by Trixie

Trowa watched Duo's eyes open.

A few times as he slept, Duo got up to use the bathroom, stumbling blindly with minimal assistance from Trowa. He slept through the day and the night, but other than that, Trowa really couldn't see any sign that he was sick. He had nearly died, but Trowa could see no symptom of it.

He felt, almost resentfully, that there should be some after effect.

It was still pre-dawn when Duo opened his eyes and really saw where he was for the first time. It was possibly the sound of the sea moving against the sand that jarred him, or the sun beginning to enter over the ledge of the picture window.

Trowa had expected Duo to wake up slowly, shivering and confused. But Duo's eyes just opened. One moment, they were shut, and Duo was all but dead to the world, and the next, they were open.

Trowa cleared his throat, and nodded at Duo.

Duo sighed, and pushed himself up with one hand. He led with one bare shoulder, and there was an unconscious sexiness that was underscored by his vulnerability. Trowa didn't think that Duo would ever see that in himself.

"Morning, Tro. Where the hell are we?"

Trowa nearly smirked. "I drove. We ended up at the beach."

Duo looked around, scratching the back of his neck. The room was all white, with a maroon rug thrown over a hardwood floor. The sheets and comforter on the bed were also pure white, and the woodwork around the picture window was a natural wood stain. There were breezy sheer curtains over the window, as the heavy maroon curtains were pulled all the way back. Outside, there was a strip of sand and the whole ocean.

"How much did you pay for this place, Tro?" Duo's eyes darted from one fixture to the next, and he pulled his arms and legs closer to the center of his body, as if he were afraid to be too much a part of his surroundings.

Trowa looked away. "It wasn't that bad. It's the off-season."

Duo nodded absently, reminding himself of something that he wanted Trowa to think he already knew. "Of course."

Trowa stood up, stretching himself out as he walked across the room to where he had thrown their bags. "Here. Eat something."

Duo shrugged. "Maybe later."

Trowa looked down at the bags. "Drink?"

Duo fidgeted and rubbed randomly over his skin. "Nah. I dunno. I don't really feel much like it. I mean, do you have anything good to drink?"

Trowa blinked. He looked over the various things he had bought. "No."

Duo shrugged and turned his back on Trowa. "I don't really feel like it right now." He tossed his legs over the side of the bed, his toes just barely not touching the carpet. Trowa nodded, and stood uncertainly.

"You almost died."

"Yeah." Duo put his feet on the ground, and stared at his toes. "Let's not talk about that right now, ok?"

Trowa sighed, and nodded.

Duo stood up, his legs shaking a little. He wandered over to the window, putting his hand on the glass. "It's a nice view."

Trowa nodded, watching Duo from under his bangs.

"I think I need to take a shower. If that's ok. I think my hair might have spawned whole new civilizations. I... won't be too long." He wandered around the room just a bit, wavering in his path as he walked to the bathroom. If he was waiting for Trowa to approve, he was wasting his time.

Trowa sat down in a chair to wait.

The water started, and Trowa watched the sun on the ocean as he waited. The sound of the shower seemed far away. Trowa wanted to go into the bathroom with Duo, but even now he had to respect Duo's privacy.

But, he was still afraid. He had expected the fear to dissipate once he knew that Duo would be all right, but he was still scared.

He knew why, but he didn't think about it.

He could still see Duo on the floor of their apartment. He still felt cold. He hadn't realized how cold he felt until now. He felt like he was in a runaway car, barreling toward the edge of a cliff, and he was still buckled up. It was all out of his hands, especially Duo.

He wanted to walk into the bathroom and take Duo into his hands and his arms. He wanted to be warm, he wanted to be scorching hot.

The water stopped running, and Trowa imagined he could hear Duo toweling his hair and body dry.

Trowa opened a bottle of an energy drink, playing with the cap as he waited for Duo to emerge again from the bathroom.

Duo pushed the door open and leaned against the doorframe. He was wearing the boxers he had worn into the bathroom, and had his hair in a fresh braid, each twist perfectly tight. He hooked his thumbs over the waistband of his boxers, his shoulders slumped and his eyes closed. "Hey, Tro, do I have anything to wear?"

Trowa nodded, the corners of his lips turning up just a little for a moment. He picked up the bag and pulled out a t-shirt, a pair of track pants, and some fresh boxers, and tossed them to Duo.

"I still have my jacket, right?" Duo turned the clothes over and over again, looking at them with the same suspicion as he would give something alien and potentially dangerous.

Trowa nodded. "And your boots."

Duo grinned. "Great."

Duo got dressed in front of Trowa, sitting on the edge of the bed after he had stripped off the old boxers and slipped into the new ones, and the pants. Trowa watched Duo pull the shirt over his head and slip his boots onto his bare feet.

"I can get you socks."


Duo put his forearms on his thighs and folded his hands together when he was done. "So, what didja bring to eat?"

Trowa picked up an apple and tossed it to Duo, who nearly dropped it, only managing to save it from the ground by cradling it to his belly. Duo looked up at Trowa with a gleam in his eye that bordered on wicked, and Trowa felt himself wanting to smile.

Duo turned the apple around and around, looking it over and running his thumb over its skin. "What did ya wanna do today, Tro?"

Trowa shook his head, and looked away. After a moment of silence, he considered. "Well. There's a beach. And I think there's a boardwalk somewhere."

"Sounds like a plan to me. Are those cigarettes?" Duo stood up, his hand reaching out to table next to Trowa.

Trowa met Duo's eyes, and nodded slowly.

"You're the best, you know that." Duo smiled as he spoke, more emotion leaking into his words as he got quieter.

Trowa shrugged and nodded, dismissing it as obvious.

Duo nibbled on his apple as they walked down the beach. They walked no more than a foot apart, their arms at their sides. They did not touch.

Trowa blinked as he stared into the sun. It was February. It was cold, and the salt smell of the ocean was seemed out of place. They stayed far up the beach, where they could walk on the sand without being too close to the water.

Duo was only half done with his apple when he tossed it to the ocean. He looked small and bedraggled in his jacket and track pants. His boots looked unnaturally large on his feet. His braid seemed too long.

Trowa folded his arms over his chest, and kept his eyes down.

In the summer, the beach and the town were hot spots for people from the city to go to for an escape, but in the winter the town appeared to have its streets rolled up and stuffed into storage. There was nothing to do except wander the beach. The downtown area, which was about twenty minutes walking distance from their motel, was mostly closed shops and closed hotels.

The people that were there invariably watched the two unfamiliar men as they walked. Neither of them cared.

They stopped for lunch at a convenience store. Trowa bought a sandwich that was wrapped in plastic wrap, and Duo bought a cup of chicken soup. They took their meals outside, eating as they stood next to the building. Duo pulled the thick noodles and chunks of chicken out with a plastic spoon, and drank the broth like tea. Trowa pulled off sandwich bits and ate each small piece with suspicion.

Trowa watched Duo as he ate, and Duo kept his eyes on the soup.

After they threw out the refuse, they went back to the beach. Duo pulled off his boots, carrying them by the laces, and he pulled his pants up, knotting them at the knee as best he could. Trowa watched with his hands in his pockets, knowing where Duo was eventually going but waiting to see before commenting.

Duo strode toward the water, and Trowa shook his head.

"The water will be cold."

"It's good to get your feet wet from time to time ya know. Don't you think?"

Trowa did not have a response.

Duo walked right where the waves were receding from the shore, so that the water washed over his feet but only just barely touched his legs. The way his boots and braid swung in time with each other made the scene look idyllic.

Trowa looked away.

Duo came back to walk aside of Trowa again, his feet coated in sand since they were wet. It didn't appear to bother Duo, and Trowa chewed on the inside of his bottom lip lightly as he imagined what the wet sand must feel like on Duo's skin.

Trowa wondered if Duo liked the irritation.

Duo just plopped down on the sand completely without warning, leaning back on his elbows right away. Trowa had to turn around to sit down next to him.

Duo sighed, and closed his eyes as he let his head fall back. His braid trailed in the sand. Trowa watched the thick coil resting on the cool sand, and felt an irrational desire to protect Duo's hair from the damage of the sand. "Damn. What a day."

Trowa put his hand down next to Duo's. "Want to talk?"

Duo looked away. "Can I say no?"

Trowa moved his forefinger over the surface of the sand, inching it as close to Duo's hand as he could get without actually touching. "You scared the shit out of me."

"Better than an enema." Duo sounded like he was smirking, but Trowa couldn't see. "Sorry."

"What the fuck happened?" Trowa wasn't sure what his voice sounded like. He couldn't hear himself.

Duo sighed, and lay back against the sand. "Damn. I am sorry. Fuck. I didn't mean... I mean, obviously, I didn't mean to... I am sorry, Tro."

Trowa nodded, looking at his hand as it pressed against the sand. "What the fuck, Duo?"

There was a sigh, and a long pause. Trowa did not push. He could tell that an answer was surfacing.

"I... I just can't stand it, Tro. I... I *try*, god damn it, I do, but... I'm not Superman, ya know?" Duo pulled himself up, hugging his knees to his chest as his eyes searched the horizon. Trowa wanted badly to reach out and touch him, but he wasn't sure if he could yet. "Not even close. I don't really know what happened, not really. I mean, I didn't want anything to happen, but..."

"You bought the drugs." Trowa spoke slowly and carefully, saying each word as if it were disconnected from all the other words in the sentence, as if there was no meaning in the combination of the words.

Duo shuddered. "Actually... Damn it, Tro, you know, don't you? Sometimes... you just need out of your skin. It *hurts*, fuck, it hurts like fucking hell, and you just need... you just need some fucking time off from being *you*. You *know*, right? It's not like... it's not like before. I mean, not really. I mean, I don't *want* it to be like... I just need an out, you know? And I... I can only be so strong."

Trowa disagreed, but did not say so out loud. He didn't want to distract Duo.

"Heero was over. A couple of times, actually." Duo huddled into himself, and there was shame in the way he turned his eyes away from Trowa.

Trowa swallowed hard, and said nothing.

"He... he wanted... well, ever since the party thing with Relena, he's been... It's like he thinks that... Anyway, he came over, and I let him in, and he... he had a bag a heroine. He used to... before, he would buy the stuff a lot. He never really, he wasn't into the hard stuff, you know, but he dabbled from time to time. He'd watch me get high, and fuck me when I couldn't feel anything but good anyway. He... it was sorta like he was taking care of me when I was fucking myself up, but not really, you know. Anyway, he said what I needed was a good buzz. He said that he would take care of me. But... I said no. I told him I didn't want to, not again.

"But he left the bag behind."

Trowa's fingers were clenched in the sand. His jaw was clenched and his teeth were grinding against each other. He wanted to commit bloody homicide. He wanted to scream out loud for the whole world to hear. He wanted to beat the faces of infants and throw bombs into crowded school buses.

He swallowed seven times and closed his eyes, and consciously repressed his every reaction.

He was looking forward to the time after Duo fell asleep. He needed that time.

"I didn't know where it had come from, or anything. It was fuckin' stupid to snort the whole thing, but... I didn't have a needle, and I didn't... didn't want to leave any of it layin' around the house. I can see now that it was fuckin' stupid, but..." Duo drifted off, and Trowa imagined that he was actually moving away from him.

"You would do it again, wouldn't you." It wasn't so much a question as it was what Trowa was thinking.

Duo shrugged. "I just wanted to get out."

Trowa concentrated on breathing. He was cold. He could still see Duo on the floor... the carpet of the waiting room, the way people were so quiet. Dr. Croft, and the way Duo looked tied down to the hospital bed. Une at home waiting for them.

He understood wanting to get out, but still.

He reached out, and put his hand on Duo's neck. "I do know. But you aren't alone anymore. Sorry. If you go down... I go down. We're flying together now, Duo."

Duo slowly turned to face him, his eyes red and confused. "Tro?"

"Why should you be the only one to escape?"

The question had the effect of horrifying Duo to the point where he jumped to his feet. He backed away from Trowa without seeming to think about it, but Trowa remained still. He wasn't ready to get up yet.

"What... What do you mean, Trowa? You can't... Look, don't use my psychosis as an excuse for... You can't mean that..." Duo waved his hands over around in denial, putting more distance between them.

"You aren't alone, Duo." Trowa folded his hands together calmly. "It's not like you are less self-destructive than me. I want... to get out, too. Why should you get release and not me?"

Duo shook his head mutely. "Trowa... don't... you can't... *no*. You can't..."

Trowa shrugged. "Already have."

"Trowa... you don't want to die, right? I mean... Fuck! Don't lay this shit on me, man! I'm not going to be fucking responsible for you!" Duo sat down abruptly and started to pull on his boots.

"I'm not asking you to be. I assume you are responsible for only you. I'm just saying..." Trowa shifted position slightly, preparing to get up.

"No. Fucking no. You can't hitch your wagon to a falling star, man. Just... fucking no." Duo stood up and started off quickly. He didn't seem to want Trowa to keep up with him, and he kept his arms crossed firmly over his chest.

"Too late." Trowa walked behind Duo slowly, his hands in his pockets, his gait unconcerned.

Duo sat outside the room and smoked his way through a whole pack of cigarettes, muttering from time to time about fucking expensive mini bar. Trowa ate some jerky and flipped through the five channels of cable television compulsively.

Duo went to sleep in his clothes, barely looking at Trowa as he stumbled into bed. Trowa watched him for several minutes before he turned off the television and lights, brushed his teeth and washed his face, and set out what he would need in the morning.

He sat in the bed and watched Duo sleep. He could feel his stomach tighten and his back ache. He needed release. He needed warmth.

He wanted Duo badly, but he didn't touch him.

He wasn't prepared to ever go through all this again.

On to part eleven. Back to part nine.