Pairings: 1x2x1, 3x4x3
Warnings; yaoi, citrus of all kinds, some angst
Rating: NC17 at parts

Summary: Picks up where Endless Waltz left off. Peace has finally come to the Earth and the colonies, and the Gundams have been destroyed along with all mobile suits and weapons of war. After a year apart, Heero and Duo try to settle down, and figure out civilian life and each other. Quatre is finally able to make peace with his past mistakes and steps up to claim his place as Winner heir. The end of the war leaves Trowa nameless and reeling, and with Quatre so absorbed in business, Trowa's wanderlust sets in.

AC 197
Part 1
by Granate

Relena Darlian had put all other duties on hold for the last twelve hours to attend to one she felt needed her attention above all others right now. She hadn't slept in probably over 24 hours, and hadn't changed clothes since the kidnapping, but that didn't even register at the monent. She watched with endless hope and patience for any tiny flicker over Heero's face. She was the only one allowed into the hospital room besides Doctor Sally. Preventer Une had posted round the clock guards outside the door and all over the hall, mostly to protect from the media.

"You've protected me, Heero, now let me protect you," she whispered, holding one of his large hands firmly between hers. She wouldn't let him disappear again, not like after the last war. God, she thought, that was only a year ago!

A year ago to the day, Heero had destroyed the Libra and saved the earth. He had then returned to the Peacemillion with everyone else for rest before going to earth, but Wing Zero had gone missing several hours later. She nearly kicked herself everytime she thought of the plane and the stuffed bear on her birthday. He'd been there! They'd even brushed shoulders! She had seen him out the window and then he was gone. At the time, she had been sure he'd turn up again, but he never did.

Lady Une had started the Preventers and immediately destroyed any evidence OZ had of the identities of the Gundam pilots. She thought they deserved to live normal lives, and appealed to the honor of the soldiers who had met them not to give any information to the media, who was of course obsessed with them. Quatre Winner was the only known gundam pilot. He and Relena, and anyone else involved, had been hounded relentlessly for any clues or tidbits of information. Quatre had spent a long time in the hospital recovering. Already dealing with overwhelming guilt, and grief he just couldn't shake, Quatre had sunk more or less into obscurity in the past year. Nothing had been heard from any of the gundam pilots until today, when they had stepped forward once again in the name of peace.

Relena was sure peace would reign now, because it was the PEOPLE who wanted it. And Heero had said the most beautiful thing she could ever have hoped for. I'll never kill again… I don't have to. She hoped that was true. She also hoped he would take up the offer she was going to give when he awoke.

Heero's brow furrowed and the side of his mouth twitched. Relena stroked his arm hopefully. Dr. Sally had said he would wake up shortly. He was not exactly in a coma, but he had lost consciousness due to exhaustion and extreme physical and psychological stress. Dr. Sally had treated him before, and she was the only doctor Relena trusted to bring Heero to, although this time, she didn't feel he needed to be tied down. Relena anxiously bit her lip as the patient's breath became stronger. His steely eyes flickered and finally opened.

"Heero," she said, holding back tears.

"Relena…?" he muttered, focusing his eyes on her. His brain immediately ran diagnostics and he reasoned he was in a hospital. Well, he was in a hospital GOWN, at any rate. He tried to sit up.

"Heero, just rest!" Relena pleaded, easing him back down, "The war is over, the Preventers are taking care of everything now. You're in St. Mary's hospital, and you're safe here. Dr. Sally and I have been looking after you. How are you feeling?"

"Fine," he answered, noticing her hands still clamped around one of his.

"I have something for you, do you feel up to talking?" she asked gently, "I'd wait until you were fully recovered, but it's been waiting a long time, and I think it's important that you hear it now."

He looked at her, wondering just what this talk was going to be about. "Now is fine, I suppose," he said.

Relena released his hand and dug into her purse. "Do you remember Mrs. Noventa?" she asked, pulling out an envelope.

"Of course," he answered quietly, "The Marshall's wife…" How could I forget? he wondered, the guilt rising again. He'd never forgiven himself for the damage he'd done in just that one move.

"She wrote this letter to you shortly after your visit with her," Relena said, "She entrusted me to give it to you, I just never got the chance… I've been carrying it around for over a year! I feel awful not having given it to you before, but I think its message is just as poignant for you now."

She handed him the letter. He took it uncertainly and opened it. Relena looked down at her lap, perhaps she should have given him some privacy to read Mrs. Noventa's letter. Not even Heero's stoney face could hide the emotion he felt as he read it. His heavy brows knit and he blinked in some sort of recollection.

Heero refolded the letter and looked away. He felt hollowed suddenly, carved out. A message of forgiveness and hope for the future! And written by a person from whom he deserved neither. It took even his brain a moment to process it.

"Thank you," he said feebly, looking again at the letter in his hand. Neither of them said anything for a moment.

Relena elegantly cleared her throat. "Heero," she began, touching his elbow. This was the speech she'd been preparing while waiting for him to awaken. "You don't have to answer this right now, I just want to give you a chance to think about it… I don't know if you've given any thought to what you are going to do next, but I'd like to offer you a few options. I'm sure Ms. Une would be glad to have you as a Preventer… and I would welcome you on my security team… especially after what happened on X-18999… Please don't feel pressured, take a few days to rest and think about it. I - "

Relena was interupted by a commotion in the hallway.

"Hey you there!! How'd you get in here?!" a guard shouted, "This is a restricted area, I'm gonna have to ask you to - HEY! Get back here!"

"I told you!" a familiar voice growled, "I'm a friend of his!"

Relena looked back at Heero but the bed was empty! He was already up and had found his clothes. Before she could say anything, he was stepping into his shiny black shorts.[1] She looked away, blushing slightly.

"Heero, you can't leave yet - ," she started. She looked back and he had his tank top on and was pulling on his jeans. She was interrupted again by the scuffle outside.

"Hey! You better let me go, or I'll - !" the boy in the hallway threatened. Heero hurriedly tied his shoes.

"Relena, I'll get back to you about that," he said as he grabbed his blue shirt and escaped through the door.

"Heero!" Relena cried, going after him.

Heero appeared just as Duo was about to face off with three guards and two interns. Everybody saw the patient and froze. Relena watched blankly from the doorway as Heero grabbed the braided boy by the wrist and they took off down the hall.

"HEERO!" she called after him.

"Wah! Where are we going?!" Duo asked, trying to keep up with Heero as the Japanese pilot pulled him down the stairs to avoid the news teams.

Heero didn't stop. "I don't know," he answered, "Do you have a car?"

"Yeah, in the parking garage," Duo answered.

They managed to avoid the reporters and Duo led him to the car. Once they were inside, Heero crawled over the console and pinned Duo up against the door. He straddled Duo's legs and kissed him hungrily.

"Whoa!" Duo exclaimed dizzily when Heero finally took a break, "You must be feeling better! I'm seein' STARS!"

"I owe you an apology…" Heero said, figiting with Duo's jacket.

"Huh?" Duo asked. Heero's deft fingers unzipped his leather coat and slipped under his shirt. Duo winced when they gently traced the bruise that had formed there.

"Oh, that!" Duo laughed. Heero liked the way his stomach moved when he laughed. "Hey, I punched you first, remember?" Duo asked, running his thumb over the faint bruise on Heero's cheek.

"I did it so you wouldn't follow me or try to stop me," Heero told him, leaving his hands where they were. He still didn't know how in HELL he'd forced himself to punch his lover so hard the boy had passed out.

"I know," Duo smiled, "Boy, do you know me! But I'm not falling for that one again!" A tiny smile curled Heero's lips as he leaned in to press Duo to the glass again with more kisses. Duo wrapped his arms protectively around him and dug his fingers through Heero's dark hair.

After a few minutes, Heero sat back again and looked into the depth of Duo's eyes.

"What are you thinking about doing now?" he asked almost shyly.

Duo grinned like the cheshire cat and his cobalt eyes flashed, "Do you really have to ASK what I'm thinkin' about doing right now?!"

"No, I mean, what are you going to do now that the war is over," Heero clarified.

"Oh!" Duo said part embarrassed, part disappointed, "Well, I'll probably go back to L2… I've got some ideas… and a meeting with Lady - I mean Agent Une tomorrow morning… I don't really know yet, but I'd sure like some company…" he blinked hopefully at Heero. This is what he should have said to Heero a year ago.

"Relena offered me a job on her security team, and I think I'm going to take it," Heero said. He continued on about whatever job it was, but that's all Duo heard. It was like he just went deaf. He'd waited a whole frickin' year to see Heero again, and they'd lived through ANOTHER war, and now they weren't going to be together?! This just couldn't be happening, it just wasn't right.

"Duo!" Heero said loudly, shaking his shoulders a bit, "Are you even listening to me?"

Duo snapped back, "Sorry, I sorta spaced out," he whispered.

"I was asking what you thought about the commute," Heero continued.

"Commute?" Duo blinked, clueless and numb.

"From L2 to Earth?" Heero impatiently reminded him. "She's not going to need me all the time - " He was interupted by the long-haired boy hugging him so hard he couldn't breath.

"Oh, Heero! Oh, god…!" Duo laughed.

Heero managed to loosen Duo's grip. "What's gotten into you?" he asked, catching his breath. He didn't know why he sometimes forgot just how strong Duo was.

"Man, for a moment there, I thought you were staying on earth!" Duo managed to wheeze.

"Duo!" Heero said, sounding a little upset. His voice changed to a growl as he pinned Duo's shoulders against the door, "I warned you before, that if you took me back, it would be for good. You wanted me, so now you're stuck with me. I'm not leaving you, whether you like it or not."

Duo grinned back, "What a fine mess I've gotten myself into!"

"Yeah, you and your big mouth…" Heero smirked, leaning in to kiss that mouth again. His hand snuck down Duo's stomach and onto the front of his pants.

"Whoa!" Duo halted him when he got too bold, "Heero, we're in a parking garage!" If Heero kept this up much longer, his self-control would be out the window.

Heero was very persistant, "Do you think I care right now? We've got a lot of time to make up for…" It was true, thay had been apart for a year, and only had the chance to do it once before the mission started. Heero had picked him up, they'd made their 'amends' in the back of the shuttle, and had just finished when Preventer Sally's ship came into range. Infact, Duo had to take the call because Heero was still pulling his clothes on.

Duo pushed him off with a laugh. "You'll care when we're plastered all over the news and Relena fires you!" he joked.

"Then, let's go somewhere!" Heero said urgently, "Are you staying someplace?"

"Yeah, Une's got us somewhere secure," Duo said, starting the car and buckling his seat belt.

Heero clicked his belt and looked at his partner. "Let's go."

[1] oh, come on, you KNOW he's got 'em on under those jeans!

on to part 2

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