Act of Contrition
'I hurt him I hurt him what did I do why did I lie I hurt him his eyes were dead what have I done how can I fix this I don't think I can fix this please god fix this I'm sorry Heero I lied I'm sorry forgive me what have I done…'
The mental litany was broken by a discreet cough from behind him. Duo's eyes flew open, the sudden influx of light causing him to wince slightly in pain. He squeezed the rosary in his hand tighter, relishing in the pain caused by the crucifix digging into the palm of him hand. He felt something slippery slide through his clenched fingers and down his wrist. He'd drawn blood. Good. He deserved it.
"Duo? Are you all right?" A gentle hand settled on his shoulder. Duo craned his head up to see the concerned face of Father O'Brien peering down at him.
"I'm fine, Father," he replied, voice still hoarse from the previous nights… activities. He'd avoided everyone like the plague for most of the day. He wasn't ready to face other people yet, and it was all he could do to keep from shaking like a leaf in front of his mentor, or bolting for the door to get away.
"You've been kneeling here all day, Duo. Is something wrong?"
'Go away please go away,' his mind intoned while his voice said. "No, really Father. I'm fine."
Instead of leaving like Duo fervently hoped he would, the aging priest knelt down beside him, wincing slightly as his joints creaked in protest. "There's obviously something on your mind, child. Perhaps you would feel better if you unburdened your soul?"
Duo shook his head, careful not to let his mentor see his face, the unshed tears in his eyes or the deep circles indicating lack of sleep. "I'm okay, Father. Really. There's just… something I need to figure out, and I really think I need to do this on my own."
"'Pain shared is pain halved,'" the Father quoted, taking Duo's hands in his own. Feeling something sticky on his hands, he looked down and cried out. "Duo, you're bleeding!"
Duo jerked his hands away. "It's nothing. Just a little scratch…"
"That's more than a little scratch, Duo. Come on. Help me up off this floor and we'll go to my office where I can patch up your hand."
"Duo. Don't make me pull rank on you," Father O'Brien ordered. "Now be a good lad and help me up. My knees aren't what they used to be."
Duo sighed and assisted his mentor off the ground. He kept his crucifix clenched tightly in his hand, the pain rushing up his arm was the only thing keeping him grounded. He let Father O'Brien lead him to his office, allowing his mentor to push him into a comfortable chair where he sat, staring at the floor, while the older priest searched his office for some bandages.
"Here, let me see that."
Duo blinked. He hadn't even noticed that Father O'Brien had pulled up a chair next to him, bandages in one hand, wet cloth in the other. Reluctantly he allowed the priest to pry open his hand. Father O'Brien clucked in astonishment as he saw the damage Duo had inflicted upon himself.
"Duo, Duo. Why did you do this?" he admonished gently as he bathed the blood from the wound.
"I don't know. The pain… keeps me from thinking too much I guess. I'm sorry."
With the wound now clean, the elderly priest squeezed some ointment onto it before beginning to wrap the hand in gauze. "What's on your mind Duo?" When the younger priest didn't answer, he pressed his lips together and nonchalantly asked, "Does it have anything to do with the young man who came to visit you last night?"
Duo's head snapped up, eyes wide with surprise. "How did you…"
The old man chuckled. "I couldn't sleep last night. I heard something in the chapel. You and your friend were quite… vocal."
Duo felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment. "Father, I'm so sorry. I can explain…"
Father O'Brien held up a hand to interrupt him. "No need. I know something of your history with that boy. I also know that your time here… has been somewhat stressful, am I right?"
Duo nodded wordlessly.
The older priest gave him a wry smile. "I, too, remember what it was like to be young and still new to the priesthood. I strayed from my path once as well. It took a lot of soul searching before I was ready to move on. And I suspect it will be the same for you."
Duo stared at him incredulously. "But… I know my path. I am a priest. That *is* my path, and one I can't be allowed to stray from." His shoulders slumped. "But I've sinned. I… broke the vow of chastity, and I need to do my penance. I *am* ashamed of my actions, but I know what I did was wrong and I am ready to move on..."
"But?" Father O'Brien voiced the unspoken word.
"But… it's Hee… my friend. I think I hurt him. Deeply. And that… well I don't know how to fix that," he replied mournfully.
The older priest looked at him for a long moment before speaking again. "Duo, tell me something. Why did you become a priest?"
Duo blinked at him. "I… I've always known I was going to be a priest. You know of the Maxwell Church incident?" Father O'Brien nodded. "Father Maxwell was like a real father to me. Before he died, I promised him I'd become a priest one day, just like him."
Father O'Brien shook his head. "Ah, Duo. I thought as much. When you first arrived, I wondered why you had chosen this path. It doesn't fit you."
"Please let me finish. You're a good lad, and you have a big heart. But promise or no promise, I don't think this is really the life for you." He took Duo's hands in his. "I didn't want to say anything before because I knew you were still trying to find your way. But I believe now I can offer my help and my advice."
Duo could feel a solitary tear slip down his cheek. "Why didn't you say anything sooner?"
"Would it have changed your mind?"
Duo looked away.
"Duo, the desire to become a priest, to devote one's life to the service of God, should come from here." He tapped Duo's chest just above his heart. "Not from here." He tapped Duo's head.
"But… Father Maxwell… he did so much for me. And I… I promised to be just like him. I can't break that promise. It'd be like… betraying him all over again."
Father O'Brien sucked in his breath. "Duo, I read the reports on the Maxwell Church Incident. You were in no way to blame for what happened there. You might have made some foolish decisions, but you were a *child* and not to blame!"
"I keep telling myself that, Father. But I can't make myself believe it. And that's why I am a priest. To take up where Father Maxwell left off. To be like him, just like I promised before he died!"
The older priest sat back in his chair and looked at his young charge. "Duo, what exactly did you promise Father Maxwell?" Duo opened his mouth to speak but was stalled by Father O'Brien's hand on his arm. "Think carefully. What were your exact words?"
Duo's brow creased, eyes closed in concentration as his mind sought that fateful day in his memory, the day before the massacre at Maxwell Church. It was hard to relive such a painful moment, harder still, to talk about it. "He… wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I promised him I would, that I would grow up to be just like him."
"And do you think he meant that you should become a priest?"
Duo opened his mouth, then closed it again, looking suddenly both surprised and horrified. "I… I don't know. I always thought… I always thought that's what he meant. To become a priest, just like he was."
"I think what he wanted was for you to grow up to be a kind, caring, and honest person, Duo. Which you have done. You didn't need to enter the priesthood to do that. You became who you are on your own. You don't need a white collar and a rosary to be the person you are, lad. You never did."
Duo stared at him, eyes wide in shock and horror. "But… I can't just throw it all away."
"No. But you need to reevaluate your life. Is being a priest something *you* want, or is it something you did to please old ghosts?" He took Duo's hand again. "I don't think Father Maxwell would have wanted you to be unhappy. Do you?"
Duo was silent for a long while, trying to digest his mentor's words. All those years, had he wasted them following the wrong path? No, not wasted. He'd done good work with the children and his community. But was it the right path? He closed his eyes, visualizing Father Maxwell and Sister Helen in his mind. How he had loved them… they'd been the parents he'd never had. They would have been proud to see him as a priest, but would they have wanted him to do so at the sake of his happiness? He didn't think so. And… he wasn't happy here. He'd known that for a long time, he just didn't want to admit it to himself for fear of losing what precious little happiness he gained from being a priest. But now… now he realized what had to be done. He had to accept what he knew in his heart to be right.
He swallowed and stood, removing the little white strip of cloth from his collar and placing it on the desk. "I… I am sorry, Father. I didn't know… didn't realize…" He broke off, choking on his own words. Even though he felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his shoulders, he still felt like he was letting his friend and mentor down.
Father O'Brien stood and hugged him. "It's all right, child. You walked this path for a little while, but no one is forcing you to stay on it."
"I just don't want you to be disappointed in me," he sniffled, his mentor's embrace reminding him of another loving pair of arms from long ago.
"I would only have been disappointed if you had made your decision for the wrong reasons, Duo. I am now and will always be proud of you."
"Th…thanks." He sniffed again. "I'd been having these doubts for a long time, I guess. I just didn't want to admit to them."
"Until your friend forced you to see them, yes?" Duo nodded. "He's a very good friend, I think, Duo. He obviously cares a lot for you."
"And I for him," he whispered in reply. He stepped back, out of the older priest's embrace, and smiled at him warmly. "And now… now I think I need to go fix what I messed up."
"Good luck, my child," Father O'Brien said as Duo turned towards the door. The young man placed his hand on the doorknob, only to pause as the priest spoke again. "Duo, wait."
"What is it?" the younger man asked, turning back to face his mentor.
"Here." The priest pressed something into his uninjured hand. Duo looked down to see his crucifix shining in his palm, the edges still tinged with his blood. "Just because you're leaving the priesthood doesn't mean you need to abandon your faith. Take that as a reminder. And remember, you're always welcome here, my son."
Duo smiled again, heart near to bursting over hearing the Father call him his son. He knew he'd gained another family member in his mentor, and knew Father Maxwell would have been proud. "Thank you, Father. I'll be sure to remember that," he replied, voice choked with emotion as he clutched the little crucifix to his chest and turned the knob, opening the door to the beginning of the rest of his life.
But first… he had to fix what he had broken. He only hoped he hadn't broken Heero completely. He was ready to come home, to be happy but… he just prayed it wasn't too late to do so.
He took the stairs two at a time, hoping, praying he wasn't too late and Heero hadn't left already. This was the only hotel within a four block radius of the church. He'd had to bribe the man behind the desk for Heero's room number, and although the weasily little desk clerk had said Heero hadn't checked out yet, Duo didn't put it past his lover to have left without telling anyone.
His lover - Duo's heart leapt into his throat. He hoped Heero would still want him as his lover after what he'd done. How could he have been so blind? Not only had he come close to destroying his own self-worth, he'd nearly destroyed Heero in the process. At least, he hoped he hadn't destroyed Heero completely. He didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if anything happened to Heero.
He skidded to a halt in front of room 305 - Heero's room. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, and knocked.
Well, he could fix that. Reaching around for his braid, he slid a slender lock pick out of the end, thanking whatever deity reigned above that some habits were hard to break. He knelt and slid the lock pick into the lock. A moment later, he heard the familiar *click* as the lock disengaged. Shoving the pick into his pocket, he stood and carefully swung the door open.
The room was dark. He slowly moved further inside, not bothering to turn out the light. With a heavy heart, he knew Heero was not there. But…
He moved to the dresser and opened the top drawer. With a sigh of relief, he noted that Heero's clothing was still there. Maybe he hadn't missed him after all.
The light came on, startling him. He spun around, drinking in the sight of his lover standing in the doorway. Standing in the doorway… glaring at him.
"H…hi Heero," he stammered, not quite sure where to begin.
"What are you doing here?" The harshness in Heero's voice made him wince.
Duo swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "I… I came to apologize."
"For what?" Heero asked, closing the door behind him. He set the ice bucket Duo hadn't noticed he had been carrying on a nearby table. "For letting me make a fool out of myself with you in that church?"
Duo felt a cold chill shoot through him. "No! I… I came to tell you that… you were right. I wasn't happy, and I *was* doing what I was doing for all the wrong reasons."
Heero stared at him for a moment before pushing past him to the little fridge next to the far wall. "Is that all?" he asked as he threw the door open and took out a bottle of clear liquid.
Duo winced. "Heero, I know you don't understand why I had to do what I did. Hell, sometimes I didn't understand it. But… you *were* right. I see that now. So I came to apologize and… and…" He trailed off, not knowing what to say. This was harder than he thought.
Heero unscrewed the cap on the bottle and tossed the contents back, obviously forgoing the ice he had brought with him. Duo's eyes narrowed. He stalked over to the Japanese man and wrenched the bottle away from his mouth.
"Dammit, Yuy! Getting drunk is *not* the answer here! What are you trying to do, drink yourself into a stupor so you can forget me? I can understand why you'd want to do that, but this… this stuff is *not* the way to do that. I've seen too many lives wrecked by booze and I'm not about to watch the same thing happen to you!"
Heero looked at him incredulously for a moment before doing something most unexpected - throwing his head back and letting out a burst of laughter. Duo blinked, then turned away. It was a kind of sarcastic laughter and not a particularly pleasant sound.
"You don't have to be rude about it," he muttered, turning away from Heero.
"Hn. Baka." Duo shot him a glare. "You know I don't drink."
"Then what…" Heero held up the bottle. Water. "Oh. S…sorry." He slumped against the dresser, staring at the floor.
"Duo, where's your collar?" Heero asked, voice suddenly taking on a dangerous edge.
Duo's hand moved unconsciously to his throat. "I… I left it behind."
Duo looked up, startled by Heero's sudden proximity. The dark-headed man was standing dangerously close. Duo swallowed nervously. "Because I… I didn't need it anymore."
"And why didn't you need it?" He reached out and Duo found himself being slammed against the wall. "Why did you come here, Duo? Decide you hadn't had enough?"
His fingers dug painfully into the American's arms. Duo opened his mouth to protest but was silenced with a kiss - a biting, punishing kind of kiss that made his skin crawl. He jerked his head to the side.
"Heero! Stop! What are you…"
"Is this what you wanted, Duo? Another fling before cloistering yourself away from the world again?" He ground his hips almost painfully into Duo's. "You don't love me but you'll fuck me, is that it?"
"Heero, no! Stop!" He squirmed between the wall and Heero's body, trying vainly to keep from panicking. "Heero!!" With all his strength, he managed to bring his arms up and shove Heero away from him. The Japanese man stumbled backwards as Duo sagged against the wall. For a moment, neither one of them moved. Then Heero's eyes widened in shock as sanity returned. He gave Duo a mournful look, then collapsed on the edge of the bed, head buried in his hands.
Duo pushed himself off the wall and stumbled the two steps to the bed to sit down on the edge next to Heero. He leaned his elbows on his knees and rested his face on his hands.
"What a couple of screw ups we are, eh Yuy?" he asked after a moment of silence.
"Duo, I'm… so very sorry," Heero replied, staring at the floor.
"Yeah. I'm sorry too." He straightened and looked over at his former partner. "Heero, I…"
"What did you mean?" the other man interrupted abruptly, not letting Duo finish his thought.
"About you not needing your collar anymore." Heero dragged his eyes up to meet Duo's.
"O-oh." Again, his hand flew up to where the little white strip of cloth had been only an hour before. "I left it behind. I won't need it… where I'm going."
"And where are you going?" Heero asked softly.
Duo took a deep breath. Here it was, the moment of truth. "Home. With you. If… if you'll have me."
Heero blinked at him. "You left the priesthood?" Duo nodded shyly. "For… me?"
"No. I left it for me. You were right. I wasn't happy. And… it wasn't where I needed to be." His voice was now reduced to little more than a whisper.
Heero leaned in closer. "And where is it you need to be?"
Duo swallowed, his skin suddenly feeling too tight. "With you. I need to be… with you."
He barely had the last word out of his mouth when Heero's lips were upon his. Duo's hand flew up to clutch at Heero's shirt, afraid to let go for fear of getting lost in the whirlpool of emotions swirling inside of him. He sobbed into Heero's mouth, feeling tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. But he did not care. They were tears of joy. He was home. He was finally home.
Heero wrenched his mouth away with some effort. He looked at Duo, eyes glassy and bright. "How? Why? What about your promise?"
Duo smiled. "I… had a talk with someone who helped me see that I was honoring my promise in the wrong way. Father and Sister would have wanted me to be happy first and foremost, not suffering for an ideal I foolishly misinterpreted. I can still honor my promise to Father Maxwell without giving up my happiness. So with his blessing… I left… to find you." He leaned forward and kissed Heero softly on the mouth. "You're my happiness, Heero."
Heero stared at him for a long, long moment… then pounced. The wind was knocked out of him as he landed flat on the bed, breath stolen by Heero's mouth upon his own. Impatient hands worked feverishly on the buttons of his shirt, pulling them open so fast Duo was sure a few were popped off in the rush. The American laughed and grabbed Heero's hands, halting their progress.
Duo laughed again and kissed Heero on the nose. "Not so fast, Heero. Don't rush it." He kissed the other man again. "After all… we have all the time in the world."
Heero smiled. Duo's heart leapt at the sight. Heero wasn't broken. He would be all right. *They* would be all right.
They spent a long time kissing, simply content to refamiliarize and remember the taste of each other. When idle hands began to wander, the room echoed with sharp intakes of breath and low, breathy moans. Clothing was removed a piece at a time, the skin beneath worshipped thoroughly as it became exposed. At some point during their slow dance, Heero rolled on top of Duo, clothing having long since vanished. He took one of Duo's arms and reverently kissed a trail all the way down to the palm of his hand where the bandage was still wrapped around his injury.
Duo watched silently as Heero unwound the bandage to stare at the wound. "How did you do this?" he asked, gently caressing the wound.
Duo flexed his hand, wincing a little in pain. "Think of it as my penance. My act of contrition for how I wronged you."
Heero continued to stare at his hand. "It's deep. It will leave a scar."
"Good. It will be a reminder of what I almost lost, so I will never again try to drive you away."
"You couldn't even if you wanted to. You're stuck with me now, Duo Maxwell."
"And you with me, Heero Yuy."
Heero entwined his fingers with Duo's, careful not to place too much pressure on the wound. With his mouth and body, he stoked the fires within them, building them up until both were burning with desperate need. Whispered promises fell from heated lips. Skin gleamed with sweat in the dim light of the room. Eyes locked and bodies joined. But never once did their hands part.
When Heero was seated deep within Duo's body, he paused. Neither one dared move for fear of shattering the moment and waking up to find it had all been a dream. But then Duo's hand squeezed Heero's, and the dream continued.
Heero rocked his body against Duo, a gentle motion that sent shivers down the American's spine. Nothing about the movement was hard or rushed. They took their time, moving against one another, in no hurry to reach completion. Duo stared up at Heero, amazed at how someone so beautiful inside and out could possibly want *him*. But he wasn't going to question it. He was done with questions now that he had all the answers he needed.
Gradually Heero began to move faster, deeper. Duo arched his back, wrapping his legs around Heero's waist. They were one now, and he never wanted to let go. Heero's mouth found his, and he poured every emotion he had for his blue-eyed lover into a single kiss, knowing somehow instinctively that Heero knew what he was trying to say.
Heero broke off the kiss and stilled his movements. With his free hand, he smoothed away Duo's bangs, staring down into his lover's blue-violet eyes with a small smile on his face. "I love you," he whispered, giving Duo's hand another squeeze.
"I love you, too," Duo replied, taking back the lie that had nearly destroyed both of them. Heero kissed him again and resumed his task of slowly driving his lover out of his mind.
Their breathing came in long, shallow gasps as they moved beyond words. Higher and higher they flew as if trying to touch the very stars with their enjoined souls. Duo's body trembled, and he knew had he not been holding Heero's hand, he would have been lost. Heero kept him grounded even as they soared to amazing heights together.
Finally it was too much. Duo's eyes slid closed, his back arched completely off the bed as Heero pushed him over the edge. He fell willingly, knowing he would be safe in his lover's arms when he landed. He rode the waves of pleasure for as long as he could. He felt Heero reach his pinnacle, shouting Duo's name with a hoarse cry as he released himself inside his lover's body. He dropped down onto Duo's body and together they slowly drifted back down to earth, bodies and hands still joined.
They stayed together for as long as they could. When Heero finally separated from Duo, he rolled to the side so as not to crush his smaller lover. He wrapped Duo in his arms and held him close, kissing the top of his head as their bodies slowly began to relax.
"Tell me this isn't a dream, Heero," Duo murmured a long while later. "I don't think I could take it if I were to suddenly wake up to find this isn't real."
"It's not a dream. You're here and I love you."
Duo closed his eyes. "I'm sorry I lied," he said meekly. "Although… I didn't really."
Heero looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"When I said I didn't love you, not like I used to, that was the truth. When I saw you standing in that church… I knew that I loved you even more than I had before." He kissed Heero's chest. "I love you, Heero. And yet I know I love you less tonight than I will tomorrow morning." Heero smirked. "It is tomorrow morning, little baka."
"Oh. Than I can honestly say I love you more now than I did last night," he grinned.
Heero held him a moment longer, then sat up abruptly.
"Duo, how did you cut your hand?"
Duo blinked. "Um… I did it with the crucifix on my rosary. Why?"
"Where is it?"
"In my pants pocket I think." He watched in confusion as Heero scrambled out of bed and scrounged around on the floor. "Heero? What are you doing?"
Apparently finding what he was looking for, Heero returned to the bed, rosary in hand. Opening his palm, he used the sharp, bloody end of the crucifix to make a cut nearly identical to Duo's on his own hand.
"Now I have a reminder of the mistakes I made with *you*," he said, showing Duo his wound.
Duo blinked away tears as he took the rosary from his lover. Carefully he reopened the cut on his own hand just enough to let it bleed. With that accomplished, he clasped their wounded hands together, mingling their blood.
"I promised never to leave you willingly again, to love you and protect you until the day I die," he vowed, eyes shining and clear.
"And I promise not to rush headlong into things without first consulting *you*," Heero replied with a smile of his own. "I love you."
"And I love you," Duo replied, leaning in to steal a kiss.
"I'll never tire of hearing you say that, koi," Heero said a moment later.
"You won't have to. I intend on saying it to you every day for the rest of our lives." He lay back down on the bed, taking Heero with him. "We should sleep now. We need to get an early start tomorrow."
"Where are we going?" Heero asked as he gathered his lover to him.
"Home, Heero. We're going home."