Notes: Post-series & post-EW. AC 200, Heero & Duo are working as Preventers.
************ Time passing or scene change
Author's Notes: Feedback is appreciated.
Jun entered the house, weary yet determined. Her grandmother was not expected to last the night. Someone would come for her when the time of death neared but for now she had been sent home in deference to her pregnancy. She was glad of the excuse to leave, having felt very odd sitting there rejoicing that she would indeed be clan head before her child's birth. That she would have the power she needed to protect her child from a fate like hers and Wufei's.
As she moved through the house, intending to find Wufei and try to determine whether he would support her in her intention to wrest power back from the elders, Jun carefully considered her plans. Taking control of the clan away from the elders would not be simple. Over the years they had gradually usurped much of the clan head's powers. Reclaiming that authority would require determination and careful planning. If she had to do this alone, she would. But she would far rather have Wufei's support solidly behind her. Together, they could ensure that their child would not be trapped by the elders into a life of duty, would not be bound by the elders' interpretation of "honour". That their child would not follow in their footsteps.
In the darkness of the movie theatre, Duo wriggled in his seat in order to get his head positioned more comfortably against Heero's shoulder. Heero slipped an arm behind him to draw him as much closer as the seats would allow. Half expecting his usual flare of panic at the increased intimacy, Duo was distinctly relieved by its absence and sighed *almost* contentedly.
The past couple of months had *not* been easy. Tearing down the mental and emotional barriers he had worked so hard to build hadn't happened overnight. Their complete collapse after Heero's close call had been misleading. Once Heero was out of immediate danger, the barriers had gone back up again without any conscious decision on Duo's part. He had made some efforts at partially lowering them. Had managed to visit Heero at the hospital.
And then he had discovered that the barriers were no longer the voluntary things he had originally so painstakingly built. That he had no real control over them. That he was absolutely fucking *terrified* of any type of closeness or intimacy, be it friendly or otherwise.
The first time that he had truly relapsed had been when Heero was released from the hospital. Heero had been extremely restricted in what he could do - no bending or lifting, for example. He had asked Duo to move back into the guestroom at his apartment while he recovered. Duo had not been prepared for that. Just the thought of being in that close of contact with *any* of his friends, let alone Heero, after spending so much time isolating himself had been too much. He had refused and fled back to his dreary little apartment. Back to his distant, lonely existence. Back to safety.
In the end, it had been Trowa that had moved in to help Heero through his convalescence. And Trowa that had shamed Duo back out of his isolation, showing up at his apartment and demanding to know when Duo Maxwell had become such a coward. Such a quitter. Such a *liar*. Reminding him that he had told Heero he was willing to try.
Duo had spent a sleepless night that night. And the next. Then he had finally got his act together enough to visit Heero at home and had started cautiously letting the others back into his life as well. He had thought he was okay. Had thought that he had managed to break those barriers down for good this time. Until on one of their first actual dates, Heero had kissed him and told him that he loved him.
That had been Duo's first ever experience with a panic attack. Ten minutes that ranked in the scariest of his life. Between the racing heart, the sweating, the shaking, and the shortness of breath, he had been convinced that he was about to die. He had scared the hell out of Heero.
Fortunately, there had only been a few other panic attacks since then, much milder ones that lasted only a few minutes. But they had been taking things very, very slowly ever since that first one. The "l-word" was quite definitely off-limits, at least for the moment, being a virtually guaranteed trigger for a panic attack. And Heero was careful to always let Duo make the first move. Duo himself was cautious about pushing his limits. But after a lot of soul-searching, he was sure he was ready for the next step.
As the credits rolled up the screen and the lights came back up, Duo twisted in his seat to look at Heero. "Hey, Heero?" 'I can do this,' he told himself firmly. As Heero turned his head to meet Duo's eyes, Duo gave him a slightly shaky smile and asked, "Is that guest bedroom still available?"
Heero went very still, eyes searching Duo's face. "Of course..." he breathed softly.
"Good, 'cause I gave notice on my apartment today and I need to be out by the end of the month," Duo told him. The look of delight on Heero's face was more than worth the hours he had spent talking himself into this. He wasn't ready for anything more than sharing an apartment yet. When he said "guest bedroom", he meant just that. But maybe, after a few weeks of even that much forced intimacy, he would be ready to handle a little more.
"This better be important..."
"Quatre, he's moving in!" Heero interrupted. He'd been unable to wait till morning to share the good news. And it *was* good news. Sure, Duo was moving into the *guestroom*, but that was going to force more contact than he'd had with *any* of them since Wufei had left. It was *tremendous* progress.
The video on the phone winked to life, revealing Quatre still in the midst of tying the sash on a sloppily-donned bathrobe. Trowa stepped into the video pickup's range, also wearing a bathrobe. Heero was momentarily embarrassed at the realization that he'd apparently interrupted something but he was too delighted for the embarrassment to last long.
"*Duo* is moving in?" Quatre demanded. "With you?"
"Yes! Well, he's moving into the guestroom, but he *is* moving into my apartment... *And* it was his idea!"
"Heero, that's wonderful news!" exclaimed Quatre, beaming happily. "Isn't it, Trowa?"
"Very," Trowa responded, smiling faintly.
"I'm sorry I called so late," Heero apologized. "I just had to share the news. Sometimes I've wondered if we would *ever* get *any* of our Duo back..." Or whether they would always be left with the painfully silent, withdrawn, dim shadow of Duo that had been created by Wufei's betrayal. 'No, "betrayal" is unfair and I know it. Right after the war, I would have been the same way if ordered on a mission. Everything else would have taken second place, no matter how important it was to me.'
Not anymore though. For him, his realization of where his true priorities belonged had come when he first realized that he was in love with his best friend. Realized it too late, after his best friend had already fallen in love with the friend who had been willing to put him before work. Who had been willing to court him and woo him. Leaving Heero regretting all the times that he'd turned down Duo's invitations for a "guys' night out" or a quick game of one-on-one in favour of working late on reports that no one ever actually read anyway.
Sometimes he wondered whether Wufei would ever get *his* priorities straight. Would ever realize that his personal honour and integrity were what was genuinely important.
Whether Wufei would ever come back, hoping to win back Duo. And whether Duo would forgive him and go back to him if that day ever arrived.
"Quatre, have you ever heard from Wufei?" Heero asked abruptly.
Onscreen, Quatre exchanged a nervous glance with Trowa, then admitted, "No, but I've had someone - well, keeping an eye on him. Just in case he ever needed help..."
"How is he?" Heero asked.
Quatre answered evasively, "His wife is... expecting. And with her grandmother's recent illness and expected death, she is likely to be instated as clan leader very soon now." He hesitated, then questioned, "Has Duo ever..."
"No," Heero responded, shaking his head. "He never so much as says his name. He may even be afraid to - it would be a very likely trigger for a panic attack. Sometimes, something will remind him and he gets this look on his face... This awful mix of fear and anger and love... I don't know whether he'll ever really 'get over it'."
"He still loves Wufei."
Heero nodded in response to Quatre's statement. "I believe he does, yes. I don't really know whether he could ever forgive him or trust him again, but he still loves him. He wouldn't still be hurting this badly if he didn't.
"Just as I'm pretty sure that, whether he ever can say the words or not, he loves me now too. He wouldn't be pushing his boundaries this hard if he didn't."
"Don't," Heero warned sharply. "Quatre, just - don't. If it ever happens, it happens. There's nothing I can do about it and I won't spoil whatever time I have with Duo by worrying about something that may never take place."
Ending his call with a few brief words, Heero mused, 'I never thought that I would have *any* time with Duo. He and Wufei were so happy together, I never would have jeopardized that by letting him discover how I felt.
'And I never would have wanted the time I have now at the high price Duo has paid for it. The high price Duo and Wufei both have paid for it. Because I don't doubt that Wufei loved - probably still loves - Duo. It's just unfortunate that he loved his family's so-called "honour" more.
'But since the price has already been paid, regardless of whether I end up with Duo or not, at least this way I can have a small piece of happiness and also make him happy again. Probably never quite as happy as he was - that seemingly-indestructible faith of his that things would always work out for the best, would always be okay in the end, has been pretty thoroughly destroyed, and with it went his almost childlike wonder and delight in life - but happy enough that at least he isn't looking for chances to get himself killed anymore.'
Maybe someday he would find a way to get Duo beyond that point. To make him take real delight in life again. He certainly intended to try. But for now, Heero would take comfort from the small gains they'd already made. Those moments when Duo's smile, small and tentative though it was, flickered into life for a few brief instants. The times when Duo hugged him or kissed his cheek or even, as on two memorable occasions recently, managed to press a chaste kiss to his lips without triggering a panic attack. Those were the little things Heero treasured, the tiny indications that at least a little bit of progress had been made. That Duo was slowly recovering some of his old self.
Wufei's hand hovered over the phone for several long minutes before he finally drew it back again. 'No. It was my choice to break off all contact with the others. Quatre and Trowa made it clear at the wedding that they still considered me a friend and that I should contact them if I needed anything but it is still too soon to try to pick up that friendship. I am not ready to face Duo again and if I resume contact with the others that is far too likely to happen. And as much as I would like to know how Duo is, calling Quatre to ask that will do no one the slightest bit of good. Because no matter what his answer might be, I cannot leave here.'
Now even more than before, he was tied to the colony, to his wife and their unborn child. Jun's grandmother had passed away and she had been formally declared clan head. The first careful groundwork for her rebellion - *their* rebellion - against the elders was already being laid. By the time she was forced to stand up to them openly, he and Jun hoped to have most if not all of their own generation ready to stand behind her. They were not the only ones trapped in unhappiness by their duty to the clan. There were others caught in loveless marriages or in jobs or fields of study that they were ill-suited for. Others in the process of being forced into thankless duty. Others weary of an outdated and backwards lifestyle, trapped by the merciless web spun by the elders.
For now, however, Jun was playing the part of the dutiful clan head admirably. Decisions that she disagreed with were surreptitiously changed; contracts were altered or shuffled to the bottom of the pile to buy time. But all of those things were done without the elders' knowledge. They believed that she was following their wishes in every way. Eventually, that would have to end. She would be forced to openly defy them at some point. But the more time they could buy, the more contracts and agreements that they could alter, the better the odds that their rebellion would succeed. Because if they managed to remove control of the clan's finances and of the colony itself from the hands of the elders, the ultimate control over decisions would be Jun's. And then - things would truly begin to change.
Sprawled at opposite ends of the couch, Duo and Heero were watching a movie. Duo decided, 'Tonight. I've been living here for a damn month now and I haven't been able to make it past a closed-mouth kiss without a fucking panic attack. Not good enough. I l... l...' Dammit, he *still* couldn't even *think* the word. 'I *care* for Heero a *lot*. He's way more than my best friend. Even if I can't *tell* him how I feel, I want to at least be able to *show* him, and right now I can't even manage *that*!' Quite deliberately, he shifted down the couch towards Heero, moving over until their shoulders touched. Just thinking ahead to what he intended to try made his respiration alarmingly rapid. Duo had to pause and force himself through the deep breathing exercises that he used after nightmares. He managed to get his breathing and heartrate back under control finally. He was forcing things and he knew it. But he didn't seem to be making any damn progress and he was determined to finally manage *something* for god's sake.
He knew Heero wouldn't say a thing if he did end up backing off. If anything, that only made him more determined not to give up this time. Not to leave them both disappointed yet again.
Carefully, Duo shifted over onto his hip, bending one knee so that his upper leg rested partially on top of Heero's. He slid his arms around Heero and rested his head against Heero's chest. Heero's heartrate was elevated for a moment, then gradually dropped down to normal. After a few more minutes, his own levelled off, still slightly elevated but steady. Tipping his head back, Duo looked up into Heero's face and said softly, "Kiss me."
Heero's eyes widened. "Duo, are you..."
Duo reached up and touched his fingertips to Heero's mouth. "I'm sure." He drew his hand away and waited, face uplifted.
Heero leaned over, cradled Duo's face carefully in one hand, and brought their lips together. Considering that this was the first time he'd asked Heero to take the initiative, Duo was a little worried that he'd trigger off a panic attack but he managed to lose himself in the sensation of their lips moving together. Greatly daring, he parted his and flicked his tongue across Heero's mouth. The immediate flare of panic that appeared at Heero's willing response was blotted out by his anger at his own limitations. 'Heero won't leave me. I *know* he won't. He was willing to die to protect me; I can trust him.'
But part of him still doubted. And that was the part that wouldn't let him push things beyond kissing, beyond the cautious play of lips and teeth and tongues, at least not tonight. But he was determined to do so soon.
Jun leaned her head wearily against the car window. The first vague mention of a marriage contract for her and Wufei's child had occurred today. She had been ready for it, however, and had put on a spectacular display of hysteria at the thought of jinxing her pregnancy by making plans involving her unborn child. They had not even begun to prepare a nursery as she had been planning this approach all along. The elders had bought her performance, had fallen for it "hook, line, and sinker" as Wufei had worded it in English, his eyes dancing for a moment before clouding with memories. And the marriage contract had been dropped for now.
Glancing over at Wufei, Jun realized how fortunate she had truly been in her own arranged marriage. The age difference between herself and Wufei was a mere two years. And her husband was kind, considerate, and supportive. 'He has never even blamed me either for our marriage or for the destruction of the happiness he already had...' True, she had had as little to do with the elders' actions as Wufei himself had but he could very easily have chosen to take out his anger and frustration at his situation on her. And he hadn't. Despite the fact that he was obviously still unhappy, Wufei seemed determined to make the best of a bad situation. 'As am I. It may be too late for us to have the lives we would have chosen if the choice was truly ours but at the very least we can make sure that the next generation of our clan is not caught in the same trap.'
A soft sound from the hallway drew Heero from his sleep. Blinking, he propped himself up on his elbow and peered towards the door. "Duo? Is something wrong?"
"No..." The response was a bit more hesitant than he would have liked but that was nothing new. Everything about Duo remained just a bit more hesitant than it used to be. It still hurt to see and hear but the rest of them were slowly adjusting to it. Accepting that this was simply the way things were going to be. Duo had progressed to a certain point and no further. He had *mostly* restored his friendship with Heero and the others, had even made a certain amount of cautious progress in his new relationship with Heero, but outsiders remained that way. No new friends. No one else was allowed to get close. Even the outside fringes of their friends and acquaintances - anyone beyond Quatre, Trowa, and Heero - those were held cautiously at arm's length, only allowed to know the quiet, distant, efficient coworker. And Heero was a bit - disturbed - by the fact that Une and the others in that outer grouping did not really understand just how little they knew about Duo as he now was. They all *liked* the new, "mature" Duo, writing all the changes in him off as signs of maturity rather than recognizing them as the coping mechanism that they were.
"Do you need to talk?" Heero offered as Duo continued to hover in his doorway.
"I... I dreamt about - well, you know..."
"I know..." Heero agreed softly. Actually, he *didn't* know, not for sure, but he could guess. Either the old nightmares about Solo and the church were putting in another appearance or Duo had dreamt about Wufei. Wartime nightmares had a different effect on Duo, sending him off to the apartment building's gym at unearthly hours of the night to burn off the adrenaline and anger.
"Heero, I... I don't want to be alone tonight." The words came out in a rush. "Could I..."
Shocked to his core that Duo was actually reaching out, breaking past another of his carefully erected barriers, Heero still managed to force himself into action. "Of course," he said, flipping back the covers in invitation before sliding well over on the bed. He left one sheet against the mattress when he flipped the covers back, leaving it between them as a reminder to himself not to crowd too close to Duo.
Duo hesitated again beside the bed, then reached out and moved the other sheet before crawling in. "Could you... just hold me?" he whispered softly.
Heero swallowed hard, then reached out, gathering Duo to him carefully. The amount of trembling that was shaking Duo worried him, made him concerned that this was too much contact - too much intimacy - for Duo, but when he started to loosen his embrace, Duo protested, "No... Tighter, Heero. Hold me tighter, please..."
"Alright," he murmured softly, tightening his hold. After a few minutes, Duo shifted, tucking his head under Heero's chin and entwining their legs, pressing their bodies as tightly together as possible. More time passed, how much Heero really didn't know, but finally the trembling ceased and Duo's breathing and heartbeat levelled off at something closer to a normal resting rate. He had decided that Duo was finally asleep and was just about to let himself drift off, still overwhelmed by this unexpected show of trust from Duo, when a soft voice pulled him back to full consciousness.
"You... won't leave me, will you Heero? At least, not by choice?"
"Never, Duo," he swore fervently. "Never by choice." Between them lay the knowledge that there were many things that could happen to take him away *without* any choice. A mission gone bad, a car accident, an illness, all those were things that could take him away without his consent. But if he *did* have a choice, he would not walk away from Duo. Not now, not ever. Regardless of whether their relationship ever progressed any further or not.
"Okay," Duo whispered softly. "You know I l... l..."
Heero closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to the top of Duo's head, tightening his arms around him slightly. "I know. The fact that you're even here with me tells me that," he assured him, heart aching at the fruitless struggle for the words. "And I do you too," he promised, carefully avoiding that forbidden word. He had no desire to trigger a panic attack and set them back again after all the progress they'd just made. "Now sleep. We both have work tomorrow..."
Work that he was looking forward to less and less as time went on. As it became increasingly clear that to Une and the other top brass, they were nothing more than tools, tools which were not expected to have any sort of personal life whatsoever. Trowa had already quit in disgust after being sent on two multi-month undercover operations in a row, operations that could easily have been assigned to someone else, someone who was *not* in a longterm relationship. But while *married* operatives were, by and large, excused from such assignments, same-sex relationships were not given the same courtesy. When Une had handed him the orders for the third such assignment, Trowa had handed them right back again, along with his resignation. Heero agreed with his decision. There were plenty of other trained agents in the Preventers, Trowa was entitled to a life of his own.
Heero was a bit concerned about what would happen when Une finally figured out that he and Duo were more than best friends, which they were even if they weren't technically lovers - yet. Logically, nothing *should* happen since if same-sex relationships weren't entitled to equal status with marriages in other ways, they shouldn't fall under the no-married-partners rule either. But he wasn't betting on it. Since he had no intention of accepting another partner, however, she would be left with a simple choice - leave him partnered with Duo, let him go solo, or accept his resignation. He just didn't like the fact that the last two choices would leave Duo partnered with someone else. Unless Duo was willing to follow his example. And that was something he really didn't know. Duo's job had been the only thing keeping Duo going during the year after Wufei left; he wasn't certain that Duo would be willing to walk away from it now.
Wufei shook his head fondly. Jun simply would not admit that she needed more rest as the pregnancy progressed. This was the second time in the past week that she had fallen asleep at the table, papers spread across its surface. 'She is very determined that everything be in place before the baby is born. That we will be ready to face the elders and tell them that not only will we not allow them to arrange our child's marriage but that they no longer have full control of the clan's finances nor of the colony's administration. That the power has been returned to Jun's hands. That our generation will not allow the next to be manipulated and controlled like puppets suspended from the strings of honour and duty.'
Carefully, Wufei lifted his wife's sleeping form and carried her to her room. He had turned back the covers beforehand so he was able to place her on the bed, remove her thin slippers, and tuck her in. Pausing in her doorway and glancing back towards the bed, Wufei thought how very like Meilan she was - and yet very unlike her at the same time. The determination and stubbornness were certainly the same. But Jun's temper was less fiery than her sister's had been. That did not mean that she was meek by any means; merely that she had other - possibly more effective - ways of expressing her displeasure. Something that the elders were going to find out in the not-too-distant future.
Pulling the door closed behind him, Wufei returned to take up the task that Jun had been working on, tracing clan financial records back to determine how much money should actually belong to individual families within the clan. Offering to return at least a percentage of those funds to the direct control of their rightful owners should buy Jun a few more supporters. And every extra supporter they could muster would improve their chances of success.
Duo ran his fingers lightly across Heero's chest, not even consciously thinking about what he was doing. It had been hot for the last week or so and they had both taken to sleeping in only boxers. He'd been a bit uncomfortable the first night but that had quickly faded. They'd shared a bed for a whole month now, ever since that night...
'That night that I dreamed about... about Wufei.' It hurt just to think about it. He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to talk about it. But - remembering what had happened, reliving the abandonment, the agonizing pain and betrayal, the terrible loneliness and emptiness that followed, the barriers he'd so carefully erected to keep himself from ever being hurt so deeply again - that hadn't been enough to send him to Heero's room looking for reassurance that he was *not* alone. No, it was the nightmare that followed that sent him seeking the comfort of Heero's arms. The one in which he relived Heero being shot. He had stumbled from his bed and down the hall to stand in Heero's doorway just listening to him breathe. He hadn't intended to wake Heero or to go in. But once Heero spoke to him, the longing to be close, to rest with Heero's reassuring heartbeat against his ear, had risen up strong enough to blot out the panic at the thought of that degree of intimacy. And for a while, just sleeping with Heero, lying here together like this, had been enough. But over the past few days, the wish for more had been growing stronger.
He hadn't wanted their first time together to be at night. Duo wanted the sunlight streaming in the window and falling across the bed. Wanted things as different as he could possibly make them from his first time with... He pushed the memory away firmly, still unable to remember the good without drowning in the pain that had followed. He wanted things as different as possible in order both to make his first time with Heero equally special and to reduce the chance of being swamped by memories. And finally, the time had arrived. Today was their day off and he had certain plans in mind. He just hoped that he could follow through with them. He still couldn't tell Heero how he felt, much to his frustration, but he had every intention of showing him.
Duo tugged his braid over his shoulder and pulled the tie off the end, untwisting the bottom section and leaving the rest to gradually unravel on its own. He suspected Heero would help it along. He hadn't let Heero take his hair out of the braid before; it had been just one more of the little acts of intimacy that he hadn't been ready to allow. No one else had touched his hair since that blurry chunk of time that Heero and Quatre had cared for him right after Wufei's engagement announcement. Once he'd started to erect those barriers against intimacy, against caring, his hair had once again become the only thing that was truly his, just as it had been when he was merely "Duo", one of the street kids. He knew Heero would understand the significance of him voluntarily leaving it loose now.
Part of Duo was still terrified at the thought of daring to love again, of daring to believe that he might have a chance at happiness and a home with someone he loved and who loved him in return, of daring to *trust*; that was the part that still wouldn't let him say the words. The part of him that made him have to stop and concentrate, remind himself that this was Heero, his best friend, the person who would never hurt him, who had promised not to ever leave him by choice. But the rest of him wanted this so badly... Wanted to believe, wanted to trust, wanted to *love*... 'And I do. I l.. lo... I *love* Heero.' He could finally *think* it at least, even if he couldn't quite *say* it yet.
Propping himself up on one elbow, Duo leaned over and began to scatter tiny kisses across Heero's skin. He heard the indrawn breath and felt the sudden tension in Heero's muscles that told him Heero had awakened. Duo pressed a kiss directly over Heero's heart, then raised his head to meet Heero's questioning gaze. "Good morning..." he smiled, then drew his breath in and carefully added, "...k-koibito." He stuttered slightly and his voice cracked a bit on the word, but he managed to get it out. He and Wufei had always used English or Mandarin endearments; he had hoped that maybe, without the memories added to the emotional significance, he would be able to handle Japanese ones. He couldn't - quite - force out an "ai shiteru" just yet, not even in practice, but he'd been able to handle a few endearments. That hadn't guaranteed he could handle saying them to Heero but he'd taken the gamble anyway - and it had succeeded. The wondering joy on Heero's face was enough to take his breath away. As he leaned over to plunder Heero's parted lips, Duo felt a bit more of the tight knot of pain and heartache loosen.
Drawing back slightly, Duo murmured softly, "If we - umm, do things differently than I did - before - I think I'll be okay, Heero. As long as things don't remind me too much, I should be able to handle this. And - I *want* to... If you do?"
Heero reached up and gently threaded his fingers through Duo's hair, thumbs stroking his cheeks. "Very much. But only whatever you're comfortable with, k - Duo."
"Go ahead, Heero. Try it," Duo insisted. "If we get out of my comfort zone, we'll just stop till I calm down then start again. We've got all day..."
With a soft smile, Heero answered a bit hesitantly, "If that's what you want, koi."
Duo's breath caught for an instant, then he smiled in relief. "It is, koibito." The endearment came more easily this time. And he'd felt only the slightest flicker of worry in response to Heero's term for him. 'So that's really the key. Avoid the memories. Which means... Shit.' "Uh, Heero, I've never been top before... if we're gonna avoid triggering memories... umm..." Duo's cheeks flooded with warmth. He hadn't really thought that far ahead. His relationship with - his previous relationship had just started out one way and it had been comfortable for them both, so the question of who took which role had never really come up, they'd just kept doing things the same way. So changing roles now should help avoid triggering memories and the panic that inevitably followed. And being top also gave at least an illusion of control, something he couldn't quite bring himself to give up yet, despite his love for Heero. The distrust and wariness ran too deep; his conscious mind alone was unable to overcome it entirely. But he really didn't know if Heero would be comfortable with things that way around.
"I've never been either, Duo, so I don't mind which way things work," Heero assured him. "Whatever is most comfortable for you."
Stunned, Duo stared at Heero. "Never?" he squeaked in surprise.
Heero's smile turned rueful, "If I couldn't have the one I wanted, I didn't want anyone at all..."
Duo's breath caught and he gave Heero a loving smile. "Then I'd better make this worth the wait, hadn't I?" And he would. He would make love to Heero with all the love and tenderness and passion he possessed. Use his body and their lovemaking to tell Heero all the things he couldn't put into words; all the things that he'd built such strong barriers against in the wake of his loss of Wufei. 'God Heero, I love you so much...' he thought fervently as he swooped down to capture Heero's lips in a passionate kiss. 'And one day, I *will* be able to tell you in words, not just actions. I swear it...'
Heero ran his fingers wonderingly through the cascades of silk that spilled across his chest. The day had been - incredible. Wonderful. Unbelievable. From the moment he awoke to Duo's feather-light kisses on his chest and that gorgeous hair unravelling from its braid to caress his bare skin, he had been half convinced that he must be dreaming. That Duo couldn't possibly be touching him so gently and caringly, couldn't be gazing at him with so much love and passion, couldn't be trusting him and his love enough to be making love to him so tenderly. But it hadn't been a dream; it had been real.
He and Duo hadn't left the apartment all day. Had never gotten dressed beyond pulling on a pair of boxers while they fixed meals and ate. Had showered together - several times. Had made love repeatedly. Despite how incredibly careful and gentle Duo had been, never causing more than a very slight discomfort, it was inevitable that Heero would be sore tomorrow. His body wasn't used to this yet, though he now could believe he would have the opportunity to become accustomed to Duo making love to him, something he'd scarcely dared believe possible not too long ago. Heero just hoped that they didn't have a field assignment tomorrow or he was probably going to regret coaxing Duo into taking him that last time. The wince he hadn't quite been able to hide afterwards had drawn an affectionate scolding for overdoing things from Duo, followed by a warm soak together in the tub. But that feeling of being joined so intimately, of being one with Duo, was so incredible that he hadn't been able to resist.
Beautiful though the day had been, it had still had its rough spots. He had slipped up and unthinkingly said "ai shiteru" once. Duo had frozen, trembling, but hadn't had a full-fledged panic attack. And after only a few moments, he had given Heero a shaky but beautiful smile before picking up where he had left off, kissing and caressing his way down Heero's torso. 'He *is* getting better,' Heero thought hopefully. Perhaps Duo would never be quite his old self; he certainly was far from it in public; but at home, with just Heero, he smiled with increasing frequency and Heero had even drawn a genuine grin and laugh from him on several memorable occasions in the past few weeks. The progress was slow, painfully so, but it *was* happening. Heero even dared hope that someday maybe, just maybe, Duo might even manage to tell Heero that he loved him. The words would be nice - though not entirely necessary. Every bit of hard-won progress proved that love in no uncertain terms.
Jun pressed one hand to her aching back. She would be very glad when all of this - the pregnancy, the charade of being the dutiful clan leader firmly under the elders' control - was over. And the day was rapidly nearing. *Very* rapidly.
She hastily signed and stamped the last few items from her urgent pile before picking up the phone. A moment later, she was saying, "Wufei, it's time," then shaking her head fondly at the surprised reaction from the other end. After reassuring him that there was no real rush, she could easily wait for him to arrive and take her to the hospital, Jun hung up the phone and sighed heavily. Now things would begin to happen very quickly. The elders would probably start the marriage contract pressure immediately after the baby's birth and all pretense of obedience would be thrown to the wind. She hoped that she and Wufei were ready for this.
Duo listened cynically as Une calmly informed them that it had been brought to her attention that he and Heero were - "involved" - and she regretted to inform them that they could no longer be partners. 'Regretted - yeah, right. Pull the other one, Une-babe, it's got bells on...' There was no disguising the moue of distaste she had given as she spoke. He had his own theory as to why Une seemed to have it in for any male couples in the department. A theory that involved a dead Oz General and a certain "Lightning Count". Nothing he could *prove*, no more than he could prove her discriminatory tendencies unfortunately, but he didn't think Wufei's departure was the only reason Zechs had quit Preventers. There had been other people in the department who would have made adequate partners. Though perhaps they hadn't been too willing to be partnered with the person who somehow seemed to always end up with the dullest, dirtiest assignments, something that Wufei had complained about on a regular basis.
"Since we do not really have anyone suitable to partner either of you available at this time," Une continued, "Yuy is the ideal choice for this mission. Maxwell can assist with administrative duties until a new partner is available."
Duo stiffened. 'What mission?' He wasn't too thrilled with being relegated to administrative duties - aka Une's gopher he thought scornfully - but the mission Une was giving Heero was rapidly swamping his annoyance with panic. 'A minimum of six months deep cover in an undisclosed location? No! God, no, please... I can't...' He fought to control the rising fear. 'He *can't*; Heero *promised*...'
Heero had promised not to leave him by choice - but this wasn't choice, this was a mission. And Heero Yuy never turned down a mission. 'He'll come back; it's only six months...' Duo tried to convince himself but that tiny part of him that still couldn't bring itself to trust was shrieking its vindication.
Duo watched dully as Heero skimmed through the briefing he had been handed. After a few moments, Heero closed the folder with a decisive snap. Duo struggled to breathe as Heero intoned, "Mission - refused."
"What?!" Duo vaguely realized that Une had shouted the same shocked exclamation as he had.
"Mission refused," Heero repeated, tossing the folder back onto Une's desk and crossing the room in two quick strides to catch Duo around the waist as his legs abruptly gave out on him. "There are at least five other agents in this office alone who are perfectly qualified to undertake that mission and are *not* involved in a longterm relationship. There is no compelling reason for it to be me that goes."
Duo leaned into Heero, grateful for the strong arm supporting him. 'He *refused*?! Heero *refused* a mission? For - me? For *us*?'
"And there is no compelling reason why it should not be," Une gritted out coldly. "This is a paramilitary organization, not a democracy. You *are* going on that mission Yuy. That is an order."
"I am *not* going. You will have my resignation on your desk just as soon as I can print it out," Heero answered equally icily. Despite the cold tone, Heero's hold on Duo was warm and supportive, fingers stroking gently, reassuringly.
Une's gaze narrowed angrily. "Fine. You have until the end of this shift to do so and clear out your things. I do not want to see you back here after today." She turned and snatched the folder off of the desk. "As for the mission... Maxwell..."
"You'll have my resignation along with Heero's," Duo said sharply. He had had enough of this. Joining the Preventers had been Wufei's idea to start with; he didn't *regret* the time he had spent here but it had been becoming increasingly unpleasant lately. And he definitely had no wish to stay without Heero. 'Heero...'
Duo was barely aware of Une's icy dismissal and their return to their desks to print out letters of resignation before clearing out their office. He simply followed Heero's guidance, too lost in his own thoughts to concentrate on what he was supposed to be doing. 'Heero refused a *mission* because of us. *Quit* because of us. Because he wouldn't leave me, not even for a six-month mission...' The joy and wonder spreading through Duo silenced that skeptical little voice once and for all. Missions were to Heero what honour was to Wufei. If Heero wouldn't even leave him for a *mission*... 'I can trust him. Really and truly trust him. He loves me more than anything...'
Heero stole a worried glance at Duo as he pulled into the apartment building's parking garage. Duo had been silent and distracted ever since Une pulled that little stunt. 'God, I hope this hasn't set him back again...' he thought unhappily. He had *known* Une would pull something sooner or later; that she would at the very least forbid that they work together as partners. He wished that he had quit sooner, before she did this. He had been terrified that Duo would have a panic attack at the news of the mission's expected duration; had wanted nothing more than to mould Duo's body tightly to his and murmur reassurances of his love and continued presence but had been equally afraid that doing so would only make the panic attack inevitable.
They rode the elevator up to their apartment in silence, walking side by side yet not touching. The lump of fear in Heero's throat continued to swell. If Une's little stunt had hurt Duo, had driven him back into his isolation... He didn't know what he would do. It had taken them *months* to reach their current level of intimacy; having to start over again was a truly frightening thought.
His fears went up in smoke once the apartment door closed behind them. Duo turned to him, one hand reaching to pull his braid over his shoulder and offer the end to Heero. "Ai shiteru, Heero. Make love to me?" he said breathlessly.
Heero froze, eyes widening in disbelief. Duo's smile widened, joy and love clearly reflected in sparkling amethyst eyes. "Duo?" Heero whispered in shock.
Duo reached out and caught Heero's hand, raising it and pressing the braid into it. "I l-love you, Heero. Make love to me, koi."
'He *said* it - he actually *said* it...' Heero thought, stunned. Fumbling as he pulled the elastic off the braid and gently shook Duo's hair loose, Heero murmured shakily, "I love you too, Duo. Love you so much..."
Still smiling radiantly, Duo answered, "I know you do Heero. *Really* know it now." He took Heero's hand and pressed it over his heart. "Know it in *here* not just with my mind..."
Heero pulled Duo into a tight embrace. "You were so quiet after we left Une's office... I was afraid..."
"I'm sorry, koi... I didn't realize how you might interpret my distraction. I was - in shock, I guess. You refused a *mission* for me - for *us*. It just - took a while to really sink in. You love me that much..."
His breath caught sharply as Heero realized exactly what Duo meant. That he had just passed the greatest test of their relationship without even noticing it. 'That by choosing our relationship over a mission - regardless of the fact that it did *not* require me specifically - I proved I wouldn't leave him. That he was more important to me.' That Heero wouldn't choose duty over love the way that Wufei had.
And even if his presence on that mission *had* been critical, he would have found other options. They could have restructured the operation so that the two of them went undercover together regardless of Une's insistence that they no longer partner one another. Had his presence been truly essential, she would have had to give in. He was no longer the slavishly obedient soldier that he had once been; he knew where his own priorities lay and was willing to stand up for them. To defend his relationship with Duo.
"Make love to me Heero," Duo insisted again before kissing him passionately.
'Does he mean what I think he does? That he wants me to take him this time?' "You mean..."
Duo nodded, his smile changing to a broad grin.
Heero pounced, scooping Duo off of his feet and drawing a startled peal of bright laughter from him. "With pleasure," Heero smirked as he carried his lover down the hall to their room.
Wufei watched silently as Jun tucked their infant daughter into her crib. He adored tiny Meilan and respected the determined woman who was her mother and his wife. But sometimes he felt guilty that he could be so happy in the presence of his child knowing that she existed only because he had betrayed and abandoned the one he loved.
'I need to face Duo and apologize properly...' he decided reluctantly. 'Need to see just how badly my betrayal has affected him. Whether he has been able to move on and be happy again.'
Was he really ready for that? Ready to possibly see Duo happy with someone else? Or worse, to discover that Duo had *not* been able to move on? That his betrayal had left Duo unable to trust or love again?
Wufei wasn't sure. And at the moment, both he and Jun were still too deeply involved in correcting at least some of the problems that the elders had created with their meddling for him to leave. But he knew that he was going to have to face Duo soon, whether he was ready or not. Because if he didn't, his guilt would eventually taint his relationship with his daughter as well as destroying any chance that he and Jun could ever learn to at least love one another even if they never were *in* love with each other. And Mei deserved more than that even if Wufei himself did not.
As Duo raced down the path to the stables ahead of them, Quatre said softly, "Heero, what did you *do*? He's - almost his old self again! At least around the three of us..."
A tiny half-smile tugged at the corner of Heero's mouth. "I just loved him, Quatre... Once he finally truly accepted that..." He spread his hands and shrugged slightly. "And I think that leaving the Preventers and deciding to move helped too. Neither of us was very happy with our jobs anymore. And a change of location will mean that he isn't running into memories at every turn either."
"Are you thinking about moving here?" Quatre asked eagerly.
Heero nodded. "Yes. We've talked about this quite a bit and agreed that we would like to be near you and Trowa again. We've missed those weekend get-togethers since Trowa quit the Preventers and the two of you moved to L4. Particularly since Duo still won't let anyone else close enough to become friends. I suspect that will never change at this point."
"So some of the damage, some of the change, is permanent," Trowa commented quietly and a bit grimly.
Silently, Heero dipped his head in agreement. Just before they reached the stables, he added, "But he'll argue with me now instead of simply going silent and retreating. And he hasn't had a panic attack since well before we quit. I don't have to watch every word I say around him either. He smiles and he laughs now. He may not be the same as he once was but he's still *Duo*, not the pale shadow of himself that he was for so long."
Duo smiled across at Quatre. The blond and Trowa were curled up together on the couch facing the one that he and Heero shared. Quatre's smile in return was distinctly sleepy. The warmth from the artificial fireplace at the end of the room was making them all sleepy after an active day of swimming and riding. It had been a wonderful day; a day spent with his only real friends. Though the gap left by the absence of one of the group had been felt by them all at different points and in different ways.
Snuggling down in Heero's arms, Duo still felt that tiny ache deep inside. That Wufei-shaped hole in his heart. He loved Heero, was in love with Heero; there was no question in his mind or heart about those feelings. He loved Heero just as much as he had loved - and in a way still, reluctantly, loved - Wufei. But he also trusted Heero and had faith that his love was returned in equal measure. Something that he no longer could say about Wufei.
Because despite the fact that he knew how important the Chang family honour was to Wufei, Duo was still very hurt and angry that it had meant more to him than their love. And despite what he had said two years ago - that he knew Wufei had to go through with the engagement or it would destroy them anyway - he resented the fact that Wufei hadn't told him about the situation, *discussed* it with him, taken his input into consideration, before making a decision. That he hadn't treated him as an equal; had made the decision on behalf of them both. The betrayal wasn't only of their love, it was of the trust and friendship between them as well.
Duo didn't know whether things would have turned out any different in the end but he still felt that Wufei should have given him a chance to at least make his own views known. It would have been just as painful when Wufei left him but at least he might have felt a sense of closure. And perhaps the lingering anger and bitterness would not be as strong or as lasting.
As it was, he was moving on to a whole new chapter in his life with the feeling that a previous part was still incomplete. Duo wished that he could truly move on but that whole feeling of "unfinished business" made it difficult. He would just have to leave the past behind as best he could, however, since a new part of his life was definitely beginning. He and Heero would discuss Quatre's offer later in private but he suspected that they would end up taking it. Living here and working for WEI would let them spend plenty of time with their friends. And having an entire floor of one wing to themselves would provide enough privacy to keep them happy too.
'And I *am* happy,' Duo thought wonderingly. Not "almost content" or even "content" but genuinely *happy*. Oh, there was still that part of his heart that ached but then nothing was ever perfect. His heart still had bits that ached for Sister Helen and Father and Solo too. Those aches weren't quite as bad as the one created by Wufei's absence but then time had dulled them somewhat; perhaps the ache for Wufei - not just for the lost love but for the lost trust and friendship - would eventually dim to the more distant ache that the others he'd loved and lost had left behind. For now, though, it was bearable and the love that he and Heero shared was more than enough to make him happier than he could have believed possible even a year ago.
Tilting his head so that he could see Heero's face, Duo murmured softly, "Love you, 'Ro..."
Heero smiled and bent his head to kiss Duo tenderly. As he drew back, he responded, "And I love you, Duo. Happy?"
"Very..." Very happy indeed...
- end of Payment Rendered -
- tbc in the next part of The Cost of Honour Trilogy -