The Little Red Book
by Dev-Aki Basaa
When Quatre came to me in tears, I comforted him the best I knew how. Which wasn't very much, actually. I should have sent him off to Wufei, but even with the strength of their fledging relationship, he still did not feel comfortable crying in front of him. I knew it would melt The Dragon into a puddle, but Quatre had to believe that himself before he risked being so vulnerable in his presence. A minor problem and one I felt confident they'd overcome in time. However, right now, it was in my arms he was crying and I found it hard to hold back the tears myself. Preventers had contacted us. Heero and Duo's mission was going badly. Very badly and at this point in time, they weren't expected to return.
There were conflicting reports, per usual, some of them confirming their deaths, others more vague and indescript, which could mean they'd been captured and made to look as if they'd been killed. Either way, caught in an underground ring of kill-fighting, it didn't look good. The idea was devastating. The home would not be the same without them - not the least of which because it's *their* home. They'd bought it together, after the wars. That was the first indication I had that there was a relationship there. Two years after the Marimeia Incident, they bought this large house on Earth and then turned around and extended an invitation to the rest of us to come live there with them.
Quatre had been so excited. He had contacted me to extend their invite and confessed how running his family's corporation had not been what he wanted for his life - he wanted to join Preventers, as Heero and Duo and Wufei had, and he took the invitation as the sign he needed to step away from the business (leaving it to his sisters) and move to Earth. It came to me as a sign too and so I moved into their home - for all the wrong reasons.
At first it was just the four of us, Wufei was content in his own place very near Preventers' Headquarters. But in time, and much to everyone's surprise, something blossomed between Wufei and Quatre and he moved in as well - straight to Quatre's room. Duo was thrilled. He kept saying he couldn't decide (besides Heero) which of the two of them was his best friend and how wonderful that they were now a unit. He didn't mention me as being a best friend, but then Duo and I were never close. In fact, Heero and I were never really close, either. It was probably Quatre I felt closest to and even that had its distance. But not right now. Right now he was in my arms devastated by the thought that his dear friends could be dead. He wanted to do something - always the man of action, Quatre, never one for sitting still - and so the books had been my suggestion.
Photo albums, collections of words, letters - all dedicated to Heero and Duo. We'd gather them as the days passed in waiting and place them on their bed so when they returned, it'd be to an outpouring of love and appreciation - a beautiful welcome home. And if they didn't, then we'd have something to lie in their graves. Trust me to always be brutally honest. If they did die on this mission, there were no bodies coming back to us. Quatre understood this and didn't begrudge me my morbid comment. And he adored the idea, latching onto it like a lifeline. It probably was. He made sure I agreed to add something to what would become a pile of books, stacked on Heero and Duo's bed.
That's when I pulled out my little red book.
It was very small, palm sized with not many pages. I'd written in it only once or twice during the war, but now it would serve a different purpose. I started writing to Heero and Duo. I don't even know what about - everything I guess. Remembrances, thoughts I had of them to share, that sort of thing. But the more I wrote, the more I realized I was writing only to Heero. And the more I wrote to Heero, the more my writing became something of a confession and a helpless appeal. I loved him and I told him so. I wrote it all.
Choose me, I love you. Pick me; love me.
As I said, I moved there for all the wrong reasons and had spent the last year doing a good job of fooling myself. But at the all too real prospect of his death, I didn't hold back and I didn't believe he'd ever read it. If they died, it would join him in his grave - if they lived, I'd remove it from the pile. Simple as that.
Nothing is ever simple.
I was there, in the kitchen with Quatre, when the call came in from Preventers. They were alive. Not only that, but Duo had already been in mission de-briefing for the past two days and was ready to come home. Would we come pick him up? Heero would follow two days later - he was just beginning his de-briefing. It was so amazing; they'd survived. I volunteered to pick up Duo - I knew Quatre wanted to go, but Wufei was coming down with something awful and refused to acknowledge it. The Dragon was quick to remind us that he never got sick. Quatre needed to stay with him and coax him to bed before it got worse. I predicted 'worse', but Quatre's more of an optimistic than I am. Just before I left, I gave thought to the little red book. I could have taken it off the pile right then, but I figured I'd get it when we returned.
Duo looked awful. Freshly showered, cleanly dressed, but he looked horrible. I'd never seen him so bad and I thought I'd seen him at his worse during the war. But he wasn't just haggard or weary, but soul-heavy and defeated.
"It was bad," was all he'd say. I think it's all he could say; it was so overwhelming that the only way to compute it was in the simplest of terms. It was bad. However, the look in his eyes told me he didn't just mean the mission. He meant his and Heero's relationship as well. The mission had strained it, perhaps beyond the point of no return. Time would tell. And I wanted to flail myself for the spark of hope that flared to life inside me after seeing the desolate way Duo glanced at the de-briefing room as we passed it. My friend was in pain and I hated myself for being glad of it.
But I was.
Back home, he began to tell bits and pieces of it - of being forced to fight each other and of having to watch atrocities committed on the other. They were used against each other, tortured to make the other break. Their love had worked against them, had become their worst Achilles' Heel. It was awful, what they'd been through - I'd wish it on no one, especially not Heero and Duo. But as I couldn't control my traitorous thoughts, I tried not to think at all. I made the decision to step out for a while when Quatre noticed the ring on Duo's finger. His left ring finger.
"We got married, just before we left on the mission," he answered, his voice so wistful it would have broken Quatre's heart if he'd any clue why he sounded as such. It should have at least melted mine, but instead I made excuses for needing to leave and left the kitchen table where we were all gathered. While grabbing my coat and shoes, I still picked up his story - the nice story - the wedding story.
"We knew it was going to be bad, really bad and so, we did it. It was just a Justice of the Peace at the courthouse. Noin and Zechs witnessed for us. It was nothing really, but... But it was perfect, you know? Just... perfect."
So now I didn't just want another man's lover, I wanted another man's legal husband.
And I still didn't remove that little red book from the pile.
I was gone for hours. I just drove and tried not to think. I considered going to Headquarters to see Heero, but if they weren't letting Duo see him, then they certainly weren't going to let me through. I'd finally given up on aimless driving with even more aimless thinking and began heading for home. It was then that my headlights caught the swing of his braid.
I pulled over and Duo got in, not saying a word. He was tense, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. He had Heero's leather jacket on, but he hadn't zipped it up. It wasn't freezing, but it was cold and I could tell he'd been shivering. I turned up the heat in the car. We drove for a bit before I asked him why he'd been out walking. He'd gotten a pretty fair distance from the house too, so he'd been out for a while.
"Had some thinking to do," he said. There was a tremble in his voice, which I couldn't place. He could just still be shivering, or it could be repressed tears, or tightly reined anger. I didn't prompt him to continue because I knew he would on his own.
"Was thinking about this mission, about the kind of people who derive both enjoyment and money from watching two people kill each other. I was thinking about Preventers - they really kicked ass to get us out of there, you know. Thought about the house and Heero and why someone who I thought was my friend would leave a book on my bed telling MY husband that he loves him and he should leave ME."
I should've known Duo wouldn't take Quatre's advice to wait to open the books until Heero was with him. Duo's like a perpetual child on Christmas Eve when it comes to gifts. Before us, he'd never received much in the way of gifts and the concept of them kept his youth fresh. I'd find it endearing if it hadn't gotten me caught. I think the only reason why he hadn't punched me yet was because I was driving and he wanted to get home safely so he could kick my ass properly.
He didn't, though.
I guess he'd had enough of fighting. He just got out of the car, went into the house and up to his room. That untypical avoidance made me realize how extremely vulnerable Duo was right now - more so than ever in his life after whatever nameless horrors he'd seen and done on that mission - and how, here I was, kicking an injured creature when it was down. I thought I hated myself before, but nothing compared to the loathing I felt at that moment. I would have told Quatre, but I feared what he'd think of me.
"I am not!"
Quatre turned his beseeching eyes on me - there was a request coming.
"He's running a temperature and really needs to sweat it out. I'll never get any sleep in that bed with him, but I may be contagious myself, so I shouldn't share a bed with anyone else. Can I sleep in your bed and you crash with Duo? I'll clean all your linens the next morning, you don't have to worry about a thing."
I felt ill. Say no and I'd find myself confessing to Quatre what an awful person I was - something I wasn't prepared to do yet. But my dissent may not be my only way out.
"Duo hasn't consented to this yet, has he."
Quatre looked puzzled at my statement. "Well, no, I checked with you first. Besides, I don't think Duo should be sleeping alone tonight, anyway. I sense such awful turmoil in him."
I almost winced, but caught myself before it could be seen.
"I would be surprised if he didn't have nightmares tonight after the horrible things he told me," Quatre finished, shivering at the thoughts that were spinning in his mind. He turned those large eyes to me again. "Stay with him tonight, Trowa?"
Saying no simply wasn't an option. My hope was that Duo would refuse.
He wanted to. I could see it in his eyes when Quatre presented him with the situation. But he knew, as Quatre did, that he had reason to fear the night and even my presence was a better option than being alone through the night.
By the gods, what had he witnessed?
When we retired for the night, shutting the door on the sounds of a hacking cough Wufei insisted wasn't there, I tried to speak to him. I didn't know what I wanted to say, but I felt words were in order.
However, he didn't.
"DON'T you dare talk to me, okay? Let's just go to sleep."
As I climbed into bed, feeling more miserable than I ever have in my entire, albeit short, life, I wondered if I would be the one plagued by nightmares tonight. Haunting dreams of my own demons, cursing me for willfully hurting a friend.
It didn't take long for his dreams to come.
His thrashing woke me; his whimpers were so soft I didn't know at first he made any sound. He wasn't able to wake; I tried calling his name and physically shaking him. I think I only added to the intensity of the dream so I stopped and just held him.
That's when he began to cry out. Loud, desperate, but I held on tight, trying to bring him some comfort. More of the mission became clear to me. He'd tried to rescue Heero from something and failed, getting himself caught in the process. Heero had yelled at him for it - probably in fear for Duo's life more than anything. It had tipped off their relationship and Duo carried great guilt for it. He kept apologizing, crying for Heero. "I'm so sorry," he said, "Oh gods, I'm so sorry!"
He'd hit me in the face a few times, I may end up with a bruise, but I held on and he started to calm down. He seemed to wake a little, but not fully. He twisted in my arms and clutched at my chest, crying. Crying for Heero.
The irony didn't escape me - that I held my greatest rival as he cried for both of our greatest love. But I did the right thing, this time. I held him, clutching his braid as I knew Heero did and told him everything would be all right.
Even though I didn't really believe that.
I still wanted Heero. Even after all that. I thought I had put aside my feelings as the right thing to do, but when I saw him... The first time seeing him after believing him to be dead, I couldn't push it away any more. I had seen that Duo didn't toss the little red book, but left it with the rest of the pile. Again, I had the chance to remove it and I didn't. What does that make me?
Quatre was alarmed by how much they didn't interact. Duo slept a lot and Heero would sit in the bedroom with him, reading those books and albums we'd gathered for them. They rarely touched, spoke even less, but they were always physically near each other. With as distant as they seemed, though, I found it hard to tell how intentional that part was. Did they just still gravitate towards each other or did one shadow the other? Either way, for the first two days of having them both home, it was eerily quiet in the house. Well, aside from Wufei's terrible cough, which had NOT become an infection, he assured us.
We learned a few things more about the mission - or more specifically, after the mission. From what Heero told us, we were able to create an alarming timeline of events. At the point that Preventers had even contacted us, they had actually already rescued Heero and Duo, but had found them both in such an awful state, they still didn't think they'd survive. So while we held vigil and thought they were missing in action, they were actually in recovery, under lock and key at the Preventer's Headquarters Infirmary. We could have gone to see them. Quatre felt betrayed by this new information. So did Wufei; so did I. We didn't tell Heero and Duo what had been told to us though, it didn't matter now, but my opinion of Preventers changed that day.
Life in the house continued to be bizarre. I avoided all eye contact with Duo, and if he glared at me at every possible chance, I didn't want to know. I can just imagine what he thought of me; never mind his own worries that things were not right with Heero, he also daily saw the person who would gladly step into his place when it all fell apart. It probably didn't help matters. So I kept my distance; I didn't really talk to anyone. Quatre could sense the tension, but had yet to figure out my role it in. The gap between Quatre and I grew - I had decided I could handle Duo's judgment easier that I would Quatre's.
I listened in the night for Duo's dreams, but didn't hear them. I wondered if he wasn't sleeping at night anymore - thus accounting for how much he slept during the day. The dreams didn't seem to come in the day and I'm sure he chose not to burden Heero with his night terrors. Closing my eyes, I could see him, lying in bed with Heero, awake, and watching him sleep. He might stroke a finger down his cheek or brush his bangs off his forehead.
I wished it was me.
I don't know why it took so long for Heero to confront me about the little red book. I don't know when he read it, so it's hard to say if this was something he sat on for several days before approaching me. He certainly didn't make sure we were in private.
He did it at breakfast.
"What's the story behind this book, Trowa?"
He held it out and, oddly, my gaze darted to Duo, sitting next to Heero. He looked ready to bolt. However, other than Duo's, all eyes were on me. I know Quatre recognized the book and begun slowly piecing together the root of the tension that had cast over the house like a cloud. It wasn't all just Heero and Duo's mission.
"That's my contribution to your Remembrance books." - as we'd come to call them.
Heero looked so confused, the strength of his outstretched arm weakened a little, the book dipping close to the table.
"You wrote this recently?" There was amazement in his voice, though borne of what, I didn't know. I know what I hoped it was.
That did it for Duo; he shoved back from the table and took off like a shot up the stairs.
Heero headed after him and I couldn't help but notice that he took the little red book with him.
Quatre and Wufei were still staring at me. I didn't turn to look at them, I didn't want to see Quatre's eyes and the shock I knew I'd find there. He'd certainly figured out enough to guess the nature of what I'd written in that book by now. His psychic-like empathy would fill in the rest.
"I think I'll head up to my room," I said, rising from my seat.
"No, I think you'd better stay right where you are."
Apparently Wufei had a pretty good handle on the situation as well.
I sat back down.
I didn't want Heero and Duo to hash this out in front of us; I wanted them to stay upstairs. But Duo decided he'd rather take a walk than confront Heero with his fears, so that's where he was heading a few moments later.
"Duo, stop!" Heero had called after him, as Duo came bounding down the stairs and headed for the front door, Heero's leather jacket in hand. Heero finally caught him at the threshold of the entryway, in full view of the kitchen nook where we all sat. Though Heero held his hand, Duo's back stayed turned to him and us, still facing the front door.
"We're not going to continue like this anymore so you need to stop and listen to me." Heero was in commanding form and voice. If Duo had still walked away from that, I would have been impressed.
"What happened to us? Why aren't we bouncing back from this?"
Heero sounded so defeated that I realized this was really the beginning of the end. They were ending. I felt washed over by a jumble of thoughts and emotions. I hated to see two friends in pain like this; I hated to see the first relationship between us all crumbling before my eyes. And yet... That part of me I hated to acknowledge rejoiced for it. The flame of hope inside me flared.
Heero waited, still holding Duo's hand. But Duo didn't respond and didn't move. When Heero began to speak again, the softness of his voice made him sound more distant that the few feet away he really stood.
"Before I met you, before the wars, I'd been on many missions. I'd seen and done things..." He stopped and I think we all held a breath for him to continue.
"Nothing prepared me for this mission," Heero went on. "Not my training. Not my experience. Nothing. It was horrible. I don't know yet how to respond to what happened there, and I can't seem to escape it. It's there when I sleep; it's there when I try to think of other things. It's there when I look into your eyes. So what does that mean for us?"
It was so sudden; Duo's body seemed to snap, all his the tension left him like a switch thrown and I thought he'd collapse to the floor in a heap. But Heero was there: he wrapped his arms around him and together they sank to the floor, Duo in tears.
"I'm sorry," he cried, clutching Heero. Heero held him very tight to his body, his eyes closed. I think there was relief on his features. I guess he'd been waiting for this dam between them to break.
"It's okay," he told him, rocking him slightly. "You had to come back for me, I understand. I would have done the same. I got upset because I didn't want you to be hurt. But it's okay."
We were frozen there, at the kitchen table. Wufei had taken Quatre's hands in his. I had to wonder how much of Duo's emotions Quatre could sense, he looked in a certain amount of pain himself.
"No, it's not okay," Duo said, burying himself deeper in Heero's arms. I could barely see him, just the top of his head and the tail end of his braid, dusting the floor. Heero moved, taking Duo first by his forearms to straighten him up and then he captured his face in his hands. He held him tight, brushing aside the tears on Duo's cheeks, though Duo still looked to the floor.
"Listen to me. I should have said this sooner - a lot sooner, I realize now - but I didn't really understand your distance. I need you to tell me what it is inside you that's keeping us from moving beyond this mission." He tilted Duo's face up more so they were eye to eye and Duo couldn't break that gaze.
It was then that my hope crumbled down around me.
"I love you," Heero told him. "I love you more than I have ever felt ANY emotion. You are the reason I live, the reason I'm even alive. If it weren't for you after the war, I..."
Never, before that moment, had I ever heard Heero's voice crack.
"I'd be dead and you know it," Heero continued and Duo nodded as best he could, his head caught between Heero's hands.
"Now tell me, let it out, Duo. I love you; you're my husband. That won't change."
Duo closed his eyes and started to shake his head, Heero loosened his grip enough to allow the movement, but continued to hold his face and stroke his cheek. The words were there, welling in his throat, he just needed to open his mouth.
No one anticipated what he said.
"I wanted you to die, Heero. Oh my God," he wailed, his emotions and confession bringing him physical pain - I could see it in his eyes, I could see it in the way he wanted to double in on himself, but Heero's hands held him in place, even as Duo clutched at his wrists to pull them away. I think we were all in shock; I heard Quatre sob.
"I wanted you to die," Duo continued, struggling to speak over his frantic gasps, "so that they would stop hurting you, stop," he hesitated, face contorted in pain, "*touching* you, forcing you. Oh God, anything! I couldn't bear to see you go through that and not be able to save you. I prayed to Father's God to take you, to release you from that horror, it was the only thing I could do. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." His whimpers of apology continued, now muffled against Heero's shoulder, as he pulled him close. They held each other so tight. I could tell that wasn't what Heero had expected to hear, and his eyes were wide with shock. It was so heart-wrenchingly horrible. Quatre was in tears himself now, safe in Wufei's arms. I just sat there, wondering where my tears were.
Even Heero had tears, rolling silently down his face.
Heero lowered his head and I knew he was whispering in Duo's ear, telling him words of comfort, I'm sure. Heero knew enough that he couldn't take away Duo's guilt, Duo had to let go of that himself, but I know he'd tell him everything he needed to hear to do so. There would be no blame, just acceptance.
Duo sighed, finding relief in his confession.
"I didn't know what was going to happen to us," he continued. "In recovery, you were dealing so much better than I was and it had been so much worse for you, yet I was the wreck. I didn't understand, I just felt awful and that maybe I didn't deserve you. And then when I came back here and I saw..." but he stopped, burying his face in Heero's neck. When he saw my book, was what he was going to say. I know. Heero knew too and he flashed me a fierce look I chose not to interpret.
Heero and Duo clutched at each other as if the strength of their holds would somehow strengthen their hearts. It probably would.
I did cry then, seeing the desperate way Heero held onto Duo. I cried for the love I realized I'd never have and for the beautiful, wondrous love that I had a part in Duo thinking he was losing.
My own tears extinguished the flame of hope inside me.
It should have been Duo's.
I don't know everything that happened on that mission - I don't think I ever want to know and besides, that's truly between them. But for the first time since I moved into that house for all the wrong reasons, did I want to do everything in my power to see them together and in love into a ripe old age.
I knew then that I had to leave.
It wasn't as if my announcement came as much of a surprise to anyone. I don't know why I even waited the few days that I did. Not that anyone ever treated me poorly or that I ever felt ostracized, but a cloud, though smaller now, still hung over the house and only I could remove that.
Heero and Duo were almost never apart now, constantly touching. Duo's smile returned to him and last night I heard them re-consummate their relationship. Duo agreed to see a doctor friend of Sally's that specialized for Preventers and even Heero, after much prodding, promised he'd attend a few of his own sessions - though he insisted his previous training allowed him to cope with what things he'd experienced on the mission. Either way, they were not only working through their trauma but also coming even closer than before - as a married couple should.
I was happy for them.
I was certainly surprised that it was Heero who volunteered to drive me to the spaceport. There wasn't any flare of pointless hope in response, as I almost feared there would be, more of a numb void. Though the thought did cross my mind that Heero would give me some kind of 'another place, another time' speech, but even that hardly mattered to me. I knew he'd be staying with Duo - not out of pity, not out of obligation. He loved him and he would never love me like that.
Before I left, Quatre said something about how in time, maybe I could come back to live with them again. I had passed it off as Quatre being Quatre, but when Heero brought it up at the spaceport, I realized that had actually come from something of a house agreement. Would they let me come back?
"When you're ready, of course," Heero added.
Ready, meaning when I've let go of my feeling for Heero and figured out what had possessed me to hurt a friend when I knew I could have stopped it from happening.
I could have just picked up that little red book. No one would have been the wiser.
Heero had begun to say his goodbyes when he stopped.
"Wait, I have something I need to say."
I tensed in anticipation. This would not be the planned, almost scripted words of earlier. His expression changed and I recognized it for the fierce expression he'd flashed me on that one day. The expression I knew better than to interpret.
"How dare you?" he said, the blue color of his eyes seemed to grow darker. "Duo is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. I love him more than I can find words to say." He raised a fist and only a conscious effort allowed him to lower it, I could see the concentration in his brow. "I've almost lost him too many times to begin with and then I almost lose him *again * because of your book. That's unforgivable. How dare you try to steal away from me something that means so much? You say you love me? But didn't my happiness mean anything to you?"
What could I say? He was right and I had a lot of thinking to do. Perhaps escaping back to the world of the circus and Catherine would allow me to focus. Perhaps being a Preventer did not do for me what it did for Quatre.
"I hope you get some things figured out, Trowa," Heero went on. "I owe you my life as well and that's not the kind of friendship I want to see disappear."
I nodded. "I understand."
He didn't say anything more; he'd said it all. I watched him walk across the tarmac and into the port from my shuttle window, losing myself to my thoughts.
Love is never simple or easy. Duo taught me that. But it is also a beautiful, self-sacrificing thing that I'm only now realizing the length and breadth of. I still have much to learn.
I don't know when I'll see them again, but I do know I will. I'll find my way back to the house. That's what they want to see happen and I owe them all at least that much. But until then, I will learn all I can about life and love and perhaps when I do return I hope I can teach them even half of what they have taught me.