9-8-2002

Title: Skin Is Like Paper
Warnings: Angst, (I think it qualifies, anyway. Maybe not.) icky bloody cuts, maaaajor OOC, lots and lots of lovely language (you know what type I mean!) erm, and hints of 1+2. Well, not hints. Maybe a little something more... >_<
Note: Oh! And please know that this has NOT, in any way, shape, or form, been beta-ed. Do NOT place any blame on poor Wordsmith for this.

 

As soon as Heero and I had got back from the latest mission, I'd headed to my room. I'd avoided all the other pilots, slipping silently into my room at the end of the hallway. I really hadn't wanted them to see what I looked like. I was thin from malnutrition and I had bruises and cuts all over me... I hadn't even spared time to clean up. I'd been there ever since, working to get past the pretty impressive OZ firewall.

I get up off the bed, laying my black laptop down in front of me. I'd started overheating with the blanket covering me and the laptop producing so much heat.

Stretching a bit, I cautiously opened my door and looked out into the hallway, yellow light pooling onto the dark floors. No other light was out there to join it. I sighed, unaccountably saddened. I'd hoped that someone else would be up when I was, maybe... I don't know. It just would've made me feel better.

Making my way softly down the hall, stepping just right to avoid the creaky floorboards, I passed Heero and Wufei's shared room. Lights off... Door open, though... I didn't bother peeking in.

I continued out to the living room, vision adjusting right about the time I got there. I preferred the light though, so I switched it on. I headed into the bathroom, and as I passed the mirror I dropped my head a bit and prepared myself for what I must look like.

When my gaze met the mirror, I wanted to be sick. My face was gaunt, all bones... I had several large cuts: two on my forehead, one on my cheek and another on my chin. They were dark with dried blood, and one on my forehead, right above my eyebrow actually, was still seeping a bit. Under my eyes and all around them was practically black with fatigue, plus I had huge bags under them... I also had some ugly bruises... Most of them were ordinary, not-so-bad purple ones, but a couple were green. It only served to heighten the impression of a zombie.

I couldn't help it. Sighing, I turned the other way, back into the living room. I spotted the remains of what must've been the guys dinner tonight; Quatre had made rice with some sort of vegetable stir fry... Spotting a Dr. Pepper on the table, I hesitated. It wasn't healthy... Not good... But, dammit! I unhurriedly made my way to the table and picked up my prize. A single shake told me all I needed to know; empty. Damn... Why was I denied? I laughed to myself. It's only a fucking Dr. Pepper!

Shaking my head fiercely, I realized I shouldn't be allowing myself time for this break. I should be back, working on my laptop, retrieving mission data and making as much trouble for OZ, hacking into their systems as I could...

Walking silently through the house, back to my room, on instinct I glanced into Wufei and Heero's room. The blinds on one of the windows was open, I noticed, wondering why I hadn't seen it earlier. I stopped, staring in.

Glaring blue eyes met my gaze, and I almost flinched.

I'm a fool. A goddamn baka, like he says.

I cheerily waved a hand at him, then moved on down the hallway. Back to my room. Back to the laptop. Back to the mission.

I sat down, popping my knuckles, back, and neck, prepared to work. Suddenly I felt a dull ache in my back. Oh shit, not that... Not that... I think I whimpered a bit.

Backaches aren't too common with me, but when I get them - I get them bad. I think it comes from one of my worse injuries, but I can't really remember which one. I've had a lot of them.

The pain pills I usually take are in the bathroom; I hesitate over whether to go back get them or not. No, I think, I don't want Heero to look at me that way again... Contemptuous... Plus, I continue analyzing, Quatre and Trowa are right across the hall from me... And I know how much of a mother hen Q can be - if he hears me, sees me in this condition, I'll never hear the end of it.

My back continues aching, and, in a rare compromise, I slip on some headphones, so I can listen to music while I send viruses and delete recordings of the gundam pilot's presence. I giggled a bit. Dammit, it's funny!

Shortly, I make a list of music. My choices include Dir En Grey, Pierrot, Gackt, Malice Mizer, and Japan X. Hell, Heero was the one who got me interested in that stuff; all indirectly of course.

I return to my work, sighing as data streams endlessly down the screen. I've called for all the information - ALL, mind you, - from Old Randolph, the base Heero and I just paid a visit to. Well, not exactly called. It's taken me hours; six I think, to get past Oz's firewall. Pre-tty damn good networking guy they have over there. Only, I'm better.

All the records are online - not accessible to the general public, mind you, but online. Why? Cause they've got to have some sort of network, to feed data to other bases... They have firewalls, but try using those to stop networking geek extraordinaire, Duo Maxwell! Heh. So here I am. Watching ALL the goddamned data from Old Randolph scroll by. Every bit, from how much they pay the janitors to Gundam sightings.

The gundam sightings, of course, being my top priority. Although, it would be nice to know how much a janitor made, in case I wanted a summer job. I laughed, this time. So lame, Maxwell...

Granted, there's not much left of the base - smoking rubble, last time I checked - but... They had a backup data server, just as I suspected. I'm trying to do this with finesse, get the right records and destroy them, but I'm not finding them. They're either too well disguised or impossibly encrypted. I groan a bit.

I crack my knuckles again, then pop my back, grimacing a bit. However, the tenseness doesn't go away like it usually does; it only returns tenfold. Shit, it hurts.

Alright, what should I do now...? A small beeping sound coming from my laptop makes me look down, and I curse. Loudly. In several languages.

Someone is attempting to upload all the data. I can't let them do that; however... I need to destroy it, even if they do learn of my presence.

I enter several commands to the backup mainframe, hoping against all hope that they will be recognised, valid commands... They usually worked... Most of the time anyway.

Yes! Thank god, they were! The server began dumping all the information gained within the last 24-hour period.

I laughed, maniacally, picturing the poor OZ bastard, expecting to find everything intact, and there to be recordings of the gundams that destroyed the base, maybe even some analysis on their weaknesses - then he loads everything up, and "everything's" there - just not the last entry. The most important one. Grinning from ear to ear, I lean back against the pillow propped against the wall. Oh, god... I moan, softly, then embarrassedly cover my mouth.

Yes, it felt good though.. So fucking good... I closed my eyes, barely able to keep them open, Gackt's 'Death Wish' playing in my ears. The knots felt like they weren't exactly releasing themselves.. but they were soothed. Since I was sitting cross-legged anyway, I leaned my hands on my knees and pushed myself backwards into the pillow, opting for a minute of comfort. Mmmm... You have no idea how it feels, till your back aches that fucking badly...

I slipped my hands behind me, under my shirt, making fists and attempting to massage the huge knot of tension there. I opened my eyes in surprise when I found out how hot my back was... My face, too.... I glanced at my hands. They were practically pink! What the hell was going on here?!

I unfolded my legs, and stretched them, putting them off the edge of the bed and feeling some of the heat leaving my body. I laid down completely, feeling my back relax. I got up quickly, though, alarmed at how much time I'd spent 'relaxing'.

Looking on the screen of my laptop, I noticed that the intruder had left the system. I grinned, mouthing the words 'Maybe next time, bitch' as I closed the hacking program I used and considered what to do next. Hell. I glanced at the small clock on my bedside table; it read 2:30 AM. Shiiit... Last time I'd checked, it had been 1:27. Damn...

For a second, I almost heard someone getting up, but dismissed it as insignificant. I had to be hearing things. I did that when it was late at night; I'd heard voices occasionally... Now, I wasn't crazy or anything, it was just.. I mean, stress, you know? So late and all...

I felt my eyes closing slowly, and I resisted. I couldn't help it though, so I resignedly pulled off the headphones, and turned off the music.

I would deal with everything in the morning.

That said, I shut down my beautiful lappy and closed it, taking a second to admire the custom job I'd given it. It was a tad bigger than most, since I'd gotten a mod case... Well, ok, not a mod case - I wasn't sure they sold those for laptops - but a bigger one than most. I'd bought another laptop just for the housing, and taken the parts out, and ordered new ones to my satisfaction. It was a bit of a project, since at the time I didn't know a damned thing about laptops - but I knew now.

I pushed it under the bed, not wanting anyone to see it. I couldn't help it... It's just... I'm a little defensive about things...

I crawled into bed happily, sighing with pleasure as my abused back touched the cool sheets. I almost melted, I swear I might've, if I wasn't so fucking tired...

---

I woke up alert, with my shirt off. Grinning, I thought 'It figures.' I'd been known to throw clothing off in the middle of the night... Wake up the next morning and not remember doing it.

My skin was still flushed, though, I noted, frowning, returning to 'serious-mode'. Did I have a fever or something?

Sighing, I closed my eyes, and began rubbing soothing patterns on my stomach. Absent-mindedly, I scratched a huge scab that was itching badly... Scab?! I jerked my eyes open and looked at my stomach. Bruises and dried blood. It was sickening... Some of the wounds were too big to scab over, and they were still sluggishly leaking fluids... Most were nasty, deep cuts... Goddammit. I started gagging, but managed to keep it down. Fine, fine, fine... It was all fine. Nothing was wrong - Goddamn you fool you forgot the dressings you forgot - I cut off the hysteria. Not now.

I followed some of the scabs with my fingers and realized they were a pattern... A pattern... Oh yeah. I hazily remembered why. A couple days ago, it had happened. How had I not noticed, last night? I was supposed to put some gauze on, something! The first time back to medical supplies in... awhile, and you spent it hacking! I paused, suddenly. It was a good thing I hadn't remembered. If I had, that OZ bitch might've actually gained access to the recordings of our gundams destroying Old Randolph...

I look down again, forcing myself to take note of everything. The skin around some of the scabs, when not covered by old blood, was red and angry. I finally snorted. Dear God, I needed a shower... What time was it? 9:30... 30 minutes after Quatre usually wakes me up. I abstractly wondered why he hadn't bothered today.

Shrugging, I pushed the bloody covers back... Damn! They were spotted pretty heavily in some places... I wadded them up in my hand, then and unsteadily stood, blinking my eyes at all the sunlight. I shoved the sheet under my bed.

Quatre must have come in! He always opened the blinds for me...

Perplexed, I walked out my room, barely remembering to throw on a black (hides blood) shirt, towards our shiny kitchen, where I observed my favorite G-boys hanging out. Eating without me. Without me?! What was going on?

I gave a startled exclamation and hurried towards the table. Wufei was reading the paper, Trowa was nursing his coffee, Heero was on his laptop and Quatre was still eating.

Everyone's gaze snapped up, I faltered a bit under such intense scrutiny. It took me a few seconds, but I threw my attitude into alignment, and pouted, "Quatre!!!!" I wailed. Quatre flinched. He knows he's in trouble when I actully use his given name.

"Why didn't you save me any breakfast?!" I drew out the syllables at the end of each word, smirking to myself when I saw the other pilots tense up in annoyance. Good, right, good 'ole normal Duo Maxwell! Acting his usually annoying self!

Quatre wasn't answering me, he seemed transfixed by my face.

"What?" I snapped, finally getting angry, "What the hell is wrong?"

Voice filled with pain, Quatre whispered, "Oh Duo... Heero told me it was bad... but..."

I sighed, thinking, he's absolutely fucking gonna freak if he sees my chest or back.

I shrugged. "No big deal, k? 'Cept all the girlies will be scared off now, ne?" I winked at him, then sat down in the only empty chair - in-between him and Heero.

The silence was still a bit tense, so I waggled my fingers at Quat and asked him if there was anything to eat or drink around here...

Everyone pretty much loosened up after that, figuring if I was hungry then everything was all ok. They all went back to what they'd been doing, and Quatre brought me a couple of doughnuts and a glass of milk, so I hugged him. After I pulled away, I almost started munching, but he made a small, scared sound, so I glanced back at him.

Oh, shit.

The blood had already soaked through my black shirt... Pretty much unnoticeable, but on Quatre's pastels, it was readily apparent.

I made a small, shushing gesture, praying Heero or any one of the others hadn't seen it.

Heero's eyes were intently fixed on me. He hadn't seen it, right? I blocked his view of Quatre... His rough voice interrupted my illusions, as well as caught Wufei and Trowa's attention.

"Why the hell are you bleeding?"

I wanted to snicker. Obviously, it was because... "No big deal, I just forgot to wrap a few cuts..." I soothed, unwilling for them to see what was under my shirt yet.

Trowa spoke up quietly, for the first time. "Duo, it is a big deal... Please... Let us take care of it. We're your... friends. Please."

I grinned at him, then shrugged. "Look, Tro-man, just 'cause I forgot a little something doesn't mean I need to drag you all into it... You expect me to get into a fight and not get cut up a bit?"

Wufei dropped the newspaper on the table. His voice was slow, leisurely, "I think we should be the judge of that..."

Paste a grin on... "Look-"

Quatre laid a light hand on my wrist. "Duo!" His eyes were wide with worry, "Please, we need to see. If you're hurt, we can help you..."

I laughed, a tad bit hysterically I think. "Look! I just need to get to my room - and clean them up. That's it. I forgot, I'll go do it now." I rise from the table, about to leave, when Heero grips my shoulder tightly. I flinch, a little, as he's grabbed one of the still bleeding spots.

He pulls his hand away, suddenly, disgusted by the faint squish of blood. He turns his fingers up, observing them, fascinated by the sight of red on them.

Turning my back on them, I'm stopped again, with his hand. This time though, he's picked a better spot. I let a puff of air escape my lips, annoyed. "What is all this about?" I ask slightly scornfully, turning around to look each pilot straight in the eyes. I wasn't buying this.

Heero's voice was quiet, but full of promised menace. "Duo. Take off your shirt."

I goggled at him. No way!

His grip tightened, and I glared up at him. No way. No fucking w-

Before I knew it, he'd let go of my shoulder and grabbed at the bottom of my shirt. Unprepared, I stood defenseless as he ripped it upwards, tearing at a few of my scabs and re-opening them. Fuck. I wrapped my bare arms self consciously around myself, keeping my gaze to the floor.

There was a slightly horrified silence.

It's quiet; too quiet, I thought darkly, then proudly snapped my head up, determined not to let them get to me.

Everyone had a disgusted look on their face, even Trowa, and I felt a little something die inside when I saw Heero with the same look on his face. So much for friendship.

I turned around, exposing my torn back and made ready to go - hell, who was I kidding? - flee, when Quatre's feather-light touch on my arm stopped me.

"What?" I asked, tired of it all by now.

"W-why didn't you say something? Why... We could've helped you! You could've died last night!" He stammers a bit, unused to seeing things like this. I mean, sure, he's seen lots of violence... But... It's all been clean violence. Nothing that was deliberately inflicted on a person... Or that could hurt so much.

"Honestly, Q... These aren't from last night... They're a few days old, actually..." I smile brightly, continuing, "I was goddamned tired..." I ran a hand through my hair, then kept going, "Plus, I still have to record it. Haven't gotten around to it yet..." This was pathetic... Still trying to act like nothing was wrong.

Wufei eloquently raised a brow, inviting an explanation. I smirked at him. I gestured down to my sliced up chest. Might as well give an explanation. Goddamn you, Heero. I glanced over at him, but he was still gazing at the bloody black rag he held in his hands. I turned my attention back to the present.

"My contact did that," I said, remembering with a slight smile, "He wouldn't trust the information any other way."

Quatre's eyes were bugging out and I couldn't blame him.

Everyone had those disgusted looks on their faces again, and I shrugged slightly. "The body's just like a piece of paper... You write on it... No one's gonna pay attention to cuts..."

I turned around and left the room for good, cursing because I knew I'd told them too much. I'd probably lost the only real friends I'd had... Well,
since...

---

A horrified silence prevailed at the table before anyone broke it.

"That bastard!" Wufei growled, "That fucking bastard!"

Trowa nodded, voicing his disgust by saying, "How could anyone do that to another human being? How?"

Quatre looked at his hands and nodded, feeling just as much anger as the others. He'd never seen anything so - cowardly - in his entire life...

Heero's blazing eyes were intently fixed on his laptop, and occasionally, his fists would clench.

"He's not... Not a 'piece of paper'..." Quatre slowly forced out.

Heero stood up abruptly, pushing his chair back so suddenly it toppled over. His fists were completely balled up, and he was white-knuckled.

"Heero..."

No one was sure who issued the statement of concern, but it didn't phase Heero in the least.

"I have to go talk to him. Make him see." He ground out the last part, angry beyond anything.

"Don't... Don't do anything sudden." Was all Wufei volunteered, staring at the table as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world.

Heero made no reply as he left the room, to seek out Duo.

---

I shut the door to my room and rested my head on it, briefly, enjoying the coolness of it.

Not time for that... Time to get to work, dammit!

I hastily pulled myself together, and got out a camera from one of my 'emergency-do-not-unpack-ever!' bags. I figured this qualified - after all, it was a mission. I frowned. Or at least crucial information. He hadn't been too specific, too terrified at the prospect of getting caught, too elated at the prospect of my skin - my skin, laid out before him...

Roughly closing my eyes, I fought down a wave of nausea. Couldn't think about him, no, not that whining little man, too sick, too sick... He had his fantasies too, did anyone know? Just a fucking sadist, another one in the skin of a worm, another sadist, you know the type.

Too well. I barked a short laugh, one with more pain than joy, and I busied myself with setting the camera up at the right height, the right angle, the right amount of light... I experimented, pulling my blinds up and down till I achieved it.

A short knock sounded at my door, and I jumped, almost dropping the camera. Heart racing, I stared. Not so fine, are ya, ya little bastard? Enjoyed time with your sadist, ya know you're such a whore. You're not fine.

A dry, rough sob was ripped out of me and I swallowed before croaking, "Come in."

As soon as I said it, the door practically flew open, revealing the one and only Heero Yuy.

I couldn't help it; I flinched.

His eyes flew over my shirtless condition, assessing everything, damage, bruises, drying blood... He noted the camera in my nerveless fingers and stepped forward, softly plucking it from my hands.

"I'll do it." He whispered to me, and I could do was nod gratefully.

All in all, I think he took about 12 or 13 pictures, some close-ups, some far-offs, in case the pattern was meant to be seen as a whole.

When he was done, I thanked him and headed to my bathroom. Yes, I had a separate bathroom for once. Someone had finally taken all the not-so-subtle hints about how long it took me to wash me hair and get ready...

I glanced back, expecting Heero to be gone, but instead of leaving like a good little boy scout, he was following me, to add insult to injury! Heh. The statement was more accurate than I had first realized. It was my room though, goddammit.

Unnerved, I walked into the bathroom, definitely expecting him to be gone by this time. He was disgusted with me, wasn't he? But, he just followed me in, and he gestured at my chest, saying, "I'll...take care of those for you."

My eyes went impossibly wide and I must have stuttered some sort of response, because he went to the tub and turned the water on, putting the stopper in so it would fill.

Time passed quickly, and I contented myself with gazing at his profile, sitting on the edge of the tub, one hand on a water knob.

A sudden squeak alerted me to the fact that the 'bath' was done - damn knobs always squeaked! - and I stared at him as he gestured to the tub.

"In." He said in a monotone.

I shook my head. "Really, Heero, I'm fine! I can do this myself! Really."

He stared at me a second, probably measuring me up, seeing if I could, when he abruptly grabbed me around middle on a relatively undamaged patch of skin, and dumped me in.

The resulting splash overflowed from the tub, getting him all wet. I spluttered for a second, then noticed his dripping form.

Oh shit, shit, you're in for it now, goddamn Maxwell he's actually gonna fucking kill you! Oh god!

His burning eyes swept up to meet mine, and I noticed his mouth was turned up a bit, at one corner. He was... SMILING?! Damn. I rubbed my eyes. It boggles the mind... Yuy...smiling... It actually made him look kind of... cute. I realized.

The expression widened on his face... Then he pulled out the scrub brush.

OH SHIT! I backed away into a corner of the tub, knees to my chest, straining the material of my wet jeans.

"Dishonorable, Yuy! A deceiving tactic! A diversion!" I alternately babbled and wailed, sounding more and more like Wufei. Well, except for that whole wailing bit, that is.

If anything, his 'slight smile' was now a full fledged grin. "Expect the unexpected," He quoted mildly, then moved in on me with the brush.

---

Warm... Comforting... I curled up in my blanket, feeling good and clean for once... My hands were somewhat tangled in my hair, I sleepily noted, but dismissed it to be of no consequence.

It should be wrong, I thought, vaguely surprised, to be this comfortable. I shifted slightly. The pillow was so soft... The blankets were warm... I snuggled into the covers, feeling wonderful. And I had Yuy to thank, I hazily remembered. Yuy... He was rather... Kawaii... At times, wasn't he? Too tired and happy to disagree, I felt a smile softly curve over my lips. He was.

---

When I awoke later, I was alone in an unfamiliar room. What? I sat up quickly, then grimaced as my wounds made themselves known to me. But where was I?

The room looked almost empty, save for a few meager, standard-issue items placed on a cabinet top. A laptop - wait! My laptop graced a desk in the far corner. Another bed was exactly opposite mine. I warily looked around, wondering what else of mine had been placed in here. I spotted my bags... All my stuff was neatly placed on the floor beside the bed.

I sighed. What was this? Why had I been moved to a different room? I assumed I was still in Quatre's house...

A small sound, perhaps like the shifting of cloth on cloth, startled me. I involuntarily sucked in a breath and glanced towards the door, where I'd heard the noise from. No one was there. Perplexed, I frowned, tucking a strand of loose hair behind my ear. I smiled faintly, pleased at the smooth texture and feeling of overall cleanliness... Had Heero washed my hair? I couldn't remember.

"Duo."

The cool voice sounded right beside my bed. Forcing myself to calm my wildly beating heart, I looked over at Heero.

"What was that all about?" I asked, raising a brow. So the noise had been him... He was pretty quiet, I had to admit. Maybe almost as quiet as me.

He didn't answer. I took the time to observe him a bit, noting the absence of the usual black and green ensemble. What had happened? He always wore his spandex and tanktop...

"Heero? Why am I here?"

He inscrutably looked down at me. "Your bed was not fit for sleeping in... Quatre thought I should stay in here, as well. To look after you."

He didn't sound too pleased with that... Heh. I was probably taking time away from whatever else it was he did when I wasn't here. Plus, I bet he'd enjoyed rooming with Wufei. He wasn't loud or annoying... Sigh.

"Oh." I answered, sure that my voice reflected my disappointment - disappointment in getting a roommate who couldn't care less about how I felt. He only wanted to make sure that I would be patched up, well enough for the next little assignment that happened on by.

I smiled up at him, though my heart really wasn't in it. "Thanks, Heero."

He looked a bit taken aback, obviously not expecting any form of thanks from Duo Maxwell. He inclined his head gravely. "You are welcome."

Leaning back into bed, I darted a glance at my laptop. What did they think about it? I really did want to know. On another level, I was pissed that they'd found me out, but that level was buried deep under the soft, soothing presence of...

"You drugged me."

His eyes narrowed, and I could just see him wondering how I'd figured it out so quickly. It was a hell of an unobtrusive drug, very low-key...

I shrugged. "Dammit Heero, what the hell was that for? What does it even do? I'm not gonna get addicted, am I?" A tinge of fear went through me, thinking about the last option. Oh, no. I'd been there, done that, as they say. It's not pretty.