He knew almost instantly that something was different this time. After a week in this cell, he knew the subtle noises and the rock-solid routines that barred their little prison in this corner of the base. Change of guard was shuffling feet and yawns and papers crackling. Barton coming to collect Heero for another test of the Vayete Suit was a brisk march of boot heels on metal plating and crisply delivered orders. Anyone coming for himself or Wufei was a slow, considered walk, a low murmur, and the quick cocking of rifles. He’d heard that just a while earlier, and it had been Wufei, this time, whisked away with an escort to some featureless interrogation chamber to be numbed with question after question for a few hours.
The whispers outside the door were brief and apprehensive. Duo eased into a wary crouch with his back to the wall. When the door went slamming open, he sprang to his feet, instinct sending him back into shadow, but there were no corners to hide in. The beam of a hand torch followed him.
“Hold still!” a soldier hissed at him, and Duo did, his eyes catching the light reflecting off a pistol aimed for his head. This was not routine. Something was wrong, and it was going to be very bad for him.
The pistol cracked against his temple. Duo reeled with the blow, unable to stand with the knifing pain throbbing through his head, blinded by it. A salty palm slapped down over his mouth and prevented his outcry, and the arm that wrapped around his chest crushed all the air out of him.
He could see them all in the low overhead light of the hallway—four of them, and no watchman at the console. They hustled him along the corridor, not the direction he was always taken for the interrogation sessions, but the opposite way. One of them had a key card and opened a storeroom door. They threw him to the floor of it, and he wheezed with the landing as he skidded back into a sharp-edged crate.
The one with the gun came after him. “Colony trash,” he snarled. His leg drew back, and Duo rolled to his side as quickly as he could to catch the steel-toed kick in the soft part of his hip, not his vulnerable gut. “Space-sucker!”
His leg went dead and paralysed. He wasn’t as fast with the second assault, and it landed in the same spot, a shooting, nauseating pain that stole his breath.
One of the other men squatted near his head. He wrangled Duo’s hands in the ungainly cuffs, twisting him around to expose his torso. Duo fought him, panting and frantic, until the one with the gun kicked him again under the ribs. “Third Battalion, Second Regiment,” he was told. “Twenty-three men in a single engagement, all of them killed by you. The 307 lost nineteen. All to you. The Second and Fifth lost thirty.” Another kick, this time square between his legs. The man covered his mouth while he yelled, and held him down while his body spasmed, trying to curl against the cramping, burning agony.
“This is for them,” that grim voice from above told him. The next boot caught him in the face, and before he blacked out, it occurred to him they were probably going to kill him.
Duo swiped his meal card, and picked up his tray of Salisbury steak and boiled cauliflower. It was nearing nine in the evening, and he was tired, even on reduced duty. The new skin over his burned arm itched like wildfire, though the doctor claimed it was entirely in his head.
“I want to sit by a window,” he told Heero. He turned his head in time to see Heero twitching his cauliflower out of the gravy, like he was afraid it would taint his steak. Heero noticed his grin, and frowned at him.
“Grey matter,” he said.
“I’ll eat it,” Duo answered. “What do you want to…”
Will Stanley was in the caf. He was sitting in the corner, alone at a table with a duffle of equipment at his feet.
He jumped when Heero’s tray bumped his. Heero scraped his vegetable onto Duo’s plate. “Carter scored three hundred on the range today,” he informed Duo, and took Duo’s extra roll in exchange. “That’s almost unheard of, for a rookie.”
Duo grabbed club sodas for them both, and followed Heero to their usual table. Stanley had seen him. Was staring at him, then trying not to.
“Didn’t you have a three hundred?” Duo said, later than he meant to. “Of course, your arm was probably broken, and you were shooting with your big toe—your left big toe—“
“Twice,” Heero retorted, deadpan. He used his fork to divide his steak into even bites. “Or you could go confirm Stanley’s scores.”
Duo glanced back guiltily.
“What’s up with you and him?” Heero asked, rather reluctantly.
“Nothing,” Duo said. “It’s fine.” He faced Heero decisively, and planted his elbows on either side of his tray. “It’s nothing.” He made mush out of his Salisbury, and broke up his remaining breadroll over it, but with the preliminary work done, he found it didn’t appeal anymore.
“Shit,” he muttered. He pushed his tray at Heero, and stood. “Eat your veg. I’ll see you later.”
Stanley saw him coming, and had plenty of time to freeze up tighter than a virgin on prom night by the time Duo reached his table. Duo ignored his tentative greeting, and took the seat opposite him. Heero’s wasn’t the only head that turned in their direction, but Duo swept the caf with a burning glare that took care of that problem.
Stanley grasped desperately for conversation. "Are you feeling better?" he asked.
"I'm fine," Duo said.
“You had some nasty burns."
"I said I'm fine." He waved his arm randomly, thinking vaguely it would prove it worked. It hurt, actually. He pulled it close to his chest, annoyed with himself.
Stanley took it at face value, though. "I’m glad,” he said.
Duo licked his lips. "This food is pretty crap," he said abruptly, and gestured at Stanley’s tray, bearing its own uneaten Salisbury steak. "Want to go somewhere else?"
Stanley was all pink cheeks and wary eyes, blinking at him like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Okay?”
"Yeah." Duo got to Stanley’s duffle first, and threw the strap over his shoulder. Stanley crumpled his napkin and scrambled over the bench to join him. "Come on. I'll drive."
“Shit,” Duo heard Heero say, very distinctly, as they left the cafeteria together.
The roads were emptying out. Duo took two shortcuts through town and over the bridge to the bay-side beaches, Stanley timidly silent the entire way. It was a humid, hot night, heralding more bad weather the like of which had created the storm from four nights ago, when everything had gone so badly.
Which was part of the problem. Duo didn’t need to be told that he’d behaved badly, the morning Stanley had driven him home. He hadn’t liked that part of himself coming so easily to the fore, the rage and bitterness he hadn’t even known he carried still about—things. He’d gone a few days excusing his behaviour with the physical exhaustion, his emotional upset over losing so many of the mission team to the storm. He had enough honesty with himself to admit that he’d been too harsh. He just wasn’t sure how much he really wanted to apologise.
Ai Mei Thai was still open, sandwiched between a laundrette and a darkened nail salon. Duo parked in front of it, and Stanley followed without being told to, at least, when Duo went inside.
It was almost empty. An old man sat at the bar, and a booth of college-age kids congregated in the corner laughing at jokes Duo couldn’t hear. Duo caught the attention of the hostess, relaxing with her friends, and waved.
“I've never been here," Stanley offered carefully, brushing his fingers over a thicket of potted bamboo.
“I'm a regular." Regular enough to choose his own booth, anyway. Duo picked a window seat again, one that gave him a view of the door and a view of the black night outside as well, just as a waitress in a slim red dress hurried over with a pot of hot tea. She left it on their table with a smile and a pair of menus.
Stanley waited until they were alone again to speak. "I'm kind of surprised you invited me."
"Yeah, well, don't get a warm and fuzzy yet." Duo poured tea for them both. "I want to talk, and I don't want to get in trouble if I get loud."
Stanley exhaled hard. "Okay."
Duo sipped the tea, but it was too hot to drink yet. He saw a tremor in his hand as he set his cup down, and clenched both hands in his lap.
"You're the only one who... did stuff... that I've ever met again," he said finally. "I never really thought I would do. A million Ozzies, and you just happened to be there."
A startled, uneasy smile crossed Stanley’s face. "Lucky me."
"Don't talk yet."
Stanley flushed, and grabbed for his tea.
Duo made fists in his trousers, then put his hands back on the table, around the warm ceramic of his cup. "You... represent... a lot of people who did awful things. And whether it haunts you or not, I don't know really, but sometimes it's like— It’s like I can't breathe without someone telling me to let it go, to forgive all debts, to let bygones be bygones,” he said. “Except that doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel right to me. How am I supposed to let go of people who died when they didn't have to? I made promises to myself. To them. To not forget them, to honour what they suffered. And somewhere along the way I decided I was worth honouring, too, and no, I don't want to just pretend that I never got hurt. I can't just sweep it all under the rug so that everyone else gets to feel better."
His hands were shaking again. He felt almost dizzy. He shut it down, hard.
Stanley was chewing his lower lip. God, he looks young, Duo thought suddenly. He didn’t look any older than Duo himself. "Maybe you'd feel better," Stanley offered tentatively.
"Or is it that you don't want to feel better?"
"Why should I get to? The dead didn't get choices. Why should I? Why should anyone else?"
"Because we're not dead. We survived. It's our job to... to... live on for them."
Duo tugged uncomfortably on the tuft of his braid. Neither of them spoke for a long time, then, Stanley displaying the first sign common sense since they’d met.
Duo rubbed his thumb over his fist, and finished his tea in three swallows. "I don't know. I don't have answers."
"Neither do I," Stanley said.
"So here we are."
"Yeah. No-one’s even bleeding.” His half-smile turned instantly into a look of horror. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean—you know.”
“I'm not going to eat you if you stumble, man."
"I guess." Stanley rubbed his mouth, then sat back in the booth. "Maybe I just feel like I have a lot on the line with you."
"We're not friends. We're never going to be. So offend away."
"Why can't we be?"
That surprised Duo, though why, he didn’t know. "Because I'm not that good a person."
"I don't think that's true."
Duo shook his head. "I still haven't figured out if you want to cuddle or fuck."
Oh, and he hadn’t misinterpreted that, at least. Stanley went red in the face, red all the way down the collar of his uniform, but he was leaning in like he couldn’t help it.
It wasn’t the first time someone from the other side of the political border had expressed sexual interest in him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had sex with someone out of White Fang, or OZ, even Alliance. Stanley at least wanted to ask first.
Duo caught his waitress’s eyes, and dropped a bill to the table for the tea. He stood. "Get in the car again," he said.
"We haven't eaten," Stanley protested.
"Get in the fucking car."
"Duo, are you… “ Stanley swallowed visibly. “Yeah. Okay."
Duo turned off the radio this time. He wasn’t sure entirely where he wanted to go, so he just drove, heading up the bay. They passed restaurants and clubs, a few of the old houses converted to law offices. The street lamps were paced farther apart, out here, and with the window rolled down a little he could smell the water.
He chose the parking lot of a bank. It was empty, this time of night, unlit. He parked by a fence, and turned off the engine.
Stanley broke his silence. “Duo?”
Duo licked his teeth. "Get in the back."
"Look... I don't know what you're doing, but it's not all that nice--"
"Get in the fucking backseat, Stanley."
Stanley was staring at him. For a second Duo thought he was going to argue, or cry, maybe, with his eyes wide and his lower lip caught between his teeth. Duo kept his eyes on the windscreen.
Stanley got out of the car. He opened the rear down and slid in, then closed it behind him. He sat still and waited.
Duo drew a deep breath. He opened his own door, and stood out onto the pavement. He stripped off his jacket, too hot for the summer air. He dropped it to the front seat, and shut the door. He felt overheated. He felt hot, and numb, weirdly numb, like he was wrapped in cotton batting. His footsteps dragged, walking back around the car to the boot. He unlocked it. There was a six pack of beer and a spare blanket. He picked up both, and then he opened the rear driver side and sat in the backseat next to Stanley.
“Have a drink,” he said, and handed Stanley a bottle.
Stanley hesitated a second. He touched Duo’s hand, and wrapped his fingers around the bottle neck. He saluted Duo with it, and drank. “Kind of awful,” he said, in a little voice. “Warm.”
"I bought it for the office party two months back." Duo rubbed the edge of the blanket between his fingers. "I can't... I never would have done what you did. Just stand by. I would never have done that."
"I know," Stanley agreed softly. He leaned down, and put the bottle in the cupholder. His hand fell back to the seat, a breath away from Duo’s thigh. "I thought I was a different kind of person than that. Braver."
"You should have been."
“I know. Duo, I swear. I regret it."
Duo exhaled. Then he leaned over Stanley, and kissed him.
The kiss stunned him. When Duo had come into the backseat with that blanket, and his holstered gun still strapped to his hip like that, he’d thought—he didn’t know, but his insticts had gone mad, telling him to run while he could. Then Duo leaned over him and his mouth pressed to Will’s, a hard clash of teeth and noses, his knee digging into Will’s leg.
Will heard a distant groaning—his own. He caught Duo’s neck between his hands, his thumbs slipping over the sandpapery stubble on his jaw. Duo met Will’s tongue with his own, shifting over him in the seat and knocking over the rest of the beer bottles, and then he was pulling open Will’s shirt, stripping down the row of buttons and following his fingers with his lips, leaving tingling bites and wet skin behind. Duo sucked on his stomach, and then he unbuckled Will’s belt and unzipped his trousers.
They were going to have sex. He’d gone straight from thinking Duo might just shoot him in the backseat to Duo worming out of his clothes in Will’s lap so fast he wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Duo’s gun went thunking to the floor with the holster. Duo struggled with a shirt cuff clinging to his wristwatch, and finally freed himself. He shoved his clothes over into the front seat, then leaned over the gearshift to slap open the glove compartment. He fumbled inside it out of Will’s line of sight, but when he came back, he was holding a strip of condoms, and a small bottle of lubricant.
Will took them in with a glance, and stared up at Duo. “I can’t believe you want this,” he whispered. He traced circles on Duo’s hips, then smoothed the heel of his palm down over the reddening erection that bumped up against his hand. Duo wasn’t overly long, but he was thick and curved, uncut. Will trailed his fingertips through soft dark curls scattered lightly over Duo’s inner thighs and ballsac. “I’m—I’m glad if you do.”
Duo didn’t answer. He kissed Will again, his teeth pulling on Will’s lower lip, and then he spread out the blanket over the upholstery. Will squirmed onto it and managed to lie back, though there wasn’t enough room to stretch out without hitting a door on either side. Duo pulled Will’s shorts down and off his feet, right over his shoes. He ripped open one of the condom wrappers with his teeth, and then he slipped the condom onto Will.
"No," Will protested. "It was supposed to be you."
"Shut up, Stanley."
"I don't usually... "
"Figure out how, then." Duo squirted lube onto his hand and rubbed a great handful of it onto the condom. Will squirmed at the squeeze of Duo’s fist. He was—horrified, frightened he didn’t know what to do, having never really—never actually been the top before, but everything was going in fast-forward and there was no time to stop it. He was still reaching to catch Duo’s wrist when Duo was already finished. He crawled onto the seat over Will, tripping awkwardly on one of the bottles, and landed with a hand on Will’s shoulder.
"I haven't done it in a while," Duo muttered at him. He grabbed Will’s hand and smeared him with the rest of the lube. "Just-- a couple of fingers first, okay."
If there had been a time to say ‘no’, it was gone. The lube was greasy and lukewarm. Will cupped Duo’s bottom, all hard muscle. He went as slowly as he could, hoping Duo would call a halt. Duo’s eyes closed and he went rigid when Will pushed his pointer finger in; it went in smoothly with the aid of the lube. Duo’s insides were dauntingly hot, almost pulsing. Will pushed in to the knuckle, and out. It was harder with two fingers, just getting in past the tight sphincter ring.
“Enough,” Duo said. He brushed Will’s hand away, then pulled Will upright. He shoved Will back against the seat, splayed out in the middle. Duo twisted around to put his back to Will.
"Not like that. Please."
It was Will who closed his eyes then. Duo had a tight grip on him, holding him in place while he slowly sat back. He slipped at the last minute, unable to hold himself up without proper footholds in the little car, and gasped when he landed hard. Will bit through his lip. He’d had no idea it felt like this, enveloped—Duo worming in his lap, every breath he took touching Will straight through the core like they were connected by one single nerve. He swam out of it slowly to find he had his arms wrapped around Duo’s heaving waist, his mouth open to Duo’s bare shoulder.
“Move,” Duo panted.
It wasn’t easy. He gathered his legs under him. Duo had a hand on the headrests on either side, his arms taut and shoulders bunched. Will lifted his hips up. The sound of their skin smacking shook them both. He did it again, and again, until it began to feel natural, the squeeze and release, the rasp of hair on their legs rubbing together, the sudden jolt whenever Duo’s long braid swung back against his chest.
“Duo?” he questioned. He was sweating all over, but Duo was cooling. He freed a hand from Duo’s hip and moved it to his groin. Duo was only half-hard, the head of his prick dry. "I'm not doing it right. Am I?" He shifted his knees closer together, causing Duo to rock off-balance, and had to grab him to keep him from falling. Duo fell sharply back against him, “Fuck” escaping him in shaky breath.
Whatever he’d done, it seemed to have been right. Duo had a deathgrip on the headrests. Will gathered his strength, and thrust his hips up hard. Duo made a little noise. Will wrapped a sweating hand around the base of Duo’s dick. The sheath of skin shifted as he pushed Duo up into his hand, and Duo made the noise again.
It was working. Duo came alive in his hand, and Will found a rhythm that served them both, going in as deep as he could, hard and fast on the upstroke, slow enough for Duo to feel it pulling out.
"I want... to look at you."
“No,” Duo said. His hand curled over Will’s, then pushed it aside. He masturbated himself, faster than Will had done. When his back brushed Will’s chest, he left his sweat behind.
Couldn’t he do anything right for Duo? He made Duo stop by pulling him off-balance to the side, making him scrabble to stop himself from falling. Before Duo could yell at him, he had Duo back upright again, and grabbed Duo by the prick. He jerked him hard. Duo groaned. “Let me do one damned thing for you,” Will whispered.
Duo’s head fell back to Will’s shoulder. He smelled like warm hair, and salt, and sex.
“One damned thing,” Will said again. The leak from Duo’s head and the moisture on his own hand made it slippery. He couldn’t quite keep up both sides at once, but Duo began to tremble, soon, as Will jerked him off, and then his nails were digging into Will’s arm as he arched. Everything inside him went clamping down around Will like a vice, and Will cried out. Things went white, and he didn’t even realise he’d come until he was floating down from it.
Duo was sitting limply against him. Will swallowed dryly, and kissed his neck. He leaned his cheek against Duo’s.
Finally Duo moved. “Let go,” he grunted, and shifted away slowly until Will slipped out of him. Will bit his lip, cradling himself with a palm until the tenderness eased. Duo fell into the seat next to him, and pulled his pants on. He drank the rest of Will’s open beer.
Will identified his shirt out of the pile of clothing on the floor, and dressed himself. Under the cover of the hem, he took off the condom, and tied it closed. "Did I hurt you?" he asked, wishing he could see Duo’s face to gauge his mood. The burns on his arm looked inflammed.
Duo finished dressing, and climbed over the hump into the front seat. He turned the engine on, and put the AC on full blast, spraying very welcome cold air back. Will couldn’t find one of his socks, not in the dark, and left it. He didn’t think he could make the climb into the front seat as agilely as Duo, so he went out the door on legs that felt like jelly. Already his thigh muscles were sore.
When he took the passenger seat, Duo said, "Where do you live?"
"On Roman and Sixth. It’s a grey brick building."
“Okay.” Duo nodded, and pulled out of the lot. He was visibly tired now, his eyes low. He used his knee to direct the wheel, and didn’t shift as often as he had on the drive earlier. He was favouring the burns, Will thought, worried and ashamed.
"Will you stay the night?" Will asked.
"On the couch, if you won’t take the bed." They hit the highway. "I won't ask you for anything more."
Duo flicked a glance at him. He didn’t answer, but when they reached
Will’s building, he parked and went in.