Disclaimer: The boys belong to Bandai/Sotsu/Sunrise, honest.

Notes: Detailed notes are provided with the Prologue to this fic.

"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'

Chapter Eleven
by D.C. Logan

Heero woke.

There was someone in his kitchen and whoever it was sounded lost, very lost. He ran his night backwards. Duo, it had to be Duo, and it sounded like he was desperate to find something. Now there was a thought worth pondering, Duo was in his apartment. Duo had spent the night in his apartment, and would again, and Heero had actually spent the night sleeping. Hell. He thought about his robe, realized the sleeves wouldn't work with the cast, and instead awkwardly wrapped the bed sheet around his body in a loose toga imitation and rose up painfully to track down the sound.

Duo heard Heero's feet shuffle across the kitchen tile, but didn't turn from watching the coffee drip into the decanter even after he entered the room. This was his focus, this was important, Heero wasn't going anywhere. Duo's tally for the evening included some rather frustrated tossing and turning on the narrow sofa before he'd given up entirely and channel surfed with the sound off until the small hours. Predictably enough, he'd actually started to drift off into light sleep when his watch alarm reminded him that yes, today was actually a work day.

"Good. You're up." Duo gave up on waiting and smoothly substituted a mug for the carafe and then swapped them back again. He cradled the mug like gold, and finally looked at Heero. Shit Duo, he thought, better make this quick before you embarrass yourself. He waited a second to make sure he hadn't said that last bit out loud, and grabbed his cell phone from the counter. He handed it to Heero, or tried to, but Heero wouldn't relinquish his grip on the sheet, so he set it on the counter next to him instead. "I need to head downstairs, at least until Trowa gets in. Carry the phone with you, hit number one and the send button, and it will ring downstairs. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone." Duo grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair he'd hung it on, shook it to verify that his keys were still in the pocket, cupped his other hand protectively around the mug of coffee, and left.

Heero stared at the open doorway in stunned disbelief, and stood stranded and waiting in his bare feet and bedsheet until he heard the door to the stairwell open and shut. "Well, so much for concerned and caring," he muttered to himself. He looked over at the sputtering coffee machine. "Either that, or he's just not designed for mornings..." He stood and prepared a mug of coffee for himself. He was steadily improving at left-handed tasks, and leaned against the counter to consider his day. Heading out of the apartment was out of the question, and the way his body ached, sleep was as well. That left work, such as it was, and the second set of galleys that was still waiting for him on his desk. He took his meds and made his way through the apartment and eventually to his desk. Time to reprioritize. Again.

The ringing of the cell phone a few hours later startled him. Duo had set it for a musical ring, and he listened to two repetitions of 'Ode to Joy' before deciding that it might be a good idea to answer it in case Duo was calling to check up on him. He pressed one of the buttons to receive the call. Apparently he'd made the wrong choice though, since the phone sat silent in his hand. Agreeably, it started ringing again a few seconds later, and he pressed the other button. Duo's voice greeted him. He sounded different over the connection, tinny and amplified, also much more animated and sociable than he'd been at seven that same morning. "Hey Heero! Wanted to check and see how you were and ask what you wanted for lunch. I think we're getting sandwiches from Ronnie's, hang on a sec." There was the sound of a hand placed over the receiver and a muffled yell to someone else before Duo returned to the handset. "Yeah, looks like Ronnie's today. You want your regular?"

Heero nearly laughed. Duo was happy about something and the attitude was infectious. "Sure. How was the sofa?"

There was a responding chuckle that had a note to it that Heero found somehow familiar, quickly followed by, "Best sofa I've slept on in ages. See you in about thirty minutes then."

Heero maneuvered the sandwich awkwardly one handed, but seemed to be managing the process well. Then again, given the hospital food they'd been poisoning him with, he was probably still desperate for real food. Duo watched him carefully, doing his best to find that delicate line between allowing Heero to struggle and helping him too much. Considering how quickly they'd been thrown into each other's home life, he was pleased with how well they seemed to be coping.

Duo noticed that Heero had stopped eating, giving the shoulder a rest. He also looked thoughtful.

"Can I ask a favor of you?"

Ah, so that was what was hiding behind the pause. "Sure, name it."

"I need you to pick up my mail."

"Huh? I thought it was delivered to the door?"

Heero looked uncomfortable. "Um, not that mail. I have a box down at the post office as well. My publisher bundles all my correspondence and sends it there. Most of my utility bills get sent to that box as well since it's easier for me to have them forwarded to Wufei when I travel or I'm deep into writing or editing a book."

Duo was dying to ask more about what he wrote, how often, and if he'd heard of him; but didn't want to break the friendly camaraderie. "Okay, I can stop by on the way to pick up supper. Box number?"

"7562, the key is hanging on the coat rack in my office."

"Done. What interests you for supper then? Thai?"

There had been a lot more mail in the box than Duo had expected. He thought maybe a small bound set of envelopes, or a large mailer or two. Instead the postal box had a handful of notes and pink and green slips in it. When he'd taken them to the front counter, the staff had been most helpful at stacking bundles in neat level rows for him and setting a few larger flat boxes to the side as well. Okay, so it had been a few weeks, a guy was entitled to a little mail--especially, if Wufei hadn't exaggerated, for an author who had at least some recognition in the marketplace. Still, he hadn't been expecting this volume. He was even more astounded when the counter staff noted that it was a light week for that box.

"A _light_ week?"

"Oh yes, last pick up was a few days ago. Prior to that it was about two weeks and we were having difficulty trying to figure out where to put it all really."

It took two trips up the stairs to deliver both the mail and the food he'd ordered. Heero seemed unconcerned about his mail now that it was sitting in the living room; Duo was intensely curious. Why would so many people write to Heero anyway?

Dinner had quickly turned into a time for anecdotes and Duo's tales of the store and the day's customers and quiet mayhem. It felt a lot more intimate without Charles around. Oddly perfect in some ways. He talked about the large shipment of books that had arrived and needed to be logged and waitlisted customers called. Trowa and Quatre had been there most of the day to take some of the load from Duo and to provide backup coverage for the store should Duo have to leave to help Heero. They had been cracking jokes (bad ones in poor taste at that) about his care of Heero (Duo didn't relay any of those), and Sand had followed a toddler around the store and eaten every single animal cracker that had been offered to her. There had apparently been quite a lot of them, and she'd been quietly and politely sick in the corner of the storage room. All in all it had been an average day.

Duo looked over the pile of Heero's packages as he pushed his plate away. "Want me to open the envelopes for you to sort? I can open boxes too, as long as you don't mind having your privacy invaded."

Heero looked thoughtful for a moment or two, fork lifted halfway between plate and mouth, then nodded. He looked down at his meal in disgust; it took forever to eat like this.

So far it had been grating, titillating, and a helluva learning experience wrapped into one basic package. Duo was still shocked at all of the small intimacies he'd learned about Heero just by being unexpectedly thrown into intimate contact with him for a few days. Okay, maybe not as intimate as he'd been fanaticizing about, but hey, the poor guy was still hurting. On the plus side of the equation, it sure as hell hadn't taken him six months to figure out what his favorite brand of toothpaste was, or how much he paid for his internet service, or what radio station he liked to wake up to in the morning. He knew where the vacuum cleaner was stashed, could find most of the condiments at this point, and had learned the right trick to get the kitchen tap to shut all the way off without the annoying drip. He'd also found out who called him and how often and what their reaction was when they heard a stranger on the end of the telephone. _That_ had been entertaining.

He'd learned all the things you didn't normally find out, not only until after you moved in with someone, but also the stuff that eventually came up when they weren't around and had to cover for them. And he'd learned it in a matter of a few days. It humbled him to remember that for all of Heero's subtle interest in him so far, he was taking care of a man that was, at the core of things, a complete and total stranger. Heero in turn had relied completely on his friend Wufei's judgment in placing him in such confidence. They had been learning a lot about each other--a crash course in Duo Maxwell, or Heero Yuy in seven easy lessons--he grinned at the thought.

"So, why a bookstore?" Heero was slouched comfortably across the wide armchair in the living room, feet propped up on an ottoman dragged over for the occasion. Duo was sitting on the floor sorting mail at the moment, but stopped, set the envelopes to the side, and idly ran his fingers through the plush carpet, stalling for time.

"Wellll... I love to read, and this way I get to do it on the job all day."

Heero shot him a glare that plainly said that he wasn't buying that excuse and Duo gave in with a raised hand.

"Okay, okay." He leaned back, using the sofa for support and looked at the painting on the opposite wall to stall for some additional thinking time. "I've always loved reading though, at least once I learned the gist of it. I wasn't good at school, missed a lot of it, ditched classes all the time. I guess I never really saw the point of all of it, I mean, my folks had high hopes for me, but I just expected to be, I don't know, a mechanic or something maybe. Besides, it just wasn't who I was really. You know, just the image of me with my head stuck in a book like some of the other guys in my class made me twitch." He looked over to see if Heero was still paying attention, and then back to the painting (a Pollock--yet another one he desperately hoped was a copy--he was afraid to ask).

"About fifth grade one of my teachers noticed that I was having problems reading and tutored me after classes for most of the fall. I hadn't realized what I'd been missing up 'til then, and once I found out, I couldn't read enough. I started inhaling all subjects, all topics, from breakfast cereal boxes to government reports about the global impact of nuclear war, fiction of all shapes and varieties, how-to books, cookbooks...everything." He risked another glance at Heero, who gave him an encouraging nod to continue.

"After I left school, I got a part time job in a used bookstore over on Newbury Street because I thought I could read the books all day. I'd found out early on that reading borrowed books from the library wasn't enough, and started to buy books so I could keep them close and reread them as I liked. I never thought about having my own store at the time, I just liked the atmosphere. Different people coming in every day with all sorts of interests and opinions and questions... Somewhere in there I found that I liked the way people could make connections to complete strangers through something as simple as reading the same book at some point in their lives. We had a regular reader discussion group for a while, and one of the books talked _about_ reading and the power of books and the written word to connect you to people and the world around you; to the past, present, and reaching onward into the future."

He paused to collect his thoughts again, realizing that no one had ever asked him 'why' before, and how difficult it was to put some of the reasons into words, and how important it suddenly was to get his point across to the man sitting in front of him. "Part of it is that I like the way running the store connects me to a whole network of interesting and creative people. I like to gather those kinds of people around me, some of them are almost a sort of extended family or community. My life is not diminished by exposure to all of the people I know. Does that make sense at all?" He looked up hopefully to see Heero leaning back, eyes closed, with a thin relaxed smile on his face.

"That's a perfect reason."

"How about you?"

Heero opened his eyes and looked directly at Duo, "What about me?"

"What got you started with writing?

"I knew that one was coming eventually."

"Hey, if it bothers you to talk about it, that's okay."

"No," he said with a questioning soft tone, "No, I don't mind." He sounded surprised at his own reaction to the question.

"I can't really talk about it without telling you more about Wufei.

"I don't remember my parents at all, Wufei remembers his a little, but we were the only Asian kids in the home, and we sort of bonded together. We each spent time in other foster homes while growing up, but we always seemed to land back into the group home until they finally decided that they'd hang onto us until we hit eighteen and then send us off on our own. They were decent, and they tried hard I think, but weren't prepared to handle kids like Wufei or me.

"We got bored, we got into trouble together, and we tested every limit the system had. I got sent to my room a lot, which wasn't the punishment they intended since Wufei was usually there. We told stories to each other--long stories about our lives before the home, or at least how we always imagined them to be. Wufei liked my stories better than his own, so after a while I just told stories to him, and then to the other kids that passed through, and eventually to one of my teachers. She asked me to write them down, and sent them into some sort of writing contest. I won, I kept writing, and after I graduated, I got a scholarship and wrote some more.

"I tried writing for a research group right after college, but didn't like all the travel much. One of my managers took a leave of absence to write a novel and came back three months later, burned out and ready to get back to the day-to-day shuffle. I started my first book the same day he left for his break, and shipped it to a publisher the day he came back. It was a shock to me, but they actually seemed interested in it and wanted to speak with my agent. I didn't have one, so I called Wufei and asked him to pose as one for me. He did, the book sold, he learned more about becoming an agent, I kept writing, and two years later I left that job to write full time.

"I don't miss regular work at all. Writing _is_ work, no doubt about it, but I don't have to wear a suit, commute, or do any of the things I used to do and hated doing." Heero stopped, uncertain about what he'd just shared.

Duo looked thoughtful. "What happened to the other guy? The editor? Did you ever tell him?"

"No, didn't have the courage." Heero paused, carefully evaluating Duo's level of interest. "Did Wufei by any chance mention what I write?"

"No. But it's okay if you need to keep it quiet. Really."

"I write romantic stuff mostly, plus some other things from time to time when I need a break from it." He said it quickly, hoping that Duo's attention wouldn't linger on the content bit.

Duo tilted his head, considering, "romantic... you mean romance novels?"

Heero risked a shallow nod.

"Well, they're really popular, and I've read a few that I enjoyed. Hey, some guys do! Really!" He tried to not act insulted by Heero's disparaging look. "Some of the historical stuff is hilarious I admit, but there's a reason that the industry outsells all the rest."

"Yeah, what's that?"

A lecherous sort of expression crawled its way onto Duo's face and looked oddly at home there; Heero felt nervous. "Smut sells. "

"Oh." Heero looked at the banded stacks of envelopes, well, he reasoned, Duo would find out the truth in a few minutes anyway.

"I love the heart heart heart way you had Stephanie courted by Darian in 'Autumn Sunrise'," Duo quoted with flair (and a shade of irony over the poor grammar and gratuitous use of hearts). "You're settings are so romantic, the moment where they made rapturous love in the cargo net is one of my all time heart heart heart favorites." Duo spread the creases out of the letter (purple ink, pink paper), clipped its envelope to the back, and added it to the stack of "answer it when bored"--a much larger pile than "had specific questions" or "found mistakes."

Duo looked across the field of paper mayhem spread across the living room floor. Heero was again ensconced in his armchair with ottoman serving as both footrest and endtable. Duo sprawled across the carpet, crawling across to settle Heero's papers into their proper categories. Heero wanted to see more crawling, but instead offered, "I wasn't sure about the cargo net thing."

"Had me calling around to find out where you could buy one," Duo deadpanned.

Heero looked up at him to see if he was teasing. Duo shrugged and picked up another letter. Okay, apparently not kidding then. Hell, he'd kill to get Duo in a cargo net sans clothing, preferably with an appreciative Heero for company. But without all the artistic license allowed for in romantic fantasy, he rather expected that it would be uncomfortable, and that the rope burns would hurt rather a lot. Still...

"Here's one calling you the 'goddess of all romance writers worldwide' in case you're interested." Duo fluttered another letter into a stack. Heero thought that Duo was getting perhaps just a little too much enjoyment out of this chore. Still, he couldn't remember ever having this much fun sorting through his fan mail before either.

That was one of Duo's gifts apparently--to touch mundane tasks and make them unexpectedly enjoyable. He had a hell of a talent for it.

on to chapter twelve

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