by Dyna Dee
Despite his throbbing headache and sour stomach, Duo raced to the Preventers' Building the next morning. He'd been awakened at seven by Quatre as promised, but instead of a cheerful greeting his friend sounded unusually grim and had urged him to turn on the television. As the picture blinked on, it was clear that something catastrophic had happened. The reporter was in the foreground speaking of an explosion and of immediate rescue efforts. Behind him were smoldering ruins of some unknown building with men and women in various uniforms racing back and forth, soot and grim expressions darkening their faces.
With the phone to his ear, he listened as Quatre told him what had transpired: that the Parliament building in London, the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. and the Kremlin in Moscow had all been the target of long-range rocket launchers. No responsibility for the attacks had been announced and the estimated damage and death toll were yet to be announced.
Duo quickly showered, dressed and drove to Preventers in record time. The questions foremost in his mind were, who could have arranged the simultaneous attacks and why? What was the unknown group's agenda? Upon checking in at the front desk, he was directed by the sober faced guard to go immediately to Director Une's office. Once there, Dorothy Catalonia, now Une's secretary/sharp-tongued guard dog, promptly ushered him inside. Though she showed none of the emotional turmoil that seemed to be present on the faces of everyone he'd passed on the streets and in the building, he detected a glint of worry in her eyes as she opened to door to Une's inner office and motioned him inside.
Wufei, Milliardo Peacecraft and Lucretia Noin were already in attendance, and as soon as he'd taken the one free chair left, Director Une began the meeting. She basically had no more information on the three bombings than what the press had reported that morning. Initial government reports indicated that the attacks appeared to be simultaneous, well thought out and coordinated, carried out by one or more undisclosed groups who were evidently well financed and organized enough to be able to pull off late evening assaults on guarded government buildings. With that conjecture the Preventers found reason enough to become involved in the investigation
She turned to each of her agents with their new assignments. Duo was to leave immediately for Washington, D.C. as Preventers' explosives expert to officially offer his assistance to the F.B.I. Likewise, Noin was going to London and Milliardo to Moscow with the same directive. Wufei would head the upgrading of security in Sanq's government buildings as well as Preventer Headquarters, aided by Heero and Trowa after they returned from their current assignment, which was being handed over to other field agents. The two absent Preventers would spend the morning briefing their replacement team regarding their case before returning to headquarters later that evening.
After they were dismissed, Duo walked quickly to his office with Wufei at his shoulder. His worries and insecurities from the day before were now a thing of the past, and his embarrassment from having blabbered his feelings about Heero to Quatre was something he no longer had time to dwell on. How trivial his problems now seemed in light of the morning's disastrous news. Still, it was a relief to have something important to divert his attention away from Heero and their so-called relationship. He swore to himself never to drink that much beer on an empty stomach again. More than three beers consistently turned him into an emotional pendulum, swinging from a happy-go-lucky guy to a weepy sap, the mood swings shifting rapidly from one extreme to the other. He'd poured his heart out to Quatre and was now deeply embarrassed by his emotional breakdown. He'd apologize to the blond when he returned from Washington, D.C.
"Keep in touch," the Chinese agent reminded his fellow Preventer as they neared the office at the end of the hall.
"Will do," Duo replied distractedly, his mind already turning to the task ahead of him and desperately wanting to get a hold of the bottle of aspirin in his desk drawer for his throbbing headache.
"Do you want to leave a message for Heero?"
Now there was the million dollar question. Should he return Heero's insensitivity or should he be the better man and leave a note? He again recalled parts of his conversation with Quatre the night before, and now that he was sober, the idea that perhaps Heero didn't know any better seemed more plausible. Aware that Wufei was waiting for his answer, he realized that whatever his response was it would send a clear message to the office gossip mill about how his and Heero's relationship was going. Appearance was crucial to their plan continuing successfully.
"Ah, yeah. I'll take a moment to jot something down and leave it on his desk."
Walking together into the shared office, they found it empty. Wufei mumbled that Byrd and Kurhle were probably in the break room watching the latest news reports along with most of the world's population. Duo sat down at his desk and turned on his computer. As it booted up, he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket to remove his wallet and set it on the top of his desk. He quickly made a search of the net, typed in the pertinent information required, removed his credit card from his wallet and charged his selected purchases to his account. Less than five minutes later his computer was off and a hastily scribbled note was set on Heero's desk, awaiting his return. After a brief embrace, he bid Wufei a quick goodbye then turned and rushed out of the room, his laptop encased in its satchel and hanging from his shoulder. He had one hour to return to his apartment, pack and make it to the airport for his long flight to the United States.
A bit blurry-eyed from having gotten very little sleep the night before, Agent Yuy walked into the Preventers' building the morning after his late-night return at precisely 7:55 a.m. It was good to be back, he thought to himself. He checked in with the security desk, then proceeded up the stairs, silently looking forward to seeing Duo and carrying on where they'd left off. The deal they'd made was working out better than he ever thought possible. He was a bit worried though. Apparently Duo had been upset by something, because Quatre had left several voice mail messages for Trowa, instructing him to have Heero call Duo and to be prepared to grovel. He'd not spoken to Duo since his hasty departure from the office - the case they were on didn't allow them time for personal calls - but he was pretty sure he hadn't said or done anything wrong.
After delivering Quatre's message, Trowa asked him why he hadn't called Duo when it became clear that they would have to follow their suspects out of the country. He thought about that question, and wondered if that was the reason why Duo was upset. He'd said a proper goodbye in the office, and that had always been acceptable in the past. Yet as he thought of it, he realized that Trowa was always on the phone or emailing Quatre about everything that transpired in the office and in the lives of their friends and coworkers. He began to worry that he'd dropped the ball, as Duo would say. But if frequent communication was vital to the appearance of being a couple, why hadn't Duo called him or at least left a message?
He was still pondering the complexity of relationships when he entered the large office to find Wufei and agent Kurhle working intently at their desks. He figured Duo must be out with Trowa, getting the first round of morning coffee and tea. He wondered if buying Duo a chocolate filled croissant at break would be an acceptable way of apologizing for any possible lapse on his part.
With a wave of his hand, greeting the other two, Heero went straight to his desk only to stop in front of it and stare down in confusion at the unusual object sitting there. A large, green potted plant was sitting in the middle of his desk and next to it was a folded piece of white paper with his name written on it in Duo's handwriting. Picking the paper up, he opened it and read the contents, his smile fading. Why hadn't anyone told him that Duo was out on assignment, in Washington, D.C., no less, helping to investigate the bombing? The note explained not only where Duo had gone, but that the plant on his desk, a rather exotic looking thing, was a gift for him. Duo had written something vaguely romantic on the card, which Heero guessed was for the benefit of their constant observers. Basically, he asked Heero to water the plant daily and to think of him each time he performed the task. The note went on to say that each day they were apart, something would be sent to him by courier, each gift a reminder that Duo was thinking of him also.
"So what's it say?" Trowa asked with interest as he walked through the open doorway with agent Byrd, both carrying disposable cups in each hand. A knowing grin was on the taller man's face as he spied the note in his hand, suggesting to Heero that Trowa had a pretty good idea about the contents of the note. All the better, he thought. Things would be so much easier if their closest friends truly believed he and Duo were together.
Giving the questioning man a careless shrug, he put the note in the top drawer of his desk and pushed the plant to the left corner where it wouldn't be in the way but would remain in eyesight. He removed the plastic tab from the dark soil and read the instructions on how to care for his gift. It didn't seem to be too difficult to care for, though he might have to move it into direct sunlight in the afternoon. With any luck he wouldn't accidentally kill it before Duo returned.
"That's rather romantic of Maxwell," Wufei's voice cut into his thoughts, and Heero wondered if their Chinese friend had read the note in his absence. "He's full of surprises, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is," Heero answered as he sat down at his desk and gave his friend a lopsided smirk as he booted up his computer. His eyes turned to the large plant, admiring it's green, boat-shaped leaves and several long stalk that stretched up from the center with a large bud on each tip.
"Looks like a Bird of Paradise."
"A what?" He looked up at Trowa as the other man set down what he could only presume to be his morning cup of tea.
"The plant. If I'm not mistaken it's called a Bird of Paradise," Trowa answered just before he took a sip of his own hot beverage.
"Tropical. Maybe Duo's planning on an island honeymoon."
Heero blinked, surprised by Trowa's comment. The words "Duo" and "honeymoon" had never before, at least in his experience, been used together. The mental image of Duo on a tropical beach with his hair blowing in the warm breeze, his body tanned from hours of lying on the beach, a wedding band glistening on his ring finger certainly wasn't an unpleasant daydream. He looked up at his friend, still standing in front of his desk, and smiled.
"An island, mountain or desert, it doesn't matter where we go as long as he's willing." It was comical to watch those green eyes widen in surprise and for the room to become silent enough to hear agent Byrd swallow. It wasn't often that Heero, who normally kept private matters to himself, managed to startle his fellow agents.
Appearing to be at a loss for words, Trowa turned and moved towards his own desk, supposedly to finish his coffee before the three former gundam pilots were scheduled to inspect the judicial and parliament buildings as well as the newly re-constructed royal palace for security flaws.
Two hectic and exhausting weeks passed quickly since Heero's return and Duo's departure and despite the in-depth analyzing, the rigorous tightening of security and the heavy, dark pall that continued to hang in the air following the attacks, the office somehow managed without the indomitable Duo Maxwell being present. As promised, Heero was presented with a packaged gift each work day, delivered by mail or a carrier. Possibly because they needed something bright in their lives when things in the world seemed to be going so horribly wrong, the anticipated arrival of his daily gifts seemed to be the highlight of everyone's day. Heero had received chocolates and other candy, packages of his favorite tea, incense, tickets to an upcoming hockey game, a gift certificate for a restaurant in town, and other very thoughtful gifts that generally stayed away from being too intimate in nature.
To say their fellow agents were impressed by Duo's thoughtfulness was a gross understatement. The whole building seemed abuzz with talk of the two top Preventers' love affair and the wonderful gifts Maxwell had sent in his absence. Heero felt badly that he hadn't been as thoughtful when he'd been away. It just hadn't occurred to him that giving gifts in such a way was acceptable between two men; but from Duo's example he had learned a new lesson and he had every intention of reciprocating his "boyfriend's" showy courtship as soon as he returned.
The announcement came over the television that the FBI, in conjunction with the Preventer organization and local law enforcement, had arrested several suspects in connection with the rockets launched in Washington, D.C. The names and faces of those men and women being charged were released, as well as their part in smuggling the illegal arms into that country.
Shortly after that announcement, Director Une issued a statement that Preventer Agent Maxwell had turned the remainder of the investigation over to the investigative agencies of the United States, with promises to coordinate any further findings from agents Noin and Zechs, still out in the field.
A call came to Heero's desk five minutes after that welcomed announcement was made. Heero answered, and those who happened to glance his way saw an uncharacteristically bright smile growing on his face as Duo announced he was on his way home. With everyone in the office listening to his every word, Heero made arrangements to meet Duo at the airport. His flight would arrive at eleven p.m. that evening. He hung up the phone with the smile on his face as the told the others. It had been good to hear the other man's voice again. His eyes rose to catch a glimpse of his fellow agents and chuckled after realizing their broad, relieved smiles matched his own. It appeared that everyone else had missed Duo's presence as much as he had. There was no doubt now, after all the gifts and notes he'd received from the braided agent during the past two weeks, that everyone believed he and Duo were what they claimed to be, devoted boyfriends. They were home free... well, almost. There was only one more thing he had to pull off in order to insure their erstwhile matchmakers left them alone forever.
Unfortunately, he had to put off his plan to speak with Duo on his arrival because he had company when he drove to the airport that evening. Wufei had invited himself along, stating he wanted to run his security improvements by Duo to see if he could add anything else to what they'd already done. Heero could have taken that comment as an insult because he and Trowa had used their own expertise while working right alongside the Chinese man to increase security within the Preventer buildings and Sanq's government offices in general, but he didn't. He wasn't sure what Wufei was up to, but he saw his excuse to accompany him for the ruse that it was.
Half way to the airport, Heero determined to find out the real reason for Wufei's company. "Do you want to tell me why you decided to come to the airport with me tonight?" And then he rushed to add, " And don't say it's to run things past Duo that we've already dealt with. We both know that's not the reason." Getting to the point was always the best approach with Wufei.
The black-haired man pulled his black jacket together as if he were cold, so Heero turned up the car's heater and waited for an answer.
With a somber tone to his voice, Wufei admonished, "Don't play him, Heero."
"You heard me. Don't think you've had me fooled. I know this dating business is something the both of you cooked up to get people off your backs in regards to setting you up."
"How would you know that? Did Duo say something to you?" Heero spared a glance away from the road to glare at the other man, but Wufei was never intimidated by that tactic.
"The timing gave it away. You have to admit it was a bit suspect that your interest in Duo began after his tirade which resulted from Quatre trying to set him up with his sister. And of course I've spoken with Duo, he's my friend, but he didn't said anything that would give the game away. I've watched the both of you for a long time and know you well enough to have guessed what was going on. I can also see that this isn't just a game, at least not to Duo. You're treading dangerous ground, Heero, and I don't want either of you to get hurt. You and Duo are family to us, and if either of you are hurt, then we hurt as well."
"Do Trowa and Quatre share your suspicions?"
"I've not spoken to them about this, other than Quatre telling me that Duo got drunk off his ass when you didn't call or tell him that you'd left the country on assignment. You do know how he felt about you during the wars, don't you?"
Heero nodded. "I know he tried to be my friend, even when I made it difficult for him."
"It's really not my place to tell, Heero, but I think someone should say something before this farce goes any further. Duo was in love with you back then."
"I know," Heero replied softly, thoughtfully. "He wasn't especially obvious, but I couldn't help but notice how he touched me whenever he could and that his hand always lingered a bit longer than normal. He went out of his way to be a friend to me, he rescued me, patched me up, then fed and cared for me. Even when I stole parts of Deathscythe to fix Wing he forgave me. But the big giveaway was his eyes; even though he never uttered his feelings for me, his eyes gave away his heart."
"Did you not feel the same for him? Is that why you never reciprocated his feelings?"
Heero shook his head. "I was too focused on the mission, driven to live up to the expectations placed on me to complete my objectives and bring a successful conclusion to the war. I lived to that end, Wufei, knowing that when the war was finally over and, if I survived, I could finally reclaim my life. I knew how he felt for me back then, but circumstances dictated that I not encourage him, and truthfully, I didn't know how I felt about him or anyone else. I was somewhat relieved when he first appeared to move on and took an interest in other people."
Silence descended within the confines of the car once more, then after several long moments, Wufei asked the inevitable. "And now?"
"That's between myself and Duo."
"Have you been honest with him?"
Pause. "Not entirely."
"You're insufferable, Yuy," Wufei huffed, clearly annoyed. "If you hurt him again, you'll have the three of us to deal with."
"I have no intention of hurting Duo."
"That, at least, is good to know."
The remainder of the ride to the airport was completed in awkward and total silence.
Duo came through customs ahead of the other passengers, having waved his Preventer identification to the proper authorities. His eyes scanned the waiting area and quickly located his two friends. His smile didn't falter after discovering Wufei standing alongside Heero, though he felt unexpectedly disappointed by his Chinese friend's presence. He had just about worked himself up to the point of confessing his true feelings to Heero, but it seemed fate was telling him to think that decision over once again. He carefully controlled his expression, not wanting Wufei to know he felt any disappointment from his friend's presence.
With his grin fixed, he approached the two. "Hey guys, thanks for picking me up," he said cheerfully. He intended to briefly embrace Wufei and then give their friend a show by hugging Heero for a longer time, maybe whispering in his ear to make it look good, but before he could execute his first move, Heero was on him. With arms of steel wrapping around him, the other man's face became buried in his neck. Loving this unexpected greeting, Duo easily returned the embrace and held the other man tightly until Heero made a move to step back. Now the kiss, even through it didn't include tongue, was something he hadn't anticipated, considering they were standing in a very public place. He thought that if this was the homecoming he could expect from Heero, he might have to go away more often.
The clearing of a throat finally separated them, but only for a brief moment before Heero quickly embraced him again, whispering softly into his ear, "Careful, Wufei's onto us."
Ah, that was the reason for the unexpected show of affection. Disappointed yet again, Duo managed to shove that feeling down in order to step back and glance at their annoyed-looking friend. "Seeing you here is a surprise, Wufei. It's two hours past your regular bedtime. How are you holding up?"
"Well enough, and I'm afraid your information is wrong; it's not my habit to go to bed at nine," Wufei replied. "It's good to have you back, though I've noted the office has been unusually tidy and quiet. We actually got some work done in your absence." The slight smile on his face indicated the Chinese man was kidding.
The three agents turned towards the exit and Wufei took the lead in directing them back to the car, located in the parking garage.
"Thank you for the gifts," Heero said, putting his arm around Duo's shoulders as they walked and giving the braided agent a knowing look in the direction of Wufei.
"Did you like them?" asked Duo.
"Yes, it was very thoughtful of you to send them to me."
"And the talk of the whole building," Wufei added over his shoulder. "You're making the rest of us look bad, Duo. Tone it down a bit will you?"
"Jealous?" Duo snickered.
A snort was his reply.
It seemed natural to put his arm around Heero's waist, not to mention that it made walking in close proximity of the other man much easier. How long had he dreamed of being able to touch Heero in such a casual, familiar way? Before thinking, he squeezed Heero's waist and leaned into his side, craving to be as close as possible. With a start he realized what he was doing and silently scolded himself. He had to be more careful, being on the point of no return where Heero was concerned. For all he knew the man whose arm was so casually slung over his shoulder was only acting on the deal they'd made, to simply give the appearance of being a couple. Any free time he'd had during their separation, he'd debated over and over with himself what course of action he should take, feeling like he couldn't take this uncertainty any longer. He'd come to the conclusion that he just needed to suck it up and be up front and honest with Heero, to tell him about the depth of his feelings even though he feared the consequences might be the other man distancing himself, perhaps even cutting off their friendship if he felt uncomfortable with the idea. Maybe it was just as well that Wufei came along for the ride.
Once the three men were in the car and back on the road, the talk turned to their work assignments. Duo spoke of all that had happened in Washington, D.C. most of it dry investigative stuff, before the other two brought him up to speed on the improved, local security measures Wufei, Trowa and Heero had made. From their detailed descriptions, he doubted there was any place on Earth or on a colony as secure as the royal and government buildings in Sanq.
Stopping in front of Wufei's place of residence, the two bid their friend goodbye and goodnight as he climbed out of the car. They watched as he disappeared inside the front door of his apartment building before Heero turned the car away from the curb and back onto the road. After Duo questioned him regarding what Wufei knew and how, Heero told him an edited version of the conversation he'd had with the other man while driving to the airport, leaving out the part dealing with Duo's feelings for him during the war and his reasons for not responding.
Duo sighed and rested his head against the back of the front passenger seat. "Guess we shouldn't be too surprised that he guessed something was up. I can't believe that Quatre hasn't figured things out yet."
Even though he was driving, Heero wondered at the expression of guilt on Duo's face. "Wufei pieced things together, but I didn't confirm anything about our deal."
"Good. Even if he has figured things out, I don't think he'd give us any flack. Wu's a good friend, and he's really come a long way from his ‘my way or else' mode of thinking that he had during the war. I'm still trying to get used to the idea that he has a sense of humor."
Duo leaned forward and turned on the car's radio and found a music station that fit his preferences, and in doing so ended their conversation. The music had a hard-driven beat and the words were almost unintelligible. Even so, Duo's head nodded to the drumbeat as he sang along, his hands and feet moving in time.
Heero drove up to the front of Duo's apartment building and stopped the car. His passenger turned in his seat in order to regard him, turned down the music and asked, "So you liked the gifts I sent?"
"I told you I did. They were very appropriate, just short of showy but still masculine. It was a very nice, thoughtful touch which I believed helped to convince everyone that we're a solid couple. Looks like we've been more than successful in this venture."
"Is the Bird of Paradise still alive?"
"And blooming." Heero smiled as he recalled the scarlet red petals that had slowly opened up to reveal a treasure of a bright yellow center. He'd lost count of how many agents, male and female, who had stopped by the office to admire and comment on the stunning plant that surprisingly appealed to his very masculine taste.
Duo moved to open the door and to say goodnight when Heero stopped him by saying, "I'll have a surprise waiting for you in the office tomorrow."
"Really?" The blue-violet eyes widened with anticipation.
"Can't have everyone thinking you're the only one who can be romantic."
Duo laughed and Heero smiled at the sound of it. "You were never one to let anyone out perform you," the braided man teased, then leaning over he planted a brief kiss on Heero's lips. "Except me." Duo said with a grin. "I'm the better pilot, remember? Night, Heero. See you in the morning."
"Need a lift?"
"Nah, think I'll ride my bike in. I kind of missed it while I was gone." Duo jumped out and the car door shut swiftly behind him, leaving anything Heero wanted to add hanging on his tongue.
After watching the braided man enter his building, Heero shook his head, gripped the steering wheel and muttered a frustrated, "Damn!" He left the radio on as he returned to his apartment, hoping to drown out his own thoughts and hold back the feeling of loneliness that followed in the wake of Duo's departure.