Disclaimer: Love 'em, but don't own 'em.

Pairings: 1x2 (Heero/Duo), 3x4 (Trowa/Quatre)
Rating: NC-17
Genre: Angst, hurt/comfort, Preventers

Summary: The war is over, but Heero thinks he's missed his chance for happiness.

Across the Universe
Part 4 - Inviting
by Artemis

The next afternoon, Doctor Winner approved moving Duo to her brother's penthouse where a suite had been prepared especially for him. Quatre had read somewhere that green was a calming color, and so he had the draperies and bed covers changed to a lemon grass color, and the upholstered chairs recovered in a complementary sage green.

Duo no longer needed intensive tests, and his condition could be easily monitored by the medical team that accompanied him. Quatre had two rooms near Duo's suite converted into an office and a luxurious dormitory for the physicians and nurses.

A psychologist who specialized in post-traumatic syndrome was flown from Earth to join the team. The new doctor, Doctor Cappucine, met with Duo everyday to begin the long process of emotional healing.

Of all the former Gundam pilots, Duo was most comfortable with Quatre. Duo's memories were still locked away, but his recognition of Quatre and Wufei was a positive sign that he would regain the entirety of his memories one day. In the meantime, his interactions with others were awkward and somewhat lacking in emotion. Doctor Cappucine advised them that the anti-social behavior was one more indication that he had suffered a trauma.

Despite Duo treating Heero like the great unknown, Heero made a point of visiting each day. Some days he stayed for only a few minutes, while on others, especially the days when Duo was napping, he stayed for an hour or more. Today, Duo was seated in a high backed armchair near a window where the sun bathed him in warmth and light. He was dressed in blue jeans and a baggy orange sweatshirt and thick woolen socks.

"Mind if I join you?" Heero asked as he approached.

Duo barely glanced at him as he shrugged with indifference. Heero frowned. It was like this every time. Duo wouldn't look him in the eyes, and when he did, he wouldn't hold his gaze for more than a second. It confounded Heero that after so many days of hanging around that Duo would not begin to accept him-remember him.

Heero sat in the chair across from Duo. It was late afternoon, and Heero had taken off work early and come directly from the office still dressed in his Preventers uniform. Quatre was letting him and Wufei stay at the penthouse for as long as their tour of duty lasted on L4. It was generous and torturous at once.

"What are you reading?" Heero asked.

"History," Duo said, keeping his eyes on the digital data reader. "The history of the war and the last five years."

"I could tell you about it if you like."

Duo shook his head. "I like reading."

He could continue to annoy Duo with this awkward conversation, or he could simply sit here, silently watching his friend from underneath his bangs. Duo's health was much improved. His skin had a pink glow, and he had begun lifting weights and using a treadmill. These outward signs of improvement were encouraging, but the absence of Duo's former, exuberant personality was difficult to except and to understand.

The penthouse was a safe and comfortable place for Duo, but part of him still seemed locked away somewhere waiting to be found. While Quatre and Trowa, and the medical staff looked after Duo here, Heero and Wufei had spent the last week investigating Doctor Gies. Maybe the key to Duo's complete recovery lay in the hands of the man who had kept him captive in mind and body for the past five years.

"Do you remember when you first met Doctor Gies?" Heero asked. The question tumbled out of him before he had the sense not to ask it.

Duo's posture stiffened and his eyes darted up to Heero's. "No," he said and quickly re-focused on his data reader.

Of course, Duo wouldn't know. He was probably so heavily sedated he wouldn't remember being transferred from one facility to another.

"I'm trying to find out what he did to you."

Duo looked up again, his eyes sharp like glass. "Why can't you just leave it be?"

Heero blinked. Usually, Duo's tone was passive and damn near emotionless. This reaction, even though it wasn't a good one, excited him. It was the first true emotion he had roused in his friend. "If he hurt you, Duo, he needs to pay for it."

Duo got up from his chair and clutched the data reader to his chest, reminding Heero of the way he had held the beaded necklace. "I don't want you to do that."

"What?" Heero asked, looking up at him.

Duo turned and headed for the bed, tossing the data reader aside. Heero followed him, only to have Duo hold his hand out like a stop sign. "Get out," he said.

"I'm sorry if I upset you-"

"No, you're not." Duo stared at the bed, and not at Heero. It was crazy talking this way, but it seemed the only way Duo could speak to him. "You're selfish. You only think of yourself."

"Is that what you think?"

"Yes, now I'm asking you again... to leave."

He wanted to argue with Duo, anything to keep them talking, but he didn't want Duo to be right. He didn't want Duo believing he was a selfish man when he had spent so many years looking for him, hoping for his return. But right now, the only way to prove Duo wrong was to leave.

Heero went to the door, feeling like he'd been sucker punched to the gut. Before he crossed the threshold he looked back over his shoulder. He wanted to tell Duo that he knew he had treated him badly, indifferently years ago, but he would do anything for him now. Or was that confession selfish, too?

He left without a word, intent on finding the truth about Doctor Gies.

~ ~ ~

Ultimately, impatience and frustration prompted Heero and Wufei to continue their investigation of Gies. Commander Une had said she would authorize an investigation if evidence of Duo's torture was found. Well, that was a Catch 22. The only way to find the evidence was to investigate.

On their own, they rented a ship and flew to Earth. They took two days off so that they would not be missed. It was half past midnight when they arrived outside the Institute. They had traveled covertly, aware they could be booted out of the Preventers for good. But this operation had one chance of succeeding and that was to keep it under wraps. Their inquiries into Doctor Gies had revealed a disturbing, yet elusive trail back to OZ. Now they needed proof and the only way to secure it was to break into his office.

Dressed in black combat gear from head to toe, the two agents made their way stealthily across the Institute's campus to the building where Doctor Gies had his office. Over a week had passed since they had extracted Duo from this facility, and Gies had had plenty of time to cover his tracks, but Heero had a hunch that a man of his hubris wouldn't take those steps. The way he had squawked to his powerful, political allies, Gies had to believe he was untouchable.

As Heero bypassed the building's security and they made their way through the halls to the doctor's office, he couldn't help but grin. The bastard was going down for what he did to Duo. Sure the specifics of what he had done were still unclear, but both Heero and Wufei were certain they would discover a disturbing truth about Gies's so-called revolutionary programs at the Institute.

In less than three minutes they found exactly what they were looking for-the patient files for Zero Two. Wufei photographed each page with his miniature, high resolution camera while Heero checked the computer system for other records of note.

All too quickly a pattern appeared before his eyes. It seemed the John and Jane Does at the Institute were all OZ transfers. He downloaded the files for further review.

"I wonder if he's been continuing OZ's experiments," he said. His watch vibrated on his wrist. "Time check. Five minutes."

"Check. Ten more seconds and I'm done," Wufei said.

They removed the bypass on the facility's security cameras as they left, and took a different route out of the building to avoid the security patrols.

On their ship, they poured over the data, realizing with horror that their hunch was correct. Gies had been an Alliance military doctor before signing on to OZ's elite medical task force. That team of scientists had worked on a project known as the Emerald Eye.

So much of the puzzle was still missing that Heero wondered if they would ever find all the pieces, but one thing was clear. OZ had experimented on civilians and military prisoners of war, and Doctor Gies had been a party to those experiments, and possibly one of its developers.

They returned to L4 just before dawn. They had been gone nearly 48 hours and had taken precautions not to use any Preventers resources in the operation. The data would be sent to Commander Une anonymously via a complex network that would take weeks if not months for her to unravel. By then they hoped, Gies would be on his way to the Mars penitentiary.

Back at the penthouse, they shared their confidential findings with Trowa and Quatre.

"Then Duo was at the hospital on L2?" Quatre asked.

"Yes," Heero said, pulling the record up on the computer monitor. "Here is a copy of the OZ transfer. He was among the ones evacuated at the end of the war. Gies signed the transfer himself."

"But you didn't find anything about the Emerald Eye program?" Trowa asked.

"Only that it existed."

"Now that we have a name of a program, we can check recovered OZ databanks," Wufei said. "Maybe something will turn up."

"You may have just saved dozens of lives," Quatre said with a grateful smile. "But you took a big risk doing this on your own."

"When Une gets this data she'll assign a team to fully investigate," Heero said.

"He's hoping he'll be on the team," Wufei said and smiled.

"She would be foolish not to assign it to you," Quatre said.

As they got up from the table to leave, Quatre took Heero aside to speak with him privately. "I hope you don't mind my asking, but what did you talk about with Duo the last day you were here?"

Heero knew enough not to dance around the facts. "We never have much to say to each other, but I asked him about Gies."

"Well, that might explain why he was agitated after you left. And since then he's been waking each night from nightmares."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Heero," Quatre said, placing his hand on Heero's chest. "You've grown cold since we brought Duo home. Has the reality of his condition changed how you feel?"

"I am as devoted to his recovery as I was a week ago... maybe more so."

"That's not what I meant."

"I can best serve this mission by keeping to the background. I intend on bringing Gies down and seeing that he's punished for what he did to Duo and others like him."

"I see. Well, that is a noble cause, but please don't forget the real Duo while you crusade to put his abuser behind bars." Quatre turned away and quickly left the room.

Heero sighed. Quatre wanted him to confess his feelings for Duo, but such a declaration was pointless. Duo was closed to him, guarded in his interactions, and preferring to be left alone. He had not even acknowledged that he knew Heero and barely tolerated his visits. As things stood now it was best for Heero to give Duo a wide berth. He would ensure that justice was done. He would travel the universe a million times if necessary, following broken leads and jeopardizing his own career for the chance that the result would open Duo's mind and let the healing flow from him.

~ ~ ~

As hoped, Commander Une assigned Heero to the Emerald Eye case. It allowed Heero to purge his feelings while hunting down war criminals, but made him appear a bigger ass to his friends, because he spent less time with them. Nearly everyday, Quatre left audio or text messages asking him to return, and updating him on Duo's condition. The nightmares had continued and intensified, but with them came memories he had suppressed. Wufei interviewed Duo to glean any details they could use in the investigation, but Duo shared very little other than access codes to his Gundam.

With or without Duo, they were accumulating pieces to the master puzzle that was the Emerald Eye. Several sources tied the elusive program to the Mobile Suit developers and their efforts to create pilots who could perform better. As yet, the investigators could only speculate on how they went about trying to achieve that goal.

After five weeks, the Preventers had enough evidence to connect Doctor Lucien Gies to the program. Agent Yuy led a team of several dozen agents, including Wufei Chang, to the Institute for Mental Illness to arrest the doctor and remove the remaining patients and files. To their great frustration word of the operation had leaked out, and the doctor had destroyed his files and gone into hiding.

It was only a temporary setback, but Heero took it as a failure. They had to regroup and begin again if they were going to catch this big fish. Meanwhile, it was time to stop running. He had to go back to L4 and see if he could build a friendship with Duo from the ground up.

Heero and Wufei returned to the penthouse with several days off to spend with their friends. Their probation had been revoked in light of the evidence against Doctor Gies and "time served," but that also meant they would be back on full duty and taken away from L4. This was Heero's last chance to spend any significant time with Duo. He would return to the service of the universe, and somehow find contentment in giving Duo his life back.

One of Quatre's assistants opened the penthouse's door, and directed them to the living room where Quatre and Trowa were relaxing.

"There you are," Quatre said, standing to greet them. "We had given up on seeing you this evening."

"You're going out?" Heero asked, noting their tuxedos.

"Yes, I hope you don't mind."

"When we learned you would be here for a few days," Trowa said. "We decided to plan an evening out."

"We have dinner reservations and tickets to the opera," Quatre said with a broad smile. "It's been ages since Tro and I had the chance..."

Heero nodded. He knew his friends had given up their normal routine to look after Duo and to be available for him. Did they think him a heel for staying away so long?

"Duo's been telling us to get out and enjoy ourselves," Trowa said.

"How is he?" Wufei asked.

"He's much improved," Quatre said, a bit cautiously. "His memories are returning, but they're a jumble and sometimes overwhelming."

"He's in the library reading Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'," Trowa said, barely concealing a roll of his eyes. "He's preoccupied by war."

"Doctor Cappucine says those are Duo's most prominent memories right now," Quatre said to clarify. "He has to process them just like we did after the war."

Trowa looked at his watch and made a face for Quatre to get moving. The blond darted out of the room to grab his coat, and Wufei headed to his guestroom to drop his bag before going to see Duo in the library.

Trowa took the opportunity to speak to Heero in private. "Duo's memories are coming back quickly. He remembers me now."

Heero nodded. "That's good."

"It was about a week ago. He started talking about New Edwards Base..."

That mission-a trap set by Treize Khushrenada-was not something any of them liked to discuss. However, it was the first time all five Gundam pilots had met, and Heero and Duo had partnered.

Quatre rushed back into the room. "Ready!" Just as he and Trowa began to leave, he leaned in to whisper in Heero's ear, "I'm glad you're back, and Duo will be, too."

If only that were true, Heero thought as a shiver raced across his skin.

After his friends left, Heero went to his guestroom and set his duffle on the floor. He took a long shower and thought about where he had gone wrong in the past. Eliminating the Alliance's pacifists at New Edwards Base was one of his many missteps. Treating Duo with indifference was another. He didn't want to make excuses, but he had been the product of an experiment that had trained the emotion out of him while making him the perfect weapon. It was almost ironic that Duo now treated Heero as emotionless as Heero had treated him years ago.

Whether it was penance or payback or none of the above, Heero would take it all if it meant Duo would forgive him, and remember him, and be his friend again.

Dressed in blue jeans, a favorite green long-sleeved t-shirt, and brown loafers, he headed out of his room to find Duo. As he passed the kitchen his stomach growled reminding him that he had not eaten since breakfast. He made a brief detour and checked the refrigerator for leftovers.

As usual, Quatre and Trowa had the best leftovers in the Earth Sphere. In addition to the refrigerator being fully stocked there was an Italian sub sandwich, asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, half a bottle of champagne, and a box of gourmet chocolates. He grabbed the sandwich and when he turned around Wufei was standing there holding out his hand. Heero grinned and gave him half the sandwich. They sat down on stools at the kitchen counter to eat, and Wufei informed him that Duo had gone to bed.

"Guess you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see him."

Heero took a bite of his sandwich and was silently thankful for the reprieve. Maybe he was a coward, but he wasn't anxious to have Duo give him that blank look again. It made him feel like an inanimate object.

"He was talking about his Deathscythe," Wufei said as he got up to grab something to drink. "And Howard. He had Quatre track Howard down and he's going to visit next week."

Suddenly, Heero didn't feel hungry anymore. He set his sandwich down and stared at Wufei. "Did he mention me?"

"No, but I did. I told him you were here for a few days, too."


"And nothing. That's when he said he was going to bed."

Heero sighed. "That's probably not a bad idea. I could use the rest." He put away the remains of his dinner and said goodnight.

He watched the news on the television in his room and tried to fall asleep, but after nearly two hours he decided it was useless. He threw on his jeans and walked barefooted and bare-chested into the main living quarters of the penthouse. The house was quiet, and it would be several hours before Quatre and Trowa returned from their much deserved evening out.

After a moment's deliberation, Heero went to Duo's room to check on him. There was no longer any need for a full medical team, but there was a nurse on site. Her room was next to Duo's and the door was closed. Duo's door was closed, too, and Heero tapped on it lightly. There was no response and he was about to turn away when he felt that knot in his gut again. He was ashamed to admit it, but he still longed for Duo, longed for something they never had, and never would have.

He put his hand on the doorknob and turned. It was unlocked. The room was dark, but his eyes adjusted quickly as he stepped inside, closing the door softly behind him.

Duo was in bed, sleeping soundly. This was Heero's chance to be with him alone; to be in his presence without dealing with their new reality. He pulled a chair next to the bed and sat down. He would keep a silent vigil, telling himself that he should be satisfied to have found Duo alive.

He grinned at the memory of the searing pain in his arm that had been his introduction to Duo Maxwell. The other Gundam pilot had shot him and said, "It's pretty obvious that you're the bad guy here."

His hand went to his thigh and Heero almost laughed aloud recalling Duo's second shot. "Damn, but you were beautiful," he said in a whisper.

He hadn't realized it then, but it had been love at first sight.

He fell asleep, slumped forward with his head nestled on his arm on the bed. The sound of pained moans woke him nearly an hour later. He looked up, groggy, to find Duo struggling in his sleep. Was it another nightmare?

"Duo," he said, hoping to wake him.

He watched as Duo became more agitated, his body thrashing back and forth as if trying to break free from restraints.

"No, no," Duo said.

Heero leaned over the bed, grabbing Duo by his arms to still him. "Duo, wake up." When there was no reaction he knelt on the bed, squeezing Duo's arms hard and shaking him. "Wake up! You're having a bad dream."

Duo growled like he had that day at the Institute, and Heero knew that Duo's mind was replaying a terrible memory. After another hard shake, Duo woke, his eyes flying open as he gasped for air.

Heero stared at him, holding him against the mattress and talking quietly. "You're all right. It was only a dream."

Duo stared at him, wide-eyed and panting. "You're... here."

Heero nodded, unsure if his presence was good or bad.

At last Duo's breaths slowed and his body began to relax. Heero released his grip and began to slide off the bed.

Duo grabbed his wrists. "Stay," he said, pleading.

It was the first soft moment they had shared, and Heero had to clamp down on his emotions to answer. "I will. I'll sit right here."

"No," Duo said, shaking his head. He pulled Heero towards him, and Heero did not resist.

Their arms went around each other, and Heero felt Duo tremble. "It's all right," Heero said. "I'll stay as long as you need me."

They lay side by side with Duo holding onto Heero like a child who had been chased by a monster. In Duo's case, that monster had been Doctor Gies, but he needn't worry anymore. Heero would guarantee his safety and comfort.

He pulled the cover away from Duo. His skin was hot from the nightmare and he thought that cooling him down would help him drift back to sleep faster. Duo was wearing blue and white striped pajamas that had to be Quatre's idea. He had a hard time imagining Duo wearing anything other than briefs to bed. Well, he rather liked imagining him wearing nothing, but this was not the time for that.

In minutes, Duo was asleep again, and Heero relaxed with him in his arms. He felt guilty comforting Duo this way, but it hadn't been his idea, and he would never take advantage of the situation. Still, Duo might not feel this safe if he had access to Heero's thoughts.

Heero was nearly asleep when Duo turned to nestle deeper into his arms. He wriggled to find the best spot, rubbing his cheek on Heero's chest like a kitten settling into his nest. With one final adjustment, Heero felt it. He didn't want to believe it, thinking it his cursed imagination, but he scooted forward to investigate. Ah, yes, there it was. Duo was hard, and his erection was pressed against Heero's thigh.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Heero's next thought was to leave, but that would be another betrayal of sorts. He would have to pretend it wasn't there. It was simply a sign of Duo's youth, of male vigor, and had absolutely nothing to do with Heero. He could be a body pillow and Duo would be hard against it.

He tried to retreat infinitesimally to put distance between them, but it was nearly impossible with Duo's arms around him. Duo moved again giving a distinct nudge to Heero's thigh, and then again, and again. Heero held his breath and didn't move a muscle, completely at a loss for what to do. Duo was humping his leg in his sleep!

A sweet moan escaped Duo's lips and he pulled Heero towards him.


"Mmmm," Duo moaned and his lips found Heero's in the dark.

They kissed and Heero fell into the kiss as he had done in so many dreams of his own, but now he was hard. His body had been quick to respond, and his face was hot with what was certainly a brilliant blush.

"Duo, it's me... We can't," Heero said, pulling out of the kiss. Oh, but God, he wanted this. It felt so good and he had wanted Duo for so long, and now miraculously Duo was in his arms, rubbing against him and kissing him.

Duo couldn't possibly know what he was doing or to whom he was doing it. Heero had to take charge and rein them in. He pushed Duo back, but it seemed Duo was in the throes of a spectacular wet dream. In the bluish haze of near darkness, Heero could see Duo's face, beautiful in passion, his lips parted and his body arching deliciously towards him. In that moment, he decided to give Duo the release he needed. His body probably hadn't experienced this in years.

Heero reached down, his hand dipping inside Duo's pajama bottoms and coming into immediate contact with Duo's cock. He curled his hand around it, and Duo arched and moaned as his hard flesh was stroked. Duo wouldn't last long, and Heero wondered if he could maintain his own control. He quickened the strokes, feeling himself grow painfully hard as he touched Duo.

Duo's lips sought his again and they locked in a fierce, hungry kiss. It was everything Heero had dreamt it would be. He concentrated on the movement of his hand, but it was impossible not to think of everything at once-Duo's lips on his, Duo's hands in his hair, Duo's cock in his fist...

"Ahhhh!" Duo cried out as he came.

When Duo was spent and slumped against him, it took every ounce of self-control for Heero not grab his own cock and beat himself off next. He waited a full sixty seconds before pulling back.

"I'll get a towel."

He untangled himself from the sweaty embrace, and with wobbly legs he made his way to the bathroom. He was still hard, his cock making the front of his jeans painfully tight, but he had to deny himself.

After washing his hands in the bathroom sink, he returned to the bed with the towel. Duo took it from him and wiped his belly, but even in the dark Heero noticed that Duo wouldn't look at him.

"I... shouldn't have," Heero said, fumbling for words. This had to be wrong. This had to make things worse between them.

Duo turned his face away as he tossed the towel aside and pulled the bed cover up to his middle.

A tap at the door turned Heero's attention sharply to their visitor.

"Y-yes?" Duo asked, his voice sounding choked.

"It's Quatre. May I come in?"

Heero sighed and turned from the bed. How would he explain this?

"Yes," Duo said.

The door opened.

"Oh, am I interrupting?" Quatre asked.

There was a pause and then Duo said, "No."

Heero turned back to face Quatre. "He had another dream. He's fine now."

Quatre stood in the doorway, his eyes as wide as saucers, and the light from the hall silhouetting him. Heero was certain he could sense the awkward tension in the room. "I just wanted you to know that we're back."

"How was it?" Duo asked, sitting up.

"Wonderful!" Quatre said, now coming into the room. "Trowa took me to a new restaurant called Harmony and we had the most delicious seafood raviolis."

Heero glanced at the clock. "Isn't it early for the opera to be over?"

"Oh, it was delightful, but I was worried about leaving Duo... so we left after the third act." Quatre looked between them and the question was plain on his face. How he kept himself from asking if there was something between them was anyone's guess, but Heero was not about to wait.

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself," he said and headed out of the room. At the door, Heero turned back to Duo. "Good night."

When he got back to his room he closed and locked the door behind him. Locking it was completely unnecessary for privacy's sake, but mentally he needed that extra barrier.

What the fuck had that been? How could he have let that happen? He had totally ruined any chance at friendship, taking advantage of Duo like some undersexed predator.

"Damn it," he said, kicking his duffle bag halfway across the room.

~ ~ ~

The next morning he was up and dressed by seven. He went into the kitchen for breakfast and found Quatre there, drinking freshly squeezed orange juice.

"Morning," Quatre said with a smile. "I'm heading to work."

"Will you be gone all day?"

Quatre shrugged as he took another sip of his juice. "Maybe only a few hours. I have to give my final approval on the architectural plans for the new space port."

"You work too hard."

"Look who's talking. Hey, feel free to make yourself breakfast. There are eggs and all sorts of things." He put his glass in the sink and gave a little wave of his hand. "I'll see you later."

Heero marveled that Quatre didn't mention the previous night. He had to be wondering what that was all about. Heero still didn't know, and felt more unsure than ever about how to act around Duo or if he should even go near him again.

Following Quatre's suggestion, Heero got some eggs and an English muffin from the refrigerator to make a fried egg sandwich. He had gotten good at frying eggs during the war. It was an easy campfire meal, and a treat if you happened across a farm with chickens. And it was fast. It only took a couple of minutes to fry the egg and toast bread over an open fire. He opted for the toaster today. With his sandwich plated and a glass of juice, he headed to the solarium to enjoy the greenery and to read the morning paper.

He had the sandwich half eaten by the time he got there. When he stepped into the garden room he froze. Duo was there, reading the paper. Heero was about to turn around and leave, but Duo noticed him.

"Morning," Duo said, tentatively.

Heero took a deep breath and headed to the table. "Morning."

There was an awkward silence, and then Duo held out the paper. "I'm finished if you'd like to see it."

Again, Heero debated about turning tail, but Duo's civility held him place. Maybe Duo understood that last night happened in the heat of the moment, a mistake best left unspoken and soon forgotten.

"Sure," he said, and took a seat opposite Duo. The newspaper was slid across to him. "Thanks."

Duo's eyes were downcast again, but Heero indulged in giving him a long look. The natural morning light from the windows above shimmered in Duo's hair like firelight. He'd never noticed it before, but Duo's dark brown, neatly braided hair had chestnut highlights, and a healthy shine. His time convalescing at Quatre's had done wonders, though he was not yet fully recovered.

There was an empty bowl in front of Duo which had probably contained cereal, and he had a half eaten plate of fresh fruit. He picked up his fork and cut into a slice of mango, and ate it though he seemed self-conscious. Perhaps he sensed that Heero was watching him, and so, Heero opened the paper with a loud rustle.

He scanned the headers on each column, looking for something that piqued his interest, but he couldn't get his mind off the young man sitting an arm's length away. He lowered the paper and peered over it. Duo looked up and their eyes connected, but again there was an awkward silence.

This was a bad idea. He should go for a jog or something, anything to get out of this house. He folded the newspaper and stood, the chair making a terrible screech across the tiled floor.


The sound of Duo saying his name froze Heero to that spot.

"I-I wanted to say... about last night." Duo was struggling to explain, and his eyes were downcast again.

"I owe you an apology," Heero said.

Duo's eyes came up fast, almost in a challenge, but they shown with confusion. "You're... apologizing?"

"I'm sorry for what happened."

Duo gave a small nod and looked back to the remains of his breakfast. He didn't say anything else, but he didn't have to, obviously it was not easy to talk about and was better put behind them.

Heero left the newspaper on the table and retreated from the solarium, heading straight for his room. He changed into his jogging clothes and was out of the penthouse in minutes. He ran for miles and spent the day as far away in mind and body as he could get.

When he returned just before supper, Trowa and Wufei were seated in the living room having a chat. They invited Heero to join them, but he made the excuse of needing to shower. After refreshing himself, he dressed in jeans and a blue pullover sweater and his loafers and came out of isolation to eat at the dining room table with the rest of them.

It was the first time all five former Gundam pilots had shared a meal... ever. Lucky for Heero, the others propelled the conversation along, seeming not to notice his reticence at being close to Duo. The meal consisted of a tasty rice casserole with Mediterranean spices and shellfish, flat bread and wine. They stayed at the table for nearly three hours before Duo excused himself for the night. His stamina seemed to be returning as slowly as his memories, and Quatre commented that just as soon as Iria approved they were bringing in a trainer to get Duo back into tip-top shape.

They all watched Duo leave the room, and when he was out of earshot, Quatre smiled brightly. "He was much more himself tonight, don't you think?"

Everyone agreed that they had seen glimpses of the old Duo tonight. That was a relief, but Heero knew the previous night was going to haunt him for years.

The friends toasted to Duo's progress and called it a night.

on to part 5

back to fiction

back to artemis fiction

back home