I’m the guy who wasn’t looking for anything controversial in his life. And then proceeded to tell you how the plan all went wrong.
Damn near broke my heart. Well – you know that, already.
And here I am, back to the beginning of my story. ‘Praps the end. Whatever you wanna make of it.
It’s been a while since all that action. Since two police forces combined to sweep up mob activity across two cities, including almost a dozen contract killings, shed loads of drugs, and half a home–full of abused kids. They didn’t get everyone responsible, of course. But they got the skinny, drug-riddled child murderer Baz. And they got Shad – all 180-odd pounds of him, trussed up and sliced like Sunday’s joint of ham. Neither of ‘em were talking much, ‘cos they were dead by then. So they were of limited use to the police.
But I’d be the first to admit that justice – however rough - is sweet.
Meanwhile, I was serving out a six-month probationary sentence for my contribution to the whole sorry situation. There’d be no charges against me; though I couldn’t be allowed to get away without some official retribution. But when my help and information were set off against my previous record – well, I guess I was more saviour than devil.
It was OK, actually. Part of the sentence was that I helped out at the counselling centre once a week, organising jobs for kids, and answering questions for ‘em about Life and Liberty in a language they’d understand. I was surprisingly keen on it, to tell you the truth. I was damn nervous to start with, thinking they’d all find me a real dork – yeah, I was my usual self-deprecating self! Haven’t quite matured out of that, yet. But the kids were OK, once they’d got over the Big Fuck-You Shrug thing, and toned down their language, and bothered to listen to me for a while. And the guys at the centre said I had quite a flair for it. My supervisor said I could communicate well with the young people; I seemed to be able to identify well with the relevant issues.
Yeah, I thought wryly. Right!
I checked in periodically with my own counsellor – that was one of the conditions of my probation. A decent enough guy – not Wufei Chang, of course. But it was probably better he wasn’t; we maintained a more suitable teacher/pupil relationship, and after we’d both got the measure of each other, it was a pleasant enough meeting each time. And now there were only another two months to run, and I’d be – officially – clean of any involvement with the whole operation.
I’d be Mr Honest Citizen in every last sense.
I was still living at Trowa and Quatre’s. Life was much the same, yeah? But I was quite different. I smartened myself up – I tried following a few more current affairs programmes, rather than the cartoons. I did a few more things round the apartment to help out. I learned to cook a coupla dishes more than my previous repertoire of grilled hamburger, and grilled hamburger with onions; I was even able to entertain the guys sometimes. T ate anything I put in front of him with quiet approval; though Q snickered about it the first time I tried, so I had to whap him with the saucepan, y’know? Then he threw a fork, and T’s plate got knocked on to the floor, and everything deteriorated into laughing and yelling and – eventually – takeout pizza for us all. But we didn’t mind – and he didn’t snicker the next time.
I was still doing casual jobs on the site. It was familiar enough for me to slot back in, and then I could spend my energies on sorting out all the rest of my life. But I snuck into the college one late night, and enrolled on a counselling course – only as a complete beginner, y’know? But I thought it might give me some more options. Snuck right on back out again – and there was T, in his battered old car, saying something about he was ‘just passing’ and did I want a lift back? He had a really pleased grin on his face, which he was trying hard to hide from me. Looked like a proud father, or something equally sappy and nauseating.
I had to grin back. No secrets, there, eh?
I dated that cute girl Anna from the police library – remember her? Well – she dated me, really, ‘cos I wasn’t particularly in the market. But we went out a few times, and she was good company. It was great to have friends outside of the guys; great to do some of the normal things friends do. Watch a ball game on TV; see a movie; grab a bite to eat of an evening. She was a lovely looking girl – wide smile, lotsa appropriate curves, cheeky sense of fun. Q said she was really keen on me, ‘he could tell’, haha. He’s got a great lust-light bleeping in his head at all times – works better than any military radar I could imagine. And from the way she snuggled up and touched at me when she could, I knew she wanted to go further. We’re both consenting adults, obviously – so why not?
I’ll admit that I was turned on enough to give her encouragement – my body’s been crying out for attention other than my own handshake. I can’t remember, y’see, when I last got that intimate with someone. No, that’s not true, of course. I can remember very, very well – but I daren’t let that memory in. It leads to misery, and long, stiflingly hot, wet dreams…
But when we kissed, the taste was all wrong, y’know? Her lips were fresh and enthusiastic, but they felt somehow alien – our tongues licking at each other’s seemed more of a shock than a thrill. She was warm, and delicious to hold, but when we cuddled, her body always seemed to be in the wrong place for me. The wrong shape. Not pressing the right buttons, anyway. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I like girls as well. I’ve had my share, and they’re sexy and exciting and … like I said, I was keen in one way.
But where I expected the tight, smooth skin of a dark cheek, my lips brushed against delicate, perfumed softness. Where I thought to touch taut muscle, there was tender, pliant flesh. I stretched my hands wide to hold her shoulders, and yet she was so much narrower than I thought. When her hands came up under my shirt, and ran lightly over my chest, the fingers were tentative and her palms weren’t damp with that sweat that comes from desperation and pure, animal need…
Just the wrong person overall, I guess. I shoulda known it all along.
So it was very clear to me it wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t like to mislead her. Not her fault, in any imaginable way. I just wasn’t ready for that – not yet. If ever. I thought we’d just stay as friends…and she was OK about it. Like, she smiled and said she understood. Though I didn’t see her in town for a while, so I suppose she might have been avoiding me.
So, I was sorted, nowadays. I was comfortable with T and Q. I’d offloaded the guilty secrets. I was gonna become a Normal Citizen again; my life was back in my hands. I had a steady – and straightforward – job. I was possibly going back to college. Yeah – I was living up to my promise at last.
I was happy.
I reckoned my head was the straightest it’d ever been. When the supervisor at the counselling centre asked if I’d be interested in a placement at a centre up north for a few months, as a counsellor’s assistant – I was pleased to say ‘yes’. Pleased, because it was something I thought I could do well, and it’d link in with my studies OK. Pleased, because it meant someone had thought of me as suitable – had thought enough of me to think I could do it.
And yet - emotionally, I felt the worst I’d ever been. I struggled with moods of depression; I wouldn’t go out with anyone except to quiet, discreet places. Occasionally, the words or gestures of an anonymous person in the street would strike a familiar chord in me, and pure feeling would just swamp me. Sudden, exhilarating excitement; then cruel memory; and then just pure misery.
The guys tried to help, like the good friends they are.
On the one hand - “It’ll pass,” said Q. “Try dating again…” He wasn’t unkind, y’know – just pragmatic. And always enthusiastic about the opportunities that life had to offer.
And on the other - “You did the right thing,” said T. “Everything’s coming together so well, isn’t it? And it’s all due to your own efforts, Duo. But don’t try any more dating for a while…”
I shrugged, not meeting his eyes. He knew how I felt. Christ, I’d have gone mad before now if I hadn’t known there was at least one person in the world that did!
What? my weary shoulders said.
“I know you’re lonely. I know how that is. But it’ll come, I’m sure. One day…”
What will? I thought, bitterly. Though the bitterness wasn’t directed at Trow. What will come? Amnesia? Comfortable celibacy? A satisfaction in solitude that’d last me through the rest of my days? He surely didn’t mean true love. Only guys like T and Q found that.
Why did I feel that my punishment had been disproportionately harsh?
Didn’t I say once, that things change?
The call came late at night, on – surprisingly – Trowa’s mobile. He and Quatre were experimenting with new pasta sauces in the kitchen – there was a lotta laughter, and the occasional clatter of a dropped spoon, and I suspected that there was gonna be nothing edible outta there for future suppers. They were too easily distracted; I knew that Q had nothing on except an apron and a pair of cut-offs that were the living embodiment of ‘shorts’. But they were happy enough, and it left me free to brood, whilst pretending to fix the scratchy reception on the TV. Not the greatest at DIY, me.
I heard the trill of his ‘phone in the background. The theme from ‘Top Gun’ – it always made me smile. No words, but then the sound of his feet coming up the corridor. The door rolled open, and he was there, staring at me. A tentative look on his face. There was some tomato sauce on his cheek, and a single string of spaghetti on his sleeve. His shirt was half unbuttoned - he looked almost guiltily flushed.
“For you, Duo.”
He handed it to me. I held it, confused. Then he left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
There were people who rang me nowadays. For work; for the occasional night out. But no-one rang me this late. And not on Trow’s phone.
The voice was as deep as always, that depth that curled my toes and spoke to my uke side like its long-lost master. But it was quiet now. Maybe a little nervous.
“Heero? Christ … Where are you?”
“Can’t say at the moment.”
“You’re – OK?”
What else could I say? I sank down on to a chair; my legs were weak. Nerve endings that had been cauterised for months sprang back to life. My bowels felt loose. I thought I may be losing control of my limbs.
“Damn, you should be keeping a low profile, y’know?” I gabbled. There’d been a time at the start, when I first went to the cops, that I thought they might be bugging the phone at the apartment, in case he contacted me. Trow had told me I was being paranoid. And then when I saw how much was going on, it seemed arrogant of me to think they were interested in my love life that way. And he never contacted me, anyway, of course.
So I pretended I’d stopped waiting for it.
“Mind you, I think the whole Mr Initials business sounded rather boys-comic when it was balanced against the best haul of illegal substances the force has seen this last year. They’ve got all they need – they may not be bothered with you now…”
His low laugh halted my spew of words. “A good thought, Duo. But I won’t come back and risk it, eh?”
“No – I guess not.” No, I thought. I guess that would be real stupid.
There was silence, while I wondered what mobile rate T was on, and if it was gonna cost him a fortune if I just kept this line open for the rest of my life, listening to Heero breathing.
“How are you, Duo? Did they give you a hard time?” His voice sounded halting, as if he’d been trying to train himself to be conversational. Trying to phrase words that would be appropriate. It hurt a little – to hear Heero like that. I wondered what he’d been through since he ran.
“Nah,” I smiled, though of course he couldn’t see me. “I mean, they didn’t bang me up or anything. I’ve got six months community service to do, but I gave ‘em enough to get a line on the guys in charge, and the kids and the drugs. I’m Mr Honest Citizen, now.”
“You always were…” came the murmur.
“What about Shad?” The tone was wary.
“Was – that you, Heero? Did you – arrange that?”
There was silence, and I cursed myself. I threw words into the gap like pebbles into a crevasse. “No, don’t tell me, Heero – you’re right, I don’t need to know. I understand now. I know how it works –“
“Hush, Duo,” he said, gently. “I said I wouldn’t lie to you again, and I won’t. But you know the answer already, I suspect…”
I bit a lip that was quivering. Why was I wasting my precious time on a shit like Shad?
“So what are you – up to then, Heero?”
He gave a low laugh. “I sold a lot of the businesses. Kept a few. I’m - well, I’m mainly in pharmaceuticals, now. Medicinally – not recreationally, before you ask.”
I opened my mouth to protest, and shut it again. It was just such a joy to hear his voice, even distorted slightly, as it was over the line.
“Doing well, then?”
I wished he’d say my name again…it sounded so good in his steaming-hot-chocolate tone…
“Duo…” he seemed to sigh. “It’s a slow path. Trying to get businesses going again. Legitimate ones. I’m – well, I’m using another name. A – different history, let’s say. And – understandably – my personal credit rating’s not too good!”
“Guess you’re not on too many social security lists, eh?”
“Guess not.” Another small laugh. “Your humour -”
“What about it?”
“Nothing. Just - I miss it…”
A little silence. It was quite companionable. Then I got scared.
“Heero – you seeing anyone, then?” How crass, I groaned to myself; how moronic, how rude, how pathetically clinging –
“No, I’m not.” There was a pause. I couldn’t tell much from his tone now.
“Heero –? Are you still there?“ Christ, I thought he was going…
“Yes, I’m here. What about you, Duo?”
“Who – me? Seeing anyone?”
“Yes.” The voice was dry. “Is there as much choice on the cleaner side of the street…?”
“Maybe!” I snapped. What did he mean, the arrogant smart-ass -!
“Don’t –! I didn’t mean…” Another sigh. More like a groan. “I’m still not very good at saying the right thing, Duo.”
“Yeah,” I replied, ruefully. “’Praps that’s what I miss from you, Heero!”
More silence, while I forgave him everything, but couldn’t tell him. My fingers were numb from gripping the phone so tight.
“Yes. What is it?”
“I’ve gotta new job.”
Pause. “That’s good.”
“Starts when I finish my probation. It’s up north. I’ll be working away. Coupla months or so, they say. Helping kids – setting up a new centre there. Did I tell you, that’s what I’m doing now?”
“You’re moving from the city?” What did that sharpness in his voice mean?
I took a deep breath. My chest was constricted; my throat dry. Ideas were springing to mind whether I wanted them to or not. Whether I thought any of them were any good or not. “I dunno. Maybe I’ll keep on at the apartment, if the guys are OK with it. I don’t know if it’s worth moving lock, stock and barrel until I know if there’s more work up there. If I know – if there’s anything more of anything up there.”
It was the first time we’d talked anything about the mundane things of life – about work; money; somewhere to live. This was weird.
“Are you up north somewhere?” My heart was hammering so hard, I couldn’t hear my words clearly.
“Yes. I guess you could say that.” He paused. His voice went on, a little lower. “Or I could be.”
Fuck. My hand was shaking around the phone. I couldn’t think what to say next.
His voice broke in. Guess he could.
“Will you have a number up there? An address?”
“You gonna call me, Heero?” I sounded just a little too sharp – I didn’t mean to.
There was a hissed breath on the other end of the phone. “If that’s a brush-off, I know I –“
“No!” I snapped. “Call me, Heero! I mean it!” God, did I mean it! God, did I have the knack of fucking things up -!
More silence. I was terrified I’d lost the connection. But it seemed that neither of us was putting the phone down.
“It’s no good. It’s not working for me.”
“Everything. I miss you. Like hell. Like I said – I don’t want any other.”
Yeah. And look at me! I thought. I drag my way through the days like I really am in jail. I do my work, and I pay my dues, and I ache throughout it all. I rarely go out, and when I do, I’m always keen to get back. To brood; to obsess on the pain inside me. To wallow in the loss of one of the few things I ever truly wanted. Some days I never contribute more to a conversation than a coupla sentences. I reckon I’m a better wooden spoon than I am a friend to T and Q.
I can’t date – I can’t forget the smooth skin, fragrant with his own, musky smell; the soft, dark hair; lips tangling with mine. His delight in touching me; in running hands through my hair; strong fingers down over my ass. I can’t forget the feel of the strong arms round me – the legs rolling between mine; the incredible, anguished ecstasy of being fucked by him. My nights were a mess of frustrated tears and aching balls.
I want those things I told him about; the company – the argument – the teasing – the sharing. And I want them with him.
Yeah…I think all that showed I felt the same.
I took a deep breath. “So - you think it’s safe, Heero?”
“What?” He sounded startled.
“To meet up? Are you very far away?”
There was another, sharp intake of breath. “No – not that far. Not at the moment. But –“
“Tell me where you are,” I said, urgently. I was wondering where my toothbrush was. “I got four days before I have to check in again at the centre. I can travel as I like during that time.”
Oh, I’d had enough of this! How long had I waited to hear from him?
“Shut the fuck up with the buts! Let me put this suggestion to you, OK? I’m gonna come north, and I wanna see you then – no, it’s more than that. I wanna be with you!” Remember? Remember? I begged silently. “Then we can see if we wanna stay there – or not. Together – or not. I mean - maybe you won’t want that. Depends how the jobs go – depends how safe it is, eh? Or – whatever –“ What a fuck up I was making of this!
Another urgent breath, before I lost my nerve.
“But, the thing is, Heero - or whatever your name is now! - I don’t wanna wait two more months. I wanna see you – now!”
The door was opening slightly, and I cursed whoever was interrupting me. But it was T, clutching a travel bag, and pointing to his watch. “Cab arriving in ten,” he mouthed. “For you. To the coach station!” He backed out quickly.
“T – “ I gasped.
Heero’s voice spoke at my ear, laced with tentative amusement. “He told me I could ring you. I called him – I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You called Trow?”
“Yes. I – remembered his name from when he booked the club. I still had his number. I – didn’t know how you’d be, if I contacted you first. But I thought he might know. You said he was a good friend…”
Yeah, I thought wildly. He sure is -!
“He knows -? Where you are?”
“Yes. But - look, Duo - I move about a lot at the moment. I don’t have any decent place; it’s not like the apartment –“
Christ, I thought, with a smile. What an arrogant prick he really is…
“If I cared about furnishings, Heero, I’d have fucked a cushion, OK? Meet me anywhere. Coach station; park; coffee shop –“
Just meet me, I prayed.
“You want to see me, too, don’t you?” God, was I wrong -?
“Yes,” he whispered. “Yes – please.”
My heart shrieked its joy. Thank God they never gave a cock a voice.
“We’ll talk about it then, OK?” I chattered. My heart was hammering again, but this time it was with excitement. “What we’ll do – how we’ll work something out –“
“Work something out –“ he echoed. He didn’t say the ‘yes, please’ again, but it was there in his tone.
“Sure!” I almost shouted. I could hear the cab beeping its horn outside the apartment block. “Just – “
“Just make sure it’s somewhere out of the rain, OK?”
I flipped the mobile closed even as I heard his low laugh. I ran for the door.