12-17-2001

TITLE: Like a Patch on Your Sleeve
Moments of Rapture contest fic
http://www.zerotwofan.com/rapture/
BY: Dev-Aki Basaa

PAIRING: 1x2 (implied 3x4)
RATING: PG-13
CATEGORY: yaoi, angst
FEEDBACK: oh yes, please! dev_aki_jediknight@yahoo.com
ARCHIVE: DHML, GW Addiction - all others, please ask.
WARNING: profanity
DISCLAIMER: Bandai and Sunrise own all. I'm just borrowing the boys and their world. The story, however, is mine.
SUMMARY: Duo reflects on time gone by.
NOTES: Takes place post EW
AUTHOR NOTES: Ok, this is a tad out of the ordinary, but the first three lines of Duo's poem (the initial ones written) were inspired by Jeff Buckley's song "Open Once." I say inspired because I THOUGHT those were the lines and, loving them, was motivated to use them in this fic. However, research has shown me that I had the lyrics wrong. And the correct ones don't *quite* fit in the same context as the ones I have do. So, the best I could think to say (since I decided to keep the faux lyrics) was that these were inspired by the original lyrics. My apologies to Jeff Buckley. On another note, the rest of the poem (completed version) is by me. Thanks to Sakti Kedar for her wonderful beta job! I've so worn out my usual beta with MD, Sakti was gracious enough to step up and give some wonderful help! And finally and most important, thank you to Sharon. It was for her contest that I wrote this fic, so :::hugs::: to you gal, for this wonderful contest and the amazing archive of fic you’ve collected thanks to it. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for 1x2ers, writers and readers. You’re the best!

Ok, I'll shut up now...

*blah* indicates italics

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

*I once was open,
A wandering traveling heart,
In love with this sweet guy.*

~*~

"That's lovely. Is that all you wrote, though?"

Duo glanced up at his professor. She was standing over his desk, arms folded across her chest. He could see the cuffs of her threadbare pink silk blouse peeking out from the sleeves of a newer looking twill jacket, a simple gold chain hung around her wrist, swinging back and forth, catching the light. He hadn't even heard her walk up.

She made a nod toward his notebook and he looked back down at it. There were drawings in the margins: mini mechanical arms, thermal scythes, and various doodles that no matter how he tried for them to look like nothing at all, they always ended up as little manifestations of memories. He'd even scribbled an old programming code across the bottom of the page, a pattern used to bypass main power to the reserves if the circuit that covered that task automatically ever got fried. It happened a few times. But the only words present on the page were the three lines he'd neatly written near the top and center, across the college-ruled lines.

"It was a 15 minute free write. Is that all you came up with?" Her tone wasn't harsh or accusatory, just wanting of an answer.

"Yeah," he said as he looked back up at her, then grinned his broadest. "I guess I was a little light on the inspiration today, Teach."

She shook her head and flashed an exaggerated frown for a moment before smiling. "No, I'd say your muses were with you fine. Just concise today. Like I said, it's quite lovely."

Duo shrugged and his right hand sought out the end of his braid, lying across his thigh and gave it a nervous tug. Funny how when given a compliment in either his physics or algebra courses he'd puff up like a rooster on the prowl, but in this 200 level English Comp class, flattery left him shrugging and pink in the cheeks. Fancy that - the God of Death blushes. Learn something new everyday.

"Engineering major?" she then asked him.

Duo shook his head. "Undeclared."

She unfolded her arms and pointed down at his notebook, tapping a peach painted nail at a half rendering of Deathscythe's head. "Consider it," she said. "Those are really interesting mechanisms." And with that she walked on past the next desk, weaving through the rows, then stopping before another student. All at random. Or so it would seem. Duo watched after her, his gaze narrowing slightly. It wasn't at random, though, she actually visited each and every co-ed, systematically working through the rows - the effort made only to look arbitrary. Why, he wondered, then he stopped, laughing at himself. This was college, not battle, what difference did it make if she was a closet obsessive compulsive? Yet his mind still worried on strategy and deciphering it - finding the pattern within the pattern.

Would he ever stop being a solider?

The tell-tale sounds of impatience began to rise within the classroom. Books were being closed and packed away in backpacks, coats yanked on while still seated in cramped seats. Though it was the professor's final say to dismiss class, the students had their own way of communicating that class was over. Duo grabbed his backpack and shoved his notebook deep inside.

"Goodness, the time!" the professor finally said, glancing up from some loose-leaf pages in her hands, casting her gaze across the room. Duo wondered if she made the effort to meet every stare as well. "Okay, read the Hawthorne on page 56 and take what you wrote today and incorporate it into a larger work - I don't care what. A poem, a short story - and I do mean short - a haiku, if you so desire, just something more and have it for next class. Get those creative juices flowing, people! Okay, be gone with you!"

At the dismissive flip of her hand, Duo was already striding out into the hall.

~**~**~

Duo dropped down, settling cross-legged on a lush patch of grass, taking another bite of his sandwich in the process. He always had to rush out of English Comp to catch the shuttle back to the dorms or else he'd end up either walking or waiting an additional 20 minutes for another shuttle - both of which put him in the thick of the lunch rush and he'd never get through the cafeteria lines before his next class met. Just more strategic planning - cut a minute here, you catch another there and it works out well in the end. For example, catching an early lunch meant that the next 45 minutes before Physics were his to waste, and, as per usual, he spent them lounging on the little hill outside the Marley Theater Arts building. Duo took another bite of his sandwich, licking away a little glob of mayonnaise that caught on his lip. Taking a swig of his soda, he leaned back against his backpack and gazed up at the sky - bright and spotted with big fluffy clouds. The sun's rays were visible beams of dusty light breaking through the whiteness and angling down towards earth. He closed his eyes, basking in the warmth as a ray of that light moved across his face, the color behind his eyelids flaring to a bright red. His mind wandered, thinking on his day so far, on the day that was to come, on what he really wanted to with his time tonight versus what assignments demanded his attention. He had a big Physics test in a few days; he had reading and an assignment in English.

...*in love with this sweet guy*...

Duo opened his eyes and sighed. That damned free-write. What had possessed him write that? He tossed the last bite of sandwich in his mouth, swallowed the final swig of soda, then sat up and turned around. He stuffed the empty bottle into his backpack and dug out his notebook, opening it to the lines he’d written earlier that day.

*I once was open,
A wandering traveling heart,
In love with this sweet guy.*

Heh.

And here he thought he'd stopped thinking about Heero so much. He brushed his fingers across his pencil scratchings, smearing the graphite a little. There'd been a time when he thought about him everyday, maybe even every hour.

He wondered where he was.

After the Marimeia incident, Heero had bolted. Before that, Duo had hung out at the hospital, day in and day out, waiting for the hero to rouse - so had the others; Quatre, Trowa, Wufei, Relena. Heero hadn't lacked for visitors. But one morning, when Duo had come for his daily vigil, he learned that Heero had woken that night and checked himself out. He'd left no forwarding address; not one fucking trace. He might as well have evaporated. No amount of searching produced any lead. Quatre had committed much time and money to the effort; Duo'd heard that Relena had done the same. Even Wufei, Sally and Noin with their Preventer's connections had done what they could. That was three years ago.

And still nothing.

If Heero Yuy didn't want to be found, then he didn't want to be found.

Damn him.

...*in love with this sweet guy*...

Lost to his thoughts, Duo had worried one corner of the paper between his fingers so much it was fuzzy-soft and about to tear. He let it go and picked up the end of his braid instead, brushing the soft bristles across and between his fingers.

He'd looked for Heero too, in his own way, through back doors and hacker circles, spending nights wired on thickening coffee and sugar rushes, only to follow a lead and watch it die. It killed him, each and every time it had happened. Duo closed his eyes and sighed, his cheeks feeling suddenly cool as a cloud floated by, blocking the sun.

He'd never had the chance to tell Heero how he'd felt. Hell, he didn't even figure it out until it was already too late. Not until he was forced to really look back over the years of the wars, not until after that bastard had already vamoosed did the full reality rise up and slap him hard across the face.

That was all Quatre's fault. If he'd not sent Relena to him, telling her that he had known Heero the best of all of them, then he never would have had to face emotions he'd blissfully ignored and then come to the dawning, horrible realization that perhaps the most important person in his life was gone. Relena had asked so many questions - about the war, about his and Heero's first real meeting (as opposed to the shooting), about their conversations, about any time they'd spent together, about rooming at the same boarding school, about their kiss.

No.

She hadn't asked about that. Not really, but all her questions drummed the experience to the fore of Duo's mind. Not that he'd ever forgotten, but, fuck, he'd been fighting a war - a draining, drowning experience of a war. He'd only let himself think about it on rare quiet lonely nights when his mind would wander and memories brought him comfort, not pain. He'd fallen asleep to that memory more times than he could count.

Hell, he never forgot a single moment of it.

They'd been arguing, at first, Heero upset with Duo's outlandish behavior at the school. Duo'd finally slapped his hands over his mouth in frustration because he didn't want to fight with Heero anymore. That had absolutely puzzled Heero to no end, prompting the most confused expression to cross his face. It had made Duo laugh, so hard, smiling and chortling until he'd collapsed, boneless, against the wall of their dorm room and slid down until he sat. Then he'd just stayed there, still chuckling, his arms resting on his bent knees. But Heero had kept staring at him with this odd, quizzical expression and before he'd even calmed his giggles, Duo'd looked up to see Heero striding towards him, his face contorted as he'd never seen it before. He'd about panicked, having no idea what was going on inside Heero's skull. Words caught in his throat, frozen by a touch of fear.

His first instinct had been flight, but retreat only backed him flatter against the wall with no escape. Then Heero was there, above him and reaching down. He had grabbed Duo's face, drawing him up to stand - but he didn't even wait for him to come full height before he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Duo's. At first the kiss was dry, chaste, but then Heero's lips parted and Duo's followed them open, feeling Heero's tongue slip inside, sliding against his own, deepening the kiss.

Duo had barely known what to think - Heero Yuy was kissing him. They'd been arguing and now they were kissing and, God help him, he liked it. It was all electric and heat. He felt light-headed and shocked and realized nothing in his life - short of flying Deathscythe - felt as right as this. He'd reached up and gripped at Heero's shirt, holding on just below his shoulder, half standing, half hanging by their kiss. His knees grew too weak to support him as Heero's tongue dipped repeatedly inside his mouth, deeper and deeper, tasting him, branding him with intense heat. Heero had pressed against him and Duo had shivered at the hardness of his muscles and the bulge of an arousal that matched his own. Then he pushed onto him further, arching his back until his head was resting against the wall. One of Heero's hands flexed against his scalp, fingers threaded through his hair, the other gripping his jaw, possessing him. It had been so intense, overwhelming, the kiss seared his soul, twisted his mind with desire he didn't know existed and he never wanted the moment to end. But it did. Heero broke away, bringing Duo up to full height. He had leaned into him as he stood fully against the wall, Heero resting his forehead against his own, both their breaths coming fast and shallow.

"Heero," he'd said, panting, staring into his deep blue eyes, looking for something in there to explain what'd just happened.

But Heero had only closed his eyes, nuzzling against Duo's cheek, his thumbs brushing over his cheekbones. Then he'd released him and turned away, marching out the door without a word. Duo'd slid back down the wall, his breaths finally under control, but shock had over taken him completely.

Heero transferred out of the school the following morning.

After that, it was as if every encounter with Heero had been stored away, un-contemplated, just another aspect of the war to not really think about. That is, until Relena had released them upon him in a rush of remembrance and agony.

It really hit him full force when she was walking away, done with her interrogation. He felt desolate, empty and panicked for the thousand puzzlements the girl's questions had roused in him. Why did Heero save him when he'd really come to kill him? Why did he take his name as a cover? Why had he been so gentle when caring for his aches and pains in that OZ cell? Why did he punch him to protect him after they'd stopped that colony from dropping? And why had he kissed him so fiercely it changed his life?

But none of it mattered now. Three years. No one had heard from him, found him or even knew if he was alive. And Duo'd never had the chance to ask those millions of questions that haunted him. Never discovered if Heero had wanted something more - if perhaps he'd acknowledged his own desire sooner, would Heero still have disappeared - or if Heero had left because he didn't want anything to do with them anymore, especially him?

It had taken two years, but he finally let it go.

...* in love with this sweet guy*...

Well, okay, so his feelings hadn't changed, but at least he no longer turned the 'whys' and 'what ifs' over in his mind in constant, defeating succession. College had helped the most. When Quatre suggested school, Duo'd surprised everyone, including himself and jumped at the chance. A whole new life, new things to focus on - like the future and meeting different people and taking a wide range of classes like English Comp and Pre-Colony History and Physics...

Physics!

Duo jerked from his reverie and looked up at the Administration building tower clock. His 45 minutes had turned into an hour and ten! Shit! He jumped to his feet and grabbed his backpack, throwing it over his shoulder as he ran towards the East Science building, dodging other co-eds.

He was so fucking late for class!

~**~**~

"He's at it again."

Duo's smile faded at the sight and sound of Quatre. His eyes looked tired, his lips weary, unable to even form a proper smile when Duo had answered the line. And now his tone was clipped and harsh and decidedly un-Quatre-like. The call had come in just as Duo had returned from his last class of the day. Not through the regular line, of course, but on the special Winner Corporation issued private vid line - the one Q-man had designed just for the former Gundam pilots' use.

"He gave another aimless speech that amounted only to incite fanatics and frustrate me to no end."

Quatre meant Herr Shelich - the newest face on the political circuit. Normally, Duo would hardly care - so far removed from the public life that Quatre and Wufei lived as corporate mogul and high profile Preventer, respectively. Lounging in his single dorm room, that world - his former life - seemed so far away. Like someone else's life; someone else's story. No one at the university knew him to be anything more than Duo Churchill - college student extraordinaire (names changed to protect the guilty). The only people who knew where the God of Death really laid his head were his fellow former pilots (sans perhaps one) and Lady Une. Even Zechs Merquise would have to get clearance to contact him and it'd better be for a damn good reason, having to convince both the Lady and the Desert Prince to allow such a thing. Same went for contacting Trowa, as Duo understood, only you'd probably have to get through Catherine on top of that, which would be a fair feat unto itself. Wufei and Quatre sacrificed that protection with the public roles they'd taken on.

Duo picked up a pencil and twirled it between his fingers. Perhaps that was another reason why Heero had run, perhaps he didn't think anonymity was an option anymore after the war so he created his own form of protection. Duo shook his head, or maybe he should just stop thinking futile thoughts. Quatre was still extolling on the evil virtues of Herr Shelich and Duo forced himself back to the moment. For as far away as Duo wanted to remain, this idiot politician warranted at least some attention.

"And," Quatre continued, "he had the gall to petition to speak at the Sanc National Monument to Peace. The Gundams' likenesses are carved into that mural! What is that man thinking?" Quatre gave a loud sigh. "Thank the Powers that Be that Sanc turned him down."

Duo frowned, drawn a little more into Quatre's frustration. Herr had made no secret of hating the Gundam pilots. He called them 'liabilities to peace.' The irony of that statement didn't make Duo laugh, however. Herr built his campaign on slandering them while enjoying the lifestyle of peace they'd helped create. He proceeded to call himself a pacifist while mongering up hate as a political tactic. He was a fucking hypocrite as far as Duo was concerned and though worth keeping an eye on, not worth the level of agitation he saw in his friend.

"So he made another speech." Duo rolled his eyes and waved his hand at the vid screen, dismissive. "So what? No one's really listening. He hasn't over taken Relena in the polls, right?" Duo didn't wait for Quatre to answer. "You're fretting too much, Cat, look at you! I see dark circles under your eyes and sunken cheeks. Do I have to get on Trowa's case for letting you do this to yourself?"

That did it. Quatre smiled true. Mention Trowa and a warm glow came alive within him - worked every time. Duo smiled back, broader, hiding the tightening in his chest. He envied what Quatre and Trowa had. They were so lucky. But he never let on, he couldn’t. He didn’t want their pity.

Quatre's smile lasted for only a moment, though, fading too soon, the wheels in his brain churning fast tonight. Duo guessed he couldn’t really blame him - if he had to hear day in and out that the Gundam pilots should be classified as weapons and 'restricted and monitored', he'd probably look like shit too. No, he'd have snapped by now. Especially for the effort Herr Shelich made to refer to them as the 'remaining Gundam pilots', implying that one of them... That Heero was...

He tried not to think about that. Ever.

"Duo?"

Duo blinked and shook his head a little. Damn, he’d completely drifted off. Quatre's expression had become worried, so he flashed him a quick reassuring smile, but then glanced down at his hand. It was clenched in a tight fist and it hurt. He hadn’t remembered making a fist. He must have mollified Quatre because, though his voice still sounded grave, he had continued on.

"There's something else, though," he said and Duo only nodded, paying just the slightest of attention. He opened his fist to find he'd crushed the pencil he'd been holding and his palm was littered with graphite dust and splintered yellow-painted wood. There were even little red cuts in his flesh from where his fingernails had dug into his skin. Guess he was just as frustrated by this Herr Shelich as Quatre, he just had a different way to express himself.

"I've had a security breach," Quatre added.

Duo barely looked up for that statement, still cleaning his hands from the crushed pencil. "Damn, Quatre, when it rains, it pours," he said, rubbing his thumb over the pierced skin.

"I've been hacked, Duo. I have. My personal files."

Duo froze. Quatre's files - the files that held all the information on his identity and whereabouts, the files that protected his anonymity. Someone had accessed them. Herr Shelich was a pompous jerk, but he wouldn't go so far as... Would he?

Duo looked up to see the worry in Quatre's eyes. It didn't bring him any comfort.

"Do you think..."

But he didn't even need to finish his sentence.

"I don’t know," Quatre said with a shake of his head. "He's determined, but that much? I can't say."

Duo had only heard Herr speak once - and that had been all he'd needed to hear to know about the man and where he stood on the state of the world's affairs - especially his stance on the Gundam pilots. "I'll find all the remaining Gundam pilots," he'd said then, standing on the rubble of an old blown out Alliance base, "and make a citizen's arrest if I have to. I'll protect peace at any cost!"

'Any cost' for a pacifist are pretty high stakes, the fucking hypocrite. Duo had always just figured he loved the sound of his own voice, building an empty campaign on exaggerations and lies. Duo just wished more people saw through it. The public didn't really think they were dangerous liabilities. Did they?

"Just be alert, Duo, okay?" Quatre's shoulders flexed again and again; he must be ringing his hands. "I'd send you extra security, but I know better - you'd just purposefully lose them on some wild goose chase, anyway."

"They attract too much attention," Duo said quickly, the familiar words spilling over his lips even in his worried distraction. It was an old argument.

"I know, I know," Quatre sighed, bowing his head. After a moment, he glanced back up, a beseeching look on his face. "Just be careful, okay?"

"Of course," Duo began and then flashed a cocky grin that had more moxy than substance. "Hey, it's me." [1]

~**~~**~

It was a few hours before Duo was able to focus on his work again. His and Quatre's conversation had ended well enough - even with the edge of tension Quatre's confession brought - but it still took Duo some time to shake the instinct of pulling his non-existent gun on every suspicious shadows.

Duo rolled his eyes at himself. He had homework to do.

Knowing he had an important Physics test to study for tomorrow night, he pulled out his English notebook to get those assignments out of the way. He already planned on lugging his textbook to bed and falling asleep to the words of Nathaniel Hawthrone. Young Goodman Brown's grappling with both his inner and outer demons would surely send him to a quick and peaceful slumber. So that left those lines from the free-write and fitting them into a larger work. What he really wanted was to put them away and not think on them anymore. He'd found contentment in avoiding thoughts of Heero, letting go of that desperate need to know. What if there could have been something between them, something chemical and emotional and possibly beautiful? The questions had haunted him that first year, but as more and more time passed, he began to believe that in knowing nothing, he had the answer he was looking for. And perhaps that's what hurt the most. If Heero had felt those things, he wouldn't have done so well at getting lost. In a sense, Duo had the answer to his questions. He'd been rejected and was left with the worst kind of goodbye - an end with no closure.

Duo swallowed hard. Stop it. He had an assignment to complete and this train of thought wasn't helping him at all. He looked down at his notebook. But, damnit, the assignment was all about Heero - all about that kiss. About how young he'd suddenly felt, having never kissed anyone before. Probably for the fist moment in his life, he'd actually felt his age and not his experience. Heero had humbled him, taken him by the lips and breathed life into his body. If Heero would have asked for more, Duo would have given it, never considering the consequences or even fully understanding what he would have been giving. He knew now - only too well - but he'd ended up lying in another man's arms, dreaming of a kiss from the past and a boy who's stolen his mind. He'd dreamt of a time when he still had an innocence, an openness - his heart a patch on his black sleeve. He blindly saw the world from the view screen of his Gundam and never realized how madly in love he'd been.

Duo grabbed a new pencil and placed it to the paper and wrote.

Then scribbled it out.

Crap. Try again. He closed his eyes and could see himself there, gripping Heero's upper arms, his braid dangling behind him, breathing Heero's breath, Heero holding him in place, half-flying away, half-tumbling down, falling in love with him in each passing moment. But he'd left his love there, trapped in that moment to be discovered later. No. To be discovered too late.

He leaned over his notebook and tried again.

This time, he didn't scribble it out.

~*~

*I once was open,
A wandering, traveling heart,
In love with this sweet guy.
In a moment like no other,
He kissed me.
And I floated in that embrace,
Not standing,
Not sitting.
But hanging by his touch,
Anchored by his lips.*

~*~

Duo cocked a brow. He didn't like it, but it worked and that was enough for him. He turned in his seat at the ding of his clock, announcing the hour. Midnight. Glancing at his poem one last time, he closed his notebook and shoved it back into his backpack. He had an early class tomorrow and Nathaniel Hawthorne still awaited him.

Joy.

Rapture.

~~**~**~~

Duo rubbed a knuckle in his eye. He'd been up until 3am last night with his Physics notes and as long as he didn’t blank out mentally thanks to sheer exhaustion, he'd ace the test. Or so he hoped.

It wasn't until his body jolted from contact that he realized he'd been on a collision course with another student.

"Oh, Duo!"

Duo blinked, steadying himself at the wall. He turned to see he'd collided with the Resident Assistant of his dorm.

"Sorry," he said - not remembering the boy's name. He'd met him only once at orientation and never needed his services after that. Pushing away from the wall, Duo continued on his way only to have the RA call him back.

"No, I've actually been meaning to talk to you, "he said with a wild gesture of his hands. "I guess you could say our collision was rather fortuitous."

"I guess," Duo answered, adjusting his backpack a little higher on his shoulder then folding his arms across his chest. He hoped this wouldn't make him late for class.

"Well," the RA - Robby? - continued, his expression turning grim. "Someone was here late evening yesterday looking for you. Someone I've never seen around here before."

Duo's stomach dropped, yet he didn't outwardly belie such a reaction.

"Really?"

"Yeah," the RA answered, his hands getting into the conversation even more. "He'd been hovering about for a little while when I finally asked him if I could help him. That's when he asked for you - or - at least, he said, 'a man named Duo, he might wear his hair in a long braid.'"

Duo leaned forward a bit. "Might?"

"Yeah," the RA nodded. "I never thought to ask for a last name, there aren't many men who wear long braids and even fewer still named Duo." He flashed a bright smile. "But in the end it was probably just as well. I played dumb, not saying yes or no to your whereabouts."

Duo tried to ignore the unsettling in his stomach. "What did he look like?"

"Well," the RA - Robin? - began, "he was tall."

Duo tried not to scoff. The RA couldn't have been more than 5' 5" himself - everyone must seem tall to him.

"And he had dark hair - kinda creepy looking."

A thought came to Duo that he hadn't considered before. Could it be one of Herr Shelich's followers? What if some freak, inspired by Herr's words had taken upon himself to do the dirty work of hunting down the Gundam pilots? Who said this had to be Herr condoned? Who knew what that man inspired? And the actions of fanatical groupies could be hard to predict.

"Do you want me to call Campus Safety?"

And put more people in the line of fire? Not a chance.

"Naw!" Duo waved his hand, shrugging his shoulders and relaxing his stance. The RA seemed to relax with him.

"It's probably nothing - just someone from one of my classes. They'll catch up with me later."

The RA faltered, looking grim again. "Are you sure?"

"Sure, I'm sure!" Duo smiled broad and then winked. The RA - Raymond? - blushed and smiled back.

"Well, if you're sure. But let me know if anything else seems odd, okay?" he added, the tips of his ears still pink.

"Absolutely," Duo said, giving a nod. Not that he had any intention of involving him anymore. It might be time to change names and transfer schools. That would probably put Quatre at ease.

"Well, thanks for letting me know," Duo said, stepping away from the wall and inching towards the stairs. "Gotta get to class."

The RA nodded and waved. "Later, Duo!"

"Later."

The exit door shut behind him, his voice ringing down the stairwell like an echo.

~**~~**~

Duo's mind spun from his conversation with the RA. Perhaps he should have Preventers issue him a gun? Should he call Quatre? Or would that only worry him unnecessarily? Maybe calling Wufei would be better.

"Mr. Churchill?"

Duo looked up. His English Comp professor was standing before his desk with an expectant look on her face. She was wearing that same twill jacket again, only with a different blouse this time. Blue. Caught unawares, Duo choked out a barely audible, "huh?"

"It's your turn to read your work for the class. The one that began with the free write? You did do it, didn't you?"

Duo's skin flashed hot, his ears suddenly on fire. Read his poem? In front of the class? No way! Damnit, he'd spit that thing out in two tries - it was crap - but beyond that, it was too damn personal! Shit!

Duo closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. Maybe he could feign illness. "I..." he began, but looked up to see his professor's attention directed to the back of the room. He didn't turn around, taking the brief reprieve to come to terms with the reality of probably not getting out of having to read his poem for the class.

Damnit.

"Can I help you?" the professor asked to the back of the room.

Duo had just settled himself down when he heard the response.

"No."

His entire body reacted to that one syllable. His heart began to pound, the blood that had rushed to his face out of embarrassment now sank to his stomach, making him feel light-headed and ill.

It couldn't be.

He twisted in his seat and scanned the back of the room, but there was no one there. He'd left. If he'd actually been there at all.

Duo turned back around to find his professor - either distracted by the interruption or having mercy on him - had moved onto another student two rows over (in her ever no-so-random weaving). The student had stood and how warbled out a song she'd written using her free-write.

But Duo didn't even really hear her.

Should he go out there, into the hall? What would he find? What if his mind was just playing awful tricks on him and he'd go out to some stranger lingering in the hall or, simply, nothing at all. Or, worse yet, what if he walked directly into the grasp of some psycho pacifism fanatic? Was it worth the disruption to class and the possibility of danger just to chase what was probably no more than a fantasy?

And risk being too late again?

"Mr. Churchill!?"

He could hear the concern in his professor's voice as he ran out of the classroom and into the hall. He'd explain himself later - or at least, try.

Duo stopped in the middle of the hall and found... nothing. The hall was oddly empty. Usually there was something going on, someone milling about, sitting on the benches or the floor, waiting for a particular classroom to empty. Wasn't there always at least one person hovering in front of the vending machine, contemplating which $0.45 item would suffice for lunch today?

Nope. Not a blessed soul.

Feeling a fool, Duo turned back to the classroom door and glanced inside. He couldn't go back in - not now. He'd have to wait until class let out to apologize to his professor and gather his things. He wondered if that girl who'd been singing thought his hasty exit had anything to do with her. He hadn't even been paying attention. She could have been a brilliant artist for all he knew and hopefully she didn’t take his sudden departure to heart.

Duo spied a perfect spot to sit down and lean against the wall to wait, wallowing in renewed self-pity. He was being paranoid and hopeless today. The hacking was just some unfortunate fluke - not the work of a madman after him, not the desperate efforts of a lost love come back to find him. The last thought made him laugh aloud, but with an edge of self-depreciation. What had made him think that out of nowhere, Heero would just show up after all this time and hunt him down? Not contacting anyone, just covertly hacking into Quatre's personal system. How ridiculous.

How Heero.

Duo grumbled at himself and his thoughts and moved to turn and sit against the hallway wall when the sensation of being watched crawled up his back. Panic gripped him, the paranoia of Herr Shelich's followers retuning to him. That was a far more realistic option than...

"Duo."

Duo froze in his spot, his hands trembling instantly. No, it's not possible, but... He was afraid to turn around and be wrong. But how could he be wrong about that voice?

He steadied himself and slowly turned, taking a gasp of breath at the sight. Where he appeared from, Duo didn't know, but it was him, dressed in jeans and a gray t-shirt. He looked... short. Duo almost laughed out loud. He was only a few inches shorter than him, but he'd grown broader across the shoulders, his hair still a flop of dark brown over his brow.

Heero.

He was back.

Suddenly, as if a window opened and a strong breeze rushed in and blew them away, all the questions that had haunted him these years didn't matter - even 'where have you been' and 'why did you leave.' If he never asked them or if he did and hated every answer, it didn't matter as long as this time, Heero stuck around. As long as he knew he was alive and well, nothing else mattered. That was everything. His body thrummed with energy, synapses firing with excitement.

Duo smiled.

"Are you going to stay around?"

Heero looked down at his white sneaker-clad feet (he'd probably grown out of those old yellow ones), his brow pinched in thought. They hadn't moved any closer to each other; there was probably a good eight feet between them.

After a moment, Heero looked up, his voice soft, but it carried down the hall clear and strong.

"That depends. On you."

On him? Duo's heart skipped a beat and he swallowed hard, but wouldn't dare assume. Too much could just as easily chase him away as bring him close again. He was here, right now, that’s what mattered. Not his suppressed feelings or his millions of questions.

"Quatre will be so thrilled. Relena too," he said instead. "You'd be amazed what she's done to try finding you."

Heero shook his head. "No. On you, Duo. On you."

"On me?" he repeated and Heero nodded and then continued, his fingers flexing in the fists he rested at his sides.

"I didn't know what to do with myself after the wars. I..." He stopped, shaking his head and pausing for a moment and Duo just waited, silent, giving Heero his time. After another moment, he spoke again. "Then that politician began speaking and he seemed to capture all my fears about being only a weapon and having no humanity..."

"Oh, Heero..." Duo cut him off, his heart aching at his words, only to be stopped himself by Heero's raised hand.

"Let me finish," he said, then took a deep breath. "I thought it'd be better if I just stayed away. You could defend yourselves without me around as the poorest example. But here I am; I couldn't stay away. Because..." He paused, seeming to re-gather his momentum. "I couldn't stay away because I have to ask you a question."

"You have to ask me a question?" Duo repeated then realized how stupid he must sound, brainlessly echoing Heero's words. But he didn't know what to think. He recognized Heero, but he didn't. He'd grown so much more than physically since the wars. There was a big heart-shaped patch on his sleeve. Duo smiled broader at the thought.

"Yeah," Heero continued, then scoffed a little, adding, "I could ask you a hundred questions, but I only have to ask you one."

Duo nodded for him to continue, wanting so much to breach the distance between them, but realizing it was like a protective barrier to Heero. He was a skittish animal, wanting comfort, but scared of the consequences of asking for it.

Heero bit his lip and then spoke. "Why did you let me kiss you? At that boarding school," he clarified, and then shook his head and looked away, but continued. "You could have pushed me away, lashed out. You didn't. You kissed me back." He looked to Duo again. "Why?"

He was genuinely puzzled and confused and Duo had never seen anything so endearing. He wanted to touch him, reach out and reassure him in a way his words may fall short of. He'd answer him and be honest, and truth wasn't always perfectly pretty, but Heero deserved no less.

"At first," Duo said, "you stunned me. When you approached me I was...scared." His chest clenched when Heero winced at that word, so he hurried on with his explanation, his body still trembling with energy.

"But then, you were there and we were kissing and I'd never felt anything so right before in my life. But then..." He let his words trail off.

Heero opened his eyes, they seemed to sparkle a little more than before. "But then I stopped," he finished.

"Yeah." Duo tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

Heero sighed and glanced to his sneakers once more before he looked up at Duo again.

"Can I ask you one more question? Something I should have asked you that day at the boarding school, but didn't."

Duo smiled - it had never occurred to him that Heero might also have collected a hundred questions over the years.

"Of course."

Then Duo saw something he'd almost never seen from Heero Yuy. He smiled. It was slight, but it was true and honest and so beautiful Duo thought he would cry. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd cried.

Heero tilted his head a little. "May I kiss you?"

Duo's breath caught in his throat, his smile growing. He hadn't expected that. He swallowed a few times, trying to speak, but couldn't. So he nodded, he could feel his braid hit against his back, brushing his shirt.

Heero walked toward him and Duo met him halfway. He wanted to crash into his embrace, but Heero slowed, reaching out to cup his chin, his fingers rubbing at the side of his neck. He leaned into the touch, amazed at the expression on Heero's face. It was that same open innocent expression he remembered of himself so long ago. Duo reached out to rest his hands at Heero's waist, moving closer, but waiting for Heero to close the distance for the kiss.

In his life, he'd never felt so happy as he did in this moment; the way Heero was looking at him captured his soul forever. Only two things could make this moment better - for Heero to hurry up and kiss him and for one simple word.

"Are you going to stay now?" he asked, nuzzling even more into Heero's touch.

Heero's lips quirked a little, his eyes sparkling even more.

"Yeah."

Duo smiled. "Good."

Heero's hand at his neck pulled him closer and he had to suppress the bark of joyful laughter that came to his throat. Heero's lips descended on his, so hot and so tender - so sweet - and he buried himself in that embrace. He ignored the classes that were emptying all around them, losing himself to that kiss. He let go of every question that had ever brought him grief and angst and surrendered himself to just one feeling, one thought.

...*in love with this sweet guy*...

 

The End.

 

 

[1] Oh, just a little Star Wars reference from "Return of the Jedi"