His black shirt opened a void on the horizon, where sublime clouds of white melded with the broad expanse of aquamarine along a perfect line. When the skies were clear and one could see across the waters, he came to this spot to remember. As always, he would pass by a few times on his jogs before he finally came to a stop here, pretending to stretch. He liked to think of it as a metaphorical grave: the place where Heero Yuy had vanished, the place he was last seen. It was easier to let go that way.
The lips he touched for the last time had been so cold.
Duo still remembered their final argument, down to the details of who said what and in sequential order. He recalled the scene to mind often, analyzing what could have caused them to behave so hurtfully to each other. In the end, he always held himself responsible.
They had returned after an assignment to intercept the carriers of prototype mobile suits from a Romefeller development laboratory before these were to be sent out for production on an obscure colony. In retrospect, Duo did not consider it a particularly disastrous mission. The crew at the lab had been warned beforehand, so naturally security was tight and a fully armed dispatch patrolled the gates of the docking area. Still, they posed no real threat to the skilled Gundam pilots who completed each phase of the mission within the projected time-frame.
It thus came as a surprise when, after leaping out of his cockpit even before the cylindrical engines had cooled down completely, Duo was stopped just as he reached the exit of the hangar for the main complex. Call it intuition, but this was precisely what he had been trying to avoid. Heero had appeared behind him and suddenly grabbed his wrist, effectively getting his attention. Wing was the last to land and he hadn't expected Heero to catch up with him so quickly, so soundlessly.
There was nothing gentle about the contact. Duo reciprocated similarly: Instead of hearing what Heero had to say, he continued on with more momentum, flinging his arm away. Heero's hand was gone for a second, only to reappear on Duo's shoulder. He whipped him around by sheer force.
Duo's face, devoid of any humor, plainly revealed his displeasure. It was rare for anyone else to see him this way because, no matter how exhausted he may be, he always managed to scrap together the last shreds of his energy, just enough to lift the corners of his lips for the world. Heero had only begun to understand that complete and utter trust in someone could be a destructive thing. He was the only one who noticed how close to the limit Duo pushed himself on every mission and how fragile a human being he could be. The truth Duo allowed him to see came with a price.
"What did you think you were doing?"
His voice was level and under control, deliberately toned down as if dealing with a threatened wild animal. The way he had spoken seemed like an invitation for Duo to talk, but Duo was not fooled. Heero would not be easily placated by words when he himself had something important to say. The man always had a plan, a hidden agenda. Sometimes he hated that. There were many snide remarks sitting on the tip of Duo's tongue waiting to be used at the perfect opportunity, but he closed his mouth, shook his head and forced himself to walk on. Heero didn't want an explanation anyway.
He was right. As Heero walked in stride with Duo, he pointed out matter-of-factly, "You put all of us at risk."
Duo rubbed his neck and shoulders. God, not again. He was sore from the battle and all he wanted at this moment was to soak in a bubbly hot bath until he dissolved.
"Look. We're all safe and the damages ain't nothing I can't fix. I'll do the repairs tomorrow. The mission was completed successfully, right?"
Along with Quatre, Duo had been responsible for sealing off the secondary exits of the lab and for holding back the soldiers coming from the adjacent base for as long as was possible. The actual task of destroying the transport cargoes had fallen to Heero and Wufei. At a critical point in the battle, however, Duo had turned his back on the opponents firing at him and left his position to offer backup to Wing. That the mobile suits waiting to be transported were actually manned and ready to attack was to be expected of any well-informed, intelligent opponent. There was no surprise in that: Heero had prepared to be outnumbered from the beginning. It was the feeling that Duo jumped in while he was unable to defend himself that disturbed him. Something within him was shaken when he beheld the damage that Deathscythe received in his place.
At the entryway, Heero cornered Duo, demanding the resistant youth's attention, which he did his best not to give.
"Did you think I wouldn't be able to handle the mobile suits by myself?"
"No, jackass . . . It's not about pride or power. You don't get it at all."
Even though Duo knew that Heero's anger came from worry, he turned away, unwilling to confront him at the moment. Too much was on his mind. The comment would probably piss Heero off, but he didn't care at this point. What would Heero do, punch him while he was off his guard? He laughed mentally even as the part of him that believed shit could happen considered dodging for a second. A hand shot across his field of vision but not to hit him, the palm slamming audibly against the metal plated interior of the hangar. It suddenly became very quiet. He was forced to look into Heero's eyes.
There was no threat of violence, no manic gleam there, just evident sadness and pain.
Why do we put ourselves through this, over and over again?
"I do, Duo."
Before Duo could question exactly what part of the taunt he understood, Heero leaned in and kissed him softly, a slight sense of body heat escaping from the opened top of his flight suit to tease at Duo's senses. After missions, Heero's smell reminded him of a deep struggle, an unknown ocean of contradictions. The messages that his body sent out were at once dangerous and alluring. Duo surrendered to the unexpected tenderness, his weariness forgotten, his lowered eyes finally smiling as he was pressed back against the wall, the feeling of metal hard and real against his shoulder blades.
But as soon as their lips came apart, with their faces still so close that Heero's nose brushed against his, Heero's comment made his blood rush to his head in a wave of paralyzing rage: "I knew we made a mistake in becoming closer."
Stunned for a moment, it took him a second longer than necessary to respond.
"Damn right." Duo pushed himself away from Heero, tossed his braid behind his shoulders and stormed out of the hangar.
Heero, even more so than Duo, was someone whose emotions could only be uncovered gradually and only by the select few. The more time they spent together, the more Duo learned of the repressed emotions of an individual with amazing discipline and strength. Heero's raw and uncontrolled outbursts sometimes scared him. He remembered when the Wing pilot had fallen to his knees in the middle of an abandoned street, with rainwater dripping down his hair and into his eyes, crying and choking wordlessly on his own tears after innocents were killed in a raid because of him. He remembered Heero's struggles for control in their relationship, the time he had pinned him down with his heavier body and shouted at him in the heat of their argument. But Heero had never set out to hurt him. He was just a human being overwhelmed by his own feelings.
The Heero he remembered is now gone. They had been given a second chance to start over -- each on his own this time -- by the gods he didn't pray to, at a time when he least expected.
Duo stood up and dusted the sand off the back of his running shorts. He stretched, feeling a joint pop in his rigid shoulders. Only then did he realize how long he had been sitting down. He had better head back now. The others might start wondering about his whereabouts if he was gone for too long.
Heero's life had changed in an accident that occurred within days of the confrontation in the hangar.
Knowing that the best military squads would be sent to capture them after their successful mission and that the privately-owned hangar, one of the conspicuous few on this colony, offered little cover, the pilots decided to relocate their Gundams underwater, off the coast of the elite boarding school they were transferring into. If they hid the Gundams in an area where the waters were unsafe to swim in, concealed far below the turbulent surface, it was impossible for unknowing divers to stumble upon them and difficult for their enemies to trace. Their mobile suits would also be accessible to them, should there be a need for massive destruction. Just a crazy idea that Duo thought of which, surprisingly, everyone agreed on. It had sounded good at first.
Heero, with the highest stamina of them all, had volunteered to bring up the rear when the pilots made their way back to the surface. On the other hand, the more instinctive Deathscythe pilot was first to reach the rocky underside of the cliff to test out for his teammates where it would be most favorable to come in, between the zones where dark currents lurked. Navigation in the darkness was his forte.
Quatre and Trowa exchanged quick words with each other, but neither of them knew. It was Wufei who answered, "He turned back to retrieve something from his cockpit."
It was odd especially for a soldier who never made mistakes, but no cause for excessive concern. Within a few minutes, however, Quatre could no longer contain his shivering as his lips turned a frosty shade of blue. It was half an hour before daybreak and the icy water chilled one to the bones. Even though the sky on the far east showed the first signs of light, the temperature would not rise for a while. Trowa released one of his hands on the jagged rocks and pulled Quatre in. None of them had been prepared to be in the water for long. Still, there was no sign of Heero. Even Duo, who had been reluctant to show concern, started to worry. He swore quietly.
"I'm going back for him."
He kicked powerfully against the rocks with his bare feet and dove under water. The black waves were merciless. If he had known that he would be making a trip down, he would have agreed with Trowa's proposal to equip themselves with, at the very least, oxygen tanks. Being Duo, he had convinced them that getting from their cockpits to the surface required only 'one fat breath' and that the non-essential equipment might arouse suspicion. At that moment, it was panic and willpower that kept him going despite the strain on his lungs as he adjusted to the increasing water pressure.
He found Heero unconscious, face down with his upper torso hanging out of the opened hatch, arms reaching down. There was a faint trail of pink emitting slowly from the base of Heero's neck. Even though the wound bled profusely, the blood dissipated in the water so that it would have been easy to miss in the semi-darkness if not for Duo's excellent vision. But he could not tell from the way Heero was sprawled over the opening what had delayed him or what had caused the head wound. So, with great difficulty in holding his breath, he tugged Heero away from the Gundam. When they made it back to the surface, Duo himself was barely alive.
All he remembered was that he had pulled Trowa away and insisted on resuscitating Heero, and that Heero's lips had felt too cold. The rest of his experience was surreal.
Just as Quatre managed to convince Duo to let Trowa take over before Wufei returned with a car to rush them to the nearest emergency, Heero suddenly started breathing again. Duo sat on the rocks, in the middle of a small puddle of seawater he had created, laughing nervously with relief and reminding Quatre and Trowa that it was nearly impossible to kill the tough bastard.
Heero didn't wake up until two days later. When they explained the condition they had found him in and asked if he remembered what had happened, he looked confused and disoriented. He asked what day it was. Then, after much hesitation, he asked for the details of a mission completed months ago. It had been a raid on a factory plant that manufactured firearms for underground societies known for inciting rebellions and advocating violence. The pilots had barely cooperated at that time, miscommunication and bad luck landing three of the five in hospital.
Soon, it became evident that from Heero's perspective, he had just woken up after a mission in which he had detonated several crates of amateur-quality explosives within a confined space as a last resort, and which had resulted in his being thrown against the wall on the other end of the hall from the impact of the blast. Time had stopped for him the instant he hit the bricks, and whatever came after that has not yet happened: he didn't understand why instead of burn-marks on his skin and the broken bones he expected, he had water in his lungs and a dull pain when he breathed. He didn't understand why Quatre, Trowa and Wufei were excessively concerned about him. He watched them warily. To him, they were all comrades, but his trust in the team had yet to develop.
This was the Heero from what seemed like so long ago.
Duo accepted this sudden change with much calmness. The Heero who had come from the past regarded Duo as nothing more than a trustworthy partner. They had not argued, they had not leaned on each other, they had not loved. He was shocked to realize how close they had become within a crucial few months, and how their deepening relationship had catalyzed the change in Heero's attitude to the other pilots.
At dinner the following night, Quatre said to Heero, "You can trust us. We've also had to learn to trust you, even if you don't remember it."
Quatre had picked up on Heero's scrutiny of Trowa and Wufei for the truth in their words and the motives behind their actions each time they offered to help him. Heero was back to the careful, assessing soldier who, at the same time, had to cope with his own condition. To accept that he suffered an injury which could be permanent was the hardest task Heero could be assigned. Sooner or later he would fall apart, if he refused to let the others even come close to him.
Heero had nodded, briefly muttered an apology before taking his dishes to the sink. Surprisingly, he turned around and explained that the reason for his confusion and distrust was that only Duo behaved the way he remembered. At that comment, Duo excused himself from the dinner table, getting a confused look from Heero. In the privacy of his own room, Duo didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. The last thing he had said to the person he loved were spiteful words that he would never be able to take back. In the end, tears won over. The irony of it: He had been especially careful around the recovering Heero, helpful but neutral. That it was the impersonal coldness, uncharacteristic of Duo, which Heero found familiar . . . it came as a blow to him, continual proof of their failed relationship.
When he got himself under control and rejoined the others downstairs, Quatre pressed a hand on his arm as he sat down. Duo nodded reassuringly at him.
[A slow trickle of bubbles spiraled chaotically up to the surface.]
I want to sink to the depths of the ocean To a moment in the past In a realm of soundless blue When you and I could have belonged to each other.
When I brought Heero up to the surface and he didn't resume breathing, when I was almost drowning under his weight and in my own panic, I prayed to the gods out there to please, let him live.
I will pay any price, give up anything of mine, for his life.
I used to be a defiant teenager, readily challenging the forces out there. I called out for them to show me a miracle before there's a chance I would change my ways and believe in them. Just one fucking miracle to save this fucked up world. Of course, Hell would freeze over before that happened. We all know that more meaningful things happen in hell than up here because folks down there are more efficient.
I didn't know that what I took for granted, that everyday we stayed alive, fought and still stood by each other, was a miracle.
If the price I had to pay for my arrogance was being forgotten by you, I must say I got a good bargain. Maybe it was a sign for me to repent.
It's a small price to pay for your life, even if you shall never know.
Duo cleared out all evidence of his relationship with Heero, only to find that there were very few to begin with. A few pictures he kept in a box, taken when the boys went on a trip with their class. Duo had slung an arm over Heero's shoulder and stuck his tongue out at the photographer in the obscene way only he could manage, while Heero had smiled for the camera, expression unusually relaxed. There were also brief notes from Heero before he left on his missions, letting Duo sleep on even though he had promised to wake him:
Sorry. I'll be back as soon as possible.
It was something as simple and as ordinary as that: the neat handwriting, the visible pressure applied from the tip of the pen, a hand that gripped too tightly.
He didn't want to throw these reminders away, not because he would ever use them as proof to make Heero remember, but because they were all that existed as a memento of a brief period of intense happiness. What would become of the love they had, if one day he fails to make it back alive from a mission and Heero never regains his memory? What is there to mark their history, to keep a special existence from fading with time?
During his period of recovery, Heero directed most of his questions at Duo, but the questions decreased in number as his body healed at his typical inhuman speed. He was gradually regaining control over his life. That or, Duo speculated, Heero was losing interest in what Duo had to say.
Heero was put back in action within the same week.
On Heero's first mission back, Duo tried to cover him as much as possible, but he discovered that Heero was more than capable of defending himself. He was actually using their enemies as a training aide, to gradually push himself to perform at near peak again.
"Never underestimate him, huh . . . " Duo thought aloud in his cockpit.
When they were making their way back, he established a communication link to Wing. Duo announced cheerfully, "Welcome back, Heero Yuy!"
Heero's silence greeted him from the other side of the line.
"Is this really okay?"
Duo turned around at Quatre's voice. He was standing at the doorway in his pajamas, holding two mugs in his hands. Duo motioned for him to come in and he did, handing Duo his hot chocolate, the surface still steaming gently. Anything is a welcome break from schoolwork, even if Quatre's questions will force him to face the heaviness in his heart.
After Duo took a few sips, he asked, "You mean my not telling him?"
"Yes. But I meant, is it okay with you."
Duo figured he had already burned his tongue, so he took to drinking the liquid more courageously.
"You know . . . I can't look at certain shades of blue without being reminded of him. I can't walk down the streets we've been to together without missing him."
He looked up at Quatre, his eyes quickly turning red. He didn't know what overcame him to spill it out like that. Quatre just had that effect on people.
"Duo . . . " The voice that called his name was so gentle. He slipped his free arm around Duo, embracing him warmly.
"We'll do everything we can to make you happy again."
"Then just do one thing, Quatre." Duo rested his head on Quatre's comfortable shoulder.
"Please let me do what I have to do."
"And by the way," Duo added, "your drinks heal heartbreaks."
"Heero, let's drop the subject."
Duo intended to walk past him and continue on his way to his room.
Lately, Duo had been frustrated by Heero's pseudo-interrogations. After a brief interim, the questions had resumed. But they were no longer trivial questions. Heero now asked him about his intentions and motives, what he was thinking when something occurred, digging too deep and demanding too much.
"I need to know. Why were you the one to come back for me when I was in the water?"
"Because I can swim?"
"Why did you save me, Duo?"
"You don't remember a damn thing, so what does it matter?" This, Duo practically yelled.
He saw Heero's swing coming with his peripheral vision and couldn't believe that Heero would hit him. It was uncalled for. At the last second, he sidestepped slightly. Rough knuckles grazed his jaw and started a hollow ringing in his head. His hand reached out to the walls to steady himself. Duo shook his head and glared at Heero, but Heero crossed his arms and watched him coldly in return, almost as if he hadn't struck out just seconds ago. He didn't look like he was going to attack again, but rather, he seemed to be waiting.
"Mind telling me what the hell that was for?"
He heard Heero's reply, "You're full of weaknesses," and immediately heat flared up his neck. Duo launched himself at Heero, a solid punch in the gut throwing Heero's balance off. The next few jabs Heero blocked, before he secured his hands firmly around Duo's wrists and used his momentum to throw him to the floor. In the process, he received an elbow to the face. Upon impact, Duo rolled away and twisted his arms such that Heero was forced to let go. They stood apart from each other, breathing rapidly and staring into each other's eyes, reading each other's movements. Footsteps could be heard at the bottom of the staircase. Any moment now, Quatre or Trowa was bound to appear and stop the fight.
Duo's street-smart instincts had been triggered and he assumed a combative stance, his eyes ablaze. He planned to attack from the side instead of coming face to face with Heero, who was slightly taller. It would still be tough -- Heero's punches were a lot harder than his own. Especially now, since he did not remember the past bond between himself and Duo, no personal feelings would hold him back.
Trowa appeared by Heero's side, ready to intervene. Duo felt Quatre's hand on his arm. The brief fray was over. He forced himself to relax, slowly. What was he thinking, fighting it out with Heero? Hadn't he made up his mind to start a boring and calm friendship from scratch? There should have been no feelings that surpassed the boundaries of platonic camaraderie. No lust, no love, no anger -- because he never got mad at the other pilots. He would treat Heero like he treated the others, but of course it was harder than he expected.
Still, he should have been extra tolerant with someone still on his way to full recovery. Heero flicked his thumb over his cracked bottom lip and examined the faint red stain on his skin. Then, he looked up at Duo.
"I said, you're full of weaknesses around me."
Duo stared. In a gesture of dismissal, Heero turned abruptly away from him and headed downstairs, straight out the door.
The five pilots have an upcoming mission in which they are to infiltrate an OZ training academy for candidates who would pilot a new generation of mobile suits. The task of planning the specifics fell upon Heero and Quatre. When he saw the preliminary plan, Duo could tell that he and Heero had been assigned to posts as far from each other and to execute tasks as unrelated as possible. Whether it had been Heero's personal preference or Quatre's bit of wisdom, he didn't know. He decided it was for the better, either way.
He went back to the ocean once more in his moments of desolation, seeking the traces of someone who loved him but was now nowhere to be found. Heartbroken, Duo looked out upon the dark, angrily crashing waves. Even the ocean wasn't calm.
Just as Heero had observed, Duo was indeed vulnerable, even weak, around him. Even if Heero didn't remember the past, Duo's feelings for him remained. That one-sided longing was a heavy chain tying him down that cannot be broken and from which there can be no escape.
In their last argument before the accident, Duo had clung to the belief that they had made no mistake in choosing each other. His mouth said otherwise, but his heart believed beyond a doubt that no matter how tenuous the thread that held them together, no matter that his sarcastic nature often compelled him to speak the worst, he would never be drawn to anyone like he was drawn to Heero. It was destined to be a catastrophic mutual attraction.
He would never come to this place again, he told himself like he had done many times before. He would leave, one last time.
Heero's re-awakening struck unexpectedly, like a sudden thunderstorm in the hottest month of the year.
Duo was in town that day. He had told Quatre and Trowa in the morning that he needed to get something repaired and that he would be back for dinner. He wandered out with no idea of where he was going, only a feeling urging him to go someplace far away.
He spent his time in the busiest areas of the shopping districts, watched a bad movie in an empty theatre, then sat in a cafe and watched the people stream by his window. A few teenage girls, heavy with makeup and brimming with nervous excitement, approached to chat with him. He flirted casually with them. More than once, the thought occurred to him, // I hope Heero finds the right woman, lives a perfect life after the war and never has to remember me. //
He took pity on himself and wished himself luck in finding someone who would lend him a shoulder to cry on while he pretended to forget Heero.
When he left the cafe it had started drizzling, the half-empty cup of iced coffee in his hands being the only trace that remained of the warm and sunny afternoon. As he was walking past the ornately decorated display windows of the boutiques, noticing the increase in the number of shoppers seeking shelter inside, a car pulled up beside him. The window rolled down and it was Heero.
He was having doubts for two reasons. One, none of the pilots was supposed to know his exact whereabouts. Two, Heero was definitely not the type to be found in this area of the colony unless he had something to buy that wasn't mechanical parts or firearms. He was not comfortable shopping with Duo when they were in love, so Duo didn't even want to know what kind of maniac he would turn out to be after the accident. Heero watched the considerations flash across Duo's expressive face before saying, "Get in the car."
His voice was neither loud nor harsh, but his eyes commanded Duo's compliance. There was definitely something wrong. Heero's attitude struck him as being atypical, but even as he shifted his weight and contemplated backing away from the car to make a run into the crowds, his feet refused to move. Heero's eyes were watching him intently now, the piercing blueness boring through him, almost daring him to escape.
Briskly, Heero urged, "Don't make me have to abduct you just to get you out of the rain."
Duo raised his eyebrows, even more suspicious now -- was it possible for memory loss to deteriorate while the patient appeared outwardly to recover? Still, he obliged and got into the car.
They left one window down, not minding the refreshing raindrops that flew in. The wind brushed comfortably over his skin. When he turned to look at Heero, the man's brown tresses pulled back by the wind, he was at a loss for words, captivated by the sight. It used to be his hands, his clumsy fingers that glided through the strands to comb back the short hair, wavy at the ends, liquid amber when looking into the sunlight.
He couldn't speak, so again, it was Heero who spoke. "You've been hiding from me what we used to be."
"What?" His reply did not skip a beat, the amount of surprise in his tone was just right. The lightness of the monosyllable concealed his guilt and agitation.
"Don't lie to me anymore, Duo."
There was a silence during which each waited for the other to speak, before Duo broke the standstill by shifting back audibly in his seat. Even though he was partially relieved that Heero was back to normal, he dreaded this confrontation. He had to face the consequences of his actions. Heero had every right to be angry or disappointed. He could now tell Duo, "It's all over." Drawing the line completely wasn't possible before, when Heero had no recollection of falling in love.
He sighed dramatically before mumbling in resignation, "So you remember now."
Heero looked at him out of the corner of his eye, guiding the steering wheel with only one hand.
"No. Not really." The guilty tone became obvious as his voice tapered down.
The ensuing shouts from Duo shook the interior of the car, causing the vehicle to swerve on the road. Heero hastened to explain.
"You may have kept the past from me, but the others weren't the same."
Duo pressed a hand to his forehead in exasperation and groaned. He felt that all the pilots enjoyed the teamwork building activity known as messing with Duo's mind. So Heero didn't actually remember, and Quatre and the others had not gone along with his plan.
"It wasn't hard to tell, Duo. The worried glances, ever since I woke up, weren't directed at me."
How many times, when Heero shrank away from their concern or persisted in getting Duo to speak the truth, did Quatre look in Duo's direction, checking to see if he was all right?
Maybe now was the perfect time to clarify past relationships with Heero. There was nothing to hide anymore, nothing to feel uncertain about. It would soon be history.
"Where are we going?"
"To the last place I was at before I lost my memory." The car drove through a long and winding trail, pebbles and broken twigs crunching under its wheels, before it took a turn seemingly headed for nowhere. But there, the familiar shoreline opened up in front of his eyes. Seen from a lower vantage point, it was more magnificent now.
Heero began recounting what he had pieced together of the incident. The four other pilots had intentionally kept him out of the investigation in light of his possibly unstable condition, but the explanation he had come up with was just as detailed. Perhaps he had his subconscious to guide him.
"I was told by the mechanics that there was a hidden tracking device on my Gundam, but not on any of the others. At the depth we were at, the device must have been operating at its limits, possibly emitting either heat or light. That was how it caught my attention."
They were walking towards the waters now, the sand spilling into his shoes every couple of steps and prickling the soles of his feet. Duo took his shoes off and continued walking, dangling them from one hand. He offered to help Heero with the case of equipment he was carrying, but Heero declined.
"It must have blown up when I tried to deactivate it. I underestimated the power of small-scale devices. What I couldn't figure out for a long time was what I left in the cockpit."
He spoke in a softer voice, "I didn't find anything there. I started considering that I might have noticed the device earlier and wanted to work on it alone. There's always risks involved."
Heero stopped talking as they reached a point in the pier where the water was sufficiently deep.
"You'll have to come with me."
Heero tossed to Duo a pair of flippers and a lightweight oxygen-equipped diving suit, putting on his own before moving to help Duo who was less experienced. They dropped ungracefully from the wooden planks into the water, diving down to the original hiding place of the Gundams, long since moved to the forests farther north immediately following the accident.
Far beneath the broken surface of the water was a world of penetrating blue that immersed one in its impassible calm. The vast space was soundless except for one's breathing, a sole companion. The deeper down you dove and the dimmer it grew, the denser the blue and the lovelier.
When he could almost see the sloping bottom, his suit automatically re-pressurizing to ease the strain on his lungs, there was a sudden static, not unlike the sound of rushing water. The communication link between the two diving suits came to life, and Heero's voice resonated within his headgear.
"That was what I found."
Something glinted faintly from where Heero shone his flashlight. He leaned in to get a closer look. At the base of the coastal cliffs prior to reaching the reefs, on a relatively shallow area of the seafloor, lay a broken golden chain caught between jagged protruding pieces of moss covered rocks. Protected by the unique positioning of the rocks around it, it was undisturbed by the eddy currents of the area.
The intense beam of the flashlight heated the rocks it shone on, miniscule bubbles appearing on the mossy surface, but even then, the chain remained unmoved. Due to the lack of sunlight reaching this area of the ocean, so secluded and so removed, the chain could have settled there forever, forgotten by mankind. It might never have been found, if not for Heero's ability to search thoroughly and tirelessly for the truth that was important to him.
Duo reached in to retrieve the chain, but a hand caught his from behind and stopped him. Heero's voice in his helmet said tersely, "Don't."
Heero's flashlight was suddenly turned off, along with the illuminating patches on their suits that were controlled by the same switch. Duo turned his head around to question Heero but, distracted by the stream of bubbles making their erratic journey upwards and enveloped in the darkness of the deep blue terrain, he could not see Heero's face.
Far beneath the surface, it seemed like the universe belonged to just the two of them. Two hearts beating, yet the sound of their breathing mingled into one -- the sound of spacious peace. Peace and release. That was what Duo had wished for Heero. From the moment the rescued pilot opened his confused and pain-glazed eyes, Duo had decided to let him go.
If being together caused him suffering, Duo would set him free.
He got out of the diving suit and wiped away the sweat that had gathered on his forehead. The auto-pressurizing system worked fine, but they really needed to hook the suits up with some air conditioning. His braid had worked itself into a tangled nest during the dive. He held his elastic band between his teeth to re-braid the mess, but when he realized how comfortable the wind felt, he let his hair hang freely off his shoulders. Heero hasn't said a word, but Duo was starting to piece the story together.
"My guess is that I meant to place the chain in your cockpit." The old chain that Duo wore his cross on, an amulet that had accompanied him through shaky years, had shown signs of coming apart long ago. Heero had noticed and pointed it out to him before, but Duo had shrugged, his mind occupied with a mission at that time. Heero hadn't mentioned it again.
Duo nodded, wordlessly agreeing with Heero's theory. Heero's forgetting something in his cockpit was a weak excuse to begin with. He was always a terrible liar. Wufei had no idea of Heero's plan to place the chain in Deathscythe's cockpit both as a surprise and an apology, nor did he learn of the argument that had taken place between Heero and Duo until much later. If Duo had been the one to hear Heero say those words, he would have seen through the lie right away.
His old chain finally broke after the brief brawl with Heero, though he told no one about it. Part of the reason Duo had gone into town was with the vague, half-hearted hope of getting it fixed somewhere. It wouldn't change his life, but it might make him feel better. Dispirited at the absence of his cross, a weight hanging before his chest so familiar to him, he had been in a somber mood the entire day.
Duo looked back out at the ocean, though it was impossible to see the spot where the chain that Heero meant to give him continues to lie.
// Just leave it //, Heero's voice had said underwater. The gloved hand had let go of his as they headed back up to the surface and suddenly the water had seemed too cold.
Like his lips back then, and like the blood that now runs through his veins.
"The chain was for me." Duo voiced, turning to look at Heero, the blood and gold sun setting over the horizon blazing in his eyes. His ribcage burned, an uncomfortable lump choking his throat. It is hard when truths from the past are laid out, like cards of your life before you, but yet cannot be touched.
"It was, but it's broken now." Heero's voice reached him from seemingly so far away. If the chain he grew up with was a symbol of his old self, then the chain from Heero would have signified a second chance, a life with someone who brought out the best and worst in him, loving him nevertheless. But he failed to hang onto either, allowed both to be destroyed, so his neck should remain bare thereafter. He had spent an uneventful afternoon downtown, staying away from the shop he had intended to visit, because of the realization that some things could not be fixed. He couldn't look at Heero and it wasn't because of the sunlight.
"Yeah . . . Too bad."
No sarcasm this time, just genuine regret. Locks of his hair, freed from the usual braid, caught the sun's fire as they were randomly lifted in the wind. His knees gave way and he collapsed into the sand. Heero had always beat him at apologies, even when he was in the wrong. For the last time that he would go out of his way to make it up to Duo, Heero had suffered an injury from which there may be no recovery. The memory loss may be permanent. Because he knew there was no second chance for them, Duo had taken it into his own hands to allow Heero a second chance at a non-turbulent life, the kind of life Heero would have desired.
Through the fabric of his jeans he could not feel the white sands, but he remembered that they were so incredibly soft before. The waves crashed on relentlessly.
"I got you something else."
He raised his head, staring at Heero with widened eyes, not daring to believe. Heero continued, "I tried to get the same chain as you saw underwater, but I found that there were no others like it. 'Old Gold' from Earth -- like your cross -- is not as strong or popular as other metals from nearby colonies. I had destroyed the last one I would find."
Heero took a flat black box out of his pocket, hands moving without hesitation. He had taken his time that afternoon browsing through the street where the main jewelry shops were concentrated. In the end he had walked through the doors of the same shop as he had done before his injury. The owner remembered him, though to Heero it was the first time he had ever been in this eye-opening part of the town. He took the opportunity to inquire about the chain that he bought on his last visit and learned that there were no more like it.
Heero had walked around as he was talking so that he now stood behind Duo. Cold with nervousness and anticipation, Duo didn't dare turn around. He simply listened to Heero's voice, rising and falling like the hypnotic movement of the waves. Warm hands brushed against his neck as Heero brought one end of the chain around, pausing for a second before his eyes so he could see what it was. On the thin chain was a pair of wings crafted out of retro-silver, Heero's promise to always stand by Duo and to watch over him.
Heero had been deliberating earlier that afternoon how he would give it to Duo. It didn't make sense coming from someone who hasn't recovered his memory. The chain was an unfulfilled wish, a gift to Duo from a Heero Yuy unknown to him, one who had seen and lived more than he had and who had been in love with Duo. Nevertheless, their emotions were in common. He is drawn to Duo the same way that his old self had been. He is moved by the honest, boundless devotion behind Duo's reckless stupidity when he throws his whole self into battle. The attraction is magnetism, always present.
That afternoon, as he was thinking of ways to approach Duo without detonating the mountain of tension between them, he spotted the cause of his worries lost in thought on the sidewalk, in the growing rain. The rest took off automatically from there, his body acting with a mind of its own. He found a strange familiarity in his impulsiveness when he pulled over all of a sudden, surprising even Duo who was a reckless driver. The gift would be delivered much sooner than he had expected, but it was acceptable. It was better without preparation, more spontaneous, more suited to Duo.
Duo was speaking now. His voice broke at the beginning of his sentence. He swallowed and tried again. As he turned so that he could see Heero, his lips were drawn back tightly, expression almost fierce in his desire to maintain control over his emotions.
"Shh," Heero urged gently. "Just let me put it on."
Duo listened to him. The clasp fastened and, finally, the circle was complete.
"It's not what I originally intended to give you," Heero said, kneeling when he got to the front so that he was eye-level with Duo. Never too good with either thanks or apology and suddenly self-conscious when Heero's affections were openly declared, Duo managed nevertheless to spit out what he considered an awfully weak "thank you." He didn't know how to express his happiness.
But Heero seemed extremely pleased. His eyes, soft as he watched Duo fumble, was illuminated and made bluer by the light reflecting from the ocean. His hands, grains of sand still on his fingertips, reached to pull Duo in by the chin. They were so close for a moment, their breaths teasingly warm on each other's lips. Then finally, they kissed. Heero felt his heartbeat accelerate at the feel of Duo's mouth, words to describe the heated, melting sensation eluding him. He had no frame of reference, but the moment felt maddeningly familiar.
There are some things you just can't forget.