Jaded Trade
by Trixie

His knuckles were dry and bruised from hitting the heavy bag so much. Duo hadn't shown up for class on either Monday or Wednesday. Heero resorted to going to the club Wednesday night. He didn't really want to see Duo there again, but he wanted to see Duo.

He physically ached whenever he thought of Duo, and he couldn't sleep for thinking.

Quatre had appointed himself Heero's personal albatross. Whenever he wasn't apologizing, he was needling Heero for something. For a while, Heero was imagining Quatre in place of the heavy bag, but that was wearing his hands out too fast.

He decided that if Duo wasn't in lab on Thursday, he would hack into the university's systems to find out Duo's address.

Quatre made him go to lunch before lab, which was a waste of food and time. Heero pulled at his burger, glaring intently at the fries while Quatre pretended that he could carry on a conversation by himself. It took a long time for Quatre to give up.

Sighing, Quatre pushed aside his tray petulantly, and stared out the sweaty window of the cafeteria. "What do you plan on saying to him?"

Heero blinked, but did not respond.

"You aren't going to be all-knowing and perfect, are you? Because not everyone can live up to your standards." Quatre crossed his arms over his chest and folded his ankles over each other. He narrowed his eyes as he examined a bush across the walkway outside.

Heero bit back a snarl. "Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Quatre sighed, and it was as if the air had just been let out of him entirely. "Heero... Whatever his reasons for doing what he's doing, you *do* realize that he's not going to magically change his mind just because you don't approve."

"This isn't about approval!" Heero hissed. "I'm worried about him!"

"Yeah, but is he going to see the difference if you go in there all snarling and angry?" Quatre scratched the back of his head, holding his arm up to his elbow effectively shielded his face. "You can't beat the crap out of everyone who touches him, Heero," he conspiratorially spoke.

Heero blinked. He had not known that Quatre was capable of such nuanced delicacy.

"If this is his choice, this is his choice. Can you live with it?" Quatre leveled the full brunt of his watery turquoise eyes on Heero, giving Heero the uncomfortable feeling that he should fidget. "Can you be his friend if this is what he's doing?"

Heero could feel the heat in his face. He could only hope that it didn't show. "But... *how* can this be a good choice?"

"It's not." Quatre shrugged with a twitch of his eyebrow. "Whoever said people always make good choices?"

"How can I call myself his friend if I stand by and watch him... watch him be *abused* like that?" Heero placed his fist down on the table gently. He didn't want to threaten Quatre again, but he had no outlet for his frustration, which was only making him more frustrated.

"How can you call yourself his friend unless you are willing to stick by him through everything, bad and horrible?" Quatre smiled sadly. "Look, I'm not saying you should pat him on the back for becoming a whore, but you and he aren't that close. You don't know his full story. Whatever it is that made him do this, it must have been pretty major. If he had really *wanted* to make money on his back, he would have done so before. So he doesn't *want* to be doing this. If he were willing to see another way, he would have. That doesn't leave you with many options."

Heero didn't like feeling weak. It was against the very grain of his nature. He liked less feeling useless. He was accustomed to solving problems, not living with them.

Quatre reached out and placed his palm down on Heero's fist. "I just... I know that you care, Heero, but... please don't be offended if I say that you may have a few problems expressing that emotion. I'm just playing devil's advocate here. I'm just *suggesting* that you go in there with an open mind and be ready to just hear him out. Because I think that's what he'll really need."

His shoulders sagged against his will. "Supposing he's even *in* lab today," he grumbled, feeling very left out.

Nothing was going as he wanted it.

After lunch, he wandered around for a bit. When it was about time that they opened the doors to the lab, he meandered to the building, not wanting to sit at the table and wait for Duo for too long alone. Even still, the class started with Heero sitting alone, but to his immense relief, Duo slipped in just as the TA was handing out the day's worksheets.

Duo didn't look at him as he fell into his chair, and he turned his back to him to get out his notebook, pens, and calculator, but it didn't matter to Heero. Duo's braid was ragged and loose, but Heero didn't mind.

The relief that just sagged into him was palpable enough to leave him short of breath. Somehow, he had imagined that something horrible would have utterly transformed Duo, and taken away the man he knew forever. Duo was certainly not his normal self, but he was still *Duo*.

Sitting here now, watching him nervously scratch away at his worksheet, keeping his eyes low to avoid Heero's gaze, it was a wonder to Heero that anyone could want anything *less*. Why would anyone settle for just getting that *one* aspect of Duo, when *everything* about him was so magnetic? Of course, it didn't escape Heero that he himself had wanted nothing more from Duo than a good fuck not so long ago. If he was no better than that scum in the alley, then what right did he have to be angry?

Duo kept his back stiff, and worked very hard at not looking at Heero, even as they tried to work together. More accurately, Heero tried to work with Duo, and Duo tried to pretend that he was working alone. He kept his papers off in the corner near him, so Heero couldn't see his work, and whenever they reached for the same parts, Duo would pull back like he was afraid of being bitten.

Heero sighed inaudibly. This was going to be difficult, but he had expected that. He just hadn't figured out what to do about it.

"Duo," he spoke under his breath. "You ok?"

Duo stiffened, but said nothing.

Heero persisted, though. He had no other choice. "Look, about the other night..."

"I don't think we should talk about that," Duo hissed sharply.

Heero flinched. "No, I didn't think so..."

"Let's just get this done and get out of here." Duo roughly grabbed the last few components, slapping them together and then rushing through the rest of the experiment.

Heero tried to intervene once, but it only made Duo more frantic, and the next thing they knew, Duo was launching their rubber band rocket at the back of the head of the red headed kid in front of them.

The red headed kid did not seem to appreciate this, and the TA decided to loudly reinforce the concepts of lab safety right in front of them.

Personally, Heero thought it was kind of funny.

Still, it just meant that it was going to take them longer to finish, and longer to get everything written up. For the first time ever, they were the last group to turn in their worksheets, and the TA was glaring at them the whole time.

Heero was sure that was a bit excessive. As soon as the door swung shut behind them, Heero snorted. "I can't believe no one thought to congratulate you on such a good shot. You got him dead center."

Duo shrugged on his jacket in a hurry. "Yeah, ok, well, I'm off..."

"Wait!" Heero rushed forward to grab at Duo's hand, feeling the soft smoothness of Duo's skin as he flinched. "Wait, ok? Can't we... Can't we just talk for a minute?"

"We don't have anything to talk about," Duo assured him bitterly, slipping into a stairwell.

Heero blew air out his nose and followed. "Nothing?" Heero snorted. "What happened? Did I do something to offend you? We can't even talk about the weather?"

Duo's face was crinkled. "Just let it go, Heero. It's not worth your time." He bolted down the stair at double time.

"Wait!" Heero had to take the stair three at a time to keep up. "Wait!!" He grabbed Duo's arm at the bottom of the stairs. Duo was wriggly and fast, but Heero had a grip now, and he was stronger. There was a brief struggle while Heero held fast and pulled Duo off to the side, behind the stairs.

Sheer panic ripped across Duo's face, and Heero's heart broke, but he held on long enough to get a word in edgewise.

"Wait, ok? Don't run off. I'm not... I'm not going to hurt you, or judge you, or whatever. Please... don't run off." Heero let go, standing back warily in case Duo did want to bolt.

Duo rubbed his arm where Heero had held it, at stared up at Heero with tortured eyes. "What? What do you want?"

Heero looked at his shoes. "I'm sorry, ok?"

"Oh, c'mon," Duo jeered, "what, was I that hideous? Was it *that* big a deal to just have to watch? Everyone else seemed to enjoy it."

Heero looked over his shoulder. He wanted to say that he wasn't everyone else, but hadn't he fantasized of doing the same things to Duo? "I just... just wanted you to know you could talk to me, ok?"

Duo hunched back into his corner. "I don't have a choice, all right!"

Yes, you do, he almost said. He almost pled with Duo to consider his options. Damned Quatre, talking to him and imparting wisdom... If only the dumb blonde hadn't been right. Heero could read it all in Duo's eyes. "Ok. I mean... ok. Just... call on me if you need me. Seriously. Do you want my number? Just... just take care of yourself, all right?"

Duo relaxed marginally. "Yeah. Yeah, I know."

Heero pressed while he still could. He tore a sheet of paper out of his calendar and scribbled his numbers on it. "Here's my home number, and my cell. My cell isn't on a whole lot, but... You know, if you want to talk, or whatever."

Duo didn't take the proffered sheet of paper right away. The very corner of his lips curled up, and his eyes seemed to warm, the wary defensiveness leeching away. "Yeah. Ok. Thanks." His fingers brushed against Heero's, sending an electric spark down Heero's spine that shocked and enervated him.

Heero smiled shyly. "I'm... I'm, you know, I'm sorry thing are so... crappy."

Duo laughed, a sharp bark of desperate release. "Yeah. You and me both, believe me."

Heero ducked his head down and turned to go. He wanted to give Duo room. He was no more than a step away when Duo loosely grabbed his elbow.

"Oh, hey, be careful around Scythe, all right? Some guy got bashed in an alley, I heard."

Duo's eyes were clear and bright, and Heero was ashamed to feel all of his tension and worry dissipate in their warmth. "Scythe?"

Duo blinked, and then burst out laughing. "That's the name of the club! Don't tell me you've been going there for months, and you never knew the name?"

Heero stared at him. "It's just the club."

Duo laughed even harder. "The name is on the door! And the bouncer's t-shirt! And behind the bar!!"

Heero thought about it. He supposed the word Scythe might be in those places. Duo would likely know better than he.

Duo just roared with laughter that bordered on the hysterical.

Heero smiled just a little.

He heard the door creak open. It was the fourth time. The light that stretched across the floor was now long enough to tickle his eyelashes, but he still feigned sleep.

He heard her sigh gently, and then slowly close the door again. He supposed that part of the reason she was wearing out the floorboards in front of his door was because the bathroom was right across the hall. That was at most 30% of it.

The door creaked open again, and this time, there was a hush of voices.

"What are you doing?"

"He's been asleep for over twelve hours! He never does that, does he?"

"He must be tired."

"He works too hard... I wish there was something we could do for him."

"Just leave him be."

"It's your fault, you know."

Duo huddled under the covers so they wouldn't see him snicker.


"You're the one that is always getting into trouble."

"Well! But! You lost your job! And you insisted on going to the fancy doctor!"

"And you're the brain trust who went to a fuckin' loan shark to tide us over. Dumbass."

"I didn't see you helping out any!"

"Look, that's not the point. The point is, we should be helping him more."

"Well get a fuckin' job, then!"

"Shut up, jackass, I *can't*, or I fuckin' would! I mean around the house and shit! You're always leaving your clothes and paints everywhere, you never clean up in the kitchen or the bathroom, you never go to the store to help out... The world does not revolve around you, Solo."

"I know that! I help out! I run errands and shit! And I'm the only one who ever does the fuckin' laundry!"

"You could do more."

"You could shut up."

"You both keep quiet so I could get some rest," Duo added helpfully.

Hilde chuckled. "Quiet in there. I'm working 'im over just fine. Look, just do the damn dishes and shut up." She slipped inside the door, leaving Solo stuttering in the hallway. "Scoot over, hot stuff. I wanna put my feet up."

Duo kept his eyes closed, but he did as he was told. The bed dipped down as Hilde sank into the mattress.

Duo grinned. "Jesus," he muttered under his breath. "If you're this big now, what're you gonna be like in a coupla months?"

"Shut it," she tapped the back of his head in warning. "C'mon. Climb up here, and I'll brush your hair out."

He obediently followed her instructions, cuddling up to her lap so that she had full access to his hair. She undid the braid gently, and combed through the mass of tangles with her fingers before applying the brush. "Just go to sleep, ok? I don't want to keep you up. Just sleep."

"Mm." Duo agreed, already half unconscious. "Am I just dreaming it, or can I hear the baby?"

Hilde chuckled, a noise Duo could feel in his chest. "You're prolly hearing something. That kid never stops, I tell ya..."

Duo beamed. "Wow. That's just... fuckin' wow."

"Yeah," Hilde agreed, goofily.

Duo leaned up on his elbows so he could see her eyes. "You know I don't mind, right? I mean... the... long hours... and shit. It's all for you guys. All three of you. So I don't mind."

She brushed her fingers over his cheek. "I know, honey. You are the sweetest damned man god ever put two feet on. I don't know how we got saddled with that miserable complain box, but you are one in a million."

Duo laughed, putting his cheek back down on her legs. "Careful. I love that miserable complain box."

"Me, too." Hilde sighed, running the brush down the length of hair she had in her fist. "I guess we'll keep him. Good god, it should be illegal for a man to have such beautiful hair."

Duo grinned sleepily. He could feel himself drifting off, lulled by the softness of her touch and the musky sweetness of her scent. "Gets in the way. 'N people grab it too much."

Hilde frowned down, surprised to see a wrinkle etched across Duo's face. She gently soothed his temples, contemplating. She hated that he worked in that bar. It just wasn't the sort of place *Duo* should work. Sure, he had a pretty face and a nice body, but it was his quick wit and easygoing manner that were really attractive about him. "Next time someone grabs it, just tell me and I'll beat him up. Promise," she whispered.

Duo grinned in his sleep.

It was supposed to just be a lapdance.

That has seemed strange to Duo, but he was so tired of people touching him, it was a relief as well. Enough of a relief that he didn't ask too many questions, and he didn't get too nervous when the bouncer left him alone in the room with the john.

There was something not right about it, but he didn't worry too much. He shimmied to the music, and tossed aside his shirt, grabbed his crotch. The john was a tall man, at least a head taller than Duo, and he had thick, meaty arms. It was a bit intimidating to put himself in such a vulnerable position with someone so much larger than him, but he just closed his eyes to slits and raised his hands above his head, dragging his hair up as he did.

The man licked his lips as he watched Duo move. He spread out his legs to make room for Duo to dance, his hand lazily moving over his groin. If Duo watched him do that, his stomach did a little flip, so he kept his eyes on the wall or the ceiling.

If he'd been looking, he might have been able to anticipate it. He might have been able to dodge. The hands that grabbed him by the waist took him entirely by surprise, though. He protested, but the music was swelling just then, and it was all happening so fast. A rough hand grabbed the back of his head and dragged his face down for a rough, biting kiss.

Duo broke away, but the man grabbed him by the wrists, and pulled him in, taking both of Duo's wrists in one hand, freeing the other hand to strip away Duo's vinyl shorts.

It was supposed to be a lapdance. There wasn't supposed to be touching.

Duo screamed bloody murder, but it just made the man laugh. He slapped Duo open-handed across the face and threw him down onto the floor. Naked, sore, and angry, Duo turned over to fight back, but by then, the man had lowered himself onto Duo. He was completely at a disadvantage. The man had greater size, greater strength, and better leverage. Duo kept kicking, screaming, and squirming, hoping to gain some purchase to get out.

The man laughed and called him feisty. He grabbed Duo by the throat and pushed his thumb against Duo's windpipe. He licked his lips as unzipped his pants.

It was supposed to have been a lapdance. The bouncer was supposed to be right outside, but the music had stopped while Duo had been screaming, and no one had come to see what was the matter.

Heero stretched his arms out behind him. It was still pretty early, and there were plenty of people milling about in front of the club - Scythe, Heero thought - but he was ready to pack it in for the night. He hadn't really been sure, even, why he had come. Part of him just wanted to see if the name of the club really was as prominent as Duo had said, which it was. Part of him wanted to see Duo, wanted to know what was happening to him. Most of him just wanted to forget.

He'd even danced with Quatre. Or, actually, he'd shifted from foot to foot nervously while Quatre slithered around in front and behind him. He thought he'd let Quatre convince him to dance just once since the other man was actually being nice to him for once, but he'd had enough very quickly, and there were plenty of other calls on Quatre's attention.

The night air had just enough chill in it to make Heero wish he'd taken a thicker coat. Or a coat at all, since his denim shirt hardly qualified as a coat. He shoved his hands in his pockets and ambled in the direction of his home.

It was sheer perversion that caused him to slip into the alley that ran behind Scythe. The chances of running into Duo, or some john, especially this early, were slim at best, and that was most certainly just as well, but he couldn't help it.

Maybe it was because he heard something. He'd like to think so, at any rate. He did double back and linger for a bit, something tingling at his senses. But he couldn't have heard the gagging from the street, and he couldn't have seen anything. Maybe he was just destined to come back there. Maybe it was just luck, running good for a change.

He didn't even recognize Duo at first, with his hair falling all over the place, covering half his frame. He was shivering and huddled close to the ground, leaning behind a garbage can.

Everything seemed taken out of time. The moment Heero realized it was Duo sitting on the ground near the wall was painful and abrupt. His limbs were leaden and unwilling to work with him. There was a soul-ripping scream of denial that his throat couldn't fashion. It was if the world tilted for a moment on its axis of rotation, and nothing went back to exactly where it had been before.

Each step thudded in Heero's ears. He felt drunk, like his arms and legs were twice their normal size, as he lumbered closer and closer to Duo. He crouched down when he was a few steps away, already aware that his presence was frightening Duo.

He didn't like to think of Duo being frightened.

He didn't know what to do, so he fell back on his training. Duo's mouth was swollen, surrounded by pale pink-red bruises. His left cheek was slightly discolored and swollen. His hair was undone, and flying all around him, and there were some trails of vomit in his hair. His clothes were badly put on; his t-shirt was on inside out and backwards, his jeans weren't buttoned up, he wasn't wearing socks, and only one of his boots was really on his foot. His mental state was altered, and when Heero peered a little closer, he could see that the tips of his fingers were blue.

It was half reaction that pushed him forward. He was prepared to deal with this sort of situation, but he wasn't prepared for what he felt. He reached out to brush Duo's hair back, using his sleeve to wipe off the largest chunk of vomit. "Duo, it's me, Heero. Remember Heero?"

Duo flinched and pulled back. "Don't touch me..."

It worried Heero that he wasn't yelling or resisting in any way. "Duo, it's Heero. Are you... We need to get out of here. Let me help you up. Ok?"

Duo withdrew, hanging his head down so his hair fell and covered his face. "Don't want to be touched..." Duo didn't even appear to be talking to him. He started to retch again, and Heero lunged forward, pulling Duo's hair back and rubbing his hand over Duo's back.

Duo coughed and sputtered, but he only had a mouthful of bile left in him.

Heero grimaced. He couldn't waste any time. "Duo... Solo called. He asked me to take you home. Is that ok? Solo said to take you home."

Duo looked up at him, but Heero couldn't see any recognition in his eyes. "Solo?"

"Yeah," Heero swallowed his pride. "Solo said so."

Duo shrugged, but his eyes never left Heero's face. He squeaked when Heero put his arms around him to pick him up, and he closed his eyes as Heero lifted him up and held him, but he didn't move or resist. He was dead weight in Heero's arms.

Heero didn't think. He held Duo carefully so that his legs were above his heart, and he made quickly for the parking lot behind the cleaners. Quatre was parked there, although it was unlikely that he would be driving home. Heero would call his cell first chance, but right now, he needed to get Duo to safety quickly.

Duo remained unresponsive when Heero put him down, leaning him against the car so he could open the door. Heero thanked whatever foolishness or whim of fate had lead Quatre to leave his car unlocked, and he bit back a sigh as Duo docilely allowed himself to be put in the car. Thankfully, Quatre always left the valet key to his car in the glove compartment, so Heero didn't need to hotwire it.

He kept thinking two steps ahead. There wasn't anyplace to park near his building most of the time, but if he parked in the alley, it was unlikely that anything really major would happen to the car. It didn't matter to Heero too much if the car got towed; it might have gotten towed where it was, anyway. He would have to run a bath for Duo, heat him up. He wondered if Duo would be able to undress himself. He wondered if Duo would mind if he assisted.

He should probably be taking Duo to a hospital, but it ran against his upbringing, and he suspected that it ran against Duo's upbringing as well. No point in further stressing him out. If it looked like he wasn't going to be able to help Duo without medical assistance, he would call for an ambulance, but he wasn't going to jump the gun.

He was just pulling in to park in front of the garage in the alley when Duo shifted in his chair. Duo shuddered and sighed, and looked around, confused. "Heero?"

"It's ok," Heero assured quickly. Duo seemed to accept this.

It was easier now, because Duo was more alert, although he still seemed confused and weak. He let Heero help him inside and into the elevator. He leaned against Heero and watched the door anxiously until they slid open. Heero nudged him with the slightest of touches, leading him to his apartment.

Duo stood inside the door, his arms wrapped around his stomach, looking around blankly. "Heero. Where are we?"

Heero locked up quickly, and went to stand next to Duo. "This is where I live."

"This is your place?" Duo blinked and looked around, as if he was trying to look at things, but couldn't see anything.

"Yeah," Heero tried to smile. "This is where I live. Look, we need to warm you up. Stay here while I run the bath, ok?"

Duo did not respond, so Heero went off to get the water running as quickly as he could. He let the hot water tap run at full, and pulled out his biggest towels. He wished that they were fluffier. He stopped up the tub, and waited until it was about a third full before he slowly turned the dial to cool, testing the water until it was the right temperature.

Duo was just where he had left him when he got back, but he was scratching at his arm. His forearm was red and raw, and the way Duo was digging his nails in, Heero was sure that he would be bleeding very soon. He grabbed Duo's wrists, stopping him. Duo's whole body flinched, and he cowered, shielding himself from Heero. Heero dropped his hands right away.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm not going to hurt you. You know that, right? I'm not going to hurt you." He spread out his hands so that he would look as non-threatening as possible.

Duo shivered. "I... I... It itches."

"Your arm? Your arm itches?"

"My skin. All of it. It's... it's dirty and it itches..." Duo frowned at himself and shuddered again.

Heero inched forward cautiously. "It's ok. You're ok. But we need to warm you up, ok? So I have a bath for you..." Heero bit his lip, examining Duo's face carefully. "Can I help you? Do you mind?"

Duo shrunk back. "I'm tired."

"I know," Heero sympathized. "Let's get you washed up, and I'll help, and then you can get some sleep, ok?"

With his eyes wide and his lips quivering, Duo appeared to be very young and very vulnerable. There was rage bubbling inside of Heero, broiling, but he recognized the fear in Duo's eyes, and he was afraid that he wouldn't be able to help.

He should call for help. Call Solo. Hell, call Quatre.

He reached out slowly, and put his hands next to Duo's elbows, just barely touching him. "One step at a time, ok? First, you need to take a bath. Come with me."

Duo responded to direct orders. He followed Heero, moving with automaton-like motions. He sat on the toilet as Heero directed and he let Heero take off his boots and his shirt. It was trickier to take off his pants, mostly because Heero was nervous. He got Duo to stand, and to unzip, and then Heero nudged the denim until it started to fall off. He wasn't sure if he should be happy or not when he realized that Duo had no underwear on, but it did simplify things.

He led Duo to step into the water, and sit down, and took the soap. Duo eyed it warily, but Heero didn't give him a choice. He soaped up a washcloth, and ran the cloth over Duo's skin gently. There were hand-shaped bruises on Duo's hips, stomach, and arms. Heero had Duo turn over so he could look over Duo's anus. It was raw and swollen, but Heero didn't see any broken skin. He gently poured handfuls of water over it, and touched it with the cloth, but he saw no blood.

Heero sighed. Small favors were better than none.

He washed Duo's hair. He had to grab a jug from the kitchen for rinsing. Duo shifted while he was gone so that he was crouched up against the edge of the tub, as if he were concealing his belly. Duo's eye were shifting around more, becoming more alert and cognizant. Heero said nothing, just began massaging the shampoo into Duo's hair, making sure to be extra gentle.

It was a soothing process for the both of them. Heero submerged his fingers into the soapy mass of Duo's hair, grabbing onto it so he could finger comb it out as he did. He scrubbed far more than he probably needed to just because he enjoyed the way it felt over his hands. There was just so much of it... everywhere... Soapy shampoo runoff filled the tub, so that large white masses of bubbles coagulated around Duo's skin. It was hot and intimate and innocent all at once. Heero kept moving forward from one simple task to the next, but he found his thoughts in disarray as he watched the rise of Duo's hip as it was covered in bubbles just at the surface of the water.

He unplugged the tub, and ran warm water, and began to rinse Duo's hair. Kittenishly, Duo raised his chin and closed his eyes to aid Heero in his task. Heero poured jug after jug of water over Duo, running his hands down Duo's hair gently, all the while watching the crease in Duo's bottom lip where his teeth were pressed down.

If Heero weren't so cold and scared, he would have been terribly aroused.

Duo started to shiver as the last of the soap dissipated into the water, so Heero raised the temperature of the water incrementally until it was nearly too hot. Duo put his hand up on the edge of the tub, his wet fingers right next to Heero's, and he sighed.

There was something he was supposed to say here, but Heero couldn't figure out what it was. He couldn't ask Duo if he was all right, since he clearly wasn't. He could, he supposed, ask if Duo was in any pain, but he probably was. He could ask if Duo wanted a painkiller, but it might be awkward. He could ask if Duo wanted something analgesic. But that sounded rather clinical. And Heero should probably be looking after Duo's mental and emotional health as well. Of course, he didn't have the slightest fucking clue how to do that.

"It was supposed to be a lapdance," Duo sighed. "He wasn't supposed to touch me."

The sound of water was quite loud. It made everything else seem smaller. Heero stuck the plug back in quietly, and turned off the water. The sound of Duo sighed gently echoed over the tiles. Heero chewed on his tongue, wanting to put his hand on Duo's head, or over Duo's hand, just to do something comforting.

"They lied to me. I screamed and everything. No one came. Prolly just sat there and watched while he..." Duo put his chin down on the edge of the tub, unable to finish. His hair swam in the water behind him, making him appear nymphish.

Heero swallowed the lump in his throat several times, but nothing came out.

"He paid me. He raped me, and he put money on the floor, and he dragged me up and made me kiss him and say fuckin' 'thank you,' and you know what? I took his money and did what I was told. Like a good little whore. God, I must be really good at this. I pulled five grand out of my ass in just over a month." Duo put his forehead down on his hand and started breathing hard, his back and shoulders lifting with each intake.

Heero reached out and laid his hand flat over Duo's back, his hair protecting his skin from Heero's touch. "Don't beat yourself up. It's not your fault."

"My fault for putting myself in the position in the first place. My fault for just taking it. My fault for being weak. God, it hurt so much... and... fuck. Christ. He paid me... he paid me enough to cover the end of the debt, and then he gave me a $200 tip. And I fucking took it, because $200 is a lot of money when you're fucking poor. Fuck! What kind of person pays someone to be raped?"

Someone who needed to die, Heero thought gravely, but he held his tongue.

Duo was starting to shiver again, looking skinnier and more fragile for his nudity. Heero felt incredibly inadequate, like he had been cut off at the knees.

He had not been trained for this.

He got the bathrobe off the back of the door, and held it up for Duo. He looked away while Duo slowly stood up out of the water, biting his lip. He was at odds with himself, certain only of his failings. Duo stepped into the robe slowly, the water dripping off of his hair making a raining noise as it splashed into the water in the tub.

Heero let Duo bind the robe himself, stepping away to give Duo room. He kept his head and his eyes down while Duo just stood on the bath mat. It was too quiet there, and Heero felt like the quiet was building on itself so that it was becoming harder and harder to break it with each passing second.

Duo folded his arms over his stomach.

Heero opened the door, and cleared his throat. "C'mon. I... I don't have a hair dryer, but I can towel dry your hair for you. If you want."

Duo followed silently.

Heero pulled out some sweats and a t-shirt for Duo to wear, and then scuttled back to the bathroom to gather some towels. He avoided looking in the mirror because he was already feeling slightly sick and self-conscious. He wondered if he should turn on some music so the quiet was quite so deafening, or if that might not be a bigger error.

It occurred to him again that he should call someone else, that even Quatre would be more proficient in these matters than he was, but he walked back into the bedroom with a small stack of towels instead.

Duo was sitting on the bed in Heero's clothes, the bathrobe spilled all around him. He was worrying at a few strands of his hair, staring off into space. Heero gently pulled Duo's hands away, and set to work.

It was relaxing, just rubbing the towels over Duo's head, and then pulling chunks of hair out wrapped up in the towel. He worked haphazardly at first, and then methodically, rubbing fervently as he got further away from Duo's scalp. It became relaxing for Duo, too, clearly, as he leaned down and put his head on the pillow eventually. Heero pulled the damp bathrobe out from under him, and covered him in blankets. He spread Duo's hair out over the bed as he worked, letting the hair fall over the edge of the bed, where it tickled the bare floorboards flirtatiously.

It was almost enjoyable.

Eventually, it got late enough that Heero had to admit that the hair was dry and that Duo was nearly asleep. He threw the towels to the side, and resisted the urge to touch Duo's hair or face.

He imagined what it would be like to rape Duo. To hit him, and rip his clothes off, to hold his face down while thrusting into his ass. He had entertained such detailed fantasies about Duo at one time, fantasies that he had justified so abstractly as he had gotten to know Duo better, but now he could see the bruises on Duo's face from those fantasies and they left Heero with gnawing nausea. He had always had ambivalent feelings about his own sense of morality. Justice was not something he ever considered seriously. The concepts of right and wrong were fluid, too often subject to the whims of circumstance to be taken too much to heart. It had allowed him to function without remorse for a long time. Even as he tried to change his life, he still managed to keep the regret and guilt from the past neatly boxed up and labeled, but now everything was all mixed up.

There were so many fine details of Duo's face that Heero could spend all night staring at. So many things that made Duo special, beautiful. Heero wanted to treasure these things, to keep them in his sight forever. He had no context for understanding these emotions except for the very limiting knowledge that he was definitely going to be denied. He had not earned such bliss.

He slipped off of the bed, and switched off the light. He stood still for a moment, adjusting to the extreme shock of darkness. He stood still for a moment longer, watching Duo on his bed. He took one step to leave the room, and stopped in his tracks at Duo's sleepy voice.

"Where're you goin'?"

Heero wasn't sure, actually. "I'll sleep on the couch."

"No, no, I should..." Duo started to get up, so Heero went back to the bed to soothe him and stop him.

He was sure this meant that it was ok to touch Duo's arm. "Forget it. You stay here. I sleep there most of the time, anyway, when I'm playing games and shit."


There was quiet again, so Heero started to stand up again.

Duo caught his wrist, his fingers lax and cold. "Hey. I don't. I don't like to be alone. Much."

Heero blinked. He honestly wasn't sure what Duo wanted him to do.

His lack of motion was interpreted as a response by Duo, who shifted over in the bed and opened the blankets for Heero.

This left Heero with very little recourse. He shucked out of his jeans quickly, and slipped inside the bed.

Duo turned over, putting his back to Heero, and moved over as far as he could on his side of the bed. Heero did likewise, although he was constantly aware of Duo's presence.

There was something unexpected at work. Heero was aware of it before he opened his eyes. He was surprisingly soundly asleep; he rarely let himself do that. He had little notion of time, or even place. It took him a moment to realize that he was in his apartment. After that realization, the fact that there was noise in his apartment that was not coming from him was obvious. He remained in bed, though, to assess, because his thoughts were too foggy to act upon just yet.

It was when he turned over, and smelled the strong scent of shampoo on the pillow, that it all came back to him. His stomach turned inside out, and he jumped out of bed right away.

There was a mild sense of panic that was driving him onward. He had no idea how Duo would be reacting this morning, and he wasn't certain what Duo's reaction would require of him. There was a small sense that possibly Duo might resent the fact that he had been in bed with Heero, which made Heero even more apprehensive.

Duo was standing in Heero's kitchen, scrambling eggs. He was wearing a pair of Heero's jeans, which were old and baggy, and loosely hung off of him, and a white oxford shirt of Heero's that he had only partially buttoned up. His hair tied off in a braid that was closed off with a twist tie.

Heero stared openly for only a moment.

Duo grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, I borrowed some clothes. Hope you don't mind. I grabbed my stuff and tossed what I didn't need, if that's ok."

Heero nodded, feeling slightly dumb.

Duo pulled down a plate. "I made you breakfast, to make up for... Anyway, I should be getting home soon. They'll probably start worrying about me soon."

Based on the wrinkle of annoyance creasing Duo's brow, and the way he sort of shook his head when was done speaking, Heero judged that Duo did not mean to sound so bitter.

"Um. So, I'm sorry, for, you know, everything." Duo turned quickly and handed Heero the plate of scrambled eggs. They were fluffy and pale, with some pepper sprinkled into them. Heero didn't really like eggs, and he was pretty sure that he didn't own any. He might have let Quatre put some stuff in his fridge that one time when he was spending the weekend while his apartment was being fumigated, but that was a long time ago.

"A twist tie?"

Duo blinked at him, uncomprehending, and then flushed bright red. "Yeah, I, uh, couldn't find anything else..."

Heero shrugged. "It works."

There was something in Duo's eyes that Heero couldn't explain, but it made him want to take Duo in his arms and never let go. But he was nearly three feet away from him holding a plate of rather suspicious eggs. It was just not right.

Duo moved past him awkwardly, trying not to get close to him at all. "So, yeah, anyway, sorry for... yeah, sorry, and I'll just get going. Man, I'm so fuckin' sore... Thank god I don't have to work tonight. It's going to suck on Monday when Ihave to go in. I just want to sleep for a fuckin' week, you know?"

Heero's toes and fingers were very, very cold. He only just barely got the plate of eggs to the counter before dropping them.

"What do you mean, when you go back on Monday? You aren't ever going back there! Are you?"

It wasn't his place. Duo wouldn't appreciate hearing this. If he'd already made up his mind, Heero was just going to alienate him by rejecting his choice. The words sounded logical and utterly meaningless.

Duo shrugged lifelessly as he toed on his boots. "Gotta make money, Heero. Can't afford to be without a job. 'Specially now..."

"No!" Heero shook his head emphatically. "Duo, they let you get raped last..."

"It doesn't matter," Duo viciously spat out. "Whatever, it wasn't *that* much worse than any other night. I get paid to be pissed on, fucked over, tortured, humiliated, abused, shit on... Hey, but at least I get paid *well*. And it's not like I deserve any fucking better. It's like, inevitable. I grew up on the fuckin' streets; everybody just assumes I've got a for rent sign on my ass anyway, so might as well get some cash from it."


Duo brushed past Heero insistently. "I gotta go. I'm sorry that I imposed on you; I wouldn't have if I'd been in my right head. Look, don't worry about me, ok? I kinda freaked last night, but I'm fine. Like I said, just the way things go. I have a few more bruises than normal, but rest and ice will fix those up just fine. So forget about it."

Heero dashed forward, shutting the door just as Duo was opening it. He shoved himself between Duo and the door. He was acting totally on instinct, his brain still needed to catch up with him. "Just wait a second. You can't go back there. They lied to you."

Duo defensively covered his torso with his arms, glaring at Heero. "So? 'Sjust to make it more real and shit."

Heero sputtered. "So if they lie to you about that, what makes you think they'll tell you the truth about anything else? What if someone wants to cut you? Or go without a condom? Or what if they... they just sell you off to some... drug czar, or something? It's not safe!"

"Life's not fuckin' safe," Duo muttered. "I'm living on borrowed time, anyway, so what fuckin' difference does it make?"

Another tactic was required. "Look, ok, just... wait. Look. So you need money. Just... don't go back *there*. Let me make a proposition, ok? How about... the next time you need money, instead of making it there, just... just come to me, ok? I'm attracted to you, and we're friends, so I'm not going tohurt you. I have money. I mean, I could just give you the money, whatever, but you don't need to earn it from strangers who want to rape you, ok?"

Duo warily considered. "What? I can't... It'd be weird... You aren't serious...?"

"I'm serious." Heero stepped away from the door, keeping eye contact with Duo. "It's less weird than going to some bar to do it. And it'll be safe. I won't hurt you. Just... just consider it, ok?"

Duo gnawed on his bottom lip. "You shouldn't make that kind of offer, Heero. You aren't... you aren't the sort of person that needs to pay for sex."

"I don't care," Heero shrugged. "I'd just give you the money, then, if you like. Just... *please*, don't go back there. You said your debt was paid. You don't have to go back."

Duo said nothing, but slowly his eyes fell.

Heero sighed, opening the door. "Just please consider it, ok? You're my friend. I don't... I don't want to see you get hurt."

Duo nodded, and walked quickly away.

A minute later, Heero nearly kicked himself. He should have given Duo a coat.

It was a few hours later that he banged his head against the wall. He couldn't believe he had actually offered to pay Duo for sex. It was the last thing he wanted.

On to part six. Back to part four.