Authors: TB and Marsh
Pairing: 1x2
Rating: R
Notes: More of a teaser despite the length. Takes place directly after EW.

Brand New Day + Prologue

Duo came to the hospital five days after Heero was checked into it. He had already seen Lady Une, who told him Preventers had destroyed what was left of Wing Zero. Sally came by to complain that Noin and Merquise had disappeared without even a note. Quatre came to complain that Trowa had disappeared even faster, but Trowa had left a note, and so Heero didn't really see why Quatre seemed to think he couldn't follow.

Relena came by, trailed by a new bodyguard. She looked harried. She looked tired. She had jumped when the nurse came to change Heero's IV. She didn't stay long.

Duo came every day, but only after the lights were out and Heero was supposed to be asleep. They would watch each other through the window in Heero's door. Heero liked that. It was good to know there was someone guarding the halls for him, while he was down.

Until finally he came in, at risk of being shooed out with close of visiting hours, at nine fifty-two on New Year's Eve.

Heero meant to greet him, but it seemed unimportant anyway, as Duo certainly knew whose room he was entering. Duo distracted him immediately, because he was carrying a large bag over one arm, and with the other cradled to his chest several meals' worth of hospital pudding. What most caught Heero's attention, though, was the strange hat on Duo's head.

The puddings scattered with a plastic clatter over the visitor chair. "Good," Duo said, as if in answer to a question Heero hadn't asked. "You're still awake."

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I caught you napping yesterday." The bag landed on Heero's calves.

"What is that?"

"It's for you."

"No, on your head."

"Ahhh. This is Federico." Duo posed his hands and tilted his head with a very serious look. It took a moment for Heero to realise it was in mockery. Duo winked at him just a little, as if he knew.

"Are you high?" Heero asked, just to be sure.

"I'll let that pass for now, but one day we're going to have a discussion about the difference between cheerful and intoxicated." The chair legs scraped noisily over the tile as Duo hauled it near. "Federico is the designer. These things are the shit right now. If you want one, I'll get it for your birthday."

"No," Heero said softly. Smiling felt awkward. He didn't try very hard. "But thanks. I don't wear hats."

"What's that, then?"

The journal. He had almost forgot it was in his hands. It ought to have been worrisome, the holes he was discovering in his awareness. If it was, he could have written about it. But it wasn't. He had had head injuries before and such symptoms passed with time. Even if they didn't--

Duo had taken the journal from him. The pages made soft whispers as he flipped them with his thumb. "It's empty," he observed.

"Therapy," Heero explained. "She said. It might be if I threw it at her."

Duo grinned in a flash of straight teeth. There was a new chip in one of the maxillary central incisors. "You're supposed to write down feelings, and you're either not sure you have any, or you don't know what they are."

"Neither really." Duo set a knee on the chair, slid into it limb by limb, instead of just sitting. "I just don't think about them. It doesn't matter."

"She'll probably be angry if you don't do it. She might make you stay longer." Still not done sliding. Duo's foot landed and stayed propped on the plastic rail of the bed. "I'll do it, if you want."

"I'm not going back to see her again. She said I could sign out against medical advice, so I did. What's in the bag?"

Duo rolled his eyes, but he didn't seem surprised. "Clothes. I figured you'd be busting out soon. I thought the least service I could do to the people of Sanq was protect them from the sight of your fish-belly pale ass hanging out of the hospital gown."

Perhaps it should have mattered that Duo had anticipated him, but that didn't bother him, either. Duo liked to be clever, anyway, and it didn't hurt to allow him triumph when it was earned. The comment about his ass, though, seemed unwarranted.

No questions, though. Quatre would have asked-- worried-- if he was ready. Even Trowa might have wondered. Relena would have argued and said useless things like how she wouldn't allow it. Duo brought him clothes before he even knew if Heero wanted to leave.

"Are they Angelo?" Heero said. "Or whatever designer that thing on your head is?"

"Federico, darling, and no, I got them from the Oxfam up the road."

"Thanks then." He tipped the bag into a spill and pulled out flannel shirts and black denims. There was a jean jacket, socks, a hooded jumper, even underwear and shoes. They were eminently normal. They were almost identical to the clothes that Duo himself was wearing.

Duo added, "I looked for spandex, but even charity shops aren't that tacky."

"Thanks," he repeated, more dry with the teasing. Duo always did everything quick, big, brash. Even when it was aimed at Heero, Heero found, increasingly, that he didn't much mind. It was different from the apathy he'd felt the past week, since waking up after surgery on Christmas morning. He felt as though he were waking up. He felt more alert, just keeping up with Duo's conversation. Such as it was.

He picked at pieces from the bag, slowly assembling what could be most easily worn. "Relena said you were leaving."

The twinkle in Duo's face faded. "I'm getting kind of itchy under the skin," he said shortly. "People here look at me funny. I don't like it."

"Maybe it's the hat." He poked it with a fingertip, and Duo's grin returned. "Where will you go?"

"I don't know." Duo leant his elbows on the edge of Heero's bed. The journal passed from hand to hand, back and forth. "You know where you going yet?"

"No." Itchy. Heero thought he might understand that. Something like that was breaking through his calm. "Maybe... I'll follow you."

"Yeah?" Duo perked instantly. "That'd be cool. I wasn't going to ask, in case you glared at me or pretended you hadn't heard." He hesitated, then. "You sure you're all okay? Because now I think about it, it is kind of weird that you actually want to spend time with me. Maybe you should let the doc keep working on you."

"What's that supposed to mean? I always wanted to spend time with you. It was Chang that always whined about it."

"Well, yeah, but just 'cause you weren't making noise doesn't mean you were jumping at the opportunities. I don't mind filling in the blanks, but sometimes talking to you is pretty much silent film era."

Duo was smiling, though. It was more teasing, then. Heero was learning to recognise it. He had even missed it-- occasionally-- in the year they hadn't seen each other. He liked that it felt as though no time had passed. It was better, even. This time he knew he was done.

He was done. Even if there were more uprisings, clone wars, invading armies of super-Gundams, it would be someone else's responsibility. He would be lucky to walk without a limp. The therapist said his hands would always tremble. He had finally abused his body beyond recovery.

Something went gentle in Duo's face, suddenly, and then he smiled again. He spat into his palm and presented it to Heero. "Friends," he said firmly.

The spittle was hardly attractive, but he knew what the gesture meant. Duo had done it to him before, and so had Howard, when they'd agreed, aeons ago, to repair his Gundam after his disastrous landing on Earth. He kept his face stony to hide his inner cringe, accepting the smack of Duo's hand into his, the firm shake that rattled his arm.

The rest happened organically, like dominoes falling. He was touching Duo. He enjoyed touching Duo, even like this. It had been a thought that occurred to him with inconvenient regularity. It was certainly occurring to him now. It was certainly an inconvenient time.

'No guts,' Duo used to say, before plunging headlong into battles they were meant to lose, and never had. 'No glory.'

The press of their lips wasn't as special as he had imagined. Duo was caught off his guard, having failed to anticipate this, for once. His mouth was slack, and so was Heero's, as he tried to replicate from memory something he had only ever witnessed, not performed. It had seemed much easier when Quatre and Trowa had done it. They hadn't seemed nervous at all. Perhaps they would have been, if they'd known Heero was standing at the other end of the hall, that long-ago night before the Battle of Libra.

Stray thoughts disappeared then. Duo moved, slipped, his hand slipped in the bedsheet, and he landed awkwardly, closer to Heero, who discovered that the new position alleviated the mash of their noses together, freed breathing passages, and brought Duo's teeth down into his lower lip. The last part especially was enjoyable. Heero's pulse jumped to a fast pace.

Then it was over.

Duo was wide-eyed. Child-like, mussed by it, flushed from it. Their hands were still-- damply-- clasped together, but there was nothing child-like in the tight grip of Duo's fist.

"Sorry," Heero said, but he wasn't.

"Uh." Duo released him abruptly. He snatched the funny hat from his head. The braid fell to his shoulder and down his back. Duo scratched vigourously at the back of his neck. The colour was not fading from his cheeks or ears.

"I--" Heero released a breath and took in a new one. "If I'd known that was the way to get you to shut up, I might have used it during the war."

Duo's mouth moved. Then, finally, he laughed, reluctant at it until it relaxed his rigid spine. Heero was pleased. He didn't want Duo to be-- upset. It hadn't turned out how he had hoped. Anticipated.

In some of the more pleasant scenarios he had plotted, things had gone on quite a lot longer than a single kiss. There were obviously factors he had miscalculated.

"Get dressed," Duo said, and punched him lightly in the shoulder. "If we want to have time to get drunk before New Years, we need to high-tail it."

Duo still wanted his company. That was a good sign. Heero took it at face value and accepted that no ground had been lost, at least. He worked his legs over the edge of his bed, tested the reliability of knees worn out from too long laying still. When he was sure of his balance, he shed his hospital gown, and assembled the clothes Duo had bought in the order he would don them.

Duo's head was tilted away. His eyes weren't. Heero noticed, and wasn't sure what it meant.

"Nothing to be ashamed of," Duo muttered, almost inaudibly. Heero heard. He had shed the notion of shame and even modesty long ago. Still, Duo's gaze on him burned just a little. He didn't want to contemplate why. But he was glad.

+

They rode the underground for fifteen minutes and four stops from the hospital, and then they took a bus. Heero suspected Duo of catering to his injuries, but that was cause for a certain amount of gratitude. He was only a little sore from sitting on hard plastic seats, but he was able to walk quite well when they reached the street Duo said was 'theirs'.

It was not the best quarter of the city. It was not the worst, and so Heero didn't worry about his lack of weaponry. There seemed to be many young people loitering on the pavement, standing by billboards sprayed with hand-drawn graffiti celebrating the defeat of Dekim Barton, crudely questioning the parentage of Mariemaia Khushrenada. They wore clothes with slogans, smoked viciously, talked loudly in Sanquian and English and French. Many of them wore the same hat as Duo, wide black brims curled low over their faces, as sullen as they were. Heero appreciated Duo's disguise. They went unnoticed, two teenaged boys in crowds of them.

The doorway Duo chose was indistinguishable, too. Its paint was peeling. The brick facade was unbroken from apartment to apartment. Even the gaps of the alleys all looked the same. They sheltered the wind, and little else.

Duo entered with a key. That seemed significant. Heero had largely expected the kind of hidey-hole Duo usually found, where lockpicks would be more effective. The stairs went down, not up. There was no second door, a poor security design, and apparently drafty architecture as well.

"You live here?" It was nothing more than a basement-level studio apartment. His room at the hospital had been larger. And warmer. It was the usual hidey-hole, then.

"No," Duo said, and tossed his keys onto a pile of worn shoes collected at the bottom of the stairs. "I met a guy who does. He said I could stay as long as I wanted."

"Why?"

Duo shrugged. "I saved his life, kind of. Or his leg, anyway."

There were slit windows, nearly at the ceiling, grated over and peering onto the street. The light from them was negligible. The noise was not. Every sound from above was clearly audible. Even footsteps from whatever residence had the next storey sounded as near as Duo's. Louder, even. Even in his boots, Duo could walk as silently as a cat.

A tiny efficiency kitchen, little more than a hotplate between two cabinets and a small, ancient ice box. A mattress on the floor, no box spring, an obviously well-used sheet in a wrinkled sprawl over it. Newspapers, sorted by section, arranged in messy piles. Books by the mattress, supporting thick, cheap candles and mouse traps. The walls were bare brick, plastered with paper clippings and old propaganda posters stolen from the streets. In what space was left, there were bottles. Alcohol, all kinds. Some were empty and overturned. Most were in varying levels of drunk. Dozens of bottles. It was a particularly claustrophobic little space.

"Maybe you should tell me the whole story," Heero said. "If I'm going to be staying in his place."

"While you were off taking down the evildoer, the rest of us were looking for survivors." Duo fell onto the mattress, bouncing a little on creaking springs. "I found Philipe trapped under his own suit. Held his leg together until we got a medic. He's at your hospital, if you're wondering."

"Rebel or OZ?"

"I didn't ask."

OZ. The posters told their own story. Duo would rescue an Ozzie. "How long have you been here?"

"About a week," was the vague answer. If he had been living here since the aftermath of the ground battle at Christmas, it was six days. There was no reason for Duo not to have said six days. But Duo routinely obscured details needlessly. Heero only noticed now because he had had six days to start to remember it.

"Wufei was here with me for a while before that," Duo said then, "but you know him. Moved on."

"You didn't want to follow him?"

"I was waiting on you."

"Why?"

"Sit down. You're making me dizzy." But Duo was rising as he said it. He had to stand on the tip of his toes, stretch his arm high above his head. He turned on the radio on the windowsill. It cranked to low static, resolving slowly into crackling Sanquian dialect. It was almost soothing.

"Hour 'til midnight. I didn't figure you'd want to go out."

Heero finally took Duo's instruction. The mattress was thin, its springs protesting weakly under his weight. He shifted to the cold concrete floor instead. Duo stepped around him, dipping to the congregation of bottles near the pillow-end. "Expensive champagne, just what the occasion calls for. No glasses clean. I'm not much of a housekeeper, not that it matters. I don't think Philipe really had any glasses to start with."

"You were serious about getting drunk?" The bottles resolved into numbers. Fourteen on the floor. More stacked on the crate with the lamp, hiding around its wooden corner. A twelve pack of beer, several missing, by the door. "Are these yours?"

"Some are." Duo eased onto his back, though it seemed to take no effort for him to move so slowly. He opened the wire basket on the bottle with the very tips of his fingers. "You shouldn't drink too much, you've still got meds in your veins. At least toast the new year with me."

"I don't drink much anyway." Duo's hair was longer than before. At least four centimetres. It was low in his eyes, like Heero's, so that it moved with his lashes when he blinked. "Are you a drunk?"

"If I was, would you judge me?" Duo pulled the cork out with his teeth and nails. It popped, but not much. "I drink too much," Duo said, and spat the cork to the floor. "I don't drink enough. It's New Year's, Heero. Just be my friend for an hour."

"I'll always be your friend."

He wondered why Chang had left, because leaving implied he had previously seen reasons for staying, reasons that were possibly more significant than a debt of honour. The debt would not have been owed to Duo, in any case, except abstractly. So perhaps he had left because it was not good, staying with Duo. There were no clues, though, in Duo's face, in the dim chilly basement.

Duo presented him with the bottle. "From Sanq Palace. I stole it from that fancy dinner they had celebrating Relena's something-or-other."

He sipped. It was Krug rosé. Light and clean, made with pinot meunier grapes. He didn't think Duo knew how good it was. He swigged and handed it back. "How is she?"

"Kind of a wreck. I feel bad for her. They don't give her any time to herself. I tried to visit her but I was barely there before they went pulling her off to some speech or other."

"It's what she wanted. That's what she said, at least."

"Still, she's seventeen. And she was kidnapped and drugged and dragged around by that bitch on wheels and her grandpoppy. No-one lets her be a kid, and she doesn't even know she needs to be."

Said with no sense of irony. He could have been talking about either of them.

"She could walk away from it. Other people have." Heero was not comfortable discussing Relena. He had only seen her once since the night when he had blown apart Barton's fortress to destroy him and the girl before they could cause too much damage. Though he had never allowed himself to consider Relena's safety, she had been far too forefront in his thoughts. He remembered her soot-covered face perfectly. He remembered shooting at the little girl. He remembered the hollow click of his empty chamber. He had failed her. At least then, when she had sat at his bedside and held his hand and talked to him, he had had the benefit of hospital anaesthesias. He did not remember what she had said to him. He was glad.

It was his turn to walk away. That made him glad, too. He was ready.

Duo's ankled nudged his, and he became aware of the silence. "Sorry," Duo murmured. "I never could figure out if you were in love with her or not."

"Neither could I." The champagne had left his throat dry. "I don't understand her."

"She's high class." Seriously said. Duo didn't know what it meant, but he meant it. He was sipping from the bottle of expensive champagne he had taken without knowing what expensive meant. "Different kind of mind," he said. "From you and me."

Maybe. But Heero had been trained to make the leap. "She's completely unprepared for what she's taking on."

"Yeah, but maybe no-one is. Prepared, I mean. No-one's ever done it before. Not even Heero Yuy Senior." The hat came off finally. The long braid tumbled out like a snake loosed from its coils, falling flat over the grungy sheet.

"You'll ruin it," Heero said. "Your hat."

Duo was looking back at him. His lips were moist from drinking, a little open for the rise and fall of his chest, and his eyes were only a little open, as if he were sleepy, but he seemed calm finally. He said, "It's just a hat."

"I thought it was a Valentino."

"Federico." He grinned. "I just bought it to fit in. An experiment in social psychology."

"Fit in where?"

The curl of a smile faded and his face smoothed. "Some of them know who we are, here. It hides the hair." He held out his hand for the bottle.

He didn't give it back. "We have nothing to be ashamed of, Duo."

"I'm not ashamed. I got better things to do than hide in this dump or up at the palace like Quat and Trowa did."

"What's next then?"

"New Year's, in--" Duo twisted as lithe as his hair to see the clock. "Forty-seven minutes."

"I mean longer term than that. You said you were going places."

"I say a lot of bullshit." The smile was back. "Here, pass that, please."

He hesitated, and did not like that he had to. But he obeyed.

"It won't disappear in three gulps."

"Was it bullshit?"

"What?" Duo drank. A drop of wine escaped down his jaw. Heero had a sudden, distinct thought about the taste of it, dry and sweet against the salt of human skin.

"You broke me out of the hospital so we could go places. Away from here."

"We'll go, then. Anywhere you like."

"Let's go tonight."

"You really want to?" Faced with it Duo was not enthusiastic. "You should sleep off the hospital meds at least."

"I'm not drugged," he repeated impatiently. "I'm capable of making a decision. Plans. Travelling."

"You'd be capable if you were blind, deaf, dumb, and in the middle of an L2 sewer without a map." With a last swallow Duo put the bottle down. It clinked, but dully. "If you really want, we'll go tonight. But not 'til midnight. I want to hear the song on the radio."

The promise pleased him. He allowed himself to slump so that the small of his back was supported against the edge of the mattress. "We can do anything you want."

"I agreed already. You're sitting too far away."

Yes. Acres of distance. Less than two feet. He pushed on his wrists and his rump cleared the edge, settled into fabric.

"There's good." It seemed related, the faint blush of colour on Duo's skin, otherwise only white and blue in the dim window light. The bottle was back in his hand, the grip of his fingers tighter than before. He drank studiously.

Heero was quiet. He wondered if Duo had brought him to this place to watch him get stoned. Waiting for the radio song. Why was the radio song important? Which song did he expect to hear?

There had been music on Howard's barge. Music on Peacemillion, which had of course been manned by the same crew. Raucous and jarring and sometimes misogynistically themed or containing slang code for drugs and sex. He knew that Duo had listened to it, in the way that noise was sorted and discarded by the brain when conscious thought was concentrated elsewhere. He had never heard Duo play music just for himself, even at the school. Duo's room had always been silent when he had passed it in the dorms, and he had never carried an iPod like other students. Maybe he didn't listen to music, then. Heero didn't.

"Why'd you kiss me, back there?"

The timing of the question was jarring. But suggested by their new physical proximity. He was inches from Duo's feet. Bare feet. He hadn't noticed Duo removing his boots. He had pale feet, of course, but his toes seemed delicate and there were veins overlaying the bones.

"I wanted to," Heero answered belatedly. "I've always wanted to. Why'd you let me?"

The bottle paused at Duo's lower lip. "Ditto. More or less."

Not brash. Meant to sound that way, but it wasn't, and Duo's eyes slid from his. Heero said, "Do you want me to kiss you again?"

A clean blunt fingernail scraped at the label on the bottle. It was half empty now. Disappearing sneakily. The label came away from the glue without too much effort. Heero didn't have clean nails. The grime had been there since Christmas.

"I've never... you know," Duo said. "With a guy."

"Is that why you're getting drunk?" he asked. "In case I jump you?"

"Think it'll help?"

"Not particularly." To mute it. To forget it. If it was unpleasant. He allowed himself to think about, to anticipate the variables. It was possible it would be unpleasant. But he didn't think so. He had imagination enough to imagine that. "Do you?"

Their eyes held. Duo was still smiling. Heero decided that it was also possible to miss something without knowing that you had. Duo had become familiar.

"You got a certain amount of nerve, you know."

"I don't think hiding from things helps much."

"Like apologies?" Duo moved, suddenly enough in the stillness that Heero tensed, but he was only lifting his jumper, baring his belly. There was a large bruise there, fading to green at the edges, still dark purple in the centre. In a flash Heero remembered that, too, forgotten before in the chaos and haze. "That's all you, my friend."

He trailed his fingers over it lightly, careful of the slightest pressure. Despite the bruise, Duo's skin was very smooth, cool but warming under his touch. Truthfully, this time, he said, "I'm sorry."

The blush was back. Duo fidgeted with the hem of his jumper, the wool stretching over his knuckles, as if he wanted to push it down again, but he didn't. "Didn't think you'd actually say it."

"I never wanted to hurt you."

"You coulda just told me you wanted decoy. I can play dead."

"Maybe I should have." The perfect shape of his fist. The bruise was darkest at the pointer finger impact, which had led the punch. He remembered.

"You wanted me out of the way."

"You're reckless. You had done what I needed you there to do. I wanted you safe."

"I know. Still a poor excuse." Duo drank again. "I wanted you safe, too. Look at all the trouble you got into without me."

"It all worked out in the end." More or less. He reached for Duo, a contrivance to knock over the bottle. It was doubly successful, because the bottle fell and spilled what was left, but also because Duo didn't flinch away, when he had anticipated the odds that he would. An accident and a not-accident. Duo's eyes flicked to the fizzing puddle splashing across the concrete and soaking the newspapers, then back to Heero.

"Sorry," he lied.

"You're not." Duo screwed his mouth to the side. "About any of it. It's okay. I didn't figure you would be."

"I am."

"You should be. I came back just to help you, you know. Worth at least a little genuine feeling."

"I feel things for you," Heero said.

Duo was nervous. Duo did not like being nervous. It made him bolder, his eyes leveler, fear turning to strength. "What things?"

Reverence. The feeling other men felt in museums, before great art, before saints and stained glasses. Before women like Relena Peacecraft. A kind of hopeless yearning, for what, he wasn't sure, because he was fairly sure now that whatever he felt Duo returned something of it, and certainly enough for kissing, and almost as certainly enough for sexual intimacy.

Except he also felt other things that weren't so easy to reconcile. There was disbelief, to discover that Duo was living here with a liquor store's worth of bottles. Almost dissolute. There were no armies to fight now and he could think about things like the desire to rescue Duo, to keep him, protect him, as much as he could in a newly battered body and a mind that did not want to wake up entirely. He wasn't Relena, who would forever be behind a Gundamium wall of political imperatives and urgent global forces. But the freedom of access did not meet up with the strange shifting edges of their almost friendship. It did not combine into a single emotion that he knew how to name. He felt stupid that he couldn't.

The words that came weren't quite right. He knew they weren't, could feel the not-quiteness. But not-quite could be almost, as well, and perhaps Duo would know that, too. Duo knew many things before Heero did. He had never liked that before, but it was maybe one of the things that he had missed.

He said, "I love you," and then noticed that his hand was still and flat on Duo's stomach, and he could feel a pulse, from one of them. Speeding.

He kissed Duo, before he could object. It was less awkward than at the hospital, because Heero was ready this time, and because he knew how he wanted it to feel. Duo was supine and stiff but he stayed still, at least, so that when Heero leaned over him they were very close, and his mouth was only slack for a moment. Then it was hesitant, and then it let him in, let him touch with his tongue. He felt small teeth, and warmth, and the champagne still lingering. Heero breathed out carefully, and kissed him again, deeper, harder.

He was aroused, quickly enough to confirm that he truly was free of drugs at last. So was Duo, which confirmed that there would not be protest. He settled slowly beside the other boy, in the narrow strip of mattress left for him by the wall. It sagged beneath them, but he hardly noticed. Duo lay woodenly, watching him, but his heart was speeding, racing, when Heero covered it with his hand, searched for the beat of it in his neck. This part was what he had imagined. He was glad. He was glad at how good it felt, unequivocally good, unstolen, unforced, fully conscious. Did Duo feel the same way? He hoped. He tasted the champagne from Duo's lips and he didn't know. Alcohol tolerance was different for everyone. But when they kissed again Duo clumsily touched him, his hand coming up, the wrong hand at the wrong angle, trapped awkwardly, but curving to cup Heero's shoulder.

Duo was scared, then. At least Heero thought that was what it was. Because he was a virgin? There were too many unknown factors to differentiate and he could not, under these circumstances. Each half of Duo's ribcage fit under his hand, precious and new and strange and good. He touched Duo's nipple and Duo sucked in his stomach; his navel was a gentle slope and seemed perfectly made for his thumb to press. Perfect.

He reached down. For the sheet. He pulled it up over them both. "Maybe I'm a little more drugged than I thought," he said, louder at first and softer by the end, disliking how his voice sounded saying those words. "Can we... just lie like this?"

Duo's eyes opened. "Why are you doing that?"

"I don't want to screw this up."

"You don't want to screw me. Up."

"I want you." He rested his head back against the wall. The wall was cold, too. The only thing not cold was them. "You're shaking."

"I'm not--"

"That's why we're not going to do anything."

"You're being a jerk."

He wasn't and Duo knew. But he agreed quietly. "Just playing true to form, I guess." He wormed until he found enough room to lay his head on the pillow. It smelled musty. "We have time."

"Only a half hour to midnight." From the side he watched Duo's eyes roam the ceiling, the studio. There was a newsprint cut-out on the crate, just a foot away from them, showing a small black figure being dragged from a disabled Gundam. The headline trumpeted the triumph over the terrorist rogue pilots threatening the Earth Sphere. It was from L2. "I'll turn back into a pumpkin," Duo said, his whisper hoarse.

"Neither of us is going anywhere tonight."

Unless Duo was planning to run while Heero slept. He didn't think so. Even like this.

"Jesus," Duo said. "At least kiss me again."

He did, solemnly. Duo gripped a fist in his sleeve. That was something. He was careful to avoid the bruise, but he wrapped his arm around Duo, took a long breath, breathing him in. There was too much weight on this. He didn't know why Duo wanted to push further when it was clear he wasn't ready; except that it was like Duo to push, even if Duo himself didn't know why.

Or couldn't stop himself, simply. The kiss was barely more than a press of parted lips, but Duo inched his knee higher until it nudged Heero's. Then his leg was between Heero's thighs, just a little, just enough. He was pressing his hips to Duo's before he could assert the control not to. His instincts wanted to wait. His body was ready to move and knew what to do. But there was something wrong with being this aroused when Duo, who had never shown fear except in nervous laughter and a blazing determination to fight back, could only shiver and clench and avoid his eyes.

Perhaps the determination was still there, if not the bravado. Duo cupped his neck, twined their ankles. His bare foot stroked against Heero's calf. "Come on," Duo whispered. "Please."

"Are you sure?" There was almost no point in asking. They both knew.

And he knew as well that Duo would bull through on the bluff. He did. He pulled Heero down again and there was more fire now in the way his mouth sought Heero's.

If he stopped now, he would be the tease, not Duo. Not that it should matter. What should matter was that something he didn't really understand brought him here, to this moment, with Duo. Finally. He would be an idiot to let it pass without acting. Acting. He was kissing Duo, and their lips were tender now from doing it for so long, but that made it better. Duo's skin was hot now. His jeans were loose enough to admit Heero's hand, under the button, under the flies. Duo made a noise that wasn't quite a noise, just a breath, when Heero touched him through his underpants.

"On your side." He shifted them, and Duo came, all elbows and joints, guided by Heero's hand on his hardness. He squeezed more in encouragement than anything else, and Duo shuddered against him. He unzipped Duo, for room, and then Duo suddenly found Heero's skin, his hand a broad palm up Heero's spine, and it was so good he had to close his eyes against it.

It flowed, then. Undressing, enough for contact, enough to keep protection from the winter all around them. He held Duo's hips between his hands like the ridges of a steering wheel. He put his mouth on Duo, swallowed him, lipped him, licked him. There was no sight involved, only other senses that weren't usually so strong, taste and touch and smell. Duo's hands were in his hair, almost gripping too tight, but that was just part of it feeling grand and good and important and--

And Duo whispered for him to stop.

He did, already knowing why. His mouth tingled, felt stretched. He licked his lips to wet them and turned his head toward the wall, not Duo's nudity.

"I'm sorry."

He swallowed away the entire endeavour. "What did I do wrong?" he said.

"Nothing. You were good." Hands fumbled at his back. He was aware of it without looking. Duo wrenched his jeans up.

"I made a mistake." Almost a question. Almost an answer.

"No. No, you didn't. I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry, I'm such a fuck-up sometimes. Not you."

"Shh. Shut up." Heero sat up. He straightened his shirt. "I knew it was too fast."

Duo was rubbing his mouth. His face. He leaned off the mattress, grabbing a bottle. Gin. He ripped off the cap and drank deeply.

"Why are you doing that?" He moved faster than thought again, snatching the bottle away. It sloshed over his fingers, spattered the mattress and their legs. "You don't need the alcohol. Do you?"

"You've got very little idea what I need."

"Maybe you could tell me."

No. Not yet. Duo was shaking. He was flushed. He opened a vodka with only a few swallows left, and finished it with a long stretch of his neck. He lay back with his arm over his eyes.

The studio existed again. There was temperature and light and sound. Sound. They were counting, on the radio. A crowd of voices. There were whistles and shouts and roars, and then music. The song.

That song. Heero did know it. He didn't know the name or the words, but it was familiar. Familiar. They played that song on New Year's Eve, all around the world.

Duo's eyes were closed. He breathed unevenly, in jagged bursts.

Heero brushed his lips with a finger as the song faded to a finish. The happy celebration on the radio felt wrong, now. Far away. Belonging to other people. Relena and Quatre at the palace were surely celebrating, and Trowa, wherever he had gone. Maybe Wufei somewhere listened to the same broadcast. Mariemaia in her secured hospital suite, guarded by a nurse who might be moved by her youth and her fragility.

"I'm sorry," Duo mumbled. "Some happy New Year."

"I'm not unhappy now." Heero licked his lips one more time. They didn't taste like anything, now. "The song's over. We should go."

In a moment, Duo nodded weary assent.

Heero stood. He tightened a shoelace, rubbed at the pull of stitches that had gone unnoticed during their-- activity. "How long will it take you to pack?"

"I don't have anything."

Not even a change of clothes? Or was it all Philipe's? Would Philipe even know they had been here? Or was there a Philipe at all?

Questions for later. "We'll travel light," he said.

"Okay." Heero's hand stayed extended for a long minute, as Duo lay there, internal in some world Heero didn't know. But then his eyes opened, and he sat up; he took Heero's hand to his feet and he stood straight, no wobble, no hunch. He took his hat when Heero found it on the floor, miraculously safe from all the spills, and he wound his braid and hid it under the brim with the ease of too much practise.

"Let's go," Heero said.

[part 1] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]