Disclaimer: Don't own any part of Gundam Wing or the characters, more's the pity. This is for fun...no profit involved.
Warnings: yaoi, language, drinking, some angst and sap
Pairings: 1X2, 3X4, hint of 5X6
A/N: Happy New Year! Here's hoping it's better than last year!
I'll admit this here, though I'd deny it under oath for the sake of both friendship and honor—I've always had a little crush on Duo Maxwell.
Yes, I know he's Heero's—heart and soul—but there's a quality about him that draws people like moths to a flame. And even I—Chang Wufei—have felt its pull from time to time.
But the most recent instance was at Relena Peacecraft's annual New Year's Eve celebration. And it was the closest I ever came to saying "Heero Yuy be damned" and acting on my infatuation.
I'm still not sure if I'm glad I didn't.
Four years had passed since the last war—during which time three of us Gundam pilots had taken positions with the Preventers, while Quatre returned to his family's company to take the reins, and Trowa stayed at his side.
Duo and Heero had moved into an apartment together, close to work, and I'd gotten a small flat within walking distance. I liked the solitude, and apparently they liked each other's company. A lot.
But to get back to the subject of the New Year's party…
As it was every year, the ballroom was bedecked with the most elegant of decorations, from crystal chandeliers to golden banisters. Garlands hung everywhere, dotted with perfect red berries, silver bells and blue bows—and of course a twenty-foot tree stood resplendent in the grand hall, decorated with New Year's themed baubles, instead of Christmas ornaments.
I was there by invitation as both a decorated Preventer and a former Gundam pilot, as was my partner, Duo Maxwell. We both wore tuxedoes, instead of our dress uniforms, as Commander Une had decided they weren't quite splendid enough for the occasion. And yes, of course she was there as well—ostensibly as the leader of the organization charged with keeping the peace. Secretly, I thought she just wanted to personally keep an eye on us all. Having the five Gundam pilots under one roof caused her no end of worry each year, as she considered the potential risk from those who still considered us war criminals.
Notice I mentioned all five pilots; of course Quatre and Trowa were there. Quatre was still the head of the richest corporation in the Earth Sphere, and where he went, his lover went. Their relationship was kept low key, but certainly was no secret either.
Unlike Duo and Heero's relationship.
Yes, that's where it got a bit—difficult. After seeing the media hoopla that took place when word got around about Quatre and Trowa, Heero had decided he wanted only their closest friends to know he and Duo were a couple.
That meant I knew, Quatre knew, and Trowa knew.
Okay, and Une. She knew. The busybody onna had spied two of her best Preventer agents exchange a tender kiss when Maxwell was brought in wounded from a mission about a year ago and was on his way into surgery to remove a bullet lodged near his spine. For one panicked moment, Heero forgot his rule about public displays, worried that he might lose the person he loved most in his life, and he'd leaned in to whisper his love and steal a kiss.
That was the day Maxwell became my partner, and Yuy was paired up with Zechs Merquise. It was Preventer policy that couples not be partnered on missions—though no one ever found out that was the reason for the change. After a long meeting with Yuy and Maxwell, Une made up some cock and bull story about how Zechs and I were too much alike and needed to work with someone whose strengths lay in other areas. It seemed to satisfy the gossip mongers, and no rumors ended up flying around the office.
But it took a toll on Duo.
As the one who worked most closely with him, I was privy to his confidence, as well as seeing firsthand his emotional ups and downs. He'd enjoyed working with his lover—enjoyed spending their days together as well as their nights—and when that was taken away, his frustration level became a palpable thing.
"It just sucks that I have five minutes of his time in the morning…grabbing a bite to eat and dashing out the door to come here. And then I don't see him again until quitting time," he'd lamented as we'd been making our way down to the interrogation room. "Our lunch breaks aren't even at the same time—and when we're out on missions—forget it!"
"But when you worked together, you were just—working," I pointed out, trying to be helpful when he looked so dejected.
"But we were together," he insisted. He shook his head and turned those wide, appealing eyes on me. "Sometimes it's enough to just be in the same room, 'Fei, y'know? A glance…a smile…and it just…reassures."
"Do you doubt his feelings so much that you need constant reassurance?" I asked, finding myself uneasy at the thought.
"No! Hell, no!" Duo scowled fiercely at me. "I just—liked being with him—being at his side—watching his back." He toyed with his wrist-sheath as we entered the elevator. "Not that Zechsy isn't—capable."
"Zechs is a fine agent, and very, very able to defend Yuy in a firefight," I asserted in defense of my former partner. "He won't let anything happen to him."
"I know…I know. But y'remember that time in Marrekesh—when Heero got shot in the neck? I thought he wasn't gonna make it—and while we were waiting for the medevac, all I could think was that I was where I belonged—at his side." Troubled indigo eyes met mine. "What if something goes wrong and he dies out there without me?"
I smiled ruefully. "That chance exists everywhere and all the time, Maxwell. Any one of us could meet our end randomly—without benefit of loved ones to hold our hand." I moved slowly enough not to startle him, and tapped him over the heart. "This is where Heero is, Duo—and likewise, he holds you in his heart. Neither of you will ever die alone."
He blinked, considering my words, and then smiled so warmly I could feel it wash through me. "Thanks, 'Fei," he whispered, a hand absently rubbing over the place I'd tapped. "When you put it that way—it helps."
"That's what partners are for," I told him magnanimously.
Magnanimous, indeed. When Maxwell smiled at me like that, I envied Yuy as never before. To be loved so much that your significant other wants to be there for you even at the end, is quite a gift. And Yuy's insistence on public discretion seemed ludicrous; if Duo Maxwell were my lover, I'd want everyone in the world to know it.
But of course he wasn't. He was, as I said before, Heero's—heart and soul. And I was a friend to both of them, which made it even more imperative that I never act upon my silly little attraction to Maxwell.
At any rate, there we were at Relena's annual New Year's Eve ball, dressed to kill and on our best behavior, watching her make her entrance at the top of the long, marble staircase, with her newest bodyguard at her side.
And perhaps this is the time to mention the changes that had taken place since that elevator conversation.
Ten months ago there had been an attempt on Relena's life—and it was very nearly successful. Her growing political power had apparently drawn some unwanted attention, and death threats were becoming commonplace.
The Preventers were assigned to protect her, as she was well on her way to becoming the youngest Prime Minister in history. And when she was elected to that very position four months later, a permanent bodyguard unit was formed.
Care to guess who Relena requested to head the unit?
Got it in one.
But the real shocker was that Heero accepted.
Yes, Heero Yuy agreed to become the head of Relena Peacecraft's security unit—meaning he'd be traveling extensively, and living in the palace on the rare occasions she was actually in Sanc.
I'd expected Duo to go ballistic over the news; but he was suspiciously calm. When I collared him and demanded that he elaborate on his feelings about the situation, he told me he was "cool with it."
He said Heero had promised that once he got his crew fully trained and felt confident in their abilities, he'd be home on weekends at the very least. And the raise in pay would help them save up for a place of their own some day.
And when I'd asked if it concerned him that Heero would be thrown together with Relena at every juncture, he'd shrugged nonchalantly and said he wasn't worried about "a pretty pink princess turning his soldier boy's head."
In spite of his insistence that he could handle it, I had some doubts. I knew he'd been jealous of Relena during the war, when she kept popping up and making eyes at Heero. He'd admitted that much to me during one of our heart to heart chats while we were on a mission. In fact, he'd told me a lot of things—things that made me worry for his health and stability if Heero took the job as Relena's chief bodyguard.
The actual assignment had only begun one month before the party—and already I'd seen an increase in Duo's tension level during missions. He was distracted and edgy—to the point where I'd been on the verge of bringing it to Une's attention. Only my loyalty to a friend had kept me silent so far, though if I thought he might endanger himself on a mission, even that wouldn't matter.
However, that same loyalty was making me want to confront Heero and ask him why he'd taken a job for a woman he knew full well Duo despised. Did he not know the effect it could have on the man he supposedly loved? Was he not worried about his lover's ability to focus on what could be a very dangerous job?
But it began to look like I wouldn't have to speak up—Duo was well on his way to tipping his hand all on his own.
It started when Relena made that grand entrance I mentioned before…on Heero's arm.
While I could tell his other hand was on the butt of a gun, and there was a discreet earpiece enabling him to communicate with his team, to a casual observer, he looked like a man escorting his lady on a date. Even their outfits matched—hers a deep blue that was the same shade as his cummerbund—and his eyes.
And though I thought he looked quite dapper, it only took a sidelong glance at my partner for me to want to rip the color-coordinated accessory off of Yuy.
Duo looked—stricken—for lack of a better word.
It only lasted a split-second, after which his smiling mask was firmly in place. But in that instant, I'd seen the color wash from his face, and doubt enter the indigo eyes.
He flashed me a bright grin. "Well—'Lena still knows how to make an entrance, huh?" He clapped me on the shoulder. "I'm headed for the open bar, 'Fei. What'll you have?"
He cast a scolding look my way. "C'mon—it's a party, Chang. At least have a cup of eggnog."
I nodded and followed, suddenly unwilling to let him out of my sight.
We made our way to the bar, and I accepted the eggnog he shoved into my hand, noticing he procured scotch on the rocks for himself.
"Maxwell, are you sure you're okay—with the situation?"
He played dumb, taking a swig of his drink and then giving me a wide smile that didn't fool me for a minute. "What situation?" He waved a hand in the direction of the staircase Heero and Relena were still descending, greeting people as they came. "That? He's just doing his job, 'Fei."
"Yes, I know that. But—."
The humor dropped from his face and he graced me with a steady glare. "Drop it," he said flatly. "You know the score, Chang. Wouldn't do me a damn bit of good to resent that she gets to parade him around like a trained monkey. He wanted the job—he took it."
"But you do resent it. You and I both know that."
He tossed back the rest of his drink and gestured to the bartender for a refill. I thought for a moment he'd resume his smiling charade, but he didn't. "Okay. I resent it," he admitted.
"Have you told Yuy how much you do?"
He snorted wryly. "We had words to that effect."
"You—fought?" I hazarded.
"Kinda hard to fight with someone who's never there," came the rather bitter reply. "Look—I appreciate the concern, 'Fei. But drop it. I'm here to have a good time, and I'm gonna have one."
So, I dropped it.
I hadn't worked with Maxwell for nearly a year without learning to back off when he told me to. He was bent on enjoying the party, and all I could do was watch his back, like a good partner should.
He was on his third drink, chatting pleasantly with some ambassador about the improvements to the environmental systems on the colonies, when Relena and her entourage circulated to our corner of the room.
"Agent Chang—Agent Maxwell—," she said warmly, extending a hand which I took and graciously bowed over. "I'm so glad you could come."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," I told her.
"Especially considering our boss ordered us to be here," Duo piped up, giving a cheeky grin and dropping a perfectly charming kiss on her hand once she offered it.
I saw Heero glance at the drink in Duo's other hand, and then he fixed a rather questioning look on me.
Well, shit. When had it become my job to monitor Duo's drinking?
Relena moved on to the ambassador Duo had been chatting with, and then Heero was directly in front of me.
"Yuy," I said by way of greeting, giving a nod.
When his gaze moved to Duo and he gave a disapproving frown, I saw my partner's jaw tighten and a gleam of defiance enter his eyes. But when he spoke, his voice was almost husky. "Nice outfit, 'Ro."
Heero glanced down, smoothing a hand absently over the fine material. "Relena gave it to me."
"So all the bodyguards wear 'em, huh?"
I saw Heero's jaw tighten, and the glare he gave Duo rivaled the coldness of the ones I remembered from the war. "I'm supposed to look like an escort. You know that."
Duo smirked. "A male escort? I hear they get paid a lot."
Heero's face darkened, and I wondered if Duo realized the danger he was in.
"Uh, c'mon Maxwell," I urged, catching his sleeve and tugging hopefully. "I think I saw Barton and Winner over by the buffet table, and I'd like to wish them a happy new year."
I was a bit surprised that he let me lead him away, and I glanced back to see a rather relieved look on Yuy's face. He gave me a slight nod of thanks—maybe hoping I'd keep his lover from making an unpleasant scene in public.
It occurred to me that if he were doing what a sensitive and caring lover should, I wouldn't need to supervise Duo. And that small voice in the back of my mind (the one I tried to ignore for honor's sake) reflected that he didn't deserve Maxwell's devotion.
I silenced it swiftly, and accompanied my partner over to greet our old friends.
"Winner—Barton—good to see you," I said with forced joviality, firmly positioning Duo close to his blonde friend.
"Wufei! Duo!" Quatre gave us both brotherly hugs, in spite of the formality of the occasion, making me squirm a bit, while Duo soaked it up and patted him on the back.
"Quat—you look great!" he said enthusiastically, raising his glass in a teasing salute. "Lucky guy, Trowa."
The auburn-haired man just gave a small smile and a shake of his head. "You don't know the half of it," he said warmly, a fond gaze sliding over to Quatre.
But Winner had already fixated on Duo's glass, and was watching him a bit too closely. Maybe he got a whiff of alcohol when he hugged the man; but whatever the reason, he seemed concerned. "Everything all right Duo?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" asked my partner obliquely, sticking to his no-lying policy only by careful manipulation of the truth.
"Well, you seem a little—." Quatre trailed off uncomfortably, and his lover took over for him.
"You're drunk, Maxwell."
"Not!" Duo asserted, tossing back the rest of his drink and setting the empty glass on the buffet table. "That was just to loosen me up a bit."
"If you were any looser, you couldn't stand," Trowa observed.
Duo laughed cheerfully, shaking his head. "Trust me, Tro'. I know my limits." He took a plate and joined our friends in the line for the buffet, making polite conversation about absolutely nothing, while I sidled up beside him, sticking close enough to run interference if necessary.
But in spite of my misgivings, Duo didn't embarrass himself, or me, and we passed a very pleasant half hour with our friends, sampling the provided delicacies, and making quiet, snide comments about the outrageously exotic ones.
The only thing missing from our little reunion was Heero.
"Goin' for a refill," Duo told me, slipping away to get another drink, while I was preoccupied with a story Trowa was telling about an escaped lion at the circus and a senile old man who'd kept calling "Here kitty-kitty," during the resultant chaos.
My attention was diverted momentarily when I felt a hand touch my elbow and a familiar, cultured voice ask if I was enjoying myself.
I turned to find Zechs standing just slightly inside my personal space, his blue eyes rather intent. "Oh—Zechs—yes, of course. The party's lovely, as always."
He rolled his eyes. "It's elegant to a fault, as always. Relena just doesn't know the meaning of 'moderation.'"
I knew from having been Zechs' partner prior to the rearranging Une had done, that he didn't really care for the over-the-top galas that his sister hosted. He was a soldier at heart, in spite of his royal pedigree, and liked things a bit simpler.
That's not to say he didn't have expensive tastes; I'd seen his collection of antique weapons, and it was to die for.
I realized as I'd been musing about his likes and dislikes, he'd continued speaking, and I quickly tried to recapture the thread of the conversation.
"—thought perhaps when the dancing begins, you might do me the favor of joining me?"
I blinked at him. "Joining you? Where?"
"On the dance floor," he clarified, a faint flush creeping up from under the high collar he wore.
Ah. He was asking me to dance. With him.
What a curious development.
"Um—I don't really think dancing is my sort of, er, activity," I said carefully, my attention diverted again as I saw Heero join Duo at the bar, and lean in to say something.
Duo kept both elbows on the counter, barely turning his head in Heero's direction as he snapped out a reply.
When Heero's face went readably dark, I stiffened, wondering if it was time to intervene.
I looked back at Zechs, frowning. "What was that?" I asked blankly.
He gave a small, frustrated huff. "I've been trying to get your attention long enough to ask you for one stinking dance this evening. But you seem far more preoccupied with your new partner."
I felt a pang of genuine remorse. Zechs had been a good partner, and we'd had a pretty solid friendship, I thought, before we'd been split up for the sake of Heero and Duo. Though we'd drifted apart a bit since then, I still considered him a good friend and an honorable and decent man.
"I'm sorry, Zechs," I said frankly, too distracted by the drama unfolding near the bar to try to read the expression on his face, or understand his motivations. "This isn't a good time. Duo's my partner, and he needs me at his back tonight."
"You aren't on duty," he pointed out, a bit curtly.
"This isn't about 'duty,'" I explained, watching Duo turn towards Heero and snarl out something I couldn't hear from across the room, but understood anyway. He was royally pissed, and getting angrier by the minute. "Things are a bit tense between him and Yuy, and I'm trying to make sure he doesn't do anything he'll regret."
Zechs' icy blue eyes fixed an irritated glare on the two men talking in low, angry tones by the bar, and then turned an almost equally irritated look on me. "I can see where your priorities lie," he said coolly. "I apologize if my invitation was unwelcome. I just thought that since we're no longer work partners, there might be other opportunities open to us." He gave a gracious half-bow and strode elegantly away before I could recover my scattered wits and realize I'd just been hit on by Zechs Merquise.
Well that was unexpected.
And before I could decide whether it was unwelcome or not, Relena beckoned to Heero, who broke away from the hand Duo had laid on his forearm and stalked quickly across the room to her side.
She took him by the arm and tugged him towards the podium near the orchestra, while Duo's gaze followed them, his expression dark.
Apparently it was time for Relena's annual speech, as she tapped at the microphone and gestured the musicians to silence.
"Greetings and welcome," she said warmly. "I'm so glad you all could make it." She let her gaze sweep the room in what I suspected was a practiced gesture, calculated to make everyone feel included. "We're gathered to celebrate a bright and peaceful new year."
I had to admit, the onna knew how to make a speech. Her coaches had trained her in the proper way to stand, the tilt of her head, and even the amount of eye contact to make. And her speechwriters were nothing less than brilliant.
Duo made his way back over to Quatre, Trowa and me, a scowl fixed firmly on his brow, and his nearly-empty drink clutched in a white-knuckled grip.
"Are you all right?" I leaned in to whisper.
He flicked a glance aside at me. "Fine."
"Are you sure? You seem—tense."
I winced at the slightly elevated volume of his voice, knowing that when he'd had a few too many, Duo Maxwell could be downright loud. I leaned in to whisper in his ear, hoping to remind him to lower his voice. "If you need a ride home, Maxwell—."
"Yeah, I'll ask," he retorted curtly, in a slightly lower tone.
I nodded, still concerned about his increased agitation since he'd spoken to Heero. "What did Yuy have to say?"
Quatre gave us both a scolding look, and put a finger to his lips to shush us, nodding towards the podium.
Duo stuck his tongue out at the blonde, but slouched against one of the marble pillars and joined us in listening to Relena's pretty speech.
She talked about the post-War rebuilding efforts and the increasing unity among the colonies, and she sang the praises of those who'd worked so hard to make those things happen. She even touched briefly on the upcoming elections and the work the unified government would be doing to speed up the recovery process.
It wasn't a very long speech; it never was. After maybe ten or fifteen minutes of expounding upon the joys of pacifism, she ended by offering up hope that the new year would see continued progress, and an enduring peace.
Then she paused, giving a small smile and glancing aside at Heero. "On a more personal note, I wanted to take a moment to congratulate Agent Yuy on his recent promotion within the Preventers. He's agreed to head up a division tasked with security for government officials, and as a result, we'll be working very closely together for the foreseeable future." She clapped politely and the crowd followed suit.
Heero blushed slightly, looking down at his feet, and then letting his gaze resume its scan of the crowd surrounding him and his appointed "job."
"I can honestly say," Relena added, her appreciative gaze on Heero's handsome profile, "I completely trust him with my life." She held out a hand to him. "And I'm even going to trust him with my toes, if he'll dance the first dance with me."
He stiffened, but accepted the hand, leading her down to the dance floor as the orchestra burst forth with an elegant waltz. And then he swept her into his arms and they led off the dancing, making a full turn around the dance floor before other couples began trickling out to join them.
"Quatre?" asked Trowa, distracting him from staring at Duo's dark expression. "Dance with me?"
"Oh—of course." Quatre darted a worried look at Duo and then a rather pleading one at me before allowing Trowa to whisk him away.
"Maxwell—," I began.
He shook his head, tearing his gaze away from Relena, who had one arm looped up around Heero's neck while she leaned in close to whisper something in his ear. "I'm going back to the bar, Wufei, and if you try to stop me, I'll fucking shoot you."
I threw a livid glare at Yuy, who seemed quite oblivious, and followed my partner.
"Listen, Duo—this isn't the solution—," I pleaded, trying to dissuade him from acquiring yet another refill.
"I'm not lookin' for a solution—just a drink," he muttered, gesturing to the bartender to bring him another scotch on the rocks. I marveled that they weren't on a first name basis yet. Or maybe they were—the man didn't seem to need instructions about what to bring my scowling partner.
"Look, Duo," I tried again, hoping to prevent the embarrassing outburst he seemed to be headed towards. "I know it's been rough on you since Une split you two up—and this new job assignment of Heero's is stressful—but we're at a New Year's celebration. Maybe you should look forward to a chance at a better year than last."
"Fuck the new year," Duo muttered sullenly, turning away and slamming his empty glass down on the bar. "Still willing to give me a ride home, 'Fei? I've had enough of this party."
"Of course I'll drive you home," I said with a frown, glancing in Heero's direction to see that he and Relena had left the dance floor, and he was standing stoically by her side as she clung to his arm and laughed gaily about something Zechs was saying to her. "But it's not midnight yet—you'll miss the fireworks."
He gave a short, derisive laugh. "I've seen enough explosions for a lifetime. I just want to get the hell out of here, before I see what else Heero has to do in the 'line of duty.'"
Oh, God—surely Yuy wouldn't let Relena kiss him at midnight? Would he?
For Duo's sake, I hoped not. I could only imagine how it would devastate him if he witnessed something like that. And frankly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to refrain from telling Heero off if it happened.
Telling him off? Face it—I'd deck the bastard—friendship notwithstanding.
"Let's go," I told my partner, taking him by the arm and steering him firmly away from the ballroom. "You and Heero can talk this out the next time he's home."
Duo stumbled a little as he walked, and I had to resist the impulse to slip an arm around his waist to steady him. He glanced aside at me, smiling a bit tipsily. "Thanks, 'Fei. You're a pal."
"I'm your partner," I reminded him. "And as such, I care what happens to you. I don't want to see you miserable, and I most certainly don't want to let you drive drunk."
"Not drunk," he muttered defiantly. "Not much, anyway."
It was my turn to give a snort of laughter, shaking my head as we walked.
We'd almost made it out of the room when Quatre smoothly intercepted us, and I wondered if he was picking up on Duo's simmering frustration—or maybe mine.
"Leaving so soon?" he asked, darting a look between us.
Duo slung an arm up over my shoulder, leaning rather heavily against me. "Party sucks, Quat," he shrugged. "Heero's too busy for the likes of me, and frankly, I'm not in the mood for fireworks."
He shot a glare at the blonde. "Stop right now. Whatever you're going to say, I don't wanna hear it."
"But you and Heero—."
"—are none of your business!"
Quatre looked stung, and I frowned at my partner's harsh tone, even as he pulled away and headed for the coat room without me.
"He's had a bit too much to drink," I offered lamely. "And seeing Relena hanging on Heero has made him a bit—testy. I'm going to drive him home and make sure he plans on staying put until he's slept it off."
Quatre nodded, looking after Duo's departing back. "He's—hurting."
"I know he is," I affirmed. "He and Heero need to have a long talk about their expectations of one another. But it won't be tonight."
Quatre darted a look across the room at Heero, a slight frown creasing his brow. "I knew his taking the bodyguard job would create friction, but—." His aquamarine eyes sought mine. "You don't think they'll break up over it, do you?"
I shrugged. "Not my call."
Duo had paused at the door out into the hallway, and looked back at me, gesturing impatiently.
"I have to go before he makes a scene," I told Quatre. "You and Trowa enjoy the party."
"And if it's not too much trouble, could you tell Heero that Duo got a safe ride home?"
Quatre gave a tight smile. "That may not be all I tell him," he snipped.
I guessed Heero would be getting a piece of Quatre's mind along with the news that his lover had left the party early.
When I got to the door, Duo strode off ahead of me again, and I had to jog to catch up. "Relax, Maxwell," I chided him. "The coats aren't going anywhere."
"No, but I am," he growled, making me wonder if he meant more than just going home. Surely he wouldn't leave Heero over this?
I followed Duo into the coat room, finding my heavy wool Preventers-issue coat with no trouble at all. But as I turned around, I suddenly found myself with an armful of Duo, pressed up against the coat rack while he gave my tonsils a very thorough examination.
I could only plead temporary insanity, as I surrendered to the hungry kiss, letting him wrap an arm around my waist and pull our hips together in a more intimate embrace. And God, what a sweet kiss it was—warm, tantalizing, and full of promises. I could only reflect that a man could become addicted to such things very easily.
Then I heard a low gasp, and opened one eye to see Heero at the door to the coat room, the look on his face more stricken than Duo's had been during Relena's grand entrance.
Praying Heero wouldn't run off or overreact and shoot me, I carefully pushed Duo to arm's length, letting my gaze roam the plains of his face.
"Duo—," I said gently. "I'm not the one you want." I felt a curious pang of regret even as I said it, wishing it wasn't true.
He looked up at me with too-bright eyes, a bit bleary from liquor. "Sorry, 'Fei," he whispered hoarsely. "Didn't mean to—. You—you're right." It was testament to how drunk he really was that he didn't sense we were no longer alone.
I saw Yuy stop, even as he'd begun to turn and leave, and he looked warily over his shoulder at us.
"Of course I'm right," I chided affectionately. (Yes, affectionately. Get over it!) "You love Yuy with all your heart and soul."
He nodded earnestly, though his face crumpled in misery. "Not that it matters to him," he sighed. "He won't let anyone know about us. No public displays. Hell, no public anything. But th'bastard takes a job as Relena's bodyguard knowing I can't stand the chick—an' then lets her hang all over him on the dance floor!"
"I understand your frustration," I told him simply. "But surely you know there's nothing between them."
Duo snorted, regaining a bit of his spirit. "Do I, 'Fei?" he asked bitterly. "Lately he's with her more than he's with me."
"But when he's with you he must show that he cares—?" I prompted.
Heero had turned all the way around to face us, his expression pained.
"'F he did, d'you think I'd be so damned insecure?" Duo snipped. "He didn't even bother to come home for Christmas—or call." Then he shook off his melancholy. "Never mind, 'Fei—not your problem—."
"When you threw yourself at me, it became my problem," I told him.
"Look, I said I'm sorry. And it won't happen again," Duo swore, looking a bit flustered. "Just—I've been alone so much lately—an' face it, Chang, you're a good-looking guy."
I felt a blush creep up my cheeks at the thought that Duo Maxwell actually found me attractive. "As flattering as it is to hear you say that, I know it's probably the liquor talking. And I'm taking that into account. On the other hand, what you just did could have gotten me killed! If Yuy had seen that—."
"Y'think he'd care?" came the quick, snide reply.
"He'd care very much," Heero said evenly, his voice quiet, but clear.
Duo stiffened, not daring to look over his shoulder, and I saw shame, remorse, and horror vie for control of his face. "Oh fucking hell…" he breathed, closing his eyes.
Heero took a tentative step in our direction. "He'd not only care. He'd realize what a poor excuse for a lover he'd been…letting you doubt what he felt for you. He'd realize how much he's neglected you, and hurt you, and denied you. And he'd realize no job is worth risking the loss of your love!"
This time disbelief skittered across Duo's face to be replaced by relief and…hope?
I pushed him a bit further away, taking that as my cue to leave. As I stepped around him, he caught my arm, flashing me a grateful look. "Thanks, 'Fei…for not taking me up on the offer…not letting me make a bigger fool of myself…"
I reached to touch his cheek gently, trying to quell a bit of regret. "Any time, partner," I said carefully, letting Heero take the gesture and the words any way he wanted. Did you honestly think I'd waste a chance to feel that skin under my fingers?
I continued towards the door, pausing as I neared Heero—not sure if he'd be as grateful as Duo—or if he might want to deck me for that last bit.
He looked me square in the eyes. "I won't let him down again," he promised.
"See that you don't," I warned, allowing a trace of jealous fire into my eyes. "I may not be inclined to turn him away twice."
A flicker passed through his eyes—anger, suspicion, doubt—understanding. Then I was out the door, and their problems were once again their own.
I wasn't sure what transpired in that coat room after I left, and it's probably better that way. But when Yuy and Maxwell once again appeared in the ballroom just in time for the countdown to midnight, they both looked a little disheveled, and Duo had a suspiciously rosy glow to his face.
The most noteworthy part, however, was that they emerged arm in arm—in public. Heero had Duo's arm looped with his, a firm grip on his lover's hand, and a determined look on his face. He was heading them towards one of the smaller balconies off the ballroom, where they'd have a perfect view of the fireworks as the hour struck. I didn't know if he realized it, but they'd also be in full view of anyone who happened to look up.
I'd seen Relena scouting the ballroom for her missing bodyguard as the hour approached, and as any good partner would, I threw myself in the line of fire for Duo one more time.
"Relena?" I caught her attention just before she'd have wandered right into Heero and Duo's path. "Where has that brother of yours gotten to? He promised me a dance, and then disappeared before I had a chance to collect."
Her eyes widened in surprise and then she smiled coyly. "Why Wufei, I had no idea—. I think Milliardo was over by the fireplace."
First off, Zechs hated being called "Milliardo," even by family. And secondly, I sort of resented her smug little smirk as she took my arm and steered me in the right direction.
But I endured it for Duo—just a small sacrifice to help ensure his ultimate happiness. Was I a selfless bastard, or what?
Zechs turned as we approached, one elegant eyebrow rising in surprise.
"Look what I found for you," Relena cooed sweetly, sort of shoving me in his direction. "Wufei was looking for you, Milliardo."
I lost track of her as I stammered for an explanation to offer Zechs. "I—ah—reconsidered your offer of a dance," was the best I could come up with.
His smile was quite lovely, really…almost as warm and welcoming as Duo's. "Did you now?"
But Zechs Merquise was no fool. His keen gaze swept past me and scanned the room until he focused on Heero and Duo, who were silhouetted against the fireworks display, kissing passionately in full view of the entire ballroom as the orchestra struck up the standard Auld Lang Syne and the countdown to midnight ended amid cheers and shouts of "Happy New Year."
"Ah," he said with vast understanding. "So you weren't just making an excuse before; you really were watching your partner's back."
I nodded, feeling a wistful pang as I watched that kiss and recalled what it was like to be on the receiving end.
"And now that he's in good hands," Zechs continued, "I take it you're free to pursue your own happiness?"
"I think maybe I am," I admitted.
And the funny part is, I admitted it not just to Zechs, but to myself as well. Seeing what Heero and Duo had—their passion and devotion—made me realize what was missing from my own life. It made me realize I'd rather deliberately excluded it from my own life, and that perhaps it was time to change the situation—time to consider new possibilities.
"So—is that dance offer still open?" I asked.
Zechs' smile widened into something truly beautiful. "For you? Always."
As he was leading me out to the dance floor, Duo and Heero passed us on their way to Relena, who looked a bit dazed staring at their linked hands. I had a feeling she was about to have a few illusions shattered, as well as lose her chief bodyguard.
But I had no doubt she'd find another, and that it would lead to a happier new year for everyone concerned.
Meanwhile, it was time for me to focus on my own happiness, which at the moment seemed to be shining in a pair of very intense blue eyes. "Happy New Year, Zechs," I said with feeling, as his arms settled around me.
"So far, so good," he replied warmly.