Title: Life… Really
Parts: 11-20/?
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 4+R, 5+OC's (you'll see what I mean), maybe others
Warnings: Neko-fic, AU, angst., sap, possible lime
BY: SkyLark
Beta Written and Plot Bunny From: Keiran and Deb
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Gunman Wing, nor it's characters. I just love playing with them.


Part 11:

He was running again. Panting heavily, he looked over his shoulder to be certain that they lost his track. Pushing away at the low branches, he continued he fevered pace through the park. Suddenly, something caught up under his foot, causing him to collapse to the ground roughly with a startled cry.

* * * * * *

At the small whimper that came from the sleeping teenager, Heero frowned deeply in concern. Duo tossed his bruised face to the side as he whimpered again, struggling with something in his sleep. Quickly, the Japanese youth sat on the edge of the bed as he gently lifted his friend to lean against him.

Humming softly, Heero carefully rocked the braided boy in his arms and closed his eyes. He continued the tune that he recalled hearing Noin hum one afternoon as she was cleaning. It seemed to serve its purpose as the cat-eared boy eased against him with a small sigh.

Slowly returning to the world around him, Duo blinked his violet eyes open. As he continued to lean against his friend, he raised his arms up to tenderly wrap them around the other teenager's torso. Heero's humming stopped as he pulled his head back enough to meet the gaze watching him. He smiled at the cat-eared face and whispered, "Are you all right?"

With his head still on Heero's shoulder, Duo smiled back tiredly as he nodded, "Yea. Thank you." For a moment, the two boys just sat there in each other's arms. Even Heero was surprised by his sudden hesitation to break the embrace.

Finally, reluctantly, Duo sat up taller and rubbing his eyes as he asked, "How long have I been asleep?"

"A couple hours now," the Heero replied as he gently brushed back his friend's long bangs from his eyes. "How are you feeling?"

Chucking quietly, the braided teenager answered, "Like four guys tried to beat me into the ground." His cat tail straightened as he attempted to stretch his body with a wide yawn. When he stretched to his limit before the pain came back, he sighed deeply.

Heero gave him another frown of concern. "'We should wrap that shoulder and ice it," he suggested as he rose from the bed to get the fabric wrapping.

When he returned to the bed, Heero carefully aided Duo in removing his long black T-shirt, favoring the shoulder that had been separated. He winced at the sight of the dark bruises that marked the lithe body. Along with the angry mark that nearly covered the left side of Duo's face, the boy looked as if he had been drug behind a vehicle for several miles.

Silently cursing Muller and his friends for what they did, Heero began to unravel the fabric wrapping that Sally had given him. Despite the pain that he knew Duo was going through, violet-eyed boy just watched him with all the trust in the world. The realization that someone trusted him so unconditionally was still overwhelming to the Japanese youth.

Biting his lip, Heero moved as carefully as he could in wrapping the tender shoulder and upper arm. A couple times, he heard the injured boy gasp sharply at the searing pain shooting through his body. Trying not to wince or cause any further movement that might cause pain, Heero whispered, "I'm sorry." A whispered back, `S'ok' was spoken in reassurance.

With a relieved sigh, Heero cut the remaining wrappings free and secured the ends with butterfly clasps. Smiling at his handiwork, he announced, "That should do it." Opening his eyes, that had been squeezed tightly shut during the procedures, Duo looked over at his arm. His tail swished lazily behind him as a small smile tugged at his lips

Heero rose from the mattress and announced, "I'm going to head downstairs to get an icepack. I'll let Noin and Zechs know that you're awake. They were both pretty worried about you." With a sad smile, he gently ran a hand over his friend's braided head, adding quietly, "We all were."

Purring deeply at the touch, Duo smiled and closed his eyes. "I wasn't worried," he said softly when he opened his eyes. "I knew you would get to me in time."

At those sincere words, Heero felt a small lump fill his throat. Clearing it away, he changed the subject in asking, "Can we get you anything?"

"I am kind of thirsty," the braided teenager replied with a small nod. As soon as he said the words, he stomach growled loudly. Blushing slightly, Duo wrapped his bruised arms around his waist and smiled, "And hungry."

With a deep chuckle, Heero winked and replied, "I'll be back with something for that." Grinning over his shoulder, he stepped from the room.

The moment he was downstairs, Heero was ambushed by Zechs and Noin- who ran up to him with an onslaught of questions about Duo's condition. Laughing quietly, the boy raised his hands and told them, "He's awake and he's okay. I was just coming down to get an ice gel pack for his shoulder."

Noin quickly spoke up, "I'll go and make something for him to eat. The poor thing must be starving."

Shaking his head, Heero reassured her, "I'll take care of that. You two just go upstairs and visit." With their own grateful smiles, the young couple quickly went along with the suggestion and climbed up the stairs. Chuckling deeply, the unruly-haired teenager shook his head in amusement as he headed towards the kitchen.

* * * * * *

Having purposely taking his time with preparing Duo's food and icepack, trying to give his friend some time with his `parents,' Heero stepped into the room with a tray in each of his hands. He smiled at the sight of his guardians sitting on other side of the braided youth on the bed as they talked amongst themselves. At the sight of the Japanese boy, Noin and Zechs rose from the bed.

Once the trays were set down on the table beside the bed, Zechs announced, "We received a call from Officer Gracin less than an hour ago."

Recognizing the name of the policeman who interviewed Relena at the scene of the crime, both Heero and Duo stiffened before slowly turning to the tall man. Zechs answered their unspoken questions stating, "He and his team tracked down Muller and his friends. They're going to be spending the night in the local jail before their parents will be able to bail them out."

With a snort, Heero smirked, "That'll be the least of their concerns by the time Lady Une gets a hold of them. As upset as she was, I'd be surprised if they're still enrolled at the school by the time the weekend is out."

Frowning deeply, Duo's cat ears drooped as he said quietly, "They're in trouble because I got involved. I didn't want any of this to happen to anyone."

Noin smiled reassuringly as she ran a hand over his braided head, speaking softly, "Duo, there was no telling what they would have done to Relena if you didn't get involved. They brought this trouble on themselves, not you."

With a firm nod, Zechs spoke up to speak encouragingly, "She's right, Duo. Those boys deserve whatever happens to them. You shouldn't feel the least bit responsible for any of this."

At the warm smile and wink Heero gave him, Duo smiled back as his ears perked up a bit again. Whenever Heero smiled at him, somehow everything seemed right in the world. Turning to the two adults, he said quietly, "Okay… Thanks, mom and dad."

"We'll come back up in a little while so you can enjoy your dinner," Noin commented. Leaning down, she placed a soft kiss on the injured boy's head.

Following in suit, Zech straightened himself after kissing Duo's head and asked, "Should we call your friends to tell them they can stop over to visit?"

Instantly brightening at the idea, the braided youth nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, please." The young couple smiled and waved to him as they stepped out. With a small grin, Heero picked up one of the trays of milk, grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup.

Eagerly, Duo picked up one of the glasses of milk and drank it down. Sighing deeply in relief, he began to work on one of the grilled cheese sandwiches with his good arm. With a low hum of appreciation at having something to fill his stomach, he moved to the soup.

Heero chuckled deeply as he used medical tape to secure the ice gel pack to the bandages on his friend's shoulder. Only when he was sure the pack was secure did Heero go to the small table to have his own meal.

* * * * * *

It wasn't long after dinner was cleared away when the doorbell rang. With a smile on her face, Noin opened the door expecting to find Heero and Duo's friends. At the sight of the person on the other side of the door, she froze with a startled gasp. Her eyes wide, she sputtered, "F-Foreign Minister Darlian."

The tall man before her smiled warmly and bowed at the waist as he greeted, "You must be Miss Noin, I presume. I do apologize for coming unannounced."

Forcing herself from her state of shock, Noin smiled widely as she shook her head and replied, "No, not at all." Quickly stepping aside, she extended an arm into the house as she said, "Please come in."

Zechs blinked in amazement as the dark-haired man stepped into the room. Straightening, he extended a hand as he grinned nervously, "Foreign Minister. This is a pleasant surprise." As Noin all but ran behind her lover, she smiled to the politician over the chauffeur's shoulder.

With a kind smile on his face, their guest shook Zechs's hand firmly and nodded, "The pleasure is mine, Zechs. As I already told Miss Noin, I am sorry for arriving without any notice. "My daughter, Relena, has told me a great deal about her friends and their guardians over the last couple years. It is very nice to meet the two of you in person at last."

While everyone knew that the kind-hearted Foreign Minister was only Relena's step-father, they only referred to each other simply as father and daughter. When the now teenage girl's birth father had passed away years prior, Minister Darlian fell in love with her widowed senator mother. For Relena's part, she came to love and respect him a great deal. They dropped the `step' titles from their relationships as a show of how much they cared for each other.

Folding his hands at his waist, Darlian explained, "I came to personally thank the young man who saved my daughter today."

Noin and Zechs shared a surprised look before turning back to the tall man. Smiling brightly, the young woman told him, "I'll go let him know he has a guest. He'd going to be bedridden for the remainder of today through tomorrow, so I'll see that he's presentable." Disappearing from behind Zechs, she rushed upstairs.

After entertaining the Foreign Minister for a time, Zechs smiled as he heard Noin returned downstairs. Hiding her panting breath after her efforts, the young maid grinned to their guest, "I'll be happy to take you to his room." With a nod of appreciation, the much-loved politician followed Noin upstairs.

Heero's cobalt eyes widened as he quickly rose from his seat beside the bed in his room when the door opened. Noin had told them that they had an unexpected guest, but she never prepared them for this. "M-Minister Darlian," he greeted unsteadily.

Recognizing the name and face of the man in the doorway from the television and Relena's description, Duo's own eyes widened. Since there was not a cap to be found upstairs, Heero and Noin quickly wrapped the remainder of the medical cloth wrapping around his head around his head to cover his cat ears. Behind him, the pillows had been piled close to cover his tail beneath them.

Slowly, a smile tugged the Minister's face as he stepped into the room. Nodding to the Japanese youth, he greeted, "Heero, nice to meet you at last." He exchanged a firm handshake with the young man as he stated, "Relena speaks the world of you and the other boys. I am glad that she has such fine young men to befriend her."

Returning the smile, Heero replied, "Thank you, sir." He stepped aside so that his best friend was in plain sight.

When his gaze turned to the injured boy on the bed, Darlian frowned in concern at the sight. "And Duo," he nodded.

Blinking his wide violet eyes in shock, the braided teenager watched as the tall man knelt beside the bed and said quietly, "I am in your debt. Relena told me what you did to protect her this afternoon. And I did not see if fit to thank you for your actions over the phone."

Duo's shock soon turned to concern as he asked quickly, "How is Relena? Is she all right? She seemed really shaken up the last time I saw her." Yet another lump filled Heero's throat. Despite all of his pain and how close he came to being hospitalized if not worse, Duo's only concern was for the friend he had been trying to protect.

It seemed that the braided youth's words had the same impact on Darlian as he cleared his throat. Smiling sadly, he reassured the boy quietly, his voice cracking, "She's just fine. Thanks to you, young man. I wanted to thank you, myself, for your actions before she came in to see you."

With a deep sigh of relief, Duo grinned, "I'm glad she's okay. I've been worried about her."

Chuckling deeply, the tall man replied, "Well she's been worried sick over you for the last few hours, and with good reason." As he reached inside his business suit's jacket, the Foreign Minister stated, "I have something that I would like to give you."

After removing a velvet-covered box, he handed it towards the injured teenager. With care, Duo accepted the box, his eyes wide focused on the item, as he slowly opened it. His eyes grew all the more as he gasped sharply at the sight of the shimmering badge inside. A small plaque beneath the badge read in bold letters `DUO MAXWELL' engraved into the gold.

"It's a Purple Heart," Darlian explained with a warm smile. "I give this award to soldiers wounded while serving their fellow men. For those men and women injured in the line of duty, this badge is one of great honor.

"This metal speaks of their courage and selflessness while protecting another in the face of danger. I am now giving you your own Purple Heart for displaying such morals in defending my daughter."

Swallowing hard, Duo lifted his shimmering eyes from the metal to the man kneeling before him. "Thank you, sir," he whispered breathlessly. Heero smiled in pride of his friend as he turned to face Noin and Zechs in the doorway. With his hand on his lover's shoulder, Zechs chuckled quietly as she wiped at her eyes.

The Minister's smile grew a bit, his mustache rising with the sides of his face. "Thank you for keeping my daughter safe." As he rose to his feet, he said, "As I said, I am in your dept. Should you ever be in need a favor in which I have any pull," he finished with a smirk, "you have but to ask and I will see to it."

As he shook the extended hand offered to him, Duo smiled brightly, "Thank you, Minister Darlian." With a firm nod to the brave teenager, the tall man turned to Heero shook his hand again. Noin and Zechs led the politician out into the hallway as they closed the door behind them.

Heero turned to his braided friend, still swelling with pride that Duo's actions were recognized in such a fashion. Sitting beside his stunned partner, the Japanese youth carefully untied the bandages that were wrapped around his head. Duo just continued to stare at the shining badge displayed in the case in his hand.

When he finished unwrapping his friend's head to allow his cat ears their freedom again, Heero moved some of the pillows to retrieve the long cat tail. He turned to look down at the metal with a proud smile. "This award is certainly well-deserved," he commented quietly.

Looking into his friend's shimmering violet eyes, he whispered, "I've never met anyone more selfless or courageous than you, Duo."

Unable to say anything, Duo sniffed and leaned against his friend as he trembled, sobbing against the other boy's shoulder. As he held the braided teenager, Heero closed his eyes as he whispered reassurances. As Duo slowly regained his composure, he pulled back enough that the Japanese youth was able to gently dry the eyes from his cheeks.

The close proximity of their faces startled the two boys as they stared at each other with wide eyes. Just when it seemed to Heero that their faces were drawing closer, the doorbell rang again. At the sudden sound, they both jumped apart a few inches. Blinking away their shock, they laughed quietly at their startle.

Clearing his throat, Heero asked, "Are you all right?" Duo gave a small smile as he nodded, taking his tail in his hands like a security blanket. Gently rubbing the top of his friend's head, the Japanese boy rose from the bed at the sound of the soft knock on the door. Taking up the closed velvet box, Heero secured it in the top drawer of the desk that he and Duo shared until he found a more fitting place to put it.

Just as a precaution, Heero cracked the door open to look out to the person on the other side. Smiling, he opened the door the rest of the way and stepped aside as their friends piled into the room.

Relena was the first to walk in, carrying a large stuffed bear and a crystal vase filled with beautiful roses of many colors. Quatre and the others followed behind, Heero closing the door behind them.

At the sight of the braided teenager's bandaged and bruised figure, the group froze with wide eyes. Tears quickly filled Relena's eyes, and if on practiced cue, Quatre took up her gifts to allow her to spring to the bed. Carefully throwing her arms around the injured boy as she sat on the edge of the bed, the girl sobbed, "I'm so sorry, Duo."

Chuckling deeply, Duo closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder as he embraced her in reassurance. "It's okay, Lena," he whispered to her.

Heero took up the vase of flowers from his Arab friend and set it on the desk by the bed. Where its current perch before the window on Duo's side of the bed, he could admire them easily. Leave it to Relena to remember how much Duo always loved flowers.

Drying her eyes as she pulled back, Relena looked up to the vase and gave a watery smile as she dried her eyes. She looked over to the vase and said, "I thought that you might want some flowers for the room, since you'll be indoors for a few days."

Quatre smiled and handed her the large, brown teddy bear with a bright red bow around its neck. "And I got you this," she chuckled nervously. As she handed him the bear, she quickly explained, "I know, I'm a girl, and I don't know what to get as appropriate gifts for guys, yet but I really tried and-"

With a reassuring smile and his arms hugging the bear to his bear chest, Duo cut her off, saying sincerely, "These are perfect, Lena, thank you. But you didn't have to get me anything." His cat tail swayed excitedly as he looked down to the bear in his arms and over to the flowers.

Relena wiped the last of her tears as she smiled warmly, "Always so humble." Leaning forward, she placed a soft kiss on the braided boy's forehead.

As he stepped forward, Quatre placed a gentle hand on his friend's good shoulder as he spoke quietly, "Thanks you for keeping her safe for me while I was gone, Duo." With a bright smile, the braided teenager nodded.

Trowa moved ahead and decided to lighten the mood as he smirked, "You look like something the cat drug in." The irreverence of the statement and the sheer irony of the situation broke everyone into hysterical fits of laughter. As he continued to laugh, Duo shook his hand in silent thanks for breaking the sad mood.

Once everyone began to calm down again, Wufei carefully patted his injured friend's back as he stated, "We brought containers of some of your favorite ice cream and bars from the shop. It's down stairs in the freezer, for whenever you want it."

His violet eyes brightening, Duo's ears perked up as he exclaimed, "Really!? Thanks, guys!"

Looking over to Heero, Trowa asked, "Any word on what happened to Muller and the others?" All attention turned to the Japanese boy as the anxious guests look forward to an update of the boys responsible for their friend's injuries.

With a nod, Heero answered, "Officer Gracin and his team tracked them. They're going to be spending the night in prison before bail can be set."

"Good," Quatre snapped, his eyes narrowed in disgust. "I just wish that we could have had another shot at them before they ran off." Wufei and Trowa both nodded their agreement to the sentiment.

With a smug grin, Relena commented, "I can't wait to see what Lady Une has in store for when she gets a hold of them."

Heero made sure that his best friend did not give any signs of blaming himself, as he had earlier, for whatever happened to the young men that hurt him. Instead of finding guilt on Duo's face, however, Heero smiled to himself at the sight of his braided partner's nodding at Relena's words. It seemed that Noin and Zechs certainly managed to clear any confusion of blame.

Still clinging to the bear that Relena gave him, Duo asked, "Do you guys really have to go home tonight?" When everyone turned to him in confusion, he added, "I thought it might be fun to have everyone crash here for a change."

At the suggestion, Heero, Quatre, Trowa and Wufei all looked to each other, asking at the same time, "Sleep here?"

Sighing deeply, Relena turned to her braided friend, frowning, "You forget who you're talking to. These guys don't know the first thing about staying at someone else's house, or doing anything else that's remotely fun." She turned to the other boys and told them, "It's a Friday night. And our parents know Noin and Zechs are here to make sure nothing happens that shouldn't."

With a shrug, Wufei commented, "I just don't see what is so exciting about spending the night at someone else's house." Duo and Relena shared a mischievous smirk.

* * * * * *

Noin chuckled deeply as she watched Relena walked towards the bedroom that they were going to share. It was late that evening, or rather quite early in the morning when their guests were finally filing into the spare rooms. Beside her Zechs was smiling warmly as he kissed his lover's forehead. "I'm just glad that all of their parents allowed them to stay over. Even if they only allowed it for this one time, this was a nice change of pace."

With a nod, the tall man yawned, "I suppose it'll be all right to sleep in separate bedrooms for one evening. Between the pillow fights, ice cream, board games, movies and other events tonight, I'm exhausted."

A wistful smile lit Noin's face as she said, "I don't think I've ever heard Heero laugh so much in one night, nor the others for that matter."

Shaking his head, Zechs added, "Having everyone over tonight and tomorrow will certainly do wonders for Duo as well. He certainly will need this while he's recovering." Noin nodded against his shoulder as she hugged him.

With a wide yawn, the young maid grinned, "Well, I better get some rest before making breakfast for this little army when they get up." The young couple exchanged a tender kiss before parting ways.

* * * * * *

After carrying his sleeping friend into the bedroom that they had shared for the last few months, Heero carefully lied Duo onto their bed. Even in his sleep, there was still a small smile on the braided boy's face. Brushing back his friend's long bangs, the Japanese boy smiled warmly to himself.

Life certainly had taken quite a change over the last few months. The things that Duo helped Heero and their friends experience had been more than they ever saw, or done, in their entire lives.

Carefully slipping into the bed an under the covers, Heero gently took the sleeping boy into his arms. Placing a soft kiss on Duo's forehead, he smiled and whispered, "Sleep well, little one."

As he drifted off to sleep, Heero could only imagine what the next day would hold. Suddenly, he always seemed to have something to look forward to now.


Part 12:

After finishing the last of his studies before the summer, Duo gazed out the front window of the house, his long tail swaying in anticipation. It was the last day of school for Heero and their friends and he should have been returning home soon.

The Japanese teenager had promised Duo that he would spend the day outside with him, since he was now fully recovered from the incident involving Muller, nearly three weeks prior. It was supposed to be the best way to start the summer, as well as celebrating the fact that the braided teenager was able to enjoy normal activity again.

Outside, the weather was perfect. The early-May sky was clear and the temperature rose to a pleasant warmth. The fact that Heero had promised to put away his assignments for one whole day so that they could enjoy some time together had Duo practically bouncing off the walls since he woke up that morning.

Walking into the living room, Noin chuckled deeply with a warm smile at the sight of her `son.' "You do realize that staring out the window won't make time go any faster, right?" she asked with a warm smile.

Duo's head turned over his shoulder to meet her gaze and he grinned, "I know, I'm just excited. It's seems like it's been ages since I've been strong enough to go outside." With another chuckle, Noin nodded her understanding as she sat on the other end of the couch.

There was a companionable silence for a short while before Duo turned to face the young woman with a slight frown on his face as he began, "Mom, can I ask you something?"

Noin gave him a reassuring smile and nodded, "Of course. You don't ever have to ask that of me." Her smile faded at the saddened look on the young man's face. His cat ears had drooped down the slightest bit and his tail laid lifelessly on the couch. With a frown of concern on her face, she questioned quietly, "What is it, Duo?"

Biting his lip, Duo looked up to meet her eyes and replied, "Remember a few months back, I was asking you about what kinds of love there were and how you could tell the difference?"

The young woman sat up, nodding, and answered, "I remember that conversation." Tilting her head, Noin inquired, "Is it all still confusing to you?"

Duo nodded vigorously, causing the maid to laugh in relief in now understanding what had her `son' so troubled. The sound of her laugh seemed to put the boy at ease as his ears perked back up and his shoulders relaxed. Noin's warm smile returned as she stated, "All right, let's just start with you're explaining what has you so confused."

Taking a deep breath, Duo nodded and sighed, "Well, I know that you said the love between friends and people who are more than friends are different." H took his tail into his hands and fidgeted with it as he continued, "Heero was the first person to take care of me, look after me after that accident years ago."

As she tilted her head, Noin commented, "And all of the things that he did for you since you transformed just added on to your feelings, then. Of course you would feel a strong connection towards Heero after all he did for you then. It's only natural for a person to have some kind of emotional attachment to someone who looked after them for so long. The two of you have a very strong friendship."

Duo shook his head, "It's more than that, though. I mean, of course Heero's my best friend, but there's something else."

Seeing his the confusion on his `mother's' face, the braided teenager moved his hands in vague gestures as he explained, "When he's not around, I … hurt, I guess is the best word for it." He pointed at his chest as he said, "Right here."

Both fear and realization filled Noin's eyes as she straightened in her seat. She kept her concern masked as she spoke reassuringly, "Go on. Is there anything else?"

Not taking a moment to hesitate, Duo nodded as he replied, "I feel safest around him." Flinching slightly, he added quickly, "Not that I don't feel safe when you and Dad are around, it's just a different kind of safe that I can't explain."

With a reassuring smile, Noin nodded, "I understand." She wrapped her arms around her waist and asked, "Do you feel any… attraction towards Heero?" The cat-eared boy bit his lip and he seemed to recoil, his ears dropping again as a small whimper escaped his throat. Her eyes widening, Noin gasped and whispered, "Oh, Duo."

Quickly, the young woman closed the distance between them as she wrapped the trembling braided youth in her arms. Another whimper was muffled against her shoulder as she rocked her `son.' It was tearing her apart to think of how terribly lonely the cat-tailed boy must have felt all this time. As many people cared for him, he knew of the others things that he was missing out on in a deeper relationship with another person.

Finally, Duo sniffed as he pulled back enough to lift his tear-streaked face up to face her. "Do you think I'm horrible for being like this? It's bad enough that I'm enough of a freak considering how I look."

In a firm voice, the young woman told him, "First off, I don't ever want to hear you call yourself that. You are nothing of the sort."

When Duo nodded timidly, it took a lot for Noin to swallow the lump that filled in her throat before she smiled sadly, "Of course I don't think that you're horrible, Duo. These sorts of things you just cannot help." She placed a gentle kiss on the youth's head and said quietly, "You're still my son as far as I'm concerned."

A small smile slowly spread across Duo's face as he wipes at the wet trails on his cheeks. "Thanks, mom," he whispered.

The boy's smile faded again and he commented, "At first, I thought that Heero was right in saying that the love that I thought I had for him was just friendship, but over time things changed. The times that I would see you and Dad hugging or kissing, I kept thinking how much I want the same thing with him. I just don't know what to do about this, if a can do anything about it."

With a small laugh, the braided teenager shrugged, "It took me so long to know what I was feeling. I don't know how to try to make out how he feels."

Noin's smile returned as she began, "Well, one thing at a time." Glancing at the clock, she looked back to the youth beside her.

As she gently ran a hand over his braided head, the young maid suggested, "Why don't you go clean yourself up? Heero should be back home before long. He'll be worried if he sees that you've been crying."

Sniffing one last time, Duo nodded, "Okay." Before rising to his feet, he gently pecked his `mother's' cheek and whispered, "Thanks, Mom."

As Duo stepped from the room to go upstairs to one of the bathrooms, Zechs entered the living room in time to catch the red-eyed boy as he stepped out. Turning his concerned face to his lover, the tall man asked quietly, "What's wrong?"

Noin gestured for him to sit beside her. When Zechs sat close to her, she frowned and sighed deeply, "We have a bit of a problem."

* * * * * *

At the ringing of the bell announcing the end of the school year's final session, Heero was one of the first students to rise from their seat and leave the classroom. Throughout the building, loud shouts and cheers of excitement for the start of the summer break filled the air, as students ran through the halls to announce their freedom for the next three months.

While most students would take up part time jobs and spend their time going on vacations, Heero and his friends knew that their summer would be spent in continued preparation for their careers. It was the same every year, so how could he- or the others- complain? Besides, this was what their parents wanted for them.

It had taken a few blocks for his friends to finally catch up to him as they called his name to catch his ever-wandering attention. As they walked back home together, Heero only partly listened to some of the conversations between the others, most regarding the fact that they were high school seniors now and what they would be doing over the next few weeks.

Only when his name came up did Heero pay full attention to his friends. Both Quatre and Relena had mentioned how different the Japanese boy had been acting the last few weeks. Trowa and Wufei had been quick to voice their agreement.

When the blonde Arab had asked Heero who the special someone was, Heero turned to him with wide, shocked eyes, wondering where that comment had come from. At the surprise on his friend's face, Quatre was quick to take the statement back, saying that he guessed he picked up on the `signs' wrong.

Most of the comments about Heero's behavior rolled off his back. However, he did not admit to his friends the reason why he was so anxious to get home.

Over the last couple of weeks, the unruly-haired youth had been bogged down between his mother's assignments and preparing for his final exams. Through all of it, Duo had been extremely patient and understanding when it came to how little time they had to spend together.

Now that Duo was well again, Heero was looking forward to making good on his promise to spend the remainder of the day with him. The last day of school just seemed to drag on for an eternity as he waited for that last bell.

Throughout the last sessions regarding what they should expect as seniors the following year, the Japanese teenager did what he always did when he was bored in class, he drew in his notebook. Looking back on that now, he was slightly startled to recall that most of those drawings involved his braided friend.

* * * * * *

As he stepped into the Yuy household, Heero smiled at the braided boy sitting on the couch, his tail waving in the air happily. Quickly, the grinning youth all but leapt from the couch to hug him tightly in his usual greeting. With a deep chuckle, the Japanese boy returned the embrace as he greeted, "Hey, Duo."

When he pulled back, Duo continued to smile brightly as he asked, "How was your last day of school?"

Leading the way upstairs, Heero answered with a shrug, "Pretty dull. It wasn't anything more than members of the school board telling us what to expect next year, so we got to hear them all say the same thing over several times."

Duo chuckled, "Sounds great." At that statement, Heero laughed. He forgot that for his best friend, so many things that he would consider menial, would have been a joy to experience.

As they stepped into the room, Heero began unbuttoning his white school blouse. Both he and Duo froze at the sound of the fax machine coming to life. "Oh, not today," the Japanese boy sighed quietly as several pages began to print out. Duo's cat ears drooped as more and more pages began to pile atop each other. This was supposed to be their first whole day together in weeks.

When the fax finally stopped, there was a considerable stack of reports waiting. Heero took up the pile, turning up the first page to read his mother's memo…


`Heero, these files are to be scanned, recreated for our records and filed before tomorrow night. I will be sending more reports then to have you cross reference what is here for any inconsistency.'


His mother never did have the habit of writing down anything further than her requests, so he wasn't disappointed by the lack of `I miss you' or `I love you' in the memo.

Quickly glancing through the stack of papers, Heero thought aloud, "This is pretty detailed, so it's going to take me a while to get through all of this." He looked up to meet the saddened face of his best friend. A smile slowly crept on the Japanese student's face and he shrugged, "But it can wait until tomorrow."

With a sharp gasp, Duo's violet eyes widened. "Y-you mean it?" he asked quietly. "But your mother-"

"Said to have this finished by tomorrow night," Heero finished for him. "This will take a few hours in the morning, so but I'll have it finished in time. I made you a promise for being so patient these last few weeks, and I intend to keep it."

The brilliant smile that he was rewarded with was enough for Heero to not have the slightest regret in his decision. Duo wrapped his arms tightly around his friend tightly as he exclaimed, "Thank you, Heero!"

Returning the embrace, the other boy grinned, "No thinks needed." When they pulled back, he asked, "So what do you want to do today?"

Only taking a moment to consider, Duo grinned and replied, "We have those bikes that Noin and Zechs got us while I was recovering. Why don't we use those and ride around for a while?"

Since he only had a chance to ride a bike on a couple of occasions in his life, the idea was more than appealing to Heero, so he nodded his approval, "All right. Maybe we can go out to dinner and see a movie or come up with something later, too. I'm sure it'd be a nice change for Noin and Zechs to have the house to themselves for a while."

More than happy with the plan, Duo agreed, "Sounds good to me. As long as we're still out after dark, whatever we do is fine. I did already have something else in mind that I wanted to do tonight."

Raising an eyebrow, Heero finished undoing the buttons on his blouse and asked, "And what would that be?"

With a mischievous grin, Duo stated, "That's going to be a surprise." At the look of uncertainty on his friend's face, he laughed, "You trust me, don't you."

Heero let his little act of worry go and he chuckled deeply, "Of course I do."

"Good," the braided teenager cheered. "Then finish getting ready and I'll meet you downstairs." As he dashed out of the room, he picked up one of his baseball caps and closed the door behind him. Shaking his head in amusement, Heero removed his shirt and moved to his closet to finish changing.

* * * * * *

Danielle was working at her laptop in effort to keep up with her ongoing cases when she looked over some of the reports that she had been searching through. Humming to herself in thought, she searched for the one document that could be the deciding factor in her present armed robbery and homicide trial.

After looking through the file that she knew had the missing paper and not recovering it, Danielle's cobalt eyes widened. One of the most vital pieces was missing. Before allowing herself to panic, she mentally thought places where the lab results of the blood tests could have gone.

Recalling that she had her assistant send out several reports to Heero earlier that day, the successful head of the Yuy legal firm hoped that perhaps she had accidentally passed on the wrong file. Since her assistant was off on another assignment the next few days, and was the only person in possession of those original documents, there was only one other person to call in hopes that they had the test results copy.

Quickly, the red-haired woman pulled out her portable vid phone and dialed her house. After the second ring, Noin's image appeared. The young main smiled, "Hello, Misses Yuy. I hope that your business trip is going well."

"Thank you, Noin," Danielle replied in a rush. "Could you please put Heero on the `phone? I need to speak to him right away."

A flash of fear passed the other woman's face while she forced a smile. "Oh, I am sorry, Madam,' Noin began. "Heero is not available at the moment. Something had come up and he left a while ago. He should be back later this evening."

With a pinched look, Danielle stated, "I send him a large project to take care of for me. He should be working on it now." Her blue eyes widened as she asked, "He's not facing an emergency, is he? He's never been one to put off a project that I send him."

"No, there is no emergency, just something that he needed to take care of. And Heero did mention that assignment," Noin commented quickly in her attempt to cover for the teenager. "He promised that it will take care first thing tomorrow and it will be finished by the time you need it."

Finding relief in that, Danielle nodded, "Very well. I don't think he ever has missed a deadline, so whatever came up must have been important. I just hope these sudden disturbances do not become a regular occurrence. That child of mine has a great deal of responsibility falling on his shoulders and cannot afford to be distracted."

Noin smiled and replied, "Of course, Madam. I do not believe that you have a thing to worry about when it comes to Heero and how he'll handle his responsibility. He never was one to let you down." She purposely stated the last comment slowly, wishing at that moment that she had the courage to knock some sense into the redheaded woman for even thinking otherwise.

"You're right," Danielle said at last. "When Heero gets home tonight, could you please tell him to contact me as soon as possible? It's very important."

With a firm nod, Noin reassured her, "Of course, Madam. I will give him the message as soon as he returns."

Giving her a small smile of relief, the head of the household replied sincerely, "Thank you for your help, Noin. I will see you in a few days."

Once the line was disconnected and the screen of the vid phone went blank, Noin shouted in frustration, "God, that woman! She has absolutely no right-!" A gentle hand fell on her shoulder, causing her to gasp sharply in mid-sentence. Spinning, she looked up to her lover.

Zechs grinned in understanding, speaking softly, "Breathe." When the shoulders of the young maid fell as she sighed deeply, the tall man squeezed her tightly. "I know it hurts that we know her own son better than she ever will, but as you told Duo earlier today, these sorts of things cannot be helped."

Giving him a mock-glare, Noin huffed, "I hate it when you throw my own brilliant words back at me to make a point." Zechs laughed when she half-heartedly hit him in the arm.

* * * * * *

The sun had set a little more than a half-hour before Heero and Duo left the ice cream parlor. It had been a whole day of activities and by this time, both teenagers were beginning to wind down. Taking to their bikes, the pair began to head back though the large suburb. "So what is this surprise you had in store?" Heero asked as he pulled up to ride beside his friend.

Smiling over to him, Duo answered, "We have to go to the park, first. That's the best place for it."

Heero tilted his head a bit as he inquired, "What is there to do in the park after dark? You're not planning on trying to sled down the hills on grass, are you?"

The braided boy laughed and shook his head, "No. It's nothing like that. I only got a chance to do this once before you saved me and I've been anxious to do it again." Now completely confused, Heero silently thought to himself what his friend could possible have been looking forward to so much.

When they arrived to the large park a short later while, Duo led the way to the center of the grounds. While the edges and walkways of the park- which was a nearly two-mile circumference in the center of the city- were well lit with street lights, the middle of the park had the least amount of light.

Following Duo's lead when the braided boy stopped his bike, Heero dismounted when his friend did. Turning to face the boy beside him, Duo placed a finger over his mouth to signal that they needed to stay quiet. Carefully leaning their bikes against one of the large trees, the two boys continued to walk towards center of the park.

Just when he was about to ask his friend what they were doing, Heero paused in his footsteps, his eyes wide. Where the artificial light from the lamps ended around them, the wide circle of park that remained seemed to be glowing.

All around them, hundreds of twinkling lights lit the air from every inch of trees, leaves, grass, flowers to give off enough of a glow to see all around the otherwise pitch black surroundings. It was a breathtaking sight, giving off the sense that even at night, the very earth and everything around them came to life by this sparkling light.

As many times as he had seen fireflies on their own, Heero had never imagined the effect that they could have when hundreds of them were together. For such tiny creatures, they gave off such a brilliance it was simply amazing to him. The way that they twinkled, the hundreds of fireflies made the same effect that looking up to a star-filled sky would. For the longest time, Heero just stood frozen in awe. He turned to gaze on the boy beside him. Duo had the most peaceful smile on his face. He continued to gaze on their glowing surroundings as he whispered, "Isn't it beautiful?"

Heero felt a smile tug at his own lips as he continued to watch the braided teenager. When he remembered to breathe, he whispered back, "Yea." Slowly, he turned back to gaze on their own secluded circle in the world.

As they stood there, time seemed to stand still as Heero considered how many wonderful things like this he would never have had the chance to experience, had it not been for Duo. For years, he had only heard of so many of the things he now had the chance to experience, never really knowing what he had been missing out on. Over the last five months, he had seen and done more than his sixteen years combined.

Suddenly, Heero realized that at some point, he had taken hold of Duo's hand. It seemed as though his friend had just noticed the situation as well as he turned his head to gaze at him with a surprised look. When their gazes met, Heero lost himself in the violet eyes watching him as they reflected the twinkling light around them.

Biting his lip, the Japanese teenager slowly raised his free hand to gently caress the startled boy's cheek. Closing his eyes, Duo leaned into the touch, purring deeply. Suddenly, Heero couldn't help but think that perhaps his friends were right in thinking that there was a `special someone' in his life after all.

Carefully leaning in, Heero closed his own eyes as he whispered, "Duo…" When their lips touched, the braided boy's violet eyes snapped open widely. It only took a moment for him to return the kiss as the two boys wrapped their arms tightly around each other. It was just a simple, gentle meeting of lips for a moment.

When the kiss ended, Duo's eyes blinked open, still wide in amazement as he reached a hand up to touch his lips. "Wow," was all he could manage to whisper breathlessly.

Nervously, Heero smiled, "That's just what I was thinking." In the light of the twinkling fireflies, he squinted and asked, "Are you blushing?"

A brighter red colored Duo's cheeks and he answered with a shy grin, "Yea, but you are, too." At that, Heero's face turned a matching shade of embarrassment. Biting his lip, Duo hesitated before whispering, "Heero, I… I was hoping…."

Heero took a deep breath and nodded, "I have, too. I just didn't realize it until tonight." A hint of concern flashed across his face and he commented, "We just have to be careful about this."

Nodding in understanding, Duo smiled, "No problem. As long as we get to kiss like this whenever we get the chance, I'll be more than happy." Heero laughed quietly before pulling his friend tighter into his arms again.

As their kiss deepened, Duo's tail crept out from under his long T-shirt to wrap around the other teenager's waist. All around, hundreds of fireflies took to the air to hover around the pair like bright, twinkling stars.


Part 13:

When Heero and Duo returned to the house following their outing, they were still smiling brightly to themselves in recalling their time in the park. Their first kisses certainly had left them floating after the experience. Finally able to be honest with themselves and each other regarding their attraction for each other, it was as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

…Now all they had to do was keep it all hidden from everyone else.

After stepping inside the house, Duo removed his baseball cap and lifted his long T-shirt so that his tail could snake out. Glancing at himself in the tall mirror by the entranceway, his smile faded a bit. Whenever he was outside, he almost forgot that he wasn't… normal.

Earlier, Heero had kissed him earlier, he may have forgotten about that as well. Aside from being in a relationship with another male, Duo was complicating the situation further given his strange appearance.

Somehow sensing his best friend's distress, Heero wrapped an arm around his waist. Pulling him close against his chest, the Japanese teenager smiled, whispering in the braided youth's cat ear, "I know what I was getting into earlier, Duo. I don't regret anything." Gently, he kissed his boyfriend's temple.

Relief flooded over the cat-tailed boy at his partner's words. Still able to feel Heero's warm breath against his ear, he shivered. Turning to smile warmly at the other teenager, Duo replied quietly, "Thank you, Heero." He leaned in quickly to peck his friend's lips.

Once they entered the living room, they found Noin pacing nervously across the floor. At the sight of the boys, the short-haired maid paused in her steps and approached them with a sigh of relief. Smiling, she greeted, "There you both are. I hope that you both had a good time on your venture today."

The smiles faltered a bit at the forced happiness in the young woman. "Is something wrong, Noin?" Heero asked kindly. There were very few times that he ever saw her appear this distressed over anything.

Her shoulders sagging a bit, Noin decided better to just be forward with the news. Regardless of how much she wanted to protect Heero, she knew that there would be terrible consequences if she did not relay the message that his mother had left. With a deep sigh, she frowned, "Your mother had called for you a little over an hour ago."

Both Heero and Duo's eyes widened at the announcement. The Japanese youth, especially had an overwhelming sense of dread overcoming him. From the moment he was able to assist his mother with her projects, he never put an assignment that she had given him off. Not only did he do that tonight, but he had been caught in doing it. Suddenly, he did not feel very well.

At the shocked and frightened glances that the response caused, Noin reassured the two boys, "I managed to calm her a bit when she realized that you were not here working on her assignment, but she wants you to call her back right away. She seemed in quite a state over whatever it is she needed to discuss with you."

Taking a deep breath, Heero nodded, "All right. Thanks, Noin." Quickly, he turned on his heels to head upstairs to his room. Biting his lip, Duo began to pace the floor nervously, just as his `mother' had been when they found her.

As she watched her `son,' Noin smiled to herself, taking a moment before asking, "So how was the kiss?"

Duo froze, his violet eyes wide as he spun to face the young woman. The words just ran from his mouth as he sputtered, "What? I-how did you-I didn't mean to-"

Before the boy panicked any further, the young maid smiled warmly as she placed her hands on his shoulders. With their gazes locked, Noin commented, "You were both practically walking on air when you entered the room. I have very good instincts when it comes to this sort of thing." She ended the last remark with a wink.

The braided teenager's mouth fell open in amazement. "Besides," his `mother' continued, "Zechs had mentioned to me earlier that he had picked up on some signs that Heero may have been attracted to you. It was only a matter of time. Zechs and I would have been shocked if the two of you were still dancing around each other after tonight."

Relaxing at the encouragement, Duo gave a shy smile. "It was wonderful, Mom," he said quietly, a blush coloring his cheeks. "I never imagined kissing being anything like that." His wistfulness faded into a more concerned look. "This will just stay between us?"

"Of course," Noin nodded reassuringly. "This will not go any further." His brow drew a bit as she warned, "Just be very careful. If Heero's mother ever had any hint that the two of you were involved-"

Just the thought of that happening caused Duo to shudder. Shaking his head vigorously, he replied, "We'll be careful, Mom. I promise." His cat ears drooped a bit, his violet eyes falling on the stairwell that led upstairs. "Do you think that Heero is in a lot of trouble for not being here tonight?"

Noin gently wrapped her arms around her `son' in a comforting gesture. "I'm sure that Heero will be able to handle his mother. Try not to worry about it." Duo nodded against her shoulder with his eyes closed. Slowly, he calmed and purred deeply as his `mother' gently ran a hand over his head.

* * * * * *

Sitting before his vid phone, Heero waited anxiously for his request to connect was being picked up. Finally, his mother's image appeared on the screen. The moment their cobalt eyes met, Danielle visibly eased. The teenage boy had caught the quick glimpse of the red- headed woman before she realized who was calling. Noin had been right; his mother certainly was very distressed over something.

"Thank God," Danielle sighed deeply. Instead of asking her son how he was or anything of the such, she went straight to business as usual. "Heero, do you still have the reports that I had Angela fax over earlier tonight."

A bit taken aback by the sudden question, and the fact that he was not being reprimanded for not being home when she has called, Heero blinked his wide eyes and nodded, "Yes, I have them." Regaining his composure, he rose from his seat to gather the pile of sheets that remained on the fax machine.

When Heero returned before the screen with the tall stack of papers, Danielle took a deep breath and stated, "There were a few test reports in there that I gave to Angela in error. She's away for the next few days and has the original copy with her."

Even as his mother explained the situation, the Japanese youth was shuffling through the papers in his hands. When he reached one of the last reports, he could already see that it was out of place with the other files. "You're referring to the results of the blood samples from the scene of the crime?" he asked as he held the paper up for his mother to see.

Smiling at the sight of the report, Danielle replied, "That's it. Could you please refax that to me? I need it to follow up on a few things while I am out on this Colony."

Heero went back to the fax machine and entered the number to the machine at his mother's temporary office at her current location. As the file went through, he returned to sit before the vid phone and announced, "It's on its way."

Quickly, Danielle went to her fax to see that the lab results were coming through. Taking the paper in her hand, she sighed deeply in relief and placed it carefully with the remainder of her files. So much work that she had put into this case would have been for naught if she did not have this one, simple report.

When she took her seat before the screen again, the red-haired lawyer grinned, "Thank you, Heero. I would have lost days of investigating if I did not have this report with me. You can destroy your copy of the test, since it has no relevance to your end of the assignment."

"I'll see to it," Heero answered with a firm nod. "I'll have this project that you left me finished before you call back tomorrow night, just as you had requested in your memo."

Tilting her head, Danielle frowned, "Very well, but I certainly hope that you do not make a habit of this running off when you know you have work to do. I'm too relieved to have this test back to be very upset now, but I will not be pleased if this happens again.

"After all that your father and I have gone through to see that you have a bright future ahead of you, it would be very upsetting to have you forget the simple lessons that we had taught you to prepare for your role in life."

As he swallowed hard, the teenage boy nodded, "It won't happen again, mother. I did not mean to upset you by not being here." The guilt of the last statement still had Heero reeling. He knew that his parents only wanted the best for him, so to have that remark thrown at him had shaken him to the core.

Satisfied, his mother replied with a warm smile, "Very well. I will contact you again tomorrow night, then to follow up on your progress." With that, she reached up to her phone and disconnected the connection. As he fell back in his seat, the teenage boy ran a hand through his unruly hair as he dealt with his guilt.

Gazing at the black screen on his monitor, Heero whispered, "Love you, Mom." It was the same every call for the last couple of years, he never had a chance to end their conversations with the simple sentiment before his mother had to disappear. It had been different before, his mother would at least make an attempt to give some motherly sentiment before her firm really took off.

As much as he wanted to please his mother, Heero also enjoyed the fact that he was beginning to enjoy some of the simple things that he never had the opportunity to do all his life. If his mother ever learned of half of the things he had indulged in over the last six months, she would be outraged with him.

For as long as Heero knew his mother, she always saw such simple acts of enjoying oneself as distractions from their purpose in life. Still, he could not help but admit that he wanted to experience more of those `distractions.' Now, he couldn't help but think that he was being selfish, considering all that his parents had gone through for his sake.

The Japanese boy's thoughts were interrupted by a gentle knock at the door. Turning off his vid phone, he turned to face the door as it was cracked open enough for Duo to peek his braided head in the room. The cat-eared teenager bit his bottom lip before asking nervously, "Is everything all right?"

With a reassuring, warm smile, Heero replied, "Everything's fine, Duo." Pushing his seat back from his desk, he tapped a hand on his leg. Quietly, requested of the boy, "Come here."

Stepping into the room, Duo closed the door behind him and quickly walked over to his partner to sit in his lap. Heero wrapped his arms tightly around his best friend's waist, closing his cobalt eyes and resting the side of his face against the rumbling chest. The braided youth continued to purr deeply in a soothing manner, gently running a hand through his boyfriend's unruly hair.

For a long time, the pair just sat in companionable silence while they held each other. Both needing the contact, they simply enjoyed the simple thing of just being together without saying a word between them. All the while, the two boys lost themselves in their own thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, Heero spoke up at last and began to tell Duo about the conversation that he just had with his mother. He shared his concerns about what she had said, told his friend about how much he just wanted to make his parents happy. He spoke about everything that was on his mind at that moment, all the while holding Duo as the other boy gently rubbed his back and listened quietly.

When some considerable time passed, Heero pulled back enough to look up to his friend's face, only to be startled when he found tears shimmering in the sad violet eyes there. "Duo?" he asked quietly, the concern etched on his face and dripping from his voice. "What's wrong?"

The braided boy wiped at his eyes, sniffing when he answered, "I was just thinking about what would happen to you if your mother ever found out. I know that we promised to be careful, but I know it would kill you if you ever felt like you let you mother down. Your being with me would just be a distraction from what she wants from you." More tears sprung in his eyes as he whimpered, "She already hates me enough as it is."

It was difficult to hold back the tears that threaten his own eyes at the distress on his friend's behalf, but Heero managed to. Selfless as always, Duo was willing to deal with a great loss in ending their relationship before it even had a chance to even begin, all for his best friend's sake. There truly was not any limit to what personal sacrifices the braided youth would make, if it meant that it would spare another person harm, especially Heero.

Had there had been any uncertainty to what choice he was going to make for himself before that second, Heero's mind had been made up. As much as he wanted to make his mother proud, he knew that this was something he wanted- as much as he needed it. It was something that he was willing to risk everything he knew for.

Gently, Heero reached up to dry Duo's cheeks, whispering, "If you're suggesting that we not see each other, I am not going to hear any of it." It was clear that his friend was not expecting to hear that, his violet eyes widening in shock and blinking.

The Japanese teenager smiled lovingly, reaching up to kiss his lips tenderly before saying quietly, "Let me worry about my mother, if the time ever came that she should find out. Until then, we'll just continue to be careful as we agreed. I'm not planning on losing this with you, regardless of the consequences."

Hearing those words broke Duo from his state of shock and a wide smile tugged at his lips. Without warning, he threw his arms tightly around the other boy, burying his head into his chest. He purred deeply as a gentle hand rubbed his back soothingly.

* * * * * *

The following morning, Heero smiled when he woke to the familiar feel of Duo wrapped around him. Gently kissing the top of his braided head, he chuckled deeply as the other boy mumbled something while snuggling closer to him. "Duo," the unruly-haired teenager whispered. "I have to get up to work."

With a small moan, Duo sat up a bit and rubbed his sleepy eyes. With a wide yawn, he stretched, his long tail extending along with the rest of his body. Fully awake, he smiled lazily at his best friend, "'Morning."

Heero sat up and kissed his boyfriend's lips gently before replying in kind, "Good morning." Slowly, the two boys piled out of bed.

Walking over to his dresser to find a shirt to throw on over his bare chest, Heero asked, "Would you mind bringing something up for me to eat in a bit? This assignment is going to take me a couple of hours and I would like to get it finished right away, before my mother sends more work tonight."

Practically bouncing on his feet at the thought of taking care of the boy he loved, Duo nodded excitedly, "Sure thing." Quickly, he pecked Heero's cheek before running from the room to see to his friend's request. Shaking his head in amusement, the Japanese teenager chuckled deeply to himself.

After throwing on a deep blue T-shirt, Heero ran a hand through his dark hair on his way to the files that had been faxed over the day before. Sitting at his desk, he took hold of the reports and began to sort through them. Once he had everything in its proper pile, he went over to his scanner to begin copying and recreating everything for his mother's personal file that she had building for this new case.

Like so many of his mother's other cases of late, her client was related to a man of high standards and great wealth. The fact that he was being pinned as the criminal responsible for robbing a convenient store and killing the old man who was working there that evening was preposterous in Heero's mind. There was no motive, no need for his mother's client to commit such a felony; not when his father was a respected official in the Senate for the Colonies.

While the scanner began running over the first few sheets of paper, Heero looked over to the leaf of paper that he had removed from the pile for his mother the night prior. Taking the blood test results up, his curiosity got the best of him as he looked over the file. Since there had been a scuffle between the clerk and the armed assailant, there was a possibility that the criminal's blood was mixed with that of the unfortunate innocent.

At first, certain that he had misread the report, Heero narrowed his cobalt eyes a bit and reread through the results. After rereading through the report for a third and then a forth time, his eyes widened with a startled gasp. His mouth opened and closed several times before he finally managed to breathe, "Oh my God…"

* * * * * *

Danielle looked up from her work as her vid phone began to ring. Sighing deeply, she removed her thin-framed glasses and walked over to the large monitor. When she accepted the call, her cobalt eyes widened a bit at the image of her scowling son. "Heero," the red-haired woman nearly stammered, taken aback by the anger in her boy's eyes.

Before she could say anything further, Heero held up the lab results and ordered, "What is this all about, mother? I thought that we had an agreement a long time ago over this."

Her own eyes narrowing, Danielle snapped, "And I had told you last night to destroy that copy of the report. It was not mean for you to concern yourself over." The irritation on her son's face never wavered.

Sighing deeply, the successful lawyer came to the conclusion that this discussion was going to come up at some point. No sense in denying that as a means of delaying it. Finally, Danielle stated, "I will be home in two days, Heero. We will discuss this matter then, as this is not the time, nor the manner to handle this."

In agreeing to the last sentiment, Heero relented, "Fine." For the first time, he disconnected the call before his mother could. His rage had taken over his urge to say anything further. He was certain that his mother would not be contacting him later that night with more work, as she had planned prior to his call.

* * * * * *

Sure enough, Danielle was careful to avoid any contact with her son before her return home after her long trip. When she entered the house, the electronic voice in the entrance greeting her, she lowered her briefcase and removed her brown suit coat. The first person that she ran into was Duo, who had risen from his seat on the couch when he heard her entering.

Biting his lip, the braided teenager fidgeted with his tail nervously, his cat ears lowered a bit in apprehension. Smiling timidly, he greeted, "Welcome back, Misses Y-"

"Where is Heero?" Danielle interrupted him with a short tone. She never even bother to gaze on the strange… thing watching her. One of the last things that she wanted right now was to have to deal with him, in addition to having to calm her son.

Duo swallowed hard, his ears drooping all the more as he frowned deeply, "He's upstairs. I'll go get him for you." All too happy to leave her cold presence, the boy all but ran upstairs to find the other boy.

"Zechs! Noin!" the red-haired lawyer called. Not a second later, the couple entered the room quickly from different entrances. The young maid came forward right away, carrying a delicate cup filled with tea on an ornate serving dish to match the piece of china. It was common knowledge now that the head of the household liked to have a hot cup of tea waiting for her when she returned from a long trip.

Assessing the both of her assistants, accepting the dish carrying the cup of tea, Danielle stated in a commanding voice, "Heero and I have pressing issues to discuss regarding my current case. We are not to be disturbed for any reason. I want the living room closed off until we have concluded our meeting."

Without hesitation, the pair nodded with affirmative responses and quickly closed the double doors to the two entrances of the room. Rubbing her arms nervously, Noin rejoined the tall chauffer. Zechs wrapped a supportive arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. Neither of them had been able to recall the last time they had seen Danielle I such an angered state.

Heero came down the stairs, is own frustration clear on his face as he approached the closed doors leading to the living room. Approaching the worried couple, his anger subsided the slightest bit and he suggested quietly, "You may want to keep an eye on Duo. He was still pretty upset over my mother's behavior towards him when I had to come down here."

With a nod, Zechs replied, "Of course. We'll go check on him now." Noin was already heading upstairs before her lover even finished his reply. Placing a hand on the boy's shoulder, the blonde man squeezed it in support and whispered, "Good luck, Heero." With that, Zechs turned and followed after his partner.

Taking a deep breath, Heero opened the double doors and closed them after him when he stepped into the living room. His mother was sitting at one of the long couch that wrapped around most of the space. Lowering her cup of tea onto the table before her, Danielle watched as the teenager lowered the results of the blood test beside her cup before sitting across from her.

"You said that you were going to run an honest law firm, mother," Heero began in a voice that he was fighting to keep measured. "These test results prove conclusively that your client, Stephen Giles, was responsible for that murder."

Not needing to see the report, nor what it showed, Danielle shrugged, "Conclusive, unless one can have the jury believe that the police involved in the investigation planted the blood as a means of showing that they found their man."

Reeling from her words, Heero's cobalt eyes widened and he shouted, "Mother, this man is a murderer! And along with defending him, you're going to make the officers in charge of the investigation made out to be the criminals!"

After taking a moment to calm himself, Heero glared at his mother. "I did a background check on Giles in some other papers that I found in your files," he growled deeply. "He has a history of selling and buying narcotics and other stimulants on the streets.

"With his father as a Senator, it took quite a bit of digging around on my part to find out that little detail. As a drug addict, he would have more than enough motive to need some money on the spot. You can't possibly tell me that you can defend the man in good conscience."

Danielle shrugged nonchalantly with a smug smirk, "I am not the one who committed the crime, Heero. I have no need to feel any guilt for doing my job. Our firm would not be as successful as it has been over the last couple of years, had it not been for taking cases such as this."

Slowly rising from her seat, her face etched in a fiery glare, Danielle leaned towards her son. "I will tell you this once, and only once," she stated clearly. "Everything has a price on it, even the truth."

Just as he was about to retort, Heero's thoughts were interrupted when his mother frowned, "After all that I have done for you. She straightened, her arms folding. "After everything that I have done to try and see to it that you would want for nothing in life, you dare to question me and my means of seeing that you are taken care of."

Heero gasped sharply, his eyes widening at the statement, at the very concept. Stunned, he could not think of any response as he sat in silence. So this was the life that he was to lead when the time came. This was the great plan that his mother had for him all this time… to bend the truth for the highest bidder.

When all was said and done, how was Heero going to be able to do anything about any of this? His future was already laid out for him. He never had to do anything on his own before, never had to make any decisions for himself. How could he possibly start now, after so many years?

Despite his own personal feelings, the Japanese boy knew that it was better to continue down the path laid out for him, rather than journey off into the frightening unknown… alone.

Numb all over, Heero swallowed hard and nodded. "You're right, mother," he whispered, lowering his head. "It was wrong of me to question your motives, and I am sorry. I promise it won't happen again."

Unfolding her arms, Danielle lost her edge and smiled warmly, "Forgiven and forgotten, Heero." Taking up her tea cup, she sipped at the hot drink and took her seat again. When she lowered the cup from her lips, she grinned, "I promise you that over time, you will not concern yourself over such simple, useless sentiments that your naive mind still holds."

With his head still lowered, Heero replied in a voice devoid of any emotion, "You always did know best, mother."


Part 14:

Sighing deeply in content, Dorothy blew over the rim of her tea cup before taking a dainty sip. Her eyes continued to scan over the new roster of students that had signed up to study law for the upcoming semester. This was one of the largest enrollments of new law students Wayne University ever saw.

With a content smile on her face, the blonde young woman placed the roster neatly back into her briefcase. Dorothy's changes to how the law department prepared its students certainly had shown its effectiveness. After only a little over a year, she had become one of the most respected and liked directors at the elite college.

Ever since she had become the new director of law studies at Wayne, Dorothy Catalonia had managed to keep herself quite busy, during the school semesters. While she always was one to find reward in working hard, she did enjoy these summer breaks to recuperate and move at a steadier pace in preparation for the new school year.

With a deep sigh of content, Dorothy sat back in her seat and peered out the window beside her table. The little coffee shop was one of her favorite places to visit at times like this, when all she wanted to do was relax. It was the perfect place for her to set up her meeting for this lovely afternoon. It came as no surprise to her when she had received the call the evening prior.

At the ringing of the small bell at the entrance ringing to announce that a new customer had arrived, Dorothy looked up and smiled warmly as the young man approached her table. Rising from her seat to exchange a firm and professional handshake, the blonde director greeted, "Heero, always a pleasure to see you."

Returning the smile, the Japanese teenager nodded, "Very nice to see you again as well, Dorothy." While he knew the director wanted him to refer to her by her first name, Heero always found himself having to forcefully remind himself of that little detail. The young woman just had such an air of class about her that he, at times, found it difficult to get past the fact that she was not much older than himself.

As she took her seat, Dorothy politely waived her waitress over. Once he had made his order and taking to his seat across from the director, Heero sighed, "Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice."

Waving her hand in the air, the blonde woman chuckled deeply, "Oh, none of that. I look forward to these little meetings of ours. You're quite a brilliant young man, and I enjoy our discussions. Catherine was right to say that you would be one of my favorite pupils when you come to Wayne University." Heero had to fight the blush from reaching his grinning face. He had to admit that he also looked forward to meeting with Miss Catalonia. For someone in such demanding of a field as she was, there was also a lightheartedness to her.

The kind smile still on her face, Dorothy stated, "Before we get down to discussing the matter at hand, tell me how your summer is going. Life is not all work, after all."

At the last statement, Heero blinked in surprise. Sensing his wonder at her words, the blonde director fought the deep frown that threatened to appear. `So Catherine was right in her concern, after all," she thought to herself.

Finally breaking from his unexpected surprise, Heero recovered with a small grin as he told of some of the things that he was able to do when he had free time. He and friends had been able to partake in regular weekend meetings.

Over the course of the summer, Heero and the others would play baseball, basketball, to go to the movies, all things that he was able to sneak out and enjoy while his mother was continuously away on business meetings. He did also admit to the fact that normally his summer days were also filled with piles of assignments that his mother needed.

Dorothy frowned a bit in realizing how hard the young man across from her was still being led by his mother. Not allowing that concern to show, she shrugged, "Well, at least your mother allows you time to enjoy those other things with your friends aside from her assignments."

Clearing his throat a bit, Heero took a sip from his iced tea. `Allowing' and `not knowing' were two entirely different things. Still, he refrained from discussing that matter. There were just some things that could never be changed.

"Well," Dorothy began, her bright smile returning. "Now that we have been able to catch up, I do believe that you wished to discuss the paper assignment on life that I had given you a few months ago."

Heero nodded, "Yes. The biggest challenge in the assignment seems to simple be where to start. I am having a great deal of difficulty with comprehending exactly what you want me to say in this report."

Folding her hands, the blond director grinned, "Well, then there would be where your problem lies." At the confusion on the boy's face, Dorothy explained, "This paper should have nothing to do with what you think I want to hear, Heero. This paper is going you your own voice to share with me what it is that makes you want to enter this field as badly as you do. This all needs to come sincerely from you, no one else."

Still, Heero seemed to be at a loss, a deep frown of thought on his face. With a sad smile, Dorothy continued, "Heero, the demands and stresses that come from being an effective lawyer cost many dearly. Now over time, and with as many stories as I have heard from Catherine, I have come to consider you someone that I would look out for as if you were my brother."

Leaning forward in her seat, the blonde director stated, "I would not, in good conscience, be able to accept you as one of my students of law if I did not think that you were truly ready to make this your goal in life. You have a great deal to offer this world, in whatever field that may be. I just want to make sure that this is the right direction for you."

As he took in everything that she had to say, Heero's fingers were making abstract patterns on the edges of his tall glass of iced tea. Not since Duo, Noin or Zech had anyone taken such measures to see that he was truly happy with what he did. While it was something that should have upset him, that his own mother would never go to such steps, it was just a part of life that he had come to grips with as being normal.

If he was honest with himself, Heero would just come out and tell Dorothy everything about his wishes to make his mother happy after all of her sacrifices to better his life. He would tell her that disappointing his mother was something that he would never be able to live with. But if he did that, the director just told him that she would not allow him to enter the prestigious university as a law student.

When it all came down to it, Heero didn't know what he wanted for himself anymore. His whole life was pointed in one direction with no way of knowing what else was out there. So, in that sense, he truly believed that he wanted to work in a field where he was best prepared for. Still, he knew that such reasoning would not be good enough in this case.

Somehow, Heero knew that he would have to come up with an elaborate lie in his assignment in order for Dorothy to take him under her wing. Now, he would have to worry about making that lie believable. If anything, he still had one more year of high school to look forward to before he would have to hand her paper in.

Forcing a smile, the Japanese student nodded, "Thank you, Dorothy. You'll have that paper next July fourteenth, as you requested." He exchanged another firm handshake and finished his glass of iced tea before leaving to pay for his drink.

As the bell at the front door rang at his departure, Dorothy watched the Japanese youth walk of down the street through the window. Her smile faded completely into a concerned frown. With a deep sigh, she wondered aloud, "What am I going to do with you?"

* * * * * *

When Heero returned home, he chuckled deeply when Duo bounded over to him and nearly knocked them both off their feet in a tight hug. Kissing his boyfriend's cheek, the braided boy's tail waved excitedly. "Trowa and the others were wondering if we could meet them in the park for a game of tag," he announced with a bright smile.

Quickly thinking of the things that his mother wanted him to do, Heero realized that he had already completed the things that he needed to have finished up to this time. He smiled back at the boy in his arms and nodded, "That sounds good to me."

Tag was just one of the many things that until now, the Japanese teenager would have considered a waste of time. Now, it was one of his favorite games to play. It always did strike him as humorous when adults walking past would stop to watch the group of teenagers playing tag in the park, as an odd thing. For him and his friends, however, it was no longer considered a game only for little children.

With an excited whoop, Duo was about to run upstairs when Heero took hold of his hand to hold him in place. Leaning in, the Japanese teenager closed his eyes and kissed his boyfriend's lips soundly. His own eyes closing, the braided youth sighed in content and returned the exchange.

"Missed you," Heero whispered when they pulled back, a small smile on flushed his lips. He was not just referring to his time away to meet with Dorothy.

The last couple of weeks had been very busy for the Japanese youth, filled with assignments from his mother. Through it all, Duo had been extremely patient through it all. How he was able to live without anyone like the cat-eared boy in his life was still a wonder to Heero. Their relationship was the only thing in his life that seemed to make any sense.

Understanding the meaning behind the sentiment, Duo smiled warmly and whispered back, "Missed you, too." He rubbed the tips of their noses together with a deep purr of content before gently pecking his partner's lips.

Heero grinned at the sound of the deep purring that returned when he gently caressed the side of the braided youth's face. "Let's do something later, just the two of us again," he suggested. At the hesitation in the violet eyes watching him, he reassured, "Don't worry about my mother. If she happens to call while we're out, I'll take care of it."

Relief filled Duo's violet eyes and he continued to lean into the gentle touch at his cheek. His smile returned full-force and he nodded excitedly, "All right." As frightened as he was of Heero's mother, he couldn't help that he just wanted to spend some quality time alone with him for a change after the last couple of weeks.

Gently kissing his partner's lips once more, Heero smirked, "All right. I'll get changed while you call the others to meet us in the park in a few minutes." With another excited cheer, Duo ran off to see to reaching their friends.

* * * * * *

By early afternoon, the group of six teenagers began to head to the park for long game of tag under the warm sun. "So how's the head, Wufei?" Trowa smirked at his Chinese friend. "You know you'll only be able to allow so many tackles against you during your summer practices before Nurse Sally realized that you're getting sacked on purpose just so that you have to have her check you out."

"My head's fine," Wufei replied, a smug grin on his own face. "I'm only three more sacks away and I know I'll have my date for the Senior prom next year." Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Care to make another bed that I can't pull it off?"

All eyes snapped to a wide-eyed Trowa in recalling the last time he lost such a bet to Wufei. Shaking his head, the tall youth answered, "No thanks. I'd say that we broke even, considering you lost our first bet a couple of years back."

Relena pouted jokingly, "Aw, but I only got to see the pictures of the two of you in dresses. I never got to actually see for myself." At that, Heero and Duo both began to fall into fits of laughter.

Both Wufei and Trowa shouted, "Who showed her the pictures!?" As soon as they asked the question, their glaring eyes turned to the Arab-who was suddenly not looking very sure of himself at the moment.

Swallowing hard, Quatre smiled nervously, "Come on, guys, you know Relena and I share everything with each other." At the stunned looked on his two friends' faces, the blonde boy started weakly, "Guys?"

"Well then, it looks like we're starting this game early," Trowa announced to the others, never taking his eyes from the cowering youth.

His own dark eyes narrowed on the same target, Wufei stated, "Start running." With a loud yelp, Quatre took off as fast as his legs could carry him, his two friend right on his heels. Relena, Heero and Duo followed after as they tried to keep up while laughing.

* * * * * *

When their game of tag had finally ended and after a friendly exchange of apologies and acceptances, the group of friends made their way back from the park. It was agreed by the team as a whole to visit the ice cream parlor before heading back home. As the groups talked amongst themselves, Duo paused in his footsteps when a flyer on one of the news stands in the center of the park caught his attention…




His violet eyes widening on the bold letters at the header, the braided teenager walked over to the announcement. Duo continued to read the flyer, adjusting his cap to the brim was at the back of his head to see the fine details.

It was a scholarship contest. The grand prize would provide the winner a free four years through the world's most elite and famed art colleges. Only the best of the best were known to attend the university to pursue their successful careers in the field. As far as Duo was concerned, Heero was certainly the best of the best out there.

Quickly scanning through the rules of what was expected with each entry, the braided youth found that the deadline for all entries to be sent in was coming in the next couple of days. Somehow, he would just have to see that one of Heero's works was sent in time. Along with that, he would have to come up with a plan to get his boyfriend to draw such a piece without making it all seem suspicious.

A wide smile tugged at his lips and he quickly tore one of the announcements from the stand, a plan coming to mind. At the sound of Heero calling his name, he saw that the others were starting to get pretty far ahead of him. Folding the flyer and placing in the pocket of his jean shorts, he called, "Coming!" With his tail flicking excitedly under his long T-shirt, he ran to catch up with the group.

* * * * * *

Chuckling deeply, Heero nuzzled a cheek against his friend's head of chestnut hair and asked, "Why do you look like the cat that just ate the prize bird?" Ever since their return from the part, his braided boyfriend had even more of a lightness to his step than usual. Along with that, he wouldn't stop smiling.

Duo shrugged innocently, his wide smile still in place and he replied, "Oh, I'm just happy to be spending the rest of the day with you." He was able to say the truth without giving away the whole truth behind his excitement. Duo never was one to lie, and Heero knew it.

Sitting up on the bed, Heero unwrapped his arms from his snuggling partner with a mischievous smirk. "So what is it you have planned for tonight, then," he asked, brushing the long bangs from the other boy's violet eyes to look into them. "You've waited long enough for us to have some time together so whatever you want, just ask."

His heart quickening in his nervousness, Duo sat up and bit his lip. "I want you to draw a picture for me." Heero frowned a bit and tilted his head. "I know that you don't think you're very good, but I love how you draw," the braided teenager threw in quickly. Swallowing hard, Duo continued said sincerely, "I want to see what I would look like… if I was normal."

At that, Heero felt an ache at the need in his boyfriend's voice and eyes. Unable to deny him anything, he nodded, "All right. I would have to have you pose, then, so I would be able to get a better fit for detail-"

"I won't be wearing any clothes," Duo cut him off quickly before he lost his nerve. At the shock in his partner's widened cobalt eyes, he flinched, his cat ears drooping slightly.

Having to swallow a few times to dampen his suddenly dry mouth, Heero asked quietly, "You really want that?"

Duo nodded, his violet eyes still pleading for understanding. As much as Duo wanted the art for another reason, he truly did want to see what he would look like had he been born like any other human. His wish for the picture was as much a selfish want as it was something he wanted to help his best friend.

Taking a deep breath, Heero finally smiled and nodded, "Okay. I'll go get a sketch pad." With that, he rose from the bed, his heart already racing as his mind whirled with thoughts of what he was about to do.

When he returned to his room with the large sketch pad and a few pencils, Heero swallowed hard when he saw the other teenager sitting on the edge of the bed they shared. Duo looked about as nervous as he felt, his tail swishing anxiously. Smiling to reassure him, the Japanese teenager told him, "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

The braided youth just shook his head, "No, I want to do this." His nervous smile returned and he shrugged, "Just performance anxiety, I guess." Heero chuckled deeply and placed a tender kiss on his partner's forehead. Walking around the room, he drew all of the shades to the windows and turned on his desk lamp, pointing it to the bed for more focused light.

When he took his seat by his desk, the unruly-haired teenager opened up the pad to the first clean page. Looking up from the paper, he cleared his throat and announced, "You can get into any position you'll be comfortable in, when you're ready. I'm going to need you to stay as still as possible when I get started."

"Okay," Duo nodded. Reaching back, he undid the tie at the end of his braid and undid his long hair until it was falling loosely around him. Finally mustering up some courage, he removed his long T-shirt. Unbuttoning his jean shorts, he pulled them off along with the briefs underneath and his socks.

His mouth suddenly dry again, Heero could feel the bulge in his own shorts tightening. While he had previously had quick glimpses of Duo without any clothes on, he made every attempt then not to pay too much attention. Now, having to take everything in, he could see just what a perfect body the other boy actually had. His cobalt eyes roamed from the creamy shoulders down the firm abdomen to the patch of chestnut hair around the hardening member.

When Duo was lying on his side facing the artist, he smiled nervously, "I think this is the most comfortable position for me. Will it work?" Knowing that his boyfriend was gazing on him like this was more of a thrill than he realized, his nerve quickly fading. All that was left was a shyness over the fact that he was growing hard before the other teenager's eyes. He turned his hips downward a bit so that the curve of his buttocks would be in view for the picture as well.

As if splashed by cold water, Heero straightened and nodded, "That's perfect." With a trembling hand, he picked up one of the pencils. Forcing his hand steady with a roll of his shoulders, he put the tip of the pencil to paper and began his work.

Nearly three hours later, Heero finally smiled to himself as he looked to his finished piece. "Finished," he announced quietly, very impressed at how the other teenager managed to stay still for the amount of time needed. Duo sat up, stretching his limbs as they ached to be moved at last. As Heero approached with the pad, the braided teenager wrapped part of the blanket around his waist.

Sitting beside his friend, Heero smiled and revealed the image to the other boy. With a small gasp, Duo's violet eyes widened. The detail in the definition of his body was amazing, but the fact that he could see what he would have looked like without a tail and a normal pair of human ears that complimented his face was almost overwhelming. As he looked at the image of himself as a normal person, small tears began to fill his eyes.

Heero frowned deeply and removed the pad from his boyfriend's hands. "I like this one better," he said quietly, turning the page in the pad. Revealing the picture to the other teenager, he smiled warmly.

Blinking his widening, shimmering eyes, Duo looked to the same image, only this one had his cat ears perked atop his head as they always were. His long tail draped around his waist onto the bed as if it were embracing him. Aside from those two characteristics, every detail in the first picture had been the same in this.

Until that time, Duo never imagined himself as anything but strange and almost repulsive because of his cat features. Now that he had two images to compare, he found that there was little to no difference in him at all. Two strong arms wrapped around his waist and the Japanese youth placed a tender kiss against his temple.

"Duo," Heero whispered against his ear. "I don't ever want you to think that I would want anything about you to be different from how you are now. You're beautiful. I just wish that you could see yourself how I see you." Now the tears were beginning to fall from Duo's eyes as he sniffled.

Turning, the cat-tailed boy threw his arms around his partner, whispering brokenly, "Thank you, Heero." He purred deeply as a hand soothingly began rubbing his back in wide circles.

Kissing the top of Duo's head, Heero closed his eyes and breathed, "I love you." It was the first time either of them had said those words to each other and it was a welcomed relief to finally be honest about his feelings.

A wide smile lit the braided teenager's tear-streaked face when he pulled back. "I love you, too," he replied just as softly. Leaning in, he kissed his partner soundly. As the kiss heated, the blankets around his waist began to slip away.

Hands began to roam, as did lips. In the midst of the heat of the moment intensifying, Heero had been stripped down and their bodies began to grind against each other as they laid back against the mattress. Neither wanting to go too far, but both needing release, the two boys panted heavily as they allowed the friction of their bodies rubbing against each other to finally bring them to completion, screaming each other's names.

When they calmed down following the ecstasy of their climaxes, the two teenagers wrapped themselves around each other and focused on catching their breath. Smiling down at his partner, Heero said quietly, "That was…"

"Yea…" Duo smiled back. Lowering himself back atop his lover, Heero sighed deeply in content. The braided teenager closed his eyes and purred deeply, a wide smile still on his face in the afterglow of what just happened between them.

* * * * * *

The following morning, while Heero was in the shower, Duo was still smiling at the drawing of himself-his true self. It certainly was a wonderful gift for him to see himself in a different light now. Hugging the picture to his chest, he purred deeply. The sound of water running in the shower from the adjoining bathroom filled theair, the only other sound along with the rumbling sound from is chest.

Leaning over the edge of the bed, the cat-tailed youth picked up the first picture. As he gazed on himself as a normal human one last time, Duo's smile grew in knowing that he no longer desired to have that body. He was unique and exquisite in his own way. He was actually comfortable in his own skin… and fur.

Quickly, Duo went to the pile of his clothes to remove the flyer he had taken form the park the prior afternoon. Now that he had a picture of the human body as one of the requirements for the contest, he knew where to find other images Heero had drawn over time for the other listed items needed for the entry.

Once everything was together, the braided teenager found a manila envelope and neatly placed all of the images inside it. Sealing the envelope, he neatly wrote the address on the front. Smiling, he peeked his head into the bathroom and announced that he would be out for a little while to `get some air.'

When he reached the post office, Duo smiled kindly to the young woman behind the desk. She grinned back, "And you said that you needed this rushed to arrive before the weekend?" Duo nodded. Looking to the calendar, the clerk reassured him, "With the postage you purchased for this envelope, it will arrive on Thursday."

Duo was practically beaming in knowing that the entry would make it in time for the contest's deadline. With a firm nod, he replied, "Perfect."

Part 15:

"Now this is one of the most influential men you will ever meet when you are ready to join our family's firm, Heero," Danielle smiled, leading her son down the long hall. "You'll do me proud by making a good first impression on him."

With a firm nod, Heero adjusted his grey suit tie and replied, "Yes, mother." The last four months of the boy's senior year of college had been a blur. Between his classes, reports, tests and projects that his mother had assigned him, he had little time to himself.

Now that he was in the middle of his winter break from school, Heero's mother insisted that he meet her on the Colony where she was currently preparing for yet another upcoming trial. Just when he was looking forward to finally having some time alone with his lover, he was pulled away from him yet again.

Recalling the forced smile on Duo's face when he had to leave, Heero's heart ached at having to be away from him for so long. The last week of this trip had been excruciatingly slow for him, his thoughts constantly drifting back to his braided partner. The occasional calls back home that he was able to make were the only things that kept Heero from losing his sanity on this long trip.

In this particular case, Danielle was collaborating with one of the most respected and well-known attorneys, Trent Clark. In knowing that they were to work together, the red-haired woman immediately contacted her son to join her to meet the esteemed young man.

After only being in the practice of law for five years, Clark was quickly becoming one of the most sought-after attorneys to sign with an agency. Danielle Yuy made it her goal to see that if he joined any firm, it would be her own. Certain that Heero would make an excellent impression on him, she was certain that their meeting would go well.

Opening the door at the third door on the right, Danielle stepped in and smiled warmly to the young man sitting at the table in the center of the room. Looking up from the files before him, the brunette attorney smiled back and rose from his seat. "Good to see you again, Misses Yuy," he greeted kindly.

Closing the door behind them, the red-haired woman gestured to her son beside her and introduced with a proud smile, "Trent, this is my son, Heero."

The tall young man extended his hand to the boy and grinned, "Heero, your mother, here, has told me a great deal about you over the last couple of weeks. It is very nice to meet you."

As he took the kind man's hand to shake it, Heero replied with a warm smile of his own, "Very nice to meet you, as well. I am glad that I have had the chance to come out here to add my assistance to your research."

"Well, let's get down to business, shall we?" Danielle suggested with a cheerful voice. With that, the three of them moved to the table and Heero was quickly filled in on how the preparation for the trial was coming.

Over three hours later, Heero had done more than his part in filing and gathering as many possible contacts and leads to help their case. Glancing over the files that the boy had printed out, Trent let out a low whistle. "Are you sure you're only in high school?" he asked in a tone that reflected his amusement and awe.

"He will be graduating this June," Danielle answered for her son with a proud smirk. "From, there he will be attending Wayne University to earn his degree."

At the mention of the elite school, the other attorney was visibly impressed. "Very ambitious," he commented, looking back over Heero's report. "But this is quite good, for someone who never partook in any formal lessons for law education." Heero remained silent, but gave a grateful nod to the compliment before returning to his work.

Seeing an opportunity open, Danielle removed her glasses and propped her chin on her hand. "You know, Trent," she began, "if you are as impressed with my son, you should meet the team of lawyers that I have currently working at my firm. I believe that you would be quite happy in working with any one of them."

Trent laughed and shook his head, "Still trying to reel me in, I see." His smile and laughter faded when he focused back on the work provided by the Japanese youth. "Though I must say," he said at last, "now that I have had a chance to see the professionalism that both you and your son project, the prospect is becoming more and more intriguing."

Heero caught his mother's contained smile from the corner of his eye. Replacing her thin-framed glasses atop her nose, Danielle replied, "Well, there will always be a door opened to you, should you ever decide to join with us."

"Good to know," Trent smirked. Heero remained trained on his own progress in sorting through the files given to him. "I was very upset at hearing of your father's passing," the young man stated. At the surprised cobalt eyes that snapped up to meet his gaze, Clark frowned sadly, "I had the honor of working with him on a few assignments. He was a remarkable man, and brilliant in everything that he did."

Clearing his throat, Heero replied sincerely, "Thank you." not sure that he could trust his voice at that moment, the he lowered his head back to his task. It never ceased to amaze him at how many people knew his own father better than he did. While it was upsetting to him, it was in an odd way a relief to hear from others that his father was a good person. He just wished that he had more time with him.

After looking to her watch, Danielle smiled, "Well, I believe that it is about time for a break. If memory serves me, believe that I saw a lovely restaurant along the way here. Trent, would you join us for lunch?"

Clark grinned back with a nod, "Why thank you. I would be happy to take you up on that offer, so long as you are willing to allow me to treat the both of you."

Slowly, a smile tugged at Danielle's lips when she replied, "If you insist. I will just have to return the favor another time." As far as she was concerned, things could not have been running more smoothly.

* * * * * *

Duo sighed deeply, lowering his head onto the living room table. Heero had been away for about a week now and Duo was missing him terribly. With yet another week to have to endure without his lover, the next few days were going to be jut as agonizing for him. His cat ears drooped and his tail curled in his lap, the braided boy continued to draw imaginary lined with his fingertip on the table's surface.

Noin entered the room with a bright smile and a stack of papers in her hand. Perking up at the excitement on his `mother's' face, Duo sat up with a questioning look. "Your midterm test results are in," the young woman announced.

His boredom and heartache subdued the slightest bit, the braided teenager sat up, his tail coming back to life in swaying behind him. Kneeling beside her `son', Noin smiled in pride and revealed the papers in her hands. "You got all A's," she announced.

Duo's tail swished excitedly and he let out an excited cheer before throwing his arms around the young maid. Laughing, Noin returned the tight embrace in kind. "I'm so proud of you, Duo," she whispered, rubbing his back.

"Only a few more semesters like this and I'll actually have a high school diploma," the cat-eared boy grinned. "I hope that Heero's mom will be happy with that."

Noin managed to keep her smile from fading, as difficult as it was. While she knew that the boy truly wanted to have a diploma and to learn, she was also aware that Danielle's demand on him was a constant pressure. It was no different from the pressure that she put on Heero. "Are you happy with this?" she finally asked.

Understanding the stress on the word `you,' Duo smiled in reassurance and nodded, "I want this more than Heero's mother wants this from me. I'm very happy with this."

Relief filled the young maid's eyes and she smiled back, "Well, you should be." At the sound of the front door opening and the voice greeting Zechs, they looked up just as the tall man entered the room.

Quickly rising to her feet, Noin relayed the good news to her lover. Smiling to his `son,' Zechs reached down and rubbed the top of his braided head. Duo closed his eyes, purring deeply at the gentle patting. "Good job, son," the tall man complimented. Turning to face his lover, he suggested, "After dinner, we should go to the ice cream parlor to celebrate."

With a bright smile, Noin nodded, "That sounds good to me. He certainly earned it with his hard work over the last few months. I was already beginning to make his favorite meal as well."

Duo's cat ears and tail perked up all the more and he beamed in excitement, "Thanks, mom and dad." After everything that Noin and Zechs had done for him, referring to the couple as his parents just seemed more and more natural now.

"In speaking of dinner," the young maid began, "Zechs, would you mind running to the market to pick up some things that I need? It's only a few ingredients that are running out."

Just as the tall man was about to accept, Duo quickly rose to his feet and offered, "I can go for you." His `parents' looked to the braided youth. "I'm going crazy looking for something to do," the braided teenager explained.

Unable to deny the youth anything, especially knowing how lonely he had been with Heero being away, both Noin and Zechs smiled to him. "Okay, Duo," Noin replied. "I'll write down the things that I need." With that, she stepped from the room and headed to the kitchen.

Zechs raised an eyebrow and asked, "Are you sure that you don't want me to drive you there and back? It is my job, you know."

With a grateful grin, Duo shook his head, "Thanks, dad, but it's just a few blocks. The more time I get to help with this, the less time I'm here, being bored." Noin reentered the room with the short list of things needed.

"Very well," the blonde man smirked. "Just be careful out there." The young woman nodded her seconding of the notion. The words of caution were well warranted, considering the incident that had happened the last time Duo had ventured out on his own.

Accepting the list of items and hiding his tail under his long sweater, Duo threw his red coat on. The black ski cap pulled down over his head finished his disguise before stepping outside. It just began to snow lightly and the air was not terribly cold. Taking in a deep breath of fresh air, Duo smiled and made his way down the street.

* * * * * *

Trent hummed to himself in content after taking his first bite from his delicious lunch. "You know, Heero," he smirked, focusing on the boy sitting across from him. "I should just turn the tables on your mother and try to convince you to work for me, instead. I am doing quite well on my own, however, working with someone like yourself would begin making of a firm that I could call my own."

Lowering her glass of water, Danielle chuckled deeply, "Nice try, Trent. However, my son is looking to follow in his father's footsteps in working for our family' firm." Once again speaking on Heero's behalf, she continued, "When Heero graduates from Wayne University, I can assure you that he will be in as high demand as you and I are currently in."

"I must say that I do not doubt that for a second," Clark remarked. He turned to the silent youth again and commented, "You already have a keen sense of what this business will demand from you. That will go a long way when you are ready to take up this lifestyle."

Heero took that moment to speak. After wiping the side of his moth with his napkin, he replied, "I have my mother to thank for that. She has done everything in her power to see that I am ready for any thing and everything involving law."

Placing a hand on her chest, Danielle put up an air of modesty when she stated, "Why thank you, Heero, but I am only looking out for my son's best interest, as any other mother would. What I am doing is nothing significant."

Trent shook his head, "Actually, I would have to disagree with you, Danielle. You certainly did go out of your way to see that Heero has everything he needs to be ready for his wish to become an attorney."

The young man never noticed the slight cough from the Japanese teenager as he nearly choked on the water that he was drinking. Heero frowned to himself in realization that his mother was parading some story that he actually wanted this lifestyle for himself. His mother was the only reason he `wished' to become a lawyer because she made that wish for him. Still, he remained quiet.

When their lunch was finished, Trent sat back in his seat and considered Danielle and Heero for a moment. Finally, he smirked, "Well, I have been considering your offer, Danielle, and I am inclined to agree to join your firm when this case is finished."

Her cobalt eyes widening, Danielle smiled from ear-to-ear and reassured him, "Trent, you will not regret this decision." She reached over to share a firm handshake with her newest lawyer a firm handshake to seal the agreement.

* * * * * *

Duo was humming a light tune as he stepped from the large supermarket. With a plastic bag in hand, he began to make his way back home. Trying to forget the fact that Heero would not be at the house when he returned, the braided teenager took some enjoyment in being out in the drifting snow that was beginning to accumulate on the ground.

When he made his way past one of the alleys, a hand suddenly shot out and grabbed the Duo's arm. His startled cry was cut off when a large hand covered his mouth. Dropping the bag in his other hand, he was pulled into the desolate alley. His back was slammed against the brick wall, stunning him when his head came in contact.

It took a moment to get back the immediate blackness that overtook him before Duo gained focus on the fiery eyes glaring down on him. "M-Muller," he whispered in terror, his violet eyes widening.

A menacing smirk tugged at the other teenager's lips and he hissed, "Maxwell. It was a pleasant surprise seeing you step out without Yuy, for a change. I've been waiting a long time to pay you back for what happened to me."

Instantly, panic ran through the cat-eared boy's mind. How long was Muller watching the house for this opportunity? He did not have another moment to think before he was slammed against the wall again, crying out in pain. No longer able to feel his feet, the only thing keeping him upright was the fact that he was being held up.

Pulling one of his hands back in a tight fist, the brute was just about to slam a forceful blow down when a voice from the alley's opening shouted, "Muller!" His fist stopped a mere inch from the braided boy's face.

With a started gasp, the boy looked up to see Trowa Barton standing alongside Wufei Chang. The two boys glared heatedly at the youth holding their friend. Swearing under his breath, Muller dashed off down the opposite end of the alley, Wufei right on his heels. As Duo's eyes rolled in the back of his head, he fell forward.

Trowa just managed to catch his friend in time and carefully lowered him onto his back. Finding some blood that has seeped through the back of Duo's ski cap on his hand, his green eyes widened. "Wufei!" he called after the Chinese teenager running after Muller.

"Damn it," Wufei hissed in having to stop his pursuit. Muller never looked back and ran out of sight when he made a turn at the end of the alley. Quickly returning to his friends, his dark eyes widened in concern at the distressed look on Trowa's face.

Knowing that it took a great deal to worry the other teenager, Wufei's attention drawn to the blood on the taller boy's hand, he paled. "My house is closest," he finally heard himself say. With a nod, Trowa lifted Duo over his shoulder. Taking up the bag that they had found at the end of the alley, Wufei led them through the back ways towards his house to avoid being seen.

* * * * * *

Sally looked to the called id on her cell phone and smiled to herself. Answering the call, she greeted, "Hello, Wufei. I was just going to c-"

Her words were cut off when the teenager on the other line cut in frantically, "Sally, I need you to come to my house as soon as possible. We need your medical kit."

Taken aback at the urgency in his words, the braided young woman forced herself to keep calm and asked, "What happened?"

"It's my friend, Duo," the voice replied, the worry even more clean now. "Muller managed to get a hold of him again."

Her eyes widening, Sally answered, "I'll be right there. In the meantime, you call the authorities and get them after Muller." Hanging up her cell phone, she ran to the second level of her house to gather her medical supplies.

* * * * * *

"Oh Heero," Danielle beamed in pride as she hugged her son tightly. With their lunch ended, they were finally back at the hotel room where they were staying. "I knew that bringing you here was a good idea."

His cobalt eyes wide, Heero only had a stunned moment to return the rare embrace before his mother pulled back again. Cupping her son's face in her hands, the red-haired woman grinned, "You were brilliant today. And more I have another well-known name to add to the list of lawyers that I have working for me."

A small smile lit Heero's face and he replied sincerely, "I'm just happy that you're happy, mother." The young woman never did catch the meaning behind his words, never realized that the only reason he did anything was so that she would be happy. Reaching up, the Japanese teenager was all too happy to undo his tie and unbutton the first two buttons of his white blouse.

Still smiling brightly, Danielle waved her finger at her son and stated, "You continue to impress esteemed people like Trent the way that you did today and you will go further in this practice than I could have ever dreamed of going."

With a sigh of content, his mother stretched and announced, "I am going to go back to my own suite, now, to enjoy a well-earned massage." Placing a hand on her son's cheek, she told him, "You've worked very hard for me this last week, and I am very grateful for it all. If you would like, you may return home tomorrow."

At the thought of being reunited with Duo sooner than either of them expected, Heero's cobalt eyes widened. "Are you sure?" he asked, trying not to show his eagerness to return home, and for his own sake not wanting to get his hopes too high that he heard his mother correctly.

With a nod, his mother answered, "I will be able to take over from here. You only have another week of your winter break, so you best return to prepare for your last two quarters of high school. I will send you assignments as they come in.

"I will have you set on a flight first thing tomorrow morning. You best enjoy your stay in this elaborate suite before you have to go," Danielle suggested.

Heero smiled, "Thank you, mother." Tentatively, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. It was rare that he felt such shows of affection were welcome, but at that moment, he was too happy to think his actions through.

Blinking in surprise, Danielle grinned and shrugged, never returning the gesture. "I will see you for dinner, then," she said before turning and leaving the room.

When his mother stepped from the room, Heero's smile grew and he gave a small cheer to himself. He decided against calling Duo with the wonderful news to surprise him by just walking through the front door unannounced, instead. Removing his blouse, he stepped into his private suite's bedroom to change.

At the sound of his cell phone ringing, Heero gathered it from its resting place on his dresser. Finding Trowa's cell number on his caller id, he frowned deeply to himself. Opening the flip on the phone, he answered, "Trowa?"

The distress in the voice on the end of the line replied, "Heero, it's Duo."

With his heart stopping at that announcement, Heero unsteadily sat on the edge of his bed, unwilling to trust his shaky legs. "What happened?" he quietly asked when he finally found his voice.

"He was running an errand for Noin. Muller got to him," his friend's grim voice answered. "By the time Wufei and I showed up, we stopped Muller but Duo was unconscious."

Cursing under his breath, Heero ran his free hand through his unruly hair and asked frantically, "Where is Duo now? Is he awake? How bad is he?"

Trowa did his best to calm his friend by keeping his own concern from his voice. "We're at Wufei's house now," he stated. "Duo's still unconscious from his head wound and he needs medical care." He took a deep breath before saying, "We called Sally for help."

Having only met the braided young woman on a few occasions, Heero's mind worked frantically, thinking of all of the possibilities of what could happen were Duo's identity revealed. He knew that the real reason for Trowa's call was to have his permission to allow Sally to examine him, to find out their secret.

With his mind made up, Heero released a shaky breath. Closing his eyes, he told his friend, "Trowa… whatever Sally needs to do, let her. Duo's health comes first. Whatever happens, we'll deal with that later."

The relief was clear in the other teenager's voice when he replied, "All right. I'll call you as soon as we know anything."

Biting his lip, Heero's voice cracked in whispering, "Thank you." Disconnecting the call, his hand fell limply to his side. Washing his face with his trembling hands, he worked to keep his conflicting emotions at bay.

Finally, Heero rose onto his wobbly legs and pulled a grey t-shirt over his head. Quickly, he made his way out of the suite, into the hallway and to the door of his mother's suite. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he forced himself to straighten when he knocked on the door. His mother opened the door to him, a look of confusion on her face in not expecting to see her son so soon. "Heero?" she asked. "What is it?"

"Sorry to bother you, mother," Heero frowned. "I was wondering if I would be able to get on a shuttle flight back home this evening."

* * * * * *

Both Trowa and Wufei eyed each other in concern as Sally opened her medical bag. Duo was lying on the bed in one of the Chang household's spare bedrooms, his cap still on and his tail underneath his blue sweater.

"You both did a good job in stopping the bleeding," she commented. She was quite impressed that despite their concern for their friend, the two teenagers were quick to bandage the wound on the back of the injured youth's head. Sitting on the edge of the bed, the braided woman reached to remove the ski cap.

"Sally," Wufei suddenly spoke up just as she began to lift the edge of the cap. The young woman stopped and looked to the teenager who had been pursuing her for months now. Biting his lip, the Chinese youth stumbled over his words, "It's just- well- You should know-"

Trowa stepped forward, nodded, "What he means is, it's kind of a shock-"

With a deep sigh, Sally shook her head and reassured them, "Believe me, I have seen just about everything there is to so, so I highly doubt that whatever is underneath would be considered a shock to me." Unable to say anything more, the two boys just laughed nervously.

Ignoring the strange behavior of the boys, Sally tuned back to her patient. Slowly, she removed the ski cap. At the sight of the two, large and furry hears, her eyes widened with a startled gasp. Suddenly, she wanted to take back her last remark.


Part 16:

[If you're lost, you can look
and you will find me, time after time
If you fall I will catch you,
I'll be waiting, time after time]
-Lyrics from Time After Time by Cindy Lauper


Nearly jumping up from the bed when she removed the ski cap from the injured boy's head, Sally stood frozen with wide eyes. Pointing at the cat-eared teenager, she finally found her voice after opening and closing her mouth several times. "W-what is he?"

Wufei was the first to reach her side, frowning, "We don't know. Not even Duo knows. But you have to understand why we've been keeping his identity a secret all this time." He and Trowa breathed a silent sigh of relief when the braided nurse nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Sally went to her work, sitting herself on the edge of the bed again to examine the back of the injured boy's head facing her. Gently moving back some of the long hair after removing the temporary bandage that had been placed over the wound, she narrowed her eyes. "If he had been hit any harder, he would have needed stitches," she frowned deeply.

Quickly, the braided young woman gathered up some of her medical equipment from the bag at her feet. Without looking up from her task, Sally requested, "I am going to need some ice and some more light in here." Instantly, Trowa agreed to gather the ice while Wufei moved some of the lighting fixtures in the room.

As the boys were busy seeing to the needed items, Sally took out her stethoscope and checked the braided teenager's pulse. Placing her palm thermometer against the boy's hand, she took his temperature and moved to oversee his other vitals. Relieved that all seemed well in her findings, she released a sigh of relief.

With three tall lamps moved into place and shining on the bed, it was easier to examine the damage done and the nurse was satisfied that the bleeding had thankfully stopped. "Thank you for getting here so soon," Wufei said quietly.

"Thank you for trusting me," Sally answered just as softly, looking up from her patient. The young couple's eyes met for a moment before the braided college intern looked back to the wound.

Despite the pair's obvious attraction towards each other, it had been decided by both Wufei and Sally to wait until the Chinese teenager graduated high school before pursuing a relationship. That way, they would both be attending the same college as classmates. Then their three-year age difference would not draw so much attention. Still, it was difficult on the both of them at times like this, to not just seek comfort in each other as a normal couple would.

Trowa appeared with a bowl full of ice and some rags. Sally accepted the bowl with a quiet `thank you' before applying some ice wrapped in one of the rags, she applied it to the wound. A small whimper came from Duo, but he never woke, just trembled from the cold.

Gently, the young woman placed her free hand on his arm. "It's okay, Duo," she soothed softly. "We have to get the swelling down." While the boy did not wake to turn back to face her, Sally knew that he could hear her when his body relaxed along with his breathing. "That's it. Shhh," the nurse whispered faintly. Her hand moved to rub soothing circles along her patient's back, the other hand still carefully applying the ice.

When her hand brushed against something out of place, Sally blinked and slowly lifted the back of the long sweater. Her eyes widened anew when the long, thin cat tail curled out from its confinement to rest in her lap as if in a way of thanking her where the injured teenager could not. A small smile lit her face and she shook her head in amusement. "Amazing," she breathed.

Swallowing hard, Wufei stepped forward with a concerned frown and asked quietly, "Is he going to be okay, Sally?"

The braided young woman looked up to him and nodded, "He's responding as he should be and his vitals are stable. Once this swelling goes down a bit, I can seal it with a clean bandage. When he's awake, I'll have to run a couple other tests. I wouldn't be surprised if he has some sort of concussion from this."

A shudder ran up the braided young woman's spine and she sighed, "It's a good thing that the two of you called Noin to see if Duo was up to go sledding. I'd hate to think of what would have happened if you didn't find him when you did." Fear suddenly filled Sally's widened eyes and she gasped, "Please tell me that Muller didn't get a chance to see his-"

Shaking his head, Trowa reassured her, "We managed to stop him before he learned Duo's identity."

At that news, the nurse's shoulders eased and she sighed deeply in relief, "That heavens for that." To the concerned looks of the teenagers watching her, Sally smiled, "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me." While neither Wufei nor Trowa truly second guessed her reaction to their friend's hidden identity, they both silently released the breath that they had been holding.

After another examination of the injury to the back of the braided teenager's head, Sally deemed the swelling had gone down. Cautiously, she disinfected the bruise and soothed the boy when he whimpered again.

The cat tail in Sally's lap twitched a bit before finally relaxing the reassurances whispered by her calming voice. Blowing on the cleaned wound, the nurse moved to seal it with a fresh bandage. "That should take care of it," she announced quietly.

With a nod, Wufei turned off the three large lamps that he had moved to aid his crush's sigh, sparing only the ceiling light to shine on them. A small gob wracked through Duo's small frame. In his unconscious state, he whispered, "Heero." His hand stretched out as if the other boy were within his reach, only to clutch to the blanket wrapped around him.

Upon hearing his friend's desperate plea, Trowa stated, "I should call Heero and let fill him in on Duo's progress."

Wufei nodded and suggested, "Better contact Noin and Zechs, too. We'll have to get Duo back home before my parents get back from their meeting." Trowa nodded back with an affirmative before stepping from the room.

* * * * * *

Frantically trying to keep his swirl of emotions at bay, Heero stepped through the departure gates of the shuttle station. Thankful that he thought to tell his mother of the paper that Dorothy Catalonia had assigned to him, he was able to find a plausible excuse for his sudden wish to return home a night early.

Heero knew that his mother would be all too happy to allow him the last few days of his winter break to impress his future director of law at Wayne University. She practically shoved him out of the hotel to get to the shuttle port so he could continue his work. He didn't need to admit that he was not able to start the assignment, nor did he have any idea on where to begin.

The Japanese teenager's cell phone rang when he finished leaving his luggage at the front desk to be boarded. Seeing his friend's cell number on the caller id, he opened the phone's flip and answered urgently, "Trowa. How's Duo?"

"He's going to be all right," the tall teenager's voice replied reassuringly. "He hasn't woken up yet, but Sally is keeping a close eye on him. We're taking him back to your house now. That way, he'll be in familiar surroundings when he wakes up. Noin and Zechs will be arriving here in a few minutes."

At the confirmation that his lover was going to be all right, some of Heero's immediate concern began to ebb. "And Sally?" he asked.

Trowa answered, "She's in on the secret. She is handling everything beautifully." There was another pause while the Japanese teenager's shoulders sagged. "Duo will be perfectly fine by the time you get back home at the end of the week."

With a smirk, Heero commented, "Actually, I am at Colony G654's shuttle port right now. I'll be home in the next two hours." Quickly, he added, "Before you ask me how I managed to pull that off, it's a long story I'll fill you in when I get back."

On the other end of the line, Trowa smiled, "Then I'll see that your return stays a surprise for Duo. Just let me know the flight number so I can relay the information to Zechs so he knows when you arrive."

After relaying the flight number and scheduled time of arrival, the two friends ended their call. Closing his eyes and releasing a deep sigh of relief, Heero said a silent thank you to whatever God was listening. When his flight was called, he all but fell into his seat, his knees almost trembling following the stress that he had gone through.

* * * * * *

"You did what!?"

Muller flinched under his father's glare and heated words. Looking up pleadingly, he replied, "Dad, ever since that kid showed up, he's-"

His father never allowed him to get another word in. The tall man just bent at the waist to meet his son's eyes and hissed, "Had you and your friends never attempted to start any trouble with that Relena Peacecraft, you would not be in this situation to begin with.

Straightening, Jacob ran a hand through his short, brown hair. His green eyes still narrowed, he growled, "I am thankful that your mother is no longer here to see her son in this disgraceful light. This is the second time that the authorities have been involved and I will not be bailing you out! You'll just have to sit it out and think of your actions while you sit in your cell the next three days!"

His own eyes narrowing, Muller lowered his head and replied, "Yes, father." The flashing lights from the patrol car pulled up in front of the house and peered through the glass windows of the living room. A shudder ran up the teenager's spine in spite of his dreaded fate.

The officer stepped in and after a brief exchange of words with the culprit's father, handcuffed the boy sitting on the couch. Once his son was taken away, Jacob sighed deeply and ran a hand through his hair again. Watching the patrol car drive off with Muller, he shook his head and stepped back into the house.

* * * * * *

Slowly, Duo's violet eyes began to blink open and he moaned deeply in pain. His head felt as though it were being tightened in a vice and even the single light from Heero's desk lamp pierced his vision, causing his eyes to tighten closed. A few voices around him filled his ears and with a deep breath, he forced his eyes to slowly open once more.

"Easy, Duo," a familiar voice soothed and a hand gently fell on his shoulder. Another, smaller light panned across each eye before it turned off. "Minor concussion. Nothing more," the voice said quietly, the relief clear in every word.

Trying to think through the pain, Duo recalled his last waking moments. The sight of Muller's enraged face flashed before him and with a startled gasp, he sat up quickly. He instantly regretted the sudden move when the vice around his head tightened all the more. Allowing the hands on his shoulders to ease him back to lie on the bed again, the braided teenager's violet eyes took in his surroundings.

At the sight of the concerned faces, Duo breathed a sigh of relief and finally recalled his location in Heero's bedroom. Around the bed, Noin, Zechs, Wufei and Trowa gave their own small smiles of reassurance. Finally, he turned to the one sitting over him, only to whimper with his cat ears drooping when he found Sally Po.

In sensing the boy's distress, the nurse smiled warmly and soothed, "It's all right, Duo, you're safe now." In her words, she spoke not only of his current state, but the fact that his identity was safe in her knowledge. Understanding the full meaning behind her words, the cat-eared youth swallowed hard and nodded.

Slowly, Sally reached up to run a hand through the startled teenager's bangs. Closing his eyes, Duo leaned into the touch and purred loudly, his ears perking up slightly. "Amazing," the nurse whispered with a smile of awe.

Opening his violet eyes again, Duo was thankful that the vice had eased back a bit of its pressure enough for him to think clearly. Turning his head to face the braided young woman sitting over him, he smiled at last. "Thank you," he managed quietly.

"You're welcome," Sally replied in kind. She chuckled deeply when the long cat tail beside the boy began to sway across the bed.

Noin took her `son's' hand and squeezed it gently. With a small grin, Duo squeezed back to let her know that he was all right. Removing some pills from her bag, Sally placed them in the maid's free hand. Behind Noin, Zechs watched and listened intently to keep track of his `son's' needs.

Still keeping her voice low as not to stir her patient's concussion, Sally instructed, "See that he takes one of these twice a day until they're out. They'll take care of the pain. See that he has something light to eat tonight before he goes to sleep."

With a grateful nod, Noin replied, "Thank you for all your help, Sally. I don't know how we will be able to repay you."

The nurse smirked, "No repayment needed. Duo is a friend of mine, as well." She turned to meet the violet eyes watching her. "I'll be back to check up on you tomorrow," she smiled kindly. "Until then, stay in bed and get some rest."

Licking his dry lips, Duo gave a slight nod and muttered, "'Kay."

Wufei and Trowa stepped up to the other side of the bed. Squeezing his friend's arm, the Chinese teenager told him, "We'll be back tomorrow, too. It'll be a few days before we can go sledding like we planned, but maybe we can have another sleepover here with Quatre and Relena."

At the hopeful look that his son gave him, Zechs chuckled deeply, "I believe that we could make the accommodations for that. You know that you're always welcome here." Noin's own warm smile and nod spoke of her seconding his sentiments.

Trowa grinned, "Sounds like a plan, then." The tall youth lightly patted his injured friend's shoulder and commented, "Make sure you rest up before then, in that case. You know we'll just be up all light like the last time."

Duo laughed quietly, as much as the pain would allow, "Thanks for looking out for me, Wufei, Trowa." The two teenagers over him grinned back. A sudden, wide yawn overtook the braided teenager and the need to sleep was slowly creeping up.

Lightly clapping her hands, the braided nurse announced, "Okay, boys. Duo has had enough excitement for one day. We best be going." With a wink to her patient, Sally rose from the bed and gathered her bag. Silently, she slipped from the room with Wufei and Trowa close behind.

When the door closed after then, Noin took the nurse's place to sit beside the injured boy.

"I'm going to go downstairs and make up some soup for you," the maid said softly, her relieved smile never fading.

Zechs approached the bed to squeeze the boy's shoulder and stated, "If you like, I can bring up some movies for you to watch so you don't get too bored."

His ears drooping a bit, Duo thought of how he had insisted on going off on his own, only to end up like this and worrying the people that he cared about. He frowned, "I'm sorry to be causing you so much trouble, mom and dad."

Shaking his head, Zechs replied firmly, "No more of that, Duo. You are no burned on us. No one could have seen any of this happening when you left earlier." His `son' seemed to relax a bit at his reassuring words.

Noin brushed back some of Duo's bands leaned down to place a soft kiss on his forehead. "All that matters right now is that you're home safe now. We'll gladly suffer anything that comes with looking after you," she said quietly. "For now, just get some rest. I'll wake you when I bring up your dinner."

Duo rewarded them with a loving smile and his violet eyes drifted closed. Quietly, the young couple stepped from the room and closed the door behind them. "So when is Heero going to be landing?" Noin asked her lover quietly when they began walking downstairs.

Checking his watched, Zechs answered, "Based on the information that Trowa gave me, his shuttle should be landing in a little over an hour. I'll head to the shuttle port in about thirty minutes to bring him home."

A wide smile tugged at the young maid's lips. "Duo's going to be so excited when he sees him," she commented. "After everything that's happened, they could use some time alone for a change."

"Well, I suppose that I have had you to myself long enough that I could cope with entertaining them and their friends for the next week," Zechs sighed overdramatically. Noin just laughed and lightly punched him on the arm.

* * * * * *

Duo was sound asleep following his light meal of soup when Heero arrived home. The television was still on and playing the movie that the braided teenager had attempted to last through. With a warm, tired smile on his face, Heero removed the backpack from his shoulder. The sight of seeing his lover peacefully sleeping in their bed was the most welcoming sight he had seen in over a week.

Shedding his grey t-shirt, the Japanese youth crawled into bed. Having received the assessment of his best friend's condition, he gently stroked the backs of his fingers against the sleeping boy's face. With a few murmured words, Duo's eyes blinked opened. His eyes widening after blinking in shock for a moment, he whispered, "H-Heero?"

Smiling lovingly down on his lover, Heero whispered, "Hi, baby." He leaned down to feather kisses all over the other boy's face, pulling him close to assure himself as much as the cat-eared boy that they were back together. He heard a small whimper as his love clung to his love and tears filled his violet eyes.

"It's really you," the Duo whispered against a strong shoulder. His pain forgotten, drowned out by his relief and sheer joy at being reunited with his love, he continued to cling onto the other youth as tightly as he could with his trembling body. "It's really you," he continued to whisper to himself in a mantra.

With Duo's face buried in his shoulder, Heero assessed the large bandage covering the wound at the back of his head. Holding back the deep growl that threatened to escape his throat, his cobalt eyes narrowed. It was another close call.

Despite the fact that Noin and Zechs had assured him that Muller was taken away to spend a few days in prison for his actions, it was not enough as far as the Japanese teenager was concerned. That would just have to be handled another day, as his thoughts were drawn back to the shaking frame in his arms.

Placing a soft kiss against his lover's temple, Heero whispered, "It's all right, Duo. I've got you." He began rubbing large circled against the smaller teenager's back. "I'm home now."

Duo pulled back enough to look up with tear-filled eyes. "But how?" asked, his voice little more than a breath. "I thought you would still be away for another week."

Heero smiled, "My mom said that she didn't need my help the rest of the week. I was planning to come back tomorrow, but I came as soon as I heard what happened." Gently, he brushed away the tears that rolled down his lover's cheeks. "God, Duo, I was so worried about you," hid breath cracked for a moment in his whisper.

It was Duo's turn to gingerly kiss his koi's face for reassurance. "I'm better now that you're here." he replied quietly, smiling brightly when he pulled back. Heero managed to fight off the tears that threatened to fill his own eyes in hearing that endearing sentiment. Biting his lip, the cat-eared boy asked, "You're really staying? You don't have to leave again?"

The Japanese teenager chuckled deeply, lowering his head to lie against the pillow beneath him. With their eyes never breaking their gazes on each other, he smiled, "I'm staying. And since my mother thinks I am busy with another paper, she won't be disturbing us for this whole week together."

Again, Duo's eyes widened and his smile grew from ear-to-ear. "Oh and you came back just in time for the sleep over tomorrow," he stated excitedly, his tail swaying behind him.

Heero grinned as he listened to his lover relaying the details of how their friends all planned to spend the following night over. It was good to see that the other boy was certainly showing signs of his usual, cheerful demeanor.

Finally, after talking for a few minutes non-stop, Duo's head began to hurt the slightest bit and he yawned widely. He struggled to keep his eyes opened, his eyelids seemingly determined to win the battle. Heero tenderly kissed his forehead and whispered, "Sleep, little one. I'll still be here when you wake up, so we can talk more when you're up for it."

Snuggling closely to his lover, Duo mumbled an `okay' before allowing sleep to claim him with a deep sigh. With a smile still tugging his lips, Heero watched the other teenager sleep for a while before finding the television remote to turn off the only source of light in the room. With a whispered `I love you,' he drifted off to sleep with his beloved.

* * * * * *

The following morning, Noin opened the front door upon hearing a few knocks. At seeing the tall, slender man on the other side, she asked, "May I help you?"

Removing the suit hat from his head to reveal his short, brown hair, the man replied, "Yes, I am sorry to come unannounced but sadly, I am Muller's father. I came to apologize to the boy he had attacked, and to you as well."

Noin blinked in shock, "Oh. Please come in." She stepped aside to allow the young man to enter. "You certainly did not need to go out of your way to do this, sir," the young maid reassured her guest. "What with all of your help following the incidents, no one has ever demanded an apology from you."

Smiling kindly, the man said sincerely, "I do appreciate that, however, someone needs to apologize for my son's actions, since he is not willing. I thought it best to do so in person than by a call. And please call me Jacob."

The young maid returned the smile and nodded, "I will go and see if Duo is awake. Please make yourself comfortable." Jacob replied with a gracious `thank you' and took a seat at one of the living room's couches.

A few minutes later, Heero led Duo downstairs, supporting his weight a bit under his arm. Having wrapped some bandage tape around the braided teenager's head, no one would be any the wiser that there were cat ears beneath his disguise. Rising from the couch, Jacob smiled in a friendly gesture to the injured boy when he approached.

The moment that Duo got close enough and Jacob saw the violet of his eyes, the tall man's own eyes widened in shock. The braided teenager smiled, "It's all right, sir. My head's not as bad off as it looks."

Mentally shaking himself, Jacob forced himself to smile again. Extending his hand out, he replied, "I am certainly glad to hear that… Duo, is it?"

* * * * * *

After a pleasant visit and a quiet lunch with the residents of the Yuy household, Jacob ran back to his car as it began to rain. His eyes were wide again when he reached his car and returned to the driver's seat. Panting both from his run and from the adrenaline filling his veins, he quickly removed the cell phone from his light coat pocket and pressed a speed dial number.

When the call was finally picked up, his partner's voice answered, "Peterson."

"Peterson, it's me." Slowly, a sinister smile curled on Jacob's lips as he spoke into the phone. "You'll never believe who I found."

Part 17:

[Till now I always got by on my own
I never really cared until I met you
And now it chills me to the bone
How do I get you alone]
-Lyrics from `Alone' by Heart


Jacob's head shot up with widened eyes. "You want to sit and wait?" he exclaimed. "With all due respect, Dekim, I think that we have waited long enough to have that neko back in our hands. I don't see how we are just to sit around now that we know where he is."

The old man sitting at the desk ran a hand over his grey mustache and replied calmly, "This situation is very delicate, Jacob. No one is more anxious than I am in seeing that we have that neko back in our hands, but we have to go about this wisely."

Running a hand through his hair, the younger scientist began to pace before the long desk. "We have worked for years in genetically splicing cells to mutate a human form. This discovery will benefit both the military and medical advances. We will be able to create countless mutations like that neko to be used for research however the government sees fit.

"The program was shut down because we had nothing to show for our efforts. Bringing that… that freak show into our possession will prove that what we have been working towards can be done. The government will give us a blank check to continue on with our developments," the brunette stated.

Slowly rising from his seat, Dekim walked over to the large windows that overlooked the city from his office high over the city. "You are not telling me anything that I am not already aware of, me friend," he began. "Remember that I have been researching this process long before I brought you on to my team."

The tall, grey-haired man folded his arms, still peering over the suburban town. With night just beginning to fall, there was a serene peace as the lights of the large houses began to twinkle on throughout the city. The peacefulness of the surroundings was a stark difference to the tension breaking in the large office.

Drawing a deep, even breath, Dekim warned, "Danielle Yuy is an astute and influential young woman in the world of law both on the Earth and in the Colonies. If she is truly allowing that neko into her home, we must go about this in a way that we do not make an enemy of her."

"And how are we going to accomplish that?" Jacob asked, the frustration clear in his voice. "Danielle and her son must know that neko's true form now. They would not willingly give him over to us."

A smirk tugged on the older man's lips as he turned to face his associate. With his arms still folded, he explained, "I have worked with Danielle Yuy in the past. That woman is as tenacious as I am. One thing that I do know about her is that few things are more important to her than saving face in the public eye. If it meant that her business would continue to grow and she would become more esteemed in her field, she would give up her own son."

Blinking in shock at that news, Jacob reasoned aloud, "If we had a way of disclosing that neko's identity to the public, she would have him back on the streets again. He'd be ours for the taking without any argument."

Dekim's smirk became more sinister and he nodded, "Exactly. So, we have to stay patient to find the best way of seeing that the disclosure takes place."

It was Jacob's turn to smirk and he replied, "It will take some time, but I think that I know the two people that would best help us out in that." At the intrigued look on the older man's face, he informed, "My son and his friend, Alex."

* * * * * *

"A dance?" Duo asked, his car ears perking at the notion. Lying on his back with his head snug in Heero's lap from where they sat on the couch, the braided teenager's violet eyes sparkled with interest. The bandage at the back of his head restricted him from lifting it, as well as the fact that he was still recovering from his concussion.

Gazing down on his lover, the Japanese teenager smiled and shook his head. Ever since he had returned to spend time with Duo, the other boy's liveliness returned. He had just suffered another close call from what Noin and Zechs had to say in reference to their `son's' demeanor following the incident with Muller, the cat-eared youth made a complete turn around the moment Heero returned home, in spite of his injuries.

Not caring what their friends thought, Heero gently ran a hand through Duo's bangs and was rewarded with a deep purr from the other boy. He wasn't about to let any slight discomfort of public affection keep him for showing Duo just how much he loved him and how worried he had been about him. The fact that their friends were around to spend the night wasn't about to stop him.

At her friend's inquiry, Relena smiled, "Well, the prom is still of few months off, but it is one of the perks that we get to enjoy as seniors." She suppressed the urge to giggle at just how cute the two boys on the couch looked together. From the moment she and the others arrived at the house to spend the night, Heero and Duo were even more inseparable than before. "It's still a few months off, but it's already a big talk around school now."

Duo smiled and chuckled deeply, "I get so jealous of you guys, getting to do all of this stuff." While his tone was in good humor, the wistfulness in his violet eyes gave away his sincere longing to partake in such activities like a normal teenager.

With a sad smile, Heero continued to run his hand through his love's bangs and stated, "Don't worry, Duo. I won't be attending the dance, so you won't be missing it alone."

Sitting on the floor with the rest of his friends, Trowa snorted, "Proms are really for girls to get excited, over anyway. It just gives them yet another excuse to get dressed up and show their elitism over their peers." He smirked at the end, unable to keep a straight face at his attempt to work Relena up, who just fell into fits of laughter while she mock slapped his shoulder a few times.

Quatre smirked, "I'd be careful making comments like that around Relena, Trowa, even if you are just joking."

"You're not kidding," Wufei piped in. "I still have bruises from the last time she hit me." The Chinese teenager chuckled deeply when the blonde girl stuck her tongue out at him as if to say `serves you right.'

Duo suddenly yawned widely, his violet eyes closing and his long tail stretching along with his body. Glancing up at the clock, Heero noted that it was a few minutes after one o'clock that morning. Satisfied that his lover got his wish to spend time with their friends, the Japanese teenager smiled down to the braided youth, "I guess it's about that time, ne?"

With a yawn of her own, Relena stretched her arms and said, "I guess that's a good idea. I haven't been up this late in some time." Trowa, Wufei and Quatre nodded their own agreement to the idea of finally turning in. Heero left the room to seek Duo's medicine for the evening after saying good night to his guests.

Rising to their feet and gathering their blankets, the band of friends made their way upstairs to part ways to their separate rooms. Zechs and Noin smiled warmly as they said good night to each of their guests. The young maid promised to make breakfast in the morning, just as she had for their last sleep over. Kissing each other good night, Noin and Zechs parted ways to spend the night in the spare beds of the guest rooms.

Heero waited until Duo finished taking his medication before taking up the glass of water from him. An amused smile on his face, the Japanese teenager announced, "Your chariot awaits." Bending at his knees, he scooped his chuckling lover into his arms.

With a contented sigh, Duo rested his head against a strong shoulder and allowed his eyes to drift closed. The last couple of days had been… eventful to say the least and it was finally beginning to catch up with the cat-eared youth.

When they reached the bedroom, Heero closed the door behind them before carefully lowering his lover into the bed. Moving carefully, he removed the other boy's shirt to leave him in only his pale blue pajama pants. The soft glow from the moonlight that peered through the large windows across the bed was more than enough to illuminate everything in the room.

Shedding his own shirt, Heero crawled under the covers to lie beside his braided lover. Propped up on his elbow, he gently caressed Duo's cheek with his free hand. When sleepy violet eyes opened to watch him, the Japanese teenager smiled lovingly and breathed, "You're beautiful."

Even in the pale light, the faint blush on Duo's cheeks was plainly obvious when leaned into the touch, purring deeply. He smiled back the same, "So are you."

Lowering himself, Heero pressed their lips together for a few, chaste kisses. With a deep moan, Duo reached up to pull the other boy closer and deepened the kisses. When they finally parted, Heero propped himself back up a bit to gaze on his love for a moment.

After a companionable silence in their just watching each other, Duo bit his lip and frowned, "Heero, why won't you go to the prom? You should enjoy that sort of thing." Taking hold of his tail to hold it up, he smirked, "I have a reason not to go. You don't. And I'm sure that you wound have no trouble finding a date for a dance."

With a shrug, Heero replied, "We both know that my mother would never allow me to attend such a thing." At the renewed, saddened frown on his best friend's face, his smile grew warmer. Running a hand through the long bangs covering those large violet eyes, he said quietly, "Besides, if I went with anyone else, I'd only be thinking about you and how much I wished you were there."

Purring deeply at the gently hand running through his hair, Duo's eyes closed and smiled. "You're just trying to butter me up," he chuckled deeply.

"I mean it," Heero whispered, his smile never fading. With a quiet hum, Duo nodded to let him know that he believe his words. Slowly, Heero removed the tie at the end of his lover's braid to unravel the long tresses. When the braid was undone, he ran his fingers through the silken strands.

No matter how many times he saw Duo with his hair down, Heero never ceased to be awestruck. He was the only person that the cat-tailed boy allowed to see with his hair loose, let alone touch it when it was free of its braid. The realization that such a beautiful creature trusted and loved him with such conviction, and how close he had come to losing him, overwhelmed him as small tears began to fill his cobalt eyes.

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Heero whispered, "Don't ever leave me, okay?" His voice hitched with the last words and the tears began to run down his face on their own accord.

His violet eyes snapping open, Duo frowned deeply at the sight of his distressed lover. Cupping his cheek, the concern was clear in his voice in his quiet, "Heero?"

The other teenager shook his head with a small whimper and his body began to tremble. Forcing some control in his voice, Heero said quietly, "It's just… God, Duo, I was so scared for you when Trowa called me to tell me about what happened. You could have been killed if Trowa and Wufei didn't get to you in time and I never would have been able to live with myself."

With his body still trembling, Heero clung onto his lover all the tighter and continued in a wavering voice, "I'm having a hard enough time dealing with what damage was done to you. If I had just been here, you never would have been hurt again."

At the depth of emotion spilling from his best friend, Duo never felt more loved or safe in his life. Tears filled his own eyes and ran down his face as a warm smile lit his face. When Heero was about to speak again, he moved his hand to place them against his lips to keep him from continuing. "First off," he began, "you're not responsible for what happened."

Heero was about to protest, but Duo held his fingers against his mouth with a bit more force. Their eyes still locked, the braided teenager said firmly, "None of this was your fault, Heero. Okay?" As quietly as he spoke, his voice made it clear that there was no room for argument over the issue.

With a deep sigh, Heero nodded at last as his lover removed his fingers from his lips. "All right," he agreed. As the other boy gently dried the tears from his face, the Japanese teenager returned the favor and stated, "I just can't lose you, Duo. I've gone from not needing anyone in my life to needing you like air."

Reaching up, Duo gently pulled Heero's head down to capture his lips in a heated kiss. Breaking only for air, his lips brushed against the ones over his own as he breathed a heart-felt vow, "I'll never leave you, Heero. As long as it's within my power, you'll always have me."

One last, stray year rolled down Heero's smiling face while he leaned down to kiss his lover soundly. The kisses grew in their intensity for several more exchanges. His exhaustion catching up with him again, Duo yawned widely once more. Chuckling deeply, Heero gently brushed back his love's long bangs and smiled, "You really should get some sleep." At the pout on Duo's face, he promised, "We'll pick up on this later."

As much as he wished his body was well enough that he could put up some resistance to the sleep calling him, Duo's violet eyes drifted closed as he nodded with a mumbled, "'kay. Love you, Heero."

"Love you, too, Duo," Heero replied just as softly. Pulling the covers over them, he wrapped his arms securely against the smaller boy. Nuzzling into the embrace, Duo purred deeply as his arm and tail draped over his lover's chest. Placing one last kiss atop his best friend's head, Heero sighed deeply while his own eyes drifted closed.

* * * * * *

Muller looked up in surprise in finding that his father was waiting outside the prison gates. Here he had thought that he would have to walk home, knowing how infuriated his `old man' was at him the last time he saw him. Instead, the tall man was actually smiling when he spotted him. Having to mentally shake himself from his state of shock, the teenage youth made his way towards the gates.

When the secured gates opened, Jacob approached his son and slapped the boy's shoulder in a friendly gesture. "Good to see you, son," he greeted. Muller merely nodded, not certain whether or not he was imagining all of this. His father just seemed all too happy given the circumstances that landed him in jail for the last couple of nights.

Gesturing back to the car, Jacob grinned, "Let's head home. We have a lot to discuss." His grin became a mischievous smirk and he stated, "Something has come up and I believe that I have found some use for you, yet."

Something about the way his father made that comment put Muller at ease and he couldn't help but return the smirk. It was the same smirk that he wore, himself, when he last ran into that braided kid that had ruined him. His interest peeked, he looked forward to seeing what it was that they needed to discuss.

* * * * * *

Two days later, Heero and Duo arrived back at the house following an afternoon of sledding and other activities in the park. They were both laughing and covered in snow when they entered and began shedding their coats and hats. When he was down to his last sweater, Duo let out a small sigh of relief when he was able to free hi long tail from beneath it.

Once the pair entered the living room, Noin arrived with a warm smile and a tray with two glasses of hot cocoa. "I take it you two enjoyed you day outdoors," she grinned. Heero and Duo both nodded as they graciously accepted their mugs.

After the boys had a couple of sips, Noin handed a large envelope out to the Japanese youth and stated, "This came in the mail for you earlier, Heero."

Blinking his cobalt eyes in surprise, Heero accepted the envelope in his free hand and repeated, "For me?" The little mail that ever arrived at the house was normally addressed to his mother and involved her current cases or new clients. But sure enough, the yellow envelope was addressed to him.

In seeing the return address, Heero frowned in utter bafflement, "It's from the University of Visual Arts." With a sharp gasp, Duo's violet eyes widened at the announcement. He had completely forgotten that the winner of the art contest was going to be announced over the winter break. If the envelope held what he thought it held… Turning the envelope over in his hand, Heero wondered aloud, "What would they possibly be sending me?"

Forcing a bright smile, the cat-eared boy announced, "Well, I'm going to get changed into something dry." At that, he quickly finished his cocoa and set the mug down before all but dashing off upstairs.

Noin's gaze turned to the doors that her `son' ran out with a confused look on her face. Something was up, that was obvious. Deciding that she would look into the matter later, the young maid gathered up the two cups and smiled warmly to Heero, "I'll go start of another round of cocoa for you boys."

Heero looked up from the envelope in his hand, broken from his spell of bewilderment and nodded, "Thank you, Noin." As the young woman left the room, he began breaking through the seal. Inside, a small, black square projector was the only content.

Sitting at the couch, Heero set the projector down and pressed the small `Start Message' button in the corner. The small lens at the top of the black box turned on to give off a blue ray of light that rose nearly a foot. Within that light, the image of a young woman with short, blonde hair appeared. The girl could not have been more than Heero's age.

The girl on the projection smiled, "Hello, Heero Yuy. My name is Sylvia Noventa. This message is to reveal the results of the University of Visual Arts contest that you had entered in." At that's Heero's eyes widened in shock. What contest? He never entered in anything.

More questions instantly sprang into mind but the image of the girl named Sylvia continued, "This year, we had thousands of hopefuls send in their portfolios and the judging was not easy for those of us on the panel. My father and I chose some of the most prestigious names in visual art to look over each and every entry to give their critiques and votes."

Her smile growing, Sylvia announced, "I am please to announced that in the end, of the thousands of entries that were submitted, your work was unanimously declared the best show of raw talent amongst the panel." With a startled gasp, Heero's cobalt eyes widened all the more. "In winning the contest, you are the recipient of a four year scholarship through the university, along with free room and board."

Stunned, Heero remained frozen on the couch. The girl smiled all the more warmly, "My father and I are both well aware of how trying the last semester of high school can be, so we will contact you again before your graduation. This message is simply to announce the outcome of the contest. So, congratulations, Heero. My father and I look forward to meeting with you in person present you with your prize." With that, the message ended and the lens dimmed before fading off completely.

Unable to breathe, Heero's heart raced in his chest as he silently hoped and prayed that he had heard the message incorrectly. How was this possible? His path was decided… His path was already decided! He was not supposed to have another option! He never asked for this!

Realization suddenly hit like a bucket of ice water being spilled over him. Taking hold of the small projector, Heero tightened his fist around it and stalked upstairs with narrowed eyes. There was only one other person who knew of his interest in drawing. Of course! That was why he wanted to have some new drawings so badly months ago.

When he reached the bedroom, Heero gripped the doorknob and entered with a heated glare before slamming the door closed behind him. Duo was sitting on the edge of the bed, changed into fresh clothes and tail in his hands, nervously fiddling with it. At the loud slam, he winced with closed eyes, his cat ears drooping heavily.

"Duo what have you done?" Heero shouted, holding out the projector in his tightened fist. "You entered me in a contest without even thinking of asking me first!?"

A small whimper escaped the braided teenager and he looked up with tear-filled eyes. "I'm sorry, Heero," he pleaded brokenly. "I just thought-"

"Thought what?" Heero yelled before the other teenager could finish. "Duo, you know my mother. If she ever found out about this, she would have you out on the streets again before you knew what happened. I already have plans for what I am going to be doing with my life."

Even with tears filling his eyes, Duo glared back and yelled, "They're her plans, Heero, not yours!"

The words slammed into Heero just life a swift fist in his gut and what almost sounded like a small grunt escaped his lungs, his eyes widening. Biting his lip, Duo lowered his head and whispered, "Everything about your life is what she wants of it. I just wanted to give you something that was yours and no one else's."

Frowning deeply, Heero whispered, "Duo…" To actually hear, from someone else, how much his mother influenced his life had wracked him to his very core. He never imagined that the situation had upset the one person he cared about more than anything in such a way. The sudden turn of events catching up with him, he stumbled slightly on his shaking legs as he walked towards the bed.

When he sat beside his lover, Heero opened his arms and whispered, "Come here." Looking up, Duo threw himself into his best friend's arms, throwing his own around him to return the tight embrace. He buried his face into the other boy's shoulder and began to sob `I'm sorry' `I'm so sorry' over and over.

Gently rubbing the braided youth's back, Heero whispered reassurances and closed his eyes. Resting his head atop the one against his shoulder, he said quietly, "I'm sorry that I yelled at you, Duo. That wasn't fair of me. I should have realized that you were just trying to help me, like you always do. There are just some things that cannot be changed."

After a long silence, Duo finally began to calm and his sobs ended. He pulled back, wiping at his dampened face before looking up to meet the concerned gaze watching him. "I swear I didn't mean to cause you any harm, Heero," he said quietly.

With a sad smile, Heero nodded and brushed his lover's bangs back, whispering, "I know. It's all right." Taking a deep breath, he sighed deeply and looked down to the projector in his hand. Slowly meeting the saddened violet gaze, he grinned nervously, "My art won the contest."

Duo gasped sharply and his eyes widened. While there was joy and excitement in hearing that news, there was also fear and a sense of loss in it as well. "What are we going to do?" he asked breathlessly.

Shaking his head, Heero's smile faded and he replied, "Duo, you know that I cannot go against my mother's wishes. Doing that would mean that you would be forced to leave and I can't let that happen." He wiped at the small tears that built in his own eyes that had materialized from the thought of ever losing the person he came to need and love. His heart heavy over the grimness of their situation, Duo nodded and swallowed hard.

Heero cleared his throat and stated, "I am not going to be contacted again for several months to accept the scholarship. By then, I'll have thought of a nice way of declining the award so that the runner-up in the contest can have it. That way, my mother will never have a way of knowing about any of this."

The braided teenager bit his lip and nodded, "All right." With a sniffle, he fell back into the arms that opened for him. Heero kissed the top of his lover's head before resting his own there again.

As they clung to each other, Heero kept telling himself that he was doing the right thing. His course was already set for him. This was his only choice in life. This is what he wanted out of life… wasn't it?

* * * * * *

Noin smiled warmly at the sight that greeted her when she opened the door. "Hello, Quatre and Relena. This is a pleasant surprise," she greeted before stepping out of the way to allow the young couple inside. Smiling brightly themselves, the two teenager exchanged kind greeting in return as they entered the house.

Taking up their coats, the young maid said warmly, "Make yourselves at home. I'll go let Heero and Duo know that you're here." With that, she walked off to hang the coats.

Only a moment later, Heero and Duo entered the living room with surprised smiles. "Hey, guys," Duo beamed. "What brings the two of you here?"

Quatre grinned, "Well, we don't have much time, so we have to start getting ready.

With an amused snort, Heero asked, "Ready for what?"

The two blonde teenager shared a look before turning back to face their friends. With a slight shrug, Relena answered simply, "For the prom, of course."

Part 18:

Both Heero and Duo shared a wide-eyed look before turning to their friends. The Japanese, who was quite certain that he misheard them, repeated, "Prom?"

With an innocent shrug, Relena smiled, "You weren't planning on missing out on our last dance as high school students, were you?" Her gaze focused on the cat-eared boy and she winked at him, "Especially since you have a date for it."

His violet eyes widening, Duo pointed to himself, sputtering, "M-me?" Beside him, Heero paled a bit, his own eyes widening. After trying to hard to be careful when they were around their friends, was it really possible that their relationship was picked up on? "So you know?" the braided youth asked, his tail and ears drooping slightly in fear.

Quatre grinned reassuringly, nodding, "We had figured for a while now that the two of you were together." Relena's own smile grew as she nodded enthusiastically. Motioning with his head to his girlfriend and smirked, "Well, Relena was the first one to pick up on it."

"So it doesn't bother you?" Heero heard himself asking nervously. Over the years, his friends had become the only family he ever really knew, aside from Zechs and Noin. The last thing he wanted to lose was anyone of them, but he knew that he would not be able to leave Duo if any of them refused to accept their relationship. The Japanese teenage felt his throat go dry in anticipation.

Relena laughed and shook her head, "Why should it bother us? I'd be more upset if you weren't together. Besides, you were the first one in our group to accept Quatre and I as a couple." Her gaze fell on the normally stoic, unruly-haired boy. "I've never seen you smile so much, Heero," she commented.

Smirking, Quatre added, "Nor have I. Not just the smiling, but you've nearly become an entirely different person over the last few months."

The slightest hint of a blush tinted Heero's cheeks and a small smile tugged at his lips in spite of himself. In really considering the minute changes that had come over him ever since Duo had taken his human form, he realized just how much easier it was for him to smile. The other boy certainly had made quite an impact on him

Quatre was still grinning when he turned to his nervous-looking, braided friend. Speaking clearly, he reassured the other teenager, "You have nothing to worry about, Duo, as far as anything changing. You're part of our group, and your being with Heero will not change that."

Both Heero and Duo gave their two guests relieved smiles, their shoulders finally relaxing. They shared a brief exchange of smiles. Brining his gaze back to the other couple, the cat-eared youth replied quietly, "Thank you, guys."

With a wave of her hand, Relena went back to the matter at hand by stating, "Well, we know how much you would love to get to do something normal with all of us. So, we thought that we would help the two of you get ready to enjoy the prom with the rest of us."

Looking from Heero to Relena to Quatre and back to Heero, Duo's disbelieving gaze fell back on his friends.  Pointing over to his lover, he asked, "But how-?"

Quatre shook his head and raided his hand to reassure him, "Don't worry. We have it all figured out at how we can pull this off. If it is something you really want to try, we can see that it works out."

At that, Duo's eyes widened and he turned quickly to meet the Japanese teenager's gaze. Biting his lip, the braided boy asked quietly, "Can we try it, Heero?" His tail was clutched tightly in his grasp, hardly able to contain his excitement in the thought of being able to participate in something normal teenagers were able to do.

Seeing the look of anticipation, Heero smiled warmly. He would never be able to deny Duo anything, he knew that much. While in the past the thought of attending a dance was something that never appealed to him, the unruly-haired teenager had to admit to himself that this was very different. Gently running a hand through Duo's bangs, he answered quietly, "If it is something that you want, we can try it. His arms were instantly filled with his enthusiastic lover.

At the announcement, the other couple winked to each other, seeing that they had made the right choice in formulating their plan. There were going to be risks involved and they wanted to be sure that nothing went wrong. To keep Duo's identity safe, there would have to be come compromises and sacrifices made, but if it went off without a hitch, it would all be worth it tenfold.

Over the course of the last few months, after all Duo had done for all of them over the time that they knew him, Relena and Quatre wanted to see the boy as happy as they knew Heero wanted him to be. Knowing that Trowa and Wufei felt the same way for their braided friend, they knew that they would have more then enough people involved in carrying out their task.

As their friends continued their embrace, Relena beamed a bright smile in their direction and announced, "As we mentioned, we have a lot of work to do if wane to be ready for it." Removing a small stack of CDs from her bag, she grinned, "Starting with dancing lessons."

* * * * * *

Zechs finished adjusting the tie to his dark uniform before taking up his black chauffer hat. With a deep sigh, he fidgeted with the brim of the hat in his hands and frowned, "I hope that this isn't a mistake."

As she approached, Noin smiled reassuringly while she tried to keep her own fears at bay. Flattening the edges of her tall lover's black suit jacket, she commented quietly, "I don't have any doubt that their friends will make sure everything goes well." The young maid chuckled deeply, "After all, Wufei had the bright notion of having you be their limo driver just in case Heero and Duo need to make a quick escape during the dance."

Taking a deep breath, Zechs finally gave a small grin and nodded, "They all certainly seemed to have covered everything in regards to any problems that may come up." His head lowered so he could stare at the cap in his hands again. "I guess I still can't help but be worried, that's all."

With a sad smile, Noin replied, "It's to be expected. Duo really has become like a son to us over these last few months, hasn't he?" The tall chauffer gave a small smirk and nodded, still keeping his gaze lowered. Zechs never was one who ever thought of the notion of being a father. When he suddenly was presented with the label of `dad', even if it was just a title for Duo's sake, that name had become a great deal more than just that.

Gently kissing her lover's forehead, Noin told him, "Believe me, I am just as nervous as you. But you know that this means the world to him to be able to do this." Her smile faded and she swallowed hard. "Not just that, but Heero has never been able to enjoy anything like this before, himself. They're only going to be children once, Zechs. It would be wrong of us to try and stop them from trying this."

His blue-eyes gaze rising to meet hers, Zechs grinned and nodded. "You're right, love. Thanks for talking some sense into me," he said quietly. He leaned down to kiss her lips tenderly.

When the pulled back, Noin smirked, "Well, that's what I'm here for." Zechs chuckled deeply before kissing her once more. At the end of the kiss, the tall blonde man placed his hat on, allowing the young woman to adjust it properly that the brim nearly covered his eyes.

Looking down to his watch, he announced, "I better go pick up Trowa and Wufei along with their dates." He had already times hoe long it would take to have all of the friends together before taking them around to each family house so that the couples would have pictures taken together before leaving them at the large banquet hall for the dance.

"See you in a few minutes, then," she said with a wink. With a bow of his head and a slight tip of his hat, Zechs leave by the back entrance in preparation of getting the family limo ready.

Taking a deep breath, Noin took up the plastic container on the counter and went into the living room. Both Heero and Quatre had finished dressing into their tuxes an anxiously awaited for their dates to finish preparing for the prom. The young maid regarded them both with a warm, smile. "You both look quite handsome this evening," she said sincerely.

Heero, looking more nervous of the two boys, looked up from his fidgeting hands and grinned back along with his friend as Quatre replied with a nod, "Thank you, Noin."

The young woman walked up to the Japanese teenager with the container she recovered from the other room. "May I?" she asked politely with a motherly smile. Heero's own slight smile widened a bit as he nodded in response.

Removing the red rose with a lilac ribbon tied at the base, Noin carefully pinned it against the vest of the teenager's dark grey tuxedo. In sensing the tension in Heero's shoulders, she whispered, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be perfect tonight. Just try and enjoy it." The boy physically relaxed at the gentle reassurances as the maid finished setting the rose in place. When she stepped back, she nodded, "Perfect."

Heero stepped forward unexpectedly to hug the young woman tightly, silently wishing that his own mother would have been this supportive of him. Still, it felt right for him to show this kind of affection towards the one woman who had been like a mother to him since he was young. "Thank you, Noin," he whispered.

Stunned by the sudden embrace and whispered thanks, Noin blinked back the tears from her eyes before returning the tight hug. She gently kissed the boy's cheek before bulling back and cupping his other cheek with her hand. "No thanks needed, Heero. It's been my pleasure," she whispered back.

Relena made her appearance, lifting the floor-length skirt of her form-fitting, strapless, sky blue silk dress. Her blonde hair pulled up with a few loose wisps falling in curled ringlets, she made a striking and lovely sight. Quatre's eyes widened and he breathed, "Wow."

For a moment, the blonde teenager nearly forgot hoe to use his legs before finally walked up to where she stood in the doorway.  The young girl smiled brightly as her boyfriend approached, almost unsure in his movements. Holding out the large bouquet of long-stemmed lilies that he picked for her, the Arab smiled, "You look beautiful, Relena."

The girl blushed, making her already pinked cheek all the darker, Relena replied quietly, "Thank you, Quatre." Running a hand down over the dark blue jacket of his tuxedo, she winked and grinned, "You look pretty good, yourself." With a deep chuckle, Quatre leaned in to capture her lips in a brief, yet intense kiss.

When the young couple joined him, Heero asked nervously, "Is Duo almost ready?" Relena met his anxious gaze and instead of answering with words, her smiled just grew and she gestured with her head back to the doorway. When the Japanese boy looked up, his breath caught in his thought with a sharp gasp as his cobalt eyes widened.

For anyone who knew the braided teenager, it would be difficult to recognize him as he stood now. Duo was dressed in an elegant, lilac-colored gown made of velvet that touched the floor. His hair out of its usual braid to be pulled up in large ringlets to cover his ears with a few ringlets that shaped his face, the brown fur of his ears blended in perfectly with the hair covering them and with the strands that covered the sides of his face. No one would believe that the person standing there was a male, or that there was anything out of sorts with the breathtaking creature.

Noin and Quatre both stood as stunned as Heero, their eyes widened, in seeing what a stunning image the cat-eared boy made. Relena giggled to herself, thrilled at how all of her work on hair and makeup and jewelry on the boy had made such an impression. When Heero still hadn't moved, Duo forced himself not to bite his lip nervously, lest he ruin the pink lipstick that painted his lips.

Finally shaking himself from his shocked state, Heero managed to move his legs and slowly crossed the room. Smiling brightly as he approached his lover, he whispered breathlessly, "You look wonderful, Duo."

The cat-tailed boy blinked his violet eyes, the silver eye shadow now showing all the more. He smiled brightly and leaned in to kiss his lover soundly. When they pulled back, Noin approached and handed Heero the bouquet of red roses that he had picked out at the florist. Duo accepted them from his lover with a shining grin before kissing him again in appreciation.

With his arm in Heero, Duo walked with now practiced ease in the heels that Relena had found to go with the dress. While they were not the highest of heels, they were enough that it took time over the last few weeks for him to get adjusted to them. It was just one of the many things that their friends had done in preparing them for this night. While all of the preparation had been a great deal of work, it was already showing its rewards.

Taking Duo's arm in his, Heero led him back to their friends. "So we have everything covered?" he asked. "There shouldn't be anything that we're forgetting?"

Relena held up her large purse, grinning, "We're all set. Duo and I already planned it that if for whatever reason his hair starts to come loose or his dress straps come loose, we run into the ladies' room so I can fix him up. I have everything I need in here." Duo nodded, already understanding their plan should a problem of such should arise.

With a nod, Noin added, "Zechs will be parked at the hall's south exit. If you need to get out of there, you shouldn't run into anyone along the way there. Trowa and Wufei had checked the layout of the building. They'll be ready to make sure there are not any chaperones standing by the door if something comes up."

Her smile returning, the young maid reassured, "And should your mother call while you're out, I have that covered as well. I'll just tell her that you're under the weather and resting." It was the best cover, as it was something that Danielle would never question. Knowing that the redhead would want to know that her son was resting to be at top shape for school and her assignments the next day, Noin was certain that the story would go over.

"And if all else fails while we're at the dance," Quatre ginned with a shrug, "We hit the fire alarm and everyone will be too busy evacuating the building to pay attention to anything else around them." While no one wanted the dance to end early, it was just a precaution should the need to make such a move be necessary.

Satisfied with all that he heard, Heero nodded firmly and allowed the last of his nerves to ebb. Giving his friends a small smile, he nodded, "Thanks for all of your help in this. I'll be sure to thank Trowa and Wufei when this is all over as well."

Duo was still too excited and overwhelmed with a swell of emotions in getting to be in the open. In his current disguise, he would be able to hold and kiss Heero without drawing any unwanted attention. Trying to practice not speaking very often, as a means of hiding his deeper-than-it-should-be voice, he just nodded enthusiastically to show his own appreciation.

Both Quatre and Relena smiled warmly back. "This has been fun," the young girl admitted with a small chuckle. "After all the other things we've been able to do together these last few months, it'd be upsetting if we weren't all able to have fun at this dance together."

Her Arab boyfriend smirked, "Now we went through all of this so you both could relax and enjoy this. So, don't worry about anything and just have fun."

Fun. A word that before the last few months was something that Heero had been denied.

The front door opened Trowa and his date for the evening. In seeing the young woman dressed in a lovely emerald dress on Trowa's arm, Heero's eyes widened again. "Dorothy?" he almost sputtered in disbelief. There was little mistaking that the young woman was indeed Dorothy Catalonia from Wayne University.

Blinking her own widened eyes, Dorothy recovered from her surprise and smiled brightly, "Why, Heero. This is a pleasant surprise. Trowa never told me which of his friends were going to be joining us."

Trowa shrugged with a grin as he commented, "Dorothy has been Catherine's best friend since they were in grade school." At the mention of Trowa's sister's name, Heero nodded. He had almost forgotten that he ran into Catherine before when she first introduced Dorothy to him. It made sense that his tall friend would have known her for as long as his sister had.

"He's just trying to outdo me and my date," Wufei's voice came from just outside. As he entered, the Chinese teenager smirked, "When he found out I was bringing an older woman for my date, he had to ask one out to be his."

When Wufei finished stepping inside, his date on his arm, the eyes of their friends widened. "Sally?" Relena gasped.

The tall nurse was dressed in a lovely, shimmering gold dress that fit her frame perfectly. The usual braids that she were had been undone to be worked into a flattering style where half her hair was loose to fall down her back. It was a far cry from the white medical coat that she normally was donned in when the teenagers saw her at school.

Sally smiled and shrugged, "We decided now that the school year is almost over, we shouldn't have to hide the fact that we're dating." She was warmly received with smiles from the circle of friends around her.

Quatre was the first to speak up with an elated, "Well, it's about time!" The others shared their own agreement to the sentiment.

After having stayed behind Heero, Duo stepped out in reminding himself that Dorothy would not recognize him. The moment he was in plain view, Trowa, Wufei, and their dates stared at him in awe. Sally gave Wufei a shocked look, receiving a slight smirk and shrug from her boyfriend, before turning her wide eyes back to Duo.

Being the first to close her gaping mouth, Dorothy grinned brightly, "My, Heero, who is your beautiful date?"

Heero turned and smiled proudly at his lover. Wrapping his arm around Duo's waist, he introduced, "This is Dawn. We met a few months ago." His date smiled shyly and waved at the others.

After a brief exchange of instructions, Noin quickly disappeared before reappearing with her digital camera. "I just want to get a few shots of all of you before you have to visit the other houses," she announced gleefully.

* * * * * *

Once all of the families got a chance to see the group of friends to have their own pictures taken, the limo carrying them finally arrived at the large hall that had been rented for the senior prom. After such a whirlwind of introductions and countless flashes of cameras, Duo was already having the time of his life. No one treated him as anything other than a normal person. The act that he had to play the part of a shy girl did not faze him in the slightest since he was able to be with Heero and the others. It was one of the immeasurable sacrifices he was willing to make to be with his lover.

Stepping into the dimly lit room decorated with chandeliers, silver heart-shaped balloons and light colored streamers, Duo gasped sharply. Already, the large space was filled with finely teenagers speaking excitedly amongst each other. As their group made their way to the dinner table, Heero and the others were stopped by many of their classmates to greet them. Heero's proud smile grew in seeing how anxious people were to meet his mysterious date for that evening.

By the time dinner was finished, the wide dance floor had been cleared as the DJ set up his station at the end of the room. Already, there were whispers spreading at how shocked so many of the students were that Heero Yuy had actually attended the prom. Not just that, but he was with someone of striking beauty, outshining most of the other girls present. Duo was just smiling from ear-to-ear when Relena excitedly whispered that she had overheard such things already.

The dance itself finally began with a slow song and without hesitation, Heero took Duo's hand in his to lead him to the dance floor. Biting his lip nervously, Duo settled himself into his lover's arms when they reached the center of the floor. He began to worry that he would forget the dance steps that he had been taught so patiently and make a fool of himself amongst all of these people around him.

In sending his partner's tension, Heero hugged his waist tightly towards him. With a loving smile, he whispered, "Relax." The cat-eared boy grinned back, hardly able to contain his laughter. Considering how tense Heero, it was ironic that Duo was now the one feeling a bit of nerves.

Resting his chin on the Japanese teenager's shoulder, Duo closed his eyes and allowed the other boy to guide him. The moment they started moving, the dance steps came back to him and they moved fluidly across the floor. Another slow dance followed and they continued on in their turns and steps and the cat-tailed boy was comfortable enough to open his eyes to meet the smiling gaze of his lover as they went on in their dance.

The hours rolled by and there was only one occasion when Sally notices some of the virtual hairspray giving way to Duo's thick hair. Quickly taking the boy's hand, she and Relena led him back to the ladies' room to retouch his hair back up over his ears before anyone saw them. It was the only near catastrophe to the whole evening. Everything else had gone off without a single hitch.

Relena, Sally and Dorothy had even pulled duo up to the dance floor, along with the others, to participate in the fast dances. Throughout the whole evening, the talk of the prom continued to be Heero's attendance and his striking date that everyone tried to get a chance to meet. There were several offers from many of the teenage boys to slow dance with the captivating creature. However, Duo politely turned them down, saying that he already promised those danced to Heero. The Japanese boy was never happier, nor more proud, that he was that evening.

Much to everyone's disappointment, the last dance was announced and everyone grabbed their dates for the last slow song. Relena and Quatre kissed deeply as they began to dance together, both still wearing the crowns they were given at the announcement of their being voted Prom King and Queen. That was the last plan for the evening that Heero, Trowa and Wufei had secretly carried out. It was not difficult to get so many of their classmates to vote for the young couple. Quatre and Relena certainly had become their class's most beloved couples. At the announcement of their crowning, the band of friends cheered and whistled for the shocked pair.

His arms tightly wrapped around his lover's neck and with a contented smile on his pained face, Duo purred deeply and lowly enough that only the pother boy could hear. As they continued to sway to the music, Duo whispered in his ear, "Thank you for agreeing to this, Heero. It's been wonderful."

Wrapping his arms all the tighter around his partner's waist, Heero smiled the same and admitted, "Yes, it has been." He pulled back enough to brush a few curled ringlets from his love's face to gaze into his eyes. His breath nearly hitching at the sheer beauty of his lover, he breathed, "I love you, Duo."

The other boy's smile grew as he whispered back, "I love you, too." Leaning in, they kissed each other deeply for the countless time that night.

It had been such a freeing thing for the two of them… to be able to hold and kiss each other in public without reserve or an entire night. As much as neither of them wanted the evening to end, they knew they would never be able to forget it. Their kiss continued even as the song ended and the DJ announced the end of the prom, the other students around them applauding the efforts of everyone in charge of the festivities.

Nothing else existed in their world but each other in that moment.

* * * * * *

When they finally got back into their bedroom once all of their friends were returned safely to their homes, Heero and duo were still smiling brightly and holding hands. Duo laughed when he was finally able to free his hair from all of the pins and tiny violet ribbons that Relena had used to keep it in place. Thankfully, the hairspray nowadays did not leave hair sticky and stiff as it faded after a few hours. When his furry cat ears were finally out, they twitched a few times.

Once all of his hair was loose, Duo gasped when Heero's suddenly appeared to unzip the back of the dress he wore, kissing and nipping at the exposed neck and collar bone. Moaning deeply, he leaned against his lover's bare, firm chest. Turning in the other boy's arms, Duo allowed him to remove the dress completely from his lithe body. Almost on its own accord, his long tail stretched in having been freed from its confinement.

Hands removed every last article and bodies pressed hard against each other as kisses became more demanding and moans more needy. Finally reaching the edge of the bed to sit, Heero pulled his lover to straddle his hips as their lips claimed each other again. One hand gripped Duo's long hair in a tight fist while the other held the boy close. As his partner's head fell back with closed eyes in a deep moan, Heero panted, "I need you, Duo."

"Yes. Take me," Duo whimpered in a pleading voice. From there, there were no further words between them.

* * * * * *

A phone ring in the darkness of the early morning hour before it is finally answered. "Dekim. It's Jacob."

"You had better be calling me for a good reason at this hour of the morning."

The smile in the other voice was heard clearly. "Oh, it is… The opportunity that we have been waiting for has finally arrived."

Part 19:

[In my head there's only you now
This world falls on me
In this world there's real and make believe
And this seems real to me]
-Lyrics to `Let Me Go' by 3 Doors Down

Over the hazy horizon, the golden sun rose to begin an already warm morning. As the rays peeked through the drawn shades of his bedroom, Heero quietly began to stir. In his movement, the thin sheets draped around his bare waist followed his hip. Opening his cobalt eyes, the Japanese youth smiled warmly to himself as he watched his sleeping lover, wrapped safely in his arms.

Between the prom and their lovemaking, the young couple had been rendered too tired to change into anything more than the sheets at their hips. Heero certainly was not complaining over that as he enjoyed the wonderful view that graced him in his waking. In their lovemaking, there were no longer any barriers of shyness or fear, it was just as passionate and filled with need as their own emotions for each other were. It had been a breathtaking experience for the two of them.

As the events of the previous night replayed in his mind, that small smile brew a bit on his lips and he snuggled closer to the cat-eared teenager. His right hand lazily ran through the long strands of hair that was cascaded around him like a blanket. In his sleep, Duo smiled and purred deeply as he nuzzled the side of his face against Heero's bare chest, his tail wrapping a bit tighter where it was draped protectively around his lover's waist.

Leaning down, the Japanese teenager placed a soft kiss on the sleeping youth's head. With a quiet hum, Duo blinked his violet eyes open. Looking up with his eyes heavily lidded, his smile grew at the sight of his lover smiling warmly at him. "Morning," he mumbled with a small yawn that had snuck up on him.

Heero chuckled deeply and replied in kind, "Good morning." The long-haired teenager suddenly leaned up to capture his lips before he could say anything further. With a soft moan, Heero returned and tried to overpower the kiss as it deepened. When they finally parted, he closed his cobalt eyes with a contented sigh, pulling the smaller teenager towards him more.

"Can we just stay like this for a few days?" Duo asked in a tone that was meant with as much humor as it was filled with longing. No sooner had he finished his question than his stomach started grumbling loudly. Opening his eyes, the cat-eared boy grinned sheepishly, "With a few breaks for food, of course."

With a deep chuckle, Heero smiled, "As much as you know that I would love to do nothing else, I have to make sure that I check up with any assignments that my mother may have sent while we were out. The last thing that we need right now is for her to be suspicious that I wasn't here working all night last night."

At the mention of the red-haired woman, Duo had to suppress the shudder that threatened to run up his spine. The thought of what she would do were she to ever learn of their relationship was a frightening prospect. There had not been a day that went by that he did not recall the terms that she had lied out to him if he wished to stay in her home.

Over the last few months, Duo had already broken one of those agreements, not to mention any number of any terms that had not been suggested without being voiced. Somehow, he doubted that she would be very pleased to learn that he was involved romantically with her son.

While he knew that Danielle would never accept him as anything other than some strange creature burdened upon her, Duo still hoped to one day change her perspective. He also knew how important it was for Heero to please his mother. He would never want to get in the way of that.

Resigning himself to small sigh, the long-haired teenager replied, "All right." Sitting up a bit, he smirked mischievously, "can I at least talk you into a shower first?" Returning the playful grin, Heero pulled his lover's face towards his own for a passionate kiss offered in response.

* * * * * *

"The plan is in motion," Dekim leered darkly, sitting back in his leather seat behind his desk. With a nod to his accomplice sitting across from him, he stated, "Please tell your son and his friends that I thank them for their assistance."

Satisfied, Jacob smirked, "I will be certain to pass that on. He was as surprised as I was when he saw the images that had been passed to him. It was quite a risk that they took in hopes of not being caught. It is quite unfortunate for them that some of those students in attendance are still friends with Muller."

Dekim folded his hands together before him and chuckled deeply, "Well, now that our little `gift' is in the process of reaching its destination, it will not be long before they realize just how unfortunate they are. We best be prepared for when that moment arrives." With that, the two scientists rose from their seats, eager for their hunt to finally come to an end.

* * * * * *

With a small smile, Danielle nodded adieu to her client after discussing his nephew's situation over breakfast. This case they were meeting over was going to be a challenge to make the charged party appear innocent in his charges of drug endorsement. However, as the nephew of one of the great Senators of Colony D14, the young woman would make certain that he would come off as model citizen.

Yes, Danielle would have yet another prosecutor's head reeling when the words `Not Guilty' were versed by the jury. She certainly was not the most sought after lawyer throughout Earth and the Colonies without earning it. The trial was months off, but she was already setting a plan into motion as she returned to her hotel room.

After stepping into the doorway of one of hundreds of rooms that she had stayed in over the years, Danielle kicked off her black heeled shoes and padded over to the living room table. Opening her laptop to turn on the monitor, she went about starting a cup of tea while the computer woke from its rare slumber.

When her tea was finished, the red-haired lawyer took her porcelain cup back to the table with her. Sighing deeply, Danielle smiled to herself and took a sip from her soothing drink before returning to her work, setting her thin wire-framed glasses into place. First order of business was to go over any new mail that had arrived. Patiently opening each new message, she replied to each sender.

The last message that awaited Danielle was sent without any way of tracing the sender. The subject line of the email simply read, "While you are away…" the fact that there was no name or return address showed that someone intended this only for her to see. Normally, she would just delete messages in not recognizing the return address or sender, but something about this just seemed different.

Her cobalt eyes narrowing, in thought, curiosity got the better of her and Danielle opened the letter to find several attachments without titles and no further text from the sender. Moving her mouse up to the first attachment, she clicked the mouse twice as a large image opened on her screen. With a sharp gasp, the teacup in her hand fell away, shattering on the hardwood floor at her feet.

* * * * * *

Later that evening, Heero and Duo were assisting Noin in clearing the table following their dinner. After sharing their experience at the prom, Duo's `parents' both seemed to be more relieved in knowing that the two boys were able to have such a good time with their friends. "Well, I am happy that after all of your planning it all seemed to pay off," the young maid smiled as she inserted a few plates into the dish washer.

"I never would have thought that a simple dance could be that much fun," Heero admitted with a small grin of his own. "I'm glad that I got to go to the last one before graduating."

His cat ears drooping a bit as a thought came to him, he asked, "What are you going to do when you do graduate, Heero? I mean are you going to stay here or live on campus at Wayne University?"

Lowering the last bowl into the dish washer, Heero smiled reassuringly, "Don't worry. I told my mother that I plan on commuting so I'll be staying here while I go to school." Relief filled Duo's eyes and his smile returned. Grinning to herself, Noin stepped out of the kitchen to give the boys a bit of privacy.

Heero draped an arm around his lover's waist to pull him close. "I don't plan on being away from you any longer than I need to be." Biting his lip, Duo threw his arms tightly around Heero's neck to give him a firm kiss.

The sound of the phone ringing startled the two of them apart. Looking at the clock, Duo frowned, "It's a little late for Quatre or the other to be calling." With a nod, Heero's own confused gaze revealed that he had already thought the same just as the call was picked up in the living room. Lately, their friends were the only people to ever call the residence.

Slow footsteps approached the kitchen. Zechs stood in the doorway with a very grim expression on his face as his uneasy gaze fell on the two boys still locked in their embrace. Just the concern in those eyes alone had been enough to send a chill down Heero's spine. Something was clearly very wrong. Clearing his throat, the tall man announced quietly, "Heero, it's your mother. She would like to talk to you."

At that proclamation, both Heero and Duo's eyes widened in worry as they tensed in each other's arms. Taking a deep breath, the Japanese teenager finally nodded. Gently rubbing his lover's stiff back, he made his way through the kitchen door. The cat-eared youth followed after, nervously biting his lip.

Without saying a work, Zechs moved to the front door and took up his long, black chauffer jacket. Duo stopped in the living room entrance where his `mom' was pacing nervously. When the braided teenager joined her, she forced a smile and opened her arms out to him. Biting his lip, the boy all but fell into her embrace looking for support in what was shaping to be a very bad situation.

Too preoccupied to notice what was going on around him, Heero stepped into the living room. Sitting before the opened vid phone, he swallowed hard in meeting the fiery glare of his mother that met his gaze. He had to swallow again before trusting his voice enough to greet, "Hello, Mother. How is your trip-"

His words were cut off when his mother raised a hand up to stop him, her heated gaze still locked on him. Danielle's words were short and clear as she stated, "I am simply calling to make certain that you and that thing stay at the house for when I arrive. Zechs is now on the way to pick me up from the spaceport." The sound of the front door closing filled the air. The heavy sound felt to the boy as if it were a nail being hammered into his coffin.

Already, Heero's mind was swirling with what could have possible caused his mother's obvious distain. What was more unnerving was that whatever it was, it was enough to make her feel the need to return home so that she could talk with him personally. The only other time his mother saw the need to return from a business trip early was when Duo had changed into a teenager. Obviously, this surprise meeting was to discuss the cat-eared boy again, if his mother wanted to be certain that he was still around when she got home.

That was when a chilling realization hit him….

She knew.

In some way, somehow, his mother learned that Duo was not confined to the house as she had ordered when she came to her terms of agreement for him to stay. Why else would she need to call ahead to be certain that Duo was still home as well? If she truly believed that he never stepped outside, there would have been no need for her to call in advance to be sure of it.

Peering out of the corned of his eye, Heero could see the color draining from both Duo and Noin's faced from where they stood listening in the doorway. Obviously, they had come to the same conclusion that he had. Focusing on the reddening face on the monitor, he was certain he was a few shades paler, himself. With a firm nod, he replied quietly, "We'll be here."

Danielle's face remained set in a fierce scowl while she announced, "I will be there in less than an hour." With that, the monitor went black at the disconnection of the call.

All but falling back against the couch, Heero could feel beads of sweat forming against his brow. He knew better than to attempt rising to his feet right then. He could already feel his knees trembling. Duo was suddenly sitting beside him, his own body shaking and tears in his violet eyes. "H-how did she find out," he whispered in a broken voice.

Reaching up, Heero ran a hand through his love's bangs to give him some kind of comfort. He could only manage to whisper back with a shake of his head, "I don't know." He swallowed hard and repeated in little more than a breath, "I just don't know."

Duo began to shake again. Sensing the rising wave of panic rising in him, Heero took hold of his shoulders and met his watery eyes. "Let me take care of this," he stated in a voice that was suddenly very steady. "You don't have to say anything in your defense. I'll handle her."

With a small whimper, the braided boy clung onto his lover tightly. "I'm so sorry," Duo sobbed against Heero's chest. "I'm so sorry I'm putting you through this."

Gently kissing the top of the braided head against his shoulder, Heero wrapped his own arms tightly around his best friend. With a watery smile, he spoke quietly, "Hush, little one. You did nothing that I did not want to have happen, myself. I'll take care of this." He swallowed hard again, pausing before concluding, "Somehow." That was a very big `somehow,' he realized… and that was only if there actually was a way to diffuse the situation.

Placing a hand over her mouth to suppress her own cry, Noin looked away from where she watched in the doorway. Their own little `family' that they had made was slowly falling apart. For years, she and Zechs had to stand on the sides and watch the lady of the house control the lives of everyone living in that house. When she arrived, there was no question that she would use that control to its fullest extent.

* * * * * *

Danielle ignored the robotic voice greeting her as she stormed into the house not long later, a black folder in hand. Her cold eyes fell on her son when she stepped into the living room. Scanning the area, she snapped, "Where is he?" she couldn't even bring herself to utter his name through her seething rage.

Without flinching, Heero met her gaze calmly from where he sat on the sofa and replied simply, "Upstairs. I thought that you might want to discuss what is wrong with me, first."

Nodding sharply, the red-haired woman answered, "Very good." With that, she called out to the folia, "Zechs, Noin, close the doors to the room." The young couple went to the two entrance ways on either side of room, closing each of the double doors without hesitation.

The tall chauffer stepped into the dining room, where his lover was biting her lip beyond the closed doors. Normally not one to listen in on a private conversation, Zechs stood by Noin, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as they stood waiting to ride the impending storm out.

Opening the folder that she brought with her, Danielle took a seat before the table that sat between her and the teenager at the couch. Removing a stack of prints, she threw them onto the wooden surface. As the images fanned out before him in what felt like slow motion, Heero's cobalt eyes widened in terror.

The pictures were large, close-up shots that had obviously zoomed in on by personal photographs. In every shot was an image of Heero and Duo together from the night before at the prom. Several shots revealed them kissing deeply. This… this was not something that Heero had been prepared to defend and the icy dread of the situation caused the blood to drain from his face.

Picking up an image of Heero and his date laughing together, Danielle raised an eyebrow and pointed to the `girl' in the image. "She seems very familiar to me," she commented in a deep tone. Looking to the picture, she hissed, "Perhaps you can refresh my memory on where I have seen such a pair of violet eyes before."

Heero's mouth opened and closed in several vain attempts to say something. Finally, his weak voice replied, "Mother, I… I can explain."

Danielle slammed the photograph back onto the table with the others and shouted, "Explain what!? I had set one very clear rule that was to be abided by if that creature was to stay in my house-he was never to be discovered! Not only did you break that rule, you have been involved with him! What more is there to explain to me!?" By the time she was finished yelling, her face was nearly as red as the suit she was wearing.

Unable to move or even think through his haze of shock, Heero remained frozen on the couch. His head lowered, he desperately tried to think a clear thought at that point. Shaking her head, Danielle threw her arms up in the air and laughed bitterly, "Well apparently, you have nothing further that you need to *explain* to me!"

Taking a deep breath, Heero's mother folded her hands and growled deeply, You know that distractions from one's work are inexcusable! Friends, dances, excursions outside of work are nothing more than just that-distractions."

Her head tilted and she frowned deeply, "That time I called when I could not reach you, and the occasion you had to leave our business trip early, were your excuses then just cover-ups as well then!? You were partaking in things that took you away from you work and lying to me?"

When the boy could not answer, let alone meet her eyes, Danielle yelled, "After everything that I have done for you over the years, to see that you have everything you could ever want in your future, *this*" she emphasized her statement by taking up one of the images where the boys were engaged in a fierce kiss. The young woman's voice rose as she shook the photograph before the boy, "This is how you repay me!"

Closing his eyes, Heero could feel his heart about to pound out of his chest. This was all wrong. She was never supposed to find out about his relationship with Duo. Even trying to defend the fact that Duo's true identity was never actually revealed to anyone outside of the house was a lie.

The fact that the cat-tailed boy was out of the house at all was a direct violation of the rule that had been clearly set and agreed upon, whether or not the boy's strange secret was revealed or not. There was no chance of defending against this.

Slowly, Danielle rose to her feet, glaring down to her son as she stated, "I am going to go upstairs and demand that that… thing is removed from this house! You'll see that I do not make idle threats when I set rules!"

His head snapping up, Heero was quickly to his feet. His cobalt eyes were wide with fear as he cried, "Mother, please don't!" Whatever happened, he was not about to allow his mother to send his lover away to fend for himself.

Just as his mother turned to reply, the sound of the slam of the front door suddenly closing caused the two of them to jump at the unexpected sound. Heero's heart jumped into his throat and he found himself pushing his mother out of the way to open the double doors that led to the folia. When both Zechs and Noin rounded the corned with their own eyes filled with concern, the Japanese boy moaned, "Duo."

Running to the front door to throw it open, Heero sprang to the front porch, scanning the two sides of the street. "Duo!" he shouted. Even with the aid of the street lights, it was impossible to tell which way the braided youth had taken. There were too many winding alleys and other streets. His eyes narrowing, he went back into the house to call Quatre and the others in hopes that his lover might be on his way to see one of them.

As her son walked past, Danielle had a triumphant smile on her face, her arms crossed against her chest. "Good riddance," she smirked. Heero froze where he stood, his back rigid. "I am not about to let that thing back into this house to ruin everything that I have been working towards when it comes to my son's future."

"Mother, shut up!" Heero shouted, spinning to meet her stunned eyes. Feeling his own face now burning with the rage that his mother had shown, he glared heatedly at her. "His name is Duo! You refer to him as anything else and so help me, I'll hit you!"

Danielle's wide eyes finally blinked as she came out of her stocked state. Neither Zechs nor Noin seemed able to move at that point, their own shocked gazes locked on the teenage boy.  Slowly walking towards him, the red-haired woman said quietly, "Heero, please, you don't really mean that."

Taking a step back out of her reach, Heero's eyes just narrowed further. In a low growl, he warned, "Try me." A small sound that he could not quite make out escaped his mother's parted lips.

Quickly changing his plan of calling his friends, Heero knew that he could not trust himself to stay in that house and hold back his seething anger towards his mother. Turning on his heels, he grabbed a blue wind breaker from the closet went out into the cool night air, slamming the door behind him.

Still taken aback by the turn of events, Danielle finally came to her senses and ran towards the door, yelling, "Heero! Get back here!"

Just before she could reach for the doorknob, Zechs stepped in her path. The tall man folded his arms and glared down on the woman of the household.  Meeting his glare, Danielle cried, "Zechs, get out of my way!"

Raising his arm to point to the living room, the chauffer ordered in a deep voice, "Sit down, Danielle." It was the first time in the many years that he had worked for her that he ever addressed the woman by her first name.

"How dare you take that tone with me and tell *me* what to do!?" Danielle snapped indignantly. Her fists clenched at her sides, the fingernails digging into her palms. She always had control. She *always* had control over every situation. How was everything suddenly getting out of hand!? "It seems that you have forgotten that you work for me!"

Bending at the waist until they were at eyelevel, Zechs replied smoothly, "And apparently you have forgotten that only I know where the keys to the vehicles are. Unless you want to go running after your son on foot, making enough of a public display of yourself that the whole town will be talking about you having, then I suggest that you. Sit. Down."

With a sharp gasp, Danielle's eyes widened. Zechs had somehow taken the upper hand in this argument, using her pride against her. Taking a deep breath, she stalked into the living room and took the spot on the couch that her son had occupied. The tall man sat in the chair across from her. "Now," he began, "There are some things that need to be brought to your attention."

* * * * * *

Quatre's eyes widened when he opened the door to see his friend standing there, panting heavily and looking as though he had just finished running a marathon. "Heero?" he frowned deeply. "What's wrong?"

Swallowing hard when he finally caught his breath, the Japanese boy asked suddenly, "Is Duo here?" The desperation in his eyes and voice suddenly concerned the Arab more than his friend's appearance at such a late hour.

The blonde teenager shook his head, "No. I haven't seen him since last night when we got back from the prom." Stepping out of the way, he made room for the other boy to enter as he offered, "have a seat so that we can talk about this. I'll call Relena, Trowa and Wufei." With a grateful nod, Heero followed his friend into the living room.

* * * * * *

Duo wiped at his eyes again as he quickly walked down the long alley he had used to escape, adjusting his baseball cap to stay on snugly. He couldn't stay with Heero. All that Heero ever wanted was to make his mother proud and he was getting in the way of that. He was better off fending for himself when he was a kitten, or whatever he was years ago.  How could he be anything to Heero when he didn't even know what he was?

No. It was better this way. Even if it was killing him.

Looking over his shoulder, Duo never noticed the tall man that stepped out of the shadows in front of him. Suddenly walking into the broad chest, he stepped back a few paces. When he looked up to the smirking face that watched him, his heart suddenly began racing. "Hello… Duo, is it?" the white-haired man greeted in a deep voice.

That voice… the one that Duo had heard in his nightmares. The voice that he was always running from. It found him.

His violet eyes wide in horror, Duo turned to run in the other direction when a second person appeared to grab a hold of him. Before he could cry out, Duo felt a piece of cloth bring pressed tightly against his mouth and nose, muffling his voice. He struggled as best he could with two people holding him as he tried not to breathe in the fumes from the cloth at his airways. Before long, his arms and legs fell heavily.

Darkness claimed Duo just as the voice's deep chuckle filled his ears.

Part 20:

[Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside, learn how to hide your feelings
Fly high and proud
And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all]
-Lyrics from `Don't Cry Out Loud recently recreated by Diana DeGarmo

One thing that Danielle had always prided herself in was that she always took charge of any and every situation. Whatever obstacles rose to challenge her, she always ascended above them and took control.

…For the first time in her life, she found herself desperately grasping for that control and failing.

Gripping the armrests of the chair that she had been ordered to sit in, Danielle was seething. The redness in her face blended with the scarlet of her business suit. Fittingly, it had begun to rain heavily outside, matching the storm raging within.

Her cobalt eyes narrowed fiercely on the tall man sitting across from her, Heero's mother hissed, "I demand an explanation for this, Zechs. You have no right to order me around like this."

The blonde man straightened in his seat on the couch, returning the fiery glare with equal discontent. Zechs's voice came out deep as he ground out, "For the last eight years, I have had to watch you influence your son's life. I made the mistake of staying silent to your behavior in manipulating that boy and that silence ends tonight."

With a bark of bitter laughter, Danielle smirked, "Influence? Manipulate? You make it sound as if my intent is nothing but malicious. Over the years of your service for my family, you-of all people-should know better than anyone that I only have Heero's best interest in mind."

Danielle's cobalt eyes lost their focus the slightest bit, as if seeing something that was not before her. "My parents sacrificed everything so that I would become successful. You have no idea what they went through to see that I was happy, that I didn't have to work three jobs just so that I could struggle to get by as they had.

"There were nights that we went hungry just so that they would be able to send me to a good college to become a lawyer-as I always dreamed to be one day. And yet, even that wasn't enough, and I had to work against countless odds to get where I am now."

As if waking from a dream, Danielle shook her head. Her glare returned and threatened to sheer through the man sitting before her. His voice rose as she shouted, "I will not have my son go through that hardship! My son will want for nothing! He will be respected and admired by everyone who knows him. What more could anyone possibly hope for their child?"

Slightly lowering his head, the chauffer frowned sadly, "I do apologize, Danielle. I was not aware of the things that you had to go through to achieve what you had. Considering the rough upbringing you had, it is quite remarkable to see how far you have come."

For the briefest moment, he actually had a glimpse of how vulnerable and lost Danielle could be. While she regained her cool and calculated mask, the young woman did give a slight nod of appreciation for his words. Still, the tension continued to hang in the air, crackling with electricity.

Lifting a finger, Zechs replied in an even tone, "But you have just brought to light the root of the problem- your motivation comes from what *you* want for Heero. Have you ever considered what it might be that Heero would like out of life?"

Zechs raised his hand in a gesture to stop her. Speaking very slowly, he said, "Tell me one time that you asked Heero that he wanted the life you are leading him down."

Leaning forward, keeping their gazes locked, the chauffer stated, "If you can tell me one instance where he said that he wished to lead the life that you are now, then this conversation is ended and I offer my most sincere apologies if I have offended you at all."

Her eyes still narrowed, Danielle leaned forward, shouting, "This is ridiculous! Of course Heero wants everything that I am planning for him!" Just as the last words left her mouth, her cobalt eyes widened and her skin paled. Covering her parted lips, a strangled gasp escaped her throat.

The very worse that she had cried rang through her mind. Everything that *she* was planning *for* Heero… not with him.

As realization hit hard, tears filled the red-haired woman's cobalt eyes. Had she been so absorbed in her own wishes for what she wanted to see happen for Heero that she really closed herself to the possibility that Heero might want something else?

Before this night, Danielle never allowed herself to cry. Ever since she was a child, she forced herself to close off showing any weakness. Tears were a sign of weakness. And now, that lesson that she had forced upon herself had been forgotten.

In seeing the shimmering drops, Zechs's own eyes widened in shock mixed with sincere concern. In all the time he had known Danielle, he could not think of another time that he had seen her cry. With a deep breath, he frowned deeply, "You can't think of one time, can you?"

Danielle's eyes remained wide as she frantically tried to think of one occasion where her son had said that he wanted the life she had spent his entire life planning for him. She couldn't think of one single such moment…. not one.

A sob broke past the hand covering the young woman's mouth and she whispered brokenly, "My God… what have I done?" The tears began to slip from her unblinking eyes, running her thin mascara and rouge down her cheeks.

The weight of the world seemed to collapse on Danielle's shoulders as they slumped heavily. Everything that she had known shattered around her, revealing the truth her actions and influence over her only child.

After having had to fight for everything that she had in life, she had been blind to what should have been so obvious to her in the beginning. From the time that Heero had been born, she had placed a burden onto his shoulders-a burden that she was now doubtful that he even wanted. Her fight was not her Heero's fight, and yet she had made it so.

Lowering her hand, Danielle pleaded in little more than a breath filled with terror, "Zechs, what have I done?"

With a sad smile, the tall man reached forward to take one of her limp hands in his to squeeze it in support. Zechs spoke in a quite and sympathetic voice, "I know that you have only had Heero's best intentions in mind, Danielle. I never questioned that." His eyed narrowed a bit and he regained a bit of the edge that he had at the start of their conversation. "But you see how those intentions were lost to him?"

Biting her lip, Danielle sniffed and nodded before lowering her head and closing her eyes. More tears rolled down her face as her hands came up to remove her handkerchief from her pocket. Wiping at her face with the soft cotton, she sobbed.

While it was not his intention to upset the young woman so, Zechs straightened and held onto his reserve. Now that he was starting to get through, he needed to make sure that she would remember this night of revelations.

"Can you see now," the blonde man began, "Why Heero would be drawn to someone like Duo?" At that, Danielle snapped her tear-streaked face up with wide eyes.

Before he would allow her to retort, Zechs explained smoothly, "That boy was the only person in his life who gave him a chance to experience the things that he was never able to before. He showed Heero that there are things outside of the demands that had been placed on him." The corner of Zechs's mouth tugged upward as he asked, "Did you know that your son is quite an artist?"

The red-haired woman's eyes widened with disbelief. When she numbly shook her head, Zechs went on, "Duo was the first person to actually take interest in what Heero's own feelings were-what his dreams were, when his own mother would not."

Flinching at the impact of those words as if they had physically slapped her, Danielle's breath came in shallow intakes. Heero could draw? How was it that she never knew that when he was her son? And that… boy-Duo-he helped to find that secret gift? Slowly, it truly did become clear to her as to how Heero would be drawn to him, someone full of life where he had none of his own.

And she had sent Duo away.

Quickly rising to her feet with widened cobalt eyes, the young woman announced, "I have to find them. I have to fix this." Noin suddenly appeared from where she had been waiting just beyond the living room, the shock evident in her eyes in the turn of events.

With a firm nod, Zechs rose to his own feet and stated, "I can take you to where their friends are. I'm sure that they are over at one of their homes. They all live pretty closely."

Heero's mother shook her head and waved her hand, "No, I'll walk in that case. Just tell me where I can find them." Her eyes filled with determination, she walked over to the coat rack at the door to take up her clack raincoat. "I need time to think things through," she called back to the young couple.

Her eyes widening anew, Noin stepped towards her and sputtered, "B-but Madam, it's pouring outside! Surely, you should let us take you there." She watched in amazement as the owner of the household replaced her high heels with a pair of tennis shoes from the closet.

Meeting the stunned gazes watching her, Danielle's face lit with the first sincere, heartfelt smiles that she could recall tugging at her lips in what felt like ages. "Please, Noin, Call me Danielle."

Slowly, the young mother looked out past the window to see the rain streaking past the streetlamps. "When I was a child, I used to love the rain," she said in a quiet, wistful tone. "I'd play in it until it passed, then moved to jumping in the puddles it left behind."

Her cobalt eyes misting, Danielle reached up to dry the tears that sprung into them. "I miss those times," she breathed. "I think it's time that I got reacquainted with that innocent time again-before I lost myself."

Blinking away his shocked state, Zechs returned the warm smile. With a firm nod, he replied, "Very well. I will tell you where you can find their friends, then."

* * * * * *

Duo shivered as he slowly regained consciousness. That voice from his nightmare chuckled deeply over him, startling him awake with a sharp gasp and wide, violet eyes. Frantic, his eyes scanned the darkness around him, finding that the only light came from a ceiling light that shown down on him. Panting heavily, the braided teenager recalled his last moments of consciousness.

The Voice had found him.

Heavy footsteps echoed off the walls that Duo could not see in the pitch beyond the light shining on him. Swallowing hard, the cat-eared boy backed himself into the furthest edge of the ring of light's edge-away from the source of those footsteps as they grew louder.

Slowly, the owner of those footsteps walked into the ring of light and the braided teenager's breath caught in his throat. The tall, white-haired man before him smirked sinisterly down on him.

That smile… suddenly everything fell into place and Duo remembered the man that he had run from more than three years ago. "D-Dekim," was all he could manage to stammer, his violet eyes wide in terror.

Raising an eyebrow, the old man's smirk just grew all the more menacing. "So you do remember me," he remarked in that deep voice that ran a chill down Duo's spine. That smirk faded and a fierce glare rained down on his prisoner. "You have caused me quite a bit of trouble in looking for you," he growled deeply.

Duo flinched, his cat ears falling, when the old man walked closer towards him-but he dared not crawl out of that protective ring of light at which he lied at the edge... not out into that blackness that awaited.  He whimpered and squeezed his eyes closed tightly when Dekim stood just over him.

"Now there is all the time in the world to make up for what I had lost," the tall man commented, his dark smirk returning as he peered down on his prize. Reaching into the pocket of his long trench coat, he removed a syringe filled with a clear serum.

As he removed the stopper from the long needle, Dekim sneered, "This is just a start of repaying you back for your insolence." Duo hesitantly opened his eyes, only for them to widen in fear when they saw the tall man leaning down towards him with that dark look in his narrowed eyes that was too familiar.

With a cry, the boy tried to get up to run, but was too late and he was pinned down by his shoulders by someone who came from the darkness behind him. Caught by surprise, Duo gasped in shock when he looked up to another familiar face. Smirking down on the youth in his grasp, Jacob told him, "Don't make this any more difficult than it needs to be."

Tears ran down Duo's face and he trembled almost violently. The long needle of the syringe was all but slammed into his right arm and he cried out in pain. As it was pumped into his veins, the serum burned its course as it spread throughout his body. The tests had begun again. After this, there would just be another, and yet another.

Quickly, the two scientists straightened themselves, smiling in satisfaction as they watched the cat-tailed boy hug his legs to his chest in a fetal position as he sobbed quietly in the agony engulfing him.

Sweat rolled down Duo's face, passing his closed eyes and mixing with his tears on his cheeks. Slowly, his long tail wrapped around his waist as if like a security blanket that would offer little comfort through his pain.

"I'll start the monitors," Jacob said to his mentor. With that, the brunette man stepped out into the darkness, disappearing once more.

His eyes still on the braided teenager huddled within himself, Dekim smirked, "Welcome back home, Duo." His deep chuckle echoed off the walls that could not be seen as he turned and stepped out of the ring of light. The heavy footsteps resonated along with his deep voice until at last, it faded into the distance.

An unseen, metal door slammed closed. The echo of the crash was nearly deafening. Duo jumped at the initial sound, but quickly had to pull his legs close again in effort to will the pain from his mind. Closing his eyes again, the braided teenaged whimpered quietly, "Heero..."

While he lied on his side like that, Duo never even allowed himself a glimmer of hope that he would ever see his lover. Heero would have no way of knowing what had become of him. No… This was how he was to spend the rest of his days-until the tests finally took their toll on his body and pushed it beyond its limits to hold out.

Silently, as tears continued to roll down his face, Duo hoped that his end would come soon… And he silently prayed that Heero would find happiness some day.

* * * * * *

Removing the hood of her light blue raincoat, Relena stepped into the Winner residence just as Wufei opened the door for her. The concern on the Chinese teenager's face was enough to say how well his own search had gone. Wufei was never one to let on to his emotions, especially when he was worried. The fact that he was now showing outward sighs of that did not bode well.

Carefully removed her coat entirely, resting it on the coat rack, Relena bit her lip to keep her own fears at bay. With a sullen nod, Wufei led Relena into the living room. Her heart sank further and her frown sunk deeper when she found the remainder of her circle of friends-missing one. Their problem at hand was growing more and more grim by the minute.

The dampened, sullen boys looked up at the arrival of the last of their search party, the Japanese teenager in the center looking the most miserable of the group. Heero rose from his chair with a deep sigh and ran a hand through his wet mop of hair. "Where could he had gone?" he murmured anxiously, his legs set to moving as he paced the floor.

It was the first sign of any breaking in Heero's resolve in finding Duo. Throughout the duration of the search, he had remained quiet and reserved, never allowing any hint of what his friends could only assume was killing him inside. But then, Heero never was one to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Lowering and shaking his head, Quatre frowned deeply, "I didn't think that Duo would manage to get far so fast. We were already spread out and looking within ten minutes of knowing that he ran off." He raised his head with a hopeful look and suggested, "Maybe he didn't go to far and he's just hiding somewhere."

Slowly talking a deep breath, Trowa replied, "If that's the case, there is any number of places that would take us hours to search for him. And if he's still moving, then we're not going to find him tonight."

Once everyone's eyes fell on him, the tall youth shrugged, "Given the circumstances that caused him to run off, I doubt that he has any intention of being found."

With a deep grunt, Wufei glared at his tall friend and snapped, "That's a fine attitude to have. I thought that you cared more about him as a friend than to just give up looking."

His emerald eyes, Trowa was just about to protest when Heero's quiet voice stated, "Trowa's right."

Everyone turned their wide to the rigid back facing the group. Slowly turning, the Japanese teenager's tired eyes met their shocked gazes. "We won't have any luck finding Duo if we haven't by now," he said in little more than a whisper.

Peering out the window to the pouring rain and night, Heero explained, "When he was a kitten, Duo lived out on these streets. He knows the area better than the five of us together." He ran a hand through his damp hair again, sighing, "We won't have any luck searching after dark like this."

As much as they hated to agree with their friend, the others all knew that he was right. Their search would have to wait until it was light out again. Beings it was the weekend after the prom, at least it gave them a couple of free days.

Given how worried they were for their braided friend, there was not one person in the room who would not reconsider dropping everything they had to until he was found.

Swallowing hard, Relena approached her unruly-haired friend and placed a hand on his shoulder. With a gentle squeeze, she drew his attention back and his cobalt eyes met her watery gaze. "I'm sure that we'll find Duo, Heero," she reassured him with a small smile and quiet tone.

Although he wanted to return some kind of grin back, Heero just couldn't muster it with his emotions threatening to overwhelm him. Instead, he just gave her a slight nod. It was just too difficult to find his voice at that moment.

Quatre rose to his feet, meeting his friend's cobalt eyes, and said warmly, "You're more than welcome to spend the night here, Heero. You know my parents would offer it, themselves, if they were not on their business trip."

Not even needing to consider, Heero nodded with a sincere, "Thank you, Quatre. I'll have to take up that offer." The doorbell rang out, causing the band of teenagers to look at each other in confusion.

The blonde Arab quickly walked to the front door, his eyes widening in fear and disbelief when he saw who was waiting on the other side when he cracked it open. "M-Misses Yuy," he stammered, frozen in place where only his head was able to peek through the cracked door.

Lowering the hood of her raincoat, Danielle smiled kindly, "Quatre. It's been years since I had seen you last. My, but you're growing to be quite a handsome young man."

When the stunned youth's mouth fell open, but it was clear he could not respond any more than that, the red-haired woman tried to look into the house past him. "Is my son here?" she asked with a deep frown of concern.

At that, Quatre finally broke from his stupor, shaking his head and replied, "Well, I uh…"

From behind the young Arab, Heero's voice reassured him, "It's all right, Quatre. You can let her in." at the sound of her son's voice, Danielle's concern melted with a relieved sigh and the door was opened for her as Quatre stepped aside.

Before Heero could react, he was suddenly wrapped in a wet, tight embrace when his mother suddenly ran towards her to throw her arms around his neck. Nearly falling back both from the impact and his shock, the Japanese teenager reached up to return the embrace.

"I'm sorry, Heero," Danielle whispered brokenly in his ear. "I'm so sorry." His cobalt eyes widening further, the Japanese teenager rubbed the trembling back of his mother.

Never in his life could Heero recall his mother embracing him, or ever apologizing for anything. When he looked into the living room, the stunned faces of his friends watched the scene with wide eyes and slack jaws.

The first to snap back from their state, Relena cleared her throat quietly as she glared at the boys around her. In catching her hint, Quatre, Trowa and Wufei quickly followed her out of the room to allow some privacy.

Gently leading his mother into the now empty living room, Heero carefully removed his mother's raincoat. As drenched as the coat and his mother were, his eyes widened again while the young woman sat on one of the couches. "You walked here in this weather?" he asked, the awe evident in his voice.

"Yes," Danielle replied with a smile. "It was wonderful." She chuckled deeply and ran a hand through her damp, red hair. First the embrace, then the apology and now she was smiling. Heero was beginning to question what was wrong with his mother. How she had changed in a matter of hours since the last time he saw her was astounding.

Her smile fading, the young woman patted the spot in the couch beside her in a silent plea for him to join her. Slowly, Heero sat beside his mother as she took his hands in hers and squeezed them. Meeting her son's gaze, Danielle's own cobalt eyes filled with tears and she whispered, "Heero, I have been so wrong in how I have handled… everything."

At that, Heero shook his head, "I don't understand."

Biting her lip, Danielle cupped the side of his face and replied quietly, "I took too much control over your life. What started off as a personal battle of my own when I was your age, I have carried and pushed onto you without realizing it."

She reached up to dry her eyes before straightening herself with reserve and announced firmly, "That ends tonight."

It took a moment for her words to sink in before Heero felt a small smile fall on his lips, unable to find his voce at that moment. To whatever had brought on his mother's change, he was

Danielle leaned in to place a soft kiss on her son's forehead and commented, "We'll talk more about this later. We have something more important to worry about right now."

Gazing around the living room, the red-haired woman frowned, "I didn't see Duo among your friends. I wager that you haven't found him yet."

Heero swallowed hard and shook his head, "No." Lowering his head, he allowed he finally allowed himself to voice his concern. "I'm worried about him, Mom," he said quietly, brokenly as he fought the tears in his eyes.

Taking the boy's face in her hands, Danielle made his eyes meet hers and she stated firmly, "We'll find him." Unable to fight back the tears any longer, Heero sniffled and threw his arms around his mother, burying his face in her shoulder.

As she held her son tightly, Danielle's mind was already working out a plan on to how she was going to keep her word.

Whatever it took, she was determined to see that her son would be happy.