Title: #3 - Paid in Full
Series: The Cost of Honour Trilogy
Author: Calic0cat
Story Started: Apr. 24, 2003
Story Finished: May 5, 2003
Genre: Yaoi, Angst, Sap, Romance
Pairings: 1x2x1, 3x4 implied, 5xOC (het), 5x2 (past)
Rated: R
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing, Angst, Lime/Implied Lemon
Archives: Also at Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Post-series & post-EW. AC 201. Heero, Duo, Trowa, & Quatre are all living at a Winner estate on L4 and working at WEI.

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

Author's Notes: Feedback is appreciated.

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Part 1:

"Are you sure about this?" Heero asked softly, one hand raising to gently cup Duo's face.

Duo turned his head to press a kiss against that caressing hand, then lifted his eyes to meet Heero's. "I'm sure," he said firmly. "Trowa's not well enough to go with Q; his lungs are still too congested from that damn cold for space travel. One of us three needs to be with Quat to look after security; he's just too damn well known to go unrecognized and the more politically active he gets, the more enemies he makes. Hell, he's probably even more of a target than Relena by now 'cause he gets targeted just for being head of WEI too. So that means you *have* to go with him to handle security. I can't go along too 'cause I've got that meeting for WEI's charity division with those children's hospital administrators. So I've got to stay here. I'll be okay, Heero, really." He slid his arms around Heero's waist and rested his head against Heero's shoulder. "It's only a week, koi. I know you'll be back. And I can always call you if I need to hear your voice; you've got your cellphone with you..."

Heero's arms closed tightly around Duo as he ordered, "Promise me you'll call right away if you need me, Duo. I don't care what damn meeting we're in the middle of; I'll always answer my phone. And if you need me here, I'll drag Quatre on the shuttle and be back as fast as we can make this hopped-up junkheap fly. We'll commute from here to L1 every fucking day if we have to. Understood?!"

For a moment, Duo wasn't sure whether to be touched or ticked off that Heero was taking this whole business of leaving him behind so damn seriously. Okay, so it *was* the first time they'd been apart so much as overnight since he'd moved in with Heero a year ago. And yeah, he had some - issues - about abandonment. But he trusted Heero; he knew his lover would be back as soon as possible. 'Overprotective bastard...' he thought in slightly amused annoyance.

In the end, the amusement won out. Duo snickered and blew a loud, wet, raspberry against Heero's neck, making him yelp and jump. "Don't be an idiot, Yuy," Duo scolded, drawing back slightly. "I. Will. Be. Fine." He hugged Heero affectionately and kissed him deeply. "Ai shiteru, 'Ro. Don't let Q work too hard, watch your damn back, and come home safe." Grinning mischievously, he added, "Better get lots of rest on the trip back, though, 'cause you won't be getting much sleep after leaving me with only my hand for company for a whole week..." He wiggled his eyebrows and leered suggestively.

Duo's little performance got the desired result. Heero laughed, at least some of the worry clearing from his face. He leaned forward to murmur huskily in Duo's ear, "I'll be looking forward to it, koibito."

Duo shivered as Heero nipped his earlobe gently and whispered, "Ai shiteru, Duo," before dropping a quick kiss on the tip of his nose and giving him a final farewell hug. Duo waved and called "Bye, Q. Safe trip!" as he turned to exit the shuttle, meeting Trowa outside. They both stood at an observation window and watched as the shuttle launched.

As the shuttle moved out of sight, Duo shivered slightly and wrapped his arms around himself. It was going to be one hell of a long week...

***

"Stop pacing and just call him, Yuy!"

Heero stopped in his tracks at the sheer annoyance in Quatre's voice. "I can't. He told me that if I called him again today he was going to flush his cellphone down the toilet."

"*Again?!*" Quatre exclaimed. "You mean you've already called him and you're *still* acting like a mare with a newly-weaned foal?!"

Shooting a glare at Quatre, Heero muttered reluctantly, "Yes." He was just - concerned. He wanted to be sure that Duo knew he was thinking of him; knew that he was eager to get back to him. "He just sounds so - subdued. I can't help worrying..."

"And exactly how many times *have* you called him today if he's annoyed enough to threaten to - dispose - of his phone?" Quatre demanded.

Heero grunted, not wanting to admit the truth.

"*Heero...*" the blond Arabian said insistently.

Sighing, Heero mumbled, "Three..." When he woke up, again at lunch, and again after supper. Which was when Duo had threatened to flush his cellphone and had hung up on Heero. And of course now he just wanted to apologize but he couldn't call back even to do *that* or Duo would probably follow through on that threat. 'And I'd wanted to call at bedtime too, just to say goodnight like we did last night...' Of course, that had been the *only* time he'd called yesterday since they'd just arrived and checked in to the hotel in time to go to bed.

"*Three?!* In *one* day?" Quatre exclaimed in clear disbelief. "Heero, I know that you want to reassure him but it's no wonder he's annoyed with you! You're acting as if you expect him to fall apart without you there; that's not exactly reassuring nor is it the way that someone wants their mate to think about them! You need to trust *him* too!"

"Of course I trust him," Heero protested. "I just..."

"If you trust him, then you'd better start acting like it," Quatre warned, cutting Heero off sharply. "Have a little faith, Heero. Don't make Duo think that you doubt his love and trust by hovering too much." He sighed, then admitted sheepishly, "Besides, Trowa has strict instructions to let me know immediately if he thinks we need to come back."

"See?! You're worried too!"

"Yes *but* - I also think that Duo needs to prove to himself that he can handle this," Quatre said seriously. "It doesn't have to be *easy* for him; I don't expect that it will be. But he needs to know that he *can* be away from you for a while without falling apart or isolating himself again, Heero. He *could* have rescheduled that meeting he has later this week. Or he could have come with us and just flown back in time for it. Duo *chose* to stay behind for the whole week."

Heero sighed heavily and sank into a chair, running his hand through his hair. "You're right, Quatre. I need to give him a little space and trust that he'll call if he needs me... Dammit, and I can't even call to apologize..."

Quatre shook his head and said, "I'll be calling Trowa later on; I'll get him to tell Duo that you're sorry for being such an idiot and that you want him to call you so you can apologize. Okay?"

"Thanks, Quatre."

"You're welcome, Heero." As Quatre turned his attention back to the documents he'd been reading, Heero heard him mutter under his breath, "Three calls in one day? Good grief..."

***

Drawing a deep breath, Wufei forced himself to quickly punch in a long-memorized phone number. Quatre had sent him an email nearly a year ago informing Wufei that Trowa and himself were now living at the main Winner estate on L4 and giving him their private number "in case you ever need anything, my friend". As the phone rang, Wufei wondered what Quatre would say. After all, he hadn't spoken to any of the others in - god, had it really been well over two years - almost three? Duo was the one he really needed to talk to; to apologize to and ask for forgiveness. But he thought that it was best to start by mending his friendship with Quatre and Trowa first. They would be able to fill him in on how Duo was doing and to help set up a meeting with him. 'Duo was always very generous and forgiving; surely he'll at least let me talk to him...'

"Winner residence," a familiar voice said, drawing Wufei's gaze to the vid-phone's screen in disbelief.

"Duo?!" Wufei exclaimed, breath leaving him in a painful rush. His eyes met startled violet ones that widened in shock. Pain flickered across that beloved face for an instant before it went expressionless, eyes turning to cold, hard amethyst. Without a word, Duo turned and walked away, leaving the phone connected. "Duo, wait!" Only a slight hitch in Duo's stride indicated that he'd even heard Wufei. As the body that he'd once known as intimately as his own disappeared through the room's door, Wufei called fruitlessly, "Duo, please, I need to talk to you!"

He could distantly hear Duo's voice calling, "Tro, phone!" an instant later. 'What is Duo doing at Quatre's place on L4? Did he transfer? Leave Preventers?' Wufei's train of thought was interrupted as Trowa entered the room.

"Wufei?!" Trowa exclaimed. "Oh shit..." Trowa glanced over his shoulder towards the door, face tightening with concern. "Of all the lousy timing..."

"Trowa, why is Duo there? How is he?" Wufei demanded anxiously.

"Did he say anything to you?" Trowa asked sternly.

"No, not a thing. Trowa..."

"I'm sorry Wufei, I'll have to call you back," Trowa interrupted sharply. He reached out to disconnect the call, then paused for an instant to say, "It's good to hear from you again Wufei. I *will* call back in a while. Goodbye for now."

"Trowa, wait..." Wufei protested to no avail. The screen before him went dark as the call was disconnected. He slammed his fist against the desk in frustration. 'What the hell is going on there?' Wufei slumped in his chair, heart aching at the icy look Duo had given him in addition to the pain of seeing the man he still loved after all this time. 'Duo...'

***

"Duo? Duo, I know you're in there, open the door."

Duo ignored the knocking and calling, wrapping himself more tightly around the pillow that still held just a hint of Heero's scent after nearly a week of his absence. He wanted Heero so damn bad right now... Wanted the reassurance of being wrapped in his arms, of his husky murmurs of love and comfort, of his promises to never choose to leave him...

'I could call 'Ro, I know that... But after his overprotectiveness earlier this week, I really don't want to spoil things by calling in the middle of the day; he'll hear my voice and be dragging Quatre to the shuttleport before the call's over...' And that in itself was so damn tempting that there was no way in hell that Duo would let himself call. He couldn't cling to Heero that tightly; couldn't wreck their relationship by being so damn needy. 'I can wait; they're due home in two days anyway...'

"Duo Maxwell, either you open that door and talk to me right now or I'm calling Heero," Trowa threatened grimly from the hallway.

"No!" Duo protested, hurling himself off the bed and towards the door. He unjammed the lock and opened the door reluctantly. "Don't do that Trowa, please," he pleaded. "I'm okay, really. They'll be back Sunday anyway and Heero will call tonight to talk to me. I don't want them coming back early because of me... God, Tro, Heero won't ever leave me on my own even overnight again if they do that!"

Trowa sighed heavily. "Alright. I won't mention Wufei's call until they return. On one condition - you have to promise to tell Heero right away when he gets back."

"Promise," Duo nodded. That wasn't a problem; he'd had no intention of hiding it. He didn't keep secrets from Heero. There were some things he literally couldn't talk about, at least not so far, and others that simply hadn't come up but he didn't deliberately hide anything from Heero. He counted on his support too much for that. And he knew that his openness helped show Heero how much he loved and trusted him too.

Seeing how anxious Trowa still looked, Duo repeated, "I'm okay, Tro, honest. It was just - well, kind of a shock. I just wanted to get out of there..." 'And I really don't want to hear anything *he* has to say...' he added silently.

"If you want to talk Duo, you know that Quatre and I are always willing to listen..." Trowa offered. "If you need to talk about things that you don't feel comfortable discussing with Heero..."

A bit tentatively, Duo reached out and gave Trowa a quick hug, "Thanks for the offer Tro. But - well, I guess I probably *need* to talk to Heero about all that stuff..." Even if he really didn't want to. 'Even if I'm not sure that I *can*...'

***

Heero and Quatre let themselves into the house silently. They were back nearly eighteen hours early. Quatre had finished his meetings earlier than scheduled and they'd decided to check out and fly back rather than spending the night. Neither one of them cared that they would be arriving in the middle of the night; they were more interested in getting home.

Separating at the top of the stairs, Heero and Quatre each headed towards their own wing of the house. Heero opened his bedroom door and slipped in quietly, making just enough noise that Duo wouldn't waken on full alert in response to an intruder who was trying to be too quiet. He made a brief stop in the bathroom, washing off the grime of a long day and stripping to his boxers before heading for the bed.

Heero smothered a snicker at the sight of Duo clutching *his* pillow. 'I guess it's safe to say that he missed me...' He slid into the bed and started to ease his pillow out of Duo's grasp, intending to transfer that tight hold to himself. Then he caught a glimpse of Duo's face in the dim light. It was tightly drawn and - were those *tearstains* on his cheeks?! He gently tugged the pillow again, wondering what the hell had happened to upset Duo that badly.

"No! Don't go, don't leave me..." Duo cried out sharply, clutching frantically at the pillow Heero had just pulled free.

"Shh, Duo, I'm here..." Heero murmured, quickly pulling Duo into his arms. 'Dammit, I *knew* I shouldn't have gone...'

With a sharp gasp, Duo's eyes flew open. "Heero?! You're here?!"

As Duo's arms wrapped tightly around him and he tucked his head under Heero's chin, Heero stroked Duo's back and murmured in explanation, "Quatre's meetings finished early so we decided to come straight home instead of waiting..."

"I'm glad... I wouldn't let Tro tell you till you guys got back, didn't want you to have to come back early just for me but I'm glad you *did* get back sooner than expected. Heero, W... W... Dammit," Duo swore, "I can't say the fucking *name*." He took a deep breath and choked out, "*Chang* called - I was near the phone so I answered; it kind of - threw me a bit."

Heero froze. He forced uncooperative vocal chords into action with difficulty, asking, "Are you okay? What did he want?" 'Please don't say he wants you back...'

Duo raised his head enough to shake it fiercely and mutter, "I don't know. I just walked away and called Tro to the phone. I don't want to hear anything *he* has to say."

"You didn't answer my other question. Are you okay?" Heero insisted gently.

Face pressed into the crook of Heero's neck, Duo mumbled, "I am now that you're here." He drew back slightly so that his voice was clearer as he said, "Ro, I really was okay up till then. I mean, I missed you but I *was* getting some sleep and I wasn't having really bad nightmares or anything. Seeing him and hearing his voice like that was just a big shock and it kind of upset me. But I didn't want you guys to come back early just 'cause of me; for god's sake I'm a fucking former Gundam pilot, not some wussy heroine out of a romance novel. I knew you'd be back soon, koi, I could handle the wait. Wasn't exactly my idea of *fun*, but I could handle it..."

Suppressing the urge to scold Duo for not telling him when they talked on the phone Friday night, Heero realized that he had only himself to blame for the delay. If he hadn't been such a fussbudget that first day he was away, Duo probably would have told him. As it was, Duo had been - justifiably, he admitted - afraid that he would drop everything and rush home. 'Quatre was right; I'm going to hurt our relationship if I keep overreacting to things. Duo trusted me to come home to him; if he'd been able to trust that I *wouldn't* come rushing home if he asked me not to then he wouldn't have had to wait to tell me about this.' "I'm sorry I was such an idiot earlier in the week, Duo. I didn't mean to imply that you couldn't handle being on your own, koi; I was feeling guilty about leaving you alone and those calls had as much to do with reassuring *me* as you. And instead of reassuring you that I missed you and was thinking about you, all I did was make you afraid to tell me what was going on for fear that I would overreact. I'm sorry..." he murmured softly.

Duo sighed and Heero felt the tension drain from him as he relaxed. "You understand then. Good. I didn't mean to hide it from you 'Ro, I just didn't want you dropping everything and running back here. I figured when you got home was soon enough to talk about it."

"It's okay. Next time something upsets you, tell me and I promise I'll listen to what *you* want me to do instead of overreacting, okay?"

"Okay." Duo was silent for a few minutes, then yawned. Sleepily, he said, "Love you, 'Ro. 'M glad you're home..."

"Me too, Duo," Heero whispered back. "Ai shiteru, koi." Duo pressed a kiss to his chest in response. Within only a few minutes, Duo dozed off in his arms. 'He said he was getting *some* sleep before Friday, not that he was getting *enough*,' Heero thought ruefully. 'So much for that comment of his before I left about him keeping me from sleeping when I got home because we'd be too busy making love...' But in a way, he was glad that Duo hadn't immediately wanted that. Coming right after Duo's confession about Wufei's call, it would have seemed - odd. Lying here together like this, with Duo sleeping peacefully in his embrace when his previous sleep had clearly been troubled meant more to Heero. It was a reminder of the trust between them. A reminder that their relationship was far deeper than just sex.

But Heero himself was not so easily able to sleep. Lying there feeling Duo's breath against the bare skin of his chest, feeling his lover's warm body pressed tightly to his, Heero couldn't help wondering exactly why Wufei had called. Whether he was merely looking to renew his friendship with the others or whether he was hoping to win Duo back.

And if Wufei *was* hoping to win Duo back, whether he might succeed. Whether what Duo and himself had built between them through hard work and perseverance, a relationship based on trust and love, would be enough to stand against the fact that Wufei was Duo's first love. Or whether first love would be strong enough to overcome the feelings of betrayal and anger and fear; enough to pull Duo away from Heero and leave him on the outside again. 'I don't think I could go back to being his best friend and nothing more... Not now, not when I know just how wonderful a relationship with him can be...' Heero's arms tightened around Duo, causing him to stir. Heero forced himself to relax his tight grip, not wanting to hurt Duo or even to wake him. 'If Wufei *does* try to take him back, I won't just bow out gracefully,' Heero decided, jaw set grimly. 'Not unless Duo himself asks me to...'

***

Duo remained where he was even though he was wide awake and had been for some time now. Heero was still sleeping and Duo didn't want to wake him, something that sliding out of his arms would almost certainly do. He suspected that Heero probably hadn't been sleeping very well while they were apart either. He hadn't really thought about the fact that Heero might be feeling guilty about leaving him this past week; hadn't considered that all those calls the first day were as much for Heero's benefit as for his own. 'I just thought he was being overprotective and fussing too damn much. Made me feel like he expected me to come apart at the seams in no time flat without him here. Wish he'd explained better at the time, I might not have insisted on him only calling every other day then. Talking to each other every day the way that Q and Tro did would've been a hell of a lot easier on both of us. But he'd pissed me off so damn bad that I just *had* to push things...'

Something he'd regretted almost immediately but had been too damn proud to rectify. 'Cut off my own nose to spite my face as Sister Helen used to say...' Duo thought ruefully. 'But at least I proved I *could* get by if I had to...' And difficult though it had been at times, especially lying in bed alone at night, he had never once doubted that Heero *would* be back when he said he would. That if anything had happened to delay him, Heero would have let him know immediately and done his best to get back as close to on schedule as possible.

As Heero stirred slightly, obviously beginning to waken, Duo smiled and shifted slightly to begin pressing light kisses to his chest. The ritual that he'd started that very first morning he and Heero had made love had become an invitation that they both used; one that was always the prelude to hours of slow and tender loving. Hours of cherishing and worshipping each other's bodies. Of lying entwined and talking quietly, exploring their relationship in other ways than the purely physical.

Oh, there were times when they were both in the mood for something different or when their schedules didn't allow for that sort of thing. Times when their joining was wilder and faster; when they didn't even make it as far as the bed in their urgency. But mornings that started with these tiny kisses meant only one thing; an entire day of being together and expressing their love for each other. The kind of day that he had been planning ever since Heero left on this trip with Quatre.

"Mmm... what a nice way to wake up..." Heero murmured huskily.

Duo dropped another kiss over Heero's heart and raised his eyes to meet Heero's. "Good morning, koibito," he said as he shifted so that he could kiss Heero deeply.

Once he drew back, Heero responded, "Good morning, koi. I take it we won't be joining the others for breakfast this morning..."

"Not unless you want to," Duo said seriously. It was entirely possible that there were things Heero needed to do or needed to discuss with the others. If so, they would simply put this on "pause" and come back to it later when whatever needed to be done had been taken care of.

Heero shook his head, smiling up at Duo. "No, there's nothing that can't wait. I'm all yours; whatever you want to do today is what we'll do..."

Duo leered down at Heero and pretended to wipe drool from the corner of his mouth. "Mmm... all mine, huh? Whatever I want..." He swooped down to kiss Heero again, then abruptly flipped onto his back, dragging Heero with him so that their positions were reversed. "I want you, koi. Want you filling me, completing me. Want you tempting me, teasing me. Want you so deep inside me that we're one... So close that I can't tell where I end and you begin..."

Heero growled in reaction to Duo's husky demands and pounced, silencing him with a deep kiss. Duo let his eyes drift shut as Heero began to kiss and nibble his earlobe, picking up where his tiny bit of teasing in the shuttle had left off nearly a week ago.

At first, Duo had always been careful to keep his eyes open when he and Heero made love. He'd been afraid that he would lose himself in memories and murmur the wrong name. He'd stopped worrying about that months ago. There was no way that he would ever mistake Heero for someone else; no way that he would ever slip up and call Wufei's name instead of Heero's. Heero's hands, his mouth, his touch, his kisses, his *scent*, were so uniquely his and his alone that Duo never got lost in memories while they were together like this. Never had to worry about forgetting who he was with. Not even now, with Wufei's memory fresh in his mind after that surprise phone call.

"Mmm, 'Ro... So good..." Duo gasped, arching into Heero's touch and forgetting everything but the man making love to him so tenderly and with such sure knowledge of his body. "Love you, Heero..."

***

"I'm glad you called, Wufei," Quatre said, smiling gently. "You're still our friend too. We told you that before and we meant it. I'll relay your request to Duo and let you know what he says. And I'll be expecting you to email me some pictures of that beautiful baby girl of yours!"

"Thank you, Quatre," Wufei said gratefully. "I'll be sure to send you some pictures. Mei *is* a beautiful little girl." He added silently, 'She is the only thing that makes all of this almost worthwhile.' He managed to give Quatre a small smile as he continued, "I'll be in touch. Goodbye for now."

"Goodbye Wufei."

The screen went black as Quatre disconnected the call. Wufei sagged in his chair, head dropping into his hands. 'Oh god. Duo is with Heero now. Has been for over a year...'

It hurt. Despite the fact that he had *hoped* that Heero could get Duo to fall in love with him; could make Duo happy again. It was just one more painful reminder that there was no going back. No way to magically fix everything.

'And what did Quatre mean when he said that the first year had been - difficult - for Duo, for *all* of them? And that Duo and Heero had worked very hard to build a relationship together?' Wufei had been afraid to ask for clarification. Something about Quatre's tone of voice and the way he had chosen his words so carefully had warned Wufei that it would be best to leave the subject alone. That there were things he was perhaps better off not knowing.

Part 2:

Heero fervently wished that he and Duo had stayed in the privacy of their wing and had a tray sent up for supper just as they had for breakfast and dinner. They had spent the entire day by themselves, talking and making love and just enjoying being together after a week apart. It had been a wonderful day, one that left them both contented and relaxed.

A relaxation that was becoming a more distant memory with every passing moment. 'At least Quatre waited until we were done eating to bring this up...' he thought grimly.

"Duo, Wufei just wants to talk to you," Quatre insisted gently. "Why not see what he has to say? He told me that he just wants to apologize and ask for your forgiveness. That he needs to let go of the guilt."

Duo shoved his chair back from the table and stood abruptly. "No! I have no interest in anything *he* has to say. If the rest of you want to be friends with him again, go ahead, that's up to you and I won't hold it against you. Just don't expect me to have anything to do with him, Quatre. If he feels guilty then good. He deserves it," he said bitterly.

"But Duo, don't you owe..." Quatre protested.

"Forget it Q, I don't *owe* him a single fucking thing." Duo spun and stalked furiously out of the room.

Heero sighed and stood, suddenly feeling very tired. He didn't really want Duo to talk to Wufei yet at the same time he was afraid that the sheer strength of emotion behind Duo's refusal meant that he was still deeply in love with Wufei. 'Is it better for him to face Wufei and get this all out in the open or not? I don't want to lose him... I *can't*...' But holding a grudge wasn't good for Duo. Wasn't good for him and wasn't typical of his usual forgiving nature.

"Heero, he needs to face Wufei," Quatre urged, brow wrinkled in concern. "All that bitterness and anger - it's not good for him. It will eat him up inside if he doesn't let it go."

Shaking his head, Heero said quietly, "I know. But it's his choice, Quatre. Don't push him. You'll only end up alienating him from you too."

"But Heero..."

Trowa spoke up for the first time since the conversation began. "No, Quatre. Stay out of it. Wufei requested that you ask Duo to speak with him and you did. Let it go. Heero's right, it's up to Duo now and unless you want to make him angry with you too then you'd better back off."

Heero gave Trowa a grateful nod of thanks as Quatre subsided unhappily. They all tended to listen when Trowa spoke simply because he never wasted words. He had a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter and none of them ever took his opinion lightly.

"Goodnight," Heero said simply before turning to go find Duo. He headed straight for the manor's gym but found no sign of Duo. 'The pool then...' he thought, detouring to change into swim trunks and pick up towels before heading outdoors.

He stood and watched for a while as Duo stroked his way through furious laps, flipping and pushing off so hard at each end that he glided half the pool's length before beginning to stroke again. With a deep sigh, Heero made a flat dive in, surfacing to match Duo's pace. They swam in unison for quite a while, then Heero gradually began to slow down the pace. Duo slowed with him. 'Good, he's worked off the worst of it...' Heero thought thankfully. After a few more laps, Heero boosted himself up on the edge to sit rather than flipping around and pushing off again.

Duo treaded water for a moment, then gave him a sheepish look. "I think I'm going to need a hand," he muttered. "My arms are kind of tired..."

Heero held out one hand silently and helped Duo drag himself out of the pool. "Better?" Heero asked.

"Yeah. I don't feel like I want to deck Q anymore at least." Duo was silent for a moment, then slid along the edge of the pool to lean against Heero's side. "Heero, I just - I just want to *forget* about everything that happened. What good will it do to dig it all up again? Everything's been going so great; we're happy; why the hell did *he* have to call and want to open old wounds again?"

Heero sighed and wrapped his arm around Duo. "Maybe because those wounds never truly healed for either of you? You weren't in any shape to face him after he broke the news to you and I don't think he could stand to face you either. Neither of you had any real closure." He stopped for a moment, forcing himself to separate the things that his fear of losing Duo made him want to say from the truth and stick to the truth. Painfully honest, he continued, "I'm not trying to excuse what he did, koi, not in the least, but it wasn't easy for him. He did what he felt that he had to do; he didn't think that he had any choice. I didn't agree then any more than I do now but I *do* understand what drove him to act as he did. You said it yourself at the time - Wufei felt that he had to go through with the marriage or he would tarnish his family's honour. He felt that it was his duty to follow the wishes of the clan elders."

"I know," Duo whispered softly. "But Heero, there's *always* choices. They're not always *good* choices, but they always exist. He didn't even consider any other choices, didn't give *me* any choice in the whole thing. I think maybe that's what makes me the most angry. That he didn't come to me, tell me the position he was in, and discuss it with me. He just made a decision and informed me of it after the fact. As if his feelings about it were the only ones that mattered. As if my feelings didn't matter... As if *I* didn't matter... God, 'Ro, that hurt so much, almost as much as him leaving did..."

As Duo's body started to shake with harsh, long-delayed sobs, Heero hurriedly stood and lifted him, carrying him back into the house and up to the privacy of their room. 'Finally...' he thought. Duo never had allowed himself to weep for his loss before; he had simply shut it all out, blocked it off and ignored it. 'Maybe once he lets himself grieve for what he lost he'll be ready to face Wufei again...' Though whether that was itself a good thing or not, Heero was not entirely sure.

***

Gently rocking her daughter in her arms, Jun listened silently while Wufei spoke with his friends on the vid-phone. The blond - Quatre - was apologetic but explained that Duo was not willing to even consider hearing what he had to say. "I'm sorry, Wufei, but I can't push any harder. Just give him some time to think about it, maybe he'll change his mind..."

"Thank you for trying, Quatre," Wufei said in a stilted tone. "I have to go now. I'll be in touch again. Goodbye." He barely let Quatre and the other man finish saying their own farewells before punching the disconnect button. He stood, head down, hands so tightly fisted that the cords in his neck stood out sharply.

"Wufei?" Jun said softly.

He shook his head sharply. "Leave me be."

Hesitantly, Jun turned to leave the room, only to be stopped in the doorway by Wufei's voice.

"Duo never used to hold grudges. He was always so generous and forgiving. So loving. He always said that everyone deserved a second chance. He's changed... *I* changed him by betraying him, abandoning him... Oh god, what have I done? Yuy was always his best friend, but Duo was *my* best friend. I've lost that too..."

'Oh Wufei...' Jun hurried down the hall to put Mei in her crib then returned to pull Wufei into her arms, rocking him gently back and forth as he grieved, weeping brokenly for everything he'd given up in the name of duty and honour. And she wept with him, saying a final farewell to her own broken dreams. Dreams that had been dealt their final blow mere days ago when the man she loved announced his engagement to one of the girls that had been freed from a marriage contract. Freed by the changes that Jun and Wufei had instituted in the months since she had taken over control of the clan.

***

Duo woke with a gasp, dragged from his nightmare by Heero's voice calling him. He blinked up at Heero's worried face. "Heero... 'Sokay, I'm awake..." he panted, struggling to get his breathing under control.

Heero continued to hover anxiously so Duo firmly pushed him over and down to the bed, crawling to drape himself over Heero and press his ear against Heero's chest, letting Heero's reassuring heartbeat banish the lingering remnants of panic. 'Damn, his heart's racing almost as fast as mine... I must've really been caught up in the dream...' Duo thought guiltily.

Heero's arms closed around him and started to gently rub his back. After a moment, Heero asked hesitantly, "Why do you always want to lie like this after you dream about..." His voice trailed off uncertainly.

"Because listening to your heartbeat reminds me that you *didn't* die, that you're alive and you're here with me," Duo answered, puzzled as to why Heero hadn't figured that out for himself.

He was even more puzzled when Heero's heartrate jumped again and Heero gasped, "What?!"

Duo raised his head and propped himself up so that he could see Heero's face. Patiently, he repeated, "Listening to your heartbeat reminds me that you're okay. That the shot didn't kill you."

Heero's mouth opened and closed a few times before he choked out, "You mean - those nightmares are about *me*?!"

"Of course they are, what did you..." Duo stopped in mid-sentence as he realized what Heero must have thought. "Oh shit, Heero, you mean you thought I was dreaming about *Wufei* all those times? God love, I thought you *knew*. Yeah, I have nightmares once in a while about W-Wufei leaving, but the really bad ones are about that time you got shot protecting me! It's *you* that I'm begging not to leave me, 'Ro, begging you not to die and leave me alone. Not him!"

Seeing the look of shock and disbelief on Heero's face change to one of relieved wonder, Duo realized just how much this must have been eating away at Heero. How much it must have hurt, thinking that in spite of how much they loved each other, Duo still had nightmares - *bad* ones - about Wufei leaving him...

"God 'Ro, I am so, *so* sorry. I shouldn't have assumed you knew..." He leaned over to kiss Heero in tender apology. "Listen to me, koibito. I love *you*. I am *in love* with *you*. Yes, part of me does still love W-Wufei. But I'm not *in* love with him anymore. He destroyed that when he betrayed our love and shattered my trust in him." Watching Heero's face closely, Duo could see the small changes being created by his words. The tiny wrinkles of anxiety smoothing. The faint shadows lifting from Heero's eyes. Cursing himself for his thoughtlessness in not having made at least that much clear before, Duo forced himself to continue. To put into words things that he had only come to terms with himself in the past week since the night he'd finally let himself grieve for what he had lost. For what Wufei had destroyed in the name of honour and duty.

"Wufei was my first love. Badly though it ended, I can't belittle what we had by pretending that it wasn't good while it lasted. But what you and I have together, Heero, is just as special. It isn't the *same*, no more than two snowflakes are the same. But that doesn't mean it's any less beautiful, any less wonderful." Duo swallowed, gathering his nerve. Before that night that he'd wept in Heero's arms, that night that he'd finally grieved, he *couldn't* have said all of this. Now, it was still difficult and it hurt, but Heero needed to hear it. Needed to know and understand that he wasn't "second best".

"What Wufei and I had was wonderful. It was giddy and crazy and I was wildly in love." Duo winced at the flicker of pain that caused in Heero's eyes. Quickly, he continued, "What you and I have is deep and steady. Our love is the steadfast anchor in my life. Something that I can always rely on. We have our wild-and-crazy moments too - as poor Iria discovered when she dropped by without calling ahead and caught us fulfilling a fantasy on the grand staircase while Q and Tro were away and the household staff had the day off..." Duo smiled as that memory drew an embarrassed flush and a small hint of a snicker from Heero. He stroked his fingers gently down Heero's cheek. "But there's more to our relationship than just that. Wufei and I didn't have the opportunity to develop that deeper relationship even though we were together longer. I *thought* we had something deeper and I think we'd at least started in that direction but there wasn't enough there to stand against his clan elders.

"You and I developed that deeper relationship first. We *had* to because I was such a fucked-up mess. The trust and the patience and the understanding had to come first or we'd have never gotten any further. But the love had to be there before any of that could happen. And it was. It *is*.

"Heero, you are my second *chance* at love, not second best. You don't need to ever feel threatened by Wufei, koi. Even if he were to come back, free of obligations, and ask for another chance, I WOULD *NOT* leave you for him. I'll swear it on my cross and my braid and anything else you want me to." He leaned forward to hover with his lips directly over Heero's, gazes intently locked. "I." He kissed Heero deeply and fiercely, then drew back and said, "Love," before diving in for another passionate kiss. "*You!*" he uttered fervently before bringing their lips together again.

As the tables turned and Heero took control of the kiss, Duo spared a brief thought for Wufei's request to speak to him. 'I think... I think I need to agree. More for Heero's sake than my own. Heero needs to know that I've moved on... That Wufei isn't going to take me away from him...'

***

Wufei's eyes went wide with surprise and trepidation. 'An email message from *Duo*?' Hesitantly, he opened it and read the brief, curt message, wincing at the abruptness of it. He realized again that he had not only forfeited Duo's love but his friendship as well, something that the tone of the message made quite clear. His hand hovered for a moment, ready to reply, but he realized that there was no point in replying until he had discussed this with Jun. 'I can't simply go racing off to L4 without clearing it with her first. I have to make sure that I won't be needed here for the couple of days that I'll be gone.'

Realistically speaking, he needed to make sure that he would not be needed for several days afterwards as well. Because he doubted that this was going to be a very pleasant experience.

***

Heero read Wufei's reply to Duo's message, leaning over the back of Duo's chair and resting his chin on Duo's shoulder as he did so. He was glad that Wufei had been able to arrange to come next weekend; he really wanted this over and done with and presumably Duo felt the same way. 'I know he's doing this for me more than for him... I probably should be protesting that he doesn't need to do it for me but I can't.'

Duo's assurances several nights ago had helped a great deal but Heero still couldn't stop worrying a bit over Duo's feelings towards Wufei. He didn't doubt that Duo meant what he said - but Duo hadn't been face-to-face with Wufei in person since the day that Wufei told him that their relationship was over. Heero couldn't help wondering whether Duo would feel the same way after meeting Wufei and hearing what he had to say. Couldn't help wondering exactly what Wufei *would* say for that matter. 'What if...'

"Stop it," Duo said firmly, one hand raising to press Heero's cheek tightly to his. "Heero, *I'm* supposed to be the one with abandonment issues here, not you. I love you and I'm not going anywhere without you."

Turning his face to nuzzle Duo's palm, Heero said softly, "How..."

"Because now that I know what you've been thinking, I just have to imagine what I'd think if I were in your place," Duo explained gently, twisting in his chair to meet Heero's eyes. "I don't lie, remember? I love you and I will *not* leave you. Ai shiteru, 'Ro. Zutto. Eien ni."

Heero pivoted Duo's chair to face him and sat straddling Duo's lap. He leaned his forehead against Duo's and said fervently, "Ai shiteru yo, Duo. Zutto. Eien ni." He kissed the tip of Duo's nose then apologized, "I'm sorry koi, I don't mean to doubt you. I know you love me. I just..."

Duo shook his head slightly and said, "It's okay. I've been through the same thing, remember? Trusting and believing yet at the same time..." He shrugged slightly, a wry half-grin on his face. "I do understand 'Ro. It's not exactly something you've got a hell of a lot of control over. And me assuming too much and ending up letting you believe all this time that I've been having shaking, screaming, nightmares over Wufei when they were really over *you* can't exactly have helped matters any."

Heero simply closed his eyes and dropped his head against Duo's shoulder, burying his face in the soft, thick braid that trailed over it. He felt guilty over the fact that he was glad Duo's nightmares were about him. He would rather that Duo not have nightmares at all but since he *did* have them, Heero had to admit that he had been incredibly relieved to find out that they were about *him*, not Wufei.

And he felt awful for doubting Duo, for fearing that Duo would leave him for Wufei, but he couldn't help it. He remembered too well how happy Duo and Wufei had been together. And while Duo was, he hoped, at least *almost* that happy with him, it was hard to tell. Duo had changed so much in the aftermath of losing Wufei that it was difficult to compare his previous self with the way he was now. He was much less open, more guarded and wary, particularly in the presence of anyone other than Quatre, Trowa, and Heero. 'But he *does* laugh and smile for me... And he *says* that he's happy...' But Heero was still afraid.

***

Duo took one look at the hold Heero had on his braid and resigned himself to staying put until Heero woke up. He had intended to go for a swim this morning to try and work off some of his own attack of nerves before Wufei's arrival but even if he *could* get his braid out of Heero's grasp he didn't think leaving him to wake up alone would be a good idea. Not when he was holding on this tightly even in his sleep. 'Hopefully after today he'll be able to believe that he has nothing to fear. That I won't leave him for Wufei.'

Though Duo wasn't sure where the hell Heero had come up with the notion that Wufei would even ask him such a thing. *He* certainly couldn't find anything in either the initial request that Quatre had relayed or Wufei's response to his email that implied something like that. 'But I know damn well that subconscious fears and reality don't necessarily have to have anything in common. And after how patient and understanding Heero was - hell, still is - over *my* issues I'm not about to quibble over him having a few fears of his own.'

But he didn't like seeing Heero like this. Seeing him worried and hurting. It made his own heart ache. And so the hope that him facing Wufei would relieve Heero's fears was the force driving him into a meeting that he really did not want to experience. A meeting that was going to be damn painful at best. And downright ugly at worst. Particularly if he let his temper get away from him.

Nearly three years of bottled up anger and bitterness seethed inside him. And although the night that he'd finally let himself grieve for everything that he'd lost, the night that he'd started actually *talking* to Heero about what happened and how he felt about it, had finally started the healing process and had let off a bit of the pressure, there hadn't been enough time since then to truly heal. Not even enough time to release very much of the buildup of negative emotions. Which was not a good way to be going into this.

Because despite how angry and bitter he was, Duo *did* still care about Wufei, even though he wasn't in love with him anymore, and he did not really want to hurt him. And if Wufei had any feelings left for him at all, he knew that he *could* hurt Wufei and hurt him badly. Which would not be right and would not make Duo feel any better in the long run, though it would probably feel damn satisfying while he was actually doing it. Both because he would be making Wufei hurt the way that he had until he built his protective barriers and because the fact that he *could* hurt Wufei would prove that Wufei did actually care for him. Despite the evidence to the contrary.

Duo stopped himself as his thoughts started to slide back into the old, familiar bitterness. 'That isn't fair. I know that he *did* love me. He just - loved his family's honour more. I just wish that his clan had found him sooner. Before he courted me and we fell in love. Heero would have still realized that he loved me and I'd have ended up with him but without all the pain.'

Did he really wish that? Would he really want to give up the good times that he and Wufei had together in order to avoid the pain that followed? Suddenly, Duo wasn't so sure.

And as for Heero and himself - would they have such a strong relationship if they hadn't had to work so hard at it? Would he cherish it as much if he didn't know how quickly and easily it could be lost? Or would the two of them have taken their love for granted the way that he and Wufei had and possibly destroyed it through a thoughtless act or by allowing something to come between them? 'I don't know... I don't *think* we would have - but I can't be sure. I know that what happened changed me and not all of the changes were bad ones. I'm less impulsive than I used to be for one thing. More likely to think before I speak. To consider possible outcomes before I act.' And those changes made him less impatient with Heero's own thoroughness. Made him less likely to become frustrated or upset with Heero's attention to detail. Made him more appreciative of Heero's steady, quiet presence and unwavering support.

'Father always said that things happened for a reason. Of course, he never actually said that it had to be a *good* reason... But there's really no point in wondering "what if". Things happened the way that they did and nothing can change that. I need to let go of the anger and bitterness. To let go of the past and just appreciate what I have now.'

Though appreciating what he had now certainly wasn't a problem, Duo thought as he shifted to curl more comfortably against Heero's side. He was well aware of just how fortunate he was.

***

Wufei accepted his daughter's sleeping form from Jun willingly. He hoped that having all three of them show up instead of just him wouldn't inconvenience Quatre too badly; he felt a bit guilty that he had barely had time to send Quatre an email message before leaving for the shuttleport. But when Jun offered at the last minute to accompany him, he had been unable to bring himself to refuse her support. And even less able to refuse the comfort of having baby Meilan with him.

'I can't really say that the other ex-pilots are my only friends anymore. Jun is my friend too...' And like his friendship with the other former Gundam pilots, his friendship with Jun was built on a foundation of similar trials and shared experiences. And where he had learned to respect the other pilots for their dedication to the welfare of the colonies, he had learned to respect Jun for her dedication to the welfare of the clan.

While the elders had claimed to have the clan's best interests at heart, had used that as an excuse to manipulate and control, Jun genuinely *did* have its well-being at heart. The difference in her definition of the clan's well-being from that of the elders was the key to all the changes that had been instituted so far. The clan elders thought only of the clan as a whole, as an entity in and of itself. A collection of lineages and traditions that had to be preserved regardless of the welfare of the individuals within that entity. Jun, on the other hand, believed that the clan would thrive as long as the individuals within it were happy and content. That her responsibility as clan head was to protect the happiness of the members of the clan - not "the clan". That the personal well-being of individuals outweighed that of the clan as a whole yet would in fact *ensure* the clan's well-being. That lineages and traditions were interesting subjects of study but should not be the motivating force behind decisions.

The elders didn't like Jun very much. Or Wufei for that matter. 'They got what they wanted when they forced us to wed - or rather, they thought they did. But then they found out that neither Jun nor I was as docile and obedient as they believed. That Jun took her responsibility as clan head very seriously indeed and would not allow herself to be treated as a mere figurehead.' In a way, Wufei supposed that Jun considered the entire next generation, their daughter's generation, hers to mother and protect. 'We are both fulfilling our duty to the clan - but not in the manner that the elders expected us to do so.'

Wufei motioned for Jun to lead the way out of the shuttle, shaking his head in response to her offer to take Mei back and put her in her travel seat now that Jun had tidied her clothes and gathered her things. He needed his daughter in his arms right now, reminding him that not *everything* that had happened as a result of his choice was bad. He wished that he had handled things better, that he had broken the news to Duo more gently, that he hadn't broken off all contact with the others for so long - but he could not honestly say that he wished he had never married Jun. Not while he was holding their precious child. And as guilty as that made him feel, it was also the only thing that gave him the strength to face the others again. To face Duo again. To ask for forgiveness and hopefully be relieved of the guilt that tinged his love for his daughter.

He hoped that this trip ended with his friendship with Quatre and Trowa renewed. Hoped that Heero would at least be willing to be civil to him by now. And as for Duo... Well, Wufei hoped that Duo would at least give him the forgiveness he was seeking. Much as he would like to have more than that, to have Duo's friendship back, he wasn't sure that such a thing was possible. Wasn't sure that it would *ever* be possible. And he regretted that almost as much as he regretted the fact that Duo would never be more than a friend to him again.

Part 3:

Jun had second-guessed her impulsive offer to accompany Wufei numerous times during the shuttle trip. She had been a bit concerned that her presence would be unwelcome and possibly even resented. But the attractive blond and his handsome brunet partner had been quite welcoming when she and Wufei exited the shuttle with Meilan in Wufei's arms. Both men had insisted that she call them by their first names, gently but firmly pointing out that as the wife of their friend, she was automatically a friend as well. But Jun knew that these two were not the most deeply affected by her marriage to Wufei. Knew that the others, particularly her husband's former lover, might not be as accepting.

'But I am not sorry that I came. Having Meilan with him has helped Wufei I think. And he may need both her and me after he meets with Duo.' Jun knew that Wufei's meeting with Duo would be difficult at best. Even if Duo chose to forgive him, Wufei would be hurting both during it and afterwards. And the fact that they were staying at the Winner residence for the entire weekend could be a problem, particularly if things did not go well at the meeting.

A slender hand touched Jun's clasped ones lightly, drawing her attention to the blond seated across from her in the limousine. "Jun, I am glad that you came with Wufei. From what he has told me, you are doing some wonderful things with your clan. I am looking forward to hearing about some of those things during your stay," Quatre said, smiling gently.

Jun offered a small smile in return. "I would be honoured to discuss them with you," she answered, inclining her head respectfully. She hesitated a moment, stealing a quick sideways glance at the quiet conversation taking place between Wufei and Trowa, then down to her daughter, still sleeping in her travel seat between herself and Wufei, before saying carefully, "I was wondering about the - sleeping arrangements - for Mei..." Asking directly what the sleeping arrangements for herself and Wufei were would be in poor taste but she was hoping that the young man across from her would understand what she was really asking. She and Wufei had not shared a bed since her pregnancy was confirmed and she did not think that this weekend would be a good time to start doing so. Their future as a couple was something that they had never actually addressed; Jun thought that was because both of them were still coming to terms with the fact that those they loved were forever beyond their reach now. She was also hoping that Wufei's room would not be too close to that of his former lover and his mate. That would only make a difficult situation even more painful.

The understanding look she received from Quatre relieved Jun's concerns before he even spoke. "I have had connecting rooms across the hall from my own prepared for you. There is even a crib still in one of them from the last time that one of my sisters was here with her family." Blue eyes flicked towards Wufei then back to meet hers before he continued, "Those rooms are more suitable than any in Heero and Duo's wing."

Jun dipped her chin very slightly in acknowledgement. Her liking and respect for the young man seated across from her increased even more. 'He understood what I was concerned about and answered all of my unspoken questions very neatly. And connecting rooms with the excuse of a crib in one allows us to make our own sleeping arrangements however we wish without any fuss. I see that Quatre Winner is as perceptive and tactful in private life as he is reputed to be in business.'

***

Heero watched for the limousine's arrival from an upstairs window, Duo standing beside him. When Duo stepped in front of him, back to his chest, and pulled Heero's arms around him, Heero wasn't sure which of them needed the reassurance more. Duo had freely admitted that he was nervous about this. Particularly since Wufei's wife and daughter were coming along too. 'And while their presence makes it unlikely that Wufei intends to ask Duo to take him back, I am still worried,' Heero admitted silently. 'Worried that this will turn into a confrontation that pushes Duo back into his isolation again. Worried that seeing Wufei again will remind him how happy he was before and that he'll realize that what we have isn't enough...' Worried that Duo would discover that he was still in love with Wufei and decide that he'd rather be alone than settle for second best...

'I know that Duo said I *wasn't* second best but I still can't help thinking that he'll feel differently once he's face-to-face with Wufei again. They just were so *happy* together...' Heero's arms tightened unconsciously around Duo as he worried.

"Ro, *stop* it," Duo scolded, twisting around to face Heero. He reached up and ran his fingers across Heero's forehead, smoothing worry lines that Heero hadn't even realized were there. "I *know* you're fretting about this, love. What I don't understand is why you have so much trouble believing that I'm happy with you. Why you think that I was so much happier with Wufei..."

Heero swallowed uncomfortably, then said softly, "You two were *always* happy once you got together. You always seemed to get along so well... You and I argue and get frustrated with each other and..."

Duo raised his hand to Heero's mouth, stopping the flow of words. "Heero, you're making an unfair comparison. You only saw Wufei and I together in public. You may not have seen us fight but that's only because we agreed early on in our relationship that we would keep our disagreements *private*. Think about it, love. When have *we* ever fought in public?"

Heero stared at Duo for several long minutes, certain that they *must* have done so, but no matter how much he searched his memory, he couldn't find an instance where they had had an actual argument in front of anyone else. Yet there *were* instances where Duo had been upset with him - but Duo had always waited until they were alone to express his displeasure.

"You can't think of a single time, can you?" Duo said with a wry grin.

Heero shook his head slowly, still trying to figure out why he had never noticed that before.

"You're just as much of a private person as Wufei. I assumed that you would also prefer to keep our private business between ourselves, so I've always waited till we're alone to - discuss - matters," Duo explained. "You've never tried to start an argument with me in public either, even though we've never actually discussed this before, so I think that my assumption wasn't too far off. And I prefer things that way myself. We're partners, Heero, in every way possible, and partners should present a united front. That doesn't mean we always have to agree - it just means that we don't make an issue out of our disagreements in front of other people. That we don't do anything to run each other down or belittle each other.

"So you see, the fact that you didn't *see* Wufei and I argue doesn't mean that we never did. We had our fair share of disagreements running the whole range from serious to just plain silly. Just like you and I do. So, does that take care of *that* particular concern?"

Nodding, Heero said simply, "Yes." He hesitated, then decided to go ahead and list a few of his other concerns. "But - you're quieter and more subdued now too. You don't laugh or smile as much..."

Duo's eyes closed for a moment before opening to meet Heero's levelly. "You're right. But 'Ro, those changes would be there now no matter what. No matter who I was with. Everything that happened *did* change me. Some of it was just plain growing up; the rest was caused by what Wufei did. And not all of those changes were bad ones." Heero leaned his face into the hand that Duo raised to stroke his cheek as Duo continued, "Me being more subdued and cautious means that I'm less likely to impulsively say or do something that would hurt someone. Especially you. And I'm not as impatient with your caution and attention to detail. Those are *good* changes.

"As for the laughing and smiling..." Duo sighed and shrugged slightly. "I'm sorry if I don't show my happiness as clearly as I used to, love. I guess maybe that's just part of the whole more subdued thing. Or maybe just part of growing up. If you're not sure whether I'm happy or not, just ask - I promise that I won't hedge my answer. But Heero, if you think about the times that I *do* laugh and smile - what do they have in common?" Duo didn't wait for a response before answering his own question, "*You*, koi. I'm happiest when I'm with *you*."

"You're sure?" Heero just had to ask. Everything Duo said made sense but he'd spent so long thinking that Duo's life with Wufei had been perfect or damn close to it that he was having trouble believing that Duo was genuinely just as happy with him.

"Yes, Heero. Very sure. And very happy to be with *you*," Duo assured him firmly.

Heero leaned forward to capture Duo's lips in a grateful kiss. He was still a bit worried but Duo had eased the worst of his fears. Now, Heero just wished that the limousine would hurry up and arrive so that the initial meeting between Duo and Wufei would be over and done with and his other fears out of the way. 'God I hope Duo is truly ready for this, that it doesn't upset him too badly or drive him back into his isolation...'

***

As the limousine finally pulled into the driveway, Duo stirred in Heero's embrace and gave Heero's arm a gentle squeeze. "Ready koi?"

"If you are," Heero answered.

"As ready as I'm going to be," Duo answered honestly. He didn't think that any amount of time or preparation could make this *easy*. But he had his temper firmly under control for the moment and he suspected that the presence of Wufei's wife and daughter would actually help him to keep it that way. None of this could exactly be fun for Jun either. And the baby was truly blameless in the entire thing.

About to head downstairs to meet the others, Duo stopped for a moment as he realized something. He caught hold of Heero's arm. "Wait a minute, 'Ro. Umm, if Wufei wants to talk to me in private, I think I can handle that. I think maybe I *need* to face him on my own. But - stay close enough to hear if I call, okay?" He *hoped* that he wouldn't need Heero's physical presence for support, hoped that merely knowing Heero was nearby would be enough, but he was realistic enough to acknowledge that a panic attack was not exactly an impossibility and if Wufei tried to help it would only make things worse. So he needed Heero close enough to be there instantly if necessary.

Heero pulled him into a firm hug and assured him that of course he would stay nearby. Pressing a quick kiss of thanks to Heero's cheek, Duo thought, 'And having him that close may help Heero too. I know he's still worried, that little crease between his eyebrows tells me that. Not that anyone *else* would ever notice it, mind you...'

He hoped that most of the remaining concern was simply Heero worrying about *him* rather than Heero worrying about their relationship. Hoped that his earlier explanations had soothed Heero's concerns about his happiness. 'I need to try and show my happiness more clearly. Or at least *tell* Heero that I'm happy more often; make sure he knows that I am. That he understands that he *makes* me happy...' Because Heero *did* make him happy. Maybe it was a quiet, contented happiness rather than the almost giddy excitement that he had shown at times when he was with Wufei, but then he was a different person now. And that quiet content was far from dull or boring. It was interspersed with bursts of excitement and moments of sheer bliss.

And behind it all ran the deep, steady love between Heero and him. A love that Heero had proven over and over again in thousands of little ways as well as in big ones. Big ways like when he'd taken the bullet meant for Duo. And when he'd quit the Preventers rather than allow duty to tear him away for months on end. Little ways like uncomplainingly cleaning the hair out of the shower drain when Duo was in a rush and forgot. Like bringing him a sandwich and a drink when he got caught up in something at work and forgot to stop for lunch. Like putting up with his crankiness and holding the sick-pail for him when he had a bad bout of the stomach flu. And all the other little things that Heero did for him. Things that Duo genuinely appreciated and that he tried - though evidently not hard enough - to make sure Heero knew he did. 'I will never, ever doubt that Heero loves me and will do anything in his power to make me happy... But I need to work harder at making sure that he knows I feel the same way about him...''

As they reached the foot of the stairs, Duo threaded his fingers through Heero's and squeezed his hand firmly. Heero paused for a moment, giving him a questioning look. Duo smiled at him and silently mouthed, "Love you." The smile and equally silent, "Love you too" in return prompted him to take a sidestep and lean against Heero's shoulder for an instant, straightening again just as the door opened and the others entered. Duo tightened his fingers around Heero's and braced himself against the emotional storm that was sure to come.

***

Wufei hung back slightly and let Quatre introduce Jun and Meilan to Duo and Heero. He had deliberately stayed behind with Trowa to help carry in the luggage. Travelling with an infant meant that there was quite a bit of it to deal with, something Wufei was grateful for right now. He needed a few minutes to compose himself before having to speak with the others. Seeing Heero and Duo standing so close together; seeing the way that Duo drifted back towards Heero and automatically reached for his hand once the introductions were over with... It hurt. Not quite as much as he had feared, but it still hurt. And the curt nod and cool "Chang" from Heero that was echoed by Duo hurt just as much. 'Duo's friendship is not the only one that I may have permanently lost,' he realized painfully. Somehow, his ready acceptance by Quatre and Trowa had led him to hope that Heero would be willing to resume their friendship too. That if anything, Heero might even be a bit friendlier now that Wufei was no longer with Duo. 'I had not stopped to consider that unless Duo is willing to forgive me and allow me to be friends again, Heero will not. That by hurting Duo, I forfeited Heero's friendship despite the fact that in the end, Heero has benefited from my actions.'

Jun accepted Quatre's offer to show her to the kitchen as Mei had woken during their ride to the estate and was now becoming quite insistent that it was time to be fed. For a moment, Wufei was tempted to go with her and postpone his conversation with Duo. 'Putting it off will not make this any easier,' he decided reluctantly. "Duo, may I speak to you alone?" he asked carefully. This was going to be difficult no matter what, but Wufei really did not want an audience for it.

Duo's face tightened and he nodded abruptly. "In there," he said, gesturing to a room just a few feet down the hall from the entryway they were standing in.

Moving towards the room and entering ahead of Duo, Wufei was a bit disappointed that Duo left the door open behind him. He had hoped for more privacy but he did not dare press for any further concessions.

"Alright. I'm here; we're alone. I've agreed to listen to what you have to say. So say it and let's get this over with," Duo said harshly.

Wufei winced at the tone. It did not bode well for his hopes of forgiveness. His carefully-rehearsed speech deserted him under Duo's cold gaze. 'God Duo, you've changed so much...' If anything, he had expected furious accusations and anger. That he could have dealt with. This cold severity was completely unanticipated and he did not know how to deal with it. "I..." Wufei fumbled for words, finally blurting out, "Duo, I am very sorry for all the pain that I have caused you. I - handled things badly. I should have been more gentle in breaking the news to you and..." His words stumbled to a halt as Duo shook his head.

"You still don't get it, do you Chang? You still don't see that there were other choices. That you should have come to me, explained the situation, and the two of us should have sat down together and discussed your options. That we should have made a decision *together*."

"Duo, there *were* no 'options', I had to..."

"There are *always* options. They are not necessarily *good* options but they always exist. Maybe the decision would have been the same in the end. Maybe it wouldn't. But it should not have been your decision alone. Not when it affected me just as much as you," Duo said flatly.

"But it *didn't* - my family's honour..."

Duo cut him off with a sharp chop of his hand. "The marriage contract specified a marriage and an heir. What about a marriage in name only, a child through artificial means, and a quickie divorce?"

Wufei froze, blood turning to ice in his veins. He had never even considered dodging the terms like that... For all the arguing he had done with the elders, he had never once brought up something like that. Something that would have technically fulfilled the terms of the contract but left him free in a short period of time. That just wasn't the way his mind worked... He wasn't entirely certain that the elders would have been satisfied that it fulfilled the contract - wasn't entirely certain that *he* would have been - but... 'But it was a possibility. And it's just the sort of thing that Duo *would* think of...' "I never..."

"You never thought of it," Duo said grimly. "Heero did. It's one of the things that he and Q and Tro tried to suggest to you. One of the alternatives that you stubbornly refused to listen to because there *was* no choice as far as you were concerned. I *might* have thought of it myself if I hadn't been so totally out of it. But considering that Q and Heero spent however-the-hell-long it was between your announcement and your wedding spoon-feeding me and taking care of me since I was practically catatonic, I guess it's not too surprising that I wasn't being too creative. And hell, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway at that point. You'd already given your own damn word to the elders that you'd go through with a full-blown traditional marriage. Without bothering to discuss it with the person who was *supposed* to be your partner in life."

The bitterness in Duo's voice twisted Wufei's gut painfully. He felt literally sick at the thought that there might just *maybe* have been a way out. That he could possibly have passed up the chance to satisfy the elders, preserve his family's honour, and still keep his own happiness because he'd been so sure of his own decision. Because he hadn't delayed the elders while he talked things over with Duo. And what Duo had said about the shape that he'd been in - that careless mention of being practically catatonic, of being spoon-fed - that left him nauseous as well... "I..."

Duo shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. "I don't know if it would have even mattered if you *had* listened to the guys. It might have already been too late."

Through stiff lips, Wufei forced out, "What do you mean? Why would it have been too late?"

Duo's eyes met his directly for the first time during their confrontation and Wufei realized that as well as sparkling with anger, unshed tears lingered there as well. "Because when you chose duty over love, over *us*, you destroyed my trust in our love. My trust in *you*." He lifted his chin proudly and said, "I'm not in love with you anymore W-Wufei. I still care about you and wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you. But when you destroyed my trust... When I stopped trusting you..." He spread his hands and shook his head. "Somewhere along the line, I stopped being in love with you too."

***

Duo hadn't intended to mention Heero's alternative solution. He hadn't ever thought of it himself. At the time he had been too deeply in shock from the betrayal to do much at all other than start building barriers against ever being so deeply hurt again. And afterwards - well, afterwards he had deliberately not thought about much of anything to do with Wufei and his choice. Heero hadn't mentioned it either until quite recently. It was only when the two of them were talking about the whole thing after he had finally broken down and wept in Heero's arms, letting go of the bottled-up grief, that Heero *had* mentioned it. Had mentioned it only because Duo had asked him what options the three of them had come up with; because Duo had wondered what choices they had tried to present to Wufei only to run into his stubborn refusal to listen. He had always wondered a bit, ever since Quatre's mention of the things that Heero had come up with in his attempts to find a way for Duo to keep Wufei. He strongly suspected that there were other things, things that were perhaps a bit less than ethical, simply based on the way Quatre had spoken at the time, but he hadn't pressed Heero any further. It was all ancient history now anyway and best forgotten.

Which was why Duo hadn't intended to rub Wufei's nose in the fact that he'd fucked up even worse than he'd realized. But Wufei's "apology" had ticked him off. Had Wufei apologized for making such an important decision without allowing him a say in it, this would have probably stayed quite civil. But instead, all he was hearing was an apology for hurting him and for not breaking things to him more gently. 'As if breaking the news "more gently" would have made any difference! "It's over, I'm marrying someone else" would have hurt just as much no matter *how* it was worded!'

And so now he was standing here having said a whole bunch of things that he hadn't intended to say and deliberately hurting Wufei in retaliation for apologizing for all the wrong things. 'Dammit, I didn't intend to *do* that...' he thought miserably as Wufei's face paled and he flinched from Duo's flat statement.

"I - deserve that..." Wufei said in a tight voice. "I did not expect that you would still love me after what I did. But Duo, I want you to know that I do still love you. Always."

Duo flinched, the words throwing him back in time, reminding him of the last time that Wufei had said that to him. Of the last time that they had made love. The next morning, he and Heero had left on their week-long mission and when he returned, it had been to news of Wufei's engagement. The memories, the betrayal, the shock, and the pain came back in a rush. Duo started to shake and it became hard to catch his breath.

"Duo? What's wrong?" Wufei stepped towards him and reached out as if to touch him.

That was the last straw. The panic attack became inevitable. Duo managed to drag in enough breath to gasp out, "RO!" desperately. And in an instant, Heero was there, shoving Wufei away from him and sweeping him up to carry him to the privacy of their room.

***

Stunned and confused, Wufei followed Heero into the hallway. Trowa stopped him with an outstretched arm. "What happened? What did you say to him?" Trowa demanded.

"I just... I told him that I still love him. That I always will," Wufei stammered. He had wanted Duo to know that despite his actions, his feelings hadn't changed. That they never would; that Duo would always be his love. That he hadn't thrown their love away lightly, no matter how it must have seemed.

Trowa swore under his breath. "No wonder he had another damn panic attack after going so long without one."

"Panic attack?" Wufei whispered in shock. "What do you mean *another* panic attack?" he demanded, catching hold of Trowa's arm.

Trowa began to speak, then stopped and shook his head. "I've said too much already. That is not my story to tell. If you really want to know, ask Heero. Though I wouldn't advise doing so right now; he won't be in a very tolerant mood with you since you upset Duo."

Wufei nodded his acknowledgement numbly. 'So many mistakes... So much pain and heartache...' "Trowa, could you please show me to my room? I think - I need to be alone for a while." Trowa nodded sharply and headed towards the stairs. Wufei followed silently. He needed to do some serious thinking.

***

Heero carried Duo's shaking form up the stairs and to the privacy of their room as quickly as he could, cursing himself for not realizing what Wufei's words would do and rushing to Duo's side before things got this far. He bit his tongue, fighting down the words of love and comfort that he wanted to utter, afraid that he would only make things worse. He wasn't even certain that picking Duo up had been the right thing to do but he had known that he needed to put some distance between Duo and Wufei or things would only get worse. 'And Duo *is* clinging to me - so maybe the contact is okay...' God, he hoped so. If this set Duo back to the way he was when they first started dating, Heero swore he was going to deck Wufei for his thoughtless words. Even though the other man had no way of knowing the effect those words would have on Duo.

When he reached their room, Heero was prepared to shift Duo around so that he could free one hand to open it. But before he could do so, Duo reached out with one shaking hand and managed to turn the knob. 'He's starting to come out of it already? Maybe... maybe he'll be alright, maybe he isn't as badly affected as I thought...'

Entering the room, Heero shoved the door shut behind them with one foot before crossing to the bed. He tried to set Duo down but Duo's hold on him tightened in protest. "You want me to hold you?" he asked.

Duo's murmured, "Yes," was a bit breathless but audible. And Heero realized that the shaking was easing off already. Settling himself against the headboard with Duo cradled against him, Heero began to rub gentle circles on Duo's back, trying to help him relax his muscles and get his breathing under control. After a minute, Duo's tight hold loosened and he shifted to lean his head against Heero's shoulder instead of being curled up tightly. "Ro? Tell me?" he asked.

'*Now*? He wants me to tell him that I love him when he's just coming out of a panic attack?!' Heero thought in disbelief. 'That could trigger off *another* one, after all, words of love set off the *first* one!'

"Ro? Please?"

Despite his concern, Heero couldn't refuse that pleading voice. "Ai shiteru, Duo. Eien ni."

"In English? Please, Heero?" Duo raised one hand to stroke Heero's cheek and Heero realized in amazement that the trembling had almost completely stopped. "I think I'm okay, koi, but - just try it please?"

Heero swallowed, then said carefully, "I love you, Duo." He hesitated, then, hoping he understood correctly what Duo wanted, added, "Always."

Duo smiled a bit shakily and responded, "Love you too, 'Ro." His smile steadied and grew broader. "I'm okay, Heero. *We're* okay. Really and truly okay. You saying it didn't bother me at all. So it was just the fact that it was W-Wufei and it was so close to one of my memories that set me off."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Heero pressed a kiss to Duo's forehead. "I was afraid..."

"I know," Duo said, touching his fingertips to Heero's lips. "But 'Ro, the instant you picked me up, the panic started to fade. You're so damn deep under my skin, so far inside my defences, that even my subconscious knows I'm safe in your arms, love."

Heero's arms tightened around Duo and he bent to capture his lips in a tender kiss. The last of his worries about Duo's feelings for Wufei and about any possible negative effects from Wufei's visit slipped away with Duo's words.

Part 4:

"She is a beautiful little girl."

Jun turned swiftly, startled. She hadn't heard anyone even enter the dining room; hearing a voice that close to her was a real shock. The speaker reached out a hand to steady her as she almost overbalanced in her haste.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Duo apologized quietly.

Jun inclined her head in acknowledgement, then turned back to face Mei's travel seat and offer her bottle to her. "She is a very healthy baby," Jun said, "and yes, she is beautiful. But then, all children are beautiful in the eyes of their parents."

"I wouldn't know," Duo responded, "but they should be."

"I am sorry," Jun apologized, wincing at her faux pas. "Wufei," she winced again, realizing that she might be making things worse, "Wufei had told me that you were an orphan. I did not mean to..."

A hand touched her arm lightly for an instant before withdrawing. "It's okay. This is - awkward - for all of us. Quatre told me that you were in here feeding the baby before it was time for the rest of us to eat; I just wanted to speak to you for a few minutes without everyone else around."

Awkward was an understatement, Jun thought uncomfortably. Nothing about this trip had gone smoothly. Wufei was feeling even more miserable and guilty than before and judging by what he'd admitted to her, he had good reason to be. And she had no idea what to say to the young man standing beside her; a young man who had every reason to hate her. "What would you like to talk about?" she asked finally.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jun saw him pull his braid over his shoulder and begin fidgeting with it in what was clearly a nervous habit. He made as if to speak several times before finally saying, "I don't blame you for any of this. W... Wu..." He stopped in frustration, "Dammit - oh, sh- sugar, sorry, not supposed to swear around little kids and ladies, Sister Helen must've told me that a hundred times. I just have a little trouble saying W... - *his* name sometimes..."

Jun winced at the admission. It spoke volumes about the depth of hurt that Wufei had caused.

"Anyway, like I said, I don't blame you. He made his own choice. It isn't the one that I would have made in his place, but then I wasn't raised the way he was so I can't really judge him by that." Duo fell silent for a moment, then said, "I don't *hate* him. I'm not in love with him anymore, he destroyed that with what he did, but I do still care about him. I said a bunch of stuff to him earlier on that I hadn't intended to and I'm pretty sure I hurt him which I really didn't mean to do. I *am* sorry about that - I think there's been more than enough pain already."

Hesitantly, Jun asked, "Why not tell him this? Why tell me?" She turned slightly to more directly face Duo, shifting the bottle to her other hand in order to keep feeding Mei.

Duo met her eyes directly for a moment. "Because I don't think I can talk to him rationally yet." He dropped his gaze to watch his hands fidget with his braid again as he continued, "If I try, I'm afraid that I'll end up saying a bunch more stuff that I shouldn't. I'm still too bitter and angry and when my temper gets away from me I end up saying things I don't really mean to.

"I know Quatre said he wants to be friends with all of us again but I'm just not ready to even try that. I don't know whether I'll ever be. I'm sorry about that because we used to all be really close, even back before he and I ever became a couple. It's okay with me if the others want to be friends with him but I just - can't. I - don't make friends very easily anymore and he would have to start over from the beginning with trying to earn my friendship. I'm not ready for that and I don't really think he is either. Maybe someday but - not right now."

Jun closed her eyes for a moment in dismay. This was not at all what Wufei had hoped for. What he needed. There had been no forgiveness, no release from the guilt eating away at him. She opened her eyes and asked pleadingly, "Isn't there anything positive that you can offer him? Any relief from his guilt? He loves Mei but he feels so guilty..." Wufei would not be happy if he found out that she was pleading his case like this. Not at all. But she cared about him too much to let the chance to help him pass.

Duo sighed, his gaze travelling to the baby. His face softened slightly. "I don't know. He may find it painful to hear. But he didn't ruin my life. I *am* happy again.

"Heero and I love each other very much. He makes me happy. My happiness is one of his top priorities, maybe even his very top one. He's one of the very few people that I trust." Duo's eyes turned from Mei and met Jun's. "And I hope that someday W... *Wufei*," he forced the name out with an obvious effort, "is happy again too. I don't want him to spend the rest of his life feeling guilty and miserable. If you think hearing any of that will help, tell him. I'm sorry I can't do better than that..."

Jun nodded slightly. "Thank you," she said quietly as the others began to enter the room and seat themselves for the evening meal. It might not be what Wufei had hoped for - but it was a start.

***

Duo dropped the damp washcloth and towel in the hamper before heading back to bed. Post-coital cleanup was a nuisance but neither of them much liked waking up sticky in the morning either. So whoever took top got the job since he was usually a little less shaky afterwards. That translated to a pretty fair division of the task really. Oh, it wasn't like they had a set schedule or formally took turns or anything. Usually it was simply a matter of whoever made the first move choosing which role he preferred. And other times - like tonight - it was more a matter of who needed what. Tonight, he had needed to show Heero just how much he cherished him and Heero had needed that cosseting just as much. Had needed the lingering caresses and soft murmurs of love and appreciation. The quiet litany of all the many reasons that Duo loved him that accompanied Duo's loving worship of his body. The affirmation of the trust and love and commitment that bound them together.

Crawling into bed beside Heero, Duo wasn't at all surprised to find Heero already reaching for him. Heero was just as much of a cuddler as he was, something that had surprised him at first but made sense when Heero's strong protective instincts were taken into consideration. 'And that very brief panic attack earlier gave him more of a scare than it did me. I knew from the moment he picked me up that it was going to be short, that just being in his arms was going to be enough to stop it. But I'm sure he was imagining all sorts of dire consequences, 'specially since I hadn't had a panic attack since - god, since before that first night I slept in his arms. And despite how incredibly patient and loving he's always been with my issues regarding trust and intimacy, the thought of me relapsing had to be damn depressing.'

Spooning back against Heero and pillowing his head on Heero's arm with a contented sigh, Duo closed his eyes. Not for long, though.

"Duo?"

"Mm-hmm?"

"Are you okay with being around them tomorrow or do you want to go out for the day?"

Duo thought about that for a few minutes. Part of him was tempted to wholeheartedly agree that going away for the day was one hell of a good idea. But - he was going to have to get past his feelings if Trowa and Quatre were going to be friends with Wufei and his wife. The colonies were close enough together that weekend visits were quite practical so he was likely to be seeing Wufei's family fairly often. And he didn't want to end up hiding in his and Heero's wing the whole time they visited. That would only upset everyone else. And it *had* been almost three years. He *should* be past the bitterness and anger by now. *Would* be past at least the worst of it if he hadn't bottled it up and tried to pretend it wasn't there for so long.

"I'll be okay, I think, Heero. If my temper gets out of hand, I'll just come back up here for a while till I cool off. If the guys are going to be friends with them I'm going to have to get used to seeing him." Duo was silent for a few minutes, then he added quietly, "What about you, 'Ro? You guys used to be pretty good friends too. I know you used to really enjoy sparring with him. Verbally and physically. I don't think you said anything to him today other than his name when he arrived. Just because I'm not prepared to let him try being friends again, that doesn't mean that you can't..."

Heero's arm tightened around Duo and he growled protectively, "He hurt you. Being around him still hurts you. If you're not ready to forgive him then I'm sure as hell not about to."

'Oh shit.' Duo stroked the tense arm wrapped around him soothingly. "Ro, if he ever manages to apologize properly, I might manage to forgive him. *Might*. I don't expect him to apologize for leaving me, for making the choice he did; that's a pretty unrealistic expectation. He made his choice and he has a daughter because of it; there's no way I would ever even *want* to hear him say that he regretted what he did now and I don't think that Wufei ever would. That wouldn't be fair to the baby. But he *does* owe me an apology and I pretty much flat out told him today what he needed to apologize *for*; we'll have to wait and see whether he figures it out or not. If he does, then I'll accept the apology at least. I think the forgiving part will eventually follow that. I need to deal with the rest of this ugly bitterness and anger before that can happen but him apologizing for the right things should at least get things started, I hope.

"Right now, being around him hurts more because of the broken trust than anything else, I think. And that's something that I'm not sure he can ever fix. What he did shattered every bit of trust that I had in him and the fact that I'd misjudged him so much, had so much unfounded faith in him, left its mark. I can hardly bring myself to trust anyone *new* enough to make even casual friends; I'm not sure he of all people can ever win back enough of my trust for me to consider him a friend, let alone a close one, again. I'm sorry about that because I remember how much fun the five of us all had together as a group, how close we all were, back before he and I were ever a couple and I wish we could at least get that back.

"If you're not ready or willing to be friends with him again, then I'm damn well not going to pressure you to. But don't just refuse his friendship because I am, love. You don't have to do it just to show your solidarity with me; being friends with him is not a breach of trust with me. Just do what feels right for *you*."

Heero gave a noncommittal grunt. After a moment, he said, "I almost forgot. Trowa warned me that Wufei might ask me about the - panic attack. If he does, how much do you want me to tell him? Do you want me to tell him anything at all?"

Tough question. Duo really wasn't sure what he wanted. Part of him was embarrassed that he *had* the panic attacks in the first place and would rather just pretend they never happened. And part of him wanted Wufei to know just how badly he'd screwed up; how badly he'd hurt him and how far-reaching the effects were. But at the same time, he wasn't entirely sure that the panic attacks were even directly Wufei's fault. He might have caused them himself with the way he'd worked so hard to isolate himself, with all those barriers he'd built, during that first year after Wufei left. And the desire to blame Wufei, the wish to make sure Wufei knew and felt guilty, was something he really didn't like feeling. He knew it was part of that anger and bitterness that he needed to let go of. It was petty and cruel and the very fact that part of him would really like to see Wufei hurt made him disgusted with himself. But the tangled up mess of his emotions meant that he really wasn't sure how to answer Heero.

Duo sighed wearily. "Ro, I'll just leave it up to you. I trust your judgement. And right now, I don't trust my own - can't trust it - where he's concerned. Part of me says that he made a mistake, a big one, but that he's already paid the price. That he doesn't deserve any more hurt. That there's been way too much pain already and causing more won't make anybody feel any better about what happened. That I still care about him and I really don't want to add to his own suffering."

His voice turned hard and dark as he continued, "And another part of me says fuck that, make that bastard hurt the way he hurt me. Give him every nasty, painful little detail of just how bad he fucked up my life. Tell him that I can't trust people anymore, can't make friends, because I can't trust my own damn judgement. Because if I made such a big mistake in trusting him, in believing that our love was as important to him as it was to me, that he loved me and would stand by me through anything life might throw our way, then how can I be sure that the next friend I make won't turn around and betray me too..."

There was a harsh, aborted sound of protest and Heero's arm tightened around him even more. Duo slid his hand caressingly down Heero's arm and threaded his fingers through Heero's for a few moments, loosening the too-tight grip so that he could flip over to face Heero. "Then," he said softly, raising his hand to stroke Heero's cheek lovingly, "then, I remember that despite all the hurt and pain and mistrust, there *are* a few people I can trust. One in particular. One who's proven his love and trustworthiness over and over again." Duo smiled and kissed Heero tenderly before continuing in a whisper, "And I know that I can't give in to that impulse to hurt Wufei because there's no room for that kind of petty cruelty in my life. That I have to let go of all that bitterness and anger before it starts to creep over into other things and maybe even affect *our* relationship. And that's something that I won't let happen because I love you too damn much and what we have is too important for me to risk it because I can't let go of something that's ancient history at this point.

"So - you tell him as much or as little as you think he needs to know, okay koi?"

Heero nodded silently and pulled Duo even closer. Duo went willingly, lips meeting Heero's in a lingering kiss. Oh yes, what he and Heero had was far too important to risk for the sake of old bitterness and anger. Far, far too important...

***

"Good morning Heero! Duo!" Quatre exclaimed brightly, smiling towards the hallway door.

Wufei had wondered whether Heero and Duo would even come down for breakfast this morning. Yesterday's evening meal had been uncomfortably silent for the most part, with Quatre struggling for neutral topics of conversation and Jun gamely answering his questions about the new colony and the changes in the clan yet trying to avoid touching too closely on topics such as the elders and arranged marriages. Playing the part of the courteous clan head and guest just as graciously as Quatre played his role as head of the Winner family and their host.

All while Duo avoided even looking at Wufei. And while Heero glared and hovered protectively near Duo if Wufei so much as glanced in his direction. 'And Trowa hovered in the background, ready to intervene if either of us got out of line...' If it wasn't so damn sad that the five of them had come to this, it would be funny. But remembering the warm camaraderie that had flowed between them all in the past, the current situation wasn't funny at all. It was another painful reminder of just how high a price had been paid for his family's honour. 'Too high,' Wufei acknowledged painfully. Giving up Duo as his lover and partner in life had been bad enough. Losing both Duo's and Heero's friendship as well, straining the bonds between the five of them - bonds that were forged in the heat of battle, that had held up under incredible stress in the past, that had survived fighting on opposite sides of a rebellion - straining those unbelievably durable bonds to their breaking point, only made things worse. He was beginning to seriously question the wisdom of trying to resume his friendship with any of the others. To fear that in doing so, he would tear apart the four who had remained close and continue to compound the damage caused by his actions.

But even considering giving up *all* of their friendships for good *hurt*. Hurt a great deal more than he would have ever believed possible. 'Will I never be done paying the price?' Wufei thought painfully.

Dragging his thoughts back to the events around him, Wufei realized that both Duo and Heero looked more relaxed today. That neither of them was moving with the coiled tension that they had the previous day. His breath caught as Duo turned to accept a glass of juice that Heero offered to him and for an instant, a soft, affectionate smile graced Duo's face. The first trace of a smile that Wufei had seen on Duo's face since he arrived yesterday. And despite the tiny bit of hurt that it was clearly just for Heero, despite the flicker of pain that those loving smiles would never be *his* again, Wufei was glad to see it. Because that small, gentle smile told him quite clearly exactly how happy Heero made Duo. Confirmed that Duo was in love with Heero and happy again.

And that - helped. It wasn't the forgiveness that he wanted but - as Jun had gently pointed out to him - it was a start. As was the very fact that Duo had made the effort to speak to Jun the previous night. That he had told her that he hoped Wufei would eventually be happy again too. 'If he can be generous enough to hope for that, then at least what I did has not changed him beyond recognition. It did not make him hardhearted or cruel.'

But it *had* changed Duo. That much was clear. His subdued behaviour was not drawing unusual notice from Quatre or Trowa or even the household staff, leading Wufei to believe that it was not solely due to his presence. That it was in fact what they all expected him to behave like. And when he put that together with Jun's remark that Duo had said he did not make friends very easily... It disturbed him. Watching as Trowa and Duo spoke, Heero listening in with a look of quiet contentment, Wufei decided that he would have to speak to Heero. Hopefully, the better mood he seemed to be in would extend to him and Heero would at least give him civil answers to his questions.

Wufei firmly quashed the faint hope that Heero would be willing to be more than merely civil, that he would be willing to be friends again. He was reasonably certain that unless Duo was at least willing to forgive him, Heero would not be open to friendship. Heero's disapproval of his actions had been extremely clear at the time and now, after whatever had happened between his departure and the present, Wufei doubted that his attitude would have changed. He still found that a bit surprising. Heero was the one person that he would have expected to genuinely understand that he *had* to put duty first; that his own personal wishes must of necessity be subject to the dictates of duty. He found it hard to believe that Heero himself would have acted any differently given a conflict between duty and his personal life.

***

"Yuy? May I speak with you please?"

Heero stifled the urge to growl a belligerent "no" in response to Wufei's question. Duo's insistence that he should follow his own feelings in terms of deciding how to deal with Wufei hadn't helped. Particularly considering that his gut instinct was to simply haul off and hit him. To knock him on his damn "honourable" ass. Which was at least slightly better than the urge he'd had in the past to beat him to a bloody pulp. No matter how many times he reminded himself that he really *did* understand what drove Wufei to act the way he had, the simple fact remained that Wufei had hurt Duo very badly and that single thing was enough to make him furious with the other man. Regardless of the fact that Wufei's actions had eventually led to his relationship with Duo and his own happiness.

With an effort, Heero managed to keep a reasonably civil tone as he replied, "I suppose." It wasn't like this was really a surprise; he'd known that Wufei was probably going to seek him out and want to talk to him. Was probably going to ask questions about Duo. That was why he'd consulted with Duo last night about how he should *answer* those questions, after all. And this *was* the first time this morning that he and Duo had been apart. Although Duo would be returning shortly, Heero knew that there was no great rush; that once Duo spotted Wufei talking with him, he would stay clear and wait for a signal before interrupting.

Agreeing to speak with Wufei didn't mean that he had to make it *easy* for him, though, Heero decided. So he simply stood and waited, not giving Wufei any sort of encouragement or assistance in getting started. After several moments of uncomfortable silence, Wufei finally said, "Trowa said that was a panic attack that Duo had yesterday. He implied that it was not the first and said that if I wanted to know anything further, I should ask you."

"Trowa warned me that you might ask," Heero said coolly. He wanted to be sure that Wufei understood that he wouldn't talk about this or anything else behind Duo's back, so he continued, "Duo told me to use my own judgement in answering your questions. So go ahead and ask but I will not guarantee that I will answer everything."

Wufei's eyes widened slightly then he nodded. "Was that a panic attack and has Duo had them before?"

"Yes, and the one yesterday was a very mild one. And yes, he has had them before though not since he and I became a couple." Heero avoided saying lovers since the end of the panic attacks predated that by over a month. As far as he was concerned, they were a couple starting from the night that Duo had first slept in his arms. That had been the true turning point in their relationship, the event that showed just how much Duo trusted him. And while the trust hadn't been absolute yet then, it had been enough for their relationship to truly begin.

Wufei hesitated, then asked, "Does something specific trigger them off?"

Heero looked him straight in the eyes and said bluntly, "Intimacy. Whether hugging or kissing or words of love. Once we figured out the main triggers, we worked around them until Duo was able to get past that point. Till he was able to trust enough to handle those things without triggering an attack. Till he was able to leave the past behind enough not to get swamped by memories and trigger an attack." On this, Heero was not going to pull any punches. Wufei had to understand how he'd set Duo off yesterday so that he didn't do it again. Perhaps it was a bit cruel to make this quite so clear to Wufei, particularly when Duo *had* gotten over this where Heero was concerned, but Heero did *not* want any further instances. They were damn scary things for everyone involved and if Wufei set Duo off when he wasn't close by... Heero suppressed a shiver at the thought. He added hastily, "If he *does* happen to have one, do *NOT* touch him or try to comfort him; you'll only make things worse. I can help because he trusts me." He didn't bother adding the obvious. That Duo did *not* trust Wufei.

Watching Wufei pale and sway slightly, Heero suddenly understood why Duo had been so torn over this. Part of him was gloating that Wufei was finally understanding just how badly he'd hurt Duo. The rest of him wished he hadn't said anything because he'd just caused even more pain to someone who was once a very good friend. Just as much of a friend as Quatre and Trowa still were. Someone that he'd trusted to watch his back in dangerous situations. And it *was* a case of causing *more* pain - he had seen Wufei watching Duo and himself together; had seen the expressions flickering across his face. The grief, the guilt, the longing. The mixture of happiness and sorrow when Duo smiled at Heero or took his hand. Feelings that he understood all too well, having experienced them himself while he was still just Duo's best friend, hiding his love and longing behind an impassive mask while Duo smiled for and cuddled with Wufei.

'Duo's right. Wufei has already paid enough; has already suffered enough. He does not need to know just how difficult this has been for Duo; I'm sure that he has been going through his own version of hell over the past couple of years. And much of what happened to Duo is really too private to share unnecessarily.'

With an obvious effort, Wufei said, "Duo mentioned something about being practically catatonic after I broke the news to him. He said that you and Quatre spoon-fed him..."

Heero took pity on the difficulty Wufei was having in finding a way to ask the question. "Catatonic is perhaps a bit extreme. He was - very withdrawn. Disinterested in everything. Yes, I will admit that we had to care for him for a while but he did come out of it on his own." Eventually. Sort of. If deciding to isolate himself from the world and trying to get himself killed in the line of duty qualified. 'Oh shit... If Wufei didn't know that...' "You never watched the vid-disk that I gave you, did you," he stated flatly.

Clearly confused by the abrupt change of subject, Wufei shook his head. "No. I could not afford to weaken my resolve. I kept a copy for a while but in the end I deleted it without watching it." His eyes jerked up to meet Heero's as he obviously put the seemingly unrelated statement together with what Heero had said before that. "You mean..."

Sighing, Heero nodded slightly. "Had you not already destroyed it, I would have suggested doing so. It could do no one any good at this point." He glanced towards the hallway, guessing that the shadow he had seen a moment ago was Duo returning. "Was there anything else you wanted to know?" He hoped not. There was little else that he would be willing to tell even if Wufei *did* have further questions. Telling Wufei about the unnecessary risk-taking and Duo's attempts to isolate himself throughout that first year was completely unnecessary and would only cause Duo discomfort at the reminder. Further mention of Duo's difficulty in trusting others and the resultant difficulty in making new friends was equally pointless. "There is not much else that I am willing to say..." Heero warned.

Wufei shook his head, then just as Heero began to move away, said, "Wait - Yuy - why did the two of you leave Preventers? I thought that you of all people would never leave..."

"He quit because Une tried to order him on a six-month deep cover mission away from me," Duo said quietly, walking in from the hall. Heero extended one arm slightly and Duo responded to the invitation immediately, stepping close to Heero's side and sliding his arm around Heero's waist. Heero wrapped his own arm around Duo and squeezed gently. This response was actually stronger than he'd expected; he'd simply held out his hand for Duo to take it. 'His respiration is slightly elevated... The conversation is drifting too close to sensitive territory and beginning to upset him...'

"What?!" Wufei exclaimed disbelievingly.

"There was no real reason for me to be the one to take the mission," Heero said with a slight shrug. "I refused, she insisted, I quit. I know where my priorities are."

"But - it was your duty..."

"Had the mission genuinely required *me*, we could have restructured it so that Duo and I would go undercover together." Heero rubbed Duo's tense back reassuringly as he spoke. "If she'd refused to allow that - well, if it had been absolutely essential, Duo and I would have sat down together and discussed it. Came up with options that we could both live with. Decided what to do together." Heero met Wufei's eyes directly and said pointedly, "Like partners *should*." He sincerely hoped that Wufei got the point. Duo needed that particular apology just as much as Wufei needed Duo's forgiveness. And as much as Duo needed to forgive Wufei as part of the whole healing process. Unless Wufei figured out what he truly needed to apologize for, Duo would probably never forgive him. The hurt ran too deep.

Heero added, "But the mission wasn't that important and the Preventers have plenty of other qualified agents. Our relationship was and is more important to both of us. So we quit and moved on. Quatre offered us jobs here and a place to live. We discussed it and came to a mutual decision to accept Quatre's offer. So now, Duo works with WEI's charity division and helps out in security on an as-needed basis while I've joined Trowa in running WEI's security division and handling Quatre's private security as well. And in a few years when the head of the charity division retires, Duo will take over that position. We both put in our fair share of hours but we have time left for our relationship too. Quatre makes sure of that for *all* of WEI's employees. No one is ever expected to put in so many hours that their personal life suffers. Not even Quatre himself, the three of us make sure of that."

"Heero, are you ready to go for that swim now?" Duo asked after the room fell silent. The tightness of Duo's arm around his waist told Heero that what he really wanted was just to get out of there.

"Sure," Heero answered immediately. "Wufei and I are done talking." His tone conveyed clearly that he had no intention of answering any further questions. He just hoped that some of what he had said got through to Wufei. That the other man finally figured out that he needed to apologize to Duo for making that very important decision to end their relationship and obey the elders without talking it over with him first. Between the very large hint that Duo had dropped yesterday and the ones that he had just dropped, Wufei should manage to figure it out. It wouldn't mean anything if he ended up flat-out *telling* Wufei what to apologize for. The issue of the actual decision had stopped being important a long time ago when Duo stopped trusting Wufei and stopped being in love with him. What remained was the hurt and bitterness and anger over the way that Wufei had handled the entire thing.

Part 5:

Wufei sank into a chair as Heero and Duo left the room. He had no idea how much time he spent sitting there. He was too lost in thought to care. The conversation with Heero had left him with a great deal to think about. 'Heero Yuy *refused* a mission for personal reasons... Because he wouldn't leave Duo behind for six months... He *quit* the Preventers over it...' Closing his eyes and shaking his head slightly, Wufei realized why Duo loved Heero so much and clearly trusted him so much. 'Because Heero chose love over duty. Because he passed the test that I, in Duo's eyes, failed...'

But Wufei couldn't truthfully say that he would change his decision, even knowing everything that he now knew. He did not think that either the elders or himself would have been satisfied with the alternative solution that had been mentioned. Did not think that such a tricky, slippery, technical fulfilment of the marriage contract's terms would have been an honourable solution. A solution that he could have lived with. For one thing, he did not think that he could have lived on Earth and left his child to be raised on the colony without his own influence. That he could have abdicated his responsibility to his own flesh-and-blood like that. And moving to the colony in order to be near his child would not have been a viable solution. The elders would have made sure of that; would have made sure that Duo felt their displeasure at his relationship with Wufei, at his influence on Wufei, every minute that he was within their sphere of influence. In the end, Wufei would have been left facing the choice of remaining near his child or leaving with his lover - and once again, honour would have left him with only one possible course of action. 'And the end result would have been the same, only delayed by a few short years, years that would probably have been increasingly uncomfortable for everyone involved...'

And he couldn't entirely regret his decision because of Meilan, his beautiful baby girl. And because of the changes that Jun was introducing in the clan, changes that he was helping to implement. Changes that would guarantee the happiness of their daughter's generation and those that followed. Changes that would ensure that choices like his own and Jun's would never have to be made again.

So that left him no further ahead than when he boarded the shuttle to come here. He still did not know how to begin to mend his friendship with Duo or to at least obtain Duo's forgiveness. His attempted apology yesterday was clearly not the one Duo wanted to hear. He couldn't apologize for his actual choice because he could not apologize for the existence of his very loved, very wanted, daughter. So - what *was* he supposed to apologize for? What exactly did he *need* to apologize for? Wufei knew that the clues were undoubtedly in what Duo had said to him yesterday and what Heero had said today. He just needed to find them.

***

Jun packed the last of the baby's things and checked the room carefully for anything that she might have overlooked. It was nearly time for them to leave for the shuttleport to make the trip back to their own colony. She was ready to go though not as anxious to escape the tense, uncomfortable situation as she had been last night. Today had been much less stressful.

At breakfast, everyone had been more relaxed. And while she was outside with Mei just before lunch, she had been drawn to the pool area by the sound of splashing and bright laughter. She had hurriedly retreated once she realized that the sounds were being made by Duo and Heero; she hadn't wanted to intrude on their privacy and create another uncomfortable situation. But she had caught a brief glimpse of mischievous grins and had been amazed at the difference happiness made in them both. Heero had impressed her as stern and almost sullen yet as he playfully splashed Duo he'd seemed far warmer and more open. And Duo's solemn, wary face had been happy and full of mischief as he responded with even more vigorous splashes. Neither of them looked anything like the versions of themselves that she had experienced so far.

Lunch had been a bit quiet. Quatre had tried to keep the conversation going but Wufei had been lost in thought and Duo and Heero had been late joining them. The two of them had arrived just as the rest of them were finishing their meal, Duo's braid dampening his shirt and clearly the reason for the delay since Heero finished braiding it and slipped an elastic on the end just as they entered the room, apologizing for their tardiness. 'I do not blame them for taking their time in joining us. They were clearly enjoying themselves.' And it was just more proof that Duo was, as he had told her the previous night, happy again. That Heero *made* him happy. And it was equally clear that Heero loved Duo and that Duo made *him* happy. Because she had great difficulty imagining the serious, rather forbidding man having a splash-war and laughing so hard he could barely tread water with someone that he *didn't* care very deeply for.

As she placed her suitcase and the baby's bags beside Wufei's luggage, Jun thought, 'Now if only Wufei and I can find at least a measure of that same happiness.' She hoped so. Hoped that Wufei could move past his guilt and *allow* himself to be happy again. Because while she would not say that she was in love with him she did care for him and respect him. She knew as well that Wufei respected her and cared for her well-being, both as his wife and as the mother of his child. And while a mutual caring and respect combined with a shared love for their daughter was better than nothing, was in fact more than many of her clan's arranged marriages *ever* had, Jun hoped that with time, that caring and respect would turn to more. That they too would have a second chance at love.

***

As Wufei followed Trowa down the stairs, carrying the last of the luggage out to the front step, ready to be loaded as soon as the limousine was brought around, he hoped that Duo would show up before they left. He knew now what he needed to apologize for. Knew too *why* he had made that particular mistake in the first place. Why he had been so slow to acknowledge that it *was* a mistake. But by the time he had finally admitted to himself what that important apology was, Duo and Heero had disappeared off to their own wing again and he had been distinctly reluctant to go in search of them. To seek them out in what was clearly their own territory. Quatre had mentioned that the staff did not even enter their part of the wing except at certain set times; it was truly their own space within the huge house.

Part of Wufei's reluctance to go find them was simply that he did not wish to intrude on their territory. The other part was his fear that he would interrupt something that would only make it even more clear that Duo and Heero were - together. 'That they are *lovers*, Chang. At least admit it to yourself. It hurts to watch them together when they are merely holding hands; catching them kissing or in an even more intimate moment would be excruciatingly painful as well as being damn embarrassing for all of us.' He was - coming to terms with the fact that Duo was completely, irrevocably, Heero's now, just as Heero was quite clearly Duo's, body, heart, and soul. But it was going to take some time to reach the point where he did not flinch away from the thought. To reach the point where his happiness for Duo's sake outweighed his own jealousy and grief. The point where that happiness was not so heavily tinged with regret for what might have been.

***

"We don't have to go see them off if you don't want to," Heero said softly, raising his eyes from the chessboard to meet Duo's. He reached out one hand to still Duo's nervous tapping of a captured pawn against the tabletop.

Duo let go of the chess piece and turned his hand over to clasp Heero's. "No, I'm okay, 'Ro. I guess - I'm just hoping that he's finally figured things out. I *want* to let go of all the hurt and bitterness and anger but I'm not sure whether I can until he apologizes for the way he acted. For ignoring the fact that I was supposed to be his partner in life and making a life-altering decision that affected us both without giving me any say in it." He was silent for a moment, then said hesitantly, "I'm not being unrealistic am I 'Ro? Thinking that he should have at least talked things over with me even if he didn't go along with what I wanted?"

Heero stood and tugged Duo to his feet as well, pulling him into his arms in a reassuring hug. "No, koi, you're not. And I think that he *will* figure it out eventually even if he hasn't yet." 'Even if I have to drop a few hints to Quatre and have him pass them on, Wufei *will* figure this out and apologize,' he thought grimly. He really couldn't understand why it had even taken him this long to figure things out. He had expected Wufei to approach them after lunch and ask to speak to Duo alone again; the fact that he had not had puzzled Heero. Wufei was not usually this dense. And he knew from various things that had been mentioned during the conversations about Jun's changes to the clan that Wufei and Jun *did* discuss important decisions on a regular basis. Though of course since Jun was the one with the actual authority, there was not a great deal of choice there, Wufei *had* to have her agreement before implementing any changes.

Duo sighed, his breath puffing against Heero's neck. "Mmm. Instant stress relief - one hug from Heero Yuy. If I could bottle this feeling and sell it, I'd be richer than Q."

Heero's throat tightened along with his arms. He knew Duo loved him; knew that Duo loved being held by him. The readiness with which Duo sought out his arms told him that. But hearing Duo express it through comments like this was even better. Reluctantly, he said, "It's almost time for them to leave, love. If you want to be there to see them off, we'd better head downstairs."

Duo's head moved against his shoulder in a nod of acknowledgement and Duo's arms tightened around him for a moment before loosening. "Okay. Let's go then."

***

Duo left his fingers entwined with Heero's as they joined the others near the front door. That bit of support helped more than he could even begin to explain. Facing Wufei still hurt. Would probably hurt for a long time to come. And he wasn't sure that his feelings towards his former lover would ever be completely free of that mixed-up tangle of caring and hurt and mistrust and regret. There was too much between the five of them for anything to ever truly destroy every trace of the caring that they all had for each other. But there were far too many other feelings added to that for him to ever feel anything even remotely close to the love that he had felt for Wufei before. Too many negative feelings.

The lack of trust was one of the strongest and one of the ones that hurt the most. It was a damn good thing that they no longer had to go into battle together because he no longer trusted Wufei enough to let him watch his back. No longer trusted him with his life let alone his heart and soul. Duo regretted that loss even more than he regretted losing Wufei.

Falling in love with Heero couldn't *replace* being in love with Wufei. His love for Heero was different from the love he'd once felt for Wufei; each love was unique and one was not merely a substitute for the other. But falling in love with Heero, being loved by Heero, *had* more than made up for losing Wufei, for falling out of love with him. Although the love between Heero and Duo was different than what he had had with Wufei, it was no less. Was in fact becoming stronger and deeper with time, as their relationship deepened. So although a small part of Duo still loved Wufei along with the others that he had loved and lost, and another small part of him loved his "family" - the other Gundam pilots including Wufei, the rest of his heart belonged to Heero. And that made up for losing Wufei as his lover, as his life-mate.

The shattered trust, though, was a different story altogether.

It was the betrayal, the breach of trust, that had sent Duo into such deep shock right at the time of Wufei's announcement. That had sent him reeling without a fight from the blow Wufei dealt him. Nothing could ever replace or even make up for the trust that had been lost. That had been a unique thing, forged in battle and friendship and peace and love, and it could never be truly restored or replaced. The trust that he had in Trowa and Quatre and the even greater trust he had in Heero were things that he valued very highly. And each of those was equally unique and irreplaceable. But they all had already existed; no new one had come into being to fill the hole left by the loss of his trust in Wufei. So although he still had *those* bonds of trust and friendship, they could not make up for the one that was lost, irredeemably shattered, by what Wufei had done.

As the goodbyes between everyone concluded, Wufei came to stand in front of Duo. Duo met his gaze levelly, far better prepared to face Wufei today than he had been yesterday. The talks that he had had with Heero since then had helped him come to terms a bit more with the hurt and anger and bitterness. He no longer felt that he could barely control his temper, that he could scarcely restrain himself from deliberately saying things to hurt Wufei. And Heero's silent, steady presence at his side reminded him that no matter how badly Wufei had hurt him, he had something truly wonderful now to make up for all the pain. That in the end, the greatest loss was Wufei's because he had lost two friends not just one, as well as losing the one he loved.

And Wufei had not found a second chance at love as Duo had. At least not yet. Though Duo could see the caring that Jun clearly had for Wufei, caring that she had shown in her conversation with him the previous day. And Duo hoped that, in time, the two of them would come to love one another. Because he did not think that either of them deserved to be trapped in a loveless marriage and their daughter deserved to have parents who loved each other as well as her. Deserved to have a loving family.

Wufei took a deep breath then began, "Duo, I know that I can never truly make up for the way that I hurt you. I am sorry that I hurt you but I know that does not change the fact that I *did*. I do not know whether it would have changed anything - I am not certain that any alternative options would have truly satisfied both the elders and myself that they fulfilled the contract and preserved my family's honour - but I should not have given them a decision without discussing it with you first. All that I can say in my defence is that I could not bear to go over all the arguments with you that I had already gone through with the elders. And I *did* argue with them; argued for many hours. Argued that my heart was committed elsewhere; that *I* was committed elsewhere. The simple fact remained that the marriage contract predated any commitment that I had made and thus took precedence. That the commitment made by my family rendered any more recent commitments that I had made null and void. And I finally had to submit to them. To agree that I would honour the contract.

"I could not face going over those same arguments again with you. Could not be certain that I would be able to stand firm. Reaching the decision the first time was so difficult and painful that I feared I might back out if I had to do it all over again. And if I *had* backed out, if I had refused the elders, it would have eaten away at me, and the regret that I had forsaken my duty would have eventually turned my love for you to resentment..." His voice dropped to a mere whisper as he finished, "And that I could not bear to imagine..."

Duo tightened his grip on Heero's fingers as Wufei spoke. When Wufei bowed deeply and said a final soft, "I'm sorry," Duo had to blink rapidly and swallow hard. He could understand why Wufei had done things the way he had, the explanation made sense, but he still disagreed with it. Wufei should have given him the opportunity to discuss the situation. Should have given him equal rights in the decision since it affected him too.

But Wufei *had* apologized, simply and sincerely. He didn't think that he could honestly say that he forgave Wufei. Not yet. He was going to have to think this through, work through the rest of the lingering bitterness and anger. But he *could* at least give Wufei this much...

Squeezing Heero's fingers firmly for an instant first, Duo slipped his hand free of Heero's and reached out to touch Wufei's shoulder lightly. "I accept your apology," he said quietly. "I can't honestly say that I forgive you. Not yet. In time... Perhaps. And I will tell you the same thing that I have already told the others - don't let the fact that I'm not prepared to be friends again keep you from being friends with those who *are*."

Wufei straightened slowly as Duo drew his hand away. "Thank you," he said simply, dipping his head in acknowledgement, before turning to leave.

Duo sought Heero's hand again, drawing comfort from the warm fingers firmly clasping his own. Once the door closed behind the others, he turned towards Heero, stepping into the embrace that was waiting for him.

"How do you feel?" Heero asked softly.

Duo sighed and answered honestly, "A little sad. Not quite so angry. Relieved. Kind of tired. A little bit sorry for Wufei because he doesn't have *this* with someone..." He snuggled his head against Heero's shoulder, his arms tightening around him. Despite the fact that he'd admitted he was tired, the broad yawn caught him by surprise. "Sorry, 'Ro. Make that 'really tired'," he admitted wearily. "Guess the whole weekend just suddenly caught up to me..."

"Come on then, let's go raid the kitchen for a snack then go to bed," Heero suggested. "I know you've got a full day scheduled tomorrow..."

"Mmm-hmm," Duo nodded, giving in to Heero's gentle nudges and allowing himself to be turned around and headed towards the kitchen. An early night sounded like a pretty good idea. The extra sleep would make sure he was ready for the meetings he had tomorrow. And he knew that Heero had sleep in mind, not - other activities. The tone of his voice was protective and comforting, not the least bit teasing or suggestive. And that was fine with him; simply lying together wrapped in each other's arms was a huge source of comfort for both of them. He stopped for a moment to give Heero a slow, sleepy smile and say softly, "Love you, 'Ro."

Heero smiled back and murmured, "Love you too." His tone changed and he continued half-teasingly, "Now come on, let's get you fed before you fall asleep at the table on me."

Duo grinned and wrinkled up his nose, "Okay, okay, I'm going..." He stifled another yawn as Heero prodded him into motion again. Yep, he definitely felt sorry for Wufei - honour and duty couldn't possibly begin to replace this...

***

Settling back in his shuttle seat with a sigh, Wufei was glad to be heading back home. Being around Duo, having to watch him together with Heero, was too difficult to bear for longer than a weekend. It wasn't as if the two of them had been particularly blatant either. They had held hands a few times and on that one specific occasion while he was speaking with Heero they had wrapped an arm around each other but for the most part they had simply been near each other. And yet that alone had been enough to remind him painfully of just what he had given up.

The entire weekend had been extremely difficult. Finding out just how badly he had hurt Duo left his heart aching - and he was certain that there was more, that there were things that had not been mentioned. If there had not been, Heero would not have been so firm in his statement that there was not much more he was willing to say. Part of Wufei wanted to know what those things were. The rest of him acknowledged that he had no right and if Duo and Heero chose not to tell him then he had no business trying to find out. And he also realized that perhaps it was better that he not know. That knowing would only increase his own sorrow and regret for the pain he had caused.

Wufei had mixed feelings about the weekend. He had not received the forgiveness that he had hoped for; merely acceptance of his apology and the possibility of future forgiveness. And seeing Duo happy with someone else had been painful. But at the same time, seeing Duo with Heero had assured him that Duo genuinely *was* happy again. And watching Heero with Duo - knowing how highly Heero valued his relationship with Duo - made it clear that Duo would *stay* happy as long as there was anything in Heero's power that would keep him that way. 'Which means that at least Mei is not the *only* good thing to have resulted from my choice...'

And at least Duo did not hate him. He was not in love with him anymore but he did still care about him enough to have told Jun that he hoped Wufei would be happy again someday. And glancing across at his beautiful baby girl and his graceful, determined wife, Wufei dared to hope that maybe someday he would be. That perhaps what he had would be enough. Someday.

***

Heero woke in the middle of the night, suddenly aware that his bedmate was missing. Listening for a moment, he decided that Duo was not merely in their bathroom and judging by the coolness of the spot next to him, Duo had been up for a while. Concerned, he rose and pulled on a bathrobe before venturing out into the hallway in search of Duo. A sliver of light from the partially-open door to the computer room caught his attention.

Duo turned as the door swung fully open in response to Heero's touch. "Sorry, koi, I didn't mean to wake you," he said apologetically. "I just needed to think about a few things and thought looking at a few of these might help..."

Heero moved to look over Duo's shoulder and wasn't surprised to see photos of the five pilots together displaying on the screen in a continuous slideshow. He knew that Duo had been struggling to let go of the last of his anger and forgive Wufei. It had been several months already since he had accepted Wufei's apology and Duo was finding forgiveness harder to manage than he had expected. The fact that he was finding it so difficult bothered him; Duo wasn't used to holding grudges.

Leaning his head back against Heero, Duo asked him quietly, "Do you have any of the pictures from when Wufei and I were together, koi? I destroyed all of mine... I think I'm ready to forgive him but I need to face what he and I had together first..."

Heero leaned over Duo's shoulder and typed in a few quick commands, pulling up some of his archived files. He knew that Duo could have gotten into them if he'd chosen to go looking for them but he also knew that Duo wouldn't do something like that behind his back. Trust had always been important to Duo but since what happened with Wufei it had become even more so. "There's not a lot of them," Heero warned, "but if I remember correctly some of them are going to be very rough to look at." He was fairly certain that there were at least a dozen taken on the day that Wufei and Duo had moved into their new house. Most of his own photos tended to be group ones or singles of Duo from before he and Wufei got together. Some of Duo and himself together before he'd figured out that he loved Duo. He'd avoided keeping photos of Duo and Wufei together since they had been difficult for him to look at but Duo had been so happy in those ones when they moved into their house that he had deliberately kept them to remind himself why he would never do anything to jeopardize that happiness.

Pressing a gentle kiss to Duo's temple, Heero straightened, intending to leave him to view the photos in privacy. A soft, "Stay?" stopped him in his tracks.

"If you want me to, of course," Heero answered. He reached out and pulled another chair over beside Duo's and took a seat. Duo's hand reached for his immediately while Duo's opposite hand reached out to tap the keyboard, starting the display of the images from Heero's files.

***

'Heero wasn't kidding when he said some of these were going to be rough to look at,' Duo thought as the images shifted across the screen. Images of him laughing in Wufei's arms. Of Wufei indulgently posing sprawled on the rug in front of the fireplace with him. Of the two of them serving the first meal in their new home to the moving crew that consisted solely of the other three ex-pilots. Of the two of them very clearly happy and in love.

Deliberately stirring up the painful memories, poking at the half-healed wounds, *hurt*. But - and this was why he'd wanted some of these photos that showed the love between Wufei and himself - no more than looking at archived news photos of the church and Father and Sister Helen did. The ache of loss had dimmed now. Looking at these photos of Wufei and himself as a couple was for the most part only very slightly more painful than looking at those of the five of them laughing and playing together as the tight-knit group of friends that they used to be.

And thinking about what Wufei had done, about the way that Wufei had handled the entire situation, made him unhappy and disappointed rather than bitter and angry. He still wasn't ready to let Wufei try to earn his friendship again. Still wasn't sure whether he would ever be ready for that, whether he could ever trust Wufei even that much again. But he was ready to forgive him. To let go of that last bit of the past and move on.

Duo sighed and gave Heero's hand a gentle squeeze of thanks before sliding his own free and reaching out to stop the slideshow from looping again. A few quick taps brought up the mail program and in a moment he had created a new message addressed to Wufei. He typed a very brief message. Before he could send it however, Heero reached past him and added two words of his own. He gave Duo a small but warm smile and said simply, "If you're ready, then I am."

Nodding, Duo leaned against Heero's shoulder while Heero sent the message. Once it was gone, he caught Heero's hand in his own as he rose from the chair. "Time for bed if we want to make it through the day without falling asleep at our desks," he said. As Heero rose too and they started off towards their bedroom, Duo added silently, 'Time to leave the past behind once and for all and move on - together...'

***

Doing his morning email check, Wufei froze at the sight of a message from Duo. The subject had been left blank and he almost dreaded opening the message. He hadn't heard a word from Duo - or Heero - since his visit to Quatre's several months ago, despite the fact that Quatre and Trowa corresponded regularly with him and had even been to his colony to visit twice in that time period. Slowly, he moved to open the message. A single word accompanied by two names. 'Forgiven.'

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- end of Paid in Full -
- end of The Cost of Honour Trilogy -