by: CalicOcat

Always Best Friends (cont)

*************************************

[ 0900 hours local time, May 16, A.C. 202; Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada ]


Heero struggled slowly to consciousness. At first, the familiarity of the situation - the warm, softly snoring body beside him, the sharp pull of stitches, the dull ache of fractured bones, the throbbing pain of a bullet wound - left him caught up in memories. How many times during the war had he and Duo shared a bed, chasing away the nightmares for each other with soft murmurs, comforting hugs, and the simple reassurance that came from the presence of someone who understood? Too many times to count.

Opening his eyes, Heero turned his head to watch his sleeping partner. 'How could I have been so close to him then and not noticed how gorgeous he is?

'Simple, Yuy, you could barely handle the friendship he offered so freely - if you'd been attracted to him too, you'd probably have shoved him away so hard that even he would have admitted defeat... Even after the war ended, he was the one who made the effort to keep our friendship going... After months of e-mails and occasional vid-calls, it was such a shock to meet him face-to-face again... Even the fact that we were heading into battle again couldn't stop me from realizing just how much I'd missed him, let alone keep me from noticing how beautiful he was, with that long silky braid and sparkling violet eyes, his cheerful smile and graceful movements... But once I'd realized how important our friendship was to me, there was no way I was about to risk it because of a mere physical attraction. It was months before I finally figured out that it was far more than mere attraction that I felt for him.'


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ January 17, A.C. 199 ]


As the Vice Foreign Minister's escort/bodyguard at yet another of her political dinner parties, Heero was the subject of far more attention than he preferred. It was with a certain degree of relief that he realized that Pargan was bringing the portable vid-phone to his seat at the table. 'Maybe Une is calling with a mission...'

Relena glared at Pargan in annoyance, hissing quietly, "I thought I made it clear that there were to be no interruptions."

"I'm sorry, Miss Relena, but Mr. Yuy was equally clear in his instructions," Pargan replied, handing the small unit to Heero.

Heero slipped the unobtrusive headset on, then released the hold button on the keypad. Instead of the familiar face of Lady Une, a stranger appeared on the tiny screen.

"Mr. Heero Yuy?" the man inquired.

"Yes," Heero answered, a sudden sinking feeling in his gut as he noticed the details showing in the call display. 'Carstairs Memorial Hospital, L2? Oh, gods, no...'

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Yuy, however you are listed as next-of-kin for a patient of ours, Mr. Duo Maxwell. He was taken directly to surgery when he arrived at the hospital; the prognosis is not good. I would strongly advise that you or a representative of yourself come to the hospital immediately."

Heero's chair crashed over backwards as he jumped to his feet and strode away, quickly getting a few last details before hanging up the call. Relena hurried after him, catching his elbow and protesting, "Heero, where do you think you're going?! I need you here; you have to lead me out for the first dance after dinner."

Heero ignored her, barely slowing down as he punched Lady Une's personal number into the phone. As soon as Une answered, he said, "Duo's been seriously injured; he's in surgery right now. I have to get to L2 immediately."

Une responded immediately, "There are several Preventers at the mansion on general security detail for the dinner, I'll order them to stay and take over bodyguard duties tonight and set up a regular guard rotation till further notice. I'll contact the spaceport and have one of the Preventers shuttles fuelled up and ready to go."

"Arigatou. Yuy out."

Relena yanked Heero's elbow insistently, "If he's in surgery, there's obviously nothing you can do there. I'm sure that friend of his - Heidi or something, isn't it - will look after things. Besides, you have to stay here to protect me. That's your job, your MISSION, remember?"

Heero jerked his elbow from the girl's grasp and glared at her furiously. "The Preventers can protect you; you don't NEED me. Duo does."

"Yes, I DO need you here," Relena whined, the spoilt child in her clearly visible. "Don't you dare leave me here alone and go running off to HIM!"

"Relena. I will not say this twice, so listen and listen well. Do NOT turn this into a choice between the two of you, because I can guarantee that you will NOT like the result."

Heero spun on his heel and hurried down the corridor towards his room, ignoring the shocked, tearful girl he left behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Heero's eyes traced over the one currently exposed reminder of that long, frightening vigil - a jagged, twisting scar running the full length of Duo's arm. 'It was a close call - closer than any he had during the war. To think that after surviving countless battles, the God of Death was so very nearly killed by a drunken motorist hitting his motorcycle. Sitting in that chair by his bed, day after day, staring at his battered, bandaged body and waiting, hoping, praying to god - any god - for him to regain consciousness, I couldn't deny it any longer - I'd gone and fallen in love with my best friend. How many times since then have I decided to tell him, only to lose my nerve and decide that our friendship was too important to risk?'

As Duo's breathing pattern changed and he started to stir towards waking, Heero began the same, familiar, thought process yet again.

'But would it really be a risk? Duo has always been so openhearted and generous with his affection, even when the Perfect Soldier was at his worst - it's hard to imagine him throwing all the incredible effort he put into our friendship away just because I feel MORE than friendship for him. Should I? Can I?'

Looking into those beautiful violet eyes and greeting the soft, sleepy smile with a quiet, "Ohayo, Duo", Heero thought, 'Or should the question be, how can I NOT take the chance that I might be able to wake up to this every morning instead of my cold, lonely bed? Maybe... maybe it's finally time to tell him...'

*************************************

By mid-afternoon, the two ex-pilots were ensconced in the cottage's small living room enjoying the warmth radiating from the fireplace. Duo had scavenged up every pillow in the house to make sure that Heero was comfortably propped up on the couch, then he had curled up on the thick rug beside it, rested his arms on the edge of the couch, propped his chin on his crossed arms, and ordered, "Okay, now TALK."

Heero raised his eyebrows quizzically, smirked, and said, "Hn."

"Heee-errr-rro."

"Nani?"

"Oi, fine, be that way." Duo stuck his tongue out at Heero before continuing, "So, are you going to tell me what you were calling me about and what Hilde said, or do you want me to start instead?"

"Oh, THAT'S what you want me to talk about."

Duo rolled his eyes, "No shit, Sherlock," then yelped, "Hey!" an instant later as a pillow smacked him in the face.

"Baka."

Then it was Heero's turn to roll his eyes as Duo got up and carefully tucked the pillow back in place before taking up his previous position. "Stop fussing, I'm FINE. I've had far worse before."

"I know, I know... But you wouldn't have gotten hurt if you'd had backup and it's my fault that you didn't."

"Duo..." Heero took a good look at his partner's stubbornly set face. "You're not going to let me talk you out of this guilt-trip, are you."

"Nope."

"Fine, then go ahead and tell me what happened," he sighed.


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ May 9, A.C. 202; L2 ]

"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Maxwell, Ms. Schbeiker," the Hastings Enterprises' representative said as the waitress brought the bill for their meal.

"It has been a pleasure for us as well, Mr. Roberts," Duo assured the executive. "Not all clients are as - appreciative - as Hastings Enterprises," he smiled, referring to the early-completion-bonus check that had been handed over earlier that afternoon.

"We have a firm policy of rewarding good work," Roberts responded. "When Mr. Winner recommended your firm to us, some of our Board of Directors had doubts that such a small company could handle this job; you've certainly more than lived up to his recommendation.

"Now, if I'm going to make my shuttle, I'd best catch a cab to the spaceport. Thank you for dinner."

"The pleasure was ours," Hilde chimed in, beaming with delight.

After seeing Mr. Roberts safely to his cab, Hilde and Duo returned home.

"Oi, I could sleep for a week solid," Duo yawned, shedding his suit coat and tie before he was even through the front door.

"Sleep?! How can you possibly want to sleep now? I thought we'd go out clubbing to celebrate!"

"Clubbing? Tonight?" Duo whimpered in disbelief. "Hilde, I've had, like, maybe 12 hours sleep in the past four days!" Seeing his friend's happy expression crumple, he caved in, "Ok, but only for a couple of hours..."

*************************************

Several hours later, Duo smothered another yawn as he spotted Hilde coming back from the bar with drinks in hand.

'Oh man, not another drink - where am I gonna dump THIS one without her seeing and feeling hurt? That one beer when we first got here was more than enough for me tonight - I'm light-headed enough from exhaustion; there's no way I'm adding alcohol to that! We've been here for hours already and SHE may still be going strong - hey, she's not the one who's been averaging about five hours sleep a night for the past month - but I'm dead beat... I've gotta get outta here before I fall asleep on my feet...'

The young woman rejoined him at the table and offered him a glass. "Thanks, Hil," Duo said in a weariness-slurred voice, "but I'm done in. 'S time to go. Stay if ya wanna, but I'm gone." He dragged himself to his feet, staggering slightly. 'Shit, gonna be a looooong trip home. Knew this was a dumb idea.'

"Whoa there, buddy," Hilde laughed, steadying him by one elbow. "You're in no shape to go anywhere by yourself. Let's get you home."

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"...so we get home and I stagger off to bed. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow; then all of a sudden I'm wide awake and every instinct is screaming that something's wrong. It took me a second to realize that there was someone in the room with me. I pretended to still be asleep while I tried to figure out who it was and what they were doing. I realized it was Hilde along about the same time that I realized she was stripping on her way across the room. By the time she slid in the bed and reached towards me, I was really pissed and in full-blown Shinigami-mode. Her wrist is probably still black and blue from me grabbing it.

"She deliberately set out to get me drunk, 'Ro; she must've. Guess she never noticed that I never do drink that much and I never actually drink anything I didn't pick up from the bar myself. Hell, those few times that the five of us guys all went out together during the war, there was always at least two of us that stayed sober to watch the others' backs. It may not be wartime anymore, but there's still plenty of predators out there and old habits die hard.

"Anyway, I accused her of breaking her word - remember all those conversations we had before I signed the partnership papers - I told you all about how she promised to settle for friendship after I warned her that she was the wrong gender entirely for her crush on me to ever develop into anything? She started off surprised that I wasn't drunk, then she got downright nasty; I packed up and got out of there even though it was the middle of the night. The ol' adrenaline was flowin' pretty good, so I hopped on the bike and high-tailed it over to the Sweepers' hangar, let myself in, and managed to make it to the break-room couch before I ran out of steam." Duo shot a sheepish look from under his bangs, "And yeah, I know gettin' on the bike in the shape I was in was pretty stupid. I was damn lucky I didn't end up in an accident.

"I shoulda called and told you what was going on as soon as I woke up later that day, but I got caught up in contactin' the lawyer about dissolving the partnership - thank God that one of Q-man's corporate lawyers drew up the paperwork for that, at least I know I'll get out of it with my share of the business's value reasonably intact - then they had a couple of shuttles in there for repair that I figured I'd fix as fair trade for stayin' at the hangar for a few days while I got things straightened out, and next thing I know, a coupla days have passed and somebody's hollerin' that Une's on the phone and it's about you. Scared the hell outta me.

"Like I said before, a long and rather ugly story, but the upshot is that I screwed up big-time and I let you down. Gomen nasai, Heero." Duo dropped his eyes to intently study the couch fabric while he waited for Heero's response.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Heero listened patiently to Duo's explanation, though he found himself clenching his fists in anger as the story unfolded. 'You went out clubbing to avoid hurting Hilde's feelings when you'd had THAT little sleep? Gods, Duo, what kind of friend is she to even ASK that of you?' He listened in disbelief as Duo described Hilde's invasion of his room, 'K'so, even Relena has never stooped quite that low...'; then went white with horror when Duo admitted to riding his motorcycle, 'That's a forty-five minute trip - oh gods, Duo, in the state you were in, it's a miracle you didn't get yourself killed!'

Heero shook his head slightly at the guilty look on Duo's face. "Baka," he murmured affectionately as he slid his fingers under that pointed chin and tilted Duo's face up towards him.

"Duo, if you had called me, do you seriously think I wouldn't have noticed how tired you were?"

"No..."

"And do you honestly believe I'd have let you go on a mission in that kind of shape?"

"Err... Probably not," Duo admitted reluctantly.

"So I'd still have ended up going solo - you can't blame yourself for me not having backup."

"Well... Maybe not... But at least you'd have told Une how to contact me and she'd have reached me right away when you got hurt - you wouldn't have ended up sedated and restrained for over twenty-four hours!" Duo responded, stubbornly clinging to his guilt.

Seeing that he wasn't going to convince Duo not to blame himself for any of it, Heero changed tactics. "Okay, fine - you made a small error in judgement while in a sleep-deprived state - you're not perfect, you're only human, these things happen. You've apologized and done your best to make amends by getting me out of the hospital and off to someplace peaceful to recuperate. Listen carefully now...

"Duo, I accept your apology and I forgive you for not being there the minute I was brought into the hospital. Now will you please stop beating yourself up over this?"

Duo gave Heero a reluctant, sheepish grin, "Can't I just blame myself a teensy-weensy little bit?"

"Baka," Heero swatted him with a pillow again.

"Yeah, yeah, Duo no baka, I know...

"Oh shit! Duo no baka is right - I completely forgot, Une said she'd contacted the guys when she was trying to reach me - I never let them know what was going on! Q's probably ready to send the Maguanacs out searching for me!" Duo scrambled to his feet and dashed off to find his laptop, "I'll e-mail them and let them know we're both okay. Guess I'd better tell Quat what's up with the business, too - considering our biggest jobs came through his recommendations, I wouldn't want him recommending it to anybody without knowing I'm not involved with it anymore!"

Heero watched contentedly as Duo raced off. 'One hurdle down - he looks more relaxed already now that he's got that off his chest. Something's still not quite right, though... Maybe it's just the over-tiredness and stress, or the upset of losing a friend and a business in one fell swoop... All I can do is wait and see...'

*************************************

[ 1330 hours local time, May 18, A.C. 202; Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada ]

"That's it for the lunch dishes," Duo said cheerily, placing the last handful of silverware on the table for Heero to dry it, then turning to put the dried mugs in the cupboard. "Now," he turned to mock-glare at the seated ex-pilot, "I think SOMEBODY needs to go back to bed for a while - you've been up too long already."

"Hai," Heero sighed reluctantly. Much as he hated to admit it, he was getting tired and a bit dizzy again.

"Oi, while you're being Mr. Agreeable, might I interest you perhaps in one of these as well?" Duo inquired, holding up the bottle of pain pills.

Heero shot a glare at the bottle, then gave his braided friend a quick look. 'He still has dark circles under his eyes and I don't like those little stress lines on his forehead either... That big salvage contract was bad enough to start with, he didn't need the added stress of the whole Hilde mess plus looking after me...'


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ Midnight local time, April 30, A.C. 202; Vice Foreign Minister's mansion, Sanc ]

"Sorry I was out when you called yesterday - Relena insisted on dragging me to the damn opera with her."

"'S alright, 'Ro - I was pretty tired by the time I got in from work last night anyway. 'M just glad I was back home in time for your call tonight," Duo answered, his words slurring with weariness.

Heero's eyes narrowed with concern. Duo was sprawled on his side in bed, damp hair spilled loosely across the pillows, facing the vid-phone on his nightstand. The only light in the room was from the vid-screen, yet Heero could clearly see the dark circles under Duo's eyes and the weary lines around his mouth. "You're not just tired; you're exhausted. You look like shit," he said bluntly.

Duo choked and sputtered, "Heero! That's not exactly what I wanted to hear."

"Maybe not, but it's the truth. I hope you're going to finish that salvage job soon, or it's going to finish you."

"Nah, I'll be alright." Duo flashed a weak facsimile of his usual grin, adding, "Just a couple more weeks to get through now and we should be done. They're offerin' a big bonus for early completion, so we've really been pushin' to get it finished by then."

"Hn," Heero grunted disapprovingly. 'He's not sleeping enough and probably not eating properly either since it looks like he's lost weight... Wish I could get up there to visit for a few days; he obviously isn't looking after himself properly - but Relena starts that speaking tour tomorrow and we'll be gone for the next week.'

"So, tell me about your trip to the opera, 'Ro - how on earth did she manage to get you to agree to that one?"

"Well, it all started with the visiting ambassador from L3," Heero began, deliberately keeping his voice low and soothing. After a few minutes, Duo's eyes started to flutter and by the time Heero had finished describing the ridiculous hat that the ambassador's wife wore to the opera, Duo was sound asleep. Heero moved his own vid-phone to his nightstand and crawled in bed, laying so that he could watch Duo sleep. Feather-light, he reached out and traced one fingertip over the image of Duo's cheek, imagining the feel of his soft skin. Heero dozed occasionally, but mainly just lay watching Duo sleep, listening to the gentle sound of his breathing and his occasional soft snores. The figure on the screen barely stirred all night, and when Duo's breathing patterns finally began to change and his limbs to stir in preparation for waking, Heero regretfully disconnected the call. 'I don't think I want to try to explain why I just ran up a bill for a six-hour, Earth-to-L2 vid-phone call just to watch my best friend sleep. Somehow, I don't think I could explain that without telling him more than I'm prepared to right now...'

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Okay," Heero agreed, smirking at Duo's shocked expression. "If YOU," he added, pointing emphatically, "agree to get some more sleep too. You're still exhausted."

Heero's breath caught in his throat as Duo gave him one of those rare, beautiful, genuine smiles that were so different from his usual cheery grins.

"Deal," the braided young man agreed.

*************************************

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