Tilting At Windmills (cont)

+

"I'll have the usual, Sally."

"Sure," the blonde waitress replied, making a little mark on her pad. "And what about you?"

"Oh," Duo said sardonically, his words all but dripping venom. "Nothing for me thanks. I'm just here for the company."

Sally looked at him strangely but Trowa waved her off saying, "He's one of Heero's causes," by way of explanation. Nodding knowingly, Sally left for the kitchen, grabbing empty dishes and depositing bills as she went.

Duo looked at Trowa in a mixture of surprise and sudden comprehension. "You know Heero," he said unnecessarily, looking warily at the detective.

Trowa nodded, pulling a battered pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. "That's why I came to find you. You see, Heero's a close friend of mine," the detective explained, offering out a cigarette to Duo, who shook his head.

"I don't smoke."

The detective snorted, fishing a lighter from another pocket. "Yeah, Heero is always nagging me about quitting." They sat in silence for several minutes, Trowa dragging on his cigarette and Duo looking at him expectantly.

"Look," Duo began when the silence got to him, "is Heero pissed about last night? Is that why you're here?"

Arching an eyebrow, Trowa smirked at him smugly. "Why, no. Actually, he was nearly walking on air. Was there a reason for him to be pissed about anything?"

Cursing his stupidity, Duo smiled patronizingly at the detective, speaking from between clenched teeth. "Of course not. How stupid of me to think so."

The detective huffed a bit in amusement before looking seriously at the man across from him, all traces of humor gone from his face. "Are you trying to take advantage of Heero's feelings for you?" he asked bluntly.

"His what?" Duo said in surprise.

"His feelings," Trowa repeated, frowning at Duo. "Because if you think I'm going to sit around and watch you break his heart, you've got another thing coming."

"Look, pal," the longhaired man began angrily, getting to his feet, "I don't know what the hell you're implying, but I didn't come here to be interrogated. I don't like you, I don't like Heero, and I want you both to stay the hell away from me! Why the hell do you hang around with such a nut job anyway?"

Trowa shrugged, indifferent to Duo's agitation. "I like him, he's a good man. Who cares if he's tilting at windmills?"

"Tilting at what?" Duo scowled in confusion, hovering by his chair but not reclaiming it.

"Windmills. It's an old expression. It means that you're... chasing an impractical dream or setting an impossible goal." Trowa sighed at the puzzled look on Duo's face. "I take it you've gathered that Heero is rich?" At his nod, the detective continued. "Well, he's more than rich. He makes rich people look like homeless beggars. But he doesn't spend a damn dime of it on himself, save for things like food and really ugly footwear.

"Have you ever heard of the Wing Foundation?" Duo nodded and Trowa smiled slightly. "You can sit down if you like. That's Heero's personal foundation. He uses it to pour all his money into charities and the like."

"HEERO is the head of the Wing Foundation?" Duo exclaimed, his eyes widening almost beyond capacity. He dropped to his chair, his mouth fixed in an, 'o', of surprise and disbelief.

"I take it you've experienced the benefits of the Foundation?"

"Yeah," Duo replied, still a bit frazzled from the shock. "Probably everyone on L2 has. I only wish it had come around sooner." Shakily, he ran a hand through his uneven bangs letting out a rush of air that ruffled them. "Why does he do it?

"Heero and I are both orphans, so we've been friends since we were kids living at the L2 Covenant House." The detective paused to take a long pull from his cigarette, blowing the smoke out in a ring around Duo's head. Duo coughed and waved it away irritably. "The only thing Heero remembers about his real parents is that his father once told him to live by his emotions, so ever since then Heero's been trying to make the world a better place."

"That's it? One foggy memory and he's on a mission of world peace?" Duo asked incredulously, shaking his head in disbelief. "Heero's even crazier than I thought." Folding his hands together, he rested his head upon them, elbows propped up on the table. For a few moments he seemed to be deep in thought, but he suddenly shook his head as though to clear it and leaned back in his chair.

"Well," he said abruptly, snagging Trowa's beer before downing the whole of it. "As much as I enjoyed the arrest and the life story, I have places to be."

"People to rob?" Trowa commented snidely, looking woefully at his empty glass.

"You know," Duo remarked lightly as he stood to leave, ignoring the detective's jibe. "For a guy who's such a tightwad with cash, he sure spent a hell of a lot on me."

Trowa frowned at this. "Stay away from Heero."

"Keep Heero away from me," Duo countered and without another word, left.

+

It was an uneasy Duo who found himself walking to the corner of Virginia and Third that night. He kept a continual lookout for Heero, glancing over his shoulder and into alleyways. So watchful for Heero was he, that he completely missed Barton until he'd walked straight into the blonde man's arms.

"Well, if it isn't my little bird," Barton hissed hotly in his ear, grabbing his arm roughly. Spinning him around, the gang leader shoved him into a nearby alley.

Tripping over a crack in the pavement, Duo fell hard against the cold cement, wincing as he cut his hand on a broken beer bottle. Turning to face Barton, he scooted further back into the alley, his hand straying towards the butterfly knife in his back pocket as the man stalked menacingly towards him.

"I don't like being stood up," Barton mused coldly, towering over Duo threateningly. "But I suppose I could forgive you... if you apologize nicely." Grabbing him brutally by the hair, Barton yanked Duo forward, but was stopped suddenly when his wrist was twisted violently.

"Let him go." Eyes cold, but blazing, Heero stood in a perfect calm behind Barton, keeping the gang leader's free arm wrenched painfully behind his back. Wincing, the blonde relaxed his hold slightly and Duo jerked backwards, looking up at the pair in amazement. Shoving Barton roughly away, Heero smiled tenderly at Duo offering a hand down to him. "Are you alright?"

Staring at him in bewildered astonishment, Duo nodded reflexively reaching out to take the proffered hand. He hissed sharply as he was reminded of the cut on his palm, grimacing in pain. Dropping his hand immediately, Heero bent to look more closely at the hurt, pulling out a clean handkerchief from his pocket to wrap it gently round the wound. Helping Duo to his feet, he rounded on Barton angrily, but stopped when Duo laid a hand on his arm.

"Leave him," Duo said softly, holding his injured hand against his chest. "Just... leave him." Eyes soft with compassion, Heero nodded and, Duo in hand, left Barton behind to glare menacingly after them.

+

"Are you sure you're alright?" Heero questioned for the thousandth time back at his apartment as he carefully cleaned and wrapped the wound on Duo's hand.

"Yes," Duo said in exasperation, rolling his eyes. "And I swear to God I'll kill myself if you ask me that again."

Heero grinned at him sheepishly, pinking slightly. Applying a last bit of tape, he finished his wrapping, rubbing his thumb lightly over Duo's knuckles before releasing his hand. Duo looked at him strangely, his eyes soft, but puzzled, lit with a faraway glow that shone in the violet depths. Smiling softly, Heero cocked his head curiously.

"What?" he asked, an amused light in his tone.

Duo shook his head. "I'm sorry. I just... thank you," he said quietly, not looking at Heero. "I suppose it's been so long since I was saved that I've forgotten what it feels like." Heero beamed at him and in that radiance, Duo was suddenly afraid. He didn't want Heero to save him. He wanted Heero to use him, just like everybody else.

Leaning into him, Duo lowered his lids in a heated stare, trailing a hand up Heero's arm. "So, then... " he all but purred, mentally wincing at the tone. "Shall I give you your reward?"

Heero pulled away, getting to his feet with an almost sad look on his face. "I've reward enough already," he said softly, but with a degree of finality in the tone.

Claustrophobia swelled in Duo's mind and like an animal cornered, he struck out. "Why?" he demanded fiercely, eyes wide and wild.

"Because I love you," Heero replied simply, as though it were easy a thing to say as, "Good morning".

Duo froze, all emotion draining from his face as his pallor changed from an angry red flush to an almost greenish white. "What?" he asked raggedly, giving a slightly hysterical laugh. "You... you're joking. Right?"

"No, Duo." Heero came back to the table, leaning down to take hold of Duo's uninjured hand. "I'm not joking."

Duo pushed back from the table violently, throwing off Heero's hold. "You can't love me!" he exclaimed, backing away until he was stopped by the couch. "You don't know me!"

"I do, Duo," Heero entreated, leaning towards the disturbed man, but not making as though to move after him. "That's exactly it. I know you. I love you. You can hide behind whatever mask you choose and I'll still love you."

"No," Duo gasped, tearing away from the couch and all but running for the door. He jammed his feet in his boots, not bothering to do them up. He took up his trench coat, but then remembered it was Heero's and flung it at him, taking instead his dusty leather jacket. Jerking open the door, he stepped through it, slamming it behind him.

Heero moved to follow after him, but the door suddenly flew open again as Duo reached inside, grabbed Heero's ugly, yellow boots and hissed, "Don't come for me again!" And, slamming the door again, he was gone.

+

Heero stalked down the streets irritably, flexing his toes inside his stiff new pair of yellow hiking boots. He always kept multiples of the things he liked to keep him from having to shop often, so having Duo steal his shoes was more of an amusement than an inconvenience. Still, he hated breaking in new shoes.

A crash sounded from across the street, causing him to start as he looked up to seek out the source. What he saw had him scowling and making his way across the street in short order, for Barton and a small party of Meteors were busy smashing car windows. They noticed him as he neared and Barton snarled in recognition, starting forward.

"I am hereby placing you under citizen's arrest," Heero said coldly, bringing forth a round of raucous laughter from the gang. "Surrender now peaceably or I will take you down by force."

Still laughing, Barton flipped Heero the bird, standing defiantly before him. "Bring it on, oh valiant knight!" he sneered mockingly, bringing more laughter from his gang.

Heero smirked.

+

Trowa was happy when the call came in that night, if Heero were out on the streets, then he wasn't with Duo. That feeling dissipated when he arrived for pickup, however. Cursing whatever God he'd been pissing off lately, he parked, steeling himself for a confrontation before stepping out of the car.

"Heero... " he began almost pleasantly, as though nothing were wrong, "where are the keys to the handcuffs?" Heero jingled them at him before tossing the ring at the officer. "Thanks." Turning to the mass of bodies handcuffed together around a lamppost, he tried to smile in what he considered an appeasing manner, looking regretfully at the various cuts and bruises marking the son of L3's most powerful politician.

"I'm really very sorry about all this, Mr. Barton," the detective lied soothingly as he began unlocking handcuffs quickly.

"When my father hears about this," Barton began barking at him, rubbing his wrists and glaring fiercely, "you're going to be much sorrier, detective!"

"I understand completely, Mr. Barton, but surely, we can just write this off as a misunderstanding? I'm sure Heero didn't mean to cause any-"

"Like hell he didn't! Your precinct is going to hear about this! If you're allowing this maniac to run around terrorizing upstanding citizens of L2, then perhaps it's time the police department began running under new management," Barton stated, the threat not in the least bit concealed.

"I understand, Mr. Barton," Trowa said again, smiling from between clenched teeth. He waited for Barton and his gang to get out of earshot, yowling and whooping as they went, then, snorting, muttered, "Upstanding citizen my ass."

"What the hell did you just do, Trowa?" Heero demanded angrily, standing in front of the detective completely aghast.

"Heero." Trowa sighed, rubbing at his eyes. "Do you have any idea who that was?"

"A criminal?" Heero stated obviously.

"Yes, and the worst in L2, but that's not the point. That," he said, pointing off in the direction Barton and his gang had wandered, "is the son of Dekim Barton, Heero."

"The politician? What should that matter?"

"Because Dekim Barton could buy and sell this colony, Heero," Trowa explained tiredly.

"So could I," Heero pointed out, folding his arms crossly.

"Yes, but you wont and Dekim will. And he's just been waiting for an excuse to."

"So that's it?" he said in disbelief, looking at his friend as though having never seen him before. "You wont lock him up because you're afraid he might run and tell Daddy?"

"Oh fuck off, Heero. It's more complicated than that," Trowa exclaimed in exasperation.

"I'm sure it is," Heero replied snidely, turning away from his friend. "You know, Trowa, you should try sticking your head further up his ass next time. I don't think he could feel you kissing it."

+

Duo was in a right state when he left for the church the next morning, enough so that he'd ended up putting on twice the usual amount of make-up to hide the tired gauntness darkening his face. He hadn't particularly wanted to go and would have preferred staying holed up in his nice dark apartment, but he had yet to give the church Heero's stolen money. He'd wanted to melt the damn disk and rid himself of the memory, but the church was worth more than his need to sever himself from Heero.

Unfortunately, severing himself from Heero was going to be harder than he'd anticipated, for when he turned the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue to G Street, he ran headlong into him. Toppling backwards in shock, he was saved from a nasty spill on the concrete by the circle of Heero's arms.

"Duo!" his 'savior' exclaimed in surprise. Pulling away roughly, Duo pushed straight past Heero, ignoring him completely as he walked speedily down the street. Heero followed, keeping pace with him. "Duo, wait!"

"Go away, Heero," Duo bit out coldly, his fists clenched. His eyes were beginning to burn for some reason and he blinked furiously, trying to clear them.

"No, Duo. It's not safe for you out here. Barton is out for-" Heero stopped suddenly, grabbing Duo's arm to halt his progress as well.

Turning on him violently, Duo opened his mouth to speak, or yell rather, but froze at the look on Heero's face. "Heero?" he questioned worriedly.

"Smoke," Heero spoke, his tone hushed.

For a moment, Duo frowned in confusion, but his face went slack with shock as he registered the haziness around them, stinging at his eyes. Along with the recognition of smoke came the realization of the awful stench coating his throat with every breath. The smell of smoke, yes, but more importantly, the smell of burning flesh.

He could smell the scent of death.

"Oh God," he whispered, feeling sick with anxiety and a dreadful knowing. He turned, feeling as though time had slowed around him. The haze grew thicker ahead, almost to the point of being opaque and through the pale miasma, he could see a faint flickering of flames. "No!"

Heero called after him as he tore off towards the burning church, but neither angels in heaven nor demons in hell could have kept him back. He ran full tilt, his hair snapping behind him almost as if it were the whip that drove him. When he reached the fiery temple his tortured mind fed him the cries of agony above the roar of flames, though if anyone were indeed alive, they would not have the air to scream.

He lunged for the building, fully intending to break down the burning doors when he was tackled from behind. Struggling under the weight of Heero, he watched as the roof suddenly gave out, causing a spray of fiery debris to rain upon them. Duo cried out in anguish, going limp beneath Heero as desperation began fading into shock.

Shielding Duo from the flaming wreckage, Heero pulled the man away from the airless heat of the fire, whispering nonsensical words of comfort. A symphony of sirens pierced through the roar of the flame and Heero turned to see the flash of red and blue in the haze.

+

"Are you okay?"

Heero looked up at his childhood friend, eyes angry and sad. "Better then Duo." He motioned to where the longhaired man was being checked over by paramedics. "Are you nearly finished with him? I'm going to take him home."

"We have his statement," Trowa affirmed and rubbed a hand over the back of his head, cracking it slightly. "You know where he lives?"

Heero shook his head and gave the detective a look that quite plainly asked for help. With a sigh and a dramatic roll of his eyes, Trowa pulled a slightly crumpled piece of paper from his coat pocket. On it was written the address of an apartment in the Sweepers territory. Heero took it in surprise, not having expected his friend to have the address on him, much less give it up so easily.

Before he could ask, Trowa answered his query. "I thought you might want it. Figured it would make a good peace offering."

"Trowa... about what I said yesterday... " Heero said, a pained expression on his face.

The detective waved him off, nudging Heero with his shoulder. "Forget about it. I wasn't exactly at my best either."

Heero smiled, but it came off as more of a grimace. Returning his attention to Duo, he frowned sadly. "Is he okay to walk?" he asked uneasily, noticing the slight tremble of Duo's shoulders.

"I'm not a damn medic, Heero," the detective exclaimed in exasperation. "Take my car. Just... return it in one piece in the morning." Heero nodded with an easier smile, accepting the keys before moving to claim Duo.

+

"This is my apartment," Duo said distractedly when they arrived. His expression was remote, disconnected from the world around him.

"Yes, Duo," Heero replied reflexively, finding the key in Duo's jacket pocket.

Unlocking the door, he swung it open, gently leading Duo inside. He brought him to a blue moth-eaten excuse for a couch, sunken and stained with time. Depositing his charge there, he went into the bathroom, rifling through cupboards until he found a clean washcloth among a collection of hotel towels. Running the warm water, tinted brown and sputtering, he wet down the rag, squeezing out the excess drip.

Rejoining Duo, he brought the cloth to his face, wiping away grime and make-up with the slow, tender care born of love. Duo remained silent through the cleaning, but his eyes cleared slightly.

"There," Heero said softly as he finished, brushing back Duo's damp bangs. "No need for you to hide."

Getting to his feet, he took the washcloth back into the bathroom, rinsing it out before depositing it on top of a pile of dirty towels. Back by the couch, he knelt before Duo, undoing the buckles of his boots before carefully pulling them off. That done, he stood, snagging a nearby afghan before sitting beside the forlorn man, wrapping the blanket around him tenderly.

"We used to draw on the walls," Duo whispered suddenly, startling Heero.

"What?" he asked gently, leaning into him for comfort, as much for himself as for Duo.

"The walls," Duo repeated, trancelike. "We would draw on them. There wasn't money for windows, so we drew in our own, giving us a view of whatever or wherever we wanted. If only-" He stopped, gasping for air before continuing. "God... if only she'd used the money I gave her for windows. They could have gotten out... broken the glass."

"Duo... " Heero whispered painfully, drawing the distressed man against him.

Clutching to his shirt like a lifeline, Duo pressed his face into Heero's neck, his breath ragged and gasping. "They were only babies, Heero! They were babies and he killed them! I should have-"

"No, Duo," Heero cut him off, pulling away slightly to look deep into Duo's glassy eyes. "It is not your fault. You are a good man."

"I'm not." Duo shook his head vigorously, squeezing his eyes shut.

Cupping the side of his face, Heero brought Duo's head back up, gently rubbing a thumb over the anguished man's cheek until he opened his eyes again. "You are," Heero assured him, softly but firmly. Leaning in he places a chaste kiss to Duo's forehead before pulling back once more, smiling tenderly at him.

Duo felt an odd clench in his heart and he looked at Heero in wonder, as though never having really seen him before. Grasping weakly at that feeling, Duo, for the first time in his life, followed his emotions. Tilting into Heero, he kissed him, brushing their lips together with an affection he'd forgotten.

But Heero pushed him gently away.

"No, Duo," Heero said softly, just as he had twice before.

Eyes sharp with hurt, Duo pulled away entirely, pushing himself backwards until he could no longer feel the warmth of Heero's body. "Get out," he said, his voice low and cold. Heero opened his mouth in protest, reaching out towards him but Duo jerked away sharply. "GET. OUT."

Heero hesitated a moment longer, but quickly got to his feet as Duo hurled a chipped coffee mug at him. "Duo-" he tried to calm the longhaired man, but was cut off when one of his boots, from the pair Duo had stolen no less, came sailing at his head.

"GET OUT!" Duo roared at him, throwing the other boot. Heero made for the door and Duo followed, the disk containing the remainder of Heero's stolen money in hand. Once Heero was in the hallway, Duo flung it at his head, feeling a surge of angry satisfaction when it nailed him between the eyes. "I never want to see you again, Heero!"

Without another word, he slammed the door, taking a few shaky breaths as he listened for the sound of Heero's footsteps, slow and hesitant, walking away. Turning, Duo leaned against the door, sliding down it until he could wrap his hands around his knees. Letting out an uneasy breath, he cursed the day he'd met Heero Yuy, who could twist and turn his heart until it bled and ached in a way it hadn't done since the death of Father Maxwell.

That had been the last time he cried as well, but even now his eyes watered with emotion. He swallowed them back, adamantly refusing to let the tears fall. Taking a deep breath, he straightened, freezing his heart and emotions until he felt more like himself again. Sitting there in the familiar gloom of his apartment, a single blazing thought burned into his mind, fueled by the memory of the building which had once been his home and the people who had once been his family.

Barton would pay.

+

"I want Barton off the streets!" Heero demanded later that day, slamming his hands down on Trowa's desk. After the episode with Duo that morning, the last of his control had snapped, leaving him angry and hurt, drained of all but the want of justice.

"So does the rest of L2. We've gone over this, Heero," Trowa replied, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly.

"And we'll keep going over it until Barton is behind bars!"

"What the hell do you expect me to do?" Trowa shouted, getting to his feet. "Send out a team to take him out? Put a bounty on his head? Because right now, nothing short of death is going to stop him!" Regaining his composure, Trowa sighed and sat back down. The precinct, which had fell silent at the detective's outburst, slowly buzzed back to life. Sighing, Trowa pinched the bridge of his nose before looking sadly at his friend.

"Look, Heero, I wish the world could live up to your standards, but it just doesn't work that way. The world runs on two things; power and money, and Dekim Barton has both. So unless something concrete comes through, Barton is untouchable."

"Concrete?" Heero asked, running a hand through his shaggy hair.

Trowa nodded. "We've got nothing to tie Barton to the church. No evidence, no witnesses, nothing. Not only that, Barton has an alibi, which happens to be none other than Big Daddy Dekim, himself." He sat back and lit a cigarette, puffing on it slowly. "Basically, all we have is your word and the testimony of some whore."

"Duo is not 'some whore'," Heero said in a soft, but dangerous tone.

"Sorry," the detective replied, his voice toneless. "Look, you should go. I've got work to do."

Heero stared at him a moment more, his face blank. "Fine." He stood, not looking at Trowa. "Justice will be served, Trowa. It must be served."

"Don't do anything stupid, Heero. The last thing we need right now is another body."

+

"HOWARD!" Duo bellowed into the dark apartment, charging through the door and slamming it behind him with a bang.

Howard looked up in shock from where he was currently entertaining a girl who looked young enough to be his daughter... or even granddaughter, by the looks of it. "Duo? What the blazes-?"

"I quit! I'm out! Where the fuck do you keep your pistol?" he demanded from where he was busily yanking open drawers.

"In the safe, but what the hell do you need a pistol for? And what do you mean you quit? You don't just quit!"

Stalking over to the safe, Duo jerked open the picture frame, grabbing at the pistol within before checking it, loading it, cocking it, and aiming it at Howard. "Shall I give you my two weeks notice?" Duo spat venomously.

Howard raised his hands, shaking his head quickly from side to side. "No, that'll do fine. It was nice knowing ya. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

+

Heero walked brusquely up the stairs to Duo's apartment, unwilling to wait for the rickety elevator. His heart was filled with a sense of dreadful foreboding and he was suddenly reluctant to leave Duo alone, despite whatever the man might wish. Coming up to the door of his apartment, Heero raised his hand to knock before noticing that the door was already open.

The feeling of foreboding swept over him at full force and he flung the door open with a bang, eyes traveling wildly over the interior of the apartment. A skinny kid with green hair and a nose ring came running out of the bedroom, brandishing a wooden bat as though he feared his life were at stake. Heero charged the boy, disarming him of his bat and twisting his arm behind him, holding him against a wall.

"Who are you? What are you doing here? Where's Duo?" Heero demanded, speaking loud and fast.

"Hey, man, cool your jets!" the kid cried out, struggling a little. "I live here, man!"

"What? What are you talking about? Where's Duo?" he pressed, squeezing the boy's arm painfully.

"Ow! I don't know where Duo is! He quit this morning, but the apartment belongs to the Sweepers, so Howard let me to move in! That's all I know, man, I swear!"

"He quit?" Heero repeated in confusion, slackening his hold slightly, but not breaking it. Remembering the bat, his eyes widened in realization. "You thought I was Duo... You were... afraid, that I was Duo."

The boy nodded jerkily. "He went crazy, man! Broke in and stole Howard's pistol!" he cried, shaking like a leaf.

Releasing him, Heero backed away, wild with anxiety, but settling into a professional calm. "Kid, take my advice. Go home. Go home, or find a shelter." He shook his head tiredly, turning for the door. "You shouldn't have to sell yourself to survive."

He left the building at a run. After the incident with Trowa, Heero had spent the night tailing the Meteors, but turned left in the early morning hours when he became sloppy... giving them time to start a fire. Still, he knew enough of the haunts and hangouts to help him now. He knew where Duo was headed.

+

Barton tossed down another winning hand, bringing forth a chorus of curses and anguished groans as he pulled in the kitty. He laughed boisterously, shoving his cards over to the new dealer before organizing his newly won cash. His laughter was cut short suddenly as a gunshot rang out through the warehouse. Looking up, startled, he scowled when he caught sight of Duo.

"You again?" he sneered, pushing back from the table. "Come to play?"

Duo brought the firearm around from the wall at which he'd fired, aiming it at Barton. "Anyone without a death wish or an extreme love for this man should leave now," he stated coldly, eyes unwavering from where they locked with Barton's. Surprisingly, all five of the Meteors there got up and left, drawing an indignant shout from their leader. Duo smiled darkly, cocking his head slightly. "Loyal followers you've got there, Barton."

"So what now? Going to kill me, pet?" he jeered, though a breath of fear and desperation colored the confidence in his voice. He glanced briefly at his own gun, resting on the card table, but made no move to grab it. "Face it, in the end, you're just like me."

"I'm nothing like you," Duo spat, his hand tightening on the pistol.

Barton let out an ugly bark of laughter, tossing his head back. "No?"

"No," Duo assured him. His eyes softened slightly in sad remembrance. "I'm a good man."

"Duo! Stop!" Heero's voice rang out across the warehouse. He was leaning against a side door, panting heavily with exertion.

Duo didn't take his eyes off Barton, but his hand wavered slightly. "Go away, Heero. This doesn't concern you," he said calmly.

Pushing himself off the doorframe, Heero walked shakily towards them, moving to stand directly between the two. "You can't do this, Duo," he stated firmly, looking down the barrel of the gun at the longhaired man.

"Why not, Heero?" Duo demanded, a fine tremble starting up his arm. "He deserves it! You know he does!"

"Yes," Heero agreed, startling Duo. "But not from you, Duo. Never from you." Shaking his head in bewilderment, Heero looked away. "Trowa tells me that it's impossible... that he can't be brought in to face justice... and I can't understand why. Why should money make the man? Are we so corrupt as to let villains walk free because they have the power to inspire fear with their wealth?"

Heero shook his head again, as though to cast away his mental demons. "Perhaps he'll never face judgment. But you cannot cancel evil with evil, Duo. That only creates more evil."

"Heero... " Duo whispered painfully, his arms slowly falling to hang limply at his sides.

A gunshot rang once more through the warehouse, though this time the target was not a wall. Heero looked in surprise at the blood flowering on his shirt, his legs giving out beneath him.

"HEERO!" Duo cried out, the firearm falling with a clatter from nerveless fingers as he ran forward, collapsing at Heero's side.

Heero coughed, blood bubbling forth from his suddenly pale lips. "Then... is it all... just a dream?" he gasped, pain wracking his body. "Does humanity... no longer wish to be saved?"

"Hush," Duo whispered softly, gently brushing away his bangs. "Save your strength." Tears welled in Duo's eyes but did not fall.

"Duo... " Heero breathed, reaching up to run his fingers along the side of Duo's face. "Was I wrong? Was it... was it a fools quest?"

"No, Heero," Duo assured him, grasping at Heero's hand. "You were right. You were right about everything. You... you saved me, Heero."

Heero smiled beatifically at him, weakly squeezing his hand. "I'm glad," he managed weakly, blood trailing from his lips. "I love you."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut, a single tear leaking from them to fall upon Heero's face. "I know," he whispered in acknowledgement, heart breaking and mending with a deep wrenching pain. He watched as Heero, face pale but for the crimson coloring his lips, closed his eyes, body going slack as death pulled her shroud upon him. "I know... "

The barrel of Barton's gun, still warm with Heero's death came to rest upon his temple. Duo looked up, vision blurry with tears, into the crazed eyes of the blonde gang leader. Grinning wildly, Barton said something, but Duo couldn't hear it, deaf from the ringing in his ears. He felt more than heard the gunshot as it reverberated through this body and he closed his eyes, expecting death.

None came.

He opened his eyes in confusion to stare blankly at the place where Barton had been. Looking down, he studied the body there in puzzlement, taking slow notice of the neat hole marring Barton's forehead. Turning he was surprised to find Detective Trowa Bloom standing in the side doorway, gun raised and smoking slightly. The world snapped back into place, the ringing in his ears ending suddenly to reveal a silence broken only by his own harsh breathing.

"Duo... " Trowa began shakily, eyes flicking across the body he held, "Heero... is he-?"

Duo looked down at Heero's peaceful, but lifeless face. Heero... who had never used him, nor condemned him... who had never looked down upon him... Heero... who had treated him kindly and spoke to him tenderly... Heero, who had loved him unconditionally, was dead.

And Duo, after years of icy abandonment, released his heart in a flood of tears.

+

I wore no black to his funeral. I knew he would have hated to see me in mourning garb. I wondered if it would have amused him when it caused quite a stir among his friends to see not only a prostitute, but a prostitute that dared to wear a colorful ensemble borrowed from a pimp. Of course, the fact that I was technically no longer a prostitute didn't factor in to their little black and white worlds.

Strangely enough, the funeral took place on Earth, so they could bury Heero atop a grassy knoll. I imagine the affair must have cost a pretty penny. Heero was probably rolling in his grave.

After the ceremony, Trowa approached me, his eyes red rimmed and glassy. At first, he just stood there, looking at me in a way that almost seemed accusatory, but he had the good taste not to say as much. After all, that look may not have been wholly reserved for me; he'd been only minutes too late. "He left most everything to you," he told me unnecessarily.

"I know," I replied, staring off of the hill where they'd planted Heero.

For a few moments, he stood silent but for the occasional sniffle. "What are you going to do now?" he asked, and I could tell that he was looking at me closely now.

"Me, Trowa?" I said and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I smiled, truly smiled. Still smiling, I looked over at him, amused by the look of shock he wore at the transformation of my glower. Looking away again, I looked up to where heaven might be, amazed by the richness of a real sky. It seemed to me I saw a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon, and I smiled all the more brightly. Closing my eyes to capture that moment forever, I answered.

"I'm going to dream."

~*~FIN~*~

IT'S DONE!!! IT'S DONE AND WILL BOTHER ME NO MORE!!! Okay... I think I'm going to go pass out now... You have NO idea how much I've had to work on this to have it ready in time... Yay... it's over... I'm free... And now I get to finish X Faction...

It hasn't been beta'd yet... haven't gotten that far, but this will do for now! Okay, I'm going now... to beta for Asuka, really, I am! *looks fearfully at Asuka* And I'll get it done... ASAP! *hides*

THANK YOU, DACIA!!!

(The prayer Duo says when he leaves the church is 'Hail Mary' in Latin. The full version is, "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen." That translates to, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our death. Amen." Go Internet... You can find anything.)

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