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 18
by Dyna Dee

The next morning, the phone rang around ten. Duo wasn't surprised to find his uncle on the other side of the line. "Sorry, Uncle Hank. I meant to call back last night but Heero and I... well, we got distracted."

The knowing laugh on the other side of the line triggered a familiar memory and a smile. Uncle Hank always had a distinctive, contagious laugh. "I understand," the older man replied. "If I had a young, attractive man like you as my boyfriend, I'd probably be 'distracted' all the time."

"I hope Jason didn't hear you say that. I don't want him getting jealous," Duo teased back, though to be honest, having his uncle insinuate he found him attractive was kind of creepy.

"No chance of that happening," Hank replied with a chuckle. "Jason and I are both very independent people, which is why we fit very well together. Our days of screwing any guy showing an interest are behind us."

"Do you live together?"

"No. He's had his apartment for a long time and the rent is cheaper than it would be if he split the cost of my house. He likes the location, knows his neighbors and so he's reluctant to make a change."

"You could move in with him, couldn't you?"

The older man shrugged. "His place is too small. Besides, I like our arrangement. We get together at his place or mine a couple of times a week, then go about our lives. Me, I like being able to come home and watch what I want on T.V. and eat what I like and go to bed when I feel like it. We're both happy with how things are going. How about you and your boyfriend? Are you living together?"

"Not yet," Duo answered. "But I hope to. Every moment we spend together convinces me that Heero's the one for me, and I want to be with him as often as our jobs allow."

"Sounds like love."

Duo couldn't help smiling as he answered. "It is, at least for me."

"And for him?"

"I think he loves me too. He's been wonderful, Uncle Hank. He goes out of his way to help and be there for me. Like last night, he came to my place to spend time with me even though he was exhausted from being loaded down with work at his office all week." Duo signed, just thinking about his man. "I've always dreamed of having a relationship like this, Uncle Hank, but not even in my wildest dreams could I have come up with someone as perfect as Heero. And considering the unusual way we met, it seems like our being together more like an act of fate."

"I'm glad, Duo. After the death of your parents, I'd hoped you'd be able to move past the loss and have a happy life. Looks like you've done well, son."

"Thanks," Duo replied and then more soberly said, "About tonight, I'm not sure if Heero can make it or not. After we figure out a time and place, I'll text him and he'll let me know if he can get away from the office."

"Would you like to come down here to my place for dinner? I live in Buena Park, which is about an hour away from where you work, that is if the freeway isn't its usual mess. Or, we could meet somewhere in between if you'd prefer, a restaurant of your choice."

Duo hesitated to answer, thinking about his options. If he could avoid it, he really didn't want to be out late.

"How about seven?"

"Any chance we can make it earlier? I really don't want to be out late, and I think it might be better if we meet somewhere in the middle, to save time."

"Ah, sure." There was a pause before Hank said, "Jason and I can meet you at six. Is that good?"

After describing where he lived, Duo suggested a family restaurant guaranteed to be full of people, set just off the freeway and half way between his apartment and Buena Park. "I'll meet you there at six," Duo agreed.

When the call ended, he pulled out his cell phone and texted the information to Heero. Three hours later his handsome lawyer called to say he didn't see how he could leave the office until eight and asked if Duo wanted him to come over to his apartment after he finished working?

Disappointed that Heero wasn't going to meet them for dinner, Duo wondered if it was even possible to return to his place by eight. Well, no matter how much he and his uncle wanted to catch up, getting home in time to spend the rest of the evening with Heero would definitely be a great excuse for him not to linger at the restaurant any longer than necessary. With that legitimate excuse he'd avoid getting home late and sidestep telling either his uncle or Heero that he was scared shit-less at the thought of being out at night.

With the promise of Heero coming over, Duo spent the afternoon cleaning up his apartment and doing laundry, including washing and drying the sheets on his bed. After everything was done to his satisfaction, he had about thirty minutes to get dressed and get out the front door for the drive to meet his uncle.

Traffic seemed heavier than usual as he navigated the Los Angeles freeways, and he checked his watch every few minutes to confirm that he was going to be late. He arrived at the pre-determined restaurant seven minutes late. Not too bad, he supposed, but he liked being punctual. He was met at the door by his uncle, who greeted him with a wide grin and a pat on his back. They exchanged pleasantries before his Hank took his elbow and directed Duo further into the restaurant.

"Jason is holding the table for us," the older man explained over his shoulder. "I hope you don't mind, but I ordered us some drinks and an appetizer."

"No, that's fine. Sorry I'm late. Traffic," he explained. The older man gave him a look of understanding. In L.A., clogged freeways were a way of life and always a plausible explanation for tardiness.

As they approached one of the back tables, Jason stood from his seat and in a reserved, somewhat formal manner, he extended his hand. "Good to see you again, Duo."

"Likewise," Duo replied, smiling at the other man while still trying to comprehend that this man was actually his uncle's lover.

A menu was presented and within five minutes all three men had ordered their meal. Over dinner and drinks, Duo and his uncle chatted with growing ease as the minutes ticked by and memories of the past were recalled. Jason was often brought into the conversation by his uncle, but he politely let the two men catch up after having been separated for over a decade. Several times Duo felt the quiet man's gaze on him, but when he turned to Jason, the man averted his eyes. He thought Jason was rather odd.

An hour passed quickly, and because he was enjoying himself, Duo felt a small bit of reluctance at ending the evening at the seven thirty mark. But Heero was going to be back at his apartment in a half hour, and that was incentive enough for him to make his excuses and high-tail it out of there.

Hank said he understood, and the two older men graciously offered to walk him out to his car before saying good night. The evening was balmy, with a gentle breeze coming from the west, off the Pacific Ocean. Pulling the keys from the pocket of his pants, Duo approached his silver BMW and turned to say something to his uncle when he noticed Jason was frowning at his car.

"Your tires are flat," the man calmly announced.

Duo turned to study his tires and sure enough, his front and rear tires were flat. "Shit." Quickly walking around the other side of the car, he discovered that all four tires had been flattened. He knelt down to inspect the tread of his right front tire. From the other side of the car he heard a confirmation of his suspicions from Jason. "They've been slashed." His disbelief was almost immediately replaced by anger, which quickly morphed into fear.

"Who the hell would do this?" Hank asked.

Duo feared there was only one person who would benefit from him being stranded this far from the safety of his home.

Rising on shaky legs he looked to his uncle, and the fear he felt must have been evident on his face because the older man quickly came round the front of the car and put his arm around his shoulders. "It's alright, Duo. I'm here. Nothing's going to happen to you."

Eyes wide with fear, Duo muttered, "He's found me."


Folding his arms over his chest, Duo stared at the ruined tires, unwilling or perhaps unable to answer.

Hank, hoping to reassure his nephew, said, "It's got to be some punk kids who spied a great looking car and decided to do some mischief. I'm certain this is a random act."

"Punk kids don't usually hit just one car," Jason said as he circled Duo's car, studying the vehicles around them. He came back a few moments later. "There's no damage to any other cars that I can see," he reported.

Putting a hand on Duo's shoulder, Hank asked, "What do you want to do, Duo? I think we should call the police"

Shaken, the braided man could only think of one place he wanted to be. "I want to go home."

"I understand," Hank replied. "But I really do think the police should be called."

"Why don't we drive Duo home," Jason suggested. "We can call the police and a tow truck while en route."

While Hank seemed to be thinking over that Duo said, "Please, Uncle Hank. I just want to go home. I'll be safe there and Heero said he'd drop by around eight."

The white sedan that carried him back to his apartment belonged to Jason, though Duo was so distracted he couldn't have said what kind of car it was nor anything about the interior. As they drove northward, Hank called a tow truck company to pick up his car and deliver it to the nearest tire repair company. He was given the address of the repair shop and hastily scribbled it down on the back of a receipt he found in the glove compartment. Then, after giving his uncle the contact number for Detective Dawson, the older man called L.A.'s police department to report what had happened. Duo mind was in turmoil from the possibility of being stalked by the notorious killer. The slashing of his tires had to be a message, alerting him to the fact that he was being watched. Distracted as he was, he listened only with half an ear to his uncle's conversation with the police detective. Even though everyone else seemed to know he had been the lone survivor of the serial killer, it appeared his uncle and Jason remained ignorant of that fact. From what he overheard of the phone conversation, Detective Dawson didn't say anything that gave away any information.

Despite his uncle's attempts to draw him into conversation during the drive home, Duo remained closed down and uncommunicative as he struggled to push aside the terror ballooning within him by concentrating on his one source of comfort: Heero. His lover would know what to do, how to handle the situation.

Eventually, he was forced to speak up in order to direct Jason into taking the correct exit off the freeway to West Hollywood. He continued giving him directions to his apartment building and within a few minutes the car pulled up in front of the complex.

"Can we walk you in?"

Duo turned to his uncle and nodded, "That would be great. Thanks." He didn't want to be left alone, not even for a moment. The three men entered the lobby together and took the elevator up to Duo's floor. When the elevator doors parted, Duo zeroed in on the man leaning against the wall to the left of his apartment's entrance, a large white bag in his hand. Breaking away from the other two men, he made a beeline for Heero, who straightened from the wall the moment he saw his lover step out of the elevator. The lawyer stepped away from the wall and watched Duo rush towards him, a growing look of alarm growing on his face as he realized by his lover's manner that something was wrong.

"Duo, what's the...?"

Moving quickly into Heero's embrace, Duo wrapped his arms around his lover and held on for all he was worth and, damn, his entire body seemed to be shaking.

"I take it you're Heero?" Hank asked as he much more clamly approached the two, meeting Heero's troubled gaze.

With a stiff nod Heero replied, "You must be Duo's uncle."

"Hank McGuire." Then turning to include the man by his side he added, "And this is my boyfriend, Jason Kushell. I'm sorry we couldn't have met under better circumstances."

Holding his lover's body close, Heero could feel him trembling and became increasingly concerned over what could have caused this sudden upset. He looked to the older men for an answer. "What the hell happened tonight?"

Much to his embarrassment, Duo's voice wavered as he answered for them, "He found me." Damnit, he sounded pathetic, and he hated the thought of losing face in front of the three men, especially Heero.

It took the lawyer only a moment to figure out what Duo was talking about. "You mean the serial killer?"

"The serial killer?" Hank asked. "Are you talking about the one in L.A?" Looking doubtful he continued. "That's a bit farfetched, don't you think?" When neither Heero or Duo answered, he addressed Heero, intending to explain why his nephew was so upset. "We had dinner together, then came out of the restaurant to find all four tires on Duo's car had been slashed."

Heero visibly stiffened, then looking at the two men he nodded towards the front door. "Why don't we take this inside so we don't alarm the neighbors. Do you have your keys, Duo?"

With hands that wouldn't stop trembling, Duo managed to pull his keys out of the pocket of his jacket and handed them to Heero. Once the four men were inside the room, Heero made a show of securing the two locks on the front door. He then led Duo by the hand into the living room, the two older men following behind.

With eyes displaying his anxiety, Duo glanced nervously around his apartment, looking for any sign that his greatest fear was about to be realized. "What if he followed us? What if he knows where I live?"

"It's a long way from the restaurant to here, Duo," his uncle answered calmly. "It would be almost impossible for anyone to have followed us through the traffic on three L.A. freeways, especially if they didn't know where we were going."

"Then how the hell did he find me at the restaurant?" He turned to Heero and said, "The only thing that makes sense is that he followed me from here when I left. If Wufei could get my address from the press, then why couldn't someone else?" There was definitely a hint of panic in his voice, but try as he might it was getting harder to remain calm and rational in the face of all that had happened. He moved away from the other three, wrapping his arms around himself as he tried to regroup his battered nerves.

"Duo," Heero began, his tone suggesting he was going to try to reason with him. "I'm sure this is just a random act of mischief by some local kids. If you hadn't been attacked last weekend, you would think the same. It was just bad luck, not the killer."

"What are you talking about?" Hank asked. He and Jason both were clearly perplexed by their conversation. "Duo?"

Heero turned and briefly explained to the two men what had happened the weekend before. Hank swore while Jason simply shook his head and looked down at his shoes, obviously either uncomfortable or not knowing what to say in this situation.

"Listen, Heero," Duo began, feeling on the verge of losing it, "you don't know that it wasn't the killer who slashed my tires. What if it was him? What am I supposed to do now if he knows where I live?"

Stepping forward and firmly gripping both of Duo's shoulders, Heero looked directly into his lover's eyes as he firmly declared, "You'll come live with me. We'll go to work and do everything else together. I'll keep you safe, Duo. No one is going to hurt you, I promise."

The blue-violet eyes suddenly watered, and Duo's shoulders slumped. "Dammit, I hate feeling like this. I swear I'm not usually this fragile. What the hell is the matter with me?"

"You were attacked only a week ago and could have been killed. No one can just walk away from something like that emotionally unscathed. You've been doing well, under the circumstances, but there's bound to be some setbacks. What happened tonight has you feeling vulnerable and victimized again. But you'll overcome this, we both will."

Duo stepped forward and melted into his lover's embrace. Wrapping his arms around Heero's waist, he held on tightly, trying to force himself to calm down. After a long, drawn-out moment, he remembered they had an audience and reluctantly took a step back. Embarrassed by having put on a show, he looked over Heero's shoulder to see Jason and his uncle standing next to each other. Both men were discretely looking elsewhere, trying to give he and Heero a moment to themselves while carrying on a whispered conversation of their own.

"I'm sorry, Uncle Hank. This isn't how I envisioned our get together tonight."

The older man's smile was meant to be comforting as he said, "You've nothing to apologize for. I'm just sorry about what you've gone through and now for what happened tonight. Listen, Jason and I were just talking, and if you'd feel safer, you could come and stay with either one of us, though I live closer to your work than he does. The downside to that is that your commute to work would be longer than you're used to, but the upside is that no one would know where you were."

Duo stepped back from Heero, having regained some of his composure, but stayed close enough for his boyfriend to hold him against his side, an arm draped over his shoulders as he faced the two older men. "I appreciate the offer, but Heero's invitation makes more sense. He lives closer to the city and he can look out for me. I don't really want to be alone right now."

"We understand," Jason said, uncharacteristically firm, his eyes shifting momentarily to Hank.

"But if you need anything, you know you can call on us, right?" Hank inserted after a curious glance at his partner.

"Thanks, and I really appreciate the offer." Duo managed a faint smile, though he suddenly felt weary to the bone form the adrenaline rush.

"If you're moving in with Heero tonight, perhaps we can help you pack."

"No, that's okay. I'm just going to pack up enough clothes to last the week. By then I'm sure Heero will be ready to boot me out of his apartment."

"Don't count on it," his boyfriend replied with a crooked smile and a squeeze of his shoulder.

Duo looked into Heero's deep blue eyes, trying to read the meaning behind his words. Was the invitation to stay at his place made solely out of necessity or something more? Even though Duo hadn't given much thought to living with Heero, the idea warmed his troubled heart. Heaven only knew how hard he'd fallen for the lawyer; he was pretty damn sure he'd lost his heart to the man. But were they ready to take the giant step of living together? He didn't want Heero to feel obligated in living together, or inviting him just to soothe his anxiety and fear. No, he needed Heero to want him there because he loved him. But that was something to be dealt with in the future, because at the moment he was too shaken up by the evening's events to turn down the offer to stay Heero's place no matter what his motives were. Still, he promised himself that if he saw any tension growing between them over the course of the week, he'd know it was too soon for them to live together and he'd make other arrangements.

"Well then, I guess we should be heading out," Jason said with a look at his lover that said, come on, let's go.

Duo met the older man's gaze with a relieved smile. "Thanks, both of you, for bringing me home. I appreciate all you've done for me tonight." Leaning forward, but not away from Heero's t ouch, he offered his hand to his uncle and then to Jason. "It was good catching up with you again. I'm just sorry the evening ended badly."

"Don't worry about it," Jason said with a small smile as he released Duo's hand. "When you live in this city you just kind of expect some shit to happen once in a while, but you've had more than yourr share during the past week. Let's hope your run of bad luck is behind you now."

Uncle Hank unexpectedly stepped forward and embraced his nephew, but when he held on just a little too long, Duo pushed him away and stepped back, reaching out for Heero's hand.

"You take care, kiddo. I'm trusting Heero to watch your back. Call me if you need anything."

"Ah... will do, Uncle Hank. Again, I'm sorry our evening was ruined. We'll try it again sometime. Maybe after the killer's been caught."

"Oh, almost forgot." Hank pulled a slip of paper out of the pocket of his light jacket and handed it to Heero. "Here's the name and address of the business where Duo's car was towed. You should give them a call in the morning. The detective I spoke to said he'd take a look at the car tonight, check it for fingerprints. Now that I know what's been going on, his comments make more sense."

Heero looked at the name of the business, noting the neat, block-style penmanship. "Thanks," he replied. "I'll take care of it tomorrow."

After saying goodbye at the door, they turned and left. Heero didn't wait to see them enter the elevator, instead he shut and locked the front door once again then turned to his boyfriend. "Let's get you packed and back to my place."

"Heero?" Duo sounded tentative as he spoke up. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"Do what?" Stepping forward, he slipped his arms around Duo's waist and waited for the braided man to lift his head. He then placed a soft, brief kiss on his forehead, and then one on both eyelids as they closed.

"It's probably too soon for us to live together," was all the Duo could manage as Heero slowly stole his breath away with his gentleness.

"It might be early in our relationship, but I want you to be safe."

"I do feel safe when I'm with you," he confessed, looking up and into Heero's deep blue eyes.

"So answer me, do you want to live with me?"

There was a long pause before Duo opened his eyes Heero looking back at him. "For a week?"

Heero grinned, "To begin with, and maybe permanently, if we're as compatible living together as we are in other areas of our relationship."

"I..." Duo paused, unsure about whether or not he should say what was in his heart. If he confessed his feelings, Heero might turn and run if he knew he'd become the center of his universe. He searched the other man's eyes for truthfulness after asking, "Are you sure?"

"I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't." There was a teasing smirk on the lawyer's face that was too irresistible to be ignored. Duo leaned forward and imprinted that crooked grin onto his own lips, then felt everything around them fade as their tongues engaged in a very pleasant dance.

Heero finally broke off the kiss with a chuckle. "I guess that means you accept my invitation. Do you want to start packing now?"

Studying Heero's face closely, Duo could see the dark circles under his eyes and the signs of exhaustion and the lines around his eyes and mouth. "You're tired. I'm pretty sure I'll be alright staying here tonight, as long as you're with me. I think the both of us would benefit from a good night's sleep. We'll pack up in the morning and head out for your place, if that's alright with you."

"Are you honestly comfortable with the idea of staying here tonight?" Heero questioned.

"Just hold me, then I'll feel safe."

Heero laid his hand on his lover's cheek and softly stroked the flesh under his fingertips. "Duo, I..." He looked into the eyes of the man in his arms, and was almost overcome by the strong urge to say he loved him, but he hesitated. He fleetingly questioned himself over whether or not he really loved Duo, or if what he was feeling for the long-haired man might be the rush he experienced when falling head over heels in lust for someone. He couldn't deny the strong feelings he had for the gorgeous, violet-eyes man, but were his feelings for him more than attraction and wonderful surprise at their compatibility? Would these overpowering feeling for Duo remain intact after a week of living together? He couldn't remember having anyone stay at his apartment for more than a weekend; he honestly never wanted anyone to stay that long. With that realization he experienced an epiphany, a clarity of thought revealing just how much he wanted Duo, wanted him in his home and in every aspect of his life. Awed by that revelation, he knew with a certainty that he did love the man, and loved him in a way he'd never experienced before. Realizing he'd found the love of his life was a very heady experience. Despite the fact that this wasn't an ideal situation, having Duo come to live with him presented them with an opportunity to learn by trial whether or not they could spend their lives together. God, he wanted this to work; he had to make this work.

Seeing that his lover was awaiting for him to continue, he decided to keep this revelation to himself for the time being, seeing that he needed to concentrate on the problem before them, Duo's safety and peace of mind. "I'll do everything in my power to keep you safe."

Duo's grin was almost back to its normal brightness when he said, "Thanks, I know you will." He then chanced the subject by asking, "By the way, are you hungry?"

Nodding towards the white bag on the entry table, Heero shook his head. "No, knowing you would have eaten already, I stopped and had something to eat before coming. I even brought the leftovers. How did dinner go with Hank and Jason go, I mean, before the tire incident?"

The chance of subject helped to calm Duo further. "It was good. Uncle Hank doesn't seem much different from when I knew him as a kid, only the fact that he's gay and comfortable talking about it." The braided man frowned, something was definitely bothering him about his uncle, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. "It feels weird, though, talking to him again. He's been gone so long, and with his changed circumstances, he seems like a stranger. Jason's kind of quiet and reserved, but he seemed to listen to everything I said and responded now and then with a comment. He's cool, I guess, and he earned some points tonight by driving me all the way back here."

"Maybe in a couple of weeks, if you like, we can all get together for lunch or something."

Duo's eyes brightened at the suggestion. Heero's offer could be taken as another sign that the man really harbor deeper feelings for him. "Yeah, I guess that would be good. I just don't know how Aunt Helen is going to deal with Hank being back in my life. She never wanted to talk about his leaving or their divorce. I've always wondered why things fell apart, but she refused to say anything about him other than good riddance."

"In light of his involvement with Jason, I suspect she found out about his attraction to men."

Duo's eyes widened with understanding. "That would explain her constant lecturing on the evils of homosexuality. Shit, I can't even imagine how hurt she must have been by his deception, and royally pissed if he pulled the wool over her eyes all those years. That explains so much." He felt like he'd finally found a missing piece to a puzzle that better explained his aunt's behavior.

Agreeing to spend the rest of the evening in the bedroom, he set about the task of checking the locks on the windows, even though no one could possibly enter the apartment through them, being several floors above ground. With each passing moment felt his composure returning. Being inside his familiar home was comforting, especially with Heero there. While he finished up, Heero took his bag of leftovers to the refrigerator with a promise to follow him to the bedroom and turn out the lights on his way.

After a visit to the bathroom, both he and Heero retired to the center of the bed, clad only in their boxers. With arms and legs draped comfortably around each other, they watched a science fiction movie on The Movie Channel. Heero fell asleep halfway through the movie, the background sounds and voices fading into a unintelligible background drone.

Duo found his concentration lacking that night, and he paid only minimal attention to the movie, especially after Heero fell asleep. For over an hour he kept ran over all that had happened that evening, trying to reason it out. Had the slashing of his tires been a random act of mischief, like Heero and his uncle believed? Of course it was possible, but it just didn't feel like that was the case. So if it had been deliberate, how had the stalker trailed him to the restaurant? He hadn't been aware of anyone following him, despite being alert to his surroundings. It seemed an impossibility in L.A., being the enormous city that it was, that someone could find and follow him without losing him in the traffic. Unless the man had been waiting outside his apartment building and had watched him drive away. The idea that someone might be stalking him made his body shudder with fear and dread.

"Duo?" Heero questioned sleepily.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you," he replied, placing a kiss on Heero's stubbled face. "I'm going to take an Ambien and then turn off the television, alright?"

A mumbled assent accompanied the withdrawal of the arms around his body. Moving slowly out of bed, Duo used the light from the TV to navigate around the end of the bed and make his way to the adjoining bathroom, where he closed the door before turning on the light. He removed the appropriate bottle from the cabinet, hoping it would help calm his thoughts so he could sleep. He tipped the bottle and tapped one pill into the palm of his hand, then thinking he might need a little more help to sleep through the night, he tapped out another. He swallowed both pills with a cup of water from the faucet, then turned off the light before exiting the room.

He stopped short after opening the door. The bedroom was black. He distinctly remembered the T.V. being on when he left the room. Why was it off? "Heero?" he whispered. A grunt came from the direction of the bed. "Did you turn off the TV?"

"Come back to bed," the lawyer mumbled sleepily.

"Did you turn off the T.V.?" He didn't dare take another step until he had an answer.

"You said you wanted it off, right?"

"So you did?"

After a long pause, he heard Heero yawn and say, "Yeah, I did."

Relief washed most of the fear out of Duo, though his knees felt almost too weak to carry him the short distance to the bed. He made it, however, due to sheer willpower and knowing there was warmth and safety only a few feet away. Crawling over Heero and under the covers, he turned over and snuggled up to his lover.

"You're cold... and shaking," Heero observed, suddenly sounding more alert. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I... I just panicked for a second after finding the room was dark, that's all."

Heero wrapped his arms around him and shifted slightly so that Duo could lay his head on his chest. The steady beat of a caring heart and the strong arms holding him did a lot towards calming the bit of fear that lingered. "Thank you for staying, Heero, and for being so good to me."

He could almost hear a smile in Heero's voice as he answered. "You're welcome."

Within minutes, Heero was asleep again. How Duo envied the other man's ability to fall asleep so easily, and he wondered if that's how he always fell asleep. Living together ought to answer that and many more questions he had about his lover. Of course, Heero's ability to sleep could be because the man was exhausted from an arduous week at work, and truthfully, so was he. But the evening, specifically, seeing all four of the tires on his car slashed and having felt so utterly helpless, kept him from relaxing enough to sleep.

In retrospect, he'd attribute what happened next as a result of his scare moments ago, envisioning his ruined tires in his mind, as well as his reaction to that discovery. As he lay in the dark, the memory of the attack from the week before surged like a tidal wave over him. Suddenly he was reliving the whole ordeal, and was caught up in the terror once more. He was in the dark alley, his back on a cold surface and unable to move his arms and legs while the shadow of evil loomed above him, touching his body. Oh, God, he was helpless again, unable to stop what was happening.

He heard a distant sound, a steady beat that knifed into his terror. He reached for it like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver, focusing on the comforting, steady pulse of... of a heart. With relief he knew it was Heero's heart he was hearing. He focused on counting each wonderful beat in order to push away the horrible memory of being attacked and from calling out for help. Eventually, the continuing steady rhythm helped to center him and reject the all-to-real memory of that night, slowly bringing him back to the here and now. Though his panic and fear had lessened, his own rapidly beating heart was a reminder of the flashback. Dammit, he hated this. Hated feeling like a helpless victim. He breathed in deeply and then did it again, and the scent of his lover helped to settle him a bit more. Thank God Heero was there. He couldn't imagine what would have happened without his physical presence, or his heartbeat dragging him out of the nightmare.

After a few moments, disgust began to seep in because of how easily he'd been frightened. His flashback had been triggered because he'd freaked out simply because the T.V. had been turned off and the room was dark. This wasn't like him at all, he told himself. He wasn't a man who fell apart that easily. It was becoming more and more obvious that he needed to talk to someone about this, and that thought brought about the decision to call Dorothy in the morning and ask for a recommendation to a therapist dealing with the aftereffects of having been the victim of an attack.

Having come to that conclusion, some part of his mind calmed and the medication he'd taken earlier began to do its job. A short while later he felt himself drifting to sleep, his head resting on his lover's chest. The fears and worries, that would no doubt plague him for some time to come, were also put to rest, at least until the Ambien wore off in the morning.

on to chapter 19

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