"Now Miss Relena, do you expect me to believe that you were going to your own room right now?" Pargan said knowingly.
She tilted her head and grinned up at him wryly. "You know me too well," she admitted. "Do you..."
"ICU at Mercy General. Condition guarded but stable. No visitors."
Relena sniffed and raised her chin. "We'll see about that."
A familiar and not entirely unexpected face caught Relena's eye the moment that she entered the waiting room. "Duo? Have you heard anything?"
"No." Duo grimaced. "I'm 'not a family member'," he mimicked bitterly.
The degree of bitterness at being denied familial status puzzled her for a moment, as did the depth of his obvious worry. Then, in one of those intuitive leaps that made her such a persuasive person, the worry and bitterness added to a few vague observations she'd made in the past, producing a rather startling conclusion. Startling yet - surprisingly fitting.
Relena frowned. "Didn't you tell them..." She let her voice trail off suggestively.
Duo's eyes went wide and his ears reddened. "Uh, yeah, I did. Guess that doesn't count. Um, I didn't know you, uh, *knew*..." In fact, he and Heero had been pretty careful to keep things quiet so that she *wouldn't* find out. Even during the war, Heero had been well aware of the young woman's crush on him, and, while it certainly wasn't mutual, he did care for and respect her enough that he hadn't wanted to rub her nose in evidence of the fact that his own affections lay elsewhere.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Relena couldn't quite keep a giggle from escaping at Duo's obvious consternation. "I didn't, actually, not till you just confirmed it." Now that she did know, it seemed so obvious. The way that Heero had allowed Duo to invade his personal space on the few occasions that she'd seen them together... The fact that the two of them had partnered up to come after her on Colony X18999 when they were both far more accustomed to carrying out solo operations during the war...
The red flush spread over Duo's cheeks and he groaned, "Oh man, Heero's gonna kill me." Heero really hadn't wanted her to find out about them till she'd had a chance to outgrow that gigantic crush of hers. So much for that idea.
Unable to resist the opportunity, Relena observed archly, "The French do call it the 'little death', don't they..."
Duo choked and turned an even darker red. "Relena!" he sputtered. "I... you..." Hilde, he'd have expected that kind of thing from; Relena - no way.
Relena laughed, "Sorry, I couldn't resist.
"Really, it's okay, Duo. I'll admit that I had a huge crush on Heero for a while. Then..." She shrugged and said wryly, "Well, then I grew up." Grew up and realized that strong, handsome, mysterious, and dangerous didn't necessarily describe the man that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. That maybe it would be a good idea to have *something* in common with whoever she eventually married.
"Oh. Uh, that's good." Great, in fact. Heero would be glad to hear it. Duo just hoped that he'd have the chance to tell him.
Looking over Relena's shoulder, Duo paled at the sight of the man who'd just exited the hallway leading to ICU. He motioned surreptitiously. "That's Heero's doctor. He threatened to have security throw me out if I kept bugging him. Uh, Relena, would you..."
Sobering, Relena ordered, "Follow my lead," as she turned to intercept the doctor.
"Excuse me, Doctor. I need to speak to whoever is responsible for Heero Yuy's care," she said in the firm, no-nonsense tone that made hardened politicians stop and listen to a girl young enough to be their daughter or even granddaughter.
"I am. However, unless you are a family member Miss..."
"Darlian." Long practice let Relena keep the smirk strictly internal as she saw recognition dawn on the man's face. "And it's Vice Foreign Minister, not Miss, Doctor..."
"Stanley. James Stanley," the man said promptly. "My apologies, Minister, I wasn't expecting..."
Waving in dismissal, Relena urged, "About Heero Yuy..."
"Ah, yes, the young man who rescued you and prevented another war..."
Relena gritted her teeth. Heero wouldn't have been able to do what he did if the others hadn't been there to keep the enemy suits occupied and he would be the first to admit it. But thanks to the blasted media getting footage of him lying unconscious in her arms, he was the one getting the publicity and therefore the credit.
Heero was going to hate that.
She forced a smile, something she'd become far more proficient at than she liked since taking on her position as Vice Foreign Minister. "One of them, yes. How is he?"
Gravely, the surgeon explained, "His body was subjected to a great deal of stress. We are monitoring his concussion closely. Surgical intervention has not been required, but he has yet to regain consciousness. I don't expect him to do so for at least twenty-four hours, if then.
"In addition to the brain trauma, he has numerous fractures and there was some internal damage that had to be repaired. The next twenty-four to thirty-six hours are critical."
"Would it be possible..."
Relena didn't even get the chance to finish her request before the doctor interrupted, "Of course, Minister Darlian. Come, I'll take you to him."
Motioning discreetly for Duo to accompany her, Relena followed the man down the hall to one of the tiny cubicles. At the entrance, he turned to face her and frowned as he spotted Duo behind her. Anticipating an objection, Relena spoke quickly, "Thank you, doctor. My bodyguard and I will be sure not to get in the medical staff's way."
Relena cut him off. "Doctor, I was just rescued from a hostage situation. Did you really think that I would be here *alone*?"
The doctor appeared displeased but said only, "You may stay as long as you do not interfere with the staff, Minister."
"Of course," Relena agreed graciously as she stepped into the cubicle.
Once the doctor was gone, Duo folded his arms and gave Relena a pointed look. "What *are* you doing here by yourself?"
"I'm not by myself. Pargan brought me here and now I'm with you. Perfectly safe."
Duo sighed and rolled his eyes but dropped the subject - for now - his attention drawn towards the bed. Relena hung back as he moved up beside it, one hand hovering uncertainly over the still form lying there. Finally, he hesitantly stroked the back of his fingers across one pale cheek. His shoulders hunched.
Quietly, Relena stepped out into the hallway, giving Duo a few minutes of privacy. Appropriating a chair from an unused room, she sat outside the doorway and waited.
Duo ran his gaze over the battered and bruised figure on the bed. He was grateful that he'd finally gotten in to see Heero, but he wasn't happy that Relena's influence had been required to accomplish it. It shouldn't have been necessary. He and Heero weren't just lovers; they were life partners. Family.
Unfortunately, without the weight of legal recognition of their relationship, the hospital didn't see things quite the same way. Duo intended to correct *that* problem as soon as possible. "Just as soon as you wake up, partner," he murmured, leaning over to brush a soft kiss against Heero's forehead.
Reluctantly drawing away from the bed, Duo moved to the door and called softly, "Relena?"
Taking her chair with her, Relena re-entered the cubicle and took up position on the opposite side of the bed from Duo.
"Thanks," he said quietly. She just smiled faintly and inclined her head in acknowledgement.
After a moment, Relena ventured, "Speaking of being alone... Where are the others?"
"Uh, somebody on the WEI board of directors decided this was a good time to stage a takeover, so Quat had to hightail it back to L4. Barton dragged Chang outta here after I decked the asshole. He's probably still with him; Chang's gotta appear before some sort of tribunal and I think Barton was going along to vouch for him. Don't know the details and don't care; I'm too pissed at Chang. I don't even want to *see* the damn traitor again till I know Heero's gonna be okay." Half under his breath, he grumbled, "Not too thrilled with that prick Barton, either."
Relena decided that discretion was the better part of valour and wisely forbore inquiring as to the details of Duo's displeasure with the 03 pilot. His anger with 05 she could figure out for herself. She contented herself with a simple "Ah" of acknowledgement.
The rhythmic noises of the ventilator and monitoring equipment seemed obscenely loud in the silence.
Gazing at Heero's pale, still face, Duo worried - and fumed. He was more than a little pissed off at his partner. Heero had a bad habit of making things up as he went and, once again, an impulsive, half-baked, spur-of-the-moment "plan" had damn near gotten him killed. By splitting the two of them up, he'd taken far too many unnecessary risks. It would have made more sense to have had Quatre launch both of their Gundams. They could still have pulled off an escape, and the presence of a second pilot would have eliminated the chance of being stranded adrift in space while trying to transfer from shuttle to Gundam. Deathscythe Hell could have easily kept up with Wing Zero. Heero could have gone straight on to the compound and let him handle Chang.
Of course, Chang probably wouldn't have had to worry about facing a tribunal afterwards. Too bad. Duo didn't have much sympathy for traitors.
Unfortunately, he did have a big soft spot for stubborn, self-sacrificing bastards. One in particular. He sighed and leaned forward to lace his fingers through Heero's, careful not to disturb the IV.
Searching for a topic of conversation, Relena finally ventured, "So what do you two plan to do now? Back to whatever you were doing before this whole - incident - cropped up?"
Duo shook his head. "Nah. The salvage business was okay for me, but Heero never stayed more than a coupla weeks at a time; he needs something more, oh... I dunno, *fulfilling*, I guess. We'll find something that suits us both a little better."
"You could come work for me," she suggested impulsively. "I need a new security staff; my old one obviously isn't up to the job." The very fact that she was here, sans bodyguard, after everything that had just happened, was proof of that. Even though the meeting had been closed to all but the actual senate members, and despite the fact that the Preventers were providing security for the hotel housing the emergency session, most of the others had had personal security staff waiting outside when the meeting ended. Only Pargan had been waiting to escort her; resourceful and competent though he was, he was a family retainer, not a bodyguard. Expecting him to fill the demands of that role too was both unrealistic and unfair.
Relena didn't know Duo - or, frankly, Heero - very well, really, but she had no doubt that they were both more than qualified to handle the Vice Foreign Minister's security. Even if Heero had meant what he'd said, just before passing out, about never killing again, he could still train staff and coordinate.
Duo gave her a quick, pleased smile. "Heero'd probably like that." Leaning over, he patted Heero's cheek gently. "C'mon, buddy, we've got a job offer to listen to. Time to wake up."
Heero didn't, of course, and Duo really hadn't expected him to. He shrugged and gave Relena a resigned half-smile. "Probably be another eight, ten hours..." he offered, running his gaze over the assorted monitoring equipment.
"The doctor said twenty-four..." she protested skeptically.
"Yeah, well, the doctor doesn't know Heero," Duo answered drily.
Duo, of course, was right.
He wasn't actually with Heero when he regained consciousness. Relena had long since been called away by her own duties, and when Duo had returned from escorting her safely back to the hotel housing the senate members, he'd once again been denied access to Heero. But once Heero was awake, he was transferred out of ICU, and Duo was still left waiting - this time for visiting hours to start. Rather than kick up a fuss and risk being banned from the premises, he took the opportunity to run a few necessary errands.
Heero was going to need something to wear when he checked himself out of the hospital, after all.
Long before the doctor's "critical" thirty-six hours were up, Heero was checking himself out of the hospital AMA (Against Medical Advice), flatly refusing to allow any of the tests that the doctor was eager to run. He had no interest in satisfying the man's curiosity regarding his quick recovery.
And Heero was a bit concerned by Duo's absence since he'd regained consciousness. He knew that Duo had been there earlier - he'd overheard a couple of the ICU nurses gossiping over the fact that the Vice Foreign Minister had been in to see him, and the description of her "bodyguard" had quite unmistakably been his lover - but the whole thing seemed a bit strange. He hoped that Duo's absence wasn't due to a serious threat to Relena. All the more reason to get out of the damn hospital and find out what was going on. He was signing the hospital's liability release forms over the protests of his hastily-summoned doctor when Duo finally arrived in his room.
"You really *can't* leave now," the doctor pointed out condescendingly. "Your clothing was cut off when you were brought in to Emergency; you can't walk out of here wearing nothing but a hospital gown."
Sweeping a quick glance over his newly-arrived partner, Heero noted that, while Duo looked a bit tired and tense initially, the tension quickly vanished in the wake of the relieved grin that followed Duo's own swift visual sweep of him. He gave a brief, welcoming nod in return, then smirked faintly as Duo dumped a shopping bag on the bed beside him. So much for *that* argument. With Duo's assistance, he efficiently exchanged the hospital gown for a T-shirt and jeans while the doctor continued to drone on.
"Mr. Yuy, you must remain here for observation and..."
"No." Perched on the edge of the bed, Heero tied one shoe and held out his hand for the other, which Duo promptly gave him.
"The tests are for your own benefit. You've been seriously injured and..."
"I'm fine," Heero said flatly, swaying slightly as he stood and stepped away from the bed.
"Mr. Yuy, your recovery is progressing at a remarkable rate, certainly. Such a medical marvel simply *must* be documented. The tests are..."
"Not gonna happen," Duo informed the doctor gleefully, providing Heero with a steadying hand under the guise of a possessive arm around his waist. Doctors and hospital-type atmospheres didn't exactly have positive connotations for his lover. Hell, he wasn't too fond of them himself. They'd spent more than their share of time as lab rats during their training; he wasn't surprised that Heero was refusing to cooperate now.
The doctor frowned and ignored Duo, addressing Heero again. "Mr. Yuy, I really must insist..."
"Jeez, don't they teach the meaning of the word 'no' in medical school?" Duo grumbled, not bothering to keep his voice down.
Heero snorted and replied drily, "Apparently not."
The doctor opened his mouth to speak again. Heero scowled and interrupted sharply, "Enough." Slinging an arm over his partner's supportive shoulder, he headed for the door.
"Where are we going?" Heero asked as they made their way out of the hospital. Duo would probably be in a hurry to get back to the salvage yard on L2, but it would most likely take a few days to get seats on a shuttle.
"The senate's temporarily operating out of a hotel here in town; Relena made us a job offer and she's offered us a room in her suite to stay in while we're making up our minds about it."
"Us?" Heero queried cautiously. If the job was just for him, he wasn't interested. He didn't want to give Relena a false impression of his feelings for her, and entering her employ just might do that.
Besides, Duo's life was back on L2, and that meant that his was as well. Maybe he hadn't quite managed to settle down to life in the salvage business yet, but he wasn't about to take on a job that would keep him away for months on end either. Even if it did sound considerably more interesting than sorting junk.
Duo nodded. "Yup. Us.
"And, uh, well, I do mean *us*. She kinda... took a wild guess about us, and I kinda, uh, fell for her bluff and, err... well, I confirmed it."
Hurriedly, he continued, "No, no, it's okay, Heero. She said she'd outgrown her crush, and I think she meant it. She didn't seem upset or anything; in fact, she kinda, uh..."
Heero watched, bemused, as Duo's face flushed. The only times he'd ever seen Duo redden with embarrassment before had been when Hilde teased him about their relationship. "She..." he prompted curiously.
"Kidded me like Hilde does," Duo admitted ruefully. As he stepped up to the curb and hailed a cab, he added, "And no, I won't repeat what she said."
"I wasn't planning on asking," Heero said drily. He'd been on the receiving end of Hilde's teasing enough times for him to know that he didn't want to know.
"But she really did seem okay about us. She even got me in to see you for a while. Apparently, spouses and Vice Foreign Ministers are 'immediate family' but lovers aren't. I had no legal right to be with you, no say in your treatment, nothing." Duo reached out and opened the cab door. Ducking inside, he added, "I'd like to change that, Heero. If that's okay with you," before quickly sliding across the seat.
Stunned, Heero stood motionless beside the taxi while Duo gave directions to the driver. It wasn't that he was averse to the idea; marriage simply wasn't a topic that had ever come up for discussion. It was so... so...
After years of being anything *but* 'normal', the concept held a lot of appeal.
As did the legal recognition of their commitment to each other. The commitment itself already existed, but Duo's experience with the hospital made the importance of the legal aspect clear if they wanted to avoid such problems in future.
In future. The abrupt realization that they really did have a *future* together hit Heero hard.
During the war, he'd never really thought about life beyond the next mission; it was just - easier - that way. Even during the year since the war had ended, he hadn't thought about a future more than a month or two away. But now it was time for that to change. Thinking in terms of a lifetime - hopefully a *long* lifetime - with Duo would be a good start.
Sliding into the car beside his partner, Heero reached out and laced his fingers through Duo's. "It's okay," he said simply.
Heero couldn't help a near-silent sigh of sheer bliss as he settled into bed. The luxurious hotel bed felt vastly better to his battered body than the thin hospital mattress and coarse, stiff bedding had. But, despite his comfort, he didn't drift off to sleep. He had too much to think about.
After he and Duo had arrived at the hotel, Relena had made a formal job offer. Now that he knew all the details, he had to admit that her offer sounded much more appealing to *him* than working at the salvage yard had been, but his partner had seemed perfectly content with the salvage business. Changing jobs to make him more content would be pointless if it made Duo restless and unhappy.
"Duo, are you sure that this is what you want to do?"
"Yeah, Heero, I'm sure," Duo assured as he slid into bed beside Heero. Facing Heero, he propped himself up on one elbow, gesturing with his other hand as he spoke. "I mean, it's not as if salvage work was my life's calling or something. It was just a way to make ends meet while we got used to post-war life. Running Relena's security should be a lot more interesting. The pay and benefits are a hell of a lot better, too." He'd miss working with Hilde - she'd become a good friend to them both during the past year - but he didn't think he'd miss the work itself. "If the security job sounds good to you, then my vote is to go for it."
"Okay," Heero agreed, rolling onto his side to face Duo. "We'll tell Relena in the morning." She had told them to take their time and think about the offer, but he didn't see any point in delaying their answer now that they'd reached a decision.
"We'll have to call Hilde too, let her know we won't be coming back and arrange to have our stuff shipped," Duo said thoughtfully. It wasn't as if there was a whole lot to ship; just some clothing, a few books, and a handful of other odds and ends. "Hey, maybe, if she comes to the wedding, she could just bring it with her."
"Who are you planning to invite?" Heero asked somewhat cautiously. They hadn't actually discussed the wedding yet. He doubted that Duo would be planning a big, traditional ceremony, but he didn't know what else Duo might have in mind.
"Hilde, and maybe Quatre, if he can manage to come." Duo paused and thought for a few moments. Other than Hilde, Quatre was really the only friend that he and Heero had in common, mainly because they'd each spent a good chunk of time hiding out with him during the war. He and Quatre had gone to ground together after Heero's self-destruction; Heero and Quatre had holed up at Relena's school in Sanq after Quatre's experience with Zero. Duo didn't think that it was possible to spend that much time with Quatre and *not* end up being friends. Duo was pretty sure that Quatre would *want* to be there; he was just awfully busy with Winner Enterprises at the moment, so it wasn't too likely that he'd be able to make it to the wedding.
"Relena," Duo added slowly. She wasn't really a friend yet - they didn't know each other well enough for that - but he had a gut feeling that she was going to be. "Maybe Howard. Anybody else that you want there?" He hoped that Heero didn't want the other pilots there. He didn't really know either of them very well, certainly not well enough to consider them friends. Plus, he was still pissed off at Chang, and seriously annoyed with Barton.
Heero considered the question, then shook his head. "No." Duo had already named the short list of people that he considered friends. Reservations about Chang's recent behaviour - and awareness of Duo's current displeasure with Chang and Barton - aside, his own relationship with the other two pilots was simply that of fellow soldiers. Heero didn't think that was really the kind of relationship that led to the expectation of a wedding invitation.
"Guess that's it for the guest list, then," Duo said with relief. "Any ideas for location?"
About to shake his head again, Heero hesitated. It hadn't been love at first sight for the two of them, but, right from their first encounter, Duo had definitely caused an emotional reaction. Neither of them was big on mushy words, but maybe a small reminder of those early encounters would be fitting. "A beach?" he suggested. Duo's instant nod of agreement, accompanied by a pleased grin, told Heero that his partner was thinking along the same lines.
"That just leaves the question of when, and I guess that'll depend on Relena's schedule," Duo concluded with a shrug. "We can work that out when we give her our answer tomorrow."
Duo leaned forward and kissed Heero tenderly. "Night, Heero." He reached up and flicked off the light before settling down on his side of the bed, careful not to jostle his bedmate. Incredible as Heero's powers of recuperation might be, his lover still had a lot of healing left to do.
As the wedding officiant began the ceremony, Relena swept her gaze over the small gathering. They'd spent a thoroughly pleasant day together, renewing friendships and forging new ones. Hilde was a breath of fresh air after years of socializing with debutantes. Quatre was his usual perceptive, thought-provoking self, and, despite Duo's stern injunction not to talk politics, they'd ended up hotly debating an upcoming bill until Duo threatened to throw them both in the sea to cool off. She'd had - fun. After over a year of being unrelentingly grown-up and mature, fun was a concept that she'd nearly forgotten, but she was gradually becoming reacquainted with it since hiring her new heads of security. But then, the two of them were making her see a lot of things in a new way.
Her first impression of Heero and Duo's wedding plans had been distinctly less than positive. A wedding should be something special, something memorable, and, in her opinion, a small wedding with a beach locale and a dress code that consisted of shorts and T-shirts simply didn't measure up. But Relena had bitten her tongue, reminded herself that it was *their* wedding, after all, and kept her opinion to herself. And now, standing on a moonlit tropical beach and bearing witness as the two of them exchanged vows, she was very glad of that forbearance. This simple, laidback ceremony suited Heero and Duo's relationship in a way that a formal, traditional one never would have.
Heero had chosen his vows carefully, wanting to express his trust and love along with the depth of his commitment to making their relationship work. Eyes locked with Duo's, he recited from memory, "In the presence of our friends I, Heero, choose you, Duo, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, secure in the knowledge that you will be my constant friend, my faithful partner in life, and my one true love. I promise to share with you in times of joy as in times of trouble; to talk and to listen; to honour and appreciate you; to support and be supported by you in trust and in love." The talking part would be difficult, actions came more easily for him, but Heero knew that, at least sometimes, Duo needed the words. That was more than enough reason for him to make the effort.
Sliding a simple platinum band onto Duo's finger, Heero continued, "This ring is a symbol of my promise to love you without reservation, comfort you in times of distress, laugh with you and cry with you, grow with you in mind and spirit, and cherish you always." Openly showing his emotions was something else that Heero knew he'd have to work at. The feelings had always been there; he just had to retrain himself to ignore the now-obsolete conditioning that insisted he conceal them.
In a strong, clear voice, Duo responded, "In the presence of our friends, I, Duo choose you, my beloved Heero, to be my husband, in strength and weakness, from this day on. I choose to live with you and laugh with you. To stand by your side and sleep in your arms." He flushed faintly, half-embarrassed by the sappiness of the next line. Despite the temptation to drop it, he'd opted to leave it in because he *meant* it, and if ever there was a time to indulge in a little sap, he figured this was it. "To be joy to your heart and food to your soul," came out in a rush.
More steadily, Duo promised, "I choose to be your partner, your lover, and your best friend. To share the good times and misfortune, the achievements and the failures." They'd both certainly been through their share of the negative, hopefully the future would hold more of the positive to balance it out. "To bring out the best in you always. And, for you, to be the most that I can." Slipping the mate to his own ring onto Heero's finger, he added, "This ring represents my promise to cherish and respect you through all the changes of our lives, forever giving thanks that we found each other." They'd already been through some pretty major life-changes together, and there would undoubtedly be many more to come.
"May you always remain true to the vows you've made here in the presence of your friends, and may they support you in your commitment to one another," the officiant uttered solemnly. "From this moment forward, you are joined in the bonds of matrimony. You may now kiss."
Lips met in a tender, loving caress that was interrupted all too soon by the announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I now present to you Duo and Heero Maxwell-Yuy."
Heero and Duo parted slowly as their friends surged forward to congratulate them. Exchanging rueful looks, they turned their attention to the others. They could afford to spend the evening sharing their happiness with their friends; there would be time later for the two of them. Plenty of time.
A whole new future.