title: Jaded Trade
fandom: Gundam Wing
characters/pairings: Duo/Solo/Hilde, Duo/Heero, Duo/random people, Quatre, Zechs
rating: Mature
warnings: sex, prostitution, RAPE, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, drinking, language
summary: Sex for sale, lives on the line, and friendship leading to more...
notes: many, many thanks to my aisoku for help with the title.
much of the sex in this story is related to prostitution, and there is straight up rape. if sexual violence and non-consensual situations bother/trigger you, this probably isn't the story for you.
also, there's quite a bit of rather graphic and disturbing violence, particularly near the end. be warned.
many thanks to everyone who read this while it was being written and encouraged me to continue, and everyone who is reading this now!!
there are depictions of graphic violence in this part. very graphic. now, please take this to heart... if there is ANY character that has been mentioned so far that you would find upsetting were violence to befall them, TAKE WARNING.
you can skip down to a brief summary to read it over to see how bad it is going to be for you. but please, if violence... to ANY character... would upset you, read the spoiler summary first.
this part is FULL of nastyness and violence. if that is upsetting to you, then please, read the summary and skip along merrily to the epilogue with my apologies.

He jangled his keys in his pockets as he waited in line. He probably didn't need any more caffeine, but he had been up all day, taking a day off with Heero, and he knew he wasn't going to get any sleep, and tomorrow was Saturday, so tomorrow Heero would meet Solo and Hilde and they'd put together the baby's room. It was all very exciting.

Sex in the morning always jolted his system, leaving him full of nervous energy, and that had carried over for the whole day. He and Heero had been crawling all over each other, leaving him numb from over sensitization. It was electric.

He tapped his finger on the counter as he waited for the clerk to ring up his drink and make his change. He had the bottle half empty before he left the store. He started making a mental list of everything that needed to be done, but he lost track after he rattled off about ten things to himself. He nearly laughed out loud in the middle of the street. He was going to be totally useless tomorrow, he could just tell.

Maybe after Heero settled into the idea of their... arrangement... they could get a better place. Duo didn't want to get into the habit of sponging off of Heero, but it was just logical. Heero had money to spare, and they had a new baby on the way. They could get a condo, or maybe a townhouse. Duo wasn't 100% sure he knew what a townhouse looked like, but it sounded urbane and sophisticated, and bigger than a condo, which sounded sketchy anyway.

He stood for ten minutes in front of the art store window, thinking about presents to buy Solo. When they were younger, Duo would often bring home tubes of paint or new brushes or that stuff Solo treated the canvases with, just little things that Solo needed daily. Back then, Duo had known the contents of Solo's art cabinet perfectly. Duo was looking at the brushes, but he didn't know which ones Solo had that needed replacing. He finished off his drink, determined to find out so he could come back later to get Solo something. Solo deserved something; he'd been doing so well, and he was going to be a father soon...

Duo took the stairs up to his apartment three at a time, only realizing the hour when he ran past Mrs. Jopson's door. As was often her wont, she was peeking out from behind the chained door, cigarette listlessly hanging from her mouth, her eyes judging. Duo would have laughed out loud, but that would have been rude. He'd lost all sense of time during the day, leaving him feeling displaced. He'd have to be quieter from here on out.

He unlocked the door to the apartment inaudibly, slipping in so that he wouldn't disturb anyone. The apartment was in the total darkness that could only be achieved at night, so, much as he didn't want to disturb anyone, he reached over to flick the light switch gently.

The first thing that he noticed was that his hand was wet, and sticky. And there was a smell, he knew this smell. But it was so sharp, so cloying, it was choking him. There was something very, very wrong here, and every instinct honed on the streets was setting off alarms.

His fingers were red.

His eyes jerked around the living room. His heart was hammering in his chest so hard, he could barely breathe. All he could think was, this isn't right. This isn't right.

Solo was sitting up against the wall opposite him, his eyes vacant and open. His head seemed propped up on his shoulder, his neck ripped apart. There was a streak of red on the wall behind him. His thin arm was cradling his belly, his shirt black with blood. Duo stared into Solo's eyes, begging him, pleading, because, no, this couldn't be real, he knew it couldn't be real...

Hilde was on the couch. Duo didn't want to look over there, but he'd already seen it. Her eyes were so pained, she looked like she had been crying. Her belly...

This couldn't be real. He backed up against the door, shutting it with deafening finality. Not real. A bad dream. A terrible dream.

"Ah, finally, the star has arrived."

At first, Duo thought that it was a dream, because the figure in the doorway looked too ethereal to be real, anyway. Perhaps an angel, or a demon. Or both. Solo's eyes were of no help. The carpet was matted with blood. His fingers were still red. The baby...

"We've been waiting for you for a while. But we've been very patient."

A flash of light, as the man lifted his sword to clean it with their tea towel. It didn't make sense. Linen wasn't used to clean swords, was it? And that wasn't even real linen. The man had white gold hair that cascaded neatly to his waist, and a coldly perfect face that was touched with an ironic grin. Duo didn't want to look at him for very long, he didn't want it to be any more real, but he didn't want to look at Hilde, either, her face contorted in agony, her eyes pained into death, her belly sliced open...

"You really are very pretty, for gutter trash. Maybe I should have you entertain me for a bit first, eh? How do you think your fond lover will feel if he finds your body broken and used, mm? Bears some thought, yes."

The cord still stretched from the baby's tiny broken body back up to her mother. It was blue and black. The baby's tiny head looked misshapen, her tiny skull broken from the fall from the couch to the floor. For a moment, Duo felt like he might really throw up right there all over himself. Why could he not look away!?

He didn't know that he was speaking until he heard his voice. "What... what have you done?" His voice was a million miles down a deep well, croaking as it came up to the surface.

The man stood in front of him, his sword out, but at his side. He reached up to run his fingers down Duo's cheek. "Does it hurt? I know that it does. I have to say, I am sorry. I know that they were innocent, that you are innocent, as much as someone like you can be. But he has to pay for what he's done."

Duo didn't want to look into his icy blue eyes, didn't want to see the smoldering passion of his hate. He looked at Solo instead. He wanted to be with Solo.

And when he jerked his knee up into the man's groin, it wasn't because he had enough wits about him to protect himself. But he could have sworn Solo told him to; could have sworn Solo told him to run, get away, don't stand there like an idiot, get the fuck out of here, you brain dead street rat!

So he did what Solo said. He kneed the man, and then slammed his joined fists into his neck, and then he bolted. Going out the door would be problematic, too many stairs, too many distractions. He ran into the apartment, ignoring the man's shout of protest, ignoring Hilde's pain, Solo's cheers, the baby's blankness... He ran to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him, flinging open the window, jumping out, grabbing a hold of the fire escape and just getting down, down, down to the street, to the alley, to where he could run, and he didn't have to think about where to go, because he just went, just ran, just bolted and got the hell out of there, his heart pounding in time to his feet on the pavement, Solo still calling after him to just run...

He wasn't surprised when he ended up at Heero's apartment. He didn't think about it. He didn't need to. He ran up the stairs, and flung himself full body into Heero's door.

It couldn't be real. He didn't want it to be.

Heero stared blankly at the registration book in front of him. Quatre had descended upon him not a half an hour after Duo had left, panicked because he hadn't registered for the next semester yet. Heero had thought that the registration date was months and months ago, but he supposed that Winners lived on different schedules than the rest of the planet. Of course, that didn't explain why they were picking Quatre's classes so late at night, but Heero had given up trying to understand Quatre by now.

Quatre was comparing the available classes to the classes that Heero was signed up for, taking into account which classes Heero and Duo were taking together. He kept hemming and hawing about this or the other thing, but Heero was just sitting quietly, his hands in his lap, staring straight down. His head felt fuzzy and he had a strange desire to smile. What he really wanted was to sleep, but Quatre kept poking him every time he nodded off. He felt that was not nice of Quatre at all. He'd been busy all day, damn it!

He jolted when he heard the thump. He stared in the direction of the door, his brain completely unable to process what it could be. Quatre looked over his shoulder, aggravated. "Who the hell could that be?"

That got Heero moving. After all, only one person could get into his building and to his door without his knowing it. He opened the door, and had to reach out to catch Duo. He looked sickly and pale, his skin pasty with cold sweat. His eyes were wide and dilated.

Heero felt himself panic, his body and brain shifting into training. He shut and locked the door, and drew Duo over to the hall, where they were out of the sight of any windows. "What's wrong?"

Duo was heaving. "Blood!" He held out his hand, fingers smeared red with old blood. "They... I ran, but he's... Why? It can't be real."

Heero put his hand on Duo's shoulders, pushing his back flat against the wall. Quatre was behind him, gasping lightly. He said something, but Heero wasn't listening to Quatre. "Duo." Duo's eyes were unfocused, darting everywhere but at Heero. Heero put his hands on Duo's face, leaning in so he could look directly into Duo's eyes. "Duo! You have to tell me what happened."

Duo tried to shake his head no, but he couldn't move in Heero's grip, and his eyes watered. "I... I... Dead. They were all dead. Solo, Hilde, the baby, Heero, the baby was on the floor, I don't understand, why would he do that? It's just sick."

"Who is he?" Heero spoke without flinching, but he could feel it inside. He wanted to cradle Duo in his arms and hold him.

"I... I... Don't know. Demon. He... long white hair, whitish hair, and a sword, he was tall, he said... he said he has to pay, but I've never seen him before. Who was he? Why would he do that to them?"

Heero had long thought that dying was a fairly painless thing, depending on the circumstances. If he shot a man in the head from point blank range, by the time he could open his eyes again, the man was dead. He could snap a man's neck in just one quick move. He could cut a man's throat, and before all the blood had spilt from his veins, the man's eyes would go cold. But there were slow, painful ways to die as well. He'd watched a man bleed to death once from a gut wound. He'd seen a man with a bullet wound be slowly tortured until he died of sepsis.

He hadn't known that a man's soul could be killed, and that it hurt. He felt weak in the knees and his arms felt like rubber, but he had an obligation to fulfill, and he wouldn't fail Duo again.

"Quatre, get out of here."

"What? But, wait, what's going on, is Duo all right?"

"Quatre. Get out."

"Heero." It was mildly surprising that the blonde was still arguing with him, but Heero sometimes thought that Quatre was a lot more tenacious than anyone gave him credit for. "I can help, maybe. Let me try to help."

"You can help by leaving," Heero stated calmly. "I don't need to have anyone else to worry about."

For a second, the hall was quiet, until Duo's breath hitched. Quatre nodded once, and left.

Heero's estimation of the man rose incrementally.

"Duo." He tried to speak more calmly, more sedately, but he could still hear the cold thread of steel in his voice. "I'm sorry, I know that it's hard, but we aren't safe here. He'll come here. We have to get moving."

Duo jerked his head. "No. He couldn't have followed me."

"Duo." Heero nearly sighed. "He'll know that you'll come here. He... It's me he's after. It's because of me."

Duo's eyes slowly focused on Heero's face, confusion bleeding from his every pore. "You?"

Heero sighed. Duo was fast, he knew, but their adversary might have had a vehicle at his disposal. They didn't have time. "Remember the family I told you about, the diplomat and his wife and daughter? The girl who had talked to me? They had a son as well, an older son who was estranged from the family. He was a champion fencer. He was born Milliardo Peacecraft, but he changed his name to Zechs Merquise, and became an officer in an elite European military force. He... he must have found me, seen us together, and... for revenge. He killed your family."

Duo blinked. "Revenge?"

"Duo, we don't have time. I know you are going into shock, and I want to be able to help you, but we aren't safe. Do you understand? We aren't safe. We have to get out of here, now."


Heero nodded. "Yes, now, please. Please."

Duo nodded drunkenly. "Ok. Ok. What should we do?"

Heero sighed. He had to get into game mode. Enemy in pursuit, need to cover tracks and elude target. Keep his eye on the mission objectives, and deal with the fallout when it was over.

He could do this.

"First thing first," he muttered, and went off to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge, and a bottle of cooking oil. It wouldn't catch fast, but that was probably for the best anyway. He handed the cooking oil to Duo, and popped open the cork on the wine, dumping the contents on his desk. He opened his drawers to make sure all the papers were soaked. Duo watched him blankly. He opened Duo's bottle of oil, and instructed him to pour it all around. Duo looked at the oil quizzically, and then did as he was told.

Heero ran to his bedroom, grabbing the attaché wallet from under the bed and his laptop. He didn't want to waste time, so he stopped himself from looking through the closet or in the drawers for anything else, but he did grab a trench for Duo. When he got back into the living room, Duo was shaking the empty bottle of oil out over the couch. Heero took the matches from shelves, and started lighting them, one by one, dropping them onto the desk and the floor.

"What are you doing?" Duo asked, his voice only marginally curious.

Heero grimaced. "Covering our tracks. Let's go."

He led Duo out of the apartment, closing the door soundly behind them. It would take about five minutes before the apartment was up in flames, maybe less. Within ten to twenty minutes, emergency vehicles should be there. He wanted to be able to take the time to call them himself now, but it was problematic. It would have taken Duo twenty to thirty minutes to run from his apartment to Heero, based on what Heero knew of Duo's location. It was possible it had taken less time, but no less than seventeen minutes. They had spent roughly eleven minutes since Duo showed up to now, which meant that Zechs had had at least twenty-eight minutes to catch up. Heero had no doubt that Zechs knew exactly where he was going, and the best route to get there. Zechs was attached to a powerful military conglomerate, and would have the best resources at his disposal.

Heero had stupidly allowed him to get close without ever being aware of his presence, so he had to assume that Zechs could be right on top of them now.

The thing to do would be to get away from any known locale, and think. They clearly needed to leave town, leave the country, but they had to take it one step at a time.

Heero was leading Duo through to the back exit of the building when the ping and burst of masonry announced Zechs' presence. Heero didn't bother tracking his location; from the trajectory of the shot, he knew enough. He grabbed Duo's hand and bolted. He slammed full body into a window, and jumped out onto the fire escape. They ran down the stairs, keeping close to the building to avoid any more shots. Their feet hit the pavement of the alley together, and they both set off in the same direction at once.

It took Heero a moment to realize that, while he still had Duo's hand in his, he wasn't dragging Duo along. He spared a half second to look at Duo. His eyes were narrowed, sharply looking over his surroundings, but Heero doubted he was aware of anything more than just danger. Apparently, street-reared instincts and finely trained guerrilla tactics were highly compatible; they moved together as one, wove in between buildings as one, and dodged in and out of sight as one.

There was a heady surge of euphoria, which Heero worked to keep in check. It was something that he hadn't experienced since Odin's death, that feeling of being totally in sync with someone with whom he was working on a common goal. But he had to keep his priorities in order. First, put some distance between themselves and Zechs. Second, get a weapon. Any weapon. Third, get out of town.

Eluding Zechs would not be easy. As well trained as Heero was, Zechs was at least as well trained, and though Heero's training had occurred at a younger age and was therefore more deeply ingrained, Zechs was a natural. They would have to move fast.

They came to a turning point, a branch in the road, and Duo immediately turned to the right. Heero was about to set off to the left, but he followed Duo, trusting in his savvy and experience. They got at least six blocks down without a sound or a shot fired, so Heero pulled Duo to a stop. They were in an alley off of Center St., a low-rent business district. There were prostitutes and drug dealers visible closer to the street. There was the general sound of traffic, and of Duo's heavy breathing, but nothing else. The night was almost eerily quiet.

And they were in luck. The door right opposite was labeled "Gino's Pawn Shop." Finally.

It was still a race against time. It wouldn't be long before Zechs realized he was chasing air, and double backed, maybe picked up a trail, so they had to act fast, and as good as Heero was, he knew this security system, and he knew his times on it.

He turned to Duo. "I need you to open this door. We need a weapon."

Duo stared back at him blankly, as if he neither knew why Heero would say what he had, or that it was strange. "I can't. I promised Father I wouldn't steal. Sister made sure that I remembered."

Heero did get angry. But he didn't have time. "I'm not asking you to steal anything. I'm just asking you to open a door. Father wouldn't mind."

Duo blinked. "But... that's the same thing, isn't it?"

Heero took Duo's face in his hands and stared right into Duo's eyes, willing him to come to life. "Duo, please, I need you to do this. We need this. Father wants you to live, ok? It'll be fine. Just open the door."

Duo nodded slowly, his head bobbing loosely. He knelt before the door, putting his knee on the wet, dirty ground. He delicately poked at the lock and the security box for a moment, popping open the door to the security box quickly. It was like watching a pro at work; it was a thing of beauty in its own criminal way. The box made a small beeping noise before its lights went out, and Duo opened the door like it was nothing.

Heero didn't waste any time mulling it over. He didn't like leaving Duo out in the open exposed, but in the frame of mind Duo was in, he might slow Heero down inside. Time was the critical factor, and nothing else mattered if they didn't have time, so he touched Duo's hand as he walked by, and told him to stay by the door.

Pawnshops were pawnshops. Heero knew there were probably internal alarms as well, but he wasn't about to waste time being cautious. He broke open the first cabinet he came to, took out the glock, checked its sights and its action, broke open the wooden door of the cabinet beneath, grabbed a couple of clips, and took off for the door. He stuck one clip in his mouth, and shoved the other one in his pocket, and loaded the gun.

Duo was right where he had left him, still holding open the door with a blank expression. How long had he been in there? A minute? Maybe three? Heero took Duo's hand and shoved the gun in the back of his pants. It wasn't ideal, but it would do.

Bearings. He needed his bearings, and he needed to have a plan. He headed for the street, wanting to be out in the open, maybe get some fresh ideas.

They could steal a car, but he didn't know how Duo would react to that. Cars were too easy to track by the cops, and they needed gas too often. He had money in his wallet, but he wouldn't have full access to his funds until he got them to safe drop point where they could really think. Trains were better, practically anonymous these days, easy to board without giving away too much information. They could take a commuter train out to the end of the line, and then they'd have time to really plan. It would work, but the first train out wasn't for hours still, and Zechs was...

Zechs was right behind them. The bullet nearly clipped him that time. They had to run again. And damn it, they were out on the street! That complicated things. Zechs wasn't worried about the law; if he got caught, he'd be lawyered up and free in no time. Heero used to have a lawyer, but he'd cut him off years ago. And Duo had a rap sheet, he was sure of it. They had to go someplace inconspicuous. Someplace where they could hide out for a few hours, lay low, and stay out of the spotlight. Heero paused for just a moment to catch his breath, leaning against the wall, keeping his eyes sharp.

"The yards," Duo said, simply.

Heero turned to stare at him.

Duo stared back. "The yards. I know the security code, and it's a maze in there. We can hide out 'til morning undetected."

Heero wasn't sure if he had said anything out loud, or if Duo's thoughts had just been running on the same track, but it was just too damn perfect. He leaned forward and kissed Duo hard and fast. "Excellent thinking."

Duo was somewhat stunned by the contact, but Heero didn't let himself think about that right then. They had to get to the yards.

After just a half a block, Duo was keeping up again, and they started to make real ground. Again, they were totally in sync, disguising their route as they tried to balance evading Zechs with getting to their destination. Duo took the lead as they got closer, shepherding Heero to the back of the yards. He punched in a code on keypunch pad, and swung open the door in the wooden fence.

Stepping into the yards was like walking into another world. The sound of the streets died as soon as the door was shut. There were floodlights spaced out over the landscape of wreckage, making giants of the remains of the cars and trucks that were scattered about the lot. In the valleys between the hills of detritus, shadows loomed black and deep. Heero tightened his grip on Duo's hand, and let him take the lead.

Duo walked around casually, without hesitation. They didn't speak, or look at each other, and Heero didn't wonder about where Duo was taking him. They just walked. Duo wove in and out of piles of junk, turning erratically, either going someplace specific or just wandering around aimlessly. It didn't matter to Heero.

It was quiet enough and they were moving slowly enough that his thoughts were catching up to him. He was aware, right down to his bone marrow, of Duo's hand in his, of the weight of it, the heat, the slight sheen of sweat. He was aware of Duo's body, of his lean, taut arms, his slim but muscular body. He had visceral flashes of memory of touching Duo, or being inside of him... It hadn't been that long. All day, they had goofed around, fooled around together. He had eaten his lunch off of Duo's stomach.

What had he done? He should have known better. Of course he had ruined everything. He thought about Solo and Hilde's bodies, back in Duo's apartment, he thought about the baby, and about Zechs. How had he not realized that he couldn't just decide to not be who he was anymore? How stupid could one person be?

How had he allowed this to happen to the person he loved best in the all the universe?

It was almost a relief when the shot clanged against the broken Ford Pinto. He could go back into mission mode, and keep his thoughts below the surface. He didn't hear any alarms or sirens, so he figured that Zechs had been discreet for once. He didn't even think about what he was going to do; he just did it.

He pulled his hand out of Duo's, and gave Duo's back a little shove. He pulled out his gun, and shot back in the general direction he assumed Zechs had been. "Zechs!" He yelled loudly enough to be heard, but not so loud that he voice would carry out of the yards. He ran off in the opposite direction to where he had shoved Duo.

They traded shots a few times before he got a good bead on where Zechs was. He almost would have been willing to just let Zechs catch him, but he couldn't abandon Duo, either. His instincts were telling him to double back, to catch Zechs in his sights and end their troubles, but he realized now that the moment was upon him that it wouldn't fall out like that.

Thing was, Zechs deserved his revenge. Heero couldn't forgive what he did to Duo and his family, but Heero deserved everything Zechs could dish out. He'd already killed the best parts of the Peacecraft line; how could he destroy the last decaying vestiges as well?

He had a pretty good notion of where Zechs was, but he was at a disadvantage because he knew that Zechs knew his location precisely. He'd have to turn the tables on him, get him to reveal himself.

The snarl and snap of jaws didn't take him by surprise. Heero had been expecting dogs; all junkyards had dogs. Heero ducked and spun and hit the dog's head full force with a roundhouse kick. Poor thing should be out for a few hours. But it had been a lucky sign. Howard's dogs had been with him his whole life, and Howard was no babe in arms. They were slow, and kept close to their home, a tall cage with a padlock. Obviously, Howard opened the gate before leaving every night, but this was exactly what Heero needed. A confined space with a lock. He could lead Zechs in, double back, and lock him in, giving Duo and him a chance to escape.

Zechs would be onto him, but Heero was fast, and he was clever. He could make it work.

He ran full force into the cage, turning just as he got to the end, so his back hit the fence. He starting shooting rapid-fire, scattering his shots high. It had the desired effect. Zechs came out into the light, looking gloriously like an angel of death in his rage. That was what Heero was counting on, the other man being angry enough as his hour of vengeance climaxed for him to make a mistake.

"I thought you were a man of honor, Zechs!" Heero taunted. "Are you going to become me, now?"

Zechs wavered for a moment, holding his gun out ahead of him. "Are you suggesting that I trust you to end this like a man?" Zechs sneered at the thought.

"I'm suggesting that you couldn't beat me in a fair fight if I had my hands tied behind my back," Heero laughed, letting a touch of mania enter his voice, for effect.

It worked. Zechs dropped his gun, and pulled out his sword. Heero shoved his gun in his pants, and ran for Zechs. Just as Zechs raised his sword, Heero ducked and tumbled, jumping out of the somersault to leap outside the cage. He shut the door fast, and tossed the chain around the latch, locking the padlock.

He stepped back, his body cold with relief.

Zechs snarled and flung himself at the cage. "You spineless dog! Do you think you can hold me here? Do you think this is the end?! Or maybe you wanted to shoot me when I was confined, like the coward you are!"

"No, no, no, see, you've got it all wrong..." Duo sighed from the shadows. "See, Heero really is a man of honor. He sees you, and he sees the family he killed. He thinks, maybe this guy has a point."

Heero's heart simultaneously died and started to pound in his chest. This wasn't happening...

Duo stepped forward with heavy steps, dragging what appeared to be a makeshift scythe on the ground so it sparked. "I bet you think you got the good end of it now, eh? Bet you think you got yourself a hostage and a plan. But see, where Heero sees you as the last surviving member of a royal line, I see you for what you are. You filthy murdering pig."

Zechs growled and lunged at Duo. Heero couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't move. Couldn't stand by and watch Duo die. "Duo!"

But Duo was as fast as ever. He dodged Zechs' strike, and swung wide with his scythe, cleaning cutting off Zechs' sword hand. The hand and the sword clattered to the ground, and Zechs howled in pain, but Duo was oblivious.

Heero had seen eyes like Duo's before, he had stared into them many a time in the past, but he had never seen Death take on human visage before.

"You're royalty?" Duo spat at Zechs as he seethed. "You're better than me, better than Heero? Ha! I've seen what you can do. Did you beat Solo around before you killed him? Did you wait to cut his throat until after you killed Hilde? Was she alive when you cut open her belly, cut out her baby? Did she see her fall to the ground? Did she hear her head smash open?" Duo was foaming now, and he spun out with his scythe to hit Zechs squarely in the gut.

Zechs' eyes bulged out before he fell, taking the scythe with him, but Duo had another blade out. Junkyards were full of undiscovered treasure, and Duo knew these yards well. Heero pulled at the lock, trying to get it open. Already, Zechs' belly was covered in blood.

Zechs snarled and glared up at Duo, hissing out, "Whore!"

Duo laughed. "Yeah, I've done that. And I've been a thief, and a liar, and an orphan, and a rat. You can call me whatever names you like, but for tonight, I'm going to be the God of Death, just for you. Do people look at you and just automatically fall in love? I bet they do. I bet they see your fine hair, and your pretty face, and they think you must be pretty special. Bet you believe it, too. But you're all messed up, man. Being rich doesn't make you better than me; hell, practically always means that you're worse.

"How much blood is on those hands, hm? Would your pacifist father be proud of what you did in his name?" Duo kicked the scythe sticking out of Zechs' belly. "Hm? Is your father proud of you for cutting a baby out of an innocent woman's belly, you fucking freak of nature? You, better than me? Ha!

"Let me enlighten you, ok? First of all, if you had any common sense at all, you wouldn't have been going after Heero at all. Heero didn't want your family dead; whoever paid for it did. You think you got your revenge? You were barking up the wrong tree, man. All you got was blood on your hands.

"And you thought you could hurt Heero by taking out his lover's family, but you didn't quite get the situation right there. See, Solo was more than just a brother to me... He was my constant, my lover, my life. He was my morning, noon, and night. And Hilde was our girl. That baby you dropped on the ground could just as easily have been mine as his, I s'pose. So, see, you didn't hurt Heero. You hurt me.

"Big fucking mistake." Duo grabbed Zechs' hair at the scalp roughly. "I'm sick of looking at you. Your face is a fucking lie. Let's show the world the real you, hm?" He took the knife in his hand, and cut a line from one side of his head to the other, and he ripped Zechs' scalp off.

Heero stood by numbly. It was stupid to get so fixated on details. Duo was butchering Zechs, and a part of him was still afraid Zechs might somehow manage to attack Duo, one-handed, with a scythe in his gut. More, he was afraid of what was happening to Duo.

But most of all, he kept hearing the phrase 'my constant, my lover, my life' over and over again.

He had never stood a chance.

"There!" Duo triumphantly declared. "We're starting to see the real you after all! But let's not leave anything to chance." He cradled Zech's chin in his palm, holding his head steady as he used the knife on Zechs' face.

Heero took a step back, the world suddenly plunged into white noise. He lifted his gun and took aim at the padlock, blasting it open. He pulled the chain away, and stepped inside to Duo's side.

Duo dropped Zechs' head on the ground, leaving the man in a bloody lump. Heero looked down at him, unable to stir any emotion. Duo had carved the words 'child killer' into his face. Slowly, Heero reached down and put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "We... have to go now."

Duo nodded briefly. He stood up from a crouch, still glaring at Zechs, and kicked him in the side as he walked away with Heero.

They left the yards through the same door they entered, and headed for the train station. Duo was getting more and more sluggish with every step. Heero tried to imagine how Duo must have been feeling. He imagined Duo cut open and dead, and his heart grew colder and colder.

His thoughts narrowed onto the very slim objectives of the mission. Get out of town undisturbed. That was it.

He looked them over before they entered the train station, making sure that there was no visible blood. He herded Duo into the bathroom, and washed his hands for him. Duo's face was blank, and he was completely docile. Heero bought their tickets from a machine, and they waited for the first train on a bench outside the empty station.

Take the train to the end of the line. Get on bus west. Put a few states behind them, then find closest safe drop point. Heero was already considering a few alternatives, depending on how far they could get and what means were available to them.

One step at a time.

They bought prepackaged danishes from a vending machine before they boarded the train. Duo ate his mechanically, neither looking at it, nor tasting it, probably. They sat side by side in the last seat in the second to the last car, Duo by the window. The train starting out seemed to jostle Duo into semi-alertness, and he blinked owlishly as he looked around blankly.

"Are we safe yet, Heero?" he asked, leaning against Heero's side.

"Not yet," Heero shook his head. "Soon."

Duo nodded slowly, and then put his head on Heero's shoulder, loosely holding onto Heero's arm. "'Kay. Tell me when we are. 'M really tired."

"Ok," Heero promised hoarsely.

"He's dead, right?" Duo whispered.

Heero just nodded.

"Good." Duo sniffled. "Good."

The sound of the river was always present, no matter what the weather or situation. It had taken Heero a full three weeks to attune himself to it; he naturally distrusted nature, and so it went against the grain of his being to be surrounded by it. Still, he couldn't think of a better place to be. They had gone into town only once since they came here, and Heero did appreciate being able to isolate themselves entirely. The vista from any window was picturesque, the cabin itself was fully equipped, and with a satellite receiver, he could have full access to the internet and to all his assets.

It was safe.

Duo had been waiting for that safety. So far, he still spent the vast bulk of his day in bed. He still ate minimally. He still made a snuffling noise when he first put his head down. But he was starting to come to life again. He had showered the other day. When he was awake, he watched Heero, and sometimes followed him from room to room. And yesterday, he had gone outside to sit by the riverside and watch the water flow.

Heero was glad he had found this place.

He called Quatre, just to assure the other man that they were fine, and find out what the situation was back home. He'd been surprised by how professional Quatre had been about it. Even more surprised to discover that Quatre had handled everything. The body in the yards had been found, of course, and the bodies in the apartment were found. But the police put everything together according to Quatre's skillful manipulation. Zechs was identified as Hilde and Solo's murderer, and it was believed that Heero and Duo had died in the fire in Heero's apartment, which was also blamed on Zechs thanks to careful implementation of key evidence. Zechs' murderer was assumed to be an associate of his in the mafia, as Zechs was being described as a mafia hit man. The exact threads of the story that had come to surround the facts was not dissimilar to the threads of spun sugar that surrounded a dessert in a gourmet restaurant, and was as stable, but the law, and especially the public, could at times have a very short attention span, and it was taken as a given that the more horrific the nature of the crime, the swifter justice would act.

No one was terribly concerned with the details, as long as the killer was identified, any killer.

Quatre made Heero promise to keep in touch, a promise Heero had little trouble making. Quatre had given Duo the one thing that Heero could not have - freedom. There would be no one chasing after them, no one to put together the clues, no one to assign blame. All that was required was some identification, and Duo was completely free to go and do whatever he chose, and Heero was more than capable of producing authenticatable identification.

He was very grateful to Quatre.

Heero watched Duo almost constantly. While Duo slept, Heero was securing his future. He set up accounts for Duo's personal access so that Duo would never have monetary concerns again. He made him passports for six different countries. He kept his distance from Duo at all times, making sure not to inflict himself on Duo unnecessarily.

Everything had gone so horribly awry.

It hurt to breathe now, and if he didn't have Duo to worry about, he wouldn't be able to go on at all. He thought about what would happen when Duo left, since he was certain to leave. He had to. Heero couldn't conceive of another possibility. He had a gun again. They were in a remote location. Heero would let Duo take the car back, and he would finish things.

Only pity was, he hadn't finished them years ago when he first thought of it, but he wouldn't have to live with his cowardice for long.

Each day was a small progression. They went into town together, and Duo even brushed out his hair before they left. Heero watched from the corner of the room, sick jealousy killing his soul. Every longing of his heart and his body was poison to him now. He watched as Duo wandered off on his own, going into a hardware store, and buying a paper in the diner. Heero watched, his heart feeling heavier with each small progression.

It was like sinking under water, and watching the light slowly fall out of view.

He decided not to put it off any longer. It was foolish to think that there was any hope of anything at this point, and Duo was far stronger and far more resilient than he. He was an unnecessary burden to Duo, undoubtedly.

He waited until the morning. He sat on the chair across from the bed, and watched the light creep across the folksy chenille throw, working its way to Duo. Duo's braid was strung out behind him, and when the light touched the hair, it seemed to Heero that Duo's hair sparkled.

He'd been lucky, far luckier than he had deserved. And he wasn't even unhappy now, for himself. He'd touched something so precious and vital, and held it in his hands. He was lucky, very, very lucky.

He didn't even berate himself for his selfishness. Certainly, the time he'd shared with Duo had cost Duo far more than Duo could ever have dreamed, but it was done now. No apologies would bring back the dead, or make right the wrongs. He couldn't clean the blood from Duo's hands any more than he could clean his own, and he couldn't give Duo back the life he had worked so hard to attain.

He hated that he couldn't do these things, but he was too well conditioned to fret over unattainables.

He could tell when Duo was about to wake up; he had enough practice watching Duo wake up, thank whatever forces inspired it. He moved silently to the kitchen, putting together a simple tray for breakfast. Juice, tea, toast, and fruit. Duo's diet had been nonexistent of late, and he certainly didn't want to make Duo sick. He came back to the bedroom, setting the tray down on the bedside table, and crouching next to the bed. He did not speak, but he also knew that Duo was awake, and just keeping his eyes closed.

He was willing to wait.

By and by, Duo's eyes flickered open, resting on him for a moment before shutting again. When Duo had determined that Heero was not going to go away, he opened his eyes fully and sat up. Heero picked up the tray and handed it to Duo, and Duo took it dutifully, picking at the toast. Heero waited a respectable time interval, and then began. His voice was scratchier than he'd anticipated, but then, it had probably been a while since he had used it.

"I spoke to Quatre, and everything is... settled. The police believe you dead, so there's no one looking for you."

Duo shrugged. His eyes were bored, clearly indicating how he felt about it. Still. Heero knew it was important, so he emphasized it.

"You aren't in any trouble, or danger. You'll be able to rebuild your life."

Duo stared blankly him.

Heero cleared his throat and continued. "I've set up accounts for you, and created identities for you to use. You can go anywhere you want, and... and start over. I can't... I can't begin to apologize for what I've done to your life. I hope that someday you can... you can think of me without... without bitterness. If I had known... I... Just. Know that whatever you need, I'll provide it for you, and I won't inflict myself on you after that, I swear."

There was cold silence that stretched. Duo was still, not even blinking. Heero could see him think about speaking before he did. When he finally parted his lips to speak, Heero stopped breathing. "Anything I want?"

Heero wasn't sure if there was anything Duo could have said that he would have been prepared for, but he felt foolish being unable to respond immediately. "Yes, of course, anything."

"Ok." Duo nodded. "Let me ask you a question."

Heero flinched unconsciously, imagining what Duo might ask.

"Do you find me repellent?"

Heero started. "Wh-What?"

Duo narrowed his eyes. "Do you find me repellent?"

"Wh-Why would I... Why would you think that I thought that?"

"Because you haven't touched me since before that madman killed my family." Duo sounded so matter of fact, so resigned.

Something had gone terribly wrong, but Heero had no idea what. "What!? No, no, I haven't... I'm the reason that... I didn't think you wanted..."

"Heero." Duo sighed. "You didn't butcher them. He did. And if you wanted to know what I wanted, you should have just asked. Now, come over here and hold me."

Something was definitely wrong here, but Heero had been given a direct order, and he didn't have any faculties for refusing him. He scooted over on the bed, reaching out for Duo hesitantly. Duo didn't move, though, so he had to move closer to surround Duo with his arms. Duo sort of collapsed into his embrace, and Heero felt a rush of bliss burn through him as he closed his arms and held Duo. Duo's head was on his shoulder, and Duo's shoulders were pressed against his.

It was nice.

Duo's arms came up around his shoulders, and Heero shuddered with relief. This was wrong, he didn't deserve this pleasure, he shouldn't be allowed to enjoy this comfort... But Duo sighed with complete happiness, and Heero felt his heart break.

"Whatever I want. You said so. Now listen to me. You are not allowed to go anywhere without me. You're all I have left, and I don't do alone voluntarily. Tell me, Heero, do you still love me?"

Heero's throat was stiff, like his muscles were choking him. He couldn't begin to catalog the emotions he heard in Duo's cracked voice, but he shamefully hoped he never felt a fraction of what Duo was suffering. "Of course I do."

"Tell me."

Heero had to catch his breath before he could speak. "I love you."

Duo pulled away so he could look into Heero's eyes. "Tell me."

"I love you," the words coming automatically, Heero fully under Duo's spell.

Duo nodded. "And I love you, Heero. Believe me. There's no one left on this planet I trust more than I trust you. You are my everything now, so you are not allowed to skip out on me, do you understand?"

Heero nodded mutely, lying because he would never be able to understand what had just happened.

"Good," Duo nodded. "Because the next thing I need to ask of you will be much more difficult."

Heero blinked. Nothing could be more difficult than what he had already done.

Duo slid over gracelessly to the side of the bed, and opened the drawer of the bedside table. He pulled out an unmarked paper bag and put it on the bed between them. "You know there was a fire at the Maxwell Church? I don't remember if I told you. I was... I was supposed to be there, in bed, like a good boy, but... I was out, just messin' around, getting into trouble, like I always did... but they always forgave me... Anyway, there were developers. From Europe or somethin', they wanted to gentrify the neighborhood. They tried to buy the church, but it was on old property that the Maxwell family owned. It wasn't even part of the dioceses. It was Father Maxwell's. So they burnt it to the ground, and they fuckin' got away with it.

"I was supposed to be there, but I wasn't... I got back in time to see the paramedics take Sister Helen away. She was... was in bad shape, she could barely, barely even breathe, yanno? She saw me, and she, she tried to lift her hand to touch me, tried to comfort me... She reminded me that Father believed in me, and she... I watched her...

"Solo saw the thing in the paper, they had my picture in there, sole survivor of the Maxwell Church disaster. He looked me up, that's how we found each other again. But, man, I couldn't... I had Solo again, but I couldn't deal, it was, the cops couldn't do a damn thing, and the people that killed Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were free, and I dunno, I'd been out, stealin' and doing shit Father Maxwell didn't approve of, and Sister Helen died while trying to comfort me...

"I couldn't deal, yanno? And Solo, he thought of it... Maybe if I had a wound to watch heal, to bear, maybe I could deal better..." Duo pulled off his shirt, and touched the cross carved into his chest. "Solo did it. Used a surgical blade and everything. Made sure it was neat and that it would be ok. Which was good, cuz if I had to do it myself, it wouldn't have worked out so well."

Heero could feel his heart plummeting, could feel himself getting cold, and he refused to let his thoughts move past the very next moment.

"It hurts so damn much Heero," Duo begged. "It hurts like I can't believe, and I can't... I can't stop seeing them, on the floor, and the baby, Heero, the baby's head, all crushed, and Hilde's eyes, and Solo... Damn it, Heero, I need... I need to bleed, I need a wound I can touch and I need to be able to think about something else... I need... you to help me, Heero. Please."

Heero nodded, though he didn't really know what he was doing, or what he was hearing.

Duo opened the bag, pulling out a hammer, and three long nails. The nails had had their heads sawed off neatly, so they were just long spikes. "I need your help, Heero."

Heero shook his head involuntarily, everything feeling involuntary, wishing he could go back, back before he screwed everything up, before he'd ruined everything, back to when he had chosen wrong, chosen to live instead of die...

"I could do it myself, but it'd be messy."

And that was all there was to it, really. He couldn't say anything else. That was it.

Duo got up and sat down at the small kitchen table, laying his hands down, palms flat, on the table, and crossing his feet so they were on top of each other.

It was like a dream, like an indistinct nightmare. He put the nails down and held the hammer solidly in his hand, and he looked into Duo's clear eyes. He lined up the first nail, doing his best to keep away from any blood vessels or nerves. He kept his eyes on Duo as he slammed the nail down, putting all his strength into it so the nail went through flesh and wood in one hard stroke. The sound was dull and sharp, a clang of the hammer against the nail, and something wet and fast as it drove down. Duo's eyes scrunched momentarily, but he didn't even flicker in his expression, his eyes steady on Heero.

If he thought the second nail would be any easier... but then, he didn't think that. Just another sharp stroke, another clang and squish, another small flicker of Duo's eyelids as his gaze penetrated Heero.

He had to get on his knees under the table to drive in the third nail, rearranging Duo's feet to be sure they would line up right. He couldn't see Duo's eyes anymore, and part of him was glad, was grateful, because he thought this would hurt more, maybe, maybe not. The tips of the nails were visible from under the table, and they bled on Heero's hands as he put in the final nail.

Duo sat there, nailed to the table and floor, breathing, just breathing. When he pulled his hands up, Heero almost jumped, the motion was so startling, breaking apart the frozen stillness of the room. Heero had to help him with his feet, and he had to get bandages, and the blood on the table and on the floor, and the bleeding nails through the table, they wouldn't clean up, Heero knew, they were stained until they disintegrated, as Duo was marked until his flesh dropped off his bones, forever bearing the sign of his love lost.

Heero held Duo in his arms, then, and he let Duo weep bitterly against his chest, until Duo's slim body could shake no more, and they remained motionless, alone together with the sound of the river's water rushing by, the sun descending into dusk, its rays burning into their refuge, leaving the room washed in the watered down blood of its light.

Duo comes home to discover Solo and Hilde dead. Hilde's belly has been cut open, and the baby is on the floor. Zechs reveals himself (Duo does not know who he is), and makes a comment about 'he has to pay.' Duo flees, acting on instinct he interprets as Solo instructing him. He runs to Heero, who recognizes Zechs from Duo's description. Heero tells Duo that they have to flee, and explains briefly what is going on. Heero sets his apartment on fire, and they run, but Zechs is hot on their trail. They evade him, but Heero knows they need to get out of town. Heero persuades Duo to break into a pawnshop so he can get a gun, and then they run. Duo suggests they go the junkyard, because Heero believes Zechs is still too close. They go, and though Zechs follows them, they are able to elude him. Heero traps Zechs in a fenced off portion of the yard, unknowingly trapping Duo in with him. Duo has found a scythe, and he attacks Zechs, taking off his hand before Zechs can raise his sword. Duo then unleashes his rage onto Zechs, scalping him and carving into his body "Child Killer," beating him severely. Duo and Heero flee, leaving the state by train.
Heero contacts Quatre later, who has used his influence to tidy up the case and make it seem as if Heero and Duo are dead. Heero tells Duo that everything is taken care of, thinking that Duo will want him out of Duo's life, but Duo insists that they will remain together, telling Heero that he loves him. He then asks Heero to 'crucify' him, putting nails through his hands and his feet, symbolic wounds of what he has lost.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine • Part Ten • Epilogue