Duo slept the whole transatlantic flight, or at least pretended to. Heero hoped he really was sleeping, it would be a good thing for him. London may be a little overwhelming in his state.
Duo awoke for landing and silently gathered his things. They collected Duo's baggage and got through customs with little difficulty. The ancient text was of interest to the officers for some reason, but Heero showed his school ID and a quick call to the university solved that problem.
Heero led Duo to the underground, and they took the tube for twenty minutes, then walked ten to Heero's flat. It was cramped and utilitarian, but it did have its own kitchen and bathroom, and there was a small bedroom. It was exactly what Heero needed and he could walk to class.
"Why don't you take the bedroom, Duo?" Heero offered, his keys jingling as he hung them on a hook by the door.
"It's your place, I'll be fine on the couch," Duo insisted and dropped his things there.
"Uh, are you hungry or anything?" Heero asked. He mentally inventoried the food he had on hand, and remembered that Duo had not eaten anything on the plane.
"I'm fine," Duo told him, "but I think I'm going to crash, if that's ok. You don't have to worry about being quiet or anything."
"In that case, you really should take the bedroom. You can just close the door, and I can do what I need to out here," Heero said. He wondered why the hell they were having this stupid discussion. He was still standing by the door, and Duo by the couch. It was just so awkward, not knowing how to talk or relate to each other. The strain was definitely showing on Duo.
"Right," Duo conceded, too exhausted to protest further. He took his bags to the bedroom and shut the door before Heero could offer to clean up or change the sheets.
Heero shrugged and let him go. He looked around the place for something to do. He was home earlier than he had planned, so he called his advisor at school to tell him he was back.
"Did you get the translation?" Dr. Odin Lowe asked excitedly.
there were a few complications," Heero admitted, "but I got the translator."
Duo Maxwell came with me to find work," Heero tried to explain.
Odin was quiet for a moment, trying to take this in. Heero had been dreading the trip, and he had made his advisee tell him why. All Heero had said was that they had known each other as youngsters and had a bad time of it. So, this was rather interesting, then. "Well, I can't promise him anything, but I'd be glad to help him find something," Dr. Lowe said agreeably, "what about the translation?"
Heero frowned and held the phone between his ear and shoulder as he found a scrap of paper for a grocery list. "He's not feeling very well, Odin," Heero said hesitantly, "Maybe in a few days."
There was a pause on the other end. Heero knew Odin was debating whether to ask more questions or give up.
Odin sighed, "Well, I'd like to meet him as soon as he's up to it. I'll see you Monday."
Heero said his good-byes and hung up; then he took his mobile out to the hallway and called his friend Relena.
Relena was one of the many girls who had tried to make a boyfriend out of Heero. The trend had started in college, mostly because, to his surprise and confusion, girls found him attractive. A girl would become interested in him and ask him out. They would get to know each other and date, but no matter how serious it became or how long it went on, it invariably ended the same way. She would get fed up with him and leave him with accusations of working too hard and loving only archaeology. He knew he was frustrating in relationships, he was rather aloof and rarely made first moves. He'd been called "emotionally unavailable" and "distant" more than a few times. Despite these repeated disasters, he'd not yet found a reason to change his behavior.
Relena had been a little different. They had met the first week of graduate school here in London, and were dating soon after. She had held out the longest: 6 months before she decided she could do better. And, indeed she could. She was British and a history doctoral student. Although she had failed to make a decent boyfriend out of Heero, she was a kind person and they had enough in common to try and stay friends. The break-up was still a little fresh but they were managing to figure out the whole "still friends" thing.
She was one of the only people in the world who knew he was bisexual. He'd never told anyone before her, it wasn't something he liked talking about. He hadn't even meant to tell her, he'd been drinking. She was accepting of this and, in his more paranoid moods, Heero secretly suspected she hoped he was actually gay so she could have a completely external reason for the failure of their relationship. It was true that he was attracted to men, but he was not really what one would call actively bisexual. He didn't seek out or date men; all he'd had was a couple one-time things. That seemed slightly out of character for him, and it made him wonder if Father Maxwell's words had affected him more than he liked to admit.
"Heero!" Relena answered the phone, "What a surprise! How are things over there! I hope this call isn't costing you too much!"
"I'm back in London, Relena," he said.
"Oh dear, did it not go well?"
let me put it this way. Remember when I told you about my first crush?"
"Oh, yes," she recalled, "the boy in Askelon who became a priest, right?" She tried not to roll her eyes. It figured he was harboring some lingering, unresolved romantic problem, the moody ones always did. She wished she'd known that before trying to date him.
"Yeah, well, he's in my bed right now."
"Heero!" she exclaimed. "He's a priest!"
"No, no, it's not like that!" he cut in. "Duo Maxwell sort of decided to leave the church this morning."
"Oh, Heero," she sighed, "it was him, I should have known. That's why you were dreading this trip so much. But I do hope you didn't have anything to do with his decision."
He quickly explained the mix up in Ashkelon, and how Duo had just found out last night. He had always felt close to Relena, and he didn't feel terribly awkward telling her these things. She was a very sensitive and discreet person.
"So, I take it he's not feeling too well," she guessed.
"Yeah," Heero answered, running his hand through his hair, "um, what do I do?"
She could have laughed. "Space and time, Heero," she counseled, "give him plenty of space and time. I gather this came as quite a shock to him, he'll probably need time to think it through."
"Ok, so what do I do?" he asked again.
She did laugh this time. She couldn't tell if he was being ridiculously American, or just stupidly male with his insistence on action. "Heero, there is not much you can do. You can't fix this for him, and you can't solve this problem with your head. I think you've done fine so far. Just be a good friend, be there for him, and for God's sake do not put the moves on him!"
"Relena!" he groaned, "I wouldn't do that!" He couldn't believe Relena Darlian had just said 'put the moves on.'
"Good," she said firmly.
"I mean, I'm not even sure how I feel about him anymore - or any of this!" Heero admitted.
"Sounds like you need time to think too, my dear," she said, "I'll take you out to lunch tomorrow."
"I can't leave him here!" Heero protested.
"Well, your hovering about won't help either of you."
He sighed. "You're right. And you're buying lunch."
They said goodbye and Heero returned to his apartment to finish the grocery list. After shopping, he made a simple dinner. He quietly opened the bedroom door and found Duo asleep. He studied him for a moment and then decided to retrieve some clothes now so he wouldn't wake Duo later. He snuck in and Duo didn't stir the whole time he was in the room. The rest of the evening he spent studying or watching television, and trying not to think about Duo. When he got tired, he found some extra blankets and sheets and got as comfortable as he could on the couch.
He woke the next morning in the living room instead of his bedroom and instantly remembered why. After some breakfast, he peeked in on Duo again and found he was still asleep. He didn't have the heart to wake him, so he just let him be. When he went out with Relena later, he left a note on the counter for Duo, saying he could help himself to anything he needed. Relena kept his mind occupied for a little while at least, and then he went in to work at the school for a few hours. Duo was still not up when he returned and he began to wonder if this was healthy, but he just left Duo alone.
When dinnertime came around and Duo still hadn't gotten up, Heero went in to wake him.
"Duo," he whispered. No response. "Duo," he said a little louder. The man's eyes cracked open.
"Uh, is there anything you need?" Heero asked stupidly. Duo shook his head against the pillow.
"Ok, well, I'm going to class tomorrow, so I'll be gone a good part of the day. I'll leave you an extra key on the counter if you want to go anywhere." Heero felt like he was babbling again. "Feel free to use whatever you need around the place."
Duo nodded and closed his eyes again. Heero was concerned and he hoped that his guest was just really tired. He closed the door again and busied himself so he'd stop thinking about it until he retired for another night on the couch.
For the second morning Duo did not appear for breakfast, so Heero left him another note before he left. First, Heero reported to his advisor and professors, then spent the rest of the day in the basement of King's College, organizing the old excavation reports from Lepcis Magna, a Roman city in Libya on the southern rim of the Mediterranean. That had been King's bait to hook archaeology's rising star. Heero received a stipend and was practically going to run the excavation. King's had stopped their excavations five years ago, and were reopening them just for Heero. But first, he had to organize all the old data reports and artifact boxes. He had spent most of the year pouring over every file and every detail. He'd never realized how difficult this part of it was. He'd worked hard, though, and the excavation would start as planned that summer.
During his undergraduate work, Heero had found people he deemed on the same level as himself, and he had learned to appreciate having colleagues. He had also turned out to be a decent instructor and his uncle had been very proud of him. He didn't mind that part of his job description this summer was teaching undergrads, but he didn't want to deal with the applicants. Luckily, Dr. Lowe was in charge of screening and selecting student applicants. He had enough to do here in the basement. This was where he'd found the papyrus he'd brought to Duo. He couldn't find record or translation of it anywhere. Oh well, he'd just have to wait a little longer to get the translation.
He was dismayed when he returned home that night and the bedroom door was still shut. The place hadn't been touched. There were no dirty dishes or anything to suggest Duo had been up. He worried Duo was going to starve to death in there. In the bathroom, some towels were rumpled, so at least he knew Duo had been in there. He'd never had siblings or even cousins, and he just didn't know how to take care of someone. He considered calling Relena and asking her what to do, but he remembered her last advice. Maybe Duo just needed a little more time.
He made himself dinner and then a sandwich for Duo. He brought that and a big glass of water into the bedroom and set them on the dresser.
"Duo," he said as gently as he could, "I brought you some food, if you get hungry." A shift under the blankets was probably meant to signify a response, but Heero was not satisfied. He picked up the plate and the glass and set them on the table by the bed. He left then, closing the door silently. Damn, this was getting weird.
He was heartened the next morning to discover that the plate was empty and the glass drained. He took the dishes out and closed the door behind him before leaving for a lecture. He hated Tuesdays. Because of the morning lecture, he always had to stay in the basement later into the evening if he wanted to get enough done.
Heero's periodic visits caused Duo to remember where he was for a short time, but he always seemed to forget again when the voice left. If he had been more lucid, he might have compared the feeling to drowning. The point where one is too exhausted to keep struggling and lets go. The brain still functions, and as he watches themselves sink, he is at least partially aware of the surface growing farther and farther away.
Something was wrong inside. Things didn't feel right. He was empty. He had no bones to hold him up and no muscles to make him move. It was the same inside his head, there was nothing holding his mind to consciousness. There was nothing to hold onto.
And then, there was a sandwich. Needing sustenance, his body responded to the food and water of its own volition. He ate and felt better, stronger. He did register Heero's presence when he came to retrieve the plate. He noted it with some confusion. Was he having a Heero dream again? He loved the Heero dreams as much as he hated the Heero dreams. They weren't even always sexual, but he wished they would go away. It almost would have been easier if Heero were mean in the dreams, but he never was. Sometimes, he was scowling over the top of a book, but most of the time he was sweet and shy.
When was the last time he had seen Heero, anyway? Wasn't that years ago, along with the dim memory of sand and heat? No, he recalled Heero in a very small, very thin towel. Not skinny kid Heero, but full grown adult Heero. And then he was wide awake. He remembered it all, he understood it all. Ashkelon, the plane ride home, going to seminary, Father's death, Heero's visit, finding the box of letters, and it all came back to Heero holding that white towel at his hips.
Duo opened his eyes and took in the unfamiliar room for the first time. Heero's bedroom. He got up from the bed and opened the shade to an unfamiliar city. London. He stood there looking out over the street, aware of himself for the first time in days. No, longer than that. He was fully aware now. He felt uncomfortable in clothes he'd slept in for three days, and stringy hair that needed a good washing, but he didn't mind because he was finally feeling something, he wasn't just lying in bed like some kind of slow-growing moss.
He felt a strange calm and an odd feeling of anticipation, like he was holding his breath. His future was a big question mark now, and stretched before him intimidatingly blank. He could go anywhere, do anything. Only he could decide. He didn't know where to start, so he decided to just focus on today. What could he do today? He was in London, he could see the things he'd only seen in books and on postcards. He could find food he'd never tried. He could talk to people he'd never otherwise meet.
He quickly took stock of his situation. In his pockets, he'd stuffed his passport, wallet with cash and photo ID, and the social security card he'd been awarded with when he'd been brought to the orphanage. He'd never had a birth certificate, so it looked like he had all his paperwork. As for money, he didn't normally touch much of his wages, so his savings could last him a little while. He barely remembered packing, so he sat down on the floor and unzipped the two duffle bags he'd brought. They were full of his most precious books wrapped in various necessary articles of clothing, clothes being secondary to books, as usual. He unwrapped the books, set them in stacks, and folded the clothes.
In addition to a plastic bag containing a comb, a toothbrush, and half a tube of toothpaste, he had brought the entire contents of the box he'd found in Father's closet, and a few binders of personal files, notes, and correspondence. He did not own a computer or any electronics besides the mobile phone he'd left in his room at the church along with his keys. He did not plan on going back. He did not want to go back. Maybe in a little while, he'd want to go back just to get more books and properly say good-bye to people, but right now, the Atlantic ocean felt like just enough separation. He had brought one keepsake though: Father Maxwell's reading glasses in their hard leather case, the ones Father had always worn since Duo was a little boy learning the Greek alphabet while the other kids played outside.
Duo carefully put them back in the bag, snatched up the toothbrush and toothpaste, and marched to the bathroom. He took off his shirt and caught the glitter of a thin gold chain in the mirror. He turned to the mirror and his fingers gravitated to the cross around his neck. A gift from Father. He had not been without it for four years. What did it mean to him now? He took it off and set it on the counter. Later, he would put it in the case with the glasses.
He shucked off his pants and his passport fell out of his pocket. He picked it up and opened it. It was lucky for him that they didn't expire for ten years, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to leave. This was the same passport he'd gotten at 14 for his trip to Israel. He stared at the picture inside, and chuckled a little at how small and gawky he'd been. His hair was scruffy as hell, why had been allowed to walk around like that? Though, he was still on the scruffy side and still managed to get away with it. His smile in the picture was enormous and made his cheeks stick out. At least he'd had good teeth.
He looked up to study himself in the mirror. It wasn't as if he was old, his face had no lines or scars, but he didn't think like he looked anything like the boy in the picture. The eyes and hair were the same color and the lips were the same full shape. He'd grown into those cheeks and his jaw and brow had matured to create a more adult look, but that wasn't why he didn't look like the photo. He looked at the picture again and then back at the mirror. He widened his eyes, like he was caught by surprise. That's what people used to tell him, that he had large eyes as if he was surprised all the time. Father used to say it was because he was taking everything in, absorbing it all. Eyes kept wide, Duo smiled as big as he could into the mirror. Well shoot, now he just looked scary. He laughed at himself for being so stupid, but when he did, he caught a glimpse of that carefree kid in the mirror.
Still shaking his head, he reached for his toothbrush. He scrubbed his mouth and then took a shower with Heero's soap and shampoo. As he wrapped a green towel around his own waist, he thought again of Heero in the towel, and a little, itty bitty voice somewhere deep inside spoke up and told him that Heero had looked very good in that towel. There was an automatic, long-practiced urge to muffle the voice, but he resisted it. If that was part of him, then he'd accept it. Besides, it wasn't as if he could disagree with that voice. God bless the towel, he thought as he combed out his hair.
Heero was definitely all grown up. God, what a surprise it had been to see him. Duo could honestly say that was one thing he had never expected in his life. The thought had not even crossed his mind. Heero very much seemed like an adult now. Twenty-three was still young, but he had a calm and a confidence about him. He had a degree now and was working on an advanced degree. Over the years, Duo had come across numerous papers he'd published in archaeology journals and articles written in magazine featuring projects he was associated with. He was smart, successful, sure of himself. Duo didn't feel like an adult. He stopped combing and picked up the passport still sitting on the toilet tank. He wasn't that kid anymore, so what was he?
He looked in the mirror again. He had also been responsible and respected, and he was highly intelligent and learned, but he didn't see a man looking back at him in the mirror. He didn't know what he saw, he didn't know that person. When he reached down inside, there was nothing. He'd spent almost the last half of his life trying to be somebody else, so he wasn't sure who he really was. Well, it was time to find out. He couldn't go back, he could only go forward. He knew he was still himself, somewhere under there, he just had to find it. He was going to let himself feel every feeling that came to him, speak whatever thoughts came to his mind. That was how he had lived before, wasn't it?
Duo gathered his things and went back to the bedroom to get dressed. He couldn't believe he'd kept Heero out of his own room for three days! What a terrible guest he was being. He felt very indebted to Heero for letting him come here out of the blue like that. He had gotten himself into a little bit of an awkward situation, though. He had tagged along to a foreign country with somebody he barely even knew, somebody who probably felt like he had to say yes since he had a sobbing nervous wreck on his hands. Neither of them were the same as they had been before, would they even like each other? Duo really hoped they could be friends. He couldn't help wondering if they could be more than friends again, but it seemed silly. Heero had grown, put it behind him. He may not even look at guys anymore. Besides, he didn't want to take advantage of Heero, who had already been so kind. He was not going to use Heero to help him figure himself out, this was something he had to do on his own.