Tangled In the Web
by Dyna Dee
The clock reported the time as being almost nine thirty when he descended the stairs, freshly showered and dressed in a clean pair of loose fitting jeans and a red t-shirt. He picked up the remote for the stereo and turned it on, needing the familiar music to help fill the uncomfortable silence in the empty house. He went to the kitchen and pulled his favorite cereal down from the cupboard. Honey-nut toasted oats was his allowed, lightly-sweetened favorite. Heero deemed it slightly more nutritional than the cereals he really liked and let him eat it at least three times a week. It was a good thing his lover didn't know about the stash of high-sugar cereals Quatre kept slipping him. He safely hoarded his cherished boxes of Sugared Corn Pops, Sweetened Alphabets with Marshmallows and Fruity Rings behind the winter sheets in the linen closet, just waiting for a rainy day. There were several containers of chocolate covered peanuts and raisins and boxes of hot cinnamon candy that he snuck into often while Heero was in the laundry room or the shower. Just thinking about his private, hidden stash brought a impish smile to his face.
He was in the middle of his second bowl of cereal when an idea came to him of how he wanted to spend his day. He was alone for the first time in a very long time, and while that idea made him uncomfortable, he also knew it presented an opportunity for him to test himself. Dumping the rest of his cereal into the sink, he went into the living room and stood near the stairs, staring at the front door as he contemplated the task he was setting up for himself. That he hadn't been through the front door on his own since he and Heero had moved there was a bit disturbing, and mulling over the idea of doing it now, without back up, made him more than a little weak in the knees.
He forced himself to turn from the door and move to the window at the front of the house and drew back the closed curtain to look out into the front yard. The sun was shining brightly overhead and the street was quiet. There were no shadows or impending threat that he could see; It looked safe. His hands tightly clenched the heavy fabric of the dark blue curtain, wrinkling it as he envisioned himself going out the front door unaccompanied. "A child could do this," he scolded himself. "Just take a short walk around the neighborhood. I've done it countless times with the guys and I can do it now, by myself." His shrink had urged him to set goals for himself and then carry them out by envisioning the task and telling himself he could do it. After closing his eyes and following the man's advice, his stomach felt like it was being tied up in tight knots.
It took about fifteen minutes to get his body to move back to the door, picking up the house keys in the wooden box on the table next to it. His right hand reached for the doorknob and gripped the cool knob tightly, and then he paused, frozen in place as a drop of sweat slide slowly down his back. He found himself unable to move for a moment, his breathing constituting rapid, ragged gasps. With his frustration mounting along with his fears, he got angry with himself. "Just do it, you wuss!" he ground out through gritted teeth.
The door opened with a sudden jerk and before he could think about it, he stepped out onto the porch and hesitantly shut it behind him. It took everything in him to put the key into the lock and turn it until it clicked closed. Once locked, he then turned to face the steps at the front of the porch. Taking in a deep breath, he paused to congratulate himself on accomplishing his first goal. "I can do this," he said firmly to himself, just under his breath. "I'm not a child, but a grown man." He shoved his fists and keys into the pockets of his jeans and by sheer will alone he stepped down the five wooden steps to the front walk and then mechanically put one foot in front of the other until he reached the main sidewalk that paralleled the street.
Having successfully reached that destination, he quickly withdrew his hands from out of his pockets, covered his face with them and bent over, trying to diminish the dizziness that came from his near hyperventilating state and the deep-gut need he had to run back into the house where it was safe.
After several moments, he straightened, breathing a little easier as some of his resolve returned and looked in both directions of the sidewalk. He opted to go left, avoiding the yard of their friendly next-door neighbor, Dr. Frank McAdams, who had warmly invited them to call him by his first name. He'd declined the older man's invitation, feeling more comfortable addressing him as Mr. McAdams, keeping their relationship formal and not chummy. This daunting task he'd set for himself was the beginning of his personal quest towards to become less dependant, and he didn't want anyone, especially their well-meaning and slightly nosey neighbor, hovering over him. He'd had enough hovering to last a lifetime.
"Five steps at a time," he told himself firmly. If he could do this, it would be one step closer to becoming more independent, and that would be good for himself and for Heero. And so he lifted his right knee and forced himself to take a first step forward. It was a beginning, he told himself, and he push aside all his panicked feelings and began keeping a careful count of each painstaking footstep he took after that, pushing to the back of his mind his rising fears as he moved further away from the house, his security.
The phone rang ten times before the answering machine picked up. Heero's recorded voice was heard on the recording, asking the caller to identify themselves and to leave a message. A beep sounded short and clear before a matching voice was heard. "Duo? Pick up the phone." Several moments passed before the voice, now filled with concern, spoke again. "Are you alright? Please, pick up." Another couple of moments passed as Heero waited on the other end of the line. When his voice was heard again, it was a bit distant as he answered someone's question. "I don't know. He's not picking up," he answered. A heavy sigh sounded before he continued to address the machine. "I'm going to assume you're in the bathroom or out in the back, so call me back as soon as you can. If I don't hear from you in ten minutes, I'm coming home. Screw this farce of a memorial." The line went dead and the message machine clicked off.
In less than eight minutes from the time he'd gone through the front door, Duo stumbled up onto the porch, his hands shaking as he tightly clutched the front door key and fumbled to get it into the lock. His clothes were stuck to his sweaty, over-heated skin, a sure sign of his mental distress, and he almost wept for joy as the key finally fell into place and he quickly unlatched the door, threw it open and promptly fell into the house, landing on his hands and knees. Without turning, he lifted his right foot and firmly kicked the door shut behind him as he struggled to catch his breath. Crawling back over to the door, he sat against it, putting his back and head against the cool wooden surface and reached up with his left hand to secure the lock. The moment it clicked into place, he let his arm drop limply to his side.
It took several moments for his breathing and racing heart to calm. With the sleeve of his red shirt, he wiped the sweat off of his face, noting with some disgust that the cotton material was just as damp as his skin. Taking in a deep breath, a slow, satisfied smile began to form on his face. "I did it," he said out loud, catching a sob in this throat as his conflicting emotions refused to be held down any longer. He sat there for a long time with his head back and eyes closed and allowed himself to feel some pride in his accomplishment while willing the fear he'd felt during his outing to slowly subside. He was emotionally and physically exhausted after the short, stressful walk around the block, and though it took some time, he finally managed to relax.
He realized that he must have fallen asleep when he suddenly jerked awake at a sharp rapping sound that came from outside the front door. It scared him shitless. He instinctively scrambled away from the door in a crab-like fashion and stared at the wooden surface, noting with an short-lived feeling of relief that the lock was engaged.
"Duo, it's Frank McAdams from next door. Are you alright?"
The braided man sat on the floor, still staring at the door as his mind registered who was on the other side. He debated whether he should answer the man or not.
Another knock came and then the doorbell rang several times. "Duo, answer me or I'll have to come in. If you can hear me, please open the door."
Again there came the returning feelings of uneasiness and fear. He absolutely did not want the neighbor in the house without Heero being home, so he forced himself to get on his feet and move towards the door.
"It's alright, Mr. McAdams," he called out, definitely unhappy about the shaky voice he projected to the man on the other side. "I'm okay."
"Are you sure? Heero called home and was worried when you didn't pick up. When you didn't return his call, he rung me up and asked me to check on you."
"I didn't hear it ring," he replied truthfully. "I'll call him now, okay?"
A moment passed before the older man spoke again. "Are you sure you're all right? I could come in and keep you company if you'd like."
"No, I'm fine," Duo rushed to say, not wanting that to happen. "Thanks, though. I'll tell Heero you came by." He knew he was talking too fast and his voice was still uncertain and tight. Any idiot could tell he was anything but fine.
"Feel free to call me if you need anything," the other man said. "I'll be home all day."
Duo didn't answer, but listened until he heard the other man's footsteps moving off the front porch, signaling his departure. He sighed with relief and combed his fingers through the fringe of hair that hung over his forehead. "Well, shit," he uttered dejectedly. He made his way over to the phone and saw that the red light was blinking, indicating a message had been left. He played it and cursed again as he picked up the receiver and speed-dialed Heero's cell.
"Duo!" Heero's voice was anxious as he answered his phone.
"I'm okay," he reassured his worried lover, wishing his voice sounded a bit stronger. "Sorry, I didn't mean to worry you."
"You're all right?"
"Where were you?"
The concern in Heero's voice was more than apparent to Duo and let him know he had to talk fast to keep the other man from racing home. He needed to make a snap decision of whether or not he should tell his lover the truth and risk Heero's anger either way. "Went for a walk," he said, subdued . There was a long stretch of silence on the other side of the line.
"Did you say a walk?"
"By yourself?" Heero sounded incredulous, yet asked a second question to clarify the earlier statement. "You went out of the house by yourself?"
A murmur of voices could be heard along with the sounds of a large gathering of people on Heero's side of the phone. Duo detected Trowa's voice more clearly than the others, telling Heero to remain calm. He didn't want to think about what his lover's face looked like at the moment. He was afraid it was anger that was it directed towards him for taking such a chance.
"Hold on," Heero commanded and the other end of the phone went silent.
Nervously, Duo did as he was told, though he took his weakened limbs and the phone to sofa and sat down. He had a moment to gather his thoughts and decided that no matter what Heero's reaction was, he was damn proud of himself for what he'd accomplished.
"Duo?" Heero was back.
"I had to find a quiet room so we could talk. Sorry it took so long." Silence followed as both young men considered what to say. "Why did you risk going out while I was away from home?" Heero asked, worry more than anger was evident in his voice. "You could have had a panic attack or an episode. Damn, just thinking about it makes me crazy."
"I had to, Heero," Duo replied, hoping he could get out all the words he needed to in order to explain his actions. "I needed to do this knowing there was no back up, and I did it."
"Was it difficult?"
"Hell yes it was."
"You're sure you're okay? Do you want me to come home?"
"No!" Duo responded more sharply than he'd intended. He lowered his voice as he continued. "It kind of defeats the purpose if you come home, doesn't it? I'm fine, just a little rattled. I'll eat some lunch in a little while and take a rest, maybe watch some T.V."
"I'll come home if you need me," Heero reminded him, and Duo couldn't help but wonder if Heero was maybe looking for a reason to leave the memorial.
"I know," he replied, softening his attitude as a warmth spread out from his heart at Heero's words. His natural reflex was be to say he always needed Heero, but that was the whole reason for the morning's exercise, wasn't it? He depended too much on his lover for everything and he needed to learn to let go so he wouldn't lose the one person he knew he couldn't live without. So instead he replied, "But I'm fine. Don't worry."
"You can call Frank McAdams or Mrs. L. if you need someone quickly."
"All right," he answered, but they both knew he'd never voluntarily call on their neighbor; he'd never taken to the friendly man. Mrs. L, though, was good at calming him down, speaking to him with soft spoken words that were always reassuring. But in a real emergency there wasn't a lot that an elderly woman could do for him, especially if he had a panic attack.
"There are several things going on this afternoon so I might not be able to find a quiet place to call until just before the evening meal. If you need me, call. I'll set my phone to vibrate."
"Sounds like a plan." Duo was sure his voice sounded even, and now that his walk was over and Frank McAdams had gone, he was feeling much better. And even though he felt tired, he decided it was being tired in a good way.
It took another five minutes before the two men were able to say goodbye, and after hanging up, Duo decided he needed a drink of water and then maybe another shower. He decided his damp shirt against his drying skin didn't feel very good. Going to the kitchen he picked a glass out of the cupboard, filled it with ice and then added some filtered water. He took a long drink as he stood by the sink, draining the water out of the glass before re-filling it and heading up the stairs to take his second shower of the day.
The shower was a long one, and despite the ventilation fan, the mirrors were fogged up when he finally shut the water off. With nothing to really occupy himself with for the rest of the afternoon, he didn't feel in any need to finish up with any speed. When his skin was puckered and the water was noticeably cooling, he stepped out, dried off, then walked into the bedroom to find some clean clothing. The phone rang a half hour later; it was Trowa.
"I hear you went for a walk this morning," the familiar voice said pleasantly, a smile in his voice.
"Yeah," Duo replied with a small chuckle, then added with a touch of sarcasm. "It was quite the earth shaking event."
"Duo, you and I both know that it was momentous. Don't talk as if it wasn't."
Duo shook his head. Trowa always knew his number and when to call it.
There was silence then, but neither felt uncomfortable with it. After a moment, Trowa spoke again. "It's a mad house here. I'm glad you're at home. The press is in full force and we've had cameras and microphones shoved into our faces since we arrived. Heero and Wufei have been in their most stiff, stoic and unapproachable form."
"Did you smile and wave at the cameras?"
An amused chuckle came over the phone. "No. But on the way here we tried to get Heero to wave and then wink at the camera, just for you."
"That would have shocked the masses," Duo chuckled. Looking at the clock, he was surprised to see it was eleven thirty already. "Have you had lunch yet?"
"No, but we're on our way. Milliardo promises it will be good and he's having some extra food boxed up for Heero to bring home to you."
"Like the bag you bring home to the dog?" Duo asked, affronted, his good mood suddenly taking a dive.
"Duo..." Trowa's voice held a tone of warning in it for Duo not to go there.
"My lunch is waiting for me," Duo interrupted him. "I gotta go."
There was a long pause before Trowa said, "I'll call back later, alright?"
"Have a good time." Duo then hit the off button and set the phone down. With sluggish footsteps, he walked to the kitchen for another drink of water.
The next half hour crept by slowly. He got a quick, reassuring call from Wufei as he pulled the container of food Heero had left for him out of the microwave, telling him he wasn't missing anything. The call was short but appreciated. After finishing his meal, he busied himself by cleaning up the kitchen until there was not a crumb or thumb print to be found.
The house suddenly seemed much too quiet and empty. He took hold of the wing-back chair and set it next to the closed-curtained front window. He sat down on it and then lifted the outer edge of the curtain to peer out onto the front yard and beyond. The street they lived on was quiet during the day, which had been one of the major factors in purchasing it. The neighborhood children were in school and only their older neighbor, Dr. McAdams, could be seen almost daily, perpetually working with a pair of hedge clippers on the shrubs that completely surrounded his large front yard. He was nice enough, Duo supposed, but he felt uncomfortable when he sensed the older man's curious eyes watching him whenever he and Heero left their house. True, he didn't leave it often, occasionally going with Heero or one of the guys to the store, for a ride to their homes, Mrs. L.'s and a weekly trip to the park to play basketball. He supposed his lack of appearance outside the house had the old guy wondering about him.
Scanning the neighborhood from his safe position, it came as no surprise to him that Dr. McAdams was out in his yard again, a place he was often seen. He focused on the older man for several moments, who was concentrating on cutting his ever-growing hedge. He was retired from his profession of being a general medical practitioner and, from his conversations with Heero, a widower who had also lost his son in a car accident some years ago. Heero said the man seemed lonely and was apparently trying to reach out to them as a good neighbor, but Duo didn't want any of it. He didn't know the man, and the only people he wanted in their home were their friends, Sally and Mrs. L. On several occasions the Peacecrafts came to visit them, but his discomfort at their presence in the house was more than telling when he sat silent and brooding until they left, not contributing in any helpful way to the conversation.
His behavior on those occasions always upset Heero. It never failed after one of their visits that his lover would remind him that almost everything they owned was due to the fact that Milliardo had turned his inheritance of Relena's entire estate over to them because of the suffering they'd endured from his sister's malicious acts. They'd learned from Relena's lawyer, soon after her assassination, that she'd left everything in a will to her brother. Heero had been told it was something he could contest in a court of law because he'd been her legal husband, but there was no need for such an action as Milliardo had already begun the process of giving it to them. As far as Duo was concerned, he and Heero were owed everything they got from Relena's estate and then some for all the pain she'd caused by her selfish manipulations.
As if sensing someone was looking at him, the hedge-clipping man looked up from his task, his head turning to take in his surroundings until at last his eyes turned towards the direction of their house. Seeing the curtain held open, the neighbor raised one gloved hand and waved to him. The curtain was promptly dropped and Duo's heart sped up. He quickly stood and moved away from the window. Suddenly feeling agitated, he rubbed his sweating palms against the material of his pants and looked around the room. His eyes landed on the television set. Turning off the low-playing stereo, he then picked up the remote and turned on the T.V. He changed the channel to the local news station with the hope of seeing Heero smiling and winking at him as Trowa had mentioned on the phone. The newscaster for Channel 42 was a pretty woman, probably in her thirties. She had dark brown hair, an oval face with flawless skin and soft blue eyes. She was pleasant to look at and Duo liked her calm and friendly manner of delivering the news.
He listened for several minutes to the current events from around the world including reports on the growing hole in the ozone, a small oil spill in Alaska, a heated election in the United States, and a bombing in Jerusalem. He decided he wasn't in the mood to listen to all the negative news because there was nothing to feel good about after hearing about the bad things happening in the world. After a few more minutes, the topics turned to local news. The memorial was the first item to be reported and Melinda Gutage, the on-site news anchor, cut to a clip from that morning showing the arrival of dignitaries from all over the world and focused on the arrival of Heero and the other gundam pilots.
"Mr. Yuy," a male reporter yelled out from the crowd as he jumped in front of Heero as he exited the limousine. "Can you tell us how you feel about your wife's assassin still being at large?"
"No comment," Heero said with a grim face then moved forward through the throng of press and guests. Duo shook his head, realizing he wasn't going to get a smile or a wink from his lover over the T.V. and thinking the scowl his lover wore detracted from his good looks.
Wufei exited the car next. "Mr. Chang." A familiar, persistent female reporter from a London gossip magazine called out to him above the other sounds of the crowd. "Have the Preventers come up with any new leads on the assignation of Mrs. Peacecraft-Yuy?"
"There is constant interest in finding the perpetrator that took Relena's life. We will not rest until the assassin is found and stands trial," Wufei reported stiffly, then moved forward quickly, looking as if he were chasing Heero up the sidewalk to the grand entrance that housed the offices of the United Earth and Colonies' representatives.
Trowa exited the car next and stood by the open car door to wait for Quatre, then closed it as his lover stood next to him.
"Mr. Winner?" Quatre's blond hair gleamed brightly like an angel's halo under the bright morning sunshine. He gave the reporter a practiced, friendly smile that came to his face easily. He paused for a moment with an air of patience to allow the reporter to speak with him. "There seems to be one pilot missing today. Is Duo Maxwell not here because of his conviction and incarceration beginning three years ago from a theft in your own home?"
The blond's smile dimmed and in all seriousness he said, "Duo is my friend, and he was wrongfully accused and tried for a crime he didn't commit. I regret that such an unfortunate incident happened in my home."
Another reporter jumped in front, shouting another question. "The hospital records here in Brussels state that Mr. Maxwell has been admitted several times during the last year for corrective surgery. Is Duo Maxwell alright? Were his injuries due to his incarceration? Is his absence here today due to poor health, mentally or physically?"
Quatre's back straightened as he drew himself up, glaring at the reporter. "Duo Maxwell's medical records are not a matter for public discussion. I would ask you where you obtained such personal information?"
"Unnamed sources," the reporter replied solemnly.
"Your sources have obviously obtained and passed along private information that is protected by law. I would warn your source that I will not tolerate anyone messing with my friends' lives. Mr. Maxwell is recovering from his incarceration, which certainly was anything but pleasant, and there are criminal charges being brought against Penal Colony Four and against the warden there, a Mr. Warren Harding. That is a matter of public record and more than worthy of your professional attention than Mr. Maxwell's health record. Now if you'll excuse me, there is a ceremony that I need to attend." With Trowa's arm around his waist guiding him through the crowd of reporters surrounding them, they pushed their way through to their friends standing at the entry to the building, wearing twin frowns on their faces.
Duo sat stunned in his living room as a picture of himself, taken just after the wars and before Heero had left him, was put up in the right hand corner of the screen. A hand went over his mouth as he began to tremble violently. Nearly blind with fear and trepidation, he instinctively bolted from the living room, stumbled almost blindly up the stairs, and scrambled into to the safety of his bedroom.