Where I Started From... + Part 10 (cont)

Duo seemed to ponder letting it go at that for a moment, but then he shook his head and sighed. "You didn't really make me mad," he said quietly. "You hurt me."

Heero turned back to contemplating his pants. "I know," he whispered miserably. "I didn't mean to, I just didn't think that you... I didn't realize... "

"It doesn't matter," Duo interrupted, waving his hand dismissively.

Trowa blinked in surprise when Heero turned and caught Duo's hand, holding it gently by the wrist. The American turned to stare at Heero in astonishment, and Heero murmured intensely, "It does."

Duo blinked at Heero, face blank with surprise, for a few minutes. Then he grinned slightly and said quietly, "Okay."

Trowa wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but it seemed to please Heero, because the Japanese boy allowed a small smile to curve his lips as he sat there, still holding Duo's wrist. Finally, Duo gently tugged his hand free, but didn't protest when Heero shifted over to sit closer to him.

Duo sighed and let his head fall back on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. Enough tension drained from his body to make it evident to Trowa just how tightly strung Duo had been for quite some time. "Dare," Duo said quietly to the ceiling.

Trowa glanced at Heero, but the Japanese boy was raptly studying Duo's profile, and obviously not the slightest bit interested in testing his luck any further. Trowa considered moving forward with his own agenda, but the timing felt wrong. And he didn't want to ruin this moment for the two of them. When they weren't both acting like morons, he thought they were rather good together. He decided to give them a little push.

"I dare you to kiss Heero," he said.

Duo raised his head to stare flatly at Trowa, and the blank face and empty eyes set the taller pilot's nerves back on edge. He'd thought Duo was warming to Heero again, but now the American looked so cold...

Finally, Duo turned toward Heero and Trowa saw the Japanese boy pale slightly. He didn't flinch or back away though, which was more than Trowa thought he could have managed if he'd been that close to the darkness behind Duo's eyes.

Duo uncoiled from his curled position on the couch like a large snake, sinuous and deathly graceful. Then he turned and began advancing slowly toward Heero, his movements controlled and aggressive. He crowded the Japanese pilot against the back of the couch and loomed slightly over him. Trowa caught a glimpse of a twisted, predatory grin as Duo brought his face closer to Heero.

He was beginning to think this might not have been a good idea. But before Trowa could say anything, Heero finally pulled back slightly to avoid Duo's lips, and whispered nervously, "Duo?"

Duo froze instantly. Trowa couldn't see the American's face, but he heard the boy's voice shake slightly as he murmured, "Don't make me do this again, Heero... If it doesn't mean anything, please don't ask me... "

Heero stared, wide-eyed, into Duo's face, and slowly raised one hand. He laid it gently against the braided boy's cheek. "It does, Duo," he assured the American softly. His gaze was intense as he continued, "I know what I'm asking this time. I know what it means to ask. And I know... at least a little... what it means for you to give me what I'm asking. I promise... I swear... I won't hurt you again."

Trowa didn't even begin to understand that speech, but it seemed to make sense to Duo. The American's shoulders slumped slightly as he sighed. He shifted his weight to one hand and laid the other over Heero's on his cheek. "Of course you will," he said wearily. "But it's different when you don't mean to do it."

Heero frowned and opened his mouth to protest, but Duo silenced him in the most effective manner. Trowa found himself studying the ceiling, which was odd. He'd seen plenty of people kissing, and never bothered to look away before. But something about that incomprehensible conversation had turned this kiss into a very private, important event between the other two boys, and he didn't want to intrude.

He wasn't sure what Heero had said to affect Duo so strongly, but he was glad the Japanese boy had managed it. Trowa silently berated himself for not thinking. He should have known how Duo would react to that dare. He'd planned for the braided boy to be in that state of mind. It was just lucky that Heero knew how to get him out of it. Trowa didn't want to be the cause of any more stress in that particular relationship. They did just fine in that department without any outside assistance.

Finally, he heard someone moving over on the couch, and took a chance that the two were separating, not... joining. He didn't think they were quite that drunk. Not Duo at least.

Still, he heaved an internal sigh of relief to find Duo safely settled in his corner again, not plastered half-naked to Heero. Heero had moved over so he was now leaning against the American, but that was all right, Trowa supposed.

He took a long drink from his bottle in celebration of not having horribly misjudged the situation, and immediately regretted it. When he straightened back up, his head swam and he had to blink to focus his eyes. He looked at his bottle and realized in surprise that it was almost empty. He must have been sipping at it throughout the whole game without realizing...

He looked over at Duo and saw a mischievous smirk on the braided boy's face.

Well, that was it then. He was in for it. Trowa weighed his options for a moment, and finally decided to go with the less physically threatening.

"Truth," he announced warily.

Duo's smirk widened. He glanced briefly at Heero to warn him into silence, but the Japanese boy was completely absorbed in working the tips of his fingers through the mesh weave of Duo's shirt. Duo smiled benignly at Heero, then turned back to Trowa with an evil glint in his eyes. "So... did you enjoy kissing either of us at all?" Duo asked conversationally. The braided boy raised his eyebrows, the very picture of innocent inquisitiveness.

Trowa narrowed his eyes slightly, but gave no other outward sign of his discomfort. The question was a delicate one. If he said yes, he might give the other boys the wrong idea, but if he said no, well...

"I'd be lying if I said no," Trowa admitted slowly. Duo's eyes flashed with triumph, but Trowa quickly added, "But that doesn't mean that I really enjoyed it either." Duo frowned at this statement, and Trowa could just see an 'either you did or you didn't' comment approaching. He warded it off with a raised hand. "Duo... I told you before, I'm just... not interested in men. The truth is, I'm not interested in women either. There are reasons for that, but I don't really want to go into them right now, and I'm sure you've probably figured them out anyway." He paused to look meaningfully at Duo, who slowly nodded, his expression grim. Trowa shrugged, trying to physically cast off the chill touch of memory. Heero seemed not to be paying attention to their conversation. Trowa sighed and continued, "I... could stand to have you that close, to let you kiss me, because you are... my friends. Because even when you're being asses," here he paused to shoot Duo a pointed glance, gratified by the American's embarrassed flush, "I know that, deep down, you do... care about me. As I... care about you. It was... not entirely bad to be... touched, to feel that close to you both... But that was all. I do get lonely sometimes, and like I said before, you and the others are the only people I can trust enough to be that close to."

Duo didn't look thrilled with this answer, but he simply nodded in acceptance and turned his attention to Heero, who was still concentrating on working his fingers into Duo's shirt, apparently so he could touch the pale skin beneath. Most of Duo's bruises had faded away, but there were still a few large patches of sickly yellow-green on his stomach and chest. Duo ran his fingers fondly through Heero's eternally disheveled hair and informed him, "It's your turn, Hee-chan."

Heero wrinkled his nose at the nickname, looking like a disgruntled kitten. Further enhancing the feline image, he butted his head gently against Duo's shoulder as he asked, "Can't we stop playing?" The tone was almost whiny, and it would have been amusing if the question hadn't posed such a dilemma for Trowa. He still hadn't gotten around to asking Duo the question he wanted answered, but he certainly couldn't admit to having an ulterior motive for suggesting the game if Duo asked to stop.

But Duo just cast Trowa an unreadable glance and said quietly, "I don't think Trowa's done yet." Heero frowned at this, but seemed to accept it as fact.

"Just one more," Heero pressed stubbornly. Duo raised an eyebrow at Trowa. Trowa nodded slowly. Either he got what he wanted on Duo's next turn, or he gave up for the night. The game had already been far more productive than he had expected.

Heero nodded in acceptance, and said firmly, "Dare."

Duo seemed not the least bit interested in daring Heero to do anything. Probably because it was quite obvious Heero would have gone and jumped off the roof at the moment if Duo had asked him to. He didn't need to dare him. Trowa sighed. He wanted to get this over with. He was starting to feel very uneasy about his little plan, and not a little guilty. To assuage his conscience a bit, he decided to give Duo a little more comfort before his ordeal.

"I dare you to kiss Duo," Trowa said. Heero gave him an incredulous look that said clearly 'why would you have to dare me to do that?' Duo just smiled slightly and turned toward Heero, tilting his head invitingly.

But Heero lifted Duo's hand from the couch, turned it over, and placed a reverent kiss in the palm.

Trowa was quite surprised, but Duo looked oddly stricken by the gesture. He held the hand Heero had kissed in his other hand and stared at it, eyes wide. Heero frowned, confused by Duo's reaction. He glanced nervously at Trowa, obviously worried he'd done something wrong, but the tall pilot was as puzzled as Heero.

After a moment, Duo swallowed uncomfortably and murmured quietly, "Truth."

Heero looked like there were questions he wanted to ask, but the Japanese boy held his silence, gazing at Trowa almost challengingly. Duo had told him Trowa wasn't finished. Obviously Duo was expecting Trowa to ask something of him. Heero's cold stare warned that it had better not be something bad.

Trowa again considered letting the matter drop, not because of Heero's antagonism, but because of Duo's odd reaction to Heero's gesture. He'd thought the braided boy was more at ease than he now seemed.

But that was all the more reason to carry through with his plan. Duo needed to vent.

"How does it make you feel to wear those clothes?" Trowa asked quietly. Heero's eyes blazed and he actually began to growl low in his chest, but Duo reached over without looking and touched him gently on the shoulder, silencing him.

"I feel... like myself," Duo said softly. "Like I'm not pretending for once. Like I'm... home again." His lips twisted in a bitter parody of a smile. Heero laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, but Duo didn't seem to notice. "I feel like what I am," he continued flatly. "Just another street kid, looking for a quick fuck to pay for my next trip to oblivion. Not the kind of person you trust, or care about, or... kiss on the hand." He paused again, staring pensively at the hand Heero had kissed, rubbing the palm with the thumb of his other hand.

"What do you mean, you feel like what you are?" Trowa asked hesitantly. Duo was not answering this question as Trowa had expected him to. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, maybe something along the lines of 'it makes me feel cheap' or 'it makes me angry/sad/confused/disgusted.'

"This... is what I am," Duo explained calmly. "It's what I used to be, what I still am, and... I don't know. Maybe it's all I'll ever be."

"No it isn't. You're a Gundam pilot," Heero interjected firmly.

Duo smiled wanly at his hand. "For how long?" he asked wearily. Finally he looked up, meeting first Heero's agitated gaze and then Trowa's worried eyes. His own eyes were shadowed and far too old for his face. "Say I survive the war. What then?" he asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. "I go back to the Sweepers? I was trouble on two feet. They were glad to see me go. Back to Hilde? Maybe for a while. How long until she figures out I'm not her knight in shining armor and tells me to move on? How long before I'm right back where I was before the Prof found me, peddling my ass for the price of a roof over my head... or worse?" Duo asked morosely.

"What about me? You could stay with me," Heero argued, tightening his grip on Duo's shoulder as though the American were planning to leave right away.

Duo shook his head. "You're not listening, Hee-chan. You're just like Hilde, only with sex. Sooner or later you're going to figure out what I'm saying here. You're going to realize what you're settling for, and -- "

"I'm not settling for anything!" Heero cut in angrily. "Damn it, Duo, I know I keep screwing it up, but I keep trying to show you that I... that you're... " Heero didn't seem to be able to find the words to express himself, so he buried his head against Duo's neck. After a moment, though, he muttered harshly, "You're... wonderful. You're beautiful. You're... everything I want. I'm just damn lucky you'll even look at me, especially after all the stupid things I've done lately."

Duo leaned his cheek against Heero's hair, but his expression remained distant and pensive. "You don't understand now, Hee-chan. But you will someday. You're so much more than I deserve... "

"Duo," Trowa cut in, frowning. This wasn't at all what he'd intended to provoke. He hadn't realized how deeply Duo's insecurities ran. This was becoming not only unproductive, but downright unhealthy. "Duo," he repeated, making sure he had the American's attention. "You're more than just a street kid. You know that. You're intelligent, an excellent pilot, a skilled mechanic, almost as good with computers as Heero... There's no reason you would ever have to return to the kind of hand to mouth existence that -- "

"You don't get it either," Duo cut in sharply. "I don't have to. But I will." Trowa frowned at him in confusion. Duo shook his head. "You don't know me... the way I've lived... No matter what I do to try to get away from... this," he paused, picking disgustedly at the mesh shirt, "I always end up right back where I started. Every time I've found friends, a life, a home... Eventually I lose it... I destroy it... and I go right back to the streets where I belong. That shouldn't be a revelation. You just saw me do it."

"Duo," Trowa interrupted incredulously, "you were only doing what you did to provide for us! You were maintaining a low profile, keeping us all from being killed!"

"I could have done something else," Duo argued calmly. Trowa and Heero both opened their mouths to deny the statement, but Duo silenced them both with an upraised hand. "I could have. I did what I did... because it was the easiest way. The most natural. I am what I am, and nothing will ever change that."

"So after the war, you plan to go back to living on the streets as a prostitute?" Heero demanded angrily.

"I don't plan to! I don't want to!" Duo shot back furiously, his calm fašade finally cracking. "I just know... in the end, that's where I always end up. A compass always points north, and Duo Maxwell always lands in the gutter," he muttered morosely, crossing his arms defensively over his chest.

"Well, I hope it's a damn big gutter," Heero muttered after a long, tense silence.

"What?" Duo asked, confused.

Heero scowled at him. "You're not getting rid of me, Maxwell. I made you a promise, so that's it. You're stuck with me. If you end up in the gutter, I'll be right next to you."

Trowa felt a smile threatening to spread across his face, both at Heero's words and the dumbfounded expression they had brought to Duo's face. After all the idiocy and stupidity of the past weeks, Heero had finally managed to get it right. Duo just continued to stare at him and blink in surprise. This was obviously not an argument he had expected, because it wasn't an argument.

Astonishingly, Heero continued. "You are everything I want, Duo. Not just the pretty parts, not just the happy, nice parts... All of you."

"Warts and all?" Duo asked lightly, an edge of hysteria in his voice as he stared raptly into Heero's steady gaze.

"Warts and all," Heero agreed. Then he frowned slightly and added, "I don't remember any warts, though. Have to check again."

It was as if Heero had opened the floodgates with that remark. Duo dissolved into a trembling mixture of laughter and tears, wrapping his arms around Heero in a manner that suggested he didn't intend to let go for several years. Heero seemed not at all displeased by this, and hugged Duo just as fiercely. The Japanese boy looked triumphant. Trowa smiled, shaking his head in amused relief.

Ninmu kanryou, at long last, he supposed.

In short order, Heero had swept Duo up in his arms and carted him off upstairs, where the bedroom door closed firmly and didn't reopen. Trowa was left staring at the couch, somewhat bemused at how the evening had ended. It seemed such an abrupt resolution...

Trowa frowned to himself, reviewing the conversation. Actually, it wasn't even close to resolved, he realized. Duo would need a lot of reassurance before he even began to consider the possibility that he wasn't human garbage. All they'd really accomplished tonight was to clearly define the problem. And Heero had all but forced Duo to accept that whatever the future held for him, he wouldn't be facing it alone.

It was a start, but... there was still a long way to go.

"And miles to go before we sleep," Trowa misquoted. His mouth quirked upwards as he realized that somewhere along the line, he'd apparently decided that Duo wasn't getting rid of him, either. He chuckled to himself, rising from the chair and walking slowly into the kitchen. He glanced upwards when the bedsprings began to squeak faintly above him, then shook his head wearily and sat down at the table, picking up his book.

Miles to go, indeed.

He sighed as he resumed reading. It was a trashy, cheesy little book, but at least it helped pass the time.

He turned the page, eyes scanning quickly down the type... and paused, frowning, about halfway down.

He started reading aloud to himself, very softly.

" 'Oh, I shall end in prison for certain," Blaine moaned, pressing his tear-dampened cheeks against Sophia's ample bosom.

Sophia gently stroked his long, wavy hair, then declared firmly, "Well, I hope our cell shall be a large one."

"My dearest?" Blaine murmured in confusion, raising his head from her breast.

Sophia smiled radiantly at her beloved, love warming her eyes. "Well, if you are to go to prison, then I shall certainly go with you. I swore to be by your side always, my love," she stated fiercely.

"You are too good for me!" Blaine protested, tears springing anew to his eyes. "How can you love a criminal such as I, my lady?"

"Dearest," Sophia sighed, pressing his face once more to her soft breast, "I have told you before, you are everything I need, everything I love. I don't love you only for your handsome face, or your kindness... '"

Trowa's voice trailed off as he continued to stare in astonishment at the book.

It seemed Heero might require some assistance in the romance department.

He sighed wearily, shaking his head. He would have to go to bed soon, regardless of the noise from across the hall. He was obviously going to need his rest.

First, of course, he was going to have to get rid of the damn book before Duo saw it.

He didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The bedsprings squeaked.

He flipped to the last page to see how the story ended.

Oddly enough, it made him feel better.

~owari

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