Heero looked up from his laptop and grinned at the sight of Duo standing on top of a step ladder, balancing rather precariously on the edge of it as he continued stringing yet another crepe paper streamer across the full length of the living room, adding to the several dozen strands he'd strung up earlier. His lover was humming contentedly to himself and the words matching the tune filtered into Heero's mind, having lowered his shields some time ago. The feelings of happiness and excitement rippled across the space between them, causing Heero to smile in response to Duo's good mood.
Pulling his eyes away from his lover's ever tempting body, he refocused on the half written e-mail letter before him, addressed to Treize Kushrenada, a man they would always feel indebted to for his aid and kindness. Heero had kept the card the commander had pressed into his hand at the time of their leaving the captured base but hadn't contacted the man until well after the war had ended, a period of time now referred to as the Ten Week War. The string of battles had finally come to an end as a result of a reluctant truce that had been negotiated between the two opposing forces, with the Allied government agreeing to withdraw from Federation territory when some of their more reasonable terms and concessions had been agreed to and were later ratified.
Yesterday was the six year anniversary of the day the Ten Week War began. And as he did every year on that date, Heero found his thoughts wandering back to that particular time of uncertainty, from their departure from the training base to the days and weeks after he and Duo had been separated by war, reunited under remarkable circumstances and the help of friends and then hustled away from the base that had been preparing for an attack and being forced to leave their good friends that they had lived and trained alongside with for nearly five years. At the end of a long journey, they found themselves in a Federation hospital at the end other end of the country.
As soon as Duo had gained enough strength to walk, the two of them had been transferred from the hospital to another, more permanent location where they were immediately assigned to a bureaucratic job, deep within the confines of the Federation's Archive Building. It was there that the two boys, the objects of a massive government cover up, had lived and worked, living a sequestered life away from the outside world. The job they were given to perform five days a week had been designed to keep them occupied. Yet by the very nature of the mundane tasks, it wasted their innate talents while keeping the potentially dangerous government secret far away from the curious eyes and ears of the press, certain scandal and, most importantly, from the enemy who now, because of Duo having been captured, knew of their unique existence.
It had been unsettling for the higher ups in the Federation to realize that for some unknown reason, the Allied Forces, i.e. Commander Treize Kushrenada, withheld the dark secret that could effectively undermine the Federation government from within. Their contact man had told them that the bigwig Federal security types, who knew of their existence, conjured up many scenarios as to why their enemy withheld the information. One of the two most likely explanations for Treize's lack of actions against them was that he could be saving it to use as a political tool in the future, to further his own advancement in the higher echelons of the Allied power hierarchy. The second theory to Kushrenada's silence held that he kept back the information for his own preservation. It may have proved detrimental to his health and career in telling his government of the evidence he'd had in his hands that would have proved beyond a doubt the unethical genetic engineering performed nearly two decades ago and sanctioned by the Federation's money and approval. It would have been disastrous, not to mention embarrassing, to admit that the evidence that could topple their enemy's government from within its own system had slipped out of his hands. That information certainly would have an effect on the reported young upstart and his military position. It wasn't unheard of for top military brass in the Allied government to suddenly disappear from public view after a mistake was made. These men were reported by the Allied Press to have retired early, were not heard from again. It had been a highly suspicious practice that led to the theory of Kushrenada's silence on the subject.
No one was to know for several years the real answer to the puzzle of the enemy commander's actions, that Treize altruistically believed he was protecting the two unique and, in his eyes, tragic by circumstance boys, believing his silence would be beneficial to their long-term happiness.
During their first few months of living in the archival building, Heero had learned additional information from General G, their contact man. He came to understand that a closed-door committee had been formed by a member of congress who had been leaked information concerning the two surviving genetic experiments, still alive after nearly seventeen years from being rescued from the island lab and put into the Child Protective Services to be adopted. The Senator had been told that they had passed from their scandalous conception and problematic childhood to find each other in their early teens and had been located, during the government's testing program, in a youth detention facility and, conscripted into the military's youth training program to fight for the Federation. It was Commander Reid's report to General Noventa of Duo's capture, near death and discovery that put up a red flag. One congressman, having acquired the report, quickly formed a plan and went with this information straight to the Federation's President and was given full authority and financial backing to set up a committee to investigate the matter in a discrete manner and come up with a solution. The principle objectives of the committee was to oversee the welfare of two teenagers and decide their future in a way that would be most beneficial to the Federation.
Four people from various backgrounds swore their secrecy about the project and used only their initials on the recorded notes of each meeting to keep their identities from being discovered. The group was headed by General G, with Senator O, the man who initially set up the committee, and scientists, Doctors Q and S, forming the remainder of that august group.
These four men were given a full access from the government to the few, partially intact documents that hadn't been completely deleted by the security virus that had been set off within the illegal lab seventeen years ago when the government raid had taken place. These few documents hinted at the purpose of the experiments and gave an analytical description of the unprecedented process they followed in creating what they believed would be the perfect soldiers of the future, to be used by the Federation in fighting their battles.
Heero and Duo had been questioned by the four men several times and given small bits of information to fill in gaps from what Heero and his adopted father had already dug up. It brought the two no comfort to learn that the covert tracking of the other test subjects, who had been rescued in the raid on the facility and put into orphanages as they had, did not survive past the age of sixteen. Their deaths weren't fully detailed, but they learned that two of the test subjects had died of natural causes, that being faltering internal organs. The six remaining test subjects, not knowing or understanding the feelings of confusion and aggression within them, much like Heero and Duo's emotional state and reactions when they first met, began their own self-destructive behavior in order to deal with the intense and often hostile impulses which they acted out in highly inappropriate and almost always illegal ways, leading to the demise of some while others died by their own hands or drug overdoses. Heero and Duo were now the only two left to bear a physical witness to the original project scientists' pure genius and absolute madness.
It came as no great surprise to anyone, after the paper work had been unearthed, that several branches of the government had sanctioned the genetic experiments and the funds supporting them had been funneled from legitimate accounts to covertly support the project under the guise of legitimate humanitarian programs. It was deemed by the committee to continue the cover up, that with the continuing level of confidence in the current government being at an all time low, the Federation of States couldn't afford any news of the experiments and the scandal the information would bring. Such headline news would topple many of the high ranking government leaders, who had known of the program's existence and even sanctioned it. It was deemed that these men were presently invaluable for healing the bruised ego of the country that could not, at the moment, handle a scandal if the truth of the questionable, unarguably unethical government program, though in the past, was brought to light. The decision by the committee, after all due consideration, was to bury the history and existence of the two inseparable teens who were kept close and under their ever watchful care.
It was fortunate for the two teens that the four professional men of the committee seemed, over time, to develop a tender heart and no small amount of sympathy towards them. It was through no fault of their own that they were doomed to a life of complete dependency on each other. The committee saw to it that they were entertained by giving them their own state of the art entertainment center for their room, clothing that other teens wore, music that they desired, and anything else they could financially provide them to ensure their happiness; everything, that is, except their freedom.
Try as they might, the men overseeing their care were not sure how to deal with Heero's continued frustration and Duo's growing despondency. Having spent most of their lives being active, the docile job they were given and the fact that they were forbidden to leave the lower floor of the building where they lived and worked five days a week, made their adjustment to their new environment a bumpy one.
Heero's frustration at being reduced from being an A.M.S. pilot to a clerical worker mounted, and so did his anger. He snapped and snarled at anyone who came near him and, unfortunately, the person who couldn't escape him for long suffered the most.
Duo, for his part, was just plain bored. He liked being physically active, and though workout equipment had been provided to address that problem, it became boring very quickly. Yet instead of lashing out, like Heero had done to him, he became withdrawn and despondent, at times physically and mentally clinging to Heero for support. It soon became a vicious circle for the two as Duo's persistent neediness didn't sit well with the other boy, causing Heero to become even more frustrated.
Oftentimes, the more volatile teen turned and lashed out at the needy boy, causing Duo to withdraw a little more with each occurance. It wasn't until the day that Heero forcefully pushed Duo away from him, causing the slighter teen's body to crash to the floor, that things changed. As he raised his fist in anger to his lifemate, the braided boy responded by curling up into a protective position at Heero's feet. In that moment, Heero stopped and silence fell in the space around them as he realized what was happening. Cautiously, he crouched down onto the floor and scooped his lover up in his arms and held him close, promising over and over as he rocked the both of them, that he would never hit him again. They spent hours talking of their troubled thoughts and worries, then called General G. That was the day they both asked for help and a specialist was sent in immediately to help them cope with the change in their lives.
Things seemed to take a turn for the better after that.
One year after the end of the Ten Week War, the world appeared to be back to a state of relative peace and life had returned to normal within the Federation. Its people were once again back to their routines, enveloped in their daily lives with trying to make a living while anticipating the summer's blockbuster, action movie. The committee met again and unanimously decided that the lives of the two boys, now eighteen and legal adults, were due for some changes.
It was a complete shock, but certainly a wonderful one, when unexpectedly Quatre suddenly appeared in the archival building, wearing an officer's uniform, carrying a large bag of Chinese take out, and displaying an enormous smile on his face. Duo swore he almost had a heart attack, and in his excitement and enthusiasm, almost strangled the blond as he held him in a tight hug.
The three former comrades sat in the comfortable but windowless room that was their home, three floors below the ground, and talked for hours, with Duo and Heero soaking up the contact and presence of their friend, reminiscing about the past and sharing their concerns for the future. When at last Quatre had to leave, the two reluctantly watched him go, once again left with the heavy feeling of loneliness, knowing that they were truly isolated from everyone and everything familiar and, once again, they had felt bereft, completely alone and abandoned. There was a noted despondency that followed that visit, and the four men monitoring 'their boys' became concerned. The psychiatric specialist was called in again.
Two months following Quatre's visit, the two somewhat listless and depressed teens were summoned to General G's office on the third floor of the archival building. Upon their arrival, they were told there was going to be a change in their living conditions. They were informed by the uniformed man, with an unusually wide grin on his face, that they were going to be liberated from the archives building upon acceptance of certain conditions. Foremost of those conditions was that they were to remain as unobtrusive as possible, to strictly avoid any unwanted attention from anyone in the public, the press or any government agency. Both agreed, somewhat dazed and disbelieving at the suddenness of the change in their lives, and signed the proper papers stating their agreement to the terms of their freedom. G pointed out to them that, within the document, they were promised, as recompense for their pain and suffering, a steady income from the government that would arrive at their new residence every two weeks for the duration of their lives.
Wide eyed, anxious, and a little nervous about leaving their security, Duo had held Heero's hand tightly when two days later they bid their four caretakers and a handful of archival workers a solemn goodbye and received their well wishes just before a mid-sized, unmarked government car drove them from the archival building, that had been their work and home for nearly a year and a half, to the airport. The half-hour journey was made in silence and Heero remembered how tense he felt and attentive to their surroundings, trying, but not completely succeeding, in hiding from Duo his own fear, that instead of receiving the home they had both been promised and longed for, that he expected they would be killed, their bodies, evidence of their past and the Federation's shame, would be dissected or destroyed, allowing the government's secret to be forever silenced. Duo, for his part, continued to hold his hand tightly and kept his eyes open for any signs of danger, fearing the same scenario that Heero had conjured up. Yet as their journey continued, they both began to slowly relax, their fears dissolving as each one of them proved to be unfounded.
The driver stopped the car in front of a Federated Airway's terminal, unloaded their belongings, packed into two duffle bags, and escorted them inside and to the gate where the plane they were scheduled to take was just beginning to board its passengers.
The two had talked back and forth to each other in their minds, constantly reassuring each other. Both had begun to experience a feeling of hope beginning to swell within them as their journey continued without mishap. The committee, as reported by the General G two days earlier, had decided to give the two boys a chance at living a normal life. A home had been purchased in the west, where alternative living styles were not out of the norm nor greatly prejudiced against. They were to be given an opportunity to live there together, autonomous and peaceably, as long as they didn't draw any undue attention to themselves. The agreement was that they had a year to prove to the committee that they could live on their own without anyone becoming suspicious of their true natures. If something went wrong, if they were discovered or harmed in any way, the government would step in and other arrangements would be made. Both Heero and Duo had decided beforehand that there was no way their new freedom would be taken away from them. They would do whatever they had to, they would live in whatever place and conditions the government had given them for the promise of continued freedom.
The driver that had taken them to the airport led them to the boarding gate and informed the two that they would be met by someone on the other end of their flight who would convey them to their new residence. They were each handed a ticket and wished well before the driver disappeared back into the crowd behind them, presumably to his parked car.
Neither teen could quite believe what they had been told; good things didn't usually land at their doorstep, and the suspicious and guarded feelings they'd felt most of their young lives was hard to let go of. Trusting others, who held their future in their hands, was an uncomfortable situation that had been forced on them time and time again. The two teens had no choice but to try and trust the government's word once more.
Heero recalled the transcontinental flight was long but uneventful, and under the cover of Duo's jacket, slung over the arm rest between them, the two clasped their hands together, anxious and excited about what they would discover when they stepped off the plane.
As promised, they were met at the San Francisco Airport by a middle-aged Asian woman in a business-style pantsuit and stiff, business-like manner. She recognized them from the pictures she held in her hand and introduced herself, greeting them like a professional tour guide while leading them to another plain and glaringly government issued, unmarked car. They were driven from the city on the bay several hours north to a small town named Calistoga. The government agent, Ms. Tannaka, seemed more than happy to point out various places of interest on the long scenic drive.
When the car finally came to a stop, it was in front of an ecru painted, ordinary looking, two-storey house with a white sign in the front yard that had painted in large, bold red letters, 'For Sale.' Beneath the sign was an added, smaller rectangle sign with similar lettering announcing the house was, 'Sold.'
Ms. Tannaka, the plain clothes agent/chauffeur, unloaded their two bags from the trunk of the car and set them on the sidewalk. Then handing the keys to the house to Heero, she wished them happiness in their new home. A card was also placed in Heero's hand. "That's in case things go wrong here or if you need help. Call without hesitation. Otherwise," she smiled pleasantly, "we'll leave you alone to be good tax-paying and productive citizens." That said, she turned and promptly left the two nearly nineteen-year-old young men standing immobile and slightly stunned in front of the house that was now their home.
"Do you think there's a bomb rigged at the entrance?" Duo asked, looking nervously towards the solid wood door of the house.
Heero shook his head, though determined he would study every inch of the structure for security and harmful or snooping devices before they went to bed that night. "If they wanted us dead, I think they would have done it in the archival building to maintain secrecy. We now have neighbors who are looking at us at this very moment, witnesses to our existence. They can't kill us now without a lot of questions being asked."
Duo turned around quickly and, spying the neighbors Heero alluded to, he waved to the elderly couple sitting on their front porch of their home across the street who were curiously watching them. They waved back. "So, we're really free?" Duo asked, turning back to look at Heero with hope finally daring to come closer to the surface and almost fully visible on his handsome face and in his luminous eyes.
"It looks like it," Heero replied, allowing a smile of his own to creep up. "But let's check out the inside of the house just to be sure."
That first day of liberation had occurred four and a half years ago and as Heero's fingers paused over his keyboard, he thought of all the changes and happiness that had taken place during that time. He and Duo had discovered the delicious taste of real freedom without worry, the first time they'd truly experienced it in their lives. They were free to plan a future and live their lives without fear or interference. And best of all, no one and nothing would ever take them away from each other again.
Over the last six years, since the time they had left the training facility, the bond between them had grown stronger, developing to a point where it was almost impossible for them to be away from each other for more than an hour or two before the familiar pain set in, its intensity had increased tenfold. But in all honesty, neither of the two minded. It was as if their minds and emotions had amicably merged, their dependence on each other becoming less of a worry and now seemed more like just part of their everyday life.
Because of their inability to be away from each other for long, they had thrown ideas back and forth on what they could do in order to fill their time and enrich their lives. They really didn't have to work as the house was bought and paid for by the government and the monthly checks they received were three times over what they could spend. Still, it was more than apparent that some form of occupation was necessary as neither young man liked to feel useless or idle.
Duo quickly became a sponge for informative television shows. He watched programs in which professional builders repaired, built and remodeled homes. Soon books were purchased and a work shop was built behind their garage. Their house began to change in appearance to truly become a home.
Duo also learned from the Home and Garden channel how to landscape a yard, and after a month of viewing various programs and taking extensive notes, he set to work, making their front and back yards showcases for the neighbors and those who drove by in their cars.
Next he took to the cooking channel and watched Japanese shows in which chefs battled each other for the best dishes, Italian men and women sharing their family secrets, bread makers, dessert chefs, and every other worthy form of culinary art that was available to television viewers were studied and recipes copied. Heero was pleased to note that Duo seemed to almost instinctively take to the domestic part of their lives and embellished upon whatever knowledge he gleaned from the television. The end result was that they now lived in a beautiful, comfortable home and ate exquisite and sometimes odd meals.
Not able to leave the house or Duo for employment, Heero started a home-based computer consulting business. Together, he and Duo could take apart and repair any computer known to man, upgrade it and make it faster and perform better than even the manufacturer claimed. From word of mouth, it became a steady job and brought in an added income along with a lot of new and interesting people into their home and lives.
For the most part they were happy and content with their lives and living, enjoying what they had even though they sometimes argued about mundane things and their constant companionship occasionally wore on each other's nerves.
A short time after Quatre's visit to them in the archival building, they had gotten permission to e-mail their friends on a secured computer, which the government provided. Wufei, Quatre and Trowa had managed to stay in touch with them over the years as they continued with their military service. They wrote through e-mail and visited at least once a year when they were on leave. Wufei and Trowa seemed to enjoy and thrive within the military system, but the more tender hearted blond chafed at it. He never liked confrontation or fighting, and the Ten Week War had reinforced those feelings. He told his two friends, during his initial visit with them, that after he had recovered from his injuries, he marched himself into the military headquarters a few hours after he was released from the hospital, and changed his fighting status to being listed as a Conscientious Objector. Quatre's new change in status kept him on the sidelines, relegating him to a support position. He was transferred from active duty on front lines of the battle to work under one of the commanding generals of the Federation's Forces, using his excellent tactical abilities to aid the man of power. He told his two supportive friends that he'd had only a slight feeling of regret at never getting the chance to pilot the Federation's A.M.S. that they had all been trained to fly during their years at the training facility. All in all, though, he didn't regret his decision.
Heero was brought out of his thoughts by a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and smiled as he watched Duo step down from the back of the ladder. His snugly fitted, blue jean-covered bottom drew his eyes and thoughts away from his computer once more to think of more pleasant pastimes.
"Heero!" Duo scolded with a knowing, crooked smile on his handsome face, obviously having felt his partner's thoughts. "Behave, will ya? Wufei could be here any minute now and you don't want him to find us going at it on the floor while he's knocking at the door, do you?"
/No,/ the Japanese young man replied, chuckling in his head, liking the image Duo had given him, but definitely not wanting Wufei to witness them in one of their most intimate moments.
"Then get your mind and eyes off my ass," Duo laughed as he began to fold up the step ladder and set it aside, apparently content with the number of streamers he had put up for celebrating a welcome. Today marked six years and one day since the ten boys from the training center became soldiers for the Federation. As of yesterday, their three closest friends had been released from their contract with the government. They had officially paid the government back for their education with their six years of active military service.
Heero knew a slight twinge of envy towards his friends. Trowa and Wufei had been ace A.M.S. pilots, earning several medals for valor in battle. His few experiences in battle, though frightening, had been some of the most exhilarating moments of his life. Never during the years of training he'd received at the youth training facility did he imagine that the innate skills he'd been born with and the knowledge and conditioning he'd accumulated by hard work would be so close to being properly used and then suddenly discarded, wasted when he and Duo were basically put out to pasture.
His past resentfulness had evolved as contentment took it's place beginning with their release from the archival building. Following that momentous day, he and Duo had live in their little home and, over time, they each had found work to keep their minds and hands busy. He was well aware that they had a good life and he was more than content with it.
He frequently wondered at the circumstances in life that led he and Duo from their beginnings in a test tube to where they were now. He continued to find it ironic that the scientists, who had created and designed himself and Duo to be the perfect tool for the military's use, had unintentionally gone too far by unknowingly creating a flaw within them that caused them to be nothing short of derelicts in the military service. That flaw was their inseparability. The proof of that flaw had been the fact that it had nearly killed them in their first days of active military service.
Looking up at the clock, Heero realized he didn't have much time to finish his letter. He was writing a thank you note to Treize for his latest gift to them, that being a new, sleek and expensive sports car. So much for not drawing attention to themselves. The man was always sending or buying them things which, at first, had led Heero to be suspicious of him. But over time he'd proved time and again that his concern for them was genuine and sincere. Treize demonstrated that he was a man of means, opening business doors for them and supplying them with material things in the form of gifts and offering any financial assistance to them should they need anything. It appeared he wanted nothing in return but to continue corresponding with them. He was still intrigued by their history and their growing bond with each other and wanted to personally chart their progress, adamantly wishing them only the best. Though Heero and Duo had been suspicious, wary and cautious of his friendly gestures at first, he had, over the last three years they'd been corresponding, managed to win them over with his continued silence regarding their existence, his patience and obvious concern for their well being. The two felt somewhat secure in calling him their friend even though he remained a commander in an army considered their government's enemy and located half way around the world. Treize Kushrenada, because of who he was and his position in a foreign, often hostile military, was a person who would not be visiting the Federation States for many years to come, making it easier for the two young men to trust his expressed interest in them.
Heero returned to his letter, stating their latest concern.
'Wufei is due at any moment and both Duo and I are nervous and excited at being reunited with him again. As you know, we had formed a close friendship with him during our training, and you mentioned you had observed his acute interest in Duo during the rescue of he and Quatre from your temporary base. He has visited us several times while on leave over the last four years, but it has always been at another destination. Respectively, Hawaii, Chicago, London and New York. His relationship with the both of us has been growing steadily.'
Heero sat back in his chair and pondered what he'd just written. He didn't regret his decision to write Wufei several months ago to, as they say, 'put the cards on the table'. He was relieved to receive a polite yet vague response from their friend and the news that he would be visiting them as soon as he was released from his tour of service.
He put his fingers back on the keyboard and continued to type. 'Both Duo and I are anxious for him to arrive. I'm not sure what to expect, whether our meeting again after our 'chat' over the Internet will be tense or if our friendship will continue as usual.' Heero then sat back and re-read what he'd written, hoping that just the act of telling their faraway friend of his concerns would help him sort things out in his own mind, that the decision he and Duo had made hadn't hurt their friendship with their good friend.
Rolling down the window of his rental car, Wufei breathed in the salty air of the Pacific Ocean and the moisture that accompanied its nearness. Checking behind him, he made sure the right lane on the freeway was clear before he maneuvered his rental car into the opening slot in the traffic in order to be on the outside lane that crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge. He wanted to glimpse out over the railing to the sparkling bay below with sail boats floating over the choppy surface as he passed over the nearly mile long stretch of water between San Francisco and Marin County.
He crossed the famous span and turned into the parking lot that allowed tourists to stand on a bluff and view the city of San Francisco from across the bay. The wind was blowing cool and brisk, and the sky was clear but for a few wisps of clouds high above. The city looked stunning. White buildings seemed to flow in even rows over the rolling hills that comprised the city. He smiled as he took in the beauty, glad that his friends lived in a place of such natural and visual splendor.
After ten minutes of taking pictures of the unique and famous view, he got into his rented, dark green sedan and pulled into the northbound lane. Turning on the radio, he found a classical station and let his mind think ahead to his destination. It had been six years since the Ten Week War between the Federation and Allied Forces, six years since Heero and Duo had been taken away.
The first year had been the worst. He and Trowa had gone on to fight in many battles and skirmishes that followed those dark days following their leaving the training facility and being separated from their closest friends.
Quatre, once fully recovered from his wounds, re-registered as a Conscientious Objector. Having been trained for so many years by the Federation and being one of the top students at the training facility, the military was reluctant to let the boy's talents go to waste. They made use of his skills as a strategist, putting him under the watchful eye of one of the Federation's top commanding generals but taking him faraway from his friends.
It was because of Quatre's connection with the commanding general that the three friends were able to track down information on Heero and Duo's whereabouts and situation. It was discovered that, after they spent time in a military hospital while Duo recovered from his injuries, they were transferred to another government installation. Long after the Ten Week War they learned that their two friends were working and living within the military's archives in the capitol. They were informed that the two spent their days ensconced in rooms of computers and files, sorting, filing and re-arranging the warehouse full of paper records of past generations into some form of order.
The trained but inseparable teens were more or less prisoners in that isolated and forgotten place for well over a year before Quatre gained permission to visit them. When at last he was reunited with them, the blond was happy to report that he found both them well taken care of and reasonably happy if not extremely bored with their daily routine. Quatre had written Trowa and himself, stationed in the far east, as soon as he returned from his visit and reported to them of his observations. He said Duo was beside himself to see him, and had hugged him for a good five minutes before Heero pried him off. After which they spent several hours reminiscing about their time in the training facility and laughing to the point of tears over some of the incidents they recalled together. Their parting was a sad one, but Quatre promised to visit again when he could and that he would pass on word to their other friends of their continued existence and well being.
Shortly after that, Quatre sent word to both Trowa and himself that Heero and Duo had been moved to a permanent home, gaining a great deal of freedom and now had a secured e-mail address that would allow them to contact their friends over the internet.
Home. He couldn't help but ponder that word and wonder, knowing of their diverse backgrounds growing up, what kind of a home his friends had created for themselves. For himself, he continued to have a hard time thinking of the place he spent the early years of his childhood as his home any more. Barracks and a mess hall filled with the sounds and voices of trainees talking about their day as they ate their meals, playing the challenging battle games on the sims, studying with Duo, hanging out with the other four, that was what he thought of at the mention of the word 'home'. It was a place he could never really return to.
The place he visited on his furloughs was a dim memory from his youth, a place comprised of strangers who were overly proud of his accomplishments, of the officer's uniform that he wore and of his status of being one of the Federation's chosen ones. His relationship with his parents was a stiff and formal one. His brothers and sister were virtual strangers who had a hard time finding something in common with which to speak to him about. The place he had long ago thought of his home was now nothing more than an obligation.
The weekend he'd finally heard from Quatre regarding his visit with Heero and Duo was a time that was still clearly etched in his mind. He happened to be at his family's home on a two week furlough at the time. His parents had requested his presence in his father's library where they announced to him with straight faces and serious expressions that they had arranged a marriage for him. It was the weekend his parents learned, to their shock and dismay, that their son was a man no longer obligated to the family he no longer knew or to their clan or their traditions which were lost to him when he left their home at the age of ten. His family freely and proudly gave him over to the Federation to train, to become a soldier, to become something other than the dutiful son. He, not the strangers that were called his parents, would choose his own path.
As he drove up the freeway, past cities that seemed to end and begin inches apart, he looked for the exit that would take him up into the heart of wine country. The scenery suddenly changed from the urban setting to the gently rolling hills of Northern California that were now brown from the summer's heat and lack of rain, but he decided the dead grasses didn't make the scenery any less beautiful. The gentle roll of the hills gave the appearance of a lumpy velvet quilt of gold that gently blanketed the Earth's surface. He could only imagine what they would look like after the winter rains came, how breathtaking and lush the landscape would be then. 'It's a beautiful place to live,' he thought with a satisfied smile on his face.
He recognized the name of the exit that his map directed him to take that would take him northeast to the heart of the wine county. First he would pass through Sonoma, then go north to Napa and drive through that community to the small town that was his destination, Calistoga, California. From the descriptions Heero and Duo had given him, it sounded like heaven. The Federation had settled the two in a small community that was both open and civic minded. The two reported to their friends that they had both found happiness with each other and in their neighborhood and community.
Keeping one hand on the steering wheel and an eye on the road, he reached over and pulled at his duffle bag that was resting on the front passenger seat to bring it closer. Unzipping it, he brought out his day timer and carefully worked the zipper open. From an inside pocket he brought out several pictures and e-mails that he'd copied and carried with him. He pulled out his favorite picture he'd gotten about three years ago after Heero had taken up photography as a hobby. Holding the photo up in front of the steering wheel so he could continue to monitor the road, Wufei smiled at the familiar picture. With the cheery white painted house in the background, Heero stood on the sidewalk in front of it, wearing a forbearing smile as Duo, piggybacked behind him, his arms wrapped around Heero's shoulders and his jean clad legs encircled his hips, and resting his head against the unruly brown mop that Heero referred to as hair. The smile on the braided young man's face was dazzling and pure happiness exuded from his sparkling eyes as he looked into the camera. Heero had taken the perfect picture of them using his tripod and a timer. That picture had brought Wufei to the realization that Heero and Duo were truly happy; complete, happy, and fulfilled. The picture and subsequent correspondence with each of them had set him on the path to making a decision regarding his feelings for Duo and for Heero. That decision had been made shortly after receiving the picture in his hand, and re-solidified two months ago when Heero had e-mailed him with concern over the future and any mistaken suggestions on his part.
He sighed as he looked at the stunning picture again, but the sigh held no resentment, regret or longing. This time, it was soft, wistful sigh with a bit of justifiable envy for the obvious happiness and love his two former comrades had for each other. Who wouldn't be envious of such a relationship?
Glancing at the picture, he saw what he recognized three years ago. There was unmistakably no room between the two inseparable young men for anyone else. They met each other's needs completely. And although the road they traveled together to get to the happiness they now enjoyed was anything but smooth, it had certainly been worth it. Despite the genetic manipulations of mad scientists trying to create perfect soldiers, and in Heero and Duo's case, a perfect team, someone had done something right in pairing the two together. He knew through his many on-line discussions with them, that they had no regrets or animosity towards their creators. They were just grateful to be together and free of the fear they'd had for so long for their lives and of being separated.
He'd told no one of his change of heart, that he no longer found himself in love with Duo, and that had been a mistake. The e-mail he'd gotten from Heero two months ago had proved that. That letter was now printed and folded amongst the other pictures and special messages from his friends. Heero had begun his message apologizing in a roundabout way that was not at all like the aggressive teen he'd known. Heero had asked him if he still believed there was a place for him in their lives, romantically. The e-mail was well thought out, and Heero had, as eloquently as possible, taken back the words he'd said the day he found out Wufei had kissed Duo and Heero, in turn, had kissed him in retaliation. Heero reminded him in his letter that, just before the shocking kiss, he'd hinted that the future held many 'possibilities', inadvertently leading Wufei to believe he could be more than just a friend to Duo and maybe himself. Heero put the blame for 'the kiss' on his jealousy, anger and guilt at realizing Wufei's charge was true, that he was partially responsible for this attraction to Duo because of his often callous behavior towards the braided teen as they adjusted to each other. The kiss had been meant to punish Wufei, but it had suddenly softened and Heero confessed that his shields had lowered in a moment of weakness and Duo asked him to not hurt his friend.
Wufei shook his head, thinking back to those tumultuous times. He had thought he was in love with Duo and began thinking of Heero in a different light. Such thoughts and feelings confused him and he questioned his sexual orientation and honor in having such feelings. But as he looked into Duo's eyes on that fateful day that the base had been demolished, as they stood on a ladder looking out at the destroyed base, he clearly saw that Duo didn't love him in the way he thought he loved the handsome boy. It had taken time and some heartbreak, but Wufei had gotten over it.
Thinking back to those times now didn't cause as much pain as it once had and he knew everything had turned out for the best. Having Heero and Duo whisked away from the hospital the day after they'd rescued Duo, Quatre and Trowa from the enemy's camp was probably the hardest and best thing that could have happened to him. He'd said goodbye to three of his closest friends that day, and to the two people who could have turned his world upside down. Time, distance, work, purpose and life in general helped to make his feelings more clear. If he once loved Duo Maxwell, those feelings were now gone, replaced with the brotherly love for friends and well wishes for the two who were destined to spend the remainder of their lives together. Yet in caring for then as good friends, Wufei Chang knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would do anything in his power to keep them safe and happy. They deserved it more than anyone else he could think of.
"Heero, a green sedan just pulled up in front of the house," Duo called out excitedly as he knelt on the couch cushions, his elbows resting on the back of it as he gazed out the front window.
'Wufei is here.' Heero typed. 'I'll write again soon and tell you of the outcome.' He ended the letter with a brief thank you and pressed the send button.
Closing down the computer, he glanced up to see Duo standing near the door with a hand stretched out in invitation for Heero to join him.
A strong knock sounded on the solid wood door, causing Duo to jump slightly and smile sheepishly at his nervousness.
Heero stepped up next to his lover and took hold of his offered hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze. Duo glanced up at him, trying to smile.
"It will be alright, Duo," Heero said softly and brushed a light kiss on the lips he knew so well. "He's come all this way to see us and, in doing so, he's proved he's still our friend."
Duo nodded and took a step forward to put his hand on the doorknob and opened the front door. Standing before them in a pair of fitted black jeans and a light grey tee-shirt that showed off his excellent physique, his hair loosed from its customary ponytail and hanging in its shining, ebony glory several inches past his shoulders, was Wufei. He had outgrown his boyish looks and now stood before them as a handsome, accomplished and self-assured man.
Two pairs of eyes studied the Chinese young man as he studied them right back. Taking in the three suitcases behind him and the growing smile on his face, Duo felt hope rising within their hearts.
Wufei bent to pick up the handles of his suitcases and looked up at the two questioningly. "Aren't you going to invite me in and give me a proper welcome?" he asked, his smile bright and charming. He laughed out loud as happiness welled up inside him when two pairs of arms reached towards him and brought him quickly inside the doorway, the wooden door slamming shut, leaving the outside world behind him. He was then warmly enveloped by the two young men who had come to mean so much to him. Wufei hugged them both in return, then stepped back to examine both of them closely. "It's good to see you again," Wufei said sincerely, feeling happiness at the apparent well being of the two young men he'd been so close to in his teenage years. "And I don't need to ask if you are well and happy, I can see it in your faces."
"Yes," Heero looked at Duo to see his lover's eyes filling with moisture at Wufei's words, his smile and face exuding the happiness Wufei spoke of.
"Whole and happy," Duo added clapping his friend on the shoulder. "Come in and tell us all about your plans for the future, now that you're a free man." He motioned to the living room that was brightly decorated with what looked to be hundreds of streamers and balloons. A look to Heero and his unasked question was answered.
"He wanted to celebrate your liberation." Heero grinned.
"Thanks Duo," Wufei said warmly and followed the braided man into the room and took the seat next to the couch where the twosome sat close together.
An awkward moment passed as Wufei took his time looking at the decorations and stalling somewhat, putting off the inevitable discussion.
"Are you going back to China?" Heero asked, breaking the silence.
"For a visit, yes," Wufei answered, turning to look at the two. As usual, they sat close enough for Duo to fit into Heero's side, the darker haired man's arm was comfortably slung over the still slender shoulders of his lover.
"Then what?" Duo asked, smile still in place.
"I thought I'd see what job opportunities there are around here. It's a beautiful little city and I thought I'd give it a try settling down here or somewhere close by." Their reaction to his surprising announcement amused him. Duo's eyes widened slightly in either surprise or alarm, it was hard to tell, but Heero's eyebrows definitely drew together with obvious worry.
"You did understand my message several months ago, when I explained my... feelings?" Heero asked worriedly.
Wufei couldn't help but smile at seeing Heero unnerved. "Yes, Heero." He chuckled lightly. "I understood and agree completely. I'm not here to try and win Duo's affections from you. I think we both know that it's something that's impossible. Look at you two," he motioned to them, still grinning. "How could anyone ever want or hope to compete with what you have together. It's impossible. And honestly," he leaned forward to stress the importance of what he was about to say. "I'm over my crush on Duo. You are my friends, the both of you. I have no romantic fixation on either of you, but I'm still your friend."
The wave of relief was almost visible to his eyes as the other two sighed, freeing the room from of the tension that had been there a moment before.
"So you really want to move here?" Duo asked, excitement back in his voice. He turned to Heero. "That would be so great, wouldn't it, Heero? We could have a friend living near us again, share holidays with him, help him remodel his house, cook for him and fix his computer."
Heero and Wufei both laughed. "He's a grown man, Duo. We'll help in whatever way we can, but he doesn't need a Boy Friday."
Duo grinned crookedly then turned to his friend. "So, how are Trowa and Quatre? They said they were going to visit their families, but what happens after that?" he asked.
"You know they've become close over the years, even closer than friends," Wufei answered, not knowing just how much the two knew about the budding romance between the two.
"Yeah, Quatre spilled the beans about two years ago." Duo replied, a sparkle in his eyes. "To think we inspired their first kiss at the training center the day Heero kissed you."
To Heero and Duo's relief, Wufei smiled and nodded. They had been afraid that bringing up that day might bring up more guilt. "That's what Trowa told me when we were stationed in Hong Kong during the Ten Week War."
"I'm sorry I let you think there might be more to a future with Duo and I with that kiss and my words," Heero said, somewhat abashed. "I was rather full of myself back then, but even so, I knew deep down that I could never share Duo with anyone." He turned to look into the soft, blue/violet eyes of the person who was his whole world. "I'm possessive by nature," he whispered.
"And I love it," Duo said back in a warm, sexy tone as he leaned forward and kissed Heero soundly on the lips.
Wufei cleared his throat to break up the tender moment, not wanting to witness the two going at each other more than what they were. "Back to Trowa and Quatre," he said, steering the conversation back to the last topic. "They're going home for a month to become reacquainted with their families and then they're going to move to San Francisco, living in separate apartments at first to see if they want to pursue a more permanent relationship with each other. Neither of their families suspect they're enamored of someone of the same sex, so they want to make sure it's something they really want before they say anything to anyone."
Duo's eyes were bright as they turned back to his Chinese friend. "They're coming to the west coast to live? Like you, Wufei? We'll all be together again?" His voice and eyes were brimming with unbridled excitement.
Heero's arm tightened around Duo's shoulders, giving him an anchor for his rising emotions. "We've missed you, all of you, a lot," he explained. "It will be more than what we ever hoped for to have you guys living within driving distance."
"And we'll be the best of friends once again," Duo said, with a dazzling smile and bright, watery eyes.
Wufei couldn't help but feel the warmth in his heart increase by the obvious joy emanating from the other two. Sitting back into the comfortable chair, feeling more at home in his friends' house than he had anywhere in the last six years, he answered Duo with a smile. "I'm sure we will pick up right where we left off, Duo. We'll all be the best of friends once again. We'll be..." and his smile grew a bit larger as he finished his thought, "We'll be inseparable."
And here, my friends, is where the fat lady sings! For those few who aren't familiar with that saying, it means
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