"There you are!" Quatre exclaimed as he caught sight of the bedraggled pair. "What happened to you guys?" he asked, looking over the two dripping pilots. Halfway back to the complex, the rain had started again and what had started as a slow walk ended as an out-and-out race.
"We...We..." Duo gasped, trying to catch his breath but failing miserably.
"We got caught in the rain," Heero answered calmly, sounding not a bit out of breath even though Duo could see that the Japanese boy was breathing almost as heavily as he was.
"That's...that's obvious...ain't it, Heero?" Duo grinned through wheezing gasps.
"Then why ask?" Heero growled, walking past a bemused Quatre and dragging Duo by the arm.
* * *
It had been good to hear Duo sounding almost himself again, Heero thought as he flipped on the computer switch. He had hoped that there would be a few more days of peace and quiet after that morning. Enough time to draw Duo out of the shell he had shied into, enough time to get the braided boy to realise that he did not have to keep everything to himself, that he'd had someone to share with. Duo was generous in so many things but that tiny, little aspect: he could never let anyone share in his pain if he could help it. He'd rather let it eat himself up from the inside rather than let it out for the world to see.
Duo had his pride.
But sometimes that pride was destructive.
The cold light from the computer monitor lit up the darkened room, bathing the two boys in a sickly green glow.
"Did you get anything yet?" Trowa asked, his voice low as he kept an eye out for uninvited company. They had sneaked into the records room, strangely one of the least secure rooms in the sprawling complex that was the heart of the OZ facility they were currently in. It had taken them almost a week of undercover surveillance to map out the rooms and the amenities the complex offered, targeting the most important sections necessary to their current mission.
"Not yet," Heero muttered as his fingers flew effortlessly over the keyboard. "They've got a damn complex security system," he hissed in annoyance as his hacking skills were tested to the fullest. Numbers flew across the monitor screen in rapid fire succession as Heero tapped out possible codes and passwords. Each came to nil as 'ACCESS DENIED' flashed repeatedly in his face.
"Kusou," he cursed after ten minutes of futile attempts to break into the OZ computer system. He glanced at Trowa who was nervously checking his watch.
"We've got another five minutes before the change of guards. Can you make it?" the taller boy queried, all the while glancing up and down the corridor.
"No," Heero sighed. "I need more time, or at least one key code," he grumbled. This mission was not turning out as simple as he'd first thought. "We can't do much tonight," he said, as he stood up. "Unless...Yes!" Heero's dark eyes lit up as he tapped a few more queries into the databank. The facility's local network was nigh impenetrable with the scant data he had to work with but there was one loophole, Heero discovered as he hacked into a separate database. The one vital link into the nexus of the facility's system was inaccessible through the local network but it *was* linked to other facilities, other establishments. There *was* a possibility that the system could be hacked into, but from an outside network. Unfortunately, this information had only just now come to view. And there was still too much to do within the facility for the two pilots to leave. And bypassing outside system security codes from within the facility would only alert OZ to their whereabouts.
Which only left them with one option.
Heero downloaded all the information he could find into a disk, and then proceeded to send it out to their mission base, all the while mentally cursing the genius who designed this particular facility's computer network and hoping that OZ didn't have more like him or her.
The drive whirred with what seemed like infinite slowness as the encoded message made its way out of the local computer network.
"We don't have much time," Trowa hissed, somehow sounding calm but agitated at the same time.
"Just a few more seconds," the Japanese boy said, a little smile playing at the corners of his mouth as the transmitting process was completed.
"Kanryou!" he grinned with satisfaction as he grabbed the disk. "Let's get out of here!" he said as both boys scurried quietly back to their respective quarters.
* * *
"It's from Heero," Quatre said softly as the message flashed on the monitor.
"What does he want?" Duo asked, pulling a chair and seating himself beside the blonde boy.
"The mission doesn't seem to be going according to schedule," Quatre muttered, almost talking to himself. "Hmm...they can't get in.."
"Ha! Heero the hacker Yuy can't get into the network?" Duo chuckled. "Are you sure Heero sent this?" the braided boy asked, peering closer.
"U-huh. It's the upload point. He thinks it can only be accessed from an outside network," Quatre sighed. "And we'll have to upload the primary key bits before he and Trowa can proceed with the main bug. How're we going to do that?" The blonde leaned back against the chair, staring at the computer. He could be counted on in the planning and logistics department - Darn it! He excelled in them! - but when it came to computers and hacking into information systems, Heero was still the best. And he hated computer viruses. They reminded him of the day his own computer system crashed on L4.
"Whoa," Duo said, gently pushing Quatre's chair to the side as he sidled in front of the monitor. "Let me try something. Lessee....What would Heero do?" Duo's face was scrunched up in concentration as he entered several access codes into the computer. "Bingo! I knew hanging around Heero would amount to something," the long-haired pilot grinned as a list of establishments came up on the screen.
"What are those?" Quatre asked, running through the list of names. Factories, civil departments, schools - a mish-mash of organizations.
"Saa…according to Heero's source, these have direct access to the facility's local network. If we need to hack in from the outside, we'd have to get through from one of these. Then, all we have to do is find out which one is connected to the upload point, and go from there," Duo explained as he leaned back in satisfaction, fingers tapping out more instructions and queries.
"We can't do it from here?" the blonde asked, even as a new list of establishments came up on the monitor.
"I don't know. I guess we could if we had their access code. But that'd take up too much time, don't you think? And we still need to upload the virus from there. Besides, Heero'd done it by now, if we could."
"Um...you've got a point," the blonde acquiesced. "So...who's going.."
"Who's going where?" Both Quatre and Duo started at Wufei's sudden entrance. The Chinese boy sauntered in, arms full of 'merchandise'.
"There! Enough ammunition for a week!" Wufei grinned as he placed the huge box carefully on the table. "Now, what's this about going somewhere?" he asked, turning towards the other two boys.
* * *
Heero turned the small disk in his hand. A few weeks ago, this mission had seemed relatively simple: break in, upload the virus, get out, ninmu ryoukai. Now, it seemed almost impossible. The Japanese boy sighed, tucking the disk into the tiny crevice behind his bunk. Trowa was probably feeling as worried as he was, but since the other boy was stationed at the mechanical department's wing of the facility, he had no way of being sure. Slowly drifting off to sleep, Heero wondered whatever had possessed Dr. J to dream up this virus anyway...
It was as twisted as its inventor's mind.
* * *
"We have to WHAT?" Duo couldn't believe his ears. Their operatives dreamed up of some damn near incredible missions, and most of them had some semblance of logic. But a few bordered on pure stupidity. Granted that they were merely expendable manpower in this god-forsaken war, but that did not give the powers-that-be any more right to send them into suicidal situations. "But, that's crazy!" the braided boy protested. "That's almost the damn center of the damn OZ manufacturing ...!"
"It's the mission," Heero replied coldly. "We still have to go through with it."
Duo eyed the sullen-faced boy warily. How different Heero was when he was confronted with an official order. Just a few hours ago, the short-haired boy had seemed almost human, almost seemed like he had a heart. But now, he seemed so mechanical, accepting orders without question, even if it meant that he wouldd be walking into a death trap.
"You're crazy," Duo muttered under his breath. How could he have actually thought that Heero'd listen to whatever he'd have to say? Somewhere in Duo's mind, a small voice whispered: "Aren't you glad you shut up? This was the person you'd wanted to trust? This was the person you nearly bared your soul to? Wasn't it a blessing that you let your head do the thinking for once?"
Somehow, those words hurt. And somehow, it hurt more because *he* was thinking them, *he* was admitting to himself that perhaps, just perhaps, his judgement had been wrong. And he'd wanted it so much to be right...
Duo ran his fingers through his still-damp hair, loosely braided to allow the strands to dry after the rain. Sometimes life never made any sense, he conceded, but you just had to go on living...
At least, until you die.
Which was what he'd really been wanting to do until recently. Since...
No. That was not something he wanted to remember or think about.
He had been surprised that Heero, of all people, had been the first to confront him about his behaviour. Or lack of. In fact, he'd been surprised that anyone had noticed it in the first place. He'd always prided himself on keeping his mask on whenever he wasn't alone. It was an art that had taken him more than a decade to perfect.
Obviously it still wasn't.
Unconsciously, Duo drifted towards the table, coming together with the rest of the pilots as they went over the details of the mission. Almost against his will, the discussion of the upcoming mission tugged at him, intrigued him. Perhaps this was what drove Heero to do what he does, to put his heart -- if he had any -- and his soul -- whatever little there was of it -- into whatever mission he was involved in. Perhaps, Duo thought, this was what fuelled all of them everyday, giving them just that little purpose to a life that did not seem any brighter no matter where they turned or how they looked at it.
After all, this was war, the boy smirked inwardly, and people died. Hell! They could die that very day. So why not die while doing something worthwhile? Yes, it was crazy, but had he expected any less? War was stupid and crazy and probably started by crazy people. And they - five stupid boys turned willing pawns - were probably among the stupidest and craziest people around.
And he had given up on being sane a long, long time ago anyway. It just wasn't worth it. Being sane meant that you had to think of all the people you hurt, and those that hurt you back, all the people you'd killed, all the people that you may have to kill.
And some may even be your friends.
So sanity wasn't worth it.
It hurt too much.
"Right," Quatre's voice cut through Duo's thoughts, drawing him into the present. "So basically, what we have to do is plant this virus into their system, get out and trigger it. Sounds easy, ne?" the small blonde grinned.
The rest of the pilots automatically grinned back, except Trowa, who merely smiled. And Heero, who merely smirked.
"Not!" the five boys chorused almost simultaneously.
* * *
"Okay," Quatre sighed, spreading the printout over the table surface. After almost an hour of hacking into old city records, they'd finally come up with the floor plans to the OZ facility they were supposed to break into. The facility was huge, consisting of several wings which housed personnel quarters and offices. Other sections held the technical laboratories and workshops, and large areas were reserved for manufacturing and assembling activities, among others.
"And this is just the main building..." Wufei whistled, impressed.
Five pairs of eyes scanned the large sheet of paper, taking in the positions of individual hangars, storage buildings, sentry points, checkpoints and various entrances.
"This is like a fortress!" Duo groaned. "How the hell are we ever gonna get in there?" He placed his hands behind his head with a pout. "Can't we just blow it up?" Duo suggested, brightening visibly.
A murderous glance from Heero silenced the braided pilot considerably.
"There has to be a way," Trowa's low voice interjected. "This is a manufacturing facility, right?" he asked rhetorically, piercing green eyes hovering over each of the boys in turn, before finally settling on the blonde directly in front of him. "And they'll need quite a lot of personnel, ne?"
"So they probably have...recruitment drives!" Quatre exclaimed. "And it shouldn't be too hard to infiltrate and replace some minor worker…" the boy nodded, blue eyes lighting up with excitement. Heero was already at the computer terminal before Quatre's sentence was completed, already calling up relevant information from the databanks.
"Anything?" Duo asked, leaning against the chair Heero was seated at.
"Umm...yeah. Hold on," the short-haired boy muttered as he downloaded the information. Seconds later, the printer whirred to life, churning out printouts which Duo snatched as soon as they emerged from the machine.
"Yeah, we're in luck, I guess," the long-haired boy muttered at Heero, skimming over the printout with a trained eye. "They're recruiting tomorrow. "
* * *
"You know," Heero's voice sailed above the sound of the shower, "I meant what I said back there."
"What?" Duo's muffled voice asked, slightly overpowered by the splashing of the water against the tiles and against his flesh. The long-haired boy squinted as an errant stream of soapy water seeped through the corner of an eye.
|The water feels good after the cold rain. Hot and steaming - washing away whatever knots left in my muscles after this morning's run. I wonder what Heero's saying out there?
It's too relaxing in here. I feel like curling up on the floor and just letting the water run over my skin, seeping wherever it will, washing away whatever it can.
It would be too easy to just give up and hide away, wouldn't it? I run. I hide. So it shouldn't be a problem, right?
But I don't lie.
And running away would be the same as lying, wouldn't it? Lying to myself...and Heero.
What did he mean this morning? When he said that I was running away from...from us? Us? Since when had there ever been an 'us'? And anyway, he was always the one doing the running, and I the chasing. Strange, come to think of it.
It started as a game, a challenge. To see whether anything could get under his skin. His oh so perfect skin. I wonder when I started looking at him in that way...
Heero would never consider it. Ever. That's why getting...well...trying to get to him became such an enjoyable pastime, I suppose.
He was challenging.
And why the hell do I even think of him that way? Why do I keep wishing that there might be something in this, that perhaps…No. No way. Uh-uh. We're the same, he and I. There couldn't be more than friendship, ne? At the most we could perhaps be close comrades, maybe the brother I never had. Like Solo had been. There would never be more than that. Get a grip on yourself, Duo. Face the facts.
And especially not now. Not after...
No. Not ever. I...I can't...
Why is this whole shitty thing so confusing? Why the hell - How the hell! - do I even feel this way?
It was so wonderful to see him smile whenever I make fun of his uptight attitude. And yeah, Heero can be damn uptight. It feels so good to hear him laugh. His eyes smile. That's precious. I don't think I've ever seen his eyes smile for anyone else.
And when he responded...
Even small gestures of attention or ...Dare I call it caring?...Why did I feel so...so...so damned happy? And why is he so fuckin' attractive?
But that doesn't change anything, does it? Doesn't change what's happened. Doesn't make a damn difference...|
"Duo!" Heero called, rapping his knuckles on the bathroom door. "Hurry up! And don't you dare use up all the hot water!"
"Aww Heero! You sure know how to spoil a guy's fun, don't you?" the other boy shouted back, a hint of playful annoyance in his voice.
"Hn! You're not the only one who wants to have fun, okay?" the Japanese boy retorted, leaning against the wall beside the bathroom door.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm almost done," Duo's voice answered back, no longer drowned by the sound of the shower.
"Spoilsport," the long-haired boy pouted as he walked out of the bathroom, vigorously towelling the long, brown hair that trailed over his skin in wet, curling tracks.
For a little while, the Japanese pilot was silent, not knowing what to say, or what to think as he stared at Duo, taking in the wet hair, wet skin and happy grin.
"Oi!" Duo chuckled, peering at him curiously through straggling bangs. "Get in there, already!"
"Um... yeah," Heero muttered as he ducked into the bathroom, feeling a slightly warm feeling creep up his cheeks and a sudden tightness in his groin.
* * *
"Nice room, ain't it Wufei?" Duo threw the haversack onto the bed carelessly, before he threw himself on the mattress, grinning as the mattress gave under his weight and bounced him several times.
"It'll do," the Chinese boy replied gruffly, checking out the view from one of the two large windows in the room they were to share. Outside, he could see a few students lazing in the afternoon sun, enjoying the absence of classes over the weekend.
"Ne Wufei. Lighten up," the braided boy yawned from the bed. "It's the weekend. There're no classes, no homework. Just enjoy it while you can."
"You seem to forget that we're on a mission, not a holiday," Wufei frowned, glancing at Duo with barely veiled annoyance. "We specifically chose the weekend to register, remember? So that there won't be anything to interfere with..."
"Oi! Chill, Wufei. I know that," Duo sighed, getting off the bed and walking towards where the Chinese boy stood. "But that doesn't mean that we can't enjoy ourselves. Look!" Duo chuckled happily, gesturing at the yard outside. "They've even got a basketball court. And girls! See Wufei?" he nudged the boy beside him.
"Hn! We're here to work! And the faster the better, baka!"
"Ch! You're just like Heero..." Duo grumbled, looking longingly at the inviting shouts and laughter coming from the court before turning to Wufei.
For a brief moment, violet-blue eyes bored deeply into Wufei's own midnight black ones. And for a brief moment Wufei caught a fleeting emptiness in them that seemed so foreign to the American boy before him. But it was only for a moment, and that moment was soon forgotten as Duo's eyes took on their normal sparkle.
"You guys just don't know how to have fun," Duo added.
"Heero and Trowa need our part of the mission accomplished fast, before they can get on with theirs. We are not going to jeapordise..."
"Alright! Alright! I hear you!" The longhaired boy rolled his eyes, exasperated. "I want Heer...um..them back too, you know," he muttered, shuffling off to unpack.
Wufei eyed the longhaired pilot's retreating back with a raised eyebrow.
* * *
"Are you sure this is the right way?" a braided figure hissed in the shadows.
"Yes! Are you doubting me?" the figure's companion hissed back in annoyance.
"Of course not, Wu. Heh! Who could doubt you? After all, it's -"
"Will you just keep it down?" the pony-tailed figure snapped, his voice low but clearly audible to the other boy. And clearly conveying threats of massive bodily injuries if his orders were not followed. "And don't call me 'Wu'!"
The two boys crept along the corridor in silence, making their way past the administrative offices and into the Principal's office.
"Okay," Duo mumbled as he jiggled the old-fashioned lock with his ever-present lock pick, a legacy from his thieving days on L2. The door swung open silently as Duo turned the knob with a smirk. "Yup. Haven't lost my touch," he grinned at Wufei as they entered the dark room.
Quickly glancing up and down the darkened corridor to ascertain that they were alone, Duo closed the door after him, and both boys got down to work.
* * *
"Ish!" The Chinese boy exclaimed after several minutes of checking the network. "The system's network is tighter than Heero's ass!" Duo winced inwardly at Wufei's comment but couldn't help retorting.
"And how would you know, Wufei?"
"You pervert! I was speaking metaphorically!"
"Well, there're lots of other metaphors," the braided boy smirked.
"Hn!" Wufei snorted. "Anyway, look at this." The boy highlighted several points on the graphics shown on the monitor. "We can upload our parts of the virus here, here and...here."
"Then what're we waiting for? Let's do it!" Duo grinned.
"Not so fast, Duo. The system's timed. We can't upload everything at once. We can only do half now and the other half later."
"But..." Duo frowned. Heero would be waiting at the facility, waiting for the signal to upload the integral part of the virus before he and Trowa could leave. If Wufei and himself could not get everything done tonight, the other two boys would have to remain at their posts for a little while longer. But time was running short and the longer Heero and Trowa were at the OZ facility, the higher their chances were of being found out.
"There's no other way," Wufei sighed in resignation.
"What time is it?" Duo asked, glancing at his watch in answer to his own question. Five minutes more until their agreed time of contact. "Okay, I guess we start uploading, Wufei. Then we'll just have to tell those two to wait a bit more," Duo said, an uncharacteristic grimness in his voice.
* * *
"Kusou!" Heero cursed as he read the transcript on the monitor.
"What is it?" Trowa hovered behind the Japanese boy, surreptitiously sneaking glances towards the door even as he peered at the monitor over Heero's shoulder.
"The uploading can't be done at once. They'll have to do another session tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" The green-eyed boy raised near-hidden eyebrows and frowned. "Tomorrow's the scheduled personnel check. We could blow our cover if we stay here too long." Trowa's voice had resumed the cool monotone that he affected whenever he was worried.
"No." Heero tapped out a reply to Duo's transcript. "The rendezvous goes as scheduled. We only need one person in here tomorrow..."
Trowa looked at the sullen-faced boy in silence.
"And one person is easier to overlook than two," Heero continued softly.
Reluctantly, Trowa nodded in agreement
* * *
"Shit!" Duo nearly screamed aloud, catching himself just in time. "That idiot's gonna stay there alone!"
"What do you mean?" Wufei asked, wheeling his chair to Duo's computer terminal. They had been waiting for Heero's signal to begin the uploading when his message came through.
"He wants to go ahead with the scheduled rendezvous," Duo sighed. "And he wants Trowa's part of the virus uploaded first. The one for the mechanical section." The longhaired boy propped his head forlornly on his hands. It didn't take a genius to figure out what Heero was trying to do.
Why the hell does he have to take the martyr's stand all the time? For once, why can't he just think of himself?
"Okay. Uploading's complete," Wufei said from across the room. "When will they be ready for pick up?" he asked, turning back to the quiet longhaired boy.
"Um?" Duo raised his head, slightly confused before realising what Wufei was asking about. "Oh, wait. I'll confirm," he muttered as he sent the message.
The reply came almost immediately.
"0400 hours. Tomorrow...I mean, this morning. Trowa will wait for you at the designated location."
"Same time, the next day," Duo grumbled. "I'll pick him up."
It was probably the best thing to do, Duo realised. Should anything happen because of the unscheduled delay, Heero would be the best person to handle it. And one person would have a much simpler task of hiding from OZ, should the need arise, as compared to two. And Duo couldn't deny Heero's expertise at guerilla warfare. He just hoped that all would go well.
"Sou...time to play around with my records then," Wufei smirked as he accessed the school's registration database. During their many missions together, Heero and Duo had been the ones who most often used schools as mission bases or temporary layovers. He, however, preferred to work quickly, and balked at the thought of mixing with civilian students his own age. They reminded him too much of a past he did not want to remember, a happier time in a happier place. Quickly, Wufei changed his registration records and erased his image file.
"It'd be strange, ne, Wufei?" Duo asked softly from behind him, looking briefly at Wufei's rapidly disappearing personal files. "Registered one day, transferred off the next day. You must have been a baaad boy," he drawled as he proceeded to glance through some papers on the Principal's desk.
"It's a good thing this is a weekend then, isn't it?" Wufei smiled. "They'll only discover this on Monday. But by then, we'll be long gone." The Chinese boy put the finishing touches to his 'transfer', grinning back at the braided boy behind him. "Do you want me to handle your files as well? After all, you'll be gone by dawn on Monday."
"Hmm?" Duo looked up, surprised. Wufei was actually volunteering to help him? "Yeah, sure. Why not? It'd save me the trouble later."
Wufei grinned back with uncharacteristic glee and turned back to the computer. Duo eyed the Chinese boy, suddenly suspicious. This was not the Wufei he knew. Tip-toeing up to where the Chinese boy sat, Duo craned his neck to spy on what Wufei had typed out.
His violet-blue eyes bulged.
"Wufei!" Duo cried, at the same time covering his mouth with his hands as he suddenly realised that he had cried out quite loudly. "Wufei no baka! What the hell did you do to me? Damn it! What did I ever do to you?" he wailed, even as he tried to keep his voice down.
"Eheh..Duo. You saw?" Wufei yelped as he tried to avoid the longhaired boy's hands slapping at his head. "Ouch! Oi! Gomen! Gomen! Ow!" Duo's slaps didn't really hurt but they did sting.
"How could you do this to me?" Duo moaned, pushing Wufei off the chair and seating himself in the Chinese boy's stead. Duo tsked as he went through his 'transfer' records, changing Wufei's 'alterations'. "That's the last time I let you mess around with my personal files, you pervert," he grinned at the groaning Wufei who was picking himself up off the floor.
"Aw...Come on, Maxwell. It was just for fun," Wufei sniffed, rubbing at his sore backside.
"Well, next time you want to perform a sex change, pick someone else, ne?" Duo laughed.
"Heh! I knew you could take it, baka."
"Humph! You'd be dead by now if you did this to Heero."
"Heero doesn't look like a girl. You do!"
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