Author: Sunhawk

Honor's Choice

I suppose it is fate showing its sense of humor that makes the simplest of missions go wrong. Why else would it always be the jobs you don't think twice about that give you the most trouble and the assignments that you think will be the death of you that go the easiest? Fate, I had no doubt, was enjoying itself immensely.

It was a simple reconnaissance mission, there was not even supposed to have been any fighting. I had not been happy about accepting the assignment when it had come in. I felt it should have gone to Maxwell; infiltration and stealth were his specialties after all. I am not the... subtlest pilot. I prefer a frontal assault.

I got my inadvertent wish. Isn't that a proverb; be careful what you wish for; you may get it?

The assignment had been to simply infiltrate a small, civilian-run research facility located on the colony L3 and verify that they were working with the Romefeller Foundation. There hadn't even been any data to retrieve; I was simply to prove or disprove the presence of the enemy. I suppose the mission could be declared a complete success; I had more than verified the ties to the military faction and had the bullet holes in my hide to prove it.

Now if I could just live long enough to return to base with that information.

I had managed to get myself out of the facility despite my injuries, had stolen a motorcycle from the parking lot and had hauled ass, as Maxwell would have put it, out of there and back to my hidden Gundam. Three hours and a pretty nasty space battle later found me away from the L3 colony and blessedly, finally free of pursuit. It also found me hiding in my damaged Gundam, tucked in tight to a piece of space debris and resoundingly cursing Oz, Romefeller, Treize Khushrenada, mobile dolls in general, and the bad luck that had drawn me this assignment.

My first priority was assuring that I wasn't found; I shut down all non-essential systems, leaving myself with bare-minimum life-support. I ran a quick scan of the surrounding area to verify that I didn't have company out here before finally turning my attention to my own condition. The worst was a gunshot wound clear through the meaty part of my right thigh. Secondary was a crease across my ribs; I was very aware that I was damn lucky that one hadn't been just a hair to the left. Everything over and above that was merely annoying; cuts, bruises and road abrasions garnered when I had run the motorcycle off the road in an effort to elude my hunters.

When I had first reached my Altron, I had taken the precious seconds to rip my shirt into a hasty field dressing for the leg wound lest I bleed to death in the middle of my fleeing the colony. Damn, but that ate at me, running like a whipped dog. But I think even the tenacious Heero Yuy would have turned tail and run under the circumstances. Much as I hated to admit it, the whole thing had all the earmarks of a very well laid trap. If not a trap, then the largest damn coincidence known to man.

I bent to stripping the blood-soaked dressing from the leg; I needed to tend to it with a little more attention. I hissed as the remnants of my shirt pulled free from the wound and blood sluggishly trickled anew. I reached to the right of my pilot's seat for the med-kit and fished out the pain-meds and a bottle of water. I used the latter to wash down a couple of the pills before using the rest to clean my leg as best I could, then I fumbled out the gauze and sterile pads and with shaking hands, bound it up again. It flitted through my mind that there probably wasn't much point in going to all this work; I doubted Altron was in any shape to get me anywhere that could possibly be considered safe. I was very probably going to die out here.

The wound across my ribs hadn't been terribly deep and wasn't bleeding anymore. There wasn't a lot I could do for it other than cover it so that I stopped brushing it painfully as I moved. It was awkward as hell wrapping the gauze around my own torso but I managed it at length and then found that it was necessary to sit back and rest. I had lost enough blood that I was feeling fairly light-headed from just that small exertion.

Either that blood-loss or the minimal life-support was making the cockpit damned cold and I suddenly remembered the blankets that Maxwell had insisted be packed into each of the Gundams. I dragged it out and wrapped it carefully around my shoulders, more than happy to admit that he had been right about having it here. He had made several of these extra inclusions in our supplies not long after the battle that had cost him his sight for several, long, nerve-wracking weeks. I knew without looking, for instance, that there would be no less than six bottles of water secured in my med-kit. I had to smile thinking about it; none of us had argued with him when he had appeared in the hanger one day with sacks full of supplies and insisted that each and every Gundam be stocked with bottled water, blankets, flashlights and emergency rations. He had been so somber, a set to his jaw as though he had expected an argument. One look at that determined expression had told every one of us that there was no point in discussing it; you didn't win against Maxwell when he had that look in his eye. Not that I, at least, would have said a thing about it. He had still been finding his balance after that terrible ordeal and the gesture had seemed to help him. I would have let him hang fuzzy dice in my cockpit as long as it helped take that haunted look out of his eyes.

That had been a near thing. A damn near thing and it still made me shiver when I let myself think about talking him through reentry. I honestly hadn't thought we could do it... hadn't thought that anyone could pilot a Gundam through something like that blind. He is easily the best pilot among us though he seldom gets credit for it. To be brutally honest, I had only agreed to attempt it because I hadn't wanted Yuy to try it. Had not wanted that guilt on his head when Maxwell died. No one was more surprised than I was when he got that Gundam to Earth intact. Mostly intact.

After Maxwell had recovered his sight and it was all over, Winner had given him a pair of those goggles that he wears sometimes. We had all laughed and teased him about it but there had been a certain grateful... relief on Maxwell's face and I had little doubt that he actually did wear them in battle.

The warmth of the blanket was helping with the shakiness and I turned my attention back to the med-kit, pulling out another bottle of water and fishing around for one of those ration bars that I knew Maxwell had stowed in there. My fingers closed on something... fuzzy and I am embarrassed to have to admit that I jerked my hand back with a barely suppressed yelp. I leaned over the arm of my pilot's seat and met the black glittering eyes of a small... dragon.

I blinked at it stupidly for a moment, wondering idly if I had lost more blood than I had thought or if I had possibly taken a hit to the head without realizing it. Then it seeped through to my adrenaline-addled brain that the thing wasn't moving. I reached down and plucked it from where it nestled between water bottles and gauze, bringing it up into the light.

It was a... what do they call them? A plushie? And attached with a ribbon to its tail was a small envelope. My name was printed on the outside in what I recognized as Maxwell's small, neat hand. I liberated the envelope with a frown; he must have snuck this in here when he stocked the med-kits. That had been almost a month ago. I plopped the little dragon down on my good knee and peeled open the note.

"Wufei," I read and could almost hear his voice, "I never really was able to tell you how much I appreciated you saving my ass. I know Heero kind of put you on the spot asking you to talk me down like that and I wanted you to know that I realize what a crappy thing it was, for him to dump that on you. But I'm glad you were there; I've always been able to count on you even though I know I make you crazy half the time. This is 'Justice'." I glanced at the little toy sitting on my lap with a rueful smirk. "I just wanted you to have something to remind you that you have people you can count on too. Sometimes you just seem like you forget that. Duo."

I folded the note, stuck it back in the med-kit and then lifted the silly plushie into the palm of my hand to look it over. Justice. I snorted out loud. Sometimes Maxwell's sense of humor is a little... odd.

It actually was made in the Chinese style instead of the more popular European. Muted blues and greens with touches of metallic gold here and there; not the gaudy thing that I would have expected from Deathscythe's pilot.

Some cultures believe that it is bad luck to view a dragon in its entirety, that's why most of the older, more traditional paintings of them depict them with part of their bodies obscured by clouds or ocean waves. Maxwell had thought of that; around the neck of the dragon was tied a miniature silk neckerchief, obviously handmade. The Chinese character for 'justice' had been stitched delicately into the triangle fold of the scarf and a small jade bead had been stitched to hang from the corner of the silk cloth. I was deeply touched by the effort he had obviously gone to. I wondered if Yuy had helped him with the translation; I didn't think that Maxwell knew much Chinese at all. I found myself grinning at nobody in particular, as I thought about them with their heads bent together over the work. It still amazed me, the things that Yuy would do for his partner.

"Welcome aboard, Justice." I murmured, feeling just a little bit stupid, and found a place on the console for it to sit. Its head flopped slightly to the side and it appeared to be regarding me quizzically. I snorted softly and turned back to my original task; finding my lunch. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair; damn but my leg hurt. While I had not gotten this far into the war completely unscathed, this was probably the worst of the wounds I had sustained. And damned if it wasn't the same leg I had taken a bullet in last fall, though that had been in the calf. It was something that still ached sometimes when it got very cold. As it was going to if I ended up sitting here for very long.

That wound had made me appreciate Maxwell's limp a little bit more. You didn't see it very often after almost a year but when he had overworked that knee or there was a sudden weather change, you could see him favoring it ever so slightly. He tried so hard to cover it and I don't think that even observant Winner noticed it half the time. But I did and I knew that Yuy did; very little escaped that man where his Duo was concerned.

I had learned a thing or two about strength from watching Maxwell. It had surprised and... humbled me. He was so very much more under that cocky grin than I had anticipated. I suppose we all were when you got right down to it. But it had made me feel... chastened when I had realized just how badly I had misjudged him.

There was a blip on my radar screen and I held my breath while I watched the searchers sweep through the area. Automatically, I switched the radio onto the emergency frequency but couldn't have risked an outgoing call even if I had thought it would do any good. I breathed a sigh of relief as the tiny lights moved across my screen and out of my radar range. I finished my ration bar and sipped a little more water. I would have to remember to thank Maxwell for thinking of the blanket, without it I had no doubt I would be shivering in my seat.

I met the glittering, black eyes of the little dragon and had to share a wry grin with it. Before meeting the other pilots I would probably have been highly insulted to have found a 'foolish toy' packed in my med-kit. Hell, prior to forming our unlikely alliance I would not have allowed anyone close enough to my Gundam to have done such a thing. I had not thought twice about allowing Maxwell to climb all over my Altron; I hadn't even watched him to verify that he was doing what he said he would.

I shook my head, though there was no one to see it but Justice. Sometimes I think it was a near toss up as to which one of us had changed the most. Other times I knew without a doubt it was Yuy. The Perfect Soldier had let the Harlequin inside his defenses and I doubt he would ever be the same again.

Those two had been a trial. Barton and Winner had been so much easier to deal with when their feelings for each other had blossomed. They had come together as though they had never been anything other than a couple. Their relationship was... balanced, calm and steady. They each had their own... roles and they embraced them. Barton was the more physically powerful of the two and assumed a somewhat protective position, while Winner was a natural born leader and though he accepted Barton's defensive nature he clearly had the final say when there was any divergence of opinion.

Ah, but our other two partners... there had been nothing easy about that relationship.

I flicked the nose of my guest, making the dragon's head flop over in the other direction and he now looked up at me with an expression of amusement.

No, nothing easy about the Yuy-Maxwell union. I think they were the last two of the five of us to figure out what was going on between them. I had realized how Yuy felt the night we had arrived at that pre-arranged drop point in the park and found him clutching a radio listening in shock to reports of Maxwell's car going up in flames. He had looked at me with the most hideously dead expression in his eyes and only said, "He promised... "

Days later, when Maxwell had turned up alive after all, it hadn't taken long to figure out that he felt the same way. I believe quite firmly to this day that his need to see to his partner's safety was all that had gotten him through that ordeal.

That was also the day I had learned that... as Maxwell would say... I didn't know shit about strength. I used to think it was about victory, about skill and the warrior's code of honor. Maxwell taught me that it was about tenacity, about having the will to get back up even after you've been beaten to your knees. He showed me, without ever meaning to, that it didn't matter if you lost the battle if you had what it took to get back up and fight the rest of the war.

It had taken the two of them months to finally admit their feelings to themselves, much less each other. If Maxwell had not been so gravely injured during that time, one of the other three of us would probably have locked them in a room together and not let them out until they'd worked it through.

I dared an attempt at standing up from the pilot's chair, only enough to work the blanket around more than just my shoulders. It was damned cold in here; if I passed a couple of hours without further signs of searchers, I would dare to turn the life-support up a little. I set the proximity alarms and attempted to settle down for a little sleep. I couldn't attempt repairs out here in total vacuum, after all. There wasn't a lot else I could do but sleep and watch my monitors.

I should have known better than to doze off on the heels of sitting here reflecting on those days after Yuy and Maxwell's 'Road Trip', as they called it. The days that led up to Maxwell's nightmares.

I woke with a start from a nightmare of my own, spawned by those long days of dealing with his. They weren't really nightmares for him but more like flashbacks and getting him through them had turned into the longest week of my and Winner's lives. I had never in all my life had to handle something that ... impossible.

I shuddered and reached to turn up the heat with a muttered curse. The hell with it; I wasn't going to sit here and freeze to death trying to avoid detection. The warm air washed across me and though it eased the gooseflesh somewhat, it didn't do much for the images left over in my mind.

On the darker nights I could still hear his screams. Screams I could do nothing about, no matter how hard I tried... night after night... all I had been able to do was hold him until it was over but he hadn't even known I was there. I hadn't been able to stop his attacks, had not been able to ease them. I had very nearly wept with frustration the first night that Yuy had returned from that mission and simply talked Maxwell through the night. That was the first time I truly understood what they meant to each other. I had been... awed. Humbled and left feeling... damn lonely.

Barton and Winner, though truly devoted to each other, would never have the same... connection that Yuy and Maxwell did. I saw that night that soul mates really and truly did exist in this world outside of fairy tales and legends; I had the living proof of it right in front of my eyes. It was a daunting idea, that I had been graced with this glimpse of a love that ran deeper than life. I had felt honored and a little frightened. I felt obligated... almost duty-bound to protect it. I had lain awake in the room with them the next morning and listened to the quiet murmur of their voices. Yuy was so uncharacteristically... gentle when he was with his partner. His voice, normally so cold and harsh, might not have been his own. They had forgotten I was there, or at least Yuy had; Maxwell had fallen asleep before I had discovered there was nowhere else to sleep but on the floor of his room. I had been mortified to hear them speaking intimately of wet dreams and orgasms. Had it been within my power to sink through the floor, I would have done it in a heartbeat but I had been trapped.

I listened with no little amusement as Yuy tried, somewhat vainly, to speak without embarrassment on the subject at hand. But then it truly sank in what Maxwell was saying and I realized that the trauma of his childhood had completely stolen his sexuality from him. The agony and terror that had been visited on him had robbed him entirely of any sort of physical pleasure.

It had made me very angry. I had lain on my mattress on the floor and stared up at the ceiling and fervently wished that I could twist the fabric of time so that I might go back and find those soulless bastards who had dared touch him. I wanted to kill them, more than that... I wanted to obliterate them. I was consumed with the overwhelming need to protect what was mine as I had not been since... since... Meiran.

I grasped something else that day; Yuy and Maxwell's... relationship was not grounded in the physical. I had made an assumption on that point based on the number of times I had found them in the same bed together. It had puzzled me at the time, knowing what Maxwell was going through. I realized that morning that I had made a false assumption and it only served to make their union seem all the more... pure. They transcended mere hormonal attraction; their bond was something that ran deeper, something that was strong as steel at the same time that it seemed as fragile as blown glass.

I came out of my nightmare-induced reverie to find the piercing black eyes of Justice staring at me with a hint of reproach.

"Shut up." I growled at it and turned my attention to my screens; there didn't seem to be anything out here but me and I started considering trying to move Altron further out.

I called up the damage report, rather appalled that I had allowed myself to drift off to sleep without checking this first. My propulsion system was down at least sixty percent; I wasn't going anywhere very fast even if I did decide to move. I had lost my trident during the battle and one of the dragon fangs was damaged; useless. It rankled me to sit here in hiding, licking my wounds but I had learned... despite my best efforts... that there were times when discretion truly was the better part of valor. Dying here at this time would do little to benefit the rebellion. Living to fight another day... just might. Something else I had learned from my teammates.

My mission could hardly be counted any sort of success if I didn't get the information I had paid for in blood back to the others. Yes, the enemy was very much involved with the Ishran Technologies Company. Their research could very well be leading to some kind of biological warfare based on the very little amount of information I had been able to extract. This was quite likely the source of that thrice-damned drug that had been used on Maxwell all that time ago.

I found I could not dwell on memories of that horrific mission without getting... as Maxwell was fond of saying, flaming pissed. I had learned a little something on that assignment about the depths to which men without honor could stoop.

The four of us owed Maxwell our freedom and quite probably our lives after that disaster. What he had borne had been the price of our escape and there wasn't a one of us that hadn't been eaten alive with guilt over leaving him in the clutches of the enemy. No matter that we had returned for him as soon as we had realized; the damage had been done and Oz had used him, in retaliation, as a guinea pig for their newest invention. An experimental nerve drug that could turn the smallest touch into searing pain. He is normally such a tactile soul; it had hurt immeasurably to see him flinch at the slightest touch long after the actual drug had worn off. Each of us had felt drawn to try to comfort him but had been left floundering, at a loss, when he had recoiled from the things that used to ease his mind. A firm squeeze on a shoulder, the brush of a hand on his back, fingers to reach out and hold his own. He had tried to hide it but it had taken months before you didn't feel his muscles bunch when you touched him.

Gods, but he is such a bright damn spirit.

My woolgathering mind supplied a tiny growl from Justice and I flushed darkly. "I thought I told you to shut up," I growled back.

When it smirked back at me, I decided I had been hiding out here just a little too damn long. I brought my Gundam back to full life and started a series of scans of the area; finding nothing on radiation, heat or radar. But just where was I off to? My damaged engines wouldn't get me back to Earth anytime in the next month; I'd starve to death before I ever had to worry about the problem of getting planet side. My only real option was to head for one of Winner's many pre-arranged pick-up points. The idea niggled at my pride and I found myself looking down at the stupid little plushie on my console. I could almost hear Duo's voice; could almost see that lop-sided grin, "I just wanted you to have something to remind you that you have people you can count on too." This very probably qualified as one of those times that I was going to need to count on aforementioned people.

Like all of us, I had the coordinates committed to memory. It would not do to have the locations entered into our computers; what good are safe points if you can't trust that they will remain safe? I called up a vector map on my screens and found the nearest pick-up site, plotting my course and checking the timing. It would take some time; I would hold off risking the radio until I was closer. Though the fact that I hadn't heard anything on the emergency frequency left me feeling less than... confident that actually getting to position Charlie Walter Banjo would do me any good. I had to shake my head with wry amusement; I had lost a bet with Barton over Maxwell and Winner's mangling of the military call sign system. I had said they had to have been drunk when they made these names up. Barton had said that when the two of them put their heads together on something they didn't need to be drunk. Though I had to admit... there was no mistaking their system for anyone else's.

I brought my Altron's engines to life, cringing at the horrendous off-pitch... thrumming sound. I promised my Gundam a complete overhaul when we got out of this mess, belted down and set us in motion. I was very thankful that it was not really necessary to do more than key in data; I felt like royal crap. Both leg and ribs were throbbing painfully; I was almost shivering with cold despite the blanket and felt shaky and light-headed. All in all, not the best day I'd ever had.

I felt like a damn thief sneaking away from the scene of the crime. Maxwell would call this strategically hauling ass. I called it... embarrassing.

It felt like I could get out of my Gundam and 'walk' faster than I was moving. I felt dangerously exposed and listening to the vibration my engines were causing made me worry what sort of energy signal I was leaving behind. Well, couldn't be helped, I suppose. I reached out and stroked a finger down the snout of my shipmate. "Maxwell should have made you a spacesuit; I think you're going to need it before this ride's over," I muttered, my eyes studying my screens, watching closely for any sign of pursuit. Justice refrained from answering me. I wondered again if I'd maybe hit my head when I had ditched the motorcycle at the end of that heart-pounding ride back to my Gundam; I was talking to a stuffed animal.

The proximity claxon went off at almost the exact moment that my eyes caught a blip on the edge of my radar screen. Damn. I guess I had known it was too much to hope that my hunters had given up and gone home. I checked my vector map; still a good hour away from my destination and no contact from base yet anyway.

I killed my engines and turned to face my personal set of hounds; the fox wasn't ready to give up the hunt just yet... let's see what you've got.

It was a pair of Leos armed with beam rifles; not much of a threat on a better day, but my mobility was down and my armament was somewhat... lacking.

They closed quickly, splitting their formation and attempting to come at me from both directions simultaneously. I lashed out with my remaining dragon claw and scored a hit on my right hand enemy, turning just in time to evade a beam rifle blast.

They were quick, for Leos, but not quick enough and I managed to disable the right arm on the left hand one with my next strike. I cursed the time required to retract the claw before I could attack again and spun as quickly as I could away from another rifle beam.

In my mind's eye, Justice whirled to hang by his little claws from the edge of the view screen, his tongue hanging out in an excited pant as he chirped encouragement. I laughed out loud; I had obviously lost my sanity.

I took a hit that rocked me in my harness and caused Justice to slide off the console onto the floor. I didn't waste my attention worrying about him. My next attack demolished the hatch of the first Leo and I saw the unfortunate pilot sucked into space on a plume of explosive decompression. Since he no longer needed his beam rifle, I took possession of it and turned my attention to his partner. It didn't take long after that; while a Gundam can withstand a beam rifle pulse... a Leo cannot. I took his rifle too.

I spared the few minutes it took to locate the body of the first pilot to verify that he was already dead; slow suffocation in a space suit abandoned in deep space was not something I would wish on anyone, not even an enemy. Then I fished Justice out from under my pilot's seat, retrieved the ribbon that Maxwell had tied the card to his tail with and found him a secure place to hang from my console. Out of the way and out of sight of the view screen. I knew half the reason I did it was knowing in advance how much it would please Maxwell. I could almost see the wide grin, could hear the delighted laugh, could almost feel his hand falling on my shoulder to squeeze tight. Justice swung lazily on his satin ribbon, his eyes speaking accusations whenever they met mine.

"Leave me the hell alone about it," I growled. "I'm not stupid... I know."

I brought the engines back on-line and re-plotted my course. The Gods only know why I bothered; my two sparing partners were sure to have alerted someone and it was only a matter of time now. Though I had to admit having acquired the two rifles upped my odds a little.

Since my position was probably already common knowledge all over this sector now, I dared to use the radio. "Hawk's Nest... this is Lost Boy, do you read me?"

There was an immediate response and I recognized Winner's relieved voice. "Lost boy... this is Hawk's Nest; I read. What is your status?"

It was mildly disconcerting how much of a balm it was to hear his voice. "Status is level three. Need extraction... if someone is in the area." Level three being wounded but not actually dying... at the moment.

"Understood; Mr. Black is en route." His voice had taken on that tight, controlled quality that told me I'd scared him. "What is your nearest pick-up point?"

"Charlie Walter Banjo." Maxwell was already on his way; he'd left before they were even sure of my coordinates. I shook my head in wry amusement but had to stifle the warm feeling that came on the heels of that same amusement.

"Mission results?" Winner was asking me somewhat tersely and I'm sure he felt guilty, as though he were admitting out loud that I might not make it back.

"Answer to question is most definitely positive," I told him, understanding completely and only wished I dared tell him more.

There was a tiny hesitation and then, "We'll see you for dinner, Mr. Dragon."

I snorted softly, "Thank you Mr. Hawk."

"Hawk's Nest, out."

"Lost Boy, out."

I killed the microphone but left the radio on for in-coming calls. Well, all I could do was hope that Maxwell had enough of a head start that he would get here before the friends of those two Leos showed up.

I pushed for as much speed as I dared, causing my stressed engines to rumble alarmingly. Wouldn't do to blow a stabilizer now but I was under no delusions about my chances of making it out of here in one piece if I didn't rendezvous with help before my hunters closed down my track.

I had to wonder just how Maxwell had managed to get himself out here; the last I had heard he'd been assigned a search and destroy that should have had him closer to L4 than L3. I stared at Charlie Walter Banjo on my vector map as though I could will myself there faster. I couldn't decide whether to feel insulted that my partners had assumed I was in trouble, or pleased that my partners had feared I was in trouble.

Either way, I found that I was comforted by the knowledge that one of my friends was on their way.

There was the tiny ghost of a snicker in my imagination from Justice where he swung lazily in his impromptu perch. I glared at him. "Will you shut the fuck up?"

I dug out another bottle of water; I probably needed more fluids. Did dehydration lead to hallucinations? Aimless mental rambling? Talking plushies? Unrequited... feelings?

Justice fairly roared with laughter and I reached out with a forefinger and flicked him rather violently on the tail, causing him to spin dizzyingly. His black eyes flashed with scorn as he twisted around and around, finally settling to stare at me as though the damn thing could see inside my black soul. Ok... I was comforted by the knowledge that Maxwell was on his way.

"All right you demonic little thing," I barked, "I love him! Are you fucking happy now?"

Justice didn't look happy. In fact, he looked a little... disappointed. I thumped my head helplessly against the headrest of my pilot's seat. What in the hell was wrong with me? Had I truly lost my mind? None of this was outside my own head. What was it about that stupid toy that was eating at my guilty conscience? I had thought I had put these damn... yearnings behind me. What was driving this again?

I had started out dismissing Maxwell as flighty and undisciplined. I had, in fact, early in our acquaintance, wondered how in the world he had ever managed to end up qualifying as a Gundam pilot. Over time, I had started to understand how I had misjudged him. The manic grin hid a mind every bit as sharp as his razor tongue. His piloting skills had won him my notice, for all he cared. But once he was actually in my attention... I found I couldn't get him out.

By the time the ordeal of that ill-fated 'Road Trip' was over, he had won more than my attention; he had won my respect.

But he had won more than that from Yuy... much more than that.

In my darkest, most dishonorable moments, I can't stop myself from wondering if things might have turned out differently if I had awoken to what was right in front of me faster than I had. Would it be my touch that would bring that bright, true smile to Duo's face? My name that he called softly in his dreams?

But then the dawn would come and I would see the two of them together and I would know what I was seeing. I would know that there was no room for me there. They were two halves of a whole. What they had was something to be guarded and cherished, not sullied with my disgraceful desires. What I felt for Duo was nothing in the face of what he held in his soul for Yuy.

Duo... in my heart I called him Duo. I called him Maxwell to his face because it was an easier name to use without my voice betraying my emotion. But in my secret places he was... Duo, my bright and beautiful little spirit.

I had faced my feelings for him during those dark, hideous nights of holding him through his nightmares. That time had almost undone me; witnessing his pain and not being able to help him. Understanding the horror of what had been done to him and being powerless to stop his reliving it... powerless to punish his attackers. Having to do things for his own sake that only incited his anger... only fueled his frustration. When all I had wanted was to hold him and protect him... to love him and keep him safe.

It was during those same nights that I came to hate my own damn weak heart. I had found a tiny part of myself that reveled in holding him. Not... not during the flashbacks; even I am not that sick. But afterward... after it was over and he was back in the present again. There were long minutes while he would just cling to us and I was allowed by circumstance to hold him tight against my chest, to wrap him securely in my arms. It was the sweetest feeling I have ever known and I loathe myself for feeling it.

In that week; such a short period of time to have been so long, I faced up to the fact that I loved another man. I faced up to the fact that I loved someone I could never have. And I faced up to the cold, hard fact that I could not... would not ever act on it, would never speak of it. Maxwell and Yuy belonged together; I would not defile what they had for anything in the universe.

[cont]