11-12-2001

Hello it is just me again. I had started this story a few weeks back and got stuck so I set it aside for awhile. I finally finished it this week. Aren't you proud of me? Seriously though I hope it gives you a few minutes of entertainment. As usual feedback would be nice. I hope you enjoy my latest offering of the fanfic gods. Thank for your time and attention. Your friend and sister author. Karen,The Huntress.

Title: Bittersweet
Author: Karen, The Huntress
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters
Pairing: 1x2
Warning: angst, language, mild lemon.

BITTERSWEET

 

Part One:

Heero was scared, more scared than he had ever been in his life. As he drove through the early morning traffic his mind wandered back reviewing what had brought him to this point in time. To this soul-sick fright that overwhelmed every part of his being.

Throughout the war he had relied on his training, which had become second nature, to handle any situation. When something happened he allowed his instincts to take over and never thought about the actual process until the danger or battle was over.

After the war and the shaky peace that followed he remained the Perfect Soldier handling each decision with the same cold detachment that had always worked. Even his relationship with his fellow Pilots had not changed in the stoic way he viewed his comrades-in-arms.

At Sally Po's request Wufei had joined the Preventers. Quatre and Trowa had each other as they attempted to build a new life together.

But Duo Maxwell, that was another story. Heero had known from the first moment he and Duo had been thrown together by war's harsh circumstances that there was something different about the way he related to Deathscythe's pilot.

The war had not allowed much time to dwell on these odd feelings. The emotions Duo stirred to life defied Heero's best attempt to give them a name, to put them in the same general category that he had filed everything else in his life.

When peace was finally attained instead of being relieved, Heero Yuy found himself dreading the separation the ending hostiles might cause. Freedom had been achieved but he wasn't at all certain he wanted to be free from the braided boy he had come to view as more than a friend.

Still the wrenching separation came. Heero wandered for many months seeking some elusive goal that seemed to stay always just out of his reach. He was a soldier, someone trained for war. Now peace had plunged him into a strange environment, one so foreign that he simply did not know how to cope. How does a warrior live with peace?

He kept up with Wufei easily enough through the Preventers. Even though Trowa and Quatre moved around in the first few months, the gentle Sandrock pilot and his now less impassionate lover had been good about keeping in touch.

Maxwell, however, disappeared without a trace.

In spite of all of Heero's computer skills the beautiful braided boy could not or would not be found.

Soon tracking down the mysterious missing American became Yuy's driving force. He had to have some focus, something to give him a reason to go on. Locating the one person who had ever made him feel alive was now Heero Yuy's sole mission.

He had unashamedly enlisted the other pilot's help. Until that time Heero had neither needed nor wanted anyone's assistance. But now he knew that every resource would have to be put into play if he had any hope of finding the elusive Shinigami.

More months followed. More dead ends and mounting frustrations. After days and nights of searching every link he could think of, every unauthorized site he could hack and enter, it appeared Heero had depleted every option.

Then late one night when Heero was so exhausted the screen blurred into one gray mass and his eyes felt like they were about to drop out of his throbbing head, the thought that Duo might be dead crept into his muddled mind.

Staggering to his bed Heero collapsed in the darkness staring into a black void made up of not only the room's lack of light, but also a heart-severing panic that shook to his soul's very core.

Heero was suddenly afraid, terrified to think he might have lost the only person who had given any meaning to his pitiful excuse of a life. Duo had become his only anchor in a swirling whirlpool of despair and utter loneliness.

"No it can't be. It won't be." Heero mumbled to the engulfing darkness of mind and soul. "Duo is alive I can feel it." he augured back against the total depression inundating his spirit.

"Duo I will never give up." Heero promised finally breaking under the strain.

Alone in the smothering gloom of deep despondency he let the tears flow freely.

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

Two months more. Nothing, no trace. Then came the fateful night that put Heero's life-changing events into motion.

During yet another restless night, one plagued by the same repetitive nightmare that had become Yuy's whoring bedmate, Heero tensed. As the frightening dream of him falling away into nothingness grappling desperately for Duo's hand that was just out of reach once again invaded his sleep, Heero shook and sweated.

Mercifully, just before fear threatened to halt his heart's beating, the buzzing of the vide-phone urged him back to reality.

Heero's hand made two unsuccessful stabs before closing around the receiver. Clumsily his other hand prodded the keypad until the correct button was depressed.

The screen sparkled to life brightly displaying Quatre's haggard image in the darkened room. A blue shadow slid over Heero's sleepy features as he propped up on one elbow.

"Quatre?" Heero questioned blinking hard before his sight adjusted to the screen's glare.

"Heero, yes it's me." the elfin blond answered. "Are you awake?"

Heero cracked opened one eye but only enough to confirm that it was indeed Winner on the line. "I am now, I guess." he yawned using a great amount of effort just to sit up.

"What time is it anyway?" he wondered cracking open the other eye to check his watch, 3:30 am. "Damn Quatre you better have a hell of a good reason for calling so earlier." he declared rubbing the sleep from his watery eyes.

Quatre's face was a confusing mixture of upset and sadness. This contrary countenance spurred Heero's sluggish brain to pay more attention to his and his friend's impending conversation.

"What's wrong?" he inquired suddenly more alert.

"We have found Duo." Quatre announced abruptly not knowing any other feasible way to ease Heero into the news.

Now Heero was absolutely wide-awake. "Duo? How? Where?" he rambled running his anxious questions together into one continuous stammering sentence.

Trowa's face appeared besides Quatre's leaning closer to the screen. "Sally Po contacted us. Duo is in the Medical Center." Barton replied in his usual cool, no nonsense, manner.

Heero bolted upright his own brand of confusion merging with his now all too familiar worry.

"The Med-Center." he repeated excitedly the worry quickly turning to dread. "What happened?" his extreme anxiety demanded as it turned into panic.

"We are not certain," Quatre replied, "A half an hour ago Sally called us. She said she had walked into Duo's hospital room completely by accident. When she entered she was dumbfounded, not believing her eyes, but she knew it had to be Duo from his braid. She stepped in for a closer look and found him restrained and not at all responsive to her presence or her attempts to find out what had happened.

According to the nurse Sally questioned Duo has been there for a week registered as a "John Doe" because he had no identification on him when he was brought in. The assigned Doctor is not sure what happened because Duo has been too disorientated to tell his name or give anyone any details."

Quatre choked back a tremble in his voice, paused then tried to continue but was defeated in the attempt. Trowa put an arm about his partner's sagging shoulders and took up the relating.

"According to the Emergency Room records the manager of a rundown motel on the lower side of town discovered Duo in an unconscious condition." Trowa sighed, "The paramedics found a plastic bag containing illegal "street pills" clutched tightly in his hand."

Quatre had now recovered enough to add on the ending. "Sally says the Doctor couldn't be certain whether the overdose was accidental or an attempt by Duo to take his life. That is all we know.

We are leaving for the Med-Center now. I called Wufei; he is going to meet us there."

Heero stood up, "I'm on my way" he declared, "Quatre?" he added trying to calm his own quivering voice, "Do you think Duo......" the trembling worsened, "that he might have brain damage since he has been "out of it" for so long?" His words trailed off replaced by free flowing tears."

Quatre was crying, too, " Heero.........I don't know."

 

Part Two:

As Heero pulled into the Med-Center parking lot he noticed Quatre's car, which was easily identified by SANDROCK printed on the license plate, sitting at the far end of the row. Heero parked two spaces over.

Crossing a dividing strip Heero passed Wufie's vehicle in the adjoining lot. Chang's black SUV was also always easy to spot as it was the only one around with a fiery dragon's head painted on the driver's side door.

A quick stop at the information desk to get Duo's room number as the hospital finally had a name for the mysterious "John Doe" then a short elevator ride to the third floor.

Heero found Wufei leaning on the wall, hands stuffed in his pockets, staring down at his feet. Chang's dark gaze met Heero's tear-reddened eyes as he approached.

"How is he?" Heero asked peering around the door. His attempt to see his friend was foiled by Quatre and Trowa standing at the foot of Duo's bed. Another man Heero assumed was a doctor checking a monitor cut off his sight from the other side.

Wufei stood straighter, removed his hands and push heavy unruly strands of ebony hair back from his face. "I don't know I just got here. Quatre, Trowa and Dr. Blare were already in there so I stayed out here to give them room to move around"

Heero placed a hand on Wufei's shoulder, "Come on there is plenty of space." he encouraged Shenlong's Master to move on inside.

The concerned pair of ex-Gundam pilots turned as their brothers-in-arms walked through the door. Quatre's sad eyes and the serious statement on his fair face gave Heero's heart another reason to resume its aching.

Without a word the noble Desert Prince reached out to take hold of Heero's arm before guiding him between himself and Trowa.

Duo laid on his back with a sheet smoothed over his thinner as usual frame. Each arm rested in a straightened alignment on either side atop the taut material.

His unbraided hair feathered out on the pillow cascading over the sterile linen. The flowing mane framed his high cheekbones lending an even more gaunt appearance to Duo's pale countenance.

Duo's face was ashen except for the dark purple shading under his eyes. His dry lips were partly slightly allowing swallow breaths to escape over their equally whitened surface. His eyelids were cracked opened just enough for everyone to see a glimpse of violet.

However there was no indication Duo was seeing anything clearly through the narrowed slits. And if he was that was nothing to show that any information was accurately being registered in his mind. There was no outward sign whatsoever Duo was aware of his surroundings or that all his worry friends were gathered around him.

Two IV tubes and wires attached to monitoring patches ran from his pale skin to their various connections. A steady beep from one monitor was the only sound in the clinically cold room's antiseptic atmosphere.

Heero moved nearer fighting back a renewed urge to cry. He had never felt this way, never so freely shone his emotions. But he would have had no emotions to show at all had it not been for Duo's steadfast encouragement. His patience endurance while teaching Zero's pilot that is was all right to have feelings and let them show was the sole reason Heero's heart was now hurting so badly.

Then Heero's eyes fell on the restrains strapped firmly about Duo's wrists keeping his hands at his sides. Suddenly anger boiled up replacing the painful pangs tearing through his heart.

"Are these necessary?" Heero growled at the startled doctor not bothering to hide his rage. Then the hissed question was reinforced with a typical Yuy death glare.

Quatre sighed locking his indigo eyes with Heero's brooding cobalt centers of sight. "Duo has had some lucid periods." he offered an explanation.

"Each time he comes around he fights to get out of bed. Duo is in no condition to get up. The attending staff was afraid he would hurt himself or someone else in the process so they thought it best to keep him in light restraints." he stated with another sigh.

"Unfortunately there is not enough extra staff for someone to sit with Duo at all times to make certain he stays in bed." Trowa added putting his arm around Quatre's shoulders. "It was for his own good."

"Well there are people here now." Heero declared in a no nonsense tone.

"Duo is not alone and will not ever be again." he announced keeping the stony glare in force.

"If someone is going to stay in here," Dr. Blare answered Yuy's curt statement, "I don't suppose they are necessary. The restraints may be removed but only if one or more of you are going to keep a close eye on Mr. Maxwell."

Without another word Heero began to undo the straps rubbing each wrist in turn as if trying to erase the discolored rings encompassing Duo's bony wrists.

"He is so thin." Heero declared to no one in particular. "Oh Duo what happened to you?" he choked out the words as his trembling voice told volumes about the emotional turmoil crashing through Heero's guts.

Then Heero looked over at Dr. Blare and, this time, a softer cast glowed in his misty eyes. "Was there any.........." he began swallowing hard to wash down the fear clogging his throat, "any brain damage?" he paused then quickly made his next inquiry before his nerve gave out altogether, "He will recover, won't he?"

Dr. Blare lowered his eyes avoiding the anguish in the young man's anxious face. "It is too early to tell." he stated wanting to be completely honest. He felt Heero and the others deserved that much.

"The tests on the pills Mr. Maxwell ingested were not conclusive. They were a mixture of several drugs and that was no way to know how much he took or how long it had been before he was found. We pumped his stomach and administered medication that hopefully lessened the affects.

I wish I could give you a more solid diagnosis but there are too many variables, too many unknowns. One of the greatest determining factors in this kind of recovery is the patient's willingness to help themselves.

A lot rests with the person's desire to live. Mr. Maxwell must want to get better." the Doctor announced, "I have done all I can medically, now it is up to him if he wants to come back or not. I will do everything I can to help him along, but in the end it will be his decision."

Wufei stepped forward speaking out for the first time. "Duo will come out of this. With our help I know he will." he stated with certainty.

"Is Duo strong enough?" Quatre wondered quietly voicing the other's unspoken thoughts and fears.

Heero shook his head as he carefully sat on the bed's side. Taking Duo's clammy hand he used the other to caress his friend's warm brow.

"Don't give up." he whispered. "Damn it Duo you will not give up!" his raised voice declared before falling away into silence.

Dr. Blare motioned in the other pilot's general direction, "I need some additional information could one of you take a minute to help me?"

Trowa nodded glancing down at Heero who looked so lost and alone. "I think we need to give Heero some privacy." he proclaimed taking Quatre's hand before guiding him away from the bedside.

Wufei offered a small nod managing a thin smile then followed the others into the hall. Heero did not notice one last quick look over Chang's shoulder before the door closed shutting out the lights and noise leaving Heero and Duo alone in a deafening silence.

 

Part Three

Heero let out a weak sigh realizing that he had been holding his breath. Duo was so quiet, so fragile, so different from his usual energetic self.

Even though Heero knew that Duo's smile and lightheartedness often was a mask fashioned to hide his uncertainty and fear of rejection, still some inner part of Duo's soul always had maintained an optimistic hope that one day everything would be all right.

What had happened to destroy that optimism? "Oh Duo what happened?" he wondered aloud increasing the pressure on his brother-in-arm's clammy hand.

Something in the touch, the words whispered in heartsick sadness must have cracked the crystal wall entombing Duo's clouded consciousness. An ever so slight twitch registered against Heero's hand.

Encouraged by the response, even though it could have been only a tactical reaction and not a true reply to his words or touch, Heero leaned closed to Duo's ashen face.

"Duo." he called, "Its Heero, I'm here. Can you hear me?" he urged his friend to fight back through the debilitating haze swamping every part of his being.

"Damn it Duo here me now!" Heero called out the authoritative command.

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

It was cold, so cold in that black void. Chill currents swirled about threatening to freeze both his body and the vital organs trapped within. Duo's mind floundered in the gelatinous infusion as the thick syrupy mixture enveloped him in a suffocating tide.

As the congealing fluid held him fast Duo struggled without success against the icy enfoldment. His energy was almost spent; his fortitude all but used up. It would be so easy to give up, to let the engulfing surge pull him under.

Duo had fought off the debilitating affects several times in recent days pushing pass the smothering wall only to lose the battle and be plunged back into its terrifying entombing depths once more. During the brief lucid periods Duo's resistance had manifested itself in a panic-stricken thrashing about as he called on Shinigami's power to free him from the hellish nightmare that he could not wake up from.

However, there always seemed to be something just under the surface that held him back. Had his demons followed him clawing into his body, tearing into flesh down to the bone as they dragged him back into the arctic abyss?

But now that was a sense of warmth in the icy deepness. There was a small point of heat so tapered that it was almost invisible. But it was there in sure and solid substance.

Accompanying the odd illumination a strange sound touched his hearing. At first Duo couldn't make out the undistinguishable bits of noise as each discernible tone jumbled into a racket of static and discord. But between the annoying interference something familiar punched through. It was not just white noise but a voice. As peculiar as it seemed there was indeed a voice carried with the din.

Duo could not identify the voice's owner or accurately pinpoint its origin, but it was speaking and its resonance was quite human in its tenor. There was only one word that Duo could glean from the confused calling but that single utterance was clear as it bore straight into his soul.

Something or someone was calling his name and the sweet reverberation was slowly melting away the enslaving icy tentacles. Gradually the radiant infusion of light and heat punctured the unyielding slime. The voice rose in volume until the jellied confinement quivered from the vibrations.

Then the encompassing mass began to part, to draw back from the intruding warmth. Finally the gulf widened enough to let Duo begin to nudge his way through the narrow opening. Would he traverse the breach only to be snatched back again?

"Fight Maxwell!" Duo screamed out the order to his feeble strength as it weakened from the torturous effort.

"Fight with everything you have!" the command was issued with the same tenacity that had allowed him to survive the streets of L2 and brought him through the horrible war, if not completely unscathed, at least reasonably intact.

The curtain parted wider as it seemed to disintegrate under the phantom voice's constant bombardment. With determination borne of his will to live, Duo pushed harder as every muscle burned and labored breaths pounded in his chest. Almost there. Almost.

Then with a victorious gasp as sweet fresh air surged into his lungs, Duo's entire body jerked from the sudden freeing sensations. His eyes flew opened then closed tightly against the blinding glare that sent stabbing pain back into his brain.

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

Heero involuntarily jumped as, without warning, Maxwell's frail form convulsed bowing his back off the bed. A sturdy intake of air swelled in Duo's chest creating a strong sucking sound deep in his lungs.

The startling constriction as Duo's fingers closed on his sent pain stinging through Yuy's hand. Had he not known the powerful effects an adrenaline rush could produce Heero would have been surprised by Duo's unexpected display of strength.

But would the sudden surge last or was it merely a short lived rush of energy that would soon dissipate leaving Duo with no reserves to mount another attack on his almost comatose condition?

Heero increased the pressure on Duo's hand leaning nearer as his Gundam partner fought to come back from his nightmarish existence.

"Come on Duo fight." he demanded willing Duo to draw from his strength even if he had to use it all to push through the veil of darkness.

Slipping his other arm under Duo's trembling shoulders, Heero pulled him as close as physically possible. Cradling the jerking form Zero's master stroked Maxwell's chestnut mane whispering confidence-laden words to give his friend a direction to follow on his liberating trek.

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

Now the radiant heat surrounded Duo. The voice had lost some of its volume but it was still heard as it repeated his name once more.

"I'm here." Duo's brain confirmed even though his body was more sluggish in its reaction to the verbal stimulant.

With measured caution against the piercing light Duo carefully let his eyelids part a little, waited for his optical nerves to adjust then gradually widened them further.

For a moment panic coursed over him as Duo felt his body being held in a firm confinement. Was the smothering concealment returning? Had the whoring spawns of hell caught him once again to rape his body and ravish his mind until there was nothing left?

"No." the single word rose hoarsely from his throat. So close to freedom.....so close.

With the last of his control Duo's resisted the firm hold. With all the willpower he could muster he strained against the constricting grasp.

"NO!" The primal scream bellowed from his soul's very core. He would not return to that terrible torment even if it meant he would surrender his last breath in the process.

Duo would rather die than remain in the cold, black realm where his spirit could not be free. Death, after all, would be a welcome release and Shinigami had no fear as he responded to the total submission of its all too familiar calling.

With that final decision Duo Maxwell stopped fighting resigning himself to whatever path fate wished him to travel. In freeing his will, he would free his soul and what a blessed relief would follow.

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

"Duo?" Heero questioned as his struggling friend suddenly went limp in his arms, "Duo. No." he called shaking the lax body held tightly in his arms.

A monitor alarm beeped harshly in the quiet room. A red warning light flashed urgently as the machine no longer registered any heartbeat or respiration. The display screen showed only a flat line where a rhythmic pulsing should have been.

Duo's head lopped to the side coming to rest easily on Heero's shoulder. His eyes were fixed half-opened in a glassy stare that told Heero's he was rapid slipping away.

The Perfect Soldier had seen that look many times before, the unfocused gaze that always preceded the Grim Reaper's claiming of a dying spirit because more often than not Zero's master had been the caused of the fatal condition. Its horrible aspect had reappeared again and again in his nightmares becoming indelible burned into his mind. The strangling wheeze of a last breath escaping from a deflating chest had been repeated until Heero also heard the raspy rattling in his dark dreaming.

But this time Heero Yuy would not accept fate's final decree. This time he would not be an ally of death but he would fight the Claimer of Souls with every ounce of determination he had. Duo would not be allowed to give up even if he was so tired he had drained all his endurance and had nothing left.

Carefully laying Duo back on the bed Heero placed his thumb on Duo's chin forcing his pursed lips open. Taking in a deep breath Heero sealed his mouth over his partner's mouth and expelled the stored up air in one steady stream.

Only a bare flinch answered the forced airflow. The monitor still beeped telling Heero nothing had changed.

"Damn it Duo you are not going to do this." Heero declared taking in another breath and delivering it with all the power he could call up from his newly found compassion.

Heero did not hear the door bust opened. The monitor control at the Nurse's Station had announced with a loud clamor that something in Maxwell's room had gone terribly wrong.

The nurse's quick reaction as they rushed for Duo's room with the crash cart immediately alerted the three pilots in the waiting room to the trouble. Two nurses threw wide the door as the Gundam pilot trio fought the urge to follow them inside.

Knowing they would be in the way and could offer no help they remained in the doorframe as their hearts pounded and they held a collective breath.

Trowa kept Quatre securely in his arms sensing the empathic waves caused by Duo's difficulty as they crashed inside his precious partner. Wufei peered inside offering up a prayer that Duo would not leave them.

"It is not your time Maxwell." Wufei whispered not allowing himself to believe that Deathscythe's master was beyond reclaiming.

One nurse grabbed Heero's arm to pull him back so they could asset the situation. With a throaty growl he resisted then blew a third breath of life over his friend's bluish lips.

Dr. Blare charged passed the gathered Gundam pilots joining the nurses as Heero administered the last breath. He was prepared to physically restrain the young Japanese man when the monitor suddenly became quiet.

The indicator lights returned to green. The display lines began to jump in a steady, even pattern as they indicated a strong regular heartbeat and acceptable respiration.

With a winded sigh Heero straightened up glancing over his shoulder first at the monitor then at his fellow pilots standing in the doorway. A slight smile flitted across his lips as Heero allowed himself to believe Duo was out of danger.

Duo's face had begun to pink up and the bluish cast on his lips had all but vanished. His eyes moved beneath his eyelids before they slid back to reveal clear and much more focused violet orbs.

Duo drew in a long, cleansing breath the first one, it seemed, in the longest time. His eyes wandered about catching glimpses of the room that until then he had not known he occupied. Then his misty eyes came into contact with Yuy's narrowed blue orbs.

It was strange but in those moments following his reclamation Duo didn't feel the need to question where he was or what had happened. He had no memory of the many months before or the week after he had taken a handful of pills. It was as if it was all a haunting dream and now morning had come and he was fully awake.

He was not aware of the time lost to loneliness or the desperation that had led him to try to ease his sorrow with alcohol and drugs or the few times he had sought comfort from an occasionally stranger he invited to his bed.

But all the drinking, drugs and sex had been but a hollow diversion and only for a short time offered any relief. He had known all along that the solution to his problems could be found in the company of his friends with whom he shared the trails of war and without whom he could not find true peace.

Why had he waited so long to return to the only people who really understood him? Why had he continued to run away when he knew there was a safe haven just beyond his heart's pain?

He had fooled himself seeking anything that would cloud his senses so he wouldn't have to feel anymore. Believing no one would accept him, that he was tainted well past redemption, Duo felt his life had no meaning, no purpose pass his next bottle of booze or bag of pills.

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

Trowa with his arm around Quatre's waist moved inside as Wufei brought up the rear guard. They stopped closed enough so Duo's would not have to strain to see them.

As Dr. Blare checked Duo's heart listening to the sturdy throbbing through his stethoscope he let a satisfied smile poise on his lips. Duo was weak but all his vital signs were stable. He told the nurses they could leave as he believed the crisis was over.

"I am going to let all of you stay for awhile." the Doctor stated as he moved toward the door, "But don't let Mr. Maxwell talk too much and if anything changes press the call button." he instructed knowing by their reaction to everything around them that this was not the first time the young men had been in the a hospital situation.

He had suspected from their first meeting that these youths had experienced more in their short span on this earth than most people would see or do in a lifetime.

They all possessed a maturity well beyond their young years. There was an underlying hardness developed by a harsh life and a fire in their souls forged by the heat of battle and the horrors of war. No, this was not the first time one of them had been close to death and survived the Grim Reaper's harvest.

Duo's weakness-dazed sight finally centered on Heero's sweat-streaked features. Intense cobalt eyes stared from under stringy strands of chocolate hair clinging to his damp forehead. The glare was immediately recognized and felt at the same time. But now there was a confusing softness in that steely stare Duo had never seen before.

A tugging in the back of his mind prompted Maxwell's brain. A basic instinct seemed to kick in insisting that there was something he needed to remember. There was a hole in his recollection. Missing parts, days, hours that had slipped from his mental grasp.

"Heero?" Duo's hoarse voice asked barely above a whisper. "What...."

Heero took his friend's hand intertwining his fingers, "You heard the Doctor don't try to talk now."

The stubborn American, despite the sleepy haze dimming all his senses, insisted badly needing some answers. "But how did I......" he mumbled the words coming roughly from his parched throat.

Quatre poured a glass of water adding a straw to make it easier for Duo to take a decent drink. After the cool water had moistened the dryness the words flowed with less trouble.

"How..." he began again.

"All right I will tell you what we know," Heero agreed, "but you have to be quiet." he insisted.

Quatre pulled up a chair so Duo would not have to put forth any effort to listen. He began with a brief explanation of how Duo had dropped out of the pilot's lives. How they all were heartsick with worry, had gone nonstop for many months using every resource they could to find the young braided man who seemed to have evaporate into thin air.

Quatre once more choked back welling tears as he recalled the frightening telephone call from Sally Po. "Do you realize that you were found by accident?" Quatre snapped with uncharacteristic bluntness as the strain of all the wearisome events finally caught up with his gentle nature.

Deciding it was too difficult for his koi to continue Trowa suggested that Heero take up the tale.

Heero did not sugar coat the details of Duo's condition when he was brought to the Emergency Room as an unidentified stranger barely breathing and in shock. Heero made no effort to lessen the anxiety they all had experienced at the sight of their fellow pilot laying so pale and still after a week of anonymity.

Duo remained quiet throughout the retelling. Occasionally he would shift his sight from one face to another trying to read their expressions to tell what was going on in their minds.

Quatre had always been the easiest to read. His eyes were truly the windows to his gentle soul. Trowa, of course, hardly ever changed his statement although the flexibility of his facial features had softened somewhat from their fixed contours since he and Quatre had become lovers.

Chang Wufei had never been fully expressive but he did not make as much of an effort to hide what he was thinking or feeling. More than once he had launched into a quite long-winded tirade especially when he felt injustice was the righteous reason for his outbursts.

Then there was Heero Yuy. The Japanese man was perhaps the hardest to read. Most of the time he would neither offer physical nor verbal evidence as to what was on his mind and certainly never his heart.

Duo had long ago accepted Heero's coolly composed disposition resigning himself to the fact that Heero knew no other way. Heero had never talked about his past but Duo, through his own experience with the training methods employed by the brilliant but insane scientists, had a good idea of how Yuy had been conditioned. How Heero's humanity had been undermined until there was only the slightest traces left behind.

But as Heero reached the part about Duo's withdrawal into the deep recesses of the shadow lands. As he related how he had fought to bring Duo back and retrieve his feeble spirit, there was a distinct difference in Yuy's entire temperament.

The same softness that Duo had caught a glimpse of when he first found Heero sight locked on him had returned. There was a certain brand of exposure that had laid Heero bare leaving his soul naked for all the world to see.

A pang of guilt stabbed through Duo's heart. His conscience ached with the pain he had caused his friends. But what hurt most of all was the sense of insecurity, the defenselessness Yuy now displayed.

There was a tremble in Heero's voice that expressed his fright at the thought of losing his closest friend. "Duo I......." Heero began then paused as if to gather his thoughts or his nerves or both.

Duo tightened his grip on Heero's hand, "I have to say something." he insisted pleading with his eyes to be heard.

For a moment it seemed that Heero would interrupt but the beseeching look in Maxwell's eyes halted his intensions to speak.

"I am so sorry for all the pain I have caused." Duo began his heartfelt apology, "I never gave any consideration to how my leaving without a word or contact would affect you all. It was a completely selfish act." he declared searching from face to face to find one spark of forgiveness.

"Duo." Quatre spoke up.

"Please let me finish." Duo replied cutting off Winner's words.

Quatre nodded respectfully.

"I can never make amends for the anguish I have caused. I know that I foolishly risk my health, my very life and all because I was too foolish and proud to come home." Duo admitted feeling a great weight lifting from his heart.

"I now humbly beg your forgiveness. I know it will take some time to regain your trust but please give me a chance."

There was a long silence as Duo wondered if he had finally gone too far. Had he destroyed the last bit of friendship, ruined the best thing he had known since Father Maxwell and Sister Helen gave him a home and unconditional love?

Heero reached over pushing back stray bangs from Duo's watering eyes. There was the same tenderness in his touch that was reflected in his eyes.

"You don't have to ask for our pardon." he spoke for the others knowing their minds and hearts. "You hurt yourself far worse than you did any of us. You have to forgive yourself." he insisted, "That is the only way to ease the pain you are feeling now. Let us help you rebuilt your life."

Heero leaned forward bringing his face so near to Duo's face he could feel Heero's warm breath on his cheek. "Please let me help you." Heero requested as he came to grips with his own awaking emotions.

Duo was puzzled by the seemingly sincere offer from Heero Yuy. Was it his imagination or was Heero offering a part of himself that he had for so long kept guarded and secret? Could Heero Yuy truly offer his heart and soul to a street rat turned Gundam pilot?

Heero's finger traced a tear as it ran down Duo's cheek. Lifting the salty moisture to his lips he savored the taste of the beautiful boy. Then leaning closer still Heero broke through the final barrier that had kept his soul mate from his side.

"Duo Maxwell I think I love you." Heero disclosed with unashamed honesty. "I am not sure what to do or how to do it but if you will be patient I will try my best to make you happy." he stated then sealed the promise with a brushing kiss.

Duo stared at his friend who now wanted to be more. Duo, too, in the last weeks before he left had gradually become aware of a change in his feelings. He would lie awake at night watching Heero sleep in the bed across the room. Duo would study every movement, put to memory every contour of his handsome face.

These newly discovered feelings frightened Maxwell. "You shouldn't be thinking like that." he would tell himself when just watching the steady rise and fall of Heero's muscular chest would cause a sexual excitement he couldn't understand.

With each new arousal, each time his physical reaction came in the form of a responding erection, Duo would question his sanity. "No this isn't right." he would argue against the growing emotions.

Then one night when Duo found himself sitting on Heero's bed as he slept soundly, unaware of his presence. When he found himself reaching out to trace the strong curve of Heero's cheekbone. When resisting the urge to kiss that perfect mouth was too tempting, Duo decided that leaving was his only option.

Heero would think he was crazy if he revealed his feelings. He would think Duo Maxwell was a lustful pervert and then he would lose Heero's friendship forever. That was a chance Duo was not willing to take. So he left without a word and disappeared back to a life on the streets where he believed he belonged.

Now Heero was declaring his love for the orphaned "street brat". Now he was telling Duo that his feelings were all right. That he was not a wanton whore with unnatural desires but someone who for the first time in his life had found a pure love and was lucky enough to have that emotion returned. What a remarkable, bittersweet realization.

"If you will have me," Heero's voice brought Duo back from his examination of his emotional status. "I will always protect you. You will be my only lover and soul mate."

Duo raised a trembling hand touching his fingers to Heero's equally trembling lips. "If you will have me." he repeated the faithful words of commitment, "I will be yours and yours alone." he promised guiding Heero's mouth to his for a chaste kiss.

Again it was Trowa who suggest that Heero and Duo be given some much needed privacy. Quatre touched Heero's shoulder as he stood giving it a reassuring squeeze. Then he touch Duo's hand, "We all will be here for both of you." he proclaimed. Trowa and Wufei nodded in agreement.

What the future would hold for Heero and Duo they did not know but they knew they would face it together. There would be a wondrous period of exploration as they learned about their bodies and their hearts. They would grow closer both physically and mentally and the adventure would be amazing.

 

End Part Three

Bittersweet--Karen Hickman--Nov. 2001

Thanks for reading!