Tangled In the Web
by Dyna Dee
Duo sat in sullen silence on the car ride home, absentmindedly petting the dog that lay content on his lap. The light rain shower that had begun earlier had made the streets shiny and slick and the traces of muddy dirt on the windshield stood out even more as the windshield wipers came on and worked frantically for a moment to clear the forward view. The silence within the car was punctuated by the steady beat of the wipers, and when Frank spoke, his voice seemed louder than usual and made the younger man flinch.
"I hope you don't mind, but before we left the hospital I ordered a meal from a restaurant that a friend of mine owns. He said it would be ready for pick up when we came by."
When the silence continued, the former doctor looked aside to see his companion staring blankly out of the side window. Turning on the radio, the local jazz station came to life with a soft, saxophone rendition of a pre-colony song playing. Its melodious sound was soothing to both men in the car.
The stop at the small, downtown bistro lasted less than five minutes, and the smell of chicken and spices filled the car as they continued homeward with the strained silence filling the space between them remaining. The rain had increased from a drizzle to a steady, gentle rain as Frank pulled his car up into Heero and Duo's driveway. Before he could shut off the engine, the passenger door had been flung open and Duo was running to the front door, Sinjin in his grasp.
Much more slowly, the retired doctor exited the car with the large plastic bag containing their dinner. By the time he locked the car door, Duo had the front door to the house open and the light from inside the entry came on, flooding out onto the dark porch.
Shaking the moisture from off his hat and shoulders as he stepped onto the wood porch, Frank moved to follow the younger man inside, but as he made to enter the house he found Duo blocking the way. "What's the..." Frank's voice trailed off as he clearly saw what the problem was. They both stood in a frozen state as they observed the destruction of the living room. After the reality of the scene before him finally sunk in, the older man took a firm hold of Duo's arm and gently pulled at his arm, wanting him to back out of the door and onto the porch. "Come on. Let's go to my home and I'll call the police from there."
Duo felt unable to move but somehow managed a slight nod, registering the other man's presence and suggestion, then felt himself being pulled from the wreckage of his home and being led down the front steps. A moment later he was returned to the warmth of the car and Frank backed out of their driveway then pulled up into his own. The garage door was activated and the wet car pulled inside.
In those moments since he'd seen the carnage of their livingroom, Duo's fears, wrought from events of the past, began flooding his mind. The one fear that had dominated all others seemed to have become reality, that he'd been found, that all of this was his fault and that neither he nor Heero were safe. It only made sense that everything that had happened today was because his picture and information about his treatments, that were traceable, had been broadcast over the television. He fought his gut instinct to run and hide as he had done so many times before in order to protect himself.
Still in a daze, Duo wasn't cognizant of leaving the car nor having Sinjin removed from his grasp. He slowly became more aware of being somewhere else and as his sense of awareness came more into focus, his body was gripped by a shiver of cold and dread that ran from his head to his toes. A thick blanket was thrown over his shoulders and he felt himself being guided to a chair, set at a kitchen table. Frank's voice murmured soothing words into his ear, low-spoken reassurances meant to calm him while Duo tried to wrap his mind around what he'd seen and what it meant. A strong feeling of revulsion and violation crept into him, causing him to tremble violently.
Frank must have seen it, because he knelt in front of him, then began to peel off the sodden socks from off his feet. "I'll go get a pair of fresh socks from my drawer," the older man said. "Stay here. I'll be right back."
Duo managed a nod and heard Frank leave the room.
He returned a few moments later and the doctor's wizened eyes searched his face as he crouched before him once again, obviously trying to determine his physical and mental well being.
"I need to call Heero," Duo managed to say.
"It's past visiting hours, but I'll try," the older man replied, looking somewhat dubious. He then placed the dark cotton socks into Duo's hand. "Put these on." Standing, Frank moved to the phone on the kitchen wall and first called information before placing a call to the hospital.
Duo's toes were becoming even colder as his feet rested on the linoleum, but putting the socks on wasn't possible with the wiggling dog in his lap. He opened the blanket and set his dog down on the floor then bent to put the socks on his chilled feet. He was hardly done before Sinjin was jumping on his hind legs, trying to get back up on his lap. He gladly picked him up and put him under the blanket once more, enjoying the warmth and the companionship the small dog offered.
Frank hung up the phone and turned to meet his questioning gaze, his face a picture of apology.
"I'm sorry, Duo, but I could only get as far as the nurses' station. They told me Heero was asleep with the help of a sleeping pill and that they wouldn't disturb him unless it was an emergency." He paused and waited for some response or reaction from the young man. Not receiving either, he approached the table and opened the plastic bag and removed the Styrofoam containers. "You should eat," he said. Then after a moment added, "We promised Heero you would."
The last thing Duo felt like doing was eating. His stomach felt like it was filled with jagged rocks. But his neighbor opened the containers to display breasts of chicken bathed in some sort of herb sauce, neatly placed on a bed of rice. Green beans with toasted almonds were in another container, as was a salad. Frank pulled paper plates out of the bottom of the bag and filled one of them with food and held it out to the blanket-wrapped young man. "Eat, Duo, and I'll call to report the break in to the police."
With a long-suffering sigh, a pale hand emerged from inside the blanket to take the plate and fork that was offered. Blue eyes rose to see the older man standing resolute in front of him, waiting.
Resigning himself to having to eat, Duo took the fork and shoved it into the bed of rice, then brought it up to his mouth. He was pleased to find that his taste buds reported the food to be very good and was surprised to find that, despite his upset, he was very hungry. A second and third forkfull followed the first while from out of the corner of his eye, he watched Frank move back to the phone.
Duo paid more attention to the phone call than he did to his meal as Frank reported the break-in and gave their address as well as his own name and personal information. The call lasted no more than five minutes before Frank hung up the receiver and returned to the table. "Feel better?" he asked. Duo looked up from his meal to see the older man smiling at him. "Looks like the food was good." He followed Frank's eyes to his plate and was surprised to see that it was empty. He vaguely remembered shoveling it down, but after the first taste, he had no memory of enjoying it. He suddenly remembered his manners.
"It was good, thank you." He tried to offer the other man a smile for his kindness, but felt too shaken to have it come off as being sincere.
"Well," Frank said, looking around the kitchen. "Why don't I put the dog out and afterwards I'll try it for myself." Sinjin's head poked out from inside the blanket in hearing the magic word, out.
Frank chuckled at the dog's cuteness and moved to the door that led to his backyard. "Sinjin, come!" he said firmly, and the dog began to struggle out of the blanket and jumped to the floor to obey the command. Frank followed the dog outside and Duo thought it was probably to guard against Sinjin digging up any of his garden beds.
Now that he was feeling a bit calmer, the braided man took the time to look around the room he'd never been in before. The kitchen was clean and tidy, the counters were cleared off as neatly as they were in his and Heero's home. There were frilly floral curtains over the windows facing the backyard and the windowsill had little knickknacks set along the length of it. Duo was pretty sure he was seeing remnants of Mrs. McAdams, things that the retired doctor and lonely man was reluctant to part with.
A knock at the front door startled him and, in response to it, he jumped to his feet. He mentally went through the steps to calm himself, as his heart began to beat wildly. He needed to think rationally and not panic. Frank was out in the backyard with Sinjin and most likely didn't hear the knock that seemed to echo through the house. Someone had to answer the door. With more than a little trepidation, he pulled the blanket more tightly over his shoulders and, with the borrowed socks on his feet, he made his way through the house, lit only by the kitchen light.
Fumbling in the darker front room, he found the light panel next to the front door and flipped both switches at the same time, lighting the outside porch as well as the foyer. A quick glance through the small glass window revealed an impatient looking, uniformed police officer who was reaching once more for the doorbell.
Without thinking about it, Duo unlatched the door and opened it - just enough for his face to show through the crack.
"We're responding to a call regarding a burglary next door," the female officer said. "Are you Frank McAdams?"
"No," Duo answered, somewhat relieved to be dealing with a female. "It's my house next door that was broken into."
"And you are?" The woman lifted a small notebook and pen, preparing to take down the information.
It took several seconds before the pen stopped its scratching and stilled. Slowly, startled eyes rose up to meet his and a small 0 formed on the officer's lips. "Gundam pilot?" she asked, her voice almost a squeak.
Hesitantly, Duo nodded, not comfortable giving his identity to a stranger, even if it was a police officer.
"Have you been inside your home yet?" she asked, getting back to business, though her eyes seemed fixed on his face.
"I opened the door, but didn't go past the inside entry," he told her.
"My partner is over there right now checking it out. Would you like to come with me and answer some questions?"
A bark and the scampering of paws on linoleum announced Sinjin's reentry into the house. "Duo?" Frank's voice called out.
"In here," he called over his shoulder towards the direction of the kitchen, and a moment later the excited dog came bolting from that room towards him.
The former doctor followed and went straight to Duo's side. Putting his left hand on the younger man's shoulder, Frank leaned forward and extended his right hand to the woman on the other side of the door. They exchanged names and the police officer again requested Duo to come with her to his house next door.
"I've got some rubber boots you can borrow," Frank offered, considering Duo's stocking feet. He opened the front closet and pulled them out two black, knee-hi boots and handed them to the younger man. Slipping them on, Duo quickly discovered they were a little too big, but figured they'd at least keep his feet dry.
Sinjin was left behind and Frank held an umbrella over their heads as they walked the short distance to the house. They found a tall, male, uniformed officer standing in the open entry of the house, waiting for them.
The shock he'd felt earlier gave way to stunned disbelief as Duo looked at the wreckage that had once been his and Heero's comfortable home. His eyes first went to the broken and jagged television screen that had been smashed, the pieces of it lay on the carpet. The stereo and speakers they'd spent days deciding on had met a similar demise. The sofa and side chairs had not been left out of the destruction for deep slash marks marred the leather fabric of the backs and cushions, which lay gutted and cast off on the floor.
Speechless and stunned, Duo stumbled into the kitchen to see both food, dishes and glassware and been thrown out of their respective cupboards. The walls were dented where cans and maybe even pans had been thrown against it.
"Mr. Maxwell?" The voice of the male officer caused Duo to flinch with its sudden proximity. He turned to face the man, his fragile sense of security was now off-balance. It must have shown on his face because the officer's expression reflected concern. "Do you need to sit down?" he asked. "You look like you're about to pass out."
Managing a slight nod, Duo watched warily as the man picked up one of the chairs on the floor and put it in an upright position. The officer then reached his hand out to aid the unsteady looking young man, but in seeing his touch being avoided, he stepped back to watch the smaller man inch towards the chair and cautiously sit down on it.
"Is there someone I can call?" the uniformed man asked.
A silent struggle about what he should do pulled at Duo's conscience. He wrestled between his need to run and hide and the desire to prove he wasn't a wimp by staying put and handling the situation. He wanted more than anything to call Trowa, his friend and rescuer. However, his desire to please Heero by following his instructions to not call the others was equally as strong. His frightened mind screamed for Trowa's protective presence, but he just couldn't bring himself to go against Heero's wishes, not when uttered from a hospital bed. With considerable effort, he shook his head, letting the officer know that there was no one he could call at the moment to help him.
"He'll be staying with me," Frank's voice came softly from behind him. Then in a lower voice he said, "If I could have a word with you, officer."
Duo felt gratitude towards his neighbor for calling the policeman out of the room, giving him some time to gather his wits. No doubt Frank was telling him of Heero's suspicious accident earlier that day and that the break-in may be related to it. He didn't even want to think about what might have happened if he hadn't gone to Frank's in search of Heero that afternoon. What would have happened if the intruders had broken into their home with him all alone? Bile rose in his throat at the mere thought of it, knowing that he'd probably freeze as he had done in the past, but he managed to swallow it down, grimacing at the vile taste. He knew there was no way he could call the guys that evening as upset as he was. Quatre would sense it immediately, and if any of them offered to come home, he wouldn't have the strength to tell them not to.
"Duo." Though Frank had spoken his name softly, it was still sudden and startled the skittish braided young man. "We can go back to my place now. The police have my statement and they'll call or come over if they have any other questions."
"It's alright to leave the house like this?" Duo asked, uncertain as he looked at the disaster surrounding him.
"They'll take pictures and look for fingerprints, then lock the doors on their way out."
Nodding, Duo stood and allowed the older man to direct him back through the shambles of his home to the front door. With heavy laden footsteps and his mind preoccupied with what had happened, he followed numbly as Frank pulled him along by his elbow.
As his thoughts became more focused and his body began to warm up a bit, he realized that he was in Frank's livingroom again when Sinjin began clawing at his leg, begging for attention. He bent over and picked the excited dog up and held him close. It took a moment to realize Frank had been speaking to him.
"... a shower or a bath?"
"In the morning," he answered, guessing at what question his neighbor had asked. "Can I just go to bed? The couch will be fine." He really didn't want the older man to fuss over him.
"Nonsense. I keep Robbie's room tidy. Just give me a few moments to get fresh sheets on the bed."
"You don't need to fuss," Duo told the man. "I've slept in worse conditions than you can imagine. The couch is fine." He bit his lip the moment the words came out. He didn't want to think about those dark times much less talk about them.
Frank looked taken aback by that statement, but then his expression gave way to sadness. "Maybe so," he answered. "But indulge an old man who hasn't had much in the way of company in his house for far too long."
Duo could sense the other man's loneliness and nodded, earning himself a smile from Frank.
"Just sit here and I'll be back in a moment." Duo leaned his head back on the plaid sofa, listening to the older man's footsteps as he climbed the stairs to the next floor.
Once he was alone, he bent over and buried his face into the small dog's fur, fighting back his mounting fears and looking for some inner strength to keep them in check. He felt so alone, regardless of the fact that a kind, older man had taken him in when he had no one else to turn to. His only, real means of comfort was in the hospital and his back-ups were in space, only a forbidden phone call and many hours away.
"I can do this," he whispered to himself. "I've faced worse things and came through it all. I can do this." His words rang somewhat hollow as his mind became filled with the memory of the near disastrous day: the image of their wrecked car, the shock and fear for Heero's life and then the memory burned into his mind of their home, so violently attacked. His one safe haven had been breached and desecrated. Was there any place that was safe? he wondered to himself.
"The bed's ready." Frank's announcement cut through his thoughts. Desperate to hide away someplace that would feel safe, he stood with the dog still in his arms and turned to face the man standing at the foot of the stairs, wearing a concerned look on his face.
Following him up the staircase, Duo tried not to think, but rather concentrated on giving the appearance that he was calm and collected. If he bolted out the front door and into the night like he wanted to, Heero would be worried sick, and he just couldn't do that to his lover. He set it into his mind that he would not have anyone worrying about him, especially Heero, even if he was upset. So he moved mechanically, following his neighbor down the hallway, noting the bathroom that Frank pointed to across from the door to the room that had its light on. He entered through the lit doorway, following after the older man.
Duo stood in the doorway of the brightly lit room and took it all in with his eyes. He knew he shouldn't be surprised by the normalcy of it, but he was. It looked like a typical teenager's room.
The space itself was average in size, with beige painted walls that had a dark-blue border near the crown molding. The plaid bedspread on the single bed had similar colors plus a splash of yellow that brightened the more somber tones of the masculine room. There were shelves on the walls laden with books, sports trophies and a rack of CDs sitting next to a cabinet that held a music system with a television resting on top of it.
"I hope you'll make yourself comfortable," Frank said with a warm grin. "Help yourself to Robbie's T.V. and music."
Duo didn't know a lot about Frank's son, only that he was attending college when he'd died in a car accident. But the room seemed to speak to him of the love Frank and his wife felt for their only child. It came close to the daydreams he'd once had of what a normal life with a family would have been like. He'd never known anything close to that kind of love and security until he'd made a life and home with Heero on his home colony after the wars.
He instantly stopped that train of thinking before it went any further, choosing not to revisit the memory of what had happened to them after they'd moved to L-2 and how he'd lost everything to Relena's obsession for Heero and her twisted machinations to make him her own. Instead, he distracted himself by turning his head to gaze at Frank, who was waiting expectantly for his reaction to the room.
"Thank you, Frank. It's a great room. I think I'll be comfortable here."
The older man's smile grew at the words of acceptance. "I'm glad. Now why don't you let me take Sinjin with me downstairs and find the both of us something to eat while you prepare for bed."
Duo wasn't sure he wanted to let go of his dog, but the rational part of his brain told him Sinjin needed food and water. Reluctantly, he held out his arms and let the older man take the dog from him.
'I'll bring him back upstairs as soon as he's finished."
Duo nodded, grateful that the man seemed to sense his insecurity. He waited until the door to the room closed and the footsteps in the hall receded before he went to the door and exited the room, headed for the bathroom. He might not feel comfortable enough to shower in Frank's home tonight, but he certainly wanted to wash and use the toilet before going to sleep.
Twenty minutes later he sat in a semi-reclining position in the bed and under the covers, his back supported by several pillows. He had changed into a pair of overly-large pajamas that Frank had laid out on the end of the bed for his use. He didn't have a hairbrush, so he had no choice but to leave his hair in its messy braid. When silence of the room stared to get to him, he turned on the television and found a station that featured science fiction and set the sound on low so he'd be able to hear Frank's approach when he returned with his dog.
Thinking about this comfortable home that had once been a place filled with the love of the McAdams family, he experienced a strong sensation of longing for all the things this home represented, things he'd never had. He told himself that it was useless to want something that could never be, and that he'd been lucky to find a home and haven with Heero. He was convinced that he was just feeling sympathy for Frank, living alone in this house filled with so many memories. And then it occurred to him that just as Frank McAdams found himself alone in the world, he too felt very much alone at the moment. With no one familiar surrounding him, he was more alone than he'd been in a long time, since his return from his stay in the penal colony.
It wasn't as if he were afraid to be alone any longer, he told himself; he'd made at least that much progress due to Heero's going back to work. But every night that he hadn't been in the hospital recuperating from some reconstructive operation, he'd had the comforting presence of his stalwart lover sharing his bed. After the day's frightening events, he didn't think it was so surprising that he didn't feel safe and craved Heero's security.
Once again he looked around the room, so normal in its appearance, and wondered how anyone could come to any harm in such a place. It felt similar to a safehouse, he thought. Those secured places they'd had during the war where they'd hole up while recuperating or planning for another attack. He'd felt safe in those hidden havens and decided he would try to think of this home as being one of those safehouses, just another temporary hiding place that was secure from anyone trying to harm him. His enemies couldn't possibly breach the wall of normalcy, could they?
He closed his eyes and indulged himself by trying to imagine what it would have been like growing up in a house like this, in a room decorated with care and an eye for comfort for the individual living there. He tried to imagine having parents that would love, care and protect him from harm, and a home where he would not know hunger, despair, death or war. Yet as hard as he tried, he couldn't quite bring the imagined picture into focus. Sure, he had a dog now, so he could image that part of the family dream, but he wondered, if he'd grown up in a place such as this, what kind of a person would he be? Would he have been 'normal', with friends and activities that had nothing to do with war and survival?
He shrugged off the feeling of despondency that accompanied his attempted daydream. No matter what he imagined it didn't change who he was and what he'd been. And if a changed life meant a life without Heero, would he even want it? That was a scenario he couldn't imagine at all.
A soft knock preceded the opening of the bedroom door and Sinjin came bounding into the room and immediately jumped up on the bed. Duo quickly scooped him up and planted a kiss on the dog's forehead then scratched him behind the ears.
"Do you need anything else?" Frank asked as he came into the room with a steaming mug in his hand. "Hot chocolate," he said as he put the cup down on the night stand. "I thought it might help you sleep."
"No, I'm fine," Duo smiled and was surprised to find his words rang true. He was about as close to fine as he could get, given the circumstances.
Frank returned the smile with one of his own. "I'm just down the hall, last door on the left at the end of the hallway. Don't hesitate to wake me if you need anything at all."
Duo was struck again by the kindness of the man. Frank had taken him in, fed him and put up with all his neuroses. "Really, Frank, thank you," he said sincerely. "I don't know what I would have done without your help today."
"That's what neighbors are for," the older man replied. The tension that Duo usually felt around the other man dissipated like a receding fog as he began to see Frank the way Heero did, as a kind, lonely man who just yearned for some company. He decided that in return for Frank's kindness he would try to be a better neighbor himself.
"Good night, Frank."
The gray-haired man nodded. "Don't forget your cocoa. I'll see you in the morning." He then turned and left the room, leaving the light on for Duo to shut off when he was ready to go to sleep.