Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero sat alone within a café on North Beach's boardwalk, which was actually constructed of lunar concrete. He was away from the window, but with a clear path to the door. Even so, the size of the large pane gave him a clear view of the former artificial beach and the remains of South Beach in the distance. The heavy emergency curtains were raised now and the colony hull with its sky glass and lamps had been repaired; now the leveled area where buildings and debris had been cleared looked even more horrible, against the intact construction on the horizon.
Duo said Koi would have made Heero too easy to recognize, and Heero had to agree. That did not mean he liked the situation. He had no choice now but to allow Janice to show herself. Heero waited and dipped a carrot stick in hummus. The funky little café did not have really good hummus, it was too firm and too peppery.
"April's spotted a possible Walrus. Fits the description so far and is headed your way", Duo's voice said through the communicator disguised as an ear clip. Heero could not reply without alerting others to their communication, or at least making them think he was crazy enough to talk to himself. Still, it was comforting to hear Duo's voice. Heero felt that someone he trusted was in command.
If he had to be remotely like a soldier again, then he was glad Duo had been put in charge of this mission. Maybe Duo really was not suited to battlefield command, but he did seem capable of handling this sort of assignment.
Briefly it crossed Heero's mind why he was not more uncomfortable with not being in control, but he realized that it was because he was exactly putting himself in the mindset of a soldier again. He told himself to push his feelings about the situation to the back of his mind.
He would feel good when he could get back to planning out security tests and trusting that others kept lives safe. He needed to trust that capable people kept the peace, so he trusted.
It was not entirely logical, but logic lead him to balance the lives he'd taken against the lives he'd saved with all their potential taken into account, before falling asleep at night. Sleep was never peaceful those nights. Logic led to pain sometimes.
Despite the high threshold, Heero did not really like pain. He was learning to let go of logic sometimes.
Maybe he was getting old, becoming even more cynical, but at the same time, he was alive and relatively stable. That was not bad. Alive and stable meant he could help people when it was necessary.
That was why he could do this now.
Sometimes the Sphere was just going to need him again.
The rest of the time Heero planned to spend with Duo.
He smiled slightly as he envisioned the scenario he had promised himself. Having something to look forward to had seemed sensible, since there was some risk and he wanted to survive. If...no...when he was through here, Heero was going to make Duo wear his old school uniform and then restrain him securely somewhere, punish him if need be, kiss him a while, then fuck him. That would go long and slow, Heero thought. Just because he felt like doing it again. Not so long Duo made silly complaints. Just slow and deep. Duo would appreciate that.
First Heero had to complete this mission. No Duo screaming, no hearing his sounds go soft, no seeing that perfectly ridiculous expression of pleasure on his face; not unless Heero finished work.
He looked toward the door, casually.
"ID not confirmed. Walrus may be casing the meeting place."
She was nearby but not entering the building. Was she nervous? Afraid? Probably, Heero thought.
Leaving his table to search would make things worse. There were others watching for her, with secret cameras and lines of communication to their control center at the hotel.
"Possible Walrus at the front entrance."
Heero looked away from the door, scanning the interior again for anyone that said 'suit' or 'spook' or 'thug' to him. It seemed Heero was the only one.
He looked to the door and saw someone enter. He thought it was Janice. The woman wore sunglasses and a sort of cowboy hat, so he could not see her hair color very well, or her eyes. He wore glasses as well, but then he also had a mobile computer and plate of carrots as bait.
She sat right down at his table, facing him, said two words to him and he knew she was Janice. She said, "Break System." Heero knew it was spelled that way; it was his name.
At his ear, Heero could hear Duo laughing. "Break System? I probably should have figured that out!"
Heero ignored Duo's sudden lapse in professionalism and nodded to Janice. "What's up?"
She carefully selected a carrot stick from his plate and ate it plain.
Heero understood something right then. "It's already done. Running on a timer...or something like that." She would not have just surrendered herself without completing Romeo's work.
Janice neither confirmed nor denied Heero's statement. She simply looked at him as he listened to Duo's calm, but slightly disappointed, voice instruct him to bring the Walrus in.
"Are many people familiar with this book?" Heero asked, meaning the question for both of them.
"Do I need to repeat orders to you?" Duo had known there was a possibility others would understand at least some of the code. It was also possible out of those who recognized some of the code some had gained access to the mailbox or intercepted data going to it.
"You should come back to my place", Heero said to Janice.
"We have not even had the talk about being safe yet."
"Three possible blackjacks", Duo's voice said, his tone grave. That was absolutely the best word for it.
"You have to trust me. Now."
"Trust you?" Janice hissed. "We are not even safe here, are we?" He noticed then, though she sounded European, she did not speak with Quick's Parisian accent.
Heero stood, dropped cash on the table and stowed his mobile in his satchel. There was no time to argue, to say she had picked the meeting place or that she could have been followed. No point. Heero had no way of knowing how they had been found, right now. "The hotel is probably not safe", Heero said as he watched Janice stand.
"Where should we...?"
"Understood", Duo's voice said calmly. "Go to our contingency site. I will have backup dispatched to that location now and meet you there myself as soon as possible."
"Let's go", Heero said firmly, knowing Duo would take that as confirmation.
"Switching you to Barton."
Heero then heard April's voice report directly to him. "We are moving in on your location after three possible blackjacks, but we cannot take them before they show intent." Law Enforcement could be annoying that way. Wouldn't want to go around harassing citizens who just happened to look like thugs. "Proceed downtown from your position; we can cover you."
Heero scanned the space before the café quickly. "This way." He glanced to see that Janice walked with him and took an immediate left from the café's door. "We will need a taxi." The Colony had trains but there were no stations working in the immediate area since the crash.
They needed to get out of the open as soon as possible, yet rushing or running would have announced their position to anyone watching.
"Take the hat off, you stand out too much." Heero scanned the street as they came to an intersection. The street crossing them would lead downtown, where they wanted to go. Heero stepped up to the curb, still certain to keep Janice between himself and the nearby buildings. It was all the protection he could offer at the moment.
He hailed one of the taxis and waited until one pulled up nearby. Heero opened the door behind the Driver's seat, took Janice's arm by the wrist and slid onto the bench in the back of the compact sedan. He glanced at the Driver in his mirror, then positioned himself such that he could glimpse the Driver's profile and the ID he displayed as well. It seemed likely this was the legal driver of this taxi, though he may be other things as well.
Heero drew Janice in after him, deciding they had to trust this taxi had not been sent to abduct them, and if it was Heero would be able to overcome the driver with the weaponry he had been issued. "Drive downtown. Mum street. I will show you the building when we get close."
The car pulled away from the curb and entered the light traffic that passed South Beach. The street narrowed to one lane in each direction as they passed through the damaged section before the road widened again and traffic increased with vehicles being fed from side streets.
Heero watched the road and the Driver carefully and kept one hand poised near the tranq gun concealed beneath his jacket. Every so often Heero shifted his gaze behind. He heard the warning through his communicator as they picked up a tail. "You should notice local police following you." It was Duo again. "That is all they will do unless they notice trouble."
The taxi turned right then left. The Driver called back, "This is Mum. Is it much farther?"
"It will be on the left a few blocks down. It's a church."
As the taxi approached, Heero recognized the building, though he had never seen it in person. Its façade was distinguished from the other boxes on the block by a large lighted cross mounted above the door. Heero reached into his pocket of Preventer issue cash and pulled out some bills to pay the Driver.
The front doors were open and Heero led Janice into the Colonial Catholic church. The interior was dim, lit mainly by twelve video screens that seemed to show torture and crucifixion. In the shadows stood figures of brown-skinned dark-haired savior and saints, which in the old European churches would have been pale. At the front of the church, opposite the doors, was an mosaic-lined alcove containing a wooden altar and crucifix.
The doors had been unlocked, but Heero saw no one present, though he heard soft sounds coming from what he supposed was an adjacent chamber. Heero pulled Janice into one of the rows, the pews rather, and then released her.
She said nothing, but rubbed her wrist where he had held it, glanced toward the doors, then seated herself.
Heero likewise checked the doors. "Care to confess?" He asked.
Janice bowed her head. She looked exhausted, now Heero took a moment to consider her condition. She had a bulky bag slung over one shoulder and her hat was now in her hands. She did not talk.
"I have no motivation to lie to you, though I am sure you will understand if I do not reveal everything I know. The Preventers are here, with me, but I am not involved because of them. You set me up; I had a perfectly romantic vacation in Paris ruined, I was shot, the apartment I was staying in was nearly blown up and teams of thugs, suits and special agents went through my things, but I know your troubles have been worse than mine lately. I just cannot stand to see idealistic women suffer, that is why I want to help you. Just understand, my help is often...more than was wished for. I will not be your pawn anymore." He would not be anyone's pawn, anymore.
Heero twitched involuntarily and thought of Duo.
"There's video of the murder. I can get it."
"Do you know who killed Romeo?"
"I saw the video, but I do not know who the were, specifically. They seemed professional, but they did not notice the remote camera. Not at first."
"And do you know why he was killed?"
"Because he was at the same time too secretive and not secretive enough."
"He told people the sort of project he had going without telling them the most disturbing information he found, which he was silenced over."
"Or was it just over the money?"
"There were documents too. He had only just started going through them...I can obtain copies. I do not understand everything about them, only enough to know various parties are willing to kill me to prevent me telling what I know. That doesn't matter anymore."
"When is it set to go off?"
"That would be telling."
"Did you include the video?"
"You should not have done that. People have a right to the truth, but disturbing images should not be forced upon an unsuspecting public."
"They might be incited to declare peace or march on the capitol."
Heero almost smiled. "Protecting public order includes preventing Sphere-wide panic whenever possible."
"You cover up too much."
"Eventually even our mistakes become a matter of public record. You can stop the countdown. There are other ways to lay Romeo's soul to rest besides putting his murder on the big screen."
"No. Not from here. It is all hardwired, to prevent me being forced to do it remotely."
"Why'd she tell you that?" Duo's voice asked through the communicator. "It must be in the damaged section. There's cable just laying around in access tunnels up there...pretty much unsecured since Preventer's turned the site over to the Colony again."
"We should be able to find it and stop it. You do not really want to see Romeo's death on the big screen."
Janice shook her head.
"I'll turn around and look for her splice. I know those tunnels fairly well. You don't need me. There are agents watching the entrances for you. I told them not to move in, until we had the armored transport ready. They apparently don't have but two in The Colony."
Heero continued as if speaking to Janice, "We will keep you in protective custody for now. When out escort arrives we will decide where it will be safe to take you."
Duo understood Heero's request and answered, "I have local boys doing a security sweep of the hotel, but all they've turned up so far is some unlicensed prostitution." He laughed.
"If the hotel is clear, we may stay there, at least until we can arrange reliable transport from this Colony", Heero told Janice.
"You can really keep me safe?"
Heero drew a deep breath. She needed to be able to sleep. She needed to believe. "Yes. I promise." And if he was wrong, she would probably go quickly, and only he would know how horribly wrong he had been, that he had lied.
"Do you think...?"
"Just relax. I will keep watch."
Heero saw Janice lay down on the rigid, faux wood pew, curl slightly and sleep. He stood and kept watch, just as promised.
"Found it." Duo's voice almost startled Heero. He had been entranced by one of the screens that showed an actor portraying Jesus falling while carrying his cross. The video played on a loop, the man crowned with thorns eternally falling under the weight of a cross beam, showing determination and weariness, getting up, walking a few steps...again and again.
"Possibly; no longer care if she realizes I am wired."
"Was right where I would have put it."
"Can you stop it?"
"We're trying to determine that now."
"Catholicism is quite masochistic."
"Gotta love it!"
"Eh, do what thou wilt then."
"Like the Satanist's mantra or something... nevermind."
"I am a little more self sacrificing than that."
"Mm. Really shouldn't use the line to chat. All our people are still reporting in as alive. You can relax...a little."
"Thought it best we wait it out here."
"Sanctuary. I will talk to you about the matters at hand...and everything soon." In other words, Duo was unable to talk and would mute his end of their connection. Heero felt as if he should say 'I love you' or 'You are doing good work', but neither seemed entirely appropriate.
There was no reply.
Heero checked the doors again then began to watch another of the video screens, this one depicting Jesus during crucifixion. After watching for a while, it occurred to Heero that the images were not repeating. The man on the cross was drawing breaths with increasing discomfort. His wounds continued to bleed. It was all rather disturbingly reenacted.
Heero was still wondering when it would jump back to the beginning when Duo came into the church flanked by two uniformed Preventers. He nodded professionally to Heero as they approached.
"Maxwell", Heero said.
Janice sat up and clutched her bag.
"Bonsoir", Duo said to her, putting Janice between he and Heero.
"Hi." Janice stood then took a small step toward Heero, or away from the uniforms.
"Nice shirt," Duo said.
Heero looked. There were two boys kissing each other on her shirt. They were no more than half dressed but he thought he recognized them. Girls really seemed to want Akairo and Blaec to be together.
Heero then glared at Duo as he realized his boyfriend had noticed the image emblazoned across Janice's chest two seconds after she lowered her bag...while Heero had not really looked there at all.
Duo managed to drag his eyes to Heero's face and look mildly apologetic. Otherwise he looked tired, but trying to hide it. "Lieutenant Duo Maxwell." He made a slight bow toward Janice and continued, "As Yuy has informed you, Preventers will keep you in protective custody. Tonight you will stay at the Star, where you registered under your alias. We've swept the hotel and you will have guards assigned to you. Tomorrow a transport will arrive to take you to Headquarters. There will be a debriefing there and our Director will discuss further accommodations and precautions with you. You understand, you are not presently under arrest or charged with any crime, but things will be better for you if you give statements and testimony regarding the murder you witnessed and surrounding circumstances."
"I understand. I will go where you say. What happened...?"
Duo grinned. "We had to put a stop to your scheduled events. Personally, your intentions seemed decent, but we are not at war anymore; let's go about things legally, huh?"
"You stopped it?"
Tired smile. "We. Plural and all. It was a challenge, if that makes you feel better. You'll get your fifteen minutes in time. The documents on your machine were...intriguing. Copies have already been sent to Headquarters and several sub stations."
"I missed it!"
"What? Is something wrong?"
Heero pointed to the video screen. "I missed seeing it jump. He has much less blood now and he's breathing easier than...I missed seeing the end."
Duo laughed weakly. "Three hours long."
"You have seen it?"
"One like it. They say that is how long it took."
"We'll go out this way", Duo told them. He led the way toward the front of the church and the two agents walked behind. There was a smaller room adjacent to the altar space, where the priests' preparations for Mass must be conducted. Heero saw one priest there with April Barton. "Thanks, Father," Duo said as warmly as it seemed he could manage, being so tired, "place is all yours now."
"Ve con Dios", the Priest said, with a small wave of his hand that reminded Heero of Jedi.
"Gracias, Padre." Duo moved toward the door and Heero saw April exchange a glance with Duo.
She spoke to the Priest then, in Spanish. It was not the language Heero was most fluent in, but he understood she was informing the Priest that some agents would remain outside his church a while longer to be sure he was not bothered on their account. Then April joined their party in leaving through a side door into a sort of courtyard or enclosed driveway.
They had come from the front of the church, in the way that the front of theaters were also often opposite the main entrance, but this was the rear of the building. Their transport was waiting there with additional guards. It would be a combustion vehicle, unlike most Colonial cars. The armor made it too heavy to get good speed on a battery, even as good as batteries were these days. It had likely been shipped from Earth as a kit.
Duo stepped to the side as he reached the door, allowing Janice to enter before him. He had been tall enough to block snipers from targeting her in the space between the church and transport. Duo let Heero climb in before him, then climbed in himself, followed by April. One other agent got in at the front, and the driver was already seated.
The vehicle started moving immediately after they were seated, drove along the alley and through a gate, which was closed after them by Preventers on foot. A short distance along the street, the transport pulled off the street onto a ramp that took them to a lower level. They passed through a manned gate and continued the trip to the hotel in tunnels secured for use by Security forces, emergency workers and technicians maintaining the Colony's systems.
"I just need to close my eyes", Duo whispered.
"Go ahead. My watch."
"...Still your CO", Duo told him sleepily.
Heero cringed. I need therapy, he thought.
When they arrived at the hotel, they did not have to go onto the street, only climb up through a chamber stocked with emergency astrosuits and air tanks.
Agent Fitzgerald was there, with a woman who seemed to be a Hotel employee, Quick, Yuki, Miko, and Koi. Heero stooped and hugged his dog when he saw him.
"Claudia", Janice said.
Heero looked up and saw the women assessing each other.
Janice looked to the boys then. "Miko..."
"Your code was beautiful", Yuki said.
"But we handled it", Quick said smugly.
"Sometimes people who would be enemies have to work together if they want to maintain peace;" Quick said, "Yuki's not so bad when it comes down to bare metal."
Heero rolled his eyes. He could see Janice was taken in by Yuki's bishy plum-rinsed hair, smooth skin and silvery eyes. If she did want to mess around with Snow Crash, it was not really Heero's business.
"Special Agent Yuki Prunier."
Maybes, Heero pleaded with the ether.
"Listen, Janice", Duo said, "I suggest you get some sleep. The transport will be here by morning local time. Would you feel more or less comfortable with agents in or out of your room? Gender preference...? I mean as far as being OK with letting guards in the room."
"Sir, I think you will agree that my partner and I are among the most experienced and well-rested Preventers currently available to you. I am confident we can watch all approaches to her room and still provide our ward the courtesy of privacy enough to wash and dress."
Duo made a sharp nod to April then looked to Janice.
"Yes. As long as doors and windows are watched, I do not care who guards me."
"Can I stay with Janice?" Miko asked.
"No. Not tonight. Prunier, you watch him. It will be no good if the competition has any opportunity to say they were able to compare notes and stories at this point."
"What about Claudia?"
"She is free to go, if she chooses. Miss Klein already gave statements to yourself and fellow Preventer agents in Paris. Everything that has happened since then you can also testify to, as she was consultant to you." Duo turned to Quick, "The Director may want to question you at some point or ask you to testify in the future, but you are not in custody now."
"Just don't do anything illegal from now on." Duo managed a grin-like smile.
"If you need to get back to Earth, I can help you", Heero told her. "We can talk more in the morning."
"Right. Everyone know their assignments? OK. I am off duty for the night then. I need some sleep!"
"In Scarlet?" Yuki asked.
"Yeah, I'll leave you Plum, should have enough furniture for you all to get some amount of rest." Duo hesitated for a moment. "Barton, could you call in one more team. Who was it we used earlier? Riggs and Murtagh?"
"Yes, but I will select another pair of agents, if that is acceptable to you, I know others that are more experienced with this type of assignment. We have had escort and guard duty to many visiting and local officials before."
"Good. Make it so and stuff. Agent Prunier has also not had much sleep and it is our duty to make sure Mikolaj is watched."
April began to discuss with Yuki who she would send to him and how long he would wait and how trustworthy her selected agents would be.
"Goodnight then", Duo called.
Heero patted his leg for Koi to follow him as he followed Duo. Heero said nothing until they got to the door of the room registered to his alias. "I think I need therapy."
"God, Heero, I'm so tired."
"I did not mean..." Heero whispered. He saw Duo was waiting, so he took the key from a pocket and unlocked the door. Duo moved into the room. Heero signaled for Koi to enter then closed the door after they were all inside. "I just wanted to tell you." Why he had felt he must tell Duo was not entirely clear. "Not that I desire to burden you with my problems, but I just had the feeling I should tell someone that I trusted, so I did."
Duo leaned against a section of wall. The interior was decorated I someone's idea of what traditional and Japanese looked like, so that meant lanterns and shoji screens imported from S4. The space also rose in several levels separated by the paper and faux wood walls, so the space they stood in looked deceptively small, with some art, a bench, a rack for shoes, the lanterns and environmental controls. The wall Duo leaned against was structural, separating the room from the hall, and this side was covered in half timbers and plaster of some sort.
Heero frowned and studied the controls. He turned on the lights in the bedroom and bathrooms and set the tub to fill by remote.
"You can just go to sleep. I will feel better if I take a bath."
Duo spoke, though his eyes remained closed. "Baby...it isn't like a burden if it's you. You gotta know that by now. If it's you and me, then it's OK if we share each other's problems. I want to help you, even if it's just telling you that I am not the one qualified to help you. And right now, I am much too tired to concentrate on anything. If you can't hold yourself together for the night, call someone who hasn't been up for two days already. I know you have other people who care about you. You can trust them."
"I did not mean I was suicidal!"
"Heero." He was really tired. Heero had known he was, that he had worked hard to hide it from the others and needed to crash.
Heero slid open the door to the next section of the room then turned back to lift Duo in his arms. Heero carried Duo up the step into the sitting room. He supposed that was the purpose of this room and it seemed typical of hotel spaces for there to be a sitting area. There was a table with a heater below, but the tabletop was missing or not in place. Heero saw it near some cabinetry. He could see, also, that the door was open to the bedroom.
Heero carried Duo up the next step into the bedroom and lay him on the low bed. Heero's luggage was in this room, though Quick's bag was gone. That did not concern Heero, as the others had remained at the hotel while he had gone out to meet Janice, and Quick had the duplicate key to this room.
"You should undress. Duo? Are you asleep already? At least remove all your weapons." It was safe here.
Eyes closed and movements all languid, Duo managed to remove his field jacket, which was worn over civilian attire, and then to retrieve various weaponry from concealment. Heero removed Duo's boots, put them neatly at the side of the bed, thinking that if he had been more alert, Duo would have been the sort of person to leave his boots at the door.
Heero removed his phone, the new one they had delivered in Paris, from his satchel and put the satchel on the floor. He dialed Quick. She answered promptly. "Would it be possible for someone to bring Duo's luggage to this room?" Heero asked, "He is already asleep and I would rather not leave him."
"I do not think I can carry it by myself;" Quick said, "wait a moment." She turned from the lens to speak to someone else. When she looked to Heero again she said, "Yes, Yuki is still awake and our guards are here, so one guard can be spared to assist me."
"Excellent. Let yourselves in." Heero disconnected, put the phone in a pocket and returned to Duo, undressing him and folding his clothes into a neat pile beside the bed. Heero managed to pull the covers out from under Duo's body so that he could cover him. Heero looked down at Duo, already sprawled in his sleep. He lifted Duo's braids and began to pick them out with his fingers, setting aside the various pins, picks and bands as he found them.
"You are beautiful", Heero told Duo. He said it aloud, though he supposed Duo to be asleep. Duo's right cheek was pressed to the pillow and leaning over him, Heero could see his profile. There was quite a lot of dimension to Duo's face; the pleasantly upturned nose, hollowed cheeks and strong jaw gave Duo that appearance that Heero had often thought Elven.
Heero raised his right hand and traced one gracefully arched brow, the thin expressive lips closed in a peaceful smile and then the protrusion of Duo's adam's apple. He pushed waves of gold-brown hair from Duo's cheek and smoothed the locks behind his ear. Heero ran a single finger along the small collection of earrings in Duo's left ear, down the side of his neck and onto this shoulder.
Duo's body tensed, his shoulder lifted and his brows knit.
"It's OK. I was only admiring. You know I would not hurt you."
"He-" Duo seemed to start but did not finish Heero's name. He merely relaxed and slid his left hand toward the vacant side of the bed.
"Here. I will come to bed soon", Heero whispered. He stood and went to the wall at the other side of the bed and switched off the bedroom lights. Heero saw Koi raise his head from the low couch in the sitting room. He walked down the step then sat for a moment beside Koi, until he heard the door to the hall unlocking.
Quick came in first, carrying some of Duo's bags, followed by a uniformed Preventer. Heero thanked them. "You can put the bags anywhere", he told them.
Quick put the luggage on the floor of the sitting room then rubbed her hands on her jeans and smiled at Heero. "What time do you think we will meet the Preventers traveling from HQ?"
"I am not sure."
She nodded. "I would like to talk to you in the morning."
"I will be going to sleep as soon as I get a bath, so you may call as early as you like."
The guard waited near the door and so Quick smiled once more then left the room.
Heero switched the lights off in the front rooms then moved to the bedroom. He closed the doors partially, leaving enough space for Koi to walk through to the bedroom. Heero walked around the bed and retrieved some toiletries from his trunk.
The bathroom was entirely lined in wood, and if it was simulated, it was very convincing. In the middle of the room was a square sunken bath, also lined in wood, and Heero was convinced the room had been designed around this tub and that the rising levels of the rooms were present only to accommodate the sunken nature of the tub.
Heero stripped down to his shorts and dropped his clothing into the bedroom in a loose pile, retaining his phone and the basket of toiletries. Heero closed the doors then and sat on the decking to soak his feet in the tub, which had automatically stopped the flow upon filling with hot water.
Heero still felt he wanted to talk to someone, and he was not yet willing to seek professional help, not from anyone in the mental health profession. Duo had said to call someone, but Heero was not sure whom he should call.
The person should be trustworthy and able to keep confidence and also be equipped to advise Heero on his current situation. Heero only had a vague understanding of what was bothering him. He was not sure if what he felt was normal or not. It might be normal.
It should be someone who understood about his time as a soldier, about the past. Perhaps one of the girls could help, but then, perhaps a man would be better for this. The males Heero knew were not as easy to talk to. They sometimes made Heero feel that he amused them. Well, the girls made Heero feel that way, but somehow, Heero felt any young man would have amused them; with the guys it was more personal.
He did not want his friends to think him...weak. This was part of the problem.
Heero was uncertain whether Trowa would understand about this. He thought Wufei would understand, but Heero did not honestly desire to admit his problem to Wufei. Perhaps Quatre.
Quatre had a way of finding out people feelings, even if they did not tell him, so it would not hurt to alert Quatre to his feelings. Quatre did know of his past. Perhaps Quatre could help.
Heero wondered where Quatre was now and what time it was there.
He lifted his phone, fit it to his head and dialed Quatre's private number. Several rings sounded and Heero expected to get a recording or answering service, but Quatre answered. For a while, Heero could not think how to begin.
"Heero", Quatre said.
"Quatre. I... or rather... Can you talk to me, if it is not a bad time for you? Are you busy?"
Quatre smiled warmly and scratched his beard. "No, not busy. Are you naked?"
"What? No. I am just not wearing a shirt. Does that bother you?"
"Where are you?"
"In a bath... I was not..." Why did Quatre need to know all this?
Quatre laughed. "I did not mean to infer that you would be doing anything inappropriate, or invite you to do so. It is just...it appears you are rather hot and I did not see clothes."
"The room is warm", Heero said flatly.
"Yes." Quatre did have a shirt on, but at the moment, Heero wondered if it was warm where he was, because he was blushing. "Was there something in particular...you wish to discuss?"
"I wish to ask for advice on a certain...situation. I do trust you, of course, but I need advice from someone who has the ability to help me and I am not sure if that is you, but I did not know anyone else to call."
"Is it very personal."
"I suppose it could be partly related to sex, but it is not only related to sex", Heero answered honestly.
"Perhaps you should just tell me the problem."
"It might not be a problem. Maybe it is normal."
"You are alone?"
"Actually, Heero, I am in bed and Trowa is here."
"But we were not busy, just coincidentally in bed."
"What time is it where you are? Did I wake you?"
"A hotel in Madrid. It seemed to far for either of us to come all the way to meet the other."
"Trowa is working on Earth again?"
"Sort of..." Heero could tell Quatre did not know how to answer, or did not want to answer.
"Do you know about domination?"
"In the general sense? Or... fetish?"
"I do know a little about it."
Heero continued to explain his relationship with Duo, not in graphics detail, but enough that he thought Quatre should be able to understand. In particular he explained the discussion on safewords and that Heero had been the one to request Duo be domineering. Heero left out the specifics of what Duo had done other than acted domineering, because he just did not feel that was Quatre's business.
Heero told Quatre that he had used the safeword and decided that he did not want to be controlled or dominated by anyone. Heero then repeated for Quatre, to be sure he understood, some of the facts about his past. He related how he had believed he was a weak person and that he disliked people who were weak. Weak people depended too much on the strong and could not think for themselves.
"And recently we became involved in a plot involving a murdered hacker, a drug cartel, a bank, a data management corporation and possibly some kind of mercs", Heero said.
"I heard a few things from my Preventer contacts."
"I do not want to talk about the specifics of the case. The think that I am concerned about is that Duo was in command of the mission."
"You are concerned for Duo? Worried, since he has had trouble commanding in the past?"
"No. I thought I was, but then... he was very good at it. He performed the job perfectly. He acted capably, he delegated certain responsibilities, he coordinated his team well, he remained calm almost the entire time. Duo was very good at being in control."
"So, you are concerned because you were included among his subordinates?"
"I trusted him, but at te same time, part of me did not feel right about letting him give me orders. I forced myself to complete the mission, but there were times when I felt very uncomfortable. Does that mean there is something wrong with me? Or was it normal?"
"Do you find Duo to be a weak person?" Quatre asked.
"Of course not."
"Why not? Doesn't he sometimes beg to be commanded? Even punished or controlled? Does he enjoy being in restraints and having his control taken from him?"
"He does that, but Duo is not a weak person."
"Duo could just never be a weak person. He is too stubborn and opinionated and insistent on doing his own thing. He might say that he wished to have his responsibility stripped from him, but in making the requests he is consciously surrendering control. He is not weak, because he is the one deciding that he will submit. He makes the decision for himself, so in the very act of seeming weak, Duo is strong."
"Did anyone force you to arrange safewords with Duo and ask him to be domineering?"
"No. Duo did put effort into convincing me to have the words, but I agreed."
"And when you carried out this mission? Were you somehow coerced or forced into cooperating?"
"No. I agreed with the assignment. It was not the plan I would have chosen, but it seemed logical I be given the assignment I was. I mean, based on our skills and experience."
"Then you are not a weak person either. In the act of agreeing to take an assignment as a subordinate you are just as strong as Duo, when he accepts a submissive role. Or is your question whether you liked it or not?"
"No. I know I do not like being subordinate. Not that I wish to be insubordinate, but I dislike being controlled."
"I understand. This is because in the past there were instances where you felt you were coerced or manipulated into certain actions that resulted in yourself or others being hurt. There is nothing morally wrong or weak about taking a subordinate or submissive role, but you associate such roles with unfortunate past experiences and so you dislike taking those roles. That is normal."
"Yes but... Quatre, is that why I felt uncomfortable today?"
"Perhaps, partly. It is OK to dislike a role but to then take on that role because it is needed, and you have the ability to help others by taking the role. When people do things they are able to do, but which they dislike, that is personal sacrifice. You have made personal sacrifice before, Heero. I would think that you would be OK with that."
"I would think so too. But... I felt confused."
"I think I may know why that is. Heero, who gave you these assignments? You and Duo did not vote or flip a coin."
"I do not know exactly. I heard the message from Duo and Yuki; that is Special Agent Prunier."
"Well, firstly, I feel your overall concerns are justified. In the future, just try to remember that you are capable of personal sacrifice if necessary. Also, it is all right to question orders. If you receive an order that you truly think unjust, refuse it, or else, if you suspect that hesitation may not help anyone, quickly make your formal protest then follow the order. We do not have Allah's foresight. We do not know with certainty how our actions may be judged in the future. We can only do what we feel is right at the time, based on what we know. When our actions hurt others, because our knowledge was incomplete or wrong, it is unfortunate, but mistakes happen. We are human and sometimes make mistakes. Our superiors are human as well. I believe someone made a mistake. You should not have been assigned a mission as Duo's subordinate."
"Conflict of interest. You are romantically involved. Even though you should have and probably did both do your best to remain objective, it was your superiors mistake in assigning two people who are emotionally attached to a mission in which one commanded the other. Either one of you could have lost objectivity or been distracted."
"I was distracted by feeling uncomfortable, but I thought there was just something wrong with me. I tried to work past it."
"That was the best you could do at the time. Perhaps not all our superiors are aware that you and Duo are involved, and did the best based on the knowledge they had, but we can know judge their actions to be mistaken, in retrospect."
So, I do not have a serious issue with Duo or fear he is too good at being domineering? I just had a conflict of interest?"
Quatre laughed quietly. "Perhaps you do fear Duo is too good at being domineering, perhaps you really fear that he wants to be domineering toward you, but it is also true that you were placed in a conflict of interest, and you agreed to the mission at the time. So you were mistaken along with your superiors."
"I should have known better."
"No. Regret like that is only something seen in retrospect."
"Well, I just should have. I should have learned this lesson before, when I acted without proper information and people died."
"Should I say that you are correct? That you should have been perfect and never made a similar mistake again? Heero, so far as you have told me, no one died today. In fact, you probably saved at least one life. You were in a tough situation, but you worked through it, despite feeling uncomfortable. You and Duo both did what was right. You did the best you could."
"Yes. Quatre, what should I do?"
"You mean, to avoid the same type of situation?"
"Write a formal notice to the director informing her that you and Duo are involved and that you are not presently aware whether Preventers has regulations against couples working together, and you would be willing to work with Duo only if you were assigned as equals or partners, but not if one of you was assigned to command the other, because this might create a conflict of interest for one or both of you."
"What do you think she will Do?"
"Probably never assign you to work together at all, and send memos down through the chain of command that others should not make the mistake of assigning one of you to command the other."
"I should probably inform Duo before I send a note like that to his boss."
"Yes. That would be wise."
"I feel better. Thank you for talking to me, Quatre."
"No problem. Glad to help a friend. Please say hello to Duo for me."
"I will. And say hello to Trowa. Goodbye."
"Goodbye." Quatre disconnected first.
Heero removed his phone and slipped into the bath. He soaked for a while, and it was enjoyable, but Heero found that talking to Quatre had made him feel relaxed and more certain of himself and he did not need the bath only to make him feel better. He only needed to wash.
After Heero had washed he dried off and then cleaned up after himself. It did not take long to collect his things and put them in their places. Heero stood looking out the window for a minute. The scenery was much more bearable now the process of artificial night and day had been restored. At night, he did not see devastation, only many points of light and beautiful streams of red and white along the avenues.
Here in the dark, everything seemed tranquil.
Or it was the half-visible décor lit only by the glow of signage coming through the windows and blinds.
Heero climbed onto the bed and slipped beneath the covers. He leaned in toward Duo. He had turned in his sleep so that he lay on his back. "S'ki", Heero whispered, then kissed Duo's lips. There was absolutely no response, but Heero did not feel the kiss was wrong. He knew Duo would say that he wanted Heero to kiss him goodnight, even if he was sleeping.
Heero moved over to his part of the bed and lay on his back. He had been acclimated to Paris time and gotten some sleep on the shuttle, but everything considered, Heero knew that it was time for his body to feel tired again. Only now, he felt too good to sleep.