10-22-2001 (revised)

Title: Innocence Faded 3/16
Authors: Jenn & Kea (Dreamscape Studios)
Email: HeeroYuy1x2@aol.com and DuoMaxwell1x2@aol.com , respectively
Archive: Dreamscape Studios Ltd (www.dreamscapestudios.net) ; anyone else please email and permission will be gladly given
Feedback: Absolutely. ^_^
Rating: R throughout, pushing NC-17 in parts
Warnings: Angst, hurt, despair and heartache with spoonfuls of hope to make them go down smoother. Mild lemon and strong lime in some parts. This fic takes place following the events in Endless Waltz (movie version). This is a completed multipart fic.
Pairings:1x2/2x1, implied 3x4
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is owned by a bunch of companies in Japan (Bandai, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency), and their sandbox is only on unsanctioned loan for us to play in. ^_^ The song "Innocence Faded" belongs to John Petrucci and Dream Theater, lyrics used without permission.

Authors' notes: Innocence Faded is written completely in alternating first-person perspective. The three asterisks usually denote a shift in POV, with thoughts or emphasis indicated by single asterisks. In-monologue flashbacks will be denoted by slashes, complete ones or scene changes with the asterisks.

This is also known as the fic that ate our lives. Or was it our lives that ate the fic? I believe we started this in June of 2000, and when Jenn moved out here in November, we got kind of distracted for several months. I'm certain there are a lot of people who have long ago given up this fic for dead; I'll admit to being one of them. ^^; But some stories simply won't go away until they're fully told.

Huge thanks and worshipful adoration go out to Moe-chan, the best beta reader anyone could ask for, and the constant motivating force behind the rest of this fic. When I sent her a pathetically rough draft of the monster known as IF6 (that became IF 10-15 after chapter breaks), asking her to read it and let me know if it should be finished or scrapped, I never knew what a friend I'd be gaining. Without her help, this very well might have lingered unfinished and certainly would have had lots of inconsistencies and stupid errors.

Background music, title and constant source of inspiration: Innocence Faded, by Dream Theater...from the "Awake" CD.

********************
Until the circle breaks
And wisdom lies ahead
The faithful live Awake
The rest remain misled
********************

Wintertime air against sleep-warmed skin is never pleasant. Combined with the icy tension in the room it was even worse. I had no one to blame but myself. Duo was ready to pick up where we'd left off almost a year ago, I was the one resisting, the one that wouldn't let it happen.

I let the blanket drop to the bathroom tiles, slipping inside the glass-enclosed shower. I turned the hot water on, increasing the pressure until it was nearly at full force, adding just enough cool to keep it from scalding my skin. If I'd thought I could have gotten away with it, I'd have taken the extra punishment, but Duo had sharp eyes. The stinging spray was painful, but I made no attempt to escape it. I leaned against the back wall of the shower, arms spread wide, and let it do its worst. Even then the blood still stained my skin. It never washes off, and I don't think it ever will.

Drawing a slow, careful breath, I lifted my hands and raked back my hair, turning so that the water beat down on my back as I leaned my head against the wall. It was so hot that the feel of it was a bittersweet mix of pleasure/pain, just like.... I swallowed hard. Just like being with Duo. A shudder went through me as the gravity of what had happened hit me again. The war was over. What happened to the soldiers when there were no more battles to be fought? What happened to a deadly weapon when it had fulfilled its purpose? I'd let him distract me last night, but a calm, cold part of me whispered that I knew very well what happened. Delaying the inevitable was foolish....delaying the inevitable would just cause him more hurt.

I cringed beneath the scalding rain, shoving my hands through my wet hair, flexing my fingers convulsively as they slid free, then tightening them into fists. One fist met the wall, and then the other, pain blossoming beneath battered skin. It was a good feeling, a real feeling, almost enough to drown out the chaos in my head. Above all else, I had to put last night, and every night like it that had preceded it, out of my mind.

It was all perfectly clear. My star was collapsing, turning into a gaping maw that would swallow the universe around it whole. I refused to let it take him, too.

Pushing away from the wall, I turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. The steam created a short-lived envelope of warmth around me, but it faded quickly. The cold clung to my skin, causing an involuntary shiver. I'd need that cold, the emptiness that spread outward from that inner void... It was the only thing that would let me walk back out into that room...and then walk away.

Wrapping a towel around my waist, I turned the knob and steeled myself. I needed that tensile strength as I stepped outside, my eyes hopelessly destined to lock with his.

I remember once, as Wing Zero arrowed across the sea, hurtling us both towards another objective, another mission, looking up and noting that the sun was setting on the cockpit's starboard side. The sky was like fire on that side, orange and red. To port, it was a dark blue. Somewhere in the middle, in the skies ahead, those two conflicting fronts met and merged, creating a deep, rich purple...warm and cool intermingled into something else entirely... That was the color of his eyes, like the skies at sunset. Beautiful eyes, raw with badly concealed hurt.

I wonder if I could have managed not to care, once. If so, where was that part of me now? Killed by those eyes? Sent into retreat by the memory of his touch? Or perhaps, slowly, I was waking from the nightmare I'd been trapped in since childhood.

I wish I'd known to wake up before it was too late.

***

*I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew it the moment I saw him. I knew it the moment I realized he intended to throw himself away as one of the useless weapons of war. I knew he had everything to take, nothing to give. I knew, I knew!*

*Oh, God, if I knew, then why does it still hurt so much?*

My face hurt from crying. Even my eyelashes ached. I hate crying. It has to be one of the most humiliating things a guy can possibly do, giving someone else the power to put your emotions on 'frappe'. *Stupid. Baka,* I mentally berated myself, scrubbing a hand under my runny nose. *All hail Duo Maxwell, Lord of the Baka.*

To make matters worse, I hadn't gotten dressed yet, and I had no memory of snatching a brush through my hair and assembling the ugliest braid in history out of it. I simply didn't have the will to move. I wanted to mope, to curl up somewhere into this little ball of misery and angst, and I hated myself for even considering such pathetic thoughts.

I couldn't blame anyone else because I chose to do this. Skipping most of the celebrations, I'd gone to L2 just long enough to settle the deal with Hilde on the business and streaked back here to find him. I fully expected Relena to still have him under lock and key at the hospital. I couldn't blame anyone else for ascribing meaning beyond the moment to last night. Dammit, I knew better! Isn't it amazing how we never really 'know better' until we've already committed an act of irretrievable stupidity?

Worse, I knew that if I could turn back time, I'd do the exact same thing again. I'd experienced life without him before, and that nearly killed me. Simply letting go, walking away and leaving him there in the streets, had never been an option. Hell, even after I shot him I couldn't leave him to drown.

I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands and groaned. My head hurt, and my face had that uncomfortable heaviness that said I really needed to blow my nose. Soon, or my brains would start leaking down my face. It was only the shredded remnants of my pride that motivated me out of bed and towards the Kleenex. And the kah-klunk of the shower turning off helped, too. If Heero got to be clean, I should be as presentable as possible. *Shake off the self-pity for twenty seconds and pull yourself together, Maxwell!* I thought as I blew my nose fiercely.

The door clicked open and I turned around in reflex. By some karmic joke our eyes collided, and I looked away first. Give that round to the contestant from Japan. "Did you have plenty of hot water?" I heard myself say, the rational part of my brain trying to collect the other jagged pieces and herd them into something resembling sense.

*You knew this would happen, Duo,* the thoughts kept taunting me. I chunked the tissue into the trash can and firmly told my inner voice to fuck off. It was a little childish, but I didn't want him to see me as wrecked as he was yesterday. At least he had a good reason for it. His whole meaning for existence had come to an end.

Daring another look at those forbidding, wintry eyes and remembering them so recently hot with feeling, I thought I might have a good reason, too.

***

"Hai." *Look at me. Look at me so that I can pretend everything is as it was, as it's supposed to be. Just one encounter among many, a final easing of mutual need.*

I tell myself all sorts of shit and expect it to be believed.

"Does anyone know I'm here?" I didn't care, really. It didn't matter, but the silence was becoming deafening with words unsaid. So I spoke to drown them out.

I didn't wait for an answer, bending to collect my clothing from the floor. Turning my back to him, I let the towel fall. Why try for modesty? He'd seen me naked before, several times. The risk of further distraction at this point was minimal, I think I'd cut him sufficiently deep to guarantee that. Now it was just a matter of getting dressed and getting out of here. Simple.

The tactical part of my mind was still churning in the background, ignoring the emotional chaos that raged around it. Ultimately, it had formulated a very logical, methodical course of action. There were still chunks of Wing Zero left that were big enough to mount a salvage operation. At best it might be used as a trophy, at worst... the Zero System wasn't a toy, and at times I think it had a mind and purpose of its own. With an appropriately weak will at its disposal... I shuddered.

With any luck, the self-destruct unit would still be intact; that would take out the torso section, the largest and most dangerous piece. It seemed like a fitting way to assure peace, really. In those quiet moments at the bottom of the ocean, Zero had shown me the future, a future in which peace existed and it didn't. We are linked, Zero and I. Wing was a tool, an extension of my hands. I was Zero's tool, for better or for worse. If one should cease to exist, so should the other. Besides, my Gundam was the only thing that had given my life purpose, riding with it to hell seemed the least I could do.

I tugged my jacket on, taking a deep breath. God, Duo's scent clung to me even now. I shuddered again, trembling like a wire pulled too taut and just on the verge of breaking. I wanted to turn around and look at him, to ask him to help me. I can't fight alone anymore. I just--

I just need to end this.

"Arigatoo," I said quietly, my voice toneless. "I'm going now."

***

I was cold, and I felt very self-conscious standing there in nothing but a pair of navy silk boxers. "No," I said, the word tight in my throat. The blue towel had fallen away, baring him to my eyes. I glanced down, but nothing could remove the image from my mind. Suddenly I wasn't cold anymore. "Wufei knows I saw you but I didn't tell him you were here."

The slightest noise of acknowledgment rose from the collection of wiry limbs and damp hair dragging on his clothing. I held my breath and concentrated on chaste thoughts until I had body and mind leashed once more. If this were just about a roll in the hay between us, a sympathy fuck even, I would have been all right with it. Okay, maybe I'm deluding myself, but he scared the shit out of me yesterday; I wasn't about to let go until I knew he was fine.

But would he ever be fine again with Gundam a memory?

His voice broke my thoughts with a meaningless thanks and a declared intent. I saw the red of sudden anger skate across my vision. It stabbed through me like a sharp needle. I was angry. Angry at myself for letting yesterday happen, angry at feeling hurt over the inevitable outcome, but more than anything, I was angry because Heero Yuy was going to make a liar out of me. I promised I wouldn't leave him alone, even though his fleeing would probably get me off on a technicality.

"Where?" I blurted out, running my hands up and down my bare arms to ward off the returned chill. It sounded mournful and petulant even to me; when did I get this fucking pathetic? "Why?" I asked, softer, worrying a loose chunk of my escaped hair.

***

"Does it matter?" I asked, my voice no louder than his had been.

I turned around, then, and I felt myself go dead inside, eyes as flat and hard as chips of glass. This had to be done, there were no alternatives, no possibility of reprieve. Graceless, I sank down into a chair, reaching for my boots. "Wing Zero is still mostly intact. That's a risk that can't be ignored."

"I'm going to make sure that it never becomes a threat again."

***

*'Does it matter?' How can you ask me that? It's you; of course it matters!*

Something in the rational part of my brain began twitching, beating against my skull with what promised to be a profound revelation, but it didn't stand a chance against the drowning tide of emotion. There was something beneath the hardened surface of his eyes, something itching to get out. *To get out or get away...probably from me,* I thought. The pain of a rejection I should have anticipated flared anew like an explosion in my chest, raw and biting. I grabbed the back of the chair closest to me; otherwise I would have been on my knees.

The human consciousness has a stunning capacity for multitasking, though. Like a sponge, I kept absorbing what little information he offered. 'I'm going to make sure that it never becomes a threat again.' Which meant he had to dispose of Wing Zero. Naturally. We had all done that. I could still feel the cool, rounded curves of the self-destruct beneath my fingers as I pressed the button and watched Deathscythe Hell obliterate itself into nothing and...

*Oh shit...*

*Dammit, Heero, last night didn't fucking happen so you could throw your life away today!* His head snapped up, and it was only then I realized I'd said--make that shouted--it aloud.

***

I stiffened, heart pounding, my lungs begging for air as my entire body ground into stillness.

I'd underestimated him. You'd think by now that I'd know better. Or maybe, just maybe, part of me was still begging to be stopped, crying out in the darkness with a voice that I'd chosen not to hear. I dragged a slow breath into my tortured chest, analyzing the situation.

Alright. So he knew. So what? I closed my eyes, took another deeper, shuddering breath. It didn't make any difference. Weariness was creeping over me again like the long shadows of twilight. I was ready for night to fall, felt like I'd been waiting for longer than I could remember.

*Get up,* that inner voice warned coldly. *Walk away. Now.*

I gathered myself to rise, but something stopped me. Something that I don't think I'll ever be able to explain. Without looking up, I asked, very quietly, "Why did last night happen?"

***

I shook with indignation, vibrating like a leaf in a gale. What did it take to get through to him that he mattered? If I thought it would have helped, I'd have grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to knock some sense into him. But there was only room in this room for one suicidal ex-terrorist.

Frustration choked my throat closed and I shoved my fingers through unruly bangs, not even wincing at the tangles. I'd gambled and lost. Sex hadn't worked; it only delayed things. Tenderness--true tenderness I could only show him while he slept--had no effect. Logic? Don't make me laugh; no one asking me for bullets to put in his skull would respond to logic.

I was rapidly running out of options and I didn't know what to do in this desperate race to stay one step ahead of him. I let my guard down long enough to feel sorry for myself and he's ready to run for Zero and become a human firework. *Not on my watch, Yuy.* He had gone perfectly still, but I didn't trust it, no matter how the raw whistle of breath in his lungs squeezed my heart. I was fast enough to tackle him if he moved for the door, but...

'Why did last night happen?' fell from the stillness of those bloodless lips.

This time it was me that froze, trapped as surely as a deer in headlights. Direct questions never fail to trip me up. Mentally, I scrambled back like an awkward crab, cursing him for using this weakness against me now. 'Why?' was the one I always had the most trouble with. I never lie, so attempting to explain things winds up in the type of convoluted, twisted mess reserved for the timelines of American comics. Besides, hadn't we'd gone over this last night? I told him it all came down to one reason: because I wanted to.

Truth it was, but it didn't expose the man behind the curtain. While Heero is one of the most brilliant guys I have ever known, I doubted he would realize the name of the puppeteer holding my strings and directing my actions.

Love.

It all happened because I was purely, helplessly, passionately, and completely in love with one Heero Yuy. And I was struggling for new ways to say it without using the words. Ways to both continue telling the truth and keeping the truth from him.

"Heero..." I swallowed hard, and my body moved on its own accord; my legs still felt gelatinous, but they supported my weight. Five steps, and I was all but toe-to-toe with him. Five steps further down the rocky road. Hurt continued to resonate in me like a discordant note, but my own pain has never failed to submit itself to soothing his.

My hand shook violently--wanting to touch him, terrified to do so--as I stretched it out to him. "I wanted to help you. I couldn't stand seeing you like that." *And I'm too selfish to let you put a bullet in your head just to end it all.*

I think Wufei was right back then when he called me 'pathetic'; there are times when I pity me. Some days the only thing that keeps me going is my quest to prove Heero is a real human being inside, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Isn't that something straight out a fucking shoujo manga?

"Not just to help you," I gently said, the ache in my chest impossible to ignore. It demanded I touch him, keep touching him, keep believing. "I wanted to be with you." My fingers grazed his face, the electric sensation of skin on skin undiminished by the riveting tension stretching us both as tightly as a drawn bow. "Even if it was only for a little while, I wanted to take away your pain."

My body again developed independent will and locomotion; the silk of my boxers whispered against the rough denim of his jeans as I straddled his lap. Granted, my presence might only delay him a few seconds in blowing himself and Wing Zero skyward, but sometimes a few seconds is all the difference in the world.

***

*I wanted to take away your pain.*

Pain. I hurt. I hurt so badly. It pushed ruthlessly upwards, past the formidable barriers I'd held in place for so long. It wasn't the same. Physical hurt could be ignored, forced into the back of the mind and forgotten. This was deeper, a mortal wound.

I was already trembling so hard that I had to clench my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering. My body was practically convulsing in manifestation of what was going on inside. It abruptly stilled when he touched me, drawing into absolute tension when his body came into full contact with mine.

"Duo..." My back slammed into the back of the chair, a belated attempt at escape, to shy back from his presence. I couldn't manage to say anything else, but my eyes locked onto him. Then, without knowing why, I leaned into him, wrapping my arms around his waist, resting my forehead on his shoulder.

It was too much, all of it. I was going to break, I could feel the fractures already starting, running through the flawed mold of my self. I turned my head, slowly unlacing one hand from behind his back and lifting it. I watched, fascinated, as it trembled uncontrollably. I couldn't stop it, couldn't stop anything that was happening. It was like I was watching from the outside, cursed to witness a tragedy unfold.

A soft sound like a sob tore itself from my chest and I looked up at him. I willed him to let me go, to just go away and let what happened happen. It's not your fault, Duo. It's just...

God... it's just me finally going crazy.

***

His legs were warm and strong against my backside. And frighteningly tense. Dancing with death as Shinigami had always meant uncertaintyfor me, I'm no stranger to it, but to see uncertainty staring back at me through his eyes...reemphasized just what was at stake.

I opened my mouth to speak, and he touched me; never breaking eye contact, he laced his arms around me. Broken as a reed in the wind, his body folded into mine, forehead pillowing on my shoulder. Time seemed to crawl as I simply held him, willing my heart to beat for both of us, my lungs to breathe for both of us. In my mind, I could see the shattered remnants of his soul in my hands; I couldn't let go for a second or he would slip away.

Achingly slow, he raised one hand into our field of vision. It shook, and with dull eyes he stared, mesmerized by the vibrations. Mine slipped around it, holding it steady. The small, fierce tremors seemed to cascade from his skin straight into my soul.

"Don't talk, don't think. Just be," I whispered, loathe to bring anything else into the moment but us. It was wearing me out mentally trying to keep up with his sudden mood swings, but what choice did I have? It was made the moment I knelt down in the dirty streets by him yesterday, the moment our bodies first knew no barriers between the other months ago. Maybe even from the moment I pulled the trigger of that gun.

His breath broke on the air in a choked half-sob; the small sound crushed the last of my mental restraints to powder. "I'll be with you." My hands tightened over his, clutching it to my chest, pressing those shaking fingertips over the steady pulse of my heart.

All it would have taken to repeat last night, to return to that realm where body and soul merged into one, was one kiss. One kiss to light the dynamite that exploded between us. Nothing difficult about it. I could do it; his mouth was dangerously close to mine, lower lip trembling with emotion. Already I felt my body want to move; so little effort to lean forwards and warm his lips with mine. One kiss. One direct flight back into his arms.

I sighed mentally, knowing what I wanted was inappropriate, even destructive. To simplify the complexity I held in my hands down to something another blistering, desperate lovemaking session could cure would be tantamount to slapping a Band-Aid on a mortal wound; it might temporarily staunch the flood of life draining away, but it wouldn't fix what was wrong. Heero was still bleeding to death inside; he was wounded and I didn't have a clue where the knife really was. Or if pulling it out would let him heal or mean his death.

I turned my face downward and brought Heero's hand to my mouth, placing a soft kiss in his palm; I remember hearing somewhere that a kiss there was for a request. "Breathe," I exhaled against his skin, inhaling his scent once again as I nuzzled his fingers like a cat before protectively clasping that hand between my own again. "Just breathe, Heero. It's the first step on the path."

***

TBC...