Disclaimer: The boys belong to Bandai/Sotsu/Sunrise, honest.

Warnings: This is a complete, total, and unabashedly 1+2 AU piece that's limited to fairly light shonen ai. There's also a couple of nice 3x4 mentions in here and a dog for good luck. Please be aware that I couldn't resist threading a little angst through this, but it all works out in the end.
Feedback: All sorts are welcome. This is my first try at an AU piece (I don't think 'Lights and Sirens' really counts), and the longest thing I've finished to date.
Dedication: This one is for Tyr.

Notes: If my memories of Cambridge, MA are a little fuzzy, it's because it's been more than fourteen years since I lived there. The city has a wonderful dynamic feel to it, and the highest bookstore-to-person ratio on the planet. Most of the bookstores are open very late and nearly all of them have comfortable chairs for sitting and pondering purchases. All errors in this are mine and mine alone.

Summary: Heero is a reclusive author, Duo runs the bookstore on the ground floor of his apartment building, and they take their own sweet time getting together. This is essentially a hurt/comfort type of get-together fic, so if that weirds you out, don't feel that you need to read this one okay? FYI: There will also be a prequel to this story titled "Sunlight" which explains how Trowa and Quatre managed to get together.

"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'

Chapter One
by D.C. Logan

There he was again. Heero checked his watch, good, right on schedule. He shifted in his chair, poised on his fourth-story perch high above the street, then stilled with interest. The man wearing the bobbing black baseball cap worked his way down the sidewalk, heading directly towards him. He dove into a coffee shop and emerged much faster than the line outside might have suggested, then paused as he reached the sidewalk and raised his cup to his face without taking a drink from it before moving back into the flow of people. Heero mapped the man's progress as he tracked across the busy intersection, holding out a hand in thanks for a motorist that stopped to allow him to pass, and continued to watch until the man slipped under the awnings fronting Heero's building.

Heero shifted his chair closer to the open window and peered out over the ledge, watching the young man disappear into the first floor, just as he had done nearly every day for the past six weeks. Well, that was the end of his morning view. Heero dropped his gaze to the sill and reached out for his mug of rapidly cooling tea. Heero loved his new apartment, now more than ever. He sat back, enjoying the rest of the view from his window, uncaring that his air-conditioned interior was escaping.

What it was about that particular man that separated him from the crowd, Heero couldn't rightly say, his energy maybe? He seemed to move and flow around and through the living, pulsing organism that was the usual morning crowd in Cambridge. He was fairly young, early thirties perhaps, slightly below average in height, slim, and moved like a dancer or someone who practiced martial arts--he always seemed to know intrinsically where every atom of his body was and its relationship to the environment surrounding him. He never made contact with other people while moving through the crowd, but managed to slip through passages that looked too small for anyone to pass through, and he never had to slow his pace or alter his stride to work his way around the pockets of congestion that the square seemed to breed. The rest of the mass shifted and traveled in bursts of energy followed by bouts of inertia, but this man slipped through it all like water over stones to reach his destination.

Yes, Heero thought, his new place suited him well. He'd moved in about six months ago at Wufei's suggestion, and found that the city of Cambridge fit his needs much better than New York. It was a little less crowded, and a little friendlier, even though parts of Boston proper were equally as violent as his old city. He found himself quite content and pleased with his new surroundings. Wufei had purchased the building nearly a year and a half ago, and had stripped it bare to the walls. Wufei believed in taking the time to do any task well and thoroughly enough that the results would last, so now the aged fašade hid a thoroughly modern core. Even though care had been taken to restore all the period detail, the apartments were modern and efficient and very secure. Heero liked feeling secure; it was important to him and to his work. He patted the sill appreciatively and lowered the window.

Heero had taken the fourth floor. He had an odd insistence of not wanting to live below another person, odd, but in this case, useful. The building lacked space for an elevator and not many tenants would have been willing to hike the staircases on a regular basis. Heero didn't much like the forced exercise either, but then again, he rarely left his apartment. Food was delivered to his door; the local services were amazingly flexible and willing to deliver all sorts of amenities, and he tipped the delivery people well enough that they never complained of the extra effort involved in delivering packages to an eccentric young man who insisted on living an anonymous lifestyle at the top of the building. He gave an extra scan over the crowd, but saw nothing and no one else that attracted his interest. Entertainment over for the moment, he moved back to his desk.

Galleys had arrived via FedEx, and he'd been delaying the task of working through them, but it had to be done or Wufei would start hounding him again. Heero smiled at the thought, it wasn't unheard of for his friend and agent to fly to wherever Heero was living at the time to personally berate him and harass him into completing work. He shrugged off the idea of manipulating Wufei further and settled into his chair to reconfigure his brain from the project he was currently working on to the one he had completed nearly six months ago. He hated doing it; he always feared that he'd lose his drive and focus on the current piece, but he liked to get paid as well, and to get paid, he had to read through the galleys. Damn, so much for getting anything useful done today, or tomorrow for that matter.

Heero was back at his window early the next day. Since Mr. Baseball Cap arrived at his job every morning at eight, and left the building sometime between three and ten; Heero usually waited for the man's arrival in the morning. He'd developed and cultured a ritual that included making his tea or coffee and toasting his bagel and sitting with the morning paper at the window to wait for him. There had been two mornings so far that the man hadn't shown up, and Heero caught him leaving only occasionally as he liked to do most of his writing in the afternoons, and the man left at such odd times. Yet Heero suspected that he would have made time to watch the man leave if he'd been accommodating enough to have a regular closing schedule.

Heero knew only that the man worked in the bookstore on the ground level of the building he lived in. Okay, and that the guy was gorgeous, and that he had a nice ass, though Heero had to wait for a warm day to find that bit of information. The man had a habit of wearing long coats.

He'd watched the man watch the others in the neighborhood, had heard the gentle timbre of his voice climb up from the sidewalk and enter his quiet life. He had energy, and drive, and was _living_ his life--and Heero craved even a small touch of the same. Part of him wondered, if he met him, if maybe some of that magic, that ability to cohabitate with others, would rub off on him as well. It was worth a thought, and that thought persisted.

Heero shifted the galleys into a prepared envelope and sealed it; another hated task out of the way. He'd found two things that he needed to make edits to, and another hundred that he would have liked to change if it wasn't so expensive to edit the book at this stage; but well, that was life. He'd put the marked copy in the envelope, the envelope in the hall, and called FedEx for pickup. There was nothing else he could do, but it was a real struggle to not go back out into the hall and make further changes to his manuscript. He heard the beep and jingle of the courier with relief; the decision was out of his hands now. In a day or so he could expect an email dripping flames or an irate Wufei to call and chastise him over the phone, but at least he could get back to his current work again. That is after taking another well-deserved break...

Heero moved over to his office window that looked out onto the bustle of the street below. If he leaned towards the glass and shifted to the side, he could just make out the line of people patiently waiting in line outside the movie theater on the next block. He shivered; crowds bothered him, but he also felt a brief longing to be out and part of the city instead of observing it so carefully from the security and privacy of his apartment. He pounded the left side of the window (it stuck on humid days) and raised it to let in the sounds from the street below.

It was a late summer night, perfect for opening the windows to the lethargic breeze. He could hear his favorite sax player charming coins and cash from passers by over on the circle and the background of mixing and overlapping conversations drifting by under his perch. He recognized a sentence in French, more in Japanese, a snippet in Russian, something he thought might be Arabic, and more American dialects and accents than he could locate on his mental map. His sax player was really on tonight, and Heero leaned back along the sill to listen. Going out to concerts for live music was one of the things he missed most about the lifestyle he'd chosen, but he wouldn't trade it back. He'd come to terms with most of his social shortcomings and he planned on living the remainder of his life with them now--too fixed in his habits and lifestyle to alter them at this stage. He had a plan, a coping strategy, and a good friend. There was little more he needed to survive and get along.

He pushed the brief flicker of loneliness aside with a determined shrug and moved away from the window and back to his desk, thinking, but the sensation of being somehow alone wouldn't leave him. He let it come back to the surface, and explored it critically, as his teachers had taught him. There were lessons to be learned from taking the time to explore your emotions for those willing to take the time. He slicked his hair back along his scalp with both hands, gave a deep sigh, and closed his eyes wearily.

He reached back and remembered the first time it had hit him while still a young child. He'd been hanging over the side of his bed, his arms dangling loosely to the floor, his feet kicked over his knees to enhance the feeling of vertigo. It had been fun, and then something had shifted deep inside. He'd turned his face to the coverlet, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply of the fabric and his life that slept beneath it each night, and he'd felt the pull of something stronger for the first time. Something sad and overwhelming and intensely powerful, and terrifyingly, it seemed to well from within him without any external cause.

He'd held the sensation close to his chest, analyzing it, morbidly fascinated with its source and strength. He pressed his hands to the cool floor and shimmied back up onto the bed where he arranged himself cross-legged with his arms tightly wrapped about his torso, to hold the angst within, or to warm the heart beneath, unsure of which should take priority. The physical sensation of holding his own body close seemed necessary in light of the unexpected hole he'd abruptly discovered within him. He remembered, quite vividly, wondering if everyone had such a place within? He'd unclasped his arms, curious, and looked down through the neck of his shirt to the bare skin below. But there had been no physical sign of the coldness he'd felt, the overwhelming angst and pain. How odd for something so powerful to shed no outside sign of itself. He'd prodded his chest with a stubborn finger, paying particular attention to the space over his heart; felt no softness there, no well or shallow depression.

He remembered looking out of the window then to see if something terrible had happened, and wondered if maybe something had, and if what he felt was the dying of something so large and inexplicable that this was the only way he could experience it. Yet the day was painfully bright through his window, and the people in the street were going on about their business without hitch or pause. Surely, if something devastating had happened, it wouldn't be light out? Wasn't it a moral truth that horrible things happened only on dark nights amid noise and disorder? That was right wasn't it?

He'd learned not so much later the fallacy of his childish thoughts. Bad things happened. It didn't matter if it was a bright or gray day, or even a Tuesday, they happened regardless of whether or not you wanted them to happen. He didn't like it though. It had given his life a new and permanent sense of insecurity knowing that nothing was predictable or set. He'd liked his childhood better. He'd been happier not knowing.

He couldn't always predict what brought the feeling upon him. Sometimes it was a fragment of a memory that drifted too close to the surface during a moment of weakness: a scent remembered in longing, something that was fragile and beautiful in spite of its environment. Beauty and purity out of place, yes, that was as good a reason as any, and whatever it was and whenever it struck him, it managed to twist an internal spring far beyond his levels of tolerance.

There was a sense of bravado that under it all, of a small insignificant human soul against all the reaches of the heavens and the rolling expanse of the earth. A fury that reached out and cried "destroy me if you can, for tonight I don't care what the fates hand my way," and then the relaxing satisfaction that the bout of self pity inevitably released.

He blinked twice and remembered his tea, now cold. He looked at it in disgust, time for a new cup. He stood, shut the window, and walked though his apartment to the kitchen, still thinking all the while.

He had always lived his life among but emotionally apart from others. Never fully part of anything, he'd slipped between and among his acquaintances and friends and fellows alike, always seeking the unattainable. He'd come close any number of times, but then a passing word or action would reveal to him that no matter how he desired, how he reached, how he pleaded and strove to please, that he was doomed to an existence that was close to, but distinctly apart from, those he craved for companions.

Having lost his original family, he'd tried without success to find a family for himself, and had elected instead to build his own out of his wits and the bonds of shared experiences. But friends selfless enough to look past their own needs were few and less resilient than his expectations, and the few he'd made he'd eventually drifted apart from.

He dropped a new teabag into his mug and dangled it from its narrow string, up and down, up and down, and was hit again by his earlier depression. He felt a strong pang of longing and something deep, painful, and unidentifiable at the core of him. That same, deep angst-ridden surge that had been a part of him as long as he could remember. He allowed it to rise and see where it had driven his body, and then folded it carefully into the space he reserved for it, buried under his formidable resolve; that part that kept him alive. That forlorn lost hope. His greatest fear was to find happiness, and then to find himself incapable of holding on to it. The very idea of it pulled at the inner peel of his mind and left him no peace.

Yes, he'd been fairly shy all his life, a self-designated loner, and while he hid his fears well, and camouflaged his reactions in the company of friends, he was more comfortable here on his own. He'd decided early in his life that he preferred the solitary task and quiet random hours of a professional writer, and thankfully, it was a skill he'd found he had a natural talent for. He'd started writing articles for a few magazines, had moved into writing mysteries and suspense novels to appease his sense of decent work, and wrote historical romances to pay off his bills. To his eternal surprise, readers couldn't seem to get enough of them.

It baffled him that he could write about the relationships between his characters with a depth and realness that continued to impress editors and reviewers of his work. He had little real life experience to base it on, only a scant handful of failed relationships with both women and men early on in his life, a series of friendships, most of which had soured, only one of which had strengthened and endured over the years. He'd come to the conclusion, over time, that writers did not need to have experience of something to understand it. If you were a keen enough observer and willing to do a bit of research, you could actually understand a great deal about a situation or a relationship without being a first-hand participant.

That didn't mean that he was open about what he wrote for a living though, the problem with writing books that were either deeply romantic (and written from a woman's point of view) or over-the-top masculine, was that he feared that people would meet him and be unimpressed with the reality as compared to the fantasy, not prepared for a man who was shy, gay, rather short, and hadn't actually done much of what his characters did in his books. He had a recurring dream about being found out and exposed for what he was, and that he had to agree to a book signing where he sat at a table with his books displayed around him and no one bothered to come to see or talk to him. Upon further consideration (and a poke from Wufei), he admitted that a part of why he chose to write the characters he did was because, at some deep private level, that was who he longed to be--no, not a woman--but to have the social grace, physical ability, natural talent, finesse with people, and savvy streetwise sense that his created characters possessed.

So he lived his life through the people he invented in his books. At least they had lives filled with love and intrigue, family and friends, hate and turmoil. It was fun in its own way, to breathe life into his characters and then see how they would handle the situations he devised for them. They even managed to surprise him at times, and, on occasion, make him laugh unexpectedly, which pleased him. In a way he supposed that his books were like his children, his only legacy, the only thing that would remain of him long after he was gone.

Heero heard the jingle of keys and rattle of a security grate below his window and smiled. Impeccable timing. He shifted further to the side of his window and peered down onto the sidewalk, knowing what he'd see. A swish of a long dark coat, even in the high heat of late August, and the brim of that now familiar baseball cap moving down the street and mingling and blending into the crowd of returning students, tourists, and locals enjoying the impromptu street festival. The man paused to listen to the end of a song played on a 16-string guitar, and bounced in rhythm with a Jamaican three-piece on the corner before his springy step carried him out of sight.

He'd been watching out for him all summer long now, and Heero's interest had climbed instead of abated with each day that passed. After careful consideration, he'd decided it was time to take action, of a sort anyway. Okay, so he was fixated, so what. The man was worth watching out for. His jeans fit his body in a way that wasn't quite street legal, and occasionally he'd revealed a tantalizing glimpse of what had looked like a long chestnut-colored braid. That last observation had Heero purchasing a pair of binoculars last week, "ideal for bird watching." The new view gave him his first real look at the man's face. Unlike the usual student in the square, who had an expression that looked like it hadn't been lived in, this man had a face that had obviously seen it all--acres and years of conflict and strife from all corners of his world--and had found his space within it all and was comfortable living there. He had a balanced and open expression that he presented to the world around him, but Heero has caught glimpses of a darker, more private side to the man as he shifted his attention from the distraction of the street and focused on his inner thoughts. _That_ was the man Heero was interested in. _That_ was the expression he saw in his own mirror, the mood he felt inside. If this man had it, and had managed to balance it with the attitude he faced on the street every day, than Heero felt a vague hope that he too could achieve that skill. He envied that man, and he felt a burning need to learn more about him. Who was he? What was his relationship to the store on the first floor of his building? What was his name? How did he manage to contain his fear and weaknesses and live? He couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.

It was time to call Wufei; he'd know how to find out more. He was usually good at that sort of thing.

on to chapter two

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