1-3-2006

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Gundam Wing, not its characters. I just like playing with them!

Title: Ray of Hope
Parts 11-20
Creative assistance from Sunhawk
Archive: http://www.mizunoamy.bravepages.com
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 5XS, References to past pairings, other pairings possible
Warnings: AU, language and possible citrus
BY: SkyLark
Beta Writing By: Deb

 

Part 11

[Reality can really cut you down to size
But don't ever lose that light in your eyes
Don't ever lose that light in your eyes]
-Lyrics to `The Light In Your Eyes' by Leann Rimes

"You know I'll always be here for you."

His cobalt eyes snapping open, Heero sat up in his bed, panting for air. That voice, it was the same girl's voice that he had heard the morning before. With a deep moan, the young sailor cupped his sweat-soaked face in his hands to ward off the beginning of a dull headache. Once the pain subsided, he lied back down, folding his arms over his bare chest as he stared up at the ceiling to collect his thoughts.

The strangely familiar sadness that came with the voice the first time returned. That simple phase that had been spoken with such sincerity only proved to Heero all the more that he had been close to whoever was speaking to him through his dreams. It was almost as if the memories of her, themselves, were desperately clawing through the haze of his amnesia to make him remember. Still, he couldn't get past the nagging ache associated with it.

Was she a past girlfriend? Girlfriend? Or even a sister? There were still too many pieces missing to be able to know the nature of the relationship for certain. Aside from whatever that connection was, why would the memories of her bring sadness as opposed to relief or joy whenever they came?

Finally deciding that sitting in bed and waiting for the answers to his questions to magically appear on the white ceiling was not going to happen, Heero rose from bed. Reaching over to the bedside table for his long bandage, he carefully wrapped his healing right arm.

After pulling on a plain, deep blue T-shirt and a pair of jean shorts over his boxers, the Japanese sailor made his way from the room to start the day. Duo was going to be returning from his overnight stay at the lighthouse and he wanted to get a good start on making breakfast before he got back home.

As soon as he stepped out into the hallway, the young sailor froze in shock when a very wet and very naked Duo stepped out of the steam-filled bathroom. The long-haired lighthouse keeper was just wrapping a white towel around his bare waist as he walked into the hall.

With a sharp gasp, the damp young man's violet eyes widened when they locked with Heero's and he blushed violently. The sailor had to look away to hide his own burning shade, silently hoping that he wasn't just caught staring openly his friend's perfect body.

"S-sorry, man," Duo sputtered in embarrassment, his hands making sure that the towel at his slender waist was secure to prevent any further awkwardness. "I didn't hear anyone walking around, so I figured you were still asleep."

Quickly shaking his head, Heero replied, "It's all right. This is your house, after all." His mouth went dry when he looked up to meet his worried friend's gaze. The lighthouse keeper's pale body was pinkish from the warm water from his shower. And his long tresses were free of their usual braid for the first time in the sailor's presence, the wet strands dripping and sticking to his toned form.

It was Duo that needed to swallow hard in watching those piercing cobalt eyes glance over him. Running a hand through his wet bangs, he grinned, "Well, I managed to beat you in starting breakfast. One of my specialties should be finishing up soon, so I'm going to make myself decent." With that, he turned and headed for his room at the other end of the hall.

As the American walked off, Heero blinked his eyes and shook his head. "O-okay," he managed finally. With a small smile on his face, he headed downstairs. If there was any doubt in his mind over his attraction for Duo, the nice view certainly cleared it up.

The day certainly seemed to be making a turn for the better.

* * * * * *

Later, that afternoon, Duo was up in the lighthouse's watch room making his weekly inspections of the wicks and mechanics. Carefully cutting a few long wicks as he sat on the edge of his bed, another violent coughing fit overcame him. His mouth covered, he desperately tried to catch his breath, he wheezed badly. When the cough finally subsided, he lowered his shaking hand from his mouth and frowned deeply, "Not now."

Opening and closing his hand a few times to stop the shaking, the braided lighthouse keeper went back to his work. His violet eyes narrowed in concentration on the delicate string of wax in his hands, he carefully sliced a long enough piece.

These weekly inspections and maintenance visits were as trying for Duo as they were relaxing. Everything in caring for a lighthouse required quiet and patience. It was almost like a meditation practice for him, allowing him to clear his thoughts in peace.

This visit, however, he was able to do anything but clear his thoughts.

After that morning's incident, Duo kept thinking of how Heero kept staring at his half-naked body. Then again, he wasn't sure if he really was staring, or if he was just imagining that. Over the near two months that he had come to know the sailor, he had to admit that he was more than attracted to him. The fact that Heero was finally opening up only made that appeal all the more difficult to deal with.

What with everything that was going on in their lives, both recovering from different things, Duo was certain that he was not willing to begin hoping that something more than friendship would ever happen. Still, he couldn't help but wish for that. While rewarding, his years of living alone to care for the lighthouse were terribly lonely. And it was only nature for a person to want to find happiness with someone else.

…But then, being with someone else meant having to be open and honest with them. That was the one thing that Duo wasn't sure he was ready for. Being honest with what he was dealing with meant that he had to admit to himself that there was a problem.

"Duo?" Heero's voice from the stairway below snapped the braided lighthouse keeper from his thoughts. Blinking in surprise, the American walked over to the hatch in the floor to pull it open. Just below, waiting on the stairs, the blue-eyed sailor stood with a friendly smile.

As he raised a basket and shrugged, "I made us lunch, since you took care of breakfast. You've been up here for a while, so I thought that you would be hungry."

With a wide smile of appreciation, Duo nodded, "That's great. Thanks, man." He lowered a hand to take up the basket filled with goods so that his friend could climb up into the room. It certainly was a relief to the American to know that he had not warded Heero off after their awkward run in that morning.

Gesturing up to the stairs leading up, the lighthouse keeper suggested, "We'll have more space up in the lantern room." With that, he led the way.

As he climbed into the large, round space, Heero took a moment to gaze out the tall windows that looked out on the world around them. With the sun high overhead, he could look out to the island city below for miles on one side and to the sea's horizon on the other. "I'll never get tired of this view," he commented.

Unfolding a white sheet onto the floor, Duo took a seat on one side and chuckled deeply, "So you didn't come up just for the pleasure of my company after all."

With a small grin as he sat across from the other young man, Heero replied sincerely, "No, I came up here for that, too."

The braided young man froze as he reached into the basket. He hadn't been prepared for the genuineness in that statement. Unable to think of how else to respond, Duo smiled warmly before removing the sandwiches drinks and snacks. The pair ate in companionable silence for a bit as they enjoyed their surroundings.

Swallowing a long gulp from his soda can, Duo said quietly, "You were out on the cliffs for a long time last night. Is everything okay?" he looked up with concerned violet eyes as he reached for another sandwich.

Heero finished chewing his forkful of salad and nodded, "Yea. I just needed to get some air for a bit." It wasn't a complete lie, he thought to himself. He just wasn't ready to bring up the visions that he had yet, lest he have to remind himself of the pain that came with them. His concern appeased, Duo nodded and continued to enjoy his lunch.

As they finished their meal, Heero peered out to the sea and asked, "So how did you become the lighthouse keeper of the island, anyway?" The interest clear in his cobalt eyes, his head turned to meet his friend.

Lowering his soda can, Duo took a deep breath and it was his turn to gaze out to the ocean. Unable to meet the eyes watching him, he continued to look away as he answered quietly, "I took over after my dad. Heero Yuy."

His eyes widening, Heero blinked in surprise. He had not expected that the person he was named after to be the lighthouse keeper's father. Before he was able to stop himself, he heard himself saying, "But your last name's Maxwell."

With a deep chuckle, Duo finally met his gaze and nodded, "I kept my mother's maiden name. She died when I was nine." His smile faded as he lowered his head and continued, "My dad passed away from a rare, hereditary form of leukemia two years ago, when I was eighteen. I promised him that I would take care of things here before he went."

Swallowing hard, Heero frowned deeply and whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up… I didn't know."

Duo raised his braided head to reply, "It's all right. I don't get many chances to really talk about him." Clearing his throat, he stared down to the white sheet and stated softly, "He was one hell of a guy. When I turned sixteen, he brought me up here and taught me everything that he knew when it came to running the lighthouse."

The braided lighthouse keeper's fingers idly ran along the hem of the sheet as he went on, "Then, couple years later, he got this terrible flu that he couldn't shake and he was in a bit of pain that he thought was related to it. When he went in to visit his doctor, they ran a few tests and they came back saying he only had six months." At the mention of that, his voice cracked and he had to swallow past the lump in his throat. "I miss him," was all he could manage after that.

With a deep, shaky breath, Duo raised his head again with small tears in his eyes and forced a sad smile on his face. "But I kept my word," he nodded to himself. "All that I wanted was to make my dad proud. He wouldn't let himself go until he knew that someone he trusted was taking care of things here in his place, and he knew that I wouldn't let him down."

After wiping his eyes, he cleared his throat again. His sad smile grew a bit as he looked onto his friends eyes and shrugged, "So, that's how I got where I am today."

With a sad smile of his own, Heero gave a firm nod of appreciation that did not need any words at that moment. Once the last of their meal was finished, they worked together in silence in cleaning up the floor, placing the sheet, wrappers and cans back into the picnic basket.

Once they were finished, Duo stepped out onto the gallery and into the warm breeze as he looked over the city far below. After giving his friend some time alone, Heero stepped out and joined him. His hands on the railing as he looked out to the secluded town, he asked, "Mind if I stay up here a bit longer?"

Smiling as he turned to his friend, Duo shook his head, "You can stay as long as you want." He ran a hand through his wind-blown bangs and sighed, "I better get back down to the watch room and finish up my inspections." With that, he began to walk around the balcony towards the glass doors.

"For what it's worth," Heero began quietly. Duo paused and turned to face the other young man. Taking a deep breath, the young sailor with his unruly hair blowing gently in the breeze spoke earnestly, "I know that your dad would be proud of you and of what you've done."

At those words, Duo's violet eyes began to shimmer the slightest bit as he smiled warmly and whispered, "Thank you, Heero." With his hands in his shorts' pockets, he turned and went back into the lantern room to descend back to his work.

Folding his arms over the deep green railing, Heero looked back out to the city below. As he lost himself in his own thoughts, the girl's voice returned to whisper once more, "You know I'll always be here for you." As warm as it was that afternoon, the young sailor shuddered at a sudden chill and hugged his crossed arms over his chest.

And just as the night before, he silently willed the memories away.

 

Part 12:

[If I was the sun I would shine my light to light your world
And If I was the rain I would wash your tears away
I'd keep your world bright. Be your light in the night
If I was the sky I would rain down love into your life]
-Lyrics to `If I Was a River' by Tina Arena

Cupping his hands under the running faucet, Heero splashed the warm water on his face. With a deep sigh of content, he dried his face with the small towel waiting at the sink's edge. Turning the faucet off, he straightened to peer into the oval mirror as he ran a hand through his hair that was still damp from his morning shower.

At the sight that awaited him in the glass, he gasped sharply. His cobalt eyes wide and his body stiff and unable to move, Heero watched as a hazy presence materialized just behind him. Unable to make out more than the blue eyes watching him in the mirror and the smile that tugged at the thin lips, the young sailor blinked in surprise.

"There is the young man who has it all. Tell me, how does it feel to be on top of the world?" the man's deep voice chuckled deeply.

Quickly turning with a sharp cry, Heero found that he was alone in the bathroom once more. His wide eyes scanning the small room for any signs of the mysterious presence that just visited him, he panted heavily. There was a gentle knock on the bathroom door as Duo's concerned voice called, "Heero? Are you all right?"

Running a shaking hand over his surprisingly damp face, Heero turned to appraise his sweat-spotted face. "I'm all right," he replied reassuringly. Finally calming his heavy breathing, he frowned deeply at his reflection, "I think." His hands still shaking, he quickly turned the faucet back on to wash his face once more.

"Okay," the lighthouse keeper's relieved voice answered past the door. There was a round of rough coughs before he was able to speak again. "I'm going to rest my eyes for a little longer before I head back downstairs."

Heero winced. Over the last week since he learned of his namesake, Duo's health had been taking a turn for the worse. Along with the coughing and sneezing spells that caught on, he was exhausted. He was now making regular visits to the hospital to see Sally under the excuse of `just stopping in to say hello.' Along with that, Sally, Wufei and the remainder of the `family' would make regular visits- many more visits than usual for them.

On a normal morning after his return from the lighthouse Duo would be lively and ready to face the day. Now, he returned to the cabin to rest more in his own rarely used bedroom. That, above everything else, had the sailor worried the most for his dear friend.

It was a task for Heero to keep the concern from his voice. Forcing a smile to mask his worry, he called back, "All right. I'll get breakfast started in about an hour then."

There was another fit of coughs before Duo's rough voice was able to respond, "Okay. Thanks." His heavy footsteps moved from the doorway and down the hall until the young sailor heard the quiet click of his bedroom doorknob.

With a deep sigh, the Heero's shoulders slumped heavily. Running a hand through his damp hair, he tentatively turned back to the mirror. With a quick once over, afraid to linger lest he have another visit, he grabbed his deep blue T-shirt from the sea-green tiled floor and stepped from the bathroom. His cobalt eyes lingering on the closed bedroom door down the other end of the hall, he made his way downstairs.

Later that morning, just as Heero was about to wrap up cooking breakfast, he heard his friend's dragging feet moving into the living room. Quickly cleaning his hands, he all but ran down the hall to see how Duo was fairing after his rest when the phone rang. "Duo," the woman's voice that he had overheard over several calls filled his ears when the call was answered.

The light housekeeper's voice was too quiet for Heero to make out his end of the conversation until he reached the doorway. As he always would, he stood out in the hall and listened in. "I know," Duo's voice sighed deeply. "I know you're worried about the change in diagnosis, but the white cell count goes up and down all the time." He broke off into a spell of violent coughing that took a moment to shake.

When he finally was able to control his wheezing breath, the lighthouse keeper spoke roughly, "Sally is beside herself. After having such better news not long ago, this was a bit of a shock, but I'm not too worried yet. It's too soon to jump to conclusions that they're going to continue to drop now."

His cobalt eyes widening, Heero held his breath. Duo's white cell count made a sudden turn on him? That certainly would explain the steady decline in his health the last few days. Taking his condition into account, the young sailor was silently beginning to panic. Duo had said that his father had caught on a flu that he could not shake before he quick deteriorated.

Shaking himself from his thoughts, the young sailor focused back on the conversation in the living room. "I love you, too," Duo whispered scratchily. "Just please don't worry about me so much. Everything is going to be fine. I promise I'll be in touch again soon. Besides, knowing Sally, if there is any change, she'll get a hold of you before even I'll be able to."

After a brief exchange of farewells, the click of the vidphone's monitor closing filled the air. Biting his lip, Heero waited a moment to take hold of his raging emotions. With a deep breath and a forced smile, he stepped into the room and announced, "Breakfast is ready."

From where he sat on the couch before the closed vidphone on the coffee table, Duo raised his pale-faced head. The dark circles under his eyes contrasted heavily with the nearly snow white skin. And his long braid, normally so neat in the way that it was pulled back was ratty with loose ends fraying. The entire look made him appear an aging man, not the young twenty-year-old that he was. Another lump formed in Heero's throat, as it had every time he saw his friend in such a sorry shape.

With a weary smile, Duo rose to his feet and replied, "Great. I'm starving."

* * * * *

Later that night, just as the sun was about to begin its descent, Duo sighed deeply as he stood out on the gallery outside of the lantern room of the lighthouse to look out to the ocean. It was going to be another beautiful night, but with everything on his mind he could not bring himself to enjoy it. The warm air was not enough to keep the chill within his body out when a gentle breeze rose. His braid and too-large, long-sleeved gray sweater drifting on the wind, he wrapped his arms tightly around himself and shuddered.

The sound of footsteps falling on the deep green metal surprised the American to look up with wide eyes as his friend approached. "Heero?" he greeted, blinking in disbelief. He smiled, "Well this is a pleasant surprise. Finally decided to watch the sunset and stars from up here for a change?"

With a small smile of his own, Heero stood beside the other young man and answered, "Actually, I'm here to make sure that you get to sleep at a decent hour for once."

Duo turned his whole body to face him, his violet eyes wide and his mouth already opening to protest when the sailor quickly raised his hand to stop him. "You're exhausted," he stated quietly, his smile fading as he allowed his concern to show plainly. "And your staying up all night is not helping the fact that you're sick."

Above them, the sky continued to darken, the brilliant shades of colors from the sunset blending into a deep blue. Far below them, the roar of the crashing waves against the rocks of the cliffs rose on the breeze.

"But," Duo frowned deeply. He quickly changed from protesting his obvious ailing health and went for the heart of his own worry. Gesturing to the large lantern beyond the glass, he asked, "What about the lamp? Someone has to keep an eye on it."

His smile returning, Heero reassured him, "I'm going to sleep in the watch room. You can show me how to light the lamp when it starts getting dark enough and then, you're going to go to bed. I know how the alarm system works to if the lamp should go out and I'll be here to relight it if that happens."

Folding his arms and setting his face in a grim look, the young sailor stated firmly, "But once you're done showing me how to light the lantern, you're going straight to bed whether you like it or not."

There was still a near panicked look on the lighthouse keeper's face as he lowered his head, biting his lip. Sighing deeply, Heero offered with a small grin, "If it'll make you feel better, you can stay sleep in the watch room tonight, too."

Quickly raising his pale head, Duo blinked in shock and sputtered, "B-but I only have the one bed there." Heero merely shrugged, showing that it didn't bother him in the least and yet also making it known that it was the only condition he would bend on in allowing the braided young man to stay in the lighthouse. Swallowing hard, the American frowned deeply, "I don't want you risk getting sick with what I have."

Again, Heero shrugged, "I'm willing to risk it if it'll put you at ease with not talking the helm of this place. The only the option for you will be staying back in the cabin if you're not willing to take my one bend in the rules. So, the only choice you have in the matter is where you end up spending the night."

Duo swallowed hard again, only to fall into another fit of rough coughs. The look of concern in those cobalt depths when he was able to breathe again made it impossible for him to challenge the terms Heero set all together. And he was just so very tired.

Just the thought of actually going to sleep early was making the braided young man's legs weak. However, years of dedication to his promise to his dad and his love of his work were too engraved to keep him away completely. Finally, he nodded firmly, "All right. I'll sleep here, then."

With a wide, relieved smile, Heero nodded back, "Okay." Gesturing to the glass doors, he said quietly, "We better get the lamp started." He turned on his heels to lead the way back inside the tower with Duo close behind.

* * * * * *

The pitch of that night made way for the millions of stars. Sitting on the gallery of the lantern room, Heero looked to the heavens to enjoy the breathtaking view from his place high above the world. Even the occasional, slow passing of the wide light beams from the spinning mirrors made the entire setting surreal. As high up as he was in the open air, he swore that he was close enough to the stars that he could reach out and touch them.

After what must have been a couple hours of enjoying his moment alone with the skies and sea, Heero rose and stepped back into the lantern room. Making a few inspections he learned that evening and satisfied that all was well, he descended the stairs to step into the watch room.

Much to the sailor's relief, he found Duo still sleeping peacefully. He slept on his side, facing the table beside the mattress with the softly glowing candle lit lamp. Even in his sleep, it was as though he was seeking the warmth and security that the dancing light offered. His face at peace, the years that his exhaustion and illness had added to him had faded.

Kneeling before the bookshelf, Heero chose one of many titles that appealed to him before heading over to the bed. Carefully slipping beside his friend, he readjusted the thin sheet to cover the two of them. Settling himself onto his back, he opened the cover of the hardback novel and began to read.

Beside the Japanese sailor, Duo stirred with a quiet hum. Looking away from his book, he watched with wide eyes as the sleeping braided lighthouse keeper nestled close to him, resting his head on his shoulder. His cobalt eyes widening, Heero slowly lowered his book and tentatively wrapped his arm around his friend. Still lost in his restful sleep, the American's lips tugged up in a small smile.

With a smile of his own and his interest in the book lost, Heero lowered the novel to the floor with his free, bandaged arm. Turning his head to the side, he blew the candle out from where he sat atop the crystal lamp.

 

Part 13:

[When it was dark now there's light
Where there was pain now's there's joy
Where there was weakness I found my strength
All in the eyes of a boy]
-Lyrics to `A New Day Has Come' by Celine Dion

The first morning sunrays peeked through the clear glass of the observation room, spilling along the floor beside the bed there. As he slowly rode to the conscious world, Duo's nose wrinkled. Slowly blinking his violet eyes open, he took a long, deep breath of the warm fresh air flowing through the cracked glass doors.

Without even having to look outside, the day was already off to a beautiful start.

As he took his time to enjoy the warmth that was wrapped around him, the braided lighthouse keeper smiled with his heavy-lidded eyes peering up to the source. Every morning for the last week, he had the pleasure of watching Heero sleep. It never lasted long, considering how early the young sailor usually woke, but he enjoyed every second of it.

Recalling his first days with the Japanese stranger that stormed into his life, Duo knew that he would have laughed if anyone told him back then that eventually they would be sharing the same bed-let alone that it would be Heero's suggestion. The once angry and quiet young man certainly had made a turnaround.

The arm draped around the American's waist squeezed him closer against the sailor's chest before relaxing against his thin hip again. Duo bit his bottom lip at the small gesture. It was as if even in his sleep, Heero wanted to make sure that he was there with him and safe. Knowing the notion was wishful thinking on his own part, he chastised himself for even thinking that.

Duo couldn't help that he had spent two long, lonely years without anyone. The need to be with someone was always there, but never more so now that he had even a small taste of what that would be like. It was a bittersweet thing to wake up in another person's arms, to have that warmth around him instead of an empty bedside.

With a deep sigh, Heero's cobalt eyes blinked opened. When they focused on the braided young man watching him, he smiled sleepily and greeted quietly, "Hey."

His own smile growing, Duo replied the same, "Hey." Reluctantly, he began to sit up as Heero's arm fell away from his waist. Peering out to the clear-skied sunrise over the ocean, he stretched and announced, "I'm going to go turn the lamp out." With that, he carefully climbed over his bedmate to lower his sock-covered feet onto the cool floor as the sailor watched him in a silent vigil.

With a small smile of relief on his face, Heero closed his eyes when the other young man was gone. It had been a stressful week, worrying over his friend's failing health. Now that Duo was resting well, his color was coming back and the circles under his eyes had all but faded away. And, he had to admit, he enjoyed having someone to dote over. The perks that came with it were certainly worth it.

…He just hoped that the steps to recovery meant that Duo had more time.

During his days, while Duo continued to rest, Heero had secretively helped Trowa in his auto shop. There, he learned that he had quite a knack for gears and getting his hands dirty. He picked up on repairs quite quickly and it helped him make some much needed money for a surprise that he had been planning. All he needed now was the courage to spring it on his unsuspecting friend.

It was a wonder what a week's worth of good sleep could do for an ailing body. As he climbed up to the lantern room, Duo could feel how much stronger his once aching muscles were. Along with that, his rough coughing fits were almost a thing of the past.

The slow but steady improvement in his health was the only reason Heero allowed his friend to return to his morning chores in caring for he tower. Despite the lighthouse keeper's early reluctance to let someone else take up his duties in caring for the lighthouse, Duo knew that he would have been in real trouble if he had not allowed Heero to talk him into it.

Smiling at the sight of the hundreds of prisms dancing in the glass-filled room, the braided young man sighed deeply in content. Carefully opening the large lantern door, he bent at the waist with the large, bell-shaped wick snuffer. As he doused the flame, he heard Heero's footsteps climb into the room. "What would you say if I asked you out on a date tonight?" the sailor asked quietly.

His violet eyes widening, Duo hit his head on the opening to the lantern that he was leaning inside, making his ears ring briefly at the rough contact. With a sharp cry, he straightened just as his friend was instantly at his side and gently examining his braided head. "Shit!" Heero winced as he examined the braided lighthouse keeper's head. "That was really bad timing on my part," he frowned deeply in concern. "I'm sorry."

When their eyes met, Duo's and Heero's filled with worry and near panic, the American blinked in disbelief. "D-did I just hear you right?" he whispered.

Lowering his hands from his friend's braided head, the sailor looked away nervously. Finally, still with his head turned, he nodded, "Yea. I've been trying to ask you out ever since you started getting better, but I couldn't work up the nerve until now."

Slowly, Heero looked back at the lighthouse keeper and shrugged, "I didn't want to miss another chance and it was easier when you weren't looking at me." Gently running his hand over his friend's braided head, he smiled sheepishly, "Sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have-"

"No!" Duo shouted in alarm, shaking his head before Heero could finish what he was about to say. "I'm glad that you asked," he grinned from ear-to-ear, "I can deal with a little bump on the head for that."

It was Heero's turn to blink in shock as he sputtered, "R-really?"

With his smile threatening to split his face, Duo blushed and nodded, "I'd love to go out on a date with you."

Calming at the young man's enthusiasm, the young sailor smiled, "Well, maybe it's a bad time to tell you that I'm just using it as an excuse to get out of cooking dinner for a change." With a mock cry at the joke, Duo playfully hit him in the arm and they both laughed loudly.

The braided young man's laughter was cut short with a soft cough. "I'll be glad when these damn coughs are gone for good," he sighed deeply. "At least Sal said that I'm past the contagious stage." He gestured to the small medicine bottles sitting by Heero's duffle bag that he brought along with a change of clothes every night and said, "You're lucky she was good enough to stop by with those mega vitamins for you so you didn't get sick along with me."

"If I got sick, I would have been happy to cope with it," Heero told him quietly. At that, Duo's face burned again and he had to lower his head, lest he lose himself in those cobalt eyes again. The sincerity in them was almost too much for him.

Turning to the glass-shielded lantern, the Japanese sailor asked, "So, do we make it an early dinner so we're here before dark?" With a challenging smirk, he questioned, "Or are you willing to have someone else keep an eye on things for a little while?"

Duo turned to the lantern as he considered his options with a deep sigh. Finally, he shrugged, "What the hell?" He looked back at his friend and grinned, "Quatre had to keep an eye on this place for me on a couple of occasions. I'll just ask him if he's able to sit in for a couple hours tonight." Tilting his head, he inquired, "So, where will you be taking me out tonight?"

Heero just chuckled deeply and shook his head, "That's a surprise. Trowa showed me around town a bit and pointed out some of the nicer places. He was good enough to get me a part-time job to earn some money at his shop. I just started this week and went in after you would turn in to get some rest during the day."

"Shit, you really have been planning this for a while, haven't you?" Duo breathed. "I-I really don't know what to say."

His smile growing, the Japanese young man said, "You don't have to say anything. After dinner, I really would like to get around this island a bit to see more of what it has to offer."

Nodding excitedly, the lighthouse keeper replied, "Now that, I can take care of. It actually would be a nice change of pace to get around after dark." Suddenly thinking of everything he needed to do, he muttered as he headed to the stairs and descended, "I haven't been on a date in years. I have to call Quatre, shower, do my inspections…" His voice faded as he vanished in his climb down the tall tower.

With an amused smile, Heero shook his head and followed after his friend. "This should prove to be an interesting night," he chuckled deeply to himself.

* * * * * *

Only a couple hours before sunset, there was a knock at the cabin door. Greeting the visitors, Heero grinned and nodded, "Quatre. Catherine." He stepped aside to allow the young pair in. "Thank you, again, for helping us out tonight."

The blonde young man replied brightly, "No trouble at all, Heero. It'll be good for the two of you to get out of here for a while." His smile turned into a tight one as he raised an eyebrow and commented, "I don't need to warn you about how not to hurt my friend, do I?"

Rolling her eyes, Catherine hit her lover in the shoulder and shook her head, "Of course he knows better, Quatre. Don't scare the poor guy." The two young men just chuckled deeply and shared a knowing look, understanding Quatre's comment for the half-joke half-threat that it was.

"For what it's worth," Heero reassured them with a slight bow, "I would never dream of hurting Duo. I promise to take good care of him." Satisfied with that, The Arabian young man smiled and gave him a firm nod.

Duo stepped into the living room and grinned to his friends, "Hey, guys. I can't thank you again for this favor. I really owe you after this."

The violet blouse that he wore with the flattering blue jeans that he wore that evening was the dressiest look that Heero had ever seen the lighthouse keeper in. The way that the shirt brought out the violet in his eyes and with how the jeans accentuated his nice form, the young sailor felt his mouth go dry. Smiling nervously, he breathed, "You look great."

Duo grinned brilliantly at the comment. With a quick glance to his jean shorts and red T-shirt, Heero pointed back to the stairs and chuckled sheepishly, "I better go and get changed." Quickly turning on his heels, he stepped out into the hallway and began to climb the stairs.

"So how do you feel?" he heard Catherine's quiet voice ask excitedly. "You can't lie to us and say that you haven't been crushing over him for almost two months now." Heero froze on the steps and listened in, wanting to hear his date's response.

With a small laugh, Duo answered, "Excited. Nervous. Like I'm going to throw up." The sailor smiled to himself, understanding completely to how his friend was feeling as he was going through the same emotions.

Quatre asked softly, "So do you think that you'll finally be honest with him and tell him what's going on." His cobalt eyes widening, Heero's hand tightened on the hand railing.

There was a deep sigh before the lighthouse keeper answered wearily, "You guys have no idea how much I want to tell him about me… But I don't even know that I'm ready to admit that something is wrong." After a long pause, Heero had to strain his ears as he heard Duo whispered in a pained voice, "I'm really scared right now."

Swallowing hard, the Japanese sailor turned his head away from the living room doorway. Unable to hear anymore, he climbed the rest of the stairs to prepare for his evening out. His mission was now set… If he couldn't get Duo to open up to him about his sickness, he was going to see that he had a good enough time out that he would forget about it.

 

Part 14:

[I am a lighthouse, worn by the weather and the waves.
I keep my lamp lit, to warn the sailors on their way.
I had a keeper, he helped me warn the ships at sea.
We had grown closer, 'till his joy meant everything to me.]
-The Lighthouse Tale performed by Nickel Creek

Readjusting the collar of his deep blue blouse, Heero watched the street blocks pass by his passenger seat window. The prospect of being out on an actual date with his best friend was finally catching up to him, along with the jitters and hopes that everything that would go well. Luckily, his tension did not seem to go noticed.

Tentatively, Heero looked over at the braided lighthouse keeper. Peering out the corner of his eye at him, Duo gave a small and nervous smile, instantly setting him at ease. When the young sailor returned the gesture with a tight grin of his own, the American turned his gaze back to focus on the road.

As they neared the center of the small city, the Japanese young man forced himself to pay more attention to the lit buildings they were passing. Finally, Heero smiled at the charming little manor surrounded by weeping willows lit by white string lights that Trowa had shown him a few days before. "Here we are," he announced, pointing to the secluded restaurant.

His violet eyes widening, Duo let out a low whistle. "This is a really nice place to eat," he commented quietly. "It's been a long time since I've been here." With a smirk, he peered over to his date and chuckled deeply, "Are you sure you wouldn't just want to go somewhere for burgers for a first date?"

At that, Heero grinned at him, "No, I wanted this to be a little more special than that." His smile grew when the lighthouse keeper blushed. Gently patting his best friend's leg, he said quietly, "Relax." At the time, he wasn't sure who needed that encouragement more, but it did work on Duo as he smiled back sincerely with a noticeable ease.

With the car parked, the pair walked side-by-side towards the brick building just as the sun was beginning to set. Biting his lip, Duo looked over the horizon in the direction that they had come from to watch the tall, ivory tower rising over the city from miles away.

Patiently waiting, Heero stood by and watched along with his friend. Just as the sky was beginning to darken in the west, the bright lantern of the lighthouse began to glow, its large mirrors spinning wide beams that stretched overhead. With a deep sigh of relief, Duo's tense shoulders sagged a bit. Turning to his date, he grinned and nodded firmly, "Okay."

His own smile growing in relief of knowing that his friend would finally be able to enjoy himself for the rest of the evening, Heero opened the front door for him. Still seeming unsure with how to handle the attention that he was getting, Duo stepped inside with the sailor right behind.

The inside of the small manor-turned-restaurant was as appealing as the outside. Dimly lit with long-wick candles with roses and a variety of other flowers at the base to brighten the spread out, white linen tables, the air was one of comfortable intimacy and privacy for those gathered. It was an incredibly romantic atmosphere.

Standing by the pulpit just beyond the front door, the hostess smiled warmly at the pair as Heero stepped forward to give his name for the reservation he had called in that morning. as she took up two menus, the redhead winked, "Right this way."

As they followed the hostess deeper into the restaurant, there were several patrons looking up from their conversations and meals. In his passing, Heero couldn't help but notice that the eyes watching him were primarily filled with curiosity and interest. Those eyes watching Duo were either wide in shock or filled with sadness. Despite their reactions, no one rose from their seats to approach the two new guests.

Once they were seated at their table across from each other, Duo took up his menu and opened it. As the hostess walked off, he sighed deeply, "Can't keep anything secret on a small island like this." Looking up past the glowing candles, he frowned deeply, "Sorry for their staring. We don't normally have strangers washing up into our lives all that often."

Chuckling deeply, Heero replied, "I should hope not." With a quick glance around, he noticed that most of those guests that had been openly gaping at them were back to focusing at what was happening at their own tables. "It doesn't bother me, anyway," he reassured his friend with a small smile of sincerity. "Working with Trowa in the shop, I get used to it." In reality, it was the sad looks cast in Duo's direction that was what he worried about.

The waitress, a petite blonde young woman with her shoulder-length hair pulled back with a silver headband, approached with two glasses of ice water. As she set down the two cups, she smiled brightly and removed the pad of paper from her black apron. "Can I take your order?" she began, her blue-green eyes suddenly widening when she got a good look at the braided lighthouse keeper in the candle light. "Oh my God, Duo!" she exclaimed. "Is that really you?"

Blinking his own eyes in surprise, the American gasped, "Syl." The young woman beamed and nodded excitedly as he quickly rose from his chair to hug her tightly, lifting her from her feet as she laughed. When they pulled away, Duo smiled to his friend and held a hand to the waitress as he introduced, "Heero, this is Sylvia Noventa. We went through high school together." Looking back to the blonde girl, he guessed aloud, "You must have just finished your last semester at college before the fall."

"Yep," Sylvia nodded. "Just got back to town earlier this week." Extending her hand to the Japanese sailor, she greeted, "Very nice to meet you, Heero." She gazed around the room at the last few faces still staring and smirked, "As you can see, you're the biggest thing to have happened to this place in quite some time."

With a polite smile of his own, Heero rose to his feet and shook the young woman's hand firmly and nodded, "Nice to meet you, as well, Sylvia. I honestly don't know what is bigger news for them right now, me, or Duo's being away from the lighthouse at nightfall." Even his braided date had to chuckle deeply at that.

Sylvia's head fell back as she laughed, "Isn't that the truth." Gently slapping her friend's arm, she frowned, "You really do need to get out more often. Just as the lighthouse keeper was opening his mouth to speak in his own defense, the blonde waitress turned to the Japanese stranger and winked, "I can tell we're going to get along just fine. But for now, let me get the two of you a more private seating arrangement."

At that, the young pair smiled their appreciation as they were led further back in the restaurant. The private table, blocked off by deep green velvet drapes, fended off the onlookers. Heero couldn't keep the relieved smile from his face as he took his seat and said quietly, "This is perfect. Thank you, Sylvia."

Setting the menus down across from each other on the white linen, the waitress grinned, "Any time. I'll grab your drinks and check back in a little bit for your orders."

The grateful young men ordered their beverages and extended their genuine gratitude for the assistance. Just before stepping through the drapes, Sylvia covered the side of her mouth with her pad. Making a subtle gesture to Heero, as the sailor looked over his menu, she mouthed to her friend, `Very nice.'

Subtly nodding and grinning back, Duo mouthed, `Thank you.' With one last wink, his blonde friend disappeared. Thanks to that chance run in, he was finally able to relax completely and just allow himself to have a good time for a change.

* * * * * *

Later that evening, well after dark, Heero and Duo were walking around the large park of trees, flowers and small ponds that had been made in the center of the island. With the warm spring evening, the fireflies were back out and floating on the gentle breeze. Overhead, from the distance, the spinning beams from the lighthouse continued to light the sky. The walkway lights overhead lit their path as they walked with their shoulders nearly touching.

The dinner had been perfect, thanks largely in part to Sylvia. Once they were alone, the pair fell easily into comfortable conversation. Careful not to mention anything about Duo's past, unless he was willing to bring it up himself, Heero kept the topics on other things.

Once their delicious dinner and desserts finished, it was the lighthouse keeper's pick to visit the community park. It had been two years since he got to see it at night. Up until his father's death, it was one of his places to see when the sun had slipped back under the horizon.

"So," the young sailor began as he folded his hands behind his back, "have you ever been anywhere other than this island?"

Nodding, Duo opened his hand as a firefly landed safely in the center of it, "I've been to the Colonies and the States as family vacations a long time ago."

Heero's cobalt eyes widened in learning that his friend actually had seen more of the world once. "Any places you would like to see eventually?" he inquired.

His smile turning wistful as the firefly in his hand flew off, Duo answered quietly, "Ireland. Venice. Australia. A few of the larger Colonies. They're all places I'd really like to see before I die." His smile faded at the last word and his arms reached up to wrap around his small frame as if he was suddenly cold.

Biting his lip, Heero slowly reached an arm up to wrap it around the lighthouse keeper's shoulders and pulled him close. His violet eyes widening, Duo stiffened for a second before relaxing and leaning against the young sailor. "Thank you for asking me out," he breathed. "This has been… really nice."

"You're welcome," the Japanese young man whispered back with a small smile. "I had a really nice night, too." Looking to his watch, he winced, "Well, maybe we should call it a night. At this rate, it'll be after eleven by the time we get back to the cabin."

Duo straightened with wide eyes and gaped, "Shit. It's that late already?" With a deep sigh, the disappointment dripped from his voice as he frowned, "yea, I guess we should get going." Looking up with hope-filled violet eyes, he asked, "Do you think that maybe we can do this again some time?"

With a wide smile, Heero reassured him, "Of course." At that, Duo smiled warmly back and leaned against him again. It made his heart swell just knowing that Duo was willing to forgo his duties at the lighthouse to spend some more time away with him. For his part, his own feelings were more affirmed. Getting to know the lighthouse keeper more only proved that he had fallen for him and wanted to do whatever it took to make him happy.

In the end, the whole date had been a complete success.

* * * * * *

With Quatre and Catherine staying over at the cabin, Duo reassumed his checks over the lighthouse when he and Heero returned home. Leaning over the balcony the lookout room just below the spinning lantern beams, the braided young man smiled to himself as he looked out to the ocean. His braid drifted to and fro behind him on the light breeze as he thought back to the evening's events.

Gently knocking on the glass doors as not to startle his best friend, Heero slowly approached just as Duo turned to face him with a wide grin. Returning the gesture with a small smile of his own, the sailor gently brushed back a few stray hairs blowing around the other young man's face and suggested, "You really should get to bed. You're still recovering, you know."

Leaning into the touch, Duo closed his heavy eyelids and sighed deeply, "All right." When he opened his eyes, his smile returned as he bit his lip. Swallowing hard against his suddenly dry throat, Heero tentatively moved closer. His own eyes widening, the braided lighthouse keeper followed his lead, tilting his head when they were mere inches apart.

Slowly, their lips gravitated to each other and finally made contact as their eyes drifted closed. And there was no longer a star-filled sky, a crashing of waves or even a lighthouse as all that remained in the world was the two of them for that moment.

Part 15:

[So now you're sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray that you'll be strong tomorrow
And will see another day and we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile across your face]
-Lyrics to `Hold On' by Sarah McLachlan

"So, how was the date?" Trowa asked with a wide smile as he stepped into the repair shop. Taking a few rags and ratchets from the toolbox at the work station, he approached the red Corvette that Heero was already working on.

When the Japanese sailor looked up from the engine that he had been testing, he smiled widely at his tall friend. Chuckling deeply at the grinning, smudge-streaked face, Trowa tossed him a rag and smirked, "Judging by that smile, things went well."

Gratefully accepting the cloth to wipe at his dirty hands, Heero straightened and nodded, "It couldn't have gone better. Duo even suggested that we go out more often."

At that, Trowa let out a long whistle. "That's one hell of a feat, considering how hard it is to pry him from that lighthouse after dark." Inspecting the work that his friend was doing as he leaned under the propped hood, he nodded respectfully, "Nice patch up work on the starter connections, there. You really do pick up quick."

Heero smiled in pride, "Thanks. I wonder if my past experiences with ships and caring for them might be why this is coming so easily for me."

The tall Latin mechanic made a thoughtful face before nodded, "Maybe. But whatever it is, I'm more than happy for the help." Gesturing to the line of three cars waiting further in the shop, he commented, "As you can see, business is really picking up here. Even with three teams, my shop here is never at a loss for work."

Meeting the other young man's green eyes, the young sailor said sincerely, "Well, I really want to thank you, again, for getting me this job. It's kept me from going stir crazy and feeling useless just sitting around at the cabin."

With a wide, friendly smile, Trowa patted him on the shoulder and replied, "Don't mention it. Besides, you fit right in with the rest of the staff and as I mentioned, I can always use help around here."

Armed with one of the small ratchets, the Latin shop owner lowered himself onto the flatbed roller to inspect the bottom of the car. His voice muffled, he asked, "Now tell me more about the date. Was dinner any good?"

The fond memories of the night before warmed the Japanese young man as he smiled to himself. "It was great," he answered as he continued to tighten the fixture of the starter cables. "We ended up running into Sylvia Noventa. She took good care of us and saw that we got a private spot and the best food."

"Oh that's right!" Trowa exclaimed from under the car. "Her school semester would have been wrapping up right about now. Syl's a great gal. Hilde and I will have to give her a call tonight to catch up and hang out."

Biting his lip, Heero considered the possibility of trying to learn more about Duo's illness from someone other than the source. It was pretty clear that whatever Duo was hiding, he didn't want him to know about it. But… if he were to learn about it from someone else without the lighthouse keeper's knowing…

With a deep sigh, Heero bent at his knees beside the flat bed and called quietly, "Trowa?" His friend grunted an affirmative, obviously busy with something that he had found as he grunted in effort.

Now that he was determined to finally get some answers, the sailor did not want to wait before he lost his nerve. That in mind, he said quietly, "I think that there's something that Duo's keeping from me." The sound of the ratchet clicking a socket into place suddenly stopped.

The flatbed rolled out from under the car as Trowa looked up with wide, emerald eyes. "What makes you think that?"

In seeing that look of concern and shock, it was even more evident that he knew something that Heero wanted to know. Shrugging, he answered, "Little things that I've been noticing. Last night was a big eye-opener too. A lot of the people at the restaurant kept looking at him with these sad eyes."

He ran a hand through his unruly dark hair, took a deep breath before diving head-on into the heart of the matter and frowned deeply, "I've noticed the rest of you looking at him the same way more and more when his back is turned."

Lowering the back of his head onto the flatbed, Trowa sighed deeply as his eyes closed. His hands reached up to dry wash his face as he muttered, "Oh shit." Reluctantly lowering his hands again, he looked up to his friend and told him, "All right. I told Duo that he wouldn't be able to keep this a secret from you forever."

With his breath hitching in his throat, Heero's cobalt eyes widened as he asked quickly, "What's wrong? Is there something that I can do to help? Why didn't-"

Trowa raised his hand to stop the onslaught of questions and sat up. "I'm really not the one that needs to tell you about this, Heero. Duo had made us promise that we wouldn't bring it up, so we honored his request. If you simply told him what you've been noticing, he would tell you what's wrong."

He turned his gaze away and frowned deeply, "Fact of the matter is, he needs all the support he can get right now." With a shrug, he suggested, "But, I would bring it up to him. He would be honest with you."

Swallowing hard, Heero sat back on the cool cement and ran a hand through his hair again. Folding his hands over his bent knees, he commented softly, "I've really been worried about him, Trowa. I don't want to see anything hurt him."

At that, Trowa sat up with wide emerald eyes and breathed, "You're in love with him."

"Yea," the sailor nodded without having to think it over. Meeting his friend's gaze, he stated quietly, "I am."

That brought a wide smile to tug at the Latin mechanic's lips as he stated, "Well, just make sure that Duo is not the last one to know that. Lord knows we've all had enough with secrets going around."

Heero chuckled deeply, nervously as he thought of his own secrets with his visions. "You always who knew how to cover your bases," the male voice that he had heard in the bathroom days before returned suddenly, ending his laughter as a chill ran up his spine.

A gentle hand shaking his shoulder broke him from his daze as Trowa's voice called, "Heero? You all right?"

Blinking his cobalt eyes to focus on his friend's concerned face, he forced a smile and nodded, "Yea. Sorry. Just thinking about how I should bring this up with Duo without offending him tonight."

The quick fib was believable enough for Trowa to relax as he grinned, "Just tell him the truth, that you love him and that you're worried something is wrong. He'll appreciate that, considering he's been pretty fond of you for a long time now."

His own smile widening at that, Heero asked, "Really? He told you that."

Chuckling deeply, the tall mechanic lightly hit him in the shoulder and suggested, "We better get back to work before we're stuck here all night." With that, he rolled back under the car on the flatbed.

Still grinning widely at the notion of Duo's feelings being mutual to his own for so long, Heero returned to his work with renewed enthusiasm.

* * * * * *

Early that evening, Heero entered the cabin to the smell of lasagna cooking. Taking a deep breath, he sighed deeply in content as his stomach growled deeply. It had been a busy day at the shop, but the day went quickly thanks to it. The talk that he had with Trowa certainly served as a great help to his growing worries.

Stepping from the kitchen and into the hall, Duo smiled brightly in seeing his boyfriend. "Hey," he greeted quietly. With a blush on his cheeks, he leaned in to kiss the sailor's lips in a quick peck, as if checking that it was okay to exchange such a thing.

"Hey," Heero greeted back with a smile of his own before he pulled him close for a longer kiss. When they pulled away, the lighthouse keeper was beaming. "Dinner smells great. I'm famished," the Japanese young man commented as he lowered the toolkit he acquired for his new job.

Just when it didn't seem possible, Duo's smile grew all the more as he replied, "Good, because I made a pretty big dish." Gently rubbing some of the smudge from Heero's face, he offered, "If you want a quick shower, dinner should be finished in about ten minutes."

Humming at the thought of cleaning off under a hot spray of water, the young sailor kissed his love soundly before quickly heading upstairs as he thought of how to broach the questions that were still on his mind.

Dinner came and went without any real opportunity for Heero to bring up his concern in knowing what was being hidden from him. Before he knew it, time had slipped away and Duo was already leaving the house to start the lamp in the lighthouse. Looking out to the white, green-tipped tower, he sighed deeply to himself, "Come on, Heero. Now or never."

The climb up to the lantern room had been the longest that the sailor could remember of all of his trips up the spiral staircase. Every step he took, he thought of how best to ask his questions that he would not scare the lighthouse keeper off. Despite Trowa's encouragement, there was always the chance that Duo would be upset at being confronted with his illness.

Finally, he reached the lantern room just as his braided rescuer finished lighting the wick, the two large tower mirrors already spinning in the glass windows. Closing the glass door to the lamp, Duo turned back and smiled, "Hey, Heero." His smile faded at the uneasy smile that he received back. Frowning in concern, he quickly walked over to his boyfriend and asked urgently, "What's wrong?"

With a deep sigh, Heero took the American's hands in his own. Gazing into his worried, violet eyes, he said quickly before he talked himself out of it, "Duo, I can't think of any other way to bring this up other than just coming out and saying it. I know that you're dying," the sailor all but sputtered at last.

His violet eyes widening, Duo laughed, "W-what?" Shaking his head, he asked, "Heero, what are you talking about?"

Running a hand through his hair, the Japanese young man almost growled in frustration, "I've overheard the others talking about how you've been sick and did not want them talking about it. You've been getting calls from a woman that's checking up on you and you've been giving her updates on your diagnosis and progress. You started getting really sick and you told her that there was a drop in your white cells. At the restaurant, almost everyone was watching you with these sad looks." He reached up to cup the stunned lighthouse keeper's face and pleaded, "Just please tell me what's wrong."

His eyes wide as he pulled back, Duo breathed, "Oh my God." His skin paled as he took several paces back, running a hand through his long bangs as he looked away. As he watched with a heavy heart, Heero held his breath. With his hands shaking, the braided young man finally looked up with tears in his eyes and whispered, "Heero, it's my father that's dying."

Part 16:

[You gave me a breath of life
Unclouded my eyes
With a sweet serenity
Lighting a ray of hope for me...
And now I am free]
-Lyrics to `I Am Free' by Mariah Carey

Heero blinked his wide eyes and repeated quietly, "Your father is dying?" The braided lighthouse keeper remained at a distance while he rubbed his arms as if he was fending off a chill and looked away. Shaking his head, he frowned deeply, "But… you told me that your father died two years ago."

With a deep sigh, Duo's violet eyes closed as he said in little more than a whisper, "Heero Yuy was not my biological father." At that, Heero's cobalt eyes widened anew. Still unable to meet the young sailor's gaze, the American stared out to the quickly darkening sky over the ocean and continued quietly, "Look, it's a really long and depressing story and you shouldn't have to be bothered with it. You have enough to deal with."

Quickly turning on his heels, Duo made his way outside for some air as he reached up to wipe at his eyes. Before stepping past the glass windows, he offered, "I'm well enough now that I can look after the lighthouse on my own tonight." Closing the glass doors behind him, he stepped out onto the gallery.

For a moment, as he stood there alone, Heero actually contemplated giving Duo his space. He had invaded something that the lighthouse keeper obviously wanted to keep to himself. But that look of distress that was on Duo's face was enough for him to make his intentions known. He meant to be there whenever the braided young man needed someone-just as the American had been there for him whenever needed.

With the resolve affixed in his eyes, he made sure steps to the glass windows and stepped out into the warm, early evening air. The last rays of sunlight fanned out over the calm sea as he walked around the walkway towards his friend.

Duo stood with both hands on the green railing before him, looking out to the ocean as his braid gentle drifted on the breeze. The evident slump in his shoulders spoke of the weight that he had been carrying for years that was now threatening to crush him.

Closing the distance between them, Heero gently took hold of his best friend's chin to raise his head until their eyes met. At the small tears filling in those violet gems looking up at him, he smiled sadly, "Maybe I like worrying about you." His smile growing a bit, he shrugged, "And I would hope that by now, out of anyone, you would know that you could talk to me about anything."

Gently brushing back his boyfriend's long, chestnut bangs as he watched him with wide violet eyes, the sailor frowned and pleaded softly, "Please let me in."

With a small whimper, the braided young man whispered, "It's so hard for me to do that right now, Heero. Talking about it means having to admit that something's wrong I don't think that I'm ready to deal with it yet."

"You never had anyone who cared about you as much as I do, either," Heero commented with a small smile. "Whatever this thing is that you're dealing with, you don't have to deal with it alone anymore." After a long pause, Duo finally took a deep breath and nodded, not trusting his voice at that moment.

The wide beam would occasional pass over the pair as they stood out on the gallery. With the cool breeze calming him a bit, the lighthouse keeper gazed back out to the rolling waves and stated, "When I was a kid, all that I wanted to do was make my father proud.

"When my mother passed on when I was little, he was all that I had for family. For a long time, we really leaned on each other and took care of one another. During that time, being his only son, it seemed impossible for me to do anything wrong in his eyes."

Keeping his own back to the occasional passing of the lantern beam, Heero watched him silently as he spoke. Slowly, he reached over to place a hand over Duo's that continued to grip the railing. At his gentle squeeze of reassurance, the lighthouse keeper kept his unfocused eyes on the ocean as he lost himself to his memories.

"Then high school rolled around and I began to notice my attraction to other boys. It was about the same time I heard my fath-" he shook his head and corrected, "Septum making crude jokes about gay people."

Frowning deeply in concern, Heero swallowed hard as he watched his best friend shudder before he was able to continue, "So, I panicked and hoped that maybe I was just going through some normal stage that everyone went through and it would pass."

A small, bitter laugh bubbled from the lighthouse keeper as he commented, "Well, you know how that went." His smile faded as he swallowed hard. With another gentle squeeze of his hand, the sailor bit his lip and waited.

With a deep, shaky breath, Duo's voice returned so soft that Heero almost had to strain to hear it over the light breeze and roar of the waves below. "Finally, I couldn't deal with keeping the truth from Septum and decided to sit him down and tell him that I was gay. I thought that he would understand."

His back stiffening, the American's violet eyes filled with tears as he looked back at his father's enraged face as he had that fateful day. "He said that I was dead to him," he managed finally. "He said that he wanted nothing to do with me, that nothing good would ever come out of me and that he would never be responsible for bringing a queer into the world."

At the mention of the harsh name, Heero was instantly reminded of the morning that he called Duo the same thing, to make him mad and to know the hurt that he was dealing with when it came to his memory loss. To think of the pain that he brought on by making the lighthouse keeper face that time again made his stomach almost retch as his skin paled. "Gods, Duo," was all he could whisper brokenly as he squeezed his hand again.

"You didn't know," his braided friend reassured him, as if reading his thoughts. He turned and met his gaze with focused eyes. There was also clear gratitude in Duo's expression, silently thanking him for bringing him back from that dreadful time in his life.

With a deep sigh, the American looked into the lantern room for a quick inspection of the flame as he shrugged, "So, with my ties cut from him, I went off to live on my own, but word on a small island like this travels pretty quickly.

"I wasn't even living off the streets for a week before I first met Heero Yuy. His wife, Noin, was one of my high school teachers and she had been looking for me. They offered me to stay with them and their son, Solo, who was only a couple months older than myself. No one else had the room or resources to help me at the time and as hungry as I was at the time, I wasn't in any position to turn the offer down."

A small smile tugged at Duo's lips as he turned back to meet the sailor's cobalt gaze once more, "I actually got to experience what being part of a real family was like. Over the years, Heero and Noin really treated me like one of their own. Solo was the brother that I never had, always being there when I needed him and offering any kind of help or advice that he could."

Looking back to the small cabin off on the hill behind the lighthouse, the braided young man grinned, "This place really was home for me. I even had my name legally changed to have my birth mother's maiden name and my first name to Duo. I considered Heero my real dad, since anyone can become a father. It takes more work to actually be a dad to someone."

With a small smile of his own, Heero nodded, "Agreed." His smile fading, he cleared his throat and asked softly, "Then he got sick."

Duo swallowed hard again and nodded with a whispered, "Yea." Rubbing his arms, he turned back to the ocean and went on, "Noin and Solo were devastated when he died, not that I was much better off. But I had promised him to take care of this place in his absence. Being here was just too hard on Noin and Solo, so they went off to Colony L1 to start new lives there."

His cobalt eyes widening in realization, the sailor thought aloud, "Noin is the one who has been calling almost every morning. She's the one who's voice I've heard you talking to, telling her not to worry."

Gently smacking his boyfriend in the arm lightly, Duo smirked, "Yea, you little snoop. And if you had come forward and just asked me about that and what you picked up from our friends, you wouldn't have been worrying half-to-death over me."

At the thought of how the timing of everything could have been easily misinterpreted into making Heero think that he was dying, the lighthouse keeper could not help but chuckle deeply as he shook his head. That chuckle grew into a full-bellied laugh.

Slightly blushing, the sailor mock glared, "It's not funny." He wasn't able to keep up with his pout for long, as he found himself crumbling into laughter along with his boyfriend over the whole situation.

Wiping at his eyes, Duo finally calmed himself and reassured his boyfriend, "Don't worry, I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. All I had was a simple flu, which you know is pretty much gone now."

His smile growing in relief, Heero pulled the lighthouse keeper into a kiss before sighing deeply against his lips, "Good. You have no idea how worried I was about you these last weeks." Duo just grinned and wrapped his arms tightly around the Japanese youth's neck for a tight embrace for his own reassurance that the sailor was not going anywhere. Never before had anyone gone to such lengths to looked after him, a recluse.

Once he pulled away, the braided lighthouse keeper sighed deeply, "Anyway, almost a year ago, Sally told me that she had treated Septum and found that he had developed lung cancer from his years of smoking. Lately, his body has not been responding to the chemotherapy that she has been overlooking. Last she updated me, he doesn't have long to go."

"I'm sorry," Heero frowned deeply, rubbing his boyfriend's shoulder. "Do you think that you'll try to go and see him?"

Quickly shaking his head, Duo glared back out to the ocean and replied, "Even if I wanted to, he wouldn't allow it. Sally had asked him if he wanted me to be reached to arrange a visit. He told her that he did not have a son. To be honest, I wouldn't have a lot of nice things to say to the bastard, anyway."

Despite the understandable anger that he could feel radiating from the lighthouse keeper, Heero could also tell that there was still a sense of loss. Instead of voicing his concern and regret for his boyfriend's situation, he just pulled him against his chest for another tight embrace. Duo instantly responded, burying his head in the sailor's shoulder as he closed his eyes and held on just as fiercely.

Kissing the top of his friend's braided head, Heero asked quietly, "If you want, I'll leave you be tonight. Otherwise, I'd like to stay the night again."

As he rested the side of his face against a firm shoulder, Duo begged just as softly, "Please stay… I'm tired of being alone."

His smile returning, the sailor nodded, "Done." The tightening of the arms around his waist expressed his partner's gratitude in ways that his words would never have been able to. With another kiss to his boyfriend's head, he asked, "So what was your first name, anyway?"

With a deep, rumbling chuckle, the lighthouse keeper answered, "Edson."

Unable to help himself, Heero made a face at the plain name that did not do justice for the young man in his arms. "Thank God you changed it," he chuckled deeply. At that, Duo just laughed with his head falling back at the much-needed break in the mood.

Off in the distance, the white-tipped sails of a ship rolling in made its way towards the rock shore. Guided by the bright beams of the lighthouse, it began its last lengths safely home.

 

Part 17:

[Climbing up on Solsbury hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night]
-Lyrics to `Solsbury Hill' performed by Peter Gabriel

As she read over the results from the latest test, Sally sighed deeply. Lowering the folder on her desk, she rested her elbows over it and dry washed her face with both hands. Frowning deeply, she sat back in her tall-backed leather seat. Despite the fact that her findings were not unexpected, the circumstances around it all made this particular case one of her most difficult.

"No sense in delaying this any further," the braided doctor muttered to herself. Picking up the receiver to her telephone, she dialed the front desk. When the receptionist answered, Sally requested, "Catherine, could you field my calls for me? I will be out of my office for an indefinite amount of time. As soon as I am back, I will let you know."

Without delay, Catherine's smile was evident in her voice as she replied, "Sure thing, Sally. I'll take care of informing Doctor Masey for you that he'll be filling in to take incoming calls for updates until further notice."

A small smile of relief spread on Sally's face as she told her friend, "Thank you." Taking a deep breath, she lowered the receiver, spun her chair from her desk and rose to her feet. Briefly turning back to take up the business folder, the young woman rounded her desk and stepped out of her office.

On her way down to the last examination room, the braided doctor bit her lip and worked to keep her emotions in check. Pausing with her hand on the door as she thought of how to breach the grim results, she took another deep breath and released it slowly with her eyes closed. When they opened once more, she pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Sitting on the side of the examination table, his hands folded in his lap, sat the shell of Septum Cole. The pale, frail looking man gazed up with sunken eyes as the doctor entered. The top of his head was just beginning to show the brush of gray hair. Over a year of aggressive chemotherapy removed the dark hair that once covered that head. Rendered with little more meat on his bones than what was absolutely necessary to survive due to that same treatment, the once well-filled out man was unrecognizable compared to his former self.

There had been a time when Septum was one of the most respected and influential people on the small island. While he still remained influential as the head of the wealthiest company on Cape Haven, he lost a great deal of respected when word quickly spread of his dismissal of his only son. None of that mattered to the entrepreneur, as his work became his only love and interest from that point on.

With a small grin, Septum nodded firmly, "Sally. Given the look on your face, I assume that my time is just about up."

Caught off guard by the acceptance in the man's voice, the doctor's widened eyes blinked. Raising the file in her hand as she cleared her throat, Sally replied honestly, "I am sorry, but I am afraid that there is nothing more that we can do at this point."

"How long do you suppose I have?" Septum inquired in a quiet voice.

Swallowing hard, the braided young woman lowered her gaze to the floor. Once she had her bearings, she lowered the file in her hand onto the table beside her. Meeting his sunken gaze, Sally answered simply, "With your condition, I would say less than a month. After examining the way that the tumor is spreading to the liver and pancreas from your lungs, I would not even give more than a couple weeks."

The look of relief on her patient's face was not all so surprising for one battling terminal cancer. From the accounts of others who suffered from the disease, Sally knew that it was a blessing for them to learn that their pain would be over… even if it meant death. It was a surprise, however, for her to hear the readiness from this man. Septum never was one to lower his sword to an enemy attacking him, even one that he could not see.

And yet, here he was, sitting on the cusps of losing his greatest fight forever and he was ready for it. Sally could have been knocked over with a feather.

Quickly clearing her head to focus on the matters that needed to be discussed, the braided doctor folded her hands behind her back and offered, "We could have you stay here, try some new medicines that might slow the process and reduce the pain when-"

Shaking his head, the dying man cut her off as he grinned, "No need for that, my dear. I do not want to prolong this charade any longer than it already has been. I suppose that I am getting what I deserve for not quitting smoking as my beloved wife had always asked of me." Shaking his head once more, the business tycoon said quietly, "No, and I wish to die in my own home, in my own bed."

With a firm nod as if he were finalizing the decision with himself, Septum announced with his usual air of professionalism, "I will speak with my lawyer and see that the proper papers are taken care of. I will contact the remaining members of my family to go over my requests for the wake and funeral services."

Biting her lip nervously, Sally prepared to ask the same question that she asked every time they met. Every time, the answer was always the same, but out of respect for her best friend, she never stopped trying. "Would you like me to contact your son, then?" she questioned in little more than a whisper.

His eyes narrowing at the inquiry, Septum spat, "I have no son."

Always the same. And it never got any easier.

Sally's own eyes narrowed at that. Even at this, his last moments, the man simply refused to let go of his bitterness. "Very well," she nearly growled. "I will see that your staff is equipped with the medicines needed for the pain." Unfolding her hands behind her back, she took up the file once more. "If they have any questions, they can contact Doctor Masey from this point forward," she advised with a firm nod before turning towards the door.

With her hand on the door knob, she froze when Septum all but shouted, "But you are my doctor! They should contact you!"

Turning on her heels, Sally glared at the frail man and gritted out, "As in your own words, I do not want to prolong this charade any longer than it has been." His mouth hanging open, the old man's sunken eyes widened in disbelief. Unshaken by his shock, she concluded in a curt voice, "I bid you adieu, and the best of luck sir."

Out in the hall, the young woman leaned her back against the door. Her shoulders sagging, Sally reached up to wipe the bitter tears from her eyes. Sighing deeply, she frowned, "Stubborn old fool."

Gently pushing herself from the door, the braided doctor made her way down the hall and towards her office. When she was back at her desk, Sally sank into her seat and stared at her telephone as she silently dreaded the call she knew she would have to eventually make.

* * * * *

Duo smiled brightly as he made his way into the living room with a large, paper covered frame in his hands. Lowering the wood frame before the fireplace, he carefully removed the large mirror that he had set temporarily. Once the wall was barren once more, he tore away the paper covering the family portrait that he had hidden until he finally felt comfortable letting someone into his life.

It had been two weeks since the braided lighthouse keeper opened up and shared his past with Heero. Ever since then, the Japanese sailor was nothing but supportive and sweet in his efforts to be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on when needed. It was more than Duo could have ever hoped for.

When the picture was revealed, the smile on the American's face grew all the more. In the image, the family of four stood before the cliffs with the lighthouse rising up behind them. Both in their mid-teens, Solo and Duo stood before their parents with wide grins. As he winked for the camera, the blonde young man rested his arm on his `brother's' shoulder. With an arm around his wife's shoulder, Heero Yuy's free hand rested on the braided youth's shoulder in a fatherly gesture. A lovely smile on her own face, Noin had her own hand resting on Solo's arm.

Recalling that lovely afternoon and his happy times with the people smiling back at him, Duo sighed deeply in content to himself. With a small grunt of effort, he lifted the large frame over the fireplace to slide it carefully into the hooks. The front door opened unnoticed as he finished straightening out the image.

As he lowered his toolbox, Heero looked into the living room and smiled warmly at finally seeing his boyfriend reverently caring for the family portrait over the hearth. A sense of relief washed over him in knowing that this was a big step in their moving forward with their relationship, now that Duo was apparently comfortable to finally have the young sailor involved in every aspect of his life.

Quietly slipping up behind the lighthouse keeper, Heero wrapped his arms tightly around his thin waist. Nearly jumping with a sharp gasp, Duo turned his head to appraise his boyfriend. Smiling brightly, he greeted, "Hey."

Stealing a soft kiss, Heero grinned back, "Hey." As he looked up to the image over the fireplace, he took in the faces of the people that he came to learn so much about over the last couple weeks. Finally having a face to put with the names and stories, he felt a better sense of belonging somewhere. "Nice," he whispered as he rested his chin on his partner's shoulder.

His own smile growing as he looked up to the image, Duo said quietly, "This picture was taken after we returned from the courthouse for my name change. I didn't think I could ever be happier than I was that day." Turning his head towards the sailor, he grinned, "But you've managed to change that." Unable to trust his voice at that moment at the swell in his chest, Heero leaned in to kiss the braided young man soundly.

At the sound of the telephone ringing, the pair sighed deeply at having to separate. Chuckling deeply, Duo quickly kissed his partner's lips with a promised, "I'll be right back." As he turned to answer the call, Heero appraised the family picture once more.

Behind him, the sailor could hear the lighthouse keeper greet, "Hey, Sal. What's up? Why didn't you want to use the vidphone?" There was a long pause and with a strange feeling that something was wrong, Heero turned to watch his partner. The back of his shoulders slumping as he stood before the small table at the center of the room, Duo sighed deeply, "I see. Well, I'm not surprised that was his response. Let him die alone if that's what he wants."

Wincing at the harshness in his partner's tone, Heero stepped towards him. Gently resting a hand on the lighthouse keeper's shoulder, he rubbed it soothingly. At the gesture, Duo turned to meet the concerned cobalt eyes watching him. Biting his lip, he reassured quietly, "No, I appreciate the call to tell me. Thanks, Sal." At that, he lowered the receiver.

As he opened his arms, Heero whispered, "Come here." With tears in his eyes, Duo all but fell into his embrace as he held onto him tightly.

* * * * *

Later that evening, after a long discussion over what Sally had informed Duo regarding his father's failing health, the braided young man was finally too emotionally drained to stay awake. As he looked back into the observation room from the gallery, Heero smiled in relief to himself at seeing his partner sleeping peacefully in their bed.

As he turned back to face the dark sea and sky, the young sailor closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of salty air. On the gentle breeze, he could hear the crashing of the waves far below as they smacked against the cliff side.

Focusing in the sound of the ocean, Heero allowed his mind to wander away from the world. Wwwooossshhh filled his ears until it was the only sound in his ears. With another deep breath of salt air, he silently meditated to the sound of the ocean below. Slowly, the sound of the waves seemed to take on a male voice, "Ooossshhh." "Ooosh."

His brow bunching in thought as he kept his eyes closed, Heero continued to meditate to the sound of the sea. "Oooohhhhh." The voice spoke over the waves. "Oohhhddsss." With each wave, the voice was joined by a young woman's and what they were saying became clearer. "Oooodiiinnn…. Odin. Odin," they called over the surf.

With a sharp gasp, Heero's eyes snapping open as wide as they could. Sweat was running down his face as he panted heavily. "Odin," he breathed to himself.

In the back of his mind, he knew without question that he finally learned his own name.

 

Part 18:

[Place a name upon the night
One to set your heart alight
And to make the darkness bright
Paint the sky with stars]
-Lyrics to `Paint the Sky With Stars' performed by Enya

Taking up the large pail of soap water that he had prepared, Duo peered out the window of the kitchen deck to take in the clear sky. The weather was more than favorable to get some chores done that Saturday morning, and the busier he could make himself the better as far as he was concerned. After receiving the news that Sally had given him the day before regarding his biological father, the last thing he wanted was to be left to just his thoughts.

As he made his way down the main hall and towards the front door with the filled bucket, the braided young man called upstairs, "I'm going to be cleaning the lighthouse tower, Heero, in case you need me."

Quickly descending the stairs with a towel around his waist and concerned look on his face, Heero asked, "Do you need any help? It would only take me a few minutes to get changed so I could join you."

With a warm smile to his partner, Duo allowed his eyes to wander over his damp and half-naked body much the same way that Heero had done to him in the past. Forcing his thoughts to respond to the question, he shook his braided head, "Nah. I got it. I appreciate the offer, though. I just kind of need some time alone for now." Lowering the bucket, he walked over to and kissed the young sailor gently to further show his appreciation.

"Okay," the Japanese youth replied with a small, understanding nod before pulling his boyfriend in for a sound kiss. When they pulled apart, he rubbed the back of Duo's neck and whispered reassuringly, "I'll be here if you need me."

Swallowing hard, the lighthouse keeper leaned his forehead against the sailor's and breathed, "Thank you." Quickly sharing one last kiss, he turned to gather up the bucket once more as his partner held the door open for him.

While Duo made his way towards the lighthouse, Heero watched from the doorway until he was no longer in sight. With his heart heavy over seeing the normally lively American so down, he closed the door and made his way back upstairs to finish drying off from his shower and changing.

Once he was dressed, the Japanese young man entered the living room and moved intently for the vidphone. Quickly opening the monitor, he turned the small computer on to look into the caller directory. It did not take long for him to find the number that he was searching for. "I hope that I'm doing the right thing," he frowned deeply to himself as he stared at the small screen displaying the name and phone number.

Dialing quickly, Heero held his breath as his line began to ring. After two rings, the call was answered and the monitor revealed the face of the young woman displayed in the family portrait above the fireplace. Blinking in surprise, the short-haired lady glanced quickly to her own caller id then back up to the young man calling her. Realization soon filled her brilliant eyes as she grinned, "You must be Heero."

Her smile served to relieve some of the sailor's nerves. With a small smile of his own, he nodded firmly, "I am sorry to bother you, Misses Yuy, but there have been some recent developments regarding Duo that I thought you should know."

* * * * * *

The following morning, Duo and Heero were in the kitchen cleaning their breakfast dishes when the doorbell rang. Turning to face the main hall, the braided youth thought aloud, "Wonder who that could be. It's too early on a Sunday for any of the others to be awake, let alone up for a surprise visit."

As he dried his hands, Heero shrugged, "Well, only one way to find out." Despite his calm demeanor, his stomach was doing back flips as he tried not to give away that he already knew who was stopping over.

Making his way down the hall as the doorbell rang once more, the braided lighthouse keeper opened the front door. The moment he saw who was on the cabin doorstep, Duo's violet eyes widened with a sharp gasp. With tears filling his gaze, he whispered brokenly, "Mom." All but running to close the distance between him and the young woman that opened her arms to him, he hugged her tightly as he sobbed into her shoulder.

Noin held onto her son securely as she kissed the top of his braided head. Fighting her own tears, she rubbed his back soothingly and sighed sadly, "Oh, my sweet boy." Behind her, another figures approached the wooden porch.

Still trembling, Duo raised his tear-streaked face and smiled in shock to the young man entering the scene. "Solo," he managed as he quickly moved down the steps to all but knock his brother off his feet in a fierce bear hug.

With a deep chuckle, Solo embraced his little brother tightly as he rubbed the top of his head. "Good to see you, little bro," the blonde young man grinned widely. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Noin joined her two sons to wrap her arms around the two of them as they shared an embrace as a whole family once again.

Quietly stepping into the entrance way, Heero leaned his side against the doorpost with a contented smile as he watched the happy reunion. Any anxiety that he had prior to the gathering was instantly forgotten when he saw how relieved Duo was at having his loved ones back with him.

Yet another guest made his way towards the tight knot embracing each other. The tall man's long, blonde hair blew in the gentle breeze as he contented himself to stay a few feet back. Looking up when his mom and brother pulled back, Duo blinked his wide violet eyes when they fell on the tall man. With a wide smile, he greeted, "Zechs. You made it, too?"

With a lopsided, but very relieved smile of his own, Zechs walked up towards him with a firm nod as he replied simply, "Of course." Extending a hand for a firm handshake, he gently hugged the lighthouse keeper with his free arm.

Still overwhelmed as he took in the smiling faces around him, Duo's eyes continued to shimmer. "I-I can't believe you're all here. Granted, it's only been a few months since the last time I you came to visit, but I never expected to see you all now."

As she looked up to the cabin, Noin smiled warmly to the young sailor watching silently from the doorway. Gesturing to house, she commented, "Someone got a hold of me and said that you might need a few familiar faces around." Meeting her son's gaze once more, she stated, "We came as soon as we could."

Duo looked over his shoulder, his eyes widening once more at the sight of his partner. With a nervous grin, Heero waved to him. With a couple tears running down his face, the braided young man gave him a smile that radiated as he mouthed, `Thank you.' Grateful for the short distance that he did not need to reply with a voice that he did not trust at that moment, the sailor nodded firmly.

Biting his lip, the lighthouse keeper frowned in concern as he turned to face his mother. "I hope that your coming here isn't interfering with your schedules."

With a snort, Solo reassured him, "Ever since we heard your bastard of an old man was sick, we've all been saving up more than enough time away."

The blonde youth nudged Zechs's arm as he smirked, "Besides, you are now looking at the new CEO of Lightway Intercolony Transportation. Blondie, here, just got promoted. And nobody gives the big guy, or his future wife and step-son-to-be when they need some time off." Zechs rolled his eyes at the endearing nickname that Solo and Duo had given him, an amused grin on his face.

His jaw dropping, Duo's owlish eyes turned to the tall man as he sputtered, "C-CEO!?" His grin threatened to split his face as he shook hands with him, exclaiming, "Congratulations!"

"Thank you, Duo," Zechs replied sincerely. "So, we can stay here as long as you'll have us." Tilting his head a bit, he said quietly, "I certainly hope that you do not mind our unannounced visit."

Laughing, the braided young man shook his head, "Are you kidding! This is great!"

From within the house, the sound of the kettle whistle had everyone turning to the door. "That would be the tea and coffee that I just started," Heero announced. Waving his hand as he stepped into the house, he offered, "I'll take care of that while you get comfortable in the living room."

With a deep sigh, Solo walked towards the porch as he grinned, "Thank God. Caffeine. This is way too early for me to be up and about on a Sunday." Shaking his head in amusement, Zechs followed after his soon-to-be-stepson.

Duo turned to his mom when they were alone and embraced her tightly once more. Noin chuckled deeply as she returned the hug and kissed his head. Gesturing to the door when they pulled away, the young woman smiled, "That Heero is quite a nice young man."

With a wistful smile as he looked to the doorway, her son said quietly, "You don't know the half of it." At that, the American wrapped his arm around Noin's waist and with a kiss on her cheek, he grinned, "Welcome back home." Together, they stepped into the cabin.

* * * * * *

That evening, Solo sighed deeply in content as he looked up to the star-filled sky. "I always loved this view," he commented as he lied on the grass lawn before the cabin. "Much as I like where we live now, it's always nice to come back to this place. Duo sure did a hell of a job taking care of everything."

From where he sat on one of the wooden chairs on the front porch, Zechs nodded, "That he did." Looking up to the sky, he grinned, "I envy you for growing up in a place like this. You could never see this many stars at night when you live in a big city." As he looked over to the ivory tower, its beams spinning and illuminating the darkness, he smiled in wonder, "It's amazing the beauty that lies in the simplest of things."

At the top gallery of the lighthouse, Noin took a deep breath of salty sea air as her eyes drifted closed. Sighing deeply in content, she looked over to her son as he stood beside her. With a bright smile, she cupped the side of his face and told him reverently, "Wherever he is, I know that Heero must be proud at seeing how well you've taken over for him."

Swallowing hard, Duo whispered, "Thanks, Mom."

Her hand covering her mouth, the young woman stifled a yawn. "Well, I best get ready to turn in for the night. It's been quite a busy day." Having said that, she kissed her son's cheek and told him softly, "Good night, Duo." And turning to the young man at her other side, she kissed his cheek and grinned, "Good night, Heero. Please see that he doesn't stay up too late working." Her last sentiment was punctuated with a wink.

"Will do," Heero chuckled deeply. As the pair wished their own `good nights,' Noin turned and moved past the glass doors to make her way down the tower.

The moment that they were alone, Duo grabbed the front of the sailor's red T-shirt and pulled him into a fierce kiss. Once the shock quickly subsided, Heero was able to match his fervor. When they broke for air at last, the lighthouse keeper whispered, "I can't thank you enough for this."

Gently wrapping his arms around his partner's waist, Heero grinned, "No need. I just thought that-" His words were cut off when a sudden and piercing headache came on. With his hands reaching into his hair, he moaned.

Duo's violet eyes widened in concern as he said quietly, "Heero? Are you all right?"

With the stars above and sea below spinning in his vision, the young sailor's world was dissolved into blackness. The last thing that Heero was aware of was Duo crying his out his name in worry.

 

Part 19:

[When your night grows dark
And you can't find your tomorrow then you can follow me
Oh, we can be each other's guiding light
Through this long and winding life where your road leads]
-Lyrics to `Where Your Road Leads' performed by Trisha Yearwood

Darkness was all that surrounded him as he remained lost to everything on the other side. Still, a few things made him aware that he wasn't alone. Just as the last time he was drifting in a dreamless sleep like this, a soothing and now familiar voice was gently speaking to him. The worry and encouragement was the same as before, quietly urging him back to the world of the living and telling him that everything would be all right.

What was different was the undeniable fear and loss that was in the voice this time. "Please wake up," the young man pleaded brokenly. "I don't want to lose you." His consciousness must have been returning as he could distinctly feel his hand being squeezed tightly.

A small, white light broke through the pitch to reveal the hazy image of the blonde girl that he had seen before. Once again, he was not able to completely make out her features, but he could see that she was smiling to him. "Wake up, Odin," she grinned, "This is no time to be caught daydreaming when you have so much to do." And just as quickly as the vision appeared, it was gone again to leave him in the darkness.

Once again, the voice from the beyond whispered urgently, "Please wake up. I need you."

Finally, the disorientation of fighting through the void that threatened to choke him began to clear as he recognized the voice. Duo. With that, he forced himself to break through the blackness to console his distraught partner.

Slowly cracking his cobalt eyes open, Heero winced at the bright light shining down from the ceiling. With a deep moan he turned his head towards the person beside him as they continued to grip his hand. At the wide, familiar eyes that met his gaze, he couldn't help but give a small smile as the concern on his visitor's face melted instantly into relief.

A sharp gasp was all that Duo could manage as he leaned forward and brushed back the long bangs out of the young sailor's eyes. His mouth opened and closed, but he was not able to find his voice at that moment.

In a rush, Heero recalled everything leading to his blackout. Just the vivid memory of the pain caused by the headache he suffered threatened to send him reeling back into the oblivion.

His vision focusing more clearly on the lighthouse keeper, the Japanese young man could see the small shimmering drops in the relieved violet pools watching him. As he opened his mouth, Heero could feel how dry his throat was, but he still forced himself to smile weakly with a croaked, "Duo."

Instantly, the braided young man snapped from his shock and he turned to the table beside him to pour a cup of ice water. Carefully holding it out, he urged gently, "Easy. You took quite a fall, so your stomach might not be up to being too full right now."

With a grateful nod, Heero slowly raised his head to take a few small sips. Even though his stomach was a bit upset, he was thankful to be able to swallow without pain at least. As he handed the cup back, he rubbed his eyes roughly while he asked, "What the hell happened back there?"

Biting his lip nervously, Duo shook his head, "I don't know. You've only been out for about four hours. Sally is still looking at the scans she ran while you were out. We're still waiting to hear the results."

`We.' Just as the sailor was opening his mouth to ask exactly who `we' referred to, the door to the hospital patient room opened. Duo automatically pulled his hand away, as if it had been burned within Heero's grasp. The American flashed an apologetic look at his partner for the abrupt move as he looked over to the opening door.

As she peeked her head into the room, Noin smiled warmly in relief when she looked to the alert young man in the bed. "You're awake," she sighed deeply as she stepped into the room to sit beside her son. Gently resting a hand on her husband's namesake's arm, she asked, "How are you feeling?"

Heero gave her a firm nod and answered honestly, "I'm all right now, thank you." An overwhelming sense of guilt washed over him and he frowned deeply, "I'm sorry to have ruined your first night visiting."

Snorting, Noin waved her hand and smirked, "Nonsense. You certainly could not have helped this, and you have not ruined anything. The most important thing is that you're all right." Heero could not help but smile at the young mother. Rising from her seat, she announced, "I'm going to get a hold of Sally to let her know that you're awake." That said, she stepped back out of the room.

Once the door was closed after her, Duo sighed deeply with the breath that he had been holding after their close call. Taking the sailor's hand back into his own with a firm squeeze, he frowned, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to think that I'm ashamed of-"

With a sympathetic smile, Heero nodded, "It's all right. Your family just met me. I understand that you want them to get to know me better." Squeezing the hand in his, he lied back in his bed and grinned, "I can wait."

The small tears that had been fought from the cobalt eyes of his partner returned once more as Duo quickly wrapped his arms tightly around him. Their lips meeting in a fierce kiss, the lighthouse keeper poured all of the things that he wanted to say. When they finally pulled back for air, the young sailor cupped the side of his love's grinning face.

At the sound of the door opening once again, the braided young man sat up and watched as Sally entered the room. Smiling when she met the anxious cobalt eyes watching her, she chuckled deeply, "We really have to stop meeting like this." At that, the young men's shoulder sagged as they relaxed in knowing that if Heero's condition were threatening, she would not be poking jokes at that time.

The braided doctor unfolded her arms from behind her back to reveal the folder held securely in her possession as she turned to her weary-eyed ex-boyfriend. Kindly, she smirked, "Duo, you look like hell. I would suggest visiting the cafeteria while I wrap up a couple tests with Heero now that he is awake."

Despite his wish to protest leaving his partner's side, Duo could not deny his growling stomach as it had been some time since his last meal. Along with that, he was not about to test Sally's patience and risk her getting his mom involved in seeing that he took care of himself. Reluctantly rising from his seat, he squeezed the sailor's shoulder in a gesture meant to support the both of them. "I'll be back soon, then," he said quietly before steeping from the room.

When the door closed, Sally sat at the side of the bed and lowered the folder of reports and x-rays that she had examined onto the empty chair. Removing a small flashlight from the breast pocket of her white coat, she flashed the beam into her friend's cobalt eyes. Humming to herself, she examined the sailor's ears and mouth.

Her tests completed, the young doctor nodded, "Your scans all came back clean and with all that I see here, all is as it should be. The headache that you experienced is a common symptom for global amnesia as the condition heals." Sally's expression grew from casual to serious as she inquired, "Have you been experiencing any more visions since the last time we talked about this? If you have, I need to know how often they come and how they come to you so that I can help as best I can."

Swallowing hard, Heero nodded, "They come and go, but they have been a more regular occurrence lately." As he continued, the braided young woman jotted down notes on a small notepad. "Usually I have one or two of them a week. Sometimes, it's just voices saying something, or its hazy images of people that can't be made out." His throat dry once more, he took up the cup of water that was waiting on the table before saying, "I had another one of those while I was unconscious."

"Once or twice a week," Sally repeated quietly to herself as she looked up from her notes, "That would explain the severity of the headache you suffered if they're coming back so quickly." The doctor tilted her head and asked, "Have you been able to piece anything of your past together yet?"

Heero sunk into his bed with his head lowered, reluctant to answer. Finally, he met her gaze again and frowned deeply, "My name is Odin. I have not been able to learn my last name, but I am certain with the first."

Sally's eyes widened, her pen pausing after she finished writing down the name. Reading it aloud, she breathed, "Odin." The elated smile that spread on her lips threatened to split her face as she looked up and exclaimed, "That's wonderful! Even without a last name, Wufei will be able to narrow down the search of missing persons that he has been in charge of."

At that, Heero sat up instantly with wide cobalt eyes. "Please don't tell him, Sally," he begged urgently. "I still don't think that I am ready to come to grips with who I really am." Wringing the white sheet that covered his hospital gown, he lowered his head and whispered, "Things have changed since I've been here."

"Changed?" the braided young woman questioned. Her eyes widening anew, she turned to the chair beside the bed that Duo had occupied. As she shifted to lean in closer, she gently lifted her patient's head until their eyes met. Slowly, a small smile lit her face and she breathed, "You love him."

Blinking in surprise at the statement, the young sailor considered her words. In the end, there was no point in denying what he already knew. With his chin caught between her fingers, he nodded firmly with a whispered, "Yes… I do. And I'm truly happy here with him." His eyes filled with resolve, Heero told her, "And I can't help but have this feeling that I'm happier than I have ever been in my life. I don't want to lose the life that I have now by having to be forced back into the one that I left behind."

With a deep breath, Sally grinned, "Very well. No one but you will ever know what is best in this situation. So, as your friend, I will support whatever decision you make." Gesturing to the chair, she suggested, "But I wouldn't keep this a secret from Duo forever, if I were you."

Heero nodded fervently, "Of course."

Taking out another small pad, Sally wrote down a few numbers and a name that Heero could not quite make out. Folding the small paper, she handed it to her patient and stated, "This prescription won't keep you from having headaches like the one you suffered tonight, but it will keep the pain down to a dull roar until it passes. From what I researched, they only last a couple minutes when they do come on, so now you'll be able to stay on your feet when you have them again."

As he accepted the prescription, the young sailor smiled, "Thank you, Sally... For everything."

"Just take care of Duo. You're already showing that you can handle that with the way that you managed to get his family here," she replied. Raising an eyebrow, she smirked, "But, you would not want to know me if you ever hurt him."

His smile growing, Heero chuckled deeply, "You don't have to worry about that."

Shaking her head, Sally grinned sincerely, "No. I'm pretty sure that I don't have to worry about that at all." With that, she gathered her notes and folder as she rose to her feet and stated, "You're a free man once more. I'll get Duo and Noin while you get changed." Her hand on the doorknob, she winked over her shoulder before stepping out into the hall.

Alone once more, Heero sighed deeply as he lowered his head on the bed. Looking up to the ceiling, he silently wondered over the inevitable talk that he would need to have with Duo. There would be time for that, he concluded.

There was more than enough time for that.

 

Part 20

[Oh I believe there are angels among us
sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
to show us how to live, to teach us how to give
to guide us with a light of love]
-Lyrics to `Angels Among Us' performed by Alabama

The sun rising at the start of a brand new day, the lighthouse lantern flame had already been doused before a car came rolling up to the residence by the cliffs.

Heero sighed deeply in relief as he stepped back inside the cabin along with Duo and Noin. As late as it was when she finished tending to the young sailor, Sally invited them to stay at the house she and Wufei shared for the night. In his hand, he clutched the prescribed bottle of medication that they picked up from pharmacist first thing that morning.

At the sound of the door closing, both Solo and Zechs moved from where they had been waiting in the living room. Both with sincere grins of relief in seeing Heero, the younger of the two blondes greeted, "Hey, man. How are you feeling?"

With a polite nod, the Japanese youth replied, "Much better, thank you." Raising the bottle of pills, he stated, "Sally said this should keep another migraine like that from coming on so suddenly. Nothing serious."

Everyone around him seemed to believe his explanation for his fainting the night before… That was, at least, with the exception of one. "You're still a bit pale," Zechs frowned deeply as he tilted his head a bit. "Are you sure that you're all right?"

Forcing himself to remain expressionless and not give any hint to his inner panic, Heero commented, "Well, I am still a little queasy after everything. I never had a migraine like that before." It was not a complete lie. He was feeling quite ill after learning that like it or not, his past would be coming back.

Noin patted the sailor's shoulder and offered with a kind smile, "I'm going to make some herbal tea. That should help settle your stomach," Heero gave her a grateful smile and a quiet `thank you' before she made her way to the kitchen.

Duo stepped forward to shake hands firmly with his brother as he told him, "Thanks for looking after the lighthouse for me, Solo."

Grinning from ear-to-ear, the blonde youth shrugged, "No problem. I'm surprised how much I remembered when it came to caring for it after all this time. Brought back memories of the good `ol days." His smile faded as he spoke in concern, "You look like shit. You should go and get some sleep."

The dark circles under the braided lighthouse keeper's eyes darkened all the more as he attempted to glare at his brother. "I'm fine," he retorted. "I've worked on less sleep than what I got last night."

"You didn't sleep at all," Heero corrected as he turned to his partner, the concern clear in his own eyes. "Don't think that I didn't hear you pacing in Sally's living room almost all night, probably worrying over what would happen if something came up at the lighthouse while you were away for a whole night. Between that and waiting until I woke up in the hospital, how much sleep did you actually get?"

With a deep blush burning his cheeks at being caught, Duo lowered his head slightly before mumbling, "Maybe an hour or two." Quickly, he raised his head and insisted, "But I'm fine, really."

Raising a long eyebrow, Zechs smirked, "Duo, get some sleep before I get your mother on your case. I'm surprised that she didn't say anything just now, but then she was probably hoping you would just go to sleep on your own."

A quick assessment of the faces watching him made it clear to the American that he didn't have any allies in the matter. With a huff that moved his long bangs from his violet eyes, he relented with a grumbled, "Fine."

Just as he began to make his way upstairs, Duo paused to face to the three gathered in the hallway. "But I want someone to wake me up before noon," he ordered sternly. "While I was awake, I noticed that it rained in the middle of the night, so I have to clean the tower before it gets dark again."

Solo raised his hand a mock salute as he winked, "Yes, sir." Zechs and Heero chuckled deeply along with him as the braided youth stuck his tongue out at his brother before climbing the remainder of the stairs.

Once the Duo was out of earshot, Solo cracked his knuckles and grinned, "I'll just have to see that the tower's clean so he doesn't have to get up right away."

At that, Heero turned to face him with a pleased smile and stated, "I was just thinking the same thing. I'd be happy to help out."

Waving his hand, the short-haired blonde replied, "Nah, you should take it easy today after what happened." He looked up to smirk at his future step-father. "Though maybe Thor, here, wouldn't mind learning the ropes a bit," he commented with a playful jab to the tall man's ribs with his elbow.

Zechs chose to ignore one of the many playful nicknames the boys gave him. Instead, with a genuine and intrigued look on his face, he nodded, "Actually, that does sound interesting. Lead the way, Smart Ass." Solo's head fell back as he laughed.

As the two blonde young men walked towards the basement door, Heero shook his head in amusement just as the sound of the kettle whistle filled the air. With a small sigh of content, the young sailor made his way into the kitchen. As he stepped into the room, he watched as Noin finished pouring two cups of herbal tea that she managed to find from the drawers, her back facing him. "He kept everything just where I left it before we moved away," she whispered wistfully to herself.

Looking over her shoulder as she set the kettle back onto the stove, the mother of two blinked in surprise at finding that she had company. Her widened eyes realized along with her shoulders and she smiled, "I hope you don't mind if I join you. Aside from our brief talk over the vidphone, we never had a chance to talk one-on-one."

"I'd like that," Heero grinned sincerely with a small nod. Noin's own smile grew at the sentiment. Taking up the two large, steaming teacups, she moved towards the table along with her companion. As they sat across from each other, the young mother leaned forward to slide one of the cups of emerald green.

There was a companionable silence as the two sipped at their tea. Lowering her cup onto the table, Noin ran her right index finger along the rim as she asked, "So how long have you been dating my son?"

Nearly choking on the mouthful of tea that he was in the process of swallowing, Heero quickly set his own cup down as he coughed. As he finally caught his breath with wide eyes, he sputtered frantically, "I, well, we, uh…" Shaking his head as he ran a hand through his dark and unruly hair, he questioned, "H-how did you know?"

Chuckling deeply, Noin answered, "I would have to be blind to not figure it out. Duo would not leave your bedside at the hospital until you woke up, to say nothing of how he was nearly frantic when he came running for help after you collapsed."

She reached across the table to pat the worried young man's hand and smiled reassuringly, "It's all right, Heero. I've been hoping that Duo would find someone. And I can appreciate the fact that he would be hesitant to announcing it to me as we just met. And I can see that you sincerely care about him, considering the measures that you went through to see that he had his family around to support him at this time."

There was such a natural sense of warmth and comfort that came from her that Heero could not help but smile in relief. Taking her hand in his, he squeezed it as he whispered, "He thinks the world of you and Solo. And he misses Heero terribly." Despite his reluctance to bring up the man that Duo considered his father, it was important that she knew what n impact their family had made in his partner's life.

Gently squeezing his hand back, Noin swallowed hard as her head lowered. "We all do," she whispered sadly. Slowly, her small smile returned as she sighed deeply, "He was a wonderful man. We were married young and I was all but devastated when I learned that I could not bear any children. Instead of looking at the negative side of it, Heero was quick to say, `Well, we'll just have to adopt, then.' He always had this natural gift of finding the brighter side of everything."

With a small grin spreading on his own face, Heero chuckled deeply and squeezed her hand once more. Laughing, Noin shook her head, "The orphanage staff thought that we were insane for adopting Solo. He was by far the oldest child that they had in their care, nearly fourteen at the time, and a professional troublemaker. But, we wanted to give him a chance, after seeing how no one else would. Even he was so surprised to finally be taken in that he came around before too long."

Her blue eyes losing their focus as she continued to think back to the past, the young mother frowned deeply, "And then we learned about Duo's father disowning him and throwing him out on the streets. He was one of my best students in high school, and a fast friend of Solo at that time in their lives. When I told Heero, we didn't even need to discuss bringing him in to stay with us, we all just went looking for him."

There was a long silence as Noin took another sip from her tea. When she lowered her cup again, she smiled wistfully as her eyes regained focus and turned to her attendant. "I love those boys as if they were my own," she spoke quietly, "Just as Heero did."

"It shows," the sailor nodded. "Considering how Duo's biological father treated him, I think it's safe to say that Duo gets his better personality traits from the two of you."

Chuckling deeply once more, the young woman grinned, "I'd like to think so." Gently pushing her chair back, she rose from the table along with her cup. Opening the doors to the large, enclosed back deck, she stood before its large windows, looking out to the ivory tower rising at the peak of the cliff side. As she looked back over her shoulder, she called into the kitchen, "Do you know why Duo wanted to take over the lighthouse after his father died?"

A bit confused by the question, Heero rose from his own seat with a deep frown. Moving to stand beside the young mother, he gazed out to the lighthouse along with her and answered, "He made a promise to Heero before he passed that he would take over for him."

Noin hummed quietly, "That's only a part of it. But, I believe that there is much more to it than just that." Her eyes narrowing, she growled deeply, "That poor excuse of a man that brought him into the world said that there was nothing good that could come of him. For the longest time, Duo truly believed him. He would cry on my shoulder as I would hold him and tried to convince him otherwise."

With another sip from her cup, the short-haired mother smirked out to the lighthouse. "I think that while he meant to make Heero proud," she stated quietly, "Duo also wanted to prove his father that he could be something of value in this life... A ray of hope to those who are lost and trying to find their way home safely."

At the notion, Heero's cobalt eyes widened. "Just as he had done for me," he breathed.

Turning to meet his gaze, Noin grinned, "I have the feeling that you and I are going to get along beautifully, Heero Yuy."

* * * * * *

Knocking at his lover's office door, Wufei cracked the door open and called, "Sally?" With a quick assessment, he found the room empty. "Must be wrapping up her evening routine," he thought to himself. He decided to just wait for her return as he sat before her desk.

His dark eyes narrowing, he noted one of the many files sitting on the doctor's desk. `Heero Yuy' was one of those reports present. Biting his lip, the Chinese officer leaned his head back to see that no one was approaching the office.

Satisfied that all was clear, Wufei quickly rose from his seat and carefully removed the file from the pile. As he removed his notepad from his uniform belt, he smirked in anticipation. The sound of footsteps suddenly approaching had him quickly turning through the pages of notes Sally had made on her patient. The last of the reports had his dark eyes widening. "Odin?" he whispered to himself.