For Promis'd Joy
sequel to Gang Aft Agley

Duo was oddly fond of Heero's kitchen.  It wasn't as cramped as it seemed it ought to be, given the small size of Heero's little one-room studio apartment, but it was certainly smaller than the one in Howard's flat.  Heero's kitchen was, in fact, somewhat cheerless when looked at from an objective perspective.  There was a wall separating it from the window and any natural light, after all, and the cabinetry was painted a generic white.  All in all, it would have been quite a bland place if it hadn't showed signs of Heero's occupancy.

Beside the sink was the dish rack, and resting in its wire frame was Oscar the Grouch, glaring at any and all viewers from the comforts of his mug.  Next to the rack sat the dish soap, a cheerfully bright orange in color.  Heero liked the smell of anti-bacterial soap because it smelled anti-bacterial, whatever that smelled like.  On a shelf was a rice cooker, an incongruously pink thing Heero had picked up on sale.  He claimed the color was worth the twenty dollars he saved.  Next to the rice cooker was usually a bag of fruit, perhaps even two, of whatever was in season.  Duo took pride knowing that all that wonderfully fresh fruit came straight from Howard's bins.

And then there was the refrigerator.  It showed signs of Duo's presence.  Quatre had gifted Heero with magnetic poetry, expecting his taciturn friend to create delightfully dreary sentences.  Instead, Duo had commandeered it, and crafted, well, statements Heero certainly never would have come up with.  Occasionally, Heero would twist his words around, weaving in new words to the structure as if it were some odd game of Scrabble, and then Duo would add to the accumulated crossword puzzle until they reached some undefined critical mass and it all came apart again, only to repeat.

Looking at that refrigerator gave Duo an odd fluttery feeling in his gut sometimes, and when that happened, he stopped himself from ignoring it.  It was like a proximity alarm, consistently going off whenever he got a little too close to something that made him uncomfortable.  Previously, he had failed to listen to that warning sound, and when he finally realized how near he was, he'd made the mistake of veering violently away from his course.  Now, while he was still overcorrecting, he was getting better about it.  He took a deep breath, swallowed that feeling down, turned the light off in the kitchen after making sure everything was cleaned up after the dinner Heero had cooked, and headed over to the sofa to join his boyfriend.  "Winter break always seems much too long when we're in the middle of it, but on the day before classes start, it always seems incredibly short, doesn't it?"

"Hm," Heero sounded in agreement as he flipped through a few channels on his small television.  He settled on the news, but left the volume on low so they could ignore it if they chose.  "In a few days, winter break will be nothing but a distant memory, so you won't have to worry about it either way."

"Great.  That'll cheer a guy up."  There was a little sarcasm in his voice, but perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to forget their last vacation.  Duo had freaked out over practically nothing and quite nearly ruined things for the both of them.  He wouldn't mind forgetting that, although something was yelling at him pretty loudly that there was a lesson to be learned there.  "You know, there's something I've been wanting to ask you about your schedule for the longest time, but I always get distracted whenever I think about it or something.  You're taking quantum this semester, right?"


"Is that because you're actually interested in the subject, or is this some 'want to know what your dad is talking about' thing?"

"My dad doesn't talk about quantum.  But a little of both, I guess.  I mean, I'm interested because of my dad, but I'm just taking it because I feel like it."

"Lucky CS majors," Duo muttered.  "So much time in your schedules.  Engineers rarely get to take anything they feel like.  Too much other crap to get out of the way.  And when we do suddenly find ourselves with spare time, the interesting classes all conflict with our required classes.  Like how all the language classes are only taught in the mornings for some bizarre reason, and so are half the core classes.  And language classes are every bloody day, which doesn't help matters."

"Are you interested in taking a language course?"

"Nah, just as an example... well.  Hm.  Japanese might be fun.  What do you think?"  Then he could understand what Heero was saying in that foreign purr of his.

"I like the Japanese department.  Are all the classes really in the morning?  I've never looked."

"Uh, yeah, I think so.  Except maybe the advanced classes, or the conversational ones, or whatever.  The odd ones.  I dunno.  I haven't checked lately."  And 'lately' meant since he was a freshman, probably.  He'd never had much of an inclination to take a language class until Heero had come along to broaden his horizons.

"Check," Heero suggested.  "I've got the course catalog over there, on the floor next to the sofa."

"Hm?"  Duo scooted over to the edge of the sofa and peered over the side.  He saw a stack of papers, but no course catalog.  "Where?"

Quite unexpectedly, Heero moved to his side, then proceeded to crawl over him, belly down over Duo's lap as he rummaged through the pile of registration material.  Duo had the honor and the privilege of having to mightily restrain himself from spanking the pert bottom being displayed so temptingly to him.  He deliberately averted his eyes and found himself gazing at Heero's head, and the itch in his fingers to spank transformed itself into an urge to play with Heero's hair.  After that, Duo just shut his eyes and concentrated on his breathing.

"Got it," Heero announced in due time.

Duo held himself still as Heero unsprawled and retreated back to his original seat on the other end of the sofa.  Duo gave himself a moment or two before thinking about snuggling up to Heero's side again, only his action was preempted by Heero closing the distance between the two of them once more, this time lying down on the sofa, face up, and using Duo's leg as a pillow.  That didn't quite help, but Duo supposed it was better than the last position.

Obliviously, Heero went on to check the table of contents.  "Hm, languages, twenty-eight," he murmured to himself, flipping to the right page.  "Asian languages... Japanese.  Here we are.  Hmm.  Looks like you're right.  What about the other languages?"  He scanned the schedules for the other classes.

Being too preoccupied with his fingers, Duo merely hummed in acknowledgement.  Finally, he let loose the leash on his digits and allowed them to play with the ends of Heero's hair.  They were a little too shy for a full-on frolick amongst the dark chocolate locks, but they were delighted enough to run through the fringes.

"I guess they're all like that," Heero observed, turning back to the Japanese section.  He shifted slightly.  "You know, I don't think this is as comfortable as commonly advertised."  He turned a little and reached up with one finger to poke at Duo's thigh.  "Maybe you need a little more meat or something."

Duo flicked the intrusive finger away.  "Maybe you just have a hard head.  And I'm the one who's probably going to have his leg fall asleep."

"Hn.  Sucks to be you, then."  He shifted again, found a comfortable enough position, and stayed there, returning his attention to the course catalog.  "1-B conflicts with your thermodynamics class.  If you started, you'd have to start in the fall, anyway."

Duo was waiting patiently for the tingling in his leg to start, but he did nothing to stop its coming.  A few pins and needles would be worth it.  It got him thinking that maybe that occasional tingling of his internal sensors, and the subsequent disquiet that could cause, was worth it, too.  That was what relationships were about, right?  Ups and downs went hand in hand.  He'd deal with that annoying flutter because he wanted to be with Heero, and no stupid little butterflies were going to stop him.  Alright, they might slow him down a bit from time to time, but they definitely weren't going to stop him.  "Nah, don't worry about it.  That would mean I'd only have time to take first-year before I graduate, and where's the fun in only learning the basics?  I mean, I could probably just pick up a textbook and do that."

"Why don't you?" Heero asked, looking up to catch a glimpse of his boyfriend past his bangs.

"What, pick up a textbook?"  Duo gave in and brushed those stray hairs out of the way.  "Where's the fun in that?  I mean, you learn the technicalities of it all, but you'll never be good enough for a real conversation."

Heero raised an eyebrow at him, which looked sort of funny, given the angle.  "I'd help you.  Maybe not this semester, but I'm sure we could easily cover all of first year this summer, and then you could take the test and pass out of first year and start on second next fall, if you were interested."

"If I had time, you mean?  Why couldn't I just skip class and learn it all from you?"  That way he wouldn't have to think about a time schedule.  Why did Heero think he could learn two semesters' worth of material in three short months?  From everything he had heard, Japanese was a complicated language.   Surely it took more time than that.

"You would benefit from interaction with others.  I'm not a teacher, Duo."

"Yes, you are."  His first instinct was to lean down and lay an affectionate kiss upon Heero's lips, but a little bit of squirming and a shot of logic proved to him that their relative positions were a little too awkward to allow for that.  He had to settle for leaning to the side a bit so he wouldn't appear as upside-down to Heero as he smiled warmly for him, his hand wandering over Heero's chest.  Beneath his fingertips he could feel delightfully firm muscles.  Heero's casual fitness, his strength and solidity, were very reassuring to him.  He basked in that feeling, and ground a butterfly beneath his heel as he did so.   That sounded a little backwards to him, that he would find such comfort uncomfortable, but he filed the question away for later.  "You've taught me so many things."

"What day is it today?"

"Wednesday."  It was a bad sign if Duo already couldn't remember what day it was.  They were only a week and a half into the semester.

"No, I mean date."

Heero checked his watch.  "Twenty-sixth."

"Crap.  I have to go to a party tonight."

"That's a bad thing?"

Duo sighed, momentarily shutting his text but keeping his fingers between the pages to mark his place.  "Nah, I guess it's not a bad thing.  It's not a party, really.  It's like a mixer or whatever they call get-together-and-meet-people things.  Tad called it a 'soirée'.  That is so gay.  Which is appropriate, since it's a 'soirée' for Prism."

"Prism?" Heero repeated, setting his own book down for a moment to sort through the various student organizations floating around in his head.  He didn't pay much attention to groups on campus, enough to recognize names, but not enough to identify purpose.  "That's the... gay, uh, something student union, isn't it?"

"Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning, allied... gosh, is there anyone in the whole school that doesn't get covered by that?  But yeah."

That made no sense.  "How do those letters come together to form 'Prism'?"

"Oh, it's the whole rainbow thing, that's all.  Letters have nothing to do with it.  I hear they're going back to 'queer' to cover it all.  Anyway, it's the beginning of the semester, so they're having their get-together."

"Shouldn't that be at the beginning of the year?"  By which he meant not January, but September.

"It is at the beginning of the year.  This is just another one.  Any excuse for a party, I guess.  I have to go because I'm buddies with Tad and he's the event organizer this year and he personally invited me.  That sucks."

"Why don't you want to go?"  Heero had discovered, over the months, the strange dichotomy of Duo being a social creature, and yet being generally reluctant to attend many social events.

"I got into it back in freshman year, you know?  So I could find some other people and figure things out.  And, well, that worked a little too well, what with the swooping thing.  Not to give you the impression that they're all that type; just the guys I fell in with, I guess."

"Well, you did say you were very swoopable."

He chuckled.  "I suppose I did.  But I took myself off the market after that, and sort of tried to get myself off the radar -- or should I say gaydar? -- so I quietly stopped keeping up with things.  But I kept up with people, and then Tad went and became the events coordinator, and he talked me into going last semester, and... you know, the mingling part's not so bad.  It's pretty low-key.  It's just the people that consider these things opportunities to pick someone up."

"Ah.  You still have the charm that made you so swoopable?"  As if Heero needed to question.  He was on the receiving end of that effortless charisma every day.

"Heh, yeah, guess so.  And at the beginning of last semester, we weren't... well, we were... I mean, we were sort of together at the time, but not really together enough for me to be able to convince some people that I wasn't interested or available.  To this day, Tad still doesn't believe me when I say I have a boyfriend."

"Well, we're... more together now, so you shouldn't have a problem, right?"  They were now actually not the most together they had been.  They were more firmly together from having weathered a few complications, particularly over winter break, but because of those complications, they -- particularly Duo -- had taken a step or three back for some room to feel their way around the boundaries of their relationship again, and hopefully push beyond them.

"That just means I've had more time to get my story straight, I think.  Oh, whatever.  I can handle it."  He reorganized his schedule in his head to accommodate the change in plans and then opened his book again to resume his reading.

"Well, you could just prove it to them," Heero suggested quite reasonably, though not without a good deal of forethought.  He had thoroughly reviewed the option and decided it was acceptable before voicing it.

Duo blinked and shut his book again.  "How do you...?"  He paused, then turned to face the young man sitting next to him on the sofa.  "Waaaait.  You don't mean... On the one hand, you're right, it probably should have occurred to me to ask you along, and I apologize for that.  That was thoughtless and rude of me.  But on the other hand... you'd really be willing to come to a gathering of a bunch of, well, queers, and get introduced as my boyfriend?  That certainly didn't occur to me either."

"Then is there anything at all going on in that head of yours?" Heero said teasingly, nudging Duo's side with his elbow.

He put some effort into trying to decide how he felt about that.  He needed to think things through if he wanted to get past the 'complications' in his head.  He had no great objections to telling everyone that they were together.  He wasn't quite sure why they never had.  The subject had just never quite come up.  So why did he feel like pouting at the idea of giving up the secret?  At least it was only a pout, he reasoned.  That meant he wasn't embarrassed or angry or anything else more unpleasant than merely miffed.  Hmm, maybe... maybe he just liked having Heero all to himself?  Maybe he just liked knowing things that no one else knew?  "Seriously?" he asked to confirm.

"Of course."  Heero didn't joke about things like this.  In fact, it seemed he rarely joked about anything.

"You realize then that... people would know.  I mean, you've never come out of the closet."

"I didn't realize I was in a closet to begin with."  He wasn't hiding his sexuality.  He just didn't see how it was anybody's business.  When he saw Duo draw breath to continue, he preempted him.  "You know I don't make frivolous decisions, Duo.  I understand that you're concerned.  I appreciate that.  But we go to a pretty liberal school, and it's not like we're making an announcement to everyone with a tattoo on my forehead.   If you're worried about people looking at me differently, I don't think I know anyone that would get disturbed by the fact that I get cozy with Duo Maxwell on a regular basis, and even if I did, I wouldn't care.  Everyone whose opinion matters to me already knows."

Duo frowned.  "It sounds good when you say it, but--"

"Did you have problems?"

"Well, no, but... Okay, fine.  Maybe I'm just stuck back in high school.  I spent a couple of years worried about what would happen if people found out, but high school's a rougher crowd.   It's different now, you're right.  Just... first impressions and all that.  So... you're sure about this?  So you don't mind letting people know, fine, but there's still going to be a lot of people there, all doing the social thing, which you're not too fond of."

"So long as I get to be my usual charming self, by which I mean 'make people piss in their pants if they dare approach me for conversation'?  Sure."

Duo laughed and kissed him on the cheek.  "Sounds like fun.  Then I'd be delighted to have you as my escort this evening."


"What?"  Heero was instantly on guard, studying the flow of people around them with a critical eye.

"Guy on the couch, two o'clock," Duo muttered.  "See that band of seniors watching him, to his left?  They're thinking about swooping down on him, I can tell.  Where there's fresh meat, there's vultures."

"Hn.  I think I know that guy.  Don't know his name, but I think he's a freshman CS major.  I see him lurking around in the halls once in a while."

"He looks like a newbie," Duo observed, watching him with a critical eye.  The guy in question seemed a little uneasy and out of place, and combined with the rather attractive features of his face, he was perfect prey.  "Hey, go talk to him."

"What?  Why me?  I'm supposed to scare people away from talking to me."

"I know.  That's why you're perfect.  No one will sneak up on him if you're sitting next to him."

"What if he wants to meet people?"  Duo, after all, had come to his first mixer to meet people.  Maybe the guy was just too shy to go out and meet people on his own.  Heero didn't want to get in the way of others approaching him.

"Then he'll end up meeting you, and you're a good guy to know.  Now go on."  He gave Heero a little push in the sofa's direction.

"Why don't you come with me?"

"Nah, I'm too well known.  Those guys will just use me as an excuse to go over there.  Now, you two are CS.  Go talk shop or something.  I'm going to be over there."  He gave Heero an encouraging smile and another nudge, then wandered away.

Heero frowned at his back, then shrugged somewhat philosophically and headed over to the couch, where the aforementioned guy was still sitting, trying to unobtrusively nurse a drink.   "This seat taken?" Heero asked tersely in a fine demonstration of at least some manners.

Startled, the boy blinked wordlessly at him for a second.   "Uh, no, go ahead."

Heero planted himself on the sofa next to him, maintaining a respectful distance between the two of them, and proceeded to scowl mildly at the room in general while sipping at his own cup of soda.  He was for the moment failing in his mission to engage the boy in conversation, but he did note with some satisfaction that the seniors appeared to lose interest and flock off in search of other prey.

"Um," the boy started.  "Hey.  You're a CS major, right?  One of the sysadmins?"

"Yeah."  Heero had only started this semester.  The work was pretty tame, but he got root access, and while it cut into the free time he could be spending with Duo, he also got paid, and he could use the money, so he'd signed up.  Well, score one for the boy.  He was daring enough to attempt conversation with his sofa-mate.  For that, he was rewarded with a name.  "Heero."

"Heero," the boy repeated, doing an adequate job of replicating Heero's pronunciation.  With Heero's luck, that probably meant the kid watched too much anime.  "I'm Tim.  I'm a CS major, too.  Only a frosh, though."

"Yeah, I've seen you around."  Hmm, what to say next?  Heero's skills did not lie in small talk, and apparently, neither did Tim's.  The less than companionable silence lingered a few seconds longer.  "So.  New to this crowd?"

"Uh, yeah."  Tim laughed nervously.  "Is it that obvious?"

Heero shrugged, some social instinct within him telling him it would be wrong to reply with an unequivocal 'yes'.  "You're here, on this sofa, aren't you?"

"So are you," the boy retorted boldly.

"I'm new to this crowd, too," Heero answered blandly.


So much for his attempt at brilliant logic.  The exchange crashed to another halt.  It looked like it made Tim feel awkward, which only amused Heero.  That, in turn, made him contemplative.  He'd had his own fair share of conversations interrupted by filler words and ellipses.  They'd all been with Duo.  Duo could reduce him to such levels, could knock him off his loftily disdainful perch and leave him blushing and awkward like a schoolboy.  It should have been embarrassing, but it wasn't.  It was Duo, and Duo was special.

"Well... I'm new to this, uh... this, too."  The kid sallied forth once more into the land of conversation with Heero, earning himself some more respect, for persistence if nothing else.  "I think I'm still questioning, though."

Not that Heero was really in a position to give advice, but he thought he'd try to be helpful anyway.  "You won't find your answers sitting on the couch.  Why aren't you out there talking to people?"

"Oh, I'm not really, um, good with people.  There's a reason I spend so much time with my computer."  Heero watched him as the boy scanned the room, and noticed where those eyes lingered.  "But I guess I'm glad I came anyway.  At least I get to see people, know who is and who isn't, and... well, just see that they're normal people, I guess.  You know, you hear so many things, and you think, 'well, I can't be one of them because I'm not like that,' but I can tell watching this group that they're really just normal people.  It's nice to know."

Great, the boy was not just conversing with him, but confiding in him.  What was up with that?  He just nodded vaguely, unfortunately enhancing that air about him that said he was a good listener.

"So why are you on the couch?"

"I was sent here to protect you from some seniors that seemed to be preparing to descend upon you like hawks on a dove."

"Uh... oh."  The incomprehension was blatant.

So perhaps that sounded a bit strange.  He tried again.  "That group of seniors over there?"  He gestured in their direction, where they had gathered to woo another pretty face.  "I guess they decided you looked nice enough and innocent enough for them to kindly offer to show you the ropes.  You didn't look like you were ready for that sort of attention."

"...Oh.  Uh, thanks, I guess."  Comprehension was present now, but so was confusion.  "Well, since you're here, do you mind if I ask how you figured out you were gay?"

Heero raised an eyebrow at him, then realized the boy was probably not fluent in the raised eyebrow language, so he added an amused glare to it just to make it clear.

Once again, Tim ventured forth bravely, although courage could have been confused with bluster in this case.  "Well, I just thought, maybe I could find some answers sitting on the couch, after all."

He relented and indulged the silly freshman.  Duo had told him to play nice.  "I didn't.  I just figured out I was attracted to Duo."


"Guy with the braid," he answered, flicking his fingers in Duo's direction.  A purely internal snicker surfaced when Tim's eyes widened slightly.  Heero had noticed Tim's eyes had paused for a moment on Duo when he had scanned the room earlier in his people-watching.

"Wow, him?  He's... uh.  Good-looking."  Tim glanced nervously at him, and Heero couldn't figure out whether that was because he'd just realized he was talking to the good-looking one's boyfriend, or if, since he was new to this, he was still uneasy about admiring another male's appearance.

Heero smiled, and tried to keep the possessive smirk from his lips.  "He is, isn't he?"  The twist of his mouth still ended up somewhat satisfied and proud.

"I can understand why... uh.  Well.  You know."

"It's not about his looks," he responded, his tone quiet, but just as sharp as if he'd snapped, as he watched Duo move across the room.

"...Oh.  So it's... oh."

Good.  He'd given the whelp something to chew on.   That freed him from the obligations of conversation for a while so he could appreciate the dynamics of his boyfriend in peace.  It was invigorating watching Duo work his crowd.  He sparkled, and the others fell at his feet in adulation.  After a while, Duo seemed to sense him watching, and he looked up, met his eye, and toasted him in an subtle motion that probably seemed nothing more than a casual gesture to those with him before he brought the rim of the cup in his hand to his lips.

Heero was glad he came.  And not so he could put up with the thankfully silent and pondering presence of the teenager sitting next to him.  Duo would hardly have been disappointed if they hadn't attended this little gathering, but he had people skills, and they had to be exercised.  Heero would tolerate the little annoyances of the evening for the reward of knowing Duo was having a better time because Heero had come with him.

The boy eventually stirred, mustered up something resembling small talk on nothing to do with sexuality, but rather computer hardware on the market these days, and the subsequent minutes were passed well enough.  Heero couldn't help the small, silent sigh of relief that swept through him when he saw Duo making his way over to their sedentary station.

"Hey, Heero," Duo chirped, a merry shine in his eye.  "Made a new friend?"

"Duo, Tim.  Tim, Duo."  Politeness over and done with, he settled back to watch Duo work some more of his magic.

"Hey there, Tim.  Nice to meet ya."  After he'd nodded to the freshman, he seated himself on the armrest next Heero.  "Not a people person?"

Tim shrugged.  "Not really."

"Yeah, I get that."  He nudged his elbow into Heero's shoulder.  "Honestly, I probably wouldn't be enjoying myself as much as I have if it weren't for this guy here."  He pushed Heero with his elbow again.  Heero accepted it, swayed with the motion, then swayed back into place when the pressure was gone.  "You can't imagine how much fun I've had.  See, people always talk about the new faces, right?  Some small talk about you, too, Tim.   Nothing important, though, don't worry.  But Heero, here.   See, you're new, a freshman, fresh slate, no previous impressions, but Heero here is probably one of the last guys some of these people expected to see here.  Most of them noted he was with me, but they figure he must be one of the 'allied', and what a pity, because isn't he soooo nice to look at and maybe I'll go over and try him out anyway?  I've had such a wonderful time telling people he was taken, and taken by me, no less."

"It's not nice to gloat, Duo," Heero murmured.

"I'm not gloating," he answered with a perfectly straight face.  Duo then put his hand on Heero's shoulder, caught Tad's eye off to their right, and stuck his tongue out.  Tad raised his hand in a gesture of defeat.  "See, that's gloating."

"Well, I heard someone had quite the coming out party the other day."

In the new semester, Heero still had days when he went down to the language tables to eat lunch with the other Japanese students.  This day, unfortunately, was not one of them, which left him to the tender mercies of Hilde in the middle of the dining commons.   "I beg your pardon?" he asked mildly, looking pointedly at the hand she had planted on his shoulder just after setting her tray on the table.

She hastily removed her hand from his shoulder.  Heero may have existed within their little circle of friends, but none besides Duo had ever really penetrated the formidable Yuy charm.  "Just why didn't you say you two were officially an item?"

Mueller choked on his lemonade.  He didn't walk in the same circles Hilde did, and thus had not been privy to the gossipy news.  "They're what!?"

"You two are dating?!" Alex added in a somewhat horrified tone.

Luckily, Duo was already by Heero's side, and leapt into the fray after swallowing down his last bite of sandwich.  "What, it's not like we were keeping a big secret or something.  I mean, come on!  I spend so much time with him.  It just never came up, that's all."

"'Oh, and by the way, are you two dating?'" Alex asked snidely from his side of the table.  He had never imagined that Heero Yuy might be involved with someone, let alone another guy, let alone Duo Maxwell.  Talk about 'opposites attract'.  "Just when would that have come up?"

"My point exactly!" Duo exclaimed.  Heero continued to munch on his apple as quietly as apple-munching could be and allow his boyfriend to lead the charge.  Duo was so much better at it, after all.  "And why would I have ever discussed it if it never came up?"

Hilde dipped a finger in her glass of water and flicked it at him.  "I brought it up plenty of times, if you'll recall."

The other guys gave her somewhat accusing looks.  "You knew!?" Mueller asked.  "And you never said anything?"

"Ugh," Hilde sounded out in mock disgust.  "You guys are worse than girls."

"What?  They're the gay ones here!"  Two dangerous looks later, he recanted in part.  "Uh, not that that has anything to do with girliness or anything...."


"I would never have pegged you as gay," Alex directed at Heero.  "I mean, well, uh, not that the presence of stereotypical indicators would necessarily mean anything..."

Duo smirked internally, then realized he didn't really care, so he smirked externally as well.  It was amusing how awkward political correctness could make things.  Fortunately, he knew these guys, and knew they were his good friends and that they had never displayed any discomfort in his sexuality, which was a very good thing, considering Alex had been his roommate freshman year.  At most, they exhibited incomprehension, so he cut them a lot of slack.   "Heero here claims he's not gay."

Heero only cast a sidelong look at him and continued to eat his lunch, but when it appeared the table was waiting for some sort of response from him, he spoke.  "It seems I'm merely... Duophilic."

The assessment earned a few unexpected laughs.  "Aw, man, you know you go to a tech school when...," Mueller groused good-naturedly.  He had also been responsible for a few science-related puns and punchlines in his time.

"Hey, wait a minute," Alex interrupted.  "Just how long have you two been together?"

His piece spoken, Heero deliberately went back to his lunch and left Duo to field the question.  "Uh, well, sorta since the beginning of the school year, pretty much."  He tried to say it with confidence and nonchalance, as if that might make them overlook the obvious.

They blinked, but were not fooled.  "You mean, this whole time--!" Alex said, disgusted at his lack of observational prowess.  "On the other hand, I guess it's a good thing, since that means we didn't miss some huge change in your behavior or something..."

"And how long did you know about this?" Mueller demanded of their suitemate Hilde.

She frowned defensively at them.  "I didn't know anything.  Duo refused to confirm anything for me!"  She pouted at him.

"Since the first couple of weeks," Duo supplied cheerfully, quite willing to get her in trouble with the guys.  Her pout deepened, and took on the overtone of outrage at his disclosure.   He let them wrangle her in peace, and turned in an aside to his boyfriend.  "But she's right," he informed him quietly.  "I didn't tell her anything."

Heero only grunted softly in response, but Duo could tell he had done the right thing.

Howard was perhaps understandably confused when, quite out of the blue and in the middle of dinner, Duo loudly announced a question that had been burning on his mind: "Why aren't I sexually frustrated?"

Howard's response was a simple and safe, "Huh?"  He wasn't quite certain he wanted any further clarification on the matter, but Duo gave him no choice.

"I mean, I'm not getting any.  Aren't I a hot-blooded, virile young guy?  Shouldn't I be anxiously humping anything that moves?"

"Erm... because you have a boyfriend?"  And a delightfully steady one, at that.  It was obvious to Howard how totally head over heels Duo was for the kid, and Heero was worthy of it.  Why on earth would he want to go playing the field at this stage of the game?

"But I'm not getting any!"

Dammit, where was Yuy when you needed him?  He should clean up his own goddamn mess.  He was the one that had Duo's sensibilities all turned upside-down, after all.  On the plus side, it was nice to know they weren't having sex without actually having to ask.  On the other hand, Howard might have found it amusing to ask, just to see how many shades of red Duo could turn, but now Duo had taken all the fun out of it.  "Do you want to be getting some?"

"Shouldn't I?  Isn't that the natural order of things?"

"That's not what I asked.  According to the natural order of things, you should be dating a girl.  What I said was, do you want to be getting some?"

"Well..."  Duo stabbed at a piece of meat and stuck it in his mouth to buy himself some time while he thought it through.  He wasn't quite certain why he had brought this up in the first place.  And in the middle of dinner, no less.  It was just one of those thoughts that was simply so startling when it came out that it shocked its victim into sharing it.  Now he spent some time dwelling on it, and oddly enough, the answer came back as a negative.  Of course, that wasn't surprising, considering how not sexually frustrated he was.  He didn't really need sex complicating his life right now.  What complications would arise from it, he wasn't quite sure, but he felt certain there would be something.  But that was a purely reasonable conclusion.  Since when did the demands of the mind overrule those of the body?  "No, I don't want to be getting any right now.  Which is exactly my point.  Why don't I want to be getting any?"

"Maybe because you're too mature to be chasing after your hormones?" Howard hazarded.  Why were they having this conversation?

"Come on, Howie.  Guys don't mature until their late twenties, right?  I've still got a few years to go before I get over the whole hormone thing."

"Yeah, but it's not like you're completely celibate.   You're pretty cozy with Heero, even without sex."

"Yeah," Duo conceded easily.  "But that's totally not a hormone-appeasing sort of thing.  Hormones are about mating, not foreplay.  I should be sexually frustrated."

"Would you like him to sexually frustrate you?"

"Of course not."

"So you're fine with the way things are, and he's probably fine with the way things are."  The idea of Heero Yuy being sexually frustrated amused him.  Granted, he didn't know Heero as well as Duo did, and he never wanted to, but Heero was mild in all of the expressions Howard had ever seen.  Sexual frustration, if there was any to be found in Heero, would probably manifest itself as nothing more than a hand run through his hair.  "So where's the problem?"

Duo opened his mouth to say something, aborted that thought, started another one, then cut it off as well.  "There is no problem," he finally settled on.  "I just want to know what's up, that's all."  He sighed.  "Never mind.  I'll figure it out."  He just added it to the list of things he had to figure out.  He didn't know if this was related to anything at all, but it wouldn't hurt to err on the side of caution.

Duo took the stairs down to the backroom with his usual quick, smooth step, only to be brought to an abrupt stop at the bottom at the sight of his uncle sitting at the desk there, leafing through his books.  It only caught him offguard since he'd been expecting Howard to be in the front.  "Hey, Howie?"

"Yeah?"  Howard lifted his eyes and spared him a glance.

"Heero and I thought maybe we'd catch a movie tonight?   Dinner out, since we're there.  Good?"

It was only a Thursday, but Howard trusted the kids to know better than to go out when there was still work to be done.  He quirked a grin at his nephew.  "Just you two, eh?"

"Uh, yeah.  'less you wanna come with, I guess?"  Duo didn't quite sound enthusiastic about that.  In fact, he sounded more puzzled than anything else.

Howard snorted.  "Stuck in a theater with a pair of lovebirds?  Not a chance.  You realize, this is your first date that I can remember?"

"Eh?"  Duo scratched his head over that one.  "We've gone out before."

"Off campus?  By yourselves?  And not errand-running or anything equally lame?"

"But... huh.  Well, I'll agree with you for now, but that's just too weird to be true.  I mean, we've been together for, well, awhile now.  We must have done something date-like."  It occurred to him that he didn't know whether this could be called a date or not.  "Actually, we asked the other guys during lunch if they wanted to come, but none of them were interested in watching, not that that's surprising..."

"What are you watching?"

"Oh, um, you know, I can't remember the name right now.   It's some foreign independent film.  They had a review about it in the paper and it sounded good, so, why not?  Shouldn't let the fact that it doesn't have any Hollywood stars in it stop us."

"Well, have fun, kiddo," Howard said, waving him off.  "And ask him out on a real date sometime, not a date by default.  I raised you better than that."

Duo decided to ignore that.  "You good for dinner and everything?"

"I'm a big boy, Duo.  Just let me know when you two take off."

Duo tossed an acquiescence over his shoulder and headed back up the stairs, pausing a few steps short of the top as another interesting thought occurred to him.  He finished his ascent with a contemplative air around him.

Heero looked up from the paper he was still perusing and noted the expression on Duo's face with a casual, unthinking ease.  "No go?"

Duo blinked, then shook his head.  "Nah, no problems."  He sauntered over and plopped himself down on the sofa next to his boyfriend, then scootched over the necessary couple of inches to close the gap between them.  "Just... just wondered how me asking permission of him fits into my whole..."  He waved his hand in the air vaguely.  "...complex."

"You weren't asking permission," Heero pointed out, putting the paper down.  "You were informing him of your plans and checking if there were any possible conflicts that might make those plans infeasible.  You're seeking, for lack of a better term, 'independence' from him, but that doesn't mean you need to assert it aggressively.  Your life will never be completely separate from his, so it's only respectful and reasonable to consider how your decisions may impact him.  Therefore, it is not a sign of your 'complex' at all."

Duo considered that for a moment.  "Golly, you're useful," he announced, leaning into Heero for a brief second.  "I'm sure I would have come to that conclusion by myself, though.  Eventually."

"Asserting your independence from me now, are you?"

He wormed his hand under Heero's arm until they were hooked together at the elbow.  Then, since it was so convenient, he rested his head against Heero's shoulder.  "Reaffirming my self-worth as an individual, perhaps."  He lifted his head, kissed the shoulder, then laid it back down again.  "Have we ever been on a date?"

Duo took a deep breath of the outside air before he closed the door to Heero's apartment.  "It's smelled like rain for so long now, I wish it would just hurry up and get it over with already."

"Maybe you should head back early today," Heero suggested.  "So you don't have to run back in the rain."

"Yes, dear."  He paused for a moment's thought, dropping off his backpack by the futon.  "You know, what sort of terms of endearment are there in Japanese?"

Setting his own backpack down by his desk, Heero hmmed to stall.  He was sure he knew some, but they weren't vocabulary words he normally used, so they didn't come to mind right away.  "Well, Japanese is a funny sort of language, at least when it compares to English.  Endearment would usually be expressed with a more intimate or casual mode of speech, I guess."

"That's... complicated-sounding.  You know, the more you tell me about this language, the less I think I want to learn it," he complained jokingly, plopping himself down on the sofa.  It was true, but it was also neatly counterbalanced by the desire to learn it every time he heard Heero speak it.  Japanese touched something deep inside of Heero, and Duo thought it might not be a bad thing to be able to reach out and share in that a little.

"It all makes sense, if you can think in those terms.  It's a language that reflects a value system, a culture.  I don't think you'd have that hard a time getting used to the concepts."

"That still sounds complicated."

"Culture is a complicated thing," Heero intoned.  He paused to unzip his backpack and pull out a binder.  "I'll admit, sometimes it doesn't make too much sense to me, either.  Like anata as an endearment.  I'm not certain why the formal form of 'you' should have developed into such a thing.  Oh, but don't call me that," he added when he saw Duo start to latch on to the word.  "A wife calls her husband that."

Duo shook his head vigorously.  "No, sir, no wives here."

"Besides that... I guess there's something like itoshii.  But don't call me that either."

Duo thought he was being completely unhelpful, and his expression showed it.  "What, too girly, too?"

"No... it's just..."  Heero smiled with a faint nostalgia and crossed his small living space to sit down next to Duo.  "It's a general sort of 'beloved', see... And my mother called me that sometimes.  So if you started calling me that, too, it would strike me as a bit..."

"Oedipal?" Duo suggested, his nose wrinkling at the idea.


"I see.  Well, cross that one off the list, too.  What else we got?"

Having run out of handy stand-alone words, Heero was forced to drag out another complicated explanation.  "Well, there's the whole -san, -chan, -kun, etc. system."

"Ooh, you mean like Daniel-san in 'Karate Kid'?"

Duo was trying to be helpful, so Heero held back his grimace.  "Yes.  That.  But I think that would strain the limits of your complication tolerance.  Really, one of the most intimate ways to address someone is without a suffix at all, so I think you're best off sticking with English."

"Hey, did you just insult me?"

"No, calling you a baka-na gaijin would be insulting you."  He continued over Duo's demand for translation.  "Think about this: if you wanted to address, say, your father, you'd have to choose from, starting with the most respectful, otousama, otousan, tousan, otouchan, touchan, and I've probably skipped a few.  Let's not get into the more archaic formal forms like chichi-ue, not to mention when you use chichi in a sentence and when you use otousan."

Duo stared blankly at him.  He would just have to take Heero's word for it that all of that could come naturally to a person in time.  Eventually, he chose bemusement over incomprehension.   "So, where does Odin fall into that range?"

He had to ask, Heero thought.  That added another layer to things.  "Well, in my mind, he's always been more of an oyaji."

"Which means...?" Duo prompted, not recognizing the term as one of the ones Heero had enumerated earlier.

"Something more along the lines of 'Pops'.  'My old man'."

"Really," Duo responded with curiosity.  "That's not a term I'd thought you would use.  Me with Howie, sure, but... casual disrespect never really struck me as the core of your relationship."

Heero shrugged, thinking over the history that had led him to his word choice.  He needed barely any deliberation before deciding to share it.  "It's not really disrespect so much as... anti-respect.  You see, my father was... a hypocritical man.   He disapproved of my mother teaching me Japanese, but simultaneously insisted that if I used Japanese, I had best use a respectful form when addressing him.  So it had to be otousan, the full thing, not otouchan or tousan or any of the others.  It's reflected in my English, too.  If I talk about my father, I'm referring to my biological father.  Odin is 'dad'.  Or obviously, 'Odin'.  And he doesn't care.  So going so far as to call him oyaji isn't really disrespect on my part... it's... well.  It differentiates the two of them."

It took Duo a moment to digest that.  He had to admit, the nuances in the Japanese language really could get rather interesting.  So much could be expressed in a single word.  "Your dad sounds like a prick.  Sorry, your 'father' sounds like a prick."

Heero smiled faintly.  "Perhaps.  But I try not to speak ill of the dead."

"Oh, he's...?"  The expression on Duo's face conveyed the mental image of him scratching his head in thought, even if he didn't do it in fact.  "You know, normally I'd offer my sympathies or something, but I'm not certain that'd be appropriate in this case."

Heero shrugged dismissively.  "Whatever."

"So, like... did you keep up with him after...?  Because he didn't die early, right?  I mean, you said your parents actually got divorced after a while, so he must have been alive then, but..."

"No," Heero answered, putting a halt to the half-baked question.  "I didn't.  He died in some stupid hummer accident when I was, what was it, twelve or something.  I looked him up before college.  It just seemed like the thing to do, something I ought to know.  In case something odd popped up, something lame and soap operish, like he needed a kidney donor and I was the only match or something.  Or maybe if I had to fill out some official paperwork."

"Would you do it?  Give him a kidney, I mean.  If he were alive to need one, obviously."

"Probably.  I mean, I don't hate the guy.  I just have zero respect for him."  He'd had an irresponsible dalliance with a young lady in a foreign port, irresponsibly produced a child he hadn't wanted, taken the woman to wife without really thinking it through, and then happily walked away when the woman absolved him of all responsibility.  What was there to respect?  Still, his was a human life, and Heero could live with just one kidney.  Unless his father had been somehow responsible for damaging his kidney through his own irresponsible behavior.  Then Heero could guiltlessly deny the man a second chance.

"...I don't think I'd want to," Duo mused quietly.  "For my parents, I mean.  But I probably would, just because it seems like one of those things you might regret after the fact, if you didn't.  But it doesn't seem like you could regret it if you did."

"It shouldn't be about regrets, Duo."

He shrugged helplessly.  "Guess that's just the kind of person I am."  He looked at Heero, who was silently mulling over the personal assessment.  Heero wasn't a regret, he stated quite firmly to himself, not really certain why he did so.  Maybe it was just a shot at the butterflies.  They sulked and settled down for the night.  In fact, maybe he'd just consider the butterflies a sign of how in to this he really was.  After all, he wouldn't be this nervous about some things if this wasn't important to him, right?

Ha, take that, you stupid bugs!

The problem with taking certain upper division courses was that, after a certain point, the administration expected a person to work on projects instead of take tests.  The problem with certain professors was that they all thought that they could assign homework to a person as if they were that person's only professor.

Result: the unfortunate convergence of lots of work.

Solution: deal with it.

Duo refused to be one of those people that asked for extensions.  Extensions didn't happen in the real world.  Extensions were only given to those people that the professors felt sorry for, the people that really seemed like they couldn't handle the work.

Duo could handle it.  That didn't mean he'd be a happy camper while he did so, but he could do so.  He tried not to think about it.  The work went much more smoothly if he just concentrated on getting it done instead of dwelling on how much it all sucked.   That was one of those handy little things he'd learned from Heero.

The afternoon was wearing on, and he was just starting to think with a scowl of some annoyance that it was supposed to be his turn to cook dinner tonight, and the hired help had to take off for the day, so Howie was manning the register downstairs.  Maybe they'd just call for takeout?

And then a meal unto himself came walking in through the door.

"Hey, Heero, what's up?" Duo called, always willing to spare some time for his boyfriend.

Heero left his backpack against the sofa, went to the kitchen and dropped off a bag, then crossed over to where Duo was sitting at the table and stood beside him, putting himself in range for Duo to slip an arm around his waist and pull him close.  He rested his arm over Duo's shoulders in return of the sideways hug.  "Busy?"

Duo groaned and tried to hide his face in Heero's side.   "Don't remind me.  No time to play.  It's going to be an all-nighter, I just know it.  I don't think I have time to eat even, let alone cook."

"Ah, well, I come bearing food, so one problem solved."

He glanced over at the bag Heero had left on the kitchen counter, then looked up at Heero with large eyes.  "You're kidding me.  No?  You know, we could have just grabbed some takeout or made something instant-y."

"That's not good for you," Heero answered primly.

"But-- Well, never mind.  You really didn't have to do that.  But thank you, thank you, thank you! anyway."  He squeezed his boyfriend tighter.  "Can it wait another hour or two?  It's still early-ish."

"No worries.  It'll take some time to cook anyway."

Duo blinked, replaying the words in his head to make sure he'd heard them correctly.  "Cook?  You're going to cook?"


"You're... you're going to cook?  For me?"  He'd eaten a Heero-cooked meal before, and he'd subjected Heero to his own not-so-shabby cooking before, but that had always been on account of the 'it's no fun cooking for one' philosophy.  A mere matter of convenience was nothing compared to Heero actually cooking for him.

"And Howard and myself as well, but yes.  For you."

"Now you...  I...  you really...  Well, golly gee."  He slid his arm up Heero's back and pulled him down for a kiss that expressed his thoughts much more clearly than his words.  "Hmmm.  Now I really don't want to work."

Heero straightened enough to study the array of work.  "How much work you figure you should be able to do in the next couple of hours?"

"Hm?  Oh.  Ugh, well, I've got a plan, so at least that's a good start, right?  I'm working on the paper now, and kinda doing a half-hearted job of it.  I've got all the reading for it done, so I'm just cranking out a bare-bones version of it for now.  Then I figure I'll do the project analysis for Durond, which will probably take a while since it involves research and stuff and is kinda mid-termy, then do a quickie job on my thermo homework, which is just slogging through calculations and the like, and then go back and do some quality control on my paper.  I figure that'll take me to the wee hours of the morning.  Sound like a good plan?"

"Yes, but for the next couple of hours?"

"I should be able to finish the first draft of my paper, I guess.  In theory.  Why do you ask?"

"Well, then.  No food for you until I see a completed first draft."


"You want to eat, you get your work done."

"Heeeero!" he whined, grabbing onto Heero's hand and tugging it back and forth.  "That's so not fair!"

"Why not?"

"But... But you're going to be standing there and cooking it!  Right in front of me!  And if it's going to take that long to cook, then it's probably going to smell really damn good!   That's... that's evil!"

Heero gave him a comforting kiss before pulling back and chirping, "Yup."  He disengaged himself calmly and strolled leisurely over to the kitchen.

"Come on, minus the conclusion?" Duo tried to bargain.  "I overestimated.  You know, just wanted to make myself look better than I am.  Trying to impress you, you know?  But only because I like you so much.  So a thorough outline?"

"A completed first draft."

"Dammit!  This better be worth it, Yuy."  He knew it would be.  Heero was a good cook, had to have been for him and his stepfather to have survived so long.  Duo muttered disgruntledly about it anyway.  "I thought you didn't like being a good influence."

"Ah, but now I'm an evil good influence, so it's okay."

Duo sighed dramatically and got back to work.  Just thinking about the upcoming meal was making him hungry, but Heero had set a price tag on it, and wasn't the kind of person to make idle threats, so Duo shifted around the little circular table, enough so that his back was to the kitchen and he couldn't watch his boyfriend in action, and set about finishing his draft.  The bargaining had been done merely on principle: he thought it was manageable, especially since Heero hadn't specified a minimum quality, but he still didn't think it was a nice deal.

He managed to block out the sound of Heero washing and chopping things, although his internal counter marked at least three, maybe four different items that went on the block.  The homey noises were almost comfortingly distracting.  Heero cooked with a sure confidence that could be identified from sound alone.  The knife against the chopping board struck lightly and rhythmically.  Water was set on the stove, and came to a boil just when the ingredients were ready.  It was no less than he should have expected, but still managed to be startling in its reassuring domesticity.

Duo firmly devoted himself to concentrating on his work before his mind could go off spinning the tangents of a delightful homelife with Heero, and when his thoughts got back into order, the idyllic situation became nothing more than soothing background.  Once he realized the mouth-watering scents of good food cooking had reached his nose, he blinked and found his productivity to have reached an unexpected height.  He smirked to himself, thinking how nice it would be to be able to present more finished work than they had agreed upon to the chef, and rewarded himself with a moment to take a deep breath.  "Oh, God, Heero.  Is that... curry?"  He turned around to confirm the guess, and privately concluded that all the scene was missing was an apron and some quiet humming.

"Aa."  Heero adjusted the heat on the stove, peered into his pot one last time to make sure things were evenly settled, then covered it with its lid.  "All done.  Now we just wait a while for it to finish cooking."

"You didn't have to go through all the trouble," he protested mildly, watching as Heero drifted back to the sink to wash a few of the things he'd used in his preparation.  "I mean, it's not like you make curry every day."

"It may take a little longer, but I assure you it's very simple.  Besides, this will make it easy to bring some dinner downstairs to Howard, and you'll have extra so you don't have to cook tomorrow, either.  Or I can take it, if you don't want to keep it."

If it tasted as good as it smelled, he'd be keeping it.   "But... I'm sure you have work of your own to do, Heero," he attempted one more time.

Heero shrugged nonchalantly.  "I'll do it later."

"You're procrastinating?"

"No, I'm prioritizing.  Good food will help you be more productive.  Not having to worry about dinner will make you more productive.  Since I have time and you do not, I will cook for you.  I can also proof that paper for you, once you finish it up."

"You don't have to do that."  Duo was pretty sure he'd said that several times already.  Now he was starting to feel bad.

"You probably won't be very coherent by the time you edit your paper," Heero answered reasonably, letting the water drip off the knife before he added it to the dish rack beside the sink.

"You've got the time for that?  God, I could just hate you CS majors sometimes."

"I do have some work, Duo.  I just have longer deadlines to work with."

"And you don't have any eight o'clock classes!  Or nine o'clock classes, for that matter.  Your ten o'clock isn't even a core class.  You suck."

Unsurprisingly, Heero heard this complaint often from Duo.  It didn't help that Duo was not a morning person.  "And since I have nothing for tomorrow morning, I will stay up with you."

There was a moment during which that sentence failed to compute.  "You what?"

"It's easier to stay up and be productive when you've got company, especially when Howard's going to be sleeping and you can't have the lights on all the way."

It still didn't compute very well.  "Uh..."

"Or you could come over to my place after dinner and work there," Heero added.  "That way you won't have to worry about Howard."

"No," Duo answered automatically.  That would definitely make him feel bad.  "Howard's used to it.  He can sleep through anything.  You don't have to stay up with me."

Heero just smiled and shrugged at him.  "We'll see.   How far along are you?"

Duo proudly displayed his progress to Heero, and in due time, got his dinner in return.  He took a taste and moaned dramatically.  "Wow, that's good.  Where did you learn to cook, anyway?"  He wasted little time in taking a second bite.

Heero shrugged casually.  "'Kaasan."

He'd picked up a few words in Japanese, and 'mother' was one of them.  He heard that one more often than the rest since Heero actually thought of his mother as 'kaasan more than 'Mom'.   Japanese was the language of Heero's childhood, when he had still had his mother, and he let it out once in a while, even less often than the Japanese pronunciation of 'Duo'.  The slight accent and the occasional sound effect emerged when Heero was comfortable, but the language shifted when he was nostalgic.  Duo had hopes it might come out in moments of intimacy as well, because frankly, he found the way those liquid syllables rolled off Heero's tongue stupendously sexy.

Since Heero's answer was so typical, he accepted the explanation for a few seconds before he did the math.  "Come on, Heero.   Really.  You must have been, what, six, seven?  You're joking, right?"

Heero smiled faintly.  "Well, maybe I didn't learn any specifics from her, but the important things, the kind you learn from impression.  I guess the answer you're really looking for is Mrs. Barton.  That, and the Internet, and recipes, and trial and error.  But I remember Mrs. Barton curious as to where I'd learnt a few small things, because she hadn't taught them to me.  Like how I held my knife when I was chopping, or the way I always twisted a bottle after I poured something so it wouldn't dribble down the side.   Little things children don't usually think about.  That's what I learned from my mother."

The way he could tell a story made Duo feel rather nostalgic, too.  He might have called Heero a momma's boy, if he himself hadn't suffered an attack of separation anxiety at the idea of leaving his uncle.  Besides, he rather liked the way Heero unashamedly loved his mother.  It somehow made Duo feel better about having such a crappy mother of his own.  He had to bite down on some inappropriate commentary regarding what he had learnt from his mother.  "So you learned from Mrs. Barton while you were a kid?  Well, I guess someone had to learn how to cook in your household, huh?"

The kettle on the stove began to whistle, and Heero got up to take care of it.  "Odin's not a bad cook.  You don't take a number of chemistry classes and not learn how to keep an eye on things when it's over an open flame, and stir if things need stirring.   He's just not a very interesting cook."

"What's that?" Duo asked, eyeing the container Heero had fished out of his bag.

"Tea.  Jasmine-green blend."

"You brought your own tea, too?  Gee, you got dessert hiding somewhere as well?"

Heero snorted softly as he dropped a proper amount into the teapot without having to measure it.  "You're on your own for that one."

"Hmpf.  That's it.  No tip for you."  When Heero paused before pouring the water over the leaves to raise an eyebrow at him, Duo backed off.  "Kidding.  Just kidding.  So what's a jasmine-green blend taste like?"

"Like jasmine and green mixed together."

"...You know, I should have seen that coming."

He smirked mildly and brought the teapot to the table, along with two cups.  "I liked green tea, and Wufei liked jasmine, and eventually we found a compromise."

"Mmmm, that smells good.  Is there some reason in particular we're drinking tea?"

Heero smacked Duo's hand when it reached out to take a cup.  "Not done yet.  Let it steep.  Tea helps your digestion.  And I imagine you wouldn't mind a little bit of caffeine for tonight."  He returned his attention to his dinner.

"Isn't the caffeine in tea pretty unlikely to do anything for me?"

"I'll not have you drinking soda with curry.  That's just wrong.  If you feel the need for more caffeine later, fine.   Just save it for later.  Do you think Howard will want any tea?"

Duo stopped before his next mouthful reached his mouth and he shrugged.  "We can ask him later."  A feeling overtook him after a brief moment, something warm and fuzzy, probably the coziness, the thoughtfulness, of the whole situation catching up with him.   The warmth spread through him from the inside out, and probably had nothing to do with the dinner filling his tummy.

Heero paused, noticing the pleasantly spacey smile hovering on Duo's lips.  "What?"

Oh, he didn't want to say.  Having to give a verbal answer would force him to think about it, analyze it, and if he had to think about it, some errant thought would probably come along and ruin things and his bubble would pop, and he didn't want that, so he just shook his head and went back to eating.

After dinner, Heero insisted on cleaning up.  That wasn't normally the deal.  When one of them cooked, the other cleaned, but Heero brushed off Duo's offers to assist and informed him that if it was really so important to him, he could do some extra cleaning another time.  Left to his own devices, Duo probably would have come up with something a little more interesting to make it up to his boyfriend, but whether it ultimately turned out that way or not was irrelevant for the night.  He still had work to do, and he obediently drank his tea as he did so.

"Damn, Heero, you know I must like you a lot when I drink something the color of ripe piss, just for you."  Heero's blank look hinted at offense, which Duo entirely did not intend, so he clarified his random thought.  "I mean, it doesn't taste bad or anything.  I kinda like it.  No, really.  It does seem, what's that word, uh, clarifying or something."  Heero continued to look at him skeptically, so he bulled on forward.  "Oh, come on, Heero, I said I liked you something awful."


"Yeah?"  He waited nervously to hear that he'd somehow just insulted an entire culture or something.

"...You drink Mountain Dew."


"It's radioactively green."

Ah, was that what the look had been for?  "So?"

"It curdles milk."

"Really?  Cool."  Mountain Dew cheese.  Not that he'd want to eat any, but still.  Cool.  He'd have to try that some day.  But in his defense, he really didn't drink Dew regularly.

"People have become addicted to it, its caffeine content is so high," Heero continued.  "And you object to drinking tea?"

Well, he wasn't really objecting, but he thought he'd play devil's advocate, just for a little fun.  "Tea is made from boiled leaves and/or tree bark."  He made a point of nonchalantly sipping at his tea so Heero would pick up on the fact that he didn't think it as outlandish as he was saying it was.

"And Dew is made from... God knows what.  Probably nothing that occurs in nature."

"Radioactivity is natural," Duo answered innocently.

Heero blinked at him, waited a few seconds, then blinked again.  At last, he sighed, hiding a fond smile beneath a wry twist of his lips.  "Never mind.  Get back to work."

True to his word, Heero stayed up with him, and in retrospect, Duo realized that perhaps Heero had been so insistent about doing all the cooking and cleaning because he needed to stretch his tasks out long enough to fill all the time.  He knew for sure that Heero was working ahead in his classes.  What was Heero going to do with all that spare time he was generating?  Well, stay up with his boyfriend for no reason other than thoughtfulness, for starters, Duo supposed.

It was around six o'clock when Duo finished up his work.   With his remarkably productive pace, he hadn't expected it to take so long, only he'd been well on his way towards what he thought was a good, valid solution for his problem analysis, only to run across a footnote in his research materials that proved otherwise.  With a quiet sigh, he shut his books, organized his papers and checked them one last time to make sure everything was in order, and then glanced over at the sofa.  Heero had fallen asleep about an hour previous while reading a little book for his Japanese class.  Duo had freed the small novel from his grasp, marked its page and set it aside, then draped a blanket lightly over the slumbering form.  One hour later, he found Heero had made himself a little more comfortable on the couch, sliding down the cushions until he could lie against the pillows at his side.

Duo thought it over and decided there was really no point in going to sleep at this hour.  He had class at nine.  It seemed much more reasonable for him to seat himself on the floor in front of the sofa and watch Heero sleep instead.  That was where Howard found him almost an hour later, still awake, though with a somewhat dreamy, introspective look on his face.

"Hey, kid," Howard whispered quietly, cautious of the sleeping man between them.  "All done?"

It took several blinks before Duo roused himself out of the vaguely trance-like state he'd gotten himself into.  "Yeah.   Figured I might as well just stay up, though."

"Well, at least now you got a good excuse to take a nap with Heero later this afternoon.  Looks like he got a head start on you, though," his uncle observed, nodding at Heero and noticing how Duo had loosely taken a hold of his hand some time in the early morning hours.

"He lasted 'til about five.  'Course, he didn't really have a pressing reason to stay up."  Only me, he thought.   He gave up sleep and did all his work early just to keep me company and help me out a bit.  It all felt very much too right.   He didn't know if he was ready to feel this way yet.  A whole field-ful of butterflies roused themselves from slumber to yawn, stretch, and lazily take to flight.

"Hey, Howie?"

"Yeah, kid?  Howard was ready to turn away and get ready for the day when Duo's soft voice stopped him.

Duo thought about all those things he was feeling, about that hazy mass of doubts that plagued him, about those inexplicable convictions he had, and realized he wanted to ask profound questions that had no answers.  "...Never mind.  Just having crazy need-some-sleep thoughts.  Think I'll take a shower after you finish using the bathroom.  Wake me up if I pass out, will ya?"

"...Yeah.  Sure."  Despite his willingness to help, Howard couldn't help but feel he'd just dodged a bullet.  Duo would have to sort through all the things going on in his head by himself.

"Do you think it's as weird as I do?"  Spring break was great and all, but sometimes having time to do something other than study left the mind free to ponder things that did not require pondering.

"What?" Trowa asked.  They were hanging out in Trowa's room at the moment, waiting for their friends to make an appearance at some undetermined time, and so they were left to their own contemplative devices.

"That I'm..." Heero began, thinking through all the things he could mean.  There just seemed to be so many of them.  "Well, for starters, that I'm involved with someone."

"Do you think it's any less weird that I'm involved with someone?" Trowa countered.

"Well.  Yes."

"The grass is always greener, isn't it, Yuy?"

"But you... okay, I guess I don't know the particulars of your relationship, and I'm not really anxious to find out about them, but... I never imagined.  Did you?  For yourself, I mean."

"Hmm.  Nothing in particular, I suppose.  I figured I'd meet a nice girl one day and settle down eventually, maybe."

"I didn't.  Not really.  If anything, I probably figured I'd be something like my dad.  A bachelor, well-established in my ways for quite a few years.  Then maybe eventually, someone quiet, more like a good friend than anything else.  Certainly not... Duo."  Not to say Duo wasn't a good friend, but he was definitely more than just a good friend.

"Someone so... not-quiet?"

"Sometimes... sometimes we're quiet.  And sometimes... we're not.  Sometimes it's so very... not-quiet between us."   And he didn't mean in a loud sort of way.  More like a burning, breathless sort of way.

"You can be a very not-quiet person, you know."  Maybe Heero bought into the hype of his own anti-social behavior, but Trowa had long since learned to look past it.

"And Duo can be quiet.  I think it's when he's not-quiet and I'm quiet that I see the largest discrepancy between the two of us."

"I thought you were over that a long time ago."  He hadn't heard about it for a long time, anyway.  It seemed to him that they had settled it, given the level of comfort they appeared to have with each other.

Heero's response was a little while in coming.  "It's better than it was.  And then some days it just sneaks up on me."

"You have a day in particular," Trowa observed.

Heero's slight nod was given ruefully.  "The other day... we were..."  He stopped to gain control of the blush that threatened to show itself.  "We were having a fine time, and things were progressing..."  He paused again, trying to find a suitable adverb that wouldn't be too embarassing or graphic.  All they had been doing was some normal kissing, and maybe their hands had gotten a little involved, too, but it was certainly nothing he would have thought would cause a problem.

Trowa nodded at him with a raised eyebrow to indicate his understanding of the matter without its exact articulation, freeing Heero to move on.

"Progressing.  And in the middle of this... 'progression'..."  The look on his face could have been said to be shamefaced, but it held a good bit of chagrin and a dash of self-directed irritation in it as well.  "Things were going great, and then I had to go and damn near start hyperventilating."

The elegant brow rose again, saying silently, 'Surely you're exaggerating.'

"It wasn't a full-on panic attack, but seriously!"  He ran a hand through his hair.  "I brought things crashing to a halt, and for no good reason.  I mean, what the hell?"

"How did Duo react?"

"He let it go, but he couldn't have liked it.  It's not like it hasn't happened before, but as you said, I thought I was over that.  If it's this annoying to me, I can only imagine how annoying it must be for him.  Things were... things were going very well, and then bam! I leave him hanging."  A horrified expression crept over his face.  "You know, I never thought this term would apply to me, but that's what I am.  I'm a goddamn tease!"

A muffled snicker made it through the slightly open doorway and into their presence.

Heero went still, except for a blink of faint mortification.  "Who apparently has a boyfriend who eavesdrops on his conversations...?"  He glared wide-eyed at the door as it slowly opened.

Duo cautiously stuck his head in through the opening and waved sheepishly at the two occupants of the bedroom.  "I was not eavesdropping.  I was just passing by, and happened to hear you two talking..."

"Ah," Trowa said, a mild smirk on his face.  "Well, in that case, I'm just going to pass on by out that door.  I'll talk to you later, Heero."  He left a trail of amusement in his wake as he opened the door completely, shooed Duo inside, and shut it behind him.  He opened it again half a second later.  "And don't do anything in my bed."  With that said, he departed once more and wandered downstairs to wait them out.

"Erm, hey, Heero," Duo started, a bright smile on his face.

With his arms crossed over his chest, Heero stared intently at him.  "If I ask you how long you were listening, will your answer be, 'long enough'?"

"Yup."  Duo plopped himself down on the bed in front of Heero.  "Definitely heard that last part."

"Stop that."

"Hm?"  He blinked innocently.


Duo chuckled.  "But it's funny," he protested, reaching out to pry Heero's arms out of their closed stance.  Once he had freed a hand, he took possession of it, rubbing it soothingly.  "You're right.  I would never have thought you to be a tease, and you certainly aren't now.  You're no more a tease than I was."

He was favored with a suspicious look.  "Where do you come into this?"

"Ah, you've run into another part of my swooping parable.   I used to stop in the middle of things, too, you know.  I got called a tease once or twice, never really seriously.  I didn't run into those kinds of guys.  But still.  I wasn't a tease, and they knew it, and I knew it.  And neither are you, okay?"

The suspicious look merely deepened.  "But you stopped because you didn't want to go there with those people.  That's not the same."

"There were times when I thought I did want to go there.   And then it turned out I was wrong."

"You can't tell me you're perfectly okay with me suddenly putting a stop to a perfectly fine make-out session."

"Well, of course I'm not 'happy' about it," he had to answer honestly.  "But, I mean, duh, right?  I'm not happy, but I'm not angry about it or anything, either.  It's not like you totally freaked out or something.  It was just like... things got a little too breathless, is all.  I mean, if I really wanted to be an arrogant pig, I could just take that as a compliment to my prowess.  But one day we'll..."  He got momentarily distracted by the idea that he might one day be having sex with Heero.  He didn't not want to go there with Heero.  Wow.  "Uh, we'll not stop, we'll keep going, and, um, all will be right with the world.  I don't want you feeling like... like, you're holding this relationship back or whatever it is that's going through that silly little head of yours, okay?  You're not.  That's never been what this is all about, you know that, right?"

"I know that," Heero echoed firmly, if softly.  He looked down at their joined hands.  "I really do.  I'm sorry if it doesn't seem like that some times."

"Hey, no sorries, okay?  You'll make me feel bad."

Heero mustered up a faint smile for him.

"I'm willing to stick with this if you are."  Duo squeezed his hand reassuringly.  "Don't be afraid I'll break up with you over this or something."

"I don't doubt you, Duo.  Maybe I just doubt myself."  He said the words without thought, but quickly realized his error when all the warmth started sliding off of Duo's face.  "No, I don't mean that I'm not emotionally committed to this.  Not at all."  Disaster was averted as Duo's expression took on an expectantly puzzled cast instead.  Heero exhaled slowly and willed the words to come to him.  "I just don't see why I have problems doing this.  That bothers me.  You know how I am."

"Why does this bother you so much?  I get that you just don't like not being able to do something, but there's more to this than that..."  A strange look passed over Duo's face.  "I mean, they make pills for that sort of thing, if that's what you're worried about!"

Heero blinked at him, then blinked again.  His lips twitched, twitched a little bit more, and then he broke down and laughed quietly, his shoulders shaking as he tried to keep those sounds of humor from escaping.  His free hand rose to cover his mouth, but it didn't put an end to his amusement.  The laughter continued to wrack his frame for a good half minute as Duo watched him, containing a few embarrassed chuckles of his own.

Finally, Heero tackled him to the bed, shoulders still shaking as he pressed his face to Duo's shoulder and slowly put a stop to the tremors.  He kissed that shoulder, nuzzled his way inwards until he found the bare skin at the juncture with Duo's neck and kissed that as well, then withdrew to lie on his side next to his boyfriend.  "I can't believe you said that."

Duo stared at the blank ceiling, cheeks flushed with something.  "Neither can I.  It seemed like a reasonable conclusion at the time."

"I'm sure it did.  But I assure you, I'm not worried that..."  Lord, it felt funny to even say it.  "...I might have a problem getting it up."

"Well, good."  One last chuckle escaped him.  "So if that's not the problem, then what is?"

Heero sobered, albeit reluctantly.  He considered claiming innocence, but then decided concealing his opinions would not help anything.  He latched onto Duo's braid to calm himself before sharing his thoughts.  "I don't like that there's some part of me that isn't ready for this.  I think I'm ready.  I thought I was ready.  I thought I was committed to this.  I thought I wanted this.  I do, and I am.  And it just annoys me to no end that there's apparently some rebellious little part of me that thinks otherwise!"

"Well...," Duo said as he thought it over.  Heero obviously had a mental commitment to this, at least, and he claimed an emotional commitment as well.  Where was the problem?  "Maybe that's not it."

"Please.  I think I've already exhausted the 'still getting comfortable with it' idea.  If I haven't gotten comfortable with it after this much time, then something's got to be wrong."

"Well, I like to think that we're somewhere a little different from where we were, say, five months ago.  Maybe you're comfortable with five months ago, and then you had to get comfortable with four months ago, and then three months ago, etc., and maybe you're just having to get comfortable with now."

"...When I said 'get comfortable with it', by 'it' I meant the whole physical contact thing.  In general.  Not that every last square centimeter of my skin had to get comfortable with it."

"Well... say we went all the way.  Say we had mindblowing sex, and the next day, I suddenly did something new and odd, like, I don't know, say I developed a foot fetish or something.  I think you would be perfectly within your rights to jump a little if I started sucking your toes, don't you?"

A crinkle formed on his brow.  That was a distinctly unpalatable suggestion.  "That's different."

"It's always different, Heero.  You know as well as I what a lame argument that is."

"Something that gets me is that we're not stopping just short of having sex or something.  I mean, I'd get it if that were the case.  That's a big thing.  It would make sense to be hesitant about something like that.  But that's not where we are."

Uh, yeah, nowhere near sex, Duo thought, scolding his mind for even having thought of it before, no matter how logical a thought path it had been.  He wasn't disturbed by the prospect of sex, nor the prospect of sex with Heero.  He was just blown away by the fact that he was actually considering having sex with someone.  He'd never gotten that far into a relationship before, but since he still wasn't feeling very sexually frustrated, no matter how supposedly frustrating Heero acted, he wasn't looking into the option as something for the near future.  "Look, maybe that little part of you isn't balking like you think it is.  Maybe... you're just surprised.  I mean, I do that, sometimes.  Things will just be perfectly normal and then suddenly, some random little thing makes me freeze and go, 'Holy crap!' and I realize just where it is I am, or what we're doing.  That makes sense, doesn't it?"  He certainly hoped so, since it was what he thought happened to himself, and he'd been operating on that theory for a couple of months now.

"But that would mean... huh."

Duo waited patiently for him to finish the thought, but it didn't come, so he prompted for it.  "What?"

"...So, taking your case, for example..."

"Hey, why are we picking on me?"  He had rather liked the focus being on someone else.

Heero, apparently, had no regard for that preference.   "When we... had our 'thing' over winter break.  That was you just going... 'holy crap'... and then freaking out about it."

"Uh, yeah."  Though that didn't have quite the attractive spin Duo managed to put on it sometimes.  "I mean, I didn't have any real objections to our relationship, right?  I just... well, got surprised.  And over a cell phone, no less."

"Hmm."  His contemplative sound gave Duo some hope that the subject of his own failings might be dropped, but to no avail.   "And after you got over that and got used to the everything again, things went on.  Even if it did take a little while."

"Um, yeah.  Can we talk about you again?"

After a startled pause, Heero chuckled.  "Alright.   Back to my, uh, little quirks."

"Your 'little quirks'," Duo repeated with a little amusement.  "Mm-hm.  So say, I don't know what set you off.  Say your mind finally caught up with things and got a little pissy we started the fun without it."  Heero snorted, but did not disagree, so Duo continued.  "Then all we have to do is wait for your mind to get up to speed with the rest of you, and then all will be right with the world, right?"

He sounded just a little too chipper to not be trying to brush something underneath the rug, but Heero was willing to go with that for now, at least until something proved the theory false.  He hummed cautious agreement.

"Great."  Duo rolled himself onto his side so he could leer playfully at Heero.  "I think practice makes perfect.  We should give your mind more opportunities to get used to things.   What do you say?"

Heero rolled his eyes.  "Not in Trowa's bed, we won't.  Come on."  He slipped out from beneath Duo's presence and got to his feet.  Once he was standing, he offered Duo his hand.

Duo took it, smiled up at him, and shifted his balance to get up, but in the middle of the action, he came to a sudden halt.

"...What?" Heero asked.

Indigo eyes darted quickly from left to right.  "...Holy crap!"

"What?" Heero asked again, a little more sharply.  Was this another example of what Duo had just been talking about?  What was it that Duo was abruptly recognizing?

"Clowns!" the frozen young man choked out, shrinking in on himself a bit.  His grip on Heero's hand tightened.  "They're everywhere!"

... Oh.  Heero cast a glance at the clown decor that had been gracing Trowa's room for so long that he didn't even notice it anymore.  He supposed Duo had been concentrating on the occupants of the bed and hadn't noticed it, either.  He gave Duo's hand a tug, but it was unresponsive.  Duo's face was still fixed in a wide-eyed expression of deer-in-the-headlights.  Heero sighed minutely and thought it was a good thing Duo was so spaced out he didn't notice the tiny smile on Heero's face.  "Come on," he coaxed, shifting to stand directly in front of Duo, blocking off the view.  He set his free hand to Duo's face and gently refocused the shocked gaze on himself.  With a few more quiet words of encouragement, he got Duo to stand up, hide his face in Heero's shoulder, and let himself be led blindly out of the room.

Catherine ruffled his hair, then leaned over the back of the sofa next to him and favored him with an impish smile.  "Well?"

"Well what?" Heero said, settling his hair with a concise shake of his head.  He and Trowa were so much like brothers that even Trowa's sister thought of him as a little brother.

"Forget talking about your classes," she huffed, gesturing at the other two young men with him in the Barton living room.   "That's boring.  I want to hear about Duo."

Heero regarded her with a wry quirk of his lips.  "What about him?  You met him the other day."

She made an exasperated sound.  It was always difficult for her to tell when he and Trowa were simply being obtuse like the oblivious guys they were, and when they were being obtuse deliberately.  "Well, since I only saw him when you two were coming out of Trowa's room, I didn't find out much about him other than he's terrified of clowns.  Tell me something else about him since Trowa hasn't seen fit to give me any good dirt."

"You're just lending credence to their claims," Wufei observed.


Trowa answered the interrogative sound.  "Quatre and Duo decided that we were probably hanging out today without them so we could discuss them in private, so they decided to go out by themselves today and supposedly gossip about us in turn."

"I'm glad they haven't gotten their hooks into Meiran yet," Wufei said, snorting.

Heero happily latched onto the possibilities presented by that statement.  "Wufei's got a new girlfriend," he pointed out to Catherine.  "Why doesn't anyone ever bug him about her?"

Catherine turned bright eyes towards Wufei, then dismissed him.  For her, Wufei was more like a close cousin rather than a brother.  "Well, no one's really shocked or amazed that he got a girlfriend.  I imagine it happened in the usual way.  But you, Heero," she said, poking him in the shoulder.  "For you it must have been a remarkable story."

His eyes flicked down to where she poked him, then back up to her face.  "You're lucky I like you."

She laughed the threat off, confident he would never carry through on such a thing with her.  "Well, tell me more about -him- so I can decide whether to like him or not."

"You'll like him."

"Is that so?" she drawled, wondering if it should truly be taken for granted, or if Heero could possibly be that moonstruck.  Maybe it was both.  Heero wasn't the kind of guy to get moonstruck frivolously, and she had to like anyone that could put such a warm expression on Heero's face, even if that expression had been wielded with a hint of humor while trying to comfort his coulrophobic boyfriend.  "He's gorgeous."

Heero's first thought for an answer was, 'he's mine,' but on a second thought, he decided that that was perhaps not a good idea.   "Yes."

The glint in his eyes clued Catherine in on his hidden thought anyway.    "Good body to go with the pretty face?"

A muscle in Heero's jaw twitched, but something perverse in him decided to play along.  Catherine was the person he'd always gone to on the rare occasions that he needed input from a female perspective.  She deserved a little something in return.  "Yes."

"Good kisser, too, I'll bet."

"Yes."  A slight smirk escaped from his lips, particularly at the sight of Trowa and Wufei blinking silently at him in mild surprise.

Catherine smirked more widely than he.  "Good in bed, too?"

Heero paused, feeling the faintest hint of a blush creeping up on him.  He growled at it and it obediently retreated.  He was about to answer something to a negative effect, wishing he could come up with something suitably suggestive and evasive.  He was sure Duo would have been able to find a good, purposefully misleading yet entirely true answer.  Then it occurred to him that she hadn't said anything about sex.  Yes, Duo was good in bed; they kissed in bed, and snuggled in bed, and studied in bed, and all sorts of things, especially if one considered his futon sofa as a bed as well.   "Yes."

The three of them together looked at him with various levels of surprise.  He met their stares with a sly tilt of his lips.

"You have not had sex with him, have you?" Catherine asked, just wanting to be clear.  Normally, she would assume Heero was just playing with them, but jokes as these were best when they were true, and who knew just what this Duo fellow had done to him?


Trowa knew him best, and took it upon himself to clarify.   "Yes, you have not had sex with him."

"Yes."  Whee.  He was having fun.

"Oh, thank God!" Catherine exclaimed.

Heero raised an eyebrow at her.  "That would have been a remarkable story indeed?"

"Indeed.  Trowa and Quatre haven't even slept together yet."

"Cathy."  Trowa's tone was amused and horrified all at once.

"What?  I mean, surely you'd tell me, right?"

"Absolutely not."

"She'd probably be able to tell, anyway," Wufei opined.   "Either you or Quatre would give it up to her woman's intuition."

"I've slept with Duo," Heero offered, finding it suddenly amusing.  "A few times.  Hmm.  We've showered together, too."

"Too much information, Yuy!" Wufei barked.

Heero grinned sneakily at them.  It was a pity Howard didn't have any embarrassing baby pictures of Duo, or else he could say he'd seen Duo naked, too.  "It's true," he protested mildly.

"On a scale of one to ten," Catherine started.  "Ten being all the way and then some.  How far have you really gotten?"

"Too much information!  Women," Wufei sniffed disdainfully.  "Always with your gossiping.  There are some things that shouldn't be gossiped about."

"Oh, please.  You know you've been dying to ask, only you can't just because you're guys."

"Not true!"

"You should be thanking me for getting it all out into the open!"

Heero disregarded their banter and thought about the question, just for fun.  He didn't have to give an answer, after all, but what he concluded surprised him into speaking of it aloud.  "Huh.  Not as far as it seems, I guess."

Cathy stopped teasing Wufei to delve more deeply into this unexplored territory.  "Oh?  What do you mean?"

He shifted in his seat a little, not quite liking how he was the focus of their attention.  Perhaps it was true that even his male friends had been curious about his relationship with Duo.  "Well... we seem close to me, and it seems like a lot to me, but I guess in the grand scheme of things, it's really not that much at all."

"Say you were a four," Trowa proposed, selecting a modest number.  "But honestly, you probably started out at negative three or so instead of zero, so that's probably why it seems like a seven to you."

"Hn.  This is true."  Besides, the scale as Catherine had defined it measured only physical proximity, where Heero might propose that emotional proximity should be counted as a multiplicative factor to that.  Altogether, he was nearly under the impression they had gotten quite hot and heavy with each other, when objectively, they snuggled as much as they snogged, and had never engaged in a vigorous game of tonsil hockey, which, Heero believed, was a good thing.  If he unexpectedly found Duo's tongue burrowing into his mouth, he'd probably bite it off accidentally in surprise.  No, Duo's tongue was no stranger to him, but little more than just a casual acquaintance, too.  Like a friendly neighbor, perhaps.  Nice to see and talk to every once in a while, but belonging in his place next door.  As things stood now, Heero really didn't see the attraction of having someone else's tongue in his mouth, but he could admit that perhaps it was simply because he hadn't tried it yet.   Maybe he'd put that on his to-do list.

He had the feeling they'd been making progress, but he didn't know where.  Running through their kisses, then and now, he tried to gauge what had changed, but found to his surprise that they hadn't really gotten any hotter or deeper over the last month or two.   But... maybe they'd gotten longer?  Maybe, excepting the occasional bout of extreme breathlessness, they'd gotten more familiar?  Or maybe they'd just gotten better?  Better, after all, didn't have to involve deeper or hotter.  It could involve angles and pressures and degrees and rhythms.  

Or maybe it was that emotional factor after all.  Maybe that was growing as well.

He blinked, suddenly realizing everyone was watching him again as he lost himself in thought.  "What?"

Catherine laughed and shifted over enough to give him a brief hug.  "He's been good for you, hasn't he?"

His expression melted into a shy smile.  "Yes."

What excuse did Heero have?  If there were any clear, rational thoughts running through his mind at the time, they would have tried asking, midterms make him hot?  There had been some unknown aphrodisiac in their dinner?  Duo was just one sexy piece of *ahem*?

Whatever the reason, some bold impulse took a hold of him in the middle of kissing Duo, and he paused only long enough to dismiss his wits and gather his courage, and then he kissed Duo.   Thoroughly.  Wetly.  Hotly.  With hands wandering, body crushing, tongue exploring.  And when he was done, he pulled back with a gasp, stared into Duo's startled but definitely pleased and even a little dazed eyes, muttered something unintelligible, stood, turned around, strode straight into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him.

Duo blinked, still trying to catch his breath.  And then he closed his eyes, willing away that delightful tingle in his groin.  Well, alright, maybe just pushing it aside a bit.  It took a bit of effort.  He got up slowly, shook his head to clear it, futile though it seemed, and stumbled forth in Heero's footsteps.   Trying the doorknob gently and finding it locked, he tapped the door a couple of times with his knuckles instead.  "Uh, is you running off to hide in the bathroom a good reaction, or a bad reaction?"

When he received no response, he leaned in close, and managed to hear someone shifting slightly against the wood of the door over the clamor of his blood still rushing through his veins.  Well, at least Heero was just barricading the door with his body, and not hurling into the toilet.  He supposed that was a good sign.  He tried again, playing a different card.  "Uh, Heero?  You okay in there?  ...  Like, knock back if you don't need me to call you an ambulance or something."

A tentative knock sounded after a few breath-holding moments.

"Okay."  That was a start.  Of something.   "Uhm... Well, now.  Hmm.  So, uh, crazy weather we've been having lately, eh?"

Something rubbed against the door again.  "I'm fine, Duo," Heero answered.  It must have been uttered softly, because when muffled by the door, it was only fuzzily audible.

"Ooookay.  Then why are you hiding in the bathroom?"

"I am not--"  The door opened abruptly, and Duo found himself face to very close face with a very flushed Heero.  Both of them refused to take a step back, and so they stared directly into each other's eyes, each convinced he had the right of it.

"I am not hiding," Heero proclaimed stiffly.  A few haughty seconds later, he pushed his way past his boyfriend and plopped himself down on his bed, his arms naturally crossing over his chest.  His scowl looked suspiciously like a pout.

Bemused, Duo followed him, sitting down carefully on the other end of the bed and trying somewhat unsuccessfully to suppress the twist of his lips.  "Well, in case you were worrying about that kiss... it was, uh... wow.  I think we can safely say you don't have to be worried about your imagined inadequacies any more."

Hmm, if anything, Heero seemed to get even more red.  Duo calmly informed him of this fact.  "Heero.  There's so much heat in your face you're practically glowing."

Heero looked more annoyed than anything else, though more at the relevation and not at him, and appeared to be trying to will the blood away from his face.

Since it didn't seem he would be speaking any time soon, Duo tried to solve the puzzle on his own.  So Heero appeared to be embarrassed about something, and apparently it wasn't because he thought the kiss had been amateurish or something.  So... what?  He was annoyed about his lack of control?  "Are you... regretting you did that?"

Heero shook his head with one soft motion, shutting his eyes briefly as he did.  "No.  No, it was just... mildly mortifying, is all."

Duo chuckled.  "What, the kiss, or you running off to the bathroom?"

He opened his mouth as if to protest again, but couldn't deny his flight, so he frowned and pouted some more.

Duo bit down on the inside of his lip until he could straighten his expression out into something a little less obvious.  He wondered if he'd be irritated if only Heero didn't look so darn cute.  Of course, he knew he'd probably get his balls torn off if he mentioned that, so he wisely didn't.  "Ahem.  So, what, surprised the hell out of yourself there?"

He heard Heero take in a deep breath, then expel it through his mouth.  "Yeah, you could say that.  And not in a good way, either."

It was difficult for Duo to determine whether the strange feeling settling in his chest was disappointment that Heero hadn't liked that half as much as he had, or just preparation for talking this out.  "It seemed kinda good from where I was sitting," he ventured.  Oh, yes.  His tongue still tingled from the memory of it.  He was pleased to note the tingling in other parts of his anatomy had passed.

"Don't get used to it," was the muttered reply.

He tried not to sound like he wanted to.  Honestly, he didn't burn for another kiss like that one, but he had found it, ahem, quite acceptable, and didn't see what was so bad about it at all.   "You... didn't like it?"

"I didn't like it," Heero answered softly, his eyes sliding away to another random spot on the carpet.

"What about it didn't you like?  What about it was so mortifying?"  Something had caused him to blush like that, and it hadn't been the kiss.  Too hot for him to handle?  For someone as intense as Heero could be, Duo didn't feel that was a reasonable conclusion.  And Heero may have been somewhat conservative in this arena, but he was no prude.  Conservative?  No, not quite.  But he seemed to like things slower, more leisurely.  More... restrained?  Yes, restrained was a good word.  Since Heero volunteered no answer, Duo did instead.  "You wanted that, didn't you?  For a few moments, you wanted that, in a desire kind of way, and you don't like that, do you?"

Heero moved to meet Duo's gaze guiltily, lips pursing as he did so.  At length, he shrugged and unwound just a little.   "Maybe.  I mean... seems like it, doesn't it?"  He dropped his eyes uneasily and looked somewhere else again.

Hiding another smile, Duo crept stealthily up the bed until he was seated by Heero's side and close enough to be quite inviting, though not taking the initiative to complete the engagement.  "What's wrong with wanting things?"

"Not just... things.  This is... this is different than just things."  It seemed easier when Duo wasn't sitting in front of him.  He could feel the reassuring presence beside him, but he didn't have to look it in the eye.  "It's... personal, if you know what I mean."

"So what's wrong with wanting personal things?"

Heero shrugged again and continued to talk to the empty space in front of him.  "I dunno.  I just... well, I have, but... I just don't usually act on it.  Never really seems very important, relatively speaking."

Duo naughtily decided that maybe a little shock might jar Heero out of his broody funk.  "You've never jerked yourself off, have you?"

"I beg your pardon?!" he sputtered, sitting bolt upright.

"What, I'm your boyfriend.  I think I'm allowed to ask embarrassing questions like that.  Oh, look, you're turning red again."

"I am n--!"  He put a hand to his cheek and felt the evidence for himself.  "Dammit."

Duo chuckled throatily and reached out to him.  "Come on."

Heero only looked suspiciously at the outstretched hand.

He shook his head and leaned forward enough to pull Heero close.  "Come on.  There you go," he murmured comfortingly, settling Heero's head against his shoulder.  "Now we're just going to rest here for a few minutes and wait for everything to turn back to normal, okay?  And then we'll discuss this like reasonable, rational adults."

"...Since when are you a reasonable, rational adult?" Heero muttered, ungracefully conceding the fact that he could use a few moments to try and recenter himself.

"Well, you're a reasonable, rational adult, anyway.  I'm just along for the ride."  They sat quietly for a few peaceable minutes, and when Duo had judged the color in Heero's cheeks to have returned to a normal hue, he spoke up quietly.  "So, all better now?"

Heero sighed.  "Now?  Sure.  But I have a feeling I won't be a few minutes from now."

"Tough luck."  He took Heero's hand, dragged up it to sit on top of his belly, then placed his hand over it.  "You're kinda repressed, you know that?"

A wry snort made its way to his ears.  "Gee, really?"

"But you're not so repressed that you can't even see it, so that's good.  We can work with that.  I mean, if you want to work with it," he appended.  He really hated it when people just barged in and decided to change things to fit their personal vision without regard for what they trampled in the process.  "What makes other people's desires more important than yours, anyway?"

Heero had never really thought about it that way, and he analyzed the situation from that angle now.  "Well... you know how some people are.  They want things their way, down to the finest detail, and I guess I think... if it's so important to them, then I'll let them have their way.  If it doesn't matter, anyway.  I'm not a doormat, you know.  I will stand up for--"

"I know, Heero," Duo said, squeezing his hand, thinking back to times Heero had most definitely asserted his opinion.  "You are absolutely not a doormat.  On things that matter.  But your 'personal' opinions... you like keeping those cards close to your chest, don't you?"

"Well, of course," he answered, a tad bit defensively.   "That's what makes them personal, isn't it?  They wouldn't be very personal if they were public, now would they?"  Not that Duo was public.  There had to be an invisible line drawn somewhere.   Duo had gotten very personal with him these last few months.  Where was the difference?  It peeved him that he couldn't see it yet.

Duo pressed his lips to the closest point on Heero's head, realizing he didn't even know what Heero's favorite color was, or if he even had one.  A favorite color wasn't anywhere near as personal as what they were discussing, but if Heero didn't even share that, well, one could only imagine the difficulties he might have with something else.  "I can get that.  I mean, it's a really personal thing, this, uh, thing we have.  I didn't even mention it to anyone for a whole semester, so it's not like I don't see where you're coming from on this."  His butterflies fluttered a bit in concurrence, and he would have spared more than just a second to think about that, only he decided this was Heero's moment.  He'd ponder the existence of those nasty little critters some other time.

"But you're the one I'm being personal with, so..."  Heero sighed softly.  "I don't know.  Nothing's ever that simple."

"You don't need to worry what I think, you know.  And... there's no need to be self-conscious if I'm doing the same thing, right?"

"So there's no need to be embarrassed, right?  You're right.  You're absolutely right.  But."

"There's always a 'but', isn't there?"  And Duo resisted the temptation to try and squeeze Heero's butt as he said it.

"But it wasn't... it didn't feel like me," Heero finished slowly.  "But obviously it was me, and... well, there's that little piece of me again, off doing its own thing without consulting the rest of me.  I don't like that."

Duo nodded amiably, even though Heero wasn't really watching him so much as focusing on the weave of his shirt.  "Okay.  So you don't like that.  I can accept that.  Still doesn't explain what was so mortifying about it."  Without directing his gaze downwards, he could imagine Heero's expression of thoughtful concentration.  After a few seconds of inconclusive silence, he reclaimed the verbal ball.  "You're probably thinking way too hard about this, babe.  But you like doing that, which is okay, because it's you.  And you not liking that is also you.  I mean, not everyone gets off on being naughty, Heero.  Although that wasn't really being naughty so much as, I dunno, listening to that tiny little self-indulgent, self-gratification side of yourself, but hey, I wouldn't be surprised if that's as naughty as your naughty side got.  That probably is naughty for you, isn't it?  Thinking about your own desires every once in a while, uber-responsible boy that you are."

"Do you get off on naughtiness?"

How did Heero make a question like that sound completely commonplace?  Duo laughed.  "I hate to tell you this, but if you started talking dirty to me... I don't think I'd be able to keep a straight face.  No offense or anything, but... it's just not you, babe.  And don't worry about being something you're not, and stop trying to live up to popular hype.  Besides, you're really cute when you're repressed, you know that?"  He figured the moment for tearing off his balls was past.  Fortunately, he was correct, and managed to coax another snort from his boyfriend.

Heero absently tapped out a random pattern against Duo's abdomen with his fingers while he thought.  It was a funny sort of thing since his hand was still being covered by Duo's.  "So... this has nothing to do with you.  Us.  I guess that at least removes the matter from immediate concern."  Not that that said he was entirely agreeing to Duo's point of view.

"As long as it's not some sign that there's something wrong about our relationship," Duo began in agreement, twining their fingers together and putting a stop to the tapping.  It kind of tickled.  "I think it's good to think about yourself every once in a while, but, you know, not if it causes you more problems than it solves.   So you don't need to worry about becoming some uninhibited fiend for me or anyone else.  Everyone's got inhibitions, after all.  You just keep on being the repressed, thinkaholic cutie that you are, who I assure you is sexy as hell regardless, and you'll keep on being the person we all know and love."  It took him several breaths' time to reassure himself that the final word he had uttered had merely been a piece of a stock phrase whose meaning lay in the sum of its parts, not its individual syllables.  He also quelled the insurgent butterflies by willing them to be nothing more than a funny feeling generated by the tapping of Heero's fingers.

"...Don't call me a cutie."  Heero's acceptance of Duo's suggestion lay only in the fact that he didn't mention it.

"But that's what you are."

"That's so... undignified."

Duo laughed.  "I could just squeeze you to little itty bitty pieces!"

"If you call me that, I'll be forced to call you 'beautiful'."

Duo stopped laughing, and frowned with a severity he meant only a little bit.  "You take that back."

"I think not."

"You will, too."

"Will not."

Duo tried to make him, but in the end, after much breathless laughing and tussling and kissing, he never did get Heero to recant.

"Hey, I got you something."

"Hm?  What for?"

"No particular reason.  Just thought I'd add to the decor here."  Or maybe he thought he'd make up for the lost birthday and Christmas of yesteryear.  He pulled a bag out of his backpack, and took out a small figurine, which he set down next to the Grumpy Dwarf by the phone.

Heero stared at it.  "Is that... Bashful?"


Heero stared at it some more, then raised his eyes to blink accusingly at Duo.  "Bashful?  You got me Bashful?  That is just so not right, Maxwell!"

"What, better than Dopey, ain't it?  Or Sleepy."   Heero could deny it all he wanted, but Duo knew the truth.  Hiding inside that grumpy exterior was an inner bashful.  On a whim, Duo reached out and moved Bashful back to hide behind Grumpy, peeking shyly out from over the protective dwarf's shoulder.

"Augh."  Heero made several more inarticulate sounds of frustrated exasperation before just turning around in a huff to glare at his dishes as he stacked them in the sink.

Duo's smile grew larger, though he took pains to conceal it.  He knew Heero wouldn't be cruel enough to demand he take the dwarf back.  He sauntered over behind Heero and wrapped his arms around Heero's trim waist, making no mention of the fact that it wasn't Heero's turn to do the dishes.  It took him a moment to say what he had been planning to say since he got a little caught up in enjoying the feel of Heero's body pressed up against his.  "Mmmmm.  So I was out running some errands, and I crossed the path of these little high schoolers that were just loitering around being obnoxious high schoolers, and you know, I swear kids these days are getting smaller and smaller, or else I'm actually growing somewhere because they just looked so young!  Or maybe it was just the immaturity.  And the stupid saggy gangbanger-wannabe clothing.  Oh, and the attitude, that got-something-to-prove attitude.  Oh, and their language, of course, which was the point of my little story before I got sidetracked."

He paused to nuzzle Heero's neck, but only because Heero had finished collecting dishes for washing.  Maybe Heero didn't forget it wasn't his turn since he stopped, washed and dried his hands, and then stood back loosely to enjoy the embrace.  Duo obligingly kept both the hug and the story going.

"So I pass by this little trio of kids, and they're, ahem, 'conversing' with nothing more than a string of swear words, or at least that's what it sounded like.  Not only was it utterly lame, since they were just talking regularly, by which I mean they weren't having a fight or anything, and they kept interjecting the same words and phrases over and over again.  It displayed a stunning lack of originality.  What are kids coming to today, anyway?  I couldn't help it -- I had to laugh when I heard them.  I think they figured out how stupid they sounded, though, because a couple of them sorta glanced at me and got this kinda embarrassed look on their faces, and that was the total highlight of my day.  You?"

Heero leaned back a little harder, causing the two of them to collectively back up a step or two before balance was re-established.  "Does every day have to have a highlight?"

Although the patient look on his face was wasted on the kitchen sink, Duo put it on anyway.  "Well, it ought to, otherwise your day would be full of lowlights, and, well, that'd be a really sucky day.  And your day didn't really suck, right?  Because I'm sure you would have mentioned it if it had.  So that means there had to be a highlight in there somewhere."

"Hmmm.  Does this count?"  It was the first thing that came to mind out of a rather unremarkable day.

Such an innocuously uttered question, and yet it struck at the core of Duo.  He felt an inappropriate moment coming on, and forced it down with a chuckle.  "Heh, what, doing the dishes?"

"No such luck, Duo," Heero answered, removing the hands from his belly.  Keeping a hold of the hands, he stepped out of the embrace and turned around to look at Duo with an affectionately scolding smile, leaning against the counter as he did so.  "Your turn, not mine."  He paused, removed his weight from the counter, and looked over his shoulder.  "I think I just got the back of my shirt all wet."  Well, nothing to do for it now, so he returned his attention to Duo and was treated to a slightly wide-eyed, frozen smile.

"Duo?" he asked with some concern, squeezing the hands a little more tightly.  That wasn't a look he saw very often, but he thought he recognized it as a moment of 'holy crap!' surprise.

The unwelcome moment had sprung upon Duo anyway, leaving him shivering inside from the littlest things.  They were sharing the trivial little moments of their day, and quibbling over whose turn it was to wash the dishes... Added all together, it just struck him as unnervingly cozy.  Practically living-together-cozy.  He blinked himself out of it his trance at the sound of Heero's question.  "Whoa.  That was a rush."

Heero canted his head in a silent question, but received only a weak chuckle of dismissal in response.  He accepted it with another smile.  "Come on.  I'll help out."

Mid-terms produced stress, and stress made being cooped up in the bubble unusually difficult to tolerate, and thusly did Heero, Duo, and the group of Duo's friends go off-campus for dinner and general carousing after mid-terms were over.  Afterwards, it was a simple enough matter to drop the pair off at the market and save them the extra walk.  Once inside the closed store, walking through the aisles on the way to the stairs in the back, Heero reached out and stopped Duo with a hand to his arm and pulled him close.  "Why does everyone assume we're having sex?" he asked in a low voice, as if Howard upstairs might take notice of it.  "Do they really think that, or were they just saying that stuff for fun?"

"Oh, heh, you noticed that, too, did you?" Duo answered glibly, all too aware of how they had ended up pressed together arm to arm.  In the inevitable discussion of spring break plans, they'd suffered a few well-meaning jibes about staying in bed and entertaining each other all week long.  "People should really keep their noses out of other people's love lives, ya know?  I don't know where they get off making these logical leaps.  You know what they say about people that assume things, after all."

Heero only blinked expectantly at him.

"I think people usually get interested in other people's affairs when they just aren't getting any themselves.  I mean, if Alex and Hilde would just hook up for good instead of hovering around it all the time, we wouldn't suffer half the grief we do.  Did anyone ever tell you that?  They dated for a little while early last year, then they broke up and saw other people for a while, but the attraction is definitely still there."

"None of that answered my questions."

"Oh, well, yeah...  So I guess it's probably kind of a combination of both, you know?  They aren't definitely assuming it as fact, but they maybe suspect it, so they go ahead and joke about it that way.  I mean, either way, whether it's true or not, they don't sound stupid for having made a possibly incorrect assumption, so it's a fairly smart move.  I've done similar things in my time.  You know, joking about things to feel out whether I'm right or not."   He blinked back at Heero, but it was clear Heero wasn't letting go of his arm until he did a little more than just buzz around the first question.  "Well, you can't really blame them.  I mean, I'm sure it's the logical conclusion from their points of view.  I could practically assume it myself, if I weren't in the middle of it and in no position to require a mere assumption..."

Heero squeezed his arm just a little to let him know that he was still not answering the question.

Duo sighed, avoided eye contact, and tried to make himself get a little closer to the answer on this shot.  "It makes sense.   Because, well... well, I guess I'm more intimate with you than I've ever been with anyone, on an emotional level, anyway, so I'm sure it seems logical to assume that I must be that much more intimate with you on a physical level than I've ever been with anyone, too, right?  I mean, at least to them."

Heero blinked, then released Duo's arm, and as his hand fell, it brushed down the length of the arm in a light, familiar gesture.   "Oh."

"Oh," Duo repeated numbly, looking shyly up at him through downcast lashes.  "Is that a good 'oh', or a bad 'oh'?"

Heero shrugged, a slight smile playing on his lips.  "Just an 'oh'."


The smile grew fractionally larger.

The calm before the storm.  That was what this time was.  Another semester was winding down on them, and they were just starting that long stretch of last units to cover in their classes before finals smacked them down and danced on top of their broken bodies.  Duo had suggested they take advantage of the too-brief lull to rent one of the movies they hadn't gotten around to watching last semester, and thus they had acquired the DVD and were watching it on Heero's laptop.  The futon sofa had been pulled forth from the wall and unfolded back into a reclining position so they could cuddle in comfort while watching the laptop that had been planted on top of several thick textbooks stacked between their legs.  The arrangement worked surprisingly well.

Once the movie ended, the books and the laptop were set off to the side, and they stayed where they had made themselves quite at home and discussed the merits and failings of the movie they had just seen, along with anything else that happened along their conversational path.  Somewhere along the way, they stopped sitting upright, and laid down along the length of the sofa-bed.  At a pause in the gradually softening exchange of words, Duo started an entirely new thread of discussion.

"Why doesn't this bother you, Heero?"


"Lying here, with me.  Being all comfortable and content and the like.  I mean, I think I was right; I think self-gratification is very low on your to-do list, and I know you.  You like going through things systematically, so I'm not surprised you got bothered by the way you skipped all the way to the bottom of your list one day and ignored all the so-called more important things.  But then... where does... 'this' fit in?  I mean, this doesn't bother you?  You are... enjoying yourself, aren't you?"

"Of course I'm enjoying this.  I wouldn't be here if I weren't."

"But then, you know, repressed cutie that you are, doesn't that, like, go against your grain or something?"

"...You know, I sound more screwed up than I thought."

Duo whapped him lightly on the shoulder, then followed it up with a gentle rubbing over the same place.

Pursing his lips, Heero thought the matter through.  Since they had last discussed this, he had given it some more form, but was far from having reached any solid conclusions.  "I thought it was self-gratification that went against my grain.  In which case, this doesn't bother me at all.  I mean, self-gratification in a... a basic... I don't want to say 'physical'."  He fumbled for the words, trying to give the idea thought.  "But 'physical' being a part of it, in that it's... hn, 'primal' is an ugly word.  And the 'personal' that we were using before is rather unspecific."  He swished the vocabulary words around in his head and tasted them carefully before continuing.

"Hmm, I guess 'basic' is the best word coming to mind right now.  Something so elementary it goes beyond any reasonable level of thought.  That's what unsettles me," he said decisively.  He didn't like things that happened without his knowledge, especially when he was the source.  If things happened without reason, then where did they come from?  He distrusted such things.  If they were baseless, then they were shifting, unreliable.  "But this?   While I admit it does speak to some elementary part of me... it's not like there's nothing, no reasons or anything, to back it up.  I probably wouldn't be comfortable with this at all if I hadn't given our relationship any thought, but truth be told, before we ever really got close, before we ever kissed, I asked myself.  I asked myself if this was okay with me, if this was what I wanted, and I said yes, it was."

"But then... when we kiss, say.  Don't tell me you're thinking about exactly how to move your lips or whatever, every single time.  Why aren't you always running off to the bathroom?"

"God, that's going to haunt me for a while, isn't it?"

Duo squeezed him apologetically.  "Only in jest, babe."

Heero sighed and again applied his mind to the matter, doing his best to answer these odd questions for his boyfriend.  Duo didn't seem to be just idly wondering.  He was trying to figure something out, and Heero would help if he could.  "That was... different.  Our... 'regular' kisses, they make me feel... well, good.   But 'that' one made me feel... horny."

Duo quickly smothered his laugh, turning it into a choked snort.  Heero had said that with such a sound of dismay.  "I hate to break it to ya, but you're a guy.  It's not unusual for a guy to feel horny."

"Well, horny, perhaps," Heero conceded, his dismay dimmer but still present.  "But not... wanton.  I mean, I know it wasn't much, as wantonness goes, but... it was shallow.  It seemed so... passing.  With nothing behind it but pure... physicality."  He stopped when Duo shifted beside him, and it somehow gave the impression of an uncomfortable squirm.  "Is there a reason you ask?"

The question was deftly sidestepped for the moment.  "So I guess I won't be seeing another one of those ever again, eh?"

"If I kiss you like that... it should be because... because I feel motivated to do so from the deepest fiber of my being... Not because I feel possessed by some... fleeting whim, or momentary lust.  Or something."  He paused, then repeated himself.  "Is there a reason you ask?"

Duo hesitated, keeping his thoughts to himself for a good long moment before they burst out of him.  "Now how can that not bother you?"


He supposed he would have taken it back if he could, but he couldn't, so there was nothing left but to forge forward.  "It's just..."  He shivered slightly, his butterflies gathering their pitchforks and torches in preparation for rebellion.  "This... this bothers me sometimes," he confessed with a hushed whisper.

Heero suppressed the initial urge to go 'huh?' again.   Instead, he took a careful breath, reassured himself he had a good, strong grip on Duo, then asked, "What does?"

"You not being horny.  Well, me not being horny, I guess.  Me... not wanting something so shallow.  See, you may have problems with the whole physical thing, once in a while, but your emotional commitment is totally there, and you have no problems with it.  Mine's... running around in circles, screaming its little head off."

"...Oh," Heero said faintly, trying to decide whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.  In general, anything running around in a circle screaming couldn't be a good thing, right?   His hold on Duo tightened as if he could keep Duo from running off again, not just to the bathroom but out the front door and far, far away.

"Hey, get that look off your face."


Duo had tilted his head so he could see Heero's worried expression.  "Yes, that look.  I'm not going anywhere.  I think I just had a little epiphany, that's all, and it's not a bad one, so come on.  Relax.  There... there..."  He watched as the fear slid off Heero's face in degrees, and finally leaned down to peck him on the cheek.  "Alright, that's better.  Now, I think I've got this one under control, so no worries.  So as I was saying... the voice in my head's going, 'Egads, Brain!'"


"Do I have a fear of intimacy?"

"Sometimes," Heero admitted somewhat matter-of-factly, if a bit cautiously.

"...Well, shit."

"How's that?"

"Well, that means neither of us has our heads screwed on straight!"

"...You mean you thought you were actually the stable one in this relationship?"

That earned a chuckle.  "Well, okay, maybe not.  I'm the one with a voice in my head, after all.  You've known this all the time?"

"Well... It was more like one of those things that becomes obvious after it's pointed out."  He'd never thought so in so many words, but it certainly fit all the symptoms he'd accumulated over the months.  "So this bothers you why?"

"Geez, that's such a typically guy problem.  Why couldn't I have something more interesting, like your problem?  Man, I hate fitting a stereotype."

"Um... okay?"

Duo chuckled again, well aware of the fact that he was probably just bewildering the dickens out of his poor boyfriend.  It was surprisingly entertaining.  "I'm not a total idiot; maybe it took me a while, but I saw the pattern eventually.  When you freak out, it's about the physical stuff, but when I freak out... we usually aren't doing anything in particular.  I just see something we do normally and get weirded out by how... utterly 'normal' it is.  Natural, commonplace, relaxed, whatever.  Like... this.  Right here.  Right now.  Being just with you, and lovin' it.  It... just doesn't feel right.  Or rather, it just feels too right.  It feels like this isn't where I'm supposed to be in life.   Thinking about love and all that stuff."

That last bit brought Heero a moment's pause, but in that moment he decided he wouldn't ask and bring attention to it.  "Where do you feel you're supposed to be?"

"We're still in school, for cripe's sake!  We're, what, twenty?  I should be... stupid and frivolous!  And certainly not this... this in to someone, not unless it was some stupid crush, and it's certainly not that!  I feel like it's too early for me to have found someone this special, which I realize is kinda stupid, because what the hell does 'too early' mean?  I mean, it's not like my own parents weren't this young when they met each other."

"Duo, your parents married young, and look how they turned out," Heero pointed out to him.

That made him stop and think for a second.  "Well, yes," he said with some wonder.  "I suppose that trauma would account for that particular quirk, wouldn't it?"

"We're nothing like your parents, Duo."

He laughed -- loudly -- at that, leaving Heero to peaceably ride out the waves against his chest.  "Oh, God.  No, we are nothing like my parents."  He couldn't stop himself from laughing again.  "God, they'd shit themselves if anyone even suggested we were like them.  I can't even count how many things about me they disapprove of."

Heero calmly climbed up Duo to plant his face mere inches away from the face of the young man with the wide, blinking indigo eyes.  "I approve of you," he said quite blandly.  "Howard approves of you.  And if you want me to, I will gladly give them something to shit themselves over."  He patted Duo on the cheek fondly and climbed back down to resume his former position cozy against Duo's side.

Duo smiled in his wake.  "Okay.  So we're nothing like my parents.  Check.  So that means I shouldn't worry about our ages, eh?"


He sighed.  "Okay, I am so not letting my stupid parents ruin my life.  I will get over this age thing out of sheer spite, if nothing else."

"Will you get over the rest of it?"

"The rest of what?"

"You said you have a fear of intimacy, and I agreed.  Is that all because you just don't want to feel this way?  Because you fear that if you do, we'll end up like your parents?"

"It'd... be pretty easy to blame them for everything, wouldn't it?"  Unfortunately, he rarely favored the easy road.  "But I guess, if this is as... important as it seems... I'd hate to mess that up.  I mean, I get these butterflies in my stomach when I think about... us, and how horrible it would be if... if this were gone.  Or how unbelievable it is that you could possibly..."  He couldn't even bring himself to finish the thought, so he quickly moved on to something else, recognizing with a resigned amusement that this was exactly what he was talking about.  "And what was it I said?  This feels like it's so... beyond my control?  Now that... that bothers me, too.  Oh, boy, does it bother me.  You said you felt that way, too.  How do you handle it?"

Heero exhaled audibly in acknowledgment.  It was rather like a long, breathy 'hmm.'  "Sometimes... I wonder, too.  I think, you're my first... well, first lots of things.  How weird is it that you turned out... this... right?  Kind of serendipitous, don't you think?  How many firsts are an only?  But serendipity happens on occasion.  Good things happen, same as bad things.  You can get blindsided by a car, or a person.  It happens.  So it doesn't bother me.  Like I said, if you can't beat it, join it."

"And your journey to the darkside will be complete," Duo intoned with the proper sneaky malice the line required.  Then he laughed at his own corniness.  It ended with a sigh.  "Just give in to it, huh?  That... requires a certain amount of courage, doesn't it?"

"Or a lack of forethought," Heero answered glibly.  "I never really thought that hard about it.  It was more like, in for a penny, in for a pound.  I took the leap of faith when I decided to do this with you, and... I've just been falling ever since."

"Umm."  Duo debated for a moment whether or not he really want to say what was on his mind, then decided to go ahead.   "That's sweet and all, but, uh, isn't the point behind a leap of faith that you won't fall?"

"...Oh.  That's right.  Well, it sounded good when I said it," Heero muttered defensively.

"Yes.  Yes, it did."  And why was it that it seemed to soothe the butterflies rather than stir them up?

"Well, look at it this way: if I fall first, then you'll have something to land on."

Duo laughed, and poked him playfully in the tummy.   "Doesn't make for a cushy landing.  Hey, wait a minute.   Didn't we say we'd fall together?"  He pointedly put his hand atop Heero's.

"Hmm, yes.  Yes, we did."  Thinking back to that day, Heero wriggled his hand over and let their fingers tangle themselves up with each other, free from all the silly little problems their owners were experiencing.  "Well, I've got a head start, so start falling already."

Duo rolled over, pinning Heero beneath him and looking straight into his eyes.  "I think I already have," he breathed.  "I just refuse to admit it."

He gave into the call of gravity, and let his head lower until the distance between them was practically gone, but before their lips could touch, Heero pulled back minutely.  "But you are going to admit it, right?" he asked first.

"Of course.  Just... not... quite... yet."  Duo felt there was still some way for him to go before he could embrace the feelings running through him.  "Can I kiss you anyway?" he asked almost plaintively.

Heero kissed him first.

title: once again, Robert Burns' To A Mouse: the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / gang aft agley / an' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain / for promis'd joy!

now.  stay down, you cursed bunny.

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 jchew at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 2/24/2008 00:54:30 PST