Shinigami's Lover Arc 2

Part 23: Mask
by Kracken

Disclaimer:Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence, NCS Flashbacks

"Little Baka," a familiar voice whispered.

"Hm... Baby? Too early. Hit the snooze..." Duo tried to roll over, but there was something attached to his arm. He started away, his body reacting to being restrained before his confused mind could sort out what was going on.

"Duo. Calm down. You are safe with me, " Heero said softly. "You're in the infirmary. You were found passed out on the training field."

Duo processed that as his eyes opened and saw his sterile surroundings, his anxious lover, and Soda hovering close by. "Oh," Duo said and then again, guiltily, "Oh."

Heero gently touched the arm that was restrained and caressed it as he gauged Duo's alertness. Satisfied that Duo was really awake, he undid the buckle of the strap. "I wasn't sure what you would be like. Sometimes, you thrash in your sleep. Sometimes, you wake up and-"

Duo growled, cutting him off, "You don't have to tell ME, Heero. I get it and I understand." He tried to sit up as he spoke, but Heero was shaking his head.

"They are still running tests. You should keep still until the medic returns with the results," Heero reasoned.

Duo settled back onto the hard bed and tried not to get angry at his predicament. It was his own fault, after all, not Heero's. Duo had been the one to let pride get in the way of common sense. "I...," Duo tried to explain, but Heero's intense, level regard, chilled any attempts at forming an excuse. Duo admitted at last, "I guess I just couldn't back down from the course with everyone looking at me. It's the easiest one. A couple of scratches and burns shouldn't have kept me from doing something THAT simple."

"You detonated a bomb at close range," Heero snapped back. "You threw yourself off of a catwalk. You didn't receive `simple' cuts and burns, Duo, and you know it. You were injured and no one should make you feel like less of a man if those injuries keep you from running a course."

Duo flushed at the criticism. "Well, I don't think you would have said no to your commanding officer either, so I don't know why you're bothering with the lecture."

Heero stared down at Duo, his jaw worked for a moment, and then he said, "If I was given the order during a mission, I think you would be right about that, but this isn't the war, Duo. If Commander Richards gave you an order, knowing you were injured..."

"He just wanted to see what I was made of, I think. He didn't know that I was that bad off," Duo grumbled, feeling defensive, not for Richard's sake, but for his own. If Heero made trouble for Richards, then people would think that he, Duo, was a trouble maker and not part of the team. A team member did not rat out a fellow team member, especially when that person was the Commander. If the offense had been very serious, Duo might have felt differently, but he couldn't honestly believe that Richards had realized the extent of his injuries. Duo hadn't known himself. He had felt stiff and sore, but not so bad that he had thought the course undoable. "I could have said `no', but I didn't. Blame me, don't blame Richards."

"All right," Heero agreed and then proceeded to tell Duo what he thought of his overextending himself.

Duo winced and muttered, but he let Heero work it out of his system before he asked, "Feel better now?"

Heero glared and then he deflated. His eyes held his heart suddenly and he admitted, "When they called me and told me that they had found you passed out on the field... I was frightened for you."

"Sorry," Duo replied as he reached out and pulled Heero into an embrace. "I scared myself. Passing out... that's not good. Maybe that explosion messed me up more than I thought. What if-"

They heard the door opening and Heero stepped back from Duo as the medic came into the room. He was going over a computerized chart, his stylus dancing over the surface. He was frowning down at it, not looking at the two young men as he came to stand by Duo's bed. He wasn't even aware of Soda sitting almost at his feet, ears laid back as he waited for a command from Duo. "Agent Maxwell?"

"Yeah?" Duo responded. "Well, trainee, actually."

The man didn't seem to hear. He made a last poke at the screen and then he finally looked up with a serious expression. "What did you eat for breakfast, Mr. Maxwell?"

Duo thought hard about that. "I... I don't remember."

"Nutri bar and coffee," Heero supplied.

The man tisked. "You need more protein and iron in your diet. I'm going to give you... hm, it seems that you were already given a meal plan, Mr. Maxwell. A nutri bar and coffee isn't on it. There were conditions set in regards to your acceptance in the Preventer program. Being healthy was one of them. I'm going to give you a chance to correct this, but only one chance."

Duo listened in confusion and then blurted out, interrupting, "Are you saying that I passed out, not from my injuries, but because I didn't eat enough for breakfast?"

The medic checked the chart and then looked up again and nodded. "According to your vital signs at the time of your admittance, yes. You did pull out several stitches, but they weren't serious."

Duo felt his face flame, not sure whether he should feel vindicated for having attempted the course, or ashamed that such a ridiculous, controllable thing, had laid him, a trained Gundam pilot, low.

"I should have known better," Heero said in the silence, automatically blaming himself for failing to watch his lover more closely. "You always eat like that, Duo, and I didn't consider your increased level of activity and the stress of your injuries."

The Medic was a veteran from the war. He had zero sympathy for Duo or Heero's self flagellation. "Mr. Maxwell, if you can't take care of yourself then you certainly don't have a place in this organization. Perhaps you should look into enrolling yourself into a nursery school? A kind teacher could then make sure that you eat your oatmeal and teach you about the four basic food groups that a person needs to function correctly."

Duo's mouth dropped open, stunned, but the medic was already leaving the room before he could formulate a reply. Heero's snicker was loud in the silence. Duo glared as he crossed his arms over his chest angrily. "Ha! Ha! Go ahead and laugh, Yuy! I'm glad that watching that medic peel off my skin with his tongue was funny to you."

Heero tried to sober, but the smirk didn't leave his face. "Maybe he didn't say it in the best way, but you know he's right. I suppose I will be getting up early to cook your breakfast from now on. Maybe taking better care of yourself is the goal here, but I don't think you would survive long on your own cooking, especially first thing in the morning."

Duo tried to keep glaring, but he couldn't maintain it. He sighed as he sat up. Heero was there to steady him and Duo thought about that, how Heero was ALWAYS there when he needed him the most. He took it for granted sometimes and he felt guilty about that, thinking about how much Heero had gone through to be by his side. He should not give the man any more anxiety, Duo thought, or any more grief, but Duo knew, as much as he loved Heero, as much as he appreciated everything that Heero was to him, that he couldn't stop being who he was or living his life the way he thought that he had to.

"I can eat better and take better care of myself," Duo admitted truthfully, "but you know I can't stop taking risks or keep from getting the job done, even if I might get hurt in the process."

"You know I can't either," Heero replied.

They met eyes, understanding one another, and then they both nodded at the same time, both of them accepting the burden.

"You're going home," Heero said in a voice that dared Duo to argue, "and tomorrow you're staying home."

"I will go home now," Duo conceded, "but I'm going to be back to work in the morning."

Heero started to argue, but a very annoyed Wu Fei made his appearance. He glared at them both, but then his eyes settled on Heero. "We do have a case, Heero. The medic told me that Duo is fine. Send him home in a taxi and let's get back to work."

Heero retorted, "I'm not sending him home alone! What would happen if he lost consciousness in the taxi, or at home without anyone to help him?"

"Then call Mr. Hulitt and have him babysit," Wu Fei growled impatiently.

Duo bristled. "I don't need Mr. Hulitt to keep checking on me! I can take care of myself! That old man has better things to do."

"Duo, be reasonable.." Heero began, but Duo cut him off.

"Put me the hell in a taxi and call me on your cell phone when you get worried," Duo told him. He quickly added, "If I don't answer right away, wait fifteen minutes and try again before panicking. I might not have the phone with me at all times."

"You should!" Wu Fei argued. "Then Yuy can concentrate on his work."

"Just in case, is all I meant. I don't have the cell phone with me when I'm in the damned shower!" Duo snapped back and then felt his head throb. He rubbed at his forehead as he continued in a softer tone. "This ain't helping me guys. I need something to eat and I need to go home and get some rest. I do NOT need someone to watch me do all of that." He glared at Heero. "If Mr. Hulitt shows up wanting even a cup of sugar, Heero, I will know it was because of you. Don't piss me off, okay?"

"It doesn't matter if your decision pisses me off?" Heero shot back. Even Wu Fei looked startled at that. "Am I suppose to worry myself sick, and neglect my job all day long, because you want to show me, and everyone else, that you can take care of yourself? You passed out on the field doing something you should NEVER have done. You are recovering from injuries. Maybe that wasn't the reason that you passed out, but that it wasn't seems a miracle to me. I know that you want to show everyone that you aren't weak, that passing out was nothing, and that you are ready to work again, but you can't fool the truth, Duo , and you can't fool yourself enough to be well when you aren't!"

They seethed at each other, glaring, and then Duo suddenly realized that Heero was right. He slumped back onto the bed and put an arm over his eyes. "I just..." He tried again. "This is important to me. I don't want to screw up. I don't want them to think I'm a screw up. I really... I really want this job, okay? I know what I want to do with my life and I don't want these damn skills, that cost me so much, to rust away when they could be helping someone. Okay? Get it now? Do you understand now why I have to be all right and why I have to go to work tomorrow? A Preventer agent shouldn't need a nursemaid and he should be able to do a damn first level course with a couple of minor scrapes and burns. I don't want anyone thinking Duo Maxwell can't cut it."

Wu Fei grunted, but Duo was relieved to see respect in his eyes. Heero chewed over Duo's words silently and then, as if he were going against his better judgment and hating it, he said, "All right, I'll call you a cab and I won't... I won't tell anyone to check on you. I don't like it though."

Duo smiled and lowered his arm. He reached out and Heero moved within reach. Duo caressed the length of Heero's strong arm and said with a relieved sigh, "That's why I love you, baby. You worry, but you can still let me risk falling on my face when I want you to."

Heero was frowning. "I told you, I don't like it."

"I know," Duo sighed, sorry, but not giving in.

"I will be calling," Heero told him.

"I know that too," Duo replied with a smile.

There was a long silence and then Wu Fei exploded in frustration, "Are you done? Can you please get Maxwell into a cab now? It's..." he stopped and glared at his watch. An exasperated sound escaped his lips. "It's lunch time. I have to go check on the puppy. I'll take Duo home on the way! Yuy, you get those files and get some decent leads before I get back."

Heero nodded, still unhappy, but looking relieved that Wu Fei was going to make sure that Duo arrived home safely. Duo sat with Heero's hand under his arm. He did still feel dizzy, but Duo was suddenly concerned by something completely different, a looming, possibly ugly, situation. Duo asked quickly, "Ah, can you drop me off BEFORE you check on your dog, Chang?"

Wu Fei raised an eyebrow. "Of course, the sooner you are home the better."

Duo tried to cover his sound of relief as he exchanged knowing looks with Heero.



Duo winced as he slowly trudged into the kitchen, dug through the dirty dishes in the sink, found a coffee mug, and then stared at the empty coffee maker. He had been asleep for nearly four hours before hunger and caffeine withdraw had forced him out of bed. Wu Fei's furious call had caught him on the landing.

"Calm down, Wuffei," Duo mumbled as he put his mug down on the counter with a clunk and then began blearily to make coffee. "I tried to warn you. Dogs can be destructive. You have to keep them under control and in a controlled area." Duo yawned hugely while he half listened to Wu Fei's tirade about a chewed cabinet edge, ripped linoleum flooring, and the scattered remains of a spice rack.

"And don't called me Wuffei!" Wu Fei ended.

"Sorry, man," Duo yawned again, leaned chin on fist on the counter and watched the coffee drip into the carafe.

There was a pause. Wu Fei panted, recovered control, and then asked, "Are you all right, Maxwell?"

"Just had a nap," Duo replied. The coffee was done. He poured it into his cup, cradled the mug with his hands, and smelled the aroma appreciatively before gingerly sipping. "That's the stuff!" Duo sighed.


"Oh, uh, I just made coffee," Duo explained. He settled into a chair at the kitchen table and shoved some odds and ends out of his way so that he could lean his elbows there.

"Duo, my kitchen!" Wu Fei prompted, voice rising again.

"When you drop Heero off, I'll give you the cage that we tried to give you before," Duo told him. That made him think of the time. He checked the clock on the wall, confused. "It's almost quitting time.... Why are you calling now?"

Wu Fei growled back in frustration, "Yuy wouldn't let me call you earlier because he thought you would be resting."

Duo took another sip of coffee and puzzled through that. "Sooo, why not wait until you brought him home? Afraid to yell at me face to face?" He growled suspiciously. "Are you checking up on me?"

"Does that actually make sense to you?" Wu Fei retorted.

Duo thought about it. "No, I guess not. You aren't a coward. Heero was pretty good if he didn't call for four hours. Twice before that was enough!"

"So I told him," Wu Fei agreed.

"Okay, answer my question," Duo prompted.

Wu Fei snarled angrily, "You are confusing me, Maxwell. Answer what question?"

"Why not wait until you got here with Heero to yell at me about the dog!" Duo clarified as he fished a sugar packet out of the tumbled holder on the table, opened it, and then poured it into his mouth.

"Because we will be working late tonight," Wu Fei replied. "Heero will be calling you shortly to inform you of that."

Duo downed another sugar packet. "Oh, I see! Heero doesn't know you're calling me, does he?"

"No," Wu Fei admitted. "I sent him for an update report."

"Hah!" Duo laughed. "He'd probably shake you like a rat if he knew you'd called me up to yell at me."

"I would like to see him attempt it," Wu Fei replied in a dangerous tone. "You did not warn me adequately about the dog. It is right that I call you and voice my dissatisfaction."

"Okay! Okay!" Duo sighed as he sipped his coffee to wash down the sugar. "I was afraid that you wouldn't take him if I laid it on thick about how much trouble they can be unsupervised."

There was a pause. "I don't understand why you would do that," Wu Fei said at last. "I know that you are not trying to get rid of the dog. You want me to have him and you omitted key information to make certain that I took him. Why?"

Duo traced a nervous circle on the table top with a finger. "You need him, Wu Fei. You know you do. Give him time, train him good. You won't regret it."

Wu Fei sighed. "If you give me all the correct information about the dog and what other dangers to be aware of, I will give him a reprieve from punishment and exile."

"Great!" Duo beamed. He added, "Tell Heero I know about his working late, and give him a big french kiss from me, k?"

"Duo!" Wu Fei exclaimed nervously. "I will do no such thing!"

Duo smirked. "I'm turning my cell phone off, Wu Fei, so you better tell him you called or Heero will be running home to see why I don't answer the phone."

Wu Fei spluttered, but Duo was already hanging up. He grinned as he opened another sugar packet. Going behind Heero's back about anything wasn't good, he thought, especially to yell at his lover. Upending the sugar packet into his mouth, Duo's head turned as he heard a noise at the door. Through the window he could see Hulitt staring at him curiously. Duo spluttered, choking on sugar. He cleared his throat with a swig of coffee and then slid out of his chair and hurried to the door.

Opening the door, Hulitt's first words were, "Was that lunch or dinner, son?" His eyes swept the dirty kitchen. "Looks like we need another talk."

Go to Part 24: Devil's Eyes

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