Love Among Friends

Author: Sharon
Pairing: ?+1 (unrequited), 1+2, 2+1
Rating: PG
Warnings: none really
Disclaimer: The guys belong to Bandai/Sotsu/Sunrise.
Notes: Thank you to DC Logan for the beta.

Love Among Friends

Part 1

"I love you, Heero." Those soft-spoken words hang in the air between us. They should make me happy, knowing that someone cares so much for me. But they don't. They aren't welcomed here, between us. You are my friend -- my best friend -- but I don't love you.

Part of me wishes that I could. You're a decent person and deserve better than to have me squash all of your hopes. You've been with me through so much, supported me when I had my doubts, helped me through my weakness. It seems so unfair that I can't say those words back to you. But I can't. It wouldn't be fair to you, and it wouldn't be fair to me. I could never truly mean them.

We both deserve a chance to find love, real love, the kind that everyone grows up thinking they want. If I told you I loved you, I'd be taking that chance away from us both. In the end, we'd probably end up hating each other, and I'd rather face the pain of rejecting you now than have to deal with something much worse later.

You look at me with such hope in your eyes, and I know I'm going to break your heart. I'd give anything not to have to do that. As hard as it might be for you to believe after this, I do care about you. That will never change. You understand me in ways no one else can. I don't have to try to be anything but myself when I'm with you. You accept what I have to offer, and seem happy that I'm willing to give even that much to you.

I just can't tell you that I feel something I don't. Whatever spark is necessary to make one person willing to do anything to ensure another's happiness just isn't there for me. It's got nothing to do with who you are, or how you look. By anyone's standards you're a handsome man. Anyone would get lost in the brilliant color of your eyes. Anyone would want to run their fingers through your incredible hair. Anyone would love to coax gentle moans from your soft lips.

Anyone, but me.

You'll probably think it's because of someone else. I wish I could say it's not, but that wouldn't be entirely true. There is someone else. I think I knew it the first time I saw him, but I've never acted on it. Part of me can't believe he'd ever feel the same way for me. Part of me is scared. Scared of having this same conversation with him, only I'd be the one left sitting all alone when it's over.

You look at me expectantly, and I just dread what I'm going to have to do. I don't know if you'll be able to understand what I'm feeling. Or not feeling. You're as new to this kind of love as I am. I know I'm your first. I want to let you down gently, telling you that I love you as a friend, but I don't know if you'll hear me. I'm afraid you'll only hear the rejection and nothing else. I don't want to totally lose you. I just want to make things go back to what they were, without any guilt on either of our parts.

I don't have to tell you the truth to know how you'll react. You'll give me your best smile and lower your eyes so I can't see the hurt in them. Then you'll make some kind of excuse and go off somewhere to be by yourself. Sometimes you think too much. You keep too much hidden deep inside where you think it'll be safe from everyone -- including you. I'm guilty of that myself sometimes. That's how I know it never solves anything. It's better to deal with it here and now. Get it out and over with, and then move on.

This is going to change things between us. I'm not so optimistic that I don't believe it will. We're going to lose a part of our closeness. There will always be a wall between us, a line that we know we can't cross. Before we could tell each other anything. Now we'll hold back on certain things, not totally willing to trust each other with all of our most intimate thoughts. I'm sorry that has to happen. I wish it didn't, but I understand why.

I take your hand in mine, feeling its warmth. You're trembling a little, and I know it's because I haven't said a word yet. You're hoping for the best and anticipating the worst. I can't look into your eyes. I don't know which scares me more -- seeing your hope or your fear reflected in them. I feel inadequate to deal with either.

When I do finally met your eyes, I don't have to say a word. You know. You have this ability to know what I'm going to say without me even speaking a single word. I don't know if that's because we've been friends for so long, or because we're so much alike. The result is the same either way: you just know what my answer is.

I see you crumble inside behind your eyes. I see the disappointment and the hurt, even if you only let it show for a fleeting moment. You take a deep breath and force a smile onto your face. You rise slowly from where we've been sitting and reach out to place a hand on my shoulder. I hear you say "It's alright, Heero. I understand." I wonder if you do. If you know the agony I've just gone through. The pain of having to reject the offer of a love I can never return. The sadness of having to hurt my best friend.

I want to reach out to you and tell you how sorry I am, but I let you go. Maybe later when we've both had time to accept what's happened, how our relationship has changed, I'll be able to talk to you about this. But for now I can't face you. I can't even face myself.

"I'm so sorry, Trowa."

Part 2

It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do... telling someone that I don't love him. He looked at me with such hope in his eyes, and I had to say the words that took that hope away. "I'm so sorry, Trowa."

He was my closest friend, my confidante, the brother I never had. I could tell him things that the other pilots wouldn't understand. Being in the company of older people for most of my life has made me quiet around my peers, often unnaturally so. But not with Trowa. He understood how hard it was for me to relate to the others. Trowa accepted whatever I was willing and able to give. He never pushed me to tell him what I was thinking or feeling. Until that day when he told me he was in love with me. And I couldn't tell him that back.

If I didn't know what love feels like, I might have chosen differently. Then again, this isn't the first time I've let an opportunity for happiness pass me by. Relena. She was the first person to make me care so strongly for another's well-being. In the beginning I saw her as an obstacle to what I was trying to accomplish. She seemed like a spoiled child compared to my normal companions, if Dr. J and his fellow scientists can ever be called "normal". I should have been able to walk away from her without a second thought, but I couldn't. Her determination was something I admired.

Later, when she became the representative for Sank, I began to see how necessary she really was to achieving peace. My admiration grew for her to the point where I couldn't kill her even if it seemed like the right thing to do. In the end, she was every bit as responsible for the newly won peace as any of us Gundam pilots. She even stood up against her own brother to protect the people of Earth and the colonies. I could have fallen in love with her after the war but for one thing. I didn't desire her as a man is supposed to desire a woman.

It's not that I think I could never desire a woman sexually. There are times when I sneak glances at Lucrezia Noin, hoping that Zechs won't catch me in the act. I'm attracted to some women, but not all of them. Not Relena. She's still far too innocent. We're the same age and yet I feel years older than her. I'll never stop caring about her and being her friend, but that's all she'll ever be to me. She's the kind of person I fought the war to protect. I'll always be there to watch over her, but she doesn't have that special something to set my heart racing. Like Trowa, she's just not dangerous enough. Not like him.

He's everything I'm not, and nothing I want to be. Yet he fascinates me. Perhaps I do want to be more like him, but I've been trained too long and too hard to allow myself to live the way he does. By being with him, I get to experience that life through him. He feels passionately about so many things. I sometimes look forward to the things we don't agree on more than those we do, just because I enjoy seeing the fire light up his eyes. He probably doesn't even realize I sometimes take an opposing view just to watch him get so excited. I wonder how he'd feel if he knew?

Is it worth risking the friendship we have to find out? Trowa took that risk, and look where it got him. We hardly say a word to each other any more. I think that will change, in time, but for now the silence between Trowa and myself is uncomfortable where before it felt natural. I don't think I could stand it if I lost someone else I'm close to that way. This other person is my friend now, but would he still be if he knew that I desired him?

Oh, and I do desire him. There are times when we're working together and it's all I can do not to touch him in some way. It would be so easy just to "accidentally" brush up against him, or lean close to him as we're checking our Preventers' assignments. I'm just not sure I could stand those little touches when I want so much more. It would be like offering a sip to a man dying of thirst while keeping the pitcher full of water right in plain sight, yet just out of reach.

What makes a person take that chance? It's the one thing I wish I could ask Trowa. Why did he tell me how he felt when he did? Did I give him some indication that I had stronger feelings for him? Did I subconsciously encourage him? I've tried to remember, but I can't think of anything I might have said or done that could be misinterpreted that way. Or perhaps he feared if he didn't take the chance when he did, he might not have the opportunity again. He'd been watching me fall in love with someone else.

If Quatre was here, he'd have seen it too. Then again, if Quatre was here perhaps things would never have gone the way they did between Trowa and me. I can't help but believe those two have a connection that can't be broken. I wonder if that's why they stay apart so much? Quatre's family and religious obligations will always come between them. For once I'm happy I don't have a loving family controlling my future. Finally being in control of my own life is more important to me than anything.

Anything but him.

But how do I tell him? How do I avoid going through the pain that Trowa's going through right now? Is it better to prepare myself for possible rejection, or should I go into it expecting the best? All I know for sure is I have to tell him. Soon. Before these feelings take complete control of my life.

I love you, Duo.

Part 3

I've never been someone who runs away from what I have to do. During the early days of Operation Meteor, I accepted my missions and performed the duties expected of me without question. Later, when I started to wonder if my orders really were for the best, I did what I thought had to be done to ensure peace. But this is much harder than saving the world from death and destruction. This is one of the most difficult things I've ever forced myself to do. This is personal.

I want to tell someone that I love them. No, I need to tell Duo that I love him.

Confronting certain death at the hands of a mobile suit is nothing compared to risking possible rejection by someone you love. A mobile suit can only kill you. You suffer for a while, and then everything ends. You don't ever have to face the person who took your life, or wonder what they're thinking when they look at you. I'd rather brave death a hundred times over than be rejected by Duo just once.

But what if he does share my feelings? What if he's waiting for some sign from me that I want more than just friendship from him? Is it worth taking a chance when it could mean we'd be together? Is it better to risk everything I have, if I might gain everything I want in return? For the first time since the end of the Eve War, I find myself wishing someone else would tell me what to do. This is one decision I can't afford to screw up.

Duo is already such an integral part of my life. Rarely a day goes by when I don't see him at work, or speak to him on the phone or online. Lately, he's been in my thoughts throughout the day, and in my dreams at night. I'll be doing the most ordinary tasks when I start to think of him and wonder if he'd approve or enjoy whatever it is I'm doing. I'll read something or see a movie and wonder what Duo would think of it. Though he'd never believe it, his opinion is important to me. It has been for a long time, but I've never been good at showing him that, not even during the wars when we depended on each other for our very survival.

I trust him. I value his opinion. I enjoy his company. I want to experience life with him, whether it's good or bad. I desire to touch him, and to have him touch me in return. I've felt this way for many months, but it's only been recently that I've acknowledged it, finally, to myself. I wish I could thank Trowa for making me understand my feelings, but I've caused him too much pain already.

So much of what I want with Duo I already have. We've begun spending more time together, perhaps because he senses that Trowa and I have become distant. Somehow Duo knows there's an empty place in my life that he's now able to fill; if he wants to.

This recent change in our relationship began innocently, with us going out for lunch one day at work. He came to my desk and told me I needed to get away from things for a while. He couldn't have been closer to the truth.

He wanted to ask why Trowa and I had drifted apart, but he didn't. He could tell that I didn't want to talk about it; so he didn't push. I didn't want him to know then that my attraction to him was partly the reason for my situation with Trowa. Instead, we spent the time together learning things about each other and finding out that we're really not as different as we once thought. It was all so easy at first. I followed his lead, knowing that he was always more comfortable in social settings.

That one lunch soon became part of our weekly routine, with both of us taking turns choosing a restaurant. It wasn't long before we started spending time with one another outside of work, going to movies or sporting events, always together but each paying our own way. We were two single men having fun with no attachments to get in our way. Or so I believed that was how it was for him. I never dared to hope for more than the comfortable camaraderie we'd begun to share. Until tonight.

It was a typical Friday night out for us, nothing unusual, or so I'd thought. We went to a concert in the park near his apartment building after eating at that deli Duo likes so much. He'd been late meeting me there, and eventually discovered that he'd left his wallet at home. As I offered to pay for our dinner, he joked that this was like a real date; but I could tell from the way he laughed and the look in his eyes that he was serious. A month ago I wouldn't have known him well enough to be able to tell the difference. But now I know him better. Much better. Better than he thinks I do. Or maybe, just maybe, that's what he was counting on. Maybe this was his way of telling me that he's interested too.

The concert seemed to go on forever. I know I was just anxious for what could -- would -- happen later. As Duo sat humming to the music with his eyes closed and his body swaying slightly, my mind was racing far ahead to the walk back to his apartment. I could barely sit still as we listened from our vantage point on the stone steps near the park's main entrance. It took all my restraint not to compel him to walk faster when we began the short trip back to his place. I became focused entirely on my goal of getting him alone, where I could find out his true feelings.

He invited me up, just as I'd hoped. I'm sitting here, now, alone in his living room while he gets us both a drink. He told me to relax, but I know that's not possible. Every nerve in my body is alive. I feel like I'll burst if I don't tell him soon how much he really means to me. I'm nervous as all Hell, and I can feel my hands beginning to sweat and my throat tightening. I'd faced Milliardo Peacecraft as he tried to destroy the Earth with less fear than I'm feeling now. This time I'm trying to save myself.

Duo walks back into the living room, hands me a beer, and I can feel my courage leaving me. Our conversation is awkward and we hesitate to say what we're really thinking. Duo's mood has become subdued, and I wish I could convince myself that he's disappointed that this night hasn't turned into something special. He smiles when he looks up at me from his seat on the sofa, but I can see that the light in his eyes from earlier this evening has faded. I should have known this would be a mistake. Like Trowa, I've misjudged the situation and imagined this to be more than it is -- two friends enjoying a night out.

I set my beer down and retreat towards the door, saying that it's late and we both have work to get done over the weekend. He immediately follows me as I make my way out the apartment and into the hallway. Before I leave, I turn to say goodnight, and I swear I can see sadness in his eyes. I come back to face him, to try to say something to let him know that it's not anything he's done. It's me, Duo. I'm just not ready. Not yet. I open my mouth to try to comfort him, when he says the words that I most dearly need to hear.

"It's okay, Heero. You don't have to say anything right now. You'll know when you're ready."

As he closes the door to his apartment, I swear I hear him say one last thing. In a voice so soft it's barely above a whisper, I hear him say "I love you too, Heero."

The End

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