by Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings:Male/Male sex. Very graphic, violent, a lot of language. It gets rough here, so watch out if you are sensitive.

Crossing Paths + Part 14
Knots


"Filthy, little Gundam Pilot!" A steel toed boot caught Duo in the ribs. They cracked. Another boot to the ribs, and they broke. The ugly face of an Oz soldier thrust itself through the red haze covering Duo's sight. Eyes bulging with fury and hate, teeth gritted in a snarl, the man's big hand was twisted into Duo' bangs, forcing the retching, whimpering Duo to face him. Duo had the satisfaction of vomiting right into his tormentor's face. The men who were holding Duo, pinning his arms up behind his back, exclaimed and held him tighter, knowing the consequences of that act as well as Duo, and eager to see punishment carried out. The ugly, Oz soldier ran a hand over his face, pulling off some of the vomit and flinging it back onto Duo. Tightening his grip on Duo's bangs, he pulled a long dress dagger from his belt. It glinted as coldly as his eyes as he drew it back, clearly intending to slice open Duo's throat.

"Halt!" The voice of Zechs Marquis, Milliardo Peacecraft, brought everyone up short. The masked officer of Oz strode forward like a furious panther ready to spring on it's prey. "This is not an interrogation! This is an execution! You men are on report!" his commanding voice bellowed.

The ugly soldier growled and began to protest, his knife hand lowering. Duo used that moment to kick upward. Catching the man's wrist on his toe, he forced both wrist and razor sharp knife violently upward. His captors yanked him backwards, but it was already too late for 'Soldier Ugly'. The knife caught him across the face in a shower of blood.

"Shhh, that's the past, Duo," a firm, soothing voice said in Duo's ear, "You're dreaming."

"But it hurts!" Duo whimpered to the voice.

"Spasm from stressed muscles. Remember the exercises, Duo. That's why you feel pain."

The voice twitched Duo out of the nightmare with reason and a calm tone. A comforting hand smoothed along Duo's cheek. It soothed him into deeper sleep and, this time, there weren't any nightmares. When Duo finally awoke, it was to morning light and the strange sensation of someone carefully combing his hair.

Duo started and half sat up, automatically defensive. When he saw that it was Heero, he froze in consternation. The man was seated in a chair by the bed, hunched over the loose strands of Duo's chestnut hair in his lap, face serious and intent. "What...?" was all Duo could manage hoarsely.

Heero looked uncertain, straightening, but not letting go of Duo's hair. "You showered and then fell asleep right afterwards," he explained. "You were tossing and turning all night. Your hair is a large knot now. I thought that I would help you by combing it out, otherwise you might not have time to eat breakfast before meeting with Wu Fei."

"Breakfast?" Duo took the comb from Heero's hand and slowly pulled his hair out of Heero's grasp, his mind trying to come to terms with the elapsed time. "I really slept that long?!"

Heero's hands were still open, as if he were disappointed by Duo taking the task away from him. "You were exhausted. I thought that it was prudent to let you re- establish energy reserves in preparation for today."

Duo rubbed at his eyes and then took a deep breath to clear his head. "I guess I needed it." He clutched the comb tighter and narrowed amethyst eyes at Heero. "Were you here all night?"

"I slept at the foot of the bed," Heero replied." You were having nightmares and periodically thrashing about. I was worried that you would harm yourself-"

"You slept with me?!" Duo demanded in consternation and embarrassment.

Heero stared at Duo for a moment, maybe trying to understand Duo's reaction. "You collapsed," he explained. "Your blood pressure and pulse were not very stable. I thought that it was wise to monitor you." Heero paused and then said, puzzled, "We've slept together on several occasions during the war, and sat watch when one of us was wounded. Why does it upset you now?"

Duo found it hard to explain that his strong attraction to Heero made the idea of the man sleeping on the same bed with him far too exciting, so he passed off his discomfort as something else. "Uh, well, nobody has tried to uh, take care of me since then. I guess I've become a bit of a hermit."

Heero gave him a small smile as he stood up and stretched. Duo could see the tattoo of the tiger, in his mind's eye, stretching as well. Two tigers readying themselves for the day.

"You're smiling," Duo said around a yawn. Heero's stretch was contagious. Duo found himself mimicking it without thought. Suddenly, he had to bite down on his hand to stifle a cry, tortured muscles coming to life with pain. Heero, his back turned, didn't notice.

"I was considering ways of making you comfortable with my close presence," Heero was explaining.

Duo felt tears of pain in his eyes. He knew that his face was red with the exertion of not crying out. When he lowered his hand, panting a little, he saw that he had left teeth marks in his skin; the price of keeping his pride. "A mission?" he managed to reply, not really caring what he said, just filling the space that Heero had left for him.

Heero grunted. "Missions are cold, calculating things," he replied as he walked to the window. It was glowing with morning light. He squinted against it as he looked outside. "That's not how I wish to treat you."

"Thanks," Duo breathed, wondering how he was going to get out of bed, but knowing he needed to get his pills. He thought quickly. "Heero? I'm really hungry. Could you go and get breakfast for me? I hate to impose, but the servants are probably pretty slow. I'm sure that they have other things to do, besides fetch and a carry for ex pilots."

"Of course." Heero turned from the window, appraising Duo with a quick flick of his dark, blue eyes. Duo saw him frown, but then saw him reconsider questioning Duo, maybe thinking that food might correct whatever he saw wrong with him. "I'll go at once."

"Thanks!" Duo gave him a smile and tried to keep it from being shaky. "I really appreciate it. Uhm.... eggs, bacon, and some toast... coffee, of course: black."

Heero wasn't in the mood to be that indulgent. "Protein drink, high protein/carbohydrate bars, juice, multi vitamins-"

"And coffee: black," Duo cut in, stressing it.

Heero gave another of his small smiles, relenting that much. "Coffee: black," he agreed.

Duo was relieved. He needed at least that much, besides the pills, to stay normal until he was settled into the routine that Wu Fei and Heero were about to start him on. When Heero left to get breakfast, Duo suddenly knew how hard that routine was going to be as he climbed from the bed. Shaking and gasping with the pain of stressed muscles, Duo made his way to his duffel bag and the table, his chances of surviving, in his own mind, beginning to dwindle.

Duo's pill ritual kicked in. He set the bottles out and went through the motions after pouring himself a cup of water from the pitcher at the center of the table. The ritual had an edge of desperation this time. He found himself eying the contents of the bottles and it was all he could do not to take all of the pills out of their bottles and recheck how long he had until they were gone. He reminded himself that he had a doctor appointment soon and, if he chose to abandon everything, including the man he loved, he could get more pills then.

As Duo put his pills back, and sat limply in his chair, waiting for them to take effect, he searched inside of himself. He wondered if he really had the strength to go through with kicking his pill habit and reclaiming his life. It didn't seem, at first, that there was anything within him that told Duo for certain that he, Duo Maxwell, would go through with it or die trying. Instead, he found weakness, fear, and even a bit of cowardice. It didn't surprise him very much. He had spent four years having his fun loving, brash, and daring psyche ground under the heel of government officials, a lying press, and medication.

Finally, Duo picked out bits of the nightmare that he had suffered; the ugly Oz soldier, his broken ribs, his defiance in the face of death, and his willingness to act even when he knew that torture could have been the least of his reward for such an action. He was still that person, Duo told himself, he was still willing to stick it in the eye of the bad guy and damn the consequences. He had to be, Duo thought with some desperation, he didn't think that he would want to go on living if he weren't, if he had been completely crushed in body and spirit to the point where any man could screw his life and get away with it.

"Just wait," Duo muttered. "You are going to get yours, you bastards, and I'm going to do everything in my power to give it to you!" He decided then and there that it was going to become his mantra until he made it true. It was going to be his whip when he failed, his hand up when he faltered, and his promise he intended to keep.

By the time that Heero returned with breakfast, Duo was relaxed and ready, his body not hurting so much and the usual weariness manageable. Grimacing at the healthy food, Duo drank his black coffee first.

"So," Duo said in way of conversation. "What do Trowa and Quatre actually think about all of this now? I mean, it's bad enough that the notorious Duo Maxwell is staying with them and generating all kinds of conjecture, but now Wu Fei the eccentric scholar and Heero Yuy, savior of Relena Peacecraft and Earth, are here was well. The staff must be making some good money selling the story to the news vids."

Heero wasn't naive. He knew that having all of the ex-Gundam pilots together would make the government nervous. "Quatre has let it be known that he has invited all of us to his estate to celebrate our contribution to the war and continued peace. There will be a party and a chance for the news to be given photos and false stories. Quatre has also officially 'discovered' your illness and petitioned the government to allow his doctors to treat you."

"They will, of course, not believe any of that or allow Quatre to take me out of their hands," Duo added sourly. He picked up a health bar, eyed it dubiously, and then bit into it. After taking the pills, his stomach often became unsettled. He was pleasantly surprised when the bland, slightly sweetened bar, didn't make him nauseous.

"That is the most likely outcome," Heero replied regretfully, "Which is why we must move quickly before they can lodge a protest at our reunion."

Five highly trained individuals didn't need Gundams to overthrow governments, Duo thought wryly. He drank some of the protein drink, made a face, and put it down. Pouring some of his coffee into it, despite Heero's small sound of protest, he swirled it around until it was mixed. Taking a sip of the coffee/ protein drink mixture, Duo sighed, "That's better." He looked at Heero critically. "I realize that this is Quatre and Trowa's home, but they could go some where else. They aren't going to be much help in 'curing' me."

"By lending you his official presence," Heero explained, "Quatre protects you from the government. Quatre is a very powerful and well known person. They couldn't move against him without protests from all branches of society. Trowa is his own man, but very loyal to Winner. I don't believe that he would leave knowing that there might be danger."

"So we all sit together like a bunch of dumb ducks!" Duo grumbled as he stood up. "I don't feel very worth it, Heero."

"I know," Heero re
plied sympathetically, "Your self esteem is minimal."

"Big surprise, right?" Duo mocked and went to change his clothes. He had managed to throw on a pair of cotton shorts before collapsing the night before, but Duo was uncomfortable at the thought of having Wu Fei see that much of him. He opted for black, cotton pants instead and a white, short sleeve t- shirt.

"Time to go to the first torture of the day?" Duo wondered as he finished braiding his hair. Flipping it back over his shoulder carelessly, he faced Heero resolutely. "I'm ready to go if it is."

Heero looked... proud of him. Duo felt foolish when a warmth crept over every inch of him and a lopsided smile split his thin face. Heero's opinion meant a great deal to him just then. Heero hardly glanced at his watch as he stood up from his chair, blue eyes glowing as he nodded and said, "It is time. We had better go."

+

Wu Fei's room looked as if Quatre had decorated it especially for him. He probably had. Quatre never tired of seeing his old war comrades and even Duo had received an invitation periodically.

Mats covered the floor. A simple raised platform, with a white tube for a pillow, served as a bed. A large window looked out on a rock garden that Duo suspected had been put there for Wu Fei's benefit alone.

Wu Fei himself was seated by the window, glasses perched on his nose and bald head reflecting the sunlight as he read a vid book. He looked very ascetic, muscle wrapped over bone and face stern. When he looked up at Duo and Heero, he said in his old arrogant tone. "Yuy, go! You will be a distraction."

Heero frowned. Duo shrugged and smiled, "I can handle old Wu Fei by myself, Heero. Don't hover, k?"

Heero nodded reluctantly. "I will be waiting in the gym room."

Heero left and Duo felt as if all of the warmth in the room had left with him. Shivering a little, he hugged himself and complained, "What happened to the heat, Wuffie?"

Wu Fei scowled. "You will learn not to care, but it doesn't help your case with me that your first thoughts are for your comfort. The training I am about to impart on you is anything but comfortable."

Duo fiddled with his braid self consciously. "Sorry, Fei, I'm just skinny, you know? I feel the cold a lot more than other guys."

Wu Fei stood up, putting his book and glasses aside. "The training I will give you will teach you to control body temperature, heart beat, blood pressure, breathing, anything pertaining to bodily function. Being hot or cold can be a choice, if you ever reach the stage of mastery."

Duo flipped his braid back behind his shoulder and stepped forward, squaring his shoulders. "Well, I don't think I'll have time to be a master, or the inclination, but if you can give me enough control to get through my withdrawal symptoms, I'll definitely owe you a big one."

Wu Fei stared and then he sighed. "Sit there." He motioned to a place on the mat. Duo sat, cross legged, and tried to relax. Wu Fei sat opposite him with perfect grace as he continued, "Do you remember when were prisoners together and they turned off our oxygen supply?"

Duo stiffened and wrapped his arms about himself hard. "Hey, man, you know.... I really don't want to talk about that."

Duo remembered the incident and he felt his heart begin to beat faster, sweat beading on his forehead. It was fodder for his nightmares, that time when he had sat with Wu Fei, waiting to draw his last breath, trying not to shame himself, but, in the end crying out, using up their last, precious oxygen to panic.

Wu Fei studied Duo's reaction. "I gave you enough air to survive by controlling my own body, by needing less oxygen. That is the kind of control that I am going to attempt to teach you."

Duo felt himself go pale, trying not to breathe faster, trying not to remember the claustrophobic feeling of being strangled without benefit of someone's hands at his throat. "Did I ever- Did I ever tell you how much I appreciated that- what you did for me?"

"No," Wu Fei replied, but then shrugged. "We were soldiers. We did our duty. Thanks wasn't required."

"Still...," Duo sighed and then met Wu Fei's black eyes. "Thanks, Wu Fei," he said, being careful to give his name the correct inflections.

Wu Fei inclined his head in acknowledgement. "If you are done blathering, Maxwell, I will need you to assume a basic meditation first level. You know that much, I assume? You were given basic martial arts training?"

Duo smiled, "Well, more than basic, but, yeah, I can do that much."

Duo closed his eyes and tried to let his mind settle into a meditative state. It was harder than he thought. Things kept interfering, song lyrics, thoughts about Heero and the man combing out his hair, the memory of being suffocated... Duo tried to put that last memory back into the box in the depths of his memory from which Wu Fei's words had dragged it.

"Try a mantra," Wu Fei suggested, sensing Duo's difficulty. "Do you know one?"

Duo nodded and smiled in such a way that Wu Fei blinked in surprise. Yes, Duo thought, he did have a mantra. He began saying it to himself, repeating it until it became a steady drone, and then a white noise that let his mind settle into blank meditation. 'Just wait', Duo chanted silently to himself, 'You are going to get yours, you bastards, and I'm going to do everything in my power to give it to you!'

"Ready to begin?" Wu Fei asked after a time.

"Yes," Duo replied calmly.

"I'm going to name parts of your body, one at a time, and ask you to visualize the functioning of each," Wu Fei explained. "Today we will start with the lungs and breathing."

Duo quirked an eyebrow. "Breathing? Why?"

"Energy flows throughout your body," Wu Fei explained. "Adrenalin, oxygen, proteins, carbohydrates, etc., make up a stream of energy that you have to learn to control. Breathing also helps to regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. Breathe badly and all of these things become twisted and labored. The body becomes out of balance and damage results."

"Oh, okay," Duo replied, trying to stay in his meditative state.

"Belief IS necessary," Wu Fei growled.

"I believe in you, Wu Fei," Duo replied seriously.

Wu Fei raised eyebrows at that. He shifted uncomfortably, trying not to feel pleasure at Duo's trust. He had to be the master. He had to be stern. "Very slowly, breathe deep and imagine the breath moving throughout your body. Do this several times....."

Much later, Duo rubbed at his diaphragm as he limped to the gym hoping that Heero was still there. Twitches and twinges from his breathing exercises, and a stiff backside from sitting too long, made Duo almost eager to exercise his body instead of his mind. He didn't have any doubt that what Wu Fei was teaching him was a valid form of body control, but Duo had found it hard to sit and see himself learning the critical lessons in time. Even Wu Fei had been finding it hard to be optimistic, though Duo had done better than he had expected.

The sound of a weight machine came to Duo's ears as he crossed the large room with the climbing rock and entered the gym at the back. Heero had just finished a treadmill exercise and Quatre was on his back, methodically pushing the bars of a tension weight machine up and down. His face was intently staring at the ceiling, blue eyes and gold brows drawn and deep in thought.

"Duo," Heero greeted him and he was looking... Duo chuckled, realizing that he had been appreciating the bare, upper body, and flexing muscles Quatre was displaying. Heero was struggling with a bit of jealousy.

"Looking doesn't mean I want," Duo said jokingly, a cover over his deeper surprise. I didn't seem possible that Heero Yuy thought that he had competition, or that he could think that Duo had a chance of finding someone else to want him.

Heero smiled slightly and looked embarrassed as he motioned Duo over to the leg lift machine. Duo complied reluctantly. Sitting down, he started when Heero took that opportunity to bend and give him a quick warm kiss along his neck. Duo shivered with goose bumps, looking up at Heero with wide eyes.

"I waited a long time to reveal how I felt about you- about us," Heero said softly. "I know that I have to prove myself and show you that you can trust the things I am telling you. An illogical part of me is afraid that you will find a more agreeable partner while I am trying to accomplish that."

"No one is knocking down my door to get a date with me, Heero, so relax," Duo replied bitterly.

Heero didn't know what to say to that. He wasn't going to tell Duo a lie and say that Duo's self denigrating statement was inaccurate. Duo looked down, ashamed of his own low self esteem. Not that he thought that his own self image wasn't true, but Duo wished that he could live up to the way that Heero saw him. He wished that he could believe that he was beautiful, if even just a little.

Heero bent to adjust the leg weights for Duo. He said thoughtfully, "I can out bench press, Quatre."

Duo regained his smile at Heero's attempt to lighten the mood. "I can't get my head around how different you seem," he replied. "Old granite face, sour, no nonsense, spit and polish, always on a mission, get out of my way or die, Yuy, cracks jokes, waxes poetic, and smiles. He even learned, somewhere, to romance a guy."

"I had four years...," Heero looked distant and frowned at some memory. It was hard to tell if it was pleasant or unpleasant.

"Who was he?" Duo asked as he began to work the weights with his legs.

Heero looked startled, but then he nodded and replied honestly, "It was one sided. I never forgot you, or wanted anyone else, but he taught me how to regain some of my humanity." He shrugged. "He was good in bed and he was a romantic."

Duo felt a bit of jealousy himself, even though Heero was passing whoever it was off as a fling. "Maybe he'll show up again," Duo said, "If it were me, I wouldn't let you go so easy."

Heero shook his head and he said shortly, "It wasn't easy. He killed himself."

Duo felt nausea grip his stomach. He managed to say, "Sorry, man! I didn't mean-"

"I told you," Heero cut him off, "I wasn't serious about him. I was sad, but, I did not feel responsible for his unstable mental state or feel as if an irreplaceable part of myself had been lost. He told me... He told me that I WOULD feel that way in his letter to me."

They both fell silent, thinking, and then Duo became aware of the frantic motion of Quatre's weight machine. Heero noticed at the same time. They both turned to look at the blonde Arabian. Quatre's teeth were gritted and his muscles were shaking and covered in sweat, his face a study in anguish as he continued to pump the weights as fast as he could.

"Quatre!" Duo shouted and struggled to get out of the leg weights.

Heero, unhampered, strode to the weight machine and simply caught the bar on the down stroke with both hands. Quatre swore and struggled to continue. Heero was as unmovable as the stone out in the other room. For all of Quatre's bulk, Heero was easily the stronger.

"Quatre!" Duo shouted again. He made it out of the leg weights, left the bench, but staggered and fell to one knee when he tried to walk. "What the Hell's going on?" Duo demanded.

Quatre closed his eyes tightly and let Heero control the weight bar. Heero relaxed his grip and handed Quatre a nearby towel. Quatre dropped it over his own face, hiding from them. His muscles were still shaking from the strain. "Saw a news story," he said at last, his voice muffled by the towel, "victims of the war. Horrible! There was a little girl with a leg gone and a burn all across her face. She said... she said it happened when a Gundam fought Oz through her town."

"Yours?" Duo guessed quietly as he regained his feet and leaned against another weight machine.

The towel nodded and a small sob was heard. Heero reached down and gripped Quatre's hand hard. Quatre gripped back gratefully and began to cry in earnest.

+

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