Disclaimer: Once again, I don't own these GW characters and make not even a dime from spending hours writing about them.

Warnings: AU, sexual situations, yaoi 1x2, 3x4, and various past relationship

The Pretender
Chapter 8
by Dyna Dee

By Thursday both of Duo's wishes seemed to have come true: the workplace had almost returned to normal and Mr. Yuy hadn't found the need to drop in again to consult with Charise. Having been reassured by her new lawyer that he had everything in hand regarding the Huffington lawsuit, Charise returned to her drawing boards and the swirl of activity that surrounded her creative process helped the work day hours to pass more quickly. He ran a couple of personal errands for her that morning, scheduled any necessary appointments and generally held everything together so the designers creative juices could flow without distracting interruptions.

He left his office a half hour later than he should have, barely making it to his weekly appointment with Quatre. He wasn't looking forward to the scheduled half-hour visit, especially since the blond would have been informed of his breakthrough by Trowa, meaning there would be a battery of questions he'd have to answer. An uneasy feeling churned in the pit of his stomach when he thought about it. He was worried that Quatre might react to his news much like Trowa had and criticize him for how he'd gone about having sex for the first time.

It turned out that he didn't have to wait long in the empty waiting room before the door he'd walked though many, many times before opened and Quatre's four thirty appointment stepped out of his inner office. Irritatingly enough, the middle-aged woman wearing a fitted, dark green business suit, was all smiles, as if Quatre had just helped her find the fountain of youth. How come he never felt like that after one of their sessions? He stood as his shrink bade the woman a polite goodbye and stepped back to let Duo pass by him to enter the room the braided man termed the chamber of doom and gloom.

"It's good to see you, Duo," Quatre said, closing the door behind him. As usual, he motioned for him to take one of the two leather chairs, slightly facing each other with a small, round, mahogany table set between them.

Quatre was in his late twenties and nearly equal in height and weight as Duo, five foot seven and on the slender side. He had straight blond hair that he wore fashionably long and clothes that look liked they'd come off of a model in Esquire magazine. He was attractive, in a cute boyish way, but more than anything it was Quatre's smile that won people over. Smiling seemed to come easy to the blond therapist, and honestly, it often brightened a room, like sunshine radiating warmth and happiness. Duo figured that the blond's smile factored into why he was such a sought after therapist. From his own experience, he knew the gift of Quatre's smile at the end of a session, no matter how horrific it might have been, was enough to make him feel that there were a few things right in the world.

He took his usual seat, to the right of the small table, knowing Quatre preferred the other. And while the blond took his seat he asked a few polite questions concerning his health and work. With the mundane pleasantries completed, the blond therapist formally opened their session by getting to the heart of the matter. "Trowa tells me you've had sex with someone. Would you like to tell me about it?"

He watched the blond pick up his notepad and pen from off the table, signaling the man was now armed and ready for whatever happened during the next half hour. Duo cleared his throat and said, "I'm pretty sure he's told you all you need to know."

"But I'd like to hear it from you. Where did this happen?"

Duo rolled his eyes, knowing Trowa probably repeated every word he'd uttered. "On my working vacation at Charise's ranch." He told Quatre about the horseback ride with Hilde and how on their approach to the House on the Hill he'd spotted an attractive cowboy sitting on the fence. From the massage to the hot tub, he pretty much laid the whole scene out for the other man, and all the while the furious scratching of the pen on the tablet of paper never let up as Quatre took notes. For some reason that little bit of noise was seriously pissing him off.

"I was imagining what it would be like to work in a place like that," he continued, "when Mr. Gorgeous cowboy showed up, undressed himself and joined me in the hot tub. At first, I thought he was a figment of my imagination, a part of the fantasy I had running in my head, and then one thing led to another and we had sex. End of story."

The pen scratching abruptly stopped and Quatre looked up with one eyebrow lifted in what looked like disbelief. "I think you must be leaving something out, Duo. Considering your issues it's hard for me to believe that you met a complete stranger at a whore house and you gave him what you've never been able to give to anyone else. If you had consulted with me beforehand, or even hinted in our last session about your intentions, I would have advised you to wait. I don't think you were ready for such a drastic step."

Duo's ire immediately shot up. "What do you mean you don't think I was ready? I've been coming to you for two years with my problems, Quatre. How long did you think it was going to take?"

Remaining an appearance of calm, the blond man replied. "I only meant that you made this decision rather suddenly, and went from one extreme to the other; namely, your inability to have sex to having sex with a complete stranger. What I'm concerned about is that you chose to have your first sexual experience with someone you didn't know nor have any vested interest in other than the fact that he was ‘gorgeous'. That action is opposite of the type of relationship you've spoken of in our sessions. We also talked about exercising caution when selecting a partner and building a foundation of trust with him before engaging in any physical activity."

Duo's hands closed into fists. With pent-up feelings of resentment towards the man who was now questioning his motives and decision to have sex, coupled with the lingering anxiety from his confrontation with Mr. Yuy two days before, it really wasn't going to take much more to push him over the edge. "You think I made this decision off the cuff?" Duo asked between clenched teeth, and as he continued his voice rose in volume. "Dammit, Quatre, I'm twenty-five years old, what the hell is so sudden about that? Huh? And yeah, you and I have talked about my being cautious, and just every other subject under the moon as well. I'm all talked out, Quatre. I'm sick to death from talking about my fears and hang-ups, my aunt and everyone who's ever hurt me. We've talked and talked and nothing ever got better!"

"Healing takes time and patience," Quatre said, his tone of voice seeming to prove that he had plenty of both.

"And I'm sick of waiting." Jumping from his seat, Duo began pacing. His agitation was such that he felt like he might burst if he didn't let some of his pent up anger out. "And since we seemed to be at a stand still in these sessions and I hadn't been making any progress, I went to someone else about my problems. In the few months I've been seeing her, she's helped me more than the years I've spent talking to you. I have her to thank for my finally getting laid, not you or the thousands of dollars I've handed over to you." He wasn't sure why he'd let that bit of information about Dorothy come out, but it felt good to speak the truth and seeing the look of shock and a hint of hurt in the big blue eyes didn't feel so bad either.

Barely maintaining the appearance of calm, Quatre asked, "Who is this person, Duo? I hope you picked a certified therapist."

He didn't doubt the blond would object to the other professional he'd been seeing, still, he blurted out her name. "Dorothy Catalonia. I'm sure you've heard of her? She certainly seems to know you." The shocked expression on Quatre's face told him he had at least heard of the woman and had formed a negative opinion of her.

His therapist gasped, "Duo... how did you find out about Ms. Catalonia? She's hardly the person I would recommend for someone as traumatized as you are. Is she even credentialed?"

"Funny, she asked the same about you when I told her about your stealing Trowa," Duo snapped back, then plowed on despite the gasp he heard from the other man. "And yes, she's a legitimate therapist all right, with as many framed certificates on her wall as you have on yours. I ran into an old friend of mine who told me about her. His current lover had been raised in a conservative religion and carried a load of guilt about not only having sex with a man, but out of marriage as well. Apparently, his hangups were similar to my own. Knowing about my problems and that I was still trying to overcome them, he recommended Dorothy. She may be a bit unorthodox in her methods, but she's helped me get past my sexual barriers more than any of the tripe you've handed me." Oh, he was really on a roll now and a look of shock flashed across the blond's face before he composed himself again.

"There's no need to be mean and spiteful, Duo."

The braided man's conscience told him not to engage in a tit for tat argument with the man, but he couldn't help it. For the first time since Trowa had left him he was being honest about his feelings, and letting out all the emotions he'd bottled up in order to "be nice" felt damn good. "I think I have every right to be mean and spiteful. How many thousands of dollars have I paid you hoping you'd help me and accepting your reassurances that I was making progress? Yet instead of helping me so that I could be intimate with Trowa, you stole him from me. Don't I have the right to be pissed off about that? Do you know what it feels like to see you two all lovey-dovey knowing that it should be me in Trowa's arms, and that it would be me if I'd just had sex with him."

"Duo!" Quatre stood, his voice sounding as shell-shocked as he looked. All color had drained from the blond's face and it looked like he was having a hard time breathing. "You said you were all right with Trowa and I being together. You were the one who came to me, begging me to take you back as a patient."

"Yeah, well I lied!" Duo yelled back with enough vehemence that the blond took a step back, his blue eyes wide with alarm. "Do you have any idea how much you two hurt me? I trusted Trowa, enough to tell him about my problem and to ask him to be patient with me while I worked on fixing my problems. I arranged for him to meet with you so you could assure him that I would get better with continued therapy. I trusted you as my therapist, told you my deepest, darkest secrets, my hopes and dreams. And what did you do? You stole my boyfriend right out from under my nose. It was easy wasn't it? You let him fuck you when I wasn't capable of doing it, so congratulations, man, you win the award for the most unethical therapist of the century." His voice had risen enough that surely anyone waiting in the next room, hell, the whole floor, must have heard him.

Still looking stunned, Quatre stammered, "But... if you... if you felt that way, why didn't you say something? Why did you ask me to be your therapist again? Why did you say you were okay with our relationship? You even agreed to have dinner with us every Friday."

Duo's eyes narrowed on the man he'd resented for far too long. He knew he should try to control this surge of anger, but he just couldn't help letting go of everything he'd been bottling up for nearly a year. "You mean the weekly torture night? That's how I've referred to it, if you didn't know. Did you really think it was pleasant for me, seeing you and Trowa together, knowing how you'd taken him away from me? Your cuddling up together on your sofa, whispering endearments and passing suggestive innuendos that weren't very subtle wasn't cute to me, it's damn hurtful. It feels like you've been rubbing your relationship with Trowa in my face, flaunting that you have what I crave, and all because I couldn't put out. Now, with Dorothy's help, I can, and you dare to question me about the how and why of it? What's your angle this time, Quatre? Let's see, can I make poor, pitiful Duo feel worse about himself, make him question and regret something that might just keep him from being alone all his life?" Duo's eyes narrowed. "As far as I'm concerned you're a lousy therapist, and an even worse friend. We're done, Quatre. You're no longer my therapist and, frankly, you never were much of a friend."

With righteous indignation spurring him on, Duo stormed to the door. He ignored the few sputtering noises coming from the blond as he threw open the door and was met by the wide-eyed stares of two men in the waiting room, obviously a couple. "Watch yourselves," Duo warned as a last parting shot, "Winner steals boyfriends."

He made it to the hallway and nearly to the elevator before Quatre's anxious voice called out to him. "Duo, wait!" He ignored the voice as well as the sound of running footsteps behind him. The hand that gripped his arm pulled him to a full stop. He whipped himself around to face the other man.

Quatre's eyes were pleading as he said, "Please, Duo. You're upset. Let's talk this out. I know you didn't mean what you said but there's obviously some truth in it, and I can see you're hurt and upset. For the sake of our friendship, for your friendship with Trowa, come back to the office and let's talk this out."

Duo glared down at the restraining hand until Quatre let go and stepped back. Narrowed eyes, sparking with anger, leveled on the blond's face. "I told you that I'm sick to death of talking. I've told you more truths in the last five minutes than you've gotten out of me in over two years of therapy. You were right, suggesting that we terminate our professional relationship after Trowa left me. If I hadn't been so desperate about not being alone, believing all the tripe you'd fed me about my getting better, I might have been man enough to pound you into the ground for what you did to me. Goodbye, Quatre."

Turning on his heel, he left the stricken looking blond standing in the middle of the hallway. Instead of waiting for the elevator, Duo dashed through the door leading to the stairwell and climbed down fifteen flights of stairs in order to burn off some of the anger that was still simmering beneath his skin. Damn, but that felt good, he thought with a triumphant grin. He should have done that a long time ago.

Feeling energized, he walked briskly home. It was only a little over a mile from downtown, but the exercise helped him to calm down. By the time he stepped into his apartment, his anger had begun to fade and guilt had begun to seep in. "I've nothing to feel guilty about," he said out loud, trying to keep hold of that energizing anger.

Of course the red light on his phone was blinking, indicating he had a message waiting. Actually, there were three messages waiting for him, and he knew without a doubt who had left them. Hitting the button, Quatre's not so steady voice said his name, but that was as far as he got before Duo deleted the message, unheard. The next voice was Trowa's. "Duo, what the hell..." That message shared the same fate as the first. "Duo, honey, this is your Aunt Helen. Will you please call me when you get home from work? I'll talk to you later." His aunt always had the worst timing.

He ignored the last message in favor of the kitchen. After scouring the refrigerator and cupboards, he decided he wasn't really hungry. Taking out a bowl, a box of cereal and milk, he ate a single bowl of granola without tasting or enjoying it as his argument with Quatre went round and round in his head. He couldn't regret getting all that anger off his chest, but was it really Quatre's fault that he'd held onto his resentment for so long? Hadn't he reassured both he and Trowa that bygones were bygones? He rinsed out his bowl and put it and his spoon into the dishwasher, where it joined at least ten others. Seeing that he had enough to justify turning on the machine, he poured the liquid detergent into the dispensing cup, closed the front and started the wonderfully quiet dishwasher.

Deciding to keep himself busy and not think about his earlier confrontation, he busied himself by changing into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, gathered up his laundry, performed general clean up, and then sat in front of the television. He sighed deeply, suddenly feeling weary. His eyes scanned his apartment. Everything in it had been selected with care. The decor was a mix between contemporary and modern, blending with African artifacts set about the room on table tops and wall hangings. The combination was appealing to the eye, comfortable and, unfortunately, he had no one to share it with. Closing his eyes and laying his head against the back of the soft leather sofa, he fought against the familiar wave of loneliness that had risen within him once again. He was sick to death of being alone. Was he so terrible that he couldn't find anyone to share his life with? After his fight with Quatre, he was beginning to think that maybe he was.

The sudden ringing of his phone made him jump. He waited until the machine picked up, and got up from his comfortable position when he heard his aunt's voice.

"Hi, Aunt Helen," he said without any enthusiasm and cutting into her message.

"Did you just get home, dear?"

"Only long enough to change out of my work clothes," he answered, taking the phone back with him to the sofa. He flopped down on it and readied himself for a lengthy conversation. His aunt was lonely, and he understood how terrible that could feel. He listened to her complaints about her health, her visits to the doctor and of the high cost of prescriptions. He was brought up to date on the lives of her friends, including their health and their boasting or disbelief at their offsprings' behavior. He often wondered what his aunt had to say about him to her ancient friends during their bi-weekly lunch get-together.

After forty five minutes of the mostly one-sided conversation, they ventured into the usual questions. "Are you dating anyone, Duo? I just don't understand why a good looking man such as yourself can't find a decent woman to settle down with. I'd love to be a great aunt one day. You know that Diedra's daughter is graduating from law school. She lives in the city and, if you'd like, I could ask for her number and the two of you could get acquainted."

As usual, Duo put her off, knowing she didn't want to face the fact that he was gay. Apparently, there was no getting through to her. He'd been trying since he'd come out to her while in college. "I'm sure she's a nice person with a great career ahead of her, but I'm not interested, Aunt Helen, and you know perfectly well why."

"I just can't believe that you would prefer men to women." Her voice had a belligerent edge to it. "Don't you want to have a family? Have children to carry on your name? It's not natural, men having sex with other men. It's wrong. I just don't know what I did wrong. I honestly tried my best to raise you to live a good life, but you seem determined to live in an unwholesome manner. I'm sure your working for that designer is part of the problem. I know what they say about the fashion industry. It's as bad as ballet dancers. Gay, all of them, or so I'm told. There are jobs opening up at the factory in town that makes medical equipment, you know, pace makers and artificial knees and hip joints. I'm sure that you could get a job there and be around people who won't encourage this idea you have of being gay."

This was how every conversation they had ended. His aunt truly didn't understand how he could have "turned" gay after all her lectures against it - the very lectures that were responsible for his relationship hang-ups. Quatre had urged him to cut off all ties with the woman, stating that one phone call from her negated whatever progress they'd made. But he couldn't do it, even though it was often a strain not to. She was his only family, and he was hers. He might not be the heterosexual man she wanted him to be, but he owed her, and if he was nothing else. he was grateful for all that his aunt had done for him. Still, that didn't mean these weekly conversations with her had to be one sided.

"I've told you, Aunt Helen, I'm gay because I was born this way. I know it isn't a trait in your family and I can't explain it, but I'm gay. That's why I won't meet any of the women you try to set me up with. But your heart can rest at ease knowing I'm not in any relationship. Your almost daily lectures during high school have all but ruined me for a normal relationship."

"Normal? What's so normal about wanting to have sex with a man?" she snapped back.

It was the tone more than her words that set him off. "It's not just about sex. I want to be in a life-long relationship with someone. To come home at night knowing there's someone waiting for me, someone who's happy to hear about my day and to share my life with. Why did you do it, Aunt Helen? All those lectures about the evils of homosexuality, how sodomy or even letting another man touch me was base and defiling. You drilled it into me day after day until I can't get your voice out of my head." And then out of his mouth came what he really felt but hadn't had the nerve to say until that moment. "You knew, didn't you? Somehow you knew I was gay, probably even before I did."

There was a long pause, and that was answer enough for him. "You tried to change me, didn't you? With your daily lectures about how wrong it was to gay. Do you have any idea, Aunt Helen, how much you messed me up? I haven't had a true relationship with anyone because your voice keeps resounding in my head with your homophobic lectures and putdowns. I've been through years of therapy trying to drown out your voice. Why?" There was pain in his voice and tears of frustration welling up in his eyes as he asked that question.

After a moment, his aunt replied, her voice soft and almost contrite. "I only did what I felt was best. I had my reasons, Duo. God knows I did. But I am sorry if I've caused you pain. I can hear it in your voice, dear, but I truly believe that the gay lifestyle is a difficult one, and I would do anything to spare you the hurt and humiliation it will ultimately bring you."

Wiping the wetness from his eyes, he refused to let even one teardrop escape. Taking a deep breath helped him to calm down a bit. "I'd like to know those reasons, auntie. Who hurt you so badly, or influenced you enough that you would brainwash me against what should be a natural behavior for me? Was it Uncle Hank?" The two had separated when he was fourteen and less than six months after his cousin, their only child, had died. He recalled one night in particular when he'd heard a lot of angry yelling coming from their bedroom. Well, there had been a lot of that going on behind their closed door before, but not as loud or uncaring that he was hearing them as it had been that night. He awoke the next morning to find his uncle gone from the house as well as their lives. More than a couple of times he found his aunt crying in front of the television, no matter what program was on, and he couldn't help but wonder what had caused their marriage to breakup.

"I'd rather not talk about Hank," she answered solemnly.

"Well, I never want to have the conversations we have about my sexual preference, either, but we do anyway. So now, finally, we are going to talk about this because I deserve to know. Did Uncle Hank do something that made you decide to poison my mind?"

A choked sigh came from the other end of the line. "All right, dear. I'll tell you what you want to know, but not now and not on the phone. I'll tell you the next time you come home, and I'll apologize again and again if you insist, but I swear to you I only had your welfare in mind."

"Thanksgiving, then," he decided. It was still a little over a month away, and would no doubt be the first opportunity he'd have to leave the city and return to the place he'd once called home.

"All right," his aunt agreed. "Thanksgiving."

Their conversation stalled at that point, and neither of them made any further attempts to drag it out.

Going to his bathroom, Duo readied himself for bed. It was still a bit early still but he was feeling exhausted from the trying day. Taking out a bottle of prescription pills, he checked to make sure it was the Ambien that Quatre had prescribed to help him sleep. Seeing the name Dr. Quatre Winner neatly printed on the label added to the load of guilt he was beginning to feel. Now that he was calm and more rational, he felt guilty for lashing out at his former friend, especially in front of a couple of his clients. However, he couldn't entirely regret their fight nor their disassociation. He opened and tapped the bottle until one pill dropped into his open palm, then popped it into his mouth, knowing from experience that it would bring him a long, dreamless night of sleep, something he needed in order to deal with all the stress in his life. As he quickly prepared for bed, he could only hope that the next day would prove to be better than the one now ending.

on to chapter 9

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