The C.E.O. of the Winner Conglomerate woke slowly to the feeling of gentle fingers threading softly through his hair. A smile graced his lips as he took in the scent and warmth of the love of his life laying beneath him. Exhaling contentedly, a sleepy grin formed on his lips and he slowly opened his eyes. The sight before him was not what he'd expected. Surprised, his body jerked slightly and he emitted a small gasp accompanying the involuntary movement.
"What?" Trowa gave a startled, sleepy reply as he woke from the sudden movement of his lover.
Quatre's eyes widened, suddenly no longer feeling sleepy; for less than a foot away from him was a thin, heart-shaped face surrounded by sleep-mussed, shoulder length hair. Though he had changed, Quatre easily recognized the person kneeling next to the couch and the wide blue/violet eyes that studied him with a serious intent.
"Morning, Duo." Quatre said quietly with a nervous smile.
Slowly Duo's eyes moved past him in search of Trowa face.
The arm previously wrapped around the blond now reached out to gently touch the side of Duo's head. "It's alright, Duo." Trowa assured the other warmly. "Quatre came to see how you're doing. Is that alright with you?"
The Arabian held his breath as he waited for Duo's answer, and sensed that Trowa was, too.
Several times the long and thick lashed eyes shifted back and forth between the two men laying pressed together on the couch. There seemed to be no nod or shake of the head was forthcoming from Duo. Sensing the silent young man needed more from him, Quatre slowly and carefully eased himself off both Trowa and the couch to kneel next to the person who had once been his best friend.
"Duo." he began, and his voice trembled as his eyes took in the fragile-looking body not completely disguised under the large tee-shirt and boxers he wore. He also noticed the blue quilted blanket Duo clutched to his chest with very thin arms. "I am so sorry." Quatre continued emphatically appealing to his former friend. "I swear to you by Allah's name that I didn't have anything to do with your arrest. And I'm sorry that I didn't do more to help you." The light blue eyes easily displayed the misery the blond felt. "I....I was persuaded by my family and their idea of honor to let the courts seek out the truth of the theft, whether you were guilty or not. My sisters didn't really try to talk me into believing you'd stolen from me, but hammered home the fact that I couldn't possibly believe one of my family would do anything to harm my friend. I was told that if I tried to help you legally, it would do just that. I would be choosing your word over their's, and that act would be dishonorable to the family and jeopardize my relationship with my sisters. I was weak, Duo." he confessed, humbly contrite. "But after the war and losing my father and Irea, I.... just couldn't do that." He wanted to reach out and touch his friend, to show his sincerity, but fear of Duo's total rejection held him back, so he continued talking, watching his friend's reaction. "And I'm so sorry Duo for what happened to you. If I'd known, I would have tried to do something. But no one knew, and I'm afraid at least one of my sisters may have had a great deal to do with your suffering." He bent himself over to bow down over his knees in front of his friend in an attitude of humility as practiced his religion. "I beg your forgiveness Duo for not being a good enough friend to have faith in your word, and to have been jealous of you. I should have done more to save you from what's happened." He stayed there, bent in half, his face to the floor and waited for a sign from Duo that he'd been forgiven. He silently prayed for it as several minutes passed without sound or movement.
Then it was there, a soft touch to his hair, and slowly, Duo's fingers touched a little more and combed through the blond, baby-fine hair. Taking that as his cue, Quatre slowly raised himself up, his eyes searching out Duo's reaction as he straightened to come face to face with his friend once again. A single tear fell from the corner of Duo's right eye as their eyes met, and slowly the teardrop coursed down his cheek to linger on his jaw before it paused to gather more moisture before dropping onto his shoulder. Then a thin, delicate-looking hand reached up and took hold of Quatre's shirt and fisted it tightly.
"You're accepted, Quatre." Trowa said softly as blue eyes met green. They both could read the look of relief on each other's face. Trowa had clearly been worried too.
Bringing his attention back to the person before him, Quatre smiled in gratitude. "Thank you, Duo. And I promise you'll never have to doubt my friendship again."
The long haired young man nodded, his blanket still clutched to his chest.
"May I....hug you?" the blond asked, aware of Trowa's approving gaze.
A slow nod gave him the permission he sought and needed.
Carefully, and with an over exaggerated slowness, the Winner heir raised his arms and leaned forward, closing the distance between them as his arms gently pressed the two of them together. Duo's head came to rest on his shoulder as he hugged him close, mentally wishing his love for his friend to be transferred to him by the simple heartfelt embrace. With Duo resting in his arms, Quatre felt just how slight of body mass Duo was and was reminded of Trowa telling him of the sorry state he'd found him in. With that image and the knowledge of the many levels of betrayal his friend had endured, he gave into his torrent of emotions. He lowered his head to rest against the soft chestnut hair and shed silent tears for his friend and regrets for past misdeeds.
The two knelt there for what seemed an endless time, and broke apart only when an alarmed voice rang through the house. "Duo!"
Wufei came running out of Trowa's room and ran to the rooms upstairs, his panicked footfalls audible from downstairs.
Quatre pulled back and wiped the tears from his eyes, noticing Duo's hand was still firmly gripping his shirt.
"He's here, Wufei." Trowa called out towards the stairs.
The Chinese man rushed to the stairwell and was half way down when his eyes lit on the scene before him.
"That scared me to death." he said in obvious relief.
"Duo's never left the room without me before." Trowa explained aside to the blond.
Mrs. L. then appeared at the top of the stairs. "What's the matter?" she asked, obviously alarmed by Wufei's shout.
"Everything's alright, Mrs. L." Wufei turned to reassure her. "I'm sorry, I probably frightened you." he continued. "Duo wasn't in bed when I woke up and I thought he might have wandered off."
Mrs. L. leaned over the banister and peered down into the living room. "Is our dear boy alright?" she asked, squinting to see who was in the lower room.
"He's fine." Trowa called. "Quatre came during the night and they're just getting re-acquainted."
The elderly lady paused to finish snapping together her housecoat and raked her hand over her white hair. "Well, I think I should get some breakfast started then." she declared taking hold of the banister and moving past Wufei. He quickly turned, took hold of her other arm and assisted her to the lower landing.
"Good morning Mr. Quatre." she smiled shyly. Since meeting the famous billionaire, Quatre Winner, the old woman turned shy and overly polite in his presence.
"Just Quatre, Mrs. L." he reminded her again with his most charming smile greeting her.
She smiled happily as she approached them and stopped next to Duo, still kneeling on the floor. "Come here, sweet one." she beckoned to him to rise.
Duo rose to his feet awkwardly and turned to face her. Mrs. L's wise and aged eyes sparkled with genuine fondness for him as she warmly embraced him, giving Duo a motherly squeeze for good measure. "Good morning, dear." she said cheerily. When she pulled back a moment later, she took his face between her hands and turning his face from side to side, kissed both of his cheeks. She dropped her hands, then stood still, a smile on her face as Duo reached up with both of his hands and repeated the gesture of affection to her.
"Hungry?" she asked him.
A nod was his reply.
"That's good." she grinned affectionately at him. "You need to eat more; get some meat on those skinny bones. And after what happened last evening, you are going to get a wonderful breakfast."
She patted his cheek and turned, making her way to the kitchen that would in minutes have the wonderful smell of their breakfast filling the air.
"Hey, how come only Duo gets that kind of a greeting in the morning?" Quatre asked with a grin.
Duo turned to him with a slight smile on his face.
"Because he's her new favorite." Wufei suggested with a teasing wink to his silent friend.
Quatre turned to look at Trowa. "So what's this that happened last evening that's worth celebrating?" he asked, not wanting to miss out on anything the three other former pilots had been doing. He sat on the couch as Wufei repeated with obvious pleasure the practical joke Duo had played on him.
"And then, he laughed.....out loud." Trowa interjected. "That's the first sound I've heard from him since we've been reunited. It was wonderful, wasn't it Wufei?" he looked to his Chinese friend for confirmation.
"Yes." Wufei answered softly, a gentle smile of fondness was on his face as he gazed at Duo.
Quatre stared stupefied at his Chinese friend. In the last five minutes he'd seen more emotion from Wufei than he'd seem during their entire time together in the wars. He'd changed from being angry, vengeful and sometimes lost teen to a man with a definite softness in his manner; he saw a person who cared and showed love for his friend. Quatre smiled to himself in reflection. Duo always did have an effect on them, and proved to still be capable of drawing those feelings from the rest of them, even in utter silence.
"Ready for your shower, Duo?" Trowa's voice broke him from his reverie.
"Well, lets go before Mrs. L. is done, then breakfast will be cold." he added lightly as he stood.
With his small blanket still clenched to his chest, Duo grabbed hold of Trowa's tee-shirt and doggedly followed Trowa's lead as they made their way back up the stairs.
Concerned blue eyes turned to Wufei, now sitting in the rocking chair. "Is Duo always that compliant?" he asked.
"So far, yes." Wufei replied. "We've pretty much had to protect him from whatever might cause him to fear, which means just about everything and anyone he doesn't know. He's afraid of crowds, especially men, loud voices, sudden movements, and of uncertain situations. He's wearing our shirts out." he said with a smile growing at the last statement. "But now I see there will be one more person he can grab onto."
"How did you become so involved Wufei?" Quatre asked, folding up the afghan blanket with care, then sitting back down on the couch. "You and Duo didn't seem to be very close after the war. How did you come to be staying here?"
"Trowa asked me to pick him and a guest up at the airport." he paused, frowning at the memory. "When I recognized the frail, sleeping figure in the wheelchair to be Duo, ...." he paused to swallow hard. "my heart felt as if it were stone. I knew then that I'd let a comrade, a friend down. After Trowa told me of Duo's past two years, I vowed to myself that I'd never allow harm to come to him again. I've taken a leave of absence from the Preventers and Trowa has also. Duo needs us right now more than any job waiting on our desks. I haven't been much of a friend to Duo in the past, but I'm out to prove my friendship to him now."
Quatre nodded his head, his eyes filled with emotion. "I too have not done my best by Duo." he closed his eyes, shamed from the feeling those words evoked in him. "But I pledge to you, Trowa and Duo that I will no longer be found guilty of neglect again." He paused as he collected himself, then opened his eyes with a look of determination set on his handsome face. "I'll do whatever I can to help him," he said firmly. "be it financial, emotional, or by deed. I'll prove to Duo once more that I am his friend."
Wufei nodded in approval to his friend's vow. His gaze wandered to the stairs, thinking of said friend. "He's going to need corrective surgery on his left arm and his right leg, and definitely a therapist to help him deal with what he's endured.
"I'll find him the best doctors." Quatre vowed.
Slowly dark eyes turned to focus on the blond. "I don't know if Duo will ever return to be the person we knew, Quatre." he said softly in a tone of worry. "We may end up taking care of him for the rest of his life."
Wufei's words, though hovering in the back of his mind since seeing Duo's condition, had a greater impact when said out loud. The Arabian's face crumbled and he lowered his face into his hands. "Oh Allah," he quietly moaned. "My family is responsible for this." he rocked back and forth a few moments, silently grieving for his friend and the loss of honor caused by one or more his sisters' ill deeds. He then slowly raised his red, puffy eyes up, showing determination. "I'll take financial responsibility for Duo, even if it's for the rest of his life. He'll want for nothing."
Wufei nodded again, accepting the other's vow. "What he needs right now is our patience, kindness and security. Since influential people had the power to harm him, it's imperative we keep his location and situation from them." he told the other, his penetrating and knowing gaze clearly sent the message to Quatre.
"Neither Rennanda, my sisters, nor Heero or Relena will learn of this from me. Though I do want to confront my sister with her letter. But how do I do that without alerting her to the knowledge I have of Duo's release, his files and the letters being used against him on PC.4?"
"You're the strategist, Quatre." Wufei observed dryly. "I'm sure you'll come up with something simple and brilliant as always." He stood from his chair. "I'm going to dress. You can use the downstairs restroom to freshen up if you wish."
"Thanks." Quatre said as he stood. "See you in the kitchen."
Throughout the day, the former Sandrock pilot observed Duo and the rest of the household interacting with him. His heart was touched by Duo's vulnerability and how the older woman and two former soldiers displayed such gentleness, consideration and love for the silent one with the constant look of hesitation in his eyes.
As they sat in the garden that afternoon enjoying the fruits, or flowers in this case, of Mrs. Lunderson's obvious green thumb, Quatre came up with a suggestion. "Why don't I take everyone out for dinner tonight, give Mrs. L. a break from cooking?" he smiled invitingly at all of them. "I've know where there's a great new Italian restaurant near my hotel. It's a five star with great reviews. There's a three month waiting list," He told them. "but I'm sure I can get us in tonight because the owner is a friend of mine."
"I don't think Duo's up to going out in public yet." Wufei answered and smiled at Duo reassuringly as he turned his head at hearing his name. Mrs. L. had given him the chore of watering her many plants and he seemed to enjoy the task. "But why don't you take Trowa out." he suggested, knowing his two friends probably needed some time alone after being apart for several weeks. "He's been at Duo's side for the past several weeks." He looked at the auburn haired young man. "You could use a break."
"No, I don't think I should." Trowa replied, a look of worry on his face.
"Mrs. L. and I can certainly keep an eye on Duo for a couple of hours." Wufei insisted. "I'll even take him to bed with me if you're late."
"Please Trowa." Quatre put on his best puppy eyes, and looked pleadingly up at his lover.
Obviously still concerned, green eyes lifted to watch the young man happily watering the plants as Mrs. L. stood by like a mother hen, telling Duo all the names of her plants as they were watered.
"Let me ask Duo," he said without taking his eyes off the person in question. "If he's okay with it, then I'll go." he said.
Quatre tried to hide the flicker of hurt he felt, but failed miserably as Trowa took hold of his face and tilted it up so their eyes met. "There's nothing I want more than to be with you, Quatre." he said softly, aware of Wufei turning his head away from them. "But Duo is beginning to trust us again, and we owe him, all of us owe him. If he needs me to stay, I'll stay." His eyes searched Quatre's, hoping for understanding. "I need you to understand, Quatre, that I love you more than my life, but I love Duo as a little brother who has been badly hurt, betrayed, and is so fragile and vulnerable. I've devoted the last two years of my life to freeing him from the Penal Colony, and if I have to, I'll devote the rest of my life to seeing that he finds happiness again."
He reached over and gently kissed the lips he always hungered for, then rested his forehead against his lover's and closed his eyes, forcing himself to go on. "I guess you need to decide if you can live with that or not. If you can't, I'll understand, and if you need me to let you go, I will, even though the thought of it rips my heart out."
He felt Quatre's arms come around his neck and his lips pressed deeply onto his own in a desperate kiss. Quatre broke it, and his voice came out in a whispered gasp. Trowa looked up to see tears flowing over the corner of his lover's eyes. "Never, Trowa. I love and need you more than the air on my colony." He took in a shuddering breath. "I've decided to take a leave from the corporation and my family. I know now you were right to fear for your safety as well as Duo's, and I promise to find out who did this, starting with Rennanda. I understand," he continued, "how you feel about Duo, I do, too. In fact, my debt to him is even greater because of the betrayal he received from me and mine. Will you let me help care for him, along with Mrs. L. and Wufei? Can you trust me again?" the blue eyes and soft voice implored.
Trowa drew the smaller, emotional man into his arms, his heart and eyes brimming with happiness. "I've always trusted you Quatre. I gave you my heart, didn't I?"
He felt the head on his shoulder nod. "And you have always had mine." came the emotional whisper.
"Fellas?" Wufei's voice called out a bit sharply, bringing the two back to an awareness of their surroundings. They sat up, and separated and turned to see Duo standing next to them, a look of worry on his face.
"It's okay, Duo." Quatre turned watery eyes and a smile on his silent friend. "We're just happy because I'm going to move Earthside and become a suburbanite."
Wufei, standing off to the side, snorted his amusement at the comment.
Trowa reached out and took hold of Duo's hand, the one clutching his miniature quilt. "Duo," he began, looking at his friend's face for his reaction. "Quatre wants me to go out with him for a little while tonight. Would that be alright with you?"
Duo's eyes shifted between the two faces looking up at him expectantly.
"I'll be here as well as Mrs. L." Wufei chimed in with his usual perfect timing. "We'll watch some t.v., have popcorn and root beer floats." he added a little incentive the their long haired friend.
Duo's eyes turned to him and a small smile graced his lips showing he liked the idea.
"Would it be alright Duo?" Quatre asked, hoping he didn't sound too much like begging. The restaurant was only six doors down from his hotel, and maybe after...., his mind wandered down a very pleasant corridor. It had been too long since they'd held each other.
Duo looked away from Wufei to Quatre then nodded his head.
The blond immediately shot to his feet and embraced the smaller brunet. "Thank you, Duo. I'll be sure to bring you home a special treat, okay?"
Duo smiled and Quatre excused himself to rush into the house to get a reservation.
They all watched him go with amusement on their faces. "Hum, seems a bit anxious to me." Wufei observed with a knowing look. "Wonder why that is?" he teased the auburn haired friend.
"I think he really likes Italian food." Trowa chuckled, knowing
no one believed that was the real reason for even a moment.
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