Interlude - Close To The Bone
by D.C. Logan
Duo looked down at his folded hands. So it had come down to this after all.
"Don't get too attached to anything; it might break, they might die, it won't work out. That way, it won't hurt so badly when it doesn't work out, when they leave, when it's destroyed."
Words to live by, and he'd lived his entire life by those words. The first crushing disappointment in his youth was enough to serve as a lifetime example. Sometimes it felt as if a stranger had borrowed his body and was living his life for him. Disassociated from reality. A step removed from actual.
He was good at covering his fears now. Few if any people suspected that he held anything back from life. It was easier to live this way. Fewer things touched him. Little made it through the shields he'd erected around his sense of self. If he cordoned off a part of his soul from the rest of the world, what did it matter?
The first person he'd let beyond the doors of his soul was dead, and he had been too late to save him. The last people he'd let in were dead, and again, he'd failed. He was the God of Death, and he'd brought death to those he loved. Never again. He'd never let anyone else in. He couldn't survive the guilt when he caused their death. He wouldn't do that to himself. It was easier this way. And if he told himself that often enough, eventually he'd believe it. Or so he trusted. Until now.
There was no use lying to himself any longer. But to move ahead meant risk. And he was afraid of risk. To risk appearing the fool, to risk being hurt, to risk his mortal soul—for he feared that he wouldn't survive another loss. He'd seen too much, done horrid things in the name of colonies, war, hunger, and the desperate need that raged within him. Peace at the cost of war. Survival at the cost of his ethics.
He'd relied on his own self. And alone, he'd forged his soul into a core of hard steel—strong, but brittle. Untempered by the association of family; unmitigated by exposure to friends. And the fractures had already spread through the matrix. A single precisely targeted strike could shatter it all. And there would be no recovery this time around. He just didn't have it in him to come back from the abyss. Never again. Not any more.
He'd left his childhood behind him, years earlier than most. But a strange little boy still lived inside him, who feared what Duo had become. But he also hoped. Yet since he didn't have the sense of self preservation necessary for survival, Duo had locked him away—deep inside, long ago. Only now, as he had done three times in the past, he had escaped again.
Duo's hands clenched into fists as he fought against the internal wave that threatened to overwhelm him. It was so much to risk—reaching out for another. "But," whispered the little boy, "It might work this time. He's strong, he's survived so much already, surely he can make it through the war? Perhaps he can even survive the God of Death."
Hope. What a horrible word. It carried with it the ponderous weight of a lifetime of anxious moments. It had taken a young boy and transformed him into a mobile-suit pilot of extraordinary ability. It had motivated the overturn of power on earth and in the colonies. It was a horrible word, but one of infinite power. And Duo felt his resistance slip, one small increment at a time.
He felt the gentle touch of a rough fingertip that reached out and stroked the soft skin along his cheek. It collected the moisture that had collected there while he pondered the weight of the request laid before him. To hope. To risk. To love? Was it possible?
Heero looked in wonder at the tear collected on his finger. And waited while time stopped for both of them. As he held himself a silent witness to Duo's internal struggle.
And the little boy who lived in Duo's heart said the one word he had no resistance to: "Please?"
And, although his mind resisted, his heart gave an unexpected leap at the request. And he found himself torn, caught on the point of a decision that would determine the rest of his life; one way or another. And he found himself reaching out. Tentatively, for he hadn't sought the contact of another in so many years, and he feared the reaction of his self nearly as much as he questioned the sanity of what he was doing.
And he found that Heero held the answer to his soul's unasked question. And, as if fully aware of what the decision had cost him, Heero returned the embrace, and gently drank the tears from Duo's face.
The moment didn't ask for words, and they had none to offer it. It just clicked true.