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Soldiers and Fools
Part 08 -- Lacrymosa (Day of Tears)
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)

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(Sometimes soldiers and fools part.)

Heero lay in his bunk, watching as Duo tapped away on the computer. He'd been spending far too much time on it the past two days. Not that /he/ was one to talk about someone spending too much time in front of the keyboard. But for Duo, it was far too much. He'd also been quieter than normal. /If you could ever apply the word "quiet" to Duo./ He was up to something. Heero waited. Duo had a class in fifteen minutes.

Twelve minutes later, Heero took steps to ensure the success of his mission. "Duo."

Duo looked left, right, at the door, and finally at Heero. "Uh, what Heero?" /Damn! Heero actually initiated a conversation./

"Your Japanese History class."

"Oh." Duo stared at the screen for a moment, debating, then saved files, shut down, grabbed books and walked out.

/Walked,/ Heero noted. /He usually runs to class when he cuts it this close./ He watched out the window until he saw Duo on the steps in front of the dormitory, still walking, then jumped down and went to the computer. He'd stolen the system administrator password by calling in a fake problem and watching the technician who came to fix it. In the past, he'd used it to cover his tracks. Now, he used it to find Duo's. The usage logs pointed him to the files Duo had been working on. The directory was hidden, as he'd expected. Duo was concealing something.

Then he hit the encryption on the files. He got the password on the twentieth try, but only because, unthinking, he typed his frustration and accidentally hit enter. "Damnit" was definitely not a password Heero would have found by strategy.

The files were a mission profile, maps, equipment lists... He'd never realized Duo could plan a mission. He'd always done that himself -- not that he would have trusted Duo's mission plans. The structure of the plan was chaotic, but all the essential pieces were there. He recognized it. Oz was transporting Tauruses to Siberia. Duo was planning to take the land route. It made sense. Wing was better equipped for air combat. Heero had begun working on his own plans for the air route when he got his orders two days ago. He hadn't realized Duo would be there too. This must be a more important target than he had thought.

A worm to erase files. Heero recognized the code. Duo had asked him for it ... two days ago. But there were a few twists added, bits and pieces that Heero knew were easy to find online -- changing screen headings in the school's computer system, mangling a few personal web pages and... /Reprogramming the phone extensions and crossing all the voice mail on the school's PBX?/ He shook his head. /Only Duo would do something like that./

Then he saw that the worm would erase Duo's student records. It was coded to run in two days.

Heero blinked. /He's leaving after this mission. Could that explain why he's been so subdued?/

"Hey, get away from that!"

He hadn't heard the door open. The internal clock told him Duo was skipping class. Heero waited as Duo closed the door and stalked over to the computer. "Those are mine!"

"I gave you the worm."

"Yeah, but I made it better. No one'll notice my files are gone until after they sort out the phone system mess. If then. And if they do it'll be way too late to find me."

A distraction. Heero had never considered that. "Good strategy." Duo's hands twitched as Heero started making changes to the mission plan. "This is almost usable. I'll finish it for you."

"Damn it, Heero! Do you really want to see me go that bad? Why didn't you just tell them not to assign me here?" He was angry and suddenly didn't care what Heero thought of him. "I thought we'd started something here, a little brothers-in-arms thing, if nothing else. I thought you might actually care that I was leaving. I thought you might actually miss me. I thought... I thought..." He stopped. He didn't know what he thought. He should have known that a perfect soldier wouldn't really give a damn about his partners and their comings and goings. It was easier not to care, he knew. /So why the Hell do I care?/ Heero had never wanted a partner in the first place.

Heero was silent, watching him. Trying to understand why there was suddenly a little empty place inside him. The soldier didn't approve. Duo Maxwell was dangerous. Heero agreed, but wasn't sure Duo was a danger to him. The soldier said Duo Maxwell was a bad influence. Heero was less certain about that assertion.

He put aside the argument with himself and said, "Orders." /I'm trying to help you complete your mission successfully and survive./

Duo's mouth opened to protest, but no sound came out. Heero was right. He hated it when Heero was right like this, though. Orders were part of the Hell of war. Orders didn't give a damn about the people they used to fulfill themselves. He hated orders, though he followed them. /And which question was he answering?/ Duo wasn't sure. Maybe both. He sighed. "I'll, uh, finish it myself. I'm being reassigned to England. No need for Japanese History there."

Heero climbed back into his bunk and watched, offering suggestions to fine-tune the plan. It annoyed him at first when Duo argued with him about some of them, but before they were done, he saw them improve with Duo's questioning. Heero had never built a mission plan with someone else. It was a -- different -- experience. When he wrote his own plans, his ideas were always right the first time. Now, he began to wonder as he looked over the final product he realized it was better than either of them could have produced alone. /Maybe we should have been doing it this way all along./ "Let's go over my plan," he said.

Duo's mouth hung open for a moment, then the grin appeared, mixed with something else Heero didn't understand. "Sure thing, Heero."

By the time they left the room for dinner, Duo was playing the loud-mouthed fool again. This time Heero knew it was an act, and wondered how often it had been an act in the past. It lasted through their weight training session the next morning, and while Duo packed.

"Um, you'll probably need the bike more than I do. Give me a ride out to Deathscythe?" It was a quiet ride and a quiet farewell.

When he got back to the room, Heero turned on the computer, preparing to copy his own mission plans to a disk to take to Wing, and found a message waiting for him.

"Always remember what you put in the box." A drawing of Heero kneeling before the dresser, a box in his hands, had been scanned and attached. It was signed with "DM-195" and a little sketch of Duo's face.

Heero stared at it.

/So he was awake that morning./

He went to his dresser and pulled out the box and the page Duo had drawn and studied it until the soldier broke through, pointing at the internal clock, telling him he'd missed one class and was late for another. He thought he knew what Duo might have been telling him. He didn't -- couldn't let himself -- believe it. /Not now./

/Not now,/ the soldier agreed. /Not ever. You are a soldier. That's all there is for you./

Heero closed the box and hid it in the drawer. Tomorrow he would be flying out to intercept the Taurus transports.

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He woke, bolting upright in bed, heart racing, sweating, gasping for breath. As he concentrated, slowing the pounding in his chest, he listened for Duo's breathing, though he doubted that would tell him if he was asleep. Duo was too good at that little trick now.

Nothing.

He remembered he was alone.

"Just a nightmare," he whispered before falling asleep again.

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"Risks to the Public" is a newsgroup that focusses on technology and dangers it poses. There was a story several years ago about someone hacking the City of Houston (TX) PBX and scrambling the voice mail. This caused problems for certain employees who had left hentai voice mails for certain other employees which then got rerouted to yet other employees, causing all sorts of confusion and embarrassment.

I wonder if that will happen at the school. <g>