Two minutes after he had sent the message, Duo regretted it. He had stared at the computer screen knowing the note was long gone into cyberspace and already present in the Project's system. That was the beauty and the problem with supercomputers-they were damn fast. He had concealed the message in a data stream, but that was only to keep Professor Motley from finding it. He had made certain that the message was surrounded by codes that would "tickle" the receiving computer into announcing its arrival.
And nothing had happened. Hours were wasted sitting in the computer lab waiting. No response. No swat team broke down the door to whoosh him away. And no, Heero.
He tried to deny the disappointment that pooled in his gut. What utter foolishness. He had failed in so many ways, too many to count. Failed to send a simple greeting, failed to forget the warmth of a lover's embrace, failed to realize his true feelings... and now it was too late. He shivered, holding himself tight and fighting the urge to cry. All he had left were dreams, fantasies of a man who was forever sealed in his heart, and forever lost to him.
God, was it possible to hate what they had done to him-to Heero-more than he already did? Why hadn't they left well enough alone, left them to stare at each other across fountains, across the steam rising off hot coffee? Why couldn't they have left Duo with the beautiful fantasy of Mr. Kaplan staring back at him?
He fell asleep, slumped over the desk. In his fitful dreams his arms and neck ached from the wristcuff restraints. The sound of the door unlocking woke him with a start the next morning. He sat bolt upright, wiping his face.
"Max?" asked Professor Motley. "Don't tell me you've been here all night?"
"Oh... I was here late checking data and must've fallen asleep. Sorry."
"Well, don't make a habit of it. I know you're young, but that kind of a schedule will catch up with you."
Duo grinned, pleased that the professor wasn't angry.
"I just stopped by for this book I left here yesterday. I don't have time to check computations, but maybe you could meet me here this afternoon?"
"Thanks, Max. You're a great help."
The professor left and Duo began to scroll through the data the computer had output through the night. It could take hours to scan for a response, but soon Duo came to the realization that there had been no response. They would've tickled this system to make sure he got the message.
He breathed deeply and gathered his belongings. He had to get to class.
~ ~ ~
Later that afternoon, he spotted Professor Motley cutting across the Commons' waving at him.
"Hey, prof. I've got one more class then I can---"
"Never mind that, Max. There was a call for you." The man handed him a slip of note paper.
"What..." Duo's words trailed off as he read in Motley's scribbled cursive: Meet at the bench across from the library. Three o'clock. He looked up at the teacher, his heart suddenly pounding very hard. "Who is this from?"
"He said you'd know. That you were expecting the call."
Duo's eyes widened. "What did he sound like?"
Motley shrugged. "A low voice, I guess. Do you know this person?"
"Yeah," Duo said, breathless. He looked at his watch. There was still over an hour until the appointed time. Should he go back to his apartment and change? He hadn't showered yet today.
"Will you have time after your meeting to work on the project?" the professor asked.
Duo blinked. "Uh, yeah... I think so."
"Good, then I'll see you in the lab later."
He stared at the note. Heero had tracked him to the laboratory. It wasn't difficult considering that he'd sent the message from there. He would skip class so he could shower and put on something nicer.
He went to his apartment for the first time that day. As he showered he tried to gather his thoughts and calm his racing heart. In less than an hour he would see Heero again. What would he say? What would it be like to see him again? Would they touch? After all this time denying himself Duo wanted to believe that he could share a moment with Heero. Meet at the bench and from there they would return to Duo's apartment or if Heero didn't have time to spare in his busy spy schedule they could slip into the shadows of the library building... find a measure of privacy behind the large lilac bushes that were now in bloom.
Duo would submit himself to a good scolding, promising to never tinker with the Project's computer again. Then he would accept a bruising kiss as Heero took him in his arms.
"You know I'm not supposed to see you again," Heero would say while licking around Duo's ear. "No one knows I'm here, but I had to see you when I got your message."
"Yes," Duo would say, feeling himself harden from Heero's touch. "I had to see you, too."
They would kiss again and again, and soon Heero would take control and press Duo's back against the limestone wall of the library, grinding his hard sex against him.
"This will have to be quick, but I must have you..." Heero would purr into his ear.
"Yeah, gotta have you..."
Duo's trousers would be unfastened and dropped around his ankles. He would be turned to face the wall. In seconds, Heero would be thrusting his hard cock inside him.
"I've missed fucking you," Heero would say.
Duo's hand stroked his cock, slick with soap. He needed this fantasy... needed this to be real. He brought himself off quickly, tilting his head back as he moaned with the release. One hand reached to the shower's wall, steadying him. God, was it okay to want this? He had shared himself so many times with Heero. They knew each other so well... and then it was gone. Cold turkey. No more sex. No more sleepless nights exploring each other's body and all the fascinating ways of turning each other on.
He shivered as his body cooled after the orgasm. Damn, was he losing his mind sending a message like that, needing to have contact with Heero again?
He finished his shower and dressed in navy slacks with a light blue pinstripe, and a light blue dress shirt and loafers. He wanted to look together, make an impression when Heero saw him again for the first time.
It was just half past two, put Duo decided to hike over to the library to wait. The library faced a park and there were quite a few benches scattered around, but there was just one directly across from the building's front steps. No one was there, so Duo sat down. He fidgeted and gazed this way and that, waiting for his first glimpse of Heero. He wondered how he would be dressed... business casual? Or would he want to blend in with the student body and be wearing jeans and a tee?
At last it was three o'clock. The bell in the school's clock tower rang in the distance. Duo's heart pounded in his chest. Where was Heero? Certainly he couldn't materialize out of thin air. Then Duo noticed a man in a linen suit exit the library and come down the steps. His hair was unusually long and white blond like snow, and he was walking straight toward him. Duo held his breath. This guy was going to mess everything up. Sure enough he strode confidently all the way to the bench and sat down at the other end.
"Timed perfectly," the stranger said.
Duo blinked as he looked over at him.
The man turned to face him. "I was able to do a little research and meet you at the designated time."
Duo's mouth dropped open. "You left the message at the lab?"
"That's right, Duo."
A chill raced through him on hearing his rightful name. "Who the hell are you?"
"Well, I'm not Mr. Kaplan."
"Shit," Duo said, now knowing that this guy was from the Project. "You must be the new operative. What do you want?"
"Funny you should ask. That was the same question I had for you."
Duo didn't know what to do. This was not what he expected or wanted. Should he get up and walk away?
"It appears you'd rather listen than talk," the operative said smoothly. "That works for me since the message is quite simple."
"You have a message?"
The man smirked. "It's not from Heero. That is who you were trying to reach, isn't it?"
Duo swallowed hard and nodded.
"I suppose you think you're in love with him."
Duo bristled at the sarcastic tone. "And I suppose I made some important people nervous tickling their computer."
"I can see you're a clever boy, but don't congratulate yourself prematurely. Those important people have little patience and less mercy. Step out of line again and your next visit will be from the Grim Reaper." He stood and brushed at the sleeve of his jacket. "Consider yourself warned."
"What about Heero?" Duo asked boldly, weakly.
The man looked down at him, his eyes narrowing menacingly. "He doesn't have time to play games with you. Go on with your life, Duo. Every day is a gift."
He turned and walked away with Duo staring at his back as he disappeared along the campus walkways.
"You call this a gift?" Duo shouted across the great expanse.
His hands curled into fists. Damn them for playing God. He felt like a child who had been scolded for getting out of line. A foolish child who reached out in desperation only to find he'd been forgotten. Heero had moved on.
Duo took a shaky breath, remembering Heero's words: The Project is too important... I can't leave... I believe in this. How many times and in how many ways did Heero have to say it to make it clear? His life in the Project was more important than anything. Just like what Miss Noin had said about her guy, Heero was the same putting his work first.
He looked down the path again. Was that the spy Noin had fallen in love with? He was dressed for a lazy afternoon of sightseeing, not spy work. But his eyes told a different tale. The way they had narrowed on Duo made him uncomfortable. Made him think that was one person he did not want to meet in a dark alley.
How could he have believed that Heero would drop everything to see him? As if a greeting from his former, captive lover would be enough to pull Heero away from his busy, important life. The realization left the sour taste of disappointment in Duo's mouth. It was pitiful, but he had truly hoped that Heero would come.
Not knowing what else to do, and not wanting to sit there any longer, Duo made his way to the lab to work with Professor Motley. He needed to sort things out-get over Heero like he had obviously gotten over him. But it was a wound that wouldn't heal.
Days after the blond's visit, Duo couldn't get the warning out of his head. The bastards were still controlling him, watching him like they owned him. He would never be truly free unless he could sever the ties once and for all. The only way he could hope to do that was to give up everything. Split from the university with a pocket full of cash and hope like hell he could out run them. Reason told him that skipping town would trigger a reaction in the Project's vast and powerful network. They would hunt him down to keep him under their thumb.
Their messenger had called him a "clever boy," but obviously he wasn't clever enough to wiggle his way out of their web.
~ ~ ~
Another week passed, and Duo gave in to Wade's persistent requests to go out for a drink. He knew he couldn't avoid his one and only friend from now until summer break. Duo had been keeping an insane schedule, doubling his time in the lab and investigating ways to accelerate his timetable for graduation. He had decided to stay put, for the time being, but he wasn't happy about it.
"Haven't seen you much," Wade said when they met at the bar in town.
"Yeah, I'm spending more time in the lab."
"And you haven't been in class."
"I'm getting the assignments from the professors and studying on my own. I only need to show up for the exams."
Wade frowned. "That doesn't sound like fun."
"Well, it's working out okay."
They found a couple of empty stools at the main bar and sat down. A blackboard listed the drink specials in colorful chalk.
"Half off margaritas! What do you say we start with those?" Wade asked.
"Uh... I think I'll do the dollar beers."
"Come on, Max. You need to loosen up and margaritas will get you there faster."
Duo chuckled. It couldn't hurt to relax. "Okay, I'll try an apple margarita."
Wade smiled and got the bartender's attention. In a couple of minutes they had their drinks and Wade was telling Duo about his visit home the previous weekend. Turned out his girl wanted to get married sooner rather than later.
"What are you gonna do?" Duo asked.
"Look into married student housing. I never thought she'd want to give up her job to be with me while I'm getting my degree."
"Sounds like she really loves you."
"Yeah, she's the greatest girl in the world."
Duo nodded and stared into his drink. He didn't want to be jealous of what Wade had, but sometimes he couldn't help it. The dream of a normal, loving relationship seemed farther away than ever.
"Hey, you take my advice and send that guy of yours a note?"
Duo sighed. "Yeah, and it backfired."
Wade's eyes widened. "No way. He must be a real loser."
"Turns out I'm the loser."
"That ain't right, but at least you know where you stand."
Duo nodded. Yep, he was standing at the bottom of the ocean. He took a long drink of his margarita, enjoying the buzz that spread from his head to his toes. Before long he kicked back five of the sweetly sour drinks and was stumbling out of the bar to head back to his apartment.
"Thanks for the invite," he said, slapping Wade on the back. "You're a real pal."
Wade laughed. Somehow he was doing fine after six margaritas. "Anytime, Max."
They parted ways at the end of the block, Duo turning in the direction of his apartment. It was a warm night, made all the warmer by the drinks. He stripped off his jacket, dragging it along behind him, humming and singing as he went.
"Oh, Mandy! You came and you gave without asking... and I sent you away... oh, Mandy!"
"Hey! Shut up!"
Duo stopped and looked around. It was late and he was in a residential neighborhood. He couldn't see who had hollered at him. Oh, well. Why the hell had he been singing that anyway?
He continued on, but instead of taking a left on Connor Street he turned right, telling himself that a walk around the Commons would do him good. The detour took him past the science building where the laboratory for the supercomputer was located. He stood in front of the building looking up. It was dark and locked, but he had a key and the code to get into the lab.
He laughed. He had the fucking code that gave him access to one of the most powerful computers in the world, and yet when he'd been at Bremen-scratch that-kidnapped by the Project, he could barely take a pee without someone noticing. The bastards wouldn't have given him an access code if his life depended on it.
What was so great about the Project anyway? It was no different than any other big organization. It was all about power and control. Where was the oversight? Who benefited from the Project's missions? Probably just some rich meglomaniacs who wanted to shape world events in their favor. They sent out Heero, the automaton, to do their bidding, filling his head with notions of doing the right thing.
"What a stupid bastard," Duo said.
Duo stepped forward, fishing for the keys in his front pocket. He went up the steps and after three tries got the right key in the slot and went inside. His mind tumbled with vivid memories of his days at Bremen and with Heero.
He made it into the lab and plopped down at the terminal, staring at the blinking cursor on the monitor. He shouldn't be here intoxicated and not thinking clearly. It was wrong and it was dangerous, but he started typing anyway. What spilled out of him was the malicious code he had begun to formulate just after his capture and was never able or willing to implement. There would be safeguards on the Project's system, improvements put in place after his virtual visit to make it damn near impossible for him to affect anything. But he needed to send another message. The urge was too strong.
His fingers flew across the keyboard connecting and formulating commands in ways he had never thought of before. It was mesmerizing, addicting like being on a mental high. If the code did what he hoped, it would freeze the Project's system, run errors, but not do any permanent damage. The code would sow the seed of discontent. It would act as a warning that Duo was capable of much more. They would have to respond in a big way. No more scoldings from the school master when the warning had promised a visit from Death himself.
With a last keystroke the code was sent. But was it enough to lure Heero out of the shadows?