Once upstairs and secured in the bathroom, Trowa helped his embarrassed friend out of his wet flannel pajama bottoms, boxers and t-shirt, then put a plastic cap over the burnished brown hair to keep Duo's shoulder length mass dry and led him into the shower. He then turned to the task of rinsing out the wet clothing in the wash basin, telling his friend in soothing tones that it wasn't his fault, but his own. He explained calmly that he knew loud voices and fighting would upset him, he'd just forgotten in the heat of the moment. Leaving the bathroom with a promise to return momentarily, Trowa went to Duo's room and retrieved another set of bed clothes and quickly returned, noting the sound of low speaking voices coming from downstairs just before he re-entered the steaming room and sat on the seat of the closed toilet lid.
From the silhouette behind the frosted glass, he could see Duo was sitting on the floor of the bathtub letting the spray of the shower rain down on him. After a few more minutes he decided to bring the shower to a quicker end. From past experience he knew Duo would stay in there for an hour if given the opportunity, and it was too late to indulge him tonight. "Come on Duo, you need to hurry up. It's really late and we need to get to bed." The long haired young man sat still, and Trowa sensed he was embarrassed from his show of incontinence downstairs as a result of their fighting. Trowa again berated himself for forgetting. No more fighting, he determined. They'd deal with Heero away from the house and from Duo. If he had to, he'd get a legal restraining order against he and Relena to keep them away from him.
Five more minutes passed before the huddled figure in the bathtub moved just slightly as he stretched his hand out for the bar of soap. Trowa sighed, and looking at his watch decided he'd give him ten more minutes.
At the end of that time, he stood up and with a large bath towel in hand and turned towards the shower. "Okay, Duo. Time's up." he announced, and the bather reached forward and turned off the water and stood while Trowa slid the glass door open and surrounded the too slender body with the soft, plush towel that had a faint floral scent from the fabric softener Mrs. L. favored.
Once out of the bathtub, Duo stood still, eyes focused on the picture on the wall opposite him of flowers in a vase as Trowa patted his body down with the towel, then held out his fresh boxers and night wear. Once he was dressed and the shower cap removed, Trowa looked at him satisfied. Duo's eyes shifted towards the door.
"Ready to go to bed?" he guessed the other's silent gesture.
Duo huffed and narrowed his eyes, obviously a bit exasperated and stared back at the door again.
"I wish you would speak to me and tell me what you want." Trowa replied calmly, but feeling a bit frustrated himself at their continued struggle to communicate. Reminding himself to be patient, he managed a slight smile and took hold of Duo's elbow. "Come on," he said and led him out of the room.
Once out of the steaming room and standing in the darker hallway, he stopped and looked at his friend once again. "Which room, yours or mine?"
A slender hand indicated Trowa's room a bit further down the hallway and close to the stairs. The auburn haired young man nodded to Duo's request and they moved towards their destination. Their progress was halted when his companion stopped abruptly, and turning to see what was the matter, he observed Duo looking towards the stairs from which they could still hear the murmur of voices.
"Not tonight Duo. We'll deal with what happened tomorrow." He told him, and reluctantly the chestnut haired young man allowed himself to be led into the bedroom and quickly put under the bedcovers. Trowa, still fully dressed, kicked off his shoes, removed his belt and jacket, and climbed in with him, holding his arms out as an invitation. Duo readily accepted and put his head on Trowa's shoulder as he nestled securely against his friend's side.
A yawn, a sigh, and the body next to the taller of the two stilled as sleep overcame him. Trowa wanted more then anything to go down and throttle Heero, but Duo came first, as he had firmly determined to himself, and until he was strong enough to fend for himself, he would be his top priority from now on. He tried to dispel the former Wing pilot from his mind so he'd calm down himself, knowing Duo would hear his heart pounding with anger in his chest. He forced this thoughts away from the altercation downstairs and let it begin to wander as he forced himself to think of something more pleasant to calm his ire. He thought of the evening out with Quatre and a smile came to his face. He sighed as he remembered touching and being touched by his lover and how they'd spent the time in his hotel room on the king-sized bed between satiny sheets.
His pleasant thoughts began to take him down the path of sleep when he jerked awake as Duo let out a large sigh, and in a hoarse, strangled voice he didn't recognize, Duo whispered with longing the name "Heero."
A quarter hour later the former Heavyarms pilot crept silently from the bedroom, confident that the person he'd just left in his bed was sound asleep. He quietly descended the stairs and, as the living room came into view, he was surprised once again to see Heero, still there, but with Wufei was sitting unusually close to him and Quatre on the other side of the Japanese man, his arm draped in a consoling manner over Heero's shoulder. Heero's head was bowed, and as he reached the lower landing, he could see that he was studying a set of pictures in his hand. Even from that distance separating them Trowa knew the pictures were the ones he'd taken of Duo in the prison, standing against the wall naked, looking lost, abused and covered in fecal matter in order to fend everyone off.
"It was even worse in person." he said as he approached the three. He felt a slight sense of satisfaction as Heero's head shot up, turned to him, and his horrified eyes spoke of his inner torment. A few moments passed as Heero continued to stare at him, seemingly unable to speak until he at last he said, "Does he hate me?"
Trowa regarded the Japanese man before him. How he wanted to answer yes, confirming that Duo justly hated him. But even he, who held his former comrade in the lowest esteem at the moment, could read the soul-wrenching anguish on his former comrade's face, and knew that in acting on Duo's behalf, he couldn't lie.
He shook his head and moved to sit in the chair nearest Quatre's position on the couch. "Not that I know of. But we've gone to great pains trying not to mention anything about you to him."
"Where is he now?" Heero asked, looking towards the stairs.
"Sleeping " Trowa answered as he sat straight backed. "Loud voices and fighting upset him. We need to keep our voices down, and there will be no more fighting in his presence." he warned, and received a nod of agreement from the other three. "Now, what have I missed and why is Heero still here?"
Wufei calmly and succinctly reported Heero's earlier statement. The auburn haired man's green eyes shifted between the three, trying to determine the reaction of each to the Chinese man's report.
As Wufei finished, Trowa looked with intense worry to Heero. "If you're here, will you lead Relena and her goons to Duo?"
Heero shook his head. "She knows I came here to settle the problem between us at the restaurant." Then in a more snide tone he added. "I have her permission to stay until I make things right. She can't afford a rift between such important allies as Quatre and two of the Preventer's best.
"It makes me wonder if our lives have been manipulated by Relena's strings of power." Quatre wondered out loud, a crease of worry forming between his pale eyebrows.
Heero was quick to answer. "Probably not as much as you fear, but more than you know."
Wufei resettled himself to the edge of his seat. "You say you're unable to get to any information?" he asked and Heero nodded.
"No computers or untapped phones are available to me within the palace."
He tried again. "Any chance you've been able to figure out her contacts in the Preventers?"
"I have my suspicions, some of those that are sent to watch me." Heero answered. "But without a computer and with the tight surveillance I have no proof and I can't afford to have any suspicions leveled on me."
"She doesn't have Duo under her thumb any longer Heero." Quatre reminded him.
"But if she goes to take my ill behavior out on him and find him gone....." he shook his head. "I just don't want to her to set her sights or anger on him ever again. He's suffered enough."
Wufei and Trowa exchanged a meaningful glance. "Heero," Trowa leaned forward in his chair, his forearms balancing him on his knees. "My first priority is to keep Duo safe, and that means from Relena. I told the prison warden that Duo's case was under investigation and he was not to give out any information, especially the news that Duo had met parole and was gone from that place."
"I agree with you." Heero nodded, his face a mask of seriousness. "We need to keep his presence here a secret at all costs." He looked at his friends, his face showing the strain his forced life had put on him. "Now that he's away from her influence, do you think there's a chance I can leave her, the palace, and that way of life and return to Duo?"
Wufei was the one to speak up with his usual logic. "Then what is going to stop her from doing to you or anyone of us what she's done in the past? She has proven to be dedicated to her goals and tenacious at getting what she wants."
Quatre nodded. "We need you in place to give us time in order to expose her for her abuse of power and end what she has been doing."
The brief flicker of hope in Heero's eyes faded and he put his aching head into his hands. "How much longer?" he asked. "You have no idea how cruel it is to almost see a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel and then have to be told you can't go forward."
"Heero." Quatre's voice was filled with empathy as he put a reassuring hand on the Japanese man's shoulder. "We understand. But you and Trowa have sacrificed for over two years for Duo. If you can hold on just a little longer, we can insure she can never harm him or any of us ever again. Then you'll truly be free of her."
"Just don't openly defy her, at least not yet." Wufei cautioned. "She might just make a move to hurt Duo and discover he's gone. If she does, it won't take long for her to put two and two together to discover where he's gone to."
"We need an alternative place to keep him if it comes to that." Heero suggested
"We?" Trowa asked with a deep frown. "When did "we" come into this."
Heero moved to speak, but Quatre interrupted. "He's been a victim to Relena just as much as Duo in this, Trowa." he calmly told his lover. "Of course it's "we". If Heero is willing to go back and work towards ending any further misuse of power by Relena, then we'll stand close by to support him."
"And I still love him." Heero interjected quietly. "I've done all that I have because I was trying to protect him. The time that's passed has done nothing to diminish what I feel for Duo."
"But it might have changed for Duo." Wufei added in a somber tone and looked at his former teammate. "He is changed, Heero. He's been frightened, and traumatized. He's no longer Shinigami, the warrior that terrified OZ at the sound of his name or sight of his gundam. He's now an abused and badly neglected soul who needs protection and care because he's unable to do it himself."
"When I'm free of her," Heero looked steadfastly at the Chinese Preventer. "I'm going back to him. I'll protect him and take care of him, if he'll have me."
"That's a big if, Heero." Trowa replied in a disdainful voice. "He might not want anything to do with you for all that he's suffered as a result of your decisions."
Several moments of heavy silence filled the living room. "Will you give me a chance to at least explain my actions to him, then let him decide?" Heero's eyes looked to Trowa, his whole manner and bearing was that of a man pleading for the second chance he was asking for.
The former Heavyarms pilot closed his eyes as he thought about Heero's request. Though he debated the merits of introducing Heero back into Duo's shattered life, the last few moments he'd spent with the American upstairs came back to haunt him.
"Duo said his first word tonight." he announced quietly and immediately Wufei and Quatre looked up in surprise and smiled. "As he fell to sleep a little while ago, he whispered in a horribly tortured voice your name Heero." The former Wing pilot's eyes suddenly lit with a spark of hope again. "His voice was hardly recognizable." Trowa continued. "But there was longing in his voice that I can't deny. I suppose it's only fair he hear your side of the story and decide for himself your role in his life."
To the surprise of the other three, Heero elicited a slight catch of his breath as he drew in his lower lip to quell its trembling. His eyes filled with unshed tears. "Thank you, Trowa." he whispered, his voice unsteady as he fought back the surge of emotions. "I swear to you, if he takes me back, I'll never leave him again. I'll never let myself nor anyone else ever hurt him again."
"You swear it by your honor?" Trowa demanded, knowing that both he and Wufei held their honor above all else.
"By my honor and my life." Heero answered, his voice suddenly becoming more firm and determined.
Trowa nodded. "Alright then." he agreed. "If you don't object, I'll have Quatre repeat your side of the story to Duo as he'll be more objective, then let him think about it before we let you meet with him."
Heero nodded his agreement, knowing Quatre would represent him fairly and honestly.
"But," Trowa warned. "you'll have to be careful on any future visits. We can't lead Relena nor her puppets to suspect Duo's here."
"Agreed." Heero said gravely. He then stood and walked the few steps over to the auburn haired Preventer and extended his hand. "Thank you Trowa for believing in Duo and for gaining his release. I don't know how, but one day I'll repay you." he told him with all sincerity.
The taller man stood and put his hand onto his friend's open palm and firmly shook it. "Just keep him safe and make him happy," he told him. "That will be thanks enough." he replied. Without warning, Heero pulled him forward by their clasped hands and Trowa blinked in surprise at being embraced within his former comrade's arms for a brief moment. When they stepped back, both quiet young men looked at each other, silently communicating that the rift between them had been somewhat mended.
"Tell Relena we're fine now. That I had heard a rumor and believed it." Trowa told him.
Heero nodded. "I don't suppose I could see Duo before I go?" he asked.
"I don't like to disturb his sleep." Trowa answered. "But we'll arrange a meeting soon, alright?"
Receiving a quick embrace by Quatre and a handshake from Wufei, the husband in name only to the Vice Foreign Minister walked to the door and pulled his keys out of his pocket as he bid the three goodnight.
Wufei followed Heero to the door and quietly shut it behind him. With a quiet
wish goodnight to the two on the couch, he turned to the stairs. As he started
to climb them, more than ready for his bed, he encountered Duo, sitting wide
eyed on the top step with Trowa's comforter wrapped tightly around him.
Back to Chapter eight