by Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: This and other stories in the arc, Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language, maladjusted Gundam boys, explicit sex scenes, yes, sooner or later there will be explicit sex scenes, honest. ^_^
Thanks to my new beta reader, Amy


Crossing Paths + Part 7
Masks


"Duo?"

Duo hunched into his long, black coat, gloved hands sunk into pockets. He didn't want company. He had escaped the Winner estate, to perch on a craggy rock overlooking windswept mountains, just to avoid seeing anyone, having to explain, having to endure the fear and contempt they must be feeling for him now.

Quatre settled next to Duo, wincing uncomfortably as his butt made contact with the freezing stone. He was dressed in a parka, scarf wrapped tightly about his throat and ears. He looked sideways at Duo, blue eyes trying to gauge Duo's mood as he pulled something out of his pocket and held it out. It was the laminated newspaper clipping.

"Heero doesn't know, does he?" Quatre asked as Duo took the picture, looked at it with burning cheeks, and shoved it into his pocket.

"Where did you get it?" Duo wondered bitterly, face ducking so that it was hidden by his fall of chestnut bangs. "Did you go through my things, thinking that you'd find a reason to toss me out? So what if I have a bootleg copy of a colonist band? So what if I thought that I needed a stiletto to defend myself? So what if Duo Maxwell's bi and has the hots for his ex war buddy?"

Quatre pursed his lips, hugging his knees. It reminded Duo of the boy he had been, slight and angelic, a killer with the look of an innocent.

"The maid found it when she was doing laundry. She was going to send the coat to the dry cleaner. It had... It had bloodstains on it. I didn't go through your things, Duo. I don't like to guess at the facts. Heero filled me in on as much as he knew, but that wasn't much, you realize. I'd much rather hear it from you."

"Hear what?" Duo replied. He wasn't sure if Quatre was making charges that he had to defend against or not, but he wasn't up to it. The drugs were in his system full force and they had put him into the part of his mind that couldn't deal and didn't want to give a damn about anything.

"At the party-" Quatre began.

"You only know what you were told!" Duo cut in. "So do I! I don't remember much about it, Quatre. One minute I was about to get my cherry popped by the most important and notorious man on Earth or in space, Milliardo Peacecraft, and the next I was being tossed into a mental ward and told I was a violent, anti- unification sympathizer."

"Duo...," Quatre breathed, embarrassed by Duo's crude, plain speech.

"It's only the truth," Duo replied and then, thoughtfully, "Well, as much as I can remember of it. It is possible that I don't even have that much right."

Quatre shook his head, raking his blonde hair back with his fingers, as he said in exasperation, "Duo! Please stop fighting me for a minute and try to answer my questions!"

Duo shivered and scowled. "What questions?"

"I wanted to know if it could be possible that you were reacting to your pills, at the party that night, the same way you were reacting in the foyer earlier?" Quatre asked. "The incidences seem similar."

"What do you mean, 'similar' ?" Duo snapped back.

"If you were needing a 'fix', at the party that night, then, I think, you might have been unstable, mentally, at the time," Quatre explained. "If Milliardo hurt you, and he might have if you were a virgin like you say, you might have had the same reaction. You might have felt threatened."

Duo shook his head, twisting his hands in his lap in agitation. "Thanks for trying to give me an out, Quatre, but the drugs don't work that way. They make me tired, complacent, and easy going, just like the government wants me to be. Besides, I wasn't taking them then." Duo shook his head, frustrated. "I wish I could remember all of it! One minute I was watching Milli being dragged off by Relena and the next I'm rolling around with him in his room. Did he come back for me or did I change my mind and go after him?"

"You were upset," Quatre told him sympathetically. "It's possible that you decided that Milliardo could comfort you."

Duo blinked in confusion at Quatre. "What are you talking about?"

Quatre went very still and then he said carefully, perhaps not sure if Duo was ready to deal with a painful memory, "You spent most of the party waiting by the front door for Heero. I had invited him, but he never came. You were eager to see him. I guessed then that you were interested in him as more than a friend."

"Oh," Duo rubbed at his aching forehead, trying to remember. Nothing came to him.

"Duo, Heero is the type of man who mistrusts governments and institutions," Quatre explained gently. "I can't really blame him after Earth and the Colonists turned their backs on us for political expediency during the war. Because of that mistrust, though, I think it's possible that Heero might be misreading your situation. After seeing what happened to you in the foyer earlier, Duo, I'm of the opinion that you do have problems and, since the pills do calm you, I can only conclude that the government is helping you."

It played on Duo's own self doubts. He wanted to argue, fall back on the worn rhetoric he had refined and repeated for four years, that he was the victim of someone's vendetta against him or against remnants of the war in general, but Quatre had always been the sophisticated voice of reason during the war and Duo was readier to doubt himself than Quatre.

"I have a psychiatrist and a doctor on staff here," Quatre continued. "If you like, I can have them examine you. At least entertain the idea that you may be having difficulties coping and that your violent action today, and at the party, might be valid symptoms of those difficulties. As for your physical appearance, that may be a result of not taking care of yourself properly. You lived on the street as an orphan. You spent only a short time in a church institution. After that, you ate as best you could, perhaps, not really knowing how to eat and take care of yourself properly. It's not a stretch to think that your under-development might have been caused by that."

Quatre squeezed Duo's shoulder sympathetically. "Duo, all I am asking is that you consider, normal, logical reasons before considering a plot against you. If you take the time to truly think about it, you would find it as hard as I do to believe that the government, the medical establishment, the media, and the police force are coordinating against you."

It did seem an insane notion, Duo had to admit. Often, he had doubted his own conclusions and had tried to dismiss it as paranoia, but, in the end, it had been much more comforting to believe that he wasn't really mentally ill, that his body was the way it was because of the pills, and that simply not taking them any longer, would miraculously make him look like Heero. Duo didn't want to face up to the fact that he was a hundred pound weakling, that he would never look any older than a fifteen year old, and that he really was insane and should be grounded and monitored. In the face of Quatre's calm reasoning, Duo's illusions began to crumble.

"I hate myself!" Duo cried out and it echoed as he flung himself away from Quatre, forcing his gravity weighted body, at a stumbling run, back to the estate, determined to pack his bag and return to the safe illusions he had built at his apartment.

Duo found Heero waiting for him in his room, sitting on the edge of Duo's bed."We had a disagreement in our interpretations," Heero explained before Duo could do more than stop in the doorway, jaw working and mind a jumble of anguish and self-loathing. "You shouldn't accept Quatre's interpretation when we have so few facts to support either version."

"Heero...!" Duo began, but then had to stop. He couldn't find the right words to express how he was feeling. How could he explain to a man, who had always possessed the poise, the intelligence, and the body of a god, how it felt to be just the opposite, how it felt to have every hope and dream for the future ground under the heel of reality; a reality that included a life filled with disappointments. "I feel really bad, right now," Duo finally finished lamely. "I-I don't know what to think. Can you- Can you take me home now?"

"Follow me," Heero said abruptly, stood up, and strode from the room. Duo, startled by Heero's sudden departure, followed awkwardly. "Heero! Slow down!" Duo called down the length of the lavish hallway outside his room, but Heero was already far ahead and turning a corner without looking back. "Shit!" Duo exclaimed, gritted his teeth, and hurried to catch up.

Around the corner, double doors led into a huge room with a ceiling that was very high. Duo's footsteps echoed and his gasp reverberated as he gaped at the piece of a mountain that had been set into the very center of the enormous open space. Following Heero, Duo had settled on the notion that, ever a man of action, Heero was doing, promptly, exactly what Duo had asked him to do, taking him home. Taking Duo to that place instead, seemed completely out of character for Heero. It didn't make any sense, and Heero rarely ever did anything that didn't have a plan.

Heero was standing at the foot of the rock, attaching a harness to himself and then slipping on gloves. Duo understood then. It was a climbing rock used for exercising. He frowned and began, "Heero, if you brought me here to impress me-" It was supposed to be a joke, but Duo was still too upset. It came out sounding angry instead; an accusation. Heero gave Duo a look that was unreadable and began to climb. He had shed his jacket and Duo saw that he was wearing a simple, thin, white shirt and a pair of dark jeans. His indoor shoes hardly slowed him down as he scaled the rock with ease and then settled on a resting shelf not very far up.

Heero stared down at Duo, and Duo could see that his expression had changed. It held something powerful now, but Duo was too far away to figure out what it was. Heero said simply, calling down to Duo, "I have a secret. Climb up here and I will reveal it to you."

"A secret?" Duo echoed in confusion.

Heero gave one, firm, nod. "It seems that Quatre has made his case to you and convinced you that he is right. A man should listen to both sides of an argument before deciding. I wish to give you my reason why my interpretation of your situation may be the correct one."

Duo looked down at his feet, arms going around himself and hugging himself tightly. There was another set of climbing gear pooled at his feet. He pushed it with one, booted toe. "I bet you order cripples to run marathons too."

"You are not a cripple. You are not as weak as you pretend," Heero replied, voice like the lash of a whip.

Duo's head shot up, his braid tossing about behind him like the lashing tail of an angry cat. "You think I'm just faking it?!"

"I think you're afraid to fail," Heero corrected. "I think you have had enough of disappointment and you don't want to risk any more. To receive my secret, you will have to risk it, Duo. It's the price that I ask."

"Why?" Duo demanded, his voice a pleading groan now. "Why make me do this?"

"I can't make you," Heero corrected him again, "I can only ask."

"That's not an answer!" Duo seethed, hands going into fists.

"It is as much of one as you will receive until you are here." Heero patted the place beside him. "Climb or don't climb, Duo, it's your choice."

Duo was stubborn. He almost turned away, almost told Heero, 'To Hell with you!' but that look in Heero's eyes... Duo found that, more important than any secret about his life, he wanted to be closer to Heero, he wanted to understand what that look meant. Cursing under his breath, Duo bent, picked up the climbing harness, and then began putting it on. Four years hadn't erased Duo's skill. He had been trained by life and by Dr. G to be a soldier's soldier. His strength might be lacking, but his mind still knew what to do. Climbing heights, especially when a Gundam, several stories tall, had been placed into his care, had been a necessity.

It was a hard climb. Several times, Duo had to stop, seeing white before his eyes, feeling his heart pound almost out of his chest, and shaking with strained muscles, but, each time he stopped, he looked up at Heero and saw those dark, cobalt eyes, the slight frown between them, and that 'look'. Just a little closer, Duo thought, and he would know what it meant.

Duo felt an inhumanly strong arm take hold of his coat and pull him the last foot up onto the shelf. Duo was glad as he slumped onto his back and just tried to breathe, the world going dim. It was frightening how long it took him to get his breath, how long it took for the world to return, how long before Duo's eyes were able to focus on Heero's face hovering above his own. That look. It hit Duo full force. It was more than concern. It was more than a friend gave a friend. It was...

"Your psychiatrist isn't a psychiatrist," Heero said almost in Duo's ear. "He worked for Oz in a paramilitary unit."

"W-What?!" Duo forgot all about deciphering Heero. He went white, incredulous. "Are you- Are you sure about that?"

"Yes."

Duo sat up and the world spun as he exclaimed. "B-But that can't be! It can't ! If he's not a psychiatrist... Oh, God! I told him everything, Heero! I- I... Shit! Shit! Shit! I told him everything!!!"

Pride didn't matter as shock, embarrassment, anger, and betrayal hit Duo like a ton of bricks, breaking all of his control and leaving devastation in its place. He choked, shuddered, and then began to cry. He hated himself for crying, he hated the psychiatrist for not being a psychiatrist, he hated whatever powers had sent the man to trick him, and he hated Heero Yuy for witnessing his utter collapse.

Heero was very still next to him, perhaps sensing that hate, or simply not knowing what to do with a sobbing man who was dancing on the edge of total disillusionment. Duo sensed, rather than saw, Heero moving. He readied a curse, wondering if he could even shout it through his racking, heaving crying, but knowing that he would find a way, believing that Heero was about to leave him there on that rock, disgusted by him, disgusted by a man who couldn't keep it together. Duo's shock deepened as Heero's hands took hold of him and, with the uncertain hesitation, and awkward roughness of a man unused to expressing gentleness or emotions, pulled Duo into an embrace.

Duo's mind went into wild circles of confusion as those muscular arms pulled him against a chest as hard as the rock beneath them. Heero was holding him too tight, but Duo didn't care. He hid his red, weeping face against Heero, and began to cry for more reasons than the one of betrayal. Duo couldn't remember the last time that anyone had held him the way that Heero was holding him now. He wanted it to last. He never wanted Heero to let go. Forget pride, he told himself, forget hate, embarrassment, and betrayal; Heero Yuy was holding him!

"The climb," Heero said against the top of Duo's head. "I had to prove to you that you still had choices and that you were able to make one. A lot was done to you, mentally and physically, but you are still Duo and you are still the strong, intelligent, and capable man I knew from the war. As long as that is true, Duo, you can fight back. You can achieve your freedom."

Duo sniffled, the tears receding, but the ache of the wound Heero's earlier revelation had dealt him still fresh and bleeding. Duo knew that it would bleed for a long time to come. He had told the psychiatrist his inner most secrets about himself, hoping, when he had thought that he really was suffering mentally, for a cure good enough to win him release to space again. To think that the man had been funneling everything Duo had said to a third party...

Duo's mind closed up like a sensitive flower and he shoved emotions and the bitter truth down deep. He simply couldn't handle it. Heero wanted to believe that he was strong, but, at that moment, he felt very weak and incapable of dealing.

"I'll take you back to your room," Heero said after awhile and Duo sniffled and nodded. "I'll repel us down to the ground."

Duo couldn't look at Heero. He felt ashamed and uncomfortable as he was forced to admit, "I don't think I can help much. That kind of- kind of took it out of me."

It was awkward. Heero strapped Duo to his own belt and Duo held on as best he could, dangling from Heero, as the man slowly lowered them down by ropes. At one point there was a snag and Heero spun alarmingly. Duo felt Heero's body impact hard with the rock and he heard Heero's deep grunt, but then the man straightened out the lines and continued on with hardly a pause.

When their feet were on the ground again and Heero was unbuckling them, Duo said softly, "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Heero told him as he put an arm around Duo's waist, supporting him as they limped back to Duo's room.

Duo was exhausted. Between the drugs, the revelation of Heero's secret, and the climb, he could hardly think straight or support his own weight as Heero sat him on the edge of his bed. Using efficient motions, with a skill he had probably picked up during the war helping with the wounded, Heero helped Duo off with his coat, gloves, boots, and loosened the buttons of his shirt.

Duo allowed himself to fall back onto the bed then and Heero lifted his legs and moved them onto the bed so that Duo was lying flat. A comforter came next and Heero tucked it up underneath Duo's chin.

Duo couldn't help a weary, bitter smile. "Thanks Mom," he breathed and fell asleep as Heero snorted in amusement. That small, forced attempt, to lighten a depressed atmosphere, helped Duo to slip into pleasant dreams when it should have been nightmares.

+

Duo awoke some time later, feeling rested and more alert, but not emotionally better as he remembered the awful information that Heero had given him earlier. He lay quietly, thinking, trying to come to terms with it, when he heard a movement not far off.

Duo blinked as he turned his head and saw Heero, shirt off, staring at himself in a dresser mirror, body turned at an awkward angle as he tried to see the back of one shoulder. The skin there was obviously mangled.

Duo was off of the bed at once, ignoring a brief wave of dizziness and the drag of his body, as he made his way to Heero. "You did this climbing down, didn't you?" Duo accused roughly, trying to hide his guilt behind irritability, acting as if it Heero had done it on purpose. Surprised, Heero looked down his body and under his own arm as Duo appeared there and tried to examine the wound. "It's nothing," he said guardedly and tried to turn away.

Duo stopped him with his small hands. "Don't be a baby. Let me look!"

Heero's skin shivered as Duo touched him. At first, Duo thought that it was aversion, but then Duo saw a hot blush bloom under Heero's tanned skin. Duo felt a corresponding blush on his own cheeks as he tried to keep his mind on the task at hand. The wound was worse than it had first appeared. The skin was definitely torn and ragged... Duo frowned as he touched the 'skin'. It felt like skin. It looked like skin, but underneath, Duo could see another layer of paler skin.

"Heero?" Duo wondered, shocked.

Heero shrugged. "I told you, it's nothing."

"It's fake skin, Heero!" Duo argued. "It's stuff they use when someone's been... badly burned or scared. Heero, did you-"

"No," Heero replied, quickly reassuring Duo. "I was working undercover, gathering information. I couldn't take the chance that I would be found out, questioned, and strip-searched. I have marks that enemies might know."

"What marks?" Duo wondered, his relief that Heero wasn't hiding the aftermath of severe injuries, being replaced by suspicion and confusion. When Heero didn't reply and began to pull away again, Duo dug his fingers into the fake skin and ripped it with a violent motion.

Heero let out a shout of pain. The bio adhesive of the fake skin was strong, meant to be taken off with a special solvent. "Duo!" he protested.

Duo reached out again, almost manic, and ripped again before Heero could back away. This time, fake skin was taken off from Heero's side and chest so harshly that his real skin bled. Heero grabbed Duo's wrists then and held them tightly, face furious.

"Why are you hurting me?!" Heero demanded.

Duo turned his hands into fists, helpless in Heero's great strength. He replied harshly, "No lies! Not from you."

Heero looked pained as he released Duo abruptly. He turned away and said firmly, "No, not from me."

Duo hesitated, but Heero didn't move. He didn't offer resistance as Duo reached out and began to, much more gently, peel away the rest of the fake skin. It took time and patience, but what Duo's fingers were revealing kept him working at it. Very slowly, a large tiger appeared; Orange, crimson, and black, the front half was spread across Heero's shoulder blade, mouth snarling with fangs, eyes bright, and claws extended and clawing an invisible foe. The bottom half of the tiger disappeared around Heero's side. Duo kept working until he was facing Heero, revealing the powerful legs and hindquarters, bunched in a spring over his muscled stomach. The tail was curled, coming up to center on one of Heero's nipples.

"It's beautiful," Duo began to say, almost discarding anger and fear that Heero had been hiding something from him as well as his enemies, when he saw the end of the tail. It was in the shape of a scorpion stinger. "Tiger Cell," Duo breathed, blood turning to ice as he recognized something every Oz officer would recognize and fear, the symbol of one of the most deadly and fanatic mercenary cells during the war.

Duo looked up into Heero's guarded eyes anxiously, hand on the stinger of the tiger. "Heero, what the Hell's going on?"

+

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