"Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has been informed that due to unusually heavy traffic, our landing has been delay into L2-65V9. Our expected wait time should be minimal. However, we will bring around the beverage cart once more. On behalf of the captain, the crew, and Stellar Spaceways, we apologize for the inconvenience."
Heero looked up from the documents he was working on at the announcement and checked his watch. Knowing Duo would be waiting, he suppressed a curse. His hand hesitated on the on-board phone. Duo would already know of the delay, Heero dropped his hand; he had no new information to give and didn't want to begin anything they couldn't discuss over the phone. Rubbing his eyes tiredly, he wanted nothing more than to be home.
A roughened, slightly, inebriated voice said in a too loud whisper, "Hey honey, got somewhere we can go for a little privacy - if you know what I mean."
His eyes flicked right, and confirmed it was the marketing manager propositioning one of the female flight attendants. The man was a genius in sales; his pitch to their clients always left them submitting orders. But, after a couple of drinks, the man became an ass of the worst sort. Resisting the urge to introduce the man to his fist, Heero looked away in disgust.
Returning to the document he was reviewing revived the simmering anger he'd been experiencing throughout the trip. Except for amendments in pricing and licensing, the contract was the same as when he drew it up over two years before. He could have reviewed it from the home office and saved the trip.
Public Relations had never been his forte. The early training he'd received had been too ingrained, and even twenty years later, being the center of attention was still disconcerting. As the project representative, he found his duties included client dinners and after meal cocktails; most did little more than inflate the budget and make alcoholics of executives. Even this trip, with a known prospect, it was expected to attend a two-hour meal, and three hours in an upscale lounge every night.
Heero frowned and shot a quick glance at his co-worker. At least the man had calmed down after the attendant's threat of a fine. His gaze slid to another member of the project team. She was new, but worked hard, spent even more time at the office than he did. Heero had seen framed photographs of a man and a couple of kids in her office, but knew little about her personal life. He'd assumed they were her family, but didn't ask. As if she felt his eyes on her, she turned her head. He nodded silently, and she offered a short smile before turning back to the manual she'd been reading.
Six people made up the travel team; marketing, legal, project management, tech support and account representation. Heero's role switched between four of the team's make-up. All the members hard working, spending more time on the job than at home. Their latest member had stepped in to pick up the legal aspects of the project after the last manager suffered heart failure. On her other side, the project manager sat, and though Heero couldn't see what the man was doing, he had no doubt it was work related. In the row of seats behind him, Heero heard the low muttering of the Tech Lead already working out specs for install. Both the PM and the lead were no longer married. The client manager was nowhere in sight.
He massaged his temples briefly, closing his eyes for the moment. It had been a long four days, too long to spend most of it with the client. The client manager seemed to believe no question too small or personal for Heero to answer, and he'd spent most of their first night exchanging stories about family. When asked, he'd even produced a picture of his son.
Heero wandered through the room, making the rounds; club soda with lime filled his glass. Luckily, the lounge hadn't been too crowded, filled mostly with the project team and client contacts they'd be working with over the next year. From one group to another, he paused only long enough to cover a little small talk before moving on.
"Heero," the account manager called. The man sat with the client company's CEO at a small table. "Come let me introduce you to Doug Pratt. I want to show him what talent we have on the team."
Nodding, Heero accepted the hand held out and shook it firmly. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to working with your company."
"Pleasure is mine, my boy. I've heard a lot about you. Read about your idealism in Omni last month. Quite the advocate." The man smiled wide, teeth flashing in genuine humor. Heero ducked his head, not wanting to discuss the magazine interview.
"He's a family man as well," the account manager tossed in.
The CEO looked at him with renewed interest. "Family, huh? The article didn't mention anything about that. How many children?"
"One," Heero supplied reminding himself that resisting the account manager's efforts to announce his parenting was futile. "The article wasn't about me, but the project and its history."
"Quite right. Damn fine job they did of it too." The CEO nodded, not at all offended at the rebuff. "I've two children myself, both grown now with kids of their own. So about yours... boy? Girl? How old?"
"Smartest damn kid I've ever met. Show him Jimmy's picture, Heero."
Heero sat his drink down, and reached for his wallet. Pride and privacy warred as he dug out his favorite snapshot showing both Duo and Jeffery. "Jeffery is six," he said, pride ruling out.
"He looks a lot like you," the man commented peering at the picture. He frowned and looked between the two men. "Jimmy? Jeffery?"
The account manager laughed, and Heero couldn't help his smile. "It's a quirk of Duo's." He pointed out the longhaired man in the photo. "Our son's name is Jeffery Maxwell-Yuy. His initials are JMY or Jimmy." Heero shrugged at the CEO's laugh, and returned the picture to his wallet.
Excusing himself, Heero slipped around a clustered group and made his way to the lavatory. He looked at his watch; it was time to leave. In the hallway nearly blocking the entrance to the men's room, the marketing manager leaned close to a woman Heero didn't recognize. They broke apart as he moved past them, avoiding eye contact. That the manger was married, and the woman appeared to be his daughter's age didn't seem to faze the man.
It didn't surprise Heero; he'd heard the talk. Scandals occurred on a regular basis though he hadn't seen the proof of this rumor until now. He'd just stepped up to the urinal when the marketing manager walked in.
"Don't you love these trips?" the man asked jovially. Without waiting for an answer, he unfastened his slacks.
Heero spared him a glance, and finished up. "No, not really."
"What d'ya mean? It's the chance to get away from the nagging wife. Check out what's missing." He gave Heero a broad wink. "Bet you get more than your share of the hotties, don't you?"
His lips in a thin line, Heero turned his back on the man and rinsed his hands. "I don't have the desire to get away from Duo, nor do I seek out others when I am gone."
"Ah, it's like that." Heero didn't see the look directed his way. "Duo's a looker. I'll bet he enjoys these trips, then." Heero spun around sharply. "Must have someone to keep him company since you're gone so much." The man leered.
A handful of dress shirt later, Heero pressed him against the urinal wall. "Don't you ever talk about Duo that way again. Do you understand me?" His mouth tight, his eyes glaring.
"Oo-kay," the man stuttered, his hands gripping Heero's wrist. "Let me down, damn it. I was only joking around."
Heero let him go, anger radiating from every line. "Your marriage might be a joke to you, but I take mine seriously." He left the man shaking water from his shoe and brushing at the fluid that dribbled on his pants. Ignoring the woman hovering in the hall, he bypassed the lounge and went straight for the elevators, trying to ignore the man's words.
Once in his room, Heero stripped and pulled on his sleep shorts. He went about his nightly routine, warring thoughts keeping his mind active. Never would he have believed Duo to look to another for what he gave. But the seed germinated, and Duo had been vocal in his continued lengthy absences.
"He wouldn't," he whispered to his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Flipping off the light, he went to stand by the bed and looked at the clock. Too late to make a call to L2, the need to hear Duo's voice still overwhelmed him. He picked up the phone.
On the third ring, Duo answered, his sleepy murmur bringing a wistful smile to Heero. "Hey," he said quietly, with just a hint of nervousness.
"'ero?" Duo sounded a little more awake. "What time is it?"
"Late," Heero said, sitting down suddenly on the bed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called."
A yawn sounded, and Heero could hear the comforter rustle. "Nah, it's okay. What's up, ‘ro? Everything going okay?"
"Yeah, everything's fine here." Some of the tension he'd been feeling started slipping away, and he lay back against the piled pillows, kicking the blankets down. "I... just wanted to talk to you. See how you were doing."
Duo made a snorting sound. "Don't give me that. Something's bothering you, so ‘fess up."
He couldn't help the sigh, and almost felt Duo's hands giving him one of his impromptu massages. "I miss you," he answered quietly.
"Heero..." Duo chuckled lightly. "You make it fuckin' hard for me to be mad at you, you know."
"Yeah, I know." Heero was smiling, and pictured Duo's sardonic expression - mild disappointment mixed with good-natured humor. "Hey, you remember when I first started going on these trips, and would call you at night?" he hedged softly, a hand sliding slowly down his body while he waited for the answer.
"Oh yeah," Duo breathed. "Are you..." he chuckled. "You want to?"
Sliding his hand under the elastic band of his shorts, Heero began, "Always." He started slowly; palming himself, imaging what Duo was doing and listening to him breath.
"Well, then lover, let me tell you what I want to do to you..."
Heero sat up with a start, uncomfortably aware of his hand cupping his crotch and his half-erect state. He leaned back in his seat, letting go of that memory, wanting to put Duo to the test of doing what he'd teased him with over the phone.
"Would you care for a beverage, sir?" the attendant asked. He shook his head, and she moved to the next aisle. Focusing back on the tray-table in front of him, he intended to finish the contract brief and put all work items away.
Despite his desire to finish before the shuttle landed, he kept thinking of the trip. Of his broken promises. His call that first night was his only one; he'd missed Jeffery's birthday. The guilty pang nudged inside, adding to the weight he already carried. Heero rubbed the pads of his fingers between his brows in the attempt to ease the headache making itself at home.
The conditions of the contact became irrelevant. In the end, he knew it wouldn't matter if he verified the finer points or not. The words would change, the meaning would change after a few months, maybe even lasting a year or two, but his purpose would still be served and that's all that mattered to him.
He glanced around to his other team members. Good people for the most part, more than competent in doing their jobs. But what of him. The shift had been so gradual, he failed to see when his purpose drifted from the goal he'd set and the job he now held. His need had been to create the software, to make sure it fell into the right hands; for the past year, he'd been nothing more than a spokesperson, an ex-Gundam pilot continuing to fight the good fight.
At least fewer will die this way, he consoled himself. At least Jeffery will remain safe. He capped his pen slowly, wondering how safe his project had made life on Earth and in the colonies. Preliminary data was sketchy at best and would take years to realize the full impact of his work. The way it stood at the moment, Heero didn't think he had another month, let alone another year.
The thought that he wasn't getting any younger crossed his mind and he dismissed it. He was still healthy, despite the stress, and a heart attack never figured into his plan. Giving his life over to the project hadn't been the plan either -- it'd become the necessity to making peace work.
Heero turned to look out the shuttle's window. Seated on the lee side of the craft, it offered a view of space dotted with satellite buoys and stars beyond. A light on one buoy winked in its slow rhythm, oddly enough reminding Heero's of the cadence of Quatre's voice.
They met in the hotel's restaurant; Heero's meeting had run late and rather than abandon their plans altogether, the location changed. Quatre appeared to never age, and other than some growth, a little bulk to his still slender frame, he seemed as he had at fifteen.
"How is the trip going?" Quatre inquired, picking up his water glass.
"As good as expected," Heero replied, looking the menu over, and grimaced. "A little better than expected. We've spent the past two days discussing contract and licensing concessions."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Quatre's voice held amusement.
Setting the menu aside, Heero looked at his friend. "For the project and the company - yes."
Rather than asking the question Heero thought he would, Quatre asked instead, "How are you?"
He met his friend's gaze and dropped his eyes to the table. "What has Duo told you?" he asked quietly.
A laugh wasn't what he expected. At his startled look, the blond sobered. "Duo tells me nothing about the two of you. He's worse than you when it comes to information of a more..." His lips quirked. "...personal nature."
"So you don't know... he hasn't told you of the..." he groped for the correct word. "Difficulties we've been having?"
Quatre shook his head. "He hasn't told me anything. But I'd have to be stupid and blind to not know something has happened." Heero nodded, not meeting his eyes. Quatre's hand reached for his. "You don't have to tell me, but if there's anything I can do to help, please let me know."
"Thanks." Heero was uncertain and reluctant to say more.
As their waiter arrived, Quatre cut off what he was about to say, and nodded instead. Left on their own again, he changed the subject, "I was able to reach Jimmy before his bedtime last night." He smiled. "He was very excited..." he faltered as Heero's expression stricken. "Heero, what's wrong?"
"I didn't call," Heero managed through numbed lips. "I promised and I failed." His face fell into his hands. "Damn, Quatre, I'm fucking everything up."
"It can't be as bad as that," Quatre said. "I'm sure Jimmy understands."
"He shouldn't have to understand. I should be there."
Quatre made a calming motion with his hand. "You're not always going to be able to be there, no matter how hard you try."
"Then maybe I should try harder!" He was nearly shouting. With a quick look around, he lowered his voice. "I'm sorry. I've just missed too many ‘theres', too many things." His lips twisted wryly. "As Duo is so quick to point out."
"It is possible that..." Quatre hesitated. "Maybe you should reprioritize. Pick and chose which projects you accept."
"I shouldn't have come on this trip." Heero nearly rose and sat back in a slump. "It's been a complete waste of my time."
"Then cut it short. Leave. A good executive will listen to reason, and to a valued employee." Quatre reached over, touching Heero's hand for his attention. "Is it truly necessary for you to be on these trips at all? I thought your role as developer was done."
Running a hand through his hair, Heero stared at his friend. "Sometimes additional insight is needed on what the true objective in using the software is. In that respect, I am still the best candidate." He frowned in thought. "Our flight leaves at noon. The only other scheduled flight is at six, and lands in the middle of Duo's morning." He shook his head. "I still wouldn't see them before late afternoon at any rate." He stared at his drink, his mood suddenly dark.
"Let it go for the night," Quatre told him soothingly. "You can't change it, and I'm not sure you know what you want to change just yet."
Heero nodded absently, flicking his eyes up and back. "How do you do it? You've been juggling family and business a lot longer than I have. How do you keep up?"
Quatre's smile lessened slightly, and he found distraction in twisting his drink straw. "I didn't always," he admitted quietly. "Finding the right balance between both isn't easy, and there will times it's completely off-kilter. But you have to level it off or you'll lose what's important to you."
"Duo believes I should do something different. Change the world." He laughed silently, and shook his head.
"You could you know." Quatre's serious tone caught his attention. "You just have to believe you can do it." He shrugged. "And it doesn't have to be the way you're doing so now, either."
"Ladies and Gentlemen," a voice broke through Heero's thoughts. "We have been given the clearance to land. We are currently fourth in line, so we'll hover for just about another ten minutes." Heero glanced at his watch. "Attendants prepare for landing."
Heero tuned out the cabin noise, the flight attendants bustling up and down the aisle collecting drink cups and waste material. Heero stared at the document still waiting for his changes and approval until the words blurred into one another, his dinner with Quatre still fresh. Duo had been pushing for him to make a change, to do something different.
Too many ‘theres' he'd missed, too many times he listened to the results of a ball game second hand, or of teachers' reports on Jeffrey's progress in school. It'd been a fluke only that Heero had come home early the day Jeffrey had wandered off. He arrived in time to find Jeffrey had left behind a frantic Duo, badgering friends, and neighbors alike in his search.
But, like his son's birthday, it had been a choice that he missed Jeffrey's class play, Jeffrey's spelling bee, and the loss of Jeffrey's first tooth.
There had been a time, not that many months ago he would read to his son. Heero could bring to mind the times he suggested a trip to the ice cream shop. Or offered a walk to the park, a visit to the zoo. Heero closed his eyes against the contract that waited. There had been too many ‘missed' times than garnered ones.
If he had a more normal job, or one that would keep him closer to home, he wouldn't miss out on those markers of Jeffrey's life. He wouldn't leave Duo alone and estranged.
He found them on the couch together and stopped short of turning on the lamp. Duo was sitting with his head back, and eyes closed. From the dim light cast from the kitchen, Heero could see the steady rise and fall of his chest. One elbow crooked on the arm of the couch, the other arm curled about the waist of their son. Jeffery lay with his head on Duo's lap, one hand clutching the end of his father's braid. His mouth opened, his breathing sounded loud, almost in a snore. Duo had told Heero that he slept the same way when he was tired.
"Are you hungry?" Duo asked quietly. Heero noticed then that Duo's eyes had opened and he was watching him watch them.
"No. I ate at the office." Leaving his case near the door, he came further into the room, and dropped into one of the easy chairs. "Were you..." he hesitated. "...waiting up for me?"
Duo shook his head, glancing down at the boy. "We were watching a documentary and he fell asleep." His fingers brushed an unruly lock from the boy's face. "It was on the war."
"Oh," Heero managed. He exhaled softly and turned his gaze away. "Was it interesting?"
"They got it wrong," Duo snorted. Jeffery stirred. Heero looked at them. "I'd better put him to bed." Duo rose carefully, sliding his arms under the sleeping child.
Heero stood as they left, and trailed after Duo up the stairs, down the hall to the bedrooms. He leaned against the wall in Jeffery's room and watched as shoes were removed, jeans slipped off and the child tucked in under covers. He felt dizzy, detached from the scene and closed his eyes against the sudden isolation.
"They're teaching the wrong lesson," Duo said softly, sitting on the edge of the bed, watching their son sleep. Heero blinked, trying to focus on his words.
"What lesson?" he asked numbly.
Duo exhaled loudly, bent to kiss Jeffery, and turned off the bedside lamp before answering. "Historians are making it out that there was only one way to achieve peace." Duo stood before him, indicating the opened door with a nod.
Back in the living room, Heero resumed his seat. Duo sat on the far end of the couch. "Historians relay facts as they are known to them. The film makers must have given it that particular spin," Heero tried for reason.
"It isn't just the show. It's all the books, history text," Duo said, his tone tired, his eyes closed. "History has always repeated itself, over and over, until man's lesson is learned."
"What lesson do you think man needs to learn?"
Opening an eye, Duo stared at him. "That wars do not bring the necessary results."
Heero leaned forward. "You're saying all we went through didn't bring the peace we won?"
A smile tugged at the longhaired man's lips. "I'm saying that it wasn't just the five of us, with a little help, that won the peace we enjoyed." He closed his eye once more. "Wars are just man's way of showing which dog has the toughest bite."
"If it wasn't us, what did win?" Heero asked, puzzled in the logic presented.
Duo sucked in a breath and released it in a rush. Sitting up straight, he focused his attention on Heero. "It was time for it to end. We, the five of us, just happened to be there when it did."
"Wars just don't end. One side or other has to be defeated. Otherwise the fighting would continue."
"That's where you're wrong," Duo argued, leaning forward to make a point. "Our war wasn't about defeating an enemy, it was to prove a point. We proved our point long before White Fang appeared and Zechs went crazy."
"Are you saying I should have let the Libra crash into Earth?" a note of incredulity crept into his voice.
"Shit," Duo cursed and shook his head. "No. That had nothing to do with the war. That had nothing to do with proving what we set out to do." He rubbed his eyes, and held his head. "I don't even know if I'm making sense here..." Heero snorted. "...what I'm trying to say is. There wasn't one right way. We, the colonies were wrong. Oz, Romafeller, White Fang, Treize Faction... all played a part in ending the war. We were just pawns playing roles in it."
"So we should have done nothing, and the war would have resolved itself?"
"You're taking a pretty narrow-minded view on this." Duo frowned.
"And you're taking a very odd view," Heero stated, his voice rising. "What happened to the street kid who wanted revenge for the Alliance treatment of his colony?"
"He grew up to discovered that no matter how many times you punch a steel wall, you're not going to knock it down. You just wind up hurting yourself."
"If we had done nothing, if the colonies had sat back and let the Alliance and OZ have their way, where do you think we'd be now?"
Duo sat back and glared at the table, not looking at him. "Peace would have happened."
"The oppression? The starvation and substandard conditions? Taxation and no voice in government? These things would have magically disappeared if no one had done anything?"
"There would have been another Heero Yuy, another peacemaker," Duo said, his voice dropping low.
Heero rose and sat next to Duo, leaning over to watch his face. "Our sacrifices, everything we'd given up, you're telling me they don't mean anything?"
Duo flashed him a startled look and shook his head. "No, I'm not saying that." With a tired sigh, he leaned against Heero, his head resting on the other's shoulder. "What's done is done. No sense second guessing what we could have done different." He rubbed his eyes. "What are we teaching our children? That if you feel the cause is right and just, pick up a weapon and destroy whatever stands in your way?"
"You sound like Relena," Heero smiled, his arm circling Duo's shoulders. "I never took you for a pacifist."
"Yeah, well, maybe she has the right of it. I'm not saying roll over and die, but if change is to happen, we need to teach a different way." Duo's hand sought Heero's. "For many a millennia, men have fought each other. When are we going to learn that maybe war isn't the only option if the only thing taught is war brings peace?"
"You're awfully philosophical tonight." Heero's thumb caressed the back of his hand.
"That's what happens when I'm left alone in the dark too long, too many times." Heero stiffened and Duo pulled away to look at him. "I didn't mean to upset you with that, it's just the truth. Staring at the ceiling, waiting for you to come home night after night. With only my own self to entertain and sometimes those thoughts..." He shrugged and gave Heero a crooked grin.
"What are you going to do about it?" Heero asked, uncertain.
Duo leaned back against him. "Me? Nothing. But I still think the record should be set straight. I think the real story should be told."
Giving his shoulders a squeeze, Heero told him, "Then tell it."
"No," Duo said softly. "If any of us should, it would be you." At Heero's half laugh, Duo added, "You're the one who knew all the players. Hell, you even met Treize, fought Zechs. You're the one who experienced the most - who sacrificed the most." His shoulders shook with a light chuckle. "And you're the only one who can be truly partial, looking at all the angles to tell the whole story - not just one view."
"You couldn't?" he asked, more than a little astonished.
"Hell no! I'm so full of bullshit right now, I'm surprised you're not gagging with the smell." Heero barked out a laugh.
The silence stretched between them for several minutes. Heero began to drowse, his mind sorting through Duo's words, trying to make sense of his logic. The theory he tried to convey was there, the data only needed to be sorted for it to shake out. "You believe if the whole story is told, it would make a difference?"
Duo nodded. "More than your software project even." His hand ran a soothing circle over Heero's chest. "Your program has the capability to identify potential militaristic action, but it will only work until someone comes up with something to counteract it. And then we're back to where we started." Heero grunted, turning his head to look at Duo.
"It's futile then? I should just quit?"
"I'm not saying drop the project because it will prevent things from happening for a long while yet. But if our generation teaches Jimmy's generation and beyond that there isn't just one side in conflict, that all options should be considered, then maybe it will prevent wars."
"That's a nice ideal," Heero started. "It would take years, more than you and I have, for it to take root. And if there's another Duke Dremil or Dekom Barton..."
"It isn't a foolproof idea, but it's better than what we got." He fell silent, letting the soft tick of the hall clock fill the void. Rousing, he offered tentatively, "You know, if you did ever want to give up the project and ...uh, tell the true story," Heero pulled away and Duo plowed on. "I'm making more than enough to support us. You could give it a shot, change the universe again." Duo smiled softly.
Heero returned his smile, his mind in confusion. "You just don't want to sleep alone," he teased lightly.
"Well, that would be a side benefit," Duo laughed, leaning closer to give him a kiss. "Speaking of sleeping, isn't it time we should head that way?" He waggled his brows suggestively.
A flight attendant touched his arm, his voice barely heard. Heero glared at the man, and then forced himself to soften his look. The attendant was only doing his duty. He nodded at the instructions and turned to gather the papers strewn on the seat next to him. With half a care, he stuffed it all into his laptop case.
Through the cabin floor, Heero felt the minute shuddering of engine sped change. They were about to land. He began to smile, knowing Duo would be there to meet him. Despite his failure to call, despite the flight delay, Heero had to believe Duo would be there. His hand stilled on shutting down his laptop.
Duo had said he would be there, that calling a cab wouldn't be necessary. There was still so much to say. Too many words he'd left unsaid. His last night before the trip had been too quiet and Jeffrey asleep long before he had left his office for bed. Duo hadn't been sleeping, but Heero knew he had nothing more to say – at least that night.
The early morning drive wasn't entirely silent, he asked and Duo replied to the upcoming events for the week. Duo reminded him of a parent-teacher conference scheduled for Friday, of a soccer game on Wednesday, and Jeffery's birthday on Tuesday. His presents had been purchased, wrapped and stored away weeks ago. Heero wouldn't be there, but he planned to call and he had spent several minutes before they had to leave with the boy.
"What do you want me to do, Duo?" he asked quietly breaking the tense silence that had developed.
Duo threw him a quick glance. He maneuvered through the traffic for a moment without speaking. "Honestly? I'd like you to quit your fucking job, but that's not going to happen."
"That would be unlikely." He watched Duo's profile, saw hands clench on the steering wheel, and waited. "I'm asking for a compromise. We cannot continue like this and you know it."
His laugh was short and bitter. "I thought you didn't want to talk about it. Isn't that what you said last night?"
Looking away, Heero took a deep breath. "I was wrong. We should have talked it out." When Duo remained silent and the spaceport exit taken, he added, "I don't want to leave it like this." At Duo's sigh, Heero turned back to him. Duo appeared weary, and suddenly Heero was afraid.
"Listen Heero, I know what I'd like to happen isn't going to," Duo finally said. "Just do me a favor, will you. While you're on this trip, think long and hard about what you're really doing this for."
"Duo," Heero interjected. Duo held up a hand, cutting off whatever else he might have said.
"Wait, Heero. Let me finish." He pulled up to the drop off curb before Heero's flight's shipping lane. "Think about what you've been giving up, what you've been sacrificing, and then decide what you want to do." Duo turned towards him, putting the truck in park. "I'll support whatever you come up with. Might not be happy with it, but I'll support it."
Heero nodded, and reached for his case. "Will you... should I call a cab for Thursday?" He opened the door, preparing to leave.
A hand on his arm pulled him across the gap between them. The kiss was short, but left him breathless. "We'll be here to pick you up," Duo said, his words skating over skin. Heero nodded and Duo released him.
"Thank you," Heero said, stepping out of the truck. He hesitated with a hand on the door and offered, "I will do as you asked and we'll talk Thursday." At Duo's smile, Heero shut the door and turned without looking back.
The call came over the loudspeakers again, advising all items to be stowed. Heero made up his mind and snapped the laptop closed before storing it in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of him. His head was buzzing with new ideas; he was already phrasing an email to his boss.
The shuttle had docked, and its landing bay was pressurizing. Other passengers stood, some gathered luggage and items stored overhead, others jostled for a place in line. Heero pulled his laptop free and opened it once again. His finger found the wireless internet connection, and flipped it to the on position.
In less than two minutes, he had his conditional resignation drafted and sent. Heero was smiling, feeling the lift immediately. A project of a lifetime, that should never had been a lifetime, he was passing on for another to pick up and carry.
It was the new legal advisor. She was leaning over the seat, a brief in one hand. "If you have a minute, I need you to look this over and give me your opinion." She was frowning when he didn't take the document from her. "I'd like to get an early start tomorrow morning…" She halted abruptly when Heero held up his hand.
"I won't be in tomorrow." He skimmed the brief held before his eyes. "Whatever you've written is fine." He stood, his closed laptop in his hands. "I'll see you on Monday."
The line of passengers began to move, and still she watched him as Heero packed away his laptop. He couldn't stop the smile, believing this would be his last business trip, the last time he'd be shuffling work on a cramped shuttle flight. It wasn't until he looked up at her again that she gave him a nod and a slight smile.
"I'll see you on Monday, then." The brief wrinkled in her hand. "Good luck." Her words were soft as she turned away.
Heero took his turn to wait in queue, shuffling along the narrow aisle to the cabin door and the gateway beyond. The fiberglass, aluminum, and burly napped walkway was chilly after the near stuffiness of the shuttle cabin. A slight prickle skittered along the back of his neck; space was cold and no amount of re-pressurization would warm a bay after being left open for long.
At the end of the gateway, a TSA official directed each passenger into other lines, a new queue for customs and declarations. Heero pulled his coat closer and thought of leaving his bag where he stood. It would be minutes only, but even minutes felt as hours. Heero was nearly laughing, remembering the first trip, remembering his eagerness to return. The urge to push those in front out of his way was the same then, too.
His turn at customs lasted less than five minutes. A new stamp in his travel passport, a cursory look through his laptop and travel bag, and a short handful of questions later, and Heero was on his way down the spaceport hallway. The quiet was nearly startling after the small roar at the custom station. He excused himself as he squeezed passed a fellow passenger, giving the man a nod.
The sliding walkways he ignored in favor of going his own pace down the long hallway. Terminal central was ahead, passed the security checkpoint. And once beyond there, the waiting lounge. Over the past couple of years, Duo hadn't always been able to meet his shuttle. Mostly, Heero would find the two waiting for him in the lounge, Duo reading to Jeffrey, or Duo watching other travelers, people while Jeffrey played a handheld game. But Heero remembered a time, a time when he first began traveling when Duo, with Jeffrey holding his hand or in Duo's arms, would wait just beyond the security checkpoint, keeping them from coming closer.
Heero quickened his pace, knowing Duo wouldn't be there, but he still hoped.
The security checkpoint was just ahead, and Heero's steps slowed. He scanned the press of travelers and those who waited; Duo wasn't there. Heero swallowed, and passed through the glass scanner, nodded idly to the guard monitoring and hitched up his bags a little tighter in his grip.
"The lounge," he half muttered to himself. It had been some time since Duo had last come this far to meet him, it wasn't fair to expect him to change. At least not this trip.
The noise had been growing louder the closer to the main terminal he got. Something Heero had long adjusted to, he dismissed it as usual. The row of restaurants, snack bars, and grab-n-gos pushed out odors that repulsed him while at the same time fed to the hunger. Heero glanced hurriedly over those eating at the open cafeteria-style seating. Not spotting a familiar face or head of hair, he looked toward the waiting lounge, his steps slowing as he drew near.
It took three passes over the throng, three passes of looking around people hugging and welcoming one another ‘home' or for visits; three passes for Heero to know. Duo wasn't waiting.
The thought Duo might be waiting in front of the terminal crossed his mind and he immediately dismissed it. Not only would Duo not be able to wait there, but Duo wouldn't. Heero fished his cell phone out from his coat pocket and checked for messages. The one and only had been left by his boss.
Heero walked into the lounge proper, and set his bags on an empty seat. He'd call Duo's cell first, a taxi after. Duo must have taken Jeffrey back to the house or the yard – the wait had been too long. His thumb queued up Duo's number when he heard it, and he stopped the phone from completing the dial.
Jeffrey's yell and Duo's laugh. Heero turned slowly and spotted them, his family. He was moving even as the two began yelling in sequence, as the two high-fived each other. What they said didn't matter; they were there, they waited.
He was smiling when he came to a stop at the edge of the arcade room. Bracing an arm against the entryway jam, he leaned in and caught Duo's eye. Jeffrey's yell of "Daddy" was his only warning; the young wiggling body was throwing itself up in his arms, and Heero pulled him close. Through the kisses, the tight hug and the mile-a-minute stories on what had occurred while he was gone Heero looked over the top of Jeffrey's head.
Duo waited, his arms crossed over his chest, but, there was something different. "Let's go home," Duo said.
His throat felt closed, but Heero nodded. He shifted Jeffrey around and let him slide to the floor, but took up his hand immediately. Holding out his other hand to Duo, Heero said, "Take me home."