This is a work of amateur fiction and does not intend to infringe on the rights of Sunrise, Sotsu Agency, Asahi TV, and Bandai Visuals. . No profit is being made.
As usual, thanks go to Cecilia for finding the time to beta read even though she writes so much herself.
Blue flashing lights from outside danced across the lush decorations of the walls, brighter than the lights of the ornate chandeliers. Lady Une watched impassively as the last of the Epyon de Tereos terrorists was taken out of the ballroom on a stretcher. She was almost disappointed by the stupidity this man had shown... threatening Mariemeia without considering that someone might come to the girl's help had not been a wise decision, and the man had soon found out that Lady Une was more than apt at hand-to-hand combat.
She had seen to it that Mariemeia was taken to the suite they shared as soon as possible; she wanted her to be away of all the commotion in the aftermath of the kidnapping. Lady Une was not happy that she had to leave her protégée alone after all this excitement, but duty came first, and as head of the Preventers, she was more than busy right now. At least Dorothy had agreed to watch over her young relative for a while.
The hostages had all been escorted either to their rooms in the Palace or to their limousines, and Lady Une had insisted on having Preventers accompanying as many of them as possible, not willing to risk another kidnapping just now. Agents were searching the Palace at the moment in case one or more of the terrorists had slipped through their fingers and were hiding somewhere, a possibility that could not be ignored, even though Lady Une was convinced that they had imprisoned all of them by now.
Sally was approaching with Wufei in tow, and Lady Une turned their attention towards them. It seemed that they wanted something, and it always paid to listen to two of the best agents the Preventers currently had.
"Lady Une," Sally started, "the search of the Palace is complete, all entrances are secured, and we've covered the gardens as well. Twenty prisoners, that matches the number we've been assuming from the beginning. The one you eliminated is being taken to the hospital."
"Very well," she nodded, pleased with the report. "Have the guests left yet?"
This time Wufei answered. "Most of them. A few elderly women are still being taken care of by the medical teams, but there haven't been any reports of anything worse than circulatory failures due to the excitement." This was delivered with the usual tint of arrogance, making Lady Une smile just the tiniest bit as she exchanged a brief look with Sally.
"Noin is watching Miss Relena for the night," she said, "the two of you will relieve her in the morning, so I suggest that you get some rest."
Nodding, Sally cleared her throat. "We will do that. However, there is something we would like to discuss with you first."
Lady Une frowned. "Can't it wait until the morning? If it is important, I would rather deal with it when the situation has calmed down a little."
"It is important, and it can't wait." Wufei again; Lady Une was getting the impression that he and Sally kept passing the ball to each other to prevent her from focusing on one of them. Just what did they want?
"So what is it?"
It did not surprise her that Sally took over again. "The former Gundam pilots have been the ones organizing and executing this mission."
Lady Une nodded. "With an admirable efficiency. I am sure Miss Relena will want to compliment them on it."
"Wufei and I have been talking about the possibility that we could win them for the Preventers," Sally continued. "They would be useful."
"And I am rather sure that neither of them would hesitate to agree", Wufei added.
"I don't see the problem," Lady Une honestly admitted. "Just offer them to join the Preventers, I would be happy to welcome them."
"But," Wufei started, and she inwardly sighed. There just had to be complications. "But they won't be willing to work according to the guidelines, be sure of that. They are too used to doing things their own way than to be able to easily adapt to the red tape proceedings."
"Surely you haven't come to tell me of the possibility of having them as agents when it is not possible. What is your solution to the problem?" She was not going to waste time with skirting the topic, not after undergoing first the ordeal of an official reception, being taken hostage by terrorists and organizing a full security check of the Palace and the surroundings. She'd had enough for the day.
"Give them the status of special agents, and use them for unconventional missions," Wufei answered. "I honestly can't see Maxwell doing paper work, and the others would not want to do it either. Besides, Winner could only work on special occasions anyway; he is too tied up with the family business. But I know he would happily work for the Preventers."
Looking out of the window, over to the ambulances and other cars, Lady Une considered this. Wufei alone had proved to be a valuable agent; having the other four pilots available as well would be more than welcome. Fully trained agents that were also trustworthy were hard to find since most of the applicants for Preventer positions were former soldiers who didn't have much experience in undercover operations and delicate missions.
The Gundam pilots, however, were used to this working style. No additional costs for their training, which would be a relief for the rather tight budget the President had given Lady Une.
Still she disliked the idea of giving them special status; she was reluctant to make allowances when it came to work. She had never approved of special treatment for her subordinates, a character treat that had outlived her days at OZ. Soldiers were required to do their work and take on the responsibilities that came with it, not only the aspects they felt like doing.
But she could not let this opportunity slip through her fingers. Four excellent new agents, that was more than she had ever expected to be offered without having to do extensive persuading before. She knew exactly how good those young men were; it would be foolish to ignore them.
"Sally, go and talk to them. As long as they agree to do their work and obey orders, I'll have them listed on the payroll."
A soft knocking ripped Quatre out of his peaceful dozing on the couch of the room he'd been given for the night. Cautiously he eyed the door, contemplating the idea that somebody hostile might be waiting there for him, then came to the conclusion that enemies wouldn't be politely knocking to make themselves known.
Most enemies, at least. Maybe Treize might have sent a written announcement prior to his arrival.
With a soft sigh, Quatre uncurled from his comfortable position against the armrest of the couch, stretched, smoothed his clothing over and went to answer the door, the thick wall-to-wall carpets beneath his feet swallowing every sound his steps might have made. He liked the feeling of the soft material, and loved the fact that if he brushed his finger across the carpet in a certain direction, the beige material would become darker where he touched it. As a child he'd been painting masterpieces on carpets like this one with his fingertips, but this time he had refrained from doing more than leaving a few tentative lines.
Pushing down the handle and opening the door, Quatre found himself nose to ear with Duo, who had apparently been trying to hear whether somebody was in the room or not. The braided boy wavered slightly as the wood he'd been leaning against suddenly swung into the room, but recovered his balance quickly.
"Hey Quatre! Mind if I come in for a moment?"
"Of course not," Quatre replied, stepping aside to allow Duo into the room. The taller boy took a few moments to take stock of the room, his gaze quickly sweeping over corners, the closed door to the bathroom and the half-opened French doors leading out to the balcony. Searching for threats and escape routes, Quatre thought as he noticed his friend's behavior. It wasn't obvious, but he'd learned not to ignore small things like this.
Finally content with what he had seen, Duo slumped down on the couch, boxed a satin cushion into place and stretched out his legs in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. He looked positively gloomy, something Quatre had only seen a few times before from the usually cheerful pilot. And he'd never liked it. A brooding Duo was a frightening sight.
"Do you want anything to drink?" Quatre asked, hoping to get a conversation started this way.
Duo shook his head. "Thanks pal, but no. I didn't come here to drink," his eyes sparkled a little, "though I might come back on this later. We never really had that champagne, non-alcoholic or not."
"At least we tried," Quatre returned, remembering their toast at the hospital. For the moment he intended to go along with Duo's choice of topics, willing to wait for the other boy to get to the point. He didn't have anything else to do anyway, and it had been some time since he had last had a good long talk with Duo.
"Yeah..." Duo seemed thoughtful for a moment. "Where's Trowa? Surely he's not disappeared yet, has he?"
"He wanted to talk to Catherine, and Relena offered her study." The shadow that crossed Duo's face didn't pass unnoticed.
"How nice of ojousan to do that. Well, she owes us anyway for crashing that nice little party she and those armed guys were having. You'd really think she'd know by now that she needs to get a good security team. She honestly can't expect Heero to be around all the time to get her butt out of trouble."
"I think she knows," Quatre said quietly. "But she also cannot live in a golden cage. If she really cared about her personal security, she'd need to be watched when she's in the shower."
Duo gave a short laugh, then grinned at Quatre. "I bet she wouldn't mind having him around, ne?"
"Sorry, I'll shut up already." Duo sighed, then leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment, then rubbed his face with a hand. "I'm just feeling a little off at the moment."
"If I can do anything..." Quatre was beginning to get seriously worried.
"Thanks for the offer, but not even you could talk Heero out of joining Une's merry little gang. Hell, you're probably going to sign up too, aren't you?"
So that was the reason for Duo's black mood. Sally's offer that they could work for the Preventers on a more regular basis, which they had discussed just before they had all headed for their respective rooms. Quatre didn't quite understand why it bothered Duo so much; he would have expected the braided boy to happily take up the opportunity to have a touch of the extraordinary to his life, but it seemed that he had been wrong. And apparently Duo didn't like the idea of any of them becoming Preventers.
"I have been thinking of it", Quatre admitted, firmly keeping eye contact with Duo. "As far as my work in the family business allows. I can't expect my sisters to keep running things for me like they did before." And neither did he want them to do so; he felt that he owed it to the memory of his father to finally take his place, even though he did not always like it.
"And I guess Trowa's talking about just that with Catherine." Duo smirked. "Maybe she'll try and punch the idea out of his head, wouldn't be the first time. I ought to ask her for a few pointers." Again he sighed, then shook his head slightly. "Quatre, are you sure this is the right thing to do?"
"The right thing?" Quatre repeated, silently asking Duo to rephrase.
"You know, joining the Preventers." He paused for a moment, then continued. "I really thought that after we stopped Operation Meteor for the last time, our role in world history was over. Haven't we gotten ourselves into enough trouble already?"
"Duo, nobody is forcing you to take up Sally's offer."
"Yeah, I know, I know." Duo waved dismissively. "Only that the rest of you would be disappointed." He stopped, reconsidering. "Hell, Wufei wouldn't give a damn, Trowa wouldn't say anything about it, and Heero'd just grunt and go ahead. Guess you'd be the only one..."
"I will respect your decision, Duo, surely you know that. You have every right to decline."
Duo shook his head violently, sending his braid flying. "This isn't about me, pal. I know nobody's going to try and make me do anything I don't want. You'll give me some weird looks, but that would about sum it up."
"But what is it then?"
"Have you ever seen Heero when he doesn't care about anything?" Duo asked, his voice eerily calm. "When he gets that look in his eyes that says he doesn't expect to survive the next minute? I'm scared of seeing that again. Quatre, you weren't there when he launched himself headfirst out of a fiftieth floor window and simply forgot to open his parachute. Remember when he didn't do anything to defend himself after he'd killed the Federation pacifists?" He drew a shuddering breath. "I'm tired of this, and I thought that those times were finally over. But now he's going for it again. And the rest of you as well."
This did come unexpected; Quatre had somehow never thought Duo even considered their mortality with his devil-may-care attitude. But this was hurting him, hurting him deep inside, and knowing that he couldn't really do anything about it had to make it even worse.
Of course Quatre worried too, but he believed in the ability of the others to keep themselves alive. They knew what they were doing, and as a team could solve the trickiest situations, as they had proven just today.
"Aren't you scared that Trowa's going to catch a bullet and die on you? I'd really like to ignore the possibility, but let's face it. We've seen enough of violence and wars to know what we're talking about. Deaths happen, Quatre, so why are we too stupid to see it? Why do we just keep going back for more?" A bitter laugh escaped him. "If Heero's really that eager to get himself shot at again, I ought to go for it. Worked before, might work again. And at least I know my aim is good enough to keep from killing him."
"But what do you want him to do, Duo? What do you want us to do?" Quatre asked, worry and confusion resounding in his voice.
The braided boy threw his hands up in an exasperated gesture. "If only I knew! That's why I came here to you in the first place. Doesn't seem to have worked, though. Sorry pal, no offense meant."
"None taken", Quatre replied automatically as manners kicked in, then frowned. "Duo, if it is really this important to you, I won't do this." He wasn't willing to risk the friendship and nearly sibling bond he shared with Duo, no matter how much he itched to get away from his daily economical and financial boredom. "And I will talk to Trowa so he doesn't do it either. He'd understand."
Duo closed his eyes tightly and shook his head. "No, this isn't at all what I want. I can't keep you guys from doing this, I know you're just waiting for the first assignments. Don't think I don't sometimes miss the old times too, Quatre. I guess I'm just scared of losing any of you. There aren't that many persons in my life I'm really comfortable with." Again he smirked. "Egoistic, huh?"
"Because you're not willing to let us die?" Quatre crossed the room, sitting down next to Duo. "I'd hardly call that egoistic."
Duo hung his head. "You all seem so eager to do this... I even understand that, it's really tempting to go back to a life where we know where we stand. We don't qualify as normal people, do we? Not even you, I guess. So we shouldn't try and live normal lives. But still... haven't we given the colonies their revenge already?"
"Yes, we have," Quatre replied softly. "We've done what we were ordered to do." He paused, taking a good look at Duo. "So you are not going to take up Sally's offer."
The brown-haired boy grinned suddenly. "Of course I will. You'll all need someone capable watching your backs after all."
Quatre smiled, a little confused by the mercurial changes in his friend's mood. It wasn't easy to guess what was going on in Duo's mind, despite the open expression he always wore. But why would he agree to this, when he had sounded so opposed to the whole idea?
"Are you certain this isn't just a result of peer pressure?" Quatre finally voiced his concern.
"Quatre, I'm absolutely sure about what I'm doing, honestly. I don't want to make you guys think that I don't care about you. Besides, who'd do all the talking if I were gone? I'm not cruel enough to leave you and Wufei alone with the two silent mysteries. How is it going with you and Trowa anyway? Haven't heard of you for quite a while, you could really keep in touch more..."
"That doesn't really answer my question, Duo." Quatre had learned through experience that Duo was an expert in skirting topics he didn't like, simply by chattering brightly about something until his discussion partner was too overwhelmed to remember his original questions.
"I know, I know, sorry. I guess I'm going with you because I couldn't forgive myself if something happened to any of you guys. I'd always wonder if it would have made a difference if I had been there, and that would drive me crazy." Duo smirked. "And since I'm quite attached to what little sanity I still have, I'm just going to make sure to be there and cover your backs." He snorted. "Besides, this is the only thing I ever really learned to do that's mostly legal. The salvaging business sure is nice, but it's not my dream job. I don't want to end up wearing Hawaii shirts and sandals one day and worry about where I'll get the next shipload of copper-coated cables from."
He got to his feet in one fluid movement, swiftly running a hand through his unruly bangs and turning towards the door. Standing up as well, Quatre followed him, a little surprised that Duo wanted to leave already.
"Thanks for all, pal," Duo said, grinning cheerfully again, which Quatre took as a good sign.
"I don't think I really did anything..." the blond boy murmured, more to himself than to his friend.
"Course you did. I just needed to have somebody to talk to who'd actually talk back... and I couldn't really discuss this with Heero."
Quatre nodded, then impulsively hugged the taller boy warmly, smiling as he felt Duo return the gesture.
"You're always welcome if you want to talk," he spoke into Duo's ear, then released him again.
"Just pray you won't regret that offer one day," Duo returned, reaching for the door handle. "I'll see you at breakfast, good night!" In a moment he was gone, and the door clicked back into place again.
Shaking his head slightly, Quatre sat down on the couch again to wait for Trowa to finish his call.
"This was Wufei's idea, wasn't it?" Catherine asked angrily, and Trowa started to wonder whether it had really been wise to call her immediately after the stress of the last 24 hours, when he was starting to feel too weary to argue with her. It was giving her an advantage he'd rather have avoided. He leaned back in Relena's desk chair tiredly as he kept his eyes on the screen in front of him.
All in all Catherine was taking it rather well, he reflected, considering that he'd caught her completely unaware. She had gone from delight over the fact that he had called her at all, over worry about the reason why he would go out of his way and call her, to anger as she started to suspect the reason in less than a minute. Sometimes her mind worked in a frighteningly fast way.
"I swear I'll force an entire pot of soup down his throat for that," she said firmly, narrowing her eyes. "Trowa, surely you can't seriously consider joining those people!"
"Aren't you happy with the circus? I believed you enjoy your life here with us... with me. I really want to get over there and... and make him regret putting such foolish ideas into your head."
"Catherine," he tried again, with little success.
"I had hoped you would stay with me now, I was so happy when the war was finally over, and when you guys got rid of that girl. You are a child of the circus, Trowa, surely you must know that! We can live in peace now, thanks to you all, there is no reason for you to keep fighting. Leave this work to others, you have done so much already."
She was really working herself into a frenzy, he thought as he once again attempted to say something and was ignored by her. At least this time she couldn't complain that he was being taciturn. He did try, after all.
"I just... I just don't want to see you hurt, Trowa, and I know it's unavoidable if you go with those people. Please, Trowa..." Tears were running down her face, and Trowa was suddenly reminded of another time when she had tried to talk him out of something. Unconsciously his hand went to his jaw, rubbing the spot she had hit back then. Somehow he was glad that she'd stayed on the colony, at least she couldn't hit him this time. Sure, she was only doing it because she loved him and was worried, but it hurt nevertheless.
"Catherine, don't cry." She looked up at this, and he waited until she had her sniffling more or less under control before he continued. "I will be careful."
"But why, Trowa? Why do you have to do this? There are others who can do it; it's not necessary that you risk yourself again. You have earned yourself a calm and peaceful life, Trowa..."
He felt like reaching out and hugging her for showing so much concern; causing her sadness and worry was not what he wanted.
"Sister, listen. This is work for soldiers, and I am a soldier." Hopefully she would understand that he was beginning to feel restless at the circus, that he wasn't made for an ordinary life. She always was so good at reading him, surely she could do it also this time, though he was beginning to suspect that she failed to understand him on purpose.
"Trowa, there are so many other soldiers still left, they don't rely on you. Nobody can say anything if you simply come back here. They shouldn't have called you in the first place when you weren't part of them. I ought to have kicked Wufei out when he showed up, I knew he would only bring trouble."
Making a mental note to keep Wufei and Catherine at a safe distance for the next year, preferably on different colonies, Trowa blinked once, then started to try thinking of a way to get out of this tricky situation. Catherine had resisted his attempts at explaining, his pleading, and his assurances that he wouldn't endanger himself. Short of just interrupting the connection, there wasn't much he could do now.
"Catherine, I am going to join the Preventers, no matter what you say." At the sight of her hurt expression, he quickly added, "You won't lose me to them, sister."
She sniffed demonstratively. "Please Trowa, think this over. Do you really want to leave the circus behind? Do you want to leave me behind?"
"You won't lose me," he repeated calmly. At least she had stopped crying by now, that definitely counted as success.
"Only a year... you only really enjoyed the peace you fought for so hard for only a year! Trowa, don't you think you have done more than your share already? You were hurt so badly in the war, haven't you had enough?" The last was said with renewed anger in her voice, and he mentally prepared himself for another scolding. Trowa truly hoped that Quatre's sisters didn't react the same way as Catherine had done when their brother broke the news to them.
But all her anger was the result of her desperate fear of seeing him hurt; he had to remind himself of that. She only meant well, even though he could feel the beginnings of a headache pulsate in his temples already. She only meant well.
"Trowa, come back here and we will talk this over." She was trying the reasonable approach now, sounding ready for discussion. "I know this means much to you, surely we can find a way..."
"Catherine, I have already decided. Goodbye, sister. Take care." With that he reached out and switched off the monitor.
He allowed himself a long, suffering sigh, then got up from the chair, left Relena's study and returned to the room he was sharing with Quatre, trying to think of the best way to face Catherine the next time he returned to her. She'd be so upset... He probably ought to recruit Quatre for help; his little lover was more apt at calming angry persons than he was himself.
On the way back to their room Trowa suddenly heard someone approaching and stepped to the side as his unconscious identified the quick pattern of steps. This way he avoided being run over by Duo, who brushed by, gave him a swift grin and had already disappeared somewhere along the dim hallway before Trowa even had time to react.
Wondering where Duo had come from, he reached his destination and entered, smiling ruefully as he saw that Quatre still wasn't sleeping. The little one had to feel as exhausted as he did, and really shouldn't have stayed awake.
"How did it go?" Quatre asked, beaming encouragingly as he gave Trowa a quick hug and kiss on the cheek.
"As expected," he returned. "You'll have to help me pick a gift for her before I visit the next time."
"Of course, beloved," Quatre said softly, cuddling closer and yawning cutely. "I'm sure we'll find something that keeps her from wringing your neck."
When he heard someone approach outside in the hallway, Heero looked up from the various parts of the handgun he had just dismantled to check it over. Muscles tensed unconsciously; while he was not nearly as jumpy any longer as he had been during the war, and by now usually refrained from pulling guns on anybody who approached him, some habits still had a firm hold on him.
He kept reassembling the weapon while glancing at the door; his hands knew the movements well enough to perform them blindly. After a few moments Duo bounced into the room, and Heero found himself relaxing immediately as he studied the other boy carefully.
"Hey Heero! Miss me?"
Whatever Quatre had said to him, it surely had helped. Duo was back to his normal self again, the brooding shadow that had been hovering over him before had been lifted, something Heero was vaguely grateful for. A depressed Duo was something he certainly did not appreciate; it was simply wrong.
He ought to learn having those soothing talks with his lover, Heero thought as he watched Duo toe off his boots and plop down on the bed. Quatre couldn't always be expected to be available.
"Relena has really nice taste, don't you think so, Heero? She didn't even decorate everything in pink, who would have thought that after seeing that car for so many times." Duo's gaze wandered across the walls, then lingered on the high window. "It's surely nice of her that she lets us stay here for the night. They don't even need us here, there are so many Preventers wandering through the hallways that not even a mouse could get in unnoticed."
Heero had to agree with this; he'd been doing his own little reconnaissance trip, and the tightly woven security net had positively surprised him. The Preventers obviously were well organized and trained for missions like this one; many of them had been soldiers before, as Heero had found out when he had spotted more than one familiar face among the agents. It seemed that nearly all surviving high-ranking former OZ officers had ended up in this organization, along with Federation personnel and some less radical former rebels of the colonies. Heero was rather impressed by the efficiency they all showed in working together.
"They are doing good work," Heero finally said. "Lady Une is putting her abilities to use here, and it shows."
"Yeah, you're right." Duo got up from the bed, tossed his boots into a corner and wandered into the bathroom. "You know, the first time I saw her she was getting shot at for saving Wufei and me at the lunar base. Certainly left a lasting impression. I just hope she won't try and boss us around." He reached into a small bag, fished out his toothbrush and toothpaste and started work.
"So you have decided?" Heero asked quietly, sliding the last pieces of the gun back into place.
"Mmhm", Duo made, busily brushing his teeth. "Itsh not een eashy, ough. Ut I hink iths esht hor ush."
Heero turned this over in his head until he had it decoded. "Nobody is asking you to fight." He had been secretly hoping that Duo would refuse Sally's request and stay with the relatively safe salvaging business, but he had known that in the end Duo would accept. They were trained for work like this.
Duo made gurgling noises for a moment, then spat water into the sink and reached for a towel. "As I've told Quatre, you'll need somebody competent to watch your back. I'm not going to just let you wander off on your own and get yourself shot, koi." The last word was said with enough emphasis to make Heero look up from the finishing touches on the gun and search Duo's face for a possible hidden meaning. His attempt was soon thwarted by Duo splashing water into his face and then hiding behind a towel again.
"You don't have to worry about that, Duo," he said finally, hoping that the firm tone would convince his lover that he meant what he said. Heero surely was not planning to die right now, not when he had just discovered that there were things other than the mission that made life worth living - Duo being one of them, the most important one.
Coming out of the bathroom, Duo walked over to Heero, smiling. "I've been around you for too long to tell me now that I shouldn't worry. You have been having far too many near-death-experiences in my presence for that." Duo crouched in front of him, and Heero suddenly found himself looking straight into wide violet eyes. "But thanks for trying to assure me, Heero. Maybe one day I'll be able to really believe you won't die, not just dream it."
Leaning forward, Duo affectionately rubbed his nose against Heero's, then kissed him quickly on the lips before he pulled back and stood up again.
"Are you going to stay up still? I'm tired," with this Duo held out a hand, "and I'd rather fall asleep with you at my side." He gave Heero an almost shy look, appearing suddenly insecure.
Clicking the safety on, Heero put the gun back into its holster, then looked up at Duo and took his hand, letting Duo pull him to a stand. He'd already taken care of bathroom business before, so he just allowed himself to be led towards the bed, watching in a mixture of amusement and annoyance as Duo proceeded to strip on the way there. Amused at the grin which only Duo could make appear seductive, and annoyed at the mess he created.
Yawning hugely, Duo made small noises of dismay as his hair caught in the zipper of his jacket, until Heero reached out and gently freed the strands, not wanting to pull them out.
"There you go."
"Thanks!" Duo smiled at him happily, discarding the jacket along with his shirt, simply dropping the garments to the floor. "I'll pick them up in the morning," he said as he noticed Heero's glare, then stripped off his boxers. Another cheeky grin, then he slipped under the covers. Heero quickly followed his example, and they curled up together beneath the warm comforter.
Wrapping his arms tightly around his lover, Heero studied his face for a moment before he reached for the light switch above the headboard and cloaked the room in darkness, the light from the moon sickle casting only dim shadows across the walls. They hadn't pulled the curtains to allow the air to circulate freely; the night was warm enough to leave the window completely opened already.
"You don't like it", Heero finally said, resting his head back on the pillow.
"Don't like what?" came the return, a hint of challenge in the voice. "That you are going to risk your life again? No, I don't like it. But I know that there isn't anything I can do to stop you without making you unhappy, so I won't try it."
"I cannot promise you that nothing will happen to me, you know that." Heero knew that Duo wanted to hear something, but he couldn't figure out what it was, so he decided to stick to more or less neutral and general things for now.
Duo shifted in his arms until he had wriggled his way half across Heero's chest. "Heero, I don't want you to promise me that, but it would be nice to know that you are going to be careful. More careful than you used to be, at least."
"Good. Now mean it."
"You didn't convince me."
Heero began to get irritated. "I told you, I will not take unnecessary risks. Didn't you listen?"
"Sure I listened."
"So what is the problem?" This did not go the way he had expected. Heero had been prepared for Duo to try and persuade him to rethink his decision, but it seemed that his lover had accepted it and was only going to argue about the details.
A finger brushed lightly across his lips, and Heero saw Duo smile in the darkness. "You just don't sound convincing. Seriously Heero, if somebody listened to you, he'd think you have nothing to look forward to!"
"You just don't get it, do you?"
Heero scowled. "You are not being informative."
Sighing, Duo closed his eyes and shook his head slightly with what appeared to be exasperation; Heero knew he was missing something here which Duo considered common knowledge, and as much as he strained his mind, he just couldn't think of what it was Duo wanted. Sometimes Heero wished he had been paying more attention to Duo and Quatre's socializing, but back then he had never thought he would need it one day. Thinking like Duo didn't work either, simply because it was impossible to follow his lover's sometimes seriously twisted lines of thought.
Finally Heero decided to simply ask.
"Duo, what do you expect me to do?" he inquired, trying hard not to let too much puzzlement show in his voice.
Blinking a few times, the beloved face above him lit up with the familiar grin Heero found so hard to resist.
"Really Heero, sometimes I really wonder how you managed to last so long without having the slightest idea about some things."
"Duo," he said, admitting enough of his puzzlement so his lover would not think Heero was deliberately teasing him. The boy in Heero's arms relaxed at a sudden, shaking off tension that had been unnoticeable until it was gone. Heero felt vaguely guilty for making Duo wary of anything, and told himself to scrutinize the situation once he got the chance so he would not repeat the mistake he had made. If there was one thing Heero did not appreciate, it was making a fault; that simply was not supposed to happen.
"Want me to show you what I had in mind?" As Heero nodded, quick lips brushed over the spot between his eyes. "Pay attention."
Again Heero nodded, concentrating on whatever Duo was going to say or do now so he'd be able to repeat it; paying attention to Duo was always worth it when it came to interpersonal issues, a field where the braided boy was far more experienced. And taking Duo as a guideline had worked out for Heero so far, as long as he remembered to tone down his reactions somewhat so he'd not be as exuberant.
"Repeat after me," Duo requested, voice soft but nevertheless demanding.
"…Heero Yuy…" Fingers were tracing his ribs in featherlight brushes.
"Heero Yuy," he repeated, beginning to let himself be amused by this.
"…promise…" One hand found its way up to his collarbone.
"… that I will never, ever, under any circumstances, not once, on no account whatsoever, in no way, definitely not, not ever…" The other arm sneaked around his waist, holding him close.
"That I will not."
Duo snorted amusedly at the shortcut, then continued. "… do anything stupid and unnecessary..." The hand on his shoulder wandered to the nape of his neck.
"Do anything stupid and unnecessary." Heero's arms tightened their embrace around Duo.
"… that makes me leave Duo Maxwell behind alone."
"That makes me leave the most wonderful creature in this world behind alone," Heero finished, guessing from the slight pressure of Duo's hand against his neck what he was supposed to do now. Slowly he raised his head, his lips meeting Duo's, feeling them part beneath his. Putting all his love into the kiss, fiercely straining to assure his beloved baka that yes, he was going to be careful. Holding the slim body as close as possible without actually hurting him.
If this was the way Duo wanted to be convinced of the truth, he really ought to make more promises. And it wasn't as if this one was going to be hard to keep, after all he really did not intend to get himself killed in a mission. While Heero was not going to ignore the possibility of it, he was no longer willing to leave his life on the battlefield if there were other possibilities. Inwardly he smirked at this; not long ago he would have regarded himself as inefficient, thinking like this, a liability that could risk the success.
The Mission had been everything.
Now Duo had taken its place.
A simple shifting of priorities, Heero thought, allowing Duo to take control of the kiss for now. While straining to be the Perfect Soldier, death had been within his arm's reach at all times, had been part of him. Death was the ultimate outcome, be it his or that of his enemy.
It had been replaced by survival at some point. Heero couldn't quite put his finger on the exact moment when the Mission had been stepped behind Duo, when the final goal became coming out of a fight alive. It had just happened, a process Heero had found himself both unable and unwilling to reverse.
Slowly he withdrew from the kiss, ran a light hand over Duo's still braided hair. Looked into eyes he knew to be violet, which were just glittering dark in the shadows surrounding them. Then he allowed a smile to tug at the corners of his mouth.
Oh yes. He definitely intended to keep this promise.