Warnings: Little angst, little sap, OOC, Heero POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading another one! And thanks to everyone who offered opinions on the preview.
Standard disclaimers apply. They aren't mine, never have been... never will be.
By: Sunhawk


The morning light, peeking in through the bedroom window, woke me long before the alarm went off. I'd left the shade raised a bit just for that purpose. I was relieved to find Duo finally sleeping peacefully. He very much needed the rest. His last assignment had been... rough. A failure by the standards of the old days, but then, we don't measure things quite the way we used to.

I counted it a complete and total success because he came back in one piece.

He counted it as a moderate success because he got his team out alive. Though he'd done it carrying one and dragging another.

I wasn't sure how Commander Une had tallied it; the weapons ring had been broken, but the kingpin had gotten away. I hadn't been there when Duo made his report. I'd only been there to bring him home when he'd finished. What Une had said, had not been among the questions I'd been interested in.

Sprained wrist. Hip bruised black. Concrete abraded shoulders. Enough pulled muscles to make a contortionist turn pale. Yes... sleep had been an elusive thing for him, last night.

I watched him in rest, his face turned to my side of the bed as though seeking me out even in slumber. I watched him shift slightly, and saw the small, unconscious frown of discomfort.

I rolled silently away and reaching out, turned off the alarm. He would be irritated with me, when he woke, but I didn't care. He would tell me that he wasn't hurt badly enough to miss work. He would tell me that I was being ridiculous. But... I really didn't care.

It is rare that I can wake before him. It is rare that I get to watch him like this, without disturbing him. I can count the times I've managed it, on the fingers of one hand. I had turned that alarm off as much for myself as for him.

He had finally let me give him some pain medication last night, after we'd talked out the mission. After he'd finished raising the hair on my arms with his tale of narrow escape. I hadn't bothered to tell him I'd given him the one with the sleeping aid in it. He'd be irritated with me about that too, if he figured it out. And I had little doubt that he would. But I didn't much care about that, either.

I just wanted to lie here and look at him. I just wanted to lie here and be with him.

I can't begin to tell you what he means to me. I can't begin to tell you where or what I would be without him. He has stood by me through everything. He was there all through the war, a presence and a voice that had given me something to hang on for. When the war was over, he had been my shield and my anchor. Holding the world at bay until I had figured out my place in it. Giving me a constant... giving me my center until I'd found my own balance. When I had decided that I wanted to live in Tokyo, he had packed our bags and gotten us there. When I had been disappointed that it had not felt like a home to me, he had listened and encouraged and helped me figure out how to forge a home from scratch. When I had wanted to join the Preventers, he had suited up right beside me. Had gone into the training shoulder to shoulder with me and made sure that I didn't allow the ridiculous tedium of it all to deter me.

He would do anything for me. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. I learned that the day we started our training and they told him his hair was over the regulation length. They said it was dangerous for an agent to have hair down below their waist. He'd let them cut it, because it would have meant he couldn't have qualified with me if he'd refused. I hadn't known until it was too late. I would have stopped him. I would have called the whole thing off, if I'd known. But of course he hadn't said a thing, just done what he had to for my sake and gone on.

He had laughed it off that evening, when we'd gotten home. I had been appalled, but he had made jokes about how lightheaded he felt and made everything all right. The way he always makes everything all right. I'd awakened that night to feel his side of the bed empty and found him tucked into a corner of the living room, hiding behind a chair, sobbing quietly.

I learned that night that he needed to be guarded from himself where I was concerned. That his love for me knows no bounds. He gives to me without reservation, and I realized for the first time that night, that he would bleed himself dry, if I let him, for my sake. It was a lesson I should have taken more to heart.

I reached out and my fingers found the tie on the end of his braid. He still wears it that way most of the time, even though it is barely long enough to manage it. Coming down to his shoulder blades and no further. I broke the tie and let it fall to the bed, knowing he'd find it later and think it defective. Just like he had the last time. He's changed brands of hair ties three times now.

I don't do this very often. I can't do this very often, but I knew this morning that he would sleep. Between the stress of the mission, his injuries, and the pills I had given him, he would sleep through the sunrise. With touches lighter than a breath, I unbound his hair until it was spread across his shoulders like a fan. I managed it bare minutes before the sun crept its way across the sheets and finally settled on him.

What color is Duo's hair? Anyone you asked would tell you it's brown. Not as dark as mine or Trowa's, but brown all the same.

I know better, I've seen his hair in the sunlight.

Chestnut. Cinnamon. Auburn. All of those, I suppose, but that's not what I've seen. His hair in the sunlight... in the early morning sunlight, is laced with molten gold and liquid fire. His hair is watered silk. It is as rich with color as an artist's palette, but colors that live. Colors that shine with their own light.

I touched a thread of gold, marveling at the shine. I lifted a single strand so red I half expected it to burn my fingers. Carefully, carefully, I brought a lock of that beautiful hair to my face and inhaled his scent. Musky and spicy. Shampoo and wood smoke. My Duo.

Ever vigilant of his sleep, I let the fall of silk slide through my fingers. I can't indulge my desire to touch over much, or he'll wake. But I can look. I can watch the warm sun as it slowly tracks across our bed. As it shines and sparks... silver?

I stretched out a tentative hand and touched... silver? When had the silver come to live here with the gold and the red, with the ginger and the brown?

It inexplicably brought a lump to my throat, to see that gray hair there, and once I noticed it, I could see it wasn't alone.

When had time started to catch up to us?

It made me look a little harder. It made me look with the clarity of the morning light, and I saw for the first time the tiny little lines at the corners of his eyes. Saw a face worn and tired. When had he become so... haggard?

He hadn't felt about the Preventers the way I had. He had joined for my sake, though it had taken me years to figure that out. It was a thing I managed to forget, most of the time.

Training had been a trial of patience that I would never have managed without him there to calm me when I got fed up with what seemed like a waste of time. The lessons they had taught had seemed so... childish. Though the dream to become an agent, to find a way to answer the deep-seated need to... protect, to defend, had been mine, I would never have achieved it without him. He had understood that the training was nothing but a game for us. A game we had to play by their rules in order to win and go on to the next level. Duo had gotten me through it, practically forcing me to obtain what had been my idea in the first place.

And we did obtain it. We passed their stupid tests with flying colors and had become agents. But they wouldn't let us partner. Said it was against the rules for two agents who were 'involved' to work on the same team. Created complications. Created stressful situations. I had meant to fight it, Duo and I had been partners since the war, but he wouldn't let me. Explained that it was just another of the stupid rules to the game. It wasn't our playground, so we had to play by their rules.

I had managed to hook up with Wufei, who was a more than acceptable partner. I had wished fervently that Duo might at least be able to sign-on with one of our other former teammates, but it wasn't meant to be. Duo, over the next fifteen years was to go through a string of partners for many and varied reasons. I only beat the shit out of one of them, after his failure to follow Duo's orders had almost gotten them both killed. Two of them had died, through their own inabilities. They never should have been in the field in the first place, if you ask me. Most of the rest of them had had sense enough to understand they couldn't keep up with an ex-Gundam pilot and the kinds of missions that sort of expertise drew, and had asked for transfers.

Duo is an exceptional agent. At the top of the organization. His record is beyond reproach and the entire squad knows it. Yes, he had lost partners, but never through his own failures. Never from his own lack of trying. Two partners. Two deaths. Twice I had sat by a hospital bed.

Is that where the silver strands had come from?

Or, knowing my Duo, had they come into being during those occasions that he had sat beside my hospital bed?

While I might still have the same partner after all these years, the assignments that Wufei and I drew, two former Gundam pilots, had ended with one, the other, or both of us in need of hospitalization more than once.

Had I put those silver hairs there?

It had been several years since I'd overheard Duo talking idly with Quatre, sitting by the pool at the Winner estate.

"The mountains?" Quatre had said. "Really? I would have thought you'd be an ocean kind of person."

I'd only half been listening, coming up behind them where they hadn't seen me. It had been Duo's laugh that had gotten my attention. It had been so... sad. Sad and flat and a little bitter.

"I just always thought it was the most peaceful kind of place," he'd replied, not looking at Quatre. "You know? I always thought it would be wonderful to live in a little cabin in the woods somewhere."

Quatre had snorted a little laugh that was part amusement and part disbelief. "I just can't imagine you and Heero, of all people, sitting in a cabin in the middle of nowhere."

Duo had sighed. "I used to be able to imagine it... a long time ago." His voice had been very soft.

Quatre had turned a little toward him. "Duo," he'd said very seriously, his tone of voice hinting at concern. "Why don't you just quit?"

But then Duo's voice had grown firm and he had straightened under Quatre's gaze. "Let's not go there again, little buddy."

Quatre has always hated that nickname and it served to irritate him enough that the conversation ground to a halt.

Later, I had tried to talk to Duo about what I'd heard, but he's a master at evasion. He takes your uncertainties and he laughs at them until you can't fathom how you ever doubted in the first place. Thinking about it now, I realized I'd let him sweep it under the rug; he'd only convinced me of what I'd wanted to believe in the first place.

So we'd gone on. Being Preventers. Bringing in the bad guys. Saving the world and protecting the peace. We lived for that feeling of... usefulness. That feeling of having a purpose. Of not wasting all that damn training.

All right, damn it. I lived for that feeling of usefulness.

Duo lived... for me.

The early morning sun, shining on his hair, warming his back... illuminated that. Somehow made it so painfully clear, I nearly wept with the sudden harsh knowledge.

How could I not have known this?

Maybe I had known this.

How could I have ignored this?

Fifteen years. Our entire childhoods, two wars and fifteen more years.

That's... a lot of sacrifice. That's a lot of near misses. Some not-misses and a whole truck load of luck.

I looked again at those strands of silver hair, at scars and scabs, bruises and dark circled eyes.

Perhaps it was enough? Perhaps it was time to step down and let younger minds, younger hands take up the sword?

I reached out and stroked a gentle hand over Duo's hair, stirring the silver and the gold together. I watched his eyes blink open wearily, drugs making him drowsy.

"Hey," I said softly.

"Hey, yourself," he replied, smiling, voice thick and unwieldy. "Is it time to get up already?"

"No," I told him quietly. "I just needed to tell you I love you."

His smile softened and he blinked at me, trying to force the lethargy away. "Nightmare?" he asked gently.

I brushed his cheek with my fingers. "Not... like you mean," I reassured. "Just thinking."

"About what?" he prompted and I couldn't help smiling warmly at him, at his struggle to wake up enough to be there for me.

"About the fact that we're too damn old for this," I told him quite firmly. "I want to quit, Duo."

And as always, he did his best to give me whatever I wanted, whatever I needed. "All right," he said simply, accepting this huge change in our lives, accepting this choice without question. Because I wanted it.

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" I asked him suddenly, seeing a lot of things more clearly than I ever had before.

He only snorted, his nose wrinkling in that little way that tells me he thinks I've asked something stupid. Something that I should already know.

"I want to leave the city," I told him. As I said it, there was a warmth growing in my chest, and I wondered if this feeling was what made him do whatever he felt he had to, in order to make me happy. "If we're not going to be Preventers anymore... there's no reason to stay here. I want to find someplace in the country. Maybe... in the mountains somewhere."

His sleepy gaze seemed to clear for a moment, and I swear to God, it was like my words had turned back the hands of time. His face seemed to... soften, some of the worry lines to clear. "Are you sure this is what you want?" he asked me and his voice told me he was almost afraid to believe me.

"Yes," I said resolutely. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt."

I saw him, somewhere in the depths of his bleary eyes, get that calculated look he gets when there are plans to be made. When there were things that need doing to make my dreams into whatever reality he could manage for me. Not this time.

"If you mean it," he said, trying to get stiff limbs to respond to his commands, to lever himself up. "We need to write up resignations. We have to tell Wufei. We should take an inventory of our accounts and..."

"Hush," I commanded, putting a hand out to still his movements. "Later for all that. We have all the time in the world now. Just rest some more. I'll take care of things." This time, I meant to be the one to make his wishes into reality.

"You woke me up just to tell me to go back to sleep?" he asked quizzically, a tiny grin on his face, even as he relaxed back into the pillows.

"No," I told him. "I already said, I woke you up to tell you I love you."

He chuckled lightly, even as his eyes were falling closed. "I love you too... but y'know? You're a damn pain in the ass sometimes."

"I know," I whispered as I kissed him softly on the temple. "And I mean to change that."

He settled against me as he fell back to sleep.

Fifteen years ago, he handed me his heart and his body and his very soul.

I'd just gotten around to noticing.

I meant to see to it the next fifteen years were all his.


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