!!! ATTENTION READERS !!!

This is the NON-YAOI ending. Warning, "Benedictus" and "Sans Dire" (part 13, the first part of the yaoi ending) have A LOT in common. They "spoil" each other. If you plan to read the yaoi ending, you may want to file this for now and come back to it after part 13.

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Soldiers and Fools
Part 12 -- Ending 1 -- Benedictus (Blessed)
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)

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(Sometimes soldiers and fools find peace.)

Duo waited for a year to hear Heero tell him he trusted him, and when it came, he almost missed it because Heero made it sound like a joke. But for all the changes he had seen in his friend, Duo knew Heero would never joke about something like that.

/Damn Dekim Barton! Damn him to the deepest pit in Hell! If I could light candles to guarantee his place there every church on Earth and the Colonies would be lit forever!/ Heero had been so close. /They/ had been so close. But Heero had had to pull the soldier close again, and that wasn't something easily undone. Duo knew far too well how hard it was to take off a comfortable cloak like the soldier, or the fool, or Death. Its fibers grew deep into your flesh and removing it tore skin, muscle and bone and left you raw and bleeding.

He had waited.

He didn't like waiting, but healing took time.

Duo knew he had set something in motion that, like a Deist's clockwork universe, didn't need his constant attention. It had taken on a life of its own and, with hammers too small to feel, had reforged parts of Heero's Gundanium-hard heart. He had seen the results. He remembered the time Heero hadn't killed him. He remembered the time Heero had told him he trusted him. He knew it was true.

Five years since the second war rebellion and he'd heard nothing from
Heero.

He watched from a distance and waited. He watched Heero struggle to settle down after the second war. He watched him grasp at the vestiges of normalcy -- fast-track degree in aviation that Heero had finished in six months instead of two years, an apartment, a motorcycle, a job. The job -- that was almost comical. Heero Yuy, ace Gundam pilot, hopping cargo jets between a dozen medium-to-small cities in Europe, all within two hundred miles of each other. A mission every day, but never any killing. Maybe the regular rituals of takeoff, flight and landing had helped him quiet the demons that had haunted them both -- still haunted Duo's dreams at times.

The wedding surprised him. He had to admit it also disappointed him at the time. Then he worried when Heero starting flying a weekend air show circuit in addition to the air cargo.

He'd been right to worry.

When Heero's plane didn't pull out of a loop and crashed, Duo had called in most of his favors to get himself assigned as lead investigator, though it wasn't his field, and three of /his/ people as the investigation team. The official report said a bolt had sheared. Duo knew better. He had CGI-ed the cockpit video to hide the truth while his team altered flight data and planted the bolt.

Five years and not a word. /That's at least partly my fault./

After a week of non-stop cover-up, and many favors owed, he finally made it to the hospital. Heero was still unconscious, though the doctors had said he was out of the coma stage. He hadn't seen Heero that battered in a long, long time. Not since the first war. The room was empty except for Heero and him and the trappings of a seriously injured patient recovering.

He just wanted to be near him. He crawled up onto the edge of the bed and curled up next to him, holding him.

"You must be Duo Maxwell."

He'd forgotten about Marissa. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't heard her come in. When he turned his head to look at her he saw a tiny hint of jealousy, fear too, maybe, in her eyes. He wanted to fight her for Heero, but Heero didn't need that. He shook his head once and said, "I'm just returning an old favor."

He moved to get up, but sensing his surrender, she said, "Stay there." She pulled a chair to the other side of the bed so she could face him as he lay next to his friend, her husband. "He talks about you sometimes. You were friends during the war. Tell me about him."

Duo laughed. "I don't think Heero was anyone's friend during the first war -- but I was his best friend."

They talked about the wars, but she didn't understand. They talked about now, which made more sense to both of them. They shared their catalogs of Heero's hidden emotions. "The doctor will be here soon," she said, interrupting.

Duo understood. He got up and took the other chair, Heero between them. They'd chatted only a few minutes more when the doctor arrived, cited a bunch of tests, the upshot of which was that Heero should be awake in a few hours, then left.

"I'll to be going," Duo told her. "I just needed to know he was going to be OK."

She almost asked him to stay, he saw, but she was smart enough to know he wouldn't. Instead she asked him the question she'd wanted to ask first. "You loved him, didn't you?"

He considered lying, but that wasn't his way, even after all the lies he'd instigated this past week. "I still do." He shrugged and handed her a copy of the accident report. "Make sure he reads that first thing when he wakes up. It's important."

She said she would.

/But five whole years, Heero?/

Heero hadn't returned to the air show circuit, but there were still cracks in the facade. At times, Heero still failed to file flight plans or deviated from them for no good reason. Those made Duo worry still, especially when they happened while he was watching. They were always easier to handle when he could skim to the end of the flight log and see that Heero had landed safely. Oh, he knew Heero probably wouldn't do anything foolish -- he had a mission, even if it was just to land a load of boxes safely in the next city. But he doubted sometimes, and wished he could be there, just in case.

Five years. /Did *we* mean nothing to you Heero?/

Of course, Duo had never told him he loved him. He hadn't been able to admit it to himself until after the second war. But he remembered the time Heero said he hoped he didn't have to kill him, in his own cold way. A hand held. Two bottles of conditioner and a hairbrush appearing unasked for. And a too-small bed shared in innocent comfort and the way it had made him feel. Duo knew the memories made no sense now that the world was "normal", but back then, they had been real. /Back then,/ Duo thought, /maybe that was Heero saying he cared for me. I hope./ Over time his love for Heero had changed. Maybe because he had finally admitted it to himself, even though it scared him. Maybe because seeing it for what it was had made him hope again, like Sister Helen's hugs and smiles had long ago.

Five years of silence. He had learned to live with Heero's silence, but five years... /I don't have God's infinite patience. It's time to give the clockwork a little kick. I'm done waiting./

He looked down at the two half-sheets of paper before him. These were the kick. On one, a sketch. On the back of it, two flight numbers. On the other a map leading to a set of coordinates and a time. A point in space-time. A point when Duo would find out... if he came.

That scared Duo the most. Would he come? Did he really want him to come? He was walking onto their battlefield with no armor and no weapons. If Heero shot him he'd be defenseless, dead. Or might as well be, because--

/Because you love him you fool. You love that cold bastard and have since you don't know when./ He dabbed the end of his braid to his eyes. /Boys don't cry,/ he reminded himself. Rejection would hurt, but he had other reasons to live. As he slipped the first scrap of paper into an envelope, he thought he heard the sound of wings.

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The envelope had been in his box at the airport when he'd returned from his last hop of the day. No one knew how it got there. Heero checked it for trigger wires. It was small, but he'd taken out whole rooms with just that much C-10. Nothing. No bomb this time. He slid a fingernail under the top edge and sliced it open, then fished out the scrap of paper. Flight numbers -- tomorrow's Dublin run and... the local hop to Sligo. He knew all the flight numbers, even those he'd never flown. Duo's neat handwriting. Printed so there could be no mistakes.

/He's up to something./

He had a file box in his apartment with every article he'd been able to find on Duo. It was his way of keeping Duo close, keeping an eye on him, though it had taken him years to understand that. Duo was always doing foolish things. At least his job in the Preventers made him easy to track on the surface and gave Heero the clues he needed to dig deeper. He knew Duo never took vacations. He knew he had gotten himself stationed in Japan. He knew he had a small art gallery on the side, most of the work his own drawings and calligraphy. He'd bought one of Duo's haiku pieces -- indirectly so Duo wouldn't know. He'd wanted to have something to remind him of the page he'd lost in the war.

Duo had been avoiding him. Duo, the first person he'd ever cared about -- even before he'd learned to care about himself. He knew secrets about Duo that even Duo hadn't figured out, and he suspected Duo knew the same about him.

/How could he just turn it off like that? /

The war was over and, after a short time of decompression, everyone was suddenly going their own ways and the world was changing so fast they had to hold on tight just to stay on it. And before things could settle down again, there was the second war, just a small skirmish really, but it had dredged up so many painful pasts. Maybe it had just been too much change too fast. Maybe that was why the five of them had grown apart after the wars. Maybe that was why he had been so miserable. That's what he'd thought then.

He'd found the truth when he hit bottom.

He hated his job. His marriage with Marissa was a shambles. He hated himself. He was flying the air show and it seemed so easy to miss the pull-up. Unfortunately, or so he'd thought when he woke, even crashing a plane into the ground wasn't enough to kill him. Then he caught that particular scent of cinnamon. "Duo?" he whispered.

"He left about an hour ago." Marissa's voice. She leaned over and kissed him, mingling her own soft, daisy scent with the cinnamon. "I'm glad you're back."

"Hn."

"I found him laying next to you. 'Returning an old favor,' he said. He seems like a nice guy." There was something in her tone he knew was important but he didn't understand it. She held out the folder. "He said to be sure you read the accident report. A bolt sheared. It wasn't your fault."

"I'm tired, Marissa. Leave it and I'll read it later. Go home and get some sleep."

"Heero, just tell me when want some time alone." He'd hurt her again. "I'll go get something to eat. I'll be back in an hour."

/Bastard,/ he cursed himself after she left. /You shouldn't beat her up so. It isn't her fault your life is Hell./

He pushed it aside and read the report. It was a lie. He'd only known Duo to lie once. Duo hadn't signed the report, though. Maybe that was his out. Then he found the sticky-note Duo had hidden for him on the fifth page of the raw data from the bolt shear analysis. Any layman but Heero would have stopped reading long before then. It was a drawing of him right before the crash, obviously from the video, and words. "Get off the air show circuit or I'll kill you myself, you bastard." Another note beside it showed a sketch of Marissa, hastily drawn, with words from her mouth, "Aishiteru, baka."

He was still looking at it when Marissa returned. "Done yet?" she asked.

"Aa." He nodded.

"Heero, I've been... I ... I hate to ask you this, but--"

"I'll quit flying air shows." When he said it, her face reminded him of Duo's face when he'd said "Arigatou" for a simple compliment.

It made him think.

A week after he got out of the hospital he'd hacked his way into the Preventers' private network. He didn't know what he was going to do, maybe just read all Duo's files to be near him again, or maybe delete them all, just so Duo would know he was angry. Then he found the encrypted files. He downloaded them, wondering what Duo had that would need encryption buried that deep in a secure network. At home, he set about cracking them.

The password wasn't "Damnit" this time. It took him a month to break the encryption on the key. He was surprised to find its bit pattern was a picture of him. Smiling. DM195. He wondered when that had happened. He read the files and saw the pictures. He was being watched. It made him angry again.

Then he saw where Duo had cleaned up behind him, not just after the crash, which could have gotten him permanently grounded. Failing to file a flight plan in the air freight business was grounds for termination. On those particular days he'd wanted to be fired. He'd changed his mind once he was in the air. Everything seemed different after he got off the ground and Earth stretched out distant below him. Looking at it from 30,000 feet, he could believe in peace. Strange how he hadn't been able to see it from space.

No one had ever called him on the flight plans. He had thought maybe, knowing who he was, they blamed it on the wars -- post-traumatic stress, battle fatigue or any of the dozen other names for the mild-to-serious insanity that soldiers suffered after going through their own bitter piece of Hell in a war. He had thought they let him stay on out of respect or maybe pity. He didn't want either, but when he landed he always wanted the job, so he accepted it.

But he had been wrong. It was Duo watching out for him. Filing the flight plans for him and faking the timestamps. Gifting him with those bits of a normal life that had become so precious to his returning sanity.

/So what is he up to now?/ He turned the paper over. /Ah./

A picture of a winged figure with a yard-long braid leading a dark-haired boy into the moonrise. DM202. This time Duo hadn't pretended to disguise who they were. He didn't have to. Heero closed his eyes for a moment, pulling his perfect copy of the original from the box in his mind.

He'd unwrapped those memories the night he'd finally opened Duo's secret files and found his own deep, blue eyes staring back at him. For a while, he'd thought he was back in the war, when the reek of burning hydraulics and grinding metal had closed his throat and ripped his eyes just that same way. But it had been neither of those things. And even they could not have explained why his face was wet. He'd almost called Duo then, but something stopped him. A few hours later Marissa had found him. He'd tried to explain, but she hadn't really understood it all. Over the following weeks and months the memories had found others he'd thought he'd forgotten. Some good, some bad. But even the bad memories had their good parts -- now. He'd finally understood that Duo wasn't ready for him anymore than he was ready for Duo.

Just as mastering Zero had shown him the path to the end of the war, mastering his memories showed him the path to the humanity that he had denied himself. It took over a year, but eventually he and Marissa remade their relationship into something more like what it should have been. They weren't perfect together, but he and Duo hadn't been perfect together either. There were a few things that Marissa couldn't provide, some things she could never understand or share. But there were only four other people in the world he might talk to about those things, and what she gave was enough. He was content. The soldier rested lightly on his shoulders now.

He walked to the office and checked the roster for the Ireland run. Good. Harris hated flying over water. He'd trade in a heartbeat. Richleau, the copilot, was a newbie suckup. The boy would look the other way when Heero stowed his motorcycle in the hold. /Hell, he'd probably kiss my ass just to say he'd been copilot to the great Heero Yuy./ He could hear the boy's fake French accent in his mind. It always made him ill. He'd dump the controls to the boy, let him get a few hours on his log. That should keep him busy enough that Heero wouldn't have to endure much of his inane conversation.

He called Harris, then the Dublin office. He told the receptionist what he wanted and she offered to take care of it for him. She knew just the place and it gave her an excuse to go shopping after work today. He'd accepted, thanking her. It would save him time tomorrow.

/Time to go to home,/ he thought. /I hope Marissa understands./ He knew she would. As he walked out to the parking lot and the waiting motorcycle, his lips twitched into a faint smile. She also understood why he still "forgot" to file flight plans at least four times a year.

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Duo sat, knees to chest, waiting. He had delivered the second half of his kick to the Sligo office that morning, wearing his uniform and making lots of noise to the receptionist about being sure to give it to "Captain Heero Yuy -- H-e-e-r-o Y-u-y -- that's Heero Yuy", just as soon as he got in from his flight. He'd told her the flight and the ETA at least three times. The receptionist wouldn't forget him any time soon.

Heero was over two hours late. /It isn't like him to be late. He isn't coming. Damn that bastard. He really doesn't care about me. Boysdon'tcry. That's a lie! A damn lie!/ Duo's head fell to his knees and he wept. He almost didn't hear it until it was too late.

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"Duo? ... Duo, I'm here." /Why? Why here in the middle of nowhere in Ireland?/

He'd delayed the flight from Dublin to Sligo, telling Richleau the ILS was acting up and leaving the boy to supervise repairs while he took care of his business in Dublin. When the receptionist in Sligo gave him the second note he was already late. /Damn, Duo, you should have given me more time./ After leaving the main road, he'd raced his motorcycle along a punishing, ever-narrowing country lane for an hour. He'd stopped when he reached Duo's motorcycle -- who else would have a black bike with Preventers logos on it this far out? He'd walked the last three miles of the map into the forest until he'd reached this clearing. He looked at his watch. The GPS readout said he was in the right place, though Duo's coordinates covered half a hectare. He didn't need to see the chronograph to know he was two and a half hours late.

"Duo?" Where was he? Maybe he'd guessed wrong. "If this is a trick Duo..." The soldier leaped on the opportunity and clung to him like skin. "I /will/ kill you." The soldier was afraid. He sensed Death lurking nearby. Heero could smell the fear and pushed him away.

"Heero!" Faint in the distance. Duo's voice. Crunching underbrush. The sounds getting louder. Heero turned to face the source of the noise. He wasn't prepared for the flying tackle. They crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs and braid, Heero flat on his back. He was glad the soldier had lost the battle about the gun back at the bike, otherwise the landing might have been painful.

"Hn. Are you trying to break my ribs?"

"Uh, no," but Duo relaxed his hold, pulling back to look him in the face. Heero saw the look, and connected it with a word Marissa had taught him -- joy. He didn't understand how that fit with the tear-tracks Duo hadn't quite wiped away.

Duo took his own hope from Heero's faint smile. "I, um, thought you weren't coming."

/That explains the tears./ "I'm sorry Duo."

"Why were you so late?"

"Delays in Dublin."

Duo's brow wrinkled, doubtful. But reading Heero's face had always been a challenge, and now all the old, familiar clues failed him in the cloud-wisped starlight. "Well, uh, c'mon anyway. There's still time." He disentangled himself and stood, offering Heero a hand. Still the green tank top under an old green denim jacket and over dark blue jeans. "Huh! Shades of Spandex Boy." He winced as he heard it. The old taunt was not what he wanted.

"And you, Shinigami?"

As Heero stood, Duo looked and realized he'd traded his uniform for black jeans and black button-up, only half buttoned, over a white T-shirt. "Old, bad habits, I guess," he frowned.

Heero removed a stray leaf from inside his jacket, surprised to find Duo was a good six centimeters taller than him, then ordered, "Lead," evoking a better memory.

Duo held out his hand. His smile returned when Heero took it.

They walked east up a steep, rocky incline, the night sounds of the forest breathing life all around them. Duo finally broke their silence. "Don't you want to know where we are?"

"Yes."

"Then why don't you ask?"

"If I wait long enough you'll tell me without--" Heero stopped walking. He didn't want to fall into the well-rehearsed maneuvers of the war they had waged against themselves for far too long. That wasn't why he'd come. Duo had left "Uh" and "Um" in the clearing. He knew he should leave the soldier there too. It was hard, though. The soldier was afraid to be left behind. Heero gave him no choice. He would face this encounter with Duo alone.

The night seemed different. Brighter. More alive. If he'd understood the word, he might have said "magical". "Where are we, Duo?" he asked as he took a step and they resumed their walk. He thought he knew, but Duo wanted to tell him.

"Sleuth Wood." Silence, then, "You'd guessed."

"Just now."

They walked for another twelve and a half minutes. Heero hadn't known the internal clock wasn't part of the soldier. They came to a rock-strewn drop-off overlooking a lake.

"Why are we here?" He knew, but Duo wanted -- needed -- to tell him that too.

Minutes passed. He looked at Duo, but his friend stared out to the cloud-hid east, waiting. /Friend./ The word thrummed with possibilities. /When did I stop thinking of Duo as a "boy"? Were either of us ever boys?/ He brushed aside the darker memory and waited.

The clouds broke before a distant wind, revealing the full moon, white and grey above them. The moonlight laid its path across the sky and the trees and the sand and the lake to rest in front of them. Heero's breath caught in his throat. He hadn't expected that. "You couldn't have planned that."

"I took a chance," Duo whispered, awed by the magic he had wrought. "Heero, I love you."

Heero knew Duo was looking at him, but he kept his eyes on the moon as he said, "You talk in your sleep." A passing remark, but Duo knew he never said anything in passing.

"What did I--" Duo was suddenly still. Wary, Heero thought.

"Especially when you're having nightmares about your childhood..." He met the violet eyes. This was going to be harder than he'd thought, but he'd learned that rebirth was painful. "... when you've been badly beaten and you're sharing an too-small bed with me..."

Duo closed his eyes, waiting for the hammer.

"... and you want me so bad it hurts, but you're afraid to tell me you love me because everyone you love dies."

/Oh, damn, damn, DAMN your mouth Duo. You can't even keep it shut when you're asleep. Damn, God, why did you curse me so? Why? Why does my damn mouth always have to go off at the wrong time?/ He felt the tears coming back. /Damn! Boysdon'tcry. Boysdon'tcry. LIAR!/

"Heero, I--"

"Shut up, Duo." Soft, almost warm. Duo's eyes opened to find a moonlit smile only he and Marissa would recognize as a smile.

"I came when you asked." /Ah, there's joy again./ Heero liked seeing joy. It was time to rebuild. "Sit."

Duo sat, then Heero sat behind him and pulled him against his chest. Duo was stiff against him. "Duo, relax. I just want to be close to a friend." That helped.

"I'm getting married in two months."

"I know. Suzuko sent us an invitation last week." He took the end of Duo's braid in his hands. "Tell me about her."

They talked about Suzuko and Marissa and the wars and the good times they hadn't known were good until now. Heero played with Duo's braid as clouds hid and revealed the moon and Duo leaned against him, savoring the whiff of cordite in the air. Finally Duo said, "I used to want you, y'know, sexually." He stopped.

"And now?"

"I still could, but..." Duo shrugged, struggling to find the words. "I need someone-- Suzuko doesn't understand the nightmares."

Heero nodded. "Marissa doesn't understand why I cry sometimes when I see a little girl with a dog."

"Or why telling her I love her makes me afraid."

"Or what really happened in that crash."

"Or what keeps me in Japan." Duo sighed. "Some of the memories are good. I remember your sonnet."

"I have one of your haikus at home. The one about me."

"Which one about you?" He grinned.

Heero laughed. Not the horrible laugh from the war, but a soft, staccato chuckle. Duo was so surprised he almost forgot to memorize the sound, adding it to his catalog of Heero. "Blue ice and hope. Marissa can't read it, but she can see my face in the kanji."

Duo grimaced. "That was when I still thought we could be lovers."

"We can still love each other. 'Helping others we help ourselves. Loving others, we learn to love ourselves.'"

Sister Helen's words. /And I didn't even know I needed help./ "How much did I say in my sleep?"

"Not enough to fix me then." /If you had Marissa and Suzuko would be out of luck.../ Heero didn't say it. He didn't want to torture Duo or himself with the possibilities. That future was a past future now. "But too much for me to forget." There were other futures they could choose. He pushed a flat, square box into Duo's hands. "The other reason I was late. Something else you said."

Duo opened the box. Feathered wings worked in silver spread the width of both his hands. Heero turned them over, showing him the clasp that would hold them in his hair and reading the words he'd had engraved. "Wings for an Angel."

He felt Duo tense against him again. "Heero?"

"Duo, you're Catholic?"

"Well, sort of, yeah." Duo turned to look at him, confused.

"And you don't know that 'angel' means 'messenger'?" He laughed again at the look on Duo's face. He hadn't. "You always brought me a message of hope or joy or love to make me keep living when I wanted to die -- and to make me look for something better -- even if I didn't always understand it. I need your messages. Marissa loves me and I love her, but there are some things she can't understand." He shrugged. "She trusts me enough to let me find someone who can. She knows I won't leave her."

"Oh. I thought--"

"Shut up, Duo. I know what you thought." He let the smile take away the sting of the words. "Just sit with me and be my friend." He watched the moon creeping up the sky. "Do you remember the time you lied to me?"

"I never lie!"

"The sonnet."

"Oh, that." Duo leaned back against him again. "I didn't think you'd understand."

Heero sighed. "I wouldn't have, but I do now."

They sat and talked, watching the moon and stars until the sun banished the night shadows and left the Earth with a last morning kiss and the breath of a new day.

"Marissa thinks you and I need each other. She wants me to get a transfer to Japan."

"Marissa is a smart woman." Duo smiled. "You don't deserve her." He'd meant the latter as a joke, but Heero said, "I know I don't."

Heero stood and offered Duo a hand. "Help us find an apartment?"

Duo pulled himself up and stood thinking. "Something better, maybe. Suzuko's parents have a house for sale a few blocks from our place. It's four or five hours driving to Haneda, but there's a small airport a few minutes away. You could fly to work and miss the traffic."

Heero nodded. "Ryoukai."

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