11-25-2003

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Title: Together
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Started: July 2003
Story Completed: Nov. 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Angst, Romance
Pairings: 1x2, 3x4 mentioned
Rated: R
Warnings: OOC, Swearing, Alternating POV, Implied Lemon
Archives: At Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves; anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story, however, is. Nuff said.

Notes: Starts during the war and runs right through to post-EW. May be slight and very vague spoilers.

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Change of POV and/or scene

Author's Notes: Feedback is appreciated.

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Duo brushed out his hair carefully. Finally deciding that it was dry enough to braid, he realized with a groan of dismay that he'd forgotten to bring an elastic in with him. Not to mention a change of clothes. He'd been in too big a hurry to get cleaned up; crawling around in storm sewers was just - gross. But it had been the best way to get in and out of that Oz research facility. And at least the mission had gone smoothly. He just hoped that Heero's had gone as well. He'd had a search-and-destroy mission to take out the shipboard lab that was working in conjunction with the place that Duo had just raided and blown.

Duo threw a hasty glance at his watch. He'd been in the shower longer than he'd hoped; his hair had been a major gunky mess. Heero could be back any time now. 'Aw shit... Dammit, I hope he isn't back yet. He'll get pissed about me running around in just a towel, I just know he will...'

Wufei sure had the one time Duo had made a dash from the bathroom back to his room wearing one. 'You'd have thought I'd tried to proposition him or something, the way he acted. Comin' out about my own sexual orientation in support of Q and Tro really shook the poor guy up.' Duo shook his head slightly at the memory. Wufei had settled down some but he wouldn't room with any of them and Duo was pretty sure he locked his door at night too. Why he seemed to think being gay or bi meant that they'd feel the need to try something with him, Duo just did not understand. His only interest in Wufei was as a friend and comrade in arms; he just hoped that eventually Wufei got over his snit enough to qualify as a friend again. He sure as hell didn't feel the slightest flicker of attraction to the Chinese pilot.

Now Heero, on the other hand... 'Forget it, Maxwell. You're lucky he didn't get his spandex in a twist over your revelation; lucky that he's still willing to room and work with you. Don't blow it by letting him see your interest. The two of you work together too fucking well to risk that for a little physical release.'

And that's all it would be; all it *could* be under the circumstances. He knew that damn well. They were young and under a hell of a lot of pressure. Being in near-constant mortal danger kind of did that to a person. Heero had trouble handling friendship under these circumstances, whatever sort of hell his training had put him through had really fucked up his ability to deal with emotions. Duo didn't doubt that he *had* them; he just kept them locked up tight and tried to ignore them. He could understand that; he did his damnedest to keep his own under tight wraps. He couldn't let anyone too close; losing people hurt too damn bad and he couldn't afford the distraction.

Neither he nor Heero were good candidates for the sort of relationship Q and Tro had; one that went well beyond the physical. Not right now, anyway. Someday, when the war was over and they had a chance to get their heads straightened out - maybe.

Assuming, of course, that Heero would even be interested. Duo really had no idea what orientation he was. Though the odds of him being anything *other* than straight were pretty damn slim. Three out of five Gundam pilots being either gay or bi was already one hell of a weird coincidence.

Cautiously opening the bathroom door, Duo listened intently for a moment. He didn't hear anyone else in the small apartment... Though that didn't mean much; Heero was practically noiseless most of the time. 'No clicking laptop keys though... And if he was back, he'd be on that thing right away, sending in his mission report. So I'm probably clear.'

Slipping quickly down the hall, Duo darted into the apartment's single bedroom. And literally ran right into Heero. 'Shit.' Keeping his gaze fixed at shoulder height - he didn't want Heero to think he was coming on to him - Duo hurriedly apologized, "Oops, sorry, Heero, didn't think you were back yet. Man, those storm sewers were gross; couldn't wait to get in the shower and get all that guck off me. Sorry 'bout the towel, forgot to take clean stuff in with me, just gimme a sec to grab some clothes and I'll go get dressed." Finally running out of breath, Duo paused for a second, wondering why the hell Heero was still in his way. Still *touching* him in fact, the other pilot had thrown one arm around him and the other against the doorframe to keep them both from falling when they'd collided. Heero usually avoided physical contact with anybody; why was he still holding on to Duo?

"Your hair..." Heero said softly. Duo brought his eyes up from Heero's collarbone to his face, startled. Heero was staring at where Duo's hair had tumbled over his shoulder and over Heero's arm where it was outstretched to brace against the doorframe. "It's so - long... And soft..."

Duo blinked. Heero's voice sounded almost - awed? "Umm... yeah..." 'I guess I've never had him - hell, had *any* of them - actually catch me with it down before... Don't usually like people seeing it that way...' But he guessed that he didn't really mind Heero seeing it, especially not since the other pilot seemed so impressed with it.

Abruptly, Duo realized that Heero must have been in the middle of changing when he came in. The other youth's chest was as bare as his own and Duo was becoming all too aware of how good the skin contact felt. How arousing Heero's very masculine scent - the smell of explosives and grease and sweat and *Heero* - was. "Uh, Heero, could you maybe, uh, let me go now?" he suggested cautiously. "So I can get dressed?" 'Before *you* realize just how arousing I'm finding this?' he added silently. He didn't think Heero would *hurt* him if he figured it out; he needed to be in top physical condition in order to go on missions after all and for Heero, missions were all-important. But it could really make it damn uncomfortable for them to work together.

Heero's eyes raised to meet Duo's. "I'd rather you didn't."

'What the hell is *that* supposed to mean?!' Duo wondered. Heero's eyes stayed locked with his own as Heero shifted position, sliding his hand lower on Duo's back to hold him in place while he brought their hips together. Duo's breath left him in a whoosh of startled comprehension. Heero was just as aroused as he was.

"Or I could help you get *un*dressed..." Duo suggested a bit hesitantly. Heero stepping back - and taking Duo's towel with him - was all the answer he needed.

***

Heero watched Duo sleep and brooded. He should have been gone by now; should have been on board Libra and well into the process of extricating Relena from the consequences of her latest bit of idiocy. A few months ago, he would have left the moment he received the information that she was on the other ship. He wouldn't have hesitated to leave his "fuck buddy" behind no matter how interested the other youth might be in someone else. Now, though, he'd seen the concern on Duo's face as he watched that girl who'd brought the information wheeled into sickbay and he'd felt the need to stay long enough to reinforce their physical bond. To remind Duo that he was with *him*. That *he* was the one who could reduce Duo to frantic begging with his touch. The one who could make him scream with the force of his release. Not that - girl.

'You needed to stake your claim, like a wild animal claiming and marking his mate. You're pathetic, Yuy. If J had any idea...' Heero suppressed his involuntary shiver at the thought. If J had any ideathat he'd broken training badly enough to actually *need* another person, he'd have called him in for retraining, war or no war. Oh, J wouldn't have cared about the sex; he'd have said that finding sexual release with another pilot was a good idea. That it was safer than getting involved with a civilian. But he wouldn't have been pleased that Heero had stopped thinking of it in those terms some time ago.

At first, that was all it had been for either of them. They were young, they were horny, and the sex had been an escape from the harsh reality of war. A small indulgence; a few moments of stolen pleasure. But somewhere along the way, things had changed. 'Or at least, they did for me. I *need* him now. Not just anyone. *Him.* Duo Maxwell.' Heero needed him to an alarming degree. Needed Duo in his life, not just in his bed. Needed him far, far more than any soldier should need *anyone*.

But he didn't know whether Duo felt the same way. The only promise between them was one of exclusivity. A promise not to get involved with anyone else without formally informing the other first. Not exactly an emotional commitment to say the least.

Feelings were something that they'd both completely avoided discussing from the first time he'd buried himself in Duo's willing body. He couldn't really say that he'd "taken" Duo; Duo had *given* himself to Heero. Just as he so willingly gave friendship and comfort and all the other things that Heero had come to need from him. Heero didn't know what he'd do if the war ended and the relationship between them ended with it.

'Don't think about it,' he ordered himself sharply. 'One step at a time. Get up and go rescue that damn girl again so hopefully she can help bring this fucking war to its end. Worry about what happens next once there's a "next" to worry about.'

Slipping from the bed, Heero quickly and silently dressed. He had a job to do. Before leaving the room, he bent and pressed a soft kiss to Duo's temple. "I need you. Don't get dead," he murmured almost inaudibly. Duo never even stirred. Heero hadn't expected him to; he'd worn him out on purpose. He knew that Duo would have insisted on going after Relena with him and that would have been a problem. On a purely instinctive level, Relena seemed to recognize the threat that Duo posed to her own plans for Heero and she was inevitably nasty to him. Heero didn't think he could stomach that right now; he'd end up alienating the girl by defending Duo and that would be a bad thing at the moment. If she was going to be instrumental in achieving peace, she was going to be in a position to either do a great deal of good or a great deal of harm to the futures of all five Gundam pilots and their supporters. There was no point antagonizing her until after that was settled.

Heero paused in the doorway, turning for one last look at Duo sleeping peacefully, sated and content. He allowed himself one moment of longing, one moment of aching to just take Duo and leave, of wishing to have this all over with, of hoping that their relationship meant as much to Duo as it did to him, of daring to dream of a happy life together after the war. Then he locked those feelings away again, submerged himself in the soldier, and left to do his job with the cold efficiency that was expected of him.

***

Scrambling down from Deathscythe's cockpit, Duo had a single thought in his mind - reaching Heero and kissing the hell out of him before chewing him out for cutting things so damn close when he went after the falling chunk of Libra. He spotted Heero descending from Wing Zero and waved joyously, receiving a faint hint of a smile in return. Heero jumped lightly from the slowly descending lift-line before it reached ground level and started towards Duo. Duo jumped the last short distance to the ground and directed his own hasty steps towards Heero. But before they met, Relena intercepted Heero. Duo's steps slowed as those faint hints of happiness vanished from Heero's face, returning it to its usual stoic expression. Heero's gaze met his for an instant and Heero mouthed a silent, "Later," before following Relena away from the Gundams.

Standing in the midst of all the bustle, much of the excitement and joy over the war ending was abruptly gone for Duo. He was still glad that it was over with - but the happiness was no longer there on a personal level. He had thought that with the war over, things would change for the better in other ways as well. That he and Heero wouldn't have to settle for a few stolen moments together. That they would no longer have to answer the demands of duty over their own personal preferences.

'Guess I was wrong... Duty still comes first... Either that or...' Duo swallowed hard and pushed the thought away. He really didn't want to consider the fact that maybe it wasn't duty that had taken precedence over his reunion with Heero.

That maybe Heero had actually preferred to leave with Relena.

***

"Heero? Where are you going?" Relena demanded, clutching at Heero's arm.

"Out," he replied abruptly, silently cursing the fact that she had spotted him emerging from his room. "Your meetings are finished for the day; my presence is not required while you are at home. The estate's security is sufficient."

"Oh, but I won't be at home!" Relena exclaimed happily. "The L4 consulate is holding a celebratory dinner tonight; I will need you to escort me."

"That was not on your schedule," Heero scowled darkly, seeing his chance at a few stolen hours with Duo slipping away. He had been eagerly anticipating an evening with the other pilot all day. 'All I wanted was a few fucking hours with the one person in the whole damn universe that I actually *want* to be with... A few hours of something approaching happiness... Is that really too damn much to ask for?'

Apparently, it was.

***

"Duo, have you decided yet?" Hilde inquired impatiently. "I really have to head back to L2 so you need to make up your mind whether you're coming too or not."

Duo raked one hand through his bangs and sighed heavily. He didn't really want to go. He wanted to stay with Heero.

He'd hoped that with the war over Heero might be willing to open up a little, let their relationship get at least a little deeper. But he'd barely even seen Heero since that last time they'd been together on the Peacemillion and each of those times had been in very public places and from a distance. At first he'd figured it would just take a few days, maybe a couple of weeks tops, for things to settle down. He'd figured that once the peace accord had been hammered out and signed, Heero wouldn't need to guard Relena personally anymore and would come looking for him. That Heero's "Later" had meant that Heero *would* come looking for him.

But it hadn't happened. 'Guess I was the only one who wanted more from our relationship...' he thought unhappily. Sometimes, the way that Heero had looked at him or touched him or said his name had almost made him think... 'Something that obviously wasn't true. Stop lying to yourself, Maxwell. He's got a chance to build a relationship with Relena now; he doesn't need you. Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales; you should know that by now.

'Might as well go back to L2 with Hilde; at least she can use your help at the salvage yard.'

"Alright, I'll come," he said unenthusiastically. "Got nothin' better to do." 'And maybe heavy physical labour will make the ache of loneliness more bearable...'

"Gee thanks, Duo, you make me feel so *special*," Hilde said sarcastically.

"Sorry, Hil," he apologized. "I just..." he let his voice trail off and shrugged. "I just had hoped something different would happen and it hasn't. It's not that I don't appreciate the job offer 'cause I do."

"He's an idiot," Hilde said, following Duo's gaze to the TV screen showing Relena speaking at yet another press conference.

Duo choked, "What?" He hadn't realized Hilde knew...

"Heero Yuy is an idiot," she stated flatly. "You're worth ten of that - that - sheltered little snob."

Gaping, Duo managed to say faintly, "I didn't know you knew..."

"Duo, I'd have to be blind not to have noticed the way you watch him," Hilde told him.

'Shit,' he thought frantically. If he was that obvious... "Oh *crap*," he swore. "I haven't been *that* obvious, have I? Hil? You don't think - *he* knows?" He turned his gaze back towards the TV screen, watching the silent shadow that followed Relena as she left the press conference.

Hilde hesitated, then shrugged slightly. "I really don't know. It seems obvious to me but... Well, maybe that's just because I was watching *you* the same way."

Alarmed, Duo spun to face her. "Hilde, I'm not... I can't..."

She pressed her hand to Duo's mouth for a moment, silencing him. "I know. Figured that out already." Hilde gave him a resigned grin. "You're already 'taken' whether anything ever comes of it or not. Figuring that out didn't hurt as bad as I thought it would; I'll be okay. Don't turn down the job offer just because of my little ol' crush; I'll get over it."

"If you're sure..."

Hilde nodded.

"Then yeah, I guess I'll head back with you and take the job." Duo forced a grin, "Least you need my help; he's never needed a damn thing from me or anybody."

"You want to talk to him before we leave?" Hilde asked. "Just in case?"

Duo considered the suggestion for a moment. "No," he decided abruptly. "He said 'Later' and, hell, it's definitely 'later' and he still hasn't tried to reach me; guess that's answer enough. If he changes his mind - well, he'll know where to find me. I'll send him a note with that much info." He wouldn't chase after Heero the way that Relena did. If Heero wanted him, he could come looking for him.

He wasn't actually mad at Heero or anything - disappointed, yeah, but not mad. They'd never discussed the future at all so it wasn't like Heero had let him down. He just wasn't about to wreck the memory of what they *did* have by being dumb enough to actually ask for something more. The sex that had started out as an escape from reality had become something more for him and he'd dared to imagine that it might have for Heero too. He'd rather keep that illusion than have it exposed as the foolish dream it was by raising the subject with Heero.

Duo flashed Hilde a quick, almost-genuine, grin, "Let's get outta here. We've got a salvage yard full of work waiting for us."

***

Heero's throat tightened and his fist closed around the note, crumpling it. He flung it across the room in a flash of frustration, not needing to see it in order to recall the words. Those were burned into his mind. He closed his eyes, seeing them all too clearly, 'Hey buddy, guess Relena's keeping you pretty busy, I thought you'd be around to see me by now. Well, can't just hang around doing nothing forever so I'm heading out. Hilde needs my help at the salvage yard; give me a call if you need me for anything! Err, not that you ever would, but - aw, hell, you know what I mean. See you around, Duo.'

"*Dammit* Duo, I just need some more time to finish disillusioning her, why the hell didn't you wait a little longer?" Heero hissed under his breath. He picked the note back up and smoothed it out carefully, folding it so that the contact information was clearly visible. 'You know why he didn't, Yuy. Because you never asked him to.' He'd intended to. But he'd been so damn busy that he'd never quite gotten around to talking to Duo. Correction - Relena had *kept* him so damn busy.

'She has to make a trip to L2 in a couple of weeks; surely I can manage to get away for a few hours and meet Duo long enough to explain things to him... Ask him to wait for me; to give me a little more time to make sure Relena loses interest in me so that she won't cause any trouble for us in future...'

A couple of weeks before he could see Duo again, and then probably only fairly briefly. Then god-only-knew how many more weeks before they could actually be together permanently... Heero closed his eyes in silent protest. He had learned a very long time ago never to want anything for himself, never to *need* anything. He wasn't supposed to want or need or *feel*. Duo had changed all of that. Heero wanted him, needed him. Loved him.

'I want to be with Duo. To be *happy* with Duo... Is that really so much to ask for? Is it really so wrong to want to be happy?'

Heero was starting to think that maybe the answer to that question was "yes".

***

'This is the restaurant he said he'd meet me at... He's gotta be here somewhere...' Duo's gaze swept the room and he smiled in sheer delight as he spotted a familiar mop of brown hair. He headed for the table, grinning broadly. 'It's just a lunch date but *god* it's good to see him again...'

A moment later, Duo's grin faltered as he noticed an all-too-familiar head of dirty blonde hair seated beside Heero. 'Shit, what the hell is *she* doing here... Heero didn't tell me she'd be with him...' Duo thought miserably.

Plastering a rather forced smile on his face, Duo greeted Heero and Relena as cheerfully as he could manage. "Hey, Heero! Nice seein' you again, buddy! And Miss Darlian - you're looking very lovely today! Bet you've really brightened the day for all those crusty old L2 politicians." 'But I know you sure as hell didn't brighten *mine*...'

"How nice of you to join us," Relena said with a smile that didn't reach her eyes.

Heero scowled at her and corrected, "No, Relena. He didn't join *us*. He *met* *me*. By *my* invitation. You just invited yourself along."

Duo's eyes widened in surprise. Heero tended to be blunt but he was usually polite to Relena. She must have been *way* out of line to irritate him *this* much. 'Either that or he was really looking forward to seeing me alone...' he thought hopefully. 'Maybe... maybe happily ever after is too much to hope for... But maybe just plain happy isn't...'

He wasn't going to get his hopes up *too* high - but he wasn't going to give up on a relationship with Heero either. Not yet.

***

Heero scowled at the suit he was supposed to wear to escort Relena that evening. His jaw tightened. Enough. He'd been trying to avoid actually hurting her but today's stunt had been the last straw. He didn't like that glimpse of absolute misery that had flickered across Duo's face when he'd arrived at the restaurant to find Relena there too. He still couldn't believe that the foolish girl had ditched her temporary bodyguard in order to follow him. Personally, he considered it just another sign of how much of a child she really was in some ways. She'd thrown an entire consulate into a panic with her disappearance. 'If I hadn't caught her tailing me and called it in, they'd have had the whole colony under lockdown by the time she deigned to show up again...' Heero thought grimly.

Time for the kid gloves to come off. Subtle attempts to convince her that she really *wasn't* in love with him weren't working; he'd have to take more extreme measures. He smirked coldly. Relena was about to encounter the *real* Heero Yuy. The one who didn't give a fuck what anyone thought of him as long as he accomplished his mission. Since he had two different missions to accomplish right now - guarding Relena and destroying that silly infatuation of hers - that left him rather a lot of leeway as far as personal behaviour went.

Heero's smirk broadened as he turned towards his closet. Sitting at the dinner table beside Relena and dancing with her after the meal really didn't fall under his job description. Therefore, he had no reason to wear that suit. No, something suited to slinking around in the shadows was far more appropriate. And a single unobtrusive hidden weapon really wasn't sufficient either... Hmm, this might actually be sort of - fun...

As Heero prepared for his evening's duties, the momentary flash of pleasure in his plans faded. The cold, lonely existence that he'd endured for so long was difficult to accept after having allowed himself to hope for a happy life together with Duo. 'It's not *fair*! The war's *over*! I did what I was trained for; I'm supposed to be *free* now!'

Heero struggled to subdue the yearning for Duo's familiar presence, a yearning strengthened by the brief and all-too-slight contact earlier that day. For his voice - bright with cheerfulness, heated with desire, warm with comfort and understanding, dark with memories... For his touch - soft and tender, strong and sure, passionate and... Heero jerked his thoughts away from that path. 'He is not here. He is not going to *be* here. And I can't go join him. Not yet. Not until Relena has lost all interest in me. She has power, influence. But emotionally, she is a child. If I leave now, there are too many ways that she could cause trouble in pursuit of her foolish infatuation.'

He had to wait. Had to submerge his wishes, his emotions, in the mission he'd set for himself. 'Disillusion Relena. Get her to fire me. Then go after Duo.' And, until then, hope like hell that long-distance contact would be enough to keep Duo from giving up on him and moving on.

Yanking his door open in response to Relena's summons a while later, Heero suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at the way she'd carefully posed herself in the hallway. "Heero, how do I look? Is this dress okay? It doesn't make me look fat, does it?" She pivoted slowly to display the dress to its best advantage.

He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. Sweeping his gaze over the snug silk sheath-dress that Relena was wearing, Heero said bluntly and dispassionately, "You look like an overstuffed sausage."

Heero managed to keep a completely expressionless face as she spun around so fast that she nearly fell over. "*What?!*" Relena shrieked.

"You look like an overstuffed sausage," he repeated flatly. "I'm sure you're the height of fashion. Let's get this fucking dinner over with." He wondered how many swear words he could manage to slip in to the conversation and whether Relena would understand them in languages other than English. Using them was pointless if she didn't know what they meant. He knew she hated "crude language", that was one of her usual complaints about Duo.

Biting his tongue to keep from smirking, Heero saw the look of dawning horror as he stepped from his room and Relena got a good look at him. "*Heero"!*" she wailed. "You can't escort me looking like *that*!"

"I'm your bodyguard, not your fucking date," he told her bluntly. He patted one of the extra holsters he had strapped on as he continued, "I'm dressed quite appropriately for my job." He was wearing black stretch jeans, a black longsleeve shirt, black socks, and black sneakers. One of Duo's old black caps that he'd appropriated some time ago was on his head and he had black gloves on too. He was also wearing every knife and gun he owned. He felt like a walking armory; he didn't think that he'd ever worn so much weaponry at once in his life. Heero wasn't entirely certain whether the casual clothing or all the weapons were causing Relena the most distress at the moment.

"But Heero, I *have* to have an escort!"

"If you can't get a damn date, call a fucking escort service," he retorted. "That's not my problem." Heero ruthlessly suppressed a twinge of guilt at the hurt look that remark caused. He'd never led her to expect a damn thing from him; he had no reason to feel guilty. 'And every reason to be annoyed with her. Duo's working here on L2 with Hilde and the longer it takes to convince Relena that she really isn't interested in me, the greater the chance that he might give up on me and that Hilde might catch his interest, especially after Relena's stunt today...'

Heero's determination hardened. Relena was going to lose interest in him. If her feelings got trampled and her heart broken in the process, it was her own damn fault for being such an obsessive brat in the first place. He intended to make absolutely certain that she completely lost interest in him and wouldn't cause any future difficulties for him or Duo.

***

Duo checked his e-mail the minute he walked in the door. He sighed in disappointment. Nope, nothing from Heero. He'd been receiving fairly regular messages from him over the months since the war ended and even more frequently since their rather disappointing lunch date here on L2; especially complaints about Relena and her unrealistic ideals. Heero seemed to be losing patience with the girl.

Crossing his fingers, Duo hoped that Heero would quit working for her soon. 'Or get fired. Some of the things he's apparently said and done have *got* to be pissing her off by now. Girls do *not* ask guys for an opinion on their clothing in hopes of being told distinctly unflattering things. And I can't imagine a proclaimed pacifist being too happy about the fact that her bodyguard is quite conspicuously armed to the teeth. Not to mention swearing like a drunken spacer...' Somehow, he didn't think Heero's current behaviour was quite what Relena had had in mind all those times she'd told Heero that he should "forget about being a soldier and just be himself".

He had no idea what the hell had gotten into Heero to make him act the way that he apparently was. If Heero didn't want to work for Relena, Duo couldn't understand why he didn't just quit and walk away instead of setting out to piss her off enough to fire him. But that sure as hell seemed to be what Heero was out to do.

Not that he cared whether Heero was offending Relena's delicate sensibilities on a regular basis. He was just glad to know that Heero hadn't gone to work for her because he was - well, *interested* - in her. Or if he was, he certainly had an odd way of showing it.

The fact that Heero hadn't asked to be released from their agreement of exclusivity along with Heero's regular e-mail correspondence with him left Duo some hope that maybe, eventually, he and Heero would still end up in a relationship together that was at least a little deeper than the one they'd had during the war.

Of course, it wasn't like he'd turn Heero down even if he just wanted to pick up where they'd left off. They'd been "friends with benefits" for lack of a better description. More than "fuck buddies" but not quite lovers. Duo kind of figured that the term "lovers" carried emotional connotations that they hadn't quite reached. 'At least not on both sides...' he admitted reluctantly. The term probably wasn't exactly inaccurate from his side of the equation but it was pretty hard to imagine Heero ever admitting to such a strong feeling.

'Hell, who're you trying to kid, Maxwell? You just want to be with Heero again. Period. On *any* terms...' Even if those terms didn't include a sexual relationship at all. Because he didn't just miss having sex with Heero; he missed *Heero*. The man who was his best friend. Probably the only person in the whole damn Earth Sphere who even came close to actually knowing who the hell Duo Maxwell really was.

'And right now Duo Maxwell is one damn lonely, thoroughly miserable guy...

'...so much for being happy once we had peace...'

Right. Duo Maxwell - happy?

Duo snorted derisively. "Happiness" and "Duo Maxwell" had never been on very good terms. He should be used to that by now.

***

'She may be just a figurehead but she *is* important. I really do have to get her back...' Fuck. Maybe if he repeated that a few thousand more times he'd actually convince himself.

Part of Heero was tempted to blame Relena for getting herself kidnapped and to chalk it up to one last desperate attempt to convince him to keep working for her. The rest of him knew damn well that wasn't true. Hell, it wasn't like he'd resigned; she'd *fired* him. *Finally.*

Relena had been horrified when he'd started frisking every visitor to her office, regardless of his or her rank or position. And flinging her to the floor and tipping the table over in front of her as a "shield" - incidentally dumping both punch bowl and cake on her - at that reception just a few days ago had been the last straw; she'd been so humiliated and furious that she'd fired him on the spot. He didn't think she'd believed him when he'd claimed that he'd thought he'd seen a gun pointing in her direction.

Smart girl.

But of all the damn lousy times to land herself in trouble again, why the hell did she have to pick *now*? He'd just barely arrived on L2 to surprise Duo. Heero hadn't even had a chance to tell Duo that he'd finally managed to get fired, let alone explain why "later" had turned out to be so *much* later. He hadn't even had a chance to drag Duo into his arms and kiss the hell out of him.

And now they were stuck running off to rescue the damn girl. Facing hours on a shuttle together instead of spending the time getting very thoroughly reacquainted in the privacy of Duo's bedroom.

He knew now that any lingering concerns over Hilde's role in Duo's life were completely unnecessary. The moment he'd walked into the scrapyard's office, Hilde had said, "Thank god. Take Mr. 'I ain't gettin' any so I'm grouchy as hell and my boyfriend hasn't even e-mailed me for *days*' home and I don't want to see either of you till you've screwed him so silly he actually *smiles* again, got it?" That had *not* been the greeting he'd expected to say the least.

'I thought Duo was going to spontaneously combust from embarrassment. My own face felt a bit - warm. But then I didn't even get a chance to say "Mission accepted" before the damn news about Relena came in.' And now... now, Duo was babbling away about god-only-knew-what, pretty obviously trying to avoid any chance of a serious conversation or anything *else*. And Heero was just not prepared to force a heart-to-heart discussion in the middle of this damn mess.

There was a job to be done and he couldn't afford the distraction.

His talk with Duo would have to wait till this was over with. As would anything *other* than talking. He'd promised himself that he would not make love to Duo again until Duo knew that it *was* making love. Not just fucking or screwing or any of the other crude terms that separated the physical act from any hint of an emotion other than lust.

'I won't make love to him again until I know that I actually have a chance at happiness...'

Decision made, Heero settled back in his shuttle seat and closed his eyes, letting the steady murmur of Duo's voice lull him off to sleep.

***

He was going to fucking *kill* that man when he got his hands on him. No, first he was going to kiss the hell out him, *then* he was going to kill him.

"Yuy, you are *such* a fucking *asshole*," Duo muttered under his breath.

Hilde's comment when Heero showed up had been damn embarrassing but Duo had been so glad to see him that a little embarrassment had seemed a small price to pay. But embarrassment had turned to absolute humiliation once the news about Relena came in.

'I assumed you'd only showed up to get my help to rescue her and you damn well *let* me, you bastard...' Duo swung the scythe viciously, shearing the arm off of an enemy suit and venting a little bit of righteous indignation in the process. 'And I'd *still* be operating under that same fucking misapprehension if not for the fact that I wasn't quite as "out" as you thought I was after you slugged me...'

If his gut hadn't been hurting so damn bad at the time, he'd have thought that he was dreaming. But it had been, so he knew that he hadn't dreamt it. That Heero *had* brushed a kiss across his temple and whispered, "I'm sorry. But I love you. I need you. You have to stay safe. Don't get dead," before handing him over to Trowa.

If he wasn't so damn pissed at Heero for trying to "protect" him, he'd be jubilant right now. Hell, he *was* jubilant anyway. 'But I'm still gonna *kill* that asshole...'

In the purely metaphorical and very definitely sexual sense of the word, of course.

He just had a few dozen mobile suits and their buddies to get the hell out of his way first. No problem.

***

Heero forced himself out of the hospital bed and onto his feet, ignoring the pained protest from strained muscles and stressed joints. He didn't care what the damn doctor thought, he wasn't staying in the hospital another hour let alone another few days. For one thing, he had plans to accomplish and he couldn't do that from here. He had to catch Duo before he left for L2 by himself. Had to have that too-long-delayed talk with him and then, hopefully, wherever they ended up going, they'd be going together.

"Get the fuck back in that bed, Yuy," a voice growled from the doorway. Startled, Heero tried to whirl around to face the speaker and the room spun nauseatingly. Strong arms caught him and unceremoniously deposited him back in the bed. "See? You're not going *anywhere*, buster," Duo snapped furiously. "Not till the doctor gives the okay."

"Duo..." was all that Heero managed to get out before his head was shoved back against the pillow, mouth opening under the onslaught of a demanding kiss. He kept just barely enough awareness to find and clutch Duo's braid with one hand, wanting to make damned sure that Duo didn't take off before they got things settled between them.

"You asshole," Duo hissed, his lips hovering just over Heero's. "You fucking *asshole*. Don't you ever, *ever*, try to keep me 'safe' again. We're *partners*, you bastard. Being lovers does *not* give you the right to wrap me up in cotton wool. You want me safe, fine. We keep each *other* safe. Got it?"

Heero blinked and managed to nod very slightly. He still had some objections to that but somehow he didn't think this was a good time to bring them up.

"Good." Duo punctuated his comment with another hard kiss. Between the concussion and the shock of Duo's abrupt appearance and even more abrupt actions, Heero was still feeling rather dazed as Duo drew away again. Understandably, it took a moment for the next remark to penetrate. "Oh, and, despite the fact that you're an asshole and I'm seriously pissed off at you, I love you and need you too."

Heero stared in shock at the face hovering over him as Duo's lips lifted in a smirk. 'He heard me. And he loves me too. Guess that takes care of "the talk"...' A smirk tugged at his own lips and he wrapped the braid around his fist, tugging Duo down towards him. There was no protest as Heero brought their mouths together in a deep, tender kiss. One that was interrupted all too soon by the pointed clearing of a throat.

"It seems that Mr. Yuy here is perhaps somewhat more recovered than I had previously believed," the doctor observed drily.

Heero reluctantly released his hold on Duo so that Duo could step aside and let the doctor check him over. Heero submitted to the examination, hoping that the doctor would change his mind and let him leave. He didn't want to stay in the hospital but he didn't think that he wanted to make Duo any more pissed off at him by going against medical advice either.

Finally, the doctor said, "Assuming that someone is present to monitor your concussion and that you promise to take it easy for the next few days..."

"There will be and he does," Duo interjected, giving Heero a pointed glare. Heero bit his tongue to keep from snickering. He didn't think Duo would find his amusement particularly amusing. Instead, he just nodded meekly.

"...then I will sign Mr. Yuy's release papers."

***

"I might as well have stayed in the damn hospital," Heero grumbled irritably.

Duo smirked and informed him, "The doctor said that you had to take it easy for a few days. I'm just making sure that you follow his orders." He knew exactly what Heero was objecting to. The fact that he was stuck in bed - alone - and had been for the past few days.

His own insistence on following the doctor's orders so closely was part payback for Heero "protecting" him by trying to keep him out of the fight but mostly due to genuine concern for Heero's health. Heero had taken quite a beating in the process of breaking through the shielding around the palace; Duo didn't want to take any chances on delaying his recovery. He knew better than to think that after spending the better part of a year away from one another they would find it very easy to just share the bed without anything more - strenuous - taking place.

'Of course, it *has* been three days already...' Duo's resolve weakened in the face of the genuine unhappiness on Heero's face. He knew damn well that Heero was only following doctor's orders at all because he was insisting on it and Heero was still trying to placate him for that punch and the attempt to keep him safely out of the battle.

Duo sat down on the edge of the bed and brushed the back of his fingers lightly over Heero's cheek. The way that Heero leaned into that light touch told him that it felt as wonderful to Heero as it did to him. Not as wonderful as being wrapped in each other's arms would but after months of no physical contact at all, even that small touch felt pretty damn good. "Tell me honestly, Heero. How do you feel today? Headache, dizziness, nausea? That all gone?"

The reluctance in Heero's voice as he admitted, "Not all..." told Duo just how much Heero had wanted to be able to answer in the unqualified affirmative.

"I'll admit that a little bit of me is enjoying making you behave 'for your own good'. Payback can be a real bitch, after all. *But* I'm mostly worried about you," Duo said honestly. "I don't want us to do anything that might set back your recovery. And if I crawl in there with you, I'm not too sure how long my good intentions would last."

Heero reached up and caught the hand that Duo was still stroking over his cheek. Duo shivered as Heero pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist. Heero's lips brushed against Duo's skin as he murmured, "I just want to hold you. Please, Duo..."

'How often does Heero Yuy say "please" to *any*one?' Duo smiled softly and agreed, "Okay." He would just have to hope that his good intentions could stand up to the temptation.

Standing, Duo stripped down to boxers and T-shirt before crawling in beside Heero. Heero rolled onto his side, reaching out and drawing Duo close. Duo curled against Heero, the last trace of the lonely ache that had nagged at him over the past months fading as Heero's arms closed around him. "God, I've missed you..." he murmured, snuggling as close as he could possibly get and tucking his head under Heero's chin.

"And I you..." Heero's arms tightened a bit more as he spoke. "I wasn't supposed to need anyone. But I do. I need *you*, Duo."

Duo uncurled slightly and tilted his face up to meet the light kisses that Heero pressed to the top of his head. Soft, tender kisses rained across his eyelids, cheeks, nose, then finally his mouth. His lips parted under the gentle pressure. Duo was prepared for desire to surge up as it had in the past, insistent and overwhelming. But it didn't. Instead, it was like a banked fire, warming and comforting. Familiar - yet not.

Whether it was because the danger of being separated by a mission at any moment was gone or because there was no longer a need to hold back emotionally, to conceal the depth of their feelings, Duo didn't know - but while the attraction, the desire, was still there, the almost frantic urgency behind it was gone. He relaxed and let himself enjoy the warmth and comfort of Heero's kisses and his embrace, knowing that his concern for Heero's recovery was going to be more than enough to keep his libido in check.

***

Heero rubbed his cheek against Duo's, gratefully soaking up the longed-for sensation of Duo's warm, sturdy body pressed against his. Despite the nagging headache from the concussion, he felt better - more alive - than he had since the first war ended and he and Duo went their separate ways. He caught the end of Duo's braid in one hand and drew it over Duo's shoulder. "May I?" he asked softly, fingering the elastic holding it together.

In all the times that he and Duo had been together during the war, he could count on one hand the number of times that he had seen Duo's hair down, including that very first occasion. They had not usually had the time or sufficient guarantee of privacy and security. Duo considered his unbound hair something very personal and private and Heero was glad of that. Glad that very few people had ever seen it down and those few under very exceptional circumstances. But that also meant that he had rarely had the chance to enjoy the experience himself. Combing and rebraiding the heavy mass took too much precious time for Duo to leave it down every time that they had been together. And Heero had never been the one to actually undo the braid - he had never even asked that it be let loose - that decision had always been completely and solely Duo's prerogative.

Duo nodded solemnly, gaze soft and affectionate. "Yes." He rolled onto his stomach, giving Heero better access to the braid's full length.

Sitting up so that he could easily use both hands, Heero slid off the elastic and carefully unwound the thick plait. Reaching its base, Heero plunged his fingers into the hair, gently massaging Duo's scalp. He remembered Duo complaining in the past that the pull of the heavy braid sometimes gave him a headache.

Duo sighed in obvious enjoyment. "You can stop doing that in about a hundred years," he murmured contentedly. Heero smiled in quiet amusement and kept massaging. They'd never had the time for much of this before. Too much tension, too much hurry. Too great a chance that one or both of them would be called away on a mission at any moment. Oh, there had been some quiet times, just lying together kissing and enjoying the other's presence, at least in the latter part of the war as they'd started to look for comfort, not just release and temporary forgetfulness, from their relationship. But that had always been in the aftermath of sex, not before, and certainly not purely for its own sake. Seeking *that* would have given away far too much about their feelings and neither of them had been ready to reveal those back then.

"H'ro, you're makin' me feel guilty here..." Duo protested sleepily. "You're pamperin' me and you're the one who's hurt..."

Heero leaned over and kissed Duo's cheek. "Don't worry about it; I'm enjoying this too..." And he was. Very much. He ran his fingers through the full length of Duo's hair, finger-combing it until it lay like a golden-brown veil down Duo's back.

"C'mere," Duo murmured finally, raising himself up partway. "Lie down for a while."

Readily, Heero slid in beneath Duo's raised arm and sighed contentedly as Duo settled back down again, head pillowed on his chest. He pressed a kiss to the top of Duo's head as he brought his hand up to stroke Duo's cheek. Duo caught his hand and brushed a kiss across the very tips of his fingers where the skin was still sensitive, beyond the callused pads.

Heero closed his eyes and wished that they could just stay like this forever. Together, warm, content... *Happy*...

He wasn't sure that he could even remember the last time that he'd been happy, completely and utterly happy, for more than an instant or two. Maybe never?

'No... No, I *do* remember the last time I was genuinely happy for more than a few moments... But even then it didn't last long...'

Heero couldn't control the shudders that coursed through him at the memory. The little girl's cheerful face and voice, the flower that she'd given him... His own feelings of content and happiness as he'd flung himself down on the grass, explosive charges all in place and ready, his mission nearing successful completion...

Then, like a judgement for daring to be happy, everything had gone wrong, so very wrong...

***

When Heero's body went from relaxed to tense and shuddering, Duo immediately propped himself up so that he could see Heero's face. "Hey, what's wrong? Heero?" He caressed Heero's cheek gently. "Open your eyes," he insisted firmly. The pain and fear that was revealed when they did open had him pulling Heero tightly into his arms. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Heero buried his face in the crook of Duo's neck. "I... The last time I was even close to this happy..."

Duo strained to hear the broken words being murmured against his skin. His heart ached as Heero painfully choked out the story of a single afternoon of happiness that ended in death and destruction. Of a moment of sorrow and compassion that earned him punishment. Of the harshly-taught lesson that a perfect weapon did not need emotions. Should not *have* emotions.

Duo had known that Heero's training had been harsh. Had known that it had really wreaked havoc on his ability to deal with emotions, or at least to show them. Now he knew precisely why Heero had tried so hard to keep his feelings locked up out of sight during the war. And he was intensely grateful that, despite all that, Heero had fallen in love with him.

"Shh... it'll be okay... I love you... need you too... Partners... in this together... won't let anybody wreck our happiness... shh..." Duo rocked them both gently back and forth, crooning soothingly to his distraught lover and ignoring the fact that Heero was inadvertently pulling his hair as he clutched Duo almost painfully tightly. He had always known that Heero had emotions, deep ones, hidden beneath his iron control. An iron control that had now cracked under the combined weight of an unwanted return to battle and the severe physical stress placed on his body. Under the emotionally destabilizing effects of concussion and medication. Under the crushing weight of the painful memories dredged up by it all.

Duo had no idea how much time passed that way. Eventually, Heero quieted, exhaustion dragging him into uneasy slumber. Holding Heero close as he slept, Duo made a few decisions.

First, once Heero woke up, he was going to have to share his own past, his own fears. Quickly, before Heero had a chance to be too embarrassed by the crumbling of his emotional walls. Duo wasn't looking forward to that - he'd never told anyone about either the church or his street gang days - but it was only fair and it would put them back on level ground with each other.

Second, there was no way in hell that either of them would be accepting the offer to join Preventers that Une had visited the hotel to deliver in person yesterday. Not right now or in the foreseeable future.

Duo didn't think that he could handle letting someone else partner Heero and he was pretty sure Heero would feel the same way about him. He was also pretty sure that if they tried to work together - assuming Preventers would even let life partners do such a thing - the first time that he was in danger, Heero would do something stupid trying to protect him. Hell, he couldn't swear that he wouldn't do the same if Heero were at risk. They'd both had too few good things in their lives and knew too well how easily happiness could turn to ashes.

They would have to find a different path for their future. If necessary, they could always go back to L2 and work at the scrapyard for a while until they figured something out; he knew Hilde would have no problem finding work for them.

"It really will be okay, Heero," Duo whispered almost inaudibly as Heero stirred uneasily in his sleep. "We're not alone anymore. We'll *make* it okay. Together."

Together...