Quatre arrived after breakfast the next morning and sat on the couch in the living room with Duo. Trowa and Wufei sat close by as the blond related Heero's story to the silent young man looking a bit apprehensive at their informal meeting. Not knowing how much their friend had over heard from the top of the stairs where Wufei had found him the night before, he started at the beginning, when Heero was called by Une to Earth, talking in a soft voice and neutral in any judgement of Heero's actions.
Duo's evidently hadn't heard much as his hands clenched into fists and his head shook in disbelief as the story commenced. Tears intermittently flowed from his eyes and were hastily wiped away by the back of his right hand. When Quatre finished Heero's version of past events, Quatre asked Duo to think about whether or not he wanted to see Heero again. Without raising his head, the thin young man nodded his understanding and the three watched as he slowly rose from the couch and limped from the room to sit in the backyard garden to think.
Duo's four concerned, self-appointed care takers anxiously watched from inside the house through the back window of the kitchen as Duo inwardly struggled with the information he'd received. He sat silently and curled into himself as much as his crooked limbs would allow on the large lawn swing. The four reluctantly pulled themselves from their viewing spot and settled at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and intermittently, one of them would suddenly stand to check on the unmoving figure in the backyard.
After an hour passed, and seeing no change in Duo's position or posture, Trowa quietly went out to the backyard and knelt in front of his friend still sitting in the same position in the unmoving swing. He looked up into the tortured-filled face lined with sadness and tracks of tears drying and fresh on the lean, pale cheeks. "Are you okay Duo?" he asked.
Slender shoulders shrugged, then after a moment Duo shook his head while another tear escaped the corner of his left eye. The pain-filled violet eyes looked into Trowa's sympathetic green orbs as Duo brought his hand up and clutched his chest, showing the other how much his heart was hurting.
"I'm sorry Duo. I know it hurts and that you're angry. I want to help, but I'm not sure how to do that." Trowa replied in a voice quiet and worried.
The silent boy grunted in exasperation, most likely it was the only vocal expression of his frustration that he could make. He began to grab at his hair and rocked back and forth, trying to find an outlet for his inner turmoil.
"Duo, no." Trowa said gently as his hands moved to Duo's, forcibly taking his hands from off his head and stopping him from pulling his hair out. "Hurting yourself isn't going to make you feel any better." he told him as he held the slender wrists outward. Strands of long, brown hair trailed from between the distraught young man's fingers. Duo offered a small struggle against Trowa's grip, but in his recovering state his strength could not match the taller and stronger man.
The brief struggle ended quickly. "Okay now?" Trowa asked.
Duo shook his head, looking miserable. In a swift movement, Trowa let go of the now limp hands and put his arms around his friend, bringing him easily against his chest in a comforting embrace. "I'm angry too." he whispered into the chestnut colored hair, so soft against his cheek. "I'm angry at Relena for every hurt she's caused you. I'm angry that she manipulated people into ruining your business and then your life with Heero. I'm angry with Heero for not thinking of a way to get around her threats, for leaving you and for hurting you. Hell" he chuckled with no humor to it. "I think I'm angry that he didn't kill her from the start." He paused as he felt Duo's head nod and felt silent, hot tears wet his shirt. He knew that he was speaking of Duo's anger and hurt as well as his own and thought that maybe by speaking them, they could move past the anger and hurt, finally dealing with it instead of sidestepping around it.
"I was so angry Duo." he began again with a long sigh. "Angry at Quatre for letting his sister's lead him do to something he never would have done in the war, betray a friend. I know his grief over his sister, Irea, and his father had a lot to do with it, but dammit....." he let the thought trail off, somehow feeling that he'd already let that feeling of bitterness go, there was no need to go back and drum it up again. "But I love him Duo. I love Quatre and know he loves me. I tried to leave him, you know, just as they took you away I went and packed my bags and left for Earth. And I did manage to be without him for a while, but I wasn't complete nor happy; I came to realize I could never be whole without him. It came as a shock to realize that the person I loved was not the perfect person I'd set him up in my mind to be. He has his flaws and shortcomings, just as I do. But I had put him in a category of someone who was totally loyal to a fault, generous beyond believing, loving everyone and everything perfectly. I was right and wrong in my beliefs. He is all those things most of the time. But I learned he wasn't perfect, and that was as hard for me to face as it was for me to see you be sent to prison for something you didn't do."
Again Duo nodded his head, and his breath hitched. Trowa hoped this was a cathartic exercise for both of them. Taking a deep breath, he continued as he knew he must. "And just as much as I loved and still love Quatre, Heero loved and still loves you, Duo. He has been in a trapped prison, similar but different from your's, though he had his needs met having shelter and food that were denied you. He was alone with Relena tormenting him and threatening you if he stepped out of line. He was effectively cut off from friends or anyone he could trust or confide in his part in your betrayal with. He was forced to do her bidding in order to keep you safe. In the long run, you two were lonely and tortured souls, longing for and being denied the one thing you wanted most, each other."
Duo lay still against the chest, the quiet sniffling the only sign of his continued emotional struggle. Trowa reached his hand up and caressed the long brown hair falling loose across Duo's back. "I leave it up to you to forgive him or not, Duo." he said softly. "It's okay to feel anger and disappointment in Heero, after all, he caused you great hurt. But if you don't deal with your confused feelings for him, if you just choose not to see him and continue on your life with no closure, I think you'll be giving Relena just what she wants. She'll have Heero, quite miserable at her side, but her's all the same, and you will be out of the picture. She may never harm you again, in fact we're all committed to not letting her near you, but she will have separated two people who were more in love than anyone I've ever seen before, including Quatre and myself. There were times we'd look at the two of you together and feel envious at the depth of emotion you felt for each other, though in Quatre I have all I ever dreamed of."
Duo began to rock in his arms again, his hands clutched and un-clutched the material on Trowa's back. With no voice to rage his anger and sorrow, Trowa knew his friend was trying to find a way to express what he was feeling. The Duo of old would slam doors, stomp his booted feet and yell at the top of his lungs. He remembered several times during the war when Duo and Heero would get into a heated argument, the sound of lamps and pictures being broken would be heard through the walls of the safehouse. Duo later told Quatre he threw inanimate, breakable objects so that he wouldn't hit Heero when he was so exasperated with him and his logic. They had both vowed to never physically strike or hurt each other, knowing the damage they could do. But Duo didn't have that outlet now. He couldn't rage and yell, he couldn't and wouldn't tear apart Mrs. L's house; he didn't have the strength in his legs to stomp his feet or run until he exhausted himself; he was trapped within the confines of his fragile body. Trowa hugged the slender body tighter to him, wishing he could absorb some of the grief and frustration his friend was going through. Then suddenly, a small memory came to him and the green eyes lit up with inspiration. Something Duo had said in the past, referring to an activity that helped him deal with the war and the nightmares that they had all suffered, now came back to him.
"Duo." He spoke gently, but there was a difference in his tone that caused Duo to pull back slightly and look up at his face. "Can you pull yourself together for a little bit. I have something that I think will help you deal with the stress and emotions your feeling right now."
Puzzled and wet, red-rimmed eyes looked up into Trowa's. Duo titled his head questioningly.
"Come on, can you stand?" Trowa stood and offered his hand. Duo nodded and gave him his right hand to help him gain his feet. "Come see what I've got in the garage."
The three watching at the kitchen window quickly scrambled to the table as the two neared the back door of the house. They turned from their now, cold cups of tea to silently greet the two with expressions of worry and concern as they entered the room and moved past them. "We're going out for a while." Trowa told them in passing, then kept moving Duo through the house to the front door. Grabbing a set of keys from a bowl on a small table next to the front door, he led Duo out the front door, down the steps and to the left of the house where there was a small detached garage. As Mrs. L. hadn't driven herself in a car in years, she had sold the one her husband owned and the garage had long been empty when Trowa moved in. He was happy to make use of the empty space.
Finding the right key, the taller of the two opened the side door and moved inside, quickly turning on the light that hung in the middle of the dark space. There, sitting directly under the light's glow was a glossy red, shiny, souped-up motorcycle. It was sleek and looked to be fast. The black seat and handlebars contrasted well against the red body of the bike and the silver, perfectly polished engine and trim. Trowa turned to Duo. "Would you like to take a ride?" he asked. Duo frowned slightly, trying to figure out how this was going to help him feel better. "Do you think you can drive it?" was Trowa's next question.
A small smile slowly grew on the tear streaked face and Duo nodded.
"There's no helmet law here, so you might want to tie back you hair, otherwise I might be missing an eye by the time we get home."
Though still looking sad, there was a glimmer of anticipation on Duo's face as he reached into his pocket for a hair band. Trowa smiled at him and went to open the garage door. "I remember once during the war," he told his silent friend, "that you said driving a motorcycle helped you feel young and carefree again. I think you said that the wind whipping against your face and hair somehow made you feel free of all your troubles and burdens."
Duo nodded as he clearly recalled the memory.
"Maybe this will help just a little." He reached out his hand and offered the key to Duo just as he finished fastening his hair back with the band he'd pulled out of his loose fitted sweat pants.
Duo reached for it as a life line and gave a watery smile of thanks to his friend. With the key clutched in his hand, the long haired young man approached the motorcycle. He had to grip tightly onto the handlebars in order to get his good leg up and over the seat, his damaged leg strained at the weight that as put on it during the transition. Trowa was quick to get behind him. "Here, I can help with the bulk of the weight when we're stationary." He spoke quietly to his friend. The bike was righted and Trowa pushed forward to remove the kick stand. Once upright, Duo leaned over and put the key in the ignition and turned it. The bike instantly purred to life. With a turn of his wrist, the engine roared to life, and Duo turned his head to show his obvious excitement to his friend sitting closely behind him.
"I'm ready." Trowa stated with a smile and wrapped his arms around Duo's slim waist. "Turn right when you go out and I'll direct you where to go as we move along."
Duo nodded and as the bike moved forward, Trowa lifted his feet from the ground to the appropriate footholds and held on for all he was worth as Duo shot out from the garage and onto the street.
A good half hour later the bike came to a grudging stop in a parking lot facing a lake. It was a good sized lake with trees lining the rocky beach, the sparking water a deep blue. Duo's feet remained up as Trowa placed the kick stand in place and the motorcycle was shut off. The slender driver handed him the keys and the both got off and stood looking at the water in the nearly deserted parking lot. "There's not much traffic here during the week with everyone working." Trowa explained. "But it's nice and quiet....peaceful, isn't it?"
Duo nodded and sighed, and the other man saw the sad look returning to his face. "Come on." Trowa took his right elbow and led him onto the uneven rocks that comprised the beach.
The two walked quietly, each noticing the beauty of nature as it surround them. The trees were tall and green and the air smelled clean and sweet. They came to the edge of the water and Trowa went down on his knees and began to unlace his companions tennis shoes. "Sit down for a minute Duo." he instructed while reaching out to lend a hand to aid him. Duo complied with eyes looking at Trowa in curiosity as deft fingers removed he shoes as well as the socks. Then Trowa stood and pulled Duo up with him and turned to the water as he spoke.
"I know you need some sort of outlet for your anger and hurt Duo." he began. "I thought that if I brought you here you could vent your rage against the water without hurting yourself or Mrs. L.'s home and belongings."
Duo frowned, his eyebrows drew together in completing the unhappy look.
"Come on, Duo." Trowa gently urged. He wasn't going to force Duo to do this, but somehow his friend needed to let his feelings out. "Just give it a try."
Duo's breathing increased to a more rapid rate and his body tensed. Then suddenly, he took a step forward, away from his companion. Trowa watched anxiously as he limped into the cold water, stopping every once in a while to adjust to the cold on his skin and seeping up his clothing. He went further out into the water until he was waist deep in it, then turned to look at Trowa with his face pinched with cold and anger.
"Are you angry with Relena?" Trowa asked loud enough for his voice to carry. Duo nodded sharply in reply.
"Then hit the water with all your might. Hit it for her interference in your life, for the pain she caused you when Heero left. Hit it for all the anger you feel for her."
Duo's right arm made a swipe at the water, causing a large splay of the cool liquid to shoot out.
"Is that all the anger you have for Relena?" Trowa called out in a tone of mocking disbelief. "She ruined your business, then manipulated Heero into leaving you in order for him to keep you safe. Remember when he came back from that trip and he argued with you all the time? He was trying to make his leaving easier, but nothing could make it easier, could it?"
Duo slapped with water with his open hand, then raised it and continued to pound at the surface of the lake, his face dripping with water, his delicate features contorted with the pain he felt inside.
Trowa's heart ached at the sight of his friend's inner torment, but he knew he had to keep going. "You must have been angry with Quatre and I when me saved you. You never thanked us for saving you, did you? We made you live when living hurt like hell. Show me the anger you felt towards us for making you live without Heero."
Duo spun around, almost losing his balance as his hand beat relentlessly against the water causing larger ripples to roll to the shore.
"And the trial Duo. How did you feel when you were accused of a crime you never committed? When Quatre sat with his sisters on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom and silently accused you of stealing from him. Did that make you angry? Show me your rage Duo."
Bringing up his left, crooked arm, Duo hit the tumultuous water around him, it now looked as angry as Duo's face.
"The warden told me you were so angry when you were brought to P.C. 4. How did you feel when you were put into a higher detention area? Were you scared? Angry? How angry?" he shouted out across the fifteen feet that separated them.
A strangled sound came from Duo's throat. It didn't even resemble anything human to Trowa, just the sound of muted agony. With tears flowing down his own cheeks and a sob in his throat, Trowa continued, hoping he was doing more good than harm in bringing all the painful memories back to Duo's mind.
"You were hungry in that prison, weren't you? And they cornered you and beat you before they raped you, didn't they? How angry were you at the system? Show me the anger you felt against your attackers, against the man who cut off your braid.
At this point Duo's chest was heaving as he gasped for air. If he cried tears, they were lost in the shower of water his fists and arms had created. At the last words Trowa had spoken, Duo opened his mouth and raised his head up to the sky and silently screamed. Not a sound came out of his mouth, but his grief and pain were seen and visibly understood in that silent attempt to rage against all he had gone through, all that he had survived and endured.
After his lungs had given up all the air he had in them, Duo drew in a large, gasping breath of air and then threw himself backwards into the water, allowing himself to sink beneath the surface.
Trowa waited anxiously for several moments, tears streaming down his face, his lower lip bleeding from where he'd bitten it. He couldn't hold himself back any longer and lunged forward, throwing himself into the water in the direction his friend has sunk beneath the now calming waves. "Duo!" he cried out, fearing he'd pushed his friend too far.
Thankfully the lake water was somewhat clear and he found Duo floating just beneath the surface on his back. His eyes were closed and his arms and legs were spread out as if he was resigning himself to the waters. Trowa reached down and gently pulled him to the surface. As Duo's face broke from the water, he took a deep breath and his eyes opened with a different look to them. He didn't smile, but there was the appearance of calm acceptance on his face.
"You okay?" Trowa asked, a sob of sorrow and gratitude escaping his throat.
Duo slowly nodded and motioned he wanted to stand up.
With Trowa's aid he stood in the water now calming after his assault on it. Slim fingertips traced across the cool, wet surface, almost smooth again.
"Feel any better?" Trowa asked bending over slightly to see the other's face turned down to look at the water.
A nod of the wet head was his answer. "Want to go home yet?"
Duo shook his head even as his body shivered from the cold.
"Well," Trowa began thoughtfully. "We're both wet, what can we do now?"
Duo took a sigh and looked up, observing Trowa's arms were wet to the elbow and he was hip high in the lake water. Duo noticed Trowa's shirt, for the most part, was still dry, causing a ghost of a smile to form on the pale face.
"What?" Trowa asked cautiously as he observed the look.
Suddenly, a large splash of water soaked the front of the taller man's shirt and Trowa gasped in surprise and shock as water dripped from his face. Another splash followed before the former Heavyarms pilot decided to retaliate and splashed back. The water around the two young men splashing against each other, one laughing loudly, then coughing as water went down his throat, rose up and danced, no longer from the anger and hurt one of them felt, but by the ripples of friendship and the love two friend felt for each other.
When Duo's arms weakened, Trowa took hold of Duo's shoulders. "Lie back in the water for a minute." he told him. With a puzzled look on his face, Duo trusted in his friend and complied, feeling Trowa's strong hand supporting his back as he floated on top of the water in his sodden clothing.
"Now put your head back and just relax Duo." he instructed his trusting friend.
Slowly the blue/violet orbs closed and as he floated, the slender limbs relaxed and floated near the surface of the water, his toes and chest peeking out of the water every so often.
"Just relax." Trowa's voice was soft and soothing. "Let any anger left inside you slip out into the lake. Feel just the water against your skin and breath in the fresh air. No more hurt or anger fill you, no bitterness or rancor can be found in this place. You are at peace."
A small smile formed on Duo's face that was barely sticking out of the water. Trowa gazed down at him and marveled, once again, at the beauty he saw there and wondered, not for the first time, how anyone could possibly want to hurt such a beautiful person.
After a while Duo opened his eyes. /Done yet?/ he mouthed and his teeth chattered from the cold.
Trowa quickly removed him from his position in the water and helped him reach shore in his heavy dripping clothing. Not far from where they entered the water were several large boulders with enough flat space on them to make a good place to sit and dry off. The reached it with little effort and Trowa helped boost Duo up and saw he was comfortable before he joined him.
The laid down on the rock and soaked in the sun and silence, hearing only nature and a couple of children in the distance squealing in delight at the cold of the water as they entered the lake.
It was a long time that they lay there in contemplation and contentment, when Trowa looked to his right side at his companion. "So after all that's happened: Relena, Heero, and all the hurt and pain you've been put through, do you still love him?" he asked.
Duo had turned his head to look at him during his question, then turned his face to the sky and closed his eyes as he considered his answer. Slowly, he nodded his head, then put his hand to his chest and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.
Trowa tried to make sense of it. "Are you afraid Duo. Afraid to love him again?" he asked, guessing at the others actions.
Duo nodded again, then scooting over he placed his wet-clothed body next to his friend and lay his head on Trowa's firm chest.
Trowa stroked his hand over the wet hair. "I know." he whispered. "I was afraid to love and trust Quatre again. If he and his sisters could send you to prison, I could only wonder what they could do to me."
Duo's head nodded, but he stayed in the comforting position.
A few more moments passed in silence as Trowa considered his next words, not wanting to steer his friend in the wrong direction. "During the war," he began, "Heero told me to follow my emotions. I did, and fell in love with Quatre. When he came to my door here on earth weeks after I left him, I could have turned him away." he said in a sad tone. "But then I listened to my head and my heart. I knew I could never truly be happy without him. He came to me, offering me anything to give him another chance. He said he'd leave his home and his family, his work and even the Maguanacs. He even told me he'd give all his money away and sweep streets if that is what it would take for me to love him again."
A deep sigh came from the taller of the two. "I realized then that I didn't want to take anything away from him. All those people meant the world to Quatre, just as I did. I could have asked him to do those things and it probably would have slowly destroyed either our relationship or Quatre himself if I had asked it of him. So, I had to make a choice. I compromised. I let go of my anger and disappointment in him and told him I loved him still, but that I couldn't live in a Winner home as long as you were in prison and the real perpetrators were free. We compromised, still loving each other fiercely, but living separate lives. It hasn't been easy, but I, like Heero, could think of no other way."
More time went by as each mentally chewed on the words Trowa had spoken. "If you want Heero to be in your life again Duo," Trowa said softly to the still body resting against him "you have to let go of the anger you feel about the past and Heero leaving you. He was, after all, only minutely responsible. If you can't do that, then I would suggest you see him one last time to say goodbye. If you can forgive him and let go of your anger, there may still be a future for the two of you yet."
He felt Duo's head nod, and the two wet young men lay on the hard rock lost in their own thoughts and oblivious of time as the sun sank lower towards the horizon.
Wufei sat in Mrs. L.'s rocking chair looking out the front window of the home. They had all been anxious throughout the day, from the moment Quatre sat down to talk to Duo. Quatre was now in the kitchen helping Mrs. L. peel potatoes for their dinner and he stood watch for the two they all hoped would return soon. Just then, he detected an approaching sound and instantly recognized it. He stood from the chair and looked out the window in time to see the red motorcycle roll into sight. Trowa was driving with Duo laying heavily against his back, his eyes closed and his arms hanging limp at his sides. As they reached the house, Trowa reached his left arm back and held onto the body behind him as they made the turn into the short driveway. Wufei was out the door in a second, heading to the garage door to lift it up for the bike and it's passengers.
Trowa gave him a grateful smile and gently eased the motorcycle into the garage. Wufei moved to their side and pulled Duo off the bike and held the sleeping body in his arms as Trowa put the bike on it's stand and shut off the ignition.
"Is he alright?" Wufei asked the other in a concerned tone as he gazed down at the peaceful looking face.
Trowa nodded. "I think he's going to be okay. We found a way to help get his emotions out."
"He feels damp." Wufei observed.
"We went to the lake." Trowa answered now off his bike and motioning Wufei to exit the garage so he could shut the door behind them.
Once it was secure, he turned and held out his arms, silently asking Wufei to give Duo back to him. The Chinese man complied, settling Duo in Trowa's firm and solid grasp. He then turned and led the way to the house, holding the front door open for Trowa and his armful. Quatre and Mrs. L. came out of the kitchen to greet them, but stopped from speaking when they observed Duo was asleep.
"He's okay." Trowa whispered to reassure them. "He's just exhausted. I'll just put him to bed." He then turned and mounted the stairs, going to his bedroom where he would tuck Duo in for the night.
As odd as it seemed after the emotional day they'd experienced, the following morning came softly and the four living in the house fell easily into their regular pattern and routine; things seemed to be back to normal. Quatre came to the house late that morning and stayed until late evening, helping to take care of Duo by entertaining him with games of cards and checkers and helping Mrs. Lunderson around the house. Her sense of awe of the Winner heir seem to diminish with each informal visit until she eventually began to call him by his first name and smile in a more relaxed manner.
The next few days continued on in a similar vein. Duo seemed to be more thoughtful, his eyebrows pinched together in thought often. Quatre left three days after his talk with Duo saying he needed to return home and wrap up some business. He announced to the other four people sitting at the dinner table the night before that he was going to take a leave from work so he could return to be with them. Mrs. L's eyes grew wide in alarm. Quatre chuckled at it and quickly assured her he would find his own accommodations near by, not wanting to add to the burden that having another person living in the house would bring to the elderly woman.
At his announcement, Duo's eyes sparkled with pleasure; Wufei and Trowa felt relieved to have another teammate helping them. With Relena in such close proximity, they felt the need to be on their guard and always cautious as they helped Duo return to his life. When Quatre left that evening, they all wished him a safe and speedy journey.
Five days after Heero's visit, the two, off-duty Preventers took Duo to an ENT* specialist, under the pseudo-name of Denver Barton, a name chosen by Sally. She had recommended the specialist and, using her connections, set up an appointment to occur much sooner than any other layperson would have received. Though the doctor spoke with a soft voice and approached his skittish patient sitting on the exam table in a gentle manner, Duo's large eyes looked like they would pop out of his head when the doctor explained the long instrument he held in his hand and that it was to be inserted into Duo's throat to examine it further down than he could see without it. Wufei and Trowa stood at the timid patient's side and held his upper arms while speaking constant words of encouragement and praise as the doctor eased the scope down Duo's open mouth and into his throat.
Eyes wide and fearful, Duo's gag reflex went into overdrive and he fought to concentrate on breathing through his nose as the nurse assisting the doctor instructed. His eyes squeezed tightly shut and his body trembled as he mentally fought to ignore the intrusion down his throat.
The doctor efficiently completed his exam and pulled the intrusive instrument out, then quickly tried to sooth his agitated patient. A few moments passed until Duo completely regained his composure and looked to the doctor at his side.
"Have you ever had anyone or anything put pressure on your throat, as if to strangulate you?" The doctor asked in a grave tone. With watery eyes and a deep breath to calm himself from the bad memory, Duo managed a brief nod.
The doctor turned and wrote a short note on a piece of paper and handed it to Trowa. It was an order for an x-ray.
"I'm putting a rush on this." he explained as he jotted a few notes into Duo's file. "I'll call the lab and have them put you in immediately; and if you'll come back at one this afternoon, I can tell you the results."
Neither of the two fiercely protective guardians of the fragile looking young man were happy about not accompanying Duo into the x-ray room, and that unhappiness heightened as the technician led Duo away and their pitiful looking friend glanced back at them with fear in his eyes.
"We'll be waiting right here for you." Wufei called out uncharacteristically, anxious to reassure his frightened looking friend. He was rewarded at the last moment as Duo gave them a weak smile that he was okay.
Trowa sighed worriedly, then looked to see Wufei frowning at the door Duo had disappeared through. "We're like a couple of mother hens, Wufei." he elbowed the Chinese man as he spoke and gave him a crooked smile. "Kinda pathetic for guys our age."
Wufei nodded. "I can't seem to help it, though I know you're right. He seems so...."
"Fragile?" Trowa guessed.
Wufei nodded again. "And helpless. I wonder if we'll ever have the old Duo back again. I miss him and his joker ways." he said in a sad tone.
The former Heavyarms pilot put a hand on his friend's shoulder and squeezed it. "I know. So do I. But he's slowly emerging, isn't he?"
Wufei thought of his prank with the spoons again. "Yes, he is." he smiled at the memory.
The two men stood from the waiting room couch when Duo came out through the door. He emerged with a small smile and a sucker in his mouth. He approached them, limping slowly, with his right hand behind his back. As he stopped in front of them, he brought the hidden hand forward to present his friends with two more of the candies in his hand.
With Duo's consent, the trio decided to grab some lunch until the time to return to the doctor's office for the results of the X-ray. With baseball caps on all their heads to somewhat conceal their identities, they went to a small diner close to the medical offices and ate a hearty meal. The noise of the small busy diner kept Duo on the edge of his seat, his eyes darting from one booth to another in a nervous manner. They ended up getting their food to go and finished eating it within the confines of the car, allowing Duo to feel more secure.
At precisely one o'clock, the three sat in the doctor's office. Three chairs sat in a straight line in front of a large desk. Certificates and awards of the specialist's many accomplishments lined one wall completely. The other walls had pictures of golf courses. The doctor sat in a comfortable leather chair behind the large desk and studied the results of the radiologist's report. Then satisfied, he looked up at the silent boy who was his patient. "The finding are conclusive as to what I saw this morning." he began. "Your larynx was partially crushed, causing your vocal folds, commonly referred to as vocal cords, to be compressed. That's what causes the pressure you feel when you try to talk.
Duo nodded soberly that he understood.
"I believe I can correct the damage in a simple, out-patient surgery." the doctor continued. "I can insert a tube with an inflatable device at the end and open up that part of the larynx, freeing the vocal cords. You'll have to give that part of your larynx a chance to strengthen by not speaking for several weeks after the operation.
Duo rolled his eyes.
"I don't think that will be a problem." Wufei interpreted his friend's reaction with a slight smile on his face.
The doctor nodded and looked back at the chart. "I see here Mr. Barton that your brother doesn't have any insurance. Will that be a problem?"
"No" Trowa answered quietly. "I'll be paying in cash before the procedure is done."
The doctor nodded again. "I'll have my nurse make the necessary arrangements with the Veterans' Memorial Hospital. She'll call you with a date, time and any instructions."
"Out patient means he won't have to spend the night, correct?" Trowa asked.
"Correct." the doctor stood, closing the file. "Denver will be in an observation room just until the anesthetic wears off, then you can take him home."
"Thank you doctor." The three stood and as the doctor moved around the desk towards them, Wufei extended his hand to shake the doctor's hand. The older man, dressed in a traditional white smock, received the handshake, but was then taken aback when Duo suddenly launched himself forward and gave the white smocked doctor a very brief but enthusiastic hug.
"Ah, thanks." the physician replied with an embarrassed grin as Duo stood back grinning largely at him and the others. The older man was obviously not use to such a display of affection from his patients.
"He's very tactile" Trowa commented with a smile at the other man's awkward situation. "and I think very grateful to you for offering him a chance to have his voice back again."
"Well, that's nice." the man replied a bit stiffly as he shuffled to the door. "I guess I'll see you at the hospital then." he added and quickly left the room.
Duo then turned and briefly hugged first Wufei and then Trowa, happiness brimming from his wide eyes.
"I think this calls for a celebration." Trowa suggested, his own happiness showing at the news of Duo's chance to talk again.
"We just had lunch!" Wufei mildly protested, still feeling quite full from eating his lunch and half of Duo's untouched meal.
"Who said it had to be food?" Trowa replied, smiling. "How about a movie and maybe some popcorn for Duo?"
Duo nodded enthusiastically at the offer.
"Let's find a newspaper then." Wufei suggested as they left the room and made their way towards the exit. The three men, happy with the news they'd been given, left the building a few moments later, intent on having an enjoyable afternoon.
That evening they all hovered around the vid phone in Trowa's room as they placed a call to Quatre on L-4 to give him the happy news and the information on the procedure that would take place in just a few days. The doctor's nurse had called as promised and had scheduled the procedure room at the hospital as well as an anesthesiologist for five days from that day. She gave Trowa the cost of the procedure, including the doctor's fees, and he was pleased to learn it would be less than five thousand credits.
Quatre heard the news and the time the procedure would take place with a smile growing on his face. He beamed with happiness at the news that Duo would talk again, and promised him that he would be back the day before to lend his support.
Each day after that seemed to bring back a little more of the Duo they had known. Trowa and Wufei took him to the lake once more, on a day Duo seemed to be having more frustration than usual. But this time they went in trunks and spent more time splashing each other than Duo did raging at his slowly diminishing anger. Time was truly a healer as they watched their friend grow more a bit more secure and less fearful with each passing day. He even began to venture around the house more on his own and his small comforter once used for security was left in the bedroom more often than not. As long as they stayed in the confines of their home, Duo seemed more secure and happy.
Quatre's shuttle arrived just after noon the day before the procedure was to take place. After a brief stop at his hotel room to leave off his bags, he took a taxi for the home housing his three friends. No sooner had he knocked on the door than it was opened, and he found himself being given a quick embrace of welcome by Duo. As he looked over his shoulder, Quatre saw Mrs. L. observing them with a loving smile on her aged face as she gazed at Duo's back.
"I missed you too, Duo." the blond laughed in a warm tone, returning the surprisingly stronger embrace.
His friend stepped back wearing a welcoming smile with a twinkle in his eyes. With a motion of his right hand, the blond knew he was to follow.
"We're in the backyard." Mrs. L. told him as they moved slowly behind his limping friend. "We had to come in and remove a splinter he got out on the wooden table." she explained as they were led through the house to the back door to enter the garden to see a make-shift table had been set up that hadn't been there before. Wufei and Trowa were busy working on building something out of thin wood. Trowa's head rose as the back door closed behind them and they approached the two. Quatre's blue eyes met Trowa's green, and he gave his love a melting smile.
"Welcome back." Trowa greeted the blond Arabian, who bee-lined straight for him and, wrapping his arms around the taller man and gave him a brief but satisfying kiss.
"Hi." Quatre said in a shaky whisper as he gave his lover a warm embrace. Looking over Trowa's taller shoulder he spied Wufei busily working on his piece of wood. "Hello Wufei." he said
The black haired Asian looked up just briefly to him, nodded his head in greeting and looked quickly back down at his work. Quatre sighed. Wufei always seemed a bit uncomfortable with any display of affection between his male friends. He knew Wufei didn't really object to their relationship, nor Heero and Duo's and he being a heterosexual. But really, Quatre thought with a quirky smile on his face, he should be used to it by now.
The blond reluctantly pulled back, not wanting Wufei to feel uncomfortable around them, and looked curiously down at the table and its contents. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"We're building a remote control plane from a kit we bought yesterday." Trowa answered, as he too observed the table top. "Duo picked it out at a speciality model store that we went to. It's quite a project."
"I can see that.' Quatre studied the pieces carefully laid out and several of the larger pieces were already put together, the shape of a plane could almost be made out and almost all the pieces of wood were painted blue.
"Duo's building the engine." Wufei motioned to another square table behind them. On the ground next to it was a large box in which he supposed the parts were. On the table top were only a few metal parts that looked like they would be part of a small engine.
"This should keep you guys busy for awhile." he smiled at Duo as the cinnamon haired man went to the table and picked up a part awkwardly with the hand on his bent arm and a screwdriver fisted n the other hand; he then went to work.
They chatted amiably for a few minutes before the Quatre finally worked up the nerve to break the news he had for his friends. He decided it would be wise to ease into it. "You don't happen to have anything special planned for tonight, do you?" he asked casually, hoping his nervousness wasn't apparent.
Trowa was holding two glued parts of the plane together and looked up at the question. "Nothing special, why?"
"Because I, um.....I invited Heero over." he replied and noticed all movement in the garden stilled.
"You should have asked first." Trowa frowned.
"I can still cancel." the blond young man was quick to amend. "And I wanted to ask Duo if it was alright, if not, I can cancel. Duo?" he turned to his friend who looked at him with a puzzled look on his face. "Have you thought about what I told you? If you wanted to see Heero again?"
"Is it alright if Heero comes over tonight. He'd really like to see you."
All eyes turned to the smallest of the four as Duo pushed his shoulder length hair back from his face. There was no doubt to be seen on his face or in his eyes as he looked them in the eyes and nodded his head yes.
"I was actually called by Relena on L-4." Quatre went on to casually explain what had happened. "She wanted to make sure Trowa and Heero had put their differences behind them. I assured her they had, and that we'd like him to join us for a game of poker on Sunday nights. She readily agreed and said she'd tell him. I thought it was a good way to get him out from under her watchful eye on a regular basis."
"What time?" Wufei asked, looking at his watch.
"Then you better tell Mrs. L to set another place at the table." Trowa suggested.
Duo had been agitated all afternoon. He fussed silently, but nevertheless unhappily at his small assortment of clothing. Duo had always been fashion conscious during and after the war, fastidious in his clothing and appearance. Today he obviously wanted to look good and held out his assortment of sweat clothes with clear distaste on his face. With his unhappiness so apparent, Wufei and Quatre agreed to take his measurements and go shopping. Wufei tried to get Duo to write down on a piece of paper exactly what he wanted them to buy, but Duo refused. The Chinese Preventer even went as far as to put a pencil in Duo's hand and a paper in front of him. Duo dropped the pencil and shook his head with a frown. It was then that, now totally exasperated with what he considered Duo's stubbornness, Wufei took hold of Duo's right hand to examine it, the hand not hampered by any apparent injury like his left arm. He'd bent over two fingers to study them, never having noticed the abnormality in them before. Duo's index and middle finger looked odd, the knuckles of those two fingers looked too big and stuck out differently than his own.
"Did you break these fingers in prison Duo?" he asked as he studied the digits.
Duo tried to pull his hand away, obviously embarrassed to have another thing found wrong on his body. But he nodded that they had been broken as Wufei guessed.
"Were they ever straightened?" Wufei continued to ask even as he studied them and ran his fingers over the misshaped fingers.
Duo shook his head.
Wufei sighed, it was apparent that arthritis had set into the once broken fingers, causing Duo great discomfort if he tried to use them too much. Now it all made sense, why he always held his fork in his fist and why he refused to write down what he wanted or needed; it just hurt too much. Wufei then asked Duo several direct questions, now with a better understanding he once again found patience for his friend as he worked to figure out what clothing selection would make Duo happy. He and Quatre left shortly thereafter for a quick shopping spree at the nearest mall.
At last seven o'clock arrived, and Heero had not arrived. Duo, sitting in new, faded black jeans and a grey t-shirt with the picture of a surfer riding a large wave on his back, constantly shifted in his chair at the kitchen table as the meal commenced in silence, his eyes glancing from Quatre to the direction of the front doorway every few minutes.
The sound of the doorbell came fifteen minutes later bringing with it a mixture of emotions to the five people sitting at the table; some felt relief that Heero had finally arrived and others felt trepidation at his and Duo's first meeting. It was clear to all of them that Duo felt both emotions.
"I'll get it." Trowa took his napkin off his lap and set it on the table as he stood. They had sat down to their evening meal at exactly seven o'clock and Quatre insisted they start without Heero in case Relena changed her mind. .
Less than a minute later, Trowa led the Japanese young man, dressed in blue jeans and a white button down shirt, the sleeves rolled up to give a casual air to his appearance, into the kitchen and motioned for Heero to take the chair at the end of the table next to Duo.
"I'm sorry to be late." Heero muttered out loud to all those present, meeting their eyes as a whole before lowering them to the table. "Relena's parting words of advice were....extensive, to say the least." He explained, his eyes were kept averted from those watching him, a sign of his embarrassment his statement brought him.
"Here." Trowa passed the main dish, some kind of chicken and potato casserole, followed by a bowl of sweet corn and a salad.
Heero accepted each dish and seemed to give his full attention to the task of filling his plate and then to his food as he began to eat.
"So Herro," Quatre spoke up to start the conversation and getting the former Wing pilot's attention. "What have you been doing these last few years?" he asked.
"About the same routine daily." Heero answered morosely. "I take all my meals with Relena, on her orders, play chaperone, guard and dutiful husband to any public appearances and private parties or gathering, professional or personal. In other words," he paused and chanced a look up at his former friends and truly meeting their gaze for the first time since he'd entered the room. "I'm her personal dog on a leash." His voice was filled with disdain and self-loathing.
With a start, Heero's shifted his eyes over to his left as Duo gently put his hand on his forearm in a gesture meant to comfort. Violet eyes, sorrowful but nonetheless beautiful looked into the agonized dark blue orbs. It seemed as if time stood still as the former lovers were lost in the lingering gaze that spoke volumes to each other.
Mrs. L and the other three former pilots watched with sadness as the man once honored as the perfect soldier, who had always schooled his emotions and reactions, slowly dissolved in front of their eyes. It was similar to watching a formidable, well-built dam, holding back millions of gallons of water form a crack as his eyes watered. Those eyes never left Duo's face as that slight crack widened and Heero's bottom lip was sucked in as he tried to hold back the onslaught of emotions roiling within him.
Duo could see the dam about to burst open behind Heero's crumbling facade. Raising his right hand, he placed it on is former lover's cheek and shook his head, silently urging him to not fold under Relena's will. Reaching up slowly, so as to not startle his former lover, Heero caught up Duo's hand in his own and turned his head to press it fervently to his mouth, giving the upraised palm a heartfelt kiss. A quiet, agonized sob escaped him and, in a flash, Heero was out of his chair and on his knees next to Duo's chair, arms thrown around the slender body, his face pressed into the flat stomach.
For a moment Duo looked frightened, his eyes quickly seeking Trowa for reassurance.
"It's alright, Duo." Quatre said softly. "Heero needs to let his emotions out, and you're the person he needs at the moment."
The straight, chestnut colored hair fell forward around his face as Duo's head bowed down, looking on the short, perfectly styled mop of dark brown hair. His right hand rose and combed through the soft hair he'd missed as much as he'd missed everything about his former lover. His left, bent arm came up and awkwardly went around Heero's strong and now tremor-ridden shoulder, holding the trembling body close. Neither young men were aware of the others at the table as they rose at a silent motion from Quatre from their seats and exited quietly to the living room.
Once in the living room, Wufei grabbed the remote as he sat on the couch and quickly turned on the television and raised the volume, hoping the sound would give the two left in the kitchen a little privacy as the four adults sat uneasily in the living room waiting to see what would happen.
With the love of his life pressed up against him and Heero's rare-to-fall tears saturating the front of his shirt, the silent young man wished more than ever that he had the ability to speak words of comfort to the distraught man in his arms.
"Forgive me, Duo." Heero pleaded quietly into the fabric, then continued, his voice reverberating off the other's skin. "I only left because I was trying to protect you. Relena ruined your business on purpose....to show me she could destroy your life if I didn't do what she wanted." he rushed to explain.
"I'm sorry," his arms tightened around the slim waist. "I couldn't think of a way to protect you. I thought of killing her, but knew if I was locked in prison for life I'd never see you again."
Slowly Duo began to rock the both of them, holding Heero as tightly as his partially crippled arm would allow for, hoping to lend some comfort to him, to both of them.
"When I refused to marry her," Heero continued, his voice small and agonized, "she said she had the information contained in your sealed records and threatened to make it public. Relena assured me that if that happened, you'd never get a job or a place to live because of it. And after she systematically destroyed our business, I knew the threat wasn't an idle one."
Heero stopped for a moment and turned his head to put his ear against Duo's chest, hearing his heart beating at a slightly elevated speed. He sighed as he remembered the many nights before the war ended and after how he was lulled to sleep by the sound of Duo's heartbeat. Those were the nights he slept peacefully, more peacefully than he'd ever slept in the last two and a half years.
When he spoke again, it was in a quiet, resigned tone. "So I acted against my heart and used my head. I left you as she demanded, as a condition to letting you live a normal life without her harassment and then, within weeks, married her against my will. I hoped to spare you of any further misery that she had the power to cause you by giving my life over to her, to be her lackey."
Heero finally pulled back away from Duo in order to look up into his sad, grief filled face. The Perfect Soldier's eyes were red rimmed with a look of misery in them as he continued. "But I wouldn't sleep with her Duo." he told him soberly. "On our wedding night, I slept on the floor despite her objections. I told her months later, when she threw the mother-of-all temper tantrums that it was her own fault we had a platonic marriage, as she purposely coerced into marriage a man who had no desire for her in any way. A man who was absolutely devoted to another of the same gender."
A tear escaped from Heero's right eye and slid down his cheek until Duo reached up with a trembling hand and wiped it away. "That was the mistake I made, the one that cost you your freedom." he whispered hoarsely, his face a mask of grief and regret. "You were arrested shortly after and she made it clear to me that she had orchestrated it because I denied her." He closed his eyes, now feeling weary to the bone. "So you see, it's my fault that you were arrested and incarcerated. And it's my fault that you were mistreated in prison and lost your braid, your voice, and your freedom. Everything you lost was because of me."
Heero placed his cheek against Duo's heart again, listening to the steady heart beat as Duo's arms encircled him. Several moment passed in silence as the two stayed in this position thinking of the past and how to deal with their tumultuous feelings concerning it. Each experienced the unexpected thoughts of possible forgiveness and, just maybe, a future beyond this moment that they had once believed was theirs.
"I don't know that you can ever forgive me," Heero said in a hushed tone, knowing he had more to say. "but I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for how I've hurt you, and that my feelings for you have never changed. I feel for you today what I felt the day I first went to earth at Sally's summons."
He looked up again, afraid of Duo's reaction, but at the same time, he needed to know if there was a chance for the forgiveness he sought. Immediately two thin hands cupped his cheeks, they were cool to the touch and welcomed on his heated skin. Duo's tear filled eyes bore down intensely into his own, and once he was sure he had Heero's full attention, he silently mouthed the words of his heart. "I love you, too." he told his soul mate.
Heero let Duo's hands draw him up until the two were face to face, and slowly, their lips met, softly at first, each relishing the feel of the other's lips and the sensation the touch brought and the near forgotten taste and smell of each other.
Moving slowly, lips still melded together, Heero picked his smaller love up from off his chair and brought him into his arms. He then maneuvered himself to take the just vacated seat with Duo on his lap, his legs resting over the side of his thighs.
For several moments their mouths moved gently against each others, questing familiar and longed for territory without taking the kiss to a more intimate level.
They slowly eased away and drew apart enough to speak to each other with their eyes, both seeing what they needed there, a reaffirmation of their deep seeded need and love for each other.
"I'll figure a way out of this Duo." Heero promised, his voice slightly quivering with the emotions he felt. "We have the others to help us now and they'll keep you safe while I extract myself. Will you give me another chance? I promise this time nothing will ever come between us."
Duo nodded as a tear escaped his right eye. Ignoring it, he placed his hand on the cheek just in front of him, much darker than his own fair skin. His thumb gently traced over the line of Heero's lower lip. //I'll wait for you.// he answered without a voice, knowing Heero could read his lips.
Heero smiled softly, as he always had in the past and in the presence of his lover. He leaned forward and kissed Duo's lips again for a brief, gentle but passionate kiss. They were both breathing a bit heavier, intoxicated by the touch of the other when Heero reluctantly stood and placed Duo back into his seat. He gave his love a warm, reassuring smile. "I'll tell the others to come back in so they can finish their supper."
Duo's vibrant eyes followed Heero as he stood up. As he moved to the doorway to the living room, the dark haired man looked back to see Duo smiling at him. It was the kind of smile that sent Heero's heart racing, a gentle smile of contentment in the moment. He quickly turned towards the living room to get the others before he was unable to resist those lips any further and take Duo up in his arms again.
The four returned to the kitchen, discretely observing the other two. Heero's earlier nervousness had turned to slight embarrassment at his show of emotion, and Duo's smile was brimming with happiness. Both looked like they had been crying. Not sure exactly what had happened in the fifteen minutes they were absent from the room and too polite to ask, Mrs. L and Wufei set to warming up the chilled food abandoned on the table and Quatre led conversation that turned to the following day when Duo would enter the hospital for his surgery.
Heero was brought up on what had happened at the doctor's office, and he asked questions concerning the procedure and its risks. He often looked at Duo to make sure he was alright with what was going to happen and he always received an affirmative nod. He moved his chair a little closer to the direction of Duo's side of the table so that his leg rested up against his lover's black jean clad leg. The silent man looked up at him with a question in his eyes only to receive a contented smile from Heero. His touch wasn't sexual in nature, but one of need. He craved to touch the person who had so long been denied him.
"Quatre and I will take Duo to the hospital at nine o'clock." Trowa's voice was directed to Heero who looked more than slightly distracted as he smiled at Duo. "Wufei is going into the office to see if he can track down any leads on who is working for Relena."
Heero nodded, wishing he could be a part of their plan somehow when Quatre turned to address him.
"For your part Heero, I think you should make a list of those Preventers who have had dealing with Relena at the palace. That could give Wufei a lead."
Wufei nodded and added. "I could cross check that list with the official assignments given by the Preventers to see if they match and if there are people there that have no right to be there."
Heero nodded, grateful for something to do.
Quatre addressed him again. "I would also have you discover your limits with her. Stretch out and push the boundaries." he suggested. "It might keep her distracted enough that she has something other than your former friends to think about."
Heero nodded, already thinking of ways to keep his keeper irritated. It really wasn't that hard as he actually did it quite often unknowingly. A small upturn of his lips displayed to the others he might just have some fun with his assignment. With a word of caution from Quatre to not push Relena too far so that she would turn her attention back to Duo and discover his current status, they all agreed their main objective was to work together to keep Duo's presence on Earth as much of a secret as possible, thus protecting him.
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