The Perfect Escape
Part 4 - The Gift
Heero folded laundry. His boxers and Duoís boxers intermingled in an interesting display of affection that the lovers had not shown in a long time. Duoís outrageous boxers colored in vibrant colors teased Heeroís staid and uniform boxers, seducing the boring underwear to join the wild side.
Heero smiled at his mindís own metaphor. It had been a week since his dream about getting Duo back, since the night that Duo cried in his sleep. He had yet to figure out what he could do or if he could possibly do it.
And throughout Heeroís time of dilemma and inaction, Duo floated through life in a contented atmosphere. But to Heeroís now unclouded eyes, darker and more lively emotions danced beneath the surface. Heero kept folding, occasionally turning his eyes to Duoís prone form on the couch. He had to find a way to bring Duo back, even if it meant that he would lose Duo in the process.
ĎI must do it for him, so that he can live his life again. Itís immaterial whether or not Iím happy. I have to bring Duo back only for him.í
Heero smiled lightly. Only a week ago, he had wallowed in misery because he had been suffering from Duoís condition. It had taken a dream and a demon to wake him to that selfish fact. He would no longer think only of himself and how Duoís actions were hurting him. It was time that he thought about his loveís needs, Duoís wants, instead of his. After all, it had been his selfish fear of love that had driven Duo to make the bargain. It was fitting that only by being selfless that he could present Duo with the best gift in the world, the gift of wholeness.
ĎIím sorry, Duo, for being a selfish bastard,í Heero thought as his hands mindlessly folded, Ďbut Iím going to fix it all. Iím going to make sure that you laugh again.í
Duo shifted in his seat uncomfortably, fidgeting left and right. The couch was comfortable, it had always been his choice of seating when they had company over. The cushions were soft and lush without sinking too low. The couch wasnít supposed to make him fidget. But he was not comfortable. He kept feeling that something was amiss, something he couldnít put his finger on just yet.
It could not be Quatre for he always made Duo feel nice with his gentle caring ways. It wasnít Trowa since Duo was used to his stoic but friendly demeanor. Nor could it be Heero because he lived with his lover everyday and never felt unsettled. Did he?
Duo looked around at his friends and lover talking about their past missions and memories with small smiles, occasional grimaces and some laughter. They were enjoying themselves, discussing such things as politics, how to get stains out of shirts and gun maintenance. Duo wanted to join in the conversation, like he had in the past. He distinctly remembered talking a lot, practically babbling about things. But now, it was as it someone had turned off the faucet to his words. And somehow, it irritated him.
It was long after the moon rose that Quatre and Trowa left. Duo was still sitting uncomfortably on the couch hours after they had left. He was thinking about the evening and contemplating the differences between now and the past. It seemed that he was missing something. But what it was.. he didnít know.
Duo had noticed the smiles that his two friends bestowed upon each other. Their faces had been lit with a soft light, an inner glow that seemed unearthly. Their eyes had sparked with something as well. The way they touched each other seemed to mean more than just mere physical contact and their voices changed tones when addressing each other. It was so different from how he acted with Heero. He wondered if Heero had noticed it as well.
Frowning lightly, Duo got off the couch and padded into the bedroom. He could hear Heero just finishing his shower and knew Heero would make his way into the bedroom as well. He had to ask Heero. Something.
Heero stared in well concealed surprise when he stepped into the bedroom and found Duo sitting on their bed with his knees drawn up to his face. Duoís posture spoke of confusion but his face was shadowed only by curiosity. It was yet another moment of incongruity, yet another chink in the bargain.
"Heero. I want to ask you something."
Nodding, Heero sat next to Duo on the bed. He forced his heart to slow down and pay attention to Duo. The proximity, he could handle. The hesitant touch of.. fear? Anger? Pain?.. in Duoís voice had given him a way to help. A little push, and Duo might get his emotions back.
"Ask anything you want, Duo."
Duo pursed his lips in thought. Before, it had seem logical to ask Heero about the difference between now and then in their relationship. But now, it seemed so strange, almost trivial. He did not remember Heero ever being truly observant of their emotional interactions in the past. But he had to ask. There were questions that he seemed incapable of answering. Incapable or unwilling.
"Well," Duo began, his voice ripe with hesitation, "what was I like before.. you know.. before I was in the hospital?"
Heero swallowed thickly, unable to respond immediately to the question. If Duo was asking, then he must have noticed consciously that something was not right with him. Hope flared brightly, lighting his cobalt blue eyes fiercely.
"You donít remember how you were?"
"Thatís the thing, Heero. I do and I donít. Iím out of sorts here."
Heero took Duoís hands gently in his and looked into the confused violet eyes. This was his chance to help Duo. His chance at redemption.
Duo stared into Heeroís eyes, not yet able to comprehend the full magnitude of Heeroís words.
"I still laugh, Heero."
"No," Heero said shaking his head, "you chuckle. You smile. You giggle. You have not laughed yet."
The violet eyes still held confusion. Patiently, Heero elaborated.
"You used to have this laugh, you know. It was something that came from deep within, starting with a rumble that burst out like a firecracker. It drew everyoneís attention, rang in the air."
Duoís monosyllabic answer drew Heero to ramble more, quite the opposite from the past situations.
"You watched me when you thought I was sleeping, mumbling beautiful words into my ear, stroking my hair. You exploded in anger when I accidentally used the last of your conditioner. You fed stray dogs your lunch and tried to convince me with teary eyes that we needed a flea bitten mongrel in our apartment. You punched a whole in the wall when the job became frustrating. You wrote your name in large hickeys across my stomach for Valentineís Day. You danced with abandon when we went to clubs. You picked fights for the sheer joy of confrontation. You moaned and shuddered, shouting my name when we made love. You.."
Heero continued while Duo sat numbly listening to every word. Had he really been all that and more, as Heero described? He remembered, but it was like watching someone else. All that exuberant energy, those vibrant emotions, they were foreign now. But Duo knew, if he strained just a little, grasped a little harder, then he would finally understand his past. Maybe then he could explain why he felt so irritated when he could not duplicate his past actions.
"Say, Heero," Duo broke into Heeroís description of his past, "let me ask you something else, okay?"
Heero nodded, immediately stopping his flow of words. Something in Duoís voice was shaken, its tone lost and almost.. afraid.
"Do you remember how I was when you left, Heero? I mean, I know how I was when I woke up, just fine like I had taken a nap. But before that. When you left.. Was I.. well, how was I?"
Tears gathered behind Heeroís eyes. How could he say? He had been long gone by the time Duo had gone over the edge. He had been nothing but a cowardly note on the coffee table, empty drawers and closet space, a bag packed in a hurry and in fear.
"I.. I honestly donít know, Duo. Only you do."
Duo nodded mutely. He should have known that only he had the answers. Not even Heero who knew him best past and present could answer a question like that.
"Do you want me to help you remember?"
Duo carefully considered his options. Did he really want to know? Something deep inside him told him yes, that it was his right, his life. But on the surface, he could not honestly see why he had to know. He was content, wasnít he? He had everything, didnít he? He could live his life like this, couldnít he?
However, despite his mindís frantic pleas to stop the questioning, his heart won the race to control his mouth and formed words.
"Yeah, Heero. Help me."
There was silence for a while as both boys tried to figure out what to do next. Duo didnít know how Heero could help and Heero did not know what to say. The impasse lasted until Heero decided to take the initiative. Taking a deep breath, he began.
"What do you remember first about when I left?"
Duo blurted out his answer without even thinking.
"I had come home from work. I had some take out food with me because it was my turn to cook dinner and I didnít want to. It was getting dark, the sun was setting. Then I saw your note on the coffee table. I thought it was going to say that you had stepped out for groceries or something."
Heero nodded, his heart clenching at the scene depicted before him. He could almost see it, Duo coming home with a happy air because work had ended, probably calling out his name.
"I put the food down and went over to read the note. It said ĎI canít do this. I am going to Relena. I need her.í I dropped the note and searched the apartment only to find that you were really gone."
The nausea and pain tore at Heeroís insides, shredding his heart and soul. He had hurt Duo. No. He had destroyed him.
"Then I cried and screamed. Strange, right? I did it until I passed out on the floor of our bedroom. Then I woke up in the hospital."
Duo stopped and looked at Heero once more. Heero was a mass of tightened muscles, coiled to the point of breaking. His fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were about to break skin. He could hear Heeroís teeth grinding, an unsettling sound. Duo raised his hand to comfort his lover who was in distress. To his surprise, Duo saw that his hands were fisted much like Heeroís, his nails digging into the palms of his hands drawing blood.
Duo slowly unclenched his hands and watched the blood drip down his palm in apt fascination. When had he done this?
"What the hell is going on, Heero? What is happening?"
Heero raised his head at Duoís questions. His voice had shaken like a building rocked off its foundation, edges of panic clawing at him.
"Youíre remembering, Duo."
How simple that sounded, Heero thought bitterly. So simple, yet so painful.
"What am I remembering? I donít understand!"
Duoís voice rose higher.
"I donít get it! I donít! I want to understand!"
Duo began to shout. Heero could only watch in shock as his loverís voice became louder and louder.
"I want to remember as it was, goddammit! I want to remember!"
And then Duoís shouting became screaming. The frustration and confusion were gone from his voice but had been replaced by something worse. Duo screamed in pain.
Heero tried to hold onto his loveís screaming, shaking body only to be shoved away with enough force to crash him into the dresser. Ignoring Heero, Duo continued to scream, clutching his head, then his chest. Tears that fell like rain from his eyes, dripping and mingling with the blood from his hands. Heero could do nothing as he watched Duo scream and scream.
Then as suddenly as it began, it ended.
Duo passed out.
Heero watched as Duo breathed in his unconscious state. After he had passed out, Heero had finally pulled himself back together enough to clean up his love and put him in bed. Now, Heero laid next to Duo carefully without touching him.
ĎYou are whole now.í
Heero closed his eyes as tears began to fall.
ĎAnd youíre in pain.í
He clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt.
That was Heeroís last thought as he passed into unsettled slumber.
Heero scanned the horizon. It was the dream again. The grassy fields, the flowers, the memories. And the imposter with his loverís face and body.
"Imposter isnít a nice word."
Heero spun, his hand reaching for a gun he knew he didnít have. He doubted the gun would have done any good anyway. He couldnít shoot someone who looked exactly like his lover.
"What do you want, imposter?"
The Devil sighed melodramatically.
"Iím always so misunderstood. Sheesh, youíd think after Milton was through with me Iíd get some understanding, but no."
"Do you have a point or are you just here to complain?"
Rolling his borrowed formís violet eyes, the Devil clucked his tongue like a mother hen.
"My, my. So impolite, these mortals these days. There was a time when all the mortals trembled before my name."
"Well," the Devil continued, "Iím here to say congrats. Or maybe sorry. Or something else entirely. Canít believe Duo Maxwell wished for it. I thought better of him."
"What do you know of him, demon?" Heero snarled, "He wanted to be himself again. It was something only he could give to himself and he knew it. He did it for himself."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I donít really care, you know? Itís just that heís in unbelievable pain again and itís making me kind of sick to my stomach. I mean, what is it about you mortals and suffering? What gives you the sadistic need to feel pain?"
"Itís as you said, isnít it," Heero replied in a deadly voice, "you canít know joy unless you know pain."
"Yes. True, mortal. You cannot know Heaven unless you know Hell."
The Devil got a distant look in his eyes.
"I know Hell. Before it, I took Heaven for granted. It was there, this beautiful, pulsating, glorious thing. All around, inside and out. Then I threw it away for something selfish and got cast into Hell. Only then did I truly know Heaven, what I truly threw away."
The Devil shook his head and stared at Heero.
"But you know what Iím talking about, donít you mortal? And you know you can never have it back, donít you? You can see it, practically smell it, but itís forever out of your reach. We are the same like that, mortal. All we want to do is find our way back to our Heaven."
Heero could not believe that the Devil was sympathizing with him, but what he said rang true. Too true.
"Maybe Heaven will forgive you. And Duo will forgive me."
"Such confidence, such arrogance, such pride. It has been an eternity since I threw away my Heaven and it has yet to forgive me. What makes you so sure that Duo Maxwell will forgive you?"
"Because he loves me."
"Yeah, well, Heaven loved me too. And you know, supposedly, there is no love more eternal nor pure as the one from Heaven, the one from God. Still, I languish in Hell. As will you."
Heero smirked at the Devil. It was much akin to Duoís.
"Didnít Duo tell you? Heís not God. Heís Shinigami."
With that, Heero stepped out of his dream.
When Heero opened his eyes, he found himself staring straight into violet. His loverís eyes loomed above him like a death sentence. Then Duo spoke, his words as soft as the dawn.
"I hated you."
"You had every right."
"The pain is unbelievable."
Duo paused and closed his eyes. Heero felt tears drip onto his face and could not restrain his own tears from sliding down his face onto the pillow.
"You hurt me more than anything ever had."
Heero could only stare at Duoís fractured eyes.
"I hate you so much. I never want to forgive you."
Heeroís body trembled. Was the demon right? Would there be nothing but hell for him as well?
"I havenít forgiven you."
Fires of hell were bright, searing close to the bone.
"But I know I will."
Relief washed the fires away, leaving a cool comforting feeling behind.
"Not now, not tomorrow, maybe not a year from now, but someday, I will, Heero."
That was all he could ask. He had no right to ask for more from Duo.
"Until then, good bye."
Heero did nothing but drink in the sight that was his one true love. Heero did nothing as Duo got up and packed his things. Heero did nothing as Duo left.
He could do nothing. Not even say good bye.
"Happy birthday, Heero!"
Heero smiled a little at Quatreís announcement. They were sitting at a restaurant, just having finished with their celebratory dinner. Trowa sat next to Quatre, his eyes echoing the sentiment without words. Even Wufei relented enough to mumble a birthday greeting.
"Thank you, Quatre, Trowa, Wufei."
"So Heero," Wufei said with a slight smirk in his voice, "how does it feel to be 25? Quarter of a century?"
"I donít know, Wufei. It doesnít feel any different than 24."
"Gad, thatís a bland answer. Thatís you all right, Heero."
Heero and Wufei continued their verbal sparring, occasionally stopping to take a drink or bite out of the birthday cake. Quatre and Trowa joined in intermittently, making snide comments about Heeroís age despite the fact that they were all the same age.
After the dinner, they all parted ways, each going home to rest before work the next day. Quatre and Trowa walked the short distance back to their apartment hand in hand, the warmth of their bodies mingling gently in the space between.
"Heero looked content."
"Trowa, I donít think he is."
"I know, but he looks it."
"Six years.. Trowa, it has been six years since Duo left. He has not given up yet."
"No. He canít give up."
"I know love. Hope. Duo gave it to him."
Neither said it, but both wished the same thing. They wished that hope was not the last gift Duo would give Heero.
Heero clicked the door shut and walked into his dark apartment. He did not bother with the lights as he made his way to the couch and sat. It was the same couch Duo had loved so much. Unbidden, a song floated through his head.
ĎItís my party and I can cry if I want to.í
"Yeah," Heero said out loud, "and you would cry too if it happened to you."
"And what happened to you?"
Heero snapped his head towards the voice in the dark. Oh gods, the voice. It was the one that he had longed to hear for so long.
A shadowy figure materialized out of the darkness and into the dim living room. Duo stepped into the dark space lit only by the dim city lights.
Heero stared at Duo like a starving man stared at a banquet, his eyes unbelieving, his heart hammering, his mind at a loss for words. It was Duo. In their apartment.
"Happy birthday, Heero."
Heero stood gingerly like an old man because his legs would not stop shaking. He stood and faced Duo, a scant distance of two feet between them.
Duo smiled at Heeroís numb voice. Behind the shock, Duo could sense joy, love, regret, longing. Everything.
"I have a gift for you, Heero."
Heero nodded dumbly. What could he really say after six years? Fall on his knees and beg forgiveness like he wanted to? Maybe he should. Or Duo might leave again. But before he could, Duo spoke.
"I forgive you."
Heeroís heart stopped.
"I love you."
His soul sang.
"Let me come back to you."
His body hurtled forward and finally held Duo. His arms squeezed the form, his nose inhaled the missed scent, his lips sought soft skin. It was real. It was happening. Forgiveness. Love. The future.
Deep below the surface, the Devil smiled.
"Well, Iíll be damned. Wait, I am damned."
The Devil chuckled mirthlessly. Those two mortals.. They could teach lessons.
"A love that surpasses Heaven. A pain that surpasses Hell. Two mortals that surpass the divine and the damned."
The smile widened. They had given him something he had not dared to have. A gift.