Innocence Faded, Part 6
by Jennifer Beacham & 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."

Call it an internal clock--albeit one that perpetually runs behind and could really use a battery--or just some bloody extra-sensory awareness, but I rolled over in our bed at the precise moment Heero's side chilled and the front door clicked shut downstairs. Flinging an arm over my eyes, I groaned. That made seven times in as many days.

Cursing his ancestry, my own, and the fatigue, anguish or just plain laziness that still had me in bed, I stumbled in a tangle of covers towards the bathroom. I needed to pee and shower, in that order. Maybe I got a little spoiled in the past year, maybe it was sharing space at least part of that time with Hilde--translation: feminine influence--but I no longer think clearly when I'm dirty. Wash water was readily available here, and I intended to use plenty of it.

The shower was big enough to hold all of us pilots and tall enough even for Zechs; fortunately, I was a little too sleepy to feel very alone in it. I cranked on the water and blinked at the hazy brightness filtering in from the shower's skylight. The cloud of steam wrapped welcoming arms around me as I shut the frosted-glass door, my lungs struggling for oxygen in the thick humidity. It's moments like this that I realized how much a year without war and poverty changed me. Waking up slowly no longer equaled I wouldn't eat and probably wouldn't survive that day. I wondered why more people didn't understand what a gift that was, the simple freedom to be blissfully semiconscious first thing in the morning.

Yawning, scrubbing at my eyes, I made a clumsy fumble towards a bottle of shampoo and flicked open the cap, squeezing a large glob into my hand. An impossibly fresh tang of mint and eucalyptus scent [1] filled the shower as I lathered, my mind a million miles away and filled to the brim with Heero. No matter how many chemical formulas, salvage prices, or even *shudder* naked Relenas I paraded through there, he wouldn't be budged. I always knew he was a stubborn bastard. 

Frustrated, I scrubbed harder at my hair, creating what looked like a veritable bridal veil of suds on my head. Damn him and damn the shampoo. After all this time, it still smelled like him.

Just like that, realization abruptly bitch-slapped me and I froze, clenching my eyes shut. I'd been using this kind of shampoo for so long I'd all but forgotten it was once his, and the promise I'd made concerning it. Suddenly shivering, I couldn't move or breathe or do anything beyond weakly rest my forehead against the tile wall and hope my legs would support me. Mingled water and suds trickled in slow rivulets through my hair and down my backside, just like the flood of memories associated with that simple, familiar smell.


We had been attending school together--largely consisting of P.E. and trig by day, track OZ and blow things up by night--for around a month when I ran out of shampoo. I'd only recently been able to have a shower whenever I pleased, and admittedly I kind of overdid it in the shampoo usage department. The worst part was, I didn't realize it until I was bare-assed naked and sopping wet under the spray. Given the choice between prancing out of the bathroom like I was in hope of a spare and borrowing Mr. Antisocial's uber-utilitarian suds...well, some fit of primal nervousness found me with his white bottle clutched in shaking hands.

In retrospect, I guess I was having a moment of intense denial, unwilling to admit that brash, arrogant, fearless me was profoundly terrified that Heero might see me naked. Now, on the surface, that shouldn't be a big deal; we're both guys, right? And guys are by definition shameless and uninhibited, especially around one another? Yeah, but you see, two guys plus my growing attraction to him equaled huge-ass problem...that, and about a truckload of good old Catholic guilt no amount of cold showers or Hail Mary's seemed able to subdue.

I've always had strong associations with smells, even before my makeshift training with G covered learning to assemble explosives in the dark by scent alone. In the part of me where I hide things like shame and inadequacy--Shinigami can't keep those where the neighbors might see them, ruins the whole 'God of Death' reputation--I realize that while I can't quite remember the color of Sister's eyes, or the precise feel of Father's hand on my shoulder, I will never forget the way everything about them smelled: Sister, the gentle kiss of honey and wildflowers followed her, and Father, a sprinkling of citrus and cinnamon always clung to him. 

The strongest memory, though, was the Church itself, the ceremonial incense used in Mass that seemed to fill the entire building and not just the sanctuary. For weeks after the fire, I stole incense from the few other Catholic churches; huddled up in a miserable, shivering ball with a fragrant rock of it in my hand, desperately clutching at the memory of being wanted and loved, was the only way I could sleep. The truth always crept back to me with morning's light, but surrounded by the scent, for a little while I could almost believe the lie.

Anyways, I could go so far as to call my obsession with smells a fetish, because most of the scents surrounding Heero got me harder than the Hope Diamond. Not that it helped that I was around many of them 24/7 myself. You don't want to know how gun oil was starting to affect me. And yet, here I was, stepping right in it again by contemplating plastering his shampoo on my meter of hair. "Why don't you just roll around in his bed like a dog and get his scent on you, Duo?" I snarked to myself

Shit, that was tempting...

Disgusted with the bend of my thoughts, I flipped open the cap and squirted out a handful of pale green shampoo, angrily working it into a frothy lather. Just to spite myself, I washed my hair three times, making sure it smelled plenty like Heero Yuy. Not only have Catholics cornered the market on guilt, we also have penance and self-torture down to a science. As punishment for my sin--wanting the Perfect Soldier to do perfectly unspeakable things with me--I was going to torment myself via continuous exposure, I decided, committing to memory the brand of shampoo as I put one soggy foot on the bath mat and started to dry off. No matter where I went, he would be with me.

Even after he was gone.

I knew deep down I didn't mean just from this school, or from Japan. From Earth, the colonies, my life--none of those. I drew thick, wet strands of my hair over my shoulder and inhaled deeply. My body surged, responding initially to the cleanliness--once you've been grimy for months at a time, the smell of clean is almost orgasmic--but slamming right up behind it was the awareness, the acute consciousness that tingled over my skin and through my soul, of closing my eyes and being one with Heero Yuy.

And Heero Yuy being one with Death.

That was what it all came down to, wasn't it? I was Death. If Duo Maxwell decides he cares for you, you die. Might as well write your will and take out that triple indemnity rider on your life insurance, because Shinigami will be hunting you and he never goes home hungry.

God, I'm sorry, Heero. I started shivering, pulled the towel tighter around me. I didn't mean to give a damn about you. I sure the hell didn't mean to care this much. Not like I could have turned off those traitorous feelings sentencing him to an early grave. Emotions aren't like a water tap; I'm at least smart enough to recognize that. It didn't make the reality hurt any less. 

Enough people have died just for being close to me. I don't want to add you to the list. Solo, Sister, Father, all the orphans at the Church, even the parents I must have at one time had...all that was left of them was me. And a skinny, scruffy, smart-mouthed terrorist wasn't much of a legacy for anyone, especially for someone like Heero Yuy.

Surrounded in his scent, ecstatic and miserable, I had a mild epiphany. A more cynical mind might term it yet another in a long line of well meaning but stupid ideas, but frankly epiphany sounded nicer. I wiped my left hand across the fogged-up mirror, opening a small streak of half-clear reflection at eye height. The lilac-blue eyes I loved and hated--both emotions because they were unique and therefore memorable--stared back at me with a hardened, serious resolve.

"Promise me," I fiercely told the boy in the mirror. "Promise me you won't forget. Promise me that you'll keep teaching him what little you know about living until he's gone." My chest ached sharply when I said that. "And then promise me that every day, every time you catch his scent on your hair, you'll remember."

I felt stinging in my eyes then, and the mirror-boy angrily swiped a palm across his. "Promise me!" I demanded once more, leaning forward and tasting the intensity in the air.

He, too, leaned in, almost close enough to kiss me, close enough where I saw the individual swirls of periwinkle and plum and slate and lavender that made up his--our--eyes. "I promise." The words seared through the air like tiny lasers, etching into it a pact between me and the other me, the me in the mirror to whom I was always accountable. I brought my mouth to bear against his on the moist glass, consecrating our vow as my breath fogged the mirror once more. "I promise I will never forget."

But I had...


Shame, guilt, and an aching, painful sadness crashed over me; I blinked, and found myself back in the beach house shower, suds stinging my eyelashes and the sheer weight of my soapy hair giving me a crick in my neck. I ducked back under the spray to rinse, sending the bubbles swirling down my body to flirt with my toes, and glopped a second helping of shampoo on my hair while I gasped for breath and struggled for control. The memories, the images and the desperation that had birthed them had been so real. I closed my eyes and weakly scrubbed my hands over my face after I had rinsed and applied conditioner, drifting back once again as my mental fast-forward reverted to 'play' on the day Heero self-destructed.

I'm not ashamed now to admit I cried like a baby that night, sobbing until I was utterly dry, until my eyes burned and my head ached. I hadn't really cried since I was a boy--and I hadn't been that for a long time--but suddenly I was seven years old again, furious at the world and a God that would take away the only people I cared for. Worse was the raw, gaping loss; the sudden hole inside me where a few hours ago someone who mattered to me lived, breathed, and scowled. Someone...who would never have the chance for me to matter to him.

Bitter? Jaded? Who, me? Yeah, at that time I guess I was; suddenly the notion of fighting for the colonies seemed very empty, and the stakes that much higher. Protect the colonies. Destroy things. Bring down Oz. None of it mattered like it had, not with him gone. Wherever I went, I carried him with me--his scent, his memory--but my good intentions kept biting me in the ass. The promise and the memory were no longer enough. 

I had loved other people, but I had never before been in love. Every piece of me yearned...mourned...for something more as I went through the motions of Gundam pilot life. I wanted that something precious that had been unjustly snatched from me. If I'd thought it would have made a difference, I'd have thrown a kicking, flailing tantrum. Give me back my Heero! my inner brat screamed. Outwardly, I was moping like a lovesick woman and I didn't give a damn.

Quatre noticed--how could the spacehearted little shit not notice?--but he didn't ask questions and he didn't expect answers. Yet another reason I admired him; heaven knows I could never display such restraint. He let me quietly grieve and surrounded me with that amazing emotional and spiritual strength of his, asking nothing in return. I didn't cry again--not my policy, you know--but...I knew, somehow, if I needed to it wouldn't make me less in his eyes. I think that's when I first knew he was a real friend.

But just as quickly as the dream had blown out of my life (literally, mind you) he blew back in. I wasn't ready to forget, but I was finally ready to put this chapter of my life to rest with my return to space, when who showed up on the news feed but Heero Fucking Yuy in his Wing Fucking Gundam? 

How did I know it was him? can fly another's machine but you can't duplicate his style. You aren't him, and as I lived and breathed it was my Heero Yuy at those controls.

It was that moment, seeing him, knowing that by some miracle my tainted love hadn't slain him, that I began to forget.

It hadn't happened immediately--the next time I saw him in person he pointed a gun at me with every intention of pulling the trigger--but little by little his incandescent, beautiful, living presence chipped away at that resolve, weakened the foundation of my desperate vow. You see, no one had ever survived me, no one had ever lived again once Shinigami touched him or her. Having him on my skin, in my hair as a lifelong promise to remember became secondary when he touched me and sent me somewhere far beyond my ability to explain. Until even I didn't know the vow was there anymore.

Pavlov would have had a field day with me, I thought in disgusted, self-loathing retrospect. Show me Heero and it seemed I'd start salivating and forget anything, even that most important, most sacred covenant with myself. No wonder I was standing in the shower alone, making an awkward attempt to lock up Duo-dora's gundanium box again. What a pair we made: he was off angsting because he felt he'd wronged me, and here I was all naked and drippy doing exactly the same. All warm and fuzzy feelings aside, a small, cynical part of me insists it's either fate or a really sick joke that we're together.

Sighing, I edged the water just towards cool to rinse out the detangler, already feeling small goosebumps erupt across my skin in protest. Yeah, I get cold easily, so why was I rinsing this way? Some silly women's magazine I read once said that a cool rinse 'seals the hair shaft and helps prevent split ends.' 

Now, don't starting thinking emasculated, girlie-man things about me; what else is there to browse at the doctor's? I swear, you could go to a proctologist's office and there'd still be nothing to read but women's magazines. 'Start at the roots and rinse downward,' I mentally quoted, mating action to thought. I'd be freezing under the curtain of hair by the time I finished, but vanity, even male vanity, always comes with a price.

Suddenly, my shower became a disco. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but this light mounted in the corner started frantically blinking like Saturday night at 54.[2] I abruptly cut the shower off; I was thoroughly soaked, but if we were in for some freak electrical accident, I wasn't going to help myself get crispy-fried.

The light strobed again and I heard a faint jingling chime from downstairs. 'Doorbell,' my mind slowly processed, even as I staggered out of the glassed-in shower and threw on some towels, knotting one around my hips and winding my hair in the other.

Leaving a trail of wet footprints in my wake, I hurried downstairs, my brain dissecting the usual suspects for the bell-ringer. Trowa and Quatre I ruled out immediately; while they were the only ones who knew we were here, polite entry isn't exactly His Blondeness's style around me. No, he'd let himself in and plunk down in the kitchen, well on his way to putting a Gundam-sized dent in my junk food stash. Winner cannot live by tea alone. And Trowa...somehow I was sure he wouldn't knock, he would just materialize out of the shadows, like some tall, slender ghost. Not Wufei--I hadn't been able to talk to him in a few days, thanks to his and Sally's first partnered assignment: undercover, posing as a married couple somewhere in the L3 cluster. He wasn't thrilled about having to work so closely with any "onna," even that one.[3] It's too early to see if life will imitate art, but...I'm cautiously optimistic. Relena? Nah, some days even I roll yo on the come-out.[4] That meant...

I broke into a run across the wood floors. Heero must have forgotten his keys and like it or not, he would have to deal with me.

Skidding to a stop, I threw the deadbolt and yanked open the door, nearly snapping my neck with the combined weight of towel and hair it supported. "Hee...lo?"

The bemused near-elderly lady blinking at me was definitely *not* Heero. "Aa," I began, fingers creeping up towards the back of my neck as I nervously grinned, "can I help you?"


[1] My beta reader asked me if this is a real shampoo, and the answer is yes. It’s actually a generic version of Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree shampoo. It has the most heavenly, unforgettable smell. An old bottle of it that found its way into my shower was the inspiration for the shower scene and Duo’s promise about Heero.

[2] Club 54, the place to party in the 1970's. Slang for a wild disco

[3] 'Onna' is one of many Japanese words for 'woman'. Said frequently by Wufei in the series, rather derisively. As a note, there is a pending side story detailing exactly what happened in Wufei and Sally's first assignment. ^_^

[4] In craps, you have to roll seven or eleven on the first roll (the come-out) or you lose. Eleven is often referred to by gamblers as 'yo', according to my Vegas-traveled brother. ^_^

Part 7
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