Heero: Was it just me, or was that whole meeting taking entirely too long? Did Duo really need to know just how fucked up I was when I arrived –just how fucked up I still was? I wanted to cover my face with my hands, but somehow, I refrained. Why did I call him, anyway? I wondered. Because that pretty partner of yours is the closest thing you've ever had to a friend, Yuy. Now that I really thought about it, it was really rather pathetic. The closest thing I'd ever had to a friend was a brother in arms that I had frequently frustrated, annoyed, used, and otherwise tormented. That he was a brother in arms only served to prove the influence of the military in my life and the way I used to live it. The way that I had treated him only served to prove that I was a fucking bastard and had no idea how to treat a friend or a comrade. When I had reached the point in which I was about to burst into Doctor Shindo's office, societal rules be damned, the long-haired Shinigami reappeared. My knees weakened in relief at the mere sight of him –but I had no interest in baring that particular sore spot to anyone, not even Duo Maxwell. Straightening my posture, I looked to him and offered him a slight smile. Surprise crossed his countenance for only a moment before he answered my smile with one of his own. "All ready to go, then, Hee-man?" he inquired lightly. I couldn't be sure as to what particular tidbits and/or highlights of my time here Doctor Shindo had chosen to impart –though judging by the lingering shadow of pain in his gaze, it hadn't been pleasant– but at least he could still smile at me. That probably meant that she hadn't told him the darkest parts, at least. Knowing her, she'd want me to reveal those moments myself. I wanted to snort at the notion. I wanted him to smile at me and laugh with me and help me learn how to live without war –not send me off to the nearest institution he could find. Still, I wanted to get the hell out of here and maybe even leave behind the enormous elephant in the room. "Hai," I returned, gathering my suitcases and the paperwork and the prescription I was supposed to take with me. "Let's get out of here." We hurried out of the lobby and onto the walk. It seemed to me that both of us were more than eager to make the Mental Institute of Tokyo little more than a bad memory. I followed the distinctive sound of his footsteps, not even really bothering to look up until we were in the parking lot. He led me to his car and popped the trunk. It wasn't until I settled the suitcases into the deep trunk and gently closed the lid that I realized his black car was a freaking Lamborghini. An amused chuckle slipped past my lips. Of course Duo Maxwell would own one of those ridiculous cars that even I had found time to lust after when I was a soldier. My chuckle summoned a crooked smile to his full lips. "Isn't she a beauty?" he inquired happily. I was proud to see that he resisted the urge to brag on it. Inclining my head briefly, I voiced my agreement. "She certainly is." Unfortunately for me, three years cooped up in a mental institution had somehow managed to introduce me to my own hormones. Said hormones were bent on tormenting me with the delicious notion of having sex with Duo on the hood of his beautiful car. Shaking my head to clear it would be too obvious to an observant person like him, so I tried to distract myself by asking him a question. "So what have you been doing to stay busy?" His gaze met mine over the car as he unlocked it. "What have you been doing to stay busy, Hee-man?" was his clever counter. "Why were you here, of all places?" "Hm. Fair enough," I replied as he slid into the driver's seat. A moment later, I slid into the passenger's seat beside him. "Ne, Duo, when the war ended, what did you feel?" Those purple-blue eyes sought mine as he slipped the key into the ignition. "I guess I was happy, maybe relieved. A little lost, too. I mean, I was still so used to the war. Why do you ask?" I shrugged, my gaze falling to my feet. "To draw the contrast, of course. I was more than just a little lost: I was… shattered. I was a soldier. It was all I was ever raised to be, trained to be, taught to be. I'd never expected to survive that hell. I'd never had to make decisions for myself outside of a mission. To be blunt, I had no idea how to function as anything other than a toy soldier." A heavy sigh eased past my lips. "So one morning, I stumbled into this place and checked myself in." Looking up and meeting those concerned eyes, I allowed the regret to show. "Relena found me here and decided that I needed a friend. I… I apologize for letting you all think the worst, but if I'd kept in touch, my letters would probably be something along the lines of, 'Today was another lovely day at the loony bin. They placed me by the window so I could feel the sun on what little skin wasn't covered by the straight-jacket.' Relena hates those letters." "Oh my God. You just made a joke!" he exclaimed, cranking the key in the ignition until the car came to life with a subtle purr. As I watched, he slammed it into gear and peeled out of the parking lot as fast as he could. I shook my head. It warmed me to see that some things never changed –especially some of Duo's more endearing qualities, like showing his excitement in the speed of whatever vehicle he might be driving. Smiling at him again was easy. "Would you believe that I actually learned a lot of things while I was there? I know it sounds… bizarre, but I have a lot of happy memories there. I leaned to paint and play piano and compose music there." The stop for the stop sign was stilted and uncomfortable –probably because he'd been going way too fast and I'd actually buckled my seatbelt. When he looked at me, a sincere lavender light seemed to dance in his eyes. "I'm really glad that you received the help you needed, Hee-chan." I started a little when he called me that. Where had he heard that honorific? It wasn't one I used frequently. Still, I had to smile: he'd given me a "cute" nickname I couldn't really complain about. "I'm glad, too." About which part, I wasn't so sure. Maybe both. "So…" he paused, eyes going back to the road as he turned the corner and headed out of town. "Are you and Miss Relena an item?" he asked mischievously. "Gods, no!" I exclaimed, completely bewildered by his question. Where had this come from, again? "She's… she's like a sister –one who writes me every week and expects prompt replies to her letters," I added tartly. "Besides: what would a pacifist want with a former soldier?" Duo waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Well, I doubt that quite a bit. Besides, I'm gay." I informed him solemnly. He slammed on the breaks, the force of the sudden stop causing my seatbelt to lock painfully. "You're what?" Fuck, I couldn't believe I'd told him that. I covered my face with my hands. "Care to say that a bit louder? I doubt the entire galaxy heard that." He was still looking at me, evidently stunned. "You… you're gay?" he inquired lightly. "Hai." "How long? I mean, how long have you known?" Well this topic was disconcerting. "I realized I liked men when I was 13. I realized that men were the only ones who interested me a few years later." I was not about to point to the years we'd actually showered together. There were some things you just didn't say. Still, I looked at him for a moment before adding, "Don't worry: your virtue is safe, Duo." He burst out laughing and began to accelerate out of our stand-still. I had to smile. His laugh was beautiful: warm, deep enough to send shivers down my spine, resonant like the lower keys on a piano, pure, genuine, joyous. No more perfect sound existed in the universe, I was sure. "If you hadn't pushed, I wouldn't have needed to tell you," I accused. He smiled. "If it makes you feel better, Hee-chan, Trowa and Quarte are both gay, as well. I'm bisexual, and I don't judge." Strangely, it did make me feel better. "So, does that say something about eighty percent of military personnel or just Gundam pilots?" I inquired wryly. "And what's the other twenty percent up to, anyway?" "Heh, he got married, if you can believe it! He and his wife have an adorable son, of which I am the godfather." He grinned like a child –probably at the irony of having the self-proclaimed Death as the godfather of any child. Still, his gaze never left the road as the city turned to fields. I let out a low whistle. "Mister Women-Are-Inferior, himself. I would have thought him gay long before Trowa had I not seen how Trowa looked at Quarte. That one's not much of a shocker, really." "Perhaps he didn't have the right partner?" he inquired lightly, his murmur almost husky as heat tinged the gaze that flickered my way. Gods! Does that mean what I think it means, or it is my own wishful thinking? I wondered.
Duo: The man sitting in the front seat of my car was not the same man I had known three years ago. Still, he was certainly the man I wanted. I figured that meant I was incredibly shallow and drawn to the superficial, or I was just that deeply in love with him. After all, hadn't good old Shakespeare written, "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove"? I wasn't sure if it was fortunate or unfortunate that I was pretty sure that I was just that deeply in love with him. Don't get me wrong: the man was gorgeous then and he was gorgeous now. However, I was certain that I hadn't just been attracted to his body, and therein lie the large conundrum. "Pardon me if I'm wrong, but last I knew, homosexuality wasn't contagious," he quipped, his lips quirking but Prussian blue eyes startled. I wanted to glare at the road before me. Damn it all! I hate it when that smug Chinese bastard just makes random guesses that prove to be correct! Trust Wufei to be the one to suppose that changes in Heero might include enough improvement in his social skills to pick out the subtleties of human interaction. Forcing a broad smile, I glanced over at him for a moment. "You wanna see all of them? They've been worried about you." A weak smile barely tugged at his lips. "I… I've never been in a position to have friends and family and people that would actually worry over me… I guess it's a little strange to realize that I do have people who care about me already." It felt as though my heart had been ripped in half by those words. I'd been an orphan, too, but the people who'd raised me and took care of me had always made sure I knew that they cared for me. I had been very secure in that knowledge throughout my whole life. Heero had never gotten to have such a thing. The military had seen to his rearing, and the last thing harsh military men cared about was seeing to the more sensitive emotional needs of a child. It was no wonder that he was so emotionally stunted when I had met him the first time! I wondered whether or not I should pull over. This conversation was definitely affecting me, and I wasn't sure how long I would be safe to drive under a certain level of emotional duress. Still, I decided against it. I didn't know how he would react to seeing just how much this was affecting me. Yet, I couldn't keep myself from reaching out to him. My hand landed lightly on his forearm. "Well, Hee-chan… Wufei, Quarte, Trowa and I are all your friends. You're ours, bound to us through war and blood. And we all worry over you." Some of us a bit more strenuously than others, I thought self-derisively. His answer was a shy, hesitant smile. "I… I wondered about you and the others, hoped you were alright, got angry at the public opinion against all of you…" He cleared his throat. "I just… I couldn't contact you. I wasn't sure…" A heavy sigh followed. "I was an asshole to all of you. I wouldn't have blamed you if you didn't want to hear from me." Somehow, I smothered the words that popped into my head. 'It's alright: you're not the same person anymore, Hee-chan.' And he wasn't. However, I was pretty sure he would hear that statement and think I was simply making an excuse for his behavior. It would be better if I could sooth him with the fact that we didn't care. The funny thing was, as far as I knew, none of the others did care about that. And though I had been known to grouse about some of the ways I'd been used in the past, I really didn't care. It also helped that he seemed genuinely apologetic for it all. The best response I could offer at the moment was simply reaching over and affectionately ruffling his chocolate-colored hair, somehow managing to keep my attention on the road as I did. Absently, I noticed that his hair was longer than I remembered it –long enough to lace ones' fingers in and fist ones' hands in it. "It's okay, Hee-chan. If I'm completely honest, I've been waiting three years for you to contact me, but what's really important –what really matters– is that you're okay now and that you reached out when you could. There is absolutely no use in ruing over the past, wishing and wanting to change how things happened. What really matters is right now, the present and the future as it stretches out before us." The words the good doctor had imparted seemed to echo in my head. "Hee-chan, I need you to know that you have always had a place with us: always have and always will. We… we all walked through Hell together. I hope that you will allow us the chance to help you, to be your friends, to be your family. You're ours: let us take care of you. Let us be here for you." Midnight blue eyes shone bright with emotion. Those eyes had always been utterly gorgeous –glassy, emotionless, dark, and bright as sea glass. Watching him now –which was not a good idea, considering I was driving, but what the hell, we both liked living dangerously well enough– made me want to lean over and kiss him so hard that we couldn't tell where each other ended and we began. Restraint is a virtue, I reminded myself. Especially since neither one of you want to die in a ditch today. "Aa. Arigato, Duo." Hesitantly, he reached out to me, his hand slipping lightly against my skin until it fully cupped my cheek. When he realized that I was allowing such a touch with no issues, the smile that followed could have eclipsed the sun. That smile lit a fire beneath my skin that threatened to consume all of me. There was only one thing to quell the flames: him. Swallowing hard, I desperately tried to hide the roaring desire from him. Heero… he was so fragile right now. If I tried to share how I felt about him, how I'd always felt about him, what more would I be that a large road block for him? He needed to find himself before he could share himself. It would make things worse if I asked that of him, and I never wanted to hurt him. So I offered him a smile in return, knowing that no smile would ever be as breath-takingly beautiful as his was. I tried to keep him talking, keep him sharing. While that involved volunteering bits of myself to make him feel more comfortable with things, I didn't really mind all that much. I had to heal this broken man. I had to be the one to do it, because there was no one else who would step up to the plate and help him. I had to be the one to do it, because no one else had as much to lose if he never truly healed.