Posted: 30 November 2002
Rating: R (for "Refreshing New Lime Taste")
Archive: Tyr (www.gwaddiction.com), Steel (www.steelsong.com), Moments of Rapture (www.zerotwofan.com/rapture/)
Genre: Angst, yaoi
Warnings: Introspective!Duo, POV, lime
Spoilers: Episodes 1-11, 48-49
Summary: "I've been studiously avoiding him for four days, which makes it nine days since the incident in my office, five days since we slept together, six years since we first met, and five years I've been trying to get the hell over it."
Disclaimer: All characters, names, places, etc. belong to Bandai, Sunrise, and Sotsu Agency. Do I own them? Of course not. Will you sue me? I hope not.
Thanks: To Sharon, for just being, well, Sharon. A wonderful person, a dedicated friend, and always an inspiration. Thank you so much for helping me write this, even if you didn't know you were doing it at the time.
Note: This is the first GW fic I've written in a very long while, and I really missed it. Since it took me forever to write, it's unbetaed. Any and all mistakes are mine. If you see anything or you have any comments that could make this better, my work is always in flux, so please send them along.
Feedback: All comments, criticisms, flames, marriage proposals, and death threats should be sent, with care, to email@example.com.
One Man Guy
I'm gonna bathe and shave
And dress myself and eat solo every night
Unplug the phone, sleep alone
Stay way out of sight
Sure it's kind of lonely
Yeah it's sort of sick
Being your own one and only
Is a dirty selfish trick
'Cause I'm a one man guy in the morning
Same in the afternoon
One man guy when the sun goes down
I whistle me a one man tune
One man guy a one man guy
Only kind of guy to be
I'm a one man guy
I'm a one man guy
I'm a one man guy is me
-- One Man Guy, Rufus Wainwright
It's a habit left over from the war, this waking instantly thing. One second asleep, the next able to have a basic conversation, as long as it doesn't involve math or any kind of complex thought patterns. The only thing different now is that I can sleep through the night, even with the nightmares. Quiet sounds don't wake me anymore.
Like the sound of metal scraping against metal in the kitchen. And plates being taken out of the cabinet above the sink.
Breakfast! shouts the part of me that has no concern for who or where just food. Smells like eggs! Get up!
The other part can't even move to smack myself on the forehead because I'm afraid if I move he'll hear me and come in here because this isn't one of the boys I bring home from the club.
Oh, fuck, that part says and I agree. How did this happen?
I listen as hard as I can for signs of his mood but it's not like Heero's going to be puttering around my kitchen and humming a little tune or something. Just normal breakfast-making sounds, silverware being pulled out of the drawer, the fridge opening and closing, and Heero's non-existent tread on my linoleum floor.
I'm all curled on one side of the bed, I notice, and it's not even my side. My side of the bed, which I've been sleeping on for the three years I've had this place, now has a faint Heero-shaped impression and there are three strands of short, dark hair on the pillow. That's my pillow. On my side.
Coffee gurgling noises emanate from the kitchen; Heero doesn't drink coffee and this is getting decidedly too new-relationshippy for my taste. I throw off the covers, pull on boxers and a sleeveless undershirt and head for the kitchen before I can think too much about it.
He has his back to me when I enter the kitchen and he doesn't turn even though I know he heard me come in. I clear my throat and try not to think about how good he looks in a thin white undershirt and his wrinkled trousers from the night before, standing at my sink and washing dishes.
He glances over his shoulder, then turns the water off with his wrist. "I figured you'd be hungry, even though it's still pretty early."
The clock on the microwave reads 9:06. I clear the sleep out of my eyes and yawn really big and I'm sure he doesn't buy a second of it.
"Yeah, I don't really eat much in the morning."
Yes! We do! A lot! Stupid hungry-all-the-time part of me always has exclamation points after everything it says and it's in cahoots with my stomach because my belly chooses that moment to rumble very loudly.
Heero quirks an eyebrow at me and wipes his hands on a dishtowel. How he is so comfortable with all of this? He's acting like this happens to him all the time, the awkward kicking out part of sleeping with someone and staying the night. God, we slept together, didn't we, and even though there was no actual "sex" sex, there was.
My face -- damn my pale skin, why, why -- gets hot when I think about last night and my stomach tingles like I've never had sex before. And of course he notices and I wish to god I had put on something that didn't have such a low neckline because his eyes are following the flush as far down my chest as they can.
"I should go."
"Okay," I say too quickly, "I mean, if you have to go, you, you know, should. Go."
Has he not learned to smile yet, is that the thing? Because it would really help me out right now even though I'm the asshole here. He's being so neat with the dishtowel and he folds it over the handle of the oven. I want to rip it out of his hands. It's messy, I want to tell him. I'm messy. My dishtowels get crumpled messy-like on the counter, dammit.
"I'll call you later," he says.
"Hilde and I have our fake date on Thursday nights, so I won't be around, but I'll see you at work tomorrow."
His button down shirt is hung over the back of one chair, where it landed last night and he picks it up slowly, puts it on even more slowly.
"Duo," he says, looking at me while he buttons his shirt and I fidget and look at his fingers buttoning his shirt.
I blink. "Yeah."
His shoes are already on, I don't know why I just noticed, and they don't make a sound on the floor. He never wears shoes in the house. I totally can't wrap my mind around this.
The only part of me he touches is my shoulder as he kisses me and my hand comes up to touch his chest over the second button of his shirt, where a triangle of white shows.
I push him back gently. "Heero, no." I think of my side of the bed and the hairs on my pillow. "I'm sorry. You're my best friend." I know for a fact I've been smoother than this. But I can't with Heero. I don't know what's wrong with me.
I'm lying to myself, that's what's wrong with me.
He steps back and his hand falls from my shoulder. I feel like no one's touched me in years even as every part of me he kissed and smoothed and rubbed against last night heats up and burns into my blood.
"It's just. I'm a one-man show. For now. That sounds wrong. Last night was... not a good idea. And I don't want to lose you."
This makes no. fucking. sense. He just watches me through the whole thing, quiet, not quite blank face, but nothing there to tell me if I'm just digging myself deeper or what.
He nods sort of amiably. "Then I'll see you tomorrow."
He's at the door and hefting his bag over his shoulder while I'm still standing like an idiot in the kitchen.
And he's gone.
I look down into the sink and there's a bowl with pieces of rice stuck to it. I know if I look in the garbage I'll see a pair of wooden chopsticks and the empty rice container that was left over from dinner last night.
My eggs suddenly look unappealing sitting on the table by themselves and I leave them and go back into my room.
I contemplate the bed for a second and then swipe the offending pillow onto the floor. I curl up on my side of the bed and I listen to my quiet apartment, which for the first time feels big and empty and lonely. I roll onto my stomach, try to ignore the scent of sex, stare down the pillow and the traitorous linen is clinging to those three strands of hair and I think I definitely need another day's sleep.
"You're late." Heero lounged in the doorway to our office, in the way that he makes lounging look, which is more like imposing. Predatory.
"Yup." I looked at the clock on the wall and I'm much later than I thought. "Okay, very late. I'm sorry."
"Because I know you must have had to do a whole bunch of reports by yourself and --"
"Why are you late."
Questions like statements. I've always liked that about Heero, and I always wonder if I'm the only one who's ever noticed he does that. I'm the only one really versed in Heero-speak, and I get a little thrill from knowing that. My best friend. Yeah. He's so tough.
"Oh, because I thought you meant why am I sorry." I grinned.
He didn't so much scowl as he didn't say anything or even twitch a facial muscle. Same thing.
I felt my cheeks heating up. "You know why I'm late. I told you yesterday that I had a date."
"No, um, Koji. You remember, you met him at the --"
"Yes." And something flickered across his face, too fast for me to follow, and looking back on it I know I didn't make it up in one of those wishful thinking moments I sometimes have. "I remember."
"What'd you do last night?" I asked casually.
"Rebecca and I went to dinner after work. She wanted to know what field work was like."
"Rebecca one of the new recruits Rebecca?"
He was watching me very carefully. "Yes."
My ears were burning and I had to swallow the bile that suddenly rose in my throat. "You didn't tell me you guys had a thing going."
A line formed between his brows. "I never said we had a thing."
"You're not saying you don't. So, what, are you guys, like, dating now?"
His eyes were hard. "Drop it, Duo."
"No. I tell you everything about my love life."
He puffed a breath out through his nose. "Love life," he said, and this time the statement was a question, as nasty as Heero would ever get, cutting right to the quick.
"What the fuck, Heero?" We had been bristling for weeks now, for some reason I couldn't comprehend, snapping at each other and sometimes making half-nasty remarks, but it never went so far that either of us had gotten out and out angry.
But I was pissed then. I stood and knocked my chair away. It banged into the wall and the back, balanced very precariously since I had tipped it over the week before in an impromptu after hours wresting match with Heero over where we would go to dinner, finally fell off and thumped to the floor.
He was silent, and his arms hung loosely at his sides while I folded mine over my chest.
"I mean, you can see whoever you want to see, even if they're obviously fangirls who just want to get closer to a famous Gundam pilot."
His face shifted into something I didn't recognize, something like pain or embarrassment, both emotions I was unused to equating with Heero. It was too late to take it back, and I let the comment hang out there, my cheeks flaming with anger and shame.
"So no one would want me," he said and his normal mask slipped onto his face. I wanted to say I was sorry for putting that there.
"I didn't say that."
His voice was flat, odd with the subject matter. He stepped closer to me, his hands fisting at his sides. "You did say that."
"No. Just not her, okay? She's not --" Not good enough for you, not smart enough for you, not strong enough for you. I didn't know why this mattered so much, but it really did. I had relinquished my claim on Heero a long time ago, a claim I had never really had in the first place.
"She wouldn't understand you," I said.
"Who does, then."
He looked at me oddly, and the coldness in his eyes slipped.
My heart jumped into my throat and I felt the room tipping. I had to shove it down, this thing I hadn't thought about in years, this thing that five years ago had consumed my life. I hadn't thought about it since we survived the war and I decided I had to forget I ever felt it because I couldn't do go through that again, wouldn't go through it again. "It's just -- She's not like us."
One corner of his mouth turned down. "Not like us," he said slowly, like he was learning the cadence of the words. "But Koji is like us. And Steven. And the other dozen or so men you find suitable to sleep with."
I didn't even think, just lashed out at him, punching him in the jaw.
His head snapped to the side, but other than that he didn't move. He looked back at me, a thin trail of blood leaking from his split lip. He wiped a hand across his mouth, and looked at the blood that was smeared on his knuckles.
He wasn't breathing half as hard as I was, trying to hold everything in.
"I'll see you at the mission briefing," he said. And he turned and walked out of my office; I listened to his heels click on the tile and fade away as he rounded the corner.
I stood in the middle of my office and seethed until someone came to get me, another new recruit who looked about seventeen and like he wanted to be anywhere other than in my office, telling me Heero wanted to know whether or not I was coming, or if they should find a replacement.
I sent him ahead of me, pressed my still-shaking hands against my eyes until I saw white stars behind my lids, and then went to join the meeting.
The sheets won't go in the hamper, just refuse to fit and I find myself leaning into it, hoping my body weight will somehow alter the molecular make-up of cotton, forcing it to shrink and fold itself into this plastic tub that was filled to the brim with dirty laundry before we even left for the mission three days ago.
Or maybe it's so I can push my face into them for a second and breathe in the smell of Heero's deodorant and sweat and, god, that's not just sex, that's that way Heero smells, that's the way we smell mixed together and I can still feel the wet warmth of it between us on my belly as he made this noise and I came just from the sound of it and the feel of his fingers clutching and slip-sliding on my back.
The picture I'm making right now must be hysterical. Idiot.
I grab new sheets and make the bed as fast as I can. It looks normal when I'm finished, but I can still see us on it, still see him sleeping, and there's a pull somewhere in my chest that I got to spend an entire night next to him and I didn't get to watch him sleep.
The kitchen still needs to be cleaned up and by cleaned up I mean it needs to stop reminding me that just a little while ago Heero was here and he made me breakfast.
I wonder if he'd ever thought about this.
I know he must have. And I'm not really sure how I feel about that.
It's not like I didn't see this coming, I guess. I don't like to think that things like this could be my fault, and usually I don't let people stay long enough for it to be an issue.
I didn't always know I liked men. I mean, when I was learning about sex it wasn't like there were that many girls around to practice on, and we always figured it was easier if your partner had a penis, too, since that was really all we knew. And I did think girls were pretty. I thought about touching a slim waist, the soft curve of a breast, kissing flesh that was had just a little more give, a little rounded belly, a smooth armpit.
But with Heero, it was never really a question. No, I didn't always know that I liked men; I knew I loved Heero, though, I just told myself I didn't.
But I never thought I'd have to be considering this. Not even when we were fifteen and I wanted so badly to ask him to sleep next to me, to let me touch him, kiss him. I never did, and really, I thought Heero didn't like anyone, let alone boys, let alone me.
This is Heero Yuy, for God's sake. And I didn't let him stay. Leaving wasn't even an option.
And that scares the hell out of me.
"I wanted to say that I'm sorry. About what happened before we left."
Chopsticks poised above a carton of white rice, he looked at me across the coffee table where we sat on the floor in my apartment. We had just gotten back from a three day security check of the new L-4 satellite and we were both hungry and tired and we hadn't talked once through the whole mission about what had happened. We really hadn't talked about anything, but this was like protocol for us, coming back to my place to wind down from the mission the day we got back, and then we had a day to sleep it off before work.
I was more tense than usual, seeing as we had been living on top of one another for three days and not once had the situation come up.
"Forget it," he finally said, after a moment of silence.
I looked down, watching a hand that looked like my own pushing my noodles around in their container. "Yeah, you said that."
He put the food down. "So."
"So." I grabbed at my cup of sake and lifted it, not waiting for him to toast me just tipping it back and welcoming the cool burn all the way down my throat. Heero liked his sake so dry it could strip paint, but right then it was exactly what I needed.
He smirked, raised his own cup and swallowed it, then refilled both.
"Why, Heero," I fluttered my eyelashes, trying for some sort of levity. "If I didn't know better I would think you were trying to get me drunk."
He picked up his rice and smiled into it. "How am I doing?"
I gaped at him and rose sharply, unsteadily, a half bottle of sake suddenly catching up to me and reminding me that this was the first real food we'd eaten in three days. "And on that note, I have to piss."
In the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror. What are you doing? I mouthed to the weird, flushed version of myself with too-bright eyes and a smudge of teriyaki sauce on the corner of his mouth. The reflection made a strange feeling of vertigo and déjà vu wash over me and I pressed my hands to my cheeks and tried to will the color away. It was too late, the moment you realize, oh, no, I'm drunk and there's nothing I can do about it.
Cool porcelain against my forehead when I bent and rested it on the edge of the sink, hoping to get my bearings a little bit.
Heero was in the kitchen when I came back out, shifting things around in the refrigerator to make room for the leftovers.
I leaned against the doorjamb and watched him until he turned around. His eyes were as bleary as I'd ever seen them get, the past three days catching up with him, too. I found myself speaking before I had a chance to consider what I was going to say. "You can stay here. If you want."
Dangerous, I knew, so, so dangerous, but I said it anyway and the vertigo that had gotten to me in the bathroom was back, trying to warn me, maybe. I was never very good with warnings.
He nodded and smoothed his fingers over his dress shirt, which he had hung on the back of the chair over mine, which I had sort of randomly tossed and hoped for the best. "That would be good."
"I'll help you make up the couch."
When I first joined the Preventers, Heero let me stay with him for a month while I apartment hunted. I just showed up at his door with no notice, two duffel bags packed with my entire life, and smiled and he let me in with barely an eyeroll, never asking what happened or why.
Nothing had happened, really, and I think he knew that, too. He accepted it as the way I operated.
He let me take the couch, but only after hours of silent not-arguing, and only if I agreed to at least make it look like a real bed.
So when I got my own place, I made sure there was always a set of sheets that would fit the couch, just in case I had to return the favor.
I stood and watched while he made the couch to his very exact specifications, drinking the last cup of sake that was still on the coffee table next to his empty one.
I contemplated the cup and then, absently letting my eyes flicker over his tight thighs and waist, his undershirt, which was half untucked and showing a small patch of pale gold skin.
My fingers twitched as I had to physically restrain myself from touching.
I thought about Rebecca, and whether she had gotten to touch what I never had permission to. The thought made my stomach rise and then fall quickly, and I had to swallow some emotion that clogged up my throat, made my chest hurt very sharply.
All through our mission it plagued me, nagging at me, keeping me awake with him in the next bed over, maybe dreaming about her and I wanted to demand that he tell me what was going on.
"I can't forget it," I blurted out and he looked back over his shoulder quickly, like he hadn't known I was right behind him.
"No. I tell you everything, even if you obviously think it doesn't matter that much."
He drew himself up to his full height, an inch shorter than me but always looking so much bigger for all his compactness. Meanwhile, I had stayed skinny and long and took up as much space around me as I could at all times. But Heero could crowd you with a look.
"You're doing it again. Thinking that I said something I didn't."
"You didn't have to say it," I spat, and I wondered how I had gotten so angry so quickly, all over again. "You practically called me a slut to my face. I got enough of that when I was a kid, Heero, I damn well don't need it from you."
"If that's how you took it."
"No, that's how you gave it. Just because you don't date --"
"Who says I don't?"
My stomach heaved again, and my fingers went numb. "Do you?"
He was silent.
"Well tell me all about it, then. How many, Heero? How many people have you been seeing behind my back?"
His hands clenched into fists. "Behind your back."
I swallowed hard. I was starting to loose it, and all the feelings I had been trying to crush were starting to fight back.
"You know what I mean," I said, my voice hitching over that something that was still trapped in my throat.
"No, I don't. I don't see what my private life has to do with you."
"You don't?" I was half-yelling, my face burning with anger and resentment, and years of pent-up want and need. "It has everything to do with me, you asshole."
A muscle jumped in his jaw. "Why."
I ran my hands though my hair, pulling pieces out of my braid. "Fucking because."
He was so close, crowding me back against the coffee table, and I reached out, helplessly, and slid my fingers along that patch of skin. And then it was so easy, too easy, to close my eyes, lean forward and meet him halfway. There was a moment when it felt like the whole world had tilted slightly and I put out my hand, pushing his shirt up and dragging my fingers across his belly.
He made a noise and something pulled hard inside me, and I pushed him back onto the couch, swinging one leg over his hips and sliding into his lap. He sank into the couch and when he looked at me his eyes were glassy, his mouth shiny-slick.
"Okay?" I said roughly and kissed him again before he could answer.
There had been reasons why we never did this, I knew, but with Heero under me, one hand cupping my face and the other slipping under my shirt, I couldn't remember any of them.
He seemed content to let me direct where hands went and how bodies settled together and the way he jerked when I touched my tongue to a nipple made me wonder suddenly if he was a virgin.
I couldn't decide how I felt about that; my brain wanted me to pull away, but my cock swelled at the thought of it. Not that I was taking his virginity, but that he might be so inexperienced that I was his first. First kiss, first lover, first whatever, I didn't care. It's Heero, I thought mindlessly and his skin is so smooth and warm. It's Heero and he's mine.
"Yes," he hissed and it took me a minute to realize I had spoken out loud.
Any reservations I might have had were destroyed by that one word. All my promises of being alone, of protecting the people around me -- not even an option now.
He leaned forward and I frantically pulled his shirt over his head, needing to get to as much skin as possible. Every fantasy, every wish that I wanted so hard all those years just welled up and this is real, "This is real."
I sat back, letting my fingers slide over his shoulders and chest.
He just watched me, his eyes heavy with something I couldn't explain but it made me want to promise him everything.
Stopping was not an option. Asking him if he wanted to slow down was not an option. All that mattered was this.
With one careful move he reversed our positions and I found my shirt rucked up under my chin, his hot mouth all over my sternum, licking at a spot just under my ribcage on the right side, where I knew there was a scar from when we were kids.
"What is this?" he asked quietly, tracing it with one blunt fingertip.
I grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand away. The real world was starting to edge into my consciousness, and I willfully shoved it back.
You have to stop, my mind screamed and I squeezed my eyes shut and dug my hands into his hair, yanking his face up to mine.
He kissed me hard and fast, grinding his hips down into mine and God, we were both so hard I'm not even sure how our synapses were still firing. Never let it be said that Duo Maxwell can't think under pressure.
"Bedroom," I gasped out and he let me drag him bodily down the hall, bumping knees and stumbling and falling against the wall because I felt like I couldn't breathe if I wasn't kissing him.
We finally made it to the actual bed, and he pulled me down with him, rolled me under him, got his hands on my shirt hem and pulled it up over my head.
I felt his touch the scar again, the feel of it going straight through me and instead of saying anything I wriggled a hand between his belly and his belt and dug under his briefs to find the silky, wiry hair between his legs.
He stiffened above me, letting out a gasping breath, and suddenly his hand covered mine through the fabric of his trousers and he squeezed hard, holding it still.
"Not too fast," he said. And then he seemed to hesitate, or did Heero Yuy's approximation of hesitating, and said, "I've been --"
I kissed him again, wanting to stop his words and breathe them in at the same time, and he gave in and let go of my hand, resting his palms on my hips.
I flicked the button of his trousers open. "These need to go," I said, and he chuckled and plucked at my waistband.
I shimmied and struggled out of my pants, the legs catching around my ankles and he helped me drag them off, taking my socks with them. Then I pounced on him and came up flush a body-length full of naked, smooth Heero Yuy skin, hot and flushed. When we lined up against each other I couldn't help the little mewling noise I made.
I reached between us and got one hand around both of us; the touch of that thin, furnace-hot skin against mine was too much, and any lingering doubts I had were plowed under by need.
He let me take control, let me hold him down and jack us both slowly, but his eyes were blazing and it made my heart stutter and start, white heat flooding through me.
He reached up and drew my face against his, putting his mouth to mine and shaped the words, 'So long' and 'Duo' on my lips and suddenly he jerked against me and there was wet and heat and red sunbursts bloomed across my eyes.
That noise. Heero helpless and shaking and it was almost my name but not and it was me who was doing this to him. I squeezed my eyes shut and pressed my face to his, opening my mouth and exhaling against him as I shook myself almost apart.
After, I curled against him, licking at sweat that was dribbling into his armpit, and I felt drowsy and super-charged and all my limbs decided they didn't feel up to doing anything anymore so I put my head on his chest and thought, just one minute. Just one minute because this is Heero breathing hot and hard on me, in my room that sort of doesn't feel like my room, but a warm bubble somewhere far away, so it's okay if I just close my eyes and just.
We slept, and I woke once to find Heero's arm curved over my belly, his fingers twitching against my back and it didn't seem odd because in my head, that's the way it was supposed to be.
"We need to talk." I hope those four words will be enough. Most people know them for what they are, right, the break up words. Don't ever utter this sentence unless the next one is some variation on, 'I care about you, but...'
I've been studiously avoiding him for four days, which makes it nine days since the incident in my office, five days since we slept together, six years since we first met, and five years I've been trying to get the hell over it.
Only four days. It feels like forever.
He doesn't even let me get to the breaking up part, even though technically there's nothing to break up unless you consider giving someone a handjob on par with giving him your class ring, or whatever the hell it is kids do these days.
"Come over. I'm making dinner."
"I thought we could just talk now."
His eyes look hard, but there's something there I've never noticed before. I wonder if it's always been there, or if it's just now that he's letting me see it.
"We can talk tonight."
"I have." I look around my desk, grab at an expense report. "Expense reports to fill out. I'm so behind, Une's gonna --"
He grabs the paper out of my hand and rips it in half.
"You can do it tomorrow."
"No." I stand up. "No. I can't."
Two bright spots of color burn into his face high up on his cheekbones. "I've let you avoid me for four days --"
"You let me?"
That same muscle jumps in his jaw.
"What do you want me to say, Heero? That we belong together? That it's all easy now, and we're going to be happy together forever? It doesn't work like that."
His fingers grab at nothing at his sides, the expense report crumpling unnoticed. "How does it work, then?"
"It just -- it's not --" I cross my arms to make the pain in my chest go away. "This is how it works."
"As far as I can see," and his voice is that calm before the storm voice he uses, that to everyone else must sound like he just doesn't care but to me sounds like barely held back fury, "this isn't working at all."
"Give the man I prize," I say, and I know I don't mean for my voice to be that harsh, but that's just how it comes out. I wish I would take it back, I wish I could just shut the hell up sometimes.
Something is squirming in my chest, wanting me to stop, wanting me to go over there and put my arms around him and tell him how sorry I am, how scared I am. Instead, I squeeze my arms against my chest, feeling my ribs creak and bend inwards, constricting my breath and I hope maybe that will stop it hurting.
There's an expression on his face that makes me feel like I want to be sick right here, and he's gone very pale under his burnished skin.
"I didn't know," he says, and his tone is cold and flat, "I don't think I ever thought this is how it would be."
"Well, it is." The pain twists and gently stabs into me, sinking deeply into soft, vulnerable flesh I didn't know I still had. I can't stop. It's better this way.
"I'll be requesting a new partner in the morning," he continues, his voice mechanical like he doesn't care, like we're talking about a mission or the weather. I know he doesn't sound like that, I know he doesn't. He never has, not to me. "Or a division shift, if you think that will be better."
I try to speak, find there's something clogging me up so I exhale and try again. "That's probably the best thing. Unless you'd like to stay in this division and I'll leave. I don't mind --"
"No. I never really had a preference." He nods and holds up the ripped expense report. "And don't worry about this. I'll take care of it and give it to Une when I see her."
"No, Heero, it's not --"
But he's already folding it up neatly and efficiently, and tucking it into his back pocket. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He waits at the door, his back to me. "What." I don't know if I'm imagining the soft tone in his voice.
I hesitate, and he's gone before I can say anything, but really, what was I going to do?
I have to brace my hands on my desk, my insides pulling into themselves and forcing my body into a bow, like it can't stand to hold itself up anymore.
And all I can think isn't about not ever seeing him again it's about the day to day stuff, just bullshitting with him, touching him in those little ways he won't let anyone else, making faces at him in meetings, listening to him go on about the history of every place we travel to on missions.
Just looking at him, the way his lips thin when I'm late, the way his forehead crinkles when he has to write mission reports.
How he refuses to use a thesaurus because he's certain he can come up with a suitable substitute for the word he's used three times in two sentences, and the computer games only I know about on his machine in his office that he likes to play to calm himself.
How could I be so stupid? I think about what Howard said once, in a different life before I decided I needed to be something I'm not. He asked whether it, this, was worth it, if Heero was worth it, and there's really no question anymore, because I already answered it a really long time ago.
I grab my coat and run out of my office and pray that I'm not too late.
Howard watched me from behind his glasses, the light from the Earth reflecting off of them through the small window in Peacemillion's hangar. "You seem to have gotten real close with that kid. That L1 kid who took apart Deathscythe back in LA."
"You know goddamn well his name is Heero, Howard, and you better be going somewhere good with this." I was being a brat; I knew it and it felt good. I leaned my head against the cool glass separating us from space.
One gray eyebrow arched up from under the glasses and his forehead wrinkled with dozens of fine lines. "Testy."
He took the pack from his breast pocket, shook out two cigarettes and handed one to me, passing the lighter when he had lit his own and inhaled deeply, letting the smoke back out his nose.
We couldn't use butane in the hangar and propane was scarce, so the flame was weak when I lit mine, making it boat on one side. I frowned at it and flicked the lighter, but nothing happened.
"Here." Howard handed me his cigarette, and I lit mine off the end of it.
"It's good luck, you know, when that happens," he said calmly, taking his cigarette back and gesturing to mine with it.
I had to grin at him. He always knew how to make me feel stronger, if not better.
"You going out there, too?"
"Yeah." My heart beat a little faster; I blamed it on the cigarette.
"Have you heard from Heero, yet?"
"No. He's supposed to make contact after he gets that girl out of there." I inhaled, and studied my smoke as I blew it out. "He'll call."
The truth was, at the time, I didn't know if he would call. I didn't know if he would make it, and if he did, if he would stick to the plan. I was afraid he would go off by himself, try to win it alone. The funny part was that I wasn't about losing the war because I had rejected it as even being an option already, but if he got killed now I would never get to tell him...
Howard stared at me, like he expected me to say something more.
I took one last drag and crushed the cigarette out on the hangar floor. The nicotine was making my hands shake. "What."
He put his hands up, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. "I didn't say anything."
"That's what I meant."
He leaned back against the glass, looking in instead of out. Howard was always funny and backwards like that. "We had a talk about this, about this kid, almost a year ago. Remember?"
"I asked you if he was going to be worth it."
"I told you it was nothing. It was nothing then, and it's less than nothing now." My voice was thick but if Howard noticed he didn't say anything.
"If it weren't for that cloud of smog," he suddenly said, and I looked at him to find him looking very intently at the Gundams lined up on the far side of the hangar, "You'd be able to see California from here."
"It was so hard to see through it even after I broke the atmosphere," I said slowly. "But when it cleared." I stubbed the spent cigarette butt against the floor. "I'd never seen an ocean before."
"Was it worth it?"
"Howard," and this time I didn't care if he saw the tears in my eyes. I could blame it on the light off his damn glasses.
He grunted a little, smoked his cigarette down to the filter.
"We're probably going to die out there," I said, and it didn't really hurt to say it, even though I thought I would be terrified.
Howard nodded slowly and poked his tongue into his bottom lip. His voice was mild. "Probably."
"So, it wouldn't hurt, right, if I said... if I told you..." I dug my fingers against the metal floor of the hangar, watching the first knuckles bend back and turn white from the pressure.
There was a hand on my back and I looked up to see Howard still staring at the Gundams, not at me. He inclined his head toward me, his Adam's apple bobbing. "It might still. But it doesn't mean the lie won't hurt more."
"What if he's the one, you know? And I'm going to die and he'll never know because I never told him, because I never even told myself."
"You're only fifteen, you know."
"None of us," I gestured at our Gundams, "are only anything, Howard. You know it."
He nodded, and put an arm around me. I resisted his tug towards his shoulder, and he settled for just his arm there, draped along my back.
"Have you thought about what'll happen if you get another shot?"
"What do you mean?" Maybe I swayed a little towards him, letting my head sort of lean against his wiry bicep.
"I mean. What if you don't die."
My whole body tensed, and again, if Howard ever noticed any of these little things, which I know he always did, he didn't move or mention it.
"That scares me more," I whispered and he didn't say anything.
I don't know why I think he'll be at the beach, but it's just down the block and something compels me to go there first before his apartment. I'm at almost a full out run, stumbling in the sand, my boots sinking and sticking in the shifting ground.
He's there, at the edge of the water, and I stop as suddenly as I started, wondering what the hell I'm going to say.
"You know," I blurt out, and he doesn't move or acknowledge me at all. "This is the first thing I ever saw of Earth. This beach, I mean. The water, I guess, more to the point."
I can see his dark head bob once. "You told me when I said I was moving to LA."
"Yeah." I move closer. "But it's different being here, you know. Seeing it."
"I've seen it."
I must look blank because he says, "When we first met."
"Right, with the." I mime a gun with one hand.
He turns back to the water. "Was there something you wanted?"
"Yeah. I." I need him to turn around but I know he won't. Heero doesn't give out chances like that.
But at least he gives one. Now I guess it's my turn. "I wanted you to know, in case I hadn't ever made it very clear, because there seems to have been a number of misunderstandings. I wanted to tell you that I..."
I close my eyes, feel that familiar fear well up in me. My chest aches with it, with him, and there's something trapped in my throat that's making my legs feel like they want to take off down the beach at top speed and run and run until I can't go anymore.
It feels like that knowing sensation, the one where you think something's going to happen, maybe something bad -- probably something bad -- and it all gets stuck in your chest and throat and you wish it would hurry up and happen already so you can feel normal again.
But I think this is one of those times where I'm never going to feel normal. Not ever ever again.
"Duo." He's in front of me now, turning me away from the salt spray in my face. He touches my shoulder blade, the back of my neck, lightly, like he's not sure what's allowed.
My fingers undo the buttons on my shirt before I lose my courage. I'm not sure he'll understand, but he's come the closest to keeping up with stream of consciousness. I take his hand and press it against my ribs, against the short, thick ridge of scar tissue. "It's from the war."
There's a moment of silence; I can practically hear the processors in his brain firing. Then: "I remember it. I saw it when I came for you after you were captured."
Bloodless, my fingers let go of my shirt, and it blows open in the breeze that the surf kicks up. There's a fine spray of mist against my back and shining on his face; it makes him look older, sharper.
He traces the scar under my ribs firmly. "It was partially healed; I couldn't figure out where you had gotten it."
"I did it to myself."
His fingers press hard against my sternum but his face is still, waiting for me to finish.
I've always been afraid that I would never find anyone who would accept me, and later, I told myself I didn't want to, that it didn't matter.
But looking at Heero now, I want so much for it to work. Just this one time.
I touch his wrist and he grabs onto my hand, crushing my fingers in a grip I know is half-intentional, half-gut reaction.
I sink to the sand and pull him with me after a bit of tugging, immovable object that he is. My arms and legs are shaking and he makes no move to touch me, just holds tight to my hand.
"Duo, you need to eat."
"This is gonna sound crazy, but you know what? I'm really not hungry."
Quatre frowned and pushed food around on his plate until I took pity on him and ate a piece of nan dipped in curried rice. He smiled a little wry smile that later I would not really ever see on his face unless he was around me, and ate his own food in silence after that, which he must have known I'd be grateful for.
My second day staying with Quatre was when it all sank in, that Heero was really dead, and that I'd gone and done the absolute last thing I should have done, which was to fall in love with every shred my little fifteen-year-old heart had to offer.
It was the first time that I ever thought, no, knew for certain, that I was going to die, and it was going to be painful and long and horrible, and I would see everyone I ever cared about go first, just because life's funny that way.
Quatre left me to my own devices in those early days, always staying close by but never really talking. We played chess a few times, and I made him play the violin for me, but for the most part I stayed away from him, from everyone.
I thought I was going crazy, and the noise in my head wouldn't stop. All I could see over and over was Heero self-destructing, and me watching, me letting him go to his death, choosing the land route the night before.
And I was so angry at him. Angry because I cared so much and I was like a spoiled brat who wanted everything and rejected the little scrap I did get because it was all or nothing. I thought he wouldn't die, couldn't die, would be the one who survived the Maxwell curse, and eventually he would let me get close to him.
Then the explosion.
I looked up to find Quatre standing in the doorway to our little room that he insisted we share.
"I. Was just thinking about stuff. About -- about that pilot."
"His name was Heero, wasn't it?"
I pressed my lips together. "That's what he told me."
He was silent, huge blue eyes too clear to be as sharp and deep as they were.
I started to fidget, wondering what he saw with those eyes, if I was passing whatever test he was putting me through.
"Trowa and I were together," he finally said, but there was no mistaking the tone in his voice, wistful and soft and everything I never wanted these feelings to make me.
"Okay," I replied, looking down at the end of my braid that I was clutching so hard my knuckles were turning white.
"He was in a lot of pain."
"I don't he would really be too thrilled about you telling me this."
"You should hear it." There was a note of command in his voice that made me bristle.
"Okay. Great. I heard it. Thanks."
"No, I don't think you did hear it." He put a hand over mine, closing around my braid.
"I did. You fucked and it made everything all better except that when we all die it's going to suck more for the one of you that dies last." My throat felt strained from saying too much of the wrong thing and holding back all the things I didn't ever let myself say.
Quatre was silent, his thumb stroking over my wrist, making something in my chest squeeze painfully around my lungs.
"Can I go take a leak now?"
He nodded, and I yanked my hand away from him and stumbled to the toilet.
I stared at my reflection in the small mirror above the sink and I didn't recognize myself.
"Promise me," I said to the strange boy staring at me, just a set of shoulders and a head in a little patch of alternate reality that looked like this bathroom, only backwards.
Okay, he said.
"Promise me you won't ever do this again."
The boy frowned.
"It hurts to much," I whispered. "You don't know how much it hurts."
The boy was flushed and his eyes looked almost feverish, but he nodded, and I felt my own head mimicking his actions.
"Promise me you'll never feel like this again."
He just looked back at me, silent, pale skin stretched too thin over his face.
"Okay. No more."
But it still hurt, and my head was still spinning and I needed something to ground myself.
A straight razor glinted at me over the boy's shoulder, in an open wooden box on the other side of the alternate dimension bathroom. But when I turned around there it was, and I didn't really think when I picked it up, I just wanted it to stop.
The first press of it against my chest made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I leaned back against the sink and I didn't look as I cut a little deeper, a little longer, very slowly, so I could remember what it felt like.
Because I was never going to make it through this war without something to remind me what it was like to feel something other that this dull ache in my chest. I needed something sharp and cold. Easy.
Later, I stood over Quatre's cot and looked down at him, reaching out to touch hair that was too thin and silky, the skin under it too pale.
He opened bleary eyes. "Duo?"
I pushed aside the thin blanket covering him and crawled in next to him, curling my body into his. I hissed a little when a shifting elbow pressed against the cut, and I could feel blood oozing out and sticking to the cloth I had taped there.
He touched my chest, lightly smoothed too-small fingers over the bandage and I could feel him frowning in the darkness. "Don't do this again," he said, his voice hard and sad.
"I won't," I said against his neck, then tilted his face down to mine and kissed him, and he let me, even though we both knew I was using him.
It was something to remember, too, easier to remember than the kiss I never got, the skin I was never allowed to touch, the voice that only said my name one time, and never anything like the way Quatre said it when I rolled him under me.
But it did what it was supposed to, and it got me through the war, even though in my head sometimes the hands were larger, the voice was deeper, and sometimes I woke up with a name in my mouth that took less and less time to forget as the months wore on, until I one day I woke up and didn't remember at all.
Heero doesn't look at me now, and I lean forward and put my forehead on his shoulder. Something's broken in me and I can't fix it like I could before, but I hope that he can and more, that he'll want to. "Please forgive me," I hear myself say desperately. "Please."
His hand is under my shirt on my back, big warm palm rubbing slow circles up my spine. "There's nothing for me to forgive," he says and he leans back, trying to catch my eye.
"If I ask for another chance..."
His eyebrows pull together. "There was never a first chance," he says, and he sounds almost puzzled.
"I don't understand."
He looked like he as struggling with the words. "I didn't have a first chance to give you. There was only me."
"Only you." I feel like the ground is rushing up at me again and again, that I can't be this lucky.
"Yes." He frowns a little. "Only me, for you. Am I saying this right?"
"Oh, God, yes, of course you are. I'm not saying it right. I want to tell you that I've always." The words stick. Here he is, giving me something I don't think I'll ever deserve, and I can't get the words out and they're so important. The most important thing I've ever said in my life. "You were always..."
He pulls me forwards and crushes his mouth against mine, pretty much scrambling any thought I may have had. "Duo," he says, and it's that voice I've been waiting six years to hear. "I know."
A laugh a little, maybe it's sort of hysteria, I don't know. I lean my head on his shoulder. "That dinner offer still open?" I say after a moment.
"Yes," he says, and I look at him, turning my head just enough so my cheek brushes his shoulder and my nose bumps his chin a little. He's not smiling, not really. But there's happy on his face. And I think I helped put it there.
His hands slides around my waist and he turns his head into mine, brushing a kiss against the skin next to my eye. "I thought you were a one man guy," he says, and only because I know him so well so I recognize the tone in his voice that indicates poking fun. How did I ever live without this?
"I am," I say, trying for haughty and landing a little short somewhere around sappy.
He snorts a laugh into my hair. "Okay."
"Yeah. It is okay."
And we watch the waves roll onto the shore where I fell to Earth all those years ago, half a planet away from him but we still managed to find each other.
"Home?" he asks, fingers tightening on my belly, and the word makes a dumb grin spread across my face.
I think about how Quatre always sounded about Trowa, about how I never wanted to sound like that, or feel like that, but it's not what I thought. I feel stronger, rejuvenated. I feel like there was a piece of me that was always missing, and I've finally found it.
"Yeah. Let's go home."