3-3-2001

The title for this story (and the lines quoted in the story) comes from the song by the same name by Mono. Awesome song, and is what gave me the idea for this story.

Disclaimers: Gundam Wing belongs to Sunrise, Bandai, et al. No money is made off of this. This is for fun only.

Unless you already have permission to archive my stories, please ask me first. Will also be on my fiction page at http://www.ondragonswing.com/ninjababe/ninsfic/. NOTE: This is my new URL... I moved! <beam> (Still moving the rest of my site, however... The fiction itself took all afternoon)

And, this is Shounen ai-ish, and first person. It didn't want to be written any other way, and I hate writing in first person. <Sniffles> Poor, poor Duo. Why do I have to torture the characters I love?!

Summary: Oh, same old, same old. Duo deeper than he appears.

Warnings: This contains quite a bit of cussing. Duo turned into quite a potty mouth in some situations...

comet is to blame for this, all in all. If it hadn't been for her, this would still be a story snippet on my snippet page. Then, comet started to talk to me about it. And kept pestering me and giving me ideas until the story firmly took root. This story has taken quite a while to be finished. I don't write angst very easily. That, and she keeps giving me bits and pieces to keep me going.
Note from comet: And I'll keep doing this too...

Also, this is the first in a series. However, this story took me a good year to write, so don't expect the sequel anytime soon... I have started the sequel, however...
Note from comet: That's what Nin thinks, now I'll have help pestering her.

=====
Silicone
by Ninjababe (ninjababe@ondragonswing.com)
=====

"I always try
To hide behind a painted smile
So many fears
The public never sees"

"Hey, Heero!" I called out as I ran to catch up with my friend. Of course, he didn't say anything; he didn't even turn around. Just kept walking. Sigh. Like that would ever change.

"So, what's on the agenda today?" I asked, cheerful as always, my true self firmly locked away in a little 'box' in my head. Sometimes I think I must have split personalities. But... personalities aren't supposed to know about each other, are they?

Silence descended between us as we walked down the halls of yet another boarding school to a class we shared. I was so tired of school after school. "That much going on, huh? So, I take it we're don't have anything important? Good!"

Heero gave me a slightly questioning glare out of the corner of his eye. "Why is that good?"

"Because..." I trailed off and let my smile get wider. "That means I can relax!" Damn it. Relax, my ass. More like stare at the walls. Maybe it was time to... No! I promised myself.

I spent the next few minutes before the class began being my usual bouncy, chatterbox self.

I wonder how long it would take them to notice something's wrong. If they'd notice...

=====

I was right.

Staring at the walls again. Blowing air over my bangs to get them out of my eyes, I glared up at the ceiling. I barely glanced at Trowa as he entered. With an internal sigh, I prepared myself for another act. Had to keep up appearances.

Going from prone to sitting up in seconds flat, I called out, "Hiya, Trowa!"

The brunette nodded to me before turning to his desk.

Maybe it was time to go out... Being snubbed by Trowa made me even more depressed. "I always get roomed with the silent type," I moaned, hands in my hair. "Next time, I pick the roommates! At least I can get Quatre or Wufei to do more than nod or growl 'I'm going to kill you!'"

Trowa, having learned from long experience to tune me out when I'm chattering, didn't turn from the pile of papers he pulled out of some secret drawer.

"Ah, forget it." Grabbing my coat and ball cap, I pushed the window open. "I'm going out. Don't wait up!"

At least our room was on the first floor, so I didn't have to worry about shimmying down a drainpipe.

Every pilot had a different type of reconnaissance when we get to a new location. For me, I checked the area out, looking for what only seems to be dead end alleys, planning escape routes and short cuts.

That, and I always found the seediest, dirtiest bars and made sure I knew the entrances and exits. Just in case I couldn't take the pressure anymore and had to let my shields down.

After all, there's no place like home.

This town wasn't any different. I knew five different ways to get out of town, both with the other pilots and by myself. And, here I was, across the street from the Black Rose, a real dive of a bar.

=====

"I'm smiling, while dying to you
I'm smiling, while lying to you
If you only knew"

Damn, I was sore. And I felt like such an idiot. I couldn't control myself and just had to go looking for a fight.

Luckily, my clothes covered the majority of my injuries. Of course, I still had to get through gym class.

And, of course, the few hours of sleep I'd had hadn't helped my mood.

I saw Trowa's raised eyebrow (I could never figure out if he was able to raise only one, or was raising both eyebrows because of his bangs) as he saw my face and shrugged, trying to ignore the bruises on my back. That had been one hellacious fight. "Muggers are such bad judges of character, don't you think? I mean, they thought I was a good target. I don't know what the world's coming to..." I continued chattering on the subject until I was sure my roommate had lost interest and then I got ready for the day.

Finding my place in class, I slouched in my chair as always and scribbled notes and doodles as the teacher droned on. Contrary to what the guys believe, I do have a brain and know how to use it. In fact, I find the majority of my classes interesting. But, being a good student doesn't fit my joker/slacker persona, so I made it a habit to either make barely average grades, or change my grades before we leave one school for another. It wouldn't do for Heero or anyone else to figure out that Duo Maxwell could make near perfect grades without trying. No one suspected people of lowering their grades.

It isn't until Chemistry lab that I meet up with the other guys. In the past, someone had come up with the idea that we all need to be together for classes that dealt with possible explosives. I think they were worried about what I'd do. Had they asked, I would have told them to be worried about Quatre, not me. Quatre's blown up two labs, singed the eyebrows of three lab partners, and had a school evacuated through his antics in the chemistry lab. And the smile he gets sometimes makes even me shudder.

Of course, I'm always assigned as his lab partner.

"Duo!" Quatre exclaimed when he saw the scratches on my face. "What happened?"

I gave my explanation of stupid muggers to him and the others, since they had come up behind Quatre and were listening.

"Idiot," Heero said. "You should be able to take a mugger without trouble."

"Well, I'm sorry," I spat out. "Not all of us can be as perfect as you." Noticing the surprised and slightly shocked looks on Quatre and Wufei's faces (not to mention Trowa and Heero's raised eyebrows, meaning they were very surprised), I ran a hand through my bangs, took a deep breath, then smiled. "Sorry, didn't get much sleep. Makes me cranky."

"Trowa told us you disappeared last night," Wufei commented.

"All right, class, let's get started," the teacher said, interrupting the conversation, much to my relief. "Today, we're going to convert two possibly poisonous chemicals, sodium and chlorine, into a common household material."

Joy, we were making table salt. At least it wasn't likely Quatre would blow us up today. As long as I didn't have to taste the finished product...

"Is everything all right, Duo?" Quatre asked, peering at me as we stood at our station.

"Sure," I replied with a wide, hopefully realistic, smile. "Everything's dandy. Why?"

Quatre looked concerned. "You seem a little... off." He gave me one more worried glance, then turned and went to gather our experiment materials.

Off. I was 'off.' It was amazing how a three letter word could depress a person totally. I'm off.

Shaking myself out of my fugue, I noticed Quatre had returned to our table with our chemicals. Seeing the maniacal gleam in his eye, I groaned. "What did you do?"

Pulling from his pocket a vial full of clear liquid and containing a lump of metal, my lab partner gave me a good imitation of my Shinigami grin. "I want to do something more interesting than make ordinary table salt."

Having finally seen the label and the chemical notation, I blanched. "Potassium?! You grabbed potassium?! Are you crazy? If that hits water, it'll cause a huge explosion."

"I'll be careful," my insane lab partner chuckled.

"Give me that!"

In retrospect, perhaps wrestling Quatre for the vial wasn't such a good idea.

The vial fell... and shattered. And a beaker of water left on the table from the last class soon followed.

The potassium started to fizzle and I backpedaled, giving Quatre a glare. He also backed away, eyes wide.

"HIT THE DECK!"

My scream caused automatic responses from the other Gundam pilots. A few seconds later, I noticed the rest of the class huddle on the ground.

I have to admit, it was a nice explosion. But, I really didn't think the trouble we were going to get into was worth the excitement.

=====

I hate the chairs in the nurse's waiting area. I was sitting in one of the uncomfortable monstrosities after Quatre's 'mishap', waiting for my turn with the nurse. I hated anything that reminded me of hospitals or medical labs.

I was in trouble if they decided to do a full examination. I doubted they would, school nurses and physicians did as little as possible to keep the students alive.

I was right. The nurse barely glanced at me. After checking my pupils and asking me if I was bleeding or hurt, he waved me out of the office and called the next student in.

Next stop was the principal's office. Another place that universally had uncomfortable seats in the waiting area.

Once called into the office, I gave my version of the events, having already worked out a story with Quatre during our time waiting for the school nurse. Letting us sit together was a big mistake.

I told him that Quatre had misread the label on the vial and grabbed the potassium by mistake. When I had noticed his error, I had reached for the container and it, plus the beaker of water, had slipped to the ground.

It was a pretty good story, especially since Quatre and I used the lab table in a back corner of the lab, making it harder for the other students and our teacher to figure out what had really happened.

The incident was declared an accident, and the students in class before us were given a reprimand for not cleaning their area. Obviously, this was the first "accident" of Quatre's at this school, or the investigation would have been longer and more in-depth. We were both sent on our way with a warning to be more careful in the future.

Luckily, the explosion had caused me to miss gym, which was my last class before lunch. Deciding to skip the rest of my classes, I tried to think of someplace I could disappear to in order to avoid the Spanish Inquisition I knew was going to start as soon as the other pilots caught up with me.

"Duo," Wufei called out from behind me.

Well, shit. I could have pretended not to hear him, but since the hallways were pretty much deserted, that might not have worked. I decided to ignore him anyway.

I was continuing on my way, bookbag over one shoulder, hands in my pockets, head down, when a vise-like grip landed on the shoulder that didn't have my bookbag.

The same shoulder that had gotten cut by a bottle last night.

Which caused me to jump and yelp.

"Can it, Maxwell," Wufei hissed, obviously mad. "We're meeting in your room. Let's go."

Sighing, I trailed after Wufei and tried to relieve the pain in my shoulder by rotating it as unobtrusively as possible.

Looking up as we walked along the side of my dorm building, I noticed Heero glaring out of my window at us.

Following Wufei into my and Trowa's room, I sighed again and dropped my bag on the end of my bed. Then, I took a look around.

Quatre was sitting at my desk with his hands clasped in his lap, a contrite look on his face. Trowa leaned against the wall beside Quatre, his arms crossed over his chest and his usual non-statement gracing his features. Heero sat at the end of Trowa's bed, obviously released from his vigil at the window. Wufei sat down at Trowa's desk, giving Quatre and me equally angry glances.

"Have a seat and tell us what really happened," Wufei ordered, pointing at my bed. "I want to know why you two drew attention to yourselves and possibly put our cover in jeopardy."

Running a hand through my bangs, I sprawled across my bed so my lower back rested against my pillows and my shoes hung off the bed. I opened my mouth to explain, but was cut off by Quatre

"It happened like I told you," Quatre replied. "But, I picked up the potassium on purpose."

I groaned, playing the joker to the hilt, and tried to add some humor to the situation. "Quatre, you don't admit to something when you have an airtight story."

Heero glared at me, but I just grinned back, pretending to be unaffected by his 'die and die horribly' look. I'm affected all right. He looked damn sexy when he did that.

"And what were you so engrossed in during class that you didn't notice until it was too late, not to mention in the hall?" Wufei asked. "A Gundam pilot must always be vigilant."

I could actually feel myself get angry. Being told, no matter how indirectly, that I wasn't Gundam pilot material, was one of my anger switches. The muscles in my arms and legs clenched as I tried to control myself. "I'm so sorry," I replied icily. Standing up, I stalked to the door.

"Where are you going?" Heero demanded.

I didn't answer. Instead, I yanked the door open and stalked through it. Slamming it shut behind me, I hurried down the hall and out of the building.

Muttering obscenities, I stomped down the path and ignored the yells of "Maxwell! Get back here!" from my dorm window. If I hadn't gotten away from Wufei and the others, someone would have gotten hurt. And, considering the shape I was in and all of our tendencies to draw guns in a fight, I'd probably end up being the hurt one. I was just lucky that none of them had been able to grab me before I had left.

Taking extra care and caution, I made my way to where my Gundam was camouflaged. Climbing into the cockpit, I patted a console and locked myself in. After putting the comm unit on ignore, I pulled out my first aid kit to patch up the cuts that had re-opened during the day.

My Gundam wasn't the most original place to hide, but I had supplies there so I wouldn't be forced to return until I was ready, and I could ignore everything in the world, internal and external, by fiddling with Deathscythe's systems.

Besides, this cockpit was one of the handful of places in the universe that I felt absolutely safe.

=====

"So many times
I've try to make you understand
You never try
To see behind my smile"

After hiding out in Deathscythe for the night, I trodded over to my dorm room and staggered in. Ignoring Trowa, I grabbed my school uniform and slammed into the bathroom. Sleeping in my Gundam hadn't helped my mood any, but at least I had calmed down enough that I could control my actions.

I spent most of the day on automatic, being quiet at my desk and avoiding the other pilots. After skipping chemistry lab to have an early lunch, I went back to my dorm room and decided to catch an hour's sleep.

Waking up to the sight of Heero sitting beside my bed made me smile. For about five seconds. Then, I remembered that I was avoiding them all.

"You missed chemistry," Heero stated when he saw my eyes open.

"Yeah, well, I had something to do," I replied before sliding off the bed. "Now, if you excuse me, I'm off to calculus. Ick." Making a disgusted face, I turned toward the doorway.

"Why bother?" Heero asked. "You haven't studied for the exam. You ran off yesterday without your books and obviously weren't studying when I got here."

Shrugging, I didn't answer, but hurried away.

It wasn't until after I had turned in my answer sheet for the exam, which I knew I had aced, that I remembered that I didn't have the time, or the access, to go and change my grades after the fact. Damn.

Turning back to the teacher, I give her a wide grin. "I forgot something on my test. Can I fix it?"

Ms. Dilmont shook her head. "Once your exam is turned in, it can't be changed. You know that, Duo."

I give a huge, theatrical sigh. "Thanks, Ms. Dilmont."

Slouching against the corridor wall, I consider skipping my other classes again, but decide it wasn't worth the hassle of explaining my absence for two days. Yesterday could be explained by the 'trauma' of the lab explosion, but I had no excuse for today.

I finally came to the conclusion that I didn't really have to worry about the exam grade during my last class. Ms. Dilmont didn't announce grades like some teachers, she only told students how many scored higher than they did if they wished to know.

I hid out in the back of the library, where I knew none of the other pilots would look for me and spent the evening doing my homework, then reading an old spy novel and snorting at the inconsistencies. I was generally enjoying myself and my free time. Finally, the library lights flickered, singling that lights out was in half an hour. So, I repacked my bookbag, and left the library building.

Entering my room, I grabbed my pajamas and headed straight for the bathroom, again ignoring Trowa. However, when I left the bathroom after completing my nightly ritual, Trowa blocked my exit.

"We're going to talk," he said, arms crossed over his chest. "There's a meeting, in Quatre's room. Let's go."

I debated with myself about going, then changing into my clothes, then gave a quick nod of my head. Pulling my boots on, sans socks, I grabbed a jacket and followed Trowa out of the window. We slid around the building, keeping to the shadows. Finally, we came to Heero and Quatre's room and Trowa tapped on the window three times.

The window slid open and we crawled through.

"We want to know what's going on," Heero said, without preamble.

"What do you mean?" I ask innocently, mentally raising my eyebrows at Trowa standing in front of the window and Wufei leaning against the door.

"You're acting strange," Wufei replied.

"Oh..." Running a hand through my bangs, I gave a large sigh. "I've just been having a bad couple of days. I didn't mean to take it out on you guys. Sorry!" I gave a wide, apologetic, totally fake (to me anyway) grin.

Quatre's eyebrows lowered slightly as he stared at me. "Are you sure that's all, Duo? Is anything bothering you?"

"What could be bothering me?" I ask, head tilted to one side.

Wufei snorted. "Nothing bothers Duo. His feelings don't run deep enough."

It's nice to see that my act works so well. Grinning madly, I nodded. "Ah, I knew you cared, Wu!"

"It's Wufei, Maxwell," the Chinese pilot replied, crossing his arms and glaring at me.

The next fifteen minutes were spent discussing the current missions and the school.

"So, is there anything else?" I asked during a lull in the conversation.

Heero, who had kept glancing at me during the conversation, shook his head. "That's it for now."

"Then, I'm going to bed. I'm bushed!" Turning, I made shooing motions towards Trowa, who did his eyebrow-raising trick and moved out of the way.

As soon as I was out of the room, I stalked through the shadowy night and back to my bed, where I threw off my boots, made a small grimace of the feel of them without socks, got into bed, and pulled my covers over my head. I was determined to get some sleep. A lot of sleep.

I ended up getting five hours. It wasn't that I couldn't get to sleep, it was the dreams. If I didn't have a nightmare coming up to bite me on the ass, it was a really erotic dream of Heero coming toward me with his 'die' look on his face, growling. And, let's just say it wasn't a 'big' death he was looking for.

Walking to gym class the next morning, not able to avoid it realistically anymore, a young woman, her long blonde hair done in pigtails tied in red ribbons, stepped into my path. "You, Duo Maxwell, are a cheater, and I'm going to prove it and show the whole school."

"Excuse me... Larene," I asked, finally remembering her name.

"The calculus test yesterday. I saw the results. You scored the highest in the class. Obviously, you cheated, taking my spot," the girl spat, her eyes narrowed.

I blanched. How the hell did she see the tests?

Taking my paleness as an admission of guilt, Larene nodded and continued, viscously, "When I'm done with you, You'll wish you were never born."

After Larene had stalked off, I continued on to gym class and entered the locker rooms, in a daze.

"Duo... How the hell...?" Trowa asked, causing me to pause in my changing of clothes.

I was confused. "What?"

"Oh, my!" Quatre said, his eyes wide as he stared at my now bare back.

That's when I remembered my injuries from the brawl. Shit shit shit shit shit. Grabbing my shirt and stuff, I threw the shirt over my shoulders and started to button it up as I ran away.

Not stopping till I reach my Gundam, I locked myself in the cockpit and tried to calm down. My world was crashing in on me. Soon, I'd be 'outed' as a plagiarist, and the other pilots would be after me for also having lots of unexplained wounds.

Fuck it. I grabbed a spare outfit I kept in the case under the seat and changed clothes. Twenty minutes later, I was off again, this time for another bar.

Entering the Shady Past, I snorted at the irony of the name and paused to let my eyes get accustomed to the darkness. Sliding soundlessly across the room, I ignored the many appreciative and few hostile stares I received, going straight for the bar.

"Cola," I ordered, putting a few bills on the table.

"You're not going to drink alcohol?" the bartender asked, not really caring.

I ignored the question. I could drink, I had the ID to prove my false age as being legal, but I never drank alcohol unless I was in a situation that I could relax totally in. Drinking made a person give up too much control.

Taking my drink, I sat in a corner where I could watch the whole bar, and waited. Sooner or later, my chance would come.

Four hours later, it happened. A woman, heavily made up and wearing almost nothing, was trying to get away from a man who had 'heavy petting' syndrome, since he was almost attached to her body. Throwing back the rest of my current soda, I stood up and glided over, tapping the man on the shoulder. "Hey, buddy, she said to leave her alone."

A growl was the only response I got as the man kept groping her, only letting go with one arm to grab the woman's wrist as she tried to smash a beer bottle on his head.

I laughed. "You call that a growl? I've heard puppies that were more frightening."

With that, the man stood up and pushed the woman away. Saying nothing, he threw a punch at my chin. I saw it coming a mile away and grinned as I ducked. Time to play.

"FIGHT!" someone yelled out. And, like magic, the room collapsed into chaos, people jumping up to clobber one another, others running for the doors or under the booth tables to escape the madness.

I look up from kneeing one of my opponents in the stomach to see Heero, half-hidden by his trenchcoat and the shadows he was standing in. Oh SHIT!

=====

"I'll let you into the secret in me
Just because I'm good at fooling you
When no one's around
I walk in your shoes."

"Duo," Heero said to me after gliding through the brawl. "We need to talk."

"Well, Heero," I replied, my clown's grin coming into place automatically. "Now is definitely not the time!" I sidestepped a screaming man and tripped him as he went by. Ignoring the thump he made as he hit a table, I picked up a chair and slammed it into the back of another fighter.

Seeing the reason for this fight sitting at the bar, calmly smoking a cigarette, I nodded to her and gave her a salute with my cap before I dodged a fist. Peering around me, I saw Heero had joined in, and was calmly knocking people unconscious.

I felt a bottle shatter against my upper arm and hissed in pain. Whirling around, I barely missed the broken bottle aimed at my face and kick the man in the groin. Ignoring the blood I felt starting to seep through my shirt, I went to Heero and yelled, "We gotta go, the cops will be here soon!"

Heero gave a slight nod and a twist of the lips in acknowledgement before turning towards the door leading out of the bar and fighting his way out. I calmly followed in the wake of Hurricane Heero and joined him outside the bar. "Great fight, right?" I asked after we had gone a block, grinning madly.

"Why?" Heero asked in reply.

"Why what?"

"Why do you keep going to places like that and join in on the fights?"

I inhaled sharply in surprise. "I... I don't know what you're talking about."

"Duo, this is the third bar I've watched you come to."

"You've been following me?!" I asked, angry.

"I was worried."

"Oh, so you wanted to make sure I wasn't endangering any of your missions? Well, I'm not. I am capable of keeping my mouth shut and a low profile."

"That's not it," Heero growled in reply, grabbing my upper arms and forcing me to look at him. Seeing the small wince I gave when he squeezed the cuts I had gotten tonight, Heero let go of my arms. "You're bleeding," he said, staring at his now bloody palm.

I gave a deep sigh. "We all bleed, Heero. Don't worry about it, it's just a small cut."

Ignoring my continuous protests, Heero pulled me back to the school and through the window of his dorm room.

Quatre looked up from the book he was reading by flashlight, a surprised and relieved look on his face when he saw me being pulled along after his roommate. "Duo?"

"Quatre, we need some privacy," Heero replied. "Go away."

"I... I see," Quatre said, obviously not understanding.

Knowing that I wouldn't get away when Heero was in this sort of mood, I waved a hand towards the window. "Why don't you go keep Trowa company?"

Quatre gave a brilliant smile at the idea. His smile disappeared, however, when he saw Heero return from their bathroom with the first aid kit. "Are you sure?"

"Go," Heero said. "And you," he added, pointing to me. "Off with the coat and shirt and on the bed."

"Heero, if you wanted me, you only had to ask!" I replied cheerfully, almost automatically.

Quatre snorted and shook his head before leaving through the window.

Heero pulled out the supplies he needed and tended to my wounds. He lightly traced one jagged scar that ran from my shoulder blade to two inches below my shoulder front. "How?"

I shrug. "Life."

"It's old. That's the only way it could be so faded."

I refused to meet Heero's eyes. "Yeah, you could say it's old." I grabbed a roll of gauze and started to efficiently wrap my upper arm, even using one hand.

"You've done that before," Heero stated.

I ignored the remark and tore the bandage loose from the roll with my teeth. Holding the gauze on my upper arm in place with the hand of my unhurt arm, I grabbed the medical tape and taped the bandage in place. Then, I cut off the section of the gauze that had been in my mouth. No need for anyone to get an infection.

"I'd say you've done that recently in fact," Heero added, poking the heeling cuts on my other arm.

"Yeah, well, I decided I needed a matching set," I replied, grinning madly.

Heero growled. "Stop it."

"What?" I asked, looking all-innocent.

"Stop acting as if you're an airhead."

"But Heero..." I fluttered my eyelashes. "I am an airhead!"

Heero snorted before looking pensive. "I didn't put it together totally until today."

I stare at the other pilot, eyes wide. "What are you talking about?"

"You always insisting on deleting your school records, even if it was more efficient for me to. Little things you know, like the chemical symbol for potassium. No where on the vial was the word 'potassium' or a warning. Just the element's symbol."

"So?" I was getting nervous.

"The fact that you aced your calculus exam yesterday without studying and on almost no sleep. You keep hiding in the library."

I jumped. "How did you figure that out?"

"I looked through your file, then I asked around. Finally found a few students who saw you there last night." Grabbing my chin, Heero looked directly in my eyes before continuing. "You're using the joker to hide the true you. It's going to stop."

I laughed. "What are you talking about?"

"I want to get to know the real Duo Maxwell," Heero replied, looking serious.

I let all pretenses fall and glared. "You won't like him. People only like me when I'm a joker."

"Yes, I like the joker," Heero said, putting pressure on the hold he still had on my chin when I tried to pull away. "But, from the glimpses I've gotten of the serious Duo, I like him too. Stop pretending, Duo. Be yourself."

"What if I can't?" I whispered, scared.

Heero ran his thumb across my cheek. "I'll help. We'll all help. Just, don't shut us out. When you hide behind the joker, you shut us out."
=====

"What if I can't?" he asked.

I ran my thumb across his cheek, "I'll help. We'll all help. Just, don't shut us out. When you hide behind the joker, you shut us out."

He nodded, probably as much as could with how I held his face in my hand. I gave him a slight smile, then leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek before resting my forehead against his. "Good."

He turned his head away when I released his chin, and stared in fascination at the wall. "So, now what?"

Sighing internally, I gently pushed him onto the mattress. I was rewarded with the sight of Duo's head whipping around to face me, his eyes wide. "You sleep."

"I don't think I can." His voice was barely audible.

"Sleep."

"Stay till I do?"

I gave a quick nod before pulling the spare blanket over him. I watched as he turned on one side and curled into himself, a slight grimace on Duo's face as he pulled on his wounds. Sitting on Quatre's bed with my back against the wall. I stared at the enigma that was my friend.

I had known there was more to Duo than what he let me...us see. He's too good of a pilot to be nothing more than the joker he pretends to be, but I have to wonder how much he hides from me and the other pilots

Still staring at the enigma now asleep on my bed, I came to the decision that Duo might open up more to me if he could also be himself, his real self, in front of the other pilots. With that decision made I headed for Duo's room and at least two of the other pilots.

I kept to the shadows in the hall, not wanting to be noticed by the hall monitor or any insomniac students. I could hear Quatre talking softly as I used Duo’s key to enter his and Trowa’s room.

“And I was ordered here… Heero!” Quatre exclaimed, turning towards me as I shut the door behind me. “How’s Duo?”

“Physically, he'll be fine. He’s asleep,” I replied as I locked the door.

Wufei frowned. “Physically?”

“He’s been hiding from people,” I replied, growling mentally not able to explain Duo’s problems well.

“How do you mean?” Quatre asked, concerned.

I turned to the blonde pilot. “Instead of showing us what he’s really feeling, he pretends to be happy. When it gets too much, he goes to a bar.”

Wufei looked thoughtful, then nodded. “Sex or fighting?”

“Fighting. He sits in a corner, drinks soda, and waits for a fight to start.”

“But why couldn't he trust us? We’re his friends!” Quatre was obviously upset.

I shrugged, not having an answer.

But, Trowa did. “People get comfortable within their masks and forget how to function without them.”

“So, we show Maxwell he doesn't need to hide from us,” Wufei stated.

I nodded, agreeing with the Chinese pilot’s solution.

The conversation continued for a few minutes after that, but nothing important to our missions or our lives was being discussed, so I stood up. “Quatre, you sleep here. We'll switch rooms back tomorrow.”

I stalked back to my room and got ready for bed. Finally, I stood over Duo, who was still fast asleep on his side.

It became a habit for me to watch Duo sleep each night when we shared quarters. It was a compulsion I didn't understand or want, which was the major reason I had assigned Duo to another room at this school.

But, without Duo's presence and my nightly ritual of watching him sleep, I had trouble falling asleep. What was it about this person that kept me fascinated?

My introspection was cut short by a small, barely heard whimper. Focusing back onto Duo, I noticed his forehead was slightly creased, and his hands clenched on the sheets. I should have known this would happen. Another one of his nightmares.

Luckily for the missions, he never screams or thrashes about, only grimaces and goes tense. I wouldn't have known he even had nightmares if we hadn't been forced to share a bed one mission and I was woken up because of the slight change his fingers caused on the sheets. I reached over and softly ran my fingers across his scalp and cheek like all the other times since that night I had found him in a nightmare, telling him softly that he was all right. I still don't understand why I've never just shaken him awake instead of soothing him back into a restful sleep.

His nightmares are what started me thinking there was more to Duo than a joking mouth and his ability to pilot a Gundam. I still didn't know what had happened in his past to cause him to hide behind his smiling shell or to have so many nightmares, but I kept finding myself wishing I could make it all go away. And, that scared me. I wasn't used to being scared.

Seeing that Duo's nightmare had ended, I turned on my heel and stalked to my bed, determined to get at least the minimum amount of rest needed to function in normal parameters.

=====

I snapped awake as I always do and surveyed the room. Finding the other bed unoccupied and made, I gave an internal sigh and got up, intent on locating Duo.

The dorm room door opened, interrupting my hurried dressing, and Quatre entered.

"Heero... Where's Duo?"

"I'm about to find out." With that, I strode out of the dorm room, leaving a worried Quatre behind.

My first stop was Duo and Trowa's room. A quick reconnaissance showed that while he had left the majority of his gear behind, the American pilot had taken the items he valued. Knowing the other pilot couldn't be very far ahead, I hurried to where Deathscythe was hidden.

Seeing Duo up ahead, only a few feet from his Gundam, I broke into a run and tackled the braided idiot.

Duo struggled against my hold. The only result was Duo pinned to the ground on his back under me.

“You can’t leave.”

Eyes flashing, Duo growled. “Watch me.”

“You leave, I’ll shoot you out of the sky with Wing.”

“Would you really shoot me?” Duo asked, looking shocked.

I stared back, my usual stony mask in place.

Nodding, Duo pushed against my arms and knees experimentally, trying half-heartedly to get free. “Figured as much. Now, get off me.”

“You can’t leave.”

“We’ve already established that you won’t do what it takes to stop me,” Duo said with a sigh.

Knowing I had a trump card, I played it. “I’ve taken Deathscythe’s navigational chip.” After making my statement, I rolled off of the other pilot and stood up.

“You bastard!” Duo yelled as he scrambled to his feet. “You have no right!”

“I have every right,” I replied calmly, not fazed. “You’re running, and you don’t have to. Not from me, not from the others, but especially not from me.”

“But that’s what I do. I run and I hide!” Duo exclaimed, throwing his arms over his head before resting his hands on his hips.

“But, you never lie. And, you’re lying; you’ve been lying. Stop it.”

His shoulders slumped as his hands slipped off his hips. His chin fell to his chest as he whispered, “How am I lying?”

“Every time you smiled and said you were fine when you weren’t, every time you babbled about the inconsequentials to cover up the fact that you were hurting, you lied.”

Backing away from me for distance, Duo braced himself against a tree and then proceeded to slide down it. "I wasn't lying, I was avoiding the truth," he said.

I stayed where I was. "And there's a difference?" I asked.

He didn't look up at me when he answered. "We all hide things. You, Trowa, and Wufei hide your emotions unless someone knows what they're looking for. Quatre, he hides behind them. We all hide things. What difference does it make?"

"We don't go looking for a fight..."

Interrupting before I could finish, Duo yelled, "I'm not going to blow our cover or endanger the mission! I'm not that stupid!"

Idiot. I shook my head. "I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about you. And, so are the others."

Duo looked up at me when I said that. The look in his eyes wasn't distinguishable, the feelings behind them conflicted. He only asked, in a voice that was so quiet, "Why?"

"You're too good a pilot to jeopardize the mission," I replied, deliberately misinterpreting the question.

Duo shook his head. "No, not endangering the mission... Why are you worried about me?"

Looking the other pilot directly in the eyes, I gave the partial truth. "You're our friend." Silently, I added, 'and you're one of the few things that make my life worth living.'

Duo looked up at me again. "I don't know what to do," he said.

"Come back to the school with me," I told him. "We'll figure it out."

I watched as he stared up at the canopy of leaves above us. Several moments passed in silence before he sighed. “All right.”

“Let’s go,” I replied as I held out a hand to help him up. After giving his hand a small squeeze, I let him go and turned to lead him back towards the school.

“So, Heero,” Duo asked as he caught up to me, a small duffel bag over his shoulder. “What’s on the agenda for today? No school. Missions? Intel gathering?”

“Talking.” I had to forcefully stop the quirk my lips were trying to make.

“You want to talk?” Duo stared at me incredulously, barely side-stepping the tree in his path.

I didn’t reply. The rest of the trip was silent and we were soon at the door to Duo’s dorm room. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Duo heard the voices of the other pilots in the room. After squaring his shoulders, Duo pushed his way through the almost closed door.

=====

"I'm smiling, while dying to you
I'm smiling, while lying to you
If you only knew."

He wanted to talk. I think I must have hit a tree on our way back to the dorm. That was the one of the few logical explanations for my current hallucination. Heero Yuy does not chat.

Contemplating the theory that I had stepped into another reality kept my mind off my current situation until I heard the soft murmurs of Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei's voices through the cracked open door. Taking a deep breath, I gathered my courage and entered.

Silence.

I blinked at the three faces staring at me. Even Trowa looked concerned, which means I must have really scared them.

Dropping my duffel bag into a corner, I moved out of the doorway and gave a rueful grin. Reaching up to rub the back of my head, I said, after wincing from the cuts on my shoulder, "Umm... I'm sorry?"

"Are you all right?" Wufei asked, his voice soft.

Stopping my automatic reply that everything was fine, I took a deep breath and let it out, directing the forced air to ruffle my bangs. "Not really. But, I'll be all right."

=====
The end!

comet's note: Whine! I wanted more! I know there's more to this story, I've read the snippets. Nin says sequel. Time to start pestering her again. Hm...maybe I'll pester her on her other stories too...More than Dark, or something in the Shadow series, or there's always that series where Duo can't talk, or the life rules series, or the ferret series...Boy! For someone who told me she didn't want to write series, she's got a bunch of them :) Hi Nin! <eg>

And, end notes from Ninjababe: Sorry for the shortness of the last part. But, Duo decided to end it there.

More in the sequel!