by Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: This and future parts of the arc will contain the following: Male/Male sex, angst, graphic, violence, after some consideration of the plot line; attempted non consensual sex, war flashbacks, post traumatic stress syndrome, language.

Crossing Paths + Part 3
Physical


Duo trembled, his arms straining to keep the weigh above him up and off him. Heero's face, very close to his own, was stern and unforgiving, cobalt blue eyes wells to the soul of a merciless man.

"P-please, Heero..," Duo begged. "C-Can't...!"

"You can," Heero replied. "You will."

Warm breath against his face, slight smell of some masculine aftershave filling his senses. At any other time, Duo might have enjoyed it, enjoyed Heero so close, face close enough to... but his mind was filled with other, more immediate problems, problems that his body shrieked at him to solve at once.

He couldn't hold it any longer, Duo thought wildly. That weight, that he was so desperately keeping at bay, was going to come down hard and... Heero's hands caught the barbells and lifted them effortlessly back onto the stand above Duo's head. Duo shivered in relief. For a moment, he had wondered if Heero would miscalculate, step in one second too late to stop Duo from dropping that barbell onto his chest and crushing his narrow ribcage. So far, his timing had been impeccable, but it never ceased to worry Duo that the Perfect Soldier might develop a flaw at the worst possible moment.

"Better," Heero grunted as he stepped away and began calibrating another exercise machine for Duo.

Duo closed his eyes, grateful that Heero was allowing him the privacy to pull himself back together. Duo took a breath and let it out slowly. He did this several times until his trembling stopped and he convinced his heart to stop its wild beating. Only then was he able to sit up, using a small hand towel to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and take notice of what new torture Heero wanted to put him through.

"Leg weights?" Duo exclaimed incredulously as he stood up and moved over to the machine, "Heero, I'm on leg weights every time I get out of a chair! This gravity is killing me as it is. I don't need to add to it!"

Heero was unsympathetic. "It's clear that you haven't attempted to acclimate your muscles to Earth's gravity in the four years that you have been grounded. If you could explain your reasoning behind your lack of attention to something so necessary, I can amend my opinion on that matter."

"Heero speak for, 'I think you're a lazy ass, Duo, please correct me on that.'" Duo translated sourly as he positioned himself in the machine. As Heero strapped on the leg weights, Duo continued self deprecatingly, "Well, I wish I could change your opinion about that, but I think it's the plain truth. I'm just so tired all of the time..."

"Your medication," Heero surmised. "With your permission, I would like to have the pills tested to find out their actual medicinal properties. I have contacts with a lab."

"No can do!" Duo replied anxiously. He couldn't explain, even to himself, why the very thought of Heero taking away his pills made him feel on the verge of panic. "They check for them in my system. If you take some away, they'll know, they'll report me."

"I wouldn't need to take them," Heero explained, studying Duo curiously. He finished adjusting the weights, but he didn't straighten. He stayed in position at Duo's feet, looking like a bronzed, Greek statue of an athlete in his white shorts and white tee shirt, as he reassured Duo by saying, " A few grains would suffice."

"How few?" Duo replied, not comforted at all.

"Minute," Heero clarified.

"No," Duo refused without hesitation or thought, a gut reaction that was automatic. He scowled down at his feet while Heero continued to look puzzled, more concerned about the awkward appearance of his feet, than in his own strange reaction to Heero's suggestion.

In black, hi top sneakers, Duo's feet looked far too large on his skinny legs. Heero had his hands resting on each of his ankles. It made Duo uncomfortable, knowing that Heero could feel how small they were, how useless for what Heero intended. Weak, worthless, and weird, Duo labeled himself bleakly. Why Heero was even bothering with him was unfathomable. There had to be a catch, an ulterior motive, a game in play. Duo was still too street wise to believe anything else.

"Slow," Heero said, putting aside the mystery of Duo's reaction for the moment, and turning his attention on the weight machine. "Lift with a steady motion. The goal is to strengthen the muscles, not strain them. If you feel pain of any kind, you are doing it improperly."

"K," Duo breathed and did as Heero directed. He was able to finish six leg lifts before he felt a twinge. "Hurts," he explained as Heero lifted a critical eyebrow. Heero took off some of the weight and Duo tried again. He managed ten more legs lifts and then shook his head. "I'm done."

Heero didn't comment. He took off the leg weights and put a hand out to help Duo sit up. He said, "We don't have sufficient time to begin another exercise. I have a meeting. I'll escort you back to your apartment before I go."

"Meeting?" Duo wiped his sweating face with his towel and then let the towel drape over his shoulder as he asked, "Is it a meeting with your superiors?"

"No," Heero replied and didn't explain further. His manner had turned cold, his motions becoming efficient and quick as he helped Duo to his feet and gathered up their gym bags.

Duo was looking up at Heero. He was a pale, frail, ghost next to the ex Gundam pilot. "Guess you don't trust me," Duo surmised softly and felt the place where his self esteem used to be, ache and grow darker.

"Trust is not something I am allowed to indulge in," Heero explained. "Secrecy is part of my work. It is necessary and not indicative of my estimation of your trustworthiness."

Duo worked over that and then asked, "You do trust me then?"

"I don't know you," Heero replied reasonably.

Heero motioned Duo to proceed him out of the gym. Curious eyes followed them, the few other patrons wondering about Heero, trying to guess what his relationship was to the notorious pilot of Deathscythe; a few maybe even trying to estimate how much money they could get for such information. "We seldom worked together during the war," Heero continued, "and two days in your company is not enough to form any kind of opinion about your trustworthiness."

"Guess you're right," Duo said, feeling a little better.

When they entered Duo's apartment, Duo felt his usual relief when the door was closed and locked, safe in his haven once more. He looked at Heero as he sat in a chair and turned on the television with a remote.

"Go ahead and shower first," Duo told him. "I can wait."

"Hn," Heero grunted, a sound that expressed both agreement and gratitude, as he headed into the bedroom.

Duo stared after him, only half listening to the news displayed on the television. Two days Heero had been living with him. Two days that Heero had been sleeping on that couch, drinking from his cups, eating on his plates, breathing the same air, being a warm, welcome presence in Duo's apartment. Far from being intrusive or disruptive, Heero's quiet, thoughtful, meticulous, and calming presence had been a wonderful respite from loneliness.

Heero wasn't cold, Duo had discovered, only too used to wearing an emotionless mask for the benefit of enemies. His actions were contrary to that stone like expression. He was always ready to help Duo, always ready to do his share of the housework, always willing to step in and be of service.

Of service. Duo thought about that, lips pursed and brows drawn down over his purple eyes. Heero had been raised and trained thoroughly to do just that, serve with complete, single minded selflessness in the protection of those who desired peace. Duo wondered if Heero's actions towards him were nothing more than that; unconscious reflexes instead of any genuine concern for his well being, any real sense of friendship. It made more sense to Duo, to believe that about Heero, than to accept that Heero could actually care about him.

"In other news, Duo Maxwell, one time war hero and pilot of the Gundam Deathscythe, was reported to have assaulted this man, Wald Gruen, at nightclub Zeo, last night."

Duo blinked and looked at the television screen. A rather large man, balding, ugly, and sweating nervously, stuttered, "H-he was threatening my girlfriend! Said- well, he said he wanted to do her in a graveyard and carve a scythe on her tits! Of course, I - I tried to stop him, but he's a Gundam pilot!" The man didn't have a mark on him, Duo noticed as the man continued in outrage, "He beat me bloody and then just up and left! I demand compensation! If the government is going to let crazies like that run around with decent civilians, then they should be ready to pay for the damages!"

"Charges easily refuted," Heero said from the bedroom doorway as he toweled his hair dry. He was naked, body glittering with water drops. Duo stared and swallowed convulsively as Heero continued, "There are surveillance cameras throughout this building that can attest to the fact that you did not go anywhere last night."

Duo found his tongue with difficulty. "Doesn't matter. The government will pay and the legend of Shinigami will grow, bolstering their case that I should be locked up."

Heero didn't question Duo's line of reasoning. He nodded, as if he understood, and retreated back into the bedroom to dress. He had only brought a small valise with him when he had first appeared at the apartment, but a subsequence suitcase had been delivered shortly after a phone call. Duo had given Heero a few drawers in his dresser to use and a space on the sink for his toiletries, but Heero didn't have much, his clothing consisting of a few dark shirts, the one turtleneck, a pair of shorts, a workout shirt, and two pairs of dark jeans. Where ever he was going, what ever work he was going to perform, it was informal.

Duo was still coming to grips with having seen Heero naked. The man had been perfect, absolutely perfect, every muscle toned, every line smooth and in proportion. Scattered with drops of water like glittering diamonds, the member resting in the dark, wet hair between Heero's legs, slightly swollen from the heat of the water, had been as perfect as the rest of him.

Duo, curled up in his chair, arms wrapped tightly about an inadequate jumble of limbs and white skin, felt his face go hot . Aside from some unfinished fumbling with a few girls and one male friend, sex for Duo had been restricted to a few, disturbing, sexual dreams about a shadowy male and some alone time with his right hand. Like the rest of him, sexual desire was underdeveloped, seldom needing Duo's attention. Seeing Heero naked stirred up far more feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment than any strong desire.

It was obvious that Heero was comfortable with his own body, used to being in rough conditions, or sharing quarters with a lot of men. It also seemed obvious, Duo thought, with a pang of sharp regret, that Heero wasn't sexually interested in him. His stance, his relaxed body, and his casual attitude seemed to say, plainer than words, that an agenda, whether work related or, a slimmer hope, friendship based, was the only thing on Heero's mind.

"Stupid!" Duo muttered. Stupid to have even entertained the idea that Heero might have been interested in him; a bisexual, ugly, freak who was too confused to even know what he wanted and too messed up to even perform if he ever did manage to figure it out.

Absence of sexuality aside, Duo thought bleakly, he had still craved Heero on a more honest level, having horded a spark of hope through the war, and in the years afterwards, in what Duo now realized was a ridiculous, childish fantasy, that he would meet Heero again in peacetime and be able to fan that hope into a blaze.

Why Heero? Duo tried to think of the reason his hope had first formed, his fantasy that something might happen between them some day. During the war, Heero had been passionate and dedicated in the fight for peace, but in all other areas, he had been cool, plainly letting Duo know that his companionship wasn't wanted outside of completing a mission. Still, Duo had sometimes caught a hint of humor crossing the Perfect Soldier's face, and once, he had experienced an eye meeting eye moment in which Duo had felt as if Heero had hugged him and confided in him. That momentary humor, and that one look of interest, had made the spark that Duo had carried around like a precious treasure for years.

It was hard for Duo to school his face into a smile, to lift the mask of happy go lucky Duo Maxwell. During the war, and throughout his four years of 'treatment', he had perfected it, perfected the smile, perfected even a false twinkle in his eyes, and the casual, humorous tone in his voice. He had learned never to show weakness, never to let someone see that he could be hurt, knowing that enemies were ready to exploit it.

With Duo's fellow pilots, wearing the mask had been a way to lighten their mood, bring smiles to their faces, and to not burden them with problems he had always felt that he could handle himself. They had been his friends, even standoffish, cold Heero, and Duo had been more than willing to sacrifice his own comfort for theirs. Why was it so hard to wear the mask now? Duo wondered. Maybe it was because he had let Heero see underneath the mask for a little bit, let him see the vulnerability no one else ever had, and maybe it was because Heero, strangely, was showing compassion and concern, putting Duo off balance, disrupting his thoughts so that he couldn't muster, completely, his controlled facade. Whatever it was, when Heero returned from the bedroom, dressed in a black shirt and dark pants, Duo still wasn't ready to face him with much hope of hiding his emotions completely.

"Will you be going out?" Heero wondered.

Duo shook his head and it ended as a nervous jerk of his chin as he replied, "Not after that news report. They'll be hounding me to get my side of the story, not that they'd print anything I said anyway. Making it up is more their style."

Heero nodded and said, as he tucked his wallet and passport into his back pocket, "You're not used to exercising. You're going to be sore. When I return, I'll give you a massage to loosen up any spasms."

Duo felt that warm flush creep across his cheeks again and he said in a choked whisper, "Massage?"

Heero nodded again as he headed for the door, mind on his business and not noticing Duo's discomfiture. Duo found his voice as Heero undid the locks. "Uh, Heero?"

Heero kept working the locks. "Yes, Duo?"

"Why?"

"Why?" Heero echoed.

"You said it was because I was an old pal and all, but...," Duo paused, licked nervous lips, and then plowed on, "It's gotta be more than that. You have better things to do than to sit with my scrawny ass in an exercise room and better places to be while you look for a new operative, than to be hunkering in my fish bowl and getting your good name smeared along with mine, so, I'm asking you straight out... Why?"

Duo could imagine Heero frowning, though he couldn' see it, the man not wanting to reveal anything about himself or his motives, old habits hard to put aside. At last, as he opened the door, Heero offered a bone to Duo, albeit a meager one, "I missed you," he replied and then was gone, closing the door behind him, the locks sounding loudly in the sudden silence as they reactivated.

Missed you. It echoed down deep inside of Duo and put to flight all of Duo's bitterness, his belief that Heero couldn't possibly care about him as a friend or anything else. Duo sank back into the cushion of the chair, hands gripping the arms hard as he shook his head in disbelief and then slowly smiled. Maybe it wasn't a declaration of love, or even an indication of romantic interest, but it was hope, it was a relighting of the spark within Duo. Stubborn spark. Stubborn heart. Duo's mind called him a fool and a dreamer, but he didn't stop smiling and he couldn't stop hoping as his heart began to fan that small spark into a flame.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Kracken's fic]