Tangled In the Web
by Dyna Dee
Heero entered the dining room just as the evening meal was being served. He sat next to Wufei and gave the other three a look of worry and a shake of his head. "He's not answering. I think I should go home."
"I'm sure he's fine, Heero," Wufei said, though he didn't sound too convincing.
"Then why doesn't he answer?"
"Maybe he shut off the phone when he took a nap and forgot to turn it back on." Quatre suggested.
Heero shook his head. "He never does that."
"Try again," Trowa said. "This time when the answering machine comes on, firmly order him to pick up the phone."
Heero gave him a questioning look, then took out his cell phone and began to speed dial home. Ignoring the other dinner guests, he put the small phone to his ear and listened to the message machine, again. "Duo. It's Heero. I want you to pick up the phone right now. You're worrying me by not answering. If you can hear me, I want you to pick up the damn phone!" he said forcefully, then looked to Trowa, one eyebrow raised. "Was that firm enough?"
"Yes," Trowa nodded, "that should do it."
There were a few moments of silence before Heero's eyes lit up, having heard a click on the phone. "Duo? Is that you?"
Only the sound of rapid breathing could be heard coming from the other end of the call. Heero's eyes met the others, silently telling them something was wrong, knowing it was probably another panic attack. "What's the matter? What's happened?" he asked anxiously. There was no answer. "Are you alright? Answer me?"
"No." Duo's voice was but a faint whisper, as if he were trying to keep quiet and hidden.
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm coming home, but it's going to take me a half hour. I'm going to put Trowa on the phone and he'll talk to you until I get there, all right?"
Though he could barely hear Duo's voice, Heero could hear the urgency in it. Without hesitating, he handed the phone to Trowa. "Talk to him until I get there." He then rose and walked rapidly from the room without looking back or stopping to talk to those calling out to him.
"Should I go with him?" Wufei asked, looking to Quatre for an answer.
"No. His departure and absence will be noted. There are only three of us left and I think Milliardo would appreciate if we stayed until the end. Heero will call and tell us if he needs us. If he does, we'll leave immediately."
Meanwhile, Trowa rose from his chair, speaking into the phone. "Duo, it's Trowa. How are you, little brother?" His hand gripped Quatre's shoulder before he turned and casually strolled out of the room to find a quiet place to try and figure out what was going on at the other end of the phone.
Newly paroled and bored already, Harley Stubben sat in a sprawled out position, his feet resting on his bed. In his right hand he held a can of beer that was only half finished and getting warm from his holding it. He was a large man, his pale muscled arms made visible by his wife-beater t-shirt, looked darker than they really were due to the large amount of dark hair that covered most of his body. He sat as if in a stupor as he watched the evening news, a must for a man who had spent the last ten years of his life on Penal Colony 4. After his recent release, he'd spent a good amount of time catching up on all he'd missed during his incarceration. Cheap women, booze, cigarettes and television topped that list, in that order. From edited newscasts that the prisoners of Penal Colony Four were allowed, he'd learned of the past two wars between Earth and the colonies. It seemed to him that maybe being locked up for ten years might have been better than getting involved in the those wars. He snorted at that thought. "Yeah, right." Prison had been hell, but as far he was concerned, he'd fared better than most.
He set down his beer and grabbed the remote, ready to change the channel, when some sort of celebration on Earth was being reported. He turned up the volume to see a succession of young men exit a limousine. He turned up the volume and figured from the questions being asked and then by the names being flashed under their pictures, that these young men in dress suits were the famed colony gundam pilots. He'd heard about the boy warriors and scoffed at the idea. But from what he'd seen and heard, those children had saved Earth and maybe even the colonies by their heroic acts. The first two had hardened faces, young and reportedly anything but innocent. The next two were a bit harder to judge, especially the small blond guy. He was the one who stopped to answer the reporters' questions. The name Duo Maxwell was picked up and he paid more attention when the blond got testy.
His breath suddenly caught in his throat when a picture of the absent pilot was displayed while the reporter speculated on the whereabouts and health of the fifth gundam pilot, missing from the memorial to some pacifist chick. The reports of treatment in a Brussels' hospital after he was released from Penal Colony 4 had him sitting up, his full attention on the television screen. The report ended and the news station went on with another story about some sports team on Earth.
"Duo Maxwell," the man said grimly, then slowly a deep, maniacal laugh grew and roared out of the man's throat and continued for roughly thirty seconds before it stopped abruptly. Grabbing up the open can of beer on the table next to him, he violently hurled it across the room where it banged loudly as it hit the wall, denting its surface and leaving a splash of liquid on the peeling paint. The angry man brought his right hand up to massage the stump at his elbow, where his left forearm used to be. "Looks like I'll be taking a little pleasure trip to Earth, just to even things up," he said out loud to the four dull walls.
No one could ever prove that the kid who'd covered himself with filth to avoid being raped again had caused the maiming injuries he and several of his prison mates had suffered by malfunctioning machines in the penal colony's manufacturing plant. His prison pal, who dominated all the males on their block, fared worse than the rest of them. He'd been found electrocuted in the workshop. There had been an investigation, but the findings had been "inconclusive". It didn't take a genius to put the facts together that of the six who'd had a piece of that boy's ass, five had ended up having some sort of disfiguring accident and the last one, their so-called leader, ended up dead. All such occurrences ended when the kid had suddenly been paroled.
Twisting around so that his right hand could reach the phone, he grabbed hold of it, moved it forward, and began dialing. It took three calls to find the person he was seeking.
"Squib, that you?" he questioned upon hearing the voice he hadn't heard in ten long years. "This is Harley. Yeah, Harley Stubben. Yeah, well I just got out about two weeks ago. Shut up and listen to me, Squib. I need to cash in a favor. Listen here, you bug-eyed bureaucrat, you owe me big time for not getting me out of that conviction and I need a favor." His voice then lowered in a threatening manner as he continued, "I know where you live, piss ant, and I don't care if you're married to my cousin or not. I'll do serious harm to your family if you don't do what I ask."
A long pause filled the room and the stubbled face of the unattractive man changed minutely as he slowly smiled, pleased at the other man's capitulation, even though it was more than obvious it was reluctantly done. "I need to locate a gundam pilot. His name is Duo Maxwell and he's been receiving some sort of medical treatment in Brussels, Belgium. No, I don't know his address," he answered testily. "I don't have a computer here so you'll have to do a background search yourself. Three years ago he was incarcerated at the same penal colony as me. He was released last year and was in pretty bad shape. I'll give you two weeks to come up with the information I need or you'll find me on your doorstep and very unhappy. Do you understand?" His smile broadened. "That's a good little weasel," he chuckled darkly. He then gave the man on the other end of the line his phone number. "Two weeks," he reminded him, then abruptly hung up the phone.
"Duo, talk to me. What's the matter?" Trowa kept his voice calm and even, having learned from past experiences that when his friend regressed into what they now termed 'an episode', being quiet, calm and giving him a feeling of safety and security brought him out of it much quicker than excitement or panic. Listening to the faint, ragged breathing on the other end of the phone, he felt disheartened and saddened. Duo hadn't had an episode in nearly two months and they'd all hoped he was finally over them.
It had been a rough for their two friends, struggling to find some semblance of being normal after what Relena had put them through. He knew from talking privately to both of them that Heero was still guilt ridden and put Duo as his first priority, refusing to leave his side even though he was silently suffering from depression and boredom from being homebound much of the time. His guilt and depression couldn't be hidden completely from Duo, who was very aware of all that went on around him. Duo felt caught between his need to feel secure and making Heero happy. Both men had expressed to him their frustration at the situation, but neither could come up with a solution. The one thing that held them together was their deep love and commitment to each other.
Hearing a slight whisper in his ear, Trowa focused on what Duo might be saying. He thought he heard the words, "They'll find me, they'll find me," so he had to ask, "Who will find you, Duo?"
He could only assume Duo meant the men who had given him countless nightmares and fears, his attackers on the penal colony. "They're all locked up, Duo. They can't come here. You're safe. Heero's on his way home and if you need us to, the rest of us will come also. We won't ever let anyone hurt you again. Do you hear what I'm saying, Duo?"
"Tro... wa.?" There was a slight tone of recognition to the hushed voice.
"Yes, it's me, Duo. Heero's on his way home. Where are you?"
Only shaky breathing answered his question. Then an idea came to him. "Are you in your safe place?"
"Just stay there. You're hidden and no one can see you. Why don't you lie down and try to go to sleep?"
"No." Duo's voice was so quiet he barely heard his reply, but his fear was loud and clear. "They'll find me."
Trowa closed his eyes; this was a bad one. The last time Duo had been this frightened was when there had been an accident in front of their house. A panicked and obviously intoxicated man who had been the driver of the car that hit the fire hydrant outside, barged into their house before Heero, who had been in the basement doing laundry, could investigate. Heero had later related to them that Duo had been sitting on the couch watching T.V. and at the sound of the car hitting the hydrant, he'd moved to the front window to look out of it when he spied the man getting out of the car and then came running towards the house. Duo had frozen, unable to move, and watched in horror as the man burst into the house. The intruder had shouted in a loud and anxious voice for someone to call for help, that he had a child in the car that had been hurt in the crash. The wild-eyed and overanxious man turned to see him frozen in place, and Duo's memory of the men in prison rose up in his mind to cloud the anxiety the intruder was displaying. For his part, the drunk only saw someone standing still and unmoving when he lunged forward and grabbed for Duo, yelling for help and a phone.
Heero entered the room just as Duo let out a terrified scream and began attacking the man holding him. Fortunately for the intruder, he let go of Duo before the former gundam pilot did serious damage. The braided man ignored Heero's shout and ran up the stairs as if the devil himself was on his heels. Heero was left with the angry, injured drunk and a girl left wounded in the car outside with an enormous fountain of water sprouting from the damaged water hydrant.
He'd pointed the man to the phone that had been in sight the entire time and ran out to check on the accident victim. The girl appeared to be about ten years old and was trapped in her seat belt and laying in a slumped position, unconscious. Heero told his friends later, while relating the incident, that the girl's father could have easily removed her from the car being heavily rained down upon by the cascade of water, but he had been too inebriated to think logically.
He stayed with the girl as she lay on the part of their lawn that had remained dry, watching the father stumble back and forth in front of him, both waiting for the ambulance. When it finally showed up, so did the local police who insisted on reports being taken and made a formal arrest of the man for driving under the influence of alcohol and endangering the life of a child. It was a good half hour before Heero could return to the house and he immediately bolted up the stairs. He knew exactly where to go as Duo had hidden before when overly frightened or experiencing flashbacks. He reverted back to the tactics that had aided him before: hiding, being silent and small. His bolt hole was the back of the master bedroom's closet, in a dark and hard to reach corner.
For three days after that incident, Duo remained skittish and silent, clinging to Heero and his reassuring presence. Trowa hoped that whatever had frightened Duo this time hadn't set his progress back further.
"Did you know Cathy was in town this last week?" Trowa asked, hoping to distract his frightened friend until Heero could reach home. He didn't get an answer, but continued on, knowing Duo was probably clutching the phone hard enough to break it in half. "She says the circus is doing great and she's even begun to learn how to balance on the high wire. She brought a dog with her, saying one of the circus people had inherited it from an aunt who'd passed on. He's a cute little guy, Duo. I think you'll like him. He's small and has wiry fur....." His conversation carried on with no other purpose other than to calm his friend with the mundane topics.
Quatre entered the room he'd found when searching for a quiet place to hear Duo's whispered replies. His blond lover came up to him with a look of concern and worry on his handsome face. Looking at him and knowing his compassion, he counted himself a lucky man to have the love and devotion of Quatre Winner. They'd certainly had their bumps along the way, but the love they felt for each other never diminished, even during the times they'd lived apart.
"Is he all right?" Quatre whispered when Trowa paused in his one-sided monologue.
'Not really,' Trowa mouthed back silently, not wanting Duo to hear his reply. He looked at his watch to see that twenty-five minutes had passed; Heero should be there soon. Even as he thought it, he heard over the phone a distant shout and recognized Heero's urgent voice in the background, calling Duo's name. A closer whimper was heard and he wished more than anything that he was there to help Duo deal with his fears. The hand on his arm reminded him why he wasn't.
He'd come to a decision soon after Heero came back to them, confessing why he'd left Duo and that he still loved the braided man. Duo and Heero had once loved each other as much or even more than he and Quatre loved each other, if that was possible. Yet in caring for the almost helpless American after bringing him back to Earth, he'd found himself having formed more than just a desire to protect and heal him. He realized, with a great amount of guilt, that he had liked Duo being dependent on him, needing his comfort, his reassurances and his clinging to him. He found his need to protect Duo had caused his feelings for him to change and grow.
His love for Quatre was the strongest emotion he'd even known, but it had faltered somewhat during the two years they'd lived separately, a decision on his part caused by a rift between them over his lover's failure to believe in Duo's innocence. Those two years had been some of the most difficult ones in his life, and that was saying a lot considering his past.
After bringing Duo to Mrs. L's home to recover, he came to a point where he had to make a decision regarding Duo and his relationship with Quatre. Having seen his lover's heartbreak when he found Duo sleeping with him in his bed, he knew he didn't ever want to see that look in his eyes again. Then seeing that Heero was sincere in his desire to return to Duo, to care and protect him, cemented his decision. The two loved each other, a fact that was more than evident when they were together. Recognizing that, he'd stepped back, offering help but letting Heero be the principal caretaker of his lover. In doing so, he'd recommitted himself to Quatre and left Duo and Heero alone to re-discover each other. He never regretted his decision, but at times like this, his need to comfort his former comrade, someone he'd come to think of as his little brother, was overwhelming.
"It's Heero. He's almost there and it'll be safe to come out of hiding," he told the frightened man on the other end of the phone while hearing in the background the sound of footsteps on the stairs as the Japanese man raced up to his lover.
"Duo?" Heero sounded a bit breathless as he softly called out his lover's name. Trowa new he should probably hang up, but he wanted to wait to see if Heero could tell him something about Duo's condition.
He listened as Heero gently tried to coax Duo out of the back of the closet, knowing better than to try and pull him out. Over the rapid breathing came a thump, followed by Heero's voice reassuring Duo that he was safe. Trowa hesitated, wanting to hang up the phone and give the two some privacy, but something made him pause. There was the sound of fumbling before Heero's softened voice addressed him.
Heero's heart was pounding in his chest, and he cursed his inability to control his body's reactions to stress and fear as he had done when he piloted his gundam. When the taxi finally pulled up to the curb outside their home, he tossed the fare and a large tip to the driver who'd broken quite a few traffic laws for him as he flew out of the cab and bolted for the front door. His hands fumbled with the keys in his anxiousness to get inside and find Duo.
The house was dark as was the front porch, so when he finally found the key, he struggled to get it into the lock. The click of the door sounded a moment before he was inside and he flipped the light on. "Duo?" he shouted, making a quick search of the front room. He had an idea of where Duo had gone, but he wanted to make sure before he went up the stairs. Not seeing or hearing him, he took the stairs two at a time, his feet making quite a bit more noise than usual as he went. He ran down the hall to the master bedroom and turned on the light. "Duo?" He found himself a bit breathless, not because of any fatigue but out of pure worry.
The closet door was closed, yet he had very little doubt that Duo was hiding in the far back of it, most likely having pushed the storage boxes in front of him to act as a deterrent for anyone looking for him. He hated these episodes, when Duo returned in his mind to Penal Colony 4. It was a dark time for the both of them, but he knew Duo by far had suffered the worst. Something had spooked him while he'd been gone, and now the love of his life thought he was a prisoner once more, a victim to the system and of cruel men, cowering in a corner, and making himself small and silent so his attackers would overlook him.
Toeing off his shoes, tossing his jacket aside and pulling off his tie and belt before hastily pulling his dress shirt over his head, Heero was ready for the night to come. He knelt down in front of the closet, making himself small as well, then opened the doors. Sure enough, two storage boxes, topped with several shoe boxes, hid the fact that the closet went much deeper than it appeared. He carefully began removing them, speaking in a soft voice as he did. "It's alright, Duo. I'm home, and it's only you and me. I'm sorry I was gone so long but I'm home now, and I'll make sure no one will ever hurt you. You're safe. There's no one here but you and me." He kept talking, repeating over and over the same reassurances.
Having cleared a path, he sat back on his ankles, knowing that Duo needed to make the move out of the hole he'd built. "Come on, Duo. I'm tired. Would you like to go to bed now?"
A blur of motion shot out of the closet and slammed into him, knocking him backwards to land on his back. He lay there with Duo on his chest, fiercely clutching at his tee-shirt, his face buried into his neck. Not a sound came from his lover other than ragged breathing.
"I've got you. You're alright. We're safe," Heero whispered against the soft hair at the top of Duo's head. Feeling a hard object against his shoulder where Duo was holding onto him, Heero realized his lover still had the phone in his hand. He reached over and gently pried it from the fingers that clutched it and brought it to his ear.
"He's all right. I'll calm him down and call you in the morning."
"I think I'd feel better if we came over in the morning, give you both some extra support."
There was a moment of hesitation as Heero thought about it. "All right."
"We'll bring some of Duo's favorite breakfast treats."
"He'll be glad to hear it."
"You're sure you'll be all right tonight?" Trowa asked, then mouthed to Quatre that everything was okay. "If you need us, we'll come."
"No. I think Duo just needs me to be here. Hopefully by morning he'll be able to tell me what happened."
"Call if you need us."
"Thanks, I will."
The phone call ended with both men turning their attention to their loved ones.
Heero put the phone down on the floor and wrapped his arms around the trembling body holding fast to his chest. With his hands spread and moving slowly up and down Duo's back, he hoped to ease some of the crippling fear the other felt. He held tightly to him, waiting for some clue signaling that he could move them to the bed. If the clue he patiently waited for came, it went past him as he faded into sleep.
He woke when his subconscious realized how cold he was and that Duo was shivering, despite their close proximity to each other. "Come on, Duo. Let's get into bed," he said. His lover didn't respond as well as he'd hoped, but he did manage to hear him quietly murmur his disapproval at being disturbed, which, of itself, was encouraging. Duo continued to hang on tightly as Heero struggled out from under his weight and then as he picked him up and carried him in his arms to the bed. After quickly removing his dress pants, Heero shut off the light and crawled under the covers next to Duo, leaving his lover in his sweat pants and tee-shirt, he spooned up against his back. "Go back to sleep, love. We'll talk in the morning," he whispered, wrapping his arms protectively around the slender body. Still emotionally spent, they both managed to drift swiftly back to sleep.