Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language, NCS flashbacks.
Duo pulled off his tie and put the take-out on the kitchen table. He opened one container, poked at the meal, and then rewrapped it without touching it. That was almost unheard of for him. As he shoved the container into the refrigerator, Duo's cell phone rang. After a moment of fumbling to get it out of his pack, he hit the on button and heard Heero's voice.
Duo almost admitted that he wasn't eating, but realized how strange that would sound to Heero. "Okay, did you have me tailed, or what? Is there a Preventer agent crouched in the bushes with binoculars, reporting back to you?"
"I timed your rate of travel, working out the likely intervals between waiting for the cab, stopping to get the meal, arriving home, and eating your portion of the meal."
"You are a sick man, Yuy," Duo grumbled as he unbuttoned the top of his dress shirt.
"I'm just looking out for my dinner," Heero chuckled. "Did the cab ride go all right?"
"Yes, dear," Duo retorted. "I didn't pee my pants or try and kill the driver, if that's what you want to know."
Soda looked at Duo curiously. Duo opened the back door and let the big dog out. He watched it trot over to the kennel and saw the enthusiastic greetings of the puppies. Soda touched noses with them through the fence and then went about his business, keeping a close eye on Duo where he stood in the doorway and not roaming far away.
"Duo, I was only asking if you arrived home without any trouble," Heero said with slight irritation. "It is a common thing that lover's ask each other."
Duo grimaced. "Sorry. I'm just tired, okay? I think I'll shower and take a nap before you get home."
"Duo..." Heero began to sound worried. "You went through a great deal during the war. You've been exercising periodically without any trouble, but I have to wonder why a simple obstacle course has tired you so severely."
Because I had to run it twenty times and I wasn't ready! Duo thought it harshly, but he kept his voice neutral as he replied, "I guess I got soft baking cookies and playing with puppy dogs at home."
"Cookies?" Heero chuckled, "Is that what they were? I thought it was a new type of gundanium alloy."
"Ha, ha!" Duo sniped back and then chuckled as well.
"Heero!" Wu Fei's impatient voice sounded in the back ground. "We have that interview to go to! Maxwell is a man, he is capable of taking care of himself, and he has told you that he is all right!"
"He would say that he was all right if his leg was off, Chang!" Heero growled, and then into the phone. "I know he's right, Duo, you don't have to say so. I have to go. DON'T eat my dinner, Little Baka."
"It's safe, don't worry," Duo promised and then softer, "Love you, Baby."
Heero paused, embarrassed. Duo thought that there might be others beside Wu Fei in his office. Finally, as if he had decided not to be embarrassed or intimidated, Heero said strongly, "You know I love you, Duo. I'll see you tonight."
After saying goodbye, Duo slipped the phone into his pocket. Stretching sore back muscles, he wandered into the yard. He felt better after Heero's heartfelt confession, but he still wasn't completely all right mentally. The feelings of fear, despair, and depression, created by his flashback while working out with Grange, hadn't worn off even after the hard physical activity and a long cab ride. He found himself looking at the sun covered yard and wondering if the gate was locked. He checked it twice, examined the strength of the lock, and then checked the alarm sensors on the high fence.
Soda followed Duo through all of his examination. The puppies went almost apoplectic, wanting out and wanting to play. Satisfied that he was absolutely safe, Duo finally let them out. He suffered through their wild antics, checked to make sure that Hulitt had taken care of food and water, and then decided that it was time to take his shower and nap.
Duo stood and stared at the house. The thought of going in alone, only with Soda, was suddenly too much for his strung out nerves. "What the hell...?" Duo grumbled to himself and clenched his hands into fists. Why had Grange rattled him so much? It was ridiculous.
Duo remembered the cab ride and the unfortunate cab driver. Duo had sat in the back seat glaring at the man, forcing out monosyllable commands through a growing fear that the man would do something. It was almost like being in the war again and seeing a potential enemy in every civilian; a potential for a report to Oz of a Gundam pilot sighting, or, worse, the potential for a man to take advantage of a skinny, young man alone... With an over hundred pound dog, Duo reminded himself sharply. Why hadn't Soda's presence been enough to calm his nerves?
Feeling like a coward, Duo called all of the dogs and they happily followed him into the house. It filled the place with happy, wriggling bodies and Duo felt better at once. He gave them some treats, grabbed a lone, wrapped slice of pizza from some long ago meal, and one of Heero's sports drinks, and headed up the stairs to the bedroom with the dogs cavorting all around him.
"Easy guys!" Duo warned and they came to order, barely. Soda whuffed, a dog equivalent of a patient sigh, as he fought to keep his position at Duo's side. Duo rubbed behind his ears, put drink and pizza on a side table, and went to shower.
It was hard to undress. Duo stood for long moments looking at every inch of the small bathroom as if he expected someone to be hiding, waiting for just such a vulnerable moment. At last, he swore outright at himself and pulled off his clothes. Flipping on the shower, he climbed inside and let the hot spray sluice off stink, sweat, and the tension of the day.
"No one is going to hurt me," Duo droned to himself. "The doors are locked. The alarms are set. The dogs are in the room. There is no one there. No one is going to attack me." After the fifteenth recitation, Duo finally began to relax and believe it.
After finishing his shower and drying off, Duo curled up nude in the bed, pulling the comforter up around himself. His gold cross was wet and cold on his breast. His hair, which he had kept out of the water, was still slightly damp, his bangs beaded with water. He wiped at them and then tried not to think.
"Whus!" Duo growled to himself. "Sure Grange is a big guy and you know that's why you started thinking about... stuff, but you can knock him on his ass in a heart beat and YOU know it! You are NOT six years old! You are a man, dammit! A trained, frickin' Gundam pilot! I pity the idiot who messes with you! The undertaker would be his new best friend! Get it together, Maxwell! You can't freak out over your asshole trainer. Your life is shit, and being Duo the `domestic' partner of Heero Yuy, for the rest your life if you do!"
Anger at himself washed away most of the anxiety and exhaustion seemed to go a long way to keep what was left under control, still, when the puppies nosed forlornly at the bed, not taking their cue from the way Soda curled up on his dog bed in the corner, Duo couldn't help from calling them all to him. The gangly puppies happily crawled onto the bed, but Soda cleared their heads with a graceful bound and was the first to take up a position pressed against Duo's side.
"You just live for when I let you do this, don't you?" Duo chuckled at Soda and the dog put his head on Duo's bare chest and gave him soulful eyes. "That's all right," Duo said softly. "I understand that kind of love. I want to do the same to Heero all the time."
The puppies had trouble settling, but Duo was already asleep, his mind finally calming and trusting his `guards'.
Duo heard Soda's warning bark. The dog left a cool spot on his side as he went to investigate something. Duo cracked open an eye and glanced over at the clock. Five thirty. Heero was home. The puppies confirmed his guess by suddenly scrambling and launching themselves off the bed. Soda returned with Heero, but was smart enough not to get on the bed again. He came to the side of it and watched Duo for a command.
"Duo," Heero growled in exasperation as he waded through puppies. He caught sight of the half eaten pizza and the sports drink. "Duo!" he said louder, knowing Duo was awake. "Why didn't you eat the rice and chicken? We bought that pizza nearly a week ago!"
Duo propped himself on an elbow and sighed as he rubbed at his eyes. "I know it was yours and you were saving it, but I didn't feel like your health food. I wanted something cheesy and gooey."
"I wasn't `saving' it. I forgot about it." Heero gave the slice of pizza a poke with a dubious finger. "Duo! It's as hard as a rock!"
"Well, I didn't finish it," Duo retorted defensively and sat up all the way. He pushed his bangs out of his eyes, but they promptly fell back into them. "Why don't you go ahead and chew me out for having the dogs in the bed too, so I can ask you how your day was?"
"What?!" Heero strode to the bed and saw the tumbled bed clothes, the scattered dog hairs, leaves from the yard, and several dog prints. "Duo!"
Duo winced and scowled. "I-" He stopped and swallowed hard. Unconsciously, he rubbed a hand up and down one bare arm. "Sorry, Heero. Crap! No, I'm not! I needed to sleep and I was so strung out from training that I couldn't without all of them keeping watch! I'll change the sheets, so stop worrying about it."
Heero took a deep breath and settled on the edge of the bed. "That bad?"
Duo nodded reluctantly and looked away. "I don't always have my shit together, Baby, but I do pretty well. I'm allowed a bad day."
Heero nodded, his face gentling as he began to realize that there were land mines ready to go off. "Evaluation," he said, suddenly switching to `soldier mode' as if they were still in the war and Duo was wounded.
Duo grinned, but it was a sickly grin. "I was surprised and I didn't have the mission planned out properly. I wasn't prepared. I'll be regrouping, making myself better prepared, and continuing the mission tomorrow. I don't anticipate any obstacles."
"Preparations?" Heero persisted.
"Full meal of chicken and rice, lots of fluids, some training with partner, and adequate down time for optimum efficiency," Duo replied.
Heero allowed a small smile to crack through his `soldier-mode' expression. "What will your training with your partner consist of?"
Duo's grin became more genuine. "Love, togetherness... I want it to stay flexible, so I haven't made an actual training routine yet."
"Being flexible is advisable," Heero replied.
Duo stared and then he laughed at the innuendo, a short bark that startled Soda and the puppies. "Heero made a funny!"
"Come on," Heero told him as he stood up. "I'm starved and you are going to carry out your mission plan." He paused and then looked down at Duo, suddenly serious. "You are evaluating the situation correctly, Duo? You were just surprised? If-"
"I know what's at stake!" Duo grumbled. "I know what can happen. I'm not going to take the chance of hurting someone, Heero. I looked at what happened today really hard. I know it's just that I've been cooped up here for too long and not getting out and reinforcing my lessons from the institute. I went from swinging in the backyard hammock day in and day out to having a full blown training session with an ox disguised as a human being. I was... uncomfortable, but I didn't hurt anyone and I didn't have an episode there. I did what I was told and I did the obstacle course without any more problems than any other couch potato would have suffered. So, relax."
"All right." Heero did seem to relax a little, though a worried frown was still on his face.
"You go ahead and take everyone downstairs," Duo said, having an unreasoning reluctance to get out of bed nude. It would make him feel vulnerable, he thought, and he didn't want to experience that just then.
"I'm putting them back outside," Heero grumbled as he headed for the door. "and you're changing the sheets and blankets... now."
"Yes, sir!" Duo replied and gave Heero a sharp salute.
Heero broke into a smile and left Duo alone, calling to the puppies and muttering, "Little Baka." affectionately.
Duo climbed out of bed and reached for some clothes scattered on the floor. He pulled on an oversized shirt with a band logo on the front and a pair of jeans. When he reached for socks, he stopped himself and put them down. He was covering himself up, he realized, to make himself feel more secure. Duo felt an ache of frustration and then a wave of determination. Heero was NOT going to see him insecure again and falling apart. He was not going to hurt Heero or himself by regressing and being afraid of his lover. Easier said than done he knew, but he was damned well going to TRY.
After cleaning up the bedroom, and going down stairs with Soda, Duo smelled food, saw that Heero had turned on all of the lights, started a fire in the fireplace, and put on soft music. When he entered the kitchen, Duo found the table set with china and goblets and Heero moving about in a green apron that reminded Duo of his old lime, green tank top. Wearing that apron, and a soft pair of jeans and a casual shirt, he looked very domestic and loving.
Duo found himself smiling softly and his fears melted. Heero always seemed to have the medicine that Duo needed. Here he was grounding Duo, distracting him out of memories of his old life by making his new one warm and inviting, intentionally giving Duo a taste of normalcy, something he had never known until they had moved in together. In that place, full of solid furniture, soft music, and a lover serving him attentively and making him feel appreciated and comforted, Duo let go of fears and the old, gnawing memories. They couldn't touch him here, not in a place so unfamiliar to them.
As Heero dished rice, chicken, and some stir fry vegetables onto Duo's plate, Duo lightly touched his wrist. When he had Heero's attention, he said with all the feeling that he could fit into his voice, "I love you, Heero."
Heero smiled, "I love you, Duo. We're lovers, partners; the nightmares can't touch us if we stand together against them, all right? Don't hide and try to fight them alone."
Duo ducked his head and then nodded. "I feel.... better, much better now. Sorry I'm so stubborn. I just don't want you to over react and think that I can't go back to training. I can. This won't happen again."
Heero almost said it, `how can you be sure?', but he didn't. He clenched his jaw for a second and then let it go, knowing that arguing any longer was going to undo any good he had just done for Duo.
A piece of paper was on the table. Duo snagged it as Heero moved to fill his own plate. Looking it over, Duo saw Mr. Hulitt's neat handwriting. "Where did this come from?"
Heero glanced and saw what Duo was referring to. As he settled into his chair and positioned a napkin, he replied, "It was on the kennel gate. We're supposed to do those things, or else."
Duo sighed and ran a hand through his bangs. "There's a lot here."
Heero stood a little to take the note out of Duo's hand. He put it aside as he settled again. "Eat your dinner. Nothing on that list is going to get done tonight. You need to rest and I need to be with you."
Duo was suddenly concerned. "Heero, he was serious about turning us in if we didn't start taking care of things."
"Not tonight. Eat," Heero commanded.
Duo smiled. "You're awful bossy tonight."
"After dinner, you can be the `boss', "Heero promised, "As long as you don't order yourself to do anything, but rest."
Duo laughed and took a bite of the food. He was glad that his nerves had settled enough to finally let him eat. He cleaned his plate, not afraid of eating too much. Heero knew how much he could handle.
"Done?" Heero asked as he put his own napkin aside and stood up. Duo nodded and Heero came to him and held out a hand. "Let's go to the other room."
Duo felt a moment's hesitation. He squashed it and took Heero's calloused hand in his as he stood up. He smiled and made it genuine, refusing the nervousness that was trying to rise up within him. "What do you have in mind? I see that spark in your eye."
Heero looked at Duo very seriously. "I will never touch you, unless you want me to, Duo. I'll let you lead." He walked with Duo into the living room and showed Duo where he had put several throws on the thick carpet before the fireplace. "If you want to sit and talk. I'll be happy to do that."
Duo shivered at the old assurance that Heero had used from their time together during the war. Duo hadn't needed it during their first week of living together after Duo had returned from the institute. He recalled that passionate time of getting to know each other again, of finding that their love had only grown stronger despite their separation. Heero had told him that calming phrase the first night that they had made love then, but Duo had hardly needed it. He hated that he needed it now, that Grange had rattled him so much, that he had become uncertain when a year apart hadn't made him feel that way.
Heero sat cross legged and Duo slumped down beside him, staring into the flames. Soda seemed to sense that he wasn't supposed to intrude. He settled in a corner and watched them with his head on his paws.
"Look, Heero," Duo began. "If you're going to try and tell me this is too much for me-"
"No," Heero replied quietly. "We've already had that conversation. It had to do with trusting you, I believe. I would like to know what happened though. I tried inquiring, but I only received answers such as, "Maxwell is out of shape. He wasn't dressed properly. He is very advanced in his techniques, but lacking in important skills. No one told me what happened that caused you to become so upset. I would like to know, Duo. You didn't eat. You were insecure. You aren't sure of me now, are you?"
Duo winced. "It's better, now that I've had some food and some rest." Duo thought about it, went through the day in his mind. "We stayed up all night and I went to work, exhausted. I didn't really eat. That wasn't the best way to go into a full blown training session."
"And?" Heero prompted.
Duo bit his lower lip and forced out the words past pride and embarrassment. "Grange is a big guy. I guess I was so tired I just.... I thought he looked a bit liked one of the guys who... who pimped me when I was on L2."
Heero looked pained. "Duo.... Why didn't you just tell me? I could have sat with you and helped you through this, not let you suffer until I came home. You know it helps to talk about it. You know you have to work it out of your system. You needed reassurance, not to come home to an empty house and wrestle with your demons yourself."
Duo swallowed hard. "Okay," he said in a choked voice. "Let's talk about it."
"Size doesn't matter," Heero began. "You KNOW that. You also know that you could beat Grange with one hand tied behind your back."
"I dunno," Duo said with a half hearted smile. "He's pretty good. He's... he's kind of mean too. He doesn't like me."
Heero was suddenly alert. "Did he step over the line? Did he try and hurt you on purpose?"
"No," Duo admitted quickly. "But I know I'm not going to be on his `who to invite to a party' list part. He's a lot like Wu Fei. He doesn't think I belong."
"Wu Fei looks at you and sees the past," Heero told him. "He doesn't see what you've become."
"And what's that?" Duo wondered bitterly. "A skinny kid who's afraid of guys bigger than me? I didn't feel too good about myself, Heero. I really didn't. I thought that I was past that panicking shit."
"DID you panic?" Heero asked pointedly. "Did you try and hurt Grange to protect yourself?"
"No," Duo answered slowly.
"Did you consider it?" Heero pressed.
"I thought that I could," Duo replied. "I reminded myself that I could."
"But you didn't?"
Duo stared at Heero, feeling gratitude as he replied, "No."
"Then there isn't anything to get upset about, is there?" Heero concluded. "You had a moment and you dealt with it just like the institute had trained you to deal with it. I don't like the stress it caused you, but, I think you're right that you need to get used to interacting with different people. You need to desensitize yourself and reinforce your positive reactions with the intense training that the Preventers can provide you. I think... I think this is a good decision, Duo. I know that I didn't at first, but suddenly I see that it can do you some good."
"Be patient with me," Duo told him. "I may have some more bad days until I get used to things. Let me deal with it, okay?"
"As long as you continue to be in control," Heero replied, "and as long as I see that you aren't hurting yourself. The doctor said that you were fine, but you and I both know that it isn't just your physical health that we have to worry about."
Duo nodded, agreeing. He relaxed, knowing that the battle was over and glad that it hadn't been as bad as he had feared. He reached out a hand, tentatively, and curled it around Heero's. "I-I don't think I'm up for anything heavy, but, if you're not too tired, do you mind if..."
Heero gave Duo a look full of love and pulled on Duo's hand until Duo was almost in his lap. He then carefully put an arm around Duo's waist and held him close. Duo nuzzled against Heero's chest, sighing contently, listening to Heero's heart beat and finding comfort in it. Steady and strong, just like Heero. It's what Duo needed just then, no surprises; someone he could count on to protect him and love him. In Heero's embrace, the dark memories and people like Grange didn't have a chance. Anxiety relinquished its hold and Duo sighed as the last of the tension left him.
"You can do this forever, you know?" Duo sighed.
"Forever?" Heero breathed into his hair. "Gladly."