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If You Love Me (Part 2)


Part Three

 

It was a dull, resonant ache -- like the uncontrollable shakes following

an adrenaline rush, the ones that presaged a collapse. Only now, however

much Duo wished he could sink into the comforting mindlessness of black

unconscious, some cruel trick of his brain wouldn't let him. Heero's

cold words had peeled through the layers of his defenses, hurting him in

the place he lived.

 

"Teme!" Duo gritted, icy-hot pinpricks searing the corners of his eyes,

but going no further. Habit kept him from the release of crying, even.

"Baka yarou! That *bastard!*" After everything they'd gone through --

the war, separation, Relena -- now *this* and Heero was gone.

 

Duo loved him so much it hurt. In fact, he was hurting right now

*because* he loved Heero so much. With no one else in his life had he

been so open, granting them this much access to his guarded heart and

mind, not even as close inside him as Solo and Maxwell Church had

been...and now Heero had that access, and he was laid bare. Heero had

the power to damage him the way no one else did, with a single hateful

sentence.

 

Sayonara, Duo.

 

He stumbled through the crowd, buffeted by a wave of bodies, bruising and

uncaring. It was a horrible shock, how the bottom could be ripped out of

his happiness in just a few short minutes. Fifteen minutes ago -- maybe

not even that -- he'd been happy with his life, his lover, and the

glowing future they'd surely have together.

 

 

Now Heero was gone, and he wasn't entirely sure why.

 

He slumped to a miserable ball on the curb, drained of the will to push

his way any further. He could take all the steps away from Heero that he

liked, distancing himself from the place where it had happened, but the

hurt followed. It sat inside and throttled his ribcage with relentless

talon-tipped fingers.

 

"Heero," he murmured, senses dulling until he'd blocked out everything

but the agony.

 

After an interminable length of time, during which he replayed that

wrenching instant over and over again, a whiff of air settled in front of

him and then a familiar face peered at him worriedly. "Duo."

 

His irises swiveled to fix on her and he tried to muster up a smile.

"Hilde. Yo."

 

"Duo...gomen ne...you dropped this." Her warm fingers pressed the band

into his chill ones, and for a violent instant he resisted the urge to

pitch it into the crowd. Lost forever.

 

Hilde's expression was trembling and apologetic, as if she realized what

had happened, between him and Heero. Well, she must know. As if the

sorry figure he cut wasn't enough of a clue.

 

"Thank you," he replied, voice dull as he responded with the automatic

courtesy, unable to manage even a feeble smile.

 

"Duo, I'm so sorry. Relena-sama--"

 

"I already know," he interrupted her, dropping his gaze to stare at the

wedding band in his palm. He didn't want her words to force him to

relive that awful instant again. The inscription that swam in his vision

made the little beast inside his chest turn from shredding his ribcage to

gleefully bleed his heart. 'Forever together.' A bitter laugh squeezed

out of his throat. "And even after we figured it out, I questioned his

love for me."

 

Stupid, Duo. Stupid. Baka ne! You *know* Heero's a literal

bastard! This was as much his fault as his lover's.

 

"Well, don't just sit here!" Hilde's sharp voice was a slap to the face,

penetrating the haze clouding his perceptions.

 

Duo looked up, startled out of his funk. Hilde gave him a sliver of a

smile.

 

"You love him, don't you?"

 

"Aa..."

 

"Then go *after* him, baka! Don't let him go." Her expression was a wry

mixture of mischief and longing. "You'll be miserable without him, ne?

So don't just give up and sit here like a moron!"

 

Duo blinked, then pulled a long face at himself. Yes, his world had come

tumbling down around his ears -- but Duo Maxwell did not give up so

easily! Maybe Heero was going to be a fatalistic bastard, giving up

their relationship for lost the first time they made a mistake, but not

him! Come to think of it -- Heero had an awful predilection for

self-destructing the moment he thought he'd failed. The more he thought

about it, the more it seemed that was what he was doing now. Punishing

himself -- and Duo, by extension -- for misjudging the situation. For

"failing" him.

 

He leapt to his feet, determination settling over his features and

Hilde's face brightened in reply.

 

"Yosh'! I'll show him Duo Maxwell doesn't give up so easily!" Duo

fisted the ring and smacked his clenched fingers into his palm.

 

"That's it!" Hilde beamed at him. "That's m-- that's the Duo I know!"

 

He grinned at her, then put the ring securely on his finger before

anything *else* could happen.

 

Hmm...where would Heero be?

 

"Thanks, Hilde!" he tossed out, and the former OZ pilot just smiled and

bowed her head as he darted into the mob again.

 

Well...he'd just stake out Wing Zero. Sooner or later, his lover could

wander the whole world but he would have to go back to his precious

Gundam. Of that Duo could be sure. It was a carryover from the days he

thought Heero cared more about Wing than anything else, even him.

 

But first...there were a few things he had to get.

 

* * *

 

Coming to a dead stop at the fringe of the celebrations, Heero ground

fists into his eyes until the iridescent bursts against his eyelids

eclipsed the moment Duo's violet eyes fractured. He had done it. There

was no escaping that. It was *his* abrupt words that had driven the

final wedge, not Relena's deception, and he couldn't avoid it. He could

not deny the consequences of his own actions.

 

"I don't deserve him," Heero informed himself coldly. His stomach

clenched reply.

 

This was supposed to be a night of festivities, of celebration for the

war they'd helped to end. And somehow had come through, with both their

lives intact. And now he'd managed to ruin it for the one person that

mattered, for the boy he should be sharing it with.

 

"K'so," he muttered, turning away from the bright lights and happy faces.

The only thing he deserved now was darkness.

 

The war was over.

 

But a life perfecting the ability to kill, to maim and cause pain, was

not so easily cast aside. The reflex remained. And though Duo was no

enemy, he had lashed out after feeling himself attacked by those words.

If...then... "If you loved me..." "Then maybe I don't." Thrust.

Parry. Riposte. The war was over, but it was the only way of life he

deserved.

 

There was no place for him, a boy who knew nothing but how to hurt. And

now he'd hurt the one thing that could have given him purpose *beyond*

war.

 

"Might as well go self-destruct," he mocked himself, with a hollow

accompanying laugh.

 

"What's so funny?" a smooth honey tone interrupted his desolation.

 

Heero's spine crackled upright. He whirled.

 

"What are YOU doing here!?" he growled, one fist upraising automatically.

His triggered reflex was one of violence, always. With a muttered curse

Heero let his hand drop. It was this kind of automated response that had

pushed Duo away.

 

Relena Peacecraft eyed him coolly, a small knowing smile sitting on her

calm features. Heero resisted the urge to wipe the almost-smirk off her

face with a backhand. Her mouth twitched upwards. "I know you won't

hurt me. You can't -- you're indebted to me." Her pale blue eyes were

confident, and dismayingly accurate. "I know you, Heero."

 

He gritted his teeth. She *thought* she knew him, and that superficial

veneer of her smug suppositions was more dangerous than Duo's true

knowledge of him. Relena shaped the primacy of her initial notions to

fit her into her own world, extending to everything from her pacifist

ideals to her view of *him.* She was accustomed to getting her own way.

But he would never be for her what she wanted.

 

"I'm leaving," he informed her, voice harsh, and turned to go.

 

"Where will you go?" Relena inquired, eyes fixed on him. With two hands

she smoothed her skirt out.

 

Heero glared at her. He couldn't kill her -- he couldn't touch her, even

though for sheer satisfaction he'd like to somehow make her feel the

moment of stunned immobility, the seize of pain he'd felt on seeing Duo's

wedding band on Hilde's finger. Which had been *her* doing. Even now,

she felt no remorse -- she stood there, actually feeling *good* about

what she'd done!

 

He looked at her and shook his head at the watchful look in her eyes. He

knew he couldn't do it.

 

Relena was the 'Queen of the World,' the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the

head of the Sank kingdom and as such, she was important. He ground his

teeth to admit it, but she was necessary to continue peace along its

course, with her will to force matters into an ordered reality. She had

a place in this post-war life, in the way of things, that he did not

have.

 

But she would *never* force him into her ordered reality.

 

"Away from you," he responded rudely, and turned at last. He had to get

away from her before his reflex outstripped his reason. Or before she

laid any claims.

 

"Heero. I'll see you again. Yakusoku soru," Relena informed him. Her

voice was maddening. When the red receded from his vision, she was still

talking. "I owed you my life once -- now you owe me yours."

 

It galled him. He nearly screamed aloud with rage, roaring a defiance

that had only gripped him before in the middle of battle, the urge to

shout out his pain and bitter fury at a world that had never given him

the ability to do anything but kill, and become a soldier-pawn, and dream

of Death. Well, Death had come into his life, the lover he had always

dreamed of and more, and Death had not claimed his life.

 

No, Death had claimed his soul.

 

He turned again, so swift she almost jumped. "All right," he agreed

evenly. "I owe you. What do you want to do about it?"

 

Relena tilted her head for a second, then gave him a tiny smile. "I'm

leaving to go home tomorrow. Back to the Sank kingdom. I'd like it very

much if you would come to see me."

 

So polite. So civil. He scowled. Yet it wasn't an unreasonable demand.

After all, she hadn't asked that he go *with* her. Instead, he replied

with something she didn't expect. "Why do you always follow me around?"

Simple. Direct. Hopefully he'd get a reasonable answer.

 

Relena's smile deepened. "You told me once that you would kill me.

Well...I know why you can't." She ducked her head, cheeks flushing

faintly.

 

Heero frowned. She had no idea why he couldn't kill her.

 

"We'll see," he replied to her earlier question, and turned before she

could reach out and detain him.

 

He broke into a run, feet carrying him with swift certainty to the rented

room he'd been sharing with Duo.

 

If he did this -- if he walked away, if he cut the most important thing

out of his life, it would be Relena who won as a part of his soul that

he'd only recently discovered bled away. Trained reflex, striking back

to hurt in equal measure, had caused this initial wedge to be driven. If

he let Duo slip through his fingers forever, though, the blame was

entirely his. Instinct or Relena could not be held accountable. Only

his own stupidity.

 

Pride lay in pieces, compared to the alternative.

 

It took him nearly a half-hour of steady running, but he kept up the

pace, brow soaked by the time he got back. He and Duo had taken a bus to

the celebrations, earlier. Laughing, Duo had lurched into him when the

bus swept around a curve, forcing him to either put an arm around him, or

be toppled. Braid still wet from their shower together, he had chattered

on happily about prospects in the colonies, and the best place to settle.

Together.

 

It was his -- *their* -- promise. 'Forever together.'

 

Nothing Relena said, not even her promise, her expectations, or her

reminder of his debt, could eclipse that. Now...if only he wasn't too

late.

 

* * *

 

The room was dark and empty, when he got back. Duo shoved back trite

comparisons to his heart and mood and bit his lip when his eye fell on

the bed, still rumpled from their earlier romp. A towel lay crumpled and

discarded in the middle of the floor. Dammit, why did the place reek of

Heero?

 

*Stupid,* he told himself. *Because Heero's your lover. And you made

love in this room.* He resolutely ignored the bed and cast about for his

knapsack.

 

When Heero had landed, one of the reporters had asked what he was going

to do, after the war. Heero had slept. But *he* hadn't gotten that

Christmas gift yet...and this wasn't July, it was just the right time for

this gift and hopefully Heero would remember what it meant.

 

A wry smile tugged his lips.

 

That failing, he could always use it to *forcefully* prevent Heero from

leaving.

 

Duo found the knapsack and upended it over the bed. His stuff spilled

out of the bag in a jumbled mess, small treasures and odds and ends too

precious to give up even in the middle of war. His much-battered

minidisc player and the knotted tangle of headphones; a snapshot of

himself and Heero, taken at one of the high schools they had attended

together, an old silver hairbrush missing some bristles that Heero had

used to brush his hair out. The lucky yen piece that he had loaned to

Heero, making him promise in the middle of a war-torn world that he would

return the money someday. If Heero Yuy borrowed something, Heero Yuy was

damned well obligated to return it, and discharge his debts. And he had.

 

And the last...Duo sucked in a breath, a grin creeping over his face in

spite of himself. The small, compact black oval case reminded him of an

afternoon of experimenting, and trust, that was the sum of their

relationship. Both of them had been hesitant and experimental in the

beginning. And slowly, even unwillingly, trust had developed between

them.

 

Resulting in a bond more unbreakable than the hard exterior of Gundam.

 

It was *that* he had to remind Heero of, if only he was given the chance.

 

Duo stood, unfurling his limbs in a liquid movement, ready to skip out of

the hotel and the room that still smelled like Heero, and go perch

himself on Wing Zero for as long as it took.

 

Maybe, if things had gone differently, he would have been able to be

happy with Hilde. And just maybe, Heero *would* have ended up with

Relena. She was certainly persistent enough to pursue him to the ends of

the earth -- she'd proved it -- and just maybe, her incessant attempts to

draw him out would have partially succeeded. At least enough to win her

the trappings of a Perfect Soldier husband. As for him, well -- Hilde

was a sweet girl, and fought for what she believed in...how could he

*not* like the girl; she had saved his life!

 

Duo scowled, grabbing up his bag and tossing the long braid over his

shoulder. Well, Relena *hadn't* won him first; *he* had. Maybe it was

pure Maxwell luck, maybe it was fate.

 

What mattered to him now was that he didn't let a good thing go.

 

It was an easy task to slip past security at the base; everyone was out

celebrating. The war was over and people were happy. There had even

been talk of melting all the mobile suits down as a decisive action of

pacifism.

 

Hands on his hips, Duo threw his head back and looked at Wing. The

impersonal "eyes" of the suit stared out into the night, every bit as

expressionless as Heero's face ever got.

 

"Where's your partner, huh?" Duo gave the mobile suit a lopsided smile

and climbed up to sit on the opened hatch. He seated himself

cross-legged and sighed as he looked out on the bright twinkling lights

of the city.

 

Everyone was so happy tonight.

 

Everyone... He bit his lip and dug through his knapsack, extracting the

headphones. Might as well *try* to keep himself entertained while he

waited for Heero. If Heero ever showed up.

 

He *had* to show up.

 

And he'd have to tread over his dead body to get to that cockpit!

 

Duo scowled and flipped on the disc player. This stakeout was more than

a little pathetic, and every bit as obsessive as Relena had ever gotten.

But he *had* to prove to Heero that things weren't over between them. He

wouldn't let them be. Sure, they had issues to discuss. But damn it,

Heero was NOT going to walk out of his life with a kiss and a sayonara.

 

"Fatalist," he accused the absent Japanese pilot.

 

Then he settled onto his back, arms folded beneath his head, and blinked

up at the stars. They twinkled back softly. The music was a promise and

a reminder of what they had -- what they would still have! He blinked

fiercely, and fell asleep trying very hard not to cry.

 

*Boys don't cry.*

 

* * *

 

The door banged open and Heero tossed the room in a single glance. Duo

wasn't here but he had been -- his knapsack was gone.

 

K'so!

 

He shut the door behind him, locked it, and only then let himself slide

to the floor, braced against the unyielding wood, arms locked around his

knees as he stared at the bed. The rumpled bed. The room smelled like

Duo.

 

*Stupid. He could be anywhere by now.*

 

He got up and methodically gathered his things. He wouldn't be needing

the room any longer. And he couldn't stand to stay here for another

night, scenting Duo, feeling the absence all along his skin, when it was

only his stupidity and vicious reflexes that had caused it. He couldn't

stay here and then face Relena in the morning.

 

Heero paused, spotting a jumble of things on the bed. Duo's stuff. Why !?

 

He closed his eyes and his face hardened again, falling into that

so-familiar non-expression. Closing out emotion.

 

Reminders. A picture taken at one of those high schools, of he and Duo.

Duo's arm thrown casually around his shoulders -- and after the snapshot

had been taken, he'd tossed the arm away and given him a hard glare.

Uncomfortable on the inside with his own reaction to the gesture.

 

A battered silver hairbrush, stolen way back when from some supermart or

another. Missing more than a few bristles, but for some reason Duo had

kept the thing. Maybe because he'd used it time and again to brush out

Duo's hair.

 

The lucky yen piece that Duo had loaned to him, eyes desperate. Prying a

promise out of him despite his resolution not to *make* a promise,

knowing he would understand the distinction between giving him the money,

and loaning it. Because if you borrowed something, you had to give it

back.

 

With steady fingers, Heero gathered up the keepsakes. Duo had left them

here. He didn't want them anymore. His decision was clear.

 

He nodded once, then slung his pack over his shoulders.

 

There was only one thing to do.

 

***

Part Four

 

 

Pulse fluttering, she fitted fingertips to the partly-gilded surface of

the mirror. In the light of the morning it was hard to believe that he

had stood before her, his faery beauty backlit by the lights of the

celebration, and asked her what she wanted him to do. *He* had asked

*her!*

 

Relena picked up the ivory-handled brush and began to run it through her

hair, humming softly. It was a promising development. She felt a prick

of conscience for the deception -- for making him believe that Duo had

been unfaithful -- but it faded quickly. Who was to say that it might

not be true? Duo from what she had seen wasn't the most solidly-grounded of

personalities. His infatuation might be a fleeting teenage experimentation, and he would stray sooner or later if that were the case. And she simply couldn't believe that a relationship between two boys could be more than a short-lived sexual curiosity, an aberration when all was said and done.

 

Hopefully now, all *was* said and done between them.

 

Heero was masculine. He was all sensual male grace, and she had seen his

strength in action. Such a beautiful force. He was very definitely *male.*

 

With a sharp tug she jerked the brush through a tangle and made a face.

Then she set it down and began plaiting her long wheat-blonde hair.

 

Today she departed for the Sank kingdom, and Heero had said he would show

up. If she was lucky, she could convince him to go with her. Or at the

very least, convey a piece of her feelings. Show him that, now that they

had made peace together, there was a life after the war, a shining future

of upholding the ideals he had helped to realize.

 

"Heero, I love you so much," she whispered, tying off the braids and

gathering them up to the back of her head. "I only want to be with you."

 

She loved him so much it ached. Since the moment she had first seen him,

startled but still calculating Prussian eyes in a face of

Michelangelo-chiseled beauty and his lithe body had launched into action,

making a hasty exit...she had been dreaming of him. Even his cruel,

quietly-uttered words later, 'omae o korosu,' had only served to deepen

the fascination. What was he hiding with those harsh words? He had

never been able to bring himself to do it, to actually hurt her. For all his

killer's training he could not kill *her.*

 

Relena felt like she could see a place inside of him that no one else

could. Even Duo had misjudged him on their first meeting -- her pretty

mouth twisted. His beloved Duo had tried to kill him then, and what of

that? *She* had stopped Duo. *She* had bandaged Heero's bloodied arm

and thigh from strips of her own birthday dress. What of that? She had felt

from the moment she looked into his steel-cool eyes that he had buried

feeling and emotion deep inside himself, un-learned how to be human in

the pursuit of perfection. Dr. J had said as much.

 

"I saw him first," Relena told the mirror. Her reflection gave her a

firm nod. "I'm the one who flew to Antarctica to give him Mistress Noventa's

letter of absolution, to ease his heart..." Yet he had refused even that

much comfort from her. She had crossed the ends of the earth, and it

meant nothing. She would give up her life in an instant for one kiss,

one soft word from his sensuous mouth.

 

Yet his kisses were reserved for Duo. A laughing, violet-eyed, psychotic

Gundam pilot who thought he was the God of Death. Duo couldn't possibly

realize the depths of Heero's hidden heart.

 

She stood from the vanity and flushed.

 

He was most certainly a fling. An experiment. Boys were like that, she

had read -- they constantly had sex on their minds. Duo had been

convenient. Or their relationship was the result of camaraderie and the

tension of war -- she had done some reading, after her discovery -- but

she did feel ashamed for what she had done, not so long ago.

 

It still brought a thrum of heated angry blood to her cheeks in

remembrance. She had been furious and hurt. But the whole incident was

clearly, sickeningly imprinted on her mind, as badly as she wanted to

forget. She'd wanted to *hurt* Duo, and before she'd even realized it

those hysterical words had come pouring out of her mouth, and she had

struck at him with all her force. Not really expecting to inflict any

damage -- he was a Gundam pilot, after all -- but after the third kick to

his ribs the anger had abruptly bled away, replaced with a horrified

realization.

 

She was no better than any of the men who started their wars.

 

Iie, Wufei had been right.

 

"Demo...but..." Relena whispered, her mouth contracting. She smoothed

her skirt down with two hands. She had hurt him, but Duo had been okay in

the end. And she had apologized later. But she simply couldn't -- she

wouldn't! -- accept the promise that Heero had forced on her in the heat

of the moment.

 

Deep in her marrow, she felt it. Duo was completely wrong for Heero.

First off, he was the wrong gender. Two boys, together? Pretending to

be married? The thought was absurd. They could never have a *real*

relationship of two complementing, loving people.

 

That was why she had to show Heero. No, she had done one better -- she

had gotten him away from that boy, who would sooner or later make Heero

realize what a terrible mistake he had made.

 

She cast a last glance around the room. Her maid would take care of the

belongings, and pack everything for the trip. She had two hours yet. By

now, Haruka would have seen to her breakfast.

 

By the time she lifted off, she hoped to finally convince Heero of the

truth.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Duo woke up curled and stiff around his knapsack, lying on the open hatch

of Wing Zero. He blinked bleary eyes and surveyed the tarmac. Empty.

Just the way things had been last night. He pushed himself upright,

stretched, and winced. He was sore, hungry, and most notably tired. The

night had been overcome with light dozes punctuated by wakeful fits,

before his eyes had drifted shut once more over the uncompromising sight

of Heero's eyes, his taut mouth.

 

Sayonara, Duo.

 

Shit! How many times would the scene replay itself in his head? Enough

for him to become quietly bitter?

 

He turned and peered into the cockpit of the Gundam. Empty, spotless,

untouched. Even if Heero *had* been able to get past his fitful sleeping

body, which he wouldn't. A hair drifting to his nose would have woken

him, he was that tensely alert.

 

Duo stretched again and scratched himself, eyeing the empty tarmac with a

sour expression. He was starving, and the only thing his knapsack

boasted was the black oval case and his mini disc-player. A change of clothes, a

small first-aid kit (when one was Heero's lover, one had need of it) and

at best, a container of *really* old OZ rations. No way was he going to

crack that open.

 

He cast another dull-eyed glance around.

 

Heero hadn't shown up. Heero wasn't likely to show up, anytime soon.

And by the time he did, poor Duo would be a pitiful little heap of bones and

one big growling stomach.

 

He stood up abruptly, yanking the knapsack with him. "I am NOT going to

do this," he announced to the landing pad at large, glaring up at Wing

Zero's impassive craggy face for emphasis.

 

Why the hell was he here!?

 

Everything had been just perfect yesterday. Heero had come home, Duo had

forced him to eat a decent meal and get some sleep, they had screwed each

other silly and taken a shower, then they had gone out for an evening of

partying before the big decision of where to live. What to do next.

 

Apparently, 'what to do next' was desertion, while Duo waited like a

pathetic lovesick puppy dog for Heero to show up.

 

It was hard to pinpoint exactly when things had gone so wrong. He

remembered Heero accusing him of giving their wedding band to Hilde. And

when he had responded, shocked, Heero had said as much that Relena had

deceived him into thinking that -- which Hilde had later confirmed, when

she gave it back.

 

"Yet somehow, again I become the bad guy," Duo said with a wry twist of

his lips.

 

Heero knew that Relena must have seized upon the lost ring. That she had

used it against them to make Heero think that Duo had been unfaithful.

And that, more than anything, pissed him off -- that Heero could be so

easily taken in, and had taken it at face value. As if he'd throw away

everything they had been, and were to each other, and had gone through to

reach this moment.

 

"Hell with this." Duo jumped off the hatch and winced again as his stiff

muscles tried to support him, and he nearly collapsed.

 

His face grew sober as his thoughts continued on their inevitable train.

And then *he* had questioned Heero's love for him.

 

"Shit," Duo sighed, scrubbing at his face with both hands. "No wonder he

left."

 

Heero had the most amazing propensity for self-flagellation that he'd

ever seen in a person. He was even worse than Wufei in that regard. Once he

had failed, he didn't just face up to his own mistakes or loss. He was

unworthy to live. He had tried to self-destruct more than once. Duo was

occasionally amazed that Heero had lived through the war, as many times

as they'd come close to absolute disaster.

 

In leaving now, he wasn't trying to punish Duo. Not deliberately. He

was punishing *himself,* for doubting their love. At least he hadn't come to

Wing Zero with the intent to self-destruct. Stopping a suicidal Heero

when he'd made his mind up was awfully damned hard.

 

Well, if Heero wasn't going to come to him, he was just going to have to

go to Heero.

 

Duo nodded to himself, satisfied, and started out over the tarmac. Once

he'd made the resolution, again, it was that much easier. As Hilde said,

he couldn't let his lover go. They'd paid such a price over and over

again, he was damn well going to enjoy what they had for as long as

possible. Now, all he had to do was *find* his beloved, literal bastard.

 

"After breakfast," Duo added to himself with a cheery grin, good humor

restored. He set out with a lilting, upbeat whistle lingering in the

air.

 

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

 

With the rumble of an engine turning over loud in his ears, Heero started

awake at the wheel of the car. He spent a fraction of an instant

wondering why the hell he wasn't still asleep in bed with Duo's wiry body

nestled against him, and that thought triggered an inevitable split

second of recall. He'd pushed Duo away. He had *left* him, just

standing there in the middle of their post-war celebration with a whole

city rioting joyously around them in the streets and everything had been

shuttered out of his sight but the broken hopes standing large in Duo's

eyes. *He* had done that, not Relena, not Hilde or Duo. And then Duo

had gone back to the hotel and cleared his stuff out.

 

The Japanese pilot set his mouth in a grim line. With the war over and

no Duo to look forward to spending the rest of his days with, perhaps he

really *did* deserve Relena. She certainly had placed a bold enough

claim on him.

 

He shook his head and reached down, turning the ignition to start the car

up. While the engine warmed he tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

 

"Promise me you won't drop me again."

 

"I....." Anguish had never been sharper than in that instant.

 

A feeble smile. "I understand."

 

But he had sworn to himself that he would return, that he wouldn't let

hurt dull the beautiful violet-blue eyes again. Heero's eyes popped open

and he glanced over at the passenger seat, at the little mementos that he

had gathered up. The keepsakes Duo had left behind. Plucking up the

lucky yen piece, he rubbed it between thumb and forefinger.

 

"I'm loaning it to you, ya hear?" Intense indigo eyes fixed on him.

"You have to give it back. Got it?"

 

"Aa."

 

Heero fisted the coin suddenly. He had tracked Duo down and given this

back once before, ostensibly discharging himself of his debts. In

reality, giving himself up to an unspoken agreement even more compelling.

This time, he would track Duo down and never let go. *He* was the one

at fault here, Heero realized with an internal recoil of surprise. He

had walked away. Told him as much that it was over. After everything he

had done to prove to Duo that his doubts and insecurity were unfounded,

he was the one who had said goodbye.

 

Duo had every right to refuse him another chance.

 

Heero shoved the money into his pocket and shifted the car into gear. He

had an errand to run, before he found Miss Relena. The girl obviously

expected him to sit down for a heart-to-heart chat -- perhaps even to go

to the Sank kingdom with her. Heero had something different in mind.

She wanted to see inside of him. Well, he would show her what she least

expected to see. She wanted him to be truthful, to himself and to her.

And Heero would give her the brutal, honest truth.

 

He navigated the mostly-empty streets like an afterthought, focusing more

on deep blue-violet eyes unfolding like bruises. Duo had never given him

an accusing, hurt glare before, but Heero was perfectly capable of

imagining one. This was all his fault.

 

After making a few stops on the way to the airbase, Heero parked the car

outside the facility and spent a good long while chewing at the end of an

ink pen. Duo had-- K'so. Duo had always teased him that if he chewed

long enough, he'd get a faceful of ink. He furrowed his brow and

concentrated on the words he had to pry out of himself. They came from

deep within, a place inside where even Duo hadn't been allowed. Not yet.

 

But if Relena knew...

 

Heero removed the pen from his mouth and began to write.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Duo was halfway through the terminal, searching for some kind of

breakfast bar when he forced a pause at the sound of a familiar voice,

one that made him immediately whirl and duck for cover. A gut reflex.

 

He peered over the rim of the trash can. Sadly, it was the only cover he

could manage with such short notice. He nearly snorted and clapped a

hand to his mouth. *So* unlike the potted palms at Relena-san's resort.

 

There she was!

 

The Peacecraft was walking sedately up the terminal. She had almost

reached the corner, a small entourage trailing behind her complete with

bodyguards. Duo's eyes narrowed. He wasn't *precisely* sure how Relena

had been involved last night, but he knew for a fact that Hilde wasn't

vengeful enough to dangle his wedding ring on her own finger, in plain

sight and Heero's too. Hilde didn't have any motive, unless she were

madly in love with him. Duo chuckled.

 

This one, though...

 

Duo sprinted from behind the trashcan then began to prowl up the

corridor, big eyes and skulking braid and quiet footsteps trailing after

Relena. He followed them silently, then reached the hangar where the

Peacecraft plane was. The engine had already been started up and it was

in the first stages of warm-up. The crew, from the looks of it, was

doing a flight check. And Relena-san was nowhere in sight.

 

"Where the hell could she have gone...?" he grumbled half-heartedly,

giving the hangar a quick once-over.

 

Aha. Thataway. Discussing what looked to be flight plans with the tall

thin rat-faced man -- Haruka, that was his name. Duo eyed the plane

speculatively. No...no, he didn't have any high-grade explosive. Too

bad. But considering what a number they had invariably done on the

Gundams, that might not be enough oomph.

 

Duo scrunched his mouth up in a considering, contracted point and gave

the plane another once-over.

 

Chi--CHIKUSHO!!

 

He blinked a few more times.

 

The apparition was still there.

 

Heero was boarding Relena Peacecraft's plane.

 

Duo's head snapped back to Relena. The girl was gesturing emphatically

to the plans, and then the plane, and then saying something with force.

Duo narrowed his eyes. Is Heero here yet? she mouthed.

 

He slumped to the pavement, completely numb. His system had taken all

the two days' worth shocks it could withstand. HOW could he...*why*

would he... Duo bit off the annoying, weak-sounding little keen that was

forcing its way up his throat. He banged his head a few times against

the wall he was plastered up against. This was impossible. This wasn't

happening. He peered out from behind the bin again. Through one of the

oval windows, he could just barely make out Heero's thick dark head of

hair.

 

Duo closed his eyes and slouched down further.

 

Then he remembered.

 

"He owes me." That bland voice had carried a hint of smugness to it,

overriding any of her earlier attempts to apologize. They shouldn't have

taken her promise at face value. Relena hadn't intended to keep it.

What a consummate politician she was.

 

Whatever Heero owed her, what was so important that it could compel his

lover to travel out of the country with Relena? He could barely tolerate

the girl's presence and that was on a *good* day with Duo nearby to

squelch him if he started getting that chilling glint to his eye. There

had to be some other reason.

 

Duo wrapped his arms around his knees. He stared miserably at the dirty

bins he was hidden behind. She had won. There was no way he would be

able to get to Heero now short of a major confrontation. And he was all

out of ammo, and the will to use it.

 

The thrum of the engine filled his ears as he got up and threaded his way

back to the exit, as inconspicuously as he had come.

 

With a short bark of laughter he shrugged his knapsack half-off, and

pulled out the compact black oval case. He hefted it in his hand. K'so,

he truly wouldn't be needing this anymore.

 

"You win, Heero. Sayonara."

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

The metal stairs were flimsy underfoot as she boarded the plane. Relena

combed the hangar over frantically one last time, a desperate visual

circuit. They had already held back their intended departure by nearly a

half hour. Haruka was beginning to get edgy. The pilot was *more* than

a little irritated with "the high-strung miss." She was turning into a

joke amidst her own staff.

 

"You're *sure* nobody saw him?" Relena persisted, and the valet visibly

contained a sigh.

 

"Hai, Relena-sama."

 

Relena bowed her head, cornsilk hair showering around her shoulders. "So

be it. Let's go, then. Tell the pilot he can take off when he's ready."

 

"Hai, Relena-sama." The valet made his way up the private jet to the

cockpit.

 

She turned to take her seat and her pale blue eyes rounded. Almost

automatically, her hands reached out to grasp the plush figurine that had

been propped up in her chair. "Nan desu..." Relena's eyes snapped up,

searching the hangar through the thick plastic of the doubled windows and

she spotted a lithe figure, garbed in nondescript crew gear. She

gathered the teddy bear into her arms, peering more closely out the

window.

 

The crewman lifted his face briefly, enough for her to spot gleaming

cobalt eyes under a thatch of dark, tousled chestnut hair.

 

"Heero!" Relena's fist thumped against the heavy plastic. She swung to

face her valet.

 

The plane was already moving.

 

She cast one last, desperate glance out the window. Heero had already

disappeared.

 

A frustrated sob heaved up into her throat. Then she looked down again.

A crisp, folded sheet of white paper still lay in the seat, from where it

had slid from the teddy bear's plush protective embrace. A note from

Heero.

 

The blonde girl took up the note in both hands, shifting the teddy bear

into a crook of her arm. With one swift, decisive motion she tore the

paper in half. Then in fourths. Then in eighths and kept shredding the

bits until nothing was left but barely-puzzled bits of torn black ink.

 

"If you want to give me a message, Heero -- give it to me yourself."

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Heero watched the plane ascend until it was nothing more than a

glittering silver speck in the sky. Hopefully, she had read, and

understood. What she wanted most in the world was to know how he felt

about her. Why he hadn't killed her. Without Relena ever fully

articulating the question, he understood what she needed to know.

 

This was their closure.

 

He turned, satisfied, burying his hands deep in his pockets. He hadn't

repaid his debt yet, but at least *that* much was off his mind. Now he

could turn his mind to finding Duo -- a far more satisfying task.

 

First, he would have to do something about Wing Zero. It was still here

at the airbase, somewhere. And while the war was over, not all of the

hotshots had cooled down, especially after some of the frenzied partying

he had seen last night. His Gundam was a seriously dangerous weapon.

So, the faster he stowed it away somewhere, the better.

 

Halfway through the base he paused to strip out of the stolen mechanic's

gear and pulled on his normal clothes, tanktop and jeans. Much better.

 

Wing Zero was still standing where he'd landed it, a gleaming quiescent

metal statue awaiting his return. He tilted his head and stared into its

impassive eyes. He and the machine had both seen death. Now it was time

for Wing to sleep, and he....he had no place, in this world that was no

longer rocked with the crossfire of war. When you learn to dodge bullets

for a living, how can you bring that impetus to a halt?

 

Heero had been in motion for a long time.

 

He closed his eyes briefly then climbed up to the hatch. For a moment

his brow wrinkled, startled to find something so strangely out of

context. Then, one hand moving with a steadiness that belied the uneasy

twists of his stomach, he reached to pick it up off the pilot seat.

 

The last memento. His stomach lurched. "Merry Christmas." Teasing,

languid amaryllis eyes fixed on him. The heart-shaped face tipped up to

meet him, eager.

 

It was a small, black oval-shaped case.

 

Duo was saying goodbye.


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