There's no denying I thought Heero seven kinds of bastard as I sat down with the laptop and hit the power switch. The worst thing was that I wasn't really sure he had kept the particular picture I loathed. He hadn't really said either way - but there was only one way of making sure.
And I knew there was a reason he'd given me this rotten deal, too - which of course meant, it had to be in the passwords, or something he'd put on the desktop. Suggestive wallpapers came to mind, and was just as quickly pushed aside. At first, I thought he meant all of this as a test to see how well I knew him - if I knew what made him tick. That was half the truth, I suppose.
Heero hadn't lied when he said the three ciphers would be meaningless to most people. Heck, it took me long enough to figure them out, and few know him as well as I. Sad, but true.
The blue-black screen tossed up a small prompt box, twelve white lines beneath, the phrase 'Days of scars' above as a hint. It took me about five minutes of thinking and some completely random attempts at passwords to guess I was looking for numbers - two sequences of six; two dates. That's when the crude stabs in the dark followed - along with some major reminiscing. The whole year of the war went in review in my head as I tried pegging down dates that seemed to fit.
In retrospect, I had to have been damn focused. I never even noticed the loud argument a bit further down the hall, much too obsessed with getting rid of the embarrassing picture that the laptop probably kept safe for Heero. I never heard the door slam either - but then again, Hilde never puts all her force into it, not unless she's really mad. I was told about their confrontation later, after we'd all cooled our heads again.
The first date was easy to guess - that was the day in late April I met Heero - and promptly shot him. The bastard has never been good at following orders. Even at the yard, he has to do things his own way.
It took me nearly an hour to get all twelve numbers right, mostly because I tended to lose track of time while in OZ' holding cells. See, the second date was the day Heero didn't return the favor of shooting me, even when I asked for it. Even after remembering the occasion, finding the exact date took a while.
Thinking of that moment still sends chills down my spine. I'd meant it as a joke, but Heero, bastard that he is, obviously considered it.
Yeah, he's still a bastard - even if he's a different Heero than back then, in more ways than one. Not that I haven't changed too. It's strange, really - to think how much less carefree I feel now that my life is peaceful, compared to during the war, when every new day was a triumph.
Watching the first prompt disappear made me grin, pump a victorious fist - only to be slammed in the face with the demand for the next password. Damn the bastard.
I thought of what I looked like sleeping, and put my mind to the task at hand. The hint this time was as familiar as incomprehensible - simply the word, '#Deathscythe'. At first, I thought the fifteen lines below were a joke, and the grid sign a typo. Turned out that wasn't the case.
I don't know how many times I hammered in one refused attempt after the other, before finally reasoning the grid sign prompted me for Deathscythe's number. Of course, that left me with the task of figuring out which number Heero meant. Its designation was only two digits. I couldn't think of any dimensions or specs of my old pal that would require as many as fifteen digits, not separated in any way.
Finally, I absentmindedly typed in a damn simple substitution cipher - 4, 5, 1, 20, 8... eleven numbers, fifteen digits in all, matching the eleven letters.
The prompt vanished, and the screen went black again. I stomached a cheer, a bit baffled Heero had gone with such a simple code.
Of course, the biggest hurdle was the last - and I suspected the easy second cipher was to make you feel all the more frustrated when confronted with the troublesome third. I certainly did.
The damn laptop asked me a question this time. 'What does whole me relax make?' glared at me in white letters. I figured there had to be a reason the question was set up the way it was; the answer was not simply what could make Heero relax. Presumably, he didn't mean what could make the computer relax, either.
No lines were given this time, leaving me at a blank for the length of the answer. It was obviously meant to be the true stopping point for anyone who didn't really know him.
I made many lame guesses at the quirky question, trying to think of the things that could possibly put Heero at ease. 'Sleep', 'food', 'friends', 'work-outs', 'success', the long shot 'love'... A bit ashamed of myself, I even tried 'liquor'. None of them worked. Frustrated, I felt like throwing the damn machine against the wall - I probably would have, if it weren't Heero's.
It probably would have made a hole in the wall instead of being damaged, knowing its maker.
Knowing its maker...
I looked at the question again, thought about the weird way it was phrased. Heero wasn't that simple. What made whole me relax? No, that wasn't it. What did 'whole me relax' make?
I grabbed a pencil and a notepad from my desk, scribbled down the letters 'W H O L E M E R E L A X' and tore the paper into pieces with one letter each. Then I began jumbling them together in different patterns, tried to find a word. After a long time of getting nowhere, I sighed and arranged them back into the original sequence.
For a moment, I wondered if I'd been wrong after all - that the question wasn't more than it was. That I simply had to figure out what was supposed to make Heero relax, feel comfortable. An object, perhaps. Maybe a concept, or a thought, or a... person.
My eyes lingered at the letters 'A X'.
A thought struck me, and I began moving letters around, soon enough glaring down at a name. My own. 'MAXWELL'. I glanced at the remaining letters, and for a moment, caught my breath. Another name. Damn the bastard.
Turning back to the computer, I hurriedly typed in the password, smiled despite what I felt as it was accepted.
I should have guessed quicker. Heero's obsession with me was deeper than I had thought. Was that what he wanted, in the end? Not just me, but my name and a vow as well? Unwanted, the image of Hilde in an ugly bridesmaid's outfit flashed my mind's eye.
Grimace, brief clenching of eyes. Putting that thought aside, I started skimming the drive for picture files, soon enough coming across the one I'd feared finding. A picture of myself, soundly asleep, limbs scattered every which way, body half twisted around a crumpled sheet, the bedspread beneath me just as wrinkled, and the pillow - which my head was only halfway resting on - almost diagonal against a corner of the bed.
The fact my loose hair was a royal tangled mess and that my mouth was gaping and sporting a trail of drool trailing down one cheek didn't make it better. The grey tank top with Mickey Mouse on the front riding up my stomach and the white boxers with red hearts - both novelty gifts from Quatre, worn for a dare, I swear - just topped it all off.
I damned Heero again for taking the picture - and for not deleting it, despite the hell I raised the first time I saw it. Before I could regret it, I marked the picture and hit the delete key.
I almost regretted doing that when the next picture in line popped up as a result. It was me again, another full-body shot - but I was very much awake this time. My hair was down and unbraided, wet after a shower. My back was to the camera, but my head was turned slightly, leaving most of my bare back visible. My skin was still damp too, and the pair of black boxers I wore clung to my rear.
I hadn't been as pissed over this one, even if it was taken without my knowledge. I mean, I looked good in this one. Heck, I even found the filename Heero had picked to be somewhat flattering. I didn't mind being labeled 'sexy' - even from another guy. At least not Heero. Somehow, that only went to show he'd fancied me for a good while - and I never noticed.
And you have to admit the nickname 'sexy' sounds a hell of a lot better than 'sleepyhead', which the other one was aptly titled. My finger hovered the delete key again, but after some hesitation, I let it pass. I didn't mind so much if Heero kept that one, for some reason. It wasn't as if I planned on posing for him like that ever again - not knowingly. Thankfully, the camera had long since been destroyed.
A week later, Heero clued me in on this thing called a 'recycle bin'. A bastard to the last, that man. I'm still tracking down new copies of 'sleepyhead'.
Even back then, I suspected there were more than one copy of it, so I searched the rest of the drive thoroughly. That's when I came across a text document, stowed away in an anonymous folder. Given the bland file name of 'log.txt', I probably would have passed it by, had I not by chance opened it. 'February 14th, 197 AC', it began.
It was a journal - a diary. Heero's diary.
I should have closed it as soon as I realized that - but before I knew it, I was reading, skimming one sad story after another. It was as if Heero had documented his downward spiral. Every entry was as terse as it was depressing. Mentions of jobs he couldn't keep once they realized who he was, and much later, what he was. A casual comment of how he'd randomly strolled into a bar one day after being fired again, ordering a drink by asking for what the guy next to him had. A remark on how he'd puked his guts out later that night.
He described how he started hesitating in picking up the phone when he saw our numbers, not wanting to talk to his friends and accidentally admit he wasn't handling civilian life very well. In the end, how he decided not to answer at all.
After another job rejection, the not-to-be employer citing his lack of documented education and experience, he wrote of how he'd simply packed up and left one day. He'd overheard some barfly talk about something called a 'walkabout' a few days previous, and thought the idea was worth exploring.
A few of the entries spoke of him traveling around, even enjoying himself a bit before his limited funds dried up. At that point, he'd apparently ended up in the urban slums I'd found him in. June fifth, that was. 'I've found a place to live,' he wrote. 'Like most of my life, it stinks - but the rent is cheap. Bumped into a few of the neighbors. Plan to invest in new locks - not that I've got much worth stealing. I just don't want to get stabbed to death while nursing a hangover.'
Mentions of trips to various employment agencies, welfare offices and soup kitchens followed - along with the bar trips.
Through every successive entry, each more terse than the previous, some with less than steady spelling and grammar, I could follow him down. How he, between the occasional odd-job he couldn't hold on to and slim welfare checks, started turning his run-down apartment into a bar in itself - one permanently out of stock, as the barkeep downed the inventory.
Some of the things he'd typed while intoxicated made it sound like he'd found some comfort at the bottom of the bottles - and lost it again as soon as he woke up from his stupor, mind feeling close to implosion.
The tattoo incident was mentioned, as was how he'd sold off some of his meager possessions for more booze money one month the welfare checks came late. He told of one time when he'd been mugged heading back from a bar. He had fought back, but had been too drunk to put up a good fight, leaving him with some impressive bruises and a split lip once they found out he had nothing worth looting in the first place.
The last day of December was tough to stomach. 'I'm not alone tonight,' Heero had typed, as if wanting to delude himself about his self-imposed solitude. 'I'm going to have a hell of a time together with my man - Jack Daniels.'
January was a very quiet month, February not much better. It was getting tougher to read - in part because of the content, in because each entry now seemed to be typed while drunk. I started skimming after that, the few glimpses a sober, lucid mind in between remaining all that caught my interest.
Then, hitting the page down button no longer moved the scrollbar. I'd reached the end - the final entry. It was a clear moment, one in which Heero mentioned he was short of money again, and out of stuff to drink. He wrote he considered pawning the gun, perhaps the laptop too, just to afford something to eat - and drink - until the next social security check.
The worst was his conclusion. 'I keep asking myself when I'll hit rock bottom. I'm not sure there even is one anymore... Maybe I should just give up.'
I checked the date again - it was only a few days before I'd shown up at his door.
I rubbed my cheeks, my eyes. Damn the bastard.
He made me cry.
I closed the journal, shut down the laptop and put it aside, intent on finding his shoulder, along with the rest of him. We had to talk; I had more than one thing I wanted to tell him, things he really needed to hear.
But first, there was something I had give him.