Author: Anria Lalumin
Warnings: language, angst, sap, humour, shounen ai and yaoi later on

Lizards = thoughts/emphasis
::Lizards:: = sound effects

Trust + Part 7

The next couple of days were tense. Zechs' broken arm made him waspish and volatile, snapping at anything stupid enough to get in his way, be it a chair he knocked into, the shower for being so bloody difficult to use when you only had one hand, or Duo, just for being there. He was quite definitely not the most agreeable of people when in pain.

The worst part of it was that Duo had no idea how to deal with him. If he had been still convinced that Zechs was a horrible person (even if it was for a reason he wouldn't let himself look at) then he would have had no problem being snippy back. Even if he had had no prior opinion of the man, he would have given as good as he got. But the thing was, he had promised himself he would be nice, which most of the time meant gritting his teeth and moving to another room.

Turnabout is fair play, Maxwell, he thought bitterly to himself.

Besides his broken arm, Zechs' foul mood came from having absolutely nothing to do. Duo had taken apart the TV and computer in order to make the communicator, and there were only five books in the apartment, so Zechs was left sitting with both thumbs up his arse and not very happy about it, too. He was imaginative, but not quite imaginative enough to keep himself occupied the way Duo could ­ the American could quite happily entertain himself staring out of a window for hours on end, just thinking. It was how he'd amused himself when he was younger, when Father Maxwell had made him go to school. That imaginative mind had come back to haunt him at other times, but most of the time it was a boon. Contrary to popular opinion, he didn't need to be moving around all the time to be content; he was fine sitting and letting his mind run wild. Of course, there was always the overriding compulsion afterwards to go and do whatever he'd dreamed up (like setting up mini catapults with water balloon missiles in Heero's cockpit, set to go off as soon as the door opened) but that just gave him more things to occupy his time with.

Duo sighed and wrenched his mind back on track. Of course, one of the other irritating things about an active imagination was its tendency to make his mind wander. Luckily for him he hadn't made any fatal errors while he'd been thinking about completely irrelevant things.

Duo winced as the end of the wire he was trying to bend into a tight, curling spiral dug into his thumb. Lifting it, he scowled at the drop of blood that appeared, then stuck his thumb in his mouth. "Damith," he muttered around the digit.

"What's the matter, Maxwell? Can't even bend wires now?"

Duo scowled at the communicator past his thumb and sank his teeth into the flesh, willing himself not to reply. You're trying not to piss the man off, remember?

Zechs appeared to be in one of his worse moods, as Duo heard him take a step into the room. "Answer me," he growled out.

Duo took his thumb out of his mouth and tried to take a calming breath. Blowing up at him will not help. Just answer "yes" or "no" to everything he says and he'll be pissed off, but hopefully he'll go away before you really lose it.

"I'm not your fucking slave, Merquise!"

Ah, shit.

Since his mouth had decided on a course of action for him, Duo realised there was no option but to follow it through. He stood up and turned to face Zechs, hands balling into fists as he took the leash off his temper.

Zechs took another step forward, his face darkening ominously. If it came to a fight ­ which it undoubtedly would do, considering the anger they were both bottling up ­ the blond man had the advantage in height, weight, and reach. But he was currently handicapped, and Duo had no qualms about fighting dirty. His black eye had healed, and Duo found himself with a deep desire to replace it.

"What was that?" Zechs said, his voice a little too calm.

Duo lifted his chin. "You heard me." It felt so good to finally start ignoring that annoying part of him that filled him with guilt every time he thought of the blond man. So good to start dishing it out again. And hopefully this time it would end in them beating the crap out of each other.

"Yes, I heard you. Talking like the stupid little good-for-nothing street trash you are ­ do you know how to speak without filling it with profanities?"

Duo snarled and stepped forward, leaning his body towards Zechs. He was itching to punch the older man right in his too-pretty mouth just to get him to shut up. "As opposed to you, sitting on your fucking high-and-mighty throne talking as much crap as I do in prettier words? Don't make me fucking laugh. At least I know what life is. You're too much of a goddamn high society princeling to know what it's like to get your hands dirty!"

"That's a lie and you know it." Zechs took a step towards him, and suddenly there was barely a foot between them, icy blue staring down into Duo's narrowed eyes. The barest hint of a snarl curved Zechs' fine-cut features.

"Prove it," Duo growled, and lunged.

He took Zechs by surprise and his shoulder crashed into the other man's chest, knocking them both backwards a short way. He didn't have time to build up much momentum, so the blow was weak and Zechs stayed on his feet. He kicked Duo's legs out from under him savagely, adrenaline pumping.

Duo landed heavily on his back and felt the air exit his lungs in a loud whoosh. Snarling, he didn't give himself time to take a breath before he kicked out and slammed Zechs over as well. There was no way in hell he was losing to this son of a bitch. He rolled away and onto his feet before the other man had time to get up, dropping into a defensive stance.

Zechs was up a bare second after him, lunging at him with a wild punch towards his face. Blocking it left Duo open to another kick, and he crashed backwards into a table, knocking it over and breaking it in two, his body slamming into the floor behind it.

"You're not living up to your reputation, Maxwell," Zechs said, taking a moment to taunt the smaller man. "Is that all you've got?"

Duo's expression turned ugly as he got to his feet. "Fuck no," he said, kicking the remnants of the table out of the way. "I was just going easy on you because you're injured. But if you don't want me to do that any more. . . ."

Zechs' eyes narrowed. "Stop talking, Maxwell."

Duo bared his teeth and ran at the other man in a blind charge, dodging a blow to his shoulder and knocking them both over onto the carpet. Grabbing a fistful of the other man's loose hair, he slammed his head into the floor, then punched him in the stomach. Zechs choked but struck back, his rigid cast hitting Duo in the chest and knocking the wind out of him. Judging from the way Zechs made a small, half-smothered choking noise Duo thought it had to have hurt him more than the brunet, and balled his hand into a fist, ready to hit him where he hurt the most.

Zechs saw the move coming and blocked it with his shoulder, gritting his teeth and ignoring the vibrations that jarred his broken arm. He quickly grabbed Duo's wrist and wrenched his arm backwards, twisting it until Duo cried out, concentration breaking. Using the advantage of his greater height and weight, Zechs forced Duo onto his front and pinned one of his arms with his knee, keeping the other one wrenched up behind Duo's back. Panting, he leaned forward to whisper into the smaller man's ear. "Not such a hotshot now, are we?"

Duo yelled inarticulately and bucked hard, thrashing and trying any way he could think of to get the older man off. It made him so angry to have been beaten! Zechs gritted his teeth and held on, ignoring the way his already aching body protested the violent movements.

"You BASTARD!" Duo yelled, twisting and lashing into Zechs' grip. "You fucking BASTARD! I HATE YOU, YOU HEAR ME! I HATE YOU!"

It pissed Zechs off for no reason he could see. "What do you mean, you hate me?" he snarled, transferring the grip on the arm he held wrenched up behind Duo's back so he could pin it with his knee. Once his good hand was free, he grabbed a handful of Duo's hair and yanked his head up. "What the fuck do you mean, you hate me? What in God's name did I ever do to you?"

"ARSEHOLE!" Duo yelled, trying to twist his head in the man's fierce grip so he could spit in his face, the words pouring out of his mouth as though some dam inside him had been broken. "You don't fucking KNOW? You were always the one! You were the one who killed them! They all died because of you! They were fucking children! I was a fucking child! It's all fucking because of YOU! Everything that happened ­ everything that turned me into a killer ­ was YOUR FAULT!"

And suddenly he slumped, the fight vanishing from his body. His head dangled limply in Zechs' grip. "Except it wasn't," he murmured, his voice so low Zechs had to strain to hear it. "It wasn't you."

As Zechs watched, shocked and confused by what Duo had said, something small and sparkling fell from Duo's face to the carpet. And then another joined it. And another. And then Duo made a small, choking noise and he suddenly realised that the man was crying.

Zechs nearly threw himself backwards, scrambling away from the other man. He had no idea what had set this off, none at all, and never expected Duo to react in this way. He got angry, yes, he got pissed off far too easily, but nothing ever seemed to hurt him. Not to the point that he'd cry about it.

After a moment Duo rolled over, raising a forearm to press across his eyes. He hiccupped, and then spoke so low that Zechs knew he wasn't talking to him, was only talking to himself, or perhaps some past demon not yet excised. "Stupid . . . boys don't cry . . . that's what she said . . . she told me . . . boys don't cry. . . ."

"Men do," Zechs said quietly, not even thinking until the words came out of his mouth.

Duo laughed, a harsh, almost broken sound. "Yeah, men might cry ­ but what kind of man am I, hating someone for something they didn't even do. . . ." he trailed off, clenching his jaw.

Zechs frowned, easing himself into a position that didn't stress the aches in his body that their fight had only reawakened, leaning against one of the sofas. "Duo," he began, "I think it's time you explained to me why you hate me."

Duo was silent for a moment, and then he sighed. "Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah."

Duo sat up and scooted back a short distance to lean against the wall, bringing his knees up and dangling his forearms from them. He stared fixedly at a spot between his feet, steadfastly not looking at Zechs. He was silent so long that the blond began to wonder if he should say something, but before he could take a breath Duo spoke.

"I've never told anyone else this in my life and if you breathe a word to anyone about it I really will beat the shit out of you," he said abruptly, still staring at the floor. "Just wanted you to know that before I start. I mean, Prof G knew about it, but then that was just 'coz the old bastard knows everything." Zechs wasn't sure if he imagined the fondness in Duo's tone for G or not, but he didn't interrupt. He had a feeling that if he did, he'd never find out the reason why Duo hated him. Or the reason why he thought he did.

Duo leaned his head back against the wall and swallowed wetly. His eyes were already red-rimmed, and he stared at something far away Zechs knew he'd never be able to see. As he began his story, his voice took on a less polished tone, caught in memories.

"When I was a kid, I really was a tried and true street rat. Never knew anything apart from it. Didn't even have a name ­ whatever bitch or whore spawned me must've chucked me out with the trash before she had to tax her brain enough to give me one. Anyway, I met up with this other kid, Solo. He was smart, much smarter than me, and he knew that if all of us street kids stuck together then it'd mean we were less likely to get hurt or caught. I was kinda Solo's protégé ­ he took a real shine to me. And I adored him, followed him everywhere.

"A few years later, Solo heard rumours that on another colony there was food going free and lots of money to be earned or stolen, all real quick. So he stuffed me and a couple of other kids on a shuttle and we hid there until we got to the colony. The other kids didn't make the journey ­ we didn't have much food, and it was too cold where we hid. Benny was sick anyway, guess the others must have caught it. So it was just me and Solo who snuck off the ship same way we came in, all for exploring the new colony.

"It was a shithole. Dawned on us real quick that no matter where we went, we always ended up in the same parts ­ the parts where no one gave a fuck about you unless you had some kind of hold over them, even if it was just that you were bigger than they were. But there were other kids like us there, so we started over with a new gang. But even though we were living in hell, I was happy ­ I had Solo, I had the gang. They were family. Solo was talking about letting me be second leader under him, since I had a way with the others.

"But then there was the plague. Swept all over the colony, killed anyone who didn't have the vaccine. Some of the kids caught it . . . and so did Solo. We looked after them as best we could, but the Alliance was in charge of handing out the vaccine and they weren't going to hand it to some stupid street rat kids." The bitterness in Duo's voice was alarming. "We asked the soldiers, we begged them, and in the end some OZ captain turned to me and said ‘We aren't giving the likes of you the vaccine. Go and die like the scum you are.' And they did. Damn near all but me. I stole some of the vaccine near the end, but it was too late ­ too late for Solo. I wouldn't have cared if the others died, as long as Solo didn't leave me." Duo's voice cracked on the last few words, and he choked and shut his eyes, tears squeezing through them to run down his face. "But he knew he was gonna die, and made me promise to take the vaccine and look after the rest of the kids, the ones who survived. I couldn't break a promise, especially not to Solo.

"We got taken by some cops after that. They said they were gonna put us in an orphanage, but all I could think of was that stupid OZ captain, and how if he'd just given scum like us the vaccine Solo would still be alive. I started hating them then.

"We got taken to the orphanage, and it was ­ it was—" Duo stopped. "It was nothing like what I'd been expecting. The priest, Father Maxwell, he looked at me, and he saw me and not some street kid just like any other and told me that I could do great things, that I was worth something. Him and Sister Helen ­ they were like the mother and father I'd never had. I never got adopted out of the orphanage, I made sure of that, even though all the rest of the gang left. We had a rough start, but I loved them anyway.

"Then the terrorists came. They took over the church, and the orphanage, and told the Alliance that they wanted a mobile suit before they left us alone. They said if they got one they'd leave. So I went and stole them their fucking mobile suit. A ten-year-old kid.

"When I got back, the Church was in ruins. OZ had bombed the place rather than give a mobile suit to terrorists. They had killed over two . . . hundred . . . fucking . . . children, just to make a fucking example. Father Maxwell was dead. Sister Helen was dead. My whole fucking family was gone, and again it was OZ's fault. OZ was the ones who had killed them.

"After that I met up with Prof G, and he offered me a perfect was to get revenge. And I took it ­ I had to! I had to get revenge for Solo, and for Father Maxwell, and Sister Helen, and everybody else I'd ever known who'd all been killed by them. And when I started it was so easy because the hurt was new and I used that to fuel my anger, to keep me going and keep me fighting. . . . But then. . . ." Duo trailed off and scrubbed at his eyes with the edge of his shirt.

"Then I started not hurting so much. Time heals all wounds, you know? But I needed to keep going. I felt like they were all counting on me. And . . . it's so much easier to keep going when you have something to hate. But fuck it, have you ever tried hating a faceless organisation? Even when Khushrenada came into the limelight I couldn't hate him because he wasn't the one who had killed my family. I couldn't ever see him carrying out any of his orders. Giving them, sure, but not being the one who interpreted ‘Shut the rebels up' as ‘Kill every civilian in the orphanage'.

"But then. . . . You showed up.

"You were the golden boy. You were the perfect little OZ soldier. You were what all of them wanted to be. They admired Khushrenada, looked up to him as a leader, but in the end you were the one they wanted to be. The one they were trying to be when they refused to give a couple of street rats a vaccine, when they blew up two, three hundred civilians in a church. And when I thought of it like that, it was so easy to hate you. To put your face on that fucking captain who wouldn't give me the vaccine, on the men who blew up Maxwell Church. And it was safe to hate you, because there was no way in hell we were ever going to meet face to face. It was always Heero you were fighting, Heero you chased after ­ I was never going to have to deal with you, and I had a focus for the hate that kept me going. I never hated you, I hated the ideal of you. And when you were dead it was easy, because the war was over and so were you so I could lay the hatred to rest."

Duo stopped and swallowed, staring at his hands. "And then you turned up alive at the Mariemeia thing. And . . . and I needed to hate then as well so I could fight, so I figured, what's the harm? Even if we do work for the same people, we're never gonna see each other. And then, like before, I started the forget the reason ­ hell, I never really figured out the reason 'til a couple of days ago. My subconscious is a goddamn arsehole." His head hit the wall with a thunk, and after a moment he looked over at Zechs for the first time since he had begun talking. His blue-violet eyes were made all the more striking by the red rims around them, tear tracks evident on his face, and Zechs found he couldn't look away. "So now you know. The life of Duo Maxwell in a fucking nutshell."

He was too proud to apologise, Zechs realised. Too proud to say two simple words, but then, so was Zechs. And he knew that even if Duo's pride would never let him say it, it didn't mean it wasn't there ­ didn't mean he wasn't sorry for the way he'd acted towards the older man. It was obvious in his face ­ that, and a need for forgiveness Duo probably didn't even realise he felt.

And maybe . . . maybe he could give the other man something that no one had given to him. Something he dearly wished they had. Perhaps . . . perhaps he could help Duo, and at the same time, it would help him finally lay the last of his demons to rest because in a way, he would be talking to the him of six years ago.

"I understand revenge," Zechs said quietly, knowing what Duo needed to hear, and he needed to say. "And I understand the hatred. You were lucky ­ your source lasted for the entire war and beyond. I killed mine a little before I left OZ, and look what came of that."

Duo stared at him for a moment, his face gradually taking on an incredulous cast. "Are you . . . are you saying. . . ." Words failed him.

Zechs sighed. "I think we have more in common than either of us realised. But I've learned to live without hate, to fight without hate . . . and I hope you can too."

Zechs levered himself to his feet, wincing occasionally as a strained muscle or bruise made itself known. Walking ­ limping, really ­ over to Duo, he took a deep breath and reached out a hand.

Duo stared at his hand, then at him. Zechs could see he didn't quite believe it would be this easy.

Maybe because in the end, it wouldn't. But the first step was always at once both the easiest and the hardest.

Duo took a deep breath, then reached out and took his hand.

[part 6] [part 8] [back to Anria's fic]