4-24-2003

Saltwater
By Keelywolfe (Keelywolfe@aol.com)

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The former Gundam Pilots did not spend much time in the Preventor Main Headquarters. Too much time spent in action had made them accustomed to it, and all of them grew restless quickly, each demanding in their own manner to return to the field, to something, anything but paperwork.

Duo, in particular, had difficulties with it, the repetitive filling out of forms and reports, and he had on numerous occasions loudly declared that touching any kind of processed paper gave him hives. Whether or not he had a true allergy had never been proven, but his presence in the offices had confirmed a severe allergy in the rest of the staff to -him-.

In an attempt to control at least some of his more ‘exuberant’ behaviors, he had been given a shared office with Heero, the one person who seemed unperturbed by Duo's antics.

There were worse ideas in the history of the world, but not many.

If anyone enjoyed a challenge, it was Duo Maxwell, and trying to find a way to distract Heero had become his latest mission. Spitballs and flung pencils were an everyday occurrence. On occasion, Heero would find pictures of naked men tucked into his files, pairs of too-pretty boys contorted together in impractical positions, and once, a picture of Duo, naked but for the ineffective veil of his hair, smiling cheekily at whomever had snapped the photo.

He'd kept that one.

More than once, he'd stoically taken deliveries of delicate flowers and brightly colored balloons, often from sweaty couriers in uncomfortable costumes. He'd done so without comment or complaint, placed his 'gift' on a corner of his desk and simply continued his work. Une had been the one to finally put her foot down and ordered Duo to tone it down, namely because she didn't feel the stripper was appropriate for an office setting

Through all of it, Heero maintained his focus, giving Duo no more than an affirmative or negative grunt whenever he slyly questioned about the items.

Of all the little games and gimmicks Duo had attempted, Heero had never thought that his absence would be the one that finally worked. Without tapping feet, snatches of music sang and then hummed wherever Duo forgot the words, Heero found he couldn't concentrate.

After his third attempt to read the daily reports, Heero finally turned off the computer, resting his chin on his folded hands as he studied the empty desk on the other side of the office.

It had begun earlier in the day with a parcel in the morning mail. Duo had seemed fine then, had been stirring his fourth spoonful of sugar into the sludge he call coffee, had winked and blown a kiss to Alisa, the blushing intern who was delivering the mail that day.

The address had been from L-2, and Heero had seen the brief frown crease Duo's face for only a moment before he opened it. A single slip of paper had been inside, a clipping from a newspaper. An obituary for a Joseph Tiotoma, Heero knew, having rescued the wadded paper from the trash where Duo had thrown it. The grainy black and white picture showing a man perhaps in his forties, sporting the same plastic-lipped smile as most people in portraits. Services had been three days before. No family listed. No one extraordinary, no one Duo had ever mentioned.

Duo had apparently known him anyway. He'd blinked a few times while reading it, growing paler with each passing moment before he'd thrown the clipping into the trash and left the building without a word to anyone.

Unusual behavior even for Duo, Heero had noted, before finishing his own coffee and going to their office. Hours later, he had accomplished not even half of his tasks for the day, and worse, Duo had shown no signs of returning. He'd turned off his pager, or was simply ignoring his messages.

The situation was really becoming unacceptable, Heero decided, with Duo not here to do any work, and him unable to concentrate on his, perhaps it was time for legwork instead.

He tossed the mostly unintelligible report he'd been trying to write into the trash, sorted the rest of the papers into their files before flicking off the light and locking the door, unhurried, thoughtful gestures as he considered where Duo might have gone.

The first thick breath of the humid summer air as he stepped outside was like trying to inhale through a burlap sack, and felt about as pleasant. Heero had a brief moment of yearning for his old outfit and settled for removing his uniform shirt, folding it neatly over one arm.

Duo was a creature of habits, many of them revolving around food of a greasy and peculiarly disgusting nature. There were several restaurants in the area that Duo liked to frequent, but a cursory search revealed that he hadn't visited any of the establishments on that day. Heero even checked the Taka Sushi, from which they had been banned the previous year for an incident involving one of their booths. Heero hadn't minded. Machine-made sushi was rather distasteful.

He searched for well over an hour, wandering in and out of restaurants and shops, and even took time to call their apartment to see if perhaps Duo had gone there, but he hadn't. To his shame, it was by accident that Heero eventually found him; walking down the boardwalk he happened to glance down the beach and saw a lone figure far away from the crowds and laughter, sitting amongst an outcropping of jagged rocks.

Heero walked towards the rocks, climbing easily over the rough-edged barrier of stone until he could see the person clearly. Kneeling awkwardly in the sand, close enough to the water that Heero could see flecks of saltwater on his face, was Duo.

He'd lost his shoes somewhere; the soles of his feet were slightly reddened, presumably from the heat of the sand. The wind was shaping his hair into banners of chestnut brown, fluttering wildly around him and certainly tying wicked little knots that Duo would be struggling with for hours that evening. Rumpled clothing, the skin of his face hinting at sunburn.

He was lovely.

Warmth and discomfort met somewhere in Heero's middle, congealing into something almost like a cramp. He ignored it and walked across the sand to Duo, close enough that the ends of Duo's hair whipped against his trouser legs. Duo never moved, his eyes still on the rippling surf.

Heero stood behind him silently, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot as he searched for the proper words in this circumstance. Meaningless apologies and expressions of regret aside, there seemed little to say. Duo was likely expecting something, though, and Heero was the only person here to say it.

"Who was Joseph Tiotoma?" Heero asked, quietly, the uselessness of any other questions leaving him only with curiosity.

Duo exhaled, slowly, his eyes never leaving the dance of the waves. He spoke slowly, oddly, giving each word undue care, as if they might break if said too quickly. "He was an old friend, no," Duo interrupted himself, ducking his head and he smiled faintly without humor. "It's weird to hear you call him Joseph. We all knew him as Tio."

He fell silent, reaching out to cup a handful of sand. He studied them silently, keeping whatever answers he saw there to himself, before tipping his hand and allowing a thin stream of shimmering brown to pour out.

"Tio," Duo said clearly, leaning forward to trace the name in the damp sand, "was an old whore who got me off the streets, took me into his place and only asked for thirty percent of the profits."

Heero said nothing, knew that none of his emotions were showing on his face, but it seemed not to matter. Duo had yet to even glance at him.

"If it hadn't been him it would have been someone else. At least he was nice," Duo continued, shrugging. "Hey, a guy's gotta eat."

"Duo, you couldn't have been more than twelve."

"Twelve year olds eat a lot." Duo said lightly, still smiling and there was nothing false in it, no lies from Duo in words or expression.

Heero exhaled slowly, the wind snatching the tiny sound away unheard. He debated briefly what to do now. Duo had been found and while he was not entirely happy, he was unhurt, and there was a great deal of work to do back at headquarters before they began their next mission. It would be best to gather Duo up and escort him back. Unhappiness could be accomplished there just as well as here.

Instead, Heero moved to sit behind the other boy, carefully finger combing the long strands of Duo's hair to one side before settling his chin on the newly exposed shoulder and wrapping his arms loosely around Duo's waist. He felt Duo sigh and his head tilted backwards until his cheek was resting against Heero's.

"Who sent you the clipping?" Heero asked softly, his lips just brushing the curve of Duo's ear.

Duo gave a little shrug. "Who knows? Someone who used to know me maybe?" He raised a hand to his lips, chewing thoughtfully on his thumbnail. "Could be someone thinks they've got something on me but…" Duo shook his head. "Nah. I'm not really worth blackmailing, and if that's all they've got, I could give a shit, anyway."

There was no sound but the surf and the faint shrieks of seabirds, no movement but Duo's hair. It was eerie for Duo to be so very still; he was a creature of motion even when he was asleep. Faint murmurs and restless tossing were commonplace, and Heero simply accepted it as part of the package that was Duo, like taking shipments of flowers and balloons in the workplace was, and enduring kisses in public places for no more reason than Duo wanted one. Like knowing when Duo wanted to be held and didn't know how to ask.

The wind coming off the ocean was cooling and he felt Duo shiver. Heero tightened his arms around him, being very careful not to cause pain. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Duo laughed, only very softly, but it was still there. "No. But I will be." He slid a hand over one of Heero's, entwining their fingers and the two of them watched the constant slide of the waves against the sand.

 

finis