Law of the Heart
by Becca Abbott


Part XVI

Duo paused outside his mother's door and took a deep breath. He straightened his shoulders and shook back his hair. The mane wasn't braided -- he hadn't the energy lately -- but he'd brushed it. He practiced a smile and grimaced instead. That wouldn't do. His mother was far too canny for that. Trying again, he figured he got it right and, knocking briefly, pushed open the door.

"Hullo, dear!" She was seated in the armchair by the window. Involuntarily, he looked outside and saw the lights on in the carriage house. It reminded him that he was running out of time. Three days had passed since his visit to the police station. They'd been impatient then. If he didn't get on with it, they'd be banging on the door.

"Hi, mom. Hungry?"

"A little."

It was always the same answer. He set down the tray. There was fish tonight, and a little salad. She looked closely into his face.

"Honey? Are you okay?"

"I dunno. Think I'm gettin' a cold."

"Oh, dear. I don't suppose you're bundling up?"

Duo shrugged and grinned, but even he could tell he wasn't very convincing. "Well, you know me, mom."

"I do." She smiled sweetly and beckoned. Obediently, he bent down. She kissed his cheek, but instead of letting him up again, she took his chin in her hand. "Now," she said quietly, "what's wrong, honey?"

"N-nothing..."

"Bullshit."

This crudity from his delicate, well-bred parent left him gaping. He collapsed to the floor.

"I haven't seen Heero around here lately," she said. "Did you two have a fight?"

"Yeah," he managed. "Guess so."

"What happened?"

"I -- I don't wanna talk about it."

She said nothing, but stroked his hair like she did when he was small. It was a soothing touch, but somehow, it only made everything hurt more.

"It helps when you talk about things that are painful," she said. "And you know I'll listen."

Duo shifted around and leaned his head against her knees. For a moment, he pretended that everything was the way it had been so many years ago when it had been just him, his mom and his dad. "I thought he was my friend. I thought he liked me, but I guess I was wrong."

Her gentle touch was soothing, almost hypnotic. If only he could stay like this forever.

"I don't think you were wrong," she said finally. "I'm sure he likes you very much. Why do you think he doesn't?"

"Because he lied to me. He lied about who he was and what he wanted. I can put up with a lot of crap, mom, but not bein' lied to."

She was very quiet. "Did you ask him why?"

"I know why."

"Will you tell me?"

"Bottom line -- he wanted to get at someone else."

His mother waited, but Duo had said as much as he was going to say. After awhile, he heard her sigh. The stroking stilled. He gave himself a little shake and lifted his head.

"That's too bad," she said, as if to herself, "I was sure . . ."

"I know what ya mean. Guess he wasn't like your Hisoka after all."

She gave him a startled look and he shrugged. "Heero doesn't give a shit about honor. Heero gives a shit about Heero."


Heero lay in his bed and stared up into the ceiling. The late afternoon sun slanted across it. Even twenty-four stories up, he could hear the hum and blare of traffic. Rolling over, he stared through the plate glass window at Farmington's forest of skyscrapers, seeing none of them. The ache in his midsection simply would not go away.

Over and over, asleep and awake, he kept seeing Duo in the hallway at the police station -- the hatred that glittered from violet eyes once warm with laughter and acceptance.

Under his cheek, Heero's hand knotted into an angry fist. This is not heartbreak I'm feeling, he told himself fiercely. I'm not in love! I was infatuated. It was lust. Pity.

And so, naturally, his treacherous memory showed him Duo in Argiero's looking like a renaissance angel in dark velvet and silk. It showed him leaning carelessly against a pool table at the Hungry Dog, a sweetly smiling devil in leather and jean.

"Damn you," whispered Heero into the silent room. "How the hell did you get so far under my skin?"

The phone rang and he snatched it up. "Yuy."

"I've got your fuckin' information."

"Duo!" Heero sat up. His heart was in his mouth. "Where?"

"There's a false wall in the attic of the carriage house. I found it because I used to play up there all the time and I never remembered that wall bein' there. There's a bunch of the shit in there. Come get it."

"We need you to swear out the affidavit."

"Yeah, yeah, but you need to come get it. Now would be a good time 'cause Charlie and Rick went to Bayer for some football game. You could be in and out without my mom knowin'."

"I can't. I have to have a warrant -- or the permission of the property owner -- which is your mother. Do you want to tell her we're coming in to take drugs out of her husband's office?"

Silence. Then. "No."

"I'll come get you."

"NO!"

Heero heard the panic and closed his eyes briefly.

"No, I'll -- I'll take the bus. I'll see ya at the cop shop."

The line went dead.


As it turned out, Duo's mom had a bad spell, so it wasn't until the next day before Duo could get down to the station. He swore out the affidavit and accepted the thanks of Captain Baldwin and the detectives without enthusiasm. Heero joined in the thanking, but his contribution was subdued, as if he knew exactly how unwelcome it was. He got up almost immediately after Duo finished signing the papers and disappeared. Feeling hollow and adrift, Duo went home.

His mom was asleep. Her color was better, he noted in relief. Charlie was in the carriage house and there were a couple cars parked in front of it. Duo saw that with unease. It seemed like there was always a knot of tension in his gut these days. Now that the cops had their affidavit, how long would it take for them to make their move?

He went up to his room. It was cold again. There was no more kerosene and he didn't have enough money to buy any at the moment.

Aw, shit. Slumping down on his mattress, he took the blanket -- another of Heero's many gifts -- and wrapped it around himself. He smiled crookedly. Why the hell did he miss Heero so much? The guy had totally fucked him over. Yeah -- Heero had given him presents, but so what? Heero was rich. He'd probably just called up a servant or somethin' and had him get the stuff. And in the end, it had all been part of a cold, deliberate plan to get at Charlie Raskin. Heero had lied -- and lied and lied...

Sighing, Duo lay down, pulling the blanket over him and stared blindly across the room. He remembered what it had felt like like to have Heero next to him, skin to skin, and how much warmer it had been, even with the heater. Pure bliss.

Stop thinking about him!

But he couldn't of course. Again and again, relentless, the memories came until he bit his lip bloody to keep from crying. He'd cried enough, damn it.

As he lay there, he heard something -- a banging. It grew louder. There were shouts. Horror and shock sat him bolt upright on the mattress. Throwing aside the blanket, he leapt to his feet and ran to the window. In disbelief he saw the cars and trucks roaring into the driveway, peeling out across the snowy lawn, disgorging men in flak jackets and carrying rifles!

The bastards! They'd promised!

Mom!

Whirling, he pounded down the stairs and into the kitchen. He startled two cops coming in the back door. One of them raised his gun, but Duo didn't stop, knocking him aside and racing into the hall. He reached his mother's room as two more policemen came after him.

"D-Duo?" His mother was standing up, her book fallen to the floor beside the chair. He slammed shut the door and locked it.

"It's gonna be okay, mom. Just sit down and don't move!"

"What's happening? Are we being robbed?"

"No! No! Just sit down! Be calm!" He spun around as the cops kicked the door in. His mother screamed and he threw himself in front of her, arms flung wide.

"Stop!" he cried desperately. "STOP! She has nothing to do with this!"

"D-Duo?"

The men advanced, forcing mother and son back step by step until, terrified for her, he turned and put his arms around her, holding her tight. Her arms tightened around him, too.

"Duo?" she whispered again. He could feel her weak heart pounding. Please, he thought to the god he didn't believe in, don't let this hurt her.

"Hands up!"

"Where's Baldwin?" Duo demanded, not moving. "He promised!"

They had their hands on him, yanking him away. He heard his mom cry out.

"LEAVE HER ALONE!" he screamed, kicking and punching wildly at the men holding him. "LEAVE HER ALONE, DAMN YOU!"

Gunfire! He heard it outside. Someone hit him and pain broke everything apart. He thought he heard his mother crying.

Then a new voice raised above the pandemonium. "Get away from her! Jesus Christ! What the hell are you doing? These weren't your orders!"

Heero!

Duo was suddenly released. He found himself on his hands and knees, blood running into his eyes. Frantically, he scrambled to his feet, knocking away the hands that came to lift him up. He prepared to hurl himself at his mother, then stopped, eyes going wide. She was in the arms of a slender, handsome Asian man. The stranger was expensively dressed. Two enormous men in suits and long raincoats hovered protectively at his back. One of them was talking quietly into a phone.

Duo's mouth sagged. There was no mistaking the fierce scowl, the aquiline features. They were mirrored in the smaller, younger man advancing on Duo and shooting that same protective glare at the cops on either side of him.

"Who the hell are you?" roared Singh, pushing through the milling cops. "How the hell did they get in here?"

One of the other detectives pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow, throwing an uneasy look on the icy stranger. Duo just stared, not quite sure he was seeing what his senses insisted he was seeing.

"This is Vice Minister Higurashi, sir," the sweating detective said.

Singh lost a bit of color, but blustered on. "That -- that may be so, but sir, this is a dangerous situation and not for civ.... chief!"

Baldwin strode through the door, two more big men in suits with him. Like those standing behind the Vice Minister, they had the tiny UESN Security Council logo embroidered on their raincoat pocket.

"What the hell is going on here, Singh? I thought you were going to pick Raskin up at Brambleby's party?"

"Sort this out somewhere else," said Higurashi harshly. "This woman should be in the hospital! Captain?"

"I'm sorry, your Excellency. This will be dealt with. "

Heero was at Duo's side. He didn't touch Duo, but took a position directly behind him and the cops backed away a few more steps. Duo heard a siren, but he had eyes only for his mother. She was completely relaxed in the tall man's arms, head against his shoulder, eyes closed, one fragile hand resting against his breast. The man's dark eyes lowered to meet Duo's and held. Feeling suddenly like an ant on a sidewalk, Duo swallowed hard. Higurashi's gaze moved past him to Heero.

"I'll speak with you later," he said darkly.

"Yes, Father," replied Heero in a strangled voice.

Then the man turned and, Mrs. Raskin clasped securely in his arms, strode from the room, his bodyguards clearing the way before him.


Part XVII

Heero and Duo sat outside the hospital room, side by side, neither speaking. It was almost noon. Duo seemed visibly exhausted by the last few days, great circles under his eyes, shoulders drooping. Heero longed to put his arms around him, but Duo had made it quite clear that Heero was not forgiven. At least the paperwork was finished for the moment. The long-haired boy begrudged every second away from his mother's side.

Heero wasn't quite sure why Duo was so anxious. His mother was finally getting the care she should have received all along. She was in the best private hospital in Farmington, and the best room in the hospital. That morning, the top heart specialist had flown in from New York to look at her. Not only was she recovering from the shock of her soon-to-be ex-husband's arrest, there was every reason to believe that, with the proper treatment and medication, she would completely regain her health.

Heero's head was still spinning at the knowledge of what his father and Marianne Raskin had been to each other so long ago. His father's few terse words of explanation -- 'we used to be friends' -- was, Heero suspected -- wholly inadequate to the truth. He had never seen that look on his father's face before -- certainly he'd never seen it directed at his mother.

"Is that it?" Duo asked suddenly, voice soft and hoarse. "Was that the last thing you'll need from me?"

Heero started and looked over. "You may be needed to testify."

"Oh." The boy fell back in the vinyl chair and closed his eyes. "Shit."

"Sorry," whispered Heero, thinking of the last three days, of lawyers, depositions, and line-ups. He stared down at his hands. "I'm really sorry, Duo."

There was no answer. After a moment, he risked a look. Duo appeared to be asleep. Sighing, he stood up and walked to the vending machine. He inserted his card and got some tea. He was eyeing the shrink-wrapped sandwiches when he saw the elevator doors at the end of the hall open. His father come out, bodyguards at his back. On the street below reporters gathered as word spread through the city that Vice Minister Higurashi was in town. So far, however, none of them had made it past all the security to this floor.

Heero watched him come up the corridor and stop in front of Duo. Heart in his mouth, Heero started forward, some vague idea of protecting the suddenly-fragile boy from his father's scathing tongue. Jaw tightening, the dignitary continued on, meeting Heero in front of Mrs. Raskin's door.

"There is a conference room down the way that has been placed at my disposal. Accompany me."

Heero fell into step with his father. Twenty feet on a door was open. He walked in, nodding to Marie, his father's ever present assistant.

"Sit down."

Resentment flared, and Heero remained on his feet at the conference table. His father nodded shortly at Marie. She picked up her computer and walked from the room. The bodyguards followed. With a click, the door shut, leaving father and son to face each other in uneasy silence.

"Leave him alone," said Heero. "He's done nothing to you. I've done everything I can to shield the family from scandal. I've used my mother's name, I've lived apart..."

"Do you think I would hurt the son of Marianne Harrington?" the Vice Minister interrupted harshly.

Heero fell silent, stunned. After a moment, his father reached into his coat and pulled out a manila envelope. Heero tensed, recognizing it. Tossing it to the table, his father nodded for him to pick it up.

"I've seen them," Heero said, not moving. "It -- was not like you, Father, to sink to such lows."

"It would seem that you misjudge me yet again." Looking suddenly weary and old, Higurashi pulled out a chair and sat. A long hand toyed with the corner of the envelope. "These were sent to me last week."

Heero blinked. "You -- you didn't order them taken?"

"Of course not!" snapped his father angrily. "I should think you would know that I am, at least, more direct in my displeasure."

"Yes, sir," agreed Heero faintly, and sat down, too. Father and son stared at each other across the table.

"I looked into the source of these. They were taken by someone in the Peacecraft organization. Whether or not with the princess' knowledge, I don't know. You may be sure I made my displeasure with such tactics known. Still, I was curious. It occurred to me that I was seeing the real reason for your refusal to consider Relena. So I looked into the young man's background. To my amazement, I discovered that your lover was none other than Marianne Harrington's son."

He smiled faintly and without humor. Heero looked back stunned.

"Do not misunderstand, Heero. I respected your mother. Eleanor's birth was impeccable and our marriage increased the status and fortune of the Higurashi family. She knew her duty and in time we became friends, but never more. When she died, my grieving was genuine. But the woman who lies in the room down the hall was the one woman I loved more than life and -- almost -- more than duty."

"Yet you let her go, let another man have her."

"Yes," his father said evenly, "and have regretted it with every breath since."

"What do you intend to do now?"

"Marry her, of course."


Heero and his even scarier father were gone for the moment. Duo straightened at once. Looking up the corridor after them, he saw the little knot of gorillas and secretaries that followed the Vice Minister everywhere. No one was looking in his direction. He got up and walked swiftly to the door of his mother's room.

Another of Higurashi's men was standing there and gave him a sharp look. Duo returned a cocky grin, even while he seethed with resentment. She was his mother, damn it! How dare they make him feel like some interloper!

To his relief, she was awake. He finally had her to himself, although for how long was anyone's guess. Higurashi had been by her bedside almost as much as had Duo.

Her eyes lit up at the sight of him. "Duo!"

"Hey, Mom." He stood uncertainly just inside the door. It was the first time since the bust that they'd been alone. She smiled encouragingly. "I -- I'm really sorry," he added, shoving his hands into his pockets. "About Charlie. I know you cared for him -- but..."

"No. Come here, my courageous little one."

He hesitated, then was at her side in two long steps, seizing her frail hand, throat too tight to say more.

"I'm very proud of you. Hisoka told me everything and it's I who owe you the apology. You tried to tell me long ago that Charlie was no good and I wouldn't listen. Can you forgive your foolish mama?"

"Don't be stupid, mom. There's nothin' to forgive."

She laughed sadly and reached up to touch his cheek. He sank into the chair beside her, not relinquishing her other hand. She did look better. The doctors were giving her some new, ferociously expensive medicine.

"I think there is and, very likely, I don't even know the whole of it." Violet eyes darkened a moment and her sweet mouth tightened. Then she gave herself a little shake. "What do you think of him?"

Duo knew of whom she spoke and was struck by an eerie sense of deja vu. He remembered asking her the same question about Higurashi's son. He swallowed, knowing what she wanted to hear.

"He's handsome, he's rich, and he's in love with you. How could I not like such a guy?"

Her smile became radiant. "Oh, good! I'm so glad!"

The door opened. His heart sank, his precious moments alone coming to an end. He looked over to see the Vice Minister come in. Behind him was Detective Yuy, looking pissed, as usual.

"Marianne." At once the forbidding expression was gone and there was only a breathtakingly handsome man, deeply in love, who strode to her bedside. Duo let go of her hand and took a quick step back, watching how her whole being seemed to turn toward the man and a light spring up inside her that he'd never seen. He knew suddenly that some subtle, but profound change had just occurred in their lives.

"Hello, Hisoka." Her smile was shy, radiant. The man looked like he wanted to sweep her up and carry her off somewhere. "I was just talking to Duo."

"Did you tell him yet?"

"No..."

"Tell me?" Duo's throat tightened, but he forced a smile. "Got some news, mom?"

"Yes, dear." She reached out a hand to Hisoka, an unconscious seeking of support that sent a pang through her son. "While the divorce is going through, Hisoka has kindly offered us the use of his home in Kyoto."

"That's great."

"The doctors think she will recover more quickly in more healthful surroundings," added Hisoka, dark eyes unreadable as they rested on Duo's face. "And once the divorce is final, we will naturally be married."

"Naturally," Duo said in a faint voice. He felt like he was standing in quicksand.

"It will be wonderful, honey," his mother said, an anxious light appearing in her eyes. "We'll finally be out of the Sink and you'll have a chance to be around people who will bring out the best in you. You'll have the best of everything -- things your father and I could never give you. Why -- Hisoka has already started the process of getting you into one of the best schools -- Renfield Academy in Massachusetts. My grandfather went there, and my father. It's very prestigious..."

"No!"

His anger rang in the suddenly silent room. By the door, silent throughout the entire time, Heero straightened.

"Thanks," Duo said in a tight voice, struggling for calm. He turned furious eyes on Hisoka, "but no thanks. I'd rather stay here, keep an eye on the house. It'll fall apart without me to keep it up."

"Honey, without Charlie, the old place will be too much for one boy to handle."

"Fuck Charlie. He never did shit! I took care of the house, mom. Me. No one else!"

"That's enough!" Higurashi's voice crackled like a whip and, in spite of himself, Duo shut up. "You're going to think of your mother, young man. You've had it your own way for far too long. Does she even know you dropped out of high school?"

It was like getting punched in the stomach. Duo stared at him in shock. He heard his mother gasp and looked past her to Heero. The youth reddened, unable to meet his eyes, swore softly, and left the room.

"D-Duo?"

"You son of a bitch..." But it was to the absent Heero he spoke.

"Duo, is this true?"

He swallowed and turned to look at her. She was sitting up straight in her bed, eyes snapping. He nodded, a quick, jerky motion.

"Oh, Duo. Why? You know how important education is! How important it was to both your father and me! You'll never get out of the Sink if you're a drop-out! When Hisoka said you had problem with discipline, I didn't believe..."

"Fuck you," whispered Duo, staring into the man's handsome face. He decided he hated the entire Higurashi family, right down to the original ancestor.

"Renfield Academy is ideally suited to handle cases like Duo," Hisoka said calmly. To Duo, he said, "I know it doesn't seem fair now, Duo, but in time you'll..."

"You can go to hell," replied Duo thickly. "Yeah. I dropped out of school, mom. I'm sorry. I really am, but I just couldn't do it all, ya know? I guess I'm just too stupid, but I couldn't take care of you, the house and do school, too. I had to prioritize. I chose the house and you. Sorry. Guess they were the wrong choices."

"How dare you!" hissed Hisoka, turning red. "How dare you blame your mother for your choices!"

This was a nightmare, thought Duo desperately. I'm gonna wake up in a minute. He watched tears creep over his mother's pale cheeks.

"You're right," he said shakily, not certain whether he was angry enough to kill or wretched enough to commit suicide, "I'm a worthless shit, okay -- all the more reason not to waste any of your precious fucking money on me, huh? Tell ya what? Take mom and go to your frickin' palace. I'll stay here and be a stupid loser and take care of the house like I've always done."

"The house will be sold."

"Hisoka..."

"No, Marianne. Things have changed. It's your son's duty to adjust to that change."

"Hey." Duo grinned, even though his heart beat so fast it was suffocating him. "I got your duty right here, motherfucker."

He heard his mother gasp as he flashed an obscene gesture at the diplomat. Turning on his heel, he walked swiftly around the bed. Strong fingers locked on his arm and he went utterly still, staring blankly at the door.

"So," he said in a cold, dead little voice. "Am I gonna have another stepfather who beats me up?"

"Duo!"

Hisoka released him as if he were red-hot. Duo smiled grimly and kept going, slamming the door hard behind him.


Part XVIII

Heero was standing by the corridor windows, looking down onto the street. The police had chased away the reporters finally. Now there was only a taxi disgorging an old man.

Behind him, he heard the door slam. Heero turned in time to see Duo flying out of Mrs. Raskin's room and away down the hall. The look on that pale face sent a chill through him. He set down his half-finished cup of tea and strode hastily in to his father and Marianne.

Marianne was sobbing. His father was seated on the edge of the bed, his arm around her slim shoulders.

"What was he talking about? Charlie beat him? Oh, God, Hisoka! What have I done?"

"You've done nothing..."

"What's the matter with Duo?"

"Heero!" Marianne, twisting the edge of her sheet, fixed eyes like rain-drenched violets on Heero's face. "Tell me the truth! Did Charlie beat Duo?"

Heero opened his mouth and shut it again. He looked at his father's fierce scowl. He remembered finding Duo in the tower, back like so much hamburger.

"Yes."

"Oh, my God. He -- he never said... He never acted like..."

"That's enough!" Hisoka's arm tightened around her and the look he gave his son was black with fury. "She's not well enough to be this upset, damn it!"

"I'll find him, Mrs. Raskin," Heero promised quietly. "I won't let anything bad happen to Duo."

She nodded and gave him a weak, watery smile. Ignoring his father, Heero turned and left.

It was raining, a cold, steady December rain. Heero popped up his umbrella. Turning to the hospital doorman, he asked if the man had seen a long-haired teenage boy run out.

"Yes, sir. He went in that direction."

That was one thing about being male and having a braid that reached to your ass -- people remembered you. Heero's quest took him down the street a quarter mile to a small park. Not surprisingly, the place was deserted. Even the pigeons were nowhere to be seen. There, on a bench in front of a fountain, sat Duo, elbows on knees, head down, oblivious to the pouring rain.

Heero stood a moment, watching. A nearby street lamp lay a halo of diffused light around the boy, outlining the dejected slump of those slender shoulders, the despair in the huddled form. Heero walked to the bench and, after a moment, held the umbrella out to shelter the other boy. Duo's head came up. He stared at Heero, then at the umbrella. Abruptly he stood and walked off.

Hurrying to catch up, Heero fell into step with him, still holding the umbrella over his head. Duo quickened his pace. Heero matched his speed. Duo went faster. Heero kept up, all the while keeping the umbrella firmly over Duo's head. Soon they were running, two slim, handsome boys dashing through the icy rain, one doggedly holding the umbrella over the other's reluctant head.

Suddenly Duo stopped and bent double, bracing his hands on his knees. Heero stopped, too, catching his breath. His heart gave a little stir of hope. Laughing. Duo was laughing. He grinned, hearing it. Duo collapsed to the curb, hugging his knees, laughing and laughing. There was a pronounced edge of hysteria in it. Heero, still holding up the umbrella, sat down next to him, oblivious to his expensive raincoat and shoes. After a moment, he shifted the umbrella to his other hand and put his arm around those shaking shoulders. They stiffened a moment and Duo's breath hitched. Then the other boy sagged against Heero and the laughter changed to sobs.

Heero never knew how long they sat in the rain on that empty street while Duo released all his pent-up anguish. Heero's arm got heavy and ached from holding up the umbrella, but he never wavered. Cars whooshed past, misty ghosts in the rain. Finally, when Duo grew still and quiet, when his body leaned heavily against Heero's, Heero said, "Let's go home."

Duo nodded mutely. Heero rose, pulling Duo to his feet. He led the stumbling youth back to the hospital, but they didn't go in. Instead, they went to the parking garage underneath. Heero unlocked his car and helped Duo, now trembling with the cold, into it. They drove in silence uptown.

After awhile, Duo said hoarsely, "M-Madison house is that way."

"We're going to my apartment."

Duo nodded tiredly and his head fell back against the seat. He closed his eyes. Long hair, dark with wet, clung to his pale face. His eyelashes were smoky half-moons against his cheek. Heero remembered kissing those parted lips and had to wrench his gaze from Duo's face.

"Wow," said Duo, voice subdued, when they got to Heero's high-rise building. He stood in the corner of the elevator as they were whisked up twenty stories to the top. Arm around Duo again, Heero guided him across the deep carpet of the corridor to the apartment door and inside. Duo faltered a little, seeing all the space and the cloud-shrouded city spread out before them. Heero kept going, straight through the apartment to the bedroom.

"Shit, Yuy," said Duo then. "Your fuckin' bedroom is as big as the first floor of my damn house."

"Bullshit," said Heero. "It's only fifty square feet."

"Tcht."

"You need to get out of those wet clothes," said Heero, setting down the umbrella. "I'll make you something hot to drink."

"Whiskey'll do just great."

"Tea," said Heero.

When he returned with the steaming mug, however, Duo was standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, staring out, still dressed in his cold, wet clothes. Heero swore and set down the cup. He walked to Duo and stood at his back a moment. Duo's face was still. In the reflection of the glass it was hard to tell what he was thinking.

Carefully, Heero reached up and took off Duo's sopping jacket. He half expected protest or resistance, but there was none. The shirt was next. He winced, seeing the web of scars. What would his father say, Heero wondered, to see this?

Duo's head bowed. With trembling hands, he undid his own jeans and let them fall. He might have stripped off his briefs, too, but Heero had some sense of the other boy's emotional fragility and instead propelled Duo to the bed. Pulling the covers back, he pushed Duo into it and pulled them back up. Violet eyes lifted to his face, bewildered, child-like.

"Sleep. We'll figure out what to do about my asshole of a parent when you've rested."

"Okay," Duo replied obediently. He closed his eyes and was almost immediately asleep.


Duo woke slowly, like rising from the depths of some great, warm sea. He opened his eyes and saw a city basking in sunlight, puffy white clouds and, in the distance, the misty purple swell of mountains. Suspended in peace and comfort, he drifted, wondering vaguely where he was. Memory returned all too soon, sitting him upright with a gasp.

The bedroom was enormous, as was the bed. He was the only one in both. There was no sign of his clothes. Warily, he pushed back the covers and got up. Going to the door, he opened it and peered out. Another vast, bright space met his gaze. There was furniture, but not much, and more of the floor to ceiling windows.

Heero's place. It was morning. He'd slept all day and through the night. Duo closed the door. In the enormous closet he found several bathrobes. Since his clothing was obviously not in the room, Duo picked one and, knotting the sash around his waist, went in search of his host. The sooner he was out of here, the better.

And yet...

Vaguely, he remembered yesterday, remembered Heero sitting beside him on the street, sheltering him beneath a big umbrella. He shook his head. What the hell was up with Heero Yuy?

No. Heero Higurashi. The guy who was going to inherit Duo's mom.

Heavy-hearted, Duo walked across the big living room. He found Heero asleep on the couch. Swallowing hard, he tried to steel his heart against the sight of the young man, Heero's undeniable beauty, the silky mop of unruly hair. Long, fine fingers loosely clasped the blanket that was even now slipping off him. Dark blue eyes suddenly snapped open and Heero sat up. "Duo!"

"Hey." Duo managed a grin.

They stared at each other, Heero solemn as always, Duo with a thumping heart and bunch of impossible thoughts. "Where are my clothes?" he asked finally. "I should probably be goin'."

"Go where?"

"Home." In spite of himself, Duo's voice wobbled. For how much longer?

"Okay, but why not wait? Have breakfast first. I'll drive you back afterwards."

"You're gonna cook?"

Heero blinked, then grinned. "You want me to?"

"Um. Can ya?"

"Yes."

Giddiness touched Duo suddenly, a treacherous little stirring of excitement deep in his aching heart. "For that, I'll stick around a little while," he agreed. "D'ya mind if I take a shower?"

"Go ahead."

Heero threw off the blanket. He wore only his jeans. Duo wrenched his gaze from that perfect body as Heero padded across the deep pile carpeting toward the archway that led into a glittering kitchen.

A cop. Not for you. A cop. You're just a case -- a criminal's dupe.

The bathroom was another barn-sized room, all glass and chrome. The shower had a dozen fixtures dispensing every possible temperature of water with a shower head so large Duo wondered if it were dangerous. He scrounged around and found a bottle of cheap shampoo and a bar of soap. No de-tangler. Opening the door, he shouted: "Hey! Heero!"

Heero appeared in the archway across the acre of living room.

"You got any conditioner? Ain't no way I can wash this mane without conditioner!"

"I'll get some," Heero said. "Go ahead."

Duo nodded and ducked back inside.

The shower was heavenly. The shower head dispensed a pulsing, pounding jet of water that pummeled his sore muscles and reduced him to a heap on the shower floor. He was almost asleep again when he heard the door open. He looked up to see Heero, a bottle of conditioner in hand.

"You look good enough to eat," said Heero. He turned red almost at once, as if his own words had caught him by surprise, then set down the bottle, withdrawing quickly. Duo heard the door click shut.

The conditioner was new, the brand-name one Duo had seen in advertisements in expensive fashion magazines. Had Heero actually run out to buy it?

I don't get it, he thought, pouring some of the pearly liquid into his palm. There was no reason for Heero to be nice to him now. The case was over. They had their man. Thoughtfully, he massaged the stuff into his hair. Duo was still puzzling over it when, some time later, he turned off the shower and stepped into the steam-filled room. He flicked on the exhaust fan and watched the mist swirl up through the vent and out.

Heero's comb slipped easily through his hair. Duo started to braid it, then paused. As the mirrors cleared, he saw his reflection, skin pale against the dark blue of the bathrobe, long strands of hair gleaming against its rich, deep color. The robe, he realized suddenly, was the same color as Heero's eyes.

Outside, somewhere else in the apartment, Duo heard a phone ringing. His impulse was to put his ear to the door. Idiot, he told himself. Who cares? Resolutely, he began looking for a hair-dryer, locating it in a drawer with the price tag still attached.

Duo wasn't sure what made him decide to leave his hair loose. Blown dry, it fell straight and thick over his shoulders and down his back. He left the bathroom and was immediately assailed by the smell of bacon and eggs. Mouth watering, he went to the kitchen door and looked in.

Heero, brow furrowed in concentration, was moving eggs from a frying pan to a platter. A small table near the great windows had been set with plates and cutlery. There was even coffee! Coffee -- and Heero was a tea-drinker. Evidence of such thoughtfulness further confused Duo whose smart-ass comment died unspoken. Heero looked up and around. His eyes widened. Self-consciously, Duo pushed a heavy fall of hair over his shoulder and ventured a smile. It was answered with a brilliant one from Heero.

"It's ready," the dark-haired youth announced unnecessarily.

Duo trailed him to the table and sat down. Heero hovered a moment, then sat down. Duo examined the eggs and bacon critically. The eggs were perfect, the bacon nicely crisped without the burnt edges that always afflicted Duo's attempts.

"Shit," he sighed. "You're good at this, too. Is there anything you're not good at, detective?"

"Yes."

Duo lifted his eyebrows.

"This was my first case," Heero said finally. "And I blew it."

"What the hell are you talkin' about? You got Raskin! The bastard's sittin' in jail with a bunch of charges hangin' over his head! You won!"

"I don't care about Raskin!" Heero's voice was harsh and shook with intensity. "I care about you!"

That took Duo's breath away. Heero had a wild glitter in his eyes that Duo had never seen before, a kind of desperation that left Duo speechless. His fork rattled, unheeded, to the plate.

"M - me?" he managed. "But -- I thought, you know, that you just wanted..."

"That it was an act? That I was using you to get to him?" Heero laughed harshly. "That's how it started out, Duo. But somehow . . ." His voice trailed away and he made a helpless gesture with his hands. "Somehow," he whispered finally, "it all turned out differently."

"Um, Hee-chan." Duo grinned uncertainly, his heart banging. "You tryin' to say somethin' here?"

"Yes." Heero fixed him with one of his disconcertingly direct stares. "I want to start over, Duo. I want us to be together without any lies."

"R-really?"

"Really."

Duo's heart turned over. He smiled sadly. "What about your dad?"

"Fuck him."

Laughing, Duo stabbed his eggs. Right. He looked up and winked. "Tell ya what, Yuy? When we're done, before you take me back, how about you give me a backrub?"

Color flooded that beautiful face. Heero's rare smile appeared. "You sure?"

"I've missed you," Duo said wistfully.

"Yeah." Heero's smile suddenly reflected pain. "Me, too."

It was much later before Heero was finally persuaded to take Duo home. They rode in silence through Farmington's busy streets.

"You want to go to the hospital first?"

"Is your dad there?"

"Probably."

"Nah. I'll go later."

"Duo -- I'm really sorry about everything. My dad just -- well, he just takes over..."

"Hey. It's okay. Anyway, who woulda figured you for bein' such a guilt freak? Too bad St. Jude's was only a cover. You'd make a great Catholic!"

Heero choked.

The house was a mess. After Heero had driven off, promising to convey Duo's greetings to his mom, the boy trudged through it. Four days after the bust and he'd only had an hour here and there to pick up. Stooping, he lifted a fallen drawer and returned it to its place. Silverware was scattered across the dirty vinyl flooring. It would all have to be washed, but there was no dishsoap. Shit.

Duo righted the one kitchen chair not broken and sat down, hands between his knees. No money. He could ask his mom for it. There must be some in the mysterious account from which Charlie always drew it. A timid knock made him look up. It was Mrs. Allen.

"Hey," he smiled sadly at her. "Sorry about all this. I suppose you'll be wantin' to leave?"

"Certainly not! We thought it was very exciting!" The old lady came into the room. "That nice Detective Johnson told us all about the Vice Minister and your mama. So romantic! I suppose you shall all be going to Japan now? Will you be selling the house?"

"I -- I guess."

"Oh, well. I suppose it's a good thing. You were both much too good for this neighborhood, you know. Betty, Gladys and I used to worry so about you with all those ruffians. We're so glad you've taken up with that nice young policeman."

He laughed then and shook his head. "You're sharp old ladies, you know that?"

She cackled. "Of course we are, dearie. When you're tired of cleaning up, stop by my place and I'll fix you some lunch."

There was a lot of work to be done and Duo was grateful for it. He hauled and swept and scrubbed and hammered, letting the hard physical exercise take his mind from the problems looming like insurmountable walls before him. Rick Raskin hadn't been seen for days, not since his father's arrest. No loss there. There was a warrant for his arrest, too, so Duo reckoned that son of a bitch wouldn't be back. He packed up Rick's stuff with his father's and put the lot of it out on the curb.

Evening came and with it more snow. A cab arrived and took Mrs. Green to her nephew's for supper. While emptying Charlie's room, Duo had found a small stash of cash, fifty bucks, so he called out for pizza. He was sitting in the kitchen, eating it when he heard a knock on the door. Maybe it was Heero!

Jumping up, Duo ran to open it and found himself looking up at Hisoka Higurashi. His heart crashed into his shoes. With a shrug, he stepped aside to let the man come in. "I figured you'd come by sooner or later."

The man nodded, eyes moving around the battered kitchen. Duo returned to his table and sat down, gesturing carelessly to the half-eaten pizza. "Want some?"

Higurashi shook his head. He looked for another chair, but there wasn't one. Duo met his glare with one of his own. Higurashi's gaze was just like Heero's, unnerving in its directness. "We have to talk."

So. Get right to the point. The pizza turned to ash in Duo's mouth. Something hit the table beside the pizza box. It was a check made out to him. The amount made him blink.

"Does Mom know you're here?"

"No." Calm. Wary. "Are you going to tell her?"

Duo met the challenging stare. God, this man looked so much like Heero. He smiled ruefully. "No. Sit down. You're makin' me dizzy lookin' up at you. There's a fold-out chair just inside the pantry."

Higurashi gave him a long look, then went and got it. He sat down on the other side of the table. Duo stared at the check. Ten thousand dollars. Nice payoff.

"Twenty years ago I did the hardest thing I ever had to do, I gave up your mother. You may hold me in contempt for choosing the honor of my family over my own happiness; that is your perogative. Judge me however you will for that, but I love Marianne, I always have, and I believe she loves me. I know I could make her happy, but you are her son and she loves you. If you won't accept us, she will turn me away."

Duo looked back at the man. What could he say? This guy could give his mom things she would never have otherwise, including her health and a happiness she'd lost when his own dad died. He could still see her face in the hospital room. He couldn't make her smile like Higurashi.

"I won't stand in your way. She does love you. But it's more complicated than that, ain't it? There's Heero."

The eyes were like Heero's, thought Duo, impossible to read. Suddenly, wrenchingly, Duo understood this thing called duty that had driven Higurashi from his mother's arms so long ago. He understood it with a clarity that left him breathless.

"Our family can trace its line back fifteen generations," Higurashi was saying. "We've been soldiers, shogun, statesmen and diplomats. Right now, young as he is, these things mean little to Heero, but there will come a time when he will truly appreciate them. There will come a time when he will want to add his own luster to our family's name."

"Fifteen generations, huh?" Duo picked at a piece of pepperoni. "Well, guess what, Higurashi? I've got no intention of standing in Heero's way. I know damn well what I am and I ain't gonna drag him down. Take Mom to Kyoto and you better treat her right and make her the happiest woman on the planet or I'll tear your fuckin' throat out. You got that?"

Higurashi stared at him and said nothing.

"And one more thing. When you sell this place? Make sure my ladies got somewhere nice to go. A place where the landlord looks out for 'em, ya know?" He looked earnestly at the Vice Minister. After a moment, Higurashi nodded. "Good. Then that's it, right? We got nothin' more to discuss?"

"What will you do?"

"I dunno. I'll figure somethin' out. Don't worry. I won't rain on your parade. I know the last thing you want is me hangin' around the honeymoon cottage, right?"

Higurashi flushed at the hit. "You're her son. You're welcome wherever she is."

Right. Be there to constantly remind you of who she married instead of you. Rub elbows with the jet set. Be Heero's "brother." Fuck that. "Thanks. I'll keep it in mind. Maybe later."

Higurashi left soon after and he left the check. Duo sat for a long time staring at it. Finally, he picked it up and tore it into little pieces. Then he rose and throwing the pizza away, went to finish cleaning up.


Part XIX

Roses filled the night sky with their fragrance. In the distance the sea glittered under the moonlight. Heero leaned on the balcony rail, the warm summer breeze lifting his hair. He stared at the ocean while, behind him, the party was in full swing.

Four months. Four months since Duo had walked out of his life. God. Wasn't time supposed to heal all wounds?

Heero remembered the moment vividly. The trial had just ended, Raskin sent up for thirty years. To this day Heero could recall his feeling of elation, how he'd run up the drive to Madison House to tell Duo. It had been such a beautiful day.

There hadn't even been a note -- just the empty tower.

The sound of the balcony door sliding open made him stiffen and arrange his expression. He turned, but it was Marianne and he relaxed. She came to join him at the rail and he turned back, resuming his contemplation of the familiar, tranquil vista.

"You're missing your own engagement party," his stepmother said softly, laying a slender hand on his arm.

He tried to smile, but failed. She lay her head briefly on his shoulder. It was a natural, artless gesture that reminded him of Duo. "What's wrong, Heero?"

"I miss him."

They were silent. In the room behind them they heard laughter and the sound of tinkling glasses above the music. Heero closed his eyes briefly, imagining the years stretching out before him, empty of Duo.

He heard Marianne catch her breath and straighten. "Heero," she whispered, lifting a slim finger to his cheek. It came away glittering. He turned his head, embarrassed.

"Oh, my dear." Her voice was sad.

"I've looked for him," he said then, voice thick with pain. "I've searched Farmington and Braddocksville. I've hired detectives and gone there myself without telling father. It's like he's just vanished. I know he keeps in touch with you, Marianne. I know that he told you not to tell me where he is, but, please... I want to see him just once more." He looked at her pleadingly. "I won't hurt him again, I swear it! I promise I won't even approach him. He'll never know I'm there. I just need to see him!"

Her eyes, large and luminous in the starlight, held his a moment. "He's not in Braddocksville," she said finally, turning back to look out over the sea. "He wanted to travel. To see things, he said. He's in a little town in Nebraska."

Heero couldn't breathe.

She wouldn't look at him. "I love your father, Heero."

"I - I know."

"But he's wrong..."

Heero's heart lurched.

"...and so is Duo, bless their hearts." She turned back to him and smiled. Reaching into the bodice of her gown she took out the gold chain she wore. On the end of it was a little key. She slipped the chain over her head. "Here. This will unlock my jewelry box. Inside are Duo's letters with his latest return address."

He stared at her, unable to believe it. "Why?" he asked finally. "What made you change your mind?"

"This," she said, brushing the damp trail on his cheek. "This is real. This is what I've been waiting to see. Go get him, Heero. Take him somewhere and both of you be happy."

"My father..."

"You let me handle your father," Marianne said and the smile he got then was pure Duo.


Duo swung the old scythe in a long, lazy arc. The knee-high grass fell before it. He stopped and leaned against the wooden handle, wiping sweat-soaked hair from his eyes. Turning, he surveyed the meadow. Half was cut. The other half waited for him. He'd promised Father Maxwell that it would be ready for the ice cream social tent by five. With luck, he'd be finished well before then.

It was early summer and the Nebraska air was warm and still. Crickets chirped and over by the pond, two kingfishers streaked up out of the trees. He watched them go, fascinated. In the city, there had been crows, pigeons and starlings. Here, it seemed, the variety of birds was endless.

Across the field, he saw the church, its steeple glowing with its new coat of white paint. He'd just finished painting the rectory, its first fresh coat in nearly a decade, according to the priest.

"You're God's gift to us," Sister Helen had told him just last week. "I know you're not a believer, but Father and I cannot think anything else. He brought you to our doorstep just when it seemed things could not get any more difficult for us. I do wish you would stay."

It may indeed have seemed like divine fortune. Duo had been on the road for months, hitchhiking aimlessly from one place to another, finding that the constant change of scenery and strangers was just barely distracting enough to keep his thoughts from the bitter past.

Father Maxwell and Sister Helen had been struggling to keep up the old rectory and country church in a stretch of farmland that was mostly Protestant. The buildings had been falling down around their ears. At first, they'd been wary of the long-haired drifter who'd appeared on their doorstep with an offer to do odd jobs for food, but they'd taken that chance and neither they nor Duo had regretted it.

He didn't intend to stay much longer, though. Drifting suited him. He wanted no more of friendship, no more emotional ties. His other life was a memory he visited only in his dreams where he had no control. But, oh, those dreams...

He sighed, picking up the scythe again. It was hard work, but the tiredness helped him sleep. It helped keep those damned dreams at bay. He swung the blade, letting his body find the rhythm again.

Across the field, he saw someone coming. It was noon -- maybe Sister Helen was coming to call him to lunch. He took another swing and another. Grass fell in neat sheaves. He shook more wet hair from his eyes and looked up. The figure was closer. It wasn't Sister Helen. Frowning, he squinted. A stranger? Here?

Lowering the scythe, he waited. Now he could make out details. Dark hair, golden skin, the face of an angel...oh, God. His knees went to water.

Heero.

The young man came within ten feet and stopped. Duo tried to swallow, but his throat was too tight.

"Hullo, Duo."

The deep voice flowed over his nerves like honey. Ohgodohgodohgod. Duo stood, trembling. He absolutely could not speak. When Heero took a step closer, Duo lifted the scythe, holding it between them. Heero seemed not to notice, taking another step and another until he was right up against the newly sharpened edge of the curved blade. Duo made a small frantic sound and dropped it.

No! What the hell did he want? It had been too long and cost Duo too much to attain this little fragment of peace!

Heero stepped over the fallen tool and he was right there, inches from Duo. Panicked, Duo's impulse was to flee, but he stood his ground, head high.

"Hey, dude. Long time no see," he said in a voice that shook only a little. "What brings you to the boonies?"

Heero reached into his pocket and brought out a crumpled envelope that he handed wordlessly to Duo. Bewildered, Duo took it. It was addressed to him. From St. Jude's.

He lifted startled eyes to Heero who looked back, face still.

"Where did you get this?"

"Martin Jaeger forwarded it to Marianne. They'd sent it to Madison House, but..." Heero shrugged.

"Why are they sending me a letter?" And then Duo remembered. His jaw sagged. "You entered it?"

"Of course." The indigo gaze was straightforward and a bit puzzled. "I said I would."

"I thought... Well, shit. I thought you were just talkin'. You know -- that it was part of your cover."

Dark brows drew together sharply, but for some reason, Heero looked sad, not angry. "No."

Duo, floored, nodded and looked again to the envelope. His heart was beating fast. "How did you know how to find me?"

"Your mom."

"But why? She could just have forwarded it."

"Are you going to open it?"

Duo was far more interested in why Heero had crossed an ocean to hand him St. Jude's rejection letter, and why his mother had broken her promise. But the questions trembling on his lips refused to be spoken, so to cover his confusion, he tore open the letter.

"Dear Mr. Maxwell: Congratulations. Your essay was selected as outstanding by the Scholarship Committee and the Board of Regents of St. Jude's College of the Arts ..." Duo's knees gave out and he sat heavily on the new-cut grass. There was a rushing in his ears. The letter rattled in his hand.

Heero knelt in front of him, peering anxiously into Duo's face. "You okay?"

Duo nodded quickly, eyes round as saucers on the paper. 'Remarkable achievement... Unusual circumstances... Full scholarship...'

"I don't believe it!" Again and again, his eyes traced the handful of unbelievable sentences. He looked up. "This -- this isn't a joke or anything, is it?"

Solemnly, the dark-haired youth shook his head. "You're accepting it, right?"

"I -- yeah. I guess."

"Good. The semester starts next month. You need to accept the position formally, and there's paperwork you need to fill out. How soon can you leave here?"

Duo folded the letter and put it into his pocket. St. Jude's. He was going to St. Jude's. Yet, even that triumph seemed insignificant in the face of a much more important issue.

"Why are you here, Heero? Really?"

"Why did you leave?" Heero countered. "You never said a word about leaving. After the trial, I went to Madison House and you were gone."

"Oh, Jesus, Heero, you know why."

"Yes. I know why," agreed Heero. "You've got some fucking nerve, Maxwell. Who gave you the right to make those kind of decisions for me?"

Duo blinked. "Wha'?"

"Did it ever occur to you that I didn't agree with my father about Higurashi family honor? Did it ever cross your mind that I might not want to repeat his mistake?"

"But..."

Heero, however, had just gotten started. "I tried to honor your decision, Duo, even though I knew it was a fucking stupid one. I stayed away. I figured if you could sacrifice your happiness for someone you loved, than I could, too. I even lost my mind so far as to agree to an engagement with Relena. Fortunately, however, I came to my senses, because -- what's the point? Without happiness, Duo, what is the FUCKING POINT?"

It was the longest speech Duo had ever heard Heero make and certainly the most impassioned. He was left with nothing to say, his heart in tumult.

"If you can look me in the eye, Duo, and tell me that you don't love me, I'll take you back to Kyoto and you and Marianne can get ready for school. We'll be brothers and that'll be it. But I want to hear you say it and I want to see your eyes when you do."

Duo swallowed hard. "Your father..."

"Will get over it, or not -- whatever, it's not my problem. I have my own life, my own career, my own money. He has your mother. Will you give him me, too?"

Fingers clenched, Duo whispered. "I don't hate him. He's been great to Mom..."

"I know," Heero said softly. "Duo, look at me. Duo?"

Taking a deep breath, Duo met Heero's earnest gaze. A jolt went through him and he knew he was lost.

"Well?" Heero asked quietly, very pale. "Your answer?"

"I love you."

Heero didn't move, only sat, rigid. A breeze sighed along the meadow. It lifted the dark hair, blowing it across his vivid eyes.

"I love you," Duo said again, louder. His voice wobbled. "God damn it, Heero! Say something!"

Instead, Heero rose up on his knees and launched himself forward, embracing Duo and bringing them both to the soft, damp earth. Duo wrapped his arms around that hard, lean body and felt it shaking. He buried his face in the curve of Heero's shoulder, overcome. It took a moment to sort out his own storm of emotions, but when he did, he realized the other youth was crying. "H-Heero?"

A shake of the dark head and Heero's hold on him tightened. "Don't let me go," Duo heard, muffled against his hair. "Please don't let me go."

Afterwards, Duo would always remember that afternoon, the feel of the sun on their bodies, the smell of the grass, the sound of the crickets and, finally, the ringing of the church bells. Heero stilled, becoming loose and quiescent in Duo's arms.

"I was so afraid," he said. "I was afraid you left because you still hated me for lying to you."

"I was pretty pissed about that," agreed Duo. He wound a silky lock of dark hair around and around his finger. If he died right now, he decided blissfully, it would be okay.

"I was a shit."

"You were a rookie cop." Duo sighed, shifting around so he could see Heero's face. "What's the deal with that anyway, Yuy? What are you gonna be doin' while I'm goin' to school?"

"What I always do. Bust people." That beautiful mouth curved into a faint smile. Tears glittered on lashes a girl would have envied. "Got another year or two on the force before I can move up. The minimum age for the Preventers is twenty-one."

"Huh. So we can be together a lot." Duo grinned. "Shit. Is that good or bad?"

"You'll study," Heero promised. "I'll see to that."

"Ooo. Or what?"

Heero raised himself onto his elbows. He scowled, but it was belied by the twinkle in his eye. "Or I'll get mad," he replied, bending until his lips barely touched Duo's. "Then you'll be sorry."

"Whatcha gonna do?" Duo fluttered his eyelashes. "Punish me?"

"Careful..." whispered the detective. "I've got handcuffs, guns, a really big stick, and I know how to use them."

"Got that right," agreed Duo. He lifted his head slightly, tongue flicking across Heero's lower lip. "Now, about that really big stick -- I see you brought it with you..."


Epilogue

"Duo! Are you ready yet?" Heero's impatient voice drifted through the apartment. In the bedroom, Duo zipped up his trousers and shook his head.

"Chill!" he hollered back. "I'll be there in a sec!"

Sunlight poured through the tall windows and glinted off the brass buttons of the uniform jacket as Duo slipped it on. He flipped his braid out and gave the jacket a little twitch. In the mirror, the sharply dressed stranger returned a mischievous grin. Hell, he looked almost respectable in this get-up.

"Preening?"

In the mirror, Duo saw Heero in the doorway behind him. The long-haired youth flipped his lover off and went hunting for his shiny new boots. It was Heero, however, who found them in the bathroom next door, handing them over without a word, but with an expression that said plenty.

Duo just grinned. He pulled them on, then posed dramatically. "Well?"

Dark blue eyes softened, impatience disappearing. "You're cute, you know that?"

"Cute? I'm 'cute'?" Duo rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Heero. Teddy bears are cute! Babies are cute! Can't I be studly?"

"Fine. You're studly. And if any of those college punks lays a hand on you, I'll rip it off. Be sure everyone knows that." Heero turned on his heel and left the doorway.

Duo grimaced, but he hurried after his boyfriend. "You know, I don't have to be to Orientation until three. What's the friggin' hurry?"

"I thought we were going to get lunch?"

"Well, yeah, but we just had breakfast."

"You just had breakfast, slug." Heero stood by the door to the apartment, car keys swinging pointedly in one hand.

"Bitch, bitch, b...gggg!" Duo was abruptly silenced by a pair of determined lips and a strong body that pushed him up against the door and held him there. Released at last, a bit dizzy from lack of oxygen, Duo agreed dreamily, "I'll shut up now."

They drove through town, talking of inconsequential things. Relena was engaged again, some young Chinese nobleman with a reputation for getting into fights.

"That should be interesting," Heero observed, "since she's recently decided she's a pacificist."

Duo was privately relieved to hear that. Hisoka Higurashi had, all things considered, taken his son's mutiny with impressive grace, but Duo was pretty sure Relena had been pissed as hell. Maybe this hothead from China would successfully distract her from Heero.

"Hey," he said suddenly, "let's go by the house."

They'd been back in Farmington for almost a week. He'd wanted to see Madison House from the moment they'd returned, but there had always been something that had come up to prevent it. Now, surely, there could be no excuse.

"Sure," said Heero and turned on Larch.

"I hear it was fixed up really nice," Duo said, sitting forward in the seat, looking eagerly ahead. "I wonder what happened to the old ladies?"

"They're still there," Heero said. "The place was only remodeled and upgraded, nothing else really changed."

"Huh. Cool! I was afraid they were gonna tear it down." Ahead, Duo saw the Morrisey. He felt a twinge in his midsection.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. It just feels weird, ya know? I grew up there and now it belongs to someone else. Guess I'm just sentimental. Funny, huh?"

Heero smiled.

Duo saw the wall. It had been repaired and the gate painted. Heero reached under the dash and pushed something. The gate swung open. Duo's mouth dropped. Smoothly, the red car turned into the drive. It had fresh gravel and there were low hedges planted along it. The porch was perfectly level and the big house glowed under its new coat of paint.

"Um, Heero?"

"Yeah?"

"How come you have a gate control?" Duo narrowed his eyes on Heero's profile.

Heero stopped the car. The mansion's windows were new, as was the roof. Duo looked up at the tower, heart thumping. "Can we go in?"

"It was never sold, Duo, although it did change owners."

"Huh? What the hell does that mean?"

"Here."

"Another envelope?" Duo laughed, taking it. He recognized his mother's graceful writing and he gave Heero a look of surprise. Tearing it open, he read it quickly and bit his lip. Turning enormous eyes on Heero he opened and shut his mouth. "She gave me the house!" he said faintly. "I don't believe it! I don't fuckin' believe it!"

"Why not? It's a tradition to give graduation presents, isn't it?"

Duo threw open the car door and leapt out, racing up the drive. The back door was unlocked. He opened it almost fearfully. The kitchen had a new floor with matching counter-tops -- some kind of dark green stone. Wood cupboards, a shiny new stove. Numb, he walked through it.

"Check out the tower," said Heero.

Duo flashed an excited look at him. "Come with me?"

Heero took Duo's hand. They ran up the stairs together. Duo flung open the door and stopped. There were new windows here, too, insulated. One of them had been replaced by a door opening onto a narrow walkway that had been built across the roof. There were heating vents and a thick carpet on the floor.

A four-poster bed stood where the mattress had lain. There were real end-tables, a dresser, a desk with a computer.

"She thought you might like to stay here instead of the dorms. Father was able to arrange special permission for you to do so, if you like."

Duo walked to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. He could not believe all his good fortune. "Would you come and stay here with me?" he asked shyly.

"Leave my luxury apartment downtown?" Heero asked. Duo nodded. Heero pretended to think about it. "Hn. Okay"

"HA!" Duo cried and fell backwards on the thick, soft mattress, his arms outflung. "Everything is perfect!"

Heero's face appeared over him. "Perfect?"

"Yes." Duo closed his eyes, smiling. "Perfect."

Then, abruptly, Heero's weight was on him, driving the breath from Duo's body in a single whoosh. His arms came up around Heero and he held on tight. "This is so cool," he whispered. "I'm so happy."

"Hold that thought when the final exams roll around," Heero replied, mouth against Duo's ear. The warm breath raised gooseflesh and Duo shivered deliciously. He was thoroughly kissed by Farmington's youngest detective and left sighing when Heero rolled off to lie beside him.

"I feel like I've died and gone to heaven or somethin'."

"Good." Heero's little grin was smug as could be. "That's the way I want you to feel always, Duo. Always. If I thought it would help, I'd lock you up here and keep you for myself."

Duo laughed, rolling over to curl up against Heero. "A prisoner of love?"

"That's right. Sentenced to an eternity in my arms." Dark blue eyes held Duo's. They were soft and wistful. Lean, tapering fingers brushed his lips.

Duo snuggled closer. "A bitter fate," he agreed, "but I'm resigned. One must pay one's debt to society after all, huh?"

"Hai," agreed Heero with a low chuckle. He pulled Duo onto him, looking up into Duo's eyes. "I'll be taking that first installment right now, Mr. Maxwell."

And Duo, with his new-found determination to be as law-abiding as possible, meekly paid.

End.


Back to part two.

Find more of Becca Abbott at The Erotic Fiction of Becca Abbott.