Pairings: 5 + 2
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: The PG-13 is for foul language.
Disclaimers: Gundam Wing and Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz are copyright Bandai, Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and TV Asahi. They don't belong to me by any stretch of the imagination, and never will.
Author's notes: If there are any portions of search & rescue scene that you would like more information on, feel free to ask. I attempted to keep it as layman friendly as possible, but you never know...
Special thanks to Krista Perry, my lovely and talented beta reader. Without her keen eye, this story would have long since disappeared into a sad little whirlpool of suck. Thank you!

Breathe
by Katsu

"So what are you up to tonight, Cap'n?" Vyse asked as he thumped himself down on the wooden kitchen chair. He picked up the ceramic coffee mug that Duo shoved toward him and took a long swig. "God, you could just about take paint off a wall with that."

"That's the best kind of coffee, though, isn't it?" Duo said, grinning. He leaned back in his chair, kicking one leg over the arm and tapping the table gently with the steel toe of his boot. "I'm not available for a bar crawl tonight, if that's what you're asking. I've got tickets for the first in a lecture series, and nothing's going to stop me from attending."

Vyse waggled a warning finger in Duo's direction as he took another swig of coffee and came up grimacing. "Don't say that, Cap'n. You're going to jinx us all. I want to go home on time this morning."

"And if I hadn't already jinxed us, you just finished the job. Wahoo," Duo commented, sipping from his own mug. The coffee was thick and dark, made from his favorite roast. It was one of the perks of being located at Station One -- you got the good coffee that the administrative geeks normally drank. Then again, it also helped that he'd been the founder of New Chicago's heavy rescue squad, which had been the first in all of L2.

"I can feel it coming, Vyse. Big ol' industrial accident. Lots of steel and concrete entrapments that we'll have to bring heavy machinery in to clear out."

Vyse flipped him the bird. "You're just jonesing to try that shit out, aren't you."

"Of course. My company even sold it to the government, and I still haven't gotten to play with one. They just looked pretty on the show room floor." Duo said. "Tough enough to weather the hands of time. It was a great advertisement."

"Machines, literature, and love. Nice combo, Cap'n."

"Hey, it moves merchandise. I'm not going to complain. I have to eat too, you know...it's not like they pay me."

"It's not like they pay any of us." Vyse noted, finishing the coffee.

Duo grabbed the coffeepot and refilled the mug, then handed it back. "That's what it means to be volunteer, my man. I'm surprised it took you this long to figure it out."

"Best adrenaline rush in the solar system." Vyse held his mug up for a toast.

"Amen. Saving the colony, one life at a time."

They clinked their mugs together and drank, then sat in companionable silence for a few moments, listening to the radio chatter from the four other heavy rescue stations scattered throughout the colony. It had been a pretty slow day and an even slower night for everyone. Most of the guys had retreated to the TV room, sacking out on the couch and waiting for their shift to end. Duo fancied that he could hear their snores, even through the solid wooden door.

"So," Vyse said, shoving his mug toward Duo for another refill, "what's the lecture about anyway?"

"Modernizing Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War.' Chang Wufei." Duo ducked his head as he poured, muffling his last few words and hiding his expression. He didn't really trust his control in this case. After two years, he would finally be seeing Wufei again, and almost no one these days even realized that they knew each other. That was okay with him; he didn't want the fame, or the infamy. But even if he knew that he'd end up with his face splashed across the papers, he'd still go. Nothing would prevent him from seeing Wufei again, and, if he was lucky, cornering him for a conversation that had been waiting for two years.

The papers would probably have a field day with that. Fine, they could fucking deal.

Vyse was looking at him like he'd just spouted out a random phrase in Russo-bali. "Modernizing what?"

"'The Art of War', Vyse. It's a very old, very famous book by a Chinese general dealing with war strategy. I imagine that Mr. Chang's going to be detailing how he thinks the strategy should be updated with modern technology in mind. He'll probably be touching on the underlying philosophy of it as well, since we've certainly had some shifts in morality and belief since that time. It's a really interesting lecture, I've heard. He's got some very different beliefs that he brings into play; they've got him put on the shit list of several radical religious groups, most of which are offering all sorts of rewards for his death." Duo frowned, as he always did when he thought about it. Wufei was a big boy that could take care of himself; though, he just had to keep that in mind.

Vyse's incredulous look had, if anything, become more pronounced. "Cap'n?" He finally asked.

"Yes, Vyse?"

"You're supposed to be a run-of-the-mill, ordinary high school drop-out sort that's self-educated, beer swilling, and got where he is by nothing more than hard work and sheer stubbornness, right?"

Duo sighed. "Yes, Vyse. That's about the long and short of it."

"You sure don't sound like it."

"Sorry, I guess." Duo shrugged.

Vyse suddenly grinned. "Don't worry, I'm not going to rat you out or anything. I've known who you were since I joined on. I used to be a copy editor, you know, for the Oz propaganda. I pasted a nice picture of you onto a wanted poster."

For a moment, Duo was certain that the blood in his veins had turned to ice. The other man's casual manner put him at ease, though. "That was you? It was a nice poster. I ripped quite a few of them down."

"No one's ever quite what they seem, Cap'n. No one wants to talk about it any more, really, but you'd be surprised what most of the guys were up to while you were off blowing up military installations. "

"You know an awful lot."

"I'm a good listener."

"I got ya." Duo nodded.

Vyse inspected the bottom of his mug like he thought it contained some sort of universal answer. "So are you going to see the Chang guy because you're old shield brothers, or because you're actually interested in that sort of shit?"

"Both, I guess." Duo admitted.

"But one more than the other, I'm thinking..."

Duo looked down at his coffee cup to hide his frown as he tried to think of a good lie regarding how much he adored Sun Tzu's philosophies. His treacherous brain only reminded him of when he and Wufei had begun to exchange letters at the end of the war, or when they had begun to meet and have long conversations over tea, or the long walks they had taken that invariably ended in out of the way alcoves. Even worse, those thoughts lead to one hot August night when everything had ended with the moon high and the humidity causing skin to stick to skin...

The bell saved him from having to answer, quite literally. The overhead speaker let out a loud pop of static, and then the voice of the dispatcher -- or God as they liked to call her -- spoke. "Rescue Squad One, prepare for tones. Small bobjet crash at one-two-niner by seventy-six." The two men were already out of their chairs as the electronic notes began to sound. "Small bobjet crash at one-two-niner by seventy-six. Patrol has confirmed that this is a water landing, wait for all clear before entering area. Weapons discharge has been detected."

"Shit, it just gets better and better." Duo growled stomping over to the door to the crew quarters. He pounded on it, shouting, "C'mon, you lazy bums! We have work to do!"

To their credit, his crew came stumbling out of quarters, pulling on pants and shoes almost before he was done yelling. He hurried them toward the flitter bay, handing out orders as they moved through the long, grey corridor that lead to the mesa top the bay was on. "This one's fresh, live, and the clock is running, gentlemen. It's a water rescue, so I need you all to grab full dive gear for this, you've got two minutes. Assume cold water rescue, so I want the whole shebang. Anyone not ready for take-off in three is getting left behind. Vyse, you're in charge of the torches this time around. Get the generator up and moving while we're in the air, the clutch on it was sticking last time we used it so be sweet to it. Tory, you're quick, you grab your gear and Jameson's both. Jameson, I need you to get the medical kit together and in the back for me while I heat up."

They separated at the bay, the other men running to grab their gear from the nearby storage room as he hopped into the cockpit of the flitter. It was a civilian model of an Oz military transport; not comfortable in the slightest, but fast and maneuverable. The bonus was that it had VTOL capability, so was capable of landing and takeoff almost anywhere; that's what made it an ideal transport for the heavy rescue team.

Duo completed the final flight checks on mental auto pilot. His fingers knew the drill. He didn't even really notice when the engines began their warm-up whine. There was something wrong, something that made his fingers tremble and his stomach twist into knots around the most frightening "what if" of his life. It was like a dark whisper at the back of his mind, something that only spoke up when the situation was wrong and dangerous. He'd felt this way before missions like the one that got him captured by Oz or the one on Christmas Eve that had pitted them all against Wufei.

Wufei. It wasn't as if bobjets crashed every day, let alone in the vicinity of weapons fire.

He didn't really hear the men piling into the back of the flitter. All he knew was that when the clock hit three minutes precisely, he locked down the doors and yanked them into the air, spinning one-eighty to point the flitter's nose toward the heading that dispatch had provided. The HUD map confirmed what he already knew; they were heading to the recreational "wilderness" area, which would only complicate things further. He punched the engines, keeping them a hair below the red line.

Now. He needed to get there now.

Five minutes out from the scene, the radio crackled to life again, this time for a man who spoke with a smooth, southern drawl. "Rescue Squad One, this is Patrol Six."

"Copy, Patrol Six. What's the status?"

"Area is secured and suspects have been apprehended. You're safe to land as soon as you get here."

"Good." Duo hesitated for a moment, then continued, "What's it look like, Patrol Six?"

It was the other man's turn to hesitate. "Not so good, Rescue One. The bobjet got hit by a surface to air missile, and it's in the middle of the lake. Sinking fast, so if you can give it a little more speed, that'd be good. We've got a landing spot cleared for you on the shoreline, you'll see it outlined with flares."

"Any sign of survivors?"

"We've had two bodies wash to shore. The flight plan and manifest indicated six people on board, but we've seen no other signs."

"Copy. We'll be there in three." He flipped the mike over to internal broadcast with his thumb. "Okay, kids, here's the situation. We're clear to land as soon as we get there. The bobjet's sinking fast, so I need divers in the water the minute we set down. We've got four unaccounted for." He could hear them murmuring excitedly; he was the only one worried. Then again, he was also the only one wondering if maybe, just maybe he knew who had been shot down. It was stupid and utterly improbable, but he couldn't stop spinning his wheels on that possibility.

The lake came into view, crystal blue under the artificial light. It was actually supposed to be dark; central control had switched the lights on in this section the moment the crash had been called in, to aide in the search. They'd turned up the heat, but they were kidding themselves if they thought they'd get the lake up to a reasonable temperature any time soon -- the surface had a skin of ice on it, broken and ragged where the red and white wreck of the bobjet sat. Duo cursed, long and creative at the sight. The little vehicle was almost completely below the surface, and water was pouring in quick through the blackened, gaping whole where the missile had hit.

The area surrounding the lake was sand and trees; a thin strip of white beach enclosed by an unending sea of evergreen forest. Red flares marked out a section of the beach, the flattest portion of it.

Duo bared his teeth and threw the flitter into the steepest dive it could handle, yanking them level at the last moment and engaging the VTOL engines with a bone jarring jerk. A blizzard of white sand blew up around them, and trusting to luck, he dropped them to the ground.

Engines off and on cooling cycle, door locks disengaged, hatches open. He'd never thought he could move that fast, but in less than a minute he was out of the cockpit and heading toward the back, where his divers were already pouring out and heading straight for the water.

"I think I'm about two inches shorter now. Nice landing." Vyse said, grunting as he yanked the generator out of the bay, It started on the second try, purring like a tiger with laryngitis.

"Any landing you can walk away from..." Duo muttered, grabbing more equipment that needed to be unloaded.

Despite Vyse's bellyaching, they got their setup done in record time, including Duo's medikit. Then there was nothing to do but wait. The bobjet sunk completely under the water as they watched, not making more than a loud gurgle coupled with the final hiss of escaping air. Duo began to pace.

A white float exploded to the surface of the water only a few moments later, followed by the small, black shape of a diver. The pair moved rapidly toward the shore, no doubt assisted by the small motors that were standard issue now, thanks to Duo's obsession with having the best equipment available for his team.

Duo and Vyse ran out into the water. Duo hissed curses as they made their way toward the approaching float; his toes went numb almost instantly and his teeth chattered. As soon as they could reach, they yanked the body that lay sprawled across the float into their arms and splashed back to the shore, toward the waiting medikit.

The diver, Jameson, followed, yanking his mask off. He was panting as he said, "Looked like the best prospect. No one else left...catastrophic injuries."

"Then this is the one we're going to save," Duo said. They put the body -- no, patient now -- down on waiting blankets. Vyse stripped its clothes and began piling on hot packs as Duo somehow managed to find a vein in each arm for starting IVs of warm fluid. "What are the vitals like, Vyse?" The fearful voice that had been howling in the back of his head finally quieted as he retreated to familiar territory. It was easy to be professional and dispassionate when the training took over.

"Nada. Doornail, Cap'n."

"C'mon, Vyse, don't you remember from first aide? You're not dead until you're warm and dead. Get me a tube set up and the defibrillator."

"Gotcha."

Jameson dropped his equipment on the beach, his breathing finally slowing enough to talk normally. "What can I do, Cap'n?"

Duo glanced up and smiled. "Get yourself something hot to drink and a blanket. Good job." He didn't have to tell the man twice; Jameson headed for the flitter's side hatch, where they kept the diver recovery supplies. It was only then that Duo really looked at his patient.

"Oh God..." He dropped the metal drug box; it hit the decking with a loud clatter.

Chinese features, now sallow with the pallor of death. Black hair in a wet tangle, sticking to every available bit of skin. Dark, familiar eyes slightly open and blank. Mouth, normally set with firm resolve, slack.

"Oh Christ. No. This isn't happening. Goddamnit... Wufei!" It was a blow to the gut, the one thing no medic ever wanted to see laid out on his doorstep. And for that moment, he completely forgot his mission, his training, everything. Duo Maxwell came undone.

"Cap'n -- ?"

Duo pulled Wufei's head back and opened his mouth. "Airway..." He muttered to himself, trying to think, trying to anything over the horror that crashed its way through his brain. "Now breathing..." He covered Wufei's lips with his own, and breathed, once, twice. "It went in... C'mon, remember, what the hell comes next? Circulation... ABC..." He set the heel of his hand on Wufei's chest, took a deep breath, and bore his weight down into the compression.

Bones cracked. Cartilage popped. This was normal. He knew it was normal, it pretty much meant that he was doing it right. But somehow, that didn't stop frantic tears from springing to his eyes, and didn't help him remember how to count. "One... two... three... damnit, Wufei, breathe! Six... seven... eight... don't do this to me, you mother fucker. Breathe! You ran from me once, and I am not letting you do it again! Fourteen... fifteen... two breaths now."

It was only a few moments, but it felt like an eternity, a never-ending Hell where black sparks danced in his vision and one of his best friends in the world lay dead under his hands. Vyse hurried up with the defibrillator, and Duo acted on instinct, shocking Wufei twice without even checking the rhythm. His hands were trembling so badly that Vyse took the paddles away from him before he could hit himself.

And then it happened. Wufei's eyes opened wide, his fingers twitched, his arms tensed, and he drew in a hideous, gasping breath.

"Quick, over!" Duo yelled. He and Vyse rolled Wufei to the side, just in time for him to vomit copious amounts of water all over the metal deck plates. Their patient began to shiver, terrible spasms that threatened to yank the IV catheter out of his right arm. But he was breathing, and his heart was beating now. Blood began to ooze sluggishly from cuts on his forehead and arms.

Suddenly, he could be calm again, and he could think. As if nothing had ever gone off kilter, Duo picked the drug box back up, sorting through it for the appropriate vials. "C'mon, Wufei, you can do this. Keep breathing. Vyse, get the oxygen bottle out of the hypothermia kit. No, not that one. It'll be too cold." He had to kneel on Wufei's arm to keep it still enough to administer the drugs.

There wasn't much else to do after that except wait and watch. They had to wait for the divers, and they had to wait for the patient to become stable enough to be able to handle takeoff. No longer caring what Vyse thought or might possible say, Duo took Wufei's hand, still stiff with cold, and chafed it gently between his own. "Stay with me, Wufei. I don't want you to go. I'm not ready to lose you."

Wufei suddenly opened his eyes, so wide that the white was visible all around. His hand shot forward and he grabbed the front of Duo's shirt, yanking him downward until they were almost nose to nose. "Where is she?" He demanded, his voice weak and muffled by the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. "I saw... I saw... her..."

And then he was unconscious again, his hand falling back to the blanket. Duo shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut tight for a moment. He felt as if someone had just stabbed him through the heart. "Ask me again later, Wufei," he whispered, "because you're going to live so you can keep pissing me off by being cryptic."

* * *

They took Wufei to New Chicago's main hospital, on the other side of the colony. Duo cursed himself the entire way for being the only certified pilot on the crew; it meant he had to leave Wufei in the back with the divers and hope that they'd know what to do if he suddenly headed south.

By the time they set down on the bright orange landing pad on top of the hospital, the simulated sun was well into the sky and the day was heating up. Humidity stuck to him like a second skin as he tried to help the hospital staff unload his patient. The nurses in their blue scrubs and comfortable, white shoes were polite but immovable in their refusal of his help. He ended up trailing far behind the gurney they'd loaded Wufei onto like a desultory tail in a dark green jumpsuit, trying to answer Dr. Kaufmann's questions and sound reasonably intelligent despite the fact that he could only seem to think of one thing:

I never want to let you go. Damnit, you can't do this to me, you bastard...

Wufei went to one of the closed procedure rooms so they could clean out his lungs, then to the ICU for observation. Duo batted his eyelashes at the head nurse until she let him into their break room so he could take a hot shower. She even lent him a set of scrubs that were about twice as wide as they really needed to be.

Then he waited. He ate three candy bars out of one of the vending machines, then promptly threw them back up into the bathroom trashcan because they were too sweet and rich for his stomach to handle at the moment. He drank bad coffee and left a line of styrofoam cups, each with a few drops left in the bottom, across the hallway window sill of Wufei's room. It looked like the parody of a shrine. He sat in an uncomfortable yellow plastic chair until he couldn't handle it any more, then paced until he was too tired to walk another step, so he sat again. His boots, the only clothing he couldn't change, smelled like lake water and squished whenever he walked. He sorted the coins in his pockets and started playing tic-tac-toe against himself, using the little square tiles of the floor as his board.

When he was losing against himself for the eighteenth time, a nurse finally came to get him. She had curly black hair and teeth just crooked enough to make her smile cute. "Duo? I know you've been waiting for a while. We're finally done, though. He's still unconscious, but his chances for survival look very good. His brain activity seems to be normal."

Duo snorted. It was either that or dance, sing, and break down crying like a baby. "I don't think Wufei's ever had a normal anything. Can I see him?"

"Only for a few minutes. We shouldn't really, you're not in his immediate family, but we can fudge it. We pulled up his records in case he had a living will, and he's got you designated as his next of kin."

The news took a squeeze at his heart. "I didn't know..."

"A lot of people don't, until they get a letter from us in the mail. It's odd how it works." She said, pushing the door open for him. "You've got ten minutes while I'm checking the other patients. After that, I have to chase you home. You look like you could use to sleep anyway."

"Yes'm!" He snapped a good salute up for her, which earned him a light punch in the arm. Then she was gone, bustling off down the hall with a metal clipboard brandished before her. "It's just you and me now, man." Duo said, dragging another uncomfortable plastic chair -- dirty light green this time -- across the floor to Wufei's bedside.

The unconscious man looked like death warmed over, and that was putting it nicely. His skin was pallid and only a shade or two darker than the sheets. His hair was a tangled mess and he was festooned with bandages, wires, tubes, and every other bit of medical apparatus imaginable. The look on Wufei's face was oddly peaceful, though. Duo could have almost sworn there was the barest hint of a smile curling up the corners of his mouth. The man had never looked like that even after war, or in the pictures he'd seen since their last parting.

With a soft sigh, Duo sat and pulled a black plastic comb out of his pocket. "It's going to give you the static from hell unless you've started using conditioner since we last talked, 'Fei, but it's better than nothing. I can't imagine you want people to see you like this." As gently as he could from an awkward angle, Duo set to work on Wufei's hair, patiently working through the knots. The only sound was the both of them breathing; it was an odd sort of comforting music to his ears. Wufei's hair felt like silk in his hands, and it brought back memories of two years before and how it had felt to comb his fingers through it in the moonlight.

"I wish you could tell me what you're dreaming about tonight. Maybe it's the lady you were talking about. You got a girl back home? Little Kung Fu Annie that kicks your ass when you're late for dinner and spends all of her time arranging furniture for good Feng Shui..." He snorted; it was a bitter sound. "Or maybe some Nobel Prize winner. You rub elbows with people like that all the time. I've read the articles. So why put me down as your next of kin, not her?"

He tucked the comb back into his pocket, satisfied that he'd done the best he could. "You know, you're the only person I've never really found a way to communicate with, and these days the guys say I could talk the charge out of a battery if I felt like it. You got talent. You're the only guy I've ever met that can be enigmatic even when he's in the hospital, unconscious, with a tube down his nose."

He heard the approaching footsteps of the nurse, telling him it was time to go. Feeling like the world's worst sort of idiot, he leaned over and planted a kiss on Wufei's forehead. "We'll talk later," he promised, "whether you want to or not. You have a lot of explaining to do."

Duo opened the door for the nurse, then headed home to his three-room apartment. He didn't even make it to his bed; he tripped over the coffee table, fell onto the couch, and decided to just sleep there. He dreamt of being buried up to his neck in snow, and trying to dig down instead of out, because there was someone buried close by that he needed to save. He woke up when his dream hands, frozen behind recognition, shattered into a million pieces.

* * *

Wufei stayed in the hospital for a couple weeks, fighting off two bouts of pneumonia, and Duo visited him every day, if only for a few minutes. They couldn't really talk; they communicated by gesture as they played chess (which Duo won) or Go (which Wufei won). It was almost like the old times again; their hands would touch as they moved their game pieces or passed Wufei's water cup back and forth. It made Duo feel giddy and silly, and he hated it because he knew it was only a matter of time before Wufei would disappear again. Their games were silent affairs; Wufei had lost his voice to the rasping cough that pneumonia had given him.

At the end of each visit, Duo would ask Wufei a single question, "Why?" and Wufei's answer would be to shake his head and mouth, "I'll answer when I have voice to do so, not like this."

Life went on, the five people that died in the attack were buried with a live funeral feed provided so Wufei could watch, and the terrorists that had shot down the bobjet went on trial and were convicted. The battle was long and uphill, but Wufei finally began to recover and regain his strength, to the point that the doctors allowed him to start working on his Kung Fu again.

Then, one day, Wufei wasn't at the hospital any longer. His room was empty and sterile, bereft of all the little gifts that Duo had brought him and the multitude of flowers from his scholarly friends. Duo panicked for a moment, thinking of every worst-case scenario available and yelling at the charge nurse until she shoved her clipboard under his nose so he could see Wufei's signed discharge form.

He could have gone almost anywhere; the colony wasnít a small one, not by a long shot. Standing outside the hospital like a lost kid, Duo almost whipped out his phone, figuring that he could give his police contacts a call. But there really wasn't any reason to. In the end, there was only one place Wufei would have gone.

Duo found him sitting on the white beach that evening, looking out over the lake. The ice had melted but the air was still rather nippy. Wufei was dressed in layers, topped off with a royal blue silk Chinese shirt that had a four-clawed dragon embroidered on the back. The color was so vibrant that it seemed to bleed out into the sand and put the lake to shame.

"It already killed you once. You can't just leave well enough alone, can you?" Duo asked, walking up to him. The sand muffled his footsteps and was comfortable to sit on.

Wufei glanced at him from behind gold-rimmed spectacles before turning his attention back to the lake. "Drowning is sinking into the darkest night and drinking it in until you can hold no more. I'm not afraid of it."

"Would you stop that, man?"

"Stop what?"

"Could you please, for once, talk like a normal human being instead of Mr. Miyagi's younger, better educated brother?"

Wufei snorted. "I'll do my best." He traced patterns in the sand with one graceful finger. "I don't think of these things the same way you do, Duo. Every place I go, every person I speak to forges some connection in my spirit. This lake and I... it filled me, and it's in my blood now. I wanted to see it before I went home."

"So soon?" He tried his best to make the question sound innocent, clenching his hands into fists behind his back.

"It's been over a month. I donít have the time to linger."

"Oh, I get it." Duo said. "So, Wufei?"

"Yes?"

"Does this mean that I get a refund for the lecture ticket I bought?"

Wufei laughed outright. "If you wish, I'll provide you with a ticket for my next lecture on Earth. You can come to visit."

Duo dug in the sand until he encountered a stone. He threw it into the lake. "Why the sudden change? It's been two years, man. Two fucking years. I tried to contact you, and I might as well have not existed. The only way I ever knew how you were doing was by watching the vids or talking with Trowa. I thought we were... friends. What the hell is up with that?" It came out angrier than he intended, but he guessed that was okay. There was so much hurt and worry built up, he had to let it out somehow before he exploded.

There was no immediate answer. Wufei drew a kanji in the sand, but wiped it away with his palm before Duo had a chance to puzzle it out. "I owe you an apology, Duo."

"No shit."

"You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?"

Duo snorted. "Why should I? Nothing ever is. You sure as hell didn't make it easy for me."

"And for that, I am sorry." Wufei rose to his knees for a moment and bowed to Duo, his forehead only a few hairs above the sand.

For a moment, he began to reach out, wanting to touch Wufei's shoulder. To see the normally proud man bowing like that threatened to break his heart all over again. But no, he wanted his answer before he'd allow himself to be that soft; he was still far too angry to feel otherwise. It was a struggle to keep his tone even when he spoke, "For an entire year, 'Fei, I tortured myself by wondering what the hell I'd done to offend you. Now I'm just so angry that I don't care if I offended you or not. I just want to know why so I can move on with my life."

Wufei sat back down with a sigh, adjusting his spectacles.

"Have you ever died, Duo?"

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"It brings a mental clarity like nothing else in the universe. When the missile struck, I was afraid, more so than I'd ever been in my life. But when we began to sink, and the water covered me... I felt no fear. The darkness swallowed me, and I saw her, for the first time in over ten years."

That was the question that had been tormenting him since that day. "Who?"

"My wife."

"You're married?" It somehow didnít surprise him; he'd always known Wufei was one of the deepest feeling people in the universe. But it hurt in its own way, too.

"Not any longer. My wife, my Meiran, my Nataku... died in a field of flowers as I held her. I knew her spirit had become part of the Gundam she protected, and that was why I called Shenlon by her name. It took me three years to be able to let her go." Wufei wrote her name in the sand. "When I died, she came to me, and told me I was an idiot."

"You know, that's got to be the weirdest near-death experience I've ever heard of." Duo favored Wufei with a wry grin.

He smiled. "That's because you never met her, Duo. That was how I knew that it was her, and not just something I imagined. She spoke to me of many things before she had to go, but her words that hit the hardest..." He fell silent and still, watching the artificial sun set and the equally artificial moon come out.

Duo didn't press him, just watching as the moon reflected on the waves. "Did you know," he finally said, "That this entire colony grouping has never seen the light of the sun? We're stationary on the dark side of the moon. Most of the kids here have no idea what natural light looks like. That was what shocked me the most when I came to Earth."

"I know. I knew then; I could see the wonder in your eyes. I used to wish that I could feel that way as well." Wufei said. "What Meiran told me, Duo, was that I needed to stop running. And she was right; I have my strengths, but I have my weaknesses in equal measure. I would rather run than face my own emotions."

"No one's perfect." Duo snorted. "Except for me, that is."

"Yes, I suppose you're right." Wufei said, the corner of his mouth twitching when the unexpected agreement registered. "I didn't want to come here, you realize. My publicist put this on my schedule, and we argued about it for six days before I finally yielded. I knew that you would be there, and I hadn't tired of running yet."

Duo fiddled with the end of his braid, not sure what to say.

"As I died, I stood outside of myself and spoke with Meiran. I watched my body drifting ashore to you and I thought that it was the last I would see of anyone. And I was glad that it was you."

All of the fear that he'd been repressing since that day broke free, and tears came to his eyes and caught his breath. Duo pounded his fist against the sand. "Damnit! You scared the hell out of me, you bastard. You were dead...I couldnít think, or even fucking breathe..."

Strong arms wrapped around him, and Wufei pulled him into a tight embrace. The blue silk was smooth under his cheek, and the scent of tea and incense that Duo had always remembered in his dreams calmed him.

"And then I watched as you breathed life into me, Duo." Wufei murmured. "As you always have. And then I understood what I had to do, and what Meiran had come to tell me."

Gentle fingers tilted Duo's face up. He didn't have time to protest or even think; Wufei kissed him, sweet and lingering, pulling him close and holding him tightly.

When at last they broke apart for breath, Wufei smiled, gently tracing the curve of Duo's jaw with his fingers. "Do you understand now, and can you forgive me? Sometimes words fail even the greatest of scholars."

The last piece of the puzzle in Duo's mind fell into place. "I'll think about it. Ask me again in two years." He smiled and wrapped his arms around Wufei, answering him with another kiss, full of warmth and promise.

Owari