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Flights of Angels

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It would be easy to say that I wanted him as soon as I saw him. It also wouldn't be true. It would be just as easy to say that I hadn't been attracted to guys then that he opened my eyes to my true nature, but that wouldn't be true, either. You want to know the truth? You want to know how I felt about him when I first met him? The truth is that I couldn't stand him. Just the sound of his name made me cringe. Duo Maxwell.

+

He hadn't been enrolled for more than a few days before he was the talk of the school. He charmed everybody's socks off. He was a born flirt if I ever saw one. And I don't mean that the way you think. Duo Maxwell wasn't out to get anyone into bed. If you just closed your eyes and listened to him instead of watching him, you knew he didn't really mean any of it. At times I sincerely believed he did it just to hear the sound of his own voice. I couldn't really think of any other reason why someone would talk so much. His constant chatter would lull you into a stupor if you didn't watch yourself cuz, as my old granny used to say, there was no there there.

+

Duo Maxwell came to school every day late. He flew in with a grin that soon had the teachers twisted around his little finger and flew out like a storm wind. His tie was never straight, he refused to wear his school blazer, and he had more hair than any guy I'd ever met. He was always laughing or smiling or talking. He hardly seemed real. I suppose that's why he irritated me so much. What use were his deep blue, almost violet eyes (and I had noticed. After all, I wasn't blind) if there was nothing behind them?

+

It was his eyes, in the end, that got me. When Duo Maxwell talked, you were scarcely aware that he never made eye contact. I don't think anyone else ever realized. His movements were so distracting, his every gesture meant to draw notice. I really think I began to make him look at me just to annoy him. After all, nothing else shut him up. I looked into his blue/violet eyes long enough for a flush to colour his cheeks. The funny thing was he wasn't embarrassed. If there's anything out there that would embarrass Duo Maxwell, I've yet to hear about it. No -- It was almost as if he were...afraid.

+

It was after this that I began to take more notice of him. I watched him constantly. Mind you, this was a pretty easy task in itself. I might not have liked Duo Maxwell, but there was no denying the fact that he was exceptionally good looking. I got caught up more than once in daydreams involving him covered by nothing but the flowing cascade of his hair. The longer I studied him, the better I got at seeing beyond all the hocus pocus. It didn't take long to figure out the reason there didn't seem to be anything behind his eyes was because that was what he wanted you to think. His act made everybody like him, but I will never get rid of the feeling that it hurt him to the core that they all bought it.

+

The very last place I expected to see Duo Maxwell was in the library. Not that he wasn't smart -- as much as he tried to play it down, he was as sharp as a tack. But it was so quiet in the library. It wasn't exactly a popular place to hang. So when I came across him sitting there, bent over his notebook, it was unreal enough that, before I knew it, I found myself approaching him.

"Duo Maxwell. You chew on that pen any more and you're gonna end up eating it."

He raised his head, the end of the ragged pen still between his teeth. He kept it there as he broke into a grin. "Hero!"

He had given me the name the day I'd saved Tina's kitten from being Chad's science experiment. Every time he saw me, he called me 'hero'. He seemed to find it very funny. Though it was the first time I had voluntarily sought out his company, he wasn't at all surprised when I sat down next to him.

"What's a cute guy like you doing in a place like this?"

"Duo Maxwell..."

To this day, I don't know exactly what it was I wanted from him. But at my call, he raised his eyes to mine as if he didn't have a choice. His ever present grin slipped almost at once and at last disappeared.

"Hero..."

"Wanna go get some pizza? You look like you could use some company."

"Why, hero? Living up to your name?"

His defenses weren't going to disappear just because I willed them to, but it was important, somehow, that I try. I shrugged, looking away from his gaze. His eyes were suddenly very deep. I knew, then, that I could drown in them if I didn't watch it.

"I've never been a hero."

And it was true. But I wanted to be one now. I'm almost positive I didn't say that last bit out loud, but the next thing I knew, his warm hand closed over mine. When I looked back to him, he literally took my breath away. It was then that I realized that through all the days I'd known him, for all the laughing and joking, this was the closest thing to a real smile I had ever seen on his face. And he was beautiful.

+

Pizza is always good for what ails you. The way Duo Maxwell put it away, you'd think he was trying to calm something a lot more insatiable than hunger. I really didn't mean to stare at him. He shifted uncomfortably under my gaze but didn't stop eating.

"See something you like?" He winked one deep violet eye. Duo Maxwell -- the flirt.

I wasn't about to make it easy for him.

"Yes."

I had given him the answer that he wanted, but not in the way he had wanted it. I wasn't playing the game. Worse than that, I had recognized the fact that it was a game. I wondered how long it would be before his mask fractured permanently. There was a small voice inside my head telling me he needed that mask, that it had a purpose. I suppose I listened to it, in a way, because instead of pressing my advantage, I grabbed the last slice of pizza. His pout was enough to make me grin like an idiot.

"You look good," he said. "When you smile. How come you don't smile more?"

I hadn't ever given it much thought. I like to think that I know myself, though I've never been all that introspective. Yet the answer was there on the tip of my tongue a second later.

"It's too much."

"Too much?"

"Too much of myself. Too much to just give away like that."

He looked at me then. It was one of those eternal moments that you read about when time stops. I wasn't really sure if I appreciated the feeling. Just as I was about to start squirming, life skipped back into its groove again.

"I know what you mean," he said.

This from the boy who spent more time smiling than breathing. Thing is, I believed him.

+

I didn't see Duo Maxwell again til a week later. A death in the family, if the rumours were true. It didn't take long to see I was the only one to notice the haunted look in his eyes. He grinned and laughed and joked just as before, but it was as if some essential part of him had been somehow damaged.

+

When I finally found him away from his adoring fans and approached him, it surprised me to note he was genuinely happy to see me. His smile was free and clear. Maybe he was just relieved he didn't have to pretend anymore, if only for a moment.

"Hero!"

It was the end of the school day and the halls were literally empty but for us. His locker was right next to mine. During the day, this didn't mean much. The most I got was a glimpse of his chestnut braid as he dashed off.

"Long time no see."

He threw his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close.

"I missed you, baby." He whispered this into my ear. Duo Maxwell -- the tease. But I grinned at him anyways.

"How've you been?"

It was a dangerous question. If he was going to put his walls back up to me, that would be what did it. For a second I thought I'd made a mistake. But, no.

"You know, hero, I've been better." He actually sighed. I thought people only did that in movies. "Life sucks sometimes, you know?"

I finally gave up the vain attempt at stacking my books neatly, shoving them into their metal cage and slamming the door shut before they could realize all the laws of physics they were breaking. I knew come tomorrow they'd be all over the floor, but then that was the fun of high school, wasn't it.

"And here I though sucking was supposed to be a good thing."

It was a pitiful joke, but it made him chuckle.

"You're good for me, I think. I've gotta spend more time with you."

"How 'bout now?"

We were walking down the hall, now. It's funny how different it seemed when it wasn't packed with legions of boisterous youths. When it was quiet like this, I could almost imagine school was a nice place to be. Duo Maxwell hooked his arm through mine. He was a big one for physical contact. I got the feeling that when he touched me, though, that it was always a tentative gesture. As if he were afraid I might hurt him or pull away.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You still owe me a pizza."

His laughter echoed in the empty halls.

+

What with the war and all, we had kids coming and going all the time. Mortal conflict is hell on family life. Funny, that. So it wasn't anything special when the teacher announced yet another new student. Duo Maxwell sat directly in front of me. When the new boy walked in, he tensed up so quickly it was almost as if he'd been shot. I'd found long ago that selective listening is all you need to get through a typical high school day, so I didn't pay any attention to what Mr. Klein said about him until I noticed Duo Maxwell's reaction. What I did pick up was his name -- Heero Yuy.

He had a shock of dark hair that would have given the impression that he'd just lost a serious battle with any number of hair styling implements if he hadn't looked so damn good. His eyes were like polished sapphires -- shining and blue and very, very hard. If I had to picture the complete antithesis of Duo Maxwell, it would be the silent, brooding boy who was now walking towards me. Without a word, he took the empty seat next to mine. I'd never been one for small talk, and I certainly wasn't too thrilled by the idea of idle chit chat with the pretty tin man beside me, so I did the next best thing and ignored him. The feeling, I noticed with an inward grin, seemed to be mutual.

Duo Maxwell's shoulders were around his ears right about this point. Without even really thinking about it, I reached out and tugged his braid. If there was one thing that could get his mind off just about anything, it was his hair.

"Hey, would you mind not -- "

He pulled his braid out of reach and turned, his sentence cut off in mid-lecture when he realized it was me. He smiled. Not the free and easy grin he had come to use with me, but something overlaid by...what? Pain?

"Oh, hero. What you do to me..."

+

Heero Yuy must have been the only individual within a ten mile radius to not find Duo Maxwell irresistible. I could understand why he might be put off by his act, but there was so much more to him if you just took the time to look. It was obvious that the two knew each other from before. It was also obvious, almost painfully so, that Heero Yuy tolerated Duo Maxwell only barely. His icy glare alone would have had me running for the hills. For some reason, Duo Maxwell put up with it. He shrugged off the insults and the cold shoulders. I wasn't quite sure if the pretty tin man actually couldn't see what Duo Maxwell was doing, or if he just didn't care. I avoided being around the two of them together. It hurt too much to watch.


+

I really didn't mind living in the dorms. Ever since Dad had died rather messily, Mom had become some sort of anti-war fanatic. She really didn't have time for me. It was kind of ironic, when I thought about it, but then irony tended to hurt my head nowadays. Weekends, I was pretty much on my own since most of my classmates took off for parts unknown. It was a beautiful day. The kind of day when the sky was so deep that you thought maybe Copernicus was wrong -- that the earth was the center of the universe. Laying in the middle of the quad in the sweet, soft grass, it was easy to pretend that there was no blackness behind the blue, that people weren't dying up there. I closed my eyes. The sun's rays turned my bones to butter. It was not sleeping I was heading for so much as melting. It took me a minute to recognize the fact when the sun was blocked out.

"Damn, hero. You look good enough to eat."

I considered opening my eyes, but thought better of it when it became apparent that through some miracle of alchemy my eyelids had been turned to lead.

"Duo Maxwell -- you awake? Shouldn't you be bursting into flames or something?"

I heard a low chuckle as the sun returned and I felt him lie next to me. Duo Maxwell slept through weekends. Literally. He was like a cat. It had taken something special for him to be out of bed on a Saturday afternoon, and I figured I knew that something's name.

"Trouble on the homefront?"

"I'm not even gonna dignify that question with a response."

He threw an arm across my chest and snuggled against me. I had learned two things about the long-haired beauty glued to my side since the arrival of one Heero Yuy at this fine institution of learning. The first was that Duo Maxwell had no defense or tricks that worked on or against the overly stoic boy who had though some fluke of administrative prowess been made his roommate. The second was that I had been dubbed the Official Duo Maxwell Security Blanket. On any given day, at any given moment, he was draped over me like there was no tomorrow. I didn't mind. He needed me. Or, rather, he needed someone and I was as close to good enough as he could find.

Duo Maxwell's hand was toying with the hem of my shirt, his fingers ever so slightly grazing the flesh beneath. It was driving me to distraction, but I made no move to stop him. I don't even think he was aware he was doing it.

Besides -- what would I say? Could you please cut that out, it feels too good?

"What say you and me go out tonight. Kick up some dust. Paint the town red."

"You asking me out, hero?"

I had truly not thought of it that way. I had just meant to distract him, maybe give him a reason not to go back to the pretty tin man for a while.

"Yeah, Duo Maxwell. I'm asking you out."

His grip tightened briefly -- my reward, it would seem, for making the correct response.

"Then you're on. It's a date."

+

Duo Maxwell had bounced out of my arms an hour earlier claiming that he had to put himself together. The results, when I finally saw them, were literally breathtaking. I think I might have mentioned the fact that Duo Maxwell was above averagely attractive. Imagine if you took that same boy and poured him into clinging, black leather jeans that seemed as if they were less painted on than an extension of his will. The effect was enough to glue my feet to the floor, along with my jaw. He pulled me into the room, closing the door after me, and pressed me up against the wall. Gazing into the depths of his astonishing eyes at such close range was on the verge of making me giddy, but his smile was full of such happiness that my heartbeat calmed of itself, returning the blood to my fingers and toes. He touched the tip of my nose with his tongue before pulling away.

"Don't you go anywhere, hero."

He put a hand to his neck and trailed it down his bare chest. How a 15 year old boy could be so sensual was quite beyond me.

"Can't go out half naked now, can I?"

With that, he whirled about, dashing off to the next room where I could hear him singing softly to himself as he rummaged through the impressive piles of clothing littering the floor which, I had been told more than once, represented Duo Maxwell's idea of the perfect dresser.

It wasn't until I had regained my senses enough to see straight that I remembered we weren't alone. Heero Yuy was an enigma to me, in the truest sense of the word. When I had named him the pretty tin man, I had hit the mark dead on. It wasn't so much that he was empty as the fact that among all the marvels and horrors that constituted the soul of a Heero Yuy, there didn't appear to be the slightest hint of humanity. Let's face it -- it's just not normal to never smile.

"I smile."

His voice was gentler than I could possibly have expected it could be. If I closed my eyes, I almost felt warmth in it. It didn't seem to matter when I finally realized he had responded to a thought I must have unknowingly spoken aloud. I had no reply but to cross the room to stand beside him.

"I smile," he repeated as he looked up at me through his unruly hair. "Duo makes me smile."

The feel of my hand on his shoulder must have startled him -- he tensed up like a bow string.

"Just disproving a commonly held theory."

His eyes bade me continue. If I had been in my right state of mind, I might have feared for my life.

"You aren't made of ice, after all."

If I had shocked him with my touch, I had surely confused him all to hell with my words. His deep blue eyes became unexpectedly much less cold and much more real. It was at that moment that Duo Maxwell came back into the room now fully clothed with the addition of a form fitting black T which read 'hentai' across the front in bold red letters.

"How do I look?"

"Gorgeous." My god, but it was true. "What does this mean?"

I traced the foreign word on his shirt with a slow finger. He nearly convulsed with giggles. Duo Maxwell -- the child.

"It's Japanese for 'happy'."

Heero's Yuy's soft answer caused his roommate to stop breathing for an almost alarming period of time. When he finally recovered himself, he broke out in a smile that made me realize that the joy I had seen in him before now was merely a pale shadow of all the beauty and wonder he hid inside. The smile was aimed at Heero Yuy, but it was still full force when it fell on me. It was like staring into the sun.

"What did you do to my Heero?" he asked,

"Hn?"

He seemed to find my wordless question extremely humourous.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day that my Heero would make a joke."

He held out a hand to me which I had no choice but to take.

"C'mon, baby. Lets blow this pop stand."

"Where are you going?"

The addition of these four words made it official -- this was the most anyone, with the possible exception of Duo Maxwell, had ever heard out of Heero Yuy at one sitting.

"Dancing."

"Dancing?"

"Yeah, Heero. This is a date. I'm a horny teenager. Where did you expect us to go? A tea room?"

Gauging by the amethyst eyed boy's reaction, you would have thought Heero Yuy's frown was priceless.

"What's the matter, little bear?" He laughed. "No need to worry your pretty head. I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."

"Hn."

I felt my hand being gently squeezed and figured it was time to make our exit.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

He slipped his arm around my waist as we walked down the hall.

"What?"

"'Hn'."

"Well, that's the beauty of it, hero." He leaned closer to me as if imparting a very great and hitherto unknown secret. "It means whatever I want it to mean."

+

Duo Maxwell on a dance floor was a sight I will never forget. He danced with a passion that captivated not only me, but every other person in the club. I had no idea it was possible for anyone to move that way. His entire body pressed and ground against mine until I couldn't tell where I stopped and he started. The music was loud enough that you couldn't hear yourself think, but with Duo Maxwell's ear so close to my lips, I found I didn't have too hard a time making myself heard.

"You're beautiful."

His eyes literally glimmered. "You're not so bad yourself."

He had placed my hands on his hips a half hour ago and I had yet to move them. The feel of him moving under my fingers was wreaking havoc with my good intentions. By this point, I had decided that indulging in one or two none too innocent fantasies would be much, much better for all involved than throwing Duo Maxwell against the nearest wall and removing every stitch of his clothing with my teeth.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

I could not have stopped the predatory upturning of my smile if I'd tried. "I was thinking about you."

"Yeah? And?"

"And me..."

"And..."

"And...nothing...else..."

"Oh, hero -- you slay me. Sweet and sexy."

He spoke these words softly into my ear, leaning closer to take the lobe into his mouth and gently suck. I nearly swooned at the feel of his warm mouth on my flesh. When he pulled back, there was something different in his eyes that I couldn't put a name to.

"Let me stay with you tonight."

The playful tone of his voice was gone. If he had been joking, as he always had before, I would have laughed it off. A few strands of hair had escaped his ever present braid. Before I even realized I was doing it, I saw my hand reach out to sweep them behind his ear.

"Please."

I wanted to say no, god help me, I did. I could feel the word forming in my mouth. But when I finally answered him, what came out was, "Yes."

+

My room, at best, was a pretty boring place. Having lost my last roommate to yet another family move due to tragic circumstances, there was only me to fill it with life. Trouble was, I wasn't much for collecting. Standing in the doorway, I could hardly believe it was mine. It hadn't hit me until that exact moment how empty it all was.

"I never thought I'd end up here."

Duo Maxwell lay sprawled across my bed, his shirt in a rumpled ball on the floor where he had thrown it as soon as he had stepped into the room.

"My bed?"

He laughed. There was a sad kind of humour in the sound. "Your bed... No. I never thought I'd end up here." They were the same words, but somehow conveyed an entirely different meaning.

"What do you want, Duo Maxwell."

I had not moved other than to cross my arms and lean against the door frame.

"Peace." His shining eyes closed.

"I can't give you peace, Duo Maxwell." I rephrased my question. "What do you want from me?"

"I want you to make me forget. I want you to stop the pain. Just for a while..."

There was no seduction in his entreaty, only a great and aching sorrow. I wanted him, then, more than I had know it was possible to want someone.

"I'm not what you need, Duo Maxwell."

At this, his eyes opened and as I met them from across the room I knew that I would do whatever he asked of me, no matter the price.

"I know," he said. "But for now, just for now... can't we pretend that you are?"

+

When morning dawned, I could see it all clearly before I even opened my eyes. My god -- how could I possibly have missed it? I lay still for a while, stroking Duo Maxwell's long, soft hair until I realized he wasn't asleep. He snuggled closer to me, holding me so tightly it almost hurt. I already knew without a doubt that I was right, but I had to ask, for his sake if nothing else.

"It's Heero, isn't it."

He didn't raise his face to mine, so I couldn't see his eyes, but I felt him nod.

"How long?"

For several moments he was silent. I'm not even sure if I really expected an answer. When it came, it was nothing more than a whisper across my chest.

"Since the day I met him..."


+

"Hey, hero."

Duo Maxwell's arms around my waist felt better than anything had a right to.

"Hey. Where you been?"

He held me close a while longer before releasing me.

"You know me. Places to go, people to see, things to blow up."

His hand found mine, his fingers intertwining with my own. The pretty tin man watched all this closely, but what might be going on behind those expressionless features was, as always, a mystery to me. Duo Maxwell's touch was electrifying. If I closed my eyes, I could not not help but recall the feel of his body moving against mine, of being possessed by him completely. It was for my sake alone that I now kept my eyes open.

"Keep a seat free for me, will ya?"

He bounced off in the direction of Carrie or, as he referred to her, the Cookie Girl, leaving me alone yet again with Heero Yuy. I had grown accustomed to his silence -- I couldn't now imagine him any more talkative -- but his patented glare was another matter entirely.

"Geez, Heero. You could bore a hole through a person doing that. Is there something that you wanted, or are you just fascinated by my exquisite bone structure today?"

His gaze fell to my hand before rising to my face again. "I was just wondering what it felt like."

I had no need to ask what he meant. This was the reason I could not hate Heero Yuy -- that lost, confused look that would come over him for those split seconds that you could so easily miss. It had surprised me to find that he and Duo Maxwell, despite their apparent differences, were two of a kind. They fit together in a way that seemed inevitable. What kept them apart was a mystery to me.

I turned to watch Duo Maxwell across the lawn, laughing and flirting with Carrie and her girlfriends. His hair gleamed in the afternoon sun and, even from this distance, I was struck by the incredible brilliance of his eyes. What did it feel like? And how to explain it to a boy who looked as though he'd never been touched? I turned back to him, knowing he was still waiting for my answer, that he would wait until he received one.

"Give me your hand, Heero." I could not help the small smile that rose to my lips at his hesitation. How could anyone be so young and yet so old at the same time? "Your hand."

He reached out to me stiffly, reluctantly. I took his hand in mine, reveling in the small tingle of fear that ran through my body as I did so. To accomplish what I had set my mind to, I would have to cause Heero Yuy to lose some of the control that now kept his almost mythical strength in check. It was in some ways a terrifying prospect.

"Close your eyes."

I felt as if I had hypnotized a tiger. He obeyed me at once. His hand was so tense, he might as well have had it clenched in a fist. That would never do. I massaged it gently until I could feel him begin to relax.

"What are you -- "

"Quiet, Heero. You asked me what it felt like. I'm trying to show you."

I placed his hand against my chest, sliding closer to him until his face was just a handspan from my own.

"Can you feel that?"

"Feel..."

"My heart beating. Can you feel it?"

"Hai."

I closed my own eyes, concentrating on what it was I was going to say. I knew I only had one shot at this. "That's me, Heero. That's my life force flowing through every part of my body. There's nothing else like it."

I had his attention now. When I removed my hand from his, he let it remain where it lay.

"Every living thing has a life force, Heero. It's a warmth that lives deep inside. You can sense it from a distance, but to truly become a part of it requires human contact. Simple...human...contact.

The day I first made Duo Maxwell smile, and I mean really smile, Heero, I made contact. And the closer I get to him, the more I see what he truly is. What does it feel like, Heero? It's like falling into the sun."

We must have opened out eyes at the same time. His gaze pierced me straight through before I had a chance to look away.

"I -- "

I reached out to sweep the hair from his forehead, my hand coming to rest on his cheek. Was Heero Yuy...trembling?

"Not ice at all..."

I could still feel the warmth of his hand through my shirt long after he'd pulled it away.

+

It came as no surprise to me that Duo Maxwell had nightmares. It's not like he had told me anything about himself. As close as we had become, in some ways he was as much a puzzle to me as he had ever been. I never asked him why there was such an unholy depth to the pain he hid behind his smiles. And when he woke up crying, sobbing, thrashing as if trying to escape an inescapable evil, I didn't try to exorcise his demons. But I did hold him close, stroking his back until his shaking stopped.

"Heero?"

"No."

He couldn't have hurt me more if he'd tried. Somehow, the fact that it was unintentional made it that much worse. He came back to me with an agonizing swiftness until it was only myself I saw in his violet eyes. He sighed as he recognized me and nuzzled closer.

"So nice to wake up in your arms..."

I luxuriated in the feel of his body pressed to mine until I could speak around the dagger he'd just twisted into my heart. I didn't love Duo Maxwell. I truly didn't. But sometimes...

He began to return my caresses, his breath quickening with desire. I surprised him beyond measure when I pulled away. Don't get me wrong -- I wanted him as much then as I ever had. But I couldn't go on like this.

"Duo Maxwell...who am I?"

He answered me with that unquenchable sparkle glittering in his mythic eyes. "You're my hero."

His hands moved to continue what they'd started, knowing full well I would not, in the end, be able to resist his touch. Once more, I stilled him.

"I...I don't think I can be your hero anymore."

His voice, when he responded, was low and steady. Though he did not move away, I could feel him putting distance between us.

"No?"

Oh no, Duo Maxwell. I would not make it that easy. I reached toward him, tilting his chin up until his eyes met mine.

"No, Duo Maxwell." The pressure building in my chest caused my next words to come out as little more than a whisper. "Can't I just be me?"

The pain I saw reflected in his eyes was my own and, suddenly, he understood.

"I can't help loving Heero," he said. "I couldn't stop if I tried. But it's you, Ryu. It's always been you." He chuckled, the new walls he had begun to erect against me collapsing at the sound. "You know -- you'd probably feel a lot better if you breathed."

I hadn't even realized I'd stopped. The air that poured into my deprived lungs was fresh and new. When he again took me into his arms, slowly and gently making love to me, he called me by my name.

+

Oddly enough, it was Heero Yuy who noticed the change in my relationship with Duo Maxwell. For all his lack of social graces, he could be incredibly observant. His silence was unnatural. It didn't so much make you forget he was there as make you not pay much mind to his presence.

I spent more and more time with Heero Yuy. Duo Maxwell never stayed in one place for long. The only time I had him to myself was at night. I had thought it impossible when I first met him, I could hardly believe it now, but, disregarding the lack of physical contact, I enjoyed being with him as much as with his partner. They were quite literally like two sides of the same coin.

"Hey, Heero -- what was the capital of Mongolia?"

"Ulan Batar."

It was uncanny. Nobody could possibly know everything. I laid down my pencil, pulling up from my prone position on Duo Maxwell's bed until I sat back on my heels.

"Ethiopia."

"Addis Ababa."

"South Dakota."

"Pierre."

I grinned, enjoying the game although I was not at all sure if Heero Yuy even knew he was playing.

"What's the square root of 399424?"

"632."

I began to crawl towards him where he sat at his desk.

"How many bones in the adult human body?"

"206."

His hands had yet to stop moving over the keyboard of his laptop.

"How deep is the deepest spot in the ocean?"

"Seven miles."

I knelt behind him, close enough that I could reach out and touch him, if I wanted to.

"Heero..." I spoke so quietly that if I had not been so near him he would not have heard. "What colour are my eyes?"

That got him. He froze up so quickly it was as if he'd lost all ability to move. I lightly placed my hand on his shoulder. I found that he let me touch him, now, though he still seemed inordinately uncomfortable with the experience. His body felt like steel under my fingers.

"Heero?"

"Nani?"

"My eyes, Heero. The windows to my soul. What colour are they?"

Silence.

I began to pull away from him when I felt his hand close over my own.

"Green," he said. "They're green."

I was shocked beyond belief. I really had thought he wouldn't know. He kept hold of my hand as he turned to face me. A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth -- a small recognition of the fact that he had won the game. The smile I granted him was in concession.

"Why do you let me touch you, Heero?" It was only when I was with Heero Yuy that I referred to myself as fearless.

"It feels good."

"To be touched?"

He nodded, his fingers intertwining with my own as he'd watched Duo Maxwell do so many times before. I marveled that he let himself do it.

"And?"

His eyes were really quite stunning. So deep...

"It doesn't matter."

"Why would it be different if it mattered?"

"It would be too much," he said. His gaze slid to our joined hands before he looked back to me. "Too much of myself."

"Too much of yourself to just give away like that..."

He nodded. I saw that he had expected me to understand. Was this why he pushed Duo Maxwell away?

"It's funny you would say that," I said. "That's exactly what Duo Maxwell told me."

His walls were much stronger than his roommates. They did not crumble so easily. Yet I could see where the cracks had begun to form.

+

As Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy became closer to me, it was all but inevitable that they would, in turn, become closer to each other. Both had hidden behind their walls for so long. I can only think of them as two immovable forces, clashing, neither willing to give any ground. The pain they knowingly and unknowingly inflicted on each other served only to tighten their defenses. I had found them bleeding and crying. Somehow, I was a salve for all their wounds.

They had both become comfortable with being themselves around me so, when we were all together, each one saw the other as they truly were for perhaps the first time. I suppose it would be nice if I could say it was soon after that they realized their mutual and undying love for each other. But then things like that only happen in fairy tales. As much as I knew Duo Maxwell wasn't mine, I won't say I wasn't glad it was into my bed that he crept every night, each time more desperate for the kind of affection I'd always taken for granted. The day would come soon enough when I would be given up, but until then...

...Until then I could look into his eyes and promise him the forever he was asking for.

+

"I'm not what you need, Duo Maxwell."

"I know. But now, just for now, can't we pretend that you are?"


+

To say that Heero Yuy was good with computers was a masterpiece of understatement. He breezed through homework, which would undoubtedly wreak havoc with my sense of self-worth, with a speed that was sobering. He would sit ramrod straight in his chair for hours. Watching him from Duo Maxwell's bed, I could only think how much that must hurt.

"It doesn't hurt."

Damn. I really had to stop doing that.

"And you should be doing your calculus, not observing me."

"I'm taking a break." It never ceased to amaze me how often one needed to take a break from calculus if one wanted for any reason to preserve one's sanity. "You should take a break, too."

"A break?"

"Yes, Heero, a break. Relax a bit."

"Relax."

I sighed. This was me, getting nowhere.

Crossing to him, I laid my hands on his shoulders. I had done it so many times before that he hardly even flinched at my touch.

When I was young, I found a stray dog. He would growl at you if you even looked at him funny. In retrospect, I suppose it might have been a definitively dumb idea to keep an animal that bared his teeth every time anyone came near, but I had refused to let him be taken from me. My parents had watched, stunned, in abject terror as I stretched my hand out to that angry dog. I'm not sure if it was due to my young age or the fact that I wanted nothing in return, but my fingers safely made their way to his short fur. As for me, I had merely wanted to take away his pain. It might seem an odd thing to think of when speaking of a 15 year old boy, until you remember that the boy in question was Heero Yuy.

Having weathered through an untold number of thankfully unfulfilled death threats by glare, it hadn't been long before I realized that not only did Heero Yuy not mind if I touched him, but that I had been given cart blanche to do so. I had come to the conclusion that the rigid and unforgiving feel of his body actually had very little to do with my proximity. It was my understanding that it was his natural state. And no matter what he said, I knew that it must be an incredibly unpleasant way to live.

"You trust me, Heero?

"Hai."

He hadn't even needed to think before answering. I almost couldn't hear him for the blood roaring through my veins. He trusted me...

"Then come here." I led him to his own bed. "Lie down. On your stomach."

Once he did so, I straddled him.

"What are you doing?!"

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Heero. Duo Maxwell has the great honour of being the only boy I desire to molest, at present. You're perfectly safe." I felt not even a twinge of guilt. After all, it was a very small lie.

"Hn."

I had taken Duo Maxwell's words to heart. I now chose to interpret Heero Yuy's 'Hn' as 'Whatever you say, Ryu. Thy will be done'.

His muscles were like steel cords under my fingers. I could hardly tell them from the bone. It was not so much me he was resisting as the very concept of letting go.

"Stop fighting me, Heero. I promise this won't hurt. It might even do you some good."

I paused a moment to work him free of his ever-present green tank top before continuing.

"The human body was not meant to be eternally coiled like a spring."

Grabbing some of Duo Maxwell's favourite lotion from the bedside table, I warmed it in my hands before rubbing it into his skin. A small smile lit my face as I realized that Heero Yuy now smelled of roses.

"Tell me, Heero -- if you place an iron bar under unrelenting pressure in a harsh environment, what will happen?"

"It will bend."

"Iie, chigaimasu. It will break, Heero. Eventually it will simply snap in two." [1]

My thumbs worked their way down the column of his spine before once more moving upwards.

"It is no longer capable of anything. It can no longer serve its function. It is rendered useless."

A minute tremor ran the length of his body at my words. Had I not been so near him, I could never have noticed.

"But if you occasionally release that pressure, if you build a support for the iron bar, it will remain strong."

It was surreal to be explaining this to a boy who could most likely write a remarkably exhaustive thesis on each and every aspect of tensile strength without even blinking an eye. It was a revelation to him only in that he had never thought to apply the theory to himself.

"Is that why this feels so good?"

His question startled me. My hands stilled in their task a split second before resuming. "In part."

The slow, circular patterns my hands traced over his back were as hypnotic to me as they were to him. The gentle cadence of alternating pressures were eventually allowed to pacify even Heero Yuy's vast reserve and it was not long before he languidly closed his cobalt eyes.

"It feels good to let go..." I agreed.

"Demo?"

I sighed. "But it's so much more than that, Heero."

"Wakarimasen." [2]

It was not always only the blind who could not see.

"Why do you trust me?"

"Because you have proven yourself to be trustworthy." He did not mention Duo Maxwell, but I know his regard for me played a large part in this. "And for all the things you've done for us, you have never..."

"I have never asked for anything in return."

"Hai." The word was soft and smooth -- almost a moan as it fell from his lips.

"That's because I care for you -- for both of you."

"And it is that which makes the difference?"

"Oh, Heero... It makes all the difference in the world."

I closed my own eyes now, letting my fingers search out the last remaining spots of tension and coaxing them into release. For several long moments, I continued. The warmth of his skin was intensified by that of my own as it sank into his now lax form. My work was, for all intensive purposes, complete yet as I began to move off him I heard him speak.

"Onegai shimasu," he said breathlessly. "Tomenai de kudasai." [3]

I couldn't help but wonder when he had last been touched like this, if indeed he had ever been. His cries of need had been much more subtle than those of Duo Maxwell. And, once again, I could not turn away.

Perhaps I had a little bit of hero in me, after all.

[1] "No, you're wrong."
[2] "I don't understand."
[3] "Please, don't stop."

+

It was not long after this that events abruptly took a new turn. The war between Oz and the colonies, after so long on such a low flame, flared into new life. There was not one amongst us, teacher or student, who did not feel the strain of the renewed and ever more bloody hostilities. In the furor that followed, it was only I who noticed that Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell were both conspicuously absent more and more often for longer periods of time. When they would return, I could tell that something had changed between them. It was as if the feelings they held for each other, so long kept in check, had now been allowed tentatively to grow.

+

Duo Maxwell's head lay on my chest, his hand lazily drawing small, light circles on my stomach. "God how I've missed this."

My eyes were closed. I did not need to open them to see the sadness in his gaze. He snuggled closer to me still, his embrace at once seeking and possessing.

"You feel like home."

It was a whisper meant more for his own ears than for mine. I was surprised to feel wetness on my skin. Was Duo Maxwell ... crying?

"No," he said adamantly. "No... Boys don't cry..."

It was then that I knew he would soon leave me.

+

Duo Maxwell sat at the edge of my bed. He looked at me with eyes that were bottomless in the dim light and raised a hand to brush the bangs from my forehead.

"Duo..."

He smiled when he realized I was awake.

"I came to say good-bye."

His fingers traced the planes of my face as if he were memorizing its contours.

"And thank you."

"Thank you?"

"For making me feel again. For reminding me that I'm human. For...being so damn gorgeous."

His grin brightened up his whole face until I thought he must be shining. Duo Maxwell -- the angel.

"Duo." This soft voice came from the doorway where a dark figure stood watching. "We have to go."

There was something in the waiting boys silence that expressed more than words ever could, and I understood then that he was saying his own kind of good-bye.

Duo Maxwell grimaced melodramatically. "Coming, Heero." He lowered himself until our noses were almost touching and winked one violet eye. "Heero's, ne? They can be so bossy."

He kissed me lingeringly, unable to resist the temptation of my lips so close beneath his own. I closed my eyes as he drew out of reach and heard him speak to me one final time.

"Good night, sweet prince."

I knew by then that this was not a dream and yet still could not hear the sound of their feet on the floor as they walked away.

+

The day I found out that Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell were gundam pilots, I laughed til I cried.

+

~5 years later~

"Hey, Ryu. Whaddya doing?"

"Geez. Can't a guy get a little peace and quiet around here?"

Laughter. "Peace, yes. Quiet...are you kidding??"

I felt the full weight of him leaning on my shoulders. What made me think I would ever win?

"If you must know, you ruffian, I am recounting for posterity the story of my first encounter with a certain Duo Maxwell -- "

"And an even certainer Heero Yuy..."

My glare at this interruption hardly made a difference, at that point, but I lanced one in his direction nonetheless. " -- in the year AC 195," I continued. "And my torrid affair with that same certain Duo Maxwell -- "

"Torrid? Torrid?!" He thought this over a bit. "Yeah, I guess that fits. Duo Maxwell was pretty hot to trot in those days. Ow!"

This startled exclamation was solicited by my hand yanking forcefully on the end of his braid.

"Duo..."

"Hey! Hands off the hair, wise guy, or I'll sic Heero on you."

I laughed at the thought. If anything, Heero and I were of the same mind when it came to the violet eyed ex-gundam pilot.

"What did you come up here for, anyways?"

"We've got to get ready for Relena's party."

"Grrr. Why in hell's name do I have to go. As far as I can recall, the invitation for this little soiree was addressed to the Maxwell-Yuys, with no mention of one Ryu Asoko."

Now it was his turn to laugh. "If we have to put up with her, so do you. She thinks of you as part of our family. Besides, you know how much she likes you. And we all know how much you like Zechs..."

If I were the blushing type, I would have turned bright red at that remark. Was I really that obvious?

"Yes." He leaned close to me, touching his nose to mine. "And you always have been."

I grinned like an idiot. Duo Maxwell has that effect on me.

"All right, all right. I'll get ready."

He tousled my hair affectionately. "That's my boy."

When Duo Maxwell leaves a room, somehow the light seems to dim slightly. After years of living with him and Heero, I could verify this as an undeniable fact.

I closed my notebook with care, smiling. It all seemed so long ago...

But now I had a party to get ready for. And, you know, I always did love a party.

end