Author: June
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 25
No Looking Back III

25a. Heero

It's slippery when
Your sense of justice
Murmurs underneath
And is asking you:
How am I going to make it right?

With a palm full of stars
I throw them like dice
Repeatedly
I shake them like dice
And throw them on the table
Repeatedly
Repeatedly
Until the desired constellation appears

-"Desired Constellation" Bjork

Heero knew that Wufei's fists should have put the two surviving men out for the rest of the night, but he couldn't be sure. So they shouldn't be hanging around on the off-chance that they'd walk out of the bathroom and find someone awake and armed. They'd pulled as many weapons as they could find into the bathroom with them and then locked themselves inside, but there was no way to know for sure whether they were safe. In all likelihood, they were not safe. Heero knew they should be running, sprinting away from this place as fast as their legs could go. But Heero needed... he needed just a few minutes.

They'd scrubbed all the blood off, had washed it out of their hair and from underneath their fingernails. They'd cleaned out all their scrapes and scratches. Wufei's cheeks and chin had been rubbed raw against the carpet when Henri had tried to smother him. His chest and hip bones bore similar marks. Heero had been surprised by the slow-burning pit of anger in his stomach as he scrubbed bits of dirt and carpet fiber out of the cuts. He'd been unable to protect his partner. He'd only been able to watch, figuring Wufei was safer underneath that man than out in the open with a pack of psychos waving guns around. But he'd been hurt anyway and Heero was late helping him. Then, Wufei had gently washed Heero's cheek, his fingers carefully washing away streaks of gunpowder. Much of the gash was cauterized, the bullet burning him on its way past his face. Heero knew it would scar, another to add to his increasing number.

Now they stood under the hot spray of the shower, fingers and palms still questing over slick skin, still reassuring themselves that they'd lived, that seven men had tried to kill them, that they'd all failed and that the partners had survived. Wufei leaned his back against the wall, one foot braced on the lip of the tub, steadying himself. Heero fit himself to the dragon's body, wrapping one hand around the underside of his partner's raised leg. It was almost an exact reproduction of their fierce mating an hour previous. But all aggression and desire were gone. He needed to touch and be touched, be reassured.

Wufei tilted his head back, exposing his neck further as Heero laid wet, open-mouthed kisses along his throat. His splayed fingers slid carefully up and down bruised ribs, wrapped firmly around a jutting hip bone. Their lips met and Wufei whimpered softly into his mouth. He tasted like hot water and soap. Slick arms went around wet bodies and slowly, carefully, they slid to the floor of the tub, Heero resting his forehead on Wufei's shoulder, kissing whatever skin he could reach. The dragon rubbed his knuckles gently against the bumps of his spine. Heero felt oddly safe and protected. He was warm and exhausted. And he was with his ally, his partner. He felt consciousness slipping. "We can't sleep here," he mumbled into Wufei's shoulder. "We need to get home."

"I know."

"But I don't think I can move."

The dragon shuddered a weary laugh. "But just think. Home means pajamas and hot tea and bed and Duo."

Heero's eyes flicked up to his partner's but the warrior was looking somewhere off into middle distance. He wasn't sure who that list of comforts was meant for, but he knew in his gut that it could apply to either of them. Duo was waiting for them both. And that fact alone was enough to get him up on his knees and then to his feet. He shut off the water and turned to help his partner to his feet.

They dressed in silence, Heero ridiculously glad to have his body wrapped in warm, dry, loose-fitting clothes once again. It felt like days since he'd worn clothes. Wufei looked similarly relieved to pull on his thick hooded sweatshirt and his knit cap. They bent down to lace up running shoes and Heero glanced up when he felt Wufei's eyes on him. They glinted with tired good humor. "Race you home."

+

There was a skateboard in the dumpster. It was pretty beat up, but well made. Heero grinned. He could not pass this up. He brushed aside newspaper, coffee cups and gum wrappers and then threw it and himself over the edge of the dumpster onto the pavement. Wufei stood there waiting, bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation, breath fogging in the crisp, cold air. When he spotted the board he frowned.

"Not fair. This was supposed to be a footrace. And we jumped into the dumpster from the fire escape to cushion our fall, not so you could go shopping for used sports equipment."

Heero shrugged and placed his left foot on the deck, then his right. He bounced up and down a few times, testing the give in the trucks. They were tired, might need some tweaking, but he'd make it home. "I found a skateboard; I'm taking it."

"I can see that," Wufei said a bit testily.

"I think I'll give it to Duo." He kicked off and coasted down the alley, then called over his shoulder. "The axles are starting to slip a little, but some tape should straighten it out."

"Okay."

It felt good to be on a board again. He leaned back and the trucks gave a bit, turning him back towards his partner. The wheels were still solid; the bearings whirring smoothly. This was a good board. He stepped off and kicked the nose up into his hand, resting the tail on the pavement. He looked at his partner and then up at the clear night sky. A few stars were visible, even in the glare of the street lights. He pulled in a huge breath of cold air and blew it out. He looked back up at the building they'd just escaped from. The lights were still on. Inside, there were six dead men, and two unconscious. He'd killed two of them. He'd killed. The first time in four years, the first time since... It did not feel good. He looked back at his partner. Wufei looked a bit skittish. They needed to get away from here.

"Let's go," he murmured, turning away. The dragon nodded and followed, quickly catching up so they walked side by side.

They were supposed to be racing. He could feel that Wufei needed to run, needed to pound out any residual shock he felt from their evening. Heero wanted to see how fast these bearings really were. But that'd be a very long sprint for Wufei and not very fair. And he didn't want to leave his partner alone either. So he walked.

Wufei's eyes kept returning to the board in his hand. Heero could feel his gaze, but didn't say anything, until finally, sounding like he'd been struggling with the question for several minutes, Wufei's voice broke the silence between them. "Did you and Duo skate a lot? He brought that board home for Quatre a few months ago, with the violin, but I didn't know he..."

"We each had a board when we were younger. It was a good way to get around the city. Duo's better at it than I am."

The dragon nodded, digesting this. "Why did you stop?" Again he sounded like he was fighting himself, asking that question, probably knowing it was none of his business. But the need to understand his partner appeared to win out. And really, they'd just shared each other's bodies rather intimately and without him, Heero would be dead right now, shot in the back of the head, so it wasn't a big deal that he wanted to know some history. History he'd told no one. History he'd experienced with one other person.

"They were stolen... about six years ago. We got jumped, and they took everything we had."

"What do you mean everything?" Wufei's voice was quiet and openly curious now. "You and Duo were thieves. Couldn't you just... get what you needed again?"

Heero shook his head sharply. "No, it didn't work like that. A bunch of kids -- they were a little older than us -- raided our place. We were squatting Downtown. Just the two of us. We had it pretty good, had everything we needed. I think those kids had been planning it for awhile, brought boxes and bags to take all our stuff. Pots and dishes, cook stove, books, blankets, music, skateboards, clothes, Duo's art supplies. All of it... our shoes and the shirts we were wearing."

"You couldn't fight them?"

Another sharp shake of his head. "Too many. I killed two of them and Duo got one with the..." He gestured towards his head. "-with the wire he keeps in his hair, but they got us on the ground anyway. They beat the shit out of Duo, broke a few ribs, fucked up his hip pretty bad, broke both his arms, then held him down and made him watch... " He swallowed thickly, remembering ugly words, bloody knuckles and the cruelty of starving children. "They did the same to me. And I know why."

"Why?" Wufei asked, voice hoarse.

"They were starving and cold. They needed to establish themselves if they were going to survive. And Duo and I were weak, comparatively, just two of us. We were only 14. They needed to win that fight and prevent any future fights. They had to win -- completely. And they did. Duo and I were in the hospital for a long time after that fight. And we never went back there, never got any of our shit back, never saw those kids again."

"If you had?"

"There'd be no bad blood. It was winter, and this fucking city freezes. They were brutal, violent people because of it; they had to live, had to stay warm. But so did we, and that's when we decided we couldn't survive on our own anymore. We needed a family, someone watching our backs, keeping us safe. Neither of us could live with the fear of being that hurt ever again. So we joined up with this Family, started stealing for Gael, part of his kid gangs. It worked out alright, until about two years ago."

"When you started hustling."

Heero grunted. His fingers clenched around the wood in his hands and he had the sudden need to look over his shoulder, to make sure they weren't being followed. Old injuries twinged with phantom pain and his body wanted to bolt, get him home and hopefully into Duo's bed as quickly as possible. He wanted to grab Wufei's elbow and drag him along. His partner didn't know how dangerous winter was in this city and there wasn't any time to explain. They needed to get home before the city's starving, frostbitten children emerged like mangy wolves, smelling and sensing warm blood and good shoes. Even though Heero was older now, stronger and healthy, the vision of the city's invisible predators, their skin gray with malnutrition and cold, bit at his heals. And it would be in his dreams tonight.

"Come on," he said quietly. "Let's get home." His pace quickened and finally he gave into the urge to look back the way they came. The streets were still empty. Wufei's eyes were on him as they walked, probably wondering if he'd come unhinged, remembering such a gruesome and life-altering experience. "I haven't lost it, Chang," he grumbled. "We made it this far."

"I know." Heero glanced at his partner and saw his gaze turned inward. Anger sparked in his fear-frozen veins and he welcomed it. Pulling that shit out of his past had rubbed him raw, and his partner didn't even seem to notice or care.

"Talk, Chang."

Black eyes jerked back to him. "What?"

"You stuck your fingers in my life, my past, brought back a whole lot of shit I didn't ever want to think about again. Fair's fair. Now it's your turn. Talk."

He shook his head. "I don't want to."

"You owe me. I saved you're life too. I want to know why you're in this city, working for Gael as a hustler when you're obviously a fighter." Wufei's posture stiffened and the silence drew out between them. Heero glanced at his partner again and saw the same hooded expression. "Why are you even on this continent?" Black eyes were distant and glassy. He was somewhere else, probably recalling the assumedly unpleasant event that stole him away from his other life and dropped him in their laps.

Finally, he shook out his shoulders, reaching some sort of decision. He met Heero's eyes and said in a quietly firm voice, "My clan kicked me out -- banished me."

"Why?"

"Because of weakness. They see it as an illness and everyone who has it is cast out."

Heero frowned and then experienced a jolt of irrational fear. Illness? "Are you sick?" His brain sputtered. "Chang, we just... and you slept with Duo. How could you not-"

Wufei smiled without humor. "It's not contagious, Yuy. I was born with it, I think. And I don't think the Counsel had any idea what causes it; they only reject it, condemn it. But really, it just is."

This conversation was not illuminating any of Wufei's mysterious past. This conversation was bizarre. "What are you talking about?"

"Homosexuality. This city is full of it... I've never met so many people like me."

Oh.

"I assumed that's why they sent me here, why Meiran sent me. She knew... before I did about my weakness and she saved my life."

And bizarre again. "What are you-"

"She kept the elders from having me killed, sent me away where I would be among equals. And I hated her for her mercy at first, thought it'd be better to die instead of living this life that I thought was wrong."

When Heero'd asked Wufei to talk, to explain why he was working for Gael, he had not envisioned this. He'd wanted a distraction from the desolate frozen streets, from the sounds of shuffling feet and sniffling noses. He didn't want this. But now Wufei was stuck in his memories, much like Heero had been. No choice but to ride them out and try to make sense of them if possible.

"Okay, Chang, back up. A ways. Your clan threw you out because you're gay."

"Yes."

"And they thought you were sick, that it was a disease?"

"Yes."

Heero shook his head. "That's totally fucked. You know that, right? You've been living this life now for over a year. You have friends like you. You know... that's totally fucked, right?"

Wufei shrugged and then shook his head sharply, as though trying to clear it of some unwanted noise. "I... I know that I can live like this. I can do it. Because of Duo and Trowa and..." Dark eyes flashed in his direction so quickly, Heero wasn't sure he'd seen them at all. "... and you. But just because I can do something doesn't mean it's straight in my head. I lived eighteen years of my life thinking that I knew, knew how I was supposed to be. I lived with Meiran and we tried-"

Okay, there was another point of confusion. "Who's Meiran?" he interrupted.

Wufei looked down at his feet as they walked. "She was my wife. I'm sure she's married again to another man who can-"

"You were married?!" His shout echoed down the street, bouncing back to them. Wufei looked at him like he was slow child.

"It wasn't unusual to be married at a young age in my clan. We were married when I was 14; she was 13."

"Did you love her? Do you miss her?" Heero was curious now.

Wufei smiled sadly and shrugged. "I didn't think I did, and I know I didn't love her the way she deserved to be loved. But, looking back, she was the only person who understood me, who actually liked me. She was my only friend, and so, yes, I love her and miss her. But I won't see her again. I'd be endangering her life."

Heero nodded. They were approaching the train station. He could end this strange conversation soon. But one question was sticking. "How did she save your life? I thought you said homosexuals were only cast out."

"Because I killed three men." This did not surprise Heero, and Wufei didn't seem particularly torn up about it either. Not after what they'd just been through.

"Why did you kill three men?"

"They assaulted Meiran and me. They taunted her for being with someone like me, someone sick and weak. They insulted us both. I was defending her honor and mine, but I would have been killed for such a crime. So she begged for my life, asked that I be sent away, to a place where I could live with people like me. Knowing how much I despised my own weakness, the Counsel of Elders thought it a fitting punishment, to put me with people as weak as myself."

Heero started shaking his head. "You don't believe that. You don't think that about your friends or yourself. You are obviously not weak or sick and you shouldn't even be using that language. If you believe that garbage, then you must believe that Duo and Trowa and Quatre are sick, too and you don't."

Wufei pulled off his cap and ran his fingers roughly through short black hair. His features twisted into a fierce scowl. When he spoke his voice broke. "Eighteen years of my life, Heero, ten of which I was told that the way I behaved was wrong, unnatural, sick. How do you... escape that kind of... How do you do anything other than survive the best way you can? Right or wrong don't mean anything in the face of simple survival. How am I supposed to know whether the life I've been living is right, if the lives the rest of you lead are right? I mean, what about you Heero? Do you feel tainted since you know this about me? Will it be the same for you?" Anger crept into his voice, a fierce and automatic defense of what little pride the dragon thought he had left. "Yes, I prefer men. When we fucked tonight, you weren't taking Chang the warrior who let you push him up against a wall; you were fucking a faggot who liked it. Isn't that wrong? Isn't that bad? And what if you liked it? Are you weak too? Are you sick?"

Heero's gut reacted before his brain could tell him that violence would not be constructive. The two of them slammed into a storefront window, Wufei's head thumping against the glass. They scrambled and snarled and twisted until Heero managed to get an elbow in Wufei's bruised ribs. The dragon hissed and went still. Heero leaned in close, bringing their bodies together. He kneed his partner's leg's apart and applied an expert amount of pressure, rubbing their hips together. He wrapped one arm around a strong back and brought his mouth close to the dragon's ear. His partner's breath came quickly; his body responding. And Heero was very suddenly not cold at all.

"This," Heero ground into Wufei's ear, pushing him harder into the glass, "is not weakness. This is biology and chemistry. This is pleasure taken and given. This is heart. And if you ever call it weakness or sickness in front of anyone in our home, especially Quatre, I will cut out your tongue, since that is the only part of you that's even remotely diseased. Do you understand?"

Wufei nodded quickly.

Heero paused to draw back and look over his partner's face, his onyx eyes, sharp nose, and his proud expression, his scraped cheeks and chin and his wild black hair. "You are not wrong and you are certainly not weak." He leaned in again and kissed his partner until he began to kiss back. Their mouths grew eager and aggressive. Wufei's hand tentatively found its way under Heero's sweatshirt. His fingers were freezing and Heero shivered, breaking the kiss. "Don't make me have to prove it to you again. We're both exhausted." Then, abruptly, he pulled away and threw his board down on the cement. He didn't look back as he jumped on and sped off into the shadows. He heard Wufei's sweatshirt slide along the glass, then denim scrape on the sidewalk. He pictured him sitting on the ground, knees drawn up to his chest, expression surprised and unsure.

He didn't want to leave his partner alone. He wanted to make certain that they both made it home safely. He wanted pajamas and hot tea and bed and Duo. For both of them. And therein lay the problem. That was why he was leaving his partner alone. He wanted to take Wufei, every screwed up, twisted and damaged bit of him and coax him into bed with himself and Duo. He wanted to prove their strength together. He wanted Wufei and Duo together. But above all, he just wanted. And what if that was wrong?


25b. Trowa

Try to free a slave of ignorance
Try and teach a whore about romance

How do you say I miss you to
An answering machine?
How do you say good night to
An answering machine?
How do you say I'm lonely to
An answering machine?
The message is very plain
Oh, I hate your answering machine
I hate your answering machine

-"Answering Machine" The Replacements

Trowa could hear Duo fidgeting out in the living room. He was still, then he was up walking to the kitchen. Then he was turning the pages of a book, then a magazine. Then Trowa heard the distinctive 'scritch' of a pencil on a sketchpad. Then he sighed loudly and stomped off to the bedroom. Duo was nervous. And for good reason. It was almost two. Heero and Wufei should be returning soon. The Frenchman didn't know in what condition they'd be returning and clearly neither did Duo. He was not hiding this fact very well.

Trowa found Duo's personality very interesting. And that was most unfortunate. The braided hustler had always been loud and flashy and at the same time subtle and understated about the most important part's of his life -- like his relationship with Heero. They were together nearly all the time, yet the extent of their friendship, indeed the very depth of their relationship, was a mystery. He talked nonstop, yet was adept at actually saying very little. He constantly referred to his and Heero's experiences growing up in the city's brutal warehouse district, yet he never revealed any specifics, only what they'd taught him. And he could keep secrets. Take his friendship with Wufei. He and the dragon were not together as often as he and Heero were, but there were definite undertones between them. Quatre didn't pick up on them, and Heero seemed to sense them only on a subconscious level. But Trowa knew that Duo and Wufei were together, as much as two hustlers could be. He knew they craved privacy and intimacy, and when neither were forthcoming, they settled on small touches and hooded looks. Trowa knew this only because he was interested in Duo. In Duo, he recognized a similar talent -- that of discrete observation. They were both masters of stealth and invisibility -- Trowa because he could very nearly disappear in a room, Duo because he was so loud everyone assumed he was only concerned with the sound of his own voice. But Trowa was onto Duo's strategy and he knew his secret.

And that was most unfortunate. It was entirely possible that Duo knew of Trowa's extraordinary powers of observation and memory, and that's why he didn't take extra pains to hide the things he didn't want known. He figured Trowa would figure it out anyway and that he could be trusted not to blow his and Wufei's cover. And sadly, tragically, that's where Duo was wrong. Duo's sharpened senses could not pick up the extent of Trowa's betrayal because Trowa himself didn't know what he'd be forced to reveal to Gael at their next meeting.

It was the price for Trowa's entrance into the inner workings of Gael's organization, and it was the price for preserving Quatre's life with them. Such an unstable and volatile employee should have been eliminated as too much of a security risk. But Trowa had asked for mercy and Gael had granted it, giving Quatre an even higher position in the Family. It was a risk for Gael and Trowa was paying for it, keeping track of everything that went on in their home, remembering every overheard conversation, every subtle touch and look. He could recall every time Duo and Wufei had risked discovery, locking themselves in the bathroom or sneaking a quick grope in the kitchen. He knew the sound of Wufei's breathing and the purring noise Duo made when Wufei touched him in a spot he liked. He knew why Heero rubbed his heart when he saw Duo leave the flat with Wufei.

Tonight would be different. Tonight, Heero and Wufei were returning together. Gael would certainly want to know how the night had gone. Trowa felt vaguely ill with the knowledge that he would tell him everything. He hated that Gael knew everything their was to know about Duo and Wufei's clandestine relationship, when Heero had only uneasy suspicion and a heart that hurt.

But above all, Trowa hated what he'd done to Quatre. The boy was now a hunter and sometimes a killer, a child-warrior walking a delicate line between depression and madness. And Trowa had put him there when he'd pled for his life, when Gael had granted it. And now he demanded all there was to know about the former Winner heir as well. But if Trowa's betrayal kept Quatre safe until Heero took their investigation to the police within the next week, if they all made it out alive, then perhaps the pain they suffered would be worth it. That's what Trowa told himself anyway, as he closed his book, checked his watch again and walked out into the living room. Quatre was due back from his job soon. Trowa didn't feel that he deserved the boy's friendship, tenuous as it was, but he craved it and so he joined Duo in their vigil by the door.

+

"Any idea when he'll be back?" Duo asked him, eyes schooled to his braid.

Trowa flicked a lock of hair out of his eyes and didn't look up from his book. "Should be about now."

"...Was it a big job tonight?"

He shrugged. "He doesn't ever tell me. And Gael won't tell me either when I ask."

Trowa heard Duo shift towards him, pushing himself into the corner of the couch closest to the armchair. "Are you worried about him?"

"About who, Quatre or Gael." Trowa knew he could be a pain in the ass sometimes. Duo got to be a pain in the ass most of the time, so why not?

"Don't be a dick, Frenchie."

Fine. "Of course I'm worried about him. He may have killed someone tonight; I don't know who. He'll walk through that door smelling like blood and he won't talk about it. He'll chew on his licorice because he read somewhere that it's good for his liver. He'll refuse to answer my questions about going in for treatment. We'll go to bed and I'll still smell blood and licorice and he'll lay there a few paces away from me and I will only ask him whether he dressed warmly enough because the weather is the only thing we can talk about without emotionally ripping each other apart."

"Jeez."

"I know."

"So... things are tense with you two, huh?"

"Don't be dense, mutt."

Trowa still didn't look up, but he heard Duo snort. "Easy, peaches, I'm just askin'. I don't want to pry-"

"You love to pry."

"-but I love to pry, so I just wanted to know..."

"Know what."

"Whether you and Quatre were... or are together, or not." Trowa finally looked up to see Duo giving him a nervous smile, his fingers plucking at the upholstery, eyes wide and curious. "Because I could cut the sexual tension between you two with my switchblade and it's drivin' me a little nuts."

Trowa considered him for another moment and then tried and failed to offer a smile. "Shouldn't it have been obvious, Duo?"

Duo's nervous smile turned sad as he let out his breath. "Yes, it was painfully obvious." He looked down at his hands. "But I wanted to hear it from you."

Well, he'd said this much. "Quatre and I... were together, I think, for all of one afternoon."

"You think?"

"...I'm not really sure, because I've never been with anyone on purpose, by choice, before him."

"Oh." Trowa watched Duo try to contain his curiosity and, as usual, he failed. "Well, why for just an afternoon?"

"Because right after we... sort of got together, you took the call from the doctor. He left with you and he hasn't touched me since."

Duo's expression was heartbreaking in its sincerity and understanding. If Trowa's heart hadn't already been run through a cheese grater, he'd have been moved by his friend's sympathy. "Have you talked to him about it?" Duo asked.

Trowa huffed a humorless laugh. "What, being sick or us hooking up? Or hooking up even though he's sick?"

"Either one... all of the above. Have you talked about your situation?"

Trowa ran a hand through his hair, briefly exposing the other side of his face. Anger quickly flashed through him, hot and fierce, but then it was gone again, useless. "I tried. It was the usual line of bull shit. This is not a death sentence. You can live a long and healthy life. You can be in a relationship. We can be together.' He didn't buy it. He, in fact, rejected it outright."

Duo nodded his understanding. "Quatre's a smart kid, but not..." He hesitated. "But, Trowa, it's not bull shit. Quatre will most likely live a long, healthy life."

"I know that, and I think Quatre does too, but it's not enough for him. He feels like his body has betrayed him, like it will fail him in the long run. It's set. His life will be shorter than ours. Or at least he thinks it will be."

"Makes sense why he took the job, when the Boss offered," Duo said thoughtfully.

'He didn't offer; I begged him for it,' Trowa thought darkly.

"He doesn't want it to be set... wants there to be other ways for him to go... bounty hunter not being a particularly safe occupation."

Trowa murmured a noncommittal agreement. Then they fell silent for several moments. But Trowa knew Duo's questions weren't over yet. The young man was still tense beside him.

"So, um... Tro, do you want a relationship with Quatre? I mean, when you hooked up, it was intentional, right? The beginning of something?"

Trowa shrugged. "I don't know. Where I've been, what I've experienced... wasn't love. I've never seen it, I don't think, so I wouldn't know how to be with Quatre. I have ideas, images, of what I would like, how I would be with him, what we would do, but..." He laughed without humor. "How do you teach a whore about romance? I don't think I'd be a very quick student."

Duo smiled sadly and Trowa could almost feel the young man's sorrow stab through him. Trowa thought of Duo and Wufei's secret touches, saw Heero's ache day after day, recalled in painstaking detail Quatre's carefully suppressed starved looks. Were they all ruined? Would they always be ruined?

"But I bet you would be a very eager student, Mr. Barton."

Oddly, absurdly, Trowa felt himself flush and he looked away quickly, grateful for the curtain of hair hiding his face. Then he looked up sharply when he heard a key in the lock.

Duo was on his feet as soon as Wufei stepped into the room, but he stayed by the couch, giving his lover some space. His voice held open relief. "Wu, you're back! Are you okay?"

Wufei was stalled by the door, eyes wide, clearly not prepared for a welcoming committee. Trowa tried to make himself as unobtrusive as possible, but he didn't make a move to give them any privacy. Wufei opened his mouth and then closed it and the tension held for another moment before Duo closed the distance between them and folded him into a tight embrace. The dragon started and blinked a few times, then slowly brought his arms up to return the hug. Trowa wondered at this unflinching display of tenderness; he wondered at the trust Duo must have in him for allowing this to take place in the bright light of their living room. Most unfortunate. Gael would want to know about this.

"Yes, I'm back," Wufei murmured belatedly. "And I'm okay."

Duo pulled back and examined his face. Trowa did too. Duo's fingers touched bright red abrasions on Wufei's cheeks and chin, ran over the Dragon's mouth, no doubt examining bruised lips. "You're sure? Because you look like-"

"I'm fine, really. I just need to... I'm very tired and-"

Duo wasn't buying it. "Wufei, what happened? You're all beat to hell."

The dragon was backing away, skirting the furniture and heading straight for his room. "It's nothing. We should... we'll talk about it in the morning, but I need some- I need to sleep now."

Duo took a few steps to follow him and stopped, looking confused and a little hurt. "Wu, I'm not mad at you... you know that, right? If you and Heero had- if you had fun with him, or if you liked- I mean I'm not jealous. You can tell me what happened."

At this Wufei snapped out of his daze. He stood in front of his door and pulled off the cap covering his hair. "Can you quit being a busybody for just one night and give me some space and some privacy? We can talk in the morning."

Duo's eyebrows shot up and a second later, Wufei was in his room, his door slamming shut.

Trowa found himself mirroring Duo's expression and he quickly schooled his features back to normal.

Duo turned to him. "What was that?" he asked softly.

Trowa shrugged. "That was a request."

Duo sat down on the armrest of the sofa and went very still. "He's... I mean, we're not really... but I thought he would have wanted to, to at least..."

"Be careful, Duo," Trowa warned. He wanted to say "Be careful what you say with me in the room," but that would have been a bad idea.

Duo started in confusion. "Be careful of what?" Then he turned sharply towards the door as again, it swung inward.

Trowa felt his heart thud loudly a few times like it did whenever he saw Quatre these days: clad in black, pale and drawn, chewing on a stick of licorice. "Hey," Trowa murmured.

"Hi," Quatre whispered.

Duo looked between them and then offered a smile. "Hey, Q."

He got a small nod in reply and then Quatre's gaze turned back to Trowa, exhausted and worn. Trowa sniffed tentatively -- no blood. Perhaps Quatre hadn't needed to commit murder tonight. Maybe it was a simpler round-up, a small bounty head. The boy took the licorice out of his mouth and removed his black cap, bright blond hair curling around his ears. "I'm going to bed," he mumbled, voice barely above a whisper. He turned away from them and, like a marionette whose strings had just been jerked, Trowa rose to his feet to follow. He could feel Duo's eyes on his back, large and sad. He refused to turn and meet that gaze, instead keeping his eyes trained on Quatre's back. He told himself Quatre needed the company, that he shouldn't fall asleep alone. He told himself that maybe tonight they could talk about more than just the weather before they went to bed. He'd been telling himself a lot of things lately.


25c. Heero

Metal heart, you're not hiding
Metal heart, you're not worth a thing

- "Metal Heart" Cat Power

Heero dragged himself up the last few stairs to the flat, hoping with all the energy he had left that all his flat-mates were asleep. Even though he had to get them all out of their beds and most likely out of the flat by dawn, he wanted to come home to silence.

He paused outside his door and listened intently. Complete silence greeted him. He breathed out. That meant one of two things. Everyone was asleep and safe. Or they'd all been taken by Gael's flunkies and Heero was walking into an ambush. Well, three options, he supposed. It was a bit more likely that he could find a bunch of dead flunkies inside and four irate flat mates. But regardless of what lay on the other side of that door, he and Wufei were in trouble. Their evening had turned into a blood bath. True, it wasn't really their fault -- those men were wired way too tight -- but they'd instigated it. And Heero had killed two of them. He clenched his fist around the doorknob. They were fucked.

Finally, he turned the key and went inside, glancing quickly around the apartment. He froze when he saw Duo's feet propped up on the arm rest of the couch. Juggling his duffel and the skateboard, he approached silently, afraid to make any sound. But as he peered over the back and saw Duo fast asleep, he allowed himself to relax a bit. He toed off his shoes and retreated to their room to get rid of his bag and the board. He also quickly shed his clothes and put on sweats and a t-shirt. He pulled his hoodie back on and snuck back into the living room. Since Duo's long body was taking up the entire couch, he sat on the floor, picking up the long braid trailing on the carpet, and laying it alongside his friend's extended arm. Long fingers twitched at the feather-light touch of hair against skin and Heero went very still. He couldn't face questions yet, or concerns over the gash in his cheek, but he couldn't bring himself to sit alone in his room.

He reached up and touched the thick rope of hair again, marveling at its softness. He took a deep breath and let it out, ruffling the sleeping man's bangs. Then Heero bowed his head and began to speak, barely above a whisper. His confession.

"Duo, I fucked it all up. I did exactly what you told me not to do. I ran away like always, went to sleep and left Wufei alone. He trusted me to help him and I left him. I thought I could handle it at first -- be as strong as you are. But I'm not like you. I couldn't do it. I couldn't help him. But I..." He paused and swallowed hard, then continued, voice heavy with scorn. "But I can hurt people and scare them. And kill. That's what I did tonight, Duo. I killed two men. And now... Gael's probably on his way here. I messed it up. He'll take me out. 'Put a bullet to him. Put him down, like a dog.'" Heero ran a hand through his hair. "Jesus," he whispered. "And Wufei... Duo, you should have seen him. He was perfect. Fearless." Heero flushed at the thought of the dragon's body, slick and hard under his hands, fighting with graceful precision, gently cleaning his cuts, shoved up against the cold glass of the storefront, shaking with confusion and want. "But you know, Duo. You've seen him. You know better than me." Heero glanced up at Wufei's closed door. "And now I know." He looked away and rested an elbow on the coffee table, propping his head in his hand, massaging his temples in exasperation.

All he'd wanted to do when he got home was crawl into bed with them both, pull them both around him until they were one jumble of dark hair and long limbs. He wanted to wake up with Wufei's head on his chest and Duo's arm around his ribs. He almost smiled at the thought. Then before he allowed himself to go much further in his ridiculous fantasies, he grabbed Duo's shoulder and shook him awake, offering a half-hearted smirk at his best friend's sleepy surprise. Then Duo's wide mouth smiled up at him and the tension in his chest eased just a little.

"Hey, Ro," he drawled, voice thick with sleep.

Heero swallowed hard and tried to smile. "Duo, pack your stuff. I think we have to run now."


[part 24] [part 26] [back to Singles a-k]