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Not As Strong
A Soldiers and Fools Story
June AC 200
By LoneWolf (kodoku na okami)

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COMMENTS: This one is an emotional roller coaster. It is the sequel to "Soldiers and Fools" part 15. It was inspired by a song I love and hate -- and that song isn't "Misery", though I borrowed a bit of that too.

WARNINGS: angst, yaoi, angst, Biblical allusions (Duo *is* nominally Catholic), did I mention angst?

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The sky was so blue.

When he looked straight up the blue reminded him of Heero's eyes.

Duo's gaze fell. He stared west over the Nile, the sun flashing bright off the water. It hurt his eyes. That's why they were watering. He sighed. "Quit lying to yourself, Duo," he mumbled. "Lying's what got you here in the first place."

His mind was not on the river before him. It was on another body of water miles behind him. Sister Helen said it took the hand of God to part the Red Sea. But it just took my mouth and a tiny lie to separate us. God! How could I have been so stupid?

The sand kept slipping through his fingers.

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The China coast routes had settled down after another month and they had decided to take a vacation together, a kind of honeymoon -- that had been Heero's word for it. Duo had smiled when he said it, but kept the laugh inside. Heero had been serious. Heero was always serious when they were in bed together, even when he was making hentai puns. This had not been a hentai pun.

Egypt seemed like a nice place for a vacation/honeymoon. Neither of them had been there before, so it promised to be different and exciting. They almost called Quatre, who would have gladly given them the run of one of his estates, but instead decided to be ordinary tourists. Quatre's places were always nice, but they both got tired of all the servants trailing around behind them.

They had booked a decent hotel, nothing too fancy. When they arrived, late in the evening, they found the only room available had two twin beds. Heero was concerned about them trying to squeeze into a twin together. The last time they had done that he had been certain he was going to fall off the bed during the night -- and it didn't leave much room for ... other things, but Duo told him not to worry. Once in the room, Duo moved the bedside table and pushed the beds together. Heero smiled that little smile, then smirked. Duo grinned and began unbuttoning Heero's jeans. Heero's fingers moved through Duo's hair, untwining the braid. They could unpack later.

Duo woke the next morning, purring softly. It was one of those odd things he'd never done until the morning he'd opened his eyes to find himself in Heero's arms and that deep, warm blue waiting for him. He couldn't explain how he did it. It just happened whenever he was holding Heero or being held by Heero or sometimes even when he was simply near Heero. Heero loved it.

He lay there for a moment, just feeling. Heero's head on his chest, a gentle weight, the soft texture of Heero's hair against his skin. One of his hands rested at the small of Heero's back, the other between Heero's shoulder and jaw. Heero had pulled a bit of Duo's hair next to his face so he could breathe the soft, cinnamon scent. Heero had become addicted to the fragrance, as Duo was to the soft cordite tang that always hung close around Heero's body. Duo liked mornings when they were simply together, holding each other. He felt Heero's head lift and Heero's body move against his. He opened his eyes to Heero's "contented" expression and smiled. Heero always remembered what Duo wanted to see first in the morning.

Heero lowered his head back onto Duo's chest and they lay in silence -- save the soft purr. Half an hour passed before Duo started them talking about their plans for the day, the tour, the places they'd see. Then Heero looked at him again and asked the fateful question.

"Did you love Hilde?"

He asked it casually, as if he were asking, "Would you like toast for breakfast?", but Duo was stunned by the words. They brought back memories and feelings he had thought had never existed, and a fear he had never felt before and did not understand. "No, of course not," he heard himself say. "We were just soldiers fighting a war together."

Heero lay quiet for a moment, watching. Then he sat up. "You can have the bathroom first. The tour leaves in an hour." There was a coolness in his tone, his face.

"Sure. Thanks," Duo said, his stomach clenching, more afraid. He hurried in the bathroom, taking only fifteen minutes for his shower, not washing his hair, throwing it into a rough braid, tangles and all.

Why did I lie? He couldn't understand it. He knew he had loved Hilde, but he loved Heero more. Otherwise he'd be with Hilde now instead of Heero. And why did Heero care what Hilde might or might not have meant to him?

Why do you care if he knows?

The question stung. He didn't know the answer. Only knew that Heero's question frightened him.

When he came out of the bathroom, the hotel room was empty. He stood there, thinking maybe Heero would appear if he blinked just right, knowing it wasn't true. The sick feeling in his belly rising.

He almost didn't make it to the toilet before he threw up.

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Heero walked through the narrow streets of the old part of El-Minna, alone in the crowd of tourists and locals. He looked up at the afternoon sun that beat down on him and remembered a story Duo had told him once about a warrior who made the sun stop in the sky. It had happened somewhere near here.

If he could stop the sun, why can't I stop thinking about Duo? How could he lie to me? He told me that he never lies. Another lie. Were they all lies? Did he ever tell me the truth?

He felt cold. He hadn't felt this cold since the war. He could feel the ice creeping back into his veins. And why not? Duo had lied to him. What else mattered now? If he could find the soldier again...

He remembered Duo's laughter and how it always made him smile -- almost smiled at the memory.

Stop it! It's the past. Duo is part of my past now.

He had gone to the airline desk in the hotel lobby and tried to book a flight back to Japan, but there was nothing reasonably direct available for at least two days. He could have bounced between airports across the Middle East and the Mediterranean for a day and a half before finally getting a flight home, but he hated the passenger parts of airports. He'd put his name on the waiting list.

He remembered how Duo's eyes had lit up with joy when he'd called their vacation a honeymoon.

Stop it!

He wasn't sure what he was going to do tonight. He'd tried to find another room, but there was a travel agents' convention in town and all the hotels in El-Minna were full. He'd have to share the room with Duo for two more nights or sleep on the streets. He wasn't sure which was more dangerous. In the end, he decided the room was safer. There were two beds. He could pull them apart.

He remembered last night, Duo's smooth chest pressing against his thighs as they made love in the beds. The different sounds they made. Holding each other after as they fell asleep. He remembered this morning, his head on Duo's chest, listening to the flutter of Duo's heart and that odd, soft rumbling that whispered from Duo's body whenever they were close. Duo's hands on him, warm and comforting. Duo's cinnamon scent in his nose. Duo's hair tangled around him.

Stop it! It's over!

He was hungry. Duo was always hungry. He grabbed the thought and threw it back into the depths of his memory.

It's over, it's over, it's over, damn it! I was wrong. I thought he wouldn't try to keep secrets. Isn't that how we were supposed to be? Honest? Open? Nothing hidden? I was wrong. It's over. I need to move on with my life as quickly as possible -- without him. Forget it. Let the past go.

The angry thoughts droned on, drowning out the background noise of Duo that usually filled his mind. He kept them running and turned his attention back to his physical hunger.

There was a restaurant caddy-corner across the street. He made his way there, focussing on nothing but his destination and the noise in his head that kept the unwanted thoughts at bay. He found a table and ordered, then sat waiting, letting the anger run. Until he noticed that the table's patterned mosaic reminded him of the wings he'd given Duo the night Duo had told him he loved him.

Heero laid his head on his arms. One quiet tear fell before the ice froze the source.

You should have killed me, Duo. It would be easier than knowing everything I believed was a lie.

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The evening was agonizing.

Duo sat at the mirror for fifteen minutes, waiting for Heero to come brush out his hair for him, wondering why he didn't. And every time he wondered, he felt another little stab in his gut as he remembered why. He picked up the brush and began brushing his hair himself, each stroke ripping at the emptiness in his belly because it wasn't Heero's hand on the brush. And it was his own fault.

Heero lay on his bed with his back to Duo. He felt ill. Lunch hadn't sat well with him. He told himself it was because the local food wasn't to his liking -- a bit greasy and oddly seasoned. He heard the sound of the brush in Duo's hair and looked at his hand on the white sheets before him. It twitched in rhythm with the brushing. Phantom limbs, he thought. I wonder if this is how it feels. He wasn't sure if he was talking about his hand or the empty place inside him that echoed with the soft strokes of the brush. Love is weak, he thought. I thought we were strong, that we would be together forever. But love is too weak.

The anger roared at him again. He lied! Heero knew it was an anger driven by fear, but fear of what? He wasn't sure. And every time he tried to find out, it came again and he felt worse as each blow of rage drove the wedge in his soul deeper, making the division wider and more painful until his mind was left choking, blinded, fumbling for something… Anger. There was strength.

Duo finished brushing. He tried to braid the long mass, but his hands were trembling and he couldn't work his fingers to separate his hair, much less twist it into a braid. He wanted to ask Heero to do it for him, but he knew Heero would refuse, and if he heard that rejection, he knew he'd be sick again. He finally gave up his efforts and slipped a half-dozen ponytails along the length, confining it enough that it wouldn't be a total tangle when he woke in the morning. As he walked over to the beds, he saw Heero had separated them.

When did that happen? He stared at the gap for a moment. I never knew the distance between Heaven and Hell was just a few inches.

"Heero," he whispered, standing between the beds. "I'm sorry."

Nothing. Only the slow rise and fall of breath told him Heero was alive.

"Heero," he said, louder. "I'm sorry I lied to you. I shouldn't have lied to you."

Nothing.

"Heero--"

"Shut up, Duo."

A day ago, the words would have been a gentle endearment. Now, there was venom in the cold, cold voice. It silenced him, spilling its poison into his belly, threatening to undo the little he'd been able to eat.

"You lied to me. How do I know you aren't lying again?" It hurt to hear Duo speaking and it hurt to say the angry words, but that was to be expected. He was cutting off a part of himself. Or course it hurt. Amputation was always painful. But he was strong, and the anger made him stronger. It was just a matter of controlling the pain and concealing the pain until he quit feeling the pain. Eventually, there would be only the occasional twitching itch to remind him of what had been. That was part of moving on.

Duo stood there, silent tears on his face, knowing anything he said would be wrong. He tried to find something to say anyway, head slumped to chest, then gave up. He lay down on his bed, curling into a tiny ball as if somehow making himself as small as possible could cover the crater of Heero's absence. They hadn't slept apart since they'd worked out their feelings for each other -- nearly two months now. He shivered, telling himself he was just cold, knowing that the only thing that would make him feel warm was a cool touch against his skin that wasn't going to come. Not tonight. Probably not ever. He still didn't know why he'd lied. Baka! he cursed himself. Baka yaro!

It was so easy to break us, Heero thought. He wasn't sure he could stand to be broken like that again. Being alone would be better. And he was beginning to understand why the lie made him so afraid. That might make it easier to move on -- alone.

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Heero was gone when Duo woke the next morning. His body tried to throw up again, but there wasn't anything in his belly. After forcing himself through the shower, he left his hair as it was, a rough, damp ponytail dangling down the backs of his thighs. He spent three hours in the room, drawing his misery in his sketch book, as he had most of the day before. Finally, he found a way to express his apology. Wondered if Heero would listen to it. He dressed, and went out in search of him.

Afternoon found him by the river, sifting sand through his hands. He realized he hadn't laughed since... Was it only yesterday morning? It seemed a lot longer.

Heero had always been able to make him laugh. Sometimes Heero hadn't understood how. Sometimes Duo hadn't understood either. Heero liked his laughter though -- said it made him know there was hope. If only he could laugh now. It might be enough to make Heero like him again. At least speak to him. Last night's words had been a lash, not speech. He winced at the memory.

He tried.

He couldn't laugh.

He was afraid.

Maybe if he could remember the good times, he could laugh. Then he could find Heero and laugh for him.

He tried to remember the wings Heero had given him.

He tried to remember the first time Heero had said, "Aishiteru" to him.

He tried to remember the night of gentle, passionate lovemaking that had followed.

The memories were blurred. That scared him even more. He grabbed at them, trying to bring them into focus, but they slipped between his fingers, like the sand he held but couldn't hold, vanishing in a grey haze.

He began to panic.

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The water made Heero remember another story, Duo had told him. He'd tried to escape the memories all day, but they came. Unbidden, unwanted, unwelcome. He couldn't stop them any more than he could stop the sun.

It took his powerful god to split the sea, but only a lie to separate us.

The anger didn't respond, leaving the thought to echo painfully in the empty space inside him. It was like the empty space he'd felt years ago in school, when he'd discovered Duo was being reassigned to England, right before the mission he still didn't like to think about.

He looked down from the sun that was blasting him with heat and memories and saw Duo sitting by the river. He stopped, watching him stare out over the water, and decided this wasn't a phantom memory taunting him. Duo sat playing with a handful of sand, trembling, though it was far too hot out for him to be cold. Heero mustered his stealth and walked across the sand and sat two meters behind him. He could hear the faint whimpering now.

The sound renewed the hurt.

It's his fault! He's the one who lied! The anger screamed, searing in the confines of his skull.

He watched.

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Duo let the glare blind him. It was easier not seeing anything. The blank whiteness didn't stir the ghosts of memory. He could pretend they were still alive. He could pretend he was somewhere else and that, maybe, if he turned around, he'd find Heero, smiling that tiny smile at him and wondering why he hadn't responded when he'd called his name. "When you love, you walk on water," he said softly. It was something Sister Helen had told him once.

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"Just be careful not to trip on the waves." He saw Duo flinch as if a scourge had torn across his back. He didn't know why he'd said the words. They just came, maybe from that poet's soul Duo always claimed to sense in him. That hadn't been a lie. He was sure it hadn't.

I'm going to miss that part of being human.

He knew the words they had said were true. Somehow... Somehow they had tripped.

Now, they were drowning.

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They sat in silence as the water moved before them.

"I'm sorry, Heero." Why bother. It didn't work before. But he just spoke to me. He didn't do that before. "I lied to you. I'm sorry. I swear I'll never lie to you again. Just give me a chance. Talk to me?" He knew his voice was threatening to crack, but he didn't care. If they could talk, maybe they could fix things. Maybe they could at least be friends. He looked over his shoulder, slow, tentative, afraid Heero would be gone again.

Heero sat, staring at him with cold, blue eyes. "Did you love Hilde?" Duo flinched again.

"Yes," he said, soft. "Yes, I did."

"Did you sleep together? Were you lovers?"

Duo turned back to the water. "Yes." It was a whisper, but he knew Heero would hear it. Heero had good ears.

"What happened?"

He lifted his feet and pivoted himself to face Heero, then clutched his legs against his chest, resting his chin on his knees. Afraid. Stalling. "I don't know. We weren't really serious. I just..." The truth was hard. "I didn't love her as much as I thought I did."

Duo knew what the next question was. He'd figured it out while feeling the sand falling through his fingers. He knew it was the reason he had lied. His stomach writhed like a pit of snakes when Heero raised an eyebrow asking the question without words, as if even he was afraid to speak it.

"I don't know what's different," Duo groaned, forehead to knees because he didn't dare look at Heero's face now that he'd admitted it. "I just know it is." He heard Heero stand to leave and knew. "It's different because I hurt so bad knowing you're about to walk away and I'll never see you again, and knowing that I'm the one that made you leave." He jumped up, grabbing Heero's arm. "I still love you. Do you understand? I hurt so bad, but I still love you and I can't make it stop. I was stupid and afraid, OK? Why does love always have to hurt like this?"

It was the question he'd struggled with most of his life. It was the reason that he'd given up on love, until it had caught him unaware. Now he wished he could give it up again, but couldn't figure out how to make it leave. All the old tricks he'd used before had failed him these past two days. He couldn't turn it off, even in the midst of the pain.

Heero pulled his arm away. "How do you think I feel?" he snapped. "I trusted you, Duo. I trusted you with parts of me that I don't even trust myself with." He paused. Now he was certain he understood the fear. "And then you lied when I asked you a simple question. All I wanted was the truth. I didn't care what it was." It was true. Before the lie, he had been certain of their permanence, but the lie had undone all his certainty, leaving him with nothing but doubt and weakness and frailty. "How can I trust you?"

The words hit Duo like stones hurled from a sling. "Then just kill me!" Duo shouted. "Get your gun and fucking shoot me!"

Heero stared at him, then shook his head. He'd considered that solution for himself for one brief moment, but dying, it was one thing when a mission went bad, it was another thing when you did it for no good reason except that you weren't willing to accept a harder way out. "Sometimes you have to live with your mistakes, Duo." Living with your mistakes was always a harder way out, but it was also always an option. It would hurt like Hell, though. Duo was right about that. He turned, leaving Duo to stare after him in shock, and walked back toward the hotel.

"Heero!?" There were tears running down his face. He didn't care. They were over, and they were the only thing he had been since before they had truly been a "they". Damn it, he thought. How can that bastard do this to me? I... I don't know how to BE alone anymore. But he could not turn it off, even in the midst of the anger.

Heero was glad the flight tomorrow afternoon had come through.

"Damn it, Heero!"

One more night was going to be hard enough.

"Don't you fucking walk away from me!"

He could hear the tears cutting through the anger in Duo's voice.

"Come back here you fucking asshole!"

And his heart? His heart wanted to forgive Duo and move on, but the anger driven by fear kept asking, How can you trust him?

"Heero!!"

It was the most important question.

He had no answer for it.

------------------

He found the drawing on his bed when he got to the room. Himself, a warrior king in armor, holding a sword. Duo, a conquered supplicant, kneeling naked before him with head bowed. The sword was raised, but Heero couldn't tell if he was about to cut off Duo's head or make him a knight. The ambiguity and what he'd just done collided in his mind. He felt a different fear stirring inside him. He knelt by the foot of Duo's bed and reached under it, hand finding the sketch book as he'd expected. Duo always kept it under his bed.

Shit, Heero thought as he looked at the drawings dated yesterday and today. Heero, a judge passing sentence on Duo. Heero, arms wrapped around Duo, holding a gun in Duo's mouth as Duo pulled the trigger. Heero watching as Duo beat himself with a whip and shouted, "Liar!". Heero assisting as Duo vivisected himself, pulling a tiny Heero from his chest, revealing an empty space where his heart should be. Shit.

The anger had made him forget Duo felt more easily than he, and more powerfully, and often hid it. Shit. The anger had blinded him to the fact that Duo hadn't been hiding his feelings this time. Shit!

He didn't want Duo dead or hurting himself.

You don't?

Reason was an unwelcome visitor. As unwelcome as the memories of Duo had been earlier, and just as unavoidable. It made him feel dirty, but it made him see the truth. His forehead pounded against the foot board, seeking the physical expression of what he'd been feeling the past two days but hadn't understood. He had wanted to hurt Duo as badly as Duo had hurt him. He had succeeded, and in doing so had hurt himself equally because he hadn't stopped loving Duo, and every blow he inflicted on Duo had been inflicted upon himself with no less force.

I didn't stop loving him?

He searched and found it was true. Finding it, he understood how it was true. Love wasn't weak. It was frightfully strong. Stronger than anger.

Understanding led to action. He stilled his head, then tore the drawings out of the book and shredded them one by one. The anger driven by fear was gone. Now there was only the different fear -- driven by love.

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Duo looked around the bar. It didn't really rise to the level of a bar, he decided. It was no more than a dive, maybe even an outright hole. At least they didn't seem in a hurry to cut him off as long as he paid. He knew he was thoroughly drunk, but he'd almost forgotten why. He ordered another shot of vodka. That's what he chose to call it. It was some local liquor that had all the important properties of vodka. Specifically it was clear and mostly alcohol.

"Misery is what I feel...", he mumbled to himself. He couldn't remember the rest of the lyric. He knew he'd never really liked the song, but right now it summed things up perfectly. He felt miserable. The anesthetic qualities of the vodka had relieved some of that, but not enough. Not yet. With a little care, he'd forget why he was miserable. With a little more vodka he should be able to forget that he loved Heero and what they'd had before he'd made Heero stop loving him. And if he could do that long enough, maybe he could live with his mistake. He'd show the bastard.

The door opened. Duo looked up. Heero's face peered through the gloom. The memories came rushing back as if the vodka were water. Damn! Just a little more and I'd've forgotten -- maybe. He looked around, sighting the restroom and slipped into the crowd towards it. A quick glance at the door showed Heero was still scanning. He had evaded him.

As he opened the restroom door, a cool hand closed on his arm. Damn! He tried to break free, not looking, but Heero's grip had always been sure. "You're hurting me." He tried to yank his arm away again.

"I know," Heero said, loosening his hold, but not so much that Duo could escape.

"Come to beat on me some more?" Maybe he wasn't entirely sober after all.

"No." Heero looked at Duo, assessing his condition. "You're drunk."

"Shit happens." Duo felt his stomach churning and forced his way into the restroom, dragging Heero behind him. He fell to his knees before the toilet -- Heero dropping to the floor with him -- a second before his body forcibly purged itself of the overdose of vodka.

"Were you trying for alcohol poisoning?"

He ignored the question, looking at the stall around him. It hadn't been cleaned in months, maybe longer. He heaved again, emptying his belly this time. Smells like it too, he thought. He felt the acid rising again and was surprised to pour another surge of vodka into the toilet. His stomach finally as vacant as his heart, he sat back on his heels, trying to breathe, surprised he still could, deciding that maybe that wasn't such a good thing in this particular restroom. The place was definitely a hole.

He felt Heero pull him up and realized the grip was still there on his arm. "Lemme go or I'll puke on you."

"I doubt it," Heero said as he steered Duo over to the sink and turned on the water. "Clean up."

Duo splashed water on his face and washed out his mouth, only because the taste was so vile and he felt so wretched. He didn't care if it pleased Heero or not. "Satsified, asshole?" If he could just hate Heero, maybe he could forget that he loved him.

"No. Come with me." Heero gave him no choice. Hand still on Duo's arm, Heero led him out to the street, then into a better part of town.

The fresh air helped clear Duo's head. The anger helped too. First the bastard tears me apart, then he ruins a good drunk, now he's dragging me around like a misbehaved child. Fucking asshole. He tried to hate Heero, focussing on it, thinking about it, building up an image of Heero as a demon.

I lied to him.

That hurt. Sent the anger retreating, taking the trumped up hatred with it. Duo blinked away the sudden wetness in his eyes. The problem with being so emotionally fucked up while he was neither drunk nor sober was that his emotions swung back and forth between the anger that made him want to leave and the hope that they could get back together, and he wasn't really sure which he wanted. The alcohol haze receded further from his brain and he began looking around him. Eventually, he realized they were walking along the river. He tried to hold it down, but curiosity got the better of his foul mood. "Where are we going?" After a moment's pause he remembered to add a half-hearted, "You bastard."

He was sober enough to ask questions again. Heero had been waiting for that. "Right here," he said, stepping off the pavement, leading them halfway down the river bank. "Sit."

Duo chose to sit with Heero rather than be pulled to the ground. He looked around, "Where is here?"

"Somewhere beside the river where we can talk."

"I thought you talked earlier. You're dumping me, remember? Seemed like a good excuse to get drunk out of my skull." The next swing came out of nowhere and he snarled, "Which, unfortunately, I am definitely not, thanks to you, shithead." The sudden violence disturbed him. He looked across the water. The moonlight flashing on the river like the sun, but much softer. Not as blinding. He preferred the sun. It was easier to stare into the sun's bright, white glare and pretend he couldn't feel anything.

"Cutting off your head?"

Duo flinched. Heero had found his apology. Too late now. "Yeah. Might as well tear out my heart while you're at it." He sniffed. Not gonna cry again. A small pile of paper appeared in front of him. He took the pieces from Heero's hand, looking at them. Half assembling the puzzle before he saw it was the drawing of his chest cut open. So, he found them. Didn't like what he saw. Serves him right. It's his fault. The thoughts sounded false in Duo's head.

They were silent for a moment as Duo played with the paper, then Heero said, "Duo, I didn't understand what… You know I'm not very good at knowing how I…" No excuses. He took a breath and tried again. "I'm sorry I tried to hurt you, Duo. It was as wrong as your lie."

"You didn't just try, you sick fuck!"

He understood the anger -- too well. "I know. I did hurt you. I'm sorry."

When you're not around, so I can't heal.

That was the rest of the line from the song that had been running through his head all evening in the bar. The words connected with each other and Duo understood why he hadn't been able to forget, even after far too much vodka on an empty stomach. The anger evaporated. Duo wasn't sure if it was just another swing of the emotional pendulum or not. It didn't feel like it. He was feeling ... calm. And Heero wanted to talk. He decided to take advantage of the moment of mutual lucidity.

"I was afraid," He met Heero's gaze. "I was afraid you'd ask what was different between you and Hilde. That's why I lied. I didn't know the answer and I was... I was terrified. Still am." The eyebrow, just a tiny bit higher than normal, waited for the rest. "I cared about her, but she couldn't really hurt me. I mean, they were little things that I could ignore. And if she hurt me bad enough, I knew I could leave her. But you… you can *hurt* me." He looked at the paper in his hands. "You can rip my heart out. And it hurt worse to think of leaving you, even when you left me."

"You can hurt me, too." He caught Duo's head with his free hand, gently pulling it back up to look at him. "Do you understand? When I said 'aishiteru', I thought I was telling you that everything was going to be good between us. I thought I could catch the shit before it got out of control." He shook his head and looked at Duo's knees. "Ninmu shippai." The blue eyes came back up, snaring Duo with a cold intensity. "Now I know that when I said 'aishiteru', I was telling you that I trust you -- that you can hurt me. I didn't understand that part of it then."

Heero saw confusion. "You told me a story about a man who betrayed a friend with a kiss."

Duo thought for a moment. He could only find one story that fit. "You mean Judas?"

"I don't remember his name. He betrayed a friend who loved him and trusted him. Don't you think his friend was hurt by that? Would it have hurt if he'd been a stranger?"

He frowned. That flew in the face of a lot of what he'd been taught, but he couldn't say how Heero's interpretation was wrong. "You can't betray a stranger, only someone--" The violet eyes widened slightly and Heero saw the tiny joy that had once told him that Duo had understood a homework problem in school. "Only someone who trusts you. Or someone who loves you. Yes. It had to hurt." Duo was quiet for a moment, then frowned and said quietly, "Y'know, Judas hanged himself."

It was Heero's turn to think for a moment. "What would have happened if he'd gone to his friend and said he was sorry?" He saw understanding again, and hope. "I trust you, even when you hurt me, because 'aishiteru' doesn't allow for an end. You told me you're sorry. Aishiteru. Shinyou shiteru. I want to move on -- with you."

Duo felt hungry for the first time in two days. "Forgiven. Aishiteru." It meant more now -- had to mean more. He paused considering the new words that they had never used to describe their relationship. They frightened him. It was one thing to trust Heero with his life in battle, but this... He remembered when the other word had frightened him, and how he'd felt when he finally just said it. His heart raced. "Shinyou shiteru." He held his breath for a moment, but once again, they were still alive. He realized that saying it felt good. "Shinyou shiteru." Trusting felt good.

Heero leaned toward him for a kiss, but Duo put up a hand to stop him. "I haven't had a decent shower in two days and I don't think getting drunk and puking has helped any. Let's go back to the hotel, you can order us something for dinner, I'll take a good, long shower, we can eat--"

"Only if I can brush your hair."

Duo smiled. "Deal."

"To Hell with the shower." Heero pushed past Duo's hand and stole a quick kiss. Duo savored the hint of cordite that stung the air in Heero's wake. It had been too long since he smelled it last.

"What about this," Duo asked, holding up the scraps of paper. Heero took a book of matches from his pocket and more bits of paper, then dug a small hole in the sand. Duo lit the pieces and they watched them burn. "I've never burned any of my drawings before."

Heero shuddered. "Those weren't drawings." He stood, dragging Duo to his feet, and let go of Duo's arm. Duo grabbed the hand with his own. The grip was pleasure when it held his hand. They walked back to the hotel, silent.

------------------

Later, as he climbed into bed, Duo noticed that Heero had pushed the beds together again. He saw a hint of the smirk -- an offer, not a request.

"Just hold me, koi?" Heero responded with the secret smile only he knew and the deep-blue-water eyes he would do anything to see. He laughed, knowing he'd chosen the better thing, then realized he had laughed again. It felt good. He saw joy on Heero's face at the sound. That felt even better.

Heero turned out the light. Duo lay, back to Heero's chest, and let Heero draw him close into the whisper of cordite. One arm curled over Duo's side, the hand over his heart. The other arm slid under his armpit, the hand resting on his belly. Both pulled him tight against Heero who buried his face in long, thick, cinnamon-scented hair. Duo shifted a bit, seeking more contact with Heero, legs conforming to the jackknife bend of Heero's hips and knees.

They fell asleep to the soft rumble that always emanated from Duo's chest when Heero held him…

And the mingled beating of their hearts.

------------------

LW: See? What's not to like? It has everything. Love, angst, betrayal, angst, lovemaking, angst, fighting, angst, understanding, angst ... and a happy ending.
H: <frowns>
D: <frowns> Yeah, but did you have to put us through Hell to get there?
LW: Well... to get that much angst... yes. <evil grin>

On to more technical things.

When Heero says, "... because 'aishiteru' doesn't allow for an end," I am not attempting to misuse "aishiteru" as a noun. Heero is pointing out the idea behind the word -- it is a present-progressive/habitual verb form. "Ai shite'ru" doesn't just mean "I love you," it means "I love you now and I will continue loving you in the future."

Oh, yes, and "Ninmu shippai" should be "mission failed" or "mission unsuccessful" or something along that conceptual line.

LW: <reactivates Deathscythe Lurking Shield>