A/N: This whole section is all Duo... Whee! Everybody do the OOC polka! Duo's insecure, Heero's clingy, and Quatre's nasty! Oh, and a little romantic foreshadowing...
by: Aoe

Strangers in Paradise + Part 3

Duo had had to all but drag a fiercely scowling Heero down the stairs to the front door. He supposed it was kind of cute, the way Heero didn't want to be apart from him, but he really needed Heero to go right now. He needed to know that the Japanese boy trusted him to take care of himself, and he needed to know if he really was capable of doing it.

It had been such a strange and confusing couple of weeks. So many things had happened, incredibly good things and horribly bad things, in such a short period of time. Duo felt sometimes like his head was still spinning from the first shock to his system, and he was already up to something like the forty-second. As much as he liked having Heero's constant presence and caring support, he was looking somewhat forward to having a little time to himself to think things through, and straighten it all out in his head. He was sure Heero needed time to reflect also. It would be good for them both, and their... relationship to step away for a moment and relax.

Even the God of Death needed time to catch his breath now and then.

So he'd dragged Heero by the hand down the stairs, carrying the Japanese boy's duffel for him, and completely unaffected by the ferocious scowl on the pretty face. Once upon a time it might have unnerved him, or provoked him into obnoxious behavior to cover his fear, but now he understood Heero a lot better. The scowl, so forbidding and angry, was just an expression of Heero's unhappiness about leaving Duo's side.

It was really kind of cute.

He flashed a grin over his shoulder, and received a growl in reply. He shook his head as they reached the bottom of the stairs and Heero's resistance to being pulled finally disappeared. With a barely audible sigh, the Japanese boy took his bag from Duo's shoulder. Then Heero just stood there silently for a moment, staring at him like he wanted to memorize every feature of Duo's face. The scowl was gone now, replaced by a blank expression.

The blank expression meant worry. Duo frowned slightly.

"I don't have a zit or something, do I?" he asked in a nervous tone. As he'd hoped, the unexpected question threw Heero off balance and he blinked, an expression of comical confusion passing briefly across his face. Duo loved that expression, and tried to provoke it as often as possible. It made Heero look like the kid he still was.

The zit remark produced the other result Duo was aiming for as well. Heero's face took on a contemplative expression as he continued his silent study of Duo. Duo waited patiently, knowing that if he could knock the blank look off his face, Heero would usually get around to expressing whatever was bothering him.

Finally, Heero asked quietly, "You really want me to go?" The question was delivered in a flat tone, Heero not wanting to bias Duo's reply in any way. It also had the unfortunate side effect of leaching any emotional nuance from the question, leaving Duo with no clues as to Heero's exact meaning. The American frowned slightly. Miscommunication was a big problem for the two of them, and something they needed to work on. But for now, all he could do was answer the question Heero seemed to be asking, and hope the Japanese boy would elaborate if it wasn't the answer he wanted.

So Duo just shrugged a bit nervously, but said firmly, "Yes, I do."

"Hn," Heero grunted, showing no reaction to this response. He continued to stare silently at Duo. The American had just about decided the question was just Heero reaffirming Duo's self-confidence when the Japanese pilot spoke again. In a very soft, hesitant tone, he asked, "Do you want me... to come back?"

Duo blinked in astonishment at his lover. How could Heero possibly ask such a ridiculous question? The vulnerability suddenly so apparent in the dark blue eyes forced Duo to realize that however strange the question seemed to him, Heero really was worried that...

"You thought I was sending you away? Breaking it off?" Duo whispered incredulously.

Heero only shrugged in reply, but dropped his gaze to the floor between them.

"Why would you think that?" Duo pressed, caught between the desire to reassure Heero of his affection and anger that the Japanese boy could think Duo would take their time together so lightly. Hadn't it meant as much to Heero as it had to him?

Heero shifted his weight nervously. The fidgeting reassured Duo a bit that this had more to do with Heero's insecurity than a sudden loss of interest.

"I... I've hurt you," Heero explained slowly. "Sometimes without meaning to... but sometimes on purpose. And I'm...not as... expressive as you are... There's so much I still don't understand about... all this... " he trailed off into a silence, jamming a hand into his unruly dark hair with a sigh. He continued to stare at the plush carpet. "You could do better," he concluded grimly.

"Like Hell," Duo growled hoarsely. Heero looked up at the angry tone, but blinked in surprise at the tears Duo could feel shimmering in his eyes. He wouldn't let them fall, couldn't go that far, but they were there all the same. He forced a wide grin and asked lightly, "Hey, you're the perfect soldier, right? How could I do better than perfect?"

Heero's face resumed some of its blankness, and Duo guessed the Japanese boy had taken his remark as mockery. "But I'm not " Heero began his familiar refrain. Not waiting for him to finish, Duo grabbed his lover's shoulders and pulled the other boy into a fierce embrace.

"Yes you are," he whispered harshly, hiding his face against Heero's neck just in case the tears got away from him. "Yes you are," he repeated a bit more softly. Heero stood rigid in his embrace for a moment, but then the powerful body slowly began to relax, and Duo felt Heero's arms wrap around him. Suddenly he didn't want Heero to go. He felt so warm and protected in the Japanese boy's strong arms, he just wanted to stay there, where he finally felt safe...

But that was silly. There was a war on, and Heero had a job to do. The last thing he wanted was to be a stone around the Japanese boy's neck. It was easy to lean on Heero's strength, but it was time to test his own again.

"You have to go and get Wing," Duo stated calmly, when he had his emotions under control again. But then he tightened his embrace and added in a voice made rough with emotion, "But then you have to come back to me."

He pulled away just far enough that he could look into Heero's dark eyes. Staring intently into those deep blue pools, Duo demanded in a whisper, "You always have to come back to me, Heero. Promise me."

It was a lot to ask. It was actually quite irrational, considering they were in the middle of a war, and every time Heero left, he might never come back. Duo understood all of this, but he still needed this promise. He needed to know that whatever might happen, Heero would do his best to return.

"I promise," Heero replied quietly, the dark eyes softening slightly at the words, heavy brows lifting from their perpetual scowl.

It suddenly occurred to Duo that, irrational as he was being, it just might have been exactly what Heero needed to hear. So he smiled brightly, banishing the still-unshed tears, and closed the small distance between them, kissing Heero quite thoroughly.

The sound of a throat being cleared finally ended the kiss, and Duo grinned as he backed away, seeing Heero's faint blush. He loved that blush. Heero wouldn't be embarrassed if what he was doing didn't mean something. Duo turned his contented smile on Trowa.

The tall pilot was standing at the bottom of the stairs, duffel slung over his shoulder, smiling indulgently at the two of them. It wasn't a big smile, and one would actually have to know Trowa rather well to realize he was smiling at all. But it was clear as day to Duo, and it reassured him even further of the bond he shared with the quiet boy. If it weren't for Trowa's understanding and assistance, Duo wasn't sure he and Heero ever would have even reconciled their initial differences, much less ended up together. Where they belonged.

In fact, he was pretty sure they wouldn't have, because if it hadn't been for Trowa back in the city... if there hadn't been someone Duo felt he could go to for help, who would understand, or at least not turn him away...

He owed Trowa a lot. It wasn't surprising that the tall boy had almost as large a place in Duo's heart as Heero. It would, in fact, take very little to increase that to an equal portion...

Duo cut off his own thoughts with a rueful grin. There was no point in speculating about things that neither Heero nor Trowa were likely to agree to. It was a nice little fantasy, though.

Duo pushed his thoughts aside as Trowa walked forward to join the other two boys before the door.

"Well, we have miles to go before we sleep," Trowa murmured.

"Che, ain't that the truth," Duo agreed, rolling his eyes. Trowa liked Robert Frost, he had learned, and was particularly fond of that line. The double meaning of it appealed to him, Duo supposed.

Heero was partially ignoring them both. He'd said his goodbyes to Duo already, and would be traveling with Trowa. He recognized the importance of the friendship Duo and Trowa shared, though, and wouldn't attempt to rush or interfere in their farewell. Duo appreciated the gesture. Heero didn't understand many of the strange undertones to Duo and Trowa's friendship, since there was so much unspoken but intrinsically understood between the two. But he respected their closeness and tried not to intrude where he wasn't invited. Duo hoped someday Trowa would let Heero past his barriers, but for now he was just glad the tall boy would allow Duo to care about him.

If only he'd let me... Duo didn't even allow himself to finish the thought in his mind, repressing memories of the one time he'd gotten completely past the tall pilot's barriers and stolen a kiss. Trowa hadn't been happy about it, and neither had Heero. Duo still didn't fully understand his own motivations for doing it.

But it had been a very nice kiss, all the same.

A powerful impulse made itself known as Trowa looked down at Duo, still smiling slightly. Duo felt an evil grin spreading across his face. Trowa barely had time to register the expression before Duo's arms wrapped lightly around his shoulders. Never too tight with Trowa, never confining. But every time, a little bit closer.

"You come back to me, too," Duo murmured, holding Trowa's nervous emerald gaze with his own. He could feel a slight tension in the lean body, but Trowa made no move to pull away from the embrace. It occurred to Duo that he probably should just be satisfied with that.

But his earlier train of thought reasserted itself with a vengeance when Trowa relaxed into his arms at last. Nothing ventured...

Instead of pulling Trowa to him, as he would have with Heero, Duo raised himself up, standing on tiptoe to close the distance between them. Carefully, lightly, he pressed his lips to Trowa's.

It was a chaste sort of kiss, almost friendly except for being on the lips. Duo made no effort to deepen it, though. He kept the gentle pressure only until he felt Trowa begin to stiffen beneath his touch, and then slowly pulled away, releasing the taller boy from his arms. Duo took a step back, smiling pleasantly at Heero and Trowa, gauging their reactions. Trowa looked slightly unsettled, but not coldly furious as he had been the last time Duo kissed him.

Heero... didn't seem bothered at all. Duo cocked his head curiously at the Japanese boy, and received a brief quirk of Heero's lips in reply.

Very interesting...

Trowa cleared his throat again. "Well, see you," he muttered, turning and stepping quickly through the door. Duo grinned widely at his back, then turned the grin on Heero. Heero shook his head slowly at his lover, but the dark blue eyes held only amusement and warmth. Then Heero turned and followed Trowa down to the car Quatre had provided.

Duo pulled the door shut, frowning slightly as that thought made him wonder where Quatre was. It wasn't like the persistent Arabian to miss the chance to say goodbye to Trowa, even if the tall boy had been even cooler than usual with Quatre lately. As he turned, though, Duo had his question answered. He smiled in confusion as he saw the Arabian standing silently in the shadowed entrance of one of the halls leading away from the foyer into the depths of the mansion.

The smile faltered and disappeared, though, as Quatre stepped out into the light and Duo observed the furious expression twisting the familiar gentle features.

"Quatre?" he asked nervously, suddenly feeling trapped with his back to the door. Outside he heard the car's engine roar to life, and then the crunch of gravel as it drove away. They were gone. He was alone. With Quatre. This was suddenly not a comforting thought.

"You disgust me," Quatre said quietly. The statement hit Duo like a punch in the gut, staggering him emotionally and locking his diaphragm so he couldn't breathe.

"Quatre... " he tried again, bewildered.

"I thought there was hope for you, Duo, I really did. You were my friend, and I would have done whatever I could to help you deal with your addiction. But this... " Quatre shook his head, his features hardening.

"My addiction?" Duo asked weakly, not sure at all where this was going, or coming from, for that matter. He had that under control, no matter what Heero said about his eyes. And it had only been the one time, anyway, and he hadn't done it himself... He had a brief flash of disoriented memory, a sleepy Quatre in the bathroom door, himself sitting on the toilet, something in his hand...

Oh. That might have made a bad impression.

"If this is about what I tried to do back in the city," Duo began, feeling back on firmer ground. Quatre had misinterpreted events, that was all. He could clear this up quickly.

Quatre's eyes blazed with unexpected anger, and a hint of... fear? "Oh, that's certainly where I first realized the danger you pose to the team," Quatre growled, his small hands tightening into fists at his side. "And I should have realized then, seeing you running around in those lewd clothes, painted like a gutter slut... like the gutter slut you are," Quatre hissed, sneering in disgust.

Duo opened his mouth to protest, but no sound came out. Because, while cruel, it was still... true.

"I suppose I knew you'd seduced poor Heero into carrying your weight, covering up your weakness, but I wanted to believe there was more to it than just sex. There isn't though, is there? You just... just... fuck whoever, and however many people you need to support you, to let you go on, never facing up to your problems, your weakness "

"Quatre, I'm not using heroin," Duo cut in, his voice harsh with the tears that were once more standing in his eyes. He hadn't expected this attack, hadn't been prepared... The anger he usually used as his defense wouldn't come to him, because... Because this all sounded too much like the accusations that tormented him in the night, in the early morning hours... inside his head.

"Not today," Quatre snapped. "What about tomorrow? You're an addict. You'll go back to it eventually."

Which statement hit far too close to Duo's own fears. A shiver ran through his body and he felt something solid behind him. Only then did he realize he'd backed away from Quatre until he was pressed to the closed door.

"I thought there was hope for you," Quatre continued grimly. "But what you've done to them, twisting their emotions so they'll protect you from the truth... "

Them? Duo wondered vaguely. But the thought was quickly lost beneath the surging wave of despair Quatre's harsh words were drowning him in.

"I shouldn't be surprised you'd use sex to confuse and manipulate someone so emotionally damaged," Quatre went on, eyes blazing with fury, lips twisted in disgust. "After what I saw in the city, I should have known, but I didn't want to believe... You lied to us all along," Quatre accused, and Duo flinched from the words, which were wrong, but just too true to deny.

"Heero was right. You're nothing more than a... fucking junkie. A junkie and a whore."

And with that, Quatre turned on his heel and stalked away, leaving Duo alone in the foyer.

His knees finally buckled, and he slid down the door to sit on the carpeted floor, staring blankly at the delicate flower pattern of the rug. The roses grew fuzzy, and he blinked, feeling sudden moisture on his cheeks. The tears felt burning hot against bloodless skin.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, staring at the carpet, but eventually he realized his cheeks had dried, though his nose felt quite stuffy and his eyes swollen. His head throbbed like someone had been hitting it with a sledgehammer. Yet he felt strangely detached from all of this. He merely catalogued these physical sensations, not really caring about them or attaching any particular significance to them.

A distant part of his mind informed him he was in shock, but he didn't really care about that either. He shivered. It was so cold here. He wanted to be warm.

Without thinking about where he was going, he stood and climbed the stairs to the second floor. His only thought was that somehow, he had to get warm again. He wondered where he was going, and hoped that some portion of his subconscious had figured out a destination.

He blinked, and found himself back in the bedroom he'd shared with Heero for the past three nights. The bed was a mass of tangled blankets. He walked over to it and crawled beneath them.

That was a little better.

He pressed his face into a pillow and breathed deeply, inhaling the distinctive scent that was uniquely Heero.

Distantly, he felt a spark of warmth rekindle deep within. Whimpering unconsciously, he wrapped his arms around the pillow that smelled of Heero, curling his body into a tight ball. Too worn out to cry again, he nuzzled the pillow weakly, wishing it were a warm, golden-skinned, firmly-muscled body, wishing he could feel strong arms around him again...

Still clutching the pillow, Duo drifted off into troubled dreams.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Aoe's fic]