Author: pyrzm
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Lost Souls + Chapter 36

Sanque Palace, Queen Relena's Private Quarters
Sanque Kingdom
March 2, 196

At five pm a palace page appeared at the door of Wufei's office. Looking up from the various security monitors he'd been watching, Wufei raised an expectant eyebrow. "Yes, what is it?"

"Queen Relena wishes to see you at once, Captain Chang."

"Me?" Wufei regarded him with surprise, then stood and smoothed the front of his Preventer uniform. A quick glance in a small mirror by the door assured him that his hair was properly under control. "Are we fetching Captain Yuy on the way?"

The boy shook his head. "No, sir. Her Majesty just sent me for you."

This was unprecedented. Aside from his formal duties and the requisite attendance at various social functions, Wufei had little contact with Relena, unlike Yuy, whom she called upon at all hours. When they'd first started their duty here together at the end of December, he'd feared there was something unseemly going on between the two, but it soon became clear that Yuy considered these summons an embarrassment and an inconvenience.

Reaching the Royal wing of the Palace, Wufei hesitated, composing himself quickly under the curious glances of the guards on either side of the polished oak door, then knocked softly.

"Come in," a voice called from inside.

Wufei entered the sitting room and saluted, expecting to find Yuy already there. But Relena sat alone on a pink velvet tufted sofa behind a tea table, dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief. A steaming silver tea pot and two china cups stood on a silver tray on the table, with pitchers and bowls of the western style tea ceremony. Had she invited him to tea? That hardly seemed possible given her present state; she'd obviously been weeping for some time. Wufei's pulse quickened as he braced for catastrophic news.

"Please sit down, Wufei." Relena tucked the handkerchief away and motioned him to a chair at the end of the tea table. "How do you take your tea?"

"Black, Majesty," Wufei replied. Baffled, he watched as she gracefully filled both cups and passed one to him. Wufei held the edge of the delicate porcelain saucer with his left hand, the handle of the teacup with his right. He still wasn't used to these western style cups.

Relena took a sip of her tea. Her cup clattered a little as she placed it back on the saucer; her hands were shaking. Clearly she was overwrought, but she was certainly taking her time coming out with it.

'I'm going to be fired,' he thought with a sinking heart. This job suited him, and it was all he had. That, and his strange, quiet friendship with Yuy.

"Well," she said at last, blinking back fresh tears. "You are my new head of security, Wufei, if you will accept the position."

"New head--?" Wufei stared at her a moment, not quite sure he'd heard her correctly. "But what about Yuy?"

"Heero is gone."

Wufei's heart sank lower. "You've dismissed him?" Wufei had warned Yuy many times that his seeming rudeness was not going to serve him well. And now this.

"No, he resigned. This morning. Here is the letter of resignation."

Wufei took the proffered letter and quickly scanned it. It was dated today, typed, and characteristically terse. 'To Her Majesty, Queen Relena of Sanque, This is to inform you of my immediate resignation of both my position in your security force, and from my commission in the Preventers. Respectfully, Heero Yuy.' The signature was handwritten in Heero's distinct, cramped script.

"I don't understand. Why?"

"All he would say was that it was for 'personal reasons.' I was hoping you, as his friend, might shed some light on it for me." Relena's expression was almost imploring now. "Did he say anything to you?"

"No, I haven't seen him since last night. Heero has been more withdrawn than usual, I suppose, but he didn't confide in me."

Relena took out the handkerchief again and dabbed away fresh tears. "I just don't understand!"

Neither did Wufei. He and Yuy had gotten along very well, or so he thought. Wufei had come to think of him as a friend, and valued his calm, quiet company. To leave without a word to him, just disappear? That hurt, though Wufei was careful not to show it.

"He asked that I not look for him, that he would send word periodically, but he didn't say how or when. I'm worried, Wufei. Do you think he might have gone to one of your other friends? Are you still in touch with them?"

"I hear from Quatre Winner now and then. He's in touch with the others, I believe."

"Call him, would you, and see if he's heard anything?"

"Of course, Majesty."

"I don't mean for any of you to drag him back." Relena let out a sad little laugh. "As if anyone could, once that stubborn boy makes up his mind. But if one of you could talk to him, and find out what this is all about, I'd be very grateful."

"Of course, Majesty," Wufei said again. But how did this qualify as 'not looking for him?'

They finished their tea in awkward silence and Wufei took his leave. Returning to his office, he calculated the time difference and called Quatre Winner. It was early morning earthside. He hoped Winner was an early riser. He switched off the vid link, just in case.

A servant answered the phone. "Winner residence."

Wufei quickly gave his name and asked for Quatre.

"Of course, Captain! Please hold."

A moment later Quatre picked up. "Wufei! Turn on your screen, I want to see you!"

Wufei pressed the button at the bottom of the monitor and Quatre's smiling face appeared against a backdrop of morning sky. He was in a dressing gown, but looked as if he hadn't slept and he was thinner than Wufei remembered.

"How are you? How is Heero?" Quatre asked, clearly delighted to hear from him. Wufei couldn't help a small smile in return. Winner had always been kind, and a perfect gentleman, in addition to his high intelligence.

"So you haven't heard from him, then?"

"Heero? No. What's happened?"

"He's disappeared." As he explained the conversation he'd had with Relena, Quatre grew increasingly quiet.

"I see," he said when Wufei finished. "You should probably talk to Duo."

"Maxwell?" Yuy had mentioned all the other pilots from time to time, but not Maxwell. Not once. Wufei knew that something had occurred at the peace reception, but not what. It had struck him as odd; he'd been under the impression that they were friends during the war.

"Would you rather I called him?" asked Quatre.

"No, I'll do it. Do you have his number, and Barton's?"

"I don't have--Trowa's, but Duo does." Was that pain Wufei saw in Quatre's eyes? He knew Barton and Winner had been close; what the hell was going on? Wufei was too well bred to pry into personal affairs, however, so he took down Maxwell's number and signed off, feeling suddenly very out of touch. Not that he'd gone out of his way to keep in touch with the others but only because he'd been so busy in Sanque.

He entered Maxwell's number and listened to it ring and ring. He checked his watch; it was only 6 pm on L-2. After the fifth ring an answering machine picked up. "Hey, Duo and Hilde aren't here right now," Maxwell's cheerful voice announced, "or if we are, we can't get to the phone. Leave us a message!"

"This is Chang Wufei, calling from Sanque. I need to speak with you, Maxwell. Call me when you get this." Wufei left his numbers and hung up. That left him without Barton's number. Checking the white pages on line, he couldn't find a listing for Trowa Barton, but did find one for Bloom's Travelling Wonder Show headquarters on L-3. That was the outfit Barton had performed with during the war, and Yuy seemed to think he'd gone back there. He punched in that number and Catherine Bloom answered on the second ring. "Wufei!" she exclaimed, looking as surprised as Quatre had, if not quite as delighted. "Are you looking for Trowa?"

"Yes, is he available?"

"Hold on."

Nearly ten minutes passed before Barton sat down in front of the phone screen. He had on some sort of black leotard and was sweating. Pushing his hair back from his eyes, he gave Wufei a quiet smile. "Hello there. What can I do for you?"

"Have you heard from Yuy, or know if Maxwell has?"

"I haven't heard from Duo in a couple of weeks. Haven't heard from Heero since New Years. What's up?"

Wufei went through it again and watched Barton's intense green eyes darken with concern. When Wufei was done he was quiet for a moment. "You should probably talk to Duo."

"That's what Winner said." And there it was again, that fleeting look of pain. "Barton, what's going on? Winner didn't have your number."

Barton was composed again. "Quatre and I had a falling out. We haven't spoken since the peace. You didn't know?"

"No. I'm afraid I've been quite out of touch with everyone. I'm sorry to hear that."

"So did Heero and Duo," Barton told him.

That was less surprising, given Yuy's strange silence on the matter. "What happened to everyone?" he said, shaking his head.

"Good question," Barton said with a humorless smile. "Guess peace doesn't suit us. How have you been?"

"Busy," Wufei told him again. "I've been working and completing my high school requirements. That's about it."

"But you were with Heero."

"Well, yes, of course. He and I--that is, I supposed we were friends. But he disappeared without a word to me."

"I'm sorry. You probably shouldn't take it personally. Heero never was one for social graces."

'No, but you and Winner were,' he thought, wondering again what could have driven those two apart like this? "I see you're with the circus full time now."

Barton gave him that small smile again. "Yes. Things are going very well here. We're set to go on the road again in a few weeks. Let me give you my mobile number. It's been too long since we've talked, my friend."

The word surprised, embarrassed and warmed Wufei all at once. "Yes it has." They exchanged numbers and signed off. That just left Maxwell.

Wufei sat back in his chair, staring at the dark monitor, realizing that in the space of less than a hour, practically every assumption he'd had about his former comrades had been turned on its head. That, and how little effort he'd made with anyone but Yuy, and perhaps that was only because they'd been thrown together by chance. The realization made him a little sad and he silently vowed to be a better correspondent. Winner and Barton had both seemed very glad to hear from him.

"Come on, Maxwell," he muttered, knowing it would be ridiculous to sit here waiting for the damn phone to ring. He'd left Maxwell his mobile number. Making sure his phone was in the shirt pocket of his uniform, he went downstairs to the suite of rooms he'd been assigned and made himself a proper cup of tea.

+

This time it was Hilde's sister who needed her. Her marriage had just broken up and she was on the phone so much that Duo had finally talked Hilde into flying down to L-1 to be with her.

"You could come, too," Hilde had said.

"We can't afford to buy another ticket and shut down the yard," Duo pointed out, knowing the money angle would clinch the deal with her.

"I guess you're right. So, are you going to go out bar hopping while I'm gone?" It sounded like a joke, sort of.

"I might," he told her, trying not to feel like too much of a shit as he kissed her and said, "It gets kinda lonely around here with you gone."

"Well, if you do, at least leave me a note or a message or something this time."

"I will. Promise."

He'd helped her pack and ridden the train with her to the shuttle port and kissed her good-bye like a good little boyfriend, then gone home and put on some tight jeans and headed out to the Starshine, wondering if he'd run into Nameless Dude again. It was a Friday, like before.

Nameless Dude wasn't there, but Mikey was so Duo joined him and his friends for a beer.

"I'm surprised to see you here," Mikey said after a couple of swallows. He was clearly a little star struck to be talking to the great Gundam pilot, as were the others.

Duo just gave them a grin and a shrug.

"You live over in Dravittown, right?" asked one of the others, a beefy type with a snake tattooed on his forearm. "Don't you run that junkyard with Hilde what's-her-name? That cute little brunette."

Duo gave him a pasted-on grin. "A guy's gotta cut loose now and then, right?"

"So you and her got an agreement, huh?"

Duo gave the guy a long look. "I'm just here for a couple of beers."

So he had a couple of beers, and he left, figuring he'd try somewhere else where people weren't quite so nosey.

'Or I could go home,' he thought glumly. Go home and never sneak out like this again. Or get ready to tell her the truth. That ever since that night with Nameless, sex with her just hadn't cut it. It wasn't her fault. She wasn't doing anything different, and she still got him off, but there was always that hollow, aching sense of something lacking, and his usual after sex depression was a lot worse. Actually, he was low a lot of the time these days, and his nightmares were getting worse, and his moods were all over the place. One day he was laughing his ass off with Hilde in front of their crappy little TV; the next it was a major effort just to drag himself out to the scrap yard to work. One day he couldn't get out of bed at all, and told Hilde he had the flu.

He thought about Heero a lot, too, and had looked him up on line. There wasn't much aside from the occasional article about how he and Wuffie had saved Relena's life again, and pictures of Heero and Wuf in their snazzy uniforms and guns. Things like that made him look around the junk yard with different eyes. Quatre was rich. Heero and Wufei were still heroes, Trowa was some kind of circus star. And Duo Maxwell? Same old L-2 trash he'd always been.

He'd actually talked to Quatre a little about all that on the phone the other day, leaving out his sexploits and the money thing, of course. Quatre wanted him to go see a doctor.

"Can't afford it, Q-ball," Duo had said with a shrug. Neither of them ever spoke of the huge gulf that lay between them now--money, social position, all that shit. To be fair, Quatre had invited him and Hilde down to his place in Qatar a couple of different times, but for some reason, Duo always put it off. Deep down, he knew things wouldn't be the same between them as they had been last time he was there, and he wasn't ready to face that. Those memories were too precious to him, about the fucking best ones of his life.

Quatre had frowned at him through the vid screen. "I could--"

"No, Kat," Duo said, heading him off from where he knew Quatre was heading.

"Sorry. But you have to take care of yourself. I don't like what I'm hearing. Did you read that article I sent you?"

"Yeah, I did, and I promise, you're not going to see me up on some rooftop with a rifle any time soon."

Quatre had given him a pained look. "I know that. That's not what I'm worried about. You just seem a little unstable, that's all."

Unstable. That was one word for it.

Duo was about to start up his bike and head home to drop some serious THC when a soft voice called to him from the shadows at the head of the alley.

"Hey, Duo, wait up."

It was Mikey, and he was alone. He walked over to Duo and they looked at each other in the light of the streetlamp for a minute. The emptiness around his heart felt big as space; Mikey was cute, a little on the skinny side, and he had dark blue eyes and a great smile. Finally Duo sighed and said, "So, you want to take a ride?"

And that's what they did, for a while. Duo knew the back roads, the service roads that went out to the no man's land of power stations and sewage plants where he could open the bike up and really move. Mikey held on tight, arms around Duo's waist, laughing in his ear. "This is great!"

For a while it was enough, just riding around, but then Mikey leaned forward and said, "So, we gonna stop somewhere?"

Duo hesitated, trying to think of Hilde, but memories of doing Nameless came crowding out his good intentions, making him feel a little dizzy, almost goofy. It had been weeks and who knew when he'd get another chance? Hilde only had so many relatives.

"Yeah, sure. Where?"

He couldn't take Mikey to his place and Mikey couldn't take him to his place, though neither one of them said why. So they'd ended up at the same motel as before. Mikey was still shy, still a little bit in awe of him. Duo did the undressing this time, and got him on the bed. Mikey was better looking than Nameless, who'd been older. This kid was built a lot like Duo, rangy and long legged. He was no virgin, though. When Duo produced the condoms, Mikey opened one, put it between his lips, and rolled it down on Duo's erection with his mouth.

"Damn!" Duo gasped. The kid's touch sent shock waves through him.

Mikey sat back on his heels, grinning. "That was OK?"

"Very OK. Got any other tricks up your sleeve?"

Mikey was getting less shy by the minute. He sucked Duo half crazy, then got on his hands and knees, giving Duo a hot look over his shoulder.

"Oh fuck, yeah!" Duo did his own lubing this time, and slid into the heaven that was Mikey's tight little ass.

He made it last longer this time, for both their sakes, but still came before Mikey was ready.

"Guess it's my turn," Duo said with a grin, and tried the condom in the mouth thing. It didn't really work, and after some laughing, Mikey rolled it on himself and Duo sucked and licked his dick until he came. He didn't tell Mikey it was the first time he'd ever done it, and the kid came like crazy. As they lay together in the dark afterwards, sharing a blunt back and forth, Mikey moved a little closer and whispered, "Can we do this again?"

Hilde wasn't going to be back until Tuesday and it was only Friday. "How's tomorrow night sound?"

That got him a million dollar grin. "Want to go to the Excalibur?"

Duo gave him an incredulous look. "No!"

"Oh, so she is your girlfriend."

"What?" The weed was strong and Duo felt like he was a couple of steps behind in this conversation.

"Well, is she?"

Duo sat up and reached for his jeans. "I'll take you back to the club."

"Hey, I'm sorry! Don't be mad!" Mikey moved closer and started rubbing Duo's back. "Please, don't be mad."

Duo sat there, jeans in his hands, trying to decide what he was feeling. The sex had been great, the best he'd ever had, except for-- No, don't go there, Maxwell.

Mikey snuggled up against his back and reached around to stroke Duo's chest. "I'll shut up, I promise. This was really good. I want to do it again."

The guy sounded for real, like he really meant it. Like he really did want to see Duo again, which was more than Nameless had. Mikey hadn't tried to kiss him, either.

Duo leaned back into that warm embrace. "Yeah, tomorrow, like I said. I'll pick you up around eight and we'll take another ride. Sound good?"

Mikey hugged him and let him go. "Yeah. Man, this is so great! I mean, that day I saw you on the street I never thought we'd really hook up."

Duo stood up and pulled on his jeans. "Yeah, who knew?"

+

The sex had tired him out enough that he got to sleep OK but dreams of Heero woke him up. He was calling to from him from across a wide canyon. All Duo had to do to get to him was get in Deathscythe and fly over there. But when he turned around, no Deathscythe. Hilde stood there, shouting, "Where the hell were you?" It startled him so badly he woke up and lay there with his heart pounding in his chest, staring up into the dark.

He'd forgotten to leave the bathroom light on. Panic hit and he fumbled for the bedside lamp, but only managed to knock it over and break it. Swearing under his breath, he groped his way to the bathroom doorway, managing to cut his foot on a piece of broken lamp, and got the light on before he lost it completely. Then he stood staring at himself in the mirror. He was white as a ghost, except for the dark circles under his eyes.

"What the hell is the matter with me?" he whispered. One minute he's fucking a cute guy without a care in the world, then he's falling apart in the bathroom. He cleaned up his foot and the broken lamp, then wandered out to the kitchen for a drink of water. The message light on the answering machine was blinking. Hilde must have called while--

While he was out fucking some guy he met in a bar.

He looked at the kitty-shaped kitchen clock: 5 am, six on L-1. Hilde wouldn't be up yet, not on a day off. His heart was still pounding and he didn't really trust himself to talk to her yet anyway. He'd deal with it later.

It was too early to go to work, too, without pissing off the neighbors. It occurred to him that apart from old lady Maggie, who brought him pies and cookies because he was a war hero and too skinny, he didn't really know any of their neighbors well. He and Hilde kept to themselves, mostly, with the occasional night out with some of Hilde's friends. But mostly they worked and scrimped and fucked.

He thought again of the other pilots and what their lives were like now. Fuck, now he was really depressed. He went to the bedroom and dug around in the back of his sock drawer for the little locked box he kept there. Hilde knew about his drinking, and she'd seen him smoke weed though she didn't approve of that, but she'd have been pissed as hell if she knew about his little brown bottles with the eyedroppers and no labels. His weed dealer in Durrow Street got the THC for him. Weed was a misdemeanor, a slap on the wrist. THC, the powerful tincture made from weed, was worth a month in jail and a hefty fine he couldn't afford. Yeah, Hilde would flip out big time if she knew he was spending a decent chunk of his newly granted, rather modest government pension on hard drugs. Duo was long past feeling guilty about that. It was medicine, as far as he was concerned.

He sprawled on the bed and unscrewed the cap. Most of the time he only used a drop or two, but this time he added one more drop, letting them fall under his tongue, and felt the high steal over him, washing away the anxiety and pain.

The next thing he knew, it was nearly seven at night, there were dirty dishes in the sink that hadn't been there before, cartoons on TV, and he didn't remember a damn thing. Oops.

He showered quickly, not bothering to wash his hair, yanked on yesterday's jeans and a fresh shirt and headed out for the Starshine to meet Mikey. The night had a surreal feel to it; he was probably still a little high. He probably shouldn't be driving so fast, but it just felt so damn good! He let out a whoop and gunned the engine, cutting across three lanes and almost ending up has a grille ornament of a dump truck

Mikey was waiting at the bar for him, and lit up with a big smile when Duo walked in. He was on his own tonight; there was no sign of his buddies from last night.

The music was too good to miss, so they stayed and danced until midnight, then went for a ride and then went to the motel again. It was a good thing he had his pension money; he wouldn't want to have to explain these kinds of expenses to Hilde. The sex was even better tonight, wilder and more passionate. They were learning what each other liked. It was fun and they both came a couple of times before it was time to go.

As they headed for the door Mikey grabbed him and hugged him close. "I wish we could spend the night together."

"Yeah, well, not tonight."

Duo was halfway home before it occurred to him that with Hilde out of town, there was no reason he couldn't have stayed. Oh well. They had another date tomorrow.

He stumbled in around three and was greeted by the triple blink of the answering machine. He'd missed two more calls. Hilde was going to kill him.

"Fuck!" He hit the replay button and braced for a prerecorded chewing out. But instead of Hilde, it was Wufei's voice, asking if he knew where Heero was?

How the hell would he know where Heero was? And why didn't Wufei know? They were buddies now, right? The second message was Hilde from this morning, while he was stoned off his ass.

"Hi Duo! Just checking in. Sandy's doing a lot better. I'll be home on Monday, not Tuesday. Pick me up at nine? Stay out of trouble, baby! Bye!"

Shit! There went one precious night of freedom and crazy monkey sex with Mikey boy. Well, all good things had to come to an end. Or at least they did for him. The third message was Wufei sounding more like his old impatient self. "Maxwell, I need to hear from you! Call me at any hour."

Duo checked the time; the call had come in at 8:25 tonight, while he was stomping it up on the dance floor. He glanced up at the kitty clock: 3:47. Well, Wuffie had told him to call at any hour. Duo dialed the first of the two numbers Wufei had left and the guy picked up on the third ring. The vid screen was on on Wuffie's end; he had on a loose white tee shirt and his hair was loose around his face and kind of messy. He actually looked kinda good that way, but the minute he saw Duo his expression went from sleepy to pissed of in a heart beat. "Finally!"

"Sorry. What's going on. Where's Heero?"

"If I knew that, would I be calling you?" Wufei was pissed, all right, but he sounded worried, too.

"I haven't heard from him since the big peace party," Duo told him, sort of surprised that Wufei didn't already know that.

Then Wufei told him about Heero's surprise resignation and how he'd disappeared with no forwarding address or call forwarding.

"Well, he wouldn't come here," Duo told him.

"Both Winner and Barton seemed to think he would."

Duo sighed as that big emptiness he'd held at bay most of the time opened up around his heart again. "Yeah? Well, they're wrong."

Wufei looked at him for a long moment, and the pissed off expression was gone. "Tell me what happened, Duo. No one else seems to know."

Maybe it was because Wufei used his first name, or the way he sounded genuinely concerned, but Duo was tempted to tell him everything. But instead, he just shrugged and gave him the short answer. "I don't know, Wu. He just scraped me off."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me, too."

Wufei regarded him a moment longer with that sort of sad look. "I think he's done the same to me."

"Sucks, don't it?"

"Indeed. But I'm worried. It is out of character for him to walk away from his responsibilities."

"Did something happen with him and Relena?" Duo felt a little kick of jealousy, mentioning her. More than a little, actually.

"Relena said he was going to keep in touch somehow."

"But not how?"

"No."

"Shit. Well, if he doesn't want to be found, you know we're not gonna find him."

"That's why we were all hoping he was with you."

"Like I said, he's not, and he ain't likely to show up here," he said bitterly.

"Duo." Wufei paused. "Would you like to meet up some time?"

"Huh? Sure, yeah. I could come down there." Because he sure as hell didn't want Wuffie seeing how he was living here. "That'd be nice, sometime."

"Good. I--I've missed you and your foul mouth and bad poetry."

"And almost dying together."

"I'm not sure I miss that." He smiled and Duo just about fell off his chair. When was the last time he'd seen Wufei smile? With that and his hair down and all, he seemed a lot more human. And younger. Come to think of it, he looked really young like this, almost like a kid.

"What are you grinning at?" Wufei asked.

"Nothing. It's just nice to see a familiar face, that's all."

"I agree."

An awkward silence followed but it wasn't bad. "Well, I'll try to get down there soon."

"I'll contact you with my schedule."

"Good." Another pause. "Well, good night, I guess. Or good morning. Whatever."

They signed off and Duo shook his head. Heero gone, Wufei making a date with him, or trying to. They hadn't actually set a date.

He'd been tired when he got home, but now he was wide awake. He considered dropping some more THC, but something held him back. Maybe just not wanting to lose another whole day.

He worked the next day, cutting up some metal that had once been the hull of a fighter ship, and showed up at Starshine with time to spare. Mikey wasn't there yet, so he grabbed a stool at the bar and ordered a beer.

"You're getting to be a regular," the bar tender, George, noted with a friendly smile.

"Well, I may not be around for awhile."

"Oh yeah? That's a shame. You're giving this dump some class. See those guys over there? They came in hoping to see you."

In fact, as soon as Duo turned to look where he was pointing, half a dozen guys came over to say hi. A couple even asked for his autograph and someone snapped a picture.

"You're fucking kidding me!" Duo laughed, but he signed the notebooks and scraps of paper anyway.

They had some more beers, then Mikey showed up and they danced, then went straight to the motel and fucked like rabbits.

When they were done and snuggled up together, Mikey let out a happy sigh. "So, same time tomorrow?"

"Yeah, about that." Duo shifted so he could look him in the face. "I can't see you for a while. Maybe a long time."

"What are you saying? I thought we had a good thing going?"

"We had some fun. You're a nice guy and you're great in the sack. But it's not like we're dating, right?"

"It's because of that woman, right?" Mikey sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"Yeah, it is. It's--complicated."

"So you were just playing with me?"

Duo looked at him, stunned to see tears in the guy's eyes. "I thought we both were."

"So I was just a fuck to you."

That hurt. "No, don't say that! I like you, I really do, but I'm in this relationship and I'm trying to figure out what I want to do about that." Suddenly he couldn't imagine walking away from the scrap yard, or even Hilde. It was a safe place, the closest to a home he'd had for a long time. The whole sex and relationship thing? Hell, when had he ever used that word before? Never.

"Do you love her?" Mikey asked, still sitting there with tears on his cheeks. "Does she love you?"

He didn't have an answer for that. The truth was, the subject had never come up. Hilde had never said she loved him, and he'd never said it to her.

+

He didn't sleep at all that night and when the skylights came on he couldn't get out of bed. Lying there, still crusty from his last fuck with Mikey, he pondered his relationship with Hilde. Did it matter if they loved each other? They got along OK, right? Apart from the whole sneaking off to gay bars and motels thing. Suddenly the enormity of what he'd been doing caved in on him and if he didn't have to be at the shuttle port in a couple hours, he'd have been reaching for the little brown bottle again. Everything he had was wrapped up with Hilde. The yard and the trailer? Hers. All he had that was really his was a tiny little bank account--which was currently almost empty thanks to his fucking around--a bunch of second hand clothing that would just about fill a small duffle, and a beat up, rebuilt motorcycle. That was it. Jesus, seventeen year old so-called war hero and this was the sum total of his accomplishments? Totally dependent on a woman he didn't even love? Because there was only one person in the whole universe he'd ever been in love with and that person was gone. Heero had scraped them all off now. Next in line on the love but not in a fucking kind of way was Quatre, and he was out of reach, now, too, no matter how kind Kat's intentions were. Duo knew the score.

Around seven he dragged himself into the shower to wash off last night's fun. With Hilde back, that was the end of that for a while, too. And what were the odds of Mikey waiting around for him to come back? He'd really kinda liked the guy, too. Loved? No.

He'd forgotten to go to the laundromat, thanks to his little drug trip. So he could wear the grease stained jeans or the cum stained jeans. What a choice. He carried his clubbing clothes out to the hamper in the shed and stuffed then down deep, making a note to be sure to volunteer for laundry duty this week. On the way back to the house he saw old Maggie out in her yard and waved. To his surprise she turned her back on him and went into her trailer, slamming the door.

What the hell was that about?

He was about to set off for the train station when the phone rang. The screen showed the logo of a pay phone, with Hilde's name across the bottom.

"Hi, what's up?" Duo asked.

There was a long pause, then he heard her hiss, "Do NOT come pick me up!"

"What?" The tone of her voice was like nothing he'd ever heard from her.

"I said DON'T come get me, you sorry son of a bitch!"

"Hilde, what's going on?"

"Like you don't know!" She was crying now. He could hear the sounds of the shuttle port in the background. She was on L-2 already, fifteen minutes away. "Pack your shit, Duo. I want you gone!"

"What are you talking about, babe?"

"Don't 'babe' me, Duo Maxwell. Get your stuff out. I mean it! And check a newspaper why don't you? Page three. Everyone else has!"

Maggie had been reading her newspaper, he realized. Oh shit.

He hurried out to the mailbox for the paper. As he was turning back to the house, a pick up truck rattled by some young guys in the back.

"Hey, there's the faggot!" one of them yelled, pointing at Duo. The others erupted into hoots and catcalls and one of them threw a beer bottle at him. Then a TV news truck roared up and screeched to a halt right in front of him. A guy jumped out and pointed a big ass camera at him. A woman in a sharp suit followed with a mic in hand. "Duo, Duo Maxwell! Can we get your side of the story?"

Jesus. Duo ran for the house and locked the door. A moment later someone was knocking on the door and calling his name. Out the window he saw another news truck pull up. Hands shaking, he opened the newspaper and turned to page three. There were two pictures from Starshine. In one he was slow dancing with Mikey, head thrown back and laughing as he ground his pelvis up against his partner's. In the other they were peeling out on his bike, both their faces clearly visible, Mikey's arms tight around Duo's waist. Duo suddenly remembered the autograph guys. One of them had had a camera. He'd even posed for a picture. And there it was, as the bottom of the page, a couple of them, actually, showing Duo with his arms around a couple of guys, laughing his ass off. What the hell had been so funny? The headline read 'Former Gundam Boy Caught in Gay Tryst'.

Tryst? What the hell was a tryst? But the accompanying article made it pretty fucking clear. They'd even interviewed the motel manager who'd had plenty to say. The paper fluttered out of his hands as the phone began to ring. There were people at the window now, pointing their cameras in at him.

He retreated to the bathroom, locked that door, and dry heaved into the sink, then slowly slid down the wall by the bathtub. This was it. He'd screwed the pooch. No home. No girl. No money. And now the whole colony knew his little secret. No, wait. Those news trucks had been from major channels. Everyone in the whole fucking world was going to know! Probably already did. Not only was the great Shinigami a loser druggie queer, he trolled the bars for tail. Wufei would know. Trowa and Kat would see it. Howard would see, and Miss Noin and Sally Po and fucking Relena.

And Heero, where ever he was. Heero would see it and see what a fuck up he was. Maybe he'd already figured it out. Maybe that's why he'd scraped Duo off.

What the hell had he been thinking?

And this is what Hilde was coming home to. He'd ruined her life, too, being a selfish, horny, stupid prick.

Well, he might as well prove 'em all right. He unlocked the door and dashed across the hall into the bedroom to his drug stash. The phone was ringing constantly and people were pounding on the windows, yelling at him to come out. The bathroom was the only room without windows so he went back there, locked the door and climbed into the little bathtub. Unscrewing the cap, he filled the dropper and squirted the whole thing into his mouth. The drug hit him like a wave. As everything started to go dark and fuzzy something caught his eye.

Hilde's pink leg shaving razor lay on the edge of the tub, inches from his fingertips. The last thing he remembered was reaching for it.

[ch. 35] [ch. 37] [back to Pyrzm's fic]