This is the story that grew out of the "I'll Be Waiting" vidfic I wrote.

Enjoy.

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I'll Be Waiting
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)

COMMENTS: This started as a vidfic, then insisted on being a full-blown fic too.

BGM: "The Prodigal (I'll Be Waiting)" from Amy Grant's album "Unguarded".

WARNINGS: shonen ai, the war ends in June AC196, no "Endless Waltz"

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After the war, Quatre put us all up in a nice hotel. He rented the whole building and staffed it with his own people so we wouldn't have to worry about assassins or the media. I wouldn't have accepted if it had been anyone else. I don't like depending on other people or being in debt to them, but I knew Quatre would never take advantage of me, and I did need a place to stay while I tried to figure out what I was going to do now that there were no more missions.

By the end of the first month, the new government had organized itself enough to pass a resolution that reimbursed Quatre for his expenses to maintain "Hotel Gundam" for up to a year, paid for whatever education we wanted, guaranteed us jobs in the government and a small stipend for life. Quatre obviously didn't need it. He had more money than the government. Trowa, not surprisingly, went with Quatre. He has a good business head on his shoulders, so the two of them balance each other well. Une had approached Wufei about joining the Preventers soon after the idea had been born and he had already accepted. Duo didn't need the government's help either. He'd shopped his portfolio around and had deals lined up to draw everything from advertisements to anime as well as a few special commissions that were an open door to more. He had enough to keep him busy and comfortable for a long time to come.

Which left me. What does the Perfect Soldier do when the war is over? I spent two months thinking about it and decided to finish school and go to college. I thought being around normal people my age, doing normal things might be a way to reclaim the part of me I'd thrown away before I knew what it was. I wanted to be a normal human being.

Duo and I left Quatre's haven on the same day. Somehow, as we stood in the lobby remembering all the Hell we'd been through together and all the good times we'd had in the midst of it, I knew what he was going to do. I held out my hand to forestall him.

He shook my hand for a moment, then pulled me into a hug anyway. I let him hold me. I knew he felt something for me, I just didn't know what. I struggle with my emotions even now. Then, I had to keep them behind a wall just to maintain my sanity, such as it was. When I thought he'd had enough time, I gently pushed us apart. He looked at me, quiet, and I knew he was waiting for me to say or do something very specific. I didn't know what it was, so I shook my head slightly, then picked up the bag holding the few things I owned in the world and walked out the front door of the hotel. I didn't look back. Duo had a life mapped out for himself. I...

For the first time in a long time, I had only a vague idea what I was going to do next.

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Duo woke, sprawled naked on the bed, hair in disarray, arms stretched wide across the mattress. He felt Heero laying next to him and sat up, looking beside him, seeing a faint afterimage in the empty space beside him. He sighed. Another ghost. He'd been seeing them more often these past few months. It probably had something to do with the poem he'd felt growing inside him.

It was, perhaps, God's way of reminding him he wasn't perfect. He could draw like a master, but writing was usually beyond him. It came rarely, slowly, building inside him until suddenly the words burst out of him onto the page, tearing painfully in the process. The poems were always dark and sad, and always about Heero. The last didn't surprise him.

He sighed again and rolled out of the bed, feet padding softly around the messy room as he found a pair of black shorts and a T-shirt with a white-winged angel on it. It reminded him of Heero. Work could wait until tomorrow. The poem was too close. He grabbed a notebook and pen and walked to the kitchen, laying them on the table by the window.

Five minutes later, cereal, toast with butter and jelly, a large cup of coffee. He sat and looked out the window at the wind-blown rain. Rain always reminded him of Heero. Cool, quiet and beautiful. He ate, watching the soft whisper falling through the tree outside. Japan in autumn. Like Heero in the same ways the rain was.

He wondered about the boy -- young man now -- who he'd set his heart on so firmly that he was willing to wait all this time for him. What was he doing today? Duo remembered the last time they'd seen each other at the hotel. Heero didn't understand and had been honest enough to admit it. It had hurt, but he'd expected it. As he turned back to the table for another spoonful of cereal, he saw Heero sitting in the chair across from him for a second. Then he was gone. Another ghost. They were coming quickly now. The poem--

Duo put the spoon back in the bowl, the bite uneaten. He opened the notebook and took up the pen and began writing.

It was here.

And it hurt like Hell.

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In a conscious effort to be more normal, I traded in the Spandex for denim shorts. I kept the green tank top though. It was normal enough and comfortable to me. And while most normal people didn't spend a Friday evening in front of the computer typing, I had four papers due Monday. It was a normal enough load, and a normal enough evening, for a college-bound student.

I was summarizing my physics paper on electromagnetic field theory when I mentioned Maxwell's equations and thought of Duo.

I stopped typing.

It had been at least a week since I had thought about him last. A long time. I'd found him in my mind a lot lately. I looked at the calendar -- normal people don't have internal clocks precise to the second. It had been almost two years since I saw him last. One year, nine months, twenty days, eight hours, twenty-four--. I sighed. So much for being normal.

He sent me notes occasionally. He'd gotten my address from the government -- actually, I was sure he'd gotten it from Wufei. The Duo I knew had never been one to go through official channels when he had a friend he could turn to. They were usually one or two page manga. I assumed the characters designs were based on whatever he was drawing at the time because they varied sometimes. Many of them almost made me laugh. Some of them made me cry. And a few of them made me wonder what he was thinking when he drew them. Those were always the ones where the characters reminded me of us.

I don't know what made me think about him then. Oh, Maxwell's equations, yes, but I'd been writing about them for hours and hadn't connected the names. Why now?

I gave up trying to understand it after a few minutes. I had papers to finish.

I typed the next line.

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Duo paused as he began the first refrain of the poem and stared out the window -- and froze. The pen fell to the table and the chair to the floor as he shot up and ran through the dining room to the foyer, throwing open the door.

His smile faded.

Nothing.

Another ghost.

The poem tormenting him even as it spilled out of him onto the page.

He closed the door and walked back to the kitchen staring at his feet.

The poem wasn't done yet.

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Three years to the day. I squelched the hours and minutes. I had been thinking about him a lot again lately.

My first year of college hadn't been easy. It wasn't that the classes were exceptionally difficult, but all the things that I'd found to be "normal" in the past two years were completely at odds with what was "normal" at college.

I was trying to decide what my major would be. My advisor kept telling me not to worry. I had a couple of years worth of generic classes before I had to declare and I could take the time to dabble a bit and find what I liked. That wasn't how I worked. But she assured me it was normal.

I wanted to be normal, but the uncertainty still didn't sit well with me.

I was walking around campus late at night in the rain. Only a week to go until summer break or summer school. I still hadn't decided which. That was supposed to be normal too.

I liked walking around in the rain, especially at night. Most people stayed indoors, so it was like I had the world to myself. It gave me a chance to think. The sound of the rain was soothing. Yes. I'd learned that feeling. And it felt good as it patted softly against my clothes and skin. Most of my fellow students thought I was crazy to be out in the rain like this, but there were certain things I wasn't willing to give up in the name of normalcy. Everyone has their little quirks. It was normal. This would be one of mine.

My hand slid into my jacket pocket and touched another thing I kept. I sighed. I could never think about it without looking at it. There was an awning ahead. I could look at it under that. As I walked, I remembered that day. Duo must have slipped it into my jacket when he hugged me at the hotel. I had found it a week later and had understood -- intellectually, at least -- what he had been waiting for. I still didn't really understand it.

The rain stopped hitting me. I was sheltered now. I pulled the envelope out of my pocket. It was battered. I'd opened it at least once a week over the past three years. My name was written on the front in a crisp, precise katakana script that was Duo's formal hand. I looked at it for a minute. Maybe this time I wouldn't have to look inside.

I turned it over and lifted the back, pulling the piece of paper out. It was heavily creased from all the times I'd opened it and refolded it. Some of the creases had started to tear. I thought about putting it back in the envelope, then I unfolded it.

The script inside was neat and precise, but not in the same way the katakana had been. A word in Japanese, written in his flowing sousho hand. "Aishiteru." I hated seeing that word. It was an attack on my attempt to live a normal life. It was a slur against my stunted emotions. It was wrong. There was no way he could love me. I had never given him any reason to love me. I had rejected his attempt to love me. He couldn't love me.

He'd written above it, in English, "I'll be waiting." I didn't believe it, but on the heels of that unbelief always came the reminder. Duo never lied.

He'd sent me another page just last week. Two people who looked a lot like us on a picnic in a park, eating, sitting under a tree together, enjoying the day, watching kids playing, smiling. Plot? What plot? It wasn't a story. There weren't even words. It was just a simple idea expressed in his gentle style. I was curious about the characters. Miyama, my roommate, was into everything manga. I asked him if he'd ever heard of Duo Maxwell. It took me fifteen minutes to get him to stop gushing. I made a mental note NEVER to tell him I knew Duo. I didn't have to ask to see Duo's latest issue he pulled it out of one of his boxes and waved it at me. The characters were nothing like those he'd sent me. After Miyama left for class, I dug through his collection and compared the designs over the years to my personal collection. They had nothing in common.

Duo was designing characters and drawing them for me alone.

As I remembered that thought now, I felt tears on my face. I didn't know why. I quickly folded the paper and pushed it back into the envelope and shoved the envelope into my pocket. I looked around. I was alone. I ran across campus to the dorm and up the stairs. I had to stop at the door to unlock it. It took me a moment to get the key into the lock and turned. I walked into the empty room. Miyama was out with his girlfriend -- another piece of "normal" I'd never appropriated. He wouldn't be back tonight. I closed the door and stripped and climbed into bed, wondering why I felt like I did. Wondering what it was I was feeling. Eventually I decided it was "empty".

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The poem was still coming. Duo wrote and tried to ignore what the words were doing to him. It was about hope, but it was a painful hope, an uncertain hope. The next words turned dark, and as he wrote them, he felt his hand begin to shake.

He dropped the pen and stared as the words continued writing themselves in his mind. Tears blurred his vision and fell on the paper and blurred the ink. Why did the words always have to hurt so much? Why couldn't they just leave him alone?

He looked out the window and watched the rain as the next lines came. The refrain again. It always came back to the words he'd given Heero. The promise he'd made to wait -- he hated waiting -- and not push. He'd known Heero had a lot of things to learn before he'd be ready for the other part of the promise, but, damn, why did the words have to come and remind him of this. They made him want to go find Heero and push. He couldn't do that.

His mouth dropped as he saw it. It was just another ghost -- the poem angry because he wasn't writing. But he had a promise to keep. He ran though the dining room to the door, paused a moment, afraid, then opened it and ran out into the rain.

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When I saw him running at me with his hair flying loose around him, I stopped. I thought he was going to hit me. He did, but not with his fist. He slammed up against me, his arms sliding under mine as they wrapped around me in an embrace, so like that one four years ago. Only this time, he was talking so fast I couldn't follow him, just pick up the odd word here and there. After a minute, I gave up trying to understand him, me, what I felt at that moment. I let my arms come up and close around him and stroked his soft, brown hair.

That stopped his talking. I heard wet, catching sounds and realized he was crying. I pried him off of me so I could see him. He was crying, but the grin that spread across his face as he looked at me made it an entirely different thing. I knew then that he had never lied to me. There was only one more thing to do. "Aishiteru."

His grin softened to that half-smile that has always been his true expression of joy. "I've been waiting," he said.

He held me close again, then, after another minute, we separated and he slid an arm around my waist and led me into the house.

"Welcome home," he said, steering us toward the kitchen.

Home.

Suddenly, "normal" became meaningless.

So this was "home".

I had thought I would never feel that word.