Broken Jade

Part Thirty-One: Between The Forest

Trowa stared at the calendar, feeling almost numb as he lifted the page, securing it firmly to the wall in his apartment. Stepping back, he regarded the picture with some skepticism. It was something Quatre's daughters had picked out as a gift, probably, he'd thought, because they had little idea what to get an uncle. Obviously Quatre or Emmy had failed to make any suggestions that had satisfied the girls, which could be the only reason he'd ended up with a calendar of baby animals.

He sighed and turned away from the stark reminder that it was now February. Odd, to think back, odder still to remember the surprise he'd felt to discover that Duo had left the hotel room only an hour before midnight, on Christmas Eve. Ten years to the day, the last time they'd faced a true battle, and this time, they'd lost.

Trowa's gaze traveled across the small kitchen - no more than a series of cabinets stuck in an alcove along one wall of his apartment - as Ifrit wound around his feet, crying for dinner. Automatically, he began filling the bowl. It had taken them two weeks, with Quatre's and Wufei's help, to pack everything in the cabin, negotiating around travel times and mountain snows. Trowa stared at the box of cookbooks, stacked by the cabinets. He hadn't been able to unpack them. Not yet.

He turned in a circle, wondering if this night would be the night that he'd finally accept the reality and begin unpacking. Heero had accepted a high priority mission on L1, and Trowa had let him go without a word. A few days before Heero had returned, Trowa had accepted an infiltration job in South Asia. His bag and jacket were still by the door; one more thing yet to be unpacked. He'd gotten the message from Wufei that Heero had to fill in on Relena's staff, and wouldn't be back for another two days.

Trowa felt empty, and somehow fragile. After nearly six months of living cheek-by-jowl with two other people, and here he was back to where he'd been before it all started. A different apartment, yet, but in some ways, far less than he had before. Catherine had come to visit, and despite all her protests, the only thing he'd gotten from the storage unit was the sofa. Everything else he left, unable to truly focus on the fact that things were back to normal.

Normal, Trowa repeated silently, and sat down on the sofa, blindly groping behind him for the blanket. Pulling it over him, he stared at the curtained window, and wondered what Heero was doing. Probably listening to some politician drone on, while glaring at the collected masses from over Relena's shoulder. Trowa sighed and leaned his chin on his fist. He should stretch out, because otherwise his muscles would cramp, he knew, but he just couldn't be bothered. Ifrit jumped up on his lap, and Trowa shifted to let the cat curl up, the weight comforting. Absently he scratched the cat, but his eyes were fixed on the distant horizon, invisible past the drawn curtains.

Nothing really seemed worth the effort, anymore.


February third, and Trowa came home from the Preventers' office with a bundle of folders and disks for the upcoming mission. Heero had written two days before, and Trowa hadn't had time, at first, to respond. Then, as the day passed, and moved into the next, Trowa couldn't find the words. Sighing, he unlocked his door and shouldered it open, his arms full with his notes. He was startled when they were removed suddenly, and he stepped back in shock, reaching for his weapon.

"No need," Heero's voice softly said. "It's just me."

"Just you," Trowa repeated, and sighed. "Sorry... thought you wouldn't be back until Thursday."

"Hadn't heard from you," Heero said. "Relena let me go early. I was worried."

"I'm okay."

Heero clicked on a light, and glanced around the apartment. Trowa frowned.

"You've been sitting here in the dark?"

"It wasn't dark when I got here." Heero opened the fridge and took out several bags, and began unpacking them on the countertop. "I thought you might not have had a chance to make dinner. In fact," he glanced over, a bit disapprovingly, "you have no food or drink in this apartment."

"It's just a place," Trowa said, and shrugged. He glanced down at the newspaper, folded up on the sofa. Several items were circled in red. "You're leaving Preventers?"

Heero glanced over, saw the newspaper in Trowa's hand, and shook his head. "No. Leaving... something else." Seeing Trowa's baffled look, he nodded at the paper. "Just look."

Trowa frowned, but dutifully took a closer look. "Three bedroom apartment on each floor," he read out loud. "Why do you need that much space? Are you... are you moving somewhere else?"

"No," Heero said, setting the containers in the stove to reheat. He wiped his hands on his jeans and came to stand in front of Trowa. He tapped on the newspaper. "We are moving somewhere."

"We just moved in," Trowa said.

Heero arched an eyebrow. "You moved in. I moved in. Well, I moved in. You appear to be still in the stages of moving, without much 'in' involved. However, I am discussing making another move, where it's an 'us' instead of you, and I."

"As in... live together?" Trowa blinked, then smiled despite himself. "I guess we were living together for several months, weren't we... "

"I miss it," Heero admitted frankly. "I like this house." He pointed to one description. "It's in the old town section, which is being gentrified finally, so houses are cheap. It's four floors, with basement and attic, and the two main floors are each a three-bedroom apartment. I thought we could... " He paused, looking worried. "Fix up one floor, and live there while we fix the other... and have it ready... " He looked away, his shoulders slumping just a bit.

Trowa leaned forward and kissed Heero, quickly, then tapped Heero on the head with the newspaper. Trowa had understood immediately, and chose to take the cover story rather than say it out loud. He couldn't, any more than Heero could. "It'd be good to have an apartment to rent out," he said, choosing his words carefully. "Extra source of income... and use all those skills we learned, doing renovations."

Heero nodded. "I hope you like it. I've got the paperwork for the loan with me."

"The loan?" Trowa's eyebrows shot up. "You mean... wait, I thought we'd see it first."

"I saw it this afternoon," Heero replied, leaning over his bag, sitting next to the sofa. "It's in good shape. Better shape than the cabin was, and I don't think we'll need to replace too many windows."

Trowa made a face. "Uh... wouldn't it be preferable to buy a house where we don't have to replace any windows?"

"Where would be the challenge in that?" Heero smirked.


The first of March, and they moved into the house, settling on the second floor as more livable while they fixed up the first floor. Several Preventers showed up to help them move, and despite the good-natured teasing about not being able to make up their minds about where to live, the truck was unpacked in one day.

That night, exhausted, dirty, tired, but full from the dinner Wufei had cooked in their new kitchen, the two men stood by the bedroom window, looking out onto the rooftops of the old houses, stretching out down the hillside and into the city below. Heero slipped an arm around Trowa's shoulders, and turned them face-to-face.

"I have something," Heero said. He reached in his pocket, and pulled out a small silver pendant. "This... I found it, when we were packing the cabin."

Trowa reached for the pendant slowly, holding his breath. Intellectually, he knew the pendant would be warm from being in Heero's pocket, but he expected the metal's gentle edges to be harsh, cold, and reproving against his fingers. Carefully he cradled the pendant in the palm of his hand, startled when two more identical pendants joined it. He stared, until Heero sighed and took one, putting it gently around Trowa's neck. The other Heero took, and placed around his own neck. Trowa finally lifted his gaze to Heero's, tearing it away from the lone pendant still remaining in his hand.

"We gave that to him, to remind him of how much we care," Heero whispered. "I don't want to forget."

Trowa nodded, setting the pendant down on the edge of their dresser. Hesitantly, almost shyly, he reached for Heero, running his finger along the pendant before following with his lips. When he pulled away, he could see Heero's eyes were glittering.

"I won't forget," Trowa promised.

They made love that night. With their sore bodies, each gesture and move was more awkward than seductive, but it was real.


In April, Howard contacted them, replying to the email they'd sent with their new address. He was in Paris for the week, dropping off a shipment for the Sweepers. Duo wasn't with him, but Howard wanted to meet them for lunch. A little nervously, Trowa agreed, clearing the date and making sure Heero would also be available.

Howard was waiting at the small café near the Preventers' headquarters when they arrived. His customary brightly patterned shirt was covered up with a dark blue sweater, and a long coat, but he was still wearing his favorite sunglasses. He grinned and waved from his table when the two men walked in. After they each placed their orders, Howard handed his menu to the waitress. He didn't bother with the small talk, well aware that neither Trowa nor Heero usually saw reason for it. Howard leaned forward, studying Heero and Trowa over the tops of his sunglasses.

"How are you two kids holding up?" His voice was flat, but not unkind.

"Day by day," Trowa replied, uncomfortable. Beside him, Heero only nodded. Trowa sighed. "It... helps to be in a different place. But sometimes I still expect Duo to be sitting by the window and... " He turned away, unable to continue. "We miss him," he whispered.

"He misses you both," Howard replied. He waved one hand, before Trowa could speak. "He doesn't say it, but I know the kid. He doesn't talk to me, hasn't talked to me... or anyone. Oh, not like that," he said, catching Trowa's puzzled look. "Kid's talked. He's talked nonstop... but he hasn't said anything." Howard leaned back as the waitress delivered their drinks. "Look, I still don't know what happened, other than the most glossed-over version possible from that Relena-girl."

Trowa nearly smirked. Relena could be the Queen of the entire damn universe, and Howard would still act like she was fifteen. Howard gave him a sharp look, and Trowa pulled his mind back to the question. He studied the tablecloth for several seconds, trying to figure out the best way to explain it.

"When Duo was taken," he began, slowly and carefully, "he protected himself by putting his memories and self-identity into a kind of mental box, leaving only his aggressive, wartime persona to deal with the situation. When that failed, he put that persona away in another mental box, but... " Trowa raised his hands, in a helpless gesture. "That left him completely exposed... his heart, the deepest parts of a person. So... what we saw, what we dealt with, was Duo's true self."

Howard whistled. "That was the part of him that went through all the training and abuse, then, you mean?"

"In a nutshell," Heero answered. "And it may have been the reason he survived, because what those bastards wanted - for him to worship and adore his intended Master - is what each person's heart wants."

"Wait a minute," Howard began, but Trowa cut him off.

"Heero's right," Trowa said. "Every person has a basic list of things needed, to survive. Food, shelter... and then love. And the truest kind of love is that which happily self-sacrifices for those one loves."

"Duo's always been like that," Howard replied, a little sadly. "He'd do anything for his friends."

"For those he loves," Heero agreed.

"Even if Kid won't admit it sometimes," Howard added. "I... I just wanted to know, because... we're worried. I don't know if you can do anything, and I wouldn't blame you if you said you'd had enough, but the guys 'n me... we're worried. Really worried."

Heero gave Trowa a look, and Trowa focused on Howard, waiting.

"He's... " Howard sighed and pulled his sunglasses off, setting them on the edge of the table. His gray eyes were piercing. "Kid has a doctor in every port, and every doctor thinks he's the only one Kid is seeing. Pills to let him sleep at night, without the screaming nightmares that plagued him for the first few weeks, until I thought the guys were going to airlock him just so they could sleep. And then he needed pills to wake up in the morning, to undo the effects of what he'd taken the night before... and it's just gotten worse, and worse. He builds up a resistance, and has to keep going, upping the dosage."

Trowa felt like he'd been punched. Heero's face was pale.

"I've been reading up on post-traumatic stress disorder," Howard continued, his voice low and unhappy. "Promiscuity and drug abuse are two signs, but Kid's not been with anyone. We've all been watching him on that count, not wanting him to rebound... after you guys. No offense, but it's an open secret he still sleeps with several items of your clothing. Like a security blanket he won't admit to anyone." Howard sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "We're... I don't know how to say this, so I'll just be blunt. Do you still have control over Duo's funds?"

Trowa raised his eyebrows. He wasn't expecting that. Next to him, Heero nodded, a little suspiciously.

"I had power of attorney when he was declared MIA," Heero said. "The four of us agreed to let Quatre invest the funds, pending our decision on what to do with the money. We'd considered a scholarship for L2 kids, or possibly finding an orphanage... "

"I'd like access to that money," Howard replied. "I know Kid's not touched it, and didn't want it. Didn't even like me bringing it up, though I'm not sure why. I think he assumed it was gone... but... " Howard twisted in his seat, and brought out a pamphlet from his back pocket. "Me 'n the guys, we've talked a long time about this, and we want to send him here." Howard pushed the pamphlet across the table.

Trowa picked it up, scanning it quickly before handing it to Heero. "An Australian clinic for torture victims?"

"August and two others were sent to an L5 psychiatric hospital," Howard explained. "Kid visits August and the other two every time we're in that quadrant, and August has been coming out of the catatonia. We think if we tell Kid to go with August, accompany him through the therapy, that Kid might end up taking advantage of the therapy himself. But we've got to do something. Just standing by and watching Kid pretend to be normal just isn't working any more. He's running desperately just to stay in one place, and even if he can fool himself into thinking that's fine, we can't. And we won't."

Heero nodded. "I'll have the lawyer draw up the papers to transfer the principle to an account you can access," he said, very quietly.

"I don't know what else we can do," Trowa whispered. He was surprised, actually, that he could even voice the words. His throat was tight, and his chest felt like someone had just stomped on it, several times. He'd spent the previous two months hoping desperately that Duo was happier with the men who were almost a second family to Duo. To hear the truth, though, hurt. To know he'd allowed Duo to remain silent and distant, while hurting that badly, was almost unbearable.

"Hey, kids," Howard said, his tone gentle. "Don't beat yourself up over this. Kid's got pride, you know that. But it's time he had someone who knows the deal, knows how to help him, how to get him to heal. There's no shame in seeing someone if you need that, but Duo won't listen to me on that count. So... I have no problem resorting to trickery. I just hope the amount he cares for those kids is enough to make him willing to go through the process, with them."

Trowa nodded. Under the table, the back of Heero's hand brushed his knuckles. For a second, Trowa felt like crying, but smiled at Heero instead.


The days passed into weeks, and stretched into months. The absence of Duo was less palpable, as they repaired the first floor on their weekends. The lawn was seeded, the window screens fixed, and Heero began planting flowerbeds to echo the ones they'd left behind at the cabin and never seen bloom. Une reported Liddie was pleased enough with the cabin to allow several generations to stay there already, and Trowa figured that was enough of a legacy from their five months in the mountains.

Projects came and went; court dates, lengthy briefings, training sessions with new recruits, and Trowa buried himself during the day, awakening slowly at night under Heero's hands. But each time, when sleep came, he'd lock down the lonely ache, and tried to convince himself that it was enough to love Heero and be satisfied with that.

Howard alerted them when Duo escorted August and the two other kids to the therapy center, agreeing to stay as their guardian for the duration of their treatment. He had no idea how long it would be, but Trowa and Heero kept their eyes on the accounts Howard drew for the cost. Four people in intensive, on-site therapy wasn't cheap, despite the years Duo had frugally saved all his wartime funds and Preventer bonuses. By the third month, Heero and Trowa met with Quatre and Wufei, and the four agreed to begin saving on their own to pay for the treatment, if six months came and went with no sign of the four being released. At almost four thousand credits per month, for each of the four, even Duo's substantial savings would be gone quickly enough. The four remaining pilots knew they would sell their own houses and take second jobs if it were necessary, so long as Duo had a shot at being helped.

In June, Trowa and Heero moved into the downstairs apartment. Over the course of a month, they rearranged their belongings, preferring to work by themselves rather than call up friends for help. It wasn't discussed, but the act of starting over felt like another necessary step. By the end of June, with the heat of the summer fast approaching, the apartment was unpacked and arranged, and they began work on the upstairs apartment. Heero had estimated it would be ready for someone to move in by mid-July, or August at the latest.

Trowa stared at the calendar in the kitchen, idly flipping through the pages before lifting up the next sheet to pin it to the wall. The month of July was a picture of a baby dolphin, and for a long moment, Trowa stared at it, before stretching out his hand. He ran one finger down the outline of the dolphin, and realized tears were dripping down his cheeks. He was startled when Heero came up behind him, clasping Trowa around the waist.

"You were right," Heero whispered. "He's a dolphin... "

Trowa nodded, and tried to smile. "He's the kind who needs a great deal of space to play, isn't he."

Heero said nothing, but pressed his lips against the back of Trowa's neck, and kept them there for several heartbeats. "I don't think he's coming back," Heero murmured. He reached around, fingering the pendant hanging from Trowa's neck. "I wonder when it will stop hurting."

"I don’t think it ever does," Trowa replied gently, remembering the years he'd spent trying to learn to live knowing Quatre as a friend, rather than a lover. Sometimes, some days, it was still hard, no matter who was in his life, now. Trowa turned in Heero's arms, and rested his hands on Heero's shoulders, rubbing against Heero's collarbone with his thumbs. "You... I don't say it, but... "

"I know," Heero replied. "You don't have to say it."

"Stay with me," Trowa said.


That night, when they made love, it was slow, and careful, as though each were afraid the other would break from the pain of accepting what they had spent months denying. And although it wasn't the most graceful or mind-blowing sex they'd had, that didn't matter. The physical contact was real; but more importantly, it was true.


In late July, they put an ad in the newspapers. Three-bedroom, second-floor apartment, one bath, with laundry hookup in the basement; cats acceptable, dogs negotiable. Trowa leaned over for Ifrit to leap onto his shoulder, and chatted with the cat as he busied himself sorting the afternoon's mail. He caught himself mimicking Ifrit's meows, and it reminded him of Jade. The letter in his hand fell from his fingers, and he had to pause, take a deep breath, and pick the letter back up.

Even now, he thought, little things catch me off-guard. Sighing, he opened the letter, scanned the contents, and filed it away with the rest of the bills. Heero would be home from his latest certification run, in two days, and Trowa had hoped to have good news about renting the upstairs. There had been no word from Duo, still, and Howard had not sent an update in several weeks. Another month, and they would need the added income from the rent to be able to provide their share of supporting the therapy costs.

By evening, Trowa was tired of answering the phone, explaining the same thing written in the advertisements they'd posted. Children were not welcome, nor were large dogs. Having either directly overhead was out of the question, they'd agreed, and he sighed as he hung up the phone for the eighth time on yet another persistent soul who didn't see why Trowa and Heero would be so particular about who would share their house. They wanted reference letters from employers, and proof of consistent, continual employment. Trowa hadn't thought that was unusual, but he was beginning to wonder if they'd set their standards too high, as a way to stave off the final inch of the door shutting on the life they'd had in the mountains.

He moved away from the phone, the calendar catching his gaze. Staring at it, he realized it was time to change the month, and for a long second, he held the next page, but found himself unable to lift it up to reveal August. Finally he dug through the kitchen drawer for the razor blades, and carefully cut just below the calendar's seam. The month of July fell away, revealing August, but the dolphin's picture remained visible. Satisfied, Trowa stared at the picture for a long time. One hand reached up to touch the dolphin, while his other hand found its way to the pendant, clasping it loosely.

The phone rang again, and Trowa nearly growled. In two days, Heero would be back, and Trowa deliberated making Heero answer the phone for the next month in retaliation for the aggravation of dealing with idiots.


"Trowa," Heero said, coming into the bedroom. Several letters were in his hand, and he watched for a second as Trowa stripped the bed in preparation for laundry. "These are the letters of reference for the applicants, and... this is my notice to Preventers, and this is--"

"Your what?" Trowa froz in the act of removing a pillowcase. "You're leaving Preventers? When did you decide this?"

"I'm not leaving," Heero replied. "And I didn't decide, yet. I... want you to look at it. Tell me what you think."

"You said your notice. What else does that mean?" Trowa stalked across the room, suddenly angry, and took the papers from Heero. He read them quickly, tossing the reference letters onto the bed as he read Heero's rough draft. When he was done, he raised puzzled eyes to Heero's face. "I thought you hate administrative positions."

Heero dropped his eyes. "I hate being gone for days on end, more," he said, sounding almost ashamed. "I'm tired of feeling like I spend more time with my suitcase than with you."

"Oh," Trowa said, the anger gone immediately. "So you'll take the position Une's offering for the IT department? I thought there was still travel involved, or was that a different posting?"

"That's this one," Heero replied, shaking his head slightly. "But it's only fifteen percent travel, compared to seventy-five percent. It's not a complete reduction, but good enough." His gaze turned hopeful. "The Mechanical Operations division is looking for a director... "

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think--"

"Try anyway," Heero pressed.

"Okay," Trowa said, relenting. "Let me get the laundry started and I'll work up a draft request."

Heero smiled. "And then we need to review the applications." He stopped, his eyes wide, and he pulled the letter from the bottom of the stack. "And there's this."

"What is--"

"Read it," Heero said, his eyes fixed on the letter.

Confused, Trowa dropped his gaze to the letter. It was a facsimile copy. Trowa recognized the header; it was the official logo of the rehabilitation center in Australia. The four - Duo, Timothy, Elizabeth, and Martin - were being released. There was a note scrawled at the bottom, in Howard's angular hand.

Duo has custody of the three kids, but coming back to space is not an option. The Sweepers don't have educational facilities for two teenagers. We need to get together to discuss what options I can offer Duo, and a full accounting of his remaining funds. -- Howard

"I think there's only a few thousand left," Trowa muttered.

"Five thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight," Heero replied. "I checked after I read it. I don't know if that's enough to set them up... and I don't know if Duo would take it, now." They both knew, through Howard, that Duo had never been willing to discuss the money, though Howard suspected Duo most likely had plans to pay back every penny, under the assumption that it was the Sweepers financing the rehabilitation stay. Heero sighed and ran his finger across the center's logo. "But I guess this means he's back... "

"Even if he's somewhere else, and not here with us, I can live with that," Trowa said. "He's free. Finally."


Heero threw down the last reference letter in disgust. "There's no way I'm living downstairs from someone who thinks random odd jobs will produce the money to pay for rent on a regular basis." He leaned back in the chair, and twisted sideways to throw one leg over the arm of the chair. "Let alone someone who thinks six people in a three-bedroom apartment is acceptable."

"Technically, it could be," Trowa replied, studying the other applications. "But they're not my first choice. How soon is the appointment?"

"A few minutes," Heero replied, without looking. "If I have to listen to that agent go through her spiel one more time, I'm going to shoot her through the floor," he grumbled. "Wouldn't be that hard to track her location blind. Damn woman talks like she's got to be heard over a vernier engine."

Trowa grinned. "Maybe we should have made being mute a requirement, too."

"Or just rearrange the electrical system so we can blow the circuit if we end up renting to someone who thinks stereos can only play at full blast," Heero replied, motioning to one of the reference letters noting the tenant had a problem with playing music softly. "You'd think a person might realize that such a comment from a previous landlord is a bad thing, not a good thing."

The back outside door opened, and both men could hear the woman chattering on already. Footsteps traveled up the old servant's stairs, and Trowa was quiet, watching Heero twitch slightly as he listened to the woman move through the rooms. There had been several pairs of feet, Trowa noted, but now only one pair followed the woman, and softly at that. He raised his eyebrows, glancing at Heero, who nodded. It was possibly the first time someone had looked at the apartment without stomping through every room.

"Bet it's someone with a rap sheet," Heero muttered. "Would make perfect sense. Quiet, conscientious, and mugs old ladies for a living."

Trowa laughed softly. More footsteps were moving, now, and it sounded like two or three people, gathering in the living room over their heads. Heero leaned back and stared up at the ceiling.

"Do you think this was a bad idea?" His voice was soft, and a bit doubtful. "We're halfway through August, and we thought we'd have a good tenant in that apartment by now."

"Why don't you?"

The voice was soft, and hesitant, but distinct. Trowa's head came up, and he was on his feet before he knew what he'd done. Heero was up almost as quickly, staring wide-eyed at the man in the doorway to their kitchen.

"Your kitchen door was unlocked," Duo said, and chewed his lower lip for a second, looking like he was seriously reconsidering his intrusion. "I... sorry," he whispered, backing up. "I guess this was a bad idea."

"No," Trowa half-shouted, stepping forward as though he could catch Duo, although half the living room and all of the dining room lay between them. "No," Trowa repeated, "it's not... please... come in."

Duo was silent, then glanced over his shoulder before nodding. He walked towards them with the same brash stroll Trowa recalled from their days on Peacemillion, and his eyes were clear and bright, if a darker, more somber blue than Trowa remembered. His braid was nearly to his waist, and his plain white t-shirt draped across his frame, loose enough to look comfortable, but tight enough to show he'd filled out. His arms were corded with muscles; Trowa noted that Duo had regained the slim but powerful build he'd had before leaving for L2, that fateful spring, a year and a half ago. Duo's feet were bare, and it made Trowa smile.

"What?" Duo stopped, a few feet away, and returned the smile with a shy look that quickly melted into something a bit more forward. "I'm coming back to Preventers, but now I've got two little brothers and a little sister. Hard to find a place to rent... Howard recommended this place, but I didn't realize it might be you until I saw... " He shrugged, and his sudden grin was bright and infectious. "It was the color of the ceilings. You used the same yellowish color, and the tile in the bathroom is just like the cabin's."

Heero ducked his head, looking both pleased and abashed, and Trowa chuckled.

"Guilty as charged," Trowa said. He stepped forward, intending to offer his hand to shake, or possibly try for a hug if Duo wanted, but he froze when Duo's eyes went wide. Duo didn't even breathe, but merely stared, and Trowa frowned, uncertain. "Du... Deo? What's--"

"It's Duo, now," Duo replied. He swallowed hard, and it seemed to take a bit of effort for him to raise his face to meet Trowa's eyes. "The... " He stopped, looking past Trowa to Heero. Duo frowned, and stepped forward, startling Heero. Duo reached out, grasping the pendant around Heero's neck and staring at it for several seconds. Slowly he let it drop, and he turned to Trowa with wide eyes.

"You kept... you have two?" Duo glanced from Trowa's pendant, to Heero's, and back again. "I don't understand," he whispered.

"We gave you the pendant to let you know we cared," Trowa replied, his gaze dropping away from Duo's intense, bewildered expression. "We didn't stop caring just because you weren't here."

Duo let out a long shuddering breath. "I... I guess this was a bad idea," he said, a bit slowly. "I... I don't want to mess things up again."

"You never messed them up in the first place, you idiot," Heero snapped.

Trowa blinked, but Duo merely laughed, a bright sound that made the room suddenly glow. "Yuy, you'll never change," Duo replied. "I know I didn’t, but sometimes I worried, y'know? I put you both through so much... "

"We signed up for all of it," Trowa told him. "And I personally wouldn't change a thing. Not a minute, not a single instant."

"Yeah, but people change," Duo replied.

It took Trowa a heartbeat to realize Duo's shoulders were tense. He's waiting for something, Trowa realized, seeing the signs of Duo's wartime wariness. For once, it didn't aggravate him like it had during the war, nor did it sadden him, like when he'd glimpsed it in Jade. Instead, it thrilled him, to see that independent self-protectiveness, so truly Duo, showing up again. Heero, beside Trowa, shifted in place, and Trowa suddenly realized what Duo was asking.

"Not that much," Trowa said. "Never that much."

"Are you sure?" Duo's gaze darted from Trowa to Heero and back again. "I don't always have the best days, and sometimes I have trouble trusting, even if I try... and sometimes I think I'm terribly wrong. Other days I can accept it, and know what's me, and that it's me, but--"

"Duo," Trowa told him. "You are not perfect, you won't ever be, and that's okay. Hell, even Heero isn't perfect." Trowa smirked as Heero shot him an annoyed look, and Duo's snort turned into a chuckle when Heero rolled his eyes. Trowa stepped forward, and placed his hands on Duo's cheeks, rubbing his thumbs against Duo's cheekbones. "If you want the three rooms upstairs for the kids, we have two more rooms down here."

"We have three," Heero said, moving in closer, too. One of his hands reached out, to rest gently on Duo's hip, and Heero smiled at Trowa as Duo's eyes closed under the affectionate touch on face and body. "You can pick any of the three that you want."

"And... " Duo's eyes remained close, and he swallowed hard. "If I pick a room where you already are?"

"We're here already," Trowa pointed out. "When you're ready, you know where we live."

"I've known that all along," Duo whispered. He raised one hand, and pressed it against his heart. "Right here, the whole time."

Trowa smiled, and glanced at Heero, who nodded. Trowa knew his smile grew wider, as evidenced by Heero's minute eyebrow twitch. And then Trowa leaned over, tilting Duo's face up, and pressed his lips against Duo's. There was a pause, a small gasp from Duo, and then his hand came up, holding onto Trowa's shirt as Duo canted his head, opening his mouth. Duo ran his tongue along Trowa's lips, and Trowa read the invitation, and deepened the kiss. After several seconds, Trowa pulled back, opening his eyes to see Duo's flushed face, and wide-eyed look. Duo's left hand was caught in Trowa's shirt, and Duo's right hand was clutching the pocket of Heero's jeans. Duo glanced from Trowa to Heero, a thin line appearing between his brow, and Heero gave a little, exasperated shake of his head before leaning forward to capture Duo's lips against his own.

There was a soft whimper from Duo, and Trowa's heart leaped up into his throat, watching Duo melt against Heero. The hand on Trowa's shirt remained, holding tightly, and Trowa smiled down at it. Putting one hand up on Duo's hand, he gently undid Duo's fingers from his shirt. Duo pulled away from Heero abruptly, his sleepy, heavy-lidded expression changing to anxiety. Trowa gave Heero a quick kiss, followed by one for Duo, and stepped away.

"Stay there," he said, but softened it with a smile.

Heading into the bedroom, it took him several seconds to find what he sought, and he returned to the living room quickly. Duo hadn't moved, but Heero was now hugging Duo from behind, and the longhaired man seemed to be gradually relaxing into the touch. Overhead, Trowa distantly became aware that the agent was wrapping up her sales pitch. Trowa shoved the awareness away, and held out his hand, opening his fingers to reveal the original pendant across his palm.

"If you... " Trowa couldn't finish the statement, not sure what he'd wanted to say.

Duo chewed his lower lip for a second, then smiled shyly, and reached for the pendant. He put it around his neck, and Heero took it, catching the clasp as Duo lifted the braid out of the way. Dropping the braid with a thump against his back, Duo smoothed the pendant down, and smiled at Trowa.

"I know what it really means, now," Duo said.

"It meant that all along," Heero whispered against Duo's ear.

"Always." Trowa smiled, and kissed Duo on the nose. "Welcome home."





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