Duo woke up to a chill in the quiet room and condensation on the windows. When he moved, it didn't hurt nearly so much as it had.
There was a blanket over him -- a nice thick one he'd never seen before. Curious, tentatively, he slipped a hand from the warmth to feel it. Soft. He snuggled down into it. Had it come from Heero? Even the twinge of his battered back didn't bother him that much.
And Heero had kissed him. Him! Duo Maxwell -- King of Nothing! The very thought made his toes curl. He thought about yesterday, about Heero tending his back, bringing him food, helping out his mom. Damn. How had he got so lucky, anyway? Cute, rich guys like Yuy usually sneered at him or called him names, they never wanted to hang out with him or kiss him or wait on his mom.
"Maybe Yuy ain't rich," he said aloud and chortled.
Gingerly, he explored the idea of sitting up. To his relief, it was manageable. His back protested, but not much. It was amazing what bandages and a little antibiotic could do!
Would Heero come over today? Even as he thought that, Duo tried to rein in his hopes. Each time Heero set foot in the house, he risked Charlie finding out and that meant trouble -- big trouble. Maybe they could meet somewhere else. A love nest.
Shut up, Maxwell. You're outta control.
Pulling the blanket around himself, staring dreamily through the misty windows, Duo made no attempt to rein in his imagination, letting it spin free. He pictured the two of them in some small apartment somewhere, Heero coming in from the police station where he'd just broken the big case. Duo imagined that rare, beautiful smile saved for him alone. He imagined Heero's hands on him, his mouth...
"SHIT!" He laughed, but it was a shaky sound. Duo, blanket still held close, got to his feet. Waiting until the dizziness had passed, he found a shirt and sweater, pulling them on, taking care not to disturb Yuy's bandaging.
Fuck, it was cold! What had happened to their warm weather? He went to the window and rubbed a clear spot. The yard was thick with fog, skeletal trees wreathed in it. Still early. Maybe Charlie had turned on the heat in the main house.
Duo located his shoes and socks and finished dressed, teeth chattering. Folding the blanket carefully, he lay it at the head of his mattress, then hurried downstairs. Neither Charlie nor Rick were up yet, of course, but it was warm. Muscles that had seized up on the way down the tower steps relaxed. Duo opened the fridge. It was packed, but none of the food was his. He sighed. Somehow, he was going to have to pick up some extra coinage somewhere.
Checking the message board he saw a list of things, small repairs for the ladies in the front apartments. He brightened, seeing that. None of the old dears could resist feeding him. He peeked into his mom's room. She was up, of course, and waved brightly at him. Duo let himself in.
"How's the ankle?"
He stared at her second, having no idea what she was talking about. Then: Yuy! Of course. "I'm better, thanks. How are you?"
"A little tired today. Come here, sweetie."
Puzzled at the strange note in her voice, he came to kneel beside her bed, looking up at her. "You okay, mom?"
She stroked his hair, smile wistful. "I was thinking last night about what you're going to do when you graduate."
"Huh? I - um -- get a job, I guess."
"I really want you to go to college, honey. That nice young friend of yours from St. Jude got me to thinking about it again. Your father and I used to talk about how we were going to send you to the finest schools in the UESN -- maybe Yale, or Brassock University."
"Me?" he laughed. "C'mon, mom. Those places are for smart people."
"You are smart people." Her smile remained, but her eyes were quietly serious. "You're a very smart people, Michael James. You deserve to go where that intelligence can be molded and directed toward something useful and satisfying. It won't happen in the Sink."
"There's plenty of time for that," he said, smiling. "I'm okay here for now. Besides -- college costs money -- tons of it."
"I know. Charlie and I talked about it last night a little bit. He really wants Rick to go, of course. We -- we had a little argument."
Duo straightened, alarmed.
"He said your grades weren't good enough." Her eyes rested on his and he could barely meet them without looking away. "It's true that I haven't seen a report card in a while."
Now Duo did look down, heart thumping. Charlie hadn't told her. Of course he hadn't. If she had a heart attack and died, he'd be out free rent!
"Your grades are slipping because you're spending so much time taking care of me, aren't they?"
"Young man, look at me!"
Biting his lip, he lifted his eyes, then found a confident smile. "Hey -- it ain't nothin' I can't handle..."
"'It isn't anything I can't handle!' Duo! You know better than that!"
"Sorry, mom. When in Rome..."
"That's no excuse, and you know it. I taught you how to speak correctly."
"If I talk like that, mom, people think I'm a snob or somethin'."
"Don't be ridiculous." She sighed, touching his face. "My beautiful boy. I'm so sorry."
"For what?" he bristled.
"Maybe it wasn't such a good idea all those years ago for your father and I to come here. We were so sure we were doing something positive, something worthwhile. It never really occurred to either of what kind of sacrifices might be required. We were so young..."
Her voice trailed away, eyes going sad and distant. Quickly, Duo seized her hand and pressed it to his cheek. It was cold.
There was silence between them broken only by the distant rattle of the furnace in the cellar far below. She spoke again finally, "I see the weather finally broke."
"Yeah." He perked up. "Good thing I brought you those flowers the other day, huh?"
She looked over at the cosmos, their colors bright in the muted hues of the room. "Yes. They are lovely. I'm so glad you saved them from the frost. I wish -- I wish someone would save you from it, too."
He left to fix her breakfast, troubled by her fey mood. Maybe he should call the doctor to come and have a look at her. It had been a while. He was poaching eggs when Charlie walked in. Duo's muscles tensed automatically, but Charlie didn't seem in that bad a mood.
"Can't afford it," he said shortly when Duo asked about calling the doctor. "And she was fine last night.
The man left for the carriage house. Duo toasted some bread and, his own mouth watering, took his mother her breakfast. Then, leaving her with a kiss and dire threats if she didn't eat, went off to see to the day's tasks.
Mrs. Green fed him, thick homemade waffles with syrup and a couple pieces of bacon. He fixed her shower and the creaking board in her bedroom. Thanks to Yuy's pills and taking his time, he got both tasks done without too much discomfort. By noon, he'd taken care of the day's maintenance chores. He retreated to his room and with the blanket wrapped securely around him, set to his schoolwork.
It was easy stuff -- remedial, really. He was almost done with the course and soon -- fate willing -- he'd have his diploma. Maybe it wouldn't be from a real high school, but it would be legal, nonetheless. Then he might be able to get a job downtown, maybe in the mail room of some big company, or as clerk.
For an instant, his childhood dream of being a pilot surfaced to torment him. He stared up through his windows. It was raining, but he didn't see the water running in rivulets down the glass. He imagined the black, star-spangled skies of space, endless, and the clean, sleek lines of a T-89 as it made the Earth - L1 run.
"Fuck," he said aloud, trying to drag his unruly imagination back to integers.
"Heero!" Delighted, Duo jumped to his feet before remembering he wasn't completely recovered. "Ack!"
"Baka!" Heero was across the floor to catch him as he reeled, nearly going into the wall. For a second, they stood together, he held securely in those slim, strong arms. Then Heero set him back, peering closely into Duo's face. "How are you?"
"Fine," he said cheerfully, retrieving the blanket. "Thanks, dude," he added, sobering. "You've been a real pal."
Heero's mouth twisted and, for some reason, he looked briefly angry. Then he shrugged. "Your stepfather is a bastard," he said shortly. "What are you doing?"
"Gettin' my diploma." For some reason, Duo was no longer embarrassed to make the confession.
"Good for you. Why don't you enter St. Jude's contest?"
"Huh? Me?" Duo chuckled. "That's what I like about you, Yuy. You may look like Mr. Grim, but you actually have a sense of humor."
"Why not enter?"
Duo shrugged. "'Cause one of the rules is that your high school has to submit the essays."
"Maybe they could make an exception."
"Um. Well... Why should they?"
Yuy had no answer for that, of course, and looked even more pissed. Duo's mouth twitched. Did the guy have any idea how adorable he looked when his eyebrows came together like that?
"Never mind," Duo grinned. "I'm just a fucked-up Sink rat anyway. What's up with you? Get your kendo club going?"
"Everyone wants to learn kung-fu," said Heero wryly. "Or fight with steel swords."
"Not into the discipline end of it, huh?"
Yuy's eyes were thoughtful. "No. How about you?"
"Huh? Learn kendo?"
Duo stared back at him, then looked down. His knuckles were scraped raw where his right hand had slipped prying up the floorboard in Mrs. Allen's room. "I don't have time," he whispered, thinking about what Charlie would do to him.
"Maybe you and your mom should get out of here."
"And go where?" He looked up at Yuy earnestly. "I've thought and thought and thought, Heero, but there's nowhere to go. Charlie's a shit, but he's real careful to make sure she never sees that part of him. Besides, this is her home."
"Show her your back."
Duo's jaw set. "I'm not gonna upset her, Yuy. Not over somethin' stupid like that. If it's a choice between her gettin' another heart attack or me gettin' knocked around a little, well -- there's no contest, okay?"
"There has to be something you can do," Heero said angrily. "It's not right that you're stuck here being that bastard's slave. Shit -- one of these days he might kill you!"
"Fuck no. He ain't that crazy! And I ain't no slave!" Duo retorted. "This is my mom's house, damn it! Someone has to take care of it and her! Charlie's just -- just a fuckin' inconvenience!"
"Bullshit!" Heero reached down and pulled Duo to his feet. His strength was startling. Duo bit off a cry of pain at the sudden movement and stared wide-eyed into the fierce, cobalt gaze. They stared at each other while the wind rattled and banged at the old glass. "He's dangerous, Duo."
"He's a bully," whispered Duo, wondering if it was possible to drown in someone's eyes. "That's all. Us short guys know all about bullies, right?"
Heero pulled Duo into his arms, careful of his back. Duo swallowed hard, completely nonplused, wondering what the hell was going on. Was this real? Was Yuy really coming on to him?
"Do you want me to let you go?"
"No." Oh, what the fuck? Why not just fall headlong into the pit? Duo relaxed and, daringly, let his head lean on Heero's shoulder. "You're warm."
The strong arms around him tightened slightly. "And it's cold up here," Heero agreed softly. "Oh, Duo..."
"Why'd you kiss me the other day?"
"Because you're beautiful."
Duo laughed shakily. "Me?"
Duo felt Heero's mouth against his ear. The warm breath sent shivers up his spine. "I -- I ain't gay..."
"You don't like this?"
He did. Oh, he did! Duo's arms slid around the other boy's waist. "Guess I'm bi," he muttered with a half-laugh.
Oh, Lord! Heero's mouth was so sweet. Duo made a small, helpless sound and lost any chance he might have had to resist. Heero kissed him, long and deeply. Releasing him at last, the dark-haired boy looked anxiously into Duo's face.
"Don't stop," Duo said. "This is great."
Heero's smile warmed him to his toes. "Okay," said the Japanese youth, and went back to work.
Heero ran lightly up the steps. After a month's frequent visits, he no longer knocked, but pushed open the tower door. "Hey!" he called, then faltered to a stop. Duo stood in the middle of the room, arms folded over his chest, a forbidding scowl on the usually cheerful countenance. "What's wrong?"
"Pokey Joe said he saw you at Christopher's last night."
Heero just managed to keep his jaw from dropping. Recovering almost at once, he fired back, "So what? Jealous?"
Duo's jaw did drop. For a second, Heero was sure he was going to punched. Instead, Duo took a deep breath. "You go there to score puff?" he asked evenly.
"Yeah," Heero replied, nonchalant. "You act like you're surprised. I asked you for some when we met, remember?"
"Yeah, but I thought -- it just a passing thing or somethin'."
"It's not," brazened Heero, even as part of him cringed at what he saw in Duo's face. "I don't use that much, just a little sometimes to decompress after tests or papers. Anyway, it's not like you never do it, right?"
Purple-blue eyes flashed in offense. "I don't touch the shit," spat Duo. "It's fuckin' poison and you're pretty fuckin' stupid for someone who's supposedly so smart."
"Yeah? Maybe I do the occasional hit of puff, Maxwell, but in the end, I'm the one that got into St. Judes and you're sitting in this dump getting kicked around by that neanderthal. So, by all means, tell me about smart!"
Duo whitened. Heero turned and stalked out.
His heart was pounding, his stomach was in knots, and he had a headache by the time he was halfway back to St. Jude's. He stopped and clenched his hands. What the hell was going on? So what if Duo Maxwell thought he was a puffie? It was his cover for god's sake! Yet the very idea that Duo thought of him as some stupid, screwed-up kid like that set Heero's teeth on edge.
Kuso! Since when did it matter so goddamned much what some little barbarian street punk thought about him?
Then, with a bitter curse, Heero almost turned and went back. He almost confessed it all. And if the consequences of that wouldn't have been ten times worse than what lay ahead, he might have finally done it, because it did matter what Duo thought. It mattered a lot.
You fool! This is insane! Use the opportunity. He's pissed at you. Walk away. Don't come back.
Yet even as Heero thought these eminently sensible thoughts, his body turned and his feet, seemingly of their own accord, started back down the littered sidewalk, past the soot-blackened buildings and overturned trash cans toward the one bright and beautiful thing on the entire Sink.
What the hell had possessed him to say such mean things to Duo? Heero's step faltered and slowed, remembering. Under the brash exterior, Duo was as sensitive as they came. Heero could have got the message across without being cruel. The house came up on his right. He went slower yet, pushing open the gate. Looking up at the tower, he saw the windows were lit, but there was no silhouette.
At the back door he paused, thought about knocking, then went on in. The first thing he heard was banging and crashing coming through an open door on his left. He moved swiftly over to it. Stairs led down into the cellar.
Heero thought about Raskin, about Duo's back, and flew down the stairs. Something whizzed by his head and he dove madly for cover as glass shattered all around him. Broken glass was everywhere. He looked and saw Duo, a beer bottle was clenched in one white-knuckled fist.
"You son of a bitch!" Violet eyes blazed in surprise and disbelief. "You've got some fuckin' balls!"
He let the bottle fly. Heero ducked, but it was a damned good shot and he wasn't fast enough to avoid being grazed. Stumbling back, he landed heavily on his ass.
"Oh, shit!" he heard through the ringing in his ears. "Yuy! Aw, fuck! Why didn't you dodge, for Chrissakes?"
Gingerly, Heero lifted his hand to his right temple. His fingers came away sticky.
"Why the hell did you come runnin' down the stairs so fast, too? Jesus! You'd think the house was on fire!" Duo stood over him, staring down at Heero, hands on his narrow hips, head tilted. He was scowling.
"Heard the noise." Heero's head hurt like the devil. "I -- thought Charlie was beating you up." Damn. Duo had hellish aim.
"What?" Duo's voice was faint. He dropped to a crouch, anger vanishing, and regarded Heero with wide eyes. "You -- you were runnin' to my rescue?"
Heero flushed. "Baka," he grumped. "What the hell are you doing, you psycho?"
"I was pissed. You called me trash, you bastard. Maybe I am trash, but you don't get to say so, damn it. Anyway. Sometimes, when I'm really mad, breaking things helps."
Heero winced and Duo's grin turned anxious.
"I'm all right. It's just a scratch." Heero stood and wobbled precariously toward the stairs. "Let's clean this up before Charlie gets back." He stopped, stared at the glass-covered floor a moment, then looked up. "Sorry," he said. "I was a shithead. I'll go if you want and not come back."
Duo sighed and kicked at an especially large shard. It rattled and clattered over the concrete. "Just don't be usin' when you come over," he said finally. "I don't want that shit around my mom."
"I never have," Heero said, "and I promise I never will." He was obscurely happy that among all the lies, he could tell the truth at least this once.
Rick had been in his room. Duo's stash of potato chips and pop was gone. Duo glared angrily at the empty box. Time to start hiding stuff again. Damn it. Or, like Yuy would say, "k'so!"
Thinking about Yuy banished his frustration as if by magic. Heero had said he'd be coming by tonight. It was raining, so he might not, but Duo hoped anyway. Come to think of it, weather didn't seem to bother Heero. Not much did.
Still, Duo thought, dropping to his mattress and flopping onto his back, arms behind his head, there was a lot going on under the still, ultra-controlled exterior. That still, ultra-controlled, ultra-sexy exterior. Duo grinned at the ceiling.
Yuy had been as good as his word. Not once had Duo seen signs of drug use. After their fight, he'd been unwilling to say anything about it again, but he'd kept a wary eye open during the past week.
Harder to forget were the harsh words. Was he stupid for staying around the house? Was there some way Duo could get his mom and himself out from under Charlie's thumb that he just hadn't thought of? He was pretty sure his mom wasn't in love with Charlie, at least, not very much. It was more like habit, or because a promise had been made and must be kept. If only Duo could find some way to talk to her that didn't sound like he was whining.
Sighing, he rolled over, propping his chin on his fists. Footsteps sounded on the stairs. He smiled. The door opened.
"Now that's what I like to see, the cutest guy in the Sink already in bed and waiting for me."
Duo scrambled to his knees, grinning. Heero was dressed in a long, elegant wool coat. His hair was its usual mess and lightly dusted with raindrops. He smiled back at Duo, golden cheeks tinged with rose from the cold. Carelessly, he shrugged out of the coat and tossed it aside. Duo rescued it with a mad dive.
"Jeez! What a rich boy!" He folded it carefully and set it on a box. Heero collapsed beside him, looping an arm around Duo and dragging him back to the bed.
"Screw the coat, baka. You're warmer."
Later they lay together under the blankets, several of them now as it inched toward November. Heero's arms were strong around him, body hard and reassuring against his.
"So what have you been up to these past few days?" Duo murmured, sluggish and sated from their lovemaking.
Heero's fingers twined languidly in Duo's hair. "I had to go home," he said finally.
"Too bad." Duo knew how much Heero disliked that. In spite of rarely speaking of his home or his family, Heero had managed to convey vividly how alienated he felt from them. "What's up with dad?"
"I was reminded once more of my duty to provide the family with an heir."
Duo felt a sudden chill. He started to edge away, but Heero's arm tightened.
"He was reminded of my indifference to what the family thinks I owe them."
Duo said nothing, his heart beating faster.
"Yeah. But -- let's face it, dude. Your family pays for a pretty nice life style, if nothin' else. Surely that must be worth some ass kissin'."
"The money I live on comes from my mother's family. They don't put the same conditions on my life that my father does." Heero was silent a moment. Then, "Of course, if you're offering to have my baby..."
Duo punched him in his undefended side and there was a brief wrestling match that ended in the usual way.
Later that night, after Heero had returned to the college, Duo lay in the dark and reluctantly thought about the future. Somewhere along the way, Heero had become an indispensable part of his life. How the hell had it happened? One minute Duo was being knocked on his ass by some rich, arrogant college punk and the next... Shit.
"I got lucky," he said aloud. Closing his eyes, he remembered the feel of Heero's hands on him, Heero's mouth against his ear whispering things that gave him goosebumps, even now. Grinning happily, he pulled the heap of blankets close around him and, curling into a little knot beneath them, fell at once into sleep.
"Say that again," Duo asked, staring at Heero as if he'd sprouted horns.
"I said -- write the essay and I'll sneak it in with the others."
It was an insane idea and one that had come to Heero in the middle of the night. He'd been lying in his bed in the dorm at St. Judes, thinking about Duo, wanting Duo. He knew where they were collecting the essays for the scholarship competition. It would be a simple matter to sneak into the office and slip Duo's into the file when no one was looking.
"They -- they'll disqualify it."
"Probably, but who knows? Wasn't it you who said he believed in miracles?" Heero smiled into the wide violet gaze, the grin that trembled on that so-kissable mouth.
"You sure you know what you're sayin', Yuy? That ain't exactly honest!" The grin widened, becoming that charming mix of angel and devil.
"You said you turned in your final exam. Your diploma will come soon, right?"
"And your academic record right up until your senior year is flawless?" Heero lifted an eyebrow. "Extracurricular activities and everything?"
"Yeah!" It looked like the sun had come up behind Duo's thin face. "Oh, dude! That idea rocks!" Then, almost at once, the light went out. "It would never work."
"Who'd take care of my mom?"
"Why not just wait and see what happens?" Heero asked, his own idea about that very much in place. "You can always say no."
"They ain't gonna choose it anyway," Duo said with a shrug.
"But I'll try if you think I should." And there it was, that look of devastating trust that had been there for awhile now. It cut straight through Heero and again, for just a second, he was tempted to spill everything. But if he blew this case, he could probably kiss goodbye any chance of making the Preventers. Then everything his father had said, every coldly uttered prediction, would have come true.
"Do it," he urged.
Duo stared at him, pale with excitement. "Wow! That would be so sweet! We'd be schoolmates! You could teach me kendo."
Heero leaned forward. Grabbing Duo around the back of the neck, he pulled him forward and kissed him, hard. Duo melted into the embrace willingly, an enthusiastic student of this, as well. Again, Heero felt that twinge of guilt, but it was growing fainter as time went on.
When he released Duo, Duo sighed happily. They sat cross-legged on the mattress, knee to knee. Outside, it was snowing, the first of the season, but in the tower, finally, it was warm. He'd brought Duo a small kerosene heater, claiming he'd had it in his closet back at school.
"I brought it from home thinking the dorms might be cold," he'd lied. It was brand-new. He'd taken it out of the box before he'd come to Madison House and banged it around a little. Now it stood in the corner, radiating delicious heat.
Heero looked up at the windows. The snow obscured their surroundings. Nothing could be seen but white. It was like being adrift in the clouds. For a moment, Heero imagined it was only the two of them, alone in the world, safe from all the complications that were dragging in around them. "Remember when we met?" he asked suddenly.
"Yeah?" The sunny smile was back, this time holding a spark of mischief. "Judie."
Heero swatted at him. Duo swayed gracefully out of the way, laughing and catching Heero's wrists. In a flash, Heero had him and they tumbled like puppies off the mattress and across the cluttered floor. He got Duo into his arms and held him there, kissing him for a long time. Then, heart thumping, body singing, he lay still, holding him tight. "I asked you what you wanted to be."
"Yeah." Duo laughed shakily, breath warm against the curve of Heero's neck. "And I made some smart-ass remark, didn't I?"
"I wanna be a pilot -- I wanna go into space."
"You'd make a great pilot," said Heero and meant it. Duo had remarkable reflexes and quick wits.
"Maybe I could be a Preventer pilot."
"Got a record?"
Duo's face fell. "Yeah."
Heero, who knew to a word what was on the boy's juvie rap sheet, waited.
"I got busted a few times for fightin' and once for a B&E."
"Breaking and entering? Duo!"
"It was a dare." Duo shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "I was thirteen."
"I did something like that, too," Heero admitted, moved by some obscure need to wipe away that look of bashful shame. "But my dad bought my way out of it."
"Oh, yeah? What'd you do?"
"Vandalized a neighbor's house."
"Shit, Yuy! What a punk!" Duo's sparkle belied his censorious words.
"Hn." Heero remembered that episode without fondness.
"Your dad got you out of it, huh? That's pretty cool."
"Oh, I paid in other ways," Heero replied grimly.
"He -- he didn't beat ya, did he?"
Heero started and met those earnest, sympathetic eyes. He shook his head. "My father would never do anything so -- crude.
Heero got up and walked to the window. He stared out. Every once in a while, the wind shifted and, for just an instant, he could see the apartment building next door.
"I had a friend -- he was the son of a man who worked in our kitchen. My dad fired the worker and the family had to leave."
There was silence. He stared at the reflection in the window. Duo stood and came to him, putting arms around his waist. The small, pointed chin rested on his shoulder.
"Fuck. That blows. You're dad is a bastard if he'll ruin someone else's life just to punish you."
"His point was apparently that, as his son and heir, my actions could have consequences that reached beyond myself," Heero said finally. He lay his hands over Duo's and let his cheek rest against Duo's.
"Well -- he ain't here, so fuck 'im. And he can't fire me, right?" There was laughter in the soft, deep voice. Duo gave his shoulder a playful nip. "Why don't you show me some more of that fag sex stuff, dude?"
Heero snorted. "'Fag sex stuff'..." He reached up and grabbed a handful of that chestnut mane. Twisting around, he claimed Duo's mouth. After several intoxicating minutes, he drew away, but only a little bit. His lips brushed Duo's. He could see the flush on the other boy's thin cheeks. "Okay, Mr. Maxwell, prepare to be boarded..."
Duo agonized over his essay. He knew that it was probably fruitless. There was no way he would win a St. Jude's scholarship on a mail-order diploma with a juvie record to boot, but still, like Heero said, a miracle might happen.
It was just like Heero Yuy to think of something like that, too. The guy was a fucking genius. Duo wondered about the mysterious father. The sunofabitch sounded like a more high-class version of Charlie Raskin, actually. What would he do if he found out his son was screwing a kid from the Sink?
Jeez, Maxwell -- you really know how to get yourself into some shit, doncha?
Duo sighed and chewed on the end of his pen. All around him were scattered pieces of paper filled with cramped writing, frequently with entire passages crossed out. He had finally resorted to numbering the paragraphs and now the pages lay like a lunatic map in front of him, waiting for assembly.
"The disorganized mind," Heero had teased, seeing the chaos. "There's a deadline, you know."
Duo smiled, remembering.
Heero had volunteered to type the final into his computer. Both Charlie and Rick had computers, but Duo wasn't allowed to use them. He'd intended to sneak in and use one of them anyway, but Heero didn't like the idea.
"Don't give them any more excuses to hit you," he'd said shortly. "I'll do it."
"Okay. You'll check it for mistakes, too, right?"
Wishing Heero would come over, Duo picked up his scissors, lined up his clean sheets of paper and began the process of essay construction. Wind rattled at the windows, but he didn't care anymore. This room was the best place to be now. As soon as he had the entire essay assembled, he'd run down and check on mom.
She liked Heero, liked him a lot. Duo's scissors hovered above the paper as he thought about it. She'd always liked his friends, but there was something about Heero that seemed to make her especially happy.
"He's a very serious young man, the kind of person, I think, who would always look out for his friends. And there's something else -- he reminds me of someone." She had smiled faintly.
"Who?" Her expression had ignited his curiosity.
"Hisoka? Ma?" To his amazement, a faint blush had appeared on her wasted cheeks. "C'mon, mom. You've been holdin' out on me!"
"It was long ago -- before I met your father."
She had twitched at the lace at the throat of her dressing gown and smiled dreamily. "I was in college and he was a foreign student from Japan. Hisoka was an engineering student -- an absolutely gorgeous young man! The strong, silent type." Her smile deepened and Duo knew she no longer saw him, no longer saw her familiar room. "We were so in love, but his father --- tsk."
"Jeez. Sounds like a bad movie, mom."
"It was a bad movie!" She'd swatted him playfully. It always made him happy when she was in a good mood. "Anway -- Hisoka proposed and his father came thundering over from Tokyo and read his son the riot act. There was a terrible row, but in the end, Hisoka gave in."
"No." Her voice had gone all quiet and grave suddenly. "He was the bravest man I knew. Hisoka-san came from an ancient family of great honor, and it was his love and respect for that family that made him obey his father in the end. He cried in my arms the night he left. You're like that, Duo. I think you would gladly sacrifice your happiness for me. I think, in fact, you already have."
"Shh." She'd laid a slender finger on his lips. "Anyway, right after that I met your father, and now I'm so glad that it never worked out between Hisoka and me. You would never have been born and that would have been a very sad thing, indeed."
"Yeah. I guess." Duo was privately stunned by this revelation. He had somehow never thought of his mother as having had a star-crossed romance. Was his romance with Heero Yuy destined for the same sad ending?
She'd given his nose a playful tweak. "Who knows, my gloomy, adored son? You may meet the, er, person of your dreams sooner than you might imagine."
"Cute, ma. 'Person.'"
Had she been thinking that he'd already met that "person?" He sure as hell was!
Duo cut out the paragraph and smeared the back with glue. He set it down carefully at the top of the first page, then glanced over the crazy-quilt of papers to find the next one. Footsteps on the stairs made him look up eagerly. Sure enough, there was a familiar knock.
"Come in!" he called, heart leaping.
The door pushed open and it was Heero. He wasn't in his uniform today, but wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a heavy sweater. His dark hair was mussed by the wind and he looked altogether delicious. In one arm, he carried a brown paper bag, as was his custom these days, filled with snacks.
"You're too thin," he'd announced one afternoon after they'd made love. "Your damn hipbones keep cutting into me."
"No problem. You'll just have to eat more."
Heero dropped the bag into Duo's eager hands and flopped down on the mattress, giving the disorder an amused glance.
"Peanut butter cups! Breakfast of champions!" Duo retrieved the much loved candy. Digging further, he wrinkled his nose and pulled out the sweet bean cake. "And this has to be yours." He held it out with an exaggerated shudder. Heero snatched it with a grin.
There was silence for awhile. Duo munched and cut. Heero finished his disgusting Japanese thingie and flopped onto his belly to watch. By this time, Duo had filled up several pages. He stopped and read aloud to Heero, just to be sure that the patchwork essay made sense.
"That's good," Heero approved, chin propped in his hand. He looked genuinely impressed.
"It is, ain't it?" Duo decided, pleased, and went back to cutting, humming under his breath. When he'd assembled a few more pages, he looked up. Heero was staring at him. "Uh -- somethin' on your mind, Yuy?"
"Hmm. Wonder what that could be?" Duo fluttered his eyelashes at the college student.
"Not what you think, hentai," retorted Heero. "At least -- not yet."
"Then what? I grow a wart or somethin'?" Duo went cross-eyed, staring at the tip of his nose.
Heero was grinning. "Baka. No. I was wondering if you'd like to go out for dinner."
"Sure. San Fu's?"
"Huh? Where's that?"
Duo dropped his scissors. "Say what?"
"Uptown. It's a nice place."
"Is Argiero's one of those restaurants where the menus don't have prices on them?"
"It is," acknowledged Heero.
"Oh. I - um -- doncha have to wear a suit or something?"
Duo shook his head. "Now who's the baka? You know I don't have anything like that."
"I've got something back in the room that would probably fit you."
"How much will this place cost?" Duo asked uneasily.
"It's my treat."
"Ah." Duo grinned. "A date?"
"You're on, dude. Just let me finish this, okay? And I better let mom know I'll be gone."
"Sure. We'll bring her something back. And take the essay with us. I'll type it up tomorrow."
Duo finished putting the essay together in record time, excited about the promised treat. He'd never been to an uptown restaurant. His mother had talked about them once in awhile. Everyone dressed up and there were all kinds of different silverware, plates and glasses. They served meals in "courses," the waiters wore tuxedos and everyone called you "sir."
Duo's mom was delighted at the news. "Argiero's is a great place," she approved. "At least, it was when I was a girl."
"You've been there?" Duo's mouth dropped. Her answering smile was wistful.
"Oh, yes. Your father took me a long time ago, just after we moved here."
"So what do you want us to bring you back?"
Her eyes grew very wide and she looked past him to Heero. To Duo's surprise, she burst out laughing. It had been years since he'd heard that carefree a sound from her and he simply gaped.
"A doggy-bag from Argiero's?" she choked, staring at Heero incredulously. "Heero!"
"The sign of a fine establishment," he replied, straight-faced, "is their ability to accommodate any request, no matter how silly it seems."
They left his mom soon afterwards. Duo bounced along beside Heero, trying not to show how thrilled he was to be on such an adventure. Furthermore, he was finally going to be inside the walls of St. Judes legally.
Duo turned red. "Well, yeah -- me and my buds used to climb over the wall all the time and sneak around. Then Billy got caught and we all got in trouble."
Nervousness hit as soon as they walked through the well-guarded gates of the school. Duo, feeling like an interloper, imagined disapproving looks on the faces of the young men around them. He walked alongside Heero, his chin at a defiant tilt, pretending he had as much right to be here as anyone.
St. Judes was built in the style of the old British schools, only on a smaller scale. Duo had seen pictures of the ancient universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and he recognized the attempt to reproduce the gothic lines of those venerable old structures. The effect was one of graciousness and class.
Heero's room was in one of the two dormitories set back against the east wall, sheltered by tall, spreading oaks now winter-bare. The two boys ran together up the back stairs and through an uncarpeted hall lined with doors. At the end of the corridor, Heero dug in his pocket and produced a key. He let Duo in.
The room was very small and neat as a pin. There was a portable computer on the desk -- the latest and most expensive model. Beside it was a picture of a woman. "Mother," Heero said shortly, going straight to his closet. Duo stopped and considered it. The woman looked as if she had mixed blood. She was very pretty, with dark, straight hair and up-tilted eyes. But the eyes were a clear, Prussian blue -- like her son's.
Heero, meanwhile, rummaged through what seemed to be a very full closet. In a moment, he came out with several hangers.
"Try this," he ordered. "I've never worn them. They're just a little too small."
Duo took the suit with wide eyes, fingers sliding over the soft, gleaming fabric. It was a green so dark as to be nearly black. "Is this velvet?"
There was a silk shirt, too, ivory, with onyx cuff-links and a narrow, dark-green silk tie. Duo suddenly felt way out of his depth. Heero's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong?"
"Um..." Duo looked at the computer again, at the proud face of the woman in the photograph. "Can I ask you somethin'?"
There was startled flash of blue. It almost looked like guilt. "What do you mean?"
"I mean -- why me?" Duo stood staring down at his armful of expensive, designer clothes. "You're a rich, high-class guy. I'll bet you could have anyone you wanted, but you're hangin' out with me. It doesn't make sense."
"I like you."
"I like you, too, but it doesn't answer my question."
"Maybe you should have more confidence in yourself," replied Heero. "I'll call Argiero's and make the reservations."
Duo dressed while Heero called. Both young men being almost the same size, the clothes fit very well. He needed help with the tie, a process that turned out to be a lot of fun, what with frequent kissing breaks being taken, but finally he was dressed and staring in disbelief at the elegant stranger in the mirror.
"That's me?" he asked, astonished.
"Yes." Heero looked equally stunned. Duo grinned proudly at his expression.
Heero changed, too -- his suit not quite so spectacular, but from the cut and the way it hugged that perfect body, probably every bit as expensive. "Are you ready?" he asked finally and handed Duo a long, beautifully tailored wool coat. Duo slipped it on. He felt like a millionaire.
"Too bad about the shoes," he grinned, wiggling his toes in his scuffed sneakers.
"We'll take care of that," promised Heero.
Duo had figured they'd take the bus or train uptown, but to his surprise, they went to a long building near the college's back gate. It was a garage and Mr. Heero Yuy left Duo standing outside for several minutes. When the low, red sports car appeared, Duo didn't immediately realize it was his.
"A Jag! Awesome," he breathed when Heero honked impatiently. "This is yours?"
"Get in, Maxwell!"
Duo hopped into the passenger side, eyes shining. Marveling, he ran a hand over the leather upholstery. "Wow. This is so sweet!"
They drove uptown. Duo played with the radio, pestering Heero to let him drive -- "absolutely not, baka!" -- and peppering him with questions about the beautiful automobile. Before he knew it, they pulled up in front of a fancy shoe store -- so fancy it had a valet who came out and smiling, took the car while Heero, without turning an eyelash, strode into the store.
"Dude," whispered Duo, instantly subdued by the rich furnishings, the deep carpet and the well-dressed young men who hovered nearby. "You shop here?"
A handsome young clerk came to wait on them and soon Duo was seated in a comfortable armchair, surrounded by boxes with foreign names.
"Shit," he muttered to Heero. "I shoulda broke into the carriage house and taken a pair of Charlie's shoes. At least they'da been cheaper."
"And stolen," retorted Heero, shaking his head. "Those look good. What do you think?"
Duo examined his feet critically. The boots were black, of course, and with a nice, blunt toe. "They're pretty fine," he allowed. "How much?"
The clerk named a price that made Duo gasp. He turned shocked eyes to Heero, but the dark-haired youth was nodding and handing the man a credit card.
"Yuy!" Appalled, Duo hastily pulled them off. "What are you doing?"
"You don't like them?"
"Yeah, but -- Jeez! Three hundred bucks! My whole fuckin' wardrobe ain't that much!"
"I know," replied Heero and scowled.
Duo looked at him, disconcerted. "Hey! Believe it or not, Yuy, being poor ain't necessarily the end of the world, ya know?"
They left the shop. Duo spent the remainder of the ride to the restaurant admiring his new boots and calling Heero's attention to various ultra-sweet features, like the tiny little buckle right at the ankle or the way the heel wasn't too high or too short. By the time they pulled up in front of Argiero's, he'd finally got the guy to crack a smile.
Damn, but Duo was gorgeous! Who would have guessed he could look so elegant and enticing? His bright eyes were shining and he stared eagerly around as the valet ran up to Heero's door.
"Oh, man -- hope I don't embarrass you," he muttered as another valet came to open his door for him.
Heero smiled. Indeed, he couldn't stop. "You'll be fine."
Duo grinned and hopped out, saying a cheerful hello to the man. The valet, usually as stiff as if he'd been starched, was so startled -- and disarmed -- that he smiled and returned the greeting. Duo bounced on ahead while Heero pressed a tip into the man's hand and trailed after his exuberant friend.
Arnaldo greeted Heero at the door. "Good evening, Mr. Yuy. Nice to see you again. Your usual table?"
"'Usual table?'" hissed Duo with a wicked grin. " Ain't you the shit?"
"Maxwell..." There was warning in the otherwise mild tones and Duo, snickering, subsided. The host left them at a table in the far corner of the room, in front of a tall window that looked out on the busy street. It was already dark, snow falling softly past the lights in the street. People rushed back and forth.
It was a night not to be forgotten. Duo was suspicious of the caviar -- "you have to be kiddin'!" -- nibbled gingerly at the sashimi and pronounced it "okay." He wolfed down the Chinese-style barbequed ribs and ate most of the stuffed mushrooms. When it was time to choose an entree, he agonized between the steak or the lobster until Heero, in exasperation, shook his head and ordered them both.
What would it be like, wondered Heero, to do this all the time? To go anywhere he wanted with Duo? To see that wide-eyed fascination with things he took for granted? At one point, Heero started, realizing that Duo had stopped talking and was staring at him.
"Somethin' wrong?" the long-haired youth asked, looking uncertain. "Am I usin' the wrong fork?"
Heero started to laugh. Duo reddened and looked down.
"No," Heero said. "I was just thinking how great you look."
The blush deepened and Duo poked at his roasted vegetables. A tiny smile touched his mouth. "Really?"
Heero shook his head. Who could have imagined he would find such a rare jewel in the cesspool of the Sink? Who could have...
Heero, startled, looked up and around. His heart plunged. "Kuso!"
"What's wrong? Who's she?"
"Relena Peacecraft." Heero bit off the name. Great. She was supposed to be in Sanc! Nevertheless, he rose and, after a second, Duo did, too.
"Well, well! What a surprise!" She was in something pink, as usual, and designer. She smiled brightly at him, then turned those curious blue eyes on Duo. They were like little chips of tourmaline. He smiled tentatively. "Who's this?" she asked, looking him up and down.
"A friend," Heero replied shortly. "How are your parents?"
"Duo Maxwell," said Duo, giving Heero an odd look. He stuck out a hand. She blinked, took it and had it enthusiastically pumped.
"They're fine." she gave Duo another considering look, then turned her attention back to Heero.
His heart was thumping hard, seeing disaster looming. Kuso! Whatever had possessed him to bring Duo here? He had not been thinking!
"So are you still..."
"What are you doing in Farmington?" he interrupted her, anticipating her question.
"Shopping." She was successfully distracted. "I'm off to L1 next week -- security council business. Your father's coming, too."
"You didn't know? He's been elected to the Security Council." She waggled a slim finger at him playfully. "Honestly, Heero! Your work can't be so all-consuming that you can't keep up with current events?"
"I've been very busy," he said shortly. "I'll give Father a call." A glance at Duo's plate revealed that the other boy was finished. He said abruptly. "It's been great seeing you, Relena, but we've got to run."
She laughed airily and gave Duo another assessing glance. No fool, the other young man was well aware of the currents swirling around him. He remained smiling and composed, but the violet eyes were wary.
"Oh, very well. I can take a hint, Hee-chan! I suppose I'll see you at Christmas?"
She was gone in a swirl of pink and flower fragrance. Heero realized his jaw was clenched.
"Hee-chan?" Duo's voice wobbled.
Heero slanted a dire look at him, but Duo's expression was suspiciously bland.
"Don't start," Heero warned.
"Who is she, Hee-chan?"
"So?" Duo asked again in the car. "Who is she, Yuy? Your girlfriend?"
"No! God, no. We grew up together."
"Security Council, huh? So you're not only rich, but powerful, too?"
"My father is. I'm -- just an ordinary person."
Duo snorted. "Right."
At Madison House, Heero pulled up to the curb.
"Gonna come in?" hinted Duo with a wink, but Heero, seriously rattled by the encounter, shook his head. "Can't. Got an exam." He tried not to see the quick flash of disappointment.
"Okay. You want me to bring these over tomorrow?" Duo indicated the clothes.
"You can have them."
Duo stared at him a moment, then shook his head. "Hee-chan..."
"Kuso, Duo! Don't start that."
In the dark car, he saw the gleam of that irresistible grin. "Thanks, dude, but get real. Where the hell am I going to wear shit like this again? Besides..."
Duo sat for a minute, saying nothing, staring out through the windshield. "It'll give me ideas above my station," he said finally, and before Heero could react, he had the door open and was scrambling out. "Bye!" he said and slammed it, running across the sidewalk, through the gate and out of sight.
Later, Heero lay in his bed at the dorm and stared into the dark ceiling. God, he wanted this damn case over with. He felt like he was walking a tightrope that grew narrower and higher with each step. Running into Relena had reminded him what a dangerous game he was playing.
What the hell was she doing in Farmington? Surely she wasn't still expecting him to knuckle under to their fathers' dictum about marriage? His entire life had been one long howl of defiance. Did they honestly believe he was going to change now?
Maybe, Heero thought, it was a good thing that she had been there tonight. Maybe she got a good look at Duo and figured it out. He grinned into the dark. It had probably been his father who'd put her onto him in the first place. It would serve the overbearing bastard right if his trick blew up in his face.
God, Duo had been something to see tonight. Heero forgot about Relena, forgot about his father and all the torturous Higurashi politics, thinking about the long-haired youth. Shopping for shoes had never been so much fun. In fact, every time they were together, Heero thought, he had a great time. Duo had a way of making him see things through new eyes, fresh and exciting. From playing pool to making love, every day was an adventure. Especially making love.
Heero remembered how Duo had looked the first time they'd made love, the way he'd writhed under Heero in complete abandon, his soft, ecstatic cry when orgasm had taken him. The streetwise little tough guy Heero had seduced had been a virgin. That had been a real surprise. Duo's brash front had evaporated under Heero's practiced touch and he had acted exactly like the innocent he was, overcome with wonder at the new experience.
With a little twinge, Heero realized suddenly that he loved everything about the time he spent with Duo. He loved Duo's sense of humor, his dogged courage, his good natured acceptance of an otherwise bitter life. In fact, if it didn't scare the shit out of him, Heero might have even said that he loved Duo Maxwell. But that was too frightening a thing to say, even to himself.
The phone woke him the next morning. He rolled over and looked at the clock. Eleven-thirty. He fell back into his pillow, covering his eyes with his forearm. It was probably Relena. Or his father, freshly armed with Relena's report. Heero thought about ignoring it, then, sighing, picked it up.
"Yuy?" It was the captain. He sounded pissed.
"I want you down here, pronto. Emergency meeting."
"I don't care. NOW, YUY!"
Unease poked at Heero, but he agreed and got up. Dressing, wondering what the hell was going on, he drove down to the station. There, to his shock, he discovered the source of the captain's ire. Spread over Baldwin's desk were a series of photographs. They were of the tower room at Madison House. From the angle, it looked like the camera had been set up in one of the upper floors of the neighboring high-rise. The photographs were extremely explicit and his face burned even as his stomach rolled.
"Getting kinda involved in the case aren't you, Yuy?" Baldwin asked evenly.
Heero swallowed hard, too shocked to speak.
"I admire your dedication, but this is going a little far. Stuff like this comes back to haunt you during trials."
"Where did you get these?" Suddenly, Relena's presence took on a new, more sinister meaning.
"Never mind where we got them. What the hell are you thinking?"
"Duo's not involved."
"The hell he's not. We know he delivers for Raskin occasionally."
"But he doesn't realize -- he doesn't know what he's delivering."
"Ignorance of the law..."
"Cut the crap, Baldwin! He is..." Heero stopped, hearing the emotion. He took a deep breath. "Maxwell has it rough. He's got the sole care of his sick mother, his mother's house -- his stepfather beats him..."
The hard line of Baldwin's mouth softened a bit. "Look, kid, I know these kinds of cases can get rough. Life ain't fair, okay? There's a hundred Duo Maxwells out there -- good kids who, mostly through no fault of their own, are gonna go down. It's a bitch and after twenty-years on the force, it doesn't get any better seein' it, but you're a cop, not a social worker. You can't be getting emotionally involved."
Heero opened his mouth to confess it was too late, but the words stuck in his throat. Baldwin was right. He'd gone and made the classic mistake of getting involved with a suspect. It was unprofessional and not likely to win him many points when the time came to make the move from police department to Preventer.
"That's what I figured," sighed Baldwin. "You've got too much promise to be throwing it all away on your first real case, Yuy. You know, if it had been anyone else, these would be enough to get you thrown off the force."
"I'm sure that's what they were intended to do, captain."
The man nodded grimly. "So am I. I take it, you know where they came from?"
"What are you going to do?"
"I . . ." His throat closed. "Maxwell's not involved."
"Maybe not. That's up to the D.A. to sort out. It's time for you to disengage."
"We're ready to move to the next stage of the operation. I've notified Jaeger that you'll be pulling out of St. Jude's. We've got some information from our surveillance that suggests Raskin's getting ready to make a big sale this weekend. After we've got him, I want you to pick up those students who've been dealing and book 'em."
"Yes, sir." Heero felt slightly sick, but he kept his face impassive, his eyes squarely on Baldwin's. The chief, seeing the determination, relaxed.
"Good man," he approved. Then, in a kinder voice, "Listen, kid. Maxwell's real cute. I ain't into guys, myself, but hey -- it's a big world, right? If he's innocent, why not pick it up again after all this is over?"
"Right." Heero managed a tiny smile. "Sure."
Duo spent the next day in a fever of impatience to see Heero again. He walked around with his head in the clouds, singing under his breath, going through his daily chores with barely a thought for anything except the absolutely amazing Heero Yuy. Shit. If anyone had told him that bein' with another guy was so -- so fine -- he'd never have believed it!
He ran up to his tower after taking his mom her dinner and parked himself at the window overlooking the gate. As soon as Heero got there, Duo was going to pay him back for that perfect date. He'd dug up some candles for the romantic lighting. The room was tidy and Charlie was busy. C'mon, Yuy!
But Heero didn't come. It grew later and later. Finally, disappointed, Duo went to bed.
Heero didn't come the next day -- or the next. Duo's elation turned to worry. Finally, after arguing with himself for a day, he packed up the velvet suit, the wool coat, and went to St. Jude's.
It had turned colder and was snowing. At the gate, he asked for permission to go in, but they looked at him suspiciously and wouldn't give it. Instead, the guard offered to call the student for him. Duo stood, shivering in his thin jacket while the guard called. After a moment, the man hung up.
"Yuy transferred three days ago. He's no longer a student here."
Duo heard the man with a sense of unreality. "You sure? That can't be right, dude. He -- he didn't say anything to me."
The guard stared at him, indifferent. "Too bad. He's gone."
It felt as if the sidewalk was swaying. Duo nodded. He thrust his bundle at the guard. "These are his," he said. "Maybe he'll come back for 'em."
The man took them, startled. He might have said something, but Duo turned abruptly and, hands in his pockets, walked quickly home.
Gone. Just like that. Pft. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. For a second, Duo was sure he was going to be sick right there in the street. What the fucking hell? Suddenly he remembered the blond girl. He remembered how Heero hadn't introduced them. Probably ashamed of the Sink rat.
You've been screwed, Maxwell -- shown the door, po'boy.
He started to laugh. A man passing him gave him a startled look and hurried on. Feet dragging, Duo returned to Madison House. Snow piled up on the sidewalk. Better get the shovel out of the shed. Tears pricked at his eyes then. He stopped at the gate, leaning against it while his surroundings blurred.
Why? Was it something he said? Was he lousy in bed? What?
Feet dragging, he went up the walk, around the back and into the house. Charlie was there. "Where the hell were you?" he demanded. "I need you to make a delivery."
"Huh? Yeah. Sure."
"What's the matter with you?" Charlie shoved the keys to the van at him.
"Take the shoes to Brambleby's and don't fuck around. Make sure you bring back all the money. Got it?"
Charlie gave him another sharp look, but Duo hardly noticed. He took the keys and without a backward glance, walked up the driveway to the van.
Traffic was heavy. Duo drove automatically, paying little attention to the familiar route. He kept thinking about Heero, about the time they'd spent together in his bed, how Heero had helped out with his mom. He thought about the essay and laughed bitterly. It was probably in the wastebasket of that dorm room. Had Heero meant anything he'd said?
Fuck you, Duo thought, eyes burning. Fuck you, you arrogant son of a bitch.
Duo glanced up at the rear view mirror and frowned. There was a cop behind him, lights flashing. He looked down at the speedometer, but he was under the speed limit. Maybe there was a brake light out. He saw an empty spot along the curb ahead and pulled over. To his shock, cop cars came from everywhere, pulling in around him, cutting off the van. Doors flew open and police leapt out, guns at the ready and pointed at him!
What the hell?
"Get out with your hands up! Slow!" shouted one of them.
Heart in his throat, Duo nodded. He opened the door and, hands high, slid out onto the pavement. They approached warily. One of them grabbed him, flinging him around and against the van, kicking his legs apart. He stood, trembling, while they patted him down.
"W-what's goin' on, officer? What'd I do?"
Another cop pushed past him and grabbed the keys from the ignition, carrying them around to the back of the van and opening the doors. Now really scared, Duo stood, hands against the van walls, trying to swallow, but his throat was too tight. Fear thrummed in his veins.
More cars pulled up. It was then that he got the real shock. An all-too familiar red sports car stopped. The door opened and two men in suits got out. One of them was Heero Yuy!
The youth didn't even look at him but walked with the older man straight to the back of the van and out of Duo's sight. Horror made Duo look away, resting his forehead against the cold metal, heart pounding. Heero was a cop?
He turned slowly. The man with Heero was walking around the van toward him. He had a shoe box in his hand. Heero was right behind him. They were accompanied by a third man in a suit, this one with a slightly Asian cast to his features. The first man, short, plump and balding, thrust the box under Duo's nose. Feeling as if he was caught in a nightmare, Duo saw the plastic package of white powder. He blinked stupidly.
"What's that?" he whispered, although he was terribly afraid that he knew.
"You know damn well what it is, Maxwell," the cop sneered. "Dreampuff."
Duo shook his head. Against his will, his gaze moved to Heero, who stared back impassively. "Heero?"
"I'd say you were in big trouble," the first man said. He wore an identification badge -- Detective Johnson, Farmington Police Force. Heero wore a badge, too. Duo began to shake.
"I didn't know," he whispered, but he did know one thing. "Man," he whispered, looking straight at Heero, "you screwed me all the way around, didn't ya?"
The beautiful jaw tightened. Heero was pale, but he said only, "Get back into the van. We have to talk."
Duo swallowed on the enormous lump in his throat. Heero nodded to the others, who turned and got back into their cars. Numb, he clambered back into the van and sat while Heero climbed into the passenger side.
"Keep going," said Heero. "We'll talk as we ride."
Mutely, Duo started the van and, when the cops had gone, pulled back into the street. He saw the red car right behind them. His lips were trembling. He pressed them tightly together.
"It's not you we want," said Heero quietly, "It's Raskin. If you cooperate with us, help us get him, we'll let you off the hook."
Duo said nothing -- could say nothing.
"Deliver the stuff like you're supposed to and take the money back to Raskin. We don't want to arouse his suspicion," continued Heero, voice quiet and oddly gentle. "We'll be in touch with instructions on what to do after that."
Duo nodded. In spite of everything he could do, he felt a hot tear spill down his cheek.
He shook his head violently, biting his lip. What was there to say? He'd been taken. He'd been incredibly stupid to believe someone like Heero Yuy would go for trash like him. What the fuck had he been thinking?
"I never meant it to be like this." There was emotion in that hard voice suddenly. "Duo..."
"No." Duo swallowed hard. "Don't say nothin'."
"NO! God damn you! You fucked me, you bastard! I thought you and me -- but all the time I was just a -- way to -- some stupid whore you could use -- ah, shit." Duo's hands tightened on the steering wheel until he thought his fingers might crack. He laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. "Guess you'll get a big promotion for this, eh, Detective Yuy? Takin' another desperate dope dealer off the street?"
"I know you're not a dope dealer, Duo, but..."
"But a drug-free Farmington comes first, huh?" Duo blinked rapidly.
"We're almost there," said Heero quietly. "Pull over and let me out."
Duo did as he was told. Heero slid from the seat. He stood a moment on the curb, looking at Duo. "I'm sorry," he said.
Duo turned his head, jaw clenched until he heard the door slam. Without looking around, he shifted the gears and drove on to Bramblebys.
"He's here," Johnson called, hand over the receiver of the phone. Heero heard the man with a lurch of his heart. Still, he managed an impassive expression as he rose from his desk.
"You want me to go get him?" asked Johnson with some sympathy.
"No." This whole mess was of Heero's making. He was the one who should deal with it. "I'll do it. I'll meet you in the conference room."
Duo stood alone in the crowded lobby. He was wearing his thin jean jacket. The school had called to tell him that Duo had returned the suit and the coat. It was too bad. Heero had really hoped he'd keep at least the coat. Duo's hair was mussed, his eyes red-rimmed. Pale, he looked tired and lost among the jostling throng crowding the station. Then he looked up and saw Heero. Like a curtain falling, all expression disappeared.
"Detective." Duo's voice was quiet, flat.
God. This was much harder than he'd thought it would be. Why did he keep remembering what it had been like to lie with Duo in the tower room, talking about silly things, kissing that long, soft hair? "This way."
He turned and led Duo through a door behind the reception desk, down a hallway to the conference room. Duo followed silently. Heero opened the door for him and let him go in first. Jase, Mark and the chief were already there. Baldwin rose with a smile and held out his hand. Duo stared at it, then pulled out the only empty chair and sat down. He faced them across the table. Baldwin coughed into his rejected hand and sat down.
"I'm here," Duo said shortly. "What is it I'm supposed to do?"
"We think your stepfather is hiding the drugs somewhere on your property. We'd like you to get the evidence we need -- an eyewitness affidavit will do -- that will allow us to get a search warrant and confiscate the contraband. Then we'll be able to arrest him and make it stick."
"I'll do it on one condition." Duo lifted his head and looked at them, gaze lingering on Heero a fraction of a moment longer than the others before returning to Baldwin. "You do it quietly. The stuff is probably in the carriage house. He keeps the place locked and I'm not supposed to go in there without permission. If you find what you want there, you take it out quietly and you bust him somewhere else. My mom's real sick and I don't want you makin' her even sicker."
"I can't promise you that," Baldwin said.
"Then I ain't helpin' you."
"You'll go to jail."
Duo closed his eyes briefly, then he shrugged. "Okay. Then I go to jail."
"Have you got any idea what it will be like for you there, pretty boy?" sneered Singh.
The slender jaw tightened. Violet eyes were bleak, but Duo didn't reply.
"Damn it!" Johnson snapped. "Your fucking stepfather is responsible for almost a quarter of the dreampuff trade in the Sink! He's ruined hundreds of lives!"
"Like I give a shit! Puffies make their own bad choices! My mom doesn't have a choice and she sure as hell doesn't know what Raskin is up to! If you guys go stormin' in there, she'll have another heart attack and this one will probably kill her. Do you really think I'd help you do that?"
"Maybe we can get her to help," said Singh nastily.
What little color Duo had drained away. He stared at the man in horror.
"Fuck that, Singh," said Heero coldly. "Duo is right. She's very ill and she doesn't know what's going on. Mrs. Raskin is one very nice lady."
"We'll get him anyway!" snapped Johnson. "With or without your help. You want to go to jail with him, that's your decision. I'll tell you one thing -- we get an agreement with you here or you don't walk back out onto the street."
Duo dropped his head into his arms then and didn't say a word. Heero had to physically restrain himself from reaching over to lay a comforting hand on those trembling shoulders. The sick feeling that had been sitting in his gut for days got worse.
"I'll help you get him, damn it!" came Duo's muffled voice finally. "I hate the bastard! But not at the expense of my mom! Find another way!"
"You little punk..." Singh was on his feet, hand balled in a fist. Duo lifted his head and stared back at the cop without flinching.
Heero said, "Sit down, Jase."
"God damn it! We're so close! Some fucking piece of Sink garbage..."
"SIT DOWN!" Heero's voice shook. He, too, was on his feet. Jase's mouth dropped and you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
"That's enough, Jase," growled Baldwin. He was staring at Duo's bowed head. "All right, Maxwell. We'll bust him outside the house somewhere, but we will need that affidavit from you."
"You promise?" Duo lifted his eyes to the man and for just a second the mask was gone. It was a very frightened, very young man who looked back at the captain.
"Sure. I don't see why we can't work around that." Baldwin smiled reassuringly. "We sure as hell don't want to hurt your mom."
"Okay," Duo said. "I'll get your fuckin' affidavit. Can I go now?"
"Sure. Just get in touch with Yuy when you've got the information."
"How 'bout I get in touch with you?"
"Yuy's been in and out of your house, hasn't he? I think it would arouse less suspicion if we were to keep to that."
Duo looked as if he'd just bitten into something very sour. "Sure," he muttered, refusing to look in Heero's direction. He stood up, shoving his chair back so violently, it almost fell over. Without another word, he walked out. Heero took a deep breath, got up and, ignoring Baldwin's sharp order to return, followed Duo.
Duo walked faster.
The long-haired boy stopped, shoulders hunched. He didn't turn around, but he waited.
"Can we talk?"
"Because I don't want -- I never meant it to be like this."
The young man whirled around. His eyes were terrible to see. "I got nothin' to say to you, Yuy. Ya know -- Charlie's a bastard. He beats me up and kicks me around and he's a scummy dope dealer, but at least I know where I fuckin' stand with him! You -- you . . ."
With a strangled sound, Duo spun around and ran, knocking aside a couple of detectives walking in their direction. Heero took off after him, but Duo Maxwell had been the star of his track team and by the time Heero got to the lobby, Duo was gone.