Afterimage + Part 11 (cont)

"Just make him happy, kid. Heero deserves someone who can love him unconditionally."

"I'll do my best," Duo promised. He stood up and glanced at the door, wondering where Heero could have gotten to. At that moment the door swung open and Heero strolled in, proceeded by a petite woman with fiery red hair.

"Look who I found outside," Heero said, nodding at the woman who hurried over to Trowa's side.

"Trowa-darling, how are you feeling?" she asked with a slight European accent, momentarily ignoring Heero and Duo.

"No better or worse that the last time you asked, Marie," Trowa replied. He gestured at Duo. "I don't think you've met my wife. Mariemeia, this is Duo Maxwell - Heero's boyfriend."

Duo saw Heero's eyes widen at Trowa's seeming acceptance of their relationship. He smiled warmly at Trowa's wife and took her hand. She used his hand to pull him into a hug.

"You're the one who saved my husband's life," she said, squeezing him tight. "Thank you so very much!"

Duo felt his cheeks redden in embarrassment. "Uh... you're welcome."

"How can I ever repay you for bringing my Trowa back to me?" the diminutive redhead asked.

From behind her, Trowa chuckled. "You could probably start by letting the poor kid go, dear. I think you're cutting off his air supply."

The woman meeped and jumped backwards, abruptly letting the braided teen go. "I didn't hurt you did I?"

"No," Duo replied, turning redder. "I'm fine."

"Good, good." She turned to Heero and winked. "He's cute. You need to hold onto this one."

Both Duo and Heero blushed. Heero glanced at Duo and gave him a little smile. "Aa. I think I will."

Duo felt himself growing warm inside. He clutched at that warmth desperately, no longer feeling quite as cold inside as before.

"You two will have to join us for dinner one night," Marie insisted, taking Trowa's hand in hers. "Once he gets out of hospital of course."

"I... I'd like that," Duo said meekly, glancing at Heero to see what he thought of the idea.

The Japanese detective nodded. "As long as you're buying, Trowa."

The green-eyed cop snorted. "On top of hospital bills and medical leave? You're going to be working overtime to cover for me. You can pay."

"How about neither of you pay and I'll cook?" Marie asked good- naturedly.

Trowa and Heero both readily agreed. Duo tried to keep up the rest of the conversation, but his vision was starting to fade around the edges. He blinked sleepily and clutched at the back of the chair, trying to stay on his feet. He hadn't slept at all the night before, and now it was beginning to catch up with him. Fortunately, Heero noticed he was swaying on his feet and moved to help support him. "I think I'd better get Duo home and into bed before he drops," he said to the Bartons, allowing Duo to lean on him.

"Oh you poor dear," Marie replied, looking worried. "You two go get some rest, and we'll have that dinner at first opportunity."

"It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Barton," Duo said sleepily.

"Please, call me Marie. And thank you again for all that you've done for us."

Heero said his final good-byes, then led Duo out the door and to the elevators. The violet-eyed teen could feel Heero's worried gaze on him.

"Are you all right, Duo?"

"I'm just really tired," Duo said softly. "Does it take long to get to your apartment from here?"

"Not long," Heero replied.

"Good." Duo was too tired to say anything more. All he wanted was to get to Heero's place and go to sleep. The numb, cold feeling was returning. He just wanted to close his eyes and let the events of the day fall away into the oblivion of sleep.

+

Heero threw his keys down on the bar, kicking the door closed behind him. He glanced worriedly at Duo. The young man had once again lapsed into silence on the drive over. Heero didn't know if it was because he was tired or because of... other things.

"Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?" he asked, ready to move heaven and earth for his little love should he ask.

Duo shook his head. "Would... would you call Quatre for me? Let him know where I am?"

"Sure."

"I think... I think I'd like to use your shower...if you don't mind."

"Of course I don't mind. You know where everything is, don't you?"

Duo nodded again, then shuffled off toward the bathroom. Heero watched after him until he disappeared behind the closed bathroom door. He leaned against the kitchen counter and sighed. Duo's moods were see-sawing up and down. That couldn't be good.

He grabbed the phone and quickly dialed Quatre Winner's number, thankful Duo had given it to him earlier that week. Dr. Winner was both relieved and upset to hear that Duo was at his place. He wanted to come over and pick Duo up, but Heero politely refused. He told Quatre that he'd have Duo call him in the morning, then hung up before the good doctor could protest further. From behind the closed bathroom door, he could hear the shower running. Thinking he had a few minutes before Duo emerged, he busied himself around the loft, tidying things up.

Half an hour later, Heero was staring at the bathroom door in worry. The shower was still running and there had been no peep from the long- haired boy since he had disappeared inside. Anxiety overcame prudence, so he walked over and knocked gently on the door.

"Duo? Are you all right?" No answer. "Duo?"

He turned the knob and stuck his head around the door. A muffled whimper came from the vicinity of the shower. Through the steam, Heero could make out Duo curled up in the corner of the shower.

"Oh God, Duo! Are you all right?" he asked as he rushed over and threw open the door of the walk-in shower. Heedless of the water streaming over his fully clothed body, he knelt down next to the quivering boy. He reached out and lifted Duo's face from where it had been buried against his knees. His skin was red, as though he had been scrubbing too hard.

"Duo?"

"I... I... I can't get clean. I can still feel... it hurts..." Duo stammered, eyes shining bright with unshed tears. He rubbed furiously at his face, his body stiffening in resolve. "But... I am not going to let him get to me. I can't." He went to push himself off the floor, but Heero pulled him into his arms before he could stand.

"It's okay to cry, you know. You don't have to be strong all the time. I can be strong for us both if you need to cry."

"But..." Duo began as two tears slipped down his face.

"Shhh. Let it out, Duo. Just let it out."

Heero held Duo in his arms, gently rocking him back and forth as the lukewarm water streamed down over both of them. Duo's body was wracked with sobs as he cried his heart out onto Heero's shoulder. Heero rubbed soothing circles along his back until the sobbing quieted down, leaving Duo only with a mild case of hiccups.

"Feel better?"

"Yeah. Thanks," the long-haired teen replied, sounding somewhat embarrassed.

"Come on. Let's get dry before the water turns icy."

He helped Duo stand, reaching out with one hand to turn off the water. Stepping out of the shower, he grabbed a big, fluffy towel from a nearby rail and wrapped it around Duo's shivering body. Violet eyes looked him up and down as Heero began towel drying his limbs.

"I made you all wet," the younger man said mournfully.

"It's only water. My clothes will dry."

He made Duo sit down on the plush mat in front of the toilet, wrapped snuggly in a warm, dry towel. He stripped his wet shirt from his body before grabbing his hair dryer from under the sink and sitting down on the toilet seat behind Duo. For the next several minutes, he spent his time drying and brushing out Duo's glorious head of hair. He could see the younger teen's shoulders relax under his ministrations until he was all but asleep beneath the warm air coming from the hair dryer. When the task was done, Heero set aside the dryer and swept Duo's sleepy form into his arms.

"I c'n walk, H'ro," the long-haired boy mumbled, struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Hn. Sleepwalk maybe." He hit the light switch on the way out, and headed for the bedroom. The apartment was almost completely dark; the sun in its last stages of setting. Heero swept aside the sheets on his bed and gently laid his burden down against the pillows. He untangled the towel from the young man's body and tossed it to the floor. Idly he thought about trying to get Duo into some clothes to sleep in, but the boy was too far gone to help him. Sleeping in the buff wouldn't do him any harm.

He pulled up the sheets, tucking his little love in tightly, then leaned down to press a kiss onto his forehead. He straightened up, prepared to step away from the bed, when a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

"Stay."

Heero hesitated, but gave in. Duo might need him during the night. He stripped down to his damp boxers and climbed into bed next to Duo, wrapping his arms firmly around the long-haired teen.

"I'm here. Sleep well, Duo."

Duo mumbled something against Heero's chest, but whatever it was, Heero couldn't make it out as the events of the day caught up with him and he drifted off into the sweet arms of oblivion.

+

A low moan woke him out of a light sleep. He hadn't been able to fully let go; his body sensitive to every movement Duo made. He had woken up every time Duo had so much as twitched to make sure the young man was all right. The gray light of false dawn was creeping through the blinds, still too dark to see anything. Heero reached out and flipped his bedside lamp on, then turned to look back down at Duo.

The sleeping teen's brow was creased, skin glistening with sweat. His fingers twitched sporadically as his head tossed back and forth. He looked to be in the grips of a nightmare. Heero sat up and reached down to shake Duo's shoulder firmly.

"Duo. It's just a dream. Wake up, Duo."

Duo sat straight up, panting for air, eyes looking around wildly. "H...Heero?"

Heero rubbed his hand soothingly across Duo's back. "I'm here. You're safe. It was just a dream."

Duo closed his eyes and leaned back against Heero's chest, turning slightly sidewise so he was nestled comfortably in the older man's arms. "Just a dream? Thank God..."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Duo shook his head, but then began to speak anyway. "I was dreaming about... about him. He was touching me."

"It's not real," Heero murmured, dropping a kiss on the top of Duo's head.

"I know but... I can still feel his hands on me. I feel... slimy, dirty."

He peeked up at Heero through his bangs. "Help me, Heero. Make him stop touching me."

Heero swallowed, suddenly aware of just how very close and how very nude Duo was next to him. "Duo, I don't think..."

"Please," the long-haired teen pleaded. "Please... just touch me. I want to feel your hands on me. Not his."

Heero tried to protest. He didn't want to give in to the request. He didn't think it was very healthy mental wise to concede to Duo's wishes... but those beautiful violet eyes stared up at him with such longing, and the body pressed against his was so warm - he could do nothing but throw all his worries to the wind and gather Duo closer to him.

Heero placed his fingers under Duo's chin, tipping the boy's face upwards in order to claim his mouth. Duo accepted him readily, shifting his body for better access. He opened his mouth, allowing Heero entrance. The Japanese detective moved one of his hands to the back of Duo's head, burying it in the long silky waves of his hair. The other wandered down the boy's side, coming to rest on Duo's bare hip.

Their tongues moved together, first lazily, then much more urgently. The small whimpers emanating from the back of Duo's throat excited Heero. He stroked Duo's hip, eager to wring more of the sexy sounds from his little lover.

Duo broke off the kiss, gasping for air. He threw his head back, giving Heero complete access to his throat. The older man nipped and sucked at one tender spot as his hand moved from Duo's hip to his stomach.

"Ahh, Heero," the long-haired boy moaned, running his own hand up and down Heero's chest. Their hands wandered, exploring each other's bodies for a moment, before Duo sprang up, changing position to straddle Heero's legs, bringing him face to face with his older lover.

"Duo?"

"That position was a little awkward," Duo explained, taking one of Heero's hands in his and pressing it against his chest. His expression grew serious. "Touch me, Heero," he begged, eyes pleading once again.

"Duo, I..." Heero began to protest again, struggling to regain control over his own emotions, not to mention his traitorous body, but Duo silenced him with a kiss.

"Please Heero," he said again against Heero's lips. "I want the memory of your hands on me, not his." He placed his hand on top of the one Heero was resting on his chest and guided it over his body, moving it down with inexorable slowness. "Touch me...touch me..."

Heero swallowed. Duo's skin was so smooth beneath his hand. He wanted to feel every inch of it, explore every part of his lover's body. He still wasn't sure that this was the best thing to be doing, but the pleading he heard in his lover's voice - there was no way he could say no.

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