Heero lay on the examination table, wearing only briefs as Doctor Po's medical assistant hovered next to him applying a local anesthetic to his side.
"You're not Superman," Po said in a chastising voice from across the room. "You pulled every stitch out playing with Duo."
He shrugged, but decided not to comment.
It was unusual to see her dressed in full medical garb with mask, gloves and a surgical gown. She was an experienced medical doctor, but he preferred her prodding him with questions than a tweezers, needle and thread.
"How will you explain this to Treize? This should've been tended to---"
"I know, doctor."
"I'm not sure you do... anymore." She gave him a long, thoughtful look as she stepped to the table and got to work pulling glass fragments from the wound. Each piece was dropped into a sterile silver tray with a little ping. He counted eight pings.
As the wound was cleaned and sewn, Heero thought about what Duo had said. Maybe he was right, he was "fucked up," but he needed that attitude to put his life on the line like he did. What ate at him was Duo's desperation to leave. Even if he hadn't seen his belongings, Duo had plenty of reasons to be unhappy.
"Do you think Duo developed feelings for me because of the circumstances?"
The doctor glanced at him. "Are you referring to the Stockholm Syndrome?"
He nodded. He had read that the stress of captivity could make victims sympathize, even fall in love with their captors.
"It's possible. You do seem to care about each other," she said as she stitched the wound. "But the situation isn't the same."
She shook her head. "Duo was attracted to you before he was brought here. His feelings did not materialize because of his captivity."
Heero considered the slight difference in this scenario compared to the ones used to illustrate the Stockholm Syndrome. He believed that Duo cared for him, so why think about this theory now and try to apply it to their relationship?
"What if the program ended?" he asked.
Doctor Po removed her mask, having finished tending to the wound. "Why would it end?"
He watched her step to the sink and wash her hands, looking back over her shoulder at him.
"Duo's unhappy," he said, slowly turning to sit up on the table.
"Careful! You'll pull the stitches out."
Po waved to the assistant who appeared at his side to cover the wound with gauze and tape. The wound would be re-dressed twice a day until it was healing properly.
The doctor dismissed the technician and pulled up a rolling chair to the table. "Now tell me what's going on with you and Duo."
He shook his head. "It's not right, keeping him here."
"The alternative is far worse."
"Then maybe we need to find a different alternative."
"I'm not sure where you're going with this, Heero, but the program is working. We need to keep our eye on the prize."
"It's working for me, doctor, but not for Duo." He hopped off the table, managing not to wince when the stitches pulled slightly. "Find another way for me to relieve tension."
"You're giving up on the liaison program? You know what that means for Duo..."
"I don't intend on letting any harm come to Duo."
He reached for his clothes that he had folded neatly and set on the counter, and began to slip on his jeans.
"I should order you to remain here to rest," Sally said, her voice soft. "But I have a feeling you won't rest until you have this sorted out."
"I appreciate your understanding," he said, putting on his white t-shirt and blue blazer. With his shoes on, he tucked the t-shirt into his jeans and then stepped toward the door. Before he left he turned back to her. "Thank you for all you've done, doctor."
She nodded and smiled, but said nothing.
~ ~ ~
This time he knew his destination before he had taken the first step out of the medical clinic. He phoned ahead to request a meeting with Treize. It was granted, as they always were, but his stomach tightened with uncertainty. The outcome of this meeting could change his life, but he had to stop thinking about himself for a change. If his time with Duo had taught him anything it was that other people mattered.
At the penthouse office, Heero was greeted by a young, male assistant. "Mr. Khushrenada's meeting is running long. I was asked to escort you into his office to wait."
"And Lady Une?"
"Why she's with the chairman, of course. This way, please." With a dramatic flourish the assistant turned on his heel to lead the way.
Heero smiled to himself. It seemed the young man had taken a page from Treize's School of Drama, but what worked for the imposing CEO, did not work for summer interns.
He was guided to the small sitting area where he had met with Treize before. It was odd being in this space without its lord and master present.
"Would you care for tea?" the intern asked.
"No, thank you."
"Are you one of Bremen Enterprise's architects?"
Heero looked up, slightly annoyed that the assistant was still here. "No... I'm a spy."
The young man blinked, gaped, blinked again, and finally chuckled. "Oh, that's rich. Well, I'll leave you to your thoughts, 007. Mr. Khushrenada won't be long."
Seconds later, he was finally alone. He crossed his legs and looked toward the window. It was a cloudy day, but no rain was forecast. The knot in his stomach persisted and he began to think that Doctor Po had sewn up more than just the wound.
It was another fifteen minutes before Treize arrived. He breezed in wearing a black, pin-striped suit, and dictating a letter to a secretary. Heero stood to greet him, and Treize asked the secretary to fetch some rose tea.
"Come to give me your report in person?" Treize asked as he reclined elegantly in one of the chairs.
Heero blinked. He hadn't specified why he needed this meeting, and he had yet to write up his mission notes, so maybe that was the best place to start. He sat down across from him. "It would be good to talk."
"I've looked over the mission commander's notes, of course," Treize said. "You've outdone yourself once again. Congratulations. Doctor Jones is doing well."
So, Treize hadn't heard about the injury. Good, that would only muddy the waters.
"It appeared that he had been treated well by his captors," Heero said. "But of course, he was eager to escape."
Heero's mind locked on what he had just said... admitted to. He was referring to the mission, to rescuing the scientist, but it applied to Duo as well. It gave him a chill to think that way; that Duo was eager to escape. But who would rescue him?
Just then the secretary returned with their tea. She did not have Project clearance, so Treize changed the subject while she poured their tea and described the sweet treats on the tray. Once the door closed behind her, Treize leaned forward, narrowing his gaze on Heero.
"You're not here to talk about the mission."
Heero shook his head.
"Then is it about the new operative arriving in two days?"
He shook his head again.
"But of course," Treize smiled. "You're here to discuss Mr. Maxwell."
Treize picked up the single red rose from the serving tray and waved it under his nose as he reclined in his chair. "Well, don't leave me hanging."
"The liaison program is no longer satisfactory."
"According to your metadata it's more than satisfactory."
"I'm speaking of Duo."
Treize stared at him across the small expanse between their chairs. "You're concerned for your bed partner's satisfaction?"
The rose was set down on the table. "If this is a matter of your male potency, certainly it would be better discussed with Doctor Po."
Heero's face warmed, embarrassed that his words would be misconstrued that way. "It's not that. We're fine... I'm fine that way."
Treize smiled, seeming greatly relieved. "But you are stumbling over something. It doesn't pay to be coy."
"I've come to ask for Duo's release."
The words, the request spilled out of him as though he had had them on his tongue for days. But they had just appeared, forming in the moment out of the very rightness of the idea.
"That's rather unexpected." Treize stared at him as though he was measuring the sincerity of the request. He picked up his cup of rose tea, sipped it and said, "No."
"No?" Heero leant forward surprised at the flat, solid punch of Treize's answer. Surely he'd misunderstood the question. "How can you say 'no' when we haven't discussed it?"
"Because I know the arguments." Treize was being extremely smug and in control, sipping his tea casually.
"But I haven't given you my reasons."
"Dear boy," Treize said, setting the bone china cup in its saucer with the utmost delicacy. "You couldn't possibly have thought this through, because if you had you wouldn't be making such a ridiculous request."
Heero was ready to fight for this, but in deference to his mentor he would keep things gentlemanly.
"He's served his purpose," he said.
Treize tsked the reason away dismissively.
"We had no right to kidnap and force him into sexual servitude," he said, taking the stakes higher.
Treize brushed at the sleeve of his suit jacket, sweeping aside the claim.
"He's unhappy," he said, getting personal.
Treize got up from his chair and turned to the window. "The world is unhappy."
Heero's brow furrowed as he stared at Treize's back. "What do you want me to say? That I'm in love with him?"
Treize turned to face him once again, a smile tugging at his lips. "Are you... in love with him?"
Heero swallowed hard, but the lump remained in his throat. All the signs of love had been there for a long time, but relationships were new to Heero, and without perspective he had hesitated to jump in too deep. And yet he had jumped in, head first. It was not until he was on the other side of the world, wishing Duo was at his side, that he realized the truth and accepted the depth of his feelings.
"Yes," he said, in a clear voice. "I love him."
Treize nodded and then slowly walked over to the large window. His silence gave Heero hope, because if anyone understood love and romance it was Treize.
"I never pictured you the kind to die on the thorn of love," Treize said as he gazed outside.
The metaphor was lost on Heero who knew little of love, and less of romance. He didn't want anyone to die... that was the point.
Minutes passed before Treize turned away from the window, sighing deeply. "To love is to let go. Is that what you want... to set this love of yours free into the great unknown?"
"Yes," Heero said, standing. He wished he had Treize's talent for elegant speech. That's exactly what he wanted-to set his love free!
"The moment Duo Maxwell steps off this property he becomes a liability." Treize's tone was hard now, all business. The soft, poetic musings were gone. "You know what we do to liabilities."
Heero gave a curt nod.
Treize grinned. "Your lover would become a very dangerous and unacceptable liability in the big, wide world."
"He wouldn't betray us."
"Ha!" Treize laughed. "He could and he would... for a price."
"No," Heero said, firmly. "Duo understands the importance of the Project. He believes in what we do... that we're making the world a better place."
"Mere words. He'd say anything to please his captors."
That could be true, but Heero had seen the change in Duo over time. Duo was bright and honest, and unapologetic when it came to his opinions. He had no reason to lie when the truth cut as deep.
"It's an unacceptable risk," Treize said, staring him down. "The answer is no."
Heero walked towards his superior, coming to a stop only a few feet in front of the man. "We could place him in a witness protection program. If he makes a move against us, you can send me to take him out."
Treize's eyes narrowed on him. "You would kill the man you love?"
Heero's heart pounded in his chest. "To protect the Project---"
"Let's pray it doesn't come to that."
"Then... you'll release him?"
The general stepped over to his mahoghany desk and pressed the comm button. "Lady Une, would you step in here please?"
Heero held his breath waiting for Treize's personal assistant to arrive. He knew better than to repeat the question. Treize had his own way of doing things, and it was wise to follow his lead. At last, Une came into the room. This was the first Heero had seen her in days, and she smiled at him sweetly. He nodded a greeting.
"Mr. Maxwell's services are no longer needed," Treize said to Une. "He will be leaving us... alive. Please make the necessary arrangements for his new identity."
"How long will that take?" Heero asked.
"The forgers only need a few hours," Une said.
Heero's body tensed. So, it was actually happening. He had negotiated Duo's release, and they would be parting ways.
"I'll work out the details of transport and compensation with Lady Une. All you need do is give him the news."
Heero nodded, but needed clarification on one point. "Compensation, sir?"
"Yes, it occurred to me that he's been working for us these past weeks and should be compensated. It will make his transition into his new life easier. Don't you agree?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then I expect this operation to get underway late this afternoon. Unless you'd prefer to delay his departure until the morrow?"
Heero considered the offer. Duo could be on his way in about five hours, or they could share another night together. The option was tempting, but he had already made up his mind.
"We should proceed as quickly as possible," Heero said.
"Very good." Treize turned to his assistant. "Lady, I'll need to speak with you again in a few minutes."
"Of course, sir." She hesitated at Heero's side, seeming to sense the magnitude of what was happening. She gave his forearm a gentle squeeze and then left.
"You understand that once he leaves your paths will never cross again," Treize said.
If that was the sacrifice he needed to make to give Duo his freedom then so be it. He had already asked too much of Duo. It was only fitting that he release him back into the world.
"I understand. Thank you," Heero said, holding out his hand.
Treize took the proferred hand and gave it a good shake. "If you change your mind---"
"I won't," he said, quickly. I can't.... Heero stood at attention, clicking his heels and bowing at the waist. "As always, I am indebted to your kindness."
He heard the responding precise click, and knew that Treize was returning the bow. They didn't often honor each other with such formality, but this moment was special.
"I am proud to have witnessed such a selfless act."
Heero looked up, his eyes wide with shock. "I'm hardly selfless---"
"Dear boy, you're making the ultimate sacrifice for love. I commend you."
To be given such high praise by his mentor was an honor indeed. It would give him the strength he needed to see this so-called selfless act through.