by: CalicOcat

Always Best Friends (cont)

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

[ 1730 hours local time, May 18, A.C. 202; Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada ]

Duo propped himself up on one elbow and gazed down at Heero's sleeping face. 'He's changed so much since that first time we roomed together undercover. Back then, he wouldn't have noticed something wrong with me unless I keeled over in front of him. Today he knew I needed more sleep and he knew just how to persuade me to get it. And at least he was more diplomatic about it than that night a couple of weeks ago when he told me that I looked like shit! I still can't believe I fell asleep in the middle of his call... Hilde couldn't have been more wrong when she said he hadn't changed. Oh, he still pulls out his old "Perfect Soldier" mask around strangers and whenever he's unsure of himself or upset, but that's all it is now - just a mask, same as my Shinigami one.

'Heero always heals fast, but I should still have at least a couple of weeks to just enjoy being with him. Once he gets better, though, I need to tell him how I feel about him and find out if he wants to try a relationship or stick with our friendship. After we work that out, I'll have to figure out what I want to do with my life now that I'm out of the partnership with Hilde. Unless the whole "confession" thing goes really badly, I do at least know that I want to stay on Earth - as close to Heero as possible.'

Leaning down, Duo brushed the tousled brown bangs back and pressed a light, gentle kiss to Heero's forehead. "Gods, I've missed you, 'Ro," he murmured in an emotion-choked voice, then rolled quickly out of the bed and headed off to fix some supper.

Behind him, cobalt eyes snapped open.

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

'He kissed me. Duo KISSED me. DUO kissed ME.

'Settle down, Yuy, it was just a quick peck on the forehead, it might not mean anything...

'But he's never done that before. At least, not that I'm aware of. K'so, that doesn't mean anything, he thought I was asleep - maybe he's done it before when I really HAVE been asleep - I've certainly been tempted a few times... Okay, maybe more than a few...

'And the way he said he'd missed me - there was too much emotion there for just missing a friend...

'Okay Yuy, you were considering telling him already - now you know there's a good chance that he feels at least a little bit the same way, you HAVE to tell him...

'Maybe I'll just try something a little more subtle first... Sort of test out the waters so to speak...'

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

Duo re-entered the bedroom quietly, then smiled cheerfully as he saw that Heero was awake.

"Bathroom then supper?" he inquired.

"Hai."

"Lift or assist?" Duo asked as Heero swung his legs over the side of the bed.

Heero started to stand up, then swayed as if dizzy. Duo caught him quickly and lifted him off his feet.

"Guess that answered that question," Duo laughed gently, carrying him down the hall to the bathroom. Bending over, he sat Heero on the edge of the tub and began to straighten up, only to have Heero's arms close around him in a hug. A quick, light kiss was pressed to his cheek and a voice breathed softly in his ear, "I've missed you too, Duo."

Duo froze. 'Oh, shit. He was awake.'

"Heero?" he squeaked.

Heero's arms tightened for a moment, then relaxed, releasing Duo. "I think we have a lot to talk about," he said gently, caressing Duo's cheek lightly as they separated. "BOTH of us," he added, then continued, "But not till after we eat. YOU have lost weight and I intend to see to it that you put every ounce of it back on."

"Okay," Duo agreed with a shaky smile. 'Easy now, Maxwell, there's a lot of ways you could interpret that. Just because he apparently has strong feelings for you that doesn't necessarily mean he's in love with you.'

Duo stepped out into the hall to give Heero some privacy. 'But he noticed that I've lost weight and he's worried about it. He hugged me and kissed me, even if it was only on the cheek. He said he's missed me too. Even for the post-war, best-friend Heero, that's a lot to have said and done. Particularly as it was clearly a direct response to what I said and did.'

Heero opened the bathroom door and leaned on Duo's shoulder for the trip down the hall to the kitchen. Duo's mind continued to race as he helped Heero into a chair at the table. 'He could have just ignored what I did; I'd never have known he was awake.'

His stomach tied in knots, Duo finally pushed his sandwich away with less than half of it gone.

Heero gave up on his meal as well and looked across the table at him apologetically, "Sorry, Duo, I should have waited till after supper to bring this up. I should have realized that neither of us would feel much like eating till we settled things. Why don't you wrap these up and stick them in the fridge? We can finish them later."

Duo nodded, then silently took care of the remains of their meal.

"Gimme a minute to get the fireplace going, then we can go sit in there to talk, 'kay?" Duo suggested.

Heero nodded in agreement, so Duo grabbed his jacket and went out to bring in some wood.

Leaning against the cottage wall, Duo took several deep breaths and tried to bring his racing pulse back under control. 'Duo no baka, you were going to tell him anyway, why are you panicking so badly now?

'After all, this is only either the end of nearly three years' worth of hopes and dreams or the beginning of a wonderful new life. Nothing to panic about, nothing at all...'

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

Heero waited patiently as Duo poked at the fire one last time, then placed the poker back in its rack. As Duo started towards an armchair, Heero cleared his throat and pointedly patted the couch cushion beside him. 'Oh no, you don't Duo - no running and hiding this time. I want you close enough to see your expression while I tell you this.'

Duo reluctantly joined Heero on the couch but turned his gaze towards the fire rather than meeting Heero's eyes.

'I've never seen Duo this badly off balance before. I hope I haven't made a big mistake.'

Heero felt the 'Perfect Soldier' mask start to slide in place. It would be so easy to allow himself to slide back into that familiar, tightly-controlled persona; allow it to protect him at least temporarily while he risked rejection. 'No, I can't do that. Duo spent so much time and effort breaking through my mask to begin with, using it now would be like a slap in the face.'

"Duo, once I start please let me finish what I have to say without interrupting - you know this sort of thing is still difficult for me and it will be easier to get it out all at once."

Violet eyes widened slightly as Duo realized that Heero intended to take the lead in this conversation, but he nodded to indicate his agreement.

"Duo, I know that during the war it probably didn't seem like I valued your friendship very much. I had a hard time believing that you saw me as more than just a soldier, a fellow Gundam pilot, another weapon to be used in defence of the colonies. By the end of the war, I did value your friendship, but I couldn't understand why someone as cheerful and open as you would want to remain friends with someone as cold as me once it was possible to have long-term contact with others. You made the effort to keep our long-distance friendship going while I was still trying to figure out what being friends really meant. By the time we met up again to handle the Mariemaia mess, I had realized that you were my best friend. And the moment I saw you in person again for the first time in almost a year, I discovered to my shock that my best friend was absolutely gorgeous."

A tiny yelp escaped as Duo clapped both hands over his mouth in an effort to silence his reaction. Heero smirked slightly at his friend's flushed cheeks, but continued to speak, "I was torn - incredibly attracted to my devastatingly beautiful best friend but also determined to do nothing that could possibly jeopardize that friendship. Unfulfilled physical attraction I could live with - losing my best friend, very nearly my ONLY friend, I could not. So I ignored the attraction to the best of my ability, but I also started to make a real effort to contribute to our friendship. Instead of always waiting for you to contact me, I started calling and e-mailing you sometimes. Instead of spending my vacation days holed up in my room, I'd arrange to visit you on L2.

"Then came January 17th 199. A single phone call knocked my whole world off-kilter. By the time you finally regained consciousness, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I was head-over-heels, truly, madly, deeply, in love with you. But I didn't dare tell you. If I could never really understand why the gregarious, gorgeous, charming, intelligent Duo Maxwell wanted ME as a friend, I certainly couldn't even begin to imagine why he would want me as a lover.

"You've told me many times before that I'll always be your best friend, no matter what. I'm putting faith in that now. And I promise you that you will always be my best friend, no matter what your response is to this."

Cobalt blue locked with violet as Heero took a deep breath and finished, "Ai shiteru, Duo."

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

Heero's admission of past attraction to Duo had caused him to blush; Heero's confession of past love turned Duo white as a sheet. 'I will not faint, I will not faint, I will not faint,' he chanted silently, hands still clapped firmly over his mouth. 'He said "was", that was over three years ago... "Gregarious, gorgeous, charming, and intelligent"?!' Duo's cheeks went from white to bright red with embarrassment in an instant. 'Okay, "always be best friends", yes, of course - "AI SHITERU?!" ' For one panic-stricken moment, Duo's knowledge of Japanese completely deserted him; then, in a startling flash of memory, it returned...


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

[ Late November, A.C. 195 ]

"Okay, Heero, I'm officially confused now."

"Again?!?"

Duo waved the manga in his hand towards Heero, "I thought you said 'suki' was the verb used for stuff like 'I love you', but that's not what this says, and I'm pretty sure from the context that it's supposed to be a confession of love."

Heero leaned over and quickly glanced at the cover, smirking, "Shoujo manga? No wonder you're confused."

"Yeah, well there wasn't exactly a lot of time to pick something out, so I just picked up a grab-bag of assorted back issues; they're not ALL shoujo..."

"Sure, Duo, sure..." Heero ducked as Duo tried to swat him with the book, then snatched it out of Duo's hand and flipped back to the page in question. "Shoujo material uses this one a lot, but it's hardly ever used in real life. 'Ai shiteru' is a much stronger, more intimate way to say 'I love you' than 'suki'. And that's why you won't find much use of it outside of manga."

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


Duo yanked his hands away from his mouth and flung himself towards Heero, only to remember his partner's injuries at the last second and restrict himself to carefully wrapping his arms around Heero's neck.

"I love you too! Ai shiteru yo."

Duo caught a split-second glimpse of the brightest, most beautiful smile he had ever seen on Heero's face before strong arms closed around him and their lips met in their first kiss. The kiss started out fierce and urgent but gentled almost immediately, turning sweet and tender with an underlying hint of restrained passion. Duo yielded readily when Heero's tongue nudged his lips, opening his mouth to his partner's gentle but thorough exploration. 'MY partner, MY love, MY koi, MY Heero. God, that has a wonderful sound to it.' Tongues advanced, retreated, tangled, then finally, reluctantly, withdrew as they separated slightly, gasping for breath. As Duo shifted to lean his forehead against Heero's, a feathery brush against his cheek drew his attention to the fact that his hair hung over them like a silken curtain and Heero was running his fingers through its length. 'When did he do that?! I'M supposed to be the stealth expert here!'

"When?" Heero asked.

"Mmm... Attraction... when you were giving me all those massages during therapy after the motorcycle accident..." Duo's words were interrupted by gasps as Heero started to nibble and kiss his way along his jawline, "In love... remember... later that summer... when we... were washing... my new bike... after... my first time out on it... You got... the most impish... grin... then... turned the hose on me... and started... a waterfight..."

Heero stopped what he was doing and gave Duo a quizzical look, "You realized you were in love with me when I doused you with ice-cold water?"

Duo snickered, "No, it wasn't the water - it was the look on your face just before that. I'd never seen such an open, natural expression on your face before - it opened my eyes and made me see how far you'd come since we first met - how different the REAL Heero was from Heero Yuy, Pilot 01, Perfect Soldier... And while I was still standing there, shocked at the realization that, like the baka I was, I'd gone and fallen in love with that Heero, the one who was my best friend - you went and turned the hose on me! It was a rather rude return to reality!"

"Gomen, Duo," Heero managed to gasp out before dissolving in laughter against Duo's shoulder.

"Now who's being the baka?" Duo muttered in mock exasperation, hugging him gently. "C'mon, Heero, it's getting late and I think I've got my appetite back; let's go finish our supper then go to bed."

"Duo? Don't take this the wrong way, but... It's taken us three years to get from falling in love to our first kiss, and while I certainly don't want to wait that long to make love the first time, I'd also sort of..." Heero trailed off, unsure how to express what he was feeling.

"...like to just enjoy kissing, cuddling, making out, and just being together without needing to hide anything before taking the next step," Duo finished for him.

"Hai," Heero breathed softly, amazed. "Duo, how do you always DO that? Know exactly what I'm trying to say and put it into words for me?"

"I don't know, 'Ro. I've never been able to figure it out either. I haven't ALWAYS been able to do it - the whole Hee-chan incident would have never happened if I had been. I think that in a way, the Hee-chan problem might have been what caused it... After that, I spent so much time and effort picking apart everything you said and did to try and get inside your head, to figure out what you were REALLY thinking so I wouldn't screw up again, that I guess it just gradually became second-nature to me and I kept doing it even after our friendship was solid enough to handle a faux pas or two on my part. And sometimes, like now, it's just because it's almost exactly the way that I'm feeling too.

"I just wish I was a little better at it; then maybe we wouldn't have wasted THREE DAMN YEARS!"

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

[ Late afternoon, May 25, A.C. 202; Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada ]

"Ya know, Heero, you never did tell me why you were calling or what Hilde said."

The past few days had been unseasonably warm and the two young men had abandoned the fireplace in favour of the beach. While far from being warm enough for swimming, the weather was perfect for sitting on a blanket and talking, reading, or making out. This early in the season, the tourist crowd had yet to descend on the resort town and both Duo and Heero had been enjoying the relative peace and quiet. Heero laid his crossword puzzle aside before answering, "It just didn't seem important anymore. Really, it was just the same old song and dance from Relena..."


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

"You know, Heero, you really should be thinking about the future. This is my last term as Vice Foreign Minister, and I've always thought that it would be nice to be married before the end of my appointment," Relena said, brushing at seemingly invisible bits of lint on her jacket then pulling out her mirror to check her hair.

"And this has to do with me HOW?" Heero asked, keeping a blank face with an effort. 'K'so, is she ever going to give up?'

"HEERO, how can you even ASK such a thing! You DO have to propose in order for me to accept and start wedding plans. It's much too late now to plan for a summer wedding, but I've always thought that winter weddings can be very stylish too."

'That's it. I've had it. Enough is enough.' "Relena, if you're waiting for me to propose, you're in for a very, very LONG wait. Like forever."

"Do you mean that you would prefer for me to propose? I pride myself on being very modern and I certainly wouldn't mind, but I've always assumed that you would prefer..."

Heero cut her off in exasperation, "Relena. SHUT. UP. I am not, have never been, and will never be, in love with you. I will not be proposing to you; I will not be accepting a proposal from you; and I will most definitely not be marrying you."

"I know that you have problems with expressing emotions, Heero, and I realize that you may never admit to being in love, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't get married," the young politician protested. "Many perfectly acceptable marriages are based..."

Heero cut her off again, "Not when one partner is already in love with someone else."

"WHAT?! You... you... you CAN'T be in love with someone else! Who IS she?" Relena demanded, immediately launching into a list of women who occasionally had contact with Heero, "Dorothy Catalonia? One of Quatre Winner's sisters? That sister of Trowa Barton's, Katie or Katrina or whatever her name is? Lady Une? Oh god, surely not that Schibiker friend of Maxwell's, Heidi or Hirde or whatever?"

Listening in growing disbelief as the blonde rattled on, the ex-Wing pilot finally interrupted, "Who said it was a SHE?"

Silence.

More silence.

"It's MAXWELL, isn't it?" she hissed.

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


"... All I really intended to do at the time was let off a little steam complaining about Relena's delusions, I certainly didn't intend to tell you the details of that little conversation. Never imagined that I would ever be ABLE to tell you the details. Oh, and, err, I kind of quit as Relena's bodyguard - I told Une during the mission briefing, so she'd be able to arrange alternative coverage, so it's a good thing you picked my stuff up or it might have been missing by now...

"And as far as Hilde goes - it was really just more of the usual where she's concerned, just less subtle than usual. Snide remarks about how little we have in common, attempts to imply that I'm stuck living in the past while you've moved on with your life, insinuating that our friendship won't last - nothing new, really," Heero shrugged.

"Yeah, well, that actually ties in with some of the squicky little details about the fight she and I had that I left out before. She guessed I was in love with you, and tossed some pretty nasty remarks around - which I will not repeat, just as I won't expect you to repeat the remarks that I'm sure followed Relena's guess," Duo responded, snuggling up to Heero reassuringly.

'There he goes again - knowing what I need without me ever saying it. Hmm, if the reassurance feels good to me...' Tipping Duo's face up to meet his, Heero kissed him thoroughly. By the time he reluctantly pulled away, they were both breathing heavily and Duo's hair was floating loose in the breeze off the lake.

"Ack!" Cobalt eyes danced with mischief as Duo tried to gather his hair back into a ponytail, only to find that Heero had broken the hair band rather than just pulling it off. "Heeeerrro! It's going to take forever to get the tangles out!" he complained.

"Hmm, well I guess it's only fair if the one who made the mess has to fix it," Heero smirked. 'Not that either of us will find THAT a hardship - he loves to have his hair brushed and I love to touch his hair!'

"So, we're both semi-unemployed now, huh?" Duo said, curling up against Heero's side.

"Mm-hmm. We could join Preventers full-time, I guess. Or be like Wufei and go to college."

"Let's just take it one day at a time for now, look into our options a little more..." Duo suggested before shivering and complaining, "Brr, the breeze is getting chilly."

"Move over," Heero nudged, then once Duo was off the blanket he moved off himself, gathered it up, then wrapped it around his partner's shoulders. "Better?" he asked, kneeling behind Duo.

"Mm-hmm. Let's just watch the sunset 'fore we go in, 'kay?"

"'Kay."

Just before the last traces of sunset faded away, Duo asked quietly, "So, which do you think sounds better - a summer wedding, a winter one... or would you rather have none at all?"

Heero's breath caught sharply in his throat. He swallowed hard, then leaned forward to whisper in his fianc‚'s ear, "As long as you mean THIS summer - I've always heard June was a nice month for weddings..."

OWARI??

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