He awoke shivering.
The darkness of the room was broken intermittently by lightning as it crackled across the sky. The sudden flashes did nothing to soothe his jangled nerves, and he curled up tighter under the blankets with every white-hot flicker.
He felt trapped, and even though he tried to reason with his ever-growing sense of fear, the terror rooted in his mind held fast. At the next groan of thunder, the slender figure tore from the rumpled bed and fled the room, mindless of the door as it crashed shut behind him. The boy slumped back against the wall outside, his heart hammering wildly in his chest.
'Nightmare. It had to be,' he surmised as he shut his eyes against the faint gloom of the hallway. But why? He hadn't had one since he came to stay again at Quatre's safehouse.
A soft creak drew his attention and he glanced in its direction. A shadow stood in the opposite doorway. "Duo?"
His breath caught in his chest when he heard that oh-so-familiar voice. "Y-yes?"
Heero stepped away from the confines of his room, and Duo could see the pale gleam in his dark eyes. "What are you doing?"
His mind whirled in panic as he slipped into his jester's persona. "Oh, I felt kind of
hungry," he exclaimed airily as he pushed off the wall and grinned.
Duo fancied he saw Heero's eyes narrowing in the half-light as he continued to stare. "Hn."
He faltered. He knew Heero didn't believe him. Hell, he wouldn't have believed such an excuse either if he was in the other boy's place, but he didn't know what else to say. 'At least I didn't lie', he thought as he rubbed at his grumbling stomach. The braided boy sauntered away towards the kitchen. "Night, Heero," he whispered, neither expecting a response nor getting one.
Heero watched him until he disappeared from sight.
Thankfully, the rest of the household was deep in slumber. Duo crept quietly to kitchen and went directly to the refrigerator. He pulled a fresh carton of milk out and leaned on the massive appliance's door as he drank, reveling in the chilly air which wafted out from within. He always felt so feverish after a nightmare.
After his thirst was slackened, he turned his attention once more to the refrigerator and took out an apple. As he brought the bright green fruit to his lips, his eyes fell on the small calendar on the freezer door. Cold fingers of dread crushed his heart when he saw that day's date.
It was the anniversary of Maxwell Church.
Heero sat at the small table in the kitchen nursing his second cup of coffee and shuffling through the stack of papers in front of him. He had been up since dawn, but he was still sleepy due to the unexpected interruption of his rest by a certain braided lunatic.
He yawned and tried to peruse the batch of reports which had come in that morning. His concentration had failed him, and the main reason for his lack of interest in his work was still tucked away in bed.
He carelessly tossed the sheaf of papers back onto the table as his gaze wandered to the window. Why was Duo up in the middle of the night? And such a pathetic excuse too. Hunger didn't make people cringe along walls in darkened hallways.
Heero stood up and rinsed out his cup in the sink before sweeping the documents off the table. He strode to his room, having every intention to spend some more quality time with his laptop. When he reached that point, his eyes fell involuntarily on the half-opened door of Duo's room. Heero knocked on the jamb out of habit before nudging the door further open. The room was
empty and neat--the bed made, books and manga stacked up on the simple desk by the window, the floor free of the odd article of clothing. In other words, the scene was all wrong.
The Japanese boy was at a loss. Duo never mentioned anything about a mission, and he would have remembered if the American had said anything about leaving. Duo didn't know it, but Heero listened to every single word he said.
Reluctantly he turned around and left, taking care to close the door before crossing over to his own. He settled down at his desk and brought the computer out of standby, his thoughts still on his absent partner. Duo was probably traipsing around the safehouse grounds or in town, and here he was uselessly fretting over him. Why did he care anyway? Duo could look after himself.
'So why am I still worried?'
"One candle for her, one candle for him, one for the ones who were like me, and one more," Duo breathed as he lit the wicks of the four votives before him. Then he crossed himself and knelt on the chilly stone floor to pray. He held the same ritual every year, but it was the first time he had ever performed it in an actual church.
After he finished, he stood up and walked to the first pew. It was sheer luck that he found the place. He had walked all the way from the safehouse to town, dodging down alleys whenever he caught a glimpse of some soldiers. He had wandered aimlessly, searching for a secluded place where he could pay his respects, when he saw the old, rundown cathedral. Duo sat back on the wooden bench and finally noticed the finer details of his surroundings. The interior was even more neglected than the exterior, and Duo wondered if the lonely building saw many parishioners during the week. He doubted it, and the thought depressed him even more.
He slipped the four mismatched white candles he snatched from Quatre's kitchen out of his jacket and placed them on the pew cushion before he stood up. If his instincts were correct, such things as candles were probably a luxury to the priests who served in the cathedral. Duo felt it was only right to replace the ones he had burnt.
The black-clad boy shuffled out of the solitude of the sanctuary and re-entered the harsh world outside, undecided as to where to go next. He wanted to talk to Heero, wanted to tell him about that day, but he figured the silent Wing pilot wouldn't care to hear it. If he did, he would probably think Duo was weak and would have no problem telling him so--if he even deigned to acknowledge him at all.
Duo gloomily pulled the black cap down further over his face and slipped away into the crowd.
Heero glanced at the clock perched at the side of his desk. It was 8 p.m. and he hadn't seen that baka all day. The Wing pilot had tried valiantly to keep his mind on the computer that morning, but it didn't work. He kept recalling every teasing remark Duo had ever made about how much he liked his laptop. Irritated, he had left it on standby once more and headed towards the hangar to check on his gundam. Of course, the first thing he'd noticed as he entered the massive structure was Wing. Then he'd noticed the gundam standing next to his and nearly groaned. No matter where he'd went, it seemed he couldn't avoid being reminded of Duo.
He had also realized that being forced to think of Duo wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
The dark-haired boy glanced at the clock again. He wished Duo would hurry up and return to the safehouse so that he could relax and resume his normal routine. The later the hour grew, the more concerned Heero had become. All sorts of scenarios had presented themselves to Heero's mind for him to ponder over and dismiss. He'd wondered if Duo had been captured, and took to monitoring reports for news of such an event. Nothing of the like ever appeared.
Heero walked to the window and contemplated the darkening sky outside. "Ah, you baka. Where are you?"
Duo unsteadily hefted himself off the motorcycle he had 'borrowed' earlier that day and leaned against the machine, rubbing his aching ribs as he did. It never failed. No matter where he went, there was always someone out to cause him trouble.
He mused over the fight which some overgrown thug kid had started with him that afternoon. Duo reckoned he handled himself well, grinning madly when he recalled how easily the boy fell when Duo punched him. He laughed at the memory, wincing when the injuries the boy had dealt him made their presence known. The bright smile became rueful as he pulled a pint bottle of Wild Turkey out from the depths of his denim jacket and took a long drink. He was tired but he didn't feel like going in just yet.
A knife hung heavily in his pocket, constantly reminding him of its presence. He had every intention of ending his life that day, but now that the time he had chosen to do the deed had come, he couldn't do it. Something had happened to prevent it.
He'd realized that he had fallen in love with Heero Yuy.
The idea had occurred to him while he was driving back. The small amount of alcohol he had already imbibed prior to his return had made him morbid and he had thought about the people he had lost and how much he missed them. He had imagined what the scene would be the next day, when they found his body in the cockpit of his beloved Deathscythe. Quatre would mourn him,
of that he was certain. He and the Arabian pilot had become close, almost like brothers. But what of the others? Then it hit him. When Heero's face had appeared in his mind's eye, he nearly began to cry then. Maybe Heero wouldn't care if he was dead, but Duo had discovered that he couldn't bear to leave his taciturn comrade.
He looked wearily at the sky, his heart twisting in agony. He loved someone again, something he swore he'd never do. And just like the others, he might lose him too. There was no way around it. Duo knew he had to quell the deep affection he had for Heero, and soon. He decided to be as cold as Heero usually was with him. No, even more so. Maybe he could talk himself
into hating him.
The sliver-thin boy trudged drunkenly back to the mansion, wiping his eyes with his sleeve as he went.
A loud thud roused Heero out of his light slumber, and instantly his soldier's instincts leaped to the fore. He grabbed the loaded gun he kept ready from the nightstand and snuck out into the hall. Every nerve in his body hummed with tension as he crouched along one wall.
He didn't have to wait too long. A crash came from somewhere below and he heard heavy, staggering footsteps on the staircase. The sound of those footsteps gave him pause, because there was something naggingly familiar about their rhythm.
A dusky silhouette appeared at the stop of the steps and Heero aimed the gun with deadly accuracy at it. As he cocked the hammer back, the vague form stepped into the muted pool of light which fell from Heero's room and came into focus. His eyes widened in shock when he saw who it was.
Luminous eyes peered into the semi-darkness at him. "Oi, Heero. Being threatened with a gun might turn Relena on, but it doesn't do a thing for me," he quipped.
Heero rose and flipped the gun's safety latch into place. "Where the hell have you been?"
Duo smirked, completely oblivious to the cold glare directed toward him. "Sorry, Mom. Didn't mean to stay out so late," he sneered as he trailed past him.
Fury glowed in Heero's eyes as he stalked into the room after his partner. Duo had just taken two bottles of whiskey out of his jacket and was drinking from one. "Answer my question."
Duo set the other bottle down on the dresser. "Why do you want to know so badly? Did I jeopardize the mission?"
"Not everything has to do with the damn missions," he retorted.
Duo cocked an eyebrow in surprise and let out a short laugh. "Who are you and what have you done with Heero Yuy?"
"I'm not in the mood for your lame jokes. Where have you been?"
"I just went on a walk okay? I went to town, stopped by the church, stole a bike, got into a fight, stole some liquor, came back here and nearly got my head blown off by a gun-wielding psycho." He pulled off his heavy black boots and tossed them at the foot of his bed. "Just another ordinary day." Duo peeked at Heero from beneath his unruly bangs as he took another
drink. Why was he so curious anyway?
Heero's stare pierced him like daggers. "A fight? What did you do? Say the wrong thing to a person much bigger than you?"
"Shut up," he muttered darkly as he jerked the tie off the end of his braid and began to unravel the heavy rope of hair.
The Japanese boy's handsome face contorted into a scowl. "Are you hurt?"
"What concern is it of yours if I am?!"
"It has always been my concern."
Duo paused and spun around to stare at him, his braid still gathered in one hand. When he saw the gentle look in Heero's eyes, his resolve almost melted. Almost.
"Why? Are you afraid if one member of this loving little team of ours is lost that we won't win this damn war? Would you regret it if that happened?"
Heero fought to contain his rising anger. "I'm not going to talk to you when you are like this," he muttered.
Duo glared at him. "Fine! Leave! Go!"
Heero turned on his heel and paced to the door. As he stepped over the threshold, something made him pause to glance back at the figure in the middle of the room. Duo was still standing where he had been, but all the bravado and anger he had shown just seconds before had left him. Now he looked like a forlorn little kid.
Heero knew human relations wasn't a subject in which he was well-versed, but he knew something was very wrong with his partner. Despite the other boy's commands, he felt as if he shouldn't leave yet, so he lingered outside the room and quietly observed the scene. Duo walked to the dresser and gazed out the window. There was a full moon that night, and its narrow, pearly beams spilled through the panes and illuminated the boy's upturned face. Duo propped himself up against the dresser and drank while he watched the faint light sail over the lawn. All the anger Heero felt earlier faded away as he admired Duo's face in that same glow.
For all of Heero's silence, Duo seemed to sense his partner's presence, and without looking at him, he began to speak.
"Have you ever heard of Maxwell Church?"
"I think I read something about it once," Heero said as he slowly re-entered the room.
Duo nodded. "It was an orphanage on L2, run by a priest called Father Maxwell. He gave me this cross," he said as he pulled the golden talisman out from within the black shirt and held it up. It glittered like a dream in the dim light. "He and Sister Helen were the closest I'd ever come to having parents."
"Some rebels came in and threatened us. They wanted a mobile suit and I volunteered to steal one so they would leave. Sister didn't want me to do it, but I had to! If I didn't they would be killed," he murmured as he dropped the cross back down the neckline of his shirt. "All the things I did didn't matter. The one thing I hoped to prevent happened anyway."
"You're looking at him. I was the one who found them all," he added softly.
Heero felt a numb ache in his chest. Ever since they had met up again and he had gotten to know the American better, he had sensed there was something dark under that cheery grin. He had no idea it was something like that.
"Does that have anything to do with why you went off this morning?"
"Today is the anniversary of that day, if that's what you mean," he whispered, turning away.
"Duo," he began quietly before the braided boy cut him off.
"I swore that day I would never forget them or what happened. My braid, my clothes, the reason why I fight, are all for them. Every year I would even go to L2 and pay my respects. Every year but this one. We've been here for months and none of us have had any missions. I've been doing all the things I've been wanting to do, and I've tried to get you guys go along with my schemes, no matter how crazy they were. I just wanted to be a normal kid for awhile, and I finally got my wish. In my happiness I forgot, but not just about the fighting.
I forgot all about today. I forgot about them," he said wistfully, losing himself in his thoughts.
Heero laid a hand on Duo's shoulder, but the he flinched away from his touch. "I don't need you to comfort me. It's even laughable that you're trying to do it, seeing as how your soul is as tainted as mine. Besides, soldiers aren't suppose to care, isn't that what you told me once?"
"I was wrong."
For the second time that evening, Duo was caught off guard. Damn it! Where was the bitterness he had come to expect from Heero? He was supposed to snap and growl and call him stupid--not be kind. He could feel his resolve slipping again and he lashed out.
"I never thought I'd hear you admit something like that," he exclaimed, chuckling. "Forgive me, Heero, but I can't believe that someone as heartless and calculating as you would ever care about anyone."
It happened quicker than Duo could draw a breath. Heero had him pressed against the wall, his powerful hands clenching fiercely at Duo's upper arms, his blue eyes alight. "Don't ever call me heartless. Don't ever think that I never cared. I've done things that I regret, things for which I won't ever forgive myself," he hissed. "And I won't let myself forget, either." His harsh, blue eyes held Duo's anxious, violet ones for a minute longer before he released his hold on him and turned away.
Duo rubbed his arms vigorously to get the blood flowing as he regarded the rigid back of the boy standing next to him. He knew he would definitely be sore in the morning, perhaps even sporting two hand-sized bruises where he had grabbed him. Fleetingly, he wondered if he didn't deserve it somewhat. He had seen pain wash over Heero's features immediately after he made that remark. Real pain. He had gone too far.
"Heero? Um...I guess I was wrong. Maybe we have more in common than we think."
Duo held his breath, waiting for some reaction. Finally, the dark-haired boy half-turned to look at him. "Hn. Perhaps."
Encouraged, Duo gave him a small smile. "Here, man. No hard feelings," he said as he held the pint bottle out to him as a peace offering.
"No. You shouldn't be drinking either," Heero said as he moved closer.
Duo slid him a look out of the corner of his eye and shrugged as he tilted it up to his lips.
Heero's hand shot out and gripped the bottle, easily wrenching it out of Duo's lax grasp and spilling some of the amber liquid over the carpeting. "I said no," he repeated softly, his intense gaze pinning the bewildered boy in place.
Duo swallowed hard, angry at being deprived of the one source of comfort he had and nervous due to the look in Heero's eyes. "Heero, give it back," he demanded.
"You don't need this," he answered firmly as he tossed the half-empty bottle in the trash.
"How do you know what I need or don't need?"
Heero moved even closer and tangled one hand in the thick fall of hair. "I know you, Duo."
The Japanese pilot was standing in front of him. Duo's heart started pounding frantically and he was sure Heero could hear it. "So what do I need then?"
That strong hand buried itself deeper in Duo's golden-brown locks. "You need to stop blaming yourself for the past, to stop beating yourself up just because you were happy. What would Father Maxwell and Sister Helen think if they knew you were treating yourself this way?"
Grief-stricken eyes met his. "But I don't want to forget," he protested.
"Then don't. But don't kick yourself either if you do."
Duo bowed his head, trying to blink away the tears which threatened to spill. "Why? Why do you care?"
A hand smoothed aside his thick bangs, and warm lips tenderly brushed against his forehead in response. Duo gasped and raised his head to regard him with startled eyes. "Heero?"
"Shhh," he whispered as he loosely wrapped one arm around Duo's waist and tentatively kissed him. Then he pulled back a little to gauge Duo's reaction.
Duo touched his lips wonderingly, dazed at what just happened, and for an instant Heero worried that he had made the wrong move. Then his face crumpled and he entwined his arms around Heero's neck, burrowing his head in the crook of dark-haired boy's shoulder. He began to sob quietly, and Heero hugged his trembling body even tighter. The half-hearted decision Duo had made earlier in regard to his newfound love was quickly forgotten.
Finally the tears ceased, and Duo slumped like a rag doll in Heero's arms, yawning. "So tired," he complained, his voice muffled against Heero's shirt.
"I'm not surprised," he sighed as a wry smile tugged at his lips. He half-carried,
half-dragged the drowsy boy to his bed and slipped him under the blankets. With one last stroke of Duo's cheek, Heero turned to leave. His hand was on the knob when a quiet voice stopped him. "Heero?"
"Stay with me?"
Heero hesitated for an moment, then turned around. Duo had the edge of the blankets twisted in his hands and Heero could see an aura of sadness clinging to him like a cloak. He went to the bed and crawled in next to Duo, shifting on his side so he could look at him.
Heero carded his fingers through the satiny strands of Duo's hair, watching the tension seep away from his lovely face with every slide of his hand. He clutched at Heero's shirt as his eyelids slithered shut. "Don't die, please," he begged.
His hand stopped its caress when Duo spoke. Heero gazed intently at the pale, tear-streaked visage across from his own for a moment before answering softly. "I won't," he said, intending to do everything in his power to keep that promise.
He settled an arm over the slim body and placed a lingering kiss on Duo's yielding lips before switching off the lamp. Then he pulled him close, and Duo curled up against him.
Heero sighed softly as he felt his bedmate sink into sleep. "Good night, Duo."
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