Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Part 7 - Heero
by Dyna Dee
As Duo watched Wufei leave, Heero watched him in turn and observed the American's smile slowly fade like the sun sinking well below the western horizon. There was something different about Duo's appearance, more than his being 5 years older, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Crossing his arms over his chest, slightly bunching up that flimsy excuse for a robe, the braided man's attention returned to him at last, an air of expectancy surrounding him. Finding his throat constricted by his nervousness, Heero forced down a swallow, hoping to find his voice while Duo waited. Wearing a blank expression, those much photographed blue-violet eyes remained dead set on his own. The model was obviously attempting to appear blase, but his piercing gaze indicated to Heero that he was at least somewhat interested in his reason for remaining behind. He then noticed the tapping of one long finger on the sleeve of his sleek material that covered his arm, giving away Duo's growing impatience. The air between them was charged with what Heero could only guess was hostility... and all of it coming from Duo.
Instead of blurting out his intended, half-prepared apology, Heero found himself attempting a smile and calmly saying, "You look good, Duo. Successful and happy. How are you really?"
The man in the sexy robe blinked, apparently taken aback by the polite yet warm inquiry. "Ah... thanks. I am happy, for the most part." He reached back and scratched at his messy braid, an old habit from his younger years that Heero discovered was something he did when he was uncomfortable or unsure of himself or a situation. It was rather comforting to know he wasn't the only one who was nervous. 'Um... you look good, too," Duo offered, looking a tad suspicious at Heero's sudden switch from the role of Preventer officer to a more friendly exchange. "I'm doin' good, occupation wise. I've gotta great job that pays me an obscene amount of money and allows me to do the things I feel are important. I've got decent friends, too, so right now I've got no complaints. How about you, Heero? Are you... happy?"
Heero noted the flicker of trepidation in Duo's eyes. He wondered at its appearance. Was the other man worried about his answer? "I'm good," he replied, still trying to maintain a friendly smile. "My job keeps me active, hones my skills and it's satisfying."
"Was it worth it?"
Duo purposely looked away from him as he waited for an answer to his question. Heero knew exactly what the braided man was referring to. The job he'd just spoken so highly of had been the reason for their break up. It was a clear segue for him to speak his mind and clear his conscience; it was the very reason Wufei had left him alone to speak with his former lover. "I... I want to apologize, Duo, for so many things. I was wrong to try and force you into a job you didn't want." And then before he could help himself the words came tumbling out of his mouth in a rush. "From the psychological and medical examinations I began at Director Une's insistence, two days after our... quarrel, I eventually came to learn that our fighting triggered a Zero episode, a residual effect from that damn system. It caused a lapse in my thought process, took over the part of my brain that controls rational thinking. The only way I car explain it is to say it was exactly like being under Zero's influence during a battle." He knew Duo would understand from that analogy because he had also been under Zero's influence during the first war, thought only once, and he had sworn to never be in that position again. "Because we were so angry and shouting at each other, the part of Zero still in my head must have taken over, convinced you were my enemy."
As he continued his voice and manner reflected his feeling of shame and remorse. "I vaguely recall a voice in my head, sounding like my own but insisting you were the enemy and that I must eliminate all my enemies, but I don't remember hitting you. All I can remember is our argument escalating, and then everything went white. I give you my solemn word, Duo, that I wasn't aware of my actions until I came out of the void and found you unconscious on the floor."
The braided man remained turned towards the front windows that looked over the park below. Knowing there was nothing to see from his position but cloudy skies, Heero realized the other man was waiting for him to say something more.
Taking a deep breath he continued, hoping to find whatever it was that Duo needed to hear in order to forgive him, and what he needed to say to be free of the guilt and shame of his past actions. "I know my stubbornness matched your own regarding becoming a Preventer, but I shouldn't have backed you into a corner or given you an ultimatum. I was just so sure working together for the Preventers was the right thing to do, giving our talents and service to a peace keeping organization. It was wrong of me to assume that I knew what was good for you and for allowing our argument to escalate into a brawl."
Silence fell between the two men. Heero didn't know what else to say, but he felt as if there remained something unfinished between them. He waited patiently for Duo to give him a clue as to what it was.
After several long moments, the braided man sighed, but his eyes remained on the window and the dark cumulus clouds that scudded slowly across the darkening sky. "I've tried to forgive you," Duo said in a small, pained voice. "But you hurt me, Heero, probably more than you'll ever know. I had nightmares for ages, and in them you always had that look in your eyes, the one you had that day. It was inhuman, like you were a killing machine and I was the one you were going to take out no matter what."
"I'm sorry. I've also had nightmares," Heero admitted, combing his hand through his hair. "But not of the fight. Like I said, I don't recall very much about that day, but I do remember seeing you lying unconscious on the floor, your face covered with blood. That image was burned into my mind and has haunted me since that day, awake and asleep." Heero then closed his eyes and added, "I don't have words to express how sorry I am. I'm not making excuses for what I did, but with the help of my therapist we came to the conclusion that even though Wing had been destroyed, a part of my brain remained under the system's influence and continued to be for several months after I started seeing him. He helped me cope with the lingering effects of the Zero system and slowly expunge its control. I wasn't allowed to do anything but desk work at Preventers until I was clear of any further contamination."
Duo shook his head just before turning to look at his former lover, a hint of sadness in his expressive eyes. "What did you hope to gain by coming here, Heero? A clear conscience?"
"Perhaps," Heero replied, trying his best to be open with the other man. "Those last weeks we spent together have weighed heavily on my mind these past five years. Before we received the invitation to join Preventers, we were good together, or at least I thought we were. And I know that I was the one who ruined everything. It was my fault entirely and I can tell you with all sincerity that I deeply regret my actions and that I lost you because I was too stubborn to see any viewpoint other than my own."
With a small, sad smile Duo surmised, "Looks like you've changed a bit."
Heero managed to smile back despite the gravity of the conversation, and once again he couldn't help but appreciate Duo's just-got-out-of-bed appearance. "You too. I see you finally hit that growth spurt you kept telling me would happen. And if I'm not mistaken, you've had some reconstruction surgery. You look good."
A chuckle escaped those generous lips, and perfectly straight and pearly white teeth were exposed, displaying yet another change in Duo's appearance. Though the boy from L2 had sported an arresting smile, his teeth had been neglected during his unfortunate childhood and that lack of care had been apparent, if one looked closely. Whatever damage had been caused by neglect had obviously been taken care of.
"Well, after having my nose broken in several places, I had to undergo a surgery or two to fix the damage." Running a finger down the length of his nose he added, "It's not too bad, if I do say so myself. Some dental work was also necessary." Then with an exaggerated sigh he added, "Now if I only had the same metabolism I had when I was a teenager I'd really be happy. My weight seems to be a constant point of contention with the designers I work for. Can you believe that I have to work out and actually watch what I eat in order to stay model thin?"
Heero couldn't stop himself from making a quick glancing appraisal of the slender body that, despite the sensual bed clothing he wore, remained modestly covered. Duo had been a handsome teenager, but he never looked more appealing than he did at the moment: being relaxed, friendly and sexier than ever. With Duo having spoken to him in a more casual manner, Heero felt, if only for the space of several heartbeats, as if the past had been erased and the two of them were back on track as friends. Yet the moment their eyes met that feeling ended and the smiles on both their faces slowly faded and the atmosphere between them changed once again. Heero sensed the time had come for him to leave. "Do you accept my apology?" he asked, hoping for a positive response.
Duo paused a moment to consider, then nodded his head and quietly answered, "Yeah, I guess I do."
Even though Heero felt as if weight had been lifted off his shoulders after receiving Duo's forgiveness, the awkwardness he'd felt earlier had suddenly returned and he fumbled in his mind with what to say in reply. But what his mouth couldn't utter, his mind and body new very well what he wanted. Rising within him was a deep yearning to gather Duo in his arms and kiss him soundly, to leave an indelible impression on the other man as they parted ways once more. He reminded himself that it was no longer his place to intimately touch the other man. Duo had moved on with his life, away from him, and justifiably so. "I should probably go. Wufei is waiting for me," he said rather clumsily.
Duo gave a slow nod of agreement, then turned without a word and led him to the front door. Heero shoved his fists into his pockets and followed, denying himself his need to touch the other man.
Duo opened the front door and stood aside to allow him to walk by, but halfway out the door Heero stopped and turned. The braided man, absolutely drool-worthy in his sleeping attire and mussed hair, gazed at him with curiosity shining in his eyes. He waited in the open doorway for Heero to explain himself.
"Duo, I..." He stopped, not sure what he was going to say. He'd already apologized, sincerely and with the intention of putting the past behind him and moving forward, but he found he just couldn't say goodbye like this. "I've really missed you," he said softly, letting the truth of those four words show in his eyes. "Do you think we could ever become... friends again?"
There was a sudden spark of brightness in the depths of the blue-violet orbs that caused Heero to feel hopeful. "I've missed you too, Heero." Duo's voice was just above a whisper. "But considering that you work in Sanq and I live in New York City, I don't think it's going to be too convenient to hang out together."
"How about email?"
Duo's returning smile was soft and genuine as he replied. "Yeah, I guess I could do that."
Heero's smile returned as well. "I'd like to hear how you came to be in your current profession."
Duo lifted his chin and laughed, and to Heero the sound of that laughter brought back memories that were pleasant and magical to his ears and heart. Duo had a wonderful laugh that never failed to caused others to smile in return, and it was something Heero had sorely missed. "Now that's a story," Duo said with a wide grin, shaking his head at the amusing memory. "Drop me a line sometime and I'll tell you all the details of Quatre's sister turning the great Shinigami into a high-priced fashion model."
Heero moved his hand to the inside of his jacket and pulled out a small silver case from a pocket in the lining that held his business cards. Opening it, he removed the top one and handed it to Duo. "Here's my email address and business phone number. Write me when you have the time and I'll put your address on my contact list.
Duo took the card and looked it over, noting the Preventer Logo. As he studied it, Heero found himself unable to pull his eyes away from his former lover, and a sudden realization hit him: he'd never gotten over the other man and he still wanted him. It came to him that his longing for Duo was most likely the reason his heart had never fully mended and possibly why he never found another to fill the emptiness Duo's absence created. The two of them stood silent for several long moments with Duo staring at the card and Heero standing next to him, unsure of what else he should say or do. A handshake in parting seemed too formal, but an embrace would be too forward. Following his instincts, Heero reached out and clasped Duo by the shoulder, his touch bringing Duo's attention back to him.
"It really was good to see you again, Duo. Let's not remain strangers."
Duo nodded, then with a timid smile said softly, "Yeah, it was good to see you, too. Goodbye, Heero."
Unable to resist, and despite the fact that the other man would probably react badly to what he was about to do, Heero stepped forward and brushed his lips ever so lightly across Duo's relaxed mouth. He heard the soft, surprised intake of breath and quickly backed away. Turning immediately, he walked away, refusing to give into the urge to turn around to see what Duo's reaction to his kiss was. Once in front of the elevator, he pushed the button that would call the elevator to that floor. While waiting for it to arrive, he heard the soft click of Duo's front door as it closed behind him.
He found Wufei in the lobby, standing in front of the large bay window gazing in the direction of the park across the street. He approached his fellow agent, grateful for the tact the other man had displayed in allowing him the privacy and time to properly apologize to Duo. He stopped short of his fellow Preventer and waited, knowing Wufei was aware of his presence. Those dark eyes remained on the view in front of him as the Chinese agent asked, "Are you both intact?"
Heero chuckled. "Yes. No blows were exchanged. He accepted my apology and we agreed to keep in touch by email."
The black pony-tailed head turned, revealing Wufei's surprised expression. "I'm glad, on all three counts," he said, a pleased smile coming to his lips.
Heero felt an immense sense of gratitude for the other man's sensitivity. "You're a good man, Wufei. I've always known that but I don't think I've ever told you before or how much I've valued your friendship these past five years."
Wufei nodded, his manner turning somber again. "It's been lonely for you, being estranged from the other three, hasn't it?." Heero knew Wufei had managed to maintain some form of communication with Quatre and Trowa over the years, and at times, knowing that their friendship was lost to him, that knowledge had more often than not stung.
Slightly embarrassed to admit to it, Heero found his gaze turning to the green park outside the window, the view obscured by the rush of traffic moving by and the rain showering down. "I never have made friends easily and losing Duo was... devastating," he confessed. "Losing the friendship of the other two, though understandable, hurt almost as much."
A hand came to his shoulder. During five years of working closely together, neither of the two men had felt a need to touch each other when it wasn't necessary. But now, the hand squeezing his shoulder seemed to express Wufei's understanding and sympathy. The latter was not something he never wanted from his Chinese partner.
Heero sighed, then unexpectedly asked, "Do you want to know what happened between Duo and I that day?"
The hand on his shoulder slipped away and after a long moment Wufei answered, "I have to admit I've always been curious about what brought you and Duo to blows, but my curiosity can remain unanswered if you don't feel comfortable speaking about it."
Again, Heero was impressed by the other man's tactfulness. "We argued," he began, his voice quiet so that others passing through the front door and lobby wouldn't overhear their conversation. "In fact, we had argued daily for the entire three weeks following the meeting with you and Une to discuss our working at Preventers. I wouldn't accept Duo's reasons for not wanting to join with us to preserve the peace." He paused and closed his eyes, once more reliving that dreadful afternoon in his mind. "I was relentless, badgering him to the point of belittling him and his reasons. I went too far and he finally struck back, verbally at first. We'd spent a good half hour hurling insults at each other, until I brought up his past, saying that another Maxwell Church massacre could happen if we weren't diligent in guarding and sustaining the peace. It was wrong and I knew it was hitting below the belt, but I was desperate."
Opening his eyes again, Heero looked out into the passing traffic, not seeing anything but the past as he continued in a haunted voice. "The enraged look on his face told me I'd gone too far. And being Duo, he knew how to deliver a verbal blow better than anyone I've ever known. He asked me how many more innocents, like the little girl and dog I'd accidentally killed during my training, were going to die by my hands." He swallowed hard and clamped down on those emotions that always came to the surface when speaking about that incident.
Shaking his head, he said, "I'm not even sure who delivered the first blow. I only remember being angrier than I'd ever been before and found myself in a frame of mind I now refer to as my killing zone. The world around me washed away and I existed in a void of white anger. My anger and Duo's triggered something in me left over from Zero. I don't remember hitting him, but I recall lashing out at the source of my pain. It... it was like being taken over." He physically shuddered at the vivid memory. "Dr. Betts said that I had in fact experienced residual effects from the Zero system, that the heated argument triggered it."
Wufei's hand was on his shoulder again, and another slight squeeze showed his support. He acknowledged it with a nod and continued. "I have no memory of what happened while I was in that void, and like I said, I don't even recall hitting Duo. I only know that when my vision cleared the apartment was wrecked, my fists hurt like hell and Duo was battered, bloody and unconscious on the floor. At first I was afraid that I'd killed him, but when I reached down and touched his neck I felt a steady pulse. His face was covereded with blood, and I was pretty sure I'd broken his nose. But as I moved to check his body for other injuries, I was distracted by the shaking of my hands and realized that I was not in complete control. I was still on the edge of that white killing void and knew I had to get out of there in case I lost it again and killed him. I ran out of our apartment and kept running until I was too tired to think of hurting anyone.
"When I finally stopped, too exhausted to go any further, I wasn't sure where I was. After walking a few blocks, I got myself reoriented and realized I'd run miles away from the apartment. Remembering Duo, and horrified by what had happened and how I'd left him, I turned back, determined to remain calm in order to not repeat what had happened earlier and tend to Duo's wounds and get him the medical help he needed." Heero didn't doubt that the pain he'd felt that day five years ago was etched across his face as well as shame for his actions during those nightmarish hours. "I should never have left him there, unconscious and with unknown injuries," he said in an agonized voice. "But I was honestly afraid of going into a killing mode again, and that whatever was in my head wouldn't be satisfied until the object of my previous anger had been eliminated.
"When I opened the door to the apartment, I was shock by the destruction of the living room. It's ruination spoke loudly of the violent scene I had no memory of. Every piece of furniture was either broken or damaged, the room was in shambles. And worst of all, Duo was gone. The dark blood stain on the carpet was further evidence of what I had done. I went to the bedroom and ascertained that some of his clothes and a duffle bag were missing. I knew without a doubt that I had ruined the best thing that had ever happened to me." Heero stopped at that point, knowing that the other man knew the rest of the story, of how he'd searched for Duo, using his new status as a Preventer to do so. It wasn't until two weeks later that Wufei informed him of Duo having moved to L4 to live with Trowa and Quatre.
Too ashamed to face Wufei after making his confession, Heero kept his eyes averted, unable to bear the other man's disgust. And so they stood in silence, each man lost to his own thoughts of the past for several long moments, watching the traffic go by and people going about their everyday business.
"Quatre called me," Wufei began unexpectedly and in a quiet voice, "He pleaded with me to go to the Shady Glen hotel and check on Duo, who had somehow managed to get a message to him that he was injured and in hiding. There was no answer when I knocked on the door, so I picked the lock and entered the hotel room without permission. How Duo managed to get himself checked into that hotel in his condition I'll never figure out. I didn't have to spend even a moment looking for him. He was lying on the floor, curled on his side and sleeping fitfully with a pool of vomit not three inches from his face. I carefully relocated him to the bed and began to exam his wounds. He was a mess. His nose, a couple of ribs and two fingers were broken, his eyes were bruised and swollen, his lips were split and his gums were bleeding. His abdomen and the skin over his rib cage looked like he'd been hit by a truck. I cleaned him as well as I could manage, but it was a difficult task, given his injuries. I was just about to call for an ambulance when he regained consciousness. He begged me not to seek medical help and stated that he trusted me to set his nose for him." Wufei sighed at that point of his story and brought his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as if trying to expunge the memory of that day. "After the wars had ended, I never thought I'd have to do medical field work on a friend ever again.
"I sat all night at his bedside, watching for any signs of internal injuries and feeding him spoonfuls of water so he wouldn't become dehydrated. He complained of his ribs, face and teeth hurting, but there was really nothing I could do for him unless we sought professional help.
"That was one of the most difficult nights I've ever experienced," Wufei said, thinking back on that long day. "During the war Duo always had something to say, even in the direst circumstances. But that night he lay silent and unmoving on that lumpy hotel room bed. I was fearful that he was hiding the true extent of his injuries, that he'd decided dying was better than living. He wouldn't answer my questions about you or what happened so I had no choice other than to wait for Quatre and Trowa to arrive.
"The moment Quatre came into the room Duo broke down. Trowa promptly took my arm and led me out of the room and into the hotel hallway to get my report, so I have no idea what passed between the two after we left. When Quatre opened the door half an hour later, he announced that Duo would be returning with them to L4. They took him first to the former Maguanac base in Saudi Arabia to consult with a doctor Quatre trusted, and two weeks later I got the email telling me that they'd arrived on L4 and asked that I pass a message to you that any attempt to contact them would be rebuffed.
"Despite my inquiries, neither Trowa nor Quatre would divulge what had happened that day, telling me it would be best to let it be. They sent me frequent updates on Duo, his surgeries, how he was doing and what he was up to, but he never emailed me himself. I felt it only right to respect his silence."
While Wufei described Duo's injuries, Heero's stomach twisted into a knot and once again he was filled with painful self-reproach and guilt. Sure, a couple of times he and Duo had sometimes wrestled, knocking each other to the floor when they'd had an argument, but he'd always maintained strict control over his anger and fists, refusing to hit the other provoking teenager no matter how much he'd wanted to at times. Duo could be down right exasperating when he wanted to be, but Heero never believed it was possible that he would strike out at his lover with such ruthlessness. Regardless of the fact that he didn't remember doing it, he now had full knowledge of the damage and pain he'd caused Duo, and it was inexcusable. He couldn't be trusted, he told himself. He deserved all the loneliness and misery he'd experienced during the past five years for what he'd done to his lover.
Something of what he was feeling must have showed on his face, for he felt the weight of Wufei's arm going around his shoulders. "It's in the past now, Heero. He's accepted your apology and his wanting to keep in touch shows he's ready to move on. He's forgiven you."
Heero couldn't keep the tears from welling in his eyes, though rubbing his face roughly helped to keep them contained. It was hard to believe, especially after all these years of remorse and self-loathing, that Duo had truly forgiven him. Though they would probably never be as close as they once were, Heero knew that a door had been opened to a new and cautious start with Duo. For the moment, however, the flood of memories, seeing Duo again and receiving his forgiveness was too much to absorb and he didn't want to talk about it any further without having some time to let everything sink in. Looking up at his friend he said, "We should go and check out the restaurant Duo told us about and verify his alibi."
Wufei's right eyebrow rose in question. "You still suspect him?"
"No, but we have to carry this through like any legitimate investigation, don't we?"
"All right." Wufei's sigh following that reply clearly displayed his belief that confirming Duo's alibi was a waste of time. "Let's hail a cab then we can go back to the hotel room. We can call the restaurant's owner while we check out and let him know we're coming, then fly out later this afternoon." Then giving Heero a searching look he added, "That is unless you'd like to spend the rest of the day here in the city. We could see if Duo wants to get together for dinner?"
Heero shook his head. "Things have turned out better than I could have hoped for. It's probably a good idea to quit while I'm ahead and not push my luck."
The two agents left the air conditioned lobby for the, wet, humid and noisy streets of New York, both feeling a sense of relief and having lighter hearts after their successful visit with their formerly estranged friend.