Quatre found himself pulled abruptly up against Trowa, whether because Trowa was trying to protect him or simply because Trowa wanted him close in the last moment, before they were hit by whatever horrible spell the madwoman in front of them had settled upon, he didn’t know. In any case, he wrapped both of his arms around Trowa’s chest and held him tightly. He discovered he didn’t want to see fate as it descended, so he hid his face against Trowa’s shoulder. It might have been cowardly of him, but he honestly didn’t care; either way, he wasn’t alone in the desire, if the feeling of Trowa’s face pressed into his hair, also turned away from their doom, meant anything.
Was he to be separated from Trowa now, less than an hour after he’d realized how he truly felt about him? Would he wake up somewhere strange with claws and fangs and some unknown requirement for removing them? Would he fail to wake up at all? And Heero and Duo… restored to human wakefulness, restored to each other, for less than an hour after suffering for so long… what would become of them this time? Quatre’s heart felt as if it would break with sorrow at the thought, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit that he was terrified. Beyond that, he was angry. Not, certainly, as angry as Duo, but still distinctly irate at this evil person willing to hurt those that had already been hurt and those that had never done anything to her.
With every moment that passed, these emotions strengthened, until Quatre was trembling in Trowa’s embrace, tears in his tight-shut eyes, holding his breath as he waited for the blow. What would it feel like? He’d been living with magic for the last year, but never, to his knowledge, been actively hit by a spell. Would it hurt? Would it hurt more than this pain in his heart at the cruelty of fate and the powerful, arbitrary being that had them in her power? It was impossible to brace himself for something he couldn’t begin to know how to anticipate, but he was trying.
And yet nothing at all seemed to be happening.
The scene had gone eerily silent; it reminded him of the lonely, waiting silence of the palace on the first night they’d been here. Eventually it was that sucking, miserable silence that drew Quatre’s gaze from the darkness of the backs of his eyelids and Trowa’s tunic out to what was going on around them. He found that the others were all staring at the faery, wordless and motionless, so he turned his eyes toward her as well.
She had lowered her hands. Her expression had changed. So had everything else about her.
Quatre realized with a start that the sun had set. Duo had said that the faery’s cyclical alteration of self had seemed to arise in concurrence with the Beast’s switch between Heero and Duo, so of course the setting of the sun had affected her. While Quatre’s eyes had been averted, her appearance had completely shifted; she wore a long and elaborate gown of deep, shining gold, her hair spilled loose over her shoulders, and the spectacles that had given her eyes such a harsh look had disappeared. And here was the sadness and gentleness Duo had described, which Quatre had already observed in her face on the many occasions when he’d seen her like this — occasions, he recalled, that had all taken place after the setting of the sun.
“Now what…” Duo choked out, in an even more agitated half-whisper than the one in which he’d declared her to be a heartless monster.
“Nothing, Duo,” she replied, causing Duo to recoil. Quatre doubted she had often — if ever — called him by name before. And her tone was now so soft and forlorn, much more in keeping with the spirit of the palace than her previous, that it really was as if she’d become a completely different person than she’d been just minutes before. And her eyes…
Quatre’s breath caught as he saw her looking from Duo to Heero and back with that gentle, sad gaze. It wasn’t just that it lacked anger and hatred; it was that it held the precise opposite. She… In some unfathomable way, in a way that had still allowed her to torment them for all these years and to threaten them again just now, she loved them. Perhaps she loved them as an utterly selfish, naive child might love a captive animal, but love them she did. What was broken inside her that allowed her to have such feelings and act in such a way, and what would come of it, Quatre could not guess… but it filled him simultaneously with horror and with hope.
“It’s all finished,” the faery went on. “You’ve answered all my questions. You all have.” She turned, and Quatre found that he really didn’t want to meet her sorrowful, insane eyes. He tensed as he glanced abruptly away, and felt at the same moment Trowa’s arm around him tighten; Trowa was probably feeling much the same.
When Quatre looked up again, he found that the woman had returned her attention to Heero and Duo. “Thank you,” she said. “I understand now.” And she smiled. It was a heart-breaking smile, for its simplicity and sweetness could scarcely hide the madness and sorrow that lingered underneath. Quatre never wanted to see a smile like that again. He never wanted a repetition of those eyes turned upon him, and he certainly never wanted anyone to love him the way he believed this woman loved Heero and Duo.
And then, without giving any indication as to what her intentions were or any sort of goodbye, she left them. There seemed to be very little transition; she did not change or dissolve or melt: there was simply a spray of rose petals borne on a sudden upward-spiraling wind where previously there had been a woman — instantaneously but not abruptly, the lack of visible metamorphosis in no way jarring.
They all watched in silence as the yellow petals fluttered and swirled out of sight, and then there was a palpable relaxation among them as their eyes finally fell. Quatre, deciding for the moment not to let go of Trowa, laughed weakly, but couldn’t really think of anything to say. He suddenly felt exhausted; this day had turned out to be a good deal more taxing than he’d anticipated.
“So that’s it?” wondered Duo, resentfully but also a bit blankly at what perhaps had seemed to him an anticlimactic ending to the confrontation.
“It went better than it could have,” Trowa said cautiously.
“What was she thinking?” Duo demanded, looking back up into the sky where the faery had disappeared. “What was the point of showing up to threaten us at all if she was just suddenly going to leave without doing anything?” He turned, disengaging from Heero’s handclasp, and took him by the shoulders. “You heard her! She knew we’d been talking about her; she must have been listening… why did she put off showing herself until just before sunset? Was she trying to keep herself from hurting us, even though she wanted to? Was she trying to give us a chance to escape? Or what? Don’t tell me she forgot what would happen at sunset.”
Quatre, thinking of the cruel love he believed he’d observed in the faery’s demeanor, thought Duo had probably hit on the truth with one of his theories: the greater part of her hadn’t really wanted to do anything to them, but the part that did still had to have its say, so she’d timed her appearance very carefully. Of course, this was only speculation from someone that didn’t know her at all, but Quatre, almost as curious as Duo appeared to be about her motives, had to speculate. Eventually he would share the idea, but, since Duo didn’t seem to be in an emotional state for layman’s guesses right now, Quatre just continued leaning on Trowa and wearily watching.
“You sound like you’re disappointed she didn’t do anything to us,” Heero was saying.
“I just…” Duo sounded more defeated than anything, really. “I don’t understand her. It’s hard to accept the idea that we’ve been suffering for so long for reasons I’ll never really get.”
“I hope she can find some peace,” Heero murmured. “I hope she can heal.”
Duo, still holding Heero’s shoulders, shook him slightly. “How can you feel sorry for her after what she did, after so long?”
Heero reached out to put his arms around Duo, stilling him, and said in a quiet, desperate tone, “Are you angry?” And, considering the woman he pitied had, among everything else, killed Duo’s mother, this seemed a legitimate question.
“Not at you,” Duo replied. His voice dropped to a murmur as he added, “Never at you. I love that you can feel sorry for her.” And he hid his face against Heero’s neck.
Though the scene was more forlorn and touching than romantic, Quatre found himself blushing again. If he was not only going to be around Heero and Duo but also going to be with Trowa — and he did not plan on relinquishing either of those circumstances — that was a behavior he needed to unlearn as quickly as possible.
Finally Duo withdrew from the close embrace and said in a tone more cheerful (though still rather dark), “Anyway, I hope she finds some peace too. Otherwise, she’ll probably track us down at sunrise and turn us all into dormice.” Faint laughter from the others met this statement, and then Duo broke away from Heero completely to face Quatre and Trowa. “So now what?”
Quatre smiled at him, feeling again the acute relief that his carelessness hadn’t killed his friends, but he found that his energy for dealing with this intense day had entirely run out. “I don’t know,” he managed.
At the sound of his voice, Trowa’s arm around him squeezed and Duo laughed. “How long were you guys walking today?”
Trowa glanced down at Quatre (who, at how close his face was, blushed; damn it all) and guessed, “Eight hours?” Quatre gave the agreement Trowa’s look had requested of him by nodding.
Heero was smiling a small, placid smile that reminded Quatre of a way he’d had, as the Beast, of sitting very still when he was listening to something he found interesting and then giving a small, precise nod with his huge head. “We can make plans in the morning,” he said.
“Assuming we’re not all dormice,” Trowa deadpanned.
“Is it safe to spend the night here, do you think?” wondered Quatre. The idea of walking away into the forest in the deepening shadows and setting out on another journey for perhaps another uncountable number of hours was extremely disheartening, but if he had to… “If she comes back here…”
“If she comes looking for us,” said Heero a little grimly, “I’m sure she can find us wherever we are.”
“I’m not too keen on staying here for longer than we absolutely have to,” Duo admitted, looking around at the high palace walls nearby with distaste, “but I think one last night won’t kill us. At least not any quicker than anything else might.”
Quatre had to laugh. “That’s not very comforting.”
Duo laughed as well. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. And he pushed at Quatre’s arm as if trying to get him closer to Trowa. “So go have one last really good night before whatever happens tomorrow.”
His implication was clear, just when Quatre thought his own face couldn’t get any hotter. To try to cover up his embarrassment he asked quickly, “What about you two?”
“I haven’t seen the stars in two hundred years,” Heero said. “I think I’ll take a walk. If Duo would be so kind as to join me…”
Duo was back at Heero’s side in half an instant and kissing his cheek. “I would love to, sir,” he said earnestly, and took the arm that Heero offered.
Quatre smiled again. They just seemed so well-suited. Though if he’d known them before Trowa’s revelation, known them in a setting where they weren’t free to kiss each other publicly and invite each other on starlit walks, would Quatre even have noticed? He still felt like an idiot. At any rate, they undoubtedly wanted (and certainly deserved) some time alone together, and he wasn’t going to stand in the way. He could do with some time alone with Trowa, himself. “We’ll say goodnight, then,” he said.
“And if something happens in the morning, and we never see you again… I guess…” Duo gave a grin utterly devoid of humor, since there was really no preparing for such an event. “Thanks.”
“It was good to know you,” Trowa replied with half-serious gravity.
They all exchanged sincere goodnight wishes, and then Trowa and Quatre turned toward the palace. Trowa took his arm from around Quatre’s back and shoulders for greater ease of movement, and Quatre felt disproportionately cold at its removal. It was only cold, though, and only in comparison to the previous interval when he’d been so close against Trowa — there was no outside loneliness in the air to penetrate his mood, no supernatural forlornness to influence him unduly. It was so novel in this setting that he had to comment on it.
“It feels strange,” agreed Trowa.
“I’ve gotten so used to it feeling so lonely here,” Quatre confessed, “that when we made it back earlier, the loneliness was actually a relief.”
Half invisible in the darkness at his side, Trowa nodded. There were no lights anywhere around them, and this, Quatre realized, might constitute something of a problem.
“If the spell is over, does that mean the palace isn’t enchanted anymore?”
“I assume so…”
Quatre paused at the steps that led down to the kitchen door. “It’s going to be pitch-black inside.”
“There should be a little light through the windows. I think we can find our way.”
Smiling at Trowa’s calm confidence, Quatre joined him in moving again. He caught at Trowa’s hand, though, and held on for guidance in the dark.
The latter did indeed fill all the rooms they passed through; the kitchen had a little light, as Trowa had predicted, but in the hallways and the chambers farther inside they could see nothing. If either of them had been carrying anything that could light one of the candles in the sconces on the walls, things might have gone differently, but Quatre couldn’t even remember where they’d shed their backpacks, let alone whether such equipment had been inside them. So it was a sort of game (and actually a good deal more fun than he’d expected, but that could just have been Trowa’s hand in his) trying to find their way first to any room with windows and then to their bedroom on the third floor at the other side of the building.
“What do you talk about after two hundred years apart?” Quatre wondered as they went.
“Probably the same thing you talk about after a night apart,” Trowa speculated. “Except there’s a lot more of it.”
Quatre laughed. Then, glad his blush couldn’t be seen at the moment, he asked, “What do you talk about when you’ve been together for thirteen years but suddenly everything is different?”
A fairly long silence followed as Trowa felt his way along a corridor wall and pulled Quatre after him. Finally, “One of you probably asks the other if he really loves him,” he said.
“Which one asks which one?”
Trowa opened a door that led out of the servants’ hallway they’d been traversing into a larger corridor, at the far end of which there was dim light from a distant window. Here, however, everything was still in shadow, so Quatre couldn’t clearly see Trowa as he turned to face Quatre and put both hands on his shoulders. “I’m asking you,” he said, very seriously. “Do you love me?”
It was no surprise. Trowa had, after all, used the specific words ‘in love with you,’ to which Quatre had replied, ‘I love you too’ without clarifying what type of love he meant; it only made sense that Trowa would want confirmation. And what a terrible shame that he should need it; that was entirely Quatre’s fault. He wanted him to be sure beyond any trace of doubt.
Slipping his arms up and around Trowa’s back, Quatre pressed himself fully against him; Trowa’s head tilted to allow Quatre’s to nestle beneath his chin, and he returned the embrace with clinging strength. And Quatre murmured, “Yes, Trowa. Yes, I love you. I think I’ve been in love with you for years without realizing it.” Perhaps trying to calm his wildly-pounding heart he added with a faint laugh, “I’m having a much longer Trowa phase than any of my sisters.”
“Please don’t call it a phase,” said Trowa with a slight groan.
“Oh, no,” Quatre assured him quickly. “No, no, no, it’s not a phase. I can’t imagine it ever ending.”
“Then tell me again.”
“That I love you?”
“I love you, Trowa Barton.” At the sound of these words, Trowa let out a long breath almost of relief, as if Quatre had not just given him pleasure but had actually alleviated an active pain he’d been suffering for God knew how long. Quatre clutched even more tightly at the warmth and solidity that he never wanted to let go of, never wanted to be apart from again. “I’ll love you forever. I could have told you I loved you before if I hadn’t been such an idiot. I was just thinking, over this past month with the family, that I loved you as more than a friend, but ‘brother’ didn’t seem quite right. If only I’d realized…”
“You’re not an idiot for not realizing that,” Trowa said. “I’ve hardly known anyone else like this, and you couldn’t possibly–”
“Trowa.” Quatre cut him off with a chiding tone that, though it was perfectly serious, was also very affectionate. “You’ve always done this, but if we’re going to be together like this, you’re going to have to stop. You can’t keep trying to make me look perfect. You have to allow that I do sometimes make mistakes.”
“You’re perfect to me,” Trowa replied in a small voice. Quatre couldn’t help laughing, but the words had induced a tight heat in his chest that did not dispel with their cessation. It did cool a little with Trowa’s next statement, though: “I’ve never felt like I deserved you.”
“Why? Is this a class thing?”
“I’m the son of a net-mender,” Trowa said desperately. “And my parents weren’t even married when I was born. I’m a bastard; I’m common; I’m–”
Quatre shook him. “You stop that right now,” he hissed. “If you’re common, I want to be common just like you. I want to be everything you are, and everything it takes to stay with you forever. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and don’t you dare forget it. You’ve made every moment of my life happier since I met you, and you saved my life when things got miserable; I wouldn’t have survived without you. I’ve always looked up to you and admired everything about you, even when I didn’t realize how I felt; don’t you dare think you ‘don’t deserve me’ when it’s pretty damned clearly the other way around.”
“I don’t know if this is something I can ever unlearn,” Trowa said weakly. “I’m afraid I’ll always be trying to deserve you.”
Quatre relented a trifle as he replied, “Only if you don’t mind me doing the same.” Suddenly craving, he added authoritatively, “Now you tell me again.”
Trowa, as he always had, obeyed the command without the faintest or briefest hesitation. “I love you, Quatre Winner.” Now it seemed as if his voice had somehow taken over the controls of Quatre’s body, for each syllable sent a distinct throb, hard, almost painful, through the heart that was already swollen in his breast, and Quatre felt as if he couldn’t quite breathe properly. “I love you so much there were times when I thought it would kill me. I’ve loved you since I was eight years old.”
“Almost nine,” Quatre reminded him brokenly, recalling their very first conversation so long ago.
“Almost nine,” Trowa agreed. “Even then I knew I would do anything for you, and that hasn’t changed. I would–”
“You don’t have to tell me. Not when you’ve already proved it with everything you’ve already done. God,” Quatre went on, suddenly indignant at himself, “you’ve always been there for me; you’ve been with me through everything, and I’ve never appreciated you the way I should.”
“You–” Trowa cut himself off, probably because he’d been about to say something else that would absolve Quatre of all possible blame. Quatre laughed faintly and held him tighter as Trowa said instead, “I was happy to be beside you.”
“I hope you’re happier now.”
“Quatre…” Trowa’s voice sounded even more broken than Quatre’s had a minute before, almost as if he was suddenly crying. “I’m so happy I can’t describe it. I’m so happy that even if something happens to us tomorrow, I could make it through two hundred years of suffering just remembering this. I’m the happiest man in the world.”
That phrase Quatre had heard before, invariably from men just engaged or married. He pressed his blushing face against Trowa’s chest and breathed in silence the scent of his sweetheart. His beau. His lover. He couldn’t decide which word he liked best.
“Quatre? You’re shaking.”
“Today has been…” There was no one word for what today had been. Reluctantly, Quatre pulled back from Trowa; the latter was obviously just as reluctant, for it was a moment before his encircling arms loosened and allowed Quatre away. “I’m exhausted.”
“Let’s go.” Trowa took his hand again, and once more they moved through the darkness.
The strength of his hot emotions, the feel of Trowa’s hand in his, and the awareness of Trowa’s presence just in front of him — moving shadow though he often was — kept Quatre from concentrating much on the feel of the palace around them, despite the interesting nature of the change in its atmosphere. Even when they were traversing the upper level of the entry hall in the faint moonlight that came through the great windows on its front face, Quatre was not thinking about how long it had been since they’d experienced this huge chamber in this degree of darkness, but rather about how Trowa had always been an anchor in his life — the most solid, the most certain, the strongest and most reassuring point often in a world of storm.
From the entrance hall it was relatively easy to find the corridor that contained their bedroom, and, once the curtains were open inside, the room itself was even dimly visible. Quatre was somewhat surprised to see their backpacks standing against each other on the floor beside the bed, with their cloaks, neatly folded, stacked on top. “We didn’t come up here before,” he said, puzzled.
Trowa too stared for a moment, then explained, “The spell would still have been active when we dropped them in… wherever we dropped them.”
Quatre nodded, and as his gaze shifted to the bed itself he heard his throat make a little noise of longing entirely unbidden. His felt as if his bones were slowly turning to stone inside him, weighing him down and limiting his movement.
A faint laugh from Trowa at this sounded just about as weary as Quatre felt. Trowa closed the door behind them, and all of a sudden Quatre was struck with a consideration that sent sparks through his baffled brain and woke him up a little.
Again glad that his blush couldn’t be seen in the dimness, he said, “Trowa, will you be hurt if I…”
Quatre had only paused because he wasn’t sure of his wording, but at this point Trowa broke in: “I don’t think you could possibly hurt me.”
This was patently false, Quatre thought, given the thirteen years of obliviousness that had already passed. In the same chiding tone he’d used earlier he said, “Trowa.”
“I’m sorry,” said Trowa, though he didn’t actually sound terribly penitent. “Hurt if you…?”
“If I still change in the other room tonight,” Quatre finished, blushing again. “I mean, if I don’t… What Duo said… I’m not quite…”
“No, I won’t be hurt.” Trowa seemed to realize, when Quatre shifted a little with perhaps just a touch of impatience, that he needed to elaborate. “I will be hurt if you’re never interested, but I can wait until you’re ready.”
Satisfied, Quatre squeezed his hand. “Thank you.”
“But you won’t…” Trowa only started this statement once Quatre had already retrieved his backpack, turned, and taken a few steps away from him toward the door into the next room. “You won’t leave me alone tonight, will you?”
“I can’t sleep without you,” Quatre reminded him. Then, just to be sure Trowa understood that he had more reason for this than only the unfeeling practical, he added, “And I expect you to hold me all night.”
Trowa’s quiet, serious “I’ll hold you forever” sent a shiver up his spine and quickened his movements as he went to get changed.
During the time they’d spent at the Winners’ home, they’d washed all of the clothing they’d had with them a few times while helping the little girls with the laundry; but it was evident that the magic of the palace had gotten at the backpack contents before the spell ended. Quatre’s nightclothes were folded much more neatly than he remembered bothering with, and the roughness and rustic soap smell of washboard scrubbing and line hanging had been replaced by the softness and rosy scent of whatever process the palace used. Quatre was vaguely pleased at this, but wouldn’t have minded if it hadn’t been the case. He left his boots where he’d removed them, shed his forest- and sweat-marked garments of the day onto the divan, got quickly into the nightclothes, and hurried back to Trowa — as much as his by-now-plodding movements could in any way be called ‘hurrying.’
Trowa had changed and tossed his clothes aside with equal haste and carelessness, as the misshapen look of one of the chairs in the dark room attested. Quatre grinned wearily and said, “We’ll have to clean up after ourselves for once in the morning.”
“I don’t know if I can handle doing that much work,” Trowa replied, pulling back the neatly-made bedding.
Quatre laughed as he moved to close the curtains and erase what little light there had been in the room. Then he made his way back by memory and touch, and slid into the bed when he found it. His heart was suddenly racing again, almost counteracting the leadenness of his body, and he felt hot all over. Whatever he’d said a few minutes ago, whatever he was or wasn’t ready for, there was a significance to getting into bed with Trowa that had never before been present.
Trowa received him in warm arms, and Quatre settled against him with his head on Trowa’s shoulder in a motion surprisingly natural considering he’d never done it before. They sank into comfortable silence as they waited for sleep, Quatre concentrating drowsily on the feeling of Trowa so close to him and the scent around him.
And then Trowa’s voice came out of the darkness almost in a whisper: “Tell me again.”
Under a blue-black veil dotted with white, so close they formed a single dark silhouette against surroundings only faintly visible, two men walked slowly over the little paths through the gardens and courtyards of their longtime home. Their bodies pressed together, each had an arm around the other’s waist; it was a little inconvenient to walk like that, but Heero didn’t feel like letting go.
Despite his perfectly true statement of a few minutes before that he hadn’t seen the stars for two hundred years, he didn’t turn his eyes upward very often. He was concentrating on how well he and Duo still fit together even after all this time — primarily physically, at the moment, but also in the personalities they’d displayed since the spell had ended. He didn’t like admitting it, but he hadn’t really expected that. He knew he had been warped by all the time that had passed, by the pain and the loneliness, and he was sure Duo had been too… it would be a strange and horribly wonderful thing to find that Duo had been warped in precisely the same way, so that they two unhappy pieces still snapped into the same whole.
“I missed you,” Duo murmured. It was the first thing either of them had said since Trowa and Quatre left.
“I missed you too.” Heero stopped walking, forcing Duo to do the same, and pulled out of the half-embrace so as to face him. They’d reached the courtyard with all the animal statues; the latter’s white marble shapes were faint pale spots in the night, but Heero could imagine all their unmoving eyes on him even without seeing them. Duo’s eyes, by contrast, were pools of darkness; turned downward to meet Heero’s, they didn’t catch any of the light from the stars.
“Duo,” Heero said, lifting a hand to touch Duo’s face. His fingers ran gently over a scratch along Duo’s cheek, causing the other man to shudder just slightly. “You could always tell when I was lying. When I say I love you… what do you think?”
He could feel the change in Duo’s expression better than he could see it. It had been an extremely painful question to ask, and he doubted it could be any more pleasant to hear. But they’d always been honest about their relationship, and it needed to come out; it had been gradually building ever since the spell had ended.
“I don’t think for a second that you’re lying,” Duo said very seriously, but slowly, as if examining each word carefully before he spoke it. “But I know things… can’t be the same… after so long, and what we’ve been through.”
“I know I still love everything I remember about you.” It was difficult for Heero to explain how he felt, but he wanted to make this point clear. Duo’s determination and strength and irrepressibility, Duo’s talent for making the best of every situation, for getting the most he could out of life… Heero still thought of every one of Duo’s characteristics with a retrospective joy that, translated into the present, was a bittersweet nostalgic appreciation. “But the love itself…”
“It feels like a memory too, doesn’t it?” Duo sighed. “Or an old habit. I don’t think it could be any other way after two hundred years mostly apart. I never wanted to let go of how I felt about you, but I think a big part of the reason I kept holding on was out of spite against that woman. Is that cheap? You should resent me for that.”
“No, I shouldn’t. Your stubbornness is one of the things I love about you. Of course you had to fight her however you could.”
“And I didn’t let go, exactly… but it changed. It had to change,” Duo added a little desperately, perhaps even a little defensively, as if he was miserable that things had happened this way but didn’t want to accept the blame for it. “It got to be like the report when I woke up every day: I had evidence that I loved you, things I remembered about you that I knew I would love if I still had them around — had you around — but overall it was more like being told, ‘You love him’ than actually feeling it.”
Heero reached out for Duo’s arms, running his hands down to find Duo’s and grasp them tightly. “If you can forgive me for feeling the same way…”
For several moments Duo just stared at him, and, though Heero couldn’t make out his facial expression in the shadows, the atmosphere was as sad as it ever had been during the long years here. Finally he said, “I don’t think there should be anything to forgive. This wasn’t our fault, and we did everything we could. If we’re hurt because of this, it’s that woman who did it to us, not us who did it to each other.”
“Not even at the end,” Heero murmured, quoting the last message Duo had left him in the earth down in the cellar.
Duo’s reply was equally soft. “That’s right.” And he pulled Heero into another tight embrace.
After several moments they broke apart, and Duo moved to sit down on one of the nearby benches. He leaned back on his hands, looking up into the sky, as Heero joined him, and then they remained motionless and silent for quite some time.
Eventually, “Remember all those nights we spent lying on that hill looking up at the stars,” Duo wondered almost casually, “five minutes away from my sleeping mother?”
“I do.” Heero could not match Duo’s lightness of tone, but it was a good memory nonetheless.
“And how I couldn’t figure out at first why you were there?”
“Yes.” The stars, Heero noted, looked precisely identical to how they had back then. Some things, even in two hundred years, did not change.
Duo sighed, and the same melancholy and slight confusion from before crept back into his voice as he remarked, “I feel a little like we’re strangers all over again.”
“In a way, I guess we are.”
“But I still want to love you.” Duo sat up straight and turned toward Heero abruptly. “Like you said, everything I remember about you is something I love… Even if we can’t have exactly what we had before — even if we’re not exactly the same as before, I still want to try it.”
The moon was rising, and, though it hadn’t yet cleared the hedge to their east, pale light was filtering through the arch and reflecting off leaves and petals and marble around them. Heero could make out more details of Duo’s face, and the earnest entreaty he saw there made his breath catch. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than exactly what Duo had expressed — to try again, to reach out for something like what he’d had two centuries ago with the most wonderful person he’d ever known.
“Then,” he said quietly, “it seems we just need to fall in love all over again too. We did it before. I think we can do it again.”
Startling Heero somewhat, Duo jumped up at the sound of these words. “Yes,” he said fiercely. “Yes, we can.” And unexpectedly, he walked briskly away out of the courtyard.
Heero, his brows drawing together, was just rising to follow when Duo reappeared. This time, though, he was affecting a deliberate stroll back through the archway from the adjacent courtyard, hands in his pockets. He was looking around as if taking in the scenery, and a few steps along began to whistle an old song. With a sharp pang of the heart Heero recognized it (unless he was very much mistaken) as the same tune Duo had been dancing to when Heero had first set eyes on him so long ago.
“Heero!” Duo said suddenly, loudly, in a tone of surprise. “Heero, is that you? I haven’t seen you in two hundred years!” And he rushed over to where Heero still stood in front of the seat they’d both previously occupied. “Fancy running into you in a place like this!”
Seeing now what they were doing, Heero restrained a laugh that might have come out something like a sob and allowed Duo to clasp his hand like an old estranged acquaintance.
“You remember me, don’t you?” Duo wondered next, overacting as usual. “Duo, the preacher’s son? It is Heero, isn’t it? Heero the carpenter’s man?”
“The shut-in who doesn’t have any friends,” Heero murmured in confirmation.
“Oh, surely you have friends after all this time!” Duo protested.
Heero found a smile on his face against all expectations. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have a couple of very good friends now.”
“But you won’t mind being friends with me again, I hope?”
“No.” It really did come out very much like a sob this time. “No.”
“Well, sit here on this extremely convenient bench with me and let’s catch up! What have you been doing all these years?”
“A lot of reading…”
The moon rose higher, arcing and shrinking overhead, lighting the courtyard and shifting the shadows slowly as they sat and talked. Experiences from their days as the Beast, memories from when they’d known each other previously, stories from their childhood… they discussed whatever came up, somewhat randomly, allowing the conversation to move where it would but never dwelling with bitterness, if they could avoid it, on anything.
And whatever their relationship had become, whatever distance had opened between them, it wasn’t long before they were again leaning against each other with arms around waist and shoulders. Heero felt the need of Duo like he never had before, the need of his nearness and the understanding he provided of what Heero had been through — and he guessed Duo felt the same about him. Regaining the previous depth of love they’d once shared would not, he thought, be terribly difficult. That reflection, along with Duo’s presence here with him, was an immeasurable source of comfort.
During a lull in the conversation, Duo turned unexpectedly and kissed Heero. It was a sweet, gentle kiss, almost hesitant, almost like the very first kiss they’d ever shared but somewhat uncharacteristic of Duo; it was accompanied by the tightening of arms around him as if Duo wanted to reiterate, suddenly, that he wasn’t going to let Heero go. When he pulled away, though, his words were facetious, almost flippant: “Hope you don’t mind.”
“That was awfully forward of you,” Heero replied.
Duo chuckled, and leaned his head on Heero’s shoulder. “I think we’ll be all right,” he said softly.
“I think so too.”
“We may have worked all of this out for nothing, though,” Duo went on thoughtfully, and there was darkness hovering at the edge of his tone. “We still don’t know what will happen at sunrise.”
The faery, whom they’d avoided discussing up until now, had been pushed to the back of Heero’s mind, and he was a little dismayed at how quickly she could be recalled. “Do you think she–”
Duo interrupted petulantly, “I think I’m tired of thinking about her. It’s making my head hurt. I never could figure her out, and I’m about ready to give up trying.”
“If she does come back… if she does something else to us…” Heero didn’t want to say it. Every last part of his spirit rebelled against the thought, and his heart clenched painfully just getting the words out: “Let me go this time.”
Fingers curled tightly into Heero’s flesh as Duo pulled him roughly close. “I don’t want to,” he whispered.
“I know… I don’t either… but I can’t ask another two hundred years of you.”
“Two thousand, I think, this time.”
“Promise me. Do what it takes to be happy without me.”
“Only if you promise to do the same for me.”
“Yes.” It almost broke Heero’s heart to say it, to ask Duo to say it, but he said it anyway. “Yes, I promise.”
“Then I promise too.”
Heero buried his face in Duo’s hair. It smelled the same as it had two centuries before, had the same beautiful smooth texture. “Thank you,” he whispered, fighting off tears.
“But hopefully–” Duo was clearly attempting to lighten the atmosphere, probably in response to tears of his own at the horrible possibility they’d just contemplated– “hopefully we won’t need to do anything of the sort. Hopefully we’ll never see that monster again, and we can get on with that ‘happily ever after’ we were planning once upon a time.”
“Whatever she decides,” Heero said, “I hope she won’t do anything to Trowa and Quatre.” He sat back, releasing Duo and glancing toward the high, moonlit walls of the palace beyond the courtyard hedge.
Duo nodded vigorously. “When they just figured things out… at least we had a few months together…”
Heero wondered, if the faery did show up again at dawn, whether it would be possible to reason with her, convince her to leave at least their friends out of whatever new horror she had in mind. Reason wasn’t something he associated much with the sad, broken woman he’d come to know over the years, and in her eyes Quatre and Trowa were guilty of the same crime Heero and Duo were, but if he had to, he would make the attempt. He didn’t say any of this to Duo, however, since they’d already discussed the faery a good furlong past the ‘I’m tired of thinking about her’ boundary.
“Whatever happens,” Heero said at last instead, “I don’t want to be a burden to them.”
“I’ll bet you ten of whatever money people are using these days that at least Quatre wants us to come live in that little town of theirs.” Duo’s tone was more genuinely cheerful now, which in turn made Heero’s heart lift.
“I wouldn’t bet against you on that. But we can’t let them think they have to take care of us.”
“I don’t want to leave them, either, though.”
“Neither do I. I guess we’ll figure something out tomorrow.”
Duo looked up at the moon. “We should go inside and get some sleep.” And as his eyes returned to Heero he added, “If you still think you’d like to share a bed with me, I’d appreciate your company.” There was a shyness to his tone the likes of which Heero had never heard from Duo before. It was an odd position they were in, and it sounded in Duo’s voice.
“I still think so,” he said quietly. He stood, pulled Duo up after him, and took his hand. “And it will be nice to sleep in a bed at all again.” Duo made a noise of agreement, and they set out together. And as they walked, out into the greater moonlight toward the faintly-sparkling walls and windows of the palace across the lawns and paths, Heero murmured, “I will love you again, I swear to God.”
Duo gave a faint, sardonic laugh at Heero’s choice of words, and replied, “I’ll love you again, I swear to you.”
That picture (particularly the stars) did not turn out nearly as nice as I’d hoped. It took forever, too!