"Does Une know you can hack the Preventer database?" he heard Duo ask from the computer desk beside him.
He had to restrain a smile. "It's easier than trying to go through city records." He turned his attention back to the screen and scrolling names before him. "And the Preventers are so busy with all the fighting that's started since Vritra rose, they'll never even notice me in here."
"Hee-chan?" It was so unlike Duo to sound this worried that he had to look over his shoulder at the other man. "Did it look like something was upsetting Usagi to you?"
"What isn't there to be upsetting her?" he countered. "We're at war again, and Usagi hates fighting." The concerned frown stayed on Duo's face, and so he pressed on. "She's fine. I'm sure. She's tougher than she looks."
"You're right." Duo turned back to the screen before him for a brief moment then turned back. "So have you had any luck?"
Now it was his turn to frown, glaring at the screen. "Thanatos has four homes listed under his real name and several more under fake names. I'm printing out the blueprints for all of them though."
Duo nodded. "Good idea. Usagi might be able to identify it by the layout." The American grinned suddenly. "Kinda like the old days, isn't it?"
A faint smile touched Heero's lips, and he didn't bother trying to hide this one. "In a way."
"Come on: fate of everyone in our hands, getting down to the wire, and we're trying to find our enemies' location."
"Then maybe this will go better than that war did," Quatre's voice cut in. Both Heero and Duo whirled in their chairs to face the computer screens before them like they'd been caught at something they shouldn't be doing, the faintest of flushes coloring both of their faces. Quatre pretended to be oblivious and continued speaking. "I don't think anyone's ready for a war of that magnitude again, not this soon."
Slowly, Heero turned back to face the blond. "Got the casualty figures in then?" Quatre nodded. "How bad is it then?"
"Bad. Not quite up to the level of the One Year War or the Christmas War, but it's bad. The death toll is still just in the thousands, but it's going up fast."
"We're running out of time then." Heero's voice was soft and determined. "We have located several of Thanatos' homes. Usagi needs to look at the blueprints and see if any of them are the right one."
Quatre nodded. "I'll go get her."
Duo turned slightly in his chair to give the other man a faintly reassuring smile. "We'll be finishing up here then. We need to get this over with soon."
Again the blond nodded his head. "It's time for all of us to go on with our lives."
* * * * * * * *
Usagi stared down at the jewel in one of her hand and the mirror in the other. "How are we going to do this?" she whispered to them, pausing, almost expecting one or both of them to answer. She was a little disappointed when neither of them did. "Heero and Duo won't be happy about what we're going to have to do." She sighed, shoving the two talismans into the deep front pockets of the dress she wore. "I wish Hyperion-tousama was here; I could use his advice."
I can't afford to tell the others what is necessary to raise Amaterasu. They wouldn't allow me to... to do what is necessary. She sighed. It's not like I want to do this. All I want is... She chuckled ruefully. I don't even know what it is I want anymore. I want Heero. I want Duo. I don't want to become Amaterasu-o-mi-kami. I want a happily-ever-after ending for this story. Haven't we all earned a happily-ever-after yet?
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Yes?" she called out.
Quatre slowly pushed the door open. She studied his face briefly before deciding the blond was worrying himself sick over this whole ordeal; she supposed it was his nature. "Usagi-san? Heero and Duo wanted to see you downstairs. They've found some blueprints that might be to Thanatos' stronghold."
"Really?" It was hard to keep the excitement out of her voice. Finally this would all be over.
"Yes. Heero thinks you might be able to figure out which one it is by the layout."
She nodded. "I'll do my best, Quatre-kun." She hopped off the bed and started to slip out the door. She paused there a moment and hugged the blond briefly. "It will all be over soon, my friend. I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Usagi-san."
She smiled. "I don't." She left him standing there as she hurried down the hall to the stairs then to the computer lab. The door was still standing a bit open, but she still tapped on the doorframe before sticking her head in. "Heero? Duo?"
"Usagi!" she heard Duo greet her enthusiastically. "Come in! We were just talking about you!"
She had to smile at him; she couldn't help it. Who could, really? Duo's smile could be infectious. "Nothing bad I hope?"
"Of course not," Heero answered instead. She glanced over at him, favoring him a small smile. He nodded at a chair between him and Duo. "We need you to take a look at some of these layouts, see if any of them is where Thanatos and Relena took you."
She managed not to shiver at the recollection of Hekate that simple sentence brought about in her mind. It seemed she'd never be free of that ghost of her past. "All right," she agreed, taking the seat he'd offered and leaning over to look over Heero's shoulder. She noticed faintly that Duo moved to squat on Heero's other side, and she had to take a moment to be glad they were getting along so much better now than they had been. "How many of them are there?"
"Eight." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "We can narrow it down a bit first. How many levels was it?"
"Three. Two stories and a basement."
Six of the options were taken away. Duo grinned over at the two of them. "That was easy."
Heero nodded. "Two left."
He clicked a few buttons and the floor plans to both remaining homes appeared on the screen. Usagi leaned closer to study both, eyes flicking back and forth between them, before pointing to the one closest to Duo. "It's this one."
"You're sure?" Heero had to ask.
She nodded once. "Absolutely."
A few more buttons were clicked, and her final choice began printing, along with the address. "Then we'll need to start getting ready to leave as soon as possible." Heero turned his chair in a tight circle so that his back was to the computer as he glanced from Usagi to Duo. "I guess you're both coming with me to get the sword."
"Absolutely," Usagi repeated. "I need to be there."
"You're not getting rid of me this quick, Heero," Duo continued, nudging the other young man's side. She must have been imagining that it looked more like a caress than any kind of teasing blow, she decided.
He looked back and forth between them again before asking one more question softly, "Are you sure you're up to this, Duo?"
The American man pouted at him, and this time the cuffing he gave Heero's side looked a whole lot more real. "I'm fine, Mom." She laughed, and Duo fought a moment to hang out to his frown before laughing as well; the faintest of smiles even touched Heero's lips. "Let's go kick Thanatos' ass!"
15 March 2004
Wow, another chapter done, and so soon after the last revision was completed. Sorry it took me so long to get this chapter posted; it's kinda hard to do that when you don't have a phone line (and therefore, no internet), you know. Anyway, I'm moved into my new place and I have a fancy new computer desk/writing area, so the only excuses I'm going to be able to give you will be: (1) grad school is kicking my butt; (2) I'm working on my novel; or (3) the demon kitties have taken up domain on my writing area.
And now that this chapter is done, I think I'll try to get back to work on my novel. Wish me luck!!