Warnings: Sap, mild profanity
Disclaimer: The characters are property of their respective copyright owners, not me. Such is life.

by Stacy

Heero stopped his motorcycle in the small parking lot. He settled his helmet in the net on the backseat next to the extra helmet he was carrying, and then looked around for signs of anybody else. Not seeing any, he heaved an internal sigh and made his way to the boardwalk arching over the dunes. He really didn't expect his friend to make things easy on him.

Reaching the shore, Heero looked in either direction but he didn't see Duo. Heero shrugged to himself and chose a direction. If he didn't find Duo in one direction, there was always the other way. Heero didn't know for sure if Duo was even at this beach, but given his friend's penchant for sky watching, Heero had a hunch he'd find Duo here.

As he walked along the shore absently avoiding the rush of the surf, he found himself thinking about how his life had changed after the war. He lost himself in the memories as he walked. Protecting Relena had occupied him for a while after the uprising, but the simple truth was that Une's Preventers were more than capable of protecting her. Heero knew that he was just chasing a dream of peace by shadowing Relena. She was his symbol of what he had fought for, but he had become increasingly aware that he couldn't live his life for an abstraction.

Heero drifted for a time without much of a purpose or direction after stopping his watch over Relena. He found his thoughts straying more and more often to his sometimes rival and partner Duo Maxwell. Heero knew that Duo worked salvage in the L2 cluster with Hilde Schbeiker. Beyond that, he wasn't sure what or how Duo was doing. Duo had often called Heero his friend; Heero had the urge to find Duo and see if he himself was capable of being friends.

So he had traveled to L2 in hopes of finding Duo and perhaps some answers. Duo and Hilde welcomed Heero into their home at the salvage yard. Surprised at his appearance, both had at the same time seemed almost relieved to see him. Seeing them living together had caused a twinge in his gut that he couldn't explain and it was only alleviated by seeing that Duo and Hilde were merely close friends. The twinge wasn't something Heero wanted to examine too closely; he knew on an instinctual level that he wasn't ready to deal with such feelings. He was having a hard enough time finding his balance in everyday interactions with other people.

Staying with them proved to be a grounding experience for Heero. He worked at the yard with Duo and Hilde, forming a tentative friendship with Hilde and cementing a firm friendship with Duo. He and Duo spent most of their time together, learning how to live life. They worked, drank beer, and slept in on the weekends. Duo, much to Hilde's dismay, taught Heero how to swear. Heero would talk about this frustration with a civilian existence and how to deal with what he felt was a directionless life and Duo would in turn tell Heero how he wasn't sure how to cope with peace. Duo confessed that he felt restless, like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. They both still felt a need to be needed. The need seemed present in Duo more than in Heero. For his part, Heero found a sense of contentment settling over him the longer he stayed at the salvage yard.

Heero observed that although Duo was happy on the surface, there was an underlying tension in Duo's manner. Hilde confessed that she was relieved to see Heero because Duo seemed to be so on edge. She hadn't been able to talk to Duo to find out what was wrong so she could try to help her friend. Hilde said that Duo often spoke of the other pilots, Heero in particular, and she hoped that Heero would be able to help Duo find the peace that he needed. Heero found himself feeing a little helpless at this revelation. How was he to help Duo when he had come here for the very same reason? Some of his confusion must have shown on his face because Hilde had smiled at him and told him not to think about it too much.

When Wufei contacted Duo about joining the Preventers, Duo seemed ready to jump at the chance, yet didn't accept Wufei's offer right away. Instead he asked for more time to decide. Heero had been puzzled at Duo's reticence since the position seemed to be exactly what Duo wanted. When Heero pressed Duo for a reason for not taking the position immediately, Duo admitted that he did want to join the Preveters, but he didn't want to leave his friends. The revelation left Heero both touched and bemused; after some thought Heero decided that perhaps the Preventers could find a place for him too. While he now considered Hilde a good friend, he didn't feel any desire to stay at the salvage yard if Duo wasn't there. He also had the feeling that Hilde wouldn't want him to stay if Duo wasn't there.

Director Une was pleased to have both Duo and Heero join the force. Surprisingly, they weren't partnered; although Heero felt the desire to be part of the new peace, he didn't want to pick up a gun again if it wasn't necessary. Instead, Heero worked in IT and surveillance while Duo found his place in Investigations. The job was well suited, Heero thought, to Duo's quick mind. The career change was good for both men; Duo lost most of his restlessness and Heero felt relief at being needed again.

Duo seemed happier in his new profession, finding plenty of challenge in the cases he investigated. They both lived in the same apartment building, although not in the same apartment. Most of their free time was still spent together. Heero and Duo became a weekend fixture at the pool hall down the street from their building. The rivalry they shared in the war had transmuted into a companionable competition over the felt table. However, Duo's work often took him away from the city, and Heero acknowledged that he was increasingly lonely without his friend.

Heero shook his head, bringing his attention back to the present. He grunted in annoyance -- how far had he gone? Just as Heero was about to turn back and try the other direction a flash of color caught his eye. As he moved farther along the beach, Heero could see that Duo was sitting just above the tide line, his chin resting on one knee and his other leg bent to the side. Duo was dressed casually as Heero was in jeans and a t-shirt. His hair was free of its braid and the long strands whipping in the stiff breeze were the flashes of color that had caught Heero's attention. Heero thought irreverently that Duo would have a bitch of a time combing out the tangles. Duo was staring out over the water with a pensive expression on his face.

As Heero came up behind Duo and looked down at his friend, he felt the funny little drop in his stomach that he was coming to associate with seeing Duo. Heero was somewhat startled to realize that he looked forward to that fluttery feeling. Once he was able to acknowledge that, he also realized that his friend was...beautiful. Unnerved by that thought, Heero studied Duo's profile again. The frown he saw there caused a different kind of twinge.

That Duo was having a harder time adapting to civilian life than he was a fact that Heero knew well. The ever-changing nature of Duo's work soothed most of his restlessness, but the underlying tension was still there. Duo, whether he was truly aware of it or not, was still waiting for the proverbial bottom to drop out from under him. After a lifetime of instability, it seemed Heero's friend was having a hard time trusting peace.

"Hey Heero -- you know you could take a picture." Duo quirked a little smile up at Heero. Heero snorted. That was twice today that he had gotten lost in his own thoughts. Dropping gracefully to his knees, Heero settled back on his heels next to Duo. Duo raised his eyebrows questioningly at Heero, but Heero just shook his head, keeping his face blank. He wasn't quite ready to share his newfound revelations about his feelings with the object of those very same feelings. Duo eyed for a moment more, and when nothing else was forthcoming from Heero, he turned his gaze back out over the waves.

A companionable silence fell over the two, each lost in his own thoughts. Heero noticed that the Duo's frown had eased somewhat after he settled down on the sand next to Duo. Although Heero had been in a hurry to find Duo, he now found himself content to sit beside him and wrestle inwardly with his emotions. He was a little confused at how he felt, but he knew that the answers could be found within himself and the man beside him.

Live by your feelings. Fine advice in broad terms, but what about the details? Heero though irritably. He was struck with uncertainty at the suddenness of his realizations and with the strength of his feelings for Duo. Taking a deep breath, he held it for a moment and let it go, feeling the sense of rightness that he associated with being near Duo wash over him. Live by your feelings. He realized that he had been doing that very thing for the past few years by staying close to Duo. Now he was simply aware of how he felt for his friend. He smiled -- he wasn't sure exactly what to call what he felt for Duo, but he knew that he wanted to find the words. Given how Duo had brought Heero into his home and waited for him to join him at the Preventers, Heero was willing to gamble that maybe Duo felt the same way.

Duo notice Heero's smile and turned to face him a little more. "What?" Duo asked, then grinned. "What's wrong? Is there something on my face?" Seeing Duo's smile and the light in his eyes, Heero thought about Duo's fear of instability. Heero realized with a sweet ache that he wanted to be the stability in Duo's life, the person Duo would never have to fear losing. The feeling was so strong in him that he had to act. He leaned forward slowly and pressed a kiss to Duo's forehead.

Duo stared back at Heero with wide eyes, caught completely by surprise by the kiss. Heero couldn't help it; his smile turned into a smirk at the confused look on Duo's face.

"Come on," Heero said, "let's go home" He rose up on his knees and was getting ready to get up when he felt an arm slide around his waist. He looked down in surprise at Duo, who looked up at him solemnly. Heero smiled again and put his arm around Duo's shoulders, hugging him back. Duo smiled at Heero, tightening his grip around Heero's waist and resting his head on Heero's chest. The stayed like that for a long moment, reveling in the feeling of being so close to one another. Heero knew that they were on the edge of a fundamental change in their relationship, a change in the way they thought about themselves and each other. Instead of apprehension, he felt that sense of peace again. He knew that they had time to find out who they were and what their feelings meant.

Heero held Duo close for a moment, and then let him go. He rose to his feet and offered Duo a hand up, which Duo accepted. Letting his hand linger in Heero's, Duo smiled. His smile turned into a rueful grin.

"Heero Yuy, you are one sappy bastard. Holding hands on the beach?" Duo asked.

Heero only smirked in response. "How did you get here? I tried calling, but your phone isn't on," He questioned. Heero turned to leave and Duo fell into step beside him.

Duo shrugged. "I took a cab."

"How were you going to get back to the apartment building," Heero asked, exasperated, "with no phone?"

Duo shrugged again, a sly smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "I hadn't really thought about it. Besides, you came to rescue me, Heero." He grinned full force, saying Heero's name with a lilt in his voice.

Heero rolled is eyes. "Idiot."

"Asshole" Duo's reply was unrepentant.

Duo moved closer to Heero and after a few steps put his arm around Heero's waist. Heero smiled again and slid his arm underneath Duo's hair to hold Duo's shoulder. They walked back down the beach together, towards Heero's bike and home.

The End
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