by: Sunhawk

Confrontations (cont)

He blinked once... twice, and something in his eyes told me he'd just realized what he'd done. His face lost that crimson shade and he started to look a little pale.

"Shit, Duo," he muttered, voice at a much more reasonable level. "I'm sorry, buddy. I forget sometimes you're not just... one of the guys. I shouldn't'a done that."

I had already dropped his wrist and he took it back to rub at it gingerly. "No... I'm sorry," I told him, my own voice more subdued. "I guess I should have told you yesterday what was going on, but I thought it was over and done with... I just didn't want to think about it anymore and all the guys would have had me talking about it for the rest of the afternoon."

He gave me a rueful little smirk. "That's probably true enough." He gave his arm a little shake. "That's a hell of a grip you got there, buddy."

I grinned sheepishly and ducked my head, wishing this conversation could be over.

He let out with a heavy sigh and rubbed absently at the back of his neck. "Look," he began again. "In three years, I been called up to Commander Une's office a grand total of three times. I don't like goin' up there and I sure as hell don't like going up there with my pants around my ankles. Next time somethin' happens to you during company hours... I need to know about it."

I nodded, resisting the urge to stick my hands in my pockets like some little kid caught stealing. "Ok, man," I agreed. "I never thought you'd get in any trouble over it. I really am sorry."

He sighed again and reached out to thump me on the shoulder. "S'ok buddy," he told me. "Anyway... you all right? You take off yesterday because you got hurt? I saw the news coverage where you damn well caught fire."

I felt the heat rising to my face and just wished he'd go away. "I'm fine," I mumbled. "Heero just... wanted to take off and go car shopping. He's got this thing about public transportation... and the other day kinda made it worse."

He actually threw back his head and laughed out loud, making everybody in the room turn to look at us. I don't think anybody had expected that to be the outcome of our... talk.

"Listen, boss-man," I told him when I could make myself heard. "Agent Chang called this morning, he's... on-site with Heero and asked me to retrieve something off his computer for the case they're on. I need to go upstairs before I clock in, if that's all right?"

He brightened, hoping perhaps that if one of 'his men' did something to assist an active case, that his department might look good. Might even balance the scales of yesterday's embarrassment a little. "Sure thing," he told me. "Get goin'."

I flashed him a little grin and took off for the main building. I really wanted to get this done before a ton of people arrived for work up there in the office areas. The fewer people I had to deal with, the better.

I'd never been to Wufei's office, but Heero's directions had been precise. I had to explain myself and show my damn ID badge three times, but each time the person who questioned me seemed to be aware of my errand and let me pass, pointing the way to the agent's offices.

I had to shake my head, wondering why Wufei didn't just have one of the secretaries do this. I knew Heero had a woman who occasionally did filing and such things for him, but I didn't think she was assigned to just him, and was probably available for Wufei as well. Just his rather paranoid, security conscious mind? That thought rather gave me pause... just what the hell did that say about the fact that he was trusting me with his system passwords?

I ran into one of the afore-mentioned secretaries just as I found the office I was looking for. "There you are!" a rather elegant woman with upswept brunette hair hailed me in a chirpy little voice and brandished a set of keys. "You must be Duo, Agent Chang called and told me you'd be in this morning. I'm Karen."

I nodded, hoping she didn't think I was supposed to know who she was, and stepped aside so she could unlock Wufei's office. She dutifully checked my id badge and then opened the door, flicking on the lights and waving me forward. "I'm sure you know you're way around a computer," she told me brightly. "My desk is right around the corner if you need anything and please lock up when you're finished."

"Thanks," I murmured, a little overwhelmed by the woman's perky efficiency, and watched her walk away. I'd have to remember to ask Heero why in the hell Wufei hadn't just had 'Karen' run this little errand, since she was 'right around the corner' and already had keys to his office.

I sat down behind Wufei's desk, feeling terribly self-conscious, and punched the power button on his PC. I glanced around while I waited for the thing to boot, noticing the picture of Sally on the corner of the desk. It kind of stood out, because there weren't a lot of other personal effects in there. I found myself dying to go look at Heero's office, but couldn't think of a good excuse for needing to.

The system booted and I keyed in Wufei's password; 191121225HNR. I had puzzled over that sucker all the way to work before I'd finally figured it out. I'm not sure I would have gotten it so fast if Heero hadn't read the numbers to me just so; 19-1-12-12-25. If he had just read them sequentially, I wouldn't have seen the pattern. It was a simple alphabet numeric code, assigning a numeric value to each letter of the alphabet, with three fairly random letters thrown in for securities sake. Though... as I typed it, I suddenly realized it probably stood for 'honor'. I had to shake my head.

I found the file my mate and his partner needed fairly quickly, also finding the blank diskettes in the top drawer right where I'd been told they were. I was supposed to copy the file down to diskette, take it home to my own system and e-mail it to Heero's account. I was suddenly taken with a perverse thought; why not e-mail it right from here? Heero hadn't given me Wufei's e-mail password and I wondered briefly about that, but was suddenly fairly sure I could hack into it, since I'd figured out his system. It would be fun to see Wufei sputter indignantly the next time I saw him. And it would only be poetic... justice for his somewhat lame password system. I hit the e-mail icon and thought for a minute about the people in Wufei's life. The password box popped up and I keyed 2-5-15-23-21-12-6JSTC. Got it on the first try. I would have laughed out loud if I hadn't figured that would just bring Karen back into the room. I pulled up a new message box and attached the file, wondering again why they hadn't just given me the e-mail password to begin with. This was going to be so much quicker than waiting until my lunch hour and making a special trip home. I typed up a quick message about how Agents may be hot-shit, but they sometimes overlooked the simple things, and sent the file zinging off to Heero out there in net-land somewhere. I chuckled softly and was moving to close the program when something caught my eye. A word, actually... Camden. I think my heart stopped in my chest.

There was a message in Wufei's inbox, dated almost a week ago from a '

For a long, painful moment, I thought my delusional, nightmare world had taken a turn into the Twilight Zone, coming to assault me in broad daylight. Then it hit me; Brigham is a university. That had to be Jimmy Camden, not Captain Camden. Then that hit me. Jimmy Camden. The Captain's son. Wufei had been in touch with the Camden family.

My heart restarted with a lurch, but I still just sat and stared at it. The subject line simply read, 'Re: your inquiry'.

George appeared on Wufei's desk, looking around for a second at the unfamiliar surroundings, before giving me a sympathetic little look. He had a whole armload of banners, everything from the rather simple 'shit', to one that read 'that rat bastard!', but he couldn't seem to make up his mind which one to pull out, and finally just faded away.

What. The. Hell? I couldn't process the information. Wufei, the guy who I had come to think of as one of my best friends, had told me an outright, blatant lie. About something that he was well aware was very damn important to me.

I figured out I was going to read the thing when I felt my hand moving toward the mouse. There was absolutely no other conscious thought involved.

Agent Chang, I am in receipt of your note inquiring about the current location of my mother. I apologize for the delay in replying, but I must confess I wanted to verify your credentials first. My family went through some very difficult times immediately following the war in direct relation to the incident you mentioned. My mother was hounded for a long time by both the press and the families of those who died aboard the Londonderry. I hope you understand that my sister and I are both very protective of our mother's privacy.

However, I have spoken with my sister and we have decided to cooperate with your investigation. I can't tell you what it would mean to my family if you truly could clear my father's name. I have enclosed my mother's contact information. I would like to take a moment to impress upon you though, what a very delicate subject you will be broaching with my mother, if it becomes necessary for you to interview her for your case. My mother loved my father very much and his death was very hard on her. Doubly so, because she was never granted the space in which to truly grieve, before our family was beset with the morbid and the curious.

My mother has finally managed to find a bit of happiness in remarriage, hence your difficulty in locating her, and I do hope that you can close your case without it being necessary to bring her in to it. Emery Williams, a former comrade of my father's, has made my mother very happy and done a lot to make her forget the past. But he will never replace my father and there is part of my mother that grieves to this day. Please keep this in mind if you find that you need my mother's testimony. Good luck. Jim Camden

There was very little going on between my ears but white noise. I think it was a self defense mechanism to keep me from losing my mind from all the cacophonous voices trying to scream different messages in my head. There was a level of my consciousness that wanted to be very angry. Mad. Wicked pissed. Flaming ready to rip somebody's head off. Livid. Fuming. Irate. My thesaurus hamster quit working about there. I wanted to find Wufei and I wanted to deck his ass. More than that; I wanted to scream at him for ten minutes and then deck his ass.

Hot on the heels of pissed off came... massive amounts of enraged. Williams. That son-of-a-bitch Williams had effectively murdered James Camden and a dozen of their shipmates, allowed Camden to take the rap for it and then... then the motherless bastard had gone and married Camden's widow? I had absolutely no doubt it was the same Williams. How many 'former comrades' named Williams could Captain Camden have had?

But underneath all of that spitting, cursing anger was a great big lump of... betrayed. I think I saw why Heero and Wufei had kept this from me, and yes, I'm sure Heero knew, all those funny little exchanged looks suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense. But... they both knew how damn important this was to me. How could they have lied about something like this? How could they have done this to me?

Damn... I'd let myself trust again, hadn't I?

I suddenly had less compunction about digging through Wufei's e-mail. I scrolled down to the bottom of the message from little Jimmy, who wasn't so damn little any more, and memorized his mother's address. Then I closed the message and resorted the in-box by e-mail address to verify that there were no more messages from the Camdens. There weren't. Then I went to the sent folder and found Wufei's original message, just to see what his story was. As implied, he claimed to be investigating old war crimes. Said that he was looking for both survivors and relatives of the casualties of the Londonderry to interview for the case. He was very vague, leaving things open ended, hiding behind a curt kind of professionalism.

That done, I put everything back the way I had found it, though Francis had to pop in for a minute and convince me not to wipe the hard drive on my way out of the office. I quietly locked up, called a cheery goodbye to Karen, marched out of the building, went straight to Griff's office and informed him that I wasn't going to be able to work today after all. Explained that my back was bothering me a lot more than I had thought it would and I just didn't think I could hang over an engine all day long. He was very understanding, called me Duo instead of 'buddy', gingerly helped me put my jacket back on, hissing in sympathy when I winced, and shooed me out the door with warnings to go home and get some rest.

I was almost awed when I blinked next and found myself parked in front of the apartment building. I swear to God no time had elapsed. One minute I was walking out of the Preventors building and the next I was just sitting in my car staring at the front of the apartment. Damn... talk about autopilot.

I took myself inside, deciding that I needed to sit down and think about things for a little bit before I made up my mind just what in the hell I was going to do. I needed to get past the damn hurt feelings and the anger to truly think about the situation, instead of the circumstances surrounding it.

I was foggily surprised to find the television and stereo still playing, all the lights on and Fuzzy-butt sitting on the couch looking at me with a slightly abandoned _expression. I scooped him out of his nest of blankets and sat down in the chair, absently rubbing his ear and trying to get around 'Heero and Wufei fucking lied to me' to get to the meat of the thing; Williams was married to Anna Camden.

I remember reflecting at some point on how bad my chest hurt. I hugged Fuzzy and tried to concentrate on my music. Some time went by, and I remember thinking that I would sell whatever piece of my soul I still retained, for the luxury of some damn sleep. Some more time passed and the phone rang. I let it.

Emery. What an unlikely name for a rat-bastard. Who would have thought? Anna Camden... no; Anna Williams was married to the man who was directly responsible for her first husband's death. And I was one of the small handful of people who knew it. And probably the only one of that handful who fucking cared. Wufei and Heero had pretty well proved that. So... just what the hell was I going to do about it?

You want to know the first solution that popped into my head? I'm not very proud of it. I thought about taking that journal and going out and finding a publisher. Let's put the true story up in glowing neon lights and see just how in the hell Rat-bastard Williams liked that. But no; that was a damn cowardly way to handle things and I dismissed the idea.

So the next thing that occurred to me was to simply ship the damn book off to Jimmy and let him deal with it. Was Anna as fragile as Jimmy had led Wufei to believe? Would finding out that her current husband was a cold-hearted asshole be more than she could take? Jimmy was in a better position to decide what to tell his mother. But somehow, I didn't think that solution was going to make Captain Camden very happy with me. I doubted it would do much to salve my guilty conscience. It was also a rather cowardly way out.

Well. That really only left one thing I could do, now didn't it? James Camden had entrusted his final messages to his family to my care and I damn well had to see that they were delivered. That's all there really was too it; it was my responsibility to take that jerk of a second in command down. And what better time than the present?

I was suddenly very calm. I had a plan, and like the old days, that somehow made all the difference in the world. Give me a goal. Give me a plan. Feed me the parameters of the mission, wind me up and let me go. I had the journal, I had the address, and I had a car. Time to lock and load.

Look out Mr. Emery Williams… The God of Death is coming to peel back the mask of your new life so that the world can get a glimpse of your old one.

I dumped Fuzzy back into his pile of blankets and went to my room to change clothes. Wufei's deliberate vagueness when he had talked to Jimmy was going to work in my favor. Chang Wufei suddenly had a new partner; rookie, agent-in-training by the name of Duo Maxwell. Gets stuck doing all of Agent Chang's legwork, poor guy.

I stuck with the polo shirt because it had the Preventor's logo on the front, but changed the jeans for a pair of dress pants. Then I packed my duffle for a little road trip, dropping it by the front door before taking myself off to the bathroom for one last check. I thought I glimpsed the good Captain over my shoulder in the mirror while I was redoing my braid, and there was a feral gleam in his one remaining eye.

The second to last thing I did before leaving the apartment was dig Camden's journal out of the bottom of my dresser drawer and tuck it carefully into my coat pocket, buttoning the flap over it for added security. I felt like I was getting ready to leave the apartment with a pocket full of gold. Talk about something that was irreplaceable.

The very last thing I did was pull out a piece of paper and sit at the kitchen table staring at it. Anna lived some distance away. I would very likely be gone longer than Heero. I needed to leave a note but for the life of me, I couldn't think what to say.

"See you when I get back, asshole."?

Didn't seem like the best choice.

"Eat shit and die."?

Ok… maybe even worse.

"Tell Wufei his password system is amateurish and lame. Tell Wufei he can eat shit and die. Tell Wufei…"?

I seemed to have a 'shit' theme going here, for some reason. That one was just going to end up going on for pages and pages. Again… not a great choice.

"I have an obligation to dispatch. We'll talk when I get back."?

Not great, but probably the best I could manage. I went with that one and walked out the door. I thought I heard the phone ringing as I headed down the stairwell, but I wasn't sure, and I didn't care.

I climbed in my ugly red car, tossed my duffle bag into the passenger seat and drove down the block to the nearest gas station, where I topped off the gas tank, and bought some supplies. An atlas, a couple of bottles of soda, a package of beef jerky, a candy bar, and in retrospect, a box of breath mints. Would probably need them by the time I got to the Camden's… I mean, Williams' place.

I sat in the car in the parking lot, plotting my course and nibbling on my candy bar. A little caffeine and sugar after last night's lack of sleep wasn't a bad idea, it was looking like it was going to be quite the drive.

It was right at lunchtime when I pulled out and pointed my much-hated four-cylinder ugly red car without a stereo system in the general direction of my goal. The hamsters were pretty excited, never having been on a road trip before, and sat about the car with stupid little grins on their faces, pointing at things as we drove. Guilt beast rode shotgun with his head hanging out the window, tongue lolling in the wind. I chanced to glance in the rear-view mirror and was so convinced that James Camden was sitting in the backseat that I almost ran off the road when I whipped my head around to look.

I took a long swallow of my soda and snickered helplessly. Wonder what my therapist would make of this? I resisted the urge to pass the beef jerky back to Camden and just drove. I knew better than to let the laughing really get started, so I just avoided looking in the mirror as much as possible.

It was almost a twelve hour drive, not counting stops. I won't bore you with the whole damn thing. A lot of it went by without any real thoughts going through my head at all. Doing that autopilot thing again, I guess. Some of it went by with me cursing at the damn radio as I tried to get it tuned to something I could stand to listen to. I ended up singing a large part of the time, because nothing would fucking tune in and stay for more than a couple of hours and it was making me nuts, constantly fiddling with it. And a lot of it went by with my head so full of angry, hurt thoughts that it was all I could do not to smash my fist through the dash. Or burst into tears. I waffled back and forth between those two a whole damn lot.

Mostly the voices in my head only had the one line through that part; I trusted them.

I probably should have spent some time thinking about just what in the hell I was going to do when I got there, but… I just didn't. I don't really know why. Too upset, too confused, too damn tired. I don't know.

The Williams' lived in a fairly small town. Big enough for a K-mart and a couple of strip malls, but not big enough for a damn motel. I had to drive on up the road another twenty miles until I crossed a highway big enough to find someplace to stay. It was one in the stinking morning and I didn't figure it would do me much good to show up on the doorstep of a total stranger's house with my bizarre story at that hour.

Just to add insult to injury, the motel was a crappy little place with half the light bulbs in the room burnt out and the ugliest lime green carpeting I've ever seen on the floor. It was just seedy enough that I didn't even feel like I could crawl in under the blankets and ended up sleeping on top of the comforter.

I was surprised as hell when I was actually able to sleep. Not so much that Captain Camden and his merry crew left me alone, but that my own rabid thoughts settled down enough to let me doze off. I suppose I could blame it on not getting any sleep the night before, and then driving for twelve hours straight. But I think it was… emotional exhaustion as much as anything. I'd been swinging back and forth between wounded and pissed off for so long, that I was just beyond caring. I slept like a damn rock, but woke in the morning so totally disoriented and confused that I had a moment of panic, not able to remember where in the hell I was or what I was doing there. Then it all came rushing back. Oh yeah… that. I was on my quest to bring Rat-bastard Williams to justice and deliver the journal of Anna Camden's real husband into her hands.

I made myself as presentable as I could manage in the less than spacious bathroom, without touching much of anything… the place was just gross, gathered my gear and left the room. It was still fairly damn early, probably too early to descend on the unsuspecting Williams' household, so I went in search of someplace to sit down and eat some breakfast. It had finally dawned on me that if I didn't want to have come all this way just to stand on the woman's doorstep gawping like a carp, that I'd better put some thought into my game plan.

I found one of those little breakfast diners, you know the ones; you can find one at every major exit on any highway known to man. Small, booths and counter space only, serves breakfast twenty-four hours a day, but nothing else. They don't even all have the same name, but they're so much alike they could be part of a chain. I didn't even look to see what this one was called, just parked my car and walked into the place, finding an empty seat at the counter that was out of the way. When the waitress came to take my order, popping her gum and looking terribly bored, I just ordered the first thing I found on the menu and she went away. I was dimly aware of her bantering with some of the other customers at the far end of the counter. Probably regulars from the way she addressed them. I really didn't care; I just sat and stared out the window, not really seeing anything.

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