see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Lost Souls + Chapter 34
Winner Mansion, Qatar
January 13, 196
Lying alone in his huge, opulent bed, Quatre gave up on trying to sleep and flipped idly through the channels of the wide screen TV at the foot of the bed. In the weeks since peace was declared, he hadn't had one good night's sleep. He didn't know which nightmares were worse, the ones about death and carnage, or the ones about losing Trowa.
Not that he didn't get to see him whenever the urge got too strong to deny. The news channels had hounded all five of them non stop, trying to chart their every move, digging for every little detail of their lives as they tried to fit back into society. All he had to do to see any of his friends--or former friends-- was to switch on the TV or computer, or open a magazine.
And there was Duo on TV now, at some New Years party with a silly purple paper hat perched on his head and that girl, Hilde on his lap, chugging a bottle of expensive champagne. The priest's shirt and black jodhpurs were gone; Duo had on tight black jeans and a sky blue shirt that looked very nice on him. As far as clothing went, he looked good. He was obviously drunk, though, and a little of the wine ran down his chin as he grabbed Hilde and gave her a sloppy, open-mouth kiss.
That had been a shock, even after the peace reception fiasco. Quatre had had no idea that Duo was interested in Hilde that way. He had hidden out at her place for a while during the war, it was true, but he'd never said anything about any romantic leanings, and Duo had told him just about every other personal thing imaginable. The only one Duo Maxwell had wanted then was Heero Yuy. As the news clip went on, Quatre studied Duo's eyes. Even drunk and obviously clowning for the camera, something wasn't right--the riotous, outrageous silliness seemed forced to Quatre, who knew Duo better than perhaps anyone else in the world. It was obvious, however, that Hilde was very much in love, or at least lust, with Duo. She was all over him. Quatre studied her for a moment as an uneasy thought arose. She wasn't Asian, but with her tousled dark hair and deep blue eyes, not to mention her boyish, flat-chested build, she reminded Quatre just the slightest bit of Heero. He wondered if Duo had picked up on that.
A few channels later he happened across a recap of Relena's New Year's Day address to the newly united world. With Heero and Wufei flanking her like a pair of guard dogs in their fine new uniforms, she'd announced the formation of a new world security force, the Preventers. Heero and Wufei were among the first members, along with Sally Po and Lucretzia Noin. It was a fine idea, a noble one, and in good hands. Quatre was even a little jealous. His sisters had wasted no time in bringing him back into the family business and he'd been working at a desk in a suit twelve to fourteen hours a day. There were meetings, luncheons, presentations, and seemingly endless briefings about the Winner Corporation's far flung operations and charitable institutions--hospitals, war orphan homes, free clinics on the remaining L colonies, soup kitchens for the homeless, low interest loans to peace-based start up businesses and veterans trying to establish a new life. It was worthy work, important work, and it was his duty to see that it was done right, but he felt the weight of it on his narrow shoulders already. No wonder he'd seen so little of his father growing up.
Heero and Wufei looked the same as they ever had, stone-faced, aloof, dedicated. Heero, who now, together with Wufei, held the rank of Preventer Captain, was the head of Relena's security detail and never far from her side.
‘You finally got your way, Relena,' thought Quatre. Her gaze often strayed to Heero, and there was no mistaking the proprietary glint in her eye. She probably thought she was in love with him, but to Quatre it looked like something else, and something that was most certainly not reciprocated. The way Heero had been since that last conditioning by J, Quatre doubted he was capable of falling in love, even if he'd wanted to. There'd been a moment, that night he'd read Heero in the tent, that he'd had hope of it wearing off, but instead it had gotten worse as the war got worse. By the time they were all together on Peacemillion, Heero was beyond everyone's reach. Relena had offered him what he must see as an extension of his wartime service, the only thing that had really given Heero Yuy a sense of purpose in his life. No wonder he'd jumped at the chance. But why exclude Duo? Poor Duo.
Before he could change channels, Trowa's face flashed onto the screen. He was standing with his sister with some sort of circus training facility in the background. Someone was on a high wire over a net, and others were swinging on trapezes. They were back on L-3; Quatre knew this already. Trowa had his bangs brushed back today, revealing those intense green eyes. He looked tired, Quatre noted; there were dark circles under Trowa's eyes. He was dressed in a tight tee shirt, cloth wristbands, and the sort of tight-fitting body suit that trapeze artists wore and it showed off every muscle and line of his long, lean body. The image blurred as tears welled in Quatre's eyes, and his thumb was poised over the channel button on the remote, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to change it.
"But I thought you worked as a clown and acrobat?" the report was saying.
"I did, but I need a new challenge," Trowa replied. He was smiling, but his eyes were guarded as always. "After flying a Gundam, it's pretty hard to keep your feet on the ground."
"He's an amazingly fast learner," his sister told the reporter. "He's got the agility and the reflexes, not to mention the strength."
Trowa's arms were bare, showing off the lean, corded muscle. Quatre had a sudden flash of memory of what it felt like; being held in those strong arms, and quickly turned the TV off.
The loss of Trowa was still an open wound in his heart, one he wasn't sure would ever heal. Not when he saw his face on TV, on every newsstand and public vid panel at every hour of the day. The formal portrait that had been taken of them at the start of the party was being sold in poster form on Earth and every station and colony, a best seller, as were other pictures taken of them individually at various times. According to the news yesterday, pictures of Duo and Heero were the most popular, in part because there were so few of them. Those two were very good at keeping away from cameras.
It wasn't as if Quatre didn't know where Trowa was. He could have tried to contact him. But he knew Trowa wouldn't do the same, not after that last angry exchange. Quatre pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, trying to stop the angry tears. How could it have ended like that, so suddenly, after all they'd shared? He'd asked himself that a thousand times since that awful night, but he already knew the answer. It was his own fault.
‘I won't be your dirty little secret.'
That's how Quatre had treated him, right from the start, hiding away to have sex, not letting Trowa touch him in public. Quatre hadn't been ashamed of Trowa, though. He was ashamed of himself. Trowa was the best thing that had ever happened to him in his whole life, and he'd ruined it by being a coward. To see Trowa now, in vids and magazines, was an excruciating reminder of all his failures, not the least of which was nearly killing Trowa. No matter what Trowa or the others had said, Quatre could not forgive himself for that. Not ever. One of the more lurid magazines had described him as "the killer with an angel's face." When Quatre looked in the mirror, it was the killer he saw, and the coward. It was why he worked the hours he did; as long as he was busy, he could keep the pain, guilt, and self-loathing at bay. But at times like this, in the dead of the night, the depression caught up with him, smothering him. Sometimes he took the Lamborghini out on lonely desert roads and opened it up, roaring through the night as if he could outrun his demons. On other nights, like this one, when he was just too tired and depressed to make the effort, he pulled the locked metal stash box out from under his bed and rolled two, three, sometimes four fat blunts from the big bag of weed Duo had gifted him with when they parted in Sanque. Duo had been the only one who said good-bye to him. Trowa had disappeared before the end of the party, and Heero and Wufei had been in some security meeting. Quatre wanted to wait for them, but Uncle Ahmed had arranged their flights and thanks to Sanque air security laws, even flight schedules for the private planes of Earth's richest citizens couldn't be changed without a twelve-hour notice. So he and Duo had hugged and cried and promised to get together soon. Duo had shoved a wrinkled paper bag into Quatre's hands as they parted, giving him a grin and a wink. Quatre hadn't thought to bring a gift at all. Knowing very well what was in the bag, and wondering how the hell Duo had scored in the short time they'd been here, he'd hidden it away, another dirty little secret to keep from his family.
Sitting alone now on his private balcony, staring up at the full moon, he lit a second blunt from the stump of the first and took a long toke, wondering what he was going to do when his stash ran out? It was the only thing that got him through the night lately. Duo could get him more, of course. He'd wanted to see him again soon, anyway. He'd give him a call beforehand about it. He grinned wryly up at the moon. It wasn't the sort of thing he could ask his faithful new appointment secretary, Yusuf, to take care of for him. It was sort of fun to imagine what the expression on the earnest young man's face would be, though, if he did. Or his sisters, if they found out. Or, Allah forbid, Uncle Ahmed or his eldest sister Fatima, who in reality held most of the power in the family, regardless of the deference paid to Quatre.
His mirth was short-lived. From here he could see the sprawling glass and steel corporate headquarters looming in the night. Responsibility. Duty. Honor. He'd placed all that ahead of love. He'd damn well better get used to it. If only the weed could keep the nightmares away.
January 30, 196
Trowa looked down from the trapeze platform to see Duo Maxwell waving at him. He had on faded jeans, battered-looking, half-laced jump boots, and a brown leather jacket. Grinning, Trowa did a swan dive into the net and swung himself out of it to sweep Duo off his feet in a hug that made his long braid swing around them like a rope.
"Damn, have you gotten stronger in the past month?" Duo said, laughing as Trowa set him back on his feet.
"Maybe, but you've lost some weight, too, haven't you?"
Duo shrugged. "I dunno. Been working pretty hard."
Trowa had had occasion to carry Duo during the war; the guy was definitely thinner, and it showed in his face, too. But his grin was warm as ever, and genuine. Trowa knew the difference. "Me, too."
_"Yeah, I stood over there by the cages, watching you practice. You're good!"
"I'm getting there. It will be a while before I'm good enough to go without a net."
"After flying that scrapheap you called a Gundam, I guess you can do just about anything," Duo teased.
Trowa hadn't realized until now how much he'd missed his friend. Not that he and Duo had spent a lot of time together during the war, but they had shared something the night Duo had been raped--or no, in Duo's version--and Trowa liked him. It was good to see another pilot, too. Hard as he worked to fit in and forget, life still seemed pretty surreal most of the time. The nightly horror show that started up every time he tried to sleep wasn't helping.
"So, what's a guy have to do to get some lunch around here?" Duo demanded.
"Come on. I'll show you my place and get changed, then we'll go out for something."
He led Duo to his nearby doublewide trailer. It was a dump, really. The main room served as kitchen, dining room, and living room, with a cramped, windowless bedroom beyond, and a tiny, usually mold-infested bathroom beyond that. His one luxury so far was a queen-sized platform bed with really nice pure cotton sheets and a brightly colored patchwork comforter. Everything else he owned, what little there was of it, was from discount stores, yard sales, and Goodwill. The bookcase in the living room was made out of boards from an elephant hay pallet and bricks he'd scrounged from a demolition site. The bed was really too big, and visitors had to crawl across it to get to the john, but it was his refuge at the end of the day, the place he read, wrote in his journal, and tried to sleep when the dreams would let him. It had gotten bad enough to interfere with his trapeze training, so he'd finally given in and gone to the company doc for some pills.
Duo looked around appreciatively as he took off his jacket. Underneath he had on a loose purple tee shirt with some band logo on the front. It looked second hand, too. "You're quite the housekeeper."
"There's not enough room to be messy." Trowa pulled a couple of longnecks from the tiny fridge, opened them, and handed one to Duo.
Duo took a long sip of beer and laughed. "Never stops me! Drives poor Hilde nuts. Our place ain't much bigger than this."
Well, that saved Trowa the trouble of bringing up the subject. He went into the bedroom to strip but left the door open so they could talk. "So, you two. You're--together?"
"As in sleeping together? Bumping uglies? Doing the horizontal bop? Yeah." Duo flopped down on the sagging couch and propped his feet up on the empty fruit crate that served as a coffee table. "Surprised?"
"Didn't know you and she were that close."
"Yeah, well, you know." Duo took another swig. "Hilde and I get along good."
Trowa waited a moment for him to go one, but Duo was back on his feet, inspecting the meager offerings in Trowa's makeshift bookcase. Trowa left him to it and took his shower. When he came out again, dressed in black jeans and a dark green hoodie, hair combed back over his eyes in his usual fashion, Duo was reading his beat up copy of T.S. Eliot's poetry, looking somewhat puzzled. Glancing up at Trowa, he held up the book. "Man, I got no idea what this guy's trying to say, but the words sure are pretty."
"I didn't know you were interested in poetry." Trowa didn't remember ever seeing Duo with a book.
"Wuf kinda got me started, when we were in prison together that time."
"Really?" Trowa assumed he meant Wufei, but couldn't imagine anyone calling the proud L-5er any kind of nickname to his face. "I like Eliot. He writes well about despair." For a moment Duo just looked at him, and they shared a moment of silent understanding. All was not well in Duo's world, either.
Duo studied the photograph of Eliot on the cover; a plain, bespeckled, unsmiling man. "He looks like he would."
"I'm done with it. Why don't you take it? There's a foreword and notes in the back that can help you understand it better."
"Sure. I got it at a yard sale anyway, for a nickel."
"Thanks, man." Duo stood up and put his jacket on, slipping the book into an inner pocket. The coat was worn at the cuffs and a little too big on him. It looked like Duo was shopping at Goodwill and yard sales himself.
They went to a diner a few blocks from the training facility and Duo tried to insist on paying but Trowa argued him out of it. "My turf, my treat," he told him, coming up with a reason that wouldn't insult his friend's pride. "When I come see you on L-2, you and Hilde can feed me."
Duo grimaced over his Reuben and fries. "We'll eat out. She can't cook for shit and neither can I."
"That must be why you're so skinny."
Duo sprinkled malt vinegar over his fries and popped a couple in his mouth, grinning. "Yeah, probably," he said with his mouth full, then clapped a hand over his mouth and swallowed. "Sorry. Old bad habits die hard, y'know?" He paused, giving Trowa an appraising look. "A friend of mine taught me better manners during the war. You know who I'm talking about, right?"
Trowa's mouthful of roast beef sandwich seemed to turn to ashes in his mouth. He swallowed and nodded, saying nothing.
"I saw the photo tacked up on the wall by your bed," Duo said softly. "The only picture in your whole house."
It was a shitty picture, too, the one taken of them at the beginning of the peace reception. They'd all been exhausted and shell-shocked and Quatre was already acting strange toward him. When the photographer had lined them up, Trowa had ended up on one end and Quatre on the other. The photographer had to tell Heero to stand in the middle, between Duo and Wufei. No one looked especially happy or victorious, just vaguely self-conscious. The only reason Trowa had it was that Relena had sent him a copy. He'd held it in his hands for a long time, trying to sort out his feelings and debating just throwing it away. But in the end he couldn't. Instead, he had it by his bed, and looked at it first thing every morning and last thing every night. Sometimes it hurt, looking at Quatre, other times it made him want to pick up a phone and call him. He didn't own a TV, but he'd seen Quatre on the public vid screen downtown a couple of times and he looked worn out. Trowa wished he'd said good-bye to him better, but it was too late now.
"Hey, Tro." Duo was looking at him with concern. "Hey buddy, I'm sorry I brought him up. It's just that--well, I had lunch with him last week and I can tell he misses you, too."
"Did he say that?"
"Well, no, but--"
"Stay out of it, Duo. I know you mean well, but leave it alone. Things are the way they need to be. For both of us."
Duo shook his head as he devoured three more fries at once. "You two are idiots."
"Talked to Heero lately?"
It was a mean thing to say and he'd said it out of spite, angry at Duo's interference in a situation that was already painful enough, but the minute the words were out of his mouth he regretted them. Duo stared down at his plate, shoulders slumped, and shook his head. "No. I should give him a call, I guess, but I've been so damn busy."
"You should. We all should. He wasn't doing so well there at the end."
Duo looked up at him and now his eyes were shadowed with concern. "You think so, too? Kat--um, that is--"
"It's all right to talk about him, Duo." It wasn't, actually. Every time Duo said that name a knife made of grief and anger and regret twisted in Trowa's gut, but it was clear that Duo couldn't get through a conversation without doing it.
"Kat told me about some kind of conditioning those fucking mad scientists did to Heero. It changed him, made him cold, all Perfect Soldier. That was the whole point. They thought I was a menace because Heero liked me."
That added a little extra pain to the mix. Had Duo been the only one of them that Heero cared enough about for it to be a matter of concern? Of course. Trowa sighed. "What the hell are you doing with Hilde, Duo?"
"Hey, I like her, and she likes me back! Which is more than I can say for Heero these days. He ran me off that night at the party. But I even called him once, a week afterwards, and left a message. I thought maybe--" Duo stopped and for just a fleeting second the mask slipped, giving Trowa a glimpse of the depth of pain behind it. "I thought maybe, once things simmered down-- But I never heard back. I can take a hint, Trowa."
"Maybe he didn't get the message."
"I left it with Wu. He promised he'd tell Heero I called. Wuffie wouldn't screw me over, Tro."
Trowa pushed his plate away and sat back in the booth. After a moment he shook his head. "The war-- It was a different time. We were different. When it ended, everything changed. Everything. It's like it all happened a hundred years ago."
"Yeah." Duo gave him a sad smile. "Ain't we a pair?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Except no mad scientist screwed with Kat's head, or yours. You two managed that all by yourselves."
"I offered him a life. He turned me down."
"Yeah, well, I don't think it was because he wanted to. That family of his has got their hooks in him real good and deep. They're running him ragged."
Trowa just shrugged.
"So that's it? It's really over between the two of you?"
"He knows where I am."
Duo let out a humorless laugh. "Funny, he said the same thing."
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