by: Kracken
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence

Tin Soldiers series + Part 9
Unmasked

I don't know what I looked like when Heero finally did come back for me, but I saw him frown at me as he went to his computer and shut it down. Huh? I know my _expression was dumbfounded, dumb being the operative word here. When he picked up his car keys and gathered some material and his electronic clipboard into a briefcase to take home, I finally got that he was going to take me directly home. I must have looked like shit then. I didn't think that Heero had changed from the war so much that he wouldn't still be a stickler for entering things into his computer, sorting it, compiling it, making back up copies, and then sending it to all pertinent personal before even contemplating sitting down.

"You didn't eat?" Heero asked as he looked down at the lunch that had been delivered to me.

I had tried to eat, but... okay, I'm going to admit something right here. During the war, we didn't have good access to something called a 'doctor' because doctors and hospitals tended to be under enemy control. They didn't exactly welcome little terrorists who had gotten hurt stomping their installations into mush with their Gundams. So, we were used to patching ourselves up and finding drugs in very interesting ways that had nothing to do with handy things like prescriptions. When I complained to Mr. Secretary that I was going to die from my headache, he told me I should get a prescription for these wonderful pills he was taking for back pain. It didn't take much to bully him into 'lending' me some. Now, don't try this at home kids. There's a reason you have a doctor give you those things. One man's medicine can be another man's poison. I, of course, think that I am a badass ex Gundam pilot and therefore smart enough to ignore that pearl of wisdom. When you've administered your own iv drip, anesthetic, and stitched up your own wounds, two pills didn't seem so dangerous.

"I'll take it home and eat it later," I said. I shoved the food and a few other things sloppily into my satchel and slung it over my head. "Ready when you are."

I wasn't ready at all. In fact, I was having the disconcerting feeling of being drunk and I wasn't sure I was going to be steady on my feet. Heero was giving me that 'field assessment' look and I knew that if I didn't get up I was going straight to a medic. No way, no how, I thought, gritting my teeth. I wasn't going to look like a weak shit in front of Heero and I was NOT going to miss a car ride with him.

I levered myself up and was glad when my knees locked and held. So far, so good. Now, if I can make it to the car.... "Lead the way, He-man!" I chuckled and then flushed red. Had I really said that? That was the same stupid stuff that I had said when I was fifteen!. Heero hadn't liked it then and, when I glanced at his face, he wasn't liking it now.

Heero's jaw tightened and he nodded. I followed him out of the office and concentrated on a spot between his shoulder blades as I forced one foot in front of the other. I had this disconcerting feeling that I was about an inch off the ground and that the walls were soft, like marshmallows. Trying to keep my mind off of that, I found myself watching the shifting impression of Heero's broad shoulders under the material of his coat

"Can you still bend steel with your hands?" I wondered. Fuck! Why was I saying this stupid shit? It was like some imp was taking random control of my mouth and I couldn't stop it.

Heero's head cocked a little. I'm sure he was as confused as I was, why I was bringing that up. "Yes," he replied shortly.

Heero's past was a can of worms I hadn't tried to open during the war. My past was pretty damn dark, but it was a tragedy, a by product of soldiers forgetting that the citizens under their control had some right to go on breathing. Heero's past, I felt, was much more of a calculated, personal, crime. Someone had systematically and deliberately, messed him up. If you had asked me back then, if he would have been a candidate for surviving the war, I think I would have said no. Someone had taken a human being and given him one purpose and one purpose only in life, and once that was over, what was there for someone like that? A self destruct button, I had thought, not a cushy job with Quatre Winner and honest to goodness, friendly, associates... oh, yeah, and a cat for a pet...

"Sally and Quatre showed me that I was still relevant," Heero said stiffly. "That I still had a purpose."

I blinked, completely confused and then felt heat scald me from the top of my head down to my toes. I had said all of that out loud! God! I was seriously messed up! How could I have done something so stupid?! "Sorry, Heero, I didn't mean anything by that...." I was stammering, sounding even more like a complete idiot.

Heero shrugged. "You didn't say anything offensive. My past is of interest. Since you will be working with me, and we were comrades in war, I think you are entitled to question me to determine my competence."

I rubbed a hand over my face. Heero thought that I was questioning his sanity? His ability to do his job? I tried to recover, afraid that he was offended and just not showing it. "I joined the Preventers to feel relevant, too," I told him, offering him some of my past for kicking his. "I was pretty screwed up after the war... I drank... lived in a shithole place... basically wallowed in apathy and couldn't bring myself to care about anything. I didn't have family. I really didn't have friends. I didn't have time to think past getting my revenge on Oz and helping the colonies, so when the war ended... there was just a big, lonely nothing..." I fell into contemplating that, my feet still automatically following Heero. "I missed you..."

I bumped straight into Heero's back. He turned abruptly with the most intense look I have seen yet. I scrambled to figure out what I had said. It came back to me in fits and starts and then I went white. I had said...

"What was there to miss?" Heero wondered bleakly.

There was a hollowness at the back of Heero's blue eyes even while he was narrowing them at me like laser beams. "I guess..." I fumbled for the right words. "I guess I thought we were... kind of... friends..."

"Friends?" Heero sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It made it turn into a messy, chocolate tangle and he looked once more like the fifteen year old Gundam pilot of Wing. "We were hardly together on any mission... except by accident. I wasn't 'friendly' towards you when we were together. Why would you assume..."

Heero looked around us and he was suddenly self conscious. He shrugged and began walking again. My fuzzy brain took a moment to get my legs going again. I was able to hear only the tail end of what Heero was muttering to himself. " - to be expected. You were always the fool, back then, always being 'friendly' to everyone."

Fool? I frowned, but I couldn't think clearly enough to really get angry. I felt more sad, actually. Yeah, I guess I had imagined a lot of things. Is that crazy? When you've got nothing but the burn for revenge in your belly, and no expectations for a future after you get it, why can't a person imagine something better, like having friends or that someone actually gives a damn about them? Sure, I carried it past the war and into my later life, but.... I'm such a loser... "It wasn't just 'everyone'," I muttered. Heero's shoulders gave a small twitch, like I had thumped him between the shoulder blades and surprised him. He didn't say anything or turn to look at me though. I guess that was answer enough.

We reached the car. Getting in and sitting down was such a relief that I almost passed out. My legs were shaking and my hands weren't much better as I fumbled to put on my seat belt. Heero turned on the engine and it purred to life. He glanced over at me and I tried to look tired and bored, staring out of the window even though there was nothing to look at yet.

"You shouldn't have come to work today," Heero said as he drove his car from the garage. "Quatre would have understood... I would have understood."

"Do you think the men would have understood?" I sniped back as I crossed arms over my chest tightly. "First day and, sorry, but your instructor was too much of a pussy to come in today."

"Duo...," Heero growled at my language and then surprisingly said, "I understand your reasoning, but I think that you may have stressed your health, so you must make certain that you don't over exert yourself tomorrow. "

"Looks like somebody gave the 'Perfect Soldier' some humanity. I wonder who he was?" I bit my lip hard. Yeah, I was 'thinking' that and it came out, just like that. Note to self: never take someone else's pills ever freakin' again! I was sunk. I was dog meat. Heero was going to burn my skin off with some choice words that would contain the phrase, 'Mind your own fucking business.' Scratch this car ride. Scratch any improvement over our 'relationship' that I had gained from my suicide run on the obstacle course.

Heero didn't say anything though. He was so quiet that I found my eyes closing, my thoughts turning to a mindless mush, and my head slowly coming to rest against the window next to me. Despite all of my resolve, I fell asleep, but not before Heero said something, in a whisper, something that I have to think he would only say if he supposed that I was already asleep. It tickled the tail end of my quickly disappearing consciousness.

"You did, Duo."

When I woke up again, I experienced one of those mind bending moments when you don't know what it is going on, not even a little bit. I was staring at the gently whirling blades of a ceiling fan and a whitewashed, bead board ceiling. 'Mine', some small mental voice offered. My home. Okay, if that was true then... I tried to sit up abruptly, remembering the car ride, remembering Heero talking, remembering... I went flat on my back again without having moved more than an inch as the room spun.

"Don't get up," Heero's voice said unnecessarily. I swiveled my eyes until I found him. He was walking over to me, his tie loosened and his jacket was off and draped over the back of a chair. He looked like a school kid in his white shirt and I almost expected him to say that I was late for class.

I tried to say something, but my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls. "Drink!" I croaked.

Heero nodded and went to the small refrigerator. He opened it and peered about. "You don't have any chilled water."

"Soda!" I managed. He looked over at me from the small kitchenette disapprovingly, but then shrugged and brought a can over to me. I popped it open gratefully and lifted myself up enough to take a good, long swig. Making an "Ahhh!" sound afterward, I shakily handed the can back to him and he placed it nearby on a side table.

"What did you take?" Heero asked.

I winced. "If you don't lecture me, I'll tell you. " My voice was back even though my tongue still felt swollen. I felt the mussy after effects of the drug still in my system, but I wasn't as mentally incapacitated as before. I could actually THINK about what I was going to say. When Heero just stared at me, I sighed. "Okay, it was a prescription for back pain. Our secretary gave them to me. My head really hurt... "

"What was the drug called?" Heero asked and I knew that he wanted to know in case there was a need for a doctor. I told him and he considered it as if he had an encyclopedia of drugs and drug interactions in his head. I bet you that he did. He nodded after a moment and said, "Your blood pressure was low when I brought you in here, but it's since become normal. I checked your pupils and took your pulse rate. When I concluded that you would recover on your own, I decided not to call the paramedics."

I grunted, "Thanks, wouldn't want to give those guys another episode of our soap opera."

Hero frowned and came closer, looking down at me. "Are you being sarcastic?" he wondered. "Do you want me to call a doctor?"

"No! That's the last thing that I want!" I retorted. "My stay in the hospital was enough to last me for awhile. You did good. We're tough Gundam pilots. A little drug daze is nothing compared to a full Oz interrogation, right?"

Heero looked... well, like I had just thrown a stinking corpse between us. He suddenly crossed his strong arms over his chest and turned away as if contemplating the beach outside of the open window. Good going, Maxwell! I swore at myself and tried to recover.

"Uh, sorry about that," I managed lamely. "Didn't know that you didn't want to talk about... you know... the war. Quatre's the same way. He gets all cold looking, like he would love to tell his security detail to kick my ass. I promise, I won't bring it up again..."

"That isn't a problem for me," Heero replied. "I consider the war to have been an achievement to be proud of."

"Oh, well, then, what..." I was confused. I rubbed at my head, hoping that it wasn't going to start aching again. Right now, it was still numb, but I could feel the potential there.

Heero didn't say anything and then, very slowly, picking over his words, he replied, "That mission, when you were captured, when they hurt you so badly... It was my every intention to silence you."

I thought that I knew what he was talking about, so I replied, trying to make it a joke to lighten his mood, "Guess shooting me is like shooting kittens, people fall for the big eyes every time."

He whirled and looked... pissed? Upset? Sad? It was just indescribable. Maybe it was a lot of things rolled into one. "You held out your arms and you told me to go ahead. You said that it was fate."

I pushed my bangs out of my eyes and thought that over. "Uh, I don't remember it exactly like that. I think I was joking." I thought about it. "Maybe I wasn't... I was pretty banged up."

Heero put hands in his pockets and just stood there. At last, when the silence was becoming uncomfortable and I almost nodded off again, he said, "I didn't shoot you because...." he just stopped and flushed.

"Why?" I prompted, interest bringing me sharply back into focus.

"I thought that you were serious, that you were that dedicated to the cause," Heero admitted, but I had the odd feeling that he had changed what he'd been going to say. "I would have been a fool to eliminate someone as dedicated and as skilled as you were then. Saving you was the only course of action."

"So..." Yep, my head was starting to ache. Confusing heart to heart's was the last thing that I needed to be doing just then. "What's so upsetting then, Heero?"

"Isn't looking at you, and knowing that I had planned to kill you, would have killed you if I hadn't reconsidered, a reason to be upset?" Heero walked around the small room, picking things up and then setting them down. He wasn't really seeing them, so I wasn't thinking about the 'snooping through my things' aspect of it. "I don't want to think about that," Heero added finally.

"I can live with not talking about the war," I replied. "That's why I don't hang around other soldiers too much. I don't want to talk about it either. So..." I shifted, trying to sit up again. "Let's talk about something else. Did you... what? Carry me in here? Did anyone SEE you?"

Heero switched tracks, which told me how much he really didn't want to talk about the last subject. I filed that away. It was so odd, that he was proud of his war record, that talking about it didn't bother him, yet talking about my foray into enemy hands did. It was perplexing and I was still too groggy to put it all together.

"No, no one was around," Heero told me. "There is nothing to be embarrassed about."

"No?" I sighed. "I took pills I shouldn't have and passed out on my work associate. I then had to be carried like a baby and put to bed. I think that's pretty damned embarrassing."

"Yes," Heero replied and his lips did a small twitch as if it had all been pleasant or funny to him. That confused me even more. I couldn't picture Heero liking to carry, or take care of, a dumb shit like me. Maybe he had a Florence Nightingale complex or something? Maybe he did get a kick out of taking care of my sorry ass... Okay, so I'm still drugged. Thinking things like that pretty much confirmed it.

"You can go, if you want," I said. "I can take care of myself. "

"Hn," that oh so expressive grunt, that I knew so well, came from Heero. It could mean anything, but I knew right then that it meant, 'You're full of shit.'

The sun was going down in shattering shades of yellow and orange. "What are you going to do?" I wondered. "Stare at me all night?"

"Just until the drugs leave your system," Heero replied absently as he picked up a piece of gear that I had taken from my Gundam before I had destroyed it. A last memento of my buddy Deathscythe. It always choked me up, holding that bit of history. I had killed with that machine, but it had been the highest, most important point of my life. I knew that I wasn't ever going to stand at that kind of pinnacle again.

"I didn't keep anything of Wing," Heero said, as if he were talking about toast or the paint job on the wall. I knew better. Even someone like him couldn't feel NOTHING about those machines.

"It was a temptation," I said softly, "To make it all go away. I'm glad that I resisted the urge. I have a few other things that I kept."

"You do?" He turned to me, curious, and it was then that he showed me the face he probably showed to those people who liked him. It was open, relaxed, and... I didn't want it to go away. I smiled and tried my hardest to stay focused and keep the 'smart ass Duo' under lock and key.

"Want to see?" I asked and he actually, 'brightened'. There wasn't any other word for it. It was then that I realized that he was feeling the same thing that I was. Heero, too, knew that our time in the war was unparalleled and not to be repeated. I think he craved that revisit to glory as much as I did. We couldn't forget the deaths and the destruction that we had caused, that was ever present, but we could ease that by remembering all the lives that we had saved and the colonists that we had kept free of Oz control. "There's a box in the drawer over there. " I pointed to the dresser. "Top, right. " I smiled as he searched, enjoying his eagerness. This was much better than watching him pace like a caged tiger until he deemed that I was fit to be on my own.

Heero had the box in his hands and he brought it over to me. I boldly patted the blanket beside me, "Sit down, man!" I said and he gingerly sat on the edge of the mattress. I took the top off the box and dumped everything out into my lap. Heero's hands were immediately into the pile, pulling things out as eagerly as a kid with candy. He still had that very reserved _expression on his face, but he couldn't keep his eyes from sparkling with his excitement. I couldn't keep from staring at him and I did just that while he sifted through my, no, our, past.

I had newspaper clippings, a few clips of newscasts, showing us at different speeches and ceremonies. I had my medal. Heero touched it reverently and then put it aside. There was a doodle pad showing several things that I had expressed during the war, some of it not flattering to the other guys, a lot of it not flattering to Dr. G. Heero closed it after seeing a small cartoon of Deathscythe having 'relations' with the good doctor. There were notes, a few letters from Quatre, things that I had saved from my time with the others during missions. I had a small knife from Wu Fei with his family dragon crest on it. He had given that to me after our rescue from an Oz prison; an acknowledgement that we had nearly died together. There were several ticket stubs from Trowa's circus and a handbill, marking the time that I had gone there with Hilde. I had never been to one before and I had wanted to remember it. There was a picture of Trowa as a clown inside the handbill. There was also a scarf embroidered with a complicated design. That marked the time that I had spent with Quatre hiding out in the desert. He had given it to me so that I could wear it to keep the sand out of my nose and hair.

Heero looked at each item, at the still photos, at the bits and pieces of the war that I had gathered, and then asked after I had stopped explaining it all to him, "They all gave you something that you could keep. I see that I wasn't able to do that or that we weren't together long enough for you to wish to remember it."

Well, wasn't that a kick in the gut? I was struggling for something to say. Even if I hadn't been flat footed by the words, I think that I would have been stunned by the emotion behind them. He was trying not to show any, of course, and he gathered everything back into the box and went to put it away just to cover it up, but I could see it plainly that Heero was disappointed... could I even think 'hurt' by his being left out?

I wanted to shout, 'I only needed one thing, and that was you, and I knew that I couldn't have it!' and that frantic thought led to the one thing that was as close as I had gotten to having what I had wanted. The vid clip. It was in the same drawer where I had kept the box. Heero had missed it the first time, but a second... That was just asking for too much luck.

I was right. Heero started to put the box back, his expression of disappointment raw for me to see despite his efforts to hide it, but he paused and reached into the drawer. He pulled out the vid clip and then turned to me to ask if it was something from the war that he had missed. It looked old. My constant turning it on had worn the button smooth of the name of the clip There was just an H and an e visible. Heero wasn't a stupid man. A lame excuse wasn't going to cut it.

"Heero, " I began, bracing myself, for what, I didn't know. "I have to tell you something... I..."

"This is of me?" Heero asked and then looked calmer, relieved even. I might even go so far as to say amused. "Probably of me in some humorous pose or situation like in your notepads? I can understand if you don't want me to look at it. My dedication did annoy you. It makes sense that you had wanted to-"

"Heero," I said quickly, cutting him off. "Uh, it's not that at all. I was just... I wanted to... Oh, hell! Just turn the damned thing on!"

Heero looked at me curiously and then his finger slid to the on button. When his picture sprang to life, he stared at it in the palm of his hand. I forgot to breathe.

[part 8] [part 10] [back to kracken's fic]