He was in the middle of his second bowl of cereal when an idea came to him
of how he wanted to spend his day. He was alone for the first time in a very
long time, and while that idea made him uncomfortable, he also knew it
presented an opportunity for him to test himself. Dumping the rest of his
cereal into the sink, he went into the living room and stood near the
stairs, staring at the front door as he contemplated the task he was setting
up for himself. That he hadn't been through the front door on his own since
he and Heero had moved there was a bit disturbing, and mulling over the idea
of doing it now, without back up, made him more than a little weak in the
He forced himself to turn from the door and move to the window at the front
of the house and drew back the closed curtain to look out into the front
yard. The sun was shining brightly overhead and the street was quiet. There
were no shadows or impending threat that he could see; It looked safe. His
hands tightly clenched the heavy fabric of the dark blue curtain, wrinkling
it as he envisioned himself going out the front door unaccompanied. "A child
could do this," he scolded himself. "Just take a short walk around the
neighborhood. I've done it countless times with the guys and I can do it
now, by myself." His shrink had urged him to set goals for himself and then
carry them out by envisioning the task and telling himself he could do it.
After closing his eyes and following the man's advice, his stomach felt like
it was being tied up in tight knots.
It took about fifteen minutes to get his body to move back to the door,
picking up the house keys in the wooden box on the table next to it. His
right hand reached for the doorknob and gripped the cool knob tightly, and
then he paused, frozen in place as a drop of sweat slide slowly down his
back. He found himself unable to move for a moment, his breathing
constituting rapid, ragged gasps. With his frustration mounting along with his fears, he got angry with himself. "Just do it, you wuss!" he ground out
through gritted teeth.
The door opened with a sudden jerk and before he could think about it, he
stepped out onto the porch and hesitantly shut it behind him. It took
everything in him to put the key into the lock and turn it until it clicked
closed. Once locked, he then turned to face the steps at the front of the
porch. Taking in a deep breath, he paused to congratulate himself on
accomplishing his first goal. "I can do this," he said firmly to himself,
just under his breath. "I'm not a child, but a grown man." He shoved his
fists and keys into the pockets of his jeans and by sheer will alone he
stepped down the five wooden steps to the front walk and then mechanically
put one foot in front of the other until he reached the main sidewalk that
paralleled the street.
Having successfully reached that destination, he quickly withdrew his hands
from out of his pockets, covered his face with them and bent over, trying to
diminish the dizziness that came from his near hyperventilating state and
the deep-gut need he had to run back into the house where it was safe.
After several moments, he straightened, breathing a little easier as some
his resolve returned and looked in both directions of the sidewalk. He opted
to go left, avoiding the yard of their friendly next-door neighbor, Dr.
Frank McAdams, who had warmly invited them to call him by his first name.
He'd declined the older man's invitation, feeling more comfortable
addressing him as Mr. McAdams, keeping their relationship formal and not
chummy. This daunting task he'd set for himself was the beginning of his
personal quest towards to become less dependant, and he didn't want anyone,
especially their well-meaning and slightly nosey neighbor, hovering over
him. He'd had enough hovering to last a lifetime.
"Five steps at a time," he told himself firmly. If he could do
would be one step closer to becoming more independent, and that would be
good for himself and for Heero. And so he lifted his right knee and forced
himself to take a first step forward. It was a beginning, he told himself,
and he push aside all his panicked feelings and began keeping a careful
count of each painstaking footstep he took after that, pushing to the back
of his mind his rising fears as he moved further away from the house, his
The phone rang ten times before the answering machine picked up. Heero's
recorded voice was heard on the recording, asking the caller to identify
themselves and to leave a message. A beep sounded short and clear before a
matching voice was heard. "Duo? Pick up the phone." Several moments passed
before the voice, now filled with concern, spoke again. "Are you alright?
Please, pick up." Another couple of moments passed as Heero waited on the
other end of the line. When his voice was heard again, it was a bit distant
as he answered someone's question. "I don't know. He's not picking up," he
answered. A heavy sigh sounded before he continued to address the machine.
"I'm going to assume you're in the bathroom or out in the back, so call me back as soon as you can. If I don't hear from you in ten minutes, I'm coming
home. Screw this farce of a memorial." The line went dead and the message
machine clicked off.
In less than eight minutes from the time he'd gone through the front door,
Duo stumbled up onto the porch, his hands shaking as he tightly clutched the
front door key and fumbled to get it into the lock. His clothes were stuck
to his sweaty, over-heated skin, a sure sign of his mental distress, and he
almost wept for joy as the key finally fell into place and he quickly
unlatched the door, threw it open and promptly fell into the house, landing
on his hands and knees. Without turning, he lifted his right foot and firmly
kicked the door shut behind him as he struggled to catch his breath.
Crawling back over to the door, he sat against it, putting his back and head
against the cool wooden surface and reached up with his left hand to secure
the lock. The moment it clicked into place, he let his arm drop limply to
It took several moments for his breathing and racing heart to calm. With
sleeve of his red shirt, he wiped the sweat off of his face, noting with
some disgust that the cotton material was just as damp as his skin. Taking
in a deep breath, a slow, satisfied smile began to form on his face. "I did
it," he said out loud, catching a sob in this throat as his conflicting
emotions refused to be held down any longer. He sat there for a long time
with his head back and eyes closed and allowed himself to feel some pride in
his accomplishment while willing the fear he'd felt during his outing to
slowly subside. He was emotionally and physically exhausted after the short,
stressful walk around the block, and though it took some time, he finally
managed to relax.
He realized that he must have fallen asleep when he suddenly jerked awake
a sharp rapping sound that came from outside the front door. It scared him
shitless. He instinctively scrambled away from the door in a crab-like
fashion and stared at the wooden surface, noting with an short-lived feeling
of relief that the lock was engaged.
"Duo, it's Frank McAdams from next door. Are you alright?"
The braided man sat on the floor, still staring at the door as his mind
registered who was on the other side. He debated whether he should answer
the man or not.
Another knock came and then the doorbell rang several times. "Duo, answer
or I'll have to come in. If you can hear me, please open the door."
Again there came the returning feelings of uneasiness and fear. He
absolutely did not want the neighbor in the house without Heero being home,
so he forced himself to get on his feet and move towards the door.
"It's alright, Mr. McAdams," he called out, definitely unhappy
shaky voice he projected to the man on the other side. "I'm okay."
"Are you sure? Heero called home and was worried when you didn't pick
When you didn't return his call, he rung me up and asked me to check on
"I didn't hear it ring," he replied truthfully. "I'll call him now, okay?"
A moment passed before the older man spoke again. "Are you sure you're all
right? I could come in and keep you company if you'd like."
"No, I'm fine," Duo rushed to say, not wanting that to happen.
though. I'll tell Heero you came by." He knew he was talking too fast and
his voice was still uncertain and tight. Any idiot could tell he was
anything but fine.
"Feel free to call me if you need anything," the other man said.
home all day."
Duo didn't answer, but listened until he heard the other man's footsteps
moving off the front porch, signaling his departure. He sighed with relief
and combed his fingers through the fringe of hair that hung over his
forehead. "Well, shit," he uttered dejectedly. He made his way over to the
phone and saw that the red light was blinking, indicating a message had been
left. He played it and cursed again as he picked up the receiver and
speed-dialed Heero's cell.
"Duo!" Heero's voice was anxious as he answered his phone.
"I'm okay," he reassured his worried lover, wishing his voice sounded
stronger. "Sorry, I didn't mean to worry you."
"You're all right?"
"Where were you?"
The concern in Heero's voice was more than apparent to Duo and let him know
he had to talk fast to keep the other man from racing home. He needed to
make a snap decision of whether or not he should tell his lover the truth
and risk Heero's anger either way. "Went for a walk," he said, subdued .
There was a long stretch of silence on the other side of the line.
"Did you say a walk?"
"By yourself?" Heero sounded incredulous, yet asked a second question
clarify the earlier statement. "You went out of the house by yourself?"
A murmur of voices could be heard along with the sounds of a large gathering
of people on Heero's side of the phone. Duo detected Trowa's voice more
clearly than the others, telling Heero to remain calm. He didn't want to
think about what his lover's face looked like at the moment. He was afraid
it was anger that was it directed towards him for taking such a chance.
"Hold on," Heero commanded and the other end of the phone went silent.
Nervously, Duo did as he was told, though he took his weakened limbs and
phone to sofa and sat down. He had a moment to gather his thoughts and
decided that no matter what Heero's reaction was, he was damn proud of
himself for what he'd accomplished.
"Duo?" Heero was back.
"I had to find a quiet room so we could talk. Sorry it took so long."
Silence followed as both young men considered what to say. "Why did you risk
going out while I was away from home?" Heero asked, worry more than anger
was evident in his voice. "You could have had a panic attack or an episode.
Damn, just thinking about it makes me crazy."
"I had to, Heero," Duo replied, hoping he could get out all the
needed to in order to explain his actions. "I needed to do this knowing
there was no back up, and I did it."
"Was it difficult?"
"Hell yes it was."
"You're sure you're okay? Do you want me to come home?"
"No!" Duo responded more sharply than he'd intended. He lowered his voice as
he continued. "It kind of defeats the purpose if you come home, doesn't it?
I'm fine, just a little rattled. I'll eat some lunch in a little while and
take a rest, maybe watch some T.V."
"I'll come home if you need me," Heero reminded him, and Duo couldn't
but wonder if Heero was maybe looking for a reason to leave the memorial.
"I know," he replied, softening his attitude as a warmth spread
out from his
heart at Heero's words. His natural reflex was be to say he always needed
Heero, but that was the whole reason for the morning's exercise, wasn't it?
He depended too much on his lover for everything and he needed to learn to
let go so he wouldn't lose the one person he knew he couldn't live without.
So instead he replied, "But I'm fine. Don't worry."
"You can call Frank McAdams or Mrs. L. if you need someone quickly."
"All right," he answered, but they both knew he'd never voluntarily
their neighbor; he'd never taken to the friendly man. Mrs. L, though, was
good at calming him down, speaking to him with soft spoken words that were
always reassuring. But in a real emergency there wasn't a lot that an
elderly woman could do for him, especially if he had a panic attack.
"There are several things going on this afternoon so I might not be
find a quiet place to call until just before the evening meal. If you need
me, call. I'll set my phone to vibrate."
"Sounds like a plan." Duo was sure his voice sounded even, and
now that his
walk was over and Frank McAdams had gone, he was feeling much better. And
even though he felt tired, he decided it was being tired in a good way.
It took another five minutes before the two men were able to say goodbye,
and after hanging up, Duo decided he needed a drink of water and then maybe
another shower. He decided his damp shirt against his drying skin didn't
feel very good. Going to the kitchen he picked a glass out of the cupboard,
filled it with ice and then added some filtered water. He took a long drink
as he stood by the sink, draining the water out of the glass before
re-filling it and heading up the stairs to take his second shower of the
The shower was a long one, and despite the ventilation fan, the mirrors were
fogged up when he finally shut the water off. With nothing to really occupy
himself with for the rest of the afternoon, he didn't feel in any need to
finish up with any speed. When his skin was puckered and the water was
noticeably cooling, he stepped out, dried off, then walked into the bedroom
to find some clean clothing. The phone rang a half hour later; it was Trowa.
"I hear you went for a walk this morning," the familiar voice said
pleasantly, a smile in his voice.
"Yeah," Duo replied with a small chuckle, then added with a touch
sarcasm. "It was quite the earth shaking event."
"Duo, you and I both know that it was momentous. Don't talk as if it
Duo shook his head. Trowa always knew his number and when to call it.
There was silence then, but neither felt uncomfortable with it. After a
moment, Trowa spoke again. "It's a mad house here. I'm glad you're at home.
The press is in full force and we've had cameras and microphones shoved into
our faces since we arrived. Heero and Wufei have been in their most stiff,
stoic and unapproachable form."
"Did you smile and wave at the cameras?"
An amused chuckle came over the phone. "No. But on the way here we tried
get Heero to wave and then wink at the camera, just for you."
"That would have shocked the masses," Duo chuckled. Looking at
the clock, he
was surprised to see it was eleven thirty already. "Have you had lunch yet?"
"No, but we're on our way. Milliardo promises it will be good and he's
having some extra food boxed up for Heero to bring home to you."
"Like the bag you bring home to the dog?" Duo asked, affronted,
mood suddenly taking a dive.
"Duo..." Trowa's voice held a tone of warning in it for Duo not to go there.
"My lunch is waiting for me," Duo interrupted him. "I gotta go."
There was a long pause before Trowa said, "I'll call back later, alright?"
"Have a good time." Duo then hit the off button and set the phone
sluggish footsteps, he walked to the kitchen for another drink of water.
The next half hour crept by slowly. He got a quick, reassuring call from
Wufei as he pulled the container of food Heero had left for him out of the
microwave, telling him he wasn't missing anything. The call was short but
appreciated. After finishing his meal, he busied himself by cleaning up the
kitchen until there was not a crumb or thumb print to be found.
The house suddenly seemed much too quiet and empty. He took hold of the
wing-back chair and set it next to the closed-curtained front window. He sat
down on it and then lifted the outer edge of the curtain to peer out onto
the front yard and beyond. The street they lived on was quiet during the
day, which had been one of the major factors in purchasing it. The
neighborhood children were in school and only their older neighbor, Dr.
McAdams, could be seen almost daily, perpetually working with a pair of
hedge clippers on the shrubs that completely surrounded his large front
yard. He was nice enough, Duo supposed, but he felt uncomfortable when he
sensed the older man's curious eyes watching him whenever he and Heero left
their house. True, he didn't leave it often, occasionally going with Heero
or one of the guys to the store, for a ride to their homes, Mrs. L.'s and a
weekly trip to the park to play basketball. He supposed his lack of
appearance outside the house had the old guy wondering about him.
Scanning the neighborhood from his safe position, it came as no surprise
him that Dr. McAdams was out in his yard again, a place he was often seen.
He focused on the older man for several moments, who was concentrating on
cutting his ever-growing hedge. He was retired from his profession of being
a general medical practitioner and, from his conversations with Heero, a
widower who had also lost his son in a car accident some years ago. Heero
said the man seemed lonely and was apparently trying to reach out to them as a good neighbor, but Duo didn't want any of it. He didn't know the man, and
the only people he wanted in their home were their friends, Sally and Mrs.
L. On several occasions the Peacecrafts came to visit them, but his
discomfort at their presence in the house was more than telling when he sat
silent and brooding until they left, not contributing in any helpful way to
His behavior on those occasions always upset Heero. It never failed after
one of their visits that his lover would remind him that almost everything
they owned was due to the fact that Milliardo had turned his inheritance of
Relena's entire estate over to them because of the suffering they'd endured
from his sister's malicious acts. They'd learned from Relena's lawyer, soon
after her assassination, that she'd left everything in a will to her
brother. Heero had been told it was something he could contest in a court of
law because he'd been her legal husband, but there was no need for such an
action as Milliardo had already begun the process of giving it to them. As
far as Duo was concerned, he and Heero were owed everything they got from
Relena's estate and then some for all the pain she'd caused by her selfish
As if sensing someone was looking at him, the hedge-clipping man looked up
from his task, his head turning to take in his surroundings until at last
his eyes turned towards the direction of their house. Seeing the curtain
held open, the neighbor raised one gloved hand and waved to him. The curtain
was promptly dropped and Duo's heart sped up. He quickly stood and moved
away from the window. Suddenly feeling agitated, he rubbed his sweating
palms against the material of his pants and looked around the room. His eyes
landed on the television set. Turning off the low-playing stereo, he then
picked up the remote and turned on the T.V. He changed the channel to the
local news station with the hope of seeing Heero smiling and winking at him
as Trowa had mentioned on the phone. The newscaster for Channel 42 was a
pretty woman, probably in her thirties. She had dark brown hair, an oval
face with flawless skin and soft blue eyes. She was pleasant to look at and
Duo liked her calm and friendly manner of delivering the news.
He listened for several minutes to the current events from around the world
including reports on the growing hole in the ozone, a small oil spill in
Alaska, a heated election in the United States, and a bombing in Jerusalem.
He decided he wasn't in the mood to listen to all the negative news because
there was nothing to feel good about after hearing about the bad things
happening in the world. After a few more minutes, the topics turned to local
news. The memorial was the first item to be reported and Melinda Gutage, the
on-site news anchor, cut to a clip from that morning showing the arrival of
dignitaries from all over the world and focused on the arrival of Heero and
the other gundam pilots.
"Mr. Yuy," a male reporter yelled out from the crowd as he jumped
of Heero as he exited the limousine. "Can you tell us how you feel about your wife's assassin still being at large?"
"No comment," Heero said with a grim face then moved forward through
throng of press and guests. Duo shook his head, realizing he wasn't going to
get a smile or a wink from his lover over the T.V. and thinking the scowl
his lover wore detracted from his good looks.
Wufei exited the car next. "Mr. Chang." A familiar, persistent
reporter from a London gossip magazine called out to him above the other
sounds of the crowd. "Have the Preventers come up with any new leads on the
assignation of Mrs. Peacecraft-Yuy?"
"There is constant interest in finding the perpetrator that took Relena's
life. We will not rest until the assassin is found and stands trial," Wufei
reported stiffly, then moved forward quickly, looking as if he were chasing
Heero up the sidewalk to the grand entrance that housed the offices of the
United Earth and Colonies' representatives.
Trowa exited the car next and stood by the open car door to wait for Quatre,
then closed it as his lover stood next to him.
"Mr. Winner?" Quatre's blond hair gleamed brightly like an angel's
under the bright morning sunshine. He gave the reporter a practiced,
friendly smile that came to his face easily. He paused for a moment with an
air of patience to allow the reporter to speak with him. "There seems to be
one pilot missing today. Is Duo Maxwell not here because of his conviction
and incarceration beginning three years ago from a theft in your own home?"
The blond's smile dimmed and in all seriousness he said, "Duo is my
and he was wrongfully accused and tried for a crime he didn't commit. I
regret that such an unfortunate incident happened in my home."
Another reporter jumped in front, shouting another question. "The hospital
records here in Brussels state that Mr. Maxwell has been admitted several
times during the last year for corrective surgery. Is Duo Maxwell alright?
Were his injuries due to his incarceration? Is his absence here today due to
poor health, mentally or physically?"
Quatre's back straightened as he drew himself up, glaring at the reporter.
"Duo Maxwell's medical records are not a matter for public discussion. I
would ask you where you obtained such personal information?"
"Unnamed sources," the reporter replied solemnly.
"Your sources have obviously obtained and passed along private information
that is protected by law. I would warn your source that I will not tolerate
anyone messing with my friends' lives. Mr. Maxwell is recovering from his
incarceration, which certainly was anything but pleasant, and there are
criminal charges being brought against Penal Colony Four and against the
warden there, a Mr. Warren Harding. That is a matter of public record and
more than worthy of your professional attention than Mr. Maxwell's health
record. Now if you'll excuse me, there is a ceremony that I need to attend."
With Trowa's arm around his waist guiding him through the crowd of reporters
surrounding them, they pushed their way through to their friends standing at
the entry to the building, wearing twin frowns on their faces.
Duo sat stunned in his living room as a picture of himself, taken just after
the wars and before Heero had left him, was put up in the right hand corner
of the screen. A hand went over his mouth as he began to tremble violently.
Nearly blind with fear and trepidation, he instinctively bolted from the
living room, stumbled almost blindly up the stairs, and scrambled into to
the safety of his bedroom.
Thanks to everyone for your comments and support. And my heartfelt gratitude
to Swordy for being my long-time and supportive proofreader. Sorry for the
breaks between the scenes not being more clear. I've tried everything and
nothing stays after I've posted, even multiple spacing.
On to Chapter Three