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!!

Solo poked his head out of his studio as soon as he heard Duo coming in. "Hey. I made lasagna, with spinach, just like you like it."

Duo dropped his bag on the ground with a heavy thud. He looked bone-tired, but he was smiling at Solo. "Really? Thanks."

"I can put together a plate for you, if you like." Solo stepped fully out of his studio, worrying shadowing his eyes.

Duo grinned at the paint pallet, and Solo's paint-covered arms. "That's ok, I get enough acrylic paint in my diet as it is. I'll put it together."

Solo flushed, but he grinned back at Duo. "All right. Let me clean up, though, and I'll join you. I skipped lunch, so I'm due another dinner."

Duo kicked his jean jacket into his closet, and went into the kitchen. The whole apartment was completely spotless, and the kitchen floor in particular just shone. None of them had known that their floor was actually beige, and that there was a pattern in it. Duo pulled the lasagna out of the warming oven, and scooped two huge servings onto plates. He trudged around the kitchen, grabbing cutlery and glasses, until he started to forget what it was he was looking for, and so he sat down.

Solo chuckled at him as he walked in, still scrubbing his arms dry. He grabbed the jug of milk out of the fridge. "You look run over and beat up. Bad day?"

"Not bad," Duo shrugged, digging his fork into the layers of pasta, cheese, and sauce. Solo made the best lasagna because he always added too much of the good stuff. "Just long. Spent a few hours in the computer lab, finished up a coupla term projects, and then I was in the library getting resource material for a paper."

"You like school?" There was genuine curiosity in Solo's question, which didn't surprise Duo, since Solo had evaded organized schooling his whole life.

Duo shrugged. "I like college most of the time. I can study independently, and people aren't always hounding me for shit."

Solo nodded, blowing his lasagna cool. "'Scool."

"So where's Hilde?"

Solo grinned. "She's off 'negotiating' with Amry about the gallery deal. I dunno, I don't trust that woman..."

Duo's eyes twinkled. "She's better at that crap than you are. You'd just stick your foot in your mouth and foul everything up."

Solo shrugged. "Whatever, man. This whole thing is a waste of time. They'll never show me, anyway."

"Such an optimist," Duo teased under his breath. "C'mon. You know anyone better'n you?" He snorted when Solo shrugged. "Have some fuckin' confidence. Isn't that what you used to say to me?"

Solo blew his bangs out of his face. "Shuddup. You're smart."

"And you're talented."

"Whatever." Solo sighed. "You're... you're gonna work on a paper tonight? You wanna work in the studio with me?"

Duo's heart bounced with the light in Solo's eyes. He felt another rip in the shroud of bitterness that had been cloaking him. "Yeah, cool."

Solo grinned, and then he started to think, forgetting about the forkful of lasagna he was holding. "Hey, do you have to work tonight?"

Duo ducked his head down. "No, not tonight."

"It's been a while, hasn't it? You taking some time off?"

Duo took a deep breath to steady himself. He needed to speak without emotion. "I've given up on that place, man. I talked to Howie the other day. He's gonna let me work at the yards part time. He said I could work full time in the summer. Hopefully, we can scrape through."

"What happened?"

There was too much urgency in Solo's voice. Duo kept his face down so he wasn't looking at Solo. "What do you mean?"

"You wouldn't just... did something happen? Kid, look at me."

Even now, Duo couldn't refuse Solo when he commanded like that. He looked into Solo's piercing eyes, and blinked.

Solo dropped his fork and was on his feet in a second. Duo was suddenly engulfed in Solo. "Shit, Kid." Solo's voice was grated with emotion. "Shit. What happened?"

Duo started to speak. He started to push Solo away. But he'd been aching for this. He put his head on Solo's shoulder, and closed his eyes. "N-nothing. Forget it. It's over."

"Shit." Solo clung to Duo, his eyes already tearing up. Duo could tell from the sound of his voice. "Fuck. Damn it, why didn't you tell me?"

"Not like you could do anything," Duo sighed, his voice hollow.

Solo slumped down to his knees. He held Duo's face in his hands and he kissed Duo's cheeks and nose. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Kid. I'm so sorry."

Duo shook his head, feeling disconnected. "Not your fault."

"Yeah, it is," Solo sighed darkly. "Fuck. I was supposed to protect you. Fuck. You... you ok?"

Duo was about to say that he was, that everything was just fine, but the words got stuck in his throat. He put his forehead on Solo's, and clung to Solo's shoulders. "Getting there, Cap'n. Getting there."

"Love you," Solo muttered.

Duo smiled, and sighed, letting out a heavy load of bad air.

Heero waited for Duo outside of class. Things had been very rocky between them for a while, but Heero was grateful that his stupidity hadn't cost him their friendship. If anything, Duo was even more open with him. Heero just hoped that Duo had forgotten about his stupid proposition.

He knew that part of the reason that Duo liked to spend time with him was because he was avoiding being at home, but that didn't matter. Somehow, Duo had come to trust him, and that meant that he got to take Duo out to dinner, and go to the library to study with him, and meet up with him between classes. He knew Duo's schedule by heart now, but what was even better was that Duo knew his.

In class, Duo would lean over on his chair, so that their arms were touching. And sometimes Duo would write messages in his notebook. Heero liked that a lot. He got to know Duo's quirky sense of humor from these little tidbits. Often, Duo would draw in his notebook, but his drawings weren't particularly artistic in nature; they were more logical, as Duo would draw networks or circuit diagrams.

Heero found that fascinating.

He knew what brand of shampoo Duo used, too, because Duo was always leaning so close to him, and he had smelled the bottles at the store until he found it. It wasn't anything fancy, just the discount stuff, but it was the coconut flavor. Heero liked it, and started to use it himself.

And Duo wasn't working in Scythe anymore. That gave Heero a great measure of peace, although he badly wanted to kill whomever it was that had sent Duo into the alley that night. He was too nervous to ask Duo for a description, though, and a little afraid that Duo might put two and two together if a dead body showed up on the news.

Heero stood up straight when he saw Duo coming in around the corner. The weather had turned warmer, finally, and the sun was shining brightly. Heero had broken out his green tank top, but he was still wearing his jeans. Duo was wearing a very loose basketball shirt and track shorts.

It was good because Heero thought that maybe he'd be able to see Duo's nipples if he looked from the right angle, and also, Duo had been rather cautious about his clothes right after than weekend, wearing baggy jeans and denim shirts that he kept pulled shut a lot. So it was good to see Duo so relaxed again.

The implication that they were both wearing tank tops didn't fully sink into Heero until they sat down, and Duo leaned over in his chair. Their arms were brushing against each other from shoulder to elbow, and it was all bare skin.

It was a very distracting class.

It was a relief, actually, when the class ended, and he could pull away. He felt too guilty for stealing these touches, for reacting to them as he was. Fortunately, Duo seemed to be totally oblivious to Heero's confusion, and when Heero started to get ahead of him, Duo reached up to put his hand on Heero's shoulder.

Heero was at a loss.

"Hey, you play basketball?"

It should not have been as difficult a question as Heero was making it out to be. For a moment, he couldn't even think of an answer, he was so blindsided by it.

Duo grinned, and mimicked shooting a basket. "You know, b-ball? Take a ball about yay big, bounce it around and toss it into a net?"

Heero half shrugged. "Sure, I guess."

"Let's go shoot some hoops, 'kay?" Despite the confidence in his voice, Duo looked nervous and hopeful, making it impossible for Heero to refuse him.

They walked down to the student athletic club to check out a ball, and they hit the court outside of the bookstore. Heero started out just watching Duo, letting him get past so he could feel out his opponent's strengths and weaknesses. It was just after he realized that he was thinking of Duo as his opponent that he made the startling realization that Duo was doing the same thing to him.

It shaped up to be a pretty good game. Heero had more raw power, but Duo was better with the finesse moves. If they'd been playing on the same team, they'd've made a formidable pair, but as it was, they were fairly evenly matched. Duo tossed out jokes and taunts, questioning Heero's dubious upbringing and making light of his deplorable jump shot. The chatter was near constant, but from the look in his eyes, Duo wasn't paying any more attention to it than Heero was.

The competitive gleam in Duo's eyes excited Heero.

In the end, the game was decided by the fact that Duo was willing to be more physical than Heero was. Duo had no compunction about leading with his shoulder, or just getting into Heero's face, but Heero was cautious about following the rules, more aware of how easily he could hurt Duo.

Still, it was a close game, and they were both sweaty when they were done.

Duo was smiling, though, an easy, open smile. Heero loved it. It made everything worthwhile. He even offered to buy them water from the vending machines up against the bookstore, he was so happy. He didn't even mind losing that much, though he did try to spill some water on Duo for recompense.

It was relaxed, and easy. It might have been like this for years, if they had grown up together. Duo rubbed the bottle of water over his forehead, and then guzzled down half of it all at once. Heero watched while sipping his own drink. Duo spread his arms out across the back of the bench, letting his head roll back so that his face was baking in the sun. If they had known each other for years, this might just be one of a million games that they played, always in good fun, but always trying to get a leg up on one another. They would joke and laugh together. Heero would know Duo's favorite foods and drinks, and where he liked to go to pick up chinese. He might know what Duo's favorite cartoons were, and he might be able to read all the different ways in which Duo's eyes sparkled.

Maybe. Heero didn't know what it was like to grow up with someone, to just be friends for such a long period of time. A black, ugly swell of jealousy crept up his body, leaving a trail of green behind. He had never even met Solo, but he would sell off the souls of whole less developed countries just to be him for a little while. To be the person that meant so much to Duo... Even if he was a jackass and twit and he was sleeping with that girl. That was less important.

Heero was lost in a reverie concocted of sunshine and sweat and broiling pavement. Duo's voice actually startled him.

"I never did thank you for that night, did I?"

The background noise died away, and the air was still, frozen in place. Heero could feel his heart beating in his chest. "You don't have to..."

Duo chuckled, a low, ironic sound. "Yeah, I really do. I... Damn, that was the darkest place I've ever been. And I don't even wanna think about what I woulda done if you hadn't shown up..." Duo dragged his arms back to fall dead in his lap, his shoulders hunching slightly, closing himself off with sluggish deliberation. "It was... It was a nightmare, and you were there to see me through it."

Heero blushed, the quiet affection in Duo's voice making him hot and cold all at once.

"Damn, I really... I'm really grateful that you were there for me." Duo looked up at Heero, his eyes shining brightly.

Heero found himself smiling back. "Me, too."

Duo sighed, rubbing his hand through his hair. "I haven't... I haven't gone back, you know, I... couldn't, really."

"Good," Heero nodded quietly.

Duo put his hand down on the bench very close to Heero's knee. "It's... I feel bad that I dumped so much shit on you, though. I hope... I mean, I consider you one of my closest friends. I hope you don't mind..."

Heero felt like laughing. "No. Actually, you're probably my best friend, so that works out well."

"Yeah?" Duo questioned, his eyes searching. "What about Quatre?"

Shaking his head, Heero considered the question. "He's... not someone I... could really trust."

"Ah." Duo nodded, deep understanding in his eyes. "Yes. Trust is... trust is very important."

Heero nodded blankly, not sure if Duo was saying more than just his words or not.

"Thank you, Heero." It was clear that there was more being said here than a simple thanks; at least, more than a repetition of his previous offerings of thanks.

Heero merely nodded, his eyes darting away from Duo. He was too aware of the moment, and he was afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Duo put his hand on Heero's shoulder for just a moment, and then stood up, stretching out. "I think you should buy me pizza, too. Because I kicked your ass out there, Heero, and I know you're a better player than that."

Heero blushed, standing up while keeping his face down so that Duo wouldn't be able to see how badly he had discombobulated him. "Whatever, Maxwell. Just because I don't play dirty..."

"You dissing my game, man?" Duo laughed.

The sound of Duo's laugh was a very pleasant thing, and Heero wanted to learn how to illicit it better. "Hey, I'm just saying, you play like a hoodlum, that's all."

"Oh!" Duo was practically bent over with laughter. "That's rich! Pick on the poor kid, why don'tcha! Fine, fine, but your prep school moves didn't really get the ball in the net, did they?"

Heero didn't bother correcting him. He just spun the ball on his finger, and followed Duo.

"I'm bored."

Heero ignored the whine, and continued to punch away at the buttons on his controller.

"Let's go out." Quatre pushed himself against Heero, rubbing his cheek against Heero's shoulder.

This was unacceptable. The little twit made him miss his jump. He pushed Quatre away roughly. "No."

Quatre slammed into the coffee table with enough force to knock over the bottles of beer, which were unsurprisingly empty. "Ouch!"

Heero looked at Quatre from the corner of eye, still barreling through his game. He grunted, "Sorry."

"Jeez, Heero, you don't know your own strength sometimes, you know!" Quatre rubbed his elbow distractedly. "You should be more careful. I mean, damn, Duo's, like, even skinnier than I am. You'll end up breaking him in half if you ever get him in bed."

Heero narrowed his eyes. He did not like the insinuation there. He didn't like Quatre to think of Duo naked, or in bed. And most of all, he didn't like that potential truth of it. "Shut up."

"Hmph!" Quatre snorted. "I don't even know why I'm friends with you. You're so mean sometimes!"

"So stop." Heero shrugged, angling his body to help maneuver around the curve in his game.

"No," Quatre sighed, thoughtful. "I don't think so. I think I'm going to keep you."

Heero grunted, narrowing his eyes again. He hated this part. It was such a tricky damned jump, and he hadn't quite got the rhythm of it, so it was pure luck if he made it. And if he fell, he'd have to go back so far...! "Why?"

Quatre shrugged, smiling. "I bet you come in handy. I mean, you're smart, you're strong, and you're drop-dead gorgeous, not that it's doing me any good... Yeah, you'll come in handy someday."

Heero leaned forward as he just barely landed on the other side. Now he had to get to the crystal before the timer ran out so he could finally get to a damned save point! "So that's how you pick your friends - who can be useful to you?"

"Sure," Quatre half-shrugged. "Isn't that how you do it?" He actually chuckled at Heero's tensed back. "Oh, come on! You didn't become friends with Duo because you wanted to sleep with him?"

"No!" Heero dodged a few blows, blasting past the guards so he could just get to the save point... "Of course not!"

"Yes, you did!" Quatre laughed. "How many lab partners have you had in school, or group partners, or whatever, but the only one you get close to is the one you are attracted to. Do you really think that's a coincidence? It doesn't make you a bad person; it doesn't mean that if Duo doesn't put out, you're going to dump him. But there's always that selfish element to any relationship. You wouldn't hang around with someone who was constantly taking from you, and never giving you anything in return, would you?"

Heero snorted. "I let you hang around, don't I?"

Quatre nudged him playfully with his foot. "Yeah, but I'm your only social interaction. Without me to bug and annoy you, you'd get lonely. Right?"

Heero refused to dignify that with an answer.

"I mean, the best relationships are give and take, right? Symbiotic. But no one is completely selfless. People give because they want to get in return."

"Mother Theresa," Heero mumbled.


Heero cleared his throat. "Mother Theresa. She spent her whole life helping the poor."

"And now she's going to be remembered for all time as a great woman," Quatre remarked cynically.

Heero sighed, putting down his controller. He had been so close...! If only Quatre hadn't been distracting him... "So you don't believe that people can just be good to each other?"

"Hey, I'm not saying there's not good in humanity... Just saying that the good is mixed with the bad, even under the best of circumstance." Quatre leaned down to lounge on the floor propping his head up on his hand. "I'm just practical. I know what forces shape my thinking, so I go with them."

"Huh." Heero turned back to his game. This time, he would not fail...

"I'm bored, Heero."

"Then go away."

"Is Duo coming over later?"

"Shut up."

"You don't like it when I talk about him, do you?"

Heero played, his face sullen.

Quatre sat up. He studied Heero carefully. "You blame me, don't you? You think I'm the one that hurt him!"

Heero worked his jaw carefully, trying to grind his teeth without grinding his teeth. He hadn't been exact, but he had explained to Quatre that Duo wasn't working at Scythe anymore. He shrugged, his shoulder jerking up.

"I never hurt anyone there, Heero! And I sure as hell never touched Duo!"

Heero sighed, letting go of some of the resentment in his belly. "Maybe not Duo, but somebody else. You could get laid with anyone you wanted; why would you pay for sex?"

"Not quite anyone I wanted," Quatre retorted, too quickly. "You know, you could think of it as a good thing. I don't want to humiliate anyone, or degrade anyone. Whoever I pay for, they get a few hours with someone who will respect their body. If I pay for it, I get exactly what I want out of it. No emotional attachments, no awkwardness... Just the sex."

"You pay for it because you see something shiny, and you want to own it, for just a little while," Heero stated calmly, almost under his breath. "But the people you pay for are still human beings, and they deserve more respect than that."

"Huh," Quatre shifted away, folding his arms over his chest. "You know, not to be crass, but a whore's going to be a whore whether you or I give them permission or not. And instead of sharing a bed with me for a while, they'll get whatever psycho worked Duo over. But I don't need to explain myself to you. I have a clear conscience."

"Of course you do," Heero muttered, "you're always right. What's there to feel bad about? Just because you were born into the lap of luxury, doesn't mean you're better than people who don't have any choices."

"Right, you're a bleeding communist, in your nice apartment equipped with every toy you could want. Never saw you working in the cafeteria or at the copy shop. So where'd you get all your money, Heero?"

Heero's hands slipped off the controller, so he couldn't fight back in time against the guard shooting at him.

"Hey, I know I have it better off than most people, ok? But that doesn't make my life perfect, and I know you think I whine about nothing, but you know, no one's life is sunshine and roses all the time, and even if I did grow up with money and excess, I also grew up in a country that's pretty much always at war of some kind, with a father who usually penciled me into his schedule once a week, no mother, too damn many sisters, and too damn many rules for every damn thing I ever did. So, yeah, I had it better than most people, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked to try to be just a normal kid from time to time."

Heero was silent. He would have liked that, too, though he hadn't figured that out until it was too late.

"You should really lighten up, Heero. Life doesn't always have to be gloom and doom, you know. You could kick back and have fun; bet you'd have better luck with Duo if you didn't have that stick up your ass. I mean, he seems like a pretty freewheeling type. Actually, it's hard to believe you even convinced him to be friends. You must have done something big, because I bet he prefers to spend time with people who know how to talk and smile sometimes."

Heero narrowed his eyes. He died again in his game. This was just getting frustrating.

Quatre sat by the couch, pouting. Heero didn't think he was going to say anything more, which was good, because Quatre's venom could be pretty toxic, but he didn't know if he should say something. He didn't think he had anything left to say. He wished Quatre would just leave already.

Quatre sighed and stood up. "Look... maybe you're right, and maybe I'm right, and maybe we're both a little right. But when you're so judgmental of people... you don't leave a lot of room for your own mistakes, you know? I mean, if you think you know all there is to know, you can't really learn anything, can you? You have to keep a more open mind. Someone like Duo... he's going to change your perceptions about a lot of things, if he doesn't get offended by your 'more perfect than perfect' attitude and drop you like a bag of rotted intestines."

Heero blinked, and looked up at Quatre.

Quatre grinned, and winked at him. "I'm working on more colorful metaphors. What do you think?"

Heero stared.

Quatre shrugged. "Whatever. I'm tired of watching you foul up this game. I'm out of here... I'll see you on campus, and stop hitting the 'x' key so fast, you're messing up the double jump when you do that."

Heero stayed motionless, watching Quatre leave.

He hadn't known that there was a double jump.

All week, it had rained every day, complete with thunder and lightning, soggy gym shoes in class, umbrellas by every door, and long nights listening to the rain pound against the windows as he tried to sleep. It was the first dry night in six days, but the air was still wet and close, so Heero had his windows open. The night air subtly remade his apartment, making everything seem fresh and new. Heero supposed that this was the way he could tell that spring was here. He hadn't been in one place long enough growing up to see one season give way to the next, so he was still learning to detect the clues.

He had homework to do, but he didn't feel like doing it. He didn't feel much like playing video games, either, and he was too lazy to find a decent radio station, so he was left with sitting on his couch, flipping through the stations, learning to loathe television that much more.

He especially did not like 'reality' shows that sent vapid people to exotic locations to act like dimwits. He could easily kill them all without being detected, even on camera. None of them had the slightest survival sense.

The knock on the door confused him at first. No one ever came to visit. Quatre always called before coming in, and insisted that Heero be down in the lobby when he arrived, so there would be no chance of having to wait at a locked door. Quatre was not fond of waiting for anything. Heero didn't know any of his neighbors, and actively discouraged any attempts on their part to socialize with him. He felt that this type of unnecessary human interaction was probably dangerous, and could not lead to any positive effects. He dealt with his landlord through the mail, and the building's super was impossible to find, even when you wanted him, not that Heero ever had.

Heero took stock of his surroundings, checking the windows, and looking down to see if there were any suspicious cars on the street. He listened at his door for movement, wishing he had something useful as a weapon in the apartment. Most of the time, he was just as glad to go without any, but he didn't like the thought that he might be outgunned.

He opened the door just a crack, bracing himself for the possibility that someone would try to break in, but Duo was clearly willing to wait until he had the door fully opened before attempting to enter.

Heero fumbled with the chain on the door, his fingers annoyingly slippery. Duo was wearing loose jeans that hung off his hips, a little low, and a tight baseball-style t-shirt that clung to his stomach and revealed a little of his waist. His hair was sagging heavily, probably from the humidity, but it looked like it really wanted to be out of the braid.

Swallowing hard, Heero swung open his door, but Duo didn't move from where he was slouched against the doorframe for just a moment. He ran his fingers up and down the wood of the frame, his eyes trailing down to the oddly patterned rug Heero had gotten for his entryway.

"Hey. What's going on?" Heero quickly scanned to see if Duo might be hurt in any way, but he didn't see any obvious signs.

Duo had to clear his throat a few times before he could talk. "So. Ah... about that... deal you offered, that time; what would I have to do for $500?" Duo wasn't looking at Heero. In fact, he was working hard at looking at anything but Heero.

Heero felt his heart fall down through his gut and to his ankles. "What? Are you... get in here." He took Duo's arm as gently as he could and pulled Duo inside the apartment, shutting the door rapidly. He turned to face Duo, who was turning bright red.

"Sorry. I didn't think... 'Course you wouldn't want to negotiate a trick in front of your neighbors..." Duo's head dipped even lower, until all Heero could see was hair.

"What?" Heero felt the need to shake his head hard, until things started to make sense. "Fuck the neighbors; what's going on?"

Duo shrugged half-heartedly. "Ah, you know... Doctor wants a damned payment, and I couldn't work as much as I wanted to last week because of tests, and we're gonna be short on the rent if I don't get some cash, and then we'll be out on the streets, and I'm not lookin' forward to being homeless with a pregnant lady and sick guy..."

"Whoa, whoa..." Heero stopped him, stepping a bit closer. "I can just give you the money if you need it, you know. You don't... you don't need to feel obligated."

Duo stepped back. "No, man, I can't accept your charity... This prolly wasn't a good idea, I'm sorry..." He moved as if he was going to step to the door, so Heero shifted, standing between Duo and the door.

"And if you don't get it from me, where else will you go? Who else do you know with money who will lend it to you?" He watched Duo carefully, asking honestly, and trying not to sound judgmental.

Duo scratched the back of his head, his fingers disappearing into his hair. He looked away, his face drawn in misery.

Heero shook his head. "No. No, you can't..." He stepped forward impulsively and took Duo into his arms.

It was comforting, feeling Duo's slim body next to his. He was only a fraction of an inch taller than Duo, but he was broader, and Duo was nearly totally enveloped in his embrace. Heero pressed his cheek against Duo's head, and sighed.

"You can't. You... you asked your boss?"

Duo shook his head. Heero understood. You didn't make friends at work begging for money all the time. Poverty was too often viewed as a weakness.

Heero sighed. "Look. Are you sure? It doesn't... it doesn't have to be charity. I have the money. I'm willing to share it."

"I just... I owe enough people. And I owe you enough. Fuck, Heero, I'm sick of being so damned needy. I can... I can earn it, you know?" Duo's voice was thready and weak, and Heero could have sworn he felt Duo shudder a little.

Nodding, Heero rubbed his hand over Duo's back. "Ok. Ok, look... Look. I'm... I'm willing to do... to be helpful in... in whatever capacity I can be. It's not like it will be a hardship for me. But I'm not going to be your fucking john, ok? This isn't... this is just something between friends, ok? Because... because I don't want to lose your friendship."

"You won't," Duo piped up, lifting his head up to meet Heero's eyes. It left Heero feeling weak and defenseless, staring right into those mercurial depths. "I mean, we've already kinda shared too much for us to just stop being friends. You've shown me... you've shown me how trustworthy you are."

Heero nodded solemnly. "Ok. Then it's something between friends. I'm not going to hurt you. Never. If anything makes you feel weird or uncomfortable, just say so, ok? I've got to be able to trust you to tell me, all right?"

Duo nodded, his eyes widening a little. "Wh-what do you... do you want me to do?"

Heero nearly winced when he heard Duo's voice crack. "We're not going to... It's too soon... Just. Just go sit on the couch for a minute, ok?"

Heero pulled himself away from Duo, almost afraid that Duo would fall on the ground without his arms to hold him up. Duo looked so frail just standing there. Even in his loose jeans, he looked too scraggly and thin. But he nodded at Heero and moved off to the couch, holding his elbows in his palms. Heero put one foot in front of the other until he was standing in the kitchen. Several things were running through his head, and none of it was good. His heart was pounding in his chest. He felt a little sick.

And he would get to touch Duo.

He turned the water on, shoving the handle all the way to cold. He put his hands under the water until they lost all sensation, and then he ran them over his face. He pulled out the cheap bottle of wine that he had in his fridge, unscrewing the cap to minimize the obviousness of the quality. He pulled down two glasses, reaching to the back to get the real glass ones, so at least they weren't drinking out of plastic cups.

Duo's back was so stiff, he wasn't even touching the couch anywhere but on his rear. His hands were knotted together in his lap. He was staring up at Heero like a frightened mouse.

Heero bit the inside of his lip, and he poured out a bit of wine for both of them. He set the bottle down, and sat down next to Duo, folding his leg under him so that he could face Duo entirely. "Cheers."

Duo stared at Heero, swirling the wine in his glass discontentedly. "I'm not... I'm not much of a drinker."

"That's ok," Heero shrugged. "Just wanted to break the ice a little."

Duo nodded haltingly. "D-do ya want me to take m-my clothes off, or something?"

"No," Heero said calmly.


Heero shrugged. "I think that might be a little awkward."

Duo eyed him suspiciously. "What... What do you want me to do?"

Heero considered the question carefully, sipping his wine slowly to avoid needing to speak. The wine was too sour and too heady, but he continued to sip past the point of his endurance for it. He set his glass down, and cleared his throat. "Could I... could I rub your neck and shoulders? You look really tense." As he started to speak, he began to feel embarrassed, and his words tumbled out faster and faster until he wasn't sure Duo could understand him.

"Huh?" Duo blinked. "You want to...?"

"You don't have to take your shirt off or lie down or anything," Heero explained quickly. "But I - I just want to help you relax."

"Relax... for what?" Duo asked quietly.

Heero shrugged. "For nothing. For... not being so tense."

Duo gauged Heero's intents seriously before nodded tersely. "What... Where do you want me?"

It was tricky. He wanted Duo to feel good, but he needed to maintain Duo's personal space, too. "Could you... You could just sit there, and I'll stand behind you. Ok?"

"Are you sure?" Duo sounded skeptical.

Heero shrugged. "It's my money, right?"

Duo's eyes widened, and he half shrugged. "Ok."

Heero got up and went to stand behind Duo, who looked, if anything, even tenser. Heero narrowed his eyes. He was determined to make Duo feel more comfortable. He picked up Duo's braid gingerly, and lifted it over Duo's shoulder, to hand it to him. He put his hands on Duo's neck, just letting Duo get used to the feeling of the touch. He pressed his thumbs into the tight muscles at the base of Duo's neck.

Duo groaned, and leaned back into Heero's hands. Heero started to work the muscles gradually harder, shifting the focus of his thumbs first inward, to where Duo's spine jutted out just a bit, and then outward, all the way to his shoulders.

Slowly, he felt Duo relaxing under his touch, until eventually, Duo was practically purring. Heero was loath to end their session together. Duo's body was lean, but tight, and it felt so good to be able to touch him, to not be afraid. And Duo didn't seem to mind.

"Your hands... are so strong..." Duo sighed, sounding a little lost in a daydream.

"Too hard?" Heero spoke softly.

"No..." Duo turned his head to grin up at Heero. "Just... really strong. Comforting. I'm... not used to that. Strong, but comforting."

Heero smiled, contented. "Do you want me to keep going?"

Duo's eyes opened up. "What do you want?"

"I just want to make you feel good." Heero furrowed his brow. He didn't like to be so off-kilter. He wished that he knew better what was right and what was wrong.

Duo watched Heero for a moment, studying him. "I feel pretty relaxed. So... it's your money, I guess. What more do you want?"

He pulled his hands away from Duo's shoulders, admitting that the time for that was over now. He walked around the couch and picked up his wine. It was now warm, which made it even more toxic than before, but it gave him a chance to sit down without saying anything. Duo was watching him the whole time, his eyes calculating and uncertain. Heero put down his glass, and thought about what he wanted to say. "I don't... I don't want anything specific. I want... I want to be... to be something secure for you. I want... you to still trust me when we're done with whatever. But most of all... you can't... you can't expect me to want to... to... do anything serious; I still. I still think about what happened that night. I don't... don't want to push you."

"Heero..." There was honest affection in Duo's voice, and a warmth that made Heero's toes tingle. "I... I don't know, either. I guess I'm sorry for putting you in this position. I don't know... I feel guilty for asking so much money from you. I mean, you have a really nice apartment, so I guess you aren't hurting, but still. And I..." Duo blushed, dipping his chin down to hide it in an unconsciously coquettish gesture that made Heero's stomach flip. "I don't want to force myself on you, i-if you were just being polite before and you don't really... you aren't..."

Heero reached across and touched his hand to Duo's cheek. He wasn't sure what he expected. He had touched a lot of people before, men and women and children, in different conditions, surely, but Duo's skin was Duo's, and it gave Heero goose bumps. "You couldn't possibly force yourself on me, Duo. For one thing, I'm stronger than you. And for another... you are so beautiful."

Duo blinked, too awed to be embarrassed. "Beautiful? Really?"

Heero quirked a grin. "No one's ever called you that before?"

Duo shrugged, looking away with a smile on his face that made him look perfectly happy. "Solo has, pretty much all my life. But that's Solo. I don't know... I'm just me. I gotta be able to do something more than just let you give me a backrub. It's $500! You know, I've been told that I'm actually quite good at..."

"Stop!" Heero panicked. Duo had been looking at his crotch, and suddenly he felt very shy and disconcerted. "Stop, no, I just... I mean, we're friends, right? Let's not... let's not rush, ok?"

"Ok." Duo nodded slowly. All the fear, the calculation, the uncertainty was gone from his face. Heero marveled at how expressive Duo was, and yet how he still managed to not be an open book. It was easy to read his moods, but hard to predict just what he was going to say or do. For instance, Heero never expected Duo to lean over and kiss him, gently separating his lips with the tip of his tongue.

It was all happening at once.

Heero didn't know what he did with his hands, or what Duo did with his. He was very aware of how the kiss was deepening, like wading out in the water with eyes closed, but still able to feel the bottom and the surface of the water. He knew that he touched Duo's hair. That somehow he started to grasp Duo's braid like a lifeline. That Duo's fingertips touched his cheeks.

They needed to breathe, even if they were stealing the air from each other. Duo rested his forehead on Heero's, and closed his eyes. Heero kept his eyes open. This was close to being the best moment in his life, and he needed to remember it. Duo's hands ran down his body, and he felt cold and hot. He needed to be able to breathe.

He shifted away, aware now that he had some space that he was virtually hyperventilating. Duo was watching him with curious eyes, but he waited to say anything until Heero was calmer.

"Have you ever been with anyone before, Heero?"

It was such an innocent question. Duo had made it an innocent question. Heero was almost afraid to answer it. "Not... not like this."

Duo grinned at him, clearly trying to create some humor. "You've never hired a prostitute before?"

Heero looked away. "Never with anyone I cared about."

He couldn't see Duo, except in the corner of his eye. He was becoming scared, and he wasn't used to it.

"That is different."

He wanted to ask about Duo's experience, about the parts that he didn't know about, but he didn't know what kind of answer he wanted to hear, and what he would do if he heard the wrong answer. He wanted to go back to the part that was nice.

Duo put his hand on Heero's thigh, and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "You're a good man, Heero."

He really wasn't, but he didn't want to argue with Duo, not when everything was so pleasant and comfortable for a moment.

"You don't... I... If you don't want to, you know, give me any money, that's ok... Unless, you know, you wanted to do something more..." Duo shrugged and fidgeted and bit, with his hand still on Heero's thigh.

Heero wanted to kiss some more, but he didn't think it was the right thing to ask for. "Let me just..." He got up and went to his desk, shuffling inside the drawer for his checkbook. "Is it ok? I don't have that much cash."

"Oh, Heero, really..." Duo got up awkwardly.

Heero shrugged. "Forget it. Should I make it out to..."

"Cash." Duo looked away, clutching his elbows.

Heero wrote it out fast. He made it out for $600, to give Duo a little extra room. He handed it to Duo in a hurry, picking up the glasses and bottle of wine to clear up.

"Hey! This is too much!"

"My money," Heero called out with a shrug. "Just take care of yourself, ok?" He put the wine and glasses down, and loafed back.

Duo was standing in the entryway, looking nervously at his check. Heero put his hands behind his back, walking slowly.

"Look, just... do what you need to do, ok? Don't feel bad about anything."

Duo sighed. "It's just so much money..."

"It's nothing," Heero insisted.

Duo looked at him sharply. "Maybe to you. But to me, it's a lot."

"Then I'm glad that I can share with you. Really." He leaned over and kissed Duo's cheek quickly.

Duo sighed, and stuffed the check in his back pocket. "If you're going to be this generous and easy, I'm going to have to come back for more, you know."

Heero felt like his skin was on fire. He toed the rug a little, wondering again why he had bought such an ugly thing. "Cool."

Duo shrugged, and sighed. "Ok, then... Thanks, Heero." He sounded awkward and stiff, all of Heero's relaxation work gone down the tubes.

"See you in class," Heero reminded, hoping that it would come off as normal.

Duo smiled a little, shrugging. "Yup. And... thanks."

"Forget it. Really. Take care."

"You, too." Duo touched Heero's hand briefly before slipping out the door.

Heero stood and stared at the closed door for a long time. He hoped he hadn't just fucked everything up.

He wondered if maybe there was a next time, Duo might take his hair down.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five • Part Six • Part SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenEpilogue