A tinkling laugh reminiscent of someone's innocent childhood ebbed and flowed within the boundaries of awareness. It was a sound that was not quite near or far, but an encompassing audal wave that permeated deeply into the mind. For a lack of a better description, it was more of an atmosphere than a distinguishable sound.
Intertwined with the atmosphere was a landscape as fantastic as innocence. A purple sky shot with golden streaks lay comfortingly over silver sands, reflecting a myriad of gem colors into the surreal twilight. There were no trees, just endless fields of silver sand dunes rising and falling like waves, jutting their smooth peaks into the cloudless gold streaked violet sky as if reaching for the tiny dots of stars glowing like diamonds.
In the midst of the strangely beautiful landscape stood a lone figure. He looked out into the horizon, his right hand by his forehead to shade his eyes from the mellow light of the golden streaks and the twinkling stars. He stood looking into one specific point in the landscape, waiting. He had been waiting for so long in this beautiful place, so long that he was a part of this never changing silver and purple place infused with sounds of childhood.
Then as he had done countless times before, he spoke the same phrase as softly as the ghosting wind. If anyone else had occupied this place with him, they might have heard a sigh of a sound escaping through his lips. But there was no one but him here. Only the silver sands and the purple sky heard his soft utterance. The constant sound quieted to a murmur in deference to his only sound.
'I dream of you. I wait for you.'
Heero rubbed his bleary eyes and sat up. His alarm clock looked at him balefully, telling him that it was certainly not its fault that he was up late for work again. Heero shut off the incessant blipping noise his clock emitted and stumbled towards the shower. He hadn't slept well in more than thirty years. Not since..
Shaking his head at the long dead memories, Heero stepped into a lukewarm spray of water and opened his eyes. He felt the sharp stinging sensation as the water stabbed into his already sensitive eyeballs, but he didn't really care. Pain was good at making him feel awake.
Heero dressed quickly but efficiently into his uniform and ran his fingers through his hair. Even at fifty, his hair had not calmed down. It still rebelled against styling and gravity, refusing to become tamed. Grimacing at his helpless wild hair, Heero grabbed his briefcase and ran out of his apartment just in time to meet Wufei.
"Morning, Heero. You look as pissed as usual. But still on time, of course."
Wufei's slightly sarcastic but friendly chit chat was received with a careless shrug. Wufei had picked him up every morning for the last three years, ever since he had been transferred back to the earth. Heero wondered sometimes still why he had come back to earth when he had proclaimed that he hated this planet. Heero let it slide, again. Wufei would tell him when he felt like it.
"How are the wife and kids, Wufei?"
Wufei, the one man that every Preventer could admit to being afraid of, smiled softly. His wife and kids still made him misty eyed.
"Sally's good. She's still sniffling from the wedding. Me, too, but don't tell her that."
Heero smiled slightly. In their old age, Wufei and Sally had gotten sentimental about their children. They had four of them, but their first, a daughter Wufei had lovingly named Meiran, had gotten married only this past weekend. Heero remembered her looking radiant, her curly hair ruthlessly tied down into respectable braids and her dark eyes flashing with happiness. Her husband had looked awestruck one moment and dizzy the next, but happy. Overwhelmingly happy.
"Tell her once again, congratulations. That boy, he's a lucky man."
Wufei beamed. His children were his pride and joy, even the youngest son who gave him nothing but trouble.
"Of course he's lucky! He's lucky I let her marry him. If he had made even a small mistake.."
"Meiran would have eloped with him and you would've shot him, I know."
The two old friend looked at each other and smiled. They had wrinkles around their eyes that crimped their faces, smile lines that seemed to dig deeper with every passing year. But they had lived through the war. They had made peace work. They had made sure the sacrifice had not been in vain.
The two drove into Preventer's headquarters situated on the Southeast J.A.P. point. They were saluted and waved in with utmost courtesy. After all, even a green rookie knew what would happen if they made either Earth Forces Commander Yuy or Spaces Forces Commander Chang angry.
"Hey, Heero, the moon looks better from earth, don't you think?"
Duo chuckled at Heero's insistence at nonverbal communication.
"Heero, if you want to shut me up, all you have to do is talk back to me. When you speak, I don't. Get it?"
Heero looked at Duo steadily by the moonlight. His brown hair was silvered by the beams and his violet eyes had tiny pools of reflecting silver. He was the most wondrous being Heero had seen.
"I could knock you senseless. You'd be quiet then."
Shaking his head, Duo raised himself up on his elbows. He glanced at Heero and let out a wry laugh filled with irony and mockery.
"Sheesh, that's what I get for talking to a psychotically violent guy."
Duo stood and walked away. Heero watched him leave, almost yelling out to him to stop. But he didn't. He let his protests die in his throat. He merely looked into the sky, staring at the silver moon Duo had proclaimed beautiful. One day, he would tell Duo what he felt. One day, when Duo asked him something, said something, he would be able to talk back and make him smile.
Relena held Heero in her arms, supporting his lax and tired body with hers. All around her chaos ensued, but she focused on the unconscious body in her arms, breathing shallowly but steadily. She buried her head into his hair and stroked his neck with gentle touches, hoping against hope that he would not wake from his sleep. The peace she preached was hatching like a newborn chick right at this moment, but at what price? He was the reason that her dreams were coming true, but he had no dreams left. He had to stay asleep, dreaming about something that could not be. A muffled sound drew her mind away from her desperate mental pleadings. Heero opened his eyes, those inscrutable cobalt blue eyes that seemed to hold the secrets to the human heart.
He gazed at her with those unblinking eyes, as if he did not know who she was. Then he spoke.
She caressed his head slowly, the way her mother used to when she was a frightened little girl. She already knew what he was going to ask. And she did not want to tell him. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Heero drank his unbearably hot coffee as he browsed through the reports for the day. His immaculate office at the Preventer's Headquarters practically gleamed from the constant polishing, each furniture piece a testament to the tireless cleaning crew. The reports were always the same. Peace reigned supreme. It should have made him happy, but there was a hollow spot in his heart that prevented his true happiness.
His intercom buzzed and he pushed the button to turn on the vid-link to his secretary. She was young, probably in her mid twenties, half his age. She was an attractive and bright woman who showed absolutely no shame while she flirted with the legendary Commander Yuy over the com-unit.
"Commander Yuy," she said in a breathy voice that Heero knew was a bit contrived, "Mr. Winner is here to see you."
"Send him in. Please, cancel my appointments for the rest of the morning."
Heero severed the connection before his secretary could flirt with him some more. It wasn't that he minded. It was always a bit flattering to have girls who could be your daughters hit on you. But he had never been one for girls.
Quatre walked in and surrounded Heero in a steely hug. It had amazed all of them that Quatre had grown the tallest, hitting his growth spurt late in life and shooting to his current 6'4". It had surprised Trowa most of all since he wasn't all that short himself.
"Heero, it's good to see you again."
Quatre's voice was a bit choked, but he had always been good at expressing his emotions. He did it in a quiet way, quite unlike..
Heero shook his head clear again and smiled at Quatre. It had been quite some time since they had last seen each other.
"So, Quatre, what brings you to earth?"
No gushy greetings, no tears, no apologies. That was the way with Heero.
"I heard that Wufei was here also. I haven't seen him since the last Space Alliance conference. Can he join us? I'm here more to see friends than to do business."
Few minutes later, the three old comrades and friends were sitting around Heero's coffee table, talking and drinking coffee only edible to Heero. They spoke of everything and anything, the past, the future, the present. Except for one topic.
"So, Wufei, did Meiran like the wedding gift I got her?"
Quatre's question was met with more exuberance than he had expected.
"You spoiled her rotten! How could you buy her a HOUSE? On X-009932? That colony is more expensive than.. Than.. I don't know what!"
Heero chuckled at Quatre's dumbfounded expression while Wufei continued his rant on rising property taxes, value of colony plots and other various things. It was good to be with them again.
"Anyway," Wufei said after he had concluded yelling at Quatre, "how are your kids? Did you bring them with you?"
Wufei sounded overly eager but Quatre didn't mind. His oldest daughter, Ariane was now twenty two. Wufei's oldest son Treize was also that age. Wufei had planned on marrying off Treize to Ariane ever since their birth.
"No, I'm sorry Wufei. Trowa stayed on L4 with the kids. Ariane is just finishing up her college thesis and Desia is grounded for running off with Trowa's car last week. I'm afraid it's just me, Wufei."
So they talked, they laughed. Three veterans from the harshest war in space and earth joked with each other and reminisced about the good old days and the not so good old days. The morning disappeared all too quickly.
Heero angrily tied off the ends of the bandage, eliciting an undignified yelp from his patient. He moved on to the next wound, cleaned it off with alcohol and applied some salve to sooth the irritated and infected skin. When his hands moved to bandage that wound, a pair of delicate but strong hands halted him.
"Er, Heero, not that I don't appreciate you tending to my wounds, but I want to live through the experience. Either be more gentle or I'm firing you as my nurse."
Heero glared at the cheerfully grinning Deathscythe pilot. Duo had more wounds and injuries than he cared to count, but he was smiling. Smiling right through the pain and the blood. In silence, Heero gentled his motions, nearly caressing Duo with his achingly gentle movements.
"You can be nice, you know that Heero? So nice that it makes me want to kiss you."
Heero looked up from his ministrations at Duo. His eyelids were drooping, a sure sign that the painkillers had kicked in. In more of a slurred mumble, Duo continued to speak.
"I knew you were special.. from the beginning.. even if you can be a bastard.. you are so damned pure.."
Stunned, Heero ceased all movements. Pure? Him?
"Being in love with you.. is like.. loving.. fire.. so hot.. so pure.. so deadly.. so beautiful.."
Duo's body slumped lightly against his as he finally fell into sleep. Heero held him as gratitude and ecstasy ran through his body. Love. Duo said he was in love. With him. Thanking the God that Duo believed and every other deity that had ever existed, Heero kissed Duo's forehead and laid him down. He still had all those wounds to tend to.
Quatre looked into the vid-phone, wishing that it was more than an image. His lover looked at him with longing in his incredible green eyes and Quatre nearly jumped onto the next shuttle back to L4. But he had things to take care of here.
"So, Wufei asked about Ariane again, in his little circumspect way. How are the girls, Trowa?"
Laughing delightedly, Trowa proceeded to tell him about Ariane's progress with her thesis, Desia's sulking ways and how Wufei should really ship Treize out to meet Ariane again. Quatre absorbed Trowa's movements and voice with his entire body. The boy who had been a stoic wall was now an animated living man with fears, hopes and love etched onto his face. None of them were young anymore, but they were more alive. Well, most of them.
"So, Quatre, how is Heero doing? Does he seem okay?"
Trowa's concerned question made Quatre purse his lips in thought. Then he answered.
"He still hasn't let him go, Trowa. He doesn't think about him, he doesn't talk about him, it is as if he never existed. But I can feel his pain, the emptiness. It is as if he's waiting for him to come back, Trowa. It's the most heart wrenching thing."
In sadness, Trowa and Quatre looked at each other over the vidlink, a shallow glass and millions of miles separating them.
"How would I be now if it had been you, Quatre? Or you, if it had been me? Would we be any different?"
In silence, Quatre let his eyes fill with the tears he had not shown Heero. Yes, Trowa was right. But that did not make things any better for anyone.
Heero stared at his ceiling. His clock blinked at 3:30 a.m., telling him that it was impossibly late, again. Without taking his eyes off the ceiling, Heero reached over to his right side, patting down the bed from the pillow to the midpoint. It was still empty.
Heero closed his eyes, hoping for a dreamless night. So far, all his nights had been dreamless, except for one. That one dream.. He could only describe it as lucid dreaming. It had been so incredibly clear and beautiful. It had been so real. And he had been there, waiting for him.
But it had been a dream. The first night after Duo's death, he had had that lucid dream. And then he had dreamt no more of him because it hurt so unbearably. He would not do it again.
Not noticing the tears that leaked out from his closed eyelids, Heero carefully buried all memories of Duo Maxwell into the depths of his mind. There would be no more dreaming because all his dreams had died with Duo.
The clock blinked 3:40 a.m. It was a familiar sight.
Heero met Quatre and Wufei for lunch. They all had much work and busy schedules, but Quatre would be going back to L4 tomorrow and they wanted one last good time together. So they sat in a premier restaurant and enjoyed good crab sandwiches and tangy crisp wine.
"Yes, I agree. Treize should come and stay with us on L4 for a while."
"Just promise that he will not be sold into slavery by Desia."
"My daughter wouldn't do a thing like that. You son, Xa-Min, however.."
Heero listened as Quatre and Wufei exchanged friendly insults and stories about their children. His friends were ridiculously happy with their respective spouses and numerous children. None of them had thought that they would live through the war to have peace, let alone children. Watching his friends, Heero realized how much he had wanted to have something to call his own at one time. He had dreamed..
"Heero, are you coming?"
Heero looked up at Quatre who stared at him inquiringly.
"Coming? Where am I going?"
Shaking his head at Heero's unusual lack of attention, Quatre repeated his previous question.
"Relena is throwing a banquet in three months on the new colony in the L4 cluster. You are coming, right?"
Mutely, Heero nodded. He had received the invitation and had even replied in the affirmative to it. He had just forgotten about it until now.
"Then I will see you and Trowa there?"
"You will see the girls, too. And Wufei said he'd bring Sally and his entire, delinquent brood."
That began another round of wrangling between Quatre and Wufei, each arguing the merits and the demerits of their children. Heero smiled wistfully.
"If we had kids, I wonder if they will be normal."
Duo always said the strangest things after they made love, but this was unexpected. Kids?
"Duo, we're both males. We can't have kids."
Waving off the slight biological problem with nonchalance, Duo continued his musing.
"Just as a hypothetical. They will be damn good looking, of course. We got some kick ass genes. They'll also be geniuses. Let's see.. They might inherit your psychotic tendencies.."
"Or they might inherit your talking gene and get beaten up a lot."
Scrunching his nose, Duo let out an expletive.
"Please, Heero. Like our kids will EVER get beat up. Between you and me, we have more deadly skills than the most highly trained Oz soldier."
They fell into a shallow silence. Heero traced Duo's graceful back with his fingertips, smoothing his callused fingers over each vertebrae. Duo laid on his stomach with his loose hair spread out beside him and just enjoyed the loving touches.
"I love you, you know."
Heero had never told Duo he loved him. But Duo knew. Sometimes, words were not needed, just wanted.
Heero danced with Relena to the stately waltz the orchestra was playing. Even at fifty, Relena still maintained a girlish beauty polished with a womanly dignity. Her blond hair had streaks of white now, gleaming in the light every time they executed a turn. Her blue eyes no longer held an unrealistic ideal she held dear, but a reality that she worked hard to maintain. She had come a long way from a fearless fifteen year old girl chasing a crazy pilot from outer space.
"Heero, I'm glad you made it."
"Me, too. I haven't seen you since your last speech at Preventer's Headquarters."
They talked about mundane, everyday things, polite chit chat littered with small memories and future hopes. They talked easily, like two old friends should. When the dance ended, Heero escorted Relena back to her husband and they talked some more. Relena leaned into her husband of twenty years, still head over heels in love with him. Soon, the little group of three became a crowd of familiar and missed faces.
Trowa stood with Quatre, their daughters quite lovely in their evening dresses. Ariane cast a sly and flirtatious wink at Treize who blushed and nearly hid behind Wufei. Desia poked Xa-Min in the ribs in jest while they plotted some practical joke or another. Sally stood next to Wufei, making small talk with Relena and her husband. Relena's only child, Milliardo, fidgeted in his evening suit, trying to figure out a way to start a conversation with Kilara, Wufei's demure and beautiful daughter. Noin and Zechs talked earnestly to Quatre about the finances of space and still managed to keep their precocious daughter Lania from launching into a speech about that topic.
Heero no longer talked, but watched everyone interact. His old friends, some even old enemies, mingled and talked to each other. Their children flirted with one another, made jokes with each other. He wanted to join them with his kids, his love. But that was no longer possible. His crowd of friends chatted easily, the friendly and heartwarming atmosphere enveloping everyone around them. The evening seemed so perfect.
Heero saw a young face with wide, blue eyes. He was only about five feet tall, about his height when he was a young terrorist.
"I am. And you are?"
The boy got very excited.
"Wow, it is you! Sir, I just joined the Preventers and I am honored to meet you. I am Soldier First Class Duo Maxwell Schbeiker, at your service."
Heero nearly pitched forward in shock. As it was, he was barely hanging on to his wine glass. The silence around him was thick.
"Sir, are you okay, Sir? Commander Yuy?"
The boy's concerned questions slid by his awareness. That name, the name he had avoided, buried, even had forbade his friends from uttering..
After a hoarse and barely intelligible 'excuse me,' Heero practically ran from the party. One name had brought it all back.
Heero ran his hand over the still face of his lover. It was still warm. There were smudges all over him, his hair was partially unbound and his clothes had seen better days. But what did that matter now?
He had refused to believe Relena. He had not paid any attention to Quatre. He had steadily ignored Trowa. He had punched Wufei. They had all told him something that was quite unreal. They were stupid, that was all. Duo would not leave him. He wouldn't.
Heero smoothed the hair away from the too quiet face and leaned down. His lips touched Duo's dryly, just a bare brush.
"I'm not letting you go, Duo."
It would take three gundam pilots, four shots of heavy duty tranquilizers and a strategic hit to his head to tear him away from Duo.
And then Duo would never be mentioned again.
Heero looked around. It had been thirty four years since he had dreamed last, but here he was. He remembered running from that banquet and stumbling into his room to fall into bed. His thoughts had been jumbled and pained, but one thing had been clear. Duo.
Heero walked in his dream. The purple sky was unusual, but it was the same sky he had seen so long ago, in that lucidity. The sand shifted and glittered, the silver of it contrasting with the golden streaks above and mirroring the stars over his head. Heero walked on, remembering that the dream had led him to someone.
In the distance, he could make out a figure, a lone figure dressed in black with a thick, chestnut colored braid that snaked around his slim body. He had his hand out towards him, beckoning to him. He still had that cocky grin, the mischievously twinkling violet eyes. And he called to him.
Heero walked faster and faster until he was running. When he got close enough to the figure, he stopped and stood still. Only five feet separated him from Duo.
"I dream of you. I wait for you."
Heero nearly broke down. The husky voice tinged with boyish charm rang in his ears. The voice he had longed to hear for his entire life. The boy he had loved more than everything in the world. Duo Maxwell stood before him.
"Duo.. Duo.. I missed you."
After thirty four years, that was all Heero could say. Even in dreams, Heero could not find the words to express his overwhelming feelings. He felt as if he was going to explode.
"I've waited for you for an eternity, Heero. What took you so long to find me?"
Finally, the tears fell and Heero launched himself into Duo's arms. Then he stepped back, horrified. Duo still looked like a fifteen year old boy. What must he look like?
Duo let out a laugh and enveloped Heero in a hug that had been interrupted by Heero's self consciousness.
"Heero, you look like the boy I remember. Wild hair, intense eyes, that incredible body."
And he did, he realized. He was back in that green tank top and spandex. He probably even had a gun tucked away somewhere in these spandex. Just like it used to be.
"Why did it take you so long, Heero?"
Duo's voice was sad, the longing and the waiting evident.
"I didn't know you were here, Duo. I saw you here, so long ago, but I thought it was just my fractured mind creating illusions for me. I'm sorry, Duo. I'm sorry."
Duo rubbed his cheek against his and then turned his head to kiss him fully on the lips. Heero knew that if he had died now, it would be okay. He would die happy. He would be dying with Duo by his side, after tasting his lips again.
"This is heaven, isn't it Duo? It has to be."
Duo shook his head as he gently separated his lips from Heero's.
"No. It's a dream. Not the normal kind. It's a Lucid Dream. I should have moved on when I died, but you kept me here. Your thoughts, your love, you kept me here, waiting for you. And you took an eternity to find me."
Heero touched his head to Duo's and whispered urgently, desperately.
"I'm sorry. I should have known the first night that this was not a normal dream but I was stupid. I was scared. But I have you now. I will not let you go."
"I know, Heero. That's why I'm still here. Because you did not let me go. I've been in your dream, looking for you. I waited for you because I knew one day you'd come for me."
They held each other, not wanting to ever let each other go.
"I don't want to wake, Duo. I'm not leaving you. I'm nothing out there. Our friends, they have spouses, they have children. They have lives beyond mine because I lost everything when you died. When I see them, I see what I could have had with you. GOD, I missed you. I love you. I am not leaving you."
Heero's words came faster as he felt his dream lose its coherency.
"Heero, I'm not going anywhere. You will come for me. I'll wait for you."
"I don't want to wait. I don't want you to wait. I have waited for thirty four years to see you again, Duo."
Duo looked into the sincere cobalt eyes that he had missed more than life. Holding tightly onto Heero, Duo asked.
"Are you sure you want to come with me? You realize you'll be giving up everything you have in life. All your friends, your life, everything."
"You are my life. You always were. You took my life with you when you died. What I had after you died wasn't a life. It was an existence. I want to live now, Duo."
"Then step out of the Lucidity with me, Heero. Let's begin again, let's live again."
The purple skies changed, the golden streaks disappeared. The twinkling stars phased out and the silver sands blew away. But the two lovers remained constant, holding onto each other. Then they too disappeared.
It was only fitting that Heero got to rest eternally next to Duo. He had bought that plot next to Duo's when Duo had been buried here all those years ago. Quatre could only wonder why Heero had kept on living so long and be grateful that he had. Everyone had come to pay respects, including that one soldier named Duo Maxwell Schbeiker. Hilde had named him after Duo to commemorate his life, but she had probably not known that it had played a vital part in claiming Heero's last vestiges of will to live on.
It was okay, though. Quatre knew it was. His heart could no longer feel the emptiness that was Heero. Somehow, his heart felt more at peace than it had ever before, a calm contentment that radiated warmth throughout his entire body. Heero and Duo, they were okay now. They were together.
Smiling, Quatre held Trowa's hand and placed final kisses on Heero and Duo's tombstones. There were no tearing grief, no railing, and certainly no tears. That had never been Heero's way.