Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : After EW, Heero POV, OOC, total and complete fluff.

Gundam Wing is not mine, nor is it ever likely to be. No money has changed hands, which is too bad because the truck payment is due.

Strays

I feel like some sort of psycho stalker, standing here like this. I'm not even sure why I came. I guess I just can't quite believe how... normal Duo has become. How... not like I am. I've been wandering for so long, and while I was away, my fellow pilots have made lives. While I was floundering, they moved on. While I was off trying to 'find myself'... they seem to have figured it all out.

It seems so strange somehow that Duo Maxwell owns a house... And not just any house, but a very nice, well-kept, little house with all manner of personal touches, like the bright roses on either side of the front steps. Like the elaborate birdhouse hanging outside a side window. It all just seems so... not to beleaguer a phrase, but... normal.

Is it obsessive for me to be standing in his front yard, hiding in the shadows? Does it seem like stalkerish behavior that I am practically holding my breath in hopes that I'll catch a glimpse of him?

It does to me. I feel like a total fool, but I can't seem to help myself.

Somehow in the last couple of months, I figured out that finding myself might not be so damned easy alone. And not at all attractive. I guess I just came to assume that some things would always be there, and somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the St. Louis arch, I started to fear that wasn't so. Started to appreciate that I could lose things I only half understood the importance of. It wasn't exactly a panic attack that drove me back to this city I'd left behind all those months ago... more like an epiphany.

I think I only came to this place to see with my own eyes that Duo was... 'all right' is too strong a term, implying that I thought something had befallen him; when the truth was just that I wanted to see him.

I can't even begin to describe how I feel when the door to his house opens and the man himself steps outside. I freeze, and just watch as he moves without care into the night air.

He is very much a man now. He's grown taller, broader in the shoulder. Gone are the church clothes of his youth, and it is almost a surprise to see him wearing something besides black. Odd to see the pale shirt blowing loosely around him. Almost surreal to watch him pad barefoot across his porch.

He looks good. Content. Happy.

It crosses my mind that I should go, but I'm afraid he'll see me if I move.

He pauses to pull a bloom from the bush by the steps before sitting on those steps and looking around as though seeking something. I hold my breath, suddenly not so sure of my hiding place in the shadow of the tree in his front yard.

He lifts the rose to his nose and seems to breathe in the scent, and when he lowers it again, there is an oddly affectionate little smile on his lips.

'Come on, Heero,' he calls, his voice sounding gentle and almost cajoling. 'It's late; come on now... I'm ready to call it a night.'

I am shocked and chagrined and horrified and relieved and caught so totally off guard that I just stare at him for a moment. He isn't looking at me, just staring off into the dark, so I'm not sure he knows exactly where I am. How had he known? Had he sensed eyes on him? It would make sense... he was a soldier as much as I, but how had he known it was me?

'Come on,' he calls softly, sounding for all the world like he's gentling some wild animal. 'It's time to come in.'

It chills me, hearing him say that. It's time. Time to come in. To come in out of the dark. I shiver and find myself stepping forward. 'How... how did you know I was here?' I ask softly.

He freezes as still as a stone, the rose he'd been twirling between his fingers ceasing its dance. It confirms that I'd been right that he hadn't known exactly where I was standing.

It takes him a long moment before he speaks again. 'Heero?' he finally asks, suddenly not sounding so sure of himself. I suppose I am something of a shock; I've grown a bit myself, and my hair needs cutting... falling past my collar in the back. I suppose I don't look much like the youth he would remember.

'It's me,' I assure him and come a little bit closer, drawn like a damn moth to the flame of his obviously bright life.

I want to say a million things, torn between telling him all the places I've been and asking him about what he's been doing. I want to tell him how wise he seems here in this place he's made for himself. I want to tell him how I envy him.

God... I'd gone looking for the answers to questions I hadn't half understood, and here Duo was... forging his own answers. Asking his own questions.

I feel so damn naïve next to him, humbled by his so casually calling me in from the dark... by his opening his door without questioning where in the hell I've been for the last year. I feel hesitant and odd, still hearing the calm command in his voice as he'd called out to me. I'm almost overcome with the urge to ask him to help me... to guide me. Instead, I open my mouth and the best I can manage is, 'It's good to see you, Duo.'

He stands up, his disconcertion rather plain, and almost automatically brushes a hand over the seat of his pants. 'It's... good to see you too, Heero.'

I find myself drawn forward; there's just something about seeing him there in the puddle of dim light that falls across the porch from the house, that makes me feel cold even on such a warm night.

I feel his eyes take me in, running over me as though he can read every moment of my time away on my skin. Maybe that's why he doesn't ask me where I've been, as one would expect. I'm somehow warmed, that he doesn't need to know.

'Uh... nice night?' he asks, his voice giving an odd little hitch and I can't help but smile as he offers me this easy conversation. These words that don't pressure me... don't push me for answers.

'It's a wonderful night,' I reply, trying to tell him that I understand what he's saying to me.

He doesn't immediately reply, and while we just stare at each other, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn to watch a scruffy orange cat saunter unconcernedly up and begin twining between Duo's legs. He had been so focused on me, that he glances down with no little surprise. 'Well, there you are... cat,' he says, and leans down to pick the creature up.

It murrs plaintively and Duo chuckles. It makes my chest feel odd. Duo... with a pet. It brings into sharp focus just how long I've been away.

The cat is a scruffy one; both ears notched and a scar over one eye. It gives it a surly appearance. But it butts its head up under Duo's chin when he scratches it behind one of those battered ears. I am moved to touch it, and Duo gives me a quirk of a grin.

'Careful... he bites sometimes.'

'Why would you choose a pet that bites?' I hear myself ask, a little appalled at myself, but Duo only smiles.

'Well, I didn't exactly pick him,' he explains. 'He's a stray.'

There is that strange feeling in my chest again and I look at him intently. There are so many different kinds of strays. I don't know what to say, the tightness in my chest extending to my throat and making it too hard to speak anyway. I touch the cat and he doesn't bite.

Duo is looking at me, his face too shadowed for me to really see his eyes, but I have this feeling that he is weighing and measuring. That there isn't a bit of me that he can't see.

'Heero...' he begins, and the cat and I both look at him. 'Would you like to come in? I can... make us some tea or something?'

I can't not speak again in the face of such an offer. In the face of him opening his home and his life to me. 'Yes,' I tell him, knowing my voice is tight, accepting all he is offering.

He nods faintly, giving me that penetrating look again. 'Uh; ok then... buddy,' he tells me, sparing the cat a glance. 'Let's go in.'

Buddy. The last of my hesitation fades with his admission that I am still that. After all this time, after all the miles... we're still friends.

His easy acceptance is humbling.

I follow Duo and his cat into their normal little home, and I think that I'm very glad I came.

End

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