by Trixie

It was just a piece of paper. It wasn't even that big. If he wanted to, he could just toss it in the garbage, or in the recycling tin, and be done with it.

It wasn't the first time he had been given one of these. He had never even thought about it before. It was an unthinkable thing, to be dependent, to alter oneself. To declare oneself lacking, and weak.

He was better than that, or if not, then why bother trying to change it?

He wanted to just toss it, just ignore it, just pretend that it didn't exist...

But Dr. Mahoney's words were still ringing in his ears, her condemnation still burning in his chest.

Dr. Levy had explained it all very placidly, like it was just science. Trowa understood that to a certain degree, it was just a matter of chemicals and reactions, but they were his chemicals, and he wasn't sure he wanted to mess with them.

He turned the paper over and over in his hand. It was so innocuous. It didn't look like something that would mark a man defective.

He put it in his pocket, and pretended that he could just ignore it. He wanted to get back to Duo as quickly as he could, so that they could have some private time before the night bell. Duo had been really tired that week. Trowa had gotten him some massage oil that heated with skin contact, and he intended to strip Duo naked and make him feel better, starting with his muscles.

Duo was just working so damned hard. It was the least that he could do.

He was pulling into the driveway for the pharmacy before he knew what he was doing. He cursed himself, but he still parked, and got out of the car. He spent the ten minutes while waiting for the prescription to be filled examining the various different choices in feminine protection that were currently available. He wondered briefly what Catherine used.

He was in that car again less than twenty minutes later, and he took his first dose with a swig of bottled water he had bought very much against his better judgment. Dr. Levy had specifically mentioned that this particular variety had a low incidence of sexual side effect, emphasizing the point without being indiscreet. Trowa envied that sort of diplomacy.

It was for the best. After all, it was just chemical. And Duo was working hard at changing himself, so Trowa ought to as well.

He had successfully put it out of his head by the time he pulled into the Phoenix's parking lot.

Trowa combed a small chunk of hair with his fingers, pulling the long strands out as far as he could reach, and then letting them drop down over Duo's shoulder. He had a sense of peace and place right now, but rather than try to cling to what was sure to slip through his fingers, he just tried to enjoy it to the fullest.

It did occur to him that that was almost a direct quotation from Dr. Levy, but he didn't mind so much.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

It was an idle question, lazily filling the time until they could move again.

Duo grinned. "I hate to disappoint you, Tro, but this is as grown up as I'm gonna get."

Trowa raised an eyebrow speculatively. "I don't know. You were bigger a minute ago."

Duo didn't laugh outright, but he smiled and put his face against Trowa's shoulder. The feeling of Duo's skin was a rush, especially now that the floodgates had burst, and he could just feel the tingle of the blood pumping through him.

"I meant, when you were a kid. Or during the war. What did you want to do?"

"Survive," Duo laughed. "That was it. There were the dead, and the not-dead. The soon-to-be-dead. I wanted to be the not-dead."

Trowa nodded. "I didn't care that much."

Duo considered. "Therapy assignment?"

Sighing, Trowa nodded. "I'm supposed to have an answer to 'what do you want to do with your life?' Or, its variant, 'where do you see yourself in ten years?'"

Duo whistled. "Dr. Mahoney spent three hours ripping that one out of my head."

"Well?" Trowa propped himself up on his elbow, waiting patiently.

"What? I'm just supposed to give it all away?" Duo pouted, shrugging his shoulders. With his hair falling all around him, his bare skin hiding under the waves of hair and under the sheets, he looked like a debauched angel. A demon with a prayer on his lips.

Trowa wasn't even playing along when he started to nibble on Duo's ear. He wanted his whole body in contact with Duo.

The bed in Duo's room was small, a reasonably decent mattress on a metal frame. The entire room was small, with only a narrow window for natural light. The biggest advantage was that the treatment center had all the rooms sound proofed, so that one patient could not disturb a whole floor. Duo spread out his legs, and Trowa fit himself into the space between.

They had spent their evenings like this ever since Duo had been taken off restricted visitation. He only had a week before he would be on half-day outpatient sessions. He had become much more energetic now that he was anticipating being able to spend the night with Trowa, and be out of the clinic again. It made for much more lively visits, although it had taken them time to adjust to the twin bed. Trowa still had two bruises on his sides from times when he had fallen out.

He kissed his way down Duo's chest, and licked his way back up again. Duo ran his hands over Trowa's arms and back, rubbing his legs against Trowa's. He grinned, satisfied.

"What was the question again?"

Trowa smiled. "Where do you see yourself in ten years?"

"Just to clarify... you mean, where do I *want* to see myself, right?" Duo ran his hands over Trowa's ass to distract him.

Trowa frowned. It hadn't worked. "Of course."

Duo sighed. "Yeah. I... I wanna go back to the colonies. Any colony. I want to get off this rock."

Trowa nodded. "Ok."

Duo looked away. "That's... that's not a problem, right?"

There was enough not being said in that to make Trowa feel weak, his arms and legs not able to support him any more. He slowly dropped, settling himself against Duo's side. "Yeah. It is."

Duo nodded, still looking away, but smiling a bit. "Ok."

"What else?"

Duo shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, what do people *do*? I've never been able to figure it out. I guess I'd just do whatever was necessary."

"You don't have to make all your decisions on what other people need; you can do what *you* want, you know."

Duo rolled his eyes. "That's exactly what Dr. Mahoney said!"

Trowa repressed a laugh. Duo's eyes were sparkling, and there was a sense of affection in his expression. "You like Dr. Mahoney?"

Duo paused to think before he spoke. "She's... well, at first, she was really harsh, and it wasn't so much that I didn't like her, as much as she was dredging up a lot of crap I didn't want to think about. But, I trust her, and I respect her. I think that's more valuable in this situation than 'liking'."

"Yeah," Trowa considered, "I guess that's how I feel about Dr. Levy. Well, he spends more time talking about brain scans and neurotransmitter blockages..."

Duo smirked. "Oooh, science!"

Trowa smirked. "He's not too invasive, though. I like that."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Dr. Mahoney's the total opposite. She asks about what I ate when I was six, I swear..."

Trowa regarded Duo blankly. "Have you told her everything?"

Duo blinked, needing more time to shift conversational gears. "What?"

"I mean... You said you trust her. So. Have you told her everything?"

"We've talked three hours a day for the past eleven weeks. If there's anything left to say, I haven't a clue to what it is." Duo winked at him, smiling.

Trowa nodded. "Everything?"

Duo blinked, and then he stopped trying not to understand. "I've told her more than enough."

Trowa rolled onto his back, perching himself at the edge of the bed cautiously. He poked his foot out to stabilize himself on the metal footboard.


He didn't turn to look at Duo, but he did nod.

"Do you believe in hell?"

Trowa wasn't foolish enough to think that it was a casual question that Duo was asking. He took his time. He wanted to be able to answer differently, but he didn't see how. "No. I don't believe in anything, really. I think I prefer to think that there's only oblivion waiting for us."

Duo shivered, and cozied up to Trowa's side. "I... I don't like to think of Solo and Sister Helen and Father Maxwell as just being gone..."

"Maybe it's like Eastern philosophy teaches. Maybe they've been reincarnated. Maybe you'll meet them again in a future life."

"And we just keep coming back and coming back until we get it right?" Duo sounded skeptical. "Until we reach some sort of oneness with space and time? Do you think that's plausible?"

"Well," Trowa furrowed his brow, searching the ceiling for a clue or an insight, "no, not really."

Duo put his chin on Trowa's chest. "No, me neither. I've never really been a big proponent of God or anything, but it seems like... it seems like there's good and there's evil, you know? And there are people that I can't imagine just blinking away into nothing... I mean, when Solo died, I felt... I felt... I felt *something*. I felt connected to him. Like I might be able to carry him with me. I felt like that with Sister Helen, and Father Maxwell, too. Does that sound dumb?" Duo asked, sheepishly.

Trowa shook his head. "When... When my captain died, I... I thought that he might just be gone forever. Like he was never here at all. But he kept coming back to me. I'd have dreams about him during the war, and they felt so real... I know that's not exactly what you meant, but... people don't just go away. Not necessarily."

Duo sighed, and rubbed his cheek on Trowa's chest. "I just don't know what to believe."

"Keep going on, even when you've lost your faith." Trowa spoke solemnly, holding Duo tightly in his arms. "You have to keep going on, and if you don't have the answers, and you don't know what to believe in, just try to believe that someday you will."

Duo smiled, and leaned up so he could see Trowa's eyes. "Did you make that up, or did you hear it from somewhere?"

Trowa tried to remember. "I must have heard it."

"I don't know," Duo said, affectionately brushing away Trowa's bangs. "You're pretty smart."

Trowa kissed Duo's lips. "Sometimes."

"You did redirect this conversation nicely away from what you wanted to do with your life..."

Trowa laughed, rolling himself and Duo over so he wouldn't fall off the bed again. "That I did."

"But now we're back there." Duo's eyes sparkled as he teased, and made Trowa smile. "So. What do you want to do with your life?"

Trowa sighed, but as he was still smiling, it was a pleasant sound. "I don't know."

"Well," Duo began leaning on his elbow so he could present a more concentrated face. "What sort of things did you like doing in the past? I mean, besides piloting a weapon of mass destruction before you were old enough to drive in certain parts of the Earthsphere."

Trowa smirked. "That was good. I don't know." He thought about it. He thought back to the odd jobs he had done as a mercenary, under cover and for the crew. He thought about the things he had done during the wars, and the things he had done since then.

"Think about something you miss." Duo supplied helpfully. "Don't try to remember something specific, just try to think about something that you occasionally think, I miss doing that."

The answer was nearly immediate. "I like animals."

Duo encouraged him to continue silently.

"I liked working with the lions, and the other animals in the circus. I wished that they didn't have to live in cages, though. But I like all animals. I was always... hesitant to get a pet, but I like having animals around. They're more honest than people. Well," he poked Duo in the belly, "most people, anyway."

Duo laughed. "Animals! That's perfect! You can be a vet!" Duo grinned, clearly completely satisfied that they had solved Trowa's quandary.

Trowa blinked. "I can't."

"Sure you can! Why not?"

Trowa was fairly sure that answer was completely obvious. "I'd have to go to school."

Duo shrugged. "You could go to school."

Trowa stared at Duo. He really didn't see how he could possibly do what Duo was suggesting.

"Have you ever looked into it?" Duo was now getting really excited. He sat up on the bed, his hair streaming all around him, totally unconscious of his nudity. "Maybe there's a way you could bypass the requirements... Some sort of test, or equivalency classes! I've been to school. It's so easy. You read books, you take tests... You'd be a great vet! You wouldn't get grossed out by anything, and when it came time to put an animal down, you could handle it. You could do all the hard parts, and then for the easy parts, you'd get to be with animals!"

The way that Duo said it, there was a certain obviousness about it. Like it was what he was supposed to have been doing all along, and he just hadn't been aware of it. "Maybe."

"There are schools in the colonies, too," Duo offered shyly, presenting one shoulder so that his arm and his hair shielded him. "You could go to school, and I could get a job to support us in colony maintenance. They always need help with that, and the money is really good too, because it's funded by the big corporations that subsidize the colonies. We could swing it."

Trowa sat up. This plan was becoming more and more tangible by the second. "Have you thought about this before?"

Duo shrugged, a misdirection. "I've thought about you going to school. Maybe."

It was so clear. "That was your answer to the question."

Duo became very shy. "Well. I know that there are problems... Neither of us has our pilot's license, and you would need to do some prep work, and I have this debt to pay off... Maybe you don't want to commit to being loaded down with that..."

Trowa leaned over and kissed Duo, putting his hands down on the bed behind Duo, surrounding Duo with his arms. "We're in this together. I love you, remember?"

Duo smiled, looking a little relieved. "And there's no one I'd rather be with."

They started to kiss some more, getting wrapped up in each other. Duo was just about to push Trowa down onto the bed when a sharp knock on the door disturbed their time together.

"Mr. Maxwell! If you do not escort your guest out in the next ten minutes, we will be forced to call an orderly to come in and escort him out for you!"

"Just don't get Greg! He'd like it too much!"

There was some laughing on the other side of the door, but Trowa pulled away, putting his feet on the floor.

They got dressed quickly. Duo just threw on some sleeping pants and a t-shirt, but Trowa actually had to find things like socks, underwear, and shoes. When Trowa was done getting dressed, Duo was frantically tearing at his hair with a brush.

Trowa checked his watch. They still had four minutes.

He took the brush from Duo's hand. Duo protested, turning to glare at Trowa. "It's your fault it's such a mess. I keep telling you it gets *everywhere* when it's not in the braid..."

"I like it everywhere," Trowa countered, turning Duo around so he could brush out Duo's hair.

Duo sighed theatrically, but sat still and allowed Trowa to work.

He held the hair in his hand, brushing from where he held it down, and moving his hand progressively higher and higher, until he was able to brush it all out smoothly. He then quickly divided it at the base into three sections, and twined them with rapid precision. Duo whistled appreciatively as he worked. "Damn, you're making a good one!"

Trowa smirked, but said nothing.

He was just tying off the braid when there was a second knock, and an orderly nervously peeked in, keeping his eyes closed. "Mr. Maxwell? Mr. Barton?"

Duo politely refrained from laughing out loud, and he and Trowa swept out of the room together, leaving the orderly behind to sigh in relief.

They kissed good night, to the amusement of some of the patients in the multipurpose room who had become used to seeing Duo and Trowa together. Just as Trowa was turning to leave, Duo cried out, "Wait!" and ran up after him. Duo threw himself into Trowa's arms, and hugged him so hard, Trowa thought he might have trouble breathing. "I don't think I could tell her *everything*," he said softly into Trowa's ear.

Trowa squeezed him tightly around the waist.

"I'll try to tell her something, though. Ok?"

Trowa didn't entirely like the pleading tone in Duo's voice, but he ignored it. "She's smart, Duo," he whispered back. "She might be able to help you find the answers you're looking for."

"Maybe," Duo replied uncertainly, pulling away. He kissed Trowa as he sank out of his arms. "But it was enough that I told you."

Trowa stood there, shell-shocked, holding Duo's hands, until the orderly gently tapped his shoulder. After he left, he sat in his car for a long time in the dark, getting cold as the windows in the car slowly fogged up.

He didn't think about anything. He just sat, completely comfortable.

He got to the treatment center early. He parked, and even got out, but he didn't go in right away. Instead, he waited by the building in the grass, behind the tree, where he could see the parking lot.

Eleven o'clock came and went, but he continued to wait patiently.

It only took until 11:17. Heero's black car pulled into the lot and parked in the rear. Heero got out, and stalked purposefully around the building, looking in windows as if he were supposed to be doing that. Trowa said nothing, and continued to wait until Heero got close enough to see him.

Heero stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes narrowing and his hands balling into fists as he was clearly assessing the situation.

Trowa waited for him to speak.

"Aren't you missing precious time with the patient?" Heero walked in a wide circle around Trowa's position, keeping his body facing Trowa at all times, his hands at the ready at his sides.

He was so transparent right then, Trowa almost felt sympathy for him. "Coward."

Heero's glare intensified. "What did you call me?"

"It must be like looking in the mirror." Trowa spoke distinctly, but it didn't really sound like he was talking to Heero, and he certainly wasn't responding to Heero, in words or in actions. "You see all the bloodstains on his hands, and it's like seeing yourself, isn't it? If you punish him, do you think that you can make yourself clean again?"

"Don't insult me by suggesting that he's like me," Heero warned defensively, but Trowa was unconcerned.

"And how did it feel, knowing that he had succeeded where you had failed? Not something I imagine you are used to dealing with... Not only did you fail yourself, but you jeopardized the mission entirely. If he *hadn't* stepped up and cleaned up after you, Relena might have died, along with a lot of innocent people. Think of all that blood on your hands." Trowa gradually let his gaze fall onto Heero, until he was staring right into Heero's eyes.

For a moment, he remembered being young, in the war, and wanting desperately to see something in those eyes except that steely determination that Heero projected to the world. He remembered wanted to see Heero's passion. The memory was faded, like he was remembering something that he had read in a book once, and not something that he had actually felt. He felt divorced from his past at the moment.

Heero snarled, and took a step closer, his tension causing his whole frame to shake. "He's just a filthy little whore. He was so *willing* to be used. Maybe he made you beg, but he was on his back for me in a second. Am I supposed to respect someone like that?"

Trowa cocked his head to the side. "Maybe you should respect yourself."

Heero took another step closer, his teeth grinding against each other so that Trowa was surprised that he couldn't hear them from where he was standing. "Maybe you should mind your own damn business for once. Maybe you should get out of my way."

Trowa smirked. "I think you're the one that's in my way."

Heero sneered. "And what exactly do you propose to do? Are we going to have a rematch? You won't be catching me unaware like in Une's office."

Trowa smiled genially. "I don't need to fight you, Heero. I have what I want, and Duo has what he wants. It's time for you to move on."

Heero came very close to Trowa, so that there was only just a little grass between their feet. There was just enough space between them so that one or the other could move enough to get in a solid hit. The significance of the distance was perfectly apparent to both. Heero's eyes were piercing right into Trowa's, and Trowa had to physically restrain himself from blinking. Heero's lips curled just a tiny bit in the corner of one side, a sinister grin that he knowingly let settle before he spoke. "Oh, I don't think so. Not until I hear it from him. He loves *me*. He swore to me that he would love me for the rest of his life, no matter what. He is *mine*."

Trowa snorted airily through his nose. "Are you honestly that naive? He'll love you to the day that he dies, Heero. It doesn't mean that he'll be with you.

"He chose me. He wants to be with me. You need to find another punching bag. This relationship is no good for either of you."

Heero didn't flinch, but he unconsciously took a half-step back. "And what do you think you can do to stop me? How exactly do you intend to keep me away?"

Trowa moved closer, leaning over so that his nose was just a slip away from bumping into Heero's. "Are you expecting me to threaten you? To say I'll kill you if you ever touch him again? Would you believe that?

"You always act like you are so damned superior to the rest of the world. So be superior. You are no good for him. He's no good for you. Walk away."

There was a moment of absolute stillness. Heero seemed completely frozen - not even his eyelids twitched. Trowa could feel his whole body start to ache from the effort of being motionless, but he would rather have his skin peeled off with rusty Swiss army knife prior to taking a bath in rubbing alcohol than to be the first one to move.

Heero blinked. He made a scoffing sound, and turned his back on Trowa. "You two deserve each other. Enjoy rolling in the filth."

Trowa relaxed slowly, so as not to be too obvious about it. "You know what, Heero. You should get some therapy. Do you a world of good."

Heero laughed just once, a bark of disgusted dismissal. Trowa watched as he stalked back to his car, and drove away. Trowa waited for a moment, getting his bearing before heading into the treatment center. He had purposefully stayed with his back to the wall for the whole confrontation, and now his knees felt rubbery.

He had entered the ranks of the select few who defied Heero Yuy and lived.

Duo was waiting none too patiently for him in the door to the multipurpose room. As soon as he saw Trowa enter the lobby, he took off, smacking Trowa across the shoulder as soon as he was close enough. "What the hell took so long?"

Trowa felt a little funny, standing there in the lobby, holding his hand out for the visitor's badge, smiling down at Duo. He hadn't been completely sure before now that Duo really looking forward to his visits. "Sorry."

"Sorry?" Duo echoed, disbelieving. "Is that it?"

Trowa fixed the visitor's badge to his collar, and shepherded Duo inside. "Let's go back to your room."

Duo crossed his arms over his chest, and affected a resistant air, although he walked along just fine under his own power. "What makes you think you get to go to my room, hm? Maybe I'm mad at you."

Trowa leaned close to Duo so that he could whisper directly into his ear. "I saw Heero outside."

"Oh." Duo lost all expression, his arms falling numbly to his sides. Trowa wasn't entirely sure how to read him, so he just shuttled them back to Duo's room faster, making sure to close and lock the door behind him.

"It's ok. He just... I think he was just coming by every now and again to... look in." He tried to sound reassuringly blank, but it was difficult given that he wasn't entirely sure what Duo was thinking.

"Looking in? You don't think he's... he's gonna try to visit, do you?" Duo's eyes were wide and he looked afraid, which made him look much younger than he was.

Trowa sat them down on the bed, and put his arms around Duo's waist. "No one can visit you unless you want them to. You just have to tell them, right? So you don't have to worry about this."

Duo nodded blankly, turning to shelter himself more fully in Trowa's arms. "I just... I'm not *afraid* or anything, you know, it's just... I don't want to see him."

Trowa held Duo tightly enough that he could feel Duo getting warmer. "I know. Temptation. But you don't have to worry, it's safe."

Duo pulled himself up. "No, that's not what I mean... I mean, I have no desire to go back to him, or anything like that. I mean... Christ fuckin' hell, it's just all this shit we've dredged up in sessions... And I think about the things I let him do to me, I just feel... *dirty*. I don't want to see him again, I mean, I don't want to have deal with the whole thing, you know? I just wish he'd just... go away."

Duo looked and sounded miserable. He was rubbing his hands over his arms like he was cold, and he wasn't looking at Trowa. Trowa put his hand on Duo's chin, and gently led Duo's eyes back to him. "I understand."

Duo nodded absently. "Yeah. I mean... I guess the mature thing to do would be to close the door, you know, end things so that there's closure, but... It feels like such a retread. Like we keep spinning around the same dame issues all the damn time..."

Trowa kissed Duo's cheek softly, letting his lips get just a little wet, and leaving a small ring of moisture on Duo's cheek. "You don't need to face him now."

Duo smiled. "Good. Cuz there's plenty of things I'd rather be doing."

Trowa felt his pulse pound, and there was a rush behind his eyes as Duo leaned in for a kiss. It was like what he imagined being in school and being kissed for the first time would be like. He didn't understand why he was feeling so much right now, but instead of picking it all apart, he just let it all happen.

Duo bounced off the bed, and Trowa couldn't contain a noise of protest.

"Wait, before we... get distracted, I have something for you." Duo was grinning manically from ear to ear. "I looked some stuff up online, and I found all this great stuff... I printed out the addresses and everything, so you could look into things more, but... The college and university systems in the colonies work a little bit differently than on Earth. Out of necessity, the developed into more trade school like institutions than the whole mess down here on the rock. So the requirements aren't that bad. You would really only have to take this one entrance test, which is standardized for all the colonial universities. There are three vet schools... One on L5, one of L1, and one on L4. L2 has one, too, but it's kinda crappy... you can only get an associate's license from them. L3 is rebuilding a lot of their schools, so they don't have everything yet. The test is pretty tough, only about eight percent of the people who take it pass, but I bet you could ace it anyway, cuz a lot of kids take it right out of high school, so that number isn't really indicative of anything. You could probably take just a couple of classes at your university online, and totally be prepped to ace this thing."

Duo spread out all the sheets of information he had printed out on the bed, practically bouncing as he relayed the information. Trowa stared down at the sheets in wonder, almost mystified by the colors and symbols on them. He hadn't really given his conversation with Duo much thought afterward. In therapy, Dr. Levy had encouraged him to give the matter more thought, but he wasn't the sort of doctor to push too much. He liked to give his patient's room to come to their own decisions.

Duo started to gnaw on his bottom lip. "Er, they aren't that expensive either, and there are loans and stuff you can get to tide you over... I mean, if you want to, that is. Anyway, it just... it seemed like something that could happen."

Duo could only watch Trowa not look at his handiwork for so long, and then he started to shuffle them back together again. Trowa put his hands on Duo's, and stilled them. "Thank you."

Duo looked up into Trowa's eyes. "You'd be really good with animals, you know. It could be... something you'd care about."

Trowa felt foolish for not seeing the naked need in Duo before. Of course it mattered more to Duo that *Trowa* had a purpose and a future than that he did for himself. Trowa leaned down, and kissed Duo passionately. He almost fell on top of the pile of papers as he pushed Duo down onto the bed. Duo managed to sneak them aside before they landed together on the mattress. "You ever been to L5?"

Duo beamed. "A couple of times, although one of the colonies I went to is gone, now. Fei's stupid family. But I've always heard that they have more of a frontier feeling on L5."

Trowa nodded, absently smoothing Duo's hair around his face. "L4 is so controlled by the Winners... They do good things, but I wouldn't want to live there. And L1 has so damn many tourists."

Duo sat up, clearly excited. "Great! You just need to sign up for a biology class, and probably chemistry and physics, although those should be easier. The test is in August, since the colonial schools start in October. It's kinda fast, but I think we can do it. I mean, I might not have my pilot's license yet, but I think that was more of an excuse than anything else." Duo blushed as he admitted that, and Trowa's heart beat a little faster in his chest, being privileged enough to be trusted with that.

Trowa shook his head. "Damn. We have plans."

Duo grinned so hard, he started to laugh out loud.

Duo was doing his best not to panic, Trowa could tell, but it wasn't easy. Today was the day that he left inpatient care, and began his outpatient care. He had had sessions in the morning, and had gotten all packed up the night before, and he had waited in the multipurpose room for Trowa to come pick him up.

Unfortunately, before Trowa could get there, right at visiting hours, Relena had shown up with an entourage.

Trowa watched with guilty bemusement as Relena clutched Duo's arm, and virtually bounced at his side as she yammered on about nothing that made sense.

Duo saw Trowa at the door, and jumped up, not quite able to disentangle himself from Relena. "Trowa!"

Trowa walked inside casually, keeping his eyes down so that he didn't give into his amusement. "Ready?"

"Isn't this exciting!?" Relena took Trowa's wrist in her hand, so that she was holding onto both of them. Trowa looked down on the small pinkish white fingers surrounding his wrist with the same sort of curiosity that tigers gave the flies that joined them for dinner. "I'm just so happy for both of you! This is such a big step. We have to celebrate. I've already made all the arrangements, I was telling Duo about it, but just in case he forgets, you both *have* to come to my city penthouse for just a small little gathering. Everyone will be there! Well, I had to send Heero to Paris for the weekend, business matter, but that's not really relevant... Aren't you excited?"

Trowa smiled at Relena with what he hoped was less poorly disguised disgust and more wan acceptance. "Yes."

Duo rolled his eyes, tugging his arm in an attempt to release it from Relena's grip. "Hey, 'Lena, can Tro and I have our moment, please?"

"Oh!" She looked absolutely horrified, and jumped back, dropping their appendages as if her hands were burning. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to interfere!"

Duo resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and Trowa considered that to be indulgent. Duo put his arms around Trowa's neck, and Trowa lifted him by the waist into a tight hug, tight enough to allow Duo to speak to him without Relena realizing they were whispering about her.

"Please don't make me do this!"

Trowa nodded against Duo's cheek, and slipped away so that he could kiss Duo in acknowledgment. "You know, Relena... I think today is kinda stressful enough. Maybe we could do this... celebration thing?... another time."

"Oh." Relena clearly understood, but was terribly disappointed.

Before Duo's guilt could kick in and cause him to reverse their plan, Trowa added, "What about tomorrow? We could just go out for a simple dinner. What do you think?"

Relena beamed brightly. "Whatever you want! I'm just so happy!" She impulsively leaned in and threw herself all over Duo, who definitely had no idea what to do with a woman in his arms.

Other patients around the room were watching them avidly. One thin young girl with streaked blonde hair poked her companion in the ribs and started to whisper furiously. There were mixed expressions of shock, approval, and confusion around the room. The patient who always carried a sketchbook was rapidly scribbling on the page, his eyes locked on Relena and Duo.

Perhaps he might have felt jealous at one point of the way that Duo and Relena appeared to fit together, but he was so far beyond the point of doubt that all he could see was how desperately Duo wanted out of the embrace.

Relena said something to him, speaking quietly while looking directly into his eyes, and when she had him completely flatfooted, she leaned in to steal a kiss.

Trowa raised an eyebrow in mock approbation, but said nothing, just letting Relena blush guiltily without comment.

He picked up Duo's bag, and put his hand on Duo's back as they walked out. Relena had whipped out her cellphone, and started to make plans for an early supper the next night. By the time they reached their car, Relena had already made reservations for a room at a medium-priced restaurant downtown, and called Une, Sally, Wu Fei, and her brother to inform them of the changes to the plan.

Duo was looking at him with mild hysteria, but Trowa just kissed him on the forehead and patted his back in encouragement.

Relena insisted on another hug, one for each of them, and kissed their cheeks, before she could cheerily wave goodbye. Trowa and Duo stood side by side next to the car, watching her go.

"She's like a hurricane."

"That's an insult to hurricanes," Duo surmised gloomily. He turned to Trowa accusingly. "Dinner?!"

Trowa raised his hands in surrender. "I had no idea she was going to be here. Or any of this."

Duo pouted. "I don't know about this, Tro..."

Trowa took Duo in his arms, kissing him gently. There was this indescribable thrill, having Duo with him outside the confines of the treatment center. "We'll make it."

Duo sighed, and leaned on Trowa. "We damn well better, because I've gone through hell just to get this far..."

Trowa could hear the misery in Duo's voice, but he reacted to the words instead. He buried his hand in the back of Duo's braid, and he kissed Duo long and hard.

Duo was grinning when they were done. "You have a way with words, Tro."

Trowa winked at him.

They were halfway through their drive home when Duo noticed it.

"Uh, Trowa? This isn't the way to the apartment, is it?"

Trowa nodded slowly, knowing what was going through Duo's head, but still not sure how he was going to tell Duo. "Ah. Right. I might have forgotten to mention it, but we moved."

"We moved."


"And you *forgot* to mention it?"


Duo burst out laughing, shocking Trowa enough that he swerved in his lane minutely. He turned to look at Duo for a moment, just trying to gauge what kind of laugh it was.

"You forgot. That's perfect. Ok then. Where did we move?"

Trowa shrugged a little, indicating ahead with a nod of his head. "You'll see. It's a little small."

Duo was still grinning from ear to ear. "Well, that's understandable, all things considered. Why didn't you tell me?"

Trowa considered each word before committing them to speech. "It wasn't important, and I didn't want to bother you."

"Right." Duo rolled his eyes. "Because I've been so busy. I could have helped you look up places, or used some of my damn craft time to make some sort of housewarming thing."

There was the slight indication of a reproach in Duo's voice, but there was enough humor that Trowa was fairly confident that he was going to be forgiven. "Sorry."

"It's ok." Duo shrugged, smiling. "I would have done the same thing, had our positions been reversed."

Trowa brightened, smiling tightly back at Duo.

It wasn't terribly difficult to find parking in their new neighborhood, though if they hadn't been former soldiers, they might have thought twice about taking the short cut through the narrow alley. Their new building was smaller and much plainer than where they had lived. The lobby did not have any decorating nuances like mosaic-tiled floors, and there was no elevator at all. Their new apartment was a studio, with a small bathroom and a small kitchen tucked in the back. The room was filled so that there was only just enough room to walk around the bed. Along the wall, packing boxes had been stacked, many turned onto their sides, and opened so that their contents were accessible. The bedside tables were packing boxes, as was the kitchen table, the tv table, the 'phone table, and the small footlocker at the foot of the bed.

Duo stood in the middle of the room and turned around slowly so that he could see it all while Trowa stood back in the doorway to the kitchen, watching nervously. Duo whistled low. "We could play Name the Fire Code Violations to pass the time."

Trowa grinned, and ducked his head. "There wasn't a lot of room, so I sold most of our furniture, but I kept all of our things."

Duo nodded, and went to put his arms around Trowa. "Good. You know what I like? Since the bed dominates the room, it kinda suggests what we should be doing..."

Trowa ran his hands up and down Duo's back. "That's what I've been thinking."

It had been a long time since Trowa had Duo between his legs. He writhed underneath Duo's frail, wiry body, and felt helpless in the wake of the passion that Duo stirred inside of him.

Afterwards, they sat in the cramped bathtub together, Duo curled up against his body, and he ran his fingers through Duo's hair. They had left the lights off, so as it got darker, the bathroom became more and more shadowed, until the only light was cast from the streetlight, dimly illuminating the bathroom because they had left the door to the apartment open.

Trowa rinsed out Duo's hair, and brushed it out as they sat on the bed. Duo kept his hands balled up next to him on the bed, and Trowa watched Duo's hands clench and unclench as he passed the brush through Duo's hair.

They started to talk. Simple questions about the bathroom fixtures became a discussion of their future plans, and slowly turned into a conversation about the role their friends would play in their lives as their future unfolded.

Duo was going to look for a job first thing tomorrow. He had sessions from one until three in the afternoon, scheduled so that they wouldn't conflict with Trowa's work. He decided that it would be best for Trowa to study in the apartment while he was in his sessions. Trowa had explained that there were computer labs for the online courses, but that all the information was on the net anyway, and if he needed any reference material, he could pick it up from whichever library before he left work for the day.

Duo would find a job where he could work mornings, something with little stress and enough pay so that he could contribute to their income, and start to pay back some of their debts.

They evaded the issue of going back to the colonies. There was no need to get into too much of a debate just then. It was understood that they would both need to start looking into getting their licenses reinstated, and that Trowa stood a better chance of getting it done. It didn't need to be said.

Duo asked dozens of questions about how things had been while he was in the center. He asked about things that Trowa had never considered before, and about mundane things that Trowa couldn't believe he was interested in, but Trowa answered each question patiently.

He asked about whom Trowa saw and talked to while he was in the center, and Trowa was dumbfounded to discover that he had been living in virtual seclusion the whole time.

Duo asked about Quatre, and where things stood with him, and how Trowa felt, each question tentatively probing a little deeper as Duo felt out Trowa's reactions. Trowa was not surprised to hear himself answering with a totally neutral expression, but he was surprised at how little pain there was in Duo's questions.

Dr. Levy had probed Trowa's reactions to Quatre and their past together on several occasions, and it always left Trowa feeling a bit exhausted.

They talked about Wu Fei and Sally, and Noin and Zechs, and Relena, and Hilde and Catherine, and eventually, they talked about Heero, Duo sighing and looking away as he said Heero's name. Trowa had never seen Duo looking ashamed before, and he didn't like it.

Duo put his head down on Trowa's shoulder, and asked to be forgiven for not dumping Heero as soon as he started becoming involved with Trowa. For not cutting off contact with Heero after he started to live with Trowa, even though he knew that Heero was only interested in keeping a claim on him. For not throwing the heroin away as soon as Heero had put it on the table.

Trowa held Duo in his arms, and offered whatever absolution he could give with his embrace.

They fell asleep propped up against the bed, and Trowa fuzzily remembered trying to continue their conversation while nodding off.

"She said it was going to be casual, right?" Duo nervously adjusted the collar of his shirt, his eyes glued to the small mirror over the sink in the bathroom.

Trowa smiled as he watched. He still didn't have his pants on, but Duo was completely washed up, shaved, and dressed. "You look fine." It was an understatement, Trowa thought, but there was no reason to try to make Duo's head spin. Trowa knew better; Duo would never believe him if he tried to be honest.

Duo turned away from the mirror, his eyes a little wide with panic. He was wearing black jeans that were just tight enough to be stylish, and white button down shirt that just had enough of a sheen to the cotton to seem like it was shining. His hair was perfectly plaited, and his shoes were neatly shined.

He looked ready for a job interview.

"But do I look casual? Or too casual? Where is this place she made reservations for, anyway? And who's going to be there?" Duo turned back to the mirror, sighing with frustration.

Trowa clamped down on his amusement. "It's Gino's. You've been there, I'm sure. It's a little touristy, but it's got good food. They make pizza."

"A pizza place. Ok." Duo smoothed his hands over his thighs, nodding to himself. "Trowa, how long have you been taking antidepressants?"

Trowa blinked. "About three weeks."

"You didn't tell me." Duo's voice was deliberately flat, and Trowa wasn't sure how to interpret it.

"I didn't want to get your hopes up."

Duo turned around to face Trowa in a panic, and was next to Trowa in the next heartbeat. "Tro! You're not taking them because you think that I want you to be... happier, or some such shit, are you?"

"No," Trowa reasoned out slowly. "It's just... You've been facing your demons. I'm trying to do the same."

Duo paused. "Your doctor prescribed them? And you don't mind them? Did he take all the appropriate head scans?"

Trowa nodded solemnly.

"Ok." Duo sighed, and sat down next to Trowa. "Well?"

Trowa shrugged.

Grinning, Duo put his hand on Trowa's. "Well, you do seem to smile more."

Trowa cocked his head to the side. "Really?"

"Not a lot more." Duo winked at him, and took a kiss.

Trowa shook his head, and got up to brush his teeth. Duo stayed on the bed, either satisfied with his appearance or tired of looking at himself in the mirror, and he watched Trowa as Trowa had watched him.

"I'm jealous."

Trowa turned to look at Duo, still bent over the sink, his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

"You get drugs. I don't get drugs." Duo's eyes were twinkling as he was trying to contain his laughter, and Trowa had to put his head over the sink again before he spewed toothpaste all over the place. Duo laughed, rolling on his side on the bed, and Trowa couldn't resist. He quickly spit out the toothpaste, wiped his mouth off on a towel, and went out to take advantage of Duo's mirth.

They managed to get to the restaurant only twenty minutes late, and Duo was able to salvage his fancy dress shirt.

Everyone was at the table already. As they walked through the door, Duo squeezed Trowa hand tightly enough to cause Trowa to want to wince. Wu Fei glared across the table, meeting Relena's eyes, and so there were no cheers or applause, but each person calmly took a turn shaking Duo's hand and congratulating him.

Wu Fei was the first one to greet Duo. He took Duo's arm in a traditional handshake, holding it nearly at the elbow, and he put his other hand on Duo's shoulder as he nodded, smiling a broad smile that made him look several years younger than he was. Sally was right behind him with a quick hug of support. Wu Fei and Trowa stood shoulder to shoulder as they witnessed the small reception line that attacked Duo.

"Quatre couldn't get away from his business meetings this weekend." Wu Fei spoke directly to Trowa, his eyes never leaving Duo.

Trowa nodded, not really sure what else there was to say. Despite how he had left things with Quatre, he was just as glad not to have to endure the strained politeness of his presence.

Wu Fei scowled. "If you like, I can have a word with him."

Trowa was entertained by the picture of Wu Fei acting as their attack dog. "No, it's not necessary."

Wu Fei glared at him. "A man should not abandon his friends, regardless of the circumstances."

Trowa stoically bore his gaze. "It is permissible to make allowances for personal feelings."

"He should never have allowed his feelings for you to interfere with his relationship with Duo, especially now that Duo needs the support of his friends." There was a note of pouting castigation in Wu Fei's voice that grated on Trowa's nerves.

Trowa watched Duo greeting Zechs with some degree of embarrassment as he contemplated his response. "I hope that it is only natural that people's feelings for me and for Duo would now be connected. And, I don't want to be difficult, but if Duo or I were to depend solely on our 'friends' for strength, we would both be dead already." Trowa shrugged as Wu Fei stared. "It's all right. Maybe now would be a good time to reconnect with old friends. But don't blame Quatre for having a heart, even if he misuses it. He can't help being who he is."

"I'm sorry." Wu Fei spoke seriously, and Trowa was sure that he could count on one hand the number of times that Wu Fei had uttered those words in his life.

There was no reason for there to be any ill feelings. Trowa smirked with half his mouth. "Don't think of it. This is supposed to be some sort of party or something."

Wu Fei sighed, his eyes bright, and they joined the table.

Relena had Duo right next to her, and Duo took Trowa's hand as they sat down, so that put Trowa in the somewhat awkward position of somehow sitting next to Zechs. Trowa wasn't sure when the last time he had seen the older man, but he was sure that if Zechs were not of royal descent, he would have melted into the ground by now. He tried to make conversation several times, joking about pushy sisters who dragged you off places, but no conversation could get off the ground before Duo would tug on his hand.

It should have been a completely quiet, relaxing night, but Relena did insist on beaming and occasionally exclaiming her happiness. Duo sat in his chair ramrod straight, his eyes darting around as he tried to fit in and keep up with conversation. Before the pizzas were served, Trowa was hoping he could steal Duo away on some flimsy excuse, to spare him the tension.

Trowa was just in the process of clearing his throat so that he could make some announcement to the effect that they had to leave when Une tapped on her glass with her fork. She smiled discreetly at the gathered group, and nodded at Duo. "I'm sorry, I don't want to interrupt anyone, or interfere in this lovely gathering for the evening... I'd like to thank Ms. Relena for organizing this get together, and especially for including me in the guest list. What we have in common may be very little indeed, but we do share some rather extraordinary friends, and I'm very grateful to be able to share this evening with you both." She nodded at Duo and Trowa with a smile, raising her glass slightly to them.

Trowa was impressed. As evil as Une had ever been, she certainly did have excellent manners.

"I wanted to be able to offer you something as a token of my congratulations. No, no, hear me out... Over the past several years, I have wanted to cultivate a working environment that would embrace the best talents we have available to us in the system, but there are some necessary evils to bureaucracy, and I'm afraid I fell short in my duty to look after the interests of those who had the most to offer the Preventors. I still very much believe in the mission many of us have dedicated our lives to serve, but more importantly, the peace all of you fought so valiantly for would be meaningless if those that sacrificed the most to gain it were unable to experience it.

"It is in the spirit of peace and freedom that I offer you this." She pulled out from her breast pocket two legal envelopes. "I imagine that now that you are no longer tied down to our organization, you will be seeking your futures amongst the stars, as is fitting. I have been quietly appealing your injunctions, and you have been granted a reprieve. There will be a six-month probation period, but if all the conditions have been met once the injunctions are revaluated at that time, then you will be given back your pilot's license, per the judge's discretion. I should add, I would be more than willing to speak on your behalf at that hearing, because I know that there are very few people in the entire Earthsphere that are as qualified as the pair of you."

There was a pregnant pause after Une's speech during which Duo and Trowa just stared at the envelopes on the table before them. On the one hand, Une going to bat for them made things much simpler, in a way they could not have hoped to see happen. With her support, there was little doubt that they would both be cleared for flight sooner than they thought.

On the other hand, it wasn't something they had ever intended to discuss in public, especially in front of Wu Fei and Zechs.

Trowa considered which was more embarrassing - having a former comrade in arms be made painfully aware of your deficiencies since the end of the war, or having a former enemy know your weaknesses. He couldn't decide which was more painful, so he couldn't commit to a reaction of embarrassment, which left him contemplating being grateful.

Relena sighed and picked up the envelopes, taking Une's confused attention away from the guests of honor. "Well, obviously, this is just a technicality, although it is a great relief that it is being taken care of. That is really generous of you." She actually smiled at Une, which was a feat of pure will.

Trowa was impressed.

Duo stood up suddenly. He cleared his throat, and brushed his hands down over his pants. He reached out a hand to Une, smiling a little as she took it. "Thank you. You can't know what this means. I... I'm not sure I'm comfortable accepting such generosity. I had hoped to *earn* my license back. But your support is greatly appreciated."

Trowa wasn't surprised that she was unable to respond in the face of Duo's unchecked grace.

The rest of the evening went from there. It was as if it were understood by all that the largest hurdle of the evening had been leapt, and therefore the rest of the time was for fun alone. Wu Fei engaged Sally in a debate on the philosophical ramifications of vegetarianism that made for lively table conversation, especially after Wu Fei stood up, tossing his napkin down in anger, and challenged Sally to a gentleman's duel.

Her response to that was sure to keep Wu Fei's cheeks red for a year.

They weren't even the first ones to leave. Une had an early meeting she wanted to prepare for, and Sally claimed that winning arguments always tired her out. There was about a half and hour when it was the five of them around the table, just talking and laughing, and Trowa was shocked to discover that Zechs had a sense of humor.

When Relena apologetically informed them that it was time for her to go, they all got up and the dinner broke up. Wu Fei shook Duo's hand again, his face beaming with pride as he thanked Duo for taking back his life. Duo honestly had no response to that, so Trowa stepped in to get Fei to let go of Duo's shocked limb. Relena gave them each a peck on the cheek, and then she managed to somehow steal another kiss from Duo. Trowa gave her an eye that made her giggle and hide her face.

Surprisingly, Zechs was strangely warm as he wished them a good night. He was just about to turn to join Relena in the limo, when he smirked at Duo. "Excuse me, I realize this is inappropriate... but how much do you remember of our... encounter in the Preventors space station four years ago?"

Duo laughed, a lot of the tension bleeding out of his body. "Sadly, very little."

Zechs shook his head. "Ah well. Better to have loved and lost..." He waved goodbye to them with mirth in his eyes, and Trowa just shook his head.

"Those Peacecraft kids sure do jones on you."

Duo shook his head, stretching out languidly. "I can't help it if I'm dead sexy."

Trowa barked out a laugh, which caused Duo to mock indignation.

It was late enough when they got home that Trowa went straight to bed, in the habit of being up early for work. Duo spooned up behind him, and just when Trowa was about to drift off, he sighed happily.

"Hey Tro."


"We might be pilots again."

Trowa smiled, keeping his eyes closed but reaching out to take Duo's hand in his. "Yeah."

Life settled into a rhythm. Duo got a job stocking shelves at a hardware store just four blocks from their apartment. It was owned by an older couple, and run by their son. The family took to Duo and his humorous candor right away, especially since he knew the merchandise as well as they did. He worked from six in the morning until twelve, and then he and Trowa had lunch together. Trowa would leave in the morning while Duo was still asleep in his bed. Each morning he left later and later, until he was starting his runs almost a full hour later than he had started to initially. He would come back to an empty apartment, and for lack of anything better to do, he would tidy up. It was too small a space to get dirty, really, as they would be living in their own filth if they let it go even a little, but Duo usually did not pick up after himself in the morning, so Trowa always had a little something to clean up.

He would make lunch. He made sandwiches and other foods associated with lunch. He always made salads, too. Duo had gotten used to eating greens at the treatment center, and Trowa thought it was a good habit to continue. The salad was the best part of the meal to prepare, because it entailed cleaning and cutting vegetables, a very sanitary process. He disliked making sandwiches with meat, because he had developed an aversion to the slick feeling of the slices in his hands, but he made sure that their meals had enough nutrients to sustain them.

Duo always had stories about his morning. This customer or that mix-up with the order. It was just mindless chatter, just the result of Trowa being quiet and letting Duo talk. What was astonishing was that, over time, Trowa had stories to tell of his mornings, too. Usually, about traffic, or some strange looking student he saw. They often laughed about the shabbily dressed students slinking back from whatever dorm they had spent the night to their home dorm. It seemed so utterly juvenile to both of them.

In the afternoon, Duo would leave for his sessions, and Trowa would sit in front of the computer to study. His classes weren't hard, and the adjustment to the structured learning was remarkably simple after spending so much time in a cube working for the Preventors. In fact, the rigors of class work made much more sense than most of the corporate-styled policies of the Preventors.

Once a week, Trowa would go to Dr. Levy's office for an hour in the afternoon, and he would patiently endure as Dr. Levy picked through his brain. Their sessions were dry and formal, and Trowa appreciated each effort. He wasn't sure that there was much that was getting accomplished, but it was irrelevant. It was the journey.

In the evening, they would sometimes watch tv, sometimes go out, sometimes read together, and sometimes go for a walk. The evenings were more open. Sometimes, Duo would needle Trowa into calling Catherine. Sometimes, Duo would call Hilde or Howard. On the weekends, they often saw either Wu Fei or Relena. They always talked to both of them.

There was a rhythm.

There were bad days when Duo was withdrawn and surly. Days when Trowa scratched at his arms, and resented Duo's presence in his life. When the space they occupied seemed a fraction of the size that they needed, and the two of them seemed to be completely incompatible. There were times when neither of them wanted to go about his day, or deal with anyone, even each other.

It never seemed to interrupt their sex life. Sometimes, it was like mindless rutting, and sometimes it was indescribable and beautiful, but they collectively viewed it as something necessary to quench their appetite, and nothing disturbed that.

Trowa sometimes felt like he was just getting to know Duo. It was like he was rediscovering things about his lover that he had never known. He got better at reading the other man's moods, and he gradually became aware that Duo was getting better at reading his moods. They were starting to grow accustomed to each other on a minute-to-minute basis.

Duo was always enthusiastic about helping Trowa study, and was fascinated by the way that the textbooks described things he had assumed were common knowledge. Trowa found Duo's raw intellect to be utterly beguiling, and if he were not already in love with Duo, discovered the workings of his mind would have surely seduced him. Before tests, Duo would hold the textbooks and help Trowa cram, asking him question after question, until the questions devolved into discussion, which were always more enlightening than his readings of the materials. He became addicted to the way that Duo approached problems, and found himself mimicking Duo when he went to solve problems himself.

It wasn't idyllic. Most of the time, Trowa felt like they were both working all the time at just keeping the status quo. He thought that was why they were so hungry for sex all the time - it was their only time to just release the tensions of the day.

It was better than any other time of Trowa's life.

They talked about the future when the lights were out, and they were buried in the sheets and blankets and each other's limbs. They spoke quietly, so that only they could hear, and Trowa could never see Duo's face during these conversations, only feel his body against his own.

They avoided certain topics. Their licenses, or lack thereof, loomed large and ignored in their conversations. Sometimes, they had to work hard to not speak of them.

The colonies were connected by shuttles, but the shuttles ran infrequently due to the expense of maintaining large transport vehicles. Instead, smaller crafts were common, and most people traveled from colony to colony, and cluster to cluster, in these small ships, most of which were not fitted to travel to Earth. While one colonial cluster was generally self-sufficient, that didn't mean that each colony in the cluster was self-sufficient, so travel between colonies was quite common.

As a result, life in the colonies often depended on the ability to pilot one's self from point to point, something that would be tricky if just Trowa had a license, and impossible if neither of them did.

They ignored it, though. There was nothing they could do to ensure that they would be granted their licenses back, and nothing they could do if they couldn't get them back. It was just understood that there was this concern that would potentially muck up all of their plans.

They never spoke of Une or her offer. It was enough that she was giving them the chance. That was all either wanted.

When Duo first came home, they received a few calls from Heero, but Duo never accepted the calls, and he never returned them. Trowa enjoyed deleting them more than he should have, but he couldn't help the thrill of triumph that elevated him as the machine pinged 'message deleted'.

Trowa brushed Duo's hair every night, burying his fingers in the thick tresses as he gently pulled the brush down its length. Duo would get quiet as Trowa worked, and when Trowa was done, Duo would turn to him and smile.

Even just that one smile a day was enough for Trowa.

Trowa had gone with him that afternoon, despite Duo's protests. He brought along some chemistry to read over while he waited in the car, but he only held the book open on the steering wheel as he watched the door restlessly.

It was Duo's last session, and it seemed monumental in an abstract way.

Duo had been nervous that day, eating his lunch by tearing it into pieces and chewing like a squirrel on the pieces. It had been adorably annoying, and Trowa had chewed especially quietly so he could enjoy the full experience.

Dr. Levy had ended their sessions two weeks earlier. Dr. Levy had abruptly announced that they had achieved everything they could hope to, and that continuing the sessions would only serve to placate Trowa's fears. Dr. Levy was too professional to be concerned with offending Trowa, which was one of the reasons that Trowa responded to him so well. They ended amicably, and Dr. Levy even wrote him a letter recommending that his license be reinstated.

It was an entirely beneficial arrangement.

Duo's sessions seemed different, though. Trowa wasn't sure, but the thought that Duo opened up to Dr. Mahoney quite openly. He knew that Duo hadn't told her all the details of his terrible mission, but he had given her the bones of it, and he seemed to enjoy his time with her. For the past two weeks, Duo had been vacillating between melancholy and anxiety when he anticipated the cessation of his therapy, so Trowa was certain he didn't want to leave Duo alone to deal with it.

It felt like much longer than two hours before Duo reappeared, carrying a gift bag, a small vase of daisies, and a file folder.

Trowa got out of the car to help Duo in, but Duo got the door open before he could get his book stored, and so then he had to slide back into the car to help Duo put his packages down so he could buckle up.

"How did it go?" Trowa kept his voice neutral as he peeked inside the gift bag. It seemed to consist of housewares.

Duo sighed, blushing just at the tips of his ears. "She gave me a going away present. She said... she said that she was proud of me." Duo ducked his face away as he clicked the buckle into place. "She got us stuff for the 'house' for when we move to the colonies. It's mostly earthbound stuff people on this rock think people in the colonies need." Duo seemed to be apologizing with his tone.

Trowa smiled faintly. "That's nice."

"Yeah," Duo shakily agreed. "She was really nice. She said... she said that she was available at any time, day or night. She gave me her 'special' number. And we... well, we covered the end stuff. You know, what to expect for the future, what I was looking forward to, that sort of thing."

Trowa watched Duo guardedly. He wasn't usually this forthcoming about his sessions.

"She was really nice. Really smart. She knows her shit, you know? I'm... I'm going to miss her." Duo swallowed hard, and looked away.

Trowa put his hand on Duo's knee. "I know."

Duo sniffed, but Trowa could see that it was just his sinuses. He started the car, slowly shifting into reverse. "Want to pick up a pizza and stay in bed all night?"

Duo nodded, smiling against the glass of the window. "Yeah. Thanks."

Trowa pulled out his cellphone, and handed it to Duo. He drove a little slow, so that the pizza would be ready by the time they got there.

When they made love that night, Duo took the lead, covering Trowa's body with his caresses. There was some part of Trowa's brain that understood why Duo was being so aggressively tender, but he wasn't able to form words with his thoughts, and the nebulous comprehension slipped in and out of his grasp.

Trowa slept with his face on Duo's chest that night, Duo's hands running through his hair, and he as he drifted off, he thought that there was something in the way that Duo was holding him that indicated that Duo knew how much he trusted him.

"Open it."

Trowa nodded, his hands frozen in his lap. He continued to stare at the simple white envelope, waiting to see if perhaps it would do something interested.

"Open it."

Duo was getting impatient. He was staring at Trowa, his brow furrowed. He had only a few minutes before he had to leave for his session, and he wanted to know what the answer was before he went.

Trowa continued to stare at the envelope.

Duo sighed. "Can I open it?"

Trowa blinked, and looked up at Duo. Something in his expression must have indicated a positive response, or else Duo's question was rhetorical. Duo swiped the envelope off the bedspread, and ripped it open.

Trowa watched Duo's face as he read the single sheet of paper that had been safely ensconced in the envelope. He watched every twitch of Duo's nose, the way the corners of his eyes would crinkle as he read, the flickers of motion in Duo's lips, and the way that Duo's fingers moved over the edges of the paper.

He didn't have the slightest clue what to do with all of that information, but he watched.

Duo put the sheet of paper down, and smiled at Trowa.

Trowa leaned back, sighing.

"You're going to be a doctor."

Trowa felt himself smiling before he was consciously aware of being happy. Everything about the last forty seconds kept replaying and replaying against the backdrop of his senses. He could hear the envelope being ripped open and then Duo's voice warm with pride washing over him. He swallowed hard, thinking that he should say something, but he had nothing to say.

Duo leaned over and kissed his nose. "I'm going to be living with a doctor." Duo wiggled his eyebrows, and Trowa heard himself laughing even as he was analyzing the humor.

He really hadn't expected to pass.

Duo's hands were unnaturally still in his lap. His back was so stiff, it made Trowa tense to look at him. He hadn't blinked for nearly three minutes. Trowa said nothing to comfort him, nor took any action to relax him. He was too tense himself to make the attempt.

Their names were on the bottom of the list for the afternoon's cases, right next to each other. The judge had already dispatched three people in rapid succession, displaying a gruff fairness that was not promising.

Trowa was reasonably confident that his request for reinstatement would be granted. Dr. Levy had signed off on it, he had seven months of taking his meds regularly behind him, and he had had no hospitalizations in over a year. Duo was quite still as he watched the proceedings with wide-eyed panic. Duo was convinced that he would not be reinstated; despite that, he had refused to allow Une to speak on his behalf at the hearing, and had in fact put his foot down against anyone attending in support. Duo had not said so in words, precisely, but he was of the opinion that if he was not considered safe to pilot by the law, then he shouldn't be piloting. It was as simple as that.

It was difficult to say what to expect. The judge barely looked at anyone who milled before his bench. He picked up one file folder after the other, shuffling the papers around inside and then shoving them off to the other side of his bench. He looked like a man who might, at one time, have been military, and was now letting his later years slip by before his eyes as he droned through the routine of his daily life.

Trowa pondered the possibility of pitying him, but the most emotional reaction he could muster was vague disgust.

His name was called first. He stood straight up and did not look at Duo as he approached the bench. He could sense that Duo was watching his every move, and it made him nervous enough. He stood at the podium before the bench, and calmly looked up at the judge.

The judge's hair was black, with grey around the edges of his hairline, and it was slicked back so that it shone. His hair was thinning, so there were thick, oily streaks of hair boldly traversing his head, only partially masking the skin of his scalp. His cheeks drooped below his jaw line, and his chin had a strange folding that might have been a dimple on a less stocky man. He wore thick glasses with outdated plastic framed, and when his dreary eyes lifted to look at Trowa, he looked over the rim of the frames, his head still bent over the paperwork in his hands.

"Mr. Barton?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your license was revoked due to psychological instability. You have taken measures to address the core problems associated with your condition?" The judge badly needed to clear his throat, and Trowa had to fight against wincing as his voice rumbled over the court.

"Yes, sir."

"You have a long record for a man so young..." The judge's voice trailed off in implicit suspicion, but as there was no question directed at him, Trowa did not respond. "And you were a pilot in the war."

Trowa nodded briefly, his eyes narrowing. The judge appeared to be reading the papers on his bench, but his eyes were fixed on Trowa.

"Very well. Your doctor has approved your reinstatement, and I see nothing in your record to indicate an untrustworthiness that would be compromising. Take care, young man." He banged his gavel, and shoved the paperwork off in the direction of his aide. "Next. Duo Maxwell."

Trowa stepped down, and went back to his seat. He looked at Duo as he passed him, trying to catch his eye. Duo was staring straight ahead, so he didn't bother trying to smile for him.

Trowa could not see Duo's face as the hearing continued, but he watched the judge carefully. He was sitting up more distinctly as he looked down on Duo, and Trowa felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He had to swallow down a swell of protective rage as he watched the judge size up Duo.

"So. Mr. Maxwell. I see here that you have a history of abusing illegal narcotics. And several accidents that occurred while you were flying under the influence of illegal narcotics. And a history of hospitalizations as a result of overdosing on illegal narcotics, the last incident no more than thirteen months ago. Is this all correct?" The judge spoke louder than he had to Trowa, and more distinctly as well. Trowa narrowed his eyes as he watched, gently repressing the urge to rip the man's face off.

"Yes, sir, that is all sadly true." Duo was not apologizing for his past, nor was he attempting in any way to explain it. He was showing remorse, but he was not begging to be forgiven. Trowa leaned back in his chair, feeling rather proud of Duo.

"Mr. Maxwell. It would be very... *rare* for me to reinstate a pilot with your record."

"I understand that, sir."

"You, too, have a longer flight record than your age would suggest. And you also served in the war."

"Yes, sir, that is correct."

The judge was breathing loudly enough to be heard in the back, his nose puffing out with each breath. He leaned back in his chair, propping his chin up on his hand. "You have connections to powerful people, people who could force my hand here, but you stand before me alone. You provide for me something of an enigma, Mr. Maxwell.

"My son served in the war, as did I. My son was a mechanic stationed at Ft. LaGunia. He died in the service of his country, after an attack from a Gundam. He died with honor. He had been transferred there just before the attack from L2. He had requested the transfer because he couldn't stand the poverty and the oppression of the people of L2. He even told me that he had visited an orphanage, wanting to volunteer his time with the children, but they turned him away because of his uniform."

Duo reached up to clutch the edges of the podium. His back was stiff, and his whole body, even his braid, seemed to turn to stone. Trowa wished that he could see Duo's face. He wished that he recognized the name Ft. LaGunia.

"The Gundam left nothing behind of the base. Nothing but smoldering wreckage. I never got my son's body back, just a medal, and a letter signed by Treize Khushrenada. I went to L2 after the war. I was assigned as part of the team that rebuilt the colonies.

"Do you remember Ft. LaGunia, Mr. Maxwell?"

"Of course I do." There was a fervent tension to Duo's voice, and Trowa closed his eyes and looked away.

"I thought as much." The judge sighed and picked up the papers again. "The people of L2 all think of you as a hero. They think of you as a savior. That's a responsibility, Mr. Maxwell. That's your burden to bear, and I'm sure it isn't easy. But you owe it to the people of L2, and to my son, to bear that burden with dignity. I don't want to be proven wrong here. You owe that to *me* now, as well. I'm granting you a reinstatement, on the condition that your license will be examined every year for the next ten years, and any serious infraction of the law will result in permanent loss of license. Do you understand, Mr. Maxwell?"

"Y-yes, yes sir, thank you."

The judge stared at Duo, his eyes piercing. "Make them all proud, Mr. Maxwell."

Duo nodded, leaving the podium hesitantly, continually looking back to see if there would be anything more. When the next name was called, he hurried to the door and slipped out. Trowa followed him, picking up their jackets as he went.

Duo was just outside the courtroom door, his back against the wall. He was breathing deeply, his hands pressed palms down against the wall, his eyes wide open and staring straight ahead. Trowa leaned on his side against the wall, and watched Duo for a moment.

"Are you all right?"

Duo blinked. "What the hell just happened in there?"

"He gave us back our licenses."

Duo turned to look at Trowa. "What was all that about his son? I thought for sure he was going to blame me..."

Trowa pondered. "Maybe he understood that we were just doing what we had to."

Duo folded his arms over his chest protectively. "I don't know. I... I don't know. That was..."

"Yeah." Trowa reached out and took Duo's hand, running his thumb over Duo's. Duo turned to him, and put his chin on Trowa's shoulder.

"That was *weird*. If you had a son that was killed in the war, would you give his killer a break?"

Trowa tried to imagine himself with a son, but it was so far outside his context of comprehension, he eventually chose to view Duo's question as rhetorical.

They had to stop by the clerk's desk, and get their paperwork. They had to wait nearly an hour in line just to get their names on the list of people waiting, and then another forty-five minutes before everything was drawn up and notarized for them to take. If they waited another hour and a half, they could also get their licenses right away, but neither saw the point. They could just go into the regulatory office of any airstrip and have their licenses printed up.

They weren't flying anywhere that night.

Duo was still tense when they got home, so Trowa used it as an excuse to get Duo to lie naked on the bed while he massaged him. The repetitive motions of his fingers over Duo's skin rendered the skin separate from the whole of Duo's body, and Trowa became entranced by the image of his flesh and Duo's merging.

Duo was lax in his arms as he prepared him, as if his strength were all gone. He tried to grasp at Trowa with his fingertips, but Trowa was slipping out of his touch too easily. Trowa took full advantage, and paid homage to Duo in full over the course of the evening, pressing his lips and his fingers to Duo's body with adoration.

When they were both too tired to move anymore, Duo put his head on Trowa's chest, and fell asleep. Trowa tried to keep his heavy eyelids open so that he could enjoy running his fingers through the long expanses of Duo's hair, but even that immeasurable pleasure was not enough to fight off sleep forever.

In Trowa's dreams, he and Duo were living in a yellow ship in the sky, and they were naked all the time, making love against the archaically ornate levers of the ship's cockpit as they sailed through space above everyone.

Trowa took one last spin through the apartment. They had shipped out the last box that could be shipped that morning on their way to delivering the car to its new owner. They had walked back, taking a detour through the park where they had eaten together when they were Preventors. Trowa had looked around for the man, keeping a sheltering closeness to Duo as they walked, but he hadn't seen him.

He probably wouldn't have said anything anyway.

Their apartment was now depressingly bare. They didn't even have a bed anymore; the student that Trowa sold it to wasn't able to meet them in the morning to pick it up, so they had let him take it away before they had dropped off the car. There were only a few bags left, and a blanket spread out on the floor with pillows in the corner. It wouldn't be the most comfortable night's sleep for either of them, but it would be a far cry from the worst night also.

Duo was in the kitchen, cleaning the cabinets with disposable clothes he had gotten at the store. For some reason, he had been particular about cleaning the apartment himself. Trowa didn't know where that had come from, but he didn't see any reason to interfere either.

The bathroom was spotless, after all.

Spinning around the apartment for the last time was making Trowa dizzy, so he sat down on the blanket and waited for Duo to finish in the kitchen. They had made a schedule for their departure, and they were currently two hours ahead. Trowa wasn't sure what they were going to do with the remaining time, but he wasn't sure a blanket on a bare floor would be up to the task of entertaining them, so he started to try to remember what movies were currently playing.

Duo was drying his hands on his pants when he came out of the kitchen. "I think I've cleaned everything that needs cleaning. Actually, I don't think that there's anything left *to* clean. This is a damn small apartment."

Trowa lifted his hand in an invitation to Duo. "It served its purpose."

Duo smiled warmly at him, but didn't sit down. "Yeah, I'm sure it's bustin' with pride about that fulfilled utility deal."

There was a nervousness in Duo's attempt at humor, and Trowa leaned back on his elbows, confused. "What?"

Duo looked away. "Man... I've been putting this off, and now there's nothing left on the list to do. We should have made a longer to do list. Damn!"

Trowa waited patiently for Duo to come to the point.

With a sigh, Duo sat down next to him, only half of him sitting on the blanket. "I... There's someone I need to see. To say goodbye to. For... closure."

Trowa felt cold. He looked away, nodding once. "Therapy assignment?"

"More like a suggestion," Duo sighed miserably. "A too damn good one."

Trowa nodded. "Let me come with you?" He hadn't intended to speak so softly, but he found that his voice was unreliable otherwise.

Duo put his face in his hands, digging his fingertips into his scalp along his hairline. "Ah, I really wish that you could... But I think that will only make things worse."

There was an undeniability to it that rendered Trowa speechless.

He wondered why Duo wasn't getting up to leave. He didn't want to look at Duo right now, only because he was afraid of what Duo would see, and he wished that Duo would just go so that he could be alone with his thoughts.

Duo climbed into his lap, and put his arms around his neck. They kissed, their mouths anxious and needing. Duo rubbed his face against Trowa's like a cat would, and squeezed Trowa tightly. Trowa's arms had automatically gone around Duo's waist, and for a second, everything else was eclipsed by the momentary perfection.

"Do you know what the most amazing thing in the universe is?"

Duo's question sounded rhetorical, nothing more than a breathy whisper against Trowa's ear, and so he did not feel badly about not having a response.

"You fell in love with me." Duo smiled, and leaned back so that he could look into Trowa's eyes.

Trowa involuntarily smiled back.

"I can't wait to get off this stinking rock and start living our lives together."

Trowa wanted to push Duo down onto the floor, and take off all his clothes with his teeth. He wanted to stare into Duo's eyes as he moved inside of him, he wanted to taste Duo's skin as it cooled down after an orgasm. He wanted to hold Duo and not let go.

He put his hand on the back of Duo's neck, and took a kiss from Duo's lips. He smiled as genuinely as he was capable of, and nodded. "Do you want to bring dinner home on your way back, or should we go out?"

Duo hugged Trowa, which somehow felt more intimate than sex just for a second. "Let's stay in. Our last night together in this place."

Trowa felt Duo slipping out his grasp, and the most he could do was to not clamp down on Duo's hands as they passed over his. He didn't get up to let Duo out, watching the door as Duo snuck through it, waiting for the clicks of the locks being tumbled back into place.

He stared at the door for a long time after Duo had left. The room was getting progressively darker, and as he sat there, he got progressively colder.

He tried to analyze what he was feeling, already in his mind organizing it the way that he would present it to Dr. Levy, were he still seeing Dr. Levy. He wasn't upset that Duo was going. On the contrary, it had occurred to him over the past few weeks that the last time that Duo had seen Heero was when Heero gave him the drugs. He had thought about how Duo might need to see Heero before they left, but it was something that turned out to be very easy to not think about much.

It wasn't that he was jealous, or afraid of what might go on between Duo and Heero, at least not romantically. He didn't even need Duo's reassurance before he left, although he never turned away from an opportunity to have Duo in his arms. Duo had just worked too damn hard to go back to Heero at this point.

It wasn't that he was afraid that Heero might tempt Duo into more self-destructive behavior. Even when Duo was having his worst moments of weakness, he never really seriously considered having a drink or a smoke. He might make jokes from time to time about drugs, but he struck Trowa as being afraid to slip again. Trowa had faith that Duo was strong enough to stay the course.

He was worried about Duo physically. Heero had been abusive in the past, and he might do so again. Trowa would have liked to be near, just in case Heero tried to hit Duo, but in reality Duo was probably right that Heero would only be angrier to see Trowa there, and anyway, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot Trowa could do save the use of lethal force if Heero decided to get violent. Heero was just better at close range violence than either Trowa or Duo.

There seemed to be something fundamentally wrong with Duo saying goodbye to Heero.

Trowa stopped to consider that. During the war, he had gotten accustomed to thinking of Duo and Heero as a team, even as much as he grew to accept Quatre and himself as a team. It wasn't that he felt like he was an interloper in Duo and Heero's relationship, or that he felt like the two of them should give it another try. There was just a sense of melancholy that things had gotten so far out of hand that now Duo would be severing his relationship with Heero entirely.

Trowa stood up, stretching his hands above his head. There was something definitely wrong with that, but it was the way life had turned out. He had long ago given up the luxury of regret, so there was little else to do once he had acknowledged the source of his malaise other than to move past it.

He went to the window. There wasn't enough room on the ledge to sit, and the view was of the street, not the alley. Their street had a few stores on it that stayed open late, and there was the 24-hour gym at the end of the block, so there were enough neon lights and cars on the road that the street never got totally dark, and was rarely completely empty. In fact, if one were inclined toward people watching, it would be a near ideal location, as there were teeming masses of humanity crossing paths beneath Trowa's vision. There were some homeless kids on the other side of the street, joking around with each other and gearing up for the night. There was a group of what appeared to be sorority sisters standing outside the Senegalese restaurant, laughing and chatting before breaking up. There was a man waiting for a bus with his hands in his pockets, his whole body leaning against the pole with the bus sign, trying to hide his shivering. There was a woman trying to jog along with her black lab wearing nothing more than a sports bra and bike shorts that was being ogled by at least three men on the street.

Trowa didn't really care for people much though, so he looked up, and tried to see the stars. The moon was a quarter full that night, and there were patchy clouds, but he could see one twinkling brightness, which, due to its luminosity, was almost certainly a colony. Trowa couldn't remember which one though, because he couldn't get his bearings in the sky right. He had a vague idea of where each colony was positioned in relation to the Earth currently in their mutual orbits of the sun, but he needed something like the North Star or another fixed point to get his bearings.

He stared up into the sky, trying to remember how to extrapolate the orbits of the colonies based on the orbit of the moon relative to the Earth's orbit to the sun, but he could never get anywhere with his thoughts because he was too preoccupied with the understanding that Duo would instinctively be able to tell him which colony he was looking at without hesitation.

He heard the lock on the door click open, and the doorknob turning, but he waited at the window for Duo to come over to him.

He didn't even turn around when Duo put his arms around his waist, and leaned against him with his head on Trowa's shoulder. It was nice, and Trowa wanted to just relax in Duo's embrace.

He put his fingertip on the glass. "Which colony is that?"

Duo looked absently. "L3. That's three colonies from the edge of the cluster."

Trowa blinked. "How can you tell?"

"Mm, most of L3 isn't visible from this angle, so it would have to be colonies on the edge. And you can tell how many there are by the way the light flickers." Duo put his hand flat on Trowa's belly, splaying his fingers out.

Trowa frowned. "No, you can't."

Duo chuckled, which Trowa couldn't hear, but he could feel against his side. "Yes, you can. Howard showed me first night I landed on this rock. The flicker comes from the rotation of the colony on its axis, right? And all colonies rotate at the same speed... You live on a colony long enough, you set your watch by that rhythm, ya know? So you just keep time. The rotation of the colonies as observed from Earth will depend on how far away they are, so you adjust for which cluster it is... and the number of flickers per measure will form a beat that will tell you how many there in one 'star'."

He paused an appropriate length of time for it to be considered thoughtful. "That's total crap."

Duo laughed, and pulled Trowa away from the window. "Says you. You don't even know L3 from L5."

Trowa retaliated with a quick tickle, which Duo deftly evaded, but only after he'd enjoyed it for as long as he had wanted to. "So."

"Yeah." Duo smiled at him sheepishly, turning away. "I picked up pizza slices on the way home. It seemed traditional." He sat down, setting the boxes of slices up as if they were having a picnic.

Trowa dutifully sat down, and opened the box that was clearly set aside for him. "Green peppers?"

Duo shrugged. "That was the only one that had no meat, but some toppings."

Trowa nodded, and took a bite. "So."

"Yeah," Duo sighed. "It's ok. Nothing bad happened..."

Trowa said nothing, but chewed very slowly.

Duo picked at his pizza, lifting the cheese off in tiny bites. "He was angry."

Trowa nodded, hoping that he appeared to be understanding.

Sighing, Duo looked away, his gaze gravitating to the window. "Things were said. You know the drill. I just feel like... I'm letting him down. He... needed some stress relief, you know? And that's what I was to him. But now I'm going away, and it's like I'm cutting him off..."

"He'd be better off without having you to relieve his stress you know." Trowa spoke to the wall to avoid saying it wrong.

Duo nodded. "I know that. But I still feel like... I mean, Heero's not like us, you know? He's a lot more... naive. I swear to fuckin' god, the look on his face was the same as a kid who's had a toy taken away because he wasn't behaving. He was just so... obstinate."

Trowa considered that carefully.

"I don't know. I don't want to be with him anymore. I guess I just think that it's too bad. He is... or at least, he *was* a really good person. I just don't know what went wrong." Duo's pizza drooped more and more until he had it resting on his hands in the box.

Trowa nodded. "He's resilient. It's hard, but he'll probably be better off learning to deal with things without a scapegoat."

Duo barked a hollow laugh. "You mean he's better off without me? Sure, that's a given."

"That's not what I meant," Trowa sulked. "He's just..."

"He hates me."

"He doesn't." Trowa wasn't sure why he was so quick to refute. He wasn't sure he even believed what he was saying. "He just blames you."

"For him being him? Yeah, given. But he's grown to hate me. I can see it. I just..." Duo flopped over gracefully, his head landing on Trowa's leg. Trowa used his cleaner hand to brush Duo's bangs out of his face. "It's sad. I can't help loving him, despite everything he's done to me. But he just hates me in return."

Trowa ran his fingers over the contours of Duo's face, tracing his cheekbones and his lips. He leaned over so he could look down into Duo's eye. "I'm sorry."

Duo tried to smile and shrug, which had the effect of making him look much cuter than a man his age and experience had any right to look. "It's ok. I've dealt with it. You'll never hate me, will you?"

Trowa smiled, his hand resting on Duo's neck. "No, not even after I die. I love you."

Duo closed his eyes and smiled. "I mean, I think it's safe to say that you already know the worst thing I've ever done, and you're still here..."

Trowa wanted to kiss Duo, but he didn't want to disturb him from his position either. "Yes."

"Do you think that we'll be together after we die?"

Trowa let the silence linger for a moment before speaking. "I think I'm more concerned with living with you right now. The dying can sort itself out."

Duo sighed contentedly, and pushed himself up. He was grinning from ear to ear, and there was something in his eyes that was nearly bursting. "I'm with you on that one."

They finished eating later, when they were hungrier, and even though Trowa would have liked to stay up to watch Duo sleep on their last night on Earth, it was far more comfortable to fall to sleep with him.

They needed to be well rested for the morning, after all.

Trowa put their keys in the envelope the landlord had given them, and stuck the envelope in the box next to the mailboxes. The cab was outside waiting for them, already packed. Duo was waiting in the cab, to make sure the driver didn't just take off with his stuff.

He went through the list, mentally checking off everything that needed to be done before they left. He lost his place, and then couldn't remember what else needed to be done.

He decided that if they forgot anything truly important, they could ask Wu Fei to take care of it for them.

Duo was too excited to grin or bounce in his seat. He had a focus in his eyes that Trowa hadn't seen since the war. He hadn't even realized until now that it had been missing. He took Duo's hand in his for his own comfort, and kept his eyes on their joined fingers.

It was a long drive out to the shuttle strip. It needed to be far enough away from city air traffic for the shuttles to reach the speed necessary for the exit window. Trowa thought of the distance in terms of the cost of the cab, equating it to the things they sold off. By the time they reached the strip, they had spent the money from the bed, Duo's cds, his porn tapes, his books that Quatre had sent him, and 1/15th of the car.

There was an interminable amount of paperwork to be done. They needed to have all their bags checked by Preventors customs agents. The two agents were slow and lazy, knowing that no shuttle ever went off without all of its passengers, so there was no rush.

Duo tapped his foot absently while pushing his bangs back, desperately trying not to sigh. His gaze kept drifting back to the windows that reached up to the ceiling, and the blue sky above.

It was the perfect day for a flight.

They had to check in at the small shuttle rental desk. There was paperwork to fill out, and bills to pay, and the clerk tried to sell them insurance, and then they had to take a short exam to be cleared for the day's flight, and then they needed to take a breathalyzer test to be sure they were not intoxicated.

Duo whispered under his breath to Trowa all the ways to bypass the breathalyzer, and all the drugs that wouldn't show up on any kind of test. He made sure to speak softly when no clerks or agents were around, so that no one would know how much he knew about it. Trowa put his hand on Duo's thigh as they waited for the results, granting them both a modicum of patience.

After that, there was the equipment check of the vessel. It was the smallest, dirtiest, oldest piece of crap that Trowa had ever piloted, and he felt like his nervous system would explode with excitement at the thought of being in control again.

There was an unfortunate amount of small talk with the strip's chief operator as everything was processed and they prepared for release. Duo had already pulled up the atmospheric conditions on the onboard computer, and was making the necessary calculations for determining exit velocity and trajectory absently as tapped with mute frustration on the keyboard.

"You boys have been to the colonies before."

There was more to that statement than a simple observation of experience, and Trowa wasn't sure whether it was a negative thing or not. The chief was too bland to elicit any kind of reaction from anyone. Trowa merely nodded, and Duo was too busy with his impatience to bother listening.

"It's a little rare for us to lease these things out for private use. You boys must have quite a living up there."

Trowa was a little tired of being referred to as 'you boys'. "It was a going away present from a friend." Quatre hadn't been able to attend the makeshift going away party that Relena had organized without their permission, so he had sent them a voucher instead. It was the sort of broad gesture of genuine kindness that had always endeared Quatre to Trowa in the past, although he had a better idea of how little it meant to Quatre now than he had during the war.

The chief whistled. "Some friend."

"Some days."

Duo smiled a little, laughing through his nose, and Trowa felt rather pleased with himself.

"You sure you don't need a flight partner? L5 is a long way off, and you never know what might happen to you on the way... With only the two of you, it could be a hard flight." He sounded genuinely concerned, so Trowa decided that he merited an honest response.

"I flew from the rock to L3 on my own for the first time when I was seven. I think we'll be fine."

Duo was amused enough at that to turn at look at Trowa appreciatively, and the chief got a good look at the two of them for the first time. If he had been able to push his flight chair back, he almost certainly would have. "I... I didn't realize..."

Duo rolled his eyes, and started to plot the flight plan from Earth to L5 while playing with his hair.

The chief swallowed. "Then I guess I won't bother asking to double check your calcs..."

"Go right ahead," Duo offered, sending his work to the screen next to the chief with two quick clicks. Trowa was impressed with how familiar Duo was with the equipment. He wasn't sure if it was because Duo had already flown in one of these glorified crop dusters before, or if it was because he was just that good with machines. He knew that Heero had thought that Duo was the most skilled pilot in their group, despite his lack of formal training, so Trowa was leaning to believe that Duo would know his way around any cockpit.

The chief stared at the screen with his mouth hanging open, trying to form words, for the longest time. "How... How... How did you do all this so fast?"

"Why?" Duo turned around lazily to look at him. "How long does it take you to do it?"

Trowa had to turn away to keep from laughing. The chief turned red, and clicked the calcs away, muttering something about colony brats. Duo smiled broadly, and turned back to the computer.

Finally, they got the go ahead, and the chief left them alone in the cockpit. Duo started the initiation sequence for the engines, and the vessel was beginning to vibrate as the engines powered up.

Both of them had taken seats in secondary positions, neither willing to commit to the pilot's seat without being sure. They looked each other in the eye for a moment before Trowa grinned, and indicated that Duo take it.

"You sure?" Duo was already standing up and moving the chair so he could get in, but he was taking the time to ask first.

"You're the better pilot," Trowa affirmed. "Besides, I like to watch you at work." He winked at Duo, and Duo actually blushed a little in response.

"All right... but just remember, it was your choice. I like to take off fast." Duo winked at Trowa as he sat down in the pilot's chair.

"I know," Trowa replied cheekily, and earned himself a laugh for his effort.

They went through the entire power up sequence, taking each step by the book, and then contacted the tower before getting into position for the launch sequence. The strip was set up like a tiny airport with freakishly long runways, because ships landing used every inch of runway length. All of the ships that were housed here took flying leaps so when they took off, they were up long before the end of the runway. They would need though, to gain speed before they could begin rapid ascent, and so they needed plenty of real estate to get going.

They were busy with prelaunch operations right up to the first time they had a window announced. They weren't able to take advantage until the third time they were given a window, at which point Duo brought their ship to the top of the runway and called for final clearance.

Trowa had little to do at this point. A copilot was more essential in finesse maneuvers, like docking to a colony or shuttle, or threading through complex curves in the flight plan. For launches though, a pilot was all that was necessary. Trowa had a few gauges up to help guide Duo, but it was all Duo's show, getting them into space.

Trowa kept one eye on the monitors, and one eye on Duo. The g-forces were at their worst, and he had to fight to even keep his eyes open. Duo's arms were like rock, holding the stick, keeping up the acceleration and keeping the nose up in the air.

It was like watching a film in flight school. Duo was just naturally a perfect pilot. Trowa felt his heart pounding as they hit exit velocity. They were leaving the rock behind them.

Soon, the windows were surrounded by blackness, and the crushing g-forces shoving them into their chairs dwindled as they left gravity behind.

"We're off." Duo sounded proud, and Trowa could hear the smile in his voice.

"Off and running." Trowa wanted to lean forward and kiss Duo, but it wasn't the time. Now they needed to get their flight plan programmed in, and set. They needed to negotiate through the higher traffic area around the rock, and get into the slot of their flight plan. They needed to set the proximity detectors and get all the equipment set to space flight standards.

It wasn't urgent. They had time later. They had their whole journey to get through.

On to the epilogue. Back to part thirteen.