Life, Relena decided, was not without a sense of irony. She found herself feeling surprisingly calm as she looked across the dinner table into the eyes of the man she loved, listening as he asked her the question that she had been longing to hear from him for nearly 3 years. The setting was lovely, the atmosphere was dreamy and the moment was perfect. The unreality of the whole situation was not lost on her as she spoke the one little world that would change her life forever.
“No.” She was impressed at how decisive she sounded.
“Huh?” Heero blinked in surprise. His hand was still outstretched and she could see the stone on the engagement ring he had bought her gleaming in the dim light. He looked at her uncertainly. “Relena?”
Hopefully her voice didn’t tremble. “I said no Heero. I’m not going to marry you.”
“But, I thought…” he trailed off, not sure how to express himself. Relena didn’t blame him for his confusion. A week ago she would have accepted his proposal without a second thought and would have been deliriously happy to do so. Of course, things were different now, but he wasn’t to know that.
“I’m sorry Heero,” she said firmly. “But I’ve made up my mind. It would never work.”
He finally got himself collected enough to question her. “I thought you wanted to get married.”
“I did,” she admitted, determined not to weaken in the face of his adorably confused expression. “But I’ve experienced something recently that made me realize what a mistake it would be to marry you.”
“Is there someone else?” Relena winced at the flat tone in his voice, not sure she wanted to know whether it was because he was trying to hide his emotions or because he really wasn’t that concerned by the thought.
“Not exactly,” she evaded. His deep blue eyes bored into her, waiting for an answer and she steeled herself against his unconscious charm. She had to be strong, for his sake as well as her own. The blond girl straightened in her chair, morbidly relieved that he had chosen to propose to her in the solitude of the Darlian mansion rather than at her favourite restaurant as she’d once hoped he would.
She forced a smile and when she spoke it was in a deliberately conversational tone. “I went to Preventers HQ last week, did I tell you? I had some business with Lady Une about next week’s UESA Conference.”
Heero nodded shortly, obviously humouring her. “I remember you mentioning it. I didn’t see you there though.”
“You were busy,” she dismissed. “I know how important your work is to you.”
She took a sip of wine, hoping to calm her racing heart. Heero didn’t move, just continued to watch her.
“I did see you there, though,” she said suddenly, setting the glass back on the table with a sharp click. “You were out on the practice field instructing some of the new recruits.” She let him process that, doing her best not to let herself push his hair back where it was falling in his eyes.
Shoving the impulse away, Relena continued with her story, finding it easier to speak now that she had started. If she stopped, she’d probably never start again. “I was in the hallway near Lady Une’s office while you were doing a combat demonstration.” She smiled faintly, remembering the rapt attention with which she and the new recruits had watched that ‘fight’.
His voice jolted her out of her semi-reverie. “Are you worried about the fact that I fight as a Preventer?”
That startled her. She looked over at him to see that he was absolutely serious. Of course, he was always serious with her. “Of course not, Heero. You fight to protect peace, I understand that now. I’ve matured since the Marimeia incident.”
He looked at her dubiously. “I can find a new job.”
Oh, that such a simple statement could make her heart ache so! It hurt to smile but Relena’s voice was fervent as she spoke. “Never, Heero! You’re suited to what you do and you enjoy it too. I wouldn’t take that away from you. I wouldn’t refuse you because you fight against war with your fists instead of with words.”
“I still don’t understand the problem Relena,” he admitted, accepting her response with the same easy efficiency with which he did everything.
He was going to make this difficult for her, wasn’t he? “Please, just listen. Just … please.” Looking down into her glass to avoid his eyes, Relena allowed herself to fall back into the memory of what she had seen to change her so much. He had to understand and this was the only way she could explain. Barely even aware of herself, she began to speak.
“Thank you Lady Une,” Relena smiled as they stepped out of the brown haired woman’s office. “I’m sure everything will go perfectly with your people there to keep things in order.”
Lady Une inclined her head. “Yours is the hard job Relena-san. We just put out the fires that crop up from time to time.”
"Well I’m glad for it. You all do a wonderful job. Did you have anything else we needed to go over?”
“No that’s all for today. Did you want me to walk you out?”
“That’s alright,” Relena declined with a shake of her pretty blond head. “I know the way. I’m sure you have plenty of other things to do.”
Une smiled. “As do you I’m sure. Have a nice day then, Relena-san.”
“You too.” As Lady Une turned and stepped back into her office, Relena sighed lightly and glanced out over the training zone that was at the heart of the Preventers HQ. If not for that fact that she was on the third floor, she would think that the large grassy field studded with rocks and trees was the building’s back lawn rather than a manmade practice room. Surrounded by glass walled hallways and lit by a skylight several floors above, it was a popular spot for lunch as well as practice among the employees.
Not in any real hurry, she lingered a moment to enjoy the strange and somewhat ironic serenity that seemed to fill the place. As she gazed out at the various people scattered around the large dome, her attention was caught by a large group of black clad cadets to her left. There were about 30 of them, all intently watching a pair of men spar with each other. Both were clearly professionals, their movements quick and fluid as they darted around each other in a dance of death that Relena had seen many times before.
Her heart sped up as the pair dashed closer and she saw a familiar mop of unruly brown hair falling across a pair of intense prussian eyes. Heero flew across the grass, hands and feet flickering faster than her eyes could follow. She smiled with quiet pride as she watched him move. He was dressed in his black Preventers uniform, the form fit trousers and a plain white cotton top emphasizing his muscular build. His feet were bare and she could see his shoes and socks lying next to his jacket in the grass several feet away. Totally focused on the fight, he kept his eyes on his opponent, never stopping his barrage of attacks. His face was set in an expression of extreme concentration but his eyes sparkled brightly with pent-up energy and excitement. Relena was struck suddenly by how extraordinarily handsome he was, flowing like water across the field, his entire being expressing a competent and deadly grace.
A high kick suddenly had him ducking, allowing Relena a glimpse of the long coil of brown hair that whipped through the air around his opponent. Duo Maxwell. The American boy’s open face was split by a wide grin as he pressed his advantage, a sparkle of gold at his neck bouncing up and down across his black jacket as he danced just out of Heero’s reach. Also barefoot, he seemed to crackle with energy as his whole body wove in and out of his opponent’s assault, lithe as a cat’s. If Heero was water then Duo was smoke, coiling through the air like a wraith, his feet so light as almost not to touch the floor. The pair of them moved together seamlessly, predicting each other’s moves and reacting simultaneously, both at a level far above most of their peers in the Preventers. Relena briefly wondered if they had practised this routine but discarded that thought as she recalled how long they’d been partners, first in the war and then with the Preventers. They just knew each other that well.
Relena’s heart leapt as Duo made a quick feint at Heero’s head, then sliced his hand towards the other’s unprotected side when the Japanese boy raised his arms to block. The strike was only halfway there, however, when a broad swipe of Heero’s leg suddenly swept Duo off his feet. With a yelp the braided pilot went down, twisting his body as he fell to land on his hands. His legs went up and around Heero’s neck as he tried to use enough leverage to send the dark haired boy flying across the room. Instead, Heero’s body slithered to the ground, forcing Duo to arc over backwards in order to keep his balance. A decidedly un-Heerolike grin crossed the Japanese boy’s face as, hands braced on the floor, he hit Duo full in the stomach with both feet, knocking the braided boy up and back with shuddering force. Duo’s breath whooshed out as his arms gave out, his body crumpling to the ground and half pinning Heero under him. He lay there for a moment, panting, while Heero watched him warily, trapped by the black-clad legs still encircling his neck.
“Itai!” Duo moaned, releasing Heero’s neck and sitting up next to his friend. “I give Heero-man, that was quite the kick.” He grinned ruefully, absently hugging his stomach. “Man! I thought I had you for a second there. Guess I should know better, ne?”
Heero’s eyes still glowed with energy as he grasped Duo’s hand and pulled them both up. “Aa. Good match.” He glanced over his shoulder at the awestruck cadets. “Got all that?” he asked, his voice deadpan.
There was a momentary shocked silence, then the cadets began to clap. The sound grew as the other Preventers in the training dome joined in. Heero bore it all stoically, walking over calmly to collect his jacket and steadfastly ignoring the attention.
A black clad arm suddenly dropped over his shoulders. “Don’t be such a grump Heero,” Duo grinned, leaning on his partner. “You know you had fun.”
The smallest smile appeared on Heero’s face as he looked at the American draped over him. “Maybe. You’re not completely inept I suppose.”
Duo sighed and shook his head. “See what I get for all my effort?” he appealed to the people around him. “I’d like to see someone else last so long against the Perfect Soldier.” He glanced at the cadets still watching them. “Any volunteers?” he joked. “I got him all limbered up for ya.”
There was a small scattering of nervous laughter. Heero shook off the braided boy’s arm. “Baka. Don’t tease them.”
Smiling good humouredly, Duo sat down to pull his shoes and socks back on. “Okay, okay. No joke here guys, it may be impossible to beat the human fighting machine over here, but close combat like that is the kind of stuff we’re gonna teach you here in Preventers. Mobile Suits may be all well and good, but when push comes to shove, nothing can beat a good old-fashioned fist fight.”
“That wasn’t exactly a fist fight.” Heero noted idly, coming to stand next to his partner. “I noticed you using some of the martial arts you badgered Wufei into teaching you.”
“And I still can’t beat you! It’s a good thing I’m such a generally great person or I might get discouraged just by hanging around with you.”
Relena watched fondly as Heero and Duo continued to lecture the new cadets about the nature of their training. She was a little surprised at how well their conflicting personalities blended into the lesson. Duo was as animated as ever, grinning and making jokes, while doing his best to get a rise out of Heero. For his part, Heero was calm and collected as usual, although Relena noticed that he occasionally threw jokes and insults back at his partner, integrating them into his bland dialogue so seamlessly you’d think you’d imagined them. Duo caught them all though, which predictably served to make him redouble his efforts.
Despite the almost continual banter, however, their lesson was both entertaining and highly informative. Heero provided the technical side of things and kept Duo from going overboard in his enthusiasm. Duo engaged their listeners with his easy-going attitude, supplementing the facts with practical and often humorous digressions that helped contextualize the lecture. Though she had no personal desire to follow such a path, Relena nonetheless felt herself drawn in by their obvious passion for their jobs as well as by the easy camaraderie between them. It made a listener feel welcome and at ease with the company, without any of the awkwardness that using went along with learning something new. On a more personal level, she also found it nice to see Heero getting along so well with his fellow Preventer, breaking out of his reclusive shell and engaging with someone he was close to. She didn’t see it happen very often, and was happy for him in his friendship.
Out on the field, Heero glanced at his watch and cleared his throat significantly. Duo, who was in the middle of a story, ignored him. Without changing expression, Heero tugged on Duo’s braid until the boy yelped.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Lesson’s over. It’s time for them all to go see Po-sensei for their immunizations.”
Duo scowled, absently rubbing the back of his head. “But that was a really good story!”
“Do you want to explain to Sally why they’re late?” Without waiting for an answer, Heero turned towards the exit, gesturing for the cadets to follow him. “Not to mention that we’re on duty this afternoon,” he added over his shoulder.
Duo crossed his arms defiantly. “Heero-man, you are so no fun!”
“Aa,” Heero agreed, not slowing his pace. “Are you coming or not?”
“Not!” Duo taunted, sticking his tongue out at Heero’s retreating back.
Heero sighed minimally and turned around. Sending the cadets ahead of him, Heero stalked back towards the braided boy, his face bleak.
“What?” demanded Duo, unfazed by the glare. “You’re going to make me feel unloved if you keep making that face at me, you know.”
"Duo no baka,” it came out almost as a growl. “I’m not going to be late because you’re having a temper tantrum. Now stop behaving like a three year old and come on.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Duo grinned, obviously enjoying himself immensely. Then he let out a very unmanly squeak as Heero suddenly grabbed him by the waist and slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
“That’s your lookout,” Heero told him, and began walking casually back to the door.
“Abuse! Abuse!” Duo cried in mock terror, his braid swinging back and forth across Heero’s back. Laughter bubbled up in his throat, belying his frightened act. “Someone save me!”
“Don’t worry,” Heero said to the shocked cadets as he marched past them, the squirming Deathscythe pilot over his shoulder. “Only a very small minority of the Preventers are noticeably insane, and you’re not likely to find anyone quite as childish as Duo to deal with.”
“Hey, I resemble that remark!” Duo laughed as Heero put him down next to the door and forcibly shoved him towards it. “Who could help but be insane when hanging out with Mr Implacable all the time?”
“Move,” Heero ordered.
“Yes sir!” With a sharp salute and a mocking grin Duo left, followed by Heero and the slightly bemused cadets. A few people sighed and shook their heads at Duo’s antics, obviously very used to the energetic braided pilot.
Looking sightlessly at the door through which they had all left, Relena pondered the strange encounter she had just witnessed. She had never seen Heero that … playful before. He may have acted dispassionate, but she knew him well enough to see that he had been much more entertained than he let on. His eyes had retained that bright sparkle throughout the lecture and the confrontation with Duo and that small smile of his had kept reappearing on his face. She couldn't remember the last time he’d looked at her with that light in his eyes. She had to admit to herself that it hurt, but at least she knew that his job helped to complete him in ways she didn’t know how to.
Her thoughts drifted to the exchange between Heero and Duo and she wondered at the braided boy’s ability to infuriate Heero to the extent that he responded physically to his tormenting. No, infuriate wasn’t the word, Heero hadn’t seemed to mind all that much. In fact, she realized with a growing sense of unease, she’d never seen him look more alive than he had while he was fighting with his partner, both with his fists and with his words. Why didn’t he react like that with her? Was it a side effect of having fought together in the war and sharing a sense of common cause? But the other Gundam pilots didn’t interact with him like that. What made Duo so different? Was it his infectiously cheerful and outgoing personality that had managed to breach Heero’s personal defences? Or maybe something more?
A strange feeling of vague distress filling her heart, Relena turned away from the window and began to walk slowly towards the elevator. She should really be getting back to work, there was still a lot she had to do to plan for the conference, but she couldn’t seem to concentrate. Thoughts tumbled through her head at a frightening pace, things she had never thought anything of before suddenly seeming to have the direst meanings. The way Duo seemed to take every opportunity to lean on, grab or hug his partner; Heero’s tendency to use Duo’s hair as a way to get his attention, always holding onto the end for just a fraction longer than necessary; the way that Duo could always make Heero smile; and how Duo seemed to drop some of his overly manic exterior when the two of them were together. What was she thinking of? Heero was her boyfriend, her love, her prince. He loved her. Didn’t he?
She was most of the way to the elevator when these dark and agonizing thoughts were interrupted by the sound of feet and a cheerful laugh which she recognized all too well. Without any conscious violation, Relena stopped half way down the hallway and, hidden from view, watched with suspicious eyes as Duo and Heero came closer.
“…I’m just glad you didn’t throw me out the door,” Duo was laughing. The two of them were walking very close together. “I think you shocked them all more than enough as is without giving me a concussion.”
“You would have deserved it,” noted Heero, the hint of a smile in his voice.
Duo shrugged. “Probably. Some of those cadets seem promising though.”
“Aa. Hopefully you haven’t put them off Preventers with all of your antics.”
“Why are you always so mean to me?” Duo pouted, wrinkling his nose. “Sometimes I wonder why I put up with you Hee-chan.”
“Likewise.” Duo made a face at his friend, then smiled and shrugged it off. Smiling that secret smile again, Heero made no further comment.
They walked in companionable silence a moment longer, coming closer towards the hallway where Relena stood, apparently on their way to the elevator. Suddenly Duo stopped and uttered a curse.
“Nani?” asked Heero, also stopping.
“The folders for Noin,” Duo replied tersely, rifling through his bag frantically. “I left them in the office.”
Heero sighed. “Duo…”
“Sorry Hee-man, guess I was too busy trying to regain my dignity after that humiliating display in the training room. I’ll go back and get them, you go on ahead.”
“No, I’ll go,” Heero offered, halting Duo with a hand on his shoulder. “You’re likely to get distracted and forget to come back.” He offered his companion a short smile. “And don’t forget that Noin threatened to take you off active duty if you were late again. It’ll be faster if I go. You go see Noin and I’ll catch up in a couple of minutes.”
Without waiting for an answer, Heero began striding back down the hallway the way they had come, his movements swift and businesslike.
His hand on the shoulder that Heero had squeezed, Duo watched his partner walking away, his face unreadable. Violet eyes were a sea of shifting emotions that seemed to look right into his soul. He stood alone in the hallway for a moment, looking somehow small and vulnerable without anyone around whom he had to be cheerful for. A bitter, self-mocking expression crossed his face as, with a shake of his head, Duo continued on his way to the elevator, not noticing Relena staring at him in shock from the hallway behind him.
The blond girl waited a few minutes after Duo had gone before she went to the elevator herself, her own face set in a cold mask. It was time she went back to work, anyway.
Recalling herself, Relena looked over at Heero. He had been very quiet while she was speaking, giving away nothing as to how he was feeling, and seemed disinclined to breaking the silence even now that she was finished.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about things since then,” the blond girl told him when he made no comment. “And I’ve realized that it would be unfair to the both of us if I forced you to marry me when you can be so much happier elsewhere.”
When Heero finally spoke, it was in his usual straightforward manner. “I still don’t understand Relena. I asked you to marry me. Why do you think I would be happier elsewhere?”
"Oh God, Heero,” she sighed fondly, and this time her voice did break, unshed tears sparkling in her blue eyes. “You’re so dense. You’re in love with someone else.”
Prussian eyes appeared somewhat startled by this revelation. “But I love you,” he objected.
“But I’m not the one you love most am I?” she demanded, and she could feel her heart breaking in her chest as she gave voice to this most painful of truths. She dashed her tears away angrily with one hand, determined to get through this. “Think, Heero. Who makes you feel good just by being around, even when they’re irritating you? Who can you turn to and know that they’ll always accept you no matter what because they know what you’ve been through? Who do you work with and laugh with and fight with, without whom the day doesn’t seem complete? Who do you respect as a partner and a friend? It’s not me Heero, and we should both be able to realize that.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” Heero asked slowly. “That I’m in love with Duo?”
Suddenly speechless, Relena nodded, the lump in her throat growing with each passing moment.
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” declared Heero.
She smiled tenderly at him, tears blurring her vision. “Love doesn’t make sense Heero, that’s part of the mystery of it. Have you ever stopped to think about how Duo makes you feel?”
The pragmatic response was so like him that Relena couldn’t help but shake her head despite the hurt in her heart. “Think about it this way Heero. What would you do if I was killed by an assassin?”
He shrugged as if the answer was obvious. “Hunt him down and arrest him.”
“I meant personally Heero. You would be upset, certainly, but would you be able to go on living without me?”
“Yes.” He seemed somewhat uncertain as to the purpose of the question, which perhaps cut deeper than his answer.
She took a deep breath before continuing. “And if Duo was killed, Heero? If the assassin shot him by mistake, what would you do?”
Prussian eyes suddenly turned to ice. “I’d kill him.”
“And personally? Can you imagine living your life without Duo in it?”
Heero was silent for a moment, picturing the situation. When he spoke it was in a voice no louder than a whisper. “No.”
Closing her eyes, Relena took a moment to adjust to that. Even though she knew, had realized the truth even before he had, it hurt to hear it proven so irrefutably. She took another unconscious sip of wine and noticed that her hand was trembling.
Heero, for his part, was still dwelling on the truth that Relena had just revealed to him. “I’m in love with Duo?” The question was slightly incredulous.
“And he with you,” Relena told him, forcing herself to remain focused. “If I marry you it will make all three of us unhappy.”
“But Relena,” again she was confronted by those intense prussian eyes that seemed determined to undo her. “I thought you were in love with me.”
“I am,” she answered directly, the pain in her chest reminding her of just how true that statement was. “But if you’re unhappy being with me then I won’t be happy either. One-sided love is not the basis for marriage.”
Heero’s brow furrowed as he thought about something else Relena had said. “But Duo can’t love me.”
“Yes he does,” Relena told him firmly. She had seen the braided boy in the hallway as his best friend went to do him a favour. She had seen how much that simple action had meant to him. She had seen the love that shone through violet eyes, blazing in its intensity. But, more importantly, she had seen the hopelessness that was mixed with it as Duo looked at the person who gave his life meaning, the one person he could never have. She had once heard it said that while true love was eternal bliss, unrequited love was constant agony. That agony was at the core of Duo Maxwell’s being as he chose to remain Heero’s best friend rather than live without him. She could see it in his eyes. It was that, more than anything, that had convinced Relena of what she had to do. She didn’t think that she’d choose that path if in the same position as Duo. She couldn’t do that every day; laughing and joking, close enough to touch but never allowed to, hoping against hope for something she knew would never come.
Heero was still frowning. “But that doesn’t make any sense,” he said again. He looked up at her, questioning. “He’s the one who told me I’d made you wait long enough and that I should propose to you. He even helped me pick out the ring.”
She had thought that this couldn’t hurt any more. She was wrong. So it hadn’t been Heero’s idea to propose to her at all, but that of his best friend. How much had Duo given up for his friend’s happiness? Was she strong enough to do something like that? Was her love strong enough? True, right now her heart felt like it would burst, but once this was over she would be able to heal and find comfort in the fact that she had made things right. But Duo had never had a chance to find out if Heero would love him and had given up any hope of finding out in favour of Heero’s happiness. Oh yes, Duo was in love with Heero, and it was a love deeper and truer than hers could ever hope to be.
“Trust me on this Heero,” the blond girl told him. “Women know these things. I can see now that you and Duo were meant to be together. I only hope that I can remain a friend to both of you and that you forgive me for not seeing the truth sooner.”
“Relena, I…” Words failed him as the truth finally hit home, she could see it in the widening eyes and the way his hand tightened almost convulsively around the ring box he still held.
She smiled sadly, threatened once again by tears. “Do you understand now Heero? Can you see the truth in your own heart?”
He looked at her sharply. “How can you accept this Relena? Why would you sacrifice your own happiness for me?”
“It’s taken a while,” Relena admitted. “At first I didn’t want to believe it, wanted to pretend that nothing had changed.” She reached out for his hand, a comforting gesture rather than an intimate one. “But do you know what I realized? I realized that I wouldn’t be worthy of you if I took away your chance for true love and tried to fulfill only my own selfish heart. You deserve to be loved by someone who you love back and so do I. I’d rather be your friend and have a small place in your heart, than be your wife and watch that love fade away completely.”
“I see,” he breathed, his eyes unusually soft. He looked at her, his face gentle. “Thank you Relena. You always seem to save me from myself, even when I don’t know I need saving.”
Her smile was a bit shaky. “That’s what friends do, Heero. I just want you and Duo to be happy.”
“I won’t let you down,” he promised, gripping her hand fervently. “I will be worthy of this gift, you’ll see.”
“Good, I’m glad.” Relena disentangled their hands and looked at him calmly. “Go to him, Heero, he’s waiting for you.”
Heero nodded and stood, ring box still in his hand. Bending down, his gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, then straightened and left the room without looking back.
Relena listened to his progress down the hallway towards the front door, giving a small sigh of relief when she heard it shut behind him. Only then did she succumb to her grief, allowing the tears to run unchecked down her face as she sobbed. One hand came up to clench her chest over her heart, while the other supported her head against the cool table. Letting her emotions pour out of her, Relena cried brokenly, her slim form shaking uncontrollably and her soul feeling like it had been broken in two. But it was worth it. She drew a shuddering breath, clinging to the knowledge that she had just saved three hearts from a lifetime of pain. She knew she would heal, eventually, but right now all she could feel was hurt.
“Be happy Heero,” she murmured softly amidst her tears. “Both of you, be happy.”
Duo lounged carelessly in his standard issue Preventers chair with his feet propped up on the desk as he stared at the ceiling. Morning sunshine streamed through the window, bathing the room in light and warmth, and he could hear the carefree chatter of other Preventers as they walked through the hallways to start another day. A bird had landed on a tree outside the open window and was singing as if its heart would burst, spreading a message of love and joy to all those who would listen.
What an irritating way for the worst day of his life to begin.
The braided boy glanced at the clock, dreading the rest of his day. 8:58am. Heero would be there at nine on the dot, just like always, only today he would be the fiancé of Relena Darlian, sweetheart of the Earth-Sphere United Nations. Duo thought he was going to be ill.
‘Stop it!’ he berated himself mentally. ‘You should be happy for him, not wallowing in self pity! Besides, this is your own doing, hell you even helped pick the goddamn ring! All that matters is that she makes him happy! Just be glad that you’re still his best friend.’
Unconvinced, Duo resumed his contemplation of the ceiling, trying not to think about what would happen when Heero showed up. “Or what wouldn’t happen,” he amended ruefully.
The sound of the doorknob turning brought him back to the present as he immediately pulled on his joker’s mask to hide the misery underneath. Show time.
“Hey Heero,” Duo drawled in a deliberately nonchalant tone, still staring at the ceiling. “So how’d things go last night? She didn’t cry did she?”
Duo glanced at his friend, confused by the unusual tone of his voice. Heero was just standing there watching him. He also, Duo noticed with a grimace, looked absolutely gorgeous, his unbuttoned Preventers jacket showing off the chest hugging white shirt underneath and his intense blue eyes were shining underneath his perpetually unruly brown bangs. Damn.
The braided boy forced a grin. “You that speechless with happiness pal? You’re even worse than usual.”
Still, Heero made no response. His left hand was clenched in a fist and he continued to watch as Duo used his foot to rock back and forth in his chair.
“Um, so when’s the big day going to be then?” Duo asked, a little perplexed by Heero’s complete lack of speaking ability. “I bet she’s got a big spring wedding in mind.”
“Don’t tell me you’re the one who wants a spring wedding?” Duo heard the bitterness in his own voice and hastily tried to cover it with a casual grin and a joke. “You’d better not involve anything pink or I’m not coming.”
When Heero finally spoke, it was practically the last thing the braided boy ever expected him to say. “Duo, I’m not marrying Relena.”
“What!?” Duo stopped spinning and looked at his best friend incredulously, unable to stem the flood of hope that filled him at that simple statement. He dropped his feet to the floor and looked Heero straight in the eyes, allowing his confusion to show on his face. “Didn’t you ask her?”
Heero took a step closer, his eyes on Duo. “I did. She said no.”
Duo gaped at him in shock for a moment, then forced a laugh. It sounded weak, even to his ears. “You’re kidding me buddy, aren’t you? There’s no way she’d ever say no. She’s crazy about you.”
“She did,” Heero answered simply. “She told me…” He paused and tried again. “She told me that I was in love with someone else.”
Scarcely daring to believe his ears, Duo searched his friend’s face desperately, looking for any sort of clue as to what he was thinking. “Really?” he managed, doing his best to sound calm and failing miserably. “Anyone I know?”
Instead of replying, Heero tossed whatever he had been holding in his fist at Duo. The braided boy caught it instinctively and opened his hand cautiously. What he saw nearly made his heart stop.
It wasn’t the tastefully expensive diamond ring he had helped Heero pick out for Relena. Instead it was a simple gold band with a stripe of frosted gold going around the middle of it. At the top of the ring the stripe intersected with a smaller vertical stripe. A cross. Looking at the delicate ring Duo knew immediately that it would fit him perfectly.
“Heero?” he asked, heart in his voice, not daring to look up.
Suddenly Heero was standing in front of him, a warm hand tipping his chin up to look into Heero’s strangely gentle face. “I think she may have been right,” Heero confided, his voice soft. “What do you think Duo?”
Hardly able to breathe, Duo felt tears welling in the corners of his eyes as he looked his heart’s deepest desire straight in the face. “I think I hope she was right. Ai shiteru Heero. You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to tell you that.”
Heero crouched and, a little hesitantly, put his arms around his best friend. Duo clung to him like a drowning man, tears of happiness slipping down his face to soak the Heero’s white shirt. “Hopefully you’ll have the rest of your life to tell me that,” Heero whispered. “Ai shiteru Duo. I’m sorry I made you wait so long.”
“I would’ve waited forever,” Duo choked, gripping his friend fiercely. “I never thought this would ever happen.”
“Thank Relena. If not for her, I never would have realized the truth in my own heart.”
‘This is the best worst day of my life,’ Duo thought to himself, clutching the ring tightly in his hand. ‘Thank you Relena. I know how much this must have cost you and how lucky I am that you’ve given me this chance. I’ll never forget this, and I swear that I’ll never waste it.’
Gaining control of himself, Duo straightened and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, love shining brightly in the violet orbs. “I guess this makes us more than just partners now, ne Heero?”
Heero smiled, the expression lighting up his whole face. “Aa. Now we’re equals.”
Ahh! Major fluff! I’m embarrassed at myself for being such a sap! :)