Spoiler Warning: This is an AU incorporating much of the history of the anime series, "Mobile Suit Gundam Wing". Sorry I can't be episode-specific with this one. I know of at least one reference to the Gundam Wing manga "Episode Zero".

General Warning: This is a yaoi story (1x2/2x1) based in the usual AU where all the pilots are living together someplace accepting occasional missions, presumably from the professors.

Author's Note: This story is incomplete. I call it my 'evil fic', and it will become more clear why if/when I finish it. By the way, regarding the structure and upkeep of gundams, please grant me some artistic license.


Addiction

By Kuonji

Duo Maxwell stumbled into the safehouse, a two-bedroom apartment somewhere in Eurasia, slightly blurry-eyed and disheveled, his ever-present smile more forced than usual. "Hi, everyone," he said in greeting.

"Hello, Duo," Quatre called.

"Hello," was Trowa's contribution.

Wufei merely grunted from behind his book.

Heero Yuy followed Duo in, brows heavy over his dark dangerous eyes. He scowled openly at the braided boy in front of him. When the disoriented Deathscythe pilot started toward the living room where the other three gundam pilots sat, Heero's hand shot out and caught hold of his braid. "Duo," he warned, tugging the other boy sharply in the direction of their bedroom.

"Heero..." the boy whined piteously. "Please, I just want--"

"No." With that curt cut-off and not a word to the other occupants of the room, Heero dragged the braided pilot roughly to their shared bedroom and slammed the door.

Wufei lifted his eyes from his book then, feeling only slightly guilty at having been peeking furtively around it ever since the front door had opened. He met the gaze of the other two pilots, exchanging a three-way glance between them. Simultaneously, their eyes went to the hallway down which Heero and Duo had gone. They could hear Heero's quiet voice through the overly-thin walls, words indistinct but tone clearly angry.

"Do you think we should interfere?" Quatre's worried voice finally broke the silence in the room. Wufei turned to the blond Arabian, and he noted Trowa's faintly concerned look as he did the same.

That question had been going through their heads for the last three days, ever since they started to suspect that something wasn't quite right with their other two companions.

Nothing had seemed wrong at first.

When the three of them had arrived here after a long grueling mission last week, it had been Heero who had let them in and pointed the three thoroughly spent pilots to their bedroom. Duo had not been present, but then, that was not unusual, considering the fact that the five of them were constantly on call for missions. They had not bothered to ask after him.

Neither had they bothered to question the sleeping arrangements. Heero and Duo had been a couple for months now, and though Wufei had been decidedly startled by the news, he found to his own surprise that he was happy for them. Better, he decided, to take love and happiness when you could than to live forever in frustration at the loss of the chance at them.

By the time they had woken from the first restful sleep any of them had had in days, Duo was home and chattering away to Heero. Wufei, the first to rise, had caught words and muffled phrases regarding comic books, CDs, and some local convention of sorts, before he opened the bedroom door to cross the hallway to the restroom. On his appearance, Heero had immediately cut into Duo's conversation with a curt, "Eat your breakfast, Duo."

He remembered being surprised at the severity of Heero's words, accustomed as he had become to the Wing Zero pilot's indulgent attitude and gentle almost-smiles when it came to his cheerful lover. He had paused in the hallway to look at the breakfasting couple, and it had surprised him even more when Duo, normally outspokenly rebellious, merely shot Heero a furtive apologetic look before subsiding into silence.

Wufei had brushed the incident off, himself too tired and worn out from the mission to think long about it, and figuring that the two must be having a fight, as new couples eventually always do. However, the same scene had repeated itself morning after morning, and he had begun to sense the underlying tension which could not be accounted for by a mere lovers' spat.

The tension was apparent in simple things like the tone of voice when Heero and Duo spoke to each other, Heero's harsh and commanding, Duo's distracted and quiet. They no longer sat together for hours on end talking as they had even when they were only close friends to each other, and gone now were the subtle touches and glances that had marked them as a couple even before they had openly informed the rest of them.

During the last five days, three pairs of sharp eyes had noted Duo's uncharacteristically unkempt appearance, and had watched him sneak out of the house day after day for places unknown. Three pairs of trained ears had grown accustomed to the sound of the door slamming shut behind Heero as he left to track down the long-haired pilot, and had heard the angry one-sided arguments behind closed doors afterwards. Three mouths had kept silent on the matter even as three shrewd minds attempted to find an explanation that would not make an unwelcome confrontation with their teammates necessary.

Silent until now, that is. Now that Quatre had broached the question, they couldn't back away from it. All three of them were used to letting things be because they could not hope to correct all the wayward injustices in the universe, but at the same time, they all were sick of not being able to help those they cared about. They had become gundam pilots, in part, to make up for that. And in this instance, at least, they should be able to do something to help two whom they considered to be their friends.

Wufei took a deep breath, debating whether he should divulge the bit of information he had happened upon yesterday, then decided that it was his duty to, and that this was as good a time as any. "It certainly may be a good time to interfere. I'm not about to voice any theories, but... Duo has bruises on his body. Some severe, and many of them fresh." Both Trowa and Quatre widened their eyes at this news.

"How do you know?" Trowa asked, his voice calm as always but his eyes slightly troubled.

"I walked in on him in the restroom yesterday. He was just stripping down for a shower." Duo had been embarassed; both of them had been. He had not explained the injuries and Wufei had not asked.

Trowa looked thoughtful. "He has seemed to be moving rather stiffly recently. But he never talks about it, not even to complain about the discomfort. I'm assuming you don't think they're from his missions?"

Wufei shook his head. "No. Too fresh. He hasn't been on a mission since the day we got back. Assuming he was on a mission then and not..." he gestured vaguely with his hands, "wherever he goes when he sneaks out everyday."

"You don't think Heero..." Quatre's quiet voice trembled in worried suspicion, still young and boyish despite the horrifying experiences that he had been through in this cursed war. He didn't finish the sentence but he didn't need to. Just uttering the name was enough to confirm for Wufei that the Sandrock pilot believed the same as Wufei himself did, albeit reluctantly.

"It is best not to assume," Trowa put in.

"Yes, but..." The uncertainty in Quatre's aquamarine eyes cleared. "We should try to talk to one of them," he said in a decisive tone. "Whatever the problem is, we can't work as a team this way. And Duo no longer seems to be in any condition to take on missions by himself. We have to get to the bottom of this."

Wufei nodded and added a suggestion of his own. "I think we should talk to Heero first. Duo does not seem responsive lately."

Quatre nodded, then looked around at the both of their faces. His eyes settled on the taller pilot. If anyone was going to talk to Heero, it would have to be either Quatre or Trowa; they had each spent a considerable amount of time in the company of the silent pilot of Wing Zero. Wufei watched as a wordless debate passed between the other two pilots.

Finally, Trowa nodded, decision obviously made. "Tomorrow morning," he voiced quietly.

& & &

Heero stared down sadly at the boy in his arms, tracing with his unblinking eyes the perfect contours of his lover's face. He followed the rounded youthful cheeks which tapered down to a slightly pointed chin, and the full expressive mouth above that chin which hung partway open now below the pert saucy nose. Heero could easily imagine those brilliant violet-blue eyes laughing at him from under fine hazel-brown lashes, lashes which now brushed together in twin lines of delicate slumber.

When was the last time I saw Duo's eyes smile at me? Heero wondered.

The Deathscythe pilot had passed out just moments ago. From pure exhaustian and nothing more, Heero hoped. Restless smudges hung under his eyes more often than not lately, and he no longer chattered with lively spirit to Heero about the things they had used to talk about. Indeed, he had said nary a word during Heero's extended scolding, simply sitting quietly on the bed and waiting for his lover to pass judgement on him. Heero had barely caught him in time to prevent him from sliding to the floor after he passed out.

His sudden rage now melted away, Heero slid gentle, regretful, fingers through Duo's erratic bangs and breathed a sigh.

Why, Duo? Why do you let yourself be hurt like this? Why can't I stop it?

Heero laid his lover out on the bed, careful not to trap the trademark braid of hair under his body, and started wearily to undress him for bed.

Shoes and socks first. Then the baggy black pants, pants that were loose on Duo's too-slender frame. The black priest's shirt next, which he pulled off along with the white shirt underneath, both of which were dirty and wrinkled, as if their owner no longer cared enough about his appearance to keep them clean. Duo never woke, only mumbling something incoherent in his sleep as Heero efficiently pulled the clothes off his unconscious form, something that he had had to do more and more often lately.

Folding the clothing neatly and placing it on the dresser, Heero turned with mournful eyes to survey his lover's body. He winced at the sight of fresh bruises along Duo's thin ribs, more at his shins and ankles and along his muscled but somehow delicate arms. Reaching out a tentative hand, Heero lightly brushed the worst of the injuries on his lover's torso. Duo mumbled a protest but did not stir.

Why can't I stop it? Heero asked himself again. Once more, his hands sought out his lover's face, and he cradled that perfection in his callused fingers.

At least his face was spared this time, he thought consolingly. He remembered all too well two weeks ago when Duo had sported a black eye for several days. Duo hadn't complained -- he never did -- had seemed, indeed, perversely proud to bear the injury, but that constant reminder of Duo's pain and Heero's own ineptness had been almost more than Heero could stand. He was intensely glad that the signs of the injury had faded by the time the rest of the pilots had joined them. He wouldn't have known how to explain it.

We have to leave here, Heero decided. Duo and I have been here too long. But it was a hopeless decision. He knew that while things might get a little better if they switched location and kept on the move, nothing would really change. The current situation would play itself out all over again no matter where they went, and it would continue eating away at their relationship.

Reluctantly, Heero pulled away from his lover to undress himself and change for bed. Serious thoughts furrowed his already serious brow as he pulled his tank top over his head.

His and Duo's relationship had started out rocky, at best. Being who and what they were, trust was not a trait that either of them harbored in large quantities, and they had had good reason not to trust each other at first. However, Duo's unexplainably incessant humor and goodwill in the face of what they were doing had intrigued Heero. And, as Duo had told him later, his own mysteriously cold attitude in contrast had captured the Deathscythe pilot's attention equally strongly. It had taken a while, but they had eventually become inseparable friends -- and more.

Finished undressing now, Heero knelt beside the bed and gazed at his lover with bittersweet longing in his heart. He remembered the first time they had realized that the feelings they held for each other were more than ones of friendship. It had been a double epiphany, their loves mixed strongly with doubt and fear and denial and hope. Heero cherished that memory. It had been the beginning of the happiest time in his short violent life.

Duo had taught him how to love. The braided Deathscythe pilot had brought out the young boy in Heero and showed him what it felt like to smile and even to laugh again. Shinigami had taught him how to live. He had led Heero unerringly to his home in Duo's heart.

But now...

Heero grasped Duo's hand, enfolding it in both his own. Duo, I'm lost again. Tell me what to do. Tell me how I can stop this...

The situation was destroying their relationship, he knew. And it was destroying Duo, who was one of the few things left in this world that gave his life meaning. Heero Yuy could only watch as Duo wasted away before his very eyes, and did so with that damned happy smile on his face the whole time. He, the perfect soldier, was helpless to stop it.

Frustration built in him, and rage -- destructive rage that was only pushing Duo further away from him.

He couldn't stop it. He didn't know how, dammit. He knew nothing about human feelings and emotions and what drove them to do what they did. He could only reason abstractly about them, and nothing that he could reason out yielded a sensible answer. This was something entirely outside of his field of knowledge.

If only he could tell one of the others and ask them for advice...

No. He had to handle this himself. He owed that to Duo, didn't he?

Except that he hadn't been able to handle it thus far, and he knew he was only fooling himself when he told himself that he could fix the problem on his own. Especially when he was not clear on precisely what the problem was. He needed help. That was becoming more and more evident every day. He needed to tell the others...

But he couldn't tell them. He couldn't let anyone know. Not obvertly.

So what was he supposed to do?

Why couldn't the rest of them figure it out for themselves? They had all been together in this safehouse for several days now. Surely they were beginning to suspect something was wrong? Surely they could do something before it was too late?

Surely?

Heero slipped into bed beside Duo and wrapped himself around his lover, whether to protect Duo or to comfort himself, he wasn't sure.

I... I love you, Duo. Do you still love me?

& & &

Morning found Trowa restless and uneasy. He had to talk to Heero today, he knew, and once commited to an action, he always followed through with it. He had thought all of last night how he was going to go about doing so, planned and considered and judged, and yet he was still nervous and unsure.

Part of himself -- a large part, he admitted -- wished that the person to do this were Quatre and not himself. Quatre had a kind heart and an instinctive, probably unconscious, ability to draw others under his influence. However, Trowa knew that in spite of Quatre's abilities, he himself was closest to Heero and knew best how his mind worked. They were similar in some ways, both people who kept to themselves, generally mistrustful of others but tending to trust utterly when they did so.

But they were also different in many ways. For instance, Trowa wished fervently now for some of Heero's utter calm and methodical decisiveness. He would need to stay calm in order to get an explanation out of Heero for his and Duo's behavior the past few days.

If what he and the others suspected was true, and Heero was somehow responsible for Duo's injuries, they would have to do something quickly about the situation. Aside from the practical purpose of getting their team functional again, there was the matter of universal justice. Heero and Duo had been so obviously in love with each other that it bordered on unthinkable to have their relationship tainted and violated with violence. There was enough sorrow in the universe already, without needing to add more.

Even knowing so, however, Trowa felt uncomfortable having to discuss the problem with Heero. Something unnameable quivered inside him at the very thought of it.

It's fear, Trowa, he sighed to himself. Admit it. You're afraid.

But of what?

It couldn't be that he was afraid of Heero himself. Even taking into account his... experiences in the past during his time in the mercenary corp, Trowa was quite confident that he had nothing to fear physically from Heero. He simply didn't believe that Heero could threaten him that way. The steel-eyed pilot of Wing Gundam Zero was not one to take out his feelings on other people. He would be more likely to blame himself for anything that went wrong.

Then why is he hurting Duo?

Trowa shook his head at the thought. He didn't know yet whether Duo's injuries were truly by Heero's hand or not. Don't assume anything, he told himself. They were all jumping to conclusions. There wasn't enough evidence...

How much evidence do you need? Heero's been controlling his lover, verbally abusing him, and Duo has marks on his body which according to Wufei could not be from his missions.

Face it, Trowa, your hero is the embodiment of all that you hate.

Trowa stopped in his tracks as the realization came over him. He was afraid, because he didn't want their theories to be proven right. He was afraid that after speaking to Heero, he would find that the person whom he saw as the 'perfect soldier' was nothing more than another human being filled with pent up hate and anger.

In the midst of these thoughts, he found himself outside of Heero and Duo's bedroom door. He hesitated, feeling more than a little unbalanced by his realization, and suddenly feeling even more than before that he was not up to the task of questioning Heero.

Trowa shifted his deep green eyes to the ground, considering. He licked his lips and swallowed slowly.

If it's true... he thought. If it's true, then I will be the one to help him out of it. I don't believe that Heero would willfully abuse any person.

So thinking, he raised his hand and knocked twice on the door.

& & &

Heero was awakened abruptly by two smart raps on his door. He sat up immediately, reaching for his handgun on the dresser beside him. Before he closed his fingers around the metal, however, his mind registered his location.

Safe, he noted to himself. He was among allies.

He glanced down at the slumbering form beside him. Duo, once alert and ready as the rest of them, had not awakened at either the knocks on the door or at Heero's motion on the bed. Frowning at this, Heero nevertheless tucked the blanket gently around Duo and moved smoothly off the bed, careful not to jostle his lover.

On silent feet, he crossed the room to the doorway. Out of sheer habit, he leaned his back against the wall beside it in a position ready to attack any intruder who might enter without placing himself in a vulnerable position. "Who is it?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Trowa," came the quiet answer.

Had a mission come in? Trowa was not one to come around one's door in the morning simply to chat. His tone, however, did not seem to signify the urgency that would accompany such a reason. Despite the Heavyarms pilot's habitually expressionless manner, Heero had learned, with some difficulty, to read his emotions passingly well. It was easier when he could see Trowa's face and his subtle body language, however.

Heero opened the door to the taller pilot's calm green gaze. He raised an eyebrow, thus wordlessly asking the other boy, What do you want?

"Can we talk?" Heero debated silently for a moment. Considering Trowa's less-than-urgent manner, it was probably not something that had just come in. There was something about his expression, though, that seemed to signify that whatever he wished to discuss was something serious. If it was about a mission, it was normally the procedure to have all of the pilots present, and Heero didn't like having to wake Duo up. His long-haired bedmate got little enough sleep as it was lately. Perhaps sensing the uncertainty in him, Trowa added, "About Duo."

That got Heero's attention.

With no reason whatsoever, he felt his palms beginning to sweat, and a flash of cold lightning ran up his spine from his stomach. He experienced a sudden irrational desire to slam the door in Trowa's face and run back to bed. He wanted nothing more at the moment than to draw Duo's warm body close to himself and to bury his face in Duo's hair and pretend -- however irrational the thought was -- that everything was all right.

Ican'tIcan'tIcan't...

Clamping down hard on his runaway emotions, Heero took a deep careful breath, keeping his outer appearance placid. This is what you've been waiting for, he told himself fiercely. Talk to him, Heero!

Trowa stood in the doorway, awaiting Heero's answer and oblivious to the struggle going on under the Wing pilot's unruffled exterior. Heero sensed, however, that the silent pilot was not about to leave until he had gotten to speak with him. Once Trowa set himself to a course of action, he did not abort easily. They were much alike in that way.

In other ways, however, their characters were vastly apart. Like the rest of them, Trowa had been through a lot in the war, and Heero could infer from the bits of history he dropped occasionally that he had not had a pleasant past even before Operation Meteor. Despite this, the introspective pilot of Heavyarms retained an innocent idealistic view on life. He himself might not believe it, but Heero could tell that Trowa wasn't as hardened or disillusioned as he thought himself to be. Just watching the way he interacted with Cathrine and the other gundam pilots was enough to prove that.

It was easy to tell that Trowa trusted his adopted sister utterly, as well as felt a sort of bond with her that was almost like that between true siblings. In all the time that Heero had spent in their company, recuperating after his attempt to self-destruct, he had seen how Trowa let his guard down with the spirited, motherly girl.

As for the other pilots, Trowa trusted them all as well, and seemed to believe them to be somehow better than himself -- to the point of sacrificing his own life to that belief. His stubborn faith in Quatre even after the Arabian pilot had destroyed two colonies under the ZERO system's influence, and after Heero's warnings not to trust Quatre's intents, gave ample proof to this fact.

Trowa had almost died in that encounter with betrayal, saved only by chance and a few kind space traders. Yet, now, he was apparently still comfortable with letting someone else watch his back for him. It had taken Heero much longer to trust the other pilots as anything more than tentative allies. 'Partners' and 'teammates' were not something Heero was familiar with since Odin had died.

Until Duo... No, don't think about that yet.

Trowa was still waiting patiently, his placid green gaze never flickering away. Heero wondered, watching him, if Trowa was the only one who had noticed that there was something amiss between Duo and himself. The thought immediately chasing that one replied, Of course not. He was sure that the others must have noticed the situation as well; nothing escaped Wufei's cold dark eyes, and Quatre was an observant and intelligent youth despite his sheltered early life.

Still, it made some ironic sense that it would be Trowa who came to speak to Heero first.

All his life, Heero had attracted people who believed in him, respected his abilities and expected perfection from him. Odin Lowe, Dr. J, Sally Po. Relena... However, Trowa was the first to view him as a role model. He had gone so far once as to seek to give up his own life in some weird emulation of Heero's self-destruction.

It upset Heero that he could have a power over another's life that did not involve the choice whether to kill him or not. Emotions were hard to understand and dangerous to try and control. They were volatile, changing at will and without reason. Emotions could hurt people even without them realizing it themselves.

Like with Duo...

Dammit, stop letting your mind wander! You have to decide and give Trowa his answer. Now!

And yet, Heero could not force himself to respond to Trowa's request.

Did he have the courage to let Trowa get the truth from him, knowing that the Heavyarms pilot would lose faith in him? Should he wait for someone else to talk to him so that he would not feel the urge to hold back even more than he already would? More importantly, could he afford to continue waiting and hiding?

What did he want?

Even knowing that he was being observed, Heero couldn't stop his left hand from curling into a shaky fist. He just wanted... He wanted Duo to be...

Safe, he reminded himself as he nodded somewhat jerkily to Trowa in acquiescence.

He was among allies, and among friends.

& & &

"Give me a minute to change," Heero said, and he closed the door once more. Trowa slowly let out the breath he had been holding and settled the weight of his long body against the wall. The gesture was born partly of habit, and partly of relief. For a moment there, he had been certain that Heero was going to turn him down.

Considering how methodical the Wing pilot was, Heero should have expected someone to question him about Duo at some point. That it had taken so long for him to reply to Trowa bore evidence to the fact that he must have been truly flustered. The slight hesitation, though hidden, and the nervous fisting of his hand had not escaped Trowa's eyes.

He's afraid, himself, Trowa realized. This information somehow did not allay his own nervousness. He wondered with some trepidation what consequences this would have on their ensuing conversation.

Heero came out of the room dressed in his usual dark green tanktop, black spandex shorts, and oversized yellow sneakers. He carried a toolbox in one hand and a large, well-worn blue-green duffle bag in the other. He tossed the duffle to Trowa, who caught it with little effort. It was densely packed but not heavy. He raised an enquiring eye.

"Deathscythe needs some maintenance," Heero said, "and it could do with some waxing." He spared only a glance at Trowa before leading the way down the hall to the front door. Trowa hefted his duffle and followed. Judging from the weight and density, Trowa noted, it must contain the means for the latter task. Good idea, that. The time it would take to run a full body and systems check on Deathscythe, and then to wax its tremendous bulk by hand, ought to be long enough to talk.

Trowa followed the Wing pilot outside, down two exterior flights of stairs to the ground floor, and around the apartment building to where the fringes of the forest started. Deathscythe and Wing were hidden somewhere inside. Separately, of course, in case the location of either one was found by the enemy. Heero led the way inside, not following any path and careful not to create an obvious one of his own. Trowa was willing to bet that he changed his course to the gundams everytime. The perfect soldier was cautious and controlled in all his actions.

As they made their way through the trees, shadows interspersed with light running across their shoulders, Trowa found his attention drawn to Heero's hands. One was firmly gripping the handle of the toolbox, the other swinging in perfect counterpoint to his steady stride. They were large and well-defined with heavy bones, nails cut severely short. Strong enough to bend steel and skilled enough to handle gundam and space shuttle controls with easy grace. Yet, Trowa had seen those hands stroke animals and examine flowers with gentle curiosity. And hadn't those same hands once touched their owner's lover with infinite tenderness? Could those hands truly be hurting Trowa's fellow teammate?

Trowa was loath to consider it, but he intended to find out the truth of the matter.

Forty minutes of keeping a carefully empty mind and a moderate-paced walk brought them to an area where the trees were more widely spaced. The light, however, was unnaturally mottled-dark, as someone had secured a large net in the branches above, liberally woven with leaves and branches.

Camouflage for the giant sleeping beneath.

Without needing any words between them, Heero and Trowa both made their way around to where the head of the gundam laid resting. They stood for a moment, gazing at this masterpiece of technology, bringer of death and Duo Maxwell's partner in combat. Gundam Deathscythe Hell.

Unlike its human partner, Deathscythe looked as implacable and impenetrable as ever. Its black armor gleamed like the deepest, starless space from which it had come, and in its secretive metal face, Trowa could almost imagine an expression of haughty mystery, one that said, without needing words, "I am more than what you think. Beware..."

"Stand back for a minute." Heero's curt command broke the spell that had entrapped Trowa, and in a blink of Trowa's green eyes, Gundam Deathscythe became once more a lifeless tool of battle. Strange, Trowa mused, that their gundams seemed to attain a life of their own, especially to their respective pilots. He knew for a fact that Quatre talked to his Gundam Sandrock, and he was pretty certain that Wufei and Duo talked to their gundams as well. He himself did not, but he cared for Heavyarms like no other mobile suit he had ever piloted.

Heero climbed up the side of the black gundam and disappeared from sight under the black and white bat-wings that served as armor and radar shields. A moment later, a soft hiss signified that he had opened the hatch to the pilot's seat. Another moment, and then with almost frightening suddenness, the large gundanium wings sprang up and back. Trowa was glad that he had taken Heero's advice in standing back. The air pressure alone from that move was enough to cause a wind to shake the foliage of the trees above.

Trowa noticed that even without the masking silence of space, the operation had commenced with almost eerie quiet. Hydraulics and well-lubricated joints, Trowa told himself, but it was hard to dispel the notion that the black death gundam was somehow supernatural.

Its partner, on the other hand, was very much human. And from all observations made, he was suffering from the pains of flesh that only living beings need endure.

Trowa paused at the word-choice he had unconsciously used in his inner musings. Did human beings really need pain? What use could it serve?

Humans needed pain in order to appreciate lack of it, he answered himself. With pain came the appreciation of relief from such pain. With war came the appreciation of peace. Ideals and hate had started this war; different ideals and love would end it.

Love? Yes. Love as Cathrine had for her "brother" and her makeshift circus family; as Relena Peacecraft had for peace in the Earth sphere; as the first Heero Yuy had had for the rest of the human race.

Although Trowa was hesitant with his emotions himself, he understood the necessity of their existence. Without them, this war would not have started, but likewise, without human emotions, seeking to end this war would become meaningless.

To end this war... and the pointless deaths which attended it.

Unlike machines, people could not be healed in the shop. They could not be resurrected or replaced. Trowa had thought at one time that he was no more than a soulless machine of war himself. However, Cathrine and Heero had convinced him otherwise, and though he still believed that among them all, he contributed the least importance, he knew that he had a purpose for which he must stay alive: to protect his race, his "sister," and his companions and friends.

To end this war... one battle at a time. Personal ones included.

Trowa pulled himself out of his reverie, focusing on the task at hand. He set down the duffle bag and proceeded towards the gundam of Death, recumbent upon the ground and awaiting their service. Trowa noted, as he climbed up to join Heero at the cockpit, the unusually cared-for state of the black gundam. There was no doubt in his mind that it was Heero's doing. Duo loved his gundam, but he simply wasn't as meticulous as Heero was, and in the state that Duo had been lately, it was questionable whether he ever bothered to maintain his gundam at all.

The fact that it needed maintenance was obviously an excuse, Trowa reflected. But he had suspected as much, and he made no comment. He reached the cockpit to find Heero already seated inside with the screens up and basic diagnostics running.

"You start basic inspections of the shell armor," he commanded. "I'll take care of the battles systems and weapons," Heero said. Yet another sign that it had been he who had been taking care of his lover's gundam. Anyone passingly familiar with mobile suits could perform basic checks, but one had to be familiar with a specific gundam to go over its unique on-board systems and weapons arrays.

Accordant with Heero's orders, Trowa took the scanner that Heero handed to him and, making his way to the head of Gundam Deathscythe, began using both it and his own eyes to check for damages of battle or wear in the gundanium armor. As expected, it was perfectly maintained. From appearances, it didn't even need the waxing job that Heero had planned for later. All the better, really. It would give them more time to talk, and less attention applied to the gundam meant more attention applied to the true purpose of their coming here.

& & &

From inside the cockpit, Heero studied the tall, silent figure moving unhurriedly across the screen, checking Gundam Deathscythe's armor as Heero had asked him to. A momentary shiver of indecision fidgeted through him once more, to be quashed summarily.

I've come this far already. He couldn't help disillusioning his fellow pilot as to his own character and abilities, and this needed to be done. For Duo's sake.

A slight niggle of guilt-born doubt which sprang up was treated the same way as its predecessor.

It doesn't count as long as he is the one asking the questions, Heero insisted to himself. As long as I do not give it all away, I have kept my promise.

Of course, it couldn't hurt if they had to wait just a little bit longer, could it? After all, Trowa and he were hardly within speaking distance at the moment. It would be illogical to start the conversation at this time...

So thinking, Heero switched the screen -- now empty of living beings, for Trowa had progressed past the view of that camera -- back to the running analysis of the targeting systems, and he redirected his mind to his current task, ignoring the small sense of relief that he felt at doing so.

& & &

Trowa was a habitually quiet person, as a rule. When he spoke, he said what he wanted to say directly, and only at the right time, as he perceived it. So it was that an hour had passed, and both he and Heero were well into the massive task of waxing the impressive length and breadth of the black gundam before he decided to broach the subject:

"I've noticed lately that you and Duo are acting differently."

Heero clenched his jaw and put more force into his waxing but did not answer.

After another suitably long period, Trowa spoke again. "Do you know why Duo is going out so often?"

More silence.

"Wufei reports seeing bruises on Duo's body."

Heero's movements stopped.

This time, Trowa let the silence drag on. He concentrated on waxing his own area, waiting patiently. He knew that Heero would die with his lips sealed if he did not wish to divulge anything, but the fact that he had agreed to talk with Trowa and had brought him here signified that he was willing to speak. And Heero Yuy never began anything without finishing it.

In the same way that the clear liquid he was now soaking his plastic-fiber cloth with was meant to protect its applicee from harmful outside elements, Heero's silence was a way for him to shield himself behind a wall of inscrutability. Though this was important when faced with the enemy, in this situation, it was better for those shields to wear away. Given a bit of time, Heero would break through them on his own, and Trowa was perfectly willing and able to give him that.

Glancing up, he saw that Heero's fist was clenched around his waxing cloth, so tight that it trembled. He was obviously fighting with himself to speak, and finally, he did, in a strained, hoarse voice.

"It's my fault," he said.

Trowa waited for him to elaborate, then saw that he wasn't planning to. Accepting this, he nodded and considered his next words carefully.

"What, exactly, is your fault?"

"Duo's getting hurt."

Trowa's next question was deliberate and careful.

"Are you hurting him, Heero?"

The response was immediate: "No!" Heero looked back down at his cloth. "Yes, maybe," he amended. Whether he meant affirmably maybe, or possibly yes, was unclear. Either way, it was a damning thing to say.

Something in Trowa sank. He'd been hoping, even given the evidence, that Heero was not abusing his lover. He'd wanted to give Heero that benefit of the doubt, that chance for a different explanation. But now his fears had been confirmed, and there was nothing to do for it except try to help his friends out of their situation. He had to say that he still respected Heero, for having the courage to accept help, and he would do everything he could to provide that help.

"How?" he asked. This was partly to see how much of what he and the others observed and suspected was true, and also to find out Heero's own opinion of the matter.

Heero growled low in his throat, then continued waxing, his words coming out a bit stilted with his exertion. "I've tried. I've tried so hard to keep him safe, to keep him home with me. But he won't listen to me anymore. I tell him to stay home, and he goes out. I tell him to sleep, and he gets up after he thinks I'm asleep. I freeze his bank accounts or even close them, and he creates new ones." Trowa noted this last, new piece of information with a blink of his emerald eyes.

"He comes home exhausted," Heero continued, "and he won't eat. I try to make him. I- I even threaten him. I can't help myself. But it doesn't do any good. I can't make him understand." He bowed his head. "And he still gets hurt. It's like... It's like an addiction, but it's not a physical or a biological thing that I can understand. I don't understand it, and I can't stop it!" This long speech from the normally reticient pilot bore testament to long days of repressed feelings finally let loose.

Even as Trowa was horrified by what he heard, he couldn't help but respond to the sadness in that voice. He really is horrified by what's happening, he realized. He honestly wants it to stop.

Of course. With Heero's sense of responsibility, he must be tearing himself apart with guilt over his own actions. He must have been just waiting for someone to intervene.

Well, Trowa, that someone is you. Don't screw it up, he thought to himself.

"You can stop it, Heero. All of us will help you."

Heero looked up, and the desperate hope there was plain to see. Since Duo, the Wing Gundam pilot had become much more open with his emotions, though only at certain times and to certain people. Trowa allowed a small smile to flit across his own normally inscrutable features.

Before the moment could be lost, he asked gently, "Do you know why you are doing this?"

Silence for a moment as Heero turned back to his manual task of applying the protective wax. A soft exhalation, and then: "I want Duo to be safe." Another pause. "I keep trying to make him see how dangerous it is for him to go- for him to go out. I have to keep watching him, reminding him. Dammit, it's so hard!"

"Surely you know he doesn't need your protection. He's a gundam pilot, and we've all faced life-threatening dangers before. Don't you trust him to take care of himself?"

"Once I did. But now... Now I have to protect him. Don't you see? He'll get hurt out there."

Worried by the insistent, earnest tone, Trowa tried to apply logic. "He already is getting hurt right now," he reminded Heero.

Heero flinched. "I know." He groaned softly, as close to breaking down as the Wing pilot could ever get. "I'm a failure," he declared in a disgusted tone, and Trowa was reminded of the way Heero had sounded after the battle at the St. Edwards base, when Heero had unknowingly killed the leaders of the Alliance. It was the same tortured tone of self-loathing and guilt. Trowa didn't know quite how to respond to it except with a sympathetic gaze.

Without raising his head, Heero asked in a hoarse whisper, "Do you think he still loves me?" The voice was achingly sad.

He must, Trowa thought, to put up with abuse from his lover. Duo was definitely not the type to give in to someone out of fear. Perhaps he saw the guilt and apologies in Heero that the tousle-haired pilot was showing now.

"I think so, yes," he said out loud, and added, "It is only up to you to be worthy of that love."

Heero grimaced briefly and paused in his work. "I've never loved anyone before Duo," he said slowly, still not raising his eyes. "Sometimes I'm afraid... sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it wrong somehow. I'm used to dealing with physical, tangible problems, not feelings. I don't know how- what to do. What if I'm only driving him away? I can't deal with that. I need him." That admission clearly overwhelmed him, for he redoubled his efforts in waxing the piece of gundanium underneath him.

Trowa noted, while he considered gravely how to answer Heero, that if Heero waxed that same area for much longer, he was likely to wear the paint off. Heero seemed to realize this as well, for he got up and moved over a few feet before resuming his task with the same intense concentration. Trowa did not miss the fact that the move had been in a direction away from him. He did not comment on it, however, allowing Heero his space.

"There isn't a wrong way to love," Trowa finally said. "However, there are wrong ways to show that love." Heero did not respond. "Do you still love him?"

As expected, Heero jerked up violently at the question, utter disbelief covering his features before he managed to school them into a semblance of his usual serious, inscrutable expression. "Of course I do," he replied with calm conviction, as if he could not believe that Trowa had questioned the fact, and was considering whether to forgive him or not for doing so.

Trowa stood the gaze unfazed. "Then you should let him go." He stared down Heero's initial protest and continued. "Let him free. Let him make his own choices. He loves you, Heero. You don't have to worry about him leaving you. Something I learned from Cathrine is that sometimes giving a person freedom is the best way of all to keep him by your side."

Heero was shaking his head stubbornly. "No," he said. "It wouldn't work. It was because I wasn't strict enough with him that this started in the first place. He'll get hurt."

"He already is getting hurt," Trowa reminded him again.

Heero's jaw clenched. "It'll be worse if I don't restrain him somewhat." He took a deep breath. "He needs me to keep him safe, and I need to protect him in any way that I can. I can't let him go into danger -- even if he thinks that's what he wants."

Trowa was disheartened by the resolve in that tone, and also by the reasoning behind it. If it had been a case of rage or frustration taking an inappropriate target, Trowa could have helped Heero to realize his problem and to redirect his emotions. However, Heero's behavior seemed to be based off of his natural need to protect the one he loved. Separating his normal feeling of responsibility from obssession would be difficult.

But Trowa had to try, for both Duo and Heero's sakes. "He's hurting now, Heero. If you let him go, he can realize how much you love him and he you, and then he will probably do anything you wish without being forced. But if you continue to restrain him this way, it may be that he'll fall out of love with you permanently."

Saying this was risky. On the one hand, it could force Heero into loosening his control over his lover out of fear of losing him -- which was what Trowa was hoping would happen. But on the other hand, it just might make Heero even more afraid to let Duo go.

Purposely not applying a sense of time pressure by looking at Heero as he waited for his answer, Trowa bent to his task of waxing. The movements were soothing in their repetitiveness. Spray the formula onto the cloth. Rub cloth across the surface in circles. Move over slightly. Repeat. His arms were beginning to get sore, but he ignored the slight burning sensation, waiting for Heero's response.

He waited so long and so hard, in fact, that it almost startled him when he got it.

"I'll try."

Trowa looked up, seeing past the fall of his masking bangs Heero's uncertain face. He nodded. That would be enough. For now.

Without need for further words or the pretense of maintaining Duo's gundam, they packed up their equipment, made sure that Gundam Deathscythe was hidden once more, and started back towards the safehouse.

& & &

Let Duo go...

All the way back to the safehouse, that phrase ran through Heero's head. He had told Trowa that he would try, but was it really what was best for Duo? He really did want Duo to make his own choices and to agree with Heero of his own free will, but Heero was worried that if he let Duo free at this point, the Deathscythe pilot would only continue as he was now. Heero couldn't allow that. It would be equivalent to letting Duo destroy himself.

Duo was almost like a child as he was, unable to distinguish between what was dangerous and what was good. It was Heero's responsibility to teach him and prevent him from getting hurt.

Only, Heero had thus far been failing terribly at that, hadn't he?

Maybe it was best, as Trowa suggested, simply to leave Duo to his own devices and allow him to learn and "grow up" on his own. But Heero would never forgive himself if something happened to his lover that he could have prevented.

Heero was still trapped at this impasse of indecision when he and Trowa reached the apartment that was their safehouse. Silently, as they had been the whole way back, they climbed the stairs up, Heero leading the way since he had the key to the door.

As soon as he stepped inside, his eyes zeroed in on the open door to his and Duo's bedroom at the end of the hall. Immediately, he strode down the hall and into the room, noting the mussed bedsheets and the absence of Duo's pile of clothes on the dresser -- as well as of Duo himself. A by now familiar flutter of dread mixed with anger surfaced in his chest. Wordlessly, he headed out toward the front door again, intent with purpose.

Only to find Trowa in his path, not quite blocking the door but definitely a presence not to be ignored. One look at the green-eyed boy's face and Heero knew that the placement was deliberate.

Again, no words were necessary between them. Heero could sense his question: Are you sure you want to do this?

Heero stopped in his tracks.

Should he let Duo free? Or should he go after him? Caught in this storm of indecision, Heero flicked his eyes nervously between the open bedroom door and the equally open front door. Which way? Uncomfortably, he noticed two more pairs of eyes watching him intently from the kitchen. Which way?

Heero closed his eyes momentarily and imagined his lover, eyes so bright and sensitive, fingers so delicate and strong, face so young and unmarred -- and the answer came to him with clarity. I have to try!

Casting back a desperate, guilty gaze at Trowa, Heero bolted out the door and down the stairs in search of his wayward lover, ready to bring him back as soon as possible and by any means necessary.

& & &

The room remained silent for a long moment, save for the slight flapping noise caused by the breeze through the bottom edge of Trowa's loose turtleneck. Even that slight noise stopped once Trowa reached out and pushed the front door to.

Still silently, Trowa turned his eyes to where Quatre and Wufei had been in the midst of preparing their breakfast, then to the empty room at the end of the hall. His gaze lingered there for a long while.

Wufei traded a questioning glance with the boy next to him, then, impatient of waiting for the Heavyarms pilot to speak, he asked the obvious question hanging in the air: "What happened?"

Trowa seemed to return to them finally, and his normally imperturbable expression held the slightest trace of a frown. "We may have some difficulty," he said.

This time Quatre jumped in first. "What do you mean?"

Trowa crossed his thin arms in front of himself and leaned back against the wall, his usual pose when at rest, but there seemed to Wufei to be a certain tenseness in his posture usually absent from the aloof boy. "Heero accepts that there is a problem and that he is the cause of it. I think we can be sure that Heero is in fact restricting and most probably abusing Duo both physically and mentally."

Wufei was surprised on several levels by that statement. Firstly, that Trowa had felt it necessary to confirm a fact that Wufei had thought obvious to them all yesterday. Secondly, that Trowa showed no qualms in revealing this knowledge despite the fact that as far as Wufei could tell, he viewed Heero as a respected role model. (Although, knowing Trowa, he could be quite disturbed and yet show no outward signs.) Thirdly, Wufei surprised himself when he felt a weight settle inside him which he recognized as sadness. He too, it seemed, had been hoping for a different explanation.

He narrowed his eyes, suddenly angry. Couldn't anything in this war remain untainted by violence? Why should such a beautiful relationship as Duo and Heero had fall apart from physical violence when, of all people, the two participants should know better? Maybe it was true that humans needed violence in their lives in order to be satisfied. So now that the war was hitting a slow spot, domestic brutality must increase. Was that how the world worked?

Wufei sneered in despairing disgust. "Well then, I guess we have established that the so-called soldiers of peace are not immune to outbursts of rage themselves."

Quatre turned a startled and somewhat bewildered look upon him which instantly transformed into an earnest one. "Wufei, you can't start thinking like that. We may be gundam pilots, but we are all human and under a lot of stress. I agree that Heero is acting neither admirably nor appropriately, but that's exactly why we have to help him. I don't think he would continue hurting Duo if we could make him see an alternative."

Trowa nodded in agreement. "He knows that he is causing hurt to Duo, and I can tell that he is feeling guilty and repulsed by himself. In fact, it seemed to me that he had been waiting for a chance to ask for our help somehow. Also," and he turned his to face Wufei directly, "his actions are not prompted by rage. From what I can tell, Heero believes that he is protecting Duo from the outside world. He is keeping Duo indoors and restricting his movements for his own safety. So although his actions are deplorable, his motives are not bad."

"So are we simply to allow him to continue beating Duo just because he is doing it 'for a good reason'?" Wufei demanded, angry at Trowa's defense for someone whom he admitted had been willfully harming another. He indicated the front door with a sharp thrust of his chin. "Should we continue to allow that and what we all know comes after it?" Wufei noted a small amount of discomfort in Trowa, and he felt an unreasonable sense of triumph at that.

"I am not saying that we should ignore Duo's safety. But it is a fact that it will be problematical to convince Heero to stop, because he believes that doing so would actually bring harm to his lover. I've already tried to persuade Heero to give Duo his freedom, but as you saw just now, I'm afraid that it was not enough to stop him instantly. There probably is no quick way to train away a mindset such as Heero has right now."

"And so we should wait and see if eventually we find something that works? Should we always allow evil to march unchecked while we scramble in the sidelines searching for a strategy?"

"We need to explore all our options if we want to find a way to convince Heero--"

"Stop it, both of you!" Quatre cried out, physically moving himself between the two arguing boys. Wufei scowled, irritated. However, he was suddenly thankful for Quatre's presence, finding it somehow reassuring to be cut off in his more morbid thoughts.

"Look," Quatre said, "we know that Heero's hurting Duo and we know roughly why, so we should be able to figure a way to talk Heero out of it. In the meantime," and he looked at Wufei, "I'll talk to Duo and see what I can do to convince him to get himself out of the situation. We can't exactly force Duo to leave Heero. That would be as bad as what Heero's doing now.

"You two are forgetting that Duo is as much part of the problem as Heero is. He's staying with Heero because he wants to, or more precisely, because for some reason he believes that he can't or shouldn't leave. We have to get him away from that mindset as much as we have to get Heero away from his."

Wufei acquiesced grudgingly to this. He had no tolerance for violence with no reason, but he also had no tolerance for weaklings. He had to agree with Quatre that punishing the aggressor was not the only way to save the victims; the victims had to be strong and ready to save themselves.

"So you will be the one to speak to Duo?" Trowa asked, having obviously accepted Quatre's observations as Wufei had.

Wufei had noticed while working with the other pilots that they usually deferred to the quiet and seemingly most ill-suited for battle pilot of Gundam Sandrock. Odd how one's perspective of people and the world could be changed, for he himself was coming to recognize Quatre's analytical and strategical abilities, abilities that were essential in a war. In addition, the Arabian pilot held a strong well of compassion that couldn't help but be noticeable to those who met him, and even Wufei had to admit that this skill, too, was far from useless.

"You would have the best chance of getting him to talk," was what he said aloud.

Quatre turned his bright, aquamarine eyes toward Wufei, and somehow Wufei could tell that he had understood the veiled half-compliment for what it was. He smiled. "I do know Duo best. I'll talk to him the first chance I get." Then he sighed. "I hope we get this situation resolved soon. We may be in the middle of a stalemate now, but that only means that all sides must be recovering themselves. When something does happen, it will be sudden. All of us need to be undistracted and battle-ready."

Wufei nodded shortly in agreement, as well as in approval of Quatre's unvoiced opinion: Care deeply for your friends and do all you can to help them, but never forget that there is at hand a war to fight.

& & &

(To Be Continued...)