Disclaimer: The Gundam boys are only mine to play with in my head!

Pairing: 1x2
Rating: NC-17
Genre: AU, hurt/comfort, angst
Warning: Borderline non-con (don't let that scare you away!)
Please note: This is not a WIP, but it will be posted in installments as time permits. I've spent a year writing this and it's now complete. Yay! I will post a couple of chapters each week. Thanks for your patience!

Summary: Heero Yuy is a genetically altered weapon in a top secret project. When his behavior becomes erratic, his handlers propose an unorthodox solution. Is the cure more than they bargained for?

The Variable
Part 30
by Artemis

They held hands through the mountain tunnel to the Project's headquarters, and down private corridors to the Corporate Tower. That contact with Heero was like a grounding force, a constant reassurance that they were in this together.

Surprisingly, everyone they encountered was polite if not more than a little curious. They had to know of Duo's former role here, and had to be wondering at his return and Heero's protectiveness. If everything went as planned, Duo would have to work twice as hard to prove his salt, to show that he wasn't just Heero's squeeze. But that challenge was simple compared to what lay on the other side of the gargantuan double doors before him. Duo looked up, up and up. The inlaid, hand-carved doors were at least fifteen feet tall.

"Who's he expecting the Jolly Green Giant?"

Heero smirked. "I'm surprised you've never met Treize, but once you have you'll understand. He doesn't do anything small."

Duo knew his eyes were wide, but he made sure to keep his jaw snapped shut. He didn't want to look like a peasant visiting the king. He turned to Heero, giving his hand a tug and prompting a sweet kiss from his lover.

"I hope that's not the last one," Duo said.

"I've been thinking about this---"

"God, you're not having second thoughts!"

"No... I've been thinking that we'll be all right."

Duo let out a dramatic sigh. "Man, why didn't you just say so?"

"I worked through the scenarios and all the potential arguments. Treize will need to censure me---" Heero didn't get to finish that statement as the giant doors opened.

Duo's eyes went impossibly wide with his first glimpse of the lush garden. They stepped across the threshold, side-by-side, into the open air Eden. It was nestled between the Corporate Tower and the wilderness of a mountain valley. A span of beautifully manicured and mapped out acres embraced them. Vast acres of hundreds of rose plants were laid out symmetrically and ranging in shades from white to creamy pastels to reds so dark they were nearly black.

It was a place of transition with the might of Bremen and the Project on one side, the wide world on the other, and miles of sky above.

Heero and Duo walked along the flagstone path towards a wooden pergola at the center of the garden. All paths led to where Treize Khushrenada awaited them. The man sat cross legged in a wooden chair, his steel gray suit complementing the orange cushions beneath him and the shades of green and red around him. The pergola's trellis was covered in vines creating an enclosure for the grouping of chairs and sofas around a low table set with lighted votive candles and a vase filled with white roses.

No greeting was made as they stepped onto the russet and tan tiles that further defined this garden sanctuary. Treize looked on them, seeming to expect an offering to be laid at his feet. Or perhaps merely waiting for them to go on their knees and beg for mercy.

"It was never in the cards for us to meet," Treize said, staring at Duo. "And yet, here you are."

Duo opened his mouth to rebuff, but Heero held his arm out before him. It was probably a good idea to take Heero's lead. The closest Duo had come to meeting Treize was that glimpse of the man through a window in the medical clinic. Even seated and reclining in this garden, Treize had a powerful energy.

Treize's attention turned to Heero, his eyes sliding away from Duo as though dismissing him. "When it was reported that you were returning with your target still alive, I knew that we had underestimated Mr. Maxwell."

"You sent me on that mission knowing that I love him," Heero said, defiantly.

"A mission that you proposed months ago in exchange for his release. I maintained my end of the bargain and I expected you to do the same."

"Did you really?" Heero asked, taking a step forward. In this serene environment even that one step seemed too bold. "Your last directive to me was to 'see this through to its rightful conclusion.' I came to believe you were giving me flexibility in a seemingly inflexible situation."

Treize's eyebrow went up as he fully appraised Heero. His eyes were intense and his demeanor superior, and yet he appeared to be a careful man. Every word, look and deed as calculated as a battlefield maneuver.

"After twelve years, you think you know me well enough to make such a leap of logic?" Treize's tone was incredulous like a father's to a rebellious son.

Heero shook his head. "Your words are always purposefully chosen. I merely took them at face value as the situation unfolded."

Treize chuckled, giving the first glimmer of hope that Heero may have been right. This is what Treize had anticipated, but perhaps not what he had wanted.

"I used to watch Duo from a distance as he walked across the campus," Heero said. "There was something about him that captivated me and I found myself thinking about him long after I'd seen him."

Duo turned to Heero and smiled, marveling at the confession. Heero's eyes were set on Treize, as though to let him read the sincerity behind his words.

"I wasn't allowed to talk to any of Bremen's employees, but more and more I sought him out, waiting for Duo to take his break and get a cup of coffee at the Café. I had no expectations. It couldn't go any further... and then Doctor Po presented me with her plan. Duo could be mine. You know what happened next, but what you don't know is what Duo has brought to my life. He's made me see beyond myself, beyond the Project, but he's not the distraction that Doctor J fears. Duo is my other half, the half that I never knew existed. I discovered that I loved him the day he was released, but I didn't realize that it would feel like my right arm had been cut off." Heero placed his hand on Duo's back, giving it a little rub. "I've been on one track my entire life and thought I knew it all, had it all figured out... until I met him."

Treize stood, abruptly ending Heero's declaration. He was of an impressive height, and conveyed a warrior's presence. "You've changed, Heero. Not so long ago you would've guarded such personal information." He reached down to pluck a white rose from the vase. "No one could have predicted the twists and turns of this little venture."

Duo observed the man's innate regal qualities. It was as though somewhere in the Khushrenada family tree there had been emperors and knights. He desperately wanted to say something, speak on his and Heero's behalf, but there seemed to be courtly etiquette to follow.

"May I say something?" he asked, his nerves a jumble in his stomach. "I mean, it's my head on the line and you're talking like I'm not even in the room."

Treize closed the distance between them and stared down his aquiline nose at Duo. "Please... enlighten me."

"I don't want to be here," Duo said in a challenging tone.

"What?" Heero asked.

"Hang on," Duo said, holding up his hand to stave off protest from his lover. "Your little Project treated me real bad, Mr. Khushrenada and once I was free there was no way I wanted to come back to this place. But Heero got under my skin and I was stupid enough to fall in love with him. Yeah, you heard right, it was stupid, 'cause it nearly got me killed... maybe still will. He showed up ready to kill me, just like you wanted, but we got to talking and figured maybe there was a way to make this work... for all of us. 'Cause he won't stay with me out there. He's given his soul to this operation, but all I'm asking for is his heart. Do you think you can part with it?"

Treize laughed. "Is that all you want? His heart? I'm afraid modern science hasn't come up with a way to separate a man's heart from his self."

Duo growled. "Maybe living in this rose-scented world of yours has left you out of touch with reality."

Heero placed a hand on Duo's shoulder. "You have my heart, Duo," he said, gently. Then he looked to Treize. "What we're proposing is that you give us a chance to prove ourselves as a team. I don't want to give up the Project or Duo. The Project would benefit from his computer savvy, and I would benefit from his presence in my life."

Treize waved the white rose in front of them. Was it a sign of surrender like the white flag on a field of battle?

"A remarkable performance," Treize said. "I cannot argue that together you have a dynamic that is compelling to watch. But this is not a play, gentlemen. The stakes are very high."

"You want assurances," Heero said.

Duo looked to him, wondering what they could possibly offer a man who seemed to have everything, including the ability to squash them.

"You know where I stand," Heero said, his voice solid. "I won't be leaving the Project."

"But once again we have a variable." Treize tapped Duo's nose with the rose.

"What variable?" Duo asked, swatting at the rose. The touch seemed aggressive until he caught the gleam of mischief in Treize's eyes. He's toying with us, Duo thought. I've figured him out! He's already made his decision, but he wants us to remember our place and that we owe our lives to him.

He turned to Heero wanting to blurt out his revelation, but instead paused at the humbling sight before him. Heero was bowing and his eyes were to the ground in what could only be described as a show of deep respect.

"I ask you to trust me," Heero said. "I know that if you wanted Duo killed you would've done it by now."

"Hey!" Duo protested.

Heero shot him a hard glance and then straightened to look Treize in the eyes. "This is the rightful conclusion."

Treize's eyes danced from Heero to Duo and back again. "The chemistry between you cannot be denied. I know what it means to have someone you can rely on... of your very own. Someone who fulfills your days and your nights."

"Then you'll let us be together?" Duo asked.

The man's blue eyes sparkled. "Perhaps this is one variable we can live with."

"Won't someone tell me what variable?" Duo asked in frustration.

Heero laughed. "There'll be plenty of time to explain it to you later." He held out his hand to his mentor. "Once again, I am indebted to you. Thank you."

"I've always expected great things from you, Heero, and now I will expect much greater... now that you are two." Treize shook Heero's hand and then extended his hand to Duo with a smile.

Only moments ago, Duo would have been reluctant and downright antagonistic to such a gesture, but now it pleased him to shake the hand of Treize Khushrenada.

"Welcome to the team," Treize said, shaking his hand.

"Thanks! I see why Heero calls you his mentor. You're an interesting guy."

"Thank you," Treize said, chuckling. "I would invite you both to breakfast, but I have a feeling you'd prefer to settle into your new life. A few days off are in order, then I'll expect you both to report for duty."

Duo smiled and put his arm around Heero's waist. "It's gonna take some getting used to, but I think I could end up liking it here."

"Well, then... I'll leave you to it," Treize said, nodding toward the door.

Heero and Duo turned, heading back down the path and out of the private garden. The worst was over. Now it was up to them to prove their worth as a team, and to make something of this love they had discovered.

"That wasn't so bad," Duo said, patting Heero's back as they walked through the corridor. "But the guy didn't even apologize to me."

Heero looked over at him, shaking his head. "Forget the apology. We got off easy."

"You're probably right, but for a minute there I thought we were goners."

Heero came to a stop in the hall. They were alone, but still he glanced around them. "Duo, I would've protected you had it come to that. I wanted to tell you that before we went in but the---"

Duo covered Heero's mouth in a deep kiss cutting off his words, and pulling him into a tight embrace. He held him close, kissing him with all his heart. "I love you, man. I really do."

Heero grinned. "Not half as much as I love you."

"Oh, yeah?" Duo laughed.


They continued along the corridors, and took the elevator to Heero's private quarters. When the lift opened onto his floor, Duo took a deep breath.

Heero squeezed his hand. "You okay?"

Duo nodded and was the first to step off the elevator. They walked silently, hand-in-hand, to the apartment door.

"You'll have your own clearance and be able to come and go as you like." It seemed an apology of sorts. That Heero was still feeling guilty.

"I know. Let's just go in." Even as Duo said it, his stomach did a flip. He was nervous as hell to be back here, but he had to start thinking of this as home, and not as his former prison.

The apartment was just as he remembered it. Nothing had changed. It was as if he had left that day and the place had been frozen in time.

"I thought you would've painted the place red after I left," Duo said, forcing a chuckle.

Heero's brow tightened. "I spent as little time here as possible after you'd gone. It wasn't the same... without you."

Duo looked closely at Heero's face. Were his eyes shimmering with tears?

"God, Heero... I had no idea. I really thought you wanted me out of your life."

"And I thought you wanted me out of yours." Heero sighed and reached his hand out to Duo. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For everything."

"Wow! That much?" Duo chuckled.

"Yeah, that much."

Duo grinned, squeezing Heero's hand. "It's all good. And it's only gonna get better. Now... to put my mark on this place."

Heero surprised him by taking him into his arms. "You've already put your mark here, but I'd like to see what you do with the place."

Duo slid his arms around Heero's back and let their lips come together in a warm kiss. "First thing I want to do is mess the place up a bit." He pulled away, tugging on Heero's hand to follow him. "Bedroom still this way?"

Heero laughed. It was a good thing Treize had given them a few days off.

~ ~ ~

Treize slid his hand over his lover's naked thigh. He was lying on his side, admiring Zechs's long, pale limbs against the blue satin sheets. His torso was covered in a light sheen of sweat from their lovemaking.

"Tell me again why you think this is a good idea," Zechs said. His forearm was over his eyes as though shielding them from the candlelight.

Treize shook his head, but said nothing.

Zechs's arm fell away and his ice blue eyes settled on him. "You're too trusting."

"Hmm. Is that what you think?"

"There will be no controlling him."

"Now you sound like J."

"He's one bastard I don't trust."

"That's a shame. I heard he rather likes you," Treize said, chuckling.

Zechs leaned up on his elbows, his eyes intent. "Don't be careless, Treize. Are you certain that adding Maxwell to the team is a good idea?"

Treize's hand slid from Zech's thigh to his sternum. "It's a risk, I'll give you that."

"And you're a risk taker."

"Yes, of course. But I don't make any decisions without looking into a man's eyes." His hand settled on Zechs's face, cupping his cheek and rubbing it with his thumb. "Now, tell me what you saw in Maxwell's eyes?"

Zechs hesitated as if unsure what his lover was asking of him. "The window to a man's soul..."

Treize nodded, encouragingly.

"There were any number of things I saw. Confusion, disappointment... fear."

"Anything else?"


"Ah, yes. The most complex emotion of them all."

"And the one you value most." Zechs reclined on his pillow, seeming to relax again. "He would do anything for Heero."

"That is exactly why I trust him on this team. He'll work twice as hard to prove himself worthy of standing at Heero's side."

"And his rebelliousness? How will you deal with that?"

"If it brings a new vitality to the operation, I will tolerate it with the patience of a saint."

"Saint Treize? I'd like to see that," Zechs said, laughing.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Treize said, rolling on top of Zechs and settling between his thighs. "I'm feeling rather devilish tonight."

Zechs's muscular thighs gripped him as he shoved his hard sex inside. He had no doubt that Zechs could pin him and have his way with him, but so far he had made no move to reverse their roles. Perhaps one day they would wrestle for control like ancient Greek warriors, but tonight the guiding hand still belonged to Treize.

~ ~ ~

"Are you sure I look okay?" Duo asked, fussing at his collar as he looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.

"It's only a party. Look how I'm dressed."

Duo turned to him and dropped his hands to his sides. "You look incredible."

Heero smiled. "And so do you."

It was going to be hard to keep his hands off Duo tonight. Duo's jeans fit his ass perfectly, and were stylishly long, covering everything but the square toes of his Italian-made shoes. His black on black stripe shirt was tailor fitted to his body, and he was wearing it buttoned, but untucked and the cuffs turned back.

Heero had dressed similarly in black and blue. He wore a simple black t-shirt tucked into blue jeans, and before they headed out would throw on a black blazer. The silver buckle on his black leather belt seemed to have caught Duo's attention.

"You going to stare at my crotch all night?"

Duo's eyes lifted to his face. "I like the looks of that trim waist of yours."

"Your eyes were not on my waist."

Duo laughed, but Heero sensed the nonsense was a cover-up for nerves. Duo had been back only three days, and they had ventured no further than Heero's private pool to make love. If it was not for Lucrezia's invitation to a party in Duo's honor, they would not be going out tonight either.

"You're joining the Project team tomorrow," Heero said, straightening Duo's collar. "Excited?"

"Of course."

"Those are the same people who played a role in your captivity."

Duo froze, looking wide-eyed at him. "And they only know me as your---"

"After tonight, they're going to see you as my partner... and starting tomorrow as an important part of the team."

Heero pressed his mouth to Duo's, silencing further doubts with a kiss. Duo was so right in his arms. He still couldn't believe he had let him go. But of course, none of this would've been possible without first setting Duo free.

"They'll see you as my partner and a team member," Heero repeated. "I don't foresee any trouble."

"Well, at least Miss Noin liked me from the start."

"There are a lot more people on your side than you know."

"But not all of them, right?" Duo asked.

Heero knew Duo was talking about Doctor J, but he was confident that animosity would work itself out over time.

"Come on, or you'll be late for your own party."

It was after dark when they exited the building onto Bremen's corporate campus. There were no employees left for the night. The evening was clear and cool, and they could hear the sounds of jazz music coming from the plaza.

Duo smiled. "There's live music?"

Heero was just as surprised, but he had a feeling that Noin would pull-out all the stops to make Duo feel welcome.

As they turned the corner onto the plaza, they saw that it had been transformed. There was wood fire burning in a metal fire pit, and lavender and gray cushions encircling it. Behind the cushions were low tables set with china and silverware, and dozens of votive candles, and tiny vases with lavender and blue flowers.

"This is for me?" Duo whispered to Heero.

Heero nodded and saw that everyone was already gathered, standing near the band or around the fire. When they were noticed, a great cheer went up, startling Duo into taking a step back.

"I know... it's not the sort of reception you're used to around here." Heero squeezed Duo's hand and pulled him along.

Noin was first to rush up and put her arms around Duo. "We're so happy to have you back."

"Thanks, Lucrezia. I'm a little stunned by all this."

She smiled brightly. "It's just the beginning."

Just then, Sally walked over and held her hand out to Duo. "No hard feelings?"

Duo shook her hand. "Nope, none. It's a new day, and I've got my guy at my side and what could be better?"

"That's very kind of you, Duo," Sally said.

Lucrezia leaned over, putting her arm around Sally's waist. She winked at Duo, and Duo started to laugh.

"That's great. Congratulations!" he said.

"When did this happen?" Heero asked, surprised.

"A couple weeks ago," Noin said. "But I told Duo about my secret crush months ago."

Sharing secrets was a sure sign of friendship, but it gave Heero a twinge of guilt. They had imprisoned Duo for their own needs, and yet he had carried on the best he could. He had made a sincere friendship with Noin, and Clementine before her.

Duo tugged on his sleeve. "Hey."

Heero shook his head and grinned. This was not the time for melancholy. He pulled Duo close to him and whispered in his ear, "I love you."

Duo's cheeks turned crimson, and Sally and Lucrezia began to giggle.

"What did you say to him, Heero?" Lucrezia asked.

"That's between us," Heero said.

The liaison program was over, and in Heero's mind that meant the details of his sex life, and more importantly his love life were no longer the property of the Project. It was up to him and Duo to decide what they wanted to share with friends and co-workers.

The scientists approached en masse with Doctor Howard as their spokesperson. Even Doctor J was among them. He seemed resigned to the situation and after a nudge from Professor G, nodded a greeting. Heero watched Duo nod in response, keeping things professional. Duo had told Heero that he would never forgive J for hurting him in the overdosing incident, but he wouldn't let that stop him from doing his best on the team.

Treize, Zechs and Dorothy were the last to welcome them.

"You both look... well-loved," Treize said, smiling.

And well-fucked, Heero thought. The look Duo gave him echoed that thought.

"I knew you two had something special going on the day I met you," Dorothy said, holding her chin up proudly.

"As I recall," Duo said in a joking tone. "All you said was that I'd have to be good looking to get Heero's attention."

Heero's eyebrows shot up. "That's what you said to Duo?"

"Well, it sounds so crude now, but it was meant as a compliment."

"I'm sure it was," Heero said, chuckling.

"We were never properly introduced," Zechs said, holding out his hand to Duo. "Zechs Merquise."

Duo shook his hand. "I didn't listen to your warning."

"I'm glad," Zechs said with a grin. "Heero was an awful bore sulking over you."

"I never sulked," Heero said in protest.

"You were sulking?" Duo asked, smiling. "Of course, it'd be hard to tell the difference between that and your everyday face."

Heero narrowed his eyes on Duo, but then grinned. "Isn't anyone going to offer us a drink?"

Duo jabbed his side. "Nice diversionary tactic."

Treize snapped his fingers and the wait staff appeared as if out of thin air. Their silver trays were filled with champagne glasses, and hors d'oeuvres. Once everyone had a glass in hand, Treize had them gather around the fire, settling on the cushions as he stood before them.

"Duo, we welcome you to our team," Treize said, looking to Duo who sat nestled on a cushion and leaning against Heero's shoulder. "If only this had been our beginning, but alas we can only hope that you will not judge us by the past, but from this day on. Each of us has our apologies to make, and I will begin that process by telling you in front of everyone that I am deeply sorry for the pain we caused you."

"He apologized," Duo said, whispering in Heero's ear.

Heero saw the delight in Duo's eyes, and knew that the apology meant a great deal.

"Should I?" Duo asked, nodding toward Treize.

Heero nodded and watched as Duo got to his feet. He walked with a purposeful stride to stand next to the Project's leader.

"Treize, sir," Duo said, clearing his throat. "I appreciate your apology and this great party. I'm not going to lie and say that all is forgiven, but I'm getting there. Heero's helping a lot with that." He looked across the fire to Heero and smiled, and Heero felt his heart fill with pride and love. "You all took good care of Heero over the years, but now I'd like to head-up that team."

Everyone let out a cheer and applauded, and Sally pushed Heero to get up and join Duo. He walked over to stand next to Duo, putting his arm comfortably around Duo's waist.

"Thanks everyone," Heero said, more nervous than usual. It was all he could say in front of the team, but it was enough. He could see in Duo's eyes that his deepest thoughts and feelings were understood.

~ ~ ~

Six months later.

Duo slipped on the finely tailored linen jacket, loving how it subtly defined his upper body. He wanted to look good today, because today was the day that Heero got back from his latest mission. Eight nights they had been separated. An eternity as far as Duo was concerned. But early this morning he had received a mission update from Dorothy letting him know that Heero was enroute for "home." Yes, she had actually said home. Amazing how it had all worked out and the Project team had accepted the metamorphosis of their relationship. Except for J who was still a major stick in the mud - a curmudgeon of an old man, but brilliant and therefore irreplaceable. To some. Still, had a house fallen on him, Duo would not have mourned his passing.

The linen jacket was paired with a white dress shirt, blue jeans, and a black leather belt and shoes. Duo had to be comfortable for work and look hot for Heero. He stepped out of their shared walk-in closet into their newly designed living quarters. With 3,000 square feet to work with and a shockingly generous budget from Treize, Duo and Heero were able to renovate the apartment in style. The neutral living room colors were replaced with rich, warm hues, and a guest room, and office for Duo were added. The biggest change was in the bedroom. Inspired by their boss's incredible rose garden, they had the wall with the window knocked down and replaced with a glass door that led onto a large, wooden deck furnished with comfy wicker furniture, plants and a gas grill. The indoor, outdoor space fed their love for the out-of-doors, and celebrated Duo's new status. The deck and the pool had become their favorite places to hang out, relax, and make love.

The thrill of coming and going as he pleased, even for walks on the mountainside, had not subsided in the least for Duo. He reveled in his freedom as only a man who had lost it could appreciate. There was no time for grudges or stewing over the past. The Project kept him and Heero more than busy. Sometimes it seemed that he had signed his life away just as Heero had done all those years ago. They managed to find time together mostly in the evenings, and the occasional long weekend. It turned out that they had full access to the jet, making romantic getaways to Paris, Prague and Perth very much within reach.

Since that day in the rose garden when their life together truly began, Duo had found himself falling more and more in love with Heero. The man had such integrity that it prompted Duo to learn how to trust the people around him and that felt good. He was sure he was having a similar effect on Heero as evidenced by his lover's more relaxed demeanor and willingness to smile. That smile, and Duo's as well, had been preserved in a candid photograph taken by Lucrezia at Duo's "welcome to the team" party. It meant so much to Duo to finally have a photo of not only Heero, but the two of them together, that he knew it belonged in a very special place - his family photo album. After all those years of devotedly lugging the album from place to place, and its memories of the past and all he had lost, Duo finally had a reason to add a new page. He had found a home with Heero.

Now, he needed to hurry to mission control to see that smile again. He wanted to be there when Heero emerged weary and in need of tender loving care.

As he entered the control room, Dorothy looked up from her station. "There you are!" she said with one of her wicked grins.

"Miss me?"

"Heero's on his final approach," she said and nodded toward one of the monitors.

Duo walked over to check the plane's progress. "He's early."

"Surprisingly early, considering that he had to fly around some storm clouds."

"That's Heero. He must've put the pedal to the metal. Missed his honey bun."

Dorothy rolled her eyes. "That's too much information, Duo."

"Yeah, guess it was." He laughed.

"Hey, Duo!"

He turned to see Howard coming into the room. "What's up, Howard? We still got that meeting this afternoon?"

"Yeah, and I'd like you to look over this configuration before then. G thinks your model for data streaming could compress the execution time considerably." Howard handed him the data sheet.

"So..." Duo said, quickly scanning the numbers. "This could get us closer to G's goal of teraflop speed for the system."

"Looks like it. Crunch these numbers and I'll see you later."

"Hey, you should hang around. Heero will be here in about ten minutes."

Howard smiled brightly. "My old friend? You bet I'll hang around."

Heero had told Duo the story of how he had rescued Howard from the island fortress and had nearly been killed in the process. That was the night that he had returned with the gash in his side and Duo had begged him to leave all this behind. It seemed a lifetime ago. When Howard recovered from the ordeal, he realized his talents would best be served with the Project and requested to join the operation. Treize was more than happy to oblige. Since Duo had come on board, he had been working closely with Doctor Howard and Professor G, creating a fierce trio of mathematical minds.

At last, Heero arrived and stepped out of the transport vehicle wearing his signature black spandex bodysuit. Duo swallowed hard as he warmed on seeing his lover. He stood in the doorway, hesitating to rush to his side until Dorothy gave him a nudge.

"Go on, silly. We all know you want to."

Duo smiled and hesitated no more. He darted onto the receiving platform, practically skidding to a stop in front of Heero. They stood toe-to-toe, Heero giving him a tired smile.

"Come here," Duo said, opening his arms.

They embraced, not giving a damn who was watching. They had worked hard and suffered greatly to get to this point. There would be no more compromises when it came to their feelings for one another.

"Dorothy said the mission was a success."

"Yes," Heero said, nuzzling Duo's ear. "God, this is nice."

Duo grinned. "You like these homecomings, huh?"

"Mm-hmm," Heero moaned.

His hands came up to Duo's face, gently brushing the long bangs from his eyes and and leaning in for a kiss. It was sweetly warm and allowed Duo the chance to breathe in Heero's rugged, post-mission scent. He would ask Heero not to shower before they made love.

Heero pulled back from the kiss and studied Duo's face as if this separation had gone on far too long.

"You okay, Heero? You're not hurt are you?"

"No, I'm not hurt." Heero smiled, giving him another pleasing kiss. "I never get tired of looking at you."

"Well, that's fortunate," Duo said, laughing. "Because it turns out I've got a thing for you, too."

"A thing?"

Duo waggled his eyebrows. "If there weren't ladies present I'd elaborate."

Heero laughed and turned Duo toward the control room, slipping his arm around his shoulder as they walked. "Thirty minutes in debriefing and med check and I'm all yours to elaborate on."

Duo slowed his steps just enough to give Heero's spandex-clad behind a long, lustful gaze. "That's gonna be the longest thirty minutes of my life."

When Heero laughed at his joke, Duo smiled and joined in the laughter. He liked how it sounded when their voices blended together in laughter, in pleasure... in eager conversation. Heero got his jokes. Hell, Heero got everything about Duo, and each one was learning more about the other every day. To think that there had been a time when they could only stare at each other across a fountain, gazing longingly on what they could not have. Their fountain had taken on mythical qualities as the conduit to the long journey that had brought them together.

Now, they walked into the control room as members of the same team and it was as if this was the way it was always meant to be. Over a year had passed since Duo had jokingly greeted Heero with, "Hello, Mr. Kaplan." His mystery man's identity had been solved, but Duo was counting on a lifetime to show Heero that there were no more variables. There was just one constant in this equation. And that constant was love.


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