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 20
by Dyna Dee

Charise's eyes lit up the moment Duo mentioned Detective Dawson's suggestion that he leave town. "That works out perfectly," she announced with a wide grin on her face. "As you know, I'm leaving on Friday for Hikaru's fashion show in Tokyo next week. Why don't you come with me?" Seeing the look on his face she put up a hand to halt the protest that was coming and quickly added, "I know, I know. I usually leave you here to hold the office together while I'm away, but this time I want you to come with me."

With growing enthusiasm for the topic she gushed, "Oh, Duo, it will be wonderful. We'll go to that fabulous restaurant I visited last year, and you'll experience firsthand the shopping and the markets. You won't believe how fantastic they are until you've been there. Please, please, please come. We'll have so much fun together."

Charise was pulling out all the stops, saying please three time, not to mention the look on her face was one Duo was very familiar with; it was the This is the most brilliant idea look. Charise was obviously wanted him to go to Tokyo with her, and there was probably no way, other than a trip to the hospital, that would deter her. Truth be told, a part of him wanted to go, having harbored a secret desire to see Japan, but he really didn't want to leave Heero, especially since their living arrangement was so new. He said as much to his boss.

"Nonsense, Duo. We'll only be gone a week. Besides," she gave him a conspiring wink, "everyone know that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I promise, when we come back you'll have some of the best sex you've ever had."

Talking to Charise about any aspect of his sex life was almost as mortifying as it would be talking to his Aunt Helen about it. Right on cue, his face began to heat up with embarrassment. "I'll have to talk to Heero first and see if he's alright with me leaving town."

Charise smiled at him, pretty much ignoring what he'd just said as she ordered, "Book yourself a seat in first class, next to me, if possible. I know it's late notice, but if you call Charles Schmidt and tell him I'm requesting the change, I'm sure he'll do everything in his power to make sure you're properly accommodated."

Friday evening found Duo seated next to Charise in a very expensive, first-class seat as the plane to Tokyo climbed rapidly into the dusky sky. He gazed back at the retreating lights of Los Angeles as they gained altitude. Placing his hand on the cool window, he closed his eyes and thought of Heero. His lover hadn't been pleased when he told him he was leaving the country for a week, but Heero said he understood his wanting to get away from the city, from his fears and the nightly news reports regarding the serial killer, or rather, the lack of progress in finding and arresting the bastard. Regardless of his reluctance to leave Heero, he felt a great amount of relief for leaving his troubles behind him, at least for a week. If he really tried, he could almost pretend that there was no stalker, that he didn't still feel the freak's hands on his body, or what it felt like to be helpless under an assault. A shudder shook his body and he wrapped his arms over his stomach.

"Are you cold? Should I have the stewardess get you a blanket?"

Duo looked to his left as he answered his boss. "No, I'm fine. I'll wait until after the meal to get comfortable and sleep."

Charise sighed with resignation. "I do hate these long flights, they're so tiresome."

Pulling a prescription bottle out of his pocket, he gave it a shake and grinned. "I packed enough Ambien for the both of us. Flying during the night and sleeping most of the way is supposed to help with jet lag."

Charise wiggled into a more comfortable position. "Thank God for that. I can't abide jet lag either. I just knew having you along for this trip was going to be the best idea I had this week." She turned her head and winked at her clever assistant. "And when we land we're going to kick up our heels in Tokyo. You wait and see, dear heart, this is going to be a week you'll never forget."

Charise's smile was contagious, well, almost. Duo did his best to match her grin, but found his heart just didn't agree with her upbeat mood. He missed Heero already, and his fear of the killer hovered over him like a dark cloud, despite the distance he was putting between himself and L.A.. He wondered if it was even possible to pretend, even for a week, that he was the same old Duo, the guy he'd been before the attack. He was good at pretending, right? He'd invented Laredo and got over his fear of sex. Couldn't he pretend for the next seven days that the attempt on his life never happened?

"Relax, Duo. Everything is going to be alright." Charise reached over and squeezed his arm in an attempt to reassure him. Duo noticed the tone of her voice was deliberately soothing. She was probably sensing his inner turmoil and was trying to comfort him. Hell, his emotions were probably written all over his face.

"Promise?" he asked softly.

With a lopsided grin she asked, "When have I ever said anything I didn't mean?"

"Never," he answered, and finally managed to give her a real smile.

Monday, Heero returned to his apartment at the end of the work day alone. The absence of his lover was acutely felt, and his apartment, hell, his life, suddenly felt empty and colorless. He never would have believed how much one person could impact his life. He knew Duo would have begged off going to Tokyo if he'd asked, but he knew how unsettled and frightened his lover had been since the attack. Added to that, his tires had been slashed and Wufei had made a shocking appearance in their bed. No matter how hard he tried to make Duo feel protected and secure, his lover couldn't overcome the memory of the serial killer's attack or the feeling that he was being targeted again. A part of him was glad Duo had gone with his boss overseas, hoping he would have at least a week free from looking over his shoulder. With luck the killer would be caught while his lover was in Japan. But if that didn't happen, he'd wish for Duo to realize the odds of the killer finding him in this enormous city was definitely on their side. Hell, if he wasn't so tied up with his cases, he'd take his boyfriend to Europe until the bastard was behind bars. The idea of showing Duo Paris by night, London by day and waking up in Rome or Florence was very entertaining and helped to dispel some of the gloom he felt at being left behind for the week.

He was just taking out his wok to stir-fry come chicken and vegetables when the phone rang. It was Duo's uncle.

"No, Duo's not here. He's out of town on business."

"He didn't say anything to me about going out of town," his uncle stated, sounding puzzled.

Hank's comment irritated Heero, and so it was with heavy sarcasm he said, "I didn't know he needed your permission."

"No, of course he doesn't," the older man sounded amused. "I just thought he'd let me know he was going away. I had hoped to take him out to dinner sometime this week."

"You can call back next Sunday. He should be back by then."

"How about you, Heero? Would you like to come over for dinner one night? I think it would be nice to become better acquainted with the man who makes my nephew so happy."

He considered the offer for a moment. Getting along with Duo's relative would probably make his lover quite happy. He had nothing else to do that week, other than an enormous amount of work at the office. "With my work load this week, I don't think I can break away for an entire evening, but if you'd like to come up here, we can meet somewhere near my office and have dinner, spend an hour or two getting to know each other a bit better."

"That sounds doable. How about Wednesday? Jason has his bowling league on Friday and a class at the junior college Tuesday and Thursday nights, so he should be able to join us on Wednesday."

"Wednesday sounds good. Do you know where Radaccio's is located?"

"Yes, downtown near the Disney Concert Hall. Is seven o'clock alright?"

"Sounds good. I'll call if something comes up and I can't make it."

"I look forward to getting to know you better, Heero. We'll see you Wednesday."

They bade each other a pleasant goodnight and Heero hung up the phone. After a moment he realized how quiet the apartment was, and that set him to thinking about what he could do to keep from dwelling too much on Duo's absence. He reached for the T.V. Guide and the remote, hoping to find something to keep him distracted until bedtime.

"I miss you." Duo said the moment Heero picked up the ringing phone.

"There are no words to describe just how much I miss you," Heero replied, grinning at the sound of his lover's voice. He'd just closed his laptop and was about to leave for work when the phone rang. "So what do you think of Tokyo?"

"I've never seen anything like it," Duo replied enthusiastically. "You should see it at night, Heero. The lights and the billboards are beyond anything I've ever seen before. Charise claims they inspire her to use bright colors in her designs every time she comes here."

"Maybe someday we can visit Japan together."

There was a pause before Duo replied with enthusiasm, "I'd love that. Do you speak Japanese?"

"I understand Japanese better than I can speak or read it. My grandparents emigrated here in the fifties. They taught their native language to their children, but only spoke it in the house, saying that America was now their country and they needed to speak the language. My mom raised me the same way."

"I could have used your translating skills earlier today," Duo lamented. "Charise sent me out to buy lunch at one of her favorite restaurants. I wandered around for about three hours, completely lost. By the time I got back to the hotel it was dinner time."

Heero wanted to protest Duo's wandering around Tokyo by himself, but he reminded himself that the stalker was in L.A., not Japan. Instead, he managed to chuckle at his lover's story. "Don't tell me she sent you out again."

"No, she'd given up on me and went out to dinner with a couple of other designers. I was left with a bag full of cold food, which I dumped and then ordered room service."

"You're doing more than fetching meals and sitting in your room, I hope."

Duo assured him he was, then told him of the places he and Charise had been in the two days they'd been there as well as the people they'd seen. For the next thirty minutes they talked about everything and nothing at all, each soaking up the other's voice. With regret, Duo announced he had to say goodbye and go to bed. Charise wanted him to accompany her to breakfast in the morning with a fabric supplier, one that specialized in high quality silk material. Heero had almost forgotten the fifteen hour time difference between L.A. and Japan. He was just beginning his day and, Duo was at the far end of his. They bid each other goodbye, rather reluctantly, with a promise to call the same time tomorrow.

Heero entered the doors of the Radaccio several minutes before seven. He wasn't really surprised to find the other two men hadn't arrived, knowing very well that the freeway traffic often made arriving on time impossible. He was led to the reserved table and ordered a drink. He was looking over the menu when Hank and Jason walked in together. Hank was dressed in tan dress slacks with a dark blue pullover sweater while Jason wore black trousers and a white, button-down shirt beneath a black leather jacket. He had to admit the two men looked good together and wondered what he and Duo might look twenty years down the road. He did a mental double take. Never before had he envisioned himself spending his life with one person, but the idea of having Duo by his side, going through life together, warmed his heart. And now that he'd envisioned his future with Duo, he couldn't imagine the man not being in his life, home and bed. He couldn't help smiling as he realized he was hopelessly in love with Duo Maxwell. He was still smiling when he looked up and greeted the two men as they approached the table.

Dinner was surprisingly pleasant. Hank did most of the talking, though he did try several times to draw Jason into the conversation. From his own observation, Heero believed Hank's lover was reticent by nature, but when the man failed to relax and his reserve didn't ease up, Heeor began to feel uncomfortable sitting next to him. His discomfort cause him to talk more than usual, answering Hank's questions about his profession, interesting cases and then more carefully addressing Jason's quiet inquiries about his and Duo's relationship.

All in all, he found Duo's uncle easy enough to be around, but his lover not so much. Several times he noticed Jason staring at him-though trying not to be obvious about it - and more than once the man's hands, resting on the edge of the table, curled into fists as if he were angry about something. Heero wondered if Jason wished he were somewhere else that night, and if Hank had more or less obligated him to come to dinner.

Heero bid the two men goodnight around eight thirty and returned to his office for another two hours of work. It was nearly eleven when he shuffled down to his car in the lower level parking garage. He was really tired now, and knew exactly what it meant to be "dead on your feet." He hoped he could make it home without endangering others by falling asleep at the wheel. Pulling his key chain out of his pocket, he pushed the button that unlocked the doors. Opening the trunk, he set his briefcase and laptop inside, then just as he was about to shut the hood he heard a slight sound from somewhere behind him. He spun around, alarmed, his heart in his throat. "Who's there?"

The garage contained only a couple of other cars and was dimly lit. There didn't seem to be many places to hide, but the pillars would conceal someone if they really didn't want to be seen. "Is anyone there?" No answer. And then another idea came to him. "Wufei? Is that you?" The distant honking of a horn was the only sound in the garage, other than his slightly irregular breathing. Despite the continued silence, he couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching him from the shadows.

Without turning around, he shut the hood of the trunk and swiftly moved from the back of his car towards the driver's door. Never in his life had he opened the door and gotten into the seat faster. The doors were locked the minute he hit the seat, and after a bit of fumbling, he managed to start the engine. A moment later he was tearing out of the garage, leaving tread marks on the cement floor.

It wasn't until he was halfway to his apartment that he calmed enough to wonder at his behavior. He shook his head, chiding himself for bolting like he had at the slightest noise. The building was probably just settling, that's all. Then why couldn't he shake the feeling that he hadn't been alone in the garage, that someone had been lying in wait for him. Once again he tried to rationalize the unsettled feeling he still couldn't shake. Duo's recent attack had heightened his sense of awareness of his surroundings, especially after the tires of his car had been slashed, and the both of them jumpy and wary since then. That could explain his reaction in the garage; he was simply jumping at shadows. Having come to that conclusion, he did his best to dismiss the incident and concentrate on making his way home.

Some twenty plus minutes later it was clear he hadn't completely put the garage incident behind him, given the great sense of relief he felt parking in his own space in the garage of his apartment building. He walked briskly to his front door, eyes darting to every shadow and crevice. He immediately locked and bolted the door behind him then took a deep, calming breath. He fought the urge to check the windows, knowing he'd done so that morning. It had become a habit he'd gotten into since Duo had decided to live with him.

Thinking of his long-haired lover, presently half a world away, he sighed with longing for him. What he wouldn't give to have Duo home tonight to distract him from his thoughts.

He removed his shoes and left them by the door, then took off his jacket and hung it up on the coatrack and went straight to the bathroom, intending to wash his face and brush his teeth before collapsing on his bed. He couldn't wait for this hellish week to be over.

Duo returned from Tokyo late Saturday morning and Heero greeted him at the door with open arms, which the braided man promptly fell into. "It's so good to be back," he said, wrapping his arms tightly around Heero's neck. They kissed, and then they really kissed and stumbled their way back to the bedroom where they did their best to make up for having spent the week apart.

Duo rolled off the top of his lover with a chuckle, a thin layer of sweat on his upper lip. "Damn, if that's the welcome I get after a week away, I should go with Charise more often."

"Don't," Heero said with a smile as he let his head fall to the side to look at his lover. "I promise to make mad, passionate love to you every night if you'll just stay here and never go away again."

Pulling himself up against Heero's side and laying his head on his shoulder, Duo grinned contentedly. "Sounds great. Let's shake on it."

"I think we did more than just shake," Heero chuckled, wrapping his arms around the long haired man and holding him close.

"You just shook my world, that's for sure."

"Give me ten minutes and I'll do it again."

Duo laughed happily as he playfully tickled his lover's ribs, enjoying the sight of the other man's body writhing beneath his rapidly moving fingertips.

"Stop!" Heero gasped, grabbing for the quick and elusive hands torturing him. It took him a couple of moments before he managed to roll the laughing man under him and capture both of Duo's busy hands and pin them above the braided head. Duo's flushed face, combined with his wide smile, made him irresistible. Swooping down, Heero captured those upturned lips and played with them until the laughter turned to moans.

Pulling away, he gazed into those unforgettable blue-violet eyes. "Duo." He spoke his lover's name with incredible tenderness as he brushed aside the long strands of disheveled hair from the younger man's handsome face. He really didn't know how to explain what he was feeling, but his heart had already told him he'd met his match. Damn, he wanted Duo, and needed him in ways he couldn't even begin to express. The man in his arms completed him in so many ways and no doubt held the key to his future happiness. Was it dumb luck or destiny had he'd shown up in his life so unexpectedly, had shaken his world and reproved his misconceived belief that he could never settle down with one man. He would do whatever was necessary to keep this warm and wonderful man in his life, in his bed, as both his friend and lover.

Duo raised his hand to cup Heero's cheek and with sincerity brimming in his lovely eyes he said, "I know it hasn't been all that long since we started seeing each other, but I've never felt this way about anyone."

"Not even Trowa?" He knew Duo had cared deeply for his former boyfriend, but now that he was mending fences with the man he wanted to know how he felt about him.

"Trowa who?" Though he tried hard to keep a straight face, the corners of Duo's mouth began to twitch just before a smile broke out.

Heero leaned down and covered that smile with his own, then rolled over again until Duo was draped over his torso. Their soft laughter filled the bedroom, and then without forethought Heero blurted out the three words he'd never said to anyone but his mothers, and that had been when he was a child.

The man in his arms and the room as well went still, and he didn't know who was more shocked by his admission of love, himself or Duo. His lover rose off his chest to gaze into his eyes. "Do you mean it, Heero? You aren't being flippant, or just in the moment, were you?"

Heero could hardly believe he'd said I love you out loud, but now having said it, he couldn't deny the truth. Cupping Duo's face in his hands he looked deeply into his eyes. "I do love you, and I'll have you know I've never said that to anyone I've ever gone out with, and that's because I've never felt like this before."

Duo's eyes widened and watered just a bit as his face softened into an expression of incredible tenderness. "I love you, too," he admitted softly.

The two men spent a long moment staring into each other's eyes, hardly able to believe that out of all the millions of people in L.A. they had managed to find each other.

"I'm not dreaming, am I?" Duo asked, then yelped as his bottom was soundly pinched. He instantly retaliated by wiggling his fingers into the flesh of Heero's sides.

"Just proving that you're not dreaming," Heero answered, then laughed as he struggled to escape the playful fingers.

The two lovers remained in Heero's apartment for the rest of the weekend, having no desire to spend even a moment apart. Duo placed a call to his aunt Sunday morning, spending a half hour telling her all about his trip to Japan and promising to be home for Thanksgiving after she made him feel guilty for not having visited. He then called his uncle, but begged off from the invite to dinner, telling the older man he was jet-lagged. If truth be told, he just wasn't ready to go through all the stress, anxiety and paranoia he felt whenever he stepped out of his comfort zone.

It wasn't until he left the safety of Heero's car on Monday morning that Duo stepped out of the lovely cocoon of his lover's apartment and back into the real world, where the fears he'd managed to put behind him when he'd gone to Tokyo returned with a vengeance. Regardless of being back in familiar territory, jumping at shadows and worrying about being watched or followed, life went on, a fact that became more evident when Charise presented him with an enormous amount of work, stemming from a burst of creative ideas after seeing her competition's designs in Tokyo. A constant stream of people went in and out of Charise's office, including her design team as well as other staff members who were anxious to speak to the woman after her week-long absence. Scheduling appointments, dealing with problems, and running errands for his boss kept him very busy, something Duo was grateful for because each and every task he tackled kept him from thinking about the serial murderer.

In contrast to his hectic days at work, his nights at home with Heero were as close to perfect as he could imagine. From the moment he walked through the front door, he felt safe and secure once again, and that feeling stayed with him as he and Heero prepared dinner together and chatted about as well as any interesting people they might have encountered, and upcoming events. Unless he brought it up, they didn't talk about the killer nor the attack, and his appreciation for Heero's sensitivity grew in leaps and bounds. They went to bed each night happy to shed their clothes and express with their bodies their love for each other. Following a little pillow talk, Duo always went to sleep feeling completely relaxed and immensely happy.

Trowa called Monday afternoon to confirm their racquetball game. Having canceled the week they first planned on getting together, Duo wasn't going to disappoint him again. As he hung up the phone, he was surprised to find that he was actually looking forward to seeing his former friend and that very little, if any, of the resentment and anger he'd experienced after Trowa had dumped him for Quatre remained. Could it be his relationship with Heero, the love they shared, was helping him get over the past? Whatever the reason, he was glad for the change because he honestly didn't want to live his life being angry with anyone, no matter how much they might have hurt him, intentionally or not. He was stuck by another thought, or maybe it was a revelation. Now able to look at everything from the perspective of being head over heels in love, he could better understand the pull Trowa and Quatre had felt towards each other. If they experienced even one half of what he felt for Heero, it was no wonder they made the difficult decision to tell him of their feelings for each other, and for Trowa to break up with him. For the first time since that painful night he felt as if he was finally on his way to forgiving them.

When his lunch hour on Tuesday came, Duo greeted his auburn-haired friend with a generous smile when they met at the gym. Trowa looked relieved and smiled in return. "You look ridiculously happy," he said as they signed into the club and began the short walk to the racquetball court assigned to them.

"For the most part, I am," Duo grinned.

"What's going on?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

Trowa stopped to stare at his friend and a knowing smile tugged at his lips. "You're in love."

"Head over heels," Duo replied, knowing in his heart it was true.

"With Heero?"

"Of course with Heero," Duo shot back with a roll of his eyes. "Who else?"

"Well, I haven't exactly been brought up to date with what's been happening in your life, so you can't blame me for asking. You could have met someone new."

"You know I don't jump from guy to guy, Trowa."

Trowa looked slightly embarrassed as he replied, "Sorry, you're right. I know that's not the way you operate. Sorry."

Duo had been in too good of a mood to let Trowa's slip offend him. "Nah, it's all right. But for your information, Heero's the one."

The taller man let out a quiet sigh of relief. "I'm glad, Duo. You really do deserve a break, and I'm glad you and Heero found each other, even if it was under unusual circumstances."

"What do you mean?" He wondered if Quatre had told him how he'd met Heero, on that memorable day at the ranch. He didn't recall having gone into details with Trowa, just that he'd met Heero and had sex for the first time.

"That you met him out of the blue on vacation and then unexpectedly ran into each other in your office, that's all."

With a relieved grin, Duo nodded. "Yeah, that was a pretty wild coincidence. So, let's flip to see who serves first."

They played vigorously on the court for forty minutes, and then retreated to the showers to ready themselves to return to work. They walked together to the street, chatting and feeling comfortable with each other.

"See you next week?" Duo asked with a grin.

Trowa nodded, then paused. After a moment of hesitation he asked, "Duo, are we good?"

What a loaded question, Duo thought. "You're my friend, Trowa. We're good."

The smile on the auburn-haired man's face showed just how happy that statement made him. "I'm glad. I'll call to remind you of our next game, probably the day before."

"Sounds good."

Duo turned away and made his way back to his office, pleased with how the afternoon was turning out.

His mood remained upbeat throughout the afternoon and remained so after Heero picked him up from work and throughout the evening. His uncle called just after dinner to invite them to his house for a barbecue on Saturday. After conferring with Heero, they accepted the invitation, though Heero said he might have to beg off if something came up at work. Hank sounded genuinely happy that they could make it. Neither man gave the invitation another more thought as they headed to bed a half hour earlier than usual, and not with the intention to catch up on their sleep.

on to chapter 21

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