Part I

At last there was peace. Temporary peace, true, but it was better than constantly being on guard, ready to leap into action at any moment to soar into battle. Those days were over, if only for the time being, and though he wouldn't admit it, Heero was content with this.
Even though he felt restless, as he suspected Wufei might feel, it was better than being a puppet in a war.
It was time to tentatively consider building a future; this was the path his fellow pilots had chosen. Quatre had returned to his Colony to try and clean up his father's reputation and business, and Trowa spent time visiting the blond heir, travelling occassionally from his job at the circus with his 'sis' Katherine.
Wufei-- well, no one knew where Wufei was. Quatre had mentioned something about the lone dragon wandering back towards his Colony, but it didn't look like he would stay long.
And Duo...
Heero paused in his climb up the garden steps, his sharp navy eyes scanning the scene before him.
He'd accepted an invitation from Relena to pay her a visit; apparently, it was her birthday, and she really wanted him to come to her party. He had accepted, for reasons he would rather not explore, and now stood in the garden that surrounded the large manor, habits from the war still imbedded in him as he searched the grounds for any hidden possible attackers. As he started down the garden path towards the entrance to the house, his thoughts flitted back towards his fellow ex-pilots.
The others seemed to be slowly pulling their lives together, making plans for their futures, something he himself hesitated to do.
Duo certainly looked like he had a lot planned for himself; last Heero had heard of the braided boy, he'd been on his way to his home Colony, with that girl... what was her name? Hilde, that was it. Those two had met up again shortly after the war, and they seemed to get along very well. She had insisted on returning with him to his home, and he hadn't argued much, actually seeming to like the idea. Heero gave a small smile.
As little as he liked to admit it, they had all had women that had helped pull them through the war and give them something to fight for. Wufei had been forced to realize that not all women were the weaklings he had thought they were when Sally Po had shown him how believing in something could make someone strong.
Quatre had been reunited with a sister, and protected her for the short time he'd seen her.
Trowa had a close relationship with Katherine, looking upon her as an older sister, and had fought fiercely to protect her from the battleship Libra during the war.
Duo, of course, had Hilde, who he'd apparently spent a lot of time with between the time he met the plucky pilot to right before Duo had been called on a mission. They had actually lived together, and though Duo insisted they were just good friends, Heero suspected the two would hook up now that peace had been established.
And Heero, of course, had spent a lot of time fighting to protect Relena and her ideals.
He frowned slightly as he nodded curtly to the doorman, entering the manor and pausing in the wide hall to get his bearings.
How he felt about Relena was a puzzle to even himself. He had protected her numerous times. After all, if she had died, it would have taken a long time for peace to finally reign. For a long while she had been simply some annoying rich girl who was often too pig-headed about her own ideas of pacifism to see the whole picture, especially about warfare. But during the fight with Libra, she had seemed to have matured more, and Heero had continued protecting her for different reasons. He had suspected that she had strong feelings for him, and he had inwardly admitted he felt something for her, but the fact that she *liked* him hadn't occured to him until Duo, in his blunt way, had blatantly pointed it out.
It had been the day before they all went their separate ways...
"Ne, Heero, what are you gonna do, now that the war's over?"
Heero glanced up to find Duo leaning in the doorframe of his room, sipping something that definately wasn't a soda.
"I don't know."
Duo took another sip, grinning. "I'm goin' back home. Hilde wants to come, too. You gonna go marry Relena or something?"
Heero stopped packing and turned to level a glare at the grinning Shinigami pilot. "What are you talking about?" he asked calmly.
Duo stared at him. "Oh, c'mon, man, you can't be that dense!" he exclaimed. "It's pretty obvious to everyone how much Relena likes you. She's been after you since she met you!"
Heero just stared at him silently.
Duo blew a huge sigh, pushing himself from the doorway and floating into the room in the low gravity. "Look, buddy," he said cheerfully, throwing an arm around Heero's shoulders, "you really need to wake up, y'know? She's completely head over heels over you-- it's actually almost pathetic."
Heero shrugged him off, turning away and resuming his packing. "If you don't have something worthwhile to say," he said in a monotone, "then leave." There was a pause, then he said in a tone less harsh, "I'll be seein' you, Duo."
There was no answer, and for a moment Heero thought he'd left, then suddenly strong arms encircled him for a brief, friendly hug. Heero was too startled to do anything. "Yeah, you take care of yourself, mister 'Perfect Soldier'," Duo chuckled, releasing him and floating backwards, towards the door. He grinned widely, giving Heero thumbs up as the Wing Zero pilot turned to watch him leave. "Keep on protectin' that princess of yours!" And with that he'd turned and floated off down the hall. That was the last they'd seen of each other.
"Miss Relena is waiting for you in the den, I believe," the doorman offered. Nodding, Heero headed towards the sounds of laughing voices. His brow puckered a little in puzzlement, and his steps slowed. Funny, it didn't sound like a large group. He would have thought a lot of people would attend the birthday of the former Queen of the World.
He was just reaching for his gun when a loud familiar voice cried out, "Oi, Wu-man, watch it! You're gonna light the whole house on fire!"
An irate voice answered, "Shut up, Maxwell! I know what I'm doing!" Heero blinked.
He hurried towards the den, halting at the entrace to stare at the scene before him.
Relena was sitting at the head of a large table, leaning back cautiously as Chang Wufei carefully lit the sixteen candles on an oversized birthday cake.
Beside him, watching anxiously, was Quatre Winner, biting his lip to keep his warnings to himself as a drop of hot wax fell to the table. Trowa Barton stood behind him, a glass of water in his hand, watching with his emotionless green eyes. Katherine was seated nearby at the table.
Dorothy Catalonia, smiling slightly, was standing next to Relena's chair, looking amused. A few chairs down sat a young girl-- Heero recognized her as the girl called Hilde --with bright wide eyes, laughing.
And sitting beside her, his chair tipped back perilously as he offered sarcastic advice, was none other than Duo Maxwell, Shinigami, dressed in his typical black attire as he sipped champane.
Suddenly the Deathscythe pilot looked up, and his eyes fell on Heero, observing them silently from the doorway. He almost fell out of his chair, yelling loudly.
"Heero! Long time no see!"
Immediately everyone turned to face him, wearing welcoming smiles; all but Wufei and Trowa, of course, who merely nodded sociably. Relena rose from her seat, her eyes shining, her smile, like Quatre's, radiant and warm.
"Heero! I knew you'd come."
Heero nodded. "Happy birthday, Relena," he said quietly, entering the room. Relena was still beaming at him, and he felt his tension relax, a feeling of warmth trickling through him. She was genuinely happy to see him. Maybe Duo had been right.
"Now that you're all here," Relena said happily, gesturing, "can you all be seated? I'd like to cut the cake. You're all very kind to come."
As they obliged, Quatre said politely, "Thanks for inviting us. It's great to see all of you again."
Heero chose the closest seat, two chairs down from Duo. The braided boy grinned at him, his tone light and cheerful, but his eyes glowing. "Good to see you again, Heero," he said. "I missed you guys."
The pleasant, unfamiliar warmth in Heero grew, and he offered the slightest suggestion of a smile. "Ohayo, Duo-kun." As much as he hated to admit it, he had actually missed the company of the other pilots, and Duo had been the closest thing to a real friend he'd ever had.
Duo's smile widened, then he turned his attention towards the head of the table, lifting his glass. "So c'mon, let's cut the cake! Looks good!"
Relena smiled and reached for the knife, but Quatre stayed her hand. "You have to make a wish, first," he reminded her, laughing.
"Oh, that's right." She released the knife and stared into the candlelight for a moment, obviously making her silent wish. Then she took a deep breath and blew hard.
"Hey, you missed one," Duo pointed out as they all clapped.
"What did you wish for, Miss Relena?"
To their surprise, Relena blushed a little and stammered, "Oh, well, Dorothy, you know it's supposed to be a secret!"
Duo grinned at Heero knowingly, and Relena, still a little red, began cutting the cake.
They ate their cake and ice cream quickly, conversing easily without bringing up the war, discovering what each of the ex-pilots was doing.
It turned out that Duo and Hilde were staying in an apartment together at his Colony, doing odd jobs. They didn't have much money, but they looked happy enough.
Wufei had wandered aimlessly for a while, but was currently visiting some old friends on his own Colony.
Quatre was still working at his father's business on *his* colony, and Trowa was currently staying with him.
That left Heero.
"So, pal, whatcha been up to?" Duo asked, streching and nudging his plate aside. "Still the Perfect Soldier?"
Duo grinned impishly. "Still keeping your eye on a certain girl an' protectin' her?"
Across the table, Relena ducked her head, but Heero just stared stonily at Duo for a moment before replying in the same monotone, "Hai."
Relena looked up in surprise, her face flushing, and Duo smirked. Something in his violet eyes flickered, too fast for anyone to decipher, but he continued his teasing, "Planning on marrying this girl some day? Maybe popping out a few kids..."
Quatre quickly interrupted as Heero's face grew darker and Relena's turned redder. "Ano, Heero! So what are you doing with yourself nowadays?" he blurted.
The Wing pilot slowly tore his glare from Duo's smug face, staring intently into his bowl as he attacked his ice cream grimly. "Nothing," he said in clipped tones.
When he didn't offer to explain, Hilde leaned forward a little, smiling at Relena. "Relana-sama, why don't you open your presents, now?"
"Oh, good idea," Relena said quickly, smiling as Trowa plucked up a package from the small pile and handed it to her.
Heero looked up, blinking. Presents? Well, he was already covered; he'd given her a teddy bear a week ago, leaving it in her shuttle. Surely she didn't expect anything more from him.
"Duo!" Hilde cried suddenly, amid the chatter as Relena was thanking Quatre for his gift. "Be careful, you just spilled some of your champane!"
Duo gave her a wounded look. "So I'm a little clumsy." He finished the glass in one gulp, smacking his lips appreciatively. "'S good."
"Don't drink too much," Hilde warned, then turned as Relena exclaimed at the present Trowa and Katherine had gotten her.
Finally the presents were all unwrapped. Hilde was scolding Duo quietly for inhaling nearly four glasses of champane when the braided boy said a little loudly, "Oi, Heero, where's *your* present?"
Heero offered him a stony look.
"Well?" Duo leered, leaning on his hand and raising an eyebrow. "If you didn't bother to get her nothin', the least you can do is..give her..." he seemed to concentrate, scrunching up his face, then suddenly proclaimed brightly, "A kiss! A birthday kiss!"
Heero's jaw twitched. Relena turned crimson and began stammering thank you's to her guests, rising quickly and ringing for her servant to clear the table.
"C'mon, Heero," Duo laughed over her voice, completely undaunted by the icey glare the other pilot threw towards him. "Fer god's sake, what d'ya think she *wished* for? C'mon, be nice, jus' one little kiss..." he snickered, slumping a little, and Hilde gave an embarassed curse, rising quickly and trying to pull Duo out of his chair.
"Gomen, Relena-sama," she said quickly, "he's had a little too much to drink..."
"Did not," Duo said hotly as she succeeded in yanking him to his feet.
Relena managed a smile. "Daijabou. I hope you'll all be able to stay here tonight. If you like, a servant can show you to your rooms."
"Arigato," Hilde said, struggling with Duo as she led the stumbling boy towards the door. "C'mon, Duo, you're making a fool of yourself," she hissed, trying not to smile as he grinned dopily at her.
Then suddenly he lurched away, staggering towards the door, babbling something about being able to look after himself.
Heero, who had been rising from the table at that moment, managed to catch the other boy as his knees promptly gave out on him and he collapsed into the other pilot's arms.
"Baka," Heero growled, stepping away from the table and trying to straighten his friend. "Knock it off."
Quatre was talking to Dorothy, with Trowa behind him, and Wufei was listening to something Katherine was saying. They didn't seem to notice what was going on. Hilde, looking embarrassed, moved towards her incapacitated companion.
", I'll take him..."
Heero gave an annoyed grunt as Duo giggled a little and went completely limp. "Never mind," he said in his monotone, bending down a little and lifting the boy effortlessly into his arms. He straightened, shrugging so the boy's head lolled against his chest and didn't hang over his arm; if he did that, and Duo woke up to find Heero had let his braid drag on the ground, he'd never hear the end of it. "He just passed out. I'll take him to his room."
Hilde looked a little concerned, but relieved. "Arigato, Yuy-kun. I'll go get his bags." Heero nodded curtly and strode from the room, the slumbering Shinigami in his arms.
He paused at the top of the stairs as Duo shifted in his arms. Staring down at him, he snapped, "Are you awake? Can't you walk, yet?"
He had been surprised at how light the boy was, but he figured Duo would be embarrassed being carted around by a fellow pilot. At least, if he'd been *sober*, he would have been shamed.
Instead, Duo merely giggled and wrapped his arms around Heero's neck, startling the other boy. "I'll fly you to the moon and back," he began crooning off-tune, then gave a happy little sigh and buried his face in Heero's neck, mumbling in a slurred voice, "Those're th' wrong notes...oh, well..hehe.." He fell silent for a moment, then said quietly, "You shmell nice, Heero...."
Heero shivered involuntarily as he felt Duo inhale deeply against his throat.
"I like your shmell," Duo said drowsily, then yawned and passed out again.
Heero stood frozen on the landing to the second floor, unblinking eyes staring down the hall, his back rigid. His face showed no emotion, but his entire body was tense, and anyone who knew Heero well would have noticed the faint confusion in the back of the pilot's eyes.
Hearing Hilde talking to someone at the foot of the stairs, he continued down the hall, nodding towards a nearby servant. "Where's Maxwell's room?" he asked bluntly.
The servant pointed towards a door, and Heero strode over to it, booting it open before the other man could help. Leaving the door ajar so Hilde could enter with the bags, he carried his burden to the large bed, ignoring the finery of the room as he stretched his fellow pilot (ex-pilot, he reminded himeself) out on the comforter, pulling off his shoes, tossing them aside. Then he leaned over Duo's torso, tugging the black shirt off, a look of long suffering on his face. How many times in the past had he had to put Duo to bed because he was either too exhausted or injured to do it himself?
It had become something he did without thinking much about; he knew that Duo had once done the same for him, when he'd been injured very badly. He could still faintly remember Duo's strained face and worried, tight voice as he hovered over the Wing pilot, pulling off his blood stained clothes and calling him an idiot for almost killing himself.
He was just beginning to tug at the other boy's pants so he could at least sleep comfortably in his boxers and T-shirt, when hands suddenly grabbed his shoulders, yanking hard. He was so startled by the attack, he lost his balance, tumbling over and practically falling on top of Duo. Luckily his instincts kicked in, and his arms shot out, his hands landing on either side of Duo's head, preventing him from conking heads with the intoxicated pilot. Breathing hard in annoyance and surprise, he glared down at the sleepily grinning face mere inches from his own.
"Baka," Heero growled. "What are you..."
"Why didn't you kiss Relena?" Duo demanded, pouting. "You prob'ly hurt her feelin's.."
Taken aback by the unexpected question, it took Heero a moment to reply. "I didn't want to," he said shortly, starting to pull away.
Duo's arms wound around his neck, holding him stubbornly in place. "Why not?"
"Duo.." Heero's voice turned menacing. "I have no reason to kiss anyone." In his annoyance, he struck out in a flash of immaturity. "Besides, I don't see *you* kissing Hilde."
Duo's eyes widened suddenly, and he quickly released Heero. The former Wing pilot rose from the bed, straightening his tank top. "If I should kiss Relena, then you kiss Hilde," he snapped.
"But... Me, kiss Hilde?" Duo's laugh was nervous. "C'mon, Heero..don't be silly. Her 'n' me are really good friends, an' while I don' know how *she* feels, I just don' feel like that for her."
Heero looked slightly perplexed. "Don't you like her?"
"Well, yeah!" Duo sat up, resting his back against the headboard and blinking up at Heero. "I guess I could learn to like her as more'n a friend in time, but she's jus' kinda... you know, someone I can actually *trust*."
Heero's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You don't sound so drunk anymore."
"Drunk?" Duo blinked. "I don't get drunk easy," he stated. "I just go crazy for a few minutes, right after the alcohol hits. I'm feelin' better already."
Duo blew his bangs from his face, cocking his head inquisitively. "So I don't like Hilde that way. But what about you 'n' miss Queen of the World? I mean, you two are practically a couple."
Heero was silent for a long moment, and Duo's face seemed to soften, his tone quieter. "I know that you have a hard time with emotions; Dr. J told me some stuff.." he cut off, looking away, then said after a pause, "I guess you probably wouldn't recognize love if it bit you on the ass, but I've got a news flash for you, buddy." He stared Heero in the eye, looking a little amused. "Relena's been crazy for you since she *saw* you."
Heero shifted, suddenly a little uncomfortable. He frowned. "You have room to talk," he shot back, "about love. You don't love Hilde; what would *you* know about it?"
For a second something like pain flashed in Duo's eyes, then suddenly his face twisted and he shouted, "That's right, what would I know! I'm just Shimigami, I don't have time for garbage like that, right?"
Heero almost took a step back, surprised by the anger in Duo's voice.
"And neither do you," Duo ranted. "Cause you're the fucking 'Perfect Soldier', who..." his voice suddenly caught, and he coughed, looking away, his tone quieter and rough, "..who had all his emotions stripped away too soon."
There was a long moment of tense silence, and Heero was just about to turn and walk out when Duo's quiet voice held him.
The Shinigami pilot was staring down at his hands curled up in his lap, his ragged bangs hiding his violet eyes. "There was never any time for foolishness like that before, ne, Heero? All of us spent most of our lives training, and then there was that stupid war. Love would have only gotten in the way. You forced yourself to distance yourself from Relena because you knew this, and so probably destroyed any chance you had of ever really loving her. I was friendly to Hilde, but I was always careful not to feel anything for her. Now that the war is over, we're good friends, but I can't bring myself love her." He fell silent again, then shuddered slightly, his voice dropping even lower. "'s different when you're around some people all the time...when you can't push them away because you have to stick together. That's why all five of us are friends."
Heero was staring at the ground, fists clenched, but he said nothing.
Duo gave a humorless chuckle. "It's pretty...pretty obvious with Trowa and Quatre, ne?" he whispered. "They've always been close, since they first met. And because they spent so much time together, they....fell in love..."
Heero's head jerked up. Sure, he'd been aware that the two pilots had been close, but... He should have guessed. But then, he knew next to nothing about the subject of love.
"Wufei will probably be too scared of love to ever try it out," Duo continued with dry humor, still staring at his hands. "How sad..."
Heero swallowed hard, his voice a little rough. "What about you?"
Duo seemed to tense, his fists clenching the blanket, though his voice came out cheerful. The tone was forced. "What're you talking about, Heero? I told you, I don't love Hilde.."
"Then who do you love?" Heero asked quietly.
Duo's fists were crushing the blanket, and he seemed to be trying to calm his breathing, his face still hidden. "Who..who said anything about that?" he tried to ask lightly, but ended up sounding almost desperate. "I never said I was in love..." He heard a slight noise, then a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder, the other curling under his chin and forcing him to look up.
Heero stared down into Duo's wide, terrified eyes, seeing the pain lurking in the back of the violet orbs. Something in him seemed to tighten, and he heard his own voice ask camly, "Who do you love?"
Duo held his breath, biting his lip, staring up at Heero, refusing to answer for a long agonizing minute.
"Duo.." Heero breathed.
And suddenly the crystal-clear eyes shattered like glass. Duo's face crumpled, and he dove foward into Heero's arms, wrapping his own around the boy's neck, hugging fiercely and sobbing tearlessly into his shoulder. "I don't trust it, I don't!" he cried into the strong shoulder. "I don't trust it, dammit!"
Heero lowered himself so he was sitting beside the braided boy, his arms circling the sobbing pilot's waist tightly. "What? What don't you trust?" He demanded.
Duo gasped for breath. "My... heart.."
Heero raised his head as he heard the female voice in the hallway.
"Duo, where are you?"
"Hilde," Heero said shortly, avoiding the other boy's eyes as he gently pulled away.
Duo bit his lip and said nothing, looking back into his lap at the clenched fists he lowered into it.
Hilde entered the room, carrying two duffel bags. She beamed when she spotted Duo in the bed. "Oh, good! Here you are. Are you feeling better?"
Duo nodded, offering a weak smile. "Just tired.."
"Arigato, Heero-kun," Hilde said as the pilot in question walked by silently. He nodded briefly, his eyes flickering towards the figure in the bed, then exited without a word.
"What's wrong with him?" Hilde asked, beginning to unpack Duo's things.
"Oh.." Duo managed a grin. "He's always like that."

~~ to be con't...

Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Ch. 4/Epilogue