Part Seven: Change The Future
And it hurts my mind to think of
all the stupid things I said;
and if I can change the future,
I would change the past instead.
--- Danny Elfman
The clock read two-thirty-seven in the morning, standard time.
Heero flipped over on his stomach and stared out the porthole at the darkened station. A minute later he switched to his back and stared up at the ceiling. Several rotations later, he sat up in disgust.
Landing lightly on the floor, he pulled on his black jeans. He paused at the door, listening for sounds before slipping into the hallway and heading for the bathroom. When he returned to the bunkroom, he picked up the dishes from dinner and took them to the kitchen. He wasn't sure how lightly Duo and Hilde slept, so he left the dishes in the sink with the rest and headed back to his room. Once there, he stood, aimless, for several more minutes.
Dinner had been two South Asian dishes with basmati rice. A spinach dish, and a type of curried stew with several vegetables he didn't recognize but were delicious nonetheless. He'd poked at each dish once or twice before realizing his mouth was watering from the smell. Heero wondered idly if there were leftovers in the kitchen. No one seemed to be awake, anyway.
A few minutes later he was hovering over the open fridge and had found a small plastic container with the curried stew. Grabbing a fork he headed back to his room and perched on Trowa's bunk while he ate.
Nothing was making sense, but if he didn't stop at some point to think hard, he wasn't sure he'd ever catch up. More importantly, he needed out of the mission headspace. He wasn't sure he could hold up if he didn't take a break. The questions were piling up.
Just before going to bed, only six hours earlier, an idea had struck him. He'd put down his book and dug around in the closet, pulling out each drawer and feeling over it carefully before replacing each. Then he'd felt up and down the walls of the closet, the door, even removing each mattress. He'd found at least seven bumps that gave way slightly under the paint, nearly paper thin but definitely there. If they were a type of listening device, then the false names made more sense.
He speared a vegetable with the fork and contemplated the discovery. Why would Duo, the master of so many electronic devices, reside on a ship so loaded with bugs? Wasn't this his, or Hilde's, ship? And if it wasn't, what were they doing on it?
Heero filed those questions away and considered the next set of questions as he slowly chewed the spicy leftovers. Duo, Trowa, and Hilde were using false names within range of the listening devices. So outside of the ship, wouldn't they use their own names? The dark-haired man considered that carefully. While at the diner, he was certain Duo and Hilde had referred to each other as Hel and Day. The only conclusion he could draw was that they were near another listening device. It was a second before it dawned on him.
They thought he was a listening device, too.
Heero registered the dish was empty when the fork clattered against the plastic. He returned it to the kitchen, still lost in thought. Trowa had warned they wouldn't forget he was hired by Pops, and both Duo and Hilde had said that they didn't like Pops hiring him. Maybe, Heero hoped, it wasn't that they didn't like him, but simply that they didn't want their movements curtailed by a snitch.
He snorted. Likely story.
Back in his room, Heero leaned against the wall, staring at the bunks, and slowly slid down the wall to rest his forehead on his knees. He forced his breathing deeper, feeling the constriction in his chest as he unlocked himself from mission mode.
The ex-pilot relaxed as he ran through the past days' observations. Duo's voice was a shade deeper, but still a honey tenor. His body was taller but just as slender, hiding a great deal of power. His hair was a foot or so shorter, but still kept in a thick braid of reddish brown. His eyes were still that strange blue tilting into purple in the right light. He still liked gadgets, judging by his first reaction to the camera. He could still pilot like nobody's business. With everything so familiar, why in the hell did Heero feel like Duo was a complete stranger?
"What do I feel," he whispered.
Duo doesn't want me here, he thought. The realization, stated baldly, hit him with an almost palpable ache. It wasn't just his employment through Pops. It wasn't just his intrusion into the team. It wasn't just a matter of having to deal with an unknown variable. It was him.
Duo wasn't his friend anymore.
Heero chuckled, low and bitter. Was it really only a week ago that he was telling the hackers' forum that he'd used Duo's name as an alias because Duo had been the first friend he'd ever had? Because Duo meant something to him, even that early in the war? The thief was obnoxious, irreverent, and nothing like Heero thought a soldier should be, but he was an unvarying point of light in Heero's world.
That wasn't supposed to change.
Heero clutched at his head, his eyes squeezed tight. What was he expecting? What had he really wanted?
He'd wanted to find Duo and have it like it was before. He wanted Duo laughing, wrapping his arm around the Wing Zero pilot at the most inopportune times, and chatting with Deathscythe like the damn thing was sentient.
He'd wanted to show how much he'd changed, that he could talk, too. He'd worked for five years to be the kind of person that could be a friend.
Was it all wasted effort?
Duo had shot Heero and yet also rescued him, getting him out of OZ's hands. Trowa had saved Heero's life, as well, after he'd self-destructed, and later, putting himself in Quatre's line of fire. What if those friendships weren't there, once the war was over? What if they weren't ever friends in the first place, but only soldiers fulfilling the obligations of brothers-in-arms?
Heero laid his head to the side and stared at the closed bunkroom door, the tears stinging his eyes as he fought to keep control of himself. He'd waited too long, he told himself angrily. He'd always thought there would be a right time to show up. Somewhere, in his heart, he'd always dreamed that he'd come back and they'd all welcome him. He'd be able to show them he could do something other than be a fighting machine. He'd finally get a chance to show the only people that mattered to him that he was something worthwhile, too, that he had a purpose beyond destruction.
But he'd been scared, he admitted silently, and that fear had made him wait for the perfect time. The thought made him smile, a sardonic expression. He wasn't the perfect soldier anymore, and there was no perfect time. There never would be.
He pushed the swirling accusations away and focused on slowing his heartbeat.
"What else," he asked himself, his voice barely louder than a breath.
Duo and Hilde, best friends, talking in the way he'd want from a friend. The girl was worried about her role in the group, which had surprised Heero. She'd come across as capable, powerful, and knowledgeable. The dark-haired man lifted his head and leaned it against the wall, ignoring the tears drying on his cheeks. If only he'd been better able to hear what she'd been saying, he might have a better glimpse into what was going on. He might understand better why Duo and Hilde loved each other, and what was hurting them both.
"What else," he murmured, a soft question.
Hilde had implied that Duo had bought some of Heero's photography. Why? If Duo didn't care, and wasn't a friend, why would he give a damn what Heero was doing? Why would he have gone through the effort to crack the photographer's anonymity? How did he figure out that Heero Yuy and Hito Yuy were the same person, when no pictures or biographies of Hito Yuy had been published?
That last one puzzled Heero the most, and he sighed, trying to let the tension drain from his neck and shoulders, down his lax arms to his palms pressed against the ship's steel floor. If Duo had figured out Hito Yuy's real identity, why hadn't he contacted Heero? Why would he just purchase the art from a distance and never say anything, never send a letter, never try to call?
The ache in Heero's chest grew stronger, and he let his forehead fall down to rest on his knees again. None of it was making sense. What had he done to make Duo not want him near? He'd thought Duo, of anyone, would understand, would be there, waiting, when Heero was ready.
And he wasn't.
Heero laid his cheek on his knees again and stared at the bunkroom door ten feet away. Four feet past that and he'd be at Duo's door. He could knock, wake the pilot up, and ask him outright. The young man chuckled softly, certain the only result would be another furious pounding.
If I could just figure out why, I'd fix it. I'd do something to make it like it was, he swore, or make it better. If I could just figure out what I did wrong in the first place, I'd never do it again.
The door slid open and Hilde bumped the light switch with her elbow. A second later she'd placed the breakfast tray on Trowa's bed and was kneeling by Heero.
"Hito," she called softly. "What are you doing on the floor?"
Heero looked up, dazed, and rubbed his eyes with his knuckles before he realized he was still on the floor, his back to the wall. He wondered if his eyes were red.
"I fell asleep," he told the young woman.
"I could see that," she said. "Where I come from, that's what beds are for."
He started to glare, and stopped himself. A smile flitted across his face as he uncurled and slowly stood up. "Shit. I think my ass is asleep."
"What?" Hilde managed to choke out around her laughter. "Oh, man, that's not what I expected to hear."
"Oh?" Heero raised an eyebrow as he reviewed the items on the breakfast tray with a modicum of suspicion. A poached egg, miso soup, and pickles: a traditional Japanese breakfast. What the hell was up with the international menu, anyway? Heero leaned over and grabbed a shirt from the closet, pulling it over his head as he listened to Hilde's laughter subside into giggles. "Maybe you misjudged me," he added quietly.
"Maybe," she replied. Her next words were in a more somber tone. "Eat your breakfast and I'll give you the rundown on your job."
"What time is it?" Heero couldn't see the clock. Hilde was standing in the way.
"Five," she replied.
"I didn't think you'd want breakfast after it had been sitting for hours." She smirked.
He nibbled tentatively on a pickle. It was excellent, he had to admit. Not something he ate very often. He'd gotten used to western breakfasts over the past six or seven years.
"Who the hell cooks breakfast at five in the morning," Heero muttered, more to the poached egg than to Hilde.
"Didn't see you volunteering," she retorted. It seemed to be a classic phrase of hers.
"I would, if you let me out of my cage long enough," Heero shot back. He was rewarded with another cheeky grin. "I can cook," he mumbled and shoved the egg into his mouth.
"You're one up on me," she told him, and leaned against the wall. The grin faded as she began to speak in a more even tone. "The mark changed his plans. He's here a day early, so we're going in this afternoon. You have between now and three o'clock this afternoon to come up with a distraction that will get most of the hotel security out of the way."
Heero stirred the miso soup before answering. "Fire alarm?"
"Nope," she said. "That'll get security into the building to help guests get out. You can do better than that."
"I'll come up with something." Heero savored the flavor on his tongue before swallowing. "Afterwards?"
She grinned, a flash across her face. "Move out in the direction of the diner where we ate, and then come back around to the ship. We'll be leaving at six."
"What's the timetable on the job itself?"
Hilde's blue eyes darkened a shade. "I'm not giving you all the details."
"Give me what you can."
"We head in at three-thirty, and we should be out by four."
"Should," Heero repeated, one eyebrow raised. "How will I know?"
"When you see flames shooting from the top floor," she said, matching his eyebrow with two of her own, teasing. "Oh, and maybe a few explosions."
"I'll keep my eyes open so I don't miss the show," Heero told her. His muscles were cramped from sleeping on the hard floor, but he felt better than he had since first landing in the whole mess. Glancing up from his breakfast, he gave the petite brunette a shy smile, and was pleased to see her answer the smile with one of her own.
A thought occurred to him, and he paused with the spoon halfway to his mouth. "You available for the earliest part of getting attention?"
"What did you have in mind?"
"Nothing too dangerous." Heero finished the miso, tilting the bowl to get the last dregs. "I'll be back in an hour, maybe two, if it works. You going to be around?"
"Sure." Hilde grinned and snagged a pickle from his tray. "Can't wait."
Heero was back two and a half hours later, and breathing a little hard from the delightful exertion of running half of the way back to the docking station. Fortunately Hilde was still at the ship, sitting on the loading dock's ledge and sipping a cup of tea.
"You're late," she said, as he trotted up. "You also look like you've gained fifteen pounds," she added critically.
"Yeah," Heero replied. "I feel like it, too."
She followed him into his bunkroom. He knew the ship was empty, and he could've headed for the gathering room, but he'd yet to step foot in there. That small voice inside his head was telling him not to go there. It was Duo's space, and he wasn't invited... yet. He pushed the awareness away from his mind and focused. Mission mode, he reminded himself sternly.
"Well?" Hilde followed him into the bunkroom and watched as he shed his leather jacket, revealing a second jacket underneath. It was covered in patches, and considerably more beaten up than his own second-hand purchase.
"This," he said, and pulled off the second jacket. Digging into one of the pockets, he pulled out a small book. "And this." Then he pulled out his cell phone from his own jacket, and placed it on the bed next to the jacket and the book. "And this."
"Nice collection. Does it have a purpose?"
"Yes," he told her, flashing a quick grin. "How are you at flirting?"
"Passable," she said, and smirked.
"Good." He flipped through the book a few times, and nodded to himself. This just might work, he thought, and then glanced up at Hilde's confused expression. "You've just turned into my date for the afternoon."
"Kissing involved?" Deadpan.
"It'll cost extra," he replied, just as tonelessly.
She grinned, another Cheshire flash, and Heero's heart twisted for a second, seeing someone else's face. Annoyed with himself, he squashed the thought.
"Okay," he said, once he had his voice under control. "Now all I need to know is whether Trey's covering the hotel restaurant."
"I think so. He's supposed to be stationed near the front."
"Good. Let's hope he picks up on the game." Heero's lip twitched up at the corners and he began explaining his plan to the attentive girl.