A/N: Paradox is back after a long (+1 year!) hiatus. Please forgive me. For everything. I am not worthy of your readership... *grovels*

I finally figured out how I want to end this thing. I finished it 2 months ago, actually, but I wanted to make certain that I'm comfortable with the ending. I am. So here goes nothing!

Paradox – Act Three – Part 8

Odin made him call him "dad". On missions, mostly. Sometimes just to mess with his head. He didn't like it, but he did it anyway – to avoid punishment. It was better to do as he was told. The alternative... the alternative still made him wet his bed at night sometimes. But that was Before. Now, things were different. He was with Duo now and he didn't have to obey anyone anymore. Sure, he had to do things because Duo told him to, but those things made sense (like brushing his teeth or cleaning up his room), so he didn't mind them so much. He knew that he didn't have to do them. He won't get punished if he didn't, not like his other "dad" used to punish him. Duo tried to discipline him sometimes (like "go to your room" and stuff like that), but only when he really went too far (like that one time when he took someone's bike from their apartment building and tried to see for himself how big New York City really was), but that was nothing compared to Before.

Things worked differently now. He wasn't allowed to do some of the stuff he could do Before (like go really far by himself, or play with knives), but he also didn't have to serve Duo and he didn't have to call anyone "dad" anymore. He knew Duo wanted him to, but he never forced the issue. It was okay to say "no". Duo only asked that of him once, clearly, at least. He had asked other times too, but not with words. His eyes kind of asked for it. Sometimes his arms too, when they hugged him. But that one time, when he really did ask with words, Duo said that he didn't have to, but it would mean the world to him if he tried. He never did (it was okay to do that now). Calling Duo that... it would be too much like Before, so he didn't. Sometimes it looked like it made Duo sad, but he still didn't. He wouldn't. Couldn't. He couldn't risk things going back to how they were Before.

But then how could he explain to the lady who Duo was? She was looking at him funny, waiting for an answer. He wouldn't have approached her if Duo hadn't gotten lost. The whole situation begged far too many questions he wasn't equipped to handle. He wasn't sure what he was allowed to say. With Odin, there was always a plan. There were always rules. For everything. And if he ever broke those rules, then... But that was Before, before Duo. Now everything just... happened. It was all very messy and he really didn't know what the plan was half the time. He wasn't sure Duo knew either. There were no rules with Duo.

But he had looked for what felt like a very long time and Duo was nowhere to be found. It was a big shopping mall with lots of people and lots of stores. He just wanted to take a look at all the cool toys at this one store. He took his penguin with him, because Manny was his favorite, to see all the other toys. There were no penguins there, but there were robots and Legos and this big colorful monster truck that was really very cool. He wanted to ask Duo to lookit, but when he turned back around Duo was gone.

He stood there a moment and looked around at all the different people and all the different faces. None of them were Duo's. They were all moving so fast, walking back and forth without even looking around at anything around them. Adults did that, he had learned. They were always busy. Duo was always busy too. Nowadays he was always "running errands", which meant that he had to go to lots of places to see all these people about this house he wanted to buy on an island (that was an Earth-thing: when the sea was all around someplace – Duo had taught him that). Duo was so busy running all that time. No wonder he got lost. He probably wandered off without looking at all the different things around him. There was so much to look at here, and he just wanted to look at that one store with all the robots and the Legos and the monster truck, so he had stopped. Duo must have continued walking. The idiot.

He stood there, hugging Manny the Penguin close, because Manny was all he had now, and waited for Duo to come back. Odin used to say that if he didn't know where to go, then he should just stay put. He did that after Odin died, but after a long time nothing happened and no one came, so he left and tried to look someplace else for something. Anything. That was how Duo had found him. So he waited for Duo to come back and find him again. He waited and he waited and he waited and lots of people walked by, but none of them were Duo.

So now he had to go look for him and the best place to start seemed like this place with the big blue "i" above it. He wasn't sure, because Duo had just recently started showing him all those letters that help you read stuff, but he remembered that "I" was one of them and maybe if "A" was for "Apple", then "I" was for "Eye". Maybe that's where you went to look for someone?

But the lady at the eye-place got it all wrong and when he and Manny came to ask her to help them find Duo. She gave him this big smile, leaned down and asked with this weird sweet voice: "Hello, sweetie. What's wrong? Are you lost?"

That was a silly question, because he had been lost since the day he was born.

"Yes," he therefore replied quietly, looking up at the lady because she was so tall.

"Awww..." she moaned sweetly, like she was sad even though she didn't look it. "Don't worry, honey, I'm sure we'll find your mommy right away!" She promised (it was a stupid promise, because his mommy was dead!) and reached a hand out to touch his hair. He didn't like it when people did that, so he took a step back, holding Manny closer so she won't take him maybe.

"I don't have one," he told her, looking up at the tall lady with an angry face so she'd leave him alone and stay away.

The lady looked surprised, like he had said something wrong.

"Oh. I'm sorry!" She apologized. Now she really looked sad, not just fake-sad.

"Why?" He asked, confused.

"Uh..." she mumbled and then let out this awkward chuckle. Duo did that sometimes too, when he said things that he shouldn't have said, like talking about stuff from Before when he wasn't supposed to. Duo wanted him to talk about Before, he said it was okay, but then if he did it when Duo wasn't expecting him to, it wasn't okay. He tried not to say those things, but sometimes they slipped out anyway. Like that time when Duo wanted him to try call him "dad". He said he didn't want to (because that was a word from Before). Duo asked why, so he told him that he didn't want another dad (because Odin was bad enough!). That was when Duo had let out that same awkward chuckle, like the lady at the "i", smiling even though his eyes were sad. Duo told him that it was okay if he didn't want to have another father. But if it was okay, then why was he so sad about it?

"Are you here with you father, then?" The lady under the "i" sign asked and he looked at her for a bit, thinking. It was a trick question. To say "yes" would be a lie, but it would make her shut up and just call Duo already. But to say "yes" would also make it true, make Duo his father, and that... that would be too much like Before, wouldn't it? It would be better to avoid the question and that's it!

"He's lost," he therefore answered vaguely. Odin used to say that "lying by omission" was the best lie. Duo said he never lied, but he did it all the time anyway, like when he said he was okay but he really wasn't (he could tell, because Duo's eyes looked a different kinda blue when he was happy or sad). The eye-lady laughed, even though his answer wasn't supposed to be funny. He scowled at her and tried to explain why it shouldn't be funny: "He didn't stop to look at the store so he got lost."

The lady was smiling even more now. What was so funny about a grown man getting lost?

"Well, okay then," she said in this weird sugary voice. "Can you tell me his name? I'm gonna call him on this big mike over there and he'll be here to get you in a jiffy!"

She pointed at the desk behind her, where a big PA microphone was standing next to a computer monitor. He felt his face turn hard and cold when he turned to stare at it. This was going to draw a lot of attention. Odin would have... but that was Before. He held Manny a little closer and took a cautious step back (in case she'll try to grab him and take him away). He looked at the lady carefully, not sure if he should tell her or not.

"Maxwell." He let the name out tersely, like saying it quickly was like not saying it at all. "Duo Maxwell," he then elaborated, feeling like his insides were turning into stone that was being crushed and ground into dust. The gravel felt very heavy in his chest, choking him. He was doing something wrong. He shouldn't have given her Duo's real name, but then what else could he have given her? They never came up with a plan for this!

The lady didn't seem to think he had done anything wrong. She smiled again, looking real stupid. "Funny name, isn't it?" She called out like he had just told another joke and he frowned at her again. She was so weird. And now she was leaning towards him again, reaching her hand for his hair and he had to move back a little so she won't ruffle it like Duo did. He didn't want her to!

"And what's your name, sweetie?" She asked, pulling away slowly with her lips shaking a little, like her smile was too heavy and was about to fall.

He didn't really have a name. He never needed one, because no one ever called for him. That is, until Duo came along.

"Duo calls me Heero," he told the lady and her smile really did fall this time. She looked like she was going to say something, but didn't. Instead, she looked at him funny again. Duo was the only one who didn't look at him him funny when he answered questions. Maybe he was used to him getting everything wrong and this lady wasn't. He had to make her understand that he didn't mean to get it wrong all the time.

"Can you help me find Duo, please?" He asked the eye-lady more nicely, remembering this book Duo read to him some time ago, about this furry little orange creature named Ernie who got lost in a big department store and had to ask for people to help him find his friend Maria. He thought maybe if he asked nice like Ernie did, the eye-lady would help him like those people in the story helped Ernie. He tried not to make his face hard like it usually felt, so she'd know how nice he was trying to be and she'd call Duo back already.

The lady didn't move for a second, still looking at him like he had said something wrong, but then she smiled that sad-but-not-really-sad smile and turned to her desk to reach the PA system. A few seconds later, her voice echoed throughout the mall:


The lady set the mike back down and turned to him with a big smile showing all her white teeth. One tooth was smaller than the others. It made him feel like he shouldn't be looking, so he turned away.

"I'm sure he'll be right here," the lady promised, even though it could be a lie. "Would you like a glass of water while you wait?"

He shook his head and went to sit on the bench next to the eye-desk. He held Manny close so he won't get lost as well and then he'll be all alone again like after Odin died. The lady turned back to her computer to do stuff. He stayed on the bench and waited, looking at all the different people moving around so maybe he'll see Duo's face. It was very easy to spot Duo in a crowd, because he was very tall, he always wore his black leather jacket and he had the longest hair ever!

People were always staring at Duo's long braid. Duo never seemed to mind. If someone said something, Duo ignored them. One time this little girl yanked Duo's braid real hard while they were standing at the checkout line at the supermarket, but Duo didn't get mad or anything. He said that the little girl was just jealous of his hair. He didn't like it that some other kid was pulling Duo's hair, so he held Duo's braid for the rest of the line, so no one else touches it. He kept looking at the little girl the whole time, making sure she knew she wasn't allowed to play with Duo's hair.

He thought maybe he saw someone in a black leather jacket approach the eye-desk, so he stood up, wanting him to be Duo, but he wasn't. It was just some guy and he kept walking, talking on his phone. He remained standing for a bit, because his legs felt too hard to fold back into a sitting position. That stone-feeling was in his chest again, hard and heavy. Duo wasn't coming.

He held Manny real tight and leaned his head down so he could rest his nose on Manny's furry little head. He closed his eyes and remembered that fun day Duo took him to the Central Park Zoo and promised that there'd be many many more fun days like that. That's why he had named his penguin Manny. Duo said it was a good name. He said that Manny's name was a like a promise, so it was a very good name. Duo said that his name was also like a promise. He said that calling him "Heero" was a promise to always be with him, to always love him. Kinda like when you call someone "dad" (unless it's fake, like for a mission).

But maybe... maybe Duo was breaking his promise? Maybe he didn't want him anymore. Or maybe... maybe he couldn't be with him anymore. Maybe he was dead! Maybe someone killed him and now Duo was dead and he was lost again. He got lost again and no one was coming for him this time. No one!

"Oh, sweetie..." the eye-lady suddenly called softly, "don't worry. I'm sure your dad is on his way."

His eyes were wet. That's why she was lying to him about Duo coming back. He could feel the tears welling in his eyes – warm, fat and unstoppable. He hurried to wipe them away. His hands were now streaked with wet lines, but the tears just kept on coming, flowing on their own. He never cried much Before, but ever since Duo took him in, he was finding it harder and harder to stop the tears from coming. He didn't understand why that was. He should have cried Before, when things were bad, but instead he was crying now, when things were better. It was all very confusing. Nothing made any sense now that he was with Duo.

He was still crying silently and the lady was looking at him like she didn't know what she was supposed to do. "I'll try calling him again, okay?" She suggested with the sad/not-sad smile again.

He nodded, sitting back down on the bench and wiping his tears away with his blue sleeve. He tried to be brave, but the heavy feeling inside hurt so much, begging to come out. He could feel it rumbling in his chest, clawing its way up his throat. He tried to make his throat real tight to keep it down, like he used to do when Odin punished him and he didn't want to cry. But this was so much worse. Duo wasn't coming for him. The lady called for him like a billion minutes ago and he still didn't come. Duo left him. He left him and now he was lost again.

Maybe Duo didn't want him anymore, because he's always been lost. Maybe Duo knows. Maybe he knows all about Before and how lost he had been back then... how bad he had been. Maybe that's why Duo was gone. He didn't want him anymore. He didn't want to be a dad to a bad little boy. And he had been very very bad for a very very long time. He was a bad boy. And no one wants a bad boy. Bad boys were meant to stay lost so no one would find them. No one would have them.

"W-why don't I try calling him again?" The lady offered with that falling-apart smile, like she was trying to hide the fact that Duo won't be coming this time either. He didn't nod his head this time and just hugged his Manny real close. The tears were making Manny's furry black head wet, but he couldn't stop them from pouring. He sniffled quietly and wiped his runny nose with his blue jumper's sleeve. Every part of his face was leaking stuff out, but still so much pain was left inside...

"Maybe he didn't hear me the first time..." the eye-lady mumbled and reached for the PA system again.


"HEERO!" Duo's voice suddenly called and the lady stopped talking. He looked up and saw Duo running towards him, his hair all messy and his eyes real big.

"DAD!" He cried out, the word unstoppable. He jumped off the bench and ran towards Duo as fast as he could. That tight ring around his throat snapped and the sobs burst out of him in shuddering waves as he ran into Duo's open arms.

"I'm sorry, dad! I'm sorry I got so lost Before! I'm sorry!" He wailed in hasty stream of hiccuped words and wrapped his small arms around Duo's legs tightly so he won't ever ever leave!

For a second, Duo didn't move, like he was frozen somehow, but then, he knelt down, slowly, and gathered him into a strong embrace like he always did when the tears won him over.

"Oh, no... Heero... I'm the one who should be sorry," Duo whispered softly into his hair, kissing his head. "I wasn't paying enough attention... I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I let you get lost... I'll never do it again. I swear to God... Heero... never again..."

For some reason, that only made him cry harder. He placed his head against Duo's broad shoulder, whimpering and sniffling quietly. He was shaking, so Duo held him even tighter.

"Shush... Heero... It's okay..." his dad soothed while petting his hair tenderly. "It's okay, Heero. You're not lost. I've got'cha. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere... I'm right here..." He kept saying over and over, rocking him gently in his embrace.

Keeping his face pressed against Duo's shoulder, Heero inhaled his father's scent deeply, as though breathing him in would make Duo a part of him somehow. Make him stay forever, because they'll always be together.

Before, all he had was the air in his lungs. Now, he had so much more. He had his Manny and he had his dad. He had Duo and the life he had given him. He wasn't lost anymore and he didn't want this feeling to go away. Ever.

Aching to fill his chest with something other than that hard-rock pain, he kept drawing deep long breaths, lungfuls of Duo. He inhaled more and more of Duo's comforting scent, until it felt like his chest was about to explode. He started coughing, his lungs drawing desperate breaths. He felt Duo move away, giving him some space. He kept coughing loudly, sputtering saliva. His chest was on fire, his throat raw and full of gravel. He gasped, shuddering as he inhaled cool air into his aching lungs. He was freezing and his body burnt. Hot and cold at the same time. His ears were ringing and his temples pulsed with unbearable pain. Someone was shouting. He could hear an argument, but he couldn't make out the words over the sound of his own struggle for breath:

"...goin' on here..?!"

"...what it looks like..!"

"...let this happen..!"

"...gettin' it all wrong..!"

"...coulda DIED!"

"...Quatre..! ...didn't..!"

"...da fuck... were you?!..."

Gradually, the voices became clearer, leaving him baffled by the fact that they were actually one and the same. It was like hearing someone arguing with himself out loud. He recognized the voice, with its fierce intonation, its typical hotheadedness and cheeky retorts. The voice was shouting angrily, accusing its counterpart of some horrible thing or another. The anger was too much, flooding him with uneasiness. He wanted it to stop...

"...d-da...d..." he moaned weakly, barely speaking, but desperate to pacify the voice's rage. Immediately, it fell silent.

"Heero!" It gasped softly. There was movement nearby. Someone approached his bed and took his hand, holding it tightly in a warm grasp. Heero turned his head aside, struggling to open his eyes so he could watch Duo's face through fluttering eyelids. He blinked until the hazy vision cleared and he was staring at the man's worried blue eyes. They stared at each other for a moment. Duo seemed so much older somehow, his bristly features ashen and worn with worry. He had the same look in his eyes as he did that day, at the mall. It was that same heartbreaking look of terror and relief: the face of a guilty father.

Thing is, Duo had nothing to feel guilty about. Heero knew that now. He wanted Duo to know that too, so he did something he hadn't done in a very long time: he smiled. It was a small gesture, just a tiny tug upwards at the corner of his mouth. He hoped it was enough to convey his gratitude. He had so much to be grateful for, but so few words with which to describe it all. He trusted Duo to understand.

Duo's forehead, however, creased with a frown. The light in his eyes seemed to die a little, as he apparently realized which version of him was smiling at the moment. The transition was painfully obvious and Heero's smile vanished, replaced by hurt as he realized exactly which version of him had Duo had hoped to meet when he reached for his hand just now.

"Heero..." The man mumbled awkwardly, letting go of his hand. His warmth was painfully missed, but Heero understood why Duo needed to keep his distance. It was better that way, especially when memories blended in his head in a most inappropriate way. The two different versions of himself had become deeply entangled. They were beyond unraveling, yet Duo could tell it was him from a mere ghost of a smile.

Heero closed his eyes sadly. He moved his hand away as well, pulling away further from Duo."Wh–at... happened..?" He rasped in a graveled voice, feeling about as frail as he sounded.

"You nearly died, is what happened," he heard Duo's sarcastic voice reply snippily, but it was coming from the back of the room. It was Junior speaking. His lips tingled warmly, recalling the sensation of Junior's lips against them. Was it the younger Duo who had revived him? Did their mouths lock again as Duo breathed life into him?

An image flashed in the back of his mind. He remembered Duo pulling him out of the water. He was drowning in the freezing black waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Duo pulled him out and breathed air into his lungs. He then left him unconscious on a rock ledge and took off.

Another flash. Again he remembered Duo pulling him out of the water. He was drowning in the filthy harbor waters of the Pacific Ocean. Duo pulled him out and breathed air into his lungs. He then left him unconscious to be taken into an Alliance hospital and took off.

Lungfuls of Duo. That's what's kept him alive so far, both in this reality and in the other.

How many times had their lips met already? How many times will they meet in future..?

Heero opened his eyes again, turning his head to look at the other side of the room, where Junior was standing against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. The boy looked utterly pissed, like he had just stood trial for an act he didn't commit. That was the argument he had heard earlier. His fa–– Duo must have walked in on Junior giving him CPR and then lost it, getting all worked-up about how his son had nearly died while he had been away from his bedside for just a few hours. Duo tended to lose his cool in the heat of things. He was quite prone to taking his anger out on people instead of blaming himself. The self-flagellation usually came later, once he had regained his cool. Heero wondered which part of him was making this analysis, because he was fairly certain that he didn't know Duo well enough to draw such unfounded conclusions. Sure, he had observed and analysed the other pilot much like he had anyone and anything around him, but could it be that he had been paying special attention to the Deathscythe pilot?

He studied the boy who looked exactly like the pilot he knew and remembered from his own personal experiences, and his eyes gleamed wretchedly. Yes, he realized. He had. And he should have recognized this fact sooner, like the moment he had made the decision to rescue Duo from OZ imprisonment on C-102. No one else came to Duo's rescue and no one would have come if he hadn't made that decision. Duo would have died out there, abandoned and betrayed by his own comrades. And here... none of them came for him here. If it weren't for the Duo he had rescued, the Duo who will later toy with the whole of time and space just to save him in return, this boy standing before him would have perished knowing he was all alone. And that was unacceptable. This universe... this version of the timeline... it was unacceptable.

"Someone should have come for you," he told Junior sadly, feeling a warm sheen of moisture forming in his eyes. He did nothing to stop it and kept looking at the braided boy standing across the room. Junior looked up, gaping quietly. His anger slowly dissolved into a puzzled frown.

"Someone should have cared..." Heero whispered brokenly, the tears glistening in his eyes. "I should have come for you," he added, offering Junior a sad little smile before turning to face the older Duo, standing by his bed.

"No one came for you here," he rasped wretchedly; "You never gave me the chance to... never... You changed everything."

"I know," Duo admitted in an abashed whisper.

"People here... they don't care, Duo." Heero's fists clenched as he recalled how a fellow pilot had just tried to murder him in his sleep. "Everything is so different... everyone..." he mumbled ruefully, shaking his head against the pillow as if to shake out the image of Quatre pushing a cushion over his face. "There's no hope here, Duo. None."

"I know," the man replied solemnly, casting his gaze down in shame. "People here... they lost sight of just about everything."

"It can't be all me," Heero protested despairingly, his eyes begging to find another way. He refused to accept that he was the one single element that would tip the scale towards peace and justice. How could one person possibly matter so much? How could he ever matter so much?

"I can't be the one responsible for... everything. It's... It can't be me."

"But it is," Junior intervened, stepping away from the wall. "I didn't wanna admit it, but... I guess there's this one thing only you can do, Wonder-boy. Things aren't working out the same way here and you're the only goddamn variable. You might be the one thing that's gonna make a difference. Change people. Make 'em want peace."

"That's Relena," Heero disagreed, shaking his head weakly. "Not me."

"But what drives Relena?" Duo stepped in, looking at Heero tensely. "Who does she believe in?"

Heero gaped at him quietly, unable to respond.

"She will follow you to the ends of the Earth, Heero," Duo continued, almost anxiously. "Chasing the dream. She will make peace come true and you will help her. Without you, without the strength you will offer her, the Earth will be destroyed. Why else would Time make certain you two meet in this timeline as well? Out of all the places she could have gone to, she came here, to Block Island. She came to you. Not by choice, but by fate. You two... you're destined to change the world."

"Which world?" Heero asked shakily. "This one? Or the other?"

"That's already been determined, I'm afraid." Duo sighed, casting his gaze down sadly.

"So I'm destined to destroy one world while saving another?" Heero questioned wretchedly. "Is this the fate you wished for me? Is this the love you speak of so highly?"

Duo's eyes welled with unshed tears. "Of course not," he whispered in a wavering voice. "But you can fix this, Heero. Fix my mistake. Make it as if none of this ever happened."

"And then billions of lives would be lost."

"I know," Duo confirmed somberly and took a knee by Heero's bed, reaching for his hand again. Heero looked up into Duo's eyes, finding nothing but understanding there.

"That's genocide," he stated bitterly.

"I know."

Heero's eyes flashed angrily. "Do you, Duo? Really?"

Duo closed his eyes sadly. He recalled that awful moment when he had lost his mind to the ZERO Gundam and saw himself massacrare the entire world. The vision wasn't a random glitch. It was Heero's guilt, travelling back across dimensions. He had suffered right along with him, losing his mind to the unbearable anguish.

"I do," he therefore replied quietly. He opened his eyes, facing the teenage boy lying pale and miserable on the bed. "And for what it's worth... I'll never forget what that feels like. You will. It will be as if none of this ever happened. I promise."

"What about your son?" Heero asked, still angry. "You're okay with that too? Making it as if his life here never happened?"

Duo looked away uncomfortably, but Heero refused to let him avoid an answer. He grabbed his wrist tightly, urging the man to face him.

"Duo," he stressed the man's name urgently. Duo turned reluctantly to look at him, his eyes reflecting nothing but shame and uncertainty. Heero refused to break eye contact, looking sternly into Duo's eyes.

"I have a life here. A good life. A life I can only dream of..." He sighed, shaking his head. "You're asking me to lose something I don't even deserve, but what about your son? What about what he deserves? Are you asking me to destroy that too?"

Duo hesitated.

"And what about you?" Heero questioned harshly; "I step back into that cockpit and that life is over. Your son is gone. No goodbyes."

"I know," Duo murmured, bowing his head down briefly before he looked up again, trying to offer a reassuring smile through tearful blue eyes. He reached up to caress the boy's hair lovingly, his expression wretched as he added quietly: "Goodbye is just one out of many luxuries I never got to have... This time won't be any different."

Heero closed his eyes sorrowfully, sinking back against the mattress. He allowed the man to stroke his hair; it felt so natural. His mind wandered under Duo's soft caresses, drifting back to a time he had never experienced personally, but somehow was still a part of him. He wished for nothing more than to keep this experience, but he feared that the moment he would step back to the original timeline, everything would be lost. This boy Duo had saved eight years ago would remain forever lost. Everything he had gained here would be lost. Everything he had learned would be forgotten. And then the loop would reset. Duo's love... their love... has cursed the universe.

Heero opened his eyes and turned to Duo, resolute. "I can't go back there before I find a way to sever the loop," he decided, gazing fiercely at Duo. The man drew his hand away from his hair.

"I need you to tell me," Heero implored him, "Tell me how I die."

Duo sighed, bowing his head in resignation. "It won't do any good, Heero," he muttered, "You won't remember. You won't be able to stop it."

"I have to try," he declared stubbornly. "I won't be responsible for this world. Neither for its creation nor its destruction. Not again."

"It won't do us any good if I tell you how you died, Heero," Duo insisted, "But maybe... maybe knowing how you lived would make a difference."

Heero seemed confused. "You mean you'll give me intel?"

"No," Duo laughed quietly, shaking his head in amusement. "That'd be useless. You'll forget everything. I'm talking about the things you're far less likely to forget," he smiled and added: "your feelings."

"Oh boy..." Junior muttered from somewhere behind. "Not sure I wanna stick around for this part..."

Duo sent the braided boy a sharp glare over his shoulder, before turning back to face the boy on the bed. He smiled gently. "Two lifetimes, Heero. You and me. That's bound to leave a mark on the universe somehow."

The boy frowned, doubtful. "Like how?"

"Well, you told me that you don't believe you're capable of feeling, not as intensely as you're supposed to, anyway. But I know for a fact that at some point in the future, you'll manage to find a way to love again, to bypass the damaged neural pathways in your brain."

"You said I died because I wanted to obtain some brain-altering device," Heero reminded him of their intimate conversation on the beach. "Because I wanted to reverse what J did to me."

"Yes." Duo confirmed with a sigh. "You found such a device in a raid we went on twelve years from now... some kind of EEG glasses. But touching them set off a booby-trap. You died trying to escape the explosion."

"So you're thinking that by making certain that I'm able to feel," Heero concluded, "you'd be saving me from a premature death."

Duo nodded. "What J did to you was irreversible, but you found a way. You always find a way, Heero. I know that now will be no different. Love has the power to rewire our brains, change our minds. And isn't that what ZERO encodes and sends back across dimensions – your brainwave signature? Maybe that's what you get to keep – the emotion, the love. Maybe, in a way, my son... the other you... won't be lost forever. The things he had learned here, the way he feels... they'd be a part of you from now on."

"But falling in love is what gets us into this mess in the first place!" Heero contradicted firmly, pushing up on two elbows so he could sit more or less on eye-level with Duo. "You're still talking about a paradox," he rebuked through a stifled cough. "If what you're speculating is true, then this timeline was in a way created because I wanted to feel again, and the only way I will ever feel again is if I visit this timeline, go back to the original one and end up dead, causing you to do this all over again." He looked the man in the eye, angry. "Keeping the emotion would be counterproductive. The loop will never break that way."

"Then maybe you shouldn't hurry to go back into that cockpit," Junior interjected again, stepping away from the wall he'd been leaning on. The other two turned to face him. The braided boy shrugged helplessly and tried to explain:

"I mean, the second he decides, we're history." He said and focused his gaze solely on Heero. "Once you've made up your mind, that's it. Your decision alone sets into motion a chain of events that will guarantee that none of this ever happened. Get it? You decide and we all go poof! Anything you do once you've made up your mind is of no consequence. It's your decision that counts. No matter how you implement it, it's already done. So just... think about, man. A whole universe... this crazy loop... it all rests on this one choice. Your choice. So for the love of God, Wonder-boy... make sure it's the right one."

Relena's long hair billowed up in the wind when she stepped onto the upper deck. She was wearing a large black sweater, the one Heero ("her" Heero) had given her when they first came to the rig. It was barely enough to keep her warm in the icy wind. She hugged herself while walking across the windy deck, until she reached the abandoned helipad at the edge of the naval platform. She stopped, tucking a few locks of hair behind her ear, as her eyes fell on the lone figure sitting on the edge of the deck, his legs dangling over the ledge. Heero sat leaning forward on the safety railing, holding a thermal mug and gazing thoughtfully at the stormy ocean.

The desolate boy was dressed warmly in a thick hooded work-jacket, similar to the one the CLO personnel wore around the rig. He also had a black scarf wrapped tightly around his neck (his father's idea, most likely). He sipped the hot beverage quietly while staring out at the raging waves. He seemed deep in thought and didn't realize he was being watched until she joined him, settling on the floor by his side. The only indication he gave to having acknowledged her intrusion was the slight tensing of his back as he straightened his posture and leaned away from the fence.

Relena threw her legs over the ledge and grabbed the safety rail to keep herself steady under the strong wind. Heero just kept looking ahead, drinking quietly. She turned her head to look straight down at the waves hitting massive poles holding the naval platform above the Atlantic. There was electricity in the air. A storm was approaching.

It was Heero's watery coughs that finally broke the heavy silence. She turned to face him and saw him raise his fist to his mouth, fighting the persistent coughing. Once it subsided, he lowered his hand and returned to sipping tea out of the thermal mug. He never once turned his head in her direction.

"How you feeling?" She asked quietly.

"I almost died three months ago," he stated flatly, pausing to cough, "and it didn't feel half as bad as this."

She chuckled quietly, appreciating his small joke. It sounded like something "her" Heero would say.

"I just came from my brother," she decided to share with him. "He won't listen to me."

Heero took another sip and lowered the cup slowly. "I told you he wouldn't," he said, glowering at the ocean. Relena nodded and turned to look at the water as well.

"It doesn't matter," she exhaled heavily, "From what I hear, he's not the one holding the fate of the universe in his hands." She gazed sadly at her dangling feet, swinging them back and forth above the stormy gray ocean. "Not here, anyway."

"Hn," Heero acknowledged with a quiet grunt, and raised the thermal mug for another sip.

She glanced at him without raising her head, studying his stoic face. The cold wind tousled his unruly bangs. They fluttered wildly, smacking him across the face. He paid them no heed and just stared ahead pensively. She took a moment to appreciate the perfect outlines of his profile. His jaw was tense and his lips were pressed firmly. He seemed troubled.

"Junior tells me you have a lot to think about," she tried to engage him into speaking about his dilemma.

"I figured fresh air might help."

"Is it?"

"Not really." He coughed and raised the cup for another sip.

Her lips lifted with a soft smile. She found his aloofness quite charming.

They watched the ocean for a while, listening to the rustling waves below.

"What are your options?" She asked carefully, kicking her feet back and forth.

"If I knew, then I'd be able to choose," he muttered irately.

She nodded, feeling foolish for asking. She heaved a long sigh and leaned both hands over the lower railing, cradling her chin in her arms. She studied the ominous storm clouds gathering in the horizon.

"If I step back into Wing ZERO at around nine P.M. tonight," Heero then elaborated, "I'd go back to my timeline and forget this ever happened... until it happens all over again." He turned to her, hesitant. "Or..."

She looked up hopefully. "You'd stay?"

He bowed his head, as if ashamed. "I could," he mumbled, avoiding her prying eyes. "I could stay here and live a life I could only dreamed of back there..." He looked up again, slowly, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. "It might even help us to avoid a deadly paradox. But at the same time," he sniffled, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, "I might also doom both worlds... by dropping out of the fight."

"Ouch." She grimaced. "I don't envy you."

He scoffed, raising the cup for another sip. "Yeah."

"But, I... I mean, if you stay... things might work out anyway," she offered, trying to sound encouraging. "Your dad––– I mean, Duo –– has a plan."

"And if it fails?" He countered harshly. "We could all be dead by Christmas. Thanks to your brother, most likely."

"You can fight here, with us," she suggested.

Heero shook his head. "My fight is over there."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"I don't know..." he said, looking down at the water. He stared at the waves thoughtfully, his gaze far away. He was holding the thermal cup in one hand, while the other absentmindedly brushed back and forth across the deck. She watched, thinking he wasn't even aware of how his fingers were moving much like they did when he raked them through the sand, sinking deep in thought. This was something her Heero would do.

"You always come to the water to think," she told him, thinking of her friend. She was certain he would correct her, claiming she was actually referring to the other him, but he didn't. Maybe there wasn't much of a difference anymore.

"We can spend an entire day sitting on the beach, and you'd just rake your fingers through the sand until things made sense." She turned her head to face him, still resting against her arms. "I think you're drawn to it somehow," she said and Heero finally turned to face her, frowning. She smiled in apology. "The water," she explained, straightening back up. "Or maybe just what lies beyond it..."

He lowered his gaze to stare at the waves for the longest time. Relena did the same. The pale afternoon light painted the ocean in murky gray. The whole world seemed to be embraced in an ominous shadow.

"We met by the ocean," Heero suddenly said, his eyes downcast.

"We?" She turn to face him.

His lips twisted with a sarcastic little smile. "Here, and there," he explained, lifting the thermal cup to his lips again. "It was under very different circumstances," he paused to stare at the cup, as though embarrassed, "But you saved me both times."

"I did?" She marveled, eyes wide.

Heero took a small sip and then stared at the cup thoughtfully. "Yeah," he let out gently, a small smile creeping up his lips. He turned to her, his blue eyes shining vibrantly in the gray winter light. Her heart jumped a little in her chest. His eyes were the bluest blue, sucking her in until her entire universe seemed to narrow down his lustrous blue eyes.

"He likes you," Heero stated plainly.

"I– I know..." she murmured uneasily, shifting her gaze aside. She pushed her hair back; the wind kept throwing it in her face.

"I mean, as in likes you, likes you," he emphasized, looking at her intensely.

"I know," she sighed, staring at the deck's smooth surface. "I've known for a while."

"You don't feel the same?" He sounded genuinely curious, his voice taking an unusual lighter tone.

She looked up. "Do you?"

Heero looked away, wincing. "That is a... trick question," he sighed, gazing ahead miserably.

"You can't tell anymore, can you?"

He shook his head in negation. "I just know that he..." he paused, thinking, rephrasing. "That he wants you to know that." He turned to look at her, his blue eyes intense. "I want you to know that... that he wants you to know that." He smiled helplessly, probably aware of how silly he sounded.

She laughed a little. He wasn't very articulate, much like the boy she knew from this world. It was adorable.

"I like you too," she told him with an apprehensive smile. "Both of you."

"Just not the way he does you."

Relena cast her eyes down in shame, remembering how she had hurt Heero's feelings by refusing to let him hold her hand when they were sitting on the crates right here on the helipad. It was the last time she had seen her friend. The next time they saw each other, he had been replaced, or suppressed, by this other version of him. The original one. She had no idea if she would ever see her friend again, if she would ever get to apologize, so she did:

"I'm sorry, Heero," she whispered shamefully, keeping her eyes down to the floor. "I know I've been careless with my actions on more than one occasion. I hurt you and I'm really sorry." She looked at him, desperate to make him understand why she couldn't do this right now. "I just––"

"It's okay," he cut in, speaking softly. "I know. Both of us do." He offered her a small smile, earnest and pure. "We understand."

"You do?" She asked hopefully. "So does he? How can you be sure?"

Heero shifted to stare out the ocean again. "He shared... everything... with me," he spoke with a quiet, distant, voice. "When ZERO connected us, I was... completely lost. He tried to communicate his feelings, using them as an anchor. He showed me what it's like to..." He heaved a mournful sigh. "To be found."

Something quivered inside of her, feeling his pain.

Heero turned to her, his deep blue eyes raw with emotion. He smiled sadly. She felt mesmerized by his humble smile. He was so beautiful. Reserved, collected and so heartbreakingly sincere. She felt as though she could see straight through his eyes and into his very soul. He was breathtaking.

"I remember this one time, back in New York City," he said, and she watched his face light up with a sweet little reminiscent smile. Relena found herself smiling back, her heart pounding. This was her Heero speaking, seeping through the other him.

"Duo taught me how to play hide and seek," he paused, chuckling quietly. "Winning is very... important... to me," he let out slowly, as if choosing his words carefully; like whatever her Heero was trying to say was being run through some kind of filter.

"I know," she laughed, recalling how vehemently he always carried himself on the soccer field; "I've seen you play."

He smiled sheepishly and nodded his head while turning to look the other way. "Yeah, well, I guess I take things too seriously..." he mumbled; the pained expression on his face made her wonder if he was considering something much graver, something from his own experiences. If how he moved on the soccer field was any indication, then he must be absolutely fierce and magnificent on the battlefield.

"It was only a game," Heero continued, gazing at the waves, "but I hid myself extremely well. Duo searched for hours, but he couldn't find me. It was getting dark and he was getting worried. I was watching him. I knew I was taking things too far, but the more I waited to come out, the scarier it became. I was afraid he'd be pissed. I was afraid of being punished. I was afraid of being... found." He sniffled and rubbed his nose with the side of his hand, lowering his head in embarrassment. He stared at the thermal mug in his hand.

"So I stayed put. All through the night." He scoffed, shaking his head in amusement. "That idiot even called the police. There was a search party and everything. NYPD scouted the whole neighborhood. I knew I was in deep trouble, so I kept hiding. After a while the apartment was dark again, and quiet. I figured he must have left with the search team to look outside, so it was safe to come out."

He paused, toying with the cup in his hands.

"I found him sitting on the sofa, alone in the dark. He was holding his head in his hands... crying."

She felt tears well in her eyes as she imagined the scene.

"He was afraid he'd lost me," Heero murmured guiltily, keeping head bowed. "I felt bad, because not long before that, he had lost me at the mall and promised that he would never lose me again. I just stood there, watching him. I didn't know what to do. I expected anger, and punishment, but instead I found..."

"Love," she completed the sentence for him, her eyes shining with tears. He looked up, locking his gaze with hers, and nodded his head once.

"Yes," he confirmed. Then, sighing, he cast his gaze back down. "That's what it all comes down to, doesn't it?" He let out solemnly. He seemed so lost. It was heartbreaking.

"If this was simply a choice between loving and never learning how to love, then I'd be able to make it in a heartbeat," he murmured dejectedly, "But it's more complicated than that..."

"I hear love usually is..." She mumbled sadly, looking out at the brewing storm in the horizon.

"Duo and I... we shared this whole other life here... and a whole future together that might never happen. We won't remember any of it," he moaned the words out mournfully, staring miserably at the sea; "Two people sharing so much, but in the end it's nothing but a dream... That's just... mad."

"Folie à deux..." she recited the phrase dazedly, staring at the sky. "A madness shared by two."

Heero turned to her with a frown. "The shared psychotic disorder?" He marveled at her strange connotation.

She turned to him with an apologetic smile. "Only in your case, not psychotic at all." She gestured all around her. "This is real. But only as real as you'll believe it to be. The thing about folie à deux is that we all do it, to a certain extent, because we all go a little crazy for the people in our lives. Ideally, this shaping is a positive experience that stays with us. It's ours to keep, even when the source of it is... gone." She fell silent for a moment, thinking of her father. She fought back the tears and turned to watch the waves. "It's all very intuitive," she continued. "The people we love... they mold us. That's how they stay with us. That's how the life Duo had given you here, the love he had shared with you – they will always stay with you."

"So, in my case, a folie à duo," he joked with a quiet chuckle and she giggled at his silly pun. He had such an endearing sense of humor. She liked how he used it to defuse tension.

She listened to him inhale deeply and watched him gaze thoughtfully at the ocean.

"Duo also says I'd probably get to keep the love."

"That's good then, isn't it?" She looked at him carefully.

"No..." he sighed, "it's not."

Relena noted the despair in his voice. She leaned closer, trying to offer comfort.

"But I can't think of a way to stop it," he groaned, despaired. "I'm in too deep. I can't untangle myself from –" he gestured down at himself "– me."

She nodded slowly. She understood. It was impossible to simply "switch off" love, which was why Heero didn't know which course of action he should take. He could no longer separate what he felt from what the other him felt. Their minds had melded and no matter what he did, he will carry the other Heero's feelings with him to the other side. A psyche shared by two, who were actually one. Madness, indeed.

"I see what you mean," she sympathized, speaking softly, "About being out of options." She turned to face him again, and was surprised to find him studying her intently. His gaze was so intense, it was unnerving. She could actually see the wheels turning in his head.

"What?" She let out, feeling self-conscious.

"I think I might have a choice after all," he said.

She frowned, confused. "You do?"

Heero nodded, never breaking eye contact. He was still looking at her with a disturbingly intense gaze. "I'm just not sure it's the right one."

"My father used to say that when two options seem equally reasonable, then it's best to go with what your heart tells you, not your head."

His tense expression cracked with a soft smile. He almost seemed relieved. "Go with what you feel?"

"Yes," she replied simply, glad she had managed to ease his mind a little.

But Heero still hesitated. "Even when I'm not sure if I'm the one feeling it?" He asked, doubtful.

"Who else then, if not you?"

He opened his mouth to speak, but then stopped himself, maybe realizing she was right. He turned to watch the waves again, frowning thoughtfully.

"Relena?" He sounded tense.

"Yes?" She replied, just as tensely.

And then he leaned in to kiss her, pulling her close in one swift motion. She froze, her whole body rigid with surprise. His lips were warm, moist with the tea he'd been sipping. He pressed them firmly against hers, the tip of his tongue brushing gently between her sealed lips.

Her mind reeled. Her first kiss!

She parted her lips slightly, knowing that was what people did, and he snaked his tongue into her mouth – hot, slick and sweet like tea and honey. Her breath faltered. She didn't know what to do. Heero was kissing her with such abandon she was completely at a loss. Which version of him was kissing her like this? Surely not the shy and timid boy she had befriended on the island. Neither did it feel like the cold and ruthless soldier from beyond time and space. Rather, this kiss was a combination of the two; full of a warrior's heated passion, yet soft and caring like that of a friend.

She melted into the kiss, reaching down to seek his hand blindly. Once she found it, she grabbed it – squeezing hard. He did the same, entwining their fingers together tightly. Desperately. Possessively. Fearfully.

She moaned into his mouth, letting him coax her tongue to join the dance. She recalled teaching him how to waltz. How he had held her hands uncertainly, letting her guide him through the first two rounds with that adorably tense pout on his face. The wonder in his eyes when he had looked at her throughout the danced. The fierce fire that ignited in those deep blue pools when he told her that she shouldn't taint her hands with blood. His concern for her ran deep. He cared about her. He loved her. And... and she didn't want him to go. She wanted him back. She wanted him to stay. Forever.

She felt Heero's breath falter; he was fighting back a cough. He broke away from the kiss, and raised his fist to his mouth, struggling to contain his coughing.

"Sorry," he let out breathlessly and then coughed again, grimacing. "Probably not the best idea..." he uttered with ragged breath, then continued coughing.

She smiled in sympathy. She didn't mind. She didn't care if this infatuation would turn to an actual sickness. She was already feeling lovesick. A month ago, she had barely even considered him her friend, but something inside of her had caved and was aching to reach out to him.

"Heero..." she whispered and caressed his handsome face, smiling softly. "Does this mean you've made up your mind?" Her eyes begged him to confirm her wishful thinking. "You'll stay?"

Heero reached to hold her hand against his cheek. He was looking at her with wounded blue eyes, asking for forgiveness. He shook his head, lowering her hand away from his face.

"I'm sorry," he whispered regretfully. "But I––"

Posting more soon, so stay tuned! ^_^