by Dyna Dee
Despite the heavy foot traffic in the airport terminal, as well as the expected delays that came with flying during the holiday rush, Heero managed to remain cool and calm... at least outwardly. Inside, however, he was experiencing several conflicting emotions: excitement and dread, anticipation and anxiety. Collecting his luggage from the baggage claim area, he wove past clumps of people greeting each other. Families welcoming home students, grandparents and children as well as friends becoming reacquainted having been separated by time and distance. There was no one there to meet him.
He hadn't been back to Sanq since leaving it over eight years ago. On that occasion, he'd left because he had to. There was a world without war he needed to discover as well as his place in it. He left everything behind for that journey: a job offer from the Preventers, his friends and, most importantly, Duo. Thinking of his former lover always brought a stab of pain to his heart, but over the years he'd become accustomed to it and now the pain was merely a dull ache in his chest.
Pulling his suitcase behind him, its wheels gliding smoothly over the cement, he squinted into the bright afternoon sunlight, blinding against the newly fallen snow that covered the tops of the airport buildings. He breathed in deeply, and despite the traffic and the fact that the airport was just outside a large city, he could smell the fresh mountain air coming from above the port city.
He'd been around the world, had seen and done many wonderful things, but there was something about coming back to the place you started from. Even though he no longer called this place home, it had felt like a homecoming when he'd gazed out the window of the airplane as it cruised at low altitude over the re-constructed New Port City, capital of Sanq, home to the former royal Peacecraft family. He had left this place with the hope of making something of himself, to prove that he was more than a conditioned soldier. He figured he'd owed that much to himself, and at the time he firmly believed that he also owed it to Duo.
Duo. Duo Maxwell. The long-haired boy who piloted the gundam Deathscythe, who'd survived the streets of L2 to become a teenage warrior. Duo's past was no less a nightmare than his own had been. But where Duo learned life's hard lessons on the streets of a poor colony, he had lost himself in his training, conditioned by an assassin and mad genius to be a weapon of war. His own childhood was stripped from him, and he became an emotionally stunted, conditioned soldier whose goal was simply to complete each mission with precision and without regret. Somehow, during all the chaos and fighting, he and Duo had found a sense of peace with each other. His conditioning was fractured. He believed he'd found love with the long-haired pilot, that elusive emotion and warm feeling he'd been deprived of most of his life.
After living together for several months after the war, he'd announced his plans to Duo, stating that he felt it imperative to leave the safety of Sanq in order to find some meaningful way of making a living without a gun in his hand. The constant pressure from former enemies as well as well- intentioned friends to join the Preventer organization had been one of the main reasons he'd decided to venture out on his own, beyond the borders of safety and into the world of unknown possibilities and dangers.
Standing in line at the car rental kiosk, Heero momentarily closed his eyes as the memory of his last moments with Duo came rushing back. The final kiss they shared here in this airport was always at the edge of his thoughts, hovering to be recalled at the oddest times. Despite his broken heart, he would never forget that kiss, the desperation and acceptance behind it. Duo's eyes had been bright with suppressed tears as they bid each other farewell. His lover whispered promises to wait for his return, no matter how long it took for him to find his niche. Heero had believed him, which made his leaving more bearable. With a duffle bag in one hand and a passport in the other, he'd turned his back on his teenage lover and set out to conquer the world in an entirely different way from how he had as a gundam pilot. Had he known that he'd lose Duo to another man less than four months after his departure he might have chosen a different path.
With keys in hand to a four-wheel drive SUV, he located the rented vehicle and carefully set his luggage into the back. No one from the past was aware of his return, and that suited him fine. He was returning to Sanq as a successful world traveler and best-selling author with numerous awards and accolades. To the world he was Odin Wells, the moniker he'd adopted when authoring three best-selling books. His three books had primarily been about war and espionage, of teenagers accomplishing feats of good and ill as directed by mentors. Of course, a lot of what he'd written had been drawn from his own experiences and those of his former comrades, but the public didn't need to know he'd tapped into his own past when writing his "fiction" novels. He remained an elusive author, rarely appearing on televised shows or doing book tours. With public exposure came the risk that someone from the war might recognize him as the pilot of Wing Zero, a persona that, with great determination, he'd left behind.
So why was he back to the place where he'd started? That was a question he didn't have a logical answer to. For eight years he'd kept as far away from Sanq as possible. No, he corrected himself, it wasn't the place he'd avoided but the people who had been a part of his past. Duo Maxwell being at the top of that list, seconded by Wufei Chang. Heero shook his head as he joined the heavy traffic leading towards the city center, feeling the old anger, hurt and resentment resurfacing once again, even though he thought he'd put those negative feelings behind him.
Duo and Wufei, who would have thought the two of them would become a couple? How could Duo, only three months after his leaving, have married Wufei? The Chinese teen had been on the outskirts of their relationship, not quite a friend, but neither was he a foe. Heero was of a mind that Wufei, a young man of tradition and principles, was heterosexual. How could he have missed the fact that the Chinese pilot stood in envy of his relationship with Duo? Had his timid attempts at friendship with them been nothing more than a ploy to get closer to his lover? And had his leaving Duo opened the door of opportunity, allowing Chang to merely step in and take his place?
But that didn't explain Duo's actions. He could have sworn Duo returned his feelings. Duo was, in fact, the one to speak openly of the love they shared, of the happiness they had being together. So what had changed during his absence that would have cause his lover to turn to another man within a four month period of time? That was the predominant question that had haunted him for the past eight years.
He had been half way around the planet when he heard the shocking news. By chance or simple bad luck, he'd run into Milliardo Peacecraft in an airport in Tokyo six months after he'd left Sanq. Though they only had five minutes to exchange wary pleasantries, that was all the time needed to shatter his heart when the tall blond told him of the sudden marriage of Wufei and Duo. Milliardo had said the union had been a quiet affair, and he'd only known about it because he and Wufei, both agents in the Preventer organization, were sometimes assigned as partners. For months following that bit of news he felt lost, angry and numb. The numbness eventually ebbed and he pushed aside his other feelings after he'd enrolled at a university in Los Angeles and threw himself into his studies. He began writing in a journal all that he could recall of his training and the war, thinking it not only therapeutic, but also a record of historic events from his unique point of view. Those notes were the basis for his first novel, Children of War.
Having driven through New Port City, he took the highway northward, to a smaller community that rested just over the snow-covered, majestic mountains. His destination had been a quaint village when he and Duo moved there after the second war. With funds they'd illegally acquired from their enemies during the first war, they'd purchased a small house that was to be the cornerstone of their new lives together. He wondered if the village and the house had changed much over the past eight years.
Navigating the mountain's curvy switchback roads he wondered what he honestly expected to find here. Having no contact with his former comrades or anyone he'd associated with during the wars, he had no idea whether or not Duo still lived in the same house. He'd signed it over to his lover upon his departure just in case the unthinkable happened while on his self-discovery journey. The unthinkable, of course, was his untimely end, not Duo marrying Wufei.
Up and over the last leg of his mountain climb, Heero pulled the vehicle over at a lookout point. He got out of his warm car and stood near the guardrail to gaze at the valley below. The air was sharply cold, causing his sinuses to ache; his breath a cloud of white as it left his body. Pulling his collar tighter against his neck, he viewed the hamlet called Old Castle, currently nestled in a blanket of glistening white snow. It was picturesque, the perfect Christmas post card. He felt himself frowning at the thought that he'd never really celebrated Christmas. During the wars, the final battles came with the holidays, and both of them ended with hospital stays: the first with Quatre suffering a stab wound, and after the second war he'd been in a coma for two weeks. He'd left Old Castle and Duo the following summer, never thinking it would take him eight years to gather enough nerve to return.
Duo had talked about celebrating Christmas, "like normal people do," and had even gone out to the after-Christmas sales and purchased ornaments and a fake, pre-lit Christmas tree, planning ahead for the following year. Heero's resentment returned as well as the dull familiar ache from knowing Duo had spent the following Christmas not with him, but with Wufei, his new husband.
"I'm a damn masochist. Why am I doing this to myself?" he grumbled as he huddled into his coat and returned to the car and its warmth. Closure. That had to be the answer for why he was there. During the past eight years he had achieved many of the goals he'd set for himself. He was a successful author and financially well off, had an apartment in London, another in New York City and a list of men and women who acted as if they were waiting with bated breath for his call. Yet everything he'd accomplished and all that he had accumulated was tarnished by the continued ache in his heart and the unanswered questions that plagued him regarding Duo's reneging on his promise to wait. Closure, he reminded himself, and once he had the answers to his questions he would move on with the rest of his life.
There was only one inn in Old Castle, and it was towards that direction Heero turned his vehicle once he made it down the mountain. He pulled the SUV up to the front of the Rose and Crown, parked, then exited the vehicle. Dragging his luggage out, he entered the hotel's warm foyer. Quaint, was the word that came to mind as he gazed around the room lit by the yellow-with-age fluted sconces on the walls. There was a fireplace, no doubt the main source of heat, and several over-stuffed chairs circling around the cheery hearth, inviting guests to enjoy the cozy atmosphere and each other's company. He could picture Duo being comfortable in such a setting. He immediately shook that image from out of his thoughts and moved towards the large desk set to the right of a red and tan floral carpeted stairway.
As he signed his name to the register, the white-haired gentleman who assisted him looked at his signature and then raised surprised blue eyes to study his face. "You're the author of the Children of War," he stated.
Heero nodded. "Yes."
Enthused by having a notable writer in his establishment, the man's voice picked up in a cheerful mien. "Welcome to the Rose and Crown, Mr. Wells. I've read all of your books and find your descriptions of the past two wars most insightful. I'm delighted you're staying here. Let me show you to your room." He could see by the head-to-toe glance the man gave him that he was surprised by his appearance. Many of those who'd read his books and not seen a picture of him imagined him to be older, more scholarly looking and definitely not of Japanese heritage.
The man happily carried on a one-sided conversation as they moved through the inn. Heero didn't feel inclined to interrupt or add to the older gentleman's monologue. He was led to a room in the back of the inn, "a quiet room," the proprietor stated. Seeing for himself that the room was quite isolated, he turned to the other man and asked, "Do you happen to have a room upstairs, overlooking the village?"
The older man blinked, obviously surprised by his request. "Why, yes. Yes I do, as a matter of fact. I should tell you, though, that there are newlyweds to the right of that particular room, and on the other side is a young couple with a baby. I can't guarantee that you'll get much sleep in that location."
"I don't sleep much anyway," was Heero's reply. "Besides," he added, "I like observing people going on about their daily business. It's oddly comforting and often fuels ideas for my writing."
"Ah, yes. Writers are always looking for their next story, I suppose," the man replied thoughtfully as he led the way to the stairs going up to the next floor. "Well, Sanq has certainly enough stories about war and overcoming strife. Anyone you meet in this kingdom has a story of survival, sacrifice, loss and redemption to tell. Actually, now that I think about it, those seem to be recurring themes in your stories. So, if you're looking for inspiration, I can give you a sizeable list of people in this village who could talk your ears off."
As the man rambled on with names of some of the local citizens, Heero walked beside him, observing the smell of cedar and something else, something he guessed was the aged building itself. Old Castle was indeed the location of an ancient stronghold, where the first Peacecrafts set up their dynasty many generations ago. Sanq had been the gift of a Russian Czar to a favorite and loyal friend. He and Duo had gone to the ruins of that castle, destroyed in the second world war by the invading German army. The people of Old Castle had diligently kept the quaintness of the original village intact, restricting growth, turning away fast food chains and corporate businesses. From Heero's first impression, the place looked very much like it had eight years ago when he'd left.
The upstairs room was satisfactory, cozy even, despite the chill that often accompanied old buildings. He'd forgotten that many of the homes and businesses in Old Castle still hadn't modernized to central heating. The manager went to the floor heater in the far corner, near the room's lone window, and tuned the knob to high. The unit ticked loudly and in a regular rhythm as the coils began to warm.
"If you'd care to join us, we have a continental breakfast in the dining room between seven and eight thirty each morning," the white haired man announced.
Heero nodded, then an idea came to mind. "Excuse me, but are you acquainted with most of the people living in
The other man turned and gave him a surprised look before a smile lit up his round, aging face. "But of course. Our village is small enough that we can't help but rub elbows with each other."
"Can you tell me if Duo Maxwell still lives here?"
"Duo? Of course, of course. He's an essential member of our community. Why just last week he repaired the broken roof of Adel Myers' home, and fixed the leaky faucet in the bathroom of room eight, just down the corridor. I don't know where we'd be without Duo's help."
Unwittingly, a smirk grew on Heero's face. So Duo was here. His former lover had always been handy with his hands, but why had he become a fix-it-man instead of a Preventer or even a mechanic?
"Does he still live in the white house on Hardwick Lane?"
"That he does," the older gent said in a chipper voice.
"And his husband?"
The other man's smile faltered and a puzzled look replaced it a moment before both expressions left his face altogether. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about that. Now if you'll excuse me, I must return to the desk in case another traveler stops in. If you need anything, please ask at the front desk. There are plenty of eateries available for your evening meal, but I'd suggest the Sassy Seagull if you have a taste for the local fare." With that said, the man hastily withdrew from the room, leaving Heero to try and figure out what he'd said wrong. Was the man homophobic or someone who avoided gossiping to a stranger? He obviously thought the world of Duo, but his marriage to Wufei seemed to be a touchy subject. He'd have to be a bit more circumspect the next time he made any similar inquiries.
Glancing down at his luggage, he sighed. The beat-up suitcase was more familiar and a part of his life than either of his apartments. It had gone through more airports and scanners than he could recall, across every continent and ocean on the planet. He couldn't say he missed being at either of his apartments; they really were just places to put the mementos of his travels and his awards.
Moving to the closed curtains, he parted them with one hand and held it back to gaze at the scene below. Old Castle was bustling with holiday shoppers. The old fashioned street posts had white lights twisted through green garlands wrapped around the poles, and long strands of lights draped over the roadway to the pole on the opposite side. The air suddenly seemed alive and festive, filling him with a sense of anticipation and possibilities. He closed his eyes, relishing those almost-forgotten feelings he'd purposely pushed away and had been bereft of for eight long years. It was time, he thought, to truly put the past behind him and get on with the act of living. The only way he knew how to start that process was getting answers to the questions that had hounded him for those eight years. Tomorrow, he decided, was the day he would take a giant step away from the past, from Duo and all the heartache he'd caused, and then he would move forward, once and for all.
Duo had awakened the morning of December 23rd and took five minutes to enjoy the warmth of his down comforter and flannel sheets before getting up and beginning his day. He could feel the thump thump of his dog's tail wagging at the end of the bed. "Morning, Boo," he called out in the middle of a big yawn. The yellow lab immediately jumped off the foot of the bed and waited patiently for his master to get up.
Wearing his thick robe and sheepskin slippers, he trudged down the stairs and made his way to the kitchen at the back of the house with Boo dogging his heels. After letting the golden retriever outside, he turned the gas on beneath the water kettle then went back into the living room and bent to the task of cleaning the ash out of the fireplace insert. He carefully shoveled the warm, gray dust into a metal bucket so that he could safely build another fire and keep the house warm for the day. Once that task was done, he returned to the kitchen and set a strainer with his favorite tea into the hot mug of water and let it steep for several minutes while he dumped the ashes outside. He was quite chilled when he returned to the house and his hot tea, which warmed his body from the inside while he waited for the newly lit fire to take hold and begin heating his living space. Two days remaining until Christmas and he still had so much to do.
By nine he'd not only gotten dressed, but he'd had breakfast, fed Boo, straightened up the house and was out in his workshop sanding the rocking horse he'd made for little Willam Syler. The small boy's maternal grandmother insisted on him making the tyke's first rocking horse. It was one of the few items left on his list of things to do before the 24th rolled around. Here in Old Castle families were inclined to celebrate Christmas the night before, on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, a large family dinner was prepared and eaten, followed by a gathering at the local churches where pageants or musicals celebrated the religious aspects of the holiday. This year he had been invited by the Ashcroft family, his neighbors across the street, to attend their church's Christmas Eve service. Their children, Liam and Becca, were taking part in the children's chorus and nativity play. After the service, the families would retire to their homes and open presents. Christmas Day in Old Castle was typically a resting day for exhausted parents and a play day for excited children. All in all, it had proven to be Duo's favorite holiday, one that he now jumped into with all the enthusiasm of a child, and it was that "enthusiasm" that had landed him in charge of building a temporary nativity scene for the stage in the Episcopal church.
After seeing Boo settled in the corner on his large pillow, a fresh bone from the butcher to keep him busy, Duo surveyed the few remaining pieces needed to complete the scenery. The backdrop of the stable he'd already painted and delivered, as well as the panels that looked like village doors, where the little boy who played Joseph would knock, seeking a room for Mary. All that was left was the manger and a couple of trees and painted animals for the stable scene, a very important center point in the program.
Though he wasn't particularly a religious man, not ascribing to any one religion over another, he did believe in a higher power. He didn't know how anyone who had experienced the vastness of space or having viewed images from long-range satellites of millions of swirling universes, could not believe in something greater than mere happenstance. Life on planet Earth, from the simple ameba to the countless complex ecological systems of man and animal, could not, in his mind, exist by chance. Those were his thoughts as he finished sanding the last part of the rocking horse's head. He ran a hand over the edge and was satisfied with the smoothness of the wood. All that was left was to paint the eyes, mouth and nose and then stain the wood to protect the surface.
Turning to find his black paint can and small detail brush, he heard the chiming of the bell over his shop's door and felt the draft of cold air that accompanied a visitor. "Be with you in a moment," he called over his shoulder. When he turned a moment later, he was presented with the image of a man, dressed in a long, camel-colored coat with a gray fur cap on his head. It took only a moment longer for him to recognize the man he hadn't seen in eight years, and with that recognition his knees became weak and his heart faltered. He heard a loud bang near his feet, and realized with a start that he'd dropped the can of paint.
Bending to pick up the can, he was relieved to find the lid had stayed on, saving him a messy, inconvenient mess to clean up. He used the moment to catch his breath before he slowly straightened and was once again faced with his past. "Hello, Heero."
Heero's gaze started at the top of his head and slowly moved downward, taking in the brown plaid flannel shirt, a white t-shirt peeking out from the top opening and a faded pair of blue jeans. Duo could feel his face heating up, the result of being flustered by Heero's sudden appearance rather than from the room's cool temperature. Those blue, discerning eyes were no doubt taking in the fact that the teenage boy Heero had once known was a grown man. Taller now, though as slender as he'd been back then. But it was his eyes that seemed to captivate Heero. For a moment it seemed as if he couldn't look away from them, nor his face, which had changed slightly during the past eight years. Duo knew his once full cheeks were thinner now, his face more angular and manly. Over his shoulder was a rope of hair, which he habitually grabbed while under the other man's scrutiny.
"Not that it's not good to see you, but what are you doing here?" Duo asked, having had enough of the silence and staring. He'd somehow managed not to sound as unsettled as he felt. Seeing Heero in his shop, eight years after his departure, was something he'd dreamed of and dreaded at the same time.
"Closure." Right to the point, as always. Duo began to think that maybe Heero hadn't changed all that much, though looking at him now he had to admit the other man looked good. Very, very good. It appeared that Heero had matched his own growth and his face remained as angular as it had been when he was a wiry teenager. But there were faint lines at the corners of his eyes that hadn't been there before, and a tenseness around his mouth that hinted at an unhappy man. The idea that Heero was unhappy made him feel both sadness and guilt. Heero, out of anyone he knew, deserved to be happy after all he'd done for the people of Earth and the colonies.
As if sensing the uncertainty in the room, Boo got up from his bed to sniff at the stranger. "Boo, lie down," Duo commanded his pet firmly yet not unkindly. The dog hesitated for only a moment, long enough to sniff Heero's boots before obediently returning to his corner and partially gnawed bone.
Seeing that his dog had settled down once more, Duo sighed as he turned back to the other man. "Alright. We can talk, but I've got to finish this first." He motioned to the rocking horse on the table. "We can talk while I work." He opened up the paint can and flicked at the tip of his paintbrush, insuring that no lint was present.
Instead of charging ahead with accusations, Heero stepped closer to see what the other man was doing. "You're making toys?"
"Yeah. You got a problem with that?"
Heero frowned. Duo had been an accomplished, talented pilot and was brilliant in the areas of infiltration, explosives and mechanics. Why those talents had been set aside for toy making and household repair were beyond his ability to comprehend.
"How did you come to this? When I left here you had an appointment to speak with Director Une with the intention of joining the Preventers."
"Things happen," Duo said with a dismissive shrug.
"What things?" Heero stepped closer and observed the slight tremble of Duo's hand, poised to paint the face of the horse.
Stopping before the brush touched the wooden surface, Duo looked up and with one raised eyebrow asked, "Could you stand back at bit? You're making me nervous."
Heero did as asked, moving to the opposite side of the table, giving Duo room, but not allowing the other man out of his sight. "What things?" he persisted.
"I didn't get past the initial training, washed out."
Heero blinked, finding that excuse to be unbelievable. How in the hell could Duo Maxwell not make the cut?
"So you retreated to Old Castle, to this house, and became a handyman?"
Another shrug, which was really no answer at all.
"And how did Wufei fit into this? Where is he, by the way?"
"In New Port, at work, I suppose."
"He's still with Preventers?"
"One of their top agents."
The horse's eye was apparently finished, or so Heero thought when Duo moved down to paint the nose. "Will he be home tonight? I haven't seen any of the former pilots for the past eight years."
Duo looked up sharply, his eyes narrowed with anger. "And whose fault is that?" he snapped.
Heero's own anger rose in response to the other man's. He'd come here for answers and didn't want to be baited into a heated argument. "I think you should ask yourself that question, Duo. What happened? Why didn't you wait for me like you promised?"
Duo visibly winced, and Heero felt only a brief moment of guilt before he consciously let it go and firmed his resolve. His need for answers was stronger than worrying about hurting Duo's feelings.
"I... I." Unable to go any further, Duo looked up, his luminous eyes beseeching Heero to not question him further. "I'm sorry, Heero. But you left and I didn't know where you were, other than the rare post card. I had no way to contact you. I needed you and you weren't to be found."
"Is that why you turned to Wufei?"
With that question, Duo's face closed off. "I don't want to discuss Wufei with you."
"Dammit, Duo." Heero's rising anger was evident in his voice and deep frown. "He knew what we were to each other. Was he only waiting for me to leave so he could take my place? You told me you'd wait, why didn't you?"
"Because I couldn't!" Duo shouted back, slamming both hands onto the wood table, the black paint on the brush splattering the surface. He then leaned forward and gripped the edge of the workbench until his knuckles turned white. Visibly struggling to compose himself, he said in a more controlled voice, "I couldn't, all right You'll just have to take my word for that and move on."
"Like you did?"
Slowly looking up with pain etched on his face and in his eyes, his former lover spoke again. "I'm sorry, Heero. I didn't set out to hurt you, but I honestly didn't know if I'd ever see you again. I did what I thought was best at the time and I can't regret it now. I can't change the past any more than you can, but I want you to know that I never set out to hurt you."
Taking Duo's example and calming himself, Heero asked in a more controlled tone of voice, "Did you really believe that your marrying Wufei wouldn't hurt me? You were everything to me, Duo. I thought you loved me as much as I loved you?"
"I did," came Duo's soft admission as he hastily wiped at his eyes with the cuff of his shirt. "But I really wasn't everything to you, Heero. You left me to pursue your own life. Why didn't you call or leave an address? Things might have turned out differently if you had."
Now that their anger had abated somewhat, Heero could listen with more than his ears to what Duo was saying. His heart was telling him that the other man had suffered from his leaving, that he'd desperately needed to get in touch with him and hadn't been able to. His prolonged silence during his self-discovery journey had cost him the love of his life. Looking at the woeful face in front of him, he longed to reach out and comfort the other man, to run his fingers through that beautiful hair and to kiss his troubles away. I still love him. That sudden realization shook Heero to the core. After all the hurt and resentment, compounded over eight miserable years, he still loved the man whose eyes were pleading with him to understand and forgive him.
As if some invisible hand was gently coaxing him forward, he stepped around the bench. Duo appeared wary of his approach but stood his ground even when he stopped in front of him and gently cupped his face. "I didn't write because I was on the move, figuring things out. I planned on contacting you when I found what I was looking for and when I had a job. I can see now that I should have taken you with me. Would you have come?"
Duo hesitated, and appeared to be thinking quite deeply about the question. After a long moment he answered, a troubled expression on his face. "I don't know. I'd like to think I would have left everything behind if you'd asked me to, but in the long run it's probably better that I didn't. Despite how things turned out between us, Heero, I can't live my life filled with regrets. I'd have a hard time getting out of bed each morning if that were the case. But I am sorry if I've hurt you. How did you find out about Wufei and I getting married?"
"Six months after leaving here I ran into Milliardo Peacecraft in Tokyo, at the Narita airport. He told me."
A flash of alarm flickered in Duo's eyes. "Did he say anything else?"
Heero studied the other man's face, trying to figure out what Duo was trying to hide. "Not that I recall. We spoke briefly about the last war. He talked about Relena and his new job with Preventers and he actually tried to recruit me." "He should have known better," Duo said with a slight grin and shake of his head.
"I think only you and the other former pilots knew about my pledge not to kill again. Zechs spoke out of ignorance."
"He doesn't like to be called that name anymore," Duo informed him, to which Heero only shrugged. He really didn't think his chances of running into Peacecraft again were good enough to worry about the man's name preference.
There was an awkward, drawn-out moment before Duo sighed once more and combed his hand through the loose hair over his forehead. "Listen, I'm on a bit of a tight schedule today. I've really got to finish this rocking horse and the manger and get it over to the church for rehearsal this afternoon. Why don't you go into the house where it's warm and wait for me there. You can ride along with me on my deliveries and we can talk some more, all right?"
Now that some of the tension between them had lessened considerably, Heero realized he really didn't want to be anywhere other than where Duo was. However, it seemed his former lover wanted him at a distance so he could finish his work. Fair enough. "Okay. Do I go around to the front door?"
"Nope. You can get there through here." At the back of the small shop was a door that led into the house and kitchen. Duo escorted him inside, apologizing for the chill that pervaded the room. The big yellow dog followed closely behind them like a golden shadow, wagging his tail and looking very much like he was smiling. "Help yourself to coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The mugs are in that cupboard," Duo said, indicating the bank of cabinets to his left. "There's a fire in the fireplace in the living room, making it the warmest place in the house."
As Heero looked around the large kitchen his mind was suddenly overwhelmed by memories of him and Duo preparing their meals, side by side. They'd spent a great deal of time in this room before he'd left Old Castle, and just looking at the table for four brought to mind several impromptu love-making sessions they'd enjoyed. He glanced up to see Duo had been watching him stare at the table. The braided man seemed to catch his train of thought and his cheeks began to flame.
"Why did you stay?"
"In Old Castle?" Duo wondered.
"No, in this house."
"Because it's my home. I couldn't sell it without your permission, and besides, as long as I lived here the memory of you was never far from my mind."
One dark eyebrow rose in question. "Doesn't that bother Wufei? That your memory of us together is in every room of this house?"
Duo's face darkened again. "I told you, Heero, I don't want to talk about Wufei."
Heero frowned, sensing that something wasn't right, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Before he could ask, Duo announced, "I've got to get back to work. Make yourself comfortable. I'll be back inside in an hour or so." Without further ado, Duo turned and left the kitchen, his dog following him out while the brown braid violently swayed from side to side across his back.