For those two, at least. Heero and Duo were left at odds on the salvage craft. There was no one concerned for them that they had to contact, though honestly, the both of them could have wished that no one knew them at all.
Duo sat tensely in his chair, refusing to slouch like a dog with its tail between its legs. There was no way he was going to let these people cow him with shame. Beside him, Heero hunched forward over his bulb of water, wondering why he had never picked up the habit of drowning himself with alcohol.
The Sparrow wasn't a large Sweeper ship, as these things went, but there were still more people onboard than either of them would have preferred. Of all the ships scouring the skies, they had to end up with the one that was currently carrying the unofficial leader of the Sweepers. Any ship carrying him was sure to have some of his cronies onboard, and his cronies were the ones that would coincidentally be familiar with the Gundam pilots.
Duo didn't have to turn around to know that the man in the corner with the red hat was glaring at his back. Ol' Chuckles was the one that had taught him his knots, and ol' Chuckles had been there the second time Howard had tried to convince him to leave L3 behind. Oh, what a storm of an argument that had been. The only thing that had kept it from getting really ugly had been some lingering respect between them, and the knowledge that there would be observers out there somewhere. Neither side wanted to draw the government watchdogs in on the personal matter.
Chuckles wasn't the only one he knew. Marty over in the corner, yeah, they'd worked together at a point or two. Crystal, tough as nails despite her name. She'd smacked him once for getting into her tool chest and leaving a plastic cockroach inside. All of them knew the history. None of them was very happy with him at the moment.
Heero Yuy was another matter altogether. There were at least two other people that had passed through the commons area while they'd been there, recognizing the pair from the Peacemillion. Stories were whispered in the corners about their exploits, tales of strength and courage and valor.
That was the kid that saved the earth, they said.
Ever hear 'bout the Zero system?
Man, I thought for sure he was toast!
He's the guy that nearly blistered Ace's skin for readjusting the tension in his Gundam's fingers.
Him? He's shorter than I thought he'd be.
Heero tried to block them all out and concentrated on keeping his fingers from clenching around his drink and squirting liquid all over the place.
Someone stopped in front of their table. Neither looked up, but the stranger made his presence known anyway. "So you're Gundam pilots, huh?"
Another Sweeper punched the first guy's arm. "You can't just take our word for it, Jake?"
He shrugged the hand off. "Don't look much like Gundam pilots, is all I'm saying."
"It's been a few years, man. And they don't got no Gundams anymore."
"Yeah, I heard. Damn fool thing blowing up some fine pieces of work like that, you know."
"You're just pissy 'cuz you never got to lay your eyes on it."
"Know what I heard?" another voice chimed in. "Anyone that laid eyes on a Gundam had to die. Oooooooh~!" He made spooky gestures with his fingers.
Someone laughed. "Maybe they looked in a mirror!"
A man called out across the room. "Hey, lay off them! They saved all our asses."
Jake flipped a chair around at their table and straddled it, leaning in to address Heero. "I heard you were damn strong, kiddo. I heard there was some paneling on your suit one day, all bent out of shape so the joint wouldn't seal properly, and you just bent that shit right back into place. That true, kid?"
Heero didn't answer.
An elbow thumped onto the table in front of him. "How about it?"
"Oh, for chrissake," one of the others groaned. "You insane?"
"Come on," Jake encouraged. "A little arm-wrestle, you and me. Whaddya say?"
Heero raised his eyes and pinned him with a cold blue stare before getting up to leave without a word.
"Aww, you chickenin' out on me? How about you, kid?" He turned to Duo, who was staring off to the side with a bored look on his face. "You wanna give it a go? I heard all you boys were supposed to be pretty special, weren't you?"
Duo swung his eyes around lazily to meet his challenging stare. "Why? You got an interest in pretty boys?"
Jake's fist clenched at the insinuation. "I heard you were a number one asshole, too."
"Ah, so you are looking for an ass to fuck. Sorry, but I don't think I'm as young as you think anymore."
His seat scraped loudly against the floor as he pushed it back and stood angrily, both fists now clenched. Another Sweeper got between them. "Just drop it, Jake. You heard right. The little ass ain't worth it."
"Let me make this easy for you," Duo said, getting up as well. He bowed graciously before also leaving the commons.
They were terrible accommodations, and yet they gladly retired early, locking themselves far away from the whispers and the looks. The crew had left them alone for the day, but only in terms of proximity. Their presence had still been felt.
Heero fell wearily into his bunk with a headache. He was not normally bothered by people talking about him behind his back, but petty gossip was one thing. Here, he got the uncanny feeling that too many of these people had known them from before, were comparing them and finding them lacking. It was one thing to think that about oneself, another thing entirely to find a whole group of people confirming it.
Duo knew it was a mistake to get on this ship, but Noin hadn't exactly given them the chance to refuse. She was a commanding woman. It was probably only thanks to her that the Sweepers had been kind enough to provide them with some fresh clothes. The two of them were, as she said, not smelling quite so fresh anymore, and the crew was ready to oblige their nice lady guest.
"Shit, when do we get off this boat?" he muttered softly to himself, prying off his boots.
"Should have just ignored them," Heero sighed. "Wouldn't have so much trouble with them that way."
As if that was working for Yuy. He had built up a fat, obvious wall between himself and the rest of the crew, and that probably attracted just as much attention as his own attitude did. There had been at least a few accusations of arrogance and 'being too good for the rest of us' scattered among the whispers. "There's trouble all over this ship."
He'd tried to mind his own business. He'd tried to find some corner of the ship where no one would bother him. Unfortunately, the Sweepers were a tough, industrious folk. They didn't sit around lazily and let parts of their vessel go to rot. Either there were Sweepers ready to make him antsy where he went, or there were memories to do the same. He'd never been on this particular ship before, but some places were familiar all the same.
"We should hit L2 tomorrow."
Great, another place just full of great memories. Hopefully, they wouldn't stay there for long. He was sure the Sweepers would be happy to help Noin get where she wanted to go. The two of them could jump ship and... go somewhere. He wasn't sure what the plan was, but as long as it didn't involve the Sweepers, Duo was just fine with it.
Feeling all sorts of nervous energy crawling over his skin, he plopped himself beside Heero's low bunk, chin resting upon the arm resting upon the bed. The hand on his other arm found a place on Heero's chest. "Tomorrow's a long way away. Wanna make the time--"
"Just take a shower already, Duo."
He frowned, trying to turn it into a pout. Fortunately for him, Heero had an arm flung across his eyes. Disgruntled, Duo rolled to his feet, shrugging with nonchalance even though there was no one to see it. He saw it, in a way, and that was what mattered at the moment. Shrugging off his jacket and tossing it onto his bunk, he claimed a corner of the desk alcove as his to unload his weapons. It was poor manners to carry a gun onboard, but the knives he'd hidden on his person had made him feel better. His shirt was stripped off next. He glanced over his shoulder at his temporary roommate, salacious leer ready to be wielded, but Heero still had his eyes covered. Feeling vulnerable all of a sudden, he snatched up the change of clothes he'd been given and locked himself in the bathroom.
Heero was still curled up on the narrow bed when Duo came out, now with a pillow clutched over his head. "Trying to smother yourself, Yuy?"
The pillow shifted a couple of centimeters before it was thrown off entirely. "Can't stand that sound." The stuffed buffer had shielded out the audible range of the shower's hum, but there had still been that indescribable grating buzz that the pillow had done little to block out.
He left his dirty clothes in a puddle on the chair. They'd have to locate the cleaner later. It felt weird to be thinking of such mundane things. "They've got regular showers, down in the rec room, if you need 'em."
A rec room full of people? Was Duo out of his mind? Instead of offering a verbal answer, Heero just fetched his own pile of stuff and took his turn in the small shower.
Hmpf, 'regular' showers, Duo thought to himself. Wasn't too long ago that the sonic showers had been 'regular', and the luxury of a water shower had been the exception. But he wasn't really a spacer anymore, he reminded himself, and definitely not a Sweeper. No, that was a bridge he napalmed long ago.
He was boxing with his own shadow, and not gaining an upper hand, when Heero emerged, running a hand through his hair. Long lost discipline was scavenged, enough to keep him from scratching at the healing scab at the back of his neck. He clutched at the long hairs covering it instead. "I should cut this off." His fingers shifted to the front, to push his bangs out of the way. "This, too. You're just going to make yourself smell again if you keep that up."
Duo wasn't getting much of a workout. He'd taken his loaned shirt off again, besides. It'd been a little tight across the shoulders. "I think Noin's just pissy we don't smell like Zechs."
"Good," Heero grunted. "He always smells like... some classy sort of aftershave."
He laughed. "And how often would you smell of aftershave?"
Heero rolled his eyes as he dumped his stack of laundry near Duo's. "Hasn't that gotten old yet?"
"Hey, Noin said we were free to act like little boys."
"Does that mean we have to?"
"Well, you don't want to act like a man with me." Jab, jab, block.
"Since when is a man's measure given by his willingness to take it up the ass? I'd think infiltrating bases and going through fire fights would be sufficient proof of manhood." He leaned against the wall, uninterested in crossing Duo's path to get back to the bed.
"We've been doing that since we were boys, Heero." Block, cross. "Try again."
"Yay. We get to have meaningless sex now that we're all grown up. I should have let that guy kill me back in that alley."
"Ah, but then where would your precious princess be?"
"Stop calling her that. She has a name, Duo."
"Ooh, sweet puppy love. Ain't it cute?" Another two jabs, another block. "Been doing that since you were a boy, too, Yuy. What have you graduated to now, huh? True love?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Duo. I don't love her, puppily or otherwise."
It just killed him every time he said things like 'puppily'. You could take the well-educated hero and dump him in the streets, but he'd still be a well-educated hero, through and through. Duo stopped his exercises to plant his hands on his hips. "Yeah? Then tell me why, Heero. I still don't know why we're on this little quest of yours. Why are you so set on making sure she doesn't marry this guy, huh? If you don't have a thing for her. Didja really hate him that much? You jealous of him? Jealous of her? Angry at her? Angry at the world?" He knew it wasn't a good idea to push. He did it anyway.
He got results. "Maybe I'm just that bored, Duo!" Heero parted from the wall and closed the distance between them a few upset steps, things bubbling up from inside him that had been stewing for days. "Maybe... Maybe I just don't know what else to do! Maybe I'm sick and tired of you and Trowa and whoever else coming to me, asking me as if I know the answers! I don't. I don't know what I'm doing in this world any more than you do. Maybe I'm just doing this because what else can I do? What else am I supposed to do?"
"Then stop acting like you have the goddamn answers, Yuy!" Duo's long strides ate up the space remaining between them as he got in Heero's face. "Maybe if you'd act confused or lost once in a while, we'd stop following you around."
"Then that's it? That's why you're here right now? You're just waiting for me to hand you an answer?" This was why he had accepted the deal at the end of the wars. He didn't want this for himself anymore. He'd spent the last five years trying to hide from people demanding answers and action from him, including himself. Couldn't they all just leave him alone? He'd hoped that peace would relinquish him of this responsibility. He didn't want to be the lynchpin of people's hopes and dreams anymore. Once upon a time, maybe he'd felt up to the task, but not anymore. "Well, sorry to have wasted your time."
It wasn't like Duo had really chosen to follow Heero on this chase. Heero had just showed up, and Duo had just gotten caught up in his gravitational pull. It wasn't too much to ask now that Yuy take responsibility for the lives he touched, the paths he altered. "And what about your big fancy speech to Trowa? You're on a path now, you don't know where you're going, but you're gonna keep on following it? Sound familiar?"
"Sounds right, too. It's not an answer, Duo, it's a desperate search for an answer. It's true: I really don't care that much about everything else going on in the world right now." It was a terrible thing to say, but it felt so good to say it. So good to come right on out and confess this thing that had been festering beneath his skin for so long. He'd hinted at it enough, but to say it plainly and boldly... it felt good. So good he couldn't stop, no matter how much it hurt. "This thing that Noin and Zechs stumbled on? This conspiracy that the Jurgensens are involved in? The way Earth Sphere politics are crumbling? The way this peace is failing the people? I really don't care. I know I should care. I know what I'm supposed to do. Maybe that's why I've just been going along with all these things. I can act as if I care. But it really isn't in me right now to really, truly give a damn. And I don't know where it all went."
"Then why her?" Duo demanded with a soft intensity. Heero had the answers, even if he didn't know it. He had to. "Why Relena? Why chase after her? Why break up the engagement?"
"Because she still cares," he whispered with an equal focus. "She can still do all the things that we can't. Can't you see what will happen if she marries him? She'll become just like us."
"See? Trowa was right. You *are* on the path to saving the world. And you chose it." Duo's voice hardened, almost in accusation. "Don't give me this bullshit about not knowing your place in the world. You're heroic to the core."
Denial seemed a pointless thing. 'Heroic' wasn't so bad, as inalienable natures went, but there was a burden attached to it that he didn't want. "I don't know what she'll do. Maybe there's nothing she can do anymore. I don't give a damn about what happens to the world if she breaks free and goes back to being who she used to be. I just don't want to see this happen to someone else."
"Still heroic. Saving even one life, if not the world's."
"Then why are you here, Duo? Looking for answers, you said? Answers to what? What our purpose is? Trying to save a life, even if it's your own?"
"Maybe I just wanted to get away from how pathetic my life was. Maybe I'm like you, going after Zechs, after Noin. Maybe I'm like Trowa, joining up with the bad guys. Maybe you just happened to come along one day, and I just decided to go with it. Maybe I'm just here to forget a little, to try and forget how this all turned out."
"That wouldn't change anything..." He was suddenly aware of how close Duo was getting to him.
"I know. But just for a little while, Yuy..." All air between them disappeared as Duo pressed their lips together. It started as a hesitant brush, but turned quickly into a hard, demanding thing, the sudden force of it pushing Heero back until he hit the wall again, and still they were kissing in some strange way.
He found himself simply caught up in it, some disconnected part of his brain pointing out that it wasn't unlike all of their paths so far, how they seemed to simply go along with whatever was happening. It was so easy to go along with it, without thought, without feeling. He didn't want this. There were so many empty things in his life already that he could do without adding one more. He pulled away as he could, and managed one word. "No..."
Only the one gasped word before he was swallowed again by the flood of Duo's determination. Hands tugged at the hem of the clean white undershirt he had put on to sleep. He found his arms rising over his head at the slightest provocation. Soon, it was skin against skin, pain against pain as the shirt was tossed aside, freeing the hands to return to the boxers he'd been given. He struggled against the shivery feeling of cold fingers dancing down a length of flesh that had long since forsaken its worldly instincts in favor of a disdainful outlook on a meaningless life.
No, not with Duo, not like this. It was so very easy, too easy, to be passive. He didn't want this to be like everything else, the result of nothing more than a nearly random and arbitrary convergence of events that came and went by purest happenstance. He didn't want to walk the path that just happened to be in front of him. He refused the choice of convenience.
"Come on, baby," Duo whispered hotly against the skin right below his ear. He could feel Heero's reluctance, thick in the air, heavy in his hand. "Just go with it."
Duo's forehead fell briefly upon his shoulder before he found himself confronted up close with eyes that seemed darker than they should have been. They were framed by a face underlined with a quiet plea. "Please, Heero. Just let go. Let go, and just forget with me. Just for a little while."
The meaningless sex with a near stranger transformed itself suddenly into release with a man with whom he once again felt familiar, no matter that they'd never been acquainted before.
It had somehow turned into a real choice.
It was the change in lighting that made him scrub at his eyes with the palms of his hands, not any need for reality to reassert itself. Shit, what did he just do? It'd been days since he last thought of it, but boy could he use a smoke right about now. Pity he'd long since ditched his cigarettes. Damn that Heero Yuy, anyway.
He tugged the elastic band out of his hair and ran his hands through the tangled tail, pulling it into some semblance of order. His fingers were already halfway through a braid he hadn't worn regularly in years before he noticed. It came loose with an angry shake of his head and he settled for corralling it all untidily with the band. With a halfhearted glare at the closed door behind him, he wandered down the corridor, trying to get a sense of where he was, what he was doing. Just couldn't leave well enough alone, could he? Couldn't just settle for poking the unfazable Heero Yuy; no, he had to go poking him, too. Was he satisfied now? Had he finally managed to bring Yuy down to his own level?
His satisfied smirk died before it was ever really born. No, he hadn't. If it had started out as an attempt to wipe the self-confidence or the cool apathy from that impassive face, then it was a complete failure. He couldn't run from it; things were as Yuy said. They weren't any different, the two of them. Any of them, maybe. Just trying to figure out their place in this world.
Maybe that was what that little voice had said, the little something that had given him the thought that fucking Heero Yuy would be a good idea. That little voice needed to be dragged to the nearest airlock and spaced.
He made it to one of the observation decks before running into anyone else. They were in the thick of the night cycle. He'd expected the crew running the shift to be concentrated on the bridge, but he'd forgotten to take into account the vagaries of an old, displaced man. With no one else around, his entrance had been unmistakable. Pride made him stand his ground, along with a moodiness that just begged for more in a defiant, devil-may-care masochism. If he was going to be sour, he might as well have it all at once.
They stared at each other for a few long seconds before Howard broke the stand-off. "It's about time you got yourself out of there, kid."
Duo just snorted and turned to look out one of the small windows.
Kids these days. Well, Howard was old. He could afford to sacrifice some of the machismo for something honest. "For what it's worth... I'm glad."
"You don't get bragging rights, old man. No 'I told you so's. This had nothing to do with you." He wasn't sure what it had to do with, really. While he didn't feel bad for punching Trowa, not at all, he could, maybe, admit that maybe he could understand why Trowa did what he did. Maybe.
"I'm not looking for any credit, kid. I'm just... I'm just glad you're out of there. You were killing yourself in there."
"Who says I'm not killing myself out here, too?"
Not on this ship, he didn't. "You're just bound and determined to, to, to martyr yourself or something, aren't you?"
"That's Yuy's gig, not mine."
"Get off it already, Maxwell. Hell, you shoulda gotten off it years ago, when I first offered you an out."
"I thought the fusion cutter was a 'so long, farewell, never ever gonna bug you again' sort of present."
It hadn't been a present, really. More like a final hope that one day, the stubborn kid would see the light and come back where he belonged. It'd been an option, an alternative, a choice never made. Howard was, in a way, heartened to know the kid had kept it around, though. "Never gonna bug you again about getting out of there. But now that you're out of there, seems like you're engaged in a whole new breed of lunacy."
"Nope. Same one, I'm pretty sure." Oh yeah, he wanted a smoke. If nothing else, it had always provided a good cover. A person could stand in the most random places, staring off into space, so long as he had a cigarette dangling from between his fingers.
"I warned you, Maxwell. Too much spite, and it was all gonna stick to you." Where was the bright-eyed kid he used to know? The one so eager to learn all there was about the world?
Duo frowned darkly at him. "That's an 'I told you so.'"
The kid turned back out the window, rolling his shoulders uncomfortably as he did, and Howard noticed how the shirt was ill-fitting. It was the small things that said so much, sometimes. Howard had gotten them some clean spares. Yuy's size, he'd looked the compact fellow over and estimated a size. For Duo, he'd gone ahead and assumed the fit based on what he knew, and he'd 'known' wrong. "Yeah, and I'll continue saying 'I told you so' as long as this stays such a stupid idea. What are you even doing out here if you're not interested in stopping with your damn games, Duo?"
"This isn't a game, Howard." It was a joke, maybe. A sham, a cruel trick. But no game.
"Seems like you're playing with your own life, playing with fire, maybe. I don't even half know what the hell it is you're doing. It's like, if the government is determined to make you a low-life, you're going to one-up them and be the best damn low-life there is. Now what are you playing at, tagging along with Yuy out here?"
As if he had any idea. "You wanted me out of there, old man. I'm out. What do you care how or why? It's what you get. Deal with it."
"Now that's your 'gig', Maxwell. That's why you just settled for--"
"We've been over this before, old man. I made my bed. I sleep in it."
Yes, they'd gone over this several times before, years ago, not right from the beginning, but close to it. The pilots had agreed to their soft versions of house arrest; slowly but surely they'd had their freedoms stripped away from them, and they hadn't even noticed. The Sweepers had, the unruly and independent Sweepers, with Howard at their helm, and they had tried to save their own before it was too late. Duo would have none of it, for reasons beyond anyone's understanding, and clearly he still wasn't interested in hearing it. "And whose bed did you just roll out of? I can't believe you're walking the halls like that. You reek of sex."
He hadn't been able to tolerate another minute in that room, let alone take the time to hop into the shower again, speedy though the sonic version was. "Oh, so you know what that smells like, do you?"
"I know none of this crew would be stupid enough to fall for you..." Who would be crazy enough to... Howard's eyebrows rose in surprised realization above his sunglasses. "You tumbled Heero Yuy. Oh my god, you tumbled Heero Yuy."
He was well aware of that, thank you, and he didn't need to be reminded. "That's none of your goddamn business." Suddenly, the observation deck didn't seem half as appealing anymore. Without a word of farewell, he left through the opposite door to be alone with his thoughts.
last modified : 1/14/2006 23:52:01 PST