12-22-2002

Title: Mission: Marriage
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Started & Completed: Dec. 2002
Genre: Romance, Humour
Pairing: 1x2x1, 3x4x3, 6x9
Rated: R
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing
Archives: a little piece of gundam wing at http://raygunworks.net and at Ruby Moon's 1x2x1 Fanfic Page at http://www.angelfire.com/anime4/rubychan/ff/index.html and at Deb's Dragonball Diaries at http://www.dragonball-diaries.150m.com/ and at SAE's Realm of Fanfiction at http://saerealm.bravepages.com/ Anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Takes place two years after Endless Waltz.

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
************ Time passing or scene change
*~*~*~*~*~* Major POV shift

Author's Notes: Umm, this is - well, different from anything else I've written. Ever. In any fandom. I don't quite know where it came from <scratches head> but it won't go away unwritten, so I'm writing it. Then maybe I can get back to the other stories I'm supposed to be working on. I'd blame it on a muse, but I didn't know I had a humour muse, so I'm not too sure who to blame. Feedback is appreciated.

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Muffling a sigh of bored frustration, Milliardo Peacecraft directed his wandering attention back to another of the simpering young society ladies at his sister's tedious garden party. He pointed a quick, pleading look towards the nearest security camera. "Heero, help!" he mouthed silently. They had a mutually beneficial agreement. When Relena got too clingy and annoying, he rescued Heero. When he was in danger of drowning in sugary fluff at one of his sister's interminable functions, Heero rescued him. If anyone had told him three years ago that he would count Heero Yuy, Gundam Pilot 01, Perfect Soldier and major thorn in Oz's backside, as one of his closest friends, he'd have been checking the base water supply immediately to see if 02 had slipped something hallucinogenic into it. But then, during the war he'd never have believed that he would have ended up "paroled" into his pacifist sister's custody for a minimum of five years or "until such time as he has proven that he is no longer a threat to peace". Even his actions in defense of the planet during the Mariemaia incident had not been sufficient to get him out from under Relena's stuffy dominion.

His sister's most recent "Milliardo-rehabilitation" project appeared to involve getting him married off, preferably to one of her hand-picked candidates. 'Not going to happen,' he thought. He and Lu had everything planned, they were just waiting for Sally and Une to come up with a suitable mission to keep them well away from Relena until his "parole" period was over. There was absolutely no way he would subject poor Lu to his sister once she found out they were getting married; Relena was nasty enough to "that poor common soldier" now. She took all this "Sanc royalty" nonsense much too seriously. Fortunately, his "parole" terms allowed for him to be placed under the temporary custody of a duly-assigned Preventer agent in order to participate in Preventer missions, thanks to Une's foresight.

'Come on, Heero, what's taking so damn long? I need out of here now!' he fumed. The sudden increase in the "simpering level" around him signalled that his rescuer must be approaching. The young women plagued Heero almost as badly as himself, though Relena's possessiveness kept them from getting quite as - aggressive - about it. 'Damn it, that smarted,' he fumed, keeping the pleasant smile on his face in spite of the fact that yet another "innocent" young miss had just pinched his backside.

"Agent Wind," a familiar flat voice intoned, "there is a call for you on the secure line. Please come with me."

As they walked down the path away from the giggling young women, Heero added, too softly for anyone else to hear, "It's Une. Sally's with her. Lu's got her bags packed and is on the way over to pick you up. They pulled it off - you two leave for the Mars Project tomorrow - and your cover is..."

"What?" Zechs hissed nervously. "What did they come up with? Do I even want to know?"

Heero smirked up at the taller man, "...your cover, my dear Milliardo, is a runaway marriage against your sister's wishes. The ship's captain will perform the ceremony on the trip out."

"YES!" Clapping his hand over his mouth, Zechs shot a quick glance back towards the party, hoping his sister hadn't heard that. He wouldn't feel entirely safe until the ceremony was over and done with and he and Lu were out of Relena's sphere of influence and on Mars.

************

Zechs zipped his last suitcase shut with a feeling of satisfaction. His only regret was that he wouldn't get to see the look on Relena's face when she found out exactly what his assignment was and how long he would be gone. But Heero had promised to save the security recording when Une told her, so he would eventually get to see it. 'Oh damn - Heero... Okay, so not seeing Relena's look isn't my only regret. He and the other pilots are stuck as at least part-time Preventers till they turn 21 as their parole - thanks to Chang's boneheaded move in joining Mariemaia - and while that in itself isn't a problem, the fact that Relena threatens to cut the Preventers' budget if Heero is assigned anywhere other than her security is. With the other pilots all off-planet, Lu and I leaving means him losing his only real friends on the planet.'

"Heero, I'm sorry we couldn't find a way to get you out too," he apologized, squeezing the Japanese teen's shoulder gently.

"Ah, but I have a plan." Cobalt eyes danced as Heero smirked, "What exactly do you think it would take to make Relena give up on me?"

"You getting married," her brother answered. "After all," he slipped into an affected imitation of his sister, "a true Peacecraft would never take second-hand goods." Dropping the falsetto, he continued in a more serious vein, "And her political supporters would never tolerate it. She's built her political stance so firmly on pacifism and 'old-fashioned family values' and 'respectability' that the slightest hint of scandal would be disastrous."

Heero's smirk grew.

"You're joking," Zechs said, shocked.

Heero shook his head slightly.

"But I thought you were in love with Duo!" the blond exclaimed. "And you said yourself that the thought of you as anything other than a best friend had never even occurred to him in spite of the hints you dropped!"

"Ah, but I have a plan," the former Perfect Soldier said, waving a data disc at his former enemy, "and you know that I never fail when I have a mission and a plan..."

************

"What on earth had Heero in such a good mood?" Lucrezia asked, tilting her head back to look quizzically up at her husband-to-be as they boarded the shuttle that would take them to join the Mars-bound team. "I knew he'd be happy for us, but I thought he'd be at least a little bit upset that we were abandoning him to your sister's clutches."

"Remember that book disc you gave him at Christmas when he was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't seem to get Duo to notice him as anything other than a friend?"

"That gag gift? Yeah, sure, I told him since it seemed like he was running out of ideas, maybe he needed some 'expert' help. The disc was _The Complete Collection of the Best of Three Centuries of Harlequin Romance Best Friends Make the Best Spouses Novels_..." Dark purple eyes went wide with shock and her voice trailed off as she realized what Zechs was telling her.

"Oh no, he isn't," she spun and tried to dash back to talk Heero out of whatever crazy idea he had got from all those old romance novels, but Zechs caught her and easily lifted her off her feet with one long arm around her waist. "Zechs Merquise, put me down! I don't know what crazy idea he's got, but there's no way it'll work! We have to talk him out of it before he makes a fool out of himself!"

"Relax, Lu. It's not nearly as bad as you think it is. This is Heero Yuy we're talking about, after all. Even if it doesn't work quite the way it does in the romance novels, at the very least it's going to make Duo take a second look and maybe realize that there's more to Heero than just his best friend."

************

"Thank you, Rashid," Heero said.

"You're welcome, Master Heero," the Maguanac answered, closing the door on his way out.

Heero flopped into a chair and sighed with satisfaction. It was such a relief to be away from Relena. Without Zechs there to bail him out when she got too clingy or aggressive, it was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with her obsession. If it weren't for the fact that labour laws guaranteed vacation time, he was sure Relena would have found a way to pressure Une into cancelling his, particularly since he was meeting up with the other ex-pilots for the full month he had booked off. Wufei was due to arrive on L4 later that week, and the other three were all working at WEI today, finishing off a few last-minute problems in order to free up the rest of the month.

He and Wufei were the only two full-time Preventers. Winner Enterprises Inc. kept Quatre busy most of the time, with Une only occasionally calling him for duty when his business knowledge or skill as a tactician was needed. Trowa headed WEI's security force - their problems with corporate espionage had virtually disappeared since he took over, and, like Quatre, Une very rarely called him in as a Preventer. Since moving here from L2 a year and a half ago, Duo split his time between providing specialized training for Preventer agents - Une had yet to find anyone who could out-stealth or out-trick Shinigami - and working in the WEI "idea" labs, dreaming up everything from better blasting compounds for WEI's mining subsidiaries to a new and improved auto-pilot system for use on WEI shuttles.

Given a real choice in the matter, Heero would like to join the three of them at WEI, either working in the programming section of the "idea" labs or on the computer end of security. As long as Une was forced to keep him assigned to Relena, however, that was impossible, since heading her security force was a round-the-clock, 7-day-a-week job. And the Preventers were needed. There was no way that he would ask Une to put Relena's budget-cut threats to the test just to get him away from her.

'Worst case scenario means only three more years of "parole" in the Preventers. Surely I can survive three more years of Relena... But I hope this plan works so I don't have to!'

Jumping up from his chair, Heero rummaged through his luggage for the outfit he intended to be wearing when Duo got back from work. 'Tight, skimpy bathing suit - check. Indecently tight, ripped-up, faded, over-priced button-fly jean shorts - check. Suntan oil - check.' Laying the clothing across the foot of the bed, he thought, 'Now if Rashid sends Quatre up as soon as he gets home, all I have to do is get his cooperation and Mission: Marriage will be underway. Urgh, I think I might have read too many of those romance novels - that sounds suspiciously like the title of one of them...'

************

Quatre reached over and pushed Trowa's jaw closed. "It's not polite to ogle other men in front of your lover," he mock-scolded. 'Not that I can blame him, I'd be gaping myself if I hadn't seen him getting ready upstairs... And with his back to us and him towelling off his hair like that - and no one else knowing he's arrived - I'm the only one who realizes that gorgeous body at the poolside is Heero Yuy.'

Peeking out of the corner of his eye, he saw Duo's casual glance turn to one of definite interest. The braided teen ran a very appreciative eye over a golden, well-muscled back, lingering over the taut, well-defined buttocks that were clearly outlined by the tight, skimpy suit. Quatre fought to contain a snicker as Duo moved his towel from over his shoulder to hang over his arm and down in front of him as his swimsuit-clad body reacted to the sight in front of him. 'He's in for a shock right about...'

"Who's the hunk?" Duo whispered, poking Quatre in the ribs urgently, just as "the hunk" started to turn around. Checking that attractive body out from the ground up as it turned, Duo turned an amazing shade of lobster red as he reached face level and met the brilliant blue, slightly amused, eyes of his best friend. "Quat, I forgot my sunscreen, help me find some," he said loudly, dragging Quatre back into the mansion.

By the time Duo finally released him inside one of the bedrooms with the door shut and locked, Quatre was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. Duo demanded, "Why the hell didn't you warn me it was Heero? Gods, I can't believe I just ogled my best friend." Quatre just laughed harder as Duo paced up and down the room, arms waving wildly, ranting about how totally inappropriate his looking at Heero like that was, how mortified he was at being caught doing it, and how Heero was probably going to finally make good on all those "omae o korosus" when he got his hands on him.

'If he has his way, yes, he will be giving you a "little death" in future,' the Arabian thought, snickering again at the thought. "Duo, are you more upset at having ogled Heero or at being caught doing it?" he asked, interrupting the American's rant as he started repeating himself.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Duo demanded, planting his hands on his hips and glaring.

"Oh, nothing, nothing at all," Quatre answered, fetching a bottle of sunscreen from the bathroom and tossing it to his friend.

Duo looked from Quatre to the bottle and back inquiringly.

"Your, ah," Quatre snickered again, "cover story for your escape, remember?"

"Oh." Turning an interesting shade of red again, Duo collapsed on the bed, wailing, "Oh gods, I can't go back out there! Tell them - tell them I have sunstroke or something!"

"Duo, you were outside for all of two minutes, if that, and this is a colony! You can't have sunstroke! Come on now, let's go. You're going to have to face him sooner or later, might as well get it over with."

"No, I'm not going back out there," Duo refused stubbornly, grabbing hold of the bedpost as Quatre tried to drag him to his feet.

"Duo, don't be an idiot! You can't hide in your room all month!"

"Wanna bet?!"

Just then there was a knock at the door. "Duo, I know you're in there. Open up."

"Oh fuck, Heero." Turning pale, Duo clutched at Quatre pleadingly, "Please, Q! Tell him I got called back to work, hell, tell him I died of embarrassment, just please, please, don't let him in!"

"Too late," a voice came from the now-open door. Heero slipped his lockpick back into its place inside the waistband of his hip-hugging shorts.

'Fuck, why did I ever get him in the habit of carrying a lockpick at all times?' Involuntarily, Duo's eyes followed the lockpick as it was tucked inside the waistband of those low-slung, very tight shorts - those shorts with rips in very interesting places... 'Mmm, but I like where he's keeping it... Damn it, Maxwell, stop that! He's your best friend, remember?!'

Taking advantage of Duo's momentary distraction, Quatre slid out of his grasp and ducked out the door past Heero. "I'll be out at the pool with Trowa. Join us once you've got him calmed down," he told Heero.

As Quatre vanished down the hall, Duo peeked nervously at Heero from under his bangs. "Uh, sorry, please don't kill me?" he offered tentatively.

"Baka. Stand up."

Reluctantly, Duo slid off the bed and stood, still not meeting Heero's eyes.

"Turn around."

Confused, Duo did as he was told. A sharp "Keep turning" prevented him from stopping with his back to Heero. As he turned to face Heero again, he saw his friend sweeping his eyes up over him in an exact duplicate of what he had done to Heero only a few minutes earlier. As Heero's eyes met his, Duo caught a brief flash of something almost - hungry? predatory? - on his face before it was replaced by a mischievous smirk.

"There, now we're even." Heero's smirk went from mischievous to smug as Duo flushed and sputtered helplessly, unable to come up with a response to that comment. "Now come on, I bet Trowa dinner out tomorrow that we could beat him and Quatre in a game of two-on-two water basketball."

Still dumbfounded, Duo followed his best friend out of the room, relieved that Heero wasn't mad at him but... 'What the hell was that?! Heero's straight! Isn't he?'

************

After five days of sheer torture, the former Shinigami was ready to scream with frustration. Sexual frustration. Having noticed Heero's body once, he now seemed to be finding virtually every outfit he wore and every move he made provocative. He was forcing himself to keep his gaze at head-level as much as possible since every time he let it drift the least bit lower, he seemed to find it lingering over certain particularly - tempting? - portions of Heero's anatomy. 'Bad Duo, bad, bad, bad!' he castigated himself, yanking his eyes back up from Heero's backside as his friend climbed the stairs ahead of him. 'That tight, firm, oh-so-tempting ass... wonder if it's really as firm as it looks... hmm, wonder if there's something else firm in those sinfully snug jeans - BAD DUO! Bad, BAD, BAD!'

Stopping on the landing, Heero turned to look back at him. "Did you say something, Duo?"

'Eep, don't tell me I said that out loud!' Nervously, Duo laughed and said, "Huh?"

"I thought I heard you mutter something was 'bad'..."

Thinking fast, Duo said, "Oh, just thinkin' it's too bad I could never talk you into going out clubbing. There's this really great little place that the three of us sometimes go to - it'd be fun to all go together." 'Nice save, Maxwell.'

"Sure, why not?"

"WHAT?!"

Heero shrugged, "Why not? The first time Zechs and Lu dragged me out I thought I'd hate it, but I discovered that I actually like dancing."

'Oh shit, Heero Yuy dancing - either I've died and gone to heaven or this is hell, I'm not quite sure which. Yum, Heero, dancing, alcohol... Fuck, I'll never survive the night - damn, bad choice of expletive there Maxwell.'

"Uh sure, Heero, I'll just go see if the others wanna go too. Meet in say, an hour, at the front entrance? We'll take a car and driver so we can drink if we wanna."

"Okay. In an hour, then."

Watching those firm buns - watching Heero walk down the hall, Duo groaned softly, "Heero dancing. Smooth move, Maxwell. I am so dead."

************

Momentarily alone at the table with Quatre, Duo tore his eyes away from the ('sensually,' his mind interjected) gyrating ('sexy,' his libido added) body of his ('gorgeous') best friend and whimpered, "Q, just shoot me, please."

"Duo, why don't you just tell him?"

"What? Tell him that he's making his best friend incredibly horny and I wanna fuck him till he screams, then I want him to do the same to me?"

"Err, maybe not in quite those terms," Quatre said, flushing, "But yes."

"Q, this is HEERO we're talking about here. Mr Heero Straight-as-an-Arrow Yuy? No fuckin' way," Duo stated, desperately trying to ignore a certain less-than-rational part of his mind screaming, 'YES! YES, fuckin' way, ANY fuckin' way he wants!'. Firmly telling his libido to shut the fu... - err, hell - up, Duo tipped up his fourth beer of the night only to realize that lowering his inhibitions any further would be a decidedly BAD idea. "Dammit, I can't even get drunk 'cause I might slip up!" Slamming the bottle back down on the table in disgust (and ignoring Quatre's traitorous laughter), he hopped up and stalked back onto the dance floor, hoping to wear himself out so maybe he'd be tired enough to sleep dreamlessly tonight.

'WHAT?! But I'm enjoying those dreams!' his libido piped in rebelliously.

"SHUT THE HELL UP!" he snarled, then reddened as the annoyed looks around him let him know that he'd unintentionally said that out loud.

Back at the table, Quatre jumped slightly as long arms slid around him, then relaxed into their familiar hold.

"Don't you think you're being a little - ahh - unsympathetic - to Duo?" Trowa asked chidingly.

"No," Quatre replied unrepentantly. "Remember how terribly amusing he found it before we got together? Me pining around, angsting away about not wanting to chase off my best friend with my 'inappropriate' behaviour, and you moping around, angsting away about ‘not having anything to offer the Winner heir'? And him knowing both sides of the story, but bound by promises not to tell, so instead he nearly snickered himself to death?"

"Hmm, I had almost forgotten about that. You're right. You're definitely not being unsympathetic, you're giving him exactly as much sympathy as he deserves. And if he'd just remember what he did then, he'd figure out that you know more than you're telling now."

Trowa pressed a quick kiss to his lover's lips, then pulled him to his feet, murmuring, "Dance with me?"

"Anytime, love. Anytime."

************

The next evening, Wufei having finally arrived to join the group, the five ex-pilots were all seated around the kitchen table enjoying their favourite alcoholic beverages and catching up on what they had all been up to in the six months or so since they had last all been together.

"So, Yuy, how are you holding up now that Merquise and Noin are gone? Has the Peacecraft onna finally given up or is she as bad as ever?" Wufei inquired.

Heero groaned and dropped his head to the table momentarily before lifting it to answer, "Worse than ever. I should have pulled the damn trigger back during the war. I thought she was going to have a stroke when she found out that Zechs had finally slipped her leash - unfortunately, she didn't."

"How on earth are you going to make it through three more years if she's getting that bad now?" Trowa asked.

"I don't know if I can," shuddered the ex-Wing pilot.

"Well, what would it take to get her to leave you alone or at least let Une assign you elsewhere?" Quatre asked.

'Perfect lead-in, Quat, right on cue - thank you!' thought Heero. "Well, Zechs did have one idea..."

"What?" asked Wufei, neatly falling into the trap.

"Getting married to someone else," he replied.

Wufei choked, narrowly avoiding spitting his drink all over Duo, who was seated across the table from him. "That seems a bit - drastic - to me," the Chinese teen spluttered.

"Not necessarily," Quatre answered thoughtfully. "It would have to be a genuine, legal marriage since Relena would certainly find out if it wasn't, but... If Heero picked someone who knew why he was getting married... someone he trusted implicitly... someone he could count on to do whatever it took to drive her off... I think it might be a very good idea."

Duo frowned, not liking the idea but not quite sure just why the idea of Heero getting married disturbed him so much. Sure, he had the hots for him, but it wasn't like anything would ever come of it anyway, and it was purely physical after all - right? Right, of course it was.

"Yeah, so just where is Heero going to find this paragon?" he chipped in derisively before lifting his beer and taking a large swig.

Silence filled the room for a moment, then, just as Duo took another large swig of his beer, Quatre said innocently, "Why, I think his best friend should fill the bill perfectly, don't you Heero?"

An instant later, Trowa was pounding on a red-faced Duo's back as he choked and sputtered and Quatre was hurrying the irate Wufei (dripping beer from Duo's spit-take) off to clean him up in the bathroom.

'Why yes, Quatre, I think he should fill the bill quite nicely,' Heero thought, grabbing a handful of napkins and starting to mop up the spilled beer, carefully avoiding the broken bits of glass. 'I think he should fill the bill quite nicely indeed.'

************

Two days later, returning from a day-trip to visit Catherine at the circus, Duo stole a surreptitious look at Heero as they climbed out of the car. No one had mentioned the marriage idea again since he had sprayed his beer all over Wufei that night, but it had never been far from his mind. It was a crazy idea, but his libido - and something else that he wasn't willing to put a name to just yet - seemed to think it was a good one and wouldn't let him forget about it.

'Marriage to Heero? It'd be a toss-up which would happen first - me dying of sexual frustration or Heero killing me for trying to get him to relieve said frustration. I'd have to be outta my mind to agree to that.'

Rashid hurried down the steps, looking as agitated as Duo had ever seen him.

"I'm so sorry, Master Quatre, but she just breezed right in, butler, companion, and all, and was settled in the room beside Master Yuy's before the staff could locate me. And I couldn't very well just pick her up and throw her out..."

"Rashid, calm down. Who just breezed in?" Quatre had a terrible feeling he knew. This could blow Heero's plans all to smithereens before he even got them properly underway.

"Miss Peacecraft. And Pargan. And Miss Catalonia. And I just received a call from Lady Une to inform you that she and Miss Po would be arriving shortly as well."

Quatre closed his eyes for a moment, feeling a headache coming on. So much for their peaceful vacation. And for Heero's plans. But Heero was right - Relena's obsession was getting worse. She had never been so crass as to show up uninvited at one of his pilot get-togethers before.

Overhearing the conversation, Duo turned to see what Heero's reaction was to this news. What he saw surprised him. As a familiar, pink-clad figure came rushing down the stairs, calling Heero's name in a piercing voice, Heero Yuy, fearless Gundam pilot, turned as white as a sheet. Immediately, the former Perfect Soldier cast a desperate, pleading look in his direction.

'Aw shit, buddy. How am I supposed to stay rational faced with that?'

Sighing, Duo thought, ‘Okay, it's official. I am now certifiable.' Pasting a broad grin on his face, he covered the few feet separating himself from his best friend in a single bound, wrapped his arms around Heero's waist and said loudly, "Oi, look who's here guys! Isn't this great! 'Lena-babe, you can be the first to congratulate us! Heero and I are gettin' hitched!"

************

During the trip back from the circus, Heero had reviewed his mission's progress to date. He was right on schedule so far. His first goal had been to get Duo to notice him in a sexual way. Strictly sexual attraction was pretty safe ground - Duo hadn't fled L2 till Hilde went from flirting to declaring undying love, so he had hoped the same would hold true for him. So far, so good.

At the circus today, he had seen Duo watching him eat and altered his - err, method - of eating accordingly. Duo had been shifting uncomfortably on the hard bench by the time he had finished his corndog. 'Who knew you could suggest so many things just by the way you ate a corndog?'

And he thought that his response to Duo's insistence on him trying the cotton candy had been truly inspired. Once again, he had managed to reduce "Motormouth Maxwell" to wordless sputtering. Instead of taking the cone of cotton candy that Duo thrust at him, he had caught Duo's other hand, with its sticky, cotton candy covered fingers, and painstakingly licked every bit of cotton candy off.

'For a moment there, I thought I might have to hold him up - he seemed to be having a little trouble with his knees,' Heero smirked to himself. 'I'm actually enjoying this. Who knew that keeping Duo off balance and reduced to wordless sputtering could be so much fun?'

Gazing unseeingly out the car window, he thought, 'I'll get Quatre to suggest another night of clubbing in a couple of days and this time I'll make sure to dance with Duo. A close dance. A very, very close dance. Maybe when we're plastered groin to groin, he'll finally figure out that no, I'm not straight - I'd really like to know where the hell he ever got that idea from to start with! - and yes, I am attracted to him. Another couple of days to let him get used to the idea of a relationship with me, and hopefully a healthy dose of hot and heavy sex will sweeten the idea of marriage to get me out of Relena's clutches and keep me in his. That still leaves me with another two weeks to get him to agree to marriage and get the actual marriage taken care of. Once we're married and I'm free of Relena, we'll be living together all the time and I can gradually work him around to the idea of love.'

That, unfortunately, was the one part of the plan that he had very limited control over. He was pretty sure he could manage to talk Duo into marrying him, based on a strong physical attraction ('Oh, be honest with yourself Yuy - it's just plain straightforward lust, stop trying to pretty it up with fancy words') and loyalty to a friend and comrade trapped in a bad spot. He was also reasonably sure that he had a pretty good handle on a number of ideas that should be sufficiently romantic to make Duo fall in love with him given the slightest natural inclination in that direction. But he could not guarantee the existence of that natural inclination. He hoped it was there. He even suspected that he had seen signs of that possibility in things that Duo had said and done over the past week. But he could not be sure.

'But I do know that at the very least he loves me as a friend, and he desires me. Even if that's all I ever have from him, it will be more than I would have had if I just sat back and did nothing.'

Lost in his own thoughts, Heero had automatically climbed out of the car and started for the steps. Not having heard Rashid's warning, he was caught completely off-guard by the sound of his name being screeched in an all-too-familiar voice. Horrified, feeling all his plans collapsing around him, Heero turned his panic-stricken gaze towards Duo, hoping desperately that by some miracle of imagination and creativity Shinigami would pull this mission out of danger as he had so many others during the war, despite the fact that he didn't even know that this particular mission existed. And once again, against all odds, Shinigami came through for him.

Amethyst eyes hardened with resolve then, in one quick bound, Duo was at his side. Long arms wrapped around his waist, hugging him reassuringly as a beloved voice rang out, "Oi, look who's here guys! Isn't this great! 'Lena-babe, you can be the first to congratulate us! Heero and I are gettin' hitched!"

Lifting his hands and threading them through Duo's hair to press against his scalp, Heero breathed a heartfelt "Arigatou" before pressing their lips together to express his thanks in a more tangible form.

*~*~*~*~*~*

It took all his years of training in proper social decorum, but Quatre managed not to gape in shock at Duo's bold announcement. 'Heero, you still have the devil's own luck when it comes to "missions". Or maybe that should be Shinigami's own luck since he's the one who has the habit of pulling your ass out of the fire.'

Relena's stuffy and disbelieving exclamation of "That is not a joking matter, Maxwell!" turned to a shriek of outrage. Wincing at the sheer volume and pitch, Quatre turned to see what had her so upset just in time to see Trowa "accidentally" miss catching Relena as she keeled over in a dead faint.

"Oops. Missed," his lover said, giving him an unrepentant smirk.

Wufei's shocked shout of "Yuy! Maxwell!" drew his gaze to the cause of said faint. Heero had Duo in a very thorough lip-lock, and Duo didn't seem to be in any hurry to break away.

'Peaceful vacation? Well, that's definitely not in the picture. But Heero's plans appear to have just taken a gigantic leap ahead of schedule.'

*~*~*~*~*~*

Distantly aware of shrieking and shouting taking place somewhere in the background, Heero reluctantly realized that he had better break off the kiss before he pushed things too far, too fast and panicked Duo. 'He takes the "runs and hides" part of his motto a little too seriously sometimes,' he thought, regretfully drawing back from his new fiancé and looking around to see what all the fuss was about.

"I don't suppose we managed to give her a heart attack?" he asked Trowa, who was crouching beside the unconscious form of The Pink Menace.

"No, sorry. She just fainted," Trowa answered. "Better luck next time."

"TROWA!" Quatre exclaimed, evidently trying very hard to sound properly horrified but ending up sounding amused. "Rashid, take Miss Peacecraft up to her room, please, and inform either Pargan or Miss Catalonia that she has had a fainting spell."

Stealing a quick peek out of the corner of his eye, Heero noted Duo was just staring at him, a couple of fingertips pressed to his lips, and a very dazed and confused look on his face. 'Hmm, guess some sort of explanation for that kiss may be in order...'

Before he could speak to Duo, however, a very firm grasp closed around his elbow. "Yuy, I need to speak with you. Alone. NOW."

One quick look at Wufei's determined expression assured Heero that he could not put this off. "Very well," he agreed.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Duo stood staring blankly as Quatre and Trowa helped Rashid carry Relena away while Wufei marched Heero into the house. That kiss was - unexpected - to say the least. Oh, a kiss certainly made sense in light of the announcement he had made, since it would serve to cement the reality of it, but that kiss... It wasn't "just a kiss". It was warm, and tender, and passionate, all wrapped up in one. And that was without any tongue even being involved! Suddenly realizing that he had his fingertips pressed tightly to his mouth, he pulled them away. His lips were still tingling.

Duo abruptly sat down at the foot of the steps, staring off into the distance. 'What if... What if I'm wrong about Heero? I thought that whole cotton candy thing today was just revenge for me throwing caramel corn in his hair earlier during the show... But what if it wasn't? What if he isn't straight?

'Where did I get the idea that he was straight? I... I don't remember. I've just always assumed...'

Wrapping his arms around his legs and drawing them up tight to his chest, Duo dropped his head to his knees, muttering under his breath, "Yeah, Maxwell, and you know what you do when you assume - but this time, the only "ass" around here is you if you've been wrong about this all along..."

Voice trailing off, he thought, 'I must have got the idea somewhere. But I don't remember where. Okay, then when did I decide he was straight?'

Unable to come up with an answer to that question either, Duo decided to let it go for now, knowing his subconscious would keep chewing on the question until it came up with an answer. There were more important issues at the moment. 'If Heero is genuinely attracted to me, that changes everything. A three-year paper marriage, even if it was filled with sexual frustration, I could handle. I wouldn't be particularly happy, but I could handle it in order to help out a friend. If it's not just a paper marriage - if we're lovers as well as spouses - can I handle that? Am I ready to make that big a commitment, even if it's only for three years? I... don't know...

'But I've already said we're getting married,' he realized, groaning. 'I didn't even say we were engaged, I said we were "gettin' hitched". And unless I wanna make a liar out of myself, I can't very well take it back. I've already made the commitment. Oh shit. Dammit, Duo, now you've really gone and done it.'

Lifting his head from his knees, Duo mouthed softly, "Married. I'm getting married to my best friend. I, Duo Maxwell, am marrying Heero Yuy. Oh hell."

************

"Alright now, Yuy, just what the HELL do you think you're doing?" Wufei demanded, slamming the study door and locking it behind him.

Genuinely puzzled, Heero asked, "What are you so upset about, Wufei?"

"Don't play dumb with me, Yuy. I thought all that flirting and that 'marriage' nonsense was just a joke to get back at Duo for some of those pranks he's pulled on us over the years. Just a little harmless fun. But that cotton candy bit at the circus was really pushing things, and letting him take the marriage nonsense seriously enough that he announced your engagement to Relena Peacecraft herself - and then that - that kiss out there - that's just going too damn far! I will NOT stand by and let you hurt him like that! You're supposed to be his best friend! And here you are, leading him on when you know perfectly well where his preferences lie and that yours do NOT lie in the same direction! You had better break off this so-called 'engagement' FAST before you end up hurting him!"

Furious at Wufei's obvious low opinion of his morals, Heero snarled back, "SHUT THE HELL UP CHANG! You have absolutely NO idea what you're talking about! If you think that I would EVER, EVER do anything to hurt Duo of all people, you are absolutely fuckin' NUTS! Even if you have such a poor opinion of my morals, do you seriously believe that either Quatre or Trowa would go along with something like that? Believe me, Chang, the only one running the risk of getting hurt here is ME."

Surprised at the vehemence of Heero's retort, Wufei took a good look at his face as he spoke. Sinking into the nearest chair, Wufei said in soft amazement, "You're in love with him."

"Give the man a fuckin' prize!" snapped Heero. "Now would you mind telling me where the hell you got the idea I was straight from?!"

"I... From Duo, I think..." the Chinese teen answered, still grappling with this set of revelations. "How long..." he asked hesitantly.

"Probably right from the first time we met up again after me stripping Deathscythe for parts. I was expecting anger and instead I got friendship. But the first I acknowledged it was when I woke up in Trowa's trailer at the circus after self-destructing Wing. I was alive when I hadn't expected to be, I had a second chance at life, and I promised myself that I wouldn't hide from my emotions anymore. But Duo never picked up on any of my hints, and with the war going on I didn't want to risk causing any dissension in our ranks, so I just let things go on as they were." The words came out of Heero in one long rush. Quatre hadn't even asked for the details, just knowing that Heero was in love with Duo had been enough for him. The only time Heero had ever told the entire story before had been to Zechs and Lu nearly two years previously, so telling it now was a welcome relief. "After the war ended, I went back to dropping hints from time to time, but he never picked up on any of them. We're young, he wasn't getting seriously involved with anyone else, so I decided to just bide my time, wait for us both to mature a bit more, and keep dropping hints."

Dragging a chair over by Wufei's, Heero sat straddling the back of it, arms folded along the top of the backrest. Even as he dropped down on the chair, he realized that this was yet another thing that showed Duo's influence on him. 'A few short years ago, I'd have never dreamt of sitting on a chair backwards instead of properly. Now, I have to remind myself not to sit like this at things like Relena's dances and garden parties.'

Meeting Wufei's dark eyes, he continued, "Lately, that hasn't been enough. I feel like a piece of me is missing when Duo's not near me. Email, vid-phone calls, occasional trips to visit, and the annual pilot get-together just aren't enough. Zechs and Lu leaving and Relena's obsession getting worse just provided the final push I needed to take more drastic measures.

"Duo lived up to his motto when Hilde told him she loved him, running from L2 to join Quat and Tro here on L4. I didn't want to chance him doing the same thing with me, so I started with getting him to notice me sexually - which would have been much easier if he didn't have this damn notion that I'm straight! Well, I got him to notice me - but then he wouldn't make a move! He just won't believe I could possibly be attracted to him. Quat's done everything short of flat-out telling him and you've seen what I've tried just in the few days you've been here, but our usually quick-witted Shinigami has proven incredibly dense in this one particular area."

Heero sighed, then continued, "Hopefully that has changed as of that kiss! He's at least made the first move by announcing our engagement to Relena. I just have to take it slow and easy. You know as well as I do that while you can coax, cajole, tease, and tempt Duo Maxwell into doing any number of things, you absolutely, positively, CANNOT push, pull, order, or otherwise try to force him into anything, even something he wants."

Wufei snorted, "That's for sure. I thought the world must be coming to an end that time during the war when I handed him the grocery money and ordered him to be sure to bring back chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I couldn't believe it when he came back with everything else BUT that - it was his favourite! Then Quatre walked in, checked the freezer, mournfully observed that he'd really been looking forward to a nice bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and went back to the living room. Half an hour later, Duo had been to the store and was back again, this time with TWO tubs of the stuff, both bought with his OWN money. Lesson learned - never, ever, order Shinigami to do anything you actually wanted done."

Heero rolled his eyes, nodding in agreement. "I've been patient this long, I can wait a little longer. Once I've got him safely married to me, I'll feel a lot more secure. When Duo commits himself to something, he doesn't quit. Once he's said 'I do' and signed that marriage license, he'll stay even if the going gets rough. That's when I'll pull out the big guns and start working on making him fall in love with me. Till then, I'll settle for friendship and a healthy dose of lust."

************

Duo woke the next morning to the soft sound of paper sliding across carpet. Rolling over in bed, he realized a note had been pushed under his door. He couldn't actually read the note from there, but Heero's distinctive handwriting was unmistakable. Staring at the piece of paper as if it were liable to bite him, he thought back to the previous evening.

Evidently, whatever Wufei had needed to speak to Heero about so urgently had been settled, since the two of them had appeared to be on good terms when he saw them again in the hall outside their assigned rooms. He had retreated to his own room, claiming weariness after the long and hectic day. Heero had looked for a moment as if he would protest, then had simply given him a small smile and wished him good night, much to his surprise. 'I didn't think he'd let me get away without talkin' things over last night. Guess he knows me well enough by now to know that tryin' to make me do something when I'm not ready won't do him any good.'

Reluctantly, Duo slid out of bed and picked up the sheet of paper gingerly. "Gone to run a few errands, back for dinner. Better talk to Q, he's making wedding plans. Only stipulation: same surname - don't care which or if combined, but SAME. Heero."

Duo re-read the note again, hoping he had misread it the first time. Nope, that's what it said. "Wedding plans? Q is making wedding plans! ALREADY!! Oh shit! He'll invite half the colony plus everyone else we know in the entire Earth Sphere!"

Unbraiding his hair as he went, Duo took off for his fastest shower ever, cursing Heero's cowardice in leaving him to bring Quatre's grandiose ideas under control without hurting his feelings.

************

Dorothy Catalonia slipped into the hall and pulled the door shut behind her. Closing her eyes for a moment with her hand still on the knob, she shook her head in disgust. Relena could delude herself as much as she liked, but Dorothy knew that the Peacecraft girl had never stood a chance with Yuy. She had known that the first time she saw Yuy and Maxwell together during the war. Heero Yuy, ice prince extraordinaire, capable of chilling your blood in your veins with a mere glance just for standing too close to him, leaned into the carelessly draped arm that Duo Maxwell flung over his shoulders. He stood close enough to the other boy even after the arm was removed that Duo's casual gestures caused him to brush against Heero. His eyes narrowed with anger when Relena ignored Duo's existence, and when Heero turned to walk away, he caught the other boy's arm and took him with him. No, the fact that the two of them were together now was no surprise to her - she was only surprised that Yuy had not made his move sooner.

"Miss Dorothy? How is she this morning?" Pargan inquired worriedly.

"Delusional as ever," Dorothy answered grimly, re-opening her eyes to meet Pargan's gaze. "She's decided that the whole thing was one of Maxwell's pranks and nothing that I say will convince her otherwise."

"Perhaps that's all it really was?" the elderly butler offered.

Dorothy just sighed and shook her head. Pargan never would accept that his beloved employer was anything short of perfect. But it was becoming increasingly clear, to her at least, that Relena Peacecraft was nothing but a spoilt child that had never learned the meaning of the word "no". 'Her adoptive mother should never have allowed her to go her own way after Relena found out she was "royalty".'

"Since Yuy has already gone out for the day, she would like her breakfast brought to her room," Dorothy told Pargan. "I will be eating downstairs, then I intend to find a quiet corner of the garden to read in. If she needs me, send someone there to find me."

"Certainly, Miss Dorothy."

Dorothy headed down the stairs for breakfast. At some point in her stay, she intended to see if either Lady Une or Quatre Winner could suggest an alternative position for her. It wasn't like the money mattered - she simply needed something to challenge her, to keep her active mind occupied. No matter what Relena Peacecraft seemed to think, Dorothy Catalonia was no man's - or woman's - lapdog. Interesting as the girl had been at one time, "Miss Relena" had a lot of growing up to do before Dorothy would have any further interest in her. If she even did then. For now, it was time for a change.

And perhaps a word of caution in the ear of a certain braided young man would not be a bad idea. Heero was too much of a gentleman to realize just how low a desperate girl might sink, but she had a feeling that Duo would pick up the hint quite nicely.

************

Quatre hung up the phone, smiling slightly in amusement. Trowa, just entering the room, raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry.

"Lady Une," the Arabian answered, "calling to let me know that she and Sally would not be arriving today after all. Apparently, forms indicating an upcoming change in marital status for two Preventer employees appeared in her email this morning, along with a note reminding her of all the pertinent items of the labour laws and the organization's own regulations. Apparently, dealing with said pertinent items and preparing a few contingency plans to deal with someone's probable reaction to them is going to cause a slight delay in her departure from Preventer HQ."

Trowa blinked. "Heero sure isn't wasting any time, is he," he observed.

"No, he isn't," Quatre said. "He's already off 'running errands' himself - and I know one of those is to pick up the rings that he ordered after things settled down last night. I suspect his plan today is to stay clear of Duo till things are far enough along that he won't be too likely to back out. And of course, I'm supposed to be keeping Duo too busy to even think about backing out."

Quatre beamed beatifically at Trowa's inquiring look and said, "I have completely free rein in arranging the wedding. Heero gave me only two stipulations: it has to be before the end of his month of vacation, and they have to end up with the same surname but he doesn't care which or if it's hyphenated as long as it's the same. He said that when he was on his way out, he would slip a note under Duo's door telling him to talk to me about wedding plans, so I'm expecting him any minute now." Giving his lover his most angelic look, the blond said, "For some reason, I don't think he's going to trust me to make them on my own."

Surveying the piles of brochures, catalogues, fabric samples, sample flower arrangements, etc. that Quatre had somehow managed to acquire already that morning, Trowa said drily, "Well, I really can't imagine why not."

************

Later that day - much later that very long, very hectic day - Duo finished braiding his hair and flicked a few loose hairs off of his shirt. He hated formal dinners. But Relena apparently expected the Winner household to dine formally, and, rather than stirring up a fuss over something so minor, Quatre had given in.

Swinging by Heero's room to see if he was back and ready to go down for dinner, Duo was appalled to discover Relena, dressed in only her slip and camisole, standing inside the doorway, ostensibly looking for an opinion on which of two dresses she should wear. Heero had, understandably enough, barricaded himself in the bathroom. Taking matters firmly into his own hands, Duo sent a passing servant to request that "Miss Catalonia please assist Miss Peacecraft in dressing for dinner", sent Relena back to her room, and sent another servant to locate either Abdul or Rashid. Relena had resisted at first, but when his voice had dropped into a Shinigami growl (and he suspected his eyes were making his displeasure pretty clear too, judging by her quick avoidance of his gaze), she had caved in and retreated in at least temporary defeat.

"Okay Heero, it's safe to come out now," he said, knocking lightly on the bathroom door.

"She's gone?"

"Yeah, I got rid of her."

"Permanently?" Heero asked wistfully as he opened the door a crack, revealing that all he was wearing was a towel.

"Unfortunately, no. She's really gettin' out of hand, isn't she?"

"That was exceptionally bad, even for her. I think our little announcement sent her into desperation mode."

"Yeah, well, this next bit just might send her right off the deep end then," Duo said. 'I am so going to regret this. But I can't leave Heero in here by himself, especially after Dorothy's warning. Relena's gettin' way too aggressive,' he thought. Duo was very carefully not thinking too carefully about why the thought of Heero being driven to locking himself in the bathroom to escape Relena had roused all his protective instincts. Something told him he wasn't prepared to deal with that just yet.

"You wanted to see me, Master Duo?" Rashid inquired from the bedroom doorway.

"Yeah, Rashid. Could you please get somebody to move all Heero's stuff to my room while we're at dinner? Then this room can be cleaned and prepared for Lady Une's use when she arrives later instead of the small room Quatre had previously planned on."

Rashid sent Heero a questioning glance. Receiving a slight nod in response, he agreed, "Certainly, Master Duo."

"Thanks, Rashid," Duo said as the burly Maguanac left the room, closing the door behind him.

"Thank you Duo," Heero said, resting his chin on Duo's shoulder and giving him a grateful hug.

"No problem Heero. But since Relena obviously isn't going to give up too easily... You watch my back, I'll watch yours. 'Kay, partner?"

"Okay," Heero answered, quickly crossing the room to remove something from his jacket pocket. "Catch," he said, tossing a small box to Duo before starting to get dressed.

Averting his gaze from Heero's body as the towel was dropped, Duo examined the small box. 'Ferguson's Custom Jewellery? Oh shit, don't tell me...' Shooting a nervous glance in Heero's direction, he opened the box to reveal a narrow "half" eternity ring. Set in a three-strand band of plaited tri-colour gold, diamonds alternated with deep blue and violet star sapphires. Each sapphire was small, but every one had a perfect six-pointed star in it. Tilting the ring, it was clear that the stones were natural, not synthetic since the star moved as the viewing angle changed.

"I know eternity rings aren't traditionally used as engagement rings, but I thought the flat design wouldn't catch on things or get in the way like a solitaire would. I could have got coloured diamonds, but the colour wasn't nearly as nice, and sapphires are almost as durable as diamonds. And sapphire symbolises loyalty and faithfulness, which I thought was appropriate for our friendship and the fact that you're doing this out of loyalty to said friendship," Heero said, sounding almost - nervous? "I picked the plaited band because it reminded me of your braid. And I went with stars instead of a regular cut because I know how much you loved to lay out and watch the stars at night on Earth..."

"I - it's beautiful, Heero," Duo said, blinking rapidly. 'Aw shit, Heero, now look what you've gone and done - I'm gonna end up cryin' if I'm not careful.'

Heero hesitated, then held out his left hand to reveal an identical band on it. "I know usually only one fiancé wears the engagement ring, but we're both engaged, so that didn't make much sense to me. We're partners, equals - so I thought it was more appropriate for us both to."

'Fuck, that did it.' Duo slid the ring on his finger quickly, then said, "Just a sec, I think my braid's coming loose," and slipped into the bathroom, barely getting the door shut before the first - and only - tear slid down his cheek. 'That is without a doubt the sweetest, most romantic thing I've ever heard. But that does not change the fact that it was my best friend saying it, not someone I'm in love with and who's in love with me. I should not be reacting like this.' Working quickly, Duo yanked out his braid, knowing Heero would notice if it had not been redone. Replaiting it, he pulled it tight enough to make his eyes water, hoping that would stop any more tears from coming.

Re-opening the door, Duo said in an exasperated tone, "Darn hair just will not stay in tonight! Did it tight enough to hurt this time, hope that it finally stays put!

"Come on, let's go get this damn dinner over with. Oh, and Yuy - you owe me big for abandoning me to handle Q's wedding planning frenzy by myself!"

************

With Duo beside him on one side, Quatre at the end of the table on his other side, and Trowa and Wufei across the table from him, Heero felt secure enough to ignore Relena's intent gaze. Curling his fingers so that his thumb could brush against the engagement ring, he thought about the other things that sapphire symbolized, the ones that he didn't mention to Duo, but that played an equally large part in his choice of stone. 'As well as symbolizing loyalty and faithfulness, sapphire expresses love and yearning. Maybe I still can't tell him with words, but at least I can use the language of gemstones to carry the message until I can...'

"Why Duo, what is that I see on your hand?" Dorothy asked archly.

Inwardly, Heero braced himself for the storm that was sure to follow. Much to his surprise, Relena merely stolidly ignored Duo's enthusiastic explanation of the ring, his insistent display of Heero's matching one, and all the assorted exclamations of admiration and approval that followed. 'She's up to something. She must be. She can't have given up that easily. My door was locked when I went in to shower, and she was in the room when I went to come out and get dressed. Either she's learned how to pick locks - unlikely that she would "lower" herself to such a level - or she got hold of a key somehow. I was SO glad to hear Duo come in looking for me...'

The thought of being reduced to locking himself in the bathroom to hide from Relena made Heero want to cringe. 'But I can't regret it since it kicked Duo into that protective "mother-hen" mode that he used to get in during the war if I got hurt on a mission... And that got me moved into his room. If looking a bit foolish is what it takes to make a little more progress with Duo, I can live with that.'

************

Climbing the stairs to go to her room, Dorothy stifled a yawn. She hadn't intended to stay up so late, but debating current Earth Sphere policies with Chang Wufei had been far too invigorating to quit just to go to bed. Even Yuy and Maxwell had abandoned the discussion ages ago and gone off to their room.

'I cannot believe those rings that Yuy picked out. I knew he had it bad where Maxwell was concerned, but the thought that went into those rings... What I wouldn't give for a mate as thoughtful and romantic as that!'

Heading past Relena's room, she noticed that the door was open a crack. 'Three guesses where she's slipped off to, and the first two don't count... She's not going to like what she finds!' Since she had still had to finish getting dressed after solving Relena's dress dilemma, Dorothy had ended up being the last one down for supper. On her way down, she had seen Rashid carefully supervising as a couple of servants packed up Yuy's belongings and carried them off, out of the guest wing and towards one of the large suites in the main hall. 'No need to guess whose suite either - I knew Maxwell would know what to do with that cautionary hint I gave him!'

Seeing the door of Heero's former room standing open, she peeked inside to see Relena, clad in a skimpy negligee, staring around the empty room in dismay. Deciding that, for once, discretion was perhaps the better part of valour, Dorothy silently withdrew and slipped into her own room, hoping to avoid the hysterics that were likely to ensue if she ended up explaining to Relena exactly where Heero had been moved to. 'Fun as that might be, I have had much too pleasant an evening to ruin it by giving myself a headache from all her screeching.'

************

As he and Heero headed up to his - no, their - room, Duo found himself becoming increasingly nervous. Despite his realization yesterday (Was it really only yesterday? It seemed like so much more time than that had passed...) that perhaps Heero not only wasn't straight but was attracted to him, the subject hadn't actually come up again. And now they were heading off to share a room - and a bed. He was genuinely tired after (politely) battling Quatre all day over guest lists, wedding vows, banquet menus, and everything else. He didn't think he was prepared to handle tackling a discussion of Heero's sexuality and his intentions where Duo was concerned at the moment. Decision made, Duo quickly said, "I'll wash up while you figure out where they put all your stuff."

"Okay," Heero agreed.

On emerging from the bathroom a short time later, Duo muffled an only partially fake yawn before waving Heero towards the room with a casual, "It's all yours."

By the time Heero came back out, Duo was curled up on his side, pretending to be sound asleep, yet well aware that Heero was not likely to be fooled. He heard Heero come to stand by the bed and felt his gaze resting on him.

"Baka," Heero murmured softly. "You can't hide forever. But if you want to play it this way tonight, that's okay."

The bed dipped under Heero's weight as he climbed in, then Duo heard him breathe softly, "Good night, Duo." Within a few short minutes, Heero's breathing patterns had settled into those of a sound sleep, leaving Duo wishing he had that particular ability.

************

As Duo slowly woke, he gradually remembered the events of the previous evening. He also became aware that he was laying half on top of Heero, breathing in the musky scent that was uniquely his. Still only half awake, he traced a finger lightly over the muscled chest he was laying on. Reaching the waistband of Heero's boxers, he stopped, his imagination happily painting in an image of him hooking a finger in that waistband and pulling them down. His own boxers suddenly became a bit constricting as his body responded to that thought.

"Good morning, Duo," rumbled out of the chest below him just as he realized that his hardening cock was tightly pressed to Heero's thigh. Reddening, Duo froze in place, suddenly doubting his Heero-isn't-straight theory once again.

"Uh, Heero," he said hesitantly, "I was kinda wonderin' whether you meant the same thing with that kiss the other day as I think you meant."

"I had several meanings in mind with that kiss," Heero responded. "And one particular one in mind with this one." With that, he pulled Duo up and fully on top of him, initiating another kiss. But this time their bodies were pressed tightly together right from lips to hips, letting Duo feel Heero's arousal press against his own.

Violet eyes clouded with desire and confusion blinked down at Heero as Duo pulled back from the kiss.

"Did that answer your question?" Heero said.

Propping himself up, Duo just looked at Heero for a moment. Then, with dawning realization spreading across his face, he gasped, "So - all that stuff was on purpose?! The clothes... and the innuendoes... and..." He trailed off into speechlessness.

Heero smirked up at him, "About time you figured it out. I thought the cotton candy bit was a pretty clear statement, but you still just didn't seem to get it. That look you gave me the first day of vacation was the first sign I'd ever seen that you might be interested, but you just wouldn't pick up any of my hints that I wouldn't be adverse to..." Heero lifted his hips tighter against Duo's, grinding them together slowly and making Duo gasp, then continued, "...exploring that interest."

"Oh yeah, that sounds like it might have definite possibilities," the braided teen responded, a slow, sensual smile spreading across his face. 'Yes, yes, YES! Ooookay, Maxwell, it looks like sexual frustration is not going to be a problem after all.' "Anything in particular in mind for starters?"

************

"Need any help in there, Duo?" Heero called from outside the bathroom door.

"Uh, no, just have to get my hair dry," Duo called back, pausing in his careful brushing for a moment. 'Why would he even ask that? He knows I just had my hair to do after he got out of the shower...' "Go on down without me, I won't be much longer!"

"I can wait - no rush..."

"No, go on ahead, just see if you can save some of my favourites for me please! Tro tends to take all the grapes and I've noticed Wufei snags the chocolate chip muffins if he beats me down to breakfast!"

There was a brief pause, then Heero answered, "Okay." The bedroom door opened and closed again, signalling that he had left.

'Damn it, Maxwell, what'd you do that for? You just made him go face everyone on his own, and it sure isn't going to take any imagination to figure out why you two are so late for breakfast this morning,' Duo thought, looking in the mirror and ruefully surveying his own slightly-swollen lips and the very-noticeable red marks scattered liberally along his neck. Heero bore similar marks. It wasn't like they had done anything wrong - they were getting married, for heaven's sake! And all they'd really done was a lot of heavy-duty making out and a couple of blowjobs when it came right down to it. But he was finding the mental change of gears, shifting from Heero-is-my-best-friend to Heero-is-my-lover, very difficult. Maybe partially because he felt distinctly foolish now that he realized just how obvious Heero had been over the past week-and-a-bit. 'No wonder Quat practically killed himself laughing at me so many times. I can't even get mad at him about it since I did the same damn thing when he and Tro were runnin' around angsting over each other.'

Suddenly feeling distinctly guilty at having abandoned Heero, Duo decided that as long as his hair wasn't actually dripping, it was dry enough to braid. He quickly plaited it and headed down for breakfast.

Coming into the breakfast room, Duo decided that there was something definitely wrong here. For some reason, just as he entered, Heero had slid his chair almost completely away from the table. Heero's legs were wrapped around the chair's legs and tucked underneath it. Noticing that Relena was sitting directly across from Heero, he put two and two together and came up with a four that left him distinctly pissed off at Her Pushy Pinkness. 'Shinigami doesn't get mad - he gets even,' he decided, allowing a distinctly evil smirk to develop.

"Good mornin' guys!" he called cheerfully, quickly crossing the room to stand behind Heero's chair. "Mornin', lover," he purred, leaning over Heero's shoulder and snitching a strip of bacon off his plate. Glancing down the table, he noticed that the only available places were on either side of Relena. 'Well, that just won't do at all,' he thought. "Keep your feet up," Duo whispered in Heero's ear as he straightened, then with one quick motion and a nerve-shattering screech of chair legs on the floor, he hauled the chair, Heero and all, around to sit sideways to the table and deposited himself straddling his fiancé's thighs. Stealing a quick glance at Heero's expression, he was relieved to find mischievous delight sparkling in his cobalt eyes. Reaching out, Duo snagged a cluster of grapes off Heero's plate, eating one himself before saying, "Hmm, better not eat all this myself - you're gonna need to keep your strength up too." He pulled another grape off the cluster with his teeth, then leaned forward and transferred it to Heero's willing mouth with a deep kiss. "Mmm, yumm..." Duo said, licking his lips appreciatively as he drew back again, ignoring the assorted snickers, snorts, gasps, and shrieks that his outrageous behaviour was causing.

************

‘This is a mistake, Yuy, and you know it... He already turned down your help with his hair once in the shower, you shouldn't ask again...' "Need any help in there, Duo?" Heero called, raising his voice to carry through the bathroom door.

"Uh, no, just have to get my hair dry. Go on down without me, I won't be much longer!"

‘See, you should have kept your mouth shut. Instead you just had to push and now he doesn't even want to go downstairs together.' "I can wait - no rush..."

"No, go on ahead, just see if you can save some of my favourites for me please! Tro tends to take all the grapes and I've noticed Wufei snags the chocolate chip muffins if he beats me down to breakfast!"

Heero winced. Things had been going so well up till now. He shouldn't have tried to rush Duo into more. With an effort, he managed to keep the hurt out of his voice as he answered, "Okay."

Quietly leaving the bedroom, a rebellious thought slipped through, ‘But it's not okay, not really. I wanted to go down together. We're supposed to be a couple now.' Heero stopped at the top of the stairs for a moment, gripping the banister with both hands as he fought to regain his mental equilibrium.

‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Yuy! You knew this wasn't going to happen overnight. You have to stop being so damn sensitive! If this was really just about escaping Relena's clutches and having the hots for your best friend the way that Duo thinks it is, none of this would be bothering you. You have to remember your role or Duo's going to figure out that there's more to this before you're ready for him to. He can't find out you're in love with him till after the wedding at the very earliest. He just might back out if he does, and any chance of that is too big a chance to take.'

Forcing himself to look on the bright side, Heero thought as he started down the stairs, ‘At least he asked me to save him some of his favourites, so he is planning on coming down eventually.'

In the breakfast room, he was dismayed to realize that he had only three possible choices of seats at the table. Two were on either side of Relena, the third was directly across from her. Deciding that the one across from her was the lesser evil, he filled his plate from the buffet - making sure to pick up the items Duo had requested - then sat down at the narrow table.

Heero had just torn a bite off of his croissant when he felt something brush against his leg. At first, he thought perhaps Wufei had simply bumped him in the process of crossing his legs, but when the touch was repeated a moment later, he realized that Wufei hadn't moved. A horrible suspicion entering his mind, he curled his legs back around the chair legs, hoping to put them out of reach.

Relena smiled at him and shifted in her chair, pulling it a bit closer to the table. Heero was just about to take a sip of juice when he felt something slide over his knee and up his thigh. Across the table, Relena appeared to be sliding down rather low in her chair. His appetite suddenly gone, Heero braced his hands against the table and slid his chair away from it, keeping his legs wrapped out of range as he did so. Just then Duo's cheerful "Good morning, guys!" rang out. Intending to offer Duo his seat and skip breakfast himself, he was slightly startled at the husky "Mornin', lover" that purred in his ear as the braided boy leaned over him and raided his plate.

‘What the hell is he up to?' Heero wondered suspiciously. ‘Keep my feet up...' The quick jerk that spun the chair sideways to the table caught him by surprise. ‘Shit, sometimes I forget just how strong and fast he really is. I think Shinigami guessed what Miss Butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth over there was up to...' Delighted at the method of retaliation that Duo had chosen, Heero rested his hands lightly on Duo's hips and waited to see what would come next.

"Hmm, better not eat all this myself - you're gonna need to keep your strength up too," Duo said, then pulled another grape off the cluster with his teeth.

‘He wouldn't... Not in front of all these people - would he?' As Duo leaned forward to press their mouths together, Heero realized, ‘Oh yes he would. Okay, I think I just got my appetite back.' As their tongues tangled in the process of transferring the grape, Relena's presence was completely forgotten.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Puzzled by Heero's strange behaviour, Quatre had been relieved to see Duo come in. ‘Maybe Heero will settle down now,' he thought. Cringing from the shriek of chair legs across tile (‘Those marks may never come off!'), the reprimand he intended to issue died a sudden death as he switched from irritation to shock.

Still gaping at the mind-bending spectacle of Duo Maxwell sitting on Heero Yuy's lap and feeding him grapes - with his mouth no less - Quatre felt a light tap on his shoulder.

"You know, I like grapes too," Trowa observed pointedly. "Why don't I get that kind of service?"

"Trowa!" Quatre sputtered. "In public?!"

"Why not? They," Trowa waved a cluster of grapes towards Duo and Heero, "obviously won't mind."

"TROWA!"

*~*~*~*~*~*

‘Hmm, guess we know why those two are late for breakfast,' Dorothy thought, surveying the marks decorating Heero's neck as he took a seat at the table. ‘I wonder what Miss Relena will make of this?' Stealing a sideways glance at the girl in question, she wondered why Relena appeared to be sliding down so low in her chair. Wondered, until Yuy shoved his chair away from the table, that is. ‘She didn't! I don't believe it - little Miss Prim-and-Proper just tried to play footsie with him! I wonder what he'll do... Somehow, I doubt he wants to announce what she tried to the entire table, but he must know that if he pulls his chair back up again she'll try again.'

Spotting Duo's narrowed, glittering gaze directed angrily at Relena, Dorothy was expecting fireworks. ‘Ah ha, someone else has figured out what she was up to...' Then that angry expression changed to a deliciously mischievously evil smirk. ‘Oh, this should be good,' she thought happily. ‘Hmm, no popcorn, guess I'll have to settle for grapes.' Watching what Duo was doing with his grapes, however, changed her mind. ‘I think I'll pass on the grapes - they just won't taste the same eating them all by myself... Duo's method looks so much more enjoyable...'

Turning her gaze towards Relena, Dorothy was amused to see that her pale, perfect skin had turned a distinctly unattractive, blotchy red. That perfect pink mouth currently looked like it belonged on a fish as, after one initial squawk of outrage, it repeatedly opened and closed soundlessly. As Heero reached out and picked up a melon ball off of his plate, placing it in his own mouth then leaning forward slightly to share it with Duo, Relena's face darkened even further. Dorothy quickly placed her hands over her ears in preparation for what was certainly coming next.

SHR-I-I-I-E-E-E-E-K!!

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, MAXWELL! YOU PERVERTED COMMON LITTLE LOWLIFE, HOW DARE YOU DO SUCH A DISGUSTING THING IN PUBLIC! YOU'VE PERVERTED HEERO WITH YOUR REVOLTING HABITS! I'M SHOCKED AND APPALLED AT SUCH OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOUR! QUATRE WINNER, HOW CAN YOU CONDONE SUCH DREADFUL BEHAVIOUR IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD! OH, THAT'S RIGHT, YOU AND THAT COMMON CIRCUS CLOWN ARE THE SAME WAY! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY DISGRACEFUL! WHY IF"

Abruptly, there was sudden, blessed, silence.

"Thank you, Wufei," Quatre said, slowly unclenching his white-knuckled fists.

"She seemed to be a bit overwrought," Wufei said, releasing the nerve-pinch that he had used to knock Relena out. "I thought a rest would be a good idea."

"I think perhaps Miss Relena would be more comfortable staying in a less ‘disgraceful' household," Quatre said in a perfectly calm, collected voice. "Dorothy, if you wish to stay, you may, as you have been a perfectly pleasant houseguest. That," he said, pointing one slightly shaking finger at Relena's unconscious body, "however, is no longer welcome on Winner property. Any Winner property. Please have Pargan see to her removal from this one immediately."

"Certainly," Dorothy agreed. "And I believe that I will stay. At least until after the wedding." ‘The people here are much more interesting than those that can usually be found dancing attendance on Relena.'

************

Unsure how much Relena's tirade would affect Duo, Heero had tightened his arms around him as soon as she started to shout. He held on through Quatre's banishment of Relena and Dorothy's acceptance of the invitation to stay, worrying. 'If that bitch upset him, she can kiss her political career good-bye. Peace isn't quite that fragile anymore. And frankly, if it really depends on someone like her, we're already in big trouble.' Duo had dropped his head into the crook of Heero's neck part way through Relena's outburst and within the last few moments, his shoulders had started to shake. 'Fuck. He'd better not be crying or she's going to be one very, very sorry girl. Hmm, this business of making Une keep me stationed as her bodyguard is essentially blackmail, and I do believe I just might be able to find some security footage of one of those conversations... And if I can't, I'm sure I can make some from some other tapes... And I'm sure Q's security tapes will have that little incident of her sneaking into my room in her slip and Duo chasing her out... Wonder what else I can dig up that the media would find interesting...'

"Duo?" he asked worriedly.

"'Mokay, Heero," Duo gasped, lifting his head. Abruptly it became clear that the shaking shoulders were from an attempt to suppress laughter, not tears. "Oh man, she's got a lot to learn about the fine art of insulting someone!" he snickered. "Common? If there's one thing Tro & I aren't, it's common! I mean, come on, we're two of an elite group of five Gundam pilots! Nothing common about that! And oh yes, we mustn't forget my 'revolting habits' that I've 'perverted' you with! Aren't you revolted by that 'disgusting thing' I did, Heero?"

Relieved at Duo's reaction to Relena's insults, Heero gave Duo a smirk and replied, "No, I guess you've 'perverted' me beyond redemption. Darn. Guess we're going to just have to keep on shocking and appalling her." Reaching over, he snagged another melon ball off his plate and offered it to Duo. "I do believe that it was your turn to feed me again."

"Mmm, I'd be glad to," Duo answered with a lecherous grin, "but I think we'd better take breakfast back upstairs to finish it. That much of an exhibitionist, I'm not."

Seeing Duo point to the small pitcher of syrup that accompanied the French toast, Heero agreed. "What are you waiting for then? Let's go!"

************

Wondering just what the hell Relena Peacecraft could have done to make Quatre Winner of all people banish her from his house, Une disconnected the call. 'I have a distinct feeling that we're going to be needing those contingency plans. Obviously something rather nasty took place between our dear, sweet Vice Foreign Minister and the former Gundam pilots.'

Preparing to call the number that Dorothy had referred her to, Une paused for a moment to consider that little tidbit. Dorothy Catalonia had a habit of landing on her feet. If she was still at the Winner estate while Relena was not, Relena's political career was probably headed for trouble, if only because it was Dorothy that researched all the politicians and let Relena know exactly who each one was and how to handle them. 'At times, Dorothy has been the only thing keeping that "Sanc royalty" attitude of Relena's in check. Without that moderating influence, she's going to be insulting people all over the place.'

Abruptly changing her mind about calling Relena just yet, Une started digging through the piles of paper on her desk, looking for a particular press release. 'She's always had the full support of the Spacers' Association and all the lobbying power it wields, but if I remember correctly, the new spokesman for the Spacers' Association is one person that she actually has insulted previously. And also someone with a very strong appreciation of the Gundam pilots. I think I just found another ally in the war to keep the Preventers' budget intact,' she thought, smiling slightly as she read through the press release in question. Quickly, she punched a call code into the phone, making sure to choose the secure line.

"Hello. It's Lady Une. Could I speak to Howard please."

************

Several days had passed peacefully since Relena's banishment from the Winner estate. Heero, however, was starting to get concerned. Lady Une and Sally Po still had not arrived at Quatre's, nor had either of them contacted him. 'I wonder what went wrong. I thought for sure that having sabotage and demolitions training on her palace grounds would be enough to make Relena let me go. We've never actually discussed what happens if she doesn't...'

Curled together in a contented tangle of limbs and sheets, Heero hated to spoil the relaxed mood but he really needed to know if his hold on Duo was sufficient to pull him away from the life he seemed content with to return to Earth and a probably much less pleasant one at the palace.

"Duo?" he asked softly.

"Hmm?"

"What if she doesn't let me go?"

Duo raised himself into a semi-sitting position and leaned over Heero, looking down at him with a slight frown. "What kinda question is that?"

"What if Relena doesn't let Une transfer me? What if she insists on me staying at the palace even though we're married?"

"I repeat, what kinda question is that?" Duo scowled down at Heero, "You'd better not be suggestin' that I'd chicken out on you and not go with you, buddy-boy."

Heero couldn't prevent a look of relief from spreading across his face.

"You did think that! Heero no baka!" Duo yanked the pillow out from under Heero's head and swatted him with it. "Partners, remember?!" Swat. "You" Swat. "Watch my back" Swat. "And I" Swat. "Watch yours!!" Swat.

Grabbing Duo's pillow, Heero started swatting back. Moments later, a full-fledged pillow fight was in progress. By the time it ended, both pillowcases were virtually empty and the room was adrift in fluffy white feathers.

"Quat's gonna flip," Duo observed, looking around at the mess. "It's gonna take hours for somebody to clean this up. Oh well, I'll just tell him it's all your fault."

Heero raised one eyebrow in disbelief, then brushed distractedly at where a feather hung down from his bangs. "All MY fault? Who threw the first - err - swat?"

"Oh no you don't. I'm not takin' the fall for this. I wouldn't have swatted you if you hadn't been such a complete baka. Besides, I won the pillow fight. I still have feathers left." Duo proudly reached through one of the rips in his pillowcase and pulled out a couple of spindly feathers.

"Oh really? You won the pillow fight?" Heero said, getting a mischievous look on his face. "Well, I happen to have a feather or two left myself. And I intend to put them to good use!"

With that, he pounced on Duo, feather in hand, and started tickling him.

"Hey, no fair! You're not even ticklish!" wailed Duo, collapsing in a heap of helpless giggles.

'Okay, maybe Relena won't let me go too easily. But I have a feeling that after a few weeks of Duo and I living in her palace together, she'll be begging us to leave!' Heero thought, following his ticklish companion down to the floor.

************

Entering the office, Sally said, "I can't believe you sent the Vice Foreign Minister an email message about her choices with regards to her head of security."

Lady Une looked up and replied, "I thought I'd let her get the hysterics over with before I actually had to deal with her. She isn't going to like either of her options, but she'd better get used to it. They're the only ones she's got."

"Well, she's on Line 1 right now, and she's absolutely livid."

"I wonder if she remembers that all calls to and from this office over the standard lines are automatically recorded," mused Une. "Oh well, it's not my fault if she doesn't."

Snickering, Sally shook a scolding finger at Une, "So that's why the secure line has been 'out of order' all day."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," the Preventer chief said primly. "Now, unless you want to be in her firing range too..."

"I'm going, I'm going..."

As the door closed behind Sally, Une drew a deep breath and mentally braced herself before reaching out to accept the call on Line 1.

"This is totally unacceptable!" Relena raved, waving a computer printout at the vid-phone. "Converting part of the palace grounds into a Preventers training ground so that Maxwell can continue his job here on Earth! Sabotage and demolitions training on my palace grounds! Maxwell living in my palace! This WILL NOT HAPPEN! Am I making myself clear?"

"Fine. Then I transfer Yuy to L4," Une shrugged.

"NO!!"

"Look Minister, it has to be one or the other. Earth Sphere labour laws are perfectly clear. When spouses are employed by a company or organization, said company or organization is obligated to give them positions that do not separate them for more than a total of one month per calendar year. That means either Yuy is transferred to L4 or Maxwell is transferred to Earth. Period. And since Yuy's position as your head of security requires that he live at the palace, per Preventers regulations we are required to supply accommodations for himself and his spouse.

"As far as converting part of the palace grounds goes, that also falls under Preventers regulations and Earth Sphere law. The Preventers are entitled to appropriate the use of facilities owned by Earth Sphere political bodies and their appointed representatives as needed to carry out their appointed duties. Maxwell provides stealth, sabotage, and demolitions training, among other things, for our agents. On L4, we have an existing facility for carrying out said training. On Earth, we don't. Since we are going to have to build the facility, it only makes sense to locate it on the same property that he will be living on. Considering how much it will cost the Preventers to relocate Maxwell to Earth, I don't think anyone will object if we choose to appropriate part of the palace grounds. Unless their objection is that it would make far more sense financially to send Yuy to L4 instead."

"I... I cannot have demolitions training on the palace grounds," the very unhappy girl said reluctantly. "It is not appropriate in conjunction with my pacifist beliefs."

"Then I have your permission to transfer Yuy to L4?"

There was a very long pause before finally, softly, a defeated-sounding voice breathed a single word.

"Yes."

"Very well. I will assign you a new head of security effective immediately since Yuy is on vacation until after his wedding," the Preventer chief said. "Good day, Minister Peacecraft."

Relena simply hung up.

An instant later, Sally poked her head through the office door. "How'd it go?"

"Better than expected," Une admitted. "She agreed to Heero's transfer - the demolitions training tipped the balance. Which reminds me, I need to make sure Duo knows that's been added to his job description."

Grinning, Sally said, "Heero sure called that one right. Though really, Duo probably should have been doing that training all along. He's certainly much better qualified than whatever poor shmuck has been doing it."

"I don't know if Chang Wufei would appreciate being called a 'poor shmuck' but considering that he's been complaining about being stuck with doing all the sabotage and demolitions training, I don't think he'll be too upset to see it go to someone else."

************

Glowering, Duo crawled into the guestroom bed. 'Just who does he think he is, yellin' at me like that! I've been ridin' Q's horses ever since I moved in here! So I forgot the fuckin' helmet, sometimes I do. It's none of his damn business whether I had one on or not!' Curling into a tight ball, he thought, 'Dammit, Yuy, you don't own me! You can't tell me what I can or can't do! Maybe a night with an empty bed will remind you of that!'

Duo was half asleep when he became aware of the soft sound of doors opening and closing. "What the fuck..." was all he got out before his own opened, a familiar figure entered, then the door closed again. "Get out!" he ordered, sitting up in bed.

"No," Heero said calmly, crawling into the bed.

"Then I will."

Starting to scramble out of the bed, Duo didn't make it very far before he found himself tightly caught in a very strong pair of arms. "Let go, Yuy!" he warned.

"Duo, just stop and listen to me for a minute, please."

Testing Heero's grip, Duo decided that he wasn't going anywhere anyway, at least not without using some rather dirty fighting techniques that he was reluctant to use against his lover even if he was extremely pissed at him.

"Fine. One minute. Start talkin'."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. But seeing you taking that horse over jumps with no helmet on scared me. Unavoidable risks, risks in the line of duty, those are one thing. Ignoring a simple, sensible precaution like a helmet is something else entirely. I know I can't make you do anything you don't want to, and I shouldn't have ordered you to put a helmet on or get off the damn horse. So now I'm asking you as your best friend - please, please, take sensible precautions when you can, and I'll do the same."

Relaxing slightly in Heero's iron grip, Duo reluctantly said, "Okay." 'If only because if Q finds out I forgot my helmet again he'll give me his sad face then ban me from ridin' for a few weeks anyway, same as when Tro caught me last time.'

"But marryin' you doesn't change anything. Some stupid ceremony doesn't mean you'll own me," he warned rebelliously.

Deciding that Duo wasn't going to run off again, Heero relaxed his hold. "No, I know it won't. I don't want to own you. Partners, remember? Partners don't 'own' each other, but they do look after each other. What would you do if I started doing Preventers missions without the bullet-proof safety gear?"

"Get damn pissed and make sure you didn't do it again," Duo said, twisting in Heero's loosened arms to glare at him. "So don't even think about doin' it just to prove your point. Which you have just made quite effectively. So drop it."

"Okay, considered it dropped," Heero said, mouth twitching slightly as if he were trying to prevent a smirk from appearing. Abruptly serious again, he continued, "But Duo - next time something happens and we have a fight, I have two specific requests to make. I promise to stick to them myself and I would really appreciate it if you would as well."

"What are they?" Duo demanded suspiciously.

"First - no matter who's in the wrong or how mad we may be, we sleep in the same bed. I don't care if you want a line of pillows between us or a rolled up blanket or whatever - this isn't about sex, it's about having a relationship and keeping that relationship intact - but we sleep in the same bed. No guestrooms, no couch, no floor. Second - we don't let the sun go down - artificial colony sun or not - without at least trying to settle our differences."

"I can live with the first one, but I dunno about the second one." Reluctantly, Duo admitted, "I usually need longer to calm down than that."

"Okay, then how about this - if we don't settle them the same day, then neither of us leaves the room in the morning until they are settled, even if that means calling in sick to work."

'Did I just hear Heero Yuy suggest skippin' out of work if we're havin' trouble settlin' an argument? Oi, is he serious?' "This really means that much to you?" Duo asked, his forehead creasing as he frowned slightly.

"Duo, you're my best friend, my lover, and soon to be my spouse. When we're mad at each other, I feel awful until we settle it. I hate fighting with you, but I know damn well that we will - we're both too damn independent to get along perfectly all the time," Heero answered, shrugging slightly. "You'll just have to work on cooling down your temper faster, and I'll have to work on not pissing you off so much," he quipped.

Duo gave a short bark of laughter, then gave in and hugged Heero, "Okay, it's a deal. Now c'mon, let's go back to our own bed - this one's not near so comfy."

************

Following Abdul through the Winner estate's garden, Lady Une took a deep breath as they passed beneath a rose-covered trellis. 'Ah. Roses. That scent certainly brings back memories.' As they rounded a curve in the path and Une spotted a picnic blanket. The remains of a picnic lunch were spread on it, and on one edge sat the infamous Pilot 01, back propped against a tree trunk, watching the equally infamous Pilot 02 sleeping, curled up with his head pillowed on 01's lap. 'I think Treize would like the results of peace.' In response to Heero's raised eyebrow, she simply smiled and nodded, not wanting to wake the other teen and spoil the peaceful scene. The blinding smile she received in response was accompanied by a silently mouthed "Thank you".

"You're welcome," she mouthed in return, then turned back to explore the rose garden.

************

"No," Heero said firmly.

"But Heero, you have to have a bachelor party. It's traditional!" Quatre insisted.

"No," he repeated as he walked away. "No bachelor party."

************

"Nope," Duo said firmly, shaking his head.

Quatre wailed in despair, "But you have to have one! It's traditional! Heero won't let me throw one for him either!"

"Q, what the hell kind of fun would it be when my best friend couldn't be at it?" Duo demanded. "Let Heero come and I'll consider it."

"But that defeats the whole purpose of a bachelor party!"

Suddenly suspicious, Duo added, "And no strippers either. The only naked hunk I'm interested in, I can see anytime I want."

"WHAT?! What's the point of even having a bachelor party if you don't have strippers? They're traditional!"

"And since when have any of us ever been 'traditional'? I'd rather have a fun night out with all of my friends then watch good-looking guys that I'm not even interested in strip in the company of only some of my friends." Pausing to think for a moment, Duo offered, "But if you really wanna throw some sort of party for us, I betcha I've got a suggestion even Heero will go along with. And it'll be fun, too."

"Oh, fine then," Quatre sulked. "What is it?"

************

Quatre was still sulking two days later when Trowa dragged him out of the car for the substitute bachelor party. "A co-ed evening of playing capture the flag in the Preventers' stealth training facility might qualify as 'fun', but it is not a bachelor party, Trowa!" he protested yet again.

"Stop complaining or I'm going to start thinking you were more interested in the strippers than giving your friends a fun evening of relaxation before the wedding!" Trowa warned semi-seriously.

"Of course not! I just... I just want everything to work out perfectly for them. Heero's worked so hard for this. I guess it just seemed like maybe following all the standard wedding traditions would somehow help everything go right." Giving his lover an apologetic look the blond asked, "Have I really been acting that badly over this bachelor party issue?"

"Yes." Seeing Quatre's wince, Trowa relented slightly. "Not really around the others, but it was definitely noticeable to me. Just have a good time tonight and all will be well."

"Okay. And really," Quatre said, starting to warm up to the idea, "it does sound like it's going to be fun."

************

"Would someone please remind me just why we thought it was a good idea to let Maxwell and Yuy both be on the same team?" Wufei demanded querulously, sounding slightly out of breath.

Leaning around the corner, Dorothy squeezed off a totally useless shot - Duo was definitely long gone by the time her hit-penalty had worn off and let her shoot again - before replying, "Does finding them both 'dead' and making out, each with the other's flag in their possession, in the service elevator less than five minutes after the start of the first short-lived game where they weren't ring any bells?"

"Ah. Right." The communicator was silent for a few moments, then Wufei's voice asked plaintively, "So why aren't they making out now instead of beating us ten captures to two?"

************

Snitching the flag and slipping away while Dorothy was preoccupied with Wufei's question, Duo snickered to himself. 'Heero and I both ended up "dead" because we each know how the other thinks too well. And once we were out of the game we figured we might as well make productive use of our time... Put us both on the same team, though, and that same knowledge of each other turns into an asset instead of a liability...

'And the score is now eleven captures to two, Fei-fei...'

************

The first faint hints of a colony daybreak were showing in the sky by the time the five former Gundam pilots, one former ally, and two former enemies staggered out of the building, yawning wearily. The final score: Une, Sally, Duo, and Heero had racked up 32 captures to the 14 managed by Quatre, Trowa, Wufei, and Dorothy.

"Heh. Guess Shinigami's still got it," Duo muttered sleepily, leaning on Heero's shoulder.

"Enjoy it while you can, Maxwell," glowered Wufei. "We'll get you next time!"

Quatre looked around at the weary but contented group. 'I think it's a good thing I didn't have this the night before the wedding like a traditional bachelor's party! We'd have to go straight home to get dressed for the wedding without any sleep!' Glancing at his watch, he groaned slightly as he realized, 'And I'm still only going to get about a few hours before I have to meet the caterer to finalize arrangements for tomorrow!'

************

Quatre stepped back, checking the placement of the decorations one last time, then sighed heavily.

"What's wrong?" Trowa asked. "That's the third sigh in less than five minutes."

"It seems like everything is almost going too smoothly," the Arabian boy admitted. "Virtually everyone actually sent in their response to the wedding invitations, Relena let Une transfer Heero, Heero seems to be making a lot of progress with Duo, all the decorations came in exactly as ordered..." He shrugged. "I know it sounds stupid, but I'm half hoping that there'll be a problem with the cake or the caterer or something, just to get the bad luck out of the way."

"There better not be a problem with either at this point, considering that the wedding's tomorrow," Trowa scolded.

"But Trowa, even the rehearsal went smoothly! And the rehearsal dinner!"

"Did you persuade Heero to follow tradition and not spend tonight with Duo or see him before the ceremony tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Well, there's where your problem is going to be. I don't think he's stayed away from Duo for that long at once since Duo had Heero moved in with him. One or both of them will probably be a total basket case before the ceremony," Trowa warned. "I think those two can create enough problems on their own without you wishing for additional ones."

"I don't want additional ones - I want catering problems instead of the ones that they will create!"

"Ah. In that case - I hope the wedding cake gets dropped and the caterer is late."

************

"Dammit Heero, of all the 'traditions' Q came up with, why'd you have to agree to go along with this one?" Duo muttered, rolling over in bed again in frustration. 'Share a bed with the guy for a coupla lousy weeks and now I can't sleep by myself anymore! Screw this, I'm findin' where Q stuck Heero and gettin' a good night's sleep.'

Rolling out of bed, Duo stalked across to the door, yanked it open, and - froze.

"Back to bed," Quatre ordered, one hand pressed firmly against Duo's chest. "It's bad luck to see each other before the ceremony on the day of the wedding. It is now past midnight. *Go back to bed!*"

"But Q!"

"No buts! Bed!"

Resignedly, Duo retreated to the room, slamming the door in aggravation.

"And don't even think about going out the window, mister!" Quatre yelled from the hallway.

"Damn." Duo dropped his hand from the window latch.

Flinging himself back on the bed, he thought sulkily, 'Wonder how he'd like to have to sleep away from Trowa? Stupid bed doesn't even smell right!'

Shooting off the bed, Duo darted into the bathroom and opened the hamper. "Yes! Perfect! Now maybe I can get to sleep!" Clutching the shirt that Heero had changed out of before the rehearsal, he climbed back into bed. It wasn't as good as having Heero in bed with him, but it was better than nothing. Snuggling his face against the shirt, he slowly drifted off to sleep, automatically shushing the part of his mind that was asking incredulously just what the hell he thought he was doing, sleeping with his lover's shirt.

************

Lightly brushing his thumb against his ring in what was becoming a regular habit, Heero thought somewhat guiltily that he was glad Duo had been upset earlier. 'I didn't think he'd react that strongly when Quatre told him that I'd be sleeping elsewhere tonight and we wouldn't see each other again till the ceremony. The fact that that bothered him so much has to mean that he's starting to care for me at least a little bit more than before.'

The guestroom bed felt cold and lonely, and the sheets didn't smell right. Rolling onto his back, Heero realized, 'This is the first night we've been apart since Duo moved me into his room. Wonder if he's finding it as hard to get to sleep as I am?' Shaking his head slightly at that wistful thought, he scolded himself silently, 'Don't be an idiot, Yuy. It's too soon to hope for that much.'

************

Looking out the window, Quatre said incredulously, "It's raining. Trowa, it's raining. Why is it raining, it was scheduled to be a sunny day today!"

Pulling a newsfeed up on the computer, Trowa informed him drily, "Well, it looks like you got your wish for something to not go smoothly. According to this, there's a problem with the colony's weather controls. The rain is expected to continue all day."

"All day?" Quatre wailed. "But the reception was supposed to be in the garden! There's way too many people coming to have it inside!"

"And whose idea was it to invite so many people?" the brunet inquired none too sympathetically.

Quatre glared at him, then said, "Okay, we'll just have to move the reception. Or... find tents?" He looked up at Trowa hopefully.

"No. Absolutely not. There's performances scheduled today, Quatre," Trowa said firmly, nipping that idea in the bud.

"Damn."

Relenting, Trowa offered, "I'll call the caterer and see if she has any suggestions; this must happen to other people sometimes. Wufei's looking after Heero this morning, so why don't you go take breakfast up to Duo?"

"Okay. Thank you," Quatre beamed, giving Trowa a quick kiss before hurrying off to tend to one half of the happy couple.

Opening Duo's door quietly, Quatre was relieved to see his form still huddled under the covers. 'After all that fuss last night, I half expected him to have snuck out between then and now.' Moving closer to the bed, he spotted a bright splash of colour against the pillow. 'What on earth... That looks familiar... Wait a minute, that's the shirt Heero was wearing around the house yesterday before the rehearsal!' A slow smile spread across his face, 'Oh Heero, maybe everything will work out the way you want even sooner than you'd hoped...' Realizing that Duo might not react well to being caught cuddling Heero's shirt in his sleep, Quatre silently exited the room. He then knocked firmly and waited for Duo's response before taking his breakfast in to him.

************

Ending his call, Trowa was extremely glad he had called the caterer first. Apparently, weather malfunctions were more common than he'd realized because the caterer had her own tents in case of such an emergency and had automatically sent them. Her trucks should be arriving any minute with the tents and setup crew. Quickly glancing over the newsfeed again, he spotted another problem, however. 'Damn. Une knew it'd be tight, but she thought they'd actually be here by now.' Sighing, Trowa started another call, hoping that he could fix this problem as easily as the previous one.

************

"Zechs and Lu are going to be very late, but they should make it in time to surprise Heero," Trowa murmured to Quatre as they headed off to get ready.

"What? I thought their ship was due in this morning?!"

"It was. Engine trouble. They were re-routed to L3 since it was closest. Fortunately, one of the WEI shuttles was scheduled to make a pickup on L3 early this morning and I was able to get them on it for the return trip. But it's going to be very tight timing."

"I hope that's the last problem," muttered Quatre.

"So do I," Trowa answered. 'But I doubt it. After all, isn't trouble supposed to come in threes?'

************

Duo looked out the window at the line of cars delivering wedding guests. This was it. The point of no return was fast approaching. And much to his surprise, while he was slightly nervous about the ceremony itself, his doubts regarding the actual marriage were a thing of the past. 'I didn't realize how much I'd missed Heero while he was stuck on Earth. I guess after awhile I just sort of got so used to missin' him that I didn't really notice the ache anymore. But after having been in the same house for the past three weeks and in the same room and the same bed for two of those, even one night away from him seems like too long.' That quiet, somehow familiar, little voice that had been gradually growing more insistent over the past few weeks pointed out to him that those were awfully strong feelings for "just" a best friend and lover.

************

Watching guests enter the house, Heero was relieved that Duo had managed to persuade Quatre to keep the actual wedding guest list fairly short. No more than could be comfortably seated in the mansion's small ballroom - which was still more than he would have really preferred. All those other business and political figures that Quatre felt could not be ignored entirely had been invited to the reception instead. That, he could live with. 'A wedding should be for family and friends only. The reception's just a chance to eat, meet, and greet like any other social function. Though frankly, I wouldn't care if the ceremony had the largest guest list on record as long as Duo and I were married at the end of it.'

************

"Hey there, Mr I-have-a-plan," a teasing voice called out. "I see you weren't kidding with that 'I never fail' comment you made to Zechsy-boy."

"LU?! What are you doing here? Is Zechs here too? I never thought you two would be able to make it back from Mars in time - I didn't even know Quatre had invited you!" exclaimed Heero, looking around for the tall blond that should be accompanying her.

"He'll be here in a minute," Lucrezia assured him, giving him a big hug. "Congratulations, buddy." Taking a quick glance around, she added softly, "Have you told him yet?"

"No," Heero responded softly. "I thought about telling him last night, but... No. I'm borrowing a vacation cottage on Earth from Quat for the week we have left of vacation. I'll tell him before we come back. Hiding it's getting too difficult."

"Good luck," Lu told him sincerely.

"So, are you ready to go change your name, Mr Yuy?"

Turning to face the speaker, Heero smirked up at Zechs. "Oh yes, I am definitely ready. I'm just glad Duo decided to opt for hyphenating them - Duo Yuy sounded just as odd as Heero Maxwell!"

Realizing that Zechs was dressed in a pale gray suit identical to those being worn by the wedding party, Heero asked, "What's with the outfit?"

"Well, you did tell me that you wished Zechs could be here so that you and Duo would each have two attendants, didn't you?" Wufei commented, joining the group.

"Thank you, Wufei," Heero said gratefully.

"You owe Lady Une a 'thank you' as well for the strings she pulled to get us back here in time," Lu informed him.

"No, he doesn't," Une said calmly, peeking in the door from the hallway. "He pre-paid far more favours than he's used up just by letting me leave him assigned to Relena as long as he did.

"Heero, Quatre sent me to tell you to get in position. It's time. Lucrezia, Sally and I saved a seat for you."

Accepting quick hugs from Lu and Une, Heero exited the room and moved to the side door of the ballroom. Quatre had avoided one of the awkward bits of same-sex weddings by having both partners enter at the same time from opposite sides, thus avoiding designating one to take the "bride" role and make the long walk up the aisle.

Waiting anxiously for the door to open, Heero thought, 'This is it. It's really happening. I'm about to marry Duo, the man I love.'

************

The marriage celebrant raised his voice and said, "We are here today to participate in a most joyous occasion, to celebrate one of life's greatest moments, by acknowledging the wedding of Duo Maxwell and Heero Yuy.

"Marriage is not only a commitment between lovers, it is also an agreement between two friends. Allow each other time to be an individual, respect each other's wishes as well as their dreams.

"Do you each take the other as your husband, will you be faithful to him, honour him, offer him encouragement and companionship and will you live with him and cherish him as respect will lead you in the bond of marriage?"

Together, Duo and Heero replied, "We do."

"If anyone has just cause why these two may not wed, speak now, or forever hold your peace."

Duo squeezed Heero's hand reassuringly as he saw him tense up. He knew Heero was afraid that Relena would try something. What Heero didn't know was that Quatre had stationed Dorothy to keep watch for the Vice Foreign Minister. Just before the ceremony, she had slipped up to Quatre and told him that the problem had been taken care of. Relena had shown up and attempted to enter the mansion, but Rashid had blocked the doorway while Dorothy spoke with her. Relena's political position was still the most important thing in her life and Dorothy had merely had to point out to her that she had been banished from Winner property, that there was a large media contingent present, and that being thrown out bodily in front of said media contingent would not do her political career any favours. Relena had - reluctantly - left.

Following the celebrant's instructions, Duo repeated his vows, "Heero, I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband. I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and I will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life."

Listening as Heero then repeated the same vows, he recalled the headaches he had gone through trying to come up with vows that wouldn't involve lying. So many of those he had read involved vowing eternal love, or obeying, or something else that he couldn't honestly say, something that was inappropriate for what essentially amounted to a marriage of convenience. And trying to come up with his own had only resulted in Quatre's study floor being covered in wadded up balls of paper. Quatre's attempts had resulted in him laughing almost hysterically and pretending to choke on the sheer unadulterated sap that sounded wonderful when Quatre recited it but that he couldn't even read with a straight face.

Responding to the next prompt from the celebrant, Duo repeated, "I give you this ring in token and pledge as a symbol of our friendship and all that we share."

In the end, he had compromised, picking bits and pieces from various different wedding ceremonies, mostly civil ones, then "editing out" the bits that weren't appropriate. The final result wasn't perfect, but at least he had felt comfortable with it. He wasn't too sure that Heero was entirely happy with it - he had seen a flicker of something that almost looked like disappointment on his face when he first read the ceremony over - but he hadn't raised any objections.

As Heero slid the wedding ring onto his finger, Duo smiled gently at him. Heero had been so serious, so focussed, throughout the ceremony. 'Typical Heero - give him a "mission" and he turns his full concentration towards it.'

Hands joined, they turned slightly to face the celebrant again. This, the "blessing" portion of the ceremony, was the one thing that Duo was completely happy with and it hadn't even required any editing. Not only was it a beautiful speech, it was equally applicable to both marriage and friendship. Heero was going to be surprised. Previously the vows had been immediately followed by the pronouncement of marriage and the announcement of the married couple's names. But after the rehearsal yesterday, he had decided that this traditional Apache blessing wasn't too sappy after all and that the rather bland ceremony needed something to improve it.

"Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth."

Seeing the startled look that Heero shot him, Duo winked to let him know that yes, he was the one responsible for the change. 'Probably worryin' that the celebrant changed it without askin'. He knows how much time I spent tryin' to come up with a ceremony I felt comfortable with.'

************

As the celebrant deviated from the ceremony used in the rehearsal, Heero shot a startled look at Duo. 'Oh no, he worked so hard to come up with something he felt comfortable with. I can't believe the celebrant would change it like this! Though it is a beautiful blessing...' As Duo winked at him, he realized with growing delight that the celebrant hadn't added the blessing, Duo had! 'Arigatou, Duo. This change means a lot to me. You've turned a bland, almost sterile ceremony into something more meaningful. I wanted to have my vows changed back to mention love, but I didn't quite dare. This almost makes up for it.'

"Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulties and fear assail your relationship, as they threaten all relationships at one time or another, remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong. In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives -- remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight," the celebrant concluded.

"Inasmuch as you have consented together in marriage, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the laws of this colony and the Earth Sphere, I now pronounce you wed."

Eagerly, Heero pulled Duo gently towards him, pressing their lips together in a kiss very like the first one they shared. Pouring all the feelings he dared not voice into the kiss, he only broke it off when lack of breath started to make him dizzy.

Brushing their lips lightly together again, Duo whispered softly, "Damn, Heero, you are one hell of a good kisser."

Trying hard not to blush, Heero turned with Duo to face the guests for the final announcement of the ceremony.

"I now present to you Duo and Heero Maxwell-Yuy."

************

It hadn't taken long at the reception for Duo and Heero to end up being drawn in different directions as various acquaintances offered congratulations. Spotting Howard, Duo gradually made his way through the crowd to speak to him, intending to offer his congratulations on Howard's new position as spokesman for the Spacers' Association along with his thanks for the Association's promise of support for the Preventers when budget matters were next raised. Before he had a chance to say anything, however, Howard clapped him on the back and said, "'Bout time ya finally made a move. Ya know I hate to say 'I told you so', but I told ya that first time ya dragged him back to the ship all banged up that he was a keeper!"

"What the hell are you talkin' about Howie?" demanded Duo.

"Oh come on now Duo, don't play dumb with me. Ya might have denied it back then, but I knew ya were well on yer way to fallin' - and fallin' hard - for that sullen, beat-up soldier the minute I saw him limp his way across the deck with you hoverin' over him, fussin' like a mother hen."

Faint flashes of memory starting to come back to him, Duo paled as Howard continued, "Ya said ya weren't 'bout to start somethin' 'cause prob'ly neither of ya'd last more'n a few months of the war, but I never could figure out how come ya never did nothin' when it ended with ya both still in one piece."

Howard was still talking, but Duo wasn't listening. Starting to shake, he made some sort of excuse and slipped off through the reception. Ducking into Quatre's study, he locked the door and sank into a chair while the long-buried memories washed over him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Standing a short distance away, Howard and Duo watched as the silent boy worked on his damaged suit.

"He's gonna take a lotta work ta salvage, Kid, but I think ya found a real keeper there. Strong, determined, dedicated, and while I'm not much of a judge of male looks, I'd say he's pretty easy on the eyes too. Ya certainly can't keep yers off him anyway!" Howard laughed, poking Duo in the ribs good-naturedly.

Sounding uncharacteristically bitter, Duo answered, "No, I can't, for what little good it'll do me. You know as well as I do, Howard, that the odds are one or both of us will be dead within six months. Whoever it was that said, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all' obviously never experienced the losin' part." His eyes clouded momentarily, remembering the agonizing loss of first Solo, then Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. It didn't pay to let anyone get too close - losing them hurt too damn much. Voice firming with resolve, he swore, "Not gonna happen, Howie, no way, no how." Tossing the jester mask back in place in response to Howard's concerned glance, he added jokingly, "Besides, he's probably straight anyway!"

Howard just shook his head, "Keep tellin' yerself that Duo, and ya just might start believin' it."

'I hope so, Howard. I sure as hell do hope so.'

************

Sitting on deck watching the stars, Duo wasn't the least bit surprised to hear Howard come up behind him.

"Ya DO realize where he's plannin' on gettin' those parts from, don't ya Kid?"

"Yep."

"Not plannin' on stoppin' him?"

"Nope." 'The sooner his suit's fixed, the sooner he'll be gone. Less time to get attached that way,' Duo thought morosely.

"'S yer suit and yer life, Kid, but I still think yer makin' a mistake. I told ya, that one's a keeper.." Howard's voice trailed off as he strolled away, leaving Duo to the stars and his thoughts.

Softly, he muttered, "He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just..."

************

Wiping his brow as he watched his cobalt-eyed friend go in for a shot at the basket, a quiet little voice tried one more time to raise a forbidden thought. Without even consciously thinking about it, Duo slid into a far-too-familiar mantra, 'He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just a friend...'

************

Screaming in horror, Duo watched as Wing self-destructed, over and over again, and his friend was flung to the ground. Jerking upright in bed, a half-choked-off scream still on his lips, he pushed his bangs back from his face and repeated, shakily at first, but with growing conviction, "No regrets. Didn't miss out on anything. He's - no, he WAS just a friend, and he WAS probably straight anyway. He was just a friend and he was probably straight anyway..."

************

Speaking to Howard for the first time since Wing's self-destruction, Duo said firmly, "Of course I'm alright, Howie. I mean, sure, I'm sad he's gone and I miss him, but it's not like I didn't expect any of us to end up dead."

"No regrets then, Duo? Not sorry you never tried for more?" Howard asked with a concerned look.

"Regrets? What for?" Duo asked, genuinely puzzled. "Howie, he was a friend and he was straight anyway." Subconsciously, he automatically silenced that tiny little voice of protest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

'When Heero self-destructed, it didn't matter that it still hurt like hell losin' someone I considered a friend, I was sure it woulda hurt even more if I'd been any closer to him. By the time he showed up alive, I'd stuffed even the faintest hint of attraction to him so far down in my memory and buried it under so many iterations of "He was probably straight anyway" that "probably straight" had become just "straight" and my conscious mind refused to remember any of it...

'But... did I really just consider him a friend? Or was it more? I wasn't in love with him...

'But I might have been startin' to fall in love with him...

'Dammit Duo, you've been fuckin' lyin' to yourself for over three years just because you were too damn immature to face the fact that you were startin' to fall in love with him after promisin' yourself you wouldn't let that happen because losin' him would be too painful. Since you still ended up with all the pain but none of the good to balance it out, you convinced yourself that you hadn't wasted an opportunity because it was impossible to begin with since he was straight. And so you wasted even more opportunities.' And looking back over his memories of the past three years with newly opened eyes, he realized just how many opportunities he had blindly ignored. How many hints, from subtle to blatant, Heero had dropped only to have him continue along completely oblivious. That Heero hadn't given up on him and moved on was a minor miracle.

'If I was startin' to fall for him back then, how do I feel now? If something were to happen to him today and he died, would that be worse than when I thought he had before?' Cautiously, he took a quick peek at that possibility and quickly slammed the door to that part of his imagination back shut again. 'Fuck. Baka, you're not just fallin' in love with him now, you are in love with him, and probably have been for quite a while.' Duo dropped his head down on Quatre's desk with a thump. So that's what that little voice had been trying to tell him for the past couple of weeks, only to be determinedly ignored. 'I've gotta stop runnin' and hidin' where my emotions are concerned. That's what got me into this mess startin' three years ago.

'Okay, so you've been a complete baka and wasted way too much time. You're married to him now, at least till his "parole" time is up and Relena can't even try to use the Preventers' budget as a hold over him.' Duo's thought process jerked to a halt on that thought. 'I'm married. Married to Heero, my best friend, my partner, my lover... the man I love...

'Yeah, sure Maxwell-Yuy, but you married him under false pretenses. This marriage is supposed to be part of a plan, a plan where his best friend rescues him from Relena, with a healthy sex life as a side benefit. Love was never part of the plan. Shit.

'Okay, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. You can do this, Duo. All you have to do is make him fall in love with you. Right. No problem. Now where the hell do I start?!'

Suddenly realizing just how long he'd been gone from the reception, Duo hurriedly stood, unlocked the door, and ducked back out of the study. One quick sidetrip to persuade Howard not to mention any of this to anyone else, then he'd find Heero and... Well, he'd think of something.

************

Heero nodded and accepted congratulations from yet another vaguely familiar person, scanning the area for a certain unmistakable head of chestnut hair the entire time. 'Where did he go? Last time I saw him, he was headed for Howard, then I lost track of the two of them. But that was quite a while ago. And now Howard's over there talking to Une and I still don't see Duo...

'Stop worrying, Yuy. Duo's a big boy, he can take care of himself. But I wish I knew where he disappeared off to...'

"Hey there, husband-mine. Gettin' tired of all this nonsense yet?"

A long arm wrapped around his waist as Duo slipped up beside him. "A little," Heero admitted, wrapping his arm around Duo in return. 'I like the sound of that. "Husband-mine" is one nickname I certainly won't be objecting to.'

Taking Heero by surprise, Duo shifted his hold, wrapping both arms around his neck and pulling him into a brief but tender kiss.

"Not that I'm objecting, but what brought that on?" he asked, enjoying the feel of Duo snuggling up against his side. 'Guess he's planning on staying put for awhile. Good.'

"Just because," Duo shrugged. Flashing Heero a gamine grin, he demanded, "What, I need a special reason to kiss you now?"

"No, never," Heero assured, holding him tightly against his side and ignoring the looks, both of approval and disapproval, that their public display of affection was drawing. 'This is a wedding reception for a gay couple, people, what do you expect? I'll never turn down a spontaneous show of affection from Duo simply because it makes someone else a little uncomfortable!'

"So how long do we have to hang around?"

"Our ride to the spaceport should be here in..." Heero checked his watch, "...just under two hours. Allow an hour or so to change and get ready, so if we stick it out for, say, another three quarters of an hour or so? Unless you're getting tired and want to go rest for a while first?"

"Nah, I'm okay. Well, I am tired - didn't sleep too well last night for some reason..." Voice trailing off, Duo gave him a rueful grin before continuing, "...but I can catch a nap on the shuttle, and Quat put a lot of work into all this so I hate to run out on it ahead of schedule."

'He had trouble sleeping?! And he admitted it?! Oh Duo, you just made my day even more perfect and you don't even know it...'

************

"Not even a teensy-weensy little hint?" Duo coaxed.

"No," Heero said, smirking. "Besides, you've had a 'teensy-weensy little hint' already. I told you it was on Earth and that it's one of Quatre's places."

"What kind of hint is that?! Q's got places all over the bloody planet!"

"That's all I'm telling you - you'll just have to wait and be surprised."

"Hmmph," Duo snorted. "In that case, I might as well catch up on that missed sleep on the way." With that, he grabbed a blanket from the overhead bin, tilted his shuttle seat back and flipped the blanket over himself. Sneaking a peek from under his bangs, he saw Heero staring at him in surprise. 'Guess he didn't think I'd give up that easily. It really doesn't matter, though, Heero wouldn't have picked someplace that he knew I wouldn't like.' Deciding that this was the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some more cuddling, Duo reached over and hit Heero's seat controls. Heero yelped in surprise as his seat suddenly flipped backwards.

"Hey, what'd you do that for?"

"Can't sleep without my pillow," Duo said solemnly, retracting the armrests out of the way. An instant later, he was curled up, half on his seat, half on Heero's chest. 'Hmm, like his shirt better with him in it... The whole "slept-with-your-shirt" thing is kinda embarrassin' to admit to, but maybe I should anyway... If things were reversed, I'd be ecstatic to find that out, so I guess it sorta counts as romantic...'

*~*~*~*~*~*

"Guess I could use a nap too," Heero decided, shifting a bit to get more comfortable and wrapping his arms around the braided figure snuggling against him. 'I don't know what's got into him today, but I like it. First the change in the ceremony, then getting all cuddly and affectionate during the reception, admitting he had trouble sleeping without me, and now this.'

"Mmm, much better," Duo purred sleepily, rubbing his cheek against Heero's shoulder. "Couldn't sleep at all last night till I thought to check the hamper, but your shirt's way better with you in it."

Heero's arms tightened involuntarily for a moment in response to the sleepy confession. Unsure of his control of his voice, he simply tilted Duo's face up and kissed him warmly. Then, equilibrium regained, he murmured softly, "At least you had my shirt. I was stuck in a guestroom, remember? I didn't have anything of yours to sleep with."

Violet eyes widened slightly, then Duo did something that shocked Heero into complete immobility.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"At least you had my shirt. I was stuck in a guestroom, remember? I didn't have anything of yours to sleep with."

'Oh shit, I haven't given him *anythig. He picked out and bought the engagement and wedding rings for both of us. Maybe he'll guess I'm in love with him, but this is the closest I can come to the level of meanin' he put into the rings... And I was such a total jerk that night, so fuckin' busy tryin' to hide from my own damn emotions, that I don't think I ever even thanked him for the ring...'

Reaching up, Duo unfastened the chain from around his neck, lifted the cross out from under his shirt, refastened the chain around Heero's neck, then slid the cross underneath Heero's shirt. Keeping his gaze lowered, he patted the lump of the cross below the shirt and said, "There. Now you've got something of mine to make up for it." Darting a quick look up at Heero's stunned face, he quipped nervously, "Just remember, it's still mine - you've just got it on loan."

Dropping his head back down on Heero's chest, he ordered, "Now let me go to sleep! I wanna be rested when we get wherever the heck it is that you're takin' me!"

*~*~*~*~*~*

Heero reached out and tapped the switch to dim the cabin lights, distantly noting that his hand was trembling as he did so. Right now, he was intensely grateful that they were on a private WEI shuttle, not a public flight. 'I'm wearing his cross. He gave - no, loaned - me his cross. I don't know if I've ever even seen him take it off before. That has to mean he cares about me one hell of a lot more than just as a friend, doesn't it?'

Closing his eyes, arms securely wrapped around his new husband, and intensely aware of the slight weight of the cross, Heero made his decision. 'No more waiting. As soon as we get to the "cottage" - which, knowing Q's idea of a cottage, is probably more like a very large house - I'll tell him.'

************

"Fuck," Duo swore. "What the hell is that fuckin' bitch doing here?"

"Please tell me you're joking," Heero said, freezing in the midst of unloading the car.

"Unfortunately, no. Call Q on the mobile and tell him so he can take the necessary action," Duo said grimly. "I'll go make nice till somebody shows up to serve the papers."

"Ryoukai."

Leaving Heero to take the luggage in through the garage as an excuse to avoid Relena and Pargan on the front porch, Duo made his way towards the house. 'Stupid fuckin' bitch. Shoulda known she gave up too easy. How the hell did she find us? I didn't even know where we were going. What am I talkin' about, she's always been able to find Heero when he really didn't want to be found, and we've never really bothered to figure out how. Now I think we'd better find out and take care of the problem. Hmm, come to think of it, she never showed up when we were usin' Sweeper safehouses, or even regular safehouses, she really only showed up at schools or Winner safehouses. That should narrow things down. Or maybe Dorothy can tell us! Baka, you should have thought of that before, then this little confrontation could have been avoided or at least delayed. So much for not actually makin' an enemy outta her. I don't think she's gonna be too forgiving once she's been served with restraining orders to keep her off WEI corporate and Winner private properties and away from Heero and myself - though I still think addin' me wasn't necessary, but Heero kinda insisted...'

"Why if it isn't Minister Peacecraft. What a surprise. Did you come to offer us your congratulations and wish us a happy honeymoon?" Duo asked. 'Oops, told Heero I'd make nice. Guess that probably doesn't quite qualify. Oh well, it's way nicer than I'd like to be. I didn't even swear once.'

"Don't get smart with me, Maxwell. I'm here to see Heero."

"It's Maxwell-Yuy now, Ms Peacecraft. And Heero doesn't want to see you."

"Not for long it isn't. I'm sure Heero will see the error of his ways. I am a far more suitable spouse for him than you could ever be."

Suddenly feeling very tired, Duo said, "Relena, grow up and face reality. Heero and I are married. Let me spell it out for you - M-A-R-R-I-E-D. It was his idea to start with. I did not trick him or pervert him or do anything to force him into it. He doesn't want to see you or talk to you, let alone marry you. Why the hell would you be a more suitable spouse?"

"You'll never love him the way that I do," Relena hissed furiously.

*~*~*~*~*~*

After speaking to Quatre and being assured that someone would be there to serve the restraining orders in less than an hour - this was not exactly completely unexpected, after all - Heero decided that it would not be fair to leave Duo alone to handle Relena. 'This was definitely not how I intended to spend the first part of our honeymoon!' Not wanting to take the chance of Relena getting into the house, he went out the side door onto the porch and followed it around to the front of the house. The entire conversation between Relena and Duo was clearly audible as he walked. Almost against his will, Heero slowed slightly, part of him wanting to hear Duo's response to Relena's claim while the rest of him was screaming in protest that eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves. The result was that he did hear Duo's response, but was in full view by the time Duo finished speaking.

"No, I won't, and thank god for that!"

Suddenly, the simple act of breathing was excruciatingly painful. Coming on the heels of all the encouraging things that had happened in the course of the wedding, reception, and shuttle trip to Earth, those words were absolutely devastating. His defenses were totally down and he had just been blindsided by hearing the one thing he feared most. Duo's eyes left Relena's to meet his and he knew beyond a doubt that his emotions had to be written in painful clarity on his face. From glittering anger, those amethyst depths changed to momentary puzzlement, then just as swiftly softened into something he didn't dare believe. That small corner of his consciousness that permanently belonged to the soldier became aware that Duo's fingers were flickering in silent instruction. 'Wait. Hold position. Further data.'

************

"You'll never love him the way that I do," Relena hissed furiously.

"No, I won't, and thank god for that!" Duo responded fervently.

Just as his response left his mouth, Duo saw Heero come around the corner of the house behind Relena. The colour drained from his lover's face, leaving it an unhealthy gray. Cobalt depths filled with unutterable pain met his violet gaze. In the instant of seeing Heero's reaction, the last piece of the puzzle dropped in place for Duo. He finally understood why Heero hadn't given up and moved on; why he had put so much thought into the rings; why he had been so upset over Duo not wearing a helmet; why he had looked disappointed on reading through the planned ceremony; why he had done so many things throughout the short time they had been together so far. 'He loves me! Oh Heero-love, husband-mine, I'm sorry - but that doesn't mean what you think!' He needed to finish his response, fast - but he also needed Heero to stay put while he did so. Almost instinctively, his fingers flicked out instructions, relying on the training so deeply ingrained in them both as to be near instinct to make Heero notice, understand, and follow them. 'Wait. Hold position. Further data.'

Looking straight into those bright blue eyes that belied the spoiled child within, he told Relena, "I will never love Heero the way that you do because you don't love Heero at all. You love the notion of the pretty little girl taming the wild beast; the fairy-tale princess elevating the rank of the commoner who rescued her; the helpless maiden in distress marrying her handsome saviour; The Perfect Pacifist rehabilitating The Perfect Soldier and ending up with The Perfect Marriage. You love the idea of being in love."

Duo switched his gaze from Relena back to Heero, silently begging him to listen, understand, and stop hurting. "I, on the other hand, love Heero. I love him as my best friend, my lover, my partner, the man who makes love to me so tenderly, the man who makes sure I eat properly and get enough rest, the man who pisses me off beyond belief when he orders me to do something for my own good. I don't expect him to be something he isn't, and I don't expect him to be the 'Perfect' anything because I'm sure as hell not perfect myself!"

*~*~*~*~*~*

As Duo spoke, putting into words the nature of Relena's obsession, explaining something that Heero had instinctively known yet had never been able to clearly express, Heero fought desperately to maintain at least a superficial degree of composure. 'Okay, if that's how Relena "loves" me and Duo says he won't ever love me like that, then that's a good thing. But what will he do? *Will* he love me any other way? God, Duo, please, I need to know...'

As those beautiful eyes turned away from Relena and back to meet his gaze, they went from hard amethysts back to soft pools of violet. 'Dare I believe what his eyes seem to say?' Listening to the words being spoken by a voice that had changed as drastically as the eyes, he realized that yes, he could believe. 'He loves me. Duo loves me!' Light-headed with relief, Heero had to consciously stifle a snicker at Duo's description of him as "the man who pisses me off beyond belief". 'If he can love me when I'm being a protective asshole and ordering him around, then he must really love me!'

Taking one slightly shaky step forward, Heero held out his arms. Duo came past Relena in a rush, flinging himself into them and closing his own arms around Heero with enough force to drive the breath out of him.

"I'm sorry, love, so sorry, didn't mean to hurt you like that, didn't know you were there..." Duo murmured frantically, voice muffled by how tightly he was pressing his face to the crook of Heero's neck.

"I know, it's okay now, I love you too, everything's going to be okay..."

*~*~*~*~*~*

Some of the pain had receded from Heero's eyes while Duo put Relena in her place and some of the colour had come back into his face. 'Thank god, for a moment there I was afraid he was going to pass out...' Now, speaking while gazing directly into those expressive cobalt depths, Duo could see the emotions pass through them, changing as he continued to speak. As hope replaced the pain, then joy replaced the hope, Duo realized it was going to be okay. Relena's presence was virtually forgotten by the time Heero took a shaky step towards him and opened his arms. Charging towards Heero, he was vaguely aware that Relena paled and jumped aside as if afraid that he was about to attack her. 'Stupid bitch. Doesn't she realize that she's just not worth it?' Crashing into his lover with enough force to make him stagger back a step, Duo hung onto Heero with all his strength, desperately trying to apologize for the hurt he had caused with his initial response to Relena.

"I know, it's okay now, I love you too, everything's going to be okay..." Heero murmured in reassurance, holding him just as tightly in return.

'Ow. We're both gonna have bruises. But I don't care! I need this...' Duo thought.

Vaguely, he could hear Relena demanding shrilly that Heero had to talk to her. Heero didn't even deign to reply, instead drawing a startled yelp from Duo as he shifted his grip and lifted him off his feet. Turning and swiftly striding around the side of the house, Heero ducked inside and kicked the door shut before turning back to face it and urging, "Lock it". Duo reached out and clicked the deadbolt in place, then, with a few quick taps on the keypad, set the alarm system.

Heero carried Duo through into the living room, dropping down onto the couch with Duo across his lap. 'God, he's so tense he's shaking. Or the shaking is shock. Fuck, neither one is good,' Duo thought anxiously. Falling back on an old familiar standby for relieving a tense situation, he quipped, "Remind me to send her a thank you card when we get back."

*~*~*~*~*~*

"A what?" Heero blinked, certain that he must have misheard Duo.

"A thank you card."

"Why the hell would you do a thing like that?"

"Well, see, if you think about it, she's the one that actually got us together. Her showin' up at Quat's uninvited made me say we were gettin' married. Her sneakin' into your room made me move you in with me. Her tryin' to play footsie with you..."

Heero snickered, then snorted, then finally gave in and just plain laughed. The irony of the whole situation really was unbelievable. Everything Relena had done to chase after him had just gained him more ground with Duo. As he laughed, however, it started to take on a hysterical note. He had been through so many extremes of emotion today that it was all starting to catch up to him.

"Heero, it's not that funny," he distantly heard Duo say, but he just couldn't seem to stop laughing even though he was starting to hiccup and to have trouble getting his breath.

"Dammit Heero, don't make me have to slap you. Calm down, it's okay now."

Evidently giving up on words, Duo caught his face in both hands, but rather than slapping him, he kissed him. Hard. And long. And deep. And when Duo finally pulled back, the hiccups were gone and the shortness of breath was for an entirely different reason.

"God, Duo, I love you so much..."

"I realize that now," Duo responded, his eyes shadowed with regret, "and I'm so sorry I was such a thick-skulled idiot about it before. I dunno whether I should even ask how long you've been waitin' for me to grow up and realize what was starin' me in the face."

"Probably not," Heero answered, pulling Duo even closer and burying his face against Duo's neck. "Just hold me for a while?" he requested.

"Anything you want, husband-mine. Anything at all."

Arms wrapped securely around one another, they remained on the couch, Duo still on Heero's lap, occasionally whispering a soft endearment or exchanging a tender kiss, ignoring the ringing doorbell, the persistent knocking, and the shrill shouting. Eventually, another, unfamiliar, voice could be heard outside.

Reluctantly, Duo unwound himself from around Heero and slid off his lap. Stalking over to the window, he parted the blinds to see what was happening on the porch.

"What's going on?" Heero asked, wincing as he tried to rub the circulation back into his legs. 'Ouch. Don't recall any of those romance novels talking about that little drawback to holding your lover on your lap for too long.'

"Relena's being served with the restraining orders. She doesn't look too happy... Nope, there go the papers - she just ripped them up. Heh, guess Quat must've mentioned she's got quite the temper for a pacifist - the guy just handed her another set," Duo snickered. "Ooh, that's different. Pargan's leaving! Guess his loyalty doesn't stretch quite so far as to support her in violating a restraining order..."

"Isn't she leaving?" Heero asked, starting to ease to his feet. 'I hate that pins-and-needles feeling of returning circulation. Next time, I've got to remember that half an hour in one position with Duo on my lap is apparently a little too long...'

"Yep, and the guy that served the restraining order is following her. Guess that's the end of that, at least for now," Duo said, turning away from the window.

Seeing Heero leaning rather heavily on the couch armrest and grimacing, he asked worriedly, "What's wrong? You didn't hurt your back carrying me in here, did you?"

"No... My feet and legs just fell asleep," Heero admitted ruefully.

Duo slapped his hand over his mouth too late to muffle a snicker. "Are you insinuating that I'm too heavy?" he demanded in mock indignation.

"Oh no, I am not falling for that one," Heero answered with a smirk.

************

The long shadows of late afternoon stretched across the bedroom floor. A trail of clothing led from the door to the bed, where Duo and Heero lay facing each other, legs entwined, hands roaming down each other's back, mouths pressed together urgently. Drawing back slightly, Heero asked hesitantly, "Duo... will you let me..."

Feeling Heero's fingertips brush his entrance, Duo realized what he was asking. Meeting his eyes, he said wonderingly, "Yes. God, yes. You've never offered before. Why?"

Pulling Duo even closer, Heero buried his face in the cascade of chestnut silk spilling over Duo's shoulder before murmuring, "I had to keep something back. When I first decided to use sex to draw you closer, I promised myself that I would save something for later, for after I told you that I loved you and hopefully found out you loved me too. It didn't really matter to me who took who, so when you asked to take me, I agreed. I couldn't tell you why I wanted to wait and I was terrified that refusing you would push you away. A couple of times I was afraid you were going to ask me to take you too, but I was able to distract you enough to avoid the question. I wanted at least one of our 'first time together' occasions saved for now, when it's making love on both sides, not just sex..."

'Dammit Duo, you've got a hell of a lot to make up for,' Duo thought as he heard the wistfulness in Heero's voice. "Heero, I am so, so sorry I took so long to figure things out. But as long as you loved me, it was never 'just sex', even if I was too busy bein' a baka to realize it."

"If... if I had told you sooner, maybe when I gave you the ring, would it... would it have made any difference?"

Duo sighed. "I don't know, love. I wish I could tell you that I'd have figured things out right away and everything woulda gone perfectly, but I just don't know. I probably would have still gone through with the wedding, but I might have refused to become lovers thinkin' that it wouldn't be right when you wanted more than I was ready to offer. And that would have blocked a lot of the opportunities that you took to show me how great we could be together - and I don't just mean the sex. I mean the cuddlin' and the conversations while lyin' together in bed, and the pillow fight, and the picnics, and even the scrappin' over the riding helmet. And while I was attracted to you way back before I convinced myself you were straight, and might even have been startin' to fall in love with you, I'd done an awfully good job of buryin' all those memories. It was all the things you've done over the past few weeks that made me fall in love with you this time around. Rememberin' what happened during the war just made me acknowledge my feelings, it didn't cause 'em all by itself."

"So I did the right thing in waiting?"

'Oh god, Heero, I hate seein' you so uncertain. It's just so unlike you.' "Yeah, I think you did," Duo assured him.

Rolling onto his back, Duo pulled Heero with him. "Now, husband-mine, how about we find out what it's like to make love when we both know there's real love behind it, hmm?"

Heero dove in for a quick kiss, then pulled back and, with love and mischief dancing in his eyes, smirked, "Ninmu ryoukai."

'Uh oh, I'm in trouble now, Heero's on a mission...'

************

"Now, husband-mine, how about we find out what it's like to make love when we both know there's real love behind it, hmm?" Duo asked.

"Ninmu ryoukai," Heero replied with a mischievous smirk. Moving to kneel on the bed beside Duo and lifting Duo's left hand to his lips, Heero murmured softly, "Did you know that in ancient times, people believed that a special vein, the vena amoris or vein of love, ran directly from this," he kissed the tip of the third finger gently, "finger to the heart?" He drew the ring finger into his mouth and sucked on it gently for a few moments before continuing, "And of course, that's where the custom of the third finger as the one for the wedding ring comes from." Pressing a kiss to the finger just above the rings, he murmured huskily, "With this ring I thee wed," before beginning a trail of kisses and gentle nibbles that led over Duo's palm, across his wrist, and up the tender underside of his arm.

Sweeping kisses up and along Duo's collarbone, he followed the line of his neck up to lightly suck and nibble on his earlobe. Duo shivered beneath Heero in anticipation as he felt tender kisses cover every inch of his face. Teasingly, Heero kissed Duo's eyelids, his nose, then bypassed his lips to travel down his throat again before finally returning to his mouth. Lightly tracing Duo's lips with his tongue, he nibbled very gently on his lower lip. Lips so close that they brushed, Heero murmured thickly, "With my body," then came a feather-light kiss before he finished, "I thee worship." The kiss that followed was slow and tender, deep and lingering. Their tongues tangled and entwined lovingly, not in a battle for dominance but in a dance of equals. Withdrawing slowly and reluctantly from Duo's mouth, Heero kissed the tip of his nose, then the point of his chin, then pressed another quick kiss to his lips, before transferring his attention to the previously neglected earlobe and continuing down the other side of his lover's bared neck.

Duo arched off the bed as Heero teased first one nipple, then the other, first with his fingers then with his teeth and tongue. "God... Heero..." he gasped out sharply. "Stop... teasin'..."

Silencing Duo with the tried and true tactic of kissing him breathless, Heero then returned to pick up where he left off. Brushing his fingers teasingly along Duo's side, too light to truly tickle but with just enough contact to create the sensation, he kissed and caressed his way down Duo's torso to his stomach, drawing gasps and moans of appreciation from his lover. Reaching Duo's navel, Heero licked and kissed it teasingly, blowing gently across it, only to have to stop when Duo started to giggle and curl in on himself.

"Sorry love, forgot just how ticklish you are," Heero apologized, raising up to lightly caress Duo's cheek and to press a gentle kiss to his lips.

"Didn't want to spoil the moment but I couldn't help it," Duo answered breathlessly, returning the kiss.

"Nothing's spoiled, I remember just where I left off..." With that, Heero returned his attention to Duo's stomach, quickly kissing his way across it to Duo's hip, remembering to avoid the ticklish area right along the edge of the hip. Despite Duo's protesting cry, he skipped over his arousal with nothing more than a feather-light touch, continuing his trail of kisses and caresses down the inside of Duo's thigh, avoiding the ticklish back of his knee and his foot. Switching to the other leg, he repeated his attentions, working his way back up to the groin.

"Heero... please..." Writhing under Heero's tantalizingly light caresses, Duo thrust his hips upwards, seeking more contact.

Repeating the light brush of the back of his fingers along Duo's swollen length, Heero asked teasingly, "Please what?"

"Please... need more..." came the moaning response.

"More like this..." queried Heero, wrapping his hand around Duo's erection and pumping slowly.

"Ah! Yes!" came the answer, followed by "Faster, please, Heero!" as Duo thrust against the pressure of Heero's hand.

Removing his hand, Heero ignored Duo's frustrated cry of protest, instead asking, "Or maybe more of this?" He bent and flicked his tongue lightly along Duo's length, then across the slit at the tip, drawing an appreciative moan from Duo.

"Oh god, yes..." Duo whimpered, burying his hands in Heero's hair in an attempt to prevent him from merely teasing this time. Alternating between the use of fingers and tongue, Heero gradually brought his lover to the edge.

Duo urged, "Heero, please... now, I need you NOW!" He tugged insistently on Heero's hair, drawing him up for an urgent, demanding kiss. "Take me now!" he repeated.

Quickly snagging the tube from beside the bed, Heero squeezed a substantial amount of lube onto his fingers. As he prepped Duo, he leaned forward to kiss his face and lips, murmuring softly, "I love you, Duo, so much..."

"Love you too, husband-mine," Duo responded in a breathless gasp, raising one hand to caress Heero's cheek before pulling his face close for another kiss.

Once Duo began to thrust back against Heero's fingers, Heero withdrew them. Coating his erection with a generous amount of lube, he moved to kneel between Duo's spread legs. He twined the fingers of one hand with Duo's as he positioned himself at Duo's entrance. Gazing deeply into the passion-clouded violet eyes of his lover, he slowly sheathed himself within the heat of Duo's tight channel with a feeling of homecoming.

"God... Duo... feels so good... love you... so much..."

"Love you too..."

After an initial moment of stillness while they both adjusted, an impatient thrust of Duo's hips urged Heero into motion. Duo lifted one leg and wrapped it around Heero's waist as he altered the angle of his thrusts. A strangled cry of pleasure a moment later let Heero know that he had found the right one. Gradually finding their rhythm, Heero varied it just enough to keep them both on the edge but not push either of them over it. Duo's breathy gasps blended with the broken streams of endearments tumbling from Heero's lips.

"Heero-love... husband-mine... love you..."

"Duo... love you... ai shiteru... koi..."

His control finally slipping, Heero sped up his thrusts, crying out Duo's name as he climaxed. Heero's climax triggered Duo's as well, his back arching as he came with a shout of release.

Lying together in a sticky, tangled mess, Heero realized he had never been happier or more contented in his life. He loved Duo and Duo loved him too. They were together, they were married, and he would never let anything tear them apart. Meeting Duo's weary but content gaze, he quoted softly, "Doubt thou the stars are fire; doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love you."

Duo gave him a beautiful smile in return, but a moment later it turned into an amused grin. "If anyone had told me a month ago that I'd be lying here in post-coital bliss with my beloved husband, Heero Maxwell-Yuy, listening to him quote Shakespeare, I'd have been checkin' their temperature and callin' for the guys from the funny-farm to come pick up a new guest." Grin fading into something softer and more serious, Duo brushed the mussed hair away from Heero's face. Leaning close, he brought his lips to Heero's ear and kissed it lightly, whispering tenderly, "Thank you for not givin' up on me no matter how dense I was bein', husband-mine!"

************

Waking abruptly, Heero wondered at first what had woken him. After the hectic wedding day, a night that consisted of a long shuttle ride, then the morning filled with emotional revelations followed by an afternoon of making love, he would have expected to sleep straight through the night. 'Oh shit,' he remembered suddenly, 'that's why I woke up. Wonder if it's too late...' A quick glance at the clock showed that it was not yet midnight. 'Good. There's still time.'

Leaving Duo asleep, he dressed before quickly gathering blankets and pillows. Adding a picnic basket equipped with bottled water, fruit, and other snacks, he nodded in satisfaction. Everything was ready. Returning upstairs, he leaned over and kissed Duo softly on the cheek, pressing a series of small kisses across his face until reaching his mouth. Duo's arms came up around Heero's neck as he woke and responded to the kiss.

"Mmm, what a lovely way to wake up," Duo murmured, slowly opening his eyes. Puzzled, he asked, "What time is it? It feels like I've only been asleep a few hours."

"You have," admitted Heero. "It's almost midnight. I hated to wake you, but I didn't think you'd want to miss this."

"Miss what?" Muttering grumpily under his breath, Duo dragged on the clothes that Heero handed him.

"You'll see. Come on."

Leading his grumbling spouse downstairs, Heero handed him the blankets and pillows. Taking the picnic basket himself along with a red-lensed flashlight, he guided Duo out the backdoor, down a narrow but well-maintained pathway, and onto a smooth strip of beach. The red glow from the flashlight was the only visible light other than the stars twinkling brightly above. Not even the moon brightened the night. The island they were on was sufficiently isolated that there was no urban light pollution to dim the stars and the small town on its far side did not have enough lights to be a problem. Motioning towards the sky, Heero said simply, "They're supposed to peak around 0200, though there should be quite a show still for the next couple of nights."

Following Heero's motion, Duo saw a faint streak shoot across the sky. Suddenly, it all became clear. "The Perseid meteor shower!" he exclaimed in delight. "I haven't been on Earth at the right time since during the war... So that's why you picked this particular place of Quat's. Perfect viewing conditions..."

Heero hastily set down the picnic basket as he suddenly had an armful of happy spouse to hold onto instead.

"Thank you, Heero! This is absolutely perfect!"

************

Making his way back through the crowded spaceport, Duo was careful not to spill the fresh fruit drinks he carried. Ahead of him, he could see Heero already seated at a small table, the sandwiches he had gone to get sitting on the table in front of him. As he neared the table, Duo saw Heero reach up and touch the spot where the cross rested below his shirt, a small smile tugging at his lips as he touched it. 'I think he touches that thing more times in a day than I ever did, and that's really sayin' something. God, I'm glad I didn't take it back when he tried to return it. Tellin' him it was on permanent loan got me one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen from anybody, let alone Heero.' "Hey there, husband-mine, I got our drinks, anything else you want?"

"No, that's it. The shuttle should be here for us in another hour so if we want anything else, we can have it onboard." Raising an eyebrow at the sight of the two fruit drinks, Heero asked, "What, couldn't find any sodas?"

Sticking his tongue out at Heero, Duo answered, "Yes, I could, but I already had two today and you have a conniption if I have more than that. So - a nice, healthy fruit drink instead. Happy now?"

Heero smirked slightly as he responded, "Ecstatic."

'I know. And that's why I got it,' Duo thought as he picked up his sandwich. 'Just like I'm sittin' here eatin' a nice, healthy sandwich instead of the greasy fried food I woulda rather had. I can't completely make up for three years of bein' an idiot, Heero-love, but I sure as hell am gonna try. If me eatin' healthy and wearin' riding helmets makes you happy, then I'm gonna be eatin' healthy and wearin' riding helmets. And doin' whatever else it takes to make sure that Apache blessing, "May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth" comes true for both of us.'

************

Lying back in his reclined seat with Duo curled up beside and half on top of him, Heero thought about how very different things were now than when they were in this same position during the shuttle trip at the beginning of the week. 'Then, I only hoped he had come to care for me as more than a friend. Now, I know he loves me. If I'd had any lingering doubts, they'd be gone after that meal at the shuttleport!' he thought, directing an amused glance down at his softly snoring spouse. 'Fruit drinks and sandwiches? I saw the longing look you gave that fast food place, Duo-love. I'll have to make sure to take you out for pizza or something soon - I certainly don't expect you to give up all your favourites entirely! I just want to make sure that you're around to grow old and gray alongside me...'

************

As Duo and Heero exited the shuttle, Quatre twisted his hands together anxiously. Other than a quick call to confirm that the restraining orders had been served, no one had heard from either of them all week.

"Stop worrying," Trowa scolded, catching Quatre's hands in his own and stilling their fidgeting. "If anything had gone wrong, they'd have called." As Duo bounded towards their group, he noticed something. Shifting his gaze sharply over to Heero, he gave a small smile before telling Quatre, "Take a good look at Duo, then Heero. Notice something out of place?"

"Out of place?" Looking quickly from one to the other, Quatre said, "No, I don't. What is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, you worrywart. Something's right. Something is very right." Seeing that Quatre still didn't get it, Trowa sighed, then asked him, "Where's Duo's cross?" Even when Duo wore the cross underneath his shirt, you could always see the small lump it made in the fabric.

"He's not wearing it?! But..." Suddenly, Quatre realized what Trowa was getting at, and quickly glanced over at Heero. "Oh my..." he breathed softly. "Heero is wearing it... You're right, something is very right..."

*~*~*~*~*~*

"Looks like we've got a regular welcoming committee waitin' for us," Duo observed as he and Heero exited the shuttle at the L4 spaceport. "Hey, Zechs and Lu are with them!" 'And I owe Lu a big "Thank You" for that book disk!'

Bounding over to the waiting group, Duo flung his arms around a very startled Lucrezia in an enthusiastic hug. "Thank you!" he exclaimed, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Uh, you're welcome? I think?" she answered as Duo backed away. "What exactly are you thanking me for?"

Pulling a data disk out of his pocket, Duo waved it at her. "_The Complete Collection of the Best of Three Centuries of Harlequin Romance Best Friends Make the Best Spouses Novels_," he proclaimed dramatically, "remember?"

"Then Heero..."

"Yep, told me everything." Duo nodded emphatically before turning to Heero and encircling his waist in a hug. "Everybody's always callin' me a baka," he shrugged ruefully, "and I've gotta admit that this time I really deserve it."

************

Waking slowly, Heero checked the clock. Seeing that it was still quite early, he lay watching Duo sleep. Today was their first day back to work. Both of them would be reporting to Une for the morning to plan out the new sabotage and demolitions training course that they would team-teach. In the afternoon, Duo would show him around the WEI "idea" labs and then Trowa would show him the existing computer security measures. The plan was for him to use his initial time in the "idea" labs to upgrade WEI's computer security, then see where things went from there. 'So much has changed in only a month. I had high hopes going into this, but the reality is even better than I could have imagined.'

For one thing, he hadn't expected Dorothy Catalonia to join WEI, splitting her time between public relations and charity fund raising. All of her political knowledge was going to come in handy for both departments. And if Une occasionally called Dorothy in to help handle the Preventers' budget proposals, Quatre certainly wouldn't object to the drain on her time since he would probably be helping with the same thing.

Wufei was back on the move again, acting as a travelling troubleshooter for the Preventers, but now he was permanently based out of L4. He had enjoyed his time together with the others enough that he wanted to be able to see them more frequently. Zechs and Lu would be leaving for Mars again in a few days, unfortunately, but their organizational skills and command experience were being put to good use at the Mars Project.

As Duo stirred to wakefulness, opening those beautiful violet eyes and giving him a sleepy smile, Heero decided that, all in all, things were looking very good indeed.

"Mornin', husband-mine."

"Good morning, love."

Oh, there would probably be struggles over the Preventers' budget - for an avowed pacifist, Relena sure carried a mean grudge - and other problems still unforeseen, but together, he and Duo, and the rest of the former Gundam pilots, along with their assorted former allies and enemies, could handle whatever came their way.

 

OWARI

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A few additional Author's Notes in closing:

Harlequin Romances (Mills & Boone to those outside of North America) and the "Best Friends Get Married" plot lines:

For those of you who aren't familiar with typical Harlequin plots, the whole "best friends get married to: (a) save business, (b) get custody of children of deceased friends/siblings, (c) protect inheritance, (d) avoid fortune hunters, (e) avoid matchmakers, (f) make dying parent/grandparent happy, (g) avoid pushy/nutty wanna-be boy/girlfriend" is pretty common. Oh yeah, there's one other reason, but I'm not a big preggie-Gboy fan, so I don't think "(h) have heir or just have kid because of biological clock ticking" is too useful. The whole seductive clothing/behaviour/innuendoes bit frequently makes an appearance, as does the nutty alternative fiancé(e) (yes, there are some very, very nearly as bad as Relena is in my fic - scary, isn't it?). Sometimes one friend is in love ahead of time, sometimes both are and just think it's one-sided, sometimes they fall in love somewhere along the way. And I have actually seen several Harlequins with Mission: Marriage or some permutation thereof as the title. Somehow this all came together in my admittedly wild imagination and well - "Mission: Marriage", all 18 parts of it, was the result.

 

The Rings:

For information on gemstones (organized by colour, by birthday, by meaning, etc., as well as an image library for pictures of the various stones - including star sapphires), visit the website of the International Colored Gemstone Association at http://www.gemstone.org/index_gemsite.html - a really great site!

For pics of lots of star sapphires, take a look at http://www.multicolour.com/gemstones/star_sapphire.html which lets you search their stock for star sapphires in specific colours.

For some general info on eternity rings, take a look at http://www.24carat.co.uk/eternityringstory.html and http://www.24carat.co.uk/eternityrings.html (the second page shows a stack of eternity rings made with alternating coloured gems and diamonds). I couldn't find a good pic online of a plaited eternity ring nor one of a star sapphire eternity ring, though various jeweller's sites mention both.

 

The Wedding Ceremony:

I used several resources to put this together. Most of the ceremony (the overall structure and the general wording used) came from the "sample" ceremony at http://www.celebrityweddingsonline.com/ - very helpful! The actual vows are modified from standard Civil Ceremony vows and the blessing is an Apache Wedding Blessing (both were pulled from http://wedding6.weddingchannel.com/pg/pl_cer.asp which also provided sample structures for the parts and order of the ceremony. (Yes, I can be positively anal about details.)