by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 3

Heero greeted Duo at the door with a gun in the face.

Standard operating procedure.

Duo didn't greet him, or even make some wise-ass remark. He merely pushed past the Japanese boy and into the apartment, arms crossed over his chest and gripping his elbows tightly, like he was cold. He even seemed to be shivering slightly, despite the fact that the heat wave had not yet broken. It was easily seventy degrees in the apartment already.

Not standard procedure. Heero frowned and turned to stare after his roommate.

The four of them had fallen into a pattern over the past few days. Duo went out at night and did...whatever it was he did to get money. One of them kept watch during the night while the others slept, although Heero slept very little and not well with Duo not in the room. It was different from when they were on separate missions. Then, in some small way, Heero always felt he knew what Duo was doing. Now he had no idea, and it bothered him.

So it was always Heero who met Duo at the door in the morning, his gun batted aside with a tired grin. Then Duo would usually stumble to the kitchen and eat something, then into their bedroom and pass out for ten to twelve hours while Heero, Wufei and Quatre puttered around, tending to Trowa and trying not to kill each other. Quatre washed Duo's clothes while he slept. Finally, sometime in the evening, Duo would wake, eat again, and take a long shower in the small bathroom. Then he'd dress in the spandex and tee shirt he'd worn every night, and leave, never telling anyone where he was going or what he was doing. But he inevitably returned, with food and/or supplies, and money. And the cycle repeated.

Duo paused just inside the apartment, his back to Heero, and murmured in surprise, "Trowa... "

"Ohayo, Duo," Trowa replied solemnly. The tall pilot managed a small smile for his astonished comrade. "I hear I have you to thank for providing the necessary supplies to save my life," Trowa continued softly. Duo just stared at the other boy. Trowa still looked pale and weak, but he was awake and talking, and propped into a sitting position on the couch. He didn't look completely healthy, but he was obviously much better than he had been.

Finally, Duo's paralysis seemed to wear off, and a wide smile blossomed across his face. "Aw, think nothing of it, T-man! You would have done the same if you weren't unconscious and feverish," he said happily, some of the tension easing from his slender body as he walked slowly over to kneel beside Trowa.

Heero noted that Duo did not uncross his arms. He simply leaned them against the sofa. Strange.

"Nonetheless, I thank you," Trowa reiterated softly. Duo peered intently at him, apparently checking for some sign of healing that only he understood, but eventually he seemed satisfied, and pushed himself to his feet, shaking his head in amazement. Heero noticed Trowa's slight frown of confusion as the green-eyed boy met Duo's assessing gaze.

Duo still hadn't uncrossed his arms.

"Well, I'm glad you're feeling better. Personally, I feel like shit," Duo admitted, and Heero abruptly noticed the darkened shadow beneath the long bangs on Duo's temple. He walked over and grabbed Duo's shoulder, pushing the hair out of the way with a gesture that probably looked rough, but was actually quite gentle.

Duo tried to jerk away, but subsided when he remembered this was Heero hanging onto him. Small chance of escaping that grip.

Heero peered closely at the bruise on Duo's temple, and the other one below his cheekbone that shadows had concealed.

"Who hit you?" he demanded.

"It's not important," Duo said flatly, and the very lack of emotion in his tone made Heero step back in uncertainty, releasing Duo's shoulder. He frowned.

"Not important?" he spat angrily. "You're a Gundam pilot. Anyone good enough to hit you in a fight is certainly important."

Duo's head jerked slightly, like he wanted to throw Heero some kind of look, but he didn't. Scowling, Heero grabbed the pointed chin in his callused hand and forced Duo to look at him.

The wide violet eyes quickly turned down and to the side, but not quite quickly enough. Heero had already seen the telltale contraction of the pupils. It was hard to miss; Duo's eyes were like wide pools of indigo with pinpricks of black floating in them.

"Look at me," Heero commanded harshly, wanting to be certain of what he had seen. He couldn't believe that Duo would do something so stupid, would risk all their lives...

Duo drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and slowly turned his gaze back to Heero. Trowa wore a little frown of confusion at their strange interaction, but Heero ignored it.

Duo's eyes looked just as he had thought they did.

Not sure if anger or fear fueled the roughness of his actions, Heero grabbed Duo's lower arms hard enough to bruise and tore the boy's hands from his elbows, pulling Duo's arms out straight and twisting them to expose the underside.

The small puncture itself wasn't visible, of course, but the tell tale bruise in the crook of Duo's left arm was a glaring imperfection against the alabaster skin. Heero's hands tightened on Duo's arms until he could feel the bones grating together. Duo whimpered slightly.

Heero glanced at his partner's face to see Duo staring, almost mesmerized, at the bruise. Duo's eyes seemed unfocused, although that was a difficult call to make, considering the state of his pupils.

"Fucking junkie," Heero growled angrily. Duo's head jerked up, meeting his furious glare with wide and wounded eyes.

"No," he whispered almost desperately. Heero wondered if he were trying to convince his friend or himself.

"What was it, then? Free flu shot?" Heero demanded brusquely, releasing Duo's arms with a little shove that sent the longhaired boy stumbling backwards against the coffee table.

"It... it's not what you think," Duo murmured, right hand unconsciously scrubbing at the opposite elbow, as if he wanted to rub the mark away.

"Then what the hell is it?" Heero snapped. He was angry. Really, truly angry. Because he couldn't be afraid. Heero Yuy could not be terrified by a small needle bruise and a pair of contracted pupils.

Duo frowned, tears shimmering in the confused eyes, then he muttered softly, "Well, okay, I guess it is what you think, but... "

Heero felt a flash of hot rage course through him at the admission. Duo was staring determinedly at his own feet, not meeting Heero's angry gaze. "But what?" he growled, fists trembling at his sides. How could you do this, why would you do this, how could I let this happen? his mind screamed over and over. He wasn't sure if he wanted to pound Duo into the ground, or sweep him up in his arms and promise everything would be all right, make him promise never to do something so stupid and dangerous again...

Duo's head snapped up at the anger in Heero's voice, a spark of rebellion flaring in the narrowed eyes. His own fists clenched, and his posture shifted from a defensive cringe to an angry crouch. Heero recognized the smooth sliding and tensing of muscles as Duo prepared to pounce like a cat.

They glared at each other like that for a minute, the aura of barely restrained violence keeping poor Trowa frozen on the couch.

"I don't have to take this shit," Duo finally declared in a harsh whisper. Damn you, Heero, you won't even listen to what I have to say, will you? You won't even give me the benefit of the doubt! You must really think I'm scum. Well... fine. Maybe I am. Maybe that's all I've really ever been. A tight, twisted grin appeared on his face, and he added sarcastically, "Sorry about this, Heero, but all work and no play makes Duo a dull boy, ya know?" He snickered at his own joke.

"You're endangering the mission," Heero informed him coldly.

Duo's anger flared at this statement. "That's right, I am!" he snapped. "And Heaven forbid the precious fucking mission be endangered!" By this point, the braided boy was yelling, and Wufei and Quatre had both appeared at the doorway of their bedroom. Heero actually took a half-step back in the face of Duo's anger, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach accompanying the thought that this situation was about to fly completely out of hand.

"You know, since I'm such a terrible danger to you all, maybe it would be best if I just left," Duo continued, his voice suddenly conversational, but with such an undercurrent of anger that Quatre cringed. Heero opened his mouth to protest, not sure what he would say, but Duo held up a hand to forestall his words. "Oh, don't worry, Heero, I know my responsibilities. One of you can go shopping, but I'll bring you your damn money." He paused and pulled a wad of crumpled bills from the spandex shorts, throwing it down on the coffee table. "There you go, Heero. Everybody can have their fucking pound of flesh and the world's a goddamn happy place," Duo muttered bitterly, abruptly shoving past Heero and towards the door.

Heero grabbed his arm as he walked past, and Duo spun, his free arm twisting up to the base of his neck and then forward to lay his knife against Heero's throat in one smooth, practiced motion almost too fast for the eye to follow.

"What?" he growled, his features so tightened and distorted by anger that he almost looked like a different person.

"You... you don't have to... " Heero hesitated, uncertain of what he wanted to say, and more than a little unnerved by the coldness of Duo's eyes as he held the knife blade to Heero's throat.

Duo gave a harsh bark of laughter, then pulled the blade away and twisted out of Heero's grip. Before Heero could say another word, he was out the door. A moment later, Heero got a grip on himself and ran out the door after him, but Duo had already vanished. Heero cursed under his breath, knowing that he'd never catch up to Duo on the street.

+

Duo paused just outside the apartment building, half hoping that Heero or Quatre or even Wufei would come after him... But no one did.

Of course not. What did you expect, idiot? he scolded himself. With a heavy sigh, he pushed away from the building, shuffling aimlessly down the sidewalk.

He was hungry. He was tired. And he wanted a fix so goddamn bad ­

Fucking junkie.

Duo cursed harshly under his breath, rubbing at the needle mark with his hand. The bruise ached under the pressure, and the arm pressing against his stomach produced a whole other range of agony from the bruises he knew were there.

He was really hungry. After the initial euphoria of the drug had worn off, he'd been sick for hours, heaving until he couldn't even bring up bile. His mouth still had the disgusting acid aftertaste, and now he couldn't even brush his teeth...

Duo paused in his aimless walking, slumping against a random building in the early morning sunlight. His eyes were starting to focus a little better, so hopefully the contraction of his pupils was becoming less noticeable. He should have thought about that, should have stayed out until later when he might have been able to fool Heero, when the signs weren't so obvious...

But he was scared. No, terrified was a better word. He might have grown up on the streets, but that didn't mean he liked getting jumped in the alley, and he sure as hell didn't like getting pumped full of heroin against his will...

Yeah, I only like it when it's my idea, he thought scornfully. Fucking junkie, huh, Heero? It might not have been on purpose this time, but it's still the truth...

But you still could have listened to my side of the story...

Duo frowned and shook his head, trying to dismiss his thoughts. He'd told Heero about his history with drugs a few months back, on some night when he'd been too drunk to control his mouth and willing to talk about anything, since talking prevented him from thinking about doing other, more dangerous things with his mouth... Always a danger around Heero. So it made sense that Heero wouldn't trust him, would think the worst. Only... It hadn't been his fault. He hadn't asked for it, hadn't wanted it...

But damn, do I want it now.

Trying to ignore that thought, Duo shuffled into the small diner at the end of the block, across from the bar. He smirked humorlessly at the twenty he'd managed to palm from the wad of bills he'd tossed on the table. Some skills you never lose. Like falling off a bicycle.

He slumped against the cracked Formica counter and ordered eggs and pancakes, hoping the nausea would hold off long enough for him to digest some of the food. He knew he was in for at least one more bad spell before the drug worked itself completely out of his system. The craving for it would last a while longer, but by tonight...

Shit. Tonight.

Would Randall really back off and wait for Duo to come to him? Convenient, but unlikely. Probably the pimp would be out looking for him tonight, wanting to make sure of his claim before somebody else tried to ‘hire' him. And even if Randall didn't come, now the others would be alerted to his presence. Randall had brought him to public attention, and the other local pimps would be trying their own recruiting methods.

Maybe he could hook up with one of the others? Somebody less objectionable? Duo sighed, chewing miserably on his pancake. No, from what he'd heard, and he trusted his sources, he was stuck between a rock and several uncomfortable hard places.

So what could he do? He still had to get the guys their money...

Duo sighed, playing with the lake of syrup left behind on his empty plate. He didn't really have much choice. He'd have to try a different spot, and hope that threw everybody off for a few days. By then, he should be safe from himself at least where the drugs were concerned, and maybe he could think of something else to do, or some other way to get money... Hell, Trowa was awake. Maybe they could leave this godforsaken hellhole in a couple days.

No. Unlikely. Trowa was awake, but still badly injured, and still weak. The only other way he could think of to get cash was to steal it, and he'd already discarded that idea as too risky to the group as a whole. Risky to me is a different story.

Well. He would find a new corner for tonight at least. After that... he'd just have to improvise. Just like the good old days, he thought with a twisted grin.

He tossed a few coins on the counter as a tip, ignoring the waitress's snort of irritation, and stumbled out into the growing heat of the day. Right now, all he wanted was sleep. He headed for the building he'd stashed his clothes in as the sun beat down like a sledgehammer, and pretended it was the heat that bent his shoulders in defeat.

+

Three pairs of worried eyes rested on Heero as he methodically disassembled and cleaned his gun.

Immediately after Duo's little scene, Heero had retreated to their bedroom for several hours. He supposed the others might have wondered what he was doing in there.

He was sitting.

That was all.

He sat in the single uncomfortable wooden chair, and he stared at the empty, neatly made bed, and he waited for the universe to realize it had experienced a program glitch. Certainly, once the error was detected, it would be rectified, and Duo would appear, sleeping quietly in the bed, as he had been every day.

That was the way things were supposed to be.

Surely, if he waited long enough, that was the way things would be.

A part of him urged clinically, Accept it. Deal with it.

He didn't want to.

Just this once, Heero Yuy wanted to rant and rave against reality, against circumstances beyond his control and understanding.

Just this once, he wanted reality to conform, to reconfigure itself, to his desires. To his wants.

To his needs.

Duo... I need you here.

The thought had fallen into the dark stillness of his mind like a heavy stone in a quiet pool, setting the flat surface into thousands of random ripples.

He couldn't stand to stay in the quiet, stifling little room where Duo wasn't, so he had gone out to the living room. And because he couldn't just do nothing anymore, he pulled out his gun and let his hands perform the thoughtless, routine task. It was another way of not thinking.

But eventually, his repetitive, focused behavior had begun to unnerve the others, and they had slowly congregated in the small, stuffy room.

He wished the heat would break.

He began reassembling his gun, ramming the parts together with more than necessary force. He noticed Quatre twitch slightly as one piece slid home with a loud clank, and he could no longer ignore his audience.

Was there no peace to be had for him today?

No, his mind whispered flatly. No peace for you in the absence of incessant chattering, in a vacuum of cheerful smiles, in the darkness unlit by bright violet eyes...

He rammed another piece of the gun back in place.

"He's been clean for two years," he heard himself commenting in his usual cold monotone.

Clack.

"He told me once that there was no way he'd ever go back, because withdrawal was the closest he'd ever come to Hell."

Snap.

"And he'd had some fairly hellish experiences to compare it to."

Clank.

"I don't like things that make no sense. This makes no sense."

Snick.

"I should have shot him."

Snap.

"That doesn't make any sense either. That I didn't."

Clunk. The gun lay on the table before him, perfectly rebuilt. He stared at it.

"I should have."

"You didn't, though," a quiet voice interrupted his thoughts, and Heero glanced up in surprise at Trowa. He exchanged a long stare with the green-eyed boy. "Why didn't you?" Trowa finally asked.

Heero frowned and looked down at his gun again. He picked it up, turning it in his hands as though considering repeating his endless cleaning ritual.

"Why didn't you?" Trowa repeated a bit more firmly.

Now it was a challenge. Heero frowned at the gun.

"Because... " Because he looked so fragile and lost and scared, before he got angry. Because he's so damn beautiful that the thought of hurting him makes me sick inside. Because he's already experienced so much pain and he deserves something better. Because I can't imagine facing another day if I knew I'd never see him again.

"Because... I didn't want to," he finally replied in a harsh whisper. He met Trowa's knowing green gaze, and realized that the tall, quiet pilot understood more than he let on.

"Do you suppose it might help him to know that?" Trowa asked calmly, and something in his eyes told Heero that the tall boy wasn't referring to the "I didn't want to" comment.

Heero stared flatly at Trowa for a long time as he turned this notion over and over in his mind. Tell Duo the truth? Reveal the things he'd kept hidden? Show his weakness to the world?

Hold a hand out in the dark, not knowing if Duo would reach back to him?

What a terrible, horrifying risk.

Another challenge.

Heero's eyes narrowed slightly, and he rose to his feet in one smooth, economical motion. He slid his gun into the waistband of his shorts, cool metal pressing against the damp, hot skin of his lower back.

"I'll be back," he muttered, striding quickly to the door.

No one argued.

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