4-12-2003

Title: Just One Bullet
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: Apr. 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai, Angst, Romance
Pairings: 1+2
Rated: R
Warnings: Slightly AU, OOC, Swearing, Shifting POV, Suicide Attempt Archives: At Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves; anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Starts during Endless Waltz.

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

Author's Notes: This is a "what if" - namely, what if Heero's gun had not been empty at the end of Endless Waltz? Feedback is appreciated.

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Leaning back in his seat, Heero closed his eyes for a brief rest before the inevitable confrontation at the colony they were rushing towards. He dreaded trying to sleep; the nightmares - memories, really - rarely left him to a peaceful rest anymore. He was so tired... So very, very tired...

Tired of the constant vigilance. Tired of the fighting. Tired of failing to protect those who should be protected. In spite of spending the entire past year watching over Relena from a distance, trying to protect her and the fragile peace she had helped to obtain, Heero had failed. She had been kidnapped and all indications were pointing towards a breakdown of that peace as well. And he did not even have Wing Zero to fall back on unless it could miraculously be recovered from its trip sunwards. And he was so tired...

Hearing the familiar rumble of Duo's voice in the background, Heero added another "tired of" to his list. Tired of being alone - or, to be more correct, tired of *not* being with Duo. Going on alone was becoming a task too great for him. He had been alone for far too long.

During the war, Duo's ready friendship had gradually taught him that it was okay to rely on other people, that he did not have to be all alone. But the war had ended and everyone had gone their separate ways. And now, Duo had Hilde. He would not - could not - do anything to damage Duo's happiness. Nor could he stand to watch them together and think of all the "could have beens" and "if onlys". And so he had distanced himself again, staying well away from L2 and Duo throughout the past year.

Heero had a feeling, however, that that would no longer be a problem after this one last rescue and fight. He did not expect to survive it; did not *intend* to survive it. He could no longer stand to struggle along on his own, and the one person he wanted at his back, by his side, in his life, in his bed, was already committed elsewhere. 'This will be the last fight for me,' Heero decided silently as he drifted off to sleep. 'Just make a difference one last time, save the peace and Relena, then I can finally rest.'

Within mere moments of falling asleep, Heero was caught up once more in the memories. Inevitably, it was the young girl and her puppy again. Not surprising, since he had fallen asleep thinking of rescuing Relena, who had always reminded him of that doomed innocent. By the time Duo woke him to see Mariemaia's broadcast, Heero's mind was even more completely made up. He simply could not do this anymore. He was too tired of it all. He would do whatever it took, kill whoever he had to, to stop this threat to peace. Then he would find his own peace - either in Zero's self-destruct or the gun tucked in his waistband.

***

"Mariemaia, hold on," Relena begged.

"I was wrong... I... I'm sorry," the young girl whispered weakly.

"Mariemaia," Relena said softly, then turned her head quickly in response to the voice she heard speak.

"I'll put you to rest," Heero said to Mariemaia, raising and levelling his weapon.

"Heero." Relena looked at him in disbelief. How many times had he levelled that gun at her and never pulled the trigger? She had lost count.

"Thank you," Mariemaia breathed in response to Heero's half-threat, half-promise.

Heero's finger began to tighten on the trigger. And Relena realized in shock that he was really going to do it. And she moved. In front of Mariemaia. Into the path of the lone bullet streaking from Heero's gun. And her world exploded with searing, fiery pain followed by blessed nothingness.

***

Four Gundams set down as close to the hospital as possible and four figures leapt down, racing towards the hospital doors.

"Q, find out how Relena and the girl are," Duo snapped urgently as they approached the building. "Trowa, go with him. Wufei, with me. We've gotta get to Heero."

'Fuck, fuck, fuck,' Duo's mind kept repeating over and over again. It was a damn good thing that Heero had collapsed. And that he'd been out of bullets - Une said he'd pulled the trigger with the gun barrel pressed to his temple, but the chamber had been empty. He had collapsed before he could grab someone else's weapon and try again.

***

Gradually surfacing from unconsciousness, Heero automatically regulated his breathing and heart-rate. Even before he remembered any of what had happened, he realized from the sounds and odours around him that he was in a hospital. For a few moments, he was lost in time, hurled back to just after his first disastrous meeting with Duo, as he felt the restraints around his limbs and the prick of a needle in his arm. But then, unfortunately, he remembered.

'Oh god. I killed her. I killed Relena. I was supposed to be protecting her and I killed her.'

And he'd had every intention of killing the little girl. Mariemaia. Treize's daughter. Bile rose in Heero's throat at the very thought.

'All I wanted was to put an end to the fighting, the killing. To stop the rebellion before history repeated itself, this time with the wealthy, powerful Barton family as the ruthless dictators instead of the Alliance. And if that meant killing their puppet leader, so be it. What difference did it make if that puppet was merely a misguided child?'

But it *did* make a difference now that the rush of battle had faded. 'To kill a child - an innocent - albeit a misguided one... What have I become?' Heero thought despairingly. 'It's no wonder I'm all alone... What kind of monster would shoot a child? First that little girl and her puppy, then the shuttle during the war, and now both Relena and another child... I can't do this anymore. I just can't keep going like this. I'm alone, I'm a killer, I'm a ruthless monster... A mad dog that needs to be put down...'

In an instant, Heero flung himself into action. Medical personnel sprang away from the bed with alarmed cries as he violently wrenched one arm free of its restraint. Ignoring the others in the room, Heero bent his attention to freeing his other limbs. By the time several burly orderlies had entered the room, he was free of the restraints and off the bed.

***

They had dropped to a fast walk inside the hospital, but hearing crashes and shouts ahead, Duo and Wufei broke into a run again, guessing what they would find. Shoving hospital security out of the way, they burst into the room. Two orderlies struggled to restrain Heero while a third slumped against the wall on the far side of the room. Nurses and a doctor clustered in the corner. Heero shook the orderlies off again, sending them flying into a wall. Wufei set to work clearing the room of bystanders while Duo tackled Heero to the floor, wrapping his arms tightly around his best friend.

"Heero, stop it! It's me, Duo! Stop it!" he ordered, desperately hanging on. 'Shit, it's a good thing he's so weak from Zero falling apart around him or I'd never be able to hold him...'

"Duo?" Heero gasped in a broken voice. "I killed her... I killed Relena... I didn't mean to..."

As Heero went limp in Duo's grasp, Duo lifted himself to a kneeling position on the floor and dragged Heero with him, never releasing his grip. "I know you didn't, Heero, I know..." he murmured.

"I meant to kill Mariemaia, to stop the fighting... No more killing, Duo... I don't ever want to kill anyone else again... I didn't mean to kill Relena..." Heero wailed despairingly, clutching desperately at Duo's shirt.

"Shh, Heero, I don't think you killed her," Duo said, rocking back and forth with Heero held to his chest. "They took her straight to surgery and Q's gone to find out how she is... He'll come tell us as soon as he knows anything..."

"But I would have killed Mariemaia... Just a little girl... Like the little girl and her puppy... No more, Duo, please..."

Awkwardly gathering Heero up in his arms, Duo was grateful for Wufei's steadying hands as he rose with difficulty from the floor and carried his best friend's limp form over to the bed. Settling himself against the headboard, Duo held Heero securely, rubbing his back reassuringly.

As hospital staff attempted to re-enter the room, Wufei gave Duo a questioning look. Duo shook his head slightly in response. No way did he want anyone else near Heero right now. It was way too risky. Heero was very close to a complete breakdown. The last thing he needed was some well-meaning doctor trying to dope him with tranquillizers. Thanks to their mentors' manipulations, none of them reacted to conventional drugs normally; as the guinea pig for said manipulations, Heero's reactions were even more unpredictable than anyone else's. Wufei nodded in acknowledgement of Duo's response and headed for the door with grim determination.

Secure in the knowledge that Wufei would handle any intruders, Duo dismissed everyone but Heero from his awareness. "Shh, Heero, it's okay," he murmured softly. 'God, I hope Relena makes it. And Mariemaia. The bullet went right through Relena and got the kid too. If either of them dies...' Looking down at the weeping boy clinging to him, Duo couldn't completely repress a shudder of fear at the thought of how Heero would react if one - or both - of the girls died. Even if Mariemaia died from the damage caused by the first bullet, Heero would surely blame himself. He *had* pulled the trigger with every intention of killing her, after all.

The textbook response to a military threat was to take out the leader. Unwitting pawn or not, Mariemaia was the leader as far as her troops were concerned. The fact that she was only a child was irrelevant from a soldier's perspective. Heero had acted according to his training. The cost to his soul did not enter the picture right then.

But now, with the crisis over and the heat of battle gone, Heero had time to think about what he had done. And the cost was high. Maybe too high. Even without Relena's interference and injury. And from what little Wufei had quickly told Duo of the conversation the two of them had had during their fight, Heero was having some sort of problems even before the whole disaster in the palace.

Heero might hide behind a cold mask, but he felt things very deeply. One of the pilots would have to stay with him constantly for a while. There was almost sure to be a repeat of the suicide attempt even if the girls lived. Duo doubted that Heero would be satisfied with offering each of them the opportunity to kill him as he had done with the Noventa family during the war, considering that he would know quite well what *Relena's* response to that would be.

As Heero's battered, exhausted body slipped into unconsciousness, Duo gradually became aware of his own injuries again as the adrenaline rush faded. His ribs ached very badly and the occasional sharp stabs of pain warned him that he probably had at least a couple of fractured ones, though he didn't think any were broken. Heero had really slugged him hard. 'Shit. I'll have to try and keep him from realizing how much damage he did. He won't take knowing he actually hurt me very well on top of all the rest of this. Now that I really think about it, something's been a little off since this whole thing started. Heero doesn't usually misjudge his own strength like that...'

Duo had a variety of other assorted aches and pains from the battle against the mobile suits. And his ankle hurt from twisting it when he jumped down from Deathscythe's cockpit on arrival. He hadn't wanted to waste time waiting for the drop cable's slow descent, but he had been tired and hadn't landed as well as usual. Then there was the pure and simple exhaustion factor. Other than a *very* brief nap between meeting up with Quatre and launching the Gundams for atmospheric re-entry, the only "rest" he'd had in at least 24 hours - a very hectic 24 hours - was the brief period of unconsciousness after Heero's sucker-punch.

Hearing Sally Po's voice speaking to Wufei, Duo stirred, starting to slip from the bed, only to discover that Heero had a virtual death-grip on his shirt even in unconsciousness.

"Duo," Sally greeted him quietly as she entered the room.

"Any news?" he asked her softly.

Sally shook her head, her face grim. "Both still in surgery. Quatre and Trowa are waiting with Une. If anything changes, one of them will come inform us. Did they manage to treat Heero yet?"

"I don't think so," Duo told her. "He's still in his clothes and all dirty and scraped up. They might have tried drugging him, though - he's awfully emotional, and I was able to pin him down till he recognized me."

"Damn," Sally said in response. "Any idea what they might have given him?"

Duo shook his head and gestured at the thoroughly trashed room. "Probably his chart's here someplace. Might have better luck trying to find whoever was on his case, though." Duo shifted to move Heero off of him, finally managing to slide his shirt off while it was still in Heero's grasp. Sally gasped at the sight of his severely bruised abdomen.

"What the hell happened to you?" she demanded, quickly moving to Duo's side and running urgent hands over his torso.

"Doesn't matter. Accident," he told her, then caught his breath sharply as she prodded a little too hard.

"Sorry, Duo," she told him. "You need x-rays. Now." Turning towards the door, she summoned Wufei sharply and ordered him to watch Heero, then whisked Duo off in spite of his protests. Since Duo's shirt was still firmly clasped in Heero's hands, Sally took off her Preventers jacket and draped it over Duo's shoulders.

Passing the nurses' desk, Sally made it clear that she would be taking over Heero's case and she wanted a full report of what, if anything, had been given to him, waiting for her when she got back. The initial resistance to her bold claim faded rapidly in the face of her Preventers badge.

"Sally," Duo said, broaching a subject he was a bit concerned about, "what will they do about what happened?"

"I don't know," she said wearily. "As soon as it became clear that you and Heero were getting involved in this, Noin and I contacted Une and she had you added to the list of Preventers as special agents. So he'll be held accountable under Preventers regulations, not criminal law.

"Relena being hit was clearly accidental so the worst that would happen would be a suspension and reprimand if she survives, dismissal if - god forbid - she dies. Mariemaia..." Sally shook her head and sighed. "That's a little different case. Heero's intent was clear - he had every intention of killing her. If she was an adult, it would be very clear-cut. She was a known threat and removing her would have dealt a major blow to the rebellion, quite possibly even completely stopped it, so Heero would have been right to shoot her. But she was already down, injured in the process of protecting Relena, so he would - again - have been looking at a suspension and a reprimand, possibly dismissal. But she *isn't* an adult. I'm not sure *what* they'll do."

"Sally, see if you can keep them from questioning him without one of the other pilots with him, would ya? He's a pretty big mess and I'm frankly *hoping* that the doctors had hit him with something already that's affecting his emotions. 'Cause if not, it's gonna be pretty rough for a while..." 'And there's the understatement of the century,' Duo thought, heart aching at what his best friend was going through.

Heero cared for Relena a great deal. Duo didn't think that it had ever developed into the type of caring that Relena had, at least at one point, hoped for, but Heero cared for her nonetheless. To have protected her and her commitment to peace for all this time, only to ki... injure, Duo corrected with a desperate hope that he was right, her himself... 'Oh Heero...' And while he didn't know what Heero was talking about when he mentioned a little girl and her puppy, it was pretty clear that Heero was badly upset by his attempt to kill Mariemaia. The girl was nothing more than a pawn, and a very young one at that.

Heero had been severely torn by guilt when he shot down the shuttle of "doves" during the war, but the ongoing need for the Gundams had kept him from falling apart. Though Duo strongly suspected that Heero's guilt had greatly contributed to the way in which he chose to carry out J's order not to turn over the Gundams. There were other ways to interpret that particular order. Such as waiting until clear of the Gundam before triggering the self-destruct.

Now, however, there was no urgent need for the Gundams or their pilots. There was little, if anything, to hold Heero together. Or even alive.

Once they reached their destination and Sally had given her instructions for Duo's x-rays - adding his ankle to the rib ones after watching him limp all the way there - Duo urged her, "Go back and see if you can check Heero out. He's gotta be pretty banged up; there's hardly anything left of Zero. I'll find my own way back when they're done here."

Sally nodded in acknowledgement and hurried off. Watching her go, Duo hoped Heero would stay unconscious till she was done treating him. Hell, he hoped Heero stayed out till *he* got back there. He wasn't too sure Heero would listen to anyone else other than - perhaps - Quatre.

***

Meeting up with Quatre in the hallway on his way back to Heero's room, Duo asked anxiously, "How are they doing?"

Quatre sighed and shook his head. "Relena's still in surgery. There's a lot of internal bleeding and organ damage. Mariemaia's out of surgery now. She lost a lot of blood between the two wounds, but Heero's bullet did the most dangerous damage. It clipped a lung and ended up lodged against the spinal cord. They're not sure whether there will be any permanent damage or not."

Duo winced. Heero was not going to take that news very well, he feared. In the heat of battle, Heero may have been determined to eliminate the threat of Mariemaia as a rallying point for the rebellion, but he had already expressed regret at intending to kill a mere child. Finding out that she could possibly have spinal damage from his bullet was going to be difficult at best. And if Relena had a lot of internal bleeding and organ damage, she was far from out of the woods yet. "At least they're both still alive," he murmured softly.

Ahead of them, Duo saw an unmistakable head of platinum blond hair disappearing into Heero's room. 'Shit.' Pushing himself into a run despite his ankle's insistent throb, Duo answered Quatre's alarmed question with simply, "Zechs!" It wasn't like Zechs and Relena were particularly close. In many ways, Relena was probably closer to him and the other pilots than to her own brother. But Zechs and Heero had some pretty rough history between them. If Zechs had been suddenly overtaken by an impulse to act the protective big brother...

Lurching to a halt in the doorway, Duo caught himself against the doorframe as his ankle gave out on him for a moment. Wufei stood between Zechs and the bed where Sally was examining the apparently-unconscious Heero.

"Now is not the time for this, Merquise," Wufei growled. "You should be waiting for news of your sister, not looking for a fight."

"I want answers, and I want them *now*," Zechs responded in a snarling tone. "My little sister is in surgery with severe internal injuries. A little girl - a mere *child* - is in the recovery room with possible spinal injuries. What the *hell* was Yuy thinking?! *Was* he thinking at all?! Two girls' lives hang in the balance, and all for *nothing*! The threat was over with before Yuy ever got there! Une and Relena had things under control!"

Duo spoke from the doorway, "Heero had no way of knowing that. According to what little Une told me, the room was full of armed men in Mariemaia's colours."

"What ever happened to evaluating a situation before taking action?!" Zechs demanded furiously, having spun to face Duo. "Yuy's a loose cannon, a danger to everyone around him!"

In that instant, a blur of motion exploded off the bed. Duo's heart sank. How long had Heero been conscious? How much of Zechs's accusations had he heard?

Heero yanked Sally's gun from its holster and threw her across the room in one swift move, sending her flying into Wufei. The two of them went down in a tangled heap.

Duo flung himself forward on his protesting ankle and put himself between Zechs and Heero. "Get out," he hissed under his breath. "Before you cause any more harm!" Never taking his eyes off of Heero, Duo shoved Zechs back towards the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Wufei scramble to his feet, tug Sally to hers, and hurry her out of the room.

Heero's grip on the gun was rock-steady as he slowly turned it towards himself. "Go Duo. I don't want you to see this. Get out of here."

"Put the gun down, Heero," Duo said firmly, slowly approaching his friend.

"Don't touch me," Heero warned, backing away. "Don't come close - I might hurt you too. Zechs is right. I'm a danger to everyone around me. I'm nothing but a killer. You don't want anything to do with me, Duo."

"Heero, I've killed just as often as you," Duo pointed out, following Heero's retreat across the room. "We were *soldiers*. We didn't have a choice. We either killed or were killed."

"It's not the same," Heero insisted, shaking his head violently. "I've killed innocents. Children."

"Mariemaia's not dead, Heero, and neither is Relena. Yes, they still could die; they're in critical condition. But they're not dead."

"There was a little girl - during my training - it was an accident - but she died anyway..." Heero said flatly. "I'm a killer. I know nothing else but killing. What kind of life is there for me in peace? I'm a liability. No one wants a killer around them. I've spent the past year alone, watching over Relena from a distance. And I still couldn't protect her. First she was kidnapped, then I shot her. I'm dangerous to anyone near me. But I can't keep going alone anymore. The killer has one last job to do. One last threat to eliminate."

"No, Heero. I don't care what else you are - you're Heero, my best friend, and I *DO* want you around," Duo told him firmly, continuing to follow Heero around the room. "Now put the gun down, Heero."

"No," Heero refused, shaking his head again. "Go back to Hilde, Duo. Go back to the person you love and forget about me. Let me go. Let me remove this threat from everyone's lives."

Coming to a decision, Duo stopped and told Heero, "You want me to go to the person I love?" 'This might be a mistake, and it sure as hell isn't the way I'd have chosen to reveal this, but it's all I have to offer. Please let it be enough...'

"Hai."

"Then you better hold still and let me catch up, Heero."

Startled, confused cobalt met determined violet. "Nani?!"

"You heard me, Heero Yuy. I don't love Hilde. I have *never* loved Hilde. I told myself I'd never let the person I loved know how I felt because I didn't want to lose him and I've always lost anyone I loved. But right now he's trying to leave me, trying to leave *life* anyway, so I have nothing to lose by telling him the truth. I love *you* Heero. I have since shortly after that first time we hid out at a school together. You say that *you* can't go on alone anymore - don't you *dare* go killing yourself and leave *me* alone again!" Deep inside, an irrational little voice wailed that, last resort or not, he had surely doomed Heero by telling him. Duo ignored it, well aware of its irrationality but unable to completely prevent that old fear from raising its head. Getting to the point where he *could* at least ignore it had taken him most of the past year.

"You... love *me*?" Heero said disbelievingly. "Love *how*? Best friend or...?" his voice trailed off, uncertain.

Hearing a faint trace of hope in that heartbreakingly uncertain voice, Duo told him firmly, "Love as best friend no matter what. But I'm also *in* love with you. Ai shiteru, Heero." Slowly approaching Heero's motionless form as he spoke, he told Heero, "I love you enough to take whatever you're willing to give me. If that includes being lovers, I will be very, *very* happy. But if it doesn't, I will be content with whatever you *are* willing to give. Whether that means sharing an apartment as best friends or something else is up to you. But you will never, *ever* have to be alone as long as I have any choice in the matter."

Reaching out, Duo carefully removed the gun from Heero's slack grasp, flicked on the safety, and ejected the clip before dropping both to the floor and kicking them back towards the door. He was distantly aware of Quatre slipping into the room to retrieve the clip as Wufei cautiously crouched to pick the discarded weapon up from the floor.

"I am *not* afraid of you Heero, and you are not a threat to me. No more than I am to myself, at least. I have my own nightmares and guilt to live with. But a burden shared is a burden lightened - maybe we can each find some relief by sharing with each other," Duo offered.

Still moving slowly and oh-so-cautiously, Duo closed the last tiny gap between Heero and himself, raising one hand to lightly cup Heero's cheek then leaning forward to press a gentle kiss to Heero's lips. He made no attempt to deepen the kiss or to hold onto Heero in any way. The other teen was far too tightly strung with tension to risk it. Duo was not concerned about what Heero might do to him - a punch or a shove would not surprise or disturb him in the least. But he *was* afraid of what any type of violence would do to Heero once the almost instinctive reaction took place. Heero was already drowning in guilt and fear of his own deeply ingrained training. The last thing he needed was another violent incident to add to that.

Drawing back from the kiss, Duo lightly stroked his thumb over the cheek he was cupping and met Heero's uncertain gaze. There were a hundred questions in those clouded blue eyes and he only had one answer to offer. Firmly, Duo repeated, "Ai shiteru, Heero," and waited patiently. Slowly, Heero leaned towards him and hesitantly kissed him. Duo tilted his head to allow better access and responded to the kiss.

Heero drew back again and examined Duo's face very carefully as if looking for any sign of either rejection or acceptance. Again, Duo told him simply, "Ai shiteru." Dimly, Duo was aware of a sharp cry of alarm from Wufei as Heero exploded into motion, but he had seen the calculating and challenging look in Heero's eyes and was prepared for what happened next.

Heero yanked him into his arms with bruising force and brought their mouths together equally hard, grinding them together with enough force that Duo tasted the tang of blood as his upper lip was cut by a tooth. Duo opened his mouth immediately in response to Heero's questing tongue, fighting down his instinctive reaction to struggle for dominance and simply yielding, accepting whatever Heero wanted.

This wasn't really about dominance or even sex. It was a test - Heero testing whether he meant it when he said that he would be content with whatever Heero had to give and whether he meant it when he said that he was not afraid of Heero. It was also a warning - a reminder of the potential for violence that lurked below the surface even when Heero appeared to be gentle and that Heero *could* be a threat to Duo, whether Duo considered him one or not. Forcing himself to stay relaxed and accepting in Heero's crushing embrace was not an easy task - street instincts and soldier training both rebelled at the painfully tight hold - but by repeatedly reminding himself that this was Heero, Duo managed it. Heero's grip loosened fractionally as he broke off the kiss and drew back to look questioningly at Duo again. Ignoring the trickle of blood from his cut lip, Duo met his gaze steadily and gave him the same answer. "Ai shiteru, Heero." This time, Heero believed him.

With a gasp, Heero lurched forward to kiss Duo again, this time with desperate urgency tempered with an attempt at gentleness. And this time, Duo responded to the kiss fully, tongue meeting Heero's and probing Heero's mouth just as thoroughly as Heero did his. Duo wrapped his arms around Heero, one sliding around his waist while the other reached up to bury the hand in the thick hair at the nape of Heero's neck. As the kiss deepened, Heero pulled Duo's body tightly against his. Feeling Heero's hardness pressing against him and urgent hands sliding down his back to caress his buttocks, Duo realized it was time to call a halt while he still could. This was neither the time nor the place to carry things through to their ultimate conclusion. That Heero would be so close to forgetting that told him how desperately off-balance the other teen was.

Slowly withdrawing from the kiss, Duo kept his arms around Heero. "I think we better cool it before we completely scandalize our audience," he murmured softly, then pressed a light kiss to the tip of Heero's nose as he flushed and stiffened at the reminder. "It's okay, it's just the guys," Duo reassured him gently. "Will you let Sally finish checking you over now?"

Heero hesitated.

"Please?" Duo coaxed, sliding his hand around to gently stroke Heero's lips and cheek with his thumb.

Reluctantly, Heero nodded.

"Thank you," Duo told him, rewarding Heero with another kiss. As they separated and Duo signalled for Wufei to let Sally come back in, he thought how little this resembled the way in which he had intended to reveal his feelings to Heero. He had intended to approach him about partnering with each other - working at WEI or Preventers, or even going back to school together, Duo didn't really care which - then gradually work up to confessing his feelings during the time they spent together. He had never imagined blurting out his love in a frantic attempt to talk Heero out of shooting himself. He had also never imagined Heero responding so desperately. 'I didn't realize he felt so alone. I was too busy trying to overcome my own fears and build up my nerve to tell him how I felt to notice, I guess.'

***

Hanging on to Duo's hand as if it were a lifeline, Heero allowed himself to be seated on the bed while Sally checked him over. 'Duo loves me... I can hardly believe it... After the way I treated him on the colony, I was afraid I might have even ruined our friendship. But I hoped that I would be able to reach Earth quickly enough to kill Mariemaia and put an end to the rebellion before he and the others even got there. I didn't want the rest of them to have to fight again. The only life I've ever known has been one of killing, what difference did it make if I had to kill again? I had no intention of living through the fight anyway. And they all had normal lives to return to - Quatre at WEI, Trowa at the circus, Duo with Hilde - or so I thought...'

Catching Duo's concerned gaze on him, Heero squeezed his hand slightly in reassurance. Whatever medications the doctors had given him prior to his waking were eroding what little was left of his control and sending his already volatile emotions on a roller coaster ride from hell, but Duo had given him an anchor. He could at least try to face the crushing guilt now that he knew he wouldn't have to face it alone. Duo would be there to help him.

Heero winced slightly at the sight of the small trickle of blood on Duo's lip. He shouldn't have been so rough. But he had needed to be sure that Duo really understood what he was taking on. It wasn't that he had precisely thought Duo was lying about loving him. He just found it hard to believe that Duo *could* love him, rough, surly, and violent as he sometimes was.

And he had thought that any chance he might have had with Duo was long gone, lost to his own hesitation during the war. He had finally come to accept that he wanted with Duo what Trowa had with Quatre during their time on the Peacemillion. He hadn't been entirely certain that he understood all the emotions he was feeling, hadn't even been certain that he was naming them all correctly, but he *had* known what he wanted. What he *still* wanted with a depth of desperation that surprised him.

There had been very little privacy on that spaceship, and Heero had unintentionally experienced sights and sounds that should have been strictly between the two lovers. But those brief glimpses of the intimacy between Quatre and Trowa had left him yearning. Yearning to have Duo writhing beneath him, gasping out his name in a husky, pleading voice. To be buried deep within that lithe body, joined in the most intimate way possible. To have Duo's slender form leaning over *him*, hair providing a chestnut curtain to block out the rest of the world, as *he* cried out *Duo's* name, begging him to thrust harder, deeper, faster... And also yearning for the right to pull Duo into his arms and comfort him after a particularly ugly mission - and for Duo to do the same for him. Yearning to simply curl up together and cuddle between missions. Duo's friendship was wonderful, but it was not enough. He wanted - needed - more.

But Heero had accepted all of that just in time for Hilde to nearly get herself killed helping them - or rather, helping Duo, since the girl had made no secret of her motivation. And Duo's obvious distress at her injuries had led him to believe that Duo was in love with her. Though, since Duo said he had never loved Hilde, in retrospect Heero could see that it must have in fact been guilt that Hilde had put herself in danger for his sake that caused him to be so upset. At the time, however, it had seemed all too obvious that Duo loved Hilde and Heero had silently blocked off all those newly-acknowledged wants.

After the war, his belief had been apparently confirmed as Duo had cheerfully left for L2 in Hilde's company. Though his best friend had made it clear that he was welcome to visit at any time, Heero had stayed away, unable to bear the thought of watching Duo and Hilde together. Now, he was sorry he had. If he had gone, he might have realized that Duo was not in love with Hilde and he would not have spent the entire past year alone.

"Guess I should put my own shirt on and let you have your jacket back, huh Sally?" Duo said, giving Heero's hand a gentle squeeze before slipping his own free to remove the Preventers jacket he was currently wearing. Heero gasped in horror, suddenly feeling sick again as Duo's heavily bruised abdomen was revealed. "Shit, I forgot," Duo muttered, dropping Sally's jacket and hastily grabbing Heero's hand. "It's okay, Heero. I'd have got a lot worse if you hadn't left me unconscious, ya know. Those soldiers wouldn't have taken me down with one blow and stopped and Tro sure wouldn't have blown his cover to try and stop them."

Heero met Duo's eyes disbelievingly. 'How can he say it's okay?' "Duo, it's *not* okay! I should never have hit *any* of my friends, let alone *you*, hard enough to cause *that*!"

"Heero, frankly I was more pissed at Tro for not helping me get out of the damn cell than at you for hitting me," Duo told him earnestly. "I know you didn't mean to hit that hard. I'll be kinda sore for a while, yeah, but it'll heal."

Still staring in sick fascination at the bruising, Heero demanded, "Sally, have you checked *Duo* over yet?"

"Only a quick preliminary look, Heero," she answered, making a few final notes on his chart. "I haven't seen the x-rays yet, but I suspect that though there may be one or two fractured ribs, they're mostly just bruised, and the ankle just looks like a bad sprain."

"*X-rays*? *Maybe* one or two *fractured* ribs? And what the hell happened to his *ankle?*" Heero echoed, voice rising in alarm. "What are you doing on your feet if you've hurt your ankle?" he demanded, tugging Duo towards the bed insistently.

"Just a bad landing getting down from 'Scythe, Heero. It's nothing," Duo protested.

***

Duo sincerely wished that he hadn't taken the jacket off. Heero really didn't need to see how badly bruised he was. 'And why the hell Sally had to open her big mouth and mention x-rays...' he thought unhappily. He let Heero sit him down on the bed, then took Heero's face in both hands. "Heero, look at me. I swear that there is nothing seriously wrong with me. I will be *fine*. Now please, let it go, okay? I want to hear what Sally has to say about *you*. You're the one whose Gundam disintegrated around him, hotshot."

"But..." Heero started.

"But nothing," Duo cut him off firmly. He tugged Heero to sit beside him and carefully wrapped one arm around him, ignoring the twinges from his ribs. 'Have to get Sally to give me some non-sedating painkillers. There's a couple I don't react *too* badly to; I'll just have to live with the nausea from them. I can't afford to go around wincing because of my ribs, Heero's too upset over hurting me.' "So what's the verdict, Sal?" he asked.

"Not as bad as I thought it would be after seeing what's left of Zero," she said drily. "But he *does* have a concussion along with more sprains and strains than a whole football team put together. And they *had* tried to dose him with a tranquillizer; fortunately it wasn't one that he reacts really badly to so the mood swings should even out within the next few hours as his system burns it off. I'd like to keep him overnight for observation..."

"No," Heero said flatly.

Sally sighed heavily, then said, "Heero, you may not have a choice. I'll have to talk to Une and see what she has to say. It really depends what the Preventers intend to do about the shooting."

Heero flinched. Duo drew him closer, letting Heero curl against his side.

Sally turned to leave, adding, "Stay here and wait till I get back. I'll check your x-rays while I'm gone, Duo."

Duo's mood turned grim when Heero slipped into unconsciousness again almost immediately. Tweaking Heero's metabolism so that it would burn off most sedatives in a fraction of the time it should take had been a decidedly mixed success for J. Heero *did* burn them off incredibly quickly and was largely able to remain conscious during the process - but he got all the side-effects normally associated with the drug only magnified by being packed into a shorter time period. Plus, he was prone to passing out if various stress-related factors dropped while burning off the sedatives. Evidently, being in contact with Duo must lower them. Which was a nice compliment in a way, but the whole passing-out bit worried him. Especially in combination with the concussion.

A bit of careful shifting around finally got Heero and himself more comfortably arranged on the bed. Duo watched Heero sleep and fought to stay awake himself. He wasn't sure where Wufei and Quatre had gone - back to check on Relena and Mariemaia probably. But he wasn't about to let himself fall asleep without someone he trusted guarding the door. He didn't entirely trust Sally not to dose him up with something "for his own good" without asking permission first. And he didn't trust a certain platinum blond not to cause more trouble either. 'I pulled Heero back from the edge once, don't know whether I could again or not. I *think* so, but I'd rather not have to put that theory to the test.'

Eventually, Sally returned, confirming that Duo hadn't actually broken anything but that he needed to be careful and give his ribs and ankle time to heal. "I don't suppose I can actually persuade you to take anything for the pain?" she sighed in a resigned tone.

"As long as its non-sedating, yeah, I will," Duo answered. He couldn't entirely suppress a grin at the shock on her face. "He doesn't need me going around wincing all the time," Duo told her, suddenly serious as he glanced down at where Heero rested against him. Sally had insisted on waking Heero when she first came in, but he had dropped off again almost as soon as she finished checking his concussion. "He feels bad enough about the bruising as it is."

"Accident, huh?" she said sarcastically as she scribbled out a prescription. "And I suppose you're going to want me to actually go get this filled for you too?"

"I'd really appreciate it," Duo said with a hopeful grin. "And yeah, it was an accident; he didn't mean to hit that hard. And like I told him, I'd have been in a lot worse shape if he'd left me conscious 'cause the soldiers wouldn't have took me down with one blow and quit."

"I suppose," Sally muttered grudgingly. "I spoke to Une - Mariemaia's condition is guarded but stable; they've had another specialist in and he doesn't think there will be any permanent damage though the recovery is going to be slow. Relena is out of surgery now too. When I left, they were listing her as critical but stable. Assuming that nothing changes, that they both survive, the Preventers are just going to insist that Heero attend counselling. He'll be on suspension until such time as he is declared fit for duty."

Duo sighed in relief. "That's not too bad, then. Can he pick where he goes for the counselling?"

"As long as the individual is licensed with a recognized professional body, yes..." Sally replied.

"Good," he nodded. That would simplify matters. He doubted Heero would have been too willing to talk to someone that was chosen *for* him; persuading him to talk to *anyone* was going to be hard enough. And he wasn't too sure that Heero was going to *want* to return to duty as a Preventer. He'd been awfully insistent that he didn't want to kill again and considering who and what they were, Duo couldn't imagine that the Preventers were too likely to assign them to *desk* jobs.

By the time Sally left, filled Duo's prescription, and returned, Duo was once again fighting off sleep. Heero might not have wanted to stay overnight for observation, but it was going to be damn close to that by the time they got out of here anyway, he suspected. For one thing, he didn't know where the hell they were going to *go*. Staying in a hotel didn't exactly appeal to him at the moment. Particularly since he had no idea how much of what happened had been leaked to the media. The last thing Heero needed right now was a bunch of nosy reporters harassing him.

Spotting a certain blond hovering in the doorway, Duo motioned him in. As soon as Quatre approached the bed, Duo said, "Q, could you take care of whatever needs to be done to get us out of here? And have you got someplace we could go for a while till things settle down?" He knew Quatre was always willing to help his friends and a Winner estate offered the sort of privacy and security that he thought Heero needed right now.

Quatre nodded, expression sharpening. "The Maganacs are coming to pick up Sandrock and Heavyarms. Wufei has decided to let them take care of Altron as well. Do you..."

Duo hesitated, hating the thought of turning Deathscythe over to *anyone* else, especially after today's events, then nodded. "Yeah, take Scythe too. And maybe they can see about picking up whatever's left of Wing Zero? The computer and Zero System really shouldn't be left for just anyone to pick up..."

Shuddering at the thought, Quatre agreed fervently.

"Thanks, Q. And if you could make sure either Wu or Tro stands guard here, I'd appreciate it. I'm having trouble staying awake myself and I don't dare leave Heero, so I'm going to just curl up here with him and catch a nap once somebody else is on watch."

"Of course, Duo." Quatre hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure that you're alright?"

Duo gave him a weary smile. "Yeah, I'm okay. Sore and damn tired, but okay. Least, long as *he* is," he added, dropping a gentle kiss on top of the head resting against him.

Smiling softly, Quatre said, "You were really projecting while you were trying to get that gun away from him, you know. Why weren't you two already together? You love him so much..."

"*Because* I love him so much," Duo answered. He grinned ruefully at his friend's obvious confusion. "Chalk it up to my past and don't worry about it, Q. I've been dealing with the problem for most of the past year just so that I could finally work my way up to telling him. Can you believe I've been voluntarily going to a damn shrink for the past eight months just so's I could get my head straight enough to handle saying 'I love you'?"

"Really?" Quatre asked disbelievingly.

"Really," Duo responded, fighting off the urge to laugh at Quatre's wide-eyed expression. It had taken him a month or so after the war ended to admit that he didn't want to spend the rest of his life alone, trapped by his own hangups. That he wanted to get his head straightened out so that he could tell Heero how he felt about him, even if Heero turned out not to reciprocate those feelings. Then it had taken another month to admit he couldn't work through his issues on his own, at least not in anything close to a reasonable amount of time. Followed by a couple of months of trying out a whole bunch of different varieties of shrinks before settling on one that came under the fairly new "counsellor" category.

Counsellors were a hell of a lot less formal than most shrinks. Ginny didn't even bat an eye at being *called* a "shrink". Not even when he'd cracked a few jokes about her profession having had an effect on her height. At five feet tall and probably only about 100 pounds soaking wet, with hair dyed a different rainbow hue practically every time he saw her (and almost as long as *his*), she didn't look the role at all. Which was a large part of why he'd been comfortable working with her. She worked out of her house and her clients could choose to either have their sessions in the very traditional office she had set aside or out in her garden or even in the kitchen while baking cookies. Wherever they felt most comfortable. He'd gone a whopping three times a week for the first few months, much to his own surprise. And they'd spent a fair chunk of those early sessions dealing with crap from the war before moving on to start digging through his past. He didn't have *everything* straightened out even now, but he was down to a single visit per month from here on, barring emergency calls.

It hadn't been cheap and it hadn't been easy, but it had been well worth everything he'd put into it. Heero was going to need his support right now and Duo was damn glad he'd be capable of giving it. 'I was pretty screwed up right after the war; don't know whether I could have told Heero I loved him even under the kind of pressure I was today, much as I hate to admit it...' But today, his and Ginny's hard work had paid off. He'd been able to say what he needed to say when he needed to say it and in a way that Heero was able to believe it.

Settling himself and Heero more comfortably on the bed now that Quatre was gone and Wufei back guarding the door, Duo stroked his hand over Heero's tousled hair and pressed another kiss to his forehead. 'Now I just have to talk *him* into seeing somebody, maybe Ginny...' he thought. Even if the Preventers *hadn't* intended to insist that Heero undergo counselling, Duo would have tried to talk Heero into doing so. He had no problem with helping Heero himself to the best of his abilities, but he knew his limits. And there were bound to be things that Heero wouldn't be comfortable discussing with his lover, at least not right away.

"Ai shiteru, Heero," Duo murmured softly, then rested his chin on top of Heero's head and let himself sleep.

***

Heero regained consciousness instantly when Quatre approached the bed, his training picking up on a new presence and kicking him back to full awareness. But that same training kept him still, apparently unconscious. He wasn't sure why he chose not to move when he recognized Quatre's voice, maybe simply because he didn't want to give up his current closeness to Duo. He had semi-woken earlier when Sally came in, enough to satisfy her regarding his concussion, but his battered, exhausted body had been unable to maintain consciousness then. Now, with at least a little more rest, it was, though barely.

Maintaining the pretense of unconsciousness proved difficult as Duo kissed the top of his head and the conversation turned to Duo's love for him. Quatre's confirmation of Duo's feelings, while unnecessary, was nevertheless reassuring. And as for Duo's revelation that he'd been seeing a counsellor for most of the past year in order to "get his head straightened out" so that he could tell Heero that he loved him... 'He really wants this to work. He's willing to put all that time and effort into it... Willing to sacrifice his privacy and discuss his past with an outsider so that he could tell me that he loved me...'

Heero had never dared to dream that Duo would love him that much. He was still tired - mentally, physically, emotionally tired. But as long as he was not alone, as long as Duo was with him, Heero thought he would be able to rest and recover. It might take a while. Maybe a very long while. But eventually, he believed that he *would* feel better. Willingly, Heero let himself slide into sleep, cradled securely in Duo's arms, lulled by the sound of his soon-to-be lover's heartbeat. 'Ai shiteru, Duo...'