Disclaimer: I don't own nor profit from my GW stories

Warnings: Yaoi, some language, mild angst, possible NCS

Second Chances
Part 5
by Dyna Dee

Relena nervously worried the handkerchief in her hand. Where were they? she wondered as she chewed on her lower lip.

"They'll be here soon," Heero calmly assured her as he observed her anxiousness.

"Almost everyone else is here. It's not like Milliardo to be late."

"Things change," was Heero's dry response.

Relena rolled her eyes upward, praying for patience. Suddenly, she gasped slightly and her eyes widened. "Is that him, Heero?" she asked standing on her tip toes to see above the numerous heads blocking her view of the doorway. "There aren't many who have that shade of hair color."

"It's him." Her ever-present companion confirmed with a small smile.

Relena all but ran across the distance to greet her only living blood relative. As her brother caught sight of her rushing forward towards them, his face lit up with a brilliant smile and he opened his arms to her.

Pushing aside any proper decorum, Relena flung herself into the tall blond man's arms. "It's so good to have you back again. I've missed you both so much," she whispered emotionally into his strong shoulder as she saw her friend and sister in marriage smile at her from over her brother's shoulder. A moment later she was hugging Lucretia also. As she pulled back, she smiled warmly at both of them. "When did you get back?" she asked taking in Milliardo's tall, well shaped form dressed in an dark grey Italian silk suit, his long hair tied back into a pony tail.

"Late this morning," Lucretia answered. "I'm afraid we over slept our naps."

Relena realized she had missed something and looked to both sides of the couple. "Where are your children?" she asked.

Milliardo smirked and chuckled. "They're coming," he assured her. "May was fussing about her dress and make up and her brother graciously offered to come with her after she finished making herself beautiful.

"Well, I can't wait to see May and meet Maximilian. It seems odd I've had a nephew for three years and I don't know him at all," Relena said.

Lucretia chuckled. "When you meet Maximilian, you'll feel as if you've known him for years." The dark haired woman's eyes met her husband's and they both looked like they were sharing an inside joke.

Heero joined them and took a step forward, his hand extended. "Welcome home," he said as Zechs took his hand.

"Good to see you, Heero. How have you been?" Zechs asked.

Heero paused to think about his answer, then replied. "I've been alright, and you?"

Zechs returned a polite answer that he was wonderful. Heero then turned to give a greeting to Noin before Relena steered them all to the buffet table where friends, business, and former military acquaintances welcomed them back.

The room was soon filled with people talking and eating. An open bar helped keep the mood upbeat as did some quiet background music.

Quatre had just returned to Trowa's side after speaking with Wufei, and was in mid sentence about a trivial topic when he noticed his lover's eyes widen perceptively with a look that spoke of disbelief and astonishment. Not moving his eyes from an area behind the smaller blond, he grabbed hold of the Arabian's shoulders firmly with both hands as if to anchor himself.

"Tell me that's who I think it is," Trowa said almost breathlessly with excitement, then turned the blond to face the opposite direction.

Furrowing his blond eyebrows in curiosity, Quatre turned his line of sight to follow the direction of Trowa's eyes. His blue eyes lit on a young couple just entering the room. The girl had beautiful red hair that was elegantly swept up with long curling tendrils artfully escaping down the side of her face and shoulders. Her posture was perfect and her eyes, which were currently focused on her male companion, sparkled with intelligence and humor. She was young, he guessed, but nonetheless beautiful. As he didn't immediately recognize her, his eyes strayed to her escort. Her male companion's face was currently turned away from his line of sight, and he appeared to be just as slender in the waist and hip as the girl and had long, unbound, cinnamon color hair that was loose and reached down to the middle of his back. As he watched, the girl leaned over and kissed her companion on the cheek, then turned to merger with the large gathering.

Her escort turned also, his face coming into view for the first time as his large blue-violet eyes scanned the room.

"By Allah!" Quatre gasped with awareness. "Duo!" Blindly grabbing the sleeve of his partner's suit, he pulled him along after him as he made a beeline for their long-missing friend.

The young man turned to them as they approached and the undeniably handsome face grew more beautiful as a slow, warm smile blossomed on his face.

"Duo!" Quatre exclaimed and opened his arms to receive the warm, ever welcoming hug Duo always bestowed on them. Quatre stopped short however, when he realized Duo was standing straight and proper, his smile still in tact with his right hand stretched out in greeting.

Automatically, the former Sandrock pilot lowered his arms and placed his hand in Duo's, and after a brief shake of the joined hands, Duo pulled him forward for a half hug and quickly let him go.

A bit stunned by his friend's formal behavior, Quatre stood and blinked stupidly as he watched Duo repeat the same greeting with Trowa.

"It's good to see you again. How have you been?" Duo asked in a tone and manner of perfect politeness.

"We're...fine Duo." Trowa answered, his eyes blinking in stunned wonder.

"Where have you been? What's happened to you?" Quatre blurted out, still disbelieving this civil and polite person was Duo, their Duo.

"Well, that's a rather long story." Duo smiled. "But to make it short," he leaned forward and gave them a conspiring wink, "I got a life."

"We've been worried sick, Duo." Quatre scolded lightly, his handsome face frowning with disapproval. However, aware that they were in a public setting, he kept this voice and tone down. "What ever made you take off like that, and for three years?"

The blue violet eyes observed his former war buddies as they stood side by side, their smiles of welcome had faded to a look at that was much more serious. "You did," he replied without anger or resentment in his voice. "Didn't you get my note?"

"Yes," Trowa answered. "But we didn't want you out of our lives like that, Duo."

The long haired young man raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Really? I thought your words clearly stated that you preferred I stay at arms length from you and the comfortable little niches you'd found for yourselves. It was pretty clear to me that not a one of you wanted me with you. If I remember right," he raised his hands and counted off the reasons as he spoke them, "I didn't fit into proper society, I was undisciplined, Cathy hates me, Relena wanted me out of her and Heero's life, and then my lover blew me off." He put his hands down and shrugged. "What didn't I understand?"

An uneasy silence fell between the three former friends as two of them clearly recalled the words they'd spoken over their friend's supposed sleeping form a little over three years ago.

Duo sighed with some satisfaction. With all the nervousness he'd felt at this reunion, it was surprising to him just how incredibly good it felt to get that off his chest. But he didn't really want to dwell on the past anymore; he had buried most of his hurt and anger under three years of hard work. He was here tonight to prove that he'd made good of the second chance the Peacecrafts had given him, starting at that moment by letting go of the past and the subject at hand.

Turning his head, his eyes strayed to look over the assemblage gathered to welcome back Zechs, Noin and their family. "Listen, don't get me wrong. I'm not angry...well, not anymore. Your words served a purpose and led me to a new life, a good life."

"One without us?" Quatre asked, feeling sad at the memory of their words, though not meant quite the way their friend had interpreted them, but nevertheless took Duo from them, and now it appeared their friend had a life of his own, with no room in it for them. Poetic justice is what Wufei would call the turnaround.

Duo turned his head to look squarely into the blond's eyes. "For the last three years, yes," he answered. "I was never one to stick around where I wasn't wanted." He continued in a casual, conversational tone that seemed so foreign to the Duo they had known, a person who had previously lived his life expressing his emotions rather freely. "But I've returned, having put the past behind me and the future still to be written. I don't need a place to go to or a friend who doesn't want or need me. I now stand on my own two feet." He gave his two former comrades a smile that spoke of his confidence and strong sense of self.

The other two young men stood dumbfounded at the air of self-assurance that rolled off the former Deathscythe pilot. It seemed like a complete stranger was standing in front of them.

A movement behind Duo brought Quatre to the awareness that Wufei was approaching them. With Duo's back to him, he had no idea what surprise was in store for him. Quatre inwardly smiled, knowing the Chinese Preventer was in for a shock.

Having shed his Preventer uniform in lieu of his traditional black Chinese suit, Wufei approached his two friends who were in conversation with another guest. "Excuse me." He shot a brief glance to the stranger on his interruption of their conversation, then focused his eyes on the two familiar faces. "May I have a word with you?" he asked them. His eyebrows drew together as Trowa smiled and Quatre tried to hold back his laughter.

"What?" Wufei looked down at his impeccable black suit to see if he'd acquired a spot.

"Wufei." Quatre's eyes sparkled with merriment at whatever private joke he was entertaining. "Let me reintroduce you to an old friend," he said and motioned to the guest they'd been talking to.

Turning, Wufei first became aware of a hand being held out to him. He took it in order to shake hands and then made eye contact with the other person for the first time and went absolutely, completely still. He had never been more shocked in his life.

"Hello Wufei. How are you?" Duo asked just as casually as if they had seen each other everyday for the last three years.

"Maxwell!" Wufei whispered in disbelief, his eyes widened in surprise for a moment, then settled his face into a scowl of disapproval. "Where the hell have you been for the last three years?" The Chinese man all but shouted his question, causing many of the guests in their vicinity to turn or look in their direction.

"Not here, that's for sure," the long haired man replied with a familiar teasing grin.

Wufei stared at his friend, registering the changes in his appearance and comportment.

"What's happened to you Duo?" he asked in a more normal tone, his face full of concern.

"Only good things I can assure you, Chang Wufei." And from the look on his face, the others could only believe it was true.

Wufei blinked in astonishment. Duo hadn't addressed him by one of the many pet names he always used instead of his proper name. After the first war ended, he'd given up trying to persuade or threaten the long haired teen into using his name properly. He'd gotten used to being called Wu-man, Wuffie, Fei-kun, Fei, Fei fi fo fum, Ching-Chang a walla walla bing bang, and any other twist on his first and last name that the former playful and irascible teen could come up with on the spur of a moment. He hadn't realized until the moment that Duo addressed him properly how much he missed the other's teasing.

"Duo?" The questioning voice came from behind the newly returned young man, and the eyes of those he was speaking to lifted in that direction with a look of slight apprehension to the person joining them. Easily recognizing the voice, the young, polished man steeled himself mentally. Though his heart was beating quickly, he managed to calmly turn with a gracious smile on his face and extended his hand out to the shocked, wide-eyed Japanese man.

Heero stared at the face he'd dreamed about for the last three years and noted the changes in his former lover. The rounded cheeks of the youth he'd loved had thinned as the boy grew into a man. Duo's former heart-shaped face was now a little more elongated into an oval, but the eyes were the same, big and beautiful. Duo had also grown, as had they all. He was still several inches shorter than himself, but he estimated his former lover was nearly five feet seven inches. Feeling numb, Heero's eyes moved downward to see a hand extended out for a handshake. Of all the things he and Duo had done together, they had never shaken hands before. He automatically responded by reaching out and clasping it, shaking the hand in his for a moment before Duo removed his from their grasp.

"It's good to see you Heero. You look well," Duo commented politely.

The Japanese man blinked at the stranger before him. The Duo he'd known previously would have yelled out a greeting, given an enthusiastic embrace, and then he would most likely whisper highly suggestive things into his ear while pinching his ass. But before him now stood a composed and polite gentleman. This wasn't the Duo he'd remembered, and this moment didn't even come close to any of the dreams he'd had of what their meeting again would be like. In his heart, he wanted the wild boy from L-2 back, not this stranger in expensive clothing and perfect manners.

Coming out of his shock and feeling overwhelmed by a number of emotions, Heero went to the easiest emotion to deal with in public, anger. His eyes narrowed. "Where have you been?" he growled.

"I'm fine," Duo smiled while speaking in a civil tone. "Thank you for asking. Yes, my trip was quite nice and the weather here is unusually warm for Spring, isn't it?" The well-groomed young man continued on with the conversation geared away from more personal matters.

"Duo." Heero growled threatening as he stepped forward, wanting to throttle this impostor and find the real Duo somewhere underneath the picture perfect young man.

"Excuse me." A young female voice called out interrupted whatever was about to happen as everyone stopped to turn and stare at her. Quatre recognized her as the girl who had come in on Duo's arm and now, seeing her up close, he could see that she was even more beautiful up close than what he'd perceived before. She moved in front of Heero and took hold of Duo's hand. "We're needed up front," she whispered, looking nervously at the young men surrounding her. Duo nodded, excused himself properly, then allowed the girl to lead him away and disappeared into a group of guests.

"What the hell?" Wufei muttered his confusion, expressing it for all of them as all four sets of eyes followed the two until they disappeared into the crowd. Never had any of them seen two more beautiful people together before.

Quatre rubbed his heart and looked aside to Heero, the source of the ache he was feeling. The former Wing pilot looked crestfallen as he watched the two walk away. Quatre instinctively wanted to offer his friend some comfort, but knew it wouldn't be appreciated, especially in public. He remembered well that Heero always gave Duo a bad time for any sign of physical contact in public, something Duo had always resented. Since that memory wasn't necessarily a good one, the blond turned his mind to something else, Wufei's voice.

"Did he tell you anything?" Wufei asked and Heero slowly drew his eyes away from the spot Duo had disappeared from and looked to the blond being addressed.

"Not where he's been or what brought about this change," Quatre answered.

"I don't like it," Heero stated sullenly.

The other three blinked in surprise. "Heero." Quatre stepped forward and put his hand on Heero's arm, risking the glare that didn't come. "We caused him to change when we each declined him a place with us. We were fools to think our indifference wouldn't affect him." The blond sadly shook his head. "We've all changed in the last three years, but who would have imagined this? At least it looks like he was safe and is happy. Isn't that the best of all the scenarios we came up with when we tried to imagine what kind of life he was living?"

The sound of a small bell ringing brought everyone's attention to the front of the room where a riser had been placed. The four former pilots could see Relena's face just above her guests, her arms motioning the crowd in front of her to come closer.

"Welcome everyone," Relena said with a warm smile on her face and a sparkle of happiness in her eyes. "If you could please step forward, I won't have to shout to be heard."

She smiled sweetly to those who complied with her request and the four former pilots made their way towards the front right side of the riser, led by Heero. The three shared an amused glance at each other as they followed in his wake. It was an inside joke between them that crowds of people always parted before the Japanese man like the story Duo told them about once about the Red Sea parting before Moses. Heero didn't even need to push his way through the crowd of people or beg their pardon, they simply took one look at his stoic, determined face, the piercing blue eyes intensely focused on his goal, and wisely stepped aside, and then quickly helped their date to do so even if they didn't understand why.

Reaching the desired spot near the small stage front, Heero looked back at his friends questioningly as they chuckled at some joke he was obviously not privy to.

Relena nodded and began her speech. "Thank you everyone for coming tonight to welcome my brother, Milliardo, and his family back home to Earth after three years on the Mars working on the terra forming project that we've all read so much about. We've missed you Milliardo and Lucretia, and we're so happy to have you back with us."

She paused in her speech as the welcoming guests began to applaud their agreeing sentiment. Relena joined in with her eyes on the two people before her. She then held her hands up to silence the crowd. "My brother has requested he make the introductions of his family. So, my dear brother, the stage is yours." She stepped down and the tall, platinum blond man stepped up and took her place.

He nodded and raised his hands to stop the applause of the three hundred and seventy five guests. "Thank you," he said, smiling warmly. "It's been a long but wonderful three years," he began. "Lucretia and I were proud to go to Mars and do our part to help with the terra-forming project, which is needed in order for life to exist on that barren planet. The ten square miles we've help to convert to an earth-like habitat will shortly be supporting more than just the scientists and teams of workers presently living and working there."

He was interrupted by more enthusiastic applause. He continued when it quickly died down. "This also proved to be a good time to have a family and to bond together as a cohesive unit. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our son Maximilian D. Peacecraft and daughter Mariemaia Kushrenada Peacecraft."

Zechs looked to the area directly in front of the stage and smiled broadly, his hands moved to indicate to the two being introduced to come forward. To the entire crowd's utter amazement, the handsome young man in the dark European style suit with the long, loose cinnamon colored hair and the beautiful red headed girl who had entered the room on his arm stepped up onto the stage to stand, one on each side of the tall blond man. As they turned to face the audience, many in the crowd audibly gasped at the beauty of the three, so different in contrast to each other, blond, redhead, and brunet.

"I'm proud to call these two my children and hope you will welcome and accept them as such."

Applause was the audience's reply, a very enthusiastic applause even though there were a few who stood numb with shock, namely the four former gundam pilots and Relena.

"If I only had a camera," said a low-toned yet feminine voice next to them.

Wufei turned to glare at Lady Une noting the easy smile on her face.

"The look of dumb shock on your faces is priceless," she added with a smug smile growing on her face as the applause around them came to an end.

"You knew, didn't you?" The Chinese Preventer accused her, already knowing the answer by her casual attitude to the news of Duo's adoption and the realization as to where he'd been for the past three years. Now Wufei knew why he found no trace at all of the former Deathscythe pilot, and he was anything but pleased with the deception and his superior's part in it. He inwardly fumed at the thought of the many hours he'd spent looking for his former comrade when someone he'd trusted withheld the information from him.

"Yes," she replied, aware that four sets of accusing eyes were turned on her. "I had to help Milliardo expedite the adoption papers and the official clearance necessary for Duo and May to join the research team. I was asked to keep it confidential," she added with a slight shrug, dismissing any guilt she should feel, but didn't.

"And I have one more announcement to make." Zechs called everyone's attention back to the front. His blue eyes sparkled with joy as he stood with his arm around each of his children as they stood at his side smiling politely. With a motion of his hand, Lucretia stepped up on the platform. The red headed girl moved to allow her mother to take her place at her husband's side. The tall willowy woman completed the contrasting picture. Her darker skin and black, shoulder-length hair cut in a bob added a new beauty to the handsome and diverse-looking family.

"Two months on a slow freighter coming back to Earth seems to have had another added benefit to our family," Zechs began, his eyes never leaving his wife. "We're expecting a baby."

Despite the aura of proper decorum the four on the riser had displayed, young Mariemaia squealed in delight at the news and hugged her mother enthusiastically. Duo was the first to congratulate the tall blond man giving him an embrace and a resounding thump on his back. It was apparent that the announcement was a pleasant surprise to the two adopted children as well.

Quatre happened to look aside to gage his friend's reactions. Heero's eyes were narrowed in displeasure and following his line of sight, he saw Zechs return Duo's hug, a warm, heartfelt one that had been denied them when they greeted Duo moments before. Wufei's mouth was pressed into a firm line as he gave a furious side-long glance towards Lady Une. Yes, he was clearly angry with her for withholding the information on Duo's whereabouts during the three years of search for him, spending endless hours on dead-end clues.

As he studied the others with interest and a bit of worry, Quatre felt a reassuring touch on his shoulder. Looking to the side and up, he was surprised to see an amused smile on Trowa's face. "What so funny?" he asked his lover, confused at what could be construed as humorous with the situation, but unable to not smile back.

"I swear Duo is just like a cat," Trowa said, his eyes lifting to the stage. "Whenever the odds are against him and he finds himself falling, he lands squarely back on his feet," he explained, then turned his smile on the blond. "And this time, he landed very well."

Quatre's eyes turned towards the obviously happy group of people just stepping off the platform. "He does look happy, doesn't he?" he observed.

Trowa pulled the smaller young man closer to his body, his arm tightening around his shoulders. "Almost as happy as we are," he whispered in his ear. Quatre's arm came around Trowa's waist and gave him a slight squeeze to confirm his agreement with that statement.

"Come on." Trowa continued to smile. "We came here to welcome Zechs and his new family home. I think we should do just that."

Quatre smiled lovingly up at his partner, still amazed at his good fortune that Trowa loved him back. With that brief statement and the warm smile on his love's handsome face, Quatre knew Trowa held no jealousy or animosity towards Duo for their brief relationship early in the war. Before they had gotten together, Trowa had no clue about it until they started to get serious about each other, then Quatre felt his soon-to-be lover had a right to know who he'd been involved with before they met, and that meant only Duo.

With their arms draped about each other, the two young men started forward and Quatre looked back. "You guys coming?" he asked.

Wufei looked like he had a bone to pick yet with his boss and Heero actually looked to be in an indecisive stupor.

"Come on Heero." Quatre gently urged his friend to follow. "Let's not let Duo slip through our fingers from neglect once again."

Heero blinked, as if coming out of a dream, then nodded his head and followed behind the two as they made their way to their newly returned friend and his family.

on to part 6

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