by Artemis

Illusions of Love + Part 6

Heero sat on a stone bench under the ivy canopy. The cool stone beneath him and the cool shade around him chilled his skin, and he thought to remember this spot later in the day when the sun's heat would be at its peak intensity.

The dark, green leaves of the ivy were shielding and comforting in their dominance here. This part of the garden seemed forgotten it was so far removed from the palace and the main gardens. There was no crushed gravel path lined with ornamental shrubs leading here, but Heero knew Duo would find him.

One of Duo's quirks was casing a place when he first arrived. He would've made a great fire marshal, checking all the exits and routes of escape. Perhaps this little habit had been abandoned now so many months after the war, but Heero doubted it. Duo had a way of doing things and not even realizing he was doing them. A sort of sub-routine that ran in Duo's programming, hidden by the many layers that made up his complex personality.

Heero sighed. Certainly Duo could find him out here, but would he want to?

Last night had been a very long night. After seeing Duo kiss Zechs and then disappear into their room, Heero went back to his own room and lay down on the bed. He tried to fall asleep, but he could not stop himself from thinking of Duo. It didn't matter if his eyes were open or closed, he saw Duo. In those ruminations, Heero remembered the blood, death and destruction of the war, but also the happier times when he and Duo had carved out moments together. Their missions and their moods hadn't always coincided, but when they did there had been fireworks between them.

The sound of soft steps on the grass footpath, and the murmuring of a voice brought Heero back to the moment.

Duo took a deep breath and ducked inside the overgrown enclosure. It was shades darker in there, despite the morning sun, but his eyes adjusted quickly. He saw Heero at once. The other boy stood and his crisp white shirt, and pressed tan slacks and black shoes looked out of place in this rustic setting.

"You're here," Heero said, managing to disguise the excitement in his belly.

Duo nodded and intentionally bit his tongue to stop himself from making a snide remark. Sarcasm was his usual cover for nervousness, but he didn't think it right this morning.

He looked about the space, trying to act casual and pretend that nothing had happened between them last night. He had wrestled with the memory of their encounter all night. Even in Zechs's arms, Duo had drifted back to the moment of that kiss, to the press of their bodies together. The fact that Heero still had power over him made Duo angry and confused. It wasn't fair. He had worked hard to begin again.

"Yep, I'm here," Duo finally said, becoming even more nervous as Heero just stared at him.

Heero was still in shock that Duo had actually shown. That note had been a gamble. If Duo hadn't come to the garden, then Heero would have tried something else. They had to keep talking if they were going to work this out.

"Thanks," Heero said, and then gestured for Duo to sit with him.

The bench looked tempting, but Duo only frowned. He could sit and chat with Heero, but there were still too many unanswered questions to feel all chummy again.

"Or we can stand..."

"Do you really love me?" Duo asked, the question shooting out like a bullet.

Heero nearly flinched from the force of the question. It was as if it had been waiting on Duo's tongue since the night before.

"Yes," Heero said with conviction. There was something of a painful look in Duo's eyes...

"How do you know you love me?" Duo asked, his arms folding over his chest.

Again, a question used like a weapon. For Duo these questions were the root of everything. He had to know what Heero was thinking. He had to know if the declaration from the night before had only been said out of loneliness. And for Heero, these were the questions for which he had only recently discovered answers, and possibly not full answers at that.

Seeing Duo's posture closed and hearing a slight tremor in his voice, Heero delayed his response. He wanted to find the right words to hold Duo to that spot... no, to make him come closer.

"Some say you shouldn't judge a person based on a first impression," Heero began, his eyes fixed on the slender young man in blue jeans before him. "But in war your first impression can be the only one you get. What you decide in those first few seconds can make the difference between dying and completing your mission."

Duo gave a derisive snort and toss of his head. Leave it to Heero to think that the alternative to dying was not living, but completing your mission. And what did this have to do with Heero knowing he loved him anyway?

The reaction was noted, but Heero was undeterred. He was accustomed to Duo's diverging opinions.

"Do you know what my first impression was of you?" he asked, studying Duo's face closely.

Duo didn't know, but it had to be something horrible, since the first few months of knowing Heero had been so full of animosity.

"No?" Heero asked, understanding Duo's hesitation. "I thought you were bold as hell... and fast."

Duo's lips curved in a half smile. "I always did make a great entrance."

The cocky tone and little smile warmed Heero. He liked this Duo. The one who always managed to take care of himself, and was so damn entertaining in the process.

"Of course," Heero continued, "I appended that list to include annoying, loud-mouthed and a liability."

"Hey!" Duo shouted as he set his fists to his hips. "Maybe you've forgotten who you're talking to," he said, now pointing accusingly. "I could've killed you that day...."

"But you didn't," Heero said, feeling confident again. The rhythm of this conversation was like so many they had shared before. "Just like I didn't kill you when I thought you had jeopardized my mission."

An involuntary shiver raced through Duo. Though he and Heero had never discussed that day in the OZ prison cell, he knew exactly what Heero was talking about. Duo had been injured and was being held captive by OZ. Heero had broken in, seemingly to rescue him, but then pointed a gun at his face. Their eyes had met across the barrel of Heero's gun, and Duo had quickly realized it was no rescue.

"Why didn't you... shoot?" Duo asked, his eyes wide with the memory, and his body suddenly less defensive in posture.

Heero took a step forward, coming within an arm span of his former lover. "I found a reason to keep you alive... I told myself that you were still needed for the good of the mission. But it wasn't that... It was those damn eyes of yours... and the disbelief in your voice." Heero paused, taking several breaths. His heart was beating faster with the adrenaline of that day and the decision he had made. "I can't explain it, but something changed... something inside of me said the mission wasn't everything."

Duo's eyes widened. "You risked being caught for me," he said, softly, remembering the escape that followed.

"Hn," Heero nodded and took a step back to sit down, but Duo caught him by the wrist.

The momentum of Heero's body was stopped. He stared at the hand holding his wrist and felt warmth race all the way up to his face.

"It wasn't long after that... you first kissed me," Duo said, almost shyly.

Heero looked up, meeting Duo's eyes and then stood fully again. "That's right," he said, and swallowed. Did Duo want him to kiss him again now?

"Why didn't we ever talk about the war?" Duo asked, gently releasing Heero's wrist.

"I don't know," Heero said, regretting the loss of touch. "Probably for the same reason we never talked about how we felt about each other."

Duo nodded.

At Quatre's, everyone had carefully avoided the topic of war, choosing to keep conversations light. Each young man had his own baggage of pain to sort through, and the prospect of sharing those raw emotions had been daunting to the young friends.

"Duo, things got real intense for you and me after the war. Maybe... maybe Relena was a good excuse."

"I knew it. You wanted to get away from me," Duo accused.

"No," Heero said, sweetly, taking a small step forward. "I know it appeared that way, but I just needed things to slow down."

The mild tone in Heero's voice helped Duo to understand. Heero was not looking for excuses, he was truly trying to sort things out. Obviously he had been thinking about what had happened between them.

"I didn't mean for this job to split us apart," Heero added. "That last night when we argued, I was confused about what I wanted."

"You wanted to make love," Duo said as his cheeks flushed.

"Yes," Heero said, swallowing nervously. "I wanted that, but..."

"But what you really wanted was to talk," Duo finished.

Heero nodded, remembering their last night together. Once again he could not understand why he had let his pride take him out of that room and out of that house. But now he was standing here with Duo, in this beautiful, forgotten garden, and Duo was looking at him with those impossibly large eyes.

"I wish we could've talked like we are now," Heero said.

"Yeah," Duo said, looking into Heero's eyes. Those were the eyes from his dreams, the dark blue eyes that could hold him in place, breathless and warm.

Heero was standing so close, just inches away, and the thrill of connecting like this in words and good energy set Duo's chest to burning. The heat radiated out, taking him over, making him want... making him ache. He reached for Heero, grabbing the boy's waist and a fist full of shirt and pulling him in tight. Their bodies and their lips came together as Heero returned the fierce embrace.

Duo, Duo...

The moment was rough, frantic in the desperation of young lovers. Why had they separated? How could they stand to be apart a moment longer? Little whimpers and moans escaped through the bruising kisses as they remembered just how good it had been.

Oh, God, Heero...

** Beep. Beep. **

The low, tonal sound cut through the pleasant hum of nature around them, snapping Duo out of his frenzy. What was that? He broke away from the tangle of bodies, gasping and stumbling back.

"Fuck," he said, looking up at Heero and hearing the strange sound again.

** Beep. Beep. ** It was Heero's radio.

Heero looked down at the device, hanging lightly from his belt and then back at Duo. Not now! He didn't want to be called back to duty now!

"Go on," Duo said, breathless. "Answer it, for God's sake."

Slowly, Heero gathered his wits, bringing the radio to his lips. "Heero here."

"This is Noin. Zechs is ready for the security tour now."

Two sets of blue eyes met and locked over the small, black transmitter. The ivy canopy suddenly seeming more like an OZ prison cell than a secret garden.

"Do your duty," Duo whispered unhappily, as he hooked a stray piece of hair behind his ear.

Heero swallowed and schooled his features. It was the same old problem---duty or love---but he felt he had no choice. "I'll be right there," he told Noin and re-clipped the radio to his belt. "I'm sorry..."

"No," Duo said, holding up his hand. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I shouldn't have done that."

Heero felt his heart sink away, bottoming out through his shoes and slipping away into the earth beneath him. Why would Duo apologize for a kiss like that?

"I want you to know," Heero began hesitantly, his voice choked, "that I am sorry... for everything."

Duo lifted his chin and swallowed hard, tears welling in his eyes. A terrible weight was pressing on his shoulders as he felt this encounter collapsing into ashes. "You don't have to be sorry... for everything," Duo said in a mix of anger and regret as he clenched his fists to stop his hands from trembling.

Heero nodded. "Then there's hope that maybe someday you'll forgive me."

Duo turned away just as a tear fell down his cheek. He didn't want Heero to see him cry or to know just how deep the hurt had gone.

Heero's eyes drifted down the length of Duo's braid, his fingers twitching at the memory of its weight and softness. Oh, the things that Duo could do with that braid... As much as Heero wanted to resolve this now, lay it all on the line, he needed to be on his way. And so, he turned and walked away, retreating quietly back to the palace and to his duties.

+

"The security measures are more than adequate," Zechs said as he and his security team exited the computer control room. "I appreciate the subtlety of the system. We would not want to appear unwelcoming to those visiting Sank."

"Thank you, that was our intention," Noin said as she and the others followed Zechs into the main corridor.

"Is there anything else you needed to show me?" Zechs asked.

"That's everything on my list," Noin said, scanning her notepad quickly. Then looking to the chief security advisor added, "Did we miss anything?"

"No," Heero said, meeting her eyes. "But we need to follow-up on linking the border posts."

Though he had answered every question thrown his way during the inspection with care and thoroughness, Heero's thoughts were elsewhere. His mind kept replaying his encounter with Duo, making Heero second-guess the things he had said and done. Part of him wanted to believe that Duo was on the verge of taking him back. Clearly they were still drawn to each other and those kisses, they were all fire and need. But another part of him--more persistent in his thoughts--said that he had lost. Duo had moved on and was doing well for himself in his new life. Any attraction that remained was merely embers from the past.

"Thank you for your efforts," Zechs was saying as Heero came back to the moment. The group had paused at the juncture of three corridors and was in the process of ending their tour. "I am very impressed."

Noin smiled proudly. She had put a great deal of herself into protecting the Sank Kingdom both during and after the war and it delighted her to be receiving this praise from Zechs. "It's been a challenge, but an enjoyable one," she said sincerely.

Heero merely nodded. He was never comfortable with compliments, preferring just to be left alone to do his job.

"I'm meeting with Relena now concerning the new university," Noin said, her eyes intent on Zechs. "Perhaps you could join us to look over the plans."

[cont]