by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 9

Trowa's eyelids drooped heavily, the slow rocking of the porch swing he was stretched across soothing him into sleep in the warmth of the afternoon. A thunderstorm two days earlier had finally broken the oppressive heat wave, but it was definitely still summer, the temperature hovering somewhere in the eighties. He sighed contentedly, savoring the rare moment of quiet solitude... until he heard the faint rustling of fabric at the far end of the porch.

With another sigh, this one far less content, Trowa forced his tired eyes to slide open on the familiar sight of a brooding Duo Maxwell.

For the first three days after they'd come to this... cabin, Trowa supposed he should call it. It was definitely not a house. Closer to a shack, really. It seemed to get smaller every day. At any rate, for the first three days, Duo had done little but sleep and stare morosely at the wall of his small bedroom. There were only two bedrooms upstairs, along with a small bathroom, and Trowa had the other one. Heero got the couch this time.

When Duo had roused from his dark mood enough to come downstairs on the fourth day, Heero had made what for him were friendly overtures.

Duo had snarled and snapped, his violet eyes burning with unmistakable ire. Heero had been surprised and confused, but had been smart enough to back off.

He kept trying, though. The fifth night had been the worst, Trowa reflected, watching Duo carefully stripping the petals of some hapless plant. The fifth night, Heero had attempted to get off the couch. The sound of Duo's door slamming had woken Trowa from a welcome, sound sleep with the thought that someone had fired a gun. He'd jumped out of bed, almost pulling a few stitches loose in the process, and pulled open his own door, only to find Heero staring at Duo's closed door with a hurt, bewildered expression on his face.

As soon as he noticed Trowa, Heero resumed his usual blank expression. A brief explanation was given in Heero's usual monotone, then the Japanese boy went back downstairs to his couch.

Unfortunately, the rest of the night was not peaceful. Trowa wasn't sure if Heero's late-night visit had been some sort of trigger, or if Duo was just finally recovering from his earlier complete exhaustion, but that night marked the end of Duo's restful sleep. Several times that night, and for the three nights since then, Duo had woken up screaming from nightmares he refused to discuss with his tired housemates.

The lack of sleep had Heero even edgier than the cold shoulder Duo had been giving him earlier. Now Duo's fits of temper were interspersed with bouts of brooding withdrawal, and Heero obviously had no idea how to deal with either. Duo wasn't acting like the bouncy, relentlessly cheerful boy they'd all come to know and grit their teeth against smacking.

Seeming to feel Trowa's sleepy stare, Duo turned to look at the taller boy, absently dropping the denuded flower to the worn boards of the porch.

Trowa suspected that this particular Winner residence had been acquired for the land it sat on rather than the building's rustic charm.

Duo walked slowly across the porch, his bare feet making no sound against the boards as he moved. The tired, gray wood creaked and groaned beneath even Duo's slight weight, though. Duo grimaced slightly at the noise that betrayed his movements, even though there was no one around except Heero and Trowa. Some habits were just ingrained.

Trowa rolled that last thought around in his mind as he watched Duo slowly pace across the length of the porch, noting the subtle rolling motion of his hips, the almost predatory glide to his steps... The full lips were quirked in a secretive little smirk, the violet eyes dark beneath heavy lids...

Trowa shifted a bit uncomfortably on the swing. He had the irrational urge, when Duo was still a few feet away, to tell him that that was far enough.

He didn't, of course. It was only Duo, someone he trusted. But some habits were ingrained.

Duo didn't stop until he stood right in front of the swing, close enough that Trowa could feel the heat from the American's slender body waxing and waning against his own skin as the swing moved slowly, disturbed by his earlier movement. Duo just stood there for a while, smirking down at him. Finally, Trowa raised a questioning eyebrow.

"How are your wounds doing?" Duo asked conversationally, still not moving back out of Trowa's personal space.

Trowa shifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. "Healing," he answered briefly. He'd been close to Duo on several occasions, recently, since the braided boy would not allow Heero to soothe him from his nightmares. But right now, there was just something... odd about Duo's behavior. Trowa wished he would move back, just a little, just so the tall boy could breathe easier.

"That's good," Duo murmured. "Soon you'll be back in top condition, huh?" He flashed a bright, and, Trowa thought nervously, patently false smile.

"I suppose," Trowa said slowly, wondering what Duo was up to. What he was thinking. There was something going on behind those midnight eyes...

Duo reached out a slender hand and gently brushed Trowa's hair back from his face. Trowa shivered slightly at the unexpected touch. Cuddling in the dark had been one thing, with Duo shaking in fear and clinging desperately to Trowa's pajamas, but this... While there was nothing overtly sexual about the gesture, Duo seemed to imbue it with the promise of more intimate caresses...

Trowa shivered again, and watched the flash of uncertainty in Duo's dark eyes.

Trowa cursed silently to himself. He should have been expecting something like this, but he thought of Duo as a friend, a little brother...

Duo slowly ran his tongue across his upper lip, his eyes intent on Trowa's as he gently traced the line of the taller boy's jaw with light fingers.

"I can help you get back in shape... if you want... " Duo offered softly, bending slowly over Trowa as he spoke. He continued to watch Trowa's eyes intently.

It didn't take a great deal of intelligence to know what Duo was driving at, and what he intended to do. The difficult part of the situation for Trowa was figuring out what he should do.

He didn't want what Duo was offering. But to reject the boy, at this point in Duo's recovery...

It wasn't hard to figure out that Duo was probably dealing with a lot of shame at the moment. If he'd been comfortable with all of his friends knowing about his... night job, he would've openly discussed it with them. Trowa clearly recalled Wufei's shock and Quatre's dismay when Heero had brought Duo home that one night. What had been an obvious conclusion to Trowa as soon as he had been told about Duo's strange schedule had obviously not even occurred to the other, less streetwise boys.

But it had occurred to Trowa. Trowa had not been surprised, or upset, by Duo's appearance the night Heero carried him home.

So it was only natural that Duo had come to him for help at first, as the only one who understood enough about how the world worked not to condemn him out of hand. And again, it was only natural that Duo would turn to him for further reassurance...

Trowa felt trapped. If he rejected Duo's advances, he would reinforce the self-disgust Duo had to be feeling. But... if he allowed Duo to continue...

While Trowa had been musing about Duo's motives and intentions, life had carried on without him. He was snapped out of his reverie by the gentle pressure of Duo's mouth against his own.

Trowa froze instantly at the contact, not daring to pull away for Duo's sake, not willing to participate for his own. Confused and torn, he simply sat there as Duo's lips moved gently against his, the sensation not completely unpleasant, but decidedly unsettling.

After what felt like hours, Trowa began to wonder if Duo was ever going to break the kiss. As the braided boy's tongue probed gently but meaningfully against the barrier of Trowa's tightly clenched teeth, the taller boy opened his eyes, trying to see the look on Duo's face.

Duo's eyes were narrowed, but definitely open.

And definitely not looking at Trowa.

Trowa tried to roll his eyes to see what Duo was looking at, but in his surprise at discovering Duo's distraction, he allowed his jaw to slacken, and Duo immediately took advantage of the sudden lack of resistance. The braided boy's tongue plundered Trowa's mouth, not really aggressively, but with a determined thoroughness. Duo's concentration might not be fully on Trowa, but his body was obviously accustomed to running this show without his direct attention.

For a moment Trowa was too stunned and confused to fight back, but then he suddenly realized what Duo must be looking at. The only thing in that direction was the cabin itself, and the only interesting feature was the window directly behind them...

He didn't have to crane his neck to know Heero was watching.

It required a conscious effort on Trowa's part not to savagely bite Duo's tongue as he shoved the smaller boy away from him, hastily wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

Duo's triumphant smirk faded quickly into a dismayed frown at Trowa's actions. So testing for rejection had been at least a part of what had just happened. Trowa found that right at that moment, he really didn't care. He glared at the American, and Duo slowly wilted under his cold regard, having the grace to look guilty at least.

"I don't appreciate being used in your little games," Trowa informed Duo coldly.

Duo frowned nervously, fidgeting with the end of his braid. "Oh, come on, Tro... It wasn't like that... "

"It wasn't?" Trowa demanded flatly.

Duo shifted his weight uncomfortably, dropping his gaze to his bare feet. "Well, okay, maybe a little," he admitted. He sighed heavily, shoving a hand into his hair with a jerky motion that betrayed his edginess. "I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have done that, but... Hell, Trowa, he's gotten so much from me lately! I've given him so much, like an idiot... I just wanted to take something back, and... "

"And so you took it from me?" Trowa asked calmly, crossing his arms over his chest. A part of him understood Duo's motivations, but another, much larger part, was hurt and frightened that someone he had trusted, had thought of as a friend, would try to use him like that.

"No!" Duo denied vehemently, wide violet eyes snapping up to meet Trowa's. Duo seemed horrified at the suggestion. "It was just... he... he hurt me, Tro. And I guess I... I just wanted... "

"To hurt him back," Trowa finished, refusing to allow Duo to hide from his own petty desires. Duo sighed unhappily, but nodded, accepting Trowa's words. Trowa considered letting the matter rest at that, but... Duo had unsettled him. Badly. Had put a sudden strain on a friendship that Trowa had thought was blossoming nicely into one of the best he'd ever enjoyed. Now he had to question everything about their relationship, and that was upsetting to him.

"So you hurt me to hurt him," Trowa summed up succinctly, watching Duo flinch at his words. For a moment it looked like the American would protest, but then he just subsided with a sigh, shoulders hunching inwards.

"Yeah, okay, Tro. You're right. I am that much of a scumbag," Duo muttered, wrapping his arms tightly around himself and turning away from Trowa.

Trowa cursed under his breath. He was still angry and a bit nervous, but... Duo was still so damn fragile. And just maybe... he hadn't really intended to hurt Trowa. Maybe...

"You're not a scumbag. You're just an idiot," Trowa muttered, loud enough for Duo to hear. The braided boy glanced over his shoulder hopefully. Trowa frowned, shaking his head slowly. "Don't ever do that again," he cautioned.

Duo frowned slightly, turning back toward the swing. "You didn't like it?" he asked, sounding surprised at the idea.

A vain idiot, Trowa silently amended. He shook his head again. "No, sorry to burst your bubble, but I did not enjoy that, Duo."

Duo's frown deepened. "But... I thought... I mean, Quatre... "

Trowa cursed inventively, scowling at the surprised American. "What Quatre does not seem to grasp, or you either, apparently, is that there are some people in the world that aren't interested in boys," Trowa stated flatly.

"Yeah, they're called lesbians," Duo replied without missing a beat.

Trowa stared at him in shock for a moment, then couldn't help sighing in weary amusement. Duo smiled sheepishly, blushing slightly. "Sorry," he muttered, "couldn't resist. I get what you're saying though. I'm sorry, man, I didn't think... Well, I guess that pretty much sums it up. I didn't think." Duo sighed, shaking his head.

"You should try it sometime. Vastly underrated," Trowa advised. He watched Duo for a while, then finally asked, "So, now that you've gotten your pound of flesh out of Heero, what's next?"

Duo snorted irritably. "Heero and I aren't even close to being square, Tro. I don't know if I can even explain to you how I felt when he... " Duo shook his head, his face pale. "I really don't even want to talk about it. But it's gonna be a while before I can forgive him... if I can forgive him." Duo was silent for a moment, then muttered something under his breath. Trowa was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to hear it, but it sounded suspiciously like, "At least he apologized the first time."

Duo abruptly shook off his melancholy and offered a rather faded imitation of his usual cheerful grin. "That's enough of this introspection-on-the-porch crap. I'm going in for some food. You want anything?"

Trowa shook his head. All he wanted was to sit and quietly ponder all the things Duo had just told him... and the things Duo hadn't told him.

And, he admitted, he also wanted to be by himself for a while. Duo's actions had truly upset him quite a bit. It wasn't the first time he'd been... hit on by a guy, but it was the first time the guy had been someone he trusted enough to let them get past his guard. The first time the unwanted attentions had come from a friend.

Probably because he hadn't really had friends before, but still...

Trowa settled back in the swing, setting it into gentle motion with the movement of his body.

Eventually it occurred to him that the door a few feet away was the only way out of the very small cabin, and that Duo had entered it, and Heero had not come out of it.

Which meant they were in there together.

Trowa put aside his confusion with a wicked little smirk. For the first time in days, he found himself eagerly awaiting the next explosion.

Maybe he shouldn't have scolded Duo quite so harshly for his less than noble motives. Trowa found he wanted to get something back at the moment himself.

+

Heero firmly repressed the instinctive flinch when he heard the door behind him open. He remained sitting completely still on the couch, facing away from the front door of the cabin and the small kitchen area it opened into. Heero stared determinedly at the large salmon mounted above the fireplace on the back wall of the cabin, noting the brief hesitation in the steps of the person entering the cabin. The steps then continued, a little louder than was really necessary.

Duo, then.

Heero's eyes narrowed angrily, his teeth grating together as he recalled the scene he'd just witnessed out on the porch. It was bad enough that Duo was barely civil to Heero in his more mellow moments these days, but the thought that Duo's rejection of his clumsy advances was caused not merely by anger at Heero, but because Duo had found someone he preferred...

A vein throbbed at Heero's temple.

Duo was puttering loudly in the kitchen, probably making himself lunch.

Heero considered just staying there on the couch. It was probably the most sensible thing he could do at this point.

His fingers clenched around the wad of fabric in one hand.

He stood and turned to face the kitchen.

Duo paused briefly in his construction of a massive sandwich, dark violet eyes fastening on Heero with the wariness of a cornered animal. After a brief moment, that haunted look was replaced by a simmering rage that had become familiar over the past week.

Heero scowled at the American. He knew he should just leave the whole mess alone, but...

He walked around the couch, moving toward the kitchen and a suddenly tense Duo, carefully concealing the thing he carried behind the line of his thigh.

Duo's grip on the large butcher knife shifted slightly, but then the American frowned and carefully set the potentially deadly weapon down on the table, almost out of his reach. Apparently, he didn't trust himself not to hurt Heero if the opportunity presented itself. Heero smirked at the ostentatious melodrama.

As Duo had just conclusively proven on the porch, he didn't need a knife to cut Heero to the bone.

"Moving on to greener pastures?" Heero growled, irritated at the bitterness that leached into his voice despite his best efforts to control it.

Duo shrugged noncomittally, his lip lifting in a slight sneer. "Maybe," he replied coolly. "At least I wouldn't have to tell him where to put it."

Heero felt his cheeks burn a bit at the jibe. It was the last straw. Duo had been nasty and cold to him for days, and damned if he could figure out why. Yes, Heero knew he'd done something stupid, but he understood that now, he regretted it... what did Duo want, for him to grovel on his knees? That wasn't going to happen. He was starting to understand what Dr. J had meant about hormones causing problems with focus. Duo had him so turned around he didn't know which way was up without even trying. But enough was enough. Heero would be pushed only so far before he started pushing back.

"Good thing I brought this along," Heero muttered, flinging the wad of fabric at Duo. "Guess you'll still be needing it."

Duo reflexively grabbed the object flying at his face, staring at it in confusion for a moment. Then a look of grim fury slowly spread across his face as he stretched it out between his hands, glowering at the sparkly purple mesh shirt he'd worn on the streets.

Heero felt a cold, nasty smile settle on his face, watching the rage ignite and burn in Duo's dark eyes. He stepped closer, closing the distance between them, wracking his brain for one last, cutting remark to complete his victory. He knew it was petty and somewhat cruel, baiting Duo like this, but it felt so damn good to make the American angry. The impotent, frustrated rage that had been festering inside Heero ever since that night Duo had slammed the door in his face had finally found an outlet. It was only fair that Duo should experience that wordless fury, too. Justice, as Wufei would say.

And Heero had theorized that if they both got angry enough, they could just scream at each other for a while, work out all the unproductive rage, and then they could be comfortable together again. He'd chosen a bad time to push their relationship forward, but if they could just reset it to the familiar competitive closeness, maybe they could get it right the next time...

Heero wasn't prepared for the liquid shimmering in those narrow, furious eyes when Duo turned to glare at him. Or for the hurt so clearly mixed in with the anger.

Rack up another mission failure.

He hadn't wanted to hurt Duo... He never wanted to hurt Duo... But he just kept doing it...

Heero cursed silently to himself, his face settling into a frustrated scowl as he stepped closer to Duo, concern and guilt now hurrying his approach.

"Duo... " he began hesitantly, not sure what he would say, what he could say, since he wasn't really sure what he'd done wrong this time... He'd try apologizing for the shirt, that seemed a likely possibility. "Duo," he began again, more firmly.

Duo tossed the shirt straight at Heero's head. He instinctively grabbed for it, just as Duo had done... and left himself wide open and vulnerable to the savage right hook he never saw coming.

Heero staggered backwards from the blow. It had been strong, Duo always hit harder than he looked like he should be able to, but normally it wouldn't have fazed Heero much. It was the surprise that made him stagger backwards until his back hit the wall next to the stairs... And he continued to be surprised when he felt the wall give way behind him, and fell into darkness...

Thud.

Itai...

Thud.

Itai...

Thud.

Itai

Crash!

Sharp, stabbing pain, different from the dull impact of bouncing down stairs. He felt cold ground beneath his body, and wetness spreading around him...

Distantly, someone was calling his name in a panicked voice...

Then there was only blackness.

[cont]