Sand Castles

Inspired by a Davic Archuletta song:Waiting for Yesterday.

Chapter 1
by Kracken

He couldn't square his memory of Duo, not even six months earlier, with this more, subdued, unsmiling, man who stood off to one side, head tipped down to hide his face behind the rim of a Preventer cap. No one had warned Heero that something had happened. Why should they? He doubted that anyone had ever guessed that he actually cared about Duo Maxwell.

Wu Fei was talking, filling Heero in on their latest mission, mind hard on facts and totally absent on anything physical. At no time did he pause and say what Heero hoped, that nothing had happened on their last attempt to eradicate a nest of terrorists, and that Duo was fine, under the weather, but unaffected by anything tragic in his life. Instead, Heero stood in the hanger, freezing, while transports towered around them, and Duo remained as still as stone, hands jammed into jacket pockets while Wu Fei finished up his stream of very correct information.

Wu Fei was filled out more, but was essentially the same as when they had fought in the war. A bundle of hot temper, controlled by force of will and regulations, he had been a great asset to Preventers. He had made it his permanent employer, while the rest of them had chosen more independent pursuits. They came in when needed, but essentially lived lives of semi retirement. He was at home in his crisp, khaki Preventer uniform, blue star patches marking him a captain of special forces. His long black hair had been braided, slicked back and straight as an arrow, in tradition Chinese fashion. A curved sword still hung at his side.

Duo was a stark contrast. He wore solid black, from head to toe, and had allowed only his face to remain uncovered. His jacket was overlarge, the collar high and strapped by buckles. His boots were military grade. The gloves on his hands were a special ops wet dream, padded on key areas, yet thin on others where sensitivity was needed. They seemed molded to fit him. His Preventer badges were hung at his jacket hem, their photos showing Heero the man he remembered; a Hawaiian shirt, an impish grin, and sparkling eyes as he mugged for the camera. Only his hair remained unchanged, a startlingly long length of three and half foot braid. That braid swung like a heavy chain as they turned and left the hanger, Wu Fei taking them into Preventer proper for their meeting with Commander Une.

"I look forward to working with you again," Heero said, meaning Duo, but unsurprised that Wu Fei replied and Duo only gave him a half glance and said nothing.

"I value your level of expertise," Wu Fei said."I still haven't found a team that reaches the level of successes that we do when we work together on missions."

Dry, boring. Heero suppressed a yawn. He studied Duo as they walked, but the man seemed intent on the floor passing under his boots. Heero could see some profile; a mouth set into a hard line and his jaw clenched.

"May I ask where you've been working?" Wu Fei asked. "You took yourself off call for six months. I imagined that you had a serious mission to accomplish outside of Preventer channels."

"At the beach," Heero replied. "Making sand castles."

Wu Fei looked back, startled, but said nothing when he realized that Heero was watching for only one reaction. Duo didn't even crack a smile. The old Duo would have giving Heero a wide smile and a comment of , "Nice tan.", or "I bet they were military grade castles." Not even getting a slight acknowledgement was almost pain.

They took an elevator upward and Heero stood as close to Duo as he could. Taking an imperceptible deep breath, he smelled leather, detergent from Duo's clothes, and a bit of masculine sweat that let him know that the warmer Preventer building wasn't going to induce Duo to unzip his jacket or even open the collar. Heero didn't smell healing wounds or telltale antiseptic. The man wasn't hiding injuries. Weapons?

As they exited the elevator, Heero hung back enough to watch Duo move. Yes, he was definitely armed and dangerous. There was a leashed tension in his movements. He was under stress. It was an odd contrast to his visual mood. Depression seemed to hang about him like a cloud as dark as his clothing.

The conference room was intimate, meant for smaller meetings. The warm wood of the oval table and the comfortable chairs, almost made it look like someone's dinning room kitchen. Pictures of Preventer teams lined the walls, as if Commander Une were a proud mother showing off her children.

Heero could almost feel Wu Fei's contempt for a woman's obvious touch in the decor as he took the seat nearest where Une had her briefs waiting for her. Heero took the chair on her other side and Duo managed to put several chairs between them as he slumped and transferred his gaze to some unseen spot on the table.

Une, herself, entered, looking hurried. She looked older, Heero thought, and pared down. Too thin. Her hair, pulled back into a tight bun, had hints of premature gray. She gave them all a polite nod, before sitting down and sorting through her briefs. "Good to see you, again, Special Agent Yuy. Thank you for agreeing to join this mission."

"Agent Chang has already told me that the last mission against these terrorists was a disaster," Heero replied, deciding to cut through the formalities. He needed more information.

Une nodded and slid a palm computer over to him. Heero read the mission report and frowned sharply. "A spy inside Preventer?"

"Working for nearly a year in that very unit," Une said angrily. "Everything checked out. His back ground was impeccable. Nothing hinted at the fact that he was not, in fact, the man that he was claiming to be." She slid another brief to Heero. "San Marco. That's all we know about him, beside his reputation as a master under cover operative. He worked for the foundation during the war. Even I didn't have access to his real name or identity. When he was needed, code was sent through untraceable channels detailing his missions. He was one hundred percent successful."

"Was he successful this time as well?" Heero wanted to know as he studied the picture of a square jawed, good looking man, who had brown eyes and an easy smile. He didn't look like a killer. He looked like someone that you would trust with your children.

"Completely successful," Une replied in a clipped tone.

"How do we know that it was this... San Marco?"

There was a few moments of silence and then Duo said, very tightly, "He told me."

Heero studied the rim of Duo's hat, longing to see the man's expression. "Was he selling information or setting up for a terrorist strike?" Heero asked instead of the longed for, "Are you all right?" that he wanted to ask, Duo.

"Information," Une replied. "He's working very closely with this particular terrorist cell. They were ready for us when we attacked their operation. We lost five agents before we were forced to withdraw. They were able to deflect all of our weapons, even long range ones, and escape. It took months to track them down again on L2. We suspect that they still have operatives planet side and that their new L2 location is a decoy."

"What's the source of this information?" Heero wanted to know, worried about reliability.

"I am," Duo replied.

"Where did you get your information?" Heero wondered.

"He told me. San Marco," Duo replied.

Heero didn't bother to attempt to puzzle that out. "You had contact when you attacked the terrorist cell?"

"There were circumstances, Yuy, that-" Une began, but Duo cut her off angrily.

"I'll tell him! It's not a secret that you can keep, Commander," Duo snapped. He took a deep breath and then his eyes appeared under the rim of his hat as he tried to meet Heero's eyes. They were shadowed, pained, and acutely embarrassed. "We were lovers for almost a year, up until the attack on the terrorist cell. We worked together. Lived together. I thought..." He made a strangled laugh that was unpleasant. "I thought that I was going to marry the guy. He was perfect. Fucking perfect. When he told me.... Well, he didn't think that I was going to survive to let anyone know his big secret. You don't think a guy is going to manage to get out of the way of a pulse rifle aimed at his ass, especially after you beat the shit out of him for kicks with the butt end, and have him down for the count."

From the look on Duo's face, Heero was almost certain that aimed at his ass was literal.

"Seems he wasn't really gay," Duo muttered, almost to himself. "He really hated doing me all of that time."

"Shit," Heero whispered.

"Yeah, pretty much," Duo ground out and then hid his eyes again. "So I'm the screw up, here. It's my fault that agents died and the mission was fucked. I couldn't tell that I was in bed with a terrorist mole."

"A few more psych meetings will help you lose that misconception, Maxwell," Une sighed, as if she had heard his self flagellation more than a few times. "From all reports and observations, no one managed to pierce his disguise. Everyone was duped."

"I'm supposed to be better than everyone else," Duo retorted, but then he was silent, hands locked together on the tabletop.

It was hard to go on after that revelation. Heero felt anger,sadness, and an overwhelming need to reach out and comfort Duo. His hand balled into a fist rather than reach out to close the space between them, though. Duo had made it clear, after the end of the war, how it stood between them. "It takes more than mutual sexual orientation, to make the relationship rocket launch." Duo had said flippantly, after Heero had revealed why Relena wasn't going to have a happily ever after with him. "Mine's certainly not taking off."

Those words of rejection had kept Heero distant, had allowed another man to take what he would have given anything to have had.That man had launched a relationship rocket with Duo and then had betrayed him in the worst way. As Une outlined their next mission, Heero could only think of finding the man and taking a terrible retribution on Duo's behalf.

"Your thoughts?" Une prompted.

"I need to go over the info," Heero replied, without admitting that he hadn't heard the last five minutes of her briefing. He wasn't worried about that. The briefing was just an over view. He would get a much more thorough information dump when they entered into strategy meetings.

"Sleep off your jet lag, and put your flip flops away, Yuy," Une said irritably. "I expect you to be sharp and on task tomorrow."

"Will do," Heero replied.

She looked from Heero to Duo and then pursed her lips as she stood up and gathered together her briefs."Chang, with me."

"Yes, commander," Wu Fei responded and stood as well. "9:00 AM, agents, in the war room."

"Oh, I'll be there," Duo replied as if he were chewing glass.

Heero only nodded and didn't watch Une and Wu Fei leave. His eyes were on Duo.

"Go ahead," Duo told him bitterly. "Get it out of your system. We won't have time, tomorrow."

Heero searched for the right words. It was hard when he was only seeing the brim of Duo's hat. He followed the threads of the Preventer logo, there, and then said, finally, "I would give anything..." he swallowed, faltered, and then tried again. "I wish that you had... wanted me, instead of him. I wouldn't have... I wouldn't have ever betrayed your trust, Duo."

Duo looked up, then, eyes dark pools of violet, full of pain and anguish. "What?"

He had expected blame, curses, maybe even a declaration that Heero wouldn't work with him. Heero could see it in his expression. He could also see a deadness, a 'too late', a part of Duo that was gone, maybe never to return.

"A light should shine in someone's eyes, when they look at you," Relena had told him. "It tells you whether someone really loves you. I've never seen that in your eyes, Heero, unless you're looking at Duo."

Duo's light had been stamped out. The flat, distrustful regard, the disbelief that was apparent in every line of his expression, had taken it's place.

Heero took a shuddering breath as he stood and made his way to the door, almost blind with emotion. "I could kill that man," he muttered, and meant it at that moment.

Duo said something, but Heero didn't want to hear rejection, didn't want the speech that would stick the knife in his heart yet again. Their rocket was never going to launch. He needed to accept that, yet again, lock down his emotions, and get his head into the mission.


The door opened and a disheveled Trowa Barton glared out, hair looking worse than usual and eyes red rimmed with weariness. Heero was standing, with arms crossed tightly over his chest, as if holding in pain as he asked, "Tell me about Duo."

Trowa sighed and his anger deflated all at once. He made a brief motion and then trudged back inside of his small, Preventer apartment. A bed, a kitchenette, a table and chairs, and a bathroom were crammed into a twenty by twenty space, His Preventer jacket was over the chair back, and his gun and holster were on the table. Heero doubted that he kept anything in the tiny closet, or the dresser. His duffle was at the end of the bed, obviously full and filthy from travel.

It could have been a hotel room, Heero thought dismally as he sat in the chair. Nothing personal hung on walls, or cluttered any surface. It was clean of personality. Heero had the feeling that he would find the same lack of 'settling down' if he were to visit Wu Fei's Preventer apartment as well. His own had been the same: a place of transition, a step from one place to the next that never held any meaning. He had been right to stop that downward spiral, Heero thought, to leave and find roots that were more permanent and nurturing to a man who had never known such things. He had felt himself dissolving after the war, slowly being eaten up by his own lack of permanence, an unwillingness to engage in the life that he had suddenly been granted.

"Tell me about yourself, first," Trowa asked, his voice sounding on the edge of sleep as he layed down on the bed. He fluffed his pillow and then stared at the ceiling as if he he were struggling to stay awake, but unwilling to give up on the notion of going to sleep all together. "Where did you go?"

"The beach," Heero replied. "I bought a small place, out of the way, and enjoyed the quiet, the sunshine, the surf."

Trowa frowned. "One bedroom, two?"

"Three, actually," Heero replied.

"Big porch?"


"Rocking chair, sand on the floor just inside the door, windows open to the surf breezes, and seagulls drifting about?"


"I can't place you in that picture," Trowa admitted. "Not without adding trenches for defense, a high tech alarm system, and a stockpile of weapons."

Heero found a tense smile. "I removed all of that in my third week, there. I realized that sand crabs weren't that dangerous and that the old couple down the beach weren't interested in anything other than late night swims in the nude and running their dogs in the surf."

"So..." Trowa rubbed at the bridge of his nose as if a headache were starting. "You did what all day long?"

"Clipped coupons," Heero joked.

Trowa rolled eyes at him. "That sounds like the old couple. You spoke with them?"

"Made friends, actually," Heero replied.

"Sand castles, coupons, and friends," Trowa mused and Heero realized that he must have spoken with Wu Fei since his meeting with Une. "Obviously it was boring or you wouldn't be here."

"Preventers needed me," Heero replied tightly. "It's not about what I want."

Trowa nodded and draped an arm over his eyes, as if he wanted to hide his emotions. "Duty. We can't escape it. I tried to ignore it, too, tried to stay with the circus and live my own life. When they say, 'You have to help. No one else can do this.', you think about consequences and weigh your life against the lives of the people that you can save. You realize that this is for the rest of your life and you stop struggling against it."

"That's not what I intend to do," Heero replied and Trowa peeked at him from under his arm, incredulous. "I do intend to live my life, even though I have to use my skills, now and again."

"And it's just that easy?"


"I didn't think so."

"You can't go, every time they call," Heero explained. "You have to decide what's important."

"That isn't easy. What if you're wrong?"

"Then you have to live with the consequences. It's a risk."

"What's the payoff?" Trowa wondered."A beach house doesn't seem worth potentially losing lives."

"It's not about a beach house," Heero explained. "It's about not losing yourself, not giving until there is nothing left but a man who completes missions." Heero looked around the bare room. "That kind of man forgets why he's fighting, loses his heart, and then loses his life, because he stops caring about being alive."

"Like me? Like Fei?" Trowa wondered, his voice sounding depressed and on the edge of sleep.

"Like Duo?" Heero pressed.

"He tried to climb out, just like you did," Trowa told him. "He was damned happy. It was hard watching all of that get crushed like a bug under a transport wheel. Now he's worse than he was, worse than any of us."

"Suicidal?" Heero wondered in alarm.

Trowa was a long time in answering and then, "I don't know. He wants to go on this mission for payback, he says, but I wonder if he's looking for a way to go out like a hero? He's not preparing like he usually does. Wu Fei says the same. He's quiet and keeps to himself when he's usually demanding every detail and checking his gear."

"I need to talk to him," Heero said in alarm as he stood.

"Not, 'I should contact psyche?', Heero? That's new. Maybe a trip to the beach was good for something. Maybe it's given you the balls to finally face the man and say what's on your mind."

"That doesn't take balls," Heero replied as he opened the door. "It takes caring about my future... enough to want him to be a part of it."

"I don't think he'll listen," Trowa warned him.

"I need to try."

"I'm not very good at picking up after a crash and burn, Heero. I could have helped Quatre better, if I were, and Duo."

"I won't crash and burn," Heero promised. "I'll keep trying until he listens and I won't let this mission be his last."


"This way, Yuy!" Sally Po said as she passed him in the hallway and plucked at his sleeve. "You know you need the physical and I have the time."

Her hair was caught up in a braided bun at the back of her head and that had a few pencils and pens stuck into it. In her baby blue lab coat, peppered with Preventer medical badges, and with her computer pad tucked under one arm, she still looked like the no nonsense soldier from the war. Her voice, used to command, had Heero falling in beside her even as he protested.

"I was going to speak to Duo."

"He won't talk to you," Sally assured him. "He won't talk to anyone, as a matter of fact. You'll only be standing outside of his room and getting bored, if you try."

Heero didn't say anything else until they were in Preventer medical, in her private examination room, and away from anyone who could hear their conversation. Then he said simply, "Trowa believes that Duo might be looking for a hero's funeral."

"Take off your jacket and shirt," she ordered as she made notes on her medical pad. Without looking up, she replied. "We' re all aware of how fragile Duo has become. I can't discuss his case with you, but I can ask you some questions, because your answers might impact my patient's welfare."

Heero tossed his jacket and shirt over a chair. She looked over his tightly knit body, with it's peppering of scars, and nodded with a pleased smile as she made a note on her pad.

"You've been relaxing," she said. "There's some meat on your ribs for once. I was of the same mind as everyone else, that your 'Gone to the beach' story was just that, a story."

"I want to talk about Duo," Heero replied as he sat on the exam table, feet swinging shy of the floor.

She raised eyebrows at him as she strapped a sensor to his chest and wrist. "A lot of grief could have been avoided if you had bothered to talk to Duo instead of about him with someone else."

Heero frowned. "You don't know anything."

"Then enlighten me?" Sally prodded. "Duo is my dear friend, not just a medical patient. Even a few words from you would have made a difference."

"I wasn't what Duo wanted," Heero managed though the words caused him pain. "I wanted to be. I would have given anything..." he swallowed hard and looked away. "He saw it differently. I wasn't the one who didn't want to talk."

She bit her lower lip, looked confused, and then said, "My interest is in Duo's fragile psyche. He needs to heal. He needs to come to terms with what happened. If you don't handle him right, you could do severe damage. Understand? I won't give away his confidences, but I will say that you do have the power to break whatever that bastard left of him. Support him, as Agent Yuy, but don't try to open old wounds and be something more, now, when he can least deal with it."

Heero recalled that look in Duo's eyes, the one that hinted at things lost that were never, perhaps, to be recovered. "He told me how things were, between us. Whatever I feel, I respect him and his decisions. I'm here to do a mission and then I'll be out of his life again. I won't try to force him to change his mind."

"Force is a good term," Sally said brutally. "When a person is violated as completely as Duo was by that man, it can be just as traumatizing, just as life shattering as any physical attack. He was used, thoroughly. He may never recover from that."

"You shouldn't be telling me this," Heero replied as he pulled off the sensors and reached for his clothes. "That's a violation as well. If he wants me to know it, he'll tell me himself."

Sally looked bitter. "I haven't told you anything. It's the tip of the ice burg, Heero. I'm only warning you, the same way I would warn you to watch out for an injured man on your team. The only difference is, that Duo is injured in a way you can't see."

"I can see it," Heero retorted.

Sally read the readings on a machine and made notes as she said, "Disgustingly healthy, of course. You're free to join the team." She gave Heero a level look. "Don't imagine that you know anything."

"We're all ignorant," Heero growled as he headed for the door. "Keeping ourselves that way isn't going to help anything."

Heero found his room was just as he left it. depressingly free of anything personal. His bag had been delivered. When he set it at the foot of the plain bed, and taken off his gun to place on the lone table, he realized that he had made his room look just like Trowa's.

Heero remedied that by digging into his pack and pulling out several photos. They were elastiphotos. Their laser images of his beach home, his new friends, stretched between his fingers to become large as he touched them to walls. They clung there, bright sunshine and smiles, though, doing little to lift the heavy weight on his heart. A seashell went on the table next to his gun and a small stand up photo that opened up to reveal a well aged picture of Duo during the war. He was half turned towards the camera, cocky smile in place and hair messy and half unbraided as he climbed up his Gundam.

Was that look gone forever? Heero wondered as he smoothed fingers over he image. Was that man, that he had fallen in love with, now a ghost in his memory that he needed to bury and mourn? Sally and Trowa seemed to think that he was.

"Location of Agent Duo Maxwell," Heero asked his cell as he pulled it from one pocket.

"Access code?" the phone asked cheerily. Heero gave it. "Preventer Gym." was his answer.

Heero coded in the location of the surveillance, abusing his permissions ruthlessly. The color image of the gym, on his cell, was small, but he was able to pick out Duo right away. he touched the image to enlarge it.

Duo was dressed in ugly gray shorts and an overlarge white shirt. He was pushing weights up and down at a frantic pace on the machine, his breathing going in and out like a bellows. His eyes were fixed and intense, muscles corded and trembling.

The image gave Heero a small amount of comfort. A man ready to end his life didn't take time to burn off steam, or worry about his physical condition. If Duo was looking for a hero's death, it was possible that it was subconscious, still, not a full blown decision.

Heero tried to imagine how he felt. He could only put it in a context that he could understand if he imagined that it had been Duo. pretending for months to love him utterly, sharing every secret, every intimacy, and promising a life together. Then could Heero feel the pain Duo must be experiencing, the helplessness and violation of watching a promising life and love collapse and burn under the weight of the lies that it had been.

Heero had felt that sting only once, but their love had been a hope, only, not this full blown thing that Duo had experienced. Heero had gone on, not ever willing to kill the hope entirely, but ready to live without it, somehow, if Duo desired it. Wasn't that the difference between love and a lie? He cared that much for Duo, to stand aside if he wanted it, to live alone, for his entire life rather than impose himself where he wasn't wanted, for Duo's happiness.

That didn't mean that Heero couldn't feel bitterness, or even anger, sometimes, at the situation, but he wouldn't ever let it make him hate Duo.

Duo finished his set out of exhaustion, not any agreed on count. Wu Fei was suddenly there, tossing a small sweat towel at him and saying something sarcastic. Duo wiped his face and grimaced. He froze and looked at Wu Fei, and then threw the towel back at him. Wu Fei let it drop. Madness, Heero caught, from Wu Fei, and Duo's, Mind your own business, as he stood and tried to relax over worked muscles. Yuy isn't here just for the mission, from Wu Fei, and then Duo's walking away without another word. Wu Fei stared after him and then seemed to sigh.

"Mind your own business," Heero agreed and turned off the cell. He tossed it onto the table and it clattered against his gun. He didn't think that he, himself, could follow that advice.


"They're good," Duo muttered as he walked around the 3-d map. "Ice, snow, glaciers, volcanoes.. Landing there is impossible. Satellites can't get a fix on shit. Seventy percent chance of nature taking out the entire operation. Definitely men who aren't bothered by suicide missions."

"Slow process of walking in equipment," Heero agreed as he eyed the crevasse and tried to see something, any hint of an installation. "Thermal power, most likely."

Wu Fei reached into the simulation and spun the view, before tweaking it to make the crevasse look larger. "Nothing is concrete, of course, but this area of rock is two percent cooler than the surrounding area."

"Two percent?" Trowa snorted from where he lounged in one of the conference room chairs. "We're risking lives on a two percent temperature anomaly?"

"Our lives," Duo agreed. He was still out of uniform, wearing a loose black tee with a white skull in a splatter formation on the front. His jeans were black, as well, one knee a little worn. In a fight, Heero thought, it automatically marked which knee he used most when fighting, kneeling to shoot, or even climbing into a transport. It was a mark that could be used against him, and it confirmed his state of mind. He wasn't a hundred percent.

Even Heero had put on his Preventer uniform. When working in head quarters it gave him an instant recognition and level of command that casual clothing didn't. After months in flip flops and only swim trunks, it chafed and felt constrictive.

"Satellites didn't show any foot traffic?" Heero felt compelled to ask, just to be thorough. He already knew the answer and the hundreds of ways satellite recognition could be avoided.

"None," Wu Fei replied. He looked to Commander Une, who was pacing with her hands locked behind her back, waiting for them to finish with their conclusions. "Our mission will be to access the installation."

"And acquire information, weapons, and equipment," Une added."I want to know if this group has arms and where they go."

"I hate these kinds of missions," Duo grumbled as he reached out and spun the image like a top and turned away. "A good bomb tossed down their throats will make everyone's lives easier."

"That's why I make the mission plans, and you don't, Maxwell," Une retorted. "If you don't have the stomach for it, drop out."

Duo glared at her. "I'll ignore that," he said, "but I can't ignore the fact that I shouldn't be on this mission to begin with. I do have a pretty big score to settle. Aren't you afraid that I won't keep a lid on that?"

The tension was thick in the room. Une simply stared calmly at Duo until he looked away and hunched his shoulders, like a wolf showing his grudging submission. Heero wanted to reach out reassuringly. His hand ached to touch.

"We're here, because we never hesitate to sacrifice our own interests," Trowa said as he traced some imaginary design on the table top with a calloused finger.

Heero's hand went into a fist as Duo nodded grimly. Yes, Heero thought, we sacrifice until we bleed out. "I'm not going." It was a moment before Heero recognized his own voice. He analyzed the declaration for a moment and then nodded, reconfirming it. Act on your emotions, he remembered. It had been a mistake to come back, to think that he could live both the lives that he wanted at the same time. Both of them took far too much dedication of purpose.

Duo's look of astonishment was something that he had to turn from, as he removed his uniform jacket and put it gently on the table. His gun and Preventer badge followed.

"Yuy!" Wu Fei protested hotly. "If this is some sort of joke, we don't have time for it!"

"It's not a joke," Heero replied firmly as he loosened his tie. "There are many men, with Preventers, young, eager men, who are just as capable as I am of mounting this suicide mission. I've given enough. If you need verbal consultations, I will still be available, but my body is my own and I want it at peace. I resign Commander Une."

Heero walked out of the room and down the corridor, before Duo caught up to him, grabbed him hard by the arm, and spun him round. He was furious. "What the fuck,Heero? You can't just leave us like this."

"I can," Heero replied, searching Duo's eyes, sadly. "I wish that you would as well. I wish that you could feel the peace that I've found."

"Why did you come back, then?" Duo demanded. "Did you just want this dramatic bullshit when you quit?"

"No," Heero replied and put a hand over Duo's on his arm. He pressed tightly. "After all of this time, I still couldn't pass up a chance to see you. I know that you don't want to hear that, but it's true."

Duo scowled. "You act like I don't want you around and then you decide to take off before I can even talk to you. Tell me straight what's going on, because I'm not getting it."

"Duo, I want to go on this mission," Heero told him, reaching out one hand to take hold of Duo's braid and run its softness through his fingers.

Duo watched his fingers slide, confused. "Should I call Sally? I think you need your head examined."

Heero shook his head with a pained smile. "I want to go for all the wrong reasons, reasons that might get us injured."

Duo blinked and then shook his head as if to clear it. "Still not following you."

"I want to go to keep you safe, to keep you from doing something dangerous, because, I believed, that you didn't care anymore."

Duo thought that over, chewing on his bottom lip, and then he let it go and asked, "and you don't think that now?"

"Two Gundam pilots, who understand the situation, can stay unemotional and logical about making sure that you follow orders," Heero replied as he dropped the braid, wondering why Duo had allowed that intimacy.

"So, now it's, 'Duo's good, time to get out of town?'." Duo sighed and said in exasperation, "Why can't you ever have a conversation with me? Why can't you stand still long enough for me... for me..." Duo pulled away completely and briskly rubbed his own arms. "What the hell does it matter? You run away. You don't say anything. You just stare at me like I'm a sideshow. Maybe that was why it was so easy for a terrorist mole to get me to bend over for him. I just wanted someone to talk outside of , 'Which bomb should we use and what's your ETA to target?'."

"You didn't want me," Heero said in an incredulous whisper. "You told me that I wasn't right for you."

Duo stared into his eyes. "When did I say that?"

"It takes more than mutual sexual orientation, to make the relationship rocket launch," Heero recalled from memory that still hurt as badly as when it had first been said.

Do frowned. "I said that?" Heero nodded and Duo looked even more confused. "I don't remember that at all. Why would I say that? Did you ask me something?"

He didn't remember the worst moment of Heero's life? The pain in Heero's psyche grew more intense. "I told you..." Heero swallowed when his voice failed him. "I told you that I was gay."

Duo was turning white. Heero could see him shake with emotion. "When was this?"

"End of the war party," Heero replied and wasn't sure how he was finding the strength to keep standing there and having his heart broken all over again. "I wanted you to know, that I was... that I wanted... I was hoping that we..."

Duo closed his eyes tightly. He said, "I remember being drunk. Everyone was hooking up for some after the party good time. I remember... Davis calling me on my cell..." He pushed his hair back to reveal the small bud piercing one inner ear like a blue glowing jewel. "He wanted to hook up with me. I said something stupid to him, blew him off. Maybe... Maybe that's what I said to him..."

Heero remembered the moment in acute detail, but gave it its new perspective. Standing slightly behind Duo, nervous and ready to blurt his revelation and hope for the future, Duo's reply had not seemed strange at all. He had been expecting rejection, after all, he realized. He had never really believed that Duo could show an interest in him.

"It's all ruined!" Heero shouted in anguish, jerking away and back from Duo. "We can't go back! We can't change everything that happened. I'll never be able to make you believe in me, not after what that bastard did to you. All a fucking misunderstanding!" His laugh was hysterical and he bit his hand to get it stopped.

Heero couldn't stay, couldn't listen to Duo trying to say something to him. Yes, he thought, he was a runner. He was going to run again, and , this time, he wasn't going to come back. He'd caused himself and Duo far too much pain.


"Don't!" Heero growled as Duo came into his quarters.

Duo stood, hand on the knob, and then he had a sudden determined look on his face. As Heero shoved things into his duffle, Duo closed the door and leaned his body against it, as if barring Heero's way.

"You're crying," Duo whispered in disbelief.

Heero wiped harshly at his face and shook his head as he firmly turned his back on Duo. "Don't I have a reason?"

"Yes," Duo replied with a sigh.

Heero waited for an insult, a jab at his lack of manhood, but Duo didn't offer one. He said, instead, "When... well... after the mission.... after I found out about that bastard... I curled up in the closet and cried, with a bottle of whiskey for company,... I don't know how long. Hours, days... it's all a blur... I just... I know how you're feeling. Time wasted. A fool. An idiot. Used. Raped....mentally... physically... only, you though that it wasn't at the time. You thought that you knew what was going on... that you were in control... that you had it figured out... but you didn't."

Heero asked, wanting to know, "Is that bastard dead?"

"Yeah," Duo replied. "Fei shot him. I was on my front, on the ground, with his gun in my ass. I twisted and flipped my legs around to knock the gun and kick him. I managed it. The gun went off. Bullet was a quarter of an inch from hitting a nut. Fei heard the shot. He was just, there, like he fucking materialized out of space and bulkhead, and took him out. I didn't even get to do that much."

Heero wiped both hands over his face harshly, realizing just how close Duo had come to dying. "It's been hard," he admitted as he began packing again. "Wanting you and not... not saying anything. Respecting how you felt... How I thought you felt."

Duo finally moved away from the door to look at the photos on the wall. "Maybe... Maybe you wouldn't have found this, if we had been together? Maybe, together in every way, you would have just kept fighting beside me. Things might not have worked out. The odds are way fucking against missing that bullet every time. I think..." He swallowed hard and reached out to touch a beach photo, "Nothing that happened to me would compare... would be worse... than seeing you die like that. I'd much rather see you on a beach, in the sun and surf... happy."

Heero closed his eyes tightly and leaned on his duffel. "I told myself, that wanting your happiness, and respecting what you wanted, was better than... letting you see how angry I was, how disappointed, how ... terrible...I felt..."

"You always did love that self sacrificing shit," Duo retorted and his voice was very unsteady.

Heero was suddenly behind Duo, taking his shoulders and pulling the man back against him. He leaned his forehead into Duo's shoulder, breath against the man's neck, as he said, "You were supposed to be happy. I sacrificed for nothing."

Duo cleared his throat and his hands closed over Heero's. They were warm and trembling. "He fooled me, because I wanted to be fooled. I was so lonely. Empty. I wanted you, but you had pulled away, made yourself distant. Now I know why. It was so easy for him to prey on that, to say all the right things. I'm worth it. I'm great. I'm sexy. Who the hell wouldn't want me? Maybe he didn't like screwing me, but he was good at it too. All the right things. All the right words. I opened my legs like a whore getting a hundred dollars."

Heero tightened his arms. "Don't say that! Don't think it. Don't make your feelings cheap and disgusting. They weren't. You did everything right. You wanted love. You gave love. He was the bastard."

Duo tried for a chuckle, but it came out grating. "Next we'll be having tea and biscuits and reading romance novels." He bowed his head in embarrassment. "I'm supposed to be tough. A gundam pilot."

"You're human," Heero told him, turning him so that Duo had to look at him. "That's what I've learned about myself. That's why I'm not going on Une's mission, why I'm going back to the beach. I'm human, Duo, and I don't intend to live the life of a machine, waiting for the next mission, until my empty life sucks that last breath out of me. I don't want that for you either. I want, more than anything else, for you to come with me."

Heero turned away and began taking the photos off the wall.

"You won't, though," he continued as he packed them. "You can't trust me."

"Who says I can't?" Duo asked wistfully. "Who says that you haven't been the only person that I have ever trusted? You've never betrayed me. You never did less than tell me like it was. You're not a delusion Heero. You're gundanium bed rock."

Heero went still, photos curling in his hands as they shrank to manageable sizes for packing. Could he believe that? Heero couldn't see how those words could be true. He didn't want to call Duo a liar, though. He wanted too badly for those words to believe. He understood, then, with painful clarity. "You lied to yourself."

It took a long moment and then Duo took a shuddering breath and replied shakily, "Yeah. That's hard to admit. Hard to see that I was that damned desperate. I ignored every clue, every sixth sense, everyone who wondered why I was hooking up with a guy who didn't seem to match anything that I said I admired in a man. I just... wanted... needed. With you here, so close..." He took another shuddering breath. "I can see it clear as day, all the things I ignored. He wasn't really that good, Heero. I just made it easy for him."

Heero stopped himself from crushing the photos. he turned to Duo, his heart in his eyes. "Can I... I want... Let me show you what's true."

Duo looked frightened for a split second, nerves strung tight, but then he firmed and nodded. He held out a hand with calloused, blunt fingers; a hand used to weapons and a hard life full of impossible odds against continuing to breathe.

Heero tossed the photos onto his duffel, reached out his own hand, and took it. He squeezed tight and gently pulled Duo closer. "Come with me," he begged.

There was a visible struggle, the warrior reluctant to give up his post, the self sacrificing core that they all possessed wondering what madness was being contemplated. Not give up his life for others? Not be there when he as needed? Live peacefully? Duo was traveling the thorny road that Heero had already traversed. He remembered how painful it had been for himself, especially when others had thought that his running away was cowardice.

"There are others who can do the work, who can sacrifice in your place," Heero insisted. "You have given enough." When he saw the conflict in Duo deepen he had only one other weapon to throw into the fray. "If you were to die on this mission, Duo, Une would feel badly about your death, while filling out forms to replace you with another agent. Preventers would go on. There are agents just as good as we were in our prime. We are not irreplaceable."

"Maybe after this mission..." Duo replied uncertainly.

"There will always be an 'after this mission'," Heero argued. "It's an excuse."

Duo closed his eyes tightly and then nodded. "I'll come. It's... hard for me, though."

"It was hard for me, as well," Heero admitted. He finished packing and put the duffel on his shoulder, his elation hard to contain. He took Duo's hand after to reassure him. "You'll feel regret, guilt, and a powerful urge to come back here. Une will call you, begging you to take another mission."

"You came back," Duo pointed out.

"For you," Heero replied as he gently pulled Duo from the room that he hoped he would not see again. "Just for you."

Duo's anxiety cleared suddenly. "For you I could do a lot of things," he said firmly.

Heero smiled, feeling his heart open up fully for the first time since his terrible misunderstanding. "It will get easier," he promised.


On to chapter two

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