by: Aoe

Strangers in Paradise + Part 6

Duo hummed softly to himself as he prowled the empty corridors of the mansion. Most of the lights were off, conserving electricity, but Duo was quite at home in the dark. Besides, it made it that much easier to tell which rooms were occupied behind the closed doors.

When Heero had finally, reluctantly declared that he needed to go and work on Wing Zero for at least a little while that morning, Duo had been chagrinned to realize how he'd completely monopolized his lover's time since Heero's return. He hadn't really meant to do that, he just... hadn't wanted to be alone. He'd wanted the reassurance of Heero beside him, to see the softness in the intense blue eyes that was only directed at him, to feel those strong hands so gently touching his body...

And Heero had stayed with him, seeming to sense his need, if not understanding it. He hadn't told the Japanese boy about his little... problem with Quatre. He wasn't sure how Heero would react to that.

Wasn't sure he wanted to find out, either.

But at any rate, he'd managed to drag himself away from the Japanese boy, only slightly nervous and wistful at the separation. He'd puttered around their room for a while, wondering what to do with himself, and finally realized that Trowa was back, too.

Duo had felt a sharp stab of guilt as he realized Trowa had actually been back for a few days, and he'd hardly even seen the tall pilot. He'd been so wrapped up in Heero, trying to assuage his self-doubts and insecurities, that he'd completely ignored Trowa.

Trowa. Trowa, Trowa, Trowa. An image of the tall, reserved pilot sprung up in Duo's mind, and he smiled softly. Trowa was nearly as good for his self-esteem as Heero. It was just that... Heero could give him the physical comfort he needed just as badly as the emotional. Trowa... well, Duo hadn't quite gotten the taller boy to accept that sort of thing yet.

Yet.

Duo had plans for Trowa Barton.

So he'd gone down to lunch, feeling reasonably confident of his ability to deal with Quatre's presence, as long as they weren't alone together. But he'd found only Wufei at the impeccably laid out table, calmly eating a sandwich as he read a book. Duo had been surprised to find the lunch crowd so sparse, but Heero would probably be completely absorbed in his Gundam for most of the day, and Quatre had been awfully busy lately, with Winner stuff, but Trowa... Why wasn't Trowa there?

Duo had asked Wufei if he'd seen the tall pilot, and Wufei had given him an unreadable glance that instantly aroused Duo's suspicions.

"You didn't tell him about the Quatre thing, did you?" Duo demanded.

Wufei scowled forbiddingly at him. Duo wasn't impressed. Finally, Wufei just shrugged and turned back to his book. "No, I didn't tell him about Quatre," he replied calmly. He glanced at Duo again, this time measuringly. "He did ask about you, though," he added.

Duo's eyebrows jerked upwards at this unexpected statement. "What did he ask?"

Wufei shrugged again. "How you were."

Duo's eyebrows lowered again. "Oh," he murmured, a bit subdued. That wasn't very exciting. Wufei had turned back to his book after that, and Duo had finished his lunch in silence.

Then he'd wandered off to find Trowa.

Easier planned than accomplished.

Duo had wandered the house and the grounds for hours, searching in vain for a glimpse of a long, lean body and gravity-defying hair. No luck. He'd eventually gone in to dinner, and once again passed a mostly silent meal with only Wufei for company. The Chinese boy again had his nose stuck in a book, and Duo hadn't disturbed him. If they'd had an audience he might have, but since it was just the two of them, he let Wufei indulge in the pastime he loved but rarely had the time for these days.

After dinner he resumed his search. He'd finally decided that Trowa was either holed up somewhere Duo didn't even know existed, or he was wandering from place to place. If he was truly hiding, there was no way Duo was going to find him. But if he was just wandering, Duo just might encounter him if he stayed in the same spot long enough.

He'd considered where to set up his ambush, and finally decided Trowa's bedroom was the best choice. He'd checked the room several times during the day, but the door was closed and locked, and there was no response to his knocks.

It wasn't unusual for Trowa to lock his door when he left the room. Duo tended to do the same. Neither of them had much difficulty picking the simple locks to get back in, and it assured that Quatre's oh-so-efficient staff wouldn't be rifling through their belongings.

Duo located Trowa's door again, the hall lit only by a single fixture about five doors down. There was still no light coming from beneath the panel, and the door was still locked. He knocked again, and again got no response. He sat down against the far wall and settled in to wait.

After about ten minutes, he'd had enough of that.

Duo ran his hand through his hair impatiently, fingering the lockpick he habitually concealed behind his ear. It would be an invasion of Trowa's privacy to go in when he wasn't there, but... Well, he and Heero and Trowa had pretty thoroughly invaded each other's privacy already. He wouldn't poke through Trowa's stuff or anything, but he didn't want to be sitting out here in the hall all night. He'd just go in and sit down, and wait for Trowa there.

Decision made, Duo bounced to his feet and slipped the lockpick free of his hair, inserting it into the knob and quickly jiggling the simple mechanism open. He grinned slightly at the small click, and stepped quickly into the room, leaving the door partly open behind him to let what light there was in the hallway fall inside.

The dim light outlined the vague shape of a bed and dresser, similar to the room Duo and Heero were sharing, and Duo strode confidently through the semi-darkness, assured of the location of the lamp, and the unlikelihood of encountering any obstacles on the floor. Trowa was as compulsively neat as Heero.

Duo reached the lamp and switched it on, gazing around curiously... and froze.

The room was not unoccupied.

Very slowly, Duo straightened from his half-crouched position beside the lamp, never looking away from Trowa, who was staring at him with wide, frightened eyes over the barrel of a gun.

"Trowa?" Duo asked softly, carefully raising his hands away from his body. The gun remained steadily trained on him, but Duo thought he detected a faint light of recognition in Trowa's glazed eyes. They stayed frozen like that for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or so. Then, Trowa hesitantly whispered, "Duo?"

"Yeah, it's me, Tro. It's Duo," Duo assured him gently. The gun began to shake slightly, along with Trowa's hands and body. Finally, the tall pilot blinked, and his eyes returned to their normal cool blankness. He stared at Duo for a moment, the gun's barrel drooping slightly. Duo remained still, though, since the weapon was still pointed at him.

Trowa glanced down at his hands and only then seemed to realize he was holding the gun. "Shit," he muttered, abruptly thumbing the safety on and tossing the weapon to the floor. Trowa's lips tightened into an angry scowl before he turned his face away from Duo to the darkened window he sat beside.

"Why are you here?" Trowa asked after a moment, an odd, raspy note in his voice.

Duo frowned, slowly lowering his hands and wondering if he dared approach. Trowa had thrown the gun away, but that didn't mean he was unarmed. Duo wasn't sure what had put the tall boy into this state, but he wasn't inclined to tempt fate. He stayed where he was.

"I was looking for you," Duo replied slowly. He watched with confused concern as a shiver passed through the lean body huddled in the window seat.

"What did you want from me?" Trowa asked, the raspiness more evident than before.

Duo frowned. Something was very wrong here. His heart told him to go to Trowa, try to comfort him, but his survival instincts warned him to keep his distance. Trowa was reminding him of a dog he'd befriended as a child in the colonies. It was a stray, like himself, and they'd developed a sort of wary trust between them. But one day, Duo had found the dog huddled in an alley, licking a bloody gash on one hind leg. The animal had obviously been beaten. He'd gone to it immediately, wanting to help, but in its pain and terror, the dog had snarled and bit him, tearing his palm open as he held a hand out for it to sniff. He still had the scar.

He rubbed at his scarred palm with the other hand, reflecting on this memory. Yes, Trowa was like a wounded animal right now, frightened and hurt and not sure whom to trust. It wouldn't be wise to approach him until he calmed a little.

"I just... wanted to see you. To talk. I missed you," Duo replied carefully.

"You missed me? Has Heero started to bore you so soon? Looking for some variety?" Trowa snapped, not turning from the window.

Duo firmly repressed his anger at the remark. Trowa was just striking out at him, because he was there. "No," he replied calmly. "I was just looking for a friend. Aren't you my friend, Trowa?"

Trowa was silent for a long time, and Duo began to wonder if he would answer the question. But finally, another shudder ran through his frame, taking some of the tension with it. "I'm sorry," Trowa murmured, the raspiness gone from his voice, replaced by a suspicious thickness Duo thought he recognized. "I shouldn't have said... didn't mean... Duo." Trowa reached a trembling hand blindly towards his visitor.

The muffled note of desperation clinging to his name and the outstretched hand were all the urging Duo needed to throw caution to the wind and practically trip over himself in his ungraceful rush to Trowa's side. Wondering if it were wise but wanting the closeness, Duo squeezed onto the window seat behind Trowa, his chest pressing against the tense back. Trowa jerked away at the first touch, but then remained still, trembling slightly, but not pulling away. The hand had dropped to Trowa's side, dangling down beside the ledge. Duo carefully slipped his hand around Trowa's, holding it loosely.

"I'm here, Tro, it's me, it's Duo," he murmured, softly, over and over, until he felt the taut body pressed against his begin to relax. Finally, Trowa's hand squeezed his own gently and Duo fell silent.

Abruptly, Trowa did pull away, but before Duo could react, the taller boy twisted around, somehow managing to stay on the seat. Duo caught only a brief glimpse of a too-pale face before Trowa collapsed against him.

Duo was stunned. Knowing Trowa as well as he did, he hadn't expected the taller boy to... do that. But Trowa's face was now pressed firmly to Duo's shoulder, and although the lean body was still tense and trembling, Trowa showed no sign of wanting to pull away.

Duo didn't quite dare put his arms around the other boy, though, at least not until he began to notice a warm wetness in the vicinity of his shoulder.

For one frantic moment, Duo thought Trowa was bleeding. It made more sense than the other possibility. Trowa Barton did not cry. He did not lose control of himself in any way, shape or form. Trowa...

Trowa did not sob. He pressed his face silently against Duo's shoulder, but the American could feel the dampness spreading. Beginning to feel a bit frantic inside, Duo carefully, slowly, slid his arms around Trowa, holding the taller boy loosely, gently stroking the still-trembling back. At some point he began to speak again, murmuring meaningless words and sounds of comfort. Trowa's arms slowly embraced Duo as well, the taller boy's grip tightening until it was just this side of uncomfortable. Duo didn't protest this, but he didn't tighten his own arms any further. He wasn't entirely certain what had happened to provoke this... breakdown, but he was pretty sure he knew what was running through Trowa's mind to be upsetting him so much.

Eventually, Trowa seemed to regain control of himself, and pulled away from Duo. Duo let him go, loosening his hold but keeping his hands resting lightly on Trowa's arms as the taller boy rose to a kneeling position. Duo didn't bother to shift at all, although he'd slipped into a somewhat uncomfortable slump against the wall of the window seat. He stared calmly up at Trowa, letting the taller boy loom above him.

Trowa stared back at him, face still pale, eyes puffy and reddened. The tip of his nose was pink and his lips and cheeks were stained rosy as well. The long eyelashes were separated into damp spikes. Duo wanted to reach up and touch the expressionless face.

So he did.

Trowa's eyes tracked his hand's movement as he lifted it to Trowa's cheek, then the lids slid down over the dark emerald orbs as Duo gently ran his fingertips down the soft curve of Trowa's face. "Duo," he murmured, obviously striving for a flat, even tone and mostly failing, "I'm... sorry."

"For what?" Duo asked quietly. He continued to stroke his fingers along Trowa's cheek.

"I... you shouldn't have to... I shouldn't have... " Trowa murmured weakly. His eyes still closed, he tipped his head, ever so slightly, leaning into Duo's light caress.

"Shhh," Duo shushed him softly. "Come here. It's okay." He rested his hands on Trowa's arms again and tugged gently. Trowa opened his eyes and stared down at him uncertainly, but finally allowed himself to be guided down to lean against Duo's chest.

He remained tense, though, trembling slightly in Duo's loose embrace.

"You know you're safe with me," Duo murmured, the statement more of a question.

"I... yes," Trowa whispered back after a minute or so.

Duo let that settle in the taller boy's mind for a while, then continued, "And you trust me?"

Trowa didn't reply for a long time. Duo frowned slightly, unconsciously beginning to stroke a hand through Trowa's soft hair, pushing it back from his face. He desperately wanted to know what had happened to upset Trowa so deeply. He had a nasty little suspicion as to who was responsible, though.

That little blond bastard, he thought angrily, his jaw clenching. It's one thing to dump on me, in a way I deserved it, even if most of it was bullshit. But Trowa... how could he...

Duo abruptly realized that Trowa had gone rigid against him, and with a muttered curse he released his death grip on Trowa's hair. "I'm sorry, Tro, I was... thinking about... something... somebody else," Duo apologized, stroking the hair gently again.

Trowa grunted softly in acknowledgment, then asked, "Why are you doing that?"

"The hair?" Duo asked. Trowa grunted again. Duo shrugged slightly, then realized that wouldn't work for an answer since Trowa couldn't see it. "Um... well, I guess this is what makes me feel better when I'm upset." He chuckled self-consciously. "I'm sorry, it probably isn't helping you much." Duo forced his reluctant hand to stop stroking Trowa's hair.

Trowa reached up and caught the hand, putting it back on his head. "It's... not bad," he murmured. Duo smirked down at the top of Trowa's head in amusement, but obediently resumed stroking.

"You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?" Duo asked after a few minutes had passed in silence.

"Are you going to tell me what happened to you?" Trowa replied quietly.

Duo's hand froze in Trowa's hair for a moment, then he forced it to move again. Duo sighed. "Okay, I guess that's fair," he muttered.

Trowa was slowly relaxing in Duo's embrace. Part of it, Duo was certain, was due to the tall boy regaining his self-control, and slipping back behind his usual walls. But some of it, he hoped, was simply Trowa growing comfortable with their closeness. Because he found he really liked the sensation of the taller boy pressed against him. He liked it a lot. In fact, he liked it so much that it was just beginning to become slightly uncomfortable...

Duo bit his lip as he realized where his thoughts were heading, and began frantically trying to distract his body from it's growing awareness of Trowa's lean, muscular form pressed against his own, but it was no use. Not even the thought of Relena managed to do the trick this time, and any minute now, Trowa was going to...

The taller boy abruptly pushed himself away from Duo, kneeling at the far end of the window ledge and staring at the American with wide, astonished eyes. The emerald gaze shifted back and forth from Duo's face to his groin, where there was an obvious bulge in his loose black pants.

Duo flushed and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry about that," he murmured, inwardly cursing himself as several different kinds of asshole. Great, Maxwell, this was exactly the wrong reaction to have in this situation, you horny little jerk...

Trowa's gaze finally settled on Duo's face, the eyes still wide, his lips twitching slightly as though he were trying to decide on an expression.

Desperately trying to repair the damage, Duo floundered around verbally. "Um... it's not like I expect you to do anything about that or anything... I mean, not unless you want to - which of course he doesn't, Duo no baka," he reprimanded himself harshly, flushing further at the idiocy pouring forth from his mouth.

Trowa's lips twitched more animatedly... and finally, he began to sputter. Duo blinked in surprise. Was Trowa too angry even to yell? But no, the sputters seemed to be dissolving slowly into... chuckles?

Yes, definitely chuckles. Trowa was laughing at him. Duo scowled up at the taller boy. "Hey, it's not funny! It's damn uncomfortable!" he protested.

This only made Trowa laugh harder. Duo continued to grumble and scowl for a while, inwardly pleased by this turn of events. His...reaction could have had dire consequences, but instead it seemed to be... okay.

Finally, Trowa got himself under control, staring down at Duo with only a slight grin on his face. "I'm sorry," the tall boy apologized, "I'm sure it's not very... comfortable to you. But... Duo... why?" Trowa asked curiously, the small grin turning into a confused frown.

Duo shrugged, glancing away uncomfortably. He couldn't lie about his feelings, but what would that do to his tentative relationship with Trowa?

"Tro... I... " Duo risked a glance at the other boy, finding Trowa still watching him intently. Duo sighed, letting his eyes slide shut. If he was going to fuck this up completely, he didn't have to watch himself do it. "I... care about you. A lot. You're one of my best friends... maybe more than a friend. I don't know. And I don't know if you feel anything more than friendship for me, so it might not matter anyway. But I... I guess I feel... I kinda feel the same about you as I do about Heero," Duo finally forced out in a rush. He held his breath waiting for Trowa's reply, mostly expecting the sound of the other running screaming from the room.

There was silence for a while, and eventually Duo had to breathe again before Trowa murmured quietly, "I... see. And... what does Heero think of that?"

The voice was Trowa's careful, emotionless tone, and Duo cracked an eyelid to see if the tall pilot's face held any clues his voice did not. It didn't seem to be the case. Duo sighed. "Don't know. Haven't brought it up yet. He didn't seem to mind when I kissed you before you left, though," Duo replied flatly. If Trowa wasn't going to give him any clues, he could play the same game.

Trowa frowned slightly. "Actually, I was meaning to ask you about that. What exactly... Duo, what did that kiss mean?" Trowa asked, and Duo wondered if he were imagining the slightly plaintive note in the taller boy's voice.

Duo let his eyes slide open, meeting Trowa's questioning gaze. He stared at the other boy for a long time, silently, waiting to see if Trowa would get the message, and what the tall pilot would do about it if he did.

Finally, Trowa's eyes widened slightly, and he made a small noise that sounded like, "oh."

Trowa licked his lips nervously... and began slowly leaning towards Duo. The tall boy had to crawl forward a bit, bracing his hands on either side of Duo's reclining body until his face hovered just above Duo's. There Trowa froze, staring down into Duo's eyes.

"I trust you," Duo murmured softly.

Trowa made an odd sound in the back of his throat, his eyes shifting rapidly as he tried to focus on Duo from so close... and then they slid shut as Trowa slowly lowered his face to Duo's.

The first brush of lips was tentative, wary, and Duo kept his eyes slitted open, watching Trowa for signs of unease. He hadn't quite expected this response, but it was better than what he'd hoped. Trowa leaned further into him, their mouths pressed together more firmly, and Duo had to repress the desire to take control of the kiss. But he managed to restrain himself, letting Trowa set the pace. Trowa continued to deepen the kiss, though, finally nudging Duo's lips apart with his tongue. The tall boy stiffened slightly, apparently surprised when his tongue slid into Duo's mouth with no further resistance, but he quickly relaxed, exploring gently. After a moment, Duo decided to take the risk, and began kissing Trowa back, careful to be gentle. Heero was a more aggressive kisser, but Duo found Trowa's more tentative probing no less enjoyable.

After a while, Trowa pulled back, staring down at Duo, his face expressionless again. Duo smiled encouragingly up at him.

"This isn't... you don't still think you owe me this?" Trowa demanded suddenly.

Duo frowned, momentarily confused, then recalled his offers to Trowa back in the city and at the cabin. He flushed slightly. "No, this... is different," Duo muttered, embarrassed by his past behavior. He'd been stuck in the mindset of his years on the street then, where you never got anything for free.

Trowa nodded, seeming to accept this, but the frown remained. "What about... Heero?" he asked pointedly.

Now it was Duo's turn to frown. He had hopes that he could talk Heero into... expanding their relationship, but... The Japanese boy was so innocent in some ways. Duo hadn't bothered trying to explain the concept of three-way sex to Heero yet, since he hadn't really thought Trowa would be into it anyway. In fact, he still wasn't sure of that.

"Heero... I'm not giving him up," Duo explained slowly. "So I guess that's really a question for you... and him."

Trowa's eyes widened in apparent understanding of Duo's meaning, then he raised an eyebrow thoughtfully. "I... I'm not sure if I... "

Duo lifted a hand to Trowa's face, gently placing the tip of a finger against his lips, silencing him. He grinned up at the taller boy. "That's okay. You don't have to make up your mind right now. I haven't discussed it with him yet, anyway. But... just think about it. I... want both of you in my life. But if it's only as a friend, that's okay. I'm just... more inclined to take things to another level," Duo declared with a meaningful smirk.

Trowa smirked slightly back at him. "Hmm," he murmured. "I'm not sure... if I'm ready for... that level. And I'm not sure if I'd want to go there with Heero."

Duo nodded, careful to keep any signs of disappointment off his face. Damn it, Maxwell, you can't expect everybody to bend to your twisted little whims!

"I... will think about it, though," Trowa added, meeting Duo's gaze almost shyly.

Duo couldn't contain his wide grin at this promise.

The sound of a throat clearing in the doorway made them both turn in shock.

Heero stared calmly back at them. A moment of silence stretched out between the three of them as Duo and Trowa both searched for words and explanations and Heero watched them with patient calm... and perhaps the barest gleam of sadistic amusement.

"Heero," Duo finally managed, finding his voice at last. Heero silenced him with an upraised hand.

"Save it," the Japanese boy commanded. "I was on the computer this afternoon, intercepted an Oz transmission. There's a base nearby, Khushrenada and the leaders of the New Alliance troops are going to have a little meeting there, see if they can work things out. We're going." And with this, Heero turned to leave. He paused just inside the door, though, and looked over his shoulder at the two boys still entwined on the window seat.

"I'll think about it, too," he added, his lips twisting in a smirk. Then he walked away.

"Shit," Duo murmured weakly after Heero was gone. "I thought I was dead there for a minute."

"You thought?" Trowa echoed, a slight edge of hysteria in his voice. The tall boy let his head droop slightly, pressing his forehead to Duo's. "He's not sleeping with me."

"Yet," Duo couldn't resist teasing. Trowa frowned at him from inches away. Duo grinned and kissed the tip of the tall pilot's nose.

"This is not a small thing you're suggesting, Maxwell," Trowa warned. "I don't know... "

"Just think about it," Duo pleaded, batting his eyelashes endearingly.

"You're impossible," Trowa groused, but a smile hovered at the edges of his mouth.

"Nah, I'm Shinigami!" Duo declared, pushing himself, and hence Trowa as well into a sitting position. "And right now, I've got a battle to win," he added. "But we will discuss this later."

Trowa shook his head, but didn't argue as they both climbed off the window seat.

Duo followed the taller boy out of the room, grinning happily to himself. He had managed not only to coax Trowa from his frightened retreat, the reason for which Duo was still determined to get to the bottom of (and when he got to that little blond bottom, he planned to spank it soundly, as it deserved), but also to advance his private cause further than he'd ever really hoped to get.

Living well is the best revenge, Duo thought happily to himself. Bite me, Winner.

[part 5] [part 7] [back to Aoe's fic]