And now. An Evil Little Gundam W Fanfic by the Queen of Blueberry Toast (TheKWOBT@hotmail.com). (It's evil because I think it gets every bloody fanfic tag known to man. Beware lemony yaoi, lurid descriptions + references to things you wouldn't usual find lurid description or references to in a yaoi fanfic, and the ever present machinations of the evil rabbits.

[All characters, places, ideas, organizations, lines, and kumquats that I have borrowed belong to someone else or possibly to some big, heartless corporation, I didn't bother to look it up.]

And I'd just like to say that this is not my fault. I was ill when I had the idea for this story, so asking what coherent thoughts influenced my deranged mind will not help anyone at all.

Of course, if you get to the end of this mess and you actually like it, well then, Arigatou Gonzaimasu! I'd love to hear from you! It would make me ever so happy.

Nah, let me have one more and then I'll shut up. The book is by Tanith Lee, it's a work of genius and you can get it at BN.com. Hey if Duo enjoys it.

 

The Room Where the Light Won't Find You

Six weeks after Endless Waltz, L2 Colony, About 11 AM, but then again we are dealing with someone who would probably rather not wear a watch.

"Well then, all the scrap's still there," Duo said to himself, peeking out his blinds. "Nothin' to do then," He leaned back in his desk chair and stretched with an unabashed yawn. "This is *NICE*!" Sure business was slow, sure the only thing left to eat in the house was a dill pickle, but for what must have been the first time in his life, he had absolutely nothing to do. Well, nothing that had to be done that minute. After all, if it was so unguent, he would probably remember it and probably WOULDN'T have taken to prancing about in his boxers all day as he had for. quite a few days now. Lazily, he reached over and tuned the radio: the news had begun and he sure didn't have to listen to that dribble anymore. Now it could all be clear, crisp techno. Who was there to complain if he cranked it and danced across the room to his bookcase?

Examining everything on it though, he realized he had sort of read everything on it at least twice that week. "Hmm? Then where's that present I bought myself?" Pulling out the contents of one of his double-stacked shelves, the saccharine, musty scent came back to him. "I promised I'd make good use of you once the war was over," he teased, shaking his finger at the row of ancient hard covers. Getting shipped around to all those different places with all their different bookstores. he pulled out a little black volume and grinned at his reflection in the mirror in the far room as he passed the doorway. "Who would have ever thought, Duo Maxwell is a bookworm!" But how was he supposed to concentrate on a novel when at any minute he could have been called away on a mission? The day he'd been freed of that existence, he'd busted all his spare cash on a crate full of especially old ones.

Flipping to the title page of the one in his hand: "'The Book of the Damned'. I mustn't be as damned as I thought. I NEVER thought I'd find another copy of this." Remember his first one though. Sister Helena had never exactly approved of his taste in literature, but she smiled when she caught him reading, always. "I'll just start at the beginning of one of the stories, I don't even remember where the nasty parts are anymore." He turned to 'Empires of Azure' and somehow, alone even now, he felt the most wonderful naughty thrill as he read, as if he almost wanted to be caught, as if he wasn't sitting in that cushy chair but on those old church steps that seemed so much more inviting.

"Duo, I don't mind if you read that in here. It's warmer."

"But it doesn't belong in a church."

"Oh Duo." She smiled and petted his head.

And it only hurt a little now that there was no one to do that now. The memory itself had stirred up a gentle, frothy pain in his heart. He closed the book and fumbled with his braid, weaving his fingers into the silky locks, brushing it against his face.

Then there was the first evening he had sat on those steps, clutching as his hair as the freezing rain washed over him. Not for warmth, he couldn't feel it. There was nothing in him but the shame.

"Duo! Please come back inside. You'll get sick."

He only turned his tear dampened face to hers with a look far too bitter for a child.

"Don't be scared of me, please. I won't cut off your hair. I promise."

"You know it's not that!"

"Please come inside."

"Leave me alone! I'm dirty! I don't belong in a church! And you were mean to me!"

The nun said nothing but sat down beside him. "I never meant to get so upset."

He went to bury his face in his hands but instead found her softly restraining him. No. She had pulled him onto her lap and was cradling him. She was touching him at all! How could he fight this off? It just felt so rapturous, so safe.

"You promise you won't tell anyone? He plead, eyes half closed with tears and the rain that was dripping into them.

Someone was pounding on his door. Instinctively, he ditched the book in the top drawer of his desk then ran to the hamper, fished out a pair of jeans, yanked them on and spent a good minute undoing all of his locks before opening the door to find. a Manganac?

"Master Duo, am I intruding?"

"No, not at all. How's Quatre?"

"He's ill actually."

"Huh!?"

"Here, this is a letter from his sister. It explains almost everything."

He snatched away the piece of paper and read as rapidly as he could manage.

Dear Duo,

Please excuse me if I sound hurried. I hope that you have been well these few weeks. I am sorry to say that our little Quatre is not. We found him in a dead faint on the office floor a few nights ago, and he hasn't been out of bed since. He insists he just overworked, but I don't think he even believes that. I can't explain it, not as anxious as I am, but if you saw him, if you just saw him, you could tell. I've never seen him so miserable. The fact he's trying to push it down inside him only makes it worse. I fear my love is not enough to heal him, and the only things he talks of are the times he was away, especially of you. I know that you remember, and I know that you can make him smile. Would you stay with him at our summer house for awhile? Please, just for Quatre.

Sincerely,
Iria

Seeing he had finished the letter, the servant broke in. "I've got tickets for."

But the ex-Deathscythe pilot had already scrambled back inside and gone in search of his duffel bag. Once he had dumped the spare rags out of it and all over his mattress [hey, it had made a descent pillow!] he refilled it with a few kilos of reading material (comics and aesthetic works alike), a picture frame which contained his one and only shot of everyone together and not throttling each other, a spare pair of jeans, his lucky apple print boxers, a nice shirt, a not-so-nice shirt, a few pairs of socks, his toothbrush, one of his favorite hair brushes and some rubber bands. This done, he rooted out a black tank top and orange Hawaiian shirt he had bought to annoy Wufei, threw them on somewhat lopsidedly and pulled on his boots. "When do we leave?" he inquired reappearing at the door 2.374 minutes later.

"Well, whenever you're ready." The flustered fellow began. "Though, don't you have some business to take care of? Any loose ands?"

"Oh yeah." He dug a rusty paint can out of a nearby heap- one that actually contained some paint- and with it he wrote on the gate to the scrapyard "Condemned: DO NOT ENTER".

*****

The estate was not half the size of the rest of the Winner's, and set back from any sort of main road, it's own being of a lustrous dark grey gravel, was practically hidden by the sand dunes, but if there were any other quaint villas of the same sort in the drowsy seaside town, that stood just the same overlooking the glittering beaches and the clam aqua waters that lapped against them, they were at best, likewise obscured. It had an antique wrought iron fence around a lawn of seaside grasses that was somewhat unmown. The house itself was a whitewashed Victorian with crimson trim with a hedge of forsythia that encircled even the front porch with it's slightly rickety swing and the halfway screened in patio behind that overlooked the garden of lilies and bougainvillea. From the inside it seemed to be more windows than walls, all bursting with sunlight and open to the tangy breeze. So dazzling, so airy, so unconfining and easily tinted to match the outside for everything was champagne beige except for the shag burgundy carpeting that lined all but the kitchen and the entryway, which had maroon tile instead.

Quatre was upstairs in his four poster bed, gazing out to sea through the glass doors to his own small deck. His covers were pulled up to his waist, and on his lap rested a leather bound notebook crumpled pages from which littered the floor. He was just grumbling in dismay to see that in his latest silent daydream he had gotten peacock ink from his pen on the sleeve of his pale peach nightshirt, when Iria peered in. "Little brother, I have a surprise for you."

He just turned his sweet, little face to hers and blinked inquisitively. Secretly, his heart had started pounding, warming his cheeks and chilling his fingers. /Could it be./

"Ohayo!" hollered an ecstatically familiar voice as it's owner haphazardly kicked the door the rest of the way in.

"Duo!"

Iria smiled at her small triumph and unobtrusively left.

"Hey there! Didja miss me?"

"Of course I missed you! But aren't you tired from your trip? Don't you want to lie down?"

"Do I look tired?"

"You never look tired, but how are you?"

"Peachy." He replied rather half-heatedly as he stepped over the wads of paper scattered on the floor and began to examine the tasseled shade of the floor lamp beside the bed which he eventually removed and placed on his head before taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

His host giggled. "Silly."

He just grinned his maniac grin.

"An how is Hilde? Didn't she come with you?"

"Huh?" he titled the shade away from his eyes which indicated beyond doubt he was surprised by the mention of her name. "Hilde? Oh, she left a few days ago." The thing was, the whimsical ring never left his voice.

"She did? Ohmigosh! I'm so sorry to hear that!"

He could have giggled to himself over how concerned Quatre had grown in that short second. "Eh, don't worry about it. I knew she was gonna do it. Besides, I heard that you're the one that needs worried about."

"It's no big deal." He turned his sea-green eyes away and wrung his hands. "I'm just fatigued, that's all."

"You're face is a little red. oh c'mon! I can see you're not happy."

He bit his lip- he had no business forcing his problems on his guest, let alone spoiling such a cheery soul.

"You can talk to me, I'm your friend. I know I never know when to shut up, and I'm pretty goddamn insensitive sometimes but I hate to see you like this buddy so. so what can I do to cheer you up if you up if I can't listen? Well, I can try, but I suck at it."

Quatre finally looked up; his eyes glassy, his fingers held curiously over his lips which were twitching as if he was trying to say something but no matter what he did, it wouldn't come out.

/"Leave me alone! I'm dirty! I don't belong in a church! And you were mean to me!"/ "Hey. I have flashbacks too. It's okay, really." He slid over the covers and did the only consoling thing he knew how to do. He took the small blond in his arms as tenderly as he could, expecting to be thrown off at once, but he went limp as a rag doll laying his blushing little cheek against his shoulder and let him tangle his callused fingers in the creamy yellow tresses. "Is that any better?"

"Umhm."

"You feel safe now?"

"Well I. how did you?"

"I said I have flashbacks too, And maybe they aren't just like yours, but it's gotta still hurt, doesn't it?"

Quatre gave a choking little sigh and leaned further into the embrace, "You're not like the others." He whispered into his neck. "You can talk. and you can smile."

"Aww! You know you smiled too!" He danced his rough fingers alone the center of his back eliciting a the slightest tremor of delight upon his lips. "Just like that."

"Yeah."

"Well then, Dr. Duo says it's tickle time! Where is our patient the most ticklish? I bet it's not there. Maybe his ears? No, that's not it either." He very carefully laid the somewhat disconcerted boy back down on the sheets. "His stomach?"

"Eeep!"

"Eeep? Eeep? I was looking for more of a 'tehe!'. I know! His sides just under his arms."

At even the slightest tap this l created an absolute gale of giggles. He grinned He grinned prankishly and positively attacked his little friend with teasing little touches that had him yelling for mercy between spats of absolute laughter and kicking his feet trying to fend off any more mirth.

One of Quatre's other sisters, by name of Janice, was just poking her head in with a fresh pot of tea for the pair and an inquiry as how her brother was feeling, was met with this sight only to march straight downstairs again and bother one of the servants. "Rashid, some guy with a lampshade on his head is tickling Quatre. Should I be worried?"

"Probably not."

But being somewhat of a fretter, she covertly kept an eye and an ear on his door for the rest of the day and into the night when the satiny half-dark of the lights dimmed for sleeping stole over the summer house and the sea almost vanished in the distance but for it's faint wavering reflections of the windows as they winked out one by one. It was near midnight before Duo stumbled out and caught her skulking in the hallway.

"Hey Janice, do you know where they stuck my bag?"

"In the room two doors down, it's been fixed for you."

"Kay. Thanks."

Suspiciously now. "Have you too really been talking all day?"

"No. I've been talking, he's been listening. I tried to get him to chime in and he did tell me a little about the house, but hey, he smiled again."

"Is that the only reason you're here, to make him happy?"

"Duo Maxwell, Lord Quatre's personal jester. Doesn't sound so bad to me." and he proceeded to contort his face in a manner so capricious and absurd she had to bite her lip from chuckling herself.

"And that won't bother you?"

"Nah," He started down the hallway but called back, "But I'm sleeping on the floor in his room tonight. I think he'd feel better if someone was with him."

*****

Duo awoke the next morning just as the fiery eye of the sun peered out over the sea- as pink and as still as the sky above it. He jumped to his feet, and kicked his blankets into a heap at the foot of the bed when he peered into to see his host was still fast asleep, curled up in tight fetal position on his side, still holding one of his crumpled papers in his hand. He let him go though and went in search of the upstairs bathroom.

He was about to get dressed, when it occurred to him that some of the things he had purchased and left at the Winner's other estates might be lying around somewhere. Only a few of the servants were up yet and as he went about poking into various linen closets and what turned out to be bedrooms, occupied or not, that he mistook for linen closets.

"Gomen nasai! I really didn't."

"Pervert!"

He rubbed the spot where the flying pillow had nailed him in the face even though there was obviously no damage. "I though it was just an urban myth that rich people go in for stuff like that!"

"Good morning Mr. Maxwell, are you looking for your clothes by any chance?" Graciously greeted on of the Maganacs no doubt summoned by the ruckus, when he could have said, "Hey you, what the hell are you doing up at five in the morning, prancing about in apple print boxers an looking into 'good' little ladies rooms?"

He eventually found the red tank top from his old gym uniform and a god-awful pair of cutoffs which he put on, but also the candy cupboard from which he stole several whistle pops and a long length of red licorice that he took outside. He wasn't quite ready to swim this early, but the pool had a sandy concrete patio around it with a bunch of white deck chairs and glass top tables. It also had a fine view of the cotton candy ocean and the buttery sand.

For once in his life (okay, maybe this was the second or third time) he was quiet as he listened to the grumbling of the waves upon the land as they began to catch the brightening gold of the morning. The wind sighed through the brush on the sand dunes, the grass twiddled in the air and the sand pipers came scuttling out of it and down to the shoreline where they waited for the white foam to recede before racing onto the wet sand for their breakfast with only a few precious moments before the next wave.

And it made him think of so many seconds like that that he had known. so many spaces between more little wars. mostly though "Damn! I'm actually sitting still! That's *disturbing*." He unwrapped on of his whistle pops and started blasting out the backbeat to "Magic Orgasm".

The tame sandpipers continued their dance with the sea until he hit a particularly sour "PHWEEEEEEEET!" that sent them all scuttling away. "Hmph." He crunched up the rest of the pop and stretched, turning from side to side, just catching the colorless silhouette in the window upstairs as he reached for the licorice.

The licorice had other plans.

It whipped and slashed against him, sending him sprawling over onto the ground where it followed, sliding up his side as he shuddered at it's still plasticked and malignant touch. So frightening, and yet almost, in the disgust it evoked in him, erotic. He moaned. It wormed it's way up his sides he froze, unable to so much as flinch as it ducked into his ear only to creep outwards again and, he gasped for dear life! Twined itself about his throat. Madly he thrashed about gagging at the infernal, stretchy candy, crossing his eyes and wheezing as he fought for. well, his sanity considering that the length was really secured by his own acting hands. Even over his ridiculous melodramatic sound effects he could hear Quatre laughing and that was all the signal he needed. He threw off the licorice, stood up, bowed and walked right into the pool.

[Author's note, you really have to see someone do the licorice thing, but I tried my best.]

*****

"Quatre! When are you going to come play with me?" whined Duo. "You can't stay in bed forever! You didn't even join me in the pool the other day, and I know you *love* to go swimming!"

"I don't feel well," He protested for the hundreth time though he still made no effort to pull his arm from the hand of his guest.

He the braided ex-pilot still tugged a little harder. "Woul, we don't have to get in the pool. We could go for a ride down to the arcade, or take a walk by the beach, or go down to the kitchen for somethin' to eat. I'll bitch all day."

"It's very thoughtful of you. I mean, to want me up and about, but really, I *can't*. Not just yet. Besides, every time I get out of bed, I feel so cold."

Duo's heart sank. Every time he'd been so valiant, every time he'd saved them all, every flawless attack, every selfless act and he couldn't even drag himself out from under the covers else some nameless, weightless dread would chill him. It hurt. It just plain hurt. But he couldn't be angry with the little blond, and he couldn't blame him either. None of this was ever his fault, even if he chose to have it so, and sitting there, his free hand resting on his lap, he actually looked frightened.

"Please," he managed to bite his tongue before spitting out anything that would have wounded his patient further.. The success made him smirk, just a little. "I'll go get you something to wear. And your paints. Would you like that?"

"I haven't painted in ages," he said almost to himself and without another word, slid slowly from under the sheets and got to his feet. "I'll go get dressed. You can get the paints awhile if you want."

"Sure, what kind?"

"Oh, you pick. But. ahh. would you take them to the kitchen?"

"Oh I get it," he shamed a sob. "Duo Maxwell's just an awful slob."

"Yes, but a nice slob," he cut off joshing as he went through one of his drawers.

With a toss of his hair he skipped out to one of the seemingly endless supply closets and fished out a black case labeled 'Watercolors', an easel, a pallet, one of several pre-stretched pieces of paper and toted them into the kitchen. His host came downstairs within a few minutes dressed in a heather grey t-shirt and presentable once-white overalls.

"Well thank you but you didn't get yourself a pallet, did you?"

"Hmm, I've never actually done this before. Never got the chance."

Quatre shook his head and returned a few moments later with another collection of supplies which he set up for his friend. "You said you wanted to play with me." And with that scooted his own easel further into a puddle of light cast by one of the windows where he started to, very cautiously sketch something out, humming as he did so.

"Lessee now." He stared for awhile at the paper. and stared. and stared until the grain of it seemed to be whirling and dancing but no coalescing into any sort of picture. So he went and amused himself for by sorting through the vast collection of little metal tubes. He was amazed by the sheer number of words for 'blue'. "Well, I seem to like blue today. Blue it is." He borrowed a few of them and added their contents to his pallet where he dripped some water on each blob and swished them around in their compartments to make out exactly what hue they were. For no particular reason, he them mixed up a rather large amount of deep indigo- almost more of a luminescent black and started to apply it with tiny, unsure strokes that almost seemed to bind together and place themselves. He really had no idea what he was painting though nonetheless he was diligent, totally absorbed in whatever it was.

Hours and hours of blue in a daydream somewhere else.

"Hey Duo, can I see?"

"Eh?" Why was he so dazed?

"Can I see your painting or aren't you done yet?"

"Sure." He turned his easel and leaned against it apparently diverted by the contemplative expression he had conjured on the blond boy.

He had painted, of all things, a window. Even frame and the dusty sill around it, but set in them the pane was made of cobalt glass here rendered in wild fantastic evening casts blotched together as if to show it's imperfection. Through it shone the deep indigo shadow of a winter tree, it's feathery, creaking branches occupied by a single crow. The whole thing was very inexact and dreamlike, as spontaneous as the painter yet so still.

"Why Duo! That's incredible! I had no idea that you had just a weird imagination."

"This? Oh, I didn't come up with it on my own. There's a window like that in one of my books upstairs. It always stuck in my mind, but y'know I never thought of wanting one myself. And the bird? I see a lotta winged things in my dreams." /I guess I miss my Deathscythe././People sometimes told me I'd done a good job when I was being Shinigami. Nobody else ever really cared about what else I did, not as long as I could fight. Before that? I can't remember. But I feel funny. I feel like he's not talking to me./ "Anyway, whatcha got over there?"

Quatre's ears, of all things, suddenly when red against his fair hair and he started to fiddle with his fingers. "Oh nothing! I was just screwing around. I'm out of practice."

Duo cocked his eyebrows, calling the other's bluff. "If you've painted a naked chick, I wanna see."

"Well, no, I. hey what do you think YOU'RE DOING!?"

He was taken slightly aback by the deft little painting. Captured in radiant impressionist light was. him painting. "Didja think I'd get upset you did this without asking? How could I? It's a great likeness."

"It's just that. well. you look like a girl in it."

"Hmm? No not at all." Pause. "No offense or anything, but I'll be back in a jiffy. There's something I gotta take care of."

His host stood there, somewhat more than befuddled, for ages. It was obviously the other boy really did like the picture. or was it? Was he truly offended by it or so pleased. had Duo been turned on by the feminine likeness of himself? Was he now happily jerking off to the thought of it? /That's nasty! And not something I wanna see. Damn! Now I'll have that picture stuck in my head ALL DAY!/

"Now I look like a girl!"

He spun around even though half of him certainly didn't want to. His guest was standing in the doorway attempting to strike a sexy pose and actually coming rather close to succeeding. He had a big, floppy pink bow tied at the base of his braid and at least it clashed with the slinky black party dress and the more appropriate trimmings: the fishnet stockings, the patent leather pumps, the little gold sequined purse, the velvet collar. He turned from the doorway, pursing his lips, swinging his hips delicately as he sacheted into the room without a hint of parody in his moves. He carried himself perfectly.

That was why Quatre fell over laughing, even if he didn't admit it later.

*****

"Oh Quatre! I'm so glad to see you out of bed!" cried Iria dashing over and giving him a quick hug. "Have you been up long?"

"I was painting. How did everything go today?"

"The insurance company called at least five times because they had our files confused with someone else's. Someone very careless. We haven't had an accident at any of the mines and we certainly haven't filed any claims," She fumed loudly for a second then smiled as if nothing had happened. "But don't worry your little head about it. The rest of the day was fine."

"Well I'll be able to go back to work soon. I'm much better, see?" He danced across the room and even at this lighthearted gesture she frowned.

"Not yet. You need a lot more rest."

"But sis.!"

"I won't have you passing out on the job again. What if you really hurt yourself next time?" Seeing his dismayed expression she added. "You've done enough for us already. There's no need for you to trouble yourself with business matters. Now, is there anything special you want for dinner?"

"Roast pheasant and cream of leek soup. It's on the table already." He opened the door to the dining room revealing the fully furnished table glowing in the light of the crystal chandelier threw only to have it be diffused by the delectable steam pouring from their dishes. But also, bathed in the shimmering light was an almost elven figure, quietly stirring it's soup. The thing is IT was their guest. His burnished brown hair unbraided and cascading down in loose, seductive ringlets that had been pinned and wound with little Austrian crystals and behind his left ear was secured a white rose. He had been clad in a full length powder blue satin ball gown with gloves and silver slippers.

"Good evening, Iria!" he called getting to his feet for a courtesy.

No one had ever seen his big sister quite so flatly frozen in stupefaction.

"What? I dressed for dinner!"

"Yes, but if that's MY party dress you have on."

Quatre started to snicker as his fellow former Gundam pilot blushed and cupped his face in some imitation girlish distress. "Oh. I'm so sorry. You know that I haven't got anything pretty of my own to wear!"

".you forgot the earrings."

He stifled a maidenly chuckle. Iria's expression hadn't so much as twitched away from stoic even as her sibling doubled over in jubilation. "I'm afraid I've never had my ears pierced. You. you aren't angry with me, are you?"

"Nonsense! You look absolutely stunning in it. You know you are always welcome to whatever's in my closet. But here," She stepped closer, produced her compact and proceeded to powder his nose.

"Master Quatre, the pheasant's getting cold. I think." Rashid opened the door and accidentally bumped against the little blond who was rolling on the floor in hysterics. "Oh! Forgive me Master Quatre I had no idea. what the hell!?"

"Has my bodice fallen down again?"

"Of course it has," she sighed, finally satisfied with his makeup. "There's nothing holding it up. Don't you know how to stuff a bra?"

"Oh no! I never needed to before. You'll have to show me."

"Well, I can't have you eating dinner like that. Come along, Duette dear, we'll get you all fixed up."

"Just please, don't pierce my ears with a needle! I have such delicate skin."

"We'll be back in a minute brother," She added, leading their guest up the stairs. "I had no idea."

"That I liked dressing in drag? Never done it before, but I always wondered what it was like. Besides, did you hear him laughing? Yoshu! Duo Maxwell has done it again!"

*****

It was midnight by the time he, slung over one of the Victorian chairs in the living room, finally woke up. /Damn! I crinkled Iria's party dress! What was I watching? Yeech! Made for TV romance? I've been out for awhile!/ He staggered to his feet and tried to rub the kink out of his back. /Stupid armrest./ /Gotta go to bed now I suppose./ Trudging up the stairs, he tripped over his gown at least once only to nearly fall into the bathroom where he carefully stripped it off and hung it on one of the clothing hooks to be picked up by one of the servants. For awhile he stood admiring himself in the embellished undergarments in the mirror. /This thing pinches! Why wouldn't Hilde ever take her's off? That's better, but hmm. I don't look much different do I?/

With that he treated himself to a long, steamy shower, then replaced his boxers and slipping back into his host's room.

It took a few moments for his eyes to fade into the darkness, the ultramarine dimness haloed by the half-moon. For that moment though, his reflexes kicked back into action and his blood fizzed with a totally sudden rush of adrenaline. The sound half chilled half ignited his heart as he felt his motionless form sinking further and further into the carpet.

The hushed little moaning in the unbreakable azure around him.

"Quatre," his whisper came out a hiss as he reached for the door behind him. No answer. "Quatre!" He staggered to the edge of the bed forcing his eyes to focus, to see through the delirium blue. The little pilot was curled up tightly, tangled in the sweat-damp sheets, with one arm flung up over his head as if to guard against a blow. He was begging someone. Duo seized the skinny wrist and shook it. "Quatre!"

He gave a cry like a frightened sparrow, jerking to sitting position, yanking frantically at his wrist, trying to free himself. Then he went so still and taught, as if he was suddenly only a toddler fighting to not be picked up by the deepest cyan shade pawing at him that, no matter how hard he tried, his startled eyes could not make out. His eyes were so wide, so utterly terrified, there was no way he recognized the shadow of his companion alone.

"It's just me," he soothed. "Don't be scared."

"P-p-p-put me down."

"Sure just one."

"Let go of me please."

"If you would just."

"LEMME GO!" He wrenched himself away with the most unearthly gasp, not quite a shriek. Duo's straining eyes lost track of him in a blink. He had heard him slip away but the moon had rolled away behind a cloud it seemed and pitch wasn't black enough a word to use. The ragged breathing. he couldn't make it out anymore. Dread came coiling out of his heart and bound him fast. The sheer sense of being perhaps alone and unarmed was, even after all this time, as unbearable as if he was still standing in the rubble.

He clawed his way to the edge of the bed. He went sliding off with the covers, landing somewhat awkwardly on. a pair of legs. Another scream. He unceremoniously seized the little blond by the waist and yanked him loose, sending them both tumbling across the room. His patient was pitching, tearing, screaming.

"What's gotten into you!?" he snapped. He hadn't meant to.

The other boy gasped and crumpled in his arms, sliding to the floor. "Stop it. Please," he plead softly. "I didn't mean it, not like that."

Duo couldn't do a thing in the darkness. He felt his way to the lamp, the very same he had stolen the shade from, and flipped it on. The first thing the warm light caught in was the shiny traces scintillating on those white cheeks. His shivering companion spoke though without a trace of them in his voice. "Why won't it just go away if everything's alright now? I never even felt anything close to this during the war, but now. I mean just look at me! I didn't even know it was you even though I still feel like you're all I've got sometimes. I couldn't even say what I DID see. I was too scared. I never remember the nightmares exactly; I don't have to. So I guess it's not alright, is it? It'll never be alright for me."

"The wars over now, and maybe that's not as good as we think, because not everything came out right. Quatre, c'mon now. Don't talk like that." He sat down, crossing his legs and brushed his fingers over the trembling ones.

"I'm a killer and a fool. You can't deny it, no matter how hard you try. You watched me blow all those people to hell, just like they weren't even real." He stretched out his hand, mimicking a pistol and made some gurgling reloading and firing noises, eyes fixed on the imaginary targets. He held Duo in his sight, gazing squarely at him with soaking but otherwise emotionless eyes. "And I wouldn't have been a killer if I hadn't have been a fool. Quatre no baka!

"Quatre wa tenshi."

"You of all people know that's a lie! Just look at what I've done to you- that alone. I'm so selfish!"

"No you're not! You were my best friend, you *are* still! That by itself makes you a totally selfLESS person. Just because we opened up to each other doesn't mean you hurt me. It's the other way around if it's anything at all. Don't you understand that the only thing about you that's ever caused me pain is to see you like this? Don't you?!" He wondered if he was even listening.

"I AM selfish. because I wish that none of this had ever happened to me." He gagged softly on a sob and began to weep in earnest. "It doesn't stop no matter what I do. I feel like every day I wake up in a cage and nothing's changed, I can't get out of it. I just want it to stop. I want to be just a little boy again! I want another chance to be a kid! I wasted what I had and now it's gone and I'm so much older and I hate myself so much!" Burying his face in his palms at last. "I wish I was dead!"

Duo shivered from head to with something he'd never thought he'd feel again. And his heart moved his tongue as he screamed, hands clenched- "DON'T YOU EVER WISH THAT!" Then he shook at his own reaction. Caught his own wrist just before. It wasn't any use. He just couldn't do it. Couldn't slap the shaking little boy before him.

"Why not?"

/Because you're all I've got right now./ Those same fingers of his- worn, rough, violent, vindictive, maybe wounded themselves- even as insecure as it seemed suddenly, he let them creep over the cheek they had almost struck. /I haven't felt sad for someone in so long. I know it's wrong and everything, but it's kinda comforting. to know that maybe it matters./

"I'm nothing except what I make of myself and right now I don't feel like anything besides a random collection of chemicals! Just like I thought before. I was right. It'll stop if I'm gone. It'll go away."

"Oh Quatre," he sighed sorrowfully for some sympathetic ache stung his own heart. "I'd forgotten."

"I had too. I didn't want to be like that anymore, but I know it would be better than what I feel now. Ghosts all over me and it's so cold and my hands are so wet with blood. I can't even seem them, I just sense them. Anything's better than this." He wiped his eyes with a choke. "And I didn't even care about my music."

"Did you even play tag when you were little?"

"I don't think so, not if it involved sweating, or dragging myself off the couch. If I get up out of bed, they'll find me and they'll hurt me, but I can't stay in bed. I've already wasted so much time. Time isn't even real anymore."

"And that's really what's the matter, isn't it?"

The whimpers were his only answer.

"Shh. I promise it'll feel better. I get this too sometimes. A lot. Even if it's not exactly the same."

"I don't want to hear it anymore."

"Of course. he, sorry. It's no good is it, to hear me talk?"

"I like the sound of your voice."

"That even sounds like somethin' a kid would say. You grew up to fast. It not only. Man it's sick! I'm the only one of us that had a childhood. And I honestly pity you and the others for what." He was struck in mid sentence with an almost novel idea, as out of place as it was. "Hey Quatre?"

"Yes?"

"Did you ever play in anyone's hair?"

"Of course not."

"Would you like to play in mine?"

/"Solo, are you sure it's okay?"/

/"Sure kid, I was awful rough on you."/

"Alright."

He gently hauled his companion to the bed and arranged himself on the other half, snatching out the rubber band that secured his tresses and shaking them out before stretching out on his back, the torrents of sleek, soft brown swept over towards the side his friend was on and gleaming against the champagne satin. "Go on, don't be shy."

His fragile fingers crept nimbly over the think rivulets, stroking them lightly at first. At last one hand slid past the surface, vanishing into the smooth, dark pool, tangling the strands about itself. His eyes gradually began to clear, focused on the coppery tinges running over the waves of hair as he nuzzled them with his hand. For Duo it was bliss to feel someone touching them just so, without any words of disgust, or any words at all. His patient had calmed so quickly.

"Duo? Can I ask you something?"

"Anything at all."

"Well it's kind of hard. I tried to say something before but I just couldn't get it out." His fingers danced unsurely now despite a little shine of hope in his words. "The real reason I asked you here is because. I wanted to know if you would. I know it's hard for you to get very close to people."

He mentally started to refute that but bit his tongue. A vague uncertainly had him and he seriously wondered if he was actually starting to flush.

"But I've always felt. I know it's silly but. woul. would you be my big brother?"

The other former pilot smiled, a least a little from relief. "Sure."

"You mean you don't mind? I could call you that sometimes maybe, or just kiss you a little on the cheek?"

He rolled over and faced him, slowly taking him in a light embrace, just feeling his little, fluttering heart clapping away. "Just so long as you don't regret having a older brother that's a pain in the ass, Ni-chan." And kissing each tear-stained cheek. "Now try to go back to sleep and don't be scared. I'll stay right here and keep the monsters away." He flipped off the light. "G'night."

In the warm dimness he felt some timid lips brush his cheek as his companion settled in beside him, wrapping himself in the tousled hair. "Good night, big brother."

*****

Quatre awakened the next morning rather late; ordinarily he would have kicked himself for that but he was. alone. Stretched out in the middle of his messy bed. For some time he did not rouse himself but laid instead, eyes half closed, pondering the previous night; the nameless terrors and softhands it had carried with it. The nightmares had passed for now at least, but did his dear friend really understand that this was only the surface of the illness in his heart, that the maladies were now silent and then possessing him slowly from the inside out, later wholly suicidal spreading out with icy fingers from the achy space it had claimed for itself? Did he himself understand the gestures of his jester that was by far no fool?

But why was he gone? Had he changed his mind and fled somewhere in search of more or less than he could offer?

/If you aren't just a joker, and you aren't, I know that but, then what *are* you? You're impossible to figure out! You're so alive./

Sitting up only to a slouch, he laid his hands on his cheeks. "Duo, I love you."

As resolutely as ever, he dressed and went downstairs. His guest wasn't the only one to have left- the cork board was covered with notes. Rashid was in the kitchen though, washing someone's breakfast dishes.

"Master Quatre, good morning!"

He remained half-hidden in the adjoining corridor, peering inside almost acidly. "You didn't come to me last night. Why?"

"Forgive me, I thought it was better I keep your sisters in the other wing of the house in case you and Master Duo were."

"Just because I had someone in my room doesn't mean I made love to him, her, or whoever it happened to be! Besides, can't you tell a moan from a real scream?"

"Sir, I say it again! I beg you to forgive me, if indeed you are alright."

"Sorta." He seated himself at the table by the window where the servants usually ate and stretched his scrawny arms behind his neck, leaning forward. The image of him was all together spectral. His frame was left unnaturally slender by what trials had faced him on his quest but while his body at least had seemed to recover at first, his soul seeped the energy of it. He was emaciated at best now- his bones showed through the white fabric of his white clothes when they were pulled taught against his skin by his position, which was seldom for they only hung on him, caught easily in the breeze from the window. His strangely lustrous hair was a wreck, his eyes had a pale, saddened glimmer.

"Master Duo left a recipe. He said I was to fix it for you as soon as you were hungry."

"Huh?" he was a bit cross yet out of what remained of his dream. "Where has he gone anyway?" the guest was sure to have left the house, it was too quiet.

"He didn't say, but I saw him unchaining his bike and peddling towards town."

"Oh," he paused. "Sure, I'll have whatever it is, but I want it outside."

He stalked out to the front porch, disregarding his shoes, and placed himself this time on the swing that creaked with a sound as uneasy as he felt. Rashid took some time to follow, but he appeared with a drinking glass rather than the expected plate. "Master Duo insisted you have a chocolate malt for breakfast. It came out a little thick though. I brought you spoon if you need it."

"Mmm? Oh yes, thank you."

But he sat as the sun wheeled higher and higher in the hot blue sky and contemplated over his milkshake. He was sure it dragged into hours. Wherever Duo had gone, he was taking his time if indeed he was coming back. Had he left his things here or taken them with him? He hadn't had that much to begin with, was it worth leaving? Should he go see if it was upstairs still there? No, let it rest, let it be. If his promises were not made out of the threat of sleepless ness and grief, were not idle. Duo had not once lied to him. At last he managed to push all concerns from his mind for an artificial contentment and merely was quiet and glad that he was waiting forever. The forsythia rocked slowly in the wind. The gulls cried at the mumbling waves.

Suddenly there was someone cursing at the base of the hill, which was shallow, but no one could have peddled a bike over it as long as the road was gravel. This was followed by a rattle of stone and a jangling of metal and one very merry Duo trundling his bike along.

The other former pilot froze without a hint of what to expect striking his thoughts. /If this was combat, I'd be dead by now!/

"Mornin', Ni-chan!" he waved with a comically exaggerated motion.

Quatre went numb, he could have sworn he was soaring instead of running. "Big brother!" he was almost wailing in jubilation as he threw his arms around the skinny waist.

"Oi! It's very nice to see you too," the other boy replied with a warm pat on the shoulder and a quick but thoughtful squeeze. "You didn't wait out here all morning for me, didja?"

"Well."

"Aww! Why you. okay. lemme explain. I'm sorry I left so early. I thought of waking you up but then I figured you'd be all sleepy and cranky. Okay, well, so why did I leave? Mark your calendar I actually planned ahead. I knew it would take extra time to wrap your presents at the store and I really suck at wrapping presents so I had to get it done there."

The little blond was still hanging on one word. "Presents?"

"Yeah! How many birthdays do I owe you for?"

"But."

"Ahchchchchch! No buts! And you're opening them today."

"My birthday's not until."

"Because I can't wait to see the look on your face. And don't worry, I still plan to throw you a bitchin' birthday party when the time comes, okay?"

"Okay!"

"You go inside and make yourself comfy on the couch, I'll be in in a minute."

Quatre practically skipped into the living room and leapt onto the squishy couch, bouncing a few times in a circle of sunshine half from the huge round window that opened up to the sea, and half by the skylight. Duo came bursting in, arms weighed down by several shopping bags, one of which he began to grope around in rather farcically. "What shall I give you first. hmm. oh! I don't seem to remember what this one is. Try it!" He plunked a cube of about a foot square on the glass top coffee table.

His host marveled at the silver wrapping paper for a moment before daintily tearing open a single seam as if trying to make as little noise as possible.

"Shred it!"

"Give me a second! I'm all jittery and I kinda like it."

"Woul look at MEEEE! I'm fidgeting more than usual." As a matter of fact he was dancing around as if perhaps he was about to excuse himself to the little boys room. "Hurry up! I wanna see!"

The cube proved to be a carefully assembled heap of colorful and wild children's comics. "These are adorable!" he then clapped his hand over his mouth obviously regretting his word choice.

"No, they ARE adorable! And that's okay. There's Jing the Bandit King- it's a classic, and one about little girls that ride griffins, and actually this shojo comic about high school witches that look hilarious- see the poor, naked guy on the cover?- and one about a kyubi fox and a kappa, and boys that battle with anthropomorphic slime creatures. anyway, don't say anything yet! I'm not even warmed up."

The next was actually a heap of nearly identical, small, flat items. He ripped a hole in the paper and peered in. "Evening Dust V, RPG? But I don't have a console." He looked up to see Duo grinning and holding out another large package.

"You have to read some of the comics first. There's a puzzle game with chibis of the griffin-riding girls."

"Wow!"

"Actually, I wasn't sure if you *liked* griffins."

"Griffins are cool!"

"Good 'cause I kinda found these little 200 yen Japanese vending machines and they had these figures of them," he unloaded about twenty bubbles onto the table. "There's six girls, four guys, a dryad, a fluffy thing and two villains. I got five of the one villain and I didn't get them wrapped because I found them on the way out," he. he made puppy eyes! "Can I help you put them together?"

"Sure I mean I."

"Have two more bags to go so I'D better shut up. Catch!" he tossed over a volleyball tied with a blue bow.

"We've already got a beach!" The next package turned out to be a large bucket stuffed with many smaller ones and all sorts of shovels and rakes- all made out of neon plastic. "You know, all this time I've lived here, I never even tried to make a sand castle."

"We could build ten tomorrow! Hell, we could even take a flashlight and go down this evening."

"Why not TODAY?" he pouted a bit and hugged the bucket.

"'Cause these are best right out of the box."

"Hmm?" Duo handed him an entire bag of very oddly shaped items.

"C'mon! What do little boys like best?"

Inside were a dozen action figures: a transparent android that could have it's parts rearranged, a winged knight, a bunny girl, a very scantily clad pink-haired woman with a panther, a black sorcerer, his white techno-wizard counterpart, an elf with a cavalcade of faeries, a liveried slave, a magical girl, a punk, an exorcist and a ninja all with a thousand tiny metallic and clear accessories that were nearly as interesting as their brightly painted selves. At the very bottom though was a model robot- white with a silver scimitar. He just sat there awhile and stroked the over-blown heroic image on the front.

"Quatre."

"Ohmigod! I'm such a crybaby!" the little blond burst into tears, burying his face in his hands, wailing with all of his soul.

"Quatre, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. This was poor judgment on my
part I."

"No! No stop it!" He pulled his hands away. Duo almost passed out. /I remember that smile! He sometimes looked like that when we came back from a mission and he would glance back at his gundam./

"You found me a Sandrock that can't hurt anybody."

"Well, I guess you could poke your eye out with it."

"And this is the best birthday I've ever had! I love the figures, I don't know how you found them, they're so much like what a child would really want, I really am a child you know, and this is my Sandrock." /I knew there was more to you. So this is what the mystery looks like when it comes out to play./

"Y'know, this sounds kinda stupid, but really, I'm happy that you're happy. And I. I suppose it can wait but I do have one more thing for you that I *KNOW* I shouldn't have gotten."

"What ever it is I'm sure I'll just love it."

Duo pulled out a white cardboard box. with air holes.

His friend gingerly started pulling the handles apart, pausing to smile at his companion. Inside was one tiny grey kitten with mussed fluffy fur and two aqua eyes set in a round, sanguine face. Tied around her neck was a gift tag that read "For my Ni-chan" and, as if she knew what it said, she got up on her hind legs, leaning on the edge of the box and licking his nose.

"Duo.?" he breathed.

"Mmm?"

"Now can I say 'thank you'?"

"Of course."

"Then thank you, Duo. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"And you're welcome."

Not hat he had any intention of being rude, but he couldn't bring himself to take his eyes from his kitten, who was fixed on him as if she meant to speak. "Hi there," he cooed.

"Hey! You're eyes are almost the same color! I hadn't noticed that."

"You think she'd mind if I picked her up?"

"Of course not. The girl who sold her to me said she's real lovey and kinda docile for a kitten. I held her myself for awhile and she didn't budge."

The kitten gave the most pitiful, helpless mew that almost sounded more like a baby starting to fuss.

"Shh, come here. I won't hurt you." he reached over and lifted her out of the package, holding her as if she might shatter any moment of her own accord. She relaxed at once and he likewise slumped back on the couch, laying her out on his chest, scratching her behind the ears so she at once began to purr in satisfaction. It sounded like a malfunctioning outboard motor.

Duo laughed and joined them on the sofa. "Why you're noisier than you looked." He jiggled her tail. "So whatcha gonna call her?"

"Umm."

"You don't have to decide right now."

"Ponzu."

"Ponzu?"

"She looks like a Ponzu."

"Yeah, Ponzu the lazy lap fungus named after everyone's favorite zippy Japanese condiment. Cool."

"Quatre! I'm home!" called Janice.

The kitten's ears shot to attention! She leapt off his chest (only after digging her claws into her owner) onto the coffee table, knocked over the bucket spilling it's contents pretty much everywhere, raced around the room three and two-thirds times, scaled the curtains, perched atop their rod and refused to come down.

"Did I say 'lazy lap fungus' because I meant 'super-charged scardie cat'!"

"MEEEEEow!" Ponzu retorted.

 

[Note: Jing the Bandit King is the only real comic listed- the toys are all made up too, even if 200 yen machines are great anyway.]
*****

"I was having the nicest dream. I don't want to get up, even though I bet it's gone already." Quatre mumbled softly to whoever was petting his cheek.

"It's not even tomorrow so shh, if you go back to sleep maybe you can catch it."

"Alright." he yawned. "Hey Duo?"

"Yeah?"

"Yesterday really, I mean, are the sand castles still there?"

"Only the one on the dune."

"Okay. Goodnight."

"G'night."

And the dream flitted back for just one more precious second impossible to cling to. Of everything else though, that his sleeping mind evoked, the only thing that stuck was Duo sitting on the ledge of his cobalt window, tapping on the glass as if to try and catch that same wonderful delusion.

"MEEEEEow!" Quatre's eyes fluttered open and he was greeted by the sight of Ponzu sitting on his pillow and batting about one of his papers.

He yawned sleepily and said to the delinquent kitten. "That's mine, you cut that out." At which he confiscated the ball and tossed it limply across the room.

She raced off, pounced on the paper, mauled it for a few seconds before giving back his wadded up writing which she returned to him, tail waving expectantly.

"Cats aren't supposed to play fetch."

Ponzu flopped down on her back and batted at his bangs.

"Fetch it is then." He threw the paper and sure enough she brought it back, and back, and back, and back. "That's enough you."

"MEEEEEow."

"Duo must have taught you to talk."

"Mrrrrrow."

"And the two of you can tell me all about it over breakfast. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stretched before getting to his feet and walking over to a heap of blankets that was most likely his guest, and giving the snoring mound a light shake. "Duo, it's time to get up now."

All he got as a reply were some chirpy grumbles, but he smiled and patted the bulge in the covers reassuringly before going to the bathroom to splash off his face and get dressed. The closet though was filled with khakis and blech! He was tired of khakis! He never wanted to see another pair as long as he lived, and they would be going swimming today anyway. Yesterday, he had probably ruined his shorts in the surf. As he rooted around for his swim trunks, he heard Duo shuffling about followed by a rather loud "Shit!". He chuckled a little, pulling on his blue tank top. Ponzu decided to attempt a walk around the toilet seat once again and just like the first time fell in and so needed to be dried. "You!"

"MEEEEEow!"

"Of course I love you. I don't know who couldn't, it's so easy. There, that's better now." He patted her head. "Big brother! Are you up yet sleepy-head? I don't want to eat breakfast alone." He walked back over to his room to find his friend still knotted up in the sheets, his long, loose hair shining with an almost metallic gleam in the morning light. The thing was, he had slung his arm over his eyes as if to block out the cheery sunshine that showed him up so well. He was reproaching himself for something. He was. shaking?

"Duo?" The blond boy was trying his best to sound calm. "Duo, what's wrong?"

He swallowed so hard it must have hurt. "I don't feel so good, but I'll be fine, just gimme a little more time to get up."

"Sure." /Anything you want, maybe now's just not the time for whatever you may want to tell me. Why would you need my shoulder anyway? You're lucky, you're happy with yourself. Why should I be disappointed that you don't need me as much as I need you?/ He was just about back out in the hall.

"God damnit, I can't fucking pull this off. Quatre!" He was sitting up now, covers pulled halfway over his chest as he clutched at them. The other hand was crunched around his crucifix. His eyes though were fixed yet trembling with the rest of him, fearful. "I'm sorry I was cross. Come back, please? Quatre I. well. could you close the door?" he glanced at the ceiling for the second his companion was turned away and batted the liquid away from his eyes. His fellow pilot locked the door. "I'm sorry I lied. I'm not sick so please don't worry or be upset with me I. okay, be upset with me, I deserve it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with me unless. unless."

"It's okay, this is what brother's are for."

He choked for a second then spoke more clearly than before. "I guess. I knew that I couldn't keep this from you forever." With an irresolute shuddering sigh and a flaming rose that overtook his cheeks, he threw back the covers.

The blond boy couldn't even bring himself to gasp.

Duo's bed was soaked with blood.

And he couldn't have mistaken the faintly sweet scent of it that now and again he had caught on his sisters.

"Damnit Quatre! I'm not hemorrhaging so please don't scream!" He was frantic now, the sobbing, anxious breath lapping over his lips. "God, this is disgusting."

"Not it's not." His words were truly soothing.

"I hate it and it makes me disgusting!"

"Oh Duo! Calm down and don't be so embarrassed." He knelt by his friend and fumbled with what to say next.

"You. you're not. you really aren't. you mean this doesn't make you sick?"

"If you want the truth, I'm kinda used to it."

"But I'm not one of your sister's, I'm the *boy* you made your brother!"

"I can't tell you I'm not a little confused, but don't worry. We'll just get you cleaned up, okay?"

The little blond gripped his companion by the shoulders, helping him tug one of the blankets around himself as they snuck into the bathroom and fastened the door behind them. Once safely inside, he got down on the floor beside the sunken tub and started a hot bath, taking a few moments to set the temperature just right. Turning back to the other boy, he found him still shrinking under the cover, knees bolted together. "You could get in while it's drawing if you like."

He only stroked his own hair and continued to avert his eyes without making a sound.

"I guess all you want is for me to leave, huh?"

"N-no." He cast off his wrap and started pulling off his shorts, obviously chuckling darkly because he felt so degraded. In spite of the crimson trickle running down his leg, Quatre found himself staring at Duo's slender manhood and balls, as he seemed to almost shyly pose to show them off, his thighs still pressed together. "I'm a hermaphrodite. Not even Professor G knew. Father Maxwell was the last person I told before Hilde and Hilde left." He climbed into the tub and pulled his knees up to his chest so he could lean on them. "You're taking it awfully well you know. Sister Helena found out while she was trying to bathe me in the rainwater. It's kinda hard to tell from the front, but she was suspicious so she held me down and looked. Then she freaked out."

"Wait, Hilde left you because."

"Yeah, she screamed too."

"That rotten bitch!"

"Quatre!" Despite everything, he burst out laughing. "What's gotten into you? Did I really just hear you say 'bitch'?"

"Well, that was a horrid thing to do!"

"No, don't blame her. I said I knew she was going to leave. They usually do. But you," He shook his finger and simpered at his host. "Are takin' this A LOT better than you should be. You sure, you're alright?"

"Do you want me to be shocked because I am. I'm shocked you kept this to yourself for so long."

"What can I say, I'm a natural." Shrugging.

"And I'm a bit confused."

"Then ask away! Do you seriously think you can offend me?"

"I think I can embarrass myself!"

"No you can't, it doesn't get any further from normal as this. If it doesn't scare the shit out of you, it oughtta at least make you curious." He craned his head backwards over the floor and gazed up at his companion.

His ears turned bright red. "Well. okay. umm, how come you don't have breasts?"

"I think I have to start at the beginning for that one. It took me a long time to find out exactly what I was. It happened only after the war started, and I met Heero."

"Heero?"

"Okay, Heero's laptop. Sometimes after he was asleep I got on it since it had all those security features and couldn't be traced. You know, it's the weirdest thing: he HAD to have known I was doing it but he never said a damn word. Anyway, didn't you ever wonder how come I knew I was American? Imperial American actually. Under the king it descended into ultra-decadence and conspicuous consumption- not that it hadn't been headed there to begin with. Laws didn't apply to you if you could pay off the magistrates. So if you're rich and you're powerful and you live in a country that'll let you get away with anything, what else do you want?"

"Sex?"

"But why just sex if you can have a tailor-made love slave? It's a huge business over there. Haven't any of your clients ever brought theirs along to meeting?"

"Someone tried to buy me off with one just the other week."

"Exactly. Well, genetic engineering is not an exact science so no matter how perverted you client's tastes are, you'll occasionally get a model that just isn't acceptable. So what do you do with the rejects? You send them off to a dirt poor colony and they disappear."

Quatre clenched his fists. "How can you say that without. Duo! That's revolting!"

"But it's the truth. Okay, so back to your question; why don't I have breasts? I don't remember why they ditched me, I always liked to think because I was too wild for them, but I'm pretty sure this is the sort of thing you'd have to *want*. I've never heard of a natural hermaphrodite that DIDN'T have them. I think that. hmm. didn't you notice that I don't shave?"

"I figured you were slow to mature."

"Nope, don't need to. They spent all their time perfecting the hair on my head. I don't have any more. And there's my squeaky voice. The other really screwed up thing is," He grinned wickedly from ear to ear. "Having a guy orgasm doesn't mean I have a girl orgasm and vice versa. It's usually only half of me that gets aroused in the first place. My nerves must be wired wrong or somethin'. I think. There's just no alotta reading material on the subject."

/I needed to know that, I really did./ "Do you like it?"

"Umm. it's just always been the way things were. I guess I like it."

"Woul then why did you choose to think of yourself as a boy rather than a girl?"

"Because I was a street kid! You have any idea how much it *SUCKS* to be a *girl* street kid!? It sucks to be a street kid in the first place, but it's a hell of a lot worse to be a girl! No matter how over-protective the others are of you, you usually end up getting picked on and raped anyway. You're not allowed to be tough and bitter. I don't remember it being that much of a conscious decision though. Anyone that saw me takin' a piss assumed I was a boy and I went with it.

"Actually, I didn't occur to me for the longest time that I was weird. Solo one day, I don't remember what I did exactly, but he just got so angry with me. It was the only that once. Sometimes, when his other kids did real dumb things he'd give 'em a quick spanking. His hand just happened to slid between my legs while I was squirming so he took me around to one of the back alleys and made me strip. That was also the day I learned how to say 'Shit!' because he just kept shouting it over and over. When he saw that I wasn't getting it, he tried to explain, maybe to himself I think. He even asked to stick his finger in to see if it was real. He was very gentle, and I didn't mind. The he just dressed me up and said that I was never to tell anybody because I'd get in trouble and he didn't ever want me to be in trouble. That's why. what's why he yelled. I think. that if he was here now, I'd have a lot of apologizing to do."

Duo's voice had started to quake at the mere mention of his old friend's name, but now his eyes shone with a touching grief he must have been holding in for longer than anyone else should have been allowed to. Quatre scooted closer and pulled his head into his lap, running his fingers through the glistening tresses as the tears poured silently over his companion's face.

"Sister Helena found out a little while after I came to the church. She spent weeks trying to make it up to me, maybe the rest of the time I was there. She had to tell everyone that was thinking of adopting me, so no one ever did and I just stayed. After the night where she made the scene in the showers, she sat and held me on the front steps. No one. no one had ever done that for me before, and I didn't want to leave, I kinda think she didn't want me to. I do know that she and Father Maxwell thought I was a gift from God. They told me a lotta the time I was the only bright thing in their earthly lives, and even if they were awful strict with me, I'll always love them. They told me God didn't care if I was a boy or a girl- if anything He'd admire me because I was so strong."

Duo only sobbed for a moment longer before a sudden burst of laughter amid his tears. "Y'know, Sister Helena used to try and coax me into thinking of myself as a girl. She figured eventually I wouldn't be able to pass myself off as a boy. Damn, people that would see me on the streets once in a while would wonder why the hell she had me in a dress! But I never got tits and she gave up eventually. She didn't ever get so melodramatic on me again, not even when I started bleeding. This is the first time in over a year, musta been all the stress."

"And you haven't told anyone but Hilde since?"

"Yeah."

He sniffled a little himself now. "You poor thing! Having to live with all that stuffed inside you for so long. I'm so sorry. and then to just throw all my grief at you to! If I ever would have suspected."

"But you didn't so don't worry about it. I still love you just as much even if you decide this whole thing's fucked and run screaming out of the room. Don't."

"I can't help it, I."

"Quatre! Stop it! Take a deep breath. hold it. hold it. Don't cry!. hold it. that's good. now let it out. Smile. Okay." He cracked his knuckles for no apparent reason. "This is just who I am, it's how I've always lived. I am not pretending to be happy, not now at least. But don't think of offering me the operation because I like my pussy and I'm keeping it even if it does give me hell sometimes."

"Oh gosh! How inconsiderate of me! Would you like some aspirin or something?"

"Uh, yes please, but in a minute. You stay here a little longer."

"Certainly."

"I just want you to know that even if I'm okay with it most of the time. Well I. I feel a lot better that you listened. To everything I ever said to you. Thank you."

"Anything, big brother." He caught himself. "Is that still alright?"

"Yeah, why not?"

"Sure. Now, I'll be right back, okay?" he kissed his companion on the cheek and went over to the medicine cabinet.

Duo just leaned back in the bath water with a final sigh of relief, closing his eyes and listening to nothing but the scuffling noises his friend was making.

*****

END PART 1