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THE HARDEST THING

Shikami Yamino


Please note that the song "The Hardest Thing" is property of 98 Degrees and some gender-specific pronouns in the lyrics were changed to suit the fic.

Afternoon sunlight streamed through the partially closed curtains of the large estate into a small room where a battered body lay eyes closed on the double bed, swathed in bandages. A petite girl sat next to the bed in silence, keeping her eyes on the still form of the dark-haired boy in front of her. The door creaked open and a blond head peered in, accompanied with another head of the most unusual brown bangs. Light blue and forest green centered on the body in the bed and smiled slightly in their own depths before withdrawing outside and the door swished shut.


Quatre and Trowa entered the large living room of the Darlian estate and were immediately met with the bouncing bundle of quicksilver energy with the long chestnut braid.

"How is he?"

Wufei, seated on the window ledge, flickered his eyes over and rolled them. "Maxwell, if you're so concerned, why don't you go see for yourself?"

Duo glared in Wufei's general direction but refrained from saying anything. Quatre and Trowa exchanged a look. That wasn't like Duo... Smiling reassuringly, Quatre laid a hand on Duo's shoulder, effectively stopping the American pilot's swaying on his feet and catching his attention. "He's fine Duo-kun. Still asleep after the anaesthetic but he should be okay..."

Duo released a sigh and for the first time that day, Quatre was able to look into those violet-blue depths without them moving. There was no mistaking the depth of feeling Duo held for the comatose Japanese pilot in those expressive eyes, but pain in them as well was shocking. Quatre mentally reeled back from the eyes that were boring their pain into his uchuu no kokoro and was comforted with the warmth of Trowa's arms supporting him.

"Yokatta..." Duo breathed, "She's still with him?"

Trowa nodded silently, sensing that something was wrong with Quatre and knowing that he wouldn't be able to answer.

A forced smile came over Duo's face and he laughed. "As long as he's okay... I'm going out for some air." With that he turned and walked out of the room, the heavy braid no longer bouncing but swaying dejectedly at the other pilot's back.

Wufei's face registered mild surprise and he raised an eyebrow in Quatre and Trowa's direction. Duo was hardly ever like this. Usually he could laugh anything off with style and just the right amount of carelessness that one was forced to wonder if he really meant it or if he was faking. But this time, one would have to be blind not be able to see through the flimsy mask that Duo had attempted. And been dead if one could not see the deep hurt that was housed in the violet-blue eyes.

Quatre caught the look but shrugged. Wufei sighed. Matters of the heart were not his specialty. If even Quatre couldn't tell him what was wrong then it would be pointless for him to try and break into Duo's defenses to try to find out what was wrong. Shrugging slightly, he turned back to the landscape outside the window and resumed his silent contemplation.


Hands raised behind to cushion his head, Duo leaned back against the tree and gazed at the perfect fluffy white clouds that floated overhead. The events of the past day running through his head again, Duo couldn't help but scowl. "Kisama..."


Deathscythe erupted from the waves in a spray of salt water and the beam scythe came around in a swift arc to slice into a helpless OZ carrier. Fire from Shenlong's flame throwers spewed over the harbor area, setting up miniature explosions that erupted every few seconds. Sandrock and Heavyarms were fighting side by side, demolishing the mobile suits that had come to defend their base and Wing was soaring overhead, dispatching suits left and right without pause.

Duo's laughter cackled from the communits. "Haha!! Shinigami's gonna take you all to Hell!!"

Quatre giggled slightly and Trowa's one visible green eye became softer with amusement. Wufei rolled his eyes at the American's unprofessional approach while Heero just smirked.

After a few minutes, Trowa's immobile voice came over. "Harbor sector one is clear."

"Harbor sector two clear," was Quatre's reply.

Wufei nodded and said, "Harbor area clear."

Duo's voice was filled with laughter. "Water is clear."

Four suits lifted into the air to join Wing and Heero's voice concluded, "Ninmu kanry - "

Heero was cut off when Deathscythe peeled off from the formation with Duo's cry of "Shit!!"

A volley of fire erupted from Shinigami and answering explosions appeared on the other side of the demolished base.

Suddenly, out of the fumes of the explosions, multiple squadrons of mobile suits lifted and spread to the air. The four remaining Gundams immediately broke formation and began attacking.

Wufei seethed in fury as he spurred Nataku on to meet two incoming Aries.

A trap.


Heero grimly assessed the situation.

Heavyarms' guns had been clacking empty for more than ten minutes as the Gundam twisted and turned in the air as agile as its pilot to cut down as many Leo's as it could with its army knife.

Sandrock was on its knees after having been forced back by another squadron of Leos but the twin scimitars were glowing red and still slashing, Quatre's face on the visual screen pale but determined.

Shenlong was beginning to slow, the beam glaive was not as deadly as it had been as its pilot began to tire. The dragon fist was used often but unusually, it had sometimes missed the targets altogether.

Deathscythe had been silent for the last few minutes. Flying the skies dispatching its squadron of Tauruses but Duo was either too busy to yell, or had been cried hoarse. Either way, it did not bode well for the Gundams.

Heero had been fending off his own number of Aries and he knew that things were beginning to look bad. Nothing had come this close to almost defeating the Gundams before and five Gundams no less. Ten more minutes and they would be beat.

His gaze kept darting to the small red button on the left of his console but then wavered to the determined and pissed-off face of Duo that never left his screen. A last resort.


Things looked bad and Duo knew it. He was surrounded by eight more Tauruses and he was really tired. Gritting his teeth, Duo rushed the Taurus on his left and cut it down before ramming the other end of his scythe into the one coming up on his back.

Shinigami was taking a beating and he knew that he would need to spend a lot of down time to fix it. He cursed under his breath and maneuvered Deathscythe in for another shot when he caught a glimpse of what was going on on the ground.

Sandrock was surrounded and even from this high up Duo could see that he had no room in which to move. Heavyarms was moving towards Quatre's Gundam but was being waylaid by a gauntlet of Leos. Shenlong had its own problems as it tried to flip out of the way of the Aries's line of fire and Wing was darting backwards and forwards as he was trying to find an opening in which to destroy the surrounding mobile suits.

Suddenly, Duo's cockpit rocked with the force of a direct hit and the emergency lights began to flash. With frantic eyes, Duo realized that he was losing altitude fast. Further study showed that one of his main thrusters had been blown out. Able to do nothing but brace himself for impact, Duo gripped his seat with both hands and unconsciously cried out when he was jerked as Deathscythe hit the ground.

With his body following the momentum of the fall, Duo slammed his head against his console and struggled to right himself. He struggled to get breath back into his lungs as he felt a trickle of something warm flow down his face. Lifting his hand, Duo touched his forehead to have his hands come out with blood on the tips. Cursing, Duo lifted his head to override the emergency systems shut down and then heard the hair-raising death keen of high-grade explosives.

Eyes darting to the screen, Duo gasped in shock and then turned to face Heero on the visual screen. A betrayed look flitted across his face with hurt and love before flames engulfed the surrounding areas.

Wing had self-destructed.


Looking up at the darkening sky once more, Duo muttered, "Kisama... had to go and throw your life away didn't you?" He chuckled bitterly. "Don't give a damn about what other people may feel or how they'd react ne Heero? The perfect soldier till the end..." The normally warm and sparkling violet eyes hardened till they were cold amethysts in a pale face. "Damn you Heero..."

Laughing at himself mockingly, Duo shook his head. "But then what made me think that you'd change for me Heero? What made me think that you'd give up your Perfect Soldier identity for me?" Another bitter laugh. "Afterall, what am I to you Heero? You know what you are to me... what am I to you?"

Continuing to shake his head, Duo raised himself from his perch and dusted off his pants before heading dejectedly for the door to the Darlian estate. The Darlian estate... somewhere he really didn't want to be...

Walking silently in the door, the first sound Duo heard was a female voice conversing with the familiar baritone and alto of Trowa and Quatre's voices.

"Is he okay?"

"He seems about to shrug off the effects of the anaesthetic but I can't be sure... He has muttered someone's name a few times though."

"So he's going to be okay."

"Yokatta ne... Relena-san, you're tired, perhaps you should sit for a while."

"Arigato Quatre-kun... perhaps one of you could go and watch him..."

"Aa..."

Duo considered making his presence known to the three but then decided against it. Instead, he turned and took the stairs two at a time still silent and crept down towards Heero's door before easing it open and slipping inside.

The sight of Heero all bandaged up was shocking even to Duo but then hardly unexpected. Afterall, Heero had intended to die, having thumbed the switch that set off enough high-grade explosives to blow apart a Gundam. But the single-minded bastard didn't know how to die. Of that Duo was sure.

No matter how many times Heero had tried to kill himself, some miraculous coincidence that prevented that from happening. This time it had been the fact that he had been standing on an open hatch... but what of the next time... and the time after that?

Sighing, Duo dropped into the seat set conveniently by the bedside and trained his eyes on the heavily bandaged body in the bed. Heero had survived this with a large cut on the head, a severe concussion, a broken arm and several fractured ribs but most of his body was covered with minor cuts and grazes, occasionally marked with the growing patches of dark skin that indicated bruises. But amazingly, except for the cut across the forehead, Heero's face had remained untouched but for a few small cuts. The skin still so flawless in Duo's eyes but touched by that mark of pain even in unconsciousness. Well... as much pain as Heero could show anyway...

Reaching out a hand, Duo stroked down one cheek, hoping to see a streak of cobalt appear behind those closed lids and for Heero to wake so that he could rail at him for being such an unfeeling bastard.

Suddenly, Heero's hand flexed and slowly crept up to hold Duo's hand within its grip and the head tilted slightly to lean into the warmth of Duo's hand. Duo's eyes widened as a quiet mumble came out of Heero's mouth.

"...Duo... gomen... gomen... ne..."

Duo slowly unfroze and smiled despite himself, regretting his earlier words. Though Heero had never said the words, Duo knew... every time he had said those words, Heero had proceeded to hold him tighter, as if making up for the fact that he couldn't say it. But Duo knew anyway... knew that every ounce of his love was returned, in any way Heero could give it... He hoped...

Rubbing his thumb slightly over Heero's cheek, Duo grinned sadly. "Baka... you could have given me warning..." Affectionately, Duo pressed a kiss to Heero's forehead, carefully avoiding the thick gauze pad and released his hand from Heero's unconscious grip. Feeling stinging tears behind his eyes, Duo shook his head violently before backing away from Heero and turning to stride out the door.

Almost running down the hallway outside Heero's room towards the second stairs towards the hangar, intending to make minor repairs to Deathscythe, Duo brushed at his eyes fiercely, cursing the particles of dust that clung to his clothing from his brief trip outside. It had to be the dust damn it! Duo Maxwell did *not* cry!!


Walking up the main stairs and down towards Heero's room, Quatre was surprised with a blur of black and chestnut braid whipped across his vision from Heero's door and rushed down the other hallway. Hurrying to the end of the hallway, Quatre watched with sadness and understanding at Duo's retreating back, eyes compassionate as he caught Duo's hand come up to brush at his face.

Silently, Quatre said in his head, 'I know it hurts Duo-kun... but the important thing is that he's alive... Heero *is* alive...'

      We both know that I shouldn't be here
      This is wrong
      And baby it's killing me, it's killing you
      Both of us trying to be strong


Light encompassed his vision as Heero was awakened from that merciful blackness that fogged his mind. The pain-numbing darkness receded with each step he took to full wakefulness but he couldn't seem to stop himself. All he could see in the bright light ahead was a pair of saddened amaryllis eyes, shimmering with tears but never letting them fall. Eyes that were all too familiar... but never with the expression that they held now.

Groggily, hard cobalt eyes opened and the last few beams of sunlight before sunset assaulted Heero's dim vision, making him shut his eyes in quick reaction. However, whether his eyes were open or closed, those violet eyes still haunted him. Mentally shaking his head, Heero rid himself of the image. Ch', Duo? Not smiling that infuriating little grin? Impossible!

Opening his eyes, Heero gazed about the unfamiliar room. The walls were a creamy white and the furnishings elegant. The bed was far too soft for a hideout or a rented apartment and the total silence around him suggested that he was somewhere fairly secluded. Only when he tried to pull himself into a sitting position did he realize that most of his body was bandaged and that all his muscles screamed from even the slightest movement.

Shit! What the hell had happened? Then it came back to him in bits and pieces. A mission... a trap... swarms of mobile suits surrounded them and not even five Gundams could have fought them off. They'd run out of ammo... and Sandrock was already on its knees, but continuing to fight off the surrounding OZ troops. Heavyarms had long since run out of any artillery, relying soley on Trowa's skills and the small army knife in one arm. Shenlong had been fresh as ever, but even Wufei was beginning to tire and the sluggish movements of the spinning Beam Glaive as it ploughed on was proof enough of that. Deathscythe was an inky dark shadow in the sky, bright green Beam Scythe slashing as always but Duo's voice had been silent for the last few minutes, too tired to even keep up his trademark attitude. Wing hadn't been doing any better but Heero had refused to accept defeat and continued the one-sided battle. They had been on the complete defensive and Heero was beginning to consider last resorts, but the last resort he had in mind, always brought a heart-shaped face and shining, happy violet blue eyes to mind. And that had been the only thing stopping him from pushing the button that he knew could end it all... in more ways than one.

It was only when Deathscythe had plummeted from the sky, graced with the lucky shot from a Taurus that blew out one of its main thrusters, that Heero made up his mind. And ignoring, the blood trickling down one side of Duo's face from a gash on his forehead, he had thumbed the switch. Then everything had disappeared in a flash of red, but not before he'd caught a shocked, horrified and betrayed look on the face that never faded from his view screen.

He pulled his lips back into a taut line. Obviously he hadn't died. Duo had often told him that though he was so intelligent, the only thing he didn't know how to do was to die. And Heero tended to agree with him... not that he'd ever tell the laughing idiot that. As he leaned back in the pillows, Heero closed his eyes, feeling fatigue overtake him again. Wherever he was, he was safe for now... and as soon as he was well enough, he'd go and find the loud-mouthed-baka. To do what he wasn't sure... all he knew was that he needed to see him... to make sure that the boy he held closer to his heart than he liked to admit, was fine and in good health.

And, he hoped, forever kept away from Death's waiting arms.


Duo stared at his laptop screen and scanned the mail that had just come in. A frown sat in between his brows as his eyes rapidly digested the information the email provided. A solo mission. He smirked slightly to himself, not that Heero would be able to help anyway... Despite those sincere sleep-fumbled words that had exited Heero's mouth earlier, Duo couldn't keep a sense of hopelessness and betrayal color his mind. Why was Heero always so eager to throw his life away? He may think that his life was worthless, but didn't he see that Duo viewed it as the utmost treasure? Didn't he see that Duo could no longer live without him? He was hoping to be here when Heero woke up to give him a good, *large*, piece of his mind and his voice... but it looked like even that small chance of the quenching of his emotions wouldn't be able to become reality. Once again dragged into the chesspiece war that ruled their lives as pawns. Some were to be sacrificed for the higher-ups to be able to attain their goal. He grimaced. Life sucked!

Pushing his chair back, he glanced at the last rays of sunlight shine into the suite he occupied in the Darlian estate and tilted his head to catch the last beams before getting up and heading for the door. Relena was nice to offer him a stay... he wondered if she would still be so generous if she knew the relationship he shared with her "childhood sweetheart". No matter, he'd be gone by tomorrow anyway.

Walking towards the hangar, Duo upped his pace, eager to finish the minor tunings that still needed to be done to the new thruster that had to be installed after that bastard Taurus had taken it out. Duo snarled but that thought automatically led him to the image of what had happened after and he rocked back on his heels, eyes widening as they relived the moment Wing had been blown to holy hell. Furiously shaking his head, Duo continued his walk, lifting an impatient hand to dash at his swimming eyes.


Wufei looked up from where he was seated on Nataku's shoulder as a braided figure in black whirled into the hangar, heading directly for the Shinigami to his left. Raising a fine black eyebrow, Wufei wondered what had gotten into the American in the last few days.

Duo hadn't been his normal cheerful self... in fact, he'd been down right depressed, shutting himself in his room or taking solitary walks in the gardens and didn't show up until he wanted to show up. The joker's mask had completely shattered and the violet eyes that were always dancing with concealed mischief or teasing were now dull and lifeless... The mouth that used to always open with laughter or non-stop chatter was too often pulled into the taut line that reminded Wufei too much of Heero or Trowa, or even himself... nothing that resembled Duo was there to convince Wufei of the American's health, despite the gash on his forehead that had healed rapidly.

Wufei shook his head. Even Quatre's efforts to cheer the usually unquenchable pilot of Shinigami wouldn't work and not even Trowa's suggestion of getting Duo smashingly drunk would lift the American from his suppressed state. Instead, the drinking binge had seemed to worsen the braided-pilot's sullen mood. Instead of the loud calls and cheering that went on normally, Duo had been silent, pouring himself glass after glass of the expensive wine Relena had offered; solemnly contemplating the glass before tipping its entire contents into his mouth in one gulp and pouring himself another. From the looks on Quatre and Trowa's faces, Wufei knew that neither he, nor they had ever seen Duo drink so much and yet he was still able to excuse himself before dragging himself up to bed, as opposed to when Heero'd had to carry him even half a step.

When Duo was finally in shouting range, Wufei called, "Oi, Maxwell! Why are you working so hard? Shinigami's already been repaired."

Duo attempted a cheerful grin but it fell even before it reached his eyes. "New mission orders just came in... I've got to be gone by tomorrow."

Wufei raised an eyebrow and slid off Nataku's shoulder to the parapets where he could better talk with the black-clad boy. "Solo mission?"

Duo nodded, not even bothering to look back at him and Wufei frowned. This was further evidence of Duo's black mood. Normally the bouncy American would never have resisted a chance to jibe him about his actions or words, but now, he wouldn't even look at him! Sighing, he tried again, for the sake of his own honor rather than Maxwell's. "Are you sure you won't need any back up? Nataku's ready, I could go with you if you want..."

Duo shook his head. "Nah... it's nothing big, just a small operation, no need for you to tag along when Shenlong needs more fine tuning to pass your standards Wufei. It's certainly not like I'm about to self-destruct or do something completely stupid like that bastard Yuy, ne?" Duo tossed him an unconvincing half-grin over his shoulder and then went back to his tinkering, but the underlying bitterness was clear for anyone who was not completely deaf to hear.

"So you're not going to wait until Yuy wakes up?"

A half-cheerful note entered Duo's voice, though it broke before even the third word left his mouth. "Orders are orders Wu-man, it's not like I'm the one who calls the shots. If they say I have to be gone tomorrow, it's better if I'm gone by tomorrow."

Nodding, Wufei turned and walked out of the hangar, sensing that he wasn't likely to get anymore out of Duo today.

      I've got somewhere else to be
      Promises to keep


Duo stuck his head around the door to Heero's room dressed in his usual priest's outfit and the black cap jammed snugly on his head. Creeping into his room, Duo checked his watch, ten minutes till he had to leave. Looking up, Duo found himself staring at Heero's sleeping face, slightly contorted in a grimace of pain. He reached out a hand and stroked the sleeping face resting his palm on the flawless cheek and rubbed his thumb over Heero's chiseled features. Saying nothing, Duo continued to sit there, unmoving, content for his last few minutes to just sit and watch Heero's softly rising chest. Who knew when they would meet again...

Unconsciously, Duo found himself start to talk.

"Heero no baka... always the most stubborn ne?..."


A deep, softly masculine voice penetrated Heero's thoughts as he felt a callused finger brush over his face in a tender gesture. Fighting his way into consciousness, he recognized the voice and those hands that soothed him every time he had a nightmare. Duo.

"... ne? ... I'm going to be going now, mission orders came in yesterday..."

Mission? Duo was going on a mission? Struggling harder in the foggy blanket that surrounded him, Heero fought to keep himself awake.

"I'd hoped to ask something important but then I guess this is neither the time nor the place... but... aw hell..." The voice slightly rose and the next words came out as a forced whisper, "What am I to you Heero? Am I so unimportant that you'd willingly give up your life?" A sigh was heard and then the voice was soft again. "... I'm gonna miss your backup... who knows when we'll see each other again..."

As he became more awake, Heero frowned. That voice... so distinctly Duo's and yet... not Duo... Where was the smile that was always detectable in his speech? Where was the hint of laughter and the hint of teasing that he'd come to live with? Where was the little something that made Duo's voice *Duo*? Finally gaining control of his limbs, Heero raised a hand to clasp at the warm one that was cupping his cheek, keeping it there despite the stiffening of its muscles.

Fighting to open his eyes, sudden slits of ice cold cobalt shone through the parting eyelids to show Duo's shocked face. But that was nothing compared to Heero's reaction, jolting him to full consciousness. His eyes popped open and he studied Duo with an intent expression. What had happened since he'd been unconscious? Duo was much thinner, though it couldn't have been more than two weeks... There were dark circles under his eyes that seemed to contrast to make the wide violet irises even more noticeable. But those eyes that were once so full of what made Duo *Duo* were dull and lifeless... a look Heero had often seen in his own eyes before Duo had come into his life. Those full sensuous lips were hung open in shock, but then closed, not in that playful grin, but the taut lines that he had thought Duo could never produce.

Frowning, Heero struggled to interpret what had happened to the pilot of the Shinigami until his closed throat suddenly found words. "... Duo...?"

A strained smile came to Duo's face. "Aa... what a time for you to wake up Heero... I was just about to leave..."

That grin was too fake and the empty hurt and bitterness in those eyes were unable to be missed. Heero was at a loss for words. What in hell had happened to the laughing boy he'd wrestled with the hour before the mission that had taken Wing down?

The smile fell and the voice grew listless. "I've gotta go... take care of yourself Heero ne? Or I'm sure that Relena-ojousan would do that for you." Managing a last grin, Duo pulled his hand from Heero's lax grip and forced himself to walk away from that piercing prussian gaze. Walking out the door, he thought he heart Heero whisper his name but shook his head. "I'll make sure the other's know you're awake, Ja Heero!"

With that the door closed leaving a stunned Heero lying in bed wondering what in hell had changed the braided maniac he had come to love so much.


Quickly walking to the hangar to meet his deadline, Duo forced thoughts of Heero from his mind. 'At least you did get to see him!' the small voice in his head said but he ignored it and ploughed on, not seeing the diminutive figure that was coming the opposite direction.

He crashed into the small body and immediately grabbed out to steady both himself and the other person when he realized that the person was Relena Darlian Peacecraft.

"Duo-kun? Why are you in such a hurry?"

Duo attempted what he hoped was a grin. "I've got a new mission and I have to leave ojousan..."

"Ohh..." Relena's voice was quiet but she smiled. "You're always welcome back Duo-kun."

Duo scratched his head. "Aaahhh... arigato... I've gotta go..." Tossing her a last smile, Duo resumed his walking, but then paused and turned slightly. "Heero just woke up, you might want to take him something to eat."

Relena, instead of bolting off like he'd expected her to do, eyed him with a peculiar glance before smiling and nodding. "I'll do that Duo-kun... Be careful..."

Duo smiled puzzledly but then shrugged and jogged his way down the hall and into the hatch of his waiting Shinigami.


The sound of turbine engines making the foundations of the building tremble slightly told Heero that Duo had indeed left in his Gundam. Slumping back on the pillows, Heero wondered what had come over that baka since he'd been unconscious. Once again that pair of violet eyes came into his vision and the unconsciously flinched at the look of utter betrayal and shock. That was then quickly followed by the empty eyes he'd just seen walking out of this room. None of the bounce in his step, none of the infuriating but affectionate grin... and none of what had made Duo the person who'd managed to worm his way past all of Heero's defenses. Sighing, Heero only hoped that the baka wasn't on a solo, in case he did something stupid.

Eyes opening wide when the door began to open, Heero struggled to push himself up onto his elbows but found that more than he could take and after a second, gave up to collapse back onto the pillows. When the pain had passed and he'd opened his eyes, he found another pair of azure blue eyes staring back at him. Relena.

"Yokatta, you're awake Heero." Relena smiled, though there was a sad little twist to her smile that hadn't been there before.

"Where am I?"

"Somewhere safe... my estate..." Relena answered quietly.

Heero slowly nodded his head but refused to meet her eyes, instead choosing to stare up at the ceiling, waiting for her to go.

Relena smiled wistfully, everything in her heart told her that this was what she wanted, Heero trusting her... loving her... But though her heart may want, her mind knew that it was not possible... and Relena Darlian Peacecraft would not let her heart rule her head... Too many had fallen into that trap already and the peace she, and others, fought for was too much to put on the line. She had a responsibility after all.

She'd come to recognize this over the week that both Heero and Duo had been here... and no longer could she deny. But she knew that before she bowed out forever, she needed to let him know. "Heero... I love you."


Heero started. Wide cobalt eyes turned to fix azure ones with a piercing look as Heero registered the comment in his head. She... Mentally shaking his head, Heero stared at her until the chilling depths came back into his eyes to replace the blank expression that had dominated till now. With a soft growl, Heero uttered, "I don't -"

"I know." Relena cut him off with a small sad smile. "I know... you don't need to say it..."

Heero was once again startled and it must have shown because Relena laughed slightly. "Come now, Heero... It's been pretty obvious... Duo cares about you, I would even go so far as to say that Duo loves you... in a way that is possibly more than what I could ever give you." Breaking contact with his eyes, Relena looked at her feet but continued. "And I can see that you love Duo... even if you won't admit it to yourself, you do... it's evident in everything you do and everything you say while in Duo's company. While others may not notice it, you can't escape a woman's eye Heero." Relena smiled. "It was once the look I'd hoped you would direct towards me and me alone... but now I see that the look I thought I'd seen was so completely different from those you gave Duo." She laughed, slightly bitter but still full of regret. "Perhaps it really was time to start waking up..."

Heero was confused. "Then why..."

"Why did I say it?" Relena met his eyes again. "Just so you'd know... It made me feel better to know that you'd known before I disappear from your life Heero."

Heero stared, ungrasping of what Relena was saying until a few seconds later when the realization hit him. But before he had the chance to go on, Relena had continued.

"Heero... whether you know it or not, you love Duo. And as much as I would like to deny it, you do. But you have to tell him." Relena gazed at him fondly but the look was tinged with sadness. "Because Duo isn't going to wait around forever for those words, and sooner or later your silence is going to hurt him more than you can ever anticipate. And one thing I cannot permit you to do is to let Duo slip through your fingers. He means too much to you for you to lose your one chance at happiness." Relena looked away. "And because of the lives you lead. Who knows what may be around the corner? You can see how you affected Duo even with a near miss. How do you think he'd feel if you died without telling him?" Those azure eyes were hard now, gazing at him with a certainty "And what if he died? What if he died Heero? How would you feel?"

Heero was speechless but his mind was whirling with the aftermath of Relena's words.

Relena shook her head. "I should have waited till you were stronger, I'll go and fix something for you to eat, you must be hungry." Walking towards the door, Relena looked back. "True love is something that comes once in a lifetime Heero, don't lose the chance you have with yours."

      Someone else who loves me
      And trusts me fast asleep


Heero's mind was churning with Relena's words. "You can see how you affected Duo even with a near miss." So that was what was wrong with the baka! But damnit, they were soldiers!! What did he think soldiers would expect fighting in a war that had taken the lives of so many already?? He cursed silently in his head but found even that to be too much to bear and shut his eyes, willing the ache at the back of his head away.

A knock sounded at the door and Quatre peered in, his eyes brightening when they saw Heero's open eyes. "Heero-kun! You're awake... yokatta." He smiled and then came in, a laden tray in his hands. "I brought you something to eat."

Heero nodded an affirmative, acknowledging Quatre's presence and then mustered all the strength he could get to push himself up so that he was in a sitting position. Under his breath, he cursed his weak body. As he picked at his food, Quatre sat down and gave him reports of what had been happening, getting him up to date.

"Everything's been quiet, seems like OZ's laying low after Wing was destroyed so we've all be holed up here for a week, not doing much, just repairing the Gundams."

Heero looked up but Quatre smiled. "Wing's going to be fine. We recovered most of the important parts and the Maganacs are working feverishly with Howard to rebuild it. It'll be finished once you're recovered so you won't lose any time ne?"

Heero polished off his soup and asked, "How'd we get here? How did Relena know?"

"Coincidentally, Relena-san was quite nearby to the base and when Trowa picked you up from the wreckage, we couldn't very well go off to our planned hideouts and Relena drove up and offered us the hospitality of her estate, which was very close. So we flew the Gundams here."

Heero gave a quick nod, and then looked around. "No new missions?"

Quatre gave a negative shake of his head. "None... except Duo's... he just left."

Heero's eyes widened slightly. "He's on a solo?"

Nodding, Quatre continued. "Wufei offered to go with him since Shenlong was ready and the others were needing a little more work but he said that Duo brushed him off, saying it was only a small mission, and didn't need anyone to help."

"And you believed him?" Heero's eyes were blazing despite the paleness of his face, making them seem like sapphires in a field of white.

Quatre shrugged helplessly. "Gomen Heero-kun... but Duo's been unusually quiet recently... not even Wufei's been able to raise a jibe from him." Sighing, Quatre added, "No one knows what's on his mind lately."

Heero glared but didn't speak, silently swearing at everything under the sun for not being awake enough to make the braided maniac tell him about his mission.

The door creaked open and Trowa's face appeared, tossing a bottle at Quatre. "Here're the painkillers."

Quatre caught the bottle deftly and smiled. "Arigato..."

Heero waved him away when he turned to him, preferring to have a clear head and Quatre looked doubtful before placing the bottle on the nightstand with a glass of water and took the empty tray before walking towards the door. "Get some sleep Heero-kun."

After the door closed, Heero attempted to focus but found his vision slowly blurring and his eyelids becoming heavier. Damn them! Someone had obviously laced his food with painkillers already and the bottle had just been for show. But despite his efforts, Heero felt the comforting softness of the grey fog of unconsciousness envelope him and against his wishes, fell fast asleep.


Two weeks later, Heero was already well on the road to recovery and had demanded that his laptop be brought in to his room. Thus, though confined to the bed, Heero was usually found typing away well into the night. That is he looked like he was. Internally, Heero had barely been able to concentrate. His mind constantly conjuring up images of chestnut braids, wide, trusting violet-blue eyes and the perfectly kissable and grinning mouth. How many times he'd found himself staring at nothing while thinking of Duo, he couldn't count. All he knew was that he needed to know if the pilot was okay.

The flickering of the screen played over the features of Heero's pale face and without any other lights on in the room, cast eerie shadows over the walls and other objects. Heero didn't notice. He'd been staring at the same screen almost all the time he'd been awake, waiting silently for the mission stats to be reported to their superiors. He wasn't supposed to be reading this, but his top hacking skills and his silent worry for the American pilot had been more than enough to help him through.

"You can see how you affected Duo even with a near miss."

Once again, Relena's words plagued Heero as they had for the past few days, throwing his mind into turmoil. Did he love Duo? He knew that Duo loved him... known it for all the times Duo had said those words to him. But he'd never replied... never had the guts to reply. Deep down, Heero knew that he did... or why else would he want to keep the braided boy from harm at all costs, keep him from Death and keep him just the way he was for as long as possible. Why else would he care? But... saying those words would mean making a promise he could not keep... what if he died? What would Duo do then? He -

All thoughts stopped as cobalt eyes fixed on the rapidly returning data scanning through the screen. Finally! With a satisfied grunt, Heero took in the usual stats. Mission accomplished, 100% destruction of existing facilities. He snorted, he'd expected nothing else from Duo. Data collected and analyzed. Heero smirked and scrolled down. Nothing interesting, it looked as if the baka had actually survived this mission without any accidents. Then his eyes alighted on the detailed comments section and widened.

"... unexpected MS squadron was stationed at the target. 02 sustained heavy damage, down time expected to be a month with heavy repairs." Then the list went on outlining Deathscythe's damages but Heero's eyes rapidly flickered over them without interest until he came to the last few lines. "... pilot expected to have suffered moderate concussion, mild blood loss, head injuries, fractured ribs and cuts and bruises." Heero's eyes grew hard at the next lines. "... Cause of severe damage unknown however it is reported that 02 halted in non-apparent intervals for reasons unknown."

Yaro!! Heero mentally screamed. Why had Duo stopped in the middle of a mission?? While fighting an unexpected MS squadron to boot!! Eyes blazing, Heero swung himself out of bed, despite strict orders from both the doctor and Relena and staggered out of his room down the hallway. His arm was healed, and though a little stiff to move, it was still fine and the cast had been taken off the day before. The ribs still gave him hell but then he could expect that. Stumbling into the bunker, he made unerringly for the newly reconstructed Wing and with slight difficulty, climbed into the cockpit.

Inside, Heero activated Wing's power systems and then continued to type on the console. Fingers flew over the keyboard as he used the link up systems to locate Deathscythe. Then, after a few minutes, he'd hacked into Deathscythe's memory banks where he knew every Gundam kept a record of audio and visuals from every mission. Flicking on the most recent one, Heero sat back to watch the mission through his viewscreen.

An uncomfortableness settled into the cockpit and it was a few minutes into the mission before Heero figured out why. The beam scythe was slashing as always and explosions appeared out of nowhere, but Duo's maniacal laugh was nowhere to be heard. Frowning, Heero adjusted the sound system, hoping that he'd turned the sound of accidentally but still no laugh came through. That was when he noticed that Deathscythe's movements were jerky and abrupt. None of the smooth, poetry in motion the Shinigami's movements usually were. Heero's passive face darkened when the visual screen rocked, indicating a direct hit and smaller warning lights began flashing in the cockpit.

After the first few minutes, Heero switched on a small visual of what would show Duo's face and immediately flinched. The look in those eyes were not Duo's usual cheer and good graces. Instead, there was a wild gleam in those eyes and a blank look on the face that was constantly grinning. What the...?

A few minutes later, the visuals were knocked out and Heero was resorted to listening to Duo's heavy breathing and the sound of rocking explosions rocking the already damaged cockpit.

As the mission ended, the first sound from Duo was emitted and Heero picked it up with keen ears. Only one word, but that word explained everything to Heero. "... Heero...."

Heero's mind reeled and cobalt eyes widened. No... Duo you idiot!!!

"You can see how you affected Duo even with a near miss."

Relena's words floated through his mind once again and he closed his eyes, both from the pounding that had started in his head, and the pained memories that those few words brought up. Duo's usual cheerful face before the mission when he'd self-destructed Wing. The grin and the laughter, both on his lips and in those eyes. Then Duo's face as he'd walked out the door, leaving a barely awake and battered Heero behind. The blankness, the paleness. No...

Gritting his teeth, Heero slammed a furious fist into one metal wall of his own cockpit and sat there, head bowed and eyes tightly shut.

Bakayaro!! Duo you idiot!!! Why??? But the answer to that desperate plea, he knew. Knew more than well enough. Both the whispering of his name while on the mission and Duo's own words when he'd thought he was unconscious had come to the inevitable conclusion.

"What am I to you Heero? Am I so unimportant that you'd willingly give up your life?"

Oh god... A rage directed mostly at himself boiled up in his own chest. He was the cause of all this... if only he'd had the guts to say it all... If only he'd had the guts to promise his life to the one he'd just discovered he wanted to share it with...

"Because Duo isn't going to wait around forever for those words, and sooner or later your silence is going to hurt him more than you can ever anticipate."

Relena again... what amazed him was that the only time he'd actually listened to her words, they had come true so unerringly. But the irony wasn't funny, in fact it made him angry with the whole world and colonies at large. How *dare* they... But then, how *could* he? There was no way around that *he* himself had been the indirect cause of every injury Duo had sustained. What if... next time...

"And what if he died? What if he died Heero? How would you feel?"

He wouldn't be able to live... he knew that quite intimately. Duo was his one spark of life, the one who'd taught him how to live, not just to exist. If Duo died... especially because of him... he'd -

Heero cut himself off... Duo had inevitably felt the same when he'd self-destructed. That was the betrayed look on that face, the shock and the horror were there but more betrayal than anything else. But they were soldiers, pawns... soldiers who died at every turn of a battle for the greater good that it will do for humanity... Duo should understand that!!

What a hypocrite he was turning out to be... Duo understood... as he did... but what bound them together was something that went beyond understanding, beyond anything that could belong to them in this war-torn world. But despite it all... Heero would give anything up just to know that the braided-boy was kept from harm...

Cobalt eyes hardened. That was the problem wasn't it? *He* was a danger to the American pilot... whereas Duo brought life, he only brought death. Just being with him put the American in danger, not only from OZ, but from himself as well...

"True love is something that comes once in a lifetime Heero, don't lose the chance you have with yours."

Losing chances at love and happiness was something he'd gotten used to long ago and if you'd asked him a month ago, he would have said that he would never let them go again... now that he had Duo... But now that he'd seen what it could do to the American... anything was worth it to keep him safe... even if only from himself. Anything was worth just knowing that Duo was alive out there somewhere... even if he could never hold him, touch him... or kiss him ever again...

Molten sapphire gleamed in Heero's eyes and the face was once again emotionless. He knew what he had to do...

      I've made up my mind
      There is no turning back
      He's been good to me
      And he deserves better than that


Staring up at the two story brick building, Heero hefted his knapsack over his shoulder and made his way into the dorms. It was just before dinner and the halls were deserted. Everyone was most likely out enjoying the last few minutes of the day before going to the cafeteria. But then he didn't need anyone, he knew that there was only one person he needed to see... perhaps for the last time...

Pushing open the door to his room, Heero snorted at the sight of the jumbled half of the room Duo obviously occupied while the other half was clear of the clutter. Dumping his bag onto the bed, Heero took a closer glance around the room.

Books and papers were scattered everywhere, Duo's laptop sat precariously on a high stack of papers and junk while a small picture frame sat in one corner of the desk, one half obscured but the other half showing Duo's grinning face. Walking over, Heero gently picked the frame up but his face registered nothing when he found that the person on the other half was him, Duo's arm was companionably slung around his shoulders. Setting the picture back, Heero turned and sat on the bed, not bothering to unpack his things. He wouldn't be here long anyway... two days at the most.

The emotionless mask had once again settled over his face but Heero knew that this time, he wouldn't -- couldn't -- let anything deter him from keeping it there... the underlying emotions, he knew, would not convince Duo of what he would try to say... just the opposite if he was allowed insight... and Heero couldn't...

Steeling himself and walking out of the room, Heero strolled around the campus, oblivious to the many looks that were darted his way and proceeded to look for the one he'd come to find. The sooner this was over with the better.

Coming up to the basketball courts, Heero rounded the corner to see a group of boys his age, playing what was a rough and almost physical game, only with friendlier intent. Among those sweeping the courts... and the girls who were cheering madly with hunger in their eyes... A chestnut braided-boy with loud and frequent laughs, scored basket after basket, tossing flirtatious grins at the swooning girls on the sidelines often, before returning to the game. Heero snorted. How very like Duo.

Walking forward when the boys came off the court for a drink, though obviously not done with playing, Heero walked forward towards the crowd of fan-girls that had gathered around his -- no... not his -- Duo. Duo was grinning at the girls who offered him drinks and towels and other such accessories and Heero could see that though Duo was basking in the limelight, his grin was also a little too wide and a little too bright to be real.

Stopping at the edge of the crowd, Heero let out a small cough and all present turned to gaze at the newcomer. The girls, Heero noticed with annoyance, gave him a cool once-over before the hunger came back into their eyes... though this time, the look was directed at him. He controlled the urge to walk right up to the closest one and forcibly wipe the look off her face. Blue-violet eyes invariably met his and he was graced with a wide, *real* grin from Duo. One that he knew no one else received but him... that somehow made him feel all the more uncomfortable.

"Heero-man!! Where 'ya been??" Duo bounced to his side and draped a sweaty arm over his shoulders. Grinning, he gave him a slow wink before turning back to the others. "Minna-san... this is Heero Yuy, my best buddy."

Heero tossed Duo a glare before giving the others a perfunctory nod, saying, "Yoroshiku."

Amidst offerings of 'Hajimemashite's and 'Yoroshiku's, barely avoidable squeals of the swooning girls could be heard but Heero refused to acknowledge their presence, knowing that Duo was smirking beside him. One boy, spinning the basketball on his finger, gestured, "Heero-kun, do you play?"

"Play? Of course he plays!" Duo boasted with a wide grin, "He learned from the best!" He puffed his chest proudly before Heero elbowed him in the stomach but returned a small nod to the boy who'd asked the question.

"Great!" Another boy commented. "We need one more person to even up the teams? What do you say?"

Heero glanced around and though he didn't like the attention, he knew that there was no way he was able to get out of it without seeming suspicious and so reluctantly nodded before walking towards the court, the others trailing behind.


Walking towards the cafeteria, Duo chatted happily with the other boys while Heero remained silent in step beside them. The game had been filled with discreet touches, swipes and even a couple of daring gropes when the others weren't watching. Mostly on Duo's part but Heero could not deny that he had given in to temptation more than once in the duration. It had become an automatic reaction... and to give Duo up now... Heero shook his head, clearing his thoughts. Now was not the time to be distracted.

In the cafeteria, they grabbed their meals and wolfed them down, a sign of their exhaustion from the long game and then retired to their rooms, obviously to do the homework that they'd neglected.

When they'd crossed the threshold of their room with the door closed and locked, Duo immediately glomped Heero enthusiastically. "I was wondering when you were going to come..."

Heero raised an eyebrow... was he *that* transparent to Duo? Shaking him off, Heero grunted and turned to face Duo who sported a hurt expression. Ignoring the look, Heero glared. "How're the injuries?"

Duo feigned a surprised look. "What injuries?"

Heero gave him a black look. "Don't try to fool me Duo, you know exactly what I'm talking about."

Sheepishly, Duo replied. "Fine, just fine," waving a hand carelessly and walking to flop onto his bed.

"Deathscythe?"

Duo grimaced. "Howard's working on him... though he says it'll probably be another two weeks before I'm going anywhere..."

Heero grunted. "Baka... you should have watched your back..."

Sensing Heero knew exactly what had happened on his mission and that he was in for one of those sessions when Heero ranted at him for not being alert enough, Duo stood, not wanting to hear it. "I'm going to take a shower... save it Heero, I know what you're going to say."

As Duo disappeared into the bathroom, Heero glanced bewildered at his back. Why...?

Inside, Duo was silently railing, pulling at his hair with impatient tugs and drenching himself in the shower spray. What right did Heero have to tell him what to do and not to do on his mission when he certainly didn't give a damn what Duo thought about his crazy suicidal tricks? At least if he died, it would be because it was an accident or a lapse in concentration, not because he was *looking* for an opening in the line of those waiting to see Death.

When he came out, he avoided Heero's eyes and proceeded to brush his damp hair, still seething in his own fury but after a while, the comfort of just being with Heero won out and the anger slowly flowed away, replaced by a comfort to know that Heero had found him and was here with him. With him and not leaving.

As the bathroom door opened again and Heero stepped out, Duo immediately plastered him with a kiss that said more than 'sorry' and 'I missed you'.

The kiss went on and Heero found himself unable to break the trance he'd fallen into, stunned and captivated by the beautiful boy he held in his arms. The boy he knew he had to give up for the sake of keeping him safe. While searching hands roamed over his body and he felt his own running over the smooth planes of Duo's back, Heero's mind was screaming at him to back away and tell him now, save any more pain and suffering for both of them. But Duo held him under a spell, one that was too enticing and too powerful to turn away from. And so, Heero felt himself surrender... if only to remember every detail and sensation about the boy he loved...

And was about to give up...

      I know that we'll meet again
      Fate has a place and time
      So you can get on with your life
      I've got to be cruel to be kind


Slanting beams of moonlight filtered through the mostly closed blinds and illuminated the empty bed on one side of the room and the two figures entwined intimately on the other, sheets in disarray.

Strands of loose chestnut hair lay on the sheets as peaceful noises of contented slumber emitted from their owner. Duo was in the first completely restful sleep he'd had in ages... in fact since that time a month and a half ago when Heero'd self-destructed. But with the warm and familiar length of Heero pressing against him from chest to thigh, sleep had come easily with the promise of sweet dreams.

With his partner carefully asleep in his arms, Heero had remained awake, perhaps to remember what he'd had before he would...

Darkened cobalt eyes were more like midnight as they burned in a face that looked too world-weary to belong to the young fifteen year-old boy that it did. Heero's face was lax, devoid of any emotion but in the dead of the night, the mask had slipped from his eyes and in them was the pure emotions running through Heero's mind, uncensored.

Pain... that was expected, he'd dealt with pain all his life. But this time, the pain was more intimate than when he would mercilessly kill without feeling anything. Then, he knew that the soldiers he killed had at least consented to their deaths by becoming involved in the war. But what he was about to do, would break Duo's heart... But he could not think about that... Breaking Duo's heart would be a thousand times better than to know that the long-haired baka had died because of him.

Sorrow... yes he would be sorry. No matter how he tried to justify to himself that what he was about to do should not affect him so heavily, he found that he was. Duo had become such a big part of his life and only now had he realized it... only now had he come to appreciate Duo as he should have a long time ago. Before him, his life had been the mission and nothing but the mission. Because of that he was looking to die, to rid himself of the carnage that he had to take part in as long as he was alive. But Duo had taught him to look beyond the mission and to appreciate the simpler things in life that could bring so much joy.

Only when Duo had come into his life did a spark with a semblance of 'life' come into his eyes. And though often masked, he knew it was there, Duo knew it was there... and that was enough. But with his decision a few weeks ago, that tiny spark had begun to waver and even after so little time in which it had peaked, it was starting to flicker.

Now, with the time coming so soon, the dying embers were beginning to burn out but Heero kept them there as he let his eyes wander over Duo's lax face, committing every feature to memory.

The shining waves of honey tinted chestnut, spread out over the sheets with carelessness. The fragrance, combined of faintly citrus shampoo and the unmistakable smell of 'Duo'. The silkiness as he ran his fingers over it, watching the strands slip easily through his fingers and the crown of jagged bangs falling over Duo's forehead.

The soft eyelids with their heavy lashes, hiding the most expressive pair of eyes that he'd ever come across. He could see them in his memory, violet-blue, shining with good cheer, mischief and laughter. The adorable puppy-eyes that Duo used whenever he wanted to get his way and the teasing way that they lit up everytime he was surprised or happy. Multitudes of Duo's emotions were conveyed by those eyes alone and in their shining depths he always knew that there was some special spark meant for him alone.

Eyes wandered down the flawless cheek of the heart-shaped face and rested on the slightly snubbed nose. The nose that would wrinkle whenever Duo made a face, and then trailed down to the perfect cupid-bow lips. Lips that were full and incessantly plunderable.

Duo's head rested half on his shoulder and half on the pillow, his warm breath breezing past Heero's neck with comfort and a slight smile on his lips. As Heero's darkened eyes had wandered over Duo's face, a slight whimper came from the parted lips and a frown creased the usually cheerful face, one expression that was not accustomed to Duo's face.

A warm arm snaked across Heero's waist as Duo turned his face into his shoulder, burrowing in the throws of the dream he was obviously entangled in. Frowning, Heero gazed at the foreign expression sitting between Duo's brows and raising an infinitely gentle hand, smoothed it away before Duo ceased his movements and sighed in contentment of the moment.

A stinging behind Heero's eyes made him close them to ease the discomfort as he tightened his arms around the American that had no idea what was about to come tomorrow... and would not be lying here peacefully if he did. But tucking Duo's head under his chin, Heero felt a single tear run across his own cheek to create a wet patch on the pillow beneath.

Silently, Heero whispered the apology he'd wanted to say aloud, "Gomen nasai Duo... Ai shiteru..."

Lost in his thoughts, Heero buried his face in Duo's hair for a second before tightening his arms around the braided pilot again and training his eyes on the slant of moonlight across the room. Waiting in silence for the dawning of the day that he wished would never arrive.

      Like Dr. Zhivago
      All my love I'll be sending
      And you will never know
      There can be no happy ending


Interrupted out of the throws of restless sleep, Heero awoke to the feeling of a pair of eyes centered on his face. Grunting slightly, Heero flexed his arms and when he found he held something, opened his eyes to the twin brightly smiling violet pools that dragged him in. Drowning in seas of calm blue-violet, Heero barely heard the chuckle and the deep, sensuous and husky whisper of "Ohayo" that emitted from Duo's throat. Snorting a reply, Heero tightened his arms and drew the American closer, closing his eyes once more in the languorous feel of the early morning.

Even with eyes closed, Heero reacted before thinking to the feeling of Duo's lips on his own, moving to the familiar softness that pressed against him. After a moment, Duo broke away chuckling again. Eyes turned towards him and the glistening lips parted in a smile. "I missed you koi..."

Heero growled and lunged forward to bite at Duo's lips. "Don't call me koi."

Duo laughed and then rolled away to sit up on the bed, swinging his legs off. Catching Heero's confused look Duo smirked. "You might not have a period one class Mr. Yuy, but someone else here does... And if you've forgotten, we are still in school..." Laughing, Duo headed for the bathroom, leaving Heero still sprawled in the sheets on the bed.

Startled, Heero sat up, the sheets pooling in his lap. That was right... They were still in school... and Duo had morning classes while his were scheduled for the afternoon. That meant he would be able to continue what had probably been the best rest he'd had since he'd self-destructed. Flopping back onto the bed, Heero was closing his eyes again when his mind cleared. Self-destructed... Duo... Inwardly, he swore. He'd obviously fallen asleep even though he had been determined to stay awake so that he would be able to tell Duo in the morning about... that... But as he had found so many times before, his control of himself evidently loosened whenever Duo was around. It had been trained into an automatic reaction and it was one that he could not afford today.

Still deep in thought and busy berating himself on the lack of control, Heero started when the bathroom door opened and Duo walked out to quickly pull on his uniform. Casting a glance his way, Duo grinned. "The great Heero Yuy, still lying in bed wasting time..." The grin turned into a laugh. "Guess I should either be preparing for something big or the Apocalypse ne?"

Heero glared but before he was able to say a word, Duo had scooped his books off his desk and had bounced over to the door, cheerfully tossing out a "Ja ne!" before the door slammed shut.

Damn! A wasted opportunity. Heero scowled disgustedly and got out of bed, heading for the shower. He could have told Duo just then, and spared himself and Duo the pain of a longer period of time together... But what's done is done, he'd just have to wait for another opportunity to present itself.


It was almost lunch, and Heero was preparing for his leave. Cold, impersonal eyes glanced around the room levelly, surveying all that he might have left behind. His bed was made with his uniform neatness and not even an indent in the pillow showed that someone might have slept in it the night before. His desktop was cleared of the books he'd acquired yesterday... the useless books... The drawers had been cleaned out of the guns he'd thought to unpack and just as a safety precaution, Heero bent to check them again.

When he straightened, he steeled himself and taking a deep breath, headed for the door. It was then that he paused and glanced back, that chilling gaze focused on the small picture frame that was partly-hidden on Duo's desk. Walking over, Heero picked the frame up and cobalt eyes wandered over the figure with his arm slung over his shoulders. One callused thumb gently traced the curve of Duo's grinning face while the cobalt eyes remained unreadable, though slightly softer.

Shaking his head, Heero moved to put the frame back on the desk but at the last minute, his lips quirked and he popped open the back of the frame. Sliding the picture inside out of its place between the back and the glass, Heero replaced the frame and without giving it a second thought, tucked the picture into his duffel bag. That done, Heero squared his shoulders and left the room.


All the way down to the cafeteria, Heero kept his straight face, disciplining himself to let the old and accustomed mask fall back into place. He needed it back in place. Searching the cafeteria for the thick braid, Heero quickly found the one he sought amidst a group of swooning girls and loudly chatting boys. Walking up quickly and unnoticed, Heero tugged lightly on Duo's braid to get his attention, hand lingering on the chestnut weave ever so slightly.

"Oi!" Duo protested as he turned. "Hands of the hair man! Heero!" Duo's face lit up at the sight of him and scooted over on his seat to make room for Heero to sit. "What took you so long man?"

Heero's face remained impassive as his gaze pierced Duo's wide violet eyes. "Duo, we need to talk..."

Duo's eyes narrowed once before turning worried and finally curious. Murmuring apologies laced with laughter at the occupants of the table, he stood up and followed Heero out the cafeteria door, wondering what the hell Heero was being so cold about.

Outside, Heero led Duo into a small secluded clearing and before turning, reinforced his mask so that all his turmoil and the waves of doubt he was experiencing was suppressed as only he knew how. He turned to the sound of Duo's inquisitive voice. "What's going on Heero?"

Those blue-violet eyes were darkened with worry and the brows were drawn together in a frown that creased his forehead. Heero's hand itched to rub those unbecoming lines away but he stilled the urge.

"Heero?"

The voice was filled with rising alarm faintly colored with concern and love. Those full lips were pulled taut in between words, as if trying to hold back something and the gaze darkened.

Heero opened his mouth but then closed it instead, having no idea what to say or even how to start. Damn! He should have prepared this further.

"Heero? Doushita no?" Duo took a step forward and raised his hand as if to feel Heero's forehead and Heero immediately took a step back.

The hurt in those wide, expressive eyes were unmistakable with the force of the rejection and the hand dropped limply to his side. Deep amaryllis pools searched his own eyes for a semblance or a hint that could help him determine what was wrong with his partner and Heero felt his mask beginning to slip.

Steeling his self-resolve, Heero cursed himself. Damnit no!! He would not -- could not -- let his mask slip now... his outside mask was the only thing damming the flow of emotions that he felt at seeing Duo's hurt and confusion. He wanted no more than to gather him up in his arms and kiss that frown away, telling him that he was all he needed... but he couldn't. Clenching his fists to build up his anger, inwardly Heero knew. With any body else, he would have had absolutely no qualms about hurting them... even killing them... But this was Duo... The one who'd taught him how to live, to smile, to laugh and to be human. Grimly, he realized just how good of a teacher Duo really was... With Duo, he could be nothing but human... too human...

With alarm, Heero realized that this was probably the mission in which he was going to fail... He was going to fail in protecting his Duo because it would be the hardest thing he'd ever have to do in his short miserable life, to lie to Duo... and to tell him that he didn't...

Heero could feel himself begin to freeze at that thought. No... he would risk anything for Duo, he would give his life to know that Duo would be safe and sound. It was why he had self-destructed his Wing... it was why he was going to self-destruct his heart now. He would not -- could not -- fail.

Taking a deep breath, Heero decided to get straight to the point. In his coldest voice manageable and with blank eyes gazing right into Duo's but not really seeing, Heero growled out the sentence that would doom his heart into an eternity of darkness.

"I don't love you Duo."

      It's the hardest thing
      I'll ever have to do
      To look you in the eye
      And tell you I don't love you
      It's the hardest thing
      I'll ever have to lie
      To show no emotion
      When you start to cry


What...?

Duo shook his head, playing the sentence Heero had finally muttered over and over again in his mind. It couldn't have been... could it...? Surely he hadn't heard right...

Wearing his heart in his eyes, Duo asked again. "What Heero...?"

Heero growled and the ice in his prussian blue eyes were a chilling sight to behold. Instead of repeating what he had said, the emotionless voice said, "You heard me."

Those three words were like blows to Duo's mind, each piercing deep and hard, in that place beyond his self-erected defenses, the place where only Heero's words and glances could reach.

Violet eyes shattered.

Heero quivered but he clenched his fists instead, forcing himself to continue to look at the shattered remnants of Duo's eyes with nothing but blankness and incomprehension. Inside, he knew that it was all lies... The words he had uttered were slowly but surely eating away at his heart. Those violet-blue eyes had been broken of their eternal good nature, replaced instead with something Heero had never seen before and never wanted to see. It killed him to know that he was the one to do this to the one person he cared for in the entire world... but then he'd always been born for death, more than Duo had ever been.

Duo was in shock. His whole body trembled slightly and his brain refused to process anything else except the repetitions of the words that had cut him so deeply. *I don't love you Duo. You heard me. I don't love you Duo. You heard me...*

Finally, Duo snapped himself out of his daze and lifted his eyes to Heero's, searching for that small, even the tiniest gleam of hope that what he'd said was not true. Instead, his gaze met glassy molten blue, the emotionless gaze that he'd come to hate so much and would do anything to rid Heero of. Not trusting his eyes which were rapidly filling, Duo reached out with his hand to grasp Heero's shoulder and jerked as if physically wounded when Heero moved away again, those eyes not giving away an inch of what thoughts lay in Heero's mind.

In his shocked state, Duo could only croak out one word. "Naze...?"

Heero was struggling, torn between wrapping his arms around Duo and kissing those tears away and the continuation of the role of the bastard he'd played in the last few minutes. His mask was dangerously close to slipping and showing the hurt and the reluctance he harbored inside to do this to Duo but he knew that it was necessary. Unbidden, he withdrew his consciousness from the pain of the conversation and let his Perfect Soldier instincts lead the conversation. "How could I love someone like you?"

Duo gasped at the words as the first of the tears overflowed from his eyes, making a salty trail as it traveled down the contours of his face. All those times he'd said those words to Heero... those words that promised the life that was not his own to Heero... had they all been for nothing? All those times of anticipation, concern, happiness, pleasure and laughter... were they all wasted efforts on someone that had never returned his feelings? Masaka... All those times he'd seen Heero smile... laugh... the softened gazes, the caressing touches... he had been so sure...

Inside, Duo began to laugh. That was the whole thing in a nutshell wasn't it? He had been so sure... *HE* had been so sure... Heero had never said the words to put those fears at rest and just because Heero had given him a few smiles and soft words, he had casually put those fears aside, deeming them unimportant, feeling certain that Heero would say the words when he was ready. In a way, he'd brought this on himself...

But that didn't lessen the pain.

Under Heero's intense gaze, Duo's body began to shake as a painful grin crossed his lips. The shaking soon turned to chuckling and then quiet laughter until finally, Duo was laughing, though the eyes were still pain-ridden and the tears fell faster. Heero understood. Duo's mask was in place now. The jester mask that he had always so casually tossed aside whenever they were alone. But like him, the mask had become weak in each other's presence and though he was still able to control his... barely... Duo could no longer stem the tears that fell from his pain and anguish.

Harsh, mocking laughter sounded from Duo's throat and he turned bright and painfilled eyes onto Heero. Shaking his head, Duo's voice turned into a parody of its cheerful self as it rumbled in the wake of tears and a tight throat. "I'm an idiot. A complete and total idiot ne Heero? What made me think that you could love me? What made me think that you would change for me? Thousands of times I have asked myself these questions and every single time I'd shoved them aside because I trusted you, I believed in you... I believed in *us*!" Duo's voice was getting increasingly louder and Heero stood there, knowing that he deserved to feel Duo's lashing out even though it cut and pierced him somewhere no knife or bullet could.

"I'm an idiot... an idiot to believe something existed between us that went beyond simple pleasures!" Duo laughed mockingly. "And to think I mistook it for love... Shows how much I know ne?" Those eyes turned towards him and he felt the object of Duo's anger shift.

"But you led me on dammit!! You never loved me... then why did you stay silent everytime I said those damned words?!" Duo was railing now, the tears flowing freely and unchecked. "Why would you love me Heero?? Why when you had Relena who was throwing herself all over you? Was I just a convenient tool for you Heero? A tool to keep Relena out of your hair until you decided it was time to tell her you loved her?? In the meanwhile, you took what pleasure you could??!!! Answer me damn you!!"

Violet-blue eyes blazed with a fire that Heero rarely saw and inwardly, he turned away. Those word hurt. And he wanted nothing more than to tell the other boy that they were completely wrong and what his real feelings were. But he remained silent until Duo's voice grew to a whisper and one phrase caught his ears.

"I hate you Heero... I hate you..." Duo's eyes were flat and deadly, leaving no doubt in Heero's mind that he had accomplished what he'd set out to do.

With a wrench of the heart, he turned and walked away.

Ninmu kanryou.

      I can't let you see
      What you mean to me
      When my hands are tied
      And my heart's not free
      (We're not meant to be)
      It's the hardest thing
      I'll ever have to do
      To turn around and walk away
      Pretending I don't love you


Duo watched Heero's retreating back with detachment and through swollen eyes. Uncontrollably, he began laughing again. He was an idiot... so much of an idiot. Gazing up at the clear blue sky, he felt the tears running down his face like rain and put up an impatient hand to wipe them from his cheeks. But the rain still fell and Duo was helplessly caught up in the storm. His thoughts were muddled, his heart broken and he was pretty sure he looked like shit. Taking in a shaky breath, he started for the trees on one side of the clearing, hoping to get himself under control.

I hate him... I hate him... I hate him...

Those words were repeated over and over again in his mind as a mantra. As if just saying it would lessen the pain that was devouring the pieces of his shattered heart. But he couldn't... As much as he would have liked to hate Heero, he knew he couldn't... not now... not ever...

Duo chuckled ruefully. "There's another example of your stupidity. Even when you know for certain the guy doesn't love you, you still love him. Maybe you are the baka everyone makes you out to be..." Duo allowed himself a genuine short laugh before wiping his eyes again. The tears slowed and stopped, leaving Duo a quivering mass of uncertainty and anger.

Heero you bastard... You knew... you knew I loved you. Why - how could you do this to me? I thought we were friends... more than friends... Damn you to hell!!

Duo silently railed until the anger had dissipated and he was left to calm the shivering that had started up along his chilled body. Oh God... What do I do now? How do I face him...?

For the first time in a long time, Duo felt the need to sit down with a priest and pour his heart out to a sympathetic listener who wouldn't judge him. Unconsciously, he reached inside his shirt for the silver cross that had always hung on its chain from his neck. And discovered that it wasn't there.

Duo's eyes widened before he smiled sadly. His mind dredging up one of the memories that reminded him of better times.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Cobalt blue eyes burned into his own. "I have to go Duo..."

He smiled. "I know... come back soon ne?"

Heero snorted a reply but his eyes had softened slightly and he ran a callused hand down the soft curve of Duo's cheek.

Duo grinned and kissed him. A short and sweet kiss. Heero growled and lunged forward but Duo stepped back laughing. Shaking his finger, Duo allowed that small sound of teasing to grace his voice. "You get the rest when you come back Heero..."

Heero glared at him but then relented, silently accepting the hug that Duo gave him, twining his own arms about Duo's waist.

Duo leaned back and gazed into the twin blue oceans of Heero's eyes and smiled, reaching up both hands to unclasp something from his neck. Reaching around Heero's neck, Duo reclasped the necklace and then tilted Heero chin up to meet his eyes. "Something for luck Heero... Be careful."

Heero gazed at the small silver crucifix that now lay on his chest and then met Duo's eyes. Nodding imperceptibly, Heero hugged him again before letting him go and striding out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Shaking his head slowly, Duo smiled. You asked me for so much Heero, even without saying anything... My love, my life, my soul, my faith. He chuckled, at least his crucifix would probably be in his dorm room waiting for him.

Pulling himself up, Duo realized that it was almost mid-afternoon. Dejectedly, Duo walked back towards the dorms with a heavy heart making preparations for a life without Heero.


Walking into his dorm room, Heero abruptly bent down to pick his duffel bag off his bed and slung it over his shoulder, determined to go as soon as possible. His heart ached with a pain he had never known and he was afraid that one more minute in Duo's company would cause him to take back everything he'd said... because only Duo could ease this pain.

As he straightened, a familiar object thumped him lightly on the chest and cobalt eyes widened. Fishing in the neck of his uniform shirt, Heero brought out the tiny token that he had kept with him ever since he'd been given it. The tiny silver crucifix glinted back at him, mocking him for his stupidity at giving up the only thing that had mattered to him in his miserable life.

Clenching the cross in his fingers, Heero moved to take the chain from around his neck but then hesitated. He couldn't... It had become a part of him, as Duo had... and though he could give the most important one up, he didn't have what it took to totally give both up, however small the other token may be. Sliding the ornament under his shirt again, Heero glanced around the room one last time before walking out the door.

Gomen nasai Duo... Sayonara...

Unconsciously, Heero wiped a single tear from his eyes and continued on his way down the hall, never looking back.

In the rush of air that followed the slamming of the door, a small wad of paper rolled off the seat of Heero's deskchair to land on the floor, inconspicuous among the others that littered the surface.

      Maybe another time
      Another day
      As much as I want to
      I can't stay


Letting himself into his room, Duo noticed without surprise that Heero's half had been cleaned out. Shrugging his shoulders, he sat down at his desk and switched on his laptop. He had no wish to stay here when everything reminded him of the painful conversation he had just endured.

Fixing his records to look like he'd transferred, Duo switched off the laptop and stood up to pack. Tossing his clothes and ammo into the large duffel, Duo went through the papers on his desk, casually tearing them up in frustration and then lobbing them into the shredder before shoving them down the rubbish chute.

When he'd cleaned out the papers on his desk, his glance came to rest on the empty picture frame that had been casually tossed aside. Incomprehension came into his eyes. Empty? Where was the photo? Pawing through the papers on his desk again, Duo found no trace of the photo that had once resided in the frame. A picture he would now gladly rip up. Shrugging slightly before giving up the search, he continued his clean up. It wouldn't matter where the picture was now, it had no meaning anyway.

After an hour, his room was spotless and Duo slumped on the bed in physical and emotional exhaustion. Taking another glance around the room, Duo made to get up and leave before his eyes settled on a small wad of paper that still lay on the floor. Duo's eyes narrowed as he picked up the paper and smoothed it out, recognizing the writing as not his but Heero's.

Violet-blue eyes slowly wandered down the neat rows of printed kanji and then slowly widened.

In love with Death, Death becomes life
The heart knows Death, so saved from strife
If life is snuffed out, Death will die
To safeguard Death, the heart must lie.
Apologies for lies, the heart cannot make
For in apologies, Death will wake
And know the pain, the heart feels to lie
So the heart retreats, and says good bye.

Duo's eyes misted over and a forlorn smile came to his lips. Violet eyes danced as he read and reread the words though the tears were once again flowing without stopping. Heero must have written this and then wadded it up. Duo grinned, he knew that Heero wasn't as clumsy with words as he would like people to think. That essay had certainly proved it... even if it had said 'Duo Maxwell' on the top.

Then the full impact of those words hit him and Duo's eyes widened even further. The poem... the picture... the missing crucifix that Duo had searched so hard to find in the messy room. The first words of the poem came to his mind and he smiled. *In love with Death, Death becomes life.*

Insane laughter bubbled up in Duo's chest and he fell back onto his bed chuckling uncontrollably, but this time of happiness instead of mockery. When he quieted down, Duo sat up and glanced at the paper again before folding it and tucking it into his wallet. His smile became a little sad again as he picked up his duffel bag and stood up.

If that's how you want to play it Heero, I'll go along. But know that I'll always love you... and now I have your word on your feelings. I'll wait...

Taking a once-over of the room, Duo grinned and bounced out, braid flapping behind him. As he left the dorms and walked out, Duo smiled to himself and muttered affectionately, "Suicidal, sentimental bastard..."

      I don't want to live a lie
      What can I do


In a darkened room, a dark-haired boy scanned the screen of his laptop at the incoming email. Cobalt eyes went round in shock before the emotionless exterior of the boy's face took control again. Heero shook his head at the few lines that had manage to sneak past his ready-for-anything state and surprise him.

Darkened prussian eyes darted to the small framed photo that sat on the desk and softened while fingers came up to hold the silver crucifix that was partly hidden by the top of his usual green tank-top. The eyes went back to the screen and a small quirk came up on Heero's lips. He shook his head again. He should have known.

Duo wasn't easy to fool... even in something as emotionally attached as this where one's feelings might get in the way of clear thinking.

Smiling slightly, Heero stood up and walked out of the room, making a silent promise in his head. "I will Duo... If we make it that far... I promise I will..."

On the screen, in stark black on white:

     Heero -

     If we both survive the war, look me up.
     Ai shiteru. Zutto.

                                             - Duo


~~~OWARI~~~


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