1-26-2003

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Title: Anytime
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Started: October 2003
Story Completed: November 2003
Genre: Yaoi, Friendship, Romance
Pairing: 1x2
Rated: R
Warnings: OOC, Swearing, Lime/Lemon
Archives: Eventually at Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Also at Moments of Rapture http://zerotwofan.com/rapture/. Anyone else - please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Post Endless Waltz. Duo POV.

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene change

Author's Notes: This is a gift fic for Sharon because it was in part inspired by the picture for the Moments of Rapture Fall 2003 "Fic for a Pic" contest. Thanks go out to Sunhawk for letting me bounce ideas off her and for offering some useful suggestions along the way. Feedback is appreciated.

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"Duo? I - Heero - you..."

"Wha...?"

"You... you need to come over, right *now*."

Dragged from the depths of a sound sleep by the ringing phone, it had taken Duo a few moments to recognize the shaky, panicky voice on the phone as Relena's. "Relena? What's wrong?" he demanded, already tossing back the covers and reaching for a pair of pants.

"I... Just come. Please, Duo - hurry. Heero needs you."

"Relena..." The dial tone told him there was no point continuing. He would have to just rush over to Relena's estate and deal with whatever was wrong when he got there. Glancing at the clock, he realized just what time it was. 'Shit, didn't know Heero planned on spending the night there... He should've been off party-escort-slash-bodyguard duty hours ago. Guess maybe Relena's finally making some headway with him after all... Though I'd have thought he'd have said something in that case... As far as I know, he only took escort duty to that party tonight - hell, *last* night now - because Une ordered him to... Ah, shit, I don't know what the fuck's going on...'

Despite the fact that he couldn't imagine Relena calling him at home over a security issue - she'd have just hit the panic button that went straight to Preventers Dispatch - Duo automatically strapped on his gun and knives and slid his picks into place at the base of his braid. He tossed a quick glance into Heero's empty room on his way out of their apartment. He didn't really expect him to magically be there but force of habit was stronger than logic and this whole thing was a bit surreal anyway.

Why would *Relena* call if *Heero* was the one who needed him? 'Hell, I have *no* fucking idea what's wrong; all I really know is that she said Heero needs me...'

And although it would be nice to have *some* idea what kind of goddamn mess he was walking into, the fact that his best friend needed him was all that Duo really needed to know.

***

"You did *WHAT*?!!" Duo bellowed in disbelief. Being met at the driveway by Relena - barefoot and in a filmy bathrobe, eyes wide and panic-stricken, face tear-stained, jaw beginning to bruise, hands wringing in agitation - had been disturbing enough. But alarming as that had been, it had certainly not prepared him for *this*. "Where the *hell* did you ever get such a fucking *stupid* idea?! What the fuck ever made you think for even one *second* that it would be a good idea to drug him and cuff him to the goddamn bed?!"

"I thought... There were all these stories about..."

"*Stories?!* About *what*, for god's sake?" Duo snapped, barely resisting the urge to pick the foolish girl up and shake her like a ragdoll.

"About... about using..." Relena's face flushed and she stammered out, "b...bondage... about using bondage to - uh - get past - c...control issues..."

Duo bit his tongue. *Hard*.

Carefully - reminding himself that he really needed her conscious and not hysterical or completely petrified with fear, that searching the entire mansion room by room would take too damn long - he forced himself to listen to her painfully stammered explanation. When she finally finished, he said disbelievingly, "Let me see if I understand this correctly. You nagged him into coming in and having a drink with you after his shift as your bodyguard. A *drugged* drink. Specifically, a drink drugged with one of the few things that actually *works* on Heero - though of course it *does* have the minor unfortunate side-effect of causing nightmares, flashbacks, hallucinations, and a damn nasty migraine but hey, it does in fact manage to render him deeply unconscious and vulnerable for a couple of hours so what the hell, right? Then you chain him up and sit around in a negligee waiting for him to wake up. And of course, after all that, he's just going to magically stop being a control-freak and fall head over heels in love with you. Does that about cover it, Relena?"

"Yes..." she whispered hesitantly.

"And you don't see anything *wrong* with this picture?!! You're lucky he didn't break loose and snap your pretty little *neck*!!" Duo snarled viciously. He was highly tempted to wrap his hands around said neck and at the very least give her a damn good scare himself.

Relena murmured something so softly that Duo didn't quite catch it. "Repeat that, Relena. I don't think I could have heard you correctly."

"He t..tried. He c...couldn't - c...can't. The c...cuffs are G...Gundanium," she stuttered.

Duo felt his face settle into the cold fury of Shinigami and his voice went icy with tightly-held rage as he ordered, "Give me the key and show me the room, Relena. Now."

"Okay," she squeaked out. The last vestiges of colour drained from her face as she reached into her pocket and her hand came out empty. "Oh no..." she gasped. She turned her pocket inside out frantically. "I... it was here..."

"Just take me to Heero," Duo growled furiously. 'Before I give in to the urge and strangle you, you stupid, thoughtless child...'

***

"Holy *shit*," Duo whispered. He'd been prepared for things to be a mess but... "God, Heero..."

The door to the bedroom hung crazily from one bent hinge. Heero was nowhere to be seen but the room was a disaster area. Cracked stone surrounding a deep hole bore witness to where the cuffs must have been fastened to the wall at the head of the bed. The rail at the foot of the brass bed was severely bent and a broken leather strap lay on the floor. Duo turned on Relena, horrified, and demanded, "You *shackled* him *too*?!"

She swallowed hard and nodded faintly, avoiding his eyes. Duo grabbed her chin and forced her to meet his narrowed gaze. "What else, Relena?"

Her trembling became fullscale shaking and she closed her eyes. "He w...was b...blindfolded. And I... He's... his clothes... uh, weren't here... And... uh... he, uh, didn't seem to... to recognize me... S...so I w...was af...fraid to l...let him l...loose..." She choked on the words and Duo released her, disgusted.

What a fucking *mess*. Heero was running around here somewhere, probably wearing nothing but the sheet that seemed to be missing from the bed and Gundanium cuffs and shackles, probably at least half out of his mind from the goddamned drugs. 'Hard to say where he'll go... Depends how much of the drug's still in his system, how rational he is... what he remembers...

'If he woke up - drugs still in his system - blindfolded, *naked* for god's sake, and restrained... Last thing he remembered would have probably been Relena and the party...

'But if he didn't recognize her voice... ah, crap, no wonder he fought so damn hard to get loose. Probably thought he'd let her down and they'd both been captured by someone... Shit... So the question is - how much has he figured out by now and what the hell is he likely to do? Where would he go?'

Too many unknowns there. It was too hard to predict Heero's actions; he'd have to track Heero rather than try to intercept him.

Duo grabbed a blanket off of the bed, hastily folding it and tucking it under one arm. He started down the hall, spotting tiny blood droplets that spattered the stone floor at irregular intervals. Relena followed him several strides before he spun and ordered sharply, "Stay the hell out of my way."

"But I want to help..."

"I think you've done quite enough already," he snarled, taking a single menacing step towards her. She shrank away from him and he noted the fear in her eyes with grim satisfaction. "Just stay out of my fucking sight, Relena. Or we'll *both* regret it." He had no intention of ending up in jail for assaulting the Vice Foreign Minister and the urge to slap or shake some sense into the thoughtless young woman was getting pretty damn hard to resist.

'Heero liked her and *trusted* her, for god's sake. Okay, so maybe he wasn't head-over-heels in love with her the way she wanted him to be but why the hell she would think that something like *this* would make things *better*...' He shook his head in revulsion and kept following the tiny traces Heero had left behind.

***

Duo crouched beside the storage shed and kept calling softly, "Hey, buddy, you in there? S'okay now, Heero; it's just me, Duo. C'mon out and we'll get you out of those damn things." He knew damn well that Heero was in there, he could just barely hear him breathe if he held his own breath. But coaxing didn't seem to be working. Time for a change of strategy.

"01, *status*!" he snapped sharply, keeping his voice pitched low.

There was an agonizingly long moment of silence during which Duo tried to figure out another approach if this one didn't work. Then, shakily, a voice asked, "02?"

'Thank god...' "Affirmative, 01. Status?"

"Not - sure."

"I'm coming in," Duo warned.

He waited for the quiet "Acknowledged," in response before opening the door and slipping inside. He wasn't surprised to be immediately and violently shoved against the wall, chain pressing threateningly against his neck and cutting off his breath. Duo held perfectly still, waiting for Heero to reach a decision.

Heero had pinned him in the best-lit corner of the darkened garden shed. The small window at the shed's far end allowed a bit of illumination from the floodlights that blanketed the estate grounds to sneak inside. Since the light source was behind Heero, his face was hidden by shadow. Duo couldn't tell whether Heero had recognized him yet or not.

"Duo..." The chain dropped from his neck. "Off, get them *off*!"

The desperate urgency in that demand drove Duo's fingers into quick motion. Yanking his picks from his braid, he gently tugged Heero's wrists into the weak light and went to work with swift efficiency. The locks themselves weren't overly complicated but he wasn't surprised that Heero hadn't managed to get them open himself. Without the proper tools, it would be a slow, awkward task and he wasn't sure that Heero's hands would even have held a pick if he'd had one.

Heero's wrists were bloody and puffy; his hands swollen and scraped. His skin was cold and clammy and Duo strongly suspected he was going into shock. Careful though Duo was, Heero flinched and his breath caught sharply as Duo worked on the left cuff. 'Shit, that wrist is *broken*. And I dunno about the right one, it's sprained at the very least...' Duo's mouth tightened angrily as he worked.

Once he had the cuffs off, Duo tossed them to the floor. "Just a sec and I'll take care of the rest," he promised. He picked up the blanket that he'd dropped when Heero had grabbed him earlier and shook it out over Heero's shoulders, wrapping it around him snugly. "You want to sit down while I get these off?" he asked as he dropped to the floor.

"No."

"Okay." No real surprise there, Heero would feel less vulnerable standing than sitting.

Getting the shackles off took longer than removing the cuffs had. Duo had to work almost entirely by feel; the dim light in the shed was nonexistent at floor level and the fact that Heero was shivering violently didn't exactly help matters. But he wasn't about to suggest leaving the shed's shelter without Heero being completely free first.

Finally the last lock gave way with a sharp click and Duo laid the shackles on top of the discarded cuffs. He rose slowly, careful not to startle Heero. A glance at the awkwardly-knotted sheet around Heero's waist confirmed that it should stay put long enough for them to get out of here.

"You with me, buddy?" he asked worriedly, resting one hand carefully on Heero's shoulder. "You remember where we are and what's going on?" Heero was definitely shocky; his colour was poor and his skin cold and clammy. His breathing was too fast; Duo suspected that his pulse was weak and rapid but Heero's wrists were in no shape to check and Duo wasn't about to put his hands anywhere near Heero's throat at the moment.

"We're at... at the... the Vice Foreign Minister's estate." Heero shuddered, then continued, "Not - sure what happened - before. Confusing. Relena..." His brow furrowed with concentration.

"Relena is fine. Safe." Duo bit the words off sharply, carefully not adding the qualifier that her safety was only guaranteed as long as she stayed the hell out of his sight. Especially now that he'd seen how badly Heero had injured himself in his desperation to escape.

"Safe? Then what... How..." Heero flicked a glance towards the pile of restraints and shuddered again.

Duo caught his eyes and asked grimly, "You sure you want to know right now? I don't think you're tracking too well yet, buddy."

Heero swallowed convulsively, then shook his head fractionally. "No. Later." He paused, then asked again, "She's safe?"

"Yeah. You're the only one who got hurt." Duo didn't think Relena's bruised jaw counted. He figured she'd got off pretty damn lightly under the circumstances. She had no idea just how much *worse* this could have been.

Duo shrugged out of his long drover's coat and held it out to Heero. "Put this on," he ordered. He was relieved that Heero didn't even hesitate, dropping the blanket and sliding his arms into the sleeves. He fumbled with the buttons but Duo left him alone, knowing that, in Heero's place, he would rather struggle on his own than be babied. While Heero was doing that, Duo bundled the cuffs and shackles into the blanket for transport. He didn't know what, if anything, Heero intended to do about this whole mess but he wasn't about to leave *that* kind of thing behind. 'Shit - the clothes he was wearing tonight and his wallet and weapons...'

"You okay for now? Or should we wrap those lacerations before we leave?" he asked as Heero finally managed to finish buttoning up the coat.

"Leave. I just want to *leave*."

"Let's go, then." Duo opened the shed door and waved Heero through it. He cupped a steadying hand under Heero's elbow, not happy about his friend's bare feet but knowing that at least one of them had to stay respectably dressed in case they were challenged. He'd been in such a hurry after Relena's call that he'd crammed his shoes on without any socks, so he couldn't even give Heero *those*.

He headed them across the grounds towards his car, prepared to bluff his way through any challenges with a flash of his Preventer's badge and a tale about testing security. Security's complete failure to notice the two of them running around the place made him wonder whether maybe Relena had already given the guards some sort of story. Heero had trained Relena's estate security himself; Duo couldn't imagine them being *this* sloppy.

Duo dumped the bundle of restraints in his trunk and helped Heero into the car. He crouched down beside him for a moment. "Listen, buddy, I'll be right back. I'm just gonna get your stuff, okay? Just wait here for me." He waited for a tiny nod of acknowledgement before giving Heero's knee a gentle squeeze and standing. Closing the car door, he turned towards the house. His Preventers' passcard opened the front door and he headed back to the trashed room, hoping that he would find Heero's things there or nearby. If not, he'd have to find Relena and ask what she'd done with them.

"Maybe you're not a *complete* idiot after all, Relena," he muttered as he reached the room and discovered that Heero's clothing was now piled neatly on the bed, weapons on top of the pile and shoes on the floor below. He had no idea how the hell Relena was going to explain the damaged wall and door, let alone the bent footrail, to her staff, and frankly, as long as she didn't tell the truth, he didn't care. 'And I seriously doubt she'll be telling anyone the real story. She was *way* out of line. Hell, if she was anyone else, Heero'd be filing charges along about now...'

But since it was Relena, Duo doubted that he would do that. She deserved to be charged - she didn't set out to hurt Heero but she'd done something damn stupid and she *had* hurt him. But Duo really doubted she'd ever do something quite so *dumb* again and prosecuting her would only create all kinds of problems in the government, potentially even threaten the delicate balance of power. He didn't think Heero would be willing to take that kind of chance.

He took one more look at the cracked stone wall, something inside him twisting painfully at the amount of panicked strength it had taken to rip a spike out of *that*, then gathered up Heero's things and left.

***

"I know your head's probably splitting by now, Heero, so I'll keep this simple. You've got two choices. Either I call Sally and we meet her at the Preventers' clinic or we drive an hour and a half to the nearest doc affiliated with the Sweepers, let him take a look at you. Your wrists are a real mess and your ankles aren't much better; you're gonna need them cleaned up, you'll have to have x-rays, and then god knows what else. What's it going to be?"

Duo was *certain* that Heero's left wrist was broken; these weren't injuries that he could just take care of with a little disinfectant and some gauze. They needed professional treatment. But if they were going all the way to the Sweepers doc - as he suspected they would be - he'd have to stop at their apartment and get Heero properly dressed and something hot and nourishing into his system first.

"I don't want..."

"Heero, I didn't ask what you *wanted*. You have to see a doctor, period. I'm just giving you a choice as to which one." He hesitated, then added, "Sally's going to insist on knowing exactly what happened and filing a report; I think we can pretty much count on that. Doc Sloan - well, he's used to not asking too many questions; Sweepers get themselves in some pretty odd messes when they get planetside leave after a long time in space."

"Doc Sloan then," Heero conceded reluctantly.

"That's what I figured," Duo grumbled. "Good thing neither of us is supposed to be on duty today." The rising sun was already beginning to tint the horizon with shades of red and orange. 'How's that old saying go? "Red sun in the morning, sailors take warning..." Seems appropriate; somehow I don't think we're going to be seeing any smooth sailing for a while...'

***

The silence in the car wasn't unexpected but it still worried Duo. Once they'd started the drive to Doc Sloan's office, Heero had finally asked Duo exactly what had happened. That, too, was not unexpected. He'd known that once Heero was warm, secure, and over the worst effects of the drugs, he would want the details. Duo had given him as much as he'd found out from Relena along with what he'd observed for himself. He just wasn't sure how Heero was going to react to it now that he knew.

"I don't understand," Heero said finally, his words a mere breath of a whisper. "She thought - I wouldn't - or couldn't - admit to being in love with her because I had 'control issues'." His voice was a heartbreaking mix of bewilderment, hurt, and anger. Volume rising as he spoke, he continued, "She thought I didn't - trust her - enough to let her have that much control over me... How the *hell* was what she did supposed to make things *better*?!"

"I don't know, Heero. I don't pretend to understand her reasoning; all I can do is tell you what she said. That she'd 'read stories' that used bondage to overcome 'control issues'. I mean, I've *heard* of that kind of stuff before, sure. It's just - not something that I've ever thought too much about. Using something like restraints, something that'd give me flashbacks of being repeatedly and painfully beaten half to death, just isn't something I think I'd ever get off on, so I've never done any research on the subject. I guess maybe, for some people, it works. But one thing I'm pretty sure of is that both parties have to *agree* to that kind of thing if it's done right. You sure as hell didn't agree; you didn't even get *asked*.

"I really don't think that Relena did any actual research on the subject. From what she said, she just took a few ideas from whatever it was that she'd read and - improvised." Duo shrugged and stole a quick sidelong glance at Heero's virtually expressionless face. He winced internally at the sight. Regardless of Relena's intentions, what she'd actually accomplished was the undoing of *years* of *his* careful, patient work at drawing his best friend out of his tightly closed-off shell. Work that he'd started out of love for his best friend but that, somewhere along the way, had had the unexpected side-effect of him falling *in* love with Heero. He hadn't even noticed when it happened; he'd only just realized that it *had*.

***

The door into the tiny examination room opened. Duo broke off his conversation with a couple of old acquaintances waiting to see the doctor and stood. "All set?" he asked as Heero exited the room, one wrist wrapped and taped, the other in a cast.

"Yes. The doctor wants to talk to you before we leave."

Duo frowned thoughtfully as Heero continued out of the office. 'He's limping a bit, wonder if that's an ankle problem or just his feet from running around barefoot earlier...'

"Duo?" Doc Sloan waved him towards the privacy of the exam room. As soon as Duo entered, the doctor handed him a prescription. "I told him this already but I'm not sure how much of it really registered.

"He needs to take the full course of antibiotics. I prescribed pain meds as well but if he's anything like *you*, I know he won't end up taking them. And watch the cut on the sole of his right foot, I cleaned and stitched it but it's going to need this," he tapped the prescription with his glasses, "applied regularly. Same with the raw areas on his ankles and wrists; I used one of those removable prefabricated casts because of that."

Doc put on his glasses and glared at Duo. "He didn't tell me what happened and I know better than to pry but he's pretty shaken. Keep an eye on him. He needs to take it easy; he has hairline fractures in a number of bones in both hands and that right wrist is fractured as well as sprained but he wouldn't let me cast it, just the broken one.

"The pain meds have an anti-inflammatory ingredient; he's strained or pulled a lot of muscles so he's going to be damn sore for a while. He really should take the pain meds, at least for the first few days and at night. He's probably going to have trouble sleeping; is there any point giving him a prescription for a sedative, even just a mild one?"

"No," Duo answered without even having to consider it. Sedatives and nightmares were a bad mix; the nightmares came regardless of the sedatives but the sedatives didn't allow you to wake up from the nightmares. And former Gundam pilots had nightmares; there was no question about it. 'Plus after being drugged like that, Heero's going to react even worse to that kind of thing than before. Sedatives are *definitely* out.'

"Figured as much," Doc snorted. "Off with you, then, boy. And next time you visit, it better be purely for the hell of it, not for my professional services, young man."

Duo grinned sheepishly and gave the old man a back-slapping hug before darting out the door. He called over his shoulder, "Thanks, Doc!" and received a dismissive wave in response. Doc Sloan had patched him up lots of times before, during, *and* after the war. He preferred coming all the way out here to letting Sally work on him.

Doc Sloan had been one of the medical doctors working with G during Duo's training and he *knew* all of Duo's sensitivities and issues. Doc never failed to be completely upfront with him and the old man was considerably less by-the-book than Sally Po. He wouldn't shove medication down your throat just because it was the textbook response to a situation. If you didn't want sedatives, you didn't get them. If you didn't want pain meds, well, he'd prescribe them anyway - just in case - but he wouldn't practically force them down your throat or nag at you to take them. He handled Duo a lot like Duo handled Heero, actually.

'Push just enough to show I care - then back off. Be there if I'm needed but don't be a pain in the ass. When he's ready for help, when he needs me, he'll let me know.'

***

Duo pulled into the pharmacy parking lot and turned his head towards Heero. "Thought I'd drop off your prescriptions to be filled, then we can grab a bite of lunch. After we eat, we pick'em up and head back," he explained. "That okay?" he asked as he started to open his car door.

"No."

Duo pulled his door shut again. "Uh, okay. I'm flexible. What do you want to do?"

"I don't want to go back."

"Err..." Duo blinked and stared at Heero's stubborn, wary face in shock. 'He's all set for me to argue with him on this. Not gonna happen, buddy. If that's what you want, we'll figure it out...'

Duo took a deep breath and blew it out in a loud whoosh. "Ooookay. That's - gonna require a *lot* of flexibility... Uh, how about we do the prescriptions-and-lunch bit and you can explain what you want to do instead while we eat, okay?" He grinned wryly as Heero's expression changed to one of relief. Leaning over, he put his hand on Heero's shoulder and squeezed gently. "How many times do I have to tell you? Best friends. Whatever you need from me, you've got it." Even if it was only being best friends, never anything more.

***

"Look Commander, I'm not at liberty to tell you what happened. That's strictly between Heero and Relena; if one of *them* chooses to tell you - well, that's their business." Duo added silently, 'And the fact that Relena *didn't* tell you when she called and begged to talk to Heero is a pretty good indication that she has no intention of filling in the details...' Her insistence that there had been a "misunderstanding" and she needed to speak to Heero in order to apologize certainly did not begin to explain the whole fucking mess.

"All that matters to *me* is that my partner wants a break and I'm going with him. I'm just here to hand in our resignations - assuming that becomes necessary. We'd rather have you just put us both on the reserve lists and make our status inactive. That way if we *do* eventually decide to come back or if you need us for something really big and important, putting us back in the field won't be a big deal." Duo met Une's eyes levelly the entire time that he was speaking. There was absolutely nothing that she could say or do to change his mind and he wanted her to see that conviction in his eyes.

Evidently, she did. "Fine," she conceded, gesturing dismissively. "Reserve list and inactive status. Just be sure to keep us up to date on your location so..."

Duo cut her off firmly, "No. If you need us, contact Howard. We'll keep in touch with him regularly."

"But..."

"That's non-negotiable, Commander."

"Oh, very well. There's just no dealing with you when you get like this, Maxwell," Une complained. "Anything to do with Yuy and you turn from amiable to bullheaded in an instant."

Duo merely shrugged. It was true, why argue about it? Heero never asked for much of anything so on the rare occasion that he *did* want - or need - something, Duo intended to make damn sure that he got it. That was just part of loving someone, whether as a best friend or - well, something more.

"Leave your case notes with the appropriate files and I'll see to it that they're turned over to other agents. Once you're done taking care of that, you're free to go," Une added with a dismissive wave.

Duo thought it prudent to say, "Thank you, Commander," as he rose to leave her office. She gave him a half-hearted glare and pointed towards her door.

Just as Duo was on his way out, she called after him curiously, "Why Howard? Why not stay in touch with one of the others?"

"Because Howard knows when to just butt the hell out."

***

Grunts of effort and laboured gasps woke Duo. "Aww, shit, Heero..." he muttered, recognizing the sounds after the past few nights. He picked up his pillow and tossed it lightly at the figure on the other bed as Heero thrashed violently, struggling against invisible restraints. Duo had made the mistake of touching Heero to wake him the first night and he still had the black eye and sore cheekbone to remind him of his error.

Heero bolted upright, sending the pillow flying across the room. Duo could see the faint gleam of his widely opened eyes in the dimly lit hotel room, could hear the heavy panting as Heero struggled for breath. "You awake?"

"Yes." Heero threw back the covers and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Duo reached over and turned the light on. "Go back to sleep," Heero said, reaching to turn the light back off.

"No." Duo threw his own covers back and sat up. "*You* won't." He knew damn well that Heero had simply stayed up rather than risk waking him again on the previous two nights. The fact that he *hadn't* been reawakened as he had the nights before that along with the darkening shadows under Heero's eyes told him that much.

"I can't. I know that I'll dream again and I just - can't."

"And you don't want to wake me up again," Duo added dryly.

Heero didn't say anything which was as good as confirmation as far as Duo was concerned.

"Go shower and get the sweat off," Duo suggested. "Make it as hot as you can stand so it relaxes your muscles. When you get out I'll give you a massage, redo your bandages, and you can take one of those pain pills that Doc gave you. Then we'll both give sleep another shot." He suspected that Heero's stiff and sore muscles, aching wrists, and raw ankles were partially responsible for just how damn bad the nightmares were. It had been a long, long time since Heero had reacted violently to Duo waking him up from one; the fact that he would do so now was an indication of just how bad they must be.

"I don't think..."

"Heero. Just give it a try, okay?"

Heero sighed heavily, stood, and headed for the bathroom. Duo grinned faintly at the silent capitulation. Now, he just had to hope that this worked or at least helped.

***

Duo lifted the complimentary bottle of hand lotion out of the sink and wiped the warm water off of it before carrying it out to the bed. The lotion wouldn't work as well as massage oil would and there wasn't very much of it but it was better than nothing. A dry massage created too much friction to be comfortable.

"Pain pill kicking in yet?" he asked, keeping his voice low and soothing. Heero had taken the medication right after his shower. Reluctantly - but he had taken it.

"A bit," Heero answered.

Duo frowned slightly; he'd hoped that it would be working more than "a bit" by now. He knew that Heero's ankles and wrists had to be bothering him after having the salve applied and the bandages changed. He wanted Heero sufficiently comfortable for the massage to relax him.

Moving to the side of the bed that had been his - Heero's bedding was damp and reeking with sweat - Duo squeezed a bit of lotion out onto his hands and prepared to start work on Heero's shoulders and chest. He asked idly as he began the massage, "Say, Heero, you ever try that 'lucid dreaming' thing? Y'know, where you tell yourself that you know you're just dreaming then take control of the dream?" He couldn't imagine that Heero *hadn't*; J had trained him in what seemed like every damn control-oriented technique in existence.

"Yes."

Stifling the urge to sigh, Duo silently cursed Relena instead. Heero was back to single-word responses most of the time now and it was damn frustrating after having gotten used to complete sentences - hell, complete *conversations* - from him. It had taken *years* to get Heero to that point. It had taken Relena a single damn night to reverse all of that progress. 'No, not all,' Duo corrected silently. 'He still trusts me at least as much as he did by the time we joined Preventers or he'd have just picked up and disappeared alone instead of letting me come with him.'

"Ever get any good at it?"

"Sometimes." Heero was silent for a few moments, then added reluctantly, "Not this time."

"Ah. Well, it was worth a shot anyway." Switching to - lightly and carefully - massaging Heero's hand, Duo asked, "Flashbacks? Or true nightmares?"

It took a few minutes but finally Heero responded, "Both." Sensing that if he waited, Heero *might* volunteer a bit more, Duo just made a quiet sound of acknowledgement and moved his massage up Heero's arm a bit, careful to avoid the bandaged wrist. He could feel the muscles gradually easing a bit under his ministrations. Not quite *relaxing* - but easing.

Duo had finished the first arm and was almost done with the other one before Heero finally spoke again. "They start - as flashbacks. Memories. From training. The war.

"But the escape - or end of session - or rescue - doesn't happen. Instead, it changes to... you know... Except that now, I know whose voice I hear. But it doesn't matter. I still keep struggling. She doesn't let me go. She leaves me alone. Trapped. Blind. Just like before. But this time..." Heero fell silent again.

Deciding that Heero really was done talking, Duo finished for him, softly. "This time, you can't get loose." Heero's head moved fractionally in a nod. "That when I've been wakin' you up?" Another tiny nod.

Duo moved down to work on Heero's feet, careful of the still-healing soles - feet used to wearing shoes did not fare well on gravel paths and cobblestone walkways - and ankles. He kept at his task despite the fact that his hands were beginning to ache. He *was* succeeding in taking some of the tension away, though not all of it.

Finishing work on Heero's legs, Duo instructed, "Roll over." He grinned faintly as Heero obeyed without hesitation. 'Trust. And a lot of it. Or he wouldn't be willing to put himself in such a vulnerable position.' As he started his massage all over again, this time on Heero's back, Duo said, "Alone, huh? Look, buddy, we both need sleep. Why don't we try what used to work during the war? Sleep together and see if that helps?"

"No."

"You won't hurt me," Duo said firmly. He really wished that he hadn't been careless that first night and let Heero hit him. Heero couldn't even look him in the face right now without wincing and looking guilty; he had one hell of a shiner despite the fact that he'd avoided the worst of the blow. "I promise I'll just roll off the bed if you get violent; I won't try to touch you to wake you up. But I don't think it'll be the same anyway. You'll know I'm there and it might be enough to let you control the dreams. Tack a rescue on the end. 'Cause you know damn well that even if you'd still been chained up and fighting when I got there, I'd have got you loose."

There was a long, heavy silence. Then, whisper-soft, "She was afraid to let me loose."

"Yeah, she was." Duo didn't bother trying to pretend otherwise. "But you don't scare *me*, Heero Yuy. I *respect* you - but I'm not afraid of you."

There was no audible response but the muscles that had gone tense beneath his hands slowly began to relax again. Duo took the lack of further argument as agreement. "Just relax and go to sleep, Heero. It'll be okay."

Silence. Then, finally, a weary, "Okay" of acceptance.

"Okay," Duo echoed firmly. He let out a slow, quiet sigh and consciously regulated his breathing into a relaxing pattern. Gradually, the last of the tension eased from Heero's muscles and Duo realized with relief that he had finally dozed off. He kept up the massage a while longer, wanting to be sure that Heero wouldn't wake the instant that he stopped.

Eventually, Duo curled up on the bed beside Heero, just barely touching. He knew that he needed to sleep because he would have to drive again once they woke up. Heero would be insistent that they move on and Heero's hands and wrists were in no shape for handling a steering wheel.

'The first part of my wartime motto could very well be his too... That's what we're doing right now, whether he acknowledges it or not. Running and hiding...'

It really wasn't surprising. Heero had been taught from the time he was very small that safety lay in keeping a low profile and keeping on the move. Not staying anywhere long enough to get noticed. To get caught.

Duo hadn't realized exactly what was going on for the first couple of days but when Heero had just randomly pointed at a spot on the map in response to his query of where they were going next, he'd finally figured it out. He wasn't entirely sure that Heero was consciously aware of what he was doing. Probably not. Probably he just knew that the only time he felt comfortable was while they were moving.

'Wonder how long we'll have to keep moving... How long it'll take for him to feel at least a little bit safe and secure again...' Quite a while, in all likelihood. After all, Heero had stayed on the move for the full year between the wars. And for a good six months or so after he'd healed from the second one. He'd stayed in intermittent contact with Duo throughout that entire time but no one else had been consistently able to reach him.

'But he never gave any indication that I would be welcome to come with him then, either. Not till he contacted me and told me that he and his partner were expected at Preventers HQ for orientation in a week and he'd meet me at the spaceport when my shuttle got in. Then he told me which goddamn shuttle I was booked on...'

Duo grinned wryly at the memory. It had been thoroughly typical Heero at the time. No request, just the assumption that Duo would fall in with his plans. 'By then, I'd figured out that he acted like that because asking implied that refusal was just as acceptable as agreement. So if he wanted something, he chose to act as if getting it was a foregone conclusion...' Heero hadn't *entirely* gotten over that even now. He tended to make flat statements rather than requests. That was just part of what made Heero - *Heero*.

'Doesn't matter. I love him anyway...' Duo thought drowsily. He closed his eyes and slept.

***

Before the pounding had even fully registered, Duo's back hit the floor, knocking his breath from him in a startled "oof". He opened his eyes to find Heero crouched protectively over him, gun in hand. That was when he realized that the pounding was the motel manager banging on the door of the neighbouring room and warning loudly that it was checkout time. He could see the understanding dawn in Heero's eyes just as the man moved on to pound their door and shout that if they weren't out in ten minutes, they'd have to pay for another day. The manager didn't wait for a response, just moved further down the line of units to give someone else a rude wakeup call.

Heero slid the safety back on his gun and straightened from his crouch. He extended one hand to Duo in a silent apology for the abrupt awakening.

Not wanting to aggravate Heero's injuries but also not wanting to refuse his help, Duo clasped the arm near the elbow and let Heero pull him to his feet. "Guess we overslept," he observed with a rueful grin.

He carefully did *not* mention Heero's overreaction to the manager's idea of a wakeup call nor did he say "told you so" regarding the fact that Heero had actually managed to sleep through the rest of the night. He didn't even mention the fact that, when reacting to a perceived threat, Heero's actions towards *him* had been protective, not violent. He sure as hell hadn't been the one to roll off the bed. Heero had rolled them both off, gun in one hand, the other - broken wrist ignored in the instinctive reaction - momentarily behind Duo's head to keep it from striking the floor along with his back.

"We did." A faint flicker that *almost* rated being called a smile crossed Heero's face as he told Duo, "Thank you."

Duo grinned back. "Anytime, buddy. Anytime."

***

Heero's request that they stop at a shopping mall was a bit of a surprise but Duo did so without question. He was quietly pleased to discover that Heero's reason for the stop was to buy massage oil. Obviously either the massage itself or the restful sleep it had led to was something that he wanted to repeat. Buying supplies was as good as a request.

Even though Duo missed carrying on actual conversations with Heero, the lack of spoken dialogue didn't actually impede communication between them much at all. He knew Heero well enough to interpret his actions; words were merely confirmation of that interpretation.

He was a bit surprised, however, when Heero turned down the first few motels that night. They were very typical of the sort of places they'd been staying at. Cheap, a bit seedy, but not complete dives. Tonight, though, Heero vetoed several of those only to direct Duo to pull in at a hotel chain that catered primarily to business travellers and conventions.

"Anything in particular to ask?" Duo inquired before climbing out of the car.

Heero hesitated, fingers toying with the gauze around his wrist. Duo waited patiently. After a moment, Heero suggested, "If they have whirlpool baths in some rooms... Maybe..."

"Sure," Duo agreed readily. Obviously Heero was finally willing to slow down enough to start taking a little better care of his sore and abused body. Either because they'd put enough distance behind them for him to relax a bit or because the temporary relief of the massage and at least a few hours of sound sleep had made him more aware of his condition. He suggested carefully, "The sign advertises a package deal for stays of more than one night..."

The hesitation lasted long enough that Duo was honestly uncertain what Heero's answer would be. "We can afford it even if we end up not staying," he added with a shrug. "Least that way, we won't have to worry about oversleeping and being rudely awakened." Not that this was the kind of place where they'd have to worry about the manager going around pounding on doors. They'd just have to make sure to put out the Do Not Disturb sign so that housekeeping wouldn't wake them up.

Heero's brow wrinkled into a frown. Duo kept waiting. He was pushing things a bit, he knew that. But he really thought that if Heero got a couple of nights of sound sleep, a couple of days of just plain *rest*, rather than spending all day sitting in the car and only snatching a few hours of rest at night, he might start to get his head together again. Stop reacting instinctively and start thinking things through.

Finally, Heero's answer came in the form of a very slight headshake.

"Just one night, then," Duo agreed cheerfully. He was a little disappointed but Heero had considered it for quite a while before rejecting the idea. He'd give it a few days before making the suggestion again. With any luck, Heero would make the choice himself before then.

Duo headed inside and booked their room. It was definitely a lot more expensive than the places they'd been staying at. Not that the cost was really a concern. Both he and Heero had sizeable savings accounts. They'd been paid for the scrap from their Gundams in addition to the substantial cash settlements that the colonies had given them after the war. And they'd earned good salaries as Preventers. It would be a long time before they had to seriously worry about money.

Hopefully, Heero would have decided what he wanted to do next long before that time ever arrived.

***

Several days passed. They stuck to midrange hotels rather than the cheap motels. Duo massaged Heero to sleep every night and was able to wake him with voice alone the few times that he started to slip into nightmares. Sharing a bed made Duo more aware of the early stages of the dreams; he would waken at the first hint of restlessness. At that point, it was a relatively simple thing to soothe Heero with his voice before the dreams could even reach the nightmare stage.

And as Heero became more rested, as overstressed muscles and joints began to heal, he gradually started to open up a bit again. To talk in complete sentences rather than giving single word responses.

Duo yawned widely as he pulled into the hotel parking lot. He'd driven longer than usual today. They'd hit construction delays, then a detour that took them miles away from the town they'd intended to stop in. So they'd just kept going the extra two hours to the next city.

"You're tired," Heero observed.

Turning off the car, Duo gave him a weary grin and said, "Oh, yeah. I *hate* road construction."

It was with considerable relief that Duo noted the sudden change in the way that Heero was looking at him. The rather detached look abruptly sharpened and became much more *Heero*. He could see Heero examining, assessing, considering possibilities.

"I'll get the room. We'll stay here for a few days." The calm, businesslike tone faltered slightly as Heero added, "We... need to talk."

"Okay," Duo agreed simply. Despite his weariness, he felt like jumping up and down with excitement. He couldn't be completely sure just yet but he had a sneaking suspicion that Heero had just turned the corner.

***

"You're too tired," Heero protested half-heartedly. "You don't have to..."

Duo cut him off firmly. "I know I don't. I don't *have* to do anything. I *choose* to give you a massage because it makes you feel better and it helps you sleep."

"But..."

Stepping in closer to Heero, Duo slid one hand behind his neck, tilting Heero's head towards his so that their foreheads leaned together. Softly, he murmured, "Heero. It's okay. I'm just tired, not completely exhausted. Making you feel better makes me feel better too. Helping you relax helps me relax. Just let everything go for tonight. Whatever we need to deal with, we'll deal with tomorrow. *After* we've both had a good night's sleep. Okay?" The forehead leaning against his moved faintly in a nod.

"Okay. Now - would a massage feel good?" Another small nod. "Then go lie down and get comfortable while I warm up the oil, okay?"

"Okay."

As usual, Heero dozed off before Duo finished massaging his back and shoulders. The muscles that he'd injured ripping the manacles loose from the wall were still healing and spending so much time sitting in one position in the car wasn't exactly helping matters. Duo doubted that Heero would get much sleep at all without the massages to help ease the tension and relax the knots. Hopefully, Heero's decision to stay put for a few days would give his battered body the chance to recover and speed up the healing process.

Setting the bottle of massage oil aside, Duo joined Heero on the bed, careful to pull the covers up far enough to keep Heero's muscles from getting chilled. He sprawled on his back, grateful for the opportunity to stretch his own muscles after spending so many hours driving. Fingers just barely brushing Heero's, he fell asleep hoping that whatever Heero wanted to talk about tomorrow would be a step towards Heero getting back to normal.

***

Duo woke in the morning feeling very warm and content. He also discovered that his arm was sound asleep, there was an uncomfortably solid lump digging into his breastbone, and a heavy weight resting on his legs. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to find Heero curled against him, head resting heavily against his shoulder, casted arm flung over his chest, one leg pinning his own in place. It wasn't unusual for them to end up tightly pressed back-to-back by morning but Duo couldn't recall ever waking up with Heero wrapped around him like this before. Not even back during the war when they'd found relief from the night terrors in the simple presence of another warm, softly breathing body.

He certainly didn't mind Heero using him as a body pillow. It actually felt kind of good, despite the cast digging into him and the fact that Heero's head was evidently resting on a nerve cluster and had put his arm to sleep. He was, in fact, a bit grateful for those uncomfortable elements. They meant that he was in slightly less danger of enjoying this position *too* much. He wasn't prepared to bring up that particular aspect of his feelings for Heero just yet. Not while Heero was still recovering from the incident with Relena.

Time passed. Duo wasn't sure how long he waited. He was determined to let Heero sleep until he woke on his own. Both because Heero was still catching up on the sleep he'd lost to the nightmares and because he was enjoying the simple intimacy of the situation.

Eventually, Heero stirred. Duo didn't try to hide the fact that he'd been awake for a while. "Mornin' buddy," he said, smiling as Heero woke up enough to be aware of his position. He teased gently, "Guess you finally found a way to get comfortable, huh?" Better to make light of the situation than let it turn into something awkward.

Hastily struggling to sit up, Heero blurted out, "Sor..."

Duo chuckled and cut off the attempt at an apology. "Hey, I don't mind. For once, I didn't half freeze when the air conditioner kicked on." He gave Heero a cheerful grin and changed the subject quickly, not wanting to give embarrassment a chance to take hold. "I know you wanted to talk but why don't we freshen up and go grab some breakfast first? I dunno about you but I'm *hungry*..."

***

By the time they ate a rather late brunch and washed the laundry that they'd discovered they needed to do if they wanted anything clean to wear tomorrow, it was well into afternoon before they actually got around to talking. Duo sprawled across the bed and thumped the mattress beside him. "C'mon Heero. Stretch out and get comfy," he invited. "Sittin' in one of those stupid chairs'll just give you a backache." He had yet to stay in a hotel where the chairs were anything remotely approaching comfortable.

Heero hesitated for a moment then joined him, stretching out and leaning back against the headboard. Duo scooched up the bed to sit beside him. Settling back to wait, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Heero worried at the edges of the bandage around his wrist, an action that was rapidly becoming a habit.

"I..." Heero stopped and blew out an exasperated breath. "I'm - not sure where to start..." he admitted. "I guess..." He stopped again, his fingers clenching the bandage tightly.

"Start wherever you can," Duo suggested with a shrug. "Beginning, middle, end... Don't worry about it. I'll figure it out."

Heero raised his head and met Duo's eyes, giving him the first genuine - though still somewhat hesitant - smile since before that night at Relena's. Duo smiled back, extremely grateful to see that look on Heero's face again, even if only briefly. "Okay," Heero agreed. "Duo - thank you. For... for everything." He shrugged helplessly, the smile fading, and his eyes met Duo's solemnly, saying all of the things left unspoken. To Duo, they were as clear as if Heero had said them out loud. 'Thank you for coming when Relena called. For finding me. For getting the cuffs off of me. For dragging me to the doctor and getting me patched up. For ditching your job, hell, your whole *life*, just because I didn't want to go back. For spending the past couple of weeks driving all over the damn country because I just wanted to *go*. For not telling me I was crazy or that I was overreacting. For not pushing me to talk about things I wasn't ready to talk about. For just being there...'

"Anytime," Duo responded, his serious tone and expression a sharp contrast to the flippant words.

"I guess... I still don't want to go back," Heero blurted out. "I don't know what I *do* want to do, though. But I know we can't just keep driving..."

"Actually, we could. For a while at least," Duo said thoughtfully. "Not like we have been, though. Not just - driving - day after day.

"But we could pick some places we think sound interesting and go see them. Play tourist. Maybe we'll find someplace we'd like to settle down." He shrugged broadly. "It's not like we can't afford it. I mean, we'll eventually have to start earning money again but we can live off of our savings for quite a while."

There had been a definite flicker of interest in Heero's eyes as Duo spoke. Now, he asked, "Are you sure? You won't mind... not going home?"

Without even stopping to think about whether he was revealing a little too much, Duo responded, "Heero, home's not a place, it's a feeling. I only left behind an apartment." Abruptly realizing what he was saying, Duo bit off the rest of his gut reaction, leaving 'Home's wherever *you* are' unspoken. The implication remained but the time was not right for him to put it into words. Not yet.

Time to get the conversation headed back in its previous direction.

"So - got anyplace in particular in mind? Somewhere you've always kind of wanted to see?" Duo asked curiously. "I know there's a few on my 'gotta get there someday' list..."

The flicker of interest he'd spotted in Heero's eyes turned to quiet eagerness. "We can't exactly drive to some of them but..."

By the time they finished compiling their mutual list, they had enough destinations to keep them busy for months. A lot of the locales were common to both of their wishlists. Places like the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China. Duo was less than eager to visit the Great Pyramids of Egypt, though; deserts had very negative associations in his mind due to the events leading up to his time there with Quatre. He kept his hesitation to himself, however, hoping that maybe the fact that he'd be going with Heero would be enough to erase those negative connotations.

"How about we start with a few of the places closest to where we are now, then just work our way through the list?" Duo suggested. "Once you've healed up a little more, we could pick up some camping gear and hit the ones like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite..." Not only would camping out help stretch their money further but it would also let them enjoy some of the natural wonders on their list up close.

"Sounds like a plan," Heero agreed readily, giving Duo another of those quick, faint smiles. "Should you maybe check in with Howard first?"

"Yeah, that'd prob'ly be a good idea." Duo had been waiting for Heero to mention it first. He'd wanted to put it off until Heero was ready to resume at least that much contact with their friends and acquaintances. Now that Heero had brought it up - well, it was definitely time to check in.

***

"H'lo, you've reached the Sweepers Group, what can we do ya for?" No face appeared before the vidscreen, only the back of a bright floral print shirt.

"Hey Howie, thought we'd better touch base 'fore you started wondering if we'd dropped off the planet." Duo snickered as something crashed to the floor and Howard spun to face the vidphone.

"*Je*-sus, Kid, 'bout damn time you two checked in!" Howard scolded, crossing his arms and glaring at the screen. "Got a pile of mail here for Yuy that's threatenin' to take over the damn office."

Duo's grin faded and he sighed, shooting a sideways glance over to where Heero stood out of range of the vidphone. "Junkmail?" he asked hopefully.

"Not 'less the Vice Foreign Minister's taken on a new occupation stuffin' envelopes," was the dry answer.

Heero pantomimed crumpling something up and dunking it basketball-style. Duo snickered and told Howard, "Yep, that's junkmail alright. Least as far as Heero's concerned. Just toss it. Anything else?"

"Had a coupla worried-soundin' calls from young Winner. He seemed to think somethin' was up with Yuy. Told him I'd tell you two he called. He wanted to talk to you."

"Oh." Duo gave Heero a questioning look and received a silent headshake in return. No, he hadn't really expected Heero to be willing to talk to Quatre. The blond wanted to help but he'd never quite understood that in Heero's case, talking did *not* usually help. What Heero needed was just a supportive presence while he worked through things for himself.

"Uh, Howie, could you maybe just give him a call back and tell him we're okay?"

Howard gave a very put-upon sigh and mock-grumbled, "Oh, I suppose."

"Thank you, Howard," Heero offered, stepping up beside Duo.

"No problem," Howard said dismissively. His eyes narrowed and he looked Heero over sharply. Duo knew that he was noting the cast and still-bandaged wrist. They'd started leaving Heero's wrists and ankles open to the air when they were in their hotel room in the evening but they kept them bandaged the rest of the time. The wounds were healing but still very tender and vulnerable to further injury and to infection; it was best to keep them well-protected when in public.

"You two really okay?" Howard demanded.

"Yeah," Duo answered at the same time as Heero said quietly, "Yes."

Howard chuckled and nodded, the concern subsiding from his stance and gaze. "Guess so. Well, you know where to find me if ya need anything..."

"Yeah, we do. Thanks, Howie."

Howard waved in obvious dismissal and the vidscreen went blank. Duo just grinned. Howard knew better than to ask him when he'd check in again. He wasn't about to do so on a regular schedule; it was much simpler for Howard to be able to honestly say that he didn't know when they'd call if anyone asked. And Duo knew that Quatre, for one, *would* ask.

Quatre and the others would just have to wait. When the time was right, when Heero was ready, then he and Heero would get in touch with them again. Till then - well, he and Heero were doing just fine on their own.

***

"Ready?"

Duo took one last glance around the hotel room and nodded. "Yep, all packed and ready to go." He followed Heero out of the room, rested and prepared to hit the road again.

Just as Duo had hoped, the few days that they'd stayed at the hotel had made a big difference in Heero. He was moving much more fluidly now; his muscles healing and responding to the careful workout regimen that he had started. His wrists and ankles were still tender from the chafing caused by the restraints but they were no longer raw. The cast, of course, would linger for a few more weeks.

Duo was most satisfied with Heero's mental and emotional improvement though. Heero was still quieter and more reserved than he had been before the incident with Relena and Duo still had to soothe away the beginnings of nightmares at least a couple of times each night but Heero was thinking clearly and showing something damn close to actual enthusiasm for their travel plans.

'I'm not exactly complaining about waking up with him draped all over me every morning either...' Duo thought as they climbed into the car and prepared to head out. He still wasn't sure what that development meant; maybe it was just the comfort of a warm body that drew Heero. Or maybe it was simply Heero subconsciously anticipating the nightmares and seeking the assurance that he wasn't alone, that Duo, someone he trusted, was there with him. Or maybe it was something entirely different. Right now, Duo really didn't care. He just enjoyed the show of trust from his best friend and didn't worry about the why.

Maybe one of these mornings, Heero would even stop being embarrassed and trying to apologize.

***

'Ah-hah! There they are...' Duo grabbed a couple of boxes of waterproof matches and added them to the shopping cart of camping supplies. They'd spent a couple of weeks touring museums and staying at hotels but now that Heero's almost-healed wrist was the only real remaining physical injury to worry about, they were going to start camping out and heading for the natural wonders on their list of places to see.

Heading back up to the front of the sporting goods store, Duo wondered where Heero had wandered off to. The waterproof matches had been the last thing on their supply list...

It took a few minutes of searching but Duo finally located Heero on the far side of the store in the motorcycle and ATV dealership that shared the building. The "Ready to go?" that he'd been about to call died unspoken. He watched as Heero ran a covetous hand lightly over the sleek curves of a touring cycle. The yearning in Heero's eyes had Duo calculating just how much they could get for the staid, reliable car that had carried them so many miles already.

He really wasn't all that attached to the car and he doubted that Heero was either. It was just a practical, economical vehicle that they'd bought so that they weren't stuck relying on the city's distinctly-unreliable public transit system. They'd shared the car because the apartment only had one parking space assigned to it and they didn't really *need* more than one vehicle anyway.

'Besides, if we're going to go to all the places on our list, we'll have to fly or go by ship... Taking a motorcycle with us wouldn't be too hard if we trade a little repair work or manual labour for rides with Sweepers but taking a car would be just plain impossible...'

Stepping over to a rack of leather wear, Duo grabbed a dark brown jacket in Heero's size. "Hey, Heero - catch!" he called, tossing it in Heero's direction. Heero turned and caught it automatically.

"Duo?" Heero queried, looking in puzzlement from the jacket in his hands to Duo.

Duo snagged a black jacket for himself off of the rack before asking speculatively, "Think we can trim down our supplies enough to fit'em on that bike with the two of us?"

"Of course. These bikes are meant for..." Heero stopped in mid-sentence as the meaning of Duo's question sank in.

"Never much liked that car anyway... Too damn dull and practical..." Duo observed, struggling to keep a straight face. "It'll take a few days to sell it and get a bike bought and licensed... Good thing the Preventers made sure we were licensed to drive pretty much anything with wheels and fly anything with wings..." He couldn't keep the grin off his face any longer as Heero stared disbelievingly at him. "What?"

"You're serious?"

Shrugging, Duo said, "Sure, why not? It'll be fun. And if we work for our flights on Sweeper shuttles instead of flying commercial, we can take it with us when we start continent-hopping." He grinned at Heero and after a stunned moment got a rare, beautiful, genuine Heero-Yuy-smile in return.

"It *would* be fun..."

Duo slung his arm around Heero's shoulders, turning them both back to look at the bikes on display again. "*Will* be, Heero. It *will* be fun." Anything that got a real smile like *that* out of Heero was *definitely* going to happen. Duo would make damn sure of it. "So - you got a favourite picked out already?"

"Well..." As Heero moved from one motorcycle to another describing their pros and cons, Duo just followed along and kept grinning happily.

He sure as hell didn't like the events that had started this all off nor did he like the lingering effects of those events on Heero's health and general well-being but Duo was starting to think that getting away from Preventers, away from their pasts, had quite possibly been a very good thing. They still might end up deciding to go back to Preventers once they'd had a long enough break but seeing Heero's interest in things *other* than work was making him realize just how focussed on their jobs they had both been. They hadn't really taken the time to explore the planet that they now lived on or to develop hobbies or to do much of anything for fun other than playing a little one-on-one at the Preventers gym or watching a little television.

'I don't think I'll ever be *glad* that Relena did what she did - but it would be damn nice if something good ended up coming from it...' And as he and his best friend good-naturedly argued over the relative merits of the motorcycles that they were looking at, Duo was starting to think that maybe it already had...

***

Waking to a now-familiar weight resting against him, Duo smiled softly as he realized that he'd only woken once to soothe Heero's restless dreams during the night. 'Maybe finally gettin' rid of the cast helped...' he thought. It would make sense; despite the fact that it was relatively light the cast would still have been a solid, unwieldy reminder of what had happened.

"Hey, Heero - wake up, buddy..." Duo murmured quietly. "Time to go if we want to see the show..." He hated to give up this early morning time that he usually got to just lie and enjoy having Heero curled trustingly against him but they'd wanted to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. They should have just enough time to make it to a good viewing spot if they got moving right away.

Heero stirred sleepily in response to Duo's soft words. "Okay..." He shifted off of Duo's arm and reached over to unzip the shared sleeping bag. Duo grinned happily at a morning *without* the attempted apology for sleeping draped over him but did *not* mention the omission.

They dressed in companionable silence, donning an extra layer beneath their jackets before venturing out into the distinctly chill air. They quickly broke camp and loaded their gear before climbing onto the motorcycle for the short trip to the canyon rim. Duo revved the bike carefully, listening for any problems, while Heero climbed on behind him. Now that Heero had quit wearing the cast, it would only be a short time before they'd start trading off on the driving. And as much as Duo had been enjoying having Heero's arms wrapped around his waist and Heero's solid warmth pressed against his back, he was looking forward to switching places part of the time. It got damn cold in front sometimes. And he was anticipating getting a chance to really look around and enjoy the scenery instead of having to concentrate on the road all of the time. Not to mention having a chance to ride with his arms around Heero and his cheek against Heero's shoulder.

Arriving at the canyon rim with time to spare, they managed to get a good spot to watch the sunrise despite the fact that there were already many others there for the same reason. Duo found himself stealing surreptitious sidelong glances at Heero even more than he was watching the sunrise. The rapt wonder on his best friend's face was a more beautiful and interesting sight than the spectacular show being put on by the rising sun. The privilege of seeing such an open expression on Heero's face was something that Duo would always cherish.

As the pinks and oranges slowly faded from the sky, Heero sighed appreciatively. Duo bumped shoulders with him lightly. "Nature sure puts on one hell of a show..." he murmured.

Heero nodded and agreed, "Yes." They stood there a little while longer, shoulder-to-shoulder, just enjoying the view and each other's company. Finally, Heero drew a deep breath and commented, "Guess we'd better get moving if we want to take the daytrip we booked."

"Yeah, guess so..." Duo acknowledged reluctantly. Fun as the mule ride down into the canyon had sounded when they'd booked it, he hated bringing an end to this quiet moment together. 'There'll be more,' he reminded himself silently as they turned to head off to the ride's departure site. 'Lots more...'

They had many more places to visit and lots more time to spend together along the way.

***

"Do I have control issues?"

Duo blinked, certain that he must have misheard Heero. He set aside the Niagara Falls guidebook that he'd been studying by firelight and turned his full attention towards his friend. "Sorry, Heero, I didn't quite catch that. What did you say?"

Heero met his gaze for a moment before swallowing uncomfortably, dropping his eyes to the fire, and repeating, "Do I have control issues?"

'O-kaay... Guess he's finally ready to talk about some of that crap...' Duo considered and discarded several possible responses. He wasn't about to lie to Heero and he couldn't honestly answer that particular question in the negative...

"Yeah," Duo admitted. Heero winced but Duo kept talking, adding nonchalantly, "And I'm a slob with packrat tendencies. So what?

"Nobody's perfect, Heero. We're all products of our pasts.

"In your case, you need things organized and you need to be in control of yourself and your surroundings as much as possible. Part of that comes from your training, sure. But it's entirely possible that some of it's just part of your own personality.

"In my case, I hate to throw anything out because even so-called 'junk' is always good for *something* and I know what it's like to have to rely on those odds and ends just to survive. So if I'm left to my own devices, I accumulate all kinds of 'stuff' and don't have anywhere to put it all and the mess just doesn't really bother me - hey, I've seen a hell of a lot worse - so I just end up being a slob."

"But..." Heero started to interrupt.

Duo held up his hand and said, "I know, I know. But I didn't leave a huge mess in our apartment and I keep things mostly picked up while we're on the road, right?"

Heero nodded, his brow wrinkled in confusion.

"I *did* say 'if I'm left to my own devices', remember? And I haven't been. I've been with you and I know that *you* like things neat and organized. So I try not to let things get too messy. But look around, Heero. Is this the way the campsite would look if you were on your own?"

Obediently gazing around the campsite, Heero's confused look faded away. "No," he said. "I would have packed all the cooking utensils back up once they were clean... Kept out just a change of clothing for morning and loaded the rest back up tonight..."

"Right. We've lived and worked together long enough that we've learned how to compromise."

"But... having control issues is bad... Isn't it?"

Duo shrugged. "A shrink might say so. Doesn't bother me, though. It's just part of who you are.

"I don't think you're unreasonable about it, Heero. You can and do compromise on things. And it's not like you try to control everybody else; you just want to have the final say over anything that you're personally involved in or that's important to you in some way."

Pausing for a few moments to let Heero think about what he'd already said, Duo watched as Heero unconsciously rubbed the fading scars on his wrists. Duo rose and moved to Heero's side. He sank to his knees and traced his own fingers gently over the marks, feeling the tension in Heero's muscles. Softly, carefully, Duo offered, "I wouldn't have reacted any better to bein' drugged, stripped, and chained up, Heero. Only difference is I'd have dislocated joints and broken bones on purpose to squeeze my hands through the cuffs, not broken'em by accident tryin' to bust the chain."

Startled blue eyes met his own. "Really?"

Duo nodded solemnly. "Yeah. Really." He stayed where he was, gently massaging Heero's wrists and hands until the tension gradually drained from the muscles and tendons.

"Thank you..." Heero said softly as Duo finally drew away. Duo knew that he was referring to more than just the wrist massage.

"Anytime, buddy. Anytime..." he responded with a soft smile.

***

"Thanks, Ike!" Duo shouted cheerfully, turning to give the pilot a final wave before following Heero - who was pushing their heavily-laden motorcycle - out of the hangar. They'd helped load, unload, and reload the Sweeper ship, standing in for a crew member who had taken a few days off for his daughter's birthday, in exchange for transportation for themselves and the bike.

Duo had half expected Heero to want to buy a second motorcycle once his wrist was fully functional again but the subject had never been raised. Despite the fact that sharing a bike meant that they had to pack very carefully and do laundry pretty often, Duo certainly wasn't about to make the suggestion himself. He enjoyed riding together too much for that. And travelling light wasn't anything new for either of them anyway.

Swinging onto the bike behind Heero, Duo double-checked that his braid was firmly tucked down inside his jacket before fastening the strap on his helmet and sliding his arms around Heero. Heero's hand settled over his and squeezed lightly. "Ready?" Heero asked.

"Ready!" Duo answered happily. He pressed his face against Heero's back, inhaling the scent of body-warmed leather and gasoline and oil and a faint hint of the citrusy shampoo that they were both using, and then the motorcycle was in motion, weaving its way through the busy streets of London.

***

"Ouch," Duo muttered as he straightened from driving in the last tent peg.

"I told you not to move those crates on your own," Heero observed.

"Yeah, yeah, I know..." Duo grumbled, rubbing his aching back. He *had* known better but he'd been in a hurry to get the ship unloaded so that they could leave early enough to make it to Warwick today and visit the castle tomorrow, just in time for the last day of the jousting tournament. Well, they'd made it to Warwick but if he stiffened up half as much as he suspected he was going to, he wasn't going to enjoy tomorrow very much. 'Assuming I can even move in the morning... Good thing we ate a hot meal on the way through the last town; I have absolutely *no* interest in doing anything other than lying down right now...'

Ducking into the tent, Duo stifled a groan. He'd really overdone it, especially considering that he'd then spent the rest of the day sitting on the back of a motorcycle slowly stiffening up. He started to change into his sleep clothes - workout pants and a T-shirt - only to have the shirt whisked away before he could put it on.

"Lie down," Heero said firmly. "My turn to make *you* feel better." Spotting the bottle of massage oil in Heero's hands, Duo obediently stretched out on the towel-covered sleeping bag. It felt a little bit weird being on the receiving end of the massage for a change and it fucking *hurt* when Heero hit the worst knots in his back. But as Heero continued to massage and his muscles started to relax, it felt so damn good...

Heero had to wake Duo up in order to get him off the towels and into the sleeping bag. Duo gave him a sleepy smile. "Thanks, Heero," he murmured.

Smiling faintly in return, Heero answered, "Anytime, Duo. Anytime."

***

Waking to the sound of sleet hitting the window, Duo was very thankful that they'd decided *not* to camp out last night. It would have been pretty damn miserable. Somehow, he didn't think that they'd be heading out to see Stonehenge today. It was far more likely that they'd just stay put at the bed and breakfast until the weather cleared. Visiting the ancient site in the midst of sleet and freezing rain wouldn't be much fun and riding the motorcycle in weather like this would be downright stupid.

Heero stirred against him. "Guess we don't need to rush to get up..." he murmured quietly.

"Nope," Duo agreed. "Sounds pretty awful out there. Think maybe it's time to head for a warmer climate..." They'd made it partway through their list of sites in the UK that they wanted to visit but they were getting past fall and into winter now and the weather was becoming downright miserable for camping out and touring by motorcycle.

"We can always come back some other time," Heero agreed. Duo was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Heero made no offer to shift away from him. It *was* chill in the room and they *were* nice and cozy cuddled together under the covers like this... But Heero's apparent ease with the situation still surprised him and he intended to enjoy every minute of it.

For a while, they just listened to the wind and the sleet striking the window. Duo was close to dozing back off to sleep when Heero offered softly, "I feel safe again. Have for a while now...

"If you want to go back..."

"Do *you* want to?" Duo asked in an equally soft voice. He honestly didn't care what they did. If Heero was happy, or at least content, then he was.

The head resting on his shoulder started to nod, stopped, then shook slightly in negation. "No," Heero admitted. "I..."

Duo waited for a few moments, then prompted cautiously, "Heero, if you want to talk about it, go ahead. If not, hey, that's okay too."

Heero sighed softly. "Most of it's still a confused jumble... Disjointed sounds, images... I don't really know how much of what I remember is real and how much was from the drugs..."

He was silent again for several long minutes and Duo wondered whether maybe that was as much as Heero intended to say. He really hadn't been certain whether Heero would ever be ready to talk about it at all but he was certainly prepared to listen if Heero did want to talk.

When Heero began to speak again, his voice was flat and controlled. "I remember escorting Relena to the party. She flirted like usual and I just ignored it like I always did. Even if I'd been interested in her that way, it would have been - inappropriate - to respond; I was on duty." His voice faltered and sounded very slightly bewildered as he said, "I could never seem to make her understand that..."

"I know," Duo responded simply. Une had personally lectured Relena on proper security protocol on at least one occasion that he knew of. He'd requested her interference himself after watching Heero spend an entire masquerade ball politely but firmly refusing Relena's attempts to drag him away from his assigned security post in order to dance with her. He didn't think that Une's lecture had accomplished a whole hell of a lot. True, Relena had - mostly - stopped trying to distract Heero when he was on general security detail but she seemed to think that when he was assigned to her personally, his duties had more to do with being her date than being her bodyguard.

Heero's voice was virtually expressionless again as he continued, "I remember the limousine ride back to her estate. It had been a long day and I was tired. I just wanted to see her safely inside and go home but she kept pestering me to come in for a nightcap. I finally agreed just to shut her up. I remember Pargan pulling through the front gates but things start to get blurry after that."

"Considering what she dosed you with, you're doin' pretty well to remember that much of the evening," Duo commented. He knew that Heero wouldn't like the hole in his memory anymore than the rest of what had happened.

"I suppose. I just..." Heero paused, then blurted out, "I should have realized something was wrong. There must have been something that she said or did; some warning sign that I missed..."

"You trusted her," Duo said. "Heero, there was no reason for you to even be *looking* for a warning sign. Not from her. You trusted her and she abused that trust. Her mistake, not yours. Not your fault, buddy. You didn't do anything wrong." Very softly, he whispered, "You didn't fail."

Heero's head moved against Duo's shoulder in a single, sharp negation of his statement. Duo bit his tongue and forced himself to stay silent. Arguing the point any further right now would be a mistake. He would only end up making Heero even more stubborn on the issue. For the moment, he'd planted the idea that the whole thing was Relena's fault, not, by some twisted logic, Heero's own fault for not having realized that Relena was up to something. 'Let it go. He'll worry away at the idea for a while and he'll eventually come around. Just have to let him reach his own conclusions in his own time.'

"I really don't remember a lot more," Heero said finally. "Just - impressions. Feelings. Being blind. Vulnerable. Trapped.

"Struggling. Knowing that I was hurting myself but being desperate to break free...

"I don't know how long it took for me to get loose. I don't remember actually *getting* loose. Or getting out of the mansion or finding the shed...

"I remember hearing a voice calling me, coaxing me to come out of the building. But I couldn't think clearly enough to figure out what to do... That was you, wasn't it?"

Duo nodded, "Yeah, I tried to coax you first. When that didn't work, I changed tactics..."

Heero's arm shifted from just lying folded against Duo's side to wrap over his chest in an awkward hug. "*That* I understood. The tone, the military designation... I still couldn't think clearly and I didn't really know what the hell was going on but it was something familiar, something that made sense..."

"I figured it was most likely to get through to you..." Duo murmured. The arm wrapped around him tightened and Heero nodded silently.

There was another long pause before Heero finally said, "It felt so good to get the restraints off... And your coat was so warm and it smelled like you - like your shampoo and aftershave... I still didn't understand what had happened but you seemed to know what to do..." His voice trailed off and he fell silent again for a few minutes.

"You knew I'd pick Sloan, didn't you?"

The question, softly though it was voiced, rang loudly in the quiet of the room. "Yeah," Duo admitted. "I knew you would."

"But you still gave me a choice."

"You needed one." The simple statement summed things up quite neatly. Heero had had control taken away from him, completely and forcibly. Duo had handed it back. He hadn't been able to offer Heero the choice of not going to the doctor at all; his injuries had been too serious to leave them untreated. But Duo *had* been able to give him a choice as to *which* doctor. The fact that he knew which one Heero would pick didn't mean that he shouldn't give Heero the chance to make that decision.

Heero didn't directly respond to Duo's statement. He simply stayed curled against Duo's side, arm wrapped around him, making no motion whatsoever towards getting up. Duo just closed his eyes and relaxed, enjoying the contact. He was already beginning to slip back into sleep by the time a very, very soft "Thank you" accompanied by a careful tightening of the arm around him finally took place.

"Anytime, Heero... Anytime..." Duo murmured back.

***

Duo scrawled his signature on the postcard of the Parthenon then tossed the thin stack into Heero's lap. "I didn't mention Quat's party; wasn't sure whether you'd made up your mind yet or not..." he remarked before adding another small branch to the campfire.

Heero grimaced faintly as he scribbled a few words on one of the postcards. "I haven't," he admitted. "If it was just going to be the five of us..."

"Yeah," Duo sighed. He knew exactly what Heero meant. Quatre had offered to pay for their trip to attend his New Year's party then fly them back to wherever they wanted to go next. But neither of them was entirely sure that it was a good idea to go.

Heero was ready to resume contact with the other pilots again - they'd been in touch through mail and e-mail for a while now - but Duo knew that he wasn't so sure about facing the questions that some of the other party attendees - like Une - were likely to ask. Neither of them was any too sure that they wanted to return to Preventers at all, let alone do so back in the same city, and Une would doubtless be wanting to know just that.

'And then there's damn good odds that we'd have to face Relena herself. Quat doesn't know exactly what happened so there's no real reason for him not to have invited her. Far as he knows, Relena just got a little too fresh one time too many and, coming on top of the stress of a couple of frustrating months of nothing but security detail, Heero decided that he needed a break. Heero doesn't want to tell anyone the whole story and I don't blame him. It's too damn personal.'

"I'm telling him that we have other plans," Heero said abruptly, frowning slightly as he signed the last postcard.

Duo snickered, "Oh we do, do we? Might I inquire what they are?"

"To be far, far away from Une and everyone else who might ask questions that we don't have answers to just yet," Heero replied with a perfectly straight face. He scowled a bit as he added darkly, "And even further away from Relena."

Blinking in surprise, Duo inquired cautiously, "Dare I hope that you've finally admitted the whole fucking mess was her fault, not yours?"

"It still seems as if I should have noticed *something* was wrong..." Heero said slowly as he leaned over and tucked the postcards into the backpack, ready to mail in the morning. "I trusted her and she betrayed that trust... So trusting her in the first place was obviously a mistake..."

"But?" Duo prompted.

"But you're right." Heero sighed and drew his knees up to his chest. Propping his folded arms on them, he stared into the fire reflectively as he continued, "She chose to abuse my trust on that particular occasion; there was no real reason for me to be suspicious of her before that. And probably one of the reasons that I didn't realize that she was a threat was that she wasn't one, not exactly. I mean, she didn't really *intend* to hurt me. She's guilty of bad judgement and she had no right to assume that she knew what I 'needed' to 'fix' me - but she didn't intend to cause harm.

"But I'd still rather not ever have to *see* her again..." he finished in a disgruntled mutter.

"There's a whole lot of shit I could say about how you need to face her in order to have closure and all that other crap but I don't entirely buy it myself," Duo said with a shrug. "It's over, it's done with, why dig it all up again?"

He might have felt differently if Heero was still having nightmares. But it had been weeks since the last time he'd been woken by the first signs of Heero having one and it had only taken a few softly murmured words to soothe Heero back into restful sleep even then. Though he was still waking up in the morning with Heero wrapped around him and he wasn't about to mention that their shared sleeping arrangements probably weren't necessary any longer. Heero was as well aware of that fact as he was and if Heero still wanted to sleep with him, he sure wasn't objecting. He enjoyed the intimacy despite the fact that they were *just* sleeping. It was a little bit bittersweet and sooner or later he would almost inevitably end up revealing the fact that he *would* like it to be more - but he could get by for one hell of a long time just enjoying what he *did* have.

Enjoying simply being with Heero - being his best friend and travelling companion, listening on those still-rare occasions that he truly *needed* to talk, sharing memories of the past and hopes for the future, trading massages after a long day, seeing Heero happy and content, being part of his life in so very many ways... Duo might not have everything he wanted but it was pretty damn close. Watching the firelight flicker across Heero's peaceful face, Duo thought contentedly, 'It's enough...'

***

Looking across the sands separating the city from the hulking bulk of the ancient pyramids, Duo suppressed a shiver. It wasn't the pyramids themselves that bothered him. It was the desert surrounding them that had such negative connotations for him. Deserts would forever be linked in his mind to those terrible days after Heero self-destructed Wing.

He hadn't been in love with Heero at the time - or at least, he didn't *think* he had - but he *had* loved him as a friend, the best friend he'd had since Solo. He'd been mourning his best friend and furious at pretty much everyone - Une and Oz for creating the situation, J for issuing the order he had, Heero for obeying the order in that particular way. Quatre deserved a medal for putting up with his dark moods and darker anger during that time they'd spent hiding out in the desert with the Maguanacs.

Remembering all of that now, knowing just how much he loved and was in love with Heero, remembering how much it had hurt losing him then and imagining how much worse it would hurt now... Well, that was one trip down memory lane that he'd really rather not have taken. Duo wrapped his arms around himself and shivered again despite the heat of the afternoon sun.

"Duo?" A cool hand pressed against his cheek. "What's wrong? You can't possibly be cold... Too much sun? Heatstroke?"

The definite concern in Heero's voice dragged a reluctant smile to Duo's lips. "Maybe," he prevaricated. He didn't want to lie to Heero but he wasn't about to explain what was really wrong right here and now in such a public place.

"We'd better go back to our room; we can explore the city another time," Heero said decisively, sliding a supportive arm around Duo and steering him through the crowded streets.

"Okay," Duo agreed quietly, letting Heero guide his steps and soaking in the feeling of Heero, alive and well, pressed against his side. 'Don't be such an idiot, Maxwell,' he scolded himself silently. 'He's here with you. He didn't die. Stop thinking about "what-ifs"...'

Back at their room, it didn't take long for Heero to have him seated on the wide windowsill where the slight breeze made the heat more bearable. One of their chipped mugs was pressed into his hand and Duo wrinkled his nose at the unmistakable odour of Gatorade. 'Yuck...' "Heero, I'm okay. Really," he protested.

"If you were 'okay', you wouldn't be shivering in the heat of the afternoon," Heero said drily, rummaging through their packs. "Now that we're out of the sun, you should put something lighter-weight on, lower your body temperature gradually. Don't you still have a clean pair of shorts and a T-shirt?"

Tempting though it was to just let Heero fuss over him, Duo couldn't let the misconception go uncorrected. "It's not the heat, Heero. It's just..."

Heero stopped digging through the baggage and prompted, "Just what?"

"Quatre and I hid out in the desert after you..." Duo made a vague gesture with his hands, nearly spilling the Gatorade. "Being here just - reminded me. That's all. Made me think how much more it would hurt to lose you now..." He hunched his shoulders a bit in an attempt to disguise the involuntary shudder that accompanied his words and took a hasty sip of the revolting sports drink to hide his expression. "Ugh, this stuff is *gross*..."

"Duo... Look at me..."

Knowing that he'd said more than he'd intended to, Duo was reluctant to respond to that quietly insistent demand. His belated attempt to conceal his feelings was useless. He knew that the moment that he raised his eyes and met Heero's intent gaze. And in that same moment he knew that it didn't matter that his heart was on display. Not when Heero was suddenly at his side and Heero's mouth was capturing his with such tender yearning.

Duo retained just enough rational thought to set down the mug he was holding. A moment later, he was distantly aware of a thump and splash as Heero lifted him from the windowsill but he couldn't bring himself to care about the mess they'd undoubtedly just made. He just clung to Heero's shoulders and returned Heero's kiss with all the love and desire that he'd been keeping in careful check until now.

Heero's face was full of wonder as he lowered them both to the bed to lie facing each other. "You love me..." he breathed softly.

It was a statement, not a question, and Heero didn't give Duo a chance to respond anyway. He captured Duo's lips in another kiss instead. Duo parted his lips eagerly, encouraging Heero to deepen the kiss. He had no reservations about Heero's own feelings or intentions; Heero's actions told him everything he needed to know. He would never have kissed Duo if he didn't return his feelings; Duo knew that Heero cared for him too deeply as a friend to hurt him like that.

Time blurred; became unimportant. The kisses and caresses that they were exchanging were all that mattered; lips and fingers conveyed wordless promises to love and cherish.

There was no awkwardness in their exploration of each other's bodies. The intimacy of their sleeping arrangements over the past months and of the massages that they'd both become so accustomed to eliminated all chance of that, even as clothing was peeled away and hands ventured into previously-unknown territory. There was no rush, no sense of urgency. Not at first or for however long that first, tender investigation lasted. It could have been minutes or hours, Duo didn't know and he didn't care.

But eventually, yearning blossomed into hunger. Bodies slick with sweat and precum slid together, slowly at first, then faster, pressure building, urgency increasing, until finally, cries of release smothered in each other's mouths, they came.

"We're gonna regret it if we don't get cleaned up," Duo mumbled after a while. He couldn't really bring himself to care enough to actually *move* though. Despite the fact that he was very hot lying tangled up with Heero and they were going to end up being quite literally stuck together if they didn't wipe up at least the worst of the mess.

Heero however *did* stir and roll over, managing to snag the strap of a backpack without actually getting up. In a few moments, he'd produced one of the disposable wipes that they'd learned were indispensable for camping and was tenderly cleaning Duo up. Duo gave him what he suspected was a distinctly sappy smile. "Thanks," he murmured as Heero finished the task and pitched the wipe in the general direction of the trash can.

After grabbing another wipe, Heero deadpanned, "Anytime," then smirked as Duo choked on a laugh.

Snatching the wipe away from Heero, Duo kissed the smirk off of his face before taking his own turn at cleanup duty. "Thank god for these things," he observed. "Next place we stay, we get a room with a private bath, not one way the hell down the hall and shared with the whole damn floor." He tossed the soiled cloth towards the trash can and ignored the fact that it ended up joining the other one about two inches short of its goal.

Heero chuckled slightly. "Agreed."

Ignoring the oppressive heat, Duo willingly let Heero pull him back into his arms. "I know you already know this but I need to say it anyway... I love you..." Duo murmured softly.

Heero's eyes darkened with emotion and his arms tightened around Duo. Duo could see the struggle taking place; emotions were never an easy thing for Heero to talk about. It wasn't exactly a control-thing; it was just a Heero-thing. A product of Heero's own very private personality in combination with all the training he'd been subjected to and all the things he'd experienced.

Duo laid a finger against Heero's lips. "Shh... When you're ready, Heero. We wouldn't be lying here like this if you didn't love me. I know that. If and when the time's right, if and when you're ready, I will be delighted to hear those words. But you don't have to say them for me to know that they're true. You love me; I love you." He removed his finger and replaced it with his mouth, kissing Heero tenderly and reassuringly. "Okay?" he breathed softly when the kiss ended.

The deep, loving kiss he received in response was all the answer that Duo needed.

***

"Japan next?" Duo asked, settling back on his heels after adding some wood to the fire.

"It's too early in the year to climb Fuji," Heero objected. "Plum festivals and cherry blossom festivals, those we could see right now. But the climbing trails on Fuji won't officially open for another couple of months at the very least." He stood and moved slightly away from the fire.

"Okay, so maybe we should pick up Australia next instead?" Duo suggested, watching Heero thoughtfully. They still had plenty of places left on their "gotta get there someday" list but they both seemed to be running out of enthusiasm for being tourists. A chance at a ride with one of Duo's Sweeper acquaintances had taken them straight from Egypt to New Zealand without either of them being the least bit disappointed at skipping all the other African locales for the time being. Now they'd been in New Zealand for a full month and had visited all of the sites in the country that were on their list. Going by their previous pattern, it was time to move on. But Duo hada feeling that their previous pattern was about to be broken. He just had to get Heero to come right out and say what he wanted.

Heero shrugged slightly and said, "I guess so."

Moving to stand behind Heero, Duo slid his arms around Heero's waist and leaned his forehead against Heero's cheek. "You don't sound very eager, Heero. C'mon, buddy, what do you *really* want to do?" Duo coaxed gently.

For a few minutes, the only answer he got was a sigh as Heero leaned back against him. Duo waited patiently, his eyes following Heero's gaze out over the park that they'd been camping out in for the past week.

"I don't want to leave..." Heero finally admitted softly. "It's beautiful here. And I'm tired of travelling. Of living in tents and rented rooms. I want a place that's *ours*. Somewhere that we can make love whenever we want, wherever we want, without worrying about the lack of privacy.

"And I'm tired of just drifting aimlessly. I needed this break from everything. But now... now, I want to feel... *useful* again. To do something that makes a difference. Not just - security detail for political functions," he grimaced.

"Okay," Duo said simply.

Heero pulled away slightly and turned to face Duo. "Just 'okay'? No questions about what we're going to do or why here or anything else? You don't want to go back home?"

"Yep, nope, and nope." Duo chuckled quietly at the disbelieving look Heero gave him. "Hey, we'll figure it out. There's always jobs for experienced pilots. Or we could join the local law enforcement." He shrugged, genuinely unconcerned about the whole thing. "Hell, we could go back to school and become firefighters or paramedics or - well, whatever. Finding a job's a minor detail. And we should have enough funds left in our accounts to cover a down payment on a house and still have enough to live on while we figure the rest out. If we don't..." he shrugged again, "...no big deal. We both pick things up fast and neither one of us is afraid of a little manual labour; we just get whatever jobs we can to pay the bills while we figure out what we *really* want to do.

"As for why here - why not? You like it here, I like it here, we're both tired of travelling. That's more than enough reason for me.

"And as for going home..." Shifting his arms up around Heero's neck, Duo brought their lips together in a lingering, tender kiss. Breaking it off momentarily, he murmured, "I told you before - home's a feeling, not a place. I love you. Home's wherever *you* are, Heero."

Heero's arms tightened around him convulsively. "You loved me all that time and never said a damn thing... I still don't understand how you kept it a secret..."

Duo shook his head and smiled softly. "I didn't. Not really.

"I didn't come right out and *say* that I loved you - that I was *in* love with you - the minute that I realized it - but I didn't really try to hide it either. And you already knew that I loved you as a friend or you wouldn't have let me help you. Wouldn't have trusted me so much." He stroked Heero's cheek tenderly.

"I didn't say anything about being in love with you because the time wasn't right. You had enough crap to deal with; you didn't need me springing another surprise on you. You trusted me to just be there for you; that was enough for me then. And when the time *was* right, you figured it out for yourself." 'The clues were there before that; Heero just wasn't ready to see them. Once he *was* ready - he knew,' Duo acknowledged silently. His reaction to the memories stirred up by their trip to the desert had been the catalyst for Heero's realization but - once Heero was ready to put things together - it could just as easily have been something else.

"You're my home too," Heero whispered urgently. "You know that, don't you? That I love you..."

Duo *did* know, even without Heero saying it. And he had known that, when the time was right, Heero would find the words. Naturally, easily, without forcing them. He kissed Heero deeply, letting the kiss express all of his love and faith and trust and thankfulness.

"I know," Duo murmured long minutes later when they were finally forced to come up for air. "And I love you. Wherever you go, that's where my home is. Where I'll be." A half-forgotten Bible verse came to mind as he spoke and he recited softly, "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge..." A smile quirked the corner of his lips and he added, "Not exactly the usage that Father had in mind when he made us memorize that particular bit of scripture, I'm sure, but it fits..."

Heero made a strangled sound and buried his face against Duo's neck, clutching him tightly. Duo just hugged him back and waited. When Heero finally lifted his head, he gave Duo one of those still-rare - though not as rare as previously - beautiful, genuine Heero-Yuy-smiles. "Thank you," he said simply.

Hearing all the many things those simple words were meant to convey, Duo smiled back and replied just as simply, "Anytime, love. Anytime..."

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