Sighing silently so that Heero wouldn’t hear him and inquire about his mood, Duo chewed on his lower lip as he worried about the situation. He was better, much to the relief of Heero and their friends, but he certainly wasn’t what anyone could call well or close to being back to normal. It was obvious to all of them that he remained a shadow of the person he’d been after the wars ended. Often, because of the drastic changes in himself, he wondered how Heero could still claim to love him. He was no longer the fearless Deathscythe pilot, the brash, spontaneous and audacious teenager Heero had first fallen in love with. He knew better than anyone that he wasn’t the person he used to be and cursed himself for not being able to get over the traumatic events of the past, beginning when Heero left him for Relena without an explanation. His initial reaction to that heartbreaking event continued to make him feel ashamed, even though it had been years since that nightmarish time. Heero’s sudden change of heart and desertion had sent him over the edge of rational thinking and he’d foolishly attempted suicide, unable to face the fact that his lover had left him for Relena. Once again he’d lost someone he’d loved, though this time it wasn’t death that had claimed him. Fortunately for him, Quatre and Trowa arrived just in time and together they’d refused to let him die.
That was just the beginning of the hell that was yet to come. He’d survived the overdose of pills and alcohol and, again with the help of his two friends, he’d begun the slow climb out of his dark and desolate depression.
He’d teetered several times after that on the edge of despondency, coming close to blowing his brains out when he’d heard the news that Heero and Relena were to be married. Yet his friends’ support and comfort had been a constant in his life, and he clung to them as his lifeline.
Then out of the blue came the accusation that he’d stolen an artifact from his best friend’s safe. When the centuries-old Faberge Egg was found in his duffle bag, he’d hotly proclaimed his innocence only to have Quatre turn his back on him as he was arrested by the L-4 police, tried in that colony’s court of law and found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit.
Heero never showed during that time nor did he send any word of encouragement to him during that ordeal - but Wufei came. He’d observed his former comrade standing in the back of the courtroom looking cold, aloof and like a self-righteous sentinel for justice. He’d made eye contact with his stand-offish Chinese friend several times during his trial and it was clear by the impersonal, somewhat disapproving expression on Wufei face that his former comrade believed he was guilty as charged and that he was only there to see that justice was handed out fairly. Two years in lock up may have been a fair sentence for someone who had stolen such a precious artifact as he was charged of taking - but he was innocent. Trowa alone had stood by him, believing in his innocence when no one else had, caring for him when everyone else abandoned him to his fate. The uni-banged, former Heavyarms pilot had been a quiet, reassuring presence as disbelief, loss and darkness swirled around him once again as he was judged guilty and his sentence was pronounced.
He recalled very little of the shuttle trip to the Penal colony, too stunned and depressed to think of any thing other than how quickly his luck had turned. Other than Trowa’s continued faith in him, he’d lost everything and everyone in a short span of time.
Upon his arrival at the Penal Colony, he vaguely remembered being put through an extensive medical exam and then spending a week in solitary confinement before being brought to the warden’s office.
Warden Harding. The man looked like a business man in an overly-expensive suit who thought very highly of himself and his position of power. He recalled the man’s eyes studying him as he stood before him, shackled effectively with wrist and ankle cuffs, as the man’s upper lip twitched with disdain. It was obviously a physical tick that he should have seen as a warning. The warden arrogantly made the announcement that he was changing the level of security to which he would be detained for the next two years, explaining that the change was due to his violent past. Needless to say, he’d protested, vehemently, not able to keep his anger and outrage in check. The judge, after all, had ordered him to be placed in the minimum security section, to work on computers, shuffling papers or cooking meals in the cafeteria. It was supposed to be easy time for a non-violent crime. It came as a shock that the warden’s decision overrode the courts. His protests went unheard as he was more or less dragged out of the warden’s office and forcibly taken to the security section where he received a brief overview of the violent society within the double doors that held in the worst criminals in the colonies. He knew it was going to be tough but he’d convinced himself that he’d survived the streets of L-2, two wars, losing Heero and the friendships he’d thought he could always count on. After enduring that much loss, he believed he could handle almost anything. Little did he know then that he was about to learn what it truly meant to be on his own, to have no one to depend on, only his quickness and street smarts. To his dismay, he’d lost everything else he’d possess in the section referred to as Hard Four. He’d lost his dignity and pride, a good deal of his sanity, his control over his life, his health and the ability to communicate. And last but not least, he’d lost hope, for himself and in mankind. Then Trowa showed up and saved his life.
His two years in that living hell were pretty much a blur in his memory, and what he did recall he’d just as soon forget. When he’d finally gotten back the use of his voice, counseling had been suggested by Heero, the doctors and his friends. Of course he’d adamantly refused, horrified at the idea of opening up to a shrink and telling someone of his dark past. The other four, his staunch supporters, proved to be persistent. He’d basically found himself being bullied, badgered, bribed, pleaded with and led by the hand into the therapist’s office.
The dark-haired, handsome, middle-aged Italian, Dr. Bertolini, the man Quatre’s sister highly recommended, was nice enough, but the man wanted him to open up, urged him to get everything from his past that was dark and troubling out on the table in order to deal with it. But he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to remember his dark years, not of his childhood, the wars, nor the time Heero had left him, the trial and certainly not the penal colony. A shudder ran through him as he thought again of that horrible place. During his time in Hard Four he’d been brutalized, starved and stalked for two years, and in his mind, none of that time held any memories worth dwelling on. He still cringed when remembering the drastic steps he’d taken to save himself from even more trauma and brutality in Hard Four by making himself so unappealing and disgusting to his fellow inmates that they generally left him alone. Being frightened and desperate enough to smear fecal matter and urine all over his body as repellents wasn’t something he wanted to remember, much less talk about. In the end, he’d caved, somewhat, when pushed by his therapist and Heero, to writing down his experiences in a journal and then letting the trained professional read about some of his more traumatic events from his time in prison, including the stalking, beatings and rapes. But he didn’t tell the well-meaning doctor everything, especially the part about having sought out his own form of justice by maiming and killing those who’d brutally attacked him.
Shifting his position on the couch, he watched as Heero brought a basket filled with laundry down from the bedroom hamper and made his way to the laundry room in the basement. Though the couch was comfortable, his butt was boney. He’d gained some weight over the last year, but he was still considered skinny, which seemed to be a constant source of worry to Heero and the others. He suspected his years of near starvation on the streets and then in the prison colony had led to his permanent state of scrawniness. He seriously doubted he’d ever gain enough weight to make them happy.
But what was he to do about Heero?
He desperately needed him, there was no doubt about that. Heero was his shelter from the world, from the shadows and unseen evil he’d come to fear. His lover did everything possible to make him to feel comfortable, safe and happy. He expressed his love and devotion often and made love to him on a regular basis with such tenderness that it was sometimes maddening. At times he missed the way they had been in the past, with wild, passionate romps across the narrow school mattresses, making love in the dorm showers in the middle of the night or on the bare floor of a safehouse. Their impromptu lovemaking had been a rather frequent occurrence early in their relationship. Back then, their getting together had been fueled by adrenaline and by teenage lust as well as their mutual attraction to each other and growing admiration and love. It had been wonderful then.
But that was in the past.
Ever since he’d been reunited with Heero, following his return to Earth with Trowa, and they’d resumed their physical relationship a year later after moving into this house together, his lover had treated him like some sort of porcelain doll, someone who might break if not handled with extreme care. He sighed, despite his earlier intention not to do so, missing the old days, if that’s what they could be called. The reality of it was that if Heero did playfully toss him onto the bed and ripped his clothes off like he often had during the war, he’d probably freak out and hide in the closet until he was dragged out kicking and screaming.
He looked at the clock displayed on the DVD player. It was almost time to start dinner. He closed his book, set it on the coffee table, then put his stocking feet on the floor and headed for the kitchen. The sweat pants he wore hung loosely on his hips and the long-sleeved t-shirt fell well past his hips. Even his clothing style had changed from when he was younger, for now he preferred being fully clothed with his skinny and scar-riddled body hidden completely from view.
There was a package of thawing chicken on the counter top, and he wondered what Heero had planned for their evening meal. He went to the refrigerator to see the schedule posted on the side of it, listing the menu for the week. The neatly typed paper stated that lemon chicken was to be their main course for the evening. He sighed, not knowing how to prepare that particular dish. Heero would have to be there and give him instructions, probably telling him to make the salad or chop the vegetables, tasks, he noted sourly to himself, that a ten year old could do.
The phone rang, startling him and interrupting his thoughts. Returning to the living room he picked it up, said hello and immediately recognized Quatre’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Duo! How are you?”
“I’m okay. How are you, Quat? Where’s Trowa?”
There was a pause and a slightly audible huff as Quatre dealt with the fact that he always asked about his lover in the beginning of all their conversations.
“I’m fine, thank you. Trowa is also well and is visiting with Catherine this evening. She’s been in town for the last three days.”
“Oh.” That was all Duo could manage. Catherine had never been overly fond of him, but Trowa treated her like his sister so he tried hard to accept her presence in his life.
Quatre knowingly laughed as his response. “She’s not that bad, Duo. She’s just a bit overly protective of Trowa.”
Silence stretched out between the two, and not because of any lingering ill will on Duo’s part because of past events. No, the distance between them now was more from a feeling of awkwardness on Quatre’s part due to his guilty conscience about the whole sordid “egg affair” and a small bit of jealousy because Trowa still hovered around and doted on the braided man. Duo had sensed these feelings in his friend and decided that falling back on being silent would aid him in not saying anything that might damage their recovering friendship any further, though he and Trowa had spoken several times about the problem.
“Um... is Heero there?” ‘Quatre asked at last.
“I’ll get him.” He set the phone down on the table and turned around only to find his lover standing behind him, a look of concern on his face. Stepping aside, he picked the phone back up and handed it to his lover.
Heero put the phone to his ear and said a cautious hello. His face immediately tensed at hearing the blond man’s voice. “I was going to call you after dinner,” he told Quatre. He listened for a moment before a frown appeared and he said, “No, I’ve decided not to go.”
Since the conversation seemed to be mostly one-sided, Duo went back to the kitchen to fix the salad, keeping an ear out for whatever Heero was saying. He knew what the two men on the phone were speaking about because it had been a sore subject between himself and Heero for over a month, ever since they’d gotten a call from Milliardo insisting that their presence was required at a day-long event commemorating Relena’s life and public service. At first, Heero had straight-out refused for the both of them. But each day he’d gotten a follow-up, persuading phone call. Director Peacecraft was adamant that the gundam pilots’ presence was necessary, and that even though Relena had tormented Heero and Duo, had hurt them badly, it was her preserved memory that the public held of her that gave him the power he needed as head of the Preventers to safeguard the peace between Earth and the colonies. Three days ago Heero finally relented, agreeing to attend the event but stated firmly that Duo would remain at home. Milliardo readily agreed, stating he understood why Duo would be absent. Through their many short and well-meaning visits, he and his wife, formerly Lucretia Noin, had learned that the braided man rarely left the house and never ventured out into crowds, and there was a large one promised for the day of commemoration. The day-long memorial was to begin the following morning, on what would have been Relena’s twenty-third birthday, and it came as a surprise to him that Heero had apparently changed his mind again. From the stretched-out silence on their end of the call, he figured that Quatre was probably arguing with Heero to rethink his decision.
“I don’t think Duo is ready to be left alone for the entire day,” his lover said in a toned-down voice. “He hasn’t been on his own for more than an hour since we moved here.”
A long stretch of silence followed and Duo wanted more than anything to see what Heero’s face looked like, but he would be too obvious if he went into the other room just to watch his lover on the phone. He continued to pull the salad makings out of the refrigerator then took them to the sink to wash, keeping an ear tuned to the front room conversation.
“Of course I’ve talked to him and tried to prepare him, but you know how he gets.” Duo now wished that Heero would speak a bit softer so he couldn’t hear him. He really didn’t like hearing how little trust his lover had in his ability to cope. Of course, his track record wasn’t too good.
“Alright!” Heero’s voice rose with irritation. “I’ll leave it up to Duo. I’ll call you with a final decision tonight. Goodbye, Quatre.”
It was obvious from the tone of his voice that Heero was agitated and his delay in joining him most likely meant that he was taking a moment to compose himself before he came into the kitchen where he would no doubt act like nothing had happened. Duo continued to tear the lettuce leaves and put them in the bowl, pausing only when he felt two strong arms come from behind and wrap around him, pulling him up against a solid chest. He automatically tilted his head to allow those lips he adored to worship his neck.
“I think you should go,” he said in a quiet voice.
Heero stiffened behind him, his lips stilled against the flesh on his neck. “You heard?”
“I won’t go if you don’t want me to.”
Taking in a deep breath, Duo considered Heero’s restlessness and boredom and weighed them against his need for the security Heero’s presence always gave him. He could do it for a day, he told himself. He knew it would be good for both Heero and himself to have a break from each other. He’d never get better if he didn’t push himself. With those thoughts still in mind, he told his lover of his decision. “Go. You need to get out of here and I need to prove to myself that I’m not such a wuss.”
“I don’t think you’re ready,” Heero said, putting his face alongside Duo’s, their warm cheeks pressed together.
“I never will be if we don’t try.” He felt himself getting irritated at Heero’s lack of confidence in him. It was bad enough he doubted himself, but it hurt that Heero didn’t think he could do anything but sit around all day and eat what was put in front of him. He was sick and tired of being helpless and feeling so dependent, and Heero’s hesitation to not even let him try to be a bit more independent was not helping his low self-esteem. “Go.” He said firmly and walked out of Heero’s arms to put the lettuce back into the refrigerator.
Silence filled the room as Duo refused to look at his lover. Heero sounded angry as he said sharply, “You know I don’t want to attend this farce. I hated Relena for what she did to us, for everything she plotted to make us suffer. If it wasn’t for Milliardo practically begging us to attend this memorial in order for him to keep his position in the Preventers as strong as it’s been, none of us would have ever considered it.”
Duo sighed and he willed himself to stay calm. Sometimes he and Heero fed off of each others’ anger and irritation and the results were never pleasant. “He says it’s important to show a united front and my not being there will raise questions as it is. The four of you need to go and be a presence of support for Milliardo if nothing else.” He stopped at that point, for that was all he was going to say on the subject, probably all he could say and still sound convincing.
Heero nodded, not looking happy but somehow calmer and resigned. “Alright. I’ll call Quatre back and tell him I’ll go. I have to leave here at seven thirty in the morning and leave the car at their place. A limousine will pick us up and take us to the morning ceremony at the Government building that’s going to be named after Relena. There’s a whole damn day of speeches and activities that we’ll have to stay for, including the evening meal. I’ll carry my cell phone and call you whenever I can get a chance. You can call me anytime for any reason, alright?”
“You’re sure?” He could see Heero bending down to catch a glimpse of his eyes but he managed to keep them averted, knowing that if Heero were to look at him now, he’d probably glimpse the fear and dread he was feeling at the idea of being left alone in the house for an entire day. “Positive,” he managed to say. “Just bring me back some ice cream.”
Heero gave a snort of amusement. “Triple Truffle Explosion?”
He managed a real smile. “You know me so well.” Out of the corner of his eye he watched as Heero went to the package of chicken and began to unwrap it; a sure sign that the discussion was over, the matter had been settled.
With music playing in the background from the stereo in the front room, dinner was a quiet affair with both men enjoying the delicious meal. The dishes were quickly washed and efficiently put away, then the two retired to the sofa in the living room where they spooned up together to enjoy an evening of watching television. That was the plan until the phone rang again and with an exasperated sigh, Heero dislodged himself from behind Duo’s more slender form and went to answer it. From the sounds of the conversation, Duo knew it was Quatre again. The call was short with Heero telling him he’d be there at seven forty the next morning. Before coming back to the sofa to take his place again, Heero made the rounds in the house, locking the doors and checking the windows, just as he did every night. The familiar routine helped to make Duo feel safe and protected. His lover resumed his previous spot behind him, and together they relaxed and resumed watching the movie.
His eyes were just beginning to close as the credits rolled at the end of the long movie when he felt a kiss on his temple. Opening them, he looked up to see Heero smiling down on him. “Ready for bed?”
“Yeah.” He waited until Heero moved out from behind him and got to his feet and reached out his hand, which Duo grabbed and was easily pulled up from the couch. Hand in hand, he let Heero lead him up the stairs and down the hall to their bedroom. He began to reach for the hem of his tee-shirt, only to have his hands gently batted away.
“Let me.” Heero’s voice was low and sensually teasing, causing Duo to feel a tightening of his groin in response to it. He lifted his arms as directed and let Heero peel his shirt off over his head. He was then turned towards the bathroom and felt a playful swat on his bony behind. “Go get ready for bed, and I’ll get the bed ready.” From the look in his eyes, Duo knew his lover was going to get more than the bed ready. With a roll of his eyes and an amused smile, he moved forward to do as he was told.
As usual, Heero was careful with his body, touching him everywhere, rousing his passion slowly and methodically until he was clinging to his lover with an overwhelming and desperate need. Heero was damn sadistic sometimes, bringing him to the edge and then holding off his completion. At times he felt it was a power trip for his lover, controlling his passion and orgasm. But when he was finally allowed to climax, it was always so powerful, so complete and exhausting that he usually slept like the dead for the rest of the night. He wondered if that was Heero’s intention all along, to hold off the nightmares that still haunted his dreams.
Unfortunately, if that had been Heero’s plans that night, it failed to produce the desired results. The old familiar nightmare returned. Once again he was hiding from the inmates who were chasing him relentlessly and fear took over and paralyzed him as he realized they’d found him, cornered him, and began their menacing approach. He was weak from lack of food and water and knew without a doubt what they wanted from him. Cowering in a corner next to a trash bin, too weak to run anymore, he got his feet underneath himself, ready to use the last of his energy to launch a final attack when large hands burst out of the ground beneath him and grabbed his ankles and wrists. Their brute strength pulled him down to the ground and began to rip off his clothing as the men, forever haunting his dreams and laughing at his helplessness, approached with leering grins.
“No, no, let me go!” he screamed, hoping someone, a guard or sympathetic inmates would come to his rescue. Then the hated men reached for him with large, dirty, hurtful hands. “Noooo!!”
“Wake up, Duo. It’s just a dream. Wake up.” Heero’s urgent voice finally broke through the nightmare and his frightened eyes snapped open. Duo realized that his breathing was ragged and his face was wet as he tried to get past his nightmare and focus on the here and now. He looked up, fastening his terrified eyes on Heero’s face, visible in the dim light provided by the nightlight that valiantly glowed through the dark that enveloped their bedroom.
Once Heero deemed him awake, he was immediately swept up into the strong arms that promised shelter from any threat. “I’ve got you. Nothing and no one will ever hurt you again. I promise.” Heero’s reassurances were whispered into his ear, and Duo tried to absorb the promise, to draw further comfort from it. Holding tightly to his lover, Duo used the physical contact as an anchor to reality as clinging tendrils of the dark dream lingered in his mind.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” His voice was weak and shaky. “It’s the same old dream, back again.”
“You’re here now and safe. You’ll never have to go back there or see any of those sons of bitches again. I promise.”
Heero meant well, but when he frequently revisited the prison in his dreams, saw his attackers not only at night in his sleep but in every shadow while he was awake, it was hard to believe his lover’s promises. When Heero turned onto his back, his arms carried Duo’s body with him and settled him on top of his chest, his arms caressing the length of his lover’s bare back in a gesture of reassurance. “Try to go back to sleep. I’m here and you’re safe.”
Duo nodded, knowing Heero would feel it, but they both knew that sleep would probably elude him for the rest of the night.
A light kiss on his forehead woke him from a deep sleep. He blinked his eyes open to see Heero sitting on the bed next to him, fully dressed in an expensive dark suit with a white shirt, red tie and wearing a look of worry on his face. “Hey handsome. Gonna break some hearts today?” Duo asked, his voice thick and groggy as he rubbed at the sleep in his eyes.
Heero shook his head and gave an amused snort that doubled for a laugh. “I have to go now but I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye. How are you this morning?” His concerned eyes studied his lover’s face intently.
“Kind of sleepy.” He hadn’t fallen asleep until just before sunrise and his body was telling him it wasn’t time to wake up.
“Then go back to sleep. Eat some cereal and drink some juice with your medication when you do get up.” He waited for Duo’s agreeing nod before continuing. “Your lunch is in the orange plastic container in the refrigerator and your dinner is in the blue. Eat, or I’m going to be very unhappy with you.” Heero’s stern expression indicated that he was serious.
“I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“I’ll call you when I can. Call me if you need to.”
Leaning over him again, their lips met and a sweet, tender kiss was shared. “Poor you,” Duo’s eyes sparkled with humor as they drew apart. “I got a nice, minty-fresh kiss and you got morning breath.”
Heero’s smile was a bit crooked as he replied. “Well, considering the taste in my mouth when I fell asleep, I’d say we’re about even.”
Duo returned the smile, knowing Heero was referring to the toe-curling blow job he’d received from him the night before. He still had some of his hang ups about sex from his time in prison, but his lover had more than proved that he was very talented and adept at getting around his phobias and giving them both pleasure.
“I’ll lock the door behind me on my way out,” Heero said, then leaned down for one last kiss after which he promptly stood and walked from the room, pausing at the door to turn for one last, lingering look before he left for the day. Duo couldn’t help but see the worry etched on his lover’s face and knew that this day was not going to be easy for either of them. He gave a slight wave of his hand in a final farewell and watched as Heero reluctantly pulled himself away from the door. Duo tracked the footsteps that went down hallway and then the stairs. He then heard the car keys being lifted from the box on the table by the front door, and listened to the front door open, close, and was followed by the sound of the key locking the front door.
Turning to his side, he grabbed Heero’s pillow from its resting place and pulled it against his chest. He buried his face into it, breathing in the scent of his lover and decided that he was going to try his best to go back to sleep, figuring that sleeping would be the easiest way to pass at least some of the many hours until Heero came back home. Frustratingly enough, sleep eluded him. Regardless, he remained unmoving in his bed and hidden under the covers for another hour.
Author’s note: I can’t believe I’m writing a sequel! There’s
a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that sequels don’t usually live
up to the original, but there have been exceptions. I guess we’ll see
what category this falls into as the story progresses.