"He loves you, you know," he told her as they watched the sun set over the beach, sitting against the concrete wall that went up to the promenade.
On the sand, his bare feet playing tag with the waves crashing on the shore, Heero was running after his dog, a sleek, black mix of god only knew how many big dogs. The mutt was dancing around his master, jumping in his path then whirling away, and sometimes Heero danced back, feinting a pounce. Neither of them made much noise, not as you could have expected from a young man and his dog playing, but then they were an odd pair at all times.
So alike, both of them strays who had never played one day in their lives before being taken in. Seeing them enjoying themselves was to be cherished.
For a second, Relena resented Duo for taking her away from her bittersweet contemplation.
"Yes, I know," she answered, not looking at the longhaired man. And she did. She knew that Heero loved her. Just not like she wanted him to, and knowing that Heero would give his life for hers in a heartbeat did nothing to soothe the pain she felt at not being for anything in freeing the troubled young man she had met several years ago, on this very beach. The one who had helped Heero to hatch out of his training and self-reclusion by feeding him his unconditional love was sitting beside her.
And it was sweet to know that Heero trusted her enough to play where she could see, to let her know that she had been right, that she hadn't been stupid or delusional like so many had told her to see this lonely, love-starved child in that killer's eyes, but the regret... the selfish regret that she hadn't done anything to heal the man she ached for, was always looming somewhere in her soul, nipping at her heels, chasing her.
With that regret should have come jealousy and resentment, but she had killed those feelings fast enough, despising herself for even contemplating it. How could she be jealous of Duo Maxwell, when he had saved her life so many times, when he had been the first to recognize and encourage those feelings she had for the mysterious young man who had irrupted in her life, when he had always cheered her up and offered her his support, however clumsily at times? When so many times he had plotted to give her occasions to approach Heero, had advised her on how to reach him? How could she resent him, when he was, himself, in such a need for love? How could she fault him for having gotten that love he so craved?
It wasn't his fault that Heero had chosen to love him. While he had not refused to let the bond between Heero and himself grow, he had also never tried to prevent Relena from nurturing her own bond to the other pilot, had even lent a hand many times. The young woman thought that it was probably in part because he didn't believe himself worthy of a chance, but mostly it was because that was the kind of individual Duo was. Fair, honorable, thoughtful, under his carefree, almost careless behavior. She wasn't surprised that they had gotten together. Heero seemed to be pulled toward her, but you had to be blind not to see the ties that moored him to Duo.
Still, even though Duo and her had never talked openly about their feelings, they both knew. And it wasn't really nice to twist the knife in the wound!
He chuckled softly, as if feeling her sudden annoyance. She frowned at him.
"When I say that he loves you, I mean that... He loves you, Relena."
She opened her mouth to tell him that she had understood the first time and could he please stop sticking his foot into her broken heart, when she realized that she hadn't understood. Because it was the same word, but she didn't get what the tone behind was conveying.
He was watching her, with his weird dark blue eyes that sometimes seemed tinted with purple, and she saw him smile at her, a smile that somehow felt like that of a teacher to a student. She wondered if he and Heero hadn't been right to say that the stress of her job was getting to her; she actually wanted to scratch that smug look off his face.
She was reaching for one of the long locks of hair that had gotten free from his ponytail when he looked over her shoulder and smiled a whole another smile, one of those smiles you swear you can see glow. It was soft and tender and loving, and she didn't have to turn to know that Heero was coming their way.
"Hey... Is Kuro finished with his run?" Duo asked, still smiling, but the smile turning into a gently mocking smirk. Because of course Heero had been running and playing as much for his own sake as for his dog's.
Heero didn't dignify that with an answer, turning to Relena instead. She smiled back when his eyes softened for her, wondering how she had never really thought anything of that habit he had. Duo was smirking at her over Heero's shoulder, knowing that she had noticed, that his comment had made her notice that what she had interpreted as simple caring... maybe wasn't. And now, she would never get that silly idea out of her head before she solved that mystery.
She knew that no one else other than Heero's own lover would ever have managed to make her accept that faint possibility ; she had been forbidding herself hope for so long. But she trusted Duo that much, at least... didn't she?
They went to the steep stairs, Duo bouncing up first, the dog after him, and Heero stepped aside to let her climb before him politely. She chuckled, remembering the last time she had seen Heero on those steps. He had jumped up, effortlessly kicking the medics out of the way with those long legs of his, and she had felt as if after months of boredom and bleakness, she was suddenly in the middle of a karate flick. Later on, before she had truly grasped the seriousness of the situation, she had leaned toward espionage, maybe a sort of teenage James Bond movie. But the fact was --she had felt alive.
Okay, she had also felt slightly melodramatic; she winced, remembering that "introducing herself to thin air" moment. She was glad the medics had been more preoccupied with taking care of each other. Her adolescent self would never have lived it down. Maybe she had been a drama queen, but she had been a teenager. Wasn't it supposed to be a requirement?
She paused once on the road, deep in thought. Was it really only seven years ago that her life had taken a sharp turn into that stuff movies are made of?
She started. Duo was chuckling.
"So, we saw the place where you met Heero. Where to now?"
"I don't know... That military base? I've heard that it's disaffected now, I'm sure we could go in... Legally I mean," she added, mock-glaring at Duo. He was a little too fond of his lock picks.
Duo laughed, amused. "Nah, s'okay. Nothing to do there except watch the water and try to find which pontoon we were playing on, and say boring things like 'who would have thought I'd get to shag the weird boy who tried to kill that pretty girl'. Unless Heero wants to?"
Heero shook his head but the two longhaired ones knew that he'd indulge them if they chose to go anyway. He had already stated his inability to see why visiting those places again would be of any kind of relevance. But at least when Relena was taking walks with them, she wasn't in her office or in meetings, and that was what was important to him.
"Hey Relena, you know what's the best part?" Duo asked, his eyes twinkling merrily. "When I went to save you, I really was thinking that you were pretty cute, and that I had never seen a weirdo like Spandex-boy."
The young woman burst out laughing, despite the bittersweet aftertaste of that irony. She had thrown herself in the line of fire to protect her Heero from the weird guy in black, and in the end, they had gotten together. But still, he was right, it was pretty ironic. They weren't in a movie finally, or she would have ended up with either her cute and chivalrous savior or the dark and mysterious stranger. Her white knight and her dark knight... and there was no place for the princess with either of them.
"Woolgathering again, princess?"
She blinked at hearing the nickname that ran so close to her own thoughts, and for a second imagined that she would turn around to find them decked out in armor, standing proud and waiting. The fantasy went back into hiding when she saw Duo, though. His ratty old T-shirt flapping in the breeze, he was looking at her with an air of false pity, in a typical 'she seemed such a normal girl' expression.
"Are you coming, Heero?" she asked sweetly, her hand still closed in a tight fist around Duo's ponytail. She felt warm again when Heero's eyes lit up. She had never needed explaining to know that it was the way he smiled, when his smiles were the sincerest.
"Heero, save me!" Duo wailed dramatically. His lover only snorted at him.
"I'm not taking sides, especially when you were asking for it."
"So letting her manhandle me is not taking sides?" Duo asked, outraged.
"Okay, then I'm taking a side," Heero deadpanned. "Hers. Better?"
"More honest, at least," grumbled Duo, still bent on the side to try not to pull on his hair, but Heero had stopped paying attention to him to watch his dog, who was slowly climbing a rock to sniff at a seagull. He called him back before the dog could get his nose stabbed by the enormous bird and turned back to Duo and Relena.
"It's almost noon. We should go back to the Darlian estate."
Nodding, she let Duo go and they went.