Illusions of Love + Part 1 (cont)

+

By the time Duo's feet stopped moving, he was standing on the upstairs landing, looking down the unlighted hallway. His breath was coming in quick, short intakes. He bent forward, holding his hands on his thighs, trying to regain his calm.

"I... can't... breathe," he gasped out, even as he continued to take in quick draughts of air. "Shit!"

He was hyperventilating, and as soon as his head started spinning, he knew he needed to lie down. Somehow he managed to move forward, making his way into the room he shared with Heero. There he collapsed on the bed face down, still sucking air into his lungs in quick, shallow breaths.

He replayed the conversation in his head. Heero was leaving to work for Relena. And in true Heero fashion he did not think to mention it beforehand to Duo, or even to ask him to join him in Sank.

He's leaving me, Duo thought as tears began to fall down his cheeks.

During the war their relationship had been tentative and even antagonistic at times, but since the war's end they had spent every day together and never once argued. The sex was great, but Duo believed their relationship was about more than that. They respected each other and had become a couple. Or so he thought.

He wiped the tears away with his sleeve and chuckled at the notion that Heero thought he was strong. In this moment, Duo was anything but strong. He had faced death innumerable times during the war, but he had never been afraid or weak until now. There had been so much loss in his life, but he had thought he was past that all now. He had thought he and Heero would be together from now on. Obviously, he was wrong.

+

Downstairs, Heero's eyes were fixed on the door Duo had disappeared behind. He had not blinked or moved a muscle in over a minute.

"Heero? Aren't you going after him?" Quatre asked, feeling powerless to help.

"Duo probably needs to be alone right now," Trowa cautioned.

Quatre turned bright aquamarine eyes to his lover. "But this isn't right," he said and then looked at Heero again. "You should go after him."

"He'll get over it," Heero finally said.

The little Arabian gasped at the apparent insensitivity of that remark. "And I called you the Heart of Outer Space! Was I mistaken, Heero?"

There was no response.

Trowa slipped his arm around Quatre's shoulder and pulled him close. "Let's give him some time alone. I'm sure he'll talk to Duo again... won't you, Heero?"

"Hn."

That was enough to assure Trowa that Heero would manage the situation, but Quatre was not as confident. He reluctantly let his lover guide him away to take a walk in the cool night air.

Heero's eyes drifted up toward the second floor of the house. He knew Duo was up there, in their room. He was disappointed, but not completely surprised at Duo's reaction. The boy had grown accustomed to the leisurely lifestyle Quatre had given them, and it was only fair that he would be upset to see this little world come crashing down. But Duo also knew of Heero's strong sense of duty, especially to Relena.

She's the EarthSphere's best chance for a lasting peace, Heero thought, as he set his mind to mission mode once again.

He needed to speak with Duo, but he could not do it just yet. He wanted to be calm, and Duo made him anything but calm. If this was to be their last night together, he did not want them spending it apart.

+

Over an hour later, Heero made his way upstairs to their room. The door was unlocked, but when he went inside all the lights in the bedroom were off. Then he noticed a light coming from under the bathroom door. He walked over and put his ear to the closed door. All was quiet.

He was not worried that Duo would do anything rash like killing himself over this, but he did want to talk again. He tapped on the door. "Duo?"

Inside the bathroom, Duo was immersed up to his chin in warm bath water. He was trying to find his "calm center," a term Wufei had taught him, but he was not having any luck. And now Heero was here. He sat up, but did not answer.

Heero heard the sluicing of water and slowly opened the door. His eyes met those of his lover's at once and he stepped inside the room.

"I thought we could talk," he said as his eyes drifted down the long fall of unbound hair hanging over the tub's edge.

"You're leaving. What else is there to say?"

"Relena is important to the continued demilitarization of the Colonies and the Earth, and to the pacifist movement..."

"Hey, if you've come here to lecture don't bother," Duo said, cutting him off and turning his back on Heero.

Heero watched in fascination as the long chestnut hair trailed into the water behind him. That damn hair, he thought as he felt a tingling in his groin.

During the war, he had decided that Duo's demonstrative personality and girlishly long hair were weaknesses. They would attract unwanted attention and get the boy killed. But Duo had survived the war just fine, maybe better than any of them, and his hair had since become much more to Heero.

An image of Duo straddling him with his hair unbound and covering their nakedness sent another jolt straight to Heero's groin. He was the one with the weakness now.

"Let me..." Heero said, as he knelt next to the tub and picked up a brush and then reached in for a lock of wet hair.

Duo looked over his shoulder and held his breath as Heero began to brush out his hair. "Don't..." he started to protest and wanted to pull away, but it would have been a lie. He wanted this touch, needed this touch. "Why, Heero? Why didn't you tell me you had talked to Relena?"

Heero brushed through the lock once more before answering. "I knew it would upset you."

Duo turned to face him. "You're acting like we don't mean anything to each other... like this is supposed to be easy."

Heero set down the brush and looked into Duo's violet eyes. "Look, I don't want to argue with you. I've gotten out of the habit these past weeks."

"Yeah, it's been nice," Duo said with a small grin.

Those words and that half smile prompted Heero to take Duo's face in his hands and kiss him. When Duo did not push him away he took the kiss deeper, parting the other boy's lips with his tongue. They fed on each other's mouths, emitting little hungry sounds and raising the temperature between them.

Their differences seemed forgotten, and Heero stood, bringing Duo with him as they continued to kiss. The water rushed off Duo as he stood with his hands clenching the front of Heero's shirt to keep from losing his balance in the tub.

Heero's hands drifted over Duo's slender, wet frame, settling finally on his bottom and giving it a firm squeeze. The possessive grope reminded Duo of the moment immediately following Heero's announcement. He had patted Duo's thigh as if everything was fine. The memory jolted Duo out of the seduction. He pushed Heero away.

"Oh, I get it," he said, panting from the intensity of the kiss. "You don't wanna argue, because you wanna get laid tonight! One last tumble before you leave me behind like some outmoded mobile suit."

Heero's body was thrumming with arousal and he was in no mood to battle wits. "Then come with me if you want. I'm sure there's work for you, too."

Duo shook his head as he stepped out of the tub. "Come with you if *I* want? Well, what the hell do *you* want?"

"To do my duty," Heero said, sounding like a paid advertisement for the youth corps, even though he meant it.

"You mean your duty to Relena," Duo said, resentfully.

"Yes, what's wrong with that? She's the symbol of peace..."

"I know, I know!" Duo said, holding up his hands to stop the familiar chant. "I guess nothing's changed. The war might as well not even be over."

Heero narrowed his eyes on Duo, frustrated more than ever. What does he want from me? he wondered as he reached for a towel on the rack and tossed it to his friend. "That's your problem, Maxwell. You could never see how important Relena is to peace."

"Fuck you!" Duo shouted as he threw the towel back at him. "I risked my life everyday, fighting for peace, and what did Relena do?"

"She was brave enough not to fight."

Duo closed his eyes and turned his head away. That declaration hit him as hard as if Heero had slapped him across the face. It felt as if a terrible weight was descending, and Duo could do nothing to stop it.

"Go," he said, barely above a whisper.

"What?" Heero asked, tilting his head to see the face hidden by the unbound hair.

"You heard me," Duo said, clenching his jaw.

Heero stood for a moment, unmoving. This was not how he had pictured this night ending. "This is what you want?" he asked, unable or unwilling to comprehend what was happening.

Duo's face turned to him with a dark intensity burning in his eyes. "Just get the fuck out of here!" he shouted and pointed to the door, his hand trembling slightly.

The former Wing pilot flinched at the power of emotion conveyed in that one sentence. As a soldier he knew when he was outgunned and when it was best to leave the field of battle. And so Heero left.

As he stepped into the hall and closed the bedroom door behind him, he felt the finality of the act.

It's over, he thought, bowing his head. It's over.

+

The soft click of the bedroom door cracked Duo's hard facade. He fell to his knees on the tile floor and squeezed his eyes shut to fight back the tears.

Heero, he thought, angrily. How is it that Relena has so much power over you and I have none?

Images from the past months flooded his mind: Relena protecting Heero from Duo that first day on Earth, Duo and Heero attending class at Relena's fancy boarding school, and Duo telling Heero that Relena was aboard the Libra, knowing that he would want to look out for her. The girl had been intertwined with their lives from the beginning and yet Duo had never been jealous before now.

Minutes passed as he tried to sort things out. What was he jealous about? He knew that Heero was not attracted to Relena, it was perfectly clear each time they made love. Could it be that Heero actually did put duty above all else... even love?

I don't even know if he loves me, Duo thought, cringing at the hard truth. "But I know I love him," he whispered shakily.

Hearing the declaration from his own lips jolted Duo. His eyes shot open and he suddenly realized just how quiet the house had become.

Maybe it would not be such a bad idea to make love again, he thought as he got to his feet and retrieved the discarded towel. It would be better than this silence.

As he walked into the bedroom while drying himself off with the towel, the empty bed stirred memories of the many times he and Heero had lain there together. They never argued in bed. Heero was a damn good lover, too, generous and skilled, and always saw to Duo's needs.

"And he liked to talk afterward," Duo remembered fondly with a little smile.

For some reason, sex made Heero talkative and even a little romantic. After they climaxed he would hold Duo and either start talking right away, or wait until Duo had taken a short post-coital nap. Either way he would talk about things that interested his lover such as motorcycles and comic books.

"Oh, God," Duo said, suddenly. "He did want to talk... and making love always made it easier for him. Shit!"

In a rush, Duo grabbed a pair of jeans out of the dresser and nearly tripped over himself getting them on. He burst into the hallway and slid down the banister to the bottom of the stairs, his hair flying behind him. As he hopped off the end of the carved wooden rail he nearly ran smack into Trowa.

"Whoa!" he cried out as he skidded to a stop.

Trowa took a half step back, but did not seem startled.

"I gotta find Heero. Have you seen him?"

The taller boy looked towards the door. "Maybe you should talk to Quatre."

"He's with Quatre... Outside?"

"I'm right here, Duo," Quatre said as he rounded the corner. He looked his friend over, surprised by his state of undress and his unruly hair.

"Where's Heero? Trowa said he was with you."

"He was..." Quatre answered and then felt a twinge inside him. His eyes slipped away to his lover, then down at the marble floor.

"What is it?" Duo asked, even as his heart began to pound hard against his chest. "Why won't you tell me where Heero is?"

"He's gone, Duo," Quatre said softly, raising his eyes. "Heero's gone."

Duo gave a little snort in disbelief. "Yeah, right. He's not leaving until the morning," he replied, and then padded off down the hall to the library where Heero liked to spend his evenings.

"Heero?" Duo called as he peered inside the room. It was empty and his heart sank. Hell, it felt like the damn sky was falling on him. "When..." he asked, turning back to see the pity in his friends' eyes, "... did he leave?"

"About twenty minutes ago," Trowa explained. "He drove himself to Quatre's private airfield... and took one of the planes."

"We thought you knew, Duo," Quatre said, apologetically.

"Did he say... anything?" Duo asked, feeling smaller by the moment.

"He thanked me for letting him stay here, but that was all. Oh, Duo, I'm so sorry..."

"No, Quatre, it's not your fault," Duo said, trying to reassure his friend. "I told him to leave, but I didn't think he would. He didn't even take his things."

"Maybe that means he'll be back soon!" Quatre said, optimistically.

"He's not coming back," Duo said, and turned as a tear slid down his cheek.

"Where are you going, Duo?" Quatre asked as Duo began to walk away.

"Nowhere, I guess," he replied, and his shoulders slumped.

+

For the next week, Duo was just a shell of himself. He spent most of his days sitting alone in his and Heero's room, staring out the window as if half-expecting his lover to return. Other times he walked through the house until he come upon a place that reminded him of Heero and then he would sigh and return to his room.

Quatre and Trowa both tried to talk to their despondent friend, but Duo rarely said more than a few words to them. After three days, Trowa diagnosed Duo as being in a "funk" and advised Quatre to give up his efforts, but the Arabian could not completely abandon his friend. He made sure Duo ate each day, even if only a few spoonfuls of soup and one or two bites of falafel.

Finally, after seven days, Quatre decided they had all had enough.

"I'm sorry Duo, but my hospitality ends today." It hurt Quatre to say that, but it seemed the right words to stir a reaction.

Duo snapped out of his Heero-daze long enough to turn curious eyes on his friend. "What do you mean, buddy?"

"Do you realize that's the most you've said to me in four days?"

"Uh, sorry," Duo replied, ducking his head. "I guess I haven't been myself lately."

Quatre gave a little smile, pleased that at least Duo was talking again. "I know Heero leaving was a shock to you, but you've got to start living again. Listen, I shouldn't need to tell you that. You were always the one who could handle anything."

Duo clamped down on a sob. He was not about to start crying again. He had given up on it days ago.

Quatre knew Duo was still struggling emotionally. He could feel it. "Have you thought about contacting him?" he asked, tentatively.

"No way. I'm not crawling back to him."

"Then what are you doing? You've been staring out that window for a week."

Duo exhaled deeply and lowered his head. "I've done a lot of thinking, Quatre, but no matter how I look at things I still get the same answer."

"What's that?"

The boy looked up, turning wide blue eyes on his friend. "I guess I never knew him. Heck, the guy's as far from normal as you can get, but I thought I could figure him out."

"You would have... in time," Quatre said, placing his hand on Duo's arm.

Duo smiled at his friend's touch. "Things would've been a lot easier if I had ended up with you," Duo said, chuckling and watching Quatre's cheeks color. "Oh, don't worry, I know you and I are too much alike to get along that way. I think that's what attracted me to Heero in the first place. He couldn't be any more different than me."

"It's good to find someone who balances you," Quatre admitted.

"You did good by Trowa. So you two got any plans?"

"Actually, we've done a lot of talking and have decided to return to outer space."

"No kidding. Well, I wish you all the best."

"We'd like you to come with us, Duo. I'm going to have my hands full running my father's corporation, and Trowa will be working with the Colonial government. We could use your help and I know how you've missed outer space."

"Yeah, outer space..." Duo said, smiling, but then turned his face away and frowned. "I can't."

"Then what will you do?"

"I haven't decided. I think I'll just... wander. Check out the planet a little before I settle down."

Quatre was silent for a moment contemplating his friend being on his own. He knew Duo could take care of himself, but it saddened him to think of Duo alone. Of course, the boy would probably make new friends in a hurry.

"You'll always be welcome on L4," he said, and impulsively leaned in and gave Duo a little kiss on the cheek.

"Hey, what was that for?" Duo asked, putting his hand over his cheek and looking more than a little surprised.

"You're a good friend," Quatre said, standing. "Trowa and I won't be leaving for a few days. You're welcome to stay until then."

"Thanks buddy," Duo said with a smile, peeling himself out of the chair he had been sitting in all morning. "You're a great friend, too, and I'd love to hang around, but I think you're right... I need to be going. I'll just pack my things and be on my way."

+

True to his word, Duo left that day, taking a flight to Europe and then beginning his journey. There was freedom in roaming, in knowing that he could go anywhere and not have to worry about being tracked by the enemy or attacked by a squadron of Leos, but there was more to it than that. He needed time to sort things out, to come to terms with what had happened between him and Heero, and hiking along country back roads gave him that.

When he had started out it was a bit of a forced march. If Quatre had not pushed him out of the nest that day, he would probably still be sitting there in Arabia... waiting. It was not like him to be such a wimp, but the way things had ended had really thrown him, knocked him down in the worst way. It was similar to the emptiness and displacement he had felt when Maxwell Orphanage was destroyed... only worse. He had not planned on giving his heart to Heero, but it sure felt like he had.

He missed Quatre and Trowa, and even Wufei, but their friendship could not compare to the loss he felt over Heero. No matter how many miles he put behind him he still ached for the other boy. More than once he had changed direction and started northeast toward the Sank Kingdom, and each time he had stopped himself. The conflict between his heart and his head just too much.

What soured him more than anything was not Relena, or Heero's half-hearted invitation to come along, but the fact that Heero had not contacted any of them the week following his departure. Now, nearly three months later, Duo was still stumbling about the countryside, searching for direction and trying to forget the pain that gnawed in his belly.

On top of everything else, he was tired. He had walked most of the way or hitched rides, and his body ached from physical and emotional exhaustion. He needed to plant his feet somewhere or run the risk of walking in circles for the rest of his life.

The notion of going to America crossed his mind. It was not the first time he had thought of his ancestral home, or wondered about the parents he had never known. If he was searching for direction, for a place to settle, maybe the most logical place to start was at the beginning... at his roots. The decision to go back also had the added benefit of putting more distance between him and Heero.

His mind was made up. He would call America home.

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