8-1-2003

Title: Chances
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Started: April 21, 2003
Story Completed: June 8, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Angst, Sap, Romance
Pairing: 1x2
Rated: NC-17
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing, Angst, Lemon
Archives: 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 SweetlySour.Net since it was an entry (2nd place in Traditional Pairings) in the 2003 Summer Jubilee contest. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves.

Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Post-series & post-EW.

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

Author's Notes: Take a good look at the warnings. See what *isn't* there? Good. This fic is inspired by (and only inspired by, it's not a fusion) a pair of older Harlequin Romance novels, _Cap Flamingo_ and _The Honey is Bitter_ both by Violet Winspear. Any bad medical info can be blamed on the source of the inspiration since that's where a lot of it came from. Since the novels are so badly dated, I did do some research to take modern medical improvements into consideration but there's probably still tons of inaccuracies. Just suspend disbelief like you would at the movies. *sheepish grin* Feedback is appreciated.

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"Hey Heero, you okay?" Duo demanded anxiously. His partner had suddenly become very pale and stopped speaking right in the middle of commenting on the mission report they were currently completing.

"Just a headache," Heero managed to get out past the sudden agonizing pain. It was far from the first he'd had over the past few years since the war ended. But they were getting more frequent and more agonizing lately. Much as he hated to do it, he was going to have to see Sally about them.

Duo's voice dropped very soft as he said, "Again? Ro, you're gonna have to find out what's causing these. Everybody gets headaches sometimes but not like these. Let me take you down to Sal's office, please?"

Heero gave in to his partner's worried insistence. "Okay," he conceded. At the very least, maybe Sally could prescribe something strong enough to make a dent in the pain; between his drug resistance from training and the severity of the pain, over-the-counter analgesics couldn't even touch these headaches. He closed his eyes to shut out the painfully blinding light and let Duo lead him out of their office and through the building to Sally's office in the medical wing.

Despite Duo's offer to stay with him, Heero insisted that Duo return to their office and finish the report that they'd been working on. He knew that Duo thought it was because of his single-minded dedication to duty but it wasn't really. He had some awful suspicions about these headaches and didn't want anyone else to know if he was correct.

Lightly tracing the faint scar that creased his eyebrow then ran across his temple and back into his hair, he remembered Trowa's comment that he had removed numerous metal fragments, some of which were in quite deep, but could not be sure that he had gotten all of them. Ideally, Heero would have preferred not to even have Sally know if his suspicions were correct but he couldn't bring himself to trust an unknown doctor even far enough to allow an initial examination and a referral. And her professional oaths would prevent her from telling any of the others if he insisted on secrecy. Oh, she would almost certainly have to tell Une; the headaches were becoming bad enough that they interfered with his performance as a Preventer after all. But Une was a professional too and would also keep her silence.

"Heero?"

Even with his eyes shut, Heero winced as Sally flicked the lights in the examining room on. His eyelids alone weren't enough to keep the agonizing brightness out. Fighting off the dizziness and nausea, he prepared to explain the problem. A problem that he was unfortunately afraid he already knew the cause of. Sally - and the specialist she would undoubtedly refer him to - would only confirm his own diagnosis.

***

"I can schedule you in for surgery immediately," the neurosurgeon said gravely.

"No," Heero interrupted firmly. A fifty percent chance that he would end up either partially or completely paralysed? No, he would not live like that. He would rather put up with the pain for whatever time he had left and die with his physical capabilities intact than take that chance. If that meant that he had limited time left to live, so be it. He'd never expected to survive the war anyway.

"Mr. Yuy, you've been living on borrowed time ever since this happened. The headaches will continue to worsen and eventually you *will* die. The surgery does have its risks but surely..."

"No," Heero repeated stubbornly. He would *not* take those risks. Better dead than tied to a bed or wheelchair for the rest of his life.

"You realize of course that you are not fit for duty," the specialist warned. "I *will* have to report this to your referring physician and your commanding officer."

Heero told him calmly, "I will turn in my resignation immediately. Simply tell them that I am unfit for duty without relating any details. They do not need to know those. Surely there is no point in pursuing this any further if I am no longer in the employ of the Preventers."

The doctor sighed heavily. "Very well," he conceded reluctantly. "I will confine my report to Dr. Po to that statement. However I wish that you would reconsider. You are a young man in excellent health; were you to go through with the surgery you should live a great many more years."

"With a fifty percent chance of being paralysed for that long life," Heero retorted grimly. "No thank you."

"Very well then. The most I can do for you is give you a prescription for very powerful painkillers. Based on your medical history from Dr. Po, there are several which may be reasonably effective for you. I will give you a prescription for each so that you can try them and determine which will work."

"Make the number of renewals high," Heero requested. "I will be going - away - and do not intend to return."

He did not want the others to know about this. Better that they think he was unable to handle the stress of working for the Preventers and had chosen to vanish as he had right after the war. Duo would be angry but that would be better than him knowing the truth. He had lost enough people in his life; he did not need to watch his best friend suffer and die. And he would undoubtedly try to talk Heero into going through with the surgery. Heero did not want to have that conversation with him. He found it difficult to deny Duo anything; this was one thing that he simply could not allow himself to give in on.

***

"Damn you, Yuy!" Duo swore viciously. He kicked the corner of the desk that was *formerly* Heero's hard enough to actually move the heavy thing a few inches. "I do not fucking *believe* that you pulled this kind of shit again!" He kicked the desk again for good measure, ignoring the sharp pain in his foot.

Collapsing into his own chair, Duo glared across the office at the empty desk and chair belonging to his partner. Whoever that ended up *being* now that Heero had pulled another disappearing act. 'Dammit, I thought I'd finally got through to him! I thought he understood that we were all his friends and would stand by him and help him through anything. He didn't have to quit and vanish; he could have just taken a leave of absence and let us help him through whatever the hell his problem was...'

Duo folded his arms on his desk and dropped his head onto them. Just when he'd thought that he was making a little progress with Heero in something *other* than friendship too... 'He seemed to have finally figured out that he was the only one I flirted with... And hell, he was even flirting back sometimes lately...' Duo thought mournfully. Well, he wasn't going to let Heero get away with it this time. The couple of times after the war that he had needed to find Heero, he had, despite the fact that Heero was trying to stay vanished. This time, he *would* find him and drag him back whether he wanted to come or not, Duo decided determinedly.

The real question was exactly why Heero had taken off like that though. Duo's eyes narrowed and he lifted his head from his arms as he recalled the way that Sally had avoided meeting his eyes when Une informed him that his partner had resigned for "personal reasons". It had been a few weeks since he'd taken Heero down to Sally's office for one of those damned headaches. And Heero had suffered through at least several more of them since then. 'She won't tell me anything if I ask; she can't because of professional ethics. So I'll just have to find out some other way...' Hmm, his foot was still throbbing after kicking the desk like that. Maybe he'd actually broken a couple of toes... 'Guess a trip down to Sally's office is in order,' he decided with a smirk.

One set of x-rays, one prescription for painkillers, one rifled filing cabinet, and one thundering scold from Sally about keeping a better grip on his temper later, Duo was back in his office and staring unhappily at the information he'd hastily scribbled down while Sally was off filling his prescription. 'Declared unfit for duty by some specialist? I don't like the sound of that...' He liked it even less when he looked up the specialist's name in the Preventers' database of licensed medical practitioners and discovered that he was a prestigious neurosurgeon.

'Dammit Heero, what the hell is going on?!' There was no way in hell that the neurosurgeon would openly *tell* him anything about Heero's case. Not without him making a little unauthorized use of his status as a Preventer agent in order to bypass professional ethics. And if Heero didn't want anyone knowing about whatever was wrong, Duo wasn't about to blow that by going in there and misusing his Preventer's badge to get information. That would almost inevitably lead to alerting a whole shitload of other people that there was something more than Heero's own unpredictable personality quirks going on here.

'Time for a little hacking,' he decided. 'Followed by a little breaking and entering if necessary...' Duo didn't care how many laws he had to bend or break to get to the bottom of this. He had an awful sinking feeling that there was something truly ominous about the whole thing.

***

Heero looked around the small cottage with faint satisfaction. He had changed identities several times and routed money through half a dozen different accounts. Had taken several trains and buses along the route (not daring to actually drive himself for fear of causing an accident when one of the headaches hit unexpectedly) and had laid multiple false trails. He didn't think anyone would track him down now. He could spend whatever time he had left walking the beach, reading, watching old movies, and...

And missing Duo. He wished he could have spent his remaining days with Duo. Could have gone ahead and pursued the relationship that the two of them had seemed to be gradually working their way towards. But he couldn't do that to Duo. Couldn't become lovers knowing that he was under a death sentence. It wouldn't have been fair. Heero knew that; knew that making Duo angry by disappearing was far kinder in the long run than letting him find out the truth would have been.

But he was going to be very lonely for whatever time he did have left. He sighed and picked up a book. Very lonely indeed.

***

Duo set his jaw determinedly and continued tracing Heero's route. He understood now why Heero had run rather than telling them what was wrong. He had to admit that he probably would have reacted the same way himself. That didn't mean that he wasn't going to try to talk Heero into having the surgery of course. But he wouldn't press the issue. He would rather promise to keep silent on it if Heero let him stay than keep harping on it and have Heero vanish even more thoroughly. Would rather have whatever time he could with Heero on whatever terms Heero would allow.

And based on what he'd managed to find out from the neurosurgeon thanks to some - creative storytelling (well, okay, maybe it was a little more than that, like a forged letter from his "fiance" requesting that he be fully briefed on the situation) - there was one slim chance even if Heero refused to consider the surgery. But for that, he had to have power of attorney for Heero. Had to have the ability to make medical decisions on his behalf once he became incapacitated. The odds of the surgery succeeding at that point were slimmer since Heero would be much weaker by then and more damage would have been done - but there would still be a chance of survival and hopefully reasonable odds if not quite the same fifty-fifty ones if he *did* survive. Heero would probably be furious afterwards; might even refuse to have anything further to do with Duo. But it would be worth it if the gamble worked.

Duo smiled grimly as his search program came up with its final result. 'Found him,' he thought with satisfaction. He printed out the result before e-mailing his resignation to Une and shutting down his laptop. She was going to be severely pissed that he was quitting without notice but it couldn't be helped. He didn't have the time to waste on working two weeks' notice. '*Heero* may not have the time...'

In mere minutes, Duo finished packing the last of his personal belongings and hauled them out to his already loaded vehicle. Everything fit with room to spare; he'd never really gotten in the habit of accumulating lots of belongings. Plus he had sold his sporty little convertible and bought a used hybrid sport utility vehicle instead, something that could handle back roads or even off-road driving yet would also carry plenty of supplies. Returning inside he performed one final sweep of the apartment, checking for any forgotten items that he actually wanted as well as for any lingering clues to his destination, before locking the door and exiting the building. Outside, Duo paused for a moment to drop several letters in the mailbox. He hadn't told the other guys much, just that he'd gotten bored working at Preventers without Heero and had decided to go find him. And that it might be quite a while before they heard from him again.

He'd been careful not to leave any traces of his own behind and had erased those few of Heero's that he'd found as he went but that didn't guarantee that the guys couldn't track either Heero or him down if they really put their minds to it. Duo was hoping that his letters would prevent them from going to those lengths.

'Ready or not, Heero, here I come...'

***

Curled into a tight ball, Heero groaned in agony. The headache had come on so suddenly that he'd been caught out on the beach in strong sunlight. The dizziness and nausea were so bad that he was completely disoriented. He couldn't stand to open his eyes to the bright sunlight even if he could manage to make it to his feet or even his hands and knees. And he didn't have any pain medication with him; he'd set it on the counter while he put on his sandals and had forgotten to put it in his pocket afterwards.

Dimly he heard a shout that sounded almost familiar. After a few moments - or years, the pain was so bad it could have been either - he heard someone running along the beach towards him.

"Shit! Yuy, you are a fucking idiot," a very familiar voice muttered in a low but angry tone.

Heero couldn't help moaning, nausea and dizziness increasing as he was lifted from the sand. The pain increased and he let unconsciousness take him, secure in the knowledge that he was in safe hands.

***

Duo slumped in a chair beside the bed, grimly watching Heero sleep. He wished he'd - appropriated - some morphine from Sally's supplies before leaving; he had only had a few doses stored away from the few times she'd legitimately prescribed it for him or one of the others. None of them ever took as much pain medication as she prescribed; there was inevitably some left over. The street rat and ex-terrorist in him had carefully squirrelled away any unused medical supplies, ever suspicious that someday they might be needed. That "someday" had arrived. The shot he'd given Heero had obviously taken effect; the tightly drawn lines of pain had eased from Heero's face and he was sleeping naturally now.

'Dammit Heero, you shouldn't be out here all by yourself; it's too damn dangerous in your condition...' Of course, since Heero had already resigned himself to dying, Duo supposed that the additional risks created by staying alone in an isolated cottage really wouldn't matter too much to him. 'Gotta change that attitude first...' He sighed heavily, knowing that the coming confrontation would not be an easy one. He lifted the now-warm cloth off of Heero's brow and rinsed it in the basin of ice water again, wringing it out thoroughly before replacing it.

So far things had not gone exactly as Duo had expected to say the least. Arriving at the cottage to find no one there but the doors unlocked had been surprising but Duo had settled down to wait, assuming that Heero had simply gone for a walk. When nearly an hour had passed without any sign of him returning, Duo had become concerned and started to follow his footsteps along the beach. When he'd spotted Heero's crumpled form, he'd been terrified that it was already too late for any of his plans. That he'd taken too long to discover the problem and track Heero down.

He'd been so damn relieved to discover that Heero was alive and conscious... Then alarmed again when Heero passed out before he could get him back to the cottage... But a quick check of Heero's vitals had confirmed that he was stable, though clearly in a great deal of pain. Duo had been afraid to try dosing the unconscious Heero with anything that would have to be swallowed, so he'd left the bottle of pills on the counter alone and dipped into the small amount of first aid supplies that he'd brought instead. He'd hated to break out the morphine so soon but hadn't been sure that anything else he had would be strong enough to help.

Duo sighed wearily and decided that if they ran out of morphine, he'd just have to get more one way or another. He was pretty sure some of his wartime contacts still operated on the shadowy side of the law and equally certain that he could locate them if need be. And if Heero really wanted to remain hidden and anonymous, it would be. Morphine wasn't exactly the sort of thing doctors would prescribe for home use to a walk-in patient, fake medical history or not. He didn't particularly want to get Heero addicted to the damn stuff but even Heero couldn't take the kind of pain he'd been in today indefinitely and Duo wasn't sure that anything else would even make an impression on that degree of agony.

"Dammit Heero, you just can't ever make things easy can you?" Duo muttered in exasperation. "I love you dearly buddy, but sometimes you just fucking aggravate the hell out of me..." He sighed again and settled down to wait for Heero to wake.

***

Heero woke slowly and reluctantly, expecting to return to awareness in the same agony that he'd been in when he passed out. As he wakened he was pleasantly surprised by the absence of pain but after a few moments he recognized the slight residual of an odd floating sensation. 'Morphine, though it's almost worn off... Shit, I wasn't hallucinating after all... That really must have been Duo's voice that I heard...'

And if Duo had come equipped with morphine, he must already know what was wrong. Heero wasn't sure how he felt about that. On the one hand, he'd been missing Duo like crazy but on the other hand he hadn't wanted to subject him to what was going to happen. 'Dammit Duo, I didn't want you to have to go through this... Why the hell couldn't you leave well enough alone?' he thought despairingly.

Gentle hands removed a cloth from Heero's forehead and he heard soft splashing before the cloth was replaced, wonderfully cool against his skin. Heero gave a soft involuntary sound of pleasure. Knowing he'd given away the fact that he was awake, he reluctantly opened his eyes, prepared to hastily close them again if the room's brightness brought a return of the pain. His caution was unnecessary however as the blinds had been tightly pulled and the room was dim.

Duo shifted from his chair to perch on the edge of the bed as Heero's eyes opened. He had done a lot of thinking while Heero slept and had decided that a confrontation over the surgery would not be in anyone's best interests. Heero would not change his mind that easily and arguing about it would only aggravate his headache. Duo reached out and gently stroked his fingers down the side of Heero's face. "Feeling better?" he asked very softly.

Heero blinked, surprised that Duo was so calm. "Yes," he answered cautiously.

"Good. I don't want to use up the little bit of morphine we've got this soon if we can avoid it. I'm pretty sure I can get more if we have to but it'll mean reactivating some old wartime contacts," Duo warned.

Heero blinked again, even more surprised. Where were the recriminations and anger he'd expected?

Seeing Heero's confusion, Duo told him quietly, "I was pretty mad at first but I've gotta admit I probably would have done the same thing myself, Ro. I understand why you don't want to chance the surgery - and again I can't say I wouldn't feel the same way in your place - but that doesn't change the fact that I wish you'd change your mind and risk it. I'd rather have my best friend alive and in a wheelchair than dead. But I'm not going to nag at you about it. I'd rather be with you and enjoy our time together than waste it repeating arguments that I'm sure you've already been over yourself a hundred times."

"I didn't want you to know," Heero said softly. "You've lost so much in your life already, Duo... I thought you being angry over me taking off was better than you having to watch..."

Duo placed his fingers over Heero's mouth, stopping the words. "Yeah, I've lost a lot before. But I wouldn't give up the good memories just to avoid the bad ones, Ro. I'd rather store up as many good ones as we can make in whatever time we've got." He drew a deep breath and forged ahead, "Which is why I think it's time to stop dancin' around the issue the way we have been. The flirting's been fun, no doubt about it, and if we had all the time in the world I'd be happy to let things keep going nice and slow the way they have been. But we don't know how much time we've got, just that judging by how much worse the headaches seem to be getting, it's probably not a lot..."

Heero nodded slightly in response to the implied question. The headaches *were* getting worse. They were becoming increasingly frequent and agonizing. Even the strongest medication that the neurosurgeon had prescribed couldn't do more than take the edge off now.

Swallowing hard, Duo closed his eyes for a moment, fighting off the insistent prickling in them. Reopening his eyes, he continued determinedly, "I love you Heero. Very much. And I want to marry you. If you're not willing to go that far, I'll settle for being lovers. If you're not comfortable with that either, then I'll still stay with you as your best friend and nothing more. You don't have to choose right now..."

A hand against Duo's lips halted the flow of words. Heero managed to force the words around the lump in his throat, "Yes I do. I love you too Duo and I would very much like to marry you." Even as he pulled his hand away from Duo's mouth and Duo leaned over to kiss him, Heero's mind was protesting at the unfairness of it all. The complete and utter injustice that he and Duo were finally confessing their feelings and beginning a life together at the same time as a tiny fragment of metal from Wing's self-destruction was slowly killing him.

***

Duo exited the small jewellery store with a box containing two identical plain gold bands. He was running all of the errands for them both; the headaches were too unpredictable and debilitating for Heero to risk coming to town. They had even arranged for the wedding to take place in the cottage's small garden later this afternoon. There really hadn't been a great deal of errands to be run though. The rings to be chosen, some groceries and other supplies to be bought, the marriage license to be picked up and paid for. Heero had hacked into the courthouse's computer system and backdated the online license application in order to dodge the local waiting period.

'The sooner we're married the better,' Duo thought worriedly. He *had* to have legal responsibility for Heero's medical decisions before Heero reached the point of collapse. If Heero hadn't been willing to marry him - well, he would have stayed anyway; just forged power of attorney papers when the time came that he needed them. But he was glad Heero had agreed to marry him. Not only because of the legal rights that came with marriage but also simply because marriage to Heero was something that he wanted anyway. Even if that single slim chance didn't work out, he would at least have had however much time they *did* end up having together to store up memories to sustain him - afterwards...

Checking his pager yet again, Duo sighed in relief that the latest message was merely Heero's "I'm okay" check-in. When he had tentatively suggested that Heero call his pager every half hour on the half hour just to let Duo know that he was okay, he'd expected a battle. Heero had scowled at him then abruptly agreed much to Duo's surprise. Heero had also promised to stay indoors while he was gone much to Duo's relief. He didn't want to come home to a shock like the one he'd had when he'd first arrived at the cottage.

***

Heero laid his best pair of jeans and a dark blue T-shirt on the bed beside the jeans and lighter blue shirt that he'd picked out for Duo to wear. He hadn't bothered bringing any dressier clothing with him and neither he nor Duo was particularly fussy over what they wore to get married in anyway. 'Married...' He shook his head slightly in disbelief. It had only been two days ago that he'd collapsed on the beach. One day since Duo proposed. Were they rushing things? Maybe. But under the circumstances, they couldn't really afford to take things slow. And it wasn't as if this was really so totally unexpected. He and Duo *had* been starting in this direction for a while now; they just had been taking their time about it because... 'Because we were young and we'd survived a war and we thought that we had all the time in the world...'

But they didn't.

Heero sank down on the edge of the bed and pounded the mattress with his fist, filled with impotent rage at the circumstances they were in. Rage that a tiny sliver of metal, something so small that it took multiple types of scans from myriad different angles to even find it, was destroying their future together. A sliver of metal that in all likelihood could have been safely removed at the time it was first embedded in his head, before it shifted into increasingly dangerous positions. Could have been removed *if* they had not been wanted fugitives and Trowa could have safely taken him to a hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment. But they *were* wanted fugitives and Trowa had done the best he could with the limited medical gear and supplies he had available. Heero knew that his survival back then had been a miracle; he certainly didn't blame Trowa for what was happening now. It wasn't Trowa that he was angry at. 'No, I am angry at life itself and its colossal unfairness...'

Not only angry for his own sake but for Duo's as well. It wasn't right that Duo was going to lose someone he loved yet again. Unless...

Heero cut off the thought sharply, the idea of being tied to a bed or wheelchair causing him to shudder. 'No. I couldn't...'

Glancing at the clock, he realized that he had almost missed his check-in and hurried to the phone to call Duo's pager again. He felt foolish doing this but it was a small thing that relieved Duo's mind about his safety. Agreeing to stay inside until Duo returned was no hardship either; he had no desire to be caught out in the bright sun by the onslaught of a headache as he had the day that Duo arrived.

Heero couldn't honestly say that he was even all that surprised that Duo had not only tracked him down but had found out exactly what was wrong as well. Maybe deep down inside he had expected Duo to find him. Despite his wish to spare Duo the heartbreak of watching him die.

Perhaps he should have left again or sent Duo away. Perhaps he should have lied and insisted that he felt nothing more than friendship towards Duo. But he hadn't and he wouldn't. Maybe he was being selfish but Heero intended to take every bit of happiness and comfort that he could from Duo's presence and to trust Duo's own statement that he would rather take the bad with the good than give up the good.

The "good" beginning with their very small, private wedding this afternoon and continuing on to the wedding night that would follow.

Heero couldn't help smirking slightly at the thought of a particular extremely important item on Duo's shopping list. Something that he was sure they would make very good use of in the days ahead. He wondered how many shades of red Duo would turn in the process of buying lube at the drugstore. Particularly if the cashier was the giggly teenage girl that had been working the day that Heero picked up his prescription.

He and Duo had both done their fair share of turning interesting shades of red during the time that they had spent yesterday afternoon carrying out some very important research on the net. Neither of them had any actual experience and although they both had a certain amount of theoretical knowledge, they'd opted to play it safe and confirm their facts. Neither of them wanted to risk hurting the other or even causing more discomfort than necessary.

And one of the interesting facts that they had picked up was that, contrary to what they had both heard in the past, it *shouldn't* hurt. Not if they were careful. And they would be. Both of them had seen and experienced more than enough pain in their lifetimes; neither of them wanted to mar something as beautiful and intimate as making love with more of it. Particularly not by causing the other to experience it. 'Even if the pleasure that follows is supposed to make up for the pain, why cause the pain in the first place if it can be avoided?' Heero wondered silently. He certainly didn't want to cause Duo any pain.

'Or rather, any *more* pain... I know my refusal to risk the surgery is hurting him...' he thought guiltily. But he couldn't stand the thought of being trapped in a wheelchair and a fifty percent chance of that happening was far too high to suit him.

***

Duo closed the door behind the justice of the peace and the obligatory witnesses that the man had brought with him. The ceremony had been very brief and informal but was no less legally binding than a huge formal wedding would have been. Duo rubbed his thumb over the ring encircling his finger, still only half believing that this was all real. Strong arms closing around him from the back and lips nuzzling the crook of his neck reminded him just how real this all was. Duo moaned and tilted his head to give Heero better access. As Heero nipped him gently, Duo asked mischievously, "Hungry, Ro?"

"Mm-hmm," Heero hummed, transferring his attention to Duo's earlobe. "I seem to have a craving for something new..."

Duo shivered at the sensation of Heero's breath in his ear and leaned back against his new husband. "Oh? Like what?" he managed to get out, fighting to keep a light, teasing tone as Heero's hands busied themselves starting at his waistband, buttons giving way one by one as they worked their way lower. Duo gave up the struggle as strong, sure fingers caressed his rapidly hardening erection. He sagged back against Heero as he gasped, "I think I'm developing quite an appetite myself..."

"I seem," Heero breathed into Duo's ear, "to suddenly have a craving for American..."

"Mmm... what a coincidence," Duo murmured, twisting in Heero's arms to give him a teasing kiss. Smirking slightly, he licked his lips and said, "I seem to have a sudden desire for Japanese..." He slid one hand between their bodies to rub firmly against Heero's uncomfortably snug jeans, drawing a groan from the other man in response. "Shall we - indulge - our respective tastes?" he inquired, raising one eyebrow.

"I thought you'd never ask, my dear Mr. Maxwell-Yuy," Heero growled, swooping to lift Duo off his feet.

Duo laughed and threw his arms around Heero's neck as he was carried towards the bedroom. "Why my dear Mr. Yuy-Maxwell, I had no idea that you needed an *invitation*..." As Heero lowered him to the bed and two sets of eager hands set to work divesting bodies of clothing, Duo firmly silenced the tiny voice reminding him that this urgency was fuelled by the knowledge that they only had a limited amount of time together. 'Not now. I won't let myself think about that now. Just enjoy the moment and forget about the future...' The all-too-short future. Duo shoved the thought away again and lost himself in the adoring exploration of his body by Heero's hands and mouth, a small part of his mind carefully filing away ideas for his own turn at worshipping Heero's body.

Investigating every inch of Duo's body, running loving caresses over every mark it bore from a life of hardship, Heero concentrated on losing himself in the moment. On forgetting that, although this was their first time together, they would have only a limited number more. Instead of thinking about the future, he focussed on memorizing Duo's reaction to every touch. On learning just what made Duo sigh, or gasp, or moan. On how to make him arch off the bed, pleading for more. On making time stand still for them both.

All thought of the future faded from Duo's mind as he gave himself up to the moment. Caring only about what was happening right here, right now, between Heero and himself. Feeling rather than thinking. Feeling Heero's fingers, slick and gentle, probing him. Stretching him. Sending starbursts of white-hot pleasure through him. His involuntary protest as those fingers left him empty turned to a moan of pleasure as that emptiness was once again deliciously filled. Filled with agonizing slowness.

Heero groaned as Duo's tight heat closed around him. He held Duo's hips still as they bucked beneath him. "Slowly..." he managed to gasp out, fighting his own desire to drive deep into that welcoming warmth in one swift motion. He didn't want to risk hurting Duo by not allowing enough time for him to adjust. And - he wanted this to last. Wanted to savour every moment of claiming Duo for the first time. A tiny part of his mind added 'Just in case it's also the last' before Heero could completely block the unwelcome thought out. He suppressed it savagely, not wanting ugly reality to intrude on this wonderful moment.

"God Ro... so good..." Duo managed to gasp out as Heero finally sheathed himself completely and paused. He pried his clenched fingers loose from the pillow and reached up to draw Heero's face close for a deep kiss. He moaned into the kiss as the change in Heero's position above him made itself felt within him too. As they broke off the kiss, he shifted his own position, wrapping one leg around Heero's waist, urging him impossibly closer. "Now *move*, dammit!" he ordered huskily.

Heero smirked down at him and murmured back, "Your wish is my command, lover..." He began to move, slowly and carefully at first, but with increasing speed and power as Duo's reactions made it clear that there was no pain, only pleasure. Heero's smirk broadened as Duo's head fell back against the pillow, eyes closing and neck arching in invitation, and he bent forward to take that invitation, kissing and nibbling the bared throat being offered.

Duo blindly reached out with one hand, searching for Heero's hand and entwining their fingers when he found it. He arched his back, trying to draw Heero even deeper within him as he met Heero's thrusts. Loving that feeling of being joined, of being *one*. Letting Heero draw him upwards on a dizzy, ever-climbing spiral of desire and love and intimacy. Draw him up until he was teetering on the edge...

As Duo's already-ragged breathing began to hitch, Heero altered his angle of penetration to brush Duo's prostate more firmly, sending him over the edge. Duo's body tightening around him was enough to snap Heero's tattered control, pushing him into release as well. His gasped-out "Love you" overlapped Duo's own cry.

Lying with Heero's solid weight on top of him, Duo managed to summon up enough energy to bring his free arm up to wrap around Heero. He wanted his lover to stay where he was for a while. He knew that Heero's full weight pressing down on him would become uncomfortable before too long but he intended to savour the closeness and the joining as long as possible.

Heero stirred slightly, faintly embarrassed by how drained and weary he felt. The restrictions and stresses imposed by the agonizing headaches were gradually wearing down his strength and stamina. He knew that he must be squashing Duo so he tried to lever himself up but Duo murmured softly, "No," and tightened the arm around his back.

"I'm too heavy..." Heero protested faintly.

"M'okay for a while," Duo responded sleepily. "Like this... Feels good..."

"For a while," Heero conceded. It *did* feel good after all...

***

Feeling good was something that happened frequently over the weeks that followed. When the headaches struck, Heero felt anything *but* good and Duo suffered along with him, heart aching in sympathy for the agonizing pain and in sorrow at his limited ability to help. But the good times they had together outweighed the bad. Even that first moment of waking from the drugged sleep that followed a headache held its own wonder for Heero as the first sight to meet his eyes was almost always Duo sitting at the bedside watching over him.

And the rest of the time, the time between the headaches, was wonderful. Regardless of whether they were swimming or lying on the beach, reading or playing checkers, cleaning the cottage or teaching themselves how to cook something beyond basic pasta and rice, making love or simply taking pleasure in each other's company, they enjoyed every minute of their time together. On the rare occasion when tempers began to flare, Duo would snatch up his pager and stalk down the beach to walk off his bad mood, leaving Heero the privacy of the house and security of the phone to cool down. If a headache happened to strike while Duo was gone, a single press of the phone's autodial would call his pager and bring him rushing back to Heero's side, bad temper vanished in his worry.

And as time passed and the number of bad days slowly increased to equal then outnumber the good, Heero decided that it was still worth it. That he could continue to suffer the pain of the headaches as long as Duo was with him through it all. As long as they were together.

***

Heero watched as Duo waded into the water. "C'mon Heero - it's not *too* cold..." he called invitingly.

Reluctantly, Heero shook his head slightly, wincing at the increased throbbing that resulted from the motion. "Need to go in," he called back. "Need meds..." In an instant, Duo had deserted the lure of the lake and was at his side, arm sliding around his waist comfortingly.

"Bed?" Duo asked simply. Heero nodded minutely, eyes closing against the sunlight as he allowed Duo to lead him into the cottage. He leaned gratefully against Duo's side as they walked, letting Duo's presence provide a temporary distraction from the pain. He didn't know how he would have ever made it through the past few months without Duo. He suspected that in fact, had Duo not come after him, he would *not* have lasted this long. That he would have simply downed the whole damn bottle of painkillers and been done with it. The temptation had been there before Duo arrived and the headaches had only become more frequent and debilitating since then.

They had used the last of Duo's hoarded morphine up over a month ago. The very next day, Duo had disappeared for a few hours, leaving him with strict orders to call Duo's pager every half hour while Duo was gone. When Duo had returned, he had been carrying a padded bag full of bottles and was wearing a tense, grim look. The grim look had vanished as soon as he saw Heero, replaced by a cheerful, loving smile. Heero had forced himself to smile back and to not ask exactly how Duo had obtained a substantial new supply of morphine. He knew that Duo wouldn't have risked stealing it himself, not when getting caught would have left him alone. But he must have activated some old wartime contacts in order to obtain it and that would doubtless have stirred up many old memories best left buried. 'And it would all be unnecessary if I wasn't so damn insistent on staying incognito,' Heero thought guiltily. 'Sally would undoubtedly bend the rules enough to prescribe morphine for use on an as-needed basis. She knows it's one of the few things that genuinely works as well as it should on me.'

But he couldn't stand the thought of Quatre's well-meaning fussing and Trowa's guilty apologies for inadequate medical care at a time when there had been no real choice and Wufei's ranting against the sheer injustice of it all. Sally would nag at him over the surgery. Relena would cry and then use the whole thing as another illustration of the evils of war. Une - well, it was hard to tell how she would react but guilt would almost certainly play a large part in her reaction.

Heero didn't want any of that. Didn't want any of his friends around him right now, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.

Duo was the sole exception. Duo - well, Duo just bathed his forehead and gave him whatever medication the headache required and sat with him, hand clasped with his in silent support no matter how tight his grip became, while he endured. And once the headache had receded, Duo would have a ready smile and a suggestion of a quiet activity while he rested and recovered. No fussing, no protests, no arguments.

And Heero felt guilty as hell. He had confronted Duo about it once, when he had awakened from exhausted sleep after one of the really bad headaches to find Duo curled in a ball in the porch hammock, crying his heart out and muttering angry protests against fate into the pillow. He had watched unhappily as Duo shut down all the fear and anger and sadness, cramming it away and bringing out the smile again.

But when he'd protested that he didn't want Duo to hide his feelings, didn't want Duo to pretend just for him, Duo had smiled gently and said that he didn't. That he wasn't "pretending" to be happy most of the time, he truly was. That as long as he could live for each moment, just as he had done during the war, he could take his happiness as it came and let the rest go. That once in a while he just made the mistake of thinking too far ahead and things fell apart a bit. His smile had turned a bit wobbly as he shrugged and said simply, "This just happened to be one of those times." Heero had felt like a complete asshole when his automatic apology caused that smile to wobble even more. He had dropped the subject and just joined Duo in the hammock, holding him close until they both fell asleep.

Heero realized with a start that while he had been lost in thought, Duo had manoeuvred him all the way into the house and was in the process of tucking him in bed already.

"How bad?" Duo asked softly. "Morphine?"

"Not this time..."

"Okay."

Duo left the room, returning momentarily with the prescription painkiller. He supported Heero carefully while he swallowed the medication and followed it with a few sips of water. Duo eased Heero back down on the bed before going to collect his bowl of cold water and a cloth. The routine was becoming frighteningly familiar. Almost daily now.

He sat at the bedside, alternately bathing Heero's forehead and tracing gentle strokes across it until the lines of pain relaxed and Heero slid into sleep. Unable to bring himself to leave the room, to leave Heero's side for even a few minutes, Duo stuffed one hand in his mouth and bit down on it to choke back the sobs threatening to break loose. 'We're running out of time... It's not fair!' But then, since when had anything ever *been* fair in either of their lives?

A faint sound drew Heero out of his doze, despite his reluctance to wake to the lingering pain. Forcing his eyes open, he discovered Duo doubled up in the chair, weeping in near-silence. Heart aching, Heero propped himself up enough to reach out and capture Duo's wrist, tugging him towards the bed.

Duo swiped at his eyes with his free hand, disgusted at letting Heero catch him crying twice now. The first time when he'd finally realized that he couldn't go through with his plans to override Heero's wishes and give the okay for the surgery and again now, as he realized just how little time they probably had left. It had hurt giving up that one small chance. But as they spent time together, as he realized just how deeply Heero hated and feared the chance of being diminished by a disability, of being trapped in a wheelchair or bed, he had been forced to acknowledge that having the legal right to decide that chance was worth taking didn't give him the moral right. That he couldn't force Heero to do something he was so strongly set against. That he had to honour Heero's wishes. Had to let that small chance of last-minute surgery succeeding go.

He didn't regret following Heero here. Didn't regret marrying him. He would rather have the memories they were making together than nothing at all. But he hadn't wanted to burden Heero with his sadness and fear and heartache; Heero had his own share plus the agony of the headaches to deal with. And so he'd hidden his sorrow. The tears that overwhelmed him on occasion. Until now, when he'd failed and added his pain to Heero's own.

Duo resisted the first tug on his wrist but yielded to the second, joining Heero on the bed and curling up with his head on Heero's shoulder. Neither of them spoke; there was nothing to be said. All they could do was take whatever comfort they could in each other's presence. Duo gave in and let the scalding tears slide down his cheeks silently.

Heero closed his eyes and stroked his hand down Duo's braid in a gentle, repetitive motion, pretending not to notice his shirt was rapidly becoming very damp. The guilt rose up in him again. Guilt at refusing the small chance that existed. Guilt at turning down that chance of survival simply because he couldn't face the thought of living in a restricted manner. Of being paralysed.

He couldn't imagine not being able to race across the sand beside Duo or to scoop him off of his feet and carry him to their bed. 'But if the alternative is not being here at all... Leaving Duo alone with only his memories to sustain him...' Heero hesitated, seriously considering the matter for the first time. If he took the risk and that fifty percent chance of being partially paralysed *did* end up being the result... 'Could I live like that? Would there still be enough good things to make life worth living?'

They would still be able to take turns sitting and reading, the listener lying with his head in the reader's lap. Would still be able to play chess and checkers and cards. Would still be able to make love, though some creativity might be needed depending on the extent of the paralysis. 'We would still be together...' And Duo had said before that he would rather have his best friend alive and in a wheelchair than dead... Would that not be equally true of his lover, his husband?

But what if the worst-case scenario - complete paralysis rather than partial - was the result? Or the very small chance that he would never wake up from the surgery, lingering on in a coma? Both of those were very small chances, but the possibilities *did* exist. Heero swallowed hard at the thought of burdening Duo with one of those outcomes.

It was a very long time before either of them fell asleep.

***

Duo expertly flipped the pancake with a quick flick of the pan. He grinned in satisfaction as the pancake landed perfectly in the pan's centre. Setting it back on the burner, he hastily removed the frying pan full of bacon from its burner before it shrivelled away to nothing.

"Need any help?" Heero asked quietly from behind him.

"Just if you want any fruit this morning; haven't got it out yet," Duo said, shooting a quick glance over his shoulder. "Oh, and the juice is still in the fridge too..." Heero sounded awfully subdued... 'Probably my fault,' he admitted guiltily to himself. 'Shouldn't have let him catch me upset and crying again...' He had to stop letting himself think so negatively. Had to just concentrate on creating as many good memories as possible. Memories to keep him going after... Duo wrenched his thoughts back away from that direction. 'Positive. Think positive.'

Heero waited until Duo had finished cooking and joined him in the tiny breakfast nook. He toyed with his food for a few minutes before finally blurting out, "Would alive but in a wheelchair really be better?"

Duo jerked his head up from watching Heero push his food around his plate, meeting Heero's eyes in shock. "God yes..." he breathed, hardly daring to hope.

"You know it could be worse than that..." Heero warned, still sickened at the thought of leaving Duo burdened with a comatose husband or one who was totally bedridden.

"I know," Duo agreed, closing his eyes for an instant in silent protest against those possibilities. Reopening them, he added, "I'm willing to take that chance. It's better than just giving up."

"I don't want anyone else to know but that wouldn't be fair to you. You deserve to have the support of the others," Heero said, cringing inside at the thought of all the fuss this would create.

Duo shook his head, "I'd rather not tell them either. Q means well but his fussing would drive me insane..." He'd handled things alone all his life; doing so again wouldn't be a great hardship. Might even be easier. Telling the others could wait.

Heero met Duo's eyes, reading the truth of his words. He relaxed a bit at the realization that he wouldn't have all those explanations and well-meaning scoldings and lectures to endure right now. "Okay then..." He took a deep breath then said, "We'll call the specialist right after breakfast."

"Okay," Duo said simply, reaching across to catch Heero's hand in his. He bit his tongue sharply as Heero's fingers tightened in a desperate, painful grip on his own. "It'll be okay, Ro. I'll be with you all the way. Promise."

***

For the first time, Duo was glad that the government had "permitted" them to keep any remaining hacked funds. Neither he nor Heero had touched any of that money before, preferring to earn a living honestly. But old habits had made them hang on to those funds rather than simply giving them away. That bit of suspicion that someday they might actually *need* the money for some reason had prevented them from disposing of more than a tiny portion of the huge accounts that they each had stashed away. Yet at the same time they had felt odd about using the money for themselves. Now, however, Duo felt absolutely no guilt at using those remaining hacked Oz funds, first to purchase the rented cottage that they'd been living in, then to pay for the absolute best possible treatment and facilities at the hospital.

Oz had created the problem when Heero was forced to self-destruct by their demands; it was only fitting that they should end up paying for fixing it. There was still more than enough money left for Heero and himself to live on after the operation, regardless of how things went. He suspected that it would be a very long time before either of them was prepared to go back to work again. Heero would probably require considerable recovery time and he simply wanted to be with Heero.

If he did end up choosing to work, Duo expected that he would be looking for something decidedly more casual than working at the Preventers. Something that involved working set hours, maybe even only part-time, and no trips away from home. He would not be surprised if Heero ended up feeling the same way. They were too conscious of how precious their time together was to be willing to give much of it up to a job. They had made their contribution to peace; now they deserved a chance to simply enjoy it.

Duo refused to even consider the possibility that it could end up being "he" not "they".

While Duo was busy getting their finances straightened out, arranging to buy the cottage, and handling all the arrangements with the specialist and the hospital, Heero did a bit of hacking, making a few small changes to allow their marriage to be confirmed. He didn't want Duo to have any problems with hospital staff trying to restrict Duo's authority to make decisions on his behalf. So he moved their marriage records out of the highly classified witness protection database that he had hidden them in and back into the main public database. If any of the others were monitoring the net for traces of Duo or himself, they would spot the information but that couldn't be helped. They would probably spot the cottage's purchase anyway when the deed was transferred. Their marriage and the purchase of the small place they now considered home were too important to hide behind aliases.

And the others might not be looking for them yet anyway. It had been only about six months since he left and Duo had joined him less than a month later. It wasn't as if the others had a real reason to be concerned; even Quatre wasn't as closely tuned to Heero's moods and actions as Duo was. None of the others were likely to do more than sigh in exasperation over his disappearance. Not for a while, anyway. Unlike Duo.

Heero directed a lingering glance in Duo's direction, snickering as Duo rolled his eyes and made a face at the phone. Evidently the hospital had him on hold again.

Thinking of the hospital made Heero shiver slightly, still uncomfortable with the thought of the surgery. It wasn't like he was going to have much time to think about it though. They would be leaving early tomorrow morning to start their long drive. He wasn't supposed to fly since the pressure changes could have an "adverse effect" on the shifting metal fragment so they would have two days of solid driving ahead of them. Or rather, Duo would since he couldn't risk being behind the wheel when a headache struck. Well, at least he could make sure that Duo's vehicle was ready for the trip and pack their suitcases.

He gave in to temptation, stepping in to hug Duo from the back, burying his face in Duo's hair and inhaling his scent. Duo leaned back against him, his free hand reaching back to wrap behind Heero's neck, fingers stroking gently and comfortingly. The tender contact reminded Heero just why he was willing to risk the operation. By the time Duo drew away slightly as the person he was holding for finally came on the line, Heero's nerves had steadied again, his conviction that this was the right thing to do strengthened once more. He pressed a quick, thankful kiss to Duo's cheek before heading outside to check on the vehicle.

Duo alternated between bone-chilling fear that the surgery would not go well and near-giddy relief that Heero had agreed to take the chance. The chance to live and be together for however much longer life would allow. The neurosurgeon had warned them that the odds of the surgery's success weren't as good as they would have been when Heero was first diagnosed several months ago. Exactly how much they had changed couldn't be determined until he had the opportunity to examine Heero again and to rerun the scans and tests. But they also weren't as bad as they would have been if Duo had in fact gone through with his original plan and waited until Heero slipped into a coma in order to authorize the surgery himself without Heero's permission.

By the time that Duo finished making all the arrangements with the surgeon and the hospital, he was feeling nearly as frazzled and tense as Heero seemed to be. He had filled out and signed more paperwork and sent more faxes back and forth than he'd had to back when he first joined the Preventers. Heero had had to sign a few things too but Duo had volunteered to take over as many of the arrangements for him as possible. Heero didn't need the added stress.

Hanging the phone up one last time, Duo went in search of his husband. He discovered Heero kneeling by their dresser, folding each piece of clothing with painstakingly deliberate precision and placing it in the open suitcase. Duo watched him for several minutes, then turned back to the kitchen. It didn't take long to make up a picnic meal and pack a few other necessities like sunscreen and towels and sunglasses. And the ever-essential painkillers. Once Heero finished packing for them both, there would be nothing else that they could do to prepare for the surgery. So Duo intended for them to spend what remained of the afternoon and evening relaxing and enjoying their time together. Trying to keep both of their minds off of the ordeal that lay ahead.

***

Heero knew perfectly well what Duo was up to. That he was trying to distract them both from thoughts of anything beyond the moment. And he made every effort to contribute to the distraction, readily agreeing to a swim in the rather cold lake and a game of frisbee on the beach. Never passing up a chance for a quick peck on the lips or a deep lingering kiss. A tender caress or a teasing grope. With the end result that by the time the two of them dropped down on the picnic blanket, their shortness of breath and flushed skin was not solely from the physical exertion.

When Duo started to unpack the picnic basket, revealing a range of tempting finger food, from grapes to tiny cut-up cubes of cheese, and not one bit of silverware, Heero groaned slightly in anticipation. Duo flashed him a mischievous grin, selecting a single perfect grape and placing it between his lips before leaning towards Heero. Heero leaned forward eagerly to meet Duo, accepting the grape and a deep kiss at the same time. Now he understood why Duo had chosen their picnic spot so carefully.

Duo nibbled on the thin wedge of nectarine held in Heero's fingers, holding Heero's hand in place while he chewed and swallowed the tender bit of fruit before carefully sucking the juice from the fingers that had offered it to him. A satisfied grin tugged the corners of his mouth at the low moan he drew from his partner as he finally released the fingers and pressed a kiss to Heero's wrist. He wasn't sure how far either of them were going to be comfortable taking things out here on the beach but he'd chosen a sheltered spot just in case.

A steep cliff rose behind them and extended right across the beach and into the water along one side while the two large beach umbrellas shielded them from above and on the other side, leaving only a view of the lake directly in front of them. They had never actually seen anyone else in the area and technically the property that belonged with the cottage extended well beyond their current location but Duo still wasn't sure whether that was enough of a guarantee of privacy to allow them to really let go. But just in case, there was a tube of lube tucked into a corner of the picnic basket.

Giving Duo's fingers a teasing nip as he took the last bit of cheese from them, Heero was momentarily startled by the realization that, despite the fact that they were sweaty and sandy and smelly, hair tousled and tangled by the wind and water, somehow this situation was just as appealing and seductive as sharing sweets in bed with only the flickering light of candles to see by. They were nearly half an hour's walk from the cottage and they were both fully aroused. No longer hungry for food, only for each other.

Heero threw a last calculating look at their surroundings. 'To hell with it,' he decided abruptly. The odds of anyone interrupting them were slim and his desire for Duo, the need to be inside him *now*, outweighed his reluctance to risk someone seeing them in such an intimate, vulnerable state.

After retrieving the tube he'd spotted earlier, Heero shoved the picnic basket out of the way. He rose to his knees, meeting Duo's lips in a powerful, demanding kiss.

Duo yielded to Heero's passionate assault on his mouth, letting himself be pushed flat on his back on the blanket. He lifted his hips eagerly to assist Heero in stripping off his swim trunks. His own hands reached blindly for Heero's trunks, quickly but carefully sliding them down over narrow hips.

Heero reluctantly tore his mouth away long enough to lift himself up to dispose of his trunks entirely. Duo took the opportunity to get rid of his own, using one foot to work them the rest of the way off while his hands were busy dragging his braid out from under him. Heero waited until Duo had it draped over his chest so that it wouldn't get trapped and pulled before resuming his assault on Duo's mouth.

Strong, callused fingers circled Duo's nipples, pinching and teasing gently. Duo moaned his pleasure into Heero's mouth, sliding one of his own hands over Heero's chest to reciprocate. His other hand wrapped around the back of Heero's neck, pulling him closer. Hands continued to wander, venturing lower on each other's bodies. Duo had barely started to stroke Heero's erection before Heero tore their mouths apart, warning huskily, "Don't unless you want to finish me right now..."

Duo drew his hand away immediately. "No, want you inside me first Ro..." he murmured in a breathy voice. He knew that this would likely be their last time together before the operation. The long days of driving and worry about the surgery would leave them tense and tired and sleeping in cold, impersonal motel rooms with thin walls would only reduce the likelihood of actual intercourse.

Heero groaned at Duo's request, reaching for the tube and lubricating his fingers thoroughly. He handed the open tube to Duo, letting Duo prepare him while he prepared Duo. Heero was fighting to keep control long enough to make sure Duo was truly ready for him. The initial joining at the very least was going to be harder and faster than usual; their entire picnic meal had been foreplay and when added to the overwhelmingly powerful emotions created by the knowledge that he would be undergoing surgery in just a few short days, both he and Duo were a little short on control.

Thrusting back against Heero's probing fingers, Duo shakily finished lubing Heero and flung the tube aside, uncaring of where it landed. "Do it Ro," he hissed, voice rising sharply as Heero unerringly struck his prostate. "Dammit Ro, I'm *ready*!" he urged insistently. He knew Heero didn't want to hurt him but they'd done this enough times now that he was getting pretty good at relaxing his muscles voluntarily.

Withdrawing his fingers, Heero positioned himself and entered Duo in a single powerful thrust, watching his face carefully for any sign of pain and relieved at its absence. They hadn't tried that very many times yet and it was something that Heero had found he could not handle himself. He simply could not give up control and relax enough to avoid experiencing considerable pain. He needed time and a lot of foreplay and stretching to be on the receiving end at all. And he still didn't like it as well. Fortunately Duo didn't mind that role. They still experimented a bit but in general he took Duo rather than the other way around.

"Ro, I'm fine," Duo grumbled, his fingers gently caressing Heero's cheek in a manner completely at odds with his distinctly aggravated tone. "Now *move*!" he insisted, thrusting his hips up and towards Heero.

Heero smirked faintly at the impatient demand. He leaned forward to kiss Duo, tongues duelling, and took advantage of Duo's distraction to slide his arms beneath Duo's back. With their mouths still joined, he rocked back, pulling Duo up with him to end up kneeling astride his lap.

Duo gasped into Heero's open mouth as the sudden change in position caused Heero to penetrate him even more deeply. He pulled back slightly in order to pant out, "This is new..."

Heero slid his hands down to rest on Duo's hips. "Mmm-hmm... You like?" They had just really started to experiment over the last few weeks and they were gradually finding out what they did and didn't like. Nothing too exotic just yet, but they *were* trying out a few different positions.

Draping his arms loosely over Heero's shoulders, Duo nodded distractedly, beginning to flex his leg muscles and move. "Oh yeah..." he hissed under his breath. "Feels good..."

As Duo began to rise and fall, Heero matched his rhythm, rising to meet him. The discomfort from his own legs folded beneath him provided just enough of a distraction to keep him from going over the edge too soon. He couldn't hold his climax off for long though and reached to stroke Duo's length firmly, making sure that he would be ready too.

Once Heero's hand closed around him, Duo dropped what was left of his ragged control, knowing that Heero was in the same state. It only took a few strokes of Heero's hand on him in combination with the thrusts inside him to send him over the edge. He cried out Heero's name harshly as his climax hit; Heero's own release and passionate shout overlapped his. The two of them toppled sideways, still joined, still sweaty and sandy and smelly but now sticky and sated as well.

"Love you Duo..." Heero whispered urgently as soon as he had recovered enough breath.

"Love you too Ro..." Duo murmured back, nuzzling against Heero's collarbone contentedly.

Memories of this afternoon and evening would help sustain them both through the difficult days ahead.

***

Duo shut the hospital room door firmly, a triumphant grin on his face. Despite the stress and worry, Heero smirked back at him. "The good ol' Maxwell charm does it again, I take it?" he asked.

"Did you ever doubt it?" Duo grinned, ignoring the cot that had just been set up along one side of the room and joining Heero on the narrow hospital bed. It had taken all the charm he could summon and a sizable donation to the hospital to boot but he'd persuaded them to allow him to stay at the hospital with Heero around the clock. The neurosurgeon's support hadn't hurt either. He had been fairly easy to convince; enough of Heero's records had been passed to him by Sally for the initial consultation that he knew just how badly Heero could potentially react to any form of restraints or even contact by someone he didn't know while in a drugged state. He had been quite willing to do anything that would improve the odds of Heero's recovery and making him feel as comfortable as possible both before and after the surgery would definitely help.

Heero curled into Duo's arms in a reversal of their usual positions. Right now he needed the comfort of Duo holding him all night. The narrowness of the bed didn't bother either of them in the least; they were as tightly pressed together as they could get. Part of Heero wished that Duo had been able to persuade the hospital to let him spend the night at a hotel and simply arrive very early tomorrow morning for the operation. The rest of him knew that it really didn't matter where they spent the night, he would be just as stressed out regardless of location. Just as frightened.

He hated to admit to the fear but he knew Duo was equally afraid. They would both have little if any fear if they were facing torture or a firing squad or something, *anything*, that they themselves could do something about. But they couldn't do anything about his condition; they had to have faith in the surgeon and hope that the luck that had gotten them both through the war was still with them.

Duo held Heero's tense body close and began to talk in a soft, low voice. Telling lighthearted little anecdotes about some of the kids in the gang and at the orphanage. Stories about the mischief he'd gotten into and the despair Sister Helen had been in at her inability to turn him into a properly respectful little boy. All sorts of little tales about anything and everything that he could think of. And gradually as he spoke, Heero's body started to relax against him until finally the soft, even breathing made it clear that his husband had fallen asleep. Even then, Duo continued to talk quietly, not wanting to risk Heero waking if he stopped. A good night's rest before the surgery was just one more advantage for Heero and since his drug resistances meant that there was nothing strong enough to put him out that could be given to him so close to the operation, Duo had hoped that a familiar voice and comforting arms would be enough to do the trick. He would keep this up as long as possible, all night if his voice held out.

***

Heero didn't know how the hell Duo managed to pull it off, but somehow he'd managed to get permission to stay with Heero right until the anaesthetist finished putting him under for the operation. Duo's hand clasped his own firmly even after Heero's own grip began to loosen as he slipped into unconsciousness. He went under with a heartfelt, "Love you Ro," echoing in his ears and a last glimpse of warm blue-violet eyes peering out from between a surgical mask and cap.

Reluctantly, Duo released Heero's hand and allowed a nurse to usher him out of the operating room. He let her help him out of the sterile clothing he'd had to don in order to accompany Heero, picked up the notebook and pens that he'd left in the changing room, then followed her to the small, quiet waiting room reserved for the family of those undergoing surgery. Duo managed to focus enough to remember to thank the young woman for her assistance before dropping wearily into a seat.

'God, I'm tired...' He had slept very little last night. Every time Heero had stirred, he had wakened instantly and resumed his soft speaking, lulling Heero back to sleep again. His own exhaustion didn't matter; he would have plenty of time to rest once Heero was out of surgery and back in his room.

Duo shivered, forcing his thoughts away from the details of the surgery. He had insisted on a full, detailed explanation when they met with the neurosurgeon just a few days ago. And while Heero was off having tests run, the neurosurgeon had given Duo exactly what he asked for. Which was close to knowing more about the entire procedure than he really wanted to.

Scrubbing at his eyes, Duo yawned and rose to get a cup of coffee and donut from the supply in one corner of the room. He hadn't had a chance to eat anything this morning; hadn't wanted to leave Heero's side for an instant longer than necessary. And he had no intention of leaving while Heero was in surgery either so he would have to make do with whatever he could get nearby. He didn't have any real appetite but he knew that he had to take sufficiently good care of himself so that he would be able to be there when Heero needed him. If he'd thought he could force himself to, he would even take a nap here in the waiting room, knowing that he would waken instantly should anyone enter. But he didn't think that he could quite manage that.

Nibbling disinterestedly on his donut, Duo sat and picked up his notebook and a pen. He had a lot of hours to fill, both now and once Heero got out of surgery. He wasn't in the mood to read but he thought that perhaps he could concentrate on his memories enough to write. To write about everything that had happened in his life since the first time he and Heero met. Sort of the story of their growing and changing relationship, from strangers to reluctant partners to friends to spouses. While Heero was recovering, they could add Heero's view of things. Then when they were back at the cottage, type it up and add in photos from their files. Make it into an ongoing project for them both.

Duo refused to listen to the small voice deep inside that whispered that it would also be a good way to keep his memories fresh if things went badly and he ended up returning to the cottage alone.

***

Duo paced the waiting room nervously, unable to even concentrate on writing down his memories. The neurosurgeon had promised to send someone out partway through the procedure to let him know how things were going.

Brain surgery wasn't the horrifying spectre it had been in the past, there had been a great many advances over the years, but one of the things that remained true was that there were no guarantees. Not all patients reacted in the same way to identical procedures. And even though advanced techniques allowed for some pretty accurate mapping of brain functions in individuals, risks remained.

The problem in Heero's case was complicated by the nature of the metal fragment that needed to be removed. Gundanium couldn't be broken down into microscopic fragments for removal through the use of tightly focussed gamma rays which meant that it had to be cut out the old fashioned way. Endoscopic surgery ensured that the incision wouldn't need to be a great deal larger than the fragment itself but the surgeon would possibly have other work to do, fixing damage caused by the fragment. Once the skull was opened up, the surgical team would switch to a local anaesthetic and wake Heero so that they could talk to him and monitor his condition as they worked by having him move his fingers and toes and answer questions.

There was a slight chance that they might have to call Duo in again at that point to help Heero remain calm and still. Heero's self-control was good but the situation was likely to trigger off flashbacks of his training and the medical procedures that J subjected him to in order to strengthen muscle and bone and build resistances.

"Mr. Maxwell-Yuy?" a voice asked.

Duo spun to face the speaker, "Yes?"

"If you would please come with me..."

'Crap,' Duo swore to himself, taking long strides across the room to follow the nurse back to the changing room. While Duo was hastily scrubbing and changing, the man explained that they had wakened Heero only briefly before it became clear that he was far too stressed by the situation to continue in that way. They had put him under again and sent for Duo, hoping that his presence would be enough to calm Heero. Otherwise, they would have to leave Heero completely under and hope for the best. Duo nodded in sharp acknowledgement. "Can I touch him?" he asked briefly.

"As long as you stay out of the surgeon's way," the nurse replied, helping Duo don the sterile clothing.

"Skin to skin or only with gloves on?" Duo was relieved to hear that gloves were not required since he would not be anywhere near the actual surgery; he didn't think holding Heero's hand would be nearly as effective if he'd had to wear them.

Duo kept his eyes carefully averted from the surgery site and the instruments as he entered the operating room and moved to Heero's side. He took Heero's hand in his own as they cut off the general anaesthetic. In surprisingly little time, Heero began to wake and Duo started to speak softly. "Hey there buddy, heard that you missed me."

Heero's eyes flickered open, searching. Duo smiled behind the surgical mask as they came to rest on him and the fingers held in his tightened. In response to Heero's quietly sighed, "Duo..." he said, "Yep, I'm here partner. Promised I'd be with you, didn't I? So how about you just take things easy now and let's get this show on the road, okay?"

"Okay..."

Duo consciously controlled his own respiration, keeping it slow and even, knowing that Heero would match it. He kept his eyes locked on Heero's, distantly aware of the surprised exclamations from the others as Heero's heartrate slowed and settled. In mere moments, the surgeon was back at work again, asking Heero to answer a question or move a finger or toe as he worked. Heero answered the questions in a quiet, detached tone, his own gaze fixed on Duo.

Holding on to the loving warmth in Duo's eyes, Heero was able to keep control, to shut out the sounds and odours and images that triggered so many unpleasant and painful memories. To stay firmly in the present. He responded when spoken to but his attention was locked onto those expressive eyes and the warm hand clasping his own cold one. Drawing strength from Duo's love and support. Knowing that no matter what, Duo would be there for him.

Time passed slowly. Eventually, someone brought Duo a stool to sit on. He sat down gratefully, legs aching from standing in one position for so long. He deliberately shut out the murmuring of the neurosurgeon and those assisting him, keeping his full attention focussed on Heero. Just as Heero's was firmly focussed on him.

By the time that the neurosurgeon completed his work and Heero was put under again while they closed up the surgery site, Duo was stiff from holding one position for so long. His arm had fallen asleep a long time ago. He stood and managed to make it out of the operating theatre without stumbling or staggering. He took a few minutes to go get a sandwich and can of pop from the nearby vending machines once he had gotten rid of the operating room garb. The sandwich tasted like sawdust but it was better than nothing. He downed a nutribar and a couple of chocolate bars followed by a black coffee and finally felt a little more human.

The neurosurgeon approached, still wearing his scrubs, and gave Duo a brief rundown. Essentially, while there was still a chance of complications developing, Heero seemed to have come through the operation relatively unscathed, in large part because they had been able to keep him conscious and responsive in order to confirm "safe" areas to cut, thus avoiding as many key areas of his brain as possible. They hadn't been able to entirely avoid certain areas related to motor control but the damage had been minimized. That didn't necessarily guarantee *no* negative effects but it reduced the chance of there being major ones. Minor difficulties, particularly things such as slight slurring or clumsiness, were likely to only be temporary, correcting themselves as the brain rerouted disrupted functions or as swelling from the trauma of the operation went down.

Duo breathed a small sigh of at least partial relief and followed an orderly down the hall to the recovery room. Once again, the neurosurgeon was bending the rules a bit, making exceptions for Heero's background by allowing Duo to stay with him. Duo wasn't too sure exactly what Sally had put in those medical records she'd sent the man when she first referred Heero to him but it had obviously made a major impression. 'She's helping us out even though she doesn't know any of this is even taking place,' Duo thought gratefully. At least that might make Sally feel slightly less indignant about being left out of the loop when she and the others found out everything that had happened without them knowing about it.

Seating himself beside Heero's bed, Duo gathered Heero's limp hand into his own and settled down to wait. He wasn't exactly ready to jump up and down for joy just yet but he could dare to believe that maybe things really were going to be okay. That he and Heero would be going home together, ready to start a long life as a happily married couple.

***

Heero struggled slowly out of his drugged sleep, waking to a very familiar situation. He could feel the hand wrapped around his own and knew that Duo was by his side long before he ever managed to pry his eyes open to confirm that presence.

"Bout time you woke up, Sleeping Beauty," Duo teased gently, trying not to show just how worried he'd been. The surgeon had warned him that it might take quite a while for Heero to come around but he was so used to how rapidly Heero's system metabolized drugs that he'd still been concerned by the time it took for him to wake.

His mouth and throat were very dry but Heero managed to croak out, "Was waiting for Prince Charming's kiss..."

Duo laughed, "Is that a hint?" He leaned over and kissed Heero gently, dampening Heero's dry lips with his tongue before he drew back. "How do you feel?"

"Shitty," Heero murmured honestly. He was exhausted and he ached all over, especially his head. But he was alive and he could feel his whole body and when he tried to move his legs and arms, they responded. So he added, "But good..."

Clapping one hand over his mouth to smother his laughter, Duo shook his head at Heero's tiny smirk. He gave Heero's hand a gentle squeeze then pressed the button to summon the nurse. Relief flooding through him, he bent to kiss Heero tenderly again before the woman arrived.

Heero was conscious, and lucid, and able to move all of his limbs. Things were going to be alright.

***

Duo followed signs through the corridors, irritated at the therapist's timing. He had finally caved in to Heero's insistence and had left the hospital for a couple of hours to get a little fresh air and a decent meal at a good restaurant. So of course, the therapist had Heero brought in for his first session while he was gone. Duo shook his head in exasperation. He'd wanted to be there; he knew this was going to be damn frustrating for Heero. His left side was fine but the right arm and leg were a bit weak and slow to respond. The neurosurgeon had suggested this morning that it might clear up entirely over time but for now Heero was simply going to have to learn to deal with it.

That had gone over like a lead balloon. Particularly the news that not only would the hospital not release Heero until he could walk a certain distance unassisted but that therapy sessions to help him meet that goal were being scheduled. The implication had been that the sessions wouldn't start till tomorrow; Duo had intended to have Heero in a more accepting mood by then. But the therapist had shot that idea all to hell by pulling Heero in today.

A flood of Japanese cursing carried down the hall to Duo's ears. He winced, hoping that no one else in the vicinity understood Japanese, and lengthened his strides. He entered the therapy room to find Heero sitting in a wheelchair and glaring at a walker. Duo cringed. 'Not a good start, lady... Should've waited till I got back...' He could have told her that there was no point trying to get Heero to use something like that. Not until he'd tried and failed without it at any rate. But Duo didn't think that he would fail. Heero was too determined to allow that to happen and it wasn't as if the arm and leg weren't working at all. They just weren't responding with the degree of ease that Heero was used to and he was going to have to learn to compensate.

"Getting started without me, huh? What'd you do, husband-o'mine, charm this lovely lady into letting you get an early start?" Frankly, battleaxe would probably be a better description of the woman judging by her general attitude at the moment, but hey, sometimes a little charm went a long way towards making life just a little bit easier.

"I don't recall requesting *your* presence," the woman scowled.

'And sometimes it doesn't do a damn bit of good...' Duo thought, discarding his previous ideas for coaxing the woman into changing her approach.

"You didn't. I *did*," Heero snarled at his therapist.

'Shit Ro, no wonder she's in such a bitchy mood if you've been actin' like that the whole time...' Duo suppressed an exasperated sigh and simply crossed the room to stand in front of Heero and hold out both hands. "Yup. That you did. One walking assistant at your service."

Heero reached for Duo's hands, his temper flaring again as his right hand lagged behind and fell short of its destination. Duo caught it so quickly that Heero wasn't sure if the therapist even got a chance to notice. Duo turned his head a bit to hide his expression from the therapist and gave Heero a grin and a wink. A little of Heero's anger and frustration bled away at that simple confirmation that Duo understood.

Duo braced himself and simply let Heero use him as support while he dragged himself to his feet. He didn't help Heero beyond giving him something solid to lean on. Hopefully once the woman watched Heero in motion, she'd realize that she wasn't dealing with an ordinary person here and she'd just teach them how to do the damn exercises and leave well enough alone. It wouldn't be the first time one pilot had acted as therapist for another; they'd all done that kind of thing a few times during the war and over the years since then. They had far more patience with each other than with "average" people.

Ignoring his therapist's protests, Heero stood still for a moment, letting himself catch his balance and adjust to being on his feet again. He'd tried this a couple of times already with Duo; he'd even walked across his hospital room with Duo's support. He knew that he could do it as long as he moved slowly and had some help if he faltered. Duo's help he would accept; that damn contraption that she'd tried to make him use - no fucking way.

Heero gave a sharp nod and Duo took a small step backwards, Heero leaning heavily on his outstretched arms as he followed. But the lean lightened after only a few steps as Heero found his balance again and started to adjust to how his right leg moved. After several circuits of the room, Heero completely released his grip on Duo. Duo let him go but kept his arms outstretched and ready in case Heero stumbled or lost his balance. Idly, Duo noticed that the therapist had finally stopped bitching and a quick peek out of the corner of his eye showed that she was just standing and glaring at them.

"I just have to walk from here to that mark on the floor down there and then you have to sign off on my release, right?" Heero demanded, turning his head slightly towards the therapist. He wanted out of here and he wanted out *now*. Six days in the hospital was quite enough; he had no intention of staying any longer if he could do anything to avoid it. He could just sign himself out he supposed but he was a little leery of trying that considering that it *was* brain surgery that he'd just had. He wasn't entirely certain that they couldn't legally make him stay. It was simpler to just play their fucking little game.

"Yes, but there is no point in even attempting that until you've had several sessions and done things correctly..." the woman began in a decidedly snotty tone.

Heero snorted in response and gave Duo a small nod again. Duo stepped out of Heero's way, moving to walk sideways beside Heero, ready to catch him if he should happen to fall. Smirking faintly at the ease of silent communication between his spouse and himself, Heero started down that surprisingly long stretch of floor. By the time he was halfway there he was shaking slightly and tiring fast. But he was determined to get out of the damn hospital so he forced himself onwards.

Duo smothered the urge to sigh. Heero evidently wanted out of here *now*. He really wished that Heero wouldn't push himself quite so damn hard; he could read Heero's body language and respiration well enough to know that he was overdoing things. And while he could sympathize with Heero's desire to get out of the hospital - hell, he wanted to go home too - a week seemed like an awfully short time to be hospitalized for brain surgery. Despite the fact that it apparently wasn't all that unusual.

Thankful that the mark wasn't just a few steps further away, Heero crossed it and stopped. 'Shit... Wonder if collapsing after finishing the distance will invalidate it...' he thought as his leg started to buckle. But before it could actually give way on him, Duo was wrapping him in a tight congratulatory hug and incidentally taking most of his weight off his leg.

Heero smirked smugly at the bitchy therapist for a second before Duo kissed him and whispered, "Be nice now Heero. Don't give her any excuse to blow this off if you want to get out of here." Heero nodded minutely and decided to just keep his mouth shut and let Duo handle things. He wanted to go home.

***

Duo finished unloading the vehicle and entered the cottage wearily with the last bag of groceries. He took a few minutes to put away the perishable items, made sure the door was locked, then headed for the bedroom.

It had taken them most of the week to make the drive home; Heero had discovered much to his chagrin that he now got carsick after a few hours on the road. Duo was more inclined to blame lingering effects from the anaesthetic for that than anything else but Heero of course was convinced that it was another unexpected bit of damage from the surgery. Either way, it had slowed down their trip home considerably.

Duo had tried to pick interesting spots to stop and take a break; to turn the necessary breaks into a planned part of their trip. Not that it had helped any, Heero had been an absolute jackass the whole time. Sullen and silent except when he was complaining about something. Like the way that Duo was driving - too fast, too slow, too reckless, too cautious - or the kind of restaurant that Duo picked to eat at or the hotel he chose for the night or the fact that Duo wanted *him* to pick the restaurant or the hotel or the way that Duo fucking *breathed*...

Sighing heavily, Duo crossed his fingers and hoped that being back at home would improve Heero's mood. Some of it could be blamed on the anaesthetic, some could be blamed on all the stress he'd been under, some of it was perfectly legitimate frustration at being betrayed by his own body, a body that he was used to being highly trained and responsive. And Duo really did sympathize with Heero and understand why he was so damn cranky. *But* - he was only going to let Heero get away with his little self-pity fest and its associated sulkiness for so long.

Standing in the bedroom doorway, Duo made a disgusted face as he realized that Heero had arranged himself in bed with his back to where Duo would be yet again. Stripping on his way to the bed, Duo slid gratefully under the covers and curled up against Heero's back. He was so fucking tired and damn glad to be home...

Heero had gone straight to bed as soon as they got home. He was tired and frustrated and he couldn't help carry things in anyway since he wasn't very steady on his feet with his hands full. Which only increased his frustration. He knew that it would take time either for his arm and leg to return to normal or for him to learn how to properly compensate for them but he wasn't very good at dealing with any form of physical incapacity. He was impatient for things to get back to normal. And damn disgusted to discover that he got motion sick on long drives.

It was silly to be so frustrated and upset and to feel so fucking sorry for himself considering how lightly he'd actually gotten off. Considering that he was alive and mobile. But the first couple of days after the surgery had seemed so promising; it had appeared at first that he'd come through without *any* negative effects. But then as his strength returned, the difference in the responsiveness of his right arm and leg showed up. And when it lingered after a few days and that damn therapist had tried to convince him that he needed a walker to start with then a cane after that... Well, it was a good thing that Duo had showed up when he did; he had been about ready to turn the fucking walker into a pretzel and see whether that would convince the woman that he didn't need the stupid thing.

'Duo got me through that so that I could get out of the hospital when I wanted to go... And then I was an absolute asshole during the entire trip home,' Heero thought guiltily. The whole motion sickness thing had just about been the last straw and discovering how much trouble he had walking when they stopped for breaks, after sitting in the car in one position for so long, *was* the last straw. He'd been surly and short-tempered and downright rude to Duo throughout the trip. Including at night, when he'd made a point of lying with his back to Duo.

When Duo came in and crawled into bed, curling against him, Heero moved away so that he could roll onto his back. He tapped his shoulder with the opposite hand in invitation. Duo smiled at him gently and shifted to lie with his head resting on Heero's shoulder and his arm on Heero's chest. "I'm sorry," Heero breathed softly. "I shouldn't be taking my frustration out on you. I just..."

Duo reached up to touch Heero's lips lightly, stilling them. "I know Ro. You're not used to your own body letting you down. I'll cut you some slack for a while but..." Duo's tone changed, becoming half-teasing, half-serious as he continued, "...*but* if you don't stop sulking and feeling sorry for yourself pretty soon, I'll kick your ass." With each of the last three words, Duo poked Heero in the chest firmly for emphasis. "You're alive and you're not paralysed, you're back at home less than two weeks after having fuckin' *brain* surgery for god's sake! Cut *yourself* some slack, buddy! I love you and I'm just damn glad that you came through this as well as you *did*."

Heero bristled slightly at Duo's words, then reluctantly admitted to himself that Duo was right. He *was* sulking and feeling sorry for himself. He turned his head slightly to kiss Duo's forehead. "You're right. I'm an ungrateful bastard and I should be thankful, not sulking. I just - I just want everything back to *normal* again..." he said plaintively.

"Well, since I know that you don't want the headaches back again, what part of normal seems to be the problem?" Duo asked. "The walking and stuff will get better, either because you learn to compensate or it clears up on its own. You know that. And *if* the motion sickness turns out to be permanent, it's really not that big a deal for us to work around it. It's not like we're in a big rush to get anywhere; we don't have any deadlines to meet or anything. So what's really bothering you, husband-o'mine?"

"I... We haven't..." Heero hesitated. He wasn't sure that he wanted to bring this up. He didn't think that he could take it if he tried and failed... And he wasn't certain that his arm and leg would cooperate to that extent. He knew for sure that he couldn't handle at least the first part of what he wanted to do. He closed his eyes and forced himself to say it, "I wanted to be able to sweep you off your feet and carry you to our bed the way I did on our wedding day. To make love to you tonight the way I've been longing to since the day we left home. But I know that I can't pick you up yet, I'd probably fall if I tried. And I don't know whether I can manage the rest either."

Duo was silent for a few moments, debating the best way to handle this. He didn't think Heero was afraid that he wouldn't be aroused; he was pretty sure that Heero had spent a damn uncomfortable night last night after he stripped and brushed his hair in front of him. He'd been trying to get a reaction out of Heero after a very frustrating day of Heero at his sheer bastard worst. His hope had been that if he got Heero aroused enough, his lover would let him give him release and then maybe - just maybe - Heero would open up to him and stop being the cold jackass he'd been working so hard at being. Well, the aroused part had worked, Heero just hadn't been willing to even admit to it. So that meant that Heero was probably afraid that his arm and leg wouldn't hold up. 'That, I can do something about...'

Heero gave a startled squawk as Duo suddenly uncurled from beside him, slid off the bed, then scooped *him* up in one quick motion. "Duo!" he yelped. "What the hell?!"

Duo chuckled and carried Heero out to the entryway, then set him carefully on his own feet. "It seems to me that it's only fair that we reenact that afternoon with a few changes," Duo smirked. "Starting with a little role reversal for this..." He stepped in behind Heero and slid his arms around his waist, dropping his head to nibble at the side of Heero's neck at the same time as his hands slid under the waistband of Heero's boxers.

Involuntarily, Heero groaned and leaned back against Duo, surrendering to the pleasure being created by those long, clever fingers stroking his rapidly hardening arousal. He shivered as Duo murmured breathily against his ear, "I'm in the mood for a taste of Japanese, how about you Heero?"

Heero pushed away his concerns about his arm and leg, forcing himself to turn over control of the situation to Duo and to trust that Duo wouldn't let his limitations interfere with this. "I'm hungry for some American..."

"Good - 'cause that's on the menu too," Duo promised as he swung Heero up in his arms again. He couldn't manage it as effortlessly as Heero lifted him, speed and agility were his strong points rather than strength, but he *could* still manage it. Setting Heero down on the bed, Duo wasted no time in disposing of Heero's boxers as well as his own.

"Just lie back and enjoy, Ro," he murmured tenderly as he knelt beside Heero. "Let me do all the work this time, lover..."

Heero moaned his agreement as Duo bent to capture one nipple in his mouth, licking and sucking it. Nimble fingers teased the other nipple into sensitive hardness before trading places with the mouth. "Hair down..." Heero pleaded. If Duo was going to be top, he wanted Duo's hair down. He enjoyed its silken caress against his skin but rarely got to experience it when they made love. They'd discovered in a hurry that leaving it down when Duo was on the bottom was a mistake; it got trapped and pulled far too easily which really put a damper on the mood.

Duo lifted himself up and smiled at Heero. "Of course," he agreed, pulling his braid over his shoulder. He offered the end to Heero, "Go ahead."

Tugging the band off of the braid, Heero tossed it aside before running his fingers through the thick hair, carefully shaking it loose. Duo turned his head slightly and lowered it so that Heero could easily reach the entire length. Once he'd finger-combed the hair free, Heero slid his hands around Duo's face and pulled him down for a deep kiss.

Parting his lips for Heero's questing tongue, Duo met it with his own. Their tongues caressed each other, advancing and retreating in a tender but passionate dance. Pulse accelerating, Duo drew away, dropping a light kiss on the tip of Heero's nose then raining more tiny kisses over the rest of his face. Heero's eyelashes fluttered shut for a moment, allowing Duo to feather kisses on his eyelids before returning to his lips briefly.

Duo worked his way further down Heero's body, moving his attention from Heero's lips to his neck and collarbone, then down to his nipples again before continuing down his stomach. He was careful not to tease too much; he didn't want Heero to beg. Not tonight. This was about comfort and reassurance and showering Heero with his love, not working him into a frenzy of desire.

Heero arched into the tender kisses and caresses that Duo was giving him. He couldn't completely lose himself in the rising desire though; he was too conscious of the fact that if they were reversing roles that meant he was going to be bottom. On the receiving end of things. And he wasn't sure whether he was going to be able to let go enough for that, especially when he was already tense and stressed out.

Feeling Heero's increasing anxiety, Duo reached for the lube and pressed it into Heero's hand. He had a pretty good idea what the problem was and Heero's assumption was totally incorrect. He knew that Heero genuinely had a difficult time being uke and, since he had no problem with the role, he wasn't about to put that kind of pressure on Heero, especially not right now.

Heero opened the lube and squeezed some out. He didn't think that he was ready for this but then he wasn't too sure that he would be any readier if Duo spent more time on foreplay either. But when he reached for Duo's erection, Duo caught his wrist and held his hand away for a moment. "No, Ro. You need to stretch me." Duo retrieved the lube and squeezed some out into his own hand, then turned and lifted up so that Heero could reach his entrance. Heero froze in shock. The feeling of Duo stroking lube over his erection finally stirred him into motion. As he carefully prepped Duo, he thought, 'I should have known Duo would realize that I wouldn't be able to handle that right now. That he'd know I needed to be inside him...'

Thrusting back against Heero's probing fingers, Duo let Heero stretch him thoroughly without complaining and trying to rush him. Heero's accurate thrusts against his prostate brought his own neglected cock to full arousal. "Ro, if you keep that up I'm going to come..." he warned in a passion-harshened voice.

Withdrawing his fingers, Heero murmured huskily, "Don't want that... Want to be inside you when you come..."

Turning and straddling Heero's waist, Duo leaned down to kiss him. "I want that too..." he whispered against Heero's lips before pulling away again. Heero lifted his hands to grasp Duo's hips, steadying him as he raised up and took Heero's erection in one hand, guiding himself down onto it carefully.

Duo let himself moan in pleasure as Heero's length filled him. "God Ro, you feel so damn good..."

Heero groaned in response, biting his lip as he fought for control. Just being inside Duo again, being sheathed in that tight heat, was almost enough to send him over the edge. All of his doubts and worries about his recalcitrant limbs marring their lovemaking were forgotten, washed away by the rising tide of passion sweeping over him. He caught a fistful of hair and tugged very gently, urging Duo to bend over. Duo followed the pressure down, inhaling sharply at the shift in position within him as he did so. Their lips met in a hungry kiss, one made up of equal parts of tenderness and passion. "God I love you Duo," Heero murmured fervently against Duo's lips. "You always seem to know just what I need..."

Kissing Heero again, Duo answered with equal fervour, "Usually because it's what I need too, lover..." He braced his hands against Heero's biceps and pushed himself upright. Heero's hands moved to grasp his elbows for added support as Duo began to move, raising himself partially clear of Heero's erection before dropping back down again. They moved together slowly, languidly. There was no haste or urgency in their joining tonight. Despite the exhaustion that had weighed them both down earlier, an exhaustion born more of the tension between them and the emotional strain that they had been under than of physical weariness, they both intended to make this last.

Heero had no idea how much time passed with the two of them moving slowly and gently together. Nearing the edge of release, then drawing back again, prolonging the experience. Duo riding him and his hips rocking against Duo. From time to time, Duo would lean forward to kiss him or he would lift himself up to kiss Duo.

Soft murmurs exchanged endearments. Confessed fears born of Heero's illness and surgery. Reiterated promises of commitment and love. Repeated the vows that joined them together.

And when at last their rhythm quickened and carried them over the edge together, the release that left them both blacked out briefly was more than simply physical. It was a release of the built-up fear and stress as well. One that left them content and sated in each other's arms.

***

Duo sat up to stretch out his arm and nudge the beach umbrella slightly, changing its angle so that it blocked the sun again. He cast a sleepy gaze over at the other blankets spread on the strip of beach directly in front of the cottage. Quatre and Trowa were lying on adjacent ones but still quite definitely separate. He shook his head slightly, amazed that the two of them still hadn't gotten together. But then if circumstances hadn't intervened, he and Heero might still be dancing around the issue too.

Glancing a little further along the beach, he could see Relena and Sally carefully burying an unsuspecting, soundly sleeping, Wufei in sand while Une watched, shaking her head slightly and predicting dire fates for them both when he woke. Duo snorted in amusement before giving way to Heero's insistent tug and dropping back down at his side.

"Don't even think about it," Heero warned. "I'm still not in any shape to fend him off..."

Duo snickered and shook his head. "Nah, I wasn't going to get involved anyway. Too much effort; I'm too comfy to be bothered." He curled up with his head pillowed on Heero's shoulder and yawned. The past few days had been very hectic and emotional. He and Heero had still been discussing just how much to tell the others about what had happened when the whole group had suddenly turned up on their doorstep, hurt and angry that they'd been left in the dark about what was going on.

Apparently, Heero's neurosurgeon had been so impressed by his case - particularly by the way that Heero and Duo functioned together, including the whole operating room bit - that he'd used it as an example at a conference that Sally was also attending. She'd lost no time in putting two and two together and coming up with 01 and 02. She'd been sufficiently perturbed by the discovery that she'd said a little too much in a conversation with Relena and things had just kept snowballing from there. Once the other pilots knew that there was - or had been - something wrong, they'd started searching and had figured pretty much the entire thing out by the time they tracked Heero and Duo down at their cottage.

Heero rested his chin on top of Duo's head and sighed in contentment. It had taken a few days to soothe everyone's ruffled feathers over the way that they'd handled things, but finally the others had decided that there was no point in staying upset over something that couldn't be changed and had stopped fussing over it constantly. He suspected that Duo's outburst in his defence when Quatre accused him of being selfish by not allowing Duo to have the comfort of his friends during such a difficult time had a lot to do with it.

Duo had lost his temper and pointed out - loudly - that all of this fuss and carrying on was precisely why *neither* of them had wanted to get the others involved. That they'd had quite enough to deal with without having to soothe anyone else's worries. And that if he had to do it all over again, he *still* wouldn't tell them because they'd all drive him absolutely insane. Duo had then grabbed his keys and wallet and headed for the door, holding his hand out to Heero as he went. Heero had clasped it and followed, not sure where they were going but just glad to get out of there for a while. Duo had stopped in the doorway and said softly but firmly that *friends* who were capable of a little understanding were welcome to stay. He and Heero had then continued out to the SUV and had driven into town to do some grocery shopping and have lunch at the small diner before returning home.

Everyone had still been there, the subject had been dropped, and they were now - after another twenty-four hours - all on reasonably good terms with each other again. It was kind of nice having everyone there for a visit but Heero hoped they wouldn't stay *too* long. Sleeping bags littering the floor and porch were extremely inconvenient. Their small cottage simply wasn't designed for having so many guests; it didn't even have a guestroom. And - well - having so many people around was putting a bit of a crimp in their lovelife. It was kind of hard to be spontaneous with six other people around.

Duo squirmed and poked Heero in the ribs. "Behave!" he murmured, twisting his hips to pin Heero's hand between their bodies tightly enough that it couldn't keep teasing him.

"Why?" Heero asked archly. "Maybe if we embarrass them they'll go to a motel for the night and just come back for the day..."

Snickering, Duo propped himself up and kissed Heero firmly. "Don't worry, Une told me that the Preventers bunch has to be back for work in two days. That just leaves Relena - who has a conference to attend the day after that - and Q - who has a meeting with the WEI board of directors the same day."

"Good," Heero sighed. "They're our friends and it's nice to see them but..."

Duo just nodded and kissed Heero again. "I know." He felt the same way. It was nice to see the others but he wanted Heero to himself for a while longer. They'd rejoin civilization in a few months but for now, they just wanted to be together and enjoy the knowledge that there was no longer a time limit on their life together.

As Duo settled back down against his shoulder, Heero let himself slowly drift off to sleep, lulled by the waves lapping at the shore and Duo's soft breathing against his chest. Life was good. Very, very good...

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