Author: Lily
Pairing: none, really. Heero wants Duo, but never gets him
Categories: dark angst, yaoi, death
Rating: R
Warnings: crossdressing, deathfic!
Spoilers: none
Notes: based on Dacia's "At Seventeen" plot bunny from her site http://raygunworks.net/bunnies.html
Disclaimer: I do not own the g-boys, nor do I own the song that this plot bunny is based on ("At Seventeen" by Janis Ian)
Feedback: please?

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Dedicated to Dacia
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A New Beginning?

The shower water streams down the side of the tub, splashing against the cold tile, sluicing almost violently over the skull of a young man huddled at the bottom of the shower stall. His knees are crushed against his chest and his head is bent, buried under clouds of soaking chestnut hair; he whimpers periodically but does not stir, choosing instead to ignore the water -- rapidly cooling -- that is battering his body. Outside of the stall the mirror is completely opaque with steam and the window has been left open in an attempt to combat it. The only success is that the freezing winter breezes keep sweeping over the young man, still motionless at the bottom of his shower. He looks up after awhile, catching water in his eyes, obscuring any tears that may have been lurking there. He lifts one hand, examines it, turns it backwards and forwards in front of his face -- trying to comprehend. He presses his fingernail against the grout and exerts all of his strength, snapping the short nail backwards and causing tiny drops of blood to curve over his fingertip. The water slips over his finger and reddens before disappearing down the drain.

"Such an impossible concept," he mutters aloud to himself. "That these slender fingers, battered and half-broken, could have been the cause of so much destruction -- and all in the name of peace." He gazes up into the falling, chlorinated water again, ignoring the burning as it floods his eyes.

"No warmer than tears or blood," he observes, disregarding the sharp pain. "It would have been so much easier--"

+

Duo stood in front of the glass door, a book clutched to his chest. The war had been over for six months and Heero had created fictional identities for all of them -- Duo was Regan, a young middle- class female who had just transferred schools. She was starting in September along with everyone else; yet all the other girls who already knew each other were chatting and laughing. Heero had promised Duo that once a full year had passed he could resume his own gender and his own name, but first they had to lie low. Many people had praised the gundam pilots for their courage and tenacity; there were also many people who did not look kindly on the idea that there were terrorists in their midst. One of the loveliest girls -- whose name he'd overheard to be Anne Marshall -- skipped up the steps towards the entrance. He smiled at her, attempting to make some sort of contact so he wouldn't be so lonely, but she ignored him. He opened the door, held it for her and was rewarded with a rather- disgusted full-body glance. Apparently she was unsatisfied with Duo's appearance. Duo sighed. He supposed that making friends took time, and after all, the only experience he'd had was with street children.

Later on that morning he was sitting quietly in his first class; then the teacher glanced over at him and smiled cheerfully and phonily.

"Class, we have a new student this year. It isn't often that happens, is it? Regan Maxwell, would you stand up and introduce yourself?" she directed at the window. He stood, smoothed down the front of his pleated skirt, and opened his mouth.

"Well, that's nice, isn't it everyone?" the teacher made a gesture that he should sit again and then turned her face to the old- fashioned chalkboard. He lowered himself back into his seat and avoided the eyes of the others. Anne Marshall in particular snickered and whispered loudly to her neighbor,

"She's certainly intriguing. I bet she turns loose within the first week." she stifled a smirk. The girl in the next seat over sniggered.

"I say we--" but she was cut off by the teacher's furious glance, and quickly everything except higher algebra was forgotten. When the bell rang, Duo stood, careful not to trip over his books that lay at his feet. He bent over and lifted them, then looked up. Standing not ten feet away was the most gorgeous guy Duo had ever laid eyes upon; with the possible exception of Heero -- who was seven hundred miles away. He grinned lazily in Duo's direction and began walking over. Duo's heart nearly stopped, then restarted beating about four times as fast. Duo scrambled to his feet and tried not to drop the heavy books. He turned on his brilliant, trademarked Duo- smile and prepared to say something clever; something intelligent. Just as the incredible guy reached him, Anne Marshall came up beside Duo, threw her arm through the guy's, and simpered,

"Alain! I'm so happy you made it to our date last night!"

"Elementary," he replied, his grin widening as he gazed down at the shrew. He inclined his beautiful profile and proceeded to kiss her deeply. Duo's smile halted half-way, then dropped off of his face altogether. The handsome, incomparable Alain was Anne's boyfriend, and he had been smiling at her -- behind Duo -- all along.

+

His second period teacher was male, middle-aged but well- enough looking with salt-sprinkled brown hair and twinkling green eyes. He instructed all of the students to get into groups of four to begin a new project that they would be working on all semester. All of the other teenagers scrambled into groups with people they liked; Duo was left by himself in the corner, mouth half-open in the middle of one of his usual wisecracks. The teacher -- a Mr. Coffee -- smiled warmly at him and examined the crowd of teams. Finally, his eyes lit up and he motioned to Duo to join the only group with three students. Thankfully Duo didn't recognize anyone in the group except the unattainable Alain. He groaned inwardly as he realized that Alain was apparently also the leader. Anne Marshall was not in that particular class, else Duo was certain she would have been glommed onto her boyfriend -- the fourth person in the group. As it was Duo found himself surrounded by two young men and one homely girl. She was not attractive, but apparently she was amusing, because both Alain and the as-yet-unnamed fellow were laughing at something she had said.

"Chalin, Alain, and Devon -- this is Regan. She'll be part of your group for the rest of the semester. Try not to exclude her too much, all right? Even though your topic is the Eve Wars, and I know she has no background in that. Help her out, okay?" he told them. Duo looked over at the others, but they barely acknowledged him.

"Sure, Mr. Coffee. We'll help `er out." they chorused, then huddled together. The teacher wandered off and left them to their own devices.

"I know about the Eve Wars, and Operation Meteor -- I don't know why he thought I wouldn't," Duo announced, glancing at them expectantly. They kept working as though he had not spoken.

"Hey. Hey, guys? I can help. Hey! Wanna hear a joke?" he offered, a feeble attempt to get their attention. They'd laughed at Chalin's humor. Finally Alain's eyes flickered over in his direction, then lit up. Again Duo felt his heart jump; again hope sprang into his chest. And again, Anne came rushing up from behind him. She gave her boyfriend a hot, heavy kiss, than leaned back, panting.

"I'm sorry I'm late. What's our topic?" she asked cheerfully.

"Uh, Anne -- Mr. Coffee put her in our group. She doesn't even know anything," Alain said in a loud, mock-whisper.

"What?" she exclaimed in outrage. "But I've been planning to do this project with you forever!" Tears thickened her throat.

"Aww, now baby, don't cry. I'm sure he'll rethink when he realizes how useless it is to have someone who knows nothing about the topic in the group." Alain comforted. Her face brightened.

Duo continued standing by the window, still waiting for one of them to accept his offer to assist. Chalin was rattling off facts about the Eve Wars; then she got one wrong and Duo quickly corrected her. It was an important date and she was off by three months; if they turned in their project with the date that far off their points could get seriously docked. Chalin kept talking, however, until finally Devon broke in.

"It's April 5th, Chalin," he corrected gently.

She blushed, but smiled up at him -- he was much taller than she. "Thanks, Devon. It's good to know that you, at least, have all of your facts straight!" she gave him a bright-eyed look, then returned to her list of factual information, all the while scribbling in a small blue notebook. After several minutes she looked up. "Hey, Regan? Could you go get me a red pencil from Mr. Coffee? I can show you where in space the gundam pilots were fighting." She gestured at him, her face friendly enough. He jumped down from the window ledge where he'd finally sat down.

"Sure! But, uh, I already know where they fought. I met one of them at the after-war convention -- Quatre Raberba Winner."

"Oh, stop lying, you did not!" she laughed, apparently assuming it was a joke. She punched his arm and then shoved him towards the teacher. "Don't tell stories, Regan, they don't like that here." then she bent back over her book.

Duo sighed. Didn't anyone listen; pay attention anymore? War wasn't just facts, it was people. People that fought and murdered; people that fought and died. He got the red pencil and carried it to her.

"You know, Chalin, war isn't about dates. It's about the people that survived, but most of all, it's the ones that sacrificed their li--" he began. She cut him off.

"And what do you know about war, Miss Regan? My daddy fought in it. He was a good soldier. All you can say is you met one of the Gundam pilots -- and not only is that a tall tale, but Quatre Raberba Winner didn't fight. His father wouldn't allow him," she informed Duo smugly. His opinion of her dropped down several notches. He sat down again and resolved not to say another word. But when the teacher passed by them, cheerily asking how their work was going, Duo just couldn't keep his mouth closed.

"I met Quatre Raberba Winner, one of the pilots. Chalin says that he--"

"Regan," Mr. Coffee warned in a low voice, "don't make things up. Just listen to your teammates and they'll help you, all right?"

"But I did, and I know that things were different then she says--" Duo protested, but then Chalin was speaking, and the teacher was nodding at her and smiling, apparently accepting everything she said. Duo shut his mouth. It didn't matter, did it? They didn't notice; didn't care that a war was more than just cold facts on paper. It was paid for in human flesh, the colonies had drunk the blood of those who'd fought to free them. But here it was nothing more than a few battles depicted in black-and-white. The worst was when Chalin began outlining the Gundam pilots, however:

"No-one knows who piloted 04," she announced, "but everyone knows that a boy -- a street rat from L2 -- piloted the bloodthirsty Deathscythe. He was one of the best fighters, really strong, really hardened. Being on the street his whole life meant he was more than accustomed to fighting for survival; and some say, even killing. He was a hero -- but he died when Deathscythe went into the sun. According to reports, all of the other pilots sent the Gundams up empty -- but Duo Maxwell insisted that he go with his beloved. It's a shame, he'd have made a great assassin. Must be easy, having no conscience..."

Duo heard enough. His conscience, in fact, was screaming at him to set her straight, to tell everyone just who he was and how much he'd hated the endless murder; the ceaseless screams that wrenched out of the soldiers' throats long after the battled had ended and they'd been silenced by death. Duo settled for turning pale and leaving the room. He walked home slowly, feet scuffing the sidewalk, eyes averted from anyone and anything.

+

Heero finally gathered his courage and turned on the vid- screen, quickly dialing Quatre. The blond answered the call efficiently enough, smiled hugely when he recognized the finely- wrought features of Wing's pilot, and greeted,

"Heero! It's really nice to see your face again. But, you look grim. What's up?"

"Duo might say the sky," Heero deadpanned, then continued, "actually, it's Duo. He hasn't checked in yet, and it's been two months. We had scheduled check-ins for every month -- just to make sure everyone's adjusting -- and I've heard from everyone except Duo. I'm worried." Heero finished. Quatre's eyes widened.

"You? Worried? And about Duo -- what aren't you telling me?" Quatre inquired curiously. Heero fidgeted -- definitely something was up, that was highly unusual -- and then held up a thin strip of silver. A ring.

"I bought this. After we separated, I had a lot of time to think; lots of time to change and mature. Time to get used to peacetime life. Just two weeks ago I realized that Duo meant a lot to me. So I bought this, it seemed like the sort of thing he'd like. I--" Heero paused. "I think I love him, Quat. I don't know where this came from, and I feel so different from who I remember being. But I love him -- I-I want to ask him to stay with me forever, be my soulmate and lover. I want us to create a life together. He's going to be seventeen soon -- we once set his birthday as the day he met Father Maxwell -- and I think it's the perfect gift. Myself." Heero exhaled nervously. "Do you think he'll agree?"

"Well," Quatre began, examining Heero's earnest face, "I think that's fantastic. I can't think of anything that would make him happier, honestly. But you said--?" Quatre prompted.

"Yeah. Not a word from him. I know where he's staying, though, and I think I'll send the ring with a note. I want it to be inconspicuous. I want him to realize that I love him, but it's quiet, enduring. That it flares up into something hot and huge but that mostly it just simmers under the surface -- permanent."

+

Chalin was laughing, as usual, as she handed out sheafs of invitations to everyone. They were small folded squares, cream- colored with pink roses twining over the edges. "My brother is going away to college, and my parents are driving him. That means that this weekend I will be having a huge party; alcohol is allowed, so is smoking, and I'm inviting everyone! I figure the bigger the better," she grinned. Everyone in Mr. Coffee's class tore into their invitations, reading the directions to her house and the instructions on what to bring and how to dress.

Well, except for Duo. He was sitting silently in his seat; essentially invisible.

"There, is that-- Shit! Gee, Regan, I'm sorry. I must've forgotten to have one printed for you. Oh, and damn. There's only enough food and stuff to go around for 25 people, and there's always been exactly 25 in my classes here..." she trailed off, giving him an apologetic and vaguely pitying look. He shrugged.

"It's okay, Chalin. I'll be fine -- I'll be home practicing my song for the Christmas play, anyway." He screwed up his face into a fake smile. She reciprocated, then turned pensive again.

"Uh, Regan? You can't be in the play -- it's only for the kids who live here. The ones with, you know, prestige. Money. And the pretty ones. I won't be in it, either; maybe you should just go to the bar and get trashed-ass-drunk? That usually works..." she was trying, he'd give her that, but she was not succeeding. The other kids left him out of everything. He sighed again, then whirled on his pointed heel and stalked out.

He'd given out a valentine -- signed anonymously of course -- to Alain; later he'd found it torn to shreds in bottom of a urinal.

He wandered aimlessly and listessly through town until he found his way back to his tiny apartment. He climbed the steps, checked the mail; he hadn't gotten anything in weeks. He'd forgotten to check-in with Heero, he realized abruptly. He was on the verge of flipping on the vid-screen when his hand dropped. It was doubtful that Heero had even noticed he was gone, except perhaps that it was probably deathly silent wherever Heero was residing. He blew out a huge breath. It was winter, his fingers were still icy right to the bone. He went into his small kitchen and his eyes caught sight of the calendar.

It was his birthday.

He was seventeen today, he thought dispassionately. Seventeen and unwanted.

He began to hum the tune of some long-forgotten song as he made himself a sandwich. Once, the phone rang, but it was a wrong- number. He fancied in passing that it was Heero, calling to declare his completely-improbable love, but then he'd lost his nerve. Duo ate the sandwich slowly as he meandered from room to room. At last he decided to shower -- maybe it would wash away the shame, the cold ache that had settled into his soul.

+

"It would have been so much easier--" he cries, the sentence practically ripped from his dry throat. The porcelain underneath him as stained slightly red from his broken nail, but he does not notice. The water is now freezing; the hot-water heater had been shut off by the landlord hours earlier. The unfairness of life, of the uncaring world sinks like a heavy stone into the bottom of his stomach.

He'd tried to make Heero understand that there was more to life than missions; than battles. He had done the best he could to draw the other pilots together as a team. But now, on his seventeenth birthday, he is invisible to everyone. He is entirely alone. His hair streams over his naked, scarred and lanky body. He sits, knees still up against his chest, eyes still wide-open but not seeing. Heero had never seen anything more than the cheerful, chatty appearance that Duo had cultivated.

"As if happiness is anything more than a high-priced illusion!" he shouts, remembering the cost of peace -- the lives wasted. "As if I could possibly be worth the admiration -- the love of anyone! " He reminds himself that Heero could never seem to look at him for more than a few seconds; the love that Duo has been hiding from everyone finally takes hold and he wishes he could cry. "It would be so much easier..so much so, if only I could tell him--"

It ceases to matter.

In a sudden burst of movement Duo is on his feet, tearing the shower curtain aside. Water runs over the side, gushing onto the floor, but he ignores it. The sharp knife from his street days lies against the side of the toilet; left there when he undressed for his shower.

The dress he was wearing has crumpled into a heap on the floor and is quickly becoming saturated.

In four seconds the knife has flashed lengthwise, twice. Duo collapses back into the bottom of the tub, a geyser of sharp ruby liquid painting the shower curtain and dyeing the clean, cool water.

Outside, the mailman puts a small box inside Duo's mailbox. A glittering sterling ring is carefully showcased inside a jeweller's box and the note accompanying it is written in ornate script:

Duo, will you spend the rest of your life with me?
I love you...
~Love, Heero
P.S. Happy seventeenth birthday!


~owari~

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