DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not making any money at this, just exercising my writing skills and my muses.

PAIRINGS: 1x2x1, 5xS, 3x4
WARNINGS: I’m sure this will be loaded with angst, as most of my fics are; for the meantime I am envisioning an action-adventure type of a fic though. Yeah, yeah, probably loaded with angst somewhere along the line. I think it’s going to be another looooong one.

Hunter the Hunted
by Shira

A day after Duo left Brussels, Heero sent an encrypted email message to his computer. He waited until he was sure that Duo and agent Masterson had arrived safely to their destination and had begun their work in Geneva before doing so, alert to hear about any unexpected incidents, but as he suspected, and to his relief, there were none. So far, things were quiet on both fronts, and there was little cause for alarm. Heero had the sneaking suspicion that the calm wouldn’t last long, though.

Sally sent him back to L1, his home colony, oddly enough to follow up on a lead that had filtered its way into the Preventers recently. Something about a private corporation on the colony that was possibly violating anti-cruelty laws in their research labs by developing biological weapons. Since he knew the colony well, and was able to fit in easily, his assignment was simply to sneak around and observe anything that was going on that seemed out of the ordinary. Eaves drop on some conversations, watch some people, and maybe get his hands on some classified documents. That sort of thing.

By his second day on the colony, Heero was refamiliarized with his surroundings and out sleuthing around at one of the local laboratories. It was a facility owned by a private company known to be researching the biological effects of living on the colonies. Since it had been theorized years before that colony living was causing symptoms including decreased bone density and anemia in its long-term residents, there were a number of companies involved in diagnosis of cause and the development of supplements to treat the condition. They were looking for a cause of the biological degradation that was now being diagnosed in as much as twenty-five percent of the colony public, and of course, for a way to remedy this problem with a product to sell that would eventually make them money. Research companies rarely worked solely on one project, so it was relatively easy for them to be in development of many different items at once, and in this case there was suspect of illegal activity being cloaked by a seemingly innocent façade.

According to Sally, the complaint that was levied actually came from the anonymous source of a former employee of the Colony Care, Inc. organization. A similar complaint was later received from the local anti-vivisection group on L1 as well, raising a few red flags, but she still suspected that the argument was little more than a case of a disgruntled employee trying to make trouble for a company that was already involved with the controversial practice of animal testing as part of its research. Since the company had no other complaints against them in their history, nor had they been suspect during any previous health department inspections, it was not likely they suddenly began disregarding the anti-cruelty laws. When an accusation of development of chemical or biological weaponry is made however, a mere humane case then becomes a Preventer concern, since development of such weapons was highly illegal and very punishable, no matter how unlikely the case seemed. Though it was probable that the investigation would turn up nothing of importance, it actually wound up being a perfect assignment to send Heero on in light of recent happenings, since it was a low-exposure investigation.

The next morning, Heero showed up for work on time, with the rest of the maintenance crew for the Colony Care company, clad in his maintenance uniform of khaki pants and matching shirt, complete with company logo and name badge, which read Jim. As other employees filed into the building with him, he paid attention as to whether anyone took notice that he was a new face in the crowd, but none of the other employees seemed to even look his way. He stopped at the main desk to announce himself, that he was a new hire from the temp agency and was supposed to start work, and as he was hoping, the receptionist simply gave him directions of how to get to the maintenance supervisor’s office and let him go on his own. As it was though, Heero already knew exactly where he was going, and once he disappeared down the hall that he’d been instructed to take, his course changed to his own.

Heero went to the basement, and to the maintenance supply closet, which was normally unlocked first thing in the morning. Being careful to avoid any other employees, he slipped in quickly, finding himself a tool caddy and then slipped back out, unnoticed. He was alone in the stairwell as he climbed to the fourth floor where some of the main laboratories were, and then ran into a group of lab-coated research technicians on their way to the cafeteria for coffee. Nodding politely and holding the door, the three women and one man didn’t even look twice at Heero, and after they passed into the stairwell he was off down the brightly lit hallway.

Finding a grouping of laboratory rooms, Heero looked through the windows in the doors to find one that was empty, and as luck would have it, he did. Probably the room from which the previous group of researchers, the ones that had gone for coffee, were working in. Figuring he probably had about fifteen minutes to get his work done, Heero scoured the room quickly, noticing banks of cages of well-fed rabbits and tanks of chubby white mice and white rats, and then along the far wall a research station complete with a well-equipped computer that was tied in to a grouping of other research equipment. He went quickly to the computer, pulling a micro-disk out of his pocket, and went to work, extracting the company’s research records through their network.

While the disc saved files, Heero cautiously walked around the room, looking at the animal cages and tanks, noting the signs and notices posted about the lab, returning every few seconds to monitor what the computer was giving him. He quietly rifled through desk drawers and file cabinets, notebooks and lab logs, noting what he thought was important and passing on the rest. By the time the door to the lab opened, the four researchers returning to their stations, he was on the way out of the lab, disc safely in his shirt pocket, tool caddy in hand.

“Is the water line to the automatic feed finally fixed?” One of the women, a petite blonde, said to Heero as he walked past her nonchalantly. He looked up.

“Not yet. I was just checking it out,” Heero said, then kept going.

“How many times are you guys going to ‘check it out’ before somebody fixes the thing? Sheesh!” The woman said with an annoyed tone to her voice, but by that time, Heero was already down the hall and scoping out another lab to investigate.

In the end, the information retrieved from Colony Care’s network didn’t prove much, and Heero’s investigation even less. There didn’t seem to be anything illegal going on at the facility that he could tell, and their records, even the hidden files that were extracted, showed that they were doing exactly what they claimed to be doing – researching medical conditions in humans, among a number of other harmless projects. A sweep of the labs and the supply and order lists for the building did not reveal any suspicious items or chemicals entering the building, nothing that would not already be needed there anyway, and Heero had to agree with Sally that the accusations made, as far as anyone could tell thus far, were false, probably intended to harm the company’s reputation and nothing more.

He finished typing up his report of his three days spent sneaking around the facility, sending it off to Sally at headquarters, who would handle the case from there. Probably put the company on a ‘watch’ status, in case of information missed or some other leads filtering in to support he accusation against them, but in all reality, it was looking like they were in the clear. Following his report with an email to Duo, Heero typed that he would be leaving the colony within the next 24 hours, and that he would be in touch from his next destination. He also made sure to inform Duo that everything had gone off fine during his assignment, and that there had been no incidents, and not to worry.

Dressing in his normal street clothes of jeans and a polo shirt, Heero left his hotel room that night and went out for a bite to eat after securing his shuttle transportation and limo to the shuttle port the next day. He went to one of the local places where he could get good, authentic Japanese food, and there enjoyed a quiet meal by himself. He felt strange being alone on this night, since it had been a number of years since he had any reason to be, and it took a bit of self discipline to ignore the occasional look that he got from restaurant patrons or passers-by outside the window where he sat. It got him to thinking about how he missed Duo right at that moment, and he realized just how much he had changed in the last few years of his life.

Heero contemplated his having been raised to be completely and totally self-sufficient and needing of no one, and yet now here he was, involved in a relationship that caused him to go completely against everything that he’d been accustomed to. It repeatedly filled his head with question, as his thoughts were doing on this very night, and Heero wondered how his life might have been different, or even happier, if he had been raised in a loving and affectionate way rather than as a weapon in the cold and mechanistic environment that he had. He would always come to the same conclusion every time, though – that no matter what he had given up in the past as a child of war, he was definitely regaining lost ground now, and at the center of his growing emotional universe was Duo. For the first time in his life, Heero had been able to admit that he really needed someone, and as he gradually got used to that idea, needing someone, he was able to take much more pleasure in his life by sharing it with another.

As his meal was served, Heero tried not to do any more thinking at all. Contemplating himself like that frequently left him with more questions than what he’d started with, and so he tried to pay attention to other things like his food, and the people passing by outside. Eyes wandering as chopsticks deftly and automatically moved from plate to mouth, Heero was noticing things, trying to get his mind onto something different. An older Japanese couple walked a little dog on a leash across the street. A lady with a baby in a stroller passed by the window, the lady peeking in and smiling slightly as her eyes made contact with his. A man leaned against a light post on the corner, talking on a cell phone. A bus stopped and let off people. Then other people got on. For a while Heero just watched, allowing everyday life to mesmerize him, and before long he had forgotten whatever it was that he had been contemplating in the first place. He looked away from the world happening around him and paid attention to his food, and the server who brought him more green tea in a little ceramic pot.

When he looked back up and out the window, Heero realized that the man at the light post was still there, still talking on his cell phone, only this time he was looking straight at him. No big deal, Heero thought to himself, and took another couple of mouthfuls of food. Looking up again, the man hadn’t moved – not his position or his gaze – and Heero felt a twinge of discomfort deep inside him. He looked behind him, to see if there was anyone else present that the man could be looking at, but there was no one there. Heero went back to the remains of his meal yet again, and yet again when he looked up, it was to meet the hard stare of the man in the gray raincoat that was standing next to the light post on the corner, looking right back at him.

Finishing up his meal. Heero quickly paid his bill and detoured to the men’s room, where he loitered for a few moments. Then he questioned what, exactly, he was doing “hiding out” in a bathroom just because a guy stood outside and looked at him. Trouble was, no matter how much he attempted to make himself believe that he was being paranoid, that paranoid part of him, the part that vividly remembered the two near misses at home that had almost cost he and Duo their lives, was stronger. His gut instinct was telling him, as it had been telling him his entire trip to L1, that things were not over, and there would be more to come as far as these violent attacks were concerned. He just didn’t know when or where, or if anyone else even knew his whereabouts. With all this in mind, however, Heero was not in the mood to take any chances, and so, he waited a few more minutes before leaving the restroom and then the restaurant.

When he got outside, the man who had been standing at the light post and staring at him was gone, but Heero didn’t feel any better. In all actuality, the fact that the man had gone instilled the feeling of uncertainty within Heero, since he had no clue as to whether the man was specifically regarding him or not, and now there was no way to find out. Looking both ways, there wasn’t a trace of the man as far as he could tell, and so Heero quickly began to walk back to his hotel, which was five blocks away. He walked with purpose, to get there quickly, but not in such a way to let himself or anyone else think that he was fleeing something, but when he entered the safety of the lobby entrance doors, Heero was aware of his body consciously relaxing from the tension he was feeling.

Riding the elevator to his room, Heero was annoyed at himself now. He’d convinced himself, between the elevator and the door to his room, that he was being foolish and that the man on the street corner was simply a man on a street corner making a phone call. Cursing to himself, Heero felt silly, telling himself that he was losing his touch and how he might as well resign as a Preventer if he was going to go around being thrown off by people making phone calls on cell phones who just happened to look at him, but underneath all of his talk and self criticism, that foreboding feeling of having lost control of this factor of his life was still there. That feeling that told him that he was still very much in danger, and there would be more incidents yet to come. It was a feeling that was known in general terms by most people as fear, but Heero did not recognize the word. Fear was weak. Fear was emotional and had no place in war, be it behind the controls of a giant mecha or walking the streets of a city. Fear was something that served no other purpose than to cause hesitation and self-doubt.

But fear, as Heero was beginning to figure out, was also an invaluable tool of self-preservation. It’s easy to have no fear when you don’t care if you live of die, his conscience continually tried to remind him when he had these feelings. Then his thoughts would generally turn to Duo, and the other people in his life, and Heero would be once more caught in his emotional turmoil of past vs. present. Old Heero vs. new. It was an ironic thing, really – where most people were trying to convince themselves to not have fears, and yet here Heero was trying to make himself believe that being afraid was really all right. It was enough to make his head spin.

Lying in bed in his hotel room this time, Heero left on the lamp on the night stand next to him to make the room look like someone was still awake inside, which comforted him for some reason. He couldn’t sleep, but that was nothing new now, having not gotten much good sleep since the morning of the first attack. Thinking about Duo made him feel a little better, even making him smile slightly as he lay with his eyes closed imagining that the other man were there with him, but the thoughts eventually turned back to the future, and what was going to happen, and how he was going to put an end to this problem. How he was going to find and confront whoever it was that was following him. How long he was going to be able to have Duo’s cooperation in feeding his own fear of what could happen, and really, how practical it all was. After all, they couldn’t very well spend months away from each other like this, could they? No. It was ridiculous, and Heero knew it, besides the fact that he knew Duo too well, and that nothing would keep Duo from doing what he wanted to do in the long run. Especially when it meant their being apart.

When sleep finally did come that night, it was uneasy and shallow. Heero was awoken in the early hours of the morning, his neck and face coated in a fine sweat and his mind filled with bad images from his past and self-created prophecies unpleasant things yet to happen. The dream was recurrent – it had been for years now – only this time the endings were different. Now, in one of the endings, it was he that lay dead in the snow with the crumbled remains of a city around him, and that ending always brought with it a feeling of deep dread. In the other ending, the one who had perished was Duo, and there was a heavy guilt associated with that one, the guilt that he had let his lover perish because of who he was, and something that someone wanted from him. There were no little girls with puppies anymore, as the dream had morphed itself into something frighteningly more real, something more present in his mind. In each of the dream versions, however, the assailant was the same – a faceless, formless, evil that wanted Heero dead, no matter what the cost or who was hurt in the interim.

Sitting up in bed for the rest of the morning, Heero blindly flipped channels on the TV screen on the wall in front of him, trying to keep his mind off anything that would remind him of his nightmare. There was an infomercial for the Flow-bee on, paid programming for timeshares on Earth, and on the Food Network, David Rosengarten was talking about cooking with beer in a rerun from earlier in the week. Finally finding a classic movie station, Heero let his attention be partially taken away by the movie “The Fellowship of the Rings,” which he picked up right about mid-way, at the part where Frodo and his band of psudo-warrior friends set off to return the golden ring to Mordor.

By the time hints of morning appeared under the edges of the drawn curtains, Heero was up and showered, and packing his bag. It was definitely time to go home.

to be continued

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