Author: The Manwell
Pairings: Heero Yuy/Duo Maxwell (defies standard equation)
Warnings: NC-17 -- Language, angst, obsession, potential psychosis, yaoi, graphic sexual content, POV, and other stuff that would ruin the story if I mentioned it... but I can promise no torture and no NCS.
Spoilers: Of course! Mostly from episode #3 but there are brief mentions from other parts of the series and Endless Waltz.
Summary: No one has seen or heard from Duo Maxwell in the three years since Dekim Barton's attempted coup d'état... but there's one former Gundam pilot who refuses to give up the search for him.
Notes: This story blossomed from two sources: First, I really badly wanted to read/write a dark and semi-twisted, erotic and sensual Heero and Duo obsession story. Second, The Vault's Spring Songfic Contest combined with Jade Redd's tune "The Tower" gave me the extra push I needed to take the obsession idea seriously. "The Tower" by Jade Redd can be sampled at: http://cdbaby.com/cd/jaderedd Lyrics can be found at the end of each chapter posted here and also on my site: Left Wing

Thank you: Much love and thanks to TK Maxwell for looking over my unfinished draft, helping me figure out where I wanted to go with it, and even suggesting "Essence" as part of the title. hugs

Formatting Notes: ::narration:: //memories & thoughts//

Essence of Life

- 1 -

::It took me a long time to picture him. He had to be flawless. He had to be real. Sound like an oxymoron? Perhaps it was. At the time, I hadn't really cared. I built his form methodically, relentlessly. His image had to be perfect, and memories rarely are. He had to exist on the distant fringes of my imagination. He had to push against the boundaries of all I knew and accepted in the world to which I have grown accustomed. He had to be greater than I. He had to be a god. Perhaps it was reckless of me, but I invoked him nonetheless...::


<initiate>


The young man whose image I study on the vid screen sighs heavily. "Why do you continue to do this to yourself, Heero?"

My left brow drifts upward at the sudden and quite personal question. It's not that his words have surprised me. No, I'm curious as to what has made him ask that particular question so quickly this time. I decide to play The Innocent even though I've never been very good at it. It does have the lovely side-effect of pissing him off, after all. Hey, these days my amusements are few and far between. "Do what, Quatre?"

The current leader of the L4 colony cluster lifts his all-seeing gaze to my purposefully opaque expression. "It's been three years," he reminds me. Unnecessarily, I might add.

I reply smartly in a factual tone, "I'm not surprised; they say the Earth was formed roughly five hundred million years ago. To my knowledge time has not stopped since then."

Quatre shakes his head only looking more saddened by my response. "It's too bad he's not listening to you right now. He would have appreciated your... unique sense of humor far better than I."

The right corner of my mouth tightens as I whittle down the words necessary for my rebuttal but Quatre speaks over my forming thoughts.

"Duo is gone, Heero."

I blink in silent resignation. "We've had this discussion before," I tell him flatly. "And I'd like to point out that it's becoming predictable."

"As are you," Quatre -- my good friend -- challenges me. "Predictable but not practical."

"The war is over," I counter. "I don't have to be practical anymore."

Quatre sighs explosively. I start counting down to our inevitable, ill-tempered disconnection. "But do you have to be an ass?"

I almost laugh. He must be more tired than usual to start calling me not-nice names this soon into our debate. "Is that a rhetorical question?"

Those light blue eyes narrow at me, glaring fiercely. "Three years, Heero. No word, no sign, no indication of Duo since he destroyed Deathscythe Hell. He's gone! Move on with your life!"

Oh, I see. He's decided to get serious. Well, he's a bit ahead of schedule, but that's all right. I do have the capacity to be accommodating, believe it or not. I reply with equal ruthlessness, "Is that what your so-famous heart is telling you?"

His gasp is perfectly silent, but I gather evidence of its existence from his slightly parted lips and the sudden expansion of his chest. I've never asked him this before despite the fact that I've often wondered it. But then, until now, Quatre has never given me a direct order regarding my unwavering interest in Duo Maxwell's mysterious whereabouts.

Quatre glances away but not before I see the defeat in his eyes. "Why did you have to ask me that?" His voice is soft. The ache therein is real. He does not expect me to answer. I don't disappoint him. I wait. He's too good a friend to out-right lie to me. But he's hurting too much to weave a convincing half-truth. It's very likely a cruel thing to do -- or not do -- but I don't want to distract him from that soul-baring anguish. I need this.

He tells me, finally, "My heart..." Quatre swallows and, with great reluctance, meets my ever-patient gaze. "My heart has never revealed anything to me about Duo."

I feel myself frown. The expression is heavy on my face. It gives too much of my confusion away. I don't care.

"Are you telling me that you've never sensed Duo's emotions? Never? In all the time you'd spent with him?" I almost wince at the bitterness in my voice. Christ, who would have guessed I'd been envious of Quatre's easy camaraderie with Duo Maxwell during the war? I obviously need to end this conversation before I do something really stupid. Luckily, Quatre seems too agitated to notice.

"I never felt a single thing from Duo," he replies very clearly. And just in case I'm having trouble with that, he rephrases, "I have never been able to get an empathic reading on him." He shrugs. "He's a ghost."

I almost smirk. "So that's why you found him so... fascinating."

Quatre nods once before catching himself. He looks at me with enlightened eyes and I silently curse myself. Three years ago, Quatre might have gently joshed me at this juncture. He would have been highly entertained to see me fidget over this hint of jealousy. But now, he only seems even more depressed. I hadn't thought it possible. But I'm looking at the evidence with my own eyes.

"Oh, Heero... I never meant... I'm so sorry I..."

I take a deep breath and roll my eyes. "Just hang up now and save us both the waterworks, Winner."

He has the nerve to give me a mirror image my own dark glower. He asks me with a confrontational tilt to his head, "Will you finally drop this pointless endeavor, then?"

I laugh. I actually laugh. Quatre winces at the sound.

He sighs, defeated. "I suppose that answers that."

I smirk. His guilt-trips aren't nearly as effective as they used to be. I bluntly assure him, "Your weekly duty to attempt to persuade me to be reasonable has been discharged. But I am still a contrary, stubborn, tenacious bastard and I am not giving up."

Quatre lifts his gaze heavenward in a silent plea for divine guidance.

The display irritates me. "For fuck's sake," I bark. "It's only been three years."

He blinks at me, startled. Bemused, he shakes his head and informs me, "I never knew you were such an eternal optimist."

There are a lot of things he doesn't know about me and his silence tells me he's just thought the exact same thing. For a moment we just stare at each other. But then he breaks the silence with one of the brusque farewells he's recently started to use with me.

"Just don't do anything stupid."

He doesn't wait for my reply before he disconnects. That's just as well. Deflecting the orders he issues for my own "well-being" take a lot of effort... and I don't particularly give a rat's ass at the moment.

I turn away from the dark screen and flop back on the bed. I take a deep, cleansing breath and smile up at the stained ceiling. I wonder if Quatre has ever bothered to take his own advice, for surely wasting an hour every week in a completely pointless attempt to get me to give up my search for Duo Maxwell is not only a damn waste of time, but pretty fucking stupid as well.


<reset>


Where does one begin the process of tracking a ghost? How long does one scour miles of code before giving up on electronic data sources? How many dead-ends does it take before one must admit that conventional means of investigation just don't apply to Duo Maxwell?

I suppose, the answers to those questions depend on the level of one's... commitment, let's say. And while I've been accused of many things, a lack of commitment to my objectives is not among them. Thus, the more elusive my quarry, the more dogged my pursuit.

I know this.

Quatre knows this.

And if Duo doesn't, he damn well ought to.

I slowly roll my eyes, taking in the rundown, funky efficiency apartment that had been Duo's last known place of residence during December, A.C. 196. No one has lived here since. Well... no one except me, that is.

Sometimes -- if I close my eyes and assemble the memory one tingling heartbeat at a time -- I can still capture his scent here, lingering... as I am lingering... with the darkness he'd awakened inside me.

I could almost hate him for that. He'd exploded into my awareness and when the dust had settled, I'd found myself tied up in his essence. He'd done this to me. And then he'd left. Had he even felt the slow, inexorable impact of our worlds colliding and then fusing?

I drag in another deep breath. I know I can't start thinking about this. I know it will lead me nowhere. And I refuse to waste my resources on so futile an exercise.

Not for the first time, I try to force myself to verbally damn him to hell.

But, as in all my pervious attempts, I am unsuccessful.

How had this happened? How had I come to be living in Duo's old ramshackle apartment above a soup kitchen and across the alley from a forgotten and moldering junkyard? How had I come to lie here staring up at the sagging ceiling wishing I had enough animosity in me to curse him? How had I allowed myself to be drawn into this place of such dark, consuming need? How had I found and unknowingly crossed that threshold which forbids my exit but had allowed only my single, fumbling entry?

It hadn't happened all at once. It rarely does. There had been no pivotal moment. I had never stopped and thought to myself, //"This is it; there's no turning back."// It had crept softly over me like a sunlight-warmed shadow. I hadn't even recognized it until I'd looked in the mirror one day and seen the lingering darkness clinging to me. It had been in the dark circles beneath my eyes, in the days-old stubble along my jaw, in the dark and tousled mess of tangled hair. It had been then as I regarded my rumpled clothing and pale desperation that I'd realized what had happened.

But I hadn't cared.

I still don't.

It's the middle of the afternoon, but I don't care about that either. I'm tired from the eternally unchanging argument with Quatre. I'm tired and there is only one thing that can bring me peace.

I close my eyes and begin.

I imagine Duo Maxwell: he of the violet eyes and strong, callused hands; he of the neatly plaited chestnut hair and haphazard bangs. I remember exactly how long it takes him to reload a Desert Eagle in the dark. I recall exactly the twist of his neck as he pulls a pin out of a grenade with his teeth. He is a merciless killer, an assassin, a freedom fighter. He is a young man, an individual, a human being. I have watched him cut down his enemies with his bare hands. I have witnessed his wry smile and sparkling eyes. I have battled wits with him. I have battled with him -- both alongside and against. He has offered me compassion and he has denied me my self-pity. During those days that I had measured in alternating bouts of adrenaline and boredom, he had been my friend... He had been my nemesis.

He still is.

And I want him.

He is the other half of my broken and blackened, soot-stained and rotting soul.

How can I follow Quatre's advice and move on when there is not enough of me that can be scraped together and forced into motion?

I smile.

This is my life. This is my task. This is everything that is worth anything to me.

I mouth his name in silence and allow the aching of my soul to reverberate through me. I transmit my need of him out into the void. I pour my longing into the image of him I have created from the darkness within.

And then I wait.

He will hear me.

He will come.

Duo...


<reset>


He had touched me once. I remember it clearly, vividly, reverently. I had been surprised by the strength of his grasp and the thickness of his calluses. He had seemed so vibrant. The sparkle in his eyes had sung to me an aria of life. But his hands had whispered to me of the inevitability of death. That single touch had sealed me in my windowless and inescapable tower. I have fought, killed, hated, and avenged... and still I remain his prisoner, locked in that one moment when his skin had roughly brushed mine.

Here, on his old bed, lying amongst the threadbare linens that he had once surrendered to his dreams upon, I call that moment back. The day had been beautiful, the sky cloudless. The bay had sparkled in the sunlight. The sand from the beach had crept into my shoes and clothes during my tumble. I had stood up. I had ignored my broken leg as I cursed myself for even opening the parachute. I should have died. I couldn't quite figure out why I hadn't. But then he'd spoken and my self-depreciating thoughts had been cast aside.

//"I understand you wanting to kill yourself... but if you can't do it from that height, then think of another way."//

And then he'd approached me with a determined stride and an almost friendly smile in his eyes. He should have been terrified of me. He should have been wary of approaching the wounded animal that I had been in that moment.

He hadn't. He'd simply taken my right arm in his grasp and I'd had to close my eyes as he'd placed my bare arm over his shoulder. He was warm where he was pressed against my side. I could almost feel the color of his shirt against my inner arm. And his fingertips -- rough skin delivering a gentle touch -- measured my pulse from where they pressed softly against my wrist.

In my lifetime, I have been beaten, tortured, interrogated, restrained, and brutalized, but I could not have pulled away from his grasp for anything. I had been painfully aware of the nearness of his eyes, the softness of his long hair sliding over my arm, his scent...

I don't remember precisely what he'd said to me then. I'd heard the word "trust" and I'd heard the word "friend." With my eyes closed, the timbre of his voice, the warmth of his body, the textures of his skin and hair and clothing had all been amplified. Overwhelming...

I let the memory take me, fill me, infuse me until I find myself there on the beach with him again. His fingertips pressing so insistently against my wrist. His braid caught in the crook of my arm. His black, cotton shirt scraping the skin of my inner arm raw with its softness.

God... I almost moan as the sensations return to me and every nerve in my right arm burns. It's like I'm really there again. It's like he's really under my arm, like I'm really draped over his shoulders.

Duo...

The rough fingertips move gently against my wrist, massaging small circles and I gasp in silence.

Duo...

Those callused digits follow the faint, bluish shadow of the vein, dancing across skin that has become tender with years of inactivity. I shiver.

Duo...

Slowly, so exquisitely slowly, that touch travels upward and lingers just inside my elbow. I can feel my own accelerated heart rate. The heat is incredible and I ride it. I can feel his fingers delve relentlessly beneath the rolled-up edge of my sleeve. I forget everything except the heat of those powerfully gentle hands.

"Duo..."

"I'm here, Heero."

My eyes snap open as that familiar voice whispers to me. I blink in the darkness of the one-room apartment, my heart pounding.

"Duo?" I call to the shadows.

There is no answer.

Confused and frustrated, I glance toward the window and take note of the fact that night had fallen as I'd been lying here imagining... pretending...

I glance at my right hand as my fingers curl into a tight fist. God, it had seemed so real...

And that's when I notice the right sleeve of my faded, blue jean shirt. The cuff is no longer carefully and precisely rolled to just below my elbow. It had been unfolded and pushed upward to where it now bunches around my bicep. Hesitantly, I lift my arm to my face and inhale carefully, tracing the same path as those ghostly fingertips.

My pulse beats faster -- hotter -- in my veins and I wonder if I've finally lost my mind. How else can I explain the fact that I can smell the lingering essence of Duo's skin on my own flesh?

I blink once again at the room around me and I hear myself whisper, "Duo?"

Again, there is no answer.

After a moment, I lower my nose to hover just above the skin of my wrist and suck his rapidly dissipating scent into my lungs. I tremble with the pleasure of it and smile.

[part 2] [back to The Manwell's fic]