"Package from Howard Garcia." Heero frowned. He couldn't remember what Howard's last name was, but he didn't think that was it. He idly wondered if "Garcia" was another bit whimsy from the old man, like his Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses. He opened the door enough to accept the package from the young man outside his door.
"Thank you." His voice was gravelly from disuse. The Sweeper nodded.
"I'll tell Old Man that you got the package. If you want to send a reply give him a call and he'll set up at dataline. Take it easy." With another nod, he waved at Heero and set off down the hall. Heero watched him as he strode off down the hall and out the door. He didn't look at the slim package until after he had secured all of the locks, familiarity with the procedure making quick work of the multitude.
Walking over to the kitchen table, he tore off the packaging and threw the disk down on the surface next to his laptop. He needed a cup of coffee. After a cup, he thought, after that I'll see what's on there. He pulled down the grinder and beans, but instead of making the coffee, he braced his hands on the counter and stared unblinking at the cabinets for a long minute.
With a sigh, he turned back to the table, leaving the beans untouched. He sat down at the table and picked up the disk. Ignoring his shaking hands, he loaded the content and started the player.
Shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans, he set off down the bike path. No reporters were hanging outside the complex; Project Odyssey's sudden return from the brink was keeping most of the news crews busy. They were clamoring for the names of the crew and details of the rescue mission. He snorted. There were several months before rescue mission would even be launched. Not very many details had been released yet, but ESUN SA had announced that the craft would require pickup once the crew had reached Mars.
He squinted up at the sky, eyes accustomed to indoors lighting finding the late afternoon sunlight harsh, even with sunglasses. He looked back down, tugging the cap he was wearing lower and keeping an uneasy eye on his surroundings even though the park seemed to be empty. Both the sunglasses and cap belonged to Duo.
I'm not going to need them in the tin can! He could almost hear his voice, a breathy echo in his mind. He shivered.
The disk had contained a message and nothing else. The steady pace of his steps was a comfort as he lost himself to his thoughts, replaying the message over in his mind. His friend had been silent for a few moments, looking above the focus of the camera, one arm stretched out of the frame, presumably adjusting the camera. Heero thought he had never seen Duo look so worn. The hair that escaped his knit cap looked dull and greasy, his eyes bruised and bloodshot.
Dotted his eyes. The echo sounded rueful. He shook his head and veered down the far path, walking deeper into the park.
He hunched his shoulders as the message continued playing through his memory.
"I'm sure you've heard by now. We're on our way home." Duo had looked into the camera, a tired smile curving his lips as he shook his head. "It was close. Way too close. We had about 10 hours to spare before we lost the window." He rubbed his forehead and Heero hadn't been able too look away, staring at Duo's hand. The low light of the vid made it hard to determine if the dark shadows were grime or bruises. So thin.
"Nobody had taken into account how the surge of the burn would affect the reactor." Duo's voice had been quiet, exhaustion making the low voice rough. "The only drain it had to deal with was life support and normal ops for the past year and half and the sudden ramp-up destabilized the reactor. Damn fluctuations blew just about every board." His hand had dropped to rub at his eyes and he had been silent again, pinching the bridge of his nose.
So thin, Heero thought again, pausing in the middle of the path. Too thin. After taking a deep breath, he continued walking, the memory dogging his steps.
"Long story short, we got everything back together. We're on third back-up on a few systems, but so far everything checks out OK." Duo had frowned, looking off to the side as his lips moved silently. Heero thought he was doing some calculations. With a slight shake of his head, Duo had focused back on the camera. "We should be OK. Mars is the closest we'll get, but I'm willing to bet someone will be there to give us a tow." He had smiled tiredly before looking down and taking a deep breath.
Here it comes, Heero thought, oh God. His steps faltered again and he looked around for a bench. The echo was amused this time. Can't even walk and think at the same time. Tsk.
Maybe, he thought a little desperately, maybe I should look into therapy. Hearing the voice of his best friend in his head ought to qualify as some kind of mental illness. He sat down on the bench, taking off the hat and running his fingers through his bangs in one smooth motion. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and turning the hat over and over in his hands. His thoughts were relentless, replaying the vid as he stared at the dirt and pebbles between his feet through the dark lenses of the shades. He didn't see them, though.
"When I thought about anything other than saving our asses, I thought about how much I needed a partner." Duo's head had still been bowed, hiding his eyes, but Heero could see the crease of frown lines between his brows. His rough voice had become quieter still and Heero had had to lean closer to the speaker to hear clearly.
"I was still mad about your decision not to come and the longer I sat out here with the systems failing and half the crew going nuts, the madder I got." Another deep breath. "I was pretty damn bitter about it. Got myself all worked up to tell you off the first chance I got." Another shake of his head and Duo had raised his head, his expression pained.
Don't do this, Heero thought, and he couldn't tell if he was talking to the Duo in the vid or if he was talking to himself. His hands tightened on the cap, crushing the canvas between them. For once, the voice was silent.
Duo had looked resolutely into the camera as if he was determined to not break eye contact. "That was pretty damn shitty of me, Heero, and once I had the chance to think about it, I knew it was pretty damn stupid, too. I can't say I'm glad you weren't out here. I miss the hell out of you and I know I could've - I can count on you to keep your shit together." He had sighed and looked away from the camera again. His shoulders had slumped and he was quiet for a few seconds before looking back at the camera, the rueful smile back in place.
"I guess I could've let it go at that and you would've never known I was mad at you, but you know I can't keep my mouth shut. So I guess this is an apology." The smile had widened for a moment and he had laughed quietly. "I bet it holds the distance record for apologies. Does that mean we get our names in a record book?" He had snorted. "All right. I'm getting dopey. Time to catch some sleep." He had leaned forward, reaching for the camera controls. He had paused before turning the recorder off.
"I'm going to try to get another message out during the next data dump. I don't know if I'll be able - we've got a lot of data to send back to ground control so it may be a couple of weeks before I can get another one out."
"Take care of yourself." He had reached for the controls again, but paused once more. "I really do miss you, buddy." He had smiled again, then leaned forward and the video had gone blank.
Heero leaned forward until his head rested on his hands, still clutching the hat. How many times had he replayed that message, both on his laptop and in his head, since he had received it this morning? He had lost count. Each time it felt like he had lost his footing, that there was no secure place for him to stand. Failure never sat well with him and now he had to deal with the fact that he had failed one of the few people he gave a damn about on a personal level. It hurt and this time there was no one he could hand judgment over to. No Noventa to make the decision.
This is a big production for a whole lot of nothing. Now the echo sounded annoyed. I really do miss you.
Heero lifted his head, startled. Therapy. Soon. His conscience not only had the voice of his friend, it was also getting annoyed with him.
Heero resumed turning the hat in his hands, the motion now more meditative than nervous. He was beginning to suspect his reaction to the message was lingering regret and guilt of his refusal to join Duo on the project. Looking back on his decision now, his reasons for staying were substantial as cobwebs. When had he become so reluctant to leave his isolated space? So fearful of risk?
I really do miss you, too, he thought, chest aching.
He sat on the bench until dark, listening to the noise of the world going on about its business around him, his thoughts wandering over the past year. Over what the future could bring. What action he would take.
Well, he thought, taking off the sunglasses, folding and hanging the shades on the collar of his t-shirt. There were around seven months until the launch of the rescue mission. That should give him enough time to make some phone calls. But first he had a message to record.
He started back to his apartment with purpose in his step.
"Duo!" Janey poked her head into the galley. "Two messages for you. I sent them to the terminal in your bunk."
Duo waved in acknowledgement, gathered up his bottle of coffee and left the galley, climbing hand over hand up to his bunk.
"Ah, home box home." He murmured, crawling into the cramped space. A chance to change his bedding, clean up, and wash his hair did wonders for his attitude. The fact that they weren't going to slowly freeze to death on the edge of the solar system helped as well. Can't leave that out.
Clipping his coffee into the holder, he settled on his side and called up the messages. The first was from Howard and he played it twice, grinning at the old man's message. Howard was pretty confident he'd be able to have at least one of his ships involved in the rescue.
"Kid," the miniature Howard said, shaking his head, "don't you know you have to let engines warm up? It's cold out there."
Duo frowned at the header for the next message. The message size was tiny. No sender was listed other than Howard's secure line and he couldn't think of who else on his ship would send him a private message. Unless... He quickly pulled up the second message.
Heero's attention was directed at his laptop, a slight frown marring his features as he tapped the keys. We both look like crap, Duo thought, both amused and concerned by the shadows under Heero's eyes.
"Hey! Those are my sunglasses!" Duo laughed, noticing the sunglasses tucked in the collar of Heero's shirt. He didn't have time to examine the warm feeling seeing the shades gave him before Heero spoke.
"Apology accepted." Heero said, voice quiet and expression serious. "I'm sorry I wasn't there with you."
Heero looked down, a small smile on his lips and he shook his head. "And I really miss you too." He smiled again and with a keystroke, the message was over.
"Huh. Imagine that." Duo flopped over onto his back, snagging his coffee and taking a long sip from the straw. He realized that he still had a big grin on his face, but didn't really care. We're going to have to work on that boy's messaging skills, he thought. Not a bad start, though.