, pulling Heero that couple of inches closer. He searched Heero's eyes like he was on an expedition of his own. "Mind telling me what?"
Heero's skin warmed being this close to Duo. He definitely had gotten out of bed too soon.
"I need to know who gave Jamie those orders."
"You're still on that?"
"Yeah, I know," Duo said, letting go of the towel and holding his hands up in a show of surrender. "You can't have me wandering around without a proper escort."
"It's not that... entirely," Heero said, taking a deep breath.
"What then? I don't get why you're upset when I'm the only one that's got a right to be."
Heero took Duo's face in his hands, stilling him. Duo's eyes went wide with uncertainty.
"I don't want anyone coming between us," Heero said.
Duo relaxed and nodded, his hands coming up to rest on Heero's wrists. "Then I hope you find the bastard."
He smiled, pulling Duo to him for a kiss. "Mission accepted."
"Save the spy talk for the bedroom," Duo said with a chuckle.
It seemed that Duo had recovered from the incident, but something told Heero that Duo was merely putting up a happy front. Well, it was a start. At least they didn't have as far to go to make things right as they had when Duo first arrived.
With a swat to Duo's bare bottom, Heero headed out to dress and be on his way.
~ ~ ~
He was on his mobile with Sally the second he was out of the apartment. He had called her briefly after securing Duo, but now needed to confide his suspicions.
"I'm heading down to speak with the scientists."
"If you're looking for a confession, I don't think you'll get one," Sally said.
"It doesn't matter."
"Maybe you should stop by my office so we can discuss this further."
"Negative. This is merely a courtesy call, doctor."
"Then have the courtesy to take your grevience through the normal channels," she said in a pleading tone.
It surprised him to hear her say that considering her own rebellious streak of late. He wanted to assure her that everything would be all right, but he honestly didn't know. He regretted calling her, but it was too late.
"You can do something for me," he said as he stepped into the elevator.
"Remove the maid's access to my quarters. I don't want her near Duo again."
There was a pause and then, "Understood. But it's unfortunate---"
"She should've been replaced after the guard's assault on Duo. I appreciate you taking care of that for me."
"All right. Watch yourself in the hornet's nest."
He thought he heard her giggle and it made him smile. "Thank you, doctor. Heero, out."
The mobile went into his pocket and he turned his focus to the problem at hand. He had done everything the team had asked of him, modified his behavior to maintain the program and meet the goals of the Project. But someone on the team had their own agenda. Even if he couldn't stop the mischief, he could let them know he was watching.
The Project maintained separate laboratories for each scientist. Even though the men worked collaboratively, they often developed ideas on their own or labored independently on aspects of the same plan. Somehow all the egos got stroked and the overarching objectives of the Project were agreed on and met. The laboratories were clustered around a large warehouse like room. Heero stood at the center of the room, a sublevel in the Project's hive. The space was half the length of a football field and five stories high. Today it was empty, save for a bank of computers and chairs. In the past, he had seen satellites, weapons, and planes constructed here. It seemed there was nothing these men could not create.
He knew his target, but decided the best course was a circuitous one. He started with Doktor S and worked his way to each lab, showing the men the note Jamie had been given. Each spoke highly of the lab assistant, but had no knowledge of the note, and then went on to show Heero their latest discovery.
By the time Heero reached J's lab, the man seemed to be waiting for him.
"It's been awhile since you spent this much time down here," J said, looking up from his microscope.
Heero set the note on the table next to the doctor. "Does this look familiar?"
J glanced at the note and then to Heero. "Taken up a new hobby, Detective Yuy?"
"I'd like to know who thought it was necessary to show Duo the contents of his apartment."
"Dredge up old memories, did it?"
Heero breathed evenly. He didn't want this conversation going the same route as the last one. "I didn't think anyone on the Project team had time for games."
J's eyes narrowed on him. "And yet you think we have time for this childish interrogation."
Heero held the man's gaze, knowing in his gut that J had to be the one. None of the other scientists had bristled and put up such a fuss.
"I'm only trying to clarify protocol, doctor. Someone authorized a lab tech to take Duo from my quarters and further expose him to the workings of the Project. It was a breach of security."
"And bringing him into the training salle was not a breach?"
"He was with me."
J shook his head and turned away. "You disappoint me, Heero. We used to be on the same page. Now all you think about is that boy."
Heero clenched his fists, but would not be baited.
The doctor went to his desk and opened a folder, seeming to look over its contents. "You once advised me against speaking about this Duo to you again. Have you changed your mind?"
"No more games, doctor. You do your job and I'll do mine."
He grabbed the note and left the room. He wasn't sure what he had accomplished by coming here, other than to show his hand. But maybe it was enough to get J to back off.
~ ~ ~
They had whooshed Heero away from him again on another mission. He had returned from making inquiries into the Storage Room debacle and he and Duo had barely sat down to eat leftovers when the call to duty had come. Duo had been kissed, thoroughly, and then left alone once again.
To make matters worse, the next day Miss Noin showed up at the apartment with a new maid. Clementine had been transferred.
"Just like that?" Duo asked.
Lucrezia nodded and sat down at the kitchen table. "I'm sorry. I know you had become friends of sorts..."
Duo shook his head. "What's wrong with this place? Couldn't they see it wasn't her fault?" When Lucrezia shrugged he realized his argument was pointless. "Where did they send her?"
"All I can tell you is that she had her choice of some very nice locales."
Hearing about Clementine's transfer made him want to kick the door down and bust out of this place. Now that he'd been able to spread his wings a little it made it harder to be cooped up in this apartment. Did they want him to go batty?
"Be careful you don't get too cozy with me or they'll ship you off, too."
Noin smiled. "I may want to be shipped off once Z... gets here."
"Funny how you won't tell me his name. Like I'm ever getting out of here."
"It's habit, I suppose," she said and nothing more, conveniently ignoring the important part of his statement.
He made hot jasmine tea and set the pot on the table to steep. He sat down across from her and stared at the steam coming out through the spout and from under the lid. He adjusted the lid to rest snugly in place, stopping that bit of hot air from rising. It was like his life right now, contained but not entirely. Did Heero really imagine things could stay like this?
"You seem distracted today," Lucrezia said.
"Oh?" He looked up at her. The strangest thing was that she had become his friend and he worried that they might take her away from him, too.
"I heard something about you seeing your belongings yesterday," she said.
"Yeah. Guess it was a mistake. Heero was all pissed off and wanted to find out who was behind it."
"Did he... find out?"
"I don't know. I think so, but he never said. He came back and wasn't here long before he got called away again."
"Why do you think he was upset?"
"Loss of control, I guess. Everyone around here is a control freak."
The vacuum turned on in the living room and he was reminded of the circumstances of this visit. He sighed, and focused on being a good host. Miss Noin had never done him wrong, not really. He poured the tea into their mugs, handing one over to her. She blew on it and then sipped it carefully. Watching her do that made him shiver remembering that day by the fountain....
"You've no idea what I'd do for a cup of coffee from the Summit Café about now," he said.
"I'm sure it could be arranged."
"Nah, it wouldn't be the same having it delivered."
It was strange how things had changed. Seeing his stuff had unchained something inside him. He felt restless like he had at the start before Heero had worked his magic on him. But it was more painful now that so much had happened. He felt at the end of things like everything had unraveled when he had opened those boxes. There was no going back to the way things had been, to when he had been content to pretend he wasn't living in a cage. He saw the bars all too clearly now, parallel lines everywhere he looked.