Part Twenty-One: Long For Wilder Days
Like a myth, you rode in from the west;
From the go, you had my button pressed --
Did the tea-time of your soul make you long for wilder days?
Did you never let Jack Kerouac wash over you in waves?
--- Richard Thompson
Heero came across the park by accident, after a half-hour of aimless wandering in the colony's midnight. At the edge of the grassy area, past the low trees and flowerbeds, he impulsively unlaced his boots and slipped off his socks. Carrying his boots in one hand, he padded barefoot across the grass to sit in the center of the little park. Seating himself cross-legged, Heero rested his chin on his fists as he continued to replay the night in his mind.
Duo's hands had definitely been shaking when he'd unfolded the note. Then he'd smiled... almost. Heero wondered if the smile indicated pleasure at the note's promise to follow, not lead, and protect only as a function of watching Duo's back. Or perhaps, Heero thought ruefully, it was more of an exasperated expression. Perhaps Duo was merely amused it'd taken Heero this long to figure out the boundaries of their friendship.
Heero ran his hands through his hair, resting his forehead against his palms for a minute. Duo had read the note with such deliberate care, and Heero had just started to relax, hope glimmering faintly. But then Duo's expression had gone blank, his eyes grew empty and distant. Heero was positive the reaction was somehow related to the note's closing statements, about wanting their friendship back, the one they'd had before. Something about that had made Duo shut down.
He realized his hands had become tight fists around handfuls of hair. Heero consciously forced himself to relax, breathing deeply through his nose. Maybe everything he'd suspected really was true. Duo didn't want him here, didn't like him, would reluctantly accept his partnership but didn't want his friendship.
A motorcycle engine sounded in the distance, and Heero instinctively looked up. Someone had pulled up alongside the park, and was now walking towards him with a casual loping stride.
"Nice night for star-gazing," the Heavyarms pilot commented.
"If we had stars to look at," Heero replied.
A smile darted across the tall man's lips as Trowa seated himself. The two men gazed across the small park in quiet contemplation before Trowa lay back, supporting his upper body on his elbows and stretching his long legs in front of him.
"You're in," the taller man said.
Heero looked over, an eyebrow raised. In the dark, Trowa caught only the quick jerk of the other man's head, and chuckled softly.
"Duo told me," Trowa explained equitably. "Caught me on my way out the door."
"What does that mean?"
"Means we tell you what's going on," came the reply.
"But only because Duo says so," Heero muttered.
"He was the one holding things up," Trowa said, his jacket rustling as he shrugged. "Hilde and I would've told you after the first job."
"Not until we knew your loyalties."
Heero mulled that over. "Fair enough. But now... " He snorted. "I guess everything's right with the world."
There was a pause, before Trowa spoke, his voice even lower. "You don't sound too thrilled."
"I don't know." Heero leaned back, letting his hands drop in his lap. "Duo read my note... and then... he just... " He shrugged helplessly, a small movement. His face was tense, his lips tight. "He's not happy."
"What did he say?" Trowa's voice was gentle, smooth. Somehow he managed to imply curiosity, a willingness to listen, and understanding if Heero chose to remain silent, all at the same time.
"I had concluded by saying I wanted to be friends again, like we were. He repeated that statement... " Heero sighed, and repeated Duo's words softly. "Friends like we were."
"Like you were?" Trowa's leaned his head back, and his hair fell away from his face as he startled Heero by laughing out loud. Heero frowned and brought bring his knees up under his chin, clasping his hands across his shins.
"I don't get what's so funny," he muttered.
Trowa's laughter died away, and he shook his head, a wry smile still playing on his lips. "I didn't think you would," he said. "But... friends like you were? Heero, you can be so blind sometimes."
"Blind?" Heero's tone was quietly indignant.
"You weren't friends," Trowa replied blandly.
Heero frowned as he digested Trowa's comment. Unable to find the words, he settled for staring at the other man, confusion obvious in the way his brows knitted and the stunned, soft openness of his mouth.
"No, you weren't," Trowa continued. "None of us, except maybe Quatre, were ever Duo's friends. Hilde tried, but wasn't... Sometimes I think I am, now. Sometimes I remember I'm not."
Heero said nothing, but turned his head away from Trowa, rather than risk the other man seeing the hurt flooding his system. Heero wasn't willing to trust that the colony's half-darkness would hide the expression before he could mask it.
"We were comrades, partners. Brothers-in-arms." Trowa's eyebrows were raised, his expression amused. "Duo never let us be friends with him, except for Quatre. But then, Quat was the only one who really tried. We were too busy believing in Duo's smiles. We needed him to be that cheerful fool, and that meant we couldn't allow ourselves to know him."
"We did know him," Heero insisted, and ducked his head. "He was one of us."
"Which made him loyal to you, when you were there. And it made him hate you, when you left."
"No," Heero whispered, impetuously. "We were friends."
"Maybe he was your friend, then," Trowa amended. Silence reigned until Trowa glanced at Heero's down-turned face. When the Heavyarms pilot spoke again, his voice was low and gentle. "Who are your friends, Heero?"
The dark-haired man mused over the question. "Bernie... my agent. And Dr. Hannigan. And... you four. Maybe Relena, too."
"It's been five years."
"It's not like I enjoyed leaving the first time," Heero snapped. "But I... had to. I needed... "
"It's okay," Trowa interjected smoothly. "I do understand."
"So how long am I supposed to suffer to make up for it? How long is Duo going to keep hurting me for leaving, for coming back?" Heero couldn't mask the resentment seeping into his words, even as his voice dropped to a whisper. "And how can he do it so easily? It's like he doesn't have to try, and it hurts just to be near him... "
"My chest... " Heero scowled as Trowa canted his head at the Wing Zero pilot. Those cat-slant green eyes, studying him so thoroughly despite the soft darkness around them both. Heero looked away, his face flushing. "When Duo said that to me at the club... The way he looked, how he spoke... and I couldn't breathe. Like someone had punched me so deeply, their fist was buried... " He shrugged, almost imperceptibly, and gave up.
There was a long silence. Trowa's gaze shifted to look out across the park. Heero stared down at the grass glowing softly from the distant colony nightlights.
"I live with that everyday," Trowa whispered.
Heero raised his head, perplexed.
"It's called heartache," the other man said, sitting up to cross his legs under him. A small bitter smile played at the edges of his lips before disappearing. "I take it this is a new experience for you."
Heero thought about the question, and the sensation, for several minutes before shrugging again. "I don't know. Yeah." His brows were furrowed in concentration. "What do you mean... "
"Quatre," Trowa said. The auburn-haired man let his chin drop, and his hair swung down to cover his eyes, hiding him from Heero's confused gaze.
"You miss him?"
"Like I'm missing body parts, or oxygen." Trowa's voice cracked, and he kept his head down, but Heero could see the other man's hands fisting in the grass.
Heero studied his fingers for several minutes before finding his voice again. "Why did you leave?"
"I couldn't stay."
"Because Duo asked you to go?"
"No." Trowa raised his head, fixing Heero with an unreadable expression. "Duo asked Quatre for help, not me. I told you, I have not always been Duo's friend."
Heero didn't say anything, but his expression displayed his bewilderment. Trowa shook his head, his eyes downcast again. There was a pause, as the taller man rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand before speaking again.
"Quatre couldn't go, and he didn't want me to. I presume he told you I was studying veterinary medicine?"
Heero nodded, waiting silently without interrupting.
"It was... hell," Trowa said, with a soft groan as his eyes closed, remembering. "Surrounded by kids whose hardest decision was probably which movie to see on a Friday night... I was suffocating. I'm not a college student. I'm a soldier. I don't belong in the university's hothouse environment. But Quatre wanted me to stay where I was, not get involved."
When Trowa didn't continue, Heero risked speaking, but kept his voice to a subdued level. "He wants you to be safe."
Trowa grunted, a sound somewhere between amused and irritated. "During wartime, I tried to protect him. Come peacetime," Trowa's voice turned biting. "He protected me... from the fact that the world didn't need me anymore." The Heavyarms pilot sighed. "We were duty-bound, as brothers-in-arms, to aid Duo when he asked. And I went, because Duo needed us... and I went, because Quatre refused to need me more."
Heero raised an eyebrow, tilting his head in confusion. Trowa noticed the silent movements and sighed again, that quick smile pulling at the edges of his lips before fading.
"I'm in love with him, Heero. I have been, ever since Mariemaia."
"Ah." Heero didn't know what to say, and exhaled slowly. His head was swirling from the overwhelming amount of information hitting him without warning. He let his hands fall from his shins and folded his legs back under him in a fluid motion before hesitantly asking the question tugging at his mind. "I guess this isn't good?"
"Quatre's Muslim." Trowa scratched his chin and shrugged a little. "The Neo-Muslims have accepted homosexuality for over three hundred years now. But the Old Muslims don't, and Quatre's father was Old Muslim. Quat still worships his father's memory, even if his sisters are all Neo-Muslim, like his mother was."
Heero contemplated this news, and finally decided he had no response. The stillness stretched out until Trowa spoke again, his words no louder than breathing.
"He loves me. He says he does, but dishonoring his father's memory... he won't cross that line."
Heero couldn't help it; he laughed, a sharp barking sound. "Quatre tried to kill both of us, and took out an entire colony. He'd killed in battle before and after that. That alone goes against everything his father stood for, I thought."
"The heart doesn't understand logic," Trowa agreed softly. "Which is why my heart still aches, even though I know it's better to be alone. It hurt, being his friend, wanting more and being denied. At least this way I'm achieving something, if I'm going to hurt regardless."
Heero nodded, understanding completely and knowing Trowa understood his silence perfectly in return. The two ex-soldiers stayed where they were until the colony's lights shifted, indicating the passage of another hour. Finally Trowa stirred, and stood up with a sigh. He brushed at the back of his jeans while the Wing Zero pilot pulled on his socks and shoes and stood up as well.
"Guess we should head back," Trowa commented dryly. "Besides, Duo'll be back in another hour. Jeet's gonna need all the help he can get."
Heero grunted, a questioning sound.
"Duo can hold liquor better than anyone, unless he chooses not to. When I saw him last, he didn't look like he was doing much choosing." Trowa shrugged and led the way to his bike.
The cab honked twice when it pulled up at the station's entrance, and the sound echoed through the silent docking bays all the way back to Hilde's ship. Heero yawned, waiting on the cargo area's back step with a mug of tea. Trowa had won the coin toss and gone to bed. Hilde was still out; Trowa had said she usually crashed at Enny's and came back in the morning.
Groggy, Heero watched as Jeet approached with the thief in tow. Duo's arm was over the blue-haired boy's shoulders, and Jeet had both his arms around Duo's waist. Both of them were swaying as they walked.
Heero put down his mug of tea and yawned again as the two stumbled into the cargo area. He sighed and came to his feet, prepared to catch Duo once he realized the thief's eyes were completely closed. The young man's feet were moving, but the action appeared to be mostly automatic.
Jeet glared at Heero, but didn't protest when Heero slipped a shoulder under Duo's free arm.
"I'll take him," Heero said. "If you tap on Trey's door, and he's still awake, there's fifty credits for your efforts." He was mildly disgusted at the message, but the small voice in Heero's head reminded him that at this point Jeet was likely the only pleasure Trowa was allowing himself. A number of things made more sense, on a deeper level, after that talk in the park.
Jeet paused for a second, then nodded curtly, slipping past Heero into the ship. Heero could hear a light tapping, followed by Trowa's muffled voice granting entrance. With a quick last look down the corridor, Jeet entered Trowa's and Heero's bunkroom. Heero sighed and hefted Duo's barely vertical dead weight, taking a left into Duo's and Hilde's empty bunkroom.
Heero didn't turn on the lights once the door slid open, but let the dim hallway lights allow him a quick glance around the room. The door shut behind them, and it wasn't long before Heero had placed Duo on the near end of the bunk. The longhaired man tilted to one side, his breathing low and soft, a quiet purring sound as he breathed through his nose. Heero realized the band was gone from the end of Duo's braid, and it was quickly falling into even greater disarray.
The dark-haired man scratched his head as he stood in the dark room and tried to decide how best to deal with the unconscious thief. Presently Heero sighed and knelt down in front of Duo, unlacing one of the boots and tugging it off, followed by Duo's sock. At the touch of his hands on the now bare foot, Duo stirred.
"Jeet," he slurred. "Don' touch me. G'way."
Heero paused, letting his eyes finish adjusting before he was able to see that Duo's eyes were closed. The thief's head lolled to one side, his shoulder resting against the headboard. Slowly Heero reached for the other foot, still encased in a black combat boot.
"Wors' fuckin' night," Duo mumbled.
Heero froze again, waited until Duo's breathing was even, and started unlacing the boot. He'd nearly gotten it off when Duo jerked slightly. Only Heero's fast reflexes kept Duo's foot from connecting squarely with his groin. Growling under his breath, the Wing Zero pilot held the thief's foot steady as he waited.
"Jeeeeet," Duo whined softly. "Wanna' take sho'r... Ge' offa me. Gonna... " His eyes still closed, Duo pulled his feet under him and braced his hands on the edge of the bunk. Startled, Heero came to his feet in just enough time to get Duo by the shoulders and push him back down. Duo didn't protest, but merely sunk back down. A second later his head had hit the bunk headboard wall with a solid thud, and his breathing evened out again.
Rolling his eyes, Heero yanked the second boot off, and pulled the jeans leg up, grabbing the sock and pulling it off in a quick motion. At that point, though, he hesitated. Should he remove more? Should he leave Duo like he was? Should he tuck Duo into bed? What do friends do?
Forget it, Heero's mind taunted, you're not Duo's friend. You're just his comrade. Fine, Heero retorted silently, what do comrades do? Leave a drunk co-terrorist to fend for himself? Or strip him? Heero's inner argument was interrupted by another garbled comment from the drunken man.
"Wanna sho'r, get th' stink offa me," Duo said, bringing one hand up to rub his face, but he miscalculated and ended up slapping himself in the cheek. Duo frowned distantly, brought his hand up slower the second time, and rubbed his nose carefully. "Screw'up day, screw'up night. Fuckin' sucked, y'know, Jeet, y'know wha' mean?"
Heero didn't say anything, but stood up, taking Duo under the arms, and lifting the Deathscythe pilot. Duo's head fell forward with the motion, his arms hung down limply, and he didn't react until Heero had set him down in the middle of the bunk.
"Don' touch," Duo snapped suddenly, his fist flying out blindly. Heero threw himself to the side just in time, and Duo's fist merely glanced off Heero's cheek. The dark-haired man grimaced, rubbing his cheek, and took a deep breath, holding it for a second before slowly releasing it.
"Don' touch me," Duo repeated, softer this time as he slumped to the side. Heero caught him in time, guiding Duo to the mattress until his head hit the pillow. Duo was still muttering, his voice just barely audible. "Ta' th' credits an' g'way. Y' got wha' ya wan', ev'one saw we lef' tagetha'... " The words drifted into inaudible mumbling.
Duo's skin was damp from the club, and his clothes were soaked with sweat. Heero sighed. The station bay's colony cold would be seeping into the ship in another hour, and it'd be sure to give Duo a chill. Put him under the covers at least, the small voice said. He thinks you're Jeet anyway, so what difference does it make what you do?
Heero's breath caught in his throat as his gaze traveled down the planes and angles of Duo's prone body. There was barely enough light to highlight Duo's chest, the curving ripple of ribs leading into a cavity of a flat stomach ridged by lean muscles. The v-shape framing Duo's abdomen sank like a calyx into the vase-mouth of the low-slung jeans. Long, slender legs, the curve of the thigh balancing neatly against the powerful calves. Duo muttered something in his sleep, turning his head to the side to nuzzle his face into the pillow.
If I touch now, Heero thought, a wild passing idea, Duo would never know. He'd blame it all on Jeet. Heero's hand trembled as he brought it out, raising it up to stare at it for a long minute before dropping it slowly.
No, he told himself.
Shaking his head at his own crazy thoughts, Heero took a hold of Duo's legs, lifting them up long enough to yank the bed sheets and blanket out from under the drunken man. The movement brought a flurry of slurred comments from the other end of the bunk.
"G' blow som'n else, Jeet," Duo breathed, his eyes squeezed tight, his fingers plucking at the cuffs of his shirtsleeves. "No'me, no' more. Tire' of it, does no goo'... Sick a'... " The longhaired man's voice faded away.
Heero draped the sheet and blanket over Duo, and again found himself wishing it were possible to convince himself it'd be okay to put his fingers on Duo's bare skin, just one time. Only once, the little voice begged. Duo would never know. I could go back to being ignorant, having proven to myself that it means nothing to me.
Heero's hand reached out, almost against his will. He watched with a distant fascination as his fingertips brushed Duo's forehead, pushing the sweat-matted bangs out of Duo's still-tensed eyes.
At the touch, Duo relaxed a little, sighing softly. Emboldened, Heero let his fingers hover over Duo's temple. He ran his fingers lightly down Duo's silken cheek, then back up and down again to follow the jaw line, freezing when Duo's face turned towards the touch. In the dark, Heero couldn't make out Duo's expression, but he jerked his hand away when he heard the thief's faint whisper.
"Jeet, I like ya, y'know, but yer not tha one... you'll neve' be tha one... " Duo's eyes were opening to slits, the light from the porthole igniting the unfocused pupils. In the station bay's nighttime lighting, Duo's iris rims shone like two silver sickles.
Heero backpedaled rapidly and was out of the bunkroom faster than he'd moved in several years, and nearly as silently. He wasn't sure whether Duo had seen him, or whether the man was even remotely lucid enough to register his helper's identity. Standing in the hallway, Heero braced his back against the bunkroom door, letting his head fall back as he tried to catch his breath. There was a soft murmur of conversation coming from Trowa's bunkroom.
A few minutes later the other bunkroom door slid open and Jeet came out. He was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, a satisfied expression on his face. The blue-haired boy glared at Heero, raising his eyebrows as he stared pointedly at the door Heero was blocking.
Heero shook his head, then dug in his pocket and dragged out twenty-five credits.
"What's this?" Jeet looked confused, but took the money.
"That's for bringing him back in one piece," Heero said, crossing his arms. "Now leave so I can close up for the night."
"I'm not done here yet," Jeet said, his tone warning.
"Shut up," Heero retorted, his exhaustion suddenly overridden by sheer annoyance. "You are done. Day doesn't want to see you, doesn't want to be touched by you, but he's willing to pay you so you can save face."
"I don't believe you. You're keeping him to yourself."
"Fuck you." The dark-haired man's voice was pure ice. "He thought I was you. I'm not part of this picture."
There was a long pause. Jeet's body language seemed to melt, his youth becoming more pronounced as he stepped down from the confrontation.
"I get it," the boy whispered. "That's the problem, isn't it."
Heero raised an eyebrow, unmoving.
"You're not in the picture either," Jeet said, a sage, sorrowful tone. "Sucks, doesn't it? Who doesn't wanna be with him so badly? But you know, same as me, when he looks at you, it's never you that he's seeing."
Heero didn't respond, but kept his face perfectly neutral. Jeet's mouth curled up, a touch, at one end, and a dimple flashed momentarily in his cheek, giving him a childlike look for that single second. The blue-haired whore shoved the money in his pocket with a shrug.
"Sucks," the boy repeated softly, his footfalls nearly silent on the cargo area's grated floor. Jeet hopped off the rear ledge without a backwards look, strolling off across the station docking bay. Heero could just barely hear a jaunty whistle floating back in the air towards him, and he punched in the code to lockdown the ship, and then headed off to bed.