11-27-2002

Title: : Komm Zu Mir, (6/?)
Author: Persephone_Elysian
Email: Persephone_Elysian@yahoo.com
Archive: Elysia http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/
DHML http://www.kikotei.net

Hello again. *Sephy pops out of lurkerdom.* Sorry for the long silence but graduate school has seriously been kicking my @$$. At the very least, it's cut into my fic writing time as evidenced by this chapter which I meant to have posted by Halloween. Well, it is posting on another holiday (Thanksgiving for all the Yanks on the list), so I guess it's better than nothing.

Anyway, I did manage to get another chapter of this story out before a space of six months passed, which I'm inordinately pleased with. Now to see if I can do it again. ^_- If it helps, I've already written the last scene for this story, so one day it will be finished because I have an ending to tack on.

Oh and there's some citrusy bits in this one (for all of you who've asked).

Linkage to previous parts (for those of you who want to play catch up):

http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm0.html
http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm1.html
http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm2.html
http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm3.html
http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm4.html
http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/komm5.html

Background: This story takes place just hours after the events at the end of 'Walk this World.' For those of you who haven't read that story, I urge you to go read it or some of this might not make sense:

http://www.angelfire.com/id2/avalon/walkthisworld0.html

Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing nor its characters. That honor goes to Bandai, Sunrise, and their respective holders.

Warnings/Rating: NC-17; Blood (This is a vampire story), angst,language, violence, and citrus. Lots and lots of citrus. There are some different character relations going on in this as first seen in 'Walk this World.'

Pairings:1x2/2x1

'...' indicates thoughts.

Thank You: To Amet, first and foremost the evil beta. Yet again, your pushing has brought about results. Now look what you've done. ^_- And all of you out there who've written to encourage me on this one. *hugs*

Feedback is craved and will be adored with the proper amount of gushing. ^_^

***

Komm Zu Mir
A 'Gundam Wing' Alternate Universe story
Persephone_Elysian

Chapter Five

 

She was snarling when Trowa reached her, a litany of curses and growls that almost made him turn the other way. She'd scented him by now, had to have and to just leave would probably make her angrier. Better to face her wrath now than to allow it to build, than to become an unwitting target out of some festering sense of neglect she might harbor.

He had been following her, working hard to hide his presence from detection, gambling that she was going to be too distracted, too focused on putting her feelers out for Heero, to notice him. He was just a small fish, almost as weak as any mortal as he refrained from using those preternatural abilities Hilde flaunted. Abilities that made her dangerous...and also very possible to track unless she chose to dampen them. Something that might have been advisable after her confrontation with Heero. He didn't know exactly what had happened but the earth had shook with the fury of her departure. That alone almost sent him running--not just out of the way but out of the city, lying low until she'd had time to cool off or take her anger out on someone else.

Only he hadn't had to wait that long.

Approaching the boy had been unexpected. Or at least, it was this early in the game. It made a mockery of his maker's earlier confidence. Told him that whatever had passed between her and Heero, the outcome had shaken her. For her to return to the scene of an earlier attack, in an open confrontation with her rival--and yes, even Hilde had to see that the boy was a rival, bespoke a disturbed mind. It meant she hadn't cared or been calm enough to mask her presence, to go in silently. Had the blond woman not shown up, it was highly likely Duo Maxwell would have been on his way to the morgue right now.

She'd been surprised--that was the only reason Maxwell was still alive. It wasn't something that happened often or had in a long time. For her to be so far off her game... He cringed. Her earlier fury would probably pale in comparison to the storm sure to be brewing now.

The fluorescent lighting of the parking garage was harsh, burning away any protective shadows he might have sought out. Water dripped in the distance, a small leak that seeped in thin rivers across the dirty concrete. The air was stale, tasting of motor oil and sweat, contaminating his tongue with unpleasant tastes. He didn't like this place, this tomb of automobiles in wait with its expanses of space and movable boxes of every imaginable color. It lacked the warm, earthy scents of animals, of manure and horseflesh that he had grown up with. He remembered working in those rickety stalls, the strong damp of wet hay as it filled the air, and the way the animals had responded to him. Even if no one else in his life had ever cared, those horses had loved him, nickering and butting at his shoulder for constant attention. Their whip wounds pained him and when one of them went to foal, he'd sat up all night with the heaving mare. And...And there had been nights spent in the stable not because the horses needed him but to escape, the rain of blows and torrent of vipertuative words he inevitably walked into.

After he'd been turned, they had returned to that stable, the one time in his immortal life he had forced Hilde to do anything, and set the horses free--right before he set fire to it and the rest of those stinking buildings of his misspent youth.

"I'm going to rip her goddamn hair out and feed it to her," Hilde hissed, reaching out to pluck the snub of a bolt from under her knee. She was leaning against the concrete of a pillar, careful not to balance on her game leg. The wound would heal and quickly for her but the smart of humiliation would linger. He almost flinched as she snapped the arrow in half, splinters showering in testament to the pressure exerted.

He drew closer, kneeling down to take a better look when a vicious backhand caught him hard across the mouth. Already expecting such an act, he let himself go limp, falling backward onto the floor. Her shadow fell across him, threatening to swallow him whole and he struggled not to curl into a ball, knowing that to do so would provoke a possibly more violent reaction.

"And just where the fuck were you?" the words were spat. When he dared peer up out of the protective fringe of his hair, he could see her face hollowing out, fangs becoming more prominent as they receded from pale rose gums. She resembled nothing so much as a wild animal, one fully intent upon tearing its prey limb for limb and needing only to be set in motion. Her eyes glittered at him, a glint of wounded bestial madness therein. "Watching? Hoping maybe the bitch would kill me?"

"No, I--"

"Shut up, Trowa," The words were punctuated by a savage kick. Evidently she was not in so much pain that she couldn't deal out anguish of her own. His ribs protested the way her foot tried to lodge up in them, the strength of his immortal body the only thing protecting him from a pair of broken ribs. "You were following me? And you did nothing when that stupid human threatened me?!"

"I thought--"

"You didn't even try," she leaned forward, snatching up by the hair and pulling him upright. His eyes watered, a bodily reaction to the torment he sought to mentally divorce himself from. She slapped him again, this time more close-fisted than before, the side of his face taking the force of the blow. Because of her age, she was stronger than he was and could inflict serious damage should she chose to. The best he could hope for was that she would grow weary before she did irreparable harm.

Heero would have fought back, would have delivered blow for blow. He would never have laid back and simply taken what was dealt to him. Heero was strong, he was brave, and he would never give up. He was nothing compared to that, just a shadow Hilde pitied too much to extinguish. The litany was now rote. He'd heard it so often -- from her lips, from the Master's. It came without bidding, with him during the worst of it, always chiding him not to resent his punishment. He was not Heero, he never could be.

And for that he deserved to be punished.

With a snort, she ended the barrage, a hand to his face shoving him backward hard enough, his head cracked against the ground with a crunch. He was dimly aware of her shuffling to the side, perhaps to lean back against the column as she regained her composure, the worst of the tantrum spent. As for him, Trowa lay flat, unable to move, trying to regain his bearings despite the painful spike circuiting through his bruised head. He was surprised to find that nothing appeared to be broken this time aside from a few lacerations of skin. Blood flecked against his lips, rolling around in his mouth as much from the tongue he'd bitten on the way down as it was from his busted lip.

He sprawled there, feeling his insides jar and flinch up at every noise, fearing more another reprisal from his sire than he did any unwitting mortal stumbling upon them. He listened to her curse, unhampered by the need to breathe, the words stringing themselves along in foul singsong.

At last, he bestirred enough to risk speaking again. "Heero's there."

She paused, face flattening and lengthening even more. "What?!"

His jaw throbbed, from temple to chin and he could taste blood from his split lip. "Saw him. After you left. He's there now."

"And you just--" she nearly gargled. He tensed, waiting with resignation for the next blow. He listened to her lope around, her shoes scuffing against the cold floor, loud to his sensitive ears.

"Well, shit," she dropped to the ground beside him, her knees coming up in an ungainly fashion. "You're sure about this?"

He wanted to nod but thought better of it. "Yes."

She was so close, he could smell the drying blood of her wound, could almost hear her flesh stitching itself up. Another thirty minutes and you wouldn't be able to tell she had been hurt in the first place. Her nails drummed against the concrete, a rata-ta-tat that had neither a beginning nor an end. His mind flashed back to an earlier time, a dark place broken by the swing of a flailing barren light bulb, blood dripping down thin leather strips spattering against pale skin. Yes, the sounds were much the same.

"Did he sense you?"

The words disturbed his reverie, forced him out of remote memory. "No," the word almost quivered, thick with uncertainty. "I was careful. I--"

"Shhh," she whispered, her face beatific as she leaned over him, her mouth gentle as she coaxed his lips apart. Fingers traced over his face, ghosting over his wounds in such a way the pain became balanced with pleasant ease. She drew back, hovering as her words, generous in their forgiveness washed over him. "You did well. You did very well, Trowa."

"But--"

"Don't you see how perfect it is?" She stretched out beside him, her lips bubbling against his ear, one hand tracing lazy patterns up and down his abdomen. "I know how to break them."

"I don't understand."

"Of course not. You weren't there to hear what he said... What he didn't say. It's so perfect." Her hands slid underneath his shirt and he gasped again. "It's so easy. We just have to force a choice. That's all."

"A...choice?" His head tipped upward, her dark eyes filling his vision, two malicious gleeful stars.

"Mhmm. I just have to hit him," she nipped at his chin, "where it will hurt the most."

In the second before he gave himself over to it, to the way she played his body like the most fine-tuned of instruments, it occurred to him that it might not be Heero she was talking about.

***

'This is a bad idea,' Heero fidgeted, turning the buttons of his jacket around and around, unable to stop himself as he darted glances to and fro down the unfamiliar hallway. So far, he'd sensed nothing beyond the ordinary, the building containing exactly every thing it should and not a whiff of anyone undead or otherwise supernaturally inclined sniffing around. That, in itself, didn't reassure him. There were plenty of beings that could, if they were so inclined, camouflage themselves even from him. And as loathe as he was to admit it, his sire was one of those creatures, a skill honed from centuries of use.

After Hilde's surprise visit this morning, he found himself growing more suspicious as the day wore on, half-expecting her to as suddenly reappear. And she was probably going to be more than a little vengeful when she did so. 'Probably?' He shook his head. 'You threatened to stake her and very near did. I think that 'vengeful' is a given at this point in the game.'

The problem was he wasn't sure he really could have gone through with it. He'd been angry, ashamed and half-aroused by the way she manipulated him, at how easily he had fallen back into the past. The space of a couple centuries had melted away and he'd been right back where he started. Worse than that, Hilde had seen it, had known without a word passing between them. Her outright glee stung, made worse by the fact that some part of him was laughing right along with her.

How long had he fought with himself, struggled to slip the mold and leash fastened round his neck the moment of his preternatural birth? No matter how often he tried to tell himself that Trieze was right, that he was more than the spoiled malcontent of centuries past, it took only one slip -- just one and he was back at the ladder's bottom rung. The choice he had made was a conscious one, not some off the cuff whim but that did not preclude it being the easier road to take.

Walking away from Hilde had meant more than simply breaking with a lover--with that act, he had broken with himself. Shedding more than five centuries wasn't something one did in an instant and those chains held strong when he least expected. And contrary to popular belief, he hadn't up and suddenly grown a conscience. It was the cultivation of time and the realization that as entertaining as it might prove initially, he did not enjoy inflicting pain. Nor was he particularly enamoured of the sour aftertaste that lingered, as if his meal had gotten stuck in his teeth. Killing was something he was skilled at, tracking and hunting coming to him as naturally as air once had. For a time, that had defined his character--murderous death with a streak of wanton cruelty, hungering for the chaos and fear he left in his wake as he did his victims' blood.

He left in part because he wanted to prove he was more than the hunger that ruled him, that had guided his path for nights untold before then. Because there had to be more to it, to immortality than the kill, than the feed as consuming as it was. Because if there wasn't... then what the hell was any of it for?

Long-winded philosophical tripe about the meaning of life (or as it were, unlife) had always bored him so it was nothing short of terrifying to find himself in the midst of an existential crisis centuries after the fact was null. Treize liked to tease about his reaching the equivalent of a mid-life crisis but to Heero it was no joking matter. And Hilde had shown little patience or understanding with his newfound worries or with the introspective microscope he'd shoved both their lives under. She had her niche, she liked it, and saw no reason to change ways cross-stream. His questions had grated at both of them, ruining much of the last decades of the eighteenth century. He frowned. Well, that and that rather unfortunate incident in London during the Gordon Riots when Hilde's idea of an 'easy meal' had nearly gotten them torched by a rabid mob.

The initial separation from his sire had been far simpler than the stretching of it had proven. On occasion one or both of them had been known to wander off, anywhere from months to actual decades before they met up again. And that was exactly what had happened--more or less. Heero grimaced, rubbing the side of his neck in memory. Hilde had been rather pissed with him that night and the resulting injuries had taken time to heal, vampiric constitution or no. He couldn't be sure but he suspected it was his unwillingness to fight back, to inflict on her body all the wounds she gave to him, that had driven her out the door. Always before such acts had merely been a prelude, often a violent one, to sex. It was part of how they communed, how they reaffirmed the bond between them and by taking that control away from her, he had cut ground out from under her in a very real sense.

He couldn't lie and say that getting away from her had done much to change his attitude to begin with. If anything, there had been a period of backsliding--backsliding of the cruelest, most destructive form because for all his self-examination, he really had no idea what to do with himself or the time before him. Ingrained habit was so much easier and more comforting than his questions, a new crop of which seemed to arise as soon as he went through the last set. There had been several times when he'd almost given up, almost turned around and sought the balm of Hilde's dark embrace -- because it was a known quantity, because it was comforting in a way that he could comprehend on a base level. But...

There was always that 'but' in the back of his head, chiding him to wait. So he did.

If nothing else, mortals were as entertaining to watch as they were to kill. They kept changing the rules of the game, becoming more and more difficult to hunt, to hide what he was from them. He had amused himself for a few decades doing just that--learning to adapt, to become less blatant and more subtle, a silent killer swinging back and forth between remorse and frustration. Living amongst mortals, even on the peripheries, without the tug of another immortal, had given him a new appreciation for their struggles. They were still food but they didn't deserve to suffer, not to satiate his desire to be entertained.

Never once had he considered he might actually get involved with one, intimately and completely involved. Or that the human in question would survive the encounter. He had viewed such dealings with distaste, actively disliking the notion of a pet human and not comfortable with the idea of making one his lover on a permanent basis. Mortals tended to be too unpredictable and it was best to keep some sense of boundary between them.

And now he was in the damnable position of having to eat his words. He could almost hear Treize's chortling now. He shook his head, wondering just how long he put his old friend off before the tale made it's way to light. And as much as he hoped Treize could keep his mouth shut, he knew sooner or later, Zechs would worm it out of his lover and that would be it. He wasn't sure which was going to be worse: Treize's smug 'I told you so' or Zech's prattling. 'Maybe I should just save Hilde the trouble and stake myself now.'

'While you're at it, maybe you can stall just a little longer and get up the nerve to turn around and walk out of here before you do something really stupid,' he thought. It was all very well to worry about Hilde, to dread the ribbing he was going to receive later but it was ignoring the real issue. He was reluctant to be here, yes but not just because of those things. They were just icing on a painful cake. The truth of it was, he wasn't sure he could handle seeing Duo again. Whether he willed it or no, in a few short days Duo had gained a powerful hold on him. He craved him and Heero despised himself for that craving, a taste that might eventually rob him of that which he sought to possess. It would be better for both of them to walk away now before -- Before what? It went too far? Too late for that. It had been too late when he'd attacked Duo and it had been far, far too late when they'd slept together. The territory before him was uncharted and as used to walking in such places as he was, he wasn't used to the idea of having a companion, of having to put another's welfare before his own. And he wasn't sure he could do it.

He could hurt Duo, overwhelm and break him without even meaning to. That knowledge didn't exactly engender confidence in him nor did the realization that as infatuated as he was with the braided boy, their meeting had been rushed, a collision of passions and now they were faced with the cold realities. Would he like the boy outside of his bed, faced with his life as he was about to be? If the blood told, then he thought yes but the real question was if Duo would be able to find it in him to accept Heero as he was, to move past what he was and was not. Duo was going to want to know about him, everything that he could find out, if Heero read the boy aright and he simply wasn't comfortable with that. There were some things, parts of himself that he couldn't share, no matter how desperately he might want to bridge the gap, eventualities that Duo would never be able to understand because he was mortal.

And he did want to try. Which led him to wonder which of them was the bigger fool--Duo for taking the monster to his heart or him for allowing it.

His feet shuffled to a halt, feeling like an idiot as he tarried in front of the door. He lifted his hand then let it fall back again, fist clenching and unclenching. Then he shook his head with a rueful smile, raising his hand again when something large crashed against the door. He froze mid-knock, a half-dozen ideas of what that might have been running through his mind and disliking most, if not all, the responses. His eyes narrowed, catching scent of two humans and some sort of animal--dog, if he wasn't mistaken. What in the world--? He knocked--

--only to have the door flung wide, the wicked point of a crossbow pressing just below his sternum. Blond hair, almost the color of Zech's flashed in his line of vision followed by a pair of very pissed off blue eyes. The glare she threw at him was drilling and he tensed despite himself, biting back the urge to snarl as her fingers tightened on the trigger.

"Dorothy! No!" A familiar voice yelled, the sound followed by a sharp clatter as the crossbow was knocked from the woman's hand. He backed up a step, just enough that he could throw himself around the door frame should he need to.

Which was probably a very good idea as she lurched forward, going for the stake held in his lover's hand. "Duo, what the fuck are you doing?!"

What happened next was probably the deadliest and most ridiculous looking game of keep away he'd ever been privileged to witness. Duo had a slight advantage, being taller but he wouldn't put it past the girl to try and knock him on his ass for getting in the way. As soon as he realized they'd almost all but forgotten about him, except in the most peripheral sense, he found himself hanging in the doorframe again. He glanced around, meeting the penetrating stare of the large wolfhound hunched near the proceedings. He raised an eyebrow and the dog gave himself a brief shake, much the same way a human might shrug in exasperation. Heero stayed still as the dog rose to his feet, puttering past the struggling twosome to sniff with delicate disdain at him. He held out his hand, hoping very much that the dog would let him have it back and decided to break up the fun and games.

"Is this a bad time?"

They stopped, the reminder of his presence seeming to jolt them both, turning back to watch as the wolfhound allowed himself to be petted. He kept an eye on their reactions even as he gave the dog a vigorous scratching behind his ears, almost smirking at the way the animal's skittishness evaporated into puppyish contentment.

"Yeats," The woman snapped, her eyes bouncing from the dog to him to Duo and back again. The dog seemed almost embarrassed as he loped back to her side. Her tone spoke volumes as she near spat, "Your friend?"

He wanted to be offended by her rudeness; maybe he would have been too, if he hadn't caught sight of Duo's expression. His eyes were positively alight, his cheeks flushing as a grin tugged at the corner of his lips, tipping the balance. His body language lost its defensive posturing, becoming welcoming. Hell, inviting was a better term for it. The words he spoke were shy, almost proudly uncertain. "Uh, you could say that."

He was wrong, this hadn't been a bad idea. It was a terrible idea, he acknowledged as he felt answering emotion respond to his lover's glow. And there was absolutely nothing he could do about it because the only way he was leaving here was if the blond woman managed to kill him.

The woman studied the two of them, before snorting, snatching her stake away from Duo's unresisting hand as she did so, “Imagine my excitement. I swear to God, Duo Maxwell, you are going to be the death of me.”

The words were almost casual, the rancor there but suffused with weary exasperation. She kept the stake at her side, no longer threatening but the action was clearly a warning one. He nodded to her, forcing himself to relax and remain neutral. The last thing he wanted was to hurt one of Duo's friends.

"Something's happened?" Heero asked, the question filled with all sorts of dramatic shadings that put him in mind of a bad soap opera or worse, some Hammer-esque horror flick. After the rather melodramatic greeting at the door and spontaneous game of keep away, perhaps it wasn't unwarranted.

"You could say that," sniffed the blond woman, who'd met him at the door, crossbow shoved nearly up his nose. She straightened her shirt, the very image of outraged dignity, gripping the stake in her right hand hard enough, he expected to hear it splinter. He eyed her and the wolfhound beside her carefully, noting her imperious attitude and cold pale eyes. She was studying him too, her gaze raking over him with nothing akin to sexual interest and everything to do with predatory survival. She knew him for what he was, knew the monster and every base thought that had ever been entertained and she loathed it. Loathed him. So much so that it was almost impressive and no amount of glamour was going to melt that ice.

"Your cousin?" He glanced at Duo, nodding his head towards the blond with a half-hearted smile. If this was Duo's beloved cousin, then he definitely had his work cut out for him in the approval department.

There was no missing the shared expressions of horror crossing both his lover's and the blond girl's face at the mere suggestion. It might almost have been comical had he not gleaned the situation was serious, dire even. Dire enough for his life to be at risk, Duo's eyes begging with an apology unspoken, clearly upset by the girl's brusque behavior.

"Dorothy," Duo clarified. The glare she threw at the braided man was almost stinging and Heero found himself bristling in response. The wolfhound caught his eye, lip curling back as he stood on all fours. "Dorothy Catalonia. She lives upstairs. And she was just leaving."

"No, she wasn't," Dorothy informed the two of them. "She has no intention of going anywhere until she finds out a few things."

"Dorothy--" Duo half-wheeled on her, his face flushed with embarrassment and something else. Something darker and akin to fear, an unpleasant realization that had dug deep and was even now biting. Heero could only wonder what had rattled his lover so.

"Don't you 'Dorothy' me! I just saved your ass. And if vampires are going to start invading my building, you can't expect me to sit idly by and be happy about it."

If he knew it weren't impossible, Heero could almost swear his stomach bottomed out with the girl's words. 'How is that Superman can change in a telephone booth and nobody ever figures it out but less than twenty-four hours after I sleep with Duo, I'm outed?' Well, at least it explained the greeting at the door...sort of.

"You know, Dorothy, any louder and we might as well just invite the entire building into this discussion," Duo crossed his arms, doing his best to imitate the girl's glower.

"That's fine with me," she said. "And then maybe you'd like to explain your little boyfriend to them? Or the blood-sucking bitch that tried to eat you back there?"

'Blood-sucking bitch?' He craned his head towards Duo, who was blushing again, although this time in abject misery rather than besottedness. For once, the mortal boy was looking anywhere but into his eyes and from the hunch of his shoulders, Heero realized his earlier assumption was correct -- something had happened. Or rather someone. His earlier urgency returned full force and he all but willed Duo to look at him, to do anything except stare at the floor, his face twisted with some emotion Heero couldn't even begin to identify.

"Duo?" 'Oh God, please don't let it be what I'm thinking. Not now...not so soon...' "What's going on?"

It amazed him how solid his voice was, growing colder with the feathery ice of anger and fear spiking from his heart outward. Duo flinched and that only served to make him angrier--this time a healthy dose of rage directed inward. Something was off and all he needed was the words to hit the air, the story to unreel to make all his suspicions reality.

Dorothy seemed to realize that she'd overstepped some invisible boundary and for the first time, she seemed almost abashed, worrying at her lower lip. "Oops. I wasn't--"

"It's a little late now," Duo gritted out. "Heero--"

"Knock, knock," There was a smart rap which startled a jump out of all of them, including Heero, so wrapped up in his ruminations that he hadn't registered the human behind him. What the fuck was wrong with him? This mortal, yet another woman, wasn't even attempting to mask her presence and it had gone right over his head. Again.

There was really no time to ponder that or to wonder if this was yet another threat to his security as Duo's face tightened then rearranged itself into a faux smile. "Rel. You're back!"

The woman, a petite blonde wiggled around him before Heero could rouse himself to move, flashing him an angelic smile of welcome. He reached out automatically to grab one of her precariously held brown bags, Duo going for the other.

"My heroes," she almost giggled, the sound more delighted than anyone had the right to be. She struggled to free her hand before giving up and doing a mini-curtsey. "And you of course must be Heero. The Heero. It's a pleasure to meet you. Duo's been so secretive."

'If you only knew,' Heero thought, understanding his lover's reticence on that account. After all, it wasn't every day you brought home your undead boyfriend to--

"--Of course I told him that it didn't matter a whit to me that he was gay. Same with you, Heero. This house is prejudice-free, so make yourself at home," she continued on, her pert face scrunching into a determined expression. "And I want to hear all about you. Everything."

Heero blinked, his gaze sliding back to Duo, almost mouthing the words 'Is she for real?' before stopping himself in time. Duo shrugged, his expression one of amused resignation for all the tenseness of his shoulders. Dorothy meanwhile was giving Relena a look that plainly asked how could anyone be so dumb and perky in the same breath. Duo nudged her, possibly to head off anything she might have and probably would have said, laying an arm around Relena's shoulders. "Heero, this is Relena. And Rel... You already know, why am I bothering?"

"Because I'd beat you for not having good manners," she clucked. Then she seemed to notice something. "Dorothy? What are you doing here?"

"She--"

"I just stopped into meet Heero. Duo told me all about him this afternoon while we were coming home," Dorothy interjected. "My curiosity got the better of me."

"Oh," Then Relena drew herself up, swatting at her cousin, a small pout marring her sunny features. "You told her before you told me? You jerk!"

Duo threw a glare at Dorothy that plainly said 'I'll get you for this later.' "She was relentless," he placated, "She threatened to beat me in my weakened state. Really."

"Weakened state?"

"Yeah, I've heard being screwed into a headboard does that to you," Dorothy muttered, just loud enough for everyone in the room to hear and for Relena's and Duo's ears to burn.

Deciding to head off what might be another rematch between Dorothy and Duo, Heero took another bag out of Relena's overburdened grasp. He sidled past, searching for a counter before throwing back over his shoulder. "Actually there wasn't a headboard. It was a couch. And you should try it some time. I've heard it does wonders for your personality."

There was, he noted grimly, something very satisfying about the way Duo laughed, loud and startled as he struggled to hold his ground, Relena the picture of affronted primness as Dorothy opened her mouth and shut it again, at an obvious loss to continue.

***

'Well, isn't this cozy,' Dorothy brooded, twisting the sifter in her hands, 'A glass of Scotch, the undead, and thee. If this scene were anymore surreal, we'd be a Dali print.'

After dinner they had retreated to the living room, Heero and Duo sitting knee to knee on the sofa, Duo's chin resting on the other boy's shoulder as they weathered and fended off (rather well, she thought) question after question from Relena. They made, Dorothy found herself grudgingly admitting, a pretty picture -- a contrast of light and dark made evident by the coloring. Yes, Heero was gorgeous. She could concede that. But then so were pitcher plants and their sole purpose was to attract flies and kill them. And all the beauty in the world wasn't going to change or make her forget for an instant that this wasn't a human being. This was a creature, a thing that walked like a person but wasn't. This was a thing that lived off human beings, and no matter how you tried to pretty that one up, the result was still the same. 'And yet I haven't staked him. Maxwell must be getting to me.'

She wasn't altogether sure why she was still hanging around. If Duo wanted to walk willingly into his own destruction, well that was his affair, wasn't it? It wasn't like her to poke her nose in where it wasn't wanted. She'd perfected the art of staying emotionally uninvolved up 'til now and all her attempts at trying to pin this on some need to protect Relena, an unknowing innocent, weren't washing. Yes, she was concerned for the Peacecraft girl who was sweet and oblivious and all the things Dorothy used to be but it went further than that. She didn't want to see anything happen to Duo either. Baby-sitting the undead however, was going a bit far in her mind, no matter how charming or witty he might prove. 'God, where did that thought come from?' She cringed. If this kept up, she might invite him to tea or start helping Duo pick patterns or something. The thought was enough to make her stomach curl, the warm bonfire of alcohol there turning into a queasy knot.

Relena was certainly impressed, if her approving side winks at Duo were anything to judge. Dorothy toyed with the idea of pulling the other girl to the side and explaining in careful, simple terms that she had a whole hell of a lot more to worry about here than her parents' reaction to Duo being gay. Not even she was that cruel though and besides, she didn't think there were words simple enough to break through Relena's concrete skull.

As if thinking of her had summoned her attention, Relena tipped her head towards her. "You're being awfully quiet, Dorothy. Anything wrong?"

She wanted to shrug away her concern, at how personal Relena made everything -- as if she could fix everything with dinner or a quick smile. The world didn't operate like that and it went against her grain to put up with it as she was. She wanted to rail at the girl, smack her until she opened her eyes and stopped -- Dorothy pulled herself up short with the realization that whether she liked it or not, something in her was positively jealous of Relena Peacecraft, of the way she took everything in stride and somehow managed to hang onto that precious buoyant innocence of hers. Innocence that Dorothy had lost and would never regain again.

"I'm good," she nodded. "Just thinking."

Relena didn't appear entirely happy with that answer and Dorothy really didn't care if she was. She would just have to take it and deal.

There was another pause, Relena toying with the afghan throw on her armchair. For all his charm, Dorothy had noticed that Heero wasn't big on initiating the conversation or carrying it on unless pushed or questioned and Duo was getting quieter as the night rolled on. She frowned at that. Something was on his mind, probably in relation to the she-bitch that had attacked him earlier. At least she hoped to God that was what it was because she wasn't sure how many more surprises she could take him unfurling on her.

"How about dessert?" Relena's face creased with relief, obviously pleased to find something to break the awkward lull.

"Oh I don't know, Relena, I--" Duo began before Dorothy cut him off.

"I'd love dessert. I'm sure Heero would like something too, wouldn't you, Heero?" The words were casual, almost friendly but the intent behind it wasn't. Briefly she felt ashamed of herself as Duo stirred himself enough to seethe at her. Then again after the skillful way Heero had picked through dinner, making it look as if he'd eaten when all he'd done was make the food magically vanish (most likely to Yeat's, if the dog's breath told the truth of it), she was curious to see what he'd do for an encore.

The vampire's gaze was even, cool. "Dessert would be lovely. Thank you."

It occurred to her, belatedly, that baiting a vampire in an enclosed space might not be the brightest thing she'd ever done. Especially not with his braided lover shooting visual lightening bolts out of his eyes.

"Great," Relena hopped out of the chair, reaching over to pull a startled Duo to his feet. "Come help me, Duo."

"Relena, I think you can cut a cake on your own. Why do I need to come?" Duo almost, almost whined.

'Because she wants to talk to you, mostly likely to gush over how much she likes Heero, you idiot,' Dorothy smirked.

As if to confirm this, Relena pinched his arm, her face saying that taking no for an answer wasn't an option. Duo yelped, rubbing at his wound. "I'm coming, I'm coming."

A grin tugged at the corners of her mouth as she watched them leave, only to disappear just as quickly at the realization she was alone -- with Heero. Unconsciously she found her hands curving, as if around the stake she'd looped around her belt in the back, out of Relena's uncomprehending stare. The crossbow lay on the coffee table between them. She wasn't sure if it was quick thinking or fast-talking on Duo's part that had convinced Relena of his rather weak explanation of the weapon as an heirloom from her grandfather. He'd even gone so far as to come up with some cock-eyed story about expressing a prior interest in it. It wasn't the type of excuse she would have bought--especially not with how quickly he turned the topic to other matters before Relena could question it. Hell, she'd let herself get sucked into the conversation as easily as Relena, the crossbow a strange table piece forgotten in the moment. She cursed herself for leaving it there.

She certainly didn't feel any better when Heero leaned forward, plucking the weapon into his lap and turning it around under the light. "Walnut stock?" He murmured, his hand sliding around the grip with impressive ease. Hell, knowing her luck, he'd probably used one at some time or another.

"Steel prod," he continued, his fingers poking and peeking into the crannies of the weapon. She half-expected him to strip it down marine style. "Needs to be oiled."

"I'll remember that," she snipped, one hand gripping the armrest of her chair and the other inching downward, almost hip-level now. The rough stake rolled against her back, the point almost scratching the skin if she didn't sit carefully.

"Nice groove placement. The spring clip isn't too bad either. Custom built?"

"Yes."

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as he peered up at her for the first time, the weapon coming aloft to sight her, the bolt aimed dead center of her chest. She didn't move. There was no point really; the trigger on the weapon was hair and there was no safety. That had been removed to save time. The weapon was hers. She knew every inch of it, exactly how much pressure went behind each shot and how much it could fire. She knew what it could do and seeing it in the hands of a potential enemy made her blood curdle. 'At least he can't enjoy it that way then,' she sniffed, feeling a swatch of cold sweat breaking out on her back and neck. At her feet, Yeats began growling, not loud enough to alert Duo and Relena, rising on his front paws. Even were he to make a leap, he would never hit Heero in time enough to stop him should the vampire choose to fire.

Heero smiled, a gradual uplift of his mouth that was more grim than warm. 'Stupid, stupid,' she cursed herself and not excluding Duo Maxwell from that frantic litany.

Then he placed the crossbow back on the table, leaning forward to inch it towards her before lifting his hands in submission and sitting back against the couch. She didn't hesitate, snatching the weapon up and give it a quick once over all the while trying to keep an eye on him.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

Her fingers tightened, "That's what they all say."

Heero frowned, studying her carefully, as if she was an animal in need of gentling--or a really sharp stick. "What will it take--"

"To make me trust you?" She laughed, such a wretched sound these days. "There aren't enough words in any language to do that."

"I was thinking more along the lines of us not playing this scene out. You're Duo's friend. I have no reason to hurt you."

"Yes, you do," she hissed and was pleased to see him jerk. "It's what you are. It's all that you are--death with a beautiful face. You're nothing but a plague and if I had my way, I'd be cleaning you up in a dust pan now."

His expression turned inward, cut off and cold. She fixed that image in her mind, took it as her truth. If she could remember him this way, then maybe when the time came she'd be able to pull the trigger, Duo or no. Because whether Duo liked it or not, this wasn't a fairy tale and Heero wasn't some prince on a white charger. It didn't matter how he tried to justify it to himself--this wasn't going to end happily, she knew it. And she'd be damned if she lost another person to these creatures.

"If you hurt him," And she leaned towards him now, her voice little more than a whisper. "If you hurt either of them, I promise you there won't be enough of you left to sweep up."

"Did it ever occur to you that hurting him might be the last thing on my mind?" His reply was low, as hers had been and almost as urgent.

"No," She looked him over, her next words distinct. "You'll hurt him. It's what you are, what your kind does. And maybe that's for the best in this case. But he'd better still be breathing when you get tired of him or I'll make what I did to your little girlfriend out there seem tame."

He blanched, showing more emotion in that one gesture than he had in all the time he'd been there. "Girlfriend? What--"

"I don't know who she was but Duo came close this evening. Does he have a sign over him or something? Some sort of eau de victim that makes you people crazy?"

Her comment didn't seem to register, his eyes narrowing, "What happened tonight? Before I arrived?"

"Oh no. That's for you and Duo to talk about. I've already gotten myself in trouble more than once because of you tonight. And why am I still talking to you?" She slapped her hand against her knee, wincing at the sharp crack it made. 'Great, now I'm going to cripple myself in annoyance. Will this night please end?'

She got to her feet, nearly tripping over Yeats in the process before she managed to steady herself. 'Yes, let's not fall on our ass in front of the vampire. That would be a bad thing.' "I'll take a rain check on that dessert," she hollered. It was the epitome of rude to do so but she didn't give a fuck at the moment. She just wanted out, before something else happened, before someone else got hurt. She was letting him run her out of the apartment, she knew it and he probably did, too but this whole thing was starting to get under her skin. She'd been afraid since Yeats started acting up earlier and sitting through dinner with a vampire and trying to pretend she wasn't scared shitless was exhausting. And having an actual conversation with one that didn't involve her spitting at his ashes while she kicked them to the four winds was the capper. She was tired and cranky and goddamn it, she wanted nothing more than a shower and sleep. 'Nothing like going home to cuddle with the nightmares again.' Now there was freaky thought and one she hadn't considered up until now. She'd hoped that the reoccurrence of bad dreams the other night had been a fluke, something brought on out of worry for Duo and just how close he'd hit the mark with his guesses about her. Well, she was still worried about Duo and he was even closer than before. 'Shit,' she breathed, a trickle of panic ghosting up her spine. 'I am so fucked.'

Of course, there was no way out of the apartment without walking past Heero. Her skin crawled at the thought and she was almost grateful when Yeats trotted ahead of her, baring his teeth briefly at the vampire. If there was ever a look that said no funny business, then there it was. Still, it wasn't enough to stop Heero from reaching out and halting her, her wrist caught in a cold grip.

"Dorothy."

'There's a first,' she thought, fear thick now, enough to choke her as the memory of other touches, just as icy, came back to her. 'I do believe this is the first time he's said my name all evening.' Outwardly, she smacked his hand away from her wrist, drawing it up close...which was awkward while trying to hold onto the crossbow. "Don't touch me. That's a privilege reserved for very few people outside the medical profession and trust me, you're not one of those special few. If you do it again, I'll forget braid boy in there and we can see if you dance as well as you talk."

This time she did get a reaction out of him, a slight widening of eyes and a flash of something--some emotion she couldn't identify and really didn't give a damn enough to try. She nearly shuddered at the sensations he'd inadvertently triggered, wondering just how much Duo would love it if she vomited all over his boyfriend.

"I --" His voice was no warmer than it had been but it was more hesitant than before. "Protect Duo," he said at last. "If something else should happen... Don't let anyone hurt him. Not even me."

'What the fuck?' If she didn't know better, she could swear he did care and if he did... Well, that opened a whole new can of worms she couldn't handle at the moment. "I told you I would. Believe me, nothing would please me more than to nail your ass."

'And my God did I just say that?'

He appeared satisfied with her response, tipping his head. "Thank you."

"Fuck you," she snapped. "I don't want your thanks."

"I know that, too."

She snorted. He wanted to play broody Byronic wise-ass, fine. He could do it on his time and she was sure Duo would love it. Tossing her hair over one shoulder, she stalked towards the door, unnerved by the fact she had her back to him. Unnerved to feel exposed, vulnerable. And not even Yeat's giant silvery presence or the weapons on her could dispel the feeling. She felt out of control, life slipping out of the orderly set she'd forced it into.

She felt like a victim. Again.

Yeah, she was definitely going to throw up when she got out of here. Providing she didn't break down and cry first.

***

He was cold, arms crossed over his chest, blindly weaving through the crowded walkways, a step behind his lover. A step and a million miles the distance between them. As much as might have liked, Duo couldn't blame that entirely on Heero. True, the vampire was doing his best impression of a rock, his face drawn and almost...well, sulking? No, sulking was too childish. Brooding? Yes, definitely brooding. And he wasn't much better off. Without the familiar comfort of the apartment, of Relena's chattering, he felt his composure slipping away, lost in the encroaching clouds, now threatening rain, smoggy skies reflecting back gray-orange.

His mind wasn't on Heero. Or rather it was but the picture his questions were piecing together made him uncomfortable. Lost and...jealous? Kind of. Afraid. A little. The fear had as much to do with Heero as it did his visitor earlier. Indeed, by the woman's words the two had become linked. It reminded him through the hazy afterglow, through the giggle of infatuation, that there was very little he knew about Heero. He had taken the man into his bed, into his heart (yes, yes--he could admit that much to himself even if the L-word seemed too soon a promise to make), it was ridiculous to wonder now. The chemistry between them was combustible, damn near explosive as the several times Duo had stopped himself from crawling in Heero's lap and ripping his clothes off in front of Relena could attest to. But was that all there was to it?

Dorothy thought it was. Then again, Dorothy thought Heero had brain sucked what little common sense he had along with the blood the vampire had stolen. No, not stolen either. Been given. Duo had given his blood to Heero--every time, even back to that first awkward sensual encounter, he had given consent. There was that at least. Suddenly feeling insecure, his eyes drifted to the center of Heero's back. That meant something right? Just like Heero not taking his life that first night?

'Hello? A little late now to start second-guessing,' he blew at a wayward bang out of his face. The warning label had already been read and if the pill was proving hard to swallow, well whose fault was that?

It wasn't supposed to be like this. That drew a tug at his mouth, more ironic than joyful. Nothing was ever how it was supposed to be. Had that proven the case, he might never have met Heero, might even now still have his parents and Relena wouldn't have to spend nights wondering how he was going to hurt himself next. In a world of how things were supposed to be, he would not be the Duo of now, trailing behind a vampire and meditating on the utter uselessness of the words 'supposed to be' and 'fair.' Things were what they were and all the musings in the world were naught but that. Just wistful and sad and ... 'Pointless,' he supplied. He couldn't help but wonder at how, yet again, he was following Heero into the unknown. 'This is getting to be a habit with me.'

"Heero?" A glance and Duo realized that he was alone, that somehow, some way he'd lost track of Heero. Panic flittered and his head turned sharply from side to side, eyes bouncing with little hope at the people milling around him. This was a New York street and there were hundreds of people pounding the city pavement at any given time of the day. As distinctive as his vampire lover was, he was just one more body blending into the mix. If Heero wanted to lose him then there was no better way or place to do so in.

Maybe it was his imagination but he could swear he felt eyes following him, more than one. And he couldn't help but stare back, wondering just how many people in the crowd around him were actually … alive. Human. How many of the people around him saw him as something more than Joe Blow standing lost and dumbfounded in the middle of the freaking street? It was morbid but now that he knew the truth or something resembling it, he couldn't help but wonder how many predators were in the flock. Hmm. Flock. Why was it always wolves in the flock? Sure, wolves were obvious but shepherds were just as dangerous to the sheep--after all, they tended the sheep for slaughter. In that context, the religious metaphor of a shepherd tending his flock took on a more sinister aspect. Then again, maybe the connection with wolves came from the teeth. Wolves had sharp teeth--so did Heero. So did the brutal vampire chick from earlier. Wickedly sharp incisors that would have no trouble lodging themselves in his neck. And as pleasurable as Heero had made that, he doubted he'd be so lucky with the woman. Hell, if his luck was holding true, she was probably out here now, lurking. Waiting for the perfect moment to strike again and --

'Yeah, I definitely needed yet another healthy shot of paranoia.' He rubbed his arms, the hairs there spooked into life as his heart picked up. Fuck, where was Heero? Granted, they hadn't talked about earlier (not really) and granted, it wasn't a conversation he was looking forward to but damn it, he'd like an attempt at it. If Relena was any indication, he wasn't being subtle in his distress. If it had penetrated the dark glower Heero had cloaked himself for the last couple of hours, that was. 'Well, shit. What now?' He wasn't all that keen on standing around, calling Heero's name for the next couple hours like some lost kid. Nor was he excited by the prospect of returning, alone, back to the apartment.

"Duo."

"Jesus," He choked as Heero's dark voice materialized in his ear. A pair of arms caught him, pulling him into a loose embrace. It was probably a good thing--had his arms been free, he might have smacked the vampire for scaring the shit out of him. Instead he threaded his hands over Heero's, head tilting back until it almost rested against his collarbone. "Where did you go?"

He wasn't entirely happy with the almost shrug Heero's body seemed to give. He flexed his fingers, tightening then releasing some of the pressure against their clasped hands. Heero moved around him, their bodies never losing contact, fingers still laced as Heero tugged him forward sans explanations. "This way."

Heero's hand was large, fine-boned, almost cradling his more slender grasp. The gesture was a tender one and it melted some of his irritation. It seemed to belay Heero's mood and Duo took that as a good sign. A more hopeful one anyway. "Where are we going?"

When Heero again didn't answer, he found himself seized with the childish urge to pull back, to not move another step until Heero gave him an answer. The only thing stopping him was being too tired to fight that battle. After earlier, the last thing he wanted was to get into a pissing contest because Heero was playing up the vampire mystique. After waiting all day, driven near crazy by Relena's incessant curiosity and wishing for nothing more than to be back in that ratty little safe house, surrounded by the scent of sweat and sex and Heero, Duo felt he had a right to be more than a little grumpy. It was a major pain in the ass to be led around so, body near screaming with tension. Hell, he was half-hard now and Heero wasn't doing anything more exciting than holding his hand. 'Doesn't bode well, does it?' he reflected glumly. What was that obnoxious phrase? Get a man by the balls? He should be so lucky.

There were times, living in his own isolated little bubble, that Duo forgot just how large the city was, how many buildings and people there were crammed in such a limited amount of space. Forgot that the streets could be cramped and dirty, dim in the perpetual shadow of skyscrapers and monster buildings taking away so much of the sky. There were paths not safe to walk, inhabited by denizens every bit as feral and dangerous as Heero, even if they were very human. Heero seemed to mold into the set, his stance adjusting without thought or effort to match his surroundings, relaxed to wary and then openly defensive. Hyper aware of the change, Duo found himself torn between dragging his feet and trying not to latch onto Heero in an attempt to hide from those frank, appraising stares, some only glints of light in shadow. 'Please tell me--'

"We're here."

Heero's pronouncement, almost as abrupt as the stop they'd come to, shook him, almost causing him to trip. Strong hands caught him mid-fall, holding on with no sign of strain. No, if anything, it was a disheartening stillness, as if Duo weighed no more than a feather, as if Heero could hold him as such for hours. 'Preternatural strength,' he reminded himself, a little light-headed. Finding his feet again was embarrassing but no more disconcerting than realizing that Heero had led him into some causeway, motion expectantly towards a rusting manhole cover.

"Um, Heero?"

"Yes?"

"That's a manhole."

"Yes."

"I thought we were going…going to your place?"

"Yes."

He thought to open his mouth, to question why on earth Heero would want them to go underground, to joke about living in a sewer and feasting off rats when it occurred to him that for all he knew, that might be what Heero did in his spare time. When he wasn't drifting onto people's balconies and having wild, kinky sex in abandoned buildings. He really hoped his smile wasn't as fragile and spooked at it felt. "I'll just climb down there, shall I?"

Heero's face was closed, and Duo damned him for that. Right. Okay, he could handle this. Really. So what if Heero lived in a sewer? Lots of people … Okay, well, he couldn't think of anyone he knew that lived in a sewer but he was certain it wasn't that uncommon. Maybe. 'Maybe it's a vampire thing?' Then Heero sniggered, an honest to God sound of derisive amusement. If he hadn't been so relieved to hear the sound, he might have smacked him. "God, you should see your face!"

"If you're quite done having a laugh at my expense, could you please tell me what the fuck's going on and why we're here?"

His snickering quieted, smiling altering into something almost vulnerable. "Do you trust me, Duo?"

"Of course." The answer was so simple, so automatic--

Heero took his hands, fingers intertwined as he lifted them to rest against his chest. "You really shouldn't, you know."

The words shook him. What was he supposed to say to that? What exactly was Heero trying to say? That he'd changed his mind? Or did he doubt Duo himself?

Untangling one of his hands, Heero reached out, dropping a gentle caress along the curve of his cheek, eliciting a shudder as he reached a sensitive spot near his ear. "You're so lovely." The words were barely audible, almost sad, but they made his skin tingle and flush, taking his breath and voice away. Yet he was confused, uncertain of the mercurial emotions flying like quicksilver around the edges of the cold façade the rest of the world saw.

They stood, Duo's breath filling the space between them, the sputter of lights from the side streets casting eerie flickering dances of color and shape. He was still cold, the warmth he felt his alone. Heero had no warmth to share; it was something his immortal body couldn't provide. It was a small loss but he felt it keenly for an instant. The hand in his was strong, it would never wither and it would never falter. The breath that pushed through his heart and lungs, bringing with it the taste of acrid air and something metallic had no purchase on Heero. All the little things that made a person, that classified them as living -- Heero had none of them and yet Duo could not think of him as dead.

"Come on," This time it was he who spoke, reaching down to pry with a grunt of distaste at the grubby covering. "Show me your sewer palace, rat boy."

Those pale gold hands brushed his but Duo kept his head down, unable to meet the gaze he felt boring into him, afraid of what he might see there. The lid rattled then came free, Heero nudging him to go first. He stared into the black pit, the scent of something rancid reaching his nostrils, causing his eyes to tear up. 'Don't wanna know. I really don't.' "Would have brought my flashlight if I'd known we were getting all X-fileish," he joked.

Maybe Heero didn’t get the reference or maybe he thought it to inane to respond to. Taking hold of the barely visible ladder head, Duo swung his legs down into the tight space, panicking until his feet found the rungs. Then he climbed, glancing up at the last minute, the hole now just over his head and Heero peering down at him, face invisible save for those glittering eyes. He looked away, taking it rung by rung until there was nothing left to do but hop down.

"Cozy," he said. Metal scraped and then Heero dropped to the ground beside him, which was probably way more macho and cool than hanging onto the edge of the ladder which Duo was patently not doing. "Dark as hell, but cozy. You can see down here, right?"

"Yes," The word was welcome, familiar.

"What is it with me and going into dark places with you?" A second past and then he realized he'd said that aloud. "Um, so where--"

"We're taking an access tunnel. It runs right under my place. It's safer."

"Oh good," Duo mustered his enthusiasm, wondering at Heero's phrasing as he stepped forward. "Okay, this isn't so bad. Not nearly as squishy as I--"

The blackness crackled, his feet wet as they slid in and over the edge of a puddle. "Never mind."

"Maybe I should lead."

"Sounds like a plan." 'Note to self: burn shoes, possibly clothes at the earliest opportunity without checking to see what I got on them.'

There was little said--by Heero at any rate. Duo found himself chattering, unable to stop in face of the sounds of the place, silences broken by odd sounds, water dripping and a scurrying that he wasn't sure he wanted to know about. The passage was unreal, wearing at nerves already frayed. The steps stretched out before him and he wished for a flashlight or a street lamp or something to break the unnerving monotony.

"This is it," Heero announced, taking him by the shoulder and pressing him forward until his hands felt the damp smoothness of metal. Ladder. "Another manhole?"

"Sort of. Runs right under the house."

"Heero, do you have any idea how weird that is?"

The vampire chuckled. "Think of it as a backdoor. Helps me avoid unwanted visitors."

"Nice to be wanted. Although I'm not sure why we couldn't have used the front door."

He had started to climb when Heero's reply fell soft. "You tell me."

Duo hesitated, then moved--faster than before, pushing at the covering with enough raw strength that he was favored with a glimpse of soft light. That and a burning curiosity to see where Heero crashed, where he spent his--days, impelled him onward, crawling out of the tight space and onto crisp linoleum.

It was--not what he was expecting, being neither some Anne Rice crypt nor an abandoned warehouse. It was what Heero said -- a house or rather a home. The kitchen, into which he had come up from the earth, was immaculate, far too neat and clean for something outside a showroom. Then it hit him. Heero didn't need to eat, so a kitchen was probably pretty redundant. Which begged the question of why have it in the first place unless the house came with it or Heero kept it for some semblance of normalcy. He was still interested in knowing how one got a manhole under the house, complete with optional lid removal.

The place was certainly monochromatic, lacking the soft colors he associated with the apartment and home. Heero was apparently more spartan in his tastes, cream walls and periwinkle gray carpeting. He could see into a living type area from here, the couch and companion chairs black. A small coffee table lay between the three, a statute of a woman, half-bent as if she were leaning forward or trying to stand in the center. Beside it lay several books, almost as haphazard as the jacket slung over one chair. He turned his head, eyes raking over the walls, taking in the decorative swords mounted on one wall, a lacquer Chinese puzzle box next to it, a phoenix of brilliant crimsons and gold winding its way from base to top. He moved without realizing it, hands trailing over the backs of furniture and stands, hungry as they caressed those things that were his, that had been his for some time by the looks of it. He knelt to examine the bookcase in the corner, a grin appearing as he realized that vampire or no, Heero had a DVD collection. And a computer apparently, he glanced toward the laptop, humming in gentle sleep mode. So much for that creature of the night mystique. There were a couple of paintings leaning against the wall, as if the owner couldn't decide where or if he wanted to hang them, a phonograph in another corner and a television not far from that. The juxtaposition of antiques and modern conveniences was comforting, making Heero more accessible than before.

He spotted something familiar, blinking as he approached the coffee table as he stared down at the black elastic. His hair elastic. He'd forgotten … And Heero had picked it up. His heart climbed into his throat and he found himself almost fluttering as he looked towards Heero, now well into the room and inches from him.

"Do…" Heero wavered openly. "Do you mind?"

He shook his head, reaching without really seeing, just knowing that he had to kiss Heero, right now or else his chest was going to explode from all this feeling. It was strange how he didn't have to communicate the desire, not in so many words. Just opening his arms, they met up in the middle, Heero's hands eager as they slid around his waist, bodies melding against each other as lips met in quiet desperation. The sensation was soft, wet as their mouths tasted again and again, the shock of warm against cold sending a shiver down his spine, the hairs on the back of his neck standing stiff. His hands threaded through soft hair, lips parting as Duo used that grip to pull Heero closer still. Heero was ready for him, teeth nibbling his lower lip, those sharp teeth holding fast to soft tissue with a playful tug before releasing him to press further, his tongue slipping through the opening provided. Duo shuddered, his jaw nearly popping from the strain to open wider, to accept more from that wonderful muscle now teasing his soft palate. His tongue rose, sliding over the invader, lapping and coaxing it forward, a silent plea for more. Heero's canines fascinated him, sparking pleasure-pain behind his eyes each time his tongue brushed them, drawn again and again to those rising points. He well knew what they could do, how they could rend his flesh with little effort and the memory of them buried in his neck…in other parts of his body provoked a surprisingly strong reaction.

It was that which caused Duo to break away, overcome as his face burrowed into Heero's neck, elbows and forearms jutting out at awkward angles. The response was immediate, the strength of his embrace returned enough to nearly crack ribs. It felt good to be like this, to feel Heero surrounding him thus--safe, where he had not felt safe until now and complete. He didn't have to move, to search in fevered restlessness for that thing he needed most--it was here, holding him and he wasn't going to let go. Not ever, not for anyone or anything. And there were things…people trying to separate them. The thought made his fingers tighten then go limp, seeing once more the face of the vampiress, cold and so very angry, her words filling his ears. Words that he hadn't understood-- that he hadn't wanted to understand, words about Heero, filling him with dread and a sick wash of jealousy--

"Duo?" Heero sounded concerned, nuzzling his cheek, trying to pull back while Duo held firm. "Duo, what’s wrong?"

He shook his head, more to clear his mind than to answer his lover's urgent question. "No-nothing. I--I'm just happy you're here. That I'm with you."

It was true but the explanation did nothing to rid him of the questions rising unanswered and demanding response in the back of his mind. They could wait. It could all wait. Too much time had been wasted already and he wanted nothing more than to just let go.

"Duo?"

He leaned his head back, the movement slow enough for their cheeks to meet in a drawn out caress before catching Heero's mouth again, anxious to convey all those things that he couldn't say, that he needed to share with those hungry nips. Heero went still, and Duo prayed in silence, 'Please, please don't ask. Not now. Just let me be with you.' It flavored his kisses, adding a frenzied quality that had not been there before, his tongue brazing Heero's lips, begging for entrance. He was almost ready to let go of a howl of frustration when Heero answered, slow soothing kisses that gave way for him, the blessed coolness of Heero's mouth tasting sweeter than all the wine Relena had plied them with earlier. His hands found their way to Heero's shoulders, admiring the ripple and stretch of muscles underneath his dress shirt. The fabric was soft, infinitely tactile and he was seized with the idea of ripping it off, of removing the impediment of silk that kept Heero's flesh from his eager touch. Instead, he settled on pushing at the shoulders of Heero's leather coat, a soft swish accompanying its descent as Heero straightened his arms in assistance. Duo paused, tilting his head back as his hands slid from shoulder to chest, plucking at a stray bit of string.

"Well, at least we have another couch handy," his voice was husky, as if his voice were awash in syrup, the words struggling to come over lips that wanted to be put to better use.

Heero shook his head, leaning in to feather a light nip of tingling lips. "Not this time. Bed?"

"Only if you can get me there in the next minute,otherwise we're both going to be knee deep in carpet burns."

Heero appraised him, blue orbs raking him over in open assessment before reaching out and with an arm to Duo's knee, sweeping him up into his arms. Duo yelped, arms flying in a tight grip around Heero's neck. "You know," he whispered over a mouth full of hair. "This isn't quite what I meant."

There was a shrug and Duo bounced in his embrace as his lover kept walking. "You should have been more specific then."

"I'll remember that."

As curious as he was to see the rest of the house, to
well and truly examine the sleeping quarters, Duo realized that beyond find their way into bed, he really didn't give a damn about any of it at the moment. So he gave the room Heero carried him into nary a glance beyond a cursory dart of the eyes towards the queen-sized bed dominating it. He felt the muscles in Heero's arms coil and his eyes widened, "Throw me on that bed, Heero and so help me, you really will be sleeping on the couch."

"I wasn't going to throw," Heero replied, mock-injury flashing in sapphire. "I was just… going to deposit you there."

"Sure you were," Duo let his sarcasm roll of the tongue, almost a purr of clogged words. "And I'm really a Catholic."

Heero paused. "You're Catholic?"

"In only the most lapsed sense of the term. Less talk, more kissing," Duo attempted to pull Heero's face towards him again, feet lightly kicking at the heel.

"I don't know," Heero teased. "It might not be good for the state of your soul."

Duo glared at him. "Trust me, it's not my soul you're going to have to worry about in the next five minutes if you don't shut up and kiss me again. "

As it turned out, Duo didn't have to banish him to the nether regions of the couch, Heero settling him into a seated position on the edge of the bed before kneeling down in front of him, hands gently squeezing his knees. From this position, the blue cut of Heero's eyes, with all the glory of a crisp winter night, shaded in a thousand hues of blue and gray and silver, filled his vision, their noses touching in an almost kiss. Heero lifted his chin, his mouth planting a soft kiss between his eyebrows, wet velvet touches that moved upward, tasting forehead and temples before moving down to his mouth again, a ghost peck pressed there as those talented lips continued. A sure hand preceded the suckle and taste of his lover's mouth down the column of his neck, the tease of his tongue making Duo squirm even more than the thin wet line being painted by that muscle. That squirm became an all out writhe as abnormally sharp teeth pressed, not breaking the skin but with enough pressure to make every nerve in his throat come alive. Heero's fingers plucked at the corners of his sweater, alerting Duo to both his intent and the realization that those hands had moved at all. He lifted his arms in silent answer to that tug, the heavy comfort of the garment removed and replaced by Heero's face as he nuzzled his collarbone, mouth toying and sucking at the revealed flesh, devouring him as if he were nothing more than the sweetest of fruits. Chest heaving, his breathing seemed harsh and ragged, almost mewling each time a new section of skin was discovered by his lover.

"God, Duo… You're so good… Soft," The words were thick, filled with Heero's pleasure, a desire he felt a response to from his very toenails but there was something else triggered. Something dark and unpleasant crawling around the depths of his memory, rich and mocking as the words came.

/"I remember what it’s like. How he sounds and the way he bites your skin, his mouth pulling at every fiber, every cell as if he can’t taste enough…”/ Duo squeezed his eyes shut, heart hammering in his chest as the words hit, Heero's procession towards the base of his neck, slow and starved as he took and remade each bit of flesh available reinforcing the blow.

/“Tell me, did it feel good when he fed from you?” Her lips brushed his ear, licking his sweating skin. “Did you enjoy it as he fucked you?/

'No, you're not here. You don't mean anything. Not to me, not to us.' He thought, trying to silence that damnable voice, to dismiss that dark presence he felt as keenly as he did Heero kneeling before him. She was here, whether he willed it or not--she was here and he couldn't stop hearing her voice, hearing those vile words… His eyes flew open, watering as he gasped, not as much in response to the nipple Heero had between his teeth, tongue teasing the outer edge of flesh as he rolled the nub around those sharp points as to acknowledgement of that presence.

/“Such soft skin, Duo. I’ll bet he devoured every inch of it, making you feel as if you were a feast set out for his sole benefit. You see, I’ve been where you were. It was mine. It is mine and you’ve trespassed where you shouldn’t have, little one.”/

No. He shook his head. "No," he whispered. "No, please--"

Try as he might, she wouldn't go away, the words rolled in his head, Heero's touch making it worse. His hands flew to Heero's shoulder's, pushing him back, although not hard, simply enough to make his lover's ministrations cease, that alluring preternatural countenance wrinkled with all too human confusion.

"Duo?"

"Le--let me," He struggled to catch his breath, "I--I want to touch you, Heero."

That seemed safer. Duo cradled his face, fingers stroking those high, proud cheeks, testing the strong bridge of his nose, watching in fascination as his eyes fluttered in response. He leaned in, taking Heero's lower lip between his before speaking again. "Please. I--Let me be the one to-to make love to you."

That damnably intent gaze pierced him, searching for --something and Duo kept still, willing away his earlier disturbance and allowing nothing but his desire…his need… His-- 'Love.' The thought came and it blew away earlier reservations. Despite what his brain might think, it wasn't too early for that feeling. The admittance seemed late to Duo and he said it again in his mind, unable to give voice to those words yet. 'Love him. I love him.' And what he wanted, what he needed was to show that, to prove to himself that emotion alone matter, not the insinuations or the jealousy evoked with that woman's words.

"All right." Heero, too, seemed faintly surprised as if he were not used to entertaining, let alone granting, such a request. Blue-dark eyes were luminous and wide before lowering, away from Duo, fixing on the buttons of his shirt, fingers following suit as he sought to unsnap them. Watching him, awkwardness tempering his grace, Duo lay his hands atop those busy fingers, feeling them stop before he removed them, pressing a kiss on each finger and knuckle. He felt rather than saw some of the tension lessen, turning his lover's right hand over, his lips flattening against the palm, tongue tracing the fractured forks of his lifeline. A tremor ran through the wrist and hand in his grasp, Duo bestowing one more kiss there, before releasing him, concentrating on the half-undone shirt before him.

There was, he decided once the outer shirt had been removed, something about Heero in a t-shirt. About the way it clung to him, tight in just the right places and looking as if it had been painted over him. The white highlighted his skin tone, making him appear tawny in this light, his eyes bright in contrast. Duo ran a finger down the chest before him, the crisp fabric beneath his touch doing nothing to hide the ripple that followed his gesture. He took another moment to admire and with some regret, tugged it over and off of his lover.

Duo would be the first to admit he had only the vaguest idea of what he was doing. Until yesterday, he'd never been with anyone much less a man and his notion of what was pleasurable hinged entirely on what Heero had shown and evoked in a few hours time, scant experience really when compared to the bulk of what Heero probably knew. And now faced with being in charge, he had to admit to some trepidation. His lover was granting him an inordinate amount of trust and while flattered, he really, really did not want to fuck things up. A thin smile tipped his lips at the thought. Maybe I could have put that better, he thought.

"As nice as this is," Duo drew invisible lines against his lover's chest, a hint of mischief making him ghost a quick touch against Heero's stomach, pleased with the low sound he earned, somewhere between a gasp and rushed breath. "I think it's a little soon yet for you to be on your knees, don't you?"

With that he tugged Heero up, enjoying the startled expression stealing across his face as Duo pulled him into his lap, strong legs straddling his waist. The slow fire already burning in his stomach banked and rose as their bodies aligned, his arousal pressed firmly against Heero's, chest against chest, the skin tight like drawn velvet. He couldn't help himself, thrusting forward, hands slipping into his lover's back pockets to hold him steady. Heero did moan this time, a quick return push of his hips making Duo's control slip just another notch. With one hand behind Heero's neck and the other still lodged safely in his pocket, Duo kissed him, hard enough to bruise as Heero continued to move against him, bracing himself against Duo's shoulders. The rhythm was rough, almost harsh but Duo found himself unwilling to break it, the feel of flesh on flesh and cloth guarded erections wringing sounds from him that he'd never heard himself make. And the low growls near his ear told him that Heero was similarly affected. He thought back a moment, to their earlier lovemaking and --

Then Duo bit him.

It wasn't hard, with nowhere near the force that Heero could and had applied before but it was enough to make the vampire rear, the rhythm created between their bodies shattering before coalescing into something wilder, in beat with the tongue Duo laved over the captured flesh between his teeth. There would be a bruise; perhaps, a bit of red and purple to mar the joint between head and shoulder but the reaction made it almost worthwhile. Before Heero had held some measure of control, some restraint that Duo felt slip away even as he nibbled and gnawed the pliant flesh. And now…now it was just gone, Heero's hands digging hard half moons with his short nails in Duo's shoulder blades, the pleasure-pain of the act making Duo grunt and bite harder. On anyone else, there would probably have been blood by now but Heero writhed, grinding hard and fast against him, his dark beauty transformed into something feral, abandoned.

"You really do like that, don't you?" He replied at last, teeth almost aching as he let go, the sweat and salt of Heero's skin almost solid on his tongue.

Heero panted in response, almost sagging against him. For a second, Duo feared his experiment had precipitated matters, but no, Heero had hung on somehow, his groin digging sharply into Duo's thigh. A small smirk alighting, Duo reached down between their bodies, cupping Heero through the cloth, a spasm racking his lover in response.

"Still with me, hmm?"

Silence, then Heero's voice rolled like dark honey over his senses. "I'll get you for that."

"Looking forward to it." 'God, I'm being such a bastard,' he thought but he couldn't help but momentarily indulge a bit of smugness. Heero was more responsive than before, more than Duo had hoped for and he felt pride at being able to give back as much pleasure as he himself had been given. Laying a kiss against his shoulder, Duo murmured, "I think it's about time to lose the clothes, don't you?"

God help him but he couldn't stop the blush marching up his neck and face as he said that. Didn't matter that Heero was pretty well acquainted with every inch of his body and or how it responded to his slightest touch.

"You're blushing?"

How did he know? Duo wondered. Heero's face was resting against his shoulder, turned away from any angle that would have given him any clue so how--

"I can smell it," Heero stretched. "Heats the blood, gives it a different scent."

Oh. "You know that's kind of freaky, don't you?"

"Didn't hear you complaining before. And I don't know if its escaped your notice but this whole thing is kind of freaky."

"Baby, I don't know if anyone's ever told you this but telling a guy you're about to have sex with you find the whole situation 'freaky' is not a way to win brownie points," Duo teased.

"Baby?" Heero positively rumbled the word. "And I wasn't talking about this..the --"

"Yes?" Duo prodded helpfully as his lover stumbled.

Heero lifted his head and glared at him, although with less irritation than Duo expected to see. He smoothed Duo's bangs out of his face. "I meant--you, me. I've never… You're the first mortal I've ever let this close. Usually the ones who found their way here--"

"Don't make it out?" Duo didn't know whether to be insanely jealous that there had been others or to be unnerved by Heero's ill-timed confession.

He nodded, his eyes never leaving Duo's, obviously searching for something. Duo got the feeling that were he to appear repulsed or frightened, that would be it, Heero would be off him and out of here without a word passing between them.

"Are you trying to ruin the mood? Geesh, I know you said you were going to get me--"

"This isn't a game, Duo," Heero didn't even bother to raise his voice, the words just came and their intensity made him freeze up. "If something goes wrong, you don't wake up and start all over again."

"I know." God, did they have to talk about this now? The last thing he wanted was to be reminded that yes, he was an insignificant little mortal that Heero could break by looking at him the wrong way and yes, Heero did have a rather lengthy (and apparently) colorful history that he knew next to nothing about. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I don't think you really understand what you've gotten yourself into," Heero tried to draw away from him but Duo gripped his forearms, setting his mouth in an obstinate line. Heero might break his arms but he wasn't letting him put distance between the two of them, not like his lover desired. "There's things you don't know. About what am I, who I am…Who I was."

"And so you're taking it upon yourself to tell me now? I have to tell you your timing sucks."

"Stop, just stop. Stop trying to hide behind the sarcasm. If it doesn't matter, then why are you being so skittish? What are you trying to hide from me? That you're afraid?"

"I'm NOT afraid of you," Duo snapped. He almost leapt to his feet but realized in doing so, he was likely to throw Heero to the floor, a move that was most definitely not going to recover the mood. If there was anyway to salvage that, he thought mournfully.

"Then what?" Heero tried to reach up, to touch him, hampered by Duo's hold on him. He settled on resting his forehead against Duo's. "What's happened? The woman, Dorothy, alluded to something. So did you but you won't tell me and I know whatever it is, it frightened you. I can feel it, crawling around beneath the surface and I can smell your discomfort. You were upset earlier, I felt that, too."

His heart felt like it was being squeezed then coated with a good dousing of ice water. Closing his eyes, Duo replied. "I really hate that scent thing, I want you to know that. It's totally not fair."

"Tell me what happened. I asked Dorothy--"

"You asked Dorothy," Duo felt a tinge of anger spark, a flicker that went out with Heero's next words.

"She wouldn't tell me. Said I should ask you and… And if it's what I think it is, I need to know what happened… Before you go away."

"Heero, I am not going--"

"Don't misunderstand me," Heero's voice was soft, wracked with open pain. "I don't mean that you'll leave. I mean, before something happens to you--before you're taken from me."

***

The apartment was silent, finally empty and all she could do was stare at the door and wish them all back, even Dorothy who had been little more than rude the entire evening. She could have tolerated that, tolerated the other girl's brusqueness for the sake of company. Relena slumped against the counter, fingers curling and tracing around the decorative edges of a plate, her parents' best china in this case. Had they known, she was certain they would have abhorred and condemned the use she put it to tonight but for once, her conscience was clear on that. Her family had never approved of Duo and because of that, she had always been torn. Caught between people she loved and unable to make them love each other. She had spent so much of her childhood running interference between the two that her mother had dubbed her "little Miss Peacemaker." She shook her head, a rueful smile breaking her frown. Well, it had been cute when she was five.

When her parents had started distancing themselves--no, when she'd finally begun to acknowledge that they were never going to be in her life on a day to day basis, Duo had been her respite, her refuge. He had been her constant companion during all those rough, embarrassing moments in her life, had taken her to prom when her weasely date backed out at the last minute in favor of a taller blond with bigger...'Tits, Relena,' she shook her head. 'It's not like you're saying it. You can think the word, crude as it is. Tits, see? Duo would be so proud.'

There it was again, that strange hard knot in her chest, half desperation, half-unsettled fear. Duo wasn't hers anymore. Not completely. He would come back tonight but he was never going to be just hers--part of him belonged to Heero now. And as much as she liked the other boy, something in her balked at having to share. Duo was hers, he'd been her cousin, her friend...her brother before Heero had entered the picture. Didn't that mean something? Anything at all?

'It means,' she thought, picking the plate up and setting in the sink, turning the faucet on it, 'that you're an idiot. He's not going anywhere. He's not suddenly going to stop caring just because...because he has someone else to lean on.' It was hard, almost unbearable to think of relinquishing her position as caretaker, as solo confidant in his life. What would she do then? She had friends... Okay, she had a lot acquaintances, lots and lots of acquaintances, people who were good at throwing a party and tended to look panicked when you dropped something heavier than a wine list on them. Duo had never flinched, not even when they fought. Doors were slammed, occasionally Relena found herself stooping to the crude language he seemed to delight in but they had always been there--in every way that counted. Until the accident, until Duo almost....

She clenched the sponge in her hand tighter, raking it over the plate. She'd nearly lost him--because she had been blind to his pain, had let his smiles fool her. After that, after helping Pargan fish him out of that crimson-tided bathtub, she had sworn to herself and to him (although he never knew it) that she wouldn't fail him again. How then was she supposed to care for him, to be there, when he already had someone else lined up for that position?

Suddenly she was ashamed of herself, ashamed of the doubts that made her question Duo. It was horrid of her to think this way. She should be happy, pleased that he had found someone he cared for, who seemed as devoted if she read Heero's blue eyes aright. The boy was quiet but there was something when he looked at Duo...some sort of hopeless need, a desire that shook her to the core. She wondered if Dorothy had noticed. Probably not, the blond woman was too intent in finding fault. Of course, she puzzled, she hadn't realized that Dorothy and Duo were so close until recently. Perhaps Dorothy had feelings...? She snorted. No, that was just too far a stretch even for her. Dorothy tolerated Duo, seemed halfway amused by him but love? She wasn't sure the other woman would understand it, at least not in the terms she meant. It was too soft, too vulnerable and she would never permit it. Relena felt a flickering of sorrow for her, as alone as she and Duo were, perhaps even more so. Dorothy had no family and almost no friends. So far as Relena knew she and Duo were the only ones the Catalonia interacted with besides her dogs. 'Maybe I should go check on her,' Relena ran her soapy hands under the spray and then yanked the faucet off. She wasn't in the mood to wash dishes anyway. 'She did leave here in an awful hurry.' Maybe if she went, the other girl might want to talk and...

'And this is the most pathetic excuse for wanting company you've come up with yet, Relena Peacecraft. And just what are you going to say when she hits you with one of her patented 'what the fuck' stares? Squirm like a kid? Bawl? She'll laugh you right out of her penthouse.'

Well, what else was there? It was too early for bed and she really didn't want to sit in her empty apartment, wondering what her best friend was doing and knowing perfectly well what he was doing. 'Although,' she admitted, feeling a blush crawl up her neck and chink. 'I never thought Duo would find a man before I did.'

A movie perhaps? That might be fun. There was bound to be something she hadn't seen playing and -- And she could go and watch half the theater staring at her, both pitying and wondering what the hell was so wrong with her she couldn't find anyone to accompany her. Maybe not.

'There has to be something I can do besides clean? Something that involves me sitting in front of the television, eating homemade brownies and drowning my sorrows in Johnny Depp movies?'

It was the knock at the door that drew her out of her self-pity, making her jump, gripping the corner of the sink for reassurance. She stood, staring at nothing, trying to make sense of it, when the sound came again, less assured this time. Duo? No, there was a quality, a vibration to his knocks that she had come to recognize over time. Dorothy? Maybe but she doubted it. Wiping her hands dry, she headed for the door, pausing a second before she turned the knob, Duo's strange warning from before coming to mind.

/"Relena... Lock the door tonight, after I go. The windows, too."

She wanted to laugh but there was something about his eyes, about the worry in his voice that told her he was serious. "What's wrong?"

He shrugged, running a hand over his hair. "Maybe something. Maybe nothing at all. Look...just be careful. When I'm not here."

"You worry too much."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I just don't want anything happening to you, Rel."/

She hesitated, his fear sinking in, slipping underneath her skin. 'Don't be stupid--there are guards here. They...they wouldn't let just anyone in. Surely not.'

And yet Duo had been drained on their balcony with no apparent access and no way anyone could have gotten past the French doors without her seeing.

Swallowing, she peeked through the spyglass. A distorted face appeared, bright green eyes drilling into her. Trying to ignore the jackbeat of her heart, she unlocked the bottom but left the security chain in place, cracking the door. "Yes?"

"I'm looking for Duo Maxwell."

"Why?" The words, rude as they were, slipped out. "I'm sorry. I just meant--"

"It's quite all right," the man reassured her, peeking out behind a large fringe of bang, his mouth quirking apologetically. "He forgot, didn't he? We were supposed to meet?"

"Meet--?"

"--I was going to take he and Heero out to dinner. I'm a friend of Heero's, by the way. My name's Trowa."

'Now who's being an idiot?' she chided herself. He couldn't have known that Heero would be here unless he was what he said and here she was treating him like a criminal. "Relena. Hang on just a second while I..." She closed the door, unlatching the dead bolt and twisting the knob. "What was it you said you wa--"

A hand shot out closing around her unguarded throat. Relena gagged in alarm, imploring eyes turning towards the man she had been speaking to just seconds earlier. She thought she glimpsed an apology there before she was shut out, he turning away and disappearing down the dim hallway.

"Now then," replied the woman squeezing her throat, pushing her back into the room. "I think we should talk, don't you?"

The door clicked irrevocably shut.

 

***End of Chapter Five