2-25-2005

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Title: Admission
Sequel to: Omission
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: February 21, 2005
Genre: Yaoi, Angst
Pairings: 1x2, also mention of 6xD
Rated: R
Warnings: Swearing, Lime, Angst
Archives: At http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone who has permission to host my other fics, help yourselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Heero POV.

*** Time passing/scene change

Author's Notes: Sequel to "Omission", this time showing Heero's side of the story. Feedback is appreciated.

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"Want some help with the dishes? 'Cause I..."

I cut Duo's offer off abruptly. "Not necessary."

"Oh. Okay. I'll just, uh..." His voice trailed off as I turned away and started to fill the sink. After a few moments, quiet steps signalled his departure from the kitchen.

Bracing myself against the counter, I bowed my head, torn between bitter satisfaction and guilt at having given him the cold shoulder again.

At first, the satisfaction had far outweighed any guilty pangs, but lately the balance was tipping the other way. Keeping a careful distance between us was hurting both of us; I missed our friendship.

Part of me wanted our friendship back. Wanted the *trust* back.

But Duo had broken that trust, and, with it, the friendship. The man who'd sworn that he didn't lie had lied. It had been a lie of omission, true, but a lie nonetheless. He'd not only hidden his love for me, he'd repeatedly encouraged me to try to save my failing marriage. My marriage to someone else who hadn't been honest about her feelings for me.

By the time I'd finally filed for divorce, it had become quite clear that Relena had never really loved me. She'd been in love with the idea of being in love, in love with the "hero" with the tragic past. In love with the man *she* thought I should be. The man she tried to make me become.

Finding out that Duo - my wartime comrade, my trusted confidant, my best friend - had been equally dishonest about his feelings for me had been a nasty shock. A painful betrayal of the faith I'd placed in him.

If you discover that an informant has withheld information, all information from that individual becomes suspect.

What else might Duo be hiding? How could I believe that he loved me - *me*, not his own ideal version of me - when he'd hidden that love for so long? When he'd let me marry someone he'd known wasn't suitable without even giving me any indication that I'd had other options? I'd had the right to know; decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete information are invariably bad.

Back then, I'd loved Relena, yes, but I'd cared deeply for Duo, too. Marriage to Relena had been as much about finding a place for myself in a world at peace as it had been about my feelings for her. If I'd know that Duo was in love with me, I'd like to think that at the very least I'd have stood firm against Relena's insistence that we get married so soon. That I'd have taken the time to explore the possibility of a relationship with Duo before committing myself to anyone.

But I hadn't known, and, now that I did, I couldn't get past the fact that he'd lied. That Duo Maxwell, the man who'd insisted that he'd "never tell a lie", had lied about his feelings for me. That he'd spent years playing the role of "best friend" while, in reality, he was in love with me.

Or so he claimed. Just as Relena had claimed to love me, once upon a time.

I'd had such high hopes the day that the divorce was finalized. Duo had virtually promised to give a relationship between us a chance once I was officially free, and I'd been looking forward to it for weeks. He was my best friend; he knew me, accepted me, liked me for who I really was. I knew him, trusted him, was attracted to him, and was falling in love with him a little more every day.

Then I'd found out that I didn't know him at all, because he'd been lying to me for years.

I just couldn't get past that knowledge. My inability to do so was slowly tearing both Duo and the relationship that I'd had such high hopes for into shreds. But how could I trust him enough to let him get close again?

I didn't know.

***

"It's not too late to change your mind and come along for the ride..."

Forcing myself to ignore the hopeful note in Duo's voice, I said, "I'll stay and take the runs you were scheduled for."

"Gibbs could do those; she's qualified and..."

"I'll do them," I repeated firmly. It was a long, boring haul out to Mars and back, though the landing and takeoff at the Mars end provided more than enough thrills for even the most addicted adrenaline junkie. I could understand why Duo might have enjoyed having some company for the trip, but, on the other hand, if he and I were alone in close quarters for that long, things could get very uncomfortable. Our relationship was just too strained to handle that situation.

Besides, maybe a little time apart would do some good. Maybe it would be the breathing room that I needed to work through my feelings about the whole mess.

"But..." Duo started to protest, then closed his mouth with a snap. "Fine," he substituted abruptly, his tone making it clear that it was anything *but* fine. He snatched up the ship's manifest and other flight documents. Heading for the door, he added over his shoulder, "Oh, and whenever Daniels finally deigns to show up? Fire him, enough's enough."

I gave a grunt of acknowledgement as I turned away to alter the schedule. This made the third time in as many weeks that Daniels hadn't shown up for a scheduled run. His reliability had been getting worse, not better, over the past few months; in addition to missing assignments, he'd showed up drunk on more than one occasion. Duo had cut the man some slack since, like most of the pilots, he was a former soldier, and we both knew just how tough living with the memories could be, but Daniels had had more than enough slack to hang himself.

The quarterly Mars run could *not* be off schedule; the supplies it carried were essential for the people working on the planet. Duo didn't usually take it himself because he didn't like to be away from the office for nearly three weeks at once, but, this time, he didn't have a choice. Other than Daniels, only myself and one other pilot on the roster would have been qualified for the type of ship and the danger level of the run, and neither of us had been off-duty long enough to legally pilot again; the available pilots were all too green to handle it. The terraforming on Mars was causing major atmospheric disruptions, and only an experienced pilot could handle the landings at that end. Even then, there had been some very close calls.

Schedule updated with the necessary pilot changes, I turned to discover that Duo hadn't left the office yet. Instead, he was standing in the doorway, watching me wistfully. Our eyes met for an instant before his dropped. "I... I'll miss you," he said hesitantly. "Are you sure you won't change your mind and come with me? Please?"

He had to want this very badly; Duo Maxwell was not in the habit of begging. I came very close to giving in, but I couldn't see anything good happening if I did. I needed time alone to work through my feelings, time to either find a way to salvage our tattered relationship or find the determination needed to walk away before either of us ended up hurting even more than we already were.

Forcing myself to be more open with him than I'd been in months, I said gently, "Duo, I don't think spending that much time together in close quarters would be a good idea right now." Even that slight sign of softening was enough to bring his eyes back up to meet mine. Without giving him a chance to launch the eager arguments I could practically see him marshalling, I admitted, "I wouldn't be good company; I just need a little time alone."

He was still disappointed, but I thought that he was at least a little less hurt, maybe even a bit hopeful.

I just hoped that it wasn't false hope. Hoped that I could unsnarl the tangled mess of my emotions and find a way to put our problems behind me and move on with our relationship, rather than putting the relationship behind me. The limbo that we now existed in wasn't fair to either of us. One way or the other, I would make a decision by the time that Duo returned.

***

I finished drying my dishes and put them away before moving off to the livingroom to watch the evening news. Sighing heavily, I sank down on one end of the couch. I stared blankly at the flickering TV screen, missing Duo's warm, pliant body resting against mine. He'd been gone less than a week, and it was already clear that giving up on the relationship and moving on simply wasn't an option. I missed him too much to even consider making our separation permanent.

Even though I'd been actively keeping him at a distance for months now, Duo had continued to make cautious, tentative overtures of friendship. Despite the fact that I'd refused or ignored most of them, I found myself missing those attempts. I hadn't realized how much I'd come to rely on that evidence of his caring.

I'd spent the past few months feeling hurt. Betrayed. Confused. Angry.

But over the past few days, I'd been gradually coming to realize that not all of that anger was directed at Duo himself. Yes, I was angry that he'd deceived me, that he'd hidden something so important from me. But it was more complicated than that.

I was also angry at all the time we had wasted. Because if I had known that Duo loved me, I would have left Relena when I'd first realized that I was falling in love with my best friend instead of sticking out another year of sheer hell with my wife. Instead, I'd figured out just which buttons to push to make Relena call Duo for help, knowing that then I would have him with me for at least a week or so. I snorted in self-disgust.

So, yes, I was angry with myself too. I had a lot of nerve criticizing Duo for hiding his love. How was what I'd done any better? I should have left Relena as soon as I'd realized that whatever love I'd had for her when we got married had dwindled away to nothing in the face of her continual criticism.

But I hadn't because that would have meant admitting that I'd made a mistake in marrying her in the first place. That she'd never really loved *me*, only the person that she'd wanted me to be. That she'd never really known or understood me.

That I'd been a complete and utter failure as a husband and a lover. The way that I was being a complete and utter failure as a best friend and lover now, despite the fact that I seemed to at least be getting the lover part right this time. Or so I hoped, in light of the absence of any complaints from Duo.

Closing my eyes, I shook my head slightly. Now I was lying to myself; I might be getting the sex right, but I wasn't being much of a lover. Oh, Duo hadn't complained. Not in so many words, anyway. But he'd been gradually getting quieter. More subdued and withdrawn. Sadder.

I was acting like an idiot. If I didn't change my ways, I was going to end up destroying what I had with Duo, too, just because I couldn't let go of an anger that was directed at myself just as much as at him. I had to stop punishing us both.

At least I'd restricted my anger's expression to my stubborn refusal to respond to Duo's words of love, to keeping a careful distance between us. To emotional hurt rather than physical. Though probably I was hurting Duo nearly as much that way as if I were as rough and careless as I'd been our first night together.

I shuddered at the memory. I'd gone to Duo's room the next morning, reluctantly aware that we needed to talk about where we were going to go from here. About whether Duo was willing to repeat the previous night. I had known that I hadn't been as careful as I should have; I'd seen the pain on Duo's face when I'd first taken him the night before. When I'd found the sheets in the hall, they'd provided a welcome excuse to delay our discussion. I'd picked them up intending to go put them in the washing machine.

Then I'd seen the blood.

There probably wasn't really that much of it but the fact that there was even a single drop had terrified me. Duo was my best friend, I loved him and was in love with him - and I'd hurt him, hurt him badly enough to make him bleed. I'd been angry - I was *still* angry - and I'd physically *hurt* him. I hadn't intended to, but then I hadn't exactly made an effort to be careful either or it wouldn't have happened. Admittedly, Duo hadn't objected but I couldn't help uneasily wondering whether it would have made any difference if he had. Couldn't help wondering just how out of control I'd really been.

The doctor that I'd dragged a protesting Duo off to had dismissed it as minor tearing, read us a lecture on the *right* way to do things, recommended a healing period before trying again, and prescribed a cream to help with healing and prevent infection.

I hadn't cared how long the recommended healing period was; I'd had no intention of laying a hand on Duo again. I was still hurting inside, still angry, but I'd been determined not to take the chance that I'd injure him. Not again. Even if I'd been sure that I wouldn't hurt him, the trust issue meant that I'd had grave doubts about pursuing a relationship with him anyway.

For weeks, I had stuck to my decision, keeping a careful distance between Duo and myself. Duo had been equally cautious around me, never pressing for a closer relationship. I'd still been sorting through my anger and confusion, trying to deny my love, unable to bring myself either to return to our old friendship or to leave him and move on, yet beginning to hate the awkwardness between us.

But then he'd made it clear that he still loved me. Still wanted me. Despite the fact that our first time together - his *very* first time - had been far from the pleasurable experience that it should have been. After all the times that Relena had complained that I was too rough yet never had a mark on her, Duo had never complained at all when he'd had every right to. I'd still had serious doubts about the wisdom of attempting a relationship with Duo, but if he really wanted to try, I couldn't bring myself to turn him down. At the very least, I'd owed him a more pleasurable experience than our first time had been.

I'd been careful our second night together. Very careful. I'd kept myself tightly in control, made sure that there was no pain, that Duo experienced the pure pleasure that he'd deserved the first time. For a short time, I'd been able to set aside my doubts and my anger, to love him the way that I'd originally hoped to.

But in the light of day, the conflicting emotions were back. I couldn't bring myself to trust him enough to be intimate in the other ways that mattered. I'd made the boundaries clear, and Duo...

Duo had flinched, swallowed hard, and accepted them. Oh, he'd made tentative attempts to get closer, but nothing like the determined efforts he'd made to make friends with me in the first place. Looking back, I realized that I'd subconsciously seen that as even more reason to doubt his sincerity, but now that I was deliberately dissecting both of our actions, I could see that wasn't the case at all. He was hesitant because he was afraid of making things worse. Because he blamed himself for the destruction of our friendship just as much as I'd blamed him.

Guilt was tearing him apart.

Guilt over his lie of omission, guilt over the effect that his well-intentioned mistake had had on our friendship.

Flicking the TV off, I propped my elbows on my knees and faced the truth. Duo hadn't meant to hurt me. He'd taken literally words that I'd said under the influence of a head injury and heavy medication. He'd made promises, to me and to himself. Because he'd been afraid that he was being influenced by self-interest, he'd stuck to those promises even after he'd matured enough to doubt their wisdom, overcompensating in the process. With the best of intentions, he'd made an error in judgement and compounded it repeatedly.

Yes, he'd made a mistake. One that had had substantial repercussions. But, even though we'd been soldiers, we'd all been teenagers at the time, an age group not exactly known for its wise decisions. Relena and I had made mistakes too; her in pressing for marriage at such a young age and for all the wrong reasons, and myself for agreeing to marry her without spending more time really getting to know each other. Mistakes that, in all fairness, Duo had made every effort to point out to us at the time.

I hadn't been fair about any of this. Probably the timing of Duo's revelation was at least partly to blame for my overreaction. Trying to start a new relationship the very same day that my divorce papers arrived was my fault, not his, but it meant that the deceptive nature of Relena's feelings for me had been very fresh in my mind. It had been an exceptionally bad time to find out that Duo had been deceiving me too. Yes, he could have - should have - told me the truth sooner. But when I'd backed him into a corner, he'd confessed rather than continuing to lie, tempting though that must have been.

The trust between us was definitely damaged - but it hadn't been entirely destroyed. And he'd been trying very hard to repair it. Trying to prove the truth of his feelings for me, both in word and deed. Despite the fact that the only time I hadn't been acting like a complete bastard was when we were caught up in the heat of passion.

I pushed myself to my feet and started down the hall, heading off to bed. I hesitated outside my own room, then shook my head sharply and continued down to Duo's. Enough. Time to stop punishing him and myself for our mistakes. I knew that he wanted me to stay with him at night; when he came back we would at least try it.

And I would tell him the truth. That even though I was still hurt and angry, I was finally starting to work through it. That I *wanted* to get past it. Wanted to be able to believe he really loved me.

Maybe once I managed that, I'd be able to tell him that I loved him too.

***

A month ago, Duo had hired a retired Sweeper to run the office in order to free himself up for more piloting jobs; Hank knew the routine now, so there wasn't much for me to do there. I was relieved to head out on one of the runs that I was covering for Duo. Having decided to try to fix my relationship with Duo, I was finding the wait for his return very difficult. I just hoped that he handled my revelations better than I'd handled his.

***

Duo should be on the return leg of his trip by now. I didn't have another run scheduled until after his return, so I toyed briefly with the notion of waiting here at this resource satellite outpost halfway out to Mars and meeting Duo when he stopped to drop off any mail from Mars. But that would only delay our return home and I didn't really want to have the necessary discussion anywhere else *but* in the privacy of our home.

I finished my meal and signalled for the small restaurant's only waitress to bring me the bill. Just then several more customers entered, talking excitedly.

"Man, did you hear about that mess out at Mars? Some fool kid who just got his license tried to fly in to visit his girlfriend. Couldn't handle the windshear and went off course; ran right into a ship that was taking off. Must've been one helluva good pilot in that other ship, almost managed to avoid the collision but his ship just was too fucking big and unwieldy. Managed to steer out clear of the buildings 'fore he lost it..."

"Yeah, heard there wasn't much left of either ship. Insurance companies aren't gonna like another accident there, too damn many happening at that project..."

My blood turned to ice as I listened. Mars didn't have a whole lot of traffic in and out; the treacherous atmospheric conditions meant that it was supposed to be restricted to essential traffic only and pilots were to be only the most highly qualified. "When? What ships?" I demanded, surging out of my seat and grabbing one of the men by the arm.

"Ouch! Fuck man, let go before you break my arm!"

I forced myself to loosen my grip. "When did it happen? Which ships were involved?" I repeated urgently.

"I don't know!" the man exclaimed, trying to pull away. "Just heard those few details through the grapevine..."

The other man spoke up nervously, "The one was just a small craft, personal transport for some wealthy Earth family. The other one - I'm not sure. Just that it was a big one. Happened a couple of days ago, early. Word's just gettin' out now 'cause the communications array was damaged. They had to completely shut down the port till this morning to clear it enough for use since there was debris all over the place."

I released the arm from my grasp, shock and fear settling in a heavy lump in my gut. Two days ago, early in the morning. That was when... NO! It couldn't be. I didn't care how few ships would have been on Mars, that *was* *not* Duo's ship. It couldn't be.

Ignoring the others in the restaurant, I shoved my way towards the door, barely remembering to throw some money at the cashier on the way out. My mind was already sliding into mission mode, calculating travel time and course and fuel. I would try to find out some answers while getting underway. With the communications array down, no information would have gotten out before, but with the port reopened there might be *something* out there by now, something that I could find out between launch and hitting top speed. After that, transmissions wouldn't get through, but the speed was more critical than some vague secondhand information; I had to get there fast andsee for myself.

No matter how much I wanted to deny it, the odds of there having been another big ship taking off from that small, restricted use port in that same time window as Duo were too slim to even dare to hope for.

***

I set my ship down where directed, feeling decidedly ill. As soon as I'd identified myself as from TransCol Transport, they'd immediately given me clearance despite my lack of advance arrival notice. As if I'd been expected. Which *had* to mean that at least part of the rumours were true. That the "big ship" involved was a TransCol ship. Was *Duo's* ship. I hadn't dared look at the open spaces just beyond the base where the ship had gone down. Hadn't dared look at the wreckage while I was trying to land.

I winced as I saw the person coming across the pad to meet me. "Dorothy," I said coolly. It could have been worse. They could have sent Zechs out to greet me.

"My dear Mr. Darlian - oh no, that's right, it's Mr. Yuy again isn't it. You finally escaped Ms. Perfect's little pink clutches..."

"I'm not in the mood for your games, Dorothy," I snarled. Right now all I could think of was the time I'd wasted with Relena. And the time I'd wasted since then with my petty behaviour. And the fact that I'd never had a chance to tell Duo...

Dorothy heaved a theatrical sigh. "Very well then. Come along, you wouldn't want to keep your boss waiting."

My heart started to pound, "My - boss?"

"You *are* employed by TransCol, are you not?" Dorothy asked, raising one eyebrow.

I nodded in acknowledgement and followed her without a word. I didn't dare ask if what she was implying was true. If somehow Duo had managed to survive the crash.

During the short drive out to the crash site, I alternated between hope and suspicion. Dorothy's sense of humour was - odd and rather morbid at times. Taking me out to the crash site with the implication that Duo was waiting for me - well, it would not be entirely out of character for her to be referring merely to the fact that his body was somewhere within the twisted wreckage. Particularly since she only knew us as friends and would not realize exactly how cruel she was being.

But once we climbed out of the vehicle, I spotted a familiar figure leaning on crutches and observing while workers tried to pry open a set of very warped cargo doors. Barely even noting that this was one ship that would *not* be flying again, I broke into a run. Crutches went flying and Duo yelped in surprise as I yanked him off his feet and into my arms. Whatever Duo was about to say was lost as I crushed our mouths together frantically.

"Don't you *ever* scare me like that again," I growled as I pulled back enough to speak. I was shaking too hard to stand so I sank to the ground with Duo in my lap. "Do you hear me? *Never*."

Duo blinked up at me, face confused, startled, maybe even a bit frightened. Suddenly aware that I had no idea what Duo's injuries were and that I was holding him so tightly I would almost certainly leave bruises, I forced myself to loosen my grip and try to calm my voice. "Dammit Duo, I thought you were *dead*! All I knew was that there'd been a bad accident and there wasn't much left of either ship. The rumours were..."

Duo's face softened and he raised his hand to still my mouth. "You didn't get my message then. I'm sorry, love, it went out on the first ship to leave port once it reopened. But it was directed to the office. I forgot that you'd be out on a run in this direction. Sorry."

I winced at the roughness of Duo's voice. He started to cough and suddenly Zechs was standing beside us. "And that, of course, is why the doctor didn't want to release you," Zechs said drily. "Hello Yuy. Maybe you can persuade Mr. Determined here that he does *not* need to supervise the entire salvage operation personally. He's not even supposed to be out of bed let alone spending hours on his feet and doing a lot of talking."

My arms tightened around Duo involuntarily but a soft sound - not quite a whimper but damn close - reminded me that might not be a good thing and I relaxed them again. "What exactly is wrong with him?" I demanded, ignoring Duo's half-hearted protest at being talked about as if he weren't there. I ordered gently but firmly, "Hush," when Duo persisted in trying to speak.

Zechs shrugged slightly, "Nothing that he hasn't had wrong before, I'm sure. Broken ribs." I loosened my hold even more and dropped an apologetic kiss on Duo's forehead as Zechs continued, eyes widening at my action, "The cough is due to smoke inhalation - electrical fires in the cockpit. Gashed left leg, took twenty stitches to close it, that's why he has the crutches. Though the doctor wasn't happy about him using them with the broken ribs and the cracked collarbone. Minor concussion. The shock harness did its job and kept him from smashing his head open on the control console but I imagine he's got a pretty impressive set of bruises from it too."

Duo ducked his face against my shoulder to avoid the glare I was giving him. "No, he certainly does *not* need to supervise. He *will* not supervise. In fact, he is going back to the port with me right now and I am putting him to bed WHERE HE WILL STAY," I growled in irritation.

Dorothy had joined Zechs and opened her mouth as if to comment, eyes sparkling wickedly. I shot her a particularly icy look and she reconsidered, closing her mouth with a snap. Much to my surprise, however, there was no protest against my high-handed behaviour from Duo. In fact, when I glanced down to be sure that he hadn't passed out, I discovered an almost pleased, content look on the face leaning against my shoulder. I didn't know what I'd done to put it there but I was relieved to see it. It gave me hope that I hadn't messed things up completely by being such a bastard lately.

Allowing Zechs to help me up since I didn't want to hurt Duo in the process, I came to a decision. I was taking a very big risk but I hoped that by saying this in front of witnesses, Duo would understand that I was very serious about it. "I would be very grateful if someone could please take my fiance and me back to the port." I glanced down to where Duo was cradled against me. His face had gone absolutely white and the desperate hope in his eyes was painful to see. I added carefully, "If that's okay with him, that is." I closed my eyes for an instant in relief as Duo nodded silently, eyes still wide and startled. Dropping a kiss on the tip of Duo's nose, I continued, "Okay. Let's go then, koi." I swallowed hard as his eyes flared even wider and sparkled with moisture for an instant before he turned his head to hide his face against my shirt.

Silently, I vowed to make things right, to make up for my previous petty behaviour. It was long past time that we forgave each other and ourselves, put our mistakes behind us, and moved on with our relationship.

***

I finally got Duo settled reasonably comfortably in bed in one of the rooms set aside for visitors. He'd pulled a few stitches and his leg had bled a little; the wound looked a bit swollen and irritated once I sponged the blood off. I'd check it again later to be sure it wasn't getting infected - he hadn't wanted to deal with the doctor right now and I'd been unwilling to fight him on the issue when I could handle it myself. Duo was clearly very tired and in considerable pain since he took his pain medication without a fuss.

Perching on the side of the bed, I gently brushed wisps of hair away from his face. "Do you want me to go supervise salvaging the ship or would you rather have me stay here?" I asked softly. I would prefer to stay; I really didn't want Duo out of my sight right now. And I doubted that there was going to be much I could do out at the crash site anyway. But it was Duo's business and Duo's ship so...

"Stay?" Duo mouthed silently, eyes wide and hopeful.

Nodding in acknowledgement, I stood and stripped down to my boxers. If I was staying, I wanted to be as close as I could possibly get. I crawled into the bed beside Duo, very aware of Duo's almost-disbelieving gaze as I did so. This was a bit of a risk - but we had shared a bed on a couple of occasions during the war without me ever attacking Duo in my sleep. Hopefully that would still be the case. Settling myself carefully along Duo's right side so that I wouldn't bump the injured left leg, I leaned over to kiss him tenderly. Hovering over him, I said very seriously, "I do love you, Duo. I'm sorry I've been acting like such a bastard lately. We can talk about it later when you're feeling better, but for now - just know that I love you and I meant what I said earlier. Relena would tell you that I was no prize in the husband department, but, if you're willing to take the chance, I think that we can make marriage work. No false expectations between *us*; we know each other's strengths and weaknesses at least as well as we know our own."

"Willing? God yes..." Duo rasped out harshly.

I kissed him to prevent any further words. "Okay. We're agreed then. Now just concentrate on resting and getting well for now so that you're fit for space travel again and we'll worry about everything else later."

Duo nodded and closed his eyes obediently. I suppressed a smirk, knowing that this apparent docility wouldn't last but intending to take full advantage of it while it did.

***

I woke in the middle of the night to discover Duo draped across me despite his broken ribs. Obviously, I didn't need to worry about pinning him in a chokehold in my sleep if he'd managed to crawl all over me like this without setting me off. I carefully pulled the covers a bit higher and rubbed gentle circles on Duo's back when I noticed that he was shivering slightly, either from the relatively cool air or the beginnings of a nightmare. After a few moments, he gave a sleepy murmur and snuggled more tightly against me, face tucking into the crook of my neck, and the shivering stopped.

Lying there holding him, I spent quite a bit of time thinking before falling back asleep myself. It would undoubtedly be a while before we could leave Mars, several weeks at the very least. Long enough for Duo to recover from the smoke inhalation and for the ribs to at least start mending. During the war, we'd gone into space with those types of injuries, but it really wasn't advisable if there was any choice in the matter. The G-forces of planetary takeoff alone made it dangerous. Since there *was* a choice, I intended to make sure that Duo didn't try it. Which meant that I would be staying too since I had no intention of being separated from Duo in the foreseeable future. Not after the scare I'd had. I wouldn't be leaving Duo's side until I was sure that he was recovering *and* that he understood how much I loved him and wanted to be with him forever. If anything else were to happen to one of us, I wanted there to be no regrets. No sorrow for things left unsaid, for explanations left unmade.

I turned my head and pressed a kiss to the top of Duo's head. "I love you..."

***

After only a couple of days of bedrest, Duo's docile obedience wore off and his natural urge to be up and *doing* something had him demanding that I find his crutches. "No," I answered simply. I knew quite well that if I gave in, he would have popped stitches by the end of the day and would likely have set back the mending of his collarbone and ribs as well.

Duo's eyes sparkled dangerously and his jaw tightened rebelliously.

I forestalled the coming argument by saying simply, "If you want to go somewhere, fine. But since there's no wheelchair available, I'm carrying you. At least that way you won't be undoing whatever good staying in bed the past couple of days did. It won't be completely comfortable with broken ribs but it'll be better than the crutches would." I was still prepared for some debate over the matter but added softly anyway, "And I get to hold you and know that you're safe too..."

The rebellious look faded from Duo's face and a softer one of wondering affection replaced it. "Okay," he conceded much to my surprise.

In that instant, I knew just how much my previous restriction of our relationship to sex, my refusal to voice my own love for Duo, had to have hurt. For this small show of caring by me to produce this reaction from Duo... I *would* make it up to him. I would never leave him uncertain about my feelings again.

I stooped to kiss Duo gently and lingeringly. A kiss of tenderness and affection rather than of passion. "I love you," I murmured softly as I drew away.

Duo smiled up at me and responded, "Love you too..." Then he swatted my arm lightly and said, "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let you push me around!"

I laughed as I bent to pick Duo up. "Ah, but I'm not going to push you - I'm going to carry you lover-of-mine! Which means I'll take you wherever I want!"

A delighted laugh in response and arms flinging around my neck with complete disregard for sore ribs answered my remark. I stopped and just held Duo as those arms tightened and the laughter faded. "Does this mean we're friends again too?" Duo whispered against my neck. "I've missed that..."

Oh god. How could I have ignored this depth of hurt for so long? I sat down on the bed so that I could hold Duo more easily, my heart aching at the wistful tone. "Yes, it does. I already told you that I was sorry for being such a bastard over the whole thing. I made mistakes too, Duo. I just didn't do as good a job of facing up to them and tried to blame you for the whole mess." Forcing a lighter tone, I offered, "If you want, I'll let you deck me once you're better to make up for it..."

Duo gave a choked-off snicker in response. "Nah, I might split your lip or something and then I wouldn't get kissed for a while. I think I'll pass on that offer..."

"Hmm, maybe I should let you ravish me instead then," I teased lightly. I was surprised when instead of teasing back, Duo stiffened in my arms and leaned back to see my face better.

"Are you serious? You'd let me..." Duo's voice trailed off disbelievingly.

I frowned slightly, confused by Duo's reaction. "Of course. Why wouldn't I? You've never offered so I know I've never turned you down..."

"But I thought... I mean, you never suggested... I thought you didn't want to..."

I hadn't suggested. Oh hell. Of course he wouldn't have asked; he'd been too busy walking on eggshells trying not to do anything that might make things worse between us. "Believe me," I murmured huskily against Duo's ear, "I would very much love to know what it is like to be reduced to a writhing, pleading, bundle of need and desire by you..." Duo shivered in response to my breath against his ear. I pressed a kiss to his earlobe and hugged him gently. "*But* - first you need to get better. I don't want to be worrying about bad ribs and stitches while you're busy reducing me to a puddle of needy goo."

Duo snorted in amusement at the gentle teasing but nodded his agreement. We sat there contentedly for a few minutes, then Duo poked me in the ribs and scolded, "Now stop stalling, buster! I want out of this room for a while and you promised to take me!"

"Your wish is my command, m'lord Duo!" I laughed as I adjusted my hold on Duo and rose.

"Oh it is, is it? Hmm... What shall I wish for next..."

I grinned slightly as I carried him out of the room, making appropriately playful retorts to his wild and silly ideas as I went. I'd missed this too. The easy give-and-take of our friendship. The quiet times and the rapid-fire wordplay. The balance was back in our relationship now that the secrets were out in the open and our feelings clearly stated. And I intended to make sure that it stayed that way.

*This* relationship would *not* fail.

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