Author: FancyFigures
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about 'em for free etc
Pairings: 1x2
Category: Duo POV, AU, drama, romance, angst, sap
Warnings: Yaoi, lemon
Spoilers: None
Notes: His steps often take him far away; but there should always be a trail.
Feedback: If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!

Find Me

The wind was gentle but it still lifted the loose ends of my hair against my cheeks. The gulls screeched somewhere in the distance; the waves nudged at the distant rocks and sprayed gleefully over them on their tumbling journey towards the shore. There was the fresh smell of salt and damp seaweed in my nostrils. This beach still had the smooth, pale sand of other, prettier places, but this part of the coast was more famous for its rock pools and the deep, damp caves set in its cliff face. We'd worked in this area for over eighteen months now - and I loved it here, especially at this time of year, when the holiday season was still early. Enough tourists to keep the place going, but not so many that every breath of air carried the shriek of a troublesome child or the stench of frying onions on the hotdog stands.

But then I had many reasons for how I felt. Didn't mean I shared them.

*

"Did you see which way Heero went?" I asked.

Wufei was engrossed in a book, but he heard me and looked up. "No. He came ahead of us, and had already gone for his walk before we settled here."

His walk, I thought. That's what they call it.

Trowa came up to me and put a hand to my shoulder. "It's been a hard month for him, Duo. Well, it has for us all. We've all been working too hard, living on too little sleep and too much junk food; nothing has been more important to us than the pressure of the mission. We've had little time for ourselves, let alone each other - and Heero's never been the most communicative of souls. But now it's over..."

Quatre piped up from where he sat on the blanket on the sand. "Yes, now the whole damned thing's over, HQ is peeing their pants with delight at our success, and we can relax and have some fun. Yet, as always, it's Heero's choice to take his time out here!"

"We need rest before the recreation," Wufei remonstrated. "It's always quiet here."

"Exactly my point," grumbled Quatre. He glanced over at me. "Hey, Duo, you like the party life as much as I do, don't you? Different matter when it's our turn to choose location, I must say." I stared back, not really absorbing his banter. His eyes met mine, and he sighed, not without sympathy. "Ahh, chill out yourself, Duo. Leave Yuy to find his shells, or whatever he goes looking for, and then later we can go for a good supper somewhere."

"Whatever," I said. I wriggled a foot in the pale, damp sand, letting it trickle in between my bare toes. We'd all kicked our shoes off when we arrived. Heero's sat neatly placed against the basket of provisions. A towel was missing, along with a bottle of water. He'd obviously taken them with him.

Trowa still hovered beside me, a couple of the other towels half folded over his arm. "He's upset again, Duo - you know Heero gets like this, every now and then. Just has to come here and work it out for himself. We don't mind coming down with him - it's time out for us, too, and we work around his anti-social periods. I mean, he's not easygoing like you, is he?"

I looked round at the others, with their open faces and their concerned smiles, and I nodded. "That's true," I said, because Trowa seemed to expect an answer,

Quatre laughed softly and clipped in his portable earphones, wedded as always to his music. He fiddled with the volume, frowning at it, finally getting himself settled on the beach. "He's a bit of a mystery to us all, Duo, eh? Heero Yuy. All we can do is let him go where he chooses and help him spend his leisure as he needs. He knows what he wants - just doesn't tell us why."

"It's the sea that draws him," said Wufei, thoughtfully. I turned my head towards him, a little toosharply. Heero's friends - though bemused by him - knew him better than they realised.

"The sea means many things to many people," Trowa picked up on the innocent comment. "The power of nature; her ferocity; her wildness."

"The awe of creation..." murmured Wufei. "A sense of enormous, immeasurable size."

"Drowning!" announced Quatre, cheerfully, just before he turned himself up to high volume. "Sharks; stingrays! Salt in your hair; seaweed round your knees. Death!"

Trowa threw a towel at him, the tension snapped like a twig in a gust of wind, and things relaxed quickly and pleasantly.

*

We'd eaten and laughed and played cards and settled back to solitary thoughts. A couple of hours had passed. "Maybe he needs someone with him," I said, softly.

Quatre hummed happily under his breath to his music: Wufei lazily turned another page. Trowa was the only one to hear me, it seemed. I sat on the blanket and he lay on his back beside me, soaking up the early season sun, sharply white against the pale blue sky. He knew who I was talking about. "He's never asked. He likes his solitude, Duo."

"That's true," I said again. It was a useful phrase when you didn't want to be drawn into anything else.

Trowa smiled, squinting up at the sky. He didn't see my face. "Hey, Duo, you ought to have learned after all this time. I know you mean well, but Heero won't thank you for interfering. We can all see how he's always on your back, watching your every move, waiting to catch you out, it seems. Demanding to know your plans in detail; challenging your strategies every damned step of the way. He's tough on us all, of course - but he has the least tolerance for you. I've tried to speak to him about it - to get him to lighten up on you. But he seems determined to keep up the pressure."

"That's true, too," I murmured. Wondered if I was meant to thank him for his kind intervention.

"Remember that time, few months back?" continued Trowa. "When we ambushed that terroristbomber? Whole damn mission fell apart at the seams, with the bombs still ticking away in the middle of that hotel block. Heero tried to defuse the thing, then found the guy had made such a mess that the best he could do was to reset it. He insisted on reprogramming every charge, staggering the timing, and phasing the collapse of the building so that we could get ourselves, our equipment and all the evidence out before it blew up around our asses. When we told him what madness that was, he didn't want to know. And when you offered to help him - madness too, I reckon - he all but turned on you and told you to go to hell, he didn't want you anywhere near him."

Trowa sighed and settled again into his warm sand cradle. "Don't humiliate yourself further, Duo. He doesn't need help."

*

Remember that time...?

But of course I did.

That was the time that I went back into the target building, ignoring Heero's orders. The time when Trowa was roaring at me to get clear; when the foundations wailed softly with the shock of previous explosions; when the slowly cracking stone walls threatened to catch me in their thick, brutal fingers.

It was the first time that I challenged him outright. The whole mission had been, like Trowa said, a catalogue of disaster. But I didn't want injury to Heero added to that catalogue.

I found him half covered in broken bricks, wrenching in frustration at a mess of wires and a mangled radio housing, trying to recreate the tortured mind of a lunatic who'd wanted to cause the maximum damage and distress to the capital city. Outside I could hear the screams of the police sirens; around us, the crumbling of the walls and the groaning of beleaguered joists. When Heero turned to me, his eyes were wide with shock and anger.

And fear.

It had stunned me, at the time. I'd never seen Heero Yuy at a loss; afraid of anything. His hair was whitened with the dust; the cords of his muscles stood out along his arms as he strained to hold up a wall panel, the raw ends of a broken connection waving dangerously loose from its moorings.

"I thought I told the lot of you to get the fuck out!" he shouted over the background noise. "There's no time to argue. No point in more than one of us getting hurt -"

I stepped forward and took a firm hold of the panel, forcing it back into place and holding it there. "No point in any of us getting hurt if we can finish this," I said. "I assume you've built in enough time for your own exit at the end of the sequence?"

He nodded, frowning. His eyes flickered between me and the wires that he needed to be fixing.

"Get on with it, Heero. Time's kind of limited."

"No, it's much worse than that," he said. "Time's kind of run out, Duo." His voice was a strange mixture of a calm monotone and suppressed hysteria. I saw the fright in his eyes and a sudden, rare vulnerability. "It's taking too long - I won't finish in time."

"You will," I said, and I stared right back.

"No, no..." He was shaking his head vehemently, dust flying across us both from the motion. "You don't understand! That's how it all went wrong before! I never left enough time. I thought I was God Almighty, I'd help the pilot defuse the bomb, I'd save the plane, I really was the very best, like they all told me!"

I didn't know what he was talking about, but I knew it needed to be said. I didn't move - just gazed at him. Listening to him - allowing him a much earned respect, whilst our own Eve of Destruction creaked on its foundations around us.

"It was too complex, you see, I should have known that, allowed for that - but I was arrogant. I'd never heard of that kind of detonator circuit before; yet I still thought I could defuse it - even remotely."

"A suicide bomber," I guessed, my voice soft. The wall panel creaked complainingly under my steady hands.

"They'd overpowered him - but couldn't get rid of the bomb. He'd sewed>/i> it into his skin, for God's sake. Fanaticism knows no half measures. They asked me to talk the pilot through it - to defuse it in the air."

I knew Heero had been on many missions before he joined us. Before he met us. Met me.

"I couldn't get my thoughts together," he muttered, eyes wild, his focus drifting to someplace far beyond the building that crumbled around us. "I couldn't explain clearly enough. The pilot was no expert, but he was smart, he could have done it -"

"He was scared," I corrected. The swirling dust made me cough slightly. "The materials weren't known to you - weren't in your sights. There may never have been enough time..."

He wasn't listening to me. "He ran out of time. I was too slow - I needed another three minutes, minimum. He ran out of time. I heard his cry as they fell. The plane exploded as it passed over the tower - it overshot the airfield and fell into the sea."

The sea... I thought. That explained a lot.

"They drowned, Duo - all of them. A crew of five. And it was my fault; my fault alone. They'd relied on me - and I'd failed them." He looked across at me, the dark blue irises bleeding into the black pupils. Night-black, despair-black eyes. "Not you too, Duo! I won't fail you too!"

I knew nothing about the plane, nor any other horrors that might lurk in Heero's past. Guess none of us knew anything like that - our files were a private matter, and our lives a similar thing, even when we worked together in such industrious intimacy. It made Heero's desperate agony all the more poignant, and I wondered at his reaction to me. I was seeing a different man today than I'd ever seen before. "That won't happen today, Heero. You hear me? You have time - I'll make you the time."

He was still only half-listening. "Not you," he repeated. "Not you, Duo."

I stared at the wires, one of them dangling ominously close to my face. I had no idea how critical it was; it wasn't my area of expertise. "I won't let you fail, Heero. And certainly not alone. But can you get the hell over here and do something with this sparky little thing before it singes my nose hairs? We'll finish the discussion later over coffee or something. Just now, we need to mop up this mess and get the fuck out of here!"

*

Well, obviously we did get out of there. Heero twisted the final connection, I kicked aside the last hunk of fallen plaster, and we ran like hell for the exit, the explosions coughing up their wares behind our trail like falling dominoes.

We stopped running, just as we reached a safe distance, watching the clouds of billowing smoke start to settle and waiting for the reverberations in our ears to calm. We were both panting heavily, and for a moment Heero's body leaned against me - he was exhausted.

"You OK?"

"Yes," he replied, a little hoarsely. "Thanks."

I knew he wouldn't say anything more - that he was probably already regretting what he had said to me inside. I hoped he knew he could trust me.

But then he smiled, a little ruefully, startling me. "Couldn't have done it without you, Duo. Cool hands."

I grinned back. "Cool head, Heero. It was a good double act."

"Yes," he said, the last frown of worry melting away from his _expression. He looked a little startled himself. "Yes, a good double act indeed. You're a persistent bastard, Maxwell."

"Yep," I said, staring at the marvel in front of me; at Heero's suddenly bright eyes. "I am."

We saw the rescue vehicle screeching round the edge of the block and we started our weary way over to meet it. As Heero moved away, I looked down at the dust that had been gently falling from our clothes and hair, his in particular. It had created a dusting all round us where we stood, round our feet and the width of our bodies, like the markings round a fallen corpse - like the halo round an iconic saint.

I only had a moment to stare at it - at the dusty portrait of Heero's steps - until I was called away by the medics.

*

On the beach, the afternoon was wearing on. Wufei had wandered back to the town for a while, to make some calls; Trowa was asleep.

"It's been hours, now," I said. Only Quatre was listening to me; he'd taken a break from the tuneless humming along to his music. "He'll be hungry. I could take him an ice cream or something."

Quatre laughed, not unkindly. "You mean Heero? Stop worrying. He can survive on far less than our sandwiches, Duo. And you know he doesn't have a sweet tooth."

I sighed, and leant back on the blanket beside him. "That's true."

"Sometimes I marvel at your tolerance, Duo. I know I can't match it - I know there are times I want to swing for him! He can be cool to the point of ice; he has that look, doesn't he? That one that makes me feel like a schoolboy all over again, even though he insists he doesn't do it on purpose. He's so precise in all he does - so strict with everything he expects from the team. And you always seem to take the brunt of it." Quatre nudged my shoulder, sympathetically. "He never seems to relax with you around; leaps down your throat at every joke; finds all kind of duties which need your input, even when you've got leisure time scheduled. Hell, I don't think Heero Yuy does leisure time, right?"

I smiled, gently. "That's true, too."

"Remember that time, few weeks ago, when there was a travelling fair here, on the pier? We all came down for the night - with Heero having to be dragged physically round some of the fun. And when you turned round suddenly and your cotton candy got tangled all over his ear, and in his hair -"

Quatre was starting to laugh. It wasn't that he liked to mock people, for he cared enough about us all to know where the boundaries were - but his sense of fun was highly developed, and he saw amusement in most of life. It was his way of coping, I guess.

"Sorry, Duo," he grinned, looking anything but. "It was damned funny to watch! But I expect you took a truckload of abuse and you didn't deserve it. So don't go inviting any more, will you? Heero doesn't need entertaining the same way we do."

*

Remember that time ...?

But of course I did.

That was the time I insisted Heero accompany us, despite Quatre's rolled eyes and Wufei's frown. The time I tried to see the guy underneath the agent; tried to reach the bubble of youth trapped inside a body aged unnaturally by violence and conflict and the other cruel pressures that surrounded us.

When the cotton candy incident happened, Quatre and Trowa had melted suddenly into the crowd, Quatre's hand clamped to his mouth to hold in his hysteria. Wufei borrowed a damp cloth from a stallholder to try to untangle Heero's hair, but then he also - miraculously - found somewhere else to be. We'd been left alone with our - literally - sticky situation, Heero's face an approaching storm, and my mouth a jumble of half-finished apologies. I'd watched Heero pull away from me and walk back down to the beach. It had been deserted by the tourists by then, the sky purple-dark with the evening around us, the sea calm, the fringes of its waves lapping at the shadows on the sand.

I followed. My boots scrunched on the shells of the beach and the sand caught in the tread. I stopped, a few feet away from where he stood, staring out to sea. His body was silhouetted against the dim light.

"Sorry - it was a genuine accident. I know you hate the stuff."

He had his back to me, his head shaking. "No, it's not your fault, I overreacted. It'll wash out, for God's sake. It was just - I need to be back down here, Duo. By the sea. By myself."

I'd thought a lot about Heero since the last time we'd talked about the sea. "It's not good tobrood, Heero. Everyone needs to move on."

"Fuck you know about it -" he snapped.

"Sure," I said. I saw his shoulders tense up.

"OK, right. So you know about it, Duo. You understand I need to work that through."

"If that's what you're doing, fine," I said. "But not wallowing in memory. There's plenty of life to live, Heero, to leave you no time for that."

"I can do what I damned well please with my life."

"Sure you can. Seems to me you offer up your life, many, many times, Heero. Without conditions; without negotiation. Sometimes without enough care. Usually fate welcomes your offer; but sometimes it turns against you." Draining you dry in the process, I thought to myself. "We all have failures. Successes, too."

"You're way out of line," he growled. "My past is my own, too, right? Go play your games and leave me to -"

"To what?" I asked.

He bit off anything more he'd been about to say, and sighed instead. His words seemed to be wrenched out of him, like tangled threads from a rich carpet. "Sorry, Duo. That was uncalled for."

I shrugged, though he couldn't see me. "So apologise properly."

He turned then, to stare at me. I could see the emerging moon reflected in his pupils. "What?"

"Relax a little," I said, softly. "Allow yourself that." I'd forgotten I was still clinging to the remnants of the candy stick, some soft pink spun sugar blowing in the gentle evening breeze. "Here - try it yourself."

"For God's sake -!" But he came a few steps forward, and reluctantly took the stick from me. His tongue curled round the puffed cloud; licked it into his mouth. There was a flicker in his eyes that I couldn't see properly. The evening was warm; but I was warmer. "Are you happy now, Duo?"

"How is it?" I asked. "Sweet?"

"It's good. It's OK, what more do you want me to say -"

"Only OK? Sweetest thing you ever tasted?"

He was shaking his head again, an _expression of his frustration and growing anger. "Yes, it's sweet, yes, it's fun I suppose, yes, I should be a better companion, but no, it's not the sweetest thing I ever tasted, though I never tasted that either -"

"Heero?"

He was a foot from me now, gripping the stick like a weapon, his face glinting with a thin sheen of sweat. His breath was heavy, with the slight aroma of sugar; I wondered if some of the candy still clung to his lips.

"I don't think it's as sweet as tasting you would be, Duo." He looked shocked, as if he couldn't believe he'd said it aloud.

"You wanna try?" I asked, softly. My body was leaning towards him, instinctively.

"More than anything," he said. "I just - don't know how to tell you."

"You just did," I replied.

We both took the last step together, hands reaching for each other's arms, grasping where we should probably have caressed. He was clumsy but very, very gentle at first - and so very much sweeter than my cotton candy that, when I told him that very thing, he laughed with embarrassment and protested that I'd stolen his comment. I slid a hand around his waist to hold him to me, feeling every clench of muscle, every flex of strong limbs. I think I assumed he'd run, if I didn't.

He didn't run at all. His hand gripped the nape of my neck and pressed me even harder against him, tilting my head so that he could consume more of me into his taste. His tongue plunged into me from the very start - his lips moist with a depth of desire I'd not even suspected. I could taste the salt on him from the sea spray and maybe other things; his teeth knocked against mine as his mouth jostled to get closer than two bodies had a right to be. We were both panting - it sounded like I moaned aloud, or maybe that was the cry of a sea bird on its way to nest for the night. He thrust into my mouth with an enthusiasm that was a close cousin to desperation; and I welcomed every nip and suck like I'd never been kissed like that before.

Which, of course, I hadn't.

After a while, I didn't know if the sounds of soft lapping were from Heero's lips or from the sea itself; I didn't know if the sounds of drumming were from the merry-go-round music or from our combined heartbeats. It wasn't so much that we couldn't get enough - we didn't want to. We staggered slowly back up the beach until we could rest our backs against the breakwater wall, and then we leaned back into each other as if we wanted to fuse into one single, many-limbed body.

My lips felt numb; our hands pawed gently at each other's body, seeking the slightest touch of warm skin. I stroked at his neck, following the threads of his throat, brushing the hollows of his collarbone. His hands tugged my shirt impatiently from out of my jeans, his fingers crawling across my waist like a lost man searching his map for direction.

The clouds drifted aimlessly across the moon, sending the silhouettes across the sand of the town's chimneys and spires. We clung to each other like drowning men, and still we kissed.

*

We clung together for as long as it took for the wind to drop and the clouds to settle, and the night's darkness to seep across all of the town.

"This is living life, like you said, right?"

"Right," I murmured. We lay on our backs on the cooling sand, sheltered by the breakwater, Heero cocooned against my side. I turned my head, almost lazily, and licked along his lower lip. He still tasted of sweet sugar and salty air - and now there was an additional savour; a passion freed, a lust unleashed by the last, sweet minutes together. A wonder, bringing delicious shock; causing us to marvel at it all. My tongue was rough along his raw lips; wherever I touched him now, it caused white-hot emotion to flare throughout my body. He shuddered in return - I could feel his throat convulse, and the lashes of his hooded eyes brush against my cheek.

In the background, there were the sounds of shrieking, overtired children on their way home. There was a sudden flare of jukebox music; the neon lights from the fair flashed coloured stripes on the steps down to the beach. "It's time to go back," he said. It was almost a whisper - I hadn't often heard Heero speak in anything but a firm, clear tone. "To find the others."

"Yes," I said. "In a minute." My tongue was teasing at his lips; nudging his teeth, asking to be let back in. His mouth opened around me and we flickered hungry tongues against each other for a while. For much longer than that minute I mentioned.

"Duo. I know they're our friends...but this..."

"I won't be telling them anything," I sighed into his mouth. "Except what you want me to." I felt his body relax gently against mine; this time, his hands touched almost tentatively at my neck.

I reached out and grasped his wrist - lifted his hand to my mouth. His eyes flashed open, pools of fervour staring at me, inches away from my own face, wild and wary all at the same time. Gently, I licked at his fingertips, cleaning some stray sugar crystals from it. My tongue traced the lines of his knuckles; slid along the whorls of his fingerprints. Tasting the unique flavour of what Heero was...

Then the noise of the fair broke once again into our mood, announcing its very last rides - and calling us back.

*

Back in the present, the sun was sinking into a deep red and yellow bowl, and the glimmering on the waves stretched its fingers almost to the sand where we stood. All the other daytime visitors had gone by now, packing up their picnics and their ball games and their modest bids for escape. Quatre and Trowa had slung their bags over their shoulders and gone to find a good restaurant together. Wufei was back from town, and stayed with me, the light too poor for his reading now.

"It's almost time to go," I said, "but no sign of him yet. He may be hurt or lost."

Wufei looked at me, but my eyes were searching beyond him, over at the caves in the rock face. "Duo, that's unlikely, don't you think? He knows this place better than any of us, the amount of times hevisits. And if he doesn't choose to return just yet, he can find his own way back quite happily. We all brought our own keys to the house."

"I should go find him."

Wufei didn't exactly sigh, but the shiver in his shoulders was the equivalent. "You say this every time, right? But we have no idea which direction he went - those caves are a maze. And the sands are full of footprints and trails from all of today's visitors. Any one of them might be Heero's; and then again, might not. And to be honest - do you think he'd welcome you coming after him? Like he needs some kind of mission rescue?" His voice dropped, looking for a softer tone. "Duo, the way he acts, you're the last person he wants in his way. Sorry to be so blunt, but it seems every time you two are in a room together, the irritability ratio rises several notches. You work well enough together, but we can all see how your personalities clash. You're so very different - he tenses at your merest movement. When he's upset like this, it seems that your voice jars on him; your liveliness exhausts him."

"That's true," I murmured. There was no particular inflection to my tone.

"Remember how he was, even at the end of this mission? When he wouldn't let it go - wouldn't go back to base without staking out that last night, for any of the smugglers left running free. And when you said you'd take the other watch... well, I thought he'd spontaneously combust!" Wufei's eyes glinted like the flames of a log fire with the reflected sunset. I wondered what his thoughts really were, behind that gaze. Next to Heero, he could be the most inscrutable of us all.

"His standards are high, that's all." My voice was very mild. "He applies them to himself as well as everyone else."

Wufei gave that shiver of his muscles again. "I just think you're giving him more ammunition in his personal vendetta against you, Duo. It can't have been easy, spending that time alone with him; I could see he was already very tense from the mission. He sees every misstep you take; every word that disagrees with his; every inch of you that's not him."

"Because he watches," I said, softly.

Wufei's eyes narrowed. "I guess that's true, too. Don't push your luck, though, Duo..."

"I never do," I said. His mouth twitched at its edge; I somehow had the feeling that he didn't buy my passivity. "But I think I'll still go find him this time."

I looked for a moment at the shadows on the sand at my feet - the criss-cross maze of toes and heels and dragged bucket and spade. I breathed a few times, deeply, carefully. Then I wheeled round to my left, and started to walk towards the cliff face. Wufei was watching me - I could feel his eyes on my back as I set off.

Like I said before, Heero's friends understood a lot more about him than they realised.

*

Only a week had passed since we completed that last mission. Based near the coast, a lot of our work was the investigation of smuggling and drug running. We were becoming a specialist unit, called in whenever that kind of expertise and knowledge was needed. This time, an illegal ship had run aground on the rocks, and for a wild, wet, frenetic evening, we'd scoured the shore and guided the police forces to the men and their illicit, corruptive cargo.

It had been a success all round, though we'd all been in the thick of the arrests. Quatre had taken a knife cut to his arm, and I'd narrowly missed a stray bullet that skimmed my leg too close for comfort - a slice of sudden fear, from a hot, greedy flame that passed me before I even saw it arrive. A surface wound, that was all.

Someone had to stay in town to watch overnight - there were rumours that a couple of the gang had evaded capture, and might come back for salvage. We had a safe house nearby; the coastline could be watched from there. Nothing special - barely furnished. It was chosen for its usefulness, not its decoration.

Heero insisted he stayed. It was obvious he would - he'd been team leader on the mission. He saw it as a personal affront that the loose ends still remained untied.

And it meant he stayed the night by the sea.

No-one challenged him on it. They'd all played their part - they were all exhausted. They appreciated his tenacity. When I volunteered to cover him, there was nothing more than an eyebrow raised and a murmur of sympathy. None of us had eaten properly for forty eight hours and the sleeping arrangements at the house were nothing short of basic - no-one welcomed that kind of end to their busy day.

"I can do this alone," he told me, as I set up the surveillance equipment.

"But you don't need to."

He stared at me, his _expression a mixture of frustration and a jumble of other stuff. His look told me without words to back off - that I wasn't to think I knew what he needed.

I didn't remind him that he was the one who'd called me the persistent bastard.

*

We identified a couple more smugglers - just kids, full of arrogance that they'd escaped, but just as full of stupidity in that they came back for the pickings. All it took was a radio call to the police to round them up, and the beach was deserted again, the mission satisfactorily completed. We didn't even have to leave the house, which was all for the good because I'd found some tinned supplies and spent some time playing mother in the kitchen, getting some food down us. It was too late to go back to our own place; there were sleeping bags and a heater and enough there for us to bunk down for the night.

The midnight moon was high; the roads were silent. The waves whispered and groaned over the rocks and slapped relentlessly against the shore. I could hear it all through the very walls of the building.

I sat silently on the edge of the bath in the tiny bathroom, dressed in nothing but my tee shirt and boxers, waiting for the throbbing in my leg to subside. I'd been clumsy with the bandaging, but I'd not wanted to draw attention to it.

Then I let myself into the room where Heero slept, because the noises were getting more urgent.

He woke suddenly, his reactions sharp even when saturated with his exhaustion. "Duo? Is thatyou? Hell, don't go creeping about like that -"

"The nightmares are bad, aren't they?" I said, softly. I didn't move from the doorway. Close enough to show him it was only me; far enough away not to spook him further.

He looked at me, startled. His eyes were half lidded with sleepiness but the habitual wariness was there, too. "What -?"

I shrugged gently. "I'm only in the next room."

He grimaced. "Shit." He didn't apologise, perhaps for waking me. He didn't make excuses as to why he might be particularly restless tonight. I didn't expect any of that from him. And it wasn't like this was the first time I'd heard him at night. I was the only one of his housemates who hadn't developed the art of sleeping through the soft, anguished cries from his room. I didn't tell him that.

"It's worse, recently. I can't shake them off." He shook his head impatiently, angry with himself. "I thought about what you said, Duo - about moving on. I know that's right. I thought I'd been doing well enough - coming here is a kind of therapy for me." He sat up, cocooned in his sleeping bag, a sliver of moon creeping in through a broken window frame and zigzagging across his bare chest. He ran a slow hand through his tousled hair.

"You still see it? Hear them?"

He nodded. "In with the waves; with the wind over the cliff face. Don't ask me to explain it, Duo. It's in amongst the sound of the sea; in amongst the sea spray." The plane crash; the dying men; his failure, I thought. "I hear it, I smell it, I taste the salty water after the plunge. It's part of me, too, now. I need to be here, to get to understand it; I crave it. Duo, why don't you say something? Dammit, I don't need your pity -"

"You don't have it. You're doing what you have to. I'm thinking maybe this is the worst they'll get - the nightmares. It's part of facing the memories - then passing beyond them."

His thin smile looked as if he bit down at his lip. "Do you believe that? Breaking through the trauma? Some kind of psychotherapeutic babble?"

"You wanna see the head doctors instead?" I grinned at him, knowing the answer to that. "Yes, I believe it."

"Maybe it's true," he said, and the words knocked gently at my heart, their familiarity echoing with a new poignancy. "I wish I had your confidence."

I was silent.

He shifted in the sleeping bag; stretched a little. The fabric bunched at one side, exposing the pale skin of his hip at the other. The room had a certain chill in the sea air; the heater had only masked it, and the warm air had dissipated by now. "You know who they were working for? Those smugglers? They were raising funds for the same terrorist group..."

Who targeted the plane. I took a new, deeper breath. "No, I didn't know. It must be hard to see them still in business. We'll wipe 'em out one day, Heero."

"We're just a local unit; just one branch. Their fanaticism stretches over continents."

"That's what counter-terrorism is, Heero. A series of steps; building blocks. Undermining them in the same way that they try to attack us. And hey - we're some of those local guys, aren't we? We're pretty fanatical ourselves, in a different kind of way."

He sighed aloud; it was almost like he laughed, then swallowed the sound back down his throat. He must have been cold, but he didn't seem to want to pull the padded bag back up around him again. I stepped further into the room and crouched down near him. His eyes watched every step I made, but not with any hostility.

"I didn't want you here tonight, Duo. I wanted to be alone."

"Sure."

He did laugh then, though softly. "Dammit, for a guy who usually talks a lot, how do you manage to wrong foot me all the time with these monosyllables?"

I don't mean to, I thought, and my head hung down for a moment.

"No that's hypocritical," he murmured. His hand could reach my shoulder if he stretched it out. I think he wanted to; I could feel the smallest flex of muscle in the still air. "You've always disturbed me, Duo. In all sorts of ways. I never know how to react to you." There was the slightest sound of frustration from him and then the cool palm of his hand settled on me. I felt a wash of warmth that was generated entirely from within my body; from the reawakening of nerves; from the rush of blood, wet and dark in my imagination and pumping life round my limbs.

"That works well," I whispered.

"I've never said..." He sounded like he struggled, and I was proud of him for that; that he tried. "I never said, but I'm glad you know, Duo. I want to tell you more..."

"You don't need to."

"Oh, I need to!" He laughed again, but more bitterly this time; his grip tightened on my shoulder. "But I don't want to, I guess."

I grinned again, and this time I looked up into his face, fully. It was only inches away. Skin glowing pale in the night light; eyes meeting mine, with no fear. Or at least, not of me. "Then don't. I know enough. Right?"

"Right," he murmured back. I slipped to my knees beside his sleeping bag and put a hand to his waist to steady myself. He shivered.

"You're cold. I'll get my bag as well - sleep beside you."

"Makes mission sense, right? Conserve heat - protect team members?" He was smiling, I could see; his teeth were white and sharp in the dim light.

"Yes. That's true, too."

There was some scuffling as I got my bag from the room next door and unrolled it on to the floor beside him. I didn't leave much space between us, though the room was big enough to have spread out. I examined the zip of my bag - it was made to link to another if needs be, making a double.

Heero had laid back down again, arms behind his head, the muscles of his torso shaded in the dark room like the sand dunes around the beach. His own bedding still lay pooled around his waist. I stretched out beside him, propped up on my arm. I could breathe in his smell from there; hear the slightest whisper. The sliver of moonlight missed both of our faces; it lit up small fractions of our bodies, making us look like sinister shadows from a black and white film. I tugged aimlessly at the hem of my tee shirt.

His voice echoed softly in the still air. "On the beach that time, Duo... you remember?"

I smiled at how ridiculous that question was, and then I reached for him

*

It all just flowed from that moment - from the first time I kissed him again. His lips had a familiar and yet a wonderfully new taste. It was like a gate had swung open - a lock had snapped apart - a dam had burst at the seams, slowly at first but with increasingly ferocity. It was all about the here and now - all about us. I peeled my shirt up and over my head because I couldn't bear not to feel his skin against mine. We pushed the sleeping bag away from his legs, where he was sleeping in his pants, but he shucked those off, too. Then we were rolling gently together like tumbling dice, kissing, touching, long limbs nudging against each other's, not feeling the chill of the air because of the heat cascading through our veins.

His hands stroked over my chest like he was finding his way in the dark; I couldn't help the gasp as he brushed across an erect nipple.

"God... Duo..." It was all I could hear - that, and his soft panting. I fell to my back, the open sleeping bags jumbled and awkward against my bare skin, and then he was sliding down my body with his lips and I never gave things like physical discomfort another thought. When his mouth reached my belly, I let him grip the waist of my boxers between his teeth and tug them down to my knees. Dammit, I lifted my hips and helped them on their way!

"Your leg -?" he asked, hoarsely.

"I'm good," I gasped. The blood and nerves of my body were otherwise engaged - the pain in my leg was no longer a priority.

He whispered something I didn't catch - then his head dipped to my groin.

Heero going down on me was someplace between a dream coming true and the attainment of Nirvana. Something as impossible as that - but as ecstatic. His mouth was fierce, as if he'd held himself back for so long that it hurt, and he needed relief - but like his kisses, his sucking was that miraculous mixture of gentleness and raw passion. My cock was shamelessly hard, weeping its need, rearing its shining head out of my groin to greet him, every time he paused at the end of an upward lick, balancing the crown of it on his rough tongue, and then plunging back down to consume it inside the hot, wet sanctuary of his mouth.

I came, embarrassingly quickly.

I clutched at his thick hair, fingers pale in the dim light against the black locks, and I nearly wept for the poignancy. My legs tensed underneath his hands, and the soft liquid sounds of his mouth lapped at me like the waves outside. His grip was as relentless as the gusts that growled at the weakening bricks of the windward house. I bucked and thrust up into him, and spewed out the best of anything I ever possessed inside me, in between his impatient, greedy lips.

He didn't stop licking and kissing, even as I groaned and wiped the moisture from my eyes, and bent my sore leg back down to a more comfortable position. He moved, lithe as any sea creature, slipping over my body, his tongue flickering at creases and spots that I didn't think had ever heard of the letter G before this night. I was a thrumming, shuddering mess of desire in his hands. As he moved, I took the chance to stroke back at him - to touch the taut skin; smell the salty sweat of his body; feel the delicious shock of different limbs tangled in against my own.

He was as magnificent as any speculation I'd ever made.

When he shifted his body round, his head at my groin and his legs astride my shoulders, I was able to lick hungrily at his cock; to take my own taste of pleasure and thick, swollen flesh; to know - agonisingly - just how much I wanted more of it. His mouth was still working, licking between my cheeks now, probing at my entrance. I couldn't believe the delight of it - to feel the slick muscle of his tongue darting against me, teasing at the puckers of skin as they flexed in shock and stimulation. I could feel the welcome wetness - the promise of more to come. His words against my flesh were no more than a whisper, no less than a plea. "Want you, want you, Duo... I can't believe this, I don't understand this..."

I rolled away from him then, on to my belly, the softness of the sleeping bag mattress damp underneath me from sweat and our own leaking fluids, and I spread my legs. He moved too, and knelt at my side, one hand tracing the knotty bones of my back and spine, the other still drifting against my ass as if the skin was precious to his fingertips. I let him caress me, running his hands inside my thighs, plucking at the soft, protected skin of my inner thighs, brushing against the soft wrinkles of my sac. A dribble of his warm saliva ran aimlessly down under the crease of my buttock, and I wanted to scratch it away.

Then I couldn't bear it any longer. I leant my head down on my arms and lifted my lower body up off the floor, bending my legs underneath me and supporting myself on my elbows and knees. I faced away from Heero - my ass was up in the air, the skin flushed and quivering so much that I could feel it, my cheeks almost literally in his hands, in the roughened palms of his strong, sensitive hands.

"Believe this," I groaned. "Take me."

"I can't do this," he gasped. "I shouldn't -"

I didn't bother stating the obvious, for I was beyond banter or bargain. I just needed him. His hands on my ass were firm and determined, and I never surrendered more happily to a hand's demands. He probed his fingers gently, to try to prepare me - he peeled the muscled buttocks apart with his thumbs and I heard the sharp intake of his breath. His wet cock pressed very carefully against me, cautious of the lack of lubrication - but he'd never been timid in anything he did, so I didn't expect it to continue that way. He grunted and burst startlingly into me, then paused to allow me to adjust to him. He gasped heavily - almost like a sob.

"More," I gasped. "More," I sighed. It was a physical shock to me, but it was one that I'd welcomed, so my own nervousness had no place here either. Dammit, I didn't have the time or the tolerance for adjusting; my body sobbed for something more satisfying - more proactive. He started to move, and I shuddered along with him. He pulled out gently, then thrust back in - again, and again. I cried softly with long-distant feelings and a fresh, keen passion. My head dropped and my knees began to tremble with the tension.

Neither of us lasted very long - guess there were other forces at play that night than lust alone, with its usual single-minded pragmatism. But then, that was only the first time; the night was still young.

Whatever its age, I prayed that the damned night would be long and hot and be allowed to develop exactly as our hunger dictated.

It was more incredible than any prayer of mine could ever have imagined.

*

Wherever my mind may have been, my body was back in the present time, knelt at the top of one of the steeper rock faces, trying to catch its breath and ease its aching muscles.

I'd climbed higher up than I had before, to an intermediate platform in the cliff, almost to the top where I would have found the rough path to another town along the coast. From the deep ledge, I could see far along the coastline and back up through the rows of beachfront houses. I could also see a solitary figure back on the beach - Wufei, packing up the last of the belongings and setting off for home without me. Without us.

Heero sat on the ledge outside one of the deeper caves - no casual beachcomber would have climbed there and found him. From his vantage point, he could see Wufei, too. But he didn't seem to be watching him. His feet were still bare, his pants rolled up and stained with salt water and green sea moss. There were grains of sand and droplets of water glistening between his toes.

I hauled myself over and sat down beside him, glad of the rest. "Is this your usual place - or a new, more challenging climb this time? I need to go into training."

"I'm just trying to think things through," he grunted. "Need to be left the fuck alone."

"No you don't," I said, cheerfully enough.

There was silence for a while. The wind was dropping as the day wore on; the gulls wheeled and dipped over the darkening sea.

"You know what time it is?"

He shrugged. "I just forgot. I'll get back my own way."

"You don't need to now."

He tutted, but with little vehemence.

"How much longer will you come here for <i<>this, Heero?"

He shook his head, trying to deflect my words. He knew, of course, what I was talking about. "The sea is my fate, Duo. The reminder of my failure."

I was assaulted by the sensuality of my own memories - the loud, gaudy music of the fair; soft sticky cotton candy; hot tongues; eager hands - then the clinging of bodies; heads thrown back, cries echoing off the bare walls of one of those beachfront houses, drowning out the hungry gulls; Heero's burning eyes; the sweat slicked hair on his forehead. I was conscious of the sand under my own feet; the sea breeze at my throat; Heero's hunched body; his careful, careworn words. Lists of stuff, layers of memory, traces in everything I saw around me; making up my life today.

"The reminder of other things too, Heero."

"So it is." I couldn't see his face - he dipped his head forward, as if deliberately to avoid me.
But his hand reached out and cupped over mine. "I don't forget them either, Duo."

I let out the breath I'd been holding. My body had relaxed from its exertions.

"The other guys - they think they don't know me. But it's you, Duo, that's the mystery, I think. You're always there, in my life - I'm always conscious of you, more than anything else. Anyone else. I've been needing you - trying to protect you, despairing of you, ever since I knew you. I didn't even realise it myself."

I smiled gently, though my heart hammered. "Don't need protection. We chose our job - we're well trained. We're all tough bastards, at the end of the day."

"I know. But that doesn't stop the emotion nagging at me - and it confuses me." He looked up now, and his pupils looked as darkly blue as the deeper reaches of the evening sea. "When you were shot - it could have been so much worse. I could have lost you! If you'd died..."

"It wasn't your fault, Heero," I said, a little grimly. "None of it."

"And that's what I've had to work out for myself," he replied, his eyes gleaming eagerly. "I can know that it isn't my fault - yet I can feel the pain. I have to learn to reconcile those two sides of life. And if you'd died, it would have been my greatest failure - my greatest loss. Whether I could have prevented it or not."

I wanted to hold him, but all I did was twist my hand and curl my fingers round his.

"Shit, Duo..." His smile was a little sad. "We may all be tough bastards, but you are certainly the most persistent one."

My hand shook gently with my body's hidden laugh.

"And the others, Duo... They don't know how things have been for you - for us - do they?"

"I've never said anything." I wondered if he'd feel me tense up a little. I remembered Wufei's dark, flickering pupils as he spoke to me on the beach. "Though they're far from stupid."

"You're the only one I can bear to have standing beside me, Duo, do you know that? Why couldn't I tell you that before? I've been pursuing the feelings, tormenting myself, agonising over the meaning of it all... watching you - all this time. Now it becomes so clear to me. You're my complement. So different from me that I can see all the elements that I'm missing, see them in you - you're the light to my darkness."

I moved across then, my thigh pressing against his, and for a moment he leant his head on my shoulder. "Heero...the things that have happened between us... last week...Do you regret it?"

I felt him snap to attention underneath me. "No! Not for a second. You?"

I grinned, and nuzzled my chin on the top of his dark head. "Never."

"So you want them to know?"

"Yes," I said. I hid the vibration of my excitement, my face against his thick, tangled hair. "I do. But only when you're ready."

He wriggled against me, his lips pressing against the lobe of my ear. I felt the goose pimples rise along every thread of nerve I possessed. "I'm ready now. I've never been more ready. Take me back now, Duo. Maybe this won't be the last time I have to come here to brood, but it feels like it right now. Let's go back and see the others together, and you can take bets on how long it is before the novelty of teasing us wears off." He sighed with something that sounded like contentment, a warm rich breath along my neck. "Then stay with me tonight."


*


We didn't speak again until we were back down on the beach, rescuing our shoes which Wufei had thoughtfully hidden back up against the wall, out of the sea's clutches. Heero caught at me as I stretched back up, arms round my waist, lips against mine for a swift, hungry kiss. "How did you do it, Duo? Find me up there?"

"Does it matter?" I murmured, just wanting to relax into the fresh taste of his lips, dry from the wind, moist from the spray and the onset of a damp evening. I was still savouring the thought of staying with him that night. And many others in the future.

"It does to me," he said, simply.

"It's something I haven't told you before, either," I said, gently. "Let me tell you now. The guys? They think you watch me all the time - to catch me out, to scold me, to despise me, or so they assume. They're concerned about your reaction to me - your apparently unfair treatment of me - my poor victim status. You're 'always on my back' - always dismissive of me."

His eyes widened with protest and regret and embarrassment; a frown appeared between his brows. I ignored it all.

"What they should be noticing is that I study you just as much."

"What the -? Is that true?" The dark eyes narrowed with bemusement.

"Oh yeah," I grinned. "That's very true. I have done for a very long time - since I first knew you. Nothing sinister, y'know? Just to see how you are; just to care for you as a friend." Waiting for a moment when it might be more.

"So you think you know me..." A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. I wanted to kiss it into place.

"I know enough, Heero Yuy. I know the way you drink your juice - the way you slice an apple. Your favourite shirt - your daily exercise routine. Which colour pen you use for diagnostic diagrams - which music you listen to when you can eject Quatre from his monopoly of the equipment. How you cook rice; how you make your tea. Lots of stuff. Domestic, trivial stuff maybe. I like watching you; learning about you."

"You've been close to me all along," he breathed. It wasn't a question.

I stroked gently at his neck - admired the way he arched up against me, his breathing quickening. "I know which towel you prefer after a shower - and I know the shape and size of your wet footprint on the floor of the bathroom." I looked at the trail of shallow prints behind us on the sand, recording our path back from the cave to the beach.

I looked back at him. His eyes sparkled with amusement, now. It was a beautiful vision. "That's impressive. You're quite the detective, Duo Maxwell."

"That I am," I murmured. "There's nothing I don't know about your life around me, Heero. And I'll always find you. That's the one truth you can be sure of."

His lips were already seeking me out again; lips that curved in a broad, vulnerable, joyful smile. A heartbreaking smile -- a heartmaking smile.

That was all I'd ever wanted.

End

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