Author: Ravengirl
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers

[ ] = Duo's/Heero's direct thought
// = lyrics

The Last Beautiful Girl + Part 8 / Epilogue

It was almost ­ but not quite ­ déjà vu.

The front door shook under a hammering fist, rousing me from my much- needed rest at what was surely an unseemly hour. This time, though, no hangover clouded my sluggishly-reacting synapses, and warm, heavy limbs wrapped my own.

Oofah. Muscle is heavier than fat, and Heero is nothing but bone and sinew. No wonder I couldn't feel the right side of my body. Wriggling as slowly as I could, I tried to snake out from under him without waking him up. No dice.

"Nngh. Uhff," I said breathlessly, shoving at his limp carcass. "C'mon Hee-man, get off! You weigh a friggin' ton and you're cutting off my air supply."

He grunted, slitted eyes showing irritable dark blue, then rolled off me into our nest of pillows, curling around one and immediately going back to sleep.

We were still on the floor of the den… must've conked out after all that exertion. Snickering to myself, I retrieved my jeans from the VR stand and wandered towards the foyer.

"I'm comin', I'm comin', don't getcher panties in a twist," I muttered as I deactivated my security measures, yanked open the door… and discovered how accurate the word 'panties' was.

Eyes like a summer sky inspected me thoroughly before removing their gaze from my unworthy person. Soft pink lips twisted in a sneer worthy of Chang Wufei. I obviously did not meet her Worshipfulness' standards of proper dress code… or anything else, for that matter.

"Hey Princess, what can I do ya for?"

Shoving my hands in my pockets, I leaned against the doorframe and watched Relena Peacecraft ready herself for a full-frontal assault on the enemy: me.

"Your door-com does not work."

"Yeah, I ripped the sucker out. Couldn't stand that damned buzzing. Mosta the time people get bored with knocking and just go away."

Womanfully ignoring my not-so-subtle hint to take herself off to friendlier climes, La Peacecraft fixed me with a glare almost Heero- like in its ability to strip flesh from bone.

I yawned and cocked an eyebrow.

[That the best you can do, wench?]

Relena may be adept at cowing the peasants into quivering submission, but I've got 'Perfect Soldier' antibodies running through my blood. They deflect any glower less potent than a 1,000- watt Yuy Special.

Perfectly groomed brows snapped together and the corners of her mouth took a distinctly downward turn.

"Ya wanna watch those frown-lines, Relena-sweetie," I said. "Keep doin' that and in a few years they'll be permanent."

The lines just deepened and she stepped closer.

"Could we possibly do this inside? I don't think either of us wishes your neighbors present for our conversation."

"Oh, is that what it is? I thought you were gonna hike your nose a few notches higher and issue me my marching orders." I didn't budge from my position. "As for the neighbors… fuck 'em if they can't deal. After all, we're just… conversing."

I swear there was steam coming out her ears, she was so pissed. If her eyes had beam-cannon capabilities, I'da been toast.

"Duo… Relena? What are you doing?"

Well, she was shaking her fist at my nose, but it dropped as soon as she heard Heero's quiet voice.

"Heero."

There was a wealth of relief in her voice. I could hear, 'Oh thank God, my knight has come to save from the bad, crazy man,' in that one little word.

Heero said nothing. He didn't have to. Aiming a curt chin-jerk at Her Pinkness, he shot me a narrow look that I interpreted as, 'Watch your ass Maxwell, or it will be mine for the next month without respite,' and disappeared down the hall.

I turned my glower from his retreating form to the seething female in front of me.

"Well, c'mon." I may have had to let her in, but I sure as hell didn't have to be nice about it. "Not gonna stand here all fucking day. I ain't yer bitch."

Giving me a look that could've peeled the top layer off a Gundam, Her Majesty, Queen Relena Peacecraft of Sanq swept past me and vanished the same way Heero had.

And my morning had started off so well. Damn it all.

+

I wandered through the house in increasingly agitated circles, always coming back to the great room's closed double-doors. And yes… the dining room door was shut too.

Grrrr.

I was reduced to snooping at key-holes. Erm… or something like that. At one point, I lay down on the floor with my eye glued to the crack between tile and wood. Couldn't see a damn thing and my right hip went numb after ten minutes.

At least I could hear voices. Or rather, I could hear Relena's voice. Over the course of two hours, it ran up and down various musical scales at an alarming rate, ending in a shrill shriek that Heero's gruff, characteristic growl silenced.

I was pretty sure my name had been taken in vain several times on both sides and decided I needed to vacate the premises for a while. Grabbing my sandals and car keys, I quietly shut the front door and sprinted for my 1969 cherry-red Mustang. It was still September and the beach was whispering its siren song in my ear.

Time to find me some waves.

+

Baby purred throatily as I wove my way through Del Mar's afternoon traffic. I ran a caressing hand over her dashboard, grinning with inordinate pride. Howard had given me her wrecked body two years ago, and I personally rebuilt her from the ground up.

Don't look so surprised. What kind of Gundam mechanic would I be if I couldn't figure out what to do with early BC auto-tech? Especially of the American muscle-car variety. Baby's my pride and joy and she's got the drooling admirers to prove it.

Parking her several streets back from the waterfront, I engaged security (she may be old, but she's got up-to-date protection), dragged my board from the Thule rack and headed for the sand.

Surfing's better at Torrey, but I always park a ways up and walk down. Ain't never enough spots there mid-summer, and towards the end of September the rips start to get bad enough that sometimes they close that end down. Luckily, today wasn't one of those days.

I paddled out and drifted for a while, watching the other adrenaline junkies ride the white. Half an hour later the wind started to pick up, things got choppier, and I caught my first curl of the afternoon.

The waves were sweet enough that the sun was kissing the horizon before I let my latest ride carry me all the way into the backwash and stood, swiping my bangs back from my face and exchanging the universal 'late, man' with the rest of the surf-rats.

When I finally turned towards my discarded shirt and towel, I was both surprised and not to see Heero sitting beside them, arms wrapped around bent knees. He wore faded blue-jeans and the ubiquitous olive tank, his dark hair ruffled by the stiff breeze.

"How'd you get here? Your cycle's in the shop."

He leaned back, squinting at me through messy bangs.

"Relena dropped me off. I knew you'd be here." He paused, head cocked to one side. "You could have let me know you were leaving."

"Nah… didn't wanna interrupt."

I reached a hand down to him and he let me pull him to his feet, handing me my towel as he stood. Scouring the salt-water off my face and drying my dripping bangs, I flipped the terry over my shoulder and headed back towards Del Mar. Heero followed, steady and silent as a shadow.

He secured my board to Baby's rack and slid into the driver's seat without asking. I decided not to call him on it. I had a feeling that today had not been easy on him and the last thing he needed was a bitchy Duo.

I shot him a searching look as he pulled into evening rush-hour traffic. There was no real expression on his face, but that's pretty typical for Heero.

"So…" I watched interstate 5's clogged lanes move forward at a crawl. "How's Ms. Peacecraft these days?"

"Darlian-Peacecraft."

"Uh?"

"Darlian-Peacecraft. She decided to honor her foster parents by retaining their name. In many ways, she feels more of a connection to them than to the Peacecrafts."

Made sense. From what Heero'd told me, she couldn't even remember her birth parents.

"In any case, things are going well for her. Her last three petitions were approved by ESUN and her plans for the revitalization of Sanq have been well-received by the Council there."

I toyed with the drawstring on my Billabong sweatshirt.

"You, um, ever figure out what she did that got Noin so POed?"

"Oh, that."

There was a hint of laughter in his voice and I darted another quick glance in his direction. His shoulders had relaxed and his hands no longer had that white-knuckle look. A faint smile played about his mouth and I heaved a mental sigh of relief. Whatever they had talked about, he was okay with it.

"Yes, that. Gonna tell me before I die of curiosity over here?"

"Well… sure. A year ago, ESUN asked if Relena would resume her position as Vice-Foreign Minister. She wanted to, but wasn't about to leave the Council to their own devices. So she attempted to force Zechs to leave the Preventers and take up his royal duties. Both he and Noin were less than enthusiastic about it. Relena pulled some really underhanded stuff on them, and basically pushed Merquise into formally repudiating his titles. He's no longer even a member of the nobility, from what I understand. Relena was steaming mad about the whole thing, but I told her he wouldn't stand for being controlled."

"She never did listen to anything she didn't want to hear," I said softly.

He snorted.

"I figured that out the third time she caught up to me during the first war. Death threats don't stop the woman… why would common sense?"

I snickered and he made that 'huh' sound that passes for his laugh and silence descended. It was the good kind, though. The comfortable quiet between two people who know each other inside and out and have no need to fill empty space with useless prattle. That made me laugh again and Heero looked a question at me.

I shook my head, still laughing.

"Just thinking."

"About what?"

"Oh… about the fact that it feels good to sit here with you and know I don't have to say anything. Kinda ironic that you used to threaten to kill me on a daily basis 'cause I couldn't keep my mouth shut."

There was a startled pause and then, for the first time in my life, I heard Heero Yuy burst into real, honest-to-god laughter. It's a good thing the traffic was nearly at a stand-still 'cause by the time he finally quit chortling, tears were running down his cheeks and he could barely breathe.

I crossed my arms and glared at him.

"Christ, Yuy, it wasn't that funny. Shut-up already."

"Oh yes it was, Maxwell. You have no idea."

I hmphed and he gasped and finally got himself back under control.

"I like it too, Duo."

"What?"

"Just being with you. It's one of the reasons I came here. I missed sitting at my desk, having you sprawled on the bed behind me, reading or cleaning your knives, or even babbling at me. After I learned how to tune the words out, it was… comforting, I guess."

I stared at him, frowning.

"Talk about back-handed compliments, Hee-man."

He shrugged, his eyes meeting mine.

"Take it however you want. It's the truth."

Gazing into warm cobalt, I decided that I really didn't give a shit if he'd thought I was a loudmouth baka back then. Right now was one helluva lot more important.

"She came to apologize."

The traffic was moving again, and Heero turned his attention back to driving. I snapped out of the trance those dark blue eyes had thrown me into, then realized what he'd said and zeroed in on it like heat-seeking missile.

"She did? I mean… she did! I can't fucking believe it. Miss Prissy Princess lowering herself to say 'sorry'. Although, I guess you're the one she'd say it to, if she did."

"She is sorry, Duo. I may have the sensitivity of a rock, as you like to put it, but I can tell when someone is lying or being evasive. I gathered that Zechs really raked her over the coals. Then he explained why you never touch a sleeping soldier, and that PTSD is not just a bunch of letters. Both he and Noin have had their share of flashbacks… I suppose it never occurred to Relena-,"

"Never occurred to Relena," I mimicked, cutting him off. "Of course it didn't occur to Relena. She's never been able to see anything that wasn't right in front of her nose and painted neon pink. Don't even think about excusing that bitch, Heero. She had no right to treat you like she did."

I hated the understanding I heard in his voice. Hated that after a few hours talk, he was gonna play the forgive-and-forget game and go straight back to Her Pinkness' clutches.

"So when are you leaving? Soon? I'm surprised she even gave to time to say goodbye."

I must've sounded pretty nasty right then. Bitter, too.

"Duo."

His soft tone broke through my anger and I slumped in my seat, head against the window.

" 'S okay Hee-man. I know you're probably bored off your ass here."

"Maxwell, sometimes you really are a baka."

"Yup, that's me: Duo no baka, extraordinaire."

He sighed and took the next exit ramp, pulling onto the first side- street we came to and parking against the curb. Then he reached out and grabbed my chin, turning me towards him.

"What?" I snarked, glaring at him.

"I'm not bored and I'm not leaving. I told her that and now I'm telling you… I have no intention of going anywhere unless you're along for the ride. And I don't think you want to live near her. Come to think of it, neither do I. Forgive, yes. Forget, no."

I watched cautiously as he let go of me to run a frustrated hand through spiky hair.

"You're staying?"

"Yes."

"For good?"

"Yes. If I'm still welcome."

"Sheyeah, like I'm really gonna kick you out, Yuy. Course you're welcome, stupid."

He looked at me from under ridiculously long lashes.

"Still best friends?"

I huffed out a laugh and curled a hand behind his neck to drag him towards me, bringing his forehead down to mine.

"Yeah, ya moron. Best friends forever. Hopefully with bennies."

He nuzzled my neck briefly before pulling away, a quizzical look on his face.

"Bennies?"

"Yeah, benefits." I arched an eyebrow at him. Ha, see I can do it too, Yuy! "'Nother word for 'wild monkey sex'."

Heero groaned, rolled his eyes and put the car in gear.

"Jesus, Maxwell, can you possibly get any cruder?"

"Sure thing, babe," I said cheerfully. "I didn't hang out with Howard and the Sweepers all that time for nothing!"

"Maxwell?"

"Yeah Hee-man?"

"Shut-up."

++

Epilogue

"Watch where you're going, you stupid baka!" you shout. "The ground's slippery!"

His wild laugh is carried to you on a gust of wind, that damn braid whipping out behind him as he skips down the last steps.

"Not with these boots, babe!" he shouts back at you, grinning like a prize idiot.

Ranting beneath your breath about brainless Americans, you stomp down the wide, sunken stairs after him, following his jauntily snapping tail out onto La Jolla Cove's wave-break.

"God, it's gorgeous here," he sighs, half-hanging over the railing, turning his face into the spray of foamy, white-crested water.

"Yeah, now that they finally cleared up the chem-dumps from the 21st century," you mutter darkly, and he turns to you, laughter lighting violet eyes.

"C'mon Hee-man, don't be such a freakin' pessimist. I don't get how you can be on a day like this, anyway. We got sun, sand, water, 68 degree weather, and the seals are back at the Cove! Doesn't get any more perfect than that."

His eyes are half-lidded as he leans against the railing, the sun glowing golden on his face, arms and chest. Today he wears ripped blue-jeans and an unbuttoned Hawaiian-print shirt reminiscent of Howard's abominations. At least this one is done in blues and greens, with no glaring colors to upset the eye.

His skin is a rich tan from this summer's surfing, and you watch the subtle ripple of firm muscle under smooth skin with appreciation. Sometimes it's hard to believe that he is yours; all that heat and energy focused solely on you.

A flicker of motion catches the corner of your eye, rousing you from your thoughts, and you jerk your head around just in time to see a wispy scarf go sailing through the air. Your arm whips out automatically and you catch it before the greedy waves can.

"Oh my god, thankyousomuch!"

[Oh shit.]

You turn to find the owner of the scarf standing at your shoulder, looking up at you with shining eyes and a wide carmine smile.

[Oh shit, squared.]

You hand her the strip of material as she gushes at you, nod politely at her effusions and tell her it was nothing.

And it was. Nothing, that is. That catch was an ingrained reflex, beaten into your muscles through years of vicious training. By the time she asks for your com-code, you wish you'd never grabbed the damn thing in the first place.

Then slim, wiry arms circle your waist and a pointed chin rests on your shoulder. The girl's startled gaze leaves your face and you know she is staring into wicked purple eyes.

His lips brush your neck and you shudder, ruthlessly shoving your arousal away. Until his tongue traces the same line his lips already have. Immediate hard-on.

[Thanks a lot, Duo. I really need some girl staring at my erect dick.]

"Hey babe, gonna introduce me to your little friend?"

You do and she stutters something incomprehensible before excusing herself and disappearing. You shift in his arms so you're facing him, only to find him smirking like the Devil's personal imp.

"I think I scared her away," he says, an evil lilt in his voice.

"I think you did it on purpose," you remark, dryly.

"No trouble at all, no need to thank me," he replies in an airy tone, watching you warily, not sure how you'll react to his possessive behavior.

"Sorry, Heero. If you wanted to talk to her, I mean. She was really pretty 'n all, and-,"

"Shut it, Duo."

God, he's still so unsure of you. You spent too many years screwing around, trying to get your head on straight, when you should have been giving him the security of your presence.

"I figured out a long time ago that I prefer braided American bakas of the gorgeous male variety. And in almost 22 years, I've only managed to find one," you say, holding him against you. "As far as you and I are concerned, she's the last beautiful girl I ever want you to worry about. Period."

The grin is back in full force and he suddenly leans into you and plants a sloppy one on your mouth, right in front of God and everyone. It feels damn good after so many years of repressing every emotion and you kiss him back without reservation.

You break apart, both breathing a little harder than normal, smiling at each other like the pair of fools you are.

"Let's go see if the seals'll let us pet 'em," he says, grabbing your hand and pulling you towards the beach.

[Only Duo], you think as you are tugged along after him like a wolf whose leash is held by a mischievous feline.

You follow his bright flame, trusting him not to lead you astray… you always have, through fire-fights, flying shrapnel and worse. He didn't let you down then. And you know, somehow, that he never will.

Fin.

[part 7] [back to Ravengirl's fic]