by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 6

Duo awoke to a familiar vague soreness and an unfamiliar feeling of contentment. He frowned slightly to himself as his groggy mind struggled to recall the reason for that odd combination.

The smile widened into a huge, happy grin as he remembered... Heero. The Japanese boy had been clumsy and uncertain, but Duo hadn't minded. For once he was actually glad of his own extensive experience, as he was able to call upon his knowledge to give Heero pleasure. And he had certainly accomplished that mission. He clearly remembered the expression of shocked ecstasy on the normally scowling face.

Heero had looked so... young.

Duo sighed, the grin fading a bit as he thought about that. Heero was young. But so was Duo. He only felt a million years old. He was really still just a kid. And last night, with Heero...

For the first time in... a very long time, Duo had felt almost... innocent. At least by reflection. When Heero had made his desires clear, Duo had attempted to give him a casual roll, the same practiced and professional effort he gave his usual customers. But Heero... Heero had sensed the difference, had known what Duo was trying to do, the distance he was trying to keep between them, and... Heero hadn't let him do it. He'd known something wasn't right, and he'd snapped Duo back out of his well-rehearsed act, shocking him into being honest, with Heero, and with himself.

Duo had called upon his years of experience last night, but for the first time he could recall, perhaps the first time ever, his actions had been fueled by pure emotion.

Duo rolled out of bed, smiling dreamily to himself as he searched around for clothing. Heero was already up and about, but that was typical. It was nice of him to let Duo sleep in, anyway. He still felt a bit rocky after the events of the previous few days.

He pulled on the only pair of pants he could find, his heavy jodhpurs. The thick fabric was stifling in the heat, but Duo was used to it. He decided the shirts would just be too much, though, and he didn't like to wear the cassock when he'd been "working" so recently. Just something that bothered him a bit. After searching fruitlessly for another shirt in his own belongings until he finally remembered his sleeping shirt was across town in an abandoned tenement, Duo decided with a slight smirk to wear one of Heero's tank tops.

He slipped it over his head and pulled his braid out the neckhole. The tank was light and loose, a bit bigger on his less muscular frame than it was on Heero. It didn't do much to cover the bruises on his arms, but it did conceal the much nastier ones on his chest and stomach.

And it smelled like Heero, which was a big selling point.

Heero...

Duo Maxwell was a bit too jaded to believe in romantic love, but he certainly did believe in lust, and he had learned over the years that sometimes lust and friendship could combine into something that was a bit more than the sum of its parts. He'd never tried to name it, had only cherished it on the few rare occasions he'd actually experienced it.

He was feeling it again.

Heero...

Duo ran his hand down the length of his braid, the braid Heero had woven for him, and allowed himself a goofy little grin. He noticed that the braid had gotten a bit tousled during the night's activities, and glanced around, looking for the brush. It was lying on the nightstand beside the bed.

Next to a small piece of paper with his name printed on it in firm block letters.

Duo felt the grin fade from his face as he walked over to the table and picked up the piece of paper... and the neat stack of bills lying beneath it.

The paper had only his name written on it. He dropped it carelessly to the floor and with an oddly detached calm, counted out the money Heero had left him.

Then he counted it again, and a third time, but stopped at the fourth because his hands were beginning to shake a bit too hard.

He wavered briefly between misery and rage.

Then he nearly knocked the door off its hinges as he slammed out into the apartment.

+

Heero set his half-eaten apple down carefully on the kitchen table when he heard the crash of the bedroom door. Quatre started at the sudden loud noise, almost spilling orange juice all over himself. Wufei accidentally squeezed the slice of grapefruit he was eating, squirting juice all over his face. He hissed and scowled as some of it got in his eyes. Trowa, who had managed to make it to the table, just looked up from the previous day's paper, one eyebrow raising in confusion.

Duo's heavy tread could be clearly heard as he stomped unerringly toward the kitchen. Not a good sign. Duo was naturally stealthy, most of the time. When he was very loud, he was either in an obnoxiously cheerful mood... or a very, very bad one.

When he appeared in the kitchen doorway, hair a bit tousled, violet eyes blazing with fury, and an utterly blank expression on his face, there was little question of which mood this was.

Heero met that angry glare with a coolly impassive gaze.

"What the hell is this, Yuy?" the American demanded, his voice unnaturally tight and harsh. He held up a handful of money. Quatre watched the boy warily, Wufei scowled nervously, and Trowa frowned slightly, glancing at Heero.

Heero just shrugged imperturbably. "Your fee," he replied flatly. "You said fifty an hour, right?"

Duo's eyes blazed even hotter in rage. "I think I hate you," he informed Heero, in a deadly, soft tone. Then suddenly, an angry, manic grin suffused his face, his eyes beginning to shine with a bit of the slightly deranged fury Shinigami displayed in battle. "I'll keep this, because I sure as hell earned it," Duo announced, his voice just a bit too loud and brittle. Then the delicate brows drew down in a scowl and he spat angrily at Heero, "But management reserves the right to refuse service. So next time you've got an itch you need scratched, Yuy, you can damn well go fuck yourself."

And with that, Duo spun on his heel and stomped out of the apartment.

Silence reigned in the kitchen as Heero stared blankly at the door Duo had disappeared out of, Quatre struggled not to cry, and Wufei looked utterly baffled.

Trowa very slowly began to frown. "You didn't," the tall boy finally demanded of Heero. Heero blinked, and finally looked away from the door to meet Trowa's incredulous and increasingly annoyed stare.

"I did," he replied flatly.

Trowa punched him in the nose.

It wasn't a very hard punch, Trowa was still quite weak, and he didn't have a very good angle in their current positions. But it still got his point across admirably, Heero thought. He scowled at the wounded boy.

"What was that for?" Heero demanded.

Trowa's frown deepened. "If you don't know, I couldn't possibly explain," the tall boy told him sharply. But then Trowa's eyes narrowed as he stared intently into Heero's face. "But I think you know perfectly well. Which makes it even crueler."

Heero couldn't repress the guilty flinch Trowa's words provoked. He dropped his gaze to the half-eaten apple.

"You have to have started it," Trowa commented flatly.

Heero frowned at his apple. "Yes," he admitted, keeping his voice modulated to the cold monotone. "But it was a mistake. It shouldn't have happened. We have to operate independently, and without concern for ourselves or each other. Our lives belong to the colonies, and we have no right to... " Heero trailed off into silence, unable to adequately express his point. Somehow it didn't sound quite right when he tried to say it aloud. He shook his head in irritated confusion. "Dr. J was right all along," he muttered morosely, almost to himself. "The physical sensations... hormonal reactions... It's a weakness, a dangerous weakness. A distraction I can't afford. He... it could endanger the mission... "

"You're an ass," Trowa informed him calmly.

"What?" Heero demanded, glowering at the tall boy. Trowa just crossed his arms and stared coolly back at Heero.

"I said, you're an ass," Trowa repeated conversationally. "But perhaps you meant to ask why. Well, I'll tell you." He paused and his emerald eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at Heero. "I admired you, once upon a time, Heero. For your dedication. Your single-minded devotion to your purpose. I was awed at how easily you put aside all other concerns in the interests of achieving your goals. I wished I could learn to put aside petty concerns, so that I could be as focused, as strong as you." Trowa paused again, and shook his head ruefully. "But I was wrong about you Heero. You didn't choose to put your missions before yourself out of dedication, you did it out of fear. It's so much easier not to think about anything outside our private war, isn't it? It's so easy to pretend you're just a part of your Gundam, a machine, only required, and only capable, of operating under specific set parameters. So much easier than being human." Trowa frowned at Heero. "I admired what I thought was your strength, but in truth, it's really your greatest weakness, Heero. You're afraid to be human. All you are is a weapon. It's sad and pathetic, but that's all it would be... if you hadn't dragged Duo into it."

Heero blinked in surprise, both at the length of Trowa's speech, and at this bizarre comment.

Trowa just shook his head again. "If you'd never responded to him, that would have been one thing. Pathetic, but acceptable. Or if you had been strong enough to accept that you feel something more than casual friendship for him, that would have been surprising, but good for everyone involved. But instead, you let your hormones overwhelm you, then got scared by what that implied, and decided to just pass it off as a casual experiment."

"Do you have a point?" Heero snapped, growing a bit annoyed at Trowa's analysis of his character.

Trowa just sighed and frowned disappointedly at him. "My point is, you're an ass," he concluded bitterly, before turning back to his newspaper.

+

Duo sat huddled against the wall that was sparsely covered with peeling floral wallpaper, engaged in an intense staring contest with an overconfident rat.

The obnoxious rodent had come crawling out of one of the gaping holes in the far wall while Duo sat silently, still as a statue, clutching Heero's wadded up tank top against his chest like some kid with a teddy bear.

After another few moments of frozen mutual contemplation, the rat lost interest in the silent boy, and ambled slowly along the edge of the wall, looking for something more exciting to investigate.

"Arrogant bastard, aren't you?" Duo muttered softly, his eyes, slightly reddened and puffy, tracking the rodent's passage around the room. "There was a time, my furry friend, when that would have won you a one-time-only invitation to dinner, back in my old neighborhood." The rat paused briefly and glanced at Duo when he started speaking, but soon continued its leisurely perusal of the room. Its path brought it within five feet of the human as it grew bolder.

With a sudden motion more quick and savage than graceful, Duo abruptly lunged forward, his right hand grabbing the momentarily stunned rodent. With a swift, practiced motion, the boy pressed his thumb hard against the back of the rat's skull, breaking the creature's neck and killing it instantly. Duo held his new pose for a moment, body stretched across the floor, balanced on his right knee, left foot, and left hand. He stared at the dead rat and idly wondered where the impulse to kill the animal had come from. He didn't need it for food, not with a wad of bills stuffed deep into the pocket of his pants. It hadn't threatened to bite him, and didn't seem diseased, anyway.

No reason, then. Just... reflex.

Duo frowned, dropping the dead rodent on the dusty floor as he settled back against the wall. Reflex. Old, ingrained responses and behaviors, kicking back in. That was what killing the rat had been about.

That was what all of it had been about.

From the instant he'd dragged his friends into this run-down little slum, which was just like every other miserable hole he'd lived in, he'd begun reverting to old behavior patterns. He'd had to, in order to keep them all concealed and alive, to get the money they needed to eat and rent the apartment and care for Trowa's injuries...

Or... had he really had to do the things he'd done? Duo wondered for the first time if he could have found another way to make the money they needed, if he'd really thought about it. To be perfectly honest, his thieving skills were probably good enough by now that he could have ripped stuff off from a clinic with very little risk, and he'd never been above a little B&E and some safecracking to supplement his funds.

So why had he been so certain...

I've been running on autopilot, Duo mused to himself. He glanced to his side and picked up the bundled tank top he'd dropped, pausing to stare at the small collection of items the shirt had fallen on.

Lipstick, a bent spoon from the diner near the apartment, a nearly-empty tube of body glitter, a lighter, a small eye shadow compact, a strip of discarded latex from the local clinic's trash bin, mascara, a shiny new hypodermic needle, a small mirror, a smaller bag of white powder...

He was afraid to move at this point. Killing the rat, that had just been impulse, but any premeditated movement was an unnerving proposition, as he wasn't entirely certain if he'd be able to control his body once it got started. Even the rat, he realized, had been dangerous, as he carefully clasped his trembling hands around his legs, sweat making their grips on his wrists slippery and precarious. It was, above all else, important to keep his hands still.

With an almost painful wrench, Duo dragged his gaze away from the little pile of accumulated... trash... and instead pressed his face against his knees. The shaking was starting to move up his arms, and he struggled for control, for the strength to fight it off.

He wasn't finding it this time, though.

Two years ago, there had been the training, the mission, the fight for freedom to focus on. He had believed in it, then. Now... things had just gotten too confusing. He still fought for what he believed in, but he held no illusions that anyone on the Colonies would mourn his death. Fighting a guerilla war was wearing on the soul.

And this time, for the first day there had been Heero. He'd had his anger and his need to prove to the Japanese boy that he was worthy of Heero's respect, and maybe, someday, his affection. That and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness had gotten him through yesterday.

But today was an entirely different story.

He couldn't prove he was worthy of the respect Heero had for him because... Heero obviously never had respected him. Not that he could really blame the other boy for that, but... it hurt.

And as for stubbornness... he was just so damn tired.

Every inch of his body, inside and out, ached or burned or throbbed with pain. Some of it was the tail end of the joys of heroin withdrawal, but most was the result of recent beatings and... business transactions.

Duo felt a shiver run up his spine as the trembling slowly spread into his body.

Should have just ignored the damn rat.

He felt cold, sitting there in the middle of a heatwave. Frozen and alone. He hated being alone.

But he didn't have anyone left to go to.

The very thought of facing Heero right now, after the Japanese pilot had made it so painfully clear that Duo was nothing more to him than an easy lay, was just... unbearable. His anger had carried him through that first unavoidable confrontation, but now...

And as for the others... it was a pretty safe bet that Heero had spilled the beans about Duo's past drug abuse. Trowa, at least, had had a front row seat for that little argument, and Wufei and Quatre had probably heard every word. And then last night...

Duo cringed slightly, remembering the disgust in Wufei's voice as he scolded Heero for bringing home a ‘cheap whore'. Logically, Duo knew Wufei hadn't really meant to apply the phrase to him, but... well, the damn shoe fit.

That had hurt, too. Aside from Heero, the other three pilots were... well, they were the closest thing he'd had to a family in... years. And now...

God. They must be so disgusted.

Something very like a strangled sob wrenched itself from Duo's throat at that thought. But... Quatre... Wufei... they were so... naïve, both in their own way. Oh, they were more than capable pilots and fighters, but Duo strongly suspected that neither had really seen much of life on the poor side of town. They couldn't possibly understand the kind of desperation and deprivation that could drive a person to let some stranger invade their body for a few bucks. Or how, in that same hopeless, miserable situation, it made perfect sense sometimes to turn around and spend that hard-earned cash on poison, as long as it just made everything go away for a while.

No, they couldn't possibly understand. He could expect nothing but disappointment and distaste from them.

Heero... Heero just thought he was a whore. A fucking junkie whore. A small whimper escaped his lips.

Trowa...

Duo hesitated for a moment. Trowa. Trowa was... different. Hard to read, but definitely not the innocent Quatre or Wufei was. And usually a bit more pragmatic about some things than Heero. Not about orders, or putting the mission first all the time, but... about real life.

Trowa... there was an outside chance that Trowa might... just maybe... understand.

Duo let that thought settle into his mind, and felt the trembling slowly recede to a manageable level. Finally, he took a chance and released his death grip on his wrists.

When this failed to immediately bring about disaster, Duo decided maybe he could risk getting up.

As soon as he moved, though, he found himself staring down at the pile of assembled items he'd been studying earlier.

Cold sweat broke out on his forehead, and the trembling came back, leaving him shivering in the heat of the dingy abandoned building.

Trowa, he reminded himself firmly. I just have to get to Trowa. He'll help me, he'll understand, he'll help... just have to get there...

Five minutes later, he was still staring at the makeup and other things. Finally, he spread the tank top out on the dusty floor and scooped the whole mess into the center, tying the edges together to make a little sack.

He vaguely registered the thought that it was not a good thing that he couldn't bring himself to just leave the drugs behind. But most of his mind was concentrating on the idea of getting to Trowa.

That one little part of his mind that seemed bent on playing Devil's Advocate then began wondering what he would do if Trowa couldn't or wouldn't help him.

He did his best to ignore it, but the hand holding the tank top bag tightened until the knuckles were white.

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