Six hours after Wufei’s shuttle was shot into space, the two life-partners sat side by side in chairs that circled Mrs. L.’s dining room table. The usual air of happiness was missing from the weekly dinners the five friends shared with the elderly woman. The three chairs their friends normally filled were oppressively vacant. As Heero related to Mrs. L the events of the past week, Duo picked with disinterest at his meal. The elderly woman, who had become like a grandmother to the five former gundam pilots, eyed the braided young man with concern, then spent the rest of the evening consoling and fussing over him and his new dog, gradually lifting Duo’s day-long depression.
Saturday afternoon found the two young men in their backyard, pruning back the roses and sweeping up the stone areas that comprised the walkway and patio. Duo took a break from his work to throw a ball to his dog and Sinjin responded by barking happily as he chased it across the yard. Upon returning the slimy toy to his master, the shaggy canine’s front paws and legs were comically lowered to the ground while his hindquarters remained in the air as his tail wagged wildly, anticipating the next toss. Duo laughed at the dog’s antics and Heero couldn’t help but smile at the scene. Then the moment was lost, ruined when their elderly neighbor stepped up on some object on his side of the fence and peered over the top.
“Afternoon, neighbors,” Dr. McAdams said cheerfully. Heero looked up at the man, noticing Duo had stopped playing with Sinjin.
“Hello,” Heero said back and forced a smile to his lips.
“Beautiful day for yard work, isn’t it?”
Heero nodded. “Yes, it is.”
“I see you’ve got a new dog.” The man’s innocent observation caused Duo to grab up his pet while Heero carried on the mostly one-sided conversation.
“Cairn Terrier, if I’m not mistaken.” Sinjin wiggled wildly in Duo’s arms, but the braided man seemed determined not to let him go. “My son had a Boston Terrier, Buster was his name. He gave us years of happiness.”
There was a moment of awkward silence after that statement, and it was the older man who broke it. “Listen. I made some soup this morning but it seems I made much more than I can ever eat. I was wondering if you fellas would like some for your supper?”
Heero hadn’t defrosted the meat for their evening meal, so he considered the offer and accepted it. “That’s very kind of you, Dr. McAdams.”
“Please,” the man grinned. “Call me Frank. I’m not a practicing doctor any longer.”
Heero nodded. “Thank you, Frank. We appreciate your offer and accept.” He smiled in what he hoped was a friendly manner while ignoring Duo’s unhappy scowl directed specifically at him.
Frank, on the other hand, looked extremely happy as he said, “I’ve got the pot on the stove. If you’ll meet me at your front door, I’ll bring it over.” The elderly man then disappeared behind the fence.
Heero put down the pruning tool and made for the kitchen door. Wordlessly, Duo followed on his heels and it was obvious he was troubled. Heero decided it was time to have a talk with his neighbor, explaining a little more of the situation than the older man was aware of. He was sure Frank wouldn’t want to cause Duo any discomfort, but having invaded their private space had caused his lover’s good mood to change abruptly, especially after the other man’s sudden appearance in a place Duo considered a safe haven. He washed his hands at the kitchen sink, then moved to the front door and opened it in time to see Frank climbing up the porch steps with a good-sized pot held between his oven-glove covered hands. Heero looked down to his feet at hearing a familiar bark and saw the gray-haired dog staring intently at the approaching man, his tail wagging hard, displaying his delight at having another human to fuss over him. “Some guard dog,” he mumbled just under his breath, then looked up in time to greet the doctor.
“Afternoon, Heero,” the older man greeted him, his aged, hazel eyes shining happily.
“Good afternoon, Dr. McAdams,” Heero answered as he unlocked the screen door and moved aside to allow the man inside their home.
“Frank,” the man corrected the dark-haired young man’s use of his name with a friendly grin.
“Frank,” Heero repeated. “That looks like a lot of soup,” he said eying the size of the pot.
The elderly man chuckled. “I’m afraid I got carried away with my soup making again. I glad you and Duo can take some of this off my hands.”
“We’re happy to be of help. Thank you, again,” Heero said, the smile on his face showing genuine gratitude and friendliness as he motioned for their neighbor to enter the house. “Come to the kitchen,” he said, then turned to lead the man through the house to the kitchen. Duo, keeping himself at a distance, quietly called the dog to come to him while keeping a wary eye on the older man. When the doctor looked his way, the braided man quickly averted his eyes.
“Good afternoon, Duo,” Frank said in a warm, friendly tone of voice as he passed by. Seeing that the young man he’d addressed didn’t want to converse with him, he continued into the kitchen where Heero directed him to put the hot pot on the stove top. Duo followed cautiously. His dog, now back in his arms, seemed content and to be there while chewing happily on something he’d picked up from under the coffee table.
Frank turned from the stove and looked at the silent young man once again. “So this is the new addition to your home.” He grinned at the dog who began wiggling happily in Duo’s arms at the older man’s attention. “I heard him barking this morning.”
“Our friends gave Duo the dog,” Heero answered. Recognizing the closed-off look on his lover’s face, he knew that Duo was unhappy that the older man was in their home and he was making it abundantly clear that he didn’t want to chat with him either. This was a part of Duo that was so different from the person he’d been as a teenager. The gregarious teen from L-2 had always been a bit of an extrovert, friendly, outgoing and talkative. He could carry on a conversation with a stone statue and it would have been interesting to overhear. But those qualities disappeared completely at times, replaced by a self-conscious and suspicious person that was the antithesis of his former personality.
“He is a Cairn Terrier, right?” Frank stepped closer and put his hand out with the intention of petting the dog. Heero, seeing Duo’s eyes widen, his body stiffen and hearing his breathing accelerate, quickly stepped between the two men. Speedily prying the dog from out of Duo’s vice-like grip, he turned and presented the animal to Frank.
“Duo named him Sinjin,” Heero said, then frowned as his saw something he’d overlooked before and recognized the piece of torn blue material that was caught between the dog’s clenched teeth. “That’s my new shirt!” he stated unhappily, then tried to pull the fabric out of the canine’s tenaciously clamped jaws. The dog’s tail wagged furiously as a game tug of war ensued.
“Here, let me show you how to extract something from his mouth,” Frank said.
Heero gave up trying to retrieve the material from out of the dog’s mouth and let go. He watched as the older man reached up and put his thumb and forefinger into both sides of the small dog’s mouth and the stubborn jaws slowly opened, allowing Heero to gently disentangle the fabric from the its teeth. As Frank set the tail-wagging dog down, Heero held up the sorry strip of gnarled cloth for inspection, and over what seemed to be all that remained of his shirt, he looked at his lover with an unhappy expression.
“Sorry,” Duo muttered, looking sheepish. “He got to the laundry basket when I put the vacuum away earlier. I must have missed a piece.”
Heero sighed and looked from his lover to the dog at his feet and then back again, both were giving him a pleading puppy-dog eyes look. “That’s the second shirt this week, Duo. Can’t you train him?”
“We’re working on ‘down’, ‘no’, ‘sit’ and today, ‘let go’,” Duo said, looking apologetic.
Heero held up the small, tooth-marked and saliva-coated piece of material. “I’d say you need more work on the second command as well as the last one.”
A small crooked smile was the only answer Duo could come up with, but the distracting incident did work to lessen the tension in the kitchen.
“The soup is hot if you fellas have an appetite,” the older man said, changing the topic of conversation. Heero noticed Duo’s attention had gone back to their neighbor and then shifted to the pot on the stove. A glance at the clock told him the time was 3:47 p.m. “I could eat some now,” he decided, looking back to Duo with a silent plea for him to try and be polite to their guest. He knew his partner didn’t like strangers in the house but he figured that having a safe visitor in the house was good practice for Duo in trying to overcome some of his fears. “What do you say, Duo? Let’s call it an early supper,” he suggested. His partner’s eyes were clouded with some emotion he couldn’t decipher, so he waited until the braided head nodded slightly in agreement. Giving his lover a smile that held both gratitude and pride, he then turned to Frank. “Won’t you join us?” He could hear Duo mentally scream at him for that friendly gesture.
The older man shook his head and waved off the invitation. “No, thank you. I have a pot at home for myself.”
“Maybe so, but here you’ll have dinner company.”
The gray-haired man looked from the Heero, seeing a encouraging smile on his face, to his thinner, long-haired housemate, whose eyes seemed troubled and too wide with apprehension. He paused to consider the offer then smiled at Duo pleasantly before looking back to Heero. “You’re right, I could use the company. I’d be happy to join you.”
“Good!” Heero was glad for the break in their daily routine. Having some company was good for the both of them, he told himself. Duo might be uncomfortable at the moment, but with practice, he was sure he would get over it. He moved efficiently around the room, getting out the plates and bowls, cups and spoons while the doctor busied himself by filling the bowls. The pleasant aroma of minestrone soup filled the kitchen, and was heady enough to bring Duo to step a bit closer to the stove for a look into the pot.
After the glasses were filled with milk and bread and butter put out, the three men sat down to their meal at the small table. No sooner had they begun to eat when Sinjin began to beg, standing on his hind legs, scratching at Duo’s thigh and whimpering for some morsel of food.
“Get down, Sinjin. Right now! You know better than that,” Heero said sharply. The dog turned his head, looked at him, then went back to pawing at his favorite owner’s leg. Duo looked torn between wanting to please the dog and not making Heero unhappy by feeding his pet from the table, a discussion they’d had at almost every meal since the dog had come to live with them.
“May I make a suggestion?” Frank offered, and both young men looked at him curiously. “Dogs respond better to short, curt commands. Your tone was correct for reprimanding him, Heero, but you need to give simple commands he can understand.”
“That makes sense,” the former soldier acknowledged.
“Try it again, but this time use the tone you did before and just say the word no, sharply.”
Heero nodded and turned back to the begging dog. “Sinjin, no!” The dog’s ears went back and he dropped his front paws off of Duo’s lap. A broad smile grew on Heero’s face. “Do you know a lot about dogs, Frank?” he asked his neighbor as a flicker of hope began to form in his mind.
“My son, Robbie, owned several dogs while he was growing up. He trained them all to be good pets.”
“You haven’t said much about your son before. Is it too painful to speak of him?” Heero asked out of consideration for the older man’s feelings.
“It’s been twenty years,” Frank said, a lingering sadness in his voice. “You’d think I’d be able to talk about him now without feeling so... melancholy.” When neither of the two young men said any thing else, the older man continued. “He was going to the university here in the city while living at home. One night, he went out with friends and he never came home.”
Heero felt sympathy for the man, sensing his grief at the loss of his only child. “What happened?” he asked , aware that Duo was listening as closely as he was for the answer.
“It seems that Robbie ran with a fast crowd despite warnings from his mother and myself. The official police report said there was alcohol and barbiturates in his blood. He was obviously mentally and physically impaired when he was tried to outrun a freight train with his car that hadn’t been running well. There were six young people in the car that night and they all died instantly.”
Heero reached over and placed a sympathetic hand over the older man’s forearm that was resting on the table top. “I’m sorry, Frank.” The doctor nodded his head while his eyes remained focused on his bowl of soup.
Several moments of awkward silence followed. After Duo kick his leg to get his attention, Heero looked up to see his lover nodding towards their guest. Turning to look at Frank once again, he saw the older man’s hand gripping his spoon, his hand poised above the bowl of soup as if frozen in place. Not really knowing what else to say to ease the older man’s discomfort, he opted to change the subject. “I was wondering,” he began in a friendly manner, “would you like to help us train our dog?”
Frank lifted his head and his blue eyes began to light up again. “I’d love to,” he replied. “Being retired has left me with too much time on my hands. I keep busy with my yard and tinkering with gadgets in my basement, but it would be nice to have something to do that’s outside of my regular routine.”
Heero felt another booted kick from Duo. He ignored it as well as the deep scowl coming from the braided man’s direction, telling him he was not happy with the suggestion that Frank help them with the dog. Instead, he kept his eyes down and enjoyed the flavor-rich minestrone soup.
A moment passed before Frank came up with a new topic. “You fellas don’t drink or do drugs, do you?”
Frank’s casually asked but abrupt and personal question startled Duo, causing him to drop his spoon into his bowl, causing some of the broth to splash onto the table. He quickly took the paper napkin off his lap and began to clean it up.
“We have an occasional drink with friends when we’re together,” Heero answered, guardedly. “But no hard liquor.”
Duo looked suspiciously at the former doctor, but Heero could only detect honest concern from the man, probably due to how he lost his own son because of alcohol and drug abuse, and so he answered him. “Only those prescribed by a physician.”
The man’s graying eyebrows rose marginally. “You take regular medication?” he asked.
“Duo regularly needs Ibuprofen for pain from old wounds and takes special iron-fortified vitamin tablets daily. They compensate for his low iron levels caused by a lack of proper nutrition when he was younger.” Heero couldn’t help wincing at another strong kick to the same spot on his shin that Duo had hit twice before. He turned to receive the glare Duo was sending his way and sent one back.
“What’s the matter?” the doctor asked, noting the disapproving expression on both young men’s faces.
“Duo’s unhappy that I’ve given you some personal information about him,” Heero replied, then looked from his brooding lover to the older man, his shoulders slumping slightly. “And he’s right. Even though I believed it was acceptable because you’re a doctor, I should have asked his permission.” He turned back to the braided man, a sincerely apologetic expression on his face. “I’m sorry, Duo.”
“I see,” their neighbor said, turning his head to address the silent young man. “You can rest assured that your information is safe with me. You’re both so young that I was concerned you might fall into the same trap as many other young people do, like my son did. Forgive me if I’m too nosey, I’m an old man with few friends and nothing to look forward to other than a new episode of my favorite T.V. show and trying to meet interesting new people once in a while, just like yourself and Heero.” The sincerity of his words was evident on Frank’s face to both young men. Heero looked to Duo and saw his facial muscles relax fractionally. He could only hope that some of the distrust and dislike Duo usually felt for people outside their small circle of friends, and especially those he felt were intruding on his area of safety, would eventually recede. “I can only hope that one day you’ll learn to trust me,” the older man added.
Frank waited for the braided man to reply, but it soon became apparent that he was not going to say anything. “I suppose trust is something that is earned,” he said with an understanding smile aimed at Duo, “so I’ll try earning that from you by being a good neighbor.” He paused before he spoke again, carefully choosing his words as he continued to speak to the silent man. “I can sense that something traumatic has happened to you by your wariness and reticence. Of course, I know from the television and articles written who the two of you are, or rather, what you were during the war, and a little about what happened after the wars. I sense that you want your privacy and I can assure you that I’ll respect that. But I am aware and concerned that you never leave the house alone, Duo, and when you do venture out, you look as frightened as a mouse in a box filled with snakes. You certainly don’t have to tell me what happened, but I’d just like you to know that I’d like to help if I can.” He included Heero into that statement by a glance and a nod in his direction.
Duo swallowed nervously, his eyes shifting from the older man’s face to Heero’s. His lover was, in turn, watching him intently, waiting for his response. He swallowed the lump in his throat and finally worked up a response. “Thanks, Mr. McAdams. I appreciate it.” It was all he could manage to say, and it came out as little more than a whisper. He still wasn’t comfortable with the man being in his house, but neither was he as apprehensive as he’d been before their impromptu meal together.
Later that night as the two lovers crawled into their king-size bed, Heero pulled Duo into his arms and straight away kissed him soundly. As the kiss ended, he let his lips linger on Duo’s, wanting his lover to feel the smile he wore.
“What are you so happy about?” Duo questioned, his lips brushing softly against Heero’s as he spoke and his peppermint toothpaste breath mingled pleasantly with his lover’s.
“You took a big step today,” Heero replied, his tone of voice indicating he was very pleased.
“He’s kind of a sad old man, isn’t he?” Duo replied, knowing Heero was referring to his tolerating having Frank in the house and sharing a meal with him. He shifted his body slightly to snuggle against Heero’s side, his head resting on the strong, bare shoulder.
Heero nodded his head in an answer to his question. “It must be terrible to lose your son and then your wife.”
“He still creeps me out,” Duo confessed in a whisper. Heero merely rubbed his lover’s back, not too concerned about Duo’s feelings regarding Frank because he knew that just about everyone “creeped” Duo out.
The two of them lay content for several moments, their breathing the only sound in the room dimly lit by the nightlight on the far wall that kept some of the darkness of the night at bay. Duo’s brow furrowed as he felt a slight tenseness in his lover’s body and sensed a subtle shift in the atmosphere surrounding them. It was a definite clue that something was troubling the other man. Raising himself up to look down on Heero, he simply asked, “What?”
Heero responded to his question with a long, drawn-out sigh before he answered in a quiet, tentative voice. “Wufei told me Milliardo is still holding that job in the Preventers’ computer security division for me. He’s willing to let me ease into it, working part time and maybe even at home a couple of days a week.”
The room went silent again, but this time it was less comfortable than before. “Do you want to take it?” Duo asked, his face an unreadable mask. The two looked into each other’s eyes, shaded by the grayness of the room, weighing the decision that would once again change their lives.
“I think it might be the best solution for me going back to work,” Heero said. “We’ve already discussed this, and I would enjoy the challenge.”
Duo’s unwavering stare was becoming a bit unnerving, but Heero held off from saying anything else until his lover spoke first. After several long moments, he found himself disappointed when Duo merely lowered himself back down to rest at his side once again. “This job will make you happy?” The uncertainty in Duo’s voice tugged at his heart, and he knew it would be so easy to lie, to continue on as they had been just to make his lover happy, but he knew that in the long run the lie would catch up to them, hurting the both of them even more.
“I don’t want you to think I’m unhappy, Duo,” he answered. “I am happy here with you, but I know our lives could be so much more. Working will keep my mind active, I’ll be using my skills while helping the Preventers and meeting new people. I think it can only enrich what we’ve already got going here.”
Duo squeezed his eyes shut as he fought the many insecurities that had become a part of him since Heero had left him several years before. In the space of six months from that horrible day, when Heero had walked out of their apartment, he’d lost everything, his home, his self respect and freedom, his good name and his friends. He tried to reason with himself about the overwhelming fear he was feeling, telling himself that just because Heero wanted to be productive and leave the house for work didn’t mean he was being abandoned or cast off as unwanted. Heero loved him. He wanted him and had promised he would never, ever leave him. But sometimes his fears spoke louder than whispered promises and then his rational thinking flew right out the window.
Heero sensed that Duo was trying to deal with what he’d proposed, and even though he wanted to go back to work, he feared it was too soon to take this step to a more productive life. He suddenly regretted speaking up about it even though Wufei had assured him the time had come. “I’ll tell him no, not this time,” Heero decided out loud. “I just thought that with Frank next door and Mrs. Lunderson ready to step in that it might be a good time to try it out.”
Relief and guilt began to battle it out in Duo’s head and the debate continued over whether or not Heero would leave him if he held onto him too tightly. Just because he jumped at every shadow didn’t mean Heero should be sentenced to a life of perpetual babysitting. He knew his lover would eventually tire of the day-in and day-out routine and he’d grow bored and restless. Hell, didn’t he already tell him that he was? He didn’t doubt that the time would come when Heero’s patience would finally wear thin, that was when he feared the worst, that the promises Heero had given him, that he would never leave him, would dim and eventually be forgotten, and then he’d lose him forever.
“Stop it!” Heero said firmly, sensing what his lover was feeling just as Duo had earlier sensed his own hesitancy to broach the subject of the offered job. “I can feel you thinking negatively.”
If Heero knew him well enough to read his thoughts, Duo knew it was just a matter of time before he got tired of the predictable. “Take it,” he said firmly, almost desperately. He’d forced the words out of his mouth and felt Heero’s body stiffen next to him in reaction to their suddenness.
“You don’t mean that,” Heero said, dubious of Duo’s decision.
“I do mean it,” the braided man retorted. “You need to get out of this house and I need to get used to doing things for myself. As you said, I have Mrs. L, Sinjin and Dr. McAdams if I need any help.”
“He wants us to call him Frank,” Heero reminded him.
“F..f.rank,” Duo repeated the name with a stutter.
“Oh, that was real convincing,” Heero snorted derisively. “You can’t even say his damn name.”
“Give me a break,” Duo snapped back. “I’m trying, alright?” He shoved himself away from his lover’s warmth and moved to roll out of the bed, but Heero’s hands forestalled the movement as he grabbed hold of him before he could make good his escape.
“Duo, stay,” Heero said firmly.
“Now you’re commanding me like Sinjin!” the braided man snarled, still upset and struggling to break free of the hold on his body even as Heero drew him back into bed.
“No, Duo. Come on, don’t run away. We need to talk this out.”
“I told you to take the damn job, isn’t that enough for one night?” the braided man growled out between gritted teeth as a myriad of emotions rattled his mind and body. “Shit, Heero, I don’t have a lot to give any more, but dammit, I’m trying. Just take the job and be happy.”
“Shh..” Heero forcibly calmed himself, seeing his own tumultuous feelings weren’t helping the situation any. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I know how hard it was for you to have Frank in the house today and that we shared our meal with him, but you did it and I’m proud of you. I realized that for you to agree to me taking the job at Preventers is an enormous step for both of us. I just want you to be sure you’re ready and that you’re not agreeing to it for the wrong reasons.”
Duo struggled a little more, but with his back now pressed against Heero’s chest and encircled by his strong arms that weren’t giving him any escape route, he knew he wouldn’t be getting out of the situation. Seeing the futility of his efforts to get away, he finally let himself go limp, suddenly exhausted from the day’s events that had been emotionally taxing.
Feeling his lover’s capitulation, Heero whispered into his ear. “Do you want to talk about this now?”
“I’m tired,” Duo replied rather petulantly, his rapidly beating heart telling him that even though he spoke the truth, he wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon.
“Duo.” Heero’s voice sounded frustrated.
“I’ve said all I can for tonight. Good night, Heero.” With that said, Duo closed himself down, emotionally and physically.
There were no further words spoken or even a kiss shared between the two as they silently called it a day, still locked in place with Heero’s restraining hold keeping his lover’s body pressed against his own.
Duo eventually calmed and his heartbeat and breathing slowed. After an hour had passed from when they’d had their heated words, he sensed his lover had finally gone to sleep and his arms had gone slack. He carefully eased himself out of the other’s embrace and crept out of the bed and room to make his way downstairs. He opened the laundry room door and turned on the light. The gray Cairn Terrier lifted his head from off the pile of freshly laundered clothes that he’d somehow managed to knock down from the top of the dryer, his own bed abandoned in the corner of the small room. It seemed an impossible task for the short dog to get to the folded clean clothes from such a height, but at the moment Duo really didn’t care how he’d accomplished it. He picked his dog up from his self-made bed and cradled him in his arms, kissing the spot between the two pointed ears. Turning out the light, he left the clothes on the floor and made his way back up to the bedroom. He climbed into the bed as silently as he’d left it, but this time he held his furry pet against his chest and shied away from Heero’s warmth, telling himself that he’d better get used to being without it and the constant comfort he got from being close to the other man because, whether he liked it or not, Heero was going back to work.
Heero woke the next morning a little later than usual. He was facing the bedside table and read with slightly blurry eyes that it was eight fifteen. Before he even moved, he recalled the unsettling way he and Duo had left things before they’d gone to sleep. He knew why Duo had given into his desire to go back to work, they talked about it on several occasions. He supposed the reality of it was harder to swallow than when they’d just put it out for discussion. He wondered again if he was making the right decision. After he’d been given another chance at a life with Duo, he’d sworn to himself, as well as to Duo and their friends, that he would devote the rest of his life to his lover who had suffered so much because of him. His heart hadn’t changed, nor had he any desire to renege on the vows he and Duo had made to each other when they became legal partners. It was just that he felt so under utilized. He’d gone from fighting a war in the gundams to working alongside Duo as he built his business on L-2. Then because of Relena’s blackmail, he’d left Duo behind and reluctantly became her efficient bodyguard and head of security. He hated every minute he’d spent with her, but he’d managed to find some measurement of escape and fulfillment in his demanding job as head of her security. He felt guilty even thinking that he missed the challenge of that particular occupation he’d been given while under Relena’s thumb.
Since Relena’s assassination, he’d been by Duo’s side, helping to ease the traumatized man back into a world that seemed to harbor countless fears to him, real and imagined. It was probably inevitable that his daily chores and rarely varying routine would become monotonous and tedious. He was bored from the lack of stimulating activity. Just the thought of going back to work, for the Preventers in a challenging job, excited him. He wanted it badly but, at the same time, he was hesitant to leave his lover alone all day. Though Duo was trying, his recent nightmares and latest episode seemed to be telling him that his lover just wasn’t ready to make the transition to being more independent. The timing was off, he decided. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew that now wasn’t the time. He was ready to move into something more challenging, back into the world, but it was fairly obvious that Duo wasn’t ready at all.
With a heavy sigh of resignation, he rolled onto his back and kept turning to his other side to tell Duo of his decision. He blinked in surprise to find that other side of the bed was empty. “Dammit,” he swore as he tossed back the blankets and hopped out of bed. Dressed only in his boxers, he quickly walked from the bedroom and checked the bathroom. Seeing that Duo wasn’t there, he turned to leave the second floor.
Proceeding down the stairs, he walked through the house, first the living room and then the dining room, his sense of worry beginning to take rise at the continued stillness within the house. Once in the kitchen, he noted with relief that a lone box of cereal sat on the table. It was a sign that Duo was around somewhere. He picked it up, noting unhappily that it was a box of Sugar Puffs, a poor excuse for a morning meal but Duo’s favorite, and as he shook it, he realized it was empty. He was certain the he hadn’t purchased that brand of cereal and thought seriously about sitting down in the near future and having a stern talk with Quatre about Duo’s need for proper nutrition. Even with that intention, he could see in his mind the gently disagreeing blond saying that Duo deserved a treat once in a while. He wasn’t sure how Quatre snuck the forbidden cereal into the house on a regular basis, or the other treats that lacked any substantial nutrients, but he had plenty of evidence that he did from all the empty boxes and wrappers Duo carelessly left behind after he finished eating the forbidden treats.
He thought for a moment about having his own breakfast but decided he’d better find his missing lover first. “Duo?” he called out, his voice echoing through the quiet house. He frowned when there was no answer. Moving to the back door of the house he flung it open before stepping out onto the back porch and scanned the fenced-in area. A recognizable bark came from behind the tall hydrangeas. “Duo, are you out here?” he called out again. A moment later, the small wiry dog came flying out of the greenery, his eyes bright and tail wagging. He ran to Heero’s side and jumped up and down on his hind legs, happily begging for attention while getting dirt on his second master’s bare legs.
Just as he was about to call out again, Duo stepped out from the greenery, his face set in a neutral expression, giving nothing away of what he was feeling.
“Don’t scare me like that!” Heero said, bristling with anger while feeling relieved.
“Where did you think I’d gone?” Duo asked a bit exasperated, his messy-haired head canting to the side as his hands splayed over his sweat-pants covered hip bones.
Heero blinked. “I don’t know, but...”
“Heero,” Duo interrupted him. “You need to relax. How are you ever going to go back to work if you can’t deal with me being out of your sight?”
He’s right, Heero thought, and an amused smile grew on his face, answered by one of Duo’s own. He stepped off the porch and said, “Come here.” He opened his arms and Duo promptly walked the distance that separated them and right into his embrace, their lips meeting for their morning kiss. Heero noted the sweet taste of his lover’s mouth, a reminder of his unhealthy breakfast. The kiss ended when Duo suddenly stepped back a moment later.
“Hey, wait a minute,” he said, a forced frown on his face. “I’m still upset with you about letting Frank in yesterday and telling him about me.” With that said, he brushed past his slightly confused lover and went into the house, the little dog happily tagging along at his heels.
A slow grin grew on Heero’s face as he watched Duo’s departure. His lover always held onto his anger longer than he should, but the kiss was a good indication that he was really having to work at keeping it going. He knew Duo wasn’t still upset about Frank’s impromptu visit, but it was a good screen for the I’ve-got-a-job bomb he’d dropped on him last night. Without a doubt, he knew that was the real reason Duo was upset. He returned to the house and had a quick shower and dressed, then made his way back to the kitchen to fix his own breakfast. He decided to fix himself scrambled eggs with green onion and cheese. Just as his toast popped up from the toaster, Duo re-entered the kitchen and sat at the table in his usual chair and waited for him to finish buttering his toast.
Heero ignored it when one of several pieces of toast quickly disappeared from off his plate. He’d expected it, after all, as his lover made a regular practice of sneaking one from him when they breakfasted together, claiming his toast was the best ever. After taking several bites of his eggs, he looked up to see Duo’s full attention was focused on him, a serious expression on his face. “I want you to take the job,” he said in a strong and steady voice. Heero wondered how many times the other man had practiced saying those words until they came out as smoothly as they had.
“I don’t think you’re ready.”
“But you are,” Duo stated firmly. “We’ll never know what I’m up to until we try, will we?” he said with a stubborn tilt of his chin. “How about a trial run? If it doesn’t work, we’ll try again after a month or two.”
Heero’s initial reaction was to jump at the suggestion, but he wanted to be sure this decision was made jointly. He reached out and took hold of Duo’s hand as it rested on the top of the table, the slender fingers were cool to the touch. He brought the hand now secured in his own to his lips and kissed the top of it. “I appreciate you’re willing to try, Duo, but are you sure you’re ready for this? There’s no reason to rush into this. I don’t want to do this now if it causes you any added anxiety or fear. What happened to you when I was away at the memorial wasn’t the best indicator that you’re ready to be left alone yet.”
Duo shrugged and pulled his hand from Heero’s light grip. “I’m pretty sure I can handle a few hours every morning to start with. I’ll just take it slow and not try any daring stunts like walking across the street.” He managed a smile at his lame attempt to make light of his debilitating fear of venturing out of the house by himself, but it was strained. Even his poor attempt to smile faded as he took on a pleading expression. “I think we need to try this, Heero. How will I ever get any better if I’ve got you to hold my hand all the time. I... I think I need for us to do this.”
Heero studied his lover’s face, noting for a brief moment how incredibly handsome he was and how fortunate he was to have his love. “You’re sure?” Duo nodded, his eyes never leaving his face. “Alright. We’ll give it a try,” Heero capitulated, and though some part of him was mentally cheering, guilt popped up to make it quiet down. “But only with the condition that if either one of us decides it’s too soon, I’ll quit my job and there will be no argument about it.”
A small, shaky smile grew on Duo’s face. “That settles it then,” he said.
At Duo’s urging, Heero called Wufei and he in turn arranged for a preliminary interview for him at the local Preventers Headquarters. It was, of course, a perfunctory meeting as Heero was hired before he even entered the building, his reputation preceding him like a red carpet.
After a lot of talking, it was agreed that Heero would start out slow, working from eight a.m until noon, Monday through Friday, and he delayed the start of his new job until the next Monday in order to ease both Duo and himself into the idea of being separated for those few hours each day.
On to Chapter seven