4 AM

Author: Asuka Kureru (sequel to Two/One by Sailor Seraphim.)

Much Loved Beta-reader: Kitty Chou *cuddlepurr*

Disclaimer: Boys not mine. Stop. Plot not mine. Stop. Well kinda. Stop. Uh. oh, hell, half-mine. Stop.

Pairing: 2+1 (implied 1x2x1), slight 5+2

Warnings: Yaoi, Duo POV, Heavy angst, Supernatural stuff.

Visiting Old Friends part 2

"Well... Here we are."


"... Car's parked, I have everything in my backpack... I didn't forget anything, did I?"



'Duo, we checked three times already.'

"... We can go in."

'We can.'

Neither of us moves.

Wufei's house is waiting for us at the end of the lane. It's spacious, but not too big. It looks calm, inviting. Certainly not scary. But the view of the second car parked there is enough to freeze us in our tracks.

Quatre and Trowa are here.

Trowa... doesn't scare me. I know he'll accept me as I am. And he's soothing to be around. But Quatre... By God, I love that man, but sometimes he doesn't understand my need to be left alone.

"No need to stall."

'No need.'

"Stop agreeing with me, dammit!!"

Heero smirks at me. 'But you're totally right, Duo-san. We don't need to stall.'

"ARGH!! Yeah, you can laugh! At least you can pretend you're not here-- uhh..." Oh fuck. Open mouth, insert foot.

'That's at least one good thing about being dead,' he answer with a snort. He looks at me, and must see me cringe, because his eyes soften. 'So what if I'm dead? I am, we can't change that, and if you call me living impaired or some other stupid politically correct crap I'll laugh in your face. As we both noticed, it isn't the end of the world.'

I guess it's morbid humor, but I can't help it, I snicker anyway. He's so fucking blunt.

He nudges me, nodding toward the kitchen window-- the curtain is still moving slowly. Someone was watching. Better hurry up and hope they didn't see me laugh. I get out of the car and lock it, giving Heero a worried glance. Can he go through objects? We never tested. He doesn't like going through me. And he doesn't go through the seats or anything, so...

He makes a face as he considers the door and then slides out through the window, Dukes of Hazzard style. I don't point out that the window was closed too so he may as well have gotten out the normal way; he's very sexy when he moves like that.

The door opens before we reach it. Quatre is waiting, a hesitant little smile on his face. Our eyes meet, and suddenly his eyes widen and he lifts his hands to his mouth, shocked. I freeze.

Did he see Heero?

"Duo... You --look..." He manages a poor little smile, his voice thick with emotion. "... better."

Oooh, hell, Kleenex alert. I'd so hoped to avoid that. I go to him, fast, and give him a hug. Gah, I feel so uneasy. I hope it's enough to make him feel better, because if he breaks down I don't know what I will do. I so can't deal with more emotional upsets today.

He hugs me back, tight. I can't breathe. Forgot he was so strong. Luckily he releases me fast. Good, it didn't last too much longer than a friendly greeting hug should last. Wufei's neighbors won't think weird and embarrassing things about the type of friends he has. ... Not that I feel like I'm too macho for hugs, but hell, not in public! And NO, I'm definitely not blushing.

He coughs in his hand and looks embarrassed for a second, but his eyes are still dancing with way too much joy. Now I'm the one who's embarrassed.

'You're adorable when you're squirming, love,' whispers Heero in my ear.

I hide my hand from Quatre behind my back and give him a well-deserved one-fingered salute. "So, Quatre, it's been a while. How are you?"

"I'm just fine," he grins back, looking at me in a way that implies that I'm at least partly responsible for his good mood. Does Wufei have a hole in his garden that I could dive in head first? I could use it right now.

"Quatre, are you being sappy again? The doctor told you no more than once a week, blondie."

Trowa!! My savior, light of my life, my mysterious unibanged-- "Trowa Barton, what the FUCK have you done to your hair?!"

'... Now that's an... interesting look on him.'

"It's not a fucking interesting look, it's just goddamn weird!! Trowa, man, where is your BANG?!" I wail, petting his hair. The bang is still here... except not. It's SHORT. Like, no longer than down to his cheekbone. He looks like NOIN!! At least it's still flopping down over one of his eyes; I couldn't live with seeing both of them at the same time, now could I?

The green-eyed one gives me a funny look and reaches out, tugging on one of my locks. The one I chopped off for Heero. Um, oops?

"You're one to talk. At least my haircut makes sense."

"What happened?" Quatre asks, looking faintly worried. He knows how much I love my hair as well as them all.

I turn red and squirm. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Got caught in a fan?"

"I SAID I don't want to talk about it," I answer, messing up Trowa's shortened bang in retaliation.

"Ooh, that must be really embarrassing then," he answers. I'm doomed.

The door is pushed wider open before I'm forced to come up with something that would make them drop the subject without being a lie. Thank God. Wufei, if I weren't a married man I'd kiss you.

"What's going on here?"

"Oh, nothing," Quatre deadpans, his eyes glowing with mirth. "Trowa and Duo are molesting each other's hair."

"I don't know you," the traitor deadpans back, closing the door.

The three of us blink at the door, unbelieving.

"... Did he just... lock us out?"


Beside us, Heero's shoulders are shaking with silent laughter.


The meal is a little calmer than our first encounter on Wufei's lawn, thank God. We're not teenagers anymore, and I can't maintain that level of carefree amusement all day. It's hard to avoid glancing at where Heero's presence is lurking, and it's harder not to think about how lonely he must feel, ignored by everyone. But I know that he won't like it if I go glum and don't enjoy the reunion because of him. So I do enjoy, and we do discuss grand ideas and exchange petty gossip, and for once it's good to think about the life of someone else.

Once the meal finished, Wufei and Trowa fight over the right to wash the dishes. Quatre wants to say something to Trowa and I use the moment to slip away, pretending that I want to check out Wufei's home... Which isn't untrue, but it's also that I need a few minutes to relax. I'm not used to being social anymore. And I want to check on Heero pretty badly too.

I slide in Wufei's unlit study discretely.

'Daring escape. Executed with flawless skill.'

"Oh, shaddap," I mutter after checking that no one is following. "It was very nice but I could have done without their questioning looks that disappeared whenever I noticed them."

'Still better than them asking directly.'

"... Yeah, I guess." Quatre wouldn't be satisfied with the evasive answer I gave Wufei and if there is another reason that I don't lie apart from my promise, it's that as a liar I just plain suck. I can evade, I can redirect, I can play with words, but ask me to make up something up front and I won't need two minutes before I'm babbling and contradicting myself. Unless I imagined the lie hours ago and spent my time reciting the finest details in my head not to get them wrong, but somehow, I'm not able to willfully spend time thinking about what sort of lie I will tell my friends if -- when-- they ask. I'll play it by ear or something when the time comes, but I refuse that level of betrayal. And if they catch me lying... well, that's a risk I'm willing to take to repay them for cheating on their trust in the first place.

I see Heero's shadow in a dark corner. A small object is nudged and rolls on its base. I recognize a chess pawn.

"Is that a subtle hint, love?"

He smirks at me, a flash of white teeth in the dark corner.

Chuckling, I go to the chessboard and move it to the table, taking place on one of the wooden stools. It's a simple but beautiful set. It reminds me of all the games we played during the last months of the war. Developed lateral thinking, Quatre said, and that sounded a lot like what G had been telling me -- I hadn't listened because it seemed boring, but it actually was interesting to watch-- so me and Trowa learned. Quatre and Heero already knew how to play, and their duels were truly beautiful... And very, very long. Like, stretching-over-a-week long. Of course back then either one of them could flatten me in about four moves. Wufei had not been taught chess, but Go -- or Wei Qi as he insisted on calling it-- and he took to chess faster than Tro and me.

It was a good, if weird, period of our lives. Five pilots who had been fighting side by side but never truly met, having to get used to being part of a unit before the last big battle... and we knew that what was coming would probably be one of our hardest battles yet, but in the meantime, there was nothing to do.

Except get to know each other, and play chess.

'Woolgathering? That's promising.'

"Whoops, sorry babe." I set up the pawns, shaking myself out of it. I've never been able to beat Heero yet, but I've been getting better. I know he'll probably keep on getting better just as I do, but maybe after a while he'll slow down or reach a plateau or something... In the meantime, it gives me training for when I want to kick Tro and Fei's butts.

'... Duo...? Would it bother you to move my pawns for me?'

I look up, startled, and notice how blurred he is.

'Relax, I just want to conserve energy.'

Translation, he's getting tired. "... Of course, love. You don't need to stay visible either, it's okay."

His smile shows a hint of relief. He disappears slowly, only a faint shadow indicating his place.

We start to play, and soon get absorbed in the game. It's so very weird-- for the first time in years I'm not just repeating an old game for the nth time or making one up from what I saw of him playing other people, I'm actually playing with him. He's actually making new decisions, inventing new strategies...

He's really there.

I wonder why it hits me so hard. It's been several weeks since I got him back. I had time to get used to it, didn't I?

But it's still a miracle. And I'm very glad to realize that I'm not starting to take him for granted. I will never commit this mistake again.

I'm still beaming dumbly when I notice Wufei's presence.


"I was wondering where you had gone," he comments casually as he comes in, looking around the room. For a second his eyes are a bit weird-- cold and calculating, as if he was scanning the room for intruders.

"... Wufei?"

He shakes his head and gives me a tiny smirk. "Nothing. I just thought I heard you talk with someone. I was wondering--"

His eyes fall on the board and he stops talking.

"Oh... Nostalgia... Been a while since I played," I explain when I see him look. My brain is working at a hundred miles a second. Did he just hear my voice, or ...?

Correction, he's not looking, he's staring at the board.

'Duo, he's suspicious...'

Weird, that's exactly what I was thinking. I wonder what he's suspicious over, the game or the conversation-- I wonder if he heard Heero's voice, even if it was too softly for him to make it out-- I wonder if he thinks I've gone mad.

Good thing I was the one moving all the pieces. But Heero's style and mine are very, very distinct. No one knowing how to play can mistake his for mine.

"Duo, you--"

"Wanna play? It's interesting to play against yourself but not really challenging, you know."

After a few seconds of staring at me --no doubt searching for hints that I'm having a huge breakdown over my game against the memory of Heero (because I'm not stupid enough to think that he hasn't recognized the style) --he relaxes, and nods slowly.

I reset the pieces and he takes place in front of me. We exchange a polite little bow. And then the carnage begins.

I progressed a lot since the war, but he did too. And going against someone else than Heero is yet another challenge. This is so fun.

I am still getting my ass kicked, though.

'... Duo... Do you want to tell them ever?'


'About me... Of course not now, not yet, but... Do you? Eventually?'

My first reaction is goddamit, no fucking way in hell. I never even visualized that idea; I know they would have me committed if I went to them and told them that I have invoked Heero's spirit and that he is now following me around and making snarky comments at random moments. But there's only to remember his forlorn expression as his friends smile-- and ignore him-- and my decision is made. I pretend to think about the game as I sign under the table in our old war code. Maybe. Later. If No Risk.

He coalesces slowly behind Wufei, his voice almost inaudible. '... Then maybe... It would be good to make them doubt. You'll convince them better if they're already convincing themselves.'

I hide a little smirk. Devious. Melikes.

There's no risk involved, right? We're going to go very slowly, test the waters so to speak, and either they're broad-minded enough to accept and we can tell them, or they aren't and they won't even realize we were asking a question.

'Your queen in B3.'

I move my queen as recommended, breaking my pattern of attack. Wufei's eyebrow arches.


Ten minutes later, Wufei's king is laying on his side on the board and I'm smiling innocently at him. He looks thoroughly weirded out.

Heero appears at my side, smirking. We've been switching strategies here and there, totally confusing the poor guy. We even had to tease him and not play too seriously because he was distracted at first, for some reason... but he didn't stay distracted long. Now he's giving me a weird look, slightly surprised, slightly offended, amused too... and confused. Very confused.

He hesitates. "Duo... where..."

I know what he wants to ask, but I want to tease him more. "Where do you put the pawns? Well, you see, the tower goes there..."

"Not that, idiot. Did... You got better at chess."

"You don't have to sound so surprised," I answer, sounding like I'm offended. He snorts at me, relaxing slightly.

"Some of those moves..." He hesitates again. It's so weird to see him pussyfooting around an issue. Wufei isn't one for sensitivity. He bombs his way through if it doesn't yield. Is he convinced that I'm that frail?

"I've been repeating my games with Heero for the last seven years; if I hadn't learned anything from them I would have been a very poor student indeed," I answer calmly. Maybe a little too calmly, I notice as he gives me a sharp look. He was probably expecting pain; this is the first time I utter my husband's name in public without prompting. I give him a weak smile, hoping that it will stall him and feeling bad all the while for the implicit lie in my smile.

I feel a cold hand land on my shoulder, for just a second, and from the corner of my eye I can see Heero. He's so visible... and doesn't look as ethereal as he always does. He looks almost as he did when he was alive. I relax a little. This is for Heero.

"... You have? ... You remember them?" Wufei asks, faintly surprised.

"Yes. Well, not all of them, but the best ones... The ones who marked me..."

He looks impressed. "You have a very good memory."

Huh. Now that's a smooth change of subject of conversation. But it doesn't matter, if it makes him more comfortable and me less prone to having to lie. Now if we could please can change the subject a little bit more.

Great friend that he is, Wufei grants my wish. "Well... The other guests should be here in a few hours..."

"Waitaminute. Other guests?"

I think I liked the old discussion better.

"... Well, yes," Wufei answers slowly as he puts the pawns away, giving me a puzzled frown. "Quatre didn't tell you when he called?"

Because yes, the meeting has been arranged by Quatre, sneaky bastard that he is. Nice and fluffy my ass. That guy is ruthlessly manipulative.

"No. He didn't." I'm aware that I'm gritting my teeth, but dammit, I am NOT ready to see anyone but the guys.

'Who-- Duo, ask him who.'

I glance at Heero, my anger diminishing a little. I can't help but feel a tiny pinch of pain. For a second he forgot that Wufei couldn't hear him.


He doesn't wait for me to ask, though. Probably guessed what I want to know. "Une will drop Mariemeya off this afternoon."

There's a fond look on his face. Mariemeya kinda latched onto him as a mentor and uncle figure after the coup. They figured out where they went wrong and learned to adapt to the new peace together. He talks to her about Treize sometimes. He teaches her sword fighting and meditation too. It's an odd relationship but it works. Of course, now that she's not eight anymore, but sixteen, she has this cute crush on him, but he doesn't notice. Or pretends not to, I'm not quite sure to which point his clueless-ness is only pretenses. I guess it's kind of uncomfortable; at her age, we were adults, and I guess she does think herself mature, but to Wufei, she's still the child he protected for her father.

"Hilde is coming too, I think, if she can finish early enough-- did you know that she has been assigned as Relena's bodyguard recently? Her hours are quite erratic..."

I smile. It's been so long since I saw Hilde. Nowadays we have drifted apart-- I drifted away-- but we were very close for a while after the war. She went to the Preventers with me when we sold the yard; I think she left a year or so after Heero's death. I'm not sure, really. No one really talked to me about the Preventers after Heero died, except for the discharge papers.

"... Relena will probably come with her..."

I stop smiling. "That bitch."

Wufei turns around, surprised, but I ignore him. Heero's staring at me, his vividly blue eyes wide and hurt.

He has always admired Relena. Before we got together, I was really insecure about that, but I finally learned to accept that he loves me, not her, and he never will leave me for anyone, especially not her. Seven years ago, I was finally able to see him leave on bodyguard duty with a smile, my heart at peace and trusting.

Well, that's the last he knows of my relationship with her at any rate.

'Duo, why--' "What did she ever do to you?" they ask at the same time, frowning but trying to contain their surprise and disappointment.

"Why do you think the dear lady has done anything to me? She's way too nice for that, isn't she?"

'Stop that. What's wrong?'

Wufei is staring at me; I know what he's going to ask. Good thing his answer and Heero's are the same.

"Nothing's wrong."


"Nothing. I just don't like her. Feel free to like her or not; I don't care if you've changed your mind about her, Wufei. Just don't ask me to."

'I though-- I thought you didn't mind her anymore...' Heero sounds heartbroken. I feel sorry for him; I know how important she is to him, and I know how hard it is when the people you love most can't stand each other.

Wufei scowls, his black eyes narrowed. "She isn't the ridiculously ignorant idealist she was as a teenager; of course I changed my mind. I thought you had too."

I turn away. I don't want to look at them, standing side by side and with the same disappointed frown on their faces.

"I had. I changed it again," I growl. How bitter I sound. I'd like to be a better person, but I'm not. Yes, I can't stand her for a petty reason, something she probably didn't even think about. But those are my feelings and I am not Heero, able to rationalize at his likes and dislikes until they shift to fit his philosophy of life. My feelings are not rational, and they will never be.

I pace in the room, not looking at them, pretending to look through Wufei's books and knickknacks. Their eyes are burning a hole in my head.

"You want to know?"

"Yes," Wufei answers firmly.

'...yes,' whispers Heero.

I take a deep breath. This is going to be hard to talk about. But they deserve to know.

"It dates back from Heero's death."

I see Wufei cringe. I wonder what he's thinking. Maybe it annoys him that everything is about Heero's death for me. I know how hard he wants me to stop centering myself on that moment.

"It was... When it happened... You know how the mass media threw themselves at the-- the mission, Wufei."

Of course he knows. For a month after I woke up, he and my other friends spent their time changing channels on TV and "losing" the newspapers. Heero doesn't, though. Of course. He was kinda dead at the time. I swallow a fit of hysterical laughter.

"I know I was in no state to be interviewed, and believe me I'll never be grateful enough for the way you all protected me from the bastards who wanted nothing more than a scoop from the... surviving agent."

It was the first big mess-up of the Preventers and people had talked about it a lot, especially since it involved two of its most controversial and well-known agents. In that new era of peace, the blood and chaos needed to boost the sales was always hard to find. Heero's body wasn't even cold yet that the vultures were already swooping down.

"I asked Quatre once, how his burial went... I thought he'd been the one to take care of it. But somehow, she managed to get him to let her do it. 'You're tired, Quatre'. 'Take care of Duo, he needs you, Quatre'. 'It will help me with my own grief if I can do that much, Quatre'. And so..."

Wufei frowns, probably not seeing this as anything worth demonizing Relena over. He's right. Objectively, it's not. But I never pretended that my petty hate was objective. As much as she "loved" Heero, she had no business pushing herself into our family. She was not one of us.

"... So... Here I was, on an operation table, and she was getting photographed in her designer black dress, kneeling artfully on Heero's grave, crying her eyes out as if her heart had been ripped to shreds. You have seen the headlines: 'Earth's Sweetheart Loses her Knight!!' 'Dramatic End to the Romance Between Two Heroes of the Eve Wars!!' Do you know how it felt to see that magazine?! It felt like getting shot in the chest again. Just a big fucking hollow where my heart should have been."

I don't tell him that it's finding that tabloid that prompted my second suicide attempt, just as I was recovering from the first. I almost succeeded too; if Trowa hadn't been used to snatching Catherine from the air, he wouldn't have managed to catch me in time. Splat. He reopened my wrist, too, but not enough to cause anything else than making me stay a week longer in bed. I hated him for that, but not as much as Quatre for being distressed enough to let our friends know about what I had tried.

"... So... I was here, trying not to feel like Heero h-had been taken from me again --" fucking throat, stop squeezing, I need to talk, I need to tell them-- "and then she came in, looking at me with those sad, red-rimmed eyes --they weren't even puffy, she looked like a goddamn actress -- and tried to tell me that 'Heero would have wanted me to...' Would have wanted me to what? What did she know about what he wanted? Who is she to dare to tell me how to bear my grief? She wasn't the one who had just lost the other half of her soul! She was just-- just the one receiving calls and cards from all over the Earth Sphere for "her loss". Her WHAT? Heero was never hers! He's mine!! MINE!!! She has no right--"

Wufei's chest muffles my sobs. His arms are tight around me. Lean, but muscular. And strong, almost painfully so. His body type is so familiar... For a second I allow myself to imagine that I'm in Heero's arms once again, but he smells all wrong and it's hard to pretend.

"... she had no right..."

"... Shhhh... Breathe, Duo..."

Wufei's voice is soft, a bit uneasy, but also tender and caring. Later I will feel bad for feeding his hope that I will ever want more from him that his support and friendship, but right now, I need him.

I stay buried in his embrace for a few minutes before I control my hysterical sobs. I look over his shoulder, searching for Heero, my eyes wide suddenly. I'm letting Wufei hold me so possessively, what does he think of that?! Maybe--

'Calm down, Duo, I'm here,' he whispers. I can't see him, I can't see his face, what is he thinking...

'Relax. Let Wufei help you. You need human contact, anata.'

"... Heero..." I whisper, my voice strangled with pain. Wufei's hold tightens and he starts to rock me gently.

A faint, almost colorless shadow in the corner, Heero is watching us, his so blue eyes thoughtful. I can see the pain caused by my hate for Relena and the bad memories he was indirectly the source of in those irises. '... There's still more you need to say. So say it. We're listening.' I need to listen, he doesn't add, but I know that he's thinking it. He needs to know what happened while he was gone, while he was still waiting in limbo for me to call him back.

"What hurts so much... You know we didn't-- we never let people know that we were married. Only close friends."

Wufei nods. He understands. We got enough of a rep from being former Gundam pilots and Preventers agents, we didn't need to deal with the grief of officially being in a homosexual relationship. There are still so many bigots in that supposed age of tolerance and love. Give people a survey to fill and the answers will mostly be the same ; that people they would never hear of love people of their own gender is fine with everyone -- so long as they don't know those people personally, because of course knowing someone gives you the right to approve or not of their relationships (yes, that was sarcasm). But us, as heroes of the war, as hated terrorists, as respected agents of a sometimes controversial agency, we weren't faceless strangers to the masses. They believe that it gives them somewhat of a right to know and judge. We didn't want to bother.

"He's my husband. Not hers. He was nothing more than her friend. But to the world-- to the world we were nothing to each other. Most of the time I didn't mind no one knowing. I didn't want them gaping and pointing. But-- but knowing, that to the world, Heero belonged with Relena... That he'd died loving her... It just-- I couldn't take it. I still can't."

Wufei is still rocking me slowly, gently. He caresses my hair, slightly hesitant --I tense up when he fingers the lock I cut for Heero, which, freed from the rest, ends just a bit higher than my jaw. Even that distraught, my hair is off-limits. I'm glad when he lets his hand drop to rub my back instead.

"Duo-- She never told anyone that her and Heero were anything more than friends. She never even implied it. You're being unfair."

'I know that a lot of tabloids published on us, but we always laughed at them -- do you remember? Once I gave her a box with a roll of film inside and people started congratulating me in the streets for finally getting her an engagement ring?'

I snort. I remember. We all laughed at that. Somehow it isn't as funny now.

"She never, never said that Heero loved her," Wufei tells me, his tone gently scolding. "She didn't even admit that she loved Heero, even though... You know that she did have feelings for him. She never officially announced that her and Heero had been anything at his death."

My voice turns spiteful, and I hate myself, but I can't stop it. "She never officially denied it either. They all implied that they were so in love, that he'd been cut down in the prime of his life before he could propose and their fairytale could end with bliss and a truckload of brats, and she never denied it."

Wufei gives me a disappointed look. "Heero had just died, Duo. I think she was thinking of more important things than the papparazzi's perceptions of her relationships."

"It was important to me."

His stern expression disappears slowly, and I feel a twist to my heart. He considers my decision unfair, and yet, he will still be there for me. The circle of people he bends his ethics for has to be just as small as the one who got to see Heero's true smiles.

Heero who is still standing behind Wufei and watching us, with his eyes which are the last thing in him to still possess color. They're blazingly blue, unreal, while the rest of him is nothing more than gray smoke and vague sepia shadows.

It feels like he sees right through me.

'That's a lot of hate to have for someone for an indirect offence, Duo,' he whispers softly... 'What's the other reason?'

... What?

... damn him for being so perceptive. Damn him for seeing what I didn't even want to admit to myself. Damn him for knowing me so well.

Wufei is still watching me, and suddenly he frowns thoughtfully, as if someone had hit a switch. "Even though you hate like you love, powerfully, you aren't one to start hating easily. Are you sure this is everything?"

I stare, gaping. Is that a coincidence that Wufei had that idea just after Heero talked about it? Or is he unconsciously, subliminally hearing him? Heero's eyes are two burning sapphires, trying to burn a hole into Wufei's head to understand how that thought came to him.

Maybe he, too, just knows me too well.

"... Of course--Of course I'm sure, what kind of question...!"

I wonders why it sounds like I'm in denial.

He shakes his head slowly. He's thinking the same thing, I can see it.

"I don't think you're finished, Duo. Keep going. Keep explaining," he prompts me.

Heero looks like he's in pain. I don't know if it's in sympathy for me or because of my hate for someone he loves. Probably both. I hate myself for tearing him inside. 'You knew that you hated her when...?'

I search for that moment of clarity, for the first surge of burning loathing. "...When I saw that picture. I knew that I hated her then."

"That picture?"

"Her. In her elegant black dress. With lace. Black lace. A shroud. So beautiful. She had poise and grace, and she still looked like she'd lost her reason for going on -- like everyone should look on a burial. Show some regret. Mourning fit her so well. She was leading them all, though. She was hurting bad, it showed, and she still fought to keep together, to make sure that Heero went on his last trip with every honor than should be his, every proof of love. She was dignified. ...It should have been me."

Can ghosts cry? Heero has his back to me. I can't tell.

"... she went... on his grave... she went. And I didn't. She went and I didn't."

Wherever we'll go, we'll go together, that was our motto... Except that for his last trip, his most important trip, I wasn't with him.

"... I wasn't there..."

"You were at the hospital--"

I place my hand on Wufei's mouth. I don't want him to make excuses for me. I was alive and Heero wasn't and it was the last I could have done, except I didn't do it.

"... I didn't go to his funeral, Wufei... I didn't go to his funeral..."

I don't remember much from the next --minutes? Hours? It could be days for all I know. All I remember is the sobs forcing their way out of my throat until I taste blood and Wufei's sleeve wiping my nose regularly, and incoherent babbling that wouldn't make sense even if I wasn't mixing my native English with Japanese and Arabic words, trying to mesh dozens of concepts within sentences that don't have either beginning or end.

I remember Wufei's solid warmth, his arms rubbing my back, I remember Heero trailing cool kisses along my neck; I remember their whispered reassurances, their echoing encouragements.

It's the first time that I let my tears fall freely.

It's kinda weird to be finally grieving for Heero when I just got him back. But--the stages of mourning-- denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance-- my phases of denial and anger got a tad mixed up, I think, and I don't believe I ever went past them before entering the next. The phase of bargaining-- well, what did I do when I started to search for a way to get past Heero's death? And now, it's only when Heero is back with me that I can finally let go of the furor at the injustice that was his death and refusal to accept the inevitable, which were the only things fueling me during those years without him.

If I had stopped denying... If I had stopped bargaining... He wouldn't be here with me today.

It is only now that I can let go; when I don't need to fight the hard, cold reality of his death anymore. It is only now that I can mourn him.


I think we're all startled when there's a knock at the door. Heero disappears and Wufei and I jump apart, just as embarrassed. He pulls on his shirt to straighten out the wrinkles, then opens the door.

Quatre is there, giving us a serious, slightly sad look, but then his lips quirk a bit in a soft smile. "The guests will be here in a half-hour at the most, Duo. Do you want me to call them and cancel?"

Like hell I'm going to ruin their reunion even more than I already did. I shake my head. "No thanks, Quat. Today was already a lot. I need a nap," I add with a self-depreciating smirk. "Maybe next time I'll manage to stay longer."

He nods, his smile widening a bit, turning more heartfelt. "Right. So... Trowa's in the kitchen if you want to say goodbye."

I punch his shoulder lightly as I walk past him, as a sort of excuse for my haste to escape the emotionally-charged scene.

"Hey, Tro?"

"... Yeah?"

Hmm, what's that catch in his voice? Let me guess, he knows. Not surprising when I think of it-- Quatre always knows, and they were probably together when I started bawling. That and it's been hours since I disappeared, they probably checked on us at some point, I was just too out of it to notice.

"I wanted to say goodbye to your Unibanglessness," I comment with a smile. If I pretend that my face can't compete with a blowfish painted in red, maybe he'll pretend along with me. Trowa's great at that stuff.

He gives me a haughty look. "You may." I start laughing. His humor always surprises me when I less expect it.

Playing along, I curtsey, batting my eyelashes at him. "If your Unibanglessness permits it, I shall take my leave, kind sire."

He loses when his lips curve into a smile first.

"See you later, Duo."

A handshake and I'm on my way out. I like how uncomplicated he is.

Wufei and Quatre are waiting outside. I get a hug from Blondie and a light punch on my arm from Wufei. I punch him back, and we look at each other for a few seconds, our fists on each other's arm. Then I nod at them and leave.

Heero's waiting for me in the car.

'That was a good day,' he says thoughtfully.

I think, and then I nod. Yes. Yes, despite the breakdown-- or maybe even because of it-- it was.