On Being Human:
The Difference Between Needing and Wanting
A short time after the shower incident, Duo used his "buddy's" visit as an excuse for cutting out early. The night's temperature had dropped several degrees while they'd been inside, and Duo suppressed the shiver working its way through his body. Zipping up his jacket, he glanced at his friend, noticing the man wore only a short sleeved T-shirt and jeans. "Heero, man, where's your jacket?"
Heero shook his head. "I didn't bring it. Didn't think I'd need one here." He shot a look upwards. "I didn't realize this was L2's winter season."
Duo quirked a grin before saying, "It doesn't matter what season it's suppose to be. Nights here are cold – usually just above freezing to keep the Ag plants from dying. Mostly it's to cool the sphere down from the heat generated during the daytime hours. Supposed to save energy that way, but I don't think so. You'd think keeping the temps regulated on an even schedule would produce better results."
For the next couple of blocks, neither spoke, content in letting the quiet settle between them. When Heero turned toward the rail station before Duo could point out the way, it earned him a sharp look and a wry grin. The long-haired man shook his head and closed his eyes, but said nothing. The silence continued as they rode the rail car through several stops; Heero kept his gaze straight ahead, and Duo watched the colony's city pass through the window.
"I'm sorry," Heero offered, breaking the silence as they left the rail platform and started for Duo's apartment.
Turning sharply, Duo asked, "What for?"
His eyes glued to the ground in front of them, Heero said, "For following you. For knowing your habits. For not coming forward sooner."
They had reached a multistoried building, and pausing at the entrance, Duo watched Heero before he replied softly, "Save it, buddy. Tell me you're sorry for what you really need to be sorry for." He opened the door and held it a brief moment, giving Heero the chance to catch it as he moved forward. Duo threw a saucy wave to the guard behind the entry desk on his way to the elevators. "Hey Dave. How's it going? Busy night?"
"Mr. Maxwell," the guard nodded, hiding the amusement in his eyes. "You know how busy it gets here. Constant problems, crisis, emergencies and someone in need of a rescue."
Duo snorted. "And they called you? What were they thinking?" He punched the up button, and waited.
"Couldn't say, Mr. Maxwell." He watched as Heero moved to stand by Duo. His gaze flicked between the two, curiosity plain to see but he didn't ask.
Whether taking pity on the man, or for future convenience sake, Duo stated simply, "Dave, this is Heero. He's going to be staying with me for a few days."
Dave nodded when the elevator door opened, and as he watched them enter, Dave took in both their body language and attitude, drawing his own conclusions.
"My apartment's kinda small. I usually don't have company so there's not much to offer," Duo began nervously. "Not sure why I even have a place, really. I spend most of my time at the yard, the mission, or out … well, I don't spend it at the apartment." He darted a look in Heero's direction and felt relieved to see the man watching the doors intently. Hooking a loose strand of hair behind his ear, Duo added, "If you do plan to stay a couple of days, I'll stop tomorrow and pick up some stuff. I don't have much in the way of food – since I usually eat at the mission or Hilde takes pity on me and feeds me." He grinned. "Not that her cooking's any good. She makes the best slop." The doors slid open and he sighed silently in relief.
"It's number 1023, the last door on the right," Duo said quietly once they left the elevator.
Heero nodded absently, and trailed slightly behind him. As they had moved through the building, he had noted the security system throughout: from the hardware of the door locks to the unobtrusive cameras, and alarmed ventilation shafts. It answered one question on his mind – why Duo, the most seemingly carefree and non-status seeking individual he knew, would live in a building clearly regulated to those who could afford it and wouldn't hesitate to flaunt their wealth. Though it did spark another question – how could a self-proclaimed salvage man afford to live in the high-rent district?
Pulling his thoughts back to the present, he realized Duo had the door opened, and had begun to ramble again. He scowled and wondered why the man thought he had to speak all the time. He didn't need to know all about the neighbors or why the couch was blue instead of the brown he had wanted. Shooting Duo a glare, Heero stopped just inside the door.
"Uh, Heero, buddy, come on in. Make yourself at home." Duo was in the process of pulling off his jacket when he noticed the ex-pilot glaring at him. He visibly relaxed as Heero made his way inside the apartment, and looked around. "Have a seat." He hung up his jacket on the coat rack placed to the side of the hallway. Shutting the door firmly, he keyed the locking mechanism and turned to find Heero perched on the edge of his couch watching him.
He smiled faintly, and took a seat in the recliner closest to him. Leaning forward intently, Duo asked, "Well, now we're in my apartment, we're alone and it's as private as it's going to get. What did you want to tell me?"
Heero frowned at him before moving his gaze away. His thoughts were scattered; the fight, his momentary loss of control, the walk, and Duo's incessant talking were all taking their toll on his already spent nerves. He wasn't sure how to approach the subject, how to tell the man who had once been his best friend how lost he was now.
As the minutes dragged on, Duo became increasingly agitated. His try for patience kept it from showing overtly, but he couldn't stop his foot from shaking, making his leg and chair bounce slightly with the movement. Finally giving into the overabundance of energy, he jumped to his feet and cast over his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen, "Well, I'm going to grab a beer while you try to remember how to speak. Want anything?"
Lifting his head abruptly from his hands, Heero answered, "Water. Just water." He could see Duo across the countertop of the bar separating the two rooms. He heard the food cooler door open and watched as Duo bent down, reaching inside for the drinks. The man rose, lifted the tab on the beer can and brought it to his lips to down half of it standing in his kitchen. Heero frowned once again, wondering if maybe Duo had a problem that he wasn't aware of.
"Ah," Duo murmured. "There's nothing like a cold beer to end a very long, very strange day, eh, Heero?"
Not bothering answering, Heero accepted the water bottle handed to him and drank most of it before looking at Duo again. He was startled to see the man had brought one of the kitchen chairs into the living room, back facing him, and now straddled it with his arms crossed over its crossbar.
"Listen, Heero, if you need my help for whatever reason, you're going to have to tell me sooner or later. I need to head off for bed in a few minutes; I've got an early day tomorrow, and I can't call in – Hilde'd have my hide." He peered intently at the shorthaired man for a moment. "If you need a place to stay the night, you can sack out here. But you need to decide what you're going to do in the next few minutes. Otherwise, I'm kicking you off my bed."
Heero looked from the couch to Duo and back. "Bed?"
A lopsided grin appeared, and Duo's hand rose to scratch absently behind his head. "Yeah, well, uh…" his cheeks tinged pink and he suddenly found the carpet pattern of interest. "I sleep on the couch."
Heero's gaze darted to the short hallway on the other side of the living room. He could clearly see the bed through the opened door. His eyes puzzled, he looked to his friend, but didn't ask. Thinking he needed to tell his story, he opened his mouth. "I'm not sure where to begin…" his mouth closed and refused to say another word.
Duo looked up hopeful and then scowled when Heero stopped. "How about two years ago when you disappeared," his voice dripped in sarcasm.
Heero gave a short nod. "Aa, that will work." He sighed, closed his eyes and gathered his thoughts once more. "Three years ago, you had left Earth – returning to L2 to help Hilde. I was working as Relena's personal bodyguard through the Preventers." He paused and opened his eyes.
"Go on. I know the history here," Duo encouraged.
"There was something I was missing, something that had been growing on me for quite some time, and I wasn't sure what it was. I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away. I thought it was the loss of excitement – the feeling of being needed from the war and everything." A ghost of a smile flashed across his lips before he continued.
"I even signed up for a few more hazardous assignments, thinking they would help. Nothing worked. It got to where Relena noticed something was wrong. So, we talked." Heero paused and drank a little water. A flicker of some indiscernible emotion crossed his face. "She told me how she felt, and thought that's what I was feeling but I didn't know it. I understood what she said, but did not know if she was right." His eyes closed again, and he stopped speaking.
Not wanting to break his concentration, Duo asked softly, "Was she right?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't believe she is." Heero opened his eyes and focused on Duo. "I tried to pretend at first she was… a part of me wanted her to be right. But even trying to acknowledge it… those feelings she said they were, it felt wrong. I didn't know what I was feeling. I didn't know what to think any more. I was more of a mess than ever." He raked a hand through his hair, his agitation showing clearly in his features. "I told Relena it wasn't going to work. She wanted more than what I was willing to give; what I thought I could give to her. So, I borrowed a page from your book," He flashed a sheepish grin. "I ran and hid."
Duo laughed slightly. "Too bad you didn't tell anyone who should have been told what you were doing." His voice held no humor.
His eyes losing their mirth, Heero sighed. "I know. I had planned on it. Was going to in fact, but after talking to J, I thought if I could make it through his training, I could visit you after it was all over."
Jumping to his feet, Duo shouted, "J? What the fuck? Heero don't tell me you went back to that … that… bastard!"
"Duo?" he asked looking up at him in surprise. "What… why are you so angry?"
He had paced the room in sudden fury, and finishing off his beer, Duo crushed the can in his hand before tossing it toward the kitchen. He strode forward to stand in front of Heero and leaned down to where his face was inches from his. His eyes blazing, his mouth drawn in a tight line, he said with suppressed rage, "After you disappeared, one of the first people I went to see was J. I asked him to let me know if you showed up. I told the bastard the effort a lot of people were going through to find you. And you were there the entire time." He turned away and went to straddle his chair once again.
Heero sat watching him for a moment as the man attempted to calm his anger. "I didn't know. I honestly didn't know you came. J never said anything," his voice drifted off.
Raising his hand, Duo said calm once again, "I'm pretty sure you didn't know. J has always been a bastard and it would be just like him to keep you locked away." He grinned bitterly. "It would be just like him to try and control you once again, and you walked right back into his hands."
"No, it wasn't like that," Heero began. "J wasn't attempting to control me – not again. He was trying to help me… at my request."
Unconvinced, Duo responded, "And you believe that? Jesus Heero, and here I thought you were the intelligent one!"
"Duo," he warned. "I went to J because I had thought if anyone would know how to break through my programming, he would. After all, he's the one who put most of it there."
Violet eyes stared at cobalt blue ones; Duo's expression one of disbelief and anxiety. "You mean you willing went back to that …butcher, and let him play with your mind again?" he asked softly, carefully.
Letting his lids slide shut, Heero sighed and shook his head. "You don't understand. I had no choice. No one knows exactly what they did; how they did what they did to me." When he opened his eyes, they were full of anguish and pain. "I couldn't live like that any more. I couldn't not feel – not understand what I was feeling. I didn't want to die, but the only other thing I could think of was to kill myself." As Duo's eyes grew wide and he started to speak, Heero rushed on, "I couldn't live with that pain any longer. Please understand Duo. I want to be normal."
His mouth snapped shut, and Duo stared. "Normal?"
Heero nodded. "Normal."
Duo blinked and he shifted his gaze to the picture hanging over the couch just to the left of Heero's head. In a soft, careful voice, one a person would use on an uncertain animal, he said, "Heero, you are normal."
Dropping his head back into his hands, the shorthaired man said, "No. No, I'm not." He rubbed at his face and raked a hand through his hair. When he spoke again, his voice was low, nearly broken. "There are times when I don't think I'm human."
Duo's gaze returned swiftly and he reached forward to touch him. "Heero, God man, don't even think that. You are human. You are normal … as normal as you can be under what you've gone through. Shit, it's a wonder none of us landed in the loony bin." He tried to grin but failed. When Heero didn't respond, Duo squeezed Heero's hand and asked softly, "So, what'd ol' Doctor J do to ya, anyhow?"
A minute passed before Heero spoke. "He tried to undo the programming."
A bare nod and Heero continued in a near whisper, "He… we worked out a scheduled plan. Body conditioning, mental conditioning and emotional conditioning." Heero paused to give Duo a watery grin. "I think it might have worked if we could have kept doing it. But, what I didn't know until well after we started, J had become involved with an unknown element. He didn't tell me until after they were spotted close to the training facility we were using, and we had to leave immediately."
At Duo's squeeze, Heero managed another grin. "J had begun to remove some of the emotion controls, the blockers in my mind. We were taking it slow, working it step by step." He gave an apologetic lift of a shoulder. "It took years to put them there, it stood to reason, it would take some time to remove them."
Duo's voice was low and encouraging when he spoke, "So, then what happened?"
Pulling back, Heero took the last swallow of water and carefully replaced the cap before setting the bottle on the coffee table. "We went into hiding. It almost seemed as though every time a new block had been removed, those goons would show." A dark shadow passed over his expression. "About six months ago, we were on an abandoned satellite off of L5, colony S93243."
He looked up when Duo gasped. His brows drew together at the other's expression, but continued to speak when Duo waved a hand. "I had gone through an intense session with J, part of the emotional conditioning, and went to my station to sleep. A couple of hours passed, and I woke up hearing noises." He paused for a moment. "The goons had found us. They had J, and were roughing him up a bit. From what I could hear, they wanted some formula he had, and he refused to give it up. He told them he got rid of it and the only place holding it was in his head."
Heero took a shuddering breath and looked away. "They killed him." Duo had taken his hand again, and squeezed it. "I hid while they beat up on the old man, and didn't do anything." His hands began to shake, and pulling his free from Duo, he clenched them together in his lap. "I failed him, Duo. I failed to protect J. He would still be alive if I hadn't been so scared."
Leaving his chair, Duo sat next to his friend and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "So, Doctor J succeeded. What do'ya know about that?"
Startled, Heero looked at him. "What do you mean, succeeded?"
A grin made an appearance and his eyes sparkled. "You were afraid. That is an emotion I've never see you have, Heero, ol' buddy."
"But…" he stopped and shook his head in wonder. "Shit."
Duo nodded. "You said it." Giving the shoulder a squeeze, he moved over a bit before adding, "As for J, hell, Heero, if he had someone after him he would have bought it at any time. You're just lucky you didn't die."
"But…" Blue eyes sought violet. "I should have done something. But the only thing I could think of was to not let them find me. I hid and set up some HE's to blow the satellite. It worked and I'd hoped no one would know I'd ever been there."
Silence fell between them; Duo absorbed what he'd been told, and Heero reflected on his last night with his mentor. Finally stirring, Duo looked over at his friend. "Okay, so you've told me part of the story. What gives? Why do you need my help?"
His shoulders slumping, Heero whispered despondently, "It's not complete, Duo. I feel some things, but … it's not finished." His face reverted to his normally expressionless mask, and his eyes hardened briefly. "It's almost as if I have no control over my emotions now. I cannot identify, let alone handle some of them. I cannot function this way. And…" he paused and looked at his fisted hands. "I think J did something. I think he screwed up somewhere."
"What do you need me to do?"
His eyes pleading, Heero asked, "Help me to become human, Duo."
Puzzled, the longhaired man cocked his head, contemplating what to think, what to say. He opened his mouth and closed it before finally asking, "Why me? Wouldn't a shrink, or even Quatre be able to help you better?"
His head already shaking the negative, Heero answered before Duo had finished speaking. "It has to be you." At the long-haired man's continued skepticism, he continued, "For one, I trust you more than anyone else. You will do what you set out to do once your word is given. For another, you are one of the most human people I know." He returned Duo's grin. "You show your emotions without reserve most of the time. You don't have a problem with letting people know how you feel, and I want to be more like that. I want to know how I feel." Heero frowned slightly at Duo's darkening visage. "And, not the least, you … you can keep me safe."
Scowling, Duo asked, "Safe? What do you mean?"
Lips twisting in anger, Heero stated depreciatingly, "Like I said, I think J fucked up. I get scared, Duo, very scared and I can't function. I don't know how to fight it; I don't know how to get over it. It takes control and I can't do anything." Bringing his gaze to face his friend's, he added, "And I think the goons are now after me."
"Why would they be after you? Did you know anything Doctor J was working on? Besides you I mean."
"No, I didn't know of anything else J had been working on. But I did something stupid. When I left the satellite, I took their shuttle. Their bodies were on the satellite, counted as some of the dead from the explosion left there – J, them, and myself." At Duo's startled look, he added, "J had taken enough blood and … other samples that my genetic matter would have been part of the space debris. I read the report that stated there were some who thought I'd died on that satellite with J." Duo nodded softly. "But by taking their shuttle, it let the goon squad know someone had left there alive. I used it for a month or so, before I ditched it. I should have towed it out into space – blew it up or... or something."
"Yeah, you should have," Duo commented quietly.
Tossing him a quick rueful grin, Heero returned to studying his hands. He thought he'd covered everything: his request, his problem, his potential problem and his need. He could feel the quaking inside start… feel the stirring of the fear he'd began to hate. It wasn't the first time he wished he'd never sought out J and agreed to the emotional conditioning program they'd planned.
"Will you do it? Will you help me?" Heero asked softly not looking at him.
Duo rose and paced the living room before coming to a stop in front of a blown-up, framed photograph. He stood there staring at it for a long time, letting the minutes pass by without saying a word. A slight shutter ran through his body and he turned. A light, almost amused smile touched his lips and his eyes contained the old familiar shine Heero hadn't seen all night. He walked back toward the couch his eyes sizing up the man still seated there. "I'll help you on three conditions."
Swallowing his relief, Heero asked, "What are they?"
His smile widening, Duo sat on the coffee table in front of Heero. "Your whole reason for running to J, and not your friends in the first place, was to become more human – to learn about feelings and what you feel. I will continue with those lessons and the best way I know how to identify and learn is to communicate them – both verbally and written."
At Heero's blank stare, Duo elaborated, "Assuming you will be staying with me here, each morning I want you to greet me with a good morning, tell me what your plans for the day are, how you slept, and what you think your day will be like. Each evening, I want you to welcome me home, tell me what you did during the day, and what your day was like. I'll make you a notebook, one you can either carry around with you, or write in each night, whenever you feel like it. And, I will do the same. I will share the same information with you because it's not enough to tell others how you feel, but you need to know how they feel as well - speaking and listening as part of the communication process."
Heero glared. "I know that." Duo grinned. "And the other conditions?"
"Right. You will volunteer some of your time to either the mission, or a place similar."
"Why?" his glare deepened.
Duo frowned and refrained from smacking him. "Helping others less fortunate gives you a sense of accomplishment. Though you might not start out with it, you will learn compassion as you go along – you can't help learning it. Not if you truly wish to be human – wish to live with your emotions. And places like the mission really need help. They can use more money, but bodies are always in short supply. They need talent and skills – someone to help with repairs or the day to day jobs." He flashed another grin. "Like shower duty. Dull, mostly, but necessary."
Heero grunted. "And the third?"
"Let the others know you're alive."
He shook his head. "I can't. If I contacted anyone, it would give the goons a place to work from. I can't risk them finding me – not now. I can't risk them coming after you or hurting someone else."
"Heero, you know as well as I do there are ways to mask where an email is sent from. And you said it yourself those goons don't know who you are, just that someone took the shuttle. There's very little risk." He leaned forward, staring keenly into his face. "You don't understand what you put us through. Relena went into seclusion for weeks and still isn't the same. Trowa and Wufei believe you're dead. Quatre's slowly caving in to their persistence. They deserve to know you are alive. You don't have to let anyone know where you are – just a short note to tell them you live, and – well - have some problems you need to deal with before you can see them." His voice dropped low, almost to a whisper, "They will understand – believe me."
Dropping his eyes to gaze at the floor, Heero considered Duo's conditions. The first two made sense, though he felt uncomfortable with both of them. The last, he wasn't sure why he hesitated. He should have let them all know as soon as he'd heard the reports of his apparent demise. He knew he couldn't face any of them as he was currently; he felt too weak, and not in control. Though he trusted each one differently, more than anyone else, it had been and always would be Duo he'd trust emphatically.
Duo alone knew where he had been between the wars.
Duo alone knew some of the secrets to his soul, knew more than anyone else alive how he had been "made".
And Duo was the only one that knew he was alive.
"I agree to your conditions." He looked up to see a wide smile on Duo's face again. Shaking his head, he asked, "So, when does the training begin?"
"Not until tomorrow morning. I'm too tired now to think about what to say, and what you might say." He stood and headed for the hall. "Let me grab some of my things, and you can take over the bedroom."
"Duo, I can't take your bed," Heero protested.
Stopping in the doorway, Duo flashed him a cocky grin, "Well, it's a big couch, but I don't think the both of us could fit on it."
"What?" he asked confused.
Becoming serious, Duo replied, "I don't sleep in my bed. I've only laid on it maybe a dozen times. I sleep on my couch."
He scowled trying to understand the meaning behind the man's words. Shaking his head, he asked, "Why?"
Several expressions flitted across his face before settling into an almost neutral one, "It's too big." Not waiting for another question or a response of any kind, Duo spun on his heels and disappeared into the bedroom. When he returned, he had changed into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and carried a handful of clothing articles.
"I think you're bit larger than I am, but these should fit you okay for the night." He held out another pair of shorts and a T-shirt. "I'm assuming you have clothes somewhere?" He cocked his head at him.
Heero stood, and taking the clothes, he answered, "I left my things in a locker at the space terminal. I'll go collect them tomorrow." He looked at the items in his hands and smiled softly, hesitantly. "Thank you. Thanks for … everything."
Duo had already moved to a trunk set between a pair of recliners. He held it opened and began to remove a blanket and pillow from its interior. Looking around at his friend, he smiled in return. "Hey buddy, what are friends for but to be there when you need them." He watched while Heero walked with his easy grace towards the bedroom.
Pausing at the doorway, Heero turned and called a quiet, "Goodnight, Duo."
"Goodnight," Duo replied straightening, and tossing his bed things on the couch. "Oh, and Heero," he called softly and waited to make sure he had his friend's attention. "I want you to know, just for the record, you are human. I'm only doing this to prove it to you."