The title is a line taken from the Alice Cooper song "Only My Heart Talkin'" on 1989's Trash And of course, they do not belong to me. Never have, never will. Sigh.
By TJ Dragonblade
TJ: OI! My first fic!! A 5+2. I got bored one night months ago in my accounting class and this is what came out. It's first person Duo's POV; watch out for falling swear words. It's a trifle sappy, a little angsty, TWT... or maybe it's AU. Y'all decide. And Wu-baby is --
Wufei: Onna no baka! Do *not* call me that!
Duo: Yeah, I'm the only one who can get away with it! ^_^ >>>>>>><
TJ: --Ahem. Wu*fei's* just a wee bit OOC. I made him a little too serene.
Wufei: Baka fic writer. I am *not* Kwai Chang Cain. -_-;>~
TJ: Comments and criticism are more than welcome. Especially constructive criticism.
Duo: Don't just tell her it sucked; tell her *why* and exactly how it sucked!
TJ: It doesn't suck... Does it?
Duo: I like it well enough...
Wufei: Be silent, the both of you! Just let them read the damned thing already!

Anybody's Mask Can Break

It was past midnight when I finally got back to the safe house, and I was dead tired. In addition to being filthy. Just weary to the bone. Physically, emotionally, inside and out. Sick and tired of the whole damn war.

I knew the Professor was waiting somewhere out in cyberspace for a mission report from me. Fuck him. I needed a shower. He could wait.

I turned the water on as hot as I could stand it and stayed under that soothing spray for a very long time. Just leaning against the tile, my arms wrapped around myself, trying to let the disillusionment and bitterness I felt flow away down the drain with the dirt.

The dirt was a lot more cooperative.

Finally I unwound my braid and washed the last of the mud from my hair. My infamous hair -- the only true constant in my life; and in ways, the memento of things I had lost. The one thing I would never give up.

Finishing the final rinse, I turned off the shower, wrapped my hair in a towel, and scrubbed my body dry. Back in my room, I shrugged into a clean t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I debated whether or not to reweave my braid; I ended up leaving it loose. I just didn't feel like dealing with it; and if anyone was still up -- well, they could just meet the inner me, the darker side of Duo. I wasn't in the mood to throw the cheery mask back in place tonight. Grabbing the precious data disk I'd been sent to find I headed for the computer in the den, leaving the wet towels in a heap on the floor with my damp and muddy black clothing. Later. I'd clean up later. Tomorrow.

No one seemed to be up as I navigated the halls and down one flight of stairs (Quatre always furnished the nicest digs for hiding out), but there was a light on in the study. Opening the door, I found Wufei curled up in one corner of the overstuffed couch, reading. He looked up over the rims of those wire-frame glasses I'd caught him wearing once or twice before as I entered the room; one eyebrow lifted slightly as he took in my unbound hair and the lack of my customary smile. But he said nothing, simply glanced back down to his book.

Somehow, I think he was waiting for me.

I crossed to the computer and plunked myself down with a sigh, swiveling the chair to face the monitor. Hacking into Professor G's line, I typed the message I knew he was waiting for.

< 02. Objective accomplished. Transmit now? >

The response came back a few moments later.

< Awaiting transmission. > Not even a "Thanks" or a "Well done." But did I really expect that? Naah.

I popped the little disk I'd retrieved from Oz's research facility into the appropriate drive and hit the sequence to start transmitting. Whatever this shit I'd stolen would do for those mad scientists, they'd damn well better appreciate it. I sure as hell hadn't spent the last twenty-four hours traipsing through the bayou 'cause I enjoyed it.

"At least they coulda had the decency to send me somewhere clean and dry," I muttered out loud. "And why the hell did Oz hafta hide out in the middle of the swamp anyway?"

"It's that much more difficult for outsiders to infiltrate," Wufei said quietly from the other side of the room. I'd kinda forgotten he was there. I was talking to myself more than anything; but his uncharacteristically insipid response to my rhetorical griping set me off.

"Yeah, but we still get to do it. Just like we get to fight this damn war. Even when everybody's turned against us and no one can say who's really right or wrong anymore. Ain't we just the lucky ones?" I was vaguely surprised by my own outburst of cynicism.

Wu said nothing for a moment, then: "I think, in your heart, you still know who is 'wrong' or 'right.' None of us would be here without that conviction."

"But it all seems so pointless!" I exploded, spinning the chair around to face him. The book was closed in his lap, the glasses set aside, and he was simply looking at me intently. "Why keep fighting for the colonies when they don't want our help anymore?! When they're too blind to see the manipulation going on, the puppet strings that bind them?!"

"It is precisely for that reason that we must continue," he said, still quiet. "Those of us who can see must be strong, must protect and defend those who are weak."

"Yeah, yeah, right. Liberty and truth and honor and justice and all that," I mumbled. But I knew he was right.

He simply continued to stare at me, head tilted slightly. And finally I broke.

"I know you're right, Wu. It's just... it gets to be too much sometimes. We're just five kids, y'know? How're we supposed to deal with all this?" I folded my arms, hugging myself against the encroaching despair. "I know the others feel it, too. Shit, 'Fei, you're the only one who hasn't tried to blow yourself up."

"Just because your cause seems hopeless doesn't mean you should give up. I know this despair you speak of all too well; but my reasons for fighting are too important to be abandoned. I must continue, even if the odds seem impossible. There is no honor in quitting."

"Yeah, well, forgive me, oh Honorable One, for not being as strong as you are," I snapped. Which wasn't exactly fair; I knew he hadn't meant to chide me. But the words still stung. I wasn't considering quitting, giving up, was I?

Wasn't I? Isn't that exactly where this mood was leading? He said nothing, still pinning me with those depthless eyes.

"Sorry, Wufei," I apologized a moment later. "I didn't mean to snap at you. It's not you that's got me so bitter."

"Anybody's mask can break, Duo. Sometimes you simply have to let it out."

I sighed. "Right. Let it out, let it go, and fight blithely on our merry way. Just five little boys against the big bad world." I hugged myself tighter and lowered my head, damp hair falling forward to hide me from that world. "And no one but each other to understand. How'd we get to be so lonely?"

Great. Now I'd worked myself into a lovely state of self- pitying loneliness. Never a fun place. And not the best thing for me to discuss with Wufei. After all, I had no intention of telling him how I felt. About him, that is.

Yeah, that's right. Extroverted, obnoxious, boisterous me had fallen for Mr. Justice, the none-too-social introvert. And no, not just 'cause he's so sexy. That was actually the least of it. Somehow he and I had become much friendlier over time -- ever since we got stuck together in prison, just the two of us, and very nearly died. We'd both dropped our masks in the face of that; ever since, he'd tended to let it down sometimes when the two of us were together. It went back in place fast enough around the others; but I found that I liked the guy behind it. He was complex and intriguing, and so much deeper than the cold, aloof front he always presented. I was flattered -- hell, honored -- that he'd share himself with me. I was the one that he'd let behind his barriers, that he'd open up to; eventually he even entrusted me with the details of where he'd come from. With every day and each new revelation, I found myself drawn more irresistibly to him, until he was practically the most important thing in my life.

And I knew the conversation we were having tonight was not one he'd have with any of the other three.

But I still wasn't about to come out and say, "Hey, Wu, I think I love you -- " I mean, it just sounded a little weird. Besides, I was lucky enough to have befriended him and been accepted -- I wasn't gonna push the boundaries.

There was also the fact that I'd attempted relationships with some of my fellow pilots already without finding what I was looking for. Quatre -- he was looking for love; but comfort, too -- turns out he found it in Trowa. He was always more like a brother to me anyway. And Heero -- who knows what he was looking for; but shit, that guy's just scary. Sometimes I'd swear he really is made of stone, or ice, or both. And that he thinks emotion means "e-motion," as in surfing the web in search of missions. Actually, I take that back. He does have emotions -- they just don't include anything soft, warm, or fuzzy. Maybe when this war's all over he'll be able to make someone happy; until then, I truly think he's best by himself. In short, acting on crumbs of emotion with those two had only brought me disappointment. And maybe Wufei would be different; I felt a hell of a lot more for him than I had for anyone else, but I wasn't gonna chance it. I liked what we had too much to throw it away if I was wrong. So I had decided to just zip it and stay lonely. I was greatly startled when Wufei placed a hand on my knee. Wrapped in myself and hiding in my hair, I hadn't seen him come over. My head jerked up at his touch. He was crouched in front of me, looking up into my face with those deep black eyes. And right now those eyes were full of understanding.

"Sometimes the lonely must take comfort in each other," he said softly.

Shit, was he reading my mind? I searched his face for any sign that he was pulling thoughts from my head; but of course he wasn't. He just gazed back, unblinking. And somehow in that moment I registered that he was dressed for bed, his hair loose, a dark blue robe of light silk wrapped around him over his boxers. I hadn't even noticed before.

"Why're you still up, 'Fei?" I asked, my voice sounding tired and defeated and way too old to my own ears. "Everyone else is in bed." The clock on the far wall said 01:47. Almost 2 a.m.

"Your mask has been slipping lately. I guessed that you might want to talk, to vent your frustration, when you came home from this mission."

Damn, the kid was astute. How'd he get so wise in fifteen years?

"You're amazing," I said, allowing a little of my old smile to twist at my lips. "You read people the way you read books. Why does a kid like you, with all you could have been, have to throw it all aside to fight this war?" There was that bitterness again.

Something almost like pain passed briefly through his eyes at my question, and I realized what I'd inadvertently brought up. Oops. He'd told me all about Meiran some time ago.

"Sorry," I said for the second time tonight.

He smiled slightly, dismissively. "She's not the only reason I fight anymore."

I shook my head. "How do you do it, Wu? You really are stronger than the rest of us. Why haven't you ever self- detonated? I know what you've been through -- how come you never break down?"

He lowered his eyes, appearing to focus on the hand still resting on my knee. "I am not so strong, Duo. I do break down, more often than I care to admit. But I never let anyone see. My pride will let me show no weakness." Apparently his pride didn't classify confessing this to me as a weakness. [1] "As for self- detonating -- I could never live with myself if I simply gave up. I go on because I have to. Sometimes one must find something to look toward, something to live for." His eyes met mine again, and I was taken aback by the intensity of emotion I saw there. "And I believe I have found someone."

He held my gaze for a long moment; and I blinked, uncertain. What was he saying?

"Wo ai ni, Duo," he finally said, barely above a whisper.

My eyes widened in surprise. I'd picked up a bit of Chinese somewhere along the line; but there was no way he'd just said that to me! Was there?

"What--?" I finally managed to say. Ooh, so intelligent.

His smile returned, brighter this time. The hand that wasn't on my knee lifted to my face; I felt his fingertips trace a warm line across my forehead as he brushed a chunk of my bangs away from my eyes and tucked it briefly behind my ear.

"I love you," he repeated, this time in English.

Okay, he had said that to me. "Why?" That was almost as good as 'What?'
"I mean -- "

The fingertips that had caressed my face pressed now to my lips in a gentle request for silence.

"Why not?" he said. "I know you, Duo. You've shared your soul with me; you have seen mine. You are one of the only people who has ever tried to befriend me, who knows me for who and what I really am and thinks no less of me. You are bright and unique; you live life to the fullest even when you are so far down that death seems the only end to your pain. You make others want to live. You make me want to live. Everything you do is done for someone else, and I want to be there just for you. To build something together that is only for me and you and has nothing to do with anyone or anything but us." The intensity in his face was overwhelming. "You are simply... Duo, you're special. Like no one else I will ever find. I can't help but love you."

Now I felt all warm and fuzzy. But something in me still refused to believe.

"Wufei," I began uncertainly as his hand fell from my lips; but he wasn't finished yet. He pressed that hand flat over my heart.

"I know what you keep in here," he said. "Your carefree façade masks so much -- despair, pain, bitterness, anger, fear -- " He paused, those eyes boring deeply into my own. "And love, Duo. You keep it locked inside, but I know that it's there. Please do not deny it because you are afraid."

I swear to god, Wufei would make the greatest psychic fortuneteller on one of those damned infomercials. He almost knew me better than I knew myself.

"Yes, I'm scared," I finally said. "I'm cursed, y'know. I call myself the God of Death for a reason -- everyone who's ever cared about or meant anything to me is dead. You're taking your life in your hands, Wu."

His dark lashes swept down, briefly obscuring those mesmerizing eyes before he met my gaze again. I felt my bitterness melting away -- he was simply too beautiful for words.

"And nearly everyone I ever knew or thought to care about is dead as well. Perhaps I am just as cursed as you." He lifted his hand from my heart, touching my face again as he said, "Your love will not kill me, Duo. I won't give you up that easily."

I drew in a breath. "I've got your word on that, now; you're not gonna go and die on me?" He smiled slightly and slowly shook his head. Realistically, we both knew that any of us could die at any time. But it felt good to promise. "Then I guess I can live, too -- for you," I finished, offering up my own smile. The black mood was lifting.

"Live for yourself," he replied, leaning closer. "Live, and love me, and I will be happier than anyone alive."

"Careful," I teased. "You're gonna ruin your hard-assed reputation." I felt better already.

"Hush, Duo," he said gently; and then his lips were touching mine.

Never before had anyone kissed me so softly. Not even Quatre; that whole affair had been all tied up in a lot of desperation and hunger. But this... this was simply incredible. His hand rested lightly on my neck, thumb just in front of my ear; his other hand was a comfortable weight still pressed against my knee. His mouth moved gently against mine, warm and persuasive, comforting, lips closing over one of my own only to pull softly away and return again. This continued for a long moment; then, regrettably, he leaned back slightly.

Christ, that boy can kiss. I was warm jelly on the inside, addicted in an instant, and he'd hardly done a thing. Like I said, I'd never been kissed like that before. But I wanted it again. I opened my eyes to find him staring at me, apparently waiting for my reaction.

"Mm," I think I said, sucking on my bottom lip for another tiny taste of him. My mind was rather empty of meaningful words at the moment.

His lovely full lips curved into another smile. "Well said," he murmured, and kissed me again.

I felt his fingertips threading up into my hair and against my scalp as he pulled my face closer; that tiny little movement sent shivers all the way down my spine. He held the back of my head now as our lips met again; and this time, the tip of his tongue traced lightly over the partly-open cleft of my mouth, barely dipping inside before he closed the kiss again. That was new, too; I couldn't help the soft moan that rose in my throat. He continued like that, the tantalizing, almost teasing kiss that wouldn't quite blossom into a full-blown French -- it was driving me crazy but I loved every second of it. I reached for him, not quite sure he wouldn't dissolve beneath my touch; this was simply too exquisite to be real. But my hand found the shoulder of a very real Wufei and clutched lightly at the silk that covered it. And finally, finally, he joined the kiss completely.

And then his fingertips trailed out of my hair and down my back, and his hand slid up my thigh and around my waist, coaxing my willing body out of the chair and closer to him. I melted into his embrace, straddling his lap as he knelt on the floor. His upturned face held my mouth, still kissing gently; and the thought crossed my mind, ~This must be Heaven.~ In that brief suspended moment, I couldn't imagine anything sweeter.

When that kiss finally ended, we stayed as we were, not wanting to move apart. I pressed my forehead to his, liking the way his breath sighed lightly across my face, loving the feel of his slender arms wrapped around my waist, mine draped around his neck. And as I knelt there with him, my hair shrouding us from the empty room, I realized something.

The unfairness of life, my bitterness over the war -- none of it really mattered in the end. He was right. All we could do was just go on. It had to be done. So we would do it. And share the burdens with each other. And someday the war would be over, and life would have meaning and purpose beyond striking the enemy and surviving the next mission. And then we could try living a normal life. Together. Just us. In the meantime, Wufei loved me.

Me, of all people. He loved me.

He had just given me something to live for. I raised my head to look him in the eye. "Thank you," I said softly.

He only smiled in response -- God, he was so beautiful -- then dipped his head and brushed a kiss across my throat. I sighed and tucked my face against his shoulder. My fatigue was catching back up to me.

"Come, Duo, let's put you to bed," he breathed softly in my ear; then, still holding me against him, he rose in one smooth motion. ~Damn, he's strong,~ I remember thinking. I mean sure I'm none too big and I don't weigh much; but neither does he. I briefly considered telling him to put me down, that I could walk on my own; but damn it, I was tired; and if Wu wanted to carry me, who was I to argue? So I just wrapped my legs around his hips, left my head settled on his shoulder, and let him take me upstairs to my room. He nudged the door open, ignored the light switch, stepped around the pile of wet clothing I'd left earlier, turned back the covers, and laid me down. Vaguely I registered that sleeping on my loose hair like this would make it a real bitch to brush out in the morning; but at this point I really couldn't bring myself to care. I held on to Wu for just a moment, then let him go. He stood and pulled the blankets up around me. I think I giggled. Just imagine. Chang Wufei, tucking me into bed.

He leaned down and kissed my forehead, brushing my bangs aside. "Goodnight, Duo," he said softly, and turned to leave. I reached out and caught his hand.

"'Fei?" I was half-asleep already as he turned back. "Stay with me?"

He said nothing, but I heard a soft whisper of silk as he slid out of his robe; and a second later the bed sank a little under his weight and I felt his warmth against my back. His arms went around me, and I turned and snuggled into him. Yep, it felt right. My fingers curled against his skin.

"Love you," I murmured into his chest. His arms tightened a little more, and he kissed the top of my head.

"I know," he said. And with that, I fell asleep.

end

[1] Actually, Duo, his pride doesn't matter so much where you are concerned.
Duo: Aw, really, 'Fei? That's sweet!
Wufei: (Blushes and mumbles something inaudible) (Hiding behind my muses)

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