2-7-2003

Title: Just As You Are
By: Dev-Aki Basaa
Series: An epilogue to the 'I Love You' series, which can be found at either: GWAddiction: www.gwaddiction.com or Shinigami & Wing: www.1x2x1.org

PAIRING: 1x2
RATING: PG
CATEGORY: yaoi, angst, sap
WARNING: none
FEEDBACK: Love it! Please?
S UMMARY: Heero copes with the aftermath of his experience.

NOTES: Takes place about a year after the final events of the 'I Love You' series

AUTHOR NOTES: Okay, so Heero wasn't quite done with this timeline. While it would certainly help that you've read the 'I Love You' series to read this fic, I don't think it's absolutely necessary. I think, as a stand alone, you can still get the gist of what's going on ^_^ Thanks go to Sakti for the beta!

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Heero felt hot, but he dare not tell Duo. He'd only win himself a lecture about wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt on a sweltering July day and then be pressed for a confession that it was because of his scars that he'd dressed the way he had.

They both knew that was the reason, but it's one thing to know it. It's quite another to say it aloud.

At first, he'd hardly cared about his scars or the discoloration of his skin. He'd always measured his attractiveness through Duo's eyes and since he didn't seem to care, then Heero didn't either. His recovery continued to go well, the pain from the skin grafts was tolerable, and he'd managed to avoid any major infection. Just one bout with high fever, and while it panicked Duo more than warranted, he came out of it without even being dragged to the ER.

However, the first time a small child - a little red-headed girl with whom he'd shared an elevator ride - looked at him with wide and fearful eyes, her gaze fixed to his warped and marred skin, his whole perspective changed.

At home, he felt safe. Outside was another matter.

He'd first resolved to simply never leave home. Preventers even accommodated his request to work from home by creating a hacker position where he could gather assignment information and search out holes in HQ's firewalls - all while wearing cut-off sweats and a t-shirt in the comfort of his bedroom. Duo had probably suspected then, but said nothing, not even about leaving the Team.

He didn't say anything either when Heero had suggested they switch the chores they used to have. He'd claimed he didn't really feel like doing the grocery shopping anymore; he'd rather do the laundry instead. Never mind that Duo knew he hated to do laundry and had once complained that Duo always bought crap for food. Regardless, their chores were switched without comment.

However, when the weather had warmed and Duo made the suggestion of pulling out his camera and going to the park on such a beautiful Spring day, Heero had felt something he'd never experienced before.

Panic.

He'd wanted to go, badly. He missed his camera and beloved hobby. Between his lapse (as he'd come to call it) and then his recovery, he'd not lifted his lens towards anything since before Relena had died. He even suspected that the last picture he'd taken was of her.

He and Relena had mended a few things by the time he'd begun his relationship with Duo. However, that last photo session was the first time being with her had felt natural, losing the slight awkwardness that had dominated all previous encounters since the breakup. Relena, as a Peacecraft, was expected to have a portrait done to hang in the Sanc Memorial Hall - beside the salvaged one of her biological father and the one her brother, Millardo, was also being pressured to have done. Relena, though, didn't have the time to sit for a portrait; so she'd asked Heero to take her picture and the artist could do her rendering from that, letting Relena go on with her busy schedule. He'd wanted to make sure his picture would be worthy of her portrait and so the session had gone on and on with him adjusting light and seating and focal points until he found just the right sitting.

That was, perhaps, the last time his life had made sense to him. Even now - even being back where he belonged with Duo - he found he still had the odd demon that rose up to strike him at the worst possible time.

Like on that bright sunny Spring day when his lover asked him to go to the park with him and bring his camera.

The park had children. Easily frightened children. He hadn't been sure even his beloved hobby was worth the thought of unintentionally traumatizing some poor child. Only, this time Duo didn't let this avoidance pass with a knowing look. He'd given him Hell.

"Dammit, Heero! It's your camera! You love your camera. Don't you miss it?"

Yes. But...

The 'but' was that Duo would not budge on this one. "Put on your shoes, I'll grab your gear. Let's go."

He had given himself away by looking straight down at his legs. Duo'd stopped cold, realizing, and Heero had wanted to crawl in a hole, curl up and die - anything to get away from the pity he saw in Duo's eyes then.

But his gaze had softened and he leaned first to give Heero a deep kiss and then kneeled and kissed his shins. He'd looked up at him from that spot and had the most determined look on his face.

"If anyone gives you even an odd look, they'll have ME to deal with."

Heero couldn't bear to tell him it was children he worried about. He could hardly see Duo bullying some kid for looking at his lover wrong.

So he had not tempted fate. He'd changed his clothes and went to the park. He had gotten some beautiful shots of the newly bloomed Spring flowers and wonderful shadow studies of the caretaker planting tulip bulbs in the shade of massive oak tree. While Duo seemed mollified that Heero had at least gone to the park, that knowing look returned at the sight of his attire. Heero, though, felt this was as good as the compromise was going to get.

Later, in his dark room, Heero had found that his last picture was not of Relena - though, that picture turned out as well as he'd hoped and he made sure he gave it to the Sanc Memorial Society to still have that portrait done. No, the last picture had been of Duo.

Naked.

Masturbating.

In the kitchen.

It had been a dare. Oddest spot, or something like that. They'd planned on doing more - one in the basement while sitting on the dryer. Another in the hall closet where they stored their camping equipment. They'd even talked about trying to pull off one at Trowa or Sally's house.

He'd decided then to resurrect that game (to which Duo heartedly agreed) and the next picture ended up being at Quatre's house. In the middle of his dining room, in fact, while a delegation of pacifists milled in the drawing room after the dinner they'd just had.

They were rather proud of that picture.

Today, though, he was back at the park with Duo, taking pictures of sunlight through leaves. Wufei had a 'Green Room' for mediation and was 'commissioning' green inspired photos. Heero suspected it was just another excuse to get him out of the house, but he liked the concept of a color themed spread, so he'd acquiesced.

However, dressed in his now token long-sleeved shirt and jeans, he was beginning to get too hot to stay out much longer. He didn't know what excuse he was going to give Duo, but he'd need to come up with something believable enough to not kick in Duo's 'tough love' attitude that would make him grin and bear it.

Stalling on that impending conversation, Heero crouched down and looked through his lens at the grass, trying to gage the effectiveness of a shot this close. Another time, he would have stayed in that spot for hours waiting for just the right picture, the right sun angle, maybe even the luck of a small green bug venturing into the area - the contrasting green hues of the bug and the grass making a perfect addition to his contribution to Wufei's room. However, he didn't think he had 'hours' in him today. He was already so hot. Deciding to wait it out as long as he could stand it, he shoved up his sleeves quickly and settled on his haunches for the wait.

He didn't even notice the little girl until her fingers brushed his skin.

Heero jerked his head up and almost dropped his camera. She was standing right next to him, no taller than him in his crouched position. Her pink dress fluttered in the slight breeze and her gaze was fixed to his mottled and marred skin. Her fingers traced the ridge of one of the more pronounced scars.

She finally looked up at him, her eyes wide. "What happened to your arm?"

Heero opened his mouth, but no sound came out at first. He wanted to warn her to go back to the gym-set, her mother, her friends. Whatever. She didn't need to see this, see him. However...

"I...I was in a fire," he whispered to her instead.

She cocked her head to one side, her fingers still brushing the length of his arm. "Why were you in a fire?"

"I was carrying a boy out of his house. It was on fire." He didn't know why he was telling her all this. There was something in this little girl's eyes that seemed to demand his confession.

Her voice was hushed when she asked her next question. "Were you scared?"

"...yes."

The yell startled them both and he looked over the girl's head as she too turned towards the cry.

"Cinda?"

A tall brunette stood not far from them, resting her fists against her hips, but looking the other way. She turned and her expression flashed with recognition when she saw the little girl.

"Cinda!" The woman trotted towards them, already bending down to scoop the child into her arms. "Honey, are you bothering this poor man?"

The little girl wrapped one arm around her mother's neck, the other she kept pointed down towards Heero. "He's not a man, momma!"

'He's a monster', Heero heard her little voice cry in his head and almost winced at what he was already anticipating.

"He's a hero!" she said instead. "He saved a little boy from a fire! Look, he even has the marks to prove it!" She looked at him again, beaming in that way a child does, where the smile seems to consume her whole face.

"I'm so sorry!" the woman said, shaking her head and giving Heero an apologetic smile. "She's just a very ...curious child."

"It's fine," he said as he stood. The mother didn't look convinced, frowning a bit. "Really," he assured her, giving her his own smile.

The woman then beamed like her daughter and, shifting the weight of Cinda to one arm, she reached out her hand to Heero.

"Hello," she said. "I'm Shaya, it's always nice to meet a hero."

Heero took her hand and squeezed. "I'm...Duo" he answered her. He decided it was simpler than fielding the reaction to his name. The locals sported an American dialect and could never quite pronounce his name right. To follow her remark with, hello my name is 'hero' seemed more complicated than he felt like dealing with at that moment. Besides, it wasn't wrong. Duo was certainly a hero in his own right, so he was hardly misleading the woman.

"It's nice to meet you, Duo," Shaya said, then nodded towards the camera in Heero's hand. "Please don't let us keep you from your photography. Sorry again for bothering you."

"It's all right."

He watched as they walked away. The little girl leaned over her mother's shoulder and waved back towards Heero. "Goodbye Mr. Duo!" she shouted. "I'm going to tell all about you at school tomorrow in my Share Circle!"

Heero waved back to her as they headed for a laid out blanket and a young blonde man waiting there for them. They seemed like a sweet family.

Heero sensed Duo's approach and smiled when his hand rested on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze.

"Everything okay?"

Heero nodded. "Everything is fine." He meant that, in a way that he'd not in a while. It really was...fine. Heero then turned to face Duo, cocking his head to one side. "Do you mind if we go home?"

Duo's face fell, but Heero only grinned in response and continued. "I'm hot in these clothes and I'd like to get changed and come back to finish up Wufei's commission."

Duo's face lit up like a child's upon seeing his birthday loot. Heero half expected him to reach out and give him one of those choking hugs where Heero couldn't decide if he wanted to grab on and squeeze even tighter, or laugh and pull back, covering how overwhelmed Duo could make him feel. However, Duo only nodded, a broad smile on his face.

"Sure," he said. "Let's go before you lose anymore light."

Heero took Duo's offered hand and walked with him back up the hill towards the road and their condo. He knew there would still be children whose reaction to him would be reminiscent of that little red-headed girl, but because this girl - this little girl with long blonde hair and big blue eyes - saw him as a hero, he could accept the other reactions in greater stride.

Somehow, he'd finally received the benediction he needed.

 

The End