Golgotha (cont)

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Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the
world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in.

~Alan Alda

On the way to church I noticed that the surrounding homes and buildings seemed to be much better looking in this area. There were still several beggars and the occasional whore; but this was obviously the 'good' side of town. We stopped in a 24-hour corner store and Duo purchased a pack of cheap toothbrushes for one credit. When we came out he emptied his pockets of soap, a bottle of shampoo and a small tube of toothpaste. I stared at him incredulously for several moments; unable to wrap my mind around the fact that I hadn't even realized he was stealing while I was handcuffed to him.

"You're unbelievable," I said with a shake of my head.

He grinned at me impishly and looked up at the artificial sky, opening his mouth to let rain fall in it. After a moment he sighed contentedly. "It's raining, man! Do you know what that means? No, of course ya don't. Well, it means that I can wash my hair and clean up and everything without worrying about wasting water! Lookit --" He showed me the bottle of shampoo. "I even got the kind with the conditioner mixed in!" A wry smile crossed my lips and I put the bottle in the bag with the toothbrushes.

Suddenly a thought occurred to me and I stared at him. "You're going to wash your hair and bathe..?

He looked at me as if I was incredibly dense. "Well that's the plan."

I raised our cuffed hands and jingled the chain as a reminder. "That might get a little awkward," I said flatly.

He frowned at me, obviously not liking the idea of having an audience. "Look man, I already told ya I was sorry and I told ya I was gonna help you get the disc back.. so can't you un-cuff me? I got nowhere to run! I'm going to be naked for God's sake! I'm gonna wash my clothes too! Common, Heero... I swear to God that I won't try to run off! Pl~ease!"

I glared at him for several moments but he just widened his eyes and pulled his face into an adorable pout. After a moment I rolled my eyes. "Fine. But if you try to run off I'll shoot you."

He raised an eyebrow but just shrugged casually, and we continued on our way.The church itself was of an impressive size; the structure and design making it obvious that once it had been something nice to look at. It was at least three stories and around the broken, stained glass windows there were tell tale signs of a fire; the bricks blackened from it. The steeple on the top had obviously caved in and the rain poured inside of the large opening. The front steps were mostly broken and crumbling and I picked my way up them carefully as Duo tugged impatiently on my arm.Once we were inside I decided that Duo had obviously cleaned up the place because instead of being filled with ashes and rubble as I had expected, it was fixed up in an almost homey fashion. A worn, plaid rug covered the scarred hardwood floor and there was an old, beat up mattress in one corner, draped with blankets and a couple of pillows. There was a fireplace with a pile of broken up pieces of wooden furniture and a container of kerosene beside it. I noted the decrepit looking trunk at the foot of the mattress, which had a heavy looking lock on it. "You fixed all of this up by yourself?" I asked doubtfully.

"Yup! I actually found a lot of this stuff in the church. It was surprising cos' I thought everything had been destroyed in the fire." He looked around almost proudly and I found myself thinking of my modern loft on L1. "So are you gonna un-cuff us or what? I don't want the rain to stop.."

It was against my better judgment but I undid the lock and watched as he rubbed his sore wrist. "I usually do this the hard way, but since you're here you can help. I keep these big buckets up in the third floor where the steeple had been, to catch the water whenever it actually rains. So you gotta help me bring 'em down here, in the kitchen where the tub is. It's one of those really old fashioned white ones... the plumbing obviously don't work.. so yeah." He looked almost embarrassed to be explaining this to me. "An' don't be thinkin' that I walk around dirty all the time, cos' I don't. I just don't often get too wash my hair or get a real bath. And you could use one yaself... you smell like piss." He wrinkled his nose at me and I couldn't help but flush in response.

"Well whose fault is that?" I snapped irritably.

His mouth turned up in a grin. "I scared ya so bad that you wet yourself? I know I can get scary an' all but damn."

I glared at him. "Don't be an idiot. You're about as scary as a damn kitten." Well that was a damned lie.

He stuck his tongue out at me. "I've heard otherwise."

We went about bringing the pails of water down to the kitchen and I worried about him taking a bath in ice cold water. He assured me that it was fine and said that I could take mine first since he took longer and that while I was washing; he would start a fire. His courteousness left me completely mystified and I found myself washing as quickly as possible, then afterwards I went up to the third floor without him knowing and refilled the water; thinking that he deserved a bath of clean water, instead of water I had already used.

When I came back into the main room dressed in the worn pants he had lent me, he was laying out both of our clothes in front of the fire to dry. He had obviously just washed them. When he went to bathe, I sat by the fire; staring into the flames and marveling at everything that had happened during the night. After he had robbed me, I had fully intended to find him, get my stuff back and possibly arrest him. Instead I had wound up traipsing all over the colony with him and basically getting all of my preconceived assumptions and notions about the people of L2, blown up into a million pieces.

Wufei had once told me that L2 was a breeding ground for criminals and at the time I hadn't given that statement much thought, but now I did. Why did everyone automatically assume that people who were poor, were that way because they didn't have the desire to be anything else? Why did they think that a colony that was in such a state of poverty was the fault of its citizens? Why didn't they realize that even if L2 was a breeding ground for criminals, it was because they were just trying to survive? Starvation would drive any man, no matter how noble, to stealing. In a war, people admire those who kill the enemy, but in a time of 'peace', men who have to rob in order to get money for food were considered trash. Why? Wasn't poverty a war? I think it is. It's a war that the people of L2 had to fight every day.

But the question was, why did they have to live this way anyway? Why didn't anyone try to change things? Why hadn't anyone answered the requests to send more Preventers or to help clean up the colony? There were so many questions and so few answers. Didn't anyone want to help these people? After the last war, Relena Peacecraft had declared that finally there was peace. But was there? Wasn't peace a time when everyone should be happy and satisfied with their lives? Just because there was no war... it didn't mean that there was peace. I don't think there could ever be peace as long as people were starving and as long as people were being murdered or raped in the streets every day. The more I thought about it, the more the notion of 'absolute peace' seemed childish and idealistic. God, where had my head been all of these years? Why hadn't I realized the things that were going on in the colonies that I had long ago, sworn to protect? It made me so angry..

This was the reason why I was able to forgive Duo for his earlier actions. I mean, could I really fault him for doing what he had done? Could I really say that if I was in that same situation I would have done something different? I looked over at the kitchen and my mind supplied images of a naked, wet Duo Maxwell. I rolled my eyes at the thoughts and forced myself to stare at the fire again. With his slender body and handsome face, he probably attracted all kinds of people.. I was just another guy in the queue. My attraction for the younger man was ridiculous and it made me realize just how unprofessional this whole situation was. I supposed it was better than being fired though.

He was a rare character. He'd obviously lived this way for most of his life but somehow he was still charismatic and intelligent. He was strong, but anyone would have to be to survive on the street and he was generous as hell. Too generous, in my opinion, for someone who lived the way he did. It was strange, but it showed that just because someone was poor, didn't mean that they were a bad person. And it showed that someone who had led a hard life could have a warmer heart than people who had always lived in the lap of luxury. I guess the old saying was true that whatever didn't kill you; made you stronger.

When Duo came back from his bath, his hair was shining brilliantly and he looked even more handsome if it was at all possible. He smiled at me warmly and sprawled out in front of the fire. We spoke for awhile and then he went to sleep on his make shift bed while I stayed awake; still staring into the fire. I told myself that I was keeping vigil because of the bad neighborhood; but in truth.. it was because I didn't trust myself to sleep next to him.

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I've never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being
broke is only a temporary situation

~ Mike Todd

The next morning proved to be just as rainy and gloomy as the previous night. The rain seemed to come down harder and artificial dawn that always came with the day cycle; hadn't materialized at all. The day was just as dark as the previous night had been and it left me wondering if this kind of thing happened often.

Duo stared out the window; a frown creasing his eyebrows. "Nah, this never happened before.. whoever is working the controls is a real moron. The last few times it rained, it was darker than usual but not this dark."

We stood in the church, staring out at the sheets of rain and I couldn't help but wonder where that family of beggars was staying. "Is there a shelter around here somewhere?"

He shrugged and made a face. "Not any that I'd go to, let me tell ya that. They ain't exactly the safest places around and you would most likely get robbed. There's an orphanage not too from here though, in fact I was planning to go there today." He looked at me narrowly. "An' I don't plan on changing that just cos' you decided to play tag a long."

"I had planned to stay low profile today."

"I had planned to visit the orphanage and I'm not changin' it for you."

"Duo.." I growled in frustration and raked a hand through my hair. "Use your brain, walking around with me isn't a smart idea and you know it. We stay here."

"You can't tell me what to do, I don't care what kind of badge you have. If yer so worried about it, you stay here and I'll go alone. No sweat."

I glowered at him. "So you can run off? I don't think so."

"I already told you that I wouldn't!"

"Well excuse me for not taking the word of someone who robbed me."

Duo rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest huffily. "I can't believe this, man."

We stood in silence and I could practically feel the frustration rolling off of him. "If we were to go... and I do mean if, we are only staying for a very short time."

His eyes lit up and he grinned. "Great! As long as I get to see my little buddies, I don't care. I don't know what Cappy's gonna do and I want to see them while I'm still in one piece, you know?" I looked at him sharply and started to say something but he waved it off. "Forget about it man, you have to expect to deal with some shit sooner or later around here." He shrugged and gave me a crooked grin. "But forget about that for now, let's go."

I frowned at him darkly but nodded. I was more concerned about him than I should have been and I felt guilty.. even though I knew it wasn't really my fault.

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When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the
politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them, they show us
the state of our decay.

~ Brian Aldiss

The orphanage itself wasn't very impressive looking, just a three story brick building with dingy front steps and large windows; the kind with blue tinted panes and stickers all over them. For some reason when I had always imagined orphanages, I'd picture run down shack looking houses with patched roofs. I wasn't fully expecting the orphanage to resemble a small elementary school; or for the front entrance to lead to a reception area. It was all so business like and impersonal, that I half expected the children to be walking around in uniforms with name tags on their shirts.

Duo led me up to the receptionist and it was obvious from the way they spoke that he visited often. After we were given permission to enter fully, he looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "You look surprised."

I shrugged and felt very out of place. "I.. wasn't expecting it to look like an office building."

The smile he flashed was almost melancholy. "The orphanage used to be at the church but it had ta' be moved.. for the obvious reasons." He looked around and shrugged. "Don't worry man, the kids are really sweet and most of the faculty is pretty nice. I think most of 'em treat me good just cos' I give donations so often. I just donated the last twenty credits I had, even though it won't do much... but it's the thought that counts."

I glanced over at him. "How often do you donate? For some reason I doubt you make a fortune picking pockets and robbing people with your rubber gun," I said dryly.

He blew a raspberry at me and his eyes twinkled with mirth. "For your information, Mr. Big Shot Preventer, it's made of genuine steel!"

I raised an eyebrow at that, still following him as we walked down the long corridor. "Where did you get your hands on something like that?"

He grinned mischievously and stopped walking once we reached a large set of double doors. "That, my dear Heero.. is a secret. And as for how much I make, well that's confidential." He winked at me and made his way into the large, red carpeted room; leaving me to stare after him in amusement.

When had we stopped acting like strangers and started talking like we were old friends? I tried to remind myself why I was still on this God forsaken colony and why I was even with him in the first place, but one look at his charming smile made me push all of it to the back of my mind. I could pretend we were friends.. just for this one-day. What would it hurt? I could make myself forget about the disc and the robbery and just enjoy the company of this charismatic street urchin, acting as though I didn't have a care in the world.

I looked around the room and realized that it was a playroom of sorts. A medium sized TV was set up in the corner and a couple of older kids were sitting in front of it, obviously not bothered by the flickering picture. Several younger kids were crowded around an ancient looking board game, while others sat in the middle of the room playing with building blocks. "This place doesn't look so bad," I muttered and stood against the wall awkwardly. Children had always made me uncomfortable.

"That's because the troublemakers aren't around right now. They're all on the boulevard makin' money," Duo piped up as he appeared by my side once again.

I raised an eyebrow at that. "Why are they allowed to wander around freely? And what do they need money for if they are taken care of here?"

Duo rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall. "This is an orphanage, Heero.. not a prison. They can go out during the day but there is a curfew -- which some of them break anyway. 'Sides, the government doesn't give this place enough funds so they have to struggle to keep the electricity on and feed the kids at the same time. It's worst when the knuckleheads controlling the EC make it all winter-like though. The director can't afford to turn on the heat."

I frowned as once again, the Peacecraft-Khushrenada Administration was brought up. "Trouble makers?"

His eyes were focused on a pair of twin toddlers who were wrestling over a doll. A smile crept over his features and he answered distractedly. "Yep, a lot of the kids have been recruited in the local gangs and they like to pick on the others. The ones in rival gangs fight a lot too, so it can get pretty tense." His gaze moved across the room and he gestured at a sullen looking teenage boy who was lounging on a tattered black sofa. "That kid cracks me up." He grinned. "All the gangs always try to recruit him because he fights like a damned hellcat, but he always tells 'em to shove it."

I raised my eyebrows and appraised the kid. He was tall, lanky and didn't appear to be much; but something about the look in his eyes made it obvious that he had some kind of fire about him. "I bet it makes him a walking target though."

Duo grinned at me crookedly. "You got that right. He's one of the few kids who actually plan to get off this damned colony one day, even though he don't know how it's gonna happen." He shrugged to himself. "He got one big attitude though and he can't stand me. I had to smack him around a few times when he got too fresh."

A surprised chuckle escaped my mouth and I stared at my companion in surprised amusement. "You smacked a kid?"

He made a face. "He's fifteen, old enough to be smacked in my opinion. The kid's got a major hair up his ass and he never explained why he hates me, but whatever. Every time he sees me he says --"

"Well looky, the longhaired pansy decided to grace us lowlifes with his presence."

Duo glared at the little upstart. "He says that."

My eyebrows shot up and so did my curiosity. "I want to talk to him."

The longhaired thief slanted a look at me. "Well.. you go do that. Prepare to be annoyed."

I shrugged and started to walk towards the younger boy, almost smirking as he began to eye me warily. "What are you supposed to be, the Po Po or sumthin'?"

I stopped when I was standing in front of him and stared blankly. "The what?"

He looked at me as if I was the stupidest person in the world. "The police, you dimwit. What are you.. a moron or sumthin'?"

I rolled my eyes and looked over to where Duo had gone to play with the same twin toddlers. "I'm not a cop," I lied easily.

"Riiight, and I'm Relena Peacecraft's little brother," He snorted sarcastically.

I ignored the comment and sat next to him, eyes still trained on where Duo was tickling one of the kids. He laughed merrily at something one of them said and I couldn't help but notice the way his entire face lit up when he smiled. It was such a big difference from the thuggish visage he had put on the previous night.

"Do you want sumthin' or are ya just gonna swoon over that pansy all day?"

I glared at the boy, watching in satisfaction as he squirmed under the heat of it. "What's your problem with Duo?"

"It ain't none of your business," He snapped.

"It's not any of my business," I corrected with a smirk.

"What are you? An English teacher?"

"I thought I was a cop."

"Jeezus man, tell me what you want or get lost."

"I told you, I want to know what your problem is with Duo."

He made a face and rolled his eyes. "Why do you care?"

I opened my mouth to respond but I found that I couldn't. Why did I care? I probably wouldn't ever see the guy again after tonight and I was acting like we were good friends. My brow wrinkled and I struggled to pull together a coherent answer. "I just met him and I'm curious as to why you dislike him when everyone else seems to think the world of him."

He frowned at me. "Because..."

I raised an eyebrow and looked at him expectantly.

"He's too damned happy!" The kid blurted out. After a moment he appeared embarrassed and looked away, glaring at some far corner of the wall.

"And this is a character flaw?" I asked dubiously, disappointed despite myself. For the past fifteen or so hours Duo had come off as some kind of paragon of penurious hope, the stereotypical diamond in the rough. I had been hoping that if he wasn't all he was cracked up to be.. I could easily move on and get rid of the idiotic attraction. But no. He was 'too happy'.

"Well what the hell is there to be happy about? He lives in a abandoned building, he's dirt-poor and he gets fucking picked on all the time by Cappy an' them! What kind of moron is happy with any of that? Doesn't he wanna be sumthin' better?" The kid sounded outraged by the idea of anyone being satisfied with that kind of situation and I had to agree. "Everyone here treats him like he's some kinda God just because he donates every once in a blue moon but he's like.. this big damn moron who likes being poor!"

The corner of my mouth twitched and I tried not to smile. "I don't think anyone likes being poor.." I said slowly.

"Well then what's his problem?"

I looked over at Duo and saw that now he was engaged in conversation with the two older kids; a serious _expression on his handsome face. "I don't know, like I said... I just met him. But did it ever occur to you that he is a different person when he isn't here?"

The kid wrinkled his nose at me. "What does that mean?"

I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to pick my words carefully. "Maybe when he's here he pretends to be happy because... he wants to act like everything is okay for you kids."

He made a noise in the back of his throat and shrugged. "Whatever you say, man."

We sat in silence and I went back to watching Duo. After awhile I was aware of the fact that the kid was staring at me and I looked at him with a frown. "What?"

He continued to stare, appraising me silently. "Are you sure you ain't a cop?"

I glared at him and looked around to make sure no one was paying attention. "Pretty damned sure."

He graced me with a sly smile. "We~ell it's just that you look an awful lot like Heero Yuy, is all." He shrugged casually and crossed his arms over his own chest, mimicking my position.

I nearly choked when he said that and my eyes widened. "Shit."

A triumphant grin spread across his face. "I knew it! I saw yer picture in the paper a while ago when you saved Relena Peacecraft's life or some jazz like that. Dude -- you got some balls to be walkin' 'round here like this, especially with Duo. I'm Jacky by the way, nice to meetcha! I always thought you was so cool."

My eyes narrowed at that. "Why 'especially Duo'?"

"Well... a couple of years ago some Preventers were makin' like.. their yearly rounds and they arrested a whole bunch of people at one time, even innocent ones." He shifted and looked uncomfortable to be talking about it with me. "Anyways so they arrested a whole bunch of kids from the street gangs and some that was just mindin' their business and they got Duo's brother Solo."

I frowned darkly. "Go on."

Jacky rubbed a hand against the back of his neck and looked in Duo's direction. "His brother was a nice guy, they both used to work at the church. He was like a big brother to me an' a lot of kids, yanno? Anyways, they arrested him and charged him with some bum rap an' then he got killed in jail cos' they put 'em in there with a bunch of animals."

I was unable to talk for a moment and my hands clenched into fists. I'm pretty sure my face was frozen in some horrified look but I did my best not to voice my outrage; it wouldn't do to scare the poor kid. "So that's why Duo hates Preventers."

His head bobbed up and down. "Yup. There's even rumors that he went on some kinda.. mission to kill a bunch of 'em but I don't know if that's true."

My heart clenched in my chest and dread settled over me. "I oughta pop you right now, you filthy pig." The words rang in my head and I recalled the murderous look on his face. Every instinct in my body was telling me to cuff him right now, arrest him for being a cop killer but I knew I couldn't. I didn't have proof and I needed the disc. A million thoughts were going through my head, one of them being that this whole nice act was just so that he could get me off guard.

For some reason that's what bothered me most of all.

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