Innocence Faded, Part 2
by Kea Snyder

Background music: Innocence Faded by Dream Theater

"Until the circle breaks
And wisdom lies ahead.
The faithful live awake
The rest remain misled."

I guess I dozed off at some point, because my next conscious moment involved the relentless beeping of the phone. I opened one eye carefully--despite the still, leaden warmth next to and partially on me, I had this moment of panic that the perfect soldier would arise and begin shooting holes in the source of the noise. Believe it or not, we lost an alarm clock that way in school. It wasn't the hotel phone--not many people knew I was here instead of basking in the festivities--or my mobile--fewer still had that number--which left the portable vidphone.

Only a bare handful of people have that code, and none of them would call for anything less than a good reason. Mere congratulations and backslapping about the war not counting as a good reason, I groaned and slowly edged out of the bed. Heero rolled towards the warm spot I'd vacated, his brows drawing down in unconscious, silent protest.

To tell the truth, I forgot to breathe. The fragile, unguarded vulnerability of Heero Yuy asleep in my bed, missing my body against his, was a moment I wanted to hold tight for eternity.

Unfortunately, the phone had other ideas. Shaking my left arm--which was thoroughly numb from being slept on--I stumbled into the living room of the suite, pausing just long enough to pick up a pair of boxers and struggle into them. It wasn't fear of being seen naked, but even considering the few familiar faces I'd see--all faces that had seen me sans my shorts and my dignity more than once--I wanted the protection of at least one layer of clothing. The pins-and-needles feeling shoved itself to the forefront of my consciousness, shooting up my arm as blood vessels and nerve endings screamed back to life. For all that he'd looked frail and beaten down yesterday, Heero had proven heavy enough to put my arm into a coma.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," I mumbled, dropping into a chair by the desk and palming the phone to 'receive'. "Yeah?" I said.

Well, that's what I meant to say; in reality, it turned into a jaw-cracking yawn.

"Asking if I woke you would be ludicrous, wouldn't it?" The voice on the other end was dryly amused, wafting into the part of my brain that processed incoming information. Despite myself, I smiled, dropping my chin into my right hand. Only Wufei had the balls to drag me out of bed this early.

In fact, I think I'd known it was him calling, or I wouldn't have gotten up. More than perhaps any of the other pilots, Wufei was my friend.  Yeah, Heero had been my fuck-buddy and God knows how much I am in love with him, but friends? Real friends? Considering everything we've been through, I'd like to say we are, but friendship is a funny thing. Sex and love can both go one way, but the fine print in friendship makes consent and reciprocation mandatory to qualify for full benefits. A real friend is someone to whom you can say the very first thing that comes out of your mouth when you just woke up.

So, I said it. "Nice uniform." Then I giggled like a schoolgirl. I'd like to say I was just punchy from lack of real sleep, but I suspect it was more along the line of near-hysteria. Everything in the past week or so came back in a vivid, dizzying rush. We were almost part of another war. I said goodbye to my aibou for good. [1] And yesterday I found the crystalline Perfect Soldier shattered at my feet. Happy f-ing holidays, Duo.

To his credit, Wufei didn't ask if I was all right. Some people have the perception of me as this babbling, blithering village idiot, but he's hard to fool. He calmly waited for the worst of it to pass before giving the collar of his shirt an arrogant flick. "It's laundry day, this is all I had to wear." It was a lie, we both knew it, but it served to break the tension and yank my mental autopilot off course. Like I said, he's a real friend. 

He'd caught up with me when I was first waiting for word on Heero, and we spent several hours discussing what led him to drop out of sight and join up with Mariemeia. His reasons were his own, and while I fell short of agreeing with them, at least I understood them now. Didn't mean I wouldn't kick his ass later for shooting at us, but I understood.

"I could say the same for you," he observed, and if I weren't fairly convinced of his attachment to the female of the species, I would have been uncomfortable with his eyes on me that way. Okay, so I'm not sure if I'm really gay or if the soul I was destined to adore was only available with outdoor plumbing. More and more, I think it's the latter. But the time has long since passed where I could change my mind. 

"Except you look like shit and I don't," Wufei concluded with a smug grin. I hate that look, but it was a huge relief to see something familiar. I knew my friend was back. "The weather's nice today, you should go out and get some sun."

"Love you too," I mock-growled back, having finally regained my equilibrium and full use of my left arm. "What's on your mind? I thought I told you never to call me here."

He grunted in response; the only person more capable than Heero of rendering a tacit male noise into a full language is Chang Wufei. He explained a little bit about the Preventers, his new job, Sally Po--and even half-asleep I filed that juicy tidbit away for later cross-examination--and would I be interested in joining up, seeing how I was now gainfully unemployed? Granted, all of us had managed to sack away more than enough funds from OZ to live on in incredible comfort, but after the constant activity, leisure would probably find us restless, he pointed out. That had been one of the reasons we'd discussed before. "You don't have to tell me now; it wouldn't be right to expect a coherent answer out of you until you've had food and coffee. But think about it, okay?"

I scrubbed one hand across my eyes and nodded, curling my teeth around another yawn. "So what did you really call for?"

There was a...ripple in the bland fašade of his countenance, like a tiny pebble had been dropped in a puddle. If I wasn't awake before, I was now. The angle at which his head titled emphasized the deep sloe of his eyes. For several long minutes, we had what amounted to a staring contest. He looked away first. "I was just wondering if you'd seen Heero yet."

For a brief second, I felt like a kid caught stealing, or worse, a boy caught with a dirty magazine. I was all too certain that large neon arrows had spontaneously appeared behind me pointing to the bedroom of my suite. Still, what Heero and I did wasn't exactly a secret; Wufei was the first person I actually told (I'm sure Quatre knew, but he didn't get it from my lips before Wufei did). 

In fact, that conversation included not only Heero and I turning from conversation (okay, me having conversation and Heero having companionable silence) to copulation, but the beginning admission of the feelings in my heart. Nothing like a captive audience, literally. How he came to kill me and jumped me instead. That mingled sense of fright, horror, and wonder blossoming in my chest whenever he was near. That crushing pain inside me every time he left the cell. How I wanted to be the one to go out and fight, because then he'd be safe. I talked until I was hoarse, a rare feat. 

Looking back, I remember how good it felt to unburden everything I'd held inside. To find someone besides Deathscythe who would listen. Not knocking my aibou or anything, but spilling your guts to a hunk of gundanium isn't completely fulfilling. [1] "Yeah," I admitted at last, a bit guarded. "I've seen him." Which was true. I had seen him. I just left out the part about him still being there.

His eyes were unreadable, flat, shiny chips of obsidian inset in his sallow-tinged face. When I'd told him everything about Heero, Wufei had responded predictably; I remember prominent use of 'kisama', 'weak', and 'pathetic', in particular. Emotionally drained, I had flopped down on the hard, cold floor, not caring that I banged my wrists in the manacles or that I was lying on my braid. Speaking everything aloud had left me feeling hollow and empty. 

Somewhere between tears and exhaustion--dreading the former, encouraging the latter--I felt a hand on my shoulder. It squeezed, almost imperceptibly, and I turned my head just enough to catch a glimpse of Wufei's eyes. He wasn't looking at me, he was looking anywhere but at me, but his touch was warm, firm and oddly soothing. It's all right, the hand had seemed to say. I understand. It was months later that I learned about his wife and a field of flowers and knew it was true.

Finally, he nodded, as though that was the answer he expected. "When you see him again...look out for him. Something's not right, something beyond his normal suicidal tendencies." Talk about an understatement, I thought, shoving my hands into my lap. After what I'd seen last night intermingled with what Wu wasn't saying, they were shaking. 

He folded his hands on the desk in front of him, index fingers tapping together. I felt a shiver go down my spine; Wufei doesn't fidget. "Something he said while we were fighting has been playing over and over in my head...something about killing a little girl and a puppy?" The intonation made it a question, but I shook my head; if it had happened, he hadn't talked about it with me. Not that Heero and I had talked much the night before. 

Wufei shrugged in acknowledgment. "Anyways, I thought you should know when you saw him again." The staring contest began again, and it was my turn to blink. "Take care, Duo." With a blip, the vid screen winked out.

I'd wanted to talk more, but that really wasn't his way. He told me something he thought I needed to know,  because whether he realized Heero was still here, he knew I had seen him. He knew I'd find him again, no question in his mind. Wu knows me pretty well, after all. 

Dealing with Heero's ghosts and mine was up to me, though. Wufei had his own ghosts to face: Meiran, whom he fought for, Treize, whom he fought against. You know, it frightens me when I start thinking that I'm the least fucked up of us all.

I stood and stretched catlike, arching my back and feeling each vertebrae pop and slide into alignment before bending over to touch the floor. Well, close to the floor--I never have been, nor will I ever be, as flexible as Trowa. How long before they call? I wondered, picturing their faces in my mind. Or better yet, show up? Quatre has to know something's wrong with Heero. His psychic abilities weren't precise, nor did they completely bend to his command, but more than once they'd given him insight that defied explanation. 

Standing up and shaking my head to dispel the spots before my eyes, I tried to comb my fingers through my loose hair, wincing as they snagged. Hopefully I could brush it out without waking Heero. I admit it, I wanted a few selfish moments consisting of nothing but absorbing the sight of him.

Selfishness wasn't the special of the day, it seemed. When I walked in, Heero sat up abruptly, eyes all but pinning me to the wall. There were faint purple sleep-bruises decorating the hollows beneath them, but thank God they weren't yesterday's eyes. They were hard and immovable and achingly familiar. Completely at odds with what happened the night before. 

Somewhere, that self-preservation warning was shrieking. But we all know I'm blind, deaf, and dumb when it comes to him.

He tugged the blankets a bit higher around his waist the closer I came; they were almost to his chest as I sat down next to him, the bed sinking slightly beneath my weight. I wanted to say something, anything, but words seemed very, very far away. Fine, then; without any of the usual tentativeness I might have shown, I reached out and laid a hand on his arm.

He didn't flinch. Or pull away. Instead, he turned the full power of the Glare of Doom on my hand. I half-expected his eyes to turn into little laser cannons and leave nothing at the end of my wrist except a sizzling, smoking stump. I yanked it back a few inches, paused, then with a sigh fisted it into my lap. 

In a tangle of blanket, Heero shoved past me without a second glance. He didn't touch me, but my gut ached as though I'd been punched. The bathroom door clicked closed, the lock punctuating the sound.

'The weather's nice today, you should go out and get some sun.'

I laid down where Heero had been, trying to seek his warmth. But the bed was already cold. 

Ne, Wufei, I thought, closing my stinging eyes, it looks like it's gonna rain.


[1] 'Aibou' is Japanese for 'partner, pal'. That's what Duo always calls Deathscythe when he's talking to it.

Part 3
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