by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 7

Heero lay on the rumpled bed staring at the ceiling. After a tense couple of hours, he'd finally surrendered the living room to Trowa's irritated glowering. Stubborn only went so far when Trowa was truly disgusted with you.

Heero scowled at the ceiling.

He'd done what he had to do. What was best, in the long run, for everyone involved.

Hadn't he?

Yes, Duo was very angry, and part of Heero regretted the strain this would probably put on their friendship...

"I think I hate you."

Heero's scowl softened slightly into a somewhat more mournful expression as he recalled the coldness in Duo's voice. The American just may have meant that statement very literally. Heero sighed, shaking his head. It didn't matter if Duo was angry at him. Angry was good. It would reestablish the correct distance between them.

Not that he blamed Duo for what had happened. As Trowa had so astutely determined, Heero had started it. The responsibility, the fault, lay with himself.

The weakness.

Trowa had called him weak. But not for quite the same reasons...

"You're afraid to be human."

"If you had never responded to him... "

But I did. I did respond. And that was 'being human', wasn't it? And it was a bad thing.

Wasn't it?

Heero closed his eyes briefly and was assaulted with a painfully clear memory of Duo's face the night before, just moments before Heero had finally found the release he had sought, had been craving, for so long. He'd thought they would have to be back to front, but Duo had shown him there were other possible configurations. And Duo had said he wanted to be able to see Heero's face.

Heero had understood that request. Naturally, Duo would want to remain aware he was not sharing the bed with another faceless partner off the street. And, he had to admit, he didn't mind being able to see Duo's face either.

The memory was briefly overlaid by a slightly earlier one, of Duo's face when the... encounter first began. It had been different, somehow. The American hadn't quite looked like himself, and Heero had questioned his determination to go through with... it.

But Duo's face had changed after he said that.

"Please let me do this for you... "

Heero squirmed slightly on the bed, frowning. He hadn't really thought about Duo's words before. He'd grown so accustomed to tuning out nonessential babble that he sometimes didn't even register anything Duo said if he was distracted.

And he had been distracted. But now...

"Please, Heero... "

He had been the supplicant. Not Duo. He was the untrained, clumsy virgin. He was the one who wanted...

"Please, Heero... "

Duo's face, just before Heero came inside him, had been... flushed, of course. Happy, in a way. But mostly... Mostly the braided boy had been... intent.

Heero turned that thought over in his mind a few times. Yes, intent was definitely the right word. So very intensely focused...

When Heero had woken up, limbs still entangled with Duo's, the other boy's warm breath making a damp spot on the side of his neck, Heero had panicked. The storm of hormones from the night before had passed, and he realized he had let things go a bit too far.

He had taken things a bit too far.

His body had started to react to Duo's close presence even before he was fully awake, and that had made Heero... scared. Scared, yes, but also angry.

He'd trained for years to achieve the control he had over himself. Yes, it had been a goal imposed on him by others, but he had achieved it. And now, in one night, Duo had completely ripped that control away...

"Please let me... "

Except that Duo hadn't started it.

"You're an ass."

Heero heaved an exasperated sigh. He'd been confused, uncertain, and he had done the first thing he could think of to reset the relationship to it's proper detachment. He'd thought it would be cruel to wake Duo up and inform him that the previous night's experiment was something that could never happen again, so he had decided that the money would be a better way to give the same message. It was just the one time. It couldn't happen again. Not that he hadn't enjoyed it.

He'd actually overpaid. Sort of a compliment. Duo didn't seem to have noticed or appreciated that detail. Heero frowned. Duo actually hadn't seemed to 'appreciate' much at all about his little message.

He had known Duo would be less than thrilled with him, but... well, he hadn't quite expected the degree of Duo's fury. Duo should have been more accepting of a one night stand than Heero himself.

"You're an ass."

"Please let me do this for you... "

That face, softened by some unnamable emotion, so curiously focused and intent... on what? On the sensations Duo was experiencing? On what the boy's practiced hands were doing to Heero's body? On keeping his hips raised at just the right angle? No, none of that seemed right, somehow.

"Please let me... "

"If you had accepted that you feel more than casual friendship... "

But that's the one thing I can't accept. That's the one thing I can't do.

"Please let me... "

Duo kissing him quickly, unexpectedly, laughing as he backed away, watching Heero with mischievous eyes... Duo staring at him in dismay, his pupils contracted to pinpoints... Duo standing in a dozen different doorways, smiling patiently and pushing Heero's gun aside... Duo watching him from across a quiet dorm room, a noisy cafeteria, peering from the viewscreen of his Gundam... Always, always watching, looking... at Heero.

Focused.

Intently.

On Heero.

"Please, let me do this right for once... "

... for you... his mind suddenly translated in a flash of insight.

"You're an ass."

"Oh gods... " Heero murmured flatly to the ceiling. "I am an ass."

The ceiling offered no comfort.

Heero rolled into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.

He did that... for me. Did it 'right'... let it be more, mean more, than just a one night stand. Just a fling. Just physical interaction. That was... that was...

And I paid him.

Heero felt his stomach twist sickeningly at that thought.

That had been a bad thing to do, he was suddenly quite certain.

A very bad thing.

But...

He still wasn't supposed to form attachments. He was supposed to maintain an appropriate distance. Attachments were dangerous, a liability...

But he was already attached, wasn't he?

Heero scuffed his sneakers on the scarred wood floor.

"I don't know," he murmured softly, repeating his confession of the previous night. "I don't know what I'm doing."

He pushed himself up off the bed and shoved a hand through his dark mop of hair. He didn't know what he was doing. But he knew what he had to do.

Find Duo.

Again.

Apologize.

Again.

And perhaps, try to accept that things could not go back to being the way they were before. He wasn't supposed to form attachments. But he had.

Accept it. Deal with it.

Nobody else seemed to have much of a problem with the concept, after all.

"Ninmu ryoukai," Heero muttered, setting his shoulders determinedly and striding out into the main room, ignoring Wufei's wary glance and Trowa's speculative gaze. He marched determinedly out the door, with never a pause to betray the fact that he had no idea where he was going.

+

Trowa flipped through the paper with a slightly triumphant smirk on his face. It had taken some time for the Japanese pilot to process Trowa's earlier speech, but it seemed to have had the desired effect. Heero had suddenly gone stomping out of the apartment with firm intent written all over his scowling face just a half-hour earlier. Trowa hoped Heero could locate Duo before this fiasco got any further out of hand. The histrionics were quite wearing on him in his exhaustion.

Trowa gave a little sigh and felt the smirk fade. To himself, he supposed he could admit his concern went deeper than having to endure teenage theatrics. He didn't know if the others hadn't picked up on it because the change had been gradual, but to Trowa, who had been unconscious for several days, Duo's personality seemed to have undergone drastic alteration. The normally friendly, jovial boy had been very withdrawn and tense... in those few moments Trowa had actually seen Duo. He supposed he could be basing his observation on too little evidence - the times he had seen the American had been rather tense situations. But considering all that had happened, it didn't seem outside the realm of possibility that Duo had adopted a different persona. Rather like Trowa himself did when infiltrating Oz. Duo had adapted his behavior to his environment.

Which, considering the behavior that was appropriate for this environment, was indeed cause for concern.

He really hoped Heero managed to find Duo again. This time felt... worse than the last. Trowa had a very strong feeling that Duo really shouldn't be alone right now, and that an apology from Heero was very important at this point.

Despite his harsh words to the Japanese boy earlier, and despite the fact that Heero really had done something incredibly cruel and stupid, Trowa hadn't given up all faith in Heero. The boy could be an amazing ass, but Trowa believed that deep down, somewhere, Heero really did have some feeling for Duo. All other considerations aside, the psychotically antisocial pilot certainly wouldn't permit, much less invite, physical contact from someone with whom he didn't feel some strong connection.

So it looked like perhaps Heero was going to rise to the challenge after all.

Of course, that still left Duo's reaction to worry about...

Trowa started slightly at a quiet knock on the door. He frowned. It couldn't be Heero, he'd just left, and he wouldn't knock so diffidently. Quatre was asleep in his bedroom, wearied by the traumatic storm of emotions Duo had unleashed at breakfast. Wufei had gone up to the roof to meditate.

Perhaps it was Wufei. There was only one key to the apartment, and it hung on a rusty nail beside the door. That way no one could lose it, or, if anyone was captured, it couldn't be used to trace the location of the others.

Trowa considered yelling for Quatre. He was only barely mobile, and still somewhat unsteady... But the little blond had been so upset earlier, it was probably best for everyone if he just slept himself out.

A cranky, petulant Quatre in a confined space was not good for anyone's nerves.

Suppressing a groan, Trowa pushed himself to his feet and shuffled slowly to the door, wondering at the patience Wufei was displaying in not knocking again. Finally, he reached the panel, and briefly considered trying to get his gun out as Heero would.

Then immediately decided that was silly. First of all, he wasn't sure he could even hold it up, and second of all, if the person on the other side wasn't one of the pilots, being greeted with a gun in the face was sure to rouse suspicions.

Trowa pulled the door open and peered into the hall.

He frowned slightly, thinking at first that it had been a prank or that the knocker had just decided no one was in and departed, but then he heard a small sniff from the direction of the floor. He looked down to see a familiar braid trailing in the dirt of the neglected hallway.

He opened the door a bit further, and saw Duo huddled against the wall in a compact ball, his face pressed to his drawn up knees and arms wrapped around his legs. One hand was clutching Heero's tank top like it was his only anchor to reality.

"Duo?" Trowa asked cautiously, not sure what reaction he would get from the boy.

Duo's head jerked up, violet eyes too wide in the light of the bare bulb illuminating the hallway. He blinked rapidly, not seeming to notice the moisture forced from his eyes to roll down his cheeks by the movement. For a moment, they just stared at one another, then Duo murmured, so softly Trowa barely heard him, "Trowa... "

Speech seemed to galvanize the American into action, and he pushed himself upright using the wall at his back. He took a hesitant step closer to the door, watching Trowa nervously all the while. "Tro? Can I... is it okay if I... could you... " Duo's faint speech trailed off into uncertainty, leaving Trowa with no coherent question to reply to, but facing a look of desperation in those wide violet eyes that absolutely required an answer.

"Come inside," Trowa said calmly, keeping his gaze locked with Duo's. It was a command, not a request, although soft in tone, but it seemed to be the right thing to say, as Duo shuffled slowly forward, face relaxing in apparent relief.

Of course, Trowa thought. No need to worry about whether or not I mean it, whether or not he's welcome. Just an order to follow. No responsibility, no consequences. Keep it simple, use a light touch, he advised himself as he moved aside to allow Duo to warily enter the apartment. He shut the door behind them both, noting Duo's slight flinch at the sound, and the sudden tension in the slender shoulders clearly defined by the tight black tee shirt he wore.

"Where is... " After a moment's pause seemed to indicate Duo wasn't going to finish the question, Trowa quickly ran through the possibilities.

"Quatre is napping. Wufei is up on the roof. Heero is... out." He wasn't sure whether or not he should tell Duo the Japanese boy was looking for him. On the one hand, it might make Duo feel better, but on the other hand, the American might decide he had to go find Heero. And Trowa was growing more certain by the minute, observing Duo's trembling body and the makeshift bag clutched in one white-knuckled hand, that under no circumstances should he let Duo leave his sight, much less the apartment.

Duo seemed to react well to Trowa's report, though, some of the tension easing from his wiry muscles. Trowa idly wondered if Duo had always been so painfully slender under the bulky clothes he usually favored, or if he'd lost weight recently. Taking a calculated risk, he reached out and laid a gentle hand on Duo's shoulder.

"It's been somewhat lonely. Sit with me?" he asked, keeping his voice conversational, but applying enough pressure to the shoulder that it still wasn't really a request. Duo would have to pull away to avoid sitting.

Duo didn't pull away. He actually attempted to help Trowa back to the couch, but it quickly became apparent that neither of them was particularly steady on their feet, and inevitably, they got tangled up and collapsed.

Duo was instantly apologetic, trying to push himself away, but when Trowa groaned as the American's flailing arm bounced off one of his wounds, Duo froze, afraid to move and possibly injure Trowa further.

Probably doesn't want to face the Wrath of Quatre, Trowa mused, trying not to grimace in pain, which would only make Duo feel worse. Instead, he took a moment to consider the position they found themselves in, and decided it was probably a fairly good arrangement for his purposes.

He'd managed, somehow, to get turned around and had landed rather comfortably on his behind in the corner of the couch. One leg was pinned beneath Duo's body, which was half-sprawled across Trowa and the couch, but at least it wasn't his injured leg. He gently encouraged Duo to crawl up onto the couch the rest of the way, and not wanting to hurt Trowa, the boy complied, ending up curled next to the taller pilot with his head in Trowa's lap.

This effort seemed to have just about exhausted Duo, and Trowa was feeling some strain himself. He was far from top condition. Trowa just sat there a moment, letting his body recover what little strength it had, one hand idly caressing Duo's ragged bangs.

The American's hair was damp, his forehead slicked with chill sweat. Trowa could feel Duo's body shivering slightly where it was pressed against his own, although the smaller boy was almost feverishly warm. After a few minutes, the shivering began to recede a bit, until only the occasional tremor wracked the slight frame.

As they sat there quietly, Trowa took the time to study Duo as he hadn't that morning. He had vaguely registered a few dark splotches on the boy's arms, but had been so distracted first by Duo's rarely seen fury and then by Heero's unconscionable actions, that he hadn't looked too closely. Now he could see Duo's arm was mottled with multiple bruises, from a large, dark palm-sized mark on his wrist, which also had scratches on it, to smaller, sickly green splotches that looked like fingermarks. But far worse than the arm was the portion of Duo's stomach revealed by the too-small shirt riding up. The boy's abdomen was stained almost black from the repeated pummeling he'd taken, the bruises outlined by that sickly green tone.

Trowa frowned, slowly sliding his fingers over Duo's stomach, probing gently. He didn't seem to detect any unusual swelling or tightness, although it seemed practically a bona fide miracle for Duo not to have any internal bleeding. He supposed with sheer luck it was possible, though, and Duo almost certainly knew how to take a punch to avoid major damage.

As Trowa considered this, he realized Duo had gone very still beneath his inquisitive exploration. As soon as he realized this, he froze as well, his fingers resting lightly just above the loose waistband of Duo's pants.

"You can keep going if you want," Duo said quietly, his voice completely empty of emotion. It was such an artificial tone, and so very wrong coming from the outgoing American, that Trowa jerked his hand away in surprise.

That had been a mistake, he discovered as Duo let out a small whimper and attempted to curl up into a little ball again, as he had been in the hallway.

Rejection, Trowa realized, cursing his reflexes. He took that for rejection.

"Duo... " he murmured softly, wondering what he should say or do to repair the damage. "Duo, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... upset you... It's okay, Duo... It's going to be okay... "

"No, it's not," Duo contradicted sharply, his muffled voice an odd combination of misery and anger. "It's not fucking okay! It's never been okay, and it's never gonna be goddamn okay!"

Trowa was at something of a loss. He wanted to soothe the troubled boy, but words had never been his strong suit. Biting his lip in frustrated concern, Trowa finally elected to ignore the pain of half-healed wounds as he dragged Duo's trembling body fully into his lap until the smaller boy's head was tucked neatly under Trowa's chin. Not knowing what would comfort Duo, Trowa just held him, gently stroking the sweat-dampened hair and murmuring softly in half-remembered French.

Duo's fragile control shattered abruptly, and he wept against Trowa's neck, harsh, wracking sobs of desolation and hopelessness. The sounds tore at Trowa's heart as they awoke echoes of pain within himself. Trowa's past was no doubt somewhat different from Duo's, but still...

There was something about Duo. There always had been. At first, Trowa had been nervous around the outgoing, always-smiling boy, rebuffing his friendly overtures coldly. He had believed his defensiveness was inspired by an ingrained distrust of people who smiled too much. But over time, as he came to know Duo better, he had realized what it truly was that had instinctively made him keep his distance from the garrulous American.

Duo understood him.

They had never discussed the matter beyond a few speaking looks that had confirmed Trowa's new suspicions. Duo had far more tact than that. Most wouldn't credit him with such, Trowa knew, but that was simply because Duo could only be bothered to be courteous over matters he felt deserved the effort.

Duo, the only one of the pilots whose history bore any similarity to Trowa's own, understood the taller boy's silence and desire not to speak of irrelevant difficulties endured long ago. Less painful idiosyncrasies, however, such as Wufei's obsession with justice, were fair game for Duo's occasionally cutting wit.

Trowa had eventually decided that while it unnerved him to know that there was one of the group who knew things about him... not specifics, but probably damn close approximations... it was also strangely comforting. There were moments when a situation would overwhelm him, when he just needed to get out, to be alone for a moment so he could breathe... and he soon came to realize that Duo almost always picked up on those moods. The braided boy was skilled at manipulating attention, and on more than one occasion, had put that talent to use to allow Trowa a graceful exit when he needed it most.

He didn't have to explain, he didn't have to talk about it.

Because Duo just... understood.

Trowa frowned slightly, resting his chin on Duo's thick hair. That understanding, the unspoken commiseration, had been a precious gift. And now Duo needed his understanding in turn. Trowa felt he was on somewhat shaky ground, having no real experience with or understanding of drug addiction, but... for Duo, he had to try.

He supposed that in the final analysis, all Duo might really need at the moment was someone to hold him, to reassure him that he wasn't alone, and just to accept, without judging, that Duo wasn't perfect. That he made mistakes, and that the life he'd led had been a difficult one to deal with. That sometimes... he couldn't deal with it.

Trowa could do that.

"It will be all right," he declared firmly against the top of Duo's head.

Duo responded with a noncommittal grunt. Trowa rested his cheek against the soft hair and began rubbing Duo's back with one hand. The smaller boy's trembling seemed to ease a bit more at the soothing caress.

"I'm so tired, Tro," Duo murmured after a while, his voice conveying an exhaustion that was far more than merely physical. "I'm so tired of running and hiding and fighting and... fucking trying so hard... I don't think I can keep going much longer... "

"Then don't," Trowa replied calmly. He felt Duo stiffen beneath his touch, and wondered how the American had interpreted that statement. "You don't have to do anything right now, Duo. I'm here, you're safe. I'll watch over you. You just rest."

"I'm sorry," Duo whispered miserably, his voice muffled as he buried his face against Trowa's chest. "I'm sorry... to ask this... "

"You didn't ask. I offered," Trowa corrected him patiently. He wrapped his arms around the smaller pilot and gave him a brief hug before returning to his endless stroking of Duo's back. "Now sleep. Sleep, mon petit frere," Trowa murmured softly, not really concentrating on his words as he attempted to soothe his friend.

Duo, however, released a little grunt of surprise. "Whadja... call me?" he slurred, weariness slowing his tongue.

Trowa frowned slightly, trying to recall what he'd said. Then a small grin tilted his lips. "I called you... mon petit frere," he repeated softly, secure in the belief that Duo didn't speak French. If Catherine can adopt me, I can adopt Duo, I suppose.

"Oh... 's nice... " Duo murmured sleepily. He then fell silent for a while, and Trowa thought he'd fallen asleep. But then the braided boy muttered, "Guess I could do worse fer a brother. But if ya'd called me a cabbage, I'da had ta slap ya fuckin' silly... " Trowa let out a snort of amusement and chagrin, but the soft snores Duo began emitting revealed that the braided boy had quickly dropped off after his last comment.

Never underestimate Shinigami, Trowa reminded himself ruefully.

The smile soon faded from his face, though, as he considered the boy curled in his embrace.

"It will be all right," he whispered again, emerald eyes glinting with fierce determination. "I'll make sure of it." But the implacable expression slowly faded from his face as he considered all he knew of the situation. He shook his head slightly, then turned it to rest his cheek against Duo's hair again.

"Somehow," he murmured apprehensively.

[part 6] [part 8] [back to Aoe's fic]