Strange Currencies


DISCLAIMER:  I still don't own the Gundam pilots, though I have set traps around my apartment with which to catch them.  "Strange Currencies" is by REM, and the only claim I have on it is that I do own the CD it came on (though someday when I marry Michael Stipe, this is subject to change.)



//I don't know why you're mean to me
when I call on the telephone.
and I don't know what you mean to me
but I want to turn you on, turn you up, figure you out, I want to take you on//

I hang up the phone and the screen goes black.  I want to stop it, in that moment just before it darkens, to freeze-frame the instant when he says my name, even if he's only saying good-bye.  Then I could stare for hours after at his hard blue eyes, convincing myself I see a hint of warmth inside them.  It may be an illusion, but it's one I'm good at--I've had years of practice, after all. 


Three years since I met the bastard, and still I can't take my mind off him. 


At first I didn't even like him--but I was intrigued.  Maybe it was just morbid curiosity, and a bit of admiration.  He had guts, that's for sure.  I thought about him a lot even then, found myself wondering what he'd do if he were in my place, and if he ever looked up and saw the same sky I did.


That's one really comforting thing about being on earth.  No matter where you are, it's always the same sky.


He confused me--I wanted to figure him out, force him to make sense.  I still can't figure out why he registered for school under my name, or why he could blow himself up without a thought and yet went to so much trouble to rescue me.  These were the moments I lived for--the rest of the time he may as well not have known I even existed.


And finally, slowly, I came to the conclusion he just needed somebody.

//These words, "You will be mine."
These words, "You will be mine." all the time.//


So here I am, three years after we met, after the afternoon I shot at him and busted him out of the Alliance Military hospital, and I'm no closer than I ever was to being that somebody.  There have always been moments when I thought it was going to come out all right, those brief glimpses of something like satisfaction, or when he almost smiled--then it was like he'd catch himself, some internal alarm would go off and he'd go all dead again.  I still don't think he can possibly /like/ being that way...I think he's just conditioned to it.  After all, we all had the humanity trained out of us--Heero's just the only one that persisted on remaining that way once the war  was over and we didn't have to anymore.


"I never have to kill again," he said.  He sounded so relieved.  But it didn't last.


So I keep tabs on him.  It's not easy, either--he hides his tracks like the professional he is.  But somehow I always find him.  I think he's gotten used to the idea now, because  this last time when I called, he didn't even look surprised.


"Hey, Heero, it's me."


"I can see that, Duo."


"So how ya been?" 


He glared.  "Did you want something?"


That's when I pour on the charm.  "What, like I can't just call 'cause I miss you?"  I didn't even have to look right at him to know the glare he was giving me, I've gotten so used to it.  "Fine.  I hoped you'd come hang out with me for a bit.  I'm lonely."


He nodded--that usually works, I found.  Make him think I'm the one who needs him, not the other way around, and he'll come along.


Then again, who am I kidding?  I /do/ need him.  I always have.


I meet him, walk over to his house, bang on the door because the bell's broken and wait for him to open up to me in more ways than one.  He appears at the door, looking like he just woke up but was sleeping in his clothes--wornout jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt, and his hair poking out in every direction from his head.  He's beautiful.


Someday I'll tell him so. 


"So where are we going?" he asks--he motions me inside, into his den of crumpled newspapers and frayed furniture and disposable dishes, hunting for the shoes that long ago escaped to a world of their own under his futon. 


"Thought we could go shoot some pool, drink some beer..." I shrug.  "I'm not married to the idea, if there's something you'd rather do."


He shakes his head.  "No, that's fine."  And I think, for a moment, that I see it again--that brief flash in his eyes of curiosity, intrigue, interest.  I think he wonders what it feels like to really be human.


I stuff my hands in my pockets and lean against the doorframe, affecting some casual pose like I think I'm James Dean, and wait for him to find his shoes.

//the fool might be my middle name
But I'd be foolish not to say
I'm going to make whatever it takes,
ring you up, call you down, sign your name, secret love,
make it rhyme, take you in, and make you mine.//

Heero lives in a high-rise apartment downtown, and we walk to the bar.  It's not far, and it's better if we actually partake a bit too much if we only have to stagger back.  He may have learned to manage the ZERO system, but that doesn't mean I'm letting him drive my ass anywhere drunk. 


And I want him to get drunk.  I want him to lose control, break through the barrier of perfection and just let go, let himself be completely stupid for a night.  Besides...I've waited three years.  There are some things I need to say to him sooner or later.  Maybe tonight'll be the night.


We order a pitcher and claim a pool table.  I toss my jacket into a booth and dig a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket.  He glares at me, but there's an tone of unsurety beneath it, like he's not quite sure what to do. 


"Pour me a glass?" I suggest, and he nods.  For the record, nobody's ever taught the Weapon of All Weapons how to pour a decent glass of beer without at least half of it being foam.  "Heero, turn the glass sideways."  I'm still looking for my lighter. 


He does what I tell him--and lo and behold, it works.  More beer than foam.  "Smoking those things is bad for your lungs," he notes, almost casual-like.  As if I didn't know.  I hold out the pack.


"Have one?"


He looks at me for a second like I've gone completely insane--I just wink at him, and finally he shrugs, getting that "nothing can kill me anyway" look on his face, and takes one.


Score one for the human side.


Naw, it's not that I want to get Heero addicted to cigarettes.  I'm not actually much of a smoker myself, but there's something about 'em with pool and beer.  It just makes the whole scene complete.  Well, almost--


"Got a quarter?"


A blank look--I swear, he's not really expressionless at all.  His face is its own language.  "For the jukebox, Heero.  Just need some music, and everything'll be perfect."


He fishes some change out of his pocket and hands it to me, repeating--"Perfect...."

//These words, "You will be mine."
These words, "You will be mine." all the time. oh//

An hour into our night, and I can see him finally loosening up.  It's almost a visible battle for him, like he desperately wants to enjoy himself and his subconscious just can't convince his conscious mind that it's really all right to do.  Janis Joplin is yelling from the jukebox that "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose", because no matter how much time goes by you can't kill a real classic, and I'm singing along because I'm on my fourth glass of beer and have just beaten Heero a third consecutive game. 


He half-grins at me, and I want to cheer.  "I don't get it," he says, shaking his head.  "I've done all the calculations, but it just doesn't go where I want it to."


I wink at him, lift my glass to him in toast.  "It's pool, Heero.  Not three-dimensional geometry.  All the calculations in the world can't make up for a steady hand and some good luck."


He rolls his eyes--he doesn't believe me.  I take another swig, give him an exaggerated sigh, and sidle up behind him.  "Observe."


I hand him the cue--he looks at me, startled, but sets up his shot.  "Now..."  I wrap my arms  around him from behind, position his fingers just where they should be, bend him over a little--it's not a position that's healthy for my poor drunk, lust-ridden mind to be in, but I'm being indulgent tonight.  "Look where you want the ball to go...head down just a little...sight along the cue...and gently.../there/."  I ease him through the shot, hoping he doesn't notice the way my whole body is tense and my heart is pounding behind him, and I hope he doesn't back up because so far I've managed to keep the lower half of my body out of any incriminating contact.


Ball 13 disappears into the side pocket, and my hands are shaking.


And then--a miracle.  Heero watches the ball role into its sanctuary and turns to look at me, his cheeks flushed with too much alcohol, his eyes bright and curious and happy--and he laughs.  It's this simple sound of pure delight, and it takes all the willpower I possess not to throw my arms around him and /show/ him it's the most beautiful sound I've ever heard.


But I play it cool.  I'm afraid, afraid to push too far and find out I don't even have my illusions anymore.  "See?"  I say cheekily.  "Nice shot."

//I tripped and fell. did I fall.
What I want to feel, I want to feel it now//

I win six games out of ten.  Heero gets progressively better the more he relaxes, which has always been one of my theories on pool anyway.   We team up against a couple guys from the docks who come in with only an hour to closing time.  Their names are Jeff and Simon; they toss back a couple cold ones, play a game with us, and go home to their wives.  I catch Heero gazing pensively after them as they leave, but when I try to catch his eye, he looks away.


"I'm going to pick out a couple more songs," he says, getting more change from the bartender.  I see him bend over the jukebox, those faded jeans stretching around that incredible body, and I sink down into the booth.  I'm never going to survive this.  It's taken me three years to get him to laugh, how old am I going to be when--make that /if/--I get up the guts for anything more than a hesitant hug?  There are moments when I love him so desperately it hurts--like right now, my stomach clenching, my fingers shaking so I can barely lift the cigarette to my mouth.  And those things are supposed to relax a guy.  I'm trapped by my own emotions--I can't give up, but even the little progress I make is little more than a joke.


An old REM song comes on as Heero's heading back, and I'm singing along under my breath, because that mournful voice is echoing every thought in my head. 


Heero slides into the bench across from me.  "Are you tired of playing?"


I shrug.  "It's getting late.  How're you feeling?"


His face twists into a parody of thought, and he chews absently on the end of a fingertip.  "I can feel my hair, but not my feet.  Is that normal?"


I have to laugh at that.  "Yeah, don't worry about it.  I'll help you home."


I shrug into my trenchcoat, slide an arm around Heero and wave good-bye to the bartender as we're heading out the door. 


The song sticks in my head all the way back to his apartment.

//You know with love come strange currencies
and here is my appeal:

I need a chance, a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance,
a word, a signal, a nod, a little breath
just to fool myself, to catch myself, to make it real, real//

Heero doesn't say much for the rest of the night--not that I expected him too.  He sags against me as we walk and I keep him upright, even though I'm drunk enough myself that the sidewalk is moving at some pretty interesting angles.  By some new miracle we stumble up the stairs of his apartment building without doing serious damage to ourselves, and I hold him up while he fishes the keys out of his pocket. 


I follow him in, and practically as soon as the door closes behind me his body gives in and he tumbles onto the futon.  It takes him three tries to untie his shoes and kick them off somewhere I'm sure he won't be able to find them in the morning.


I get him a glass of water and tell him to drink it, or be prepared to face the misery that is a really brutal hangover.  He nods, like I'm his teacher or something, and drinks, then sets it aside and curls up on the mattress.


"I had a good time, Heero," I say.  I always say it, because one of these days he might say it back.  He never does, but he doesn't talk much.  It's not like I can't see it in his eyes, after all.


Though I guess I could be imagining things.  But I don't want to think about that.


I spread his blanket over his still-clothed body and tuck it in around him.  "We'll do this again sometime," I tell him.  "You gonna be in this place for a while?"


He shrugs, burrowing into the mattress.  His blanket is grey wool, scratchy, characterless.  "You always find me," he mumbles.


I chuckle.  "That I do."


It's the first time it occurs to me that maybe he depends on it.

//These words, "You will be mine"
These words, "You will be mine." all the time. oh//

I lock Heero's door behind me and stumble down the stairs.  It's a long way home, but the air outside is crisp and cool, it sobers me up and I have time to dwell on things like the fading echo of Heero's laugh, or the hidden vulnerability in his eyes, or the firm warmth of his body against me when I used a pool shot as an excuse to touch him.


Like I said, at first I didn't even like him.  But he intrigued the hell out of me.  Three years and I still can't take my mind off him.


But I'm getting closer.


And all the way home, that song is still going through my head, and I'm still singing along.

//These words, "You will be mine."
These words, they haunt me, hunt me down, catch in my throat, make me pray,
say, love's confined, oh.//