disclaimer: not mine

warnings: bl, au, mild angst, sappish

Brand New Key
by Merith

Duo stood in the hallway just outside the ward doorway. He glanced around, eyes assessing each person, sliding away from patients lining the walls in wheelchairs or sitting slumped on vinyl-covered chairs. The note crinkled in his hand and he shoved it back into his pants pocket.

It'd been almost a year since he'd seen him last; if not for the short note, it would have been much longer. He ran a hand through his hair, thinking he should have maybe cut it before showing up at this place. But, he'd promised Quatre, and grow it back out, he would.

Another quick glance around the hall, and a deep breath in and out, Duo crossed into the ward, flushing when so many eyes turned his way. Heero would be in the last bed, and not looking his way.

Passing each bed, Duo nodded his head, acknowledging the patients, knowing them without knowing who they were. Brothers they were, if in experience only. A radio played some silly pop tune, and Duo threw it a glance, murmuring, "roller-skates and keys" under his breath. But he was smiling when he reached the foot of Heero's bed.

"Hey," he said softly, waiting for Heero to turn his head, to see him. His heart thumped loudly, and he was sure Heero could hear it. At least the note had warned of Heero's appearance. Duo kept his eyes focused on Heero's face, away from what he knew was missing, and didn't want confirmed. At least, not just yet.

Heero turned his head, and Duo caught his breath. Other than the slight tightening of his lips, Heero didn't acknowledge his presence. "I-I just found out you were..." he gestured to the bed, moving a little closer. "...that you were here."

His lips parted and his throat worked, but instead of the words Duo half expected, Heero shut his eyes, closed his mouth with a snap and turned away to face the wall again.

"Ah, Heero, man." And Duo pressed up to the side of the bed, picking up Heero's hand from where it lay on the blanket. "I wanted to see you, Heero. I wanted to know how you were doing... that you were-were still living."

"I live," Heero said, still facing the wall.

Duo chuckled softly, squeezing the hand in his. "That's good, 'cause Night of the Living Dead was a pretty sick movie."

Heero shifted under his blanket, shot a glance his way, and jerked his hand from Duo. "Why are you here?"

Humor lost, Duo stared at Heero lying in bed. "I thought I said - I wanted to see you."

"Why?" Heero's voice dropped low, his eyes clinging to Duo's face.

Looking back down the ward, Duo turned away, reaching for the privacy curtain. He pulled it over, clinging to the heavy material for a moment before letting go and facing Heero. "The last thing you said to me before I hopped on that copter," Duo told him, moving back to his place by the bed, and reaching for Heero's hand again. "Wasn't it you who told me "you will be the first person I look for when I hit stateside. So don't go disappearing on me."?"

Heero dropped his eyes, but left his hand in Duo's grip. "Your hair," he said, still looking away. "It's getting long."

"Yeah," Duo said softly. His free hand rose, and he fingered the straight shock over Heero's forehead. "You need a cut, too." He let his fingers trace down the side of Heero's face, the pad of his thumb to caress the vivid red line over Heero's cheek. "How-how'd it happen?" he asked, keeping his voice low and settling on the side of the bed.

"A grenade." And Heero let go a heavy rush of air, his hand squeezed Duo's tight. "It was a greenie; tripped a wire and I was too late."

Duo leaned down, giving Heero's cheek a quick brush of his own. "It's going to be okay, Heero. You're alive, and we're together again."

Heero covered his eyes with his free hand, his grip tight in Duo's hand. "He was fucking killed two steps beside me, Duo. How the fuck does that make it okay?"

"You cared, Heero. That's what makes it okay. You cared." And he turned his head, giving Heero a kiss. "And you're here now, however you got here." He kissed him again, below his hand, just above his lips. "And you're out of there, and that's fucking great."

Duo sat up, watching Heero. His hand was nearly numb; Heero's strength still raw and boundless. But, he left his hand where it was, and waited. For an instant, he had been transported back more than a year, knee-deep in the Shit. For an instant, he couldn't remember wanting a drink so badly his hands began to tremble.

"I lost my foot," Heero said, his voice thick, and his hand still covering his eyes.

"But the rest of you is here." Duo glanced down Heero's body, then, seeing evidence of something wrong under the blankets.

"I might not walk properly again."

Duo shrugged. "You'll learn to use crutches or maybe we can get you a peg-leg or something."

Heero's lips quirked upward, and his hand slid from his face. "A peg-leg? Like a pirate?" And he laughed faintly at Duo's nod. His smile faded, and he held Duo's hand in both of his. "You know if we do this, it's going to be rough. People won't understand, and..." Duo's fingers covered his mouth.

"Go to Santa Cruz, you told me. The one place you wanted to live after your Army stint." Duo swallowed and touched the half-healed mark on Heero's face. "I've got a little place, and I'm going to the university there. It's everything you told me it was."

"You're living in Santa Cruz?" Heero asked, pulling Duo's hand away. Duo gave him a nod, and Heero inhaled deeply. His grip eased, and he shifted his gaze to stare at the foot of his bed. "I don't know how long I'll be in here, but..." He flicked his eyes up to meet Duo's and back again. "If you want to come back and visit-"

"I do," Duo cut in immediately. "I'll come down every day if I have to. And I'll be here when you sign the release papers. I'll be here to take you home."

Heero smiled then, small and hesitant. His eyes moved to watch Duo. "Home," he said, testing the word. "I like that."


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