Disclaimer: Love 'em, but don't own 'em.

Pairing: 1x2, 3x4
Rating: NC-17
Genre: Alternate reality, angst
Feedback: Yes, please!

Special thanks to: Alex and Cerasi, for friendship and beta support.

Summary: Heero finds that the road to nowhere leads to something special.

Down the Road
Part 7
by Artemis

Exhaustion had settled into Duo's bones. The twelve-hour days repairing fences, fixing leaky faucets, and climbing trees to retrieve old ladies' cats were catching up with him. But it was all he could do to scrape together the money he needed, and keep his mind occupied. It seemed he now had two problems-the debt he owed the bank, and the feelings that tumbled inside him for Heero. Funny, it had only taken one day for the bank to lose the top spot on Duo's priority list.

Thoughts of Heero consumed him and it was easy to guess why. Sure there were all the obvious reasons like the fact that Heero was fucking gorgeous. Duo had taken note of that immediately-the dark, tousled hair, smoldering blue eyes, and take-no-prisoners body. what a package. But then Heero had shown up on his doorstep looking a little lost, and very open to possibilities. They had found those possibilities over a long conversation, savory meal, and a slow dance.

Duo could not decide if it had been the dinner or the dance that had cinched it for him. He supposed it was a little of both, but either way he had taken Heero to a place he shared with no one. A long time ago, Duo had learned to protect his heart and to keep men at a distance-at least the ones who wanted to get into his pants. Quatre was his friend, and knew him best, but when it came to his secret heart that was no man's land. until now.

After four long days of wanting and missing Heero, Thursday finally arrived for date night. With their schedules cleared he and Heero could see each other again, and hopefully experience some of the same magic they had the previous weekend. Duo spent the day talking too fast, eating too little, and running around town like a chicken with his head cut-off. He had never felt nervous energy like this before, and it was making him nuts.

Back home and toweling off from his shower, Duo stood in his bedroom staring at the bed. Images of making love to Heero came quickly to mind, warming him and making him smile. He wished Heero was coming here tonight to indulge their fantasies. But they had opted for the double-date route again, since Trowa and Quatre were also experiencing separation anxiety. Duo would drive to the city tonight, but the miles of highway between him and Heero now seemed a cruel barrier to their growing relationship.

Duo dressed in faded blue jeans, a white long-sleeved shirt, black combat boots, belt, watch, and a simple silver chain around his neck. He had half a tank of gas, eight dollars in his wallet, and hoped to hell tonight's date was not Dutch treat. He got in his pick-up and wished he had time to wash it. The dusty old truck had never bothered him before, but now he wanted to make the effort-for Heero.

When he arrived in town in front of the music shop, he was tempted to toot the horn to roust Quatre out of his apartment, but Mrs. Farley was walking her Pekingese. The last time he had honked and startled them the dog had run in circles until it collapsed. He thought he had killed it, but after a few minutes the dog recovered and all was forgiven.

He slipped out of the truck and walked to the front of the building, waving to Mrs. Farley who eyed him suspiciously. He smoothed the front of his shirt and glanced down at his groin. He was so horny that it would not have surprised him to find a growing erection there, but thankfully that was not the case. He had survived one more day without shocking the town matriarch.

"Hey, Q! Get a move on!" He shouted to the open window of Quatre's second floor apartment.

The jingle of the barber shop door several feet away startled him. He turned to see Joe Wilke, the bank president, leaving the shop, and brushing stray snips of hair from his lapel.

"Duo," the man said, his voice an oily purr. "I hope you weren't at the bank looking for me."

Duo shook his head, and turned his back on him.

"Come on. is that any way to treat an old friend? A friend who can be there for you in your hour of need."

"Bastard." Duo whirled around. "If it wasn't for you, Bud would still be leasing those fields from me and I'd be able to make your stupid monthly payments."

The man moistened his lips. "Bud Jones is much happier sowing fields elsewhere after learning about your nocturnal visits to the truck stop."

"Is that what you told him? No wonder he won't look me in the eye anymore."

Duo's fists clenched. It was true he had gone out to the truck stop a couple of times, okay, maybe more than that, but not in months. Somehow Joe had discovered that bit of information and decided to make it the town's business. Duo wanted to hurt this guy--bad. Hurt him for dragging his name through the mud, and relishing the pain that Duo was suffering from the impending loss of his family's farm.

"You're a sack a shit, and you're gonna live to regret it."

"Are you threatening me, Maxwell?"

Just then Quatre made his appearance, all bright-eyed and ready for a night out in his pressed black slacks, lavender shirt, and leather belt and shoes.

"Did you hear that, Quatre?" Joe asked, looking wounded. "Your friend threatened me."

Quatre blinked and looked between the two men. "Duo?"

"Forget it. Let's get out of here." Tired of the drama, Duo rolled his eyes and got back in the truck. He started the engine, revving it once as Quatre told Wilke to have a good evening, and then finally got in the truck, too. "Do you have to be so damn nice?"

Quatre sighed as he buckled his seatbelt. "You shouldn't let him get to you."

Duo squealed the tires as he tore down the street. "He's spreading rumors about me, Q. How am I supposed to deal with that?"

"Ignore it. Joe's not worth your energy."

"I can't ignore it. I'm in too deep."

"What are you talking about?"

Duo took a deep breath, and kept his eyes on the road. God, he did not want to have to admit to Quatre that he had screwed up. "I'm behind on the mortgage."

"You've been behind before, haven't you?"

Duo nodded. "You know that Bud Jones didn't renew his lease to farm my acreage, and it was too late to find someone else."

"I was sorry to hear that, but I'm sure next year---"

"Q, there might not be a next year." Duo felt his heart pounding faster as he confessed his fear. "Not having that extra income wiped out my savings."

"Oh." Quatre was quiet a moment, seeming to consider what he had just heard. "How far behind are you?"

"Enough for it to be a problem." Okay, so he was omitting the part about losing the farm, but it was not going to happen, so why upset his friend unnecessarily? "But I've got it worked out. Whippletree Antiques bought some of Aunt Emmy's furniture--"

"Oh, Duo--"

"No, it's okay. I've got the cash from that sale, and Heero's lined up a possible art commission for me."

"A commission! How'd he do that?"

"I guess he's tight with the guy who owns the restaurant where he works. But I don't know if it's a sure thing---"

"I told you someday your art would get noticed. I'm sure you'll get the job."

"Don't start planning the party yet. It's an Asian restaurant, and I'm all Celtic knots and abstract shapes."

The tumblers were moving into place in Duo's mind. This had to work. He had divided this problem a hundred ways, and this was the closest he had come to a solution. A commission from a downtown restaurant had to be worth a thousand dollars or more, and combined with the payments for his handyman jobs and sale of the furniture. It just might work.

It was then that Quatre noticed the sketch pad sitting on the seat between them. He picked it up. "Mind if I look?"

"Go ahead. They're just ideas."

Duo could not remember how he had found the time or energy to sketch, but it must have been late at night. He got home well after dark from work, had a sandwich and a glass of milk, and flopped down on the bed with the sketch pad. Sometimes he fell asleep, but mostly he drew until the phone rang. Heero never failed to call, but it was always late. He had a tough schedule, too. Duo loved their late night conversations, but more than anything he just wanted to listen, to hear Heero's voice, and imagine being held in his arms.

"These are good, Duo. They're so different from your barn."

"Well, I have to see the space first, but Heero described it to me. He's good with words."

"And other things. I'll bet."

Duo laughed. "Yeah, I talked your ear off Monday when you brought my truck back. Heero's kind of rocked my world."

"Kind of? I've never seen you like this. the look in your eyes, and the excitement in your voice."

Duo looked over at his friend and smiled. "Yeah?"

"Absolutely. You have the look of love."

Duo's breath caught. So that was it? The all-consuming feeling that tortured his waking hours, and played havoc with his dreams was love? "Yeah. love," he said, a bit breathlessly. He was in love. The realization brought a wide grin to his face. God, was that crazy or what? In the middle of one of the worst times of his life, he had fallen in love.

"Now what do I do?"

"What do you mean?"

"If I'm in love."

"Oh." Quatre reached over and patted his knee. "That's the tricky part. You'll have to wait and see."

"Wait for what?"

"For Heero, of course. To see if he feels the same."

"Does Trowa feel the same about you?"

"I think so. Yes. Yes, I know he does."

"You're lucky, Q. That must be nice."

"It is nice. And for you to feel this way, Heero must've given you some reason to think the feeling's mutual."

Duo smiled, hopeful, but he had no frame of reference. He had never felt this way for someone before.

+ + +

Tonight Duo was on a tight budget which meant parking in a city lot was out of the question. And he did not have the inclination to ask Quatre to pay for it. So he spent an extra fifteen minutes cruising for a space on the street, and telling Quatre he liked the challenge. They parked several blocks from Sushi Bob's, and Duo reminded his friend that the walk would do them good.

He was nervous, damn nervous. It was a combination of things-seeing Heero again and wanting his touch, seeing where he worked, and hopefully getting that commission from Heero's boss. But weighing heaviest of all was the fact that there were less than 24 hours remaining for this crisis to pass. For good or bad it would soon be over.

Sushi Bob's was located in a recently gentrified part of the city. The 1930s Art Deco building looked new, but according to Heero that was only because the brick had been sandblasted to clean off decades of pollution. Inside, Duo's eyes went wide as he took-in the modern, Asian décor.

"Yin and yang," he said, as he and Quatre stood in the lobby, looking like wide-eyed tourists.

Quatre tilted his head. "Hmm?"

"The style is balanced between male and female energy-yin and yang."

"If you say so, all I see is that frieze of a naked man above the Sushi bar."

Duo's eyes lifted and he smiled. "Very nice."

Obviously, the owner appreciated art, mythology and symbolism, or knew enough to hire the right designer. There was an impressive balance between symbols of male power and round, nurturing, womanly shapes colored in neutral, earthy tones. Duo patted the sketch pad under his arm and wondered briefly if his ideas were good enough. Having a lover gush over one's work was not the best way to judge art, but Heero had gotten him this interview.

Duo and Quatre stopped gawking long enough to inquire at the hostess stand for Heero.

"Do you have an appointment?" the young, college-aged woman asked.

"Yes," Duo said, noting her pretty features, and the way her little black dress clung to every curve. "Tell him Duo and Quatre are here."

She eyed him carefully and then picked up the phone, pressing a button labeled "office."

Duo shrugged and turned back to Quatre. "Shouldn't Trowa be here by now?"

Quatre glanced at his watch. "Soon. Do you suppose if things progress tonight that---."

"You could stay in the city?" Duo laughed. "Hey, you're a big boy you can decide for yourself where you want to sleep."

"But if you don't want to drive home alone I'd understand."

"I'm a big boy, too, Q. If I didn't have a busy day tomorrow I'd be staying." Duo's mind flashed to his much anticipated meeting at the bank, and a sliver of hope filled his senses. It would be emancipating to hand over the money and get the bank and Joe Wilke off his back at least for another month.

At the same moment, Duo and Quatre noticed Heero making his way toward them. Duo's breath caught as he was reminded just what a head turner Heero was compared to all the other beautiful people in the room. Heero was undoubtedly in his element. More than once he stopped to speak with a customer or the wait staff. It seemed he was a highly respected and valued part of this team.

When Heero joined them at the hostess podium, he put his hand on Duo's elbow and looked into his eyes, smiling. "It's good to see you."

The personal contact sent a shiver through Duo. "And you. You look great." He was sure he blushed from the touch and being so near Heero, but he understood from the subtle greeting that they needed to keep things neutral in public.

Heero looked good, very good, and Duo wondered when the man had time to shower and change after a day in front of the flames. He wore a cotton-spandex short-sleeved shirt in taupe that contoured perfectly to his torso, pressed mocha-colored slacks, and brown leather shoes and a matching belt. Maybe Heero could afford that car he was driving, and by the looks of the clientele, maybe he was making a decent living.

Heero held out his hand to shake Quatre's. "Nice to see you. Looks like you found the place okay."

"Thanks. Your directions were easy to follow."

We had no idea the place would be this nice." Duo leaned in closer and whispered, "Can we afford to eat here?"

Heero chuckled. "Trowa and I already decided tonight is our treat."

"Trying to make up for our last double date?" Duo asked with a gentle jab of his elbow to Heero's side.

The three laughed, but Duo was more than a little relieved that he would not have to pay for dinner.

Since Duo and Heero needed to talk about the art commission, Quatre offered to stay up front and wait for Trowa.

"I can get you a table."

"Thanks, Heero. That'd be nice."

Heero spoke with the hostess, and with a big, friendly smile she escorted Quatre to the best table in the house.

Heero then led Duo through the restaurant and to a door marked "staff only." It opened onto a narrow hallway lined with doors labeled "storage" and "office." The small store room was open and Duo glimpsed an employee stacking reams of copy paper on a shelf. Another shelf-unit held cans and boxes of raw ingredients, including wheat flour, vinegar and a variety of cooking oils. He was surprised by the cleanliness of this back area. When he had worked at the diner in Union Grove the store room was always a mess with empty boxes and invoices scattered about, and spiders.

"We make all our sauces and dough from scratch. Only dry ingredients and office supplies are kept in there. There's a large refrigeration unit adjacent to the kitchen where the fresh vegetables, fruits and meats are delivered daily. And there's a wine cellar."

"This is some operation. Are you sure you're just a cook?"

Heero turned to Duo as he stopped outside the office door. "What do you mean?"

"Working in a place like this, shouldn't you be called a chef?"

Heero grinned. "Now that you mention it---"

"You're probably downplaying how important you are, because of how your parents feel."

Heero nodded and unlocked the door, stepping inside first to turn on the light.

"See, you even have a key to the office. You're a chef, Heero. Maybe not the head chef, but I bet you will be someday."

As Duo stepped inside the room, Heero closed the door behind him with a soft click. They were alone. at last.

Duo grinned mischievously. "Well?"

Heero stepped forward, slipping his arms around Duo's waist and looking into his eyes. "It's been a long week," he said, and then kissed him hard.

Their bodies pressed tightly against one another, and the sketch pad fell to the floor. This was what Duo needed. He was desperate for Heero, desperate to melt into him, feel him everywhere, and touch him everywhere.

"Duo." Heero said, between kisses. His hands grasped Duo's behind firmly, squeezing it and using that grip to pull Duo closer. "Want you."

"Want you, too," Duo said, as the longing and hunger washed over him. The kisses grew deeper and more frantic, making his heart pound. Duo began to wonder how far Heero would take this. "What about your boss?"

"It's okay." Heero's hands fumbled at Duo's belt, undoing it and then unsnapping the jeans. In seconds, the pants were unzipped and Heero's hand was slipping inside.

Duo moaned as Heero stroked him. "God, Heero." He tried to gather his wits, to stop his hands from unbuttoning Heero's shirt and moving to his belt, but he wanted this. "Did you lock the door?"

Heero made a small, indecipherable sound that gave Duo no real answer. Did Heero want to be caught in the act? Was he trying to get fired by having sex in his boss's office? Or was he just kinky?

Using all the restraint he could muster he put his hand over Heero's. "We have to stop. Heero, we can't here."

The hand on his cock slowed, and then stopped. Heero pulled away, giving a deep sigh, and stepping back to rest on the edge of the desk. He ran his hands through his hair, looking as disheveled and sexy as ever.

"I'm sorry," Duo said, plopping into an office chair. "I don't want you to get into trouble." His head was spinning. God, he wanted Heero.

Heero looked at him, his eyes glazed with lust. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too." Duo reached over and squeezed Heero's hand, smiling sympathetically. "This meeting is a big deal for me. I don't want your boss's first impression to be of my ass getting nailed on his desk."

Heero chuckled. "Is that what would've happened?"

"You know it." Duo righted his clothes, and watched as Heero did the same. "Tonight we'll make up for lost time."

"It's all I think about."

"Me, too." Duo smiled.

At last their clothes were smoothed and back in place, and their skin no longer flushed with need. Duo retrieved his sketch pad from the floor.

"After seeing the restaurant I have more ideas, but I'll have to sketch those later."

"May I see what you've done?"

"Sure." Duo got up and stood beside Heero, placing the pad on the desk and opening it to one of the middle pages. "This was my initial idea. spirals, golden shapes."

Heero nodded. "I like the movement."

"Thanks." He gave Heero's cheek a quick kiss, and then turned the page. "And this one. more swirling shapes, which would totally work in the space, but I think it needs to be in red, a deep, crimson red to set-off the earth tones."

He realized then that Heero's clothes matched perfectly with the décor of the restaurant and wondered if that was intentional. Heero seemed to appreciate art and beauty, and maybe his surroundings had influenced him to dress this way.

"These are very good, Duo. It's what I'd hoped."

"Thanks, but it's your boss I need to impress. Do you think he'll like them?"

"Yes, definitely."

"If size isn't a concern I'd like to do them large--four by six feet each."

Heero nodded. "The space can handle that."

Duo took a breath, now for the hard part. "Do you think $500 each is asking too much?"

"It's a steal."

"Okay, then $1,000 each!" He declared, emboldened.

Heero cleared his throat and chuckled. "It'll be worth it, I'm sure."

"Do you think he'd give me $1,500 up front to get started?"

"That much?"

"Yeah, starving artist and all." Duo laughed. "With a place like this, I bet this guy has money to burn. $1,500 would be nothing to him."

"I'm sure it's something."

"Man, what it must be like to have that kind of money. Guess I'll never find out." Just then there was a tap on the door. "Maybe that's him?"

Heero stepped away to open the door. It was a delivery man in gray overalls and holding a clipboard.

"I've got your wine delivery. Would you like to check the boxes?"

Heero looked back over his shoulder at Duo. "I need to do this. It'll only take a minute."

"No problem. I'll just hang out here."

on to part 8

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