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 16
by Dyna Dee

Heero stayed the entire weekend; two days Duo would always treasure. After successfully having sex with Heero a second time, he sensed a transformation had taken place inside of him. The fear and inhibitions that reared up whenever he attempted some form of intimacy had miraculously disappeared, leaving him free to touch and tease his boyfriend and no longer fearful of where his actions would lead. This was a completely new experience for him. Along with this newfound freedom came an inability to keep his hands off his boyfriend. Heero didn't seem to mind in the least. Damn, but he felt liberated, empowered even.

So to recap the weekend, they spent the remainder of Saturday evening in bed, and the night sleeping off and on and recovering bit by bit from Friday night's ordeal. Sunday was spent enjoying other pleasurable activities, interspersed by eating and talking when it was absolutely necessary for their bodies to rest and revive. Even then it was nearly impossible for either of them of keep their hands to themselves.

As Sunday afternoon began to wind down, Duo slipped into the kitchen with the intention of getting something for them to eat. He opened the refrigerator only to discover there was nothing inside worth eating. It looked like a trip to the corner store was unavoidable. Yet the mere thought of leaving the safety of his apartment filled him with apprehension. He mentioned the lack of food to Heero when the man pressed up against his back to stare into the near empty refrigerator from over his shoulder. He secretly hoped Heero would agree to calling out for something, not feeling up to going out or being left alone.

"I suppose we should get dressed and go shopping," Heero said while nibbling on his ear.

"I'm not really all that hungry," Duo replied, lying through his teeth. Not only was his stomach empty, but it felt hollowed out, but he'd put up with any physical discomfort if it meant not leaving his apartment. "There might be some crackers in the cupboard. We could put peanut butter on them."

"How can you not be hungry? I'm positively starved. Crackers and peanut butter is not going to be enough to fill me. Come on, let make a quick trip to the store and I'll make you a steak dinner you'll never forget."

The warmth of Heero's body lingered even after he pulled away from him. Duo turned to follow. "I... I don't want to go out, Heero" he confessed in a small voice, ashamed of his fear in the presence of such a strong man.

Heero's eyes were soft with understanding as put his hands on Duo shoulders and he said, "I know, but that's all the more reason why we need to go. I'll be right there with you. Nothing will happen, I promise. The person who attacked you has no idea who you are or where you live. Hell, he probably doesn't even know what you look like, having attacked you in the dark. You're safe, Duo, as much as you've ever been living in L.A."

Heero was clearly trying to assuage his fears with logic, but this time his words held no comfort. From past experience, Duo knew his fears weren't always logical. He was about to dig in his heels and refuse to leave his apartment when Heero added, "Besides, you'll have to leave your apartment for work tomorrow morning. If going out is going to be a problem, we better nip it in the bud while I'm here." Okay, that convinced him he needed to suck it up and go to the store.

Fifteen minutes later the two men walked out the front door of Duo's apartment building. For the braided man, each step was taken reluctantly while his eyes warily searched the surrounding area, looking for some lurking danger. Regardless that the afternoon was sunny and warm, he broke out in a cold sweat, and with trembling hands as he reached out and grabbed hold of Heero's arm and held on for all he was worth.

Not two minutes later Heero leaned towards him and quietly said, "Could you loosen your grip just a bit, Duo?"

"Oh, sorry." He reluctantly dropped his hands to his side. Of course Heero wouldn't want him hanging off of him in broad daylight. He'd probably embarrassed the other man. He was horrified by the overwhelming feelings of insecurity and neediness that seemed to be directing his actions.

Heero draped an arm over his shoulders and gave a comforting squeeze. "I don't mind the contact, Duo. It's just that your grip was a bit painful."

Reassured that he hadn't embarrassed Heero, Duo loosely wrapped his arm around his boyfriend's waist, holding onto a belt loop on his pants. He felt a swell of gratitude grateful for the other man's presence and support as they walked down the familiar street, rounded the corner and turned into the small, local grocery store. A good deal of his uneasiness lessened once they entered the store he typically visited once or twice a week for his groceries and sundry items. Inside the building, he was greeted by a couple of the store's employees and a neighbor or two. He and Heero immediately set about gathering enough food to last a couple of days. Twenty minutes later they each carried two bags full of groceries and were making their way back to the apartment, incident free.

With a sigh of relief, Duo set his two bags down on the kitchen counter. He was relieved they were back home with nothing out of the ordinary having happened. Though he faced one fear, he couldn't quite get over the feeling that someone had been watching him from the moment he'd stepped out of the apartment building's front door, and that he had been moments away from being grabbed from behind and forcibly dragged away. A part of him understood it was ridiculous to think that way, but he just couldn't seem to help himself from reliving certain moments from Friday night's attack.

He pulled a package of beef tri-tip strips out of the bag and then the rest of the groceries, the last item being the steak rub Heero had raved about.

Heero spoke from behind him, where he was unloading his own two bags of foodstuffs. "Why don't you get started on the vegetables and I'll prepare the steak?" Duo turned to accept the head of lettuce and a bag of green beans Heero was holding out to him. He traded the spice rub for the vegetables. "Have any olive oil?"

Five minutes later, the heavily seasoned steak was sizzling in the pan of hot olive oil. Duo was pleased to note that he and Heero worked well in the kitchen together, and every once in a while they playful bumped into each other, which quickly turned into a kiss or grope. Laughter filled the bachelor's kitchen, and Duo would never have believed it was possible to feel so good after the horrifying events of Friday night.

Dinner was delicious, and looking across the small table at the dark haired man smiling back at him, Duo couldn't help but think that Heero was almost too good to be true. But all good things eventually come to an end. It was just after seven that evening when Heero reluctantly announced it was time for him to leave. He listed his laundry, looking at his mail and preparing for the coming week as his reasons for leaving. Duo acknowledged he had similar chores to attend to, but even so he found it a struggle to put on a brave face as he walked Heero to the front door.

"Are you going to be alright?" Heero asked with a look of concern, his fingers lightly running over Duo's jaw.

"I'll be fine," Duo answered with as much confidence as he could muster. "Just call me after you get home so I'll know you got there safely."

"Will do," Heero said with a widening grin, and then he leaned forward for one last kiss.

Duo waved goodbye until Heero disappeared behind the closing elevator doors. He ducked back into his apartment and quickly closed the door, securing it by turning the lock and shutting the bolt home. "Keep busy," he told himself as he pushed away from the front door.

By the time Heero called a half hour later the apartment had been picked up, the bed had been stripped and remade and his clothes were set out for the next morning. Having learned that Heero had gotten home safely, Duo collapsed onto his bed and fell asleep moments after saying goodnight for the second time that night.


News travels fast, especially when it's bad. That's what Duo learned moments after entering the office building that housed DuFrame Designs. From the security guard to the cleaning crew leaving the building after a long night, it seemed everyone had somehow learned he was the man who had survived being attacked by the notorious serial killer. He could only suppose, knowing what a gossip mill his workplace was, that Charise said something to the wrong person. Nearly everyone he passed on his way up to Charise's office expressed their shock and dismay over what had happened, as well was their relief that he was alive and well. Thankfully, no one asked him about the particulars of the attack, which was just as well since Detective Dawson ordered him not to talk about it anyway.

Relieved to find his office empty, he strolled towards his desk, and by the mound of gifts neatly arranged on top of it, he could tell Charise had arrived early that morning. Typical of his employer, whenever he hit a rough patch in his life, she'd come to work with a carefully selected gift or two just for him. She really must have been shaken by his call because there was triple the number of gifts he usually received for his birthday or Christmas.

He sat down at his desk and debated a moment over whether or not he should open the wrapped gifts now or simply clear off his desk and get to work. "Open them now please," Charise urged from the open door of her office.

"How did you know that's what I was thinking?" he asked with a smile aimed at the older woman.

Dressed in a pair of pleated, navy blue pants with a poet's blouse neatly cinched in at the waist by a gold nautical belt, an outfit he recognized as being from last year's collection, the designer walked towards the desk, carefully scrutinizing her assistant. "Sometimes, my dear Duo, I can read you like the back of my hand. But what I don't know is whether or not you're really up to being here today. Are you? Heaven knows if I'd been attacked, I'd be three sheets to the wind or near comatose from a hefty dose of Valium."

Turning on his computer, he said, "I'm fine, Charise. Honest. I had someone stay with me over the weekend and that helped to calm my nerves." And Heero did a hell of a job of distracting him and soothing more than his anxiety.

"Well..." Charise began, looking at her employee in a scrutinizing manner. "You do look surprisingly good, considering everything that happened. But if you suddenly feel the need to go home, for any reason, just let me know and I'll arrange for Deirdre to sit in for you."

"Ah... sounds good. Thanks, boss." The mere thought of Deirdre, an ambitious young woman in advertising, sitting in his chair, a place she openly coveted, was enough to make him stick it out to the end of the day no matter what.

"All right then." Reassured, Charise smiled brightly at him, and there was a gleam in her eyes that spoke of excitement. "Now, open the blue bag first. I hope you like it."

Reaching for the suggested bag, he said, "You've got impeccable taste, Charise. I'm sure I'll love whatever's in here."

He couldn't have been more surprised by the practicality of Charise's gifts. Buried in the blue bag, surrounded by an enormous mass of gold tissue paper, was a can of pepper spray. That was followed by a self-defense video, a whistle that blew loud enough for people in the next building to hear, and a gift certificate for a full body massage. Another package contained a certificate for a pedicure at the salon located on the first floor of the building. "To help you regain your center after such a horrendous ordeal," his employer said with a sincere smile. There were also gift certificates for several restaurants, "They do home deliveries, so you don't have to go out after dark, at least until the serial killer has been caught."

"You didn't need to go to all this trouble, Charise," Duo insisted as he set all the packages in the lower, right-hand drawer of his desk. "I'm fine, really."

"How's Heero?"

That stopped him dead in his tracks and looked at her with surprise. "How did you know?" He and Heero had gone out of their way to be discrete about their budding relationship, so he had to wonder how his employer found out about him seeing her lawyer. He then recalled taking Heero to a co-worker's party when they first started seeing each other. It seemed Charise and her employees knew more about what went on in L.A. then most news agencies.

She gave him a knowing wink. "Women's intuition. Now," she leaned in closer, and there was definitely a devilish gleam in her eyes as she added, "tell me everything."

Charise returned to her office fifteen minutes later, having a basic understanding of her assistant's relationship with her new lawyer and wearing a very pleased smile. Her retreat allowed Duo to begin his work day, and it felt good returning to his normal routine. As usual, there were problems to solve, calls to make and his employer to please.

For the first time in a long while Duo was grateful for the hectic day ahead. Staying busy helped him not to think too much about what had happened on Friday night. His sense of normality, however, lasted only until nine thirty, when the first of many calls from various news agencies began to come in, each wanting a statement from the lone survivor of the serial killer who remained at large.

Heero called around eleven, expressing sympathy that his identity had been hinted at by the press. And though Duo's name hadn't been printed, his place of employment had. Heero then apologized for being unable to make it to lunch, having had a case stall in court. Duo knew all too well how demanding his own job could be, so he graciously accepted the apology and told Heero not to worry about it, that he understood.

After hanging up, he ordered lunch for himself and Charise from the deli down the street, and ten minutes later he was riding down the elevator to pick it up.

He was met outside the office building by six aggressive reporters and three photographers. He wondered how they knew enough about him to identify him as he stepped away from the front door. When pressed by the persistent members of the press to make a statement, he followed Heero's advice by responding adamantly, "No comment."

Moments after breaking free from the disappointed group, Duo heard his name called. He cautiously glanced around, trying to see who it could be, and spied a middle aged man walking in his direction, wearing dark grey corduroy slacks and a pale blue polo shirt beneath a lightweight jacket. He was looking at him expectantly, his smile growing with each passing moment. Duo judged him to be of medium height and he looked physically fit. It took a moment before his eyes widened with recognition. "Uncle Hank?"

Shocked by the unexpected appearance of the man he hadn't seen in well over a decade, Duo stood frozen in place as an older Hank McGuire quickly closed the distance between them, a look of excitement on his tan and weathered face. "Duo. I can't believe it's really you!"

There was a long hesitation after the older man stopped in front of him, and during that brief moment time seemed to stand still as Duo struggled with the various emotions roiling inside him. His feelings for the man in front of him were conflicted and confusing. Most predominant of those feelings, however, were apprehension and wariness. Something inside of him recoiled at the sight of the man he'd once known as his uncle, the husband to his only aunt and father to his cousin Natalie. He just couldn't recall any specific incident in the past that would cause him to feel so guarded toward the man.

With no time to fully analyze why he was feeling this way, he dismissed his initial reaction to Hank as a result from the horrifying attack on Friday night, leaving only a strange sense of anger toward the man in front of him. God, what that hell was that about? Well, his aunt had been a mess for months after his uncle's departure, and the warm, wonderful woman she had been, changed into an angry, bitter person. Yes, this arrested anger he was experiencing was no doubt a run off from the past. Or was his reaction to Hank's sudden appearance, with all these negative feelings, was simply a delayed reaction from Friday's nightmare?

One more glance at the older man, who remained smiling at him, and Duo couldn't help but let all his anger slide away, and in that moment he made a decision; he would give Hank the benefit of a doubt and be cordial to him. If nothing else, the man deserved a chance to explain himself. And he had to admit to being curious about the reasons behind his uncle's disappearance.

Before he could say anything, Hank stepped forward and embraced him, and Duo couldn't help himself from exchanging the manly slaps he received from the taller man before they separated.

"How are you Uncle Hank? I can't believe it's actually you," Duo said as he stepped back see how the years had changed the man. Not too shabby, he thought. His uncle looked different and yet the same. Of course he was older looking than he'd been a decade ago, but the man remained impressively tall and fit and looked rather smart in his more tailored clothing instead of the loose jeans and cotton plaid shirts he'd favored when he was married to his aunt. The former crewcut Hank had worn back then had been allowed to grow a bit longer and was obviously styled by someone other than a strip mall barber. Strands of gray at his temples gave the man a distinguished look. He looked a bit like a respectable college professor.

"I'm good, Duo. And you look..." He stood back a moment to give the younger man a head-to-toe once over before finishing with, "fan-tastic. And that hair of yours, it's positively stunning."

An apprehensive shiver went down Duo's spine. Was he seeing things? If he didn't know better, his uncle had just checked him out? "Ah... you're not too shabby yourself," he replied with his grin still plastered in place. Then more soberly he asked the question that kept tugging at his brain, "How did you know where I worked?"

"I didn't." The man was now beaming. "Jason and I arranged to meet each other here for lunch." He motioned to his companion coming to stand at his side, evidently the Jason he referred to. "He wanted to try out a restaurant across the street. We just finished eating when he commented about an extraordinarily good looking guy coming out of this building. Lo and behold, there you were. I knew you in an instant."

"So our meeting is simply by chance?" What were the odds that they'd meet up like this after so many years had passed, and in L.A. of all places?

"Completely fortuitous. It must be fate that we meet here and now." The older man looked extremely pleased. "All these years I've wondered about you, Duo: how you were, where you lived."

The sound of someone clearing his throat caught Hank's attention. Looking only a little embarrassed, he said, "Duo, let me introduce you to my lover, Jason Kushell."

Stunned, Duo could only stare blankly at the man standing at his uncle's side. "Lover?" he asked as his eyes shifted back to Hank. "You're... you're gay? Since when?"

His uncle chuckled. "Well, I guess I'm not really certain about when, but yes, I am gay, and no longer hiding or apologetic about it."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," the man named Jason said quietly, stepping forward to take Duo's limp hand into his own and giving it a firm shake.

Duo blinked, and for the first time he took a really good look at the man who stood next to his uncle. He was... well, for a polite term, average in appearance. Medium height, thinning brown hair and a round face that bore a wide nose, narrow eyes and thin lips. The best thing Jason had going for him was a muscular physique. "Nice to meet you," Duo responded automatically, trying to form a polite smile while trying to get over the shock about his uncle being gay. You'd think he'd have figured out the man was gay after having lived with him. But then Hank had probably been hiding his sexual orientation while married to his aunt. Another unexplained shudder ran up his spine and a dark feeling stole over him. He dismissed it as resentment over his uncle's treatment of his aunt. How could he marry her, raise a child with her, knowing he was gay?

Jason barely managed a smile in return as he said, "Hank has mentioned you often. We even have a picture of you in our home, but I never thought I'd actually have the chance to meet you."

"A picture of me?"

"I managed to take a few pictures with me when I left. Most of them are of you and Natalie." The mention of his deceased cousin's name palled their little reunion.

After a slight pause, Duo looked at Jason again. "I hope he told you only good things about me and left out what an awkward kid I was back then, all arms, legs and mouth." Duo shifted his gaze back to his uncle, and despite the conversation being light, his smile remained forced and the uncomfortable feeling in his gut remained. He wondered how upset his aunt was going to be after learning of this little reunion. Whenever Hank's name was brought up in conversation, she'd usually said, and rather vehemently, how she hoped never laid eyes on Hank McGuire again. Though she never stated the reason for their divorce, Duo had to wonder if she'd somehow discovered her husband's not-so-little secret, and that discovery that he was gay had ended their marriage.

"Of course I didn't say anything uncomplimentary," Uncle Hank said with a wide grin. "I don't really remember you being awkward, only that you were a wonderful kid. I don't know what Helen and I would have done after Natalie died if you hadn't been there. What a comfort you were to the both of us." A look of sadness flashed across the older man's face. Duo had often seen his aunt wearing that same expression whenever she was reminded of their daughter's sudden death in their home.

Natalie had been four years older than him, but when he'd arrived that the McGuire's home two days after his parents' death, his cousin had gone out of her way to be kind and helped him feel at home and a part of their family. Sixteen was too young for anyone to die, he thought mournfully, especially someone as sweet and lovely as his cousin had been. They never knew if she had been sleep walking or just getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink when she fell down the stairs, breaking her neck in the process.

"Let's not go down that sad road." Hank seemed to be reading his mind today. "This is a happy day, one to celebrate, considering our chance reunion." With his grin slowly returning and a twinkle in his eyes, the older man looked genuinely excited to meet up with him again. "We've already had our lunch, but if you've the time, I'd love to sit down somewhere, buy you something to eat and catch up."

Duo looked at his watch. In spite of his initial reaction to Hank's sudden appearance, he thought it might be nice to catch up with his long-lost uncle, but now was not the time. His boss was waiting for her lunch, and Charise was not a happy camper if she wasn't fed properly. "I'm sorry, Uncle Hank, but I've got to pick up lunch for my boss and return to work. Maybe we can catch up another time."

"Sure, sure," his uncle agreed easily. "Tell you what. Let's exchange phone numbers. We'll find a more convenient time to get together and catch up on each other's lives."

Jason conveniently provided two of his own business cards, of which Hank used the back to write down his cell phone number and then Duo's, when the braided man gave it to him. Handing him the card with his number on it, the older man stated, "It really is good to see you again, Duo. You look great and very successful. Are you happy?"

A couple of months ago Duo's answer might have been much different, but after spending the weekend with Heero, he could answer truthfully, "Yeah, I'm happy."

"Got someone special in your life?"

Duo's smile widened as he imagined Heero in his mind. "Someone very special."

The older man reached out and clasped Duo's upper arm. "I'm glad."

"Thanks," Duo blushed. Then glancing at his watch, he realized that time was passing quickly. "Listen, I'd love to talk more, but I really do need to get going."

"You work in that building?" Hank asked, glancing up at the multi-storied building. "Must be someone important."

"Charise DuFrame. She's a fashion designer."

"Are you a designer?" Hank's boyfriend asked, his face displaying mild interest.

"No, I'm her assistant."

"Then we better let you get back to your job," Hank interjected with a pleasant grin. "It was good to see you again, Duo. Please call."

"I will, Uncle Hank. And soon."

His uncle's boyfriend watched and he and Hank briefly embraced goodbye, and then Duo turned to walk away. He had gone no more than ten feet before Duo l couldn't help looking over his shoulder, glimpsed a look of disapproval flash across Jason's face. What the hell was that about? Had he made a bad first impression, or had his uncle said something that embarrassed the man? With a final goodbye wave, Duo rushed off to get his and Charise's lunch.


Trudging back to his apartment at the end of the day, Duo felt completely wrung out. Work had been hectic and the pesky, invasive reporters who were waiting for him when he exited the building for the last time that day had added to his stress. Three of the sneaky bastards actually made it past security and up to his office. He was even chased down the hall by one of them when he attempted to elude his questions.

Riding up the elevator to his floor, Duo closed his eyes and let out a tired sigh of relief. All he wanted to do that evening was take a hot bath and crawl into bed. Even the thought of eating dinner seemed like too much effort. But before the night was through, he was determined to find enough energy to call Heero and wish him goodnight.

The chime sounded as the two elevator doors parted, and as soon as he exited the elevator, he automatically turned towards his apartment, only to come face to face with Trowa. Other than the serial killer and Quatre, his former boyfriend was one of the last people on Earth he wanted to deal with at the moment.

The taller man reached out to him but Duo managed to sidestep his hand. "Are you alright?" Trowa asked, a look of worry etched on his face. And now that Duo got a good look at the man, he decided that Trowa looked haggard. His eyes were bloodshot and he had dark circles beneath them.

"What are you doing here?"

"I just had to see for myself that you were alright. You are, aren't you? God, Duo, I've had the worst nightmares ever since Dr. Catalonia called."

"I'm fine, as you can see," Duo said, holding his hands out as if to show he had nothing to hide. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've had a very long day."


He had just turned his back on the other man when Trowa called out his name, but the desperate plea in his voice made him stop. He took a deep breath and let his shoulders slump slight as he asked, "What the hell do you want with me, Trowa?"

There was a long, painful pause before the other man said, "I just want to make things right, to be friends again. I know I hurt you, Duo, and I'll apologize until I'm blue in the face, if that's what you want. I'm sorry if my relatinship with Quatre hurts or offends you, but I'm in love with him. But my love for him doesn't take away the fact that I still care about you, and as your friend I'm concerned about your well being. We were good friends, weren't we? Isn't there any way we could be that again?"

"Let bygones be bygones?" Duo suggested sarcastically. "Do you really think it can be that simple?" Turning around fully now, he leveled an angry glare on his former boyfriend. "You betrayed me, Trowa. You should have broken up with me before you attempted any type of relationship with my shrink. How do you think it felt on my end, suddenly being faced with the realization that you were seeing him, falling in love with him behind my back?"

There was an earnest look on Trowa's face as he replied, "It honestly wasn't like that, Duo. Quatre and I both felt a connection the first time we met in his office. But because I seemed reluctant to talk openly about your problems, he thought a less threatening atmosphere might help me loosen up and feel more comfortable, so he invited me out for coffee. We soon found that we shared a lot of interests and went to see a foreign film together when you were out of town with Charise. It wasn't long after that when we knew that there was something special happening between us, that we were falling in love. I swear, Duo, we didn't go any further with our relationship until I worked up the courage to end things with you. I know I shouldn't have gone out with him without your knowing about it, but I didn't purposely set out to fall in love with Quatre. It just happened, and I was fortunate enough to have him fall in love with me also."

Combing a hand through his auburn hair and looking unsure of himself, Trowa added, "Besides, I honestly don't know if you and I would have made it as a couple even if Quatre hadn't come into the picture. Of course I had a strong physical attraction to you. Any gay man would have to be blind and an idiot not to want to be with you. But even when things were good between us, Duo, there seemed to be something missing in our relationship, and I'm not talking about sex. I've thought about it quite a bit and have come to the conclusion that we lacked a deeper form of intimacy, an inability to understand each other, to communicate. We were great friends, but I don't think we would have been great lovers."

With a frustrated huff, the taller man let his hands drop to his side in a sign of defeat. "I'm sorry. I've never been very good at explaining my feelings."

"And I've never been very good at reading between the lines," Duo confessed, understanding for the first time that this was exactly what Trowa was talking about. There had always been an air of mystery about the other man, and he'd never fully understood him, though he'd always just shrugged it off as Trowa being naturally shy and reticent. They really had lacked the intimacy he spoke of. That fact was even more evident in light of his new relationship with Heero. Even though they had only known each other a short time, he felt closer to Heero than any man he'd ever met. Maybe that was how it was between Trowa and Quatre.

As if sensing the shift in his attitude, Trowa took a cautious step forward, his green eyes once again taking on a beseeching look as he said, "I've missed you, Duo. You are an important person in my life, my best friend. Even when we were trying to be something more, we remained friends and enjoyed each other's company. Is there really no way we can salvage that part of our relationship?"

There was dead silence in the hallway as Duo considered Trowa's question. Could he forgive the other man enough to let him back into his life? They had been the best of friends, and if he were honest with himself, he did miss him, though now with Heero in his life the loss of him and Quatre was much more tolerable. The aching hole in his heart, created by Trowa falling in love with his trusted shrink, wasn't as noticeable as it had been. In fact, Duo was beginning to believe he'd been holding onto the hurt as a type of crutch. Maybe it had been easier to be angry with them than to forgive and forget and get on with his life. Time, it seemed, had helped him to come to that realization, but he was more inclined to believe Heero was the reason for his change of heart. With Heero in his life, what good did it do him to keep beating up on his former boyfriend and shrink? It was definitely a time for change.

"I haven't spent much time on a racquetball court since we stopped playing during our lunch hour. Do you think it's possible to reserve a court for next week?"

A look of relief filled Trowa's eyes at the same time his dazzling smile came to life. "I'll get us a court. Same time Tuesdays and Thursdays?"

Duo found himself smiling at the man and something loosened up in his chest. Making up with Trowa left him feeling incredibly good. "Yeah, that would be great."

After one hesitant moment, Trowa closed the distance between them to embrace him. "Thank you," he whispered against Duo's hair. "I swear you'll never regret giving me another chance at being your friend. I won't blow it this time."

After a moment Trowa dropped his arms and stepped back. "About Quatre..." he began, only to have Duo cut him off.

"Let's take this one step at a time, all right? I promise not to say any derogatory comments about him when we're hanging out together, but I'm not sure I'm ready to deal with him at this point."

Though a brief look of disappointment crosse d his face, Trowa replied, "Fair enough. I'll call you if there's any problem reserving the court, otherwise I'll see you there next Tuesday."

"Goodnight, Trowa."

The other man hesitated, and Duo had the feeling he'd wanted to be invited in so they could talk some more. That wasn't going to happen tonight. Trowa seemed to get his drift and quietly said, "Night, Duo."

No sooner had he stripped off his clothes and pulled on his robe, the phone rang. He smiled after seeing the I.D. on the display, indicating H. Yuy was calling. "Hey, lover. What's up?" he said the moment he had the phone to his ear.

"Take a guess," Heero replied with a teasing chuckle. The sound of which had Duo believing it was the second sexiest sound he'd ever heard.

"Too bad you're on the other side of town."

"Who says I am?"

A smile grew on the braided man's face. "Tell me you're outside my door and I'll make you the happiest man alive."

The barely audible sigh was his answer. "Sorry. I wish I was. Unfortunately, I am still at work. I just wanted to call and tell you I missed you today. Did everything go alright?"

Duo proceeded to tell his boyfriend about the day's events, including his surprising encounter with his long lost uncle and making up with Trowa.

"Your uncle is gay?"

"Apparently," Duo chuckled. "I almost tripped over my dropped jaw when he told me."

"And you never suspected?"

"I was a kid, Heero. Why would I suspect he was anything other than my aunt's husband? I didn't know anything about being gay back then."

"And he just happened to be outside your building today, after what happened this weekend? Don't you find that a bit odd?"

"Odd?" Duo had to think about that for a moment. "Maybe not odd, but definitely an extraordinary coincidence. I tend to think of it as life presenting me with an opportunity after having a rotten experience. You know, some kind of balance in the universe."

"How did he say he found you? By merely looking out a window?" The tone of his voice indicated that Heero was skeptical of the story, but Duo dismissed it as his lawyer side fighting to get out.

"Why wouldn't Ibelieve him, Heero, especially when his boyfriend backed him up?"

"I don't know." He could hear the other man's heavy sigh over the line. "I guess after everything that happened last weekend I'm feeling a bit over protective of you."

Duo grinned, pleased by the thought that Heero wanted to protect him. "I like this side of you, wanting to keep me safe. It's very sexy, you know."

Heero laughed. "I've never heard that one before, but if that's what it takes to keep you, I'll be cutting up your meat and vegetables when we go out to prevent any chance of you choking."

"I wouldn't go that far," Duo laughed, thoroughly enjoying the light banter. Heero was good for him in so many ways. Sitting down on the bed and cradling the phone to his ear he asked, "When can I see you again?"

"As soon as my schedule allows." There was a shuffling of papers before Heero continued. "I'm tied up for most of this week, but I might be able to get away earlier on Friday. Would you like to go out?"

Out. The simple suggestion slammed into Duo unexpectedly, realizing that Heero wanted to go out... into the city. The fear he thought was behind him after last Friday's ordeal came roaring back.


"I... I can't, Heero. Not to a club."

"No, of course not," Heero rushed to reassure him. "I was thinking dinner and a movie, if you feel up to it."

A knot of fear was forming in his belly again. Why did the idea of going out at night terrify him so? He wanted to be with Heero, to share his life with him, but this unreasonable fear made him want to find a hole and hide in it. "Could we eat in?" He knew he was being a wuss, but he honestly couldn't help it.

"Duo," Heero said gently, as if fearing what he said next was going to offend him. "I know you don't want to hear this, but you might need some professional help in dealing with what happened to you. I can hear the fear in your voice, and believe me, I understand. I'm not going to push you into anything, but you might need to speak with a therapist to help you cope with the helplessness you felt during the attack that has now seeped into your daily life."

The idea of finding and going to another therapist was not appealing. Hadn't Quartre already screwed him over? How could he trust someone else? On the other hand, Dorothy had helped, maybe he could talk to her even though trauma wasn't her field of expertise. "I'll talk to Dorothy, see if she can recommend someone."

"Sounds good," Heero replied, sounding relieved.

They chatted a few more minutes with Heero telling him in vague terms about his day and one particular demanding client. When the conversation ebbed naturally, Duo closed his eyes and said, "I wish you were here."

"Me, too. Are you sure you're okay?" There was real concern in Heero's voice. "I could come over if you really need me to."

Feeling ridiculous at being so uncharacteristically needy, Duo knew he couldn't give in to the temptation. He didn't want to be a clingy, needy boyfriend.

Taking a deep breath he answered, "I'm fine. Just tired. I think I'll eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. Call me tomorrow?"

"Definitely. Sleep well."

"Be careful on your way home," Duo cautioned, not able to help himself. "Stay off the city streets and be wary of strangers."

"We live in L.A., Duo, virtually everyone in the city is a stranger. But don't worry, I'll keep my eyes open. Don't forget to lock your door."

Duo couldn't help but chuckle. "That's some weird couple's talk we're having. We sound like a couple of paranoid freaks."

"With good reason." Heero replied more soberly. "I better get back to work. I'll call tomorrow. Goodnight, love."

"You know I'm head over heels for you, don't you?"

A deep chuckle came from the other side of the line. "I do, and I feel the same way about you. But right now I'm thinking about this past weekend, and heels over shoulders is a term that comes to mind."

There was a smile in his voice when Duo said, "Keep that in mind for Friday. Goodnight, Heero." His conversation with Heero left him feeling warm and desired, the next best thing to having the man with him in person. Could Friday come fast enough? With the way things were going, he doubted it.

on to chapter 17

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