Because Of You

Lyrics borrowed without permission from 'I'm Everything I Am (Because You Loved Me)' by Celine Dion.

You were my strength when I was weak.

Chang Wufei had never tolerated weakness. When he'd first met Duo Maxwell, he'd judged the other pilot to the weakest of all of them, despite Winner's inherent sensitivity. Maxwell was too loud, too lazy, too brash, too exuberant, his hair was much too long, and he was lacking in both intelligence and discipline…

In short, a whole list of weaknesses.

A month-long undercover mission had shown him differently. Maxwell only talked so much because no one else would have a conversation with him. He was actually very hardworking, it was just his carefree attitude that made it seem otherwise. Maxwell was only so outspoken because otherwise, he couldn't get a reaction out of his more stoic teammates, and he hated being ignored. He was only so overexuberant because he felt that if he didn't enjoy life to its fullest, then he'd fall into a depression so deep that he'd kill himself. And Maxwell's hair…well, Wufei couldn't really argue with an unseen weapon. He'd personally observed the other pilot using his braid to strangle unsuspecting guards who thought that he didn't have any weapons on him. Maxwell even hid his lockpicks in the plaited chestnut strands.

Maxwell was also smarter than Wufei was. The fact that he was currently locked up in an OZ cell because he hadn't listened to Maxwell was proof of that fact. Maxwell was the stealth expert, and if he said that this base had motion sensors installed in that corridor despite their intelligence to the contrary, Wufei should have listened to him!

Silently castigating himself once again for his foolishness, Wufei almost didn't hear the soft scratching sound at the door. It didn't sound like a guard coming to interrogate him – if it were, they would have used the keycard and been inside by now.

Thinking perhaps it was one of OZ's soldiers come to exact a bit of revenge for the number of their comrades he'd killed, Wufei did his best to ready himself for an attack. Despite his wrenched shoulder and the bullet wound in his leg, there was still a good chance that if there were only one or two assailants, he could manage to take them down and escape.

So it was with no little surprise that when the door opened, Wufei found himself face to grinning face with Duo Maxwell.

"Hey, 'Fei! Ready to blow this joint?" he asked as he tucked the wires he'd short-circuited back into the keycard box.

Wufei smiled, despite the fact that it popped open the scab on his split lip. "Yes, I am, thank you," he replied, knowing that the other would realize what the gratitude was really for. He hadn't expected Duo to take such a large chance by rescuing him.

But I shouldn't have been surprised, Wufei thought as Duo helped him to his feet.

Another thing he'd learned about Duo was that he was very loyal to his friends.

You were my voice when I couldn't speak.

Duo Maxwell hated silence. Silence reminded him of nights on the streets, when one wrong noise could get you killed. He wasn't living on the streets anymore, however, and aside from infiltration and stealth missions which required silence, he could talk as much as he wanted to without fear.

Of course, his talkativeness annoyed the hell out of a lot of people, Chang Wufei chief among them. Heero just ignored him until he couldn't take it anymore, then threatened to kill him. Trowa ignored him until he couldn't take it anymore, then left the room. Quatre gave the appearance of listening until he couldn't take it anymore, then he just started smiling and nodding along absently.

Wufei ignored him until he couldn't take it anymore, then started ranting about everything he deemed wrong with Duo.

Despite the fact that Wufei's approach meant that Duo had to listen to a half-hour-long list of his less-finer qualities, he preferred Wufei's approach. It meant actual human interaction from someone who was deigning to acknowledge his existence.

Something Duo craved like a drug.

Duo had noticed in the past few months – ever since he rescued Wufei from that stealth mission gone wrong – that Wufei had been a lot less annoyed with him. Of course, Duo had been a lot less annoying. He'd finally figured out that Wufei would actually hold a conversation with him if he talked about something real, instead of just babbling about whatever-the-fuck off the top of his head.

Now, however, he had no choice but to be silent. They'd been discovered by OZ much sooner than planned and had been forced to run. The safehouse they were staying in was in the middle of the forests near Seattle. Unfortunately, the trees nearby were too short to hide their Gundams, and so Deathscythe and Shenlong were three hours away by foot. Wufei had arrived a day before him – just in time to avoid being an extra in the remake of Noah's Ark.

Duo had slogged for four hours – it had taken longer in the rain – through freezing cold rain before finally reaching the safehouse. He'd been soaked through with the arctic-temperature rainwater, and his teeth had stopped chattering forty-five minutes earlier. Since shivering was the body's warning signal that you needed to get warmer, Duo was thankful he hadn't gotten hypothermia. Once he'd finally reached the safehouse, he'd been so exhausted he'd barely managed to dry off and put on clean clothes before falling into bed. Or, rather, onto the sleeping bag serving as a bed. Their safehouse was the proverbial abandoned log cabin in the middle of the woods, and while it was warm thanks to the large fireplace and airtight insulation, it brought new meaning to the word 'minimalist' with its furnishings – or lack thereof.

And the next morning Duo had woken up feeling literally like death warmed over. He had a fever, chills, and a sore throat the likes of which he hadn't even thought possible. Duo had actually contemplated slitting his own throat to get rid of the pain. The only reason he hadn't was that in his weakened condition, he knew he couldn't manage it.

And now I am starting to become delirious, Duo thought wryly as his fevered brain comprehended exactly what he was contemplating. Logic dictated that cutting out his own throat would hurt worse than the soreness – though maybe not by much. But he'd die of blood loss, anyway. Maybe if he got himself a glass of cold water, it would make him feel better. Moaning incoherently, he used his trembling arms to push himself into a sitting position.

"Tell me you are not stupid enough to try moving from that bed," an amused voice tinged with a touch of concern said.

Blearily focusing his eyes on the bearer of the voice, Duo was unsurprised to find it was Wufei, arms crossed over his chest and a frustrated look on his face.

"'M thirsty," Duo croaked out through his abused throat, and then immediately started coughing, which felt like a thousand white-hot needles were embedding themselves in his throat, over and over again.

Sighing in exasperation, Wufei picked up a small bottle off the tray he'd placed on the floor. "Here, take these," he said brusquely, and handed two round white pills to the sick boy. "They will reduce your fever and hopefully stop the chills," he explained at Duo's blank look.

Duo stared at the pills for a moment in incomprehension, before placing them in his mouth. Not wanting to have to swallow them dry, he was relieved when Wufei handed him a mug of water. The slightly warm liquid felt good on his sore throat, and Duo decided that it must have been the fever wanting him to drink something cold.

Literally – he felt hot all over.

"Now, open wide – and do not try saying 'Ah,'" Wufei instructed with rarely seen humor as he held up a bottle of greenish…something…with a spray nozzle on top.

Duo did as asked, but turned a dimly inquisitive gaze on his friend.

"It is medicine for your throat," Wufei explained. "It should numb the pain as well as help heal the soreness." Positioning the nozzle just inside Duo's mouth, he pressed down on the sprayer quickly three times.

Duo grimaced at the thick, menthol-flavored taste that filled his sore mouth, and only just barely kept from coughing it back up. "Yuck," he said. Spying the half-finished cup of warm water, he proceeded to try to wash the awful taste from his mouth.

Wufei nodded, a small smile on his face. "Yes, I'm sure it does taste bad. But as my great-grandmother used to say, that's how you know it's working."

Duo would have nodded, but it would have only made his headache worse. He grunted instead. Then a thought occurred to him that he had to verbalize. "How'd you know?" he asked, pleased to note that the throat spray made it easier to talk.

"That I needed to get the medicine?" Wufei clarified, placing the cap back on the bottle and setting it aside.

Duo grunted again and took another sip of water.

"I went into town yesterday morning to pick up supplies, and when I left, the storm clouds had already gathered," Wufei replied. "I knew you weren't due back for several hours, and I figured you would probably get caught in the rain, and might get sick." He smirked and added irritably, "Besides, with as much rain as this place gets, I'll probably get sick too."

Duo cracked a small smile. Wufei was trying to use crankiness to cover up the fact that he was being nice for once. "Thanks," he said, and snuggled down into the blankets Wufei had presumably piled on top of his sleeping bag. His headache was starting to recede, and now that his throat wasn't on fire, he figured he might be able to sleep some of the sickness off.

Except that he'd been sleeping for – Duo checked the clock – over seventeen hours and was now all slept out.

"You can't go to sleep yet," Wufei scolded him. "You need to eat something."

Duo was about to crack a joke – wasn't it 'feed a cold, starve a fever?' – when his stomach answered for him by rumbling loudly. Blushing, Duo ducked his head. He hadn't had a chance to eat much the day before – really just a candy bar from a vending machine and some water from the nearby water fountain; he hadn't had enough cash for anything else.

"I'm heating up some soup over the fire – it should be done by now," Wufei told him. "Why don't I get you a bowl?" His 'suggestion' was delivered in a tone of voice which indicated that Duo had best not refuse because otherwise Wufei would pour the soup down his throat.

I'm not a baby, I can feed myself, Duo thought petulantly. Considering his weakened condition, however… I hope. "Sounds good," Duo replied.

Fifteen minutes later Duo had demolished two bowls of what turned out to be surprisingly good chicken noodle soup and was starting to feel a little weary. He knew he wasn't tired enough to fall asleep yet, though, and wouldn't be for a while. Unfortunately, the lack of accoutrements in the cabin meant there wasn't a television to watch, and his CD player was back in Deathscythe. He didn't even have a book, and as out of it as he was, trying to hold a conversation with Wufei would be pointless.

Duo was facing a very boring couple of hours.

Padding back into the room, Wufei settled down onto his own sleeping bag, next to Duo's. Both of them were in front of the fire, and Duo spared a moment to be thankful that Wufei had laid his makeshift bed there; otherwise, he'd probably be much sicker.

Pulling a book from the duffle bag next to his pillow, Wufei said diffidently, "I have a book of Chinese myths that I was going to read. If you would care for me to read it aloud…?"

Duo grinned, remembering how most Western fairytales had a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Never heard about the dragon coming to rescue… "I'd like that, 'Fei," he said, despite the burning in his throat.

The warmth in his heart momentarily dispelled any amount of pain he was feeling.

You were my eyes when I couldn't see.

"'Fei?" Duo croaked. He coughed and rolled up in a ball on the stone floor, whimpering as the position put pressure on his bruised ribs.

Wufei grunted. His head was swimming and he was pretty sure he had a concussion. "Yes, Duo?" he rasped.

"Are…are the lights out?" Duo asked, the minute tremble in his voice only detectable to one who knew him well.

Which Wufei did. He frowned anxiously. "No, Duo," Wufei replied, trying manfully to keep the worry out of his voice. "Can't you see?" It had been in the mission plan for them to get captured – they needed to get inside the base to retrieve the data on Romefellar's newest specs for the mobile dolls – but the mission had also called for them to be mistaken for regular resistance soldiers and kept in the easily-escaped-from brig, not in the nigh-impenetrable holding cells. Unfortunately, Lady Une was in residence and she had recognized them. And the colonel was not known for being merciful to her captives; if something were seriously wrong with Duo, he wouldn't be receiving any medical attention until they got out of there.

Duo gave a dead-sounding laugh. "No… That last kick to the head did something to my eyes, I think." Though he tried to sound upbeat, it was clear that only sheer willpower was keeping him from breaking down. A blind man couldn't be a Gundam pilot, no matter how well-developed his other senses were.

His own eyes wide with shock, Wufei quickly crawled over the cold stone floor to his friend, disregarding how his quick actions caused his aching head to throb harder. Turning Duo's face towards the faint light coming in through the window in the door, he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that Duo's eyes appeared to be intact. But an ugly bruise forming on his temple gave him the answer to Duo's predicament.

"I think you have a little swelling in the brain, next to your optic nerves," Wufei said, trying to sound like he was confident of his diagnosis and wasn't just pulling together the few pieces of first aid information he knew about head injuries and concussions. I'm not a doctor, damnit! For once in his life, Wufei actually wished for the help of a woman; Sally Po would know what to do. "When the swelling goes down, your eyesight should return to normal." Should is the operative word there…

The sigh of relief that Duo breathed would have been almost comical if it weren't for their situation. "So much for making an escape, I guess," he joked weakly. Even if Wufei could get them out of there – which wasn't a certainty given that he had a concussion, and his own vision was blurry – he was in no shape to follow.

Wufei nodded, realizing belatedly that Duo wouldn't be able to see the gesture. "Hopefully your drug resistance will have these eye drops wearing off sooner than planned, and when our interrogators come back, we can surprise them." Hopefully the dizziness will have worn off so that I can help, he thought wryly.

"Yeah," Duo said, an odd tone to his voice.

An idea forming in his mind, Wufei said, "Sleep for now, Duo, I'll keep watch."

"Sleep?" Duo asked disbelievingly. Despite that fact, his eyes were already closing of their own accord. It had been six hours since their 'interrogation' had started, and being that the interrogation had consisted of short question and answer sessions interspersed with long periods of systematic torture, they were both pretty much drained of their strength.

"Yes; the more rest you get, the sooner the swelling should recede," Wufei replied. I think – rest is supposed to help when you are sick or injured, but I am uncertain about head injuries. "I shouldn't sleep anyway, because of my concussion," he reassured the other pilot.

"All right, 'Fei," Duo said drowsily. "But wake me in a few hours, 'kay? We need to make an escape plan for ya."

Heart twinging at the thought that Duo thought he would leave him behind to save himself, Wufei only murmured, "Goodnight, Duo."

Four hours later, the sound of footsteps echoed down the hall. Wufei, who had been dozing against the wall, shot straight up, a sense of déjà vu overwhelming him. Catching sight of Duo out of the corner of his eye, however, he knew that those footsteps did not herald a comrade coming to the rescue, but rather an enemy coming to torture.

It was only one set of footsteps, however, and from the tread, a person not much bigger than himself.

Wufei smirked. Are they really so secure in their power that they would send only one person in to 'interrogate' us? The thought then occurred to them that perhaps it was a guard looking for revenge – or a little 'fun.'

Wufei's blood boiled at the thought. I would rather die first, he thought vengefully. He knew Duo shared his sentiments. He'd have to protect both himself and Duo…although perhaps Duo's lack of awareness would work to his advantage.

Positioning himself so that his head was facing away from the door, but his body was not, Wufei waited with bated breath for the door to open. Once whoever-it-was had entered, Wufei knew in an instant that it was not another interrogator. The heavy breathing and lack of immediate action to bring him and his cellmate to wakefulness were two very good clues.

Wufei was pleased to note that he didn't hear the sound of the door being relocked – it would make his and Duo's escape so much quicker.

Wufei heard the footsteps near him, and carefully tensed his muscles in preparation. When the unknown person was little more than a foot away, he sprang up and spun around, aiming a kick for where he judged the person's head to be.

Wufei cursed as his calculations were off – the man was half a foot taller than he'd expected. Nonetheless, he'd caught him good in the shoulder, and the man fell back.

"Hey!" he yelled, and Wufei was quick to silence him, placing his foot on the other man's mouth in a roundhouse kick. Groaning, the man dropped to the floor, nursing his broken jaw. Wufei quickly bent over him and delivered a nerve pinch to the uninjured shoulder. When the man was finally unconscious, Wufei allowed himself to relax for a moment, before relieving the man of his clothes and possessions. Using the man's own handcuffs on him, he quickly donned the uniform, tucking his ponytail down the back of his 'borrowed' shirt as he'd seen Duo do whenever he needed to go undercover in an OZ facility.

The noise had finally woken Duo – or perhaps the cessation of it. Either way, Duo turned bleary indigo eyes on Wufei. The Chinese pilot found himself heartened as he noted that Duo's gaze actually seemed to focus on him; Duo's sight was coming back.

"'Fei?" Duo said groggily.

Wufei knelt next to Duo and helped the other boy sit up. "I've got our ticket out of here, Duo," he said, using one of Duo's slang expressions in his excitement.

"Huh?" Duo asked, apparently still not quite awake.

"A guard came by–" Wufei gestured to the crumpled body of their unwitting savior, "–and I managed to jump him. I put on his clothes and I'm going to get us out of here by pretending to be one of the recruits." If anyone asks, I'll say that I've been instructed to take Pilot 02 down to the medical bay because Une's worried about him dying before they get any information out of him, Wufei decided.

Cracking a weak grin, Duo said, "That's great, 'Fei. I'm glad you're getting' out of here."

Wufei frowned. He was getting them both out of there; hence the reason he'd used the pronoun 'us.' "Duo–"

"Before you go, there's something I've been wanting to tell you…" Duo swallowed hard against the raging fear. He was glad his eyesight had cleared up a bit – he wanted to see Wufei one last time before he died.

"Duo–" Wufei once more tried to tell his friend that he wasn't going to leave him behind, but was interrupted by five of the most shocking words he'd ever heard.

"I really like you, Wufei," Duo said, and leaned up to kiss him.

Having been kissed very few times in his life, it was no wonder that Wufei's first reaction upon feeling Duo's lips pressed to his was to freeze, unsure. He couldn't believe that Duo cared for him like that. But then his brain engaged and he remembered that Duo never lied.

Disappointment clouding his sightless eyes with tears, Duo started to pull back – only to have Wufei lean forward to capture his lips once more, placing a restraining hand around his neck. Hope soared in his heart, and Duo felt only a fleeting moment of regret that this was all they would ever have.

When they finally broke apart for air, Wufei said, "I…really like you, too, Duo." Why didn't I realize it until now? Of course… If Meiran knew how long I'd been mourning her instead of living my life, she'd kick my ass for being so stupid, he thought wryly.

Duo's smile was weak, but sincere. "I…I'm glad, 'Fei."

Guessing where Duo's thoughts were heading, Wufei said determinedly, "And I'm getting us both out of here."

Duo's eyes widened. "What!"

"Your eyesight is better, isn't it?" Wufei demanded briskly. The longer we wait, the more likely we'll get caught. He was just glad there weren't any monitoring devices in their cell or they would have been discovered already.

Duo nodded. "But only a little," he admitted. It was almost as if he was trying to talk Wufei out of taking him – which he probably was. Wufei had a much better chance of getting out of there alive alone.

"It doesn't matter," Wufei dismissed. I'm not leaving without you…especially now. "All you have to do is follow my lead. Do you trust me?" He looked piercingly into Duo's eyes, knowing that it was his voice more than anything that would communicate his determination to Duo.

Duo found himself nodding before he'd even thought it through. "I trust you."

Wufei smiled. "Good." He leaned forward to press a quick kiss to Duo's lips. Looking into Duo's surprised eyes, Wufei was suddenly all business. "Now, here's what we're going to do…"

You saw the best there was in me.

"We have a mission," Heero announced to the room at large. All of the Gundam pilots were currently staying at one of the empty Winner mansions in America; with Romefellar's influence extending farther across the Earth Sphere every day, it wasn't safe for them to stay split up anymore.

"Who for?" Trowa asked, looking up from his poker game with Duo.

Studying the list in his hand, Heero's brow furrowed in thought. "The mission specs don't state specifically, but considering the skills needed… You and Winner, I think."

Quatre blinked from his position on the couch and carefully laid down the book he'd been reading. "Um, Heero… I'm out of commission for the foreseeable future, remember?" he said ruefully. "Bruised ribs, sprained ankle, broken collarbone." The first two injuries wouldn't have kept him out of action, but the last had him on strict bed rest for another four weeks. Another reason they were all staying together; Quatre needed some assistance while he convalesced.

The ability to use one's neck was rather important in the field and with the war heating up, none of the pilots could afford to take any foolish chances.

Heero grunted. "Then I suppose I shall have to take your place," he said dispassionately.

"What exactly are the skills needed, Yuy?" Wufei asked, marking his place in his own book.

"For that matter, what is the mission?" Duo threw in, laying his cards facedown on the table and turning to face the other pilot.

Heero quickly scanned the mission specs once more to refresh his memory, then said, "The mission to infiltrate an OZ training camp as recruits going in for combat training, and then blow it up as you leave."

"Sounds like Barton's sort of mission," Wufei offered. At Trowa's nod of agreement, he asked, "But shouldn't he able to handle it by himself?"

Shaking his head, Heero said, "The recruits are roomed together alphabetically by last name; we have to send two of us in, with appropriate pseudonyms, in order not to run the risk of the roommates spying on us."

Duo chuckled. "Just like rooming together at boarding schools – only with less homework and more explosions," he joked.

Wufei hid a smile.

Heero rolled his eyes and turned back to the mission plans. "The skills needed are diverse," he said. "The two going in will need to be there for the full four weeks needed to undergo the training course in order to cement their cover. The different parts of the mission will need to be planned around their training schedules, which is why there needs to be a demolitions expert, in order to set the charges in appropriate out of the way places so they won't be discovered before they're set off. Our Intel doesn't extend to blueprints of the base, so we need a tactician to plan things out and devise an escape route once they get in."

"Damn, Quat, it's too bad you're wounded; this mission was pretty much tailor-made for you," Duo said, giving the blond a sympathetic look.

Quatre winced in agreement and nodded, but only slightly so as not to disturb his still-healing collarbone. "I know," he said miserably.

"Barton and I could complete the mission just as well," Heero said consolingly.

Duo's eyes widened. He could just picture Heero trying to do Quatre's job – and failing miserably. "Uh, Heero, I hate to break it to you, man, but…" he trailed off, unable to think of a tactful way to phrase his observation.

Eyes narrowing, Heero demanded, his impatience clear in his voice, "What?"

Giving tact up for a lost cause, Duo said bluntly, but not unkindly, "As a tactician, you make a great soldier."

Heero frowned momentarily in confusion, then glared at Duo to hide his incomprehension.

"You don't have enough imagination to come up with half the stuff Quatre does," Duo explained, not unkindly. Heero was a great soldier – but soldiers didn't have much use for creativity. "And Trowa doesn't know much about hand-to-hand fighting, either."

After thinking that over for a moment, Heero sighed. "I suppose you have a point," he conceded. Heero didn't like to admit there wasn't anything he didn't do well.

"That only leaves Wufei and Duo to go on the mission, then," Quatre pointed out.

Seeing that Heero was about to object to that, Wufei declared, "If you need an infiltration and demolitions expert, then you need Duo."

Heero blinked. "Maxwell only knows about stealth and explosions – infiltration and demolitions are quite different things," he explained to Wufei. His tone was not condescending, but he did have a look on his face that questioned why Wufei thought differently, when he was obviously right.

Wufei bristled. "Yuy, just because you are unaware of all of Duo's abilities, does not mean the rest of us are so lacking in knowledge," he shot back, trying to rein in his temper. I need to calm down…it wouldn't do for me to reveal myself…ourselves. Despite the fact that he and Duo were in a quasi-relationship now, they had agreed to keep things quiet for the nonce, until they were more comfortable with each other.

Seven weeks – four of which they spent apart – did not equal 'comfortable' in his book. Maxwell's either, Wufei suspected.

Heero gave Duo a measuring look. Duo stared right back, the hint of a wry smile on his face, daring Heero to challenge Wufei's claim. Finally Heero seemed to come to some inner decision and grunted in agreement. "So it's you and me, Maxwell," he said.

Duo cleared his throat. "If you need someone who knows hand-to-hand fighting and battle tactics…then you need Wufei," he said.

"Chang?" Heero asked, a one-syllable inquiry for further elucidation.

Wufei shrugged. There was no honor in bragging about one's accomplishment, but neither was there honor in too false humility; either was akin to lying. "I know seven basic types of hand-to-hand combat," he stated, trusting that he did not need to add that he was both proficient and experienced in their uses. "I do not have quite the expertise Winner does with strategy, but as we will not be required to come up with this plan in the midst of battle, and will have adequate time to prepare, I believe that with the proper information, I could come up with an appropriate plan." Duo's very good at playing Devil's Advocate – and it's always good to get another point of view. Heero does not like having to trust other people's information if it is at all possible to use his own.

Heero digested that, then finally, reluctantly, nodded. Wufei, however, suspected that his reluctance had more to do with needing to play nursemaid to Quatre than sending them on the mission.

"So it's settled, then," Trowa said, picking up his cards once again and gesturing for Duo to resume their game.

Quatre frowned as something occurred to him. "But what about your hair?" he asked.

It took a moment for the others to grasp his meaning, but when they did, Duo's face twisted up in unhappiness and Wufei gave him a commiserating look.

Once more laying aside his cards, Trowa told them, "OZ only has hair-length regulations for cadets." Spying an informational brochure on the training base among Heero's mission instructions, he gestured for Heero to hand it to him. Once Trowa had the brochure in hand, he flipped through it until he came to the rules and regulations, and nodded. "And this training facility isn't for cadets," he continued at last, causing Duo to breathe a sigh of relief over his hair's fate.

Heero gave an inquiring lift of brow, silently asking Trowa to continue.

Trowa shrugged, and continued reading. "Apparently, a lot of the operatives that graduate from this course are sent undercover. Forcing everyone – especially the women – to have a buzz-cut isn't good camouflage tactics."

Heero grunted, then turned to Wufei and Duo. "It appears you two are the best choice for the mission. Do you accept?" It was more of a formality than anything else; neither of them could refuse.

It was a matter of simple logic.

It was a matter of honor.

It was a matter of the two of them being able to be alone together for four whole weeks.

Duo and Wufei exchanged looks, winked at each other, and then turned to Heero. "Ninmu ryoukai," they said together, then grinned at him.

Heero rolled his eyes at them.

Lifted me up when I couldn't reach.

Loud cursing reached his ear as Duo turned the corner into the Peacemillion's mobile suit bay. Looking in the direction of the cursing, Duo found Chang Wufei working on Shenlong.

Or trying to work on Shenlong. Wufei had wrenched his shoulder in the battle the previous day. Both he and Shenlong were out of commission for a few days – the Dragon Fang wasn't operational and without it, the Gundam wasn't much better than a Leo – and Wufei was obviously trying to make sure that his suit would be ready to fight when he was.

Unfortunately, while his suit might be ready in a few days, Wufei wouldn't be if he kept trying to use that shoulder.

Sneaking up behind his unsuspecting boyfriend – who was at that moment trying to push a piece of Gundanium plating back into place; unfortunately his reach was too short – Duo quickly reached out and caught Wufei around the waist. Disregarding Wufei's sudden stillness, he braced himself and lifted his boyfriend up high enough so he could lock the metal sheeting into place.

Once Wufei had managed to get the sheet of Gundanium to stay put, Duo lowered him back to the ground – only to have Wufei whirl around, the fires of anger burning in his gaze. "What did you think you were doing, Maxwell?" he spat out.

Duo's face fell, and he tried to hide how hurt he felt that Wufei was back to calling him by his last name. His boyfriend only did that when he was mad at him. "I thought that I was helping my wounded boyfriend," he replied simply, unable to help emphasizing that last word.

The anger died down quickly at that soft statement and Wufei's gaze turned chagrined. "I apologize," he said. "It was…unjust of me to…accuse you of wrongdoing. I just have a hard time accepting help," he admitted grudgingly.

Duo's expression softened and the hurt in his heart eased. Wufei only got so formal when he was very uncomfortable. It must have been very difficult for his boyfriend to admit his own weakness. "Yeah, but if you strain your shoulder, you won't be able to watch my back in the next battle," Duo said, appealing to Wufei's protective instincts.

Wufei winced; he knew Duo was right. Pride goeth before a fall, and he wouldn't allow Duo to get hurt because of his own hubris.

"Look, why don't I help you fix Shenlong, and then you can help me get 'Scythe's hyperjammers adjusted, okay?" Duo offered. He knew reciprocating the favor would make Wufei feel better.

Blinking in amazement – Duo never let anyone near his Gundam's stealth equipment – Wufei nodded out of reflex.

Duo grinned. "Great." And with both of us working on them, our Gundams will be fixed in less time – and we might get a little time alone together.

Time which was in short supply now that they were down to the wire in the war.

You gave me faith when you believed.

"Tell me this isn't real," Duo whimpered as he rocked back and forth on the floor of his cell in the Lunar Base.

Wufei – Chang Wufei, the most honorable man in the universe (now that Treize Khushrenada was dead) – was working for The Barton Foundation!

The Barton Foundation, which was run by Dekim Barton, who had pretty much enslaved his niece – and Treize's daughter – Mariemaia, and now planned to use her as the figurehead for a group that was trying to take over the world.

Please tell me this isn't real, Duo begged of any deity that deigned to listen to the prayers of war-torn soldiers.

No answer came to his prayers.

But a noise came at the door of his cell.

Quickly scrubbing away his tears, Duo cursed himself for not keeping a closer watch of his surroundings. He should have been planning his escape instead of bawling his eyes out. Boys didn't cry – they went through with the mission. He'd probably only get one chance to escape, and he might have just blown it by not having a plan. Duo was sure that when Heero had knocked him out like that and then left him to be captured, his wartime comrade had intended for him to be out of here by now, not moping over his traitorous boyfriend.

But he isn't a traitor, Duo thought, despite all evidence to the contrary. I won't believe it! I have faith in him.

With those final encouraging thoughts, Duo prepared himself to face his captors; if there were more than one person who was armed, he'd probably have to play along during the interrogation until they left, and hope he could palm a keycard off one of the guards. Otherwise…he'd be out of here in no time flat.

However prepared Duo was for torture…it had been of the physical kind, not the emotional. To see Chang Wufei walk through that door – wearing a Barton Foundation uniform – hit him with an almost physical blow to his heart, reminding him that he still didn't know which side his lover was truly on.

My side, always…he promised, Duo thought, automatically checking the other over for wounds. He was pleased to see none, and tried hard not to think that that was probably because he was on the (so far) winning side.

The wrong side.

"Duo," Wufei said, tone of voice a strange mix of relief, sorrow, and tension.

But his eyes shone with love, like they always had.

"Wufei?" Duo asked, not knowing the question, but knowing that Wufei could give him the answer.

A slight smile crossed his lips before they flattened into a thin line again. "We don't have much time," Wufei said, voice clipped. Pulling a keycard out of his right sock, he proceeded to unlock the inner door of the cell.

"Wufei…what are you doing here?" Duo couldn't help but ask. He knew it was the wrong place, the wrong time…

But Wufei had always been the one right person in his life, and he needed…something. Reassurance, maybe, that he wasn't wrong for believing in his lover.

"I came to get you out of here," Wufei evaded, gesturing for Duo to follow him out into the hallway. "You're needed to pilot Deathscythe."

"That isn't what I meant, 'Fei," Duo chided softly. Inwardly he was relieved that Wufei seemed to want him to fight – against the Barton Foundation. Could that mean…

Halting in his tracks, Wufei's shoulders sagged. He turned around slowly to face his lover, the look of one about to be condemned on his own countenance. "Duo, I can't – there isn't time right now," Wufei said, as if frustrated with his own lack of ability to pause the war going on outside the doors. Looking Duo straight in the eye, he said softly, "But I promise that when this is all over…I'll explain everything. Just…just trust me." He swallowed hard. "Please?"

Duo took a deep breath and nodded sharply. "I do," he swore, and Wufei smiled.

And the next day, when he went to Preventers Headquarters and it was revealed that Wufei had been sent in undercover…Duo knew his faith in his lover had been justified.

I'm everything I am because you loved me.

Sometimes people – even their friends – wondered how Duo and Wufei had managed to stay together for so long. In truth, it would only have been four years that fall; still a rather major achievement, considering that they were each only twenty years old. Even their friends were constantly amazed how they stayed together through so many trials and tribulations: three apartments, two wars, countless Preventers missions, and one feisty red-furred, green-eyed cat that Duo had taken in off the street. She'd never acquired a proper name, but was known only as 'Trouble' (courtesy of one irritable Chang Wufei) for the problems she caused.

Neither Duo nor Wufei were surprised. They knew why they had managed to stay together, and had pretty much the same things to say, though they said it in different ways.

Duo knew that he wouldn't have come this far without Wufei. He wouldn't have dared to love Wufei, and risk another person falling to Shinigami's curse.

Wufei knew he never would have lived his life to its fullest without Duo. He never would have taken a second chance on love, having lost his first to his own prideful foolishness.

But they did have each other. And now they are who they are because of the other's love.