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 were lilac bushes behind the art building. There was a little atrium, with benches, and a fountain, and big lilac bushes heaped with tiny flowers. During the school year, it would have been impossible to find a place like this, but in the summer, everything was quieter and more sedate on campus, and they could hunt out secret places.

It was hot, but not sticky. They were having a good summer. Duo was taking three classes during the summer session, so Heero signed up for two classes so they could spend time together. They had lunch outside most of the time, sitting on the benches surrounded by lilacs, the sun drifting down, filtered by the arching branches of the oak trees, the soft sound of chatter nearly drowned out by the splashing of the fountain.

Heero didn't tell Duo, but he loved lilacs. He did not know what they reminded him of, but the scent made him feel younger, more secure. It wasn't something he needed to pursue, since so little of his childhood was salvageable, but he liked the feeling.

He liked the feeling of Duo's knee pressed against his own, or the way Duo's eyes would sparkle when he was smiling. These lunches together were Heero's cherished time, because Duo was working nearly fifty hours a week at the yards, doing twelve hour shifts four nights a week, and any other shift he could pick up. He had his evenings free to do homework, but Heero was constantly worried about him, and he hardly ever had any real free time.

Duo hadn't been to his apartment in ages, either, not since that night, but that was all right, because there were so many little touches between them now, the way Duo would put his hand on Heero's knee, or brush his lips against Heero's cheek when he whispered to him in their differential equations class, so that it felt like they were building this web of intimacy that was drawing them closer and closer. Heero even felt confident enough from time to time to reach up and touch Duo's cheek. He liked the way that Duo smiled when he did.

He didn't know what they talked about over lunch. He was too busy watching Duo to follow. But they always enjoyed their time together.

In the afternoon, Duo would leave for work, and Heero would go back to his apartment, and he would play games and poke around on the net until it was time to go to bed. He would stretch out over the sheets, and relive his time with Duo there, and he would fall asleep with his face in the middle of the bed.

It was a good time.

Quatre had stayed in school for the summer to make up a business class he had failed. As much as he complained about his family, Heero got the impression he was a little homesick, though he might have just been bored. Regardless, Heero let Quatre come to his apartment as he pleased, mostly because Quatre was the only person Heero knew, and therefore the only person who he could talk to about Duo.

He found that he liked to talk about Duo, even though he wasn't really all that able to say much. He couldn't tell Quatre any details of what it had been like to touch Duo or to move inside of Duo, and when he tried to tell Quatre about holding Duo in his arms before saying goodbye, he got all choked up.

Quatre just rolled his eyes and muttered something about people in love being against the law.

He told Quatre that Duo was seeing someone else, and Quatre advised him to just ignore it. It was Duo's choice, and Duo's life, and if he wanted to be with Heero, despite his 'other' relationship, than Heero should just enjoy it, and be the best friend and lover he could be, and then maybe Duo would leave whoever else he was with to be with Heero. Or maybe whoever else would have a problem with Duo being with someone else, and would leave Duo. But if Heero became too oppressive, the 'other' factor would just make it all that much easier for Duo to walk out on Heero.

It made sense when Quatre said it, though Heero was really beginning to resent Quatre's relationship wisdom, and it made sense when he repeated it to himself, but when he was with Duo, the thought of another man's hands on Duo's body made him irrational and he couldn't help it.

It was late afternoon on a Friday. Duo had a paper due earlier, so they had spent most of the late morning and early afternoon in the library. The air conditioning in the library was working overtime, and it had been on the fringe of being cold. They had dropped off Duo's paper, picked up some sandwiches, and gone to their secluded spot to eat. It was good to be out in the warmth after being cold for so long, and it was good to breathe in the thick air and feel the sun heating their skin.

Duo was wearing jeans, because he was going to put in some hours at the yard, and a black t-shirt with some drawing on it that Heero didn't recognize. It might have been for a band, or comic, or just a skater thing. Heero wasn't sure. He slumped against the bench, drawing his legs up. He was wearing sport sandals that were coming apart, and he slid the edge of the bench between his heel and the sandal.

Heero wanted to hold Duo. He wanted to breathe in his scent, and feel his heart beating against his chest. He picked up Duo's braid, toying with the end while watching Duo closely. Duo just sighed, and leaned closer to Heero. This made Heero unbearably pleased, to be trusted with this most precious possession of Duo's, to have his handling Duo's hair be such a nonevent. He didn't know how many people Duo was this relaxed around, but save Duo's family, Heero was pretty sure there couldn't be many.

He saw other hands in Duo's hair. Thinner, longer hands. More elegant hands. Dirty hands. Short, squat hands. Fingers like tentacles swimming in the rich masses of hair as it spilled over Duo's naked body, hands and arms and legs all over Duo...

Duo... hadn't gone back to Scythe. But there was someone else, he'd slept with someone else, and Heero had a feeling...

He closed his eyes and swallowed his anger. "So. Do you see him a lot?"

Duo started, blinking at Heero as if he were trying to wake up. "Ahm. Who now?"

Heero shrugged with one shoulder. "Your boyfriend. Or whatever."

Duo's back stiffened, but if Heero weren't terribly observant, he would have missed it. "Heero, don't."

"I'm sorry," Heero offered stiffly, dropping Duo's braid.

Duo sighed, shifting so that he could face Heero directly. "Let's just not talk about it, ok? It's not... It's not that big of a deal."

Heero stared down at the webwork of iron, the gray stones beneath. The spaces between the squares of stone were filled with thick, fuzzy green moss. There was an ant climbing over the mossy border right below them. "'Course not. Never mind. I just wonder sometimes. It is a him, right?"

"Does it really make that much of a difference to you?" Duo's question was sharp, sharper than Heero thought it should be.

He was tempted to ask if Duo's lover knew that he sold himself for sex, but fortunately, he had enough control over his mouth to keep those treacherous words from passing. He did wonder, though. He lifted his hand and put his fingers on Duo's jaw. When he touched Duo, he felt a spark, like he was inhaling deeply for the first time after being submerged for decades. He could see it in Duo's eyes, too. Why did there have to be anyone else?

Heero had been taught to trust his instincts, and he had been told to follow his heart. Every component of his entire being begged him to make a move. He leaned forward, and just brushed a kiss over Duo's lips. He expected Duo to jerk back, or get angry. He did not expect Duo to latch onto his shoulders and dive in, deepening the kiss as he flung himself into Heero's lap.

Heero put his arms around Duo's waist, and held him close. When they had fully explored each other's mouths, Heero dipped down to taste Duo's neck and he nudged aside Duo's t-shirt so he could lick Duo's shoulder blades. Duo's fingers were enmeshed in his hair, driving him on, and Duo was making that noise that he made just before he started to get really excited. Heero felt jazzed, suddenly very invigorated, the open air and sunshine creating an organic sensation that tingled up under Heero's skin. He grabbed at Duo's shirt, wanting to rip it away, to fall down with Duo on soft grass and be naked together.

"Wait," Duo asked, breathless, pulling away. Heero wasn't quite to ready let go, but he wasn't going to hold Duo against his will. "Wait..."

"Why?" Heero did not want to sound childish and petulant, but he could neither keep his hands from straying all over Duo, especially as they slipped under Duo's t-shirt.

Duo reached behind him and grabbed Heero's hands, pulling them out. "Wait... if we keep at this, I'm going to be a real mess at work all afternoon... God damn it, you are fuckin' hot, Yuy."

Heero felt himself blush even as he began to pout. Still, he couldn't argue with Duo's responsibilities. "Damn."

"That about sums it up!" Duo grinned. He ran his hands up and down Heero's arms. "God, you're so fuckin' ripped... so hot... I don't... I don't ever feel like this, Heero."

Duo's eyes were wild and desperate, seeking something from Heero, though he couldn't even guess at what. He put his hand on Duo's face and leaned up to kiss him again, but Duo pulled away, standing up.

"I... I gotta get to work, I gotta... Fuck, we're in public, too..."

Heero looked around, standing up after Duo. "No one's around."

Duo stood before him, torn. He lunged at Heero, throwing his arms around Heero's neck, capturing him in a needy hug. Heero gratefully wrapped his arms around Duo and held on. Duo sighed loudly against Heero's neck. "This shouldn't be so fuckin' complicated."

Heero nodded softly, but said nothing.

"I really hope I haven't screwed this up," Duo worried, combing Heero's hair with his fingers. "I feel like... I feel really lucky to know you, Heero."

Heero tightened his arms around Duo, closing his eyes.

"And you've really seen the best of me, huh? Christ, I'm such a damned fool waste..."

"No," Heero growled, firmly. "Not at all." He pulled back so he could look into Duo's eyes, his heart shattering at the sight. "It's going to be ok."

Duo laughed, a dry, bitter gasp of air. "Yeah. Right. If we don't get fuckin' evicted because we get sent to a fuckin' debt collector for fuckin' doctors' bills that just keep gettin' bigger and bigger..."

Heero blinked. "You need money?"

Duo tried to pull away, but Heero's arms were like steel bars. "What? No. I mean... I got it. I'll work it out."


"No, seriously, I'll get it together." Duo pushed against Heero's chest, and Heero couldn't hold him against his will, but he moved with Duo, to keep with him. "I'm not going to keep using you, Heero! I... can't..."

"Duo!" Heero felt his blood pressure rising, a cold wash of panic sloshing over his belly.

Duo shook his head. "No. It's not... It's not right, not when I feel..."

If Heero thought that Duo was going to finish that sentence, he would have let him, but he wasn't going to let Duo leave like this. "Duo, come over to my place after work. Please."

There was temptation lighting Duo's eyes, desire bringing color to his cheek, and Heero could taste a victory. "No, I don't want..."

Heero took a step forward, and took Duo into his arms, holding the back of his head in one hand as he kissed Duo, endeavoring to pour everything he felt for the other man into his touch. Duo wasn't even resisting; he was just melting in Heero's embrace. Heero broke off the kiss, letting no air separate their lips. "Please. Come over after work."

Duo's eyes were closed, his fingers still grasping for Heero. "I..."

"Please," Heero pled.

Duo rolled his lips between his teeth, and nodded, keeping his eyes closed as if he were agreeing to something fatal to his soul.

"Ok," Heero agreed, letting Duo go.

Duo sighed and shuddered, wrapping his arms around his waist. "Heero..."

"Don't worry about it," Heero calmly stated. "Everything is going to be fine."

Duo opened his eyes, looking straight at Heero until he was sure of himself enough to nod. "Ok."

Heero smiled, unable to hold in his sense of excitement.

Shaking his head, Duo chuckled. "You have no idea what you are getting yourself into with me, buddy."

"Ditto," Heero softly replied.

"Ah well, what a pair we make," Duo laughed, shaking off his arms to get back some of his humor. "We could donate our brains to the psyche department and they'd have a field day."

"Yeah, thought about it. We'd get more money from the bio department, though."

Heero got to hear Duo laugh for real before he left, and it wasn't even a good joke.

He cleaned.

He washed down the bathroom, scrubbing out the bottom of the tub. He vacuumed every level surface, and he dusted, and he vacuumed again. He changed the sheets on the bed. Then he messed up the bed, and remade it. He cleaned out the back of his fridge, and behind his fridge, and behind his dishwasher, even though it was impossible to get there. He ran down to the corner to get cash. He ran out to the convenience store to get drinks. He ran out again, going to the ATM six blocks away, to get more cash, even though he had more than a thousand at home. He washed the kitchen floor. He washed the walls in the living room. He wiped down all his cd, dvd, and video game cases. He washed all his windows.

Duo wasn't supposed to get off of work for more than an hour, still, so he changed his clothes, and went down to the yards to meet him outside.

Howard's lot stretched on for miles, it seemed. It was the largest junkyard in the country, or so the sign on the office door boasted, but Heero didn't know how one went about verifying that. There was a tall chain link fence with barbed wire on the top and planks of aluminum woven through the links so no one could look in, though it might have been to appease the neighbors. Heero did not know why a junkyard needed such security, but he supposed it was possible there were easily removed valuables inside.

He paced on the sidewalk across the street. The sodium streetlights were flickering, not enough to cast the street in darkness, but enough to make Heero feel uneasy. There were boarded up stores just down the block, and the hum of nightlife was beginning to drift out onto the streets. Intellectually, he knew that Duo could handle himself. He knew that Duo grew up on these streets. But just the same, there was no reason to take a risk unnecessarily.

The air was still, and cooling. Above the streetlights, the sky was started to sparkle. They'd been having a great summer, so far, not too hot at all, but right then, Heero would have welcomed the heat to excuse the sweat on his brow.

His memories of his one time with Duo were perfect just as they were. He was almost dreading the possibility of tainting them with more experience. At the same time, he was physically aching with the thought that he might have a chance of being with Duo again, and he felt like there was a brick of ice in his stomach at the thought that he might never get that chance again.

Somehow, he missed seeing the door to the office open. He swore under his breath, but it didn't matter. Duo saw him, his eyes warily fixed on Heero as he finished his conversation with Howard. Heero could see the old man, knobby knees sticking out at the bottom of his wide surf shorts, his wild shirt bedecked with palm trees and neon monkeys. Howard always wore sunglasses, even in the dark, a trait that seemed suspicious to Heero, but Duo spoke of him with gratitude, so Heero afforded him some slack.

Duo stuffed his hands in his pockets and crossed the street in the middle of the block so he could get to Heero's side. He didn't look up right away, stopping just a little shy of Heero's personal space, his body language stiff.

Heero was not fazed. "How was work?"

"Tiring," Duo claimed pointedly, and Heero was not dense enough not to understand.

"You want to pick up some take out on the way over to my place?"

"Heero," Duo sighed, "this isn't a good idea."

"Why not?" Heero could be very stubborn when he wanted to be, and right now he felt damned intractable.

Duo shrugged his shoulders, looking uncertainly off into the distance. "It's just not, ok? I've had a long day and I'm tired, and anyway, this... this can't continue, all right, I don't... I don't want your money, ok?"

"Where will you get the money, then?" It was too reasonable a question for Duo to just blow off, though he most certainly didn't expect to have to answer it.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Heero put his hand on Duo's arm, but concentrated very hard on not holding too tightly. "What do you mean, fine? What does that mean?"

"It means," Duo spat out, exasperated, "that it's none of your damn business!"

"Of course it is," Heero calmly countered, "because you're my friend."

Duo grunted, and tugged on his arm halfheartedly.

"What?" Heero pressed. "We aren't friends still?"

"It's hard to be friends with you, Heero. I tend to... want more than I should from you." Duo was looking away, talking to the sewer grate.

Heero stepped closer. "Why shouldn't you want from me?"

Duo sighed. "Because you'll give it. You'll give me everything... and I'll be indebted to you."

Heero touched Duo's cheek with one finger. "Please come back with me. You won't owe me anything; you'll be doing me a favor. I... have to show you something."

Duo capitulated without words. It was in his body language, the way his posture just slumped as it melted.

They walked side-by-side, close enough together that their hands brushed against each other, and Duo's fingers would spread out to snag his from time to time. He felt his nerves jangling inside of him. There were too many things at once going on, and he couldn't process everything that he was feeling. He didn't see anything but right where he was about to put his foot with each step, he didn't smell anything but the sweat and grime from Duo, he didn't hear anything but the steady whisper of Duo breathing, he didn't feel anything but the tingle of contact between their hands. He was practically salivating for the taste of Duo.

It seemed like there were too many stairs up to his apartment. The hallway was too long. His locks were too complex. It was a blessed relief to finally step into his apartment, like stepping into an oasis, and being safe.

Duo crossed his arms over his chest and fidgeted, distracted, as Heero locked back up again. He couldn't tell if there was anything other than fear in Duo's nervousness, but the fear alone was enough to make Heero pause and take a breath.

"Want anything to drink?"

"Heero, I can't take any more of your money."

Heero blinked. "I wouldn't think you would be drinking money."

Duo stared at him for a moment before smiling shyly. "I just... need to get that out there. I... I'm not the sort of person that uses people. It's... it's hard to... to have these... feelings for you, and to do the things we do, and have this money thing between us. I - I would rather whore myself out to a stranger than feel like I'm a whore to you."

"Duo..." Heero's heart plummeted. He stepped closer, putting his hands out as if to touch Duo's arms, but he restrained himself. "Duo, you are not a whore."

Duo scratched his nose, partially hiding his face behind his hand, and he turned his eyes away from Heero. "Yeah, well, maybe, but you pay me for sex, Heero. That's... That's... degrading."

Heero's arms dropped to his side. "But you won't let me just give you the money. What else can I do?"

"Nothing," Duo smiled, shrugging. "It's not your problem."

"But," Heero swallowed, trying to push the words out of his constricted throat. "But I have feelings for you, too, and so if you have trouble, I feel like I have trouble, too."

Duo said nothing. Neither man was looking at the other. The apartment was dead still for several punishing heartbeats.

"I don't know what to do," Duo admitted, tiredly. "I don't know how to make anything right."

Heero galvanized into action. He took Duo by the elbows and drew him into the living room. "Come here. Let me show you something."

He felt like he might just choke to death. He had never once considered telling anyone this, in all his life. And he knew, painfully knew, that when he was done, Duo was going to hate him. But he had to help Duo out.

He was too frantic as he shuffled through the drawers of his desk. Nothing was quite where he expected it to be, but then, he wasn't seeing things properly. He pulled out an envelope from a stack, and tore out the contents, dumping the envelope as he went to show it to Duo. "Here, look at this."

He handed Duo the paper, and walked back to the desk hurriedly, looking for more paper.

"What is this?"

"It's my bank statement."

"Heero, I don't want to look at this, this is private."

Heero shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Just look, ok?"

"Heero," Duo sighed, "it doesn't matter how much money you have, that's not the issue. I wish I could just pretend that we're some sort of communist commune unto ourselves but holy mother of fuck! Heero! Is that your balance, for real?"

Heero nodded, still shuffling through the papers. "Yes. It's a small part of my assets."

"A small part?" Duo gaped. "Heero, you have a hundred thousand dollars in here!"

"Yes," Heero nodded, shuffling back. "That's the maximum amount the FDIC will insure in one account. I have others. CDs, mutual funds, stock, bonds, overseas accounts, private accounts... my assets, in varying degrees of liquidity." He tossed down account statements and deposit confirmations and bond certificates, littering Duo's lap and feet with the evidence of his wealth.

Duo's eyes got wider and wider, his face got paler, and his jaw dropped lower. "Fuck! How much money do you have, then?"

Pausing to consider, Heero sat down on the coffee table in front of Duo, their knees barely touching. He put his elbow on his thigh, and leaned on his thumb and forefinger, toying with his bottom lip. "Roughly $532 million, last time I checked it all."

The papers in Duo's slack hands slipped to the floor. "Fi- Christ, Heero, you're richer'n Quatre!"

Heero nodded slowly, looking at the pile of financial records on the floor. "But I don't have a parent or a guardian or anyone checking on me. Ever."

"Wuh - Whe - How - ?"

"It's blood money," Heero sighed. "Every damn last penny of it."

There was another spell of total quiet. Heero could not muster the courage to look at Duo's face, and his legs were not forthcoming with a reaction. Suddenly, the air felt itchy, and Heero found himself pouring out an explanation as he stared down at Duo's work boots, as if he were offering his excuse as a sacrifice to Duo.

"I was like you, I didn't have any parents, ever. I don't remember anyone, at any rate. I was raised by a man named Odin Lowe. He was... he was a killer, a damn good one. People from all over the world paid for his services. He taught me everything he knew. I learned how to clean and load an AK-47 when I was six. I was launching surface to air missiles when I was seven. I used a handgun to kill a man at close range when I was eight.

"It was... it was all I knew. I don't... I don't ever remember... thinking about it. I didn't... I didn't feel anything, ever. I just did as I was told.

"We were on a mission at a military base near the Caspian when I was thirteen." Heero swallowed hard. He didn't think about this often. He clasped his hands together, closed his eyes, and leaned down so that his forehead was right above his hands. "It was routine, really, we were sent in to kill a general and disable some nuclear weapons. Odin took the general, and left me to dismantle the warheads."

"Nuclear weapons?" Duo's voice was remarkably calm, even though he sounded like he was discussing fairy involvement in nuclear peptide production with his biology professor.


"Disabled nuclear weapons, you can disable nuclear weapons?"

"Yeah," Heero shrugged, "it's not that hard, actually. Anyway." He cleared his throat. "I was done, but Odin wasn't at the pick up point, so tracked back to look for him. He was... He was lying in his blood, he was dead, he was almost dead. He... couldn't see me, he could barely speak..." Heero heard the echo of Odin's last words to him, and bolstered his resolve. He knew he was doing the right thing. "I was... I was lost without him, I didn't know... I didn't know what to do, so I just kept doing what I had been doing. I knew his main contact, his negotiator, J, and I... worked. Took a hold of Odin's assets, took a hold of his jobs, and just... went on."

"You were killing people?"

Heero couldn't gage the emotion behind that statement. "Yeah, for a while. When I was fifteen, I got this job... A diplomat, royalty, and his family from some nothing European fealty, they were making strides in cementing a Middle East peace agreement, they were key players, big long time pacifists, and they were making strides, and that's not good for business for arms dealers and the like. I didn't... I didn't have the filter, ok, I didn't know... the difference between one job and the next. The idea was, he and his family were on vacation in the Hamptons, and it was supposed to look like a robbery. I had... I had to kill the whole family."

Heero sighed, wishing Duo had wanted some water or something. He thought his voice would fail, his throat collapse.

"I got there ahead of time, I was scoping out the place, just going by the book... In town, I was at this convenience store, and I bumped into this girl. She was... a little different, you know? She wasn't nervous around me, for some reason, she started following me around... She was irritating as all hell, but she was nice, you know, a nice girl."

"I know." Duo was smiling. Heero could hear it. Heero could tell that Duo was picturing the girl.

"That night, I busted in, and I shot them while they were eating dinner. The diplomat, his wife, his daughter, their butler, and the damn family dog.

"It was the same fucking girl. Relena. She was... damn it, she was nice, her father was doing good work... She looked so... damned betrayed, like I had broken her fucking heart before I killed her. I messed up the place and I left."

He couldn't go on right away. He could still see her, cornflower blue eyes drenched in pain, wheat blond hair matted with blood, her tiny little mouth in a disappointed 'o' for the rest of time. He kneaded his hands, wishing his nails were longer, wishing he could tear into his flesh, wishing he could bleed. It was just so damned quiet. He knew that he wasn't meant to be happy, that he hadn't fucking earned this, but damn it! It had been good!

Bitterness colored his words now, and he dug his fingers into his hands just to feel something. "I figured it out then. Too fucking late, I know, but I got it. Right, wrong, the value of life... I fuckin' got it. So I quit. That was my last job ever. It took some time to... disentangle myself from my contacts, from my life, really, but I did it. I thought about shooting myself. I thought about giving all the money away. I thought about a lot of things, but I... I didn't really know anything... real, you know, so I... I decided that I was at that age, by that time, and that I should... go to college." Heero sighed. "So I looked around, picked where I wanted to go, hacked into their system, invented a history for myself, and enrolled." He shrugged.

"And here we are," Duo sighed.

"Here we are," Heero echoed heavily.

Heero was very aware of Duo's breathing, the way his eyes were narrowed in concentration, the movements of his teeth over his lips as he chewed on his thoughts. He realized what a terrible idea this was, and he had known that, but he'd been willing to make the sacrifice to be sure that Duo was secure. Now he wasn't as sure of himself. He was questioning a lot of his choices.

He could remember the last time he had held a gun in his hands, and the weight of it, and the coolness of the metal, the finality of the choice. He'd even wrapped his lips around the tip and flexed his finger over the trigger. But he hadn't been able to do it. The gun tasted acrid and bitter, and he had felt cowardly. At the time, he simply found that he was unable to make such a terrible choice like that. If it was wrong to kill that girl and her family, was it any less wrong to kill himself? There had been times when he'd wished he had died on missions, times when he even flirted with death, as Odin had put it, but to choose for himself that any particular moment was to be his last, purely from the selfish desire to be rid of his life? He didn't have it in him.

Maybe he should have done it. Maybe not, he couldn't decide. Was what he had with Duo worthwhile enough that, fleeting though it had been, it had enough merit on its own to justify his existence? Heero could imagine spending the rest of his life nostalgically thinking about every little thing he had shared with Duo, and it seemed to him to be both very cold and empty, and very sweet. Would he have the courage in the morning to make the choice he had failed to make in the past, or would he have found a purpose to his life now?

"Hey," Duo reached out and put his hands over Heero's. "Stay with me, ok? How old did you say you were when you killed someone for the first time?"

Heero blinked, staring at Duo unseeingly. He had a surreal lack of place, as if he had been shifted without his knowledge or the universe's acknowledgment. "I... don't really know for sure. I used to plant bombs for Odin when I was very little, maybe five. But the first time I saw someone die by my hand, I was eight."

"Wow," Duo shook his head. Again, Heero couldn't place his tone. "How did you... how did you deal with it man, I mean, was it real to you? Did you feel anything?"

Heero's head shook back and forth on its own, absently. "I think I just... swallowed it all. I don't think I felt anything... at all... ever."

Duo shifted forward in the couch, perching himself on the very edge. He started rubbing up and down Heero's arms. "That's sad. What changed you?"

For a moment, Heero was ready to ask Duo what made him think anything had changed him, but then he realized that something must have changed.

"Was it that girl?"

Heero shook his head again, and looked down at Duo's hands on his skin. "I regretted killing her, and that made me regret everything I had ever done. It was a mistake to kill her, and her family, so I suppose I don't know how many 'mistakes' I've made over the years. But I didn't know her long enough for her to really reach me."

He stared into Duo's eyes, getting lost in the kaleidoscope of color, enchanted. He knew that Duo must have been able to look right into him, he felt like Duo could just reach down into the deepest bowels of his soul and take everything he had inside.

"I love you," Heero sighed, knowing that he was gushing out the mouth in a wholly uncharacteristic and dangerous way, but feeling like he had released something that couldn't be called back, and now everything was spilling out after it.

Duo's cheeks turned pink, and he ducked his head down, his lips curling up in a private smile.

Heero could feel his heart beating in his chest again.

He bounced forward, surrounding Duo, putting his arms on Duo's shoulders, letting his hands slide down to Duo's back, his legs side by side with Duo's. "I know I shouldn't say that, but it's true. I don't know how it happened. I saw you there, you know. At the club, when you were a waiter. I saw you, and you were... you were so beautiful to me. I came all the time so I could see you. I wasn't any different from any of the other jackoffs who were drooling after you. I wanted you so badly, I'd've... I'd've been just as bad as any of them if I'd had a chance. But... I got to know you." Heero touched Duo's cheek. He felt stupid. He felt childish. He felt like a naïf. But he felt like there was magic when he touched Duo like that. "I'm sorry."

"What for?" Duo croaked. He grinned crookedly at Heero, shrugging slightly.

"For... all of it. For dumping this on you. I know you have someone else, but if I have a chance, I'm going to take it." Heero swallowed hard. "And I'm sorry... for what I've done... for what it might mean... For... disappointing you."

Duo started to laugh. At first, it was like a gulping hiccup, but then he just started laughing hysterically. Heero wasn't precisely sure what to do. He patted Duo on the shoulder hesitantly, watching for signs of hysteria.

"Duo?" Heero asked quietly.

Duo shook his head and kept laughing. "Oh, Heero, you... you sure know how to keep things interesting, don't you! I mean, just, anything else? Any... ex-wives I should know about? Alien love children? Do you work for the CIA, by chance?"

Heero shook his head, his eyes wide.

Duo leaned over and kissed him. "You know, I used to be a thief. We were kids, Heero, surviving. We did what we had to do. Hell, I've done shit lately that I'm seriously not proud of. I dunno, I don't know who you were or what you might have done, or whatever. I know who you are now, and I know I can trust you."

It wasn't at all what Heero would expect Duo to say. He would need time to think about it. "Will you let me help you, and your family?"

Duo's expression softened, and his smile turned more affectionate. "Aw, Heero, I don't want to think about money right now... You've shared something with me, yanno? I'd kinda like to take a shower, ok?"

Heero blinked. Duo was skirting his expectation with ease. "Sure." Heero nodded off in the direction of the bathroom. "Help yourself."

Stretching out, Duo stood up. He grinned. "I just feel grimy, all that junk and grease and stuff. Would you like to wash my hair?"

Duo winked at him before walking off, swinging his hips a little so his braid swung back and forth over his ass. Heero swallowed hard and stood up. It was difficult for him to follow, because he was already aroused, but he had great motivation.

They didn't speak in the bathroom. Not as Duo shyly and efficiently stripped, or as Duo helped him strip. Not as Duo unwound his hair, or as he got the water ready. He couldn't speak as he ran his hands through Duo's thick hair, letting the water soak into all his layers. Their bodies got slippery, their hands sliding over slick flesh to take tempting touches and teasing caresses. Heero poured shampoo over Duo's head, the startling sound of Duo's laughter bouncing off the tiles. The thick shampoo squished between his fingers as he scrubbed Duo's hair, their bodies close enough for their cocks to touch as they moved, and Duo closed his eyes as he leaned into Heero's body.

They kissed under the spray of water until the water ran clear, and there were no more small white bubbles foaming at their feet, and the water was cold.

Duo rubbed Heero down with the large brown towel until Heero couldn't take it anymore, and he picked Duo up and carried him off into bed. Duo started to protest, but he was too busy wrapping his legs around Heero's waist to put his whole heart into it.

Heero felt urgent, like he was offering his gratitude into Duo's body. Duo's hands would come up to grab at him, and he would bend down to offer his mouth to Duo, and the heat from their flesh would make their nerves go white, as they shuddered into each other.

It was not enough. Heero hardly had any strength in his limbs, but he clung to Duo, feeling weak and desperate and needing him so badly, so deeply, he kept his lips on Duo's skin, unconsciously moving down his neck to his chest, to tenderly offer reverence to Duo's cross-shaped scar.

Duo's fingers combed through Heero's hair, and he sighed.

His words came out like he was talking to someone else, as if he had recorded this a long time ago, and it was just randomly playing back now.

"After Solo got sick, I went to this orphanage. Truthfully, I went to a lot of 'em, could never keep my nose clean. Anyway, I ended up at this last resort place, Maxwell Home for Boys. It was a church. Father Maxwell and Sister Helen ran it. They... became like a mother and father to me. They... took me under their wings.

"They were my angels, no joke. Father Maxwell said I was like him, and I would amount to something some day, and Sister Helen... she would forgive me.

"Anyway, not going to dwell, bottom line is, there was a fire. The church was in a bad part of town, and there were people who wanted to rehab, you know, buy out the poor and put in condos and crap. Father Maxwell's family owned the church property, and he didn't want to sell.

"So they edged him out.

"Father Maxwell and Sister Helen died. I was safe, because I was out... breaking the rules again."

Duo sighed. Heero put his head down on Duo's chest, and listened to the rhythmic thumping of his heartbeat.

"I came back in time to watch Sister Helen die. They never caught the arsonist. It hurt so fuckin' bad... Solo saw me on the news, realized I was still out there. He met up with me. He was older, you know, and I was nearly sixteen, so they let Solo take me, probationary custody. But man, it fuckin' hurt, even seeing Solo again, being with him again, it didn't... it didn't...

"I asked Solo to do it. I wouldn't've been able to make straight lines, ya know? I needed... I needed something physical to look at, to poke, and think, 'There's my pain. It marks me.' I needed to be able to own it, you know?"

"Did it make you feel better?" Heero wasn't sure where his voice came from; he must have been part of the recording.

"No," Duo sighed. "But the wound healed, and I felt... I felt like I hadn't left them behind, you know? Anyway."

For a moment, Heero thought Duo was going to roll away. He thought Duo was going to leave. He panicked, silently, thinking about being alone again without Duo, even for the night. He did not cling, because he knew better, but he felt everything inside of him evacuate.

"You know, I'm just going to stay here tonight," Duo yawned. "I'm tired. Let's get under the sheets before we fuckin' freeze, ok?"

Heero sighed in relief, his breath spilling out of him. It was going to be ok. Duo wasn't disgusted by him. He still didn't understand that, but he would accept it. Duo wasn't going to leave. He was grateful.

They could talk about the money in the morning. Duo would see that it wasn't about this, not at all. It would be ok.

It was going to be all right.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart Seven • Part Eight • Part NinePart TenEpilogue