3-20-2003

TITLE: Night Swimming
AUTHOR: Amethyst Maiden (Amet)
FANDOM: Gundam Wing
RATING: NC-17
PAIRINGS: 1x2x1, questionable 6+9
WARNINGS: Sex, swearing, and pissy Duo
ARCHIVED: Also at Random Acts of Idiocy: http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/amethystmaiden
FEEDBACK: Yes, please!
THANKS: To Sephy, because after a year and a half of having this on my hard drive, she made me post this. It's all her fault!

Night Swimming
by Amethyst Maiden


December 14, AC 197

Rain battered the flimsy tin roofs of nearby houses, echoing into the distant night with an insistent hollow drumming 'ping' completely alien to Duo's particular corner of the L2 cluster. What was usually an expanse of dried out, used up shacks and weather-beaten houses was now a soaking wet, barely traversable sea of sliding mud and rusted metal parts that threw his balance off to high hell whenever he allowed his attention to wander. He found himself glancing at the sky, half expecting the artificial heavens to rip apart with ominous thunder the way they had on Earth the first time he had laid eyes on a storm like this one, throwing the colony bred child he was into reverent silence as he raised his arms to the sky and imagined that it wept for him, for the children that war remade in its image and the ones they slaughtered in the name of peace.

On Earth, rain was a reverent thing. An act of fate or a God he had never believed in, an angry reminder from Mother Nature that for all humanity puttered about and called themselves masters of the universe, they were pale and fragile in the face of such awesome destructive power.

On L2, it meant that Heero'd been fucking with the environmental controls again.

Duo cursed, losing his footing on a half-submerged child's toy, coming down hard on his hands to prevent major damage to his already abused backside. He shook his head to clear his bangs from his eyes, attempting to concentrate as whatever was left of his rational mind insisted that Heero meant well. After all, how was he to expect the perfect soldier to bat an eye at bringing business on their arid colony to a shrieking halt if it helped him accomplish his self appointed 'mission' to keep Duo from overworking himself? Unfortunately, as he once again felt his fingers sink into the sludge, the rest of his mind told rationale to fuck off.

It wasn't that the concern wasn't oddly endearing, or that he didn't have personal experience with Heero's little quirks enough to understand that as far as the Japanese man was concerned, any option that left Duo unable to continue working for the evening was a viable one. He just couldn't bring himself to appreciate sleet pounding him into the pavement at eleven thirty at night when a simple phone call would have done the same damn job. Why did everything with Heero have to be so intense?

'Fucked up way to show me you care Yuy,' Duo thought sardonically, 'But I take what I can get.'

That wasn't fair. It was precisely the Japanese man's intensity that attracted Duo to him in the first place, the single minded determination to get the job done at any cost, a dogmatism that bordered on lunacy. In a sick way it reminded Duo of himself, and after shooting him, rescuing him, and trying not to lose his lunch as the stupid fool set his own bones, he'd hardly been able to tear his eyes away from his new companion.

His new, pathologically antisocial companion who wanted no part of Duo's life, or for that matter, anything resembling pleasant conversation. Not that Duo let that dull his enthusiasm. He spent most of that first day at Howard's rambling on about everything and nothing as Heero pointedly ignored him, concentration trained on diagnosing Wing's condition. In hindsight Duo realized that the endless chatter might have grown somewhat annoying as the hours crawled by. He vaguely remembered an oblique reference to Evil Kanivil that could have been taken as an insult, but something about watching the other boy negligently pop a femur back into place set a deep seeded need to fill the silence between them, as if that small semblance of normalcy could restore his companion's humanity.

The day passed in a haze of half-heard discourse punctuated by a scattering of stunted grunts from Heero. Duo didn't remember half of what he'd said, but the heartbreaking weariness reflected in Heero's eyes as he watched his mobile suit rise out of the water spurred him on, determined to coax something of the depth he sensed in the taciturn boy to the surface.

Things came to head hours later as Duo found himself sitting disconsolately on one of Wing's prone forearms, staring off at the team of mechanics checking Deathscythe's systems against the blast damage and muttered, "You've got such a gloomy personality. Why don't you just give up and stop pretending to be human?"

He hadn't thought Heero had heard him, until a sharp "Hey! Could you keep it down over there?" made it through the haze of self pity, instigating the first of a running argument that would trail their relationship through two campaigns.

He awoke sometime later from a restless slumber to find a familiar figure hovering over him, hands braced on either side of his head. Pallid moonlight filtered in from the porthole that served as his small room's only window, illuminating the perfect angular features of Heero's face, reflecting in messy hair and half hidden blue eyes that glittered like sapphires; beautiful, cold, and utterly unreadable.

"What are you doing?" He managed, confused and a little frightened to find his taciturn companion nearly flush against the length of his body.

"Pretending," came the reply, so soft he could barely be certain he heard it, "to be human." It was punctuated with the wettest, sloppiest, most intense kiss he'd ever received in his life.

The next few hours would change his life forever.

During the war, the sex had been for comfort. Heero was never so human as he was when they were joined and Duo used his body to keep the other boy by him through the worst of it. He had given unendingly to keep the other alive, unable and unwilling to ask for more than Heero was willing to reciprocate. He couldn't be sure how that had changed. Somewhere in the aftermath of the wars Heero had begun to allow him more – less surreptitious glances, subtle allusions to his feelings – and far from his insecurities, Duo had pushed how far the other boy would allow him to go.

As it turned out, pretty far.

Heero fought for peace, sacrificed and longed for it with every fiber of his being for the better part of sixteen years but he never really understood what it would mean. With the final ceasefire and the reformation of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation – the New Alliance, as it was more commonly and perhaps cynically called – his entire purpose disintegrated, his way of life erased forever and with it something in that vital self-assurance that was Heero seemed to vanish. Where he was overconfident and brash on the battlefield, Heero seemed almost childlike in his exploration and wariness of their new world, adrift in sensations so foreign to him as to be incomprehensible.

In short, he needed to be taught how to live in the real world, and clung to Duo as a level of familiarity in the maelstrom of new sensations. The bitter irony was, Duo had asked his lover to trust him, begged and cajoled faith enough to help the other boy adjust to life after war and in the end he hadn't been able to trust Heero himself. It was hypocritical and depressing as hell, but something in him refused to depend on Heero to stay with the specter of Relena looming over their relationship. Duo was used to being the underdog, but he wasn't stupid.

But here they had a chance, because really, when was the last time anyone had seen a Peacecraft in the L2 cluster? And living on an isolated colony, independent of his greatest fear, he was slowly learning to believe in Heero, in what they had. It was far from easy. A part of him insisted that he shouldn't expect a thousand 'I love you's, it was too soon after everything, and hell, the man still balked at loud noises, never mind public displays of affection. He had convinced himself long ago that empty promises and platitudes were not what he wanted to hear anyway. But another, larger part incessantly pointed out that it had already been /three years/, and if Heero really cared about him so much he should have been more inclined to at least /try/ to articulate his feelings.

Duo's own derisive thoughts were a more complicated mind fuck than any duplicity Heero could dream up. At least he could say he was aware of it.

His head snapped up as a hazy light penetrated the settling fog, bright enough to break through a barrier of both weather conditions and the swirl of self castigating emotions that monopolized his attention. In the distance, he could just make out the outline of the house, bigger and better kept than most of the surrounding buildings, a product of Heero's unending boredom and listlessness.

The endless projects and self appointed tasks he took on in addition to his duties with the Sweeper Corps had little to do with the actual need for them and everything to do with Heero's need to keep himself in constant motion, to keep his thoughts from wandering into the indolence of their newfound existence. They never spoke of it, but Duo knew that something in Heero balked at the prospect of spending the rest of his days in this washed out wasteland, at the prospect of spending it anywhere. They had settled down entirely at Duo's own instigation, for his benefit, and his lover had followed in the blind belief that he knew best.

Heero's docility was frustrating. He missed the forceful, at times overbearing nature that had defined the Japanese man in the past. Not that it had completely disappeared, as indicated by the current torrent, but Heero had begun to show him undue deference whenever a question came down to a difference of opinion and the responsibility for deciding for both of them at times weighed heavy on his shoulders. It scared him, frightened him more than most things because in the end he held the certainty that he knew little more than Heero. He could fake normalcy, throw on the familiar mask and communicate his more stable side to the people of the New Alliance, but in the end he was still a soldier, a ruthless automaton raised from early on to nurse his wounds by exacting revenge upon the unworthy and unjust. Shinigami was not dormant, not dead as so many had assumed with the end of the fighting but alive and well as an integral part of Duo's personality. You can't kill death after all.

It didn't really bear thinking about, certainly not the level of obsession he was certain it would reach were he to dwell on it, and he stamped those thoughts out before they had finished. Some things just were, they couldn't be changed and it did little good worrying about it when there were more immediate concerns to focus on.

In the end, Heero had stayed, showing in a thousand little ways that no matter his own restlessness Duo remained the one thing that was not a part of the problem. It was enough to give Duo hope enough to go on, to do his work and come home to the arms of his partner in the face of both Heero's agitation and his own. Because somewhere deep inside his soul in a place where he could be as truthful to himself as he claimed to be with others, he could admit that the quaint little life they had fashioned for themselves in this place was not enough to bring him peace. The people he had tied himself to little comfort against the certainty that there were other, more useful things he should attend to.

He supposed he could call it some sort of hangover from the war, the adrenaline junkie ex-Gundam pilot who couldn't let go of his own image, the larger than life avenging angel who walked among men who would save the world.

He felt like a failure, and the bitch of it was that he had truly wanted to find some semblance of normalcy on L2, to find something in the place of his heritage that would fit him into that ordinary mold he had been summarily denied by the circumstances of his birth. He had been successful at his main mission on the colony, had done more than enough for the Sweepers of the cluster to pay them back six times over for their assistance during the war. He was a prodigy at mechanics, knew instinctively what to do with even the most obscure piece of scrap, and had been given dominion over the outpost he and Heero had helped to build.

He was successful, something close to revered within the community, and it meant nothing to him. For all his work, it seemed that normalcy was beyond him.

The question then became what to do about it. They had established themselves here, worked long and hard to cultivate the contacts and resources necessary to maintain the Sweeper outpost and there were consequences to suddenly disappearing. He was loathe to abandon the people they lived with on a stray twinge of vague instinct, well aware that their departure could just as easily rip the outpost apart as strengthen it. That uncertainty was simply too much for an overtaxed conscience, and after running himself ragged for more than a month in an attempt to banish the painful haze of his apparent dichotomy of will he had given up, throwing his future to fate, unwilling to move on until he was given something more concrete than nondescript emotion to go on.

Until then a claustrophobic sentiment clung to the edges of his consciousness even as he slogged towards the warmth of the only place he had ever dared call home. They were trapped.

He was closer now, watching firelight flicker in the living room window and he thought that he could just make out a form coiled comfortably in front of it, watching him as he trudged onward through the thinning mud. The house was somewhat removed from the rest of the township, built on a slight hill a little farther towards the colony hull and Heero had sifted gravel onto the pathway leading up to it perhaps in preparation for stunts like this. He had planted vegetation, small grasses and the more colorful, more resilient species of low plant life on their land, which rooted their store of earth to its place and dampened the major slide of mud and debris that plagued the lower land from becoming a problem. Duo had to admit that it was a necessary precaution, were it not for Heero's gardening skills the hill on which their home was situated could very easily have shifted in the deluge, with no certainty of which poor soul's home it might come to rest on.

The effect was unintentionally idyllic. A combination of the spacious, open airiness of the house with its open, old fashioned porches and softly painted gables combined with the surrounding vegetation made it seem like something from a pre-colony novel. It was quaint, the kind of house in which a family should be raised, the standard two parent, one child household, perhaps an aunt or grandparent standing by – the kind of home he'd once imagined normal children came from.

There was a family living there in something approaching normalcy if you ignored that the only female in the house had a lover on an L3 outpost, that the child was an eight year old delinquent from the neighborhood Hilde'd picked up attempting to steal her wallet and adopted in a fit of nostalgia. If you could ignore the fact that the men of the house were an ornery ex-soldier with an attitude problem a mile wide and a half-manic Sweeper sergeant who spent most of his time molesting said ornery ex-soldier.

If you could ignore all that, they were like the Cleavers with criminal records.

He reached the front porch, frowning at the now clearly defined form in the window as he ignored the subtle slide of mud and gravel in a puddle beneath his feet. Heero was frowning softly, staring into the fire from his place in his favorite chair, warm and inviting in a red pullover and a pair of well worn jeans. He had a mug in his hands, and Duo allowed himself a few seconds to entertain the notion of dumping whatever was in it over Heero's head to drive home the point that being unnecessarily soaked by one's partner was /not/ a fun experience.

The door snapped shut with a satisfying slam, punctuated with a half howled "Son of a /bitch/!"

Duo simply stood in the kitchen doorway, dripping, sodden and proudly maintaining enough rage to glare at Heero as the other man looked up from where he was curled in a living room armchair and smiled. Something in Duo warily made a note of that. Heero dragging him home from work with a good soaking was one thing, but Heero allowing anything other than mild annoyance to show on his face was another matter entirely. He was up to something.

Duo watched warily as the Japanese man groped for a towel by his side, stretching faintly and sauntering into the kitchen to begin unbuttoning Duo's jacket.

"You could have /called/ you know. I'm told /normal/ people do it all the time, and it's a lot easier on the colony."

Heero quirked an eyebrow at the futile reference to normalcy, moving to slip the jacket off Duo's shoulders. "It was late." He untucked Duo's sodden t-shirt, pulling it over his head and unceremoniously dumping it on the floor as he handed the towel over.

Duo fought the urge to sigh as he realized /that/ little revelation was the only explanation he was likely to receive.

He did sigh as Heero slipped around him, pulling the elastic from his hair and effortlessly unraveling it, finger combing through the worst of it with preternatural gentleness as Duo attempted to pat his front dry.

He half expected Hilde to shatter the mood with a well placed barb or a reiteration of one of Anthony's more obscure questions, but none came with the passing minutes as Heero continued his ministrations. He was suddenly overcome by the overbearing stillness of the house, the sepulchral silence that permeated the kitchen and the darkened corridor of the hallway beyond. Everything was in its place, from the chairs neatly pushed under their worn wooden table to the toys Hilde's cat normally strew all over the living room floor, and the only life he could sense in the vicinity was the flickering of the firelight and the faint rustle of Heero's movements as he began to massage Duo's back through a curtain of wet hair.

Heero's hands moved to the back of his neck, and Duo allowed himself a little grunt of approval as he leaned into his lover's touch. "Where is everybody?"

"Out," came the tacit answer and Duo was mildly surprised to find himself too relaxed to be properly annoyed at his partner's characteristically paltry offering.

"Elaborate, Baby," he commanded, voice barely more than a throaty whisper and he allowed himself a small smile when Heero's hands dug into his skin a little harder at the endearment.

"Anthony's grandmother came by." Heero's hands moved lower over his shoulder blades. "She felt the need to feed him tonight, and insisted that the rest of us join them. Hilde is with them now." His hands slipped lower, kneading the muscles of Duo's upper back with practiced precision and he melted into the touch.

Duo chuckled softly. God bless Italian grandmothers. With any luck she'd keep Hilde there all night. He leaned back, craning his head over his shoulder to meet Heero's eyes with a grin. "How'd you escape her evil clutches?"

Heero leaned in to briefly catch his lips. "I was waiting for you," he said, softly, "She understood." He paused, letting his hands slip to Duo's lower back. After a moment of thoughtful contemplation he added, "You know, with the rain she'll probably insist they stay the night." He slipped around to Duo's front, kneading Duo's stomach as their gazes locked.

Duo smirked, so this is what Heero was playing at. He held his ground, absently tucking a partition of Heero's bangs behind his ear. "I don't know. I'm wet and I'm uncomfortable, and it's all your fault. It's going to take one hell of a sexual favor to make this up to me."

Heero smiled, eyes twinkling in something akin to merriment. He leaned forward, breath fanning Duo's cheek as he reached out to trace a finger along Duo's temple, stilling the other hand at Duo's waist. "Promise?" he whispered, running his tongue along the shell of Duo's ear.

Duo shuddered.

He might have been annoyed at how quickly his anger bled away, his annoyance at being unceremoniously drenched and frozen barely a whisper in the back of his mind. But he was half buried under the constant crush of ardent stress and disappointment, halfway to surrender under the pressure of Heero's lips against his ear, his neck, his jaw, and at that moment there was nothing he wanted more than to surrender to sensation, petulance be damned. Anger, though momentarily satisfying, took far too much energy from his depleted reserves to maintain without a struggle, and he was tired of struggling.

That and bitterness just wasn't his style.

Their mouths met, and Duo reveled in the reassurance of the tongue sweeping across his lips, sucking it in and running his own along the roof of Heero's mouth. Whatever else he might have said about Heero, his lover took care of him in his own atypical way, watching over him and lacing calm encouragement into his every move. There was something in Heero's movements whenever they were together that communicated more fully than mere words ever could, a language of need and reliance more potent than anything Duo had ever experienced. It was this that made him stay, even in their darkest moments there was no escaping the simple truth in these gestures. Heero needed him, like air, like water. He had never known anything of human kindness but what Duo had shown him, never touched another until Duo awoke in him the desire, never loved until Duo had taken a firm grip on his heart and squeezed.

And he loved. He had a capacity for warmth that sent Duo staggering in awe of it, a singular intensity to his affections that belied everything else about him, an undercurrent just beneath his hardened exterior waiting to pull Duo in at the slightest provocation.

Heero's hands were running down his chest, pausing to pinch lightly at a nipple and Duo keened, pushing Heero back until they hit the kitchen table and grinding their hips together. Heero chuckled, tearing his mouth away to look him in the eye as he reached for the clasp of Duo's jeans, still soaked from his earlier excursion. Duo busied himself in threading fingers through Heero's hair, murmuring his encouragement into Heero's temple before bending down to suck at Heero's neck. He felt more than heard his lover's sigh, the way his head lolled back slightly as slender hands halfheartedly pushed at the waist of his jeans. He smiled against the skin beneath his mouth, running his hands beneath the warm material of Heero's sweater to run his fingers along the muscles of his lover's abdomen. They contracted slightly at his touch and he grinned wider, circling a thumb around Heero's bellybutton and stifling laughter as the other man jumped.

"Off," Heero commanded, hooking fingers into the waistband of his jeans and shoving harder. Duo stepped back slightly and shifted them off his hips, avoiding his boxers as he stepped out of them and bent slightly to impatiently tug at his soggy footwear.

"You have far too much clothing on," he insisted, balancing precariously on one foot as he tugged the last of his socks off, straightening to advance towards Heero as his lover smirked and dodged him, sprinting towards the bedroom.

He shook his head, following in Heero's wake and narrowly avoiding tripping as he collided with the sweater haphazardly flung into the hallway, grumbling softly and completely unprepared for the scene that met him as he slid to a stop on the hardwood floor of their bedroom.

Heero had thrown himself onto their bed half-dressed, legs spread wide, one jean clad leg dangling over the edge haphazardly. He was smiling an inviting, guileless smile that was almost boyish, making him look so much younger than the world weary seventeen he was. It was a rare show of vulnerability, a powerful reminder that for all Heero's outward aloofness there was trust here, love if he allowed it to flourish and there was no one else in all of existence who had ever affected Heero this way.

He smiled softly in answer and Heero's eyes lazily tracked his movements as he knelt by his lover's outstretched legs, leaning down to seal their lips together. He moved slowly, twining their tongues together and flattening his palm on Heero's abdomen, inching it towards the waistline of his jeans with exaggerated sluggishness. Heero moaned into the kiss, bucking his hips up as Duo's fingers dipped just below the thick material, arms winding around Duo's neck to pull him closer and fingers fisting in his hair. He popped the buttons he found negligently, almost an afterthought to his continued exploration of Heero's mouth, laughing quietly as Heero broke contact in favor of burying his face in Duo's shoulder, whimpering his name in ragged breaths.

Heero was going through an uke phase. Duo wondered if it would shock people to learn of it, that the irrepressible Heero Yuy would allow his baka lover to set the pace in their lovemaking, but it was nothing if not logical. Duo thought it reflected some need for reassurance, they had spent most of the war the other way around and Duo suspected that Heero was simply tired of being in control all the time. He was asking for permission to falter, to lose himself in his partner in a way that he had been unable to before. That was the one thing about this newfound peace that seemed to bolster Heero, he was able to let go of his paranoia when they were together, allowing himself moments of long overdue respite from the persona he'd cultivated during the war.

Duo didn't really care one way or another so long as he was with Heero.

Pretense abandoned, Duo felt his control slipping, silently jerking stubborn clothing from the body beneath him as narrow hips lifted to hasten his movements. There was something about that final moment between teasing and nudity that enthralled Duo, a certain awe at this ritualistic unveiling, the trust implicit in the ready willingness with which Heero presented his body. It was humbling in a way, that so perfect a creature would deign to share this with him and him alone, the openness reflected in once hard sapphire eyes as his lover languidly reclined beneath his covetous gaze. He had done little but offer simple human kindness to a lost soul, surely not enough to deserve possession of it but it seemed at times as if that were his reward.

He could only hope that he was worthy of it.

Heero's features were still lit with that enigmatic smile, an effect completely ruined as he reached to trace his fingers along Duo's inner thigh. Duo gasped, smirking in answer and moving to cover Heero's body with his own, opening his mouth to the familiar invasion of Heero's tongue. The position was a reassuring one, the familiar hard lines of Heero's body molded to his own, the warm hands running through his hair and along his back gentle reminders of his partner's affections. He felt Heero buck against him, groaning out soft, strangled noises high in his throat as he rubbed himself along the length of Duo's body.

Duo responded, shifting himself more firmly against his lover and keening into Heero's mouth as their erections brushed through the thin cotton of his boxers. He repeated the action, movements quickly becoming frenzied, half-frantic as he searched out suitable friction against his partner, groaning as he felt Heero's hands dip beneath the line of fabric covering him to massage his buttocks and force their lower halves more firmly together. It wasn't enough, it was never enough, but the wordless cries issuing from Heero's throat spurred him on as he detached his mouth from Heero's to suck at his neck, smiling into the sweat soaked skin beneath his lips as the cries intensified.

His hair pooled stringy and wet around them, undulating like a living thing in time with the movement of their bodies and Duo briefly wondered why he had allowed Heero to unbraid it as his mouth closed on an errant lock in his exploration of Heero's collar bone. Heero clutched at it as Duo's mouth moved lower, tongue flicking out to trace over a nipple as they rocked together and chuckling as Heero threw his head back in a satisfying mewl.

Heero had a preternatural obsession with Duo's hair that like so many things about the Japanese man was alternately adorable and infuriating. He pulled it free of its usual plait whenever he thought he could get away with it, heedless of the impediment the unruly mass was to Duo's movements and mussing it beyond repair whenever he felt inclined to pet it. In the end it was one of those goofy idiosyncrasies that came with living with someone, a small semblance of normalcy against the maelstrom of their discordant existence.

It helped that he was a sucker for a good scalp massage.

Which was exactly what he was getting as Heero buried his fingers in Duo's hair, kneading in slow circular motions as Duo's mouth moved lower, following the earlier progress of his palm inexorably downward. Heero was all but shouting his encouragement, Duo glanced up to find his head thrown back and his eyes clenched in ecstasy, biting his lip to hold his cries in check even as Duo reached his lower abdomen.

That simply would not do.

Duo smiled, a cunning thing that would have warned Heero of his intentions had his eyes not been screwed so tightly shut, nuzzling the skin over Heero's abdominal muscles before moving his hands to still movement of Heero's hips. He leaned down, grinning madly, running his tongue slowly along the underside of Heero's erection. Heero bucked against his hands, letting loose a piercing howl that would have made a pack animal proud, panting hard and raising his head to throw Duo an incredulous look. Duo only leered in answer, pleased at his lover's responsiveness and anticipating coaxing even more interesting noises from the Japanese man before dawn.

A sentiment dispelled with frightening swiftness as he felt every muscle in Heero's body suddenly stiffen, braced against some unseen threat.

Duo froze, heart thudding painfully against his ribs as he hovered between his lover's legs for a moment longer before crawling drunkenly up Heero's body to look him properly in the eye. "What is it?"

Heero placed a hand on his shoulder to still him, brows knit together in concentration as he cocked his head slightly closer to the window, listening intently and murmuring, "I heard something."

Duo sighed. "You heard... /something/," he reiterated, stilling himself to clear his lust fogged mind enough to focus on the steady rhythm of the deluge outside against the roof and windowpanes. Anything else that might have waited in the darkness beyond eluded his senses.

"Maybe you imagined it," he added halfheartedly, still high on an extremely pungent hormonal cocktail and reluctant to come down, even as rationale dictated that there was just no reasoning with Heero when he was like this.

Heero only raised a bushy eyebrow, reaching a hand blindly to a nightstand drawer, groping for the semiautomatic that prudence and perhaps a remaining dollop of postwar paranoia dictated they keep there. At least Duo could say they no longer had the matching set and he thought they deserved some credit for banishing it from its former home beneath their pillow to the nightstand a full ten inches from the bed.

Slow progress was still progress, dammit.

As much as Duo wanted to simply dismiss Heero's concerns as the same kind of paranoia, the fact remained that Heero's senses were something close to infallible and no matter what he wanted there was no way he was going to be able to coax Heero into ignoring them if he thought they were in danger. Still, he reached down to press his lips to Heero's in a parting gesture as he felt his lover retract his arm, tugging the gun from Heero's fingers and pulling it away to still a halfhearted attempt to regain possession of it. He drew the kiss out longer than was strictly necessary, coaxing Heero's lips open enough to run his tongue along a row of slightly crooked teeth and suck lightly on his lover's tongue before releasing him, palm flat on his chest as he tried to rise.

"Stay," he commanded, rising in one fluid motion, weapon in hand.

"Duo-" Heero began, shifting slightly in annoyance as he attempted to get up.

Duo raised a brow in his lover's direction, pushing him back down and shifting the wiry body to draw a sheet around him. "You naked," he declared, pulling Heero's feet up and motioning at the slightly wrinkled boxers still adorning his own hips. "Me not. It's bad to meet the bad guys in the buff, Hee-chan." He drew the covers around Heero's waist, chuckling at the pure disgruntlement displayed in the Japanese man's expression. "Besides," he murmured, catching Heero's lips briefly, "it's probably nothing and naked Heero is too good to waste." He tweaked Heero's nose, throwing his lover a last lascivious glance before padding silently from the room.

Rain still battered the roof, resounding with a hollow patter within the hallway as Duo crawled his way along the wall, making his way towards the front of the house. He found himself again wishing for lightening, at least the sporadic illumination it provided would keep him from tripping over himself in the spectacularly darkened house. He didn't know what Heero had heard but despite what he had said at the time there was little chance that it amounted to nothing. There were no indigenous animal populations in their sector of L2, the harsh climate was too much for all but the hardiest species of insect to take root and pets were too valuable a commodity to allow to wander freely on the despondent colony, especially on a night like this. He trusted that Heero knew the difference between the cat flouncing around the living room and an intruder.

He was grateful for the fire that still burned cinder low in the fireplace, spilling sober illumination from the living room as he paused, noting the coolness of kitchen tile against his feet. He was greeted by stillness and the continued patter of the rain outside, eyes sweeping the perimeter before him in frustration. Nothing. The door was still barred, the windows closed and locked against the storm that would likely continue until the regulator shift changed in the morning and someone qualified to deal with it was dispatched to reset the environmental controls.

What the hell had Heero heard?

His head snapped up at the first crunch of gravel on the walkway, marveling slightly at Heero's hearing as he realized that his lover must have sensed them as they were still coming upon the hill itself. The heavy clatter of footsteps echoed off the stairs, the porch, approaching the front door with heavy shuffles before coming to a halt. Duo leaned in the kitchen doorway, waiting for whoever it was to knock or make a move before deciding how to deal with them, confident in his ability to quickly disarm any intruder.

Besides, if they got past him, the poor schmuck would have to deal with Heero.

Nothing happened for an instant before the person outside apparently decided to forgo knocking, rattling the doorknob in a clichéd attempt to gain entry. They might just as well have brought out a bullhorn for all the element of surprise that brilliant move left them. Thievery Duo could understand but after a childhood's worth of perfecting the craft shoddy thievery just pissed him off. He settled for raising his weapon at the first familiar scratches of a lock pick in the deadbolt, cocking the gun loudly as the door swung inward, a feral grin eclipsing his features as the muffled click reverberated in the empty kitchen.

"I don't know who you are or what your deal is, buddy, but you'd better just walk away. I've had a real bad day and I will not hesitate to shoot you."

The door creaked, swinging inward on its own waning momentum as a figure froze, silhouetted against a ray of artificial moonlight in the doorway. The figure; petite, slender, barely more imposing than Duo himself, shifted slightly, head searching futilely for a glimpse of him in the darkness. Finally, it stilled, eyes unseeing as hands raised in acquiescence, voice raising uncertainly to shatter the darkness.

"Duo?"

He too froze, weapon hovering uncertainly, figure still trapped in its sights. He reached blindly behind him for the light switch mounted on the wall to his right, groping in the darkness as he struggled to place the decidedly feminine, decidedly /familiar/ voice. He blinked as the resulting light banished the last undertones of firelight from the kitchen, highlighting the figure in the doorway in living color as she dripped on the kitchen tile. For she was a woman, a slender thing in a rumpled Preventer uniform, looking smaller and paler than Duo had ever seen her with formerly spiky bangs plastered to her forehead.

"Noin?" He questioned, even as his eyes confirmed it, shock spiraling ever farther as a hulking figure stepped up behind her, gun drawn and muscles taut as his eyes visibly raked over Duo's half-clad form in a calculating assessment of the threat. "/Zechs?/"

Noin let out a long puff of air, smiling distractedly in relief and hunching slightly as she shuffled into the kitchen. Zechs followed, white-blonde hair slicked to his head and shoulders, highlighting the contours of a graceful neck as he politely shut and locked the door, turning to face an incredulous Duo with a barely discernable nod of recognition.

Duo had not spent the quality time with the Lightening Count that Heero and Trowa had, so all he had to weigh against his opinion of the man came from his over bloated reputation, hearsay and a collection of brief encounters at Preventer headquarters just after the Barton Uprising. Heero had been more than reticent on the subject and Duo got the feeling that while he could respect Zechs Merquise for his skills, the frequent personality shifts and name changes had his lover as confused about the prince's motivations as the rest of the world. Duo himself had always found him slightly unnerving. It was a superstitious feeling that annoyed him even as he strived to heed it, but one long look into the Lightening Count's calculating ice blue eyes was enough to send Duo on high alert. He was the first to admit that as former pilots went, they were all slightly wacky and while Duo's long sojourn into Heero's psyche made him a veteran of the inner workings of a calculating mind, something about the way Zechs seem to weigh and measure everyone around him as if assessing their worthiness gave him the feeling that the guy was one banana short of a bunch.

The woman beside him was his complete antithesis. Sweet, naïve, and trusting to a fault despite years of training to the contrary, Lucretzia Noin had followed the rogue Peacecraft through two campaigns, fighting by his side even as he sought to destroy the world and everything she held dear. Duo sincerely wanted to respect her, felt he owed her a great deal for her assistance in both campaigns and certainly his own devotion to his partner enabled him to understand her but her devotion had cost her, stripped away her hard won image as a hard ass lieutenant in her continued obeisance to a man who had barely deigned to look at her until he had symbolically killed himself with the ending of the Eve Wars.

Now they stood side by side, leaning against the kitchen counter calm as you please, Zechs with his arms folded over his chest as Noin leaned back, almost sitting, blinking water from her eyes. Duo let the gun fall to his side, grip white knuckled on the handle as his arm swung listlessly by his hip. He gestured with his free hand, attempting to form a coherent thought as Noin began finger combing her hair, completely oblivious to his distress as a puddle grew up around she and her partner on his floor. He looked at her as she negligently straightened her jacked, at Zechs as he wrung his hair out over the sink and all that he could think to say was,

"What the hell are you doing breaking into my house?!"

His voice sounded somewhat hysterical even to his own ears and Noin paused, blinking at him as if noticing him for the first time. She looked to Zechs, now finished with his hair and shrugging nonchalantly as if telling her to deal with Duo herself. She smiled at him in a motherly way and calmly answered, "The lights were out. We didn't think you were home."

"So you decided that picking the lock was the best course of action."

She shrugged. "We've come a long way and it's not like there's a hotel around the corner. It's raining like the end of the world out there, we couldn't very well wait on the porch."

Duo sighed loudly, raking fingers through his bangs as the aggravating realization hit him that like Heero, to deal with these two there were some things that you were simply forced to accept. Their fucked up logic made up a part of their 'unique' take on the world and in the end it was that very same warped vision that made them an asset to the organization they worked for, even if it did squat to improve their interpersonal skills.

Hell, at least being around them made him proud that /he/ could fake it.

"I assume you weren't just passing through," he replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "Unless you suddenly had a burning need to visit the little dustbowl we wistfully call a colony I'm going to take that last great leap of logic and figure you want to talk to me about something."

Noin nodded, going from sheepish to business mode in half a second as Zechs mirrored Duo's movements, leaning back against the counter behind him and crossing his arms over the broad expanse of his chest. Noin began to move toward the kitchen table, motioning to Duo to join her.

He held up a hand to halt her just as she was pulling out a chair.

"Has it occurred to either of you that I might be busy?"

Noin blinked, butt frozen half a foot away from the chair and Duo tried not to resent the fact that she was about to soak half a gallon of rainwater into the wood.

"It /is/ after midnight," he added, tapping his wrist and clucking at them in mild reproach.

Noin hit the chair with a thud, arms hitting the tabletop palm up as if in supplication. "But... what..." she sputtered, "What could you possibly be doing this late at night... with the lights out... look at you, you're half naked...." She pointed at Duo, weak, sweeping gestures of her hand.

Duo fought the urge to roll his eyes, throwing a poignant look down at the wrinkled and still slightly damp boxers he wore, the disheveled state of his hair and the odd crescent shaped markings left in the wake of Heero's nails on his stomach. Zechs remained stalwart, icy and removed even as he dripped pitifully onto the linoleum and Duo fought not to be disturbed by his presence. Noin's brows were drawn together in concentration as she perused Duo's form, eyes widening as realization dawned and her jaw nearly hit the floor. She raised a shaky arm to cup and support her chin, mouth opening and closing several times before she managed to speak, muttering a slightly choked, "Oh," as the pieces fell into place.

Never let it be said that Lucretzia Noin was not profound under pressure.

She shook it off, proprietary demeanor once again taking over as she raised herself from her seat and nodded firmly. "I'm sorry Duo, but this cannot wait."

"Excuse me?" he asked, eyes narrowing dangerously at the prospect of /anyone/ telling him what to do. He was no one's subordinate, he had nothing to do with Preventer even if he had taken the time to leave a forwarding address in case of emergency and Noin had never had hold over him enough to assume he'd take kindly to the notion. She seemed all too eager to forget that she was standing in his kitchen, dripping on his furniture, callously keeping him from getting laid and there were some things that a man just could /not/ be expected to stand for.

Zechs stiffened at the subtle shift in his demeanor but Noin, oblivious to the darkening of Duo's mood, continued, punctuating her speech with well placed hand movements and nods of her head. "...come all this way to speak with you about a matter of some importance and I think that you can afford to give up one tawdry encounter for the fate of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation..."

He bristled silently at her assumption, wondering if the imaginary neighborhood girl she expected to warm his bed had been bribed or seduced and that said volumes about her perception of him, none of which was flattering. A little misguided B & E was one thing but blatant disrespect from someone who should have seen him as a colleague made him want to hit something and that something was pacing his kitchen, rattling along without a clue in her head at what she had just insulted.

What he had with Heero was sacred. Period, end of story, exit stage left. There were too few things in Duo's life that fell into that category and you just didn't go there unless you were cruising for a bruising.

"...have orders to explain the situation to you and we are not leaving until we have done so." Noin finished with a huff, crossing her own arms over her chest in an attempt to look stern. She blew her bangs out of her face.

"Well isn't that just peachy," he replied, tempering the urge for violence with his best imitation of Heero's glare. "Tell ya what, Lu, you two have fun out here in the kitchen." He hooked a thumb in the direction of the hallway. "I'm going back to bed."

With that he spun around, hair flying in every direction as he stomped back towards the bedroom, praying that Noin had the sense to let things lie for the time being and that Heero could keep him from killing her when his prayers inevitably went unanswered. He could hear her sputtering in the background for a moment before footsteps sounded in his wake, running to a halt behind him as she grabbed at his bicep and choked out a firm, "I'm sorry Duo, but your friend will have to leave."

He rounded on her, rage building and he was certain it showed in his eyes as she recoiled slightly, eyes widening and fingers slackening on his arm as she fought the instinct to flee. "And what gives you the right to say that, huh? Had it occurred to you to /ask/, I would have considered it. Hell, had it occurred to you to fucking knock I would have opened the door! But instead I watch you break into my house, insult my lover and order me around when you don't have half a fucking clue what's really going on here. Respect goes both ways Noin, and I have yet to see a single reason why I should even /consider/ listening to a damn thing you have to say!"

He wrenched his arm from her grasp, stomping towards the faint light spilling from the bedroom door and the haven of Heero's arms with renewed urgency, hoping that something in his lover's cool demeanor would calm him down enough to avoid lashing out any further. The truth hurt and he was tired of facing it day in and day out by the very nature of their lives on L2, he didn't need it from another angle and he had little desire to fight with someone he would have liked to consider an old friend.

She skittered around him, acquiring her own second wind from some God forsaken store of self righteousness and he wondered if it was the terraforming project or Zechs' continued presence that imbued her with such petulance. "I'm /very/ sorry, Duo, but whatever little harlot you have in here," she ducked out of his reach and into the open doorway, "has to go!"

He sighed, mentally counting off the seconds before her shocked cry echoed out into the hallway, following her with a defeated gait and a muffled, "For fuck's sake!"

Heero hadn't moved from the bed, fingers splayed on the mattress behind him as his arms supported him. He was sitting stock still, wearing his most baleful glower and little else as Noin froze against the wall, red faced and eyes flicking from Heero to Duo and back again as Duo knelt by his lover, hovering in what even he realized was a ludicrously unnecessary protective gesture as he drew the covers more firmly around Heero's waist.

Another second and Zechs thundered into the room, weapon drawn and chest heaving as he took in the scene, gaze flicking to each occupant of the room before settling on Heero. A white blonde brow raised in something that might have been surprise, muscles relaxing as he focused on his old adversary before favoring the Japanese man with a curt nod. "Yuy."

Heero nodded back. "Merquise."

Tension rattled through the room as the two stared at each other, one in something akin to astonishment and the other in uncertainty of what was expected of him in this adversarial-turned-social encounter. Sapphire eyes flicked to Duo, who smiled in reassurance, tracing his fingers over the sharp angles of Heero's cheekbones as he turned to Noin, still shaking her head in disbelief.

"I don't think he's ever been called a harlot before." He grinned triumphantly as she visibly paled. "And as for needing to leave, I'd like to see you make him."

His grin widened to shit eating proportions as she began to fidget, leaning in to nuzzle Heero gently as his lover continued to pin Zechs with his gaze. "Hey Baby," he murmured, knowing full well that Heero had heard everything but unable to refrain from indulging in tormenting the shaken woman a little. "Found these two picking the lock on the front door. Noin's all ranty, she says I can't play with you anymore." His face twisted into an exaggerated moue of displeasure as Heero turned to look at him. "Apparently they have something important to tell us."

He leaned in, parting Heero's lips with his tongue to allow for a lengthy exploration of his partner's mouth, as much to throw their guests off balance as to gratify the hormones still lacing through his system. He almost started as Heero responded enthusiastically, ignoring their audience as arms came up to clutch and stroke at Duo's back.

They stayed there as he pulled away, fingers smoothing small circular patterns on his lower back as he looked poignantly from Heero to their visitors. "What do you think, Hee-chan? Humor them?"

He was surprised when Heero shifted closer, leaning to lay his head on Duo's shoulder as he turned his attention back to their visitors. He stared in contemplation for a few moments, tracing the muscles of Duo's right bicep absently with a fingertip and if the way even Zechs had begun to fidget was any indication, unnerving the hell out of the two Preventer agents before sighing softly and murmuring, "Aa."

Duo swallowed a chuckle, turning to Noin with a grin. "Well there you have it, my fearless leader has spoken." He ignored the glare that earned him from the man at his side and continued in a cheerful voice. "Now get out."

Noin, who had slowly inched her way towards Zechs and coincidentally the door during their little encounter, froze, sputtering, "But he said..."

Duo rolled his eyes in as melodramatic a fashion as he could manage without making himself laugh. "To the kitchen, Noin dear. We're not having an important conversation half dressed and the only one who gets to see Heero's ass is me." He punctuated the statement with a glare for good measure and Noin nodded, half tripping over herself and Zechs in her haste to get away from them. Zechs simply inclined his head slightly and followed in her wake, hovering calmly in case she managed to truly tangle herself.

Duo was nearly beside himself with laughter as their footsteps echoed down the hallway, grinning idiotically as Heero fumbled on the floor for his pants, pulling them on and turning to shake his head at Duo. "Baka."

He was smirking himself, and Duo snickered, batting his eyelashes dramatically. "You say the sweetest things."

Heero turned away, rummaging through the dresser for one of his old tank tops and a decrepit wife beater Duo liked to sleep in, slipping the shirt over his head - much to the detriment of the view in Duo's opinion - and glowering at Duo until he tugged his own shirt on. He sat down on the edge of the bed for a moment and sighed. "What do you think they want?"

Duo shrugged. "Who knows with them? Noin was muttering about the fate of the New Alliance and all that but it's not exactly beyond her to be melodramatic." He moved to sit next to Heero, dangling his legs onto the cool wood of the bedroom floor and reaching for Heero's hand, contemplating the play of muscle and bone beneath the skin of his lover's palm. "It'd be a helluva lot more amusing if she hadn't interrupted, ya know?"

While for the most part Duo loved having Hilde and Anthony around, their constant presence made it impossibly difficult for he and Heero to find any time together lest they acquaint their eight year old boarder with the facts of life in a scarringly graphic way. It had been nearly a week since they'd had any time alone together, the storm as much an opportunity as far as Duo was concerned as a consummate pain in the ass, even given his happy little trek earlier. He had little patience when it came to his sex life and there were times when it seemed that there was little that mattered so much as being allowed to touch Heero, to be in his embrace and bring what pleasure he could into his lover's life.

Heero smiled, a rare, rueful expression, twining the fingers of his captive hand with Duo's and curling the rest of his body against Duo's side. "Maybe we're just not meant to have sex."

Duo groaned, jostling Heero playfully. "Don't even start with me, Yuy. Like some higher power is keeping us from jumping each other? Even God can't be that cruel."

"No, that was my attempt at placating you," Heero answered mildly, shrugging.

"We'll have to work on your delivery." Duo ruffled Heero's hair, watching the Japanese man's eyes shift in the muted lamplight before pulling him closer and pressing a kiss to his temple. He stood up. "Come on, let's go see what the agents want while Noin's still suitably scandalized."

Heero snorted, a nearly inaudible sound as he followed Duo to the door. Duo turned in the doorway, halting their progress for a moment as he shook his head in annoyance. "Just one thing, Baby," he laid an almost awkward hand on Heero's shoulder, "Just... don't let me deck anyone, okay? I have all the patience of a prickly bull tonight and they're pushing it. Zechs could probably use a good smack but I don't like the idea of hitting a woman, Wufei-ish as the sentiment may be."

Heero squeezed the hand resting on his shoulder and nodded silently, starting forward and propelling Duo back into the hallway.

They found Noin pacing the kitchen, looking stricken. Zechs had taken up his post against the counter with the same preternatural calm, tracking his partner's movements almost negligently as she stalked back and forth. Duo took a seat at the kitchen table, turning to face Zechs over the table, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. Heero did the same, moving his own chair closer to Duo than was strictly necessary and turning in his seat until their thighs touched, hooking an arm around the back of Duo's chair.

Duo swallowed his surprise, shifting to look into Heero's eyes. Heero's earlier behavior around the two agents might have been a fluke but the fingers running possessively over his shoulder blade and under the strap of his shirt were as clear a proprietary claim as if Heero had bared his teeth and growled /mine/. Duo wasn't quite sure if he was pleased by the public display of affection or pissed at Heero's audacity.

Heero had never been openly affectionate, he seemed uncomfortable at displaying their relationship and Duo was hard pressed to argue given that most of what it entailed during the war was really not for public consumption. Not to mention that an openly gay couple drew more attention than two supposedly fraternal roommates and thus would have jeopardized their cover, a sacred no-no in the book of perfect soldiering. Duo wasn't particularly bothered by it, as much as he enjoyed his lover's touch he knew full well that Heero was shadowed by a compulsive need to reign in his emotions and there was little point in pushing him. Duo had no intention of blowing their cover, if his dedication to the cause wasn't enough to deter him he had an equally powerful aversion to the notion of another stay at Chateau OZ with the way the bellhops had turned on him the last time.

Complaining to the management in that place never helped.

Heero's private actions were enough for Duo, as much as he loved his partner he had no desire to ask for more than Heero's comfort level and on some level the space between them in the public arena was a much needed respite from a sometimes painful entanglement. As beautiful as Heero was, he was still a teenage killer with all the angst and suicidal intentions that went along with that and Duo wasn't much more stable. He was perhaps even more likely to vanish under pressure and there were times that his powerful attachment to the Wing pilot frightened him to the brink of bolting.

As time passed after the wars, things had inevitably changed. Somewhere along the line Heero had granted him permission to touch, had begun to keep him closer among the inhabitants of their isolated colony. They were small concessions; a guiding hand on his lower back, the possessive coiling of his braid around a forearm. Their neighbors had never known them as the soldiers they had been, were not surprised by the sudden shift in Heero's behavior because it was all they had ever known of him and the subtle affection he bestowed upon Duo in their presence was only a gentler facet of his nature. They never knew the strain those simple gestures had taken and by extension, how precious they were, that Heero could bring himself to reach out and Duo could bring himself not to flinch.

Duo had secretly wondered if things would be different when those who had known them inevitably resurfaced, who could see the difference in the boys they had been and the men they were becoming, if the calming affects of their isolation would be undone by a return to their old reality but it seemed that he was wrong. Noin and especially Zechs' presence seemed only to make Heero bolder, more possessive and perhaps a little wary as he scrutinized them from across the expanse of the kitchen table, fingers running simple patterns over the skin of Duo's shoulders in a gesture of reassurance.

Whether that reassurance was for Duo or himself was anyone's guess.

"Do you have any idea how long we've been looking for him?"

Duo looked up to find Noin had moved to sit across the table, chin once again resting on an upturned palm as she regarded them with a demureness completely discordant with the hysteria of minutes earlier. He had to admit that he admired her restraint, in her shoes he would have unhinged at the first sign of goading but the woman before him seemed determined to do things by the proverbial rulebook whether they cooperated or not. She was staring pointedly at Heero, almost reprovingly at Duo, paused to regard them with haggard eyes. Duo shrugged, lost in the after burn of hormones kicked up by the movement of Heero's fingers on his skin and all too ready to kick the woman out of his house altogether if she didn't get to the point damn soon.

"I'm going to go with the safe answer and say, 'a while.'" He muttered, rolling his eyes at her.

"Yes, Duo, 'A while.'" She shifted in her chair, striking the last phrase into quotes in the air with her fingers and sighing deeply as what was left of her bluster seemed to fade. "Months, to be exact, and had either of you bothered to inform us that Heero would be here we would have been spared a lot of work."

Duo snorted at the almost schoolmarmish tone, cutting off whatever lecture would follow by shaking his head at the Preventer agents as he struggled to lean into the reassuring pressure of Heero's touch without seeming to. "Right, and then Relena would descend on us like the wrath of God," he grumbled, locking eyes with Noin. "Has it occurred to you people that we might have wanted to be left /alone/ after the wars ended? You know, peace and quiet? The chance to explore relative normalcy? We're not misplaced weapons that could fall into the wrong hands, Noin, we're people and I'm tired of apologizing for expecting a little privacy."

Heero's voice was calm and soothing as he hooked an arm around Duo's waist, drawing absent patterns on his stomach through the thin material of his tee-shirt. "Those who required knowledge of my whereabouts were informed, but I am not in the habit of advertising my location and I prefer to remain relatively anonymous." He paused, shifting Duo closer. "Even so, I would not leave the ESUN without a way to contact me, certain parties knew to send you here if you had need of me and if things are as serious as your behavior would suggest I would assume that one of them did just that."

Zechs raised an eyebrow as Noin turned to throw him a glance over her shoulder. "I wondered why Chang was so adamant we abandon our search to come here. It's unlike him to be anything but thorough."

For all of Zechs' apparent displeasure, Duo couldn't help but be amused at the hallmark of a classic Wuffles moment. If he didn't trust you he was like a petulant toddler with important intel – he'd let you know enough to save your ass but he was more likely to lord his superior fact finding skills over you for a small eternity before it ever occurred to him to share, and he got downright nasty if you tried to take his toys away. Most of the time his antics only managed to piss off colleagues and enemies alike, but Duo missed it in a twisted sort of way. He had made a game of Wufei's standoffishness, taking it upon himself to deflate the Chinese boy's ego whenever it came close to spontaneous combustion and it had been more than worth the trouble to gather extra intel to see Wufei's jaw spasmodically clenching as he slowly began to realize he was outclassed.

He missed those early ego pruning sessions, even if they did usually end with Wufei chasing him through the streets.

He had to smile at that, giving in and allowing himself to lean flush against Heero's side, shoulder to shoulder, relieving tortured muscles strained from the futile effort of holding the bulk of his body away from Heero with his lover so determined to angle it into his lap. He glared at the back of Noin's head in annoyance as her attention shifted to Zechs, turning the significant eye contact that followed into that peculiar kind of kinesthetic language that grows between lovers and close friends. He wondered which the two of them were, if Noin had finally managed to convince Zechs that he really was in love with her and whether it was even possible for Frosty the Snow Agent to have hormones in the first place.

There was something there, but Christ if he could tell what it was, and in the end the silent chatter was only edging towards snapping his very last nerve. He shifted against Heero, straightening in his seat and folding one leg beneath the other, tapping the ball of his foot against the tile in agitation.

"Well?" he prompted, foot bouncing against cold linoleum.

"We have a situation," Noin replied, definitively enough that Duo wondered if she'd planned her half of the dialogue in advance.

"A situation," he repeated, furtively checking Heero's profile in his peripheral vision. "A situation as in, 'sorry teach I don't have a pencil', or a situation as in, 'Holy Christ Batman the Vice Foreign Minister's been captured by yet /another/ wayward military faction bent on taking over all of civilization'?"

"Neither," said Noin, "but it may end up being something akin to the latter before the week is out."

Heero stiffened beside him, breathing something that sounded suspiciously like 'Relena'. Duo clenched his eyes shut, turning his head away with the sudden rising of betrayal in his chest. Of course it had to do with Relena, how silly of him to even ask. God forbid ojou-san leave him in peace for more than a few months, he might start to get comfortable. This was twice now, and each time it was harder to watch her call his lover back like some overly intelligent lapdog, completely heedless of the pain he would endure for her safety. To face the flesh and blood specter hanging over their relationship as she conveniently forgot to acknowledge his presence even as she clung to Heero. No amount of rationalizing in the world could curb the instinctive bitterness he felt with every mention of her name.

He shook his head. "So what stupid stunt has Relena-sama pulled now?"

Noin's eyes widened fractionally before her features settled into strained stoicism, tracing a finger over the wood grain in the table as she glanced at Zechs. "Well I wouldn't call it /stupid/, Duo," she murmured, "perhaps a little reckless..."

"Oh please," Duo answered, annoyed at the plastic sincerity in Noin's protests, "Relena doing something a little reckless makes the stunts this one," he hiked a finger in Heero's direction, "pulled during the war look like hopscotch on a children's playground." He paused. "So has she been kidnapped yet, or are we waiting until Heero's actually in on the act for that part?"

"Duo!" He was pointedly not looking at Heero, but Noin seemed suitably scandalized, and Duo abruptly realized that she'd never seen him with anything less than his usual manic edge. His self-deprecating moments were saved for Heero alone, but months of living in social isolation had eroded that warped sense of propriety. Funny, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Heero's hand tightened on his shoulder, and a glance in his direction found Duo lost in startled eyes, watching his lover's brows draw ever-so-slightly together at his reaction. He wasn't going to play at guessing Heero's mood -- demonstrativeness aside, the familiar veneer of inscrutability had settled over Heero's features and his own self-doubt would only color whatever he might glean from that expression.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, spearing Noin with a glance, "I'll be nice if you'll kindly get to the goddamn point."

She sat back, sighing, scrubbing her face with the heel of her hand. "Since the end of the Barton rebellion, Miss Relena has been personally coordinating the relocation of displaced soldiers, men and women left without a source of income or a cause to believe in at the end of the great war two years ago. She believes that we were remiss in leaving those who fought to pick up civilian lives without aid, that their disillusionment was the driving force that allowed Marimeia to manipulate so many into following her obviously insane bid for power."

Duo rolled his eyes at the Relena inspired rhetoric. It still amazed him that someone so intelligent could be naïve enough to rank fighting for a cause with a means for survival. 'Still, it must be nice to believe that Relena can solve everything. Just label Marimeia the bad guy and move on with your life, completely ignoring every other factor contributing to the rebellion. Maybe it's a politician thing.' He knew the idea held some truth, though. He'd never done the boot camp thing, but for the thousands of OZraelite soldiers who had been through the mill the cause was everything, and nothing was done without orders from someone in their complicated hierarchy. It was part of what made them so vulnerable to attack, their dependence on that neat, ordered structure made them so much less adaptable. Unless their commanding officer was brilliant bordering on omniscient, there was little he could do to adapt their disgustingly formalized fighting style to the unpredictability of the Gundam Pilots.

Their entire way of life suddenly dissolved with the disarmament, and it hadn't been an accident that many had sought refuge in the familiar atmosphere of Preventer. He thought of Wufei, the turmoil that had driven his friend into the service of an eight year old girl if only to make use of his skills again, of his and Heero's own struggle to adapt to normalcy. They were strong enough to force it, independent enough to trust their own intuition, but thousands of their contemporaries hadn't been so lucky.

"...so you see why it was ideal to move them to L4." Noin prattled on, completely unaware of his inner debate, but a glance in Zechs' direction told him he wasn't unobserved on both fronts. "The problem, of course, was finding suitable accommodations. Luckily, Quatre was more than willing to help out, and before long over three thousand families were moved to a new site on the outskirts of the cluster. It's a standard agricultural project, much like the one Zechs and I headed on Mars, aimed at endowing the colonies with a venue to supply their own foodstuffs, thereby liberating them somewhat from their dependence on the Earth."

Nice idea, but he'd heard a lot of nice ideas in his lifetime and he wasn't so ready with the warm fuzzies. He made a mental note to ream Q for not sharing this information with them himself if it turned out he was the one who sent the harpy.

"Of course the project was a success."

His eyes rolled of their own accord. Of course.

"So to celebrate the first anniversary of its inception, Miss Relena wishes to hold her next cabinet meeting on the colony."

He blinked, impassively, wondering where the hell he and Heero fit into the equation. Noin folded her hands across the table, fixing him with an expectant look. Zechs was as bland as ever and a glance at Heero confirmed that his lover was just as stunned as he was. The endless debate over whether Relena held too much personal power over the government had stemmed the term 'Relena's cabinet' as a euphemism for the parliament of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation. What most people didn't realize was that the cynical view was disturbingly accurate – if Relena said 'jump', the boys in Brussels hopped to. Holding a meeting with every influential political figure in existence attending on some rickety L4 outpost was the security assignment from Hell.

The reason for her little intrusion suddenly hit him, a good backhand to his already bruised ego. She /had/ made her point. They expected he and Heero to facilitate this little burst of insanity.

Heero's fingers gave another squeeze to his upper arm as his muscles tensed, meaning to soothe, but all it did was inflame Duo's temper further. How dare she assume that they would gladly run off to clean up a mess Relena had clearly gotten herself into this time? This was the kind of risk that could potentially cripple the government they had worked their asses off for two years to create, the kind of assignment that made men old before their time, and he'd be damned if he'd have any part of it. It was one thing to ask for assistance when things were out of hand, hell, he was all for helping out now and then, but to just assume that they were ready and willing to pick up whatever task Relena found herself with simply by virtue of her presence was enough to make him break his resolve not to smack the patronizing look off of Noin's face. They were not weapons to be used with convenience and discarded, and Heero sure as hell deserved better than to have some metaphorical recall button hit whenever the pink princess decided she was bored.

"I'm sorry," he said, voice shaking with repressed rancor. "I'm waiting for you to get to the punch line. Cause I've gotta tell you, Noin, so far this joke just ain't funny."

She shifted, darting nervous glances at her glacial partner. "I'm asking for your help, Duo. I'm perfectly serious."

"That's what scares me," he bit back. "You want to move half the damn government to some dilapidated ex-vet colony half a world away from home court advantage and /somehow/ got it into your head that we'd be willing to chaperone? Even if this wasn't an insane idea--which it damn well is--what makes you think we're suddenly up for babysitting detail?"

He was surprised when Zechs finally shifted, closing the distance to the table to lean a hand on Noin's shoulder, effectively silencing whatever garbled retort she was preparing. "The situation is a bit more complicated than that, I'm afraid."

Duo sighed with enough force to ruffle his bangs. "If I let you elaborate, will you promise to make more sense?"

One elegant, white blonde brow raised as Zechs regarded Duo with icy hauteur, assessing momentarily before dismissing him entirely to turn towards Heero. Duo wasn't sure whether to be offended or grateful to have that skin crawling stare off of him. "Quatre's helpfulness to Relena did not end with the appropriation of a site for the project. While Preventer was otherwise occupied with a particularly unpleasant viral outbreak on L1 he volunteered several of Winner Corp's security personnel to begin preliminary scouting on the sites for the conference. We know from shuttle records that they arrived on the colony, but there is no record of them having booked accommodations or any sign of the information they were supposedly compiling."

Duo shifted in annoyance as Heero nodded, watching the older man warily as those arctic eyes raked over his lover's face in search of some answering emotion. He had to admit that at least with Zechsy spewing the rhetoric he had a better shot at reading between the lines. Relena had thrown one of her patented, uber-polite fits to keep things on schedule and things hadn't gone according to plan. He could only imagine how it must be eating at Quatre to have sent men to their probable deaths on a simple surveillance mission. Q never could let anything go without taking the blame, and Duo had never been able to decide if that was an endearing trait or just really depressing.

"A subsequent investigation yielded nothing in the way of an explanation, and while my sister is optimistic about the conference, others remain unconvinced. Chang Wufei is heading the security team, and is understandably unhappy with the situation. Quatre Winner is now insisting on attending where one of his sisters might have been sent before the incident."

Heero nodded slightly. "It seems a reasonable precaution."

"Just because it was a containment nightmare even /before/ anyone disappeared out of existence," Duo muttered. "It's no reason to be negative."

He found himself confronted with those wintry eyes as Zechs' gaze swung back. "The potential for damage in this situation is immeasurable, Maxwell, and not to be taken lightly. Every half-assed terrorist cell from here to L5 is being given the perfect chance to deal a killing blow to the Unified Nation."

"Not that you're bitter or anything."

He was almost disappointed when Zechs didn't react, still staring straight into his eyes without so much as a facial tic, and Duo struggled to decide whether he or his partner was the more infuriating.

"We are asking for assistance," came the measured reply, "Which you would be remiss in refusing and you know it as well as I. How can you refuse to save a government whose foundation was mortared with the blood you shed?"

And that was the sixty four thousand dollar question.

He glanced at Heero, at the worry clearly written across his lover's features and he wondered when Heero had become so expressive. Relena sure as hell hadn't helped him exorcise any of those demons, but as much as Duo instinctively balked at the idea of coming within a colonial boundary of her he could at least rationalize that they would be coming to the aide of a fledgling government, not the former queen, never mind that it was her show and her request that they attend this fiasco of a conference. He had been waiting for something like this, the call to arms that could break the hold this place had on them both and the complication was galling. Heero was stifling here, throwing himself into whatever work he could find in an attempt to avoid the banal reality of their lives and here was the chance for Duo to spare him that, if he had the courage to risk it. He pulled Heero's hand into his own, fingers moving across his lover's palm as his gaze caught Heero's, searching for something, anything to aid in his decision.

He was not surprised to find them inscrutable, suddenly weary at what should have been a joint decision placed before him alone. He wanted to sigh, or scream, or break something, shake Heero and demand an opinion but there was nothing but blind faith and banked worry in his lover's eyes, begging for an answer he himself was at a loss for. Either face Relena and risk losing the most important thing in his life to another, or stay and risk destroying him in the malaise of their inaction.

'Damned if you do, damned if you don't...'

He frowned, head bowing to stare blankly at the hands resting innocuously in his lap. His own pale fingers intertwined with Heero's, fairly glowing against the burnished gold of his lover's skin. He could still feel the fingers of Heero's other hand drawing comforting patterns along his side, steadying him even as they looked to him for support.

"I hate you people."

Noin's smile bloomed like the sunset over the ocean, and it took physical effort not to smack her. She'd had him when she walked in the door and he knew it, there was nothing he wouldn't give to protect the fragile peace they had fought for and for all his insane protective instincts he knew that Heero felt the same. They would go, and they would fight, not because it was expected of them or even because they felt the obligation. They would go because it was part of who they were, ingrained into their makeup as surely as the color of their eyes. 'You can take the soldier out of the fight, but you can't take the fight out of the soldier.' In that, at least, Wufei had a point. As perverse a sentiment as it was, they were never more alive then when they were fighting and he wondered if they would ever find comfort in the banality of civilian life. Somehow, the thought failed to rouse the panic it usually did, not against this sudden swelling feeling of /usefulness/ rising in his gut.

That was Shinigami's euphoria, the kind of awful glee at destruction wrought in the name of some vague notion of justice, the rush that surfaced with the path of conquest set before them. His gaze shifted to Heero's profile, watching his lover struggle to contain a satisfied smirk and knew that Heero felt it too. That at least affirmed his decision.

"Duo, Heero, you won't regret this, I promise," Noin said, beaming insufferably, and suddenly the urge to be alone with Heero tripled in intensity.

"Are we done here?" he asked, shoving his chair back as he rose from his seat, pulling Heero up by their joined hands. He stepped closer to his lover, nuzzling into his shoulder. "Cause we were kinda busy before you showed up."

He was inordinately pleased to see both agents stiffen at the implication.

"We can iron out the details tomorrow, I think," Noin stammered, backing towards the living room. "We'll just stay out here for the night."

"Good idea," he nodded. "There's some blankets in the hall closet and the bathroom's third door on the right, kay? Nightie-night, kids."

With that, he spun on his heel, dragging an unusually pliant Heero behind as he made his way down the hallway. "And Noin," he added, calling over his shoulder as they paused in the doorway.

She froze. "What?"

"Interrupt us again and I am /so/ not responsible for what I do to you."

The door slammed on her embarrassingly high pitched squeak, and he collapsed against it as though barring the way. "Jesus, I didn't know whether to hug her for being so insufferably naïve or kick her ass for blathering on so long."

Heero regarded him with inscrutable eyes, stripping off his tee-shirt as he made his way to sit on the bed. "We're needed again."

He was caught tugging one arm out of his own shirt, completely taken aback at the sheer nothingness in Heero's voice. It was an expression he'd been used to once, during the first campaign when the Heero who crawled into his bed at night seemed almost a separate entity from the obsessive soldier he met on the battlefield, but the soldier hadn't been needed in months and Duo had perhaps grown complacent.

"Yeah," he replied. "Woopdie-fucking-doo." His shirt was thrown somewhere in the vicinity of the closet as he settled onto the bed beside Heero. "Are you okay with this?"

Heero was spacing out, staring at the carpeting at the foot of the dresser with casual intensity. "No." he murmured, absently rubbing at his arm. "I'm not okay with it. But it feels right, somehow, to be useful."

Heero's eyes were painful when they flickered to him, every bit as beautiful as they had been that first night on Howard's barge, filled with the anguish of a thousand deaths and the innocence of a man who had never learned what it was to live beyond that world. Heero was fragile slumped across the coverlet, bathed in the light of a bedside lamp that did more to emphasize shadow than illuminate his features. It made a lie of him, this ephemeral specter of the boy he would never be allowed to find within himself and something in that filled Duo with weary sorrow. It was tinged with guilt at the wary appeal in Heero's eyes, the subtle insistence that had become something of a permanent fixture on his features. Heero had never stood a chance against the men who sought to use him, whatever else he had become, his beginnings were in humble humanity and included all the vulnerabilities entailed thereof. It seemed that every time his lover tried to rediscover that humanity there was someone waiting to shove him back into deprivation without a thought to the consequences beyond what Heero could do for them.

'Christ, when did I become such a misanthrope?' He thought, scrubbing at his face wearily.

"Baby, look at me," he said, fighting the urge to flinch as those ageless eyes settled onto him. "You are /not/ a goddamn tool to be used and discarded, you hear me? You don't have to be /useful/, and you sure as hell don't have to go to this conference if you don't want to."

"But you just said--"

"Fuck what I said! Who listens to half the shit I spew, anyway?" He paused with an explosive sigh, swallowing his aggravation with the realization that it was aimed at everything /but/ the man on the bed. "This isn't about what I want or what I told Noin, Heero. This is about you, and what /you/ want to do. If you don't want to go back there, if you don't think you can handle it, then fuck Noin, fuck Relena, and fuck the Earth Sphere Unified Nation. We fought for /years/ to give them the authority they're oh-so-casually lording over us now and I will /not/ let you allow them to bully you into something you're not ready for. For Christ's sake Heero, you can't save them every time they hit a rut, it's counterproductive."

"If I don't, who will?"

He shook his head. "I know the last thing you need right now is a devil's advocate, but if they can't stand on their own you're only delaying the inevitable." He sighed, reaching out to brush Heero's bangs from his eyes. "I just hate that you seem to think your self worth is contingent on the role you play in saving the Princess' ungrateful ass. She doesn't see what this is doing to you. I don't want to watch you go through that again."

"You want to know what I want?" Heero leaned into his hand, cheek brushing against his fingers as Heero grabbed his wrist to place a reverent kiss to his palm. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

The words were a fractured whisper and Duo wasn't sure what to make of them as Heero's lips moved from his palm to his wrist, further still to trail across the sensitive flesh of his inner arm. He swallowed hard, breathing heavy as Heero trailed lips and tongue across his shoulder, up the heaving column of his neck to still beside an ear, the warmth of each panted breath tickling across his skin pulling him farther away from anything approaching articulation.

"I don't want to talk," Heero murmured, tongue tracing the outer shell. "I want you."

The words were punctuated as Heero climbed into his lap, hooking his legs around Duo's waist to pull their hips together with a muffled groan. Arms wound around his shoulders, pulling him tight against Heero's chest as their lips met, all tongue and teeth and gentle suckling noises barely audible against the continued patter of the rain against the windowpanes. He was lost somewhere in the warmth of his lover's body, lost within the silent plea to let whatever concerns he harbored lie and the half buried need to solve /something/ in their chaotic lives, painful though the process might be.

He wrenched his mouth away, losing an instant to look into his lover's eyes before Heero moved lower, nudging his head aside to ghost lips over his throat. "Heero," he managed, half choked as Heero suckled a particularly sensitive spot and he couldn't tell himself if he had intended to further the conversation or encourage the hands running possessively over his back.

Heero grunted, irritated, against his shoulder, moving lower as his hands maneuvered under the material of his boxers to knead the flesh beneath. Duo bit back a whimper, eyes clenching shut as Heero latched onto a nipple, laving it and sucking hard, wrenching a startled cry from his lips. His hands wound in Heero's hair, massaging gently as his hips bucked up into Heero's, friction building with agonizing slowness.

He yelped, startled when a hand on his chest suddenly shoved him backwards, tumbling onto his back and the annoying dampness of his hair as Heero crawled over him, leaning down to kiss him as hands fumbled at his waistband. He chuckled into Heero's mouth and moved to help, raising his hips and pushing them away with clumsy fingers, kicking them to the floor. He shifted back to lie more fully on the bed, whining low in his throat as Heero failed to follow, only to grin a moment later as he watched his lover impatiently shuck his jeans.

Then Heero was moving, settling into his lap and Duo had barely an instant to feel the bite of cool gel on his skin before his lover settled onto him with a guttural moan as his head snapped back at their joining.

"Christ, Heero!" He ground out, back arching as his hands fell to Heero's hips, fingers clenching over flushed skin. "Warn me before you--Fuck!"

Powerful muscles bunched under his palms as Heero shifted, lifting himself and allowing Duo to slide from his body before abruptly relaxing to crash back down. Duo's hands clutched at his hips, fingers digging into muscle and bone as Heero set a rhythm, leaning back to anchor himself against the tightened muscles of Duo's thighs. He watched Heero through heavy eyes, pulling the other harder against him with every downturn, crying out with every thrust as he was enveloped in warmth and precious friction. Heero's head was thrown back, echoing his cries as the dance continued and he wondered--not for the first time--how someone so normally hesitant, so inscrutable at the best of times could forget himself so easily at the slightest touch.

'Perhaps not the slightest touch,' he amended, hand slipping from Heero's hip to stroke his erection, grinning triumphantly at the keening cry that met the action.

It took a pathetically short amount of time to find release, whether it was the storm or the delay or the agents camping out in the living room, there was an odd desperation in Heero's movements that shoved him over the edge almost before he registered the sensation. Heero followed, straining back momentarily before tumbling heavily onto Duo's chest. There was a long, heaving moment, hands still running over the sweaty skin of his lover's back before he managed to speak.

"Well, fuck."

Heero's chuckle was a physical thing, rumbling through his chest and shaking his entire body where it lay sprawled across Duo's own. He looked up, chin resting just below the hollow of Duo's collarbones, a damn smug smirk gracing his features.

"Pretty much."

He couldn't stop the rolling of his eyes, squeezing Heero tighter and leaning down to coax his lips open. It was comforting, that closeness, a slow burn of contentment worming its way under his skin even as the sexual high receded. This was the only thing in his life that had ever really felt right, felt whole, and he'd be damned if he was about to let it go without a massive struggle.

Still...

The reality of the situation sucker punched him with sudden swiftness, awareness of the two OZ officers currently camping out in their living room like guards dredging up hordes of unpleasant memories. It was a wonder that hours ago he had been worrying about something as trivial as the environmental controls, a bittersweet testament that for all their floundering they /had/ managed to achieve some sense of normalcy, even as it was being yanked out from underneath them. He didn't want this, couldn't bear the shift to this sudden contemplation of losing everything that made his life worth living.

"Christ, Baby, what are we gonna do?"

"What we've always done," came the soft reply, "What we have to."

That was the crux of it. The past year, trying though it was, had been a vacation from reality, from people and places they were bound to whether they wanted the responsibility or not. The maelstrom had doubled back yet again and there was no use in running, they were caught up unawares and there was nothing to do now but cling to each other and hope their luck hadn't run out in the interim.

Because that was all they had.

Heero shifted, groping along the floor to grab one of their tee shirts, using it to give them both a cursory cleaning before settling beneath the covers, pulling Duo against him. Duo allowed himself to relax under the fingers smoothing over his hair, skimming his back and shoulders through the tangled mass. He could faintly hear the rain outside, measured, mechanical colonial precipitation that seemed oddly appropriate in the final hours of their feigned colonial existence. The sound faded as his senses dulled with somnolent fatigue, but he hardly felt the loss. What became of the pseudo storm outside was irrelevant in the face of a newfound certainty.

The real torrent was yet to come.