Heero walked the long distance home, giving himself much needed time to think. Knowing his reaction to Duo's haircut was inappropriate, if not selfish, Heero was nonetheless still reeling from it. For as much as he knew he would never again sit behind Duo, lost in the pleasure he took from running the brush of his fingers through his hair, he couldn't help but feel a seemingly different kind of loss. Unable to identify the growing emotion, Heero turned his thoughts to more pressing issues.
Despite the fact that things the past few weeks were slowly returning to normal, Heero realized today that it was not going to be possible for him to remain at the house, living with and attending school alongside his fellow pilots. He needed to remove himself from the source of his misery and move on with his life. Those thoughts now crowding out all else, Heero increased his pace and hurried back to the estate.
Once inside the small front foyer, Heero paused at hearing the laughter of his four friends in the den to his left. Not wanting to, but knowing he had to, Heero made his entrance into the room. Quatre and Trowa were seated on the floor in front of the television, Playstation controllers in hand. Duo and Wufei sat on the couch, only the tops of their heads visible as they their bodies sunk comfortably into the leather sofa, watching the two lovers engrossed in their high speed car chase, their backs were to Heero.
Heero walked into the room quietly and sat down on the chair nearest the television, watching the two with feigned enthusiasm.
"Hey, Heero" Duo questioned, running the fingers of his right hand through his incredibly short hair, "What do you think ?"
Heero took a moment to let his gaze take in Duo's lack of hair and the smile on his face. Then smiling at the still strikingly beautiful boy before him, he smiled "Looks great, Duo.....it really does." and much to his surprise, he genuinely meant it.
Staying for quite sometime, almost enjoying himself, Heero took his leave of the others and grabbing his packages made his way up to his room. Closing the door behind him, Heero sat at his laptop and began typing his message to Doctor J.
Heero was notably missing at breakfast the first day of school. The others sat having breakfast, chattering to each other, yet each quietly wondering where he was. Several minutes later, Heero appeared taking the seat across from Duo.
"Alarm didn't go off." Heero offered to the four sets of prying eyes.
Quickly finishing their breakfast the five neatly dressed boys grabbed their backpacks and made their way into the waiting limo.
School was school and Heero welcomed the distraction. The first half of the day went well, all of his classes seemed to be of sufficient interest, although the calculus teacher seemed a bit absent-minded. Lunchtime found the five pilots together again on the lunch line. Each filling their trays, the five headed for their usual table and sat. Comparing notes about their classes, the five chatted through the entire hour with no awkwardness.
Meeting once again after dismissal at the large track field beside the school, the boys awaited their limo ride home. Duo was the last to arrive, as the limo pulled into view, his backpack nearly dragging on the cement behind him, as he ran toward the others.
"Sorry, I'm late, got to talking" he continued, still breathless from the run "and well......you know me." he winked.
The others smiled at him.
Duo continued "Anyway, I'm going to head over to the library for a while with a couple of the guys. I'll catch up with you later at home." Duo called, running back toward the school. His hand waving goodbye over his shoulder.
"That's our Duo !" Quatre smiled to the others, glancing apologetically toward Heero, regretful after the words had thoughtlessly fallen from his mouth.
'It's not my Duo' Heero painfully reminded himself, as he turned his gaze toward the sidewalk.
"I'm sorry, Heero......I didn't mean to....." Quatre started.
Heero quickly added "It's okay, Quatre, it's only logical for Duo to behave normally, the breakup being his idea."
Heero walked toward Quatre putting his hand on his shoulder "I'm the one who needs to get over it, doesn't look like I'm being very successful though." he stated flatly, his hand falling from Quatre's shoulder.
"It's only been 2 weeks, Heero, give yourself some time." Trowa added.
"Yeah" said Heero ".....time" smiling at Trowa.
Duo's absence from the house was a welcome relief to Heero. It wasn't exactly an 'out of sight out of mind' scenario, but without Duo's physical presence, which always managed to distract all of Heero's five senses, Heero was more inclined to concentrate on his immediate surroundings.
Quatre and Trowa were in the yard, tossing a frisbee back and forth, Wufei was seated in the grass nearby acting as both referee and spectator.
Tired from his first day at school and anxious to get out of the uncomfortable uniform, Heero left his place before the large window where he stood watching the three and headed up to his room.
Dropping his backpack at the entrance to the small room, Heero removed his uniform, carefully draping each item of clothing on the back of the large chair. Grabbing at the shorts, which lay on the desk nearby, Heero slipped himself into the comfort of his spandex and threw his exhausted body down on the bed.
Lying awake for only moments, Heero curled up and promptly fell into a light sleep.
Heero's dreams now, as in the past, for the most part, centered around Duo. His lover's absence of the past few weeks had only served to intensify his connection to Duo in his unconscious. Heero's Duo-centric fantasies grew more vivid each time he slept. Although the stark un-dreamlike feel of his current fantasies sometimes frightened him, Heero snapped from them quickly, reality hitting hard.
And so it was this time, the beep of Heero's computer waking him from his lover's side.
Heero rushed over to the computer and clicking on the 'retrieve messages' button that blinked from the top of the screen, Heero read the message, his expression saddening gradually, as his eyes slowly made their way through the lengthy message.
Opening a blank message window, Heero typed his brief reply, hesitating for a only moment before hitting the send button.
The following week was uneventful, everyone settling comfortably into the new routine, the pilots unable to spend much time with each other, as classes and homework occupied most of their waking hours.
With the weekend upon them, the five sat around the dinner table on Friday night, making plans for the upcoming weekend. Heero sat unusually quiet, watching the four attempting to agree on anything. He smiled a bit noting that while everything had appeared to change, very little in fact had. The five had been bound together forever. Heero could see nothing beyond the friendship and laughter they had in that instant and was glad that he was able to be a part of it.
Feigning a small yawn and excusing himself from the table, Heero said his goodnights and headed for his room. Glancing over his shoulder once more as he reached the other side of the room, Heero took one more look at his four friends, taking the time to let the moment register fully in his memory. Still unnoticed by the talking boys, Heero let his eyes take in Duo's beauty one more time, the sight of his absent braid making Heero wince, as he slowly made his way from the room.
Sitting now in front of the empty message window, Heero brought his hands to the keyboard and watching as his fingers fell lightly down onto the home keys, began typing
It wasn't until around noon, that the four boys had gathered in the kitchen, none of them rising early on this, their first day of freedom since school had started. There was still an hour till they had to leave for a concert in the city and they sat down to enjoy a leisurely brunch.
"Anybody seen Heero this morning ?" Wufei asked.
Quatre and Trowa nodded a bit absent-mindedly.
"He's prolly still sleeping." Duo added "Want me to go wake him ?"
"Yeah, Duo...would you mind ? Wouldn't want him to miss the concert." Wufei told him.
Knocking lightly on Heero's door, Duo waited for his response.
"Heero !" Duo called, his voice carrying its usual cheerful tone.
Knocking more firmly this time, Duo called again "Heero, time to get up and eat ! Don't wanna be late for the concert !"
Duo turned the doorknob a bit cautiously, and poking his head in slowly, finally entering the room.
Duo's wide violet eyes searched the small room for only seconds, before he sat down on the edge of the bed.
Heero was gone.
It was Wufei who checked his messages first and slowly reading through the last entry, addressed to the four remaining pilots, he printed the lengthy letter and proceeded downstairs, the paper held tightly in his hand.
Making his way into the den, where the three pilots sat, Wufei handed the letter first to Trowa and Quatre, who read it silently together, glancing up toward Duo several times. Duo's body language and facial expression taking the others quite by surprise.
The past several weeks had shown them an impassive Duo, at least he was impassive toward Heero, his ever-present cheerful demeanor, put the pilots at ease. But since returning from Heero's empty room almost an hour ago, Duo was behaving in a manner none of them were at all accustomed to, altogether very un-Duo. Aside from the obvious concern on his face, Duo was extremely agitated and couldn't quite figure out what to do with himself. He paced the den at first, his eyes never registering the other's stares. Then several times making his way over to the large window, ran his spread fingers through his hair in thought, the look on his face letting them know he had reached no peace.
"Do you want to read it, Duo ?" Quatre asked, his hand still slightly trembling as he offered the paper in Duo's direction.
Duo glanced over to Trowa, who nodded and taking the letter, Duo began reading.
"I know this is the cowardly way out, and goes against what you have witnessed as my oft callous behavior, but I was unable to bring myself to come face to face with all of you. I will probably best be able to express my emotions more adequately in this oddly familiar format.
The past several weeks have been unbearable for me and while I hope my attempts at making you all feel as comfortable as I was able to, were successful, I cannot continue with the charade any longer.
My years of vigorous training, having gone unused in the recent past, were of great assistance to me these past few weeks and I have come to realize that I was foolish to ever let my guard down and allow any of you to affect me the way that you have. Especially you, Duo."
Duo's eyes glanced up to meet Trowa's then dropped sullenly to focus again on the paper in his trembling hands. He continued reading.
"It was my weakness and perhaps the glimpse at the normalcy you four had gained, that allowed me to drop the stoic facade. I thought that I was perhaps capable, or more importantly worthy of the joys the remotely normal life had afforded you. That fleeting glimpse has cost me more dearly than I can ever begin to tell you. As I sit here on the eve of my departure, looking back, I can only now bring myself to admit that my greatest regret was my failure to self-destruct upon entry into earth's atmosphere two years ago.
I will be spending the next several months here on L1 with Doctor J. He has arranged it so that I will be given credits for the work we will perform here, towards my eventual graduation. While I cannot say with any certainty that I will never return to Earth, I am relatively certain that if and when I do, I shall have successfully re-programmed myself to never again allow the weakness, that up until three weeks ago, was the very essence of my blissful existence.
Please promise me that you will take care of my Duo. Despite the mask he wears so eloquently, inside lies a very vulnerable and frightened child. I am, most unfortunately, unable to tell you how to keep this magnificent being happy, as I have obviously failed to do so."
Duo sat motionless for several minutes, the others not daring to disturb him, unable to gage his mood.
Duo looked up into the eyes of the other three pilots, his face turning slowly to glance at each one, his face still void of any identifiable emotion. He left the room and quietly made his way upstairs, the crumbled letter still held tightly in his fist.
Heero had landed on L1 several minutes before noon and realized that by this time his feelings would be known to those he had left behind. He didn't try to imagine how they would feel reading his raw emotions, but felt relief that they would now be able to put this entire scene behind them and get on with their lives. Which is precisely what Heero wished to do more than anything else.
Doctor J welcomed Heero with open arms, the boy coming closer than anyone he had ever known to being his own son.
"Heero !" the bespeckled man called, his smile warm and open.
Heero walked slowly to greet the man who, without questioning him, offered Heero sanctuary from his dilemma.
"Doctor J" Heero gently saying his name, as he extended his hand to the small man in friendship "It's been a long time. How have you been ?"
'I am glad you have returned, Heero, but I am truly sorry that it is for the wrong reasons." Doctor J stated flatly.
Heero only stared at the man's gentle face and walked behind him into the laboratory.
Wufei spent the remainder of the afternoon in his room. He listened to classical music, the small headphone buds buried tightly into his ears, as he sat on his bed, legs folded, and a large sketchpad on his lap. His right hand drawing furiously, the pencil dancing in time with the thundering rhythm of the Rachmaninoff crescendo that blared inside his head.
Quatre and Trowa had decided on a long walk, their lunch neatly tucked into a small backpack, which Trowa slung over his left shoulder. Trowa took Quatre's right hand in his and the two made their way across the grassy yard, eventually disappearing over the large hill some distance away.
And Duo ?
Well, Duo was still trying to absorb things.
Heero's letter had drawn mixed emotions from the normally extroverted and clear thinking pilot. The first emotion he was able to identify as he sat in the padded chair was anger. He was clearly angry at Heero's degradation of their relationship. Especially that he spoke about it with such venom, knowing the others would be reading it too. Giving the matter the required additional amount of thought, Duo found that he was also angry with Heero for being angry with himself, for thinking himself unworthy of the happiness the two of them had shared.
Duo's attention then focused on Heero's repeated assertion of his weakness. He never imagined that Heero saw himself as weak. The word was just one that didn't come to one's mind where Heero was concerned. Duo knew that the others felt the same way and silently scolded Heero for his poor self-perception.
Next came more anger.....no, it was more rage than anger that Duo could feel building up inside as Heero words came back to nearly haunt him. 'my greatest regret was my failure to self-destruct upon entry into earth's atmosphere two years ago.' Duo shifted on the bed, uneasy at the thought of Heero never being part of his life...... that Heero could despise the thought so much that Duo was ever a part of his.....that death would surely have been better than what they had together. He felt himself on the verge of tears, unable to believe that Heero truly ever felt that way.
And then there was the guilt....layer upon layer of heavy unmitigated guilt.
Duo nearly collapsed under the weight of it, his body subconsciously sinking further into the thick mattress under the imaginary pressure. Duo brought his hands up to his head and laying one on each temple, applied more than a mild amount of force, his hands trembling slightly at the exertion. Duo could feel the sound building from deep within him and slowly let it rise up to his chest, the idea of suppressing it, never crossing his still very confused mind. He felt the rumble make its way up through his throat and taking in a one last calculated breath, Duo let the loudest, almost guttural scream imaginable escape from his lips. Finding his pain had only increased in its intensity since the screams release, Duo continued pushing the unbearable hurt from deep within, until his voice gave out, at which time his silent sobs replaced all else.