"Aw, man, why does school have to start already?"
"Because it's almost September?"
"And I was just getting rather fond of this summer, too!" He gave Heero a significant look.
Heero offered him a tentative smile in exchange. "Well, here's to summer blending smoothly into fall." He hefted his bag of books in toast.
Duo managed to get his own bag of books up to a decent height with a lopsided grin. "Here's to falling!" As if on cue, the raised books managed to throw him off balance and he nearly tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. He recovered without the assistance of the arm Heero had thrown in his path.
They finished the trip from the campus bookstore back to Howard's in companionable silence. They had agreed to leave well enough alone for now, and not saying anything that might tip the balance seemed the safest course of action, at least until they were comfortably settled into their new rhythm.
"I'll be with you in a sec, Helen," they heard as they entered the store. Howard was fussing with something in one of the aisles, his hands momentarily full, preventing him from getting to the register.
Duo's face lit up when he saw the woman approaching the front counter. "Miz Flanagan! Hey, long time no see. I'll ring you up, no problem." He was already heading for the register when, as an afterthought, he tossed a glance over his shoulder at his companion, asking with a glance if that was alright. Heero only shrugged slightly and drifted towards the shelves, leaving Duo to turn back with a genuine smile on his face for their customer. "So how're you doing?" he asked, parking himself at his station and unlocking the register.
"Not bad, Duo, not bad at all," she answered, unloading her basket. "But look at you! You look so grown-up now."
"Aww, come on. It hasn't been that long since you last saw me."
"Maybe not. But I still remember when you were just a little guy, helping out in your uncle's store for the first time. You were the cutest thing!"
"Yeah, Duo. What happened?" Howard called out.
If they had been alone, perhaps Duo would have called out something crass in return, but not with Mrs. Flanagan standing right in front of him, so he let it go. As they continued to make small talk, Howard found Heero suddenly by his side. "Anything I can help you with?" the young man asked quietly, prepared to set his bag aside and assist.
Howard only blinked at him for a moment or two. Yes, Heero was definitely better than anyone else Duo had ever brought home. Yup, Howard liked him so much, he'd let him help out at the store. "Yeah, actually, if you could just open that box over there..."
Once Ms. Flanagan had been sent on her way, the two of them headed on upstairs. "So," Heero started. "How old were you when Howard put you to work?"
"Gosh, when did I get here? When I was ten or so? Somewhere around then. Can I get you something to drink?"
Heero shook his head. "I probably shouldn't stay. I wanted to go over the stuff from CS131 since they let me waive it, and they expect you know it for CS132."
"Well, golly, you're so studious it's almost cute."
Not quite able to determine whether that had been a sarcastic joke or a compliment, he ignored it. "I don't know how long it'll take me since I'm not sure what was covered in the class, so I'd rather get it out of the way early, when I've got the time, than try to cram it all in when I need it."
"So maybe you'll be by tomorrow?"
"Maybe," Heero agreed amiably.
"Well, if you're not, I guess I'll see you at school. You'll be taking lunch at the dining hall?"
"Then if you're interested in hanging out with me and my friends, you can probably find us at a table on the north side. That's where you come out of the food area. Probably around the middle."
He nodded noncommittally, though he knew it was almost definitely a yes. If he didn't seek them out, then he'd probably choose to park himself in the back somewhere for a little peace, which surely wouldn't last long since Duo would drag him over the moment he was noticed. Hmm, well, upon consideration, Duo had phrased the information as an invitation rather than a demand, so maybe Duo would have simply joined him instead. The idea pleased him.
"Oh, come on, even I got a bigger squee than that."
As Duo slid into a seat at the round table, Hilde stuck her tongue out at Alex. "That's because I was a smart girl and visited him yesterday. Isn't that right?"
"Yup," Duo agreed, trying to put his burrito together. He gestured with a free hand at the young man sitting next to her. "Hey, Mueller, pat her on the head for me, would ya?" They all laughed as she growled rather audibly at Mueller before he had the chance to even raise his hand. "So, who're the newbies?" he asked the group after they'd settled down.
Alex and Mueller introduced him to the two freshman at the table. Perry and John were roommates and lived in the same suite as Alex and Mueller and Hilde. They were still going through the typical newbie question and answer period when Duo spotted someone else coming out of the food area. He had deliberately selected a seat on the side of the table that faced that side of the dining hall, and now he issued forth a faint head twitch of recognition as he scooted his seat a little to the side in obvious invitation.
Heero headed in their direction with only a little bit of hesitation. Perhaps he had been hoping against hope that there wouldn't be very many other people at the table, but there were five of them, and they looked rather lively. At least there was an empty chair next to Duo. Maybe he could find some protection there.
"Heya, Heero! Make yourself at home." On second thought, it was entirely conceivable that Duo could make things worse.
Hilde eyed the newcomer appraisingly. "You know this guy, Duo?"
"Yup. Met him earlier. Guys, Heero. Heero, Hilde, Alex, Mueller, Perry, and John."
"My name is Scott, actually," Mueller put in. "Scott Mueller. Only everyone calls me Mueller because... well, I don't really know why."
"Ah," Heero responded quietly, only belatedly realizing that he ought to acknowledge everyone. "Hi."
"So who do you belong to?" Alex asked.
"...I beg your pardon?"
"Perry and John are me and Mueller's frosh. So who do you belong to?"
Duo merrily raised his hand. "I'll claim responsibility for him."
"You don't even live in a suite on campus. How can you have anybody?"
He shrugged. "Why not? I don't see anyone else claiming him."
"So what about you, Heero?" Hilde cut across their friendly jabs. "Liking LIT so far?"
It took Heero a moment to formulate more than a one word answer. "Uh, yeah. There's a nice atmosphere here."
"Atmosphere, huh?" She looked around the dining hall. "You see those pretty purple lights on the wall? I thought they brought nice atmosphere to this place, too, until I found out they were just bug zappers. I've been so disillusioned."
"Personality, then. More personality than I'm used to." His old school had been severely lacking in personality, unless one counted 'institutionalized' as a personality.
"Come from a big school?" she went on to ask. Duo had become completely sidetracked by a debate with Alex on the merits of living on-campus.
"Quiet type, aren't you?"
"Liking this place so far?"
"Yeah." He forced himself to come up with something more conversational to say. "...I've met a lot of interesting people."
She smirked, casting a glance at Duo and the others. "Yeah, I'll bet."
One of the freshmen jumped to his rescue, although it was really more like out of the frying pan and into the fire. "So, me and Perry were just talking, were you at the chem lecture this morning?"
Heero blinked at him. "Um, no. I skipped out of the chem requirement."
"Ugh, you're so lucky! It was so freakin' boring! I don't get it -- they go through all this trouble to make sure we've taken chem before coming here, and then they start the year off with the absolute basics! Maybe I should have tried a little harder to pass the waiver, too."
"Are you a chem major?" Perry asked him.
Relax, he told himself. They were just being friendly. He could handle this. "CS."
"Yeah? Me, too."
On the other side of the table, Mueller jumped into the conversation, willfully ignoring his roommate's pleas for help in the debate against Duo. "Ugh, you CS majors. You sure picked the right major. I've got senior CS friends, and I swear, not a single one of them has to get up before noon, but me? No, my day starts off with Fourier at eight. Who the hell puts a class at eight o'clock in the morning?"
Duo broke off from talking to Alex to smirk at Mueller, with a passing smirk at Heero while he was at it. "Told ya you should have taken Fourier last year with me, back when it was at ten."
"But Kramer was teaching it last year. He's hard!"
Duo snorted. "It'll be hard anyway if you keep falling asleep during lecture. Or were you just planning on skipping altogether?"
"Well, since you've already taken it, then you can help me."
"Hey, wait just a second there--"
Mueller turned back to Heero, who was trying to keep his head from spinning. The discussion wasn't just like ping pong -- it was like ping pong with three different balls. "You're lucky if Duo's adopted you. He can help you out when you get to your engineering class. That stuff's a breeze for him."
Ah, at last, something interesting being said at the table. So it seemed not only that Duo was a skilled engineer, which Heero had already suspected based on what he had seen at the market, but that he also did well in his classes. The one did not necessarily imply the other in all cases.
Hilde took over again. "Ack, so you two are CS majors, and John's a physics major? What is the world coming to? We need more engineering majors, dammit. We can't lose our majority in this school. We need to entice the frosh to the darkside. Get 'em early, while they're young and tasty."
"Oh, like that sort of vocabulary will entice them to our side."
"Frosh," she commanded, waving her fork at Perry, John, and Heero as well, to his surprise. "Keep in mind that there are a lot of people that come into this school thinking that they know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, only to find out they're sadly delusioned. So when that happens to you--"
Mueller elbowed her. "Okay, that's it. You call that an inspirational speech? Please."
Inevitably, Alex had to put in his two cents. "What you have before you are three men. So let us take care of this, man to man. Hilde here is the vice president of the Society of Women Engineers. Now, switch your major to engineering, and I'm sure she can hook you up with some of the hottest chicks on campus."
Hilde squawked in protest, but Mueller jumped to his defense. "Hey, when you go to a school with mostly guys, the competition can be kinda fierce. You need every edge you can get."
"Yeah, well, some of us don't have that problem," Duo smirked. "And isn't this usually the other way around? Don't people usually go fleeing from engineering to the other departments?"
This unfortunately turned Hilde's wrath upon him. "Hey, shut up!"
It went on, boggling Heero's mind as he quietly munched on his roll and generally tried to stay out of the fray. It was interesting, if nothing else. Somehow he wasn't too surprised that these were the kinds of people that Duo regularly hung out with, and if he hadn't seen Duo in a different environment, he would have doubted that he and Duo would ever have gotten along. Nevertheless, he wondered if this was their regular behavior, or if at least part of it was just a show they were putting on for the new faces at the table. He took a few moments to ponder whether or not he would actually enjoy sitting at this table in the days to come. He was pretty certain he'd be able to separate himself from Duo during meals with no hard feelings if he ever managed to find his own set of friends to sit with. In the end, he decided it wasn't so bad. At least they talked so much amongst themselves that they didn't require his participation.
He supposed John and Perry must have felt sorry for him or something when they tried to draw him into their corner of the conversation. "So, who's your roommate?"
"I don't have one." It was a pity he didn't have an answer that could really spark whole new lines of speech, or so he thought.
"No way. How'd you pull that?"
"Do you live in South dorm?" the other one asked. It took him a moment to remember that it was Perry. They didn't look all that similar, but names had not been mentioned so often that they would stick, and he hadn't spent enough time with them yet to get a feel for their distinct personalities. "I heard there were a few freshmen that managed to score some singles in South."
"Uh, no." Heero made a note to himself that he would probably want to familiarize himself with the dorms on campus. He had never explored that end of campus very thoroughly during the summer, having had no reason to, but it would probably look bad if he made it through half the year without being able to find them. "I live off-campus."
"Oh, down the street that way a bit." He gestured vaguely in the proper direction.
"So you mean, if you're local, you can get out of it?"
Naturally, Mueller chose that moment to butt back in. "No, you're not supposed to be able to. Even Duo lived on campus freshman year, and he lives down the street. Said he appreciated it, too. So what's up with you?"
Heero blinked, then shrugged. "I enrolled after they did the room draw?"
"No, they automatically put the freshmen into their own draw. Doesn't happen until the middle of the summer, when they get all their personality test stuff together and start trying to match people."
Heero looked to Duo for some help, but all he received was a smirk in return. That was the second one. Just what was it he was finding so amusing about this situation? "I guess they do things differently for transfers."
Talk halted at the table, and Heero suddenly found himself the recipient of at least two stares and one widening smirk. It lasted all of a second before sound erupted once more.
"Duo!" Hilde scolded, looking for something to throw at him. "Why didn't you tell us he wasn't a frosh?"
He grinned innocently at her. "You didn't ask? Come on, you haven't been inducted into this school until you've been on the receiving end of all the frosh talk. We wouldn't want Heero to miss out on that, would we?"
He turned the force of his innocuous grin on Heero, who calmly countered it with an accusing glare. So that would be why Duo had left him to fend for himself, and continued to do so as he was forced to deal with the obligatory transfer questions. Heero didn't quite see why Duo couldn't have just spared him the trouble of the freshman interrogation when he had to suffer through the transfer interrogation anyway. He answered the questions in general and vague terms. Why he had chosen to transfer was his own business, and he especially wanted to avoid getting trapped in a discussion of which school was better and why. He had nothing against his other school. He was sure it was a fine place for thousands of students, only he wasn't one of those thousands.
Lunch ended with a silent sigh of relief. Hopefully, the subject had been exhausted. Naturally, Duo had not. After lunch, everyone parted ways, but Duo stuck to Heero's side, knowing that they had some time before their next classes.
"So, whaddya think?"
He took a moment to come up with some diplomatic phrasings. "Your friends are very animated."
"That your way of saying they talked a lot?"
Duo shrugged. "Maybe. But it's better than just sitting there staring at each other while we eat."
"You don't have to stare at each other. You could try... sticking to only one conversational thread at a time."
"If you can't multitask, you won't be able to cut it here, babe," he dismissed. "Hope the Q and A didn't get too much on your nerves. I know you don't much like talking and all, but I figure, now they know some stuff about you. They probably won't bug you for much more info. They must have noticed you're the quiet type. Of course, now they'll just bug you about class stuff. But at least it won't be frosh stuff. I mean, there's always lots of reasons to pick on frosh, but you're just a newbie, so there goes half the fun. I thought maybe I'd give you just a taste of it today, though. Do you mind?" That last bit was asked somewhat hesitantly. Since he hadn't really done anything, Duo didn't feel very guilty for subjecting Heero to that, but he had knowingly led the unwitting transfer into the situation.
Heero shrugged. "It was okay. It wasn't anything important, after all." Questions on his class load were easy to answer. If they'd been prying deeply into his personal information, on the other hand, he would have had a problem. "But, um, thanks for caring, I guess?"
Duo sort of ducked his head, like he was shy that he'd been found out. Granted, Heero didn't seem as awkward in his new environment as he might have been had he not been here all summer, but Duo still felt motivated to try and help him belong. It was hard to find one's way into a clique when they were already firmly established by two years' worth of experiences, but being a freshman, or at least running the freshman gauntlet, was one way in. The students at LIT weren't too picky about class distinction, except as the butt of a joke. "Any time."
"Hey, where is everyone?" Hilde plopped her lunch tray down next to his and sat down.
"Hmm?" He set down the reading he was doing for his next class. Since he'd been the only one at the table, he hadn't had to worry about ignoring anyone. "I dunno. Alex and Mueller were already here. I got here when they were leaving. They said they had class now. And, let's see, what day is it? Thursday? So Heero's gonna be over at the international dining hall doing his Japanese table thing."
"What Japanese table thing?"
"Well, he said he wanted to brush up on his Japanese, so he signed up for this conversation class, which isn't really much of a class since it's only worth one credit. It's more like they just get together once a week in a lounge somewhere and talk to each other in Japanese. Sometimes they're given topics and stuff. Anyway, so I guess once a week they're expected to eat lunch down there at the Japanese tables, and you're only allowed to speak Japanese there. He said they've got tables for all the languages, and most of the classes require lunch there some number of times a semester."
"Hmm. Guess I should be glad I decided to drop German. So, he won't be joining us?"
"Why? Gimme the dirt!" She scootched her chair over closer to his.
"You know. You and Heero?"
"What about me and Heero?" He had a terrible feeling he knew where this was going, just as he felt that resisting it would be depressingly futile. He tried anyway.
"Oh, come on. You can't seriously expect me to believe that there's nothing at all going on between the two of you. I mean, look at you! You've already got his class schedule memorized, and it's only the second week of school! I bet you won't know my schedule by the end of the semester."
"Ugh, you make that sound so sordid, Hil."
"Well? Is there or is there not something between you two?"
"It's not like he's my boyfriend or something." And he wasn't. Not yet, anyway.
"Oh, so, what? Like a one-night stand or something?"
"If you're not going to tell me, I'm going to have to make stuff up. Oh, I know! Hot summer fling, right? You met across the register one sizzling summer day, and it was lust at first sight? He asked you for something that wasn't on the shelf, and you invited him into the storeroom with you while you fetched it, and while you were there, you bent him over the boxes and--"
"HILDE!! For God's sake, Hil!" He was turning suspiciously red. "It's nothing like that! As a matter of fact, he hated me at first sight!"
"Ooooh," she cooed impressively. "I can see it now. Two rivals, eyes meeting over the register with an unspoken spark of heated challenge and instinctive dislike, only to be blindsided when it turned into a spark of passion!"
"Hil!" He smacked his face with his reading, leaving it there to hide behind until he could get his mortification under control. "What the hell were you doing this summer?"
"Hatching evil plots to get you to tell me your every secret, obviously," she smirked. "You know you wouldn't be this embarrassed if you didn't have a thing for him."
He slapped his reading back onto the table, a scowl on his face even though he could still feel the heat. "It's not that funny."
The amusement slipped off of her face. "Did the bastard reject you or something? Or have you not told him, or what? If he's straight, can I have him?"
"Some friend you are."
She shrugged nonchalantly. "Hey, he may not be my type, but he is pretty hot. You've got good taste. So 'fess up. What's up between you two?"
Duo resigned himself to the conversation with a sigh. She'd had a tiny little thing for him during freshman year, but when she'd learnt he wasn't going to be interested in her, she decided she'd be a part of his love life, one way or another. "Look. It's... it's hard to explain."
"What could possibly be so hard to explain about it?"
Good question. It just was. "Like I said. It's not like he's my boyfriend or something. We... just have an understanding."
"Yeah. An understanding."
She eyed him skeptically. "Do you even understand this understanding?"
"...I'm working on it." It was like... simple agreement that there was something in the air between them, and that was it. Since the day they had spoken of it, they had done nothing, not even gone so far as to hold hands again. The only proof that it had happened lay in the occasional shy smiles and significant glances. It was unsettling that it was so ephemeral, like it could be his imagination and nothing more, dissolved with a single puff of air, and yet, that was what he had wanted, wasn't it? Something that didn't exist as some burdensome, concrete bond, locked into a single form before any thought had been put into it. Words had power, and they had shaped this thing only vaguely, which gave them a reassuring commitment without specification. Neither of them knew what they wanted yet, or where they wanted to take it. All Duo knew was that he didn't want what he had had before with others.
Hilde rolled her eyes. "Fine. Whatever. I'll ask you again later, though, and you better have a better idea of what's going on the next time I do."
"Hey, do you know when your first exam is, Heero?"
Heero paused in his coding, trying to remember. It was still a little too early in the semester to be scheduling exams. The most he could think of was a mini-quiz he had next week. "No. Why?"
Duo shrugged, even though he knew Heero wouldn't be able to see the gesture behind his back. "Well, I was just thinking."
An appropriate length of silence passed before Heero finally gave in and prompted him further. He might have let it pass if Duo hadn't flipped a couple of pages in his notes in a clear indication that his attention had returned to his homework. "Thinking about what?"
"Hm? Oh. Well... I don't really know if I want to bring it up."
Heero rolled his eyes, and it was another action that went unseen since he was currently facing the monitor of his laptop. "You've already brought it up, so why not just finish bringing it up?"
"Well, normally it's a surprise," Duo tried to explain, putting his pencil down. Of course, now that he had already mentioned it, it wasn't quite a surprise anymore. "But it's normally a freshman surprise."
Heero saved his work and finally turned around in his chair to face his friend. "Why are you so intent on treating me as a freshman?"
"I am not. Not really. It's just that there's so many interesting things that happen to frosh, and I think it's kinda no fun that you're going to miss out on them all, that's all."
"I'm not sure I like your use of the word 'interesting' in that sentence. Besides, I was a freshman at one point, just not here."
"Aw, come on. It's not like there's crazy hazing or anything." He paused to consider the veracity of that statement. "Well, okay, there's like mild hazing, but it's totally harmless, and some of the more annoying stuff I totally wouldn't think about doing to you. Like the showering on your birthday. Of course, you'd probably kick my ass if I tried to do that to you."
"Showering?" Heero repeated, a faint look of consternation creasing his brow. He liked to shower every day, thank you very much, not just for special occasions.
"Yeah, that's what it's called when you get thrown in a shower with your clothes on and the water running."
The disturbed look got a little deeper. "...That happens?"
"Yup," Duo answered cheerfully. "Sometimes it's great fun. Depends on how hard the showeree fights back. We've gotten some great chases, and I think I led a rather good one, if I do say so myself. I even managed to stay drier than the poor guys that had to drag me into the stall."
"...And this is a tradition?"
"Mm-hm. But like I said, I don't think you'd enjoy that very much, so I wouldn't try it. Although I suppose you can consider this your warning, if anyone tries to innocently ask you when your birthday is. Hey, when is your birthday, anyway?"
Heero blinked at him incredulously. "You think that, after you just said all that, I'm going to tell you when my birthday is?"
He held up his hands defensively. "And didn't I also just say that I wouldn't shower you? Incidentally, you can also get showered for scoring very well on your freshman exams."
"You're not going to pretend that my exams are freshman exams, are you?"
"Nah, doesn't count at all. The whole point is that freshmen should be lazy during their freshman classes, but since you're not in freshman classes, you have no reason to be lazy."
"Being a freshman is a reason?"
He shrugged. "Hey, I don't make up the rules. Which brings me back to the point. I guess I'll let you in on it, if nothing else so we don't have to fill you in later, because whether or not you're a part of it, the rest of the school will be, so you should know, especially so you don't spill the secret to the frosh. See, while the frosh are all off at their first exam of the year, usually chem, things... have a way of 'happening' to their rooms."
Heero raised an eloquent eyebrow at him.
He obligingly elaborated. "Like doorknobs go missing. Or chairs are 'borrowed' to make a big sculpture in the courtyard. Some of them are rather quite impressive, actually."
"...And this is sanctioned by the school?"
Duo shrugged again. "Hey, it's harmless. And it's tradition. Can't mess with tradition. And the upperclassmen all help to put things back together again. I'm not sure why you're surprised. You chose to go to an odd school, Heero."
"...I don't believe that oddity was sufficiently conveyed in the brochures." Well, this was the 'personality' he'd been looking for, he supposed.
"Wouldn't want to scare anyone off, now would we? Anyway, I think their exam is coming up, so be prepared. I mean, for the pranking of others, not you. You'll probably see some of the results on campus, is all. I guess nothing will happen to you, especially since you don't live on campus."
"Most of the frosh take the same classes, right?" Otherwise there couldn't be a single day for all of them.
"Yeah. They have a pretty standardized exam schedule for finals, too. Hey, look up the finals schedule for this year, will you?"
And he wouldn't have minded doing so, only, "Um, where exactly do you want me to look?"
"Online." Duo set aside his homework and pushed himself off of Heero's futon sofa. "I think it's listed under the registrar's office. I just want to know when my finals are. For the last three semesters, I've been consistently stuck with nasty times. Either I get stuck with a couple of them at the end of the week, on Saturdays no less, or I get them all at once."
As Heero accessed the registrar's homepage and located the final exam schedule, Duo wandered up behind him, laying a hand upon Heero's shoulder as he focused on the screen and only realizing after the fact that he had done so. He felt the body beneath his hand still for a moment before it registered and accepted the presence of the intrusion, and then the natural sway of a resting position recommenced. He let his hand move with the shoulder, and when he leaned forward a little to get a better look at the screen, first his wrist, and then the rest of his forearm down to his elbow, eventually made contact with Heero's solid back, and soon enough, they were moving together.
Heero frowned at the chair in front of his desk. He'd already spent so many hours in it today, it was daunting to think he had at least another hour or two to spend in it if he wanted to finish his assignment tonight. He'd just used the excuse of a shower to free himself from the seat, and now that he was clean and refreshed, he was finding it difficult to motivate himself to glue his butt to the cushion again.
He stalled with a lazy stretch, then seated himself on his bed to re-analyze the situation, scooting back until he could lean against the wall. Could he do the work on his bed? Technically, yes, but unfortunately, despite the term 'laptop', he found it fairly uncomfortable to work with his laptop in his lap for any significant period of time. Besides, he'd still be sitting, so that solution really didn't solve the problem.
When he realized that his elbow was resting on top of Grumpy's head, he absently adjusted his arm off the plushy's head, and soon found himself with a choker hold on the poor bear. Once that fact had made it through to his consciousness as well, he released the bear and sighed, his mind bombarded with images of similarly uncomfortable positions as Duo tried in vain to cuddle with him. They hadn't established full body contact yet, but Heero had a feeling it was only a matter of time. The idea did not excite him. When they had agreed that there was some unexpected and unmeasured level of intimacy between the two of them, Heero assumed they had also agreed they would eventually develop some physical aspect to go along with things. It had yet to manifest, and while he was glad for that fact, it wasn't necessarily because he didn't want it. It made his chest tighten just thinking about it, and not in a good way, with things just going downhill when those awkward images joined the party.
He had to seriously ask himself if he did want it, or if he was just willing to accept it. The latter didn't quite seem fair to Duo, so he thought about it and Duo and what Duo meant to him. Mostly, it could be simplified to him feeling close to Duo, and facing the prospect of being even closer to him with a good deal of equanimity. The other day, when he'd been lying on the sofa doing some reading for class, he'd felt something tickling his bare arm. Figuring it to be some loose hair, he'd reached over without looking to remove it, but it had been less than cooperative. He tugged at it, and freed an inch of it, then tugged some more and freed another inch of it, and it soon struck him that he should have run out of inches if it had been his hair, so he sat up and looked, and lo and behold, the hair wasn't short and dark, but long and golden-brown, ground deep enough into the fabric of the sofa that it took a little bit of effort to get it out. He supposed Duo was somewhat like that. With anyone else's hair, Heero might have been a little annoyed or a little creeped out by finding it, so he had been a little surprised to find himself idly playing with the hair at the time, stroking it with his fingers and studying its color when he should have been sensible and thrown it out.
There were no definite conclusions to be had from this recollection, but thinking of Duo warmed him from the inside out. He imagined it was probably how it would feel if Duo's arms were wrapped around him, and the idea sent another wave of warmth through him, but the idea of wrapping his arms around Duo and embarrassing himself by doing something wrong chilled him rather quickly.
Well, he thought, practice makes perfect. He picked up Grumpy, making sure he wasn't doing it in a rude manner this time, and brought the bear with him to his desk. When he sat down in his chair, he arranged Grumpy to sit in his lap, determined to keep him nearby whenever he was sitting around his apartment -- and Duo wasn't present -- until he finally acquired at least some degree of familiarity with this whole cuddling idea.
"...and finally, whatever it was just seemed to be getting out of hand, so I just asked him what was bothering him, and-- Duo?"
Heero ducked his head a little in an effort to catch Duo's eyes. "Hello?"
Duo blinked up at him with a bit of surprise. "What? Oh. Umm, sorry. Go on."
"Oookay." And here Duo had been the one to ask for the story in the first place. He adjusted his seat on the sofa and picked up the thread of his tale. "So I asked him, and he got this look on his face. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it on him. It's hard to describe..."
Heero proceeded with the narration of how Trowa and Quatre ended up together, but noticed Duo's attention had drifted away from him again, and after Heero continued to study the strange phenomenon, it suddenly occurred to him that Duo's attention was fixed on his mouth. He stumbled over a word, a sudden feeling of self-consciousness creeping over him, but kept on going for a while, up until he noticed his own eyes drifting towards Duo's slightly parted lips. He stopped, blinked hard to try to refocus, and started again, but it couldn't last long. Duo's power of suggestion was too strong. His words became slow and halting between his quickened breaths, and finally they stopped altogether when his concentration was totally shattered by the vision of Duo's lips. He tried, he really did, but things just couldn't work out that way.
Well, obviously his mind was trying to tell him something, and so was Duo, for that matter, so what could he do besides give in? He could pretend that he hadn't been thinking about it off and on for the last few days, but there was little point in lying to himself. There was only one way to purge his mind of all that useless wondering, and here was the perfect opportunity. Best to just do it before the moment passed. He reflexively licked his lips at the thought before letting himself lean slowly towards Duo, head tilting until it reached the proper angle of approach. He slid to a halt about a centimeter away from contact.
They stayed perfectly still for quite a few long moments before Duo's lips turned upwards in a smile Heero couldn't quite see, but could somehow feel. "You gonna leave me hanging here or what, Yuy?"
Without shifting his position, he answered softly. "I was sort of hoping you'd take over from here."
The smile widened fractionally. "Well, I was planning on totally letting you make the first move whenever you were comfortable with it." Although Duo was obviously not above a little prodding, as this incident showed. It was good to know he wasn't not moving because he was unwilling, anyway.
"Then we've got a problem here."
"If you're not comfortable--"
"I am. I just..." Well, maybe he wasn't entirely comfortable, but only because this was a new and strange thing to him. He was sure he wanted it, though, even if he wasn't sure how, and that was enough. "Just consider the first move made and kiss me already." Before I lose my nerve, he added silently.
"You got it." Their lips finally made each other's acquaintance.
Whoa. Why did Duo feel as giddy as if this was his first kiss? Well, it wasn't his first kiss, but it was their first kiss. Maybe that was it? Maybe, but not quite. He realized he had never initiated one before. He'd never personally overcome that obstacle before. He'd never liked anyone enough to do so before. Alright, so technically Heero initiated the process, so maybe they first-kissed each other. But still.
It was a little more intoxicating that he'd expected it to be. The gentle movement of their lips against each other was so sweet that it was only several long moments later that he realized the hands that were pressed flat against his chest were in fact pushing a little too firmly to qualify as just wanting to be closer to him. He dragged his head out of the clouds and pulled back, slightly confused. The hands may have been pushing him away, but the lips had been quite willing to let him to stay.
Heero didn't let him stray far, his hands shifting to twist Duo's shirt lightly into his grasp and keep him near even as he turned away and let his forehead come to a rest against Duo's shoulder. Duo let him have a moment, one they both needed to let their breathing slow back down to resting levels, before he placed a tentative hand on Heero's back. "Heero?"
Beneath his hand, he felt Heero take a deep, steadying breath before he pushed himself off of Duo's shoulder and raised his head to meet him eye to eye in a single swift stroke of confidence. "Sorry," Heero said, his face stained a faint red. "That was awfully blushing virgin of me, wasn't it?"
"No. No, sorry, that was totally my bad." Visions of unresponsive guys he'd dated danced distastefully through Duo's head. It was definitely not on his to-do list to become one of those guys that didn't like to take no for an answer. "I... I should have been paying more attention... or something..."
"No. I started this. This is totally my fault." Heero averted his eyes, head lowered slightly as he silently gathered his thoughts. "I... may have lied when I said I was comfortable." The hands still tangled in Duo's shirt stopped the other young man from putting more distance between them. "But that doesn't mean that... I don't know what it means." He met the indigo eyes again squarely. "I started this, and I was sure when I started this. I was sure that... that I wanted this, even if I wasn't entirely comfortable with that, or even if I'm still not entirely comfortable with that." With a sigh, he dropped his gaze once more, only as a surprised afterthought realizing that he was still gripping Duo's shirt. He let it go and smoothed out the wrinkles absently. "I guess I'm just not used to this."
Well, yes, that was sort of blushing virgin, but it was rather cute, too. Duo moved his hands demurely into his lap and studied them for a second or two. "So... does that mean ya... wanna get used to it?"
A little lopsided smile snuck onto Heero's face as he shook his head. "No, I want to get comfortable with it. There's a difference."
Duo cocked his head to the side, and he scratched jokingly at it. "Hmm, seems kinda like a sappy difference to me." Heero's face started to crinkle up into an annoyed pout, but Duo swooped in, gave him a swift peck on the nose that was there and gone again before Heero had any time to react, let alone get uncomfortable, and then settled back down again with an easy smile. "So, what were you saying before I got distracted?"
It had only been a few weeks, but they'd worked out a system. When Heero entered the store looking for Duo, he nodded cordially to Howard without verbal greeting since the man was currently engaged with a customer at the register, then lifted an eyebrow in silent request. In response, Howard tilted his head towards the backroom in acknowledgment and invitation, and Heero went on back with only another slight nod in thanks. On days when Howard was not otherwise occupied, some words might be included in the exchange, but always Heero asked permission before going on up, even if he had to go out of his way to hunt the storeowner down first.
"Why, there he is again." Ms. Flanagan's words passed beyond the threshold of Heero's hearing as he disappeared into the back. She'd spied him or signs of him at least two thirds of the times she'd shopped here.
"Heero? Yeah. Good kid." Howard's wide grin was a little suspect.
"Hmm? Has our little Duo found someone?" She was a longtime customer of Howard's, and had somehow during the years managed to bear witness to some of Duo's initial turmoil as he struggled with his sexual identity, and since Duo's lack of a mother figure had spoken to her maternal instincts long ago, she had also been one of the first to embrace him without regard for his orientation.
"Officially? Not yet. At least, the kid hasn't said anything yet. But if not yet, then soon. Duo's so sweet on him it's funny." He ended with another big smile, if one on the conspiratorial side, which she gleefully shared.
Blissfully ignorant of the conversation at the counter, Heero climbed the stairs and called out as he entered the open doorway at the top. "Duo, you in?"
"You know Howard wouldn't have told you to come on up if I wasn't," came the blithe response from the young man at the kitchen table, books spread out before him in a half-hearted attempt to get some work done.
Heero shrugged as he pulled up a chair, glancing at Duo's arrangement and mentally calculating the workload. "Sorry. Maybe it's a Japanese thing. I can think of at least, hmm, four ways of announcing yourself before you enter a room, off the top of my head."
"Do you have a very Japanese household at home?" Duo was more than happy for a little distraction from his studies.
"Not to the point where we announce ourselves before we enter a room. Then again, that's not a very casual thing to do, even in Japan. But I guess it shows in the little things. We take off our shoes. I have a tendency to cook with chopsticks. And of course, I remember the firm instructions about not standing my chopsticks upright in my rice."
"They do that at funerals, so it's highly inappropriate to do that at dinner. But other than that... we run a pretty relaxed household. And Mom... hasn't been around for a long time. And living with my father, a fairly American American, she probably wouldn't have been able to be very Japanese anyway. But she tried. In the little things."
Duo gave Heero's dad a mental kick in the shins. Stupid close-minded Americans. He was starting to get a feel for why Heero didn't seem to like the man very much, and it wasn't just because his so-called father left them. A smile was called for at this point, and he plied it on Heero, reaching out to lay his hand on the one already sitting innocently on the table. "But I guess it's the little things that count, right?"
Heero offered him a tentative smile in return, his mind cheerfully pointing out to him how warm and dry Duo's palm was. Somewhere along the way, Heero had picked up quite the aversion to sweaty palms, which was funny, considering how infrequently he came into contact with the palms of others. Maybe it was some odd and forgotten childhood trauma. "Yeah, I guess."
"You were born in the States, right?"
"Hmm." Their hands continued their quiet companionship on the table top. "You ever been to Japan?"
"No. Maybe one day. But I don't know. It seems like it'd be... weird. On the one hand, it'd be like honoring my mother and my heritage, which is fine, but on the other..." He shrugged lopsidedly. "I wonder if I should look up her family or something."
"Not your family?"
"Not my family," he echoed softly, with only a dash of regret to color the tone. "Like I said, never been to Japan, never met them. I think they sort of wrote her off after she got married to an American soldier and moved out here. I don't think she talked to them much, and I know no one came to her funeral, even though I remember Odin going out of his way to try and track someone down. I'm sure he found someone to inform."
"That's harsh, man," Duo asked, offended on his friend's behalf.
Heero shrugged yet again. "We did well enough without them," he opined, running the possibilities through his mind. "I mean, what would have happened if they'd decided to take me back to Japan or something? I don't think that would have been good." He would have been young enough to adapt, but if his mother's family hadn't approved of her marriage, they probably wouldn't have approved of her half-breed offspring, either.
A short silence fell, during which they each realized that Duo's thumb had taken up a gentle rubbing motion against Heero's knuckles. Neither of them did anything to change the situation.
Eventually, Duo left his hand to its own devices and started up with a random thought again. "You know, I always thought it was a pretty funny thing, you of all people taking a conversation class. Or maybe it's the most appropriate thing for you of all people. Whatever. But... I guess that's kinda important to you, isn't it?" When Heero didn't answer immediately, he rushed to rescind his question. "Sorry, I guess that's--"
"It's fine," Heero cut him off quietly. "It's just... you know, sometimes you don't see something until someone points it out to you? I've never really thought about it. It was just... a given, I guess. Even when I actually picked up a textbook in middle school to review and straighten out my grammar and things, I didn't think about why. And when I signed up for the class, I think I just saw it in the catalog, thought, 'oh, that's nice', and put it down in my schedule."
A corner of Duo's lips quirked upwards. It seemed out of character for Heero to do anything so thoughtlessly, but when he did, sometimes the best things happened. He had a good heart when his mind didn't get in the way.
"But now that you mention it...," he continued. "My mom went through a lot of trouble to teach her language to me. I mean, it's not like she had to; her English was pretty fluent. I guess she wanted to share, and it was like our private little thing. Not so much a little secret after it was just the two of us, but still, just ours. I guess I just don't want to lose that."
"You're lucky you have that." Duo's hand halted in its rubbing to deliver a squeeze, and the subsequent warmth that had finally reached critical mass tingled its merry way up his arm and nudged him into leaning over and giving Heero a kiss that landed on the corner of his mouth from the angle. After pulling back and meeting the bright blue eyes Heero had inherited from his father, Duo realized how fleetingly wistful he'd sounded, and he quickly changed the subject. "So, how much do you have to do today?"
Thursday. Duo wasn't too fond of Thursday, in particular, lunch time on Thursday. Thursday meant a Heeroless lunch, which he would probably be able to tolerate well enough, if Thursday didn't also mean he was left to the mercy of his Thursday lunching companion.
"Well?" he finally asked. Hilde had been looking avidly at him since the moment she plopped her tray on the table, and he was getting a little tired of waiting for her to pounce.
She let a few seconds pass in silence, coincidentally finishing her mouthful of food while heightening the anticipation and lending her a thin air of dignity. "So."
"Is he still not your boyfriend?"
Damn. He'd been hoping against hope that perhaps she would have something else to attack him with. "Yes."
"Even though when I stopped by the market yesterday, I caught a glimpse of you in the mirrors?"
Duo's eyes narrowed as he ran over yesterday's events, trying to find something incriminating. A part of his mind was ready to whack him if he'd been careless enough to have done something within sight of the mirrors. He prided himself on knowing just what was visible where, but even the safe spots could be compromised by a viewer standing at just the right angle. But to his recollection, all they'd been doing was some innocent shelving. "And what do you think you glimpsed?"
"The two of you kissing in aisle four."
"We were not kissing." The denial came swiftly and easily, without his even having to review the accusation. He knew it to be false. Howard's reputation was never going to be tarnished by him making out with another guy in the store for all the world to see. One wrong person and enough nasty words, and the market could suffer. He would never do that to his uncle. And then, of course, there was Heero. The rest of it was just general principle, but there was this little set of reasons associated solely with Heero, who was still in the process of 'getting used to' the whole idea of kissing, let alone the actual act of kissing. Duo would not choose to deliberately compound Heero's unease by kissing him in public. And then there were the slightly less altruistic feelings that were making Duo want to keep their intimacy all to himself, but as usual, he didn't think too hard about it. Duck and cover was still the best policy when it came to those kinds of thoughts.
"Okay, fine," Hilde conceded with a small roll of her eyes. She hadn't actually seen any such thing, but she'd hoped she might bluff her way into getting a confession out of him. "But you were definitely in his personal space."
"The aisles aren't that big, Hil."
"No, you were definitely in his personal space."
"Okay, fine, so I was. Big deal." He may not have been kissing anybody in the store, but oh, he'd wanted to for a moment there. Heero had just turned around, and Duo had been standing conveniently close behind him at the time. He'd grinned into Heero's startled face and leaned forward just a bit, pleased to find Heero holding his ground. Then he'd reached out, casually straightened an item that Heero had accidentally nudged with his elbow, and moved on with only a wink. Now that he was thinking about it, though, Hilde had managed to make her presence known shortly thereafter.
"So he's still not your boyfriend."
"No, he's not." One of these days, he was going to say that and then find out that Heero had been standing right behind him, and if Heero threw some sort of hissy fit over it, Duo swore he would cut half his braid off. He didn't think such extreme measures would be necessary, though.
"So he's still, what was it, a friend with benefits?"
"Sure, whatever." He shrugged and shoveled some food into his mouth to avoid any immediate inquiries.
Unfortunately, Hilde was willing to wait for her answers. "And that's better than a boyfriend, how exactly?"
He made sure he chewed quite thoroughly before swallowing. "Because it's no big deal, Hilde." The simple statement was both an answer and an unsuccessful attempt to get her to stop questioning him about it.
"Uh-huh. Yeah. Say, you wanna help me out on my stat homework, or do you have plans with Heero?" She lingered over his name in a mocking, sing-songy fashion.
"I never have plans with Heero." Well, once upon a time, he had had a plan involving Heero, but it didn't quite work out the way he'd expected.
"Uh-huh," Hilde said skeptically once more. "Then how do you two manage to spend so much time together, hmmm?"
Duo shrugged. "We see each other when we see each other." Like he'd said, no big deal. Although they managed to see each other a lot every day, it was still a load off his mind to not have to commit to a timetable. It was like working their relationship into their regular schedules, not having to alter their regular schedules to work around their relationship. Their relationship was important to him, but it couldn't be a priority right now, and if it couldn't handle that, then oh well, must not have been meant to be, and Heero understood that. Yay for Heero. He quickly moved on before the warm fuzzies could attack him. "It's not like we date or anything. Usually we just do our homework. Woohoo. Or eat."
"Yeah, and being that you're a student with lots of homework, and you're a growing boy, eating and doing homework adds up to a lot of time."
"Funny how that works, isn't it?" Duo answered blandly. "So when were you planning on doing your stat?"
When Heero got back to his laptop, he noticed a little icon flashing in the taskbar telling him that someone had instant-messaged him. Maneuvering the pointer to the corner of the screen, he double-clicked and read the message from Trowa. "Quatre wants to know if you're still alive."
Heero snorted, taking the seat Grumpy had been keeping warm for him and settling the perennially disgruntled bear into his lap before he IM'ed his friend back. "I'm online, aren't I?"
Trowa was still online, so his reply was swift. "Someone could have broken into your apartment, murdered you in an appropriately gruesome fashion, and then stolen your wallet, keys, and laptop."
"Then how do you know I'm not the murderer just pretending to be me? Maybe my bloodied corpse is lying at my feet right now."
He had to wait for a little while to get the response. "Quatre doesn't think that's very funny."
Heero did, especially when he soon got a message from Quatre stating that very same thing, only with an exclamation point. He sent off an evil laugh to Quatre before continuing his conversation with Trowa. "I thought Quatre was counting on Duo to babysit me."
"And speaking of Duo...."
"..." Heero could keep this up as long as Trowa could.
"..." Or not. "*sigh* Fine. What about him?" At least he knew Trowa would keep his inquiries discreet.
"Did you make the right decision?"
"I like it when I give good advice."
Heero rolled his eyes. "Got any more?"
"No..." Trowa waited patiently for him to decide to spit it out. It took Heero a few long seconds to find a good phrasing, during which he played with Grumpy's ears. He was getting better with the bear, and consequently was finding it a little easier to accept Duo's presence inside his space. "Just slow-going. On my part."
"I've only ever heard of people ruining relationships because they were going too fast, never because they were going too slow."
"True... But I'm slower than he is."
"If he's going faster than you want to go, either tell him, or kick him in the balls and get the hell out of there."
Heero choked on a laugh. "I told him. He's slowed down. But that doesn't mean I like the idea of someone having to slow down and wait for me to catch up."
The word 'overachiever' rang through both of their heads. "Don't rush. If you mess this up, I'm going to tell Quatre."
"Gee, no pressure." He hugged Grumpy to his chest in thought. He really didn't want to know the details of his friend's love life, but he did wonder how well Trowa had adjusted to having a boyfriend. He could admit to himself, however, that at least some of that was the result of some obscure competitive streak. Inadequacy was, generally speaking, an unknown for him, and it sat uneasily upon his shoulders.
The idea that Heero would ever spend his Fridays doing something special was laughable to him, so it worked out rather well that he spent his Fridays the same way he spent a good many other days: with Duo.
Some of those days after class were spent in the flat above Howard's, but some were passed in Heero's apartment, and that was where they were now. Duo spent enough time over there that the particulars of the furnishings had faded into the background, which explained how the new grumpy item managed to escape his notice for some unknown period of time. It was a large button proclaiming, 'I'll try being a little nicer if you try being a little smarter.'
Duo picked it up, studied it, and searched his memory for any recollection of the item. Finding none, he concluded it was relatively new, and turned to question Heero on its presence. "Hey, where did you get this from?"
From his seat on the floor leaning against the sofa, Heero looked up from organizing some of his paperwork. "Hm? Oh, Quatre gave it to me for my birthday. I had it stowed away somewhere, so I took out. Thought maybe I'd pin it to my backpack."
Duo's left eyelid twitched dangerously. "I'm sorry, when was your birthday?"
"Can you shower me after the fact?"
"I can shower you for whatever spurious reason I want to, like not telling me when your birthday is!"
"Oh, that's great incentive."
"Come on. You can really only shower people in the dorm bathrooms anyway, and how often are you in the dorms? I can't believe you didn't tell me. I would have gotten you something."
"And how often are -you- in the dorms?"
"Huh?" How had this conversation turned to him?
Heero took the opportunity to avoid his birthday and ran with it. It may have been nice if Duo had gotten him something, but he really didn't have to. None of his other friends did, only Quatre. They weren't really the gift-giving types. "I heard Alex complaining the other day that you don't hang out with them in their suite as much this year."
"Uh, yeah, so?" Duo asked cautiously, putting the button down and moving over to sit on the sofa, leaving Heero by his feet. "I mean, this is junior year, after all. It's usually the busiest year."
Heero stayed on the floor, but set his papers aside and turned partially to face his friend, resting an elbow on top of the futon cushion. "From what I understand, you usually go over there to do homework first, hang out later, so I don't really see it cutting into your time."
"Well, yeah, that's the plan, but trust me, it's easy to get distracted in the middle of work when there's so much potential play floating around the room."
That excuse wasn't going to fly very well. "You don't seem to have that problem when you come over here and do your work."
"...What's this about, Heero?" Answering a question with a question could be a convenient evasion at times.
It seemed as if Heero were taking a moment to choose his words carefully. "I just... don't want to be the reason why you're not hanging out with your other friends as much as you used to."
As Duo thought that through, a large chunk of his processing power was devoted to pointing out smugly that this was one more example of how Heero hit unprecedented levels of goodness. He was used to boyfriends trying to monopolize his time, not fearing that very same thing. "Heero. Yes, I guess the reason I'm not hanging out with them as much is because I'm hanging out more with you. But that's a choice I make because I prefer to hang out with you more than I want to hang out with them."
He held up a hand to forestall Heero's argument. "You're not the reason why, not really. Not the way you think. It's not like you've made me forget all about them. Sorry, but you're not *that* great." He grinned wryly, using that time to think through his next few sentences. "I see them all the time in class, and at lunch, but maybe not in their rooms is all. I mean, it's true, it's easier to get distracted there, which is funny, I know, seeing as how there's such nice things to be distracted by here." He paused for another smile. "But... I dunno. They're my friends and all, but... I guess it would probably be pretty uppity of me to say that I maybe find them a little immature sometimes? They're great people, good friends, fun to kick back with sometimes... but I've never really... 'connected' with them very much, you know? If I wanted to hang out with someone, I'd hang out with them, but, well, now I've got you, I guess. I can fit well enough into their world, but... I like this one better." He shrugged helplessly and tried to explain further since Heero was still blinking expectantly at him. "Distraction here is... momentary, I guess. It's just, hey, you know what's funny? Blah, blah, and then it's over, and it's back to work. Distraction there is usually because they're -- we're -- trying to avoid work altogether."
"That's an impossible task," Heero finally said.
He rolled his eyes. Only for people as responsible as Heero. "Maybe. But it's all too easy to say, 'Oh, we've still got time, we'll get to it later.'"
"You'll run out of time eventually, and then you'll have to scramble to finish things, on time or not, and I don't know why you'd want that extra stress in your life." It was just so much more reasonable that way.
"You're not much of a procrastinator, are you?" But he already knew the answer to that question.
"The way I see it, either way, it'll take me x hours to finish my work, and I'll have whatever minus x hours to goof off with, so why don't I finish my work first? That way I'll have less stress for the x hours, especially if x turns out to be bigger than I thought, and I'll be better able to enjoy the rest of my hours in good conscience, knowing I earned it and that I don't have to worry about what I haven't finished yet."
Duo smiled again. "That's very conscientious of you. See, I like your philosophy better, so I should stay here, right? It's like, if I finish up my work neatly and efficiently, then the rest of the time I get to spend with you is like a reward for all my hard work." Of course, there was also the question of how he could spend a lot of his time working in relative peace and silence with Heero and still feel more -with- him than he felt when interacting with his other buddies, but he didn't feel up to examining that too closely.
Heero sighed dramatically. "I don't know if I like being a good influence on someone. It's so... goody-two-shoes. But you know, if you ever want to do something with them..."
"You mean, like if I had to choose or something? That's kinda demented."
"Well, that's the point. You don't have to choose. You... could always invite me along or something." It was like a shy offer and an admonition all at once.
"...I didn't think you liked them enough to hang out with them," Duo answered. In truth, he'd dragged Heero into their little group at lunch time, but other than that, he didn't really consider Heero to be in the same class as the rest of them. Some partition existed in his mind that kept Heero separate, so the idea of mixing the two of them outside of the proscribed lunches hadn't quite occurred to him. There had been a couple of on-campus talks and an academic mixer that they'd all attended, but those weren't really social activities, so they didn't count.
Heero shrugged. "I won't lie and say they're my kind of people, but they don't actually bother me or anything."
It was probably telling that Duo felt no offense at such a comment, nor did he have any impulsive need to defend them. He would stop short of saying he actually agreed with the sentiment, though. "Well, that's nice to hear, but I think what they usually do as hanging out would bother you. It may involve alcohol, frisbees, and toilet humor. Not necessarily all at once. Oh, and one notable experience involving a unicycle and some water balloons."
He got a skeptical look at that. "And that's all you guys do together?" He was trying to be obliging and encouraging here, but Duo wasn't giving him much to work with.
"Other than the typical homework stuff? Yeah, pretty much. They can have a, ahem, unsophisticated sense of humor at times. Well, I guess there's some video games, but they don't have anything interesting right now. All the interesting games in the suite disappeared when Jason graduated, since they were his games. Hmm, the occasional party, too, I guess. I think there's one coming up in a few weeks. It's about that time."
"Were you planning on going?"
"Well, no, not really, but I suppose, if you wanted to... Wait, you don't actually want to go to a party, do you?"
Why, yes, the idea did sound rather odd, but what the heck. "It's not like some wild frat party or anything, right? I figure I should probably at least look at a party some time while I'm in college. Round out my experience, if nothing else. Who knows? I might actually like it." His dry tone made it rather clear he didn't think that was likely, but he was willing to be open-minded.
"You actually want..." Duo shook his head and shrugged. "Okay. Whatever. We don't have to stay long if you don't want to. I can't really see you enjoying it. It's just lots of loud music and drunken people and dancing -- do you dance?"
Heero looked at him like the answer should have been obvious, but he answered mildly. "No. Are you going to make me?"
The look he received in response to that carried a hint of miffed. "Do you want to dance?"
"Then why do you think I'd make you? Although I might have to do a little obligatory dancing, if you don't mind. Probably not a lot, though. I'm not particularly fond of the atmosphere at these things, either. Loud, drunken, elbows, you know. So like I said, maybe not too long. You're right, you should go to at least one party at some point. But then we can ditch and maybe come back and have a little party of our own, eh?"
Duo grinned before leaning down to kiss Heero. The angle was a little awkward, but adequate. He let it linger for a while, shifting from one kiss to the next in an effort to find a better position until he realized that perhaps it wasn't the angle that was really the problem. Withdrawing, he studied Heero for a few long moments.
"What?" Heero asked, trying not to squirm uncomfortably.
He shook his head, started to say something, then changed his mind. "Get up here," he said instead, tugging on Heero's shirt until the young man seated on the floor finally conceded and moved to sit next to him on the sofa. He looked searchingly at Heero again, then tried another kiss or three and confirmed his conclusions. "You're..."
"What?" Heero repeated, this time with an edge that may have been timid on anyone else. On Heero, it came out a little irritated.
"You're still... getting comfortable with this, aren't you?" It was written all over his body language. His shoulders were set, his face somewhat downcast, his lips willing but not quite responsive, his hands fidgeting to find somewhere neutral to rest, and Duo slapped himself for not thinking much of it sooner.
Avoiding direct eye contact, Heero considered the question as if there were a right and a wrong answer, then attempted to shrug nonchalantly. "I guess."
"I mean, you're... better." Which wasn't really saying a lot, considering how much not-better he'd been, but most of the betterness showed up in his acceptance of Duo's touches and occasional light snuggling. It was odd that in the realm of kisses, their first one had probably been the best. "You've gotten over that whole, um, pulling away thing. But now that just means you stay still and... well, it's like you're not really participating here, and now that I think of it, that's not cool. It's like I'm just stealing kisses or something. So, I mean, is... is this not okay? Because if it's not, you know..."
He trailed off as Heero made some sounds, aborted words that conveyed a general confusion and hesitance before they resolved themselves into sentences. "No, it's-- I mean, yes, it's... whatever. It's fine."
"Fine?" Duo raised an inquisitive eyebrow. He thought things had to be a little better than merely 'fine' for him to feel less like he was taking advantage of someone. Trying to remember, he came to the conclusion that, though Heero didn't pull away from their contact, he didn't initiate it, either.
Heero fixed his gaze on the blue bear sitting across the room. "It's better than fine. It's... I don't know."
"...Do you know if you want this or not?"
"I do," he protested immediately, but that was all he said as silence fell and both of them took the time to absorb the statement. "I just..."
"Then kiss me, Heero." The soft request startled Heero into looking at him again. Duo just leaned against the back of the sofa and kept his stance open in invitation.
Unease danced across Heero's expression, but he steeled himself with an almost visible effort and tried. He leaned forward a little, pulled back uncertainly, shifted in his seat under the guise of looking for a better approach, and tried again, succeeding only in gaining a handful of inches.
Duo sighed quietly. "You look like you think you'll mess it up or something." He'd said it lightly, spurred by the guess that Heero was thinking way too hard about it, but by the return of Heero's evasive look, he supposed he'd hit the matter on the mark.
He sighed again and reached out gently to gather Heero to his side, noticing again that Heero handled that pretty well. He wasn't really cuddling back, but at least he was relaxed. "Let me tell you a little story, Heero. It probably sounds like I've had tons of boyfriends and been around the block a few times. I haven't, really. Maybe just enough to have gotten a good sampling of all the bad things, all the things I didn't want. Anyway, don't think I'm oh so experienced and worldly about these things. I mean, yeah, I know more than you do, but truthfully, I wasn't with anybody in high school. Weren't any other gay guys there that I knew of. So my first experience was me getting swooped when I was a frosh."
"Swooped?" Heero demonstrated an interest in his tale, which Duo interpreted as a positive sign.
"Yeah, it's a term for when an upperclassman goes after a freshman. You know, like a hawk diving on a dove or something?"
"That happens enough that there's a term for it?"
He shrugged. "I guess. So anyway... yeah, I got swooped. Several times, actually. And I never really got to learn anything for myself, you know? I was just kinda showed, -this- is the way it is. I got taught the way everyone else liked doing things, but... I don't care what everyone else liked. I want to toss all that... that 'experience' out the window. I think... this is like learning all over again. It's like the greatest thing, finally getting to find out what works for me. What works for us. And knowing... that what works for us... is just what works for us. I mean, for us and no one else."
"You mean it's ours?" Heero restated plainly.
"Yeah, you could put it that way," he mumbled in response, knowing full well how sappy that sounded. He'd been trying to word his way around that.
"Does kinda sound like the greatest thing," Heero muttered just as incoherently.
He smiled despite himself. "So you're learning. Big deal. So am I. But there is no absolute right and wrong, only what's right and wrong for us, and we can't figure that out unless we go exploring. And it figures that we start exploring from the basics and work our way up. So come on. Whaddya say we learn?" An unspoken 'together' hovered in the air after that question.
Heero got a contemplative look on his face before he pulled away from Duo's side. He turned in his seat to face Duo, and with just as much concentration as the first time, but considerably less second-guessing, he deliberately laid a hand upon Duo's shoulder and studied it for a little while as if gauging its placement. Satisfied that it would give him the support he needed, he pushed himself forward as smoothly as he did the first time he'd done this, and just as happened the first time, he slid to a halt just short of Duo's lips. His shoulders had just fallen, his expression transformed into one of chagrin, when Duo again closed the gap for him.
So Heero still had a problem initiating things. No big deal. One thing at a time. Duo pressed their mouths together, one hand coming up to hold onto the arm attached to the hand on his shoulder, and he paid careful attention to trying to coax Heero's lips to action until he succeeded in promising measure.
Heero came away sporting a faintly surprised, vaguely embarrassed, and somewhat amused, yet somehow happy look. He decided to try to distract himself from dwelling too much on the mixture of emotions. If he diverted his attention elsewhere, then he could just feel the emotions without his head getting in the way. "So, how did you manage to get swooped several times?"
Duo allowed the digression. Progress had been made, after all. "What can I say?" he shrugged, letting one hand drop from Heero's arm, only to move the other to Heero's leg. "I was just the new hottie on campus. Word got around, I guess." He paused, realizing how loose that made him sound. "Of course, that didn't mean I actually had to agree to go out with them. But, well, in the beginning, I was pretty willing to go along with things, maybe not enthusiastically, but for learning what it was all about, at least. Like I said, it was really the first time I'd had the chance. But I stopped things when they got to a certain point. I wasn't stupid enough to give it all up for a learning experience with some guy that thought I was flavor of the month. It kinda makes me admire you."
"Well... you know. At first? You were, I dunno, brave enough or whatever to stop things the moment things got uncomfortable for you. I... usually had to get pushed a little further before I managed to get the guts to stop things. The things we're willing to suffer for our education, right?" he chuckled weakly, trying to make light of things before he rushed on. "Anyway, so I was a little more adventurous, maybe, but no less ignorant than you in the beginning."
Heero was not one to be distracted from an important fact unless he wanted to be distracted, and in this case, he did not. Unfortunately for Duo, the fact important to Heero was not the original topic of their discussion, but the fact the dissembling young man was trying to talk past. "I didn't stop things, Duo," he responded quietly. Admitting weakness came no more easily to him than it did to Duo, but he could do it when necessary. "You stopped things. I mean, I didn't really push you away or anything. I got uncomfortable, it showed, you noticed, and you stopped. I'm sure I didn't do anything more than you did with your boyfriends, only... my boyfriend," he used the term shyly, "was attentive enough to notice and care, and yours weren't."
A smile started to bloom on Duo's lips, but it wilted soon enough.
"What?" Heero asked cautiously, worried he'd said something wrong.
Duo blinked the expression off his face. "Nothing." Heero's answering frown made him reconsider his response. "Well-- I mean, it's something, but not a big important something, so sort of nothing...?" Uh-huh, if he was going to fudge with the truth, shouldn't he be doing it with some degree of confidence if he wanted to succeed? He sighed. "I mean... are we?"
"Are we what?"
"You know. Boyfriends?"
A wrinkle appeared in Heero's brow. "Well, aren't we... hmm. But we... huh."
"See what I mean?"
"Well, not exactly."
Darn, and Duo had felt so close to feeling vindicated. "I mean, it's not like we're dating, right?"
"But you could date someone and never consider that person your boyfriend or girlfriend. I don't consider Relena to have been a girlfriend."
"Who?" What the hell?
"Oh, the girl Quatre introduced me to in high school."
"Oh yeah." Phew. He'd forgotten about her.
"And we're, well, trying anyway, to make out on my couch. I think that would count for something somewhere." Heero wasn't quite certain what he was hoping it counted for, though. The terminology involved in their relationship had never much bothered him. He had, in fact, been deliberately ignoring conventional terminology, mostly dealing with the fact that he was probably now being technically classified as gay, a state he did not particularly identify with at all.
"Yeah, but I could make out with a lot of people on your couch... well, okay, not literally--"
"I certainly hope not."
"-- and it doesn't have to count for anything."
"Fine." Heero waded through all the nonsensical little terms for relationships he'd come across, trying to formulate some answer for Duo since it seemed to be important to him. It reminded him oddly of the time he'd done a similar thing for Trowa when they had been trying to categorize his relationship with Quatre. "We're friends, right?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"And we're boys, right?"
Duo shot him an exasperated look. Why was it Heero was so cool and confident when it came to things like this, and so completely not when it came to the simple things like kissing? "That doesn't mean--"
"Just getting the basics down," Heero cut him off calmly. "Are you just messing with me?"
"What? Of course not--"
"Do you have someone else you currently consider your boyfriend, or are you currently seeking one?"
"Are you just here because you have nothing or no one better to do?"
"Are you on the rebound?"
"Are you trying to make someone else jealous?"
"Of course not!"
"Do you like me?"
"Are you planning on ending this any time soon?"
Duo waited tensely for the next ridiculous question, but it seemed Heero was done with them. "So it seems we're both here simply because we want to be with each other, without any apparent ulterior motives. We're not seeing other people, and in fact have no desire to see other people. We plan on continuing this relationship with no pre-fabricated excuse for termination. We are friends, with both emotional and physical involvement, and we are both boys. It would seem to me that, regardless of how we spend our time, the term 'boyfriend' probably applies." When all he got was something resembling a scowl, he asked one last question. "What do you have against the term?"
"Nothing," Duo immediately rebutted, stopping just short of a snap. He didn't like being overwhelmed by logic. It left very little recourse for denial. "It's not like I haven't used the term before." But then he paused thoughtfully. "...Or maybe that's it. I've had boyfriends before. And you... are not one of them. I mean, you're totally different from the rest of them -- in a good way. You know, which is good, since I've never really liked any of my other boyfriends very much." He felt really lame saying that, but it was the sad truth. "But... you see, I like you, so... you can't be one of them." See, he could be just as logical when he had to be.
This whole relationship was definitely doing new and interesting things to Heero. It was only after he'd accepted Duo's advances that he started feeling these strange, heartwarming twinges that made him want to blush and smile and gods, just be *close* to Duo all at once. He settled for just the smile, and even then it came out kind of smothered and lopsided. "Well. Why don't I lay claim to the term, and then all the rest of them could be the pretend-boyfriends. Unless you'd prefer it the other way--"
"No." A tenuous grin settled on Duo's face as well. "No, that's fine. That's... really... really fine."
Heero had taken care of the smile, but something still wanted out, and damned if he was going to blush, so he took what was left and got close, leaning in until he was just short of his target, and then finally managing to make contact on his own. Granted, he still waited patiently for Duo to take over, but at least he had succeeded in getting his lips to Duo's for once.
Duo started strongly, but soon slowed down and made sure Heero wasn't just being taken along for the ride. It was strange, but the more he tried this sedate, attentive kiss, so different from what he was used to, the more he liked it.
It ended with a contented sigh, and again, Heero broke into the following calm to distract himself from the fact that he was hovering close over Duo, and that Duo's arm had found its way around his waist. "Duo Maxwell, are you swooping me?"
Duo's throaty chuckle was felt more than heard. "You're no frosh."
"I thought I was your frosh."
"That's kind of tacky, don't you think?" he continued to muse, pausing very briefly to let a tingle run down his spine as Duo's lips ghosted idly down the line of his jaw. His head tilted automatically to allow better access. "Swooping your own frosh. You should swoop someone else's frosh."
"Yeah, well, I always was a rebel. Besides, you may be my frosh, but I'm not really your upperclassman. So there."
"So, if you're the same year I am, does that make you a frosh, too?"
Duo lifted his head again so he could look Heero straight in the eye. "Didn't I just say we were both frosh when it comes to this?"
"Works for me," Heero shrugged before managing to get his lips to Duo's under his own power for the second time that night.
"Well, what do you think so far?" Duo asked loudly.
"What?" Heero asked more loudly, trying to read Duo's lips. He couldn't hear much over the thumping of the music. It made him somewhat edgy, knowing that something important could happen, and he might never even know it.
Duo took him by the arm and pulled him close enough to speak directly into his ear. "I said, what do you think so far?"
It actually wasn't quite how he'd pictured it. Yes, the loud music was there, and all the people, with maybe half of them bouncing around to the rhythm and the other half holding their big red party cups, but there was just something about it that seemed off. Maybe he'd been expecting the typical club scene one might catch on TV, and here was a bunch of people that just looked like college students at a party. He recognized too many of them from campus. "It's loud," he ended up shouting at Duo. "And stuffy."
Duo took a hold of his sleeve and tugged him towards one of the side doors. When they were finally out of the target area of the speakers, things quieted down a little and Heero felt like he could finally breathe again. Part of the problem had been music that seemed to sweep the air away with it, and the other part was that it was indeed stuffy. And hot. And unpleasantly humid. But it was better the closer they got to the door.
Duo grinned at him. "Told ya you wouldn't like it."
He shrugged. "I never disagreed. I just thought I should check it out anyway."
"Hey, Duo!" They both turned to see Hilde approaching them with a cheerful wave. "Oh, and Heero, too? I didn't expect to see you here."
"Yeah, well, Heero wanted to come," Duo said, knowing full well what kind of response that answer would draw.
As expected, Hilde snorted. "Yeah, right, Heero wanted to come."
"No, really. Isn't that right, Heero?"
Heero shrugged again. "Sort of."
"Hey, don't you 'sort of' me." He poked Heero's side. "He just thought he'd check it out. And I get to be his tour guide through this mess. Kinda like, what was it, Virgil guiding Dante?"
"Yeah?" Hilde answered, still somewhat skeptical. "And what do you think of it, Heero?"
It seemed to him that Hilde was enjoying herself, so he tried to find something that wouldn't offend her. "I don't think I'll need to check it out a second time."
Duo laughed. "Yeah, this really isn't his scene. He only lasted a few minutes inside."
"I'm not fond of crowds," he retorted mildly in his defense. Of course, he wasn't fond of people in general, so perhaps it wasn't surprising. "Especially when they're all crammed inside a confined space."
"Eh, you get used to it," Hilde tossed off. "You get into the groove and you don't even notice how stuffy it is in there anymore."
"Stuffy," he repeated, letting his slightly flat tone convey his agreement. It didn't help that it smelled like people inside, and like cheap beer outside. "It gave me a headache."
"And after just a few minutes? Wow, this really isn't your scene. Well, come on, then. The guys are over in one of the lounges taking a break."
They followed where she led. "Hey, I don't suppose it's the one with the pool table?" Duo asked.
"Nah, they locked that thing away. They just got it re-felted at the beginning of the year. Wouldn't want it wasted with some careless guy and his drink. And there are a lot of careless guys with drinks around here." She opened a door and entered. "Hey, guys, look who I found!"
They were greeted with party-induced enthusiasm. Heero just seated himself and tried to stay out of the way as Duo got dragged into goofing off a bit with his buddies, while trying to look like he wasn't trying to stay out of the way. He didn't notice it when Hilde slipped back outside again, only to return a few minutes later with some drinks in hand. She handed one of three cups to Heero. He took it with a raised eyebrow.
"You said it was hot and stuffy, so I got you a drink while I was out there." Then she turned towards the others and called out, "Hey, Duo, I got you something to drink!" Duo responded with a wave to indicate he'd be there in a moment.
Heero took a cautious sniff of his drink. "There's alcohol in this." Although he may have been confusing that with the general smell of alcohol lingering in the air.
"Oh, I'm sorry, do you not drink?"
He blinked thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Not really."
"Well, alcohol's great for headaches, so drink up."
Didn't alcohol cause headaches? Well, perhaps not until the morning after. He carefully sipped at his drink and suppressed a wince at the taste. It tasted as good as the air smelled.
Duo came up then, smothering a laugh at Heero's expression, but he accepted his drink with only thanks to Hilde and took a swallow without a problem. Heero met his eye, reading the amusement there, and deliberately took another drink from his cup, once again not quite hiding his distaste.
His companion chuckled, watching as Hilde drifted away from them to dance with Alex to the music heard through the walls of the dorm. "You don't have to drink that, you know."
The liquid swishing around in his cup seemed relatively harmless, and he refused to be cowed by it. "Well, it's only one cup. And I was kind of thirsty."
"Yeah, but you can go get something else to drink if you want."
He shook his head. "Then I'd have to go back outside, and wade through all of that to find the bar. Then I'd have to try and find something non-alcoholic."
"Just pretend you're a frosh. They know they're not supposed to be serving alcohol to the frosh, or whoever's underage. Of course, that doesn't mean that they don't."
It hadn't occurred to him that he was underage, and probably the rest of them were, too. That wasn't really what he'd consider a reason he'd use for not drinking, though. There was too much implication that he might want to drink if he were over twenty-one, and he didn't foresee that happening. "No, thanks. I think I'd rather hide in here where it's safe."
Duo cast a slightly worried look at him. "You know, we can just take off if you don't want to be here. There's no point in staying."
"No," Heero declined. "We just got here. We can stay for a while longer. It's just hanging out, and it's just a drink. I'll live." He took another sip from his cup to prove his point, and managed to suppress the sour expression this time. One drink probably wasn't enough to do anything more than make him a little flushed. And if he really couldn't hold his liquor, well, he supposed now would be as good a time as any to find out.
He received a dubious look, but otherwise his offer was accepted. "Okay, well, let me know, though."
One nod, some chatting, and a few "thank god I'm not as wasted as them"s later, and Heero was relaxedly ensconced on the arm of a chair, watching life swirl around him. The others had managed to inveigle him into a few things, but they otherwise left him alone, Duo not withstanding. Heero got to watch him goof around and found the sight oddly satisfying, and Duo always came back to him under the guise of drinking out of the cup Heero was watching for him. And when that cup was empty, well, he came back anyway.
"You're all red-like, ya know."
"I know," Heero answered placidly. Since alcohol only made a person feel warmer, it really was rather illogical to drink when one was already rather warm. "I can feel it, thank you."
"One cup, eh?" He put the back of his hand to his cheek. "I'm not feeling it at all."
"You probably have robust barbarians as ancestors. Besides, I think it was a little more than one cup."
"Oh?" Duo tilted his head curiously. "So you got used to the taste, then? But I didn't see you get another. Did Hilde actually get you one?"
"No." She had threatened to, though. She'd tried to convince him to dance with her once or twice, but Heero had refused, joking that he'd need more than just one cup of beer for that to happen. She'd suggested he dance with Duo as well, but that was fended off with the same response. "But I think our cups got mixed up at some point because somewhere along the way, you finished off your drink with a single gulp when I know you had more left than that, and I realized that I had more left than I thought I had."
"And you kept drinking anyway?"
Heero shrugged. One cup, more or less, what did it matter? He tried to estimate how long he thought the flush would last. He'd never drank before, didn't weigh very much, and had dinner a few hours ago. It seemed the odds were against him.
"Well, the guys are going to head back out again, so I guess, you wanna hang out here some more or what?"
"Hm, some air would be nice."
They left with the others and eventually managed to slip away when the rest of them dispersed into the crowd. Duo steered them away from the party and out into the blessedly cool night air. "So, now you've gone to a party, had some beer, seen someone throw up in the bushes... think your college experience is complete now?"
"Makes me glad I don't live on campus. Or in that dorm, rather. I'd hate to be there tomorrow."
"Yeah, they probably have a clean-up crew if they've done their organizing right, but they'll only take care of the cups and moving the furniture back into place. Doesn't do anything for the vomit in the bushes and the beer on the floor."
"And that godsawful stench, I imagine. How late will the party go to?"
"Hm, oh, usually around one. I think that's the official end time the school lists. But I remember at least one party where they stopped everything at one o'clock for, like, five minutes, and then started back up again since it was technically the next day."
"So you'd go to these parties, hang out with your friends, dance a little, drink a little... it looked like you were enjoying yourself." If there was any hint of accusation at all in that statement, it was because Duo had said that he didn't enjoy it more than because he had enjoyed it.
"Well, yeah," Duo admitted, remembering what conversation had led them to coming to the party in the first place. "But in a pure mindless escapism sort of way. That's good every once in a while, but that doesn't mean that I'm interested in doing that all of the time. That just becomes debauchery." They bumped shoulders, and he had a hard time trying to figure out if it had been a tiny sign of affection or a tipsy weave.
"Once in a while, then."
"Why are you so set on trying to get me to hang out with them?"
"That was part of the original agreement, wasn't it? You asked if I would take you away from your friends, and I said no, I wouldn't."
"No," Duo corrected. "You said, no, unless they were a bad influence on me."
Heero paused, his power of recollection slightly sluggish. "Oh, yes. In any case, they don't seem to be a very bad influence on you, maybe just a little, so I'm not going to take you away from your friends."
"Tonight worked out well enough, so maybe I'll just drag you along with me, then. That way we'll both be satisfied."
"Thank you," he said magnanimously, the final sound transforming itself into a small yawn.
"Hm. I shouldn't be." It really wasn't that late, and he hadn't done anything more strenuous than plant himself in the corner of a room and watch everyone else do things that would probably tire them out.
"Ah," Duo said knowingly. "I think it's important to know what kind of drunk you are, even if you never plan on being drunk."
"I am not drunk." Of course, Duo hadn't actually said that he was, so maybe he'd just fallen into a trap of self-incrimination. Darn.
"And apparently, you are a sleepy drunk."
"I am not drunk," he emphasized again. It somehow seemed important that they get that straight. Perhaps it was some testosterone-inspired thing. "And I am not sleepy."
They bumped shoulders again, and this time, Duo was fairly certain that this was not a moment that called for affection. He smiled and turned them in the direction of home. "Come on. We'll walk it off."
They arrived at Howard's without incident, although Duo took advantage of the occasion to slip an arm around Heero's waist in 'support' of his companion. Howard eyed them curiously after they'd gotten themselves upstairs. "Is he drunk?"
"I am not drunk." Heero's tone made it sound like he had repeated that several times already.
"Nope," Duo agreed. "Just sleepy."
"And I am not sleepy."
"Yeah, then why are you leaning on me like that, huh?"
"Because it's nice?" Heero retorted flatly.
"Oh." He turned and grinned at Howard. "Okay, he's not sleepy. He just likes leaning on me."
Howard snorted. "He must be drunk."
He ignored them as Duo settled Heero in a seat at the kitchen table and got him a glass of water first, then rummaged around looking for something snack-like, ending up with only an apple as something he thought it likely Heero would eat. None of it really served to clear up the pleasant mellowness residing in Heero's head, although whether it was really alcohol-induced or not was open to discussion. Either way, Duo decided he'd take Heero home and informed Howard of that while Heero was in the bathroom.
"Can I take the car, Howie?" Since they rarely had to be in two entirely different places at once, other than school and work, their household owned only one aging car, but Duo was fond of it as an old, only somewhat faithful, friend. He wasn't very fond of walking the streets by himself after midnight, though.
Duo went to stand obediently in front of his uncle and waited to be declared sober and fit to drive before he was allowed to fetch the keys. "I might stay a while and tuck him in."
"Ah, I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
He glared at the older man. "I said I was going to tuck him in."
Howard blinked innocently at him. "Oh, you mean that isn't some sort of code for you sleeping with him or something?"
He made an exasperated sound. "Even if I were going to, do you think I'd tell you?"
"Nah, I'd probably be able to tell by the honkin' huge grin on your face the next morning. Either way, I won't be worried if you don't come home tonight." His uncle winked with some exaggeration. "I mean, he is conveniently drunk and all."
"I am not drunk," Heero enunciated clearly, just exiting the bathroom and causing Duo to wonder just how much of that he'd heard.
"But you are sleepy," Duo reminded him.
"I am not--"
"So let's get you home, okay?" Fortunately, Heero was pliable, if nothing else, and Duo was able to get him down the stairs and out the door. Other than the small amount of patience required while Heero fumbled with his keys, it was a peaceful journey to his apartment.
Once safely inside, Heero sat down on his bed and forcibly clamped down on a minor yawn.
"See, you are sleepy." Duo's words were more affectionate than smug. "But I'm not so sure it has everything to do with the alcohol anymore. What time did you get to sleep last night?"
It took a little effort to recall, and he couldn't come up with an exact time. "Umm, I was up doing a lot of reading for that paper I have due on Monday since I knew I'd be busy tonight."
Personally, Duo would have just waited for the weekend instead of being all responsible about it, but then again, now Heero didn't have to try and cram it all in the next day, so his way was probably better. That didn't mean Duo couldn't attack his logic, though. "You stayed up late last night knowing that you'd be up late tonight? And weren't you working late the night before, too?"
Heero shrugged, and swayed a little at the end, just enough to be noticeable. "Losing a little sleep never bothered me. I really don't know why it's hitting me all of a sudden."
"Well, I guess that's where the alcohol comes in, then. Come on." Duo knelt by his feet and peeled off his socks.
"Alcohol is a depressant, you know," he nodded sagely, uncharacteristically allowing Duo to do as he pleased. "Which doesn't really explain why some people get so, uh, you know, drunk-like. Loud and, um, annoying and stuff."
Duo smiled and helped him out of his jacket. "Well, there is that whole lowering of inhibitions thing, too, you know."
"So that means most people are naturally loud and annoying on the inside, and drinking just helps it get out? No wonder I don't like most people."
"And I guess you're just a sleepyhead on the inside, then?" Duo pinched his cheek lightly before guiding his legs onto the bed. He moved a hand to Heero's shoulder to push him to lie down, but things got a little complicated when Heero wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him down as well. "Um, Heero?"
"Hm?" Heero shifted a little farther onto the bed and tugged Duo along with him.
Duo tried not to get comfortable as he wondered how Heero had somehow maneuvered them into this position. His legs were still safely hanging over the side of the bed, but somehow Heero had managed to twist him onto his back, with Duo's head on the pillow next to his own. "Erm, is this a part of that whole lowering of inhibitions thing?"
"I'm not drunk," came the tired protest.
"Well, I didn't say you were, but, uh, you know, we don't want you doing anything you'll regret in the morning..." Not that they were doing anything particularly startling, given the state of their relationship, but still, this wasn't just snuggling for a while, this was sleeping the whole night through and waking up the next morning next to someone. On a twin-sized bed, no less. This was something else entirely, something revolutionary, and even a little scary.
"You know what I decided tonight? You're kinda like beer."
"...You don't like the taste of beer." Was this a complete non-sequitur or what? It wasn't like Heero to be so random.
"At first. But like you said, you can get used to the taste. And then maybe after a while, it'll fry enough of your brain cells that you actually start liking the taste."
"Gee, thanks. And can I make you puke, too?" he asked, thinking perhaps that if he kept the conversation going, and hopefully kept Heero awake, he might be able to wriggle himself free without too much trouble. First, however, he had to convince himself to try and get free.
"Hm. Well, maybe if I were a girl, and you got me pregnant."
"...Yippee. I don't think I like this comparison."
"No, wait, it gets better." The hand on Duo's chest gestured half-heartedly as he made his point, thumping and patting the skin over Duo's heart. "See, I figured out that the beer tastes a lot worse when you just sip at it. It's better if you just take a real swallow and get it over with all at once, see? So maybe," he paused for a sleepy yawn. "Maybe I should stop trying to sip at you, because that only gives me all this opportunity to think about all the negative things and just makes it harder for me to get buzzed."
"...I see." Well, he didn't really, but whatever. If Heero was able to be so articulate, didn't that mean he should be in full control of his faculties? "So... is this you trying to get buzzed?"
"No," Heero murmured quite reasonably. "This is me trying to go to sleep. Now shush up and be a good pillow." He scootched a little closer and adjusted his body to Duo's contours. Just like Grumpy. Well, the proportions were a little different, but the principle was the same, though this was much, much better than Grumpy. He let everything shut down and just pretended he was hanging onto a great, big Duo-plushie. A great, big... warm... interactive... not-quite-soft... not-quite-fuzzy... Duo-plushie.... Something seemed not-quite-right about that thought... but he'd figure it out in the morning.
Despite himself, Duo couldn't bring himself to leave as he watched Heero drop off into sleep. Finally, he succumbed to the inevitable and swung his legs onto the bed as well, trying to get comfortable without shifting too much, although he was pretty sure that, at this point, he wouldn't be waking his companion up. He sighed and reached up to switch off the lamp on the bedside table, a little unhappy that Howard was going to be smirking for all he was worth when he got home the next day, but that was it. He could blame it all on Heero.
He looked down at the head resting on his shoulder. "You are too cute for your own good," he whispered, pressing his lips to Heero's soft locks. The action was completely natural, but he was a little startled to realize that he didn't think he'd ever done that to anyone before.
He did it once more for good measure before settling down to sleep himself.
Autumn weather was a wonderful thing. The days were still bright and cheerful, but the air was cool and crisp enough to take the edge off the heat. The open windows in Heero's apartment kept the stuffiness away, and the partially open blinds let the light spill over two young men as they laid comfortably entwined on Heero's bed.
Duo was on his side, head propped up with one hand as he looked down into Heero's face, studying the color of his lips, the minute imperfections in his skin, the fall of his hair. He waited patiently for Heero to open his eyes again before he smiled and leaned down to kiss him, their lips gently teasing each other into cooperation. Minutes passed, and Duo had just coaxed a contented sigh from his partner when Heero went suddenly still beneath him.
That was Duo's cue to pull back, and he did so reluctantly, masking a sigh. "You know, it's almost like you've got some sort of timer in that head of yours," he said conversationally, trying to make light of the situation. "It'd be almost funny if it weren't so... not-quite-funny." Heero's lips quirked in annoyance and he averted his eyes to a corner of the room. Duo placed a hand on his cheek and refocused his attention. "Hey, don't you turn away from me."
It took a little while for Heero to respond, but eventually he permitted eye contact to be established once more. One of his hands fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. "You... you don't have to do this, you know."
"...Be patient with me." He ended up looking away again. "Help me... you know, work through whatever the hell's my problem or whatever. I wish I knew what the problem was." Worrying at the fabric of his shirt was exchanged for running his fingers through his bangs in frustration, and when he was done, he let his arm fall to the bed.
"You know what I think? I think that I can tell you all the stories I want to about how I understand, and how I'm not going to, I don't know, look down on you or whatever the hell's going on in that head of yours because of your relative inexperience, but you're just not going to believe me, are you?"
The answering quirk of Heero's lips was wry, though with a little more bitterness it could have been a sneer. His verbal response, however, held sincerity. "...Sorry."
"And I don't think that your apologizing is going to get anywhere with me, either, so stop that," Duo chided. "You wouldn't be you if you were some crazy sex fiend."
"Hn." If he'd been asked a few months ago, this wouldn't have been him either, lying on a bed with another guy after a light make-out session and discussing his sexual inadequacies. "I still don't understand why you put up with me. With this."
The discomfort Duo could put up with, but he didn't know how much longer he could last against the lack of self-confidence. He would support Heero with whatever he could, but frankly, he'd never played many supporting roles before. He didn't know how well he could manage. All he could do was keep his tone level and friendly and hope the sentiment was right. Something told him Heero would probably scoff at a traditional pep talk on general principle, anyway. "If you had a list of the top three reasons for why you're interested in me, I'm pretty sure that 'Duo is a hot piece of ass' would not be up there. I don't think you comprehend how truly wonderful that is."
"You don't feel like this is, I don't know, something stupid and impersonal like therapy or lessons or something? Like you're putting all this work into me and for practically nothing in return? Like I'm just using you for your... hot-piece-of-assiness?"
The amused sound in the back of his throat never made it out only with a significant exertion of self-control. If anything, it would be Duo taking advantage of him. For all that Heero's kisses were coy, they held a world of sublime. "...I think it'd be both illegal and unethical for therapists to do this sort of thing." He moved on quickly before Heero could decide he wasn't taking the matter seriously. "No, really, Heero, it's not therapy, it's not teaching -- God, I'm not so conceited that I think I could teach you everything there is to know about it. It's just... a change of pace, that's all."
Heero snorted. "Yeah, a pace that lasts all of three minutes and fifty-two seconds."
Duo's eyes widened. "You don't really have a--"
"Kidding, geez." He rolled his eyes, then returned his gaze to the ceiling.
Phew. Duo had been worried for a second there. Okay, back on track. "It's not like... like our braces are getting tangled with each other, or you have some knee-me-in-the-crotch reflex action or something, and by all that's holy, if you do something weird like transform into a girl when you get hot for a boy or something, I'll accept that, okay? So I don't know what you're so worried about. But more to the point, I am getting something out of this, Heero, and it's something much more substantial than just some cheap rush of hormones, okay? I'd like to think that there's more to this whole relationship than just our kissing skills."
"...Yeah. Of course."
His tone was reluctant. He was holding something back. Not like he was just conceding even though he didn't agree, just to end the discussion, but more like he agreed, but there was some entirely different issue that Duo was completely unaware of that was causing his reservations. Well, Heero was not the kind of person that could be pushed into anything. Duo would just find out when Heero got around to letting him in on it, so there was nothing for him to do but move on. "And anyway, I don't think I have to teach you anything. I don't think I have anything to teach you. You have it in you, Heero. It's in there. All you have to do is accept it, let it out."
And that was what kept him here, knowing that Heero's heart was in the right place even though his head kept getting in the way. "You're just self-conscious about this whole thing; I get that. Well, okay, maybe not really, but... I mean, we're all friends here. There's nothing to be self-conscious about. And yes, I know that's easier said than done. It just needs to be said." He ran his hand affectionately through Heero's hair and kissed him on the forehead, digging in to wait him out while he brooded and dwelled on the matter. Heero was nothing if not sensible. He'd come to the right conclusions, even if it took a little bit of a timeout. And in the meantime, Duo would squeeze a little cuddle-time out of the deal.
Eventually, Heero turned his head to look at him. "You'd be straight for me?" he asked, a hint of amusement floating in his eyes.
"Huh?" Where did that...? "Oh. Gosh, you were actually listening to that?" He chuckled. He'd just said it on the spur of the moment, no doubt the result of being subjected to too many weird cartoons by his buddies. "Well... sure, yeah. I mean, you'd be gay for me, after all. Or bi, maybe."
The amusement spread from Heero's eyes to the rest of his expression, but it softened as he lifted the arm he'd had draped across his stomach and touched Duo's face with it. The angle was awkward, but he managed to draw Duo hesitantly down for a kiss, one he honestly tried to deepen, or at least allow to deepen. Something may have worked, because Duo was soon inspired to greater depths, though he kept his tongue where it belonged. He had no intention of getting it bitten off accidentally in a fit of surprise.
"See, I don't get how you could possibly think you aren't good at this," he whispered to Heero after they had parted. Since the matter had been only recently discussed, his mind ran the comparisons and concluded that he'd had too many kisses that were like miniature fights, two people moving to their own separate rhythms and clashing in something masquerading as passion and intensity, but this was different, wonderfully different, frightfully different, different and natural like the ebb and flow of the tides. "You know, sometimes I feel like the biggest hypocrite when I'm with you.... I went through all that trouble to go and give you this big, impressive speech on how *being* with you like this isn't necessary... and yet here I go, always wanting to *be* with you."
"...Who said I was impressed?" Heero pulled him back in for another languid kiss.
A insistent sound interrupted them, and Duo withdrew to ask, "What's that?"
Heero had to blink several times before it registered. "An alarm? What time is it?" He struggled to push himself upright enough to see the clock by his bed. "Oh, it's time for you to think about heading off for class."
Duo checked his mental schedule and found that it was so. He gave Heero a look loaded with incredulous humor. "You set an alarm so I wouldn't be late for class?"
"Well, last time you had to bolt out of here like the hounds of hell were after you," he said defensively.
"Or the hounds of Professor Remer," Duo muttered before turning his attention back to the matter at hand. "I can't believe you. That is just so...!" He took Heero's face between his hands and gave him a sloppy kiss, knowing full well that Heero wouldn't be able to respond to his own satisfaction, but just not caring for the moment. The thoughtful gesture had sparked a delight in him that had to be expressed. He broke off the kiss and grinned at Heero and Heero's still faintly startled expression, then pulled him in again to playfully rub their noses together and peck him on the lips once more before releasing him, jumping up, and gathering his things.
The respite provided Heero the time he needed to start his mental processes again, and he finally turned off the alarm and got up from the bed. By the time he regained his feet and made it to the door, Duo had finished packing up.
"Well, gotta go!" the engineer announced. He couldn't stop himself from draping an arm over one of Heero's shoulders and back around his neck, and giving him another short, but enthusiastic kiss. When it was over, Duo winked at him. "Thanks," he mouthed with a breath of sound, and then he was out the door at a light jog. At that pace, he'd probably get to class early, but he didn't care. He just wasn't in the mood for a sedate walk.
Heero caught the door before it closed, stuck his head out and watched Duo leave with a charmed smile on his face. A handful of seconds had passed before he realized he was wearing a smile for all the world to see, and he self-consciously withdrew to the sheltered privacy of the inside of his apartment. The smile didn't fade, though, nor did that strange feeling of breathlessness that had wrapped itself around his chest, nor the lingering tingle from the feel of Duo's body pressed against his own. He felt light and warm and happy, and though it was tainted by the thought that he wasn't doing enough to earn it, that it was unfair that he only take and give barely anything in return, it also fueled his resolve to try and correct that.
He came down the stairs on a fine Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend and, as expected, found his stepfather seated at the kitchen table with a newspaper, a cup of coffee, and some toast. They glanced a good morning at each other, and then Odin went back to his paper, and Heero to the refrigerator. A few cozy minutes later, Heero had a plate of scrambled eggs, toast on the side, and a glass of orange juice. Before he seated himself across from his stepfather, he pushed half the eggs onto Odin's plate and brought them to Odin's attention with the simple word, "Eggs."
"Hmm?" Odin pulled his paper to the side a bit to catch sight of the boy that had become his son.
"Ah." It occurred to him that most of their conversations were short and to the point. It had almost always been like that, and neither of them had ever seemed unduly bothered by it. Yet for all of Heero's quiet, self-contained ways, he had somehow managed to inherit his mother's nurturing nature, which, over the years, had proven a very good thing for them both. Odin's paternal instincts were few and far between. He was quite fortunate to have had Akiko Yuy coax him out of his careless bachelorhood. Now who would do the same for her son? Or would Heero be the one doing the coaxing? "You've never had a girlfriend, right?"
Heero paused with his toast halfway to his mouth, finding it amusing that his father had to ask for confirmation, but wondering where this was leading, if anywhere. He really didn't consider the one girl Quatre had set him up with a girlfriend. They'd only lasted a couple of measly dates, and Heero had never quite developed any interest in her. "Right."
The newspaper rose again, as if Odin needed some barrier between himself and this strangely fatherly line of questioning. "You ever think about finding one?"
"Not really." They sometimes seemed more interested in finding him.
Odin and Akiko had never had any sort of flaming passion or romance, but they had filled holes in each other's life, and things had been pleasantly comfortable when they were together. It would be nice to see Heero have a taste of that for himself. "Well, neither did I, I suppose. But they can be rather nice, you know."
Oh, that was what Odin was getting at -- a 'relationship'. It occurred to Heero a bit belatedly that this conversation was unnecessary. He was a little slow on the uptake since his mind didn't logically connect the words 'girlfriend' and 'Duo'. "Actually, I think I have a boyfriend now." Having said that with an artless nonchalance, he waited patiently for the outcome.
"Oh, that's good." The newspaper stilled, then lowered halfway with a flick of Odin's fingers. He blinked at his stepson over the tops of his glasses. "...You're gay?"
Heero smiled faintly. "Yeah, that was about my reaction, too."
"Oh." He blinked again. "Ahem. Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one that seems to have missed it, then."
Newspaper was read and eggs and toast consumed in the following silence, but when the eggs were done, Odin investigated further into this unexpected matter. "So, who's the lucky girl?" He blinked. "I mean, boy?"
"His name's Duo. Goes to school with me, although I met him pretty early in the summer. His uncle owns the market where I do my shopping. He's an engineering major. Same year as me, too."
"Oh. Well, that's nice." It was a bland statement, but Heero knew the part about Duo being an engineer earned him at least a few brownie points already. Odin respected engineers. "You should have found yourself a nice physicist instead, though."
Odin had tried to encourage Heero in the direction of his own chosen science, once upon a time, but while Heero had an interest in it, he had never quite taken to it as he had to computers. "I'll keep that in mind for--"
"...Next time?" Odin finished.
It was Heero's turn to blink. He couldn't quite imagine there being a next time. He couldn't imagine there needing to be a next time. "Hn. No, maybe not, then."
Odin hmm'ed thoughtfully, levelling an appraising look at him. "You should bring him by sometime."
Heero raised an eyebrow at him. It was a little bit early to be meeting the folks, wasn't it? He ran the possible reasons through his mind for a while before finally nodding. "Sure."
"I told my dad about you this weekend."
"Really? He said it calmly, with a hint of amusement, but on the inside, that innocent little statement had been rather heartstopping. He didn't think he'd ever been important enough to have been shared with parents before. "Did he take it well?"
"Of course. He's Odin, after all. It's not like he was expecting any grandkids out of me, anyway."
'Of course,' he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Duo was glad Heero didn't have parents like he did, but maybe he was a little bit envious as well, even if he had Howard to make up for all of it. "Would those be, like, stepgrandkids?"
"No clue. I'm still wondering how a person can have a third cousin, twice removed."
"Yeah? Me, too." He looked down at the sidewalk as they walked back to the market after classes, trusting Heero to warn him if he was about to run into a lamp post. When he caught himself playing the old child's game of avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk, he lifted his eyes.
"How did Howard take it?" Heero asked curiously. "When you told him you were gay, I mean."
Duo smirked, glad for the distraction. "Aw, man, I remember that. It was great. It was, what, late freshman year, high school? Anyway, Howie gets it into his mind to sit me down and have 'the talk'. Well, actually, he was savvy enough to figure that I probably already knew most of it, but he was giving it a go, trying to figure out what I already knew, and after watching him muck through a bit of it, I stop him. I go, 'Howie.' And he stops, and he gets this look on his face, like he knows I'm about to say something that's gonna be something of a bomb shell, and he just bursts out, "By all that's holy, kid, if I find out you already know all about this stuff from firsthand experience, I'm gonna--!" He trailed off laughing. "And after that, you know, whatever it was I had to tell him couldn't have been all that bad. So I tell him. 'Howie, I think I'm gay.' And again with the look on his face. He was totally cool about it. It started off with this look of relief, sort of glad there wasn't anything firsthand going on, combined with, 'Thank God I don't have to give him the talk, then!' And then it quickly changed into, 'Holy crap! That's a whole other talk I have to give then, and I don't know a damn thing about that!'" Duo laughed again. "But me and the old man, we managed to muddle through well enough."
"That's good to hear." A distant part of Heero wondered how Duo's parents had found out he was gay, but he knew better than to ask. It was merely idle curiosity, anyway. "Odin wants to meet you."
"Whoa, what?" Duo stopped in his tracks for a second, then had to hustle to catch up. "Did I miss something here? Have I just been asked to meet your folks? Folk? Dad? Whatever?" This was moving way too fast. He was still trying to adjust to the fact that Odin knew he existed.
"I don't think it's as serious as it sounds," Heero answered, thinking not much of it. "I think Odin just wants to see for himself what I'm doing. Make sure you're not some evil guy that managed to seduce me to the dark side. See how serious I am about this, or see if it's just some random little experimental phase. Maybe just see where I am in life. You know. He's a scientist. Scientists like to see things for themselves."
"Oh. Well, I guess I can understand that." He waited an appropriate length of time to demonstrate how disinterested he was in the answer to his next question. "...So, how serious are you, Heero?"
Heero was not fooled. "...You know me, Duo," he answered mildly. "I'm hardly the adventurous sort. I wouldn't just jump into something like this frivolously."
"Hm." That was enough of what he wanted to hear, without having to go through the emotional stress of actually hearing it. He hurried along so his mind wouldn't have the time to supply him with the words he wasn't ready to hear. "So, think he'll like me? What should I do to impress him?"
Heero smiled. "He's a scientist, Duo. Functionality over form. Don't try to impress him, and he'll be impressed."
"Aw, man, I totally just bombed statmech!"
From where he was draped over an armchair reviewing a report one last time before he turned it in, Duo looked up at Mueller's loud entrance into the suite. "Okay, that one's not my fault. You told me you didn't need any help studying. Which means you thought you had it nailed, which means you probably didn't do as badly as you thought you did."
Mueller plopped himself down on the sofa. "Not needing help studying doesn't mean I had it nailed! Crap, I think I'm going to try and drink myself into oblivion tonight. I heard Rob didn't do so well on Fourier. Think he'd be willing to share his stash with me?"
"I think he's done with finals and he's taking off tomorrow. He might not want to be hungover for that. Speaking of which, don't you still have your lab to write up?"
"Man, you've been all responsible this semester. How boring."
"You were just thinking about drinking yourself into oblivion because of one class. Why would you want to do it for two?"
"One, two, what's the difference?" Mueller bemoaned. "Either way, I'll be oblivious. Or hey, maybe I could just do it twice!"
"Would that be before or after your lab partner killed you?"
"Man, Pete's probably as bummed as I am right now. We're probably screwed on that lab report anyway."
"Rosenbaum will have your asses if you turn in an obviously half-assed report," Hilde said, drawn out of her room by all the noise. "You have him again next semester, remember?"
He groaned. "Don't remind me. I have a whole month before I have to start worrying about next semester. Blah! I think I need to shower someone." He eyed Hilde speculatively.
She held her ground and threw him a threatening look. "Hell, no. I know where you sleep at night, remember?"
"Yeah, so? Who on this campus doesn't?"
On campus, indeed. Duo grinned. "Hey, Heero's going to come by and pick me up in a little bit."
There soon bloomed an answering grin on Mueller's face as well. "How long is a little bit?"
Duo looked at his watch. "I think his test just ended, unless he finished early, which, knowing Heero, he probably did."
"You know, I got a look at his schedule for next semester. He's taking Quantum. For fun."
"He wouldn't tell me when his birthday was," Duo added solemnly to the list of transgressions.
Mueller grinned even wider. "Hey, Perry!" he shouted towards the door of the freshman's room. "You busy?"
The door opened. "Nothing I wouldn't like to get out of. Why?"
"I heard from Pete you were pretty good at showering their frosh, Whatshisface. Wanna have one last go before you take off for the semester?"
"Sure." He rubbed his hands together in overzealous anticipation. "Who's the target?"
Perry's eyes widened as he retreated a cautious step or two. "Are you kidding me? That guy could probably kick our asses!"
Duo smirked. They only saw Heero occasionally at lunch time or in the suite, and he never said very much to anyone other than Duo, let alone the frosh, and yet he still came across as intimidating. What was it about the guy? Maybe Duo just didn't see it anymore now that he'd pierced the surface of Heero's personality. "Nah, he wouldn't, not for a little fun. Promise. Whaddya say, Hil? You in?"
There may have been a little reluctance at first, but she assented in the end. "Well, you guys get to take care of the heavy lifting, okay? I get the feeling he's going to be a fighter."
"Perfect," Mueller answered. "It's no fun when they don't put up a fight." The door to their suite opened, and one unsuspecting mostly Japanese young man walked in. "Perfect," he repeated, putting on one last smug look before casting a significant glance at Duo.
Duo knew what was expected of him. "Hey, Heero, sit a while, bitch with us." He patted the armrest of his chair.
"What are we bitching about?" Heero asked, setting his bag down and perching obediently on the side of the chair.
"It's finals week and he doesn't know what he's bitching about." Duo rolled his eyes dramatically. Then he grabbed Heero's wrist and made a show of looking at the watch there while toeing off his own shoes and socks. "Hey, what time is it? Didn't your test, like, just end?"
"I finished early."
"He finished early," Duo repeated for the group, his fingers deftly undoing the clasp on Heero's watch while the others nodded sagely.
The loss of his watch did not escape Heero's notice. "What--? Duo?"
Duo took off his own watch and leaned forward to set them on the low table in the middle of all the seating, then knelt by Heero's feet, lifted one and slipped off the shoe, then the sock. "You know, this is almost too easy."
Heero looked at him funny, then looked at the others for help. All he received were grins in return. "Uh, Duo, what are you doing?"
Duo had turned his attention to Heero's other foot. "Trust me, this is for your own good. See, next time, you'll be able to recognize the signs, so you'll be better prepared. Most people would have figured it out by now, but then again, most people probably have more experience with this kind of thing, so with most people, we'd have to be more subtle about it. Well, no," he paused, cocking his head to one side in thought. "With most people, we'd probably just do it in transit, wouldn't we, guys?" He got three big nods in response as he sat back in his armchair.
It didn't take a genius to realize that something was up. Heero got up from his seat. "Transit to where?"
Duo let the suspense build for one tense second, then grabbed Heero around his chest from behind, and Heero had not even the time to get out a "What the--?" before the whole room surged into action.
"Get his feet!"
"Oof, you're heavier than you look, Heero!"
"Put me down! What the--?"
"I got the water!"
"Someone pry his hand off the sofa!"
"D'oh, lost his foot! Ow, got it again!"
"What did I do to get showered?!"
"Oh, nothing. We were just in the mood."
"What kind of reason is that?!"
"Ooh, door frame!"
"Hil, get his hand, would you? At least one of them. He keeps grabbing things."
"He's good for a first timer."
"Hey, watch it! I'm a lady, you know."
"Careful... careful... clear!"
"You taking the fall, Duo?"
And then his legs were released and Duo was backing them into the spray. Using him as a shield against the water, Duo held him there long enough to make sure he got good and wet before releasing him and dancing away to safety by the bathroom door with a merry laugh, a little damp, but certainly better off than their victim. The others had re-convened in the main suite to recount their adventure.
Heero took a step out from under the spray and glared accusingly at Duo.
"You wouldn't tell me your birthday, Heero," he intoned seriously, humor dancing across his expression.
Heero blinked at him and wiped away the water that was dribbling into his eye.
"Aw, come on. Don't be like that. It wasn't that bad, was it? Heero?"
Out in the suite, Alex had returned, and was groaning about how he'd missed out on all the fun. The logical conclusion from that, of course, was that they ought to go shower someone else. "I think Rob needs cheering up," Mueller declared. "Let's go. Duo, you in?"
Duo turned to answer him. "Nah, I'm good, thanks. Have fun!" He watched them parade rowdily out the door for their next victim, but before he could get back to coaxing Heero into not hating him, arms wrapped around him from behind in a sweet, very wet hug.
"It wasn't that bad," Heero murmured into his ear. "In fact, I think I'll do it again." He tightened his arms and leaned back, hefting Duo's feet off the ground.
It dawned on Duo that the water was still running. "Aw, shit. Come on, Heero, this isn't fair!"
"Payback's always fair."
Duo tried to reach out and snag the bathroom's door frame, but Heero had gotten him around the arms and he didn't have the reach or the leverage he needed. He'd known that Heero had a nice, firm body underneath his clothes, but he hadn't imagined such strength. He stuck out his feet in a valiant attempt to stall things, and it worked for a while before Heero maneuvered them in and out at just the right angles to deny him any further purchase. "Hilde~!"
The female engineer stood calmly in the frame of her own door, a towel in hand. She'd been about to volunteer it for Heero's use, but changing circumstances caused her to simply shake her head and go back into her room to look for a second towel.
"Traitor~!" he shouted after her, sensing his imminent defeat. It wasn't quite clear to whom he was referring. He managed to tangle the two of them up in the shower curtain for a little while, putting off the soaking for as long as he was able to manage before Heero got them twisted out of it and under the spray.
"Maybe I'm starting to see the appeal of this," Heero said, placidly holding him captive under the water. They were both getting thoroughly soaked, but at least they weren't alone.
"Great," Duo groused good-naturedly, trying to blink water out of his eyes. At least his braid was protected between the two of them, even if it had inhibited his movement earlier. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
Heero's grip loosened, but he lowered his head to nibble lightly on Duo's neck, prompting the engineering student to stay right where he was. There was something delicious about kissing in the shower, or perhaps it was more like rain since they were fully clothed. "August," he murmured against Duo's skin.
"Hm?" It was difficult to hear him over the sound of the shower.
"August twenty-third. My birthday."
"Oh, now he says so. Well, now I know when not to-- Hey, that was before school even started."
"And?" Heero prodded expectantly, smiling softly into Duo's shoulder.
"And why the hell did you have a button from Quatre on your table in October?"
Heero smirked unseen. "It took Quatre a while to find me something, and it took me a while to add it to my decor."
"Asshole," Duo muttered affectionately. "You could have just said so. We don't shower summer babies. Not for their birthdays, anyway."
"Can you please not make out in the shower?" Hilde asked loudly from the door of the bathroom. The shower curtain had been partially drawn over the stall's entrance in their struggle, but she could still see them standing together. "Some of us have to use that shower, you know."
Heero immediately jerked back at the sound of her voice, and Duo leapt from his grasp, pushed the curtain aside, and escaped, with Heero following close on his heels, a minor scowl on his face for having been caught during a private moment. He hid it by turning around to shut off the water.
Duo just avoided the topic altogether. She still didn't know exactly where their relationship stood, after all, and he had no intention of telling her. Sometimes, he didn't even know himself. "Hey, Hil, can we borrow those towels now?" His front was soaked, but his back was only damp from where Heero had pressed up against him. There were two showers in the suite bathroom, back to back and separated by curtains from an additional changing/drying area in the middle, which in turn had another curtain blocking it off from the rest of the bathroom, and they stayed standing in the middle area now to avoid getting the rest of the bathroom floor all wet. There was a short ledge there to keep the water in, and it sloped slightly to allow the excess to run into the shower drains.
She shook her head at him again with a smug expression on her face, but she threw the towels at him anyway before going back to her room.
He handed a towel to Heero and wiped off his face with a cheerful grin. There was always something basic and exhilarating about a successful showering, or rather, stalking, chasing, and catching of prey. "So really. Wasn't so bad, was it?"
Heero was leaned over trying to squeeze the water out of his hair. "Considering the water was not freezing, and you removed my watch, shoes, and socks first, it was a rather surprisingly civilized sport."
"Yup, down to a science, it is. Showering's supposed to be fun, after all. School rules state we're not allowed to shower or otherwise prank anyone that's truly unwilling." He draped his towel over the rod the shower curtain ran along and took a hold of the hem of his shirt. After a moment's consideration, he pulled shut the front curtain of the changing area. After a second moment's consideration, he blushed lightly, squeezed his way past Heero, and pushed him towards the dry shower stall. "Um, I'm gonna try and wring my clothes out. You can try over there and, umm, well, you know." He backed into the stall they'd just occupied and tugged the curtain shut before pulling his shirt off and twisting it up, trying to ignore the sounds of Heero doing the same only a few feet away.
"Do this often?" Heero asked curiously.
What, strip to his skivvies in the shower with a really hot guy standing so very close by? No. But he didn't think that was what Heero was referring to. "Um, well, not that often, and when we do, we don't usually stay under the water for more than a few seconds. Ahem, Heero," he said pointedly. Not that he hadn't enjoyed it.
Heero's shrug went unnoticed as he hung his shirt on the shower spigot, having decided his shirt was probably as dry as it was going to get for the moment. It was a sunny day out, so hopefully he'd dry on his way home. "If you can shower me simply because you felt like it, I don't see why I can't shower you because you showered me."
"And a solo showering, too." He clamped down on his imagination when he heard the zipper of Heero's pants going down, and wasn't aided in his cause as he tried to wring his own pants out, too. They were going to be two very wrumpled individuals when they got out. "Not everyone can pull off a solo showering. You're a natural, Heero."
"It's just a matter of leverage. Aren't engineers supposed to know about these things?"
"Yes, but you're a CS major." His statement was punctuated by the sound of water dribbling to the floor. "You're not supposed to know anything about how the real world works."
"You must be confusing me for a physics major. Engineers don't have a monopoly on common sense, after all." Not that the most prominent engineer of his acquaintance displayed common sense all the time, either.
"You know, I always wanted an infinite sheet of charge. Think you can find me one for Christmas? Hmm, or maybe that'd take too much room to store. I'd settle for a frictionless pulley."
"Hn. If you want something for Christmas, you'll have to let me know. Otherwise, like I've said before, I'm not much into gift giving, and neither are my friends."
"Except for Quatre, right?" It was easier to shimmy back into his pants than it had been to get them off, but it still wasn't easy, nor pleasant. "But then, don't the holidays just suck for you guys? I mean, what are they for, if not for getting loot?"
"If we happen to run across something we think would be perfect, sure, but otherwise, we aren't ones to waste our time finding something meaningless and frivolous. Then it's just... loot."
"Ugh, don't tell me it's the thought that counts. And here I thought everyone had been brainwashed into the mindless commercialism of the holidays. Well, okay, if you're just going to get me a gift certificate or something, never mind."
"Fine. I'll keep an eye out for a frictionless pulley, but no promises."
Having gotten back into his still damp, but considerably less sodden, clothes, Duo drew his curtain back. "Thank you."
Heero pulled his curtain back as well, then settled back against the wall as he rolled the second cuff of his pants up. It would prevent the bottom of his pants from drying for a while, but on the plus side, it would keep his pants from sticking to his legs so much.
It didn't bother him that his shirt was still hanging on the showerhead, and truth be told, it didn't really bother Duo, either, though it did do something to him. He bit the inside of his lip and listened to the voices in his head as they argued amongst themselves. One camp was shouting, "It's not nice to stare," and other was insisting, "He's *my* boyfriend, dammit, I'll drool if I want to." The result was a sort of stalemate that left him enjoying the view, but only out of the corner of his eye.
When Heero straightened and went to grab his shirt, Duo let out a low whistle. "Ooh, that's a nice set of abs. I thought you were a CS major. Don't you spend a majority of your day sitting flat on your ass?"
"Yes. Which is why I need to work out to counteract that."
"Ah. You know, I wouldn't mind a good work out, once in a while." He leered, but Heero didn't see it while he was pulling his shirt over his head.
"It really doesn't take much time to stay in shape. I have a tendency to do sit-ups or something when I'm trying to figure a program out."
"Ah. Well, I suppose that works, too." Good ol' Heero. Painfully na´ve sometimes. So much for innuendo. "Then how did you get so cut, handsome? You're not that bad at programming."
"I took up kenpo in middle school. That's how I met Wufei, actually."
"Really? Hell, that means you really could have kicked our asses." He ignored Heero's inquisitive look and moved on. "You know, I'm dying to meet this Wufei of yours. He sounds... well, kinda like you. Only I'm sure you're cuter."
They finally left the bathroom and endured a few friendly jibes from Hilde as they returned the towels to her with thanks. Gathering up their stuff, they left, and Duo pulled them towards the academic side of campus so he could turn in his lab write-up.
"Wufei's got a girlfriend," Heero mentioned as they walked, taking their time to get the full benefit of the sun's rays. Apparently people got showered often enough that they didn't rate a second glance. Well, perhaps a third glance. "Meiran, I think her name is. They met this summer during his internship in DC, and it turns out that all this time, they went to the same school. He said she'd bring her out sometime during the break. She actually doesn't come from too far from here, either."
"Ah, so one of you turned out straight, eh?" Duo chuckled. "You haven't told him yet, have you?"
"Think he'll be surprised?"
"Startled, maybe, since it's unexpected, but I don't think surprised, really. It's not like I've gone through a platoon of girlfriends or anything."
"Well, this'll be fun." Truthfully, if he hadn't already met Heero's other two friends, he'd be a lot more nervous about meeting Wufei, not to mention Heero's dad. He tried to think of it as simply fair. For the last semester, Heero had been subjected to Duo's world; now it was Duo's turn to take the plunge into Heero's. But then why did the whole idea still make him feel like his heart was ready to jump into his throat at a moment's notice?
"As much fun as it would be to surprise Wufei on the spot, I think I owe him at least some warning. It'll be surprise enough, anyway. And I'll need some time to fend Quatre off, too. He'll be a little miffed I didn't let on any sooner."
"What about Trowa?"
"Oh, Trowa knows. He's known since the beginning."
"Oh?" He waved to someone he knew, easily answering to the observations that he'd suffered a showering.
Heero waited for the moment to pass. "Yeah, I talked to him. He needed to return a favor."
"Er, I see."
"But Quatre doesn't know he knows, or rather, we won't tell Quatre he knew, so don't tell, okay?"
"Oookay. Whatever. They're your friends, babe."
"Far be it from me to indulge in sentimentality, but... I hope they'll be your friends, too."
Duo laughed. "You are such a Care Bear, babe. First trying to get me to like my friends more, and now trying to convince me to like your friends. You're like my own personal Grumpy Bear, yes you are."
Trowa's house had always been a good meeting place for the four of them. When he and Heero had been friends way back in elementary school, Heero often played at his house, and when Wufei, and then Quatre joined them, the tradition simply continued. That, and Mrs. Barton liked baking things, and who better, or easier, to feed than four growing boys?
Winter break had just started, and as soon as they had all flocked back to their respective nests and settled in, they flocked together to catch up and discuss the upcoming holidays.
"So when are you going to introduce us to Meiran?" Trowa asked Wufei.
As everyone could have anticipated, Quatre chimed in immediately. "Oh, soon, I hope. We've heard so much about her. It's time we found out if she lives up to the hype."
"If I were you," Wufei retorted, "I'd be more worried about what I've told her about all of you."
"Whatever it was, it couldn't possibly be worse than the truth," Trowa drawled.
"How about, oh, next Monday?" Quatre knew that, if he could wheedle a definite date out of him, Wufei would be bound to it. The political science student never failed to carry through on an engagement.
Wufei snorted, merely for the fun of it. He had every intention of bringing Meiran by some time during the break, and in fact, they had already discussed it, but that didn't mean he would just give in. "Yuy, isn't it your job to bear the brunt of his nagging?"
"Hey, he nagged me all summer. It's your turn, now." Despite all their moans and complaints about it, they all knew Quatre's nagging was just for fun, too. It gave them something to do, like a game of conversational hot potato.
"I'll tell you what," Wufei proposed, thinking he'd found a way to transfer Quatre's attention to someone else. "I'll bring a date next time if Heero brings a date."
"Aw, that's no fair," Quatre whined playfully. "What are the chances I can get that to happen? I already tried setting him up once."
"Fine," Heero agreed with a deceptively even tone, tucking his amused smile far, far away from everyone's sight.
"And we all saw-- what?"
"I said, 'fine.' I'll bring a date. If Wufei brings one, of course." Two sets of eyes blinked at him, and Trowa figured he'd better join in before someone noticed he was the odd man out, so soon there were three. Trowa would have been a little happier if Heero had given him the time to put some money down on the possibility first, though.
Quatre broke out his inevitable sunny smile. "Have you finally met someone, Heero?" He grabbed Trowa's arm and shook it back in forth in excitement.
"A date?" Wufei reiterated, trying to get his facts straight. He had been nearly convinced of his friend's asexuality. "As in, a real date? Not just some random person? Someone you actually have an interest in?"
It was so much more fun to play with them than to provide straight answers. "How would you define 'interest'?"
"Classmate?" Trowa interjected. Might as well move things along while he maintained his cover.
Heero cast him an amused look, but answered. "Yes."
"So who made the first move?" Quatre had to ask, finding it necessary to confirm that hell had not quite frozen over just yet.
"If it was me, then the world must have fallen off its axis while no one was looking." Of course, technically, though Duo had first proposed the change in their relationship, Heero had been the one to initiate the physical side of things, but only after Duo had been working his mind tricks on him, so it could still be reasonably said that Duo made the first move.
"Are you going to tell us the rest, or are you just waiting for us to beat the details out of you?" It had never been conclusively established who was the better fighter, but Wufei took it more seriously, and that was gauge enough for him. Friendly competition was a cornerstone of their relationship.
Heero turned to him. "Well, you remember when Trowa met Quatre?"
"Well... I 'met' Duo."
One black eyebrow rose in comprehension and curiosity. "...Ah. You, too?"
"So it seems."
"Hn." And thus was the extent of Wufei's reaction. With Heero's simple three-word explanation, he had really managed to convey a good deal of nuance about his relationship with this Duo character. He wouldn't have phrased it like that if there hadn't been a number of striking similarities.
It took a little longer for Quatre's shock to wear off, and then he finally reacted. "Duo? Duo-from-this-summer Duo?"
"It's not a very common name, Quatre."
"That Duo? Since when?"
"Oh... it's hard to say," he answered vaguely. Their relationship had progressed gradually enough that they seemed to have simply slipped from one state to the next. If he had to choose something, he'd probably just go with something indefinite like 'around when school started', but he didn't have to choose anything right now. "There was something brewing between us for a while."
"But, like, not when we met him, right?"
"No. After that."
"Phew. Still. Why didn't you say anything?"
"I'm saying something now."
Trowa put a comforting hand on Quatre's shoulder. "Now, Quatre. You know if you keep on going like this, Heero's only going to infuriate you. Just let it go."
"Let it go."
"So I assume they've already met him?" Wufei asked at this point.
Heero nodded. "When they visited this summer, he was there."
"Hmm, yes. If it's Duo-from-this-summer, I think they may have mentioned him." He took a brief moment to consider whether or not he was bothered by being the only straight one in the bunch. He decided he wasn't. The two of them may have managed to end up with boyfriends, but they were hardly gay. They were just Heero and Trowa, who had attitudes that generally transcended inconsequential things like gender, prevalent morality, or societal norms. If they'd found their complements in women, they probably would have been straight like he was. "You know, I think I was more surprised by Trowa. You never did seem to get along with the ladies very well."
"...I don't know whether to be amused or offended."
"He never got along with anyone very well," Trowa pointed out dryly.
"Hn. Amused. Definitely amused."
Heero blinked as Duo brushed by him to greet Quatre and meet the others for the first time. He didn't quite know what he'd expected, but for having not seen each other for a week, he'd expected a little more than a casual, 'hey, what's up?'
"Something wrong?" Trowa's soft voice interrupted his reverie.
"Hm." He looked contemplatively at the others as they chatted. "Maybe."
"Do you need some time?"
After a moment's delay, he shook his head. "No, it's probably just nerves or something. I'll corner him later." Further observation and gathering of evidence would be necessary before he could come to any definite conclusions.
They went over to join the others in the living room. Meiran and Wufei had taken the loveseat, and Quatre the three-seater couch, while Duo had selected the armchair. Trowa sat next to his boyfriend, and after very little deliberation, Heero was left to perch himself on the armrest of Duo's chair. As they went over some basic background information, Heero stayed mostly silent and simply listened and studied the shifting group dynamic.
Meiran seemed to have a quick wit and sharp intelligence, just what he might have expected from anyone Wufei chose. She was lively and animated, and unsurprisingly appeared to be getting along with Duo and Quatre just fine. Of course, those two never had a problem getting along with anyone.
Duo was answering most of the questions involving their relationship. Heero was a little gratified to hear him keeping most of his answers vague or general, ambiguous and even slightly misleading at times. If his friends really wanted to know the details, he'd fill them in later in a more cozy discussion, not this open forum dedicated to the mere laying of foundation.
But there was an odd tone to Duo's demeanour, both familiar and not, and it took Heero a little while to place it. It had been a while since he'd last been subjected to it, but eventually he recognized it as the ready smile and easy-going evasions that Duo used when dealing with the market's customers. Perhaps it was as he thought, and Duo was simply nervous about being with all of Heero's friends, causing him to revert to the affected personality. Thinking to maybe put him more at ease, Heero laid a hand upon his shoulder, fingers stretching forth to brush lightly along the back of his neck. The touch was accepted for about half a minute before Duo leaned forward to make a point of some sort, and his hand was left behind. Heero's frown manifested itself only as a mere tightening of his brows, but he dismissed it as coincidence.
And later, when they were gathered around the TV watching a movie, and Heero leaned his arm against Duo's, and Duo got up to refresh the popcorn bowl, that was coincidence, too.
And when everyone was getting ready to leave, except Heero since it was his house and Duo since he was staying for dinner, and they were all standing around near the front door finishing up their conversations, and Meiran left something in the living room but Duo volunteered to go back to get it, and he came back and handed it to her and stayed standing by her side instead of going back to Heero's side... was that coincidence, too?
After everyone was gone, Heero invited Duo up to his room. It could have been his imagination, but he thought it looked like Duo glanced around the foyer they were standing in trying to come up with a reason to refuse. Heero didn't wait for it. He just started up the stairs, and Duo had to follow.
When they got up to his room, Heero let Duo precede him and watched critically as Duo took it all in. He hadn't had much time earlier to observe Heero's decor. Much of Heero's grumpy paraphernalia had been transplanted to his apartment, but not all of it. Duo wandered over to the bookshelf and studied the titles. It was an interesting mix of classics, science fiction, fantasy, and academic texts, and he made the appropriate comments regarding Heero's reading preferences.
Heero sat down on the edge of his bed by his pillows and waited, listening to Duo make his observations and his jokes. It all sounded very natural, and he supposed he would think nothing of it, if only they weren't in the relationship they were in, and the day hadn't passed the way it had. Eventually, Duo ran out of things he could say about the books without sounding like he was babbling, so he turned around and leaned on the edge of the bookshelf.
"Have a seat," Heero invited, not indicating a seating surface, but quite conscious of all the extra space available on his bed. Duo sat down in the chair at his desk, swivelling it around so he could straddle it backwards, and Heero sighed. He was not looking forward to this, but enough was enough. As much as he despised these 'we have to talk' situations, there were times it was a necessary evil. He decided against dancing around the topic since Duo could undoubtably dance circles around him given the opportunity, so he just went ahead and said it.
"You know, I thought at first that maybe you were just nervous about hanging out with everyone. And that would explain why you had that whole customer thing going all afternoon, but it wouldn't explain the rest. It doesn't explain why you pulled away from me or brushed me off at least half a dozen times today."
"What are you talking about?" Duo asked with a quizzical look and a short laughing sound.
His manner was so easy-going, as it had been all day, and it would have been so simple to get taken in by it. He knew better. "I think you hit it off with everyone today, not that there was any doubt. You were perfectly friendly to everyone."
Duo cocked his head to one side. "Well, uh, great. You've got good friends, Heero."
"You were perfectly friendly, even to me. And I mean 'friendly' in a 'just friends' kind of way. In a 'rejected all signs of intimacy' kind of way."
"Oh." Duo laughed. "Well, I didn't want to embarrass you in front of your friends or anything. I wasn't sure what you wanted to show them, so I figured better safe than sorry, right? I didn't mean anything by it."
"Well, that's very considerate of you, but if I initiated the actions, don't you think I'd be comfortable with them?"
"You weren't comfortable the first time you kissed me, but you did it anyway."
"I was comfortable enough to be ready for it."
"What are you trying to say here, Heero?" A puzzled expression adorned his face.
Or perhaps the best defense was a good offense. Heero couldn't be certain if he was simply denying things, or if he was actually in full denial. "Why are you sitting all the way over there?"
Duo blinked down at his seat, as if realizing just where he was for the first time. "Well, I guess it was just the closest seat to where I was."
Since he made no effort to get up and correct the situation, Heero invited him to do so. "It's not like you have to cross an obstacle course to get over here."
He shrugged. "Fine. Whatever." He stood, pushed the chair back, and sauntered over to seat himself at the foot of the bed.
"What?" He said it like he was tolerating it with good humor, not like he was expecting anything to actually be wrong.
"I've only been gone a week."
"And... what happened during that week?"
"Oh." There was an unspoken 'is that all?' tacked onto the end of that simple word. "Well, you know, nothing much. Finally catching up on some sleep now that finals are over. Of course, with Howie getting up in the morning to open the store anyway, I can't sleep in all that much, but--"
He had to be playing dumb. There was no way that absolutely nothing was wrong with this situation. "...What the hell is going on here?" He pushed forward before Duo could dissemble again with some more meaninglessness. "It's just us, now. No more using my friends as an excuse. First, you come in here and don't sit down like you're not planning on staying, then you sit down about as far away from me as you can, and then I get you to sit on the bed and you're still sitting about as far away from me as you can."
"And during the movie? I guess you had to sit next to me then or else it would have looked rather suspicious, but every time I tried to touch you somehow, you'd move away. Get some more popcorn, go to the bathroom, just plain fidgeting, whatever."
"Sounds like coincid--"
"And before the movie? When we were all sitting in the living room getting to know each other, and you just happened to choose the only single-seater in the entire room?"
"Someone's feeling a little sensitive today." Now the defensive edge was definitely present in his tone, but Heero was beyond caring now.
"And before that, when you first got here, and you practically just brushed me off without even, I don't know, a hello kiss or something?"
"Aw, is that what this is all about?" Oh yeah, the mocking tone meant he was irritated beyond doubt now. "An itty bitty kiss? Fine." He crawled over the intervening space between the two of them to rectify the situation, pinned Heero against his pillows, and kissed him roughly.
It was not the sort of kiss Heero would have wanted to respond to. It was harsh and invasive and not at all what they were used to. He got his hands on Duo's shoulders and pushed him back. Duo yielded easily, as if he hadn't wanted to be there in the first place.
"Excuse me," Heero said flatly, rolling out from under his boyfriend and leaving the room for a minute. When he came back, his expression was neutral as he shut the door securely behind him and stood in front of it. "You know," he started conversationally. "I thought for sure that one of the benefits of having a boyfriend was not having to put up with all the goddamn moodiness."
Duo's eyes narrowed immediately, not particularly liking the implications of that statement.
"Look, if I did something, or something happened, just tell me. You know I'm too inept to figure it out on my own. Don't just sit there playing games with me."
"Inept?" Duo scoffed, leaning back casually against the pillows near which he had stayed. "You are many things, Heero, but inept is not one of them."
There was a pause in their exchange and it soon became clear that Duo felt the ball was back in Heero's court, but as evasions went, it wasn't very good, and Heero pointed it out. "You're playing games with me."
"Get over yourself, Heero. What, did you think that after a week, I'd be suffering from withdrawal or something? That I'd leap into your arms and not let you go for the rest of the day?"
"Of course not. I expected something a little more similar to what's been going on for the last few months, though. Is that so unreasonable?"
Something dark flittered across Duo's face in the subsequent silence, and the evasions and denials stopped as if a switch had been flipped. "You ever think this was all a mistake?"
"No." It was aggressive in its simplicity. He carefully did not ask what Duo thought, though it may have been obvious. He did not want to hear the answer.
Their staring match continued as they continued their terse exchange. "I changed my mind."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Duo obviously hadn't changed his mind about his confrontational stance.
"This isn't turning out how I thought it would."
"Oh? And just how did you think it would turn out?"
"Not like this."
There was something ominously significant about the unhelpful way Duo was answering his questions, but Heero just couldn't figure out what. "What did you want instead?"
"Something else. This isn't where I want to be in life right now."
"So things aren't going the way you expected, so you think you can just... 'change your mind'?" Duo shouldn't have phrased it like a fit of whimsy. Heero could get peeved by whimsy.
"Why not?" Duo shrugged glibly. "You make a mistake, you try to unmake it."
"No, you try to fix it. There's a difference."
"Then consider this me trying to fix it."
"And just what is it you think needs fixing?" He had a feeling this situation was getting out of control, but there was no stopping it. The mistake that was this conversation could not be undone.
Duo said nothing aloud, but his stony silence spoke for him.
"What are we talking about, Duo? Our relationship? What is it you want to fix--" No, that wasn't what Duo had said, not at first. He didn't come into this planning to 'fix' their relationship. Heero's eyes widened in terrible realization, pushing himself away from the door to stand abruptly upright. "You want to unmake it. You just want to... to end this? That's it? No explanations, no reasons, nothing. Just an end?"
Again, his silence was affirmation enough.
A daze threatened to overwhelm Heero's mind, but then it froze and shattered. "No," he breathed, just to see if he could. When he was sure of it, he took a step forward and said it again more loudly. "No, I won't let you."
Duo stared at him as if he was out of his mind. "You won't let me? Who the hell do you think you are, Yuy? You don't have a choice in the matter."
"I think I do," he retorted immediately, without really figuring out what recourse was left to him. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but you don't--"
"Fine," Duo cut him off sharply. "You believe whatever you want to believe, Heero, but I don't want to do this any more. The end. Now, if you'll excuse me." He rose gracefully to his feet and stalked towards the door, shoulder almost bumping into Heero's as he reached behind him for the doorknob.
Before he could open the door widely enough for him to pass, Heero's hand rose and prevented it from opening any further. "This is not over. Not to me, it's not."
Duo stiffened, but didn't look at him. "I'll show myself out, thank you." He jerked the door open, and in the slack the action gained him, slipped out through the crack. The door swung shut behind him.
Once he was out of sight, Heero shut his eyes and took a deep breath, his head spinning in its effort to figure this out. What the hell had just happened? He stood in blank shock until he heard the sound of Duo's car door shutting with a frighteningly solid thud that made Heero flinch.
They did not just break up. That was impossible. Break ups were preceded by signs, indicators, growing distances, thrown objects, extrarelational affairs... not a quiet week of winter vacation. He reached towards the door before remembering he had heard Duo drive away. Just to make sure, he walked quickly over to his window and confirmed that the old car was no longer parked by the curb in front of his house.
Crap. Should he follow? No, Duo's lead was too small. If he noticed Heero following, he could do something rash to try and get away. He didn't like feeling trapped. No, wait, Duo didn't know what his car looked like, so conceivably, Heero could tail him all the way back to the market without getting caught.
Argh, why was he even thinking like this? It was starting to sound like some stupid game of cops and robbers. Maybe Heero would just call him when he got home. Of course, then it would be too easy for Duo to either not answer, or brush him off. Maybe Heero could hope Howard would pick up the phone? Duo wouldn't be able to brush him off if Howard was standing next to him. Unless Howard was in on this. But even then, the older man was much more likely to be rational enough to give Heero the answers he wanted, only Heero wanted the answers from Duo. This was not going to be settled through a third party.
As he ran through the scenarios in his head, one thing became clear: Duo would not be receptive to anything he said until some time had passed. Emotions were running too high on both sides of the fence to expect anything productive to come from further discussion of the matter now. That was easily inferred from the way their recent conversation had gotten absolutely nowhere. Though he wished this situation had never come to pass, Heero found himself shamefully glad that Duo had walked out the door. It granted him a desperately needed temporary reprieve for him to get his head back on straight before they talked again. His brain was demanding time for an objective analysis. Had they kept on going, Heero had the unpleasant feeling that the only paths left to them would be bad and worse. Hopefully, Duo would be a little more cooperative by then as well.
He threw himself down on his bed and stared at his ceiling. Dammit, Yuy, think! What just happened, and what am I going to do about it?
"Heero." His name fell from Howard's lips like a heavy accusation, though the young man in question had barely even crossed the threshold of the market. "What the hell is going on? What did you do to him?"
He lifted an eyebrow in eloquent denial, crossing his arms over his chest and taking a firm stance in front of the counter. He was a man on a mission today. "That's what I'd like to know. He was acting odd when he got to my place yesterday. I was hoping you could tell me what the hell's been going on this last week."
It'd been a while since Howard had last seen Heero in all his stubborn glory. No, usually when he was with Duo, there had been all the warm fuzzies Howard could possibly want to see for his kid, but this attitude made him remember again just one small part of why the two pig-headed asses were so good for each other. "I don't know," he shrugged, willing to be as helpful as he could be. "Nothing weird that I could tell, except Duo just being Duo. The moody, broody Duo, that is."
"Hard to say. At least three days ago. Don't know what caused it. Last time I saw him like this was when, well, when he was trying to figure out what to do about you, back towards the end of summer. Nothing really started it. Just him thinking about you and him."
"Hn." Some people might have been offended by that. Heero's mental processors just accepted it as fact and got to work. Was Duo having the same doubts as before? He'd been reluctant to get into a relationship with Heero because he hadn't thought it was what he wanted at this point in his life, and while he'd been in denial, he had treated Heero with the same plastic smile he gave everyone. The pattern of symptoms held, so far. So why was he suddenly reconsidering his decision to accept Heero into his life? Had Heero somehow walked into one of the pitfalls that Duo had been hoping to avoid?
Heero saw something out of the corner of his eye, and his quick reflexes had him turning in time to see a braid swish out of sight through the front window of the market. He muttered a quick thanks to Howard and rushed out the door. "Duo."
Duo kept walking, and Heero followed, maintaining the distance between them. They walked for a handful of blocks that way, and then suddenly Duo stopped.
Heero finally caught up to find an angry look on Duo's face. "We can go to my place," he offered quietly, noting that they had, whether purposefully or not, been heading in the direction of his apartment. Whatever 'discussion' they were about to have, he was pretty sure he didn't want it happening in the middle of the street.
From the tightening of Duo's expression, he could guess that their route had not been deliberately chosen. Duo turned around, brushed by him, and started to walk back in the direction they had come from.
"Or we can go back to the store." Heero turned to follow.
He had not gone one step when the one he was following turned around again to face him. Duo opened his mouth as if he were about to say something unpleasant, shut it again, looked over his shoulder, then frowned darkly as he decided to head back in the direction of Heero's apartment, saying nothing at all. Heero shrugged and trailed along silently. One way or another, they would talk.
Duo leveled only a purely annoyed look at him once they had arrived and he had to stop and wait for Heero to catch up those last few steps and unlock the door. Once they got inside, Heero decided Duo didn't look like he was going to talk any time soon, so he opened his blinds just a little to let in some light, then crossed his apartment and flipped on his ceiling fan. If the situation had been a little more normal, he would have opened the window to let in some air, but he didn't want voices that would inevitably get raised to carry out to the public.
Duo glared at his back the entire time, and when Heero turned around to face him, he glared at his front. Neither of them sat down. "It's over, Heero."
"It's not over until I say it's over." He said it evenly, but his words were starting to sound very stalker-like to him.
"Oh, I totally misread you, then. Beneath your outer Grumpy lives a fat lady, eh?" His arms crossed aggressively over his chest.
They glared at each other some more, during which Heero clenched and unclenched his hands. "I'm not letting you walk out on this."
"You can't stop me."
"But I can and will follow you until I get some answers."
"You're a freak sometimes, you know that, Heero?"
As if insults were going to get him anywhere. "Perhaps, but then I'm a freak that you were involved with, and I'm a freak that wants answers. Why are you doing this?"
"Why can't you just accept it? I don't want to be in a relationship with you anymore."
"If you want to break things off, fine, I accept that, but what's with all the animosity?" If Duo didn't want to be in a relationship, they could end things cordially and civilly. It would hurt, but he would get over it. What he couldn't get over was the fact that Duo just seemed to hate him all of a sudden. "What did I do? Does it even have anything to do with me?"
"What did you do?" Duo repeated with a slight incredulity. "You... you... Christ, you're YOU!"
Heero blinked at him. "You're going to have to do a little better than that, Duo. What is it that offends you, all of a sudden?"
"Nothing!" His expression was a little wild around the edges, and it didn't seem like he'd really meant to say that.
"Then what, Duo?"
"Let it go!"
Wait. That didn't sound angry. That sounded desperate. "Duo..." he said softly, taking a step towards him.
Duo recoiled, his hands going up to his head to press his palms against his temples. "Stop saying my name like that!"
He paused. "...Like what?"
"Like... with that little Japanese accent on it. Like 'Dyuo' instead of 'Duo'."
"...Hn." He'd never noticed, but now that Duo mentioned it, he supposed he did, sometimes. It just slipped out. "Dyu-- Duo. Okay, I'll stop."
"Don't." It was almost nothing more than a soft breath, but it was there. "Don't stop."
Heero stared at his stricken expression for a good, long moment before he sat down heavily in the chair by the desk next to him. "If I ever seem miserably confused to you, Duo, I hope you understand why."
"Heh, join the club, buddy." Duo sighed tiredly, backing up until he hit the wall, and then sliding down it until he could sit on the ground, rest his elbows on his knees, and hide his face in his hands. "Join the club."
Well, they weren't shouting at each other anymore, so Heero supposed things had improved, but at least previously, he'd had some idea of what to say. He was at something of a loss, now.
"No one else says my name like that," Duo said, just loud enough for him to hear. "Well, I suppose I don't know any other Japanese people, so I shouldn't be surprised, but... you're the only one that says it like that."
And if Duo didn't want him to stop, then he supposed Duo must have liked it somehow. Perhaps there was hope yet. "What happened, Duo? What started this?"
Duo's shoulders shuddered in what Heero hoped was a soundless, weary laugh. "The stupidest little things... The littlest things. You promised, Heero. You promised you wouldn't take me away from my family."
His eyes widened in alarm. It was a promise he took seriously. "I haven't-- If I've done something, Duo..."
Duo shook his head, hands finally dropping from his face, though he still did not lift his gaze from the carpet. "You're taking me away from life as I know it. And it's not your fault. God, it's not..." He exhaled audibly. "You know, Howie gave me an early Christmas present. Just a couple of days ago. Gave me a cell phone. Gave me a goddamn cell phone."
"...Is that... a good thing or a bad thing?" Heero asked hesitantly.
He chuckled weakly. "No stinkin' clue. Said he figured I wouldn't be home a lot, what with you and all..."
A larger picture was finally beginning to form, and Heero couldn't say whether or not that really made him feel any better. Duo was right; it wasn't his fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. The understanding brought little more than a gentle sadness. "Duo..."
"Heh, there it is again." He'd said it in his own unique way once more without intending to. "Heero... He's right. I know you don't mean it, but..." Duo laughed softly again, like he was really, really trying to see the humor in this situation, but not faring so well. "You know, just yesterday, before I left to go over to your place? He said... he said, if I lose track of time and it gets to be too late, I should bully you into making sure I stay the night. It's not the first time he's said that, but... it just meant something all of a sudden. It just felt like... like I was being kicked out of the house or something, and he was happy to see me go."
His shoulders shook again, and the line between a laugh and sob was fine enough that Heero got out of his seat, crept across the room, and settled himself carefully next to him. When Duo didn't show any sign of minding, he placed an arm gently over his shoulders and tugged him close. "You know that's not how he meant it, Duo. You know Howard would be appalled if he knew that's what you were thinking."
"I know that," Duo murmured, not really melting into the embrace, but quite unable to refuse it as well. "But he's been all I've had for the last... and I can't just..."
"I know, Duo. I know." He sighed. He couldn't really know. He didn't have the same kind of close relationship with Odin, so he didn't have the same problem. But he understood enough to spare Duo the pain of having to come up with the words. It was the same understanding that had led him to make his assurances to Duo way back before they had ever started, and it was the same understanding that would let him walk away now if he had to. If he had to. He didn't quite accept that there was no compromise yet, however. He had the reason he'd demanded, but he still wasn't just letting go without a fight.
"I don't like feeling this way, Heero. Like... like there's something huge and inevitable happening, and I can't do a damn thing about it."
"And they call me a control freak," he teased lightly. It garnered no reaction. "Ending this isn't going to make that go away, Duo. I don't like feeling that way, either. But the way I figure it, if you can't beat it, join it."
"How about running?" Duo answered with a tired humor. "Think I can run from it?"
The corner of Heero's lips quirked up. "I think it's like stepping in gum. It'll follow you wherever you go, and you'll never be able to scrape it all off. And you can just ignore it, but then all sorts of nasty things will just get stuck in it. And it might get all old and dry and crusty, but it'll still be there, stuck to the bottom of your shoe and throwing off your stride. It could clog up your tread, too, and--"
"Alright already. Geez." He chuckled softly. "So you're stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Hey, maybe I can crush you under my heel, then. No, wait, that might grind you deeper into my sole."
Heero groaned, and sound blended into laugh towards the end. "That was lame, Duo."
"Hey, cut me some slack. I'm not at the top of my game right now." He sighed, remembering why they were huddled on the floor having this conversation. His eyes were directed towards their feet, and he suddenly realized that they both had their shoes on. Heero, who for all the months he had known him had been very anal about forbidding shoes in his living space, had foregone the reminder this time. It was strangely touching. Or telling, perhaps. "I had a dream about you the other night."
"You know what we were doing? We were talking. Talking, of all things! And I mean, talking. Like, I was telling you stuff I've never told anyone. Stuff I haven't even told me, because I won't even let myself know what we were talking about, but I know it was some pretty serious shit. That was just wrong, man."
"...Did it not go well?"
"I don't know.... I woke up before you could tell me it'd all be okay."
Heero's hand stroked his braid. "It'll all be okay, Duo."
He snorted. "What, you put off saying it then just so you could say it now?"
"Would you have believed it in a dream?"
"No. But then again, I'm not so sure I believe it now, either." He sat up and pulled away, feeling the loss of the comforting weight of Heero's arm over his shoulders as a necessary evil. "I... I'm sorry, Heero. I want this. I really do. But..." He trailed off for a while, unintentionally leaving Heero in agonizing suspense as he thought. "I just can't think right now. It feels like I'm trapped in either one or the other, like I can't have things both ways, and I'm sure that doesn't make any sense, but... I just can't... I just can't deal with this right now. Not when it feels like I'm going to sink or swim in the next five minutes, and no matter what I do, I'm going to end up losing something I don't want to lose."
Heero tried to muster up an understanding smile for him. It fell a little flat, but at least it was an honest effort. He understood the need for time. It was why he had let Duo march out of his room the previous afternoon. "Take some time. Take a step back. Put things into perspective.... Go home. Get your feet back under you. I... We can wait."
"That's... okay with you?"
Did he have a choice? There was a voice in his head chanting, 'Choose me! Choose me!' despite knowing it wasn't as easy as all that. Did that constitute 'okay'? He knew this was the right thing to do, alright, but oh it had been so hard to go through with saying what he knew he had to. Heero had a large emotional investment in this relationship, and he wasn't sure he wanted to absorb the loss. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, running a hand through his hair. "Well... as long as you don't hate me or anything, I guess I can deal."
"Oh. Yeah, and, you know... sorry about, um, yesterday. I shouldn't have... And today. And crap, dinner! I totally wasn't thinking about--"
"Don't worry about it, Duo. I let Dad know you... were a little ill at ease about things yesterday, and we thought it'd be a good idea to put off making your first impression until you could make a good one."
"Uh, yeah, that's one way to put it," he mumbled. "No, Heero, I don't hate you. I kinda wish I did, though. I mean, things would be simpler then."
"You said something along those lines once before, you know. You asked why I had to be so damned right. But you decided to go ahead and go through with it anyway. Remember that." Heero made the conscious decision to try and let that be the last thing he said to try and convince Duo to decide in his favor. There really wasn't any more he could say that would help. Duo was a smart guy. He knew all the arguments, even if he chose to reject them.
Duo sighed. "I'll keep that in mind. ...Thanks for coming out here. And being the stubborn asshole you are. I'll keep that in mind, too."
"Great," he drawled dryly, before pushing himself to his feet. He offered a hand to Duo automatically, but the other young man got up on his own.
Duo didn't forsake the hand entirely, though. After he had regained his feet, he took the hand and pulled Heero in for a hug. "'m sorry," he whispered again. "It's only 'cuz I like you so much, you know...."
"'s okay, Duo," Heero answered in kind, forcing himself to believe the words. It didn't hurt, really. Their relationship wasn't over, after all. It just felt like he was about to hold his breath for a very long time. They disentangled themselves and ended up standing an armslength apart. "Just... keep me informed or something, okay?" He itched to ask for some sort of ETA, but swatted the urge away to avoid the additional pressure.
Duo granted him a lopsided smile. "Okay. I'll get my head wrapped around this, I promise. So, umm, I guess I should get going."
"Yeah." He felt like there was something more that he should be saying, as if he should be ranting at the gods or pleading his case with Duo, but words and thought and action eluded him.
They stared at each other for a while longer. "Yeah." It took a few more seconds after that for Duo to blink and force himself into motion towards the door. "I'll-- yeah. B-- See ya, Heero."
"Yeah. See ya, Duo," he echoed faintly. Once the door was shut behind him, Heero leaned against it with a tired sigh. When he finally felt ready, he turned around and studied his apartment for no discernable purpose. His gaze fell upon Grumpy Bear, his constant companion throughout this whole thing. "This sucks," he announced to the bear.
The bear agreed, but offered no sympathy. Life always sucked to him, otherwise he wouldn't be so grumpy all the time.
Heero decided they both needed a hug. He wrapped the bear tightly in his arms, but it barely ranked as a faint echo of the Duo-hug. He decided it didn't matter. Digging a bag out of his closet, he tucked Grumpy inside, apologized briefly for the indignity, shut off his ceiling fan, closed the blinds, and left the apartment.
Heero wiped his hands on a cloth before picking up the cordless phone in the kitchen. "Hello?"
"Duo?" He put down his dish rag, sat down in a kitchen chair, and reminded himself firmly to maintain a neutral tone. Well, okay, maybe a little eagerness could seep in there. "Hey."
"Yeah. Um... Well. How've ya been?"
"Uh... okay, I guess." He was certain they probably sounded really pathetic, but he just didn't give a damn right then. Duo was on the other end. "You know, just... doing stuff. Hanging out. Catching up on some reading. You?"
"Oh, well... same old, same old, I guess. Helping out at the market...." Several ellipses passed before he continued. "Thinking."
"Yeah?" An 'And...?' hovered on the end of his tongue, and he forced himself not to say it. It was a tough battle.
"Yeah..." Duo suddenly burst out laughing, and Heero was left only wishing he could hear it in person instead of over a tinny phone connection. "Ye gods, this is sad, isn't it?"
"Well... yeah." No point in denying it.
"Hey, don't you start that again."
Heero closed his eyes and imagined the grin that would go with the words. "Well, give me something else to talk about, then."
"Oh." In his mind's eye, he saw the smile slip. "Well, umm..." He heard Duo take a deep breath. "Okay. So... I guess for starters, I had a little chat with Howie. That was, uh, a little rough, I guess."
"What did he say?"
"Well, I don't mean 'rough' like 'harsh', you know, just, um, 'tough'. 'Emotionally draining'. I tried to keep it short and, you know, not very girly. It was still rough. God, I don't know how chicks manage to deal with all this emotional crap."
Heero snorted lightly. "Prolonged exposure, maybe. They have their whole lives to get used to this sort of thing."
"Yeah, I guess. Incidentally, I gave him a great, big hug, and told him it was from you."
"Uh... okay." He wasn't quite certain if Duo had meant it as a joke, or if he had done it simply to avoid responsibility for the sentimentality, but he was fairly certain Duo left it deliberately vague. "Did it help? The chat, I mean."
"Kinda. It wasn't like the end-all, cure-all, but... well, I felt a little better afterwards, if nothing else. You know, just... getting it all out into the open. But... it's not like it fixed anything, really."
"Oh." Don't show disappointment, he admonished himself. "So what about... um..." Not 'us', he thought, trying to figure something out. Don't say 'us'.
"Uh, yeah. That. Or, you know," he rushed on to say. "Whatever."
"Whatever. Right." Duo gave a short laugh. Heero could imagine he'd be running his hand through his bangs right around now. "Well... I'm still... I'm still working on that one."
"But not like-- Well, kinda-- Bleh." He took another breath and started over again. "I mean... I still like you, you know. I like you a lot. That hasn't changed. There's just... there's just other stuff, you know? I mean, I'm just not quite sure... Okay, well, I'm pretty sure that if I just suck it up and take it, it's not going to turn out bad or anything. I mean, I'm not a baby; I don't need to be clinging to Howie's shirt for the rest of my life. And I'm not an idiot; I know that things change. I know that most of this stupid stuff's just in my head, right? But I've got to work up the guts to suck it up and take it first, you know?"
My, didn't that make their relationship sound wonderful? "I know the feeling."
"Heh, now I guess I know how you felt all those times you... you know. Um, stopped."
That was kindly diplomatic of Duo. "And I guess I know how you felt all those times, too." No, well, he didn't really. He thought he handled things better than Duo did, but he could be diplomatic, too, if he had to. "Whatever. So I guess we're on even ground now."
"Yeah. I guess."
They both lapsed into silence, trying to figure out if there was anything left to say. "Hey, Quatre wanted us to all get together again on New Year's. I'd understand if you wanted to spend the day with your uncle or something...," he offered, giving him an out.
"Oh, well... uh, that sounds... nice. Can I let you know?"
"Yeah. Sure. But, um, don't worry about it. It'd just be a little informal thing. Of course, it'd be at Quatre's house and he isn't really known for keeping things plain and simple but... you know. No worries. I can e-mail you his address, if you want."
"Uh, yeah. That'd be great."
The heavy silence fell between them again. It lasted a few awkward seconds before it was interrupted by a mighty beep. "What was that?" Heero asked. It didn't sound like it came from his end.
"Um, hang on, I think the cell phone gods are trying to tell me something. Hmm, yeah, looks like my battery's low."
"Ah. So you're using the phone?"
"Well, I got the damn thing, might as well use up the minutes we paid for. And free long distance and all that, you know. I've just... had other things on my mind besides checking the damn battery charge."
"Yeah. Uh, well, why don't you go plug that in before it cuts us off, and..."
"...And I'll get back to you, okay?"
"Okay. Umm, until then, I guess."
"...Yeah. Okay. This is stupid. I'll talk to you later, Heero."
"Yeah-- I mean, uh, talk to you later, Duo. Bye."
They both lingered for a couple of seconds, not wanting to be the first to hang up, before finally slapping themselves and just hitting the damn off button and heaving a sigh.
Heero went back to cleaning up the kitchen in the wake of dinner, determined not to think about anything at all, but as he might have expected, that only made him think about it. His mind took it upon itself to relentlessly play back snippets of their last two conversations, and some time after he had finished up in the kitchen, after he had gone up the stairs and into his room and sat down in front of his laptop with Grumpy, something kept nagging at him. Something just wasn't quite adding up right, and it continued to take pot shots at him all night long.
"Is Duo coming?"
Heero suppressed the twinge of something that tried to flare up at the reminder. "...I don't know. He said he'd call."
If Quatre had not liked Duo, the look he gave Heero would have been severely disapproving. It was, after all, only an hour or so before the planned gathering. As it was, his face was merely concerned, with a hint of a frown. "And he didn't call? Well, maybe you should call him and ask?"
The vague answer only raised Quatre's level of concern, and when he got concerned, he often trod the fine line between friendly support and intrusive nosiness. He looked to Trowa, who was sitting by his side, and received only a slight shrug in response. The gesture did not allay his piqued protectiveness at all. If Heero had been playing with him, Trowa would have sported a shadow of a smirk. "Are you two having a fight?"
"...Not really." Heero refused to make eye contact with the blonde and instead concentrated on the random magazine he had picked up from the coffee table in Quatre's living room. "US News and World Report" was not his normal fare, but it served its purpose.
That was close enough to an affirmative for Quatre. "Well, shouldn't you be talking to him or something?"
"We're done with the talking part already," Heero answered levelly, knowing from prior experience that he had best appease Quatre with some information. If Quatre didn't get what he wanted, he'd sic Trowa on his best friend, and Heero didn't hide things from Trowa, which would leave Trowa in the unpleasant position of having to withhold information from his boyfriend since he didn't break Heero's confidence. "This is the part where I back off for a while and wait for him to realize what an idiot he's being."
Trowa hmm'ed contemplatively. "That sounds wonderfully simple. I think they're on to something there, Quatre."
Heero shrugged. "Duo doesn't like people hovering over him. Besides, if he doesn't figure it out, I can just go over there and kick some more sense into him." His current working theory was that Duo had some issue besides the one with his uncle that he probably wasn't even aware of, but was incorrectly lumping together with the singular problem they had already identified. It didn't make sense to him that Duo's growing distance from Howard could be solely responsible for the entire mess. The way Duo sounded, he made it seem like he was just feeling uncomfortable about how things were happening between them, and Heero felt that if there was anyone that should be feeling uncomfortable, then it should have been him. Heero was, after all, the one who'd had his entire identity flipped upside down upon meeting this one person, but as he reckoned things, the way he felt was the way he felt, and there was no use trying to fight it as Duo seemed to be doing. He felt sort of bad that the whole situation seemed so straightforward to him, but he really didn't see any reason in complicating his life with unnecessary overdramatization.
"A little too simple," Quatre sniffed playfully. "If you ask me, you're only better off here because Duo can't miss you if you're there."
The other two shared a look: Trowa a tolerant one, and Heero a commiserating one.
Wufei had long since arrived with Meiran and ensconced themselves comfortably in the living room along with everyone else when the doorbell rang. From the depths of some other room, someone of the Winner household called out that she would get the door, and thus was the matter subsequently ignored and practically forgotten until Heero looked up and saw a nervous someone hovering just outside the room.
"Excuse me," he murmured to the others as he got up without fanfare and went to Duo's side, paused, then headed towards the kitchen with a tilt of his head to indicate that Duo should follow.
Once they found themselves in relative privacy, they spent a few long moments just looking at each other, waiting for someone to break the silence. Duo cracked first. "Quatre's got a nice pad here."
Heero raised an eyebrow at him in recognition of the stall tactic, but he played along, trying at the same time to interpret Duo's intentions through his body language. Other than the obvious anxiety Duo was betraying, there wasn't much else to be divined. "Yeah. His dad's a wealthy businessman."
Finally, after trying to find something else to say that wouldn't sound too vacuous, Duo sighed and decided to take the plunge. "Well, I've got good news, and I've got bad news." He peeked at Heero's expression, which stayed carefully blank at the announcement, so he had no recourse but to continue. "The good news is... that I'm not running anymore. But the bad news is that that just means I'm... walking now. But the best news is that, um, even though I'm still... 'walking', I think I'm going slow enough that I can handle that and you at the same time. That is, if you're okay with that, because I can totally see how that's unfair and--"
Heero didn't have anything prepared to say. He'd just wanted to take the verbal ball away from Duo and spare them both the aimless babbling. Now that he had it, he let a part of it pass in profound silence while formulating a question. "...Do you even know what you're walking away from?"
"I'm not walking away from--!" Duo bristled indignantly before realizing what Heero was referring to. "Oh. You mean, like, running-walking, not walking-away-from-this walking. Sorry. Well, of course. The, um, well... you know. The, uh..."
Heero raised an eyebrow dryly at him, watching as Duo started to run into the realization that he couldn't really be 'walking' from the issue they'd discussed. That had all been laid out quite plainly and fully confessed to all relevant parties, with resolutions firmly in the offing. No, Duo was only walking now because he was all done with the Howard thing, but still running from something completely unacknowledged, and it averaged out to a walk. Heero decided not to press the issue. If Duo wanted to try and recognize a problem without ever acknowledging it by slipping it in under the guise of another, then Heero could try slipping in a solution to that problem under the guise of a solution to the one acknowledged problem.
"Never mind," he dismissed, shaking his head. When Duo's mouth turned into a frown, as if he thought Heero was just patronizing him, or perhaps expressing disappointment, Heero attempted to correct the mistaken impression. "Some things are hard to put to words. So what does this 'walking' mean? That you're going to be all hot and cold on me again?"
Apparently, Duo was content with the change of topic. After a moment, he grinned apologetically. "I hope not. That was... that was denial, a failure to realize just what was going on in my head. I think I'm past that. Now... I don't know. Not straight back to where we were, not right away, I guess. Things are never that simple, right? Or if they are, then something's probably wrong. You think we could maybe back up a little? Give me a little time to deal? There's just so many things now that I just didn't see before.... If we could, you know, sort of back up and then inch our way forward? Do things properly this time so I can adjust and don't suddenly find myself overwhelmed by a mountainload of crap? Uh, the crap being my crap, I mean, not like us-crap," he appended nervously, gesturing vaguely with his hands. "Heh. Um. But you know, if I see it coming this time, then it shouldn't be so bad, right? Maybe kinda like when you... you know." He didn't want to bring it up because it made things seem so much like a comparison between them, a mud-slinging competition, one trying to one-up the other, but it was unavoidably relevant. "Do you mind? If I can forgive you when you get spooked, can you forgive me when I get spooked?"
Heero gave him another long, measuring look, thinking to himself that they were way beyond the Howard issue now. He didn't know what Duo was getting spooked by, but it was more than just separation anxiety. But if Duo wanted to deal with this unspoken something else by pretending he had successfully identified the root of the problem, if he wanted to pretend that this all made sense that way, then they would pretend. The results would be about the same. "Not really."
"Hey, that's not really fair. I mean--"
"When I get spooked," Heero cut him off. "I may freeze up, and it may annoy the hell out of you -- you and me both -- but at least I stay where I am, take a deep breath, and try to calm down. I don't go... running off or... getting all moody and evasive or something. I can forgive that you get spooked, but I'm not particularly pleased with the way you handle it." He hadn't expected he would say that aloud, but if there was a time to say it, now was that time.
Duo's jaw worked for a while as he tried to figure out just what he wanted to say about that. Yes, he knew it was unfair, but that was all he knew how to do. "So what do you want me to do about it?"
"I let you try and convince me my fears are unfounded. Now, maybe it works, or maybe it doesn't, but at least I listen to you tell me what an idiot I am, and I try to take that to heart. It would be nice if you'd give me that same opportunity to tell you that you are an idiot."
Such eloquent phrasing. He tried to get angry and stay angry, or something, but in the end he just snorted in amusement. "So, are you trying to tell me that I'm an idiot right now?"
"Okay," he said slowly, pausing for a deep breath as if steeling himself for what came next. "And now you're going to tell me why?"
"I think we've already covered most of it. Next time you get spooked, don't you leave the damned city. There's no reason for that. Or at least do it without pretense, although some warning would be nice. But you should stick around, and let me remind you why this is such a good idea. The fact that you came back here... you need to remember the why of that, and remind yourself of it when something like this happens again. I think this is worth it, which is why I'm sticking with this, and I guess you thought this was worth it, which is why you chose to stick with it, so dammit, stick with it, okay?"
"You... wouldn't like it if I decided not to stick with it, huh?" Duo asked with a quiet that hinted of shyness.
Now what kind of silly question was that? "Of course not. I like this. Well, not 'this' as in 'this right now', but us." He gestured to the air between them. He accepted the 'us'. The only thing he wasn't sure about sometimes was what to do about it. "I like us. I like -you-."
"I like you, too," Duo echoed slowly, hesitantly, softly.
If Heero had been anyone else, the expression on his face would have been a spritely smile. As it was, his lips merely held a slightly sardonic tilt. "Then we shouldn't have a problem. Now come on. We should probably get back to the guys. And girl." He turned towards the kitchen door and glanced over his shoulder expectantly.
Duo hovered where he had left him. "Hey... You think...?" His stance was unsure, his shoulders sort of hunched in protectively even as his hands drifted vaguely outwards in an unspoken request, one Heero calmly accepted. The short distance between them was closed with a few measured steps, and they wrapped their arms around each other with slowly increasing pressure until their bodies were flush against each other in a firm embrace.
Duo sighed, his breath ruffling the short hairs on the back of Heero's neck. "I missed this."
A small sound of agreement was muffled against his shoulder. "Well then, Maxwell, hurry up and get your head out of your ass. There'll be plenty more hugs like this one waiting for you on the other side."
His laughter shook both their frames. "My, what a self-righteous bastard you are."
"Hn. Maybe. Now come on. Quatre's probably driving Trowa crazy out there."
The rest of the day passed quietly enough, despite Heero's earlier warning that Quatre was given to productions of a sort. Indeed, Quatre didn't believe in doing things in half measure, but the full measure was accomplished with a smooth grace and a certain mellowness nevertheless. He knew the virtue of catering to one's audience, after all.
Heero and Duo returned to the company of their friends without anyone making a remark on their absence. Only Trowa silently inquired as to their status with a simple look at his longtime friend, and his concern was subsequently allayed with a tiny, almost infinitesimal smile noticeable only by those that knew him well. Quatre, knowing that the pair had some sort of issue floating between them, was calmed by the easy way they interacted with each other and the rest of them.
What was perhaps the most surprising to all three of Heero's friends was their apparent closeness. None of them had noticed anything amiss at their last gathering, so skilled was Duo at evasion and Heero at being inscrutable, and besides which, the notion of Heero having a boyfriend was still quite novel to them, though to Trowa less so than the others. They saw nothing wrong with the distance that had been maintained, but on this day, that distance seemed sorely lacking at times. Given Heero's known aversion to being touched, it was decidedly unexpected to see them stand close enough to feel each other's heat, more so to witness Duo sit at Heero's feet and lean casually against Heero's legs, and even awe-inspiring to observe Duo's arm sneak around Heero's waist and settle there as if it belonged. They were only small things, but graced with significance.
What Heero alone saw was the faint jumpiness on Duo's part, often followed by some sort of apologetic gesture, some quirk of the lips or cant of the head. At times, it followed some absentmindedly intimate gesture, and others, it preceded some hesitant, deliberate gesture, as if Duo were unsure of his right to express affection in the relationship that he had brought to a brief standstill, and that was only just now getting started again.
Heero was willing participant to it all, and even encouraged a few scraps of it. They were both in need of a little reassurance. He would never be an open person, but he figured that if there were anyone in the world he could comfortably show sentimentality before, it would be his loyal friends, and perhaps Odin in time. He made no plans on extending that privilege to anyone else, but this he could or would manage. At school, only Howard got to see their closeness. No one else knew they were an item, save perhaps Hilde, who had quite a few suspicions about the nature of their relationship, though many of them were likely incorrect. It was not through a concerted effort at secrecy that they were not open, but only a fierce privacy which both surprised and comforted Heero.
The night ended not unreasonably late, and after Duo had bullied Wufei into having Meiran occupy his home's guest room for the night, Heero turned to him with the ready expectation of doing the same. Duo looked uncertain for a moment, and it did not pass unnoticed.
"I know Howard probably said he expected it," Heero mentioned. "But maybe you can give him a call anyway? I'm sure he'll okay it."
There was only the briefest pause before Duo smiled brightly. "You know, I think that's a good idea." He whipped out his cell phone to do just that.
While he was occupied, Heero located Trowa and interrupted the quiet conversation he'd been having with his boyfriend. "I'm going to get a ride home with Duo," he informed Trowa, the information relevant since Trowa had given him a ride here.
Trowa nodded, but from the look on his face, Heero could tell there was something else under consideration for voicing, so he waited his old friend out and was rewarded. "I never thought I'd see the day."
Which day in particular didn't really need to be specified, especially since it referred to a number of different days. Heero shrugged. "Neither did I."
"Not as sudden as it seems."
Trowa tilted his head in Quatre's direction, with an inquisitive brow raised in company.
Heero gave a little shrug and a faint smirk filled with mystery.
Quatre frowned at them both. "Ugh, you two. I can never follow one of your conversations!"
The smirk grew a little wider. "Thanks for having us over and all that. We'll see you guys later." He crossed the room to fetch his errant Duo, who was just now finishing up his conversation with his uncle, and shepherded him in the direction of the door.
"Uh, yeah, what he said!" Duo called over his shoulder on the way out. By the time they got to the car, Duo ground to a halt and had to ask a question. "What's the hurry?"
Heero blinked with true innocence at him, having expected him to simply unlock the doors. "Hurry? Oh, no hurry. When we say we're going to leave, we leave. No productions. No stalling. That's all."
It sounded shady, but given Heero and his best friend, Duo could believe it, so he let it go and they made the trip back to Heero's house. They were upstairs collecting blankets from a linen closet for his use when he spied a familiar face through an open door. "You brought Grumpy back," he noted, detouring into Heero's room.
"Uh, yeah." The confession was no louder than a reluctant mumble. No need for it to get around that he was using a teddy bear to stave off loneliness.
"Hey, Grumpy," Duo greeted cheerily, scratching the bear behind his fuzzy ears. The bear scowled back at him. He smiled. Sometimes that bear was so much like Heero it was scary.
When it seemed he was lingering, Heero followed him into the room and sat down on the bed. "Howard's okay?"
"Hmm?" He'd been momentarily distracted by the idea that Grumpy was Heero's Grumpy, and Heero was Duo's Grumpy. "Oh, yeah. Of course."
"You okay?" That seemed the more pertinent question. It wasn't Howard who had had the problem, after all.
Duo smiled for him and sat down beside him. "Yeah. I still don't know why I just... spazzed out like that. I guess it was just sudden or something. I mean, Howie's never done this before, so I guess it just... caught me offguard when he did."
"Yeah, you know...." It took Duo a long moment to actually come up with what he was supposed to know. He hadn't thought about the statement before he'd spoken it, true though it seemed in hindsight. He grunted contemplatively. "I guess... he's never really encouraged me before. I mean, with boyfriends. He wasn't strict about it, but I knew where he stood. He never really warmed to any of them, but he knew they were nothings anyway, so..." He drifted off at the realization that Heero was a something, maybe a big something, and a something that Howard approved of, no less. It wasn't as if that was any surprise, but for some reason, it still startled and froze him for a moment every time it occurred to him all over again. If he could see his own face, he'd recognize the expression as one he saw on Heero's face every now and again.
Heero noted the lapse and cataloged it in his mental database for correlation with the rest of his observations, but Duo attempted to cover it by acting as if he'd just realized something else entirely. "You know, Heero. Christmas seems to have totally passed us by."
"Next year," Heero dismissed casually. "I didn't manage to find you your frictionless pulley, anyway."
"Aww." The mock-pout was charming, to say the least. "Well, next year, I suppose. I can hold out hope, right? And... I admit, I, uh, have been a little distracted, so..." And he was distracted right now as well. Next year? That was a whole twelve months away. He'd never had a relationship last over twelve weeks. Some had lasted less than twelve days! And now they were talking twelve months? He counted months in his head and realized that they'd been more or less together for at least four months. It seemed somehow so much longer, and somewhat shorter, too. His heart rate may have spiked, but he commanded himself not to fidget under the weight of the revelation.
"I told you, Duo, you don't have to worry about it. I'm not in the habit of expecting gifts from people. Except Quatre."
Duo put away his other thoughts and chuckled in appreciation of all the grumpy items littering Heero's living space, then sighed. "I think my Christmas present to me this year will be... us. Me giving us a better chance."
"Sounds more like a New Year's resolution to me."
"Maybe. I hope to stick with it better than I have-- Aw, geez. I missed giving you your New Year's Eve kiss, too, last night. I'm really sorry about that."
Heero snorted in good humor. "I'm the one that didn't invite you over until the time had passed. Besides, clocks are rarely synchronized, so the idea of 'at the stroke of midnight' is somewhat impossible."
"...That your way of telling me they're overrated?" A mere shrug as a response was all that was delivered. A wry quirk of his lips later, Duo lowered his head for a moment, made a decision, and told himself quite firmly that he didn't know what there was to be nervous about. "Think we'll still get our good luck for the year if we do it now?"
Heero's odd talent for the measuring gaze was wielded once more before he took up the clock on his bedside table and fiddled with a few buttons. When he set it back down again, Duo saw it now read as about ten seconds before midnight, December the thirty-first. Duo smiled wryly at him, and Heero smiled back. "Go for it."
No New Year's kiss would be complete without the countdown. When the time came, Duo leaned forward a little more on each successive second. "Three... two... one...." No fireworks marked the occasion, but for being their first kiss after a turbulent couple of weeks, it was marked enough, despite being oddly similar to their true first kiss. About half as shy -- although more on Duo's part this time -- but just as intoxicating.
ah, me. this time the title refers not only to their best laid plans, but mine as well. i said i wouldn't write a sequel to plans, but i also said i would eat those words, so here we are.
so those of you that haven't had to read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men for school, there's this poem by Robert Burns, To a Mouse, that has these lines in it: the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men / gang aft agley. gang aft agley is Scottish for 'often go awry' or something to that effect.
so why would i name it something so seemingly random? well, i was feeling contrary, i was. that's all.
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This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at email@example.com. This has been an entirely automated message. http://www.cs.hmc.edu/~jchew/misc/gw.html
last modified : 1/5/2004 00:46:54 PST