"Circle Yes or No"

Written By: SkyLark

First Place in Moments of Rapture 2003 Fall Contest - View Pic

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Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply here.

Warnings: Yaoi.

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: 1+2+1

"Circle Yes or No "

"Doctor Clarkson, please report to the emergency room."

I was only vaguely aware of the receptionist's voice overhead. Most of my surroundings were lost as I sat in the waiting room waiting for word on what was happening beyond the operating room doors. It had already been eight hours and still not so much as a whisper on whether the surgery was going well or not.

It was supposed to be an easy assignment. Hit and run. They picked the best pilot for the job of leading the attack only for him to be put under the knife. My mind ran with every possibility of what could have gone wrong, at the same time dealing with the endless outcomes that could be the result of it. It had become my mission to find out the answers to everything in regards to that mission once I returned to the Preventers headquarters.

My thoughts were interrupted when a cup of steaming coffee appeared before me. Quatre smiled sadly down on me as I accepted the offered cup from him. Before taking a small sip, I gave him a firm nod of my appreciation for something to do other than listen to the list of questions in my head. After taking a second sip, I looked to him as he took the seat beside me and asked, "What time is it?"

Sighing deeply, his smile faded as he answered, "It's almost two o'clock in the morning." Taking a deep breath, I turned my head away as that information was processed. It was going on nine hours now since Duo was rushed into the emergency room. Nine hours that felt like nine days. Gods, couldn't someone have given us any word on what was going on by now?

A hand fell on my shoulder, squeezing it in support as Quatre's quiet voice behind me offered, "He wouldn't do anything as stupid as dying on us. He knows we'd all find a way to bring him back to kill him ourselves." At that, I was able to smirk slightly with a snort.

Trowa and Wufei returned from the cafeteria with their own drinks as well. They returned to their chairs across from us and we all sat in silence again. "Still no word?" Trowa asked me and I shook my head. His frown deepened and I heard a low growl from Wufei as his eyes narrowed.

Moments like this, I still can't help but silently marvel at how close the five of us had grown since the wars. Duo, Wufei and myself easily fell into work with the Preventers once we had achieved the peace that we all had fought so hard for. While Quatre and Trowa took up other professions, they purposely resided within a ten-mile radius of the rest of us to be available at the drop of a hat if need be. I suppose it was only natural for all of us after our experience with each other to watch each other's backs. Never having to ask, we just always knew there would be four people with our backs at all times.

Guilt quickly began to sink in as I reeled at how I should have been on that mission with Duo. Lady Une normally made it that at least two, if not all three of us, were teamed together for every mission. This was one of those occasions where only one former Gundam pilot should have been more than enough. After this, I doubt that will ever be assumed again.

At least another half hour of silence passed and I felt the sudden urge to stretch my legs. Excusing myself, I stepped from the waiting room. It was still dark outside as I made my way into the alleyway beside the hospital. Leaning against the brick wall there beneath the glow of a streetlight, my head fell back as my eyes closed.

Fighting the slight chill, I wrapped my Preventers jacket around tighter. As my arms folded, that was when I felt it. The slightest rustling of paper brought my eyes to open. Reaching into the right pocket, I retrieved a crumpled piece of paper that I had apparently meant to throw away. Opening up the leaf to smooth as many of the wrinkles as possible, I used the light overhead to read the writing on it.

What I found was enough of a surprise to bring a sharp gasp from my throat as my eyes widened. Blinking in shock, I couldn't even recognize my own voice as it whispered, "Duo." I remembered the day that the note came to be in the first place. I never had any intention of keeping it since it was only meant as a joke.

It was the day before Duo left for his mission.

* * * * * * * * * *

In one of the small meeting quarters, myself, Wufei and Duo were sitting in on one of the many briefings that were scheduled that week. As the Head of Intelligence discussed the latest findings in technology used in weapons against us, I was taking careful notes. Across the room, Wufei sat with Sally as they quietly discussed the material with each other.

Knowing that Duo was most likely whispering comments about the class with some of the rookies present, I knew I would be the one that would have to fill him in on what he missed. It was the same situation every time we had a briefing. In the end, all I could do was shake my head and accept the fact that Duo was just doing his part in keeping the greener soldiers at ease when presented with the¡­ less than pleasant reality of our professions.

I was still in the middle of writing in my notebook when something hit my forehead. Looking up, my narrowed eyes darted in the direction of that familiar, quiet snickering. Sure enough, Duo was sitting by two new cadets, all three with their hands over their mouths as they tried to contain their laughter. Duo in particular was having a hard time keeping it bottled up.

Rolling my eyes, I turned back to my notebook to find the rolled up piece of paper that had hit me sitting there. Taking it, I unrolled it to find Duo's handwriting neatly in the center:

Do you like me? Circle Yes or No

The snickering returned full force as I sighed in exasperation. Crumpling up the paper again, I placed it back on my desk with every intention of throwing it out when the briefing was over.

* * * * * * * * * *

That was my intention, but I must have placed it in my jacket pocket and had forgotten about it. Folding the paper neatly, I replaced it back in my pocked, suddenly feeling a great deal colder as reality set in.

That had only been three days ago. When I glared at Duo after the class had ended, he gave that same goofy grin he always did in these cases. He slapped me on the back and told me to relax and enjoy life a little more, as opposed to taking everything 'so damn serious' as he called it¡­. I would have given anything to hear him say that again.

"Heero!" I heard Quatre call as he ran around the corner. His eyes were wide as he came to a halt before me. He took a slight gulp and panted, "Doctor Crest just came back from the operating room." Not needing to hear another word, I gave a nod before running back into the hospital with him.

When we rejoined Trowa and Wufei in the waiting room, they were talking quietly with the doctor. The tall man, in his late forties, turned towards us as we entered. Looking in my direction, he asked, "Heero Yuy?"

Nodding once, I replied with my own inquiry, "How is Duo?" The man gave a small, sympathetic smile walking towards the door and gesturing for me to follow him out of the room. Turning to the others in question, they silently urged me to go alone.

Meeting the doctor in the empty hallway, he stated, "While I wish I could tell all of you how your friend is, I am afraid that matters are complicated at this time. I am only authorized to inform one person at this time under Clause 129. Your friends all agreed that you should be the one I speak to in regards to his condition."

I only heard the first half of his speech. Clause 129: 'If a Preventer should be injured to the point of unconsciousness, the doctor in charge of the Preventer's care may only inform one other Preventer of their fallen comrade's state. This is to protect the safety of the injured Preventer from any enemies who may be searching for them. It is then the responsibility of the informed Preventer to do what they wish with the knowledge to best aid the injured Preventer.'

Every hospital on the Earth and in the Colonies had been presented with the clause, its message still embedded in my memory. 'Injured severely enough¡­ Beyond the ability to defend themselves' my mind kept repeating those phrases in my head as I fought to regain myself. It was the first time that Clause 129 ever had to be in effect for any of us. The fact that Duo was in bad enough shape that it came to this sent a chill running up my spine. Shaking my head, the voices quieted as I looked back up to the doctor. Taking a deep breath, I asked quietly, "How bad?"

His head lowered slightly as he replied, "There was a great deal of nerve and muscle damage to Duo's spine. Along with having to prevent the internal bleeding that threatened to start, we needed to perform a reconstructive surgery on his back to prevent his spinal cord from collapsing." Lifting his head while slowly taking a deep breath, the doctor stated, "While we were able to correct a great deal of the damage, I am afraid that there is a change your friend will not be able to walk again."

Suddenly finding myself leaning against the wall behind me for support, I noted the numbness in my own legs as his words sunk in. My chest tightened with ever breath I took. A voice screamed that it couldn't be true and that this whole night was nothing but a nightmare that I would wake from. But at the look of sympathy on the older man's face, that scream died down to a faint whisper, unwilling to fade completely.

"We have some of the best physical therapists in this hospital. I have complete faith in their abilities," he spoke reassuringly. "With your authorization, I will have a notice sent to them on Duo's case so they can prepare themselves for any visits he may like to schedule with them."

Again, Clause 129 was in the works. 'It is then the responsibility of the informed Preventer to do what they wish with their knowledge to the best of their fallen comrade's assistance.' I was to be the one to look after Duo's needs until he was able to care for himself. What was it that made the others believe that I was the one best able to handle this? When did they really believe that I was strong enough to be placed with such a responsibility?

Closing my eyes, I felt myself nod as I finally answered, "Yes¡­ Please contact them." At the feeling of his hand on my shoulder, I gazed back up to him.

His sad smile had returned as he commented, "I've seen that team perform miracles, Heero. If there is any chance they can help Duo walk again, they'll make it happen. While it's too soon to say if there will be anything they can do, we won't know anything until we try. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."

It had been a motto of mine for a long time. Why was I having such a hard time dealing with that in this case? All I could do was steady myself. When my legs finally became steady again, I stretched a hand out to him. "Thank you for your help, doctor." At the shakiness in my voice, I had to keep myself from wincing.

After he shook my hand firmly, he informed me, "I have given you clearance to stay here to visit your friend as long as you would like. We have him in room 217. He will need to be monitored for the next three days but then will be cleared to leave." At that, he turned and walked down the long hall.

I was only alone for a brief moment before the others stepped from the waiting room. Quatre was the first to reach my side as he asked urgently, "Heero, what's going on? How's Duo?" Trowa and Wufei waited patiently for my response, their own eyes filled with the same burning question.

My mouth opened and closed a few times as my focus went in and out. Everything was suddenly becoming a great blur as I fought to keep myself together. Finally, I found my voice and was amazed at how steady it came out as I spoke, "I need to sit down first."

* * * * * * * * * *

Being the only authorized person to stay after visiting hours, I spent the remainder of the early morning at Duo's bedside. I was already assured that he was made aware of his state before I arrived. When I entered the room, he was already sound asleep, most likely thanks to the drugs that he was put on following the operation. If anything, there was the smallest relief in knowing that I did not have to be the one to shatter Duo with the news I was still having such a hard time facing myself¡­ I would have to be the one to pick up the pieces. It was a mission that I vowed to see through.

Unable to sleep, I took his limp hand in mine and squeezed it, whispering to his peaceful face, "Looks like we have our work cut out for us this time, ne, partner?" Since joining the Preventers, I had refrained from calling Duo 'baka.' He was the first to start calling me 'partner' so it only seemed right to return the gesture when we worked together. The look on his face the first time I called him that was one I'll never forget. The genuine shock was as entertaining to me as it was unnerving. I never meant to give him any doubts that I saw him any differently. If I had to stay in that room with him for weeks on end, I wouldn't think twice about it, knowing he would do the same for me.

The sun was beginning to rise, its beams creeping under the closed shades and casting a warm glow in the room. It wasn't long after the first sighs of dawn when I felt the slightest squeeze on my hand. My eyes widened as I quickly turned to face Duo, as he moaned softly. Rising to sit on the edge of the bed, I spoke quietly, "Duo¡­ Can you hear me?"

Slowly, his violet eyes blinked open, trying to regain focus as he winced at the pain welcoming him from his sleep. When his gaze settled on me, his eyes grew as he whispered brokenly, "Heero?" I had to bite my lip as I nodded and reached up to gently brush back the bangs from his eyes. He swallowed as tears began to fill his eyes. "I was hoping you'd be the one they'd talk to first," he said in a voice so quiet I had to strain to hear it.

Leaning forward, I only did what I could imagine was needed. I wrapped my arms around him, holding him tight as I sat him up and rocked him. Even as he cried on my shoulder, I couldn't tell who needed the gesture more. Acting purely on instinct, I whispered reassurances like "It's going to be all right" and "We'll get through this." What ate at me was the fact that I wasn't sure if what I was saying was true. They were the only things that I could think to say in that moment.

After a long silence between us, I heard him whisper in my ear, "Shoot me." My blood ran cold instantly as I grasped his shoulders. Holding him that way before me, I saw the glimmer that had been in his violet eyes was no more. His eyes just seemed¡­ dead as they pierced through my own. "I can't live like this, Heero," he spoke with more determination. "This will rot me from the inside out if I have to go through life a cripple."

My hands tightened on his shoulders as I glared fiercely at him then, suddenly overtaken by rage. "You're not taking the easy way out," I growled through my clenched teeth. "You've overcome too much to let this get the best of you." He sniffled as his head fell, unable to face me any longer. In all my experiences with him, I had never seen Duo broken like this. It was heart wrenching.

The next words left me before I even thought them through. "I'm going to have your things moved to my house," my voice spoke with a renewed softness. "You can stay with me as long as you need." At that, he lifted his head, his wide, reddened eyes meeting mine again as they peered through his long bangs in disbelief.

"Y-you would do that¡­ for me?" he asked in a hushed tone. The doubt that began to creep through me to whether or not it was a good idea had instantly faded at the innocence in those dead eyes.

A small smirk tugged at my lips as I nodded, "What are partners for?" He bit his bottom lip before wrapping his arms around me tightly again. Returning the embrace, I rubbed small circles down his back. Taking a deep breath, I vowed quietly, "We'll beat this somehow." So many doubts ran through my head as to how we would beat this. But if there were any way to see that light in his eyes again, I'd do whatever it took.

* * * * * * * * * *

The first week of Duo's staying at my house was¡­ challenging. The biggest difficulty was getting into a daily routine now that he was confined to a wheelchair. Washing his hair was a challenge. After a small threat by Duo that maybe he should just cut it short, I promised to wash his hair whenever he needed it. I quietly wondered to myself why I was so quick to offer that.

He lay on the bathroom floor, the back of his head lying against the edge of the porcelain tub as I took the shampoo bottle to hand. Carefully saturating his hair as it spread over the water, I made sure not to pull on it from where I sat beside him. "I think I'm going to go back to work tomorrow," Duo said out of the blue as he stared at the ceiling.

I looked over at him with widened eyes as I asked, "You think you're up to it?" Turning back to his hair, I continued massaging the shampoo through the thick locks. I heard a small sigh escape him as my fingers combed through each strand. I smirked to myself.

There was a brief pause before he answered, "Yeah. Lady Une said that the processing staff could use my help there. At least then you'd be able to go to back, too, instead of feeling like you have to baby-sit me all the time."

Rinsing his hair under the running faucet, I frowned deeply at that. I hated being overprotective of Duo, but ever since he begged me to kill him, I was afraid to leave him in a room by himself for too long. He never promised that he wouldn't carry out the act himself. I was responsible for him and I couldn't risk him getting to the point that he couldn't handle his situation anymore. I never told him that I noticed how he would peer at the knife set in the kitchen every now and then. That longing gaze in his darkened eyes always sent a chill through me. I shuddered then as I lowered his hair back into the rising water.

Opening the conditioner, I replied reassuringly, "I think that it's a good idea. You were always good at solving riddles and puzzles. You'd be an asset to their team." As I ran the conditioner through his hair, he nodded slightly.

After finishing his hair, I wrapped it in a towel and patted it dry before braiding it as we sat in silence. This part was always done in silence. I think that it was a mutual relaxing moment that neither of us wanted to break. Duo stifled a yawn and I chuckled, "It is about that time, isn't it?" With a mumbled 'um hum,' he nodded.

Lifting him in my arms, I brought him to his bed, just across from my own. Settling him down, I pulled the sheet and blanket over him as his eyes fought to stay open. As I reached for the light on the dresser between our beds, Duo said quietly, "Heero?" Turning to face him, I waited for whatever he wanted to say. When he looked up at me, he whispered, "I haven't thanked you yet¡­ for all of this."

I rewarded him with a small smile as I answered, "No need for thanks, partner." The smallest of smiles fell on his own lips at that. Patting the top of his head, I said quietly, "Good night, Duo."

"'Night," he replied faintly as I turned the light out.

* * * * * * * * * *

Walking beside Duo as he pushed the wheels on his chair, we made our way up the ramp leading to the front door of the Preventers headquarters. I held the door open as he wheeled himself in. Sitting at her receptionist desk, Laura looked up from her computer, her green eyes widening as she quickly rose from her seat. The brunette girl smiled brightly at my partner as she exclaimed, "Duo! You're back!" She rounded her desk to stand before him. Bending at the waist, she hugged him tightly.

At the touching scene, I couldn't help but smirk the tiniest bit. It would come as no surprise to me if he received such greetings like this all day. People naturally gravitated to Duo. Even those with the toughest exterior would gladly take the shirt off their backs for him if he ever needed it.

I could see a small smile rest on his lips as he returned the hug, greeting her, "Hey, Laura." When she pulled back, he asked, "Do you think the data staff will mind that I'm coming unannounced?"

Her smile remained as she shook her head, "Not at all. I'll call them to let them know you're here. I'll have to let lady Une know, too. She asked me to let her know the moment you returned." At that, Duo nodded and with a wave, he began pushing his wheelchair for the elevators as I followed.

Laura returned to her desk, her smile fading to a saddened frown from where she watched him off. I had seen it from the corner of my eye, thankful that Duo hadn't seen it. I did not think he would be able to handle any real sympathy for his condition from anyone.

Though I was never one to be outward with my feelings, I was finding it more and more difficult to keep them in check when it came to living with Duo and helping him through this. Each day, I could feel another thin layer of my wall being shaved away. It was a constant reminder to myself that if my partner ever needed me to be strong, now was the time. Yet, in reality, even I wasn't sure how long I would be able to handle that responsibility.

When the elevator doors opened to the ninth floor, Duo looked up to me with a small grin that almost seemed nervous. "So I'll see you at lunch?" he asked in a voice that I was certain he was fighting to keep confident.

Nodding firmly, I replied, "Hai. I'll be in the cafeteria at twelve thirty, just like every other day." The tiniest hint of relief returned to him as he nodded. Without another word, he wheeled himself out into the hallway.

Who knew what was awaiting him when he reached his new branch? I promised myself I wouldn't be overly protective of Duo when he returned. Being with him every waking minute was not a possibility and I knew that it would kill him to have my constant presence there. Though he would never say it, I knew he appreciated the fact that I let him handle the things that he could on his own. But, in the end, it would leave me to wonder in silent concern for him.

When the elevator doors closed, I fell back to lean against the elevator wall. It was going to be a long day.

* * * * * * * * * *

At the end of the workday, I waited in the lobby for Duo. Since our meeting at lunch, I was able to breathe a little easier upon hearing from him that his return was running smoothly. He told me that Lady Une asked to meet with him personally. She gave him a firm hug and a warm welcome back. Duo also mentioned that for a moment, he could have sworn that there were tears in her eyes as she apologized that he had been placed in such danger. But being his usual self, he smiled and reassured her that no one enlisted for this job blind to the risks that we were taking. She then seemed a bit relived by his words, telling him that if he ever needed anything to never hesitate asking her. From there, he saw Wufei, Sally and Noin again after the meeting. They managed to spend a good hour with him, seeing that he was falling into his new role without any trouble.

Of course Duo also spoke of a few people who acted differently towards him. It wasn't necessarily a bad change. He simply referred to it as 'walking on eggshells' around him, afraid that he would shatter if they got too close. It was only expected for a few people to be uncertain how to act around him. I was just very grateful that for the most part, it seemed as though nothing had changed. And I know for a fact it meant a great deal more to Duo.

Upon the bell of the elevator, the doors opened and my partner wheeled out towards where I stood. Looking up at me, he gave a small smirk and shrugged, "That wasn't as bad as I though it would be, after all."

I chuckled and turned as he reached my side. "Then meeting with your physical therapists later this week shouldn't be any problem, either."

Duo winced slightly, halting his chair at that. His shoulders sagged as his head lowered with a deep sigh. When he looked up to me again, he frowned deeply with those still dead eyes, "Heero¡­ I'm really not trying to get my hopes up about walking again. Doctor Crest said that there is a sixty percent chance that I may be confined to this chair."

Nodding, I replied, "And there is a forty percent chance that you can walk again. You've never been one to give up so easily."

He raised an eyebrow and smirked, "And you've never been one to be such an optimist." Shaking his head, he commented, "Seems we've been rubbing off on each other since we started living together." Pushing himself towards the door, he looked over his shoulder and snickered, "We'll probably be wearing each other's clothes by the end of the month."

Slinging my Preventer jacket over my shoulder, I snorted and began to follow him. The sound of something hitting the floor made me stop to find a small folded piece of paper. It was crumpled where it was not folded and instantly, I remembered the note inside. Knowing better than to leave it for someone else to find, I quickly retrieved the paper. "You coming, Heero?" I heard Duo call from outside.

"Be right there," I answered, replacing the note in my pocket to discard later. Tugging my jacket back on, I quickly followed after my friend.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our first visit with the therapists took place only three days later. To be honest, I couldn't tell you between the two who was more anxious that day. For my own peace of mind, I kept recalling Doctor Crest's words that if there were any chance they could help Duo walk again, they'd make it happen. Only time would tell if there really was a way.

Entering the training room, we looked over the many different pieces of exercise equipment throughout the large space. Several other trainers were working with their patients at different stations. A young man and a young woman, neither could have been in more than their mid twenties, walked towards us. They were in the standard white tops and gray stretch pants that were obviously a uniform among the therapists. They both smiled in greeting as the red haired girl spoke first, "You must be Duo. My name's Rachel." Looking to the young blonde at her right, she gestured to him, "This is my partner, Kevin."

Duo nodded to the two of them with a smile as he stretched his hand to them, "Nice to meet you." Gesturing to me, he advised them, "This is my friend, Heero. He volunteered to come to these sessions in case he might be able to help."

After our introductions and exchanged handshakes, Kevin looked to Duo and began, "Doctor Crest has already given us an update on your condition." Releasing his hand, he took a deep breath before saying, "We will have to be honest in saying that we've seen few cases in worse shape then the one you're in. But then, we've also been able to help those people make some impressive recoveries, as well."

Rachel then turned to me with a renewed smile as she stated, "You being here will be a huge help, too. We can teach you some exercises that can be done outside of our sessions to help the therapy." I gave her a firm nod in acceptance of my task at hand.

Kevin's own smile returned as he turned to Duo and announced, "All right, let's get started."

* * * * * * * * * *

It had been a grueling session for it just being the first. After a half hour, Duo was already panting and sweating as if he should have been running for hours. Rachel worked on his back muscles while Kevin focused on his legs. There were several stretches that I had been taught during the training that could be worked on at home. After forty minutes, Duo's strength was wearing thin and his therapists said they should call it a day.

As Duo got cleaned up, Rachel and Kevin pulled me aside. The tall blonde's blue eyes met mine as he told me, "It's not a hopeless case. He lasted longer than either of us though he would his first day. But, his biggest challenge is going to be himself."

Rachel nodded, "Most people in Duo's situation tend to lose hope that they can walk again. I could even see times just now when he seemed to want to quit earlier than we let him." Meeting my gaze firmly, she spoke clearly, "He needs to know that no one can do this for him but himself. It's really his choice whether or not he thinks he's up for it. While hope is there, it's going to be a long, difficult road to his recovery."

Taking in everything that they were saying, I nodded before replying, "I'll do whatever I can to keep him on it." That seemed to please them as they both grinned. When Duo retuned from the shower room, we said our goodbyes until we would meet again in a couple days.

* * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, taking another spoonful of soup, I looked across the dinner table to my partner as he ate his own soup and sandwiches. I considered my words a moment before venturing, "Duo?" He looked up from his bowl with a questioning gaze for what I had to say. I almost backed out. But then, the need to finally voice the question took over as I asked quietly, "What happened that night?"

There was no need to elaborate on what night I was referring to. His dull eyes seemed to cloud over one brief moment, as if the whole scene played before him again. Turning his head away, Duo answered with his own question, "What's there to really say? Plans just went to hell and my team and I were caught in the middle."

Knowing that I was treading on thin ice that threatened to crack under him, I ventured, "But no one else on your team retuned with more than cuts and bruises. And there are no accounts by any one of the five of you as to how you ended up being shot from the sky when you've always been the expert in stealth. I read the reports that all of you submitted at the end of the mission and there are a lot of holes in the stories there."

Suddenly, Duo snapped his head at me, his violet eyes narrowed fiercely as he shouted, "Damn it, Heero, can we just not talk about this!? I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time! Just leave it at that!" Dropping his spoon, he spun his chair around and quickly made his way to the bedroom.

Lowering my head with a deep sigh, I closed my eyes and said quietly to the thin air, "I can't just let it go." Having lost my own appetite, I cleared the table and washed the dishes. It was late in the night when I finally decided to try to sleep.

Duo was sleeping in his bed when I entered the bedroom. Closing the door behind me, I walked to my own bed, slipping under the covers after removing my shirt. Staring up at the ceiling for what seemed another good hour, I finally fell asleep.

I'm not sure how much sleep I actually got before I was woken by the sound of a muffled cry. Sitting up in my bed instantly, I looked over to Duo's bed, just able to make it out in the dim light that crept from under the closed window shade beside him. His head was turning as his upper torso fought to turn to one side and then the other.

All but leaping from my mattress, I reached his side. Mindful of my own safety should I startle him too much, I took hold of his wrists, firmly pressing them to the bed as I called to him, "Duo, wake up!" When there was another slight thrash and a frightened whimper, I yelled, "Duo!"

Gasping sharply, his eyes snapped open wide, his body struggling to protect himself at first. My voice calmed as I continued to hold him to the bed, speaking gently, "It's me. You're all right. It was just a nightmare." I continued to talk quietly until recognition filled his eyes, his body relaxing.

Panting softly, he whispered, "Heero?" Nodding, I released his wrists. Bringing a hand up, I ran it gently through his sweat soaked bangs. That was when the dam began to break for the first time since he came to live with me. Duo's eyes filled with tears as a small cry left him. Carefully, I pulled him to sit up so I could hold him. His arms wrapped tightly around me as his body shook with his sobs. It took some time before his breathing calmed, though I could still feel tears running down my shoulder from where he rested his head.

"I gave a direct order," he whispered brokenly. I stiffened, realizing that he was referring to that fateful mission. I began rubbing his back soothingly, silently urging him to continue if he wished to. Finally, he did. "We were going to attack from the west side of the base. The east side had been heavily guarded and the only way to make a successful hit was to sneak up on them and take them out from within their own lines. I told them that was the order."

Duo paused again as he gave a small hiccup, sniffing as more tears came. "We had made camp not far from the base for the night, planning on hitting at first light, when we knew the guards would be switching with a new line to take watch. Carter said that he would take the first watch. The moment we were asleep, he took off in his suit."

My hands stopped where they were, the image of what happened filling my own mind. Duo continued, "Carter had voiced a disagreement with me over the order, but the others reminded him who was in charge. We all honestly thought that he accepted the decision. He actually apologized to me and said that after thinking about it, that he saw that I was right." Swallowing, he growled through his teeth, "I was such a fucking idiot for trusting him with that first watch."

Reminding myself to breathe, I squeezed him gently as a small reassurance that I was still there. His voice seemed to regain its steadiness as he went on, "The sirens from the base woke the rest of us up, along with the start of explosions. By the time we reached our Taurus suits and reached the base, Carter had the entire place in arms. We had to split up to spread the line of fire out. Jacobs, Harris and Hernandez managed to infiltrate the spot we originally planned to hit. And from within, they were able to wipe out the power sources and were quickly spanning to destroy the targets we were sent to take out."

There was a long pause then. Silently, I was seething over the fact that Greg Carter had willingly gone against a direct order that put all of them in danger. Duo at last spoke up again, his voice a shadow of what I knew. "In the heat of fire, just as the job was being sealed, I turned to see Carter not far from me, laughing like we had already won the fight and he was the one to lead us to victory¡­ He never even saw the shot that was heading straight for him from behind."

In that instant, my stomach churned enough to threaten to empty itself. Faintly, I heard my partner breathe, "I don't remember much after flying to shove him out of the way. When I did come to, my cockpit looked like the inside of a crushed soda can¡­. I couldn't move, I couldn't yell¡­ I¡­ I could hear the others shouting over the intercom but I couldn't really make out what there were saying before I blacked out again¡­ Then I woke in a hospital bed with Doctor Crest standing over me."

The silence that hung between us seemed to last for hours. I finally had a clear understanding of what had gone so wrong with the mission. I thought that I should have felt relief in having my questions answered but instead, it left me feeling sick. I felt something wet trail down my left cheek. Reaching up, I wiped away the stray tear that snuck past my defenses. I can only name two other times I had cried. Strangely enough, they also had something to do with the person that I held in my arms.

Duo's body relaxed in my embrace as exhaustion began to seep into him. Slowly, I lowered him back onto the bed, still not sure what I could possibly say to my partner. He was so vulnerable, his broken soul naked before me and I couldn't find a damn word to try and help him. Amazingly, he didn't seem angry at me for that. He just wiped the remainder of his tears and sighed deeply. His eyes were heavy as he watched me. Placing a hand over one of my wrists, he pleaded quietly, "Stay? I¡­ I just need to know I'm not alone."

Taking a deep, shuddered breath, I nodded with a whispered, "Hai." I lowered myself down beside him, covering both of us with the sheets. He stayed on his side of the bed and I on mine. Just having a presence there seemed to be all that he needed as his eyes drifted closed, his breath slowly evening.

I watched him for a while more before I gave in to the sleep that was tugging at my emotionally drained mind. As I closed my eyes, I wiped once more at my face.

Damn tears.

* * * * * * * * * *

The next day, I sat at my desk, staring at my computer monitor blankly. After waking from the previous night's events, Duo and I went through our morning routine with few words between us. I didn't know what to say to break the silence. Ever since hearing what had happened on the mission, my mind was reeling from images running through my head. Rubbing my tired eyes, I tried to focus on my assignment again. Paging through the reports that I was to research, I managed to get through a few paragraphs of the first page before slamming it to my desk with a growl.

My mind made up, I left my office, closing the door behind me. My fists tightened with every step I took towards the elevator. Reaching the lower level, I walked to the front desk, where Laura was just finishing a call. As she lowered the receiver, she smiled up at me, "Hi, Heero. How can I help you?"

Folding my arms on the raised wall around her desk, I replied, "I was wondering if you happened to see Greg Carter today. I haven't been able to reach him at his office."

Turning to her computer, her short, curly hair bounced at the movement. Touching a few keys, she looked back up and grinned, "The conference room on the twelfth floor has been booked for his team all day. He's been in a meeting there since early this morning but they should be breaking for lunch in just a few minutes. If you'd like, I could give him your message when he gets back to his office."

The corners of my mouth tugged up the smallest bit as I shook my head, "Actually, I should deliver this message in person. Thanks for your help, Laura."

"Anytime," she replied with her usual cheerfulness as I walked past her desk. As I approached the elevator, I felt the small smirk on my lips fade as my teeth clenched.

Stepping out of the elevator on the twelfth floor, I made my way towards the conference room at the other end of the hall. On the way, I passed several Preventers that I recognized belonging to Carter's team as a confirmation that they did break from their meeting. Finding the conference room door closed when I reached it, I thought that I had missed running into him.

Turning to try the cafeteria, I heard a voice from within the room speak in a hushed tone, "It's only a matter of time before they see through the bullshit story we all made up to cover your ass."

A second voice, just as quiet, came harshly, "We're not going to sit back and let you get away with this, order or no order."

The third voice was much more familiar as it retorted boldly, "You bastards better learn to leave well enough alone. I still have leverage here and I can make all your lives here a living hell." Carter. At that recognition, I turned the doorknob and walked into the room.

Brian Jacobs, Omar Harris and Juan Hernandez all turned to face me with wide eyes as they straightened upon my appearance. Before the three of them stood Greg Carter, his arrogant expression that I caught a glimpse of before stepping fully into the room quickly vanished when his eyes met mine. He cleared his throat nervously before rolling his shoulders back, quickly masking the fear that had slipped through his defenses. With a nod, the tall man greeted me with his deep voice, "Heero."

I ignored him and turned my head at look to the three men that had flown with Duo, that obeyed his orders and oversaw his rescue. Had it not been for any one of them, he wouldn't have survived the mission. Nodding firmly to them, I spoke clearly, "Gentlemen, I would like to speak with Carter alone."

Hernandez, who had not yet had a chance to speak, blinked at me in shock before looking to his comrades as they gave him affirmative nods. Turning back to me, he replied, "Sure thing, Heero." At that, the three young recruits moved from the room quickly and closed the door behind them.

Carter's confidence faltered the slightest bit again at the click of the latch sealing in place. Standing nearly a foot taller than myself, at an age late in his early forties, he was an intimating sight to most. I found myself recalling a few times during his two years with the Preventers when he proved to make his comrades nervous. His demeanor and presence demanded respect just in the way he carried himself. I had not one ounce of that respect looking upon him at that moment.

"I suppose you know," he began, never drooping his straightened shoulders and upright back. He raised an eyebrow at my lack of response and questioned, "Are you here for an explanation, then?"

"No," I answered flatly, my eyes narrowing. "I am here to give you a choice. Your first option would be to go to Lady Une to explain to her what you've done, allowing the chance to return to serve on the field after facing a few years of disciplinary leave. The second option is that I will go to her with the same report, and you won't stand the chance to step in this building again." His green eyes glared fiercely on me as he processed my words.

Without moving from my place, nor blinking an eye, I concluded, "For whatever reason, Duo chose not to be the one to report you. In respect of that, I am giving you this choice." My voice deepened into a low growl and I felt my fists tighten as I warned, "If you were wise, you would not want me to be the one that goes to Lady Une with this. I am not nearly as forgiving as my partner and it would be my pleasure to make your life a living hell."

For one fleeting instant, I watched as Carter paled before he regained his composure. After a brief moment of silence, his head fell back as he laughed loudly. At that, my own eyes widened for a moment before they narrowed again. When he regained his composure, the tall man chuckled ruefully, "You little pieces of shit really are too much. You fight two wars, get lucky, and suddenly everyone has to look up to all of you."

His laugher subsided as bitterness filled his gaze. Pointing to his chest, he shouted, "I have been a fucking soldier since before any one of you pilots were born! I am more than twice the man any one of you are and yet I have to serve under your command! The fact that Lady Une grants you children so much power is nothing more than a joke!" Carter took a deep breath as he ran a hand through his short blonde hair. All the while, I remained unmoved as I watched him coldly.

He stalked towards me, a mischievous smirk on his face. Stopping just before me, he bent at the waist until our eyes were on the same level. Controlling the volume of his voice, he spoke, "I refuse to take orders from someone I have to look down on to meet them in the eye."

My fist moved before he even sensed it coming. The loud crack that came when my knuckles connected with his face and the blood that splattered into the air proved that I had broken his nose. Carter was lying on his back, his hand covering his nose as blood continued to spill from it. As he looked up to me with wide eyes filled with rage, I glared dangerously down on him as I hissed, "Who's looking down on whom now?"

Before he could react, I bent down and grabbed his throat with a tight grip, pulling him onto his feet again to punch him in his stomach. As Carter recoiled, I landed another punch to his ribs with my other fist. Blind to everything but the rage flooding me, I continued to use him as a punching bag that I could release my anger on. I wasn't even aware of the door behind me opening until I heard Duo's voice shout, "Heero, stop!"

My right fist was inches from landing in Carter's face yet again when I came to a sudden halt. His face covered in bruises and cuts, the once conceited man struggled to stay on his feet, doubled over as he held his ribs with one arm. Leaning against the wall behind him for support, he looked up at me with terror in those green eyes as he panted for air, whimpering.

Turning my head back as I tried to calm my own breathing, I saw Duo staring at me with shock. For a brief moment, we just stared at each other, my face relaxing and frowning at the concern in my partner's expression. Finally, his violet eyes narrowed and he shook his head. I managed to hear him sigh to himself, "Jesus."

Omar Harris quickly reentered the room ahead of his teammates. He looked Carter over before giving me a look of approval. Turning back to the turncoat of their group, he stated, "Lady Une has ordered that we escort you to her office. Now."

Just behind him, Brian Jacobs tugged uncomfortably at his collar as he added, "She'd also like to meet with you later, Heero." Not expecting any less, I simply nodded reassuringly to him.

When I looked back to Carter, he sneered at me before spitting a bloody wad in my direction. Hernandez and Harris seized either of his arms as they led him from the room. Duo looked up to his crew as they held Carter and nodded to them, "Thanks, guys." Each of the three gave him a pat on the shoulder or a firm handshake as they passed him.

Once the door was closed to leave the two of us alone, he sagged in his chair and covered his face with his hands as he sighed deeply again. "And you always called me the baka," he mumbled through his hands.

"Why did you order the others to lie about what happened out there?" I asked suddenly, harshly. "Carter disobeyed a direct order from his superior on that mission and you could have been killed because of it. Why did you give Carter the chance to walk away without any punishment for his actions?"

Slowly, Duo's hands fell into his lap and he turned his head to look out the side windows. Taking a deep breath, he finally answered quietly, "I decided on that because I wanted him to be here every day. I wanted him to see me in the hallways and in meetings, knowing what he did and not being able to take any of it back. I wanted him to live in a constant Hell because of it." He then turned to look me in the eye as he said, "As a soldier, you know there is no harsher punishment than having to face such a grave mistake every day."

My eyes widened at the realization of what Duo just admitted. He wasn't letting Carter off the hook as I, and Duo's teammates in the last mission, had thought. He was guaranteeing that Carter would never forget what he did. I felt the side of my mouth lift in a smirk as I commented, "It's not as much fun as beating the shit out of him, but I guess it is more effective."

Duo's eyes widened at my sad attempt to lighten the air and he actually laughed. His head fell back as the room filled with a sound that I had not heard from him in so long. It was a genuine, heartfelt laugh that bubbled from him, loudly and filled with relief. When he managed to contain it, Duo shook his head at me, shill chuckling, "All right, Rocky. We'd better get you cleaned off before you head down to Lady Une's office. You look like shit."

Looking down at my uniform, I finally took notice of the blood on my clothes. Duo spun his chair around and led me from the room. Despite whatever punishment I received for my release of tension, it was well worth it to see that familiar smile back on my partner's face. As we went down through the hall, Duo was still chuckling from my earlier comment. Yes, it was worth everything I got at that point.

* * * * * * * * * *

With her elbows propped on her desk and her hands folded together, Lady Une looked up at me as I stood before her. Sighing softly after I gave my own account for my actions, she lowered her hands and sat back in her chair. "Heero," she began, "As the one in charge of this organization, you do know that I cannot allow my agents to handle their problems with each other in such a manner."

I nodded firmly, "I understand that, Lady Une."

She regarded me with a small smirk, "However, given the circumstances, I wish that I was there to see it for myself." I blinked in shock as she chuckled deeply.

"As for Carter, he will be transferred to our data processing staff. At least, that will happen after he recovers from his broken ribs and arm," she spoke with a small hint of humor in her tone. "He will then be assigned to work with our secretarial staff. That way, Duo's suggested punishment will be enforced by not firing Carter altogether. After working there for several years, I might consider enlisting him for the field again, but only under strong supervision."

It took a great deal to keep back the bark of laughter that almost broke from me. It was the first satisfaction I felt since Duo was released from the hospital. Carter was going to get what he deserved and then some for what he had done. That was all that I could have hoped for.

Lady Une gave me a serious glance as she spoke, "And as for you, we'll just consider this an unrecorded warning. The next time you need to take out your frustration on someone in this office, please do so a little more¡­" the corners of her mouth tugged up in a tiny grin as she concluded, "subtly."

With a slight smile of my own, I nodded, "Yes, ma'am. Thank you." She winked and kindly excused me.

At the sound of the door closing behind me, I sighed deeply and ran a hand through my hair. Tuning down the hall, I made my way towards the elevator to meet Duo in the lobby, silently thanking his God that the day was finally over. Smirking to myself, I thought of how Duo must have been doing the same.

* * * * * * * * * *

From that point on, Duo seemed to come out of his depression a little more each day. Rachel and Kevin saw a great improvement in his efforts during their therapy sessions. Instead of having to all but force him to try some exercises at home, my partner took it upon himself to make his home workouts a regular routine.

I was receiving short missions where I would be away for no more than four consecutive days and nights. Those times, Duo was able to look after himself without much aid. Quatre and Trowa would make 'surprise' visits during the week to make sure everything was all right while I wasn't there. It wasn't that I was concerned that the depression Duo had once suffered would return, it was the fact that we all knew how stubborn he would be in asking for help.

There was only one scare when I returned from one of my longer excursions. That was when I came home to an empty house. It was the first time I ever felt real panic to the point that I acted before I really thought. After calling Quatre, Trowa, Wufei, and any other possible contact that might have known of Duo's whereabouts, I resorted to heading out to search for him. That was the same moment he wheeled himself back through the front door.

His apologetic smile calmed me instantly and he held up a small bouquet of flowers in a glass vase that he had gone to pick up at the flower shop on the corner of the block. Since then, after hearing it from everyone that I had called that night, Duo remembered to leave a note for me if he would not be home when I came back from my assignments.

I also noticed that the light in his eyes was slowly returning. While it was still only a glimmer of what it had been, it was a relief to know that it had not been lost. After a slow progression, he became the Duo I had known and things were finally beginning to come together for him¡­

Then, almost seven months after his drastic change, I received the details for my next extended mission.

It was going to happen at some point, we both knew it. Still, the fact that I was going to be away without any contact for two weeks or longer was¡­ unsettling. The saddened look on Duo's face when I told him was quickly erased with a forced smile and a half-hearted joke. It was just like the Duo that I knew.

* * * * * * * * * *

"He's finally sleeping through the night, so he doesn't need any sleeping pills to help him," I told Sally as I finished zipping my suitcase closed. "We usually work on his exercises together four nights a week, so he's used to the routine."

Sally chuckled from where she watched me in the living room entrance. Shaking her head, she smiled warmly. "Heero, you're acting like a nervous parent about to leave their kid at daycare for the first time." I cleared my throat and looked away for a moment in case the slightest hint of a blush might be on my cheeks.

With another small giggle, she walked up beside me, placing a kiss on my cheek as she said reassuringly, "You don't have anything to worry about with Duo. His therapists already updated me on his condition, so I know what to expect. And I am experienced enough in medicine to handle anything unexpected." I turned my head to meet her eyes, honestly feeling a bit less apprehensive with that dose of reality. Her smile grew a bit more as she spoke softly, "You just worry about bringing yourself and my husband back safely."

Giving her a nod, I replied firmly, "I'll do that¡­ Thank you." Sally winked at me before stepping aside as Duo wheeled into the room.

Looking up at me with concerned eyes, he asked, "Did you remember your windbreaker?" At my affirmative response, he questioned, "And you went through the safety kit to make sure that everything is there?" Another affirmative answer and he further inquired, "And you do have the binoculars, right?"

Behind me, Sally laughed good-naturedly as I am certain another nervous parent scenario played in her head. Before Duo could ask anything further, I smirked. "I made sure to check everything more than twice, just like always." At that, Duo sighed quietly as he sagged in his seat with what I could only take as forced relief.

This was the first that I had seen Duo the slightest bit worried over the mission since he learned that I would be leaving. Seeing him like this, I was even more grateful that Sally had volunteered to stay at the house with him. With Wufei partaking in the mission as well, and her experience in the medical field, it only made sense to everyone that she watch after him in my place. I knew that he was in perfectly good hands with her. But for reasons that I couldn't explain, I was still apprehensive in leaving my partner behind for so long in his state.

Wufei stepped back into the house after checking his own equipment, meeting my eyes as he announced evenly, "Time to go." Taking a deep breath, I nodded to him. Sally walked towards him as they disappeared into the hallway for a moment alone before her husband had to leave.

Forcing a small grin on my face for his sake, I gazed down at Duo and shrugged, "It's only a couple of weeks. From the details that we've received so far, it's a pretty standard mission." My voice trailed off towards the end of that statement. I suddenly remembered that we all had the same thoughts about his last mission, but it didn't end that way.

Duo's head lowered with a deep sigh as his eyes closed. "Just please be careful, Heero," he whispered. At those words, I felt something inside my chest begin to hurt.

It was something that we rarely ever asked each other when one of us left on a mission. It was always just assumed that the one of us to go would come back intact. Asking someone to be careful meant that there was a chance something could happen to them. While we all knew that it was more than a possibility for something to go wrong on any of the missions we left for, voicing it just seemed to make it more of a reality.

Standing there, I could only imagine what this was doing to Duo. Knowing that he had to be the one to stay behind after what happened to him on his 'standard mission,' it must have been killing him to think that maybe Wufei or myself could end up even worse than he had. Any mission that we would go on would be met with the same concern, whether spoken or not, from that point on.

Lowering myself to my knees before my partner, I gently placed my hands on either of his shoulders. Slowly, Duo lifted his head and opened his eyes to meet mine. The fear and sadness that I saw in them made me hesitate for a moment. Finally, with another forced smile on my face, I vowed quietly, "I swear that I'll be careful."

Only some of the fear left his eyes as he bit his lip. Leaning forward suddenly, he wrapped his arms around me tightly. Taking a slow breath, he said softly, "Thank you¡­ I guess I just needed to hear that." Enfolding him in my own arms, I sighed deeply as my eyes closed.

When I looked up, I found Sally and Wufei standing in the entrance with sad frowns on their faces as they watched the scene we made. Pulling back, I gave Duo another small grin and winked at him before rising to my feet. The forced smile returned on his lips as he looked up to me. Rubbing the top of his head, I told him with a smirk, "Try not to get into too much trouble with Sally while I'm gone."

The jester returned as he chuckled, "Only as much trouble as she's willing to get in." Sally laughed and Wufei's eyes rolled with the smallest hint of a smile on his face. Duo kept a good front up as he said quietly, "Good luck."

I nodded to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it as I walked towards the door. Wufei stepped up to shake Duo's hand firmly as they exchanged their own farewells. Sally pecked my cheek and gave me a tight hug before doing the same to her husband. Finally, Wufei and I walked through the front door.

At the sound of the door closing behind me, I leaned my back against it for a moment with a deep sigh. It was going to be a long few weeks.

* * * * * * * * * *

It wasn't until I was away on that mission that I began to really notice some differences in myself since Duo came to live with me. While my mind was able to stay on the tasks that I had at hand for most of the time, I did catch my thoughts drifting on some occasions. My mind never drifted before when I was on a mission. Suddenly, I found myself wondering how Duo was doing while I was gone. Of course as his partner, I felt a sense of duty to looking out for him before he was injured so badly, but I never caught myself dwelling on that as much as I was now.

Wufei actually would show a sign of surprise when he had to catch my attention as he was talking to me while my thoughts were somewhere else. It was very disturbing to me that so many walls that I had built over the time of my training and the wars were suddenly crumbling so easily. It was not just the fact that my concentration was being effected as much as¡­ other things.

"You've changed," Wufei said out of the blue as we sat in the small living room of the apartment where we were stationed. I looked up at him from the notebook that I was jotting our progress in. On the couch, he smirked with his arms crossed as he shrugged, "Not that it's a bad thing. You're just¡­ different."

Lowering the pen in my hand onto the table, I rubbed my eyes and leaned back in my seat. The movement stirred my Preventer coat behind me and I heard a familiar crinkle of paper from the pocket. Reminding myself again that I needed to get rid of that note, I asked, "And how have I changed?"

He chuckled, "Well, for one of many things, you were never one to ask me how things were with Sally and myself. In these last seven days out here, you must have learned everything there is to know about us by now." I grunted at that, thinking back to a time when I never bothered myself with any inquiries into my friend's lives. Considering, I asked myself if I actually was being a friend by my distance. Wufei laughed suddenly, "I'll bet that you even remember the name we have planned for our first baby. Nacia if it's a girl -"

"And Michael if it's a boy, after Sally's grandfather," I finished for him.

Folding his arms behind his head, Wufei nodded, "Like I said, it's not a bad thing. You're just different." There was a long pause before he said quietly, "I have to admit I like you this way better." He rose from the couch on that note and stepped from the room, leaving me alone to process that.

I frowned and looked down to the book on the table before me. How much humanity had been lost to me from my training? If Duo hadn't come to live with me, would I have ever opened to the strange feelings swelling in me since then? I shivered at the thought that I might have been lost to the sometimes confusing, but welcomed, growth that I had been undertaking.

Rising from the chair that I had been sitting in, I walked towards the window across from me. gazing outside to the rain that fell in the night air. I wondered if it was raining on Earth as well. I thought of Duo sitting on our windowsill watching the rain, as he always would. He was the reason for the change that I once feared. Somehow, he was able to break through the defenses around me.

I looked at my reflection in the windowpane and smirked, silently marveling at how even smiling came so much easier to me. I knew that there were many more walls that I was still struggling to keep from breaking. It would take time for me to let go of them, but at least I did not feel the same dread of losing them slowly.

Feeling at peace with myself for the first time that I could ever recall, I resolved to retire for the night. Despite the welcomed epiphany, I still had another long week to get through.

* * * * * * * * * *

We landed back on the Earth nearly two weeks later. Wufei managed to get us back to the house rather quickly. It was a concern to the two of us that Duo and Sally were not at the spaceport waiting for our announced return. After pulling into the driveway that evening, we made our way to the front door when it opened before we could reach it. Sally stood on the porch, smiling warmly at us as she brought a finger to her lips alerting us to make as little noise as possible.

As he walked up the steps, Wufei smiled back at her before they embraced tightly. Quietly, Sally greeted, "Welcome home, guys." She turned to me after sharing a sweet kiss with her husband and with that smile still in place, she gestured for me to follow. Wufei and I glanced at each other in question before walking behind her.

She stopped before the entryway into the living room and folded her arms, watching my approach. Walking up beside her, I peered into the room. Duo was sleeping peacefully as he lay on our couch across the room. The deep green afghan that covered him seemed to glow under the soft light of the lamp beside the furniture. Just seeing him again, knowing that he was all right, I felt a swell of relief and sighed quietly.

"He tried so hard to stay awake to see you when you came in," Sally spoke softly beside me. As I turned to her, she explained, "His therapy session today took a lot out of him." The question must have been clear in my eyes because just as I moved to ask it, she smiled brightly, "He's improving remarkably. He's able to bend his knees again."

Even Wufei gasped and my eyes widened at that announcement. The joy that filled me, threatening to burst, was suddenly dulled a bit with a saddening reality. Lowering my head a bit, I frowned, "I wasn't here for him to see it happen for the first time."

Placing a hand on my shoulder, Sally brought my gaze back up as she reassured me in a whisper, "You were with him. You're the reason Duo's been pushing himself so hard these last few weeks." Glancing to my partner for a moment as if to be sure that he was still asleep and wouldn't hear, she said, "He told me that he wanted to make sure you had a surprise you when you got back." I had to remind myself to breathe when I heard those words.

My eyes must have widened even more at that because Sally chuckled at me and nodded, "Rachel and Kevin are beginning to train him in balancing himself on his feet again. I can fill you in on the new exercises they're having him do when we're back in the office on Monday. At the rate he's going, it won't be much longer before he'll be walking again." I could barely fathom what she was saying when Wufei placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it as he smiled at me.

Duo was going to walk again. There was no uncertainty about it any longer. And somehow, I was an inspiration to his recovery? After everything that we had been through the last several months, all of this information was almost too much to comprehend. There were too many new, strange feelings battling and flooding me.

Coming to my aid as though he knew what torrent was coursing through me, Wufei cleared his throat quietly and suggested to his wife, "We'd better start heading back. It'll be late by the time we get back to our own place if we stay too much longer."

Nodding to him with an understanding smile, Sally looked from him back to me again. Wrapping her arms around me tightly, she spoke gently, "Have a good night. Thanks for letting me stay here."

Managing to break through the swirl of thoughts in my mind, I hugged her back and replied, "Thank you for taking care of my partner." She pulled back and winked at me. Wufei and I exchanged a firm handshake before they took up Sally's bags waiting at the door.

When the door closed after them, my knees almost gave out as I had to support myself with a hand on the wall beside me. It was almost too much. After coming to grips with the emotions that I was beginning to recognize, what was coursing through me was almost overwhelming.

Duo was going to walk again. He was going to walk. That realization repeated in my head and I could barely stand on my own feet at that moment. Finally regaining control, I steadied myself and tried to filter every feeling and thought as best I could. I stepped into the entryway to the living room again and watched Duo continue to sleep peacefully.

Taking a deep breath after a long pause, I walked into the room and removed the afghan from him. Bending at the knees, I carefully slid my arms under him and slowly rose again. His eyes remained closed as he stirred with a small moan, only to fall back into his slumber again. I smirked at him before walking towards our room. Once there, I gently laid Duo on his bed and pulled the covers over him.

The light from just outside of the room followed us in as it cast a soft glow on his face. My breath was caught when I looked upon him. He looked¡­ angelic. The pride that I felt for him and his progress after everything that he went through began to take over again as I sat at the side of his bed staring at him. But there was something else, something that was always there that I could never understand enough to put my finger on. It was something that I remember feeling as far back as the wars, but was quickly disregarded and blocked by the once strong walls around me then.

Leaning forward, without really thinking my actions through, my eyes closed as I placed a soft kiss on my best friend's forehead. I held my lips there for a moment before pulling back. In his sleep, he sighed deeply as the smile on his lips grew the smallest bit. I watched him with a smile on my own face before I whispered, "Sleep well, Duo." I rose from the bed, careful not to disturb him.

Once the light was out and I had changed out of my clothes, I crawled into my own bed. Listening to the sound of Duo's even breathing, I was soon lulled into my own peaceful slumber.

* * * * * * * * * *

That same night, I had a strange dream. I had returned from work to find Duo sitting on the large windowsill in our living room, watching the rain as he always would. Like so many other times in the past, he had a cup of hot chocolate in hand and a look of thoughtfulness on his face. As I neared him, he turned to face me and his face lit up with a warm smile as he said, "I've been waiting for you."

I blinked at him in confusion as I stood just before him. "Did you need something?" I asked and he chuckled at me. The sound was as soothing as the gentle rain falling beyond the open window.

"You haven't answered my question," he grinned up at me.

That only confused me more as I replied, "What question?"

Instead of answering with words, Duo grabbed my shirt with his free hand and pulled me towards him. As I stumbled forward, he leaned up and captured my lips with his own. My eyes widened at the initial contact, but I didn't pull back. Instead, I melted into the moment, pressing my mouth fully against his as my eyes slid shut. Reaching forward, I laced a hand through his hair as he moaned against me, sending chills up my spine. His hand rubbed the back of my neck as the kiss deepened.

After a long, blissful moment, Duo pulled back, panting along with me as we stared at each other. Slowly, a wide smile spread on his lips as he said quietly, "I think I just got my answer."

I woke up right after that, my eyes snapping wide open. Just as in the dream, I was panting quietly and I felt my face burning. The darkness of the room and the soft breathing from the bed beside me quickly helped me remember where I was. It was still late in the night since light from the street lamps peeked in from the drawn window shade. Duo continued to sleep in his own bed without any notice of my stirring. I watched him for a long moment, thinking back to the dream.

Recalling one of the many conversations that Wufei and I had in regards to the growth that I was facing, I was finally able to match the feeling with what he described from his own experience. My eyes widened in recognition of what I was going through. I just watched Duo sleep with that small, sweet smile on his face as I sorted through all of the possibilities to be certain that I was right. When the conclusion was clear, I couldn't help the small laugh that quietly broke from me as I realized how blind I had been.

There were so many things running through my mind at that realization that it was quickly becoming emotionally draining. Already fatigued after the long trip home from the last mission, I laid back down and closed my eyes. Finally, sleep took me again.

¡­That was the night I realized I was in love with him.

* * * * * * * * * *

I was rewarded with a bright smile from Duo when I woke the next morning. He waited patiently in his bed as he let me sleep in. I was shocked when I felt the first signs of a blush burn my cheeks at the sight of those eyes on me when I first woke. Quickly turning my face away, I managed to hide it before he noticed.

When I helped Duo from his bed, he smiled up at me and asked me to set him on the floor in the living room. Propping the top half of his body with his arms, he looked down to his legs and began slightly grunting in effort. Slowly, his knees began to bend.

Despite the fact that I already knew he could accomplish the feat, my breath still caught as I watched with wide eyes. Bending and relaxing his knees a few times for me, Duo lowered his legs for a rest as he looked at me with a bright smile on face. Leaning towards me, he opened his arms and hugged me tightly. Resting his head on my shoulder as I returned the embrace, he whispered, "Thank you for not giving up on me."

Having to clear my throat, I swallowed hard and replied just as quietly, "Don't mention it." When he pulled back, his brilliant smile remained. I couldn't help but grin back.

After pulling himself back into his wheelchair, he regarded me with a nervous grin as he told me, "We're still not out of the woods yet. It's going to be a challenge relearning how to walk again."

I snorted at that with a smirk as I crossed my arms. "I've put up with your snoring at night. You really think that's going to scare me away?" I asked. Duo rewarded me with a sincere laugh as the slight tension that had built in him faded away. Bending at the waist, I placed my hands on the handgrips of his chair and leaned in towards him slightly. Our eyes locked, I stated firmly, "I'm not going anywhere."

A wide, warm smile grew on his lips at that. Looking up at me, he nodded, "I know. Thanks¡­ partner." I smirked at him and rubbed the top of his head, ruffling his bangs a bit.

When I straightened and started to walk away, I looked over my shoulder and suggested, "You might want to start the water in the tub so I can wash your hair." His nose scrunched up in question. "I figured we should have the others over tonight for pizza to celebrate your accomplishment."

Duo's face lit up in shock and excitement as he beamed, "I'll get right on that!" He spun his chair and quickly disappeared down the hall. Chuckling as I shook my head while watching him, I made my way to the phone to place some calls.

It was great to be home.

* * * * * * * * * *

Another month and a half later, Duo was balancing himself on his feet and slowly but surely was able to take a few steps on them with aid. Rachel and Kevin had decided that it was time for him to try it on his own. Certain that he was ready for the challenge, they wrapped up their prep workouts and were soon ready to move on to the last stage.

The one station in the training room that we had yet to visit throughout Duo's recovery was what the therapists there called 'The Stretch.' All that it entailed was two beams of metal for support, which were parallel to each other and stopped at waist-height. The reason the exercise earned its name was that there was only room in between the beams for one person at a time, and they would have to walk a stretch of twelve feet.

For someone who had not walked on their own for almost a year, twelve feet seemed like twelve miles. At the first real look down the narrow passage he would have to walk down, Duo paled slightly. Rachel walked up behind him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder as she smiled down at him, "You don't have to do anything you don't think you're ready for. If you want to try this another time -"

He shook his head, cutting her off as he said quietly, "No, I want to try this." Rachel nodded at that, her smile growing slightly as she stepped back to stand beside her partner.

Kevin gave his own look of approval as he advised him, "One of us will be stationed at the other end of the walkway to be ready to catch you when you get that far. It'll be a lot of strain on your legs since they've been out of practice for so long, so you'll be pretty drained by the time you reach that mark. The others will be at your sides in case you can't make it all the way."

Duo nodded and turned to where I stood beside him, looking up as he smiled nervously. I grinned lopsidedly and ruffled his bangs once before walking to the other end of the stretch. Rachel and Kevin placed themselves at either side behind the support rails. "Whenever you're ready," the young woman said to him gently.

There was a slight pause as Duo took a deep breath, staring ahead down the path to where I waited at the end. Holding back my own anxiety, I gave him a small, reassuring smile as I nodded at him. Exhaling slowly, he reached up to the rails at either side of him and pulled himself to his feet. While he had pulled off that task several times before, it still took effort on his part and I could see the beginnings of small sweat drops on his neck.

Gripping tightly to the railings, Duo balanced himself until he was steady enough to take the first step with his right foot. "That's it. Nice and slow," Kevin told him in a calm, reassuring tone. Balancing himself again, my partner took another step forward with the other foot. My eyes widened at the sight of yet another step as he moved closer towards me on his own.

Duo whimpered in pain the slightest bit with the next step and he had to hold himself in place to keep his balance. Now his face was shining with a thin coat of sweat from the strain of his movements and his head lowered as he panted heavily. At his right, Rachel refrained from helping him as she smiled, "You have to learn to walk before you can run. Just take it easy." He nodded and slowly brought his head back up. His eyes met mine again and I had to swallow hard, keeping my concern down with it.

With another deep breath and a small growl, Duo took another step forward. Taking his time so as not to use more strength than he had, he took another. Then, after sparing himself more time, he moved closer again with a deep grunt. The surroundings around us faded from my thoughts at that moment. All that I was aware of was the fact that Duo was walking. It was slow and with effort, but he was walking.

It was only when he was a couple steps away from me that I heard Kevin's voice shout in excitement, "You're almost there, Duo!" His eyes widened in shock as he looked down to see how much further he had to go at that announcement. Despite the pain that was on his face and his labored breathing, when he realized how close he was, his face lit up as a sharp laugh cut through him. Another step.

"Just one more," Rachel cheered. At that, I felt the sting of small tears fill my eyes, keeping them locked on him as he neared.

Reminding myself to breathe again, I opened my arms out to him. At the last step, Duo collapsed forward into me as I wrapped my arms around him. His damp arms clung to me fiercely and his head was buried in my shoulder as he sobbed quietly. Hugging him tightly, I rubbed the back of his head. Closing my own eyes, a few tears fell down my cheeks as I nuzzled my face in his hair, whispering, "You did it."

He whimpered softly and nodded into my shoulder as he tightened his arms around me. I bit my lip at that and tightened my arms around him as I rested my head on his shoulder. I looked to Rachel and Kevin where they stood with wide, proud smiles. Taking a deep breath, I mouthed the words, 'Thank you,' to them. They gave their own affirmative response before quietly walking off.

We just continued to hold each other a moment longer before Duo pulled back, keeping one hand on my arm for support as he dried his face with the other. He smiled brilliantly up at me and my breath was caught in my throat at the sight of his eyes. The light in them was as brilliant as it was before the accident. It took work on my part to keep any more tears from building as I smiled to him, "I'm so proud of you."

A small gasp left him as his eyes widened at that. That moment, I realized I had never said those words to him before. Duo's shock faded as he blushed the slightest bit and grinned, "I have you to thank for most of this." I was about to protest when he quickly covered my mouth with a hand on my lips. As he pulled his hand away, he shook his head, "No use arguing there, pal." I gave a short sigh of defeat and he laughed.

His smile faltered for a moment as he looked around the room before turning back to me. With longing in his gaze, he asked in a quiet plea, "Can we go home now?" With a nod to that, I slid one of his arms over my shoulders and helped him walk across the room to speak to Rachel and Kevin about when we would need to meet again.

On the way over, I squeezed Duo's side in a one-armed hug. He returned the gesture as he turned and smiled up at me. A large part of me wished, in that moment, that I wouldn't ever have to let go of him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Over the next few weeks, Duo went from occasionally having to use his wheelchair to working up to walking with a cane. Stairs became easier for him to overcome on his own and before the next month was out, he was moving around on his own for the first time in nearly a year. Even after seeing him walk for several weeks without any assistance, it still amazed me at how just months ago, it wasn't certain whether or not walking was even a possibility for him. Despite all the odds, he had come out on top, like so many other times. If Duo were anything, he would always be a wonder to me.

It wasn't long before he was stationed to work in the field again. Lady Une made it clear that neither myself, Duo nor Wufei were to be sent on a mission without the assistance of one or both of the other former Gundam pilots. While that did not mean that the missions we would take would be any less of a risk, somehow it seemed to put everyone at ease.

Duo and I held a Christmas party that year where he had invited all of our friends, now including Rachel and Kevin, to our house. Even Noin and Lady Une couldn't help but laugh at how shocked they were that I was the one to suggest throwing a Christmas party. Had it been the year prior, another Heero Yuy would never have considered it. I was all too aware of that.

After the guests retired for the evening, Duo was sitting on the window seat before the large window in the living room, looking out to the falling snowflakes with a cup of eggnog in his hand. I was sitting in the recliner reading the book that Quatre had given me as a gift that night, occasionally looking to my silent friend out of the corner of my eye.

He took a deep breath and sighed heavily, keeping his gaze to the drifting flakes as he said quietly, "Heero?" I lowered the book into my lap and looked up as Duo slowly turned his face towards mine. Something settled poorly in my stomach at the sadness on his face and in his eyes. He took another deep breath and began, "I was thinking¡­"

This was one of those moments Wufei described to me during one of our talks to help me understand some of my feelings. It was one of those times that there were so many things running through my mind that I didn't know how to sort them. I was never one to be particularly anxious in the past, but something about those words and that look on Duo's face almost made me jump out of my skin trying to think of what was going to come next.

"I should start looking for my own place soon," he stated. With the silence that hung in the air, even his soft words might have as well been screamed. They had the same effect either way. Duo wanted to leave. But why? Did I do something wrong? What made him come to that decision? Was there any backing out of it? None of the questions burning in my mind made it past my mouth.

Somehow, Duo must have picked up on my dilemma in finding words as he sat up and explained quickly, "I just realized that I've been intruding on you too long." He smiled nervously and shrugged, "I mean, you put yourself out to making sure that I was looked after while I couldn't fend completely on my own. But, I'm fine now."

"You're not intruding on me at all, Duo," I heard myself say quietly. I wasn't all that aware my voice could sound so desperate until then.

His frown returned as he shook his head, "But this is your house. I've never been more appreciative for anything than for what you've done for me, Heero, but it wouldn't be right for me to stay under the circumstances that brought me here. I came to live with you because you offered to take care of me until I could take care of myself again¡­ I can do that now."

How could I convince him that I wanted him to stay? What possible way was the best to admit my feelings for him? Why couldn't I just tell him that the thought of his leaving hurt me? All I could do was sit there, numb. I couldn't gather my thoughts enough to know what to say or how to react.

Duo rose from the window seat and told me softly, "I can start looking as soon as New Year's. That way, you can have your life back again." 'I don't want that life anymore,' the voice in my head shouted. I didn't want to go back to my old guarded self again.

My silence didn't help and Duo must have taken it the wrong way as his frown deepened. Lowering his head, he said in a near whisper, "Well¡­ Merry Christmas, Heero." At that, he quickly went towards the bedroom.

With the sound of the bedroom door closing, I turned to look out the window. "Merry Christmas, Duo," I spoke to the empty room.

* * * * * * * * * *

New Year's Eve was celebrated at Wufei and Sally's that year. The couple had been away on vacation the week prior, so they came home to hear that Duo was looking for an apartment and to live on his own as one of the many updates of events that happened while they were gone. When we arrived at the party, Duo quickly found Quatre and Trowa. His face lit up the same way that left me breathless and he walked towards them. Giving them each a large hug, he made way for Quatre and Trowa to greet me as well. Eventually, I excused myself, as I normally would in the past to seclude myself.

I walked out to the enclosed back porch, thankful to find it empty, and walked towards the windows to look out to the ocean. A familiar voice behind me asked, "So, what the hell happened?" Turning, I spotted Wufei standing in the entrance with his arms crossed and a confused look on his face. "I go away for a week and things start going to shit," he couldn't help but smirk as he approached me.

Sighing deeply, I ran a hand through my hair and looked away as I replied, "Duo felt it best to live on his own again."

Wufei crossed his arms as his dark eyes narrowed slightly. "Did you say anything to try to stop him?" At the shake of my head, he sighed deeply himself. "He probably took that as your agreeing with him to go."

My own eyes narrowed as I all but shouted, "What was I supposed to say? You know that I'm still trying to understand how to adjust to the changes that I've been going through. I could have said the wrong thing and made it worse."

"Sometimes not saying anything is worse than saying the wrong thing, Heero," he told me flatly as he met my eyes. I fell silent and considered that. Thinking back to that time when Duo announced his leaving, had I said something, anything, it might have made a world of difference.

Lowering his head slightly, Wufei frowned, "I know exactly what you're going through. With all the talks we had about your changes and what you're feeling, I know that you're in love with Duo."

My head snapped up with my eyes wide. He smirked at me, "It's the same way I felt when I was coming to grips with my own feelings for Sally. As your friend and as Duo's friend, I can't sit back knowing what I know. Look at how much you've changed since he came to live with you. You could be making one of the biggest mistakes of your life if you don't do something."

I swallowed hard as I processed that and questioned, "What am I supposed to tell him? I don't know the first thing of how to word what I'm going through."

Wufei sighed deeply and frowned, "I wish that I could give you an answer to that, but it's not my place. Whatever you say or do has to come from you. It can't come from anyone else."

Seeing the logic in that, I nodded to him. It was only fair to Duo that I should be honest with him in this situation, even if I wasn't sure where to begin. I had never expected love to be as complicated as it was. Then again, it was Duo who once told me that anything worth living for was never easy. My mission of taking care of Duo was successful. I now became determined to making things right between us my new assignment.

My thoughts were interrupted when Wufei gave a small smile and placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it as he said, "Come on. The others will be wondering what happened to you." At that, he led the way to the living room. As we walked towards our friends, I began silently contemplating my next move in this game of chess.

* * * * * * * * * *

Two days later, while I was typing at my computer, Duo knocked on my door and peeked inside my office. I looked up from the screen before me to meet his gaze. He smiled and waved, "Hey, Heero."

"Hello, Duo," I greeted before saving the report I was working on. Turning towards him, I gave him my full attention. He seemed to tense for a moment and I frowned. "Is everything all right?" I moved to rise from my seat but he raised his hand to stop me.

Clearing his throat, he smiled nervously. "I found an apartment. The landlord had a meeting with me a few days ago. She called today and said I can move in as soon as tomorrow." Instantly, the voice in my head screamed, 'So soon?'

With wide eyes, I repeated quietly, "Tomorrow?"

The smile on his face saddened slightly as he nodded. "I, uh, spoke to Lady Une earlier today, too. She said I could leave early to start packing my things." That sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach returned again. "I really didn't want to stay longer than I needed to. I'm sure you would like to have your place back," he told me.

I opened my mouth to say something, what I really wasn't sure. I just needed words between us to slow him down. As I began to speak, his watch started beeping loudly. Looking at it, Duo's eyes widened and he gasped, "Oops, gotta get ready for the briefing I planned to attend before I take off for the day." Looking up, he grinned apologetically, "I'll talk to you later, pal." And just like that, he was gone again.

Falling back into my seat, I rubbed my eyes with my hands. I had missed my next play on the checkerboard and 'Check' was called. The time that I had hoped I had was swiftly reduced to a few hours. At that moment, my eyes widened at the realization that Duo still had a meeting yet before he left for the day. Quickly reaching for the phone, I dialed the front desk. Laura's cheerful voice answered as she greeted, "Hello, Heero. How can I help you?"

"Hi, Laura," I replied, silently remembering that I never said hello to her in the past when I needed her assistance. It must have surprised her as well as I heard a small gasp from her end. "Can you tell me what time Duo's scheduled to leave work today?"

Quickly, her voice returned with a renewed enthusiasm as she said, "I can tell you in just a second." The clicking of keys came over the phone before her voice returned. "He's listed as leaving here at one o'clock, right after the elected briefing he'll be attending in ten minutes."

Elected briefing. Meaning as long as there were openings, anyone could attend, it they wished to. Looking to my watch, I mentally noted that it was twenty minutes after twelve. "Thanks, Laura," I said sincerely for the first time I could remember. "I just need one other favor from you, but there isn't a lot of time."

"I'll take care of whatever it is, so don't you worry about that." I could hear the bright smile in her voice. It was amazing how just as simple a thing as saying 'hello' to someone could make their day better. I couldn't help but smile to myself at how I could get used to the warm feeling that brought me.

* * * * * * * * * *

Just as she assured me, Laura was able to enter my request to take part in the briefing that Duo was going to be at before all of the openings were filled. Quickly grabbing my notepad and pen, I made my way into the small meeting room. Taking my place on one of the last open desks near the back, I eyed the room to see where Duo was sitting.

Sitting two rows to my left and a desk ahead of me, I spotted the familiar braid swinging back and forth as Duo was speaking with Harris, Jacobs and Hernandez. Seeing the reunited team, I couldn't help but smile as I recalled how the three young men requested to work with Duo in the field again as soon as he was ready. After what they had done in seeing that my partner made it back safely from their last mission together, I knew that if he couldn't be in my hands, he was safe in theirs.

The Head of Security in our branch entered the room and walked to the front. Making a very quick greeting, the young woman went on to update us on the latest accomplishments that our department had achieved. I listed half-heartedly through most of the speech, looking out of the corner of my eye to Duo on occasion. More than once, as usual, I would catch him speaking quietly to the others around him, chuckling along with them. Some things just never change, I thought to myself with a small grin. It was a wonderful thing to see the Duo that I had always known was back for good.

Before long, I noted that there were only about five minutes left for the briefing according to the meeting agenda. Taking a deep breath, I looked to the small folded paper that had been clenched in my hand during the whole meeting. Facing my partner when the instructor had her back turned, I took aim and threw the note at him. It grazed the side of his head before bouncing to the top of his desk.

I watched as Duo's hand quickly came up to where he was hit, and heard him let out a small grunt of confusion. He took a second to look around the room with narrowed, but confused, eyes. I shrunk into my chair, blocked by the other Preventers around me as he scanned the room. Finally, he looked to the paper on his desk and picked it up. The Head of Security continued to speak as he opened the crumpled note carefully.

Once the paper was unfolded completely, I heard a sharp gasp as Duo froze stiffly in his chair. Quickly, he looked back to scan my section of the room again. This time, I did not make the effort to hide and our eyes met - shocked violet with calm cobalt. I gave him the smallest smirk, which I'm sure must have looked nervous because it made him look all the more shocked. Slowly, he turned back to the paper in his now trembling hands to read it again. I took a deep breath, knowing that he would recognize his own writing in the center as it read:

Do you like me? Circle Yes or No
I had found the message earlier when I was brainstorming what to tell Duo after the end of the briefing. It had fallen from my Preventer coat pocket as I all but ran to the meeting room. When I picked it back up, I laughed at myself over the irony of how Duo had already given me the words that I had been searching for all along. All those times that I had forgotten to toss the note out on so many different occasions, it still stuck with me. Perhaps, somehow, a part of me that I was unaware of didn't want to give up those words, that message.

There were two changes that I had made to the note. The 'Yes' was circled for the first part. For the second, I had crossed out the word 'like' with a single line through it and replaced it with the word 'love' over it.

As the briefing came to a close, everyone began filing out of the room. It was a bit unnerving to see that Duo had not moved a muscle since looking back at the note. He continued to stare down at the paper in his hand and I was unable to see his face to gage what was going through his head. When we were the only two people left in the room, I rose from my seat and walked towards him.

I stood before his desk for a long moment before Duo finally lifted his head, very slowly. My eyes widened and I gasped at the sight of the tears rolling down his face. I bit my bottom lip, searching for something to say. Clearing my throat, I said very softly to him, "Sorry for the late response."

Even through his tears, he gave me the brightest, most loving smile I had ever seen as he replied in an unsteady voice, "Better late than never." At that, I actually felt small tears beginning to sting my own eyes.

Duo rose to his feet and wrapped his arms tightly around my neck as I enfolded him in my own arms, sighing deeply in contentment. With my lips beside his ear, I asked gently, "Stay?" He nodded enthusiastically as his arms tightened. My head swelled with that response, nearly bursting with this new, incredible warmth that was flooding over me with his whispered, 'I love you.'

When we pulled back at last, we smiled at each other before leaning in to capture each other's lips. In that moment, I never felt happier, nor more complete in my entire life. Every fear and doubt was forgotten and all that I could think of was how right the world seemed.

For the first time in my life, I was finally at peace.

* * * * * * * * * *

Five years later, Duo and I are still together, only now as husbands. We have a larger house, along the shoreline, still within a ten-mile radius of Trowa, Quatre and Wufei. Since the day we finally admitted our feelings to each other, there have been some close calls and near misses with the Preventers. We've only now begun discussing the possibility of retiring and actually enjoying the peace we spent so many of our years fighting for and defending.

I have to admit that I wish that it had not taken as long as it had to rebuild the humanity that had been buried in me. However, even with the difficult times in getting past my training, I would not trade the last six years for anything. I now know how it feels to fall more and more in love with the same person each day. I can laugh without reserve and I can release sadness with tears if needed without feeling as though I'm weak for doing so. It has been an amazing growth process that I am eternally grateful to have experienced.

On the mantle over the fireplace in our living room, we have many framed, cherished, pictures that we had taken over the years. From photographs of our wedding day to snapshots of us spending time with our friends, we've managed to have quite the display.

The most cherished frame sits in the middle of them all, only it does not hold a picture. Instead, it shields a small, crumbled paper that had been through almost as much as Duo and I had. Whenever anyone asks us where the message on that paper came from, we just laugh and tell them that it's a 'long story.'

That is why I decided to write that story here. There are many aids in my growth that have been therapeutic, even something as simple in writing in this diary. One of these days, I'll give this book to Duo when it's filled with many more 'long stories' that we'll share. They're stories that should always be remembered and held dear.

And at the sound of Duo calling me to bed, I believe that concludes this chapter of our tale. I am very much looking forward to the next.

Good night until then.

Heero Yuy



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