10-22-2001 (revised)

Title: Innocence Faded 5/16 (revised)
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.

**************
Innocence faded
the mirror falls behind you
Trinity jaded
I break down walls to find you
**************

*I could get very used to waking up next to you.*

There is comfort in quiet moments. I have never been much for silence; it's always felt like there's too much frenetic, living energy trapped inside me not to speak. Speaking makes things real; it has the power to transmute into existence the abstract firings of neurons that make up thought.

But there are some times when thought itself is enough.

Dead to the world, Heero lay on his side, one hand curled under the pillow as if to edge it further down under his chin, hair awkwardly tousled, blankets knotted around one leg and leaving the other bared almost to the hip. He's usually a restless sleeper--we both are, actually; if you didn't have nightmares before becoming a Gundam pilot, you definitely do after, and the war just ending hadn't changed things--and more than once last night I'd stirred just enough into wakefulness to become aware that we were holding--no, make that 'clinging to'--one another.

I don't know who reached for whom first, but our unconscious minds together chose to confirm the decision we had reached with our conscious ones. We need each other. Beyond that, nothing really matters.

At least, that was the thought I woke up with. Twenty minutes of silent contemplation of the universal morning-after question--'so now what?'--had left me more than a bit dizzy. Wufei's suggestion kept rolling over in my mind like waves to the shore, but I didn't know if I was ready. Granted, the notion of just lying in my bed forever, contentedly snuggled against the warm, strong, and thoroughly masculine body of Heero Yuy, rather seemed a better idea.

Only it wasn't my bed. And as fond as I am of room service and hotel sheets, it still amounted to a rootless, drifter-like existence. It was exactly what we had as Gundam pilots, and exactly what we sought to escape. We needed a place of our own, and I hadn't a clue how to go about acquiring one. I've never really bought anything in my life; I've either stolen it, bartered for it, or received it. And somehow, I figured stealing a house would be a little harder than food or transportation.

So I did what any other sensible Gundam pilot would do...

***

"Winner Enterprises, Quatre speaking."

"Quatre, it's Duo."

"Duo! Where have you been? We missed you the other night. It isn't like you to skip celebrations." The scold was gentle as Quatre laced his fingers together, but threads of worry and concern neatly stitched themselves into his features.

*What is it with the direct questions from everyone?* "Gomen, Quatre," I said, distractedly rubbing the back of my head. "I had something pretty important to take care of." *Or, rather, someone.* He nodded, apparently satisfied with my answer despite the emotions shrouding his face. That has to be one of the things I love and admire most about him; deception really isn't in his nature, and consequently he perceives those he cares about the same way. Though, the angelic-faced Mr. Winner has an unusual talent for knowing exactly what is going on and being patient enough to wait for you to say it. "I'm sorry to call for something so selfish, but I need a favor."

Quatre sighed, dropping his chin into one hand wearily. "The war's only been over for a week, Duo. You don't need me to bail you out already, do you?"

My mouth fell open; his statement was so mournful it took me a full sixty seconds of silence and another thirty of indignant sputtering before I realized he was kidding. Or maybe it was because he started snickering. Forget what I said about Quatre not being deceptive; he isn't normally, so he always catches you with your pants down. "Kuso," I muttered under my breath, but listening to him laugh made not-laughing seem wrong. Absurd, even. Despite everything the events of the past two days had wrought on my emotions, I found I still had laughter in me.

It wasn't until we calmed down that I wondered if maybe he hadn't done all of that on purpose, just to reassure me that I could laugh. After all, this was Quatre, who's often more in touch with our feelings than we are. "If we're finished making light of my non-imprisonment," I said at last, suddenly more than a little self-conscious, "I need to buy a house."

Flaxen eyebrows drew down soberly, the eyes beneath them liquid with compassion. "Duo, if you need a place to stay..."

I shook my head so fiercely my braid slapped my face. "No, that's not it!" I snapped harshly, gasping in a few deep breaths while I struggled for the best way to convey what I felt. Oddly enough, it never occurred to me to simply feel it and let Quatre's empathic sense do the rest. "I don't need a place to stay," I said at last, something like a plea in the words. "I need a home."

To his credit, Quatre's only sign of surprise was a slight widening of his expressive eyes before they softened into that adorable, soul-wrenching smile. The fingers of one hand fluttered absently in a circular motion against his chest. "I understand," he said softly. Considering everything I knew of his relationship with Tall, Dark, and Tacit, the words held more for me than the normal obligatory comfort. Quatre did understand, and not because of his space heart. "There's just something about having your own territory," he continued, gold-tipped eyelashes lowering slightly, as though he were imparting something special and secret to me, "a small part of existence that belongs only to you."

I sat there, stunned, my mouth wide open; I don't think he could have stated it better if he'd thrust his hand down my throat and physically wrenched out my emotions in a knotty, quivering mass. "Did you have something in particular in mind?"

Still speechless, I nodded as Quatre cupped his chin in one hand and leaned forwards towards the vidscreen. The early afternoon sun in his office seemed to whisper through the window, parting the filmy curtains to burnish his hair almost-gold, a faint corona of light--not unlike the few paintings of the saints I'd seen in Maxwell Church--haloing his head. He looked unreal, ethereal, and far too beautiful to hint at mortality.

Yet, the sum focus of his reverent attention was on me. It reminded me that I've always been a little in awe of him. Okay, make that a lot. Very few men, much less a slip of a boy, can command the undying respect and loyalty of an entire legion of troops. And a face that angelic shouldn't be connected to the hand of a marksman and the mind of a strategist.

He named Heero the soul of outer space, but Quatre is the soul of the Gundam pilots. He is our conscience, our uniting force. No one else could make a team from the scattered, fragmented pieces of fierce independence and alienation that comprised us all.

But, the war was finally over. And with chameleon-like adaptation--in no small part due to Trowa's influence on him, I thought--Quatre had seamlessly slipped back into that other life he held between the back-to-back threats to the Earth and the colonies, down to the navy pinstriped suit, impeccably pressed white oxford and bold crimson tie. In them, he looked oddly...comfortable. He was all at once the Quatre I knew and yet a stranger. An adult. Not that any of us had retained much of boyhood except our physical stature, and that was sure to change soon. I wouldn't have been at all surprised to wake up and find Heero six inches taller than me.

Suddenly, my face flushed; I knew I had drifted and left Quatre patiently waiting for me to elucidate, his vid image's hands neatly folded atop the desk. "Gomen," I said again, drawing back to the matter on the table, as it were. "I don't have any white picket fence or neatly manicured lawn requirements, but...I'd like for it to be near some water. We never had much water on L2..."

My hands, which tended to nervously fidget, gripped one another tightly to keep still, and I stared down at them as though I found the interlacing fingers, whitened knuckles and faint blue veins infinitely fascinating. I can talk with ease about most anything, even matters that would make a great many people blush, but this was something far more intimate, more private than I ever shared. Even with Heero. It touched on a past I had done much to bury and everything to atone for, failing miserably on both counts.

When he spoke, Quatre's voice was very gentle and yet faintly amused. "It's a grand irony that you'd ask someone of desert descent for help in finding a house by water." I glanced up and he was smiling again, once more completely the Quatre I recognized. "It's all right, Duo. I'll go over some listings with the agency that handles our acquisitions and have them send a representative out to see you. Is four your time all right?" I glanced at the clock on the wall and nodded. That gave me an hour to tell Heero, and I would need every second of it. "I'll call you later to see how it went."

It wasn't until the screen went dark that I realized Quatre hadn't asked where I was staying. I took a quick look to make sure my pants weren't down again.

***

It's a little embarrassing to admit that you can't sleep because the bed feels lonely. The feeling was strange, a little annoying even, because I'd never really encountered it before. Stuff like that just totally trashes your reputation. I snorted, looking around the bedroom to get my bearings, ears pricking as I caught the sound of Duo's voice coming from the other room. It made me relax...and rethink the idea of springing from the bed and rushing naked from the room in search of him.

How pathetic is that?

I snorted again, this time with a touch more amusement. It almost qualified as a laugh. Almost. As mornings went, this one was considerably more pleasant than the one before it. Pain and confusion were still lurking in the corners of my psyche, but they were giving me some breathing room at last. Held in check, I think, by the bond we'd forged yesterday.

I took a deep breath and untangled myself from the blankets, hunting around for my jeans and finally finding them halfway under the bed. Tugging them on, I headed for the sound of his voice... and stopped short in the half-opened doorway, listening.

"A house." I said it louder, and perhaps a bit more harshly than I'd meant it, but... A house, what did that mean? Was he leaving? Uncertainty grabbed at me and I smacked it down impatiently. Clarification. That's all it needs. It means something else.

"A house," I repeated, still trying to reason through that particularly cryptic subject. The logic refused to resolve itself for me. "What do you need a house for?"

***

Instead of the 'good afternoon' I'd planned to greet Heero with, the first thing off my lips was a bitter expletive. Largely because I jumped when he spoke, and a very large desk got in the way of my knee. I staggered back into the chair, gingerly rubbing the spot where I felt a knotted bruise already rising.

Gradually, like an overtaxed computer, my mind separated the surprise of Heero speaking from what he had spoken in order to analyze the latter. 'What do you need a house for?' he demanded. Guess that meant he'd overhead me talking with Quatre. *Well, it's not like it could stay a secret.* Still wincing, I looked over at him; his eyes were visible behind the protective shelter of his bangs, not nearly as unruly now that he'd awakened, and they held a wariness whose motivation I couldn't completely discern.

Nevertheless, I plunged on. "Getting a permanent address has always been a goal of mine." My words were deceptively light, because I wasn't at all sure how to interpret his gaze. "Hotels are nice and the odd safehouse has its charm, but I thought it was time to bite the bullet and get a piece of real estate. Someplace to come home to."

***

The uncertainty factor started climbing, unabated by Duo's forced cheerfulness. I'd caught him off-guard, that much was obvious. So why was he acting like I'd caught him at something he didn't want me to know about? A furrow settled in on my forehead and I clenched my teeth slightly, not at all liking what I was sensing. I strove more for displeasure than anxiety, however. The one felt more productive than the other.

Besides, I was getting tired of acting like I was totally out of control...even if I was.

Narrowing my eyes, I studied his face for several moments. "Have you already forgotten?" I asked him quietly, choosing my course of attack. It was a valid enough choice, the war had only been over for a week. The fighting had come to an end, but that didn't make the world any safer. Especially not for former Gundam pilots. "Staying in one place is dangerous."

***

I should have known. I should have known you can take the soldier out of the war, but you can't take the war out of the soldier. Not without time or frontal lobotomy, neither of which seemed immediately available options. "I haven't forgotten," I replied curtly, perhaps a bit shorter than I meant to, inexplicable hurt blossoming at his words. No, I didn't forget. Nearly every one of my memories of the war was in one way or another neatly wrapped, packaged and tied with tight knots to those of Heero Yuy, and for better or for worse I could never forget a thing about him.

I blew breath out of my nose in slight frustration--frustration not exactly with him, but with the germinating need inside me. The need to somehow give this fragile union a tangible sense of permanence. "Moving around constantly is no less dangerous," I pointed out, for we'd collectively been discovered many times. "It's a habit we learned as part of the war. A habit that needs breaking." It wasn't the only one, but I decided to take my victories where I could get them.

My focus went back on my hands; at this rate, I would have the tracery of capillaries and veins memorized by nightfall. "It would be nice to find someplace to belong," I added without meeting his eyes, my chest suddenly very tight.

***

My frown deepened. The knot in my chest tightened. The answer that I realized I was searching for hadn't materialized. That, and I had the oddest sense that there was something about this that I wasn't quite grasping. Beyond the slowly festering core of uncertainty, all I could see was the danger inherent in what he proposed. A danger that caused me a little thrill of panic that I barely recognized and ruthlessly suppressed. I had to protect Duo, that need was so tightly linked with the healing of my as-yet-unraveled psyche that failure was unthinkable. Not unless I wanted to revisit the low point I'd hit the day before.

He didn't stop at simple explanation, though, continuing to deeper, more treacherous territory.

*It would be nice to find someplace to belong.* That hit my insecurities dead-on. The closest thing I'd ever had to a home was the cockpit of a Gundam. The Gundams no longer existed, leaving me as much a drifter as ever. Beyond that, was a silent cry of hurt, of protest:

*You belong with me! Isn't that what we said last night?*

I refused to admit that a part of me was afraid that his plans didn't include me. Knowing Duo, that wouldn't be enough to forestall him. I took a deep breath, still studying him with the same intensity I felt. "This is not a good idea," I said at last, at a loss for anything else to say.

***

Did I have doubts that settling down was the right thing to do? Why else wouldn't my eyes track to his? But the doubts, even considering Heero's justified objections to this foray into normalcy, weren't strong enough to battle this new need into submission. Amazing when an idle thought taps into a soul-deep well of desire and longing you never knew was there.

"It's probably not a good idea," I admitted, my hands tensing and releasing. "But I want a home. I need one." *We need one.* "I want...'a small part of existence that belongs only to us.' Someplace that stays still when the rest of the world spins around it. Someplace we can come home to." Unless we made this important change, I believed the war would never truly leave us. Like the enduring presence of Shinigami in my soul, the conflict of war and the scars it left would together stalk us without fail, hungrily waiting for their prey to weaken and fall.

I raised my eyes then, willing him to understand with my gaze. I couldn't explain it, not completely; all I could do was feel it. "This is something I have to do, Heero." My throat constricted suddenly, choking down the selfishness of my thought, but the air fairly vibrated with the unspoken conclusion.

*With or without you.*

***

"We? I thought--"

We. One moment I nearly sagged with relief, the next...

He didn't have to say the words. I heard them, loud and clear. I shut my mouth, I'm ashamed to admit I even flinched. It wasn't a threat or an ultimatum, it wasn't even a demand. He told me what he wanted, and left the choice to me. We both knew what the ultimate price of that choice would be. One night of sleep couldn't work miracles, I didn't have the strength to risk that he might make good on it.

"Wakarimasu," I said quietly, dropping my eyes and looking anywhere but at him. I was angry that I felt this way, angry that I was letting him force me into choosing. Most of all I was angry with myself for giving in. I suppose, in the long run, it was a small sacrifice to make. But... I don't know, it hurt that he'd ask me to make it.

***

Even knowing we were together taking a step in the right direction, his downcast eyes made the victory hollow at best. I felt incredibly low; hadn't I breathed a promise of protection in his sleeping ear? "Gomen nasai," I offered automatically; cultural and linguistic differences aside, the Japanese custom of apologizing even when there was no fault had become second nature around Heero Yuy.

I didn't quite know how to put into further words the sea of feeling inside me. More than anything, I wanted this island of stability to share with him. I wanted a place of refuge where we would belong, and where we would belong to one another. A place with no war and no pain, for we would bring far too much of that on our own.

Anything else we might have said evaporated with the chime of the clock and the sudden, insistent banging at the door. Exactly four o'clock; I wondered idly if everything Quatre did was executed with such military accuracy. Then again, I supposed business was also a kind of war; difference in venue and weaponry the only means of separation between the two. "I think that's our agent." Heero was kind enough to offer a noncommittal noise as I strolled over to the door and unlocked it, swinging it open to greet...the back of Relena's head?

*Oh, shit.*

I should have guessed she'd find us, especially with Heero walking out of the hospital like he had. I just didn't expect it to be so soon. I could feel the panicked scream rising from somewhere deep within me, a long-suppressed cry of impotent rage at ojousan's inability to simply leave me alone with Heero Yuy. [1] He was finally mine, and I refused to give any quarter to her.

As though she sensed the quivering tension flaring about her, she turned her head back towards me, wide brown eyes sheltered behind wire-framed glasses, and the scream downgraded to an 'eep' of horrified surprise rather like an abortive hiccup.

Brown eyes. Glasses.

*Not Relena, not Relena,* my mind chanted feverishly, desperately latching onto the multitude of differences between Relena and...Relena light. Diet Relena. One-calorie Relena. Did I mention the effect repressed hysteria has on me? Still, the mere notion that there were two women in the whole universe who wore those absurd little braids left my heart in dire need of a jump-start.

"Mr. Maxwell?" she queried in a very self-assured but adolescent-sounding voice. I nodded dumbly. "I'm Becky Peterson with Sanctuary Real Estate." She held out her hand and treated me to a winning, feminine smile; even at her stalker best, Relena wasn't this perky, and I found myself slowly relaxing, the tension unknotting itself from my spine. "There's a car waiting to take us to the airport. The properties you are to be shown are all in America."

Her gaze slid over to Heero, mild curiosity illuminating the honeyed flecks in her eyes. "Will you be joining us, Mister...?" she prompted.

***

The last time I'd seen Relena had been in the hospital a few days ago. She'd been fussy, concerned, and thoroughly distracted by claiming a sovereign place in the new world order. Call it instinct, call it good observational skills, I never took the woman at the door for Relena for more than the half-second it required to dismiss the similar hairstyles. She didn't have the arrogance, nor the charisma. Say what you will of Relena, she has a way of drawing people to her, of making them see the worthiness of her cause. It even happened to me, at least for a little while.

I watched Duo nearly jump out of his skin with no small touch of satisfaction. Served the baka right. Ok, I admit it, I was still a little pissed.

I left off observing him to watch Becky Peterson instead. "Yuy," I provided helpfully as her gaze swept my way. "Yes." That was all the answer she required, that was all I intended to give her. Duo was stuck with me, whether I liked it or not.

Not that it really mattered, I would have followed him to the ends of the earth either way.

***

[1] "Ojousan" is what Duo normally calls Relena in the series. There are many meanings of the word, with a literal one being 'someone else's daughter'. It's also a polite way to refer to a young female, as the o- prefix is used as an honorific. A frequent connotation I've seen in anime for ojousan--and what is implied here--is 'rich girl', frequently one who is spoiled and somewhat bratty. The 'ojousan' girl is a common character archetype in anime, especially shoujo anime.

TBC...