Rattlesnakes + Part 11 (cont)

"You... you don't want to know."

"Maybe you'll scare me away."

It was a taunt, but it had the result of making Duo flinch. He opened his mouth to speak four times before noise came out. "I've... I've never told anyone this. I've never... never said any of this out loud."

Trowa pushed himself forward, shifting his legs so that they were under him better. He said nothing, the whole of his concentration directed on Duo forcefully.

Duo sighed, and closed his eyes. Trowa watched Duo carefully. The sun was starting to bleed out its color, and Duo's face was bathed in red. Trowa watched as all traces of expression left Duo's face, and he went totally blank.

Perhaps he should say something. He knew that he most likely should. The sense of weight was making his body ache, but he still didn't have anything to say. Either Duo would know what to do, or not. Trowa felt helpless.

"Relena told you about the mission."

Trowa nodded, but he wasn't sure if Duo was looking.

"Well, she doesn't know. No one does. I never told anyone anything about... how I completed the mission.

"So you know the basics. Heero got the mission, tailed the marks, had the shot, and blew it. Then I was called in. I had all the info that Heero had gathered. I had the location, the regular stomping grounds, the preferred breakfast foods, everything. Trouble was, he got off one shot before he got all pacifist on the job, so they were on to him. On to me.

"They went into hiding. Locked themselves up tight in their bunker hideaway. Nice place, too. They had a building in this warehouse district... A couple of businesses went under after the wars, and so there were about fifteen city blocks that were basically empty. Big fuckin' For Lease signs everywhere, but not much life 'cept for the street trash, ya know? And they had that place wired, man. Heero had done some prelim, but it was nothin' like in his report. The place was a fucking fortress in the first degree."

Trowa shifted so that his legs swung over the edge of the bed. He grabbed onto the edge with his hands, gripping tightly to make sure he didn't fall over. Duo's voice was cold and distant. Trowa wasn't sure what Duo was seeing as he stared off into space, but he knew that it wasn't what he was seeing.

"Every crack was wired. Every window and door had at least twelve countermeasures. Motion detectors everywhere. And a power supply that was completely internal. Nothing I could do to cut them off, no way to get in without a fucking army, and no time. Fucking no time at all. The Peace Summit Meetings were three days away, and Relena was getting into town that night. No fucking time at all...

"There was one entrance, and I didn't know how dicey it would be once I got in. But see, there was an exhaust at the top... big building, they had to keep the air circulating, right? And the exhaust on the vent had one of those big fans, ya know? It cycled, and spewed out the bad air... But see, because shit would get into the vents, they couldn't put up a motion detector. But they were clever bastards. I'll give them that. They were fucking clever bastards.

"They had it wired with a metal detector."

Trowa's eyes widened a bit. There was the slightest hint of emotion in Duo's voice, the slightest tremor in his face, but the sun was nearly gone completely, and it was harder to see his face.

"The roof was monitored, but ya know, those things always have cycles and shit. It was all timing. Getting the cycles on the fan and on the camera to jive just long enough to get onto the roof, slip past the fan, and go down the vent.

"But I had to strip off all the metal first.

"No gun, no knife, no piano wire, no cell phone, no GPS, no palm computer, no equipment of any kind, nothing. I had to go into the building, and take down three terrorists trained by Oz and White Fang who had some sort of massive weapon, with *no* weapons of any kind, and no plan."

Trowa's eyes were wide. He could see the scene entirely, as if it were he leaving behind all his lifelines as he prepared to enter enemy territory. He could feel his heart thumping in his chest, and he knew that he was thinking just what Duo must have been thinking.

"I had a rough schematics of the place, but they'd obviously been planning for longer than we'd given them credit for, because they'd done their own customization job on the joint. And just because the only tap they had on the vent was a metal detector didn't mean that there weren't other defenses and monitors inside, and I didn't even have a pair of tweezers on me. But, you do what you have to do, right?

"And I guess I caught a lucky break, because there were electronic eyes and shit in the vent from time to time, but for the most part, they were easy to bypass or move around, especially since I was a lot smaller than they pro'ly were expecting, so I was golden."

Duo's voice was getting lower and lower, his knuckles white as his hands gripped his legs tightly. There was a haunted look in his face, which was exaggerated by the way the shadows played with his features. Trowa could feel his heart beating in his chest. It was like the soundtrack of the story, the steady and ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum in the background, bringing immediacy to every word.

Trowa had underestimated the mission.

"I could only wander through the maze of vents. I figured they would monitor areas closer to their center, so I tried to follow the trail of trip wires and shit, as it were. And I figured they'd be down, below ground, so they wouldn't have to worry about any accidental trespassers. I don't know how long I was crawling through those fucking vents. I was fucking hot and tired and totally fucking lost by the time I heard voices. And I was fucking worried. They were all depending on me, ya know, and time was running out. I could hear the fucking clock ticking the whole fucking time.

"I had a loose plan, based entirely on luck. I wanted to locate one of 'em alone, neutralize him, steal his weapon, or any weapon, and hunt down the other two.

"Decent plan, right?

"Fuckin' Lestarte wasn't that fuckin' trusting."

Trowa could see it before Duo said it. Of course he knew. He had to.

"They were all bunkered together. There were exactly two vents leading in and out of it, and they were both up near the ceiling. There was a fuckin' toilet in the corner, and a microwave on the counter. They had military rations and water bottles in crates, and the biggest fuckin' dirty bomb I ever hope to see in my life in the middle of the room.

"Clever bastards, I had to give it to 'em. They had jerry-rigged four surface-to-air missiles to this harness, and the bomb was in the middle of the harness. So, like, even though it was just a dirty bomb, they were gonna be able to launch it. And they had explosives mounted to the ceiling. I figure they musta loaded up all the way above the bomb. So, they set off the charges on the ceilings, set off the missiles, and you have the dirtiest, deadliest nuclear bomb for under 50,000 creds you can get."

Duo was shivering, his skin goosebumping everywhere. He looked cold, and very alone, and Trowa wanted badly to move off the bed and comfort him, but he knew that he didn't have any comfort to offer just yet.

"I didn't stand a fuckin' chance, that much was clear. They had themselves nicely bunkered down, and they even had a blast shield, and they had no intention of leaving that room until the deed was fuckin' done. My only comfort right then was that they obviously hadn't blown anything up yet... in fact, they were watching the news, tracking Her Highness' movements on this big map. They were still planning the final stage.

"So, I figured, I had the one shot. Get down there, blow something up before I got killed, and hope that the blast would take enough of 'em out so that they were sunk. Worst case, I was thinking, I can head straight for the dirty bomb, and set it off. Sure, it would be a huge fucking mess, but remember, there was only street trash for fifteen blocks.

"Acceptable loss, right?

"That was my plan."

Duo's was visibly trembling, his lower lip quivering, and whatever he was seeing, he didn't want to be seeing it. He looked like he was stuck in a nightmare, and he wasn't being allowed to get out. Trowa was waiting for the thud. He was waiting for it to come, for the inevitable.

He could see the room. He could feel the tension. There were only so many ways for this to fall out, and considering the fact that Duo was sitting there, telling him the tale, he knew that most of those ways were already excluded.

"I don't know what happened. I... I know I kicked the vent grate down, and jumped through. The rest... I don't know, it was like... I could see flashes. Like a strobe light. I'd see... a splash of blood, or a fist connecting with a face, or feel something hit my back, or something, but I couldn't connect it. They were just... flashes. I totally went into some sorta berserker soldier mode, totally going into programming and not even really consciously aware that it was my hands and back and shit that were involved.

"The thing I remember after kicking down the grate was this sound. This... like a rubber mallet hitting a side of beef. That... sorta squishy sound of something getting slapped or hit. Like something wet, or dead."

Trowa was still breathing. He could hear the air going in and out. And he could feel his heart beating. His eyes didn't blink as he stared at Duo's mouth, watching the words as much as hearing them.

"I opened my eyes, and I could see it. It didn't make much fucking sense, but I could see it. A fist, coming up and down onto something that looked like abused ground meat. And a sound, a sorta cry or a scream.

"It was me. My hands, my fists, coming down on what used to be a human face. My cries. I was doing it.

"It wasn't even fucking human anymore. There were... there were brains leaking out. The fucking skull had been totally crushed. It was in fuckin' pieces. The face was all smashed in, the eyeballs had burst and the nose was crushed and pushed inside a bit, and the mouth was all torn up, and half the fucking skin wasn't even fucking on it anymore."

Duo ran his hands up and down his arms, his legs moving anxiously. He pushed his forehead against the side of the windowsill, and his voice got desperate and frightened.

Trowa understood that Duo was scared.

"And I couldn't even fuckin' stop myself! I kept doin' it, over and over again, and there wasn't even anything fuckin' left! I had to, like, throw myself offa him to stop. And was covered in blood. My hands... they were red, and had fuckin' bits of brain and gore and shit on 'em. And I looked around... There was a guy trying to move against the wall. He wasn't quite dead yet, ya know, but... his fucking guts were, like, fuckin' *gone*. There was a gun on the floor, and... and... I don't know, I musta hit him when he was tryin' to shot me or somethin', 'cause he had no fuckin' guts anymore! They were all blown out, he had a fucking hole in him, and he was just kinda... twitching in his blood.

"The other guy, he was on the other side of the room. He didn't have a neck. Well, a chunk of his neck. Fuckin' ripped his fuckin' throat out. Fuckin' went for the jugular like a fucking animal. God, and the guy against the wall would not stop twitching! So I got up, and picked up the gun, and I blew his brains out. At least it was clean."

Trowa felt ill. He knew the smells, the sounds, the sensations, all too well. He could feel the blood on his hands again.

"You know how, they train you and shit. And they teach you how to react, like, in a crisis, so you don't have to think, you can just, do, you know? Assess the situation. Always the first rule, right? Put it all together. See what's there, and put the pieces together.

"My brain kicked into training. I assessed. It looked like a psycho's idea of a party. That's what it looked like.

"I had done it."

Duo's fingers were clutching his flesh, leaving white trails of abused skin. His eyes were wet and wild. His voice was strained, and self-loathing.

Trowa sat on the edge of the bed, and kept his balance by clutching the mattress.

"I had done it all. It was me... I was covered in their blood. I had their gore under my fingernails. My hair was red. And I still had a job to do, I knew.

"I defused the dirty bomb. Took out the plutonium, and dismantled the bomb, you know. Then I disabled the charges. Then I set the missiles to go off on a timer. I didn't know how long it would take me to get out, and I didn't care. I was halfway up the stairs to get out when they blew. Didn't care.

"I went back to the motel I was set up in. I was in shock. I knew that. Didn't care. I got into the bathtub, and turned the water on.

"They found me like that; soaking with my clothes on, and the fucking water still running red. I had blood in my hair for a week afterward. They didn't know what happened. They congratulated me. They thought I was brilliant. They'd've put a fuckin' medal on me if I'd let them.

"Fuckin' hypocrites, buying peace from a fuckin' lunatic..."

Trowa let his head droop. He dug his fingernails into the mattress. He was amazingly lucid. He no longer felt the need for water or food or anything. Logically, he knew he was still weak, but there was a cold ache all over his heart and body and head, and he didn't have the energy to want anything.

"After that, they said it was just shock. They tried to get me to talk... but I didn't say a fuckin' word about the mission. They let it go. They didn't care that much.

"I was a fuckin' mess, and that was when I met Heero again for the first time since the last war. He was pissed, and confused, and he... he hated me. I was everything he was, but couldn't face. He couldn't pull the trigger, but I could kill three men, all twice my size, with my fuckin' hands, and he could see it in me. He could tell, I was a killer, a waste of human garbage, and I was going to hell, and I deserved it, everything.

"So he was cruel, and he hated me even more, 'cause I took it, but he was right. Everything he said was true. And I deserved it."

Trowa looked up. Duo's face was mostly in shadows, the faint reflected light from a light outside giving pattern to the darkness, but Trowa could not read Duo's expression.

"And I started to drink, which gave Heero even more reason to deride me, and he was right. I crashed Hilde's ship, I was fuckin' drunk off my ass, and she kicked me out, and Heero laughed at me, and he was right. I took some drugs at a club, and then he watched me get high and fucked me raw, and then he got me some shit, and I don't even know for sure what happened, but I do remember the first time I had heroin.

"And I couldn't stop because I didn't want to, but I let Heero do whatever he wanted, and I took whatever he told me to, and I nearly got myself killed, which scared the shit out of me, but what else could I do?

"He was right. I'm fuckin' garbage."

The silence echoed slowly through the room, emphasizing the darkness. Without Duo's narrative, it was painfully clear that there was nothing but shadows and blackness between them.

Trowa waited, but there was nothing left for Duo to say. He was little more than a lump of shadow in front of the window, and he seemed to be shrinking.

He knew he had to respond, but he wasn't sure what he could say that Duo would listen to.

"You already know that you did what you had to."

"What I was capable of," Duo retorted quickly, and Trowa chastised himself. He should have known that Duo would have talked himself out of that line of reasoning already.

"So that's it. You killed three men with your bare hands five years ago, and you're going to hell, and that's it? You're just giving up?" Trowa shook his head, and hugged himself. He looked away from Duo, at the wall. He felt a lump in his throat, and he analyzed the feeling cautiously. He had never felt like this before.

"What do you expect me to do?" Duo nearly wailed, tossing his hands in the air futilely. "Don't you get it, Trowa? This is who I am."

"It's what you did," Trowa countered quietly.

"Same fuckin' difference!" Duo was teetering, his legs out in front of him haphazardly. "I can't escape this! No matter what, even in the best buzz, I can still see it! Still hear it, still feel their blood on me, their brains and their guts and their gore! I can't escape, ever! I woke up this morning, and smelled the blood, and I was right back there! I'm not one of the good guys, Tro. I'm not one of the people who can be saved. I'm the fucking damned."

Trowa shrugged. "Then be damned. I don't care. But let me be damned with you."

"Why?" Duo cried out, and his eyes were watering enough to tear a little. "Why would you want me?"

"Because," Trowa slid down, gingerly laying his hand down as he did, and then pushed himself to sit opposite Duo. "You understand. You don't judge. You make me feel, Duo. I'll take the fires of hell, if I can just *feel*."

"Trowa..." Duo was begging, denial etched into his voice. His cheeks were wet now, and Trowa ran his thumb down Duo's face, collecting the moisture.

Trowa leaned very close to Duo, their noses nearly touching. "If I can't feel, Duo, then what difference does it make? I don't care about the things you did. It was the right thing to do. You saved Relena, and thousands of others, and if she had died, it would have started another war. How many millions of people did you save by killing three megalomaniacal jackasses? Who even fucking cares if they died? Or how? You got the job done. That's enough for me."

"Trowa..." Duo pleaded with him, his shaking hands touching Trowa's knees hesitantly.

"If you want me to hate you or beat you or call you names, it isn't going to happen. You are no worse or better than me or anyone else. I believe that, even if you think I'm stupid for saying so." He leaned in, and kissed Duo's nose tenderly.

"Trowa!" Duo was crying now, and it was almost good that it was dark and they couldn't see that well, because Trowa knew that Duo wouldn't want to be seen like that. "Trowa, damn it... What do you want from me? I can't... I can't save you, I can't help you, I can only drag you down. I can't... I can't stand to see you... *hurting*... Please, Trowa, what do you want?"

Trowa took Duo's braid in his hand, and lovingly ran his fingers over the plaits. "I don't want anything from you.

"I only want to be with you."

Duo's head was bent down, and he was hiccupping, trying to stifle his tears. Trowa ran his fingers over Duo's braid, and cradled the bottom of it, with the gathered loose ends resting in his palm.

"It'll only get everywhere, you know."

Trowa looked up at Duo, completely confused.

Duo sighed, and rolled his eyes. "I mean, I know everyone gets off on the hair and junk, but it's just a mess. It gets everywhere, I mean, *everywhere*. It's not a pretty sight."

Trowa grinned a little, and touched his forehead to Duo's in what he hoped would be a reassuring gesture.

Duo shook his head, exhaling loudly with a touch of humor. "I warned you, remember." He took the tail of hair from Trowa's grasp, and pulled the tie off the end. He shook out the hair, running his fingers through it until it was cascading down his back and over his shoulders in shining waves of hair.

Trowa gasped. His eyes wide, his heart pounding, he could no more keep from burying his hand in the thick fall of hair than he could decide to stop breathing. "So beautiful..." He uttered without thinking, cradling Duo's face in his palm as his fingers explored the hidden depths. "You are just so beautiful..."

Duo's eyes shimmered. Barely whispering, "Solo... Solo used to do that... just like that..."

"Oh, Duo," Trowa sighed, "how can you think that Solo and Father Maxwell and Sister Helen haven't forgiven you? They loved you."

Duo's eyes were wide and wet, and then he burst into tears. Trowa took him into his arms, and he ran his hands down Duo's back, through his hair.

It was the most alive that Trowa had ever felt.

They got off the floor, eventually, by mutual agreement, and got into bed. They had no sheets and only one pillow, but they wound themselves up together, their bodies in contact everywhere, their mouths next to each other, and they slept.

~*~

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