disclaimer: i own neither gundam wing nor alanis morissette's song title.

theme: times of day - evening
rating: PG-13
warnings: BL, angst, language

notes: written for the Summer '08 stagesoflove, this is the last of five stories for this theme.

Conjunctive Point
Time of Day: Night
Part 5: Head Over Feet
By Merith

There has been a few times in my life that I realized too late that I've done something I shouldn't have. Tonight was one of those times. Or, at least I thought tonight was. Like a replay of a similar night so many weeks ago, I found a table while Duo went to the bar for drinks. And like then, the music was loud, the dancers on the floor pressed front to back-to-back to front, and I was propositioned too often to join the requester in a dance, in a dark and quiet corner, in a drink.

I looked across the room toward the bar, hoping to spot Duo, hoping I had not made the mistake I was beginning to believe I had made.

Last night, Duo's invitation was less threatening. We had spent the evening watching movies like we used to, and Duo adding commentary to try to make me laugh, and me pretending to ignore him, or protest the inanity of the movie choice. After the third disc played out, Duo drove me back to Meloney's apartment, parked out front, and walked me to the door. He declined my offer to come inside, to have a coffee or tea. Instead, he leaned against the doorjamb, and slid fingers along the side of my neck to the back. Gentle pressure and Duo was kissing me with a soft brush of lips for a short minute.

"Come with me tomorrow," he asked softly, his mouth holding a small smile, and his hand still cupping my neck.

I was watching his lips, wanting another kiss, wanting more than a kiss. "Tomorrow?"

"To Bally's. I... want to dance with you." Humor twisted his lips up and made the skin around his eyes crinkle.

Visions of Duo dancing with the twink had me backing up, ready to tell him 'no'. With my back against the door, there was nowhere else for me to go. Duo's hand slid down my arm to catch at my wrist. His smile faded, and I was telling him 'yes'.

He left me standing there with another too short kiss, and a 'pick you up at eight' tossed over his shoulder.

I was still looking toward the bar when a beer slid in front of me, and Duo was there, leaning in close. "Had to go to the other bar. They had the Dunbarden." He pulled his stool next to mine, his leg pressed close from thigh to knee. "You're going to like the band tonight." He took a quick drink from his bottle, but his eyebrows wagged at me.

"Why is that?" I asked not trusting his expression, and looking toward the unlit recess.

"They play that progressive spacetrip crap you like."

Glaring at him only made him laugh harder. I'd have to have several more beers to make that music palatable, and Duo knew it. "Then I suggest you find another club-" I stopped talking abruptly when an arm came from behind me, and slid around Duo's shoulders.

"Duo," a silken voice murmured loudly. "It's been ages." A twink. One of those androgynous forms, too thin, too made-up, and usually drugged or drunk or both, was inserting itself between Duo and me, winding its body round Duo's to face him.

"Ah," Duo managed, pushing back from the table with his hands reaching for the figure's arms, trying to extricate himself. "Been busy, and I'm with someone." Duo nodded in my direction, and I tried to get rid of the stunned expression before the red lipped, glitter sprayed, and rainbow swirled eyes turned my way.

"Oh. I see." The red-pupils not found in nature swept me up and down. "Can I play, too?" The figure asked in a velvety voice, its colorful eye winking.

"No," Duo responded immediately in a firm voice, pushing the body half-draped over him into an upright position. "We were just leaving, actually."

"Leaving?" The mouth pouted, but the eyes didn't leave my face. "You're no fun any more, Duo. But this one..." A hand reached up, fingers extended, and Duo's hand gripped its wrist.


Raising my gaze from the long lacquered nails to Duo's face, I was surprised to see his jaw set in firm lines, his eyes hard and cold.

The twink pulled its wrist free with a twist and an obnoxious sigh. "I was only going to tell him how much better his eyes would stand out if he put a little kohl-"

"His eyes are perfect how they are - without artifice." Duo stood and reached for my hand. "Ready, Heero?"

With a glance at the sulking twink, I nodded and slipped off my stool. Duo pulled me from the club without a word or a look back. But I had, and spotted the twink leaning against our abandoned table, finishing off my beer, and watching us leave. I wanted to feel guilty, but I didn't. I searched for the unease the situation should have left me in, but it wasn't there. Instead, I wanted to laugh. Laugh for the slinky clown left on its own, for Duo's expression of surprise when it wrapped itself around him. But mostly, I wanted to laugh because Duo wanted to leave with me.

It wasn't until we reached the parking lot and were heading to his car that I tugged his hand for his attention.

"Who was that?"

Duo scowled at me, hearing the obvious amusement in my tone. He sighed, and threw an irritated look behind us, as though he could scour the memory clean. "Someone I used to dance with."

"Just one more question," I started, and his eyes became guarded. I gave him a smile, and squeezed his hand. "Is... it male or female?"

His laugh was worth the moment of discomfort.


The morning after my last night at Ops Command, Duo was waiting for me. He called Jana over, and invited her out to breakfast with us. I only gave him a look and shrugged at Jana's raised brow. Whatever Duo was up to, I hadn't a clue.

It should have dawned on me when Wufei caught up with us in hallway before the elevators; my excuse was the end of the shift, the end of a long week, and anticipation building going into a new position. But, it wasn't until I spotted Trowa and Quatre loitering in the front lobby, pretending interest in an abstract print hanging from the wall that I realized something was up. Stopping abruptly, I turned a look to Duo.

"What?" He managed in an 'oh-so-innocent' tone that didn't fool anyone.

Instead of responding, I shook my head and gave his shoulder a jolt with my own. By now, Quatre was watching us, smiling, and Trowa was turning away from the awful product of someone's idea of art. I accepted the handshakes and congratulations from both before Duo was pushing us toward the door, demanding sustenance before he faded away.

I was to start my new position the following Monday, and from what I'd been told, it would be days of assessments, mental and physical, followed by weeks of training (or re-training in my case). Breakfast felt more like 'Last Supper' than 'congratulations'.

It was in the middle of Duo stealing a sausage link off my plate, and Jana's innuendo-laden comment that Quatre laid his fork down and smiled at me. Not one of his congenial smiles or 'I'm-just-being-polite' type smiles, but one of his genuine 'all is right with the world' smiles. I knew what he was going to ask before he opened his mouth, and gripped my fork in preparation.

"You've moved back home, then," he said, smiling his smile at me from across the table.

"No," I informed him, shaking my head, my fork decimating what remained of my egg.

Duo's hand was on my leg under the table. "Won't let him," he announced grinning in the sudden silence. "I need another week-" his eyes flicked in my direction and back "or two of perfect solitude-"

"Perfect?" Wufei snorted, breaking any remaining discomfort. "The day Maxwell and perfect are used in the same sentence-"

"Hey!" Duo cried out. But he was grinning, and the grip I had on my fork eased. "I'll have you know I've been told I have 'perfect' ass-"

"I don't want to know!"

"-sets," Duo concluded with a laugh.

Giving Duo a short smile, I glanced at Wufei. "His ass isn't bad either." Wufei's palm met his face, and Jana's abrupt laugh had coffee spitting over the table.

"Thanks, babe," Duo leaned close to murmur.

"Anytime," I murmured back. He smiled and I felt the physical tug in my gut, the one telling me to be closer, to kiss him, to let him know without words where exactly he stood in my world. But instead of lips meeting, I dropped my hand to cover the top of his still on my thigh, and I squeezed it gently.

His hand turned, and he threaded his fingers inside mine. "Remind me to show my appreciation of your 'perfect assets' one of these days." Duo's eyes were as blue as a clear winter sky just before dusk, and he had them focused on me, shining with an emotion I had believed to have been there months before.

"Soon," I choked out, tightening my hold on his hand.

Breath released in a rush, Duo nodded, and squeezed my hand back. The moment was ours and no one else existed. I would have ran back to Meloney's, tossed my things in garbage bags, and had them back at Duo's - our - place before the others had finished breakfast if Duo gave the word. But. He was working his way through something, something he hadn't done before, and I wanted to give him the time he needed. Once I moved back, I wasn't planning to leave again.

He brushed his thumb across the back of my hand, and it felt more intimate than the wild joining we'd displayed all those weeks ago.

It was Jana's laughter and Quatre's that quickly following that pulled me back into focus on just where we were. With a quick glance, I saw that the conversation had moved from Duo (and his perfect assets) to Wufei's new job, and the improbable incidences he'd already been made privy.

Quatre's initial assessment of the situation was inaccurate, but only by scant measure. My life wasn't 'all is right in the world' quite yet, but, sharing a quick smile with Duo, I knew it was right for the moment.


After sleeping most of the day, Friday was spent with friends - The Five were together. Dinner out and after, a decent pool hall with a dozen tables and low-keyed music. The beer on tap was cold, in quantity, and went down smooth. We traded partners, and singles, swapped tables and stole cues. Stories were told - some were fabricated on the spot - and predictions on sport event outcomes were made. No one spoke of work or of relationships or of our involvement in the war. We were five male friends spending a Friday night together with a beer in one hand and a cue stick in the other.

At least we were until it came time to say goodnight and goodbye. Brief hugs were exchanged, and promises to visit made. I offered no assurance as to when, not knowing what was in store over the next few months in the new position. But, the first long weekend, I told Quatre, I would catch the next available shuttle. Duo amended my pledge to include himself on the invite.

We were the last to leave, standing side by side in the parking lot, watching the taillights of Wufei's car wink out of sight, Quatre and Trowa gone long before. It was warm outside, with enough of a breeze to keep it from being too warm, and at half past midnight, the place was nearly empty, the traffic on the street out front at a minimum.

It could have been the pseudo privacy of the moment, or the half dozen beers I'd drank, but when Duo took my hand, I let him pull me to my car; let him push me up against the driver side door; let him lean in and kiss me as though no one could see us. Whether it was the alcohol talking or Duo's influence, I was kissing him back. With his ass in my hands, I couldn't pull him close enough, and feeling that his cock was as hard as mine was, I cursed the thickness of denim.

If it hadn't been the startlingly loud roar of an engine coming to life from a truck a couple of rows over, I don't doubt that in minutes, Duo and I would have been inside on the backseat of my car, finding our way to release. As it was, we both broke apart, but still held onto one another. Duo lowered his head to my shoulder, his breath hot and heavy against my neck. My hands rose to his back and, dropping my head back to rest on the roof of the car, I stared up at the stars, wishing we hadn't been interrupted, thankful that we had been.

"Fuck," Duo mumbled. His breathing was returning to normal, and I felt his hands withdrawing from the inside of my shirt. "That could have been...awkward."

I made an agreeable noise. "Public Indecency, Indecent exposure, public lewdness," I murmured, lifting my head to smirk at him. "I can't understand how that would create awkwardness."

He laughed like I knew he would, and he took a step back, his hands still at my waist, but leaving a couple of inches between our bodies. "It would make for interesting water cooler gossip."

"Maybe we should..." I started, glancing at my car and back to Duo's face. "Would you like to..." Hell. We were already dating, in a way, and I couldn't ask him over to stay the night or invite myself into his bed.

"I would like nothing better," Duo told me, but he extracted himself from me, leaned in, and gave me a fleeting kiss. "But, I do have to go into work in the morning."

"What? On a Saturday?" I asked, reaching for his belt loops and hooking a finger through.

"Special ops planning." Duo glanced down at my hand, but smiled, and didn't pull away. "A team is being formulated to deploy in the next day or two, and I have to put together full dossiers on a couple of operatives I've worked with in the past."

Again with a non-verbal noise. This meant that he should have left at least an hour ago, if not more. "So, no on breakfast in the morning?"

He shook his head. "I'll take a rain check on one though." It was then that he looked at his watch and frowned. "I'm not sure when I'll be finished, but we can get together when I'm done?"

I nodded and let go of him. "Tomorrow if you can," I confirmed. "How about Sunday?"

"Probably will be around." He was smiling softly, and tossed his hair back from out of his eyes. "I'll give you a call when I get a chance, okay?"

Nodding again, I reached behind me and opened the car door. "I have to stop by the apartment and pick up a few uniforms, gym equipment. Do you want me to wait-"

"No," Duo interjected. "It's still your home, Heero." His hand was stroking my arm in short soothing caresses. "I have to warn you, though; I probably won't be there until late tomorrow night. Unless a breakthrough of some sort happens, it's going to be a long day."

"I know," I assured him. "I understand." He needed to head home, but I also understood why he was still standing there. For the same reason I was still standing there. I didn't want to tell him good night. "It's going to be six in the morning soon," I reminded him. "Go home. Get some sleep. We'll talk tomorrow, if only over the phone."

It was his turn to nod, but in a quick move, he dove in for a kiss and spun away. "Tomorrow, Yuy."

Still standing at the open car door, I watched Duo climb in his car, start it up, and back out of his parking slot. He paused for a wave and a brief honk of his horn as he passed. Giving his disappearing presence a wry smile, I let myself drop into the driver's seat and start my own car.

Meloney's apartment was becoming too small, too silent.


Duo managed to call late Saturday, if only to let me know the situation had gone hot. He was now part of the planning crew, and in charge of the team's immediate deployment. The urgency of the situation and the interrupted knowledge transfer made Duo the team's go-to expert. As such, he had to be on-hand to walk the OC through territory and agent histories. I hung up with another promise of a call when he got the chance.

Sometime tomorrow, he had said. We really need to talk, and soon. Before..." and I could almost hear him think about what he wanted to say. "before this continues much further."

I understood what he was and wasn't telling me, but hearing the 'let's talk' phrase kept me awake for most of the night. The situation was coming to a point where we had to talk, to put voice to what we both had been flanking. The goal was the same for him as it was for me, of that I was certain. I did not want another 'Monday Morning After' of regrets.

He managed a two-minute call mid-morning on Sunday, and that was only to let me know he'd made it home, that his participation in the mission was complete, and that he was going to bed. I spent the rest of the day readying uniforms, repairing equipment or finding suitable replacements, and watching the minute hand crawl over the clock's face.

Determining I was as prepared as I could be, I decided to go for a run, and brought my cell phone with me. Just in case. I had barely made the sidewalk when it rang, and finding it was Duo on the other end, I nearly ran back up stairs to take the call.

"Hey," he said immediately after my greeting. "I just wo-" A loud yawn interrupted him.

"Do you need more sleep?" I asked, leaning back against the outside wall of the apartment building.

"Yeah," he agreed, and I could hear the exhaustion in his voice. "I was hungry," he added, and immediately the sounds I'd been hearing in the background made sense. "Taking time out to eat, and take a piss, then I'm going back to bed." I barked out a laugh. Elegant Duo was not. "You could join me, you know." He offered softly. "I'm having peanut butter and jelly - I'll even make one with your favorite jelly."

"I've had lunch." But the longing to see him had me wanting a sandwich, even if I didn't eat it.

"You could come to bed with me," he slipped in slyly. "Though I have to warn you, I'm not up for anything but sleep."

A pleased sound made its way out of my mouth; an afternoon nap would be nice. But. "I might not be able to let you sleep," I finally said. "And you need to sleep."

Another yawn. "Yeah."

"How did it go?" I asked to change the subject, attempting to banish images of Duo in sleep.

"Good," Duo said around a mouthful of sandwich. I heard the refrigerator door, and the sound of a pop-top opening. "The team was in and out, but there was a hell of a lot of mop-up to do."

I nodded to a woman and her young daughter as they passed. I thought she lived on the fourth floor, but lacked confirmation. "Rushed operations usually do," I agreed listening to him take a long swallow of his drink. "You need to drink water; not that carbonated sugar."

He deliberately smacked his lips with a gratifyingly pleased sound. "Next time," he promised. "What are you doing, since you don't want to sleep with me?"

Shaking my head, I grinned into the phone. "I was about to go for a run."

"Mmmm," he hummed, and the skin on my arms prickled. "Have you already done your stretches?" Duo was murmuring now, and by sound alone, I knew he was back in bed.

"Yes," I told him. "Quads, gluts, hams, and calves."

"I love it when you talk dirty to me." I laughed, and would have said more but Duo yawned yet again.

"Hold that thought for later," I advised and pushed off from the wall. "For now, sleep. I'll run, and we can talk later, got that?"

"Roger." He was nearly asleep, and it would take moments only for him to cross that threshold.

"Hang up, Duo. Call me when you wake again."

"Uh hummm," he murmured, and I doubted he really heard me. But, there was a click, and the line went dead.

I pocketed my cell and ran through a quick routine of stretches to remind muscles of what we were about to do. Even as I began my run with short striding steps, a gentle calm began infusing itself into routes oxygen traveled, through neuro-pathways, and the blood stream. Patience hadn't always been virtuous for me, but exercising more than muscle had its rewards.

When next he called, it was after eight. I was beginning to think we wouldn't be meeting after all. Duo kept the call succinct - "meet me in fifteen minutes at the north parking lot at Riverwalk Park," - he'd said. I had no sooner agreed than he hung up. Pulling on a shirt and slipping into my runners without socks, I grabbed keys and wallet off the desk, and left the apartment.

Duo was obviously waiting, had been waiting for some time, by the looks of it. I parked one slot over from his car in the nearly empty lot, and watched him for a long minute before getting out. He was sitting on the hood of his car, staring at the line of trees that blocked the view of the river. At least, that's the way it would appear to a casual observer.

Stopping in front of him, I touched his leg. Duo's eyes flicked to my face and away, a bare acknowledgement I had arrived. His eyebrows drew together, and he sighed, closing his eyes for a moment.

"Guess it's time, huh?" He asked, even as he slid from the car. "Come on," he said, taking my hand and tugging on it. "Let me buy you a lemonade, then we can find someplace quiet." I nodded and let him pull me along, across the parking lot and out onto the walking path.

The park started from simple beginnings; a dirt trail winding from the east end of town to the west, with large dirt patches at intervals along its path for parking. Those who fished had long taken advantage of the site, and a couple enterprising enthusiasts built a boat dock. A year later, a snack and tackle shack was added, and a parking lot paved. A few trees removed, playgrounds made, and patches of grass planted, voilą! Instant park and all around family entertainment.

The river walk was more than the park, with its playgrounds, picnic tables, boat dock, and small amphitheater. I came here often to walk its trails, sometimes run if it wasn't crowded. Possibly, it was the one public place I was most comfortable in lowering some of my ingrained defenses.

"Here." Duo held out a plastic glass of lemonade. He turned down the path as soon as I accepted it from him, and began walking. I followed more slowly, sipping the liquid level down to keep the overflow from spilling out over the rim.

The furtive look I ignored, letting Duo take his time. Instead, I drank lemonade, walked by his side, and let the sounds of the river soothe as they always did. We hadn't gone far before Duo was shifting his drink around and moving to my left side to take my hand. I looked at our clasped hands, and gave him a short smile. He gave me a tight little smile in return. Whatever it was Duo wanted to tell me, I knew then it was worst that I'd thought.

Another five minutes walking, and he nudged me off the path to a small vista overlooking the river. It was a place I was familiar with, making a point to watch the river flow during most park visits. Duo let go of my hand, finished the last of his drink, and threw it away. I went to the rail and leaned out over it, looking at the rocks below, the river beyond.

"I used to follow you here, sometimes," Duo said quietly behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and he was smiling softly. "You used to leave the apartment and disappear for hours. When you'd come back, you'd be so relaxed." His smile quirked up wryly. "Used to think you were off getting laid in some perverted way."

I laughed and turned watch him, back to the river. "That would be you, not me."

"Yeah, well." His eyes cut away from me to look over my shoulder as though he could see the far shore. "I couldn't ask, you know. So I followed you." He flashed me a grin and shrugged. "You came here, walked the path. Did nothing."

"It's..." I shrugged, unsure of how to tell him the power the river had on me. "Meditative. I'm able to think here."

He was nodding, no longer smiling. "Yeah, I got that after the third time." He twisted about to look at a copse of trees on the other side of the trail. "I hid there that time, watched you for over an hour." Duo was looking at me again. "You just stood there, watching the water." He flashed another grin. "I stopped following you after that. Figured if you wanted me to know, you would have said something."

"Duo..." his name elongated between us.

"Don't worry about it," he waved off my half-started apology. "We all need a little private time, and this is where you choose to do yours." His smile was wide for a moment. "At least it didn't involve whips, leather, and latex."

"Is that why we're here now? So you can tell me you followed-"

"No," he cut me off sharply with a hint of a frown. "No, nothing like that. I-" He looked out over my shoulder again. "I started to come here too, after that. It's peaceful and all that crap." His eyes flicked to mine and away. "Just thought being here would help," shrug "tell the story - the whole story."

Now I was frowning slightly. The ice in my cup shifted, and I used that as an excuse to move closer to Duo, to toss my cup away. "Duo," I kept my tone low, calm. "Nothing you say to me now will change what I feel."

His hand skimmed the inside of my arm, even as he chuckled slightly. "Careful who you offer that to; it might make a liar out of you."

"But not you," I insisted.

Duo shook his head slowly. "No, probably not. You know most of it, just not the dirty details."

"Okay." I took his hand, cupped our fingers together, and gave them a squeeze. "If you're ready?"

"Yeah," he sighed, and leaned into me for an instant. Taking his hand from mine, his look apologetic, he moved to the rail and grasped it in his hands. "You know all about me and Hilde hooking up, going into business, and getting serious, right?"

He wasn't looking toward me but the river; I added a verbal 'yes' to my nod.

"I...I thought I loved her, Heero." His voice dropped to a quiet somber tone, and I stepped closer to hear. "She was so pretty, so-fun. She was smart and cute, made me laugh." His knuckles were turning white on the rail, and I touched his shoulder.

"People grow up, change. It happens," I told him softly, but he shook his head sharply.

"No, it wasn't like that. I only let you believe that's what happened with us." The grin he flashed my way this time was wavering. "I didn't lie, since we were getting older, growing apart. That was only happening because of me, and what I was doing. Had nothing to do with Hilde."

Keeping the frown from showing, I nodded, encouraging him along and trying to recall that time, nearly six years before, when Duo was still living with her. I had only visited once in the time between the rebellion and Duo's move to Earth. And in the two days I was there, I saw nothing to show the discord that broke them apart. I'd always expected the next communication from either of them would be a wedding announcement.

"We were lovers," he said softly, wistfully. "My first, and God, I thought I'd gone to heaven." I nodded, though I couldn't claim the same with my first. "I-we had such big plans. Expanding the yard, pulling in the big contracts. Getting married." Another wavering grin. "I wasn't even seventeen."

I looked out over the river, watched it flow. At the same time he was planning a future, I was still at a loss. Wandering from place to place, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. There was no question of having anyone - no matter who they were - in my life, then. A friend, I could handle, but to have someone depending emotionally on me was not to be considered.

Duo inhaled deeply and exhaled just as strongly. "I was just a kid, then, and it hit me like a sledge hammer one night." The laugh he gave was humorless. "I'd just spent nearly twenty hours hauling shit, and was coming home and thought - This was going to be my life for the rest of my life." He took another big breath, but let it out slowly, his look thoughtful. "It took another couple of months, but no matter how I looked at it, nothing changed."

It was quiet for several minutes, and after stealing a look at Duo, I touched his hand. "You got... scared? Bored?"

A flashing smile and, "No, not exactly. Maybe I was scared or scared of getting bored. But even then, I knew something was missing. It didn't feel right any more. Like there was a hole," his hand rose to touch his chest, his gut. "Nothing was filling it, making it go away. Not Hilde, not working hours on end," he snorted softly. "Not the booze or even the drugs."

"What happened?" I asked, though I was getting an idea now.

He was silent again and when he spoke, his tone was vicious and full of loathing. "I started fucking anything and everything that'd have me."

That shocked me. The brutal delivery, the rough tone, I jerked, and he registered the reaction.

"Yeah, I was a class A manwhore." He spun away from the rail and began to stalk down the path.

I swore softly and chased after him. "Duo, that isn't who you are, now. It doesn't have any bearing-"

"It has everything to do with now," he said savagely. "Don't you see Heero? I loved Hilde. Was planning to spend the rest of my life with her, and look what that got me?"

Mouth opened to throw out another protest it clicked. He was afraid - had been afraid all this time. "You love me," I whispered.

His eyes closed and his head bowed. "Yeah. Congratulations."

I was smiling. I couldn't help it. Having faith in a belief proved did that to a man. "It's not the same," I reassured him. "Different people, different times, different situations. You have far too many options than you did then, and have the wisdom to know that, now."

He was looking at me now. "I know what you're saying Heero, but what happens when-" his eyes became pinched, "when it becomes the same as then... when it's not enough any more?" His voice dropped to a whisper.

The naked anguish was vivid in both voice and expression. His first days after Hilde slammed home. He had a dancing acquaintance with alcoholism in those days, and how many times, he would lament in drunken stupor his loss, what Hilde had meant to him. What they had was dead, burnt to ash, and spread across the galaxy.

"Duo." I reached for him then, pulled him into an embrace, and held him tight. "I won't let it happen," I promised.

"She hates me. Couldn't stand to be near me." He was breathing hard, much too fast. I stroked his back, made comforting noises, and held him. "I couldn't stand it if-if I lost you."

"You're not going to lose me. I'm not going anywhere."

"I nearly did already." His words were muffled into my shoulder; his respiratory distress was easing.

"Not lost, never that," I assured. He gained enough composure to give me a look.

"Moving out? Changing jobs?" Duo's eyebrow rose with every word. "Running away is supposed to be my thing, not yours."

I shrugged. "I wasn't running away, just putting in a little temporary distance."

Duo laughed, and it was a good sound. "Yeah, whatever you did, it worked."

"I didn't do that for you-" I started to protest, pulling away.

"I know. But it made me take a look at what I was doing, and how that was heading the same direction Hilde and me went." His cocky grin was back, twisting itself into self-depreciation. "The problem with using sex for fulfillment," he was looking at me, waiting for some kind of response, and I shook my head, not knowing where he was going. "It doesn't work. It feels good for a few minutes, makes you believe that's all there is, but leaves you emptier than when you started." He drew a long stuttering breath.

"After I landed here, stopped drinking, and hitting the clubs, I-I found it. Just took me awhile to realize where it was coming from." When he smiled, I kissed him in front of God and anyone watching. A minute past before he pulled away and tilted his head in silent invitation. "It's getting late."

Nodding, I released my hold on him, but kept his hand in mine. We started walking back toward the parking lot, and the silence this time was more relaxed. There were still issues between us, but Duo laid to rest what troubled me from the start. A little time and more talking, and I knew we wouldn't have the problem he and Hilde had.

We were crossing the parking lot, nearing the cars when I offered tentatively, "Do you want to come back with me?"

"No," Duo was already shaking his head. "You have early morning call, and I think I need to be alone for awhile." He gave my hand a squeeze, and flashed a smile. "Let's see how the next couple of days go, then make plans, k?"

"All right." I couldn't help the disappointment, but I did understand. He had dredged up a lot of buried garbage tonight, and muster was at six for me. It was already pressing ten. I didn't want to wash out before I started. "You'll call me," I asked softly, "if thoughts get...rough. If you start to question-"

"I will, promise." He tugged on my hand, pulled me into a brief hug. "I love you, Heero. I just don't want to fuck this up."

"You're not," I assured again, and kissed the side of his neck. "We're in this together, right?"

"Right." And pulling away, he gave me another smile. "Get your ass home, Yuy. Call me tomorrow when you've finished your first day."

"Roger that," I intoned, giving him a smile of my own.

I don't remember the drive home, or undressing for bed, but the dreams I had left me weak-kneed and waking with wet sheets.


When I had been warned evaluation days were going to be hell, I had brushed them off. No one had gone through the type of training I had, and the modified version I still put myself through. I was wrong to dismiss it without further investigation.

The physical endurance, agility, and mobility assessments I aced without pause. The regulations, procedures and policies, and ESUN Penal Code exams given between the physical tests were passed with near perfect scores. Marksmanship, weapons care and use, munitions recognition, and HE/Demolitions tests were performed without flaws.

It had been the psyche eval the second day in, that left me drained and crawling between the sheets without dinner. I had been put through worst, though not in many years. By the end of each session, I felt the loss of my mental wards keenly, and wondered when they'd faded away.

At the end of the third day, I wanted to crawl up the last flight of stairs to Meloney's apartment. I was longing for sleep, but knew I needed to eat, needed to keep myself moving, and not fall into the trap of losing energy upon arriving at 'home'. At least I'd made it inside, had taken off my uniform shirt and managed to drape it over the back of the desk chair. I'd even kicked off my shoes before deciding a short rest was worth the risk of losing forward motion.

I hadn't been sitting five minutes before there was a knock on the door. Staring at it in silence, I debated rising to answer, or putting up with another knock or two and ignoring it. Another knock followed by an amused if slightly exasperated voice.

"Come on, Heero. Answer the door already. I know you're there - your car's in the lot."

Only for him would I haul my ass up off the couch and let him in. I stood for a moment, half-leaning against the door, drinking in the sight of him. Sunday night had only been three days before, but felt a lifetime. Between my exhaustion and his assignment in assisting with the operations mop-up, we had only been able to talk together once. And I know I was barely coherent.

"I could have been out on a run," I finally told him.

But Duo only grinned. "If you can manage to run up and down the building stairs, I'll give you whatever you want, whenever you want it." There was a defining lift of his eyebrow, and a definite challenge in his eyes.

For a half minute, I seriously thought about pushing myself to beat his challenge. But, I had the idea that anything I'd want, he'd give it to me anyway, and I'd still be in shape to enjoy it. Instead of answering, I gave a shrug and stepped back, leaving him room to pass by.

He brushed close, sliding fingertips over the cotton of my tee shirt. I shivered, and stood in the open doorway watching him cross the living room to the table. It was only then that I saw he carried a plastic take-out bag from the Chinese restaurant down the block.

"You brought me dinner?" I asked, closing the door, and setting the lock before trailing behind him.

"Yeah," Duo said, pulling white cartons from the bag. "Thought you might want to eat, even if you feel like shit." He glanced up with a swift smile. "Even if you look like shit."

"Thanks," I muttered mildly, feeling suddenly ravenous. I was more interested in what he'd brought than what he was saying. But, he leaned over, kissed my neck, and backed up.

"Smell like shit, too."

Pelting him with a fortune cookie was about all I could muster. "Let's see how fresh-as-a-daisy you are after being put through what I went through today."

He murmured something faintly agreeable, but tugged my hand away from opening a fragrant carton. "How 'bout you take a quick shower, get out of this uniform, and I make up a plate of you?"

I stared at him for a moment, and nodded. "Acceptable." But, I used his own hold on me against him, to pull him close and kiss his mouth, not letting go until I felt the need to breathe overriding the need to touch.

"Hmmm," Duo was murmuring again. "Maybe I should join you in the shower." He was smiling softly, his hands somewhere down around my waist. "Wouldn't want you to fall asleep and drown, would we?"

It was a tempting offer. Very tempting. But, I pulled away, shaking my head. "As much as I want you there washing my back, I better go solo this round." I gave him a quick kiss, and turned toward the bathroom. "Five minutes, Maxwell."

Not one of the quickest showers I'd ever taken, but it was fast. Enough to clean, if not soothe abused muscles and aching head. Dressed in a pair of shorts, I pulled on a tank top after a minute's hesitation; I knew Duo enjoyed my shirtless state, but, he was there to feed me.

Besides, it took seconds to remove a shirt.

True to his word, Duo had plates ready, glasses poured, and ...music? I turned to the source of the sound, and spotted a personal player, set up on the end table by the lamp. Giving Duo a look, he lifted a shoulder and offered a plate.

"A little background music helps dinner digest better," he said, leading the way to the couch and taking a seat.

Snorting quietly, I followed his example, sitting at his side with my plate on my lap, and water glass on the coffee table in front of me. Pepper beef over steamed rice and low-mien chicken, two menu items I ordered most often with take-out Chinese. Wufei would turn away in disgust.

As we ate, I let Duo dominate the conversation, guide its direction and tone. He began by telling me about the operation he'd been working clean up on. How he'd had lunch with Wufei the day before. Told me about Wufei's fancy new office in built-to-order satellite Preventers' building - the new multi-million credit structure close to the senate building, the ESUN government building, and the new UN consulate.

"I watched you today," he slipped in before forking a mouthful of rice into his mouth.

"What?" I sat blinking at him, not completely certain what I heard was what he said.

"Watched you," Duo confirmed, and took a long drink from his glass. "You were out on course nine." He set his plate on the table, and sat back with a satisfied sigh. "Best fucking run of the course I've ever seen."

Feeling warm, I gave him a small smile and pushed leftover rice around on my plate. I knew there were observers in the command tower, but I hadn't known I had an audience. "It was a challenging course," I stated, recalling the runs, the crawling, the climbs, the jumps, the hauling of training manikins, the swim.

"You were amazing," Duo murmured, suddenly close. His hand slipped up along my shoulder, and his fingers rubbed at the back of my neck. "I'm surprised you can move after that display."

I closed my eyes, and tilted my head. "You have the rest of your life to stop that," I told him, feeling the aches now.

"Here," he said softly, and the plate was pulled from my fingers. I watched him put it on the table, and then both of his hands were on my shoulders, his fingers digging deep.

A moan made its way up and out, and Duo's hand was pushing on me, guiding my body into turning, giving him better access. A minute passed, and he was tugging on the hem of my shirt, pulling it off over my head and tossing it somewhere. I didn't care; I wanted his hands back where they were and doing what they were doing.

Thumbs drew away lines of tension, knuckles kneaded tight muscles, and palms soothed oxygen soaked skin. The ceiling could have collapsed, and I wouldn't have cared. My world narrowed to Duo's hands on my back, his body behind me, his leg pressed along side mine, and somewhere in the background, music - something light without being saccharine.

Somewhere along the line, his hands gentled to caresses, and I felt his lips ghosting kisses in a random pattern. Shoulder and spine, neck and elbow. He was shifting me around again, and sliding his body onto my lap, his legs straddling mine.

Eyes hooded and hands lifting immediately to his hips, I managed a smile. Duo's hands hadn't stopped; his fingertips skimmed the surface of skin over my chest, up to my shoulders and down my arms to the wrist, only to reverse their route. His lips were parted slightly, his eyes watching mine, his look open, unguarded, and tender.

I lost my smile in the wave of emotion, and my arms rose up his back, pulling him close. "I love you," I whispered, kissing him.

"Love you," he returned between planting kisses on my jaw and neck.

The raw wanting of him, the need for him, the hunger to feel him, feel all of him, had me jerking on his shirt, popping buttons and ripping seams. I left bruises, and picked up a couple of my own. But his shirt was off, and his undershirt followed. I fumbled with his belt buckle, trying to keep my tongue in his mouth, and failed. Duo slapped my hands away, stood up long enough to shed his fatigue pants and boxers, and he was back. Naked skin to naked skin, I couldn't seem to touch him enough, couldn't taste him enough.

"Holy God damn!" Duo swore softly, panting into my neck. "I... shit, Heero." He twisted suddenly, bending at the waist, and snagged his pants.

"Duo," I groaned out, feeling the press of his erection grinding into my own. Orgasm was imminent.

"Here." He was back, touching me, kissing me, pressing something cool and vaguely tube shaped into my hand. "Use it on me, now!"

A long deep kiss, and I managed to break away long enough to see what he'd given me. Lubricant. I uncapped it behind his back, lost the lid somewhere on the floor when he rocked his hips, and nearly lost control over ejaculation.

"Fuck!" I growled, and blindly covered fingers with the stuff.

"That's what I want," Duo murmured against my lips, took the lower one between his teeth, and drew back, taking it with him.

With barely a nudge of warning, I plunged two fingers inside, and surged forward to swallow the gasp he made with my mouth covering his. Seconds passed, and the tension eased in his grip. Fingers imitated the act of fucking. He broke the kiss with a low throaty groan, and his body bowed, his forehead came to rest on my shoulder.

"Oh fuck, Heero...," he gasped. And I prodded that spot again. A tremor shook his body, and I moaned.

This was taking too long; this wasn't lasting long enough.

I wasn't going to last through a thorough prep, and by the way he was leaking precum, I didn't think Duo would either. Dropping the tube by my leg, I reached for his jaw, lifted his head, and held him, giving him kisses tender, and gentle.

"My shorts," I murmured against his cheek. I was rewarded with his hands moving between our bodies, forcing the waistband down and exposing my cock. His touch was fire, and it was my turn to gasp as his hand circled my erection.

He pushed himself back on my suddenly lax fingers, and I started to match the pace he set. "Lube," he demanded, voice rough and breathing ragged.

My hand dropped to grope about for the tube, and closed over it, squirting a small geyser out when Duo brought our erections together, rubbing both between his hands. He chuckled weakly, and slipped a hand away to take the lube from me. He was quick in application, and I lost where he tossed the tube when he was done.

"Now would be good," he said, lifting a hand to grip my shoulders. "I'm not going to last long as it is."

I nodded in agreement, being in the same shape. My hands went to his hips, helping to guide his body as he rose up on his knees. One of his hands held my cock as he lowered himself; gray edged my vision, and fingers tightened their grip in bruising strength.

Hearing Duo moan, I forced my eyes to focus. His head was arched back, his eyes closed, and his mouth open. He was panting in short harsh breaths. I wanted to come watching him.

When he was seated, he settled into me, both hands on my shoulders. He rubbed his cheek against mine, whispering faint words I couldn't make out. His back was slick with sweat, and my hands glided over his skin, caressing and touching.

"Okay." The word was a bare whisper, but I heard and dared to move, to support him as he moved.

A steady rhythm of shallow thrusts, in a gentle rocking motion. I levered up using thigh muscles, up on the balls of my feet, and my back pressed hard against the back of the couch. Deeper, longer thrusts and he arched into me, a short cry on his lips. I was chanting his name under my breath, wanting, needing, reaching for more.

His lips were there, kissing mine, open and moaning, calling for God and more and deeper, harder. His mouth was hot to my tongue; his body surrounded me in burning heat. And he was vibrating, quivering. Coming.

Cradling him as he rode the wave out, I was rocking up into him, keeping to the unhurried pace we started. He roused, eyes opening to gaze at me with a sated smile. 'Love you,' he mouthed, and he rode me, pushing me past the edge I was skirting.

Head back, body arching off the cushion, legs taut, and feet pressing holes in the floor. I lost minutes of consciousness. Reason faded in, leaving me slumped back on the couch, Duo holding me, watching me with a moderated version of that tender look.

"Stay with me?" I asked, knowing sleep was inching its way in.

"Always." Was his answer.


Thursday morning arrived far too early, but I had another day of tests and skills assessment, and Duo had a court appearance. He shuffled out with a piece of toast in his mouth, a travel mug of coffee clutched in his hand, and a borrowed shirt. I promised to call him later, when I had a break, and he accepted the invitation to stay the night.

Somehow, being faced with another grueling day didn't seem so bad after all.

It was late afternoon when I made it back to the apartment. The day's tests weren't as draining, or I was getting used to them. I wasn't expecting Duo for a couple of hours. His court appearance ran late, and he had 'things to do', as he put it. I had time to take a long shower, and to make a quick meal.

A stop at the grocers on the way home, I sorted through the bag, leaving items I was about to use on the counter, and putting the rest away. My phone rang while I was popping open a beer. It was Meloney.

"Guess what?" she demanded, interrupting my greeting.

I held the phone away to glare at her by proxy. Shaking my head, I said, "You're pregnant."

"Ha! As if," she choked out. "They know how to prevent those kinds of things these days, you know."

"So I hear," I murmured, and took a draw from my bottle. Back in the living room, I managed to untie and toe off my shoes without losing the phone or the beer.

"Dufus," she called me, and I glared at the phone again. "-getting married!"

"You're getting married?" I asked to confirm, and settled a shoulder against the window frame.

"Yes!" Meloney was close to shouting. "We're planning for June, after we graduate."

The image of a pressure keg exploding made me want to caution her against combining too many events into a short time. But, she sounded too happy, too giddy with the emotional high. Maybe later when her life evened out again.

"That's great news, Mel," I told her instead. "Congratulations."

"It is great, isn't it?"

I had to smile. "It is." Letting only a moment pass, I asked, "When do I get to meet Mister Right?"

Meloney laughed lightly. "Maybe this weekend? I was calling to tell you I'll be coming home Sunday. Is that okay?"

Thinking on words and promises exchanged the night before, I was nodding into the phone. "I will be out before you arrive."

"Oh?" A curious note entered her voice. "And how are things going for you?"

Again, I smiled. "Confident enough to say I'll never have to borrow your apartment again."

"Oh Heero," she said softly. "That's so good to hear."

I cradled the phone to my ear, and watched the sun sink farther down in the skyline. "Yes, it is, isn't it."


Duo ended up not staying the night, but he promised to meet me for breakfast in the morning. My first day of normal hours, with a somewhat normal schedule. My orientation period was over. Thursday, I had been assigned an office, and even managed to meet staff support members, and had been briefed on applicants to staff my team.

I wanted to be at work early. I wanted to get a jump-start on finding out those I had to choose from, and begin taking notes on each candidate's strengths and weaknesses. At least, that was the plan.

Finding Duo sitting at the round conference table, two tall heat cups filled with steaming liquid (coffee and tea, my nose informed me), and a bag from the bakery down the street from the apartment sitting on its surface, I tossed the plan out the window.

I exchanged a brief kiss with him, and pulled out the chair next to him. "Black Iris?" I questioned, smelling the steam rising from the cup in front of me.

Duo nodded, pleased, and reached for the bag. "I brought croissants." And he went on to tell me the story of how he nearly had to beat off this woman to get the pastries, and I let him speak, to ramble on in that easy way of his.

"How did you know I would be here this early?" I interrupted.

He paused for a moment only, and smiled. "Easy," he told me, brushing his hand against mine. "You told me yesterday about the applicants you have to choose from and how you wanted to start putting your team together." He shrugged. "That tells me you'd be here early and stay late until you're satisfied with the results."

I drank my tea, and glanced out the windows edging one wall. Morning wasn't always the best time of day for me, but, starting with today, I had the idea morning was about to become more than acceptable.

"Ready, Heero?" Duo asked, and I knew without clarification what he meant.

Taking another sip of my tea, I covered Duo's hand with my own, and answered with a simple, "Yes."


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