by: Sunhawk

Tides of Change (cont)

I squirmed under that green-eyed gaze, and I didn't quite know how to answer him.

"Come on," he said gently. "Think about it. Maybe it's easy for me to see how he's feeling because I came just as close to losing Quatre that day. I was pretty damned upset myself."

I frowned, feeling oddly defensive of my concerns. "You may have been upset, but did you take off and disappear for over thirty-six hours? Did you come back an emotional wreck? Did you spend half the morning cry..." I snapped my mouth shut on that just a split second too late. "Never mind," I mumbled.

Trowa sat and blinked at me until I started to feel uncomfortable. I was sorry I had let that slip out, Duo would not thank me for it, but I was pleased that it had served to wipe the smug look off Trowa's face.

"There's something else going on here," I finally said, unable to take the silent scrutiny. "He's obsessing over what we're going to do now that the war's over. He seems terrified of... of... tomorrow."

That damned little smile was back and I just shut up again. "I know how he feels on that count, Heero," he told me softly. "You have to live like he and I have... from hand to mouth, never knowing what the next day is going to bring, to understand."

I lost my irritation and looked across at him, willing to take whatever insight he could give me.

He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "I'm not saying the training you went through wasn't... your own brand of hell, but you had a kind of... security. You never lacked for food or shelter. Never had to do without the basic necessities."

I grunted, but held my tongue, just listening to him.

"This is... very unsettling for me too," he confessed, his voice dropping a little, as though he unconsciously didn't want Quatre to overhear. "Most of the major changes in my life have not... been for the good. I have trouble believing... believing..."

"That you deserve what we've won?" Wufei's voice, soft as it was, still made us both jump, and we turned to find him on the stairs behind us.

"Yeah..." Trowa agreed. "Like this peace is for everyone but... me."

Wufei snorted softly and came around us to find his own seat on the stairs, a few treads further down. "You mean, everyone but... us?"

Trowa shook his head. "No, that's the stupid thing. I feel like you guys have earned it." He quirked one of those sardonic grins, "And yes, I know what a double standard that is."

Wufei chuckled lightly, though there was little humor in it. "No... I know how you feel. I can't quite... quite..."

"Get your head around it?" I supplied and he tilted his head back to glance up the stairway at me. I shrugged. "Duo's term."

"Apt," he murmured, turning to sit sideways and lean against the wall. "I guess I'm just having trouble believing in it."

"Like it's a dream you're going to wake up from?" Trowa asked and got a nod.

"Duo just seems so overwhelmed," I murmured, thinking about the morning in the woods, thinking about the sudden laughter and the equally sudden tears. "I don't understand..."

It was Wufei's turn to give me that damned annoying amused look. "Yuy, why is it so impossible for you to understand just what you mean to him? You..."

I flushed darkly again, but growled at him anyway. "Will you two knock it off? You are not seeing a... a third of what I'm seeing. Why do you just assume that I am over-reacting?"

"Maybe because you always over-react where Duo is concerned?" Trowa ventured.

Wufei joined him with a muttered; "You do have a tendency to treat him like..." but he petered out under my dark glare and they both seemed to wilt a little bit. A very little bit, not nearly as much as I wanted.

"I'm sorry, Heero," Trowa finally said. "But aren't you even a little bit... unsure of what you're going to do now?"

I opened my mouth to retort and closed it again. I was most certainly not going to give them the answer that was on the tip of my tongue; I'm going to love Duo. I thought about it, tried to think of something to say that wouldn't have my face spontaneously combusting again.

But before anything occurred to me, there came a discreet little cough and we all turned to look towards the top of the stairs. Duo stood there, his shoulders hunched and his arms crossed over his chest, not quite looking at us. "If you guys are going to indulge in the group therapy session, you mind moving it in here... you're making Quatre feel left out."

I was gratified to see blushes on the faces sitting across from me as we all realized that our voices had obviously carried. Trowa scrambled instantly to his feet, brushed past Duo and disappeared into Quatre's room. Wufei stood and followed him, leaving me sitting there alone, staring up at Duo... and waiting for the explosion.

But it didn't come. I could see his chest rise and fall as he heaved a great sigh, but otherwise he just stood looking down, apparently captivated by the pattern in the carpet. I rose and went quietly up the stairs, taking his arm to pull him to the side. That staircase will forever be associated in my mind with Duo falling and it unnerved me to have him just standing there at the top of it. He went docily and it was my turn to sigh.

"Please don't worry so much," he suddenly blurted. "I'm fine... I'm really all right. I'm just a little confused right now... a little overwhelmed by it all."

I slipped my fingers under the edge of the sweater and hooked them in the belt loops on his jeans, pulling him toward me. "You know worrying is just what I do," I told him, trying to make my voice warm.

He finally unwrapped his arms from around himself and settled his hands on my chest. "I just need to find my balance is all," he murmured.

"You know I'm here for you, right?" I whispered, very aware now of how voices carried, reaching to brush his cheek with the back of my hand.

He gave me a smile that was more like the ones I remembered and chuckled softly. "Always there to catch me when I fall?"

"Always," I said, and it came out a little more fiercely than I had intended.

He inclined his head toward the bedroom door, looking up at me through his bangs. "Come on... they're waiting." He reached up and took my hand, stepping away and giving me a tug. "Quatre was a little peeved that you guys were sitting out here talking all this heavy shit without us."

When we entered the room, I saw that Trowa had reclaimed his chair on the far side of the bed and Wufei had settled on the floor against the wall directly in Quatre's line of sight. Duo let go of my hand before we passed through the doorway and I was moved for a second to reach out and take hold of him again, sure that he had broken contact for my sake. But then I wasn't so sure and I let it go. Duo folded himself on the floor, as Wufei had, only at the side of the bed, not far from the only other chair, the place I ended up by default.

I watched discreetly while Duo tried to sit cross-legged as Wufei was, though I don't think he did it consciously, but his bad knee wouldn't let him get comfortable. After a minute of squirming, a tiny little hint of a frown creasing his brow, he gave it up and stretched his legs out in front of him. After a few more minutes, I noted movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Wufei shift, stretching his own legs out. I wasn't sure if it had been deliberate or not.

"Well you three were certainly vocal enough a minute ago," Quatre's sudden voice made me jump, breaking through my reverie. "Mind sharing with the rest of us?"

There was an uncomfortable moment of shifting eye contact before Wufei finally inclined his head in some sort of acquiescence and said, "Our apologies, we did not mean to exclude the two of you. We were merely discussing... the future."

There was a small snort from Duo and I looked down at him, but he didn't raise his eyes to meet mine, simply staring ahead, seeming to be interested in something under Quatre's bed.

"Heero seems to be having trouble understanding why the rest of us find this..." Trowa waved his hand idly, managing to encompass the entire universe with that small gesture, "whole situation somewhat... daunting."

I saw Duo glance up at him, but he didn't speak

"We've achieved our goals," I stated my position for the room at large. "This is what we've been working towards for over a year." I hesitated on the wording, not wanting Duo to feel like I was singling him out. "It seems we should be able to enjoy the peace we bought."

There was an odd little bark of a laugh from Duo that had no humor in it what so ever, but he didn't speak, still staring at the floor.

"What, Duo?" Quatre asked gently and I held my breath waiting to see if he would answer.

Duo's eyes flicked up and he hesitated for another moment before blurted, "It was a damn sight more than a year that we've been working towards this!"

Wufei grunted in understanding, nodding slightly. "My training too, consumed a large part of my... childhood."

They made me regret the comment; I hadn't been thinking of things that way. I had only been considering the time since the start of Operation Meteor.

"I'm not sure I would say I ever had a childhood," Trowa murmured from the other side of the bed and I saw Quatre look to him with an _expression of pained guilt. But then Trowa chuckled darkly, "At least... not what you would call a normal one."

I thought about my own training. My own lost youth. I have no real memories before working with Odin Lowe. I go by the name of Heero Yuy, mostly because that's the name I had been using when my teammates met me. They were comfortable with it. But 'Odin Lowe, Jr.' was just as viable, and... neither of them was my birth name. If I'd ever had one of those, I had no memory of it. "But," I ventured, "doesn't that mean that we deserve to enjoy our lives from here on out? We've earned this peace that we fought for."

Beside me, Duo drew his good leg in toward his chest and wrapped his arms around it, an unhappy frown on his face. I wished I hadn't spoken, I'd obviously upset him and I wasn't sure why.

"I don't know about everyone else," Trowa said slowly, "but the war has... shaped me. Every aspect of my life. I can't believe sometimes that it's really over..." he just seemed to peter out, as though he were having trouble finding the right words to express himself.

"Like a dream you're going to wake up from?" Quatre quoted in a soft whisper, and Trowa reached to take his hand, smiling gently.

"Well," Wufei interjected, "I'm not entirely sure that this peace can be trusted to begin with. Man is a damned foolish animal who continually amazes me with his propensity for making kaa-kaa in his own nest." It might have been funny if it hadn't been for the dark scowl on his face... and the truth of the statement.

I glanced at Duo and found him staring avidly at the others, but he didn't seem inclined to enter the conversation himself. I repressed a sigh.

"There will always be the potential for a return to war," Quatre mused after a moment. "But I honestly don't think we're going to see it in our life times. I truly believe that Earth and the colonies have learned their lesson this time."

"For the time-being, perhaps," Wufei grunted.

"As you say," Trowa interjected. "The peace may not last forever, but I think it will last for a long time to come. I think the harder thing is going to be learning not to be what we've been all our lives."

I saw Duo's ears perk up at that comment, but he still didn't speak and I all but seethed in my frustration. I felt like it would be beneficial for him to enter into this discussion... get some of the things off his chest that had been bothering him, but he seemed hesitant to voice his thoughts.

"What do you mean by that?" I dared, hoping to keep Trowa on the track he was on, hoping to draw Duo out.

Wufei chuckled. "Well, for us mere mortals, Yuy... change is a frightening thing."

I grunted, but didn't speak, carefully watching Duo.

"The war has been going on our entire lives," Wufei continued. "It colors every aspect of what makes us who we are. Its suddenly being over is very... strange. Like... like..." he hesitated and I saw him look toward Duo, wordlessly asking for help in expressing himself. Something Chang Wufei seldom needed help doing.

"Like going outside at night and suddenly finding all the stars gone," Duo fairly whispered. Wufei nodded his encouragement.

Duo was still staring under the bed and I had the urge to lean down to see if there really was something odd under there. "The war," Duo said softly, his voice almost reverent. "It's been the shadow over my whole life... drove me from my first memories. I don't know that I know how to... be anything else but a warrior." His eyes came up finally, and I was a little hurt that he sought out Wufei's gaze and not mine. Looked to our Chinese partner for reassurance, but then... I suppose I had made it fairly plain that I didn't understand his position, where Wufei seemed to.

"Don't know how to take the armor off?" Wufei asked him gently and Duo dipped his head in the ghost of a nod.

"So does anybody have plans?" Quatre interjected suddenly and I was a little irritated at the alteration in the course of the conversation. There was a bit of silence while the five of us looked around, each waiting to see if someone else would speak. I couldn't say that I had any concrete plans of my own. Just vague notions of starting a normal life with Duo, of finding a place to live... of finding jobs.

Wufei gave an uncomfortable little cough and said, "Well... before we left the Peacemillion, I was approached by Sally Po. She and Commander Une are starting a... an organization. A kind of elite peacekeeping force." He glanced around at us, trying to gauge reactions. "She invited me to join and I'm giving it serious consideration."

Duo tilted his head and eyed our partner. "What kind of organization?" he asked suspiciously. Duo has a deep-seated distrust of gangs masquerading as something... legitimate.

So we got a brief and somewhat sketchy introduction to a thing called the 'Preventers'. I was a little intrigued by the idea, but Wufei really didn't have all that much information yet. It was something I resolved to look into.

When Wufei finished relating what he had learned aboard the Peacemillion and grew quiet again, I began to contemplate trying to turn the discussion back toward what Duo had been saying. But the sound of soft whispering stopped me and I glanced up to find that Trowa had risen from his seat and was leaning over his partner with a slight frown on his face. "I think that will be the end of 'group therapy' for today, gentlemen," he said brusquely. "Quatre needs to rest."

There was murmured disagreement from our injured teammate, but there wasn't much energy behind it, and Trowa wasn't having any of it anyway. We made a hasty exit.

Wufei informed us that he was going to clean up for a trip into town, and Duo and I soon found ourselves alone again. There was an odd moment while we stood and stared at each other, not quite knowing what to do, before he suddenly chuckled. "I suppose Gundam repairs would be... kind of stupid."

I smiled. "Not if it would make you feel better."

His _expression flared into something almost hungry for a moment, before fading into embarrassment. "I know you think I've lost my damn mind..." he began, but I stopped him.

"Hush," I scolded. "That's enough of that. You and I don't feel exactly the same way about this... but that doesn't make either one of us wrong."

He gave me a shaky little smile. "I truly don't deserve you," he murmured.

"The hell," I mock glared at him. "You deserve the best of everything. You... deserve to be happy."

Something... haunted seemed to come into his _expression. "Heero..." he began, but then didn't seem to know what it was he wanted to tell me.

"I just want to be able to make you happy," I told him. "I want us to be together... forever."

Those amethyst eyes of his spoke to me of hunger and need, of weariness and emotional turmoil. Just as I was moved to reach out and take him into my arms, he sighed heavily and swept a hand up through his bangs. "I... think I will go out to the hanger for a little bit," he said, then looked at me searchingly. "If you don't mind?"

He was asking for some space. Some time alone. I chewed on it, feeling a certain anxiety coiling around in my gut, but had to smile at him. "As long as... you'll come in for dinner?" I teased, as close as I could come to asking him to promise not to disappear on me again.

He guiltily dropped his eyes from mine. "I swear to the Gods, I'm not going anywhere. I just have some things to... think about."

I did reach out then, brushing my fingers along his jaw line and coaxing his eyes back up. "I love you," I whispered. "Have I told you that today?"

That won me a bright, honest smile and a sudden embrace. "Actually, I don't think you have," he said, and his tone finally managed to recapture some of the lightness we had achieved between us while in the woods.

So I told him. And I kissed him. Then I told him again. And I kissed him some more. Until, finally, he was grinning at me and some of his melancholy mood seemed to lift away.

"So what are you going to be doing while I stare at my Gundam and try to convince myself that I don't have a responsibility to bust all my knuckles on it any more?" he asked, when I let him go.

"If it would be all right," I ventured. "I was thinking I might see if I can catch a ride with Wufei into town. I thought I might cook tonight, but I need a few things."

His grin widened. "Something special?"

"Maybe," I teased.

So we went our separate ways, each of us uncomfortable with it, but equally uncomfortable with the realization that we were having trouble being... apart. I suppose there was a little bit of denial going on there, a little bit of poking at the bear. Neither of us quite ready to admit that we couldn't handle something as simple as an afternoon apart. Duo would call us pathetic.

Wufei seemed surprised when I approached him, but pleased, and we borrowed one of the Winner cars to make the run into the little college town. At first, things were relatively quiet, each of us lost in our own thoughts, but then I felt eyes on me and glanced Wufei's direction.

"What?" I murmured, a little afraid I was going to get another little lecture about treating Duo like, as Wufei liked to say, he was a sniveling onna.

But he surprised me. "Do you have plans for what you want to do now?"

I grunted, wondering what everyone's obsession was with the future all of a sudden. The war wasn't officially even over yet... all the paperwork hadn't been signed. "Nothing concrete," I told him.

He snorted in wry amusement. "No plans and preparations? That is so unlike you."

"No," I told him with a little more solemnity that I had intended. "That is very unlike the soldier I was two days ago."

I saw him glance rather sharply my way, but he quickly returned his eyes to the road. It was his turn to grunt. "What did you think of this idea about the Preventers?" he ventured after a moment or two.

"Honestly?" I said. "It's necessary. There will always be those people who are unhappy with the current state of things. No matter how much better we make the world... there will always be someone who will think that they could make things better."

I glanced his way in time to see him nod. "My thoughts exactly," he said and his eyes slid my way again. "You know... you and I think rather alike, sometimes."

I couldn't help but smile; that was probably a true statement as long as we weren't thinking about Duo. For some reason, Wufei always seemed to take exception to the way I treated Duo. He found me to be over-protective and, I suspect, overly sentimental.

"So," I asked, "you're really contemplating joining Sally and Une?"

He hesitated, gnawing on his lower lip for a second, a nervous gesture he rarely makes, then said, "I think I've just about made up my mind to do it."

I turned to look straight at him. "You think?"

"Sally has told me that they are intending on using a traditional 'partner' system." His lower lip took another bit of abuse and then he blurted, "I was rather hoping that I might convince you to join with me."

If I hadn't been looking right at him, I might have missed the faint hint of a blush that rose to his cheeks. I'm afraid I just sat and stared at him for a moment.

He had gotten past the initial broachment of the subject though, and was warming to the topic, not waiting for me to give an immediate reply. "I'm very intrigued by the whole idea. I think it would give me someplace to take my skills... someplace for us to take our skills, where they won't be wasted. But I don't think I could work with just anybody. I've come to trust the four of you and I think I could partner with any one of you without any misgivings." He had been glancing at me out of the corner of his eye as he spoke and drove, but now he looked away completely and I saw that color come back to his face. "You... would be my first choice. We've always worked well together."

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