Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero sat up in Midii's bed, back against the wall, looking again at the scroll Vasili had written to him. He had read it many times over the past couple days, practically memorized it. Heero felt that Vasili's main message was: 'consider Lowe your real father and do not leave The Family,' but even after the intended message and the story as a whole sunk in, what Heero kept focusing on was the images the words put in his mind.
What Vasili had relayed to him in strangely spelled words was that even people in the Quarter did not know Heero's parents by name, but some, including Vasili, had known them by reputation or by sight. Heero had been prepared long ago to never find biological parents. He had even prepared himself for finding out they were ignorant, Alliance sympathizing, technophobes from Earth or something equally as disappointing. He knew that whatever he was, biological parents or donors had only some small part in creating him.
A drug pusher. Vasili had not actually said that. He had said Heero's biological father was someone who brought a bad business into the Quarter during the Alliance occupation. Heero had asked Ai-sama and Ursula about it and they had told him that 'bad business' almost always meant pushing drugs to those who probably should not use them.
You could purchase illegal substances in the Quarter now, Ursula said, but it was considered most dishonorable for anyone to aid children in acquiring them, or to push those who could not afford vices to take up a vice of your choosing. Money was important, but not at the cost of living in a neighborhood full of strung out children who stole or sold themselves. It was believed prostitutes should only use drugs in careful moderation; they had to remain sober enough to stay safe.
So, Heero's father had been this very brilliant and calculating drug pusher. That was what Vasili's letter told him. Of course, there was no question what must be done when a person like that began to do business in the neighborhood. Someone must make sure they did no more business.
Adin Lowe had been quite adept at that, putting other's out of business.
Circumstances required that the businessman's girlfriend be put out of business as well; she was his associate as well as his lover. That was what Vasili said. That meant both Heero's parents had been killed by Adin.
He met them face-to-face. That meant the hit had been done at close range, probably at night, within their lodgings, to keep the occupying soldiers from finding out what was going on before the area could be cleaned.
She told him she was pregnant. Even the first time Heero had read the letter, he knew that meant this woman was his mother. No one knew her name. She was just the beautiful girlfriend of a drug pusher, and she used. That became apparent several lines down.
In the letter, Vasili had been careful to word things in a surreptitious manner, to not say, "The Honorable Fathers ordered Lowe to murder the drug pusher and his girlfriend," when that was clearly what had happened. After the first several paragraphs, in which Vasili established what years he was writing about and who had been involved and that Heero should agree with the motives they had then, he went on to describe the next scenes quite graphically.
Lowe had shot the woman in the chest, she was dying, coughing up blood, but she managed to tell him that she was pregnant. Angered that he had not been given that information, and not wanting to kill a child, Lowe wrapped the dying woman in blankets and called his friend Vasili, whom he trusted.
Vasili had connections with medical facilities, and in those years, if anyone needed a doctor to look the other way while stitching bullet wounds, to write a prescription, or to perform a 'Colonial Abortion,' Vasili knew where to go and who to bribe.
There was a geneticist's office in the Quarter, with a gestation facility, and if Adin could get the woman there with the child alive, Vasili could get someone there to help them transfer the fetus to an artificial womb and forge records if necessary.
Adin drove to the lab, a hand on the chest wound to keep bleeding down, a valve punched through to keep air from filling the chest cavity and collapsing the damaged lungs, and a portable respirator from his med pack helping her breathe.
Adin quick-walked into the lab through the back entrance, covered in blood, and shouting. He must have nicked the heart, or at least a major blood vessel. Vasili said that he had not believed that they would save the child, he doubted the transfer would be successful or that Adin knew what he was doing. Vasili had felt that it was tragic, but that Adin was overreacting when he insisted that the Honorable Fathers should have never sent him to kill this woman, and he was mad to risk discovery by insisting they go through with this transfer.
Vasili said that Lowe pulled a gun on the doctor and threatened to shoot him somewhere painful, but not lethal, if he did not perform the transfer. The doctor would be paid for his cooperation, but they had no time to discuss payment while the child might be dying. Adin kept saying that he may have killed the child and that he had not wanted to kill a child, and that he must save it.
Vasili had not understood Adin, he had only helped his friend, but Heero understood. Somehow, he had managed not to cry when he read the note on the roof, but later, when he was in the bathroom of Ursula's apartment, he had sat on the floor weeping. He knew what it felt like to be an assassin, to be resigned to the tasks, and then to discover by accident that he had taken the life of some innocent bystander, worse, a child.
Maybe some assassins just really liked killing, but Lowe had not been like that. Heero had never been like that. He had enjoyed the challenges and the planning and he had been OK with killing the targets, but he had never wished to take other lives.
Vasili said Adin had been straddling this woman's head, his knees up on the operation table, pounding her chest and screaming while the doctor made the cut in her belly to remove the fetus. The fetus was distressed, the doctor said. The circumstances were not remotely ideal. The fetus might not survive in the artificial womb.
Of course, Adin had insisted they do everything possible. The fetus had been placed in an artificial womb, a transparent chamber of artificial amniotic fluid in a cradle of diagnostic equipment and devices that simulated the sound and movement of a human mother. The umbilical was fed by tubes. Everything that a natural born baby had, the babies in the gestation lab had, only it was contrived.
Vasili said that he had left to clean up Adin's trail and when he had returned to the lab Adin was there, staring at 'kimi,' he wrote. Kimi, you... confirming that Heero had been that baby.
The doctor had done several tests already and told Adin that his baby could be as much as four months along. There were signs that the mother had used drugs, but the levels were not such that, with treatment, the baby would be permanently affected. They had excellent treatments and facilities available.
"It is a boy," Adin had said. According to Vasili he had looked as proud and happy as any natural father. "My Boy," Adin had said. That was what he had called Heero. My boy has fingers. My boy comes out of the womb soon. My boy crawled. My boy asks me to let him help me clean the guns and I do not know how to tell him it might be wrong.
Heero closed his eyes and tried to picture Adin Lowe again. Vasili had written that, after the transfer, Adin had chose to wear the voice and movement recorders that the designated mother of a 'test tube' baby would wear to record their movement and voice patterns that would be replayed for their baby. This way, as with natural babies, the infant would know the mother when it was born. The data necessary to recognize Adin would have already been imprinted upon Heero when he was taken from the womb.
Heero smiled. He pictured Adin on a mission, doing reconnaissance, cooking explosives, buying a gun, running and dodging bullets if a job went bad. He imagined the womb in the lab jostling the next day when the recorded data was fed to the computer controlling the womb. Heero imagined the technicians in the lab commenting that the mother of that baby seemed to be very active.
Vasili had not given Heero that part of the story. He had only told Heero how he came to be naturally conceived and born from an artificial womb. That was rare. It was more common babies were conceived artificially and implanted into a human mother. There were also entirely natural births and entirely contrived births. The only times a baby was naturally conceived and transferred to an artificial womb was when there was a reason to abort the natural pregnancy.
The mother might have become seriously ill, or injured, or died. She might have been raped and with couples wanting to adopt newborns always on the waiting lists the embryo would be scooped from her womb and transferred; insurance companies would even pay for that. If they had money enough, a woman could have her pregnancy transferred just because she did not feel like being pregnant, but that was rare, and most often happened when the many birth control options available to men and women failed for some reason.
Sometimes, after a transfer the mother and father both still wanted to keep the baby, though the natural pregnancy had been disrupted. Other times, one or both parents gave up their rights to the child so they could be adopted. Sometimes, the mother was the only one who gave up the baby and the father played the part of the mother, wearing the recording devices.
That was what the records would say Adin had done. If Heero looked under the false names Adin had used for them at the time, he would have seen a record that showed that Heero's mother had voluntarily had her pregnancy transferred, she had surrendered her rights, and Adin was the biological father. There was no need to forge adoption records that way.
Heero opened his eyes and read the letter once more. Toward the end, Vasili made conclusions, telling Heero that he should consider Adin his real father, because Adin had certainly kept him alive, loved him, and even played mother.
Heero knew that if Adin had not killed his parents, someone else would have. Maybe that person would not have cared that the woman was pregnant, and if they had cared, perhaps they would not have had the determination or resources to save that life.
Heero was not angry that Adin Lowe had killed his biological parents. He did consider that man his father. Heero did not need Vasili to tell him that. Heero did not really feel very much about his biological father. Heero wondered if that man had tried to throw himself in front of his girlfriend to save their child. Heero wondered if they had actually done tests to determine if that man had fathered his girlfriend's child.
Heero thought he felt something when he thought about his biological mother. He was not sure what he felt, though. On the one hand, she had been doing drugs while pregnant. On the other hand, she had thought of him with her last words. If she had said nothing, Heero would never have been born. Perhaps he felt a sort of reserved gratitude.
Heero wanted to have someone else to share this with. He had not told the others the details of the letter, he had only told them parts. He had said that he still did not have names. He had said that he was naturally conceived and so he once had both a biological mother and a biological father. He had told them he knew he had been gestated in an artificial womb and that he did consider Lowe his father.
Perhaps the main purpose of the letter was to give Heero a strong claim that he was Lowe's heir, should he choose to stay among The Family. Now that Vasili was gone, others might not remain so impressed with Heero's past deeds and might tray to very politely relieve him of his holdings.
They had sent Vasili's ashes into space just a few hours ago. The body had remained with the Coroner on Tuesday and then Wednesday morning it had been transferred to a funerary facility. Ursula and Vero had decided on the usual Colonial arrangement, which was cremation and launching of ashes into space.
Some people paid for burials on Earth, or now Mars. It was not considered legal to place graves on the Moon or on asteroids, though bodies were sometimes legally placed on those exhausted resource satellites that were being launched into the sun. The Gundams had once been given that treatment, before they had been recovered and ultimately detonated.
Well, ZERO was on display in the capitol on Earth, but it was a wreck. Heero imagined that tourists secretly broke off small pieces as they were able and that one day, ZERO would be gone.
It had been a nice service, Heero thought. He had not been to many funerals. The facility Ursula had selected had a lovely parlor with a system of mirrors and glass panels that enabled them to stand safely within the Colony and feel as if they were at the hull looking out into space, as the ashes were launched.
Heero had helped Ursula and Vero contact all the important members of The Family to invite them to the service. Utsugi had been there and Sake. Many other people from the neighborhood who were not Family with ranks, if they were Family, had also come to pay respects.
The Barnets had not been to the funeral, but they had come by the apartment to give Ursula their condolences.
Midii was the one who had left them and been absent from the services. Heero had expected she would stay, and they really could have used her help, but shortly after coming down from the roof she had received a call and then, just announced that she might not be back for a few days and gone to pack.
She had not even told Heero where she was going.
Heero liked Ursula and he had to admit, he did not dislike Vero and he was entertaining once Heero got to know him, but he knew that now was a time he could help them, and they did not have the energy to help him. Vasili had been their real father. Ursula was not his biological child, but he had raised her. She was his daughter.
Heero only had a small idea what it felt like to loose a father. He had hurt when his father died, but he had been fairly young at the time, and as much as the memory stayed, Heero knew a lot of the trauma and pain had faded.
He was glad of that. It meant his newer wounds might also fade with time.
They had only lost their father a day ago and there were many legal issues to consider and business to continue. Of course, others were volunteering assistance, but Heero was not sure they could all be trusted.
They really could have used Midii. Ursula and Vero together knew a lot about Vasili's business but they did not know all. Midii, Heero suspected, had learned more then the both of them together. Vasili had probably told her some of it willingly. She was good with business dealings.
Heero had sent messages, but none had been returned.
Relena had had her own troubles recently. Heero was glad she was doing better. Adin said she was. Still, it was no time for Heero to rely heavily on her again.
He really wanted to talk to Duo, anyway.
Duo was not returning messages either.
Heero had received one message from Duo saying that he had gotten into the MLK Spaceport, that was it. Duo had called while Heero had been in the bath. After Heero had left his house so hastily and after he had been near the dead body and smelled it, he had just felt dirty. Ursula had said Heero was welcome to stay in Midii's room... he had stayed with them before... so Heero had stayed. He had left his phone in Midii's bedroom and only gotten Duo's message later.
Heero felt a little guilty about it. He had tried calling back.
He left messages, but so far, Duo had not called. It was Wednesday night now, and he had not called. Heero had even called the apartment number and Hilde had not called or answered. Heero was not sure of Hilde's work schedule these days. He could not let it worry him that Duo, Midii and Hilde were out of touch for a few days.
He would have to trust that they all could take care of themselves. Right now, he had other friends who did need him. Heero had already helped them in compiling new lists of contacts and in keeping up appearances that both their allied houses remained strong. He had done smaller things, like prepare cups of tea and make sure they ate.
Food had not been a problem. When the women Ursula worked with heard the news that her father had died, they excused her from work that week and Gekka sent over a large amount of food from her teahouse. Also, Marina and other women who lived and worked in the area sent food to the brother and sister who had lost their father.
They went through this, Heero thought to himself, all those people who lost family in the war, or who lost people that day in X18999. They had arranged services for whatever remains they had recovered. They had received visitors. They had observed their various customs regarding death.
Ursula had refused to eat with chopsticks for the past two days. Briefly, Cassiopeia had explained to Heero that to one who was Family and trained as a geisha there were many taboos and superstitions, coincidentally many regarding chopstick use and many regarding death. For fear of being improper, Ursula had refused to use her chopsticks, rather than risk accidentally stabbing them into rice or some such thing.
It was somewhat comforting to Heero, to be involved in something so normal as dealing with a death. It was also disturbing. Certainly, Heero and Ursula had both had their grudges against Trant Clark, but Heero had been content with his sentence. He was not really hurt that Trant was dead, but he felt some small loss now that Vasili had taken his own life over the matter.
Ursula said that he had been sick. Apparently that was one of the things that Vasili had written to Ursula. He had known when he planned to kill Trant that he had stomach cancer. Cancers were not very common now, but if a person did not regularly go to doctors or remain aware of changes in their body, it was possible cancer could grow beyond being easily treatable.
Ursula and Vero said that they knew their father had already been treated for stomach cancer. Apparently, it had come back.
It might still have been treatable, but Heero thought he could see, that the older man just did not want to go through more surgery or treatments. His diet had already been restricted...
Heero wondered what he might lose that would make him believe that his life was no longer worth living. Science was still a few years away from growing replacement stomachs and there were no very good artificial stomachs. Maybe Vasili had decided that if he could not feel healthy and eat, as he liked, then he did not really want to live. Killing Trant was his way out, a stab at being honorable. He would avenge those he wished to protect and then prevent his own capture.
Heero thought it was overall cowardly, what Vasili had done, but he did not say so aloud. No one said so. They only said nice things about him.
It had been a courageous way to take his own life, even if Heero believed taking his life was not courageous.
Vero said that his father's fortunetellers had always told him that he would have stomach problems and that Vasili had often joked that he would commit ritual suicide. It was irksome, that anecdote, but that meant Vero was OK.
Heero rolled the scroll. He slipped from the bed and put the paper away in his satchel. He left Midii's bedroom, barefoot, in bluejeans and a white t-shirt. Koi and Nanashi ran across his path. Midii had not even taken the cat. Heero patted his leg for Koi to follow. He went into the kitchen and from there opened the door to the adjoining apartment where Vasili had lived with his son.
After the past two days, the apartment was familiar to Heero. Though it shared a kitchen with Ursula's apartment, it had none of her Colonial Japanese décor and feminine touches. It looked like a place a wealthy older man would live, centuries ago. Of course, Vasili did not, like Heero choose to maintain a lifestyle that included owning a shuttle and paying fuel and docking fees. He did not own a house anywhere. Much of his money could be put into antique furnishings from Earth and artwork.
Heero opened the freezer just inside the door from the kitchen. He counted the bottles of flavored vodka that Midii was in the habit of making. "Vero... two bottles?" Heero called.
Ursula answered for him. "Just one more. He dropped the other one. Watch your feet. We just finished mopping up."
Heero looked to the floor. It seemed clean, but he could see shimmer where there should not be on the wooden flooring. Heero bent and lifted the few small pieces of glass in his fingers. He took a bottle of Midii's anisovaya from the freezer and then let the door fall shut.
Heero moved into the living room, Koi padding behind him. Ursula and Vero were each on one of Vasili's oxblood leather couches. They had real wooden frames and brass tacks fastening the upholstery. Ursula was seated, wearing a white kimono with a white sweater over it in a way that made Heero think she should be on one of those fashion billboards. She was watching a program about interior design on the projection video system. Vero was lying on the other couch, wearing black satin pajama pants and doing nothing.
"Now you're drinking it?" Vero asked.
"I will not drink the whole bottle," Heero said.
"I thought you had already gone to bed."
"I was just resting."
"Talking to his boyfriend on the phone."
No, he had not been. If he had, it would not hurt when Vero guessed that he had been. "I am going to get back to the computer now." Heero went to the adjoining office, separated from the living room by an archway... it was shaped rather like a nikuman.
Heero dropped the pieces of glass in the wastebasket. He went to Vasili's bar and got a drinking glass. Heero sat at the desk then, his mobile already linked with Vasili's desktop computer. Vero and Ursula had permitted the access. Heero poured himself a drink and then went back to work.
The office and desk had been found very well organized. Heero supposed this was part of 'putting one's affairs in order.' A copy of Vasili's will had been sent. They had found his address books and calendar. Heero and Vero had managed to piece together a list of Vasili's paid advisors and assistants, his lawyers, his accountants, the managers of the businesses he owned. Vero would have to speak to them all. He would have to decide what to do.
They had money enough, it seemed, but they would need to continue to bring in income. Ursula had a job and personal projects, but Heero worried for Vero.
Vero, fortunately, or unfortunately, had not needed to work. He had take orders from his father, but he had not had his own job. He did not seem to know what he wanted to do. That was fine in itself, Vero was young, but if he needed time to educate himself or find himself, then he was going to have to find someone else to look after his family's interests while he did that.
Heero would not be that person, but he was willing to help for the time being. He was in a similar position. Without Midii here, Heero had to assume they might not have her help in the future. He hoped they had her advice, but he could not assume it.
Heero looked at the updated list of his own holdings. In some cases he owned businesses, other times he owned a large part of a business as a silent partner, other times he owned a lease and collected rent from subleases.
He owned the bar downstairs. And he held the lease to Romeo's. He owned the L Street brothel and leased its building from the Colony. A bar, a restaurant and a brothel. That amused him. He owned part of an electronic shop. He owned part of a car dealership. Part of a convenience store. Part of a novelty shop. There were some other leases.
"Car dealership? People should use public transportation. And they haven't given me a free car yet. I think I'll sell or trade." Heero copied the information on the dealership to his mobile.
"What are you doing, Heero?"
"Deciding if I want all this. How did I get it? Midii might know. A lot of these things Vasili must have acquired while he was keeping Adin's things for me."
"They play cards," Vero said.
"Yes. They gamble for deeds and such. You do not have to stake what you do not wish to, but the more random acquisitions are, random. Father won them in card games. Or sometimes, strategy games. They play those too."
"Are you good at games, Vero?"
"I think that depends who I am play against."
"But if someone else had a property you want, you could ask to buy it or trade?"
"If you make it sound like you are doing them a favor," Ursula said.
"Do you know very much about micro-circuitry and electronics, Vero?"
"I do. Perhaps you would like to give me your share of this electronics shop, so that you would not have to worry about it?"
"Aa, but that is why I have a knowledgeable partner, so that I can make money in a business I do not fully understand. Besides, I do understand retail, and it's retail."
"Mainly to small industry."
"My partner would know that."
"Vero, Heero wants the shop."
Vero laughed. "He would respect me little, if I gave into him after that approach."
"We should go play games sometime. I do not even want some of these things."
"Community obligation. You have to pass around the properties that are not as profitable."
"It is not profit that is influencing my decisions right now. I do not see the point in holding property that I have no personal interest in, appreciation for, or will to protect. Why do I have a convenience store?"
"It is a front," Vero said.
"For whatever. I just know that the store was one of the older holdings of the Lowe House."
"It has some historical importance to my family?"
"I will have to go talk to them." Heero looked at the list again. "Car dealership?"
"Random holding, so far as I know," Vero said.
"This little novelty and import shop?"
"To provide jobs for girls you are seeing," Ursula said.
Heero was not seeing any girls, but he understood the meaning. It was a business Adin or Vasili had owned to put in the hands of women they wished to associate with or to provide jobs for young women they were fond of. He would have to go check up on that store as well.
"Who is Sato?"
"Most Honorable Father Yukio Sato is one of the oldest working members of the family," Ursula said. "A very important man."
"And his grandson Toya is seriously cute!" Vero said.
"So, this car dealership gives me an excuse to speak with them?" Heero said. "I feel that Midii must already have organized my holdings very well."
"Did she tell you where she went?" Ursula asked.
"That's what happens when people get girlfriends or boyfriends. They are always choosing them over their other friends."
"Vero, you are being irksome again," Heero said levelly. "You assume that Midii is with Hilde then?"
"Who else does she know in the Colonies? You don't think she'd go to Earth? I would think she'd be gone for more than just a few days if she did."
"I could find out," Heero said. He could try to trace her, but that would show lack of trust. His fingers clenched above the keyboard of his mobile. "But I will trust her."
Heero sighed softly. If Midii really had gone to see Hilde, then Hilde had called the other day... and Duo had also been on his way to the apartment... and all three of them had been out of contact. Either something bad had happened or they were all three of them having sex together or...
There must be some other, more positive, explanation. Maybe they were planning a surprise party for him. Heero could not think why, but that was one remotely plausible and positive explanation.
Or, perhaps Hilde had needed business advice concerning the Tinman and their bid for the government contract and Midii was at the garage with them.
Heero lifted his glass. He stared into the clear liquid. Heero wondered if this tendency to drink most when he felt uncomfortable was inherited from his mother. He put the glass back on the desk.
Garage. The alcohol did not speed his thought processes. He had not tried calling the garage yet. "I will just do this for Vero..."
"Did you say something, Heero?" Vero called.
"Talking to myself. I do that sometimes." Heero shook his head. As much as Vasili had prepared for his suicide he had not thought to leave a list of passwords, PINs and keys for his children in a deposit box or with a lawyer or hidden in the office. Ursula and Vero were highly computer literate, as Colonials had to be, but security devices were designed to keep out even highly literate users. Heero had decided he would do the Yemons a favor by compiling a list of all passcodes Vasili used. While he was at it, he would have a look at Vasili's online activities and buying habits. He could transfer some services and subscriptions to Vero if they were advantageous and the rest he could cancel. Besides, Heero was just curious.
Later, Heero printed a hardcopy of the list for Vero. He prodded Koi with his foot and the dog rose and walked from under the desk. Heero drank the last bit of vodka in his glass and then took his mobile, glass and the bottle of vodka from the office.
Vero was asleep on the couch then. Ursula had gone, leaving the rooms dark and quiet. Heero got the hall freezer open and returned the anisovaya. In the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher in the refrigerator and checked that Koi and Nanashi had water. Heero drank the water as he walked to Midii's room.
Opening the door, Heero found Ursula sitting on his bed, on Midii's bed, rather. "I thought I was sleeping here."
"You are... you can. I just need help with something."
"Oh," Heero said, relieved. He walked toward the bed and put his mobile down on the round table at the side of the bed. "What do you need?"
Ursula reached beneath her sweater. That mad Heero suspicious again. He froze where he stood, watching her from the corners of his eyes. It looked like she pulled an obi from under her sweater and her kimono did hang more loosely, though it had ties to keep it closed. The sash was solid black silk and Heero thought it was most likely something from her father's wardrobe, worn so that she would feel close to him. "Could you tie me up?"
"Tie...?" Heero managed. He could not make himself say more.
"Midii usually does it, but she is gone. I tried doing it myself last night, but then I was able to free myself too easily."
"Oh... I understand," Heero said. He did. Ursula had been testing herself. "All the time, since...?"
"No. Only since that day... when you bought the collar for Duo and..."
"I remember," Heero said. Ursula had considered facing her fears. "How should I do this?"
Ursula kept her head bowed. "Only tie my hands. I should not be able to view the knots easily. I need you to do it somewhere that you will be near enough to release me if I panic."
"All right. If you really do want me to. Lay there, near the wall."
Ursula gathered up the ends of her kimono and walked across the top of the mattress to a place closer to wall and headboard. After she was lying down Heero knelt on the bed. He took the obi from her. He looped the fabric around the upper rail of the headboard and then, pinning her wrists together, wrapped them both several times, wrapped in figure-eight fashion, wrapped the fabric between the wrists to make everything tight, and finally tied the ends in a single square knot. The entire procedure left Ursula lying with her arms raised above the level of her head. The knot was toward the backs of her hands.
"Maybe I should have made it easier…"
"No!" Ursula closed her eyes.
Heero supposed he would just wait to see if Ursula escaped or panicked. He was a good friend, tying this girl up in his bed. He laughed softly. Probably this was some young men's dream.
Heero took a blanket from the foot of the bed and draped it over his shoulders. He perched at the edge of the bed, fingertips moving above the keys of his mobile. He wanted to call Duo. It had been less than 48 hours, but not by much. Still, that should not be considered a very long time for lovers to be apart, or for a man to forget to call, Heero supposed. He supposed this was normal.
But he had recently been away from home and dealing with death related matters and learned about his family, and it seemed he had more than two days worth of experiences to share. And, he wanted to be able to plan the next time he would see Duo. How could he plan without Duo's input?
Heero used the communications applications in his mobile to call the garage. After he dialed, he thought to do the math, to figure out what time it was there. They might have finally gone home, if they had been at the garage. It should have been around midnight. Ursula and Heero were the ones who had not gone to sleep at a usual time. Heero wondered if Ursula had slept the night before.
Heero got the message. It was the same one he had seen before, of Duo. He waited for the message to end, to weary to wonder if there was a code to skip it. The prompt came. Heero paused, not having planned what he would say. "This is Heero Yuy. I am trying to contact Duo Maxwell. Just…that is all. Goodbye…" That was a stupid message! Heero contemplated acquiring the remote codes to erase that message and record a new one as he moved to disconnect the call.
Heero's fingers stopped microns above the keyboard. "Duo!"
He looked tired. He looked like today his beard had decided to grow in. He looked too old. He smiled weakly. "Heero, please tell me my eyes are playing tricks on me."
"Are you calling me drunk and with someone else tied up in your bed?" Duo's voice grated.
Heero looked over his shoulder. Ursula was still laying very still, eyes closed. "Are you asleep?"
"I thought you were supposed to try to escape."
Heero turned around, saw Duo looking at him from the mobile's screen. "I might be drunk, but only a little. And, she is just trying to escape." Heero checked over his shoulder again. He had not realized it, even with Midii's hints, but Ursula must be trying to escape by loosening the knots telekinetically. "Did you ever do it before? With knots?"
"Not yet," she said quietly, "Only mechanical and electronic locks and some buckles."
"Your decorator?" Duo asked.
"I cannot explain, without breaking confidence. She needs to try to escape."
"Don't worry. I wasn't assuming anything this time. I'm just not up to expressing my true amusement at your situation. You realize that if it were anyone else in bed with her…"
"It would look different." Heero looked carefully at Duo's face. "Are you OK? I have been calling."
"I know. Heero, I know. I'm really sorry to leave you wondering. When I got here, I had this huge fight with Hilde. Today I was here working, but mostly I've just been walking about upset at the world."
"Why? What was it? Hilde…and you? Was Midii there?"
"Yeah, she was there, but it wasn't anything to do with her. Wasn't anything Hilde did…well, not exactly. It's more what she didn't do that I was pissed about."
"Then you are not pis… angry now?"
"I don't know." Duo laughed weakly, "Guess this is more self-pity, huh?"
"Look, Heero… I'll tell you about it, but not now. It's not just your friend there. I don't feel like going over it right now. Maybe I'll give you a call tomorrow?"
"Oh, you don't want to talk about something else?"
Heero sighed. "I do want to talk to you tomorrow. I can tell you what I found out."
"About the case? I saw on the news. 'Assassin Vasili Yemon, suffering from cancer, shot prisoner Trant Clark in Jack Ruby fashion this past Monday and then committed "harikari" on the roof of his Russian Quarter home late Monday night, in the Capitol.'"
"Who is Jack Ruby?"
"Goddamn, shot Oswald, patsy, magic bullet, cold war, plots with the Mafia and the CIA, communism and all."
"Oh, yes, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John Kennedy. Jack Ruby. Usually I am good about remembering assassins." Heero frowned. "It seems unfortunate that Vasili would be compared to Ruby. He should not have done it. It should have been me."
"Well, the Sphere could not stand to know you were an assassin."
Heero shrugged. He wondered if Jack Ruby had children.
"Heero, I'm going to go to bed. You don't have to worry; I have places to stay. Eventually I am going to have to talk to Hilde. But, I can't…"
"You cannot offer to have me visit you," Heero finished.
"Yeah. Sorry. Really sorry."
"Duo, if you needed me, for real, I would just get a hotel room over there."
"I didn't even think of that. It wouldn't be right to ask. Anyway, I'm not really good company now."
"You seem… not really yourself. You will call soon, just to let me know how you are? I would like to be with you, but it is OK if you can't. Still, I do care whether you are happy or not."
"I know. Thanks." Duo smiled. Then, he bowed his head and closed his eyes. "I can't go through it yet, Heero. I'll try for tomorrow."
"I love you." The way Duo's eyes looked up at Heero from the screen was intense. He must have actually looked at the lens, but that meant he wanted Heero to see that look.
Heero smiled. He blew a kiss to the lens of his mobile.
It made Duo laugh. "Thanks! Ja ne!"
"Goodnight." Heero reached to the keys and disconnected the call. He sighed, turned and leaned against the pillows and headboard. Heero realized Ursula was sitting up beside him. Her hands were free. "You did it."
She smiled. "Yes. I almost had it Monday."
"How many were there?" When Trant tied you up, Heero finished silently.
Ursula understood, not for any telepathic ability, but because there could not be anything else Heero would have to ask about. "Two stockings and a ripped section of obi fabric, all double knotted."
"The knots pull very tight under stress."
"Midii cut me free."
Heero gave a nod.
"I will go to my room now."
Ursula stood and walked across the bed. She moved toward the door and then turned. "You should go see him."
"It seemed like he was telling me not to."
"Because he is trying to spare you. If he were just angry, he would have told you so that you could agree and he would feel better. He is afraid to tell you, because he thinks you will blame him."
"But, then he would be embarrassed if I showed up."
"Maybe, or he would forgive you and be glad to not deal with whatever it is alone. He did say 'ja ne.'"
"Duo does not like 'sayonara.' He thinks it sounds like saying you are going to die, or kill."
"He could have spoken in English."
"True," Heero observed. Duo could have spoken in English. "To start, I need to sleep."
Ursula bowed and then left the room.
Heero wondered if he should arrange to travel to S3. Maybe Duo would be glad to see him. Maybe Duo would be upset.
Heero moved over, now he had room to stretch out on the bed. He was tired. Maybe, he would know what to do when he woke up. Koi came into the bedroom and leapt up onto the bed. He curled at Heero's side.
Heero wished Duo was sleeping with him. If he slept with Duo, he was not worried about having bad dreams. Heero started counting. Sanju…no he might need more than that. Goju…
He was in a gestation lab. All around were rows of mechanical cradles, fed by tubes and filled with amber liquid. Or it might have been the lighting that made it look so. The room was dark, with glowing displays on the artificial wombs and support equipment. Heero walked toward one of the cradles, identified by a string of ones and zeros and Roman letters.
"How is our li'l It? Is it a person yet?" Duo asked.
Heero slid the magnifying lens down over the front of the cradle and looked through it. He saw the tiny lifeform inside as he felt Duo's arms slip around his body. "Do not call her It. I am confident she will not receive any hormones she is not scheduled for."
"How's Helen then?"
"Our baby is fine. I cannot say she is definitely a person, but she has always been potentially so, and she is a living creature. And, Duo-chan, you know I do not approve of 'Helen.'"
"Well, I do not think I like 'Mary.'"
"I don't care if you do say it with an accent, anyway, that sounds silly in Japanese. Mary Helen sounds lame too, and Helen Mary sounds like a name for a nun."
"The Helen you knew was a nun."
"We need to think of some more names!"
"We have time." Heero looked into the cradle. "Duo look, she has limb stems!"
"Let me see!" Duo pushed Heero to one side and moved forward to the cradle. "Oh, that is so cute! She looks like a little blob with limbs! She is going to be so beautiful, I just know it! I hope she has your eyes."
"If I recall our sessions with the geneticist correctly hair and eye color are determined by a combination of genes. She may end up resembling any one of our parents more than you or I specifically, and I do not know what my biological parents looked like, except that my mother was the one who was more Japanese. The only thing we had them engineer was knocking out genes to prevent predisposition to affective disorders and addictive behavior, and that is not a 100% guarantee she will never be mentally ill or abuse substances."
Duo turned from the cradle, concerned look on his face. "Don't talk like that, so cold and scientific. You're the mother. You're supposed to say you are happy and you know nothing will go wrong and you love your baby!"
"I am only designated 'Mother' as a matter of record; it disrupts development if we switch the recording devices between us and I was better suited to remembering to upload the data at the same time every day. If I hear you use 'Mommy' or 'Haha' or 'Mother' one more time I will divorce you, sue for custody and find some barely legal schoolboy to share my bed."
Duo laughed. He put his hands on Heero's hips and then stooped to speak near the recording devices clipped to Heero's waistband. "Father Zero One is not really mad at me, Baby. He is only teasing. He would never purposely deprive you of either parent and he knows if he divorced me on weak ass grounds like that…"
Heero kicked Duo's left leg, the one with the old injury.
"You cannot say 'ass' in front of the baby."
"You just said 'ass!' Fathers curse all the time, don't worry about it." Duo cleared his throat and went back to the slightly softer tone he used to address the baby. "If he divorced me on those pathetically weak grounds, I'd be sure to get the house and a whole lot of alimony, and he loves the house…" Duo smiled, his lips closer to the fly of Heero's jeans that to the recorders. "All that wood…it's just so beautiful. And there's no way I am letting your father give you some pretty li'l punk stepfather to corrupt your morals. There's no way 01 would be satisfied with that arrangement, after having me."
Heero moaned. He never meant that threat about the younger lover and Duo knew it, but Heero kept saying it, because every time he did, Duo showed him why no one else could be a better lover.
"Duo, the technicians…"
"You know voyeurism turns you on, too…"
"It would be exhibitionism if they watched…" Heero whispered, holding onto logic.
"Trust me, I'll be stealthy."
"Yes! Duo! I want to. Right here!" Heero let his body sink toward the floor. Duo was leaning over him. "I want you. Right here…where I was born." Where I was cut out of my dying mother, Heero thought.
Duo was kissing his throat and leaning on him.
Heero put his hands to the floor to support their weight. His hand touched something wet. Heero lifted his hand and it was red, like blood. "No!" he looked down and followed the trail to the womb marked Maxwell-Yuy.
Adin was standing there, his father. He was holding a baby, it had toes and fingers and everything…and it was dead!
"You killed my granddaughter, My Boy."
"No! I did not do it! No! She's not dead!" Duo was…just gone and Heero was drowning in blood.
"You killed the dog too… Heero."
"Father! No!" But there was Koi, lying on the ground, bleeding. Heero realized that Duo had not disappeared, he had only sunk into the blood first, and he wanted Heero to join him. "No! Help me! Father! Please! I will not kill anymore!"
Barking. It was Koi. Koi. Barking. He was not dead.
Heero woke, screaming and latched onto Koi. The dog barked several more times and pawed at Heero's legs as Heero held onto him. Heero understood that he had been dreaming. He felt almost sick. His heart was racing. He was panting breaths. His hands furiously pet Koi's fur. He wanted to reassure himself that the animal was there, alive, unharmed.
There was a knock at the door. Heero did not answer. Ursula called in to him. "Heero, are you OK now?"
Heero swallowed and then took in a ragged breath. "It was a dream. I am OK now."
"I was awake, anyway. If you need anything, just come find me."
"Thank you," Heero whispered. He was not sure she heard.
He sat petting Koi for what seemed a long time, but when he had calmed a little, Heero knew it had only been two minutes. He turned to his mobile and Dialed Hilde's apartment.
He got the recording again. It was Duo too, though Duo was no as often there now as Hilde. When the prompt came, Heero spoke quickly, "Hilde, please listen, I got to talk to Duo and I know you had a fight. I do not know about what, Duo did not tell me, and it is probably not my business. Hilde, I have just had the most terrible dream, I was alone and I just do not want Duo to have to feel like this. I can deal with this, but I just…Hilde, if you can do anything to make Duo come back and be friends with you again, please do it. He looks terrible. He's at the…"
Hilde came onto the screen. "Heero."
"All your messages before were for Duo," Hilde said quietly.
Heero said nothing. He was wondering if Hilde had previously not picked up to tell him what he wanted to know because he had not said her name in particular.
"I know he is at the garage, but he disappears when I am the one who wants to speak to him. Heero, I think you should come here. I do want Duo to come back. I am sorry for the way I handled things, the things that made him upset. Maybe you could get him to listen to me long enough for me to apologize."
"Can you come here? Would that be a problem?"
"No, not a problem that is. I can get there."
"Sooner would be better."
"Yes. I will go pack right now."
"Thank you. Duo will probably want you here, anyway."
Heero was not sure what that meant, exactly, but he did not disagree. "I will get the next launch I can."
Hilde sighed, nodded and then disconnected. That meant Heero did not have to think of a way to end the conversation. He really did like Hilde. He had to wonder what could make her and Duo fight. It was not like…
Could Duo have taken some dangerous mission? No. He said it was something Hilde had done. Maybe Hilde had take a very dangerous mission and Duo disapproved? Heero supposed he would just have to wonder, until he found out for certain.
He collected his things from Midii's room and then, signaling Koi to follow, went to find Ursula. She was in her bedroom, but the door was open and she was not in the bed. She was wearing a robe, instead of her earlier outfit, and she was sipping tea, it seemed.
"I have to leave," Heero said.
"Thank you for all of your help the last few days, Heero."
"You are welcome. I have to go to S3. I will answer my phone, though. If I can help in that way, I will."
"Please, do not worry about us. I am feeling much better now and I will look after Vero."
"Remind him that the list I prepared is on the desk."
Heero bowed to her and then went to the front door. He returned to his own apartment first. He had not been there since he had left Duo there. The apartment was very tidy. Duo had left a few things about, but that was his way of showing Heero that he was comfortable with considering the apartment his home as well as Heero's.
Heero repacked his bags, exchanging the dark dress clothes for the jeans and casual solid shirts he liked to wear. He packed some more food for Koi. If he had to stay there long, he could buy more. He found Duo's copy of the post war issue of that magazine on the desk. There was a paper sticking up from it, to mark a page Heero thought.
Heero lifted the magazine from its plastic bag, which it had laid upon. He opened it to the marked page and just stared. Duo had printed out the photo he had taken of Heero in his schoolgirl costume, and he had used the timer function of their camera to take another photo of himself. It was a completely nude photo. Not only that, he was wet and…All The Powers That May Be…he was touching the fingers of his left hand to his erection. The hand with that claddagh ring. That was all he wore, that and the nipple rings. There was wet hair plastered here and there on his face and body.
Heero clutched the magazine and photos to his chest. The image of Duo was already burned into his mind. "If I did not know I was on my way to find you I would stay long enough to…do something."
The idea of getting closer to Duo for real was preferable to staying in the apartment and masturbating while he pretended he was with Duo again.
Heero packed the magazine and photos in his satchel.
He took the trains to the port and decided to get the first commercial flight. They were frequent between the two Sides. He stopped at his own shuttle to collect his suit and Koi's suit and carrier. They would need them to board the commercial flight, or they would have to pay an additional toward upkeep of the commercial shuttle's suits.
Heero was able to get a flight without a long wait. He slept on the shuttle.
He collected Koi, checked the carrier and space suits in a storage locker and then continued to the neighborhood where Duo and Hilde lived on the trains. Heero walked up the stairs to the familiar apartment. He knocked on the door.
Hilde opened it. She looked more nervous than she had been on the phone. Heero felt…like she was afraid of him, or afraid of something he would do. He felt like…
"You are pregnant."