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If You Love Me (Part 3)

Part Five

[A.C. 196]

The great cavernous cargo hold resounded with the thrum of warming thrusters. Even with that constant hum shivering across his skin, the place was like a tomb. Part of that superstitious feeling stemmed from the utter silence, broken up by the occasional clink or thump as Duo moved around the giant hold, securing ties and gradually moving down the checklist. The larger part of it came from the four giant Titans lying prone in their metal cradles. Soon to be plunged into the heart of the sun.

A lump thickened Quatre's throat. They had fought their battles and now it was time to say farewell.

"My Sandrock -- sleep peacefully." Quatre's dry whispeer barely reached his own ears.


He looked across the recumbent bulk of his Gundam into Duo's curious, bright violet-eyed gaze. Quatre dredged up a wistful smile and shook his head.

Duo jerked his thumb at the giants encased in steel and glass, readied now for their final flight. "Now that we have peace, we don't need Gundam."

"It's sad to see them go," Quatre replied, steady in the air as he continued to look down at his Gundam.

"Nah, it's okay. Let's get it over with and send them and the hangar block into the sun." Duo turned to face him, his face and the line of his body expressive and open.

"Hai," Quatre replied, pushing himself up to follow Duo as they traveled up and out of the giant hangar block, and back to the control console in the station the hangar block was moored to.

Once they reached the pressurized atmosphere of the station, both young men took their helmets off and tucked them under their arms. They exchanged rueful smiles. Quatre couldn't help but think they were too young to be nostalgic.

"Sayonara, boku no Sandrock," Quatre smiled through glinting eyes, cradling the suit's helmet between arm and hip. Duo pressed the button that would start the artificially manufactured meteor on its inevitable course.

"See ya!" Duo tossed the words at the hangar block as it began to move away from the station, an enormous mechanized meteor.

"Wufei never brought his," the American pilot observed casually, after a long moment of silence.

"No," Quatre agreed. "And Heero and Trowa just sent theirs over." Quatre's features grew pensive, troubled. It hadn't been long since he'd seen Trowa -- less than a month, and Trowa had been about to make a tour with the circus, so he'd expressed complete confidence in Quatre to ensure that Heavyarms went into the sun with the other Gundams. But something in Duo's face, his abruptly tense posture, and a lingering sort of sadness in his eyes put Quatre on alert.

"I wonder how everyone is," Duo mused, violet eyes far away.

"You haven't been with Heero?" Quatre asked softly, curiosity overcoming him as he gathered up Duo's expression with his eyes.

The American pilot's fingers gripped at the long braid of hair coiling past his waist. He examined each twist with minute perusal, avoiding Quatre's eyes. "Iya! I haven't seen Heero since last year," he replied, his voice parodying cheer.

Quatre wasn't fooled.

"Duo, I thought you two got married," he probed, hoping that he wasn't putting his feet in it by forcing the issue. But something about Duo was silently pleading for an excuse to talk about it -- release, or relief. And he had provided a shoulder to cry on before, when Duo had been hurting and in need. "I thought--"

"Yeah, well, I thought so too." Duo's eyes snapped up and they were open violet wounds. "We had a...a misunderstanding. A big one. Bygones." Duo forced another grin, a rictus version of good-naturedness.

Quatre bowed his head. "Gomen ne, Duo."

Duo produced a raspy chuckle. "Why should you be, Quatre? It's half my own stupid fault. Heero and I...maybe we're not right for each other. We have problems, ultimately, every time we get together. But we seem to have no problem at all when it comes to hurting each other."

"Did he leave you?"

Duo turned away, back to the navigation console. He began to check over the data for the course that would send the Gundams into the sun. "You could say that." His tone was flat, giving up all pretenses of cheer, and tacitly discouraged pursuing the matter.

The blond Arabian took the hint and moved alongside him. They worked together in silence, going down the checklist for the post-launch and putting everything in order to ensure that the gigantic steel bunker would go smoothly into the sun, undisturbed. The last remnants of a war-torn era were being sent to a silent, fiery death.

Finally, everything was done and Duo sighed, pushing away from the console. He put his hands behind his head and stared out at the receding meteor-hangar.

"So what've you been up to for a year, Quatre?"

Quatre pushed away from the console, too, and let his eyes drift among the field of stars. "Me? Oh...well, I've been getting a feel for the Winner holdings. Rasid's been helping me. And some of father's loyal employees. It's a lot to manage all my myself." He smiled. "So I don't."

"And you visit the circus a lot? Ne? Neee~e?" Duo teased him, impish expression reasserting itself.

Quatre tried his best not to flush. Every so often he cursed the betrayal of his fair complexion. "Well, sometimes Trowa comes to visit me," he managed to return with a perfectly straight face.

Duo gawked. Then he grinned, took a step over, and pounded Quatre on the back. "You sly dog, you! Good for you. I'm glad you two are doing well." The depth of his violet eyes churned for a moment before he looked away.

"What have you been doing, for a year?" Quatre asked quietly. It was hard to gauge Duo's mood, and what he needed most -- to tread soft, or to jolly him out of his quicksilver sobriety.

"Oh, you know," Duo replied vaguely after a moment. "Skipping from this colony to that one. Never really staying long in one place. Doing the odd job here and there, and moving on." He gave Quatre a wide smile.

"Sou ka," Quatre replied, gazing at them steadily. What he didn't say stood out larger in the air between them -- never staying long enough to form attachments. Never getting settled. Running...from what? "And what will you do now?"

Duo shrugged, eyes flicking to the viewscreen and their projection of the interior of the hangar block. They lingered over the solid, silent gleaming bulk of the Gundams. "Probably more of the same."

They stood by the console, silence stretching between them for the space of long minutes. Duo's face was turned towards Wing Zero, a tiny image on the upper corner of the screen.

"You know, I really thought he'd show up here!" Duo burst out at last, his voice choked with frustration and disappointment. "I...I really miss him, Quatre. I guess I didn't realize how much I wanted him to show until he didn't." Duo turned and his face crumpled between a mask of cheer, and the misery glimpsed in its cracks.

Quatre took a step and put a hand to his friend's shoulder, uncertain. Duo turned into him, gravitating to the hesitant comfort of his touch, and buried his face in the shoulder of the suit. Both arms closed around the slender space-suited American. Duo was rigid against him, a body that had been in motion for so long that every part of him was stiff, and confused by the comfort.

"It's been almost a year," Duo repeated, voice raw. "I miss him. I don't even know where he is."

"I'm sorry," Quatre said helplessly. He patted Duo's back. "Duo, I am sorry."

"I know," Duo replied, voice thick. "Me, too."


Noin pushed aside long sweeping bangs and tried to wipe the harried expression from her face. She was, like Une, grateful that the president of the Earth Federation was funding their organization, the Preventers, to keep any situation from becoming critical to the point of war. But the bare fact of the matter was that they were a young organization yet, and had a distinct shortage of personnel.

She was afraid that this latest message from Sally Po -- Operative Water -- would be another piece of the slowly-forming picture that was becoming ever more bleak.

Noin pushed the button to open the comm channel. "You can speak freely," she informed Water. "This is the Preventer's frequency. No one can trace it."

Sally's face popped up onto the screen. Her face was composed, but her voice carried an underlying trace of anxiety that Noin could detect. "It's possible someone is manufacturing Neo-Titanium."

Noin sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "A new Mobile Suit?"

"My information is slow in coming," Water replied cautiously, "but if that's the case, we have to stop it."

Noin hesitated. If they followed up on this information immediately, they could flush out possible troublemakers before they had an opportunity to strike. On the other hand... "But they could be the key to it all."

"Maybe," Water answered, face reflective.

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then Noin nodded decisively. "I'll rendezvous with you at the usual point. We need to do something."

"Eh," Water agreed, inclining her head. "Water, closing communication."

Noin thumbed off the channel. She was silent for a momentt. Even after all they had been through, people had an amazing ability to undervalue the peace that had been so hard-bought. Then she turned from the console. It was nearing Christmas, but she had things to gather up, and Une had to be notified.

She'd be spending Christmas with Sally.


He palmed open the door and inserted himself into the room, a shadow at odds with the light seeping in from the corridor. An involuntary smile twitched the edge of his engraved scowl, an expression that had been seated on his face unchallenged for nearly a year now. The room was a mess, typical Duo, with clothes strewn everywhere -- a bigger collection of clothing, probably expanded now that the war was over. Junk obscured the floor and what might have been a desk.

He stopped dead.

There was a framed picture -- he looked closer, stepping over a tangle of pants and miscellaneous machine parts. Duo and.... He extracted the frame from screening pg papers and overturned books. It was Duo's face smirking back at him, and himself -- glowering possessively with an arm wrapped around Duo. It was from their honeymoon. Heero closed his eyes and put the picture back on the desk before he could drop it.

He never should have let go.

Heero did a quick once-over of the room, lips compressed, then finally settled on the edge of Duo's desk and folded his arms, preparing to wait. The noon shift would be ending soon. After casing the colonies – even Earth -- for nearly a year, this time Duo wouldn't be able to avoid him.

Duo had hopped from colony to colony, changing names and jobs with such facility that even *he* had been hard-pressed to keep up with him. And he had always been gone as or before Heero had gotten there. Though sometimes, he admitted to himself, he hadn't tried very hard.

He loved Duo. He could admit it now, to himself and to Duo. He *had* admitted it. Living this past year in the shadow of his footsteps, without the unfailing bright presence of his smile, and the promise of the deep amaryllis eyes had been all kinds of hell. Countless times his search had flagged because he crushed himself under the weight of self-doubt.

He loved Duo, but he had pushed him away. Himself, with his own two hands – Relena had nothing to do with *that.* He had hurt the one thing he loved most. So there were no guarantees Duo would take him back, when he did manage to catch up with him at last.

That more than anything had given him pause a dozen times.

The door cracked open after about fifteen minutes of waiting and a slice of light fell over the rumpled sheets of the unmade bed. He could hear Duo's voice speaking to someone, his cheerful 'ja ne!' and a strange expectation lit up his spine. He could only react; he couldn't force himself to move now that he'd finally gotten this far.

Then the door was shutting and Duo was flicking on the lights and shrugging out of his jacket and his heart-shaped face turned up. Heero's breath sped up a notch.

They both froze.

Duo's face drained of blood and emotion until he was expressionless as Heero himself. He moved a few paces into the room and dropped his jacket onto a bedpost. His face tipped and he looked at him through the wet gleam of eyes that struggled to be impersonal.

"Why are you here?" His voice was hoarse.

Heero rocked away from the hard edge of the desk. "It's been a long time, Duo." He was stricken with the urge to close the space between them and gather the beautiful trembling-eyed boy into his arms. It *had* been a long time. But he knew he couldn't breach that space until he had bridged the gap between them. Maybe it had been *too* long.

"Yeah." Duo turned away, fingers forming fists. "It has."

He took a step towards him, nearly tripping over entangling junk. "Duo, I—"

The other boy whirled on him, eyes explosive and spitting violet sparks. "Where the hell have you been!? Why now, Heero? Do you want something? Did Relena send you away?"

"Relena...?" Heero echoed, confused. "I haven't been with her, Duo."

Duo's mouth twitched and he shrugged. "I...I know. I kept up with the newscasts. I..." He fixed a crooked smile on his face. It fell almost instantly. "Why are you here now, Heero? What do you want?" His expression was reproachful and guarded.

"You." The word fell like a land mine into the space between them.

Duo quivered. He tried to speak, and stopped. A spasm of anger rippled over his face. It was followed in swift succession by raw yearning, and utter confusion. His expression finally settled on something indecipherable, and he dropped onto the bed.

"What took you so damned long to decide that?" he finally asked, voice dull. His face was tipped down to let the bangs overtake his countenance with shadow.

Heero shifted uncomfortably. He wasn't good with emotion. He knew what he wanted. He just couldn't put it to words, or manage to voice them, which was one of the only things Duo would take right now.

"I've been looking for you for a year, Duo," he replied at last, unsure of the impact of anything else.

The American pilot was perched on the end of the bed, gripping the edge in his hands. One indigo eye peeked up at him under the fringe of bangs that had grown even longer.

"Honto?" The word was loaded.


Duo looked away. "Well, maybe you weren’t looking very hard."

"No, I—" Heero stopped, frustrated.

Duo chuckled softly. It was a mostly bitter sound but still held weary traces of his good humor. "So, it’s been a year and you still want me, after all."

He took a step forward, placing his feet cautiously. "Aa." The words were hard, cynical, but he could sense underneath that Duo was caving in. He stepped over a pair of discarded pants and a toolbox then tripped on a loop of jacket and ended up flat on his face. His eyebrow twitched as he levered himself up on his elbows and sought Duo's face out.

The American's mouth was quivering suspiciously.

Heero blew out a tiny, exasperated puff.

Duo burst out laughing. "Bwahahaha! Heero, you look like an idiot! A kawaii idiot, but still an idiot!" He collapsed onto the bed, deep chuckles reverberating through the tiny room. Heero gritted his teeth and let Duo laugh at him. From the nearly hysterical edge to it, Duo sounded like he needed the release.

By the time Heero had climbed slowly to his feet, gathering the shreds of dignity around him, Duo had subsided. He looked up at Heero, bright-eyed.

"We made a mess of things, didn't we, lover?" Duo gave him a pained smile.

He reached out to touch one cheek, not as round as it had been a year ago -- how much weight *had* Duo lost!? -- and stopped himself. "Yes, we did," he agreed evenly. He lowered his head and frowned. The words emerged at last, a thread of sound. "I need you, Duo."

Duo's violet-indigo eyes were deep and hauntingly exposed. "Do you really?"

Heero looked away, stung by the mute accusation, the year-long sum of pain and loneliness in the wide expressive eyes. It was the look he’d imagined Duo would give him, drilling into the spaces where only Duo’s glance could reach, and it burned.

"Why are you here?" Duo repeated the question, his husky voice low. He shifted on the bed, glancing away. "I mean, why are you *really* here?"

Heero started. Could Duo possibly know...? The driving impetus for finally being able to find him were the recent activities that he’d uncovered, the hints of the Barton Group making a move at last. He needed Duo’s help.

But he was selfish. He wanted Duo to himself, first.

"You’re my husband," Heero said instead, thinking to himself that *this* was the easiest way to lie, to tell Duo part of the truth, yet leave out the rest. "It’s my fault that we were separated. I...I..." His mouth worked. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to say it. It was just hard. "I was wrong. I need you, Duo."

His hand twitched out again to touch Duo’s cheek with roughened fingers but he drew back. Duo hadn’t...

Duo was watching him through narrowed, assessing eyes. Then a wide smile broke out over his face. "If you’re not telling the truth, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear, anyway."

He grabbed out with callused fingers for Heero's hand, snatching it and pressing it to the curved cheek. The skin was as velvety as he remembered, but the flesh had lost much of its roundness, the lingering vestiges of a childhood that had been denied.

"Yes...I..." He knelt beside the bed and closed his eyes, brows contracting into a puckered frown. "I was... The past year, I spent it looking for you. But you didn't seem to want to be found. I only wanted...something I don't deserve."

Something pressed against his forehead and he opened his eyes, startled.

Duo's violet-blue eyes winked at him from bare inches away, his mouth softening. "Heero...I missed you, too. I missed you so much. I don’t care about the year. It’s gone. You’re here." Duo’s face was solemn but smiling all at once, happiness and sobriety juxtaposed. "At first I thought I’d send you away if you came back. Try to hurt you, the way I felt hurt. But oh, God, Heero, we were both so stupid. And I knew I’d take you back any way I could have you." He gave Heero a tiny, rueful smile. "Is that weak?"

Heero regarded him solemnly in return. "I don’t care. I—then I’m weak, too." Duo smiled and nudged his nose. "I missed you."

Duo just regarded him silently, his emotions plain and scrawled wide in his eyes. Those eyes had known loneliness and pain, and a great deal of it was his fault. Heero wrapped his arms around Duo’s waist and pulled him closer, ashamed, wanting to bury his face where Duo couldn’t see it and read his guilt and see his faults and remember his rejection and somehow, love him and forgive him for it anyhow. "I missed you, too, koibito."

It was on the tip of his tongue to growl not to call him that, but instead he laid his palms against Duo's outer thighs and tilted his head ever so slightly, hoping that the words meant what he thought they did. The forgiveness he didn't deserve.

"Hm." Duo gave him that oh-so-familiar smirk and leaned into him, his lips closing firm over the gap and dissolving the distance with that touch. Fingers curled over the nape of his neck and Heero surged up on his knees, desperately eager to make sure it really was Duo under his mouth and hands, that he really was here and doing this and it wasn't just another cruel dream.

Duo bit his lip lightly and he felt the tip of a tongue running hesitant along his upper lip. Heero opened his mouth and let the sensations flow just under his skin, stirring up a heavy desire that had been thwarted for so long. He growled and nipped at the invading tongue, hands sliding up to clasp Duo's bottom and Duo slid off the bed with a half-laughing, half-surprised cry into his lap.

He pressed a kiss to the moist mouth beneath him, wanting nothing more than just to eat him alive, gods it had been so long and now he couldn't get enough. And Duo was in his arms and his lean body was pressing up against him and the mouth was wandering over his throat, a slick tongue making circles of fire.

"Duo--" He took his lips again, plunging his tongue into the eagerly-parted mouth. Duo's hands had slipped under his tank top. "Duo...shouldn't we...the bed..."

"Shut up, Heero," Duo grinned at him, grabbing a fistful of the tank top and pulling him down on top of him, to the floor.


Relena sighed and fingered the rim of her teacup. She had arrived on L3-X18999 only today, and she was suffering from jet lag and had an awful headache to boot. Mostly it stemmed from the fact that since her arrival, the ministers that she had been greeted with seemed to be very eager and willing to shove all of the colony's problems off on her.

The rest of her headache had a name, and she could still see the cobalt-blue eyes. Since that instant he had turned from the plane, head bent and the line of his back set, Relena had not seen Heero. It had been nearly a year.

Why couldn't he just put the past behind? Why couldn't he let Duo go?

Not for the first time, Relena wondered what he had written in that letter. But after seeing the blocky decisive katakana, she had made her decision in a split second. Part of her had known deeply she didn't *want* to read the letter and know for sure, one way ay or another. Uncertainty where she could still hold onto her dream of Heero was better than...

Irritably Relena brushed that thought aside. Heero hadn't been seen with any braided violet-eyed boys since that night, from what her intelligence could divine.

Yet, if he wasn't with Duo, then why hadn't he come to her?

A tiny smile curved the blonde girl's lips. Always before, she had come to him. It looked as if she would have to do so, again. And *this* time, there was nothing standing between them.

Relena turned her attention back to what the ministers were saying.

"As you know, it hasn't been seven years since our L3-X18999 colony was completed."

Relena carefully contained the smile. The name gave her the unwholesome urge to snicker. And the last thing she wanted to do was give these dignitaries the impression of youth and inexperience.

"People have immigrated from Earth but the unstable economy is preventing the population from growing."

"I think the problem is the Earth Federation," Relena replied candidly, running a finger along the saucer. "They're avoiding this colony so the economy can't stabilize." She could bring the problem to the attention of the Earth Federation, of course, but that wouldn't ensure it would be so easily solved. It was one of her greatest burdens as Foreign Minister.

"But what the people want is a leader who can guide them to that level of prosperity," another earnest face inserted. "Someone from the outside, like you."

Relena frowned. They had been hinting at offering her leadership of the colony since she had set foot off the shuttle. Didn't they understand, she couldn't? Instead of replying at once, she picked up the teacup and took a good sip. It was still warm, but it tasted strangely bitter, as if they hadn't put any sugar in at all - but she had put two cubes in herself. "It's too bad. They'd only just found peace and freedom..."

The blonde girl wavered, blinking hard. The ring of ministers swam in and out of focus. They looked...expectant. They were waiting for something, avarice scrawled all over their features.

The teacup clattered to the floor, brown liquid pooling over the smooth surface.

Relena's head lolled.

One of the gray-haired ministers smiled maliciously and held his finger down on the call button. A troop of soldiers burst into the boardroom at once. "Take her to the bedroom."

"Understood," the squadron leader said crisply. They gathered up the unconscious Peacecraft.

"It's time to play our trump card," the presence projected onto the viewscreen observed.

The gray-haired man adjusted his glasses. "Sou desu."

"It's time for her to make her appearance and show the powerless who their leader is."

A laugh crackled across the open line.



In a darkened, quiet et room, two figures watched the broadcast of the President of the Earth Federation. A little girl with reddish hair watched quietly, her eyes bright and precocious. "It's time to give everyone Father's Christmas Present."

"Hai, Marimeia," the man known as Dekim Barton replied.

Marimeia watched and smiled.


Duo was lost.

Iie, that was wrong -- he had just been found again. He clasped Heero closer and the Japanese boy bit his jugular softly, mouthing it more than a real bite, then collapsed on top of him, still panting. "I love you," he breathed. "Ai shiteiru." Then he burrowed his face into Duo's sweaty skin and Duo took the weight gladly. He didn't want Heero to move. He wished neither of them had to move ever again.

"I love you, too," he replied, his hands playing up the spine slowly. Damn, he could feel Heero's ribs pressing against the skin. How much weight had he lost, over the past year? Heero never had be been much good at taking care of himself.

He planted kisses on the parts of Heero that he could reach; mostly cheekbone. Heero moved a bit, turning his face into the kiss and Duo sighed as the movement shifted that part still buried deep. They traded kisses for a long time, both too exhausted for too much more, yet.

"What now?" Duo finally asked, at loathe to break the post-coital bliss but knowing the question had to be asked, sooner or later.

"What now?" Heero repeated. He lifted his head to scowl darkly at Duo. "What are you implying?"

Duo gave him a sheepish grin and a disarming, quick kiss to the lips. After a brief second of consideration he sucked on Heero's lip for a moment more. "Tasty."

"Baka," Heero muttered half-heartedly. There was a bare trace of a smile on his face, probably the first in a long time. "I told you, Duo. I need you."

There was an undercurrent to that. There was something Heero wasn’t telling him. "All right," Duo murmured at last, perfectly happy to accept that at face value. For now. Whatever it was, Heero would tell him when it was necessary. But right now...

Heero was nuzzling the hollow of his throat, slowly and thoroughly.



"I don't want to interrupt -- by any means, we can continue...but..." Duo trailed off, assuming his favorite puppy-dog look that had fallen into disuse.

"Spit it out."

"You're right," he conferred generously. "We should have used the bed. I've got something digging into my spine something awful...and I think you ground me into the tiles with those last few--mmph--"

Heero silenced him with demanding mouth and tongue. Then he pulled away from Duo. He whimpered a protest at the loss, then Heero was scooping him up in a pair of wiry arms and they were tumbling into bed together. Exactly where he wanted to be.


Part Six


Author's note: "Nanashi" means "no-name."



The room was partly-darkened and in the pale fingers of light that seeped through gently-wafting curtains two figures could barely be made out, on the couch. The two young men were sprawled together in Quatre's study, with the slighter, blond boy seated in the cradle of Trowa's arms and legs. Their low, serious tones resonated through the echoing, high-ceilinged room. They sat together thus more out of habit than anything else, as Trowa's presence had been prompted by something more serious than simply visiting Quatre.


"It's not going to be easy to get in there," Quatre warned him. "They sealed off most incoming traffic to L3-X18999 after Relena Peacecraft's convoy arrived." The blond boy's lips quirked. "They gave out the perfectly reasonable excuse that it was for Relena-san's safety, but the Preventers should have suspected."


"That's why I need your help," Trowa put forth, green eyes steady. "I'm sure your holdings have some traffic with the colony. However obscure."


Pale, fine brows quirked, distressed. "*You're* going there? Trowa, it's too dangerous!" Quatre twisted in the circle of his arm, bracing against the denim-covered thigh to peer, sincere, into darkened overswept eyes. "We shouldn't have to risk..."


"I *have* to do this," Trowa interrupted him. He paused, his first instinct to draw away from Quatre's concern, to end the argument by shutting him out. But by the simple virtue of taking him for love and lover, his choices weren't entirely his own anymore. And he couldn't bear to hurt his blue-eyed incubus who'd seduced him back to life. "Quatre, you know I have to do this."


Quatre's mouth set in a mutinous line. "I don't know," he returned stubbornly.


Trowa bent and pressed his lips to that grim, fixed line. Over the past year it had grown easier to give, and to receive, spontaneous displays of affection. Time spent with Quatre was changing him in minute but emphatic ways. But what he had discovered -- the recent activities of

the Barton group, and worse, Dekim Barton's undoubtable involvement -- drew him back to a time before he'd had a name. If he didn't act now, the too-fragile peace and his future with Quatre could be shattered by the weight of the plans that hadn't been carried out before. The plans of the Barton group.


Quatre was holding himself stiffly, the sweet mouth still taut and closed. Trowa sighed, trying to capture the blond boy's gaze but he kept his eyes averted. Trowa changed his tactics.


Nipping Quatre on the neck, the boy jerked in surprise and he slid his hands into the half-unbuttoned white shirt, long slender fingers kneading warm ridges of muscle inside. He could give him an ultimatum, that he would get to L3-X18999 with or without Quatre's help, and the Arabian would help him albeit unwillingly, to provide the less dangerous course. But

Quatre might resent him for forcing the issue and would fret himself sick for his safety. Thus Quatre had to be convinced.


"You're not going to seduce me into helping you," Quatre murmured against his neck, although his body softened.


"I didn't think I could," Trowa replied. "And I'm not trying. I just want to relax you." He cupped a hardening nipple against his palm and switched the other hand to his back, rubbing at the tensed muscles.


"So that I can't stay mad enough to argue?" Quatre challenged. He braced himself against Trowa's chest, exhaling into the hollow of his throat.


"You know me better than that."


Quatre huffed. "Gomen ne. I do know you better," he replied, soft and contrite. "I know I've got no right to worry..."


"Iya," Trowa contradicted. "That's not it, Quatre." He coaxed the warm supple body to relax, tilted the chin up and admired the pure blue of his eyes.


"All right then, no *cause* to worry," Quatre demurred. "I guess my only excuse is I love you." His smile proclaimed that the matter was simplicity itself, in his heart.


Trowa's breath skipped. However many times the blond said it, each repitition was new and startling. Something molten infusing his veins. Maybe it was the way love should be. All he knew was now that Quatre was his, he couldn't let go.


The blond Arabian pressed his lips to the triangle of skin at the neck of his shirt, then began to kiss him.


Trowa closed his eyes.


"You know I was...Nanashi." He hugged Quatre closer, trying to dispel the tangle of pain and emptiness that tagged the old title.


Quatre halted his kisses. He could sense the boy peering up at him as arms tightened around his waist. "Aa."


He opened his eyes and met the silent pool of encouragement, and compassion. It had taken a long while to distinguish that latter emotion from the pity he hated. Pity, scorn, rejection...those he understood. Softer emotions had eluded his comprehension.


"If I don't stop Dekim Barton -- if I let the Barton group win -- I am Nanashi again."


"No," Quatre protested, taking one of his hands and threading their fingers.


"That's why I have to go," Trowa continued, keeping his eyes transfixed. He paused. Was that not enough? "They intend to launch Operation Meteor. The real one."


Quatre gasped. "They can't--"


Trowa met his eyes. He felt familiar cold creeping into his guts. "They can. They will. I -- we -- stopped them before. This time..."




Trowa fell silent. Quatre's voice was dull. His eyes, his face, were weary. Defeated.


"You're right," Quatre murmured, leaning his forehead against Trowa's shoulder. "You're right. It was selfish of me to want to keep you here, koibito. I just...I wished, I suppose, that we could stay out of it this time. That we wouldn't have to put our lives up for grabs again. Gomen.

I was being selfish."


"Not selfish," Trowa replied in astonishment, running a light touch down along the tensed line of spine. "Just human." He kissed his ear.


Quatre pulled away and stood. His eyes were clear and resolute. "We don't have any time. I'll have to arrange for you to get out on the next possible transport."


Trowa unfurled his long limbs and stood behind him. "Arigato."


The sudden smile was bright and sunny. This was what it was worth. "Just come back to me, Trowa. Please. That's all I want."


* * *


For the moment he subsisted on the dream.


It was a lovely dream, with Duo's face and long wavy chestnut hair draped over both their bodies and a warm, pliant length of boy nestled snug against him. No, more of a man now -- a little taller, a bit thinner. A beatific smile played over the sensuous lips. It couldn't be real. The lips parted. Heero watched, mesmerized, wanting to stroke back the tangles of hair from the heart-shaped face but not wanting to disturb the dream.


Then Duo began to snore, and the bubble burst.


It wasn't a fantasy. It wasn't a cruel trick of memory dug up to taunt him.


His dreams didn't snore like splitting timber.


He was here, in Duo's bed, pressed against the warm muscled torso, a possessive sprawled arm and leg flung over him. He had no doubts that if he twitched a muscle Duo's eyes would probably snap open.


"Koibito..." His tentative whisper was eclipsed by Duo's snore. How long had they been asleep? He glanced at the clock. Not long. Only an hour. They'd thoroughly exhaused each other before collapsing, so that was somewhat of a surprise. Heero smirked.


Duo began to snort and shift, something he did a lot when he slept lightly. He twitched his nose, snorted again, and bumped into Heero. The arm tightened around him. The American froze. One violet eye cracked open.


"Yume da." Both eyes opened and Duo peered at him, a quizzical wary expression taking place of sleepy peacefulness. It made Heero ache in a queer space beneath his breastbone. "Pinch me."


Heero did him one better. He leaned forward, took Duo's lip between his teeth, and nibbled. One hand pressed against a soft pink nub of his chest. The mouth was softening against him when he twisted the nipple sharply beneath his fingers. Duo jerked.


"Ouch! Mmph--" He pulled his mouth away, eyes wide. "Yume ja nai yo. Only the real Heero would really pinch me." But his eyes were sparkling.


"We fell asleep," Heero observed, lying very still beneath the outflung arm and leg. "Imagine that."


"You're here..." Duo marveled, taking a fold of skin between his fingers and pinching him. He made a face. "Damn, man, you're skinny. We're gonna have to fatten you up."


Heero essayed a sneer but lacked the will to back it up. "You're the one who thought he was dreaming. Why are you pinching *me*?" But he *had* thought it was a dream. And it was worse to realize that although true, this wouldn't last. They didn't have much time.


Duo pressed against him inquisitively. "Wasn't sure *you* were real." His hand wandered over Heero's waist and down. A suggestive grin crossed his face. "But *this* certainly is real."


Heero swatted at the wandering hand, half-hearted. Waking hormones had kicked in again.


Duo's grin increased a notch.


"Stop it," he grabbed his wrist as Duo began to explore. "We don’t have time for that."


Duo sighed and leaned against him, kissing the soft skin at the juncture of his collarbones. "I figured. I guess I knew when you found me that it wasn’t all just for me." He nuzzled at his throat again then transferred his attention to Heero’s mouth, rubbing his lips against Heero’s slightly-parted ones.


Parting his lips wider, he took Duo into his mouth. A warm tongue invaded him at once, teasing at the roof of his mouth, and he returned the favor, licking at the slick line of Duo’s lip. It stoked a heat inside him, Duo kissing him thoroughly, something more banked and smoldering than the desperate, rough kisses and caresses of earlier. He suckled Duo’s tongue and the braided boy began to moan against his mouth, a sweet thrumming connection.


Finally he pulled away as Duo’s hands started to roam again – and he wanted to do the same, but there was somewhere else they had to be. Purple-indigo eyes hazed over with lust slitted open to transfix him. Duo’s lips were parted and swollen. He started to lean into him again.


"Duo..." He sucked in a breath, wanting nothing more than a little time, just a little more, to pull Duo close. There was no time. "I came for you. I need you. There's something going on -- something big -- and I need your help. Because part of the reason I came is because of Relena."


"Sou ka." His husky voice was eerily calm. "Well, if that's all, I'll be getting on with my shower, now." Duo clambered over him and went straight for his clothes.


Heero sat up and scrubbed a hand over his face. K'so. This was going to be harder than he'd thought.


* * *


Relena paced the confines of the airy, well-appointed prison they had placed he rin. Her white heels were wearing a groove in the plush carpet, and a brace of circular, useless thoughts were pounding through her brain. After working so hard, and sacrificing so much to end the war and bring peace, it was all to be taken away in one stroke by a sweetly-smiling child with disturbing, unchildlike eyes.


*My name is Marimeia Khushrenada. Daughter of Treize Khushrenada.*




Shaking her head vehemently, the blonde young woman combed her steady fingers through long silky hair. It wasn't possible. How could Treize have a daughter? Gene test or no, the likelihood of that was simply unbelievable. Even yet, how could that scion have supporters? ...a viable power base? Obviously L3-X18999 was more desperate than she'd thought, to throw their lot behind a little girl...


She sighed and came to a stop, pinching the bridge of her nose. This was someone's power play, but who? Someone must have discovered the girl, someone had to have set her up at this foundering colony. And there were any number of powerful or formerly powerful men who would follow Treize's footsteps.


*What's true is true, and I intend to carry on the work of my father.*


With her heels sinking into the carpet, she resumed her pacing. To be awoken in this wide, high bedroom and discover that she was the prisoner of a child, that she had been captured at the behest of a girl half her age had been a bit humiliating. She didn't know yet what Marimeia wanted her for, even. Perhaps nothing more grand or diabolical than a hostage -- but Relena was resolved to sacrifice her own life in a moment if it were her peace at stake. Perhaps, even, it was nothing more than a child's curiosity.


*I've forgiven you for selfishly calling yourself Queen Relena.*


That smooth angel's face had been composed, the eyes taking her measure. It was discomfiting to come under the scrutiny of a child. But that *child* had every intention of carrying out a full-scale war...a Khushrenada, indeed.


Completing another circuit of the room, she sank into the chair that Marimeia had been seated in, to confront her upon awakening. She was a prisoner, but a well-kept one.


The other thought trapped fluttering in her brain was of Heero. He was never very far from her thoughts, actually. It was a wistful hope that he would come for her, a muted backdrop against the political considerations cluttering her forefront of consciousness. She knew he probably wouldn't come. She knew she didn't deserve it. The last time she had seen him, she'd schemed to split him up with Duo. And it *wasn't* the right way to go about things, with Heero -- but the straightforward approach hadn't worked, and the only avenues left were the more devious ones. She was skilled at manipulation and it was almost impossible *not* to, especially when the opportunity presented itself.


Like Duo's marriage ring.


Pah! Marriage!


Her eyes flashed. It wasn't one that would be recognized legally in any courts.


Biting off an impatient exclamation, she pushed herself to her feet. That was even more useless to think of. Heero wouldn't come. Perhaps whatever had been in that letter would have given her an indication why.


Relena's mouth firmed.


That was why she'd torn it up. There would be no goodbyes. It wasn't finished between them, not by halves.


He would come. He had to come.


She drifted over to the table where the little girl with her father's eyes, calm and calculating, had greeted her. Her slender fingers plucked a flower from the vase. It wasn't fresh but it was a daisy, with long discrete petals.


"If he comes..." She lifted the flower and rubbed its velvet smooth petals across her cheek. Her fingers trailed up the green stem, the stubby leaves, then one by one she plucked its petals.


He loves me...he loves me not...


* * *


The room was quiet and dark, but for the incessant clicking of keys and the bluish, cold glow cast over his face by the monitor. Somewhere along the line he'd sold his laptop to finance the search for Duo. Without a war to bypass scruples, he refused to stoop to petty thievery.


Duo hadn't wanted to share the shower with him. Actually he hadn't been given the option; the door had shut in his face.


It was his own fault, for mentioning the girl's name barely a moment after kissing him. Telling him that he needed him.


*Baka! Baka yarou!*


It was too late to undo, though, and it might already be too late for what he'd really come for. And with what he'd just uncovered...


"Marimeia Barton, born A.C. 189. Mother, Rhea Barton. Father, unknown." He stared hard at the unyielding white lines of data as if he could change them by the force of his glare.


The door slid open behind him. "You're working even on Christmas? Oi, Trowa's gotten to you." Duo's voice was cheerful as he strode into the room.


Heero frowned. Christmas...? He'd forgotten. Was it that time again, so soon? Perhaps that was another reason Duo was mad at him. But Duo didn't sound angry or upset anymore. Well. Maybe he was being reasonable for once.


"It's the records," he returned. Finally he'd turned up who was behind the takeover of L3-X18999, the person with power and resources to set up Marimeia as a figurehead. To set the real Operation Meteor into motion. "The Trowa we know isn't Trowa Barton." That much he'd uncovered in his investigations of the Barton group.


"Is that so?" Duo returned, his voice casual as he approached.


Heero pushed up out of the chair, eyes flicking briefly over his partner. Duo looked good, in black leather and a zip-up red turtleneck. His expression was nonchalant, easy. He wondered what Duo was thinking. He wondered if Duo would understand. He had to rescue Relena, because he owed her. Because she was Foreign Minister, and had the will and strength to keep this peace together. And even because she deserved to find someone who wasn't him, and could be what she needed.


God knew *he* couldn't ever be.


"You're going?" Duo queried as he snagged his jacket off the chair's back and palmed open the door.


"Aa." He paused. "Relena's been captured." He disappeared out the door.


Duo stopped stock-still for a moment, paralyzed by the audacity. It was only when he remembered the rich satisfaction in Relena's pale blue eyes, her "he owes me" that Duo could allow his fractured breathing to ease. He scratched his head. "Hey, hey. He's obsessed." He forced his tone to be jovial, light, before he sighed and hurried after him. He had to take it like a joke, or he'd take it to heart.


Heero was incapable of walking away from an obligation. And well, he wouldn't complain...not just yet...but he'd damn well be vocal later. If he *did* really intend to be with him, he had a damn funny way of showing it.


"Oi. What's this all about?" He caught up with Heero in the hallway on the way to the shuttle and socked him in the arm casually. "Hunh?"


"We need to go to L3-X18999 and stop the Barton group's plans before they launch Operation M," Heero replied. "I thought I'd been clear on that."


Duo scowled at him. "That's not what I'm talking about and you know it."


Heero remained silent.


It was starting to irritate him. "How can you be so cold, man?" That had cut him to the quick, the hard expression on Heero's face moments after they had finished such a seemingly passionate kiss, the matter-of-fact tone when he'd said he had come to find him because of Relena.


Like he was some sort of side benefit, some kind of extra bonus to his real objective.


Heero didn't pause in his stride but his eyes met his briefly. "We're on a mission, Duo. And we've got no time." His face was set and expressionless. The same look that always closed him out.


"Ah." He laced his fingers behind his head, keeping eyes straight forward. He wanted to know what was still between Heero and Relena, to cause him to hurry off to her side and drag *him* along for the ride. There had to be something. If there wasn't, Duo wasn't sure he could take this. He tucked his mouth down and let Heero enter the shuttle first.


Duo stuck his tongue out at the unyielding stiff back of Wing's pilot. It was a childish gesture but it made him feel better. "Bbeeeda. You're *cut off.*"


Heero pretended not to hear him. At least, he hoped that was what the lack of response meant. Because in Duo's world, that was the most godawful threat he could make.


* * *


On a second analysis, perhaps it hadn't been the most brilliant of ideas to infiltrate Marimeia's army.


Then again, considering that second analysis took place at the wrong end of Chang Wufei's gleaming sword, it made him prone to question pros and cons in minute detail.


Trowa looked up into Wufei's opaque, glittering black eyes and dropped the gun. Behind him Dekim Barton wiped at his forehead, glaring nastily at the boy who would have killed him, and he would have killed in return had he gotten the chance. If Wufei hadn't stepped in to intervene.


He had infiltrated the enemy before and worn the uniform of OZ. So it was on his record and this wasn't precisely the smartest thing to do. It was only natural that they question his loyalty, as Dekim had called him up at gunpoint.


"Come with us," Barton commanded curtly, gesturing to Wufei to enforce the order.


Wufei prodded his Adam's apple with the pricking tip of his sword, and Trowa got slowly to his feet after he'd placed his gun on the floor. Arms held up in an unthreatening stance, he followed the man off the dais with Wufei's vigilance at his back.


It was reasonable to assume that Wufei was here for the same reason as he; that he had infiltrated the army and posed now as a puppet of Marimeia to prevent the ruin of everything they'd suffered for. But something in Wufei's eyes glinted the resolution that he wouldn't spare a single thought over running him through.


He followed Dekim into a small conference room across the main audience hall they had been in. Wufei shut the door behind them, sword still at the ready for any hint of aggression.


The man turned and faced him, the weight of his gaze clapping onto Trowa.


He lifted a brow. "Trowa Barton, eh?" The man looked as if he'd like to raise one hand and slap him.


Trowa met his gaze squarely. "It beats Nanashi."


Dekim released a short bark of laughter but his face contained no amusement. "What did you do with him? The real Trowa?"


"Spaced," he replied laconically, neglecting to mention that it hadn't been *he* who had killed him, but the good doctor.


A spasm of rage crossed his face. "Why?"


"I was encouraged to take his place," Trowa replied quietly.


"Sou ka." Dekim was breathing heavily. He sneered. "I knew that scientist wasn't to be trusted. It was *he* who stopped Operation M, I suppose, by replacing Trowa with *you.* But why are you here now?"


"To finish things," Trowa said. He kept his face cool and emotionless.


Dekim was silent for awhile, studying his face. "You really are just a tool, aren't you?" His chuckle was mirthless. He jerked a broad thumb at Wufei. "Can you follow orders as well as he?"


"An order is an order," Trowa returned, indifferent.


He could feel the weight of the man's gaze boring into him. Judging him. Weighing the risks. "We have some new Mobile Suits," he said at last.


"That's what I'm here for, sir."


It was mildly surprising, how quickly the old mask slipped back into place.


* * *




The voice intruded, familiar but horribly out of context, into the wash of his nightmare. His greatest personal failure, his own mistake in rigging explosive, his destruction of an innocent. Of innocents. The voice was tugging him out of the bad dream that he'd been having intermittently ever since that night.


*Oniisan, are you lost?*


Her light, sweet, high voice. *You are, aren't you?* It was like Relena's voice.


*I've been lost since the day I was born.*


"Oi, Heero, wake up!"


Duo sounded vaguely irritated. Probably still pissed that he'd fallen asleep not long after setting the shuttle's course, but he hadn't gotten more than that hour of sleep with Duo, earlier, in over forty-eight hours. And with what they were facing he'd need whatever rest he could get.




"This girl's going to make a public announcement." Duo quirked an eyebrow at him.


Duo was definitely annoyed with him, but they didn't have time for that now.


Marimeia's voice crackled on the line, then the transmission steadied. A placid, very calm face stared out at them. "We of the L3-X18999 colony hereby declare our independence from the Earth Federation. I am the leader of the new government. My name is Marimeia Khushrenada. I'm Treize Khushrenada's daughter. I am carrying on what my father started. Humanity has had enough of pointless fighting."


They were quiet for a bit after the announcement that had no doubt made a wracking reverberation on Earth, and amongst the other colonies.


"We're entering L3's airspace," Duo finally said, turning his attention back to the shuttle controls. "No turning back now."


The madman actually sounded cheerful about it.


"Stealing the Mobile Suits is okay, but we could be detected," Heero observed. For a fleeting instant he regretted dragging Duo into it. But Duo was the only one he trusted with something this big.


"You think it's a bad idea?"


"There's no other way."


"All right, then! Use your head," Duo grinned over at him. He could hear the smirk in that voice. His battle hyperactivity was starting to charge the air.


"You, too," he replied, a flat warning. After a year of being a mechanic, Duo's skills probably weren't at peak performance...but then, neither were his.


"Nani!?" Duo bristled.


* * *


"I'm glad you came," Sally told her.


Noin threw her a brief glance and a smile. "It didn't seem right, you alone out here on Christmas. Besides, I had to. This is too important to tackle alone."


Sally turned slightly in her seat and Noin felt eyes on her, studying her. She was about to ask what when Sally turned back to her console.


"I'm picking up a shuttle ahead of us," Sally noted with a puzzled frown. The note of anxiety increased. "They're heading right for the mobile suits."


"Shuttle, change your course!" Noin operated the intercom instantly. "This is a dangerous sector. Do you read!?"


A face blinked onto the viewscreen, a young, strong oval of high cheekbones and a slightly snubbed nose, an almost pretty face fringed with chestnut bangs. Duo Maxwell flashed her his cocky grin. "Yo! Long time no see!"


Noin stared at him, surprised. Yet feeling somehow that she shouldn't be. "Duo!" And where the American was, his Japanese lover was sure to be, too. "...and Heero?"


"They seem to be having quite a Christmas party, so we're bringing presents," Duo grinned at her.


"It's too dangerous!" Sally rapped out at once, horrified. "You don't have your Gundams. You can't challenge them!"


"We'll think of something," Duo assured her. "We just need to get to the colony."


"Duo, Heero, we're already too late," Noin told him, straining forward. There was no point in risking their lives when L3 had already declared its independence. The kind of guerilla tactics that were the only thing Duo and Heero could they make a difference at this point? At any rate, they as Preventers couldn't do anything directly. Not without consulting Une.


"We'll see about that," Duo contradicted. "Ja ne! We're late for the Christmas party, and I want some Christmas dinner!" He flashed her his grin again and the connection fuzzed out.


"Yare, yare, ne?" Sally sighed.


Noin's mind was racing furiously. If Duo and Heero would risk their lives for this, how could they do any less? At the very least, they were empowered to... "Sally, let's run interference. If we distract the enemy, they'll be able to get to the hatch."


"Ryoukai! All we can do is run backup," Sally replied, understanding their situation as much as she. They exchanged a wry, slightly bitter smile. Those boys could take a flying leap past the bureaucratic necessities they were entangled in.


"We have to rely on them, now."


"Eh," Sally agreed with a resolute nod. "I hope they're up to it.


Noin pushed the throttle forward. They had to be. As it had been before, those Gundam pilots were their only hope, now.


* * *


Laser fire danced all around them, heavy streaks of artillery blitzed past the shuttle and Duo fired the retros again and again, laughing maniacally. He knew without looking that Heero's expression was set and long-suffering as they rammed their shuttle down the throat of the oncoming mobile suits.


He twisted the throttle and narrowly avoided another volley of firepower.


"Yeah! I'm pretty good, too!" he cheered himself on. Hell, if he didn't do it no one else would, that was for sure.


"Aa," Heero replied unexpectedly, surprising him. "I always hoped you'd turn out good."


He smiled lopsidedly at the backhanded compliment. Heero could be so cute sometimes. Hell. Maybe dying wouldn't be so bad as long as it was with him. But dying was furthest from his mind as he increased speed to the thrusters, as a whiplash of covering fire and intercepts from God knew where -- probably Noin and Sally -- began to draw off some of the heavier brunt of attacks.


His heart leapt into his throat. This was what it was to be alive. "That's what I wanted to hear!"

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