Disclaimer: Me no own GW. Me own this plot, which is non redeemable for profit.

Pairing: 1+2+1
Warnings: None, maybe some light angst, no violence, no sex (i know, i know...we just have to bear it), no cursing either i don't think. wow, doesn't it sound so inviting?

Author's Notes: This was a fic written for a contest (though finished way after the deadline), and i was considering posting it to my ff.net profile, which would make it my first real public GW fic, which is for some reason important that i start out with something that doesn't suck...

Summary: Walks, silences, pseudo-introspection. A soccer ball.

by syrupjunkie

Morning walks with Duo Maxwell were one of the few diversions that Heero Yuy allowed himself between missions. It was an unknown sensation of pleasant anticipation that awakened with him in the mornings when he would open his eyes and Duo was easing himself into running shoes. In his quick movements was an unsaid but plain invitation and Heero inevitably always took Duo up on it.

The walk was truly a walk; both of their sneakers were never pressured to live up to their high impact standards. It was the act of strolling that offered so much more peace and enjoyment than the feeling of the heart against the ribcage or the sweat pouring down in hot trickles along the forehead and down the back. Running was too tied with missions and war, and sometimes no matter how disciplined the mind, no matter how inhuman one had to become to sustain oneself, the body needed a moment of quiet. Or rather with Duo, a moment of fast animated chatter overlaying the quiet of the surroundings.

It surprised Heero in a way how easy social interaction with Duo could be. His upbringing, without a single similarity to the stereotype of the nuclear family, and focused intently on training the musculature and the development of an unnaturally fast reaction time, had left him uncomfortable with the presence of those that engaged him in conversation for the sake of talk. In war, directions were well detailed but concise, abrupt and forceful to convey the strongest sense of urgency and importance. In conversation, there were nuances that he was unfamiliar with, the silences that he could neither distinguish between embarrassment, fear nor resentment.

Grudgingly, he had to admit that Duo seemed to help him immensely in that respect. He made a concerted and sustained effort to befriend him, and Heero, intoxicated with a subconscious need for some form of intimacy to another human being, had been unwillingly but ultimately susceptible.

The walks had started a few months previously when Duo had approached him during breakfast. Heero could still remember the details of the day, marked for its importance despite it being a guaranteed insignificance to anyone else. He was finishing a piece of toast when the shadow fell over the table. He turned and saw Duo standing in front of the window, a tall, strong figure with the red orange dawn sun pouring out around his dark silhouette. His voice was animated as he moved out of the corona of light and downed a glass of orange juice. "You up for a walk Heero?"

The question had startled Heero in a way that a fleet of mobile suits could not. His first instinct was to deny the request, pawn off some excuse of other mission minded things he could be doing instead of roaming the surroundings in a mindless way that accomplished nothing but ending up from where he had started. And yet, a feeling stirred within himself to deny the words that were on his lips. The thought of base schematics and government databanks to be hacked had suddenly turned unappealing. They paled to the thought of being under the sun as it rose, under a sky that was blue, in the morning that was crisp because nature had wanted it so, not engineers who had planned it weeks before. He had never felt such a need for escape, for he realized it was an escape that Duo was offering even if the other boy hadn't known it as such.

It was probably nearly a minute later that Duo tired from waiting for an answer that was clearly not going to be given. He shrugged and headed for the door without another glance backward. Heero for his part was finishing an internal tug of war, and having finally calmed the inner struggle and made up his mind, hurriedly dumped his plate and cup into the sink before running to catch up to Duo at door. He laced up his beat up yellow sneakers and stood at the threshold with Duo on his left side. There was an unknown subdued giddiness that made his fingers tingle, and he fought to keep his voice low and controlled. "Where are we heading?"

Duo was really surprised, and Heero thought it mildly amusing the way he froze on the welcome mat staring questioningly at him. Heero had to give him credit that while he could have asked `are you sure?' or `really?', Duo had avoided redundancy and pointed out over the lake. "The park. Which way you wanna go?"

Heero swept his eyes over the gentle slope of gravel that traveled down from their cabin to a dirt road, which ran in a ring around the small lake before diverting off and disappearing behind a hill and down to a shopping center. The park was directly on the opposite side of the lake and he considered whether the right path with its tall weeds was preferable to the rocky outcrops in the left path. "The left."

Duo looked at him with curiosity but shrugged and started down the path, gravel crunching beneath his steps. "You coming Yuy?"

Heero watched the brown braid sway and over Duo's head, a few smooth boulders reflect the sun. The cool morning air blew across his lips and he wet them slowly with his tongue. So this was freedom. He took a step onto the gravel, sinking in slightly. "I'm coming."

He found it unexpected that during the walk Duo was mostly quiet, occasionally making a comment about their surroundings or the weather, but otherwise without the babbling and running commentary that always accompanied him. If Heero had been a better observer of human reactions, he could have distinguished whether it was because of nervousness or shyness or something else, but as it was, he focused on his own feelings. Even with Duo's uncharacteristic reticence, Heero found himself enjoying the pace and mindlessness. They ambled at a slow leisurely pace around the lake, randomly taking a detour from the dirt path to climb up onto the gentle domes of exposed crags and scramble back down again onto the dewy grass. The wet blades were cold against Heero's ankles and the lake's lapping waves sloshed against the rocky shore.

They reached the park as the sun was midway to its highest perch. The park itself was more like a camping ground, heavily wooded in some parts, cleared patches of picnic benches and barbecue pits in others. It was early spring and the still present sharpness of the cold in the air seemed to explain the emptiness of the grounds. It was here that Duo spoke for the first time in ten minutes. "You wanna walk around a bit or head back?"

Heero turned a little and could make out their cabin, small and bleary across the distance of the lake. It looked so rustic and agreeable in its surroundings, a nice addition to the scenery. He could stare at it from the outside and admire the wooden porch and square brick chimney. Inside, it was different, wired with cables, appliances and all the reminders of planning death and losing innocence one mission at a time. He shook his head slowly and began to walk listlessly away into the woods. Duo followed at his side, keeping silent pace. The trees began to thicken and the animal life appeared a little at a time. They strayed from the hiking path that led off towards the hills, and instead followed a brook as it trickled deeper into the denser growth. Neither of them spoke.

They stopped again when they reached the small pond that the creek emptied into, a shallow algae-stained oversized puddle. Here the birds were calling loudly and salamanders swam effortlessly through the murky depths. They stood on either side of the pond, three, four feet away from each other. Duo stared at Heero and Heero stared back. Duo gave a small smile and hooked his thumb behind him. "End of the road?"

The words seemed to be appropriate for Heero found that he had had his moment of solitude and the thought of all the work and violence that was waiting for him was nothing more unnerving as breathing. He took one last look down at his feet, at the creatures wriggling around in the water, surfacing and disappearing into the cloudy depths. "Let's go."

They took the other way back, walking parallel to the dirt path through the waist high grasses that batted them as they tried to pry apart the stalks for a clear path on which to walk. The return like the rest of the walk was mostly silent. Once or twice a clump of especially tall and thick weedy looking grasses attracted their attention and they detoured off their detour to explore. In one of the last ones before coming across the flat meadow near their cabin, Duo's foot caught around a thick tangle and he tripped and fell. It was the look of when he came back up to face Heero, embarrassed but amused that had Heero almost smiling.

When they had both reached the cabin, the silence that had been so accepted between them became strange. Duo's demeanor changed too, like a surge of energy had just run him through and he quickly took off his shoes and ran into the living room to flop onto a couch, snatched the remote out of Wufei's hands and flicked through the hundreds of vid channels.

Heero watched the scene unfold with a familiar sense of annoyance. Wufei demanding that Duo return the remote and Duo ignoring him to click channel after channel without stopping. The weird mood of the morning had been irrevocably broken and he slowly took off his shoes and put them precisely in his spot and started up the stairs to a day of memorizing layouts and creating aliases.

Afterwards Heero realized that for all the new feelings and thoughts that had come to him that day, none was so vivid as the lack of conversation. It was the first of Duo's lessons, for he had finally learned what everyone had meant by a comfortable silence.

As the weeks went by, the walks developed into a routine. It was nearly a week later that he had awoken to Duo getting ready for a morning jog. Heero had no issues with presumption and he got up quickly and joined Duo at the front door without a question of permission. Duo didn't seem surprised this time, and was more prone to talk. In fact he had started off straight down the driveway asking Heero a slew of questions, anything from what he was doing that day to why J had a claw for an arm. It was probably somewhere between the fourth and fifth question that he had noticed Heero was looking somewhat uncomfortable and he tapered off into an abrupt silence. Duo finally tried to send an apologetic smile to Heero and inclined his head towards the street. "Too early for interrogation huh? Come on, I bet we can get to the park before the sun rises."

Heero nodded slowly and settled into a quiet pace by Duo's side. It was jarring how different this walk was from their first. Certainly Duo had decided to be more talkative and as they approached the park gates in silence, he regretted making Duo feel uncomfortable enough to stop talking. Even in their first stroll around the lake Duo had at least made some comment about the surroundings every now and then, if only to dispel the quiet between them. As they made their way through the gates and their footsteps fell softer onto the leaf litter of the park path, Heero felt he couldn't tolerate the discomfort of their non-communication. "Breaking an OZ firewall."

Duo spared him a confused look but didn't stop walking. "What?"

A prickly heat itched in his cheeks as Heero felt a strange sense of embarrassment at daring to volunteer information, much less actively seek out a conversation. He had never done anything like it before and he found himself unsure if he was doing the right thing. But he had spoken and Duo had asked and it was up to him to continue on because Heero Yuy did not fail. "That's what I'm doing today, breaking a firewall."

At his answer Duo favoured him with an odd smile, different than any Heero had seen on the other's face. It was not so much enjoyment as wonder, and he felt a strange nervous sensation grow within him. He didn't know what to say, and he lapsed back into silence though this time was much more short lived as Duo began to occasionally make some comments about how different Earth weather was from that on the colonies. And occasionally he even asked Heero some questions, to which Heero began to develop a confidence in answering, even if his answers were a bit brief or awkward. The rest of the walk passed much the same as the first, and Heero acknowledged that he really did enjoy the company Duo offered.

Eventually Duo had begun to ask more questions and talk more and Heero had begun to listen and answer, and in those times that he felt strangely comfortable enough in his situation to make a funny observation or two. Slowly he began to anticipate the sunny days and getting up obscenely early to forage out into the morning with Duo by his side.

Today was different though. When Heero woke up, the sky beyond the window was overcast, grey and smooth with a kind of cloud cover that promised a heavy bout of rain. He turned slowly onto his side, disappointment beginning to form in his chest. There would be no walk today. Resigned to this conclusion, he gave a heavy sleepy sigh and sunk deeper into his pillow. But a rustle caught his attention and he cracked open a drowsy eye, and in the dimness of the room, could make out Duo's shape moving about. As his vision cleared up, he became aware that Duo was moving with a purpose, sifting through a pile of clothes on the floor and finally picking up a pair of his well worn black boots and pulling on his dark priest's shirt. At last he turned to look at Heero and Heero let his eyes open up fully and stare back equally to meet Duo's. His thick sleep clogged voice scratched out into the room. "You're going out?"

Duo took a quick look out the window and smiled. "Of course, you coming?"

Heero cleared his throat and sat up on his bed, his muscles slowly reviving. "It'll rain."

Duo favoured Heero with a devil-may care grin and finished pulling on his shirt. "You afraid of the rain, Yuy?"

There was a tone of teasing challenge in his voice and Heero felt himself being invigorated without logical reason. His limbs trembled like the first time and he flung off the blankets and did a few quick stretches before fishing out his green tank top and shorts. Duo had already gone down and he hurriedly pulled on his clothes and headed to the bathroom. His mind was awake and running with the anticipation of Duo. That was a startling thought and he instinctively knew this morning was different, not just the weather and Duo's choice of dress. Heero placed his toothbrush down onto the porcelain of the sink and took in his night tossed hair and flushed face. He was changed today too, and he didn't know why.

Duo was on the doorstep as usual, waiting for him. Heero laced up his sneakers and they took off without a word out into the hall towards the elevator. They were hiding this time in a nondescript apartment in the middle of the business district of a huge metropolis. The anonymity of the faceless millions as Quatre had once eloquently said. Duo had spoiled the effect with an appropriately placed burp.

They were just out of the apartment building when Duo pointed over to the right. "The park's just over a couple of blocks."

Heero nodded and started off along the sidewalk. Duo walked on his right, silent until they approached the entrance. There he actually touched Heero's bare arm and pointed over to a dirt path leading into the more wooded area of the park. Heero wasn't surprised at Duo's sudden decision, but he was at the warmth of Duo's hand and how strangely personal the attention getting gesture really was.

The clouds broke as they ambled underneath the dense tree cover and Heero began to suspect that Duo had planned their walk that way. But Duo didn't seem to care about the rain; he walked along quietly, more distracted than usual. As they were passing under a thick oak, he stopped entirely, looking up at the low branches just a little above his head. The rain pelted the leaves and rustled loudly and he just stood under the less dense cover of the outer branches letting the errant raindrops soak into his shirt and hair.

Heero stood waiting and watching Duo stand stock-still. Heero wasn't sure of why Duo had stopped; it certainly had nothing to do with the rain, as Duo was standing under the light spray without any obvious affect.

It was when Heero was contemplating interrupting Duo's thoughts that Duo came out his thoughts and stared at Heero with an unfocused but meaningful gaze. It was slightly unnerving in its intensity, and his voice was low and serious enough to reflect it. "Do you ever think about the war Heero? Besides the missions?"

The question caught Heero unaware. He was used to Duo's less personal questions, and the frank personal nature of the question was rather unusual. But it didn't particularly surprise him, as this morning was not in the usual pattern.

Duo didn't wait for Heero's answer and continued on, pinning Heero with his new foreign introspectiveness. "It's strange when I'm in Deathscythe, I forget I'm just fifteen years old. I guess I sorta miss being a kid. I mean, even though my childhood kinda sucked, I still miss it, you know? You ever want to just be a kid, not a terrorist?"

Heero nodded mutely, thinking about the occasional vicarious thrills he'd felt when he happened to walk past a group of kids hanging outside some shop, trading cards and talking in high animated voices, or some teenagers outside a movie theatre complaining about how the book was so much better. But that type of stuff did not belong in an active soldier's life, and even less so of one of the infamous Gundam pilots.

Duo took Heero's nod as encouragement to continue and he trained his eyes away from Heero's and stared up at the sky. The rain was falling harder, sometimes in sheets and then back to a disorganized shower. He stepped out from under the tree cover and the water soaked through his clothes instantaneously. His face glowed with a feral kind of liberated happiness. "You ever stand under the rain just because, Heero?" At Heero's blank look he sighed in an exaggerated fashion and headed back under the low branches right up to Heero. The smell of rain on his skin and clothes overwhelmed Heero with a pleasant dizziness. The sight of soaked hair and the small droplets rolling down Duo's cheeks only added to the strange sense of anticipation running through Heero's veins. And Duo's voice too, a hushed tenderness that was at once tempting and nervous. "Come on, Heero."

It was the dreamlike quality of the moment that let Heero allow himself to be led away from the trunk of the tree, away from the shelter of the leaves and branches and into the breathlessly cold morning rain. The water chilled his skin and beat upon his face and he realized with a shiver the reality of what was happening. At once he pulled out of Duo's grasp, with a violence that sent him off balance and down onto the squelching grass. He got up onto his knees, wiping his heavy hair from his eyes, and frowned up at Duo. "We're soaked."

"I know." Duo stared down at Heero, smiling with a breathless enjoyment. "It's amazing. I never thought I'd see the day Heero Yuy pouting."

Heero's face deepened into a scowl, and his voice into a sullen mutter. "I'm not pouting."

"Sure you are, but it's cute on you."

Heero's face changed again, into uncertainty. "Cute?"

"Cute, as in looking endearing."

"You find me attractive?"

Duo laughed at that. "Of course I do."

"Why?" A warm flush of embarrassment and anxiety warmed Heero's insides and Duo found it even more amusing if possible.

"Why?" he laughed. "Cause you're a good guy Heero, smart, nice, strong. And hot too." He watched as Heero's face took on a decidedly pinker hue, and took a step closer. "The question is what you think of me."

They both dropped into a momentary silence, as Heero looked up at Duo. He couldn't displace the irritation of feeling that this was supposed to be some defining moment in his life and he didn't have an answer. Not even a thought. His head felt hollow and cold, and neither of the feelings could be attributed to the rain. Duo was still smiling down at him, patiently standing under the downpour, with his dark clothes waterlogged and pasted to his skin, and hair matted against his temples. And his eyes meeting Heero's with a sense of candor and humour, and just a little softness. Heero broke the gaze and stared straight ahead, with a discomfort that was different from embarrassment. He felt extremely close to Duo at that moment, and it didn't disquiet him. Just the thought of Duo's presence made him feel expectant, like he was waiting for something good to happen. That is, if he could find the right words to answer Duo's question. He dared to look up at Duo again, and felt again the visceral reaction of his look. "Yes."

Duo raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Yes, I like you." He set his jaw when Duo failed to respond. "As in the way you are attracted to me."

But still Duo remained silent. Heero was about to comment on it, when a multitude of shouts went up somewhere nearby. Both turned their heads to find a group of teenagers, thirteen or fourteen years old maybe, screaming in enjoyment as they ran under the rain kicking around a soccer ball. At that moment, said ball deflected badly off of one of the kid's foot and bounced towards Duo, rolling deftly to a stop at his feet. He looked down at the black and white ball for a moment before bending to pick it up. He turned it around in his hands a few times, giving it a deeper scrutiny before launching it back to the waiting children. His eyes had a transient faraway look. "I've never really played soccer. Have you Heero?"

Heero shook his head slightly, suddenly enraptured by the fun that the children were having.

"Haven't you ever wanted to?"

Longing stirred to life then. It pulled at him, like yanking a rope tied to the base of his spine. How would it feel to kick the ball? To be screaming like that kid? `Pass me the ball!' Or like that girl? `Guard your man!' He turned away from the sight, slightly nauseated at his reality and focused back up at Duo. "Sometimes, when I forget who I am."

"You shouldn't," Duo said before he paused to give room for organizing his thoughts, "say it like they were mutually exclusive, you and fun." He grinned as half of the children erupted in triumph after scoring a goal. "Come on Heero, let's join them."

Heero frowned up at Duo. "Join them?" It was a ridiculous thought, but the way Duo had said it, it could have been the easiest thing in the world. "We can't." But Duo had already unfastened his collar and was pulling his shirt up over his head. "We can't," Heero repeated, for both their benefits.

Bare-chested, Duo laughed teasingly and wrung out his shirt. "Got no skills Heero?"

"We're gundam pilots," Heero said, as if that reply held all the answers in the universe.

"We're also kids. You gonna be a coward and hide behind that excuse, Heero?"

Heero grimaced at the knowledge that he was indeed in the process of using said excuse. He met Duo's taunting look and took a deep breath. Heero Yuy did not fail at his missions, and he certainly did not let Duo Maxwell get the better of him. He reached for the hem of his tank top and drew it up over his head. The sodden cotton slid over his skin and he crumpled it up into a ball before throwing it to the ground beside him. His heart was thundering in his chest, the blood a hot rush in his ears. It was a rather anticlimactic momentous occasion. With a deep breath and a new determination, he stood up to face a shirtless and now barefoot Duo Maxwell. "What are we waiting for?"

Duo smiled in a dark, daring way before snatching up Heero's left hand and giving it a good strong squeeze. His fingers curled firmly around Heero's hand, and he smirked. "Last one there's an ozzie!" and he threw his shirt to the ground and took off at a sprint towards the children.

Heero moved to follow, but paused momentarily, silently taking in the moment. The rain was still a downpour, thick droplets running down his face and body. Duo Maxwell, equally wet was running at full speed across the green expanse of the field, and Heero for once couldn't tell the difference between child and gundam pilot. He took off after the flailing rope of hair with a strange sense of having come full circle.

Looking back, that day was a defining moment for Heero Yuy. It was the day that he had regained a little of his humanity, and it was the day he had really begun to know Duo Maxwell. His life had finally started.

Notes: Good? Bad? Any comments? Thanks for reading.


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