Heero made his way through the darkened city streets using the lamp Trieze had gifted him with. The Emperor had been more than happy to put him back on active duty, however, all fronts were covered at the moment and Zechs had beaten him to the punch anyway. They would both be on call until something came up and then Zechs would be sent out first. Trieze had also wanly reminded Heero of his duty to win the Equus October for Via Sacra again. All military operations would just have to wait.
It looked like leaving town was out, so there was nowhere he could run off to. He'd have to go back home and just swallow his feelings. Walking through the streets alone was dangerous at night, but Heero was not hardly concerned. He was fairly well recognized and even if some robber was dumb enough to attack him, he'd make them sorry they did. The lights were sparse at his house. He knew he was quite late. Mona had probably cleaned up dinner and would scold him when he got in. He sighed. Maybe he'd just go right up to bed, he wasn't hungry and he really didn't feel like talking to anyone.
He quietly slipped through the front door and locked it behind him. It was quiet and dim inside, as it had looked from the outside. He was about to sneak upstairs when he caught sight of Duo in his seat at the dinner table. Duo's back was to him, and his arms were folded on the table with his head resting on them. It looked like he was waiting and hadn't heard Heero come in. Heero blew out the lamp and went to the table. As he approached, he could see all the food still out and untouched.
"Duo," he said softly.
The young man jerked in surprise and quickly got to his feet. "Heero!" he gasped with relief. "You're back! Where did you go so suddenly? Stella said you just took off!"
Heero felt his face getting hot. Stella must have told Duo what he had asked her. He hadn't thought of that. "I... had to see someone," he answered awkwardly. He had already decided he wasn't going to tell anyone he was back on active duty. His sisters always had fits, and he did not want to deal with anyone's disapproval.
"Did you eat? You must be starving! Sit down!" Duo clucked, ushering him to his seat.
"You sound like Mona," Heero informed him wearily as he quelled the urge to bolt and sat down.
"Oh," Duo laughed, "sorry." He bit his lip when he lifted the lid off the fish. "Well, I'm not enough like Mona - she would never have let your dinner get cold. She's so gonna fire me," Duo joked. He hadn't even thought about the dinner, he'd been too preoccupied with where Heero was and what he was doing.
"It's my fault for being so late," Heero said. The urge to run up to his room still spurred at him. He wasn't sure he really wanted to sit here with Duo, knowing what he did, and knowing that Duo knew he had asked. It wasn't that he thought worse of Duo, it was that he had been perfectly happy ignoring reality and entertaining his impossible little fantasies. He just wanted to go away somewhere and be alone, but there was Duo waiting up for him, and now he was bustling about in the kitchen reheating Heero's dinner. Maybe they could just not talk about it. That would be a relief.
He watched Duo light a fire and place the fish pot on the clay slab over it. Duo came back to the table and retrieved the dish of asparagus and leeks with an apologetic smile. He placed the dish next the pot and blew on the fire a little.
"This'll only take a minute!" he called to Heero. Duo was nervous, Heero could see that plain enough, and it wasn't just about a cold dinner. Heero didn't care much if he ate his fish cold. He regretted creating this whole awkward situation. He shouldn't have been so nosy. It hadn't even occurred to him at the time that Duo would find out he'd asked. He couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. He'd frightened Stella and probably upset her, and now Duo was nervous, and as flighty as he was. Maybe if it never came up, they could just get over it eventually.
Duo returned with the warmed food in a few minutes and served Heero before sitting down. Heero had just taken his first spoonful when he felt Duo staring at him. He lifted his head. Duo had his lips pursed and his face looked pinched.
"Are you angry with me?" he asked.
Heero reminded himself to chew and swallow before he choked to death. When he had done so successfully, he asked, "Angry with you?"
Duo's face colored slightly. "About Stella," he said, looking down at his still-empty plate.
So much for never speaking of it. Heero felt his own face grow hot. "No," he said unevenly, "you are allowed to do what you want when you're not working for me. I won't... restrict you." His face burned, and he hoped it wasn't at red as it felt.
"Well, I want you to know I'm sorry!" Duo blurted out.
"Sorry?" Heero blinked.
"Yeah, I - " Duo struggled with how to explain. He figured Heero had gotten the wrong idea about all this and he wished there were some way to let Heero know how he really felt. Without having to actually tell him, of course. "I - I... I'm just sorry," he finished, feeling foolish.
Heero shook his head. "You don't have to be sorry, Duo. It's none of my business. I shouldn't have asked into your private life. Please, let's just forget about it," he implored.
Duo felt emotion churning up. He couldn't forget about it. He wanted to shout at Heero. He wanted it to be Heero's business - he wanted Heero to BE his private life. This was so frustrating! He was beginning to think he couldn't hold it in forever, but he was still couldn't get the words out. Sara would be very disappointed in him.
"Eat something before it gets cold again, Duo," Heero interrupted his thoughts.
Duo filled his plate and they both ate silently. The quiet irked Heero, he wanted Duo to be the way he usually was. He noticed Duo staring at something on the table and followed his gaze to the small hand-held lamp he had set down there. He hadn't even looked at it when Trieze had given it to him. On it was a painted relief of two naked male wrestlers in a very suggestive position. Duo looked up at him and raised his eyebrows.
"Uh... collector's item," Heero stammered, turning red yet again.
Duo cleaned up after dinner and went to bed feeling much better now that Heero was back and he didn't seem mad. He seemed distant, though. Duo felt guilty all over again. He sighed as he got into bed. He had to tell Heero how he felt. It was just so damned difficult whenever they were together, though. He thought maybe it would be easier to tell Heero without words, and his brain quickly supplied several ways that might be accomplished. He rolled onto his back and gave in to it. As he pleasured himself, he let his fingers stray a bit lower to explore his entrance. He didn't do more than circle it and stroke it lightly, just getting used to the feel. He had never thought of this little place as erotic before, but it felt... nice; tickled a little. It did feel very intimate, and he thought he would let Heero touch him there. Sara had told him he had to stretch the opening to reduce pain, but for tonight, he withdrew his hand and brought it higher to continue.
Heero was more talkative the next morning, and Duo's fist fighting training continued. The following day, Duo was glad he'd been working so hard at it. He was running his afternoon errands and was dropping a few garments off at the fuller's in Subura. He noticed a lot of new graffiti, mostly slander and curses on Via Sacra for the Equus October that was coming up. Duo decided to get his business done as quickly as he could and get home. After three different fruit vending stalls, Duo was pretty sure he was being followed. He made his purchases and turned quickly to leave, only to smack right into someone and have garum sauce spilled down his front.
"You should watch where you're going," a snide voice said. I was one of the thugs he'd seen following him. Duo narrowed his eyes.
"Pardon me," he said coldly and moved left to go around the guy. The guy, however, decided to get in his way again.
"Hey, slave, I'm talking to you," the thug continued. Duo bristled immediately. There was probably no way to make him angry faster than that, besides insulting Heero. He gritted his teeth.
"What do you want?" Duo bit out.
"Just to give you a little warning," the thug said with a cruel smile. "You could say I'm being generous."
"Spit it out or fuck off," Duo hissed.
The guy snorted at him and then leaned close. "We're going to kill your master after the race," he said and then looked over Duo's shoulder, "isn't that right, Alex?"
"That's right," the other thug said. Duo spun around to face him. "We're going to kill General Yuy!"
"It'll be so great to be known as the guys who killed Heero Winner Yuy!" the first thug crowed.
"You morons couldn't kill a pig in a slaughter yard," Duo spat.
The darker haired thug grabbed the front if his tunic and jerked him forward. "What was that?" he asked, his breath stinking of fish and cabbage.
"I said, you two are too stupid to kill Heero Yuy," Duo repeated calmly before kicking the thug in the nuts. He meant to just run away, but the other thug snatched his braid before he could turn around. Duo angled his fist back and punched the jerk in the eye.
It was amazing how quickly the crowd moved out of the way when the fight broke out. Duo was confident he could handle the two idiots, but unfortunately, the idiots had idiot friends. Someone wrenched his arm behind him and allowed one thug to land a pretty good punch before Duo squirmed out of the hold and kicked the newcomer in the stomach. He felt fingers close around his neck.
"Hey, Alex, let's send the General a message, huh?" a now-familiar voice said. Duo ripped at the hands with his blunt fingernails.
"Yeah, let's mangle the slave," the other agreed.
Duo reached back over his head and yanked out a fistful of his attacker's hair. The surprise gave him just enough leeway to escape the choke and he sprung away. He dodged a punch and threw an elbow at thug number three, making him stumble off long enough to head-butt the next guy and knee him in the gut. The head butt was one Duo's personal favorite moves. Whichever one he hadn't just hit landed a punch on Duo's jaw that sent him reeling. It occurred to him then that three just might be too many. He blocked a fist and leapt out of the way of a well-aimed kick to the kidney. He wanted to turn tail and run, but one of them always got behind him.
"Three against one is hardly fair," a booming voice announced. The first thug to turn around got a punch across the jaw that put him out cold.
"Duo, you take care of blondie there, and I'll get rid of this street trash here."
"You got it, Solo!" Duo grinned wildly. With back-up like his friend Solo, he couldn't lose. He dodged another punch and swooped around his opponent's back to twist his arm painfully behind him. Duo forced him to his knees and then kicked him in the side. He fell and didn't get up. When Duo looked up, his companion had made short work of the last guy and was waiting for Duo to finish up.
"Come on," he said quickly, leading Duo away. Duo barely managed to gather up his belongings before Solo had him swept off down an alley.
"Am I lucky you showed up!" Duo said gratefully when the other man slowed his pace. Solo was second in command of one of the most powerful gangs in subura. He looked his rank, as well. He was tall and broad, with dark eyes and thick, light brown hair. They had met a few months ago when Duo helped Solo find his girlfriend's run away cat. It seemed ridiculous, but an unclaimed animal could quickly turn into dinner in many places in Subura. Solo had been frantic, and very grateful when Duo helped him retrieve the cat. He'd even put up with all the ‘pussy' puns Duo made. Duo made it a point to stop and say hi whenever he was in the neighborhood.
"Yes, you are," Solo said seriously, "but I won't always be around to baby-sit you, Duo."
"Hey!" Duo squawked indignantly.
"Look, tensions are high. You may want to avoid the area until things cool down a little," Solo explained.
"This is so stupid, it's just a race!" Duo complained.
"I guess you won't understand until you experience it," Solo said mildly.
"What is it with people?" Duo continued. "Am I wearing a freaking sign that says ‘I belong to Heero Yuy, please come harass me'?"
Solo looked amused. "Actually," he said, poking Duo in the chest, "you are."
"Oh, yeah," Duo grumbled. The collar.
"Ugh, you stink like fish," Solo said, contorting his face. He wiped his finger on Duo's shoulder.
Duo huffed in offense and tried not to smell himself. He insisted he was fine, but Solo escorted him to his own neighborhood anyway.
"Look, Duo," Solo said before departing, "you're my friend, but I can't make promises about what's going to happen on Equus October. Let's just hope we don't run into each other."
Duo frowned. "Ok," he said, a little confused. Solo clapped him on the shoulder and disappeared into the crowd. Duo clutched his hard-won parcel and headed for his house. This was all a bit disturbing to him. The guys in Subura had seriously threatened Heero in Duo's opinion. It hadn't sounded like they just wanted to win the contest or beat Heero. They really wanted to kill him! Even Solo, his friend, was acting weird. He decided to find Quatre soon and learn the plan. He knew the General could handle himself, but he wasn't about to let anything happen to Heero.
He ditched the produce in the kitchen and then went to find Heero in his office.
"Gods, Duo, what happened?" Heero gasped when Duo creaked the door open. He stood from his chair and hurried around the desk.
"I got into a fight in Subura," Duo groused. "Listen, Heero, they threat - "
"Are you ok?" Heero cut him off when he got a closer look at the bruises. "You're bleeding!"
"Never better," Duo said, urgently continuing. "Heero, they're plotting to - "
"You need to go have Sally check those," Heero said firmly. He sniffed and made a face. "Is that garum?"
Duo rolled his eyes. "Heero, I'm really ok, just listen to me," he pleaded.
"Just let me grab some money, we're going to Sally's," the other man continued as he dug through a drawer. "Damn, and you've got a performance tonight!"
"Heero! Listen to me!" Duo cried in frustration.
Heero closed the drawer and looked up in annoyance. "What ever it is, Duo, it can wait," he said.
"No, it can't," Duo asserted, "and I don't need a doctor."
"Yes, you do."
"I'm fine!" Duo argued. "Just let me - "
"I don't care if you think your fine, you're going to the doctor!" Heero said sternly.
"You just don't want people to think you did it," Duo snapped.
Heero's breath caught, and his mouth gaped before he locked it into a straight, angry line. He slammed the purse onto the desk, making Duo flinch, and stormed out the door.
Oh, shit, Duo thought. He wondered just what in the vast realms of HELL had made him say that. He'd take on three goons to protect Heero from even the hint of a threat, but he couldn't control his mouth when the guy was around? This was NOT the way to let Heero know he loved him. Damn it, he'd just really fucked up. That comment couldn't have been more undeserved. Duo slapped his palm over his face. Now Heero would probably hide in his room and refuse to see anyone.
Duo decided to go to Sally's right away. He berated himself the whole way there and was in a very glum mood when the doctor opened her door to him.
"Duo!" she exclaimed fondly until she saw the ugly bruises on his face. "Dear gods, what happened to you?" She quickly ushered him inside without waiting for and answer. "Is that fish sauce I smell?"
"Yeah, some muscle-heads in Subura thought it would be fun to hassle me and threaten Heero about the horse race coming up," Duo explained, falling heavily into a chair.
Sally snorted in a distinctly unfeminine way. "I bet they don't think it's so fun anymore," she asserted as she gathered supplies to clean Duo up. The young man didn't reply, and she wasn't sure how to take that. "Where is Heero?" she asked. "Is he on the warpath already, or does he not know yet?"
"Oh he knows," Duo sighed, "but I managed to really piss him off, so I uh, came by myself. I don't have money, either."
"That's all right," she said, gently wiping a wet cloth over his bleeding lip. "I'm sure he's just mad about the fight," she tried to consol Duo.
"No, he's mad at me," Duo said with certainty, "I sorta snapped at him and he stormed off."
"Oh dear," she sighed, "Wu Fei and Zechs used to joke about that, how Heero marched around with a storm cloud over his head."
Duo laughed in spite of himself.
"He's not been so bad lately," Sally continued and rubbed honey on the wounds, "but I know how he can be."
"So, is there a big strategy for the race this week?" Duo asked, changing the subject.
"Of course," Sally replied wearily, "go ask Quatre, I'm sure he's got it all figured out."
"I will!" Duo vowed. "I want Heero to kick some ass!"
"He will," Sally assured him.
"Dr. Sally? I've got kind of an odd request," Duo said, biting his lip.
"Go ahead," she prompted.
"Do you promise not to laugh?"
When Duo got back to the house, the first thing he did was go up to Heero's room and knock on the door.
"It's me!" he called. "I just got back from the doctor."
There was no answer. Duo sighed. So much for the cheerful routine. He tried the handle. Locked.
"Heero, I'm sorry," he apologized through the door, "I shouldn't have said that. I feel really bad."
Still no answer. Duo tried not to panic, even though the image of Heero on the floor in the corner of his room came unwelcomed to his mind. He took a slender wire out of a pocket and slid into the keyhole. It only took a moment to spring the mechanism. He opened the door and found Heero in an armchair, working at a small round table with ink and papyrus. He looked up in annoyance.
"How did you get in?" he demanded.
"Faulty lock," Duo shrugged as he hid the pick back in his tunic. He didn't care that Heero sounded pissed off, at least he wasn't hiding off in a corner.
Heero went back to his work and didn't look up as Duo apologized again.
"I'm really sorry about that comment, Heero. Really, I don't know what came over me."
"I'm busy," Heero grunted.
"I went to the doctor," Duo offered. Heero did not seem interested. "She gave me some of her make-up. Look, no bruises!" Duo came toward the chair and Heero's eyes slid up to his face. Sally had mixed the make-up well, and the blue and purple marks could no longer be seen.
"Good," he grunted, looking back to the paper.
"Heero," Duo appealed, grasping the man's forearm where it rest on the desk. Surprised, Heero tensed at the touch, and Duo felt embarrassed for taking liberties. Heero looked up at him, his eyes swimming with uncertainty and insecurity, a look he surely did not mean to reveal. Duo recognized it; he saw the guarded vulnerability there when those eyes did not harden. It was not the look of someone who didn't like to be touched, just one who wasn't used to it.
Kiss him! every nerve in Duo's body screamed, lean down and kiss the hell out of him!! Duo imagined placing both his hands on the table and leaning down to take Heero's lips.
"Heero," he said instead, throat suddenly dry as dust, "I mean it. I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said that to you, I know you weren't thinking that, and I don't want anyone to think it was you either. I was just upset. Please, forgive me?" He clutched Heero's arm and bunched the sleeve in his fist.
Heero nodded and blinked, and the look was gone. Duo took that as his cue to leave before he did something else stupid - like actually kiss Heero. He went to the barn to take care of some chores. He had decided he could warn Heero about the threats later, when they'd both forgotten about this little incident. He was as confused as ever, though. Sometimes, he could swear he felt that Heero wanted him too, but the other man was so secretive. His emotions were really an enigma. Duo's urges were getting harder and harder to suppress, though. One of these days, he was just going to do it, consequences be damned.
-Trieze's lamp. Tee hee! The Romans loved erotic art. The pose I'm thinking of is actually from a vase, but they did carve little erotic scenes into their oil lamps. And some people did collect such things.
-Fuller's. Like dropping your clothes off at the cleaners. Except they used human urine. How that cleans cloth I DON'T KNOW, but I've heard it said they had collection buckets outside of bars. lol They probably distilled it down to urea, which can be a cleanser (the equine vet I worked with used urea on wounds).
-Graffiti. Not a modern concept at all. Where there's paint and punks, there's graffiti.
-Garum sauce. A fish sauce the Romans loved. Made of fermented fish meat. x_x
-Honey is known for healing powers when applied to wounds (blocks infection, I think), although I'm not 100% sure romans used it. (Duo would probably rathe eat it!)
Heero swore! Did everyone see it? He said ‘damn.' ^.^ Language, Yuy!