LW steps out of lurkerdom for another quick fic posting. This is the one that I was thinking about back in June but kept coming up with a 1x2xR threesome thing which I didn't like for various reasons. Then the boys came up with a better solution using the same basic ideas. Of course, they reversed the roles on me. <sigh>

Anyway. Let's start with lyrics for the BGM, then we'll get to the first part of the story. Second part to follow shortly (like within a few minutes).

Enjoy.

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"If These Walls Could Speak"
(Written by Jimmy Webb)

If these old walls
If these old walls could speak
Of things that they remember well
Stories and faces dearly held
A couple in love
Livin' week to week
Rooms full of laughter
If these walls could speak

If these old halls
If hallowed halls could talk
These would have a tale to tell
Of sun goin' down and dinner bell
And children playing at hide and seek
From floor to rafter
If these halls could speak

They would tell you that I'm sorry
For bein' cold and blind and weak
They would tell you that it's only
That I have a stubborn streak
If these walls could speak

If these old fashioned window panes were eyes
I guess they would have seen it all
Each little tear and sigh and footfall
And every dream that we came to seek
Or followed after
If these walls could speak

They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here's someone who really loves you
Don't ever go away
That's what these walls would say

They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here's someone who really loves you
Don't ever go away
That's what these walls would say
That's what these walls would say
That's what these walls would say

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What Walls Say
A Soldiers and Fools Story
December, AC 200
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)

COMMENTS: In S&F part 13, "Sans Dire", there was a mention of "a brief period of decompression" after the first war. For those of you who wondered what that was about, this story provides a little insight.

BGM: "If These Walls Could Speak" from Amy Grant's album, "Lead Me On".

WARNINGS: yaoi-ness, mild angst

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When I left the others, I don't think I knew I was coming here.

I am actually quite sure of it. This place holds too many memories. And as I walk up the steps and onto the porch, they come back. I pause and look at the swing where we sat and talked about what it might mean to live a normal life. And whether or not either of us had any hope of doing it. I realize that even then -- before I understood the word, before he dared to admit it to himself -- even then, we loved each other.

That insight comes as a surprise. Oh, we didn't love each other like we do now -- with that fearfully strong love that has survived all our foolish attempts to break it. How could we love each other like that? Neither of us could say the words like we can now, mean them like we can now. But then was, I think, the beginning of now, just as the snow is the beginning of the sea.

Even if we had said the words, I don't think we would have believed them. He couldn't approach me as more than a friend for all his own reasons and fears. I was too uncertain -- no, I was truly afraid to approach him as a friend, much less a lover. I thought of him as an acquaintance. A companion. Someone who often annoyed me, but rarely let me get away with evading the things that I needed to confront as I sought humanity. Someone who could make me almost smile. Maybe he was a friend and I simply didn't recognize it at the time.

To think I always called him the fool.

The door is unlocked. I don't know why that surprises me. It isn't like you need to lock doors in a world at peace on the estate of the de facto lady of everything in a two hundred kilometer radius. Or when you have the kind of security Relena has. But I always locked the door when the five of us stayed here after the first war, trying to get our minds and lives back together before we ventured out into the world again. I always lock doors. Even now, I catch myself locking the door, and force myself to unlock it again. This minefield of memory won't be any more or less dangerous for an unlocked door.

Why did I come here?

I know the obvious reason, of course. Duo wanted to come to the reunion Relena organized. It sounded nice enough. The week after Christmas in the Sanc Kingdom -- or what was once the Sanc Kingdom. There are no nations or kings anymore. That is part of our legacy.

Five pilots, six women. Dorothy had been invited, but had politely declined before the rest of us saw the email invitation. I have to admit, I felt relieved, but I felt sorry for her nonetheless. She is still struggling with her demons. It isn't an easy battle. I fought it for over two years before I won... or maybe I should say, before I gained the upper hand. I don't know if any of us will ever win that battle in our lifetimes. And without Duo's help over the years, I would be worse off than Dorothy, if I was still alive.

Still, the reunion is more right without her. The twelve of us -- we all knew Noin would bring Zechs. The twelve of us fought for the same thing, more or less. Dorothy was after something different during the first war, though I'm not sure exactly what that was.

I am here because Duo wants to be here and wants me to be here with him. I do not want to be here.

I turn from the door and step into the living room. There we are, the five great heroes, sitting on the floor around the coffee table playing pinochle or poker. Duo and Quatre were always laughing at something someone said -- usually one of them. Trowa and Wufei occasionally smiled. I occasionally almost smiled. The bets were always valueless things -- chocolate chips or peanuts or cooking or chores. I always gave Duo most of the chocolate chips and peanuts when I won and he helped me with the cooking and chores when I lost.

Even then it was obvious Trowa and Quatre were going to end up together. They weren't hanging on each other or anything. They hadn't made it that far yet. Trowa isn't the type to rush into even a casual relationship and Quatre isn't the type to rush someone when there is time. No, it was the subtle look, the occasional almost-holding-hands that didn't draw embarrassment from either of them, the way they could tell each other what was in their pinochle hands without saying anything obvious. Duo was surprised to find that even I could see it.

Yesterday, Quatre told me that he had been sure about Duo and me too, but I don't know if he was really sure or just hoped. Trowa and Wufei were as surprised as the rest of them when Duo and I walked in together. In fact, Relena and Quatre were the only two whose jaws hadn't dropped when we made our entrance.

At the time, I thought it was because I was wearing a T-shirt Duo had painted. A gift on our six-month anniversary. Me as a white-winged angel. Naked, but tastefully so. It is a beautiful painting. Duo was wearing the matching shirt of him with black, feathered wings, which is even more beautiful because it is him. It reminded me of the "Fallen Angel" shirt I'd seen after our first mission as partners, but there was no scythe in his hands, nor were there any condemning words. He had painted them together, so that when we stand beside each other, me on his left, their hands are reaching out to each other, the fingers touching if I hold him close against me. Patterns of shadow and light become overlapping wings.

I remember when he first showed them to me. I was struck speechless. He knew it was more than my usual quiet. He waited a while before he asked why, but it took me minutes more to find the word I was looking for. "Together." He smiled softly and I knew that was what he had intended.

As the greetings and conversations progressed that day, I found that they weren't surprised by the shirt, except that it made it obvious that we were more than just good friends. Instead, they were surprised and happy for us. Not just because we were together, but because we had grown so comfortable with that togetherness that we could declare it freely.

I don't know how true that is. Our togetherness isn't perfect. But I am forced to remember lessons learned. It isn't about perfection. It is about choosing to be patient and persistent. And it is about choosing to love and to trust. Even when your mind tells you you're crazy to choose any of those things.

I guess I shouldn't have expected them to be surprised by my casual attire. I have never been one to favor dressing up, and Relena's invitation had been emphatic on the matter. Nothing formal. Just a group of friends getting together after five years to remember the end of the first war and celebrate the last of the bicentennial year. Even she was in jeans and a loose shirt. I told her she should dress that way more often instead of in the precisely tailored suits she always wore before the cameras and the committees and the councils. Casual suited her.

I was a bit nervous saying that. On the flight in, whenever I wasn't busy managing the controls of Ishida's Boomerang or communicating with Flight Control, I was thinking about how I would approach her. We hadn't spoken since the war, and there had been something between us then -- besides my constant death threats. Loving Duo, I have come to understand that I loved Relena much like Duo loved Hilde. That now we could be friends if we wished. I was relieved when she took it that way. Relena can be as unwavering as Duo when she wants to be. That's why she makes a good political leader. Notice that I don't call her a politician. She can play the game as well as any of them, but she has a vision and a goal and actually gets things done. That makes her a leader.

No, Relena is as happy for Duo and me as the rest of our friends. I am glad she left "us" behind, and I hope she finds someone who fits her as well as Duo fits me.

The kitchen. I see Duo and me fixing meals together. I think that was part of the reason he was willing to help me with the chores in exchange for chocolate chips. Both of us find my cooking acceptable now if not exceptional, but back then I struggled with simple dishes -- like toast. I was a soldier, not a cook. Duo helped with that, though. I wasn't unwilling to learn, and he had the good sense to cast everything in terms of a mission, which made success crucial for me. Even so, it took me several failures before I discovered that cooking is a form of alchemy and "twenty minutes or until done" really meant, "until done -- which will be about twenty minutes if the random factors align, but don't hold your breath."

It was after my second unaided, but not unsupervised, success in the kitchen -- baked macaroni and cheese, Duo's choice -- that I realized how patient he'd been. I never thought of him as patient before that day. He chose relatively simple recipes that built basic skills I would need later, but he also chose them to challenge me and teach me about the diversity of food. That evening, after dinner, as he and I sat in the swing on the porch, talking about "normal", I thanked him and saw that gentle smile, so different from the grin, and the soft light in those violet eyes. Now, I know it as "joy". Then, I only knew it was important, and that I liked seeing it, and that I liked being the one who made him look that way.

My drifting feet take me to the staircase and as I walk up to the second floor, once again I face the question of why I'm here. Here, in this house, as opposed to with the others -- with Duo. I hadn't really wanted to come to the reunion. I guess that maybe the stubbornness that is too much a part of my nature was looking for an excuse to leave them because I didn't want to be here -- with the others. And in my usual, stupid way, I used Duo, my beloved koi, as that excuse.

It started when we saw the children running around like little hellions. Trowa and Quatre and Cathrine -- there is an interesting combination. Trowa and Quatre are the lovers. Cathrine is the sister/aunt/mother. I really don't think there is any more between her and them. They all live together, though, and have adopted a half-dozen kids. Quatre and Cathrine play parents. Trowa plays the uncle who seems grateful he doesn't have to exercise more than occasional oversight. I think he enjoys the kids most of the time, but twice I saw him turn one over to Quatre and Cathrine to let them deal with the situation.

In truth, the kids weren't bad, they were just kids. But I wasn't comfortable around them. Maybe because they were louder and more energetic than I like. But Duo is that too, and no one can make me comfortable like he can. Maybe because I missed or can't remember most of my childhood, whatever bit of childhood I may have had, and they remind me of that.

That feels truer.

I'm avoiding the problem.

The problem is, at 15:47 Tuesday, Duo started in about us adopting a child. The problem is that Duo is not only as stubborn as I am when he gets an idea in his head, he is as persistent about it as Relena can be when she is fighting for an ideal. So, ten minutes and forty-six seconds after I dismissed the idea with a disinterested, "Hn," he asked again. And again. And again. And again.

It ruined the evening for me. I think he knew I wasn't happy about it. He had the sense not to bring it up in bed. That night was good after I calmed down a bit and just lay there, listening to the soft snore, holding the gentle, rumbling purr in my arms, smelling his cinnamon hair. The peaceful, familiar sounds and feelings and scents helped me forget the annoyance he'd been and I was happy to be there. Not "there" as in "that place", but "there" as in "with him". That is what matters. That is why I came. To be with him.

At the top of the stairs in this house, a hall runs right and left. There is a door before me. That was Wufei's room. He always preferred to be alone. To the left is the room Trowa and Quatre shared. I turn right and walk to the end of the hall. A door I remember well. I open it and walk into the room Duo and I shared back then. The two beds have been replaced by a single, larger bed, neatly made. The room smells a little musty. I guess it hasn't seen much use of late. But I can see me and him.

We lay on our respective beds, a pile of manga on the floor beside his, and the sketchbook. Both of us lay looking at the ceiling. Duo was telling me stories.

So many stories in his head, and he can tell them beautifully. But write them? That is not his skill. The drawing more than makes up for it, and if he wants something written, I gladly do it for him. Sometimes his stories give me ideas, and sometimes those ideas become new stories for him to tell. Sometimes they become a verbal statement of how I feel about something that was too deep for words until his images unlocked them. And sometimes, they become actions -- ways to express the feelings I still struggle to understand and show.

As we lay on our beds, then, I listened to him -- or not, depending on how I felt and how annoying he had been that day. I think what I liked most about those times was the sense that I didn't have to do anything. Duo didn't really care if I paid attention to him or not. I think if I'd gotten up and left, he might have stopped talking, he might have left the room, but if that was what I had wanted to do, he would not have cared. I was present, not by orders or compulsion, but simply because there was nothing else I preferred to do at the time. He knew I needed that freedom.

Knows, I think, that I still need it at times.

Someone, it could have been any of the other three, called us to dinner downstairs. Duo leaped off his bed and raced down the stairs shouting, "Last one to the table is a Leo pilot!" I snorted and got up from my bed and walked down the hall not caring. I had proven myself quite deadly in a Leo, even against Mobile Dolls. He could call me a Leo pilot if he wished. He wouldn't though. I knew he wouldn't.

We lay on our beds. It was dark now. Duo was caught in a nightmare. We all have them. War is brutal. It takes adult soldiers and grinds them up, and leaves them a mangled pile of nerves and horrible memories. If they're lucky, they recover enough to exist in the real world without any truly debilitating psychoses.

Imagine what war is like for a fifteen-year-old.

I reached over and shook his bed, breaking the dream as I had more than once when we shared sleeping quarters during the first war. A few seconds later he was safe again. "Thank you, Heero," he mumbled softly as he drifted back to sleep. I waited until I was sure he was asleep before I said, "You're welcome," and closed my eyes, hoping I wouldn't need him to do the same for me in a few minutes.

Today, Wednesday, he started in about children again shortly before lunch. I endured it. I knew he didn't really want one. Our jobs were such that it would be impossible, and neither of us wanted to quit working and stay home to take care of a kid. I knew that. I knew it was just his childhood, and guilt, and trying to find a way to make up for everything he'd ever done wrong, and every parent he'd ever killed. I told him all that, but he kept at it. It was annoying, wearing, and slightly painful because it reminded me of my lost past. I made it through dinner. By then, I knew I was in danger of saying or doing something that would hurt him deeply. I didn't want to do that.

So I left and came here.

But why did I come here?

I do not know. This is, in many ways, the last place I would have come if I had been thinking. Because of all the memories. They hurt. They hurt because I know how much of our lives I wasted trying to find what I almost had here. They hurt because, now, every moment I spend with Duo, even when he is annoying the Hell out of me, is a moment I crave, and I gave up so many of those moments. I wish I could go back to then and tell me to quit being such a fool. But I know it wouldn't work. We both had to grow up and learn and deal with our problems in our own ways. It wasn't easy, but I know, I know without the faintest cloud of doubt on the horizon that if we had come together then, we would be apart now. By the time we had worked everything out, we would have ground our relationship out of shape and there would have been too much pain in that joining to carry on.

No, it is better that we did it the way we did.

I walk over to the window and peer through the narrow space where the sheer curtains come together. Under the tree. He is there.

----------------

He's right, damn it. I know he's right. It's guilt and childhood and completely impractical. But that doesn't make me feel any less guilty or my childhood any better. And I've been known to ignore the practical in the face of my feelings. Hell, I fell in love with Heero Yuy and stuck it out until we finally worked out our various "issues" and he realized he loved me too. If that isn't ignoring the practical in the face of my feelings, I don't know what is. All he really did when he told me "why" I wanted a child, was confirm what I've known all along. I'm annoying the Hell out of him. That makes me feel guilty too.

Yep. That's me. Duo Maxwell. Always ridden by guilt in one form or another.

That isn't entirely true. When I'm with Heero, I rarely feel guilty about anything. He calls me his angel and says I always save him from himself, but he is the one who gives me my wings, and reminds me that I can be more than a fallen Angel of Death. I think I give him wings too. He is my Angel of Hope.

Well, for him, I'll do my best to quit talking about it. And a few days after we leave and the kids aren't in front of me anymore, I'll get over it and everything'll be back to normal.

I turn to smile at him and tell him my resolve, and discover he's pulled one of those famous Heero Yuy disappearing acts again. Not two minutes ago he was standing beside me, so close I could catch the scent of cordite that never faded, even after the war. I know it never will. He may have put aside the soldier, but the marks are still there. Heero will always be soldierly in little ways -- his precision, his punctuality, his strength, his focus, and that never-give-up approach he takes to everything he does -- even something as unwarlike as loving me. Or maybe that's a bit more like war than I think. I can be difficult at times.

Now, there's no sign of him. Even his footprints have faded from the thick carpet as if he were a weightless hologram instead of substantial flesh and blood. The bastard is good at that. It's the stealthy part of the soldier in him. I love him for it though. Especially when he uses it to sneak up behind me and surprise me. A weapon of war turned to peace. That's my koi.

I sigh, realizing I've pushed him further than I thought. He's only done this to me a couple of times, and those were always during our worst divisions. This will not go any further. He's right and I know it. Arguing about it won't make either of us feel any better.

I excuse myself and walk through Relena's home. My feet echo softly on the marble floors of the main hallways, the sound muffled by tapestries that line the walls. The Sanc Kingdom may not be a kingdom anymore, but Relena is the undoubted queen of this small corner of the world and seems comfortable in the expansive spaces of her ancestral home -- and in her role as unofficial, unobtrusive ruler. I guess that's how nations were born in the first place, people following a particular leader above others. Humans are like that, I think. We like to have some direction, and it's often easier when that comes from someone else -- someone we respect -- so we don't have to think about which direction we should choose.

I trust Relena with this, though. She got her head on straight quicker than any of us after the first war, even though she'd been raped as bad as any of us. I don't mean in the literal, sexual sense. I don't *think* that happened. There weren't even rumors. But everything she set her hand to as she tried to bring peace during the first war was turned against her. No matter what she did, she was rebuffed, mistreated, abused, forced to watch her ideals violated. No, I don't hate Relena, even though she was generally a royal pain in the ass then. She went through her own acre of Hell like the rest of us, and she survived and came out stronger like the rest of us. As far as I'm concerned, she is one of us.

I know he wouldn't have stayed in this place. He talks about it sometimes, how it was when he stayed here during the first war. I know he only came because I asked and asked and asked. It's one of his least favorite places in the world.

Knowing him, he's outside somewhere, wandering around, maybe looking for some place to watch the sun set and the stars come out. No. That's what I'd be doing. Heero will just be wandering around waiting until he gets the frustration out of his system. I don't particularly want to find him in that state, but I want to be there when the frustration is gone so I can tell him he's right.

And that I love him.

On the front steps, I look around, but there's no sign of him and no one who might've seen him pass. Well, for all our differences, we still have a lot in common, especially when it comes to the past. I close my eyes for a moment, clearing my mind, then open them and start walking. I don't know where he is, but I know I'll find him if I just let memory be my guide -- because most of our memories of this place are shared.

I am surprised when I realize where I'm going. Damn surprised to find myself approaching the house. I shouldn't be though. This is where our memories are. Relena -- I told you she got her head straight quickly. She let us stay there. She was rushing around in the aftermath of the war trying to hold the peace together, so it was usually just the five of us and the small army of people who maintained the Peacecraft estate on a volunteer basis. We didn't ask much of them, though they were more than willing to help whenever we did.

Even though it is the only place we ever shared here, the house is about the last place I'd expect him to be. Maybe memory has led me astray. Or maybe not. Maybe memory has led me where I need to be. I remember us sitting under this tree, me guiding him through poems, letting him find something besides the soldier inside him and loving the sight of the child. And over there, in that field beyond the house. That's where I literally dragged him, protesting with every step, and forced him to spend all night watching the stars with me.

We still sit out and watch the stars whenever we go on vacation. It's just too bright in the city to see them. That's OK, though. I get to see his eyes whenever we're together.

God, those were such good times. Not that I don't like now better, but back then, they were the best times we'd had in our lives. A thousand times better than anything we'd known before. And, though now is a thousand times better than then, that first-time-ness made the feeling seem just a little bit stronger. Or maybe it's only nostalgia making it seem sweeter from a distance.

It was so good to forget the war and see the signs of the world establishing the peace we'd won. But what a costly peace. Ten thousand people dead in the name of Treize Kushrenada alone. Relena has created a memorial for them -- a beautiful garden of ten thousand and one roses, each bearing a name. The one is for Treize himself. Treize was dead. We thought Zechs was dead. They may've been obnoxious, warmongering bastards, but knowing what I know now, I think they wanted the peace as much as the rest of us and were trying to bring it about, in their own, misguided ways. Millions more innocent and not-so-innocent people dead or homeless or maimed or orphaned in the fight. And five young boys who'd had too much responsibility dumped on them too soon.

But compared to the rest, innocence is a small price to pay. We were alive. We were whole, physically. We were healing, mentally. We may not be innocent anymore, but, talking with the others these past few days, I think each of us has found his own peace with the sacrifice. I think each of us believes the sacrifice was worth what was gained.

I remember sitting on the porch with him. Now I have to chuckle because we were just like a pair of courting kids sitting in the swing, afraid to get too close lest the nonexistent parents in the house stick their heads out and scold. But we didn't talk about the things courting kids talk about. We talked about life and how to live it, and mistakes and what we'd done right, and whether or not it was worth it. And he did some of the talking. That was what made me enjoy us sitting in the swing the most. I wasn't carrying the conversation alone in the face of Heero "Aa Hn" Yuy. He was actually talking. And learning. And teaching me.

That's why we're good for each other.

I'm honestly surprised to find that the house holds so many good memories. I'm usually surprised to go anywhere from the past and find good memories, even though it happens every time. I don't know if it's time healing wounds or perspective bringing understanding. I just know I like to find them.

Well, I should move on. The winter sun is setting and it's getting cold, not that cold is likely to drive him back to the party. He's around here somewhere. I'll--

Someone's coming. I look behind me and see Relena. What's she doing here? I put on my public mask. It isn't that far from the truth nowadays, but there are some things I still keep between Heero and me and no one else.

"Duo-san."

"Relena-sama."

She smiles. "Shall we drop the honorifics?" Relena is one of the few people in the world who still says "shall we", making it a request, instead of "let's", making it a suggestion. That's breeding for you. It's also one of the reasons she usually gets what she wants -- people are doing her a favor instead of doing what she says.

"Sure Relena. I didn't expect to see you out here."

"Oh, you know me." She chuckles softly. "I always leave parties before they're over, especially my own."

I remember that. The first time I met Heero -- and shot him. I guess that just goes to show you can overcome a bad first impression. As I keep the memory inside, I say, "Hn."

That brings a laugh from her, though I hadn't intended it to. "You sound just like Heero when you do that."

I blink, realizing I did. "I guess--." I don't want to say, "I guess that happens when you're that close to someone." She doesn't need me rubbing it in her face. She gets to lead the world, though her title wouldn't make you think so. I get Heero Yuy. I think I have the better end of that bargain. So I leave it at "I guess," and try to find something better to talk about. "So, what brings you out this evening?" Casual conversation. That's always safe.

Or so I think. Relena doesn't play games when she doesn't have to -- or when they'd only get in the way. "Two lovers quarreling."

She doesn't add, "... over something stupid." I think it, though. I shrug. "Heero told me once that lovers argue. It happens. We've been through worse." Much worse. And I'm going to make sure this doesn't get any worse. I'm going to make sure this stays a minor disagreement.

As much as I hadn't expected to see her here in the first place, I definitely don't expect what happens next.

--------------------

I watch him through the narrow gap in the curtains, knowing I want to go to him, but not quite yet. He just stands there for a while. At first, I think he has seen me and is waiting for me, but he never looks to see if I am still here at the window. He hasn't seen me. Instead, he looks around here and there. I wonder what his memories of this place are like. Then I see Relena walk up.

They talk for a few minutes. It is hard to follow a conversation when you can only lip-read one side of it, and that imperfectly because of the distance. But when I see, "Two lovers quarreling," I know what she is talking about.

She catches us both off guard when she hugs him. I pull the curtains a tiny bit wider. She is saying something. I miss part of it, but I catch, "... aishiteru."

What? Did I read it right? She said she loves him. And as they break the embrace, I can see he isn't protesting. He is, in fact, nodding. When did this happen? I carefully review everything I can remember and cannot find a time when they could have struck up an affair. Not in the last two years. A part of me is telling me that I am being ridiculous, that something is not right, but all I can see in my mind is Relena saying "aishiteru" and Duo nodding in acceptance.

She looks up and sees me. I drop the curtain. "He's in your old room," she tells him. There is a pause as Duo speaks, then, "Go tell him and get it over with". He nods again.

Over with. I am too stunned to try to escape. The thought doesn't even occur to me until I hear the front door open. I should have locked it. Now that he is in the house, it is too late to run downstairs and out the back without being seen. And the rational part of me -- the part that is not afraid of anything -- it keeps telling me that I know better. It insists there is a reason I need to understand. So I stand at the window, and wait, listening as he walks to the stairs, then up them, then along the hall. He pauses at the door, knocks. When I don't answer he opens it slowly, tentatively. Relena is still standing under the tree, watching the window. Watching me.

"Hello, koi." That last word is completely at odds with what I have just seen. "Aishiteru." That is even more so.

The rational part of me gives ground to the irrational part that is afraid of everything. Damn. Sometimes it was easier being a soldier. There were no feelings to confuse the issue -- no division between what made sense and what didn't. Everything was clearly defined by orders and what was not could be ignored if it didn't affect the mission. Except I was never so much the soldier that I could ignore those things. That is why Relena is still alive.

The rational part gives ground, but does not give up. "Why did Relena tell you she loved you?" I turn to face him.

He blinks for a moment. I have caught him unprepared. "Heero, what the Hell are you talking about?"

The irrational part wins a little more ground. "I saw her say 'aishiteru'. I can read lips, remember?"

I see his eyes go dark with anger for just a moment, then he shakes his head. "She said, 'Heero ga anata o aishiteru.'" He looks at me for a moment, smiling the gentle smile that is half of "joy". "And I said, 'Aa. Shitte iru. Heero o aishiteru.'"

I close my eyes for a moment, glad I left the door unlocked, glad I waited here for him, even if I do not know why I waited. Even though the irrational part briefly got the better of both my head and my heart and made me fear. Before I can open my eyes to apologize for doubting, he walks to me and wraps his arms around me, resting his head against mine. The cinnamon scent that is part of what makes him "Duo" wraps itself around me too. "Even when you're silly," he whispers in my ear. "Even when I'm annoying and you're right." I feel the vibration against my chest, muffled through our jackets. He is purring. I love it when he purrs like that. It is a sensation of pure, unadulterated contentment and love and trust. It reminds me that there is something I need to say.

"I'm sorry, koi." What else can I say? Two things. The most important things. "Aishiteru. Shinyou shiteru." I do trust him. I didn't stop trusting him, though I don't understand how that is true.

He hugs me tighter then. "I know. Otherwise you'd've left instead of hanging around to find out what really happened."

He is right. If I had not trusted him, I would have run regardless of whether he saw me running or not. "Once again, my angel helps me understand myself."

He chuckles over my shoulder, then pulls his head back so he can look at me. "You're right about the kids. 'Your angel' is probably gonna bug the Hell out of you about it for the rest of the week and maybe a few days after, but you're right."

"I know." It will be easier knowing it will end.

"Bastard." He laughs, but it is the subtly softer, truly happy laugh. He knows I'll endure the annoyance with my usual stoic resolve now. It will be easier knowing he is trying.

"We should go back."

He shakes his head. "Relena said she'd make our excuses to the others. I want to stay here tonight." He lowers his lips to mine briefly and I know that the wall that had threatened to rise between us has been undermined by the walls of memory around us. "What were you remembering?" He asks. "What was the best part?"

With no hesitation, I say, "Freedom." It is true. "Laying on my bed, listening to you tell stories, knowing I was free to leave if I chose." I had lived so much of my life under orders. I needed that baby step before I could walk free.

He smiles at me, that gentle smile again. The soft glow in his eyes. Joy. "My favorite was sitting in the swing and you actually talking to me."

I expected the stars or the games or the listening or even the chores, but not that. It is too simple. Even now, Duo usually carries our conversations. The idea that he would want someone to talk to him seems somewhat strange. But Duo always finds value in things I think valueless -- like chocolate chips and shared chores and the words of weapons left alive after the war ends.

It is an idea.

I think this idea will become an action.

"Let's go sit in the swing and talk."

He shakes his head. "I'd rather lay in bed holding you. We can talk there too."

I knew we would do more than talk. And though it meant giving up some freedom to be held, I had given it up months ago when I told him I loved him -- and had gained more than I gave.

"Aa."

Many people mistake sex for love. It isn't. But when love, that mutual, unconditional commitment to an imperfect person, is there first, sex can be more than simple fun. It can be a high statement of two people's devotion to each other -- as well as a lot of fun.

"Let's make another good memory here," I say. I know he treasures good memories. I want to give him another good memory.

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I smile as I see them holding each other, then moving away from the window. That is what I had determined I would see, even if I had to intervene more directly. Once, I wanted Heero for myself. Now I know Duo is better for him and what I truly want is what is best for Heero. And Duo. And all of us. I cannot be happy if the people I love aren't happy, which is something of a bitch when you love the whole world. I sigh quietly. It is time to go back to the others.

"Did you get them straightened out?" I turn to find him leaning against a tree a few paces away, watching me with his dark eyes.

"They aren't straight, and you know it." I smile a different smile at the little joke we say often about our four friends. "But, yes, they won't be joining us this evening." When he was assigned as head of my security detail, I never guessed we would make little jokes about anything.

"Will you?"

I nod. "Of course. I *am* the hostess." He is ever aware of propriety, though he often chooses to ignore it. This time, though, he waits, watching. "Would you be so kind as to escort me back, Wufei?"

He takes my arm and we walk back to the house where the others are. I don't think they've figured us out yet. Except Quatre. "Shall we walk in together and surprise them?"

He looks at me with his inscrutable face, that tiny hint of a smile pulling at his lips. I still don't understand why I am so drawn to men whose statements are so minimal. He nods. "Trying to out-entrance Heero and Duo?"

I laugh. "Maybe." I think its going to be a good evening.

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One of the more interesting challenges of this fic was trying to develop and maintain distinct voices for Heero, Duo and Relena. I wanted you, the reader, to be able to identify the speaker in each segment without too many external cues, just the speaking style.

This is the last of a series of unrelated fics where Wufei and Relena are connected in some way, the previous fics being, "Heero Are You Queer", where it was just hinted that it might happen and "Fortress of the Drow" where Princess Relena and Wufei the Paladin were slated to be married.

At least... so far. <g> For some reason, 5+R/5xR seems like a valid possibility, perhaps because Relena is a lot stronger than she seems, and I think that would be good for Wufei.

D: Yeah. Secretly, Wuffie's a total sub.
W: Kisama!
LW: That is NOT what I meant.
H: I've been monitoring Relena's credit cards and I've noticed a lot of transactions at "Bondage-R-Us" lately?
W: Really? <excited>
D: <grin>
H: Iie.
W: AAAAGH! I demand JUSTICE!
LW: <shakes head> Of course, it's Duo who pointed out how strong she is.
D: Uh... but...
H: <frowning at Duo> Duo-koi. Is there something you haven't told me?
LW: <snicker, evil grin> Just that he bumped into her at Bondage-R-Us the other day.
W: Really? <excited again>
D: OI! You said you wouldn't tell!
H: What... You at... Why?
D: They had a great deal on handcuffs. And--
H: <smirks, grabs Duo> Show me. <drags grinning Duo down hall>
W: <on phone> Hello, Relena? It's Wufei...
LW: <sighs> Horny, kinky bish. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

Since I'm about to go back into lurk, please C&C via email -- kodoku_na_okami@yahoo.com.

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