FROM BOTH SIDES NOW
Word count : 27,001
1x2x1, 1=2, drama, some lemon, alternating POV
Usual disclaimers – this is only fiction, and only my own.
The embassy was silent and deserted, at least as far as human occupation. There was a gentle whirring of generators and office equipment in the background, and the occasional hiss of movement that I knew was from the closed circuit security cameras. The only lights in the corridor were muted.
We’d evaded our own people’s surveillance ridiculously easily: I was almost embarrassed for the Department. But I’d been right in what I told Duo – there just weren’t the resources to cover all of the official itineraries and the embassy itself. I knew there was a comms van in the vicinity because I’d spotted it as we approached the building. It was obvious to me – I just hoped that wasn’t the case for any hostile agency. The guys inside would be listening for any major disturbance in the building – any obvious attack. Anything else would probably be ignored. I doubted they’d mobilise during the night, even if it somehow picked up on our visit. Duo had been sure the spy would come back here, but at the debriefing, the most common assumption was that she’d been scared off by our attempts to capture her at the airport.
Duo was beside me all the way: I was very aware of him as we made a cautious path along the corridor. He moved smoothly and almost silently, but with the air of tightly coiled tension that I had learned to associate with him. This break-in was a direct violation of Departmental orders – it was political lunacy, and dangerous with it. But I still moved alongside him. He’d disabled the security to the underground parking lot and we’d entered the building from a maintenance door. Even so, I was alert to any other internal alarm, or at the very least some human guard.
He looked back at me and raised an eyebrow. I shrugged in agreement with his unspoken direction. We were on the eight floor, where the main offices were – where we’d previously entered and discovered the clues that had started this pursuit. We’d agreed to search again the floor where she’d officially worked, but to concentrate this time on her own workstation and her personal access to the system. She was the one who’d been examining the diplomatic itineraries: maybe there’d be more information this time about where she’d gone and what she and her group had planned.
He nodded to me and slipped inside the open plan office. The PCs had been left running overnight, the occasional screen saver lending a dim, ghostly light to the room. I watched Duo as he eased through the shadowy room, seeking the right desk. I wondered if watching his back was all I was going to be able to do. I suppressed a shudder.
There were still too many dangers here - too many variables. There were valid reasons that the Department had treated this particular government with kid gloves for the last few years. There was an atmosphere in the whole place that unnerved me. I could feel something prickling between my shoulder blades that I believe Duo would have called a ‘hunch’. Whatever it was named, I had learned to listen to my instincts as well as the next agent.
He glanced back over at me. His eyes glinted in the dim light. “Yes?” I mouthed to him.
He nodded. It meant that, from his previous experience, he could hack in again here.
I worked on the drawers of her desk, not expecting to find anything incriminating if she were any good at her job at all, but determined to cover all possibilities. I found very little besides assorted stationery and a book of interstate maps. Meanwhile, Duo hissed quietly through his teeth at nothing in particular, and logged quickly into her PC. When I tapped my wrist to ask how much time he might need, he grinned. He wouldn’t need much, it seemed
In the event, he didn’t have any time at all. There was a noise from the corridor that might have been nothing but a door creaking, but which had every nerve in my body screaming a warning. Maybe I was over sensitive tonight: maybe I was right to expect discovery. I didn’t want to stay around here to find out which it was.
Duo was hunched over the keyboard: he hadn’t heard it. But when I touched his elbow, he immediately straightened up and shut down the PC. We moved quickly through the door at the back of the room, and down the stairwell that ran back down to the lobby.
It was cool and bare on the stone steps. The only light was from security lamps set in the walls at each landing. At the third floor, we paused. He was breathing more heavily than
“It’s her,” he hissed. “Isn’t it?” He leaned into me, his eyes glinting.
“We don’t know that,” I whispered back. “Could be a security guard. Could be anyone.”
“Yeah, right.” His gaze kept returning to the stairs, looking back to the upper floors: I knew he wanted to return there.
“We must call the backup,” I said. I crouched down over the sports bag to reach the radio, though I suspected that the reception would be poor in the concrete stairwell.
“She’ll get away again,” he growled. His fists were clenched at his side.
“No,” I said. When he looked at me, I knew he understood. I didn’t just mean that she wouldn’t get away; I also meant that we had to stay here. “You said you trusted me – that you’d work with me.”
He frowned. “I do. I am. But we must catch her.” His words echoed in my ears, bouncing off the pale walls. It was no assurance at all.
“Dear God, Duo.” I didn’t know what to say to convince him. I didn’t like the fevered look in his eye – I didn’t like the way his breathing had quickened. He stood above me on the stairs and just far enough away that I couldn’t physically reach him without starting to climb back up myself.
The tension between us seemed so much fiercer than from just the anticipation of catching an intruder.
I pushed at the door to the third floor and nodded my intention to go in to make the radio call. It was the location of the meeting rooms: the door led directly to a corridor than ran alongside three or four small glass-fronted rooms. Each room was furnished quite basically, and with a couple of PCs for general use set against the far wall. I held the door open for him to follow me.
And then there was a burst of sound from the floor above – a single human scream, of both fright and anger. At the same time there was sudden light, flooding the corridor where I stood, and a mechanical wail swelling from the rooms around me. The bank of PCs along the far wall had sprung into life, the screens bursting alight with the stark picture of a face, the mouth opening in a scream. The face was hollowed out, like a cadaver, but neon lights flashed in its eye sockets, and the shriek from the machines seemed to issue straight from the hideously gaping jaw.
“What the hell -?”
“One of my tame worms,” Duo cried, his voice harsh over the piercing background noise. He sounded triumphant. “I just loaded it to the main server. It’s set up for when she logs in and accesses anything to do with the diplomatic diary. It runs on every PC in the building – locks every damned keyboard, too, so the system’s effectively frozen. She won’t be able to log out and we’ll have proof of what she’s been mailing on to her contact. It’s her! I knew she’d be back.” He spun away from me; he was already halfway back up the stairs.
“Wait!” I called. “This’ll alert our surveillance unit, too – they’ll be here any minute. You don’t need to go –“
I might as well have cried to thin air. I watched him race up the stairs, his dark-clothed figure lithe and swift, his braid snapping at his waist. I watched his back and saw him slipping away from me. I wanted to call out his name, to stop him, even though that was against every iota of training I’d ever received.
I knew it was probably the spy who was up there, and I knew we probably had her cornered. She’d taken the risk of returning, presumably to send some last message, and now we would take her. But she’d been smart so far, and I didn’t think she would have come back completely unprepared.
The sense of danger was sharp in my mouth, as real as the taste of food, or the taste of Duo against my tongue; the taste of my own saliva, rising with the excitement of holding him – or the taste of fear, of losing him.
I darted back out to the stairwell and began running up after him, the unearthly noise shrieking in my ears. I called his name – I didn’t care for agency training any more, only for his safety.
Even before I reached the final landing, I heard the shot.
There was only one.
I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was him. He was some way away, and kind of blurred. “So where the fuck were you?” I growled.
My voice emerged no more than a whisper, which surprised me. But even so, he must have thought I was too aggressive, because his eyes widened. They glinted in the dim light as if they were wet, staring at me. I could smell the tang of heavy sweat around us, souring the air, but I didn’t know whether it was from me or him, and I couldn’t be bothered to ask. The desk beside me was broken, and there were several chairs overturned. All over the floor, sheets of paper rustled and scattered like frosting on the top of a huge pile of debris. Room seemed to be full of the stuff and there was a misty effect in the air, like residual smoke. Everything looked a hell of a mess. Outside the building, a siren wailed across town, but it sounded way too loud, like I was listening through an open - or broken - window.
I couldn’t work out what had happened around me. My head hurt like hell.
I looked up at him as he took a step towards me. I had to look up because I was sitting on the floor: I knew this, because I could feel the wall at my back. My knees were drawn up against my chest and my hands were tucked inside my jacket, hugging myself. Maybe I was cold in here. I needed to cough but I was trying not to. Another strange thing I couldn’t work out, not at the moment, anyway.
He laid the sports bag down, carefully, just to the side of me.
“Take your time, Yuy,” I ground out through gritted teeth. “No urgency here, you know.”
He frowned at me. “I’m still carrying live components,” he said, quietly. His voice sounded distorted in some strange way. “I can’t think it would be helpful for me to detonate any more in the same room as us. There’s been enough of that for the moment.”
My mouth twisted. That cool way of his always made me want to smile. “Gotcha,” was all I said. It sounded more like a grunt. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.
“The guys have called for help,” he said. Still calm, still cool, though there was an edge to his tone that confused me. “Duo, hang on.”
My turn to frown, now. Whatever he meant by hanging on, I’d be doing that as usual. We were a team: he could rely on me, couldn’t he? My co-operation had never been in question…
I lost my train of thought. My eyes felt heavy; my chest felt stiff, like I’d overdone it at the gym. My hands seemed stuck to my vest, inside my jacket. “Heero…”
He crouched down, then, but he didn’t touch me. His hair looked dusty and he smelled of smoke. There was panic in his eyes and it didn’t suit him one bit.
“Did we get her? Did something go wrong this time, too? Shit,” I started coughing and fuck, did it hurt, all across my upper body.
“No, it’s OK.” He was talking far too quickly for him, didn’t he say he was a guy who liked to take things slow? “That PC trick of yours scared her, and she spent far too long trying to unlock the keyboard and cover her traces. I dropped a small device, blew in the wall of the corridor and blocked her exit – she had to get past me to go anywhere.”
“Excellent,” I muttered. “Knew you’d be the right partner. Knew you’d be there with me. So you’ve got her?”
He was making a strange kind of noise like a sob, but of course that was ridiculous. He kept glancing back and forth at the ruined corridor. “The other guys were alerted by the sudden rush of the system powering up like that, and I’d called them, too, instructing them as to the weaker areas of security in the building: to protect any means of escape. There was no exit for her, and she was taken into custody a few minutes ago –“
“Fuck that,” I groaned, though it was damned good news. “A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would’ve done.”
He grinned, then, though it was sort of lopsided. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Heero Yuy disconcerted like that. I was learning all sorts of new things about him, wasn’t I?
“So, Heero,” I added, quietly, “you want to tell me where I went wrong?”
“Duo?” He looked startled again. “Duo, forget all that, I told you, they’re on their way…” His eyes drifted down the front of my body and his words died away.
I looked down, too, at my belly underneath the open seams of my jacket. It’s funny, the way that blood comes out so dark on a black vest. It gleamed between my splayed fingers, sticky and very wet. Very fresh.
“Tell me,” I said.
“She was armed, Duo. We should have anticipated that. I believe she’s far more senior in the terrorist ring than we thought – I imagine she’s running this part of the operation, rather than being a mere contact. I believe that she came back here to warn off the rest of the group – and maybe to catch some of us out.”
“Did that,” I agreed. There was an odd whistling sound in my voice. “She shot me.”
He nodded. That, or maybe my vision was shifting. I was having trouble focussing. “She moved down state to be here, Duo. The maps in her drawer cover the northern states – where you and Sam were initially investigating this particular terrorist threat. She’s been in on the whole thing since the beginning, and she knew there were agents still on her tail.” When I peered up at him, his voice shook a little. “I guess that she recognised us on the plane. Well, she recognised you”
“And I was so damned subtle in my flirting.” Something was throbbing, somewhere around my left hip. My palm was all soaked now, not just the fingers.
“That braid…” He was staring at me, like he wanted to grab me and shake me. Damned glad he didn’t. “It’s a real giveaway, you know. She only needed to have caught a glimpse of you with Sam one time – she’d not forget you.”
I opened my mouth to answer back but a spasm of pain took precedence. “You’re just jealous, Yuy.”
He smiled then, though he didn’t look particularly amused. “Yes, Duo. I am.”
That was a shock. I stared back up at him, and he looked kind of relieved. “Listen to me,” he whispered. “Keep listening. Don’t leave me yet.”
“She’s the one who shot Sam,” I said, slowly.
He nodded. Now his eyes were definitely wet. Damned smoke gets in everywhere. “Yes, I think so. The Commander will be told.”
“Now she’s got me, too. Some kind of irony, there.”
There was the sound of a siren outside, much closer now. Reflected light from its emergency lamp arced across the window, cutting through the final drifts of smoke and illuminating the room. We could see each other better now, albeit in fractured moments.
“You’re staring, Yuy,” I grunted. “You never seen a guy with a bullet in his belly before?”
“Yes,” he said, surprisingly clearly. “Twice.”
I stared back at him. That’d teach me to ask stupid questions. A shallow cough wracked me: agony rippled through my nerves. “They get out OK?”
He stared back. He looked desperately tired and rather shocked. Maybe he was stunned by my infamous bluntness. “One of them did.”
I nodded, as if I’d expected that. Truth was, by now, I had no idea what to expect. “OK by me,” I said. I dipped my head, because it was getting difficult to hold it up. “Great odds. Fair odds.”
Something hurt inside me, yet I knew it wasn’t just the injury. It was the tug of fear; of possible despair. I wasn’t that familiar with it.
“Good work, Yuy. Sorry I fucked it up for you. Tell the Commander any shit was mine, and mine alone. She can smooth over this mess with the embassy.”
“Duo!” He sounded angry, which hardly seemed fair in the circumstances. “Save your breath. The paramedics are coming up now.”
“You could always have handled this on your own…”
“Shut up!” he hissed into my face. “I couldn’t have done this without you. I don’t want to do this without you! Will you shut the fuck up and let us help you out of here?”
Well, hey, I thought. I’d rarely heard Heero Yuy swear, either. Seemed to me it was a night for revelation.
I wondered what it would have been like to kiss him again with that dust in his hair and those tears in his eyes. I wondered what he would have been like in bed – what we might have found out about each other in the dead of night with the inhibitions stripped away. I wondered if all of our dates would have been like this, full of fireworks and panic and pain and a terrible sense of loss.
Or just this one.
I don’t remember any more.