He stands there, staring blankly at the small mobile phone clenched in his hand. He cannot, will not believe. But – Quatre. This is Quatre, and the empathetic blond would never lie about something like this. Besides, the pain, the fear, the panic in his voice – that had been all too real.
So it's true, then. What he said… all true. If so – oh gods.
The doorbell rings. He jerks, tenses. Reaches for a gun he no longer carries. A second or two, of frozen breathlessness and then he collects himself. The days of war have gone three years past; he is a civilian now. Idiot. It's just the doorbell. Probably a salesman – it's not as if he'd come to me, of all people…
He walks the few steps, and opens the door.
Quatre was right, is all he can think.
Duo stands there; his grin is sheepish. He's thinner, paler than before but that same indomitable spark in his eyes hasn't changed, nor has that ever-ready wariness in his body. Three years of eating differently have made them grow differently, and now he is just that tiny bit shorter. "Hey," he says, giving a little wave. "Heero."
"Duo," he manages. "It's, uh – a surprise."
Duo relaxes – Heero hadn't really noticed the tension in that lean frame until it was gone – and laughs. "At a loss for words? Never thought I'd see the day Heero Yuy was caught off-guard!"
"It's been three years," he says. A reply, an excuse, an accusation.
A brief shadow dims bright eyes, fleetingly. "So it has." Duo looks away, looks up. He smiles briefly. "And you've changed."
"So have you."
They stand there, an awkward moment. Heero breaks it by shifting slightly and opening the door wider. "Come in?"
"Don't mind if I do."
Duo enters, takes off his shoes and places them on the shoe-rack by the wall. Heero shuts the door and turns to watch his guest look around, taking everything in: the plain walls but for picture frames, the empty floors. Analysing it all with his usual wide-eyed sharpness.
"You don't decorate much, do you? I could give you some ideas, if you want. You definitely need help."
Duo's voice is light, conversational, as he wanders over to examine one of the photos on the wall. His eyes widen, then, and he reaches up to touch the clear glass with one slender finger.
Heero knows exactly what picture that frame holds, and doesn't move from his spot next to the door. Like a guard, it occurs to him. Guarding people from coming in. Guarding people from running out… from escaping. He answers Duo's unspoken question. "The third school we hid in. AC 196. The water fight by the river?" An unspoken question, too, one of his own.
Duo glances at him, then back at the picture of his younger self laughing with abandon under the sunlight, drenched but delighted. The light turns the water droplets molten gold, and the background hazy white. "I remember," he says, softly. Then he turns away abruptly, walks to the next frame, and the next… Heero watches him make a circuit around the room, the melancholy smile on his face and wistful light in his eyes deepening with every lost memory recovered.
It's surreal, having Duo in his living room. In his home. Surreal, because it's been three years and already they've fallen back into the comfortable way they have with each other like it's only been three days. Surreal, and not uncomfortable like it should be, and he realizes that all this – Duo trailing his fingers over the plain walls, Duo filling the room with his presence – is right. Duo belongs here, with him, making comments on his lack of creativity and trying to take decorative matters into his own hands.
He blinks, and realizes Duo is staring at him, hand lingering almost unconsciously on the picture of all the five pilots at a birthday party Quatre threw for Wufei. It's a familiar picture, from a familiar memory. He can see it even now: Hilde standing by with her camera (though they didn't notice at the time), and Quatre trying to pacify Duo trying to steal the cake from Heero trying to protect the cake for Wufei trying to reign in his temper and Trowa nonchalantly swiping a dollop of cream and tasting it…
"It's too sweet."
"Trowa! That's Fei's cake! How could you!"
"Duo, please, you're going to make Heero lose his balance and drop the cake…"
"You're just upset that I got to taste it first."
"Trowa, don't provoke him!"
"Get off me, Duo."
"No! Give that here, Heero! If Trowa can eat it so can I!"
"If you'd all stop arguing over my cake…"
"Hey, what was that flash?"
"Oh no, please tell me she didn't just…"
He smiles, suddenly achingly wistful for those days. "Yes," he says. "They're all pictures of us pilots. A few of Relena, Dorothy, Une, Zechs, Noin, Hilde, Sally… even Treize, from before."
"The old gang."
"So… how's everyone?"
"You tell me."
A laugh. "You know me so well. Okay, you're right – I did keep up with the news about you guys. Though I must say, the last thing I expected was Relena hooking up with another guy… always thought, you and her, y'know?"
"She's only ever been a sister to me."
The surprise on Duo's face is clear, but Heero doesn't care about that now. His next words are on the tip of his tongue; he cannot stop them. "And the last thing we expected was you, of all people, to disappear without a word. For three years."
Duo avoids his eyes. "Hey, I never expected you to be the picture type," he says suddenly, brightly.
Heero wants to laugh at the inept change of topic, but he's too tense, too frozen. "Why did you do it?"
"Do what?" All innocence, and puzzlement. He's always been good at acting. Especially acting happy, carefree, as if nothing was wrong, nothing is ever wrong…
And Heero's suddenly angry. Suddenly hurt, and hurting anger is the worst kind. The most vicious kind, that causes uncharacteristic words to fly off his tongue.
"Fine. Act stupid all you want. But if you don't want to answer that, at least answer this. Why did you come back? Why now? Why come find me?"
The questions hang in the air, in the too-still too-quiet. Duo stares at him, eyes shuttered. Studying him. Heero holds his breath, desperately hoping, wishing… Tell me the truth. Trust me, as you used to. Tell me what I already know. Tell me what I want to hear, and oh, there are so many things I want to hear from you…
Lids slide shut over purple eyes as Duo smiles. "Because I felt like it."
Duo's still talking, rambling on about how Heero would make the least fuss if he turned up again out of the blue, because Wufei would just rant and Quatre would go into hysterics and Trowa was with Quatre so if he went to find Trowa he'd meet Quatre and then the blond would still end up going into hysterics…
But Heero's not listening.
It hurts to hear a lie from the person you used to trust the most.
He wants to ask, Why do you lie? When things are at this stage why do you still lie to me? but Quatre had said, humour him. Follow his lead. Just go along with him, in fact forget about all this and pretend he's really just turned up out of the blue to see you. Don't startle him. Don't confront him.
Don't do anything that might cause him to run away, before…
He does not want to think about the rest of that sentence, and what it means.
Forget about all this and pretend…
So he settles for nodding once, and says, "Do you want a drink?"
Duo's on the right and Heero's on the left of the couch in front of the television. He doesn't watch the thing, except sometimes for the news, but it's a good distraction to have when guests come over. Not that many guests come over. Only the pilots, nowadays, and the girls. When they do visit, though, sometimes it's for a relaxing night, for movies-and-popcorn. Then it's good to have the television, because you can't watch a movie without a screen, can you? He tells all this to Duo, who laughs.
"Man, that's so you, Heero! I love that about you, I really do."
He shrugs, and glances down at the open photo album on the coffee table, a small half-smirk on his face. "Hn."
They're sitting in the living room, talking comfortably, sipping drinks. His is simply ice water, but Duo's is Mountain Dew. Heero never drinks the stuff, but he's always kept a bottle or two in his fridge… just in case.
Just in case, for three years running.
Duo points to another picture in the album. Heero looks at it and winces.
"Oh. That one."
A huge grin, and the braided man leans forward. "Tell! Was it Quatre again?"
He sighs, long-sufferingly. "No. That one, believe it or not, was Une's fault…"
They talk for a few hours straight, relaxing more as time passes, laughing and joking and interrupting each other good-naturedly. Do you remember…? Did you know…? They talk of their times together, and of what they've been doing the past three years. The sunlight, warmer and brighter as time passes, streams into the room, curls itself over furniture and around the pair of laughing friends.
"What's wrong?" Heero asks concernedly as Duo pokes his stomach experimentally. His guest looks up with a pleading puppy-dog eyes.
That, of course, makes Heero laugh again. He stands, and heads towards the kitchen. "Sandwiches?"
"Is that the limit of your culinary skills?"
"Unless you want to wait half an hour…"
"Sandwiches would be great."
Heero shakes his head in helpless amusement as he rummages through the fridge for the ham and mayo. Having Duo around is like emerging into the day after a hundred years in a cave. He's not felt this light, this relaxed for a long, long time. How could he have lived without this for three years?
How can he live without this for years to come?
He stills, staring blankly into the white tray-lined interior of the fridge. Without Duo… there cannot be a without Duo. He cannot imagine going back to the state he's been in for the past few years, now that he knows, all over again, the sheer joy of having Duo with him. Being with Duo…
"Hey, trying to get frostbite?"
He jerks, hits his head on the top of the fridge, yelps, clutches his head, incidentally releases the ham he'd picked up, and sits down hard on the floor, narrowly avoiding flattening the meat.
Duo is moved to tears in the kitchen doorway, clutching the wood and laughing himself silly.
Heero glares balefully up at him. "Not funny," he mutters.
"Yes funny!" Duo manages to gasp.
Grumpily Heero gets up, putting the ham on the table and grabbing the elusive jar of mayo and the butter from the fridge before closing the fridge door. He narrows his eyes at Duo, who is grinning madly. "If you do not stop laughing at me I will not make your sandwich."
"I'm not laughing at you. This is a grin, see?"
Quiet occasional chuckles come from Duo as Heero sets about making the sandwiches. He remembers exactly what Duo likes – butter on the bread instead of mayo, two slices of ham but no cheese…
He glances up from slicing the ham. "Yes?"
Duo's eyes are serious, though a little smile lingers around his lips. His gaze is averted, off somewhere through the window. "You've really changed, you know? I'd never have imagined that you could be so… open. That you could, I don't know, just relax and laugh and joke with me."
He looks back to his ham and begins cutting it again. "These past years… the others have helped me to learn to adapt to a… civilian mindset."
Duo looks down at the floor, a bittersweet humourless smile flashing past. "Ah. Guess they managed what I couldn't, didn't they?"
Heero, looking at him through the corner of his eye, can see that Duo is berating himself for letting that slip, from the way he hunches a little into himself. "No," he says quietly, focusing back on his sandwiches. "It is because you left that I… thought it might be good to change. I thought… it might be because of me, of my sullenness, that you got fed up and left. So. I asked them to help, and worked hard at it…" He laughs a little, feigning nonchalance. "I can act normally around friends, now, but put me in a crowd and I go back to being Heero Yuy, cold unfeeling bastard."
"If I do not like going out with people, that is my own choice. I do not see why I have to conform to the norm of social behaviour."
"Heero! That's all well and good with 'people', but we're friends! You can't just treat this like we're acquaintances."
"Is there a difference?"
"…You're a cold unfeeling bastard, you know that?"
He remembers that little conversation from so long ago, and from the silence in the doorway, he can tell that Duo remembers the origin of that comment, too.
He looks up again, when he cannot take the silence and the searching eyes on his back any longer. His gaze locks with Duo's.
"To be able to tell me all that…" Duo's voice is soft, as he straightens and slowly steps towards Heero. "Just 'you've really changed' isn't enough to describe it, I think."
"Is that bad?" he says softly, eyes riveted on Duo's. He cannot look away.
"No… no. It's good. You – you look so much better when you smile…" His hand comes up slowly, reaches towards Heero's face. "I…"
Heero doesn't say anything, but he thinks he might not be breathing.
Have I gotten through? Have I finally…
Then the hand is ruffling Heero's hair, and Duo is beaming again, all manic cheerfulness. "I like this new you, especially if you feed me so willingly!" he says happily.
Go along with him… Heero looks down towards the food, forcing a cheerful tone into his voice. "I've always fed you when you came over," he says accusingly.
"No you didn't! I had to whine at you for hours before you'd let me near the kitchen, let alone make food for me!"
"Don't you hn me… oh, hey, wait."
Heero pauses and looks up inquiringly from where he's bent to get the plates from the cupboard.
"Pack them to go, will ya?"
His eyes narrow. "Why?"
Duo smirks and holds up his mobile phone.
"Nuh-uh, down, Heero, down!" Duo easily evades Heero's attempts to get his phone back. "This is going to be my hostage from now on."
"Hostage for what?"
Duo points the phone at him. "You are going to follow me wherever I bring you, today and tomorrow, and then you get your phone back. Deal?"
Two days – 48 hours. Just as Quatre said… "No."
Duo snatches his hand back and cradles the phone protectively when Heero makes another attempt at it. "Oh, c'mon! I've got a really great time planned for us… it's been three years, as you so kindly keep reminding me; will it kill you to abandon all plans for two days to hang out with a dear friend?"
Heero hesitates. Humour him, he's been told. But this?
"Only if you'll keep the phone on and let me answer it if it rings," he says finally.
"I'll keep it on, but I'll answer it and decide if it's important enough for you to answer."
"Hey, that's my final offer."
"…If it's one of the pilots I want to answer it immediately. Anyone else is negotiable."
Duo is the one to hesitate this time, and Heero thinks he knows why as purple eyes search his face. He keeps his expression irritated, because it is far more telling if he keeps it blank.
"Alright, fine. You've got yourself a deal."
Heero sags in relief, mentally, but physically he nods and turns away and begins packing the sandwiches in plastic wrap.
"Okay, so it's – around noon, now. Perfect. I'll just go and pack… uh. Heero? Do you still… my clothes…"
He doesn't look up, concentrating on wrapping the sandwiches just right. "You've slept over so many times. Don't tell me you have already forgotten where they're kept."
"Ah, right. Silly of me…"
Duo leaves, and his footsteps fade up the stairs, while Heero sets about finding lunchboxes to pack the food in.
"Man, I'd never have thought you the convertible type, either!"
Heero laughs as Duo whoops, throwing his hands into the air and tilting his face up towards the sky.
"I'm not. This was Quatre and Trowa's birthday present to me when they wrecked my car."
Duo chokes on his laughter. "They what?"
"Long story. Basically I was out on a long mission, they were looking after my house and so used my car as it was less eye-catching than Quatre's Rolls, and when I came back there was a convertible in my driveway."
"But knowing Quat, he'd have given you the car for wrecking your old one and not for a birthday present as well…"
"It was too expensive. I told him this would be my birthday present or I wouldn't accept it."
"He still gave you presents on your birthday claiming they're just 'little gifts', didn't he?" Duo laughs.
"I tried to make him take them back."
"Tried being the keyword?"
The sun is warm but not too hot, and the feeling of wind through hair is a wonderful one as Heero speeds down the long snake of road. There are open fields on either side, and together with the sea they're heading towards, the air is crisp and fresh, with a tinge of salt.
"A perfect day for a road trip, ne? Heero."
It's a comfortable silence they fall into, then, for the rest of the hour-long drive to the seaside. Duo relaxes against the seat, eyes closed, a small smile on his face. Heero glances over at him from time to time, drinking in the sight, imprinting it in his mind. He wants to remember every single moment spent like this, with Duo.
All too soon they arrive at the beach, and Duo takes over, shoving the lunchboxes into Heero's hands and dragging him around by his elbow. Bemused, Heero follows along obediently, and before he knows it they're on a small boat and speeding off into the horizon.
They face forward, the sharp streaming air right in their faces and the seagulls' calls falling away behind as they venture further. Duo stands at the prow, steering, chatting to Heero who sits beside him. They talk in between bites of their lunch, delicious because they are hungry, and also because…
"Heero – you remembered?"
"Finish your sentence, Duo. I can't read your mind all the time."
"How I like my sandwiches."
"But of course."
Duo anchors in the middle of nowhere. Sea and sky all around, no land, no life in sight except for the occasional silvery flash of dolphins, far off. With the engine shut down the soothing swish of the waves is the only thing melting into the quiet.
They strip and dress in their swimming trunks, identical but for the colour: Duo's a dark purple, Heero's a deep blue. Two of a set of five from Relena, a long time ago – the other three blue-green, deep green and black.
I saw them and imagined you five wearing them, sauntering in a row down the beach, all aloof and united. I had to get them, she'd said.
They'd done exactly that, and received declarations of undying love from Relena – and Noin, and Hilde, and half the girls on the beach.
Heero's eyes catch Duo's, and they grin in shared memory.
There are two large rainbow-splashed tire-like floats, tethered to the boat with a rope long enough for them to drift out of the boat's shadow on the water, and Duo throws them overboard, where they bob gaily. Heero looks at them askance.
"We're doing what with those?"
"Their colour blinds me."
"Oh, don't be such a grump."
Duo dives in, his braid trailing behind him, in a perfect smooth arc that leaves ripples with barely a splash. Heero sighs, and follows. The cool water is wonderful against his skin, and it reminds him of deep space, zero-grav. Floating, and weightless.
He surfaces and has barely time for a deep breath before salt spray gets him in the face, and he sputters to the sound of laughter.
"You're going to get it now, you realize that?"
"Yeah? I'd like to see you try!"
Their laughter is brilliant amidst the calm, ringing out over the rippling waves and spiraling up into the bright afternoon sky. The splashing sounds they make seem muted in comparison, as they dive and mock-fight and hang onto the floats to rest, before they start all over again. When they get too cold, they climb onto floats to warm up underneath the sun, and when it begins to get hot, they dive back into the sea and play.
And somewhere in the middle of all this, Heero wonders if this is what childhood is like, all fun and innocence and not having a care in the world, which is made up of just him, and Duo, and the water sun-warmed.
Finally, after an animated game of tag, Duo hooks an arm over his float. "I think it's been about an hour. Wanna rest a bit before we head back?" He pushes dripping bangs out of his face and peers at Heero.
He considers, and shrugs. "Hn."
They climb onto the floats and lie back, upper body and legs supported by the rubber rainbows. The sky is an unreal blue, the kind of blue he would think computer-edited if he saw it somewhere on a poster. The clouds are like fluttering silk veils around four-poster beds, shielding the worst of the sun, so only a gentle warmth soothes his water-soaked skin.
"I think I like this," he says softly, staring up into that sky, seeing and not.
He searches for words. "This… mindlessness. I can lie here and not think. Just… feel, and breathe. Can you understand that? Not actively… actively anything. I would never have believed it possible, this empty state of mind. It makes me guilty, like I'm being lazy, but it makes me happy. Relaxed. I can almost forget everything…"
He will never forget what has made him follow Duo all the way out here in the first place. He will never forget that phone call, and Quatre's devastating words. Even if this is – no, even when this is all resolved, he thinks it will linger in his mind, always, something that comes to him even when he awakes in the dead of night and looks at Duo, sleeping sweetly beside him. "Yes. Almost."
"Try, Heero." Duo's voice is as quiet as his. "Try to forget. You don't have to feel guilty. You're allowed to be lazy at times."
Something bumps into Heero's float, but he doesn't turn his head, not even when fingers intertwine with his. Because if he does, those fingers and that warm body in the other float might just go away.
"Don't think. Don't anything. Just listen, and feel. Just breathe."
He stares blindly upwards: listening, feeling, breathing. He can hear the whisper-heartbeat of the sea, and the almost inaudible sound of breathing next to him. Steady, strong, and not going away anytime soon. Neither is the pulse in that hand holding his, the hand he is acutely aware of. He breathes, and it matches that pulse, that breath.
Don't do anything that might cause him to run away, before…
He tightens his grip, and feels an answering pressure, and takes comfort from it.
He closes his eyes against the angel-clouds, and doesn't think about them leaving with the dusk sun, red-falling into the western sky.
An infinity, an hour; the sun smoothing the water away and leaving crystal-white sand-salt on their unmoving bodies. Heero, eyes half open, lazy-lidded, observes this with some interest.
"They look like diamonds. Powdered diamonds, all glitter and snow."
Duo's voice, next to him. Sudden, but he's too lethargic to be startled.
"Diamonds used to be the most long-lasting, enduring substance on Earth," he says idly.
"So we're covered in a long-lasting, enduring substance. Makes you feel protected, hmm?"
There is silence for a long moment.
"Not protected. Encased in diamonds… preserved."
He doesn't add, So that we can last for eternity. So that we are safe, so that we are forever. So that we can remain like this, and not worry about what would happen if we were not preserved in diamond.
He doesn't say it, but that 'oh' tells him that Duo is perhaps thinking the same. And maybe, just maybe, it's making him re-consider his plans, his actions…
"Like mummies? Only with diamonds and not with bandages."
But, of course, this was Duo. And he'd always be Duo, first and foremost.
"Hey, I resent that. If I had a peanut I'd throw it at you."
"…I refuse to comment."
It's a while more before Duo breaks the silence again. "Heero?"
"Do you think this is what Treize felt like?"
He freezes, and suddenly he can feel all too well the sharpness of the sea's cold.
"What are you…"
"I mean, at the end. When he died – do you think he felt this sense of calm? Of rightness? I think he knew he had to die, that he'd already achieved what he'd wanted, and felt that dying in a noble fight was a good way to go. He was as good as Fei; he wouldn't have gone like that if he'd really given it his all. I think I'd like that sense of peace, when I go."
"Why are you bringing this up?" He is painfully aware that his voice is a near snarl, and one that catches in his throat. "It's all in the past – he's dead!"
"Well – I dream of him, sometimes, and when I do I end up thinking about him. Trying to understand why he did what he did, and who he was… He was a brilliant man, y'know? His life is full of lessons to be learnt, and I think everyone should – "
"He's dead. Unless he talks to you as a ghost I don't want to hear about him!"
"But – "
"It's getting late, I think it's almost three, let's go."
He dives into the water and swims for the boat, for the metal rungs that lead back onto the deck and away from frivolous wonderings and playings. To the safety of a hard deck beneath his feet and away from the soft dangerous ground in which dreams and hopeful eternities lie underfoot to be tread.
And away from Duo's gaze, sad and knowing.
They stop by a shop selling gardening items on their way back. Duo orders Heero to stay in the car while he dashes in, and since he's already been following Duo's orders for the day so far, he obeys. It's not like he'd be much help, anyway; the only thing he knows of gardening is watering plants. His garden survives only because of the gardener he'd hired to come, once a month.
Duo whirlwinds back into the car with a huge grin on his face, a large plastic bag held in place between his feet as he settles into his seat. Heero can make out the outline of a small spade through the thin plastic.
"I told you I have a gardener, didn't I?"
"Yes, and you said he brought his own tools, so that's why I bought some."
There's no arguing against that sweet, stop-me-and-I'll-bite-your-nose-off grin. So he doesn't, and starts the car with only a sigh.
When they get back to the house, Duo only allows Heero enough time to dump their swimsuits and wet towels in the laundry basket before he's dragging him down to the garden at the back. Heero blinks down at the small strip of bare land where they've stopped, while Duo, kneeling on the ground, is busy unloading the items from the plastic bag. Besides the shovel there is a small unlabeled packet of seeds and a larger bag labeled 'fertilizer', and a watering can.
"How did you know this was here?"
"You told me, remember? You said you decided not to bother with the back garden because the front one's enough trouble for you to water."
"Oh… yes. I remember. So you just – inferred that there would be some empty space to – "
"And if there hadn't been?"
"We destroy something and make some. Okay, now we can start! Get down on your knees next to me, Yuy, and that's an order."
The next hour and a half they spend on their hands and knees, planting seeds. Duo refuses to tell Heero what kind of seeds they are, insisting he'll keep that a secret until later.
"Why? It's not as if that'll make a lot of difference."
"No, but I like my secrets. Oi, Yuy, don't be girly and just shove your hands into the soil! Pawing at it like that won't help!"
He teaches Heero how deep to bury the seeds, where to put the fertilizer, how much water to use to moisten the soil. It's a surprisingly good feeling to mold soil beneath his fingers, like a child with play-dough in a hands-on display in toy stores. He works hard, and steadily, and with Duo's firm and teasing instructions to help he's almost finished the entire row before Duo nudges him.
"Hey, Heero. The back of your house faces north-west, did you know?"
Duo smiles and stands, dusting his hands off before holding one out towards Heero. "It means the corner of your house faces west. Leave off the last few seeds for a while, and come and watch the sunset with me."
He realizes that Duo is right; they've worked until dusk. He shrugs, dusts off as much soil from his hands as he can, and grabs Duo's outstretched hand with his own. Duo pulls him up, and they go over to the corner of the house to watch the setting sun.
It casts a slanting orange-gold light over everything, the kind of colour you see in old sepia films and photographs, where simple two-line music plays and the steady clicking hum of the projector provides the beat. It turns Duo's hair copper, where the light shines through, and outlines him in gold. Heero notes this through the corner of his eye, because it would be too obvious if he turns to stare.
"You know why I know so much about gardening?" Duo says suddenly, still watching the sun.
"I would like to."
A wistful smile. "When you plant a seed, you start a life. With care, that life grows, and becomes something able to produce more seeds, and so more life. Then when that seed is fully grown, it becomes something beautiful…a leaf, a flower, a tree, things like that, and for a while the world is a better place. At the same time, too, they give us what we need to live – they give us oxygen. They're what supports life. So… do you see? It's a sort of penance, for all those lives I took."
He's struck by the beauty of it. So simple and obvious and it seems almost absurd now, how he's never really thought about it before, this common taken-for-granted knowledge. Duo turns, then, to smile at him.
"I wanted to share this with you, because I know you. You still feel guilty; you're still searching for ways to punish yourself. To, to atone for imagined sins. So I hope you'll find the same sort of peace that I do, from planting seeds and watching them grow. Knowing that you're nurturing and helping life. And when they mature, you can look at them, and admire them, and marvel at how beautiful it all is."
He nods, unable to speak, and they both turn back to watch the last of the afternoon bleed from the sky. The red is building into a crescendo, now, but Heero knows soon a dull blue-grey will replace it. He thinks over what he's just learnt, and then decides to venture a theory.
"So you're not telling me what these seeds will grow into because you want it to be a surprise when I see them?"
Duo hesitates, and then shrugs.
"No, not really. I suppose I could tell you now."
He waits patiently as Duo takes a step forward, two, away from his side.
"They bloom from May to September, so if they were grown you'd see flowers now. Usually in marshlands or near rivers, so you'll need to water them a lot."
Duo turns to face him, and this time, his back to the sun, he is a shadow sketched in light. Heero can only make out the faint contours of his face. When he speaks again, his voice is quiet, and it sounds so very far away.
"They're forget-me-nots, Heero. For … for when I'm not around, to remind you of me."
Behind him, the sky blazes a final, dying orange-red.
Like embers, at the end of a dazzling fire.
Heero nods, and abruptly turns, going back to the plot of earth. He is rather surprised that he does not stumble, since he cannot seem to focus on where he is going.
And for some reason, he wants to rip out all the seeds from the ground.
Duo makes the sauce, insisting he has a special recipe that will sweep Heero's taste buds off their collective feet. Heero gives him the benefit of the doubt with a smirk that sets him off ranting. He listens, amused, interjecting little comments that set Duo off again, as he puts the spaghetti noodles to boil and takes out the ingredients to make a small salad.
They make small, light talk, carefully avoiding anything that might lead to discussion of Heero's odd behaviour throughout the day. Heero is grateful for Duo's discretion, and doesn't think about why Duo is being so diplomatic.
Heero compliments Duo on the sauce, and is told the recipe comes from a co-worker's wife. Duo compliments Heero on the salad, and learns that his host has experimented with many different kinds and for him this way of preparing it tastes the best.
"It's quick and very simple, too. Efficient."
"Somehow I knew you'd say something like that."
When they finish the food, they wash up. Duo refuses to let Heero do it himself, much like he refused to let Heero make their entire dinner. So Heero ends up washing, and Duo drying the dishes with a cloth. They work in comfortable silence, and standing side-by-side, anticipating each other's movements in perfect co-ordination, it feels so very natural – and there is something terribly familiar about that.
Like the way marriage might be, Heero thinks, and the raw feeling catches in his throat.
Duo is resolute that they have an early night, because tomorrow they're waking at seven and going to need the energy to last the day. He is firm against Heero's protests that he usually sleeps at eleven, not nine, and he can function perfectly well with eight hours of sleep, thank you very much, which is the normal amount a person should get a day, anyway.
They shower, and when Heero comes out Duo is sitting on his bed, hair down in damp waves. He stops, and stares in wonder. Duo fidgets a little anxiously under his gaze and holds out his towel like a peace offering.
"Um. Help me dry my hair? Please? Because if I tie it up when it's wet it takes ages to dry and if I leave it down to sleep it tangles like anything so I usually braid it before I sleep and retie it in the morning – "
Heero stops his nervous babble by taking the towel and moving to sit cross-legged behind Duo. "You've never let me see your hair down before, let alone touch it," he murmurs. "You guard it jealously."
And it tells me so much that you're letting me do this now…
No. Don't think about that. Treasure this moment, not spoil it with unhappy thoughts.
"Yes, well, only you get the privilege," Duo informs him.
"I, er, wasn't fishing for a compliment…"
Duo relaxes gradually, as Heero works his way from the ends upwards. After a while Duo says suddenly, "Tell me a story."
Heero tilts his head a little in puzzlement, and though Duo cannot see it, he knows Heero and so elaborates. "A bedtime story of sorts."
"Ah. You saw the book of folk tales on the shelf."
"Alright. Let me think… A very long time ago, there lived a beautiful princess in the mystical land of India."
"A very long time ago in India."
"You don't like India?"
"No, it's fine. I just didn't expect this kind of fairy-tale story. I figured you the fighting samurai type."
"Because I'm Japanese?"
"No, not really… you know I'm not the racist kind. I just… hmm. I don't really know why, either. Just continue."
"Hn. Where was I?"
"Beautiful princess in India."
"Ah. She was married to the handsome Prince Rama who had been banished to the enchanted forest by his jealous stepmother, queen Kikae."
"That's not an Indian name."
"Tell the book."
"Okay, okay, I get the hint. Shutting up now."
"One day Princess Sita saw a wounded deer in the woods and she begged Rama to go and help it. Rama drew a circle in the ground and said to her: 'This is a magic circle. So long as you stay inside it no harm can come to you.' That night, the princess heard a horrible cry. Thinking it was her beloved Rama in danger, the princess ran from the circle to answer the cry."
"Stupid girl. I can see where this is going."
"She soon came across an old beggar man. Although she had no money to give him, she could not ignore his plea, and so took a bracelet from her own arm. But as soon as he had the bracelet, he suddenly transformed into the ten-headed demon Ravana. He grabbed the princess and took her to his tower, where he intended to make her his bride."
"I knew it. And once he married her what was he going to do, hmm? They certainly can't have kids, unless he can turn into human shape. Can he turn into human shape?"
"The prince realized too late the evil trap that had been set. He picked up his bow and quiver of arrows, and set forth to rescue his princess. Ravana knew he would come. The demon put ten arrows to his bow and let them fly. Prince Rama evaded them easily, and they fell point-first into the ground around him."
"Of course, can't have the hero dying – "
"Ahem. Alas, the demon was a cunning one. The arrows, once in the ground, released their poison. Great clouds of thick yellow smoke filled the air. The prince could not escape, and so died."
"But then, a miraculous thing happened. The deer which had unwittingly been part of Ravana's trap lay down next to Rama's still body, and gave him his life. The Prince awoke, and was deeply moved by the deer's sacrifice. He bowed to it, and promised its death would not be in vain. Then Prince Rama traveled a night and a day to the tower, and fought with Ravana. He shot an arrow into the sky and called down lightning to strike Ravana's heart, and the demon was slain. Princess Sita, her heart gladdened, ran from the tower and into her prince's open arms, and your hair is as dry as I can get it with only a towel."
Duo blinks, caught off-guard. It takes him a few moments to adjust, and then he groans.
"Heero! You just ruined a perfectly good story!"
"You liked it?"
There is another pause as Duo tries to figure out how he started a rant and ended up here… and then gives up. He throws his hands in the air and then stands.
"I'm going to off to sleep. You – " he points at Heero, " – had better be in bed in ten minutes or I will make you regret it, got that?"
Heero raises an eyebrow.
"I'm not kidding!"
"Go get your beauty sleep, Duo."
"I'll have you know I don't need it," Duo grumbles as he makes his way out of the room. "Night, Heero. Thanks for the bedtime story."
Half an hour later Heero opens the door to Duo's room. Satisfied that yes, it really is Duo underneath the covers and yes, he's sleeping, Heero quietly shuts the door again. He walks by moonlight and memory, and soon arrives at the living room.
Settling down on the sofa, he takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out again, steeling himself. Then he picks up the phone from its cradle by the couch and dials.
"Quatre. Keep your volume down, Duo's sleeping."
"He's with you then. I told them he'd come find… no, never mind. That's good. Why didn't you call me? I didn't dare call you, in case…"
Quatre sounds frazzled, like he's running on adrenaline and caffeine. "He took my phone and dragged me around the entire day. He hasn't changed."
The voice at the other end softens. "Had fun?"
"…Yes. In a sense."
"It's hard for you, isn't it? I'm sorry."
"It's fine. I can handle it. There were a few times I… reacted badly to certain things, but I have not let slip anything yet. I think Duo suspects something, though. He hasn't confronted me yet."
"Just maintain things like they are. That's enough."
"How goes your side?"
Quatre lets out a frustrated growl. "We're doing our best. No one here's slept a damn wink ever since we began yet there's no progress so far! I've got my best men on it, and yet – this is so fucking stupid, Heero! How could anyone – "
Heero waits as the sound of Quatre's voice fades from the phone. He can hear it faintly amidst the other background noises.
"Heero. It's me."
"Tell him he'd be much more help if his mind is fresh than if he's overwrought on sleep deprivation."
He can hear Trowa relaying his message to the other man, and a frustrated snapped reply.
"He says – "
"Tell him it's not a matter of whether he can or cannot. He has to; otherwise he won't be able to do any good to help Duo. Make him take some sleeping pills if necessary. When he's at the stage when he curses without a second thought he's as good as senile."
Another heated exchange of words, and then an exhausted surrender.
"You must have told him many times exactly what I just said."
"He needed to hear it from someone else. You were a good choice."
"Is there really no progress?"
A quiet sigh. "Quatre's taking it too hard. We've made some progress, but there are – complications. We advance in one area and it causes problems for another… as he said. We're trying our best."
"We'll work on it. In the meantime can you find a way to keep Duo at home all day tomorrow? There's a chance that we can find something and rush it over, and if we have to search for you…"
We might not find you in time. "I'll convince Duo somehow. In any case we'll at least keep in contact at all times. If not the house, then my mobile phone."
"Good enough." A hesitatant pause, and then: "How… is he?"
"He's normal. The same Duo that we know… he hasn't shown any change."
A relieved breath. "That's good. Then I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Only if you've found something. If not, spend every second you can on solving this."
"…There's more raw emotion in that sentence than I've heard from you in the whole three years he's not been around."
"This is Duo," he says simply.
"You should tell him."
"It might scare him away. He hasn't shown any signs…"
"Don't make excuses, Yuy."
"You are better than that."
He doesn't answer. His Chinese friend has no patience with mindless defiance.
"Take care of yourself." Trowa again. "And if anything happens…"
"I will. Immediately."
"See you tomorrow then."
He closes his eyes; lets his head drop heavily onto the back of the couch. The phone rests forlornly in his limp hand, as he listens dully to the broken dial tone seeping into the night.
Duo's chattering excitedly about how much fun they're going to have when they get there. It's been his dream since he was a child, to visit that place, and he can't wait. It's going to be great, I can just imagine all the stuff they have there and I'm sorry if I'm too hyper and won't shut up but I'm just so damn eager for it and do you think I should stop drinking coffee?
Heero sighs. He feels wretched for having to do this, but… it's the lesser of two evils.
He will do anything to prevent the other from happening.
"I don't feel like going."
Duo stops bouncing on the balls of his feet and just blinks at him. His smile fades, and he tries to dredge it up again. "No, don't, just… why?"
"I – feel like staying at home. That's all."
Heero meets that pained gaze. "I want to stay here instead of going to some mysterious place to do mysterious things that I'm not sure I'll enjoy wasting a day on."
Duo bites his bottom lip, trying to mask his hurt, and then kneels down by the chair Heero is sitting on. He looks down at the floor and begins tracing small random patterns on his jeans. "Heero… okay, I'm sorry for not telling you. Like the flowers, I should have told you about the flowers but – I just wanted it to be a surprise for you."
He takes a deep breath and plunges on. "I was planning to bring us to an amusement park. You know, roller-coasters and cotton candy and all that? I thought, no one can be unhappy in an amusement park, and I… I just want to make you happy. We've both been deprived of a childhood, and, well, I figured this was a way to change that. I thought we could be kids again, together."
His eyes, when he lifts his face up to look at Heero, are filled with a pained brave hope. They meet Heero's stricken gaze straight on, as his hands take Heero's. "So I really hope that we can go, and spend a day being obliviously happy."
It would take the coldest, cruelest, most heartless man on Earth to say 'no' after Duo had bared his heart. Heero closes his eyes and painfully turns his head away, pulling his hands out of Duo's.
That betrayed tone breaks him, and he abruptly stands, going over to the window. He stares blindly at the children across the street playing hopscotch in a self-drawn grid as he speaks. "Duo, I know. I know. Everything."
One of the girls trips, falls; gets up again with laughing squeals that pierce the silence behind his back.
"…I suspected as much."
He nods, not turning. The girl picks up some chalk, kneels down and begins redrawing the rubbed-out lines.
"You talked to Quatre last night? You weren't against it yesterday."
"And he wanted you to keep me in easy reach today."
"They want to take no chances. If – no, when they find – "
"If is more accurate," Duo says gently.
He whirls around, furious pain lacing his words. "They're all worried sick about you! They're working themselves to death trying to find a cure, something, anything, and you don't even seem to care!"
"Does that include you?"
"Does what include me!"
"You said they're all worried sick. That they're working hard. How about you? Do you care?" There is something akin to trepidation, poorly concealed, in his tone, in his eyes.
Heero sighs. His anger leaves him. "How can I not?" he whispers, looking down at his hands. They are trembling, and he laces his fingers together in a bid to stop it. "I'm helpless to do anything but look after you and keep you safe, and I can't even do that. If I knew much about bioweapons, if I thought I could have dragged you with me, I'd have gone over there in a heartbeat. But I can't help them, so it doesn't matter if I'm there, and you won't go, for sure. So I'm here, trying to keep you here, and not startle you into running away."
He looks up, then, and tries a little smile. "Please tell me I haven't yet."
"No. No, you haven't."
They stay like that, staring at each other, for a moment. Neither knows what to say, now that everything is out in the open.
Finally Heero asks softly, "Why did you run? From the others."
The still-kneeling man takes a while to answer. "You know I'm the best at biochemistry. I tried for three days to find something, and – nothing. They were furious, thought I was holding out on them, and so… well, they thought that they would give me some incentive. A personal stake. But it's impossible to cure. So when they threw me back in the cell, I swore to Shinigami that if only he'd get me out, give me that precious bit of time left to finish all I want to do, then I wouldn't fight it. I'd enjoy every moment, appreciate every moment, and then go in peace. And guess what? The next thing I know, the guys are busting me out. He'd kept his part of the bargain, so of course I have to keep mine."
Heero is shaking his head slowly, side-to-side. "That's insane."
Duo sends him a rueful smile. "That's me."
"Look, staying here isn't fighting against it – we'll have fun, I can teach you chess, we can go play with the neighbour's children – "
"I have lots of things I want to do. Most of them, like flying Deathscythe once again, is impossible. So I want to do all those things I can do. One of them is to spend time with you. Another is to make you happy. And another one is to visit an amusement park – Disneyland would be the best choice, but since it's too far, I'll settle for the one near here; they're basically the same, anyway."
"You're not going to die. You're going to live, and be happy, and trash my house and steal my car and you'll have all the time in the world to go anywhere you want – I'll take you to Disneyland by the end of the week, and if we can't get tickets I'm sure Quatre will help – "
"Heero." Duo is suddenly in front of him, taking his face into his hands. "You're babbling, you're panicking. You don't usually do this."
"This is all because of you!"
"No you're not!"
Duo sighs. "Alright. I'll make a deal with you. I'll give you back your phone, and if anyone calls us back we'll go meet them immediately. Hell, we can even meet them halfway so it's faster."
"You promise?" he whispers, staring into those eyes up so close, hating himself for sounding so weak, for being so lost.
"I promise. If they call we'll drop everything and just up and go, okay? Please, Heero. For me."
"Everything has always been for you."
Duo lowers his eyes, drops his hands, steps back. "Please?"
He clenches his fists, fighting with himself. Then he sighs. He doesn't really have a choice, does he.
"Anything we need to pack?"
He makes an effort to act normal, like he'd been doing the previous day, but it's harder now that he knows for sure both of them know and are simply pretending not to.
It's hard to ignore something when it's coiled in the pit of your stomach, releasing small jets of poison every now and then.
Duo makes an admirable effort, though. "So, you going to tell me what it was that you were asking from that nice family across the road that you won't show me?"
"Right. See no evil, ask no evil. Got it."
They drive for miles, the house becoming fewer and far in between.
"Hey, this car's really well cared for. Spend much time on it?"
The houses are replaced by cornfields, rich and gold.
"So, isn't the weather wonderful?"
"Oh, so you're a rain kind of guy."
The cornfields turn into meadows of grass.
"Are we there yet?"
The grass is becoming sparse, as the outline of a city slowly crystallizes in the distance.
"STOP THE CAR!"
He jams on the brakes, throwing them both against their seatbelts. He's about to give Duo a piece of his mind on – something, but Duo's already throwing off his seatbelt and scrambling out of the car. Heero, resigned, gets out as well, and walks over to where Duo's kneeling in the grass by the side of the road.
As he gets closer, he realizes Duo is hunched over a feebly moving golden eagle.
"Are there even golden eagles in this area?"
"You'd be surprised. You just don't see them often."
Heero casts a critical eye over the injuries he can see. Bullet wounds, and then a few gashes… some bastard out illegally bird-hunting, probably, and hit this one because it was already hurt.
"I know. This guy's too badly off. He's not going to survive the next few minutes, is he?"
"No. I am sorry."
"So am I. Poor little guy…" Duo sighs. He looks sadly down at the bird of prey. "He would have been magnificent in his prime."
"'It took the whole of Creation/To produce my foot, my each feather'," Heero says softly, somberly.
"'Now I hold Creation in my foot'." Duo finishes. He tilts his head to look up in the sky.
"What is it?"
"It's said that golden eagles mate for life. I was just… there. Can you see?"
Heero shades his eyes against the sun, and follows the pointing finger. A lone eagle drifts high above them, a little way off, but never venturing too far from where they are.
"I see it."
He places a comforting hand on Duo's arm. "We can't do any more for them."
Duo closes his eyes and bows his head. "May your soul fly free, where your body cannot," he whispers, before standing and heading back towards the car.
Heero casts one last look at the eagle, briefly closing his own eyes, bowing his own head, and then follows his friend.
By the time they arrive at the amusement park and find a parking lot, it is nine thirty and Duo has regained his old spirits, and Heero his more amicable side.
They find – or to be more accurate, Duo finds a cotton candy cart first. He insists that no trip to the amusement part is complete without cotton candy, and shoves Heero onto the end of an extremely long line of bouncing kids and already weary parents. Heero takes one look at the line and makes a valiant attempt at escape.
"Duo, we just ate breakfast."
"Only an hour ago, Heero, don't be such a prude."
"That thing is entirely sugar."
"But sugar is good!"
"It rots your teeth."
"I drink lots of milk!"
"…What does that have to do with anything?"
When they approach the front of the line, Duo forgoes bouncing next to Heero to latch onto the cart, amidst all the other young children.
"Ooh," they chorus as one, watching as the vendor starts the machine and pink floss starts spewing out.
"Hey, Heero, look! It's like magic!"
Heero hides his face behind his hands. "I do not know him," he mutters. The lady behind him pats his shoulder in sympathy.
The parents in front of him take the floss and leave, and a child automatically detaches from the mindless drooling mass to follow. Heero steps forward and gives the man exact change.
"One, please – "
"Make that two!"
Heero and the vendor both flinch backwards as Duo pops up between them. The braided boy beams at them.
The Japanese man recovers first. "Duo, I'm not eating that."
"Yes you are!" Duo turns to the vendor and says firmly, "Two, please."
"I've already paid. One," Heero says, and glares at the vendor.
"Two," Duo says, and smiles at the vendor in that way he has that sends hurricanes back to the sea crying for their mothers.
They end up with two for the price of one.
"Such a nice man," Duo says happily, biting into his candy. Heero winces, slightly nauseated, and holds his own cone as far from himself as possible. He cannot understand how people can stand the sight of that pink monstrosity, let alone eat it.
"Reminds you of Relena, doesn't it?" Duo comments, eyeing his cone.
Heero stares at him, then at the cotton candy, and then turns green.
There's no way I'm eating that now.
But after ten minutes of whining and pleading and pouting, he gives in for fear of his sanity. With Duo's watchful gaze monitoring his every movement, he takes a deep breath and a tiny bite.
"HEERO!" Duo yelps, and Heero jerks, startled, and the candy on the cone ends up on his face. It is not a pleasant feeling.
"Not like that! You have to relish it, tear a big piece off with your teeth…" Then Duo finally notices what has happened, and bursts into laughter.
"Shut up," Heero grumbles, wiping a bit of it off his nose.
"You make – you make a great – stand-up comedian!" Duo manages between gasps.
Heero swipes at a bit on his forehead, scowls, and doesn't answer.
When Duo looks up, Heero has managed to clear most of it off. Or at least, what he thinks is most of it. Duo eyes him, and shakes his head.
"No, you've missed a spot – left cheek. No, no… oh, forget it. Don't move."
He grabs Heero's hands, immobilizing them, and then leans in.
Heero freezes. Not again…
Something moist and a little rough, but warm, touches his cheek.
Did he just…
The braided man pulls back and beams at him. "All clean!" he declares, and then goes back to eating his candy.
Did he just lick me?
Duo was chattering happily about which rides they should go for first, happily oblivious to the ominous stare sent his way.
…Someday I'm going to just lose it and jump him.
The queues are ridiculously long, Heero muses, as they move into the lanes set up for the next batch of riders. It's taken them forty-five minutes to reach this point.
"It's because this ride is one of their best," Duo says beside him, and Heero raises an eyebrow, not really surprised that Duo knows what he's thinking.
"Huh? Oh, it's the most thrilling roller-coaster they have in this park, of course!" He rattles off a list of reasons – 360 degree turns, a few loops in a row, something vaguely terrifying about no metal nails used – that make no sense to Heero, so he settles for nodding knowledgeably every few seconds.
When they get onto the roller-coaster, Heero straps himself in, settles back against the seats, braces himself, and clears his mind.
Two minutes later he finds himself back in line, with Duo glaring irritably at him.
"What the hell was that, Yuy?"
He blinks at Duo, uncomprehending.
"You just… sat there silently like you were meditating until the ride was over!"
"…Were you not trained in free-falling techniques? Clearing your mind and all that?"
Duo stares at him. His lips move as he repeats Heero's words to himself in disbelief. Then he groans, and shakes his head reprovingly.
"Heero, that's for, yes, free-falling. For when you have to concentrate on the task at hand and not be affected by physical conditions. But this is for fun! See, the way you enjoy a ride is to let loose. Don't hold your stomach in, don't tense, just scream and let the ride jerk you around."
"I don't see the point in that."
Duo spends the next half an hour trying to explain the concept of roller-coasters and other rides in an amusement park. By the time they get to the front of the line again, Heero understands the concept but still does not see the point in it.
"If I jumped off a building wouldn't I still get the same thrill?"
Duo has thus resorted to threats of bodily harm.
"Stop coming up with useless rebuttals for the sake of coming up with useless rebuttals and just damn well do what I tell you to, Yuy or I'll rip your…" He looks at the little children around watching them with wide eyes and their mothers just daring him to continue. "Ah, I'll do something really horrible to you."
Then it's their turn to go, and on the upwards climb Duo calls over the small gap between them, "Remember – let loose, Heero! And scream!"
Then they're plunging downwards, and Heero does.
For the first time in his life he screams just for the fun of it, feeling his stomach being left behind with the death-defying loops and spins and the breakneck speed. Duo's whoops and screams from next to him are comfortingly, wonderfully familiar, and he realizes he's heard them the last time but didn't really take notice. Now he does, though, and soaring and dropping with the ride he lets himself go.
When the ride is over, he realizes this breathless shivery feeling inside him is pure happiness.
"My, Heero, that's the first time I've seen a smile so wide on you," Duo says, grinning at him.
"I liked that," Heero says.
"Of course you did."
"No, as in… losing control. I liked losing control on that roller-coaster, I let myself lose control and nothing bad happened. Can you understand how happy that makes me feel?"
Duo's grin gentles into a smile.
"You're happy because you can be happy. I understand… and I'm happy for you." Then his grin returns full-force, and he hooks his arm through Heero's. "Let's go try other rides, shall we?"
Heero agrees readily.
They play through morning, have a quick lunch, and then play through the afternoon. Heero doesn't even give a thought to the mobile phone in his pocket, and at five o'clock they collapse, happy and spent, onto a convenient park bench, watching others run past.
"Hey, let's rent a hotel room," Duo says suddenly.
Heero doesn't move except to raise an eyebrow.
"No, really, it'll be fun! We can bathe there – we brought a change of clothes for the wet rides – "
"Which we didn't use because you insisted half the fun was walking around wet."
Duo ignores him. " – and even if we didn't we can just put on the robes, hotels always have robes. We can laze around and watch TV and raid the mini-fridge – "
"Do you know how expensive those things are?"
" – and play pool! Hotels always have pool tables. So? How about it?" Duo fixes him with big, pleading eyes.
Heero sighs. "You're determined to empty our wallets, aren't you?"
"…I think we should go back to the house and wait for the call," he says finally.
Duo groans. "No way."
"Why not? We can do all those things you described at my house. It doesn't have to be a hotel room."
"We can't play pool."
"We can play Monopoly."
Duo glares at him. "Not funny!"
He smirks, but then sobers. "It's safer, Duo. They can find us there easily, and since there are fields all around they can come over in a jet. It's faster than driving."
"You think there aren't landing strips in the city? Someone somewhere will have a private one, and no force on Earth can stop Quatre when he wants something. And you have that promise of mine – once they call we'll head straight over. Please, Heero, please. I've hardly ever asked you for anything, just, please, this once let me live my dream and be happy."
Heero just looks at him for a long moment. Then he says, "You really do want this, don't you?"
Duo nods fervently. "More than anything right now."
He sighs. He's always giving in to Duo nowadays, it seems.
"Ooh, this is nice," Duo says appreciatively as he enters their hotel room. "Too bad this was the only room available, though. They should have more carpet floor sections than wood floor sections."
Heero enters behind him. "Is a carpet really that important?" he asks as he moves past Duo to dump their backpacks.
"I guess not… the wood's very nicely polished, anyway. And we have a lovely view!"
Duo's cheerfulness is back as he throws open the curtains that shield the porch doors. Outside, scattered all over the large deck that all the rooms on their floor lead to, are plastic reclining pool chairs and tables with umbrellas in the middle. And lining the balconies, everywhere…
"Forget-me-nots," Heero notes quietly, coming to stand beside Duo.
"Er, yeah." Duo casts a nervous look at Heero, who is staring out at those flowers expressionlessly.
"…Do they have a smell?"
Duo is startled by the question, but then breaks into a smile. "Yeah, they do. A very faint one, but with that many flowers out there we just might be able to smell it if the wind blows right."
Heero nods thoughtfully. "I… would like to keep the doors open. And the window," he adds, indicating the large window seat set into the wall next to the porch doors.
"Sure thing," Duo says happily.
When the doors and window are open, Heero makes Duo help him shift the bed away from the wall. When Duo demands to know why, all Heero has to do is glare and Duo decides to go take a shower to get rid of all the sweat that Heero's heartless demand for menial labour has caused.
After Duo, Heero takes his own shower, and when he comes out Duo is sitting in the window seat, absently drying his hair while looking out at the glowing amber sky.
"I like the sunset at your house better," Duo says without turning.
Heero goes to stand beside him and glances out at the scene. "I like this one. We've both seen the sunset at my house lots of times before."
"Yes, but we've never really appreciated it, except for yesterday. After the first war we were all still on edge, remember? Trying to find our way in the world. Even when I stayed over at times it was because we had Preventers assignments and had to discuss stuff… we didn't really look around."
"True." Heero gives a little half-smile. "In that case, I would say that I like sunsets in general."
"Really? I think… for me, I would say I like sunsets… with you."
Duo turns his face up to look at Heero, and their gazes lock. A sudden hunger in both their eyes, a sudden hope…
"Last chance to run and hide, Duo."
"I think I've learnt my lesson."
The first brush of lips is tentative, gentle, hesitant. The second lasts slightly longer.
Then Heero's arms are around Duo's waist, dragging him to his feet, and Duo's arms are locked around Heero's neck, hanging on for dear life and the third kiss is desperate and demanding and lasts until even their trained lungs cannot hold out. They break apart, gasping, panting, faces flushed and lips swollen, staring at each other in wonder.
"I love you," they whisper simultaneously. Duo laughs a little and Heero smiles.
Their grips are tight, crushing their bodies together, but neither of them minds; rather, they relish the warmth and the strength of the other. It makes the moment real, and in a world of forget-me-nots and dying sunsets they need the reassurance. Duo rests his head on Heero's shoulder and nuzzles Heero's neck while Heero rests his nose in Duo's still damp, unbound hair and breathes in the smell of vanilla.
"You smell of vanilla," he informs the mass of hair.
"Oh, do I?" A tongue licks the skin of his neck. "You taste of chocolate."
"…You licked me again."
"Again? Oh, right. The cotton candy. So what?"
I'll show you 'so what'.
He slides a thigh between Duo's leg in answer, and rubs upwards. Duo lets out a gasp and quickly lifts his head to stare, wide-eyed, at Heero.
He smirks, and then rubs harder, this time sliding fingers into the back of Duo's jeans and running a finger along the valley between his cheeks. Duo groans, and pushes his hips against Heero's thigh, throwing his head back in pleasure.
Heero quickly leans in, running his tongue up that pale exposed throat, from the hollow at the base of his neck to his chin – and then gently pushes Duo away.
He can't help but grin at the image of Duo gazing at him with half-lidded eyes full of confusion, flushed and mussed, visibly hard. "That's for licking me," he says innocently.
Duo's eyes fly open at that, and his jaw drops. "That's for what? Heero! When did you learn how to tease?"
"From you," he shrugs, and turns as if to leave.
The next thing he knows, he's face-down on the bed and Duo's weight is keeping him there. "I'll show you teasing," he growls.
Heero manages to flip him over, and straddles Duo, who's now lying on his back. "We'll have to keep our voices down."
Duo grins, then yanks him down by the collar and kisses him.
Their clothes are lost in a matter of seconds, ripped off by impatient hands that return to tasks more important than clothes, such as running over smooth hot skin. Their bodies, free of all hindrances, slide and buck against each other, breath coming in pants, words reduced to moans and yelps and screams, and each other's names.
Heero discovers Duo's neck is his weak spot, and attacks it mercilessly, nipping and biting and licking. Duo retaliates by focusing on Heero's chest, where the other man is extremely sensitive. Their hands roam over each other's sweat-slicked bodies, caressing, arousing, and then Heero's fingers end up stroking Duo's entrance.
"Then hold on a moment."
He hurries to the bathroom and grabs the lotion from the sink. When he gets back, he barely has time to set the bottle down on the bedside table before Duo grabs him and delivers a scorching kiss.
"I'm not complaining but what was that for?" he gasps.
"Do you know how hot you look when you're all naked and I can see the strength in that body of yours when you move?"
There is no need for an answer, as Heero slides lubed fingers into Duo. One finger, two, three – Duo pleads for more, harder, faster. When Duo is bucking hard against his hand, tossing his head from side to side on the pillows and moaning almost non-stop, Heero decides that he's ready and lubes himself, the touch almost sending him off the edge as well.
Reaching out, he takes Duo's hands in his. The other man's fists unclench with some effort and their fingers entwine. He leans up and kisses Duo briefly, furiously, and then takes him hard in one swift push. Duo gives a choked scream, Heero groans out loud; and then he's taking Duo ruthlessly, hard and fast, and Duo's writhing in ecstasy beneath him.
I'm making Duo mine, some part of Heero thinks through the haze. We're becoming one, part of each other… If I go harder, deeper, I can make him part of me.
I can keep him, hide him in me, and nothing can get us. Nothing can get Duo. We'll be one, and he'll be safe.
Let him be safe.
Let us be one…
A final thrust; two mouths opening in silent cries. Two bodies crushed together, arms holding each other tight as they come together.
Let us be one.
The clock tells him it's just past two a.m. when he blearily opens his eyes. He considers staying in bed, but his bladder is insistent. With a quiet sigh, he gets up and makes his way to the bathroom.
When he comes out, Duo is sitting up, watching him with dark unfathomable eyes. They stare at each other for a moment, and then Heero gasps and strides over to the dresser.
How could I have forgotten – dammit!
His phone is lying there, and he snatches it up and flips open the lid. Then he stares in disbelief. No missed calls. No missed calls, no messages… slowly he puts the phone back down.
Just past two. Three more hours left.
"What are they doing?" he mutters to himself, panic starting to spread through him.
"Heero," Duo says from the bed. When he turns, his lover pats the space he'd just vacated. "Come here."
He goes over reluctantly. When he's seated, Duo shifts to press close to Heero, body half-turned to wrap his arms around Heero's waist, head on Heero's shoulder, nuzzling his neck. It takes a moment before Heero relaxes and returns the embrace, holding Duo tightly and resting his cheek on Duo's head.
"I'm sorry, love," he says quietly. "It's just – there's so little time left, and Quatre and the rest haven't even called or messaged us or anything…" He tightens his already strong grip, and Duo lets him without complain.
"You don't have to be sorry," Duo murmurs. "Heero, can you imagine how happy I am right now? I've loved you since forever… I left after the second war and stayed away for years because I saw you with Relena, that one time – you were kissing each other. I'd just realized my feelings for you, and how much I needed you, how I'd felt this way ever since I met you and never realized it… and seeing that scene – I ran."
Heero sighs. "Three wasted years because you saw the first and last kiss Relena gave me."
"Care to elaborate?"
"We talked, and worked out that we couldn't be together and I never loved her like that in the first place. So she asked me for one kiss before we put that all behind us – and you know Relena, when she says something she'll do it. I gave it to her, and now we're just very close siblings."
"…I'm an idiot, aren't I?"
"Whatever for?" He strokes the smooth skin of Duo's back, a few strands of hair sliding through his fingers. "We're together now, in all senses of the word. Lovers, friends, partners, colleagues… which reminds me, how did you get Une to give you all those top secret missions for three years straight?"
"It wasn't easy, but after a long time of pleading, whining, blackmailing, pranking…"
"Oh, the blackmail was easy. Setting up the pranks and making sure she could never trace them to me – that was the challenge."
"…So you're saying you got her to give in because you annoyed her to death?"
"…I tell you it's the way you said it that makes it sound bad."
He shakes his head in amusement, shifts a little, and winces.
Duo chuckles into the skin of his neck. "Still sore?"
"Of course. We must have gone at least twice each…"
They laugh quietly together, remembering.
"Never knew you're such an animal, Heero."
"Pot, meet kettle."
A little surprised at the sudden somber turn of voice, he replies, "Yes?"
"I'm really happy right now, y'know? I'd call it blissful, even. When I asked Shinigami to bust me out of there I never expected you to love me, or that we could become lovers. That I could feel your skin against mine, and have you claim me and me claiming you. It's more than I ever wished for… I'm utterly satisfied with what I have, now that I have you. I don't need anything else."
A sense of dread is slowly chilling him. "What are you trying to say, Duo?"
His lover sits up so that they can look at each other. "Can you understand that?" Duo insists, staring intently at him. "Can you? Everything I want, I have it right here. A day spent without worry with you, making you happy, loving you... You have to understand."
Heero nods slowly. "I think I do." His eyes narrow. "Now I want to know why you're saying all this."
Duo bites his lip, and draws back a little. "I… Heero. I changed your phone card. The real one's at your house."
He freezes, the icy shock swarming over him. Duo changed his card…?
No missed calls. No messages.
He'd thought it weird, but now he knew why…
How can someone call you, message you, if they don't have your number?
He jumps out of bed, frantically searches for his clothes, his belongings. "We have to go back now! There's still a chance, we have three hours, they might already be at our house if they couldn't find us because they'd be hysterical, how could you do this, Duo… Duo."
He stops in the middle of the room, and sees Duo out of the corner of his eye, hunched into himself, unmoving.
Can you understand that?
You have to understand.
"If we go back…"
Duo's head snaps up at his voice, and something akin to hope fills his eyes.
"If we go back everyone will be tense. The people you love would be snapping at you, upset with you… You say that you're positive there's no cure, and even if there is you couldn't find it in three days and so the others won't be able to in two days, either, so everyone will just have false hopes and be devastated when they fail… and you won't be happy. You'll be miserable.
"And you just want to be happy, and peaceful, and loved, at the end."
Duo is smiling at him, now, his angel's smile, serene and loving and glad. "Yes," he says. "You understand, then."
He drops the shirt in his shaking hands and goes back to Duo's side. His lover welcomes him with outstretched arms, and he collapses in them, needing the reassurance that he is making the right choice.
"You're insane," he mutters, so close, too close to tears. He swallows hard.
"That's me," comes the laughing reply.
Yes… that's Duo. And Duo will always be Duo, first and foremost.
He sits up and shifts them so that he's holding Duo, instead of the other way round. Gently, he eases them both onto their backs. Duo turns in his embrace to face him, and smiles.
"Thank you, Heero," he says softly. "I love you so much…"
"I love you too." He kisses Duo, holds him tightly. "You know – if you go, so will I."
"No, please don't!" Duo is suddenly agitated, twisting to look up at him. "Heero, swear to me you'll live after I die and only die a natural death – please! I don't want my decisions to affect you – "
"Everything about you affects me," he interrupts. "Everything."
Duo looks torn. "Not this. Please, Heero… I need you to swear. I know I'm being selfish, I know I'm being a hypocrite but – please."
They stare at each other, waging a silent battle – against each other, against themselves. Finally Heero smiles bitterly. "Why is it that I always give in to you?"
"I swear, all right? I swear to die a natural death. Happy now?" He turns his head away, a heavy ache in his chest. Those almost-tears are beginning to annoy him.
"Heero…" Hands gently turn his head back to stare into gentle, relieved purple eyes, and Duo kisses him softly. "Thank you."
All the fight goes out of him, then, and he says tiredly, perhaps a little bitterly: "No more things to spring on me?"
Duo laughs a little. "No more." He yawns, and covers his mouth quickly, looking guiltily up at Heero, who gives him a little smile. He knows how tiredness can come suddenly, when adrenaline is used up.
"Go to sleep, love," he whispers, lifting a hand to rub long soothing strokes down Duo's back. "I'll wake you in the morning."
Duo's eyes are already fluttering closed. "Promise?" he murmurs sleepily.
"'kay… Hey, Heero? About Treize, what I said… remember?"
His hand stops moving, and his arms tighten around Duo. Berating himself, he makes a conscious effort to relax.
"I think I know how that peace feels like, now. I'll ask him when I see him…"
He struggles to control his breathing before he speaks. "Then ask him in your dreams, and tell me when you wake up," he says, willing his voice to stop shaking.
"Mm… night, 'ro."
He brushes his lips over Duo's forehead. "Sweet dreams, Duo."
As Duo slips into sleep, Heero thinks back on these past, precious forty-eight hours – the greatest gift he could have asked for, he realizes, considering the circumstances. The greatest gift he could have given Duo, and Duo him. He has been irreversibly changed; no man could go through what he did and not have changed. He's experienced so much in such a short time that it seems unreal and a large part of him still believes things will turn out fine, like in the stories – it's just not possible, for things not to. Heroes don't die, and even if they do, they live again by some strange power that rewards them for being heroes.
But even if things somehow – just, somehow – don't turn out like they are supposed to, he knows he won't regret it. How can he regret knowing what it feels like to be a person again? How can he regret being loved so deeply, and loving back with that same impossible depth of feeling? He can't. He won't, no matter how he might be sad at having such an unfairly short time with Duo, or how he might be furious that that time ended so quickly, or how he might despair at having had everything and having it all ripped away in an instant.
It's bitterly ironic, that to have this experience is to have to lose it. That to feel so terribly helpless has given him so much strength – yes, strength, because he knows he has been given a strange sort of strength, one that will keep him alive and not regretting. One that lets him hold Duo like this, and give him his dreams at the expense of his own.
So no matter how this turns out, I will remember yesterday and today as the best days of my life. I will watch sunsets blaze, and treasure the precious small things in life. I will remember to watch flowers grow, and learn to let go. I will know the feeling of delight, and try my hand at forgiving. I will remember happiness.
I will love you, with every breath I take.
He sits there holding Duo, just watching him, until the tightness in his throat becomes unbearable and he has to get up. He gently transfers Duo's head from his chest to the pillow and pulls the blanket over him, and slides on a robe from the cupboard. Then he goes over to his backpack and takes out the box from the front pocket.
The chalk he borrowed on an impulse from the hopscotch-playing family across the street comes in many colours, but he chooses the plain white one. He starts from between the bed and the wall, and begins to draw. Steady, smoothly, evenly, he refuses to let his hand tremble, even when it starts cramping with the strain.
When he is done, a perfect white circle encloses the bed, and Duo.
"This is a magic circle," he whispers to that sleeping figure, squeezing his eyes shut and willing every fibre of his being into his words. "So long as you stay inside it…" His breath hitches, and his voice shakes, but he takes in a breath of air and determinedly continues.
"So long as you stay inside it, no harm can come to you."
He repeats it again, and again, until his mouth is dry and he is trembling. Then he goes to sit in the window seat, forcing his eyes away from that stark white circle, and stares unseeingly out into the night-covered garden outside.
As the day slowly, slowly lightens, he looks into the future. In one, screaming and screaming with carefree abandon as he soars into the sky and plunges towards the ground, familiar loud exuberant whoops coming from next to him. Getting pink spun sugar all over his face, and getting it licked off by another with a laugh. Telling bedtime stories of incredible feats and miraculous magic, and believing. Burying his hands in cool moist earth, the sun warm on his back, as a gentle voice guides him in nurturing life. Turning all white and glittery and diamond-preserved for eternity as they float on soft waves, the sky blue, the sea quiet, a warmth and steady breathing by his side, all perfect, so perfect. A future where they are forever.
Then he closes his eyes and another future burns behind his eyelids. Where he sits silent as he is jerked into the sky and thrown towards the ground, tears dashed into his hair, and all-too-aware of the strange wrongness of the screams coming from beside him. Taking a bite of pink spun sugar, getting it all over his face and hearing no laughter, and having to wash it off by himself, turning the water salty-sweet as it whirls down into oblivion. Reading made-up stories in a silent house, the words piling one lie upon another. Hours of sitting silently by a cold plot of earth, watching tiny flowers struggle on without the life that gave them theirs. On his back watching the sky, strangely water-blurred, an ache in his chest; too-cold, too-silent, and he is turning, tipping, falling, and it is freezing, and dark.
He sees purple eyes, and he feels warmth.
He hears a cheerful laugh, and he sees light.
He opens his eyes.
It's just past dawn; he'd fallen asleep. The pale morning sunlight warms his cold skin, but falls just short of the room, a few inches beyond the window seat, a few inches from the line of chalk. Past that, it is dark.
He swings his legs off the seat, and approaches the bed. He can just make out the shape of Duo's body under the covers, curled up on his side, one arm stretched out towards the side of the bed. He steps gingerly over the chalk circle, kneels next to the bed, and takes the outstretched hand in his, reaching over with his other hand to shake Duo's shoulder gently. He has to feel around for Duo's shoulder, though, because for some reason he cannot see very well. And there is moisture on his cheeks, why is there moisture on his cheeks?
There is a silent breeze, and the faint scent of forget-me-nots fills the air.
"Duo?" Heero whispers. "It's morning. Time to wake up.
But Duo doesn't stir.
High overhead, an eagle folds its wings with a piercing cry, and falls.
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away –
Safe in my arms,
You're only sleeping…