Author: CalicOcat
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.
See Part 1 for warnings

'Thinking'
"Speaking"

************ Time passing or scene change
*~*~*~*~*~* Major POV shift

Mission: Marriage + Chapter 14

It hadn't taken long at the reception for Duo and Heero to end up being drawn in different directions as various acquaintances offered congratulations. Spotting Howard, Duo gradually made his way through the crowd to speak to him, intending to offer his congratulations on Howard's new position as spokesman for the Spacers' Association along with his thanks for the Association's promise of support for the Preventers when budget matters were next raised. Before he had a chance to say anything, however, Howard clapped him on the back and said, "'Bout time ya finally made a move. Ya know I hate to say 'I told you so', but I told ya that first time ya dragged him back to the ship all banged up that he was a keeper!"

"What the hell are you talkin' about Howie?" demanded Duo.

"Oh come on now Duo, don't play dumb with me. Ya might have denied it back then, but I knew ya were well on yer way to fallin' - and fallin' hard - for that sullen, beat-up soldier the minute I saw him limp his way across the deck with you hoverin' over him, fussin' like a mother hen."

Faint flashes of memory starting to come back to him, Duo paled as Howard continued, "Ya said ya weren't 'bout to start somethin' 'cause prob'ly neither of ya'd last more'n a few months of the war, but I never could figure out how come ya never did nothin' when it ended with ya both still in one piece."

Howard was still talking, but Duo wasn't listening. Starting to shake, he made some sort of excuse and slipped off through the reception. Ducking into Quatre's study, he locked the door and sank into a chair while the long-buried memories washed over him.


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

Standing a short distance away, Howard and Duo watched as the silent boy worked on his damaged suit.

"He's gonna take a lotta work ta salvage, Kid, but I think ya found a real keeper there. Strong, determined, dedicated, and while I'm not much of a judge of male looks, I'd say he's pretty easy on the eyes too. Ya certainly can't keep yers off him anyway!" Howard laughed, poking Duo in the ribs good-naturedly.

Sounding uncharacteristically bitter, Duo answered, "No, I can't, for what little good it'll do me. You know as well as I do, Howard, that the odds are one or both of us will be dead within six months. Whoever it was that said, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all' obviously never experienced the losin' part." His eyes clouded momentarily, remembering the agonizing loss of first Solo, then Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. It didn't pay to let anyone get too close - losing them hurt too damn much. Voice firming with resolve, he swore, "Not gonna happen, Howie, no way, no how." Tossing the jester mask back in place in response to Howard's concerned glance, he added jokingly, "Besides, he's probably straight anyway!"

Howard just shook his head, "Keep tellin' yerself that Duo, and ya just might start believin' it."

'I hope so, Howard. I sure as hell do hope so.'

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

Sitting on deck watching the stars, Duo wasn't the least bit surprised to hear Howard come up behind him.

"Ya DO realize where he's plannin' on gettin' those parts from, don't ya Kid?"

"Yep."

"Not plannin' on stoppin' him?"

"Nope." 'The sooner his suit's fixed, the sooner he'll be gone. Less time to get attached that way,' Duo thought morosely.

"'S yer suit and yer life, Kid, but I still think yer makin' a mistake. I told ya, that one's a keeper.." Howard's voice trailed off as he strolled away, leaving Duo to the stars and his thoughts.

Softly, he muttered, "He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just..."

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

Wiping his brow as he watched his cobalt-eyed friend go in for a shot at the basket, a quiet little voice tried one more time to raise a forbidden thought. Without even consciously thinking about it, Duo slid into a far-too-familiar mantra, 'He's just a friend and he's probably straight anyway. He's just a friend...'

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

Screaming in horror, Duo watched as Wing self-destructed, over and over again, and his friend was flung to the ground. Jerking upright in bed, a half-choked-off scream still on his lips, he pushed his bangs back from his face and repeated, shakily at first, but with growing conviction, "No regrets. Didn't miss out on anything. He's - no, he WAS just a friend, and he WAS probably straight anyway. He was just a friend and he was probably straight anyway..."

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

Speaking to Howard for the first time since Wing's self-destruction, Duo said firmly, "Of course I'm alright, Howie. I mean, sure, I'm sad he's gone and I miss him, but it's not like I didn't expect any of us to end up dead."

"No regrets then, Duo? Not sorry you never tried for more?" Howard asked with a concerned look.

"Regrets? What for?" Duo asked, genuinely puzzled. "Howie, he was a friend and he was straight anyway." Subconsciously, he automatically silenced that tiny little voice of protest.

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


'When Heero self-destructed, it didn't matter that it still hurt like hell losin' someone I considered a friend, I was sure it woulda hurt even more if I'd been any closer to him. By the time he showed up alive, I'd stuffed even the faintest hint of attraction to him so far down in my memory and buried it under so many iterations of "He was probably straight anyway" that "probably straight" had become just "straight" and my conscious mind refused to remember any of it...

'But... did I really just consider him a friend? Or was it more? I wasn't in love with him...

'But I might have been startin' to fall in love with him...

'Dammit Duo, you've been fuckin' lyin' to yourself for over three years just because you were too damn immature to face the fact that you were startin' to fall in love with him after promisin' yourself you wouldn't let that happen because losin' him would be too painful. Since you still ended up with all the pain but none of the good to balance it out, you convinced yourself that you hadn't wasted an opportunity because it was impossible to begin with since he was straight. And so you wasted even more opportunities.' And looking back over his memories of the past three years with newly opened eyes, he realized just how many opportunities he had blindly ignored. How many hints, from subtle to blatant, Heero had dropped only to have him continue along completely oblivious. That Heero hadn't given up on him and moved on was a minor miracle.

'If I was startin' to fall for him back then, how do I feel now? If something were to happen to him today and he died, would that be worse than when I thought he had before?' Cautiously, he took a quick peek at that possibility and quickly slammed the door to that part of his imagination back shut again. 'Fuck. Baka, you're not just fallin' in love with him now, you are in love with him, and probably have been for quite a while.' Duo dropped his head down on Quatre's desk with a thump. So that's what that little voice had been trying to tell him for the past couple of weeks, only to be determinedly ignored. 'I've gotta stop runnin' and hidin' where my emotions are concerned. That's what got me *into* this mess startin' three years ago.

'Okay, so you've been a complete baka and wasted way too much time. You're married to him now, at least till his "parole" time is up and Relena can't even try to use the Preventers' budget as a hold over him.' Duo's thought process jerked to a halt on that thought. 'I'm married. Married to Heero, my best friend, my partner, my lover... the man I love...

'Yeah, sure Maxwell-Yuy, but you married him under false pretenses. This marriage is supposed to be part of a plan, a plan where his best friend rescues him from Relena, with a healthy sex life as a side benefit. Love was never part of the plan. Shit.

'Okay, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. You can do this, Duo. All you have to do is make him fall in love with you. Right. No problem. Now where the hell do I start?!'

Suddenly realizing just how long he'd been gone from the reception, Duo hurriedly stood, unlocked the door, and ducked back out of the study. One quick sidetrip to persuade Howard not to mention any of this to anyone else, then he'd find Heero and... Well, he'd think of something.

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