Authors: TB and Marsh
see part 1 for notes, warnings

Notes: depiction of suicide
Notes more: We had some discussion about how to label the fic without ruining the element of suspense, but my feeling was that we were better off observing the courtesy of telling people before-hand. Please make note of it before you read.

Too Many Angels + Part 6

AC 195

"Shit," Tucker hissed. "Get back!"

The corridor wasn't empty anymore. Ensign Barton was there, with two armed guards from the flight crew. They'd discovered the camera was off.

Will tried to cushion the boy when Ortiz dropped him to the floor. Blood from his broken nose smeared over Will's hands when he turned his head. It was cold, viscous, and Will flinched back from it.

"What the fuck do we do?" Tucker demanded.

"Shut up," Sig hushed him. "Let me think."

"We're going to get caught," Will said. The boy's face was so swollen already, skin purpling and split from their capped shoes. Will wasn't even sure he had a pulse. His hands were shaking too hard to tell.

One of the guards must have heard them. Their rifles rose at ready, and then they were coming down the corridor toward them. Ortiz scrambled back and Tucker went flat-out running. Sig never made it that far; the guards were on them, and he was pinned to the wall with a muzzle between his shoulder blades.

Will stood over the boy's body with his hands in the air as Barton came up, his pistol aimed. For a moment he felt a kind of hideous calm. They'd been caught. He was almost relieved to know there would be consequences.

"Hold!" Barton shouted at them. "Hold or I will give the order to shoot!"

The guards hauled Tucker back. Ortiz huddled next to Sig, his eyes darting frantically.

Barton moved a step toward the boy on the floor. "Is he dead?"

No-one answered. Will's throat was so tight it was hard to find his voice. He managed a whisper. "No," he said. "But, it's bad."

Barton's pistol wavered between Ortiz and Will. He knelt slowly, his fingers to the boy's neck. He licked his lips, and stood.

"Brimar," he said to one of the guards. "Carry him to the infirmary." He looked back at Will. "All of you are under orders starting right now to never discuss what happened."

No, Will thought, just--no, that was all his mind supplied. This was wrong. This was not what was supposed to happen.

Barton's eyes flickered between them all. "None of you were here," he said decisively. "It must have been one of the other Gundam Pilots. They did this to him, because-- because he was going to talk. He was like this when I returned 01 to the cell." He nodded again. "All right. If I hear anything, if any of you-- brag about it, or let it slip-- I'll let you hang for it. Get out of here."

Will felt frozen. He couldn't move.

"Go!" Barton ordered.

Tucker went. Ortiz hesitated only a moment longer, and looked at no-one while he fled. Sig tugged at Will's sleeve. "Come on, kid," he muttered.

"Why would anyone ever believe they'd do this to one of their own?" Will asked weakly. He resisted Sig's pull. "No-one will believe you."

"They're animals," Barton said. "Everyone knows that. I'll take him to the infirmary and no-one will say anything about how it happened, are we clear?"

"Let me take him," Will tried.

"And give you an opportunity to make a conscience-soothing confession?" Barton snapped. He stepped closer, right over the boy's body, and pushed Will back to the wall. "There is far more going on at this base than your petty little grudge against a Gundam Pilot. This very minute Tsuberov is coming here with the sole purpose of eliminating General Khushrenada from power, and if that happens, we've lost this war. I'm not risking the disruption of plans you know nothing about just to get you the punishment you deserve. We're here to win the hearts of the colonists, not act like thugs who beat up freedom fighters. So go to bed and forget you played any part in this." He let Will go. "And wipe your shoes. There's blood on them."

+


AC 205

The summons was waiting for him before he'd even finished checking in his equipment at the quartermaster. Merquise had sent his personal secretary.

"Word travels fast," he said.

"I just deliver the request." She handed him the note. "You can change first. And shower."

"Oh, I don't think so," Duo returned. "I wouldn't want to be accused of primping while the Colonel was waiting on me." He made an elaborately courteous gesture. "After you."

She gave him a flat look, but she started walking.

It was late afternoon. The sun was right in Merquise's window, glaring moodily even through the drawn blinds. The remains of a half-eaten lunch lay pushed to one side of Merquise's desk, where they wouldn't endanger his computer. When Duo entered, he took off his reading glasses and set them aside. It was going to be a lengthy discussion, then.

"Please have a seat," he told Duo.

Duo did not sit. "Are we going to be that long?"

"I know you're in a hurry, but yes, I need a few minutes of your valuable time," Merquise said dryly. He waited, pointedly, until Duo did take one of the chairs facing the desk. The dark red leather creaked under his body weight. Merquise folded his arms over the desk. "How'd the mission go?"

"I've been on better. We accomplished our goals, but we have wounded. I thought Markov already reported."

"He has. I'm asking you."

Duo wondered if Merquise put on that attitude in the morning like cologne or aftershave. Maybe it never came off. Certainly Duo had never seen him without it.

"All right," he said. "It fell apart. The plane was defective. The previous team left us a mess, and we didn't make good contacts with the natives. We got surprised. We shouldn't have been."

"Did you know that Commander Markov is recommending you and Stanley for commendations? For valour. Of course he's also recommending putting you on report."

"What?" His mind went blank. "What did I do?"

"You assaulted a fellow agent."

"The corporal?"

"Yes, the corporal. Don't play games with me. It diminishes us both."

Duo didn't like that. Merquise's expression grew frosty. He made his next sally, and Duo straightened in his chair for the attack.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to work with you. I'm trying to understand why."

"I don't agree with your characterisation."

"Explain that to me, Maxwell. Because you've displayed temperament problems for months, escalating steadily since your suspension. I'd call that difficult to work with. And you would, too, if it were another agent behaving as you have."

"I'm not." He looked at the wall to stop himself from letting anything else out, and realised he was gripping the arms of the chair so hard his knuckles were going white. Temperament problems, was that it? Make a peep out of turn and every damn one of them was ready to reach right for the only excuse any of them had ever needed to make trouble. Us And Them. Whether it was OZ or the rebels getting noisy, it was always someone, and he was so tired of trying to stand on the bridge between. He wasn't stupid; he knew why Merquise thought he should be above it, but he didn't have the luxury of a desk job where he could keep his feet out of the mud. They kept wanting to ride him to the wall with the same old arguments, and his back was to the corner. His back was to the corner.

Hell of a way to live. He didn't know what you were supposed to do when the functioning part of you only showed up at work, when it was do things right or die. At work, and he turned on everything important. Outside-- outside hadn't mattered because there'd been no outside. If Merquise took that away from him, he didn't know what he would do.

"Have you seen someone?" Merquise asked, more gently.

It took a weirdly long time to parse that. Duo sucked his lower lip between his teeth, and exhaled. "I don't appreciate the assumption."

"I don't appreciate having to explain to commanders that your skills outvalue your attitude problems." Merquise paused. "Everyone in this department has been reeling, Maxwell. Three of my more stable ops are in counseling now. There's been loss after loss after loss. Why are you the only one in the group who feels nothing?"

That seemed to come out of left field. "I don't understand," Duo said slowly.

"Were you even aware? The casualties from just this section are in double digits."

"Of course I was aware. I was there when half of them died."

"That's difficult to believe. There's not even a hitch in your stride."

Duo stared at him. Finally, he said, "I don't know what you want from me. You want me to rend my garments and rub ashes on my face?"

"That's insensitive even for you." Merquise pursed his lips, then said, "I'm concerned about your relationship with Stanley."

"And that's not your problem, sir."

"It is when I've got to sort out problems like this."

"What problem?" His voice cracked, but it was his hands trembling that he noticed, and he clasped them between his knees. "I'll take the warning to heart. I'll work on my temper. And I won't be on a team with Stanley again."

"You'll be on a team with whomever you're assigned. And if you can't keep yourself together I'll order a psych eval. For you and for Stanley. You're correct that your relationship is none of my concern, but neither of you are behaving in a healthy manner and if it continues-- I'd prefer not to have to transfer anyone out."

"I don't think I deserve this."

"Maybe not." Except he was deadly serious, and they both knew it. Merquise propped his chin on his hand. "Tell me what you think the appropriate action might be."

"You've had your little come-to-Jesus talk. I promised to behave. As far as I'm concerned, this is over."

"Take a few days to get your head on straight, Sergeant." Merquise went icy. "I don't want to see you in the building until you have."

He licked his lips again. His throat was so dry. "Are you implying official punishment if I show my face in my own workspace? What the hell? I didn't even start it!"

"As senior officer, you set the standard. A very poor standard recently. I won't have prima donnas under my command."

"Better avoid the mirror then." He was smart enough to drop it to a mutter, but it still slipped out past his internal censors.

Merquise heard it. "Out."

Duo stared at him furiously. But only for a moment. He rose, and let himself out. He left the door hanging open behind him.

+

Will's muscles resisted lifting his duffle of body armour up into his locker. The long plane trip home had left him sore and tired. He wanted to finish unpacking as quickly as possible, and then head over to Duo's. It wouldn't be dark until late, but if he stopped by Green Green for falafel and tabuleh, then by the time they finished eating it might be late enough that Duo would let him stay over.

The door behind him opened. Will glanced up the aisle. It was Instructor Yuy. Will hadn't seen him since the phone-sex thing, but it was the first thing he thought of. His face turned hot instantly.

An awkward head-bob seemed to be the most Yuy could manage in greeting. He said, "You know where Duo is?"

Will occupied himself with changing out of his camis and into a casual sweat suit. "No, sir. I mean, I think he went home."

"Oh." Yuy hesitated without coming in any further. "Are you going to see him?"

It wasn't an easy question to answer. Yuy obviously already knew who Duo was sleeping with, if he bothered to ask at all, but there was a difference between implication and-- "I wasn't planning on it," he said.

Yuy blinked. "Was that yes or no?"

"It was I don't know." Well, that was embarrassing. "Are you?"

"Not if you are."

"I won't. Okay? I-- try not to get in the way."

"I know. You can go. I'll see him later." Yuy still hovered by the door as if maintaining a good position for escape, coincidentally blocking Will's only avenue of flight. He was shy, everyone knew, like they knew that he relied on his friends to do the talking--friends like the one they were tripping over the privilege of seeing first.

Will tucked his tee shirt into his pants, and tied the string tight. "Please. He needs a friend now. Go."

To his relief, Yuy accepted that. "Thanks." He turned to go; but before Will could relax, he was turning back. "Did it go all right? Usually he comes to see me and we talk about it."

"It went... it was kind of a disaster." Putting it mildly. Duo hadn't even talked to him on the trip back, and he'd spent the flight sleeping as obviously as possible. "It all went to hell. If Duo hadn't been there..." He put his wallet in his pocket, and fumbled slowly over his watch strap. "We'd all be dead."

"That's the kind of disaster he's good at."

"Yeah." Three months he'd been with Duo, and this was his first real--talk, confrontation, maybe, with anyone who really personally knew Duo. If he could just make him understand, make anyone understand, that would be something. That would be worth it. He said, "You probably think this is a bad idea."

Yuy's expression was not encouraging. Will's stomach sank.

"Yes." It was painfully unadorned.

"Well, you're wrong." He couldn't marshall better arguments than that. His mind went black, his gut contracting on the verge of an emotional cramp. He redid his watch strap twice before realising it only made him look like an idiot. He stopped playing and put his hands in his pockets. "I guess there's not much either one of us can do about that but wait and see."

And God knew why, but that made Yuy move. He left the door and ventured close to Will, his footfalls silent on the tile that squeaked for every other human being. "Wait and see what."

"Which of us is right." Yuy was taller than him, looking down with eyes a dark, disapproving blue. He was a handsome man, too good-looking for his constantly grim expression. Will was not the only person who found him intimidating. But Duo didn't. Duo liked him, and Duo trusted him. Duo loved him. And if Duo loved him, that must have meant that Heero--understood things.

"Is it because I was OZ, or because I'm not one of you?"

"Does the distinction matter?" Yuy took in a breath, and let it out in a silent sigh. Then he dropped a bomb on Will's world. "You're not the first."

"The first what?"

"OZ. Enemy."

Like a punch to the gut. A blow of a deep, aching sadness that Duo would play such games with himself. Stuffing fistfuls of salt into a long unhealed wound. He didn't disbelieve Yuy; he couldn't.

It took forever to find his voice. "Maybe I'll be the last." Yuy looked away, and Will grabbed for his arm, completely forgetting himself. "He's going to get well. Some day."

"He shouldn't get worse first."

"Maybe-- maybe he's not. Really. Maybe this is just part of the process. He's fighting some very large demons."

"You're one of the demons. Aren't you?"

Yuy knew, then.

Nor was he looking at Will, just at the lockers. "I remembered you, when you first transferred here. He didn't seem to notice." He lifted his hand to his lips and chewed a hangnail. "I'm not talking just about the Moon Base. There's-- he just shouldn't be doing this. But he does. He keeps going back to what hurt him. Like a little boy with a scab."

"Why didn't any of you who were his friends help him stop?"

"Because none of us want to make him do anything he doesn't want to do."

"You're not helping him that way."

"We're not hurting him, either."

"He needs things. He's starved for them." He didn't know how they could fail to see it. "Letting him run himself ragged because you don't want to make him angry is like--it's like handing him a loaded gun." He pulled Yuy's hand away from his mouth. "So it's all my fault?"

"I didn't say that. I said you weren't helping him. Even if that's all you want to do."

He let go, at that. "What do you think I want from him?"

Yuy shrugged his broad shoulders slightly. "Redemption. Forgiveness. Whatever it is, he doesn't have it to give."

"Maybe I did want those things in the beginning." It wasn't an easy admission. "I know he can't give them to me. But, sir, maybe I can give them to him."

Yuy looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time. He didn't have an immediate answer for that, and Will allowed himself a moment of hope.

"I want to," he repeated.

In the end, Yuy said only, "Don't hurt him worse."

"I'd die before I did that," Will swore.

Yuy nodded once. "You go see him tonight. I'll go tomorrow."

"Thank you."

Will let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding, as the locker room door shut behind Yuy. That was acceptance, of a sort, wasn't it? Permission?

He didn't know.

Duo's little house on the beach wasn't the brightest or the best kept. Will thought perhaps that Duo could have afforded better, but it was like Duo to settle for something lesser if he thought some aspect of it was worth the bother. It was well outside of town and a significant commute to HQ, but it sat directly on the water. Duo had never said if that was why he'd bought it, but Will had often seen him sitting on his little porch, staring out at the sunlight on the waves. That was where he was when Will arrived. He sprawled deep in an old wooden chair, shirtless in the still summer air, his bare feet propped on the sand-scattered boards. A six pack of beer sat at his side, two of the cans already missing, a third drooping from Duo's fingers.

Will climbed the creaking steps, and leaned against a pillar of peeling white paint. "Hey," he said softly. "One of those for me?"

Duo's face was still in the way it got when he was surprised. It took him a beat to recover, too. Then he said, "Sure," and gestured vaguely at another of the wooden chairs. Will sat, and took one of the cans. It was a cheap light beer--Will thought it might be the same six pack Duo had had in the boot of his car, that first night. It wasn't any cooler now, and he put it down after only two sips.

Duo said, "Usually it's Wufei who comes to make my foolishness known to me."

One of the Gundam Pilots. Will had never met him, but he knew the name--everyone in Preventers knew the Pilots, even if Duo was the only one who regularly went into the field. "I didn't come for that."

"Which leads to a question."

"I'm worried about you."

Duo snorted. He pulled a new can from the pack, and drank deeply.

"You seem not-okay," Will said.

"Rest your pretty head on my account. I'm fine."

"I care about you." A dragonfly went buzzing past them, landing on the porch rail. Duo's eyes followed it. "I worry."

"God, you have no sense of self-preservation, do you?"

Maybe not. He pressed on anyway. "I think you're worth the risk."

"Yeah, well, I'm not." Duo drank from his can and slid lower in his seat. His legs were slim and tan under his wrinkled shorts. His other hand lay over his stomach, and Will wondered if he knew it was the protective gesture it looked like. There were large bruises in faded purple on his chest, where he'd been shot in his kevlar.

He sipped his warm beer again. "I hate when you say things like that."

"Stanley, what are you doing here really?"

"I don't lie to you, Duo." He'd managed half the can. It tasted sour, soapy, and his stomach didn't much like it. He cradled the can between his palms. The sound of the ocean was a soothing backdrop, somehow disconnected from the sight of water itself, brackish green and lapping up onto the sand. The sun was getting low and orange, painting everything with a thick black outline of shadow. "Why don't you ever call me Will?"

Duo looked at him. "I do."

"You call me Stanley."

"I hadn't thought about it."

"I have."

Duo's face was so expressive. He was tense and unhappy, turning his face back to the ocean.

"I'm not going to give you shit about it," Will said. "I just wondered."

"You know what, I don't want to play this game. I don't want to coddle you right now."

"I'm not asking you to." Duo finished his can and set it on the other side of his chair. There were two left in the pack now, and Duo freed one of them from the plastic rings and popped the tab. Will made a face, and without even looking, Duo said, "Shut the fuck up."

"You don't need me to say anything about it. You know."

"I don't need you to say anything about anything, Stanley."

"So I should just go, then?"

Duo finished the can, and set it down. He stood, and unzipped his shorts, and for a second Will thought Duo was going to take a piss off the porch. He was wrong. Duo straddled Will's chair instead.

"Duo," he groaned. "Damn it."

Duo's fingers paused in the act of unbuckling Will's belt. "Is there some particular reason touching me sucks so much for you?"

Because they only fucked when Duo was mad, and Will was sick of it. But he didn't say so. He let Duo open his belt, and then his flies. Duo freed him from his undershorts and squirmed forward to touch the heads of their cocks together. Duo's open mouth brushed down his neck, and he shivered.

Why did it have to feel so damned good and so damned wrong at the same time? Why was he so fucking incapable of saying no to Duo when he got like this? Or even of asking for what he really wanted. It made him wonder which of them was the more willful victim. He'd thought it was Duo, because of course it was Duo, so unforgiving and so angry and so alone that he'd accept the touch of someone he hated. But every time they had any kind of sex, after just those few touches, that littlest hint that Duo wanted something from him, Will volunarily disengaged from all that baggage and just let Duo take them in whatever direction he wanted to lead, because for a few perfect minutes he could pretend they were a normal couple. That they had a future. That they had, maybe, even a genuine connection. Love.

The porch creaked, and a throat cleared.

Will jerked in surprise and ripped his hands from Duo's hips. There was a man on the porch watching them.

Duo wasn't as alarmed as he was, but his reaction was equally shocking. He smacked his fist on the arm of the chair with a painful thud. He yelled, "I want to have sex in my own gawdamn house!" and clambered off the chair to go stomping inside. Will hurried to cover himself.

The man on the porch was a Preventer. Will realised that at the same time he registered that the man was Asian, and their age, and Duo had said that Wufei Chang always came to scold him. It seemed it was his day to meet all the pilots, and at complete disadvantage with all of them. Chang did not look politely away as Will, mortified, fumbled through dressing himself.

He levered to his feet, and wiped both hands on his trousers before extending one. "Sir, I'm--"

Chang's unsmiling mouth barely moved as he said, "Would you excuse us, please."

Will faltered. Chang made no move to accept his hand, or to in any way acknowledge what he'd interrupted.

"Tell Duo I'll talk to him later, please," he said finally.

Chang nodded, and with nothing more, walked right past Will to Duo's back door. Will made it to the bottom step before realising he neither wanted nor had to leave. He could go into the house and wait. Duo would be in a foul mood after this, that was absolutely sure, but Chang would eventually leave. He might not even stay long, given the poor start of it. He climbed back up the steps and ventured to the screen door. If he stood to the left, he could just see into the kitchen, where Duo was.

Chang came into his line of sight, too, leaning on the countertop. Duo moved past him, and came back with a can and a cooking pot. He lit the gas burner on his stove.

"Sorry I interrupted," Chang murmured.

"Not as sorry as I am," Duo retorted.

"Want to tell me what's going on?"

"I know it's been a while, Wufei, but surely you remember what fucking looks like."

"Why Stanley?"

So, like everyone else, Chang was convinced that Will was bad for Duo. Not good enough for him. It was a depressing kind of attention to be the centre of, and he could understand all that strain in Duo, if this was the way his own friends constantly argued with him. No wonder he couldn't use Will's name.

"Is there some reason why not Stanley?" Duo's tone was provocative. He slammed his pot onto the stove and all but ripped the lid off the can. Beans. He emptied them into the pot.

"Because there's some kind of secret, ugly baggage between you," Chang said. Then his voice softened. "You're hurting. He's hurting. And your career is going down the tubes."

Duo whirled. His bare chest was flushed and heaving, his expression murderous. "Oh, you are not Buddha, buddy, no matter how smart you think you are. You are not going to stand there and deliver me some sanctimonious load of wisdom from on high."

"How many reprimands have you earned since you started seeing him?"

"That is none of your business."

"We're friends. That makes it my business."

"Fuck you." Duo rattled a drawer open and pulled a spoon from it. "I don't owe you that shit."

Chang didn't answer for a long time. Will couldn't see his face. He said, "Maybe not, but if you're having sex with Stanley, you owe him."

"What do you want from me?" Duo said. "I mean what specific thing do you want from me out of this so-called conversation?"

"You need help. You should get some before you lose your job. Talk to me, Duo." He moved then, and Will had the right angle, the perfect angle, to see how Chang laid his hand on Duo's arm tenderly. "We used to talk."

Duo glared sullenly at his pot as he stirred it. "I used to think you had something important to say."

"I used to think you cared."

There was no transition. Duo was stirring, and then he was throwing the pan against the wall. Chang flinched back, and so did Will. Duo turned off the stove, and then he finished his beer.

Chang seemed at a loss, his calm shaken. "How many of those have you had?" he asked.

"Not nearly enough."

"Well, you should stop. You're an ugly drunk these days." He took a half-step, then another, then paused. "What are you so angry about?"

"I don't know." Duo slid into a squat with his back to the cabinets. Will almost went in, then, horrified at the-- the lost look hollowing Duo's face. Duo closed his eyes, and his hands rested limply between his knees. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I don't know. I don't know why I can't let it go."

"What? The war?" Chang only dared a single step. Will knew exactly what he was doing, because he'd done it himself. Touching Duo somehow diffused his rages. Or it brought him to the boiling point, so that he could hit and move on. But Chang didn't touch him. Duo stayed crouched in the corner, rubbing his cheeks, then gripping his braid in one fist. "Maybe you need to see someone," Chang whispered.

Duo drew a deep breath. He got to his feet, and fetched a roll of paper towels from under the sink. He began to clean up the spill of beans down the wall and on the floor under his small table. "I'm fine," he said.

"You're not."

"I function. I'm making it. I went ten fucking years without a problem."

"So what happened?" Duo wouldn't look at him. He scraped at the floor with the towels as if it took all his concentration. "Duo?"

"Thanks for the help." Duo brushed past him to bin the brown mess he carried. He happened to cross near the door, and Will froze. Duo glanced, and saw him. He didn't react at all, though, and Will doubted it a moment later.

"Is it your intention to take Stanley down with you?" Chang asked him.

"That's up to him, don't you think?"

"No, it's up to you. He's not thinking with his head. He's thinking with his heart, and everyone but you seems to see it."

Duo didn't glance back toward the door, though suddenly Will wanted him to. "I'm not his keeper."

"Aren't you?"

"No! No, he's the one who started this, he wouldn't leave it alone, and he's the one who-- who looks at me like I'm supposed to fucking know everything, but I don't, and I'm not responsible for him-- for his misconceptions about my place in the universe, but I'm not making amends, I'm not the one with some kind of agenda, and--"

Oh, God. God, he'd been so wrong. All this time he'd thought Duo knew what he was doing, thought Duo was in control, and he'd been wrong. It was like Duo thought Will was with him out of some twisted kind of-- pity.

"Have you been sleeping?" Chang asked quietly.

Duo licked his lips. "I got some pills today."

"From a doctor?"

"The store."

"Duo--"

"You can't do anything. You can't do anything, Wufei."

"No, but you can." Chang closed the distance between them and put his hands on Duo's arms, gripping him tightly. "You have to take care of this."

"It's not my fault."

The small, desperate answer was heartbreaking. How had he never seen?

"No. It's not your fault." Chang embraced Duo, ignoring his resistance. He refused to let go. "It's not your fault."

"It's got to be someone's fault. It's not Stanley's. Must be mine." Duo succeeded in freeing himself. "Go away."

"Duo… Take a vacation. Get some rest. See someone."

"I don't need a stranger to tell me what's wrong with me, to decide for me when I'm good to go back to work."

"If you don't do it because you want to, Merquise is going to order it."

"Go away, Wufei. You've said enough for one day."

"You can call me," Chang tried one more time. "I'll stay by the phone tonight."

Duo levelled a look at him. Chang lasted longer than Will thought he would, long enough to risk getting Duo started again. But just when Duo would have spoken, Chang nodded. He left the kitchen, through the den and to the front. A few moments later, Will heard a car start.

"Come in," Duo said.

Will opened the screen door. Duo leaned against his refrigerator until Will came to him. He reached out a hand. Will took it, and touched his lips to it.

"I honestly thought I was helping you," he whispered, and was ashamed to feel the sting of tears starting behind his eyes.

Duo yanked his hand free. "Christ. You're dumping me."

"You used to be a happy guy." He swallowed against the scratchy feeling in his throat. "You were even friendly to me until you recognised me. Now you're angry all the time. I did that to you. Your friend was right. Maybe you should see someone."

"What, like a therapist?" Duo's mouth twisted in a parody of a smile. "You probably have a diagnosis all ready to go. Why don't you just lay it on me? You're the one who has me all figured out, yeah?"

"No. I don't. Not really." He recaptured Duo's fingers. "It's like... seeing me tore open an old wound and it's festering again. What..." He cleared his throat painfully. "What we did to you was unforgivable. I know that now. But maybe you need to let it go. For yourself."

Duo was staring at him. Will squeezed his hand, and Duo moved away from it, like a reflex, like a wince. He looked away.

"I'm sorry," Will whispered. "I just-- I love you, Duo. I wanted to help you get well."

"Shut up. Please, for god's sake, for once just shut up."

He did.

It took Duo a minute to work up to it. His breathing was erratic, edging into hyperventilation, and his hand was sweating and clenching in Will's grip. "You think it's all about you?" he choked out at last. His eyes were wild when they locked onto Will's. "You think you're so unique in my universe that everything wrong with me is something you did? Well, sorry to let you down. I was fucked a long time before you showed up."

Will wiped his eyes. "I guess I'm just the lucky one you've decided to work it out on."

"I decided?" Duo repeated aggressively. "You came after me. You came after me again and again, you followed me home, you wouldn't let it go! You're the one who keeps fucking bringing it up, Stanley, so don't turn it on me like I'm attacking you all the damn time. I would have walked away! I would have fucking walked away and never spoken to you again, but no, you had to purge your soul, you had to make up for your sin, and you sit there with that-- with that pathetic hang-dog look and tell me how you worry for me? Fuck you, you son of a bitch!"

He was crying now and unable to stop it, but so was Duo. Will brushed tears carefully from Duo's flushed cheeks with his thumbs, and cradled Duo's jaw. "Should I stop trying with you?"

Duo turned his face away. "Don't ever fucking touch me again."

His turn to flinch. "Okay."

"Good."

He'd thought he was prepared for it. From the beginning, almost. It was devastating to hear. Physical pain, like strangulation, airlessness. Every cell of his body wanted Duo to take it back. He didn't have any voice left, but he tried to say, "I hope it gets better for you."

Duo came after him, then, the way he did, getting right in Will's face. "You know what I hate most about you?" he demanded. "Anyone can be driven to do something awful, even something evil. Those men you were with that night, yeah, what they did was horrible, and if I ever met them in a dark alley, maybe none of them would walk away. But you. It takes a special kind of moral weakness to just stand still and watch. You say you didn't hate me. You say you wish you'd been braver. It wasn't about bravery. All you ever do is stand around waiting for someone to tell you do something you don't believe in, that you wish you didn't have to do, and every single damn time you do it. You're worse than a bully, because everyone knows what a bully looks like. You're someone who knows better, and does it anyway." He was trembling; Will could feel it, they stood so close. "You make me feel sick."

He stumbled back step by step, until he hit the table. There was a buzzing in his head, trying to drown out Duo's words. He rubbed at the centre of his forehead, looking everywhere but at Duo. "I'm sorry. You're right. You're absolutely right."

Duo blinked like a man just coming awake. His mouth fell open. Will waited, but he didn't say anything else.

"Good-bye," he whispered, and fled.

+

One of the night janitors let him back into the building. He didn't know why he hadn't gone home, except he hadn't wanted to sit in an empty place surrounded by things that didn't mean anything to him. He sat at his desk for a while, and then he walked. All the halls were on dim, the private offices black. He wandered two floors, and then down into the basement pool.

He'd used to think about what would make someone take his life. Sig had, only a few months after the end of the war. He'd wondered then what had gone through Sig's mind, the final moments, maybe the weeks and days leading up to it. How the idea had come to him, how he'd decided when, and where, how to do it. Now that it was his turn, it was all so natural. He turned on the whirlpool heater, to warm it. He went to the showers, then, and searched through the lockers until he found someone's shaving kit. It took a while to prise the plastic apart and remove the razor. He stripped his uniform and climbed into the whirlpool in just his undershorts. After that, he closed his eyes and didn't think of anything at all.

[part 5] [part 7] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]