Written 14 April 2007
Even during wartime, a host still had duties to uphold, so Quatre was kind enough to let Duo have his shower first once they had dragged their weary, bloodied selves into the Maganacs’ underground hideout. He'd only just met the other pilot, but his heart was telling him that the self-proclaimed Shinigami wasn't so composed as he would have the world believe.
The Maganacs’ headquarters was actually quite small, making it easier to hide from OZ sensors, and so the two pilots were sharing one of the Spartan but fairly comfortable spare bedrooms. While the bathroom door was closed, Quatre busied himself by spreading his weapons over the bedspread and then methodically dismantling them for cleaning. Taking apart semiautomatic handguns had become familiar enough that it was practically thoughtless. He wasn't sure how to feel about that.
“Jesus fucking Christ…”
A wry smile found its way onto the blond’s face at the muffled cussing, remembering the curse-laden stream of commentary he'd heard from zero-two’s comm-link in their last battle.
“What the fuck was that cocksucker thinking—oh, for Christ’s sake, why the fuck didn’t Doctor-fucking-G put in a goddamn shampoo dispenser or somethin’…”
“Duo, are you all right?” Quatre asked worriedly, rapping softly on the door with the back of his knuckles. He curled his fingers away from the wood so he wouldn't leave streaks of black gun-grease.
The door flew open, but instead of the wild-eyed vision Quatre was expecting, Duo looked unnaturally calm. “Of course I am, Quatre. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Um, well, you sounded…” --royally pissed off, Quatre mentally finished, but Duo just gave him a wide smile. It didn't make the blond feel any better.
“Nah, I’m fine, just letting out some steam. Because, you know, I’m just a bit annoyed with a certain someone who shall remain nameless because I can’t kick his now very dead ass.” He turned away from the door, always discretely keeping the other pilot somewhere in his line of sight as he produced several knives and a gun from God-knew-where to place neatly on the sink. “Inconsiderate son of a bitch.”
“Duo,” Quatre said softly, “I don’t think Heero was trying to anger you.” Without thinking his hand fisted in his own shirt, just over his heart, as a phantom agony of flame and shrapnel squeezed his ribs. He suppressed a sigh when he realized that he'd now have to clean his shirt.
“Too merciful, shooting him,” the taller boy muttered as he snapped the band off the end of his braid. “Should've killed him when I had the chance.”
Quatre blinked. “You shot him?”
Duo flashed him a smirk that would've charmed the pants off of Satan. “It was just Shinigami’s love-bite, nothing he couldn’t handle.” His bony, sinewy fingers started untangling his several-days-old braid, and with his attention diverted, the suave grin slid into a dark frown. Quatre might've been fooled, might've thought that zero-two was simply frustrated with his too-long hair, if he hadn't been able to read the tension tightening the thin shoulders and that peculiar quality of coldness in shadowed eyes.
“Hey man, you’re cute and all, but I ain’t much of an exhibitionist, if you catch my drift,” Duo said dryly with a raised brow. Quatre flushed and apologized profusely as he quickly slid out and shut the bathroom door behind him.
Duo sat on the edge of the bathtub and pulled the braid over his shoulder into his sight. The black hairband was around his wrist, and he tugged at his hair with exasperation.
If there was one thing more memorable about Duo Maxwell than his biting black humor, it was the almost-meter-long braid that trailed after him. What most people didn't realize was that it took some time and effort to maintain such long hair, time and effort that was mostly invested in fighting an interspatial war. Being one of the five (no, it was four now) most wanted terrorists in the Earth’s Sphere meant that it was rather difficult to waltz into a convenient hotel or bathhouse. And G didn't have the compassion to make a special locker for haircare products in Deathscythe’s cockpit.
Several days of running, fighting, and staking out battlefields meant that Duo’s hair was uncomfortably greasy and tangled, almost molded into three wavy sections once he managed to pry the braid apart. It didn't fall in a graceful curtain; instead, his fingers repeatedly got caught in knots that would've been painful if his scalp wasn't already used to the abuse.
With his hair finally free, Duo swiftly stripped and stepped under the lukewarm water of the shower, unfazed by the harsh spray. Efficiently, he cleaned himself with the small bar of soap, sighing long-sufferingly when he saw that there was shampoo but no conditioner.
He was Shinigami, who had held his loved ones as they bled to death over his hands, who watched orphans die of a disease let loose from the sloppiness of an OZ scientist, who slaughtered anyone who got in his way with manic laughter. But to have seen someone as sad and noble as zero-one self-destruct for idealism made the cynic in Duo smile, more bitterly than he had before.
Duo ducked his head under the water before he set to untangling his hair as best he could, the water loosening the knots slightly. His hair had been shot at, sliced, yanked, gotten stuck in Deathscythe, twisted, criticized, and on one memorable occasion that left two men dead and a third traumatized for life, used as a gag. But despite all that, it was still there, as much a part of him as his own hands.
The shampoo made his dirty scalp tingle, and he relished the rare feeling of being able to bathe for more than one hurried minute at a time. He was used to living in filthy conditions, but there was always that small voice in the back of his head that sounded like the other children’s jeers and cruelty that only feeling clean was able to silence.
Of course, his braid had never judged him. Then again, somehow, neither had Heero.
Stilling, Duo stared down at the mass of hair draped over one hand, the light brown turned dark from wetness. It was a heavy weight pulling against his head, but he ignored the slight discomfort in his neck for a long moment of silent thought. Then he reached beyond the plain shower curtain for the weapons he had laid on the sink and selected the thin knife, small and compact, that had followed him nearly as long as his braid had. Separating a thin, almost unnoticeable section of his long hair, he unhesitatingly sliced off a lock.
Careful to keep the shower from washing the strands of cut hair from his hand, Duo carefully tied the section into a small, secure knot and set it on top of his clothes, along with the knife. Whenever he had the chance between stealing and killing and fighting, he would track down that crappy, rundown naval base where he'd twice shot zero-one (Wing had risen from the ocean to live again, but its pilot never would) and give some of his memories to the boy that had never existed on any document.
Once his hair was free of grease and gunpowder, at least for the moment, Duo dressed and re-braided his hair and went to check on Deathscythe, giving Quatre his turn for a shower with a leering grin and a wave that didn't quite cover the bitterness.
--Edited slightly for grammatical issues 1 November 2007.