Disclaimer: The boys belong to Bandai/Sotsu/Sunrise, honest.

Notes: Detailed notes are provided with the Prologue to this fic.

"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'

Chapter Nine
by D.C. Logan

Duo paused outside of the door to Heero's apartment as Wufei worked at separating a spare key from his set. He seemed to be having some difficulty doing it, and Duo looked around at his surroundings as he waited patiently.

Duo hadn't been in the apartment portion of this building before. While the storefront area had been restored with an eye towards historical accuracy and warm charm, this part of the building was a technogeek's wet dream with magnetic locks, a state-of-the-art security system that he just _knew_ he was going to accidentally set off, and automatic lighting systems in the halls and stairwell. It was pretty damn impressive. Whatever Heero wrote to deserve his paycheck, it must be selling well. No wonder Duo's landlord could afford to give him a break on rent. The residential section of the building must be bringing in a fortune.

Wufei was saying something, so he tuned him back in.

"Every other apartment in the building has electronic locks with magnetic cards for keys. Heero doesn't trust them, so he had a regular deadbolt system installed and has an additional security system in his flat for when he's away."

Duo nodded; keys, security system. Check.

Wufei opened the door and swung it wide, and indicated that Duo should precede him. Wufei moved to a control box on the right-hand wall and started to punch in a key sequence while Duo took his first scan of the room. Duo didn't know what he was expecting, but it wasn't this.

The room was sterile, barren, and very empty. No plants, no personality. It looked like it had been professionally decorated for the initial sale of the apartment and hadn't been changed since--there wasn't even a dent in the sofa cushions. It didn't connect at all with the picture Duo had of Heero's lively mind and varied set of interests. He felt a quick stab of disappointment, and realized that, however subconsciously, he'd been looking forward to learning more about Heero through the space he lived in and the things he chose to keep around him, and he felt cheated of a prize he'd unconsciously expected. He walked across the room to look at the view of the square from the upper windows, but the blinds were pulled across them, and he didn't have enough time to figure out the complicated mechanism before Wufei called for his attention.

"Want the full tour?" He didn't wait for Duo to acknowledge him, but moved off towards the right and through a frosted glass door. "Kitchen," Duo looked around, pretending an interest he didn't share. It was pristine, very white, and had as much emotional impact as the living room. He bet that the refrigerator would have prepackaged meals and drinks in perfect rows across each of the shelves. Heero couldn't possibly live here, only a strange shadow of the man he'd met and grown into friendship with.

He waited until Wufei had moved on to the next room, and cracked the refrigerator door open, and felt a resurgence of hope. Takeout boxes and Styrofoam containers were stacked haphazardly and crammed hodgepodge into the lighted space. So, Heero was human after all. Duo felt a strange leaping sensation inside his chest as he went to catch up to Wufei. There was a dining room as antiseptic as the rest, and a guest bedroom with private bath that wasn't much of an improvement either. Didn't this guy have any _stuff_?

Wufei turned to him at the next door, "brace yourself," was Duo's only warning, as Wufei opened the door and pushed it to the side. An explosion of color and clutter and confusion hit Duo's brain, amplified by the sterility it had been prefaced with. _Here_ was Heero's brain made tangible and three-dimensional, and Duo cautiously moved forward to explore the intriguing chaos with delight. What a discovery! Books rose in balanced stacks braced along the wall, in crates between the windows, and as short freestanding towers throughout the room. A narrow path wandered through the clutter to an overstuffed empty red chair that sat near the window, another cut over to an overflowing desk with three computers vying for space on its surface. File cabinets lined the far wall, and they appeared to be in immaculate order. There was a hand-and-a-half Chinese sword balanced on top of them with part of a human skeleton and a battered old violin case that had destination stickers all over its surface. Art prints were framed and stacked against the wall, a television with VCR and DVD player balanced delicately on the top of the casing took up residence on the floor next to an overflowing recycled paper bin. An antique rocking chair had stacks of books artfully piled on it in such a way as to balance the rockers with enough of a reverse tilt to prevent catastrophe. The rungs of the chair had small bits of colored string tied to them, and looked as if they had served as a teething device for a large puppy or ten small ones. The sheer volume of stuff was overwhelming in contrast to the previous room and Duo stood next to the chair and spun around slowly, absorbing as much as he could to remember for later study. Incredible, _this_ was plain evidence of the brilliant mind he'd seen under Heero's quiet demeanor... and it was fascinating.

He turned and noticed Wufei watching him with barely suppressed amusement. Duo cracked a grin back at him, "Wasn't expecting this after seeing the rest of the place."

Wufei looked around appraisingly, and nodded in agreement. "C'mon then, two more rooms to go."

Duo followed him eagerly from the room. The next room was obviously Heero's bedroom. It had little clutter, but certainly more personality than the clinical living room. The entire room was decorated in soft grays, blues and greens. Save for the riot of color that was the (Duo hoped to god it was a copy) Chagall over the king-sized bed.

Except for the painting, and some assorted end-table clutter though, it could have been a hotel room. It seemed that the only place Heero let his mind out to wander was within the confines of his home office.

The last room was an unusual surprise. Wufei unlocked the door and pushed it open, revealing to Duo that the entire room had been given over to storage. Neatly labeled boxes lined the walls and a small table in the center held only a three-ring binder and a pencil. Duo looked at Wufei, wondering why he'd bothered to show him this room. Damn if the guy wasn't mellowing. He actually looked cheerful dammit.

"Okay, what gives?"

Wufei motioned him over to the table, and followed him, reaching from behind to flip the binder open and let Duo review the pages.

Duo looked over the neat lines of a database printout. There were tiny, penciled notations in the margin on a number of the pages. He flipped the pages in sequence, but didn't grasp what it was that Wufei was trying to show him. "Okay, it's a database, with... looks like titles and authors."

Wufei turned his attention from Duo back to the book and he flipped the pages back to the beginning of the file. Pointing at the title there, "This is a list of every book Heero has ever read or remembers reading. Most of them are in this room, catalogued and cross-referenced by author, title, subject, its storage location, and the date he read them."

Duo looked around the room again, the very large room, and slowly grasped the enormity of what Wufei had just told him. The boxes were stacked on shelving, the shelving was on casters so each unit could slide away from the wall and allow Heero to reach the back row of boxes. There were an awful lot of boxes. He looked back at Wufei, "You didn't need to show me this."

"No, I didn't, but I wanted you to realize what it's meant to Heero to have a place to visit where he is welcome, and someone to share that experience with." He paused thoughtfully, wondering how much to reveal, and extended a probe a bit further. "Heero doesn't get out often, he doesn't usually want to--or have to." Wufei walked to the door, waited for Duo to precede him into the hall, and shut the door quietly behind him.

Wufei studied Duo; he looked a bit dazed, he decided. Okay, maybe that had been a bit much to throw at him like that, but he needed to get an understanding of how seriously fixated Heero could be. Better he was forewarned. Heero would be coming home in under 24 hours, he had to be at least somewhat prepared to cope with him.

Heero was home. It was time to kill Wufei.

Some friend he was. He'd picked Heero up at the hospital as arranged and brought him back here. The staggering, chest-pinching climb up the stairs didn't bear remembering. He felt like hell, he looked like hell, he wanted a bath and his bed in precisely that order. He'd stumbled into his apartment, kicked off his slippers, lurched his way over to the sofa, and sat there gasping. Wufei had muttered something about checking to make sure that the bed was turned down or some such nonsense and had disappeared, only to return to the living room just in time to answer the security intercom from the bottom of the stairs. Oscar the Thug had entered his apartment and claimed it as his own minutes later. Heero was pissed, Wufei was nonplussed, and The Creature was eyeing up his next helpless plaything. Heero felt panic lift and clench in his gut, there was no way Wufei was going to leave him alone with this cretin.

Wufei left him alone with the cretin.

He'd apologized for it, which had been decent of him, but had claimed an important meeting and the need to get back to his business for at least a few days. Hell, the guy had flown here on a moment's notice and had been living out of a suitcase for nearly two weeks. If the situation had been reversed, Heero wasn't sure he would have gone to the same lengths... That thought actually hurt, that Wufei was a better friend to him than he was in return. Yet he knew it was true.

Heero looked up from his sofa at the nurse Wufei had hired for his incarceration. Attila, or whatever his name was, had decided that Heero should be kept still and quiet. Some nurse, the guy would make a hell of a defensive end. He'd only been here three hours, and Heero was getting more and more uncomfortable by the second. Hell, he didn't have the guts or nerve to ask the grunt if it was okay for him to use the toilet. Worse yet, the guy might insist on wiping his ass, since he had no use of the one arm, and only limited functionality of the other. He supposed his doctors could live with him taking the sling off for a couple of minutes. There was simply no way he was going to let bricks-for-body help him in that regard. Not a possibility.

Heero saw Wufei's generosity in a different light then. Wufei had planned this. He must have seen an opportunity to finally get even with Heero for all the hell he'd put him through during the more than twenty years they'd known each other, and he'd grasped the opportunity with two hands of enthusiasm. It was the only excuse for the muscle-bound behemoth currently pacing around the perimeter of the room.

He felt his bladder expand another notch, and cringed involuntarily. Okay, killing wasn't good enough for Wufei any longer, it would have to be torture first, and then a nice slow death that would be excruciatingly painful hours after his heart stopped. He'd written, he counted on his toes since his fingers weren't all visible, nine gory death scenes that he considered suitable. The one with the rabid Doberman and the cast iron doorstop might actually work.

...And speaking of rabid Dobermans, Mister Cuddles was coming over to breathe stale cigarette breath in Heero's face again. Ugh. He plastered on a look that he hoped looked pained and tried and hoped for the best. He also hoped that Wufei had taken the time to lock the doors to his office and his book room so this Neanderthal couldn't paw though his things. No, Wufei would be careful about that, he knew how private those two rooms were to him and would never allow anyone access to them without Heero's express permission. Never.

He looked up, he didn't like the look he was getting from his nurse: one of those considering sneers that he'd seen on the nurses at the hospital. The look that said that _he_ knew what was right for his patient, even if said patient wasn't in agreement. All of his thoughts about 'clinical detachment' and nursing procedures circled his head. He was alone, handicapped, in a high-security apartment with an insolent knuckle-dragger, and Wufei was safely in flight somewhere over the midwest by now. He was screwed. Well, hopefully not.

"Wanna take a sponge bath?"

Oh lord, not that, _never_ that. Not with this guy. There was no way he was going to let this creature touch him in such an intimate manner no matter how lofty his credentials. He'd live happily covered in filth before submitting to that sort of injustice.

"Uh, no that's okay. I think maybe I'll just go sleep for a while."

The thug had apparently noticed his discomfort, as he smiled when suggesting, "Want me to help you into bed then?"

Heero paused for a moment to consider how he'd like to respond to that question, but was interrupted by the sound of the entrance bell from the foyer of the building. Mr. Grunt walked over to the door to check the video screen with the view of the entry doorway.

"It's a guy with a baseball cap carrying a book, you want I should let him... Oh, never mind, he's letting himself in."

'Saved by the bell.' He'd thought the expression trite and overused before but had a whole new appreciation for it now. It must be Duo, but how did he know where Heero lived? And where did he get a key? Okay, so Wufei had just moved from the 'slow and painful death' column back into the 'going to die, but maybe not so horrifically' column. Which column Duo was going to wind up in remained to be seen, but Mister Cuddles could definitely be labeled 'cretin,' no doubt about it. Heero seemed to recall that Wufei had said something about giving Duo a key in case Heero needed anything, but things got a little fuzzy after that.

He breathed a soft sigh of relief, a third person, a known quantity, thank god.

The cretin spoke, "You think you're up to company?"

Heero tried to shrug, flinched, "Please. Let him in." He hoped that hadn't sounded too desperate or eager. Hell, his nurse was giving him an odd considering look now. Damn. He hoped he wasn't reading too much into all of this.

Duo entered the apartment, looked around, and introduced himself to Heero's nurse. He seemed perfectly at ease with the guy, and Heero felt an unwanted stab of jealousy. He didn't want to share Duo with the mutant. Or, he realized, with anyone he found distasteful or otherwise. Shit, when had he invested this much into Duo? It must have happened when he wasn't looking.

Duo glanced around the apartment, funny, it didn't seem so sterile when Heero was sitting in the middle of all of it. Heero looked like hell though, he really should have stayed in the hospital another couple of days, but Duo had been on the receiving end of hospital treatment a time or two himself and he couldn't blame Heero for wanting to get back into his own space as quickly as possible. Duo walked over to the sofa, book extended as a peace offering, but set it on the table when it hit him that Heero wouldn't be able to take it for himself. "Hey Heero, nice to see you out of the hospital so soon, mind if I sit with you for a while?"

"No, I'm grateful for the company." Heero watched the goon shuffle back into the guest room to give the two of them some privacy, and then looked back at Duo. Duo's eyes were flicking all over the room, landing periodically on Heero, but finally settling on his face. He didn't mince words.

"You look like hell Heero. What are you doing sitting out here on the couch? You should be in bed, or at least resting. Didn't your doctors tell you to take it easy?"

He came out with "Yes, they did," while his mind raced. He needed assistance, that went without saying, but which was the lesser of two evils; the grunt, who he was terrified of but who was an impartial observer to Heero's life, or Duo, who he was more comfortable with, but didn't want to make a bad impression in front of? He decided quickly. "And you're right, my bed sounds like a good idea right now. Can you give me a hand up?"

Duo smiled, Heero was going to let him help. "Sure." Duo stood in front of Heero, leaned down, and gently shifted his hands around Heero's chest, steadying him as he rose from the sofa. He held him there for a moment, waiting for Heero to find his balance. Heero wobbled, but found his center quickly. He looked at Duo. He hadn't realized until this moment, how similar they were in height. Duo had always seemed taller somehow, but his eyes were even with his own and there was something in them that Heero was afraid to explore. At least right now.

Duo dropped his gaze to Heero's shoulder, a safer subject, sort of. Standing like this, a foot apart, his hands firm around Heero's ribs, it felt almost like an embrace. He stilled, thinking about that and holding on to the thought for a precious moment or two before releasing Heero and taking a cautious step back from him--hands still raised in case he needed to return the support.

Heero walked with careful measured steps down the hall and to his bedroom. Duo followed silently, close behind him in case he stumbled. His bedroom looked just as he'd left it, except that Wufei had indeed turned down the covers and set a fresh carafe of water on his bedside table. How he was supposed to manage it without the full use of his arms remained to be seen however. He paused outside of his bathroom, and Duo waited behind him. Hell.

Duo seemed to understand his predicament. "I'll be right here if you need me. Alright?"

"Thanks," the word seemed inadequate, but was heartfelt.

Heero surprised himself. He actually managed quite well, considering. The shoulder was sore from the dislocation, but he found that he could shift his arm through the sling in a way that gave him both support and some limited mobility. He looked at the bathtub with longing, tomorrow maybe. Duo was standing outside the door, waiting for him in case he needed help. Empty and relieved, Heero had thoughts only for his bed at the moment. He staggered to the edge of the mattress, and gratefully accepted the support of Duo's hands as he helped Heero lower his body into the bed and positioned his arms in comfortable tilts. Heero sighed and closed his eyes. He was so tired, he felt like hell, and it was so good to be back in his own place. He felt fingers trail though his bangs, displacing them from his face, and heard footsteps leave, and then return. He didn't remember anything after that, as sleep claimed him.

on to chapter ten

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