by Dyna Dee
The moment the front door closed behind them, they both began to discard the outer clothing they'd donned only five minutes before. "Do you want me to build up the fire?" Heero asked.
"Maybe a log or two, to last the night. It's been a long day and I'm kind of tired," Duo replied in the midst of a yawn. "Want some tea or something?"
"No. Why don't we get ready for bed?"
For a moment, everything seemed to come to a standstill, and Duo's luminous eyes focused solely on Heero. There was a subtle yet definite shift in the air within the room, and an unsettling silence surrounded the two men. Something was happening, Heero sensed, though he didn't know what that "something" was. He detected a change in Duo, not in his expression, but in the way he looked at him and in his presence, and the space between them became charged with some unknown emotion. Heero found himself caught in the spell of something he didn't understand and for the life of him he couldn't drag his eyes away from his violet-eyed lover.
Duo broke the tension rising between them by stepping forward and offering him his hand. Heero clasped it tightly in his own and wondered why the hair on the back of his neck was standing up. After instructing Boo to stay on his rug, Duo led the way up the stairs and into his bedroom.
No words passed between the two men during the short journey upstairs, and for some inexplicable reason Heero's belly tighten with dread, of what he wasn't sure. They began again from where they'd left off that morning, before they'd been interrupted. Duo took the lead, kissing him breathless and pulling off their clothes before pushing him down into the soft bed. His dominance and almost desperate lovemaking aroused Heero to heights he'd rarely experienced. But each time he came close to finding release, his lover would pull back, obviously trying to draw things out. Moist, hot kisses on his neck and chest kept him in place, making him want and need Duo even more. He wasn't passive by any means, returning Duo's touch and kisses with equal fervor. Time stood still for them, stretching out the night and their lovemaking, building and fusing another unforgettable memory.
When Duo finally coupled with him, Heero found himself almost in tears with relief. His body was taut, his moist and heated skin felt stretched over his trembling muscles. The yearning for completion was almost as great as his need for Duo to stay inside of him forever. He had no real thoughts for tomorrow, or the future for that matter when Duo was causing him to feel incredible sensations of passion and pleasure.
And then Duo sped up, thrusting deep and hard, and with a soft cry he stiffened came with Heero's name on his lips. Looking up at the man above him as he found his release in him, Heero wondered at the beauty of Duo, and how fortunate he was to have this man's love. He waited patiently for the other man to catch his breath, despite his own uncomfortable state of being painfully hard and needing release.
To his surprise Duo didn't reach down and between them for his arousal, as he thought he would. Instead, the long-haired man rolled off of him and lay on his back, arms and legs spread invitingly. Turning his head, Duo smiled languidly and said, "Take me."
Heero woke slowly the next morning, feeling similar to how he would if he'd had too much wine to drink the night before. But no, he was not drunk on alcohol, but on Duo and their marathon lovemaking. Rolling over he stretched out his hand only to find the bed empty again, and the sheets cold. Duo was not only up, but he'd been up for a while.
Disappointed by his absence, he lay there for several moments, listening to the quiet surrounding him and staring blankly at the ceiling above as he recalled the night before. The feeling of dread he'd experienced as he'd entered the bedroom last night returned once again. He called himself foolish, because the night could not have gone better despite the fact that he'd never gotten around to talking to Duo about the future. There was no doubt in Heero's mind that he and Duo belonged together. Resolved to get up and find the missing man and ask him to marry him as soon as possible, he rolled out of bed and made a dash to the bathroom. He'd shower and shave first, and definitely brush his teeth before going down stairs.
The only sound within the house as he descended the stairs was the creak of wood under his feet. Where is Duo? he wondered. After a quick search of the downstairs, he concluded that his lover was not in the house, nor was the ever present dog. He frowned, experiencing his second disappointment of the day.
Entering the kitchen, he put the kettle on the stove to begin making himself some tea and breakfast. He checked his watch. It was nine thirty. A thought came to him that Duo might be in the back of the house, in his work room. He went to the door that led to the workshop and cautiously pulled it opened. A light was on in the back room and he detected a sort of scraping sound ahead. He followed it and found Duo standing at his work bench sanding a tall wooden form with Boo on his pillow in the corner.
"Morning," he called out as he moved forward, intending on giving the other man a good morning kiss. Duo glanced up at the sound of his voice and without a smile gave him an acknowledging nod of his head before returning to his work.
"What are you working on?" he asked as he came to his lover's side and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"A commissioned piece."
Heero turned his attention to the piece of wood and for the first time he realized that it was a sculpture, modern and unusual, but beautiful in presentation and display of the woodgrain. "It's good. Very good," he said with a touch of awe. "Do you do this kind of thing often?"
"Not enough to make a great living, but it helps pay the bills."
"Want some breakfast?"
"No thanks. I ate earlier and I really have to keep working."
"How long will you be in here? I thought we might do something today."
Shooting him an irritated look, Duo's voice was a bit tight and his whole demeanor distant as he replied, "Look, Heero. I have to work and I can't afford to be distracted. I'm going to be tied up for the next week, so you might want to take advantage of the good weather and drive over the pass and return to New Port City. I'm sure you don't want to chance missing your flight tomorrow."
Heero blinked, feeling stunned, like he'd been sucker punched. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Are you telling me to leave?" After the last two nights of passion and bliss, Duo was actually showing him the door?
"I don't suppose there's any use in your hanging around here any longer."
Moving on automatic, Heero closed the distance between them and grabbed Duo's upper arm and forced him to turn and look at him. "What the hell is going on, Duo? Did I say or do something to hurt or offend you last night?"
Duo tried to pull his arm out of Heero's grip, but the hand there remained almost painfully clenched around his upper arm. "Listen, Heero, we've had our fun, built a new memory or two. You can now go on with your life as a successful writer, jetting around the planet and colonies signing autographs and dating well-known celebrities. I live a simple life here, one that I'm not willing to change. I don't want to go anywhere else or complicate my life more than it already is."
"Are you mad?" Heero asked, anger simmering just below the surface. His stomach was in knots and he felt sick, sick at heart.
Duo closed his eyes and shook his head. "No, just realistic." Then for the first time that morning, Duo's face and tone softened as he added, "It was good of you to come see me, Heero. I hope you got the closure you were seeking."
Closure! The hell with closure, Heero shouted in his mind. Yes, that was the initial reason he'd given Duo for his sudden appearance three days ago, but things had changed. He loved the braided idiot standing before him, and he wasn't about to let him go without a fight.
"I don't want closure," Heero ground out between his clenched teeth. "I love you, dammit, and I want you to marry me. We'll sort things out, where to live and every day-to-day decision like who gets to take a shower first. I can write anywhere, Duo, but I'd rather do it here, with you by my side."
Duo studied his face as he spoke, yet his expression remained neutral and in a firm, unrelenting tone he answered Heero's speech with a simple, "No."
"You heard me." Duo turned back to his work. " I won't marry you."
Stunned, Heero could only stare at the man in front of him. Apparently, he didn't know Duo Maxwell as well as he thought he did. "Duo..." His voice sounded strained and pleading to his own ears. For some reason he couldn't find the words in the English language to help turn this situation around.
Duo turned his head, his eyes narrowed with apparent agitation. "No, Heero. I would really like you to leave now. I've got a lot of work to do."
"So this is it? This is goodbye?" Surely he'd misunderstood.
"Yeah, I guess it is. Have a good life, buddy."
Heero stood there, too numb to respond to having been summarily dismissed. This wasn't right, wasn't like Duo at all. What was really going on here? Then Wufei's warnings from the day before came back to him. He said that Duo had isolated himself from his friends, and that was exactly what he was trying to do at the moment; chase him off in order to be left alone. But why? Things had been going so well between them. He loved Duo, and there was no bloody way he was going to pack his bag and leave Old Castle without some understanding of what was going on.
"You haven't given me the answers to all my questions, Duo. And I'm not leaving here until you tell me why you married Wufei and why you two divorced."
Duo's hands paused in their work, and tightened on the wood and strip of sanding paper in his hands. "I don't have to answer any more questions, Heero. We're done."
"The hell you don't." Quite easily, Heero swung Duo around again and pinned him against the work bench. With their faces only inches apart, Heero narrowed his eyes dangerously as he demanded, "Why did you marry Wufei?"
"Because he asked me to, dammit!" Anger sparked in the deep blue-violet eyes.
"And your divorce?"
"A mutual parting of the ways."
There. Heero could see in Duo's eyes that an untruth had been spoken. Maybe he could guilt the other man into telling him the truth. "You're lying."
"The hell I am!" Duo shouted back. He jerked his arm out of Heero's grasp and was breathing heavily when he said in a low, warning voice, "Get the hell out of my shop and my house." Boo stood up from his pillow at the sound of anger in his master's voice and growled as he slowly approached the two men.
Without another word, Heero straightened his shoulders, turned and exited the workroom. He wanted to hit or break something to ease his anger and the ache in his chest. What the hell was he going to do? The man he'd just left in the back room was not the same man he'd spent the last few nights with. He walked into the kitchen and turned off the whistling kettle before he stormed into the living room. He sat on the sofa and buried his head in his hands. It was clear to him now that what he'd felt the night before, the odd warning that had come from the change in Duo, that the other man had been preparing beforehand to end things between them this morning. It took a few more moments for Heero to gather this wits about him and come to a decision. He was not going to leave that house until he understood what was going on, but for the moment all he could do was sit and wait for Duo to come back into the house.
Two very long hours passed and Duo hadn't come in yet. Heero sat on the sofa the entire time and stewed over the disappointing turn of events and still hadn't come up with an answer to Duo's sudden change of heart. Shivering, he got up and re-kindled the fire, hoping to warm the room up a bit more. He almost dropped the poker in his hand at the sudden ring of the phone. He turned to glare at the source of his irritation, but by the third ring he'd made a decision.
Moving quickly to intercept the answering machine, he picked up the phone and said hello into the receiver. "Mr. Maxwell?"
He paused only a moment, weighing the pros and cons of what he was about to do before answering, "Yes."
"This is Dr. Zing's office. My name is Rachel, and I'm assisting the doctor while his nurse is on vacation. I have your test results."
"Okay," he replied, hoping against hope that this call would resolve some of his unanswered questions.
"Everything came back negative. There is no sign of a lowering of your white blood cells nor any abnormality. The CAT-scan also came out negative. The doctor asked me to reassure you that there remains no trace of cancer."
Heero's mind reeled as he tried to absorb the information, wondering if Duo had been only fearful of getting cancer or if he'd experienced first hand the debilitating effects of the sickness. "You're sure?" he asked.
"Yes, the doctor is quite confident that you remain cancer free."
Somehow, Heero managed to end the conversation in what he hoped was a polite manner as he added one more piece to the puzzle that was Duo Maxwell.
"What are you still doing here?" Duo demanded from behind him.
Heero carefully put the phone back in place before slowly turning to face the questioning man. "That was your doctor's office. Your tests came back negative. You remain cancer free."
Duo suddenly paled, and his body began to list slightly to the left before he managed to reach out his hand to grab the hall table, catching himself before Heero could react. Unwilling to restrain himself, Heero put his hand on the other man's shoulder, further steadying him. Though it wasn't visible, under his hand he could feel that Duo was trembling. "Tell me."
Duo shook his head, denying the simple request.
Seeing that he wouldn't get an answer unless he pushed for it, Heero pulled Duo into his arms before the other man could protest. "It's all right.' Then more firmly he said, "You're all right." To his surprise, Duo's arms came up and held him tightly, clinging to him as if he never meant to let go.
Rubbing circles on Duo's back, a gesture meant to be of comfort for the both of them, Heero spoke softly into the other man's ear. "Tell me, Duo, what has you so frightened? Why do you push away the people you love? Why won't you let anyone share their life with you? Tell me, help me to understand."
"It's not your problem," the proud and stubborn man replied in a voice that was barely above a whisper. Still, Heero detected in that small voice a need to confess something important. He recognized that Duo was barely hanging on to his need to internalize whatever the problem was.
"If it affects you, it is my problem. Your reaction to this bit of news leads me to believe the worst. Please talk to me. Tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
"Let's sit down," came the strained request.
Slowly, Heero eased himself away from the other man before taking his hand and leading him to the sofa. He sat down and pulled Duo onto his lap, wrapping his arms around the other man, knowing the both of them needed the physical contact.
Duo turned his head to face him, looking nervous and wary as he began to slowly relate what had gone before. "You might remember that a week after you left here I had an appointment at Preventer headquarters in New Port City with Director Une. She accepted my application to join that organization right away, but she insisted I go through rookie training and a medical examination. I hadn't felt well for a couple of weeks, but I dismissed it as the flu and missing you. During the exam, Sally found something in my gut that she said wasn't supposed to be there. She put my being hired on hold until I saw another doctor."
Heero held his breath, suddenly afraid of what Duo was about to tell him. The braided man continued, his eyes looking haunted as he spoke. "I went to several doctors, was sent from once specialist to another, had a ridiculous amount of blood tests, x-rays and scans. By the time they came up with a diagnosis I'd spent all my savings."
"What was it?"
"A small mass was growing on my liver. The biopsy confirmed it was malignant."
Heero pulled the other man against him in a fearful and protective embrace. Now he was the one shaking, fighting and losing the battle to maintain his composure. Duo's arms circled him in return, offering what comfort he could.
"I didn't have a job, couldn't find one with insurance that would accept me with a preexisting condition. The only person in Sanq I knew well enough to confide in was Wufei. Like you said before, we really didn't know each other very well, but having fought together he was the only person, other than Sally, that I felt I could trust. He helped me, emotionally and physically by standing by me as I considered my options." Duo paused to take in a shuddering breath before he continued. "It was grim, Heero. I was basically on public assistance with a long line of people ahead of me for surgery and follow-up treatment. Wufei was the one to come up with the idea of us getting married so that I could share his health benefits as a legal partner. Ours was definitely a marriage of convenience because Wufei is straight and I loved no one but you."
Heero tightened his embrace, filled with a life-time of regrets for not having been with Duo during his most desperate hour. "I'm so sorry," he whispered in a choked voice.
"There was no way to find you. We tried everything we could think of to track you down until the hour before Wufei and I went to the courthouse."
"Couldn't Quatre have helped with the cost of your treatment?"
"I didn't ask," Duo replied. "I needed to make a quick decision because time didn't appear to be on my side. Even though the tumor was small, it was growing. Quatre was on L4, going through several lawsuits regarding his sisters challenging his inheritance. His relationship with Trowa had angered several of them and they wanted to take everything away from him as a punishment. He was stressed and unhappy, and I couldn't bring myself to add to his troubles. I didn't tell him or Trowa I had cancer until after I was nearly done with my radiation treatments."
"That's why you had short hair in the picture on the table."
"Yeah. My hair fell out by the handful. I had to cut it."
Without realizing it, Heero was rocking back and forth while holding his lover, trying to offer some solace and to find some for himself as well. "I'm sorry. So sorry."
"Shh, it's okay," Duo intoned.
"No. It's not okay,"
For a long while the two men held onto each other, but the questions in Heero's mind still had to be asked, regardless of what had already been revealed.
"You divorced Wufei once your treatments were over?"
"No. He insisted we stay 'married' until I was past the two-year mark, just in case the cancer returned."
"He was a better friend to you than I was a lover." And Heero's heart felt like it was about to break with that realization.
"We were young and mixed up," Duo said, excusing his absence when he really didn't need to. "You did what you had to, and then I did what I needed to in order to survive."
"What happened after you married?"
"I was signed onto Wufei's insurance and got the surgery and radiation treatments I needed. It was a terrible, dark time, but Wufei was here. He nursed me and buoyed up my spirits when I didn't think I could go on. He gave me Boo to give me something to hold onto."
The idea of Duo being in such pain and agony was almost more than Heero could bear. All these years he'd been bitter about his lover's apparent betrayal and marriage to their former comrade when he should have felt compassion, understanding and gratitude instead. Closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of his lover, he vowed to make it up to both men. The conversation he'd had with Wufei came back to him again, as did more questions.
"Why have you isolated yourself from the others? Why were you making me leave?"
Duo's arms tightened around him. When he replied, his voice was a shaky whisper. "I live with the daily fear of the cancer returning. I don't know if I can survive any more surgery, Heero. They cut out part of my liver the first time, which is why I have to be so careful with my diet. It just doesn't seem fair to let anyone get too close to me in case that happens. I know from experience how much it hurts when the people close to you die. I don't want to be the cause of anyone feeling the way I did when that happened to me. From the moment you walked into my shop I told myself not to get involved with you or let you know what had happened, especially after learning that I'd hurt you so badly. I'm sorry, Heero, but I couldn't help myself."
"What?" Duo frowned, not understanding.
"You're an idiot," Heero answered. "Pushing us away doesn't change how we feel about you. You hurt your friends by denying them the chance to be a part of your life. No matter how long you live, and because no one really knows if they'll die tomorrow in a plane crash, a fall down the stairs or even from a disease, you have to live each day fully and have love around you in order to make each day of your life matter."
"Have you had that these past eight years, Heero? Have you lived each day fully, loved without fear of the other person getting sick and dying? Don't you think it was better that you didn't know that I'd been sick?"
"I've done many things in the years we've been apart, Duo. I've found satisfaction in my work, and enjoyed the rewards of my labor. I've had other people's gratitude, and even a bit of adoration, but I haven't had love in my life, not like what you and I shared. Looking back on my life after spending these few days with you, it now seems rather empty and unfulfilled, despite my accomplishments and accolades. Please, don't make me go back to my life as it was before. Let me stay here with you."
"I... I don't know, Heero. I can't promise I'll be here next year, or the year after that."
"You've been cancer free for eight years, right?"
Duo nodded. "I've done everything I can think of to maintain my health. I eat right, exercise, keep my stress level down and remain as calm as possible."
"Then I don't see what the problem is with me staying."
A worried look marred his handsome face before Duo said, "Like I told you, I live a simple life, Heero. I can't imagine you'll find this place as stimulating for your writing as London or New York must be."
For his answer, Heero held Duo's face between his hands as he kissed him, long and deep, coming up for air only when it was necessary. "How's that for stimulating?"
New Year's day came along with sunshine and the hasty arrival of their three closest friends and Sally Poe. As arranged three days before, the Justice of the Peace met with them in their home and Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy were quietly married, witnessed by the small group.
Two happy years later, the married pair celebrated Duo's tenth year of being cancer free and Heero's newest, best-selling book by taking a long, extensive holiday. They traveled to Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo before they boarded a shuttle for a long overdue trip to L4 to celebrate Christmas with their friends.
Sitting next to his husband on that shuttle, with Heero's head resting on his shoulder as he slept, Duo studied their clasped hands, and the twin rings that symbolized their union. Heero had been right, when he'd said two years ago that having love in your life made everything more bearable. Sure, he still had some lingering fear of his cancer returning, but it no longer paralyzed him as it had before. Having Heero back in his life had given him a more optimistic outlook, that even if his cancer returned and he only had a short time to live, he couldn't regret a minute of the last two years. His happiness surpassed his wildest expectations. And as a result of that happiness, he seemed healthier than ever, optimistic to the point of being giddy, and carried around a feeling of contentment that could only come from loving someone so deeply and knowing that love was equally returned. Life is good, he thought as he rested his head against the one on his shoulder. And even though they were thousands of miles from their comfortable and familiar home in Old Castle, being with Heero he was always home.